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By Sarah Hapgood

Bardin recognised it as a mournful piece of flute music, which he recalled from his childhood in the Village of Stairs, where it was sometimes played in the streets when someone died.

He was hearing it now in the middle of the night. He sat up awkwardly in bed and strained his ears to hear it in the far distance. It seemed to be coming from the shore.

“Bardy, what are you doing?” said Bengo, finding his friend perched, as though for sudden flight, on the edge of the bed.

“Can’t you hear it?” said Bardin.

“Hear what?” said Bengo.

It was true that now that he tried to concentrate on the music fully, Bardin found he couldn’t really hear it. All the noises he could hear were composed of the sounds of 24 people, and an assortment of animals, at rest on a boat.

“You’re not going after Codlik!” said Bengo, and he clouted Bardin in the face.

Bardin gave a cry of indignation, which effectively woke up everybody else in the room, and which led to the clowns being separated for the rest of the night.

“Look what he did!” said Bardin, peering at his face in the shaving-mirror. He was sporting a bruise on his right cheekbone from where Bengo had punched him in the night “As if I’m not ugly enough to start with! He’d better not try it again that’s all I can say!”

“He won’t”, said Adam “We shall keep him busy in the galley. Are you ready to accompany the shore-party now? Your public awaits him!”

Bardin grabbed his cap and went aloft, where Julian, Kieran, Mieps, Crowley, Rumble, Ransey, and Thetis were preparing to take the skiff ashore to look for Codlik. Thetis had abandoned the ubiquitous handbag. She and Mieps had put their habits back on, and Thetis concealed her pistol under her surplice.

“Let’s just hope the silly sod hasn’t gone far”, said Joby, who wasn’t at all happy about everyone putting themselves out like this for Codlik’s sake.

Codlik had in fact spent the night going round in circles. He hadn’t anticipated quite how difficult it was going to be trying to move in anything like a coherent fashion in this endless murky gloom. In the end he had given up. He made a bed out of twigs and leaves, and vowed that when he had had some sleep he would try and make his way back to the river.

After a few hours he had woken up to find that the mist in his immediate area had shifted slightly, and exposed the crumbling stone ruins of a very old building in his vicinity. A flight of broken stone steps led to a pillared walkway. The place looked like it had been deserted for centuries, and yet he had the thoroughly unnerving feeling that he was being watched.

When he heard the search-party from the boat calling for him in the distance, he almost wept with relief. He opened his mouth to shout back, but no sound came out. It was like something out of a bad dream. In desperation he picked up a large rock that was lying nearby and chucked it at the steps to make a loud noise to alert them.

“His loss of speech was only temporary, I’m sorry to say!” said Kieran, talking to Adam back on the forward deck.

“What was that building do you think?” said Adam.

“Well it might help if we had any idea where we were!” said Kieran.

“Mieps seemed thoroughly spooked when he told me about it”, said Adam “He seemed to think there was something there”.

“The place isn’t completely dead that’s for sure”, said Kieran “Codlik’s in a state. Could you go and speak to him for me?”

“Me?” Adam exclaimed “I don’t think that’s a good idea at all, Patsy! The last time he and I had cosy little chat together, I got so damn mad I pulled a knife on him! Anyway, I thought that was supposed to be your job. You’re the father-confessor around here”.

“Yeah but I’m bored shitless with Codlik’s problems!” said Kieran.

“And you think I’m not?!” said Adam.

“I just intended to keep walking and walking”, said Codlik “Until I dropped I suppose”.

“Oh yes, what a fine dramatic gesture that would have made!” said Adam, who was leaning on the bulwark next to him “You took no supplies with you, and there seems to be very little natural food-source around here, unless you eat leaves, so in effect youw ould have starved yourself to death, which is a pretty horrific way to die, don’t you think?”

“I-I hadn’t …” Codlik stammered.

“You didn’t think that far ahead”, said Adam “You hadn’t thought it through. That effectively seems to be the story of your life, Codlik! It’s no use, I can’t deal with you, it’s hopeless. I’m going back down to the galley”.

Down there Kieran and Joby were having a furtive conversation in the corner. Bengo was trying to mix up the dough for bread.

