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By Sarah Hapgood

Breakfast the following morning was such a late and leisurely affair that it ran into lunch. The absence of any kind of daylight penetrating the thick, greenish fog made normal concepts of time irrelevant on the galleon. This “ship in a bottle” atmosphere had also made them recognise their own immortality at last. So far they had largely been inclined to take it for granted.

“That’s why it would b so marvellous to find somewhere that we could hole up in for a few decades”, said Adam.

“We will find it”, said Bardin, emphatically “And that’s why I’m taking the skiff out tomorrow”.

“You damn well aren’t”, said Julian, from the other end of the table.

“I damn well am”, said Bardin, looking furious.

“If you take the skiff out tomorrow”, said Julian “I think it’s quite possible you won’t ever be seen again. You’ll be sailing round out there for all eternity. My suggestion is that we wait a couple of days, and then CAREFULLY move the whole galleon”.

Bardin looked as if he was about to protest, but Adam got in first.

“I feel as if I’m sitting at a tennis-match here”, he said “Turning my head first one way and then another. You two can slug this out between you after breakfast”.

“You mentioned food”, said Lonts.

“So?” said Joby.

“If we’re immortal”, said Lonts, who seemed to be completely disregarding the fact that for several years he already had been “Do we really need to carry on eating?”

“Well I think it would be quite uncomfortable for us if we didn’t, Lo-Lo“, said Adam “We can still feel hunger, even if we can’t actually die from it, and in any case, why deprive ourselves of one of life’s great pleasures?”

“You can do this as much as you like but …”, Bardin began, and then screamed “OW!”

“You were saying?” said Julian, giving Bardin three more hefty whacks on his bottom with the cane.

Bardin, bent over the desk in Julian’s cabin, with his trousers round his ankles, was now too breathless to speak.

“You are not going anywhere in that damn skiff”, said Julian, pausing and pressing the point of the cane onto the top of Bardin’s backside “If the fog hasn’t lifted by tomorrow, then we all carefully steer the galleon out, and don’t give me any of your tiresome speeches about how you’re the Captain!”

He whacked Bardin several more times, and only paused when he thought Bardin was literally “whacked out”, and so had been brought successfully to heel.

“By the time I’ve finished with you”, said Julian, now helping Bardin to straighten up “You won’t be even be able to SIT in the damn skiff, let alone take it anywhere!”

A triumphant smile appeared on Bardin’s face.

“In fact”, he said, re-fastening his trousers “I had already made up my mind last night to go along with your plan”.

“So why give me all that barracking at the breakfast table?” said Julian, and then slowly recognition dawned “Have you been taking lessons off Kieran?”

“I’ve won”, Bardin smirked “I may have changed the plans, but I’m still doing what I want, and you may have whipped my arse, but I wanted you to do that. You should know me by now”.

Julian spun Bardin round to face the door, and then dealt him a hefty slap on the backside to spur him on his way.

Hoowie thought Bardin was getting far too much attention from Julian, and had got himself into a bit of a jealous grot about it.

“Oh cheer up”, said Bengo, having been forced to listen to him at the foot of the galley steps “Just think of all the whackings he’s getting, that should give you some satisfaction”.

He deliberately provoked Julian into whacking him”, said Hoowie.

“Well we all do that sometimes!” said Bengo “Another of life’s little pleasures”.

Bardin sashayed into view from the gloom of the long corridor.

“You’re still moving alright then?” said Hoowie.

“Some of us can take it”, said Bardin, in a haughty and diva-ish way.

This was too much for Hoowie, who (understandably) prided himself on his whipping boy resilience. He drew himself up as though about to deliver a clout round Bardin’s ear.

“Bardin”, said Bengo, firmly “I think I’d better take you into our cabin. Your arse must need sorting out by now”.

He escorted Bardin into the room, and then they both stopped and shared a cry of alarm. The bedspread on their bunk had been ripped in several places. They weren’t frenzied rips, but cold, neat, precise ones.

“Who would do this?” said Bengo.

“None of our lot”, said Bardin, gravely “Not even Hoowie or Tamaz at their most petulant would do this”.

Adam and Hoowie had heard them cry out, and came into the room.

“It wasn’t me”, said Hoowie, immediately “I haven’t been in here. Bengo can vouch for me”.

“I know it wasn’t you”, Bardin snapped.

“They’re only little rips”, said Adam, as though the state of the bedspread was all that mattered “I’m sure Finia can …”

“Never mind that!” said Bardin “The important fact is that there’s someone, SOME THING, on this ship that’s capable of doing a mean, spiteful thing like that“.

“Why attack our bed though?” said Bengo “I don’t understand”.

“It must have happened this morning”, said Adam “Either whilst we were at breakfast, or whilst you were talking to Hoowie outside the door. I think it’s safe to say none of us did it, and when would any of us have had the opportunity anyway? We were all together at breakfast, nobody left the room, and you two were standing right outside all the rest of the time”.

