Go back to previous chapter
“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”, said Kieran, sitting in the back of the Ransey-driven wagon with Joby “He wrote that in 1904, at the same time as he declared that Christianity was dead”.
“Are you feeling alright now?” said Joby, who had been fanning him with a towel and plying him with one of the water-bottles “I thought you was gonna faint. Mind you, I’m not surprised. Opening up that cottage was like opening Pandora’s Box, I didn’t know what was gonna come out”.
“And those murals on the walls”, said Kieran.
“Yeah I know, I prefer ‘The Haywain’ meself!” said Joby “You couldn’t exactly chill out of an evening, sitting there with that lot leering down at you could you!”
“Aleister Crowley was a bad bad man”, Kieran sighed.
“I always thought he was a bit of a sad old sack really”, said Joby “Ending up as a drug addict in an old people’s boarding-house in Hastings. Just how sad is that!”
“He didn’t know how to feel, not until it was too late”, said Kieran “A spoilt little boy who never grew up, childish in the extreme, even when he was betraying his own country in the First World War. And the wickedness of it all! He got his American mistress to have sex with a goat, and then slit the goat’s throat, drinking it’s blood. That is pure evil”.
“Sick more ‘en anything I would’ve said!” said Joby “Downright stupid perhaps. He just wanted to shock everybody, have ‘em all say what a naughty boy he was. If you go around telling him he’s evil, he’ll wear it like a badge of honour! There are more subtle ways of dealing with his sort”.
Adam could be heard outside ordering Ransey to halt the wagon momentarily, so that he could climb on. A short bad-tempered exchange followed before Adam was finally allowed on.
“I take it the wedding’s off then?!” said Joby.
“There was no need for him to be so abrasive and rude”, said Adam, sitting down next to Kieran on the bench “I get quite enough of that from Julian! I only wanted to see if Patsy was o.k”.
“Ach I’m fine”, said Kieran “Joby’s put me back on track. He can even put Aleister Crowley into perspective”.
“Now I know who I can blame for bringing my brother back to life!” said Joby “Tho’ I don’t understand why he’s brought Julian’s brother back too. Not from what you’ve told us about him”.
“Quite. Piers was such an innocent unworldly little man”, said Adam “Like a timid schoolmaster or an absent-minded country vicar. It was hard to believe he and Julian were of the same blood really!”
Over the mugs of strong tea and the remains of the bread that evening the time-crossers told the others all that they knew about Aleister Crowley. Which wasn’t easy as Crowley’s life was so much of a conundrum. Adam related the incident when Crowley had taken a young male disciple into the Sahara desert, to perform a ritual, and Crowley had got the disciple to sodomise him within the magic circle had had drawn on the ground.
Julian said that the thought of the fat, ageing, bald Crowley being buggered in the moonlight was too revolting for words! Bengo said that it was what he had suspected all along, that Crowley was simply yet another perverted old fart! And that for all the poncey mysticism and Satanic melodrama all he really wanted was sex, just like everybody else. The others suspected there was more than a grain of truth in this, but Bardin thought Bengo was getting at him, and ordered him into the tepee so that they could have a row in peace.
“Out of the mouths of clowns though”, said Julian “I could never understand what all the fuss over Crowley was. Do you think he truly got anywhere with his infernal magic, Tinkerbell?”
“I think he did cause dark things to happen”, said Kieran “Much as I’d like to, we can’t just write him off as simply another fraud”.
“Some of his antics at Boleskine House for instance”, said Adam “He actually caused some of his staff to go mad. One even attacked his own wife and had to be restrained, something he would never have don before”.
“That probably had more to do with the moonshine they were brewing in the hills!” said Julian.
“Close contact with Crowley didn’t exactly bring out the best in people”, Kieran continued “We must keep that in mind”.
“A lot of the Boleskine stuff was all down to the Abra-Melin ritual he tried”, said Joby “It got out of hand. Even he must have been disturbed by it”.
“The what?” said Hillyard.
“It was an ancient ritual”, said Kieran “To raise demons. It was very difficult to perform, and required a lot of discipline and self-sacrifice on the part of the person doing it. He effectively had to live like a medieval monk. Getting up at three in the morning, living off bread and water, that sort of thing. It all got too much for Crowley, and he abandoned it”.
“He got bored you mean!” Julian barked, who was still as spectacularly unimpressed with Crowley as he’d always been.
