Go back to previous chapter


By Sarah Hapgood

They were unwashed, unshaven, in an uncharted area, many days’ walk from home, feeling demoralised and disorientated, and existing on a diet of cocoa (made with goat’s milk) and doughnuts, fried over a camp-fire. It was inevitable that when they saw the house that, for all it ugliness, it should seem like a mirage or an oasis in a desert would to a thirsty man.

It was spectacularly situated, being perched on a rocky plateau that was connected to the mainland by a substantial bridge made out of wood and stone. They were now many thousands of miles above seal level so the building, the size of a small manor-house, must have been an astonishing feat of construction.

There was no denying that they were meant to be there, so they led their wagons across the bridge and into the cobbled courtyard. The house reared up in front of them like a granite giant. One of the big wooden doors was standing slightly ajar. Bardin and Hillyard went first, calling out as they entered the hallway.

The house was gloomy and dark, and yet very comfortable at the same time. There was oil in the lamps, thick curtains to keep out draughts, a fire lit in the library-cum-living-room, brandy in the decanters, and in the dining-room on the other side of the hall, the table was set with many plates of sandwiches and pots of tea.

“FOOD!” Tamaz squealed. He and the clowns gaped at the display with naked hunger.

“Somebody must be around here somewhere”, said Joby “All this has been done very recently”.

Suddenly a man’s voice broke out of nowhere, an aristocratic yet rather weedy-sounding voice.

“Welcome to my house”, he said, speaking from a gramophone record on the sideboard “This house is yours for as long as you require it. I trust you will be comfortable here. Please treat it as your own”.

It ended as abruptly as it had began.

“Who put it on?” said Hillyard, peering behind the gramophone, as though someone was hiding there “It can’t have just started up by itself!”

“’The Legend of Hell House’”, said Joby “That happens almost exactly the same in that”.

“You watched far too many old films when you were younger”, said Adam.

“I read the book as well, actually”, said Joby.

“Actually!” said Adam.

“Can we eat some of this?” Tamaz wailed “Please!”

“Yeah c’mon let’s tuck in”, said Hillyard “If anyone comes in and moans I’ll pay ‘em for what we’ve eaten and apologise”.

“You’re suddenly being very trusting!” Joby snapped “You’ve been a bag of nerves this whole trip, and now you’re acting like you’re on a picnic!”

“Look, we’re tired, hungry and filthy”, said Hillyard “Let’s eaten something, and then go and see what the bathrooms are like”.

“After we’ve stabled the animals, Hillyard”, said Lonts.

“Yeah, after we’ve stabled the animals”, said Hillyard “Whoever this geezer is, or whatever he can do, we can sort him out better when we’ve sorted ourselves out. It doesn’t matter if he’s the Devil himself”.

“He’s not the Devil, he just likes to pretend he is”, said Kieran “The Devil wouldn’t want to do all this for us, too much like hard work!”

“Why did this man Crowley call himself a Great Beast, Kieran?” said Lonts.

“It was what his mother called him”, said Kieran “So he took the tile as his own, to spite her. Everything he did it seemed was to spite her”.

“But why did she call him a Great Beast?” Lonts persisted.

“It was just something she said when she caught him masturbating one day”, said Kieran.

“Do you mind!” said Hillyard “I’m trying to eat here!”

Upstairs they found several fully-prepared bedrooms, and bathrooms with running water laid on, (Adam concluded that the water must come from a mountain spring somewhere), plus freshly-laundered clothes laid out on the beds. The comfort was intoxicating to them, and yet a few of them found it unnerving as well.

“I mean Crowley, that’s if it is him doing all this”, said Joby, sitting in one of the bath-tubs “Isn’t doing all this out of the kindness of his heart is he? Layin on all this comfort just on the off-chance that some filthy old travellers’ll pop in”.

“He might”, said Kieran, soaping Joby’s back “If he wanted to snare them”.

“Oh thanks!” said Joby “That makes me feel a lot more at ease that does!”

