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It took Kieran several minutes to work out where he was. He was astonished to realise that he was lying in his bunk on the galleon. How he had got there was a mystery to him. The last conscious memory he had had been going to bed at The Yellow Castle. He sat up gingerly in the bunk (his ribs and back were still hurting) and yelled for Joby.
“Alright I’m here”, said Joby, in a leisurely fashion, carrying a jug of hot water into the room “I heard you”.
“What the fock’s going on?” said Kieran “Am I dreaming?”
“Well if you are, I am too!” said Joby, setting the jug down on the wash-stand “We’ve left The Yellow Castle. We left Aspiriola several hours ago, and we’re now out on the ocean”.
“I was drugged wasn’t I?” said Kieran “On top of everything else I’ve been through lately I get focking drugged as well!”
“Think yourself lucky!” said Joby “It’s bloody hard work packing everything up and getting moved onto here, you got out of it all!”
“Lucky?!” said Kieran, angrily “Lucky?! Did you go along with this, Joby?”
“I had no choice, Kiel”, said Joby “The others would have done it anyway. Look, there’s some horrible shit going down in Aspiriola now. There seem to be street-corner prophets and preachers springing up everywhere, and the others were concerned that … well that you might get tangled up in it all”.
“But I said I would stay out of it!” said Kieran “Jesus Christ, me and Ransey had an argument about this, and he lambasted me for wanting to leave them to it! Now, NOW, I get doped in case I do interfere!”
“Shush”, said Joby, soothingly, stroking Kieran’s belly “I’ll get you washed and tidied up, and then you go up on deck. It’s a lovely day up there, it’ll make you feel a whole heap better”.
Whilst he was helping Kieran to get dressed, he noticed that Kieran was even thinner than ever.
“This shirt’s hanging off you”, he said “I thought I’d picked up one of Hillyard’s by mistake!”
“All my shirts hang off me, Joby”, said Kieran.
“Look at your face”, Joby picked up the small shaving-mirror and handed it to Kieran.
Kieran looked at his gaunt, bruised reflection.
“Jayz, I’m an ugly bastard aren’t I!” he said.
“No you’re not”, said Joby “But you are very thin”.
“It’s alright, I know what you’re thinking”, said Kieran “But I’m not going bonkers again. It’s just that I can’t seem to keep any food down at the moment. I WANT to eat, that’s the bloody irony of it, but as soon as I’ve swallowed the food I start thinking of the shit … and well that’s it”.
Kieran used a walking-stick to get up to the main deck, but even so he fell as he was climbing up the quarterdeck steps, and was glad none of the others had been around to see him. Up on the main deck Bardin, Ransey and Julian were talking in one corner. They didn’t know what to say to Kieran, and wisely decided to say nothing. Kieran went to the opposite corner and sat down on the coiled heap of rope there. They were far out on the ocean by now, and Aspiriola was but a distant speck on the horizon. Kieran felt a great sense of relief at seeing it way behind them like this, even though he knew they faced even greater dangers ahead.
“Here you are”, said Joby, bringing over a mug of tea with a spoon in it “Just as you like it, loads of sugar, and I’ve left you the spoon so that you can scoop it all up when you get to the bottom”.
“You’re a star, so you are”, said Kieran, taking the mug “I know you must be very busy”.
“Don’t matter”, said Joby “Adam’s laid up, so I’m in charge of the galley”.
“Laid up?” said Kieran “What’s the matter with him? It can’t be seasickness, surely?!”
“No, some kind of bug, that’s all”, said Joby “But he’s in a right filthy mood about it, I can tell yer! Keeps giving me the third degree as to what we’re doing in the galley without him”.
“Do you want me to come and help you?” said Kieran “I’m not up to much I know, but I make a decent cup of tea, and I can be your vegetable cook”.
“You should be resting”, said Joby “You’ve been through the wars lately”.
“Well so have you if it comes to that!” said Kieran, indicating the dressing on Joby’s cheek.
“Finia says it can come off soon”, said Joby “And the soreness has gone down a bit. Oh, one thing you might be interested in, the monk is still with us”.
“Is he?” said Kieran “So I suppose he wanted to stay”.
“Well it didn’t seem very fair leaving the poor little bastard behind in Aspiriola!” said Joby.
It was bitterly cold out on the high seas, but brilliantly sunny at the same time, with very little wind. In fact the ship was so steady that the clowns took to organising tennis games on the main deck. Their shouts and snatches of laughter reached Adam down in the main cabin, and made him even more grouchy. Joby tried to make him feel better by taking along a slice of curd tart for his approval, and got shouted at for not bringing it on a plate.
“How is he?” said Bardin, on bumping into Joby as he came out of the cabin.
“Well if voice velocity was all that mattered”, said Joby “He’d be in tip-top condition!”
“How are you coping in the galley?” said Bardin, suddenly looking wistful “Would you like me to come and give you a hand?”
Joby knew that Bengo would have a fit of hysterics if Bardin turned up for work in the galley, in fact he’d probably need smelling-salts and a lie-down in a darkened room! When Bardin had ever helped doing kitchen work before, he had approached it like a particularly forbidding surgeon in an operating-theatre, even getting vigorously scrubbed up beforehand.
“No you’re alright, mate”, said Joby, fighting down a wave of panic “We’re coping fine, particularly now we’ve got Kieran doing all the vegetable cooking. Anyway, I thought you’d be rushed off your feet being Captain! How’s the monk getting on?”
“Alright”, said Bardin, casually “Insists on wearing long-sleeved shirts on deck though, which makes me start to wonder if he’s a bit of an old woman on the quiet”.
“That’s all we need”, said Joby, gloomily “Another Toppy on our hands!”
“Does this feller have a name?” Kieran asked Joby, when he got back to the galley “Or do we just carry on calling him The Monk, like something out of an old ghost story?!”
“Mad Owl”, said Joby.
