Go back to previous chapter
“So far they only seem to come after dark”, said Adam, talking to Ransey a few days later “Which is something I guess. If we give it a little more time we might be able to get some kind of pattern to all this. If we are safe in daylight hours then we can always make quick dashes to the shore for fresh fruit. As long as we don’t linger we should be fine. Apart from that, and as long as we’re careful, we can be reasonably self-sufficient”.
“Are you sure?” said Ransey, who had been doing a full inventory of their supplies “We won’t be getting any of Glynis’s parcel-drops remember”.
“I know”, Adam sighed “But it’s amazing what we can survive without if necessity dictates it. I did worry about kindling for the stoves, as our little island is virtually treeless, but if we can’t get to the shore for long periods of time then we can always burn turf. We’ve got plenty of that!”
“Mm, it’ll stop the animals guzzling it all”, said Ransey “It worries me how they gorge when we turn them out. We don’t want them all having heart-attacks on us”.
“The pens the others are building now will help”, said Adam.
“If we’re stuck here for a very long stretch”, said Ransey “It could all get a bit tense”.
“Any situation can get tense”, said Adam “Wherever we are fate has us all dangling on many threads, which it can cut at any time, so why should this be any different?”
He went into the kitchen where he found Bengo and Joby sitting at the table, clutching mugs of tea, and looking anxious.
“If you have nothing better to do than look worried I’m sure I can find you something”, said Adam.
“Bardin wants to see you, Bengo”, said Hillyard, coming in from outside “Down on the sloop”.
Bardin paced up and down in the main cabin, waiting all that he had summoned to appear. ‘All’ being Bengo, Rumble, Farnol, Toppy, Tamaz and Hoowie. The last three were targeted first.
“Take a look at this”, Bardin opened a cupboard in the corner and a stack of dirty linen fell out “Do we only do the washing once a year round here?”
“As often as that?!” said Farnol.
Bardin threw the washing at Toppy, Tamaz and Hoowie and ordered them to take it up on deck and get started on it. When they had gone he turned to the other three.
“You know why I’ve asked to see you don’t you?” said Bardin.
“No”, said Rumble.
“We are all clowns”, said Bardin.
Farnol and Rumble looked blank as if to say ‘so?’ Bengo looked both exasperated and longsuffering.
“What is our first duty as clowns?” said Bardin “I’ll tell you. To entertain people, to distract them from their troubles. This is something that is going to be vitally important around here from now on. We could be in for a long haul. Things will get tight. Cabin-fever might well set in. We only have that bare little island and this sloop. We don’t have the beach, the forest and the Castle as we did at the Bay”.
“Do you think we’ll go back there one day?” said Rumble “Say in decades to come perhaps, and have to place to ourselves again?”
“I hope so”, said Bardin “But in the meantime we could be stuck here for a long time. And I can’t stress too much how tense it could be. We don’t have the freedom of movement we’re used to, and we can expect no little luxuries. We could end up little better than savages”.
“You might, we won’t!” said Bengo, who was annoyed by Bardin’s gloomy prophecies “We all know it’s different, Bardy. You don’t have to make it even worse you know!”
“Oh he’ll find a way if he can!” said Rumble.
“I’m going back to the lighthouse, Bardy”, said Bengo “Some of us have got REAL work to do even if you haven’t!”
“Whoever that’s for must have a funny-shaped foot”, said Hillyard, standing in the doorway of the lighthouse with Joby. Both were watching Mieps, who was sitting just outside the door, doing his infernal knitting.
“I want to unravel your green jumper sometime”, said Mieps to Hillyard “It would make you a nice pair of socks”.
“I prefer it as a jumper!” said Hillyard.
“Joby, could you come inside and do some work please”, said Adam “Hillyard, go and get on with your fence-building and leave Mieps alone”.
Inside the kitchen Bengo was kneading dough and raining punches at it at the same time.
“I’d rather you didn’t pretend the bread was Bardin’s face, old love”, said Adam.
