Go back to previous chapter


By Sarah Hapgood

“Ransey wasn’t too pleased about me sneaking this out of the hold”, said Kieran, cracking open the seal on a new bottle of brandy “You wouldn’t think we were in port at the moment, the way he worries about the supplies”.

“He gets worse”, said Joby, sitting in the deckchair next to him, both of them wrapped in light blankets against the after-dark chill “I know he’s a bean-counter at heart …”

“Ach, he’s just trying to look after us”, said Kieran, as they settled back with the freshly-poured brandies.

“Anyone’d think we’re incapable of looking after ourselves”, said Joby “Mind you, I spose we are really!”

“You’re coping just fine at the moment”, said Kieran “I’ve been meaning to say so for a while, considering Josh is about somewhere”.

“I try not to think about it”, said Joby “I’m so fucking angry at him. I think I hate him more than anyone, even Angel! He never meant anything to me, it was just some lousy trick of fate that we came out of the same womb. I dunno what he think he’s gonna achieve by hanging about here now. The other day Lonts said to me that it was a shame we don’t wanna redeem him like we did Tamaz. Bless him, I know he meant well, but I can’t think of anything I’d like to do less than have daily contact with Josh!”

To his own extreme annoyance Joby found he was crying. He brushed away the tears impatiently. He heard Bardin and Bengo move over to sit on the pile of rope on the forward deck, just below where he and Kieran were sitting.

“There’s never any privacy around here”, Joby muttered “It’d just be my luck for Julian to come up here now!”

“We’ll push him over the side if he does”, said Kieran, tenderly mopping Joby’s face.

The only event of any note that occurred that night was at around 10:30 when a loud bang, as of a bomb going off, echoed around the waterfront, coming from the other side of the town. It startled enough people on the surrounding boats to come out and look around them, but that was all. And the following morning no one seemed to mention it whatsoever.

Frustrated by yet another wasted nocturnal vigil, and depressed at the thought of rejoining the monks at the Bay, Julian went to a barber-shop and ordered a haircut and manicure. Whilst there he was further irritated by an old man in the seat next to him who bragged about how he was working on getting together an all-female crew of young girls for his boat.

“Seven of ‘em”, said the old man “Just think seven of ‘em, all for me and no one else”.

“You preposterous old fool”, Julian muttered.

Adam caused a distraction from the old man’s fantasising by breezing into the shop, clutching another copy of the local newspaper.

“Jules, all sorts of things are happening”, he said “Bardin …”

He stopped when he realised that everyone in the shop was listening to him.

“I’ll meet you in the bar over the road when you’ve finished here”, he said.

“You’re not going in there alone”, Julian barked “Wait for me here”.

Adam was annoyed by this high-handedness.

“I don’t know how you think I coped in prison alone all those years”, he said, as they walked into the bar a few minutes later.

“Very badly by all accounts!” said Julian.

When the drinks had been collected and they had sat in the window, Adam passed his friend the paper. The front-page headline was ‘FEARS GROW OVER MISSING MINERS’. It concerned a party of coal-miners working in a pit several miles to the east of the town who had seemingly disappeared without trace. A search-party to the area had failed to locate any sign of them whatsoever.

“Yet more mystery”, said Julian, when he had finished reading the article “I expect Tinkerbell’s beating himself up over this as well!”

“No it’s Bardin”, said Adam, dropping his voice to a conspiratorial whisper “He’s discovered the area can be reached by one of the many little river tributaries that border this town, and he’s taking us there. He suddenly announced it about half-an-hour ago”.

“I notice he waited til I’d left the house, I mean the sloop, first!” said Julian.

“It’s all your fault anyway”, said Ransey, who had spotted them through the window and had come in, accompanied by Hillyard and Lonts “You’ve been filling his head all these years with tales of your derring-do’s at the helm of the old Indigo, and now he sees a chance to prove his own worth as Captain”.

“I think it sounds exciting”, said Lonts.

“I’m sure you do!” said Julian.

