Go back to previous chapter
The gramophone was playing by itself in the library, eerily-lit by moonlight. Hillyard lifted the stylus from the record and the music stopped. The silence now all around them was far more unnerving.
“We’re gonna have to do a thorough search”, said Bardin “But no splitting up. We all stay together. No going off on a solo tangent, alright?”
They went back out into the great hall.
“Look what’s happened now”, said Mieps, pointing at the dining-room door on the far side. A glow of extreme white light seeped out through the gap at the bottom.
“You need me to help you investigate that”, said Kieran, coming down the marble staircase wearing his wooden rosary beads.
“Do you ever listen to anyone?” Bardin snapped.
“No he doesn’t”, said Ransey.
“I can’t think why you wanted to leave me out anyway!” said Kieran.
“If Bengo comes down next I’ll divorce him!” said Bardin.
The five of them walked briskly across the echoing great hall. On opening the dining-room door they were almost dazzled by the harsh white light within. When their eyes had adjusted to it, they saw that the room was caught in what could only be described as a hazy wobble, as though it was a film-tape that was disintegrating. Around the table where they had eaten so many meals themselves sat four people, two women, two men. Sitting bolt-upright, staring directly into the space, lifeless. There were four empty goblets in front of them. Their lips were peeled back in ghastly strychnine grins.
They all now knew what had happened to the mysterious original inhabitants of Midnight Castle, they had all died in a joint suicide pact. The far more unnerving question was … why? Had the remoteness and the weirdness of the area finally unhinged them? Had they been menaced by some evil from outside? The same evil perhaps that had murdered the Grey Lady? Was any of it linked to the door in the cellar? All the Indigo-ites knew at the moment was that the four people had methodically chosen to die in an awful way.
Which left the even more unnerving question as to if they had all died together, who (or what) had moved their bodies? Taken them where? And why? And done what to them?
The Ghoomer-hunt was called off. None of the Indigo-ites wanted to take part now in that little expedition. Instead they unanimously decided to move out of the Castle and go back up to the sloop and the clearing, where they agreed they had been happiest and most free anyway. The unspoken thought was also that it would be quicker to get away in a hurry from up there than down here.
The day following the gruesome midnight scene in the dining-room was an immensely busy one for the Indigo-ites, as they packed up their things lock, stock and barrel, and transported them up through the forest to the clearing. The animals were moved, but the pigs were given to the monks, as there was nowhere for the Indigo-ites to house them up there, and they knew now that they would never get around to butchering them. Also, if they had to leave in the sloop, there would be no room for them on-board.
Everything that they could move was moved. Bedlinen, lamps, chairs, all the kitchen equipment, even the piano and the sofa from the library were moved, in order to make the clearing more comfortable. Of course it gave them a pang to leave the Castle, it had been their home for quite some while now, and they had known some beautiful times there. But it was only now they were leaving it that they fully realised the strain to which it had put them under also.
Kieran, as was only to be expected, felt guilty about not having sensed the presence of the ghosts in the dining-room. He was also tormented by the image of them they had seen. He would dearly like to have whipped himself, but knew how Joby would react to this, so instead Kieran tried to work it out of himself by repairing the old chicken-run in the clearing, which had got damaged during the Storm Season.
In the meantime the Indigo-ites had visitations from Brother Jerome, Sister Amalia, and Nola, who between them all managed to upset everybody in one way or another.
“Kiel”, Joby stepped briskly into the chicken-run.
“Don’t come in here in that dressing-gown Joby, you’ll frighten the chickens”, said Kieran.
“Brother Jerome’s been here”, said Joby, with a sense of urgency “I don’t like his attitude, Kiel, I really don’t. He kept asking us why we weren’t going on the Ghoomer-hunt. He seemed real put out that we weren’t going, and even more put out that we’d moved out of the Castle and up to here”.
“So what?” said Kieran “I suppose you’re going to say he’s a plant, put here by the rest of my Church?”
“Well why not?” said Joby “He could be like a sleeper-spy. You know, those people who’d live in a neighbourhood for years, just to fool everyone that they were normal”.