“Mad Owl?!” Kieran exclaimed.
“That’s not his real name”, said Joby “But when he first told me it, it sounded like Mad Owl, so I guess it’s stuck, he’s gonna be known as that from now on”.
“That’s nice for him”, said Kieran.
“Bardy isn’t really gonna come and work in here is he, Joby?” said Bengo, pitifully “You promise me that?”
“No he’s not!” said Joby “Will you stop bellyaching about it!”
“I can’t go around calling this poor feller Mad Owl”, said Kieran, on reflection “Tell me what his real name is, Joby”.
“Madouhl”, said Joby “See, told yer it sounded like Mad Owl didn’t I!”
“Is he settling in alright?” said Kieran.
“Fine”, said Joby.
“He doesn’t know what to make of Fabulous though”, said Bengo “Mind you, nobody knows what to make of Fabulous!”
“Fabulous is having one of his ultra-macho spells”, Joby explained “Only drinks his beer in pint mugs that sort of thing, Real Men don’t drink half-pints apparently. Although I have told him that round here Real Men drink what they’re bleedin’ well given!”
Bengo took some coffee across the passageway into his cabin, where he found Bardin examining the map they had taken from the castle over the stone bridge. He had propped it up on an easel borrowed from Adam.
“I wonder what we’ll find when we get there”, said Bengo, pouring out coffee for him.
“Or how long it’ll take us to find them”, said Bardin “It’s a large island, oh not massive, but it’s still nearly 40 miles square in total, and according to this, not of the easiest terrain. There are swamps and volcanic rocks there, it sounds harsh and bleak, and They could be tucked away in any part of it”.
“Let alone anything else!” said Bengo.
“Shut the door”, said Bardin “I want to show you something”.
Bengo did so. Bardin opened the large sea-chest, which these days took the place of the clowns’ old theatrical basket. He pulled out a large object covered in a blanket. He unwrapped the blanket to reveal a large thigh-length dagger in a black sewn sheath, which when pulled out was shown to have been honed to perfection.
“Got this in Aspiriola just before we left”, said Bardin “Whilst everybody else was busy loading up and getting Kieran aboard”.
“What are you going to do with it?” said Bengo, nervously.
“It’ll come in useful”, said Bardin “For when I’m in at the kill at the end … when we find the ring-leader, the one that organised the attacks on Kieran”.
“B-but I think Joby wants to do all that”, said Bengo.
“Well he’s not”, said Bardin, wrapping the dagger back up again “I’ve talked about this in private with Julian, and he agrees with me, he says that sort of thing is not what the Jobys of this world are for, that they’re here to make sure everything keeps ticking over, not to be vigilantes”.
“I don’t think Joby’s gonna agree with either of you!” said Bengo, who miserably saw untold ructions ahead “Oh I’ll be glad when all this is over!”
He turned to go out of the door, and Bardin stared after him.
“I am absolutely adamant about this, Bengo!” he said.
Once he was alone again, Bardin took the dagger back out and had another look at it. He examined it all over approvingly, as if it was some beautiful, rare, priceless artefact. He wrapped it back up and put it away again, tasted his coffee, which was tepid by now, and went out into the passageway. He was startled when a tall figure detached itself from the wall nearby, and walked away from him briskly down the long corridor which ran under the main deck. Bardin was surprised at this. If it had been any one of the others they wouldn’t have behaved in this way, there would have been some kind of acknowledgement. Even Shag or Mutton Broth would have given a terrified squeak in his direction.
“Hey!” Bardin called out, and pursued the tall figure down the corridor.
The corridor came out in the little triangle which was bordered on all sides by the heads, Kieran and Joby’s cabin, and the big saloon cabin. When he reached it Bardin ran into Julian, who was just coming out of the heads.
“Steady now”, said Julian, testily.
“T-the figure …” Bardin looked around him in bewilderment. He even opened Kieran and Joby’s cabin door and peered inside. It was empty.
“T-the f-figure … it’s disappeared”, said Bardin.
“Now pull yourself together”, said Julian “It’s not every good to have a captain who is stammering and babbling all over the place. What’s the matter?”
Bardin explained about the disappearing figure.
“Aha”, said Julian, with what seemed to Bardin an aggravating lack of excitement or surprise “Very much as we had on the journey up to Aspiriola, don’t you remember? Strange apparitions seen, poltergeist activity. There must be something about this stretch of ocean that causes all this”. “B-but …” said Bardin.
“Get Joby to tell you all about the Bermuda Triangle or The Philadelphia Experiment sometime”, said Julian, breezing into the big cabin ”I’m sure he’ll know!”
Bardin stood watching him helplessly, completely at a loss as to what he was talking about. He then turned and shuffled back down towards the galley. By a stroke of luck (good for him, bad for Bengo) he found Bengo alone in there, putting numerous eggs into a big pan of boiling water on the stove. Kieran and Joby had just gone down to the hold to bring up some more provisions. Bardin stood by awkwardly, fiddling with the egg timer. Bengo snatched it out of his hands.
“How am I supposed to know what I’m doing if you come in here meddling with everything, Bardy!” he said “Why don’t you run off and hide somewhere and I’ll come and find you … in several hours time”.
“I meant it, Bengo”, said Bardin “I meant what I said to you in our cabin”.
“I don’t care if you meant it or not”, said Bengo “I’m not letting you do it. When we catch up with whoever this fiend is, you leave it to Ransey. He’s the professional, he’ll do it quickly, cleanly and efficiently. YOU are not a professional assassin, neither is Joby. The more I think about it, the more STUPID the whole thing sounds. You’re a clown and a ship’s captain, and that should be more than enough for anybody!”
“And just how do you plan to stop me?” said Bardin, who was both cross and excited at the same time, at the prospect of what Bengo might do.
“I don’t know”, said Bengo “But I’ll lock you in the bloody trunk if I have to!”
