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By Sarah Hapgood

“We need to weigh anchor and get the ship moving”, said Bardin, hurriedly scrambling into his clothes “I’ll steer it, but I’ll need covering-fire. We also need to shoot back to stop them blasting a bloody great hole into us”.

“What about Tudde?” said Rumble “Do you think he’s been batting for them all along?”

“We haven’t got time for all that now!” said Bardin, impatiently.

He went out into the galley passage, and directed Hillyard down to the boiler-room.

“On my way!” Hillyard confirmed.

“I want Ransey, Umbert, Mieps and Joby on the firing-line”, Bardin continued “Oh and somebody drag Julian out of bed. He’s a pretty good marksman”.

“What about Toppy?” said Joby.

“Toppy’s brilliant with hand-guns”, said Bardin “But not so good at long-range stuff. He and Tamaz can sort out the ammo”.

There was a monstrously loud bang,, which made some of the fixtures and fittings on the ship rattle.

“What the fucking hell have they got over there?” said Joby “A fucking cannon?!”

Bardin realised Bengo was standing right behind him.

“You take Hoowie and lock him in our cabin”, said Bardin.

“But Bardy …” Bengo protested at being shovelled out of the way like this.

“We can’t afford any risks”, said Bardin “Keep him well confined. Sit on him if you have to!”

The 5 shootists arranged themselves on the main deck, sitting underneath the bulwark. Bardin deftly ran past them, bent-double like a human spider, so that he could reach the wheel in safety. He had put some of the other clowns onto hauling on the anchor-chain. The din from the shore was nigh-on unbearable.

“They certainly mean business”, said Julian, as they hurriedly sorted out their weapons.

“Yeah, so do we”, said Joby, and he bobbed up and fired the first return shots.

An utterly manic few minutes followed. A time of organised chaos. In the midst of the mayhem the Indigo-ites were organised though. None of the shootists were all above the parapet at the same time, and there was an almost choreographed frenzied grace about it all.

“I think I got one of the little shits”, said Julian, when he and Umbert were the ones briefly crouching down.

But there wasn’t even time to take in this absorbing bit of news.

“More ammo!” Joby yelled, scampering over to Tamaz and Toppy.

“Ceasefire!” Bardin yelled, waving his cap in the air “Ceasefire! We’re well out of range now!”

“Shame”, said Umbert, breathlessly “I was just getting into that”.

“And you a monk too!” said Julian.

Bardin put Toppy in charge of the wheel and gathered the others around him. The shoreline was now a distant blur, and they were heading in a haphazardly southern direction.

“We’ve learnt something useful anyway”, said Bardin.

“Yeah”, said Joby “That they’re an even bigger bunch of fucking arseholes than we thought!”

“And that they haven’t got a boat”, said Bardin “Neither here nor at the Causeway have we seen any sign of one. They’re complete landlubbers”.

Julian took a hip-flask out of the inside pocket of his coat and passed it around, handing it to Mieps first.

“I thought it was useful to wear it over my heart”, Julian explained “In case I got shot”.

“That’ll come as news to everyone who didn’t think you had one!” said Joby.

“That was some nifty bit of ducking and diving you were doing at the wheel”, said Umbert to Bardin.

“Clown’s training”, said Bardin “Invaluable”.

He went below deck to see how Bengo was, and found him huddled over the brandy decanter with Hoowie.

“The noises have stopped”, said Bengo “Are we away from them at last?”

“Julian’s gone to his cabin”, said Bardin to Hoowie, clicking his fingers “Go and join him”.

Hoowie needed no second telling. He ran eagerly out of the room.

“Oh Bardy”, Bengo wrapped him in his arms “Oh thank God, we’re away from there”.

“Bengo Bengo Bengo”, Bardin whispered into is partner’s hair.

“Let’s just keep going now”, said Bengo “Get away from this area somehow. It’s a dreadful place. They can have it, them and the bloody Cyanide Sisters. They’re welcome to it. It suits them!”

“Ssh calm down”, Bardin whispered, gently “We need to think very carefully about where we’re going next”.

Kieran had been locked in his cabin whilst the show was on. Joby got the key off Badin and went to uncage him.

