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By Sarah Hapgood

Bardin ordered Bengo to go back to work in the galley.

“He won’t let me so much as breathe!” said Bardin “He’s doing my head in. Get him out of my sight!”

“Oh now Bardin, that’s dreadfully unfair”, said Adam “Bengo was terribly traumatised by you nearly being throttled”.

“Can’t think why”, said Joby.

“He was more damn traumatised by it than I was!” said Bardim “I’ve told him the show must go on, but he just went into a sulk. I’m absolutely fine. My voice is just a bit ropey that’s all”.

“Perhaps you should rest it more”, said Joby.

As if to demonstrate his supreme fitness Bardin got to his feet and began to do some very accomplished ballet movements o the deck. Adam watched him, entranced.

“He’s awfully talented”, he said “Isn’t he, Joby?”

“Spose so”, said Joby.

“I am sick of being made to lie around as if I’ve got some terrible, debilitating disease”, said Bardin “Tomorrow I’m going to organise a trip out to the inn. They might as well know we’re back, and yes I will be up to it!”

Bardin had been pretty determined before, but that evening he became even more so. The night was very hot and humid, making sleep difficult, so many of the Indigo-ites sat up on the main deck, idly talking. It was whilst they were doing this that they saw a strange light bobbing through the trees on the shore. At first they thought it was someone carrying a lantern, but the shape seemed more fluid than that.

The next morning Bardin was virtually hustling people out of their beds at daybreak.

“What’s the rush?” said Joby “The inn ent gonna run away you know”.

“This area is strange”, said Bardin.

“It always has been”, said Joby. “No I mean it’s got stranger”, said Bardin, impatiently taking himself up the galley steps in a flurry “Why am I surrounded by dolts and idiots!”

“Oi! Watch it!” Joby shouted up after him “Or I’LL come and throttle you in your sleep next time!”

After this little altercation Joby was surprised that he was invited along on the outing.

“Oh Bardy doesn’t hold grudges”, said Bengo.

“I bet the other clowns don’t think that”, said Joby.

“Except to the other clowns”, said Bengo.

Bardin was soon vindicated, in that the drive through the forest did turn out to be fairly unnerving. There was an unsettling feeling of being watched by a thousand eyes. Inwardly, Bardin began to wonder if it had been such a good idea to drive out to the inn at all.

“It’s the stillness”, said Adam, who had come along with them to do some more negotiating with the landlady “And the silence, apart from us I mean, I can’t hear any birds”.

“We can turn back if you like, Bardin”, said Hillyard, from the driver’s seat of the cart “Just say the word”.

“No I’m curious now”, said Bardin.

“About what?” said Bengo.

“About what’s happened here”, said Bardin “I know this is going to sound silly, but I feels like we’ve been gone for a long time”.

His words turned out to be horribly accurate. The inn was still there, and operating, but even on first appearances it seemed very different. There was no customary big joint of meat roasting in the main fireplace, although this could be put down to the fact that it was a humid, muggy day, but it seemed characteristic of the general desolate, unkempt feel to the place, which was totally at variance to Aimee’s usual brisk efficiency.

They were greeted by a portly young man with a very loud, booming voice, who gave no sign of recognising them.

“Would it be possible to see Aimee?” asked Adam “I did a little business with her recently and …”

“Aimee?” queried the loud young man “You mean Granma? She’s the only one of that name round here”.

Adam rallied from this as best he could. It certainly wasn’t impossible for a woman of Aimee’s age to be a grandmother, but to have a grandson as full-grown as this one was very unlikely.

“Well I mean Aimee the landlady”, he said, awkwardly “She owns this place”.

“She did”, said the man, looking at him dubiously “But she had a stroke about 5 years ago. I’ve been running it since then”.

“That’s simply not possible”, Adam blurted out without thinking “I saw her recently …”

“You can see her now too if you want, but you won’t get much out of her”, said the young man, bluntly “She’s a vegetable. She can’t speak”.

As if to prove that only the sight of Aimee would get it through to Adam, he led him into a back room. The sight that greeted Adam there was a travesty of the robust, vigorous woman in the prime of life Adam had met previously. She was seated n a high-back chair, like a corpse that had been sat up and arranged so. Adam found it hard to see traces of the Aimee he had known in this wizened little husk with the grey hair and the dull, lifeless eyes.

“She can hear us”, said the young man “But I don’t know how much she really understands. I talk to her a lot, I think she still likes to hear what goes on, but it’s like talking to a ghost really, and a silent ghost at that”.

“I simply don’t understand”, said Adam, now almost completely distraught.

“She’s 97 you know”, said the young man, proudly “Ran this place for nigh-on 60 years. She was amazing. A real local legend”.

Adam knew he’d faint if he stayed any longer in this room. He had to get outside, back to the others.

“What was the business you wanted to discuss?” the young man shouted after him, as he fled the building.

The journey home was an even more tense sullen affair than the outward one had been. Adam had had no inclination to do business with Aimee’s grandson, the dirty shabby state of the inn had seen to that. And the implication of all that had happened had practically rendered them all mute.

Back at the galleon once more Bardin summoned everyone to a meeting in the dining-room, and filled in the others on what had happened. Wisely, he had ordered several bottles of brandy to be brought up from the hold.

“The long and the sort of it is”, he said, circling the table with a bottle once more, like a brisk waiter “We have moved 60 years into the future. The only conclusion we can draw from this is that whilst we were in our ship-in-a-bottle phase, we moved into some kind of time distortion. Now, this is unsettling, BUT there is no reason why this shouldn’t be a good thing”.

“Oh Bardin!” said Adam, impatiently “How can you say that?”

“I can say that because it might make our moving around easier”, said Bardin “Give us some anonymity”.

“But we have no idea what’s happened in the world in the past 60 years”, said Hillyard.

“We can soon find out”, said Bardin “We’re not stupid, or at least some of us aren’t. We’ll soon fumble our way round, we always have before, and it’s not exactly the first time we’ve fallen behind in events”.

“Not this far behind”, said Joby.

“But this is still scary stuff, Bardy”, said Bengo, risking his old friend’s exasperation “You say we fell into some kind of time distortion, well what if it happened again, and what if we were separated?”

“Yes“, said Julian, oozing a catlike satisfaction “What a good job I didn’t let you go off in the skiff wasn’t it?”

“Oh for God’s sake”, said Bardin, sitting down with a temperamental thump “Here am I, trying to jolly everyone along …”

“You must allow me my little moment of triumph, Bardin”, said Julian “I wouldn’t be much use as the eldest if I didn’t impose a restraining hand in times of danger”.

“And you do it so well, Jules”, Adam sighed.

“We will be more cautious where we go in future”, said Bardin “There will be no reckless behaviour from me from now on, I can promise you that!”

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