Julian though wasn’t as averse to the idea as he was pretending to be. It would mean delaying their return to what he increasingly regarded as the monks’ penal colony at the Bay, and he also liked the idea of them all going off an adventure by themselves. It didn’t stop him giving Bardin a hiding when he returned to the sloop though.

Afterwards Bardin paced up and down the edge of the forward deck, watched by Bengo.

“You needn’t stand there acting all morally superior”, said Bardin.

“I haven’t said anything!” Bengo protested.

“You don’t have to, it’s written all over your face”, said Bardin.

“But you should have discussed it with us all together first”, said Bengo “Not just sprung it on us out of the blue”. “Where’s the bloody pleasure in me being Captain if I have to ask everyone’s permission before I do anything!” Bardin exclaimed “Anyway, I came up with this idea to delay going back to the monks. I was thinking of Hoowie actually”.

“Bullshit”, said Bengo “No one ever does anything thinking of Hoowie! That’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard!”

The safety-pin snapped and his shorts slithered down his legs. A man who was repairing a mast on a nearby sail-boat gave a lusty wolf-whistle.

“Filthy swine”, said Bardin “And how many times have I told you to keep your things in good repair! Why haven’t you put another pair on?”

“These were the first ones I reached for when I got up”, said Bengo.

Bardin took him down to the cabin, where Tamaz was sprawled in the armchair doing nothing. He aimed a playful kick at Bardin’s sore behind as he walked past. Bardin grabbed a tube of sun-cream and squirted it onto Tamaz’s face, smearing it into his cheeks.

“Fool!” said Tamaz “I could have swallowed some of that!”

“No more horsing around like that for you my lad”, said Julian to Bardin “Ransey and I are going to the chandlers to find maps for the area. As you are so determined to become Captain Cook you’d better come with us”.

In honour of the occasion Bardin changed out of his vest and into a shirt.

“I’m so proud of you, Bardy”, said Bengo, saying toodle-pip to him at the bottom of the quarterdeck steps “You’re gonna be just like a real Captain”.

“That’s the general idea”, said Bardin. He gave Bengo a peck on the cheek. “Now don’t leave the boat until I come back, well not unless it catches fire or something!”

After he had gone Bengo put his pinny on and went to peel potatoes with Joby up on the forward deck. He went on so much about what a terrific captain Bardin was that Toppy, who was repairing Bengo’s shorts in a nearby deckchair, got quite exasperated.

“Two minutes after he comes home you’ll be at each other’s throats again”, said Toppy.

“It’s called passion”, said Bengo “Not that you’d know anything about that!”

Toppy was saved from having to think up a retort by a loud splash and frantic screaming coming from below them in the water. Maria, the plump young blonde girl who had told them about hearing “the horrible voice” the night they had arrived, had fallen into the ocean. She could swim, having been brought up by the sea in Aspiriola, but she was being sucked down, as though she was in quicksand. Her arms were flailing about and she was frantically trying to keep her head out of the water.

“Hey, grab this!” Tamaz yanked off one of the lifebelts they kept hanging on the bulwark and tossed it in Maria’s direction.

Maria groped for the lifebelt and hung onto it, but it was obvious that whatever suction had gripped her was hanging on fast. By now Rumble and Farnol had got down to the boardwalk. Rumble used his long body to reach over and grab her, whilst Farnol sat on his feet to stop him being sucked in as well.

“I think we could get a full-time job doing this”, said Rumble, when Maria was safely back up on the boardwalk.

“S-something had h-hold of m-my legs”, Maria spluttered.

Kieran took her up onto the sloop and plied her with brandy and towels.

“Did it feel like hands grabbing you?” he asked, when she was more coherent.

“No, not really”, said Maria “More like something sucking me into a big giant mouth, that kind of feeling”.

“Exactly the same as what happened to Bengo”, said Kieran.

Before the afternoon was over workmen from the local town council had appeared and erected a wooden barrier around the bit of boardwalk that both Bengo and Maria had fallen from, with the words ‘DANGER: STRONG CURRENTS (no one knew how else to describe it!). NO SWIMMING OR DIVING ALLOWED’.

