Rosa was leading Adam up the mountainside on a squally day towards the end of Winter. She paused at a rocky ledge halfway up and indicated that this was the spot where she planned to create her mountainside garden.
“And there will be nothing practical or useful about it”, she said, jubilantly “It will be entirely for creative purposes only”.
“I fully support that idea”, said Adam “Particularly in these glum, Puritan times we live in”.
“Yes, it gets to me too”, said Rosa, looking out over the rooftops of Zilligot Bay, huddled below them, caught between the mountains and the Southern Ocean “Everybody thinks I’m so austere and practical all the time, but I’m really not. I do get tired of everything having to be for A Purpose”.
“Has somebody got to you, old love?” said Adam “You seem a bit … well bitter today”.
“Somebody, I don’t know who, but I strongly suspect it’s Eunice”, said Rosa, referring to the town’s resident Miserable Busybody “Has been putting it about that there must be something going on between you and me”.
Adam burst out laughing.
“Oh good heavens”, he said “They must be getting short of gossip if they’re resorting to that one!”
“It’s all so completely absurd”, said Rosa “Anyone can see … well anyone can see …”
“That I’m as bent as a corkscrew?”
“Well I wasn’t going to put it quite like that!”
“Don’t let it bother you, my dear”, said Adam, putting his hand gently on her shoulder “I find the whole concept quite endearing. In another life, if certain basics were different, who knows? You and I do have a connection together, and I don’t think it’s just because we’re both Scorpios”.
“It upsets me, Adam”, said Rosa “I know it shouldn’t, but it does. What vicious small-minded little idiots people are”.
“SOME people are”, said Adam “They are frustrated and disillusioned with their own lives, so they pry into other peoples and try to make them ugly. Twas ever thus, I’m afraid”.
“I don’t find it easy to make friends, I never have”, said Rosa “I’m too reserved for that, but when I finally find someone, other than my brother, who is on my wavelength, they have to go and sully it”.
“Ignore them”, said Adam “I know it’s not easy, you’re much more in the centre of the town than I am, but it is very satisfying to simply brush people like that off, believe me it is. I’m not always brilliant at it myself. Julian has always made it a speciality to take the rise out of me, and he knows exactly what buttons to press, but sometimes I remember to say something like ‘is that so, dear, how nice’. He hates it! Ignore a bitter old cabbage like Eunice, she’s just jealous because nobody in their right mind would want to spend any time in her company! It’s the perils of a small town, and living as we are now, with no idea if anyone else is out there in the big, wide world, well I guess it makes it even worse”.
“And that’s just the point isn’t it?” said Rosa “You would think wouldn’t you, that they’d have more important things to think about than who I am friends with! We could well be the only ones left on the planet. Who knows what havoc that wretched disease did. Sometimes I don’t know which thought is scariest, that there could be hordes of infected people out there, making their way south … or that we are quite alone”.
“Best not to dwell on either prospect”, said Adam “Instead let’s just concentrate on getting through each day. Ransey goes through all the known wireless frequencies every day, he will soon let us know if he finds anything. He did find some remote broadcasters last year, but since then, nothing”.
“Can you imagine the stir it would cause if a ship suddenly appeared out there?” Rosa smiled, looking out towards the ocean beyond the old lighthouse.
“Absolute pandemonium I should think”, said Adam “I’d better go and rescue Bengo from the bar. Woolly would talk all day if one let him”.
“How is Bardin?” asked Rosa “I haven’t seen him in town for ages. One tends to notice when he’s around. He has such a … presence”.
“He’s had a bit of a cold”, said Adam “So he thought it best to stay on the galleon. Everyone is so jumpy in this town these days that they’d probably think he had the Sickness if he appeared amongst them, clutching a handkerchief to to his nose. So anyway, we’ve confined him to his bunk. That’s as much to give the rest of us some peace and quiet as for his own good”.
They began to descend carefully back down the mountainside.
“I get the impression H is nagging to take the air-buggies out again for another reconnaissance”, said Adam “And I think he would quite like it if you went along. He’s got a bit of a soft spot for you”.
“Adam, H has a soft spot for any woman under the age of 90!” said Rosa.
“Well quite possibly”, said Adam “But he’s completely harmless, and we all need a bit of fun occasionally. Anyway, I think you should consider going out on the next flight. You will find it very exhilarating, I’m sure”.
Down at the harbour Bardin was lying in his bunk on the galleon, having to contend with the dogs. Lonts had brought them into his cabin because he thought they might amuse Bardin. Unfortunately, the dogs had gone berserk with excitement, and Bardin was in grave danger of being suffocated where he lay.
“Lonts, will you get these clumsy oafs off me!” Bardin shouted.
“Now don’t have a go at the dogs, Bardin”, said Lonts “They are dumb animals”.
“I’m surrounded by those!” said Bardin “Look, just take them up on deck. They clearly need some fresh air to work off some of their excess energy”.
With great reluctance, Lonts managed to pull the dogs off the bunk, and was on his way out of the cabin when Bengo came in.
“Where have you been?” Bardin demanded to know “How does it take nearly the whole afternoon to exchange a few supplies at the Driftwood?”
“Rosa wanted to show Adam the site for her new mountainside garden”, said Bengo, shedding his duffel-coat “And so I went and had a chat with Woolly in the bar. Now don’t look like that, he gets lonely”.
“He gets lonely?!” Bardin exclaimed “He’s got a whole houseful of women to talk to!”
“Yes but sometimes he wants another man to speak to”.
“Yes I bet he does!”
“Oh don’t get like that, Bardy”, said Bengo “You’re the one he fancies, not me”.
“Don’t remind me of that”, Bardin snapped “It is forever ingrained in my brain, never to be removed. What have you been talking about all this time?”
“Swapping reminiscences”, said Bengo “Of growing up on the stage. It can’t be very often he meets another child star”.
“We keep hearing about him having been a child star, but I’m never very sure what it was he actally did!”
“He was an actor mainly”, said Bengo, pouring out two glasses of brandy and coming over to the bunk “Playing child roles”.
“Get away!” said Bardin.
“He said he appeared in all sorts of productions”, said Bengo “A different one each week”.
“Sounds like Elaine’s films”, said Bardin, sipping at his brandy, and feeling the warmth coursing through him.
“Oh that’s another thing”, said Bengo “Doctor Xavier is building her a theatre in the grounds of his house apparently”.
“WHAT?” Bardin nearly choked on his brandy “What, a full-sized one?!”
“No”, Bengo giggled “More of a large tent really, but shaped like a globe. She wants to put different shows on every month, to lift the spirits of the villagers”.
“It would take a flamin’ miracle to lift the spirits of some of that lot!” said Bardin “Can you imagine performing with the likes of Eunice sitting in the front row, arms folded, glaring, sort of Amuse Me If You Dare? The audience from Hell!”
“It sounds quite interesting”, said Bengo “She says she wants it in a circle because then there’s more intimacy with the audience. They can sit so close to the stage it can feel like they’re on it as well”.
“What a ghastly idea!” said Bardin “I wouldn’t want the audience on stage with us, getting in the way whilst we’re trying to do our work! It sounds like you’re quite excited by all this”.
“Not for me, no”, said Bengo “I’ve got too much to do here, and even if I hadn’t, I couldn’t imagine going on stage without you there. I know I did it a couple of years ago with The King Of Useless, but it all still felt strange. Sort of weird. Nah, I don’t want to get involved, but I’m happy to show an interest if she wants any help with anything”.
“It’s also too much of a commitment”, said Bardin “I still want us to have the freedom to do other things. Hillyard wants to do up the old lighthouse again at some point, which would mean us moving back there, plus Kieran probably wants to exorcise it. And after that, who knows? Come the better weather, I’m tempted to give the galleon some exercise, go up the West Coast a bit, see if we can anything interesting”.
“What shall I tell Elaine if she mentions you getting involved again?” asked Bengo.
“Tell her I’m still highly contagious”, said Bardin “And likely to remain so for about the next 50 years!”
A couple of days later a small party of the Indigo-ites walked up to Doctor Xavier’s house to watch the air-buggies go off on the first reconnaissance mission of the New Year. Hillyard was to pilot theirs, which was currently being kept in the grounds of the Doctor’s house for convenience, accompanied by Ransey, Bengo and Bardin. And H was to pilot the other, with Rosa in the passenger seat, and Kieran and Joby in the back. Adam and Lonts had gone along too, to wave them all off.
Rosa appeared wearing a pair of her brother Ernesto’s trousers, as a more practical flying outfit than her usual ankle-length skirts. She had also bound up her trademark long plaits, now wound up over her ears like a pair of substantial black ear-muffs.
“Can you hear in those things?” asked Bardin.
“Bardin!” said Adam, dealing him a slap on his behind “They look very fetching, old love. In fact I could imagine painting you like that. You could be sitting in a chair, wrapped in a silk shawl, gazing pensively out of a window”.
“That sounds quite Irish”, said Kieran.
“Yeah, sort of depressing”, said Joby.
“Is your cold better, Bardin?” said Rosa.
“Yes, but for God’s sake don’t tell Elaine”, said Bardin “If she suddenly appears out of the house, I’m getting straight in the air-buggy!”
“You should get in it anyway”, said Hillyard “We’re about ready for the off”.
Rosa had been born and raised in Zilligot Bay. In her entire life she had never been beyond the mountains at the back of the village which bordered the Saturn Desert. The journey by air-buggy was an intoxicating experience, flying out over the vast expanses of the desert and then up over the mountains at the far side. At one point it felt as if they were flying straight at the snowy ridges, but at the last moment H, and in the other buggy Hillyard, levered upwards and they flew gracefully over the tops. The vastness of the forest on the other side took her breath away.
“How far does this go?” she asked, above the noise of the engine.
“Miles and miles”, said H.
“It sort of comes and goes throughout most of the interior”, Joby shouted from the back seat.
“Somebody could get lost in there and never be found again”, said Rosa.
“I’m sure plenty have”, said H.
“And this is where the Indigo-ites found you?” said Rosa.
“That was further towards the coast”, said H “I thought I would never get out of here again”.
Flying high up in the air helped to put everything in perspective for Rosa. Back in the village she had found herself becoming bogged down in the vicious minutiae of small community life. The nasty gossip about her friendship with Adam had depressed her horribly. For a woman as naturally introverted as Rosa, it was in danger of driving her even further inwards. No amount of her brother and close friends telling her to ignore it made it any easier. She was only too well aware of the looks cast in her direction when she was spotted chatting to Adam, or going for a walk with him.
H swooped over the snowy treetops.
“It’s the most wonderful feeling!” Rosa cried out, causing the other 3 in the air-buggy to laugh good-naturedly.
“You’re a natural flyer!” H shouted back “I’ll start giving you piloting lessons like I did with Lissa”.
“Can we go up the coast sometime?” asked Rosa.
“Which one?” said Joby “East or West?”
“West first”, said Rosa “I want to see the route you came down by this time last year”.
They arrived safely back in the grounds of Doctor Xavier’s house. To Bardin’s dismay, Elaine was waiting for them, eager to show him the progress on the new theatre which was being built there. As they approached it it looked like a large bee-hive, with half the canvas draped over the metallic shell.
“It’s a theatre in the round”, said Elaine, ushering them into the centre of the tent “The stage in the centre, and the audience grouped all around it. When I first started out in the City I worked in a theatre just like this. It was so much fun. The audience were so close to us. Some of them were even using our prop ash-trays to flick the ash off their cigars!”
“That wouldn’t have worked for us”, said Bardin “Our routines would have been far too dangerous for that. Far better to keep the audience in their place, safely on the other side of the footlights”.
“It’s true”, said Bengo “Sometimes it was too risky even having them sitting in the front row”.
“On one occasion Ully had some silly idea that we should all chuck flowers into the audience”, said Bardin “One idiot got hit in the eye with one and threatened to sue us!”
“Well I suppose there’s one advantage to the current situation”, said Elaine “There are no lawyers anyone can sue us to!”
“What sort of productions are you going to do?” said Bardin, looking around him “They are going to have to be pretty low-key, you haven’t got room for much else”.
“I thought we’d alternative between eerie ghost stories, we can put lanterns around the edge of the stage for that”, said Elaine “And the occasional gentle comedy”.
“VERY gentle I would’ve thought!” said Bardin.
“I think she means really sophisticated comedies, Bardy”, said Bengo “Word play that sort of thing, not our kind of thing at all. Nobody getting hurled about”.
“No roles for Mutton Broth then”, said Bardin “That was his speciality!”
“I would still appreciate your guidance”, said Elaine “Although I have done stage work, I’m far more used to film work, and I could do with some advice. Plus, I know we haven’t much room, but I am partial to the occasional stage farce, and I think we could do something with the room we have here. People popping in and out of the back of the tent, that sort of thing”.
“I’ll help where I can”, said Bardin “And we have done farces. They’re still very energetic though. One we did had us charging up and down a flight of stairs all the time”.
“And swapping trousers and pyjama bottoms”, Bengo giggled.
“I would love to do a musical revue for Easter-time”, said Elaine “Something very lighthearted after this horrible Winter. I’ve even written a song”.
“Well it’s a start”, said Bardin.
“Bardin!” Bengo reproved “Take no notice of him, Elaine, he’s always like that. What kind of song?”
“Oh just some jolly little bit of fluff about finding romance in the Spring rain”, said Elaine “I had an idea I could sing it with various pretty girls twirling umbrellas behind me. The farce you did sounds fun too, can you remember much of the script?”
Bardin seriously wondered if they were going to get home for supper, the length of time this conversation was going on, but Elaine was full of ideas, and it was hard to stop her in full-flow. By the time he and Bengo got back to the galleon they found Joby setting out the dishes on the dining-room table. Julian was sprawled at one end, with his feet up.
“You do realise you will have to give into Elaine eventually?” he said, when Bardin explained why they were a bit late “She is one of those people who is a force of Nature, she will always get her way”.
“A bit like you y’mean?” said Joby.
“I can’t see Julian organising a show”, said Adam, coming into the room carrying a bowl of baked potatoes “He’s far too lazy for that”.
“Oh hello, it’s The Red-Bloodied Sex God Of Zilligot Bay”, said Julian.
“Shut up, Julian”, said Adam, putting the bowl carefully on the table.
“What’s going on?” said Bardin, taking off his coat and draping over the back of his chair “Why’s Adam suddenly The Red-Bloodied Sex God Of Zilligot Bay?”
“He thinks he’s being funny, Bardin”, said Adam “And get your ugly big feet off the table, Jules, we are trying to serve food here”.
“Is this to do with Rosa?” asked Bengo “How daft can people get!”
“In a small town, very daft”, said Adam “I think it is despicable. Poor Rosa is a very shy, introverted woman at heart, and she hates all this. Why on earth can’t a man and a woman be good friends without all this bloody rubbish coming into it?”
“It wouldn’t matter even if there was summat going on”, said Joby “What fucking business is it of theirs! You’re both consenting adults for fuck’s sake!”
“Oh enjoy it, Ad”, said Hillyard, lustily scooping potato into his mouth “I bet you never thought you’d become the hetero stud of anywhere! And anway, who’s to say these vicious old trouts spreading these rumours aren’t pig-sick with jealousy?”
“Very likely I would have thought”, said Julian.
“I mean you’re a really good-looking bloke”, said Hillyard to Adam “I bet many a woman has regretted that you’re gay”. “I have no idea, and I don’t want to know”, said Adam “It’s all very upsetting”.
“As Hillyard said, enjoy it, you daft old plum”, said Julian “If it was me I’d relish rubbing their dreary little faces in it, and as for Rosa, she should too. They’re bloody jealous of her, not just because she’s a striking-looking woman in her own way, but she keeps herself to herself, doesn’t get embroiled in their nasty, vicious little knitting circle. Women have always been like that. The sort of thing that makes me glad I’m queer!”
“Yeah ‘cos of course men would never do anything like that!” said Hillyard, sarcastically.
“Yes, we’re such high-minded souls aren’t we”, said Adam “We never do malicious gossip or backbiting, wouldn’t dream of it”.
Bardin gave a bark of laughter.
“Anyone who’d think that”, he said “Has clearly never been in showbusiness!”
“Ully used to have a little saying”, said Bengo “On how to react to spiteful gossip. Ignore it, and only take away the positive things people say”.
“Take the cream and leave the milk”, he and Bardin chimed together.
“Oh how very sweet”, Adam purred.