Bardin spent a mellow evening after this little showdown. After supper he lingered alone at the dining-table, drinking large glasses of red wine and staring absently at a thick gathering of cobwebs in the corner of the room, which seemed to have miraculously escaped Toppy’s attention. Whether it was the red wine or not, he came to the conclusion that Bengo was right. He wouldn’t cut it as an assassin. However much he wanted revenge for what had happened to Kieran, he knew that when it came to the crunch he wouldn’t be able to do it. Bengo came in to light a candle on the table, and then looked into Bardin’s face.
“Well I’m glad you’ve seen sense at last, Bardy!” he said.
“Why don’t you go to bed and get it warmed up”, Bardin growled, making it sound more like a threat than a promise “I shall be along shortly”.
Bengo gave a giggle and left the room. Bardin felt he’d better pay a visit to the heads first. He picked up the candle and carried it along the corridor, feeling that if he saw the dark figure again he would probably blow out the candle and then chuck the heavy brass candle stand at it. The heads was occupied when he got there, but there was a bar of light under Kieran’s cabin door, so he decided to call in and see him whilst he was waiting.
Kieran was in the promise of trimming his hair. He was using a large pair of scissors that looked as if they’d be more appropriate for cutting out wallpaper.
“I thought I’d try and make meself look a wee bit more presentable if I could”, said Kieran.
“You’re not cutting too much off are you?” said Bardin, who had a horror of Kieran and Bengo hacking off their long hair.
“Just tidying up the ends”, said Kieran “I’m glad you’ve seen sense about dispatching the ring-leader”.
“Bengo just said that!” Bardin squawked, in astonishment “How did you know?”
“I didn’t”, said Kieran “Just a feeling I had”.
Bardin pulled up a chair and sat down. He could hear a strange noise in the far distance, a high-pitched sound.
“What’s that?” he said.
“Probably the wind getting up”, said Kieran “Right out here it could be anything”.
“Listen”, Bardin whispered “It sounds like somebody singing”.
It was very faint, as if a chorus of women were singing wordlessly many miles away.
“My God”, said Kieran “It reminds me of the Loud House, the very first time we saw it”.
The sound lingered on the air for only a few seconds more, and then faded again as suddenly as it had began.
“That was too bloody eerie!” Bardin shivered.
“We’re way out at sea”, said Kieran “I guess we have to expect strange things to happen”.
The following morning dawned bright and squally. Bardin had decided to switch off the engines and use the sails to propel themselves forward.
“He’s crazy”, said Tamaz, when Kieran joined him on the forward deck.
“Ah now come on Tamaz”, Kieran laughed “You have to admit it’s a magnificent sight”.
“I don’t even understand why he’s done it!” said Tamaz “Is he hoping that that lot on the island won’t hear us approaching or something?!”
“More likely he’s got a raging hangover and the noise of the engines is bothering him!” said Kieran.
“Watch out”, Tamaz mumbled.
Bardin came up the steps from the galley end of the deck, with his cap pulled well down over his eyes. Bengo was going round the deck with a tray bearing mugs of strong tea, and had been waylaid by Mutton and Shag. Both of them were insanely relieved because Bardin had told them earlier that they would be staying on the boat when they got to the island. He had made it very clear to them that he would regard their presence on the island as nothing but a total hindrance, and a possible danger to life and limb for everyone else. Even so, the clowns were delighted to be confined to the safety of the galleon. They knew though that Bengo would be going ashore.
“You’re so brave”, Mutton Broth intoned “You have our total admiration, you know that”.
Bardin overheard this, and pushed back his cap in puzzlement, his eyes round with total astonishment.
“After a lifetime with Bardy”, said Bengo “Everything else pales into total insignificance!”
After he had finished distributing the tea, Bengo pulled Bardin to one side to speak to him.
“We’ve got a problem, Bardy”, he said, in a low voice “Joby says we’ve got rats in the hold. He’s seen a couple of them”.
“It’s not a problem”, said Bardin “Set poison down for them, and in the meantime move as much of our food as you can up out of their reach”.
The squally winds of the morning had developed into a monstrous storm by nightfall. The ocean churned about, choppy and restless, and lightning frequently lit up the scene. Kieran went back into the dining-room after supper and found Madhoul sitting nervously clutching a glass of brandy.
“Is the storm making you nervous?” Kieran asked.
Madhoul leapt to his feet, which he had a tendency to do in Kieran’s presence. Kieran was finding it increasingly irksome.
“You really don’t have to do that you know”, he said “You make me nervous when you do”.
“I guess I’m not used to it”, said Madhoul “The storm I mean. I keep thinking of all that deep water below us, it’s so deep at the moment we can’t drop anchor, and the ocean keeps bucking us about like a mule trying to shed its load”.
“It’ll pass”, said Kieran “Eventually”.
They suddenly lurched violently to one side, and Kieran groped his way to the chair opposite Madhoul.
“Now you know why we keep the chairs chained to the floor in here!” he said.
“Kieran”, said Madhoul, clearly trying to gear himself up to saying something “When we get to the island, are you still going to go ashore with the others?”
“Of course I am!” said Kieran “It’s my business to clear this mess up”.
“You do realise don’t you?” said Madhoul “That they wouldn’t have stopped at what they did to you?”
“I’m very aware of that”, said Kieran “They made it perfectly clear to me. What I haven’t mentioned before is that They were also planning to stuff my mouth completely full of shit and sew it shut”.
“Dear God”, Madhoul breathed “That such evil and sadism can exist …”
“It always has”, said Kieran “That’s what makes me so determined to at least wipe out the ring-leaders behind this latest little extravaganza”.
Bengo made sure that all was safe in the galley, removed his apron, and went out into the passage. The boat was rocking worse than ever, and the wind made a deafening noise as it howled around them. Somebody had left the hatch at the top of the quarterdeck steps slightly open, and rain was pouring in. Bengo knew that Bardin was up above with Hillyard and Ransey, checking things over on deck. He grabbed an oilskin from the outdoor gear closet, and stepped gingerly up the steps. At the top he could see a lantern swinging violently in the wind.