“Fat lot of bleedin’ good that’s gonna be!” said Joby, unimpressed up on the poop-deck “Some drunk’ll still go and fall in”.

“I wasn’t drunk when I fell in!” Maria protested.

“You are now”, said Joby, uneasily noting the amount of brandy she’d consumed.

“Ach, but Maria doesn’t bite when she’s drunk”, said Kieran “Not like Nola”.

“Who’s Nola?” said Maria.

“You don’t wanna know”, said Joby “A werewolf. She goes all hairy and develops big choppers when she’s had a few. No one’s safe then”.

“The prodigals return”, said Kieran, as Julian, Ransey and Bardin came up the gangplank.

“Was that there when we left?” said Julian, looking at the makeshift safety barrier on the boardwalk.

The situation so far was explained to him. He gave Maria’s predicament the minimum of attention, and instead went on about the pathetic inadequacy of 41st-century maps.

“In our time everything was mapped”, he said “The depths of the oceans, the highest mountains, and now, NOW, we get this …” he unrolled a map and pointed at a river coming to an abrupt stop and the area beyond it marked ‘UNCHARTED’.

“That bit isn’t even particularly remote!” he went on, now well-launched “It’s just up beyond the Krosk area, where the miners are supposed to have disappeared. We get this all the time”.

“All adds to the fun”, said Hillyard “After all, you don’t wanna know what you’re gonna get all the time do you?”

“Fat chance of that!” said Julian “And do you know what the boy in the shop said? ‘Oh the world is changing all the time’”.

“He might have a point there”, said Joby “I mean I’ve never come across the Great Desert Road in maps of recent years, and yet I sure as hell vividly remember being on it!”

“And our island never appears on maps either”, said Lonts “That’s really eerie isn’t it?”

“It is actually”, said Joby “When we sailed on the old Indigo the bottom end of the Land Mass wasn’t much like we remembered it all those years before”.

“We went round a different bit of it that’s all!” said Hillyard.

Maria’s sister Evangelina returned from shopping to find out what had been going on. Unlike Maria Evie was trim and mousy-haired.

“Evie, Evie”, said Maria “Tell them about the commune you want to start. It’s just like yours, you guys, you’ll be really flattered”.

“It’s just a dream”, said Evie “It’ll probably never happen”.

“Tell them anyway”, said Maria.

“I’d like to run a commune somewhere like the Bay”, said Evie “It would be my place, I would be in overall charge of it. It would be for people who want to look below the superficialities of life, as too much of that goes on”.

“When you say you would be in charge”, said Adam “Would you make many rules?”

“No … well a few”, said Evie.

“She would ban alcohol”, said Maria.

“Not for any moral reasons”, said Evie “I just feel alcohol clouds the fundamental realities of life”.

“That must be why it’s so popular!” said Joby.

“Would you all be allowed to have sex?” said Bengo, who was quietly appalled by the way this imaginary commune was shaping up.

“Yes”, said Evie, to the short-lived relief of one and all “But only in one-to-one committed relationships, and only in order to achieve a higher level of spiritual fulfilment”.

“Ach, sounds like Aleister Crowley and his old Sex Magic”, said Kieran “He believed that if you could hold onto the feeling you get at orgasm for as long as half-an-hour say, you’d get a vision into another world”.

“You’d also get extremely exhausted”, said Julian “It sounds unbearable, it’s not regarded as exquisite torture for nothing”. “Hey I thought you clowns might like to know”, said Maria, who although she always encouraged Evie to talk about her dream commune, also always got bored with it just as quickly “I used to be in showbiz just like you. Championship ballroom dancer I was. Did exhibition dances at the Majestic Hotel in Aspiriola”.

“A dancer?” said Bardin, witheringly, who saw dancers as one-trick ponies, whereas for clowns dancing was just a small part of their broad repertoire “One of the ‘does my arse look big’ in this?’ brigade! All sequins and big hair I suppose”.

