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It was hard to know how long they had been there, the days segued one into the other so easily. The weather stayed temperate, although sometimes a mild storm would blow in, ruffling the ocean surrounding them into restlessness. They never actually stayed a night on the island. Come sunset they would all decamp back to the ship. There wasn’t any real superstitious reason why, simply practicalities. The cottage was too small for accommodation, and was used instead as a daytime refuge, somewhere to keep an eye on the animals grazing, and for Adam, Joby and Bengo to prepare lunch.
The latest they stayed on the island was one evening, when Bardin organised a game of clowns’ cricket. As they neared the end of the game the sun sank into the sea. At times the island had a vaguely eerie air to it, not helped by the fact that it was such a mystery as to what had happened to the previous inhabitants, but, for all that, it wasn’t the Forest, and for that they were grateful.
It was on a day with a cold, squally wind that they decided to explore the caves that lay at the north-western end of the island. To do this a few of them took a skiff through the rocks.
“Perhaps we should think about writing guide-books”, said Bardin, sitting imperiously at the stern end.
“To what?” said Bengo.
“The world”, said Bardin.
“No one can ever accuse you of not thinking big, Bard”, said Hillyard.
“Oh he does talk a load of rubbish sometimes”, said Bengo “Why would anyone want a guide-book we’ve written anyway? They’ve probably got their own”.
“I’ve never seen a guide-book to the world”, said Joby “Not this world I mean. Used to get ‘em a lot back in our time, but not here”.
“Exactly!” said Bardin “So there’s a market opening there”.
“Sometimes I think you’ve really lost your marbles”, said Bengo.
“This is typical of you, always has been”, said Bardin “No ambition whatsoever. Left to your own devices you’d spend all day slopping around the galley in your pinny and your carpet-slippers”.
“Given half a chance, yes”, said Bengo “And what’s wrong with that, that’s what I want to know”.
“There’s a problem with writing guide-books to this world”, said Joby “It’s constantly changing, and it defies all logic. Seen it countless times. Oceans appear where they’re not sposed to, that sort of thing. Islands appear and disappear. How the heck can you write a guide-book with all that sort of thing going on! You’d have to put things like ‘last time I looked there was an island there, might not be there now’, that sort of thing. Would be no help to anybody”.
“Is there a frustrated writer in you trying to get out, Bardin?” said Kieran.
“No, I just think it would give us something to do”, said Bardin.
Bengo looked as if he could have cheerfully pushed his partner into the water.
“Some of us have plenty to do already!” he said.
“So what would you write about this island?” said Kieran.
“There’s nothing on it”, said Joby “And nobody knows what it’s called”.
“Alright, stop bickering you lot”, said Hillyard “We’ve got to pull in here, and get the boat tethered up”.
It was the usual shore-party of six which had gone over, comprising of Bardin, Bengo, Kieran, Joby, Hillyard and Ransey. Once the boat was secured, Kieran was appointed to sit outside the cave and keep an eye on it, whilst the others walked into the entrance. Instead of the small chamber which they were expecting, they found a dark passageway burrowing into the subterranean depths of the island.
“This feels man-made”, said Bardin, touching the damp walls “Deliberately chiselled out”.
“More of those underground tunnels we’ve come across before”, said Joby.
“There is said to be a network of them all over the world”, said Ransey “Running under the oceans as well”.
“If this is one”, said Bardin “Then that’s probably contributed to the mystique of the island”.
He rounded the corner, and found the tunnel disappeared into the darkness.
“There’s an argument for exploring it”, he said “But not today, we need to be better organised, and I want to sail around the other islands first”.
“That all gives us plenty to be going on with”, said Bengo “Without bothering with writing guide-books!”
“Oh shut up”, said Bardin “You’re in danger of sounding boring”.
Bengo stuck out his bottom lip, but didn’t say anything.
Outside the entrance to the cave, Kieran was perched on one of the rocks. He was in a meditative state, watching the waves crash against the rocks, and occasionally feeling the spray against his face. There was a forbidding feel of much colder weather coming in, giving everything a glasslike, brittle aura.
He heard a sound, like little bells ringing, out at sea, and looked up sharply. It was faint, and he deduced that it must be coming from one of the neighbouring islands. He stood up and walked to the furthest rock that he could stand on. The ringing continued for a short while, but then faded away again.
“Something happened?” asked Bardin, who had re-appeared at the entrance to the cave.
“A sound in the distance”, said Kieran, stepping back over the rocks “Very faint, sounded like bells”.
“Bells? What sort of bells? Church bells?”
“Well I know this is going to sound a wee bit strange, but it sounded more like the kind of bells you get on a jester’s cap”.
Bardin looked at him with a suspicious expression.
“I’m not having you on, Bardin”, said Kieran “It sounded like tinkly little bells. Might be from one of the islands”.
“Or there could be another ship in the area”, said Bardin “Although I find it hard to believe you could hear a delicate sound like that above the noise of the sea”.
When they returned to the ship, Bengo thumped into the galley, discarding his outdoor gear as he went. He grumpily poured out a mug of tea, and threw himself into the chair next to the stove.
“Are you alright, old love?” said Adam “You seem a little out of sorts”.
“Do you really need to ask who’s the cause of it?” said Bengo “There is only one person who gets me like this, not even Hoowie when he’s being his most irritating can get me like this!”
“Oh dear. Bardin at a rough guess. What’s he done now?”
“He called me boring!”
“No I didn’t”, said Bardin from the doorway, with is duffel-coat still on “I said you were in danger of sounding boring, that’s a wholly different thing. You’re misquoting me, not that that’s anything unusual. And is that really all you’ve got to get worked up about?!”
Bengo gave a cry of annoyance and hurled a tea-towel in Bardin’s direction.
“Now calm down the pair of you”, said Adam “I don’t want my galley wrecked in a clowns’ domestic, thank you very much. Bardin, you have to admit you can be a trifle tactless at times”.
“Yes, but he can take it”, said Bardin, gesturing dismissively in Bengo’s direction “He’s just wanting to cause a scene, that’s all. Anyway, HE was having a go at ME, that’s why I said he was in danger of sounding boring. I bet that vital detail has been omitted from his evidence! Oh God, he always knows how to play to the gallery. That’s what comes of having dimples and puppy-dog eyes. I want some tea … I mean, can I have some tea please?”
“Yes of course”, said Adam “And I’ll give you a thoroughly good spanking later. I’m sure Bengo will enjoy watching it”.
“Not as much as I’ll enjoy receiving it”, said Bardin.
“You two are impossible”, said Adam “Anyway, more importantly, what happened in the cave?”
“Not much”, said Bardin “Although there is a tunnel running underneath the island”.
“It doesn’t look very inviting”, said Bengo.
“I can imagine”, said Adam “And I never really trust these underground tunnels, they often have an interdimensional feel to them, like that time Toppy nearly got pulled through a wall”.
“That plan’s a bit further down the agenda”, said Bardin “After exploring the other islands”.
“My goodness, we shall be busy”, said Adam.
“Huh”, said Bengo.
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