Go back to previous chapter


By Sarah Hapgood

They landed in a dark tunnel, the wide entrance of which opened ahead into a dense fog lit by a strange yellow light. It was very hot here, it had the humidity of a sauna, and the first thing they did when they got to their feet was to instinctively remove their habits.

“Is this Hell?” Joby asked Kieran, when they were down to their underwear.

“No it’s not”, said Kieran “I don’t know what it is, but it’s not Hell”.

They left the tunnel and dumped their belongings in the mist. The ground was rough underfoot, and there was a river nearby. But they could see barely any distance ahead at all, and the sky, or ceiling, or whatever it was that was overhead, wasn’t discernable at all.

Adam was determined to build some semblance of normality, and ordered the clowns to collect dry twigs that were lying around on the ground, to make a fire. Bardin went one step further and said that the tents, which had been donated to them during their six weeks in the church, should also be put up.

When some kind of order was established Crowley sent a message across the small camp that he’d like to see Julian, “for a chat”. Julian, who had booted Bengo into the Indigo-ites’ tent, and ordered him to put something on other than just his pinny, reacted to this summons with bad grace. His temper wasn’t improved when he got to Crowley’s tent, and found the big man enthroned on a canvas chair being fanned by Victor, like a sultan in splendour. Crowley grandly signified that Victor could leave their presence.

“You’ve got him well-trained”, Julian remarked, as Victor scuttled out of the tent.

“Amazing how far a bit of firmness will go”, said Crowley, fishing out a packet of pungent-smelling cigarettes and offering one to Julian “As you well know yourself”.

Julian would have liked to refuse the cigarette, but he was “gasping”.

“Do you know where we are?” he asked, after a luxurious inhale.

“Not exactly”, said Crowley “But you can rest assured it’s somewhere safe. We are, temporarily, in another dimension”.

“Like the one that giant dog you ballsed up came from?” said Julian.

“As I have already told you”, said Crowley “Joby was in no danger from that creature. It was in another one altogether”.

“Yes, and now we’re probably in this one with it!” said Julian.

“I’m not exactly sure where we are”, said Crowley “But I’m sure you will agree with me that it is infinitely preferable to being where we were”.

“Good point”, Julian grudgingly conceded.

Hillyard walked past the tent opening and glared in at them both before moving on.

“Your lusty friend seems rather put out about something”, said Crowley.

“He’s missing our animals”, said Julian “As we all are. Setting up camp like this has reminded us of them acutely”.

“Indeed”, said Crowley.

“Hillyard, wake up”, Joby nudged the big man on the bed-roll next to him “Wake up for God’s sake! Can’t you hear it?”

“I can hear a load of jerks snoring”, said Hillyard, looking blearily around the cramped quarters of the Indigo-ites’ tent.

“It’s the goats!” said Tamaz.

He jumped naked off his bed-roll, and Hillyard, Joby and Kieran followed suit. They ran out into the mist, and saw their animals through the gloom. The horses, the donkeys, the goats, even the chickens. Tamaz ran over and, kneeling on the ground, threw his arms round one of the goats.

Thetis came over, clutching a thin blanket round her naked body.

“This is Aleister’s doing”, she said, and in her enthusiasm she enveloped Joby in the blanket with her.

Bardin was delivering a lecture after lunch (or at least that was the time of day they assumed it was, as it was impossible to tell day from night really) to the kitchen staff about his new law to stop people wandering off in the mist by themselves, there must be three people together at all times apparently. Whilst he was in the middle of this Hoowie hove into view, glazed-eyed, obviously out of his tree on something.

Blowing his whistle at him in a very aggressive manner, Bardin ordered him into their tent, where Hoowie fell onto a bed-roll and gurgled like a baby.

“Where have you been?” Bardin crouched down by him on his haunches “Have you been to Crowley’s tent? Has he given you something?”

Hoowie laid his head in Bardin’s lap and proceeded to suck his thumb.

“It’s true then?” said Rumble, coming into the tent “Farnol reckoned Crowley had given Hoowie a puff on the magic pipe”.

“Help me put him down”, said Bardin, trying to move Hoowie back onto the bed-roll.

“Shall I send for the vet then?” said Rumble.

