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Out of macabre curiosity they called in briefly at the old hospital on the way back down. Kieran didn’t join the shore-party this time, in case (in Bardin’s words) it “started him off again”.
“Are the others getting bored with my psychic visions?” Kieran asked, innocently.
“Yep”, said Joby, bluntly.
In the event Kieran didn’t miss much. Bardin and a handful of the others spent a couple of hours in the old man, who rambled on endlessly about how he wished he had travelled more, but his work had always kept him too busy.
They were beginning to think that perhaps he wasn’t so potty after all, as they had originally thought. That is, until he suddenly stood up and announced “She will be very active this evening, I can feel it”.
“Who?” said Bardin.
“The spirit of the gorgon”, said the old man “She haunts this place you know”.
Whether se did or she didn’t, it wasn’t exactly a great incentive to stay there,, and so the Indigo-ites took their leave.
“I’m very disappointed we didn’t get more out of him”, said Adam, when they got back to the galleon.
“You got quite enough from the sounds of things!” said Joby.
The following evening, after a day’s relatively smooth sailing, Bengo was being taught how to slow foxtrot around his cabin by Bardin, to the accompaniment of the wind-up gramophone.
“You’re not concentrating”, said Bardin “It’s 1-2-3 1-2-3”.
“It’s very complicated, Bardy”, said Bengo “I’m having trouble concentrating”.
“You can’t concentrate on counting to 3?!” said Bardin “I know intellectual prowess isn’t your strong point but …”
Bengo couldn’t dance any further for giggling, so Bardin had to concede defeat and pour some drinks instead.
“Joby was moaning at dinner again”, said Bardin “About us going back to the Causeway. I felt like pushing him off his chair. All paths lead back to the Causeway, that’s what he said“.
“I did tell him we were only stopping there briefly”, said Bengo “But he’s like the others. He won’t be happy until we head back to the Bay. They want to satisfy their curiosity if nothing else, see what it’s like after all these years”.
“And what if it’s like The Village Of Stairs?” said Bardin “The monks getting all hysterical and wetting their pants because Kieran’s returned, and him looking as fresh as paint with it!”
“Can’t we just take it as it comes?” said Bengo “Stop trying to predict things all the time?? Nothing on this trip has turned out how we could possibly have expected. We fell into a 60-year time-warp, met an old man obsessed with the ghost of a gorgon, and then that awful sea of lost souls rubbish, or whatever it was. Let’s just stop worrying what might happen from now on. Everything’s just got too damn impossible to predict!”
When they reached the Causeway (again) it was certainly only intended as a brief stay, just long enough really to do some hunting, and to collect any wild nuts and berries from the forest. No one had any inclination to revisit the old inn. It was too painful a reminder of all the time that had inexplicably passed in the blinking of an eye.
Most of them went ashore, although it was generally understood that no one was to wander off too far into the forest alone. Bengo and Bardin strolled together along the edge of the forest, near the spot where they had camped once before. The general high strangeness that was typical in the area was exacerbated this time by a distant humming noise.
“Adam thinks it might be a power station somebody’s built”, said Bengo “Since we were here the first time I mean”.
“It could be anything”, said Bardin.
Suddenly a figure came crashing out of the trees at them.
“You can hear it too?” he shouted, excitedly.
Bardin stood looking at him in silent astonishment.
“YOU?!” said Bengo.
It was the man with the headscarf they had seen when they had lunched at the inn, all that time ago. He didn’t look a day older than on that occasion.
“I’ve seen you before”, said the headscarf.
“Likewise”, said Bardin “You’re still the same”.
“So are you”, said the stranger “So it’s not just me then?”
Tudde (his name) had built himself a makeshift home out of a small rock formation that was just inside the forest. An old blanket concealed the entrance, and inside it was very small but surprisingly cosy.
“You live here all the time?” said Bardin.
“Originally I used to only come up here in the Summer”, said Tudde “I pretended I was a hunter, but really I just love watching animals. Prefer them to humans in many ways. I’m from Aspiriola, but I’ve somehow got trapped here”.
“Trapped?” said Bardin.
“You must know about the time-warp”, said Tudde “It’s affected you as well. That freaked me out. I came in here to bed one night. When I got up in the morning everything had changed. All my old pals at the inn had gone. My old hunting buddies. I felt like a living ghost”.
He became emotional. Bengo patted his shoulder whilst Tudde mumbled “I don’t understand, I don’t understand”. After a little while he collected himself.
“I’m forgetting my manners as a host”, he said “Sit down, sit down”.
They arranged themselves on a heap of old clothing and blankets.
“Sorry it’s not exactly first-class accommodation”, said Tudde “Would you like some of my homemade soup?”
Bardin took a quick glance at the pot of cold, congealed mess in the corner, and politely made their excuses.
“That noise you mentioned earlier”, he said “The humming noise in the distance. Is that new?”