“What are you doing, you clot?” said Bardin, coming to the hatch, drenched to the skin.
“I wanted to see where you were”, said Bengo “I was worried you might get washed overboard. You’re so slender you see”.
“Get back downstairs, you great pudding!” said Bardin.
Bengo slipped on the steps and slid all the way down the wooden slats to the bottom.
“I think you’d better go to bed before you injure yourself, Bengo”, said Ransey, unhooking the swinging lantern and then closing the hatch after him.
Hillyard, his short wet hair sticking up from being mauled about by the wind, gave a chuckle.
Bengo miserably went into his cabin, and pulled off his oilskin, which was saturated with water, even after such a short exposure to the elements.
“We heard that singing again”, said Bardin “The one me and Kieran heard last night”.
“Did Ransey and Hillyard hear it too?” said Bengo.
“Yes”, said Bardin “Very faint, we could barely hear it above the storm, but it was there alright … coming from the direction in which we’re going - that’s if we don’t get blown off course I mean!”
“In some ways”, said Bengo, sombrely “I hope we do!”
Bardin was standing there, just inside the cabin door, his oilskin coat dripping on the carpet. He suddenly looked afraid, like a little boy.
“Between you and me, Bengo”, he said, candidly “So do I!”
The storm passed through in the night, and by morning there was only the choppiness of the waves to show that it had been there at all. Joby sent Kieran into their cabin after breakfast to tidy it up, and Kieran went willingly. Kieran hadn’t said to Madhoul that what was keeping him going was the thought of the extended holiday he was going to give himself when all this was over. A holiday by Kieran’s standards that is. Wherever it was they went to next, he was going to spend his entire time being submissive to Joby. If Joby ordered him to spend hours standing on a stool in the corner, Kieran would do so.
“Kiel”, said Joby, coming into the room suddenly “Got news. Lands been sighted, on the far horizon. You can barely see it, but it’s there”.
“Well it was bound to happen sooner or later”, said Kieran.
He put on his oilskin coat and went up to the poop-deck, where Bardin was scanning the far horizon through binoculars. He passed them to Kieran. Very faintly on the far horizon was the outline of some mountains with very sharp peaks.
“So there it is”, said Kieran, only to find on lowering the glasses that Bardin had gone down to the forward deck to speak to Ransey “I seem to have been speaking to meself!”
“No I’m here”, said Bengo, who was standing pensively by the railing “For what it’s worth”.
“It’s worth a lot”, Kieran smiled “The other clowns were right in what they said. You are brave. You’ll go onto the island without question won’t you?”
“Only ‘cos I’m stupid”, said Bengo “I do whatever Bardy tells me to do. I’ve been doing it since I was 6-years-old, I guess that makes me institutionalised, or whatever the word is”.
“It’s a feeling I understand very well”, said Kieran.
A short while later he went down below to the dining-room and found Ransey counting out some coins from a leather purse on the table.
“Are we going to need money on the island then?” Kieran exclaimed “D’you know I never thought of that!”
“I have no idea”, said Ransey “I just thought it might be a bit soothing to do this that’s all”.
“Is it getting to you as well then?” said Kieran.
“I will be fine”, said Ransey “Once we’re there, it’s the lead-up that’s doing me in!”
“Good grief”, said Joby, leaning on the bulwark “Skull Island!”
The small secluded beach part of the island was separated from the rest (the majority) of it by a long high wall.
“It’s just like that isn’t it!” Joby went on, excitedly “Skull Island, the home of King Kong!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Joby”, said Lonts.
“No well you wouldn’t would you!” said Joby.
Bardin gave orders for the skiff to be lowered, so that the “hunting party” could go ashore. Tamaz was to go with the customary 6 of himself, Bengo, Kieran, Joby, Ransey and Hillyard. Julian asked that Mieps be allowed to go too.
“The old girl’s sick of being cooped up”, he said “Do her good to have a run out”.
“You make her sound like a racehorse!” said Joby.
“Mieps is a good shooter”, said Ransey “Let her come”. Unlike Skull Island though there was no settlement in the beach area, no sign of any human habitation at all. When the hunting party landed there in the skiff, they were immediately struck by the silence of the place. There were no birds circling around, not even the ubiquitous gulls. Kieran led the way up the beach towards the gigantic wall. There was an entrance in the middle of it, approached by a short flight of broad stone steps leading downwards. The entrance had no door, just a dark aperture. The steps were covered with branches and other bits of foliage, obviously blown down in a storm and never cleared away. The whole place had an abandoned feel.
“They’re here though”, Kieran whispered “Somewhere in that large area on the other side of the wall, I know it”.
He went to forge on ahead down the steps, but Joby grabbed his coat and pulled him back, letting the others go first.
“What’s going on?” said Kieran, fiercely, as he fell back against Joby and they both collapsed against the steps.
“You’re not going on in front”, said Joby “I know you just wanna get it all over with, but you’re not gonna go barnstorming in, I mean it, Kieran!”
Kieran suddenly felt weak and helpless. Joby’s words had done more than any amount of hidings could do. Kieran had been made to see that he wasn’t thinking straight. That it was his grim determination to wipe out the Evil that was carrying him along. There was no constructive thought behind it.
“It’s OK”, Kieran conceded in a whisper.
There was a shocked gasp from further down the steps, they went to join the others. A body had been left lying across the steps, wrapped in a woollen blanket. It had clearly been there for some time, as it had been well gnawed by animals. They stepped over it carefully. Bardin noticed that there was something on the wall nearby. He put on his torch and picked out the words “THIS IS A TERRIBLE PLACE” written in blood, long dried onto the stonework.