“As averse to baggy trousers and red noses you mean?” said Hillyard.

“What are you two girls doing down here?” said Adam, who knew that they had sailed down alone together.

“Oh Aspiriola’s got so boring since the Revolution”, said Maria “No one knows how to have fun there anymore”.

“We are looking for a broader aspect to life”, said Evie.

“Well you’ve certainly come to the right place!” said Joby.

The two sisters stayed for supper, and afterwards some of the Indigo-ites showed them back to their small two-berth sail-boat.

“They seem awfully vulnerable out there”, said Adam, as he and Joby disposed of the left-overs to the goats in the hold.

“I can’t imagine they’re not able to take care of ‘emselves somehow”, said Joby “They’ve already proved that by sailing all the way down here!”

They returned to the galley where Ransey was moodily eating biscuits.

“Here”, said Joby “He has a go at us for keep nicking the supplies, and here he is with his hand in the biscuit-tin!”

Bengo bounced down the galley steps in his usual exuberant mood, but Joby by now had ascertained that Ransey had something big on his mind.

“Come on you”, said Joby, hauling Bengo out of the room “I think the grown-ups want to talk”.

“I’m not easy about this trip, Adam”, said Ransey, once they were alone.

“We can’t back out of it now”, said Adam “Bardin’s set his heart on it”.

“We do not have to give in to his every whim you know!” said Ransey.

“He won’t get everything his own way”, said Adam “Jules and I will see that he’s kept on a rein”.

“So will I! “ said Ransey.

“Well there you are then”, said Adam.

“There were a lot of people in the shop earlier”, said Ransey “By now I should imagine it’s all around the town that we’re off to Krosk. We don’t know who’s heard about it, and I can’t believe some people round here will be happy with it”.

“You were a civil servant too long”, said Adam “You don’t trust anyone in authority”.

“No I don’t!” said Ransey “And if everyone else did the same the world would be a lot happier place!”

“I’m sure it would”, said Adam “But we’re not going to turn tail and hide in the wainscoting because there might be a thin chance that Someone In Authority won’t like what we do! Now I’m going to bed. Don’t forget to bring that lamp with you when you come”.

Ransey didn’t wish to linger any longer in the galley by himself though. He cast a nervous look at the door to the food-hold where Adam had briefly seen Josh, then picked up the lantern and headed for the cabin.

“There you are”, said Bengo, going up to the forward deck “It’s getting late, Bardy. Aren’t you coming to bed?”

“Ransey just doesn’t trust me to cope does he?” said Bardin, who was leaning against the bulwark.

“He would be like this if Julian was still Captain”, said Bengo “Or any of us. The trouble is, I think he still thinks the vampires are in charge. Look. I know how you feel”.

“I don’t expect you do”, said Bardin.

“Rumble’s always like this with me you see”, said Bengo.

“Rubbish”, said Bardin “Rumble loves you”.

“yes, but he doesn’t trust me”, said Bengo “At all! He still thinks I’m flaky, that I’m gonna abandon you again”.

“Deep down, subconsciously, he might still have traces of that”, said Bardin “But probably not as much as you think. He doesn’t reproach you anymore if that’s what you’re thinking”.

It was now very late in the evening on the waterfront. A couple of lamps still burned in cabin-windows nearby, but otherwise everything was still and very dark, as there was only the barest of moons tonight.

Joby woke up to feel Hillyard pressing right against him from behind. Hillyard was mumbling incoherently in his sleep, whilst at the same time running his hands along Joby’s thigh and waist. It was all getting a bit too much for Joby, until Hillyard slapped his thigh and rolled over to sleep more quietly in the other direction.

Flopping onto his back, Joby knew sleep for him would now be very difficult to attain. He lay looking around the darkened cabin. His eyes alighted on a movement in the far corner, between Julian’s desk and the doorway.

At first he thought he was going mad, that he was seeing a doppelganger of himself. Josh was naked, and crouched on his haunches in the corner, that malevolent grin of his plastered all over his face.

