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Bengo ran through the sun-baked, stinking,, deserted streets of the City until he located Brother Umbert in a bar. The little clown had had a strong idea where he would find him as Umbert tended to prefer this particular bar above all the others. It was hard to know why, as there was nothing to particularly distinguish it from all the rest. He wondered if there was some personal reason to do with his past, which was why Umbert preferred it.
“Oh Umbert really!” Bengo sighed at him through the broken window “Bardy’s very worried about you, you know”.
“Can’t a man self-destruct if he wants to!” Umbert shouted back.
“Well we’d much rather you didn’t, that’s all”, said Bengo, treading gingerly over the broken glass in the doorway.
“It feels as if my whole life’s been wiped out!” Umbert shouted.
“I know”, Bengo sat down opposite him on a hard chair.
“How can you know?” said Umbert “How can you possibly know? You lot with your immortality!”
“We can still feel pain”, said Bengo “We feel your pain. And we can still get ill. We’re as much at risk in this rotten place as you are”.
They had been in the City for 6 weeks now. It was the end of August, and the place was a fetid crap-heap under a broiling, merciless sun. some of the Indigo-ites were on the galleon, anchored outside the City gates. The rest of them - Bengo, Bardin, Adam, Lonts, Joby, Kieran, Hillyard, Ransey, Julian and Hoowie - were living temporarily in what must have once been a fairly opulent hotel. They had been there all this time, reconnoitring for any survivors that might still be around, but so far they had come across no one. The only living creatures were the rats and other vermin, who were flourishing in these vile conditions. Of the human inhabitants, most were in a mass grave just within the City walls. It was to be hoped that anyone else had escaped somewhere else.
“You’re over-tired, Umbert”, said Bengo (not to mention over-drunk) “None of us are sleeping properly. Come back to The Building with me”.
The Building was what they called the abandoned hotel. “Home” would be a gross thing to call it.
“You have no idea what it’s like to be me”, Umbert continued to grumble, as Bengo led him out of the bar “You have people you belong to. I have no one”.
Bengo didn’t think it would be a good idea to mention Digby at this point (who was safely back on the galleon), and merely agreed sympathetically with Umbert as he led him along the street, which was baking white in the sunlight. At the far end of the it he could see Ransey and Hillyard playing chess on the pavement. They did this a lot during daylight hours, as it gave them a good all-round vantage point of the large square in the centre of the town. So far they had never seen a trace of anyone though, apart from one memorable occasion when they had seen a feral cat. All household pets seemed to have perished of The Sweats too, along with their owners.
Outside The Building they had erected a billboard, advertising themselves as a refuge for any survivors who may see it. Bardin yelled something incomprehensible out of an upstairs window at Bengo and Umbert as they approached. When they got into the lobby area, he hurtled down the massive staircase. The Building was a mix of its old, prosperous days (murals on the walls, guilt decorations on the doors), and the rubble and decay of its current, sorry state.
“You shouldn’t rush down the stairs like that, Bardy”, said Bengo “Some of them are crumbling”.
“Never mind me”, said Bardin, crossly “Where’s your gun? Why aren’t you wearing it?”
“Oh I feel daft with that thing on”, said Bengo.
“You ARE daft, so you might as well look the part!” said Bardin “And as for you”, he turned to Umbert “That’s it, that’s the last time anybody comes looking for you if you wander off. Why for fuck’s sake can’t you think of anybody but yourself for a change!”
Ransey and Hillyard wandered into the lobby, carrying the chess-board and a fold-up table, as Bardin had shouted this.
“Do you think Bardin was a bit hash to Umbert just then?” said Hillyard, when he and Ransey reached the room they were sharing on the first floor.
“No I don’t”, said Ransey, flopping back on the bed “Somebody’s got to snap Umbert out of this torpor he’s in, and nothing else seems to be working”.
“He’d have been better off if he’d never seen all this”, said Hillyard.
“He had to know, sooner or later”, said Ransey “The trouble is, how the hell do you help someone in his position? This place is where he comes from, and he’s seeing it like this. What a terrible bloody disease!”
“I don’t think it was just the disease”, said Hillyard “All this rubbish they’d left piled around. It all gave the disease something to feed on, and it did, big-time”.
Bardin blew his whistle out in the corridor, and shouted that he was summoning everyone for a meeting in his room.
“Oh not now”, Ransey wailed.
“Yes NOW!” Bardin shouted back.
Within five minutes everybody was assembled in his and Bengo’s room. All except Brother Umbert that is, who had been put to bed, and Julian and Hoowie.
“Where are they?” Bardin demanded to know.
“Where we were I expect”, Ransey snapped “In bed”.
“Sorry if I interrupted anything!” said Bardin, sarcastically “Only I’ve got momentous news. This is going to be our last night here”.
Lonts took his pipe out of his mouth and beamed.
“What?” said Joby “Our last night in this delightful place?!”