“I don’t think I’ve ever punched Bardy in the face”, said Bengo, sounding very surprised by this “Not that I can remember anyway”.
“Well put that dough in the warming-oven to rise”, said Adam “Before you inflict any serious damage on it!”
“Is there any tea going in here?” said Bardin.
“There should be some left in the pot”, said Adam “Joby, pour some out for him”.
“Why can’t he do it himself?” said Joby “Alright alright I’ll do it”.
Bardin sat down at the table and removed his cap. He winced when he sipped the tea because it was too strong.
“You’re just gonna get in the way if you sit around in here”, said Bengo to Bardin.
“No he won’t”, said Adam “Stop squabbling you two”.
Bardin grabbed Bengo and upended him over his knee, administering brisk smacks as he called him “a podgy little clown”, “a fat little clown”, “a spoilt, fat, podgy little clown”.
“Any tea going in here?” said Ransey, coming through from the wireless room.
“Joby will need to make a fresh pot”, said Adam.
Joby, who had been attempting to start preparing some vegetables for the past few minutes, groaned and put down his scraper once more.
“Don’t sulk”, said Bardin, as he and Bengo got ready for bed on the penultimate floor of the lighthouse later that evening “You’ve been sulking all day”.
“No I haven’t”, said Bengo “I’ve been subdued that’s all. If I was really sulking I wouldn’t want to be alone with you up here tonight”.
“Are you sure you’re not sulking?” Bardin teased “Being spanked in the kitchen like that?”
“Don’t be silly”, said Bengo “They’re late tonight”.
There was no set time that the zombies appeared. Sometimes it was barely after sunset, and on other occasions it could be close on midnight.
“Perhaps if we’re lucky we might sleep right through them”, Bengo continued.
“Somehow we have to get used to them”, said Bardin “Do you want to leave the lamp on tonight?”
Bengo looked tempted but then shook his head.
“No”, he said, lying back against his pillow “It’d be a waste of oil. We’d better turn it off”.
Bardin leaned over him and turned down the lamp. Once they were in darkness he tickled Bengo.
“It’s the Tickle Monster coming to get you!” Bardin exclaimed, harking back to their childhood. Bengo giggled. Then he stopped.
“They’re back again”, he said “Can you hear them, Bardy? Oh that dreadful sound they make! I wonder who they once were, all those masses of them”.
“It doesn’t matter who they once were”, Bardin hissed “What’s important is that you remember they are now ghouls. You can’t communicate with them, and all they understand is that they want your flesh”.
“I think I’m gonna be sick!” said Bengo.
Bardin fetched the basin off the wash-stand and brought it over to his friend and partner. He held Bengo’s hair out of the way whilst the little clown retched up his supper.
“Now get back into bed”, said Bardin, once Bengo had finished “I’ll take this downstairs and chuck it down the loo. No going up to the window whilst I’m gone, o.k?”
Bengo nodded mutely and slid back between the sheets.
Adam and Lonts were on the floor below this evening. Bardin asked Lonts to go and sit with Bengo for a few minutes. Adam escorted Bardin down to the ground floor.
“It’s just nerves that’s all”, said Bardin, when he had emptied the basin down the loo and rinsed it out “Bengo’s a brave kid, but then things get to him sometimes and this happens”.
“It’s inevitable with all this going on”, said Adam, gesturing outside.
“Why do they keep coming back?” Bardin whispered “Listen to them, they’re like the souls of the damned”.
“It’s just a noise”, said Adam “That on its own can’t harm us”.
“I was really brave last night wasn’t I, Joby?” said Lonts, cleaning his pipe outside the following morning.
“You only had to sit on the bed with Bengo until the others came back upstairs!” said Joby, who was peeling potatoes.
“I think it was still brave”, said Lonts “You’re really grumpy this morning, Joby, even grumpier than usual”.
“Well do you have to keep slamming doors all the time?” Joby exclaimed “You’re always thumping around slamming doors, it really gets on my nerves. Can’t you just shut one quietly for a change?”
“Joby!” Kieran snapped “Come over here, I want to talk to you”.