“I think that’s a profession we’d better not take up then!” said Kieran “We’d never fool anyone we were normal, not if we lived there for decades”.
“Will you be serious!” said Joby.
“I’ll keep an ear out as to what Brother Jerome gets up to in future”, said Kieran “Although I’m hoping we won’t see much of him”.
“They’ve got that wireless set too”, Joby continued “He could be in secret communication …”
“Joby, you’re being paranoid!” said Kieran.
“There’s no smoke without fire”, said Joby, as a passing-shot.
Joby wasn’t the only one left uptight by these visits. Bardin was angry because he’d overheard Nola and Sister Amalia saying how clowning must be an embarrassing, humiliating and undignified way for a grown man to earn a living, and they weren’t surprised that Bardin and Co. had got out when they did.
“Don’t be silly, Bardy”, said Bengo “You know that outsiders have never understood us”.
“I’d like to see any of them do what we did on stage”, said Bardin.
“I wouldn’t”, said Rumble “They’d be about as funny as arthritis!”
Bardin brooded over all this for the rest of the day. He sat by the camp-fire in the clearing and brooded, then when it went dark he sat in the cabin on the sloop and brooded. Bengo didn’t take any notice of him. Instead he lay on the communal bed with some clothes-pegs wedged between his toes, waving his foot to create shadows on the ceiling. Julian was sitting at the desk, working on the log-book.
“I hope you’re going to make some effort to get dressed tomorrow”, he said to Joby, who came in still wearing his Technicolour dressing-gown “If you spend all day shuffling around in that thing it’s going to look as though you’ve had a nervous breakdown”.
“You sometimes spend all day in your pyjamas”, Joby pointed out.
“My pyjamas are stylish”, said Julian “Whereas if everyone round here walked around like that we’d look like inmates at a TB clinic!”
“If you wanna have a go at someone have a go at Lonts”, Joby began.
“What about him?” said Adam, appearing in the room as though he was a djinn conjured up at the mention of Lonts’s name.
“He keeps going on that all the troubles at the Castle really started when Mieps smashed up that statue”, said Joby “All day I’ve been hearing him say that”.
“Lo-Lo can be very superstitious”, said Adam “I’ll have a gentle little word with him”.
“No you’ll have a firm big word with him!” said Joby “He’s carrying on like the bleeding’ Voice of Doom!”
A refreshingly quiet restful night was passed. Then, as Joby and Bengo were making some bread the following morning, the Arch-Pater, no less, appeared asking to speak to Kieran. Joby told him with grim satisfaction that Kieran was still in bed. This didn’t deter the Arch-Pater who made it clear that he thought the matter was a grave urgency. So Kieran had an audience with him in the cabin on the sloop.
It turned out that the monks had been highly disturbed the whole of the night by terrifying noises issuing from the confines of Midnight Castle. Sounds of doors slamming, heavy running footsteps, mad shrieking, and other such standard poltergeist noises.
“It sounded like a pack of wild demons on the loose”, said the Arch-Pater.
“Perhaps it was!” said Kieran “Something’s gone a wee bit skew-whiff down at the Castle at the moment”, he continued, with wonderful Irish understatement “We’re avoiding it and I do strongly urge you all to do the same. Sometimes these things are set off by a climatic or astronomical change. We’ve known lunar eclipses do that for instance. If so, things will calm down again eventually. If it’s something more predetermined and sinister then we may have to avoid it completely, and hope that it doesn’t spill over beyond the house. It’s not the right time to talk about exorcisms at the moment. Nobody, certainly not anyone with any psychic sensitivity, should go into that building at the present time”.
Toppy, who had listened at the cabin door, hastened outside to tell Joby and Bengo what had been said, before rushing on to tell everyone else.
“Are we having a lunar eclipse at the moment then?” said Bengo, once he and Joby were alone again in their particular part of the clearing.
“Dunno”, said Joby “We haven’t been outside after dark to see”.
“Have you two not finished that yet?” said Adam, who was the only other Indigo-ite to be privy (legitimately) to the Arch-Pater’s conversation with Kieran “You should be putting that to rise now. This is what happens when I turn my back for five minutes! If you’re both not careful I shall take you onto the sloop later for a spot of character-improving!”