They followed the steps down into some kind of large walled garden, except this was a garden of freezing sea-fogs, and dank, dripping, colourless plant life. The fog seemed to have got caught up in this walled enclosure and been unable to leave. They stuck close together, uncertain what could strike out at them from any moment. Kieran felt as if they were being watched, and looked up at the high walls, having to restrain himself from making the sign of the cross everywhere.
“There’s a doorway up ahead”, Bardin whispered, for no other reason that this was the sort of place which seemed to encourage whispering.
Hillyard sighed heavily. He hated this place more than any other they had ever been in. Kieran went to go in first into the doorway, but Joby yanked him back again by his oilskin.
“You just won’t have it will you!” Joby exclaimed “You wait til I get you home!”
Tamaz walked past them, giving Kieran the sort of haughty outraged look that an Edwardian duchess would reserve for someone making a faux pas at a high society dinner party.
The floor of the tunnel was muddy, but there was a sulphurous heat coming from the walls. In fact the further down the tunnel they went the worse it became, until they could feel their lips cracking and their eyeballs aching. Blind red snakes crawled out of the walls and tried to squirm all over them. There was also a strange red jelly-like substance, which crawled around with a life of its own. Without the torches they were carrying the darkness would have been impossibly intense.
Eventually, after what seemed like an interminable age of this, they came out into a large underground cavern, with a very high ceiling. There were manmade empty niches all around the walls, and the centre of it was taken up with a large underground lake, which appeared to be filled with steaming hot water. They glimpsed a narrow opening in the rocks directly on the other side of the tarn.
“Come on”, said Hillyard “Let’s get this over with. Those red snakes gave me the creeps. Reminded me of dogs’ penises!”
“Hillyard!” said Joby.
Kieran gently kicked Tamaz’s rear in passing. Tamaz went to kick his in return, and Joby had some difficulty separating them.
“Pack it in!” he said “You two are worse than the clowns!”
“We’re not doing anything!” Bengo protested.
“Makes a change”, Joby growled.
They walked cautiously round the lake, accompanied by that horribly unnerving feeling of being watched, which had persisted since the moment they had first set foot on the island. There was also a strange noise in the very far distance, which sounded vaguely like wind howling, but wasn’t quite that.
“Do we go through this opening here then?” said Hillyard.
“Yeah, if you can fit through it”, said Joby.
“You’re on form today aren’t you!” said Hillyard.
“Right, I think we should get roped up”, said Ransey, pulling a large coil of rope off his shoulder.
“Oh we’re on that kick again are we?” said Joby.
“Never mind”, Hillyard whispered to Mieps “Once we’ve finished here I’ll promise you a day’s shooting somewhere”.
“What about him?” Mieps jerked her thumb in Kieran’s general direction.
“We’ll get Joby to tie him up or something”, said Hillyard.
Once they were roped together, mountaineering-style, Ransey led the way through the narrow aperture. After a very short distance they emerged on the outskirts of a forest. It had clouded over considerably whilst they’d been underground, and the whole area was as dark as deep twilight. Directly ahead of them, outside the forest, loomed a huge building which appeared to have been hewn directly out of the solid rock on which it stood. It reared up several storeys.
“And just how do we get into it?” said Joby.
“There’s a bridge of some sorts to the side”, said Hillyard, who had been peering through binoculars.
“Alright, let’s get all this rope off us first”, said Bardin “We don’t need it now we’re out of the tunnel”.
It began to rain.
“That’s all we need”, said Joby, sounding as though he was at a garden-party which hadn’t turned out quite as everybody had planned.
The bridge was further away than it looked, and they trudged miserably through the gloom and the rain up a track which led up a sharp incline. The bridge, when they reached it, was a ramshackle affair, which led to a small, cobwebbed wooden doorway set into the thick wall of the tower.
They had gone beyond the wooden door, into a narrow, dark corridor, not dissimilar to the one they had just left on the other side of the sulphurous lake. It is hard to stress the darkness in here. It was almost like a presence of its own. It was in this intense gloom that a stone panel was slid open in the wall, and Kieran was taken from them for a second time.
From the bruise on his own arm Kieran assumed that he had been stabbed with a needle, which had knocked him out for several hours. When he came to he was in a room at the very top of the tower. He was hanging suspended in a harness, which had him fastened by both wrists and both ankles. He was naked, apart from a large nappy, fastened round his nether regions with a big pin. “Oh great”, thought Kieran “I’ve been hung up and plastered with shit, now I’ve been put in a baby’s nappy. Now I know how poor old Lonts felt all those years!”
The room was empty apart from a nasty little arched window, through which moonlight shone, and an equally nasty little fireplace, in which a piss-poor collection of kindling glimmered faintly. Kieran felt very cold and hungry. I’m as helpless as a baby, he thought, as a baby in a cradle. I can’t move by myself, like a baby I can still cry out though. And he did, yelling for Joby, Bardin, or just a simple “hey!”
Angel came out of the walls eventually.
“I didn’t mean you!” said Kieran “But if you can help me I wouldn’t be ungrateful”.
“Why shouldn’t I help you?” said Angel “After what you did to me?”
He gestured at the wrinkled space where one of his ears had been.
“You were trying to strangle me!” said Kieran “What was I supposed to do? Just like there and take it?! Are you behind all this, Angel?”
“No”, said Angel, simply.
“I didn’t think you were”, said Kieran “Please help me to get out of this contraption”.
Angel paced to the window and looked out. “Do you want me to take you some place else?” he said.
Kieran knew he meant into another dimension, like when he had at The Bone House.
“No”, said Kieran “I need to confront the entity that’s doing this. Why have you appeared now?”
“To see you again”, said Angel “You might not believe this, but I suppose I need something in my life other than destruction. Although I could easily eat you now, you look like a maggot with hair. Where would your great gift of mortality be then?”
“I’d find a way”, said Kieran “Even if you had to vomit me up, I’d find a way out!” Angel managed to lower him from the harness. Kieran hit the bare, cold floor, and flinched at its harshness. Angel disappeared almost immediately he had done this, after tearing a ragged curtain from the bar over the window, and tossing it at Kieran.