“I’m busy”, said Joby.
“JOBY!” said Kieran.
Joby put down his potato-peeler in despair and joined Kieran a short distance away.
“Don’t you start carrying on like some Victorian husband!” said Joby.
“I’m concerned you’re getting island-fever”, said Kieran “The way you went on at Lonts just now”.
“He’s irritating me that’s why I went on at him!” said Joby “He does keep slamming doors and thumping about. Every five minutes it seems. And he slaps up and down stairs in those flip-flops of his, it’s like having a giant, deranged penguin thumping about all over the place! And I’m not allowed to say a word about it, it really gets on my tits! So don’t you start carrying on. You’re not perfect by any means”.
“No, I leave being perfect to Codlik”, said Kieran.
“You’re just peeved ‘cos you weren’t allowed to go on the shore-trip this morning”, said Joby.
Bardin had taken Tamaz, Mieps, Farnol, Rumble and Hoowie out in the skiff to collect bananas and peaches from the trees on the mainland. It was to be a lightning raid, as no one could be certain what became of the zombies during daylight hours.
“Joby! Joby!” Lonts bellowed.
“Be nice to him”, said Kieran “He thinks a lot of you you know”.
“He knows a sucker when he sees one!” Joby grunted.
“He’s a wee bit upset as well that Adam wouldn’t let him go on the trip”, said Kieran “Lonts feels he’s being treated like a little boy, I think that’s why you got all the ‘don’t you think I’m brave’ bit”.
“Joby!” Lonts bellowed again.
“What?” Joby shouted, as he walked back towards him.
“I thought you’d be interested”, said Lonts “Tamaz and the others have left the shore, they’re on their way back”.
Kieran, Joby and Lonts wandered down to the little stone jetty where the sloop was moored. The skiff pulled up, and it was pleasing to see how full it was, not just of fresh fruit, but kindling too, which they had gathered from the ground and was still covered in leaves.
“Nerve-wracking”, said Rumble, climbing out of the skiff and onto the jetty “I kept expecting one of those ugly bastards to come groaning out of the bushes at us!”
“Shoot him through the head if he does”, said Joby “Shooting in the head or burning, that’s how you destroy a zombie, I learnt that from ‘Night Of The Living Dead’”.
“Fine”, said Rumble “So we’ll start a forest fire they really get out of hand!”
“Or cut off its feet”, said Lonts “As Mieps did to the Christmas zombie in Toondor Lanpin”.
“That might take some time”, said Rumble “Getting round all of them!”
That evening the zombies came soon after sunset.
“Joby, what are you doing up here all alone?” said Kieran.
He had found Joby up on the walkway round the light, looking through the binoculars towards the shore.
“Aren’t I allowed to have five minutes to myself?” Joby snapped “Don’t start nagging, you’re worse than Adam”.
“Well what do you want to be staring at all that lot for?” said Kieran.
“Trying to find anything that gives us a clue as to who they are and where they’re coming from”, said Joby “I dunno if you’ve noticed, but they’re all men”.
“No women ever got this far down I don’t think”, said Kieran.
“I just wondered if they might have anything to do with the miners we were looking for and never found”, said Joby “If the missing miners might be amongst ‘em”.
“If they are then they’re beyond our help”, said Kieran “Bardin wants us all to sleep on the boat tonight”.
Bardin could now be heard blowing a whistle on the boat to summon everyone aboard.
“He’s got that flamin’ whistle out again”, said Joby “Why can’t he use the handbell like the rest of us do!”
Kieran chivvied Joby back down the ladder inside, and closed the glass doors.
They both got diverted on entering the sloop for the night, and when Joby went to find Kieran again he found him in the hold, getting emotional with the horses.
“What’s all this about?” said Joby.
“None of you deserve this”, said Kieran, visibly distressed “You should all be able to live quietly somewhere”.
“We are living quietly somewhere!” said Joby “Well apart from that racket out there! Don’t you have one of your flaky turns, no beating yourself up or starving yourself, or offering to go and lay down your life to the Church to save the rest of us, ‘cos I know that’s what you’ve got a secret hankering to do!”