Joby sat up and used his hands to propel himself backward until he was sitting on his pillow, right up by the cabin window. Josh stood up. He had a lot of fine body hair covering his torso and his flanks. He moved noiselessly across the room. As he got nearer the bed Joby saw the ratlike teeth at the front of Josh’s mouth.

Joby screamed. Josh vanished, but slowly, like smoke from a candle disintegrating.

“Joby, what is it?” said Kieran, waking up “What are you doing up there?”

“It’s Josh”, said Joby, sliding back down the bed “He’s a vampire!”

Hillyard came up on deck early the next morning to find Joby sitting hunched tensely at the end of the trestle table, by himself. Adam had taken pity on him for his nocturnal ordeal, and had excused him from galley-duty. “I’ve got a pain in my shoulder”, said Joby.

“I’m not surprised”, said Hillyard, pouring himself some coffee “Look at you, sitting there all hunched up and tense. You come down below in a moment and I’ll give you a massage. You never know I might get carried away”.

“Like you did last night you mean?” said Joby “You was having one helluva good dream, and dishing out some heavy spooning on me at the same time!”

“Was that before or after your brother’s visit?” said Hillyard.

“Before”, said Joby.

“You know, I don’t understand him being a vampire”, said Hillyard “You sure it wasn’t Angel in disguise?”

“Could’ve been I spose”, said Joby “But I dunno, it felt like Josh to me”.

“Well then, how?” said Hillyard “That means Angel or Mullawa went back to your time, vampirised Josh, and brought him into this. Seems like a lot of effort for them to go to somehow, considering they’re usually such lazy bastards!”

“Perhaps they’re bored”, said Joby “Stuck out in the rainforest living off zombie-meat. Perhaps they felt like a bit of adventure for a change, and Angel has been suspiciously quiet of late, and when Kieran last saw him he seemed to be even more vampirish than ever”.

After massaging Joby, Hillyard went into the heads and was immediately joined there by Kieran, who had been sprinkling salt around the sloop.

“You kinky old devil you, getting in here with me!” said Hillyard.

“Gives us a bit of privacy”, said Kieran “Toppy’s giving Joby a shave so we won’t be disturbed, not by him I mean. I just wanted to say I appreciate the way you look after Joby”.

“You make it sound like you’re going somewhere and want me to mind him”, said Hillyard.

“No not at all”, said Kieran “You’ve been talking to Julian too much, he keeps thinking I’m about to take flight! Whereas no, I really do appreciate your care of Joby, especially as he’s not always been easy on you”.

“Oh I’m gradually getting Joby tamed”, said Hillyard “After several decades! I always knew he’d be a tough nut to crack, even tougher than Mieps, and that’s saying something! Are you sure you’re not off somewhere? You can’t fool me you know. When you start trying to do something furtive it looks so obvious”.

“I did think about it, going and confronting Angel, but I can’t”, said Kieran “I can’t do it again to Joby, I’ve disappeared on him too often”.

“I’m glad to hear it!” said Hillyard.

“Hillyard”, Kieran pleaded.

“No get out of here”, said Hillyard, pulling the toilet seat down “I’m annoyed with you for even thinking about it!”

Kieran left the heads and met Toppy coming out of the cabin just as he was going in.

“I’ve done him”, Toppy whispered, meaning he had just shaved Joby.

“Toppy says he’s done you”, said Kieran, finding Joby sitting in the armchair, freshly-toiletted.

“Yeah, and it bleedin’ feels like it and all!” said Joby “He’s in such a state after last night I’d have felt safer being shaved by Sweeney Todd! Were you and Hillyard having words just now?”

“I upset him a bit”, said Kieran, sitting on Joby’s knee, and resigning himself to the fact that he was now about to upset him as well.

“I’m glad you’ve dropped it”, said Joby, when he’d been told about Kieran’s aborted plan “I’d rather put up with any amount of Josh’s stupid antics than have you disappear on me. If you did it again I’d probably kill myself”.

“Joby, that’s an insane thing to say!” said Kieran.