“You’ve done this enough times by now, Bengo”, said Adam, looking at the glutinous mess in the bowl “You should know how much water to put in …”

“I can’t help it”, Bengo wailed, rubbing his eye with one sticky hand and leaving a glob of the wet dough on his face “I can’t concentrate …”

“Oh for goodness sake go and speak to Bardin”, said Adam “I mean it, Bengo. You won’t be any use around here until you have!”

“Do as you’re bleedin’ told!” said Joby.

Bengo slunk off, looking wretched. Adam began to try and salvage the dough.

“Joby, perhaps you could go down and talk to Hillyard”, he said.

“Eh?” said Joby “What for?”

“He won’t like it, but he needs to ease up on Codlik”, said Adam “We are stuck with bloody man, and for his own peace of mind Hillyard needs to let go of some of his own animosity towards him”.

“Yeah”, said Joby “But why have I gotta go and tell him what he doesn’t want to hear?”

“Because he’s got a particular soft spot for you”, said Kieran.

“I dunno if I can, mate”, said Hillyard, down in his lair of the boiler room.

“Look, what’s the bloody problem?” said Joby “You hardly ever see him, except at meal-times, and then you can lose him in the crowd! I mean, it’s not as if he ever comes down here and hassles you is it?”

“Not bloody likely!” said Hillyard “Probably afraid he’ll catch something if he does! This is peasant-land down here isn’t it! Anyway, I suppose Id o need to talk to him sometime. I need to find out what he did with my money”.

“Yeah, like you could really do with it at the moment!” said Joby “What with all this shopping we can do round here!”

“Have you quite finished?” said Hillyard.

“For the time being”, said Joby.

He went up to the long corridor in the main part of the boat, where Bengo and Bardin were being held hostage in a corner by Randolph, who, sitting on his haunches, had effectively blocked their path.

Bardin had been lecturing Bengo about the criminality of wasting food when they were in the middle of nowhere, until Bengo had broken into noisy sobs, only stopped in full torrent by Randolph’s forbidding appearance on the scene.

“Joby, could you find Lonts?” said Bardin “And get him to sort of move the dog away”.

“It’s alright”, said Joby “Just walk past him. He won’t go for your jugular”.

“Are you sure about that?” said Bardin.

“Hang on a minute”, said Joby, and he hollered for Lonts “LONTS!”

“You two are being really silly”, said Lonts, when he emerged from the cabin and saw what was happening “Randolph knows you are his friends. He understands the word friends. Come along, Randolph”.

Uncle Aleister was having a story-telling session in the hold that evening, relating to some of the others the legendary tale of ‘The Monkey’s Paw’. Joby, who already knew the story, and who also thought the idea of Aleister Crowley as a genial old story-teller was a bit much, went out to make some tea.

The evening seemed darker than usual, as though the relentless murk in the area was getting shop-worn and needed a good wash. The light in the long corridor was very dim, and he got seriously spooked when he saw a black shape at the far end.

His eyes gradually became accustomed to the gloom though, and he could make out a female form. It was Thetis, and she seemed rooted to the spot.

“Are you alright?” said Joby, approaching her.

“I’m o.k”, said Thetis “You must have just alarmed me a bit when you came out of the hold like that. I’m afraid of the dark you see”.

“You?” said Joby “I thought you weren’t afraid of anything! I was just about to make some tea, would you like one?”

“Is Aleister still talking?” said Thetis.

“Yeah, too true!” said Joby “He’s got everybody’s attention hasn’t he, so he’ll spin it out for all it’s worth!”

“He does like an audience”, Thetis smiled.

Her face instantly switched to a frown.

“What was that noise in the distance” she asked “It sounded like thunder”.

“God knows!” said Joby “Your hands are icy-cold. Come into the galley”.

When they got there Joby opened up the front of the stove and seated Thetis next to it. He then proceeded to make some tea.

“Are you like Kieran?” he said “I mean, do you get sort of psychic flashes?”

“Well particularly at the moment”, said Thetis “I’m menstruating”.

“Blimey, that can’t be easy in the present circumstances!” said Joby “How are you coping?”

“I’ve got a couple of rags which I circulate between washing them”, said Thetis “It’s not ideal, but I have no choice”.

“Mieps could help you if you like”, said Joby “He used to look after Tamaz at times like that”.

The distant rumbling noise echoed again.

“That could be anything”, said Joby “We don’t even know where we are, or what the sky’s like, if there is a sky! Hey c’mon, whatever it is, it’s only a noise. My old gran used to say when I was a kid, that the thunder was really the bloke upstairs moving his furniture about”.