“Oh God”, said Bengo “It gives me the creeps”.

Adam pulled the bedspread off the bunk and bundled it up.

“You two can’t sleep in here tonight”, he said.

“But”, Bardin began to protest.

“Bardin, don’t argue”, said Adam “Put what you need in your rucksacks and move into the big saloon with us”.

“The same goes for Kieran, Joby, Julian and Hoowie then”, said Bardin “Their cabin’s could get attacked just the same as ours”.

“Safety in numbers”, said Adam.

“We seem to have been on this kick before”, said Bengo.

“I think it is very important”, said Bardin, standing in the middle of all the extra baggage that had now accumulated in the middle of the floor of the big saloon “That no one is ever alone in any part of this ship, at any time”.

“Yeah, like we really need telling that!” said Joby, adding his rucksack to the pile.

“I do not need any smart-mouthing either”, said Bardin.

“Why not?” said Hillyard, who (Adam was pleased to see) had regained his good spirits in the face of this new crisis “You could say you’ve acquired a smart mouth to match your smart arse!”

Joby laughed. Bardin looked stony-faced.

“Take a joke, old son”, Hillyard chuckled.

“You are an endless source of amusement to us, Bardin”, said Adam, in what he hoped was a reassuring voice

“Well I’m pleased that this old trooper hasn’t lost the power to entertain”, said Bardin, with venomous sarcasm.

Bengo mimed pushing an invisible custard pie into Bardin’s face.

“And I certainly don’t need any of that!” said Bardin “Look, serious things are happening on this ship. Things we urgently need to have serious discussions about”.

“Oh God, no, not a meeting”, Bengo groaned.

“And I don’t want it degenerating into a lot of jokes about my arse!” said Bardin.

Julian and Hoowie came into the room. Julian looked so much like he was taking the dog for a walk that even Bardin allowed himself the luxury of a smile.

“Would this be a good time to do a blessing?” Kieran asked.

“No it bloody well wouldn’t!” said Joby “Probably end up making things worse!”

Bardin spent a restless night in the communal bed, and was glad when, at around 5:30, the others all began to get up. As he got dressed he noticed through the window that the strange greenish light had gone from the fog, but otherwise they were still the ship in a bottle.

“Which direction did you say you wanted to go?” said Ransey, who was standing over by the desk with various navigational instruments around him.

“North, why?” said Bardin.

Ransey held out a small compass, which was whirling around in an aimless fashion.

“That’s ridiculous”, said Bardin.

“The clocks and watches are still working”, said Ransey “But this has gone. So has the barometer. We must have been hit by a magnetic storm”.

“I’m going upon deck”, said Bardin, grabbing his duffel-coat.

Ransey followed him.

“The fog does seem to be lifting slightly”, said Rumble, when they joined him up on the main deck.

“Then I’ll guess we’ll just have to see where we are when it clears“, said Bardin.

They were back at the Causeway. It basked beautifully in the dazzling Summer sunshine, and after the dreary, cold atmosphere of the fog, looked more seductive than ever.

“Clearly we’re meant to be back here“, said Rumble.

“We’re not ‘meant’ to be anywhere”, said Bardin, annoyed that his plans had been thrown into chaos.

It was exactly as if they had never left it. The only evidence of the Ship In A Bottle phase was the residue of some weird gelatinous substance, either white or pale blue in colour, which was scattered around the outside of the ship.

“We must have fallen into a vortex”, said Kieran.

“That’s rubbish”, said Bardin, rudely.

Kieran shrugged.

“No I didn’t mean it’s rubbish what you said”, said Bardin “Just that it’s rubbish that it happened”. “The world has always been a strange place, Bardin”, said Kieran.

They dropped anchor at their old resting-place at the end of the causeway, and settled down to relax before Bardin got round to inflicting yet another plan on them.

Adam took Joby and Bengo up on deck to get some sunshine after all the recent claustrophobic gloom.

“You have such lovely hair, Bengo“, said Adam, who was combing out Bengo’s thick, unruly tresses “So luxuriant”.

“It must be down to whipped cream”, said Bengo “I’ve had enough in it over the years!”

“I can’t see custard pies taking on as a popular shampoo somehow!” Adam laughed.

“Shame”, said Bengo “It would be very effective”.

Joby was lying on the deck with his arm over his face, but he was being bothered by Bardin constantly marching up and down on the other side of the deck.

“Oh frigging hell”, he said “I do wish he’d relax!”

“Poor Bardy”, said Bengo “I’m afraid he had words with Rumble earlier”.

“Oh lor”, said Adam “Don’t tell me Rumble’s going flakey on us again”.