Pulling the filthy piece of material around him, Kieran headed towards the door. Just beyond it a flight of steps led downwards. He stumbled down them in the dark. He saw a bar of light under a door at the bottom, and greedily made for it. He found himself in a large bedchamber. The fire was far more generous in here, and he rushed over and warmed himself at it. A door in a corner of the room opened and 3 demonic women came in, the Lady Arabella, in a high-necked linen nightdress, plus the flame-haired demon Julian had seen in the grounds of The Yellow Castle, and the dark-haired one Bengo had seen at the party in Aspiriola.
“Jayz, the Brides of Dracula”, thought Kieran “Come to get me!”
They grabbed him silently and hauled him over to the bed.
“How did you get out from upstairs?” said the one called Arabella.
“The Devil let me out”, said Kieran.
A ripple of excitement ran through the demon women.
“Is he as they say he is?” said the dark-haired one “Is his penis as thick as a tree-trunk, and his sperm icy cold?”
She sounded as star-struck as a teenager. Kieran couldn’t help but laugh.
“Why don’t you find out for yourself?” he said “Where are my friends?”
“They’ve abandoned you”, said Arabella, slapping his forehead aggressively.
“Oh like that is it?” said Kieran, not believing it for one minute. His oldest fear was of being abandoned, and these women were playing on it.
“You don’t seem to realise how long you’ve been gone”, said Arabella.
“A few hours at a rough guess”, said Kieran.
He sensed that someone else had come into the room, although Arabella had slapped her hand across his eyes. Kieran smelt an heady overpowering perfume, and felt a goblet pushed roughly to his lips. He tried to push it away, but was helpless.
The next few hours were a blur. He was aware sometimes of somebody slapping and hitting him around the face, but he was very heavily drugged. When he finally came to, he had a pounding headache, like a massive hangover. Irritably, he undid the big pin that was holding the nappy together, and then flung the offending garment into the corner of the room. Wearily, he got out of bed, and made for the closet on the other side of the room. It contained only women’s nightdresses and dressing-gowns. “Bardin would be in his element”, thought Kieran. He selected a plain simple gown with long tight-fitting sleeves. Whoever it belonged to was a lot taller than him, as it trailed on the floor.
After donning it, he went out into the corridor on the other side of the room and yelled for any of the others. He heard Joby calling from a few doors away. Kieran located him eventually. Joby was lying spread-eagled naked on a bed, tethered at the wrists and ankles by old bed-linen. The room was icy-cold, and Joby’s flesh looked like that of a plucked raw chicken.
“Kiel!” Joby gasped “What have they done to you?”
“Oh this”, said Kieran, picking at the nightgown “Sorry about the drag act, it was all I could find”.
“I didn’t mean that”, said Joby “I meant your face”.
“Am I knocked around?” said Kieran, putting his hands up to feel it “Never mind that. What about you?”
“Well the 3 tarts came into the room at one point”, said Joby “Said they were gonna cut my knackers off. They even produced a knife. I fainted at that point, I’m sorry”.
“Don’t be”, said Kieran, getting to work in releasing Joby from his bondage “Most men would have done the same. Come into the other room. There’s a fire there”.
Joby stood naked in front of the fire in the room where Kieran had been drugged, and Kieran rubbed him all over vigorously, to try and get his blood circulating properly again. Then he selected a dressing-gown from the closet and brought it over. Joby rebelled at putting it on.
“Don’t be daft”, said Kieran “We’ve got to find the others, and you can’t roam about this Tower stark-naked, it’s just not practical”.
“This reminds me of when Julian and me were kidnapped at Wooded Hill”, said Joby.
“Why?” said Kieran “Did he make you wear a frilly dressing-gown as well?!”
“Behave yourself!” said Joby.
“Well you never know with the English aristocracy”, said Kieran “They have some strange tastes sometimes”.
“Yeah”, said Joby “Bit like Irish Catholics really!”
“It goes well with your scar”, said Kieran, when Joby had reluctantly put on the dressing-gown.
“I’m gonna feel a complete pillock in this”, said Joby.
“You’ll feel an even bigger pillock if you prance around this Tower stark butt naked”, said Kieran “Not to mention vulnerable, particularly with the castrating brides around!”
“I can’t wait to get my hands on the bastard who knocked you around”, said Joby, looking at the bruises on Kieran’s neck where he had been roughly grabbed.
“Whoever it is must be a complete coward”, said Kieran “Knocking me around when I’m three-quarters asleep!”
“How did you get out of the harness?” said Joby, when Kieran had explained where he had first found himself.
“Angel let me out”, said Kieran.
“That tosser’s around here?” Joby exclaimed “I might have known!”
“He let me out anyway”, said Kieran.
“Why?” said Joby, perplexed “What suddenly made him decide to do you a favour?”
“Angel’s a mischief-maker”, said Kieran “He must have got some initial amusement out of seeing me trussed up and in a nappy like that, but it would have bored him quickly. It would have amused him more to turn me loose amongst this lot and see what havoc I can cause … so I guess I’d better get started on it!”
Bengo came into consciousness to find himself tied securely to a stool. The ropes had been fastened round him so tightly that they were digging into him painfully. His hands were tied to the seat of the stool. He had been stripped of all his outdoor clothing, and left in his shirt and breeches. The room he found himself in appeared to be some sort of library. It was windowless and completely lined with books. Bengo had the non-reader’s complete distrust of books, and was unable to understand why anybody would want to furnish a room with them. His one and only attempt to read a book had almost left him exhausted and traumatised.
He was unable to cry out, as he was gagged, so he tried to bash the stool against the floor, but the thick, patterned carpet muffled all sound. He heard a sound as of a child screaming hysterically as it ran along the corridor outside the room. Bengo remembered the deformed baby whose birth Kieran had officiated at. The rumours in the town had been that it was growing at an abnormal rate. Had it already reached the size where it could run by itself all down the corridor, cackling like a maniac?