It was a neverending source of grievance to Hillyard these days that the people of the town seemed to show such little interest in fishing. Many of them seemed to have lost whatever gumption or get-up-and-go that they had ever had. The harbour was often spookily quiet, and the galleon was the only ship of note which was usually moored there. For food they relied on what they could glean from the allotments, tins they had in storage, and any goodies they had found when they had ransacked the hospital a couple of months earlier.
“It can’t go on like this”, said Hillyard “This is crazy. They’ve got the whole ocean sitting in front of them, and they’re not using it”.
“Why do you care what that useless lot get up to?” said Julian “Or not get up to in this case. If you want to go fishing, Hillyard, just go fishing, and stop fretting about them. That’s their problem. I can’t imagine Adam’s going to object to having some fresh fish on the menu”.
“That settles it then”, said Hillyard “I’m going to round up some of the others and we’ll go lobster fishing”.
Hillyard borrowed an old fishing-trawler from the harbourmaster, who genuinely seemed surprised that anybody wanted to use it.
“They’ve left a decent vessel like that go to dust!” he complained to Adam, back on the galleon.
“I wish you’d get on with this bloody fishing expedition”, said Joby “Instead of keep moaning about the villagers all the time. You’re starting to sound like a bloody old woman”.
“Well you’ve always sounded like one!” Hillyard retorted.
“Yes alright ladies, let’s not start an argument right here”, said Adam “I have to start making plans for the big pancake-making session this evening”.
“How about”, Hillyard slapped a meaty hand on Adam’s shoulder “Lobster for breakfast tomorrow morning? Now why are you looking like that? What’s wrong with that idea? I thought you’d be jumping all over it”.
“I think it sounds delightful, old love”, said Adam “But Lent starts tomorrow, and I’m not sure that Patsy would approve”.
“Why are you taking any notice of him?!” Joby exclaimed “Since when do we take any notice of Kieran when it comes to Lent? You go down that route Ad, and he’ll have us all living off bread and water for the duration, and self-flagellating like mad. He’s not gonna eat lobster anyway!”
“OK”, said Adam “But we keep him well out of the way tomorrow whilst the massacre of the innocents takes place”.
“I’ll tell him to go and pray on someone”, said Joby.
“I’m back!” Bengo announced, walking into the galley wearing his pinny, and carrying two enormous shallow frying-pans.
“Rosa’s loaned them to us”, he explained to Hillyard “For the pancakes”.
“I thought we already had frying-pans”, said Hillyard.
“Yes, but I noticed when I was over the Driftwood one day that Rosa has some enormous ones”, said Adam “And I thought it would be fun to try and make the biggest pancakes we have ever attempted”.
“And then everybody can just dig in and help themselves”, said Joby “Instead of us having to fart about rolling ‘em all up individually, like we normally do. Does my nut in, that does”.
“I think if you’re going to have this fishing-expedition, Hilly”, said Adam “You’d better go and get on with it now”. “Well it looks sturdy enough”, said Bardin, after he had clambered aboard the old fishing-trawler Hillyard had borrowed from the harbour-master.
“Nothing wrong with it at all”, said Hillyard “It just needs a bit of tender, loving care, that’s all. This bloody lot don’t know they’re born”.
“I find it best to try and detach yourself from them”, said Bardin, stiffly.
“Is that why you won’t get involved in Elaine’s show?” said Hillyard “She keeps on about you as if you’re some kind of showbiz saviour”.
“I wish her all the best with it, I really do”, said Bardin “Although frankly Entertainment is wasted on some of this lot, but the thought of tying myself to it fills me with dismay. At some point we have to find out what’s going on in the rest of the world. Ignorance is definitely NOT bliss in this case. It’s in our interests to know what’s happening out there. We might be at the bottom of the Earth here, but that doesn’t make us completely invulnerable”.
Mieps climbed aboard, carrying some fishing-baskets, followed by Hoowie, Shag and Mutton Broth, who were helping out. The little trawler wasn’t really big enough to carry anymore than that.
“Is Ransey not joining us?” asked Bardin.
“Can’t tear him away from the wireless set”, said Hillyard “He’s obsessed with trying to find someone else out there. He doesn’t understand …. Well neither do I if it comes to that … why we haven’t heard a dicky bird out of anyone at all in several months now. At least last Spring we did occasionally some garbled messages”.
“Yes it’s strange”, said Bardin “Who owns this boat?”
“A widow in the town”, said Hillyard “It was her husband’s, but he died a few years ago. She hasn’t left her apartment since this whole Sickness debacle started. Gets all her food and anything she needs delivered. Reels it up in a basket from her window”.
“She’s been trapped indoors all this time?” said Bardin.
“She wants it that way”, said Hillyard “Glynis told me that apparently she got it into her head that the sky was raining down the poisonous virus right when all this began. I don’t think she still thinks that, but I guess she’s got used to being at home, can’t bring herself to leave it, not even for a few minutes at a time. A sort of agoraphobia”.
“Jeez”, said Bardin “What a fucking waste of a life”.
“People have to find their own way”, Hillyard sighed “Even if it does look completely demented to the rest of us”.
They all donned some dilapidated old lifejackets which they had found in the wheelhouse and cast off from the boardwalk. The sea was choppy, but not intimidatingly so, and the wind slapped their faces as they headed a short way out into the ocean. When they had gone a sufficient distance, they cut the engine, and lowered the lobster baskets over the sides.
Bardin pulled his cap down over his ears and stared back at the town.
“Sometimes looking at something from a different angle gives a different perspective, eh?” said Hillyard.
“Unfortunately it’s not helping much”, Bardin muttered “If we stay here we’ll get completely sucked in to village life, God help it, and if we leave we’ll miss our close friends”.
“You’re over-analysing it, mate”, said Hillyard “Try and put it out of your mind, and go with the flow for a bit. That’s the best thing to do. You’re getting like Ransey, obsessing over what could be out there. If it’s anything important we’ll find out soon enough”.
“You’re probably right”, said Bardin “Might be an idea to get H to take the air-buggies up again soon though”.
“I cannot think of anything more decadent than lobster for breakfast”, said Julian.
“I’d be amazed if YOU can’t”, said Joby, who was helping to get the dining-room table ready for the big pancake show.
“No seriously it’s one of those things that just speaks of it”, said Julian “We should really be having champagne with it too. I don’t suppose Rosa runs to that does she?”
“More likely homemade beetroot wine”, said Joby.
“Thought as much”, said Julian.
Adam flung open the dining-room door as wide as it would go, and Toppy hastily set heatproof trays along the centre of the table. Bengo came in, carrying one of the large frying-pans holding some of the cooked pancake mixture. Watched apprehensively by all assembled, he placed it carefully on the table. Adam went out and returned with the second frying-pan.
“Don’t tell me you managed to toss that?” said Julian.
“That would have been extremely precarious”, said Adam “No we’re serving it like omelettes”.
“Is there whisky in the mixture?” said Kieran, coming into the room via the other door.
“That would have been even more precarious, Patsy”, said Adam “We would have probably succeeded in setting fire to the entire ship”.
“In that case it will have to be served as a chaser”, said Kieran, going over to one of the boxes which was stored in the corner next to the piano, and rootling around for a couple of firewater.
There was a commotion of voices on the quarterdeck steps, and Hillyard came down, followed by Bardin, and the others. They all walked into the dining-room, shedding their outdoor gear as they came in.
“Wow”, said Bardin, when he caught sight of the large pans on the table “Are you trying to break some sort of record here?”
“And Bengo managed to carry one of the pans to the table without dropping it”, said Tamaz.
“That must be a first”, said Bardin.
“Hah!” said Bengo.
“Everybody sit down and get started”, said Adam “Before it goes cold”.
“What have you done with the lobsters?” said Julian.
“Hanging over the sides up aloft”, said Bardin, taking his customary seat the top of the table.
“Having a few more hours of precious life presumably”, said Kieran “Before they are plunged to their boiling deaths tomorrow”.
“If you’re going to keep that up”, said Julian “You’ll be breakfasting topside tomorrow, regardless of the weather”.
“You’d be disappointed if I wasn’t consistent”, said Kieran.
Ransey wandered into the room, looking like a stray ghost.
“I take it from the look of you that nothing’s changed?” said Hillyard “Still nothing on the airwaves?”
“It’s madness”, said Ransey, shaking his head “It doesn’t make any sense. Even by the law of averages I would have expected to pick up SOMETHING by now”.
“You’re trying too hard with it”, said Julian “Sometimes things appear when you stop looking for them”.
“He’s right, mate”, said Hillyard “You’ve been getting more and more obsessed with that damn wireless set. You need a break from it”.
“Yes”, said Adam “I can’t remember the last time you stepped off the boat”.
“Try limiting yourself to a couple of short blasts a day”, said Bardin, forking up a wodge of pancake “Say first thing in the morning and early evening”.
“You know it makes sense”, said Hillyard.
“OK OK”, said Ransey, going to his chair with a heavy sigh “I do feel knackered with it all”.
“You need some fresh air, Ransey”, Lonts boomed.
“OK!” said Ransey “All the good advice is much appreciated, but can we give it a rest now?”
There was quite a bit of excitement amongst their little band of friends as to who was going to get included on the next air-buggy trip out, which H had announced would take place in the middle of March, when he could fit it in around helping to build Elaine’s makeshift tent-theatre. To everyone’s surprise Woolly showed a great interest in being asked along.
“I’ve heard all about it from Rosa”, he said “It sounds tremendous fun, and I haven’t seen anything of the West Coast at all”.
“Is a weedy little ferret like him going to be up to a flight out?” Julian asked, safely out of earshot on the galleon.
“Why on earth shouldn’t he be?” said Adam “He managed to travel all the way down from the City on a fishing-trawler, so I can’t imagine sitting in an air-buggy for a couple of hours is going to faze him”.
“More to the point, will he be able to go without a drink for that long?” said Bardin.
“BARDY!” said Bengo, clouting him with a tea-towel.
He was more concerned for Adam’s feelings than Woolly’s (who after all wasn’t there), well aware of Adam’s past history with the bottle. Fortunately Adam, with that sense of telepathy which can grow amongst people who have lived together for a long time, knew what Bengo was feeling.
“It’s not a problem, old love”, he said “Although I do wish Woolly would get some help with his problem. He’s such a sweet chap”.
“Couldn’t you help him?” said Julian “Seriously, you’ve been through it, you could help”.
“Alcoholics can only be helped when they want to be helped”, said Adam “And the truth is that Woolly actually WANTS to be like this. At least when he’s drunk he’s a happy drunk, so I suppose we have to be grateful for small mercies. It’s only himself he’s damaging”.
“Sometimes I think he drinks out of boredom”, said Bardin “He’s got nothing else to distract himself with”.
“Perhaps he misses the stage”, said Bengo “I don’t understand why Elaine hasn’t got him roped into the Festival”.
“Because she knows full well about his drinking”, said Bardin “He wouldn’t be reliable. It would be like all the trouble we used to have with Hoowie all over again”.
“That’s a shame”, said Bengo “I think he’d be fun”.
“Anyway”, said Bardin “His problem isn’t just missing the stage, it’s missing sex. Zilligot Bay isn’t rich pickings for all that, not unless you count the rare occasions when he’s got lucky hanging around the harbour here”.
“You’re probably right”, said Bengo “I think he did put it about quite a bit when he was in the City”.
“Well hopefully the flight out might compensate a little”, said Adam, with a heavy sigh “It’s hard not to feel sorry for him”.
For once, Bardin didn’t voice his dissent on that one. Largely, it must be said, because by then he was bored witless with talking about Woolly. Meanwhile Woolly himself though was cock-a-hoop at the prospect of the flight out, and could barely contain his enthusiasm when the great day itself dawned. Not that he was ever much inclined to contain his enthusiasm anyway.
Bengo and Bardin elected not to go on this trip, even if Bardin was reassured that both Elaine and Wooly would be in the other air-buggy. Kieran also chose to stay out, and Adam took his place, calling it an excuse “to get new creative ideas” for his artwork.
The clowns instead walked up to the barrier which was still set up across the bottom of Lighthouse Lane.
“Will we keep this here?” said Bengo, as they paused and leaned on it “If we go back and live by the lighthouse I mean?”
“We might as well”, said Bardin “We don’t want any old bod thinking they can just pop in without any warning. Although I haven’t the faintest idea what the hell we’re doing at the moment. I wish I did know. I’m still torn between staying here, and venturing out there to see just what the hell is going on, and it’s driving me completely nuts”.
“Do you have to decide right now?” said Bengo “The more you fret on this Bardy, the less likely you’re going to get an answer. Why don’t you try and switch off from it for a bit, and just see where the rhythm takes you”.
Bardin grunted, but Bengo could see his message had at least got through.
“Certainly leave it until after Easter anyway”, said Bengo.
At that moment there was a “cooey!” as Elaine emerged from the main entrance of the Driftwood.
“Oh fuck”, Bardin muttered “Are you sure about that, Bengo?”
Kieran had wandered by himself to the edge of the village, up the lane which ran up beside the allotments. There was an abandoned chapel up here. Quite why it was abandoned he had never been able to find out. The building, square and pastel-coloured, with a bell-tower, had a pleasingly Spanish feel to it. Kieran had no plans for it, he simply wanted to explore. He also had the more practical idea that climbing up to the bell-tower would give him a good view of the surrounding area.
In the main room he found Cloris and her new gentlemen friend, The Man From The Town Council, sitting having a whispered conversation on one of the front pews. Kieran discreetly left them to it, and walked around the outside of the building until he could find the doorway which led to the belfry stairs.
At the top of the steps he climbed out onto a narrow concrete platform which surrounded the large, imposing bell which served as the solitary bell for the church. The north-facing side of the tower gave a good view up the mountainside which separated the town from the Saturn Desert. He stood there for some while, leaning on the parapet. The town behind him was abnormally quiet, and this he found disturbing. On a mild Spring morning it should have been buzzing with activity. Even though the villagers had raided the hospital last year, it didn’t seem to have helped with their communal nervousness. It was as if they’d become sucked in permanently to such an apprehensive lifestyle. That, combined with the total absence of any news from the outside world, gave everything an ominous, brooding feel at times.
A movement towards the wooded area at the top of the hill caught his attention. Kieran fumbled for the spare pair of binoculars which he had brought over from the galleon, and raised them to his eyes. He could see what appeared to be a woman in a pale blue ankle-length dress stumbling around at the edge of the woods. Kieran adjusted the lenses of the binoculars for a clearer view.
As if sensing she was being spied on the woman glanced directly down the hillside towards the church. Kieran gave a gasp and lowered the binoculars. The woman’s face seemed to have been almost totally erased. It was as if some madman had taken a sharp implement to her features and tried to scrape it all away, like carving away at a bar of soap. Kieran composed himself and then raised the glasses again. It was as he’d expected, he could see the snake’s heads twirling almost pathetically through her hair. She was a gorgon. But one who had been seriously wounded, as though someone had tried to take away her fatal power by removing her face.
Kieran turned his back on the scene, and put his hands to his mouth, trying to calm himself. This was a shocking development on so many different levels. Not just because there were still gorgons stumbling around in the local vicinity, but that someone had been able to get close enough to her to inflict serious damage. This was all very troubling.
Kieran went back down the spiral stone steps of the bell tower, which opened into the main area at the back of the chapel. This time Cloris and her gentlemen friend were moving slowly back towards the main entrance.
“Kieran!” said Cloris “How very convenient to see you. We were wondering if you would perform a little wedding ceremony for us sometime?”
“Yes, I would be delighted”, said Kieran, recovering himself from the shock he had experienced upstairs “Just give me the time and day”.
“We haven’t quite settled on that yet”, said The Man From The Town Council “We were wondering about whether to hold it here, but it all feels a bit …”
“Strange and eerie”, said Cloris “So we wondered about the main room of the Driftwood instead, or would that be blasphemous somehow?”
“Not as far as I’m concerned”, said Kieran “And I’m sure Rosa would be thrilled to host it for you. Please excuse me, I need to get on and find Bardin”.
Kieran saw Bengo and Bardin sitting in the bay window at the front of the Driftwood, along with Elaine. Bardin was looking disgruntled, and Bengo was wearing his usual expression that he wore when he was being hit with a barrage of information that he was finding it impossible to process all at once. Kieran tapped on the window, and Bengo’s expressive clown’s face was immediately transformed into joy.