Joby and Bengo took the bread into the stone cottage to allow it to rise. Adam then allowed them to go to the Butlin’s Chalet for a beer. Hillyard had relocated his beer-making kit there, and felt rather grumpy about it, as he had just become accustomed to the idea of them settling into Midnight Castle for good, only to find, as far as he saw it, that they had abandoned the place solely because of a spot of “psychic disturbance”.
Having drained themselves off a couple of mugs of beer, Joby and Bengo went to drink it behind the round hut, on a jut of land that overlooked the beach. Joby was staring so silently and intently at the view that Bengo could only, in turn, stare at him anxiously and try not to move too much in case he distracted him from his reverie. Such strenuous efforts went to waste though when Hillyard, accompanied by Kieran, came up behind them and clamped his hand on Joby’s shoulder, causing him to jump out of his skin.
“Steady there”, said Hillyard, as though talking to a nervous horse.
“Your nerves are all on edge, Joby”, said Kieran.
“Well what do you expect?” said Joby “After everything that’s happened lately! My stomach turns over and me feet get all tingly when I stop and think about it. It reminds me of once back in our time when I accidentally walked too close to the edge of Beachy Head!”
“Pretty good analogy”, said Kieran “Tottering on the edge of the unknown”.
“Yeah, terrific”, Joby grunted.
Hoowie emerged from the trees nearby, stripped to the waist, wearing only a baggy pair of cotton trousers, and carrying a large stone, the size of a loaf of bread. He was also very dusty, looking as though he’d been rolling around on the ground. He had.
The others had sent him over to the monks to pass on the books on pig husbandry. Whilst there Brother Ignatius had, good-naturedly, challenged him to a mock wrestling-match. No one had really emerged as the victor, but Brother Ignatius seemed to attach some great spiritual significance to it all, and hailed Hoowie as “a true fellow man of God”.
“Where does the stone come in then?” said Hillyard.
“It’s his brain”, said Joby “It fell out whilst he was wrestling!”
“Brother Ignatius gave it to me”, said Hoowie “He’s got his idea that we should all have stones and go away by ourselves and commune with the spiritual power of it”.
“Are you gonna give it a name then?” said Hillyard, whilst Joby gave a longsuffering groan that sounded more like acute despair.
“It all sounds a bit pagan to me”, said Kieran “Communing with stones, I ask you! I can see I’m going to have to go over there …”
“Oh no you ent!” said Joby “O.K it’s all a bit nutty, but at least it’s harmless nutty. Anyway, what’s the difference between that and your lot believing that a wafer of bread is the body of Christ! All of it’s in the mind if you ask me”.
“I’m going to start giving you religious instruction”, said Kieran “I should have done it years ago!”
“Bardy’s gonna be real mad about this, Hoowie”, said Bengo “He only sent you over there to give them some books, not get in a fight! And don’t go on about the stone to him. He gets very short-fused with that sort of thing”.
“He’ll have to know about it”, said Hoowie “I’m gonna be keeping it with me”.
“Not in the cabin you’re not!” said Joby “I ent having that bloody great thing in the bed, and if you leave it on the floor I’m bound to trip over it or clonk me toe on it, sure as fate!”
“Are you gonna put it on a leash, Hoowie?” said Hillyard.
“Don’t encourage him”, said Joby.
As the day went on Hoowie seemed to become even more attached to the stone. Whilst the lunch preparations were in progress Hoowie sat on the steps of the Butlin’s Chalet cradling the stone in his arms like a baby. Joby, who had been convinced at first that Hoowie was “taking the piss out of us all”, and had had to revise his opinion to the far more alarming one that Hoowie was being sincere, watched him with an expression of consternation.
“I think it’s nice he’s got an interest”, said Adam.
“An interest?” Joby exclaimed “Ad, it’s a fucking stone! How much interest can there be had in it!”
“Well I mean it’s calmed him down”, said Adam.
“Yeah but he’s being too bleedin’ calm if you ask me”, said Joby “It’s not natural. Certainly not for HIM anyway!”