“Dunno”, said Bengo “But I’ve never seen Bardy so angry with him. Trouble is, it’s always the same with the other clowns. They get it into their brainless heads that me and Bardy are doing better than them, and they start acting all injured”.

“But I don’t understand”, said Adam “What’s brought it on this time?”

“Nothing probably”, said Joby.

“You might be right there”, said Bengo “I think Rumble feels as though he should be consulted more. That all through the recent crisis it was Bardy and Julian who made all the decisions”.

“They always do anyway!” said Joby.

“Except in the galley”, said Adam “That is my domain”.

“In a nutshell”, said Bengo “What it is is that Rumble wants to be moved higher up the bill. He says he was once regarded as deputy captain, but nobody thinks of him that way anymore - diddums - and even Hoowie’s regarded as more important than he is ”.

“That’s a new one!” said Joby.

“And then he started attacking us as performers”, said Bengo “Old stuff. Said we weren’t true, hard-grit clowns”.

“That’s outrageous”, said Adam “What on earth has got into him?”

“I don’t care”, said Bengo “There’s one thin nobody can get me on, and that’s being a clown. I’ve really earned my spurs as a clown over the years”.

“I should say so”, said Adam.

“And none of that lot could have put up with being Bardy’s sidekick, that’s for sure”, said Bengo.

“Oh will you sit down!” Joby shouted across at Bardin “You’re doing my head in. It’s like having a fucking policeman in the background!”

“You can sit on my rolled-up pinny if you prefer, Bardin”, said Adam, when Bardin finally came over to join them.

“Thanks”, Bardin grunted.

“I’ve just been telling them …” Bengo began, but Bardin was ahead of him.

“How dare he!” said Bardin “There is not one bit of clowning I haven’t done! I can do ALL the physical stuff, and I’ve done every bit of slapstick you can imagine. I’ve been drenched in water …”

“Set on fire”, Joby muttered, but Bardin was too wound up to care.

“Gunged”, he went on “Had my trousers ripped off, been hit around the head with wet fish, and pied more times than we’ve had hot dinners, and had a pie bottom!”

“So don’t take any notice of him”, said Bengo “You’re always telling me that!”

“And there was more after you’d flounced off”, said Bardin.

“I did not flounce off”, said Bengo “I walked away in a dignified fashion”.

“He said”, said Bardin “He said I didn’t know how to deliver a pie hit. He said I always shoved it too aggressively”.

“You did”, said Bengo “I’m surprised my head didn’t fall off sometimes!”

“That it should be placed gently in the face”, Bardin continued “How dare he! How dare that second-rate street performer tell me …”

“Bardin!” said Bengo, crossly “Anymore of this and I’ll put you across my knee and tan your backside, and I don’t care how sore your botty already is!”

Since emerging from the fog and inadvertently returning to the Causeway, the rule on no one being alone in any part of the ship had been relaxed, although for Bengo this didn’t feel like the case.

After the conversation up on deck he had gone down to his cabin, and was followed in there by a highly-emotional Farnol.

“Bardin had no right to speak to Rumble like that”, said Farnol, who was now quite tearful “He said ‘you know where the exits are’. How could he?”

“Well if it comes to that”, said Bengo, whose turn it now was for some temper-losing “He shouldn’t have spoken to Bardin the way he did! I’m sick of you lot and your pathetic whingeing all the time. None of you ever give a single thought to the strain Bardy’s under. You just take take take, and then STILL keep grumbling! We had our cabin vandalised and yet not one word of support or concern have we had from you rotten bastards!”

Farnol was speechless. He had known Bengo from a very young age, and they had always been the best of chums. It’s true to say there had never been a cross word between them. Both were normally of a too amiable disposition for that.

“I’m sorry”, he said, eventually “Well I got scared. I’m so terrified you see, of Bardin dumping us”.

“What do you think he’s gonna do?” said Bengo “Make you walk the plank?! And don’t EVER criticise Bardin as a clown. He’s forgotten more about clowning than you’ll ever know!”

“But I didn’t criticise him”, said Farnol “I never would. I’ve always been in awe of him. And if Rumble did, it must have been because he panicked. I can’t believe he really meant it”.

Farnol looked so wretched, that Bengo had to grub around in the chest of drawers for a clean handkerchief, which he passed to him.

“Oh for God’s sake”, said Bardin, coming into the room “As soon as my back’s turned, one of you lot sneaks in here. Well I suppose it makes a change from the usual hairy lout!”

“Bardin”, said Farnol “I just wanted to apologise …”

“Oh get out”, Bardin mumbled.

Bengo gently escorted Farnol from the room, in what he hoped was a reassuring manner. When he turned round Bardin was standing there with his arms folded. Bengo went over to him and kissed him on both cheeks.

“What was that for?” said Bardin.

“Because I love you”, said Bengo.

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