“Believe me, I’ve thought of doing that enough times over the years!” said Bardin “Now sit with him whilst I go and have words with Crowley”.

“What did you want to mess around with Hoowie for?” Bardin exclaimed, now in Crowley’s tent.

“I find him an engaging young fellow”, said Crowley “He has a lively and active mind”.

“He’s completely bonkers!” said Bardin “And he de-rails easily, he hasn’t got his feet on the ground at all! I don’t want you messing with him”.

“How delightful you are when you try to be firm”, said Crowley “Particularly as I know that, like me, you would rather play the passive role in carnal matters. We are both of us hermaphrodites under the skin, are we not? We both have a woman within us”.

“What’s Hoowie been telling you?” Bardin mumbled.

“This is what I have observed for myself”, said Crowley “I like watching you move around, I did it a lot when we were at the church, you have a dancer’s grace”.

“A-all clowns should have that”, Bardin stammered, disconcerted by Crowley’s hypnotic stare “W-we’re like boxers in that respect”.

Ransey suddenly came into the tent and forcibly pushed Bardin out of it. He then rounded on Crowley.

“God spare me from having to put up with anymore over-sexed old fruits like you!” he bellowed.

“H-he threatened to strip me of my Captaincy”, Bardin jabbered to Bengo in their tent a short while later “He can’t! He has no right!”

“He won’t do that, Bardy”, Bengo smiled “He’d have to put up with Julian as Captain again, and he’d hate that! He was just being protective of you that’s all. Particularly after it came out about what happened to you when we were little”.

“I wish everyone’d stop harping on about that!” Bardin snapped.

“It’ll be a while before Ransey does”, Bengo sighed “I heard him say to Adam recently that of all the evil he’s come across in his life, what happened to you was one of the worst”.

“Yes well it doesn’t help that you go giving out all the graphic details!” said Bardin “About bloodstains and what have you”.

“All I said was that I remember you having a bloodstain on your nightshirt”, said Bengo “And you told me you’d got it by sitting on a nail! And I kicked myself when I found out recently how you really must have got it. I wish I had known at the time”.

“I’m glad you didn’t!” said Bardin “I didn’t want you knowing about things like that, EVER!”

At another meeting called later in the afternoon Bardin announced that it was time they moved on, that they couldn’t stay in this spot forever, that they had to find out more about this strange world they had entered. Adam said that they had to find new food sources, other than what the animals could provide, as their supplies of rice and stock-cubes certainly wouldn’t last definitely.

Lonts made a whimsical remark to the effect that it was a shame Mr Crowley couldn’t magic up the sloop as well, and this was concurred with enthusiastically by Bengo. Ransey agreed that they had often found the sloop to be the safest way to travel around in the unknown.

Bardin waited until Julian and Ransey had gone to dig out a new loo together, and then made a furtive bee-line for Crowley’s tent.

“If you could do it”, Bardin concluded “I-I would repay you in … in any way I could”.

“My dear child!” said Crowley “I may take great pride in being a bad man, but as far as I am aware I have never resorted to getting sex in that way. I’ve never had to! I have too high a regard for the sexual act to want it reduced to a bartering arrangement! Once, when I was a young man, travelling alone in America, I had occasion to have to fall upon the services of some local whores in Texas. It was a dismally cold and businesslike experience. Almost as joyless as the morose fumblings of solitary masturbation! I may want you, my boy, but not in that soulless way”.

“I’m sorry”, said Bardin “I-I just wanted to do it for the others. We haven’t seen the sloop in two months now. It would make Bengo so happy. I guess I can never stop being a clown. I-I just want to bring delight to people. Please take no offence at what I’ve said”.

Bardin shuffled out of the tent before Crowley could reply.

In his heart of hearts though Bardin nurtured a hope that Crowley might be able to achieve such a monumental feat. He went to bed hoping it, woke up in the night hoping it, and when he finally woke up properly in the morning he realised he was almost suffering from heart-strain from wanting it.

The others had already got up and left the tent, and he could he hear a babble of their voices in the distance. Something about it alerted him that he might have got his wish, but he suppressed the feeling, not wanting to kill it by believing in it too soon.

“Bardy! Bardy!” Bengo shouted.

It reminded Bardin of so many times when they were children, when Bengo would come hurtling towards their dressing-room, excited about something or other.