Meanwhile Mieps had gone into the cabin on the sloop for a quiet word with Bardin. Mieps had come up with the idea that perhaps he should go on a solitary expedition up through the forest.
“I can go undercover”, he said “You see to them I would be just another Ghoomr. They won’t get suspicious. I won’t take Tamaz. There’s an outside chance they might recognise him”.
“Are you mad?” said Bardin, his little brown eyes getting even rounder with rage “What good would that do? You out of anyone knows how ruthless Ghoomers can be, particularly to other Ghoomers it seems! And even if that still hasn’t sunk in we have the evidence of the Grey Lady’s corpse to remind us! It’s a stupid idea. You’ll drop it immediately”.
Mieps hissed venomously. Bardin though was a man who had faced innumerable custard pies, buckets of water and theatre critics, and thus was able to face him down resolutely.
“I am sick and tired of everyone thinking they have to go on some solo crusade into danger somewhere”, he continued.
“What, like you you mean?” Mieps retorted.
“I, I have come to my senses”, said Bardin “You seem to have completely lost yours! In fact, I‘ve never seen any evidence that you ever had any to start with! I have got enough on my plate as it is without you coming up with ideas like that. I don’t know where the hell to turn at the moment. All my instincts say we should get out of here, but I know we can’t really go because we can’t really abandon Kieran’s monks”.
“Talk to Julian”, said Mieps.
“I can’t keep running to Julian every five minutes!” said Bardin.
“Why not?” said Mieps “That’s what he’s there for”.
“I have to work things out for myself that’s why!” Bardin left the sloop.
The atmosphere in the clearing was as heavy and intense as the lull before a thunderstorm.. It was highly unusual that he couldn’t hear anyone talking, laughing, yelling or singing. It was as if everyone was suspended in their own little pockets of air. Hoowie was still sitting on the steps of the Butlin’s Chalet, leaning against one of the posts on the verandah, and cradling the stone in his lap. Joby and Adam were preparing lunch round the camp-fire, and not conversing above the odd grunt. Bengo was presumably inside the stone cottage, as Bardin couldn’t see him.
He found Tamaz sitting on the headland behind the round hut. He had put on some of his best jewels and his fur-stole, which he usually did to comfort himself, which Bardin took as an even more worrying sign. Adam had quipped “Oh Freaky, are you taking your jewels for an airing?” as he walked past.
“Bit hot for this isn’t it?” said Bardin, fingering Tamaz’s stole.
“I like to feel it against my face”, said Tamaz “I think we’re being watched”, he added.
“Where from?”said Bardin, looking out over the empty beach.
“The edge of the forest”, said Tamaz, pointing to the far end of the beach.
Bardin went into the round hut and retrieved a pair of binoculars. Sitting back down on the grass he scanned the distant area. He caught a flicker of a movement, and saw for a brief moment what appeared to be a very scruffy, dirty small child dressed in some rough kind of sacking tunic, cut out with holes for the arms and neck. The child cast a look of quite appalling malevolence in their direction before disappearing back amongst the trees.
After lunch Mieps took off by himself into the forest, on a mission to look at the grave of the Grey Lady. Not normally one to lack any kind of courage he was nonetheless thoroughly spooked by the dark, brooding atmosphere around him, and intending to satisfy his curiosity as quickly as possible.
He found the grave much as he had expected it. The earth had been disturbed, as though trodden on by numerous pairs of feet stamping all over it. Whoever had done this had also shat copiously on it as well.
Leaving it again as quickly as he had found it, Mieps returned through the forest. When he reached the sanctuary of the clearing once more he was struck by the impression he had that they were all now existing in a stage of psychic armed siege. Whoever, whatever, was “haunting” the place had effectively pushed them to the outer fringes of the land, and they were now clinging onto the small scrap that was left to them.
He found Bardin inside the Butlin’s Chalet, pacing up and down with his hands in the small of his back, in his ballet-dancer-having-a-break mode. He turned and looked at Mieips sharply when he came into the building. It was written all over his face how annoyed he was with him. Mieps decided to defuse the situation in the most effective way he could think of, he pushed Bardin back onto the ramshackle bed and attended to his nether regions.