Kieran drifted into the room, initially to claim some tea, but he was dismayed to see Thetis looking so tense. He had had a wild hope that only he might be able to hear the “thunder”.

“What is it, Kieran?” said Thetis “I know you know, please tell me”.

“I think it’s Angel”, said Kieran “He’s trying to find us”.

Joby fainted.

Kieran and Thetis rushed to his aid. Kieran sat him up and stuck his head between his knees. Thetis rooted around in Finia’s medicine chest for a bottle of smelling salts. Joby was brought round, and when he was back fully conscious he looked thoroughly embarrassed by his predicament.

“What’s the matter with him?” said Hillyard, coming into the room with his hands in his pockets.

“He fainted”, said Kieran.

“The great wuzzie!” said Hillyard “Too much soft living that’s his trouble! He should come and work with me down below, that’d soon knock him back into shape!”

“Bog off, Hillyard!” said Joby.

“Come on, I’ll put you to bed”, said Kieran “Hillyard, could you keep an eye on Thetis? She’s feeling a wee bit under the weather”.

“What’s wrong?” said Hillyard, when the others had gone, and he was making tea for Thetis.

“Women’s problems”, said Thetis “It’ll pass”.

The rumbling noise occurred again.

“Kieran says that’s the Devil looking for us”, said Thetis.

“Here have some of this”, said Hillyard, pouring a healthy dose of cooking brandy into the tea.

“I wish you’d go a bit easier on Thetis”, said Joby, when he and Kieran were alone in bed, drinking non-cooking brandy “So what if she’s with Crowley and has got up to things with him?”

“She’s got up to some pretty dodgy things with him”, said Kieran.

“Kiel, we have all done pretty dodgy things in the past!” said Joby “Even you! Even Codlik. Well particularly Codlik! Look, there aren’t many women who would put up with what she has these past couple of months. And no, before you start, I’m not having an affair with her! When do I ever get the chance to have sex with anyone, not even with meself! You have no idea who much work there is cooking for 24 people everyday, with limited resources”.

“The food or the people?” said Kieran.

“And on the very rare occasion you and me get to be alone together”, Joby continued “What do you do? Pick a bleedin’ fight!”

“Like hell I have!” said Kieran “I’ve been nursing you as though you were a newborn babe!”

“AND picking a fight!” said Joby “Typical bloody Irishman, you’ll pick a fight out of thin air!”

Kieran clambered out of bed.

“Now where are you going?” said Joby.

The noise rumbled again in the distance.

“Back into bed!” said Kieran, climbing back in.

“Anyway, for your information”, he said “It was me who asked Hillyard to look after her just now, wasn’t it?”

“I spose so”, Joby mumbled.

“Your admiration underwhelms me!” said Kieran.

“Good!” said Joby.

Adam led Thetis into the room, as though he was leading a nervous horse towards the starting-stalls at a racecourse.

“Thetis will be sleeping in with us tonight”, he said.

“What’s she done to deserve that punishment?” said Joby.

“She’s not feeling well”, said Adam “And that lot in the hold are absolutely useless”.

“Bound to be”, said Joby “Josh is one of ‘em!”

“Why isn’t Aleister looking after you?” Kieran asked Thetis.

“Aleister despises weakness of any sort”, said Thetis.

“He should understand though, he’s got enough himself!” said Kieran.

“Is there any of this brandy left?” said Adam, taking the bottle from them.

“Yeah”, said Joby “Some! I told you didn’t I? Ages back. I said Crowley was just an overgrown spoilt kid”.

“I think it was Julian who said it wasn’t it?” said Adam.

“I said it as well!” said Joby.

Up on the forward deck Bardin, Tamaz and Rumble heard a woman screaming in the very far distance.

“You must ignore it”, said Tamaz “It’s a trick, to get us to go ashore”.

“How can you be certain of that?” said Bardin.

“Because it’s an old Ghoomer trick”, Tamaz sighed “The sound of a woman screaming would disturb most people, so they used it to snare humans that way”.

“Let’s go down below”, said Rumble “We might not be able to hear it there”.

As he descended the galley steps, Bardin saw Bengo and Toppy looking up at them, Toppy looking uncannily neat as usual in his spotless pinny.

“You are making cocoa aren’t you?” said Bardin “Rumble, make sure the hatch is closed”.

“I am!” said Rumble.