“I mean it!” said Joby.

“I’m glad Tamaz isn’t here to hear what you’ve just said”, said Kieran.

(Tamaz had gone out for breakfast with Julian, Lonts, Finia and Mieps).

“Don’t use Tamaz to try and get the moral high-ground”, said Joby, pushing him against the washstand.

Like most warring couples they were completely unaware how loud they were shouting, until Ransey and Hillyard came in and forcibly separated them. Ransey bundled a protesting Kieran off to the hold.

“Too much leisure time obviously doesn’t do you any good”, said Hillyard to Joby “Put your clothes on and get along to the galley and help Adam. The sink’s blocked again”.

“Oh terrific!” Joby groaned.

“That was quite some bundle they was having”, said Farnol, as the four clowns ate breakfast cereals up on the forward deck “Got me quite scared it did!”

“Sounded like a pretty standard marital to me”, said Bardin “Except for you two of course, you two never row. It’s sickening”.

“Rumble’s just not the sort of guy you can row with”, said Farnol “He never gets high-handed for a start”. Bengo, who had been on the receiving end of Rumble’s “high-handedness” over the years, gave them both a disgruntled look.

“We need more yeast and flour collecting from the shops”, said Bardin, who was also irritated by this display of domestic bliss “They’re not the sort of things we can afford to run out of. You two can collect it all later”.

Julian and the others returned soon after. Julian was annoyed to see the clowns eating a scratch breakfast by themselves, and took it as a bad sign that law and order on the sloop was drastically breaking down. His annoyance was fuelled even further on hearing about Kieran and Joby’s row. He ordered Bardin down to the cabin so that they could “discuss” it all in private. Before joining him though Julian went on walkabout, calling in first at the galley, where Joby was sulkily sifting flour.

“Don’t start, Jules”, said Adam “Everything is under control”.

“It’s not, actually!” said Julian “No proper breakfast has been served, some supplies have yet to be collected, and now I hear that Tinkerbell is confined to the hold”.

“Only for a little while”, said Adam “Until he learns the error of his ways. I don’t wish to hear anymore on the subject, Jules”.

Julian walked down the long corridor, past the hold which housed the goats, where he could hear Kieran and Ransey murmuring to each other in low voices. In the cabin he found Bardin pacing up and down tensely with his arms folded. Julian repeated some of the words to him that he had just said to Adam.

“You need to keep a tight ship”, he said “That means regular routines have to be followed at all times. Particularly during times of upheaval as it gives people something to absorb excess energy, and concentrates the mind”.

“Things are in order!” said Bardin “How were we to see that letting Joby off galley-duty for a couple of hours was going to lead to social anarchy!”

“I want to come in”, said Bengo, on the other side of the door.

“Go away!” said Julian.

“No”, Bengo came in “Don’t punish Bardy again. He can’t be everywhere at once, and Kieran and Joby’s row came out of nowhere. Joby had a right to get upset. It is frightening when Kieran goes off to see Angel on his own, and Joby’s had to put up with so much of it”.

“Yes alright, there’s no need to go on”, said Julian “But when mealtimes start being affected, then the person at the top has to take responsibility for the system breaking down”.

“Didn’t you enjoy your breakfast out then?” said Bengo, innocently, causing Bardin to stifle a snort of laughter.

Joby took some coffee into the hold an hour later, where Kieran was sitting alone on the floor, now with only the goats for company.

“I think you’re allowed out now if you want”, said Joby.

“And about time too!” said Kieran, taking the coffee “I was nearly getting asphyxiated by the smell in here, it’s so stuffy as well. You had the easy end of the punishment stick didn’t you!”

“Not really”, said Joby “Not when you consider the ear-bashing I got from Adam”.

“Oh I’d have loved only an ear-bashing!” said Kieran.

“It was all bloody Hillyard’s fault anyway”, said Joby “If he hadn’t suddenly let rip at you in the heads none of this would have ever happened”.

“Ach, it’s cleared the air between us and that’s what counts”, said Kieran.