A door of books opened and 3 women came into the room. The same 3 that had recently been teasing Kieran.
“Oh, a bit more fleshy than the last one”, said the one that Bengo knew as the Lady Arabella. She was wearing a magnificent emerald green gown, well-hooped.
Bengo also recognised the dark-haired one he had seen at the party in Aspiriola. This time she was dressed from head to toe in white, giving her the appearance of a moving icicle. From his upbringing in show business Bengo knew that she would be bitter that he had seen her true grotesque reflection in the mirror, and she showed this by looking at him with utter disdain.
“I don’t know how you can bear to get too close to it”, she said to the one called Arabella “It’s hideous”.
“Hardly hideous, dear”, Arabella purred.
“Be gone out of here!” a male voice shouted from the doorway “This is my own private room, you have no business here”.
Bengo looked up and saw a tall man, wearing a red velvet dressing-gown with fancy black frogging on it. The most startling aspect of his appearance were his eyes - they were completely black. His teeth, like that of the women, were filed to a sharp point.
“Before we go”, said Arabella, swishing over to him “I want your assurance that he is to be the last one we keep here. Each time you promise that we will not have anymore of your ’pets’ and then another one appears!”
Bengo was fascinated to se that the strutting creature in the fancy dressing-gown assumed a posture that could be described as “cowed”. Oho, thought Bengo, so he’s hen-pecked, how I know the feeling! If the gag hadn’t been completely covering the lower part of his face, he would have snorted with laughter.
After the women had left the room, the man in the dressing-gown came over to him and swiped him viciously across the face. Bengo hadn’t been prepared for the blow at all, and he fell over sideways onto the carpet, still firmly secured to the stool. The man snatched up a sharp knife from a nearby table and held the point of it perilously close to Bengo’s left eye. Bengo squeezed his eyes tight shut. He recalled the demons of The Sealed House and how they had threatened to gouge out Kieran’s eyes. I can’t die, he thought, but I can feel unspeakable pain, I can spend the rest of eternity completely blind.
Suddenly he felt himself being hauled, stool and all, into a neighbouring room. The man then left him there, and slammed the door on him. The reason soon became apparent. Bengo could hear Kieran’s voice nearby. Bengo tried desperately hard to shout, but it was hopeless. There was no way he could make his voice be heard. There would have to be another way. He noticed a table of drinks nearby. He wriggled over to it like a worm, and used his knees to upend it. The bottles fell with a dismayingly soft thud on the carpet. Bengo tried to crush them noisily against the skirting-board.
“Joby”, he said, when he had been freed from his gag and bondage “What …?”
“Yeah alright”, said Joby, knowing Bengo was referring to his frilly dressing-gown “Get over it. Where are the others?”
“I don’t know”, said Bengo, helplessly “I wish I did! I hope they haven’t got Bardy locked up somewhere, he’ll be furious! Where’s the man gone?”
“What man?” said Kieran.
“The one who dragged me in here”, said Bengo, noticing for the first time that he was in a bedchamber, all red velvet and dark, mahogany wood “He must have run off when he heard you. What’s happened to your face?”
“I was knocked around in me sleep”, said Kieran.
“Looks like we got to you just in time”, said Joby to Bengo.
“He was going to cut my eyes out”, said Bengo “Although he might have just been toying with me, trying to make me cack myself I expect! He very nearly succeeded!”
“Secret passages”, said Kieran, looking at the surrounding walls “The whole Tower must be riddled with them”.
“What do we do now?” said Joby.
“I guess we find the others”, said Bengo.
The others had been shovelled into what seemed like some kind of bear-pit in the floor of the central hallway of the Tower. When they had fully ascertained that they were alone, Hillyard had lifted up Bardin so that he could nimbly clamber out, much as he had done when he had clambered out of the well in the forest. He pulled up Tamaz next, as the lightest one, and then in turn hauled up Mieps, Ransey and Hillyard.
“I’m knackered after that”, said Bardin, lying on his back, staring up at the huge raftered ceiling “I must be out of condition!”
“Come on”, said Hillyard “No lounging around. I want to get out of this bloody place as soon as possible. Away from the whole island in fact. It’s seriously pissing me off”.
“When can we start the slaughtering then?” said Tamaz.
Ransey gave a “tcach!” as if a very precocious child had just said something outrageous.
A small, narrow door opened in a corner of the room, and Kieran, Joby and Bengo emerged from it. A rather motley-looking trio. Bardin gave a roar of “Bengo!” and did a nifty little jig.
“Do we have any weapons left?” said Kieran, when all the greetings had been exchanged.
“They took my rifle”, said Mieps.
“Hard cheese, old girl”, said Joby, impersonating Julian.
“I’ve only got this”, said Ransey, digging into the inside pocket of his oilskin and pulling out a revolver.
“What’s the suggestion then?” said Joby, dropping his voice to a whisper “None of the plans we previously came up with seems to really fit somehow, I don’t know why …”
He stopped in astonishment as Julian and Hoowie came into the great hall - or whatever it was.
“Well you’ve been gone so bloody long!” said Hoowie “Hours and hours”.
“Joby?” said Julian, gaping at Joby’s frilly dressing-gown in amazement.
“What did you mean by bringing him here?” Bardin squawked, pointing at Hoowie.
“He makes an admirable sidekick”, said Julian “Now he’s been broken in a bit”.
“I suggest we go back to the galleon”, said Kieran “I can’t come up with brilliant ideas concerning demon vanquishing when I’m still in me nightie!” “Oh but I should warn you we need to be very careful getting back”, said Julian “Some of the foliage round here seems to have a mind of its own”.
“That’s all we need!” said Joby “Bleedin’ Triffids on the prowl as well!”