“Joby!” Kieran exclaimed delightedly, when his friend walked in “Thank the Lord. Is all OK?”

“Yep, we’re well away from ’em”, said Joby “And hopefully they’ve come out of it worse than us”.

“Did you shoot anyone?”

“Never you mind. The last thing I need at the moment is you trying to make me feel guilty about anything!”

“I wasn’t going to”, said Kieran “They were the ones who made a completely vicious and unprovoked attack on us! What are you smiling at?”

“You”, said Joby “You’re wonderful. But why did you want to know if I’d shot anyone?”

“So I can give you Absolution”, said Kieran “It’s so good for the soul. Oh you’d love Absolution, Joby. You’d thoroughly enjoy it”.

“No I wouldn’t!” said Joby “And stop going on about it. You sound like some mad old Irishman trying to flog me summat bent! What I want now is to have sex with you, so c’mon, let’s go to bed”.

“Oh fucking hell, not again”, said Joby, waking up to the sound of the hand-bell clanging out in the corridor.

“I hope it’s nothing terrible this time”, said Kieran.

“Yeah, whoever-it-is will be getting it rammed up his backside if he’s not careful!” said Joby.

Bardin burst into the cabin, ringing the bell.

“What is it?” said Kieran.

“I’m summoning everyone to a breakfast meeting”, said Bardin “Adam’s put the food on the table, so come along”.

“What do we need to have a bloody meeting about?” said Joby.

“First off, what to do about Tudde”, said Bardin.

“Oh just leave him be”, said Joby, wearily “We’ll let him off ashore when we feel like it“.

“It’s not as straightforward as all that”, said Bardin.

He pulled back the bedclothes and slapped Joby on the rump.

“Oi!” Joby shouted.

“I think it’s very important that we eat at least”, said Adam, when they got along to the dining-room.

“I dunno why we have to have a meeting in order to do that”, said Joby.

“There are a number of things on the agenda”, said Bardin, from his customary place at the head of the table.

“You’re summat else you are”, said Joby “One minute prancing about up on deck like a human spider, dodging bullets, the next chairing a meeting!”

“First things first”, said Bardin “Is to establish what Tudde’s role in all this has been”.

“I don’t have a freaking role!” said Tudde “I was no more expecting any of that than you were!”

“If you’re not being completely straight with us”, said Bardin “We’ll put you ashore at The Windy Isle. I doubt you’d last more than a few days at that place. There’s nothing there at all”.

“Bardin, that is completely unnecessary”, said Adam.

“The wayside inn gang left that threat in Tudde’s hut”, Lonts pointed out.

Fortunately this stopped Bardin in his tracks. He was left mouthing like a goldfish.

“You’ll have to excuse Bardin, Tudde”, said Adam “I expect he’s feeling rather hyped up after this morning’s activities. But that doesn’t mean he should get carried away with his threats”.

Tudde burst into tears, which rather took everybody by surprise.

“Oh blimey”, said Joby.

“I don’t know how you could think I’d have anything to do with those people”, Tudde wept “I live for animals, not to form allegiances with villains”.

“I’m sorry”, said Bardin, in exasperation “But you can’t blame me for being suspicious”.

“I think we need to take the level down a little”, said Julian.

“You didn’t handle that very tactfully, Bardin”, said Bengo, in a stern whisper.

“Alright!” said Bardin “Next on the agenda”.

“Oh God, is this meeting still going on?” said Joby.

“You might find this of some interest”, said Bardin, dryly “Where we go next”.

“Back to the Bay?” said Kieran, hopefully.

“Eventually”, said Bardin “But first we need to put in somewhere safe and do a thorough recce. Make sure there’s no damage AT ALL, no little things that can turn into thundering great big inconvenient things on a long voyage, and try and get some fresh supplies from somewhere”.

“That sounds eminently sensible“, said Adam “Bravo Bardin”.

“Now can we close the meeting?” said Joby.

The report on the ship was positive. It had sustained no significant damage. This sent the Indigo-ites into a paroxysm of joy, but unfortunately this wasn’t shared by Tudde, who seemed to be going into some kind of nervous decline.