“Did you know Thetis is sleeping in with us tonight?” said Toppy.

“So?” said Bardin.

“Well she’s a woman”, said Toppy.

The clowns drew an exaggerated sharp intake of breath.

“You’ve been an old woman for years”, said Rumble “And we’ve never complained! Anyway, we’re used to that with Tamaz, and Bardin’s going a bit both ways if you ask me!”

He prodded Bardin’s nipples and his prick.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Bardin snapped.

“Wearing a pink frilly nightie might make you go the way of Mieps and Tamaz”, Rumble joked.

“Fool!” said Tamaz.

“Am I not allowed to have any secrets around here?” said Bardin.

“Oh come off it, Bardy”, said Bengo “Everybody knows about the pink frilly nightie, even Codlik knows about it! And you’ve kept quite enough secrets in your life, don’t you think?”

“Get on with making the cocoa!” Bardin said, before slamming his way into the corridor.

“You almost had him lost for words there”, said Rumble to Bengo.

“It’s not as hard as you think”, said Bengo “I’ve managed it many times over the years!”

Hillyard heard Stombal’s voice in the night, calling from the shore. Joby, who had been sleeping next to him, woke up and urgently told him to ignore it.

“Whoever is doing this is trying the wrong tactic”, said Hillyard, the next day, when Joby went down to the hold to see how he was “I found it more annoying than anything else. I’m not interested in Stombal returning. All that was from another lifetime”.

“You’re not working alone down here today, are you?” said Joby.

“No, Farnol’s with me”, said Hillyard “He’s just nipped out to use the heads”.

“Could you give me a massage later?” said Joby.

“Sure”, said Hillyard “Back playing up is it?”

“Tension probably”, said Joby.

“Have you been pinching my cigars, Crowley?” said Julian, who had practically turned his desk inside out, looking for more tobacco.

“I thought your little community was run on the most exalted socialistic principles”, said Crowley “The concept of sharing rated the highest of all”.

“I wish you’d stick to plain English”, said Julian, desperately securing a dog-end and lighting it up “Even if we did abide by such rules they certainly wouldn’t apply to my cigars!”

“I do so admire the bullet-proof qualities of the English aristocracy”, said Crowley “But you are an intrinsically lazy man, Julian”.

“You can bloody talk!” said Julian “You never held down a job in your life!”

“Like all aristocrats you fear great intellect”, said Crowley “Which is why you always insult me”.

“I always insult Piers as well”, said Julian “And it’s certainly not because I’m in awe of his great intellect! Look, I’m very appreciative of what you’ve done for us…”

“Oh tush!” said Crowley “Think nothing of it. As I was sayin gyou have a good mind, blessed by a fine education …”

“That’s a matter of opinion”, Julian mumbled.

Adam came in with Julian’s morning coffee.

“I was just remarking”, said Crowley to Adam “That your old school-chum here has a mind like an iceberg”.

“Highly dangerous to shipping?” said Adam.

“Two-thirds kept hidden from view”, said Crowley “If he wasn’t lazy, he could have used it to phenomenal effect”.

“Like you did yours you mean?” said Adam “I’m all for pushing boundaries, Aleister, but your strenuous efforts to push the envelope ultimately did you no favours did they?”

“Drugs, my dear fellow”, said Crowley “They ensnare you and make you feel like a king, an emperor, a god! And only when it’s too late do you realise instead that they have turned you into a grovelling slave with no self-respect”.

“Alcohol has much the same effect”, said Adam.

“I sincerely hope this isn’t going to turn into a list of all our past vices and excesses”, said Julian, flicking open his log-book “Some of us have work to do”.

“I shall ignore that outrageous remark!” said Adam “Haven’t you got things to do as well, Aleister? Don’t you usually spend your mornings balling Madame de Sade?!”

“You’ve got a good body you know”, said Hillyard.

“I said I didn’t want anything fruity!” said Joby, who was lying in the cabin, being massaged by Hillyard.

“I’m just making an objective remark!” said Hillyard, kneading the backs of Joby’s legs “You have got a good body. You’re slim but not too skinny, like Kieran. He hasn’t got an arse”.

“I know”, said Joby “It was one of the first things I noticed about him! I thought he may be good-looking but the backs of his trousers look terrible on him. Not that any of the women cared. All they went on about was his eyes and his hair, and his ‘really sexy Irish accent’”.