Adam had gone to find some brandy to calm Joby’s nerves. He had managed to take a decanter out of Julian’s room, and Julian’s remarks of “tell that grizzly little sod if he doesn’t buck up I’ll …” pursued him to the bathroom.

“I don’t think we need to hear anymore of that”, said Adam, shutting the door on him “Now I know this looks bad, an ex-alcoholic pouring brandy down your throat, but there are few things a good as this for calming one’s nerves”.

“It’s bloody Hillyard who’s getting on my nerves!” said Joby, taking a tumbler of brandy “Ever since we left home he’s been acting like some hysterical old maiden aunt, and now we get here, into the Prince of Darkness’s house, he goes all bloody hale and hearty, like a friggin’ Butlin’s Red Coat!”

“I think he feels more in control here”, said Adam “He felt too vulnerable out on the great open plain like we were. Bardin was the same”.

Unlike Hillyard though, Bardin wasn’t adapting well to his new surroundings. He paced his bedroom in a state of great anxiety.

“All the bedrooms here are so huge”, said Bengo, breezing back into the room “I’ve just been round to see all the others, and their’s are big too”.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Bardin snapped “Roaming about this house on your own”.

“I wasn’t on my own”, said Bengo “I was with Lonts and Tamaz. A wash and brush-up and clean clothes hasn’t improved your temper has it!”

“Now he’s got us here what does he intend doing with us, that’s what I want to know”, said Bardin “And why doesn’t he show himself?”

“If he doesn’t appear by tomorrow morning”, said Bengo “I suggest we go home, we’ll be all fed and rested by then, we’ll feel more like facing the return journey”.

“Are you crazy?” said Bardin, twirling the whistle, which he kept permanently round his neck, even when he had been washing himself “What would be the point of us coming all the way here, staying the night, and then going all the way back again?! What would that prove?”

“Oh why does it have to prove anything!” said Bengo “You sound like one of those really poncey actors who can’t even perform the simplest scene without wanting their ‘motivation’ explained to them!”

“The ceilings are covered in mirrors”, said Bardin, pointing upwards “I bet they’re two-way mirrors, and he’s crouched up there behind them, spying on us”.

“Well he isn’t getting his money’s worth at the moment is he!” said Bengo “Not unless he’s so kinky he gets turned on by you moaning anyway!”

Bardin called Bengo a stupid little fat clown. Bengo pushed Bardin onto the bed and spanked him with one of the big, ornate silver-backed hand-mirrors that had been put on their dressing-table. Then they joined all the others, and went downstairs in pursuit of more food and drink.

A full dinner had been laid out on the long dining-table, and bottles of good wine and port on the sideboard. The glass oil-lamps suspended above the table had been lit, and the thick crimson velvet curtains had been pulled shut against the darkness. It was a very inviting scene, and all of it prepared by the same seemingly noiseless and invisible entity who had prepared the whole house for their arrival.

“How’s our boy coping?” said Ransey, referring to Bardin, who was sat at the opposite end of the table.

“His nerves are at breaking-point”, said Julian “He’s kept going so far by being the born trouper that he is. But I may have to take over for a while, for the sake of his own sanity”.

“Just for a while though eh?” said Hillyard.

“What’s the book you’ve brought down with you?” said Ransey, picking up the slim volume Julian had put on the table.

“A little collection of mine host’s poetry”, said Julian “I found it in my room. Perhaps not for reading out at the dinner-table though”.

“It would be a shame to spoil this delicious chicken”, said Adam “And the sauce is scrumptiously creamy”.

“Pornographic I take it?” said Ransey, flicking through the pages.

“Only if the constant repetition of the line ‘when Celia farts’ is your idea of erotica!” said Julian.

“Sounds Sadeian to me”, said Kieran.

“Crowley liked to believe he was the best poet England had produced since Shakespeare”, said Adam “A classic case of self-delusion if ever there was one!”