“I can’t always hear it”, said Tudde “It comes and it goes. The few people I’ve spoken to since the time-warp happened claim they can’t hear it at all. I thought perhaps my ears were going funny, like I had tinnitus or something, but then I overheard you guys talking about it”.
“You said just now you were trapped here”, said Bardin “Why don’t you just go back to Aspiriola? What’s stopping you?”
“Go home?” said Tudde “All these decades on? I’m scared of what I’ll find there. And what the hell would they make of me turning up? They must have given me up for dead years ago, and then I turn up looking not a day over 30, when I’m supposed to be 90?!”
“We’ve got similar problems”, said Bengo “It’s left us at a bit of a loss really”.
“There’s someone outside!” Tudde exclaimed.
To Bardin’s alarm Tudde grabbed his gun and crept out of the little cave. The clowns followed him, but not before Tudde gave an alarmed cry.
“Get back in!” he shouted, pushing them back “It’s a wild man. I’d heard some had been sighted in this area”.
“A wild man?” Bardin thought of the massive manimal they had seen in the bleak plains of the north. He found it hard to believe that one of those monstrous creatures was thumping around in the woods and making so little noise about it.
He pulled out the revolver which Ransey insisted he kept tucked in the inside jacket of his coat. Tudde looked quite admiringly at this. Bengo latched onto the back of Bardin’s coat and followed him back outside.
“I might have known”, said Bardin, having his worst thoughts confirmed “Hoowie, you fucking moron, I could’ve shot you!”
“Why would you wanna do that?” said Hoowie, coming out from behind some bushes.
“I can think of about a 1001 different reasons!” said Bardin, disabling his gun and putting it back in his pocket “I said no one was to wander about alone!”
“But I heard you talking”, said Hoowie.
“So you thought you’d eavesdrop”, said Bengo “If you’d been shot we’d have had to pull the bullet out with our teeth”.
“We wouldn’t have bothered”, snapped Bardin “Left it to fester instead”.
“Oh that’s nice innit!” said Hoowie “I’d pull it out if it was you!”
“It’s alright, Tudde”, said Batdin, calling over his shoulder “It’s not really a wild man, though it’s an easy mistake to make!”
“It’s one of ours”, said Bengo.
“Can I have a look inside your little house?” Hoowie asked Tudde.
“No you can’t”, said Bardin “He wont’ want a gangling great scarecrow like you poking around in there! Tudde, why don’t you come back to the ship and have a bite to eat with us?”
“We could show you round the galleon”, said Bengo.
Tudde couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten in company and agreed. He went back into his shelter to collect his gun and his tote-bag (not times to leave around for any passing traveller to commandeer) and then left with them.
Tudde was shown over most of the ship, apart from the hold, mainly because what was left of the Starhanger jewels (their only source of income) were hidden down there. Over supper he told them some of the tales he had heard in his time about the area. The conclusion they came to pretty rapidly was that it had always been a very strange place.
“The freakiest of the lot”, he said “Are the Cyanide Women. Have you heard about them?”
“They don’t sound the sort of people one would be in a rush to get acquainted with”, said Adam.
“Somewhere in this forest is said to be a colony of women”, said Tudde “They used to be a normal village, but over the course of a few years they poisoned all the men folk, partly as a revenge for the massacre of the women all those years ago, and partly because they enjoy life more without the men around. I was warned about them when I first came here. They absolutely hate men”.
“They can’t still be around though”, said Joby “If they got rid of all the men how would they have reproduced?”
“By luring new men in”, said Tudde “Getting what they want out of them, and then destroying them”.
“Like the Nereids in Ancient Greek folklore”, said Adam “They would lure men to them with their beauty and then, as you say, destroy them”.
“From what I can gather this lot aren’t much in the way of lookers”, said Tudde “They could give the gorgons a run for their money”.
“Yeah, but as I said, they can’t still be around can they?” said Joby.
“Oh poor Joby”, said Adam “We’ll protect you from the wicked witches, old love”.
“They are still around”, said Tudde.
“Have you seen them?” said Bardin.
“Not actually seen”, said Tudde “I heard women’s voices in the distance one night. Made the hairs stand up on my arm”.
“We’ve seen them”, said Kieran “Bardin, do you remember those 2 women we saw in the distance once, walking away from us?”
“And that strange figure we passed on the road from the inn”, said Bardin “I have sometimes wondered since if the 2 women we saw were gorgons. I think it was the big head-dresses they were wearing”.
“To hide the snakes I suppose?” said Tamaz, tartly.
“Oh don’t go getting all arsey”, said Bardin.
“But it doesn’t sound as though they’ve been seen since the time-warp”, said Adam.
“But I heard them since the time-warp”, said Tudde.
“Let’s not go jumping to any conclusions”, said Julian “You heard women’s voices. They could have been ANY women’s voices. It’s frighteningly easy how hysterical rumours can spring up and get all out of control”.
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