But Joby wasn’t to be distracted so easily.

“I mean it was a complete over-reaction on their part”, he said “Anyone’d think we was killing each other they way they carried on!”

“No it was you who wanted to kill yourself”, said Kieran.

“I wouldn’t have done if you hadn’t come up with plans to visit Angel!” said Joby.

Fortunately they were now both distracted from having another fight by the sound of one of the others pacing purposefully past the door. Not wanting to be forcibly separated again they both calmed down.

“Why have you brought me in here, Jules?” said Adam, looking around at the seedy bar they were in “Normally you go to great lengths to keep me out of such places”.

“I fancied the idea of us having a drink together before we left town”, said Julian “And it gets us away from the bloody kids!”

“Oh they’ll calm down once we get going”, said Adam “This is just P.A.T”.

“P.A.T?” Julian barked.

“Pre-Adventure Tension”, said Adam.

“More like total hysterics if you ask me!” said Julian “I notice that your beloved Tinkerbell didn’t grant us eternal youth until AFTER I had passed the Captainship onto Bardin!”

“Well of course not”, said Adam “Patsy’s no fool! I don’t think any of us could bear the thought of you being Captain for the rest of eternity! It rather makes death lose its sting somehow!”

“I’m supposed to have no feelings I suppose?” said Julian.

“You have hardly been a back-room boy since you gave up power, Jules”, said Adam “Bardin relies on you an awful lot, so I don’t see as how you’ve got anything to complain about really”.

“Sea-fog coming in”, said an old man nearby, as fog-horns sounded in the distance.

“That might put the kibosh on us leaving tonight”, said Julian.

They finished their drinks and went out into the street. Directly opposite them was a junk shop which was so rundown and so full of broken useless items, that Adam couldn’t believe how anyone, however hard-up they were, would possibly want them. The owner was standing in the doorway. A sickly-looking emaciated man in an old-fashioned smoking-cap staring pensively up at the sky, his hands folded in front of him. He reminded Adam of Klaus Kinski playing Nosferatu, and gave a mental shudder.

Farnol and Rumble appeared out of the deepening gloom pulling a sack-truck laden with bags of flour and yeast.

“Hello you two”, said Adam “Where have you been?”

“Errands”, said Farnol “It’s what we get for annoying Bardin you see. It makes his curly lip go even more curly with contempt”.

“What’s that noise?” said Julian “Sounds like running water”.

“Burst water-main in the next street”, said Rumble.

“Well aren’t they going to fix it?” said Adam.

“Oh probably next week sometime”, said Rumble “Knowing this place!”

Adam glanced back (he almost felt reluctantly) at the junk-shop. There was a black oblong gap signifying the empty doorway, where the eccentric owner had previously been standing. It felt more as if he’d dematerialised than walked away.

It quickly became apparent that there would be no possibility at all of sailing away that night. By twilight the fog had developed to such an extent that it would have been perilous to move about on the waterfront, let alone move out into the ocean.

“I do hope those two little girls will be alright on their boat”, said Adam, as he, Bengo and Joby prepared dinner in the lamp-lit galley.

“Ad, they’re hardly little girls!” said Joby “Particularly that Maria, she’s a right buxom wench. Reminds me of Glynis”.

“Anyway they’re staying at the ‘Blue Tango’ hotel tonight”, said Bengo, who was chopping carrots at the table “I heard Maria talking about it earlier. She might get a job as an exhibition dancer there, so they’ve decided to stay the night there and suss the place out. See if it’s reputable, I think that’s the word she said”.

“Well that’s something anyway”, said Adam.

“Blue Tango”, said Joby “Sounds like a police call-sign don’t it! The Blue Tango Foxtrot Yankee Hotel!”

“Wasn’t there a tune called the Blue Tango once?” said Adam.

“You’d know”, said Joby “Seeing as it was probably before my time from the sounds of things!”

“What was that?” Bengo exclaimed.

There was the distant sound of a man’s voice coming from the quayside, somebody shouting into the fog.