“I’m sorry if I’m interrupting something”, said Kieran, when Bengo had kissed him on both cheeks inside the building “But I need to have a quiet word with Bardin straight away. I hope you don’t mind”.
Bardin immediately got to his feet and with some difficulty managed to climb out over Bengo, who smacked his behind in return.
“I don’t know what all this is about, but you’ve just done me a big favour”, said Bardin, when he and Kieran were seated with beer in the small, private side room.
“Ach Elaine’s alright isn’t she?” said Kieran, sipping at the amber nectar “At least she’s trying to bring some joy and life to this town, and holy fock, but it needs it!”
“Maybe”, said Bardin “But I know she won’t let up until we agree to join in, and I have no inclination whatsoever to perform for this lot at the moment. Anyway, what is it you wanted to say?”
Kieran lowered his voice and confided in him what he had seen from the church belfry.
“Someone actually managed to get that close to one of those things?” said Bardin “To do that? Was he blindfolded? Or perhaps he was like you, and could face her?”
“I once had to behead a Gorgon”, said Kieran, quietly “At the Marsh Village, back in the old days”.
“And at the Gorgon’s Nest in the Great Forest”, said Bardin.
“Hmm, it’s not something I’m particularly proud of”, said Kieran “Monsters or no monsters”.
“You are the Vanquisher of Evil”, Bardin sighed “Sometimes it means you have to do these awful things”.
“I’d much rather be a Prophet of Love, or a Saviour”, said Kieran “Leading people into a better world. The destruction part is never something I rest easy with. To me to destroy something is the essence of Evil. That is all that motivates them, to destroy”.
“Could it have been Angel who did that thing?” asked Bardin.
“It doesn’t feel like Angel’s ‘modus operandi’”, said Kieran “And he doesn’t have a particularly vicious streak where women are concerned, he’s largely completely indifferent to them, barely aware of their existence in fact. He’s usually saved all his savagery for men”.
“Mm”, said Bardin, reflectively “From what happened when he was young I suppose”.
Kieran squeezed Bardin’s hand.
“Oh I’m OK”, said Bardin “I get a bit cross sometimes when everyone thinks I’ll go off my head if I hear any mention of that kind of thing. We all of us had difficult childhoods didn’t we? Look at Finia for God’s sake, he was a child prostitute in a brothel until Julian rescued him! How bloody grim can you get! And yet people don’t keep harping on about it to him!”
“Finia is a very self-contained person, and I suppose we respect his need to be self-contained”, said Kieran “But you’re right, everyone had it bad in their own ways. Even privileged ones like Adam and Julian. Adam’s Da was a sadistic swine, brutal and callous, and Julian’s Mam was an awful old wagon. She’d tell him she wish she’d aborted him, that sort of thing”.
“Jeez”, Bardin shuddered.
“If we’re a bit over-protective of you it’s because we knew how much you did to shield Bengo”.
“Well somebody had to! He’s always been completely incapable of watching out for himself!”
“Whoever did that to the Gorgon I saw”, said Kieran “Must have been utterly consumed with anger and sadism. If you absolutely had to destroy a monster, most people would pick the quickest and most humane way they could. To do that …”
“Could she see you?” said Bardin “You said she seemed to look down on you at one point?”
“I think it was just some reflex action on her part”, said Kieran “She might have heard something from this direction. Sound would travel quite some way at the moment. I don’t believe she can still see. There would be no point trying to destroy a Gorgon without going for the eyes, it’s as simple and brutal as that. So, in some ways her power probably has been destroyed. She’s not a huge danger to the town, if she came down here”.
“You’re more concerned about who did this?” said Bardin.
“Whoever it was was some sick focker”, said Kieran “They either did it solely for sick kicks, or because they’re on some kind of evangelical-style vendetta. Both thoughts give me the shudders”.
Bardin felt that if things went on for much longer this way he would end up acting like a fugitive from justice. Elaine’s Easter Show seemed to be pursuing him at every turn. She had now started the plaintive wail of “there’s only 2 weeks to go!”
“I feel like walking around with a bloody sandwich board on saying ‘THAT IS NOT MY CONCERN’!” Bardin complained to Bengo “She also seems to think I’ve started some conspiracy to stop the other clowns from joining in, even though I have made it perfectly clear that I don’t care if you do or you don’t”.
“But I don’t want to join in without you, Bardy”, said Bengo “I’ve said that before. It wasn’t the same without you when I did the King Of Useless …”
“Bengo, put a sock in it!” said Bardin, pulling on his trousers “I’ve heard all this before. You’re starting to sound like a mopey dog!”
“OK”, Bengo sighed despondently.
“Anyway you’ll be pleased to hear I’ve volunteered Shag’s services”, said Bardin “She wanted someone to do some sort of tribal drumming routine during one of the musical numbers, and I said Shag could do that. I’ve told him he has to do it, so hopefully that might chuck a sop in her direction”.
“Yes he would be good at that”.
“It’s a bloody miracle we’ve finally found some use for Shag after all these years! I’ll be glad when this damn show is over, it’s starting to dominate everything. Like some monstrous bug crouching in the middle of the road, stopping us from moving forwards”.
“It’s a shame”, said Bengo “I quite like the idea of starting up a little film studio here, that’s her ultimate ambition. But that would have to be in normal times, and there’s no point doing that when we don’t know if anybody’s still out there”.
He looked so down at this that Bardin patted his shoulder.
“It won’t always be like this”, said Bardin.
“I’m not so sure sometimes”, said Bengo “Do you ever think this is IT? The end of the line? For everything?”
“Once”, said Bardin “Before the hospital was raided last year. But it’s not the end. We’re all still here, for better or worse. And in my gut I do believe there are people still out there, we just don’t know where they are at the moment. Look how many remote areas we’ve travelled in over the years, where we’ve bumped into people unexpectedly. Like Cloris, Jane and Lord Robert on Fire Island”.
“Or Elaine, Nyx, Lissa and Benjamin last year”, said Bengo.
“Exactly”, said Bardin “I won’t believe everything is lost until we’re all being sucked over the edge of the world in a maelstrom”.
Adam and Kieran were walking along the Lighthouse Lane, in the direction of the Old Temple.
“There are so many mysteries still about this town”, Adam was saying “But this has to be the most unpalatable. I know she’s a monster, but the thought of her being incarcerated down there all these years is chilling”.
“And the atmosphere it generates around this spot is eerie in the extreme”, said Kieran “I’ve always found it so”.
“It feels incredibly cruel”, said Adam “Surely it would have been better just to despatch her at the time?”
“No one could do it”, said Kieran “And not just because of the dangers it involved. It takes a lot to despatch someone in cold blood, even a monster like her. It’s strange. I never gave much of a thought to doing this kind of thing when I was younger. It was a case of Needs Must When The Devil Drives”.
“A bit like the work Ransey had to do for the Ministry”, said Adam.
“Yes”, said Kieran “But it hasn’t got any easier over the years, and these days I have a marked aversion for doing it. I even had to call Angel in to despatch the Demon Clown! I’m not much of a Vanquisher of Evil these days”.
“Nonsense”, said Adam “Anyway, what’s wrong with going into retirement? Why on earth do YOU have to do all the dirty work all the time? It doesn’t seem terribly fair”.
“I can’t get her out of my head at the moment”, said Kieran, as they stood at the entrance to the path which branched off and led to the Old Temple “And I don’t think it’s just because of the one I saw from the bell-tower. It’s because of what happened to Tamaz last year. If the villagers had gotten hold of him they would have done the same. Buried him alive somewhere”.
“We would never have let them do that”, said Adam.
“Tamaz hasn’t left the ship since then”, said Kieran “He won’t venture into the town at all. And I can’t say I blame him”.
“That’s another reason to decamp to the lighthouse after Easter”, said Adam “We might be able to coax him ashore there”.
“I’ve noticed another element creeping in around here”, said Kieran “A sort of smug satisfaction. We Have Survived, that sort of thing. I swear some of them are starting to believe there is something special about Zilligot Bay, because it has survived the Sickness. It makes me feel uneasy. I’m probably over-reacting, but it’s a step from that to deciding to stone anyone who’s different from them!” They walked up to the Temple building. There was always a creepy silence around this place, and today there was no exception, with no birdsong at all.
“I’m going to have to do this terrible thing”, said Kieran, quietly “Despatch her, and it fills me with dread”.
“When would be the best time?” said Adam.
“With a grim note of humour, April Fool’s Day!” said Kieran “It’s also Maundy Thursday, the first day of Elaine’s show. So hopefully everybody will be distracted elsewhere, and will stay out of our way. I want you, Ransey, Hillyard and Bardin to come here with me”.
“Of course”, said Adam “But what about Joby?”
“I want him to go to the show, whether he likes it or not”, said Kieran “I have a feeling if neither of us turn up it might arouse some suspicion. Also if he goes, he can help to keep Lonts calm”.
“I nearly said ‘and Tamaz’, but of course he won’t be going”, said Adam.
“Can you imagine the reaction from that damned lot in the village if he did!” said Kieran “Sometimes it’s hard to keep a hold of your Christian values at a time like this!”
They paused in companionable silence for a moment. Along the breeze they could distantly hear the sound of the wind chimes in Rosa’s walled garden.
“It will all soon be over”, said Adam, gently “Now let’s get home. I feel like spanking Bardin”.
“Life goes on”, said Kieran.
Cloris was married to The Man From The Town Council on, appropriately-enough, Lady Day. The ceremony was held in the main bar of the Driftwood, which was especially reserved for the occasion, with Kieran officiating. The day before Ransey and Hillyard had taken the fishing-trawler out, and landed a bumper catch of crab and lobster, and this formed the bulk of the festive feast.
The bride looked very elegant in a long cream dress, matching fur stole and hat. The dress had been run up for her by one of the more obliging women in the town, and it was unanimously agreed that she looked very stylish in it. It was hard to believe that she was the same sinister, disconnected person who had unnerved them all so thoroughly the year before.
A very pleasant wedding feast followed, with full compliment of Woolly, Glynis and Jane, plus the occupants of Doctor Xavier’s house, and several of the Indigo-ites. It was a chilly day, with the same nasty, squally wind which seemed to have been prevailing for too long now, but the sun came out, and flooded the bay window of the bar with welcome Spring light.
The Man From The Town Council made a charming speech, in which he said that he never expected something so wonderful as Cloris to be wafted along the Horn of Wonder. Kieran said that Cloris deserved every bit of happiness there was, which led Cloris - who wasn’t one who usually showed emotion in public - to dab at her eyes with a white gloved hand.
Whilst everyone was chatting over the remains of their shellfish lunch, Joby stepped outside for a breather, closely followed by Adam. They both sat on a rickety bench at the side of the Inn, looking out towards the choppy ocean.
“Are Spring weddings normally a bit melancholy?” said Joby “You’d think it would be the reverse wouldn’t you?”
“I think the way the World is at the moment has just added a touch of melancholy to it”, said Adam “What a ghastly year it’s been”.
“A ghastly few years”, said Joby “Tamaz wants to go over as well when Kieran goes into the Old Temple. He says he should be able to face the Gorgon”.
“It’s a bit risky”, said Adam “We have no certainty that he has immunity”.
“He seems convinced he can”, said Joby “In fact he’s pretty much made up his mind about it. I can’t say I’m chuffed to bits at the idea, but he is determined”.
“If it will help him, then I suppose we have to go along with it”, Adam sighed “He’s such a sad, withdrawn little thing at the moment, not at all like his old self”.
There was a burst of voices as the main door to the bar opened, and bride and groom strolled out, followed by most of the wedding guests.
“Looks like they’re off”, said Joby, as he and Adam rose from the bench.
“The honeymoon begins”, said Adam.
Later that evening Julian summoned Bardin, Kieran and Joby into his cabin. Somehow he had got wind of the plan to take Tamaz over to the Old Temple.
“Are you all out of your tiny minds?” he shouted “Is that what the current situation has done to you? Made you take complete leave of your senses? You have absolutely no guarantee that Tamaz is immune to the Gorgon at all!”
“He really wants to go, Julian”, said Joby, miserably aware of how feeble that sounded.
“He WANTS to go?!” Julian exclaimed “So if he told you he wanted to stick his head in a lion’s mouth you’d be happy to go along with that would you!”
“I think he needs this, Julian”, said Kieran “A sort of cleansing after what he went through last year”.
“A sort of cleans …” Julian was flabbergasted “I have heard you come out with some spiritual crap at times over the years, Kieran, but this takes the biscuit …”
“Julian, believe me, I wouldn’t even countenance this if I thought Tamaz was at the slightest risk”, said Kieran “If you’d just stop shouting a minute, I’d explain”.
“Oh be my guest”, said Julian, throwing himself into his chair “Please explain!”
“Tamaz will come over with us to the Old Temple next week”, said Kieran “The plan is that I will go ahead down into the bowels of the building, and see what the situation is. If the creature is safe, then I ask Tamaz to come down and join me”.
“What for?!” said Julian.
“What happened to him last year has made him brood to much on his monstrous ancestry”, said Kieran “You must have noticed he’s not been himself these past few months. He’s brooding too much. It’s made him reflect too much on what he comes from, and nothing any of us can say - and believe me, we have tried - can shake him out of it. He needs to face Her for himself, but I will not let him join me down there if there is the slightest risk”.
“Well how the hell is there not going to be any risk?” said Julian “You should know by now how dangerous Gorgons are. We don’t have much in the way of a fighting chance with them! And how the heck can she suddenly become safe?” “I don’t know”, said Kieran “I don’t know what to expect when I go down there, but you must trust me, that there is no way I would put Tamaz at any kind of risk. I know you think I’m a clot-headed eejit at times, with his head stuffed up in the clouds, but I can assure you I wouldn’t do something as reckless as that!”
“There’s another problem though”, said Bardin, quietly “Tamaz’s own recklessness. He can move pretty damn fast and nimbly when he wants to. I’ve always said he’s a natural acrobat. What if he wriggles away from us and follows you down there?”
“I’m glad one of you is talking sense in this room”, said Julian “The only way round that, as far as I can see, is if Joby goes over with you. If Tamaz is likely to listen to anyone, it’ll be him”.
“I wouldn’t bank on it!” said Joby.
“Oh come off it”, said Julian “Keep a firm hold on him until the coast is clear”.
“None of us wants to do this damn thing, Julian”, said Bardin “But I think the town has been living in the shadow of that bloody Temple for far too long. It sort of sits there, casting its malevolent aura over the whole area. We managed to clear out the hospital … well the bits we know about, I’m not entirely convinced we’ve done the whole thing … the Temple has to be next”.
“And say Kieran has to decapitate this Thing?” said Julian “How will Tamaz feel witnessing that?”
“I am hoping it won’t come that”, said Kieran, somewhat enigmatically.
Bardin finally gave in to Elaine’s nagging, went to call in at the new theatre, to see how progressing was coming along on the great Easter Show. He and Bengo walked over there on the morning of Palm Sunday. Contrary to the hustle and bustle which they were expecting, they found the garden of Doctor Xavier’s house to be deathly quiet, with no one in sight.
“Perhaps they’re all over at the Driftwood”, said Bengo.
“Let’s go in and see what it looks like indoors anyway”, said Bardin, heading over to the large tent, which constituted the bulk of the new theatre.
He lifted up a large flap of canvas and went in the rear door, closely followed by Bengo. It was claustrophobically dark inside, and everywhere was a potential trip hazard of paint pots, planks of wood, and ropes hanging down from the end of the fly tower over the stage.
“Be careful where you step, Bengo”, said Bardin, sternly.
“Yes alright!” said Bengo “I have been backstage before you know!”
“Yes I know, and I remember plenty of occasions when you managed to create total havoc”, said Bardin.
“Huh!” said Bengo “It wasn’t me who unscrewed the lid of a fizzy drink once backstage and sent it shooting everywhere all over the props! Just after you told the rest of us not to touch anything as well!”
Suddenly something came sliding down one of the ropes from overhead, right next to where Bardin was standing. He gave a yelp of alarm and clutched onto Bengo. The mysterious thing was clad in a black cloak. When it reached ground level, it gave a mischievous chuckle and shrugged off the cloak. Elaine was standing there, wearing a bright red leotard, fishnet tights, and with two rabbits ears stuck on her head.
“Sorry Bardin”, she laughed “Oh you should see your face! But I heard you come in and I couldn’t resist”.
“Oh I get it”, said Bengo “Are you meant to be the Easter Bunny?”