“What do you expect of a spoilt mummy’s boy?” said Julian “A Cambridge-educated egomaniac who liked to hang about with a female impersonator, but would never admit there was anything sexual involved! He’d have made a good politician!”

“Crowley never did like admitting to his own bi-sexuality”, said Adam “It spoilt the image he had of himself as a macho-man of adventure, ruthlessly seducing and abandoning beautiful women. Buggery with a silky-haired boy in drag doesn’t exactly go with the tough guy image, my dear!”

“Oh but you miss the point, good sir”, Julian purred “It was a platonic relationship of the most pure and high-minded sort, a David and Jonathon relationship. One so spiritual and wholesome that ordinary vulgar plebs could not possibly understand it. The rest of us are too coarse to understand something so high-minded”.

“Evidently!” said Adam “It was just the sort of relationship Oscar Wilde claimed to have had with Lord Bosie, and no one believed that either!”

“And look what happened there!” said Joby.

“Quite”, said Adam.

“What did happen there?” said Hillyard.

“You don’t want to know”, said Julian “It’d give you nightmares!”

“You’re gonna have to do something about him”, said Farnol to Bengo, in the library after dinner. He was referring to Bardin, who was sitting moodily at the end of the sofa on the other side of the room, plucking at the edges of a cushion.

“I’ve tried everything”, said Bengo, in a heated whisper “I’ve been kind to him, I’ve been firm with him, I’ve beaten him, and nothing works!”

“You’re not gonna try reading again are you?” said Farnol, indicating a book Bengo had pulled from one of the shelves “You know what happened last time, it nearly did you in!”

“This is subterfuge”, said Bengo, unwittingly holding a volume of Aleister Crowley’s Magick rituals “Otherwise he’ll know we’re talking about him. We get him as drunk as possible. That won’t be too difficult on the plonk that’s being served round here! Anyway, that’ll knock him out for a few hours, and come the morning he’ll have such a stinking hangover he won’t be able to think about anything else, let alone worry about it!”

“That’ll work”, said Farnol “I don’t know why people complain about hangovers, they can be the very nirvana of existence!”

“What do you keep staring over there for?” said Kieran, from the other sofa. Joby was preoccupied with staring across the hallway at the dining-room door.

“I’m trying to catch sight of one of our invisible slaves”, said Joby “They have to come out at some point”.

“They’re not going to come out whilst we’re all down here are they!” said Kieran “And don’t you dare suggest we go poncing round the house in the middle of the night, hoping to catch them at the washing-up or something!”

The vintage port had it’s desired effect on Bardin. He collapsed onto Mieps (who was cracking walnuts at the time), and had to be carried upstairs like a coffin. Up in his new bedroom Adam and Lonts undressed him, and Bengo sat cross-legged on the bed, watching with satisfaction. Bardin wasn’t unconscious yet though. He firmly hung onto his whistle and refused to let them remove it from him.

“You don’t seriously want to sleep with it on, Bardin?” said Adam.

“He does”, Bengo sighed.

“W-what’s going on?” said Bardin, as he noticed all the others moving extra bedding into the room.

“We’re all going to sleep in here tonight”, said Adam “It’s not wise for us all to be split up, when we don’t know who else is in the house”.

“Good, that’s good”, Bardin murmured “We must get away from here tomorrow though. We must”.

Bengo slept in between Bardin and Adam in the four-poster. He woke up in the night convinced he could hear someone moving about at the end of the corridor. There was a distinct footfall and the sound of a door closing softly. It was hard to hear anymore above the various snores and heavy breathing coming from everyone on the floor though.

Soon after daybreak Bardin was rudely thrust into consciousness by Julian squeezing a flannel over his face. Bardin screamed and scrambled to his feet, as best he could on a rather springy old four-poster.

“You’re the last one up”, said Julian “Make some effort to become human or I’ll take one of those antique hairbrushes to you!”