“Probably just some old drunk”, said Joby “Another one to get sucked down into the ocean if he ent careful!”

Adam felt the skin on his bare legs prickle. Bengo noticed it and said that his scalp was prickling too.

“I think I’ll go along and see if the gangplank’s been pulled in for the night”, said Adam, leaving the room.

The distant voice continued, ghostly and incomprehensible in the gloom outside.

“It reminds me of the voice I heard in the bathroom at the Governor’s House at Aspiriola”, said Bengo “We know that was your brother now though”.

“Yeah, thanks for reminding me!” said Joby “And where are you going?”

Bengo had put down his knife, got up from the table, and was now kneeling on the steps, listening at the closed hatch overhead.

“Stop listening to it”, said Joby “Come down from there”.

Bengo looked down at him as though he’d never met Joby before. He then began to fiddle at the bolts on the underside of the hatch.

“No!” Joby flew up the steps and threw himself onto Bengo, lyin gon him to keep him firmly fixed into place “What d’ya think you’re doing? Haven’t you learnt anything you little wretch? Remember the zombie in Toondor Lanpin?”

He felt Bengo’s resistance decrease a little, and took advantage of it to drag him back down the galley steps. At the bottom he shook him firmly by the shoulders and then walloped him.

“What’s he done?” said Bardin, coming in in the middle of all this and being quite startled by it.

“You tell him!” Joby roared at Bengo “You tell him what you’ve just tried to do!”

He then stormed out of the galley, abandoning Bengo to his fate. It took Bardin several minutes to get Bengo calmed down enough to speak.

“O.K, I get the picture”, said Bardin, when he’d heard what had happened “Whatever it was had had an hypnotic effect on you”.

“Why does it always have to be me?” Bengo stamped his foot in indignation “Ballast-brained Bengo. He can always be relied upon to be the one the evil gets. The clown who always gets a pie in the face!”

“It’s not always you”, said Bardin, shaking him, although a lot gentler than Joby had done.

“I’m supposed to be your partner and you can’t rely on me”, said Bengo.

“I spose not”, Bardin sighed “I’ll have to get you checked into a nursing-home for bewildered clowns. We can put Hoowie in there at the same time!”

“How can you laugh, Bardy?” Bengo pouted.

“Because you’re very funny”, said Bardin “What happened just now was disturbing, but it could have happened to anyone. Tamaz’s ears were pricking up when he heard the voice. He kept looking across at me. That’s what made me come and check to see if everything was alright in here”.

“And you found me behaving like a complete nutcase”, said Bengo.

“As usual”, said Bardin.

Lonts found Joby peering gloomily out of the window in the long corridor. He tore himself away from the foggy view and looked wearily at Lonts, who was now standing by him with his hands behind his back.

“I’ve got something that’ll really cheer you up”, said Lonts.

“What?” said Joby.

Lonts produced a toy polar bear standing on its hind legs and wearing a festive red scarf.

“He came with the scarf on”, said Lonts, as pleased as punch with his new purchase.

“You don’t say”, said Joby “I thought you’d knitted it for him yourself!”

“Watch this”, Lonts wound up a key in the bear’s back.

To Joby’s dismay the bear launched into a frighteningly gruff rendition of “I Wish You a Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year”, whilst at the same time gyrating and thrusting out his pelvis Elvis-style.

“That’s obscene!” said Joby.

“No it’s not”, said Lonts “The fog must be making you even more grumpy”.

“I wish we were back on the old Indigo”, said Joby “That was cosier than this great barn of a tub”.

“But weird things used to happen on there too, Joby”, said Lonts.

“Weird things happen wherever we are”, said Joby.

“Shall we go and see if Bengo’s alright?” said Lonts.

They went along to the galley where they found Bengo placidly making a pot of cocoa, whilst Bardin sat nearby with his feet up on the kitchen table.

“We’d better get on with the supper in here”, said Joby to Bardin “Or Julian’ll be accusing you of letting anarchy break out again!”

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License.

Go forward to next chapter

Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site