“Joby …”, Kieran began.
“It wouldn’t work anyway”, said Joby “They’re not gonna let the rest of us go, they’d hang us all up by our feet”.
“Joby, don’t say that”, Kieran pleaded.
“Do you two want some cocoa?” said Lonts, from the doorway.
“Yeah, go on to the galley”, said Joby “I’ll be along in a minute”.
Lonts shuffled off, looking quietly anxious.
“How much do you think he overheard?” said Joby.
“Hopefully not the bit about being strung up by our feet”, said Kieran.
“That entire conversation was your fault”, said Joby “You and your neurotics. There won’t be anymore of it, do you hear me? You’re not the only one who can get bossy you know! Just ‘cos you’re three months older than me doesn’t make it your all-round prerogative”.
Joby went out into the corridor, where he was dismayed to find Julian leaning against the wall, as though lying in wait for him.
“What was all that shouting about?” he asked.
“Nothing that need concern you”, said Joby.
He made to walk past Julian in a haughty manner, but Julian grabbed his arm.
“I’ll stamp on your foot if you don’t let me go”, said Joby.
“No you won’t”, said Julian “Not if you know what’s good for you. Now tell me, is Kieran going completely flaky on us again?”
“Not completely, no”, said Joby “It was just a little spasm that’s all. Not exactly unusual where he’s concerned. You’d better let me go, Lonts is looking at me again”.
Not much sleep was forthcoming for anyone that night, so they put the gramophone on to drown out the zombies and chatted for most of it instead.
By mid-morning the following day Ransey had got the wireless set in the lighthouse into some semblance of working order. This caused great excitement, and all sixteen of them tried to cram into the wireless room.
“This is very exciting isn’t it, Adam?” said Lonts.
“Well it would be if we could get anything out of it!” said Hillyard, who was spectacularly unimpressed “It’s just white noise at the moment”.
“It’s a start!” said Ransey “Now clear out of here all of you, I can’t be expected to work under these conditions”.
Mieps was solemnly playing with the handles of a pair of pliers behind him, as though cutting his way through an invisible wire fence. Ransey took them off him rather brusquely and gestured him out of the door as well.
Bardin went up to the defunct light, where Kieran had now settled himself down to admire the view, in a rather melancholic way.
“I don’t mean to let things get on top of me”, Kieran confessed “But sometimes I wonder what the point of my whole existence has been”.
“You want to look at the life I was destined for!” said Bardin “Born with a disfigured face. I’ve often had a shrewd guess that during the first few hours of my life the lab technicians must have speculated about dumping me in the Yellow Bucket”.
“The Yellow Bucket?” said Kieran “I’ve heard Lonts mention that in the past”.
“It was a sick joke that went the rounds of those of us who were born during the Dark Ages”, said Bardin “It was rumoured then that all damaged foetuses were dumped in a yellow bucket. So the likes of me sometimes got called Yellow Bucket by cruel little bastards when we were kids. It doesn’t surprise me that Lonts has heard it either. Anyway, as I said, born with a disfigured face, and marked down to devote the rest of my life to perfecting the pratfall!”
“But think of the pleasure you’ve given people”, Kieran protested “People have always needed laughter and escapism”.
“And think of what YOU’VE done for them!” said Bardin “You can’t afford to get too worked up about the likes of Codlik. His sort will be around as long as there will always be politicians around”.
There was a dull thud from below as of a chair falling against the carpet. Bardin and Kieran went down the ladder, just as Bengo was running to the top of the stairs.
“Get back here!” Bardin bellowed, in the kind of voice that could intercept low-flying aircraft.
“Adam gave me a few minutes off”, said Bengo “So I came up to see what you were doing”.
“You were spying”, said Bardin.
“Bless his heart, he wouldn’t make a very good spy”, Kieran laughed.
“Only if you wanted something deliberately sabotaged!” said Bardin.