“That’s right”, said Elaine, throwing her arms wide “How do I look?”
“A bloody nightmare!” said Bardin.
“Take no notice of him”, said Bengo “It’s because you made him jump”.
“I thought you said you were going to be the Ringmaster, not the Easter Bunny”, said Bardin.
“I am the Ringmaster”, said Elaine “But even the Ringmaster is allowed to change costume occasionally”.
“That was a really deft bit of sliding you did on the rope”, said Bengo, approvingly.
“I thought I’d come on stage like that, at the beginning of the second half”, said Elaine “In my cloak, and then shrug it off to reveal my Bunny outfit”.
“Well I hope you don’t scare the crap out of your audience like you just did me!” said Bardin.
“Come along”, said Elaine “Let me show you the rest of the theatre”.
“I thought I’d do two shows a day”, she said, leading them through the small, stuffy auditorium “Both of very different characters. The afternoon matinee would be for children and families, all good clean family fun. And the evening show would be darker, much more adult, more like the sort of thing you did at the Cabaret of Horrors”.
“Would Zilligot Bay be up for that?” said Bengo, dubiously.
“Who knows until we try!” Elaine enthused.
Bardin was standing staring at a heap of boxes by the main entrance, all of which seemed to be filled with various bits of gaudy, brightly-coloured flotsam.
“Where did you get all this?” he said, pointing at the boxes “Donated by the villagers?”
“No”, said Elaine “We scavenged it from the caves up behind the town. You know, where the old wax museum was?”
Bengo nearly blurted out that this was where Kieran and Joby had made the deal with Angel regarding despatching the Demon Clown two years before, but wisely chose not to.
“There were all sorts of odds and ends up there”, said Elaine, going over to the boxes “From when the town had quite an arty side to it”.
“It must have been fun then”, she added, wistfully.
The top box contained string puppets, surprisingly well made ones. Elaine rooted around and pulled out one which was about two feet in height. She untangled the mass of wires around it, and let it dangle free. Bengo and Bardin both visibly recoiled when they saw what it was.
“What the hell …?” said Bardin “I hope you’re not going to show that at the children’s matinee!”
“No, I thought the evening cabaret”, said Elaine, smoothing out the plastic snakes heads which coiled around the marionette’s grotesque head “Oh don’t look like that, boys. I thought you two veteran Cabaret artistes would be well up for something like this. In fact, it’s probably small beer compared to the sort of thing you did!”
“Why on earth would they have had puppets of THAT?” said Bengo.
“Perhaps a little dark humour”, Elaine shrugged, putting the ghastly puppet back in the box “Who knows?”
The plan to go to the Old Temple on Maundy Thursday was put on hold. The decision by the Indigo-ites not to go to the opening night of the Easter Festival had caused an alarming amount of gossip and speculation in the town. Bardin found this irritating, as he said it was none of their business why they would choose not to go, but at the same time he had to acknowledge that their interest could potentially be hazardous. So he reluctantly dragged himself to the opening night of the show, ignoring the children’s matinee in the afternoon. He left Bengo to give the reassuring praise to Elaine afterwards, on the grounds that Bardin’s talents as a critic could be somewhat abrasive at the best of times.
“I thought the puny bodybuilder skit was very funny”, said Bengo, as he and Bardin walked back along the main street of the village afterwards, in the deep twilight.
“Yes, he reminded me of a long-haired version of Mutton Broth!” said Bardin.
“Oh Bardy!” Bengo laughed.
He stopped when he saw shadows moving up towards the barrier they had erected across Lighthouse Lane a year before. For one awful moment he thought it was meddlesome lot from the village out to cause trouble, but as they got closer, he could see it was Kieran, Ransey, Hillyard, Joby and Tamaz.
“They’re doing it now”, Bardin whispered.
He and Bengo broke into a gentle run and caught up with them.
“We weren’t going without you, Bardin”, Kieran whispered “If you hadn’t seen us, Adam was going to tell you where we were when you got back to the ship”.
“Don’t stop”, said Bardin “Let’s get on with it now”.
The atmosphere was always forbidding around the Old Temple, but tonight, in the deep early Spring gloom, it felt doubly so. It was also as if all noise faded away here. Even the ubiquitous sound of the ocean crashing on the rocks seemed muted.
“OK”, said Kieran, as they got up to the building “I shall go down first, as arranged. If all is … well if all as I think it is, then I’ll call up for Tamaz”.
Tamaz didn’t reply. He had a disconcerting intensity about him, which had rarely been seen before.
Kieran went up the steps into the building. It wasn’t hard to find the entrance to the Gorgon’s prison, as there was only one room to the temple, with a shadowy, pillared walkway round the edges. One of the tiles in the marbled floor stood out as slightly different to the others. It could only be seen if you stared intently at the floor.
Holding a torch in his hand, Kieran went over to it. As he suspected, there was as metal bolt holding the trapdoor in place. He put down the torch and, with great difficulty, slid the bolt away. He was relieved that it hadn’t become completely rusted into place, as that would have made things nigh-on impossible to sort out without the maximum of fuss.
He paused for a moment, bracing himself for what could come. He had assumed that he would be impervious to a Gorgon’s power, but now, faced with the imminent prospect of meeting one in a confined space, he wasn’t so sure. He stopped for a moment to offer up a prayer to the Almighty, genuflecting for good measure.
There was also the problem that the Gorgon might panic. She had been down in this hole for many years, cut off from all contact with any other living creature. She had also been in the dark for all that time. Kieran covered the lens of the torch with a bulls-eye cover, so that it would show the bare minimum of light.
Once the trapdoor was open, he could just make out a metal ladder which was fixed to the wall of the round hole. He could hear a rustling noise from down below, which filled him with great trepidation. It was like stepping down into a nest of vipers.
“Please don’t panic”, Kieran called down, as softly as he could “I come in peace and love. I mean you no harm”.
Suddenly a woman’s arms shot up into the air, waving around wildly. Kieran could just make out a long tongue, like an ant-eater’s, flicking out of her face.
“Please don’t panic”, Kieran repeated.
He gently grabbed one of her arms and pulled it down. He could see the dirty, broken fingernails, like long talons. There was dried blood on her fingers, and Kieran guessed that she had at some point tried to claw her way through the stonework. Needless to say, to no avail.
The woman stopped shrieking, and began to whimper instead. Kieran had once before seen a Gorgon who had lost her power. Many years ago, back in the City, a neighbour of theirs had actually offered sanctuary to one. They had seen her in his house. She had looked worn out and exhausted, depleted from years of trying to fight a world into which she could never find a place.
“We’ve come to get you away from here”, said Kieran “But first, there is someone who wants to meet you. He is one of you”.
Kieran climbed halfway back up the ladder, and called for Tamaz, who responded at once. He walked across the inside of the Temple, wearing a long coat, which made him look curiously batlike. He shed the coat at the entrance to the hole, and climbed down nimbly, like the born acrobat Bardin had always said he was.
“Her snakes are dead”, said Tamaz, looking at the reptilian remains which still dangled dismally around her head.
“Yes”, was all Kieran could think of to say.
“I am half-Gorgon”, said Tamaz to the creature “My mother was one. I’m sure the locals would do this to me as well if they could”.
“We have come to free you”, said Kieran.
“She is completely safe”, he said, meeting up with the others outside a few minutes later “Tamaz is bringing her out now. He’s been iontach, I mean splendid”.
“Where are we going to take her though?” said Bengo.
“Up into the hills”, said Kieran “The sooner the better. It’s her natural habitat. I think she came from there”.
“Perhaps that’s where all the Gorgons come from originally”, said Hillyard “Down in this part of the world. I’ve been wondering that a lot lately”.
“Could well be”, said Kieran.
“But will she be alright?” said Bengo, looking anguished “Can’t we help her in some way?”
“Bengo, use your loaf, you clot”, said Bardin “We can scarcely take her back to the ship, or set her up in the Old Lighthouse. Can you imagine how the villagers would react if they heard about that? They’d be in full flaming pitchfork mode before you knew it! We had enough to do to keep Tamaz’s illness last year away from them. It wouldn’t take much to turn that lot into a Gorgon-hunting lynch-mob!”
“Yes, I see what you mean”, said Bengo, miserably.
“She’s in a bad way”, Kieran said to the others “So try not to react too shocked when you see her”.
“Bound to be”, said Joby “After years incarcerated in a hole deep underground!”
The Gorgon whimpered and squealed constantly, but she was no threat to them, and she didn’t resist when they walked her up into onto the wooded slopes of the mountains overlooking the Saturn Desert. Kieran had re-bolted the hatch in the Old Temple.
“That way it may be quite some time before they realise she’s no longer there”, he said.
As they made progress up along the narrow, rudimentary footpaths, the Gorgon gradually became more and more excited. She was finally free. At one point she even stopped to touch one of the trees, as though she couldn’t believe it.
They took their leave of her near the top.
“Try to avoid any human settlements you might come across”, Kieran said to her “If there are any left that is. Keep away from them as much as you can”.
Julian had stayed up, waiting for them all to appear. He was sitting in the dining-room when the finally came home, at about a quarter-to-four in the morning. Kieran briefly explained what had happened, but said they would discuss it more when they’d all had some sleep.
“I’m not sure I understand any of this”, said Julian, in exasperation “How the hell has she managed to stay alive all this time, without any food or water?”
“She’s a Monster, Julian, she’s not human”, said Kieran “She doesn’t require the same kinds of sustenance that we do. It’s all a lot to take in for one night. Let’s talk more tomorrow”,
Julian gave a resigned grunt in reply. At the door to the passageway Kieran paused and looked round.
“Can you imagine what it’s going to be like for her?” he said “When she sees daylight again in the morning, after all these years?”
“So where’s she likely to go?” said Hoowie, who was sitting on the poop-deck the next day with Bengo and Rumble.
“Kieran thinks she might go to that weird castle up the coast”, said Bengo “The one that was swathed in the giant cobweb”.
“Rather her than me”, Rumble shuddered.
“Perhaps it’s different if you’re a monster”, said Bengo, sadly.
“Are we gonna get run out of town when the likes of Eunice find out what we’ve done?” asked Rumble.
“In some ways I think Bardy’s hoping we will”, said Bengo.
Kieran and Joby were sitting at the far end of the main deck, both contemplating the ocean, both having the same sort of conversation as the others.
“I wonder what will happen to her now”, said Joby, referring to the Gorgon.
“There’s a good chance her power could come back once she’s recovered from her incarceration”, said Kieran.
“Oh now he fucking tells me!” said Joby “Blimey, that’ll make us really popular that will!”
“I can’t imagine for one minute that she will want to come back to this area”, said Kieran.
“Not even out of revenge? There must be plenty in the twon she’d like to turn to marble”.
“Maybe. But in her position I think I’d never want to see this place again”.
“But not everybody’s like you, Kiel”, Joby sighed “And she is technically a monster at the end of the day”.
“This town has been surrounded by gorgons for a long time now”, said Kieran “The towns people have lived with it for this long, they can carry on with it as far as I’m concerned”.
“You’re a ruthless little sod on the quiet”, said Joby.
“You’ve always known that!” Kieran exclaimed “Anyway, perhaps I know what it feels like to be treated as an outsider. I’m sure there are plenty over the years who would love to have incarcerated me at the bottom of an old temple. And the same goes for Tamaz too”.
Towards the end of the afternoon Bardin volunteered to take a supply of promised goats cheese over to Rosa at the Driftwood. He still felt a need to clear his head, and this seemed like a good time fo the day to do it. The town could be quiet at this hour, with everyone at home preparing their supper.
After dropping off the goats cheese he walked down the main street of the town, and then turned down one of the narrow side alleys which led down to the harbour. He was about halfway down when suddenly the door of a house opened and half-a-dozen men came out. Bardin recognised them at once as the gang of young idlers who had given them so much trouble the previous Spring.
Although Bardin was fit, having retained his acrobatic athleticism, he also knew he was vastly out-numbered. He had no intention of turning and walking away from them, but he was also reluctant to walk straight up to them. He decided instead to stand stock-still, exactly where he was. He was reasonably gratified to see that this momentarily disconcerted them. But if they wanted a confrontation, he reasoned, they were going to have to walk up to him, not the other way round.
“Oh looky what we have here”, said the ringleader, in a somewhat predictable fashion, as they approached Bardin, swaggering.
“What do you want?” said Bardin “This could all get very boring very quickly y’know”.
“There’s been nothing but trouble since you came to this town”, said the one whom Bardin had always thought looked like a pea wearing glasses.
“Trouble?” said Bardin “And yet I was the one who ran over the demon last year. Is that how you define trouble?”
If Bardin wasn’t already fully aware of the old expression Brute Force And Ignorance, he might have been tempted to feel sorry for their gross lack of intellect. He could almost envisage the cogs whirring painfully round in their heads.
It all happened with dizzying speed. He found himself being spun round and slammed hard up against a brick wall. As the wall came rushing up to greet him, he thought “oh God no, not my teeth!” Things went pitch black for a moment, and then he became aware of someone pulling his hands behind his back as if to truss him up. The heavy slamming into the walk had left him too momentarily dazed to fully explore what they had in store for him.
Then, as if from a great distance, he heard a loud banging sound, and a man’s voice shouting. His clammy-handed assailants let go of him, and Bardin turned to see that an old man had come out of one of the nearby houses. He was wearing a sleeveless vest and trousers, an was banging on a saucepan with a wooden spoon.
“Get out of here you little shits!” he yelled at the attackers.
“Nothing to do with you, grandpa”, said the ringleader.
“Of course it’s to do with me”, said the old man “It’s happening right outside my house! Get away with you! You little bastards would be better off occupying your time trying to build up this town, not engaging in mindless acts of violence. There’s no shortage of jobs for you to do round here, but you’re too fucking lazy to get on with any of it!”
There was a catcalling and jeering, but the louts at least evaporated away, disappearing back into the dark narrow little hovel from which they had emerged.
“Are you alright, feller?” asked the old man, coming over to Bardin “Is there anything I can do? I used to do First Aid when I was younger, sports injuries and all that”.
“I’ll be alright”, said Bardin, having checked that his teeth were still in place “I’ll get home. Finia can see to me, he’s like our resident nurse. Thanks for rescuing me”.
“It’s no trouble”, said the old man “I won’t put up with that lot trying to bully anybody. They’re the bane of this town, that’s what they are. Birching would be too good for ‘em!”
“You’ve got some superficial grazing”, said Finia, dabbing antiseptic onto Bardin’s forehead “But it could have been a lot worse”.
“I have my knight in shining armour to thank for that”, said Bardin.
“I shall send a bottle of something round to his place in the morning”, said Adam, who was hovering nearby in the dining-room on the galleon “As a thank you. If he hadn’t been there I dread to think what would have happened”.
“Guardian angels can come in all shapes and sizes”, said Kieran.
Bengo had been hopping about, so angry he could barely speak.
“Bengo, let’s get on with serving supper”, said Adam.
“No I will not!” said Bengo “I can’t do that whilst Bardy’s injured”.
“Injured?” said Bardin “Come off it, Bengo, we’ve probably had worse injuries on stage! In fact, I’m pretty certain we have!”
“That’s not the point!” said Bengo “I’m going to see them myself”.
“Bengo, you are nobody’s idea of a one-man vigilante!” said Bardin.
“I don’t care!” Bengo thumped out into the corridor.
“LONTS!” Bardin ordered “Go and bring him back!”
“OK Bardin”, Lonts sighed “But I want it put officially on record that I agree with Bengo”.
Fortunately, by the time he reached the bottom of the quarterdeck steps, some vestige of commonsense had seeped into Bengo’s brain, and he reluctantly returned to the dining-room.
“Good”, said Bardin “Now sit down, and let’s eat. As the old saying goes, shit happens”.
“Stop looking like that”, Bardin said later that evening, as he and Bengo were getting ready for bed in their cabin “Life’s going to be pretty damn grim if you’re just going to stand around scowling all the time!”
“Put yourself in my position, Bardy”, said Bengo, who was morosely washing himself “Say the roles were reversed, and it had been me who was attacked. You wouldn’t take too kindly to being told you had to shut up about it and stay at home!”
“Probably not”, said Bardin “But there really is nothing to be gained from you going out there and getting yourself beaten up as well now is there! I was unlucky, that’s all. I suppose we should have expected that they would try something like that at some point. The old guy was right, they should be occupying themselves with other things”.
“Why do they waste their days like that?” said Bengo “I suppose you’re gonna say it’s because they’re young”.