“W-what is it?” said Bardin, standing in the middle of the tent.

Bengo was muddy from where he had scrambled on all fours back up the river-bank.

“The sloop’s appeared!” Bengo exclaimed “And it’s real, it’s not a hallucination”.

“How do they know it’s real?” said Bardin.

“Because we’ve been on it!” said Bengo “It’s all a bit dusty. Adam thinks Hegley and Clarissa may have had to abandon it. Well actually we know they did”.

“You’re gibbering, I can’t keep up”, said Bardin.

“O.K”, Bengo took a deep breath and then went on “Adam’s found a note in the galley from them. They said if we ever get to read it they’ve had to get away to some caves Hegley knows about in the hills. They’ll be safe there, he said. You see, the Tall Thing has demolished the town. Oh Kieran’s gonna be so upset about that! Anyway, Hegley said that when our animals all suddenly disappeared they decided to get out …”

“So they’ve only gone very recently?” said Bardin “Yet you said the sloop was dusty”.

“Perhaps they just don’t like housework”, Bengo shrugged “As long as they’re safe, what does it matter? He finished by saying that they hope to see us again when things are better. Oh Bardy, you won’t believe what it’s like to be back on the boat again! Hillyard’s in the boiler-room now, almost in tears”.

“Why?” said Bardin “Is it broken?”

“No, you loon!” Bengo laughed “He’s so happy that’s why! And Thetis has never been on the sloop before, so Lonts is showing her all over it”.

“Bengo, I have a confession to make”, said Bardin “I asked Crowley to do this … and … I offered him my services if he would. But he turned me down”.

“Serves you right too!” said Bengo “It only goes to prove you’re an even bigger art than me! I shall have to remember all this next time you’re incandescent with rage with me about something”.

“Incandescent?” said Bardin “Where the hell did you pick up a word like that?”

“Adam I expect”, said Bengo “He uses a lot of words like that. Ooh! This really is that word Adam used when we first came here. It’s Wonderland isn’t it!”

“In my own time there were plenty of spiritual communes around”, said Crowley, sitting with Julian up on the forward deck, once the boat was underway along the murky river “They were very much the thing to do at one time”.

“There were plenty in my time too”, said Julian “It was a case of everybody needing to belong somewhere”.

“Quite so”, said Crowley “People wanting to be led by the hand and have someone else point out the profound truths for them. They rarely worked. So many ‘spiritual guru’s’ may have started out with the best of intentions, but all too soon showed feet of clay. They became corrupted by adulation and greed. My point is that with Kieran that hasn’t happened, and that I find quite extraordinary”.

“He hasn’t a corruptible bone in his body”, said Julian “In fact, I have never met anyone with quite such an inability to be corrupted! And before you ask, even though I have known him intimately all this time, I still don’t know quite what makes him tick”.

“I have to keep pinching myself”, said Adam, talking to Hillyard down in the galley “I’ve literally been doing that in fact! I just can’t believe we’re all back on the boat. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be a dream”.

“Seems pretty real to me”, said Hillyard, stirring his tea “Even down to Joby grumbling”.

“What about, for heaven’s sake?” said Adam “That boy never ceases to amaze me. He must have come out of the womb grumbling!”

“About having nearly twice as many people to cook for”, said Hillyard “I said to him, I said anytime you want to swap jobs you know, I’m up for it. And do you know what he said? The cheeky bastard! He said if you was to work in the galley there’d be a mass stampede with everyone rushing to get in the skiff to get away!”

“Oh sorry Hilly, but you’ve got to admit that was awfully funny!” Adam laughed.

Hillyard grunted and adjusted his crotch.

“Watch out”, he said, looking towards the doorway “We’re being haunted!”

Codlik was the only one of them, at the moment, who had gone back to wearing his monk’s habit. He did indeed look like a particularly gloomy spectre. Hillyard made an excuse that he needed to go back to the boiler room and check up on Farnol, and left without further delay. Adam was irritated by Codlik breaking up their little chat, and took few pains to conceal it.

“He still won’t speak to me properly”, said Codlik, referring to Hillyard.