He looked round at the plaster peeling from the walls, the rusting iron bedstead, and the broken windows open onto the hot, stench-ridden street.
“There scarcely seems any point in staying here any longer”, said Bardin “One more night should be enough”.
“More ’en enough”, said Joby.
“Tomorrow we go back to the galleon”, said Bardin “In the meantime, I’ll see you all in the cocktail lounge as usual at 6 o’clock”.
The cocktail lounge downstairs must have once been a fun and stylish place to dine and generally hang out. Adam had remarked on first seeing it, that its interior designer must have been as camp as Christmas, with all the plush red velvet and ornate mirrors around. These days of course it didn’t so much resemble a decaying beauty, as one who had been stumbling around dead for a long time, waiting for someone to put her out of her misery. Part of the ceiling had fallen in, the pipe-work had become exposed, and even Hillyard didn’t attempt to get a decent tune out of the piano in the corner.
Every evening at 6 o’clock they had met there to discuss the day’s events. At first Umbert had objected to this, saying it felt like blasphemy to do something so normal in this city of ghosts. To which Bardin had replied tartly that was it better to slink off somewhere and get totally bladdered on your own then?! And in any case, if there were any survivors around, they might be drawn to the hotel bar in the hope of finding someone there.
“Are we taking that home with us, Bardy?” said Bengo, looking at a fiddle and bow lying on the bar-counter. They had found this in the lounge soon after moving in.
“Rumble might be able to repair it”, said Bardin, who was mixing some pretty potent cocktails behind the bar.
Joby and Lonts came and sat on one of the banquettes. Lonts had been smoking his pipe pretty continuously, but for once Joby hadn’t complained, as the noxious fumes from it helped to smother out the stench from the streets. Adam came into the room, closely followed by Hoowie.
“Jules is having a shave”, said Adam “He’ll be down in a minute”.
“Nice that you’ve surfaced at last”, Bardin said to Hoowie “You can help with the first watch duty tonight. You must be thoroughly rested by now”.
“Thoroughly rested?!” exclaimed Hoowie, who felt anything but.
Sex was another thing that Brother Umbert felt was inappropriate here. The truth was though that there was very little in the way to keep one sane in this dreadful place, and so the Indigo-ites had done what they had always done: taken solace in each other. How the hell else do you survive?
Bardin noticed something else though, that was of a rather more pressing concern. Everybody looked malnourished again. Hoowie had always been lean, but now he looked as though he would vanish if he turned sideways. Even Bengo, usually so cuddly, looked like a scarecrow after 6 weeks of living out of tins. “I can’t wait til I can call him a fat clown again”, thought Bardin.
Julian, Hillyard, Ransey and Kieran came down into the bar.
“Umbert’ll be down in a minute”, said Hillyard.
“Then let’s have a toast”, said Bardin “A sort of sic, self-indulgent joke before he gets here. To the last night of our holiday!”
“And wild horses wouldn’t make me come back here again!” said Hillyard.
Late that night he lay in bed, staring out through the open window. Since Bengo and Bardin had finished having sex together on the other side of the wall a few minutes ago, the night had been perfectly silent.
“What I wouldn’t give to hear dog bark somewhere!” said Hillyard.
“There’s just nothing”, said Ransey “Nothing at all”.
Under the single sheet that was covering them, Hillyard put out a hand and touched Ransey’s thigh. Ransey gently removed it.
“Hang on until tomorrow”, he said “You’ll be seeing Mieps then”.
“Oh come on, Ranz”, said Hillyard “You and me have always been close, but this past 6 weeks have been something else. I don’t think I could have got through it without you”.
“Same here”, said Ransey “But I don’t want a cock up my bum!”
“Is that all that’s bothering you?” said Hillyard, who could suddenly see why Ransey had always made a big fuss about the beauty of Finia’s streamlined body “That’s not the only way you can enjoy yourself you know! Talk about a one-track mind!”
“I don’t want to stick mine up yours either!” said Ransey, who found he was laughing in spite of himself.
“If I wanted that, I could go along the corridor and see Julian”, said Hillyard “I’m sure he wouldn’t mind, and it’d give Hoowie a rest”.
“Rather you than me”, said Ransey “The thought of that damn great thing being shoved up me makes my eyes water! And I do wish he’d put it away occasionally!”
“Well if you’ve got it, flaunt it, I suppose”, said Hillyard.
“How does that account for Kieran then?” said Ransey “It doesn’t take much persuasion for him to get his little widget out!”
“Born exhibitionist you see”, said Hillyard “Oh God here we are, discussing dick sizes like this! Brother Umbert wouldn’t approve”.
“If Umbert doesn’t make some effort to get a bit of light into his life”, said Ransey “Then his mind will collapse under the strain of all this, and I would hate to see that happen”.
“In the meantime”, said Hillyard, with a suggestive note in his voice.
“In the meantime …” Ransey replied.
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