“No!” Bardin squealed, clutching onto a bed-post “Not that! Bengo did it to me last night, and I can still feel it!”

“Bardin?” said Adam, coming through from the nearest bathroom “What are you doing like that? You look like a little monkey on a rope. Now come down from there, Bengo’s saved his bath-water for you”.

“And Mieps is all ready to scrub your back”, said Julian “He’s been quite looking forward to it!”

“You’ve all got it in for me this morning I can tell!” said Bardin.

Kieran was also hungover. He went outside with Hillyard to help him feed and water the animals, and kept his hat pulled down over his eyes against the glare of the ruthlessly bright mountain sun.

“If there’s one thing I can’t abide it’s a man who can’t hold his liquor!” Julian barked, when they joined the others at the breakfast table.

“I’ve seen you plenty worse for wear in my time”, Kieran growled.

“Not as often as I’ve seen you!” said Julian, plucking the hat from Kieran’s head and chucking it onto the windowseat.

Lonts was excitedly lifting up all the covers on the sideboard, and exclaiming at all the delights they contained. Eggs, ham, kippers …

“Even porridge!” said Lonts, scooping up a spoonful of it, much to the horror of the hangover sufferers.

“Where are they getting it all from?” said Bengo “We’re miles from anywhere up here”.

He paced round to the end of the table where Bardin was taking his place.

“Bardy, we must leave here now”, said Bengo, wringing his hands “I heard things in the night, we must get away”.

“O.K”, said Bardin.

And so they did, after replenishing their water-bottles, and helping themselves to bottles of brandy and food from the sideboard. They left a note addressed to “Uncle Aleister”, thanking him for his kind hospitality, and if he wanted reimbursement for it he knew where to find them. They were sorry to cut short their visit so soon, but if he wasn’t prepared to show himself they had no choice but to leave. They signed it “regretfully yours, the Indigo-ites”.

They had barely got their wagons and supplies across the stone bridge and landed safely on the other side, when the bridge blew up. Bardin had been blowing his whistle and trying to do a head count to make sure everyone was ready to leave, when the explosion happened. Lonts yelled, Tamaz yodelled, and Bardin fainted backwards into Bengo’s arms.

When he came to he found himself lying in the back of one of the covered wagons, and feeling it jolting sharply as it travelled over the rough ground.

“What happened?” he asked Bengo, who was sponging his face tenderly.

“Kieran thinks that a time-bomb had been put under the bridge”, said Bengo “Primed to go off at that very moment”.

“Crowley wanted to blow us all up?” said Bardin.

“No, Kieran thinks he wanted to maroon us in the house”, said Bengo “Trap us there with all the lavish hospitality we enjoyed, and then the bridge was to blown up whilst we were at breakfast. Only we put the mockers on things by leaving early. We weren’t supposed to, we were supposed to be distracted by searching the house for him”.

“So we were to be islanded in the house?” said Bardin “B-but what about the staff, or whoever it was, now they’ll be isolated there, and for all we know Crowley is too”.

“Some of the others thing there must be another entrance into the house”, said Bengo “An underground one perhaps, cut into all that rock”.

“I’d better rouse myself”, said Bardin, trying to sit up, but Bengo pushed him back onto the bench.

“No Bardy”, he said “You know that being out in this part of the world makes you nervous”.

“But I’m Captain!” Bardin protested “For what it’s worth! If anyone gets a hangover it’s me, if anyone gets a bad cold it’s me, if anyone gets a fit of the vapours its me. Look, stop mollycoddling me! Are you in Dr Bengo mode or something?”

“I think I could have been a doctor”, said Bengo “If everyone hadn’t told me to be a clown instead”.

“God, what a frightening thought!” said Bardin.

“And anyway, what’s so wrong with having bad nerves?” Bengo continued “It’s usually a sign of a good primitive instinct. After all, if I hadn’t got nervous over breakfast, we’d now be trapped in that gloomy old house”.

“At least they didn’t get their hands on any of the goats!” said Bardin.

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