Kieran left them alone, and went down to the next floor. Bengo rushed over to Bardin and kissed him firmly on the mouth.
“It ent right”, Joby complained, watching from the lighthouse door as Bengo and Bardin strolled around on the grass outside “I haven’t had a break yet this morning, and he’s had ages”.
“A few more minutes won’t do any harm”, said Adam “Now stop whining or I’ll lock you in the store-room”.
Joby drifted round the table and stood peering round the wireless-room door at Ransey, who was sitting inside with a small headset clamped over his ears. Adam gave a tut of annoyance and pulled Joby away.
“Don’t disturb him”, Adam hissed.
“Is there anything I am allowed to do?!” said Joby.
“Well you could try working”, said Adam.
“Very funny”, said Joby.
“I thought it was a fairly reasonable suggestion myself!” said Adam.
“Who’d have thought it would come to this?” said Joby.
“We’re all missing the Bay, Joby”, said Adam, who was now walking around the room and stirring a mixture in a pudding-bowl, as though he was burping a baby.
“No I mean it all started with a lighthouse didn’t it?” said Joby “Skirra Fludd I mean, and now we’re living in one. And there’s you and me like this. Working together”.
“What’s so extraordinary about that?” said Adam.
“I was afraid of you when we were at Henang”, said Joby.
“I’m not surprised”, said Adam “I was such a miserable devil in those days”.
Joby went into the pantry. Adam put down the bowl and followed him in there.
“I remember at Tomce’s cottage”, said Joby “I was gonna run away, ‘cos I couldn’t take you and Kieran together, I couldn’t hack it. Imagine how awful it would have been if I’d left!”
Adam kept an admirably straight face.
“You silly boy”, he said “You wouldn’t have got very far. We would have come after you. Patsy would have been beside himself until we got you back again”.
Joby washed his face at the sink, whilst Adam vigorously operated the pump-handle. When they emerged back into the kitchen they found Kieran sitting at the table, drinking tea.
“What are you doing in here?” said Joby.
“Having a cup of tea”, said Kieran “What were you doing in there?”
“Having a private conversation”, said Joby.
“What about?” said Kieran.
“The old days”, said Joby.
“And you had to go in there to do it?” said Kieran “You English are weird”.
“That’s enough of that, Patsy”, said Adam “You have some very strange little habits yourself”.
“I’ve just been thinking”, said Hillyard, stamping in from outside in his boots “When we go on our lightning raids to the mainland, Mieps could set up some of his rabbit-snares, and then the next time, collect ‘em and bring them back”.
“As long as you don’t bring live rabbits over”, said Joby “Those little bastards would cause no end of damage to my vegetable garden”.
Julian breezed in, chucking his hook-handled cane onto the table and demanding tea.
“Patsy, pour him out some”, Adam ordered.
Kieran shuffled behind Joby to collect a cup from the mantelpiece over the stove.
“Sometime today would be nice!” said Julian.
Bengo and Bardin walked in, hand-in-hand.
“You both look like an advert for a pension fund!” said Julian “Smiling at each other and brimming over with satisfaction”.
“Don’t worry, it won’t last”, said Joby “By the end of the day they’ll be at each other’s throats again”.
“Undoubtedly!” said Julian.
Adam said that now that Bengo had come back indoors Joby could go outside. So he and Kieran drifted round the back of the lighthouse, did a slow circuit down the side of the new vegetable garden, and then down the moderately steep slope that led down to the lake. They both lay down on the grass and dozed in the harsh sunshine.
“Reminds me of Gurran Island”, said Joby, eventually.
“So it does”, said Kieran “Jaysus, I haven’t thought of that place in years!”
“Hope we don’t get any giant worms here though”, said Joby “Or we’d really be in trouble!”
He gazed out across the unbroken surface of the lake as though suddenly expecting one to shatter the glass-like veneer. Kieran giggled.
“Perhaps one’s swallowing Codlik at this moment as we speak”, he said.
“We should be so lucky!” said Joby, and he let out a loud burp.
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site