“I could, but I don’t feel like it”, said Bardin “Jeez, we were working all the hours of the day at their age. When we were a lot younger than them too!”
“And I don’t believe it’s because they’ve got nothing to do”, said Bengo “There’s tonnes they could be doing, might work off some of that damn pent-up sexual frustration of theirs, ‘cos I swear that’s what’s causing it. I was lucky. I could work mine out at that age by spraying you with a hose!”
“As you often did”, said Bardin “Still it might help me make my mind up about moving back to the Old Lighthouse. Kieran can then exorcise it as much as he likes”.
Joby took a bottle of brandy round to the old man’s house the following morning as a ‘thank you’. The old man seemed a bit embarrassed by this gift, but accepted it graciously.
“It did me a favour really”, he said “I’ve been wanting to have a real good shout at those young louts for a long time now. They’re always congregating down this street, and giving it a horrible atmosphere. Little shits. How is your feller?”
“He’ll be alright”, said Joby “Clowns are pretty resilient really”.
“I guess they have to be!” the old man chuckled.
Joby left and went on his way up to the main street, where he found Glynis sitting in the bay window of Woolly’s house.
“Are you on the pick-up?” Joby teased her.
“Oh very funny, you cheeky bastard”, said Glynis “Hold on, I’ll let you in”.
She went over and opened the front door.
“Jane’s at work”, she said “And Woolly’s fast asleep upstairs”.
She showed him into Woolly’s over-stuffed living-room. In spite of the surplus of sofa’s dotted around, Joby joined her on the window-seat.
“I was hoping I’d see one of you lot strolling past”, she said “I heard about what happened to Bardin. Word gets round and all that. I wanted to come over to the galleon and see how he was, but knowing what a prideful little so-and-so he is, I thought he might not like that”.
“Don’t worry about him”, said Joby “I think Bengo’s driving him up the wall a bit, he keeps wanting to go and accost the thugs”.
“I can’t see Bengo as a fearsome avenger”, said Glynis.
“No one can”, said Joby, dryly “I told him earlier if he hadn’t calmed down by the time I get back, there will be Words”.
“If I see that lot there will also be Words”, said Glynis “I’m not afraid of little sods like that. They roam around in packs, too terrified to take someone on one-to-one. None of them would have had the balls to confront Bardin on his own. I was also worried that it might be an incentive for you all to leave this town”.
“I’ve told you before we wouldn’t go anywhere without giving you plenty of warning”, said Joby “I suspect, more likely, we’re gonna go back to the Old Lighthouse, and you know you’re always welcome there. I won’t deny we’re curious to know what the heck’s going on in the outside world - if anything - but well I suppose we’ve also got roots in this town now. Though it drives us mad that no one seems keen to pull it all together”.
“And when you think we might be the only town left in the World it’s doubly frustrating”, said Glynis “We need someone in charge. Oh I know we’ve got Lissa as Mayoress, and she’s a great girl. She’s like Cloris, she’s great at backroom stuff, at keeping things ticking over on an even keel, and that’s important, but we also need someone to give this town an almighty kick up the backside. And there’s only one person I can think of who could do that”.
“If you’re gonna say Julian”, said Joby “I’ll warn you now, this could be the end of a beautiful friendship”.
“No”, said Glynis “Bardin”.
“That ent gonna happen”, said Joby “I sometimes think he hates this town, and what happened yesterday’s only gonna reinforce it. What I mean is he hates some of them in it, not the likes of you, and Rosa, and well ... all of you mates”.
“But we all live here too”, said Glynis “Why does everybody talk about the likes of Eunice and those horrid little thugs yesterday as if they are the be-all and end-all? What about the rest of us? Not just us either, but the old man who rescued Bardin yesterday. Don’t we all count for something? We’re all fed up with limping along like this, languishing day-in day-out. Bardin would energise us”.
“Do you have any idea what you’re suggesting?!” said Joby “Look, we can put up with Bardin on the galleon. We have our own ways of sorting him out …”
“Oh come on”, said Glynis “You make him sound like a monster!”
“He is!”, said Joby “Not as big a monster as Julian, but a sort of mini version. The other clowns are terrified of him sometimes! Mind you, the little buggers usually deserve it”.
“Ah here’s Hillyard”, said Glynis, leaning out of the window “Hillyard, come here! Joby’s with me!”
“Oh there you are”, Hillyard hove into view “Skiving off again?”
“What do you mean, AGAIN?” said Joby.
“Hold on, I’ll let you in too”, said Glynis, sliding off the windowseat.
“This is cosy”, said Hillyard, when he was let into the room “Let’s all go upstairs and have a threesome”.
“Behave yourself, Hillyard!” said Joby.
“I haven’t time for all that”, said Glynis, going over to the sideboard “Although I can give us all a quick glass of Sherry. I’ve got work in about half-an-hour. Anyway, I want to tell you my brilliant idea”.
“Oh yes, what’s that?” said Hillyard, perching on the arm of one of the sofa’s.
“It’s not a brilliant idea at all”, said Joby “She doesn’t know what she’s suggesting”.
“Yes I do”, said Glynis, pouring out the drinks “To put it in a nutshell, for Bardin to take over this town”.
“Take it over?!” Hillyard exclaimed “What, sort of like an armed invasion?”
“Well nothing quite as dramatic as that”, said Glynis, bringing the drinks over “Although I’m sure he could manage it. More a peaceful coup. Lissa would still stay on as Mayoress, but we need someone to really shake this town to its very foundations”.
“I think Joby’s right”, said Hillyard “You don’t know what you’re suggesting! Anyway, Bardin’s got enough to do on the galleon”.
“You can’t keep him to yourself all the time, that’s very selfish”, said Glynis “Elaine said that only the other day”.
“I might have known she’d be in it somewhere”, said Joby, sipping at his Sherry.
“But he’s ours”, said Hillyard “Course we can keep him to ourselves, do what we like with him”.
“I’m being serious”, said Glynis “There is a lot of intelligence and talent in this town. Don’t look like that, Joby, there is. Look at Rosa and Doctor Xavier for instance. But we need someone who can pull it all together, and Bardin could do that. Not just because he’s an extraordinary man, but with his theatre background he knows how to organise things. The right people to put in the right jobs, that sort of thing. At the moment we’re all just bumbling along with no direction, running at the lowest common denominator all the time. It’s all so pointless”.
Perhaps not surprisingly, on hearing about Glynis’s idea, Bardin ordered the complete relocation of the galleon to the Old Lighthouse. The other Indigo-ites had expected this, and simply did as he wished.
“I have no interest whatsoever in running this town!” said Bardin.
“I think that’s why she suggested you”, said Adam “Give power to the person who doesn’t want it, that sort of thing”.
“People are bloody daft!” said Bardin.
After a few days back at the Lighthouse, Kieran and Joby were sitting chatting up on the main deck. The weather had continued to be very squally, but at least it was showing signs of trying to warm up a bit. The wind didn’t cut through you like a knife anymore.
“There’s one thing that’s been bothering me about our rescue mission to the Old Temple”, said Kieran, pensively.
“What, the fact that her power might come back?” said Joby.
“No”, said Kieran “As I said at the time, I don’t think she has any interest in coming back to this area. It’s the bolt on the hatch. It wasn’t rusty at all. In fact, it was almost as good as new. As far as we know she had been incarcerated down there for many years, and so, you might thnk it would follow that the hatch would have become well welded into place by now”.
“Perhaps somebody went in there occasionally to check up on her”, Joby suggested.
“I don’t see why they would risk doing that”, said Kieran “It would have been far too dangerous. Just the smallest glance upwards from her would have finished them off”.
“Well if it comes to that”, said Joby “I’ve never understood how they got her down there in the first place. Unless someone ran up to her from behind and pushed a sack over her head. Still seems highly perilous though”.
“Downright insane”, said Kieran “Which is why I don’t think it happened that way. There could be someone else around here who has the power to face her head-on, but I’m not sure about that”.
“So what are you saying then?” Joby sighed “Come on, spit it out”.
“I think she lost her power BEFORE she was put into the Old Temple”, said Kieran.
“What?!” Joby exclaimed “That’s insane! Why would they?”
“Why would someone be mad enough to try and destroy the face of a Gorgon?” said Kieran “Like the one I saw from the top of the church tower that time”.
“And why keep checking up on her?” said Joby.
“If someone is vindictive enough”, said Kieran “There’s no limit to what they’re capable of”.
“There’s another point to be raised here”, said Joby “If someone has done that, what happens when they find out we’ve sprung her?”
“I guess things could turn a wee bit nasty”, said Kieran.
“Well if they want to run us out of town”, said Joby “I’d be more than happy to go! Look, I’m gonna have to tell Glynis all this. She has a right to know. I don’t think we can keep this amongst ourselves, not if it could threaten to go public at any moment. And she needs to know in case we do decide to leg it”.
Fortunately the others agreed to this. Joby went to see Glynis at the barrier the following morning. She took the news about the release of the Gorgon surprisingly calm, and was clearly more concerned about what the Indigo-ites were going to do next.
“You have my absolute promise we won’t go anywhere without telling you first”, said Joby “I’ve always said that and I mean it. Even if I have to run down here in my dressing-gown in the middle of the night!”
“Oh why can’t this town get its bloody act together!” Glynis wailed “People are just existing. It’s a like a collective form of PTSD. I know it’s daunting, the thought that we could be the only ones left, but …”
“Look, if it’s getting you down that much”, said Joby “Why don’t you move into the Old Lighthouse for a while? It’ll be almost back to normal once Kieran’s finished exorcising it”.
“Wow, you’re really selling it to me!” Glynis laughed “No it’s OK, I like living with Jane and Woolly. They’re fun, and they help me to cope with all this. But I’m like you lot, I feel I don’t really belong here either. Part of it’s the same trouble I had back in Toondor Lanpin, when you all caught up with me again. How do I get round the fact that I never seem to get any older? It suggests I’m not going to be able to stay here for very long”.
“Well you haven’t got to worry about that just yet”, said Joby “Why don’t you go out in the air-buggy with H again sometime? Take Rosa as well, she loves it. That’s one thing we SHOULD be doing, keep scouting the area for anybody else who might be around”.
Kieran was standing at the top of the lighthouse, which afforded him a 360 degree view of the entire area. Mostly he stood looking out at the western ocean though, which sparkled in the chilly sunlight. Needless to say there was no sign of any vessels on the water. He prayed quietly that they would get some indication soon if anyone else was out there in the big wide world.
Slowly he strolled round the platform which circled the light, and spotted Joby returning from his chat with Glynis. Kieran wended his way down through the lighthouse to meet him. At the main entrance he climbed down the metal ladder and jumped onto the poop-deck of the galleon. He had just stepped from the galleon and onto the main ground outside the lighthouse, when a shout went up behind him. Ransey was running towards him from the top of the quarterdeck steps.
“Where the hell is everybody?” he panted “Something happens, and I can’t find a soul around. Where’s Adam? He’s not in the galley”.
“He is allowed out occasionally, mate”, said Joby.
“Ransey, calm yourself”, said Kieran “What’s happened?”
“Have you finally managed to contact someone on the wireless set?” asked Joby.
“You could say that”, said Ransey, trying at least to control his breathing “We’ve finally had contact from the outside world”.
“Oh my God!” said Kieran, putting his hands to his mouth “My prayers have been answered already!”
“I would wait and hear more first before you go offering up any thanks”, said Ransey, tersely.
“Well who is it then?” said Joby.
“Some bloody bureaucrat”, Ransey snapped “Says he works at the Ministry, and he’s doing a Census of everybody who is left!”
“Oh blimey”, said Joby “Are the Ministry a thing again then?”
“Nothing bloody destroys them for long, take it from me, they are indestructable!” said Ransey, scathingly “I got a long rigmarole about the need for an accurate survey, and how many of us there are here, and what do we do, and blah-blah-blah …”
“And what did you say?” said Joby.
“Nothing”, said Ransey “I disconnected the wireless set immediately. I know by rights I should have spoken to Bardin first, but he seems to have vanished off the face of the earth …”
“He was going hunting up the in hills with Mieps and Hillyard”, said Kieran.
“Well anyway I couldn’t find him, so he’ll just have to lump it”, said Ransey “I don’t trust that lot one inch! My gut feeling was that we couldn’t afford to tell him about the town here, or any of us. It is far better they do not know”.
“Yeah but they do know now”, said Joby “He knows you’re here for a start”.
“No he doesn’t”, said Ransey “He hasn’t a clue who I am. For all he knows, I could be one man clinging to a bare rock in the middle of the ocean”.
“With a wireless set conveniently close to hand”, said Joby.
“Take it from me, from one who knows”, said Ransey “You do not want him knowing about us! I will stand to that belief even if you tied me to a stake and set fire to my feet!”
“I don’t think there’s any need for us to do that, Ransey”, said Kieran.
Ransey went to move off.
“Where are you going now?” said Joby.
“To speak to Cloris”, said Ransey.
“What for?!” said Joby.
“Because she’s someone else who also knows how the insufferable mind of the Ministry works”, said Ransey “It’s at times like this I need someone who knows just how bloody mad they are! We have been through hell and back, and they want to do a fucking Census survey!”
“He’s really twizzled up ent he”, said Joby, as Ransey marched off purposefully down the road.
“Trouble is, I can see WHY the Ministry wants to do a Census”, said Kieran “We’ve done nothing but speculate ourselves lately how many might be out there. But he’s also right. We shouldn’t trust them. The very last thing we need is that lot turning up down here and making trouble for us! Before we know it, they could have us all rounded up and put in holding-camps somewhere, just for their convenience”.
“We’d leg it before that happened”, said Joby.
It was chaos at supper that evening. The hunters returned to the news of the Ministry on the wireless, and everything became very up in the air. Even the dogs became infected with the atmosphere and ran around the dining-room, barking.
“Lonts!” Bardin shouted, after being knocked over by one of them whilst removing his coat “Calm them down!”
“I would appreciate that too, Lo-Lo”, said Adam, who was trying to carry food into the room.
“So where’s Ransey ran off to then?” asked Hillyard.
“I’ve already told you”, said Joby “He wants to talk it over with Cloris”.
“What for?” said Hillyard.
“I suppose he wants to talk to someone who knows the Ministry as well as he does”, said Adam.
“Well we used to live there”, said Hillyard.
“Yes, but it’s not the same”, said Adam.
“He wants to talk to another ex-Ministry drone”, said Julian, with characteristic bluntness.
“They must have their own private little means of communication”, said Adam “A bit like the clowns really”.
“Well in that case”, said Hillyard “I’ll have a secret meeting down in the boiler-room sometime, with Rumble and Mutton Broth. The Secret Society of Handmen!”
“It doesn’t matter what they decide”, said Bardin, loudly “I am not hanging around here waiting for the Ministry to come and get us. What a bloody awful idea!”
“Isn’t everybody missing one vital point here?” said Kieran “That the Ministry are back so that means there must be some measure of Normality again in the outside world?”
“If you can call anything about the Ministry ‘normal’”, said Joby.
“Kieran”, Julian sighed “I appreciate that you are an old hippy and want everything in the world to be unicorns and flowers, but having confirmation of the Ministry’s existence is not exactly the great reassurance you seem to think it is”.
“Where the focking hell did I say that!” Kieran exclaimed “What I’m saying is that it at least means we are not the last place on Earth, which is what many of us have begun to fear lately. That’s all I’m saying! The idea that I’ve turned into some kind of Ministry-loving drone is completely crazy!”
Bardin banged on the table and everybody turned to face in his direction.
“Let us eat!” he shouted.
“Well done, Bardy”, said Bengo, in an awed voice.
Everyone had barely taken their chairs though when Ransey stumbled down the quarterdeck steps.
“Had a great time at Cloris’s I see”, said Julian.
“I had a glass of wine in her living-room”, said Ransey.
“A glass of wine?” said Julian.
“Ignore him, Ransey”, said Adam “There have been too many times when I marvel that I’ve never killed him”.
“You can’t”, said Julian “I’m immortal”.
“I’ll think of something one day”, said Adam, and said to Ransey, patting his shoulder “You’re just in time for supper, old love”.
“Good”, said Ransey, taking his seat.
“So what did Cloris say then?” asked Bardin, from the head of the table.
“She simply agreed with me that it’s not a good idea to make them aware of our existence”, said Ransey “Let them do all the running. If they want to know anything about us, they’ll have to go to all the trouble of sending someone down here. She did say it was a bit depressing that after everything that’s happened the Ministry are back in control again”.