“He has got a sexy voice”, said Hillyard “I could listen to it all night”.

“Sometimes I have!” said Joby “Or so it feels like anyway!”

Kieran came in, carrying his Bible, which he had been reading in the heads.

“You must know that off by heart by now”, said Joby “Anyway, we all know he dies in the end!”

Kieran lightly thumped Joby on the head with it.

“I’ve come to keep an eye on you both”, said Kieran “Make sure there’s no mischief”.

“The way my back’s felt today I’d need a hoist and pulley system to have sex!” said Joby.

“Sade could probably help you there”, said Kieran “I think he came up with a gadget like that in one of his stories”.

“The day I need help from him put a bullet through my head!” said Joby.

“That I won’t!” said Kieran.

“Your back is all knobby with tension”, said Hillyard to Joby.

“What are you tense about?” said Kieran.

“You’re unreal you are!” said Joby “What do you mean, what am I all tense about?! Being on this endless bloody river for a start! We never seem to get anywhere! What if we start running out of fuel?”

“Do what we did on the old Indigo”, said Hillyard “Start chopping up the doors”.

Adam came in, looking vexed. Joby thought he was getting at him for having time off.

“Give us a chance!” he said “I’ll be back with you in a minute”.

“It’s not you”, said Adam “I was 5 years in prison, I thought I knew everything that men could stoop to for the sake of a quick thrill, but this is something else”.

“What are you on about?” said Hillyard.

“Monsieur de Sade has managed to get hold of a pair of Thetis’s undergarments, unwashed”, said Adam “And he’s sort of … well he keeps them in his pocket and occasionally takes them out to bury his face in them!”

“Why doesn’t he borrow his wife’s?” said Joby.

“She doesn’t wear any apparently”, said Adam.

“The saucy old cow!” said Joby.

“I don’t think you should fret about this, Adam”, said Kieran “At least he’s not causing any harm to anybody”.

“I’m beginning to think we’re a boat-load of perverts sailing through limbo!” said Adam.

“That’s exactly what we are!” said Joby.

Monsieur de Sade’s latest kinkiness was also the current gossip in the galley, where the clowns were debating it.

“Everybody has their little weirdnesses”, said Rumble “Look at Bardin with his pink nightie”.

“Ah but he looks a stunner in that don’t he?” said Farnol “I don’t know why he doesn’t go the whole hog like, and borrow Thetis’s handbag to go with it! That, plus his cap and whistle, well he’d certainly look distinctive wouldn’t he?!”

“What the well-dressed clown is wearing this season!” said Rumble.

Bengo thought this was all too funny for words, and he lay on the floor and laughed helplessly.

“Bengo, get up and stop making a spectacle of yourself”, Bardin snapped.

“I’m a clown”, said Bengo “I’m supposed to make a spectacle of myself!”

There was a loud hissing noise and an indignant whack of Mieps’s stick against the door of the hold. He came into the galley adjusting his clothing.

“Have you been messing around with Codlik?” said Bengo, getting to his feet and looking very cross.

“No I haven’t, you little squirt!” said Mieps.

“Stop it, both of you!” said Bardin “What’s been going on, Mieps?”

“Piers”, said Mieps “He’s always trying to get a grope at me”.

“Hey, everybody!” Lonts thundered down the galley steps “Everybody come quick! Now!”

“What’s happened?” said Bardin.

“The mist is clearing”, Lonts panted, breathless with excitement “And we’ve come out of the river, and you’ll never guess where we are!”

“Magnolia Cove?” said Bardin, trying quickly to work out in his head how this could have happened.

“No!” said Lonts “We’re at that place in the mountains, the one where we stayed the night, where we thought it was Mr Crowley’s house, and where the bridge blew up. You must remember it!”

“Y-yes, of course I do!” Bardin jabbered “How can we be there though? How?”

“There’s a cave at the bottom of the rock on which it stands”, said Ransey, in a rather more sedate fashion “That might be how they got water and other supplies up to the house”.

“We’re only a few days journey from Zilligot Bay!” said Bengo, practically clapping his hands.

“B-but I still don’t understand how we got here”, said Bardin “Are you sure it’s not some kind of mirage?”

“Oh it’s no good, Ransey”, said Lonts “He won’t believe it until he sees it for himself. Come along, Bardin”.

He grabbed Bardin’s hand and roughly pulled him up the galley steps.

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