“I expect it will be some considerable time before he does”, said Adam “If ever! Hillyard is one of the most easy-going men one could ever hope to meet, but in all the years that I’ve known him I don’t think I’ve ever known him detest someone quite as much as he detests you!”

Codlik was shocked by this blunt speaking. Over the previous two months Adam had declared a sort of armed truce with him, but now, (for the time being at any rate), that they were out of immediate danger he was letting his deep-rooted antagonism show.

“There are certain things I want to know from you, Codlik”, said Adam “Firstly, let’s talk about that time you wanted Patsy put on trial for heresy and witchcraft. I take it you would have organised a big show-trial, the courtroom drama of the century. And then what would have happened after he would undoubtedly have been found guilty, hm? Public burning in the centre of Krindei or Aspiriola perhaps? Answer me that one please, I need to know”.

“I-I …” Codlik swallowed hard “The truth is I hadn’t actually got that far in my planning”.

“You pathetic chinless wonder of a man!” Adam shouted “I don’t think I have ever in my life met someone as snivelling and incompetent as you, or who has created quite so much harm! What in God’s name possesses you to do the things you do?! What goes on behind that smug, self-righteous little ferret face of yours?! Do you even know yourself?!”

“Adam!” Bardin yelled from the doorway.

Adam realised he had unwittingly picked up a carving-knife and was holding it out at Codlik as though about to plunge it into his heart.

“My God, I must have had a brainstorm!” said Adam, once alone with Bardin in the food-hold a few minutes later “I haven’t lost it quite like that in years! Jesus!”

“It’s alright”, said Bardin, stroking his arm “It’s only to be expected after all the trouble he’s caused us”.

“Lo-Lo’s going to be so disappointed in me”, said Adam.

“I doubt it”, said Bardin “I overheard him say to Joby recently that he couldn’t understand why we didn’t bump Codlik off!”

“Good heavens”, said Adam “My lawless little Cossack! What did Joby say back?”

“He said he wanted Codlik alive so that he could be made to suffer for a long time to come”, said Bardin “He said killing him would only put him out of his misery. Joby said he wanted him tormented week-in week-out for centuries to come if necessary. No amount of tormenting would be enough apparently”.

“What a sadistic brood we are!” said Adam “No wonder that loopy Frenchman feels at home with us!”

Later that day Bardin supervised the setting up of camp in the hold for the non-Indigo-ite passengers. Whilst he was absorbed in blowing his whistle and pointing as to where the bed-rolls should all go, Rumble went along to the cabin where Bengo was alone, lying curled up on his side on the communal bed. Rumble crept up to him and swiped him on the bottom. Bengo looked very disgruntled by this.

“If it had been anybody else you’d have been all simpering”, said Rumble “And looking cute and winsome!”

“Bollocks!” said Bengo.

“What’s the matter with you?” said Bardin, coming into the room.

“He just keeps teasing me all the time”, said Bengo.

“Don’t be stupid”, said Bardin “That’s what you’re there for!”

Lonts burst into the room, as though he was running into the saloon bar in a western to alert everybody that the “injuns” were coming.

“You’ll never guess what’s happened!” he cried “Codlik’s disappeared!”

“What?” said Bardin “How?”

“He must have gone ashore”, said Kieran, following Lonts into the room “Whilst we still had the gang-plank down”.

“Oh God!” said Bardin.

“At least he didn’t make off with the skiff”, said Kieran, who resolutely refused in any way to entertain a single moment of qualm about Codlik’s movements.

“I suppose we’d better organise a search-party”, Bardin sighed.

“Why?” Bengo leapt out of bed “Why do we have to go and look for him? We’ve been wanting that bastard to disappear for years, and now that he finally has you want to go looking for him!”

“I don’t WANT to go looking for him”, Bardin protested.

“Then leave him where he is!” said Bengo.

“He’ll turn up again anyway”, said Rumble “His sort always do, they’re like wood-lice”.

“I can’t believe you’ve lost your senses like this, Bardy”, Bengo went on “And you call me a stupid clown!”

“I was just trying to be civilised that’s all”, said Bardin.

Bengo threw a pillow at him, which hit Bardin on the side of the head.

“Sleep on it”, said Kieran to Bardin “A few hours in the misty wilderness might do Codlik some good. Leave it til morning, and then decide what to do”.

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