“They’re like bleedin’ cockroaches that’s why”, said Joby “They would survive a nuclear war”.
“She did say we could have the use of their old yacht if we need it”, said Ransey.
“What for?” said Bardin “We’ve got our own ship”.
“In case we do decide to evacuate”, said Ransey “And any of our friends in the town want to follow us”.
“That’s incredibly generous of her”, said Adam.
“I think she hates it”, said Ransey “It brings back too many unhappy memories for her. Said she would be quite happy to offload it onto someone in the town, but none of them seem interested in putting out to sea for any reason”.
“They’re bloody useless that’s why!” said Hillyard.
“It is generous of her”, Bardin conceded “That’s a decent ship, somebody could really do something with that”.
“Perhaps Glynis, Jane and Woolly could have it”, said Bengo “Glynis did use to live on a yacht, when we first knew her back in Toondor Lanpin”.
“There’d be room on there for a few others as well”, said Bardin.
“Where would we go?” Lonts boomed.
“Anywhere other than in the direction of the City!” said Bardin.
After supper Bardin made to move into his cabin for the rest of the night, but Julian caught up with him in the corridor.
“Come and join me for a drink at the Driftwood tomorrow”, he said.
“Haven’t we got enough booze on here then?” said Bardin.
“Just come and join me”, said Julian “I feel like having a walk”. *
“I like weather like this”, said Bardin, as Julian came over and joined him in the large bay window at the front of the Driftwood “Warm and sunny, but with a storm in the offing. Gives it a special atmosphere of its own”.
“Certainly the clouds are massing on the horizon”, said Julian, as he set two large glasses of beer on the table.
He took off his sun-hat and flopped into the chair opposite Bardin. They both clinked glasses. Julian took a large sip of his beer and looked around at the empty room. They were the only ones in there. Rosa had served their drinks and then got back into the kitchen.
“Not exactly heaving at the seams”, he observed.
“I’ve given up on this town”, Bardin sighed “I think it actually WANTS to be like this”.
“The old wanderlust coming over you again?” said Julian “That’s the main reason I wanted us to go out like this. Give us a chance to talk without being constantly interrupted all the time”.
“The only thing that’s stopping me is that I like the Old Lighthouse”, said Bardin “We’ve had some bloody good times there, but I’m not sure that we can carry on living there without being constantly caught up in the affairs of this town. Plus it’s been made perfectly clear to some of us that we’re not wanted”.
“Don’t let those small-town low-life dickweeds get to you”, said Julian “If I bump into them …”
“No, don’t do anything”, said Bardin “They’re not worth it, and I’ve had quite enough on my hands with trying to stop Bengo from turning himself into the world’s most unlikely one-man vigilante! The silly sod. He’d more likely end up injuring himself than them! But the attack did make me realise that they’re not going to leave all this alone, like I hoped they would. And if they find out about Her …” he jerked his head in the direction of the Old Temple “Well let’s just say I’m worried what they might do to Kieran”.
“If Kieran can cope with Angel and numerous other demonic thugs in his time, I’m pretty sure he can cope with that riff-raff”, said Julian.
“Yes but I don’t want him to”, said Bardin “We also can’t live barricaded in at the end of Lighthouse Lane forever more. That would be crazy. Cloris donating her yacht has made me wonder if we can move on, and yet have some of the others here follow us. Lissa has got well settled into this town, now being the Mayoress, but I’m not sure about the others”.
“H is a born traveller, a nomad”, said Julian “I’m sure he’d be up for it. Elaine would follow you anywhere …”
“Yeah don’t start all that again”, said Bardin “I get quite enough of all that from the other clowns, and Bengo’s daft enough to go getting jealous if we’re not careful!”
“I expect Glynis would come too”, said Julian “Yes, she’s made a life for herself here. I have every confidence she could make a life for herself anywhere, but … there’s the little matter of Joby”.
“Why on earth is she still carrying a torch for Joby?!” Bardin exclaimed “I mean, don’t get me wrong, Joby’s a great guy, but she must have realised the score years ago”.
“I think she just enjoys his company”, said Julian “One thing we all learn about Life as we get older and that’s that it becomes harder to find people you really, really gel with. They’re good friends. Same with Hillyard. She has a special bond with him. I can’t see her wanting to be left behind again”.
“But she’s also firm friends with Jane and Woolly”, said Bardin “Could we persuade them to come along as well?”
“I don’t see why not”, said Julian “Woolly could adapt anywhere too. All he requires is booze! Plus he’s another one of your admirers”.
Bardin sighed and rolled his eyes.
“That’s the point”, said Julian “I can’t see him wanting to settle back into this town without you here”.
“Yeah, you’re really selling it to me!” said Bardin “It’s the sort of thing that makes me want to do a midnight flit without telling anyone!”
“Any ideas where you’d like us to go?” said Julian.
“I’m torn on that one”, said Bardin “Either go on a mega coast trip, but avoiding the Horn of Wonder - I don’t want to go through there again unless it’s absolutely necessary - or head back to the New Continent, but heading that way”, he pointed in a Westerly direction “I know it was riddled with demons last time, but it’s also a very large place, the buggers can’t be everywhere, and on the way we could try and find any spare islands knocking around. We’re still looking for the sort of of elusive desert island that the others found in the early years. You weren’t on that one were you?”
“No I wasn’t”, said Julian “I was holed up in the Husgalonghi jungle. Grim days. Adam, Kieran, Joby, Lonts, Hillyard and Ransey had all the fun there”.
“I would love a fucking desert island”, said Bardin, taking a healthy swig of his beer “The times we could have somewhere like that, and I could put the other clowns to work building all sorts of things”.
“Bossing the other clowns about is your idea of a perfect good time isn’t it?” Julian smirked.
“We-e-l-l”, said Bardin, smirking back “That and other things”.
They drained their beer glasses and got up to leave. As they replaced their glasses on the bar, Bardin called out “we’re off now, Rosa. See you soon”. The kitchen door creaked open, and they could see Rosa and her brother, Ernesto, framed in the doorway. Both were looking visibly distressed.
“What on earth’s happened?” said Julian.
Rosa suddenly hurtled across to Bardin and fell to her knees. She grabbed his hands and wept into them. Needless to say, Bardin was somewhat taken aback. Particularly as Rosa was never exactly the most emotionally demonstrative of people.
“Hey hey”, said Bardin, gently pulling her to her feet “Come on now, what’s happened?”
“We weren’t deliberately eavesdropping”, said Rosa “But we couldn’t help but hear you talking”.
She now had such a lump in her throat that she had trouble speaking, so Ernesto took over.
“She’s very upset at the thought of you all leaving here”, he explained “And er … we want to come too”.
“But what about this place?” said Bardin, sweeping his arms around him.
“As you said yourself, it’s not exactly heaving”, said Rosa, now recovering the power of speech.
“But you’ve worked so hard here”, said Bardin “And people will come to their senses sooner or later”.
(Although he had to be honest with himself that he had grave doubts about this).
“I’m sure we have skills you would find useful”, said Rosa.
“Well undoubtedly”, said Bardin “Your beer-making alone …”
“And we would not bother you on the galleon”, said Rosa “There is a fishing-trawler going spare”.
“I know, we’ve used it ourselves”, said Bardin.
“Nobody wants it, and it’s such a waste”, said Rosa.
“We haven’t actually made any firm decision yet”, said Bardin “And I need to talk about this latest development with the others back home, but I promise you we will discuss this again”.
“You handled that quite well”, said Julian, as he and Bardin walked off in the direction of the Old Lighthouse “Normally that kind of emotional scene is best left to Kieran or Adam”.
“Contrary to what the other clowns might have everyone believe”, said Bardin “I am not a COMPLETE monster. Anyway, that was too real. I could see what a state she was in, and Rosa isn’t exactly the sort to throw a dramatic scene so it’s best to take notice when she does”.
Bardin stood at the window in the lighthouse kitchen, looking out over the full-length of Lighthouse Lane towards the barrier they had erected during the quarantine time a year before. He was so lost in thought that he wasn’t aware of Kieran’s presence until he was almost upon him.
“I didn’t make you jump”, said Kieran.
“Probably because you move much more softly than the others”, said Bardin.
Kieran joined him at the window.
“Are you thinking of last year?” he asked “When you did that spectacular job of mowing down the demon?”
“Much good it did us”, said Bardin “Same with bursting in at the hospital. It hasn’t exactly moved us into a whole new golden age has it?”
“Don’t be an eejit”, said Kieran “You did a fantastic job with the truck. We can’t have demons roaming about the place all the time now can we?”
“It still feels as though the whole thing has been a complete waste of time”, said Bardin, and he turned to leave the room.
“Bardin!” Kieran called after him, but Bardin carried on back down the tower stairs.
“If he was rude to you, I’ll chew his ear off”, said Bengo, when Kieran found him lolling about on the poop-deck. Bardin was nowhere in sight “He looked like he had a right mardy on when he walked past just now, but it’s such a nice day I thought I’d leave it a few minutes before I went down and found out what’s the matter with him”.
“No, he wasn’t rude to me”, said Kieran “Just not his usual self that’s all. Sort of all inward and melancholic. More like Joby at his worst than Bardin”.
“Oh Bardy can get like that too sometimes”, said Bengo “I swear it’s all the fault of those nutters who attacked him in the street. I wish I could be allowed to get my hands on them”.
“They’re not worth it”, said Kieran, sitting down beside him on the deck “They’re just small-town low-lifes, not worth soiling your hands with”.
“Yeah, everyone keeps telling me that!” said Bengo “But it doesn’t make me feel any better. Anyway, what did he say to you up in the lighthouse?”
“Nothing in particular”, Kieran sighed “He just seems very down. I don’t think it’s got anything to do with the thugs this time, he seems to think that everything that’s happened over the past year is a complete waste of time. And yet what he did with the truck that time was brilliant”.
“He could often be like this”, said Bengo “We could do a really fantastic show, and he’d go into a complete grot afterwards, rabbiting on about everything that wasn’t completely perfect. And then, if we did manage to convince him it had gone brilliantly, he’d start coming out with things like ‘oh but how do we top it?’ Honest to God, how I’ve never wrung his scrawny neck is a bloody miracle sometimes!”
“It must be nearly teatime”, said Kieran “Let’s go below and see how he is now”.
Whilst they were negotiating down the quarterdeck steps, Ransey came steaming out of the wireless room at full pelt. Kieran and Bengo flattened themselves against the steps. Joby, who had been walking out of the galley carrying a full teapot, hastily stepped backwards.
“I’ll bloody well remind him of this when he next starts ranting on about Health N Safety!” said Joby.
Ransey had fumed into the dining-room, and was now savagely attacking a cherry muffin.
“Are you actually going to eat that muffin, Ransey, or simply hack it to pieces?” said Adam, who was standing by him.
“It must be something to do with the Ministry”, said Julian, from the other side of the table “Nothing else gets him quite that wound up”.
“Well apart from you”, said Hillyard.
“Me?” said Julian, with mock innocence “All I do is a spot of gentle teasing”.
“Your teasing is never gentle, Julian”, said Adam.
“He’s right”, said Ransey, quietly “I mean, it was the Ministry that got me wild”.
“I thought you’d disconnected the wireless set again?” said Hillyard.
“I had”, Ransey sighed, in exasperation “But for some stupid reason I wasn’t comfortable with it like that, so I reconnected it early this morning”.
“Tut tut”, said Julian.
“Julian!” said Adam, in a warning voice “Joby, pour out some tea for him”.
“If there’s any left in the pot”, said Joby, grimly “Probably most of it splashed over the passage floor!”
“I’m sure that’s a total exaggeration”, said Adam.
“Where’s Bardin?” said Ransey.
“Probably sulking in our cabin”, said Bengo.
“Well get him in here, Bengo”, said Ransey “He needs to hear this”.
“No need, I am here”, said Bardin, coming into the room “And I was NOT sulking ACTUALLY. I was trying to have a little power-nap, but suddenly, as per usual, everybody started bloody shouting”.
He sat down at the head of the table.
“Are there any muffins going spare, or have they all been chucked on the floor?”
Ransey’s muffin was now lying on the floor, where one of the dogs was contentedly chomping on it.
“The Ministry have found out where we are”, Ransey explained.
A rash of loud voices greeted this announcement, but Ransey held up his hand to quell them.
“It gets worse”, he said “They not only want a return of the goddamn Census, but a cast-iron assurance that everyone here is still obeying the Sickness Restrictions”.
“What the fuck?” said Hillyard “What, you mean all that hiding indoors malarky?”
“None of us have been doing that for months!” said Bengo “It must be about a year since we came out of quarantine ourselves”.
“The Sickness must still be raging there they are”, said Adam, sadly.
“Is it be damned!” said Kieran “This isn’t about any focking Sickness, this is about Control. What it’s always been about as far as the Ministry is concerned!”
Adam made soothing noises and patted his shoulder.
“Sorry”, Kieran mumbled.
“Sit down and have a cup of tea”, said Joby.
“Do you know what I think you should do, mate?” said Hillyard to Ransey “I think you should go back in there” [he gestured towards the wireless room] “And disconnect the bloody thing again”.
“I shall go and do that now”, said Ransey, pushing his chair back with an earsplitting scrape on the floor.
“And the day after tomorrow we leave this place”, said Bardin.
“Why the day after tomorrow?” asked Joby.
“Because that will give us time to get everything ready”, said Bardin “And to alert the ones in town that need to be alerted. Perhaps you could go and pay a visit to Glynis first thing? Adam, could you go and see Rosa?”
“I think Hillyard should do that”, said Adam “I want to go over the old lighthouse from top to bottom, and see what we need to take from it that might be useful. Particularly as we have no idea where we’re going. Bengo can help me”.
“Good”, said Bardin “I shall need this table tomorrow morning. I’ll be digging all the maps out”.
The exodus from Zilligot Bay ended up being more rushed, tense and downright stressful than any of them could have imagined. Joby had gone to see Glynis first thing in the morning, as requested. He had found her fidgety and preoccupied. At first he took this as a sign that she didn’t really want to come with them.
“Don’t feel you have to”, he said “Any of you. You’ve made a life for yourself here, and at least from now on we’ll know where you are”.
“No no it’s not that at all”, she said, in an agitated voice “Quite the opposite. We want to come. In fact, we’ve got quite a full compliment of yacht crew to take with us. But we’ve heard rumours that there is going to be trouble, that some of the low-lifes in this town are going to try and stop us leaving. We have to get out of here, Joby. The whole bloody place feels like it’s in the grip of a collective madness!”
“Hey hey, c’mon, we’ll be alright”, said Joby, squeezing her arm “We’re leaving at the crack of dawn tomorrow. I promise you. Try and keep your head down until then”.
The thugs who had attacked Bardin previously turned out in force early the following day, but fortunately it was mainly to barrack the Indigo-ites safely from the other side of the makeshift barricade on Lighthouse Lane. Bardin had given orders that they were to fire their rifles into the air if any of the “zombies”, as he called them, made any effort to cross the line.
Meanwhile, Rosa had felt a wave of melancholy on locking up the Driftwood, and boarding up the windows, but on seeing the departure committee assembled at the barricade, she changed her mind.
“This hellhole can die for all I’m concerned”, she said to her brother, Ernesto.
“Let’s get to the trawler”, he replied “Before they have any bright ideas about attacking that”.
“They’d better not try”, said Rosa, robustly “Or I shall see them off with my umbrella!”
The three ships - the galleon, the yacht and the fishing-trawler - all congregated at the lighthouse on this chilly, metallic grey morning. The yacht crew were made up of Woolly, Glynis, Jane, H, Elaine and Nyx. Elaine was being as excitable as ever, and kept teasing Bardin that he was the captain of all of them.
“I am the Captain of the galleon”, he said, grandly “And ONLY the galleon. You lot can look after yourselves”.
“It’s like setting off on a school-trip, this”, was Joby’s comment.
“Oh? Should we do packed lunches then?” Adam teased.
“Behave yourself, Adam”, Joby replied.
“Shouldn’t somebody define which direction we’re going in first?” said Julian.
“I have”, said Bardin, with forced patience “We are heading to the small island we had a short holiday at a couple of years ago. We can pause there for a little while, and plan the next stage of the route. Ultimately we are heading to the New Continent though, in a Westerly direction. I thought that had already been agreed upon!”