“We may have to leave”, said Bardin, pulling up his underpants and trousers afterwards “We have no choice really. We can’t carry on living like this”.
“I’m surprised you’re not wearing Tamaz’s drawers at the moment”, said Mieps “As everybody’s finding their own different ways of comforting themselves”.
“Bengo is my comfort”, said Bardin “At least he is at night anyway. I don’t see much of him during the day. Could you live on the sloop all the time?”
“I think at the moment I’d like to try!” said Mieps.
Kieran wasn’t surprised to hear what had happened to the Grey Lady’s grave, but he was shocked. It struck a raw nerve inside him. Such an appalling Sadeian-style desecration sickened him to his core. He went onto the sloop, made sure he was alone in the cabin, sat down at the desk and cried. I suppose it was somewhat inevitable that Angel should choose this moment to visit him.
“If you need my help you only have to ask”, he said, looking reasonably presentable for once. At least he had got dressed anyway “You don’t seem to be making much headway in going after these things”.
“I’m inclined to want to treat it like a malaria outbreak”, said Kieran “We sweat it out, sitting tight, then we live normally for a while until the next outbreak”.
“You can’t live like that”, said Angel.
“I know”, Kieran sighed “It was just an idea I had that’s all”.
“You seem to be running out of them”, said Angel.
He began to poke around on the desk, moving his clawed hands like a professional burglar, careful to uncover everything, equally careful not to leave too much of a trace of himself behind. Kieran lit the butt of one of Julian’s cigars, using the strong musky smell to help serve as a protection. Angel inadvertently unearthed Kieran’s Bible, and he flinched in an appalled way when he accidentally touched the gold leaf cross etched on the cover. Kieran had never seen him react so dramatically to a religious icon before. Normally Angel took great pleasure in teasing Kieran about how little an effect these items had on him.
“Why did you remove yourself so far from me?” said Kieran.
“I didn’t”, said Angel “You kicked me away. You didn’t seem to think there was any room for two blonde-haired blue-eyed Messiahs in this world”.
“I don’t think people need your kind of saving somehow”, said Kieran.
“You’ve got thin again”, said Angel, stepping up close to him. Kieran tried to take a step back but found himself wedged in a tight corner between the desk and the wall.
“I’ve always been thin”, said Kieran.
“No flesh on your arms”, Angel picked up one of Kieran’s limbs. He bared his little razor-sharp ratlike teeth threateningly.
Suddenly they heard Joby ordering Lonts to go aloft from the cramped area outside the cabin door. Lonts protested but thumped up the quarterdeck steps so violently that Kieran almost fancied he could feel the boat rocking. Angel had vanished by the time Joby came into the cabin.
“He’s been in here hasn’t he” said Joby.
Kieran stumped out the cigar-butt. He knew all of Angel’s threatening tricks by now, and he knew that most of the time he, Kieran, had the upper hand, but just occasionally he was spooked by Angel, and this time was one of them.
Joby advanced on him and angrily slapped him round the face.
“What did you do that for?” Kieran exclaimed “Haven’t I got enough to concern meself with without you trying to knock me focking head off!”
“He frightened you didn’t he?” said Joby.
“Yes, o.k he did”, said Kieran “But that doesn’t mean you should join in as well!”
They embraced one another.
“Did the baby overhear any of my conversation with Angel?” said Kieran.
“No”, said Joby “He actually thought you was talking to yourself, mumbling, as you do when you’re reading your Bible. I guessed summat else was up and told him to clear off up outside”.
“Huh, so I sound like Angel now do I!” said Kieran.
“He only caught a couple of seconds of it”, said Joby “He was just ahead of me”.
They lay down on the bed in each other’s arms for some while. Kieran had been very shaken by Angel’s visit, and relied on Joby to pick this up without him having to actually mention it out loud.
“I’ll protect you”, said Joby “You can be as weak with me as you want to be”.
“I hope I’m not getting thin again”, said Kieran “Real thin I mean”.
“You won’t”, said Joby “Not if I can help it anyway!”
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site