Kieran had donned a crisp, clean nightshirt in his cabin on the galleon, and was now gently washing his face in warm water. The intense relief he felt for having finally left the Tower was absolute.
“Poor old Patsy”, said Adam, coming into the little room with some tea “I was utterly shocked when you came home in that condition. You need to get into bed and rest now”.
“I can’t”, said Kieran “I’ve only changed into this for comfort. I need to go and speak to Bardin pronto”.
“But can’t it wait?” said Adam, in dismay.
“No I’m afraid it can’t”, said Kieran, smiling sadly “I’ve had an idea, the only one that I think is going to work, quite frankly. We need to find their ship, the one with the black sails, and we torch it”.
“And what will that achieve?” said Adam.
“Hopefully it’ll isolate them on this island”, said Kieran “I kept thinking, when we travelled here, ’The Cursed Isle’ - sounds like best place for them. Well let’s leave them here, maroon them”.
“Alright”, said Adam “But don’t we have to make sure they’ve got no other means of getting away?”
“That’s why time is of the essence” said Kieran “We can’t afford to give them time to get away or hide the ship or find some other means of transport. Demons and vampires can’t travel easily over water. There must be something about that ship that is special to them, so we’ll circumnavigate this island until we find it”.
Joby put the frilly dressing-gown into the galley stove, and then rammed it down with the poker, to make sure it would burn fully.
“What a shame”, said Adam, coming into the room “I was going to ask Toppy to wash and iron it for you!”
“Adam”, said Joby, holding up the poker in a threatening way “Don’t!”
“It was just a joke for heaven’s sake!” said Adam, talking to Julian in the big cabin a few minutes later “I sometimes wonder if he’s lost his sense of humour since we came to this damn place!”
“I thought it suited him”, said Julian “But for God’s sake don’t tell him that, it would offend his macho working-class pride! Anyway, he’s bound to be aggressive for a bit, what with the Scissor Sisters tying him up and threatening to cut his dick off. Reminds me of those bloody awful castration dreams that Father Gabriel inflicted on me. They made me impotent you know”.
“Yes I remember”, said Adam “But they all went through a horrible ordeal over there. Poor little Bengo nearly had his eye gouged out, but he’s not jumping down my throat at every turn!”
“He probably thought he’d woken up and found himself back in the Cabaret of Horrors!” said Julian “He told me they had someone there who pretended to gouge his eyeball out. Used to make members of the audience physically sick apparently. Sounds about par for the course for one of their shows!”
“How are things topside?” said Adam.
“No sign of anything at the moment”, said Julian “Bardin’s said he’ll shout down if we find anything”.
Azaiel watched the ship burning from the top of the Tower. It had spread and set fire to parts of the north shore where it had been anchored. The rains had come and quenched the fire before it could incinerate much of the island, but even so the damage had been done. The blackened bits of wood bobbing on the grey waters of the ocean was a testament to the fact that the ship with black sails was no more. He couldn’t see the galleon through the gloom, but he knew it was out there somewhere, safely out on the high seas.
He let out a roar of frustration and rage and swept to the stone steps that circled down inside the Tower. The Lady Arabella met him halfway down, her eyes flashing with anger.
“So what happens now my lord?” she sneered “We’re stuck here! Why didn’t you kill the bastards when you had the chance?”
“They can’t be killed”, said Azaiel, wearily “You know that as well as I do”.
“We could have tortured and mutilated them though!” she shrieked with rage “No cocks, no eyes … they would have been begging for death as a merciful release then! But you wouldn’t let us, you were so sure you knew better!”
“Oh be quiet, damn you to Hell, you filthy slut!” Azaiel gave a sob of despair and ran into his room, the one where Kieran had been punched in his sleep. Someone had ransacked the wardrobe, tearing to pieces the exotic, soft garments within, and scattering them around the room.
“Did you do this?” he turned on Arabella, who looked as startled as him “Or any of the others?”
Before she could answer, an old woman scuttled into the room, gasping for breath.
“My lord”, she wheezed, putting her hand to her chest “You must come at once. The Devil is in the great hall below!”
Angel stood in the middle of the chilly, cavernous great hall and looked around him in disgust. His presence had caused an almighty stir in the Tower, and for several minutes now odd, grotesque creatures had been sneaking in and out of the room, by various doorways and hidden stairways, to look at him. The gorgon with the black circles round her eyes, the demonic baby, a dog-headed man, a headless woman in a long, tight fitting shiny grey dress, which made her look like a monstrous mermaid.
“Sire, dark prince!” Azaiel burst into the room “What are you going to do, we’re marooned here!”
“I’m not”, said Angel “I’m not marooned anywhere”.
“We should never have crossed that vast expanse of water”, said the Lady Arabella “I told you, my lord, that it was a stupid idea from the start!”
Azaiel pushed her impatiently, and she fell backwards into the bear-pit where Bardin and the others had been housed for a while.
“She’s right though”, said Angel, calmly “You shouldn’t have crossed the ocean. It WAS a stupid thing to do. You’ve trapped yourselves. But then, you’ve been stupid all along. You’ve had plenty of opportunities to destroy Kieran, but you’ve pissed about and dithered and done NOTHING!”
“Things never went right”, Azaiel whined “We didn’t expect the others to follow him into The Sealed House”.
“Fool! You should have known they would!” said Angel, in exasperation.
“You can destroy him, sire”, Azaiel fell to his knees and grasped Angel’s fur-palmed hand “We know you can”. “I don’t want a Universe without Kieran in it”, said Angel “It would be dull. Too one-sided. Anyway, he leaves me alone for most of the time these days. He doesn’t go bothering me. Which is more than could be said for you lot! You constantly need telling what to do! You’re fucking hopeless! No, you can stay here for a while, on this island”.
“For how long?” said Azaiel, in a shocked voice.
“As long as I think you need to”, said Angel “It depends whether I remember you at any point in the future. Perhaps I will, perhaps I won’t. Who knows?”
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