“And the wireless remains disabled for the time being”, said Ransey “I can reconnect it anytime, but not now”.
Once they had got away from the close vicinity of the Zilligot Bay area the clouds gradually dispersed and sunshine broke through. It was perfect sailing weather, with the sun sparkling off the turquoise waves. On the yacht Woolly and Glynis were sitting on the roof of the wheelhouse.
“I say this is just the thing isn’t it?” said Woolly, in his own inimitable way “We should have done this sooner. I feel like I’ve been dug out of a dark hole! Don’t you feel the same way? Don’t tell me you’re homesick already?”
“No, no, not at all”, said Glynis “I feel overwhelming relief to be away from there. Perhaps that’s what’s zonked me out a little, like recovering from a long and severe illness. You’re right, we seemed to get sort of dug into the town a bit. The vast expanse of the ocean can feel a bit intimidating, but it’s better than being stuck back there. I just hope none of them get any big ideas about following us”.
“That lot?” said Woolly “Pshaw! That would require too much energy!”
He turned and gave a wave at the little fishing-trawler which was following on behind them. He could just make out Ernesto at the wheel, with a determined look of concentration on his face.
“You’ll feel better when we’ve got plenty of distance between us and the town”, said Woolly, turning back to Glynis.
“I will with every bit of ocean we cover”, Glynis agreed.
They arrived at the small bald rock island in the middle of the afternoon. Adam, accompanied by Joby, took all the women to the top of the island to show them the view, and the remains of the makeshift one-roomed hut which still sat perched on the small plateau at the summit.
“This is fabulous”, said Rosa, who had propelled herself up the island using her umbrella as a walking-stick. She was now exploring the rear of the hut “To think I’ve lived in Zilligot Bay all my life and I never even knew this island existed, and yet it’s only a day’s sailing away! It makes me wonder what else is out there. It’s a shame we can’t stop here for longer, but I guess it’s not very sustainable. There’s nowhere to put a vegetable garden, or give the animals space to graze”.
“I’m sure we can find somewhere more convenient than this, old love”, said Adam “This is just a stopping-place. We stayed here for a few days last time, but I think Bardin only wants to stay here for the night. The ocean is dotted with numerous islands. I’ve lost track how many we’ve seen over the years”.
“I’d feel more at ease getting a bit further away from the mainland”, said Glynis, standing in the doorway of the hut “But I can’t get over how perfect the weather is, and there might be nothing here, but it’s still a more cheery place than the Third Island was!”
“That place was the very pits”, said Jane.
“Don’t go getting any ideas about cooking up here”, said Joby to Adam.
“Why on earth should I, when we’re only here for one night?” said Adam “Anyway, the plan is that we all dine on the galleon tonight, so I really don’t see any need to come up here”.
They all crowded into the bow end of the galleon for dinner, as part of the main deck was taken up with one of the air-buggies. The other air-buggy was stored on the main deck of the yacht. It all made things very cosy, as they sat closely huddled round a trestle table, but it was a convivial evening nonetheless.
To Bengo’s annoyance Bardin had started the evening in one of his ruminative moods. The happy atmosphere from everyone had been making him nervous.
“They’re assuming it’s going to be like this all the time”, he said to Bengo, down in their cabin borehand “But it’s not. We’ve travelled enough to know you can get some pretty shitty times…”
“Bardy, they’re not little kids!” said Bengo “They know the score, and most of them are every bit as much seasoned travellers as we are, for fuck’s sake! Glynis and Jane have been all over the place, we found Elaine and Nyx living in that old abandoned railway station, Woolly travelled down from the City on a fishing-trawler, and we found H camping in a demon-infested forest!”
“OK OK, I see what you mean”, said Bardin “It’s just I feel responsible that’s all. If anything goes drastically wrong it will be all my fault”.
“Bollocks”, said Bengo “You do talk a lot of bollocks sometimes. They are not unreasonable people, they’ve come here entirely of their own choice, no one is going to blame you if things go wrong, well not unless you keep moaning all the time anyway! Honestly, you drive me mad when you get like this, you always did just before a big show”.
Bardin did relax his grip a bit after that, and he enjoyed the evening as much as the others, although his practical side kept coming to the fore.
“We need some kind of way of alerting each other if they’re any problems”, said Bardin “Like a sort of klaxon”.
“I bought the brass bell with me”, said Rosa “The one I kept hanging over the bar for when I called Time”.
“She wasn’t going to leave that behind!” Ernesto laughed “It was her pride and joy”.
“Good, that will help”, said Bardin “We’ve got our own on here, what about the yacht?”
“We have actually got a klaxon”, said Jane “Elaine rifled it from the boxes she was donated when she was putting on the Easter show”.
“Brilliant”, said Bardin, almost stunned into being complimentary “That can be our emergency warning system. We always have a night-watch on deck when we’re travelling, and often when we’re not too, so someone should always be able to hear you”.
“What’s the plan for tomorrow?” said Jane “I know you’ve said we’ll be leaving here”.
“Yes, but not too early”, said Bardin “In fact, I would say late morning, so you can all have a lie-in if you want. After breakfast I want to try and see if I can plan some more of a detailed route, but I’m not holding out too much hope about that”.
“The way ahead is mysterious”, said Adam.
“It is”, said Bardin “We’re going Westerly, but I want to stay on this longitude, it’s ideal, not too far North and not too far South”.
“How long would it take us to reach the New Continent?” said Elaine.
“If we kept going without stopping”, said Bardin “Not stopping at any islands I mean, only a matter of a couple of weeks tops I expect, possibly three. Are you in a hurry?”
“Not at all”, said Elaine “I will go wherever the wind blows”.
Whilst they were all talking Ransey had slipped out of the room for a few minutes. When he returned he was carrying a hunting-rifle and a pistol.
“What the hell are you doing?” Julian exclaimed.
“Our guests have no weapons”, said Ransey, putting the rifle carefully down in the middle of the table “And I think they should have. We have no idea what’s facing us in the Great Alone out there”.
He placed the pistol on Rosa’s side-plate, as if it was a peculiar form of bread roll.
“I can’t”, said Rosa, looking white-faced at this unexpected development “Our father always used to say that if you carried a gun it was certain that one day you would use it. And Ernesto and I are both pacifists”.
“So’s Kieran”, said Hillyard “And it hasn’t stopped him …”
“Yes OK OK”, said Kieran “Rosa, Ransey’s right. You do some protection, and it would be a load off our minds if you had it”.
Rosa reluctantly nodded.
“I take it the rifle is for us?” said Jane.
“Even if you only use it for hunting”, said Ransey “You have to admit it might come in useful for that”.
“That can be Glynis’s department”, said Jane “She’s our official lookout. I’m steering the ship”.
“Good”, said Ransey “I’ll give you some boxes of appropriate ammo before you leave tonight”.
At the end of the evening the guests all returned to their appropriate vessels. Ernesto and Rosa set out their bedding in the cramped wheelhouse of the fishing-trawler.
“It’s a good job we remembered to bring the foam mattress with us”, said Ernesto, as he arranged their sleeping-bags on the hard floor “Otherwise this floor would pay havoc with our backs”.
“What a peaceful night it is”, said Rosa, standing just outside the wheelhouse and looking back in the direction from which they had come “We have lived by the ocean all our lives, and have never seen it as beautiful as this”.
“Well we’re only a few hours away from home”, Ernesto teased her “It would be easy enough to turn back tomorrow if you wish it”.
“Not a chance!” said Rosa.
They lay down top-to-toe in the wheelhouse. Rosa was the one facing eastwards, towards Zilligot Bay. Just before dawn she awoke briefly to see what appeared to be emergency flares in the sky over the Old Continent. She convinced herself she had been dreaming, and rolled over onto her side.
Over the next couple of days they sailed in a north-westerly direction towards the centre of the ocean. For many people, being at sea, with no land in sight, can be a daunting feeling, but for these sailors it was liberating and uplifting. They were finally free of all that they had left behind. There were times when it seemed as though the weather was TOO perfect, when the waters of the ocean were TOO tranquil, and some even jokingly accused Kieran of making it this way.
“It’s not me!” he replied “Good things CAN happen sometimes you know!”
At nights they dropped anchor in balmy, tropical temperatures. The evenings were so dark that the stars above stood out vividly in a vast canopy above their heads. Their guests continued to be enraputured with the whole adventure. Bardin had wanted to make it clear that no one was to live in one another’s pockets, that they on the galleon occasionally needed time to themselves. This was no problem to the others. The fishing-trawler would anchor alongside the yacht, and Ernesto and Rosa would clamber directly from their vessel to the other one, via a metal ladder attached to the side of the yacht, and be with the yacht crew. The more distance that was put between them and Zilligot Bay the more they relaxed.
On their first evening out in the middle of the vast expanse of the ocean, Ernesto and Rosa went for supper on the yacht. Woolly proudly gave Rosa a guided tour of the bowels of the ship, where most of the living quarters were located, apart from the lounge area on the main deck.
“This is my little boudoir”, he said, opening a wooden door which led into a cupboard-sized cabin, which just about had room for a single bunk, a tiny porthole above, and a makeshift washing-line, which currently had a damp tea-towel and a pair of men’s socks hanging from it.
“Well it’s certainly compact”, said Rosa, peering in “I hope you don’t get claustrophobia!”
“Oh no, I like it cosy”, he said, closing the door again and leading her along the corridor “H and Nyx sleep on the floor up in the lounge, and the three girls all snuggle up in here”.
He opened the door into a much bigger cabin, which was dominated by a substantial double bed.
“This is much roomier than I was expecting”, said Rosa, looking round with approval.
“The girls have said that if the weather gets rough, or you simply get tired of sleeping in that old wheelhouse, you can come in here with them”, said Woolly.
“That’s very kind of them”, said Rosa, faintly.
“Are you alright, dear?” said Woolly, gently taking her hands and rubbing them as if she was suffering from shock.
“Yes I …” said Rosa, awkwardly “It’s OK, it’s just that I feel as though I’m slowly recovering from a long illness. I hadn’t realised just quite how bad things had gotten to me back in the town. It’s as if someone has pulled a thick blanket off my head. I want to laugh sometimes when the likes of Bardin keep trying to warn me about all the terrible things that could happen on this journey. I’m well aware of what happened to them on previous trips to the New Continent, but I can’t get it through to them that I don’t care. I’ll put up with anything, I really will. I knew I would have a taste for travel the first time I went up in H’s air-buggy, but I’m not naive, I know what horrors could lurk out there. And Jane and Glynis have told me how bad it got on the Third Island, so I know how to keep a lid on the romanticism. But damnit no, I am not going to deny that I’m happy and I’m enjoying this, and so is Ernesto”.
“Quite right too”, said Woolly, patting her shoulder “One must never lose one’s spirit of adventure, if we do that we …”
“Turn into the likes of Eunice back in Zilligot Bay”, said Rosa.
Woolly gave one of his throaty, exuberant laughs.
“Let’s get back upstairs”, he said “Elaine will probably be dishing up soon”.
The pace was efficient but leisurely. Although they were anxious to put as much ocean between themselves and the population of the Old Continent as possible, they were also reluctant to find more land quite so soon. The ocean was at its most beautiful, calm and soothing, like a caressing hand. For a couple of days they travelled a minimal distance, often pausing to do some fishing. On the trawler Ernesto and Rosa hung lobster baskets over the sides of their vessel, and netted a reasonable haul.
“I don’t know why Bardin threats about the New Continent so much”, said Elaine, joining some of the Indigo-ites on the main deck of the galleon one sparkling warm afternoon “If it does turn out to be bloody awful, we can always travel round the edge of the Old Continent again”.
“You wanna go back all up there?” said Joby, in astonishment.
“Well… perhaps avoid the old railway station”, said Elaine “But I’m sure that’s easily done”.
“I can’t say I’m too keen for another Winter on the Weather Rock”, said Joby “Give that a miss as well”.
“I’m sure there are plenty of other places”, said Elaine.
“What’s going on up there?” said Julian, bursting into the galley, where Adam was having a leisurely tidy-up.
“Going on up where, you silly old faggot?” said Adam.
“Things are getting very cosy between Mieps and Nyx”, said Julian “They are fishing together”.
He made “fishing” sound like an extremely dubious activity.
“Oh yes, I think it’s rather sweet”, said Adam.
“SWEET?” Julian exclaimed “They are gossiping away together like a couple of old women!”
“So?” said Adam “It’s extremely rare for Mieps to go into long conversations with anyone, so I think it’s rather nice that she feels she can do that with him. They are well-suited, they’re both quiet personalities, and very practically-minded with it”.
“You’ll be planning the wedding at this rate!” said Julian.
Adam snorted with laughter.
“I don’t think so”, he said “Anyway, technically isn’t she still married to you? Though I’m really not sure that that wedding in the forest counts as anything legal. And it’s a bit late to start playing the jealous husband now”.
“I wasn’t!” said Julian “Just don’t want us to lose her that’s all. Before we know it she could be abandoning us for the yacht”.
“No, I can’t see that happening”, said Adam “She’s very settled with us, after all these years. You’re always convinced people are going to settle into coupledom together. What is this, Uncle Julian’s Dating Agency?! You got a bit like that with Rosa and myself”.
“Oh I was just winding you up there”, said Julian “Although it would be nice to pair that one off with someone, perhaps H, he doesn’t seem too fussy”.
“That is an outrageous thing to say!” Adam chucked a tea-towel at him “Rosa is a very striking-looking woman”.
“Yes, but all that intensity can be a trifle off-putting”, said Julian “If I was straight I’d feel quite put off by all that serious earnestness”.
“I’m sure that would be a great relief to her!” said Adam.
“Must be because she’s a Scorpio, like you!” was Julian’s parting-shot.
Adam ushered Julian back up the quarterdeck steps with a comment of “go on, up you pop”. He then went into the dining-room, where Bardin was leaning across the table, with some of his maps sprawled out in front of him.
“S’alright”, said Bardin “I’ll tidy it all up before you need to set the tea things out”.
“I’m really not thinking of the tea things right now”, said Adam, who was heavily absorbed in the sight of Bardin’s pert behind in its tight white shorts.
He walked over and caressed the taut cotton. Bardin gave a groan and looked up at him through a curtain of his fine fair hair.
“Don’t torment me”, he said, huskily “Not when we’ve got guests on board”.
“Well then, why are you tantalising us all in your shorts?” said Adam “Anyway, Nyx is completely absorbed in his fishing, and Elaine is chatting to Joby topside. I can’t imagine she will come below. Besides, we have all agreed amongst ourselves that no guests will be brought below without giving plenty of warning to everyone else first”.
Bardin straightened up, allowing himself to be enfolded in Adam’s arms. Adam stroked his starched behind.
“Let us go into your cabin”, he said “Where there’s a useful bolt on the door”.
Once inside the cabin, Adam slid the bolt across the door.
“We’ll only lower the drawbridge”, he said “If Bengo wants to come in”.
They kissed hungrily, as if was the first time.
“It feels like it’s been forever”, said Bardin, feeling his erection poking out of the front of his shorts.
“It’s high time we christened this voyage properly”, said Adam.
“Bengo was saying only last night that I needed a damn good spanking”, said Bardin “And I couldn’t agree more!”
“I shall give your behind a good tanning”, said Adam “But when the ship is free of guests we can really let ourselves go”.
He put a hardback chair in the middle of the room, and sat down, pulling Bardin across his lap. He smacked him very briskly. Bardin groaned as quietly as he could, although he was longing to roar out loud. He wanted the smacking to go on as long as possible, feeling his behind becoming more and more sore. He ejected violently, and felt all the tension and pressure easing out with it. He relished the sensation for as long as he could.
“You have no idea how much good that has done me”, said Adam.
“Oh I think I do”, groaned Bardin.
“My lovely one”, said Adam, yanking down Bardin’s shorts to his knees, and then caressing his sore behind.
He could now do with some relief himself, so Bardin got to his knees on the floor. Adam stood up and undid the fly-buttons on his own shorts. Bardin stuffed his swollen cock into his mouth.
“You look as if you’ve had a good afternoon”, said Joby, a while later.
He was now in the galley, putting the kettle on the stove.
“That obvious is it?” said Adam, stretching in a leisurely fashion.
“Let’s just say you’ve got an aura about you”, said Joby.
“Has Elaine gone back to the yacht?” said Adam.