“He keeps bursting into tears!” said Joby “He cries if anyone speaks to him, he cries if I put his food down in front of him …”

“I’m not surprised”, said Hillyard “Some of the rubbish you’ve been serving up lately! Nuff to make anyone cry!”

“Well if there’s one thing I’m pretty certain of in this Universe”, said Joby “And that’s that you couldn’t do any better!”

“Boys boys that’s enough”, said Adam “Behave yourselves. We’ve got enough to sort out with the aftermath of Bardin’s macho-man tactics. I’ll get Patsy to talk quietly with Tudde”.

“I’ve known Bardin for a very very long time now”, said Kieran, sitting alone with Tudde at a corner of the dining-room. The life of the ship was going on all around them. “I’ve lived in close quarters with him all that time. He’s often thoughtless and tactless. He gets carried away with his own energy, and he frequently underestimates his own strength of character and charisma, and the effect it can have on people. But I’ve never known him to be deliberately cruel and malicious. He would never have carried out his threat to abandon you on The Windy Isle, and even if he had tried we wouldn’t have let him”.

“He sounded like he meant it though”, said Tudde.

“I know”, said Kieran “The problem is we all know Bardin so well that we forget the effect his words can have on people who don’t. If he’d said that to any of us …”

“I guess you’re gonna tell me you’d have all laughed it off”, said Tudde, bitterly.

“Not at all”, said Kieran “Most of us would have probably hit the roof with him! Bengo would have thumped him, Julian would probably have caned him. Bardin would then have gone and sulked in his cabin for a little while, and then everything would be back to normal. But none of us would have believed him for a moment, that he truly meant it. Of course you don’t have that advantage”.

“I’m having trouble figuring you guys out”, said Tudde “At first I thought you were supposed to be some kind of religious order”.

“We are”, said Kieran “In a way”.

“Religious orders don’t tend to go around engaged in gun battles !” said Tudde “Not any that I’ve come across anyway”.

“Yes I suppose it’s not exactly turning the other cheek”, said Kieran “But we were protecting each other and our ship. Because we’re also a ship’s crew, and we’re also a family. And all those things have different meanings and codes of behaviour”.

“And Bardin’s supposed to be Captain?” said Tudde “But then again Julian seems to be in charge”.

“No, Bardin’s in charge”, said Kieran “But Julian has a special position as the eldest. A sort of Father Superior. And that’s important, because Bardin does need reeling in sometimes”.

“And who reels Julian in?” said Tudde, who found Julian quite terrifying, like a lion on the loose.

“Adam”, Kieran laughed “Although we keep hoping Hoowie can eventually be trained to do it as well! He’s showing promise. Has anything I’ve said helped to set your mind at rest at all?”

“I know you’re not gonna abandon me on such a godforsaken place if that’s what you mean”, said Tudde “But I have other problems too”.

“Where do you go from here you mean?” said Kieran.

“I know where I’m going that’s the trouble”, said Tudde “As soon as you put me ashore, on the mainland, I’m gonna walk back up to the wayside inn, however long it takes me”.

“In God’s name man, why?” Kieran exclaimed.

“I’m gonna burn it to the ground”, said Tudde “Rid that beautiful area of those murderers and thieves”.

Kieran was almost flummoxed by this about-face on Tudde’s part. He had regarded Tudde up to now as a peaceful creature, one who simply wanted to live his own life.

“I urge you to rethink this, Tudde”, he said “It’s fraught with problems”.

“Anything that’s worth doing usually is”, said Tudde.

“You could kill innocent people”, said Kieran “And the gang could kill you. As we’ve seen, they’re a pretty ruthless lot, armed to the teeth. Not only that, it’s bad for the soul, to be so hell-bent on revenge”.

“Is that what you thought when you torched a whole city like Lixix?” said Tudde “I know my history books”.

“Lixix was different”, said Kieran, only too aware how lame that sounded “We got the people out first, did a mass evacuation, all that was left were the demons. That was the only way to remove them, to eradicate them. A cleansing by fire”.

“Well that’s what I’m gonna do”, said Tudde “A cleansing by fire. To put that area back to as it was before the time-slip”.

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