Bardin posted guards throughout the night to keep an eye on the animals, but the night passed peacefully, if somewhat unnervingly. Come the morning, he ordered the water to be conserved, which meant no washing and shaving. He voiced the view that if they didn’t come across anything within the next day or two they should turn back to Zilligot Bay. It was highly unlikely that Crowley or any of their tormentors could be much further in-land, considering the way they had been frequently harassed by them back in town.
He was also nervous about them being out in such exposed countryside. He kept remembering the Tall Thing they had once seen to the south of Toondor Lanpin. He wanted to at least get into the lee of the mountains, where they would have a better chance of seeking cover from it. He was pleased when Ransey insisted that Bengo sit up at the front of his wagon with him. Finia was fed up with the harsh sunlight, and wanted to stay undercover at the back. Bengo was annoyed at this restriction of his movements.
“Don’t be so unreasonable!” said Bardin, when he had chased Bengo up onto the driver’s box “You get to sit down all day, what are you complaining about?! And Ransey’s not going to beat you, he never does things like that”.
“I feel like I’m under house-arrest, Bardy”, Bengo complained.
“Bengo, just cool it!” Bardin shouted “Or I’ll put you on a chain, and then you’ll really have something to grizzle about! Now sit there, and try to look fierce if anything strange appears!”
They reached the lee of the mountains late that afternoon, and then there was the usual fuss of setting up camp, building a fire, setting up the tepee, getting some milk out of the goats. Kieran found Joby perched on one of the wagon wheels, drinking his tea. Joby had been walking with Hillyard for most of the afternoon, and Hillyard had quizzed him exhaustively about what the time-crossers had said about Aleister Crowley, most particularly anything to do with the north of Scotland.
“He seems to think we’re gonna open up all that can of worms again”, said Joby “You, me, Amy. I kept telling him it was all a long time ago but he wouldn’t have it”.
“It’d be a wee bit boring to rake all that up again”, said Kieran “As far as I’m concerned it all got resolved in Hell, the first time we went there, and he should know, ‘cos he was there that time”.
“Take no notice of him, the silly old fool!” said Joby “He’s been bleating like an old woman about summat or other ever since we left Zilligot Bay”.
“Bless him”, said Kieran “We never think of Hillyard as insecure, but he always has been underneath”.
Bardin walked past holding out a map in disgust.
“Look at this, useless!” he was saying to Rumble.
“What’s the matter with him now?” said Joby.
“We’ve fallen off the edge of the map”, said Kieran “And there isn’t one for this area. We’re now officially in the wilderness”.
“Well we knew it was gonna happen sooner or later!” said Joby “It was only a matter of time!”
Bardin couldn’t shake the thought from his head that they had come so far from Zilligot Bay, and yet whoever had been menacing them was seemingly still a long way out of reach. It was preying on him endlessly, and in the night he woke up Bengo in the tepee to talk about it again. Bengo was surprisingly good-natured about this, considering he had spent most of the evening making cocoa over a camp-fire for all the others.
“There’s no trace of this Crowley guy”, said Bardin, in a heated whisper “Yet we know he’s around. Same goes for whoever’s helping him, including the ones who tried to snatch you. We know someone’s here, they tried to take one of our goats. And yet nothing. Not a living thing do we see. We don’t even hear any birds, and that’s always a bad sign! All we’ve come across is that old derelict cottage, and nobody’s been in that for years”.
Joby rolled over and propped himself up on his elbow.
“I dunno if it’s any help at all”, he said, running his hand over his face blearily “But Crowley used to be able to claim that he could make himself invisible. It got so’s he could go out in the streets in his full ceremonial regalia and no one would notice him, or so he said anyway”.
“More likely they chose not to notice him”, said Bardin “’Cos he looked such a dork!”
Over the next two days they pressed further into the mountain range. Bardin felt marginally more secure once out of the vast open plain, but there was no escaping the fact that the atmosphere had got noticeably more unnerving. And to add to the growing sense of unease they began to feel as though they were being watched. The mountains seemed to be full of eyes.
Towards the end of the second day in the mountains Kieran did see someone (although the others didn’t). It was a figure following them some way back on the roughly-hewn mountain road. Sexless from this distance, it was dressed like a priest in a black flowing robe. Its hair covered by a wide-brimmed hat, and its face by a veil wrapped tightly around it. The figure appeared and disappeared at will, but deliberately got no closer to them, even when they stopped for a while. It was keeping itself out of arm’s reach.
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site