“Yeah”, said Joby “Good job Bardin wasn’t there. She’s got all sorts of big schemes for future voyages. I think he might have got a bit snappy with her”.
“I don’t think even Elaine at her most ideas-y could make him tense at the moment”, said Adam “I tanned his behind good and proper. It really was high time I put him across my knee”.
Joby gave a cheer.
“Brilliant”, he said “Bengo will be pleased. I’m amazed we didn’t hear anything”.
“We tried to keep ourselves as quiet as possible”, said Adam “It was one of those very pleasurable, furtive ones, all secretive and behind closed doors”.
“I like the way we have all different types of spanking Bardin”, Joby chuckled.
“It is fun isn’t it”, said Adam “When we are on the move again, I suggest we have a more boisterous session. When the neighbours can’t get on board. In here. You, me and Bengo, and give him a damn good thrashing with a paddle”.
“The Spanking Bardin Club is back in action”, said Joby.
“You wait til the next one”, said Bengo, messaging Bardin in their cabin “You’ll be able to roar as much as you want then. We’ll all be steaming ahead at sea”.
“I probably won’t be able to sit down”, said Bardin “At least my sore behind will distract me from any of Elaine’s jabberings. That was a damn satisfying spanking. My bottom well and truly smacked. I thought it was never going to happen again”.
“Of course it was going to happen again”, said Bengo “What a silly idea! We just have to take our chances when we can”.
He straightened up and shed all his clothes very deftly, before climbing onto the back of Bardin.
Bengo came very quickly, and lay on top of him. Both of them stretched out their arms adn flexed their fingers.
There came a knock at the door.
“Oh go away”, Bardin groaned.
“Sorry to bother you, Captain”, came Toppy’s voice from the other side of the cabin door “But Rosa wants to see you topside. It’s a PLEASANT surprise I promise you”.
“OK”, Bardin sighed “Give me a moment to put my trousers on”.
Up on the main deck, at the bow end, Rosa was leaning over the bulwark of the yacht and handing a heavily-laden bucket to Rumble.
“They’ve been oyster fishing”, Rumble said to Bengo and Bardin when they finally appeared (half-dressed).
“Oyster fishing?” Bardin exclaimed “Right out here? But the ocean’s too deep surely?”
“It’s not as deep as you might think”, said Rosa “We used poles”.
Ernesto came over to her and showed them all a couple of very long poles with tong devices attached to the ends.
“That’s great”, said Bengo “And the great thing about oysters is they don’t have to be cooked”.
“I hope there’s enough in there to go round”, said Rosa “I know there’s rather a lot of you”.
“S’alright”, said Joby “Kieran won’t eat them anyway, he’s weird like that”.
“All the more for the rest of us”, said Hillyard.
“These are gonna slip down a treat”, said Bengo, appreciatively.
The next couple of days passed in a hive of pleasant activity as they continued to sail Westwards. It was a damn near perfect time. On the yacht even Woolly’s drinking seemed to be under control, which was little short of a miracle. Elaine’s theory was that he had drank mainly out of boredom and loneliness (although some of the Indigo-ites still suspected sexual frustration played a significant part), and that, because he was now fully occupied and surrounded by friends, he didn’t feel the need to embrace the booze quite so much. Although he undoubtedly still loved a drink. He had begun to help Elaine in the galley, and Elaine understood her follow old stage trouper only too well.
“He just needs to be given directions”, she said to Glynis “Once you give him firm directions he performs like an angel. I don’t get any nonsense out of him like ‘I’m not doing that!’ I do think he’s a sweet guy underneath it all, but he can’t handle deep emotion, that’s the trouble”.
“A lot of him is still stuck with being a child star I expect”, Glynis replied “A bit like some of the clowns”.
On the galleon Ransey commandeered Adam to do a full itinerary of their supplies.
“We should have done this before we left”, said Ransey, prodding his glasses up his nose with his finger “But there wasn’t really time”.
“Don’t forget some of our supplies have been moved over to the yacht for safekeeping”, said Adam, following him down into the hold “Sort of do not put all our eggs into one basket, that type of thing”.
“Perhaps when we’re done here, you should tell me what has gone over there”, said Ransey “Not any of the booze I hope?”
“Honestly, you’re as bad as Joby and Hillyard, that’s what they said!” said Adam “No, we didn’t put any of the booze over there”.
“Good”, said Ransey “I know the women think Woolly is a totally reformed character these days, but it would not be sensible to put too much temptation in his path. How do you feel about the meals situation?”
“Fine at the moment”, said Adam “The fishing has been remarkable the past few days, it’s helped enormously. It will certainly tide us over until we get to some land anyway”.
“Good”, said Ransey “That’s good to know”.
“Ransey, please don’t let it worry you so”, said Adam “We have been in these situations before. We’re proved we can survive, over and over again”.
“I don’t doubt that”, said Ransey.
“Then what is it?”
“Just a feeling that that lot back in Zilligot Bay want us to sail back again with our tails between our legs, unable to survive beyond the reaches of that pathetic little town”.
“I see”, said Adam “Well I guess they’re going to be disappointed then aren’t they? Can I also remind you of something else? We cannot actually starve to death”.
“We can still feel extreme hunger though”, said Ransey “And that is far from pleasant. And what about our guests?”
“I don’t know why, but I have a feeling that we shouldn’t worry too much about them”, said Adam “I feel they will be alright”.
Ransey looked at him sharply.
“Has Kieran been up to something?” he said.
Before Adam had a chance to answer, there was a rumbling sound from the far distance.
“Sounds like a storm coming in”, said Ransey.
“That would certainly account for the oppressive humidity”, said Adam.
Topside, the approaching storm was causing some excitement, mainly because the Guests were keen to experience a tropical storm at sea. Bardin gave the instruction for everyone to anchor for the rest of the day and night, and then watch it approach. The rain, when it came, fell steadily, bouncing off the decks like sparkling silver coins. Elaine, wearing an ankle-length raincoat and waterproof hat, stood on the main deck of the yacht, holding her hands up to the deluge, as though she had never seen rain before.
“Get below!” Glynis called from the wheelhouse. She had been busy plaiting her flaxen hair into neat braids “You’ll catch pleurisy!”
“I don’t care!” Elaine called back.
“You will if you bloody well catch it!” Bardin shouted from the main deck of the galleon.
Behind him Rumble and Farnol were busy setting up a tarpaulin cover to shelter the night-watch. Or rather Farnol was setting it up, with some difficulty, whilst Rumble sat under an umbrella smoking a roll-up. Bardin ordered Hoowie, who had been loitering aimlessly nearby, to help Farnol.
“I thought he was supposed to be doing it!” said Hoowie, pointing at Rumble “He gets out of everything!”
“No he doesn’t”, said Bardin “Nine times out of ten he does the night-watch, in all weathers, so as far as I’m concerned he can get away with whatever he wants”.
“That’s not fair”, said Hoowie.
“I never claimed to be fair!” Bardin retorted “Just get on with it”.
“S’alright Bardin, man”, said Farnol “I can manage. Hoowie will just get in the way, you know what he’s like”.
Bardin mumbled something under his breath and headed towards the quarterdeck steps. At the bottom he took off his cap and shook the raindrops off it.
“With any luck she’ll get struck by lightning and that will solve all my problems”, he said to anyone nearby who was listening.
“I take it you mean Elaine?” said Bengo, standing in the doorway to the galley “I wish you’d go easy on her Bardy, she doesn’t mean any harm”.
“Oh no she’s a little June flower child”, said Bardin “That’s what she said to me earlier, anyone born in the month of June is a little ray of sunshine to one and all”.
“Oh lor, we haven’t got another astrologer in our midst have we?” said Adam “It causes quite enough trouble when Finia gets one of his astrology books out”.
“She’s dead right about June-borns though”, said Hillyard, chest almost swelling with pride “I mean we are born optimists, always cheerful, and everybody loves us”.
“Where does Julian fit into all this?” said Joby “He’s a Gemini too”.
“Yes, a right little ray of sunshine at all times”, said Adam “One of God’s chosen sunflowers”.
“Yeah well you’re bound to get the odd wrong ‘un aren’t you”, said Hillyard “Or one who bucks the trend. You never know, there might be a cheerful Cancerian somewhere. Certainly not on here anyway!”
“Oh ha bleedin’ ha”, said Joby.
“I hope she doesn’t start carrying on like that awful woman we used to know”, said Bengo “What was her name? Kitty the Cat Woman?”
“Don’t remind me of her”, said Bardin “Absolute poison”.
“She used to rave all over you because you were a fellow Sagittarian”, said Bengo “She always hated it when I pointed out I was one too”.
“And you’re far more of a Sagittarian than I am”, said Bardin.
“What does that mean?” Bengo barked.
“Well sort of clumsy and tactless all the time”, said Bardin.
“Ooh!” said Bengo, his mouth a perfect round of outrage “That’s bloody rich coming from you! Pot calling the kettle black. You are diabolically rude to everybody!”
“Now now, that’s enough”, said Adam “Y’see this is what happens when anybody starts discussing astrology, nothing but fights and arguments ensue”.
“It’s all Elaine’s fault, with her June-born nonsense”, said Bardin “If she starts on that again I’ll wring her neck”.
“Oh leave her be”, said Adam “Bengo’s right, she doesn’t mean any harm, and she’s nothing like that abominable Cat Woman was. There is no malice in Elaine whatsoever. She just gets a bit airy-fairy sometimes. I think she’s quite enchanting. Reminds me of Glynis in her younger days”.
“Glynis is alright now too”, said Joby, defensively.
“Yes of course she is”, said Adam “But like the rest of us she’s got older and more saddened and mellow at times”.
The storm cleared overnight, and the following day they pursued a gentle south-westerly course. As the day wore on the waters of the ocean seemed to change colour, turning into a maroon-y brownish shade. It turned out that this was due to the massive bed of weeds which twirled around from the ocean bed.
“Like the Sargasso Sea”, said Adam.
“Perhaps it is”, said Joby “We might have slipped back into our world”.
“More likely just another way in which this world can ape ours”, said Adam.
And then land appeared. A pair of islands, both completely different in shape and contour. The first was small and flat as an ironing-board. There were absolutely no features on it to speak of, it was simply a rectangular beige rock sticking out of the ocean. The second island was by far more interesting. It was shaped like an old-fashioned boot, with the tall back end composed of volcanic rock. This led down a steep wooded slope to a small slither of yellow beach at the bottom. Careful scrutiny through binoculars and telescopes showed that there was a makeshift wooden landing jetty sticking out of the right-hand side of the island. It clearly hadn’t been used in quite some while, but it was better than nothing.
In the meantime H suggested that they take the air-buggies and do an aerial reconnaissance of the island, just to see if there was anyone (or anything) lurking in the densely wooded interior. Hillyard piloted the Indigo-ites air-buggy, accompanied by Ransey, Bengo and Bardin. Rosa made such a fuss of wanting to pilot the yacht’s air-buggy that H - much against his better judgement - gave in. He sat in the passenger seat, with Jane and Glynis in the back.
It was a mad, frenzied joy-ride over the island. With Rosa sweeping low over the wooded slopes, much to H’s consternation. He gritted his teeth in the passenger seat, and had to almost physically restrain himself from grabbing the wheel from her hands. But, deliriously happy though she was, Rosa was still sensible. She wouldn’t do anything that would put the others, or the air-buggy itself, at risk. Both air-buggies swooped several times over the island, to see if there ws any sign of habitation, or the if the noise of the air-buggies would draw anybody out. The only sign of life they saw was a wild boar running out of the tres at one point.
“Somebody must have been here at some time then”, said Bengo, in the other air-buggy “To leave the livestock here”.
More solid evidence of previous human habitation came at the bottom of the island. The forest petered out at the edge of the beach, and in a small clearing stood a dilapidated wagon, clearly long since abandoned.
The sighting of the wagon was enough on its own for Bardin later that day to order the mooring of the ships, although it was unlikely that anyone would want to move on from the island just yet. The three ships moored at the jetty. They weren’t certain if it was safe enough to take the horses across just yet, so everyone who was going ashore went on foot. There was huge excitement amongst everyone. Even Ransey’s insistence that they had to all go fully armed, wasn’t enough to dissipate that, or Julian’s comment that it was a “glorified school nature ramble”.
“Well you can always stay here, old love”, said Adam.
“Yeah, sit in the corner with your knitting”, said Hillyard.
“SOMEONE has got to keep an eye on you all”, said Julian.
Ransey and Bardin got to the wagon first, and both gave the interior of it a thorough inspection.
“The structure is more sound than it looks”, said Bardin, gently jumping up and down on the floor.
“Even so, it hasn’t been inhabited for some time”, said Ransey, who had turned his attention from the stove by the door to a low sofa. The top of which opened up to reveal storage space for spare bedding.
He briskly went through the small pile of old blankets and cushions, but could find no documentation of any kind that would point to whoever the owner was or had been.
“Someone could make a decent little home out of this”, said Bardin.
“Elaine probably, is my guess”, said Ransey “I can quite see her getting romantic ideas about living here”.
For the time being though, Elaine’s romantic ideas were focussed on the beach. She announced that she wanted to spend the night there, and Farnol and Rumble obligingly built her a campfire.
“What the hell does she want to sleep on the beach for?” Julian exclaimed, back on the galleon “When she’s got a perfectly comfortable bed on the yacht!”
“She’s a romantic”, said Adam “And it’s not doing any harm, so let her have her little indulgences. She might as well make the most of it whilst the weather is dry. After 7 years holed up in that old railway station I can imagine she’s had quite enough of sleeping indoors!”
At sunset Joby and Lonts went back ashore. Elaine was sitting by the camp-fire, staring out to sea.
“Tell us if you’d rather be alone”, said Joby “We won’t mind”.
“No please join me”, said Elaine.
The two men sat down, and Lonts promptly fumbled for his tobacco pouch.
“Sorry about this”, said Joby “He can never seem to sit down anywhere without fumbling for his filthy old pipe”.
“No one else complains about my pipe, Joby”, said Lonts “Only you”.
“Everybody else is too polite!” said Joby.
“Oh I quite like the smell of a pipe”, said Elaine.
“You won’t like this one”, said Joby “It’s like chemical warfare”.
Lonts lit it up, but tried to keep the smoke from blowing in Elaine’s direction.
“Are you really planning to sleep out here all alone?” asked Joby.
“No”, Elaine laughed “Rosa, Ernesto and my brother are joining me. I shall be perfectly safe”.
“Good”, said Joby “I don’t wanna sound like an old worry-wort, but we haven’t got the full bearings of this island yet, or what’s lurking out there”, he gestured at the sea.
“We will be careful”, said Elaine “And it’s not as if the rest of you aren’t far away”.
Kieran wandered into view, his hair blowing gently in the breeze.
“I’m going to put the word around that the wild boar on this island aren’t to be harmed”, he said.
“Oh blimey”, said Joby “Is this gonna be like the rabbits on Hy Brasil all over again?”
“Joby, you’re not short of things to eat”, said Kieran “The ocean’s full of it, you can leave the wild boar alone. They were here before us”.
“You’re gonna have to say that very firmly to the likes of Mieps and Hillyard then”, said Joby.
“Oh I will be, have no doubts about that”, said Kieran.
“Is this island magical then?” said Lonts “Like Hy Brasil was?”
“Let’s just say I wouldn’t be at all surprised, Lonts”, said Kieran.
The sleepover on the beach passed, mercifully, without incident. The night-time temperatures dropped markedly once darkness fell, but other than that, it was a serene night. Late in the evening Woolly went over to join them, and at daybreak was found sleeping contentedly with a blanket wrapped tightly around him, and a woolly hat on his head.
At breakfast-time Julian went up on deck in his dressing-gown, with a cup of strong tea in one hand and a bread roll in the other.
“Everything went A-OK then?” he said to Rumble, nodding at the beach campers, who were now slowly getting roused, and poking the embers of the camp-fire.
“A peaceful night”, Rumble yawned “I love the ocean when it’s like this. Can make you feel like you’re the only people on Earth”.
“You look done-in”, said Julian “You’d better get below and get some sleep”.
“Will do”, said Rumble, getting to his feet and stretching “Any chance Bardin can let us stay here for a while? I like the vibe of this place”.
“I think he can be persuaded”, Julian smirked “Anyway, he’s out-numbered. We all want to stay here”.
“Good”, said Rumble, and he headed towards the top of the main stairs.
Julian felt the sea-air on his face, and gave a contented sigh.
12th September 2021
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