Go back to previous chapter


By Sarah Hapgood

"If I'd wanted to listen to a bloody sermon I'd have gone to church", said Julian, storming into his cabin later that day.

"You were in church, Jules", said Adam, following him in.

"I don't care", Julian snapped "I want us away from this town immediately".

"I quite agree", said Adam "I never want to see that ghastly little man ever again".

"Go and tell the others to get this boat moving", said Julian, pouring himself a brandy "And keep that deranged Irishman out of my sight for the rest of today. I don't want to see those eyes of his or hear that voice".

"Oh I thought he was magnificent", said Adam.

"You would, you're as potty as he is!" said Julian "And send Hillyard in here immediately. I need a massage".

"He can't massage you and tend the boiler at the same time", said Adam "Be reasonable".

"Adam, we have boat packed to the rafters with able-bodied men", Julian exclaimed "Get one of the others to see to the bloody boiler!"

"Yes Jules", Adam sighed.

"I'm an old old man", said Julian, lying on his stomach on his bunk "Far too old to have spent the night on a bare wooden floor with a portrait of Codlik glaring down at me! I feel as rough as houses today, as though I'm not long for this world".

"Bullshit", said Hillyard, massaging his back "You'll outlive all of us".

"Good grief, I do hope not", said Julian "I can't think of anything worse. Oh it's such a relief to hear the engine running, and to think we're leaving the delights of Barlazzi far behind us. Who did you put into the hold to tend the boiler?"

"Lonts and Bengo".

"Lonts and Bengo?!"

"They wanted to do it", said Hillyard "They were both really keen, and they know what to do".

"I doubt that, they don't possess a single brain cell between them!" said Julian.

"Now listen", said Hillyard "I'm under orders from Adam to make sure you don't get too worked up. He thinks, and I agree with him, that you need a good long rest. He says he thinks you should spend tomorrow in bed".

"Oh yes I bet he does", said Julian "He's probably going to organise and coup and depose me. Hey, it was a all a bit of a turn-up for the books in Barlazzi wasn't it? Who'd have thought that stony-faced old bat got beaten up by her husband!"

"Kieran thinks the townspeople should do the same to him", said Hillyard "To teach him a lesson".

"I do hope this entire trip isn't going to turn into some holy crusade of Kieran's", said Julian "We are supposed to be a travelling show, not a team of marauding missionaries! If he makes a habit of this we're going to have to lock him out of sight. I assume you've got an attic we can put him in when we get to your new place?"

"Yeah, but we're saving it for you!" said Hillyard.

Julian slept well into the next day. When he awoke at lunchtime he was aware the boat was moving, but otherwise everything seemed to be suspiciously quiet. He despatched Toppy to fetch him some lunch, and Adam returned with a plate of fish and potato pie.

"You look a bit more like your old self, Jules", said Adam, handing the plate to him.

"It's very quiet out there", Julian mumbled, through a mouthful of food.

"Yes it's the heat", said Adam "Apart from Hillyard and Ransey, who are running the boat, the others are all having a little rest".

"A little rest!" said Julian "This is what happens when I leave you in charge. You're soft. They are supposed to be rehearsing new sketches for the show. I thought Bardin was brimming over with ideas?"

"He is", said Adam, uneasily "But I get the distinct impression he's not terribly happy at the moment".

"He'd better not be homesick", said Julian "It's a long walk back to Toondor Lanpin from here!"

"Of course he's not homesick", said Adam "This is his home now. But things are a bit strained between him and Bengo, even more strained than normal I mean. They're being very sulky with each other".

"Send him in here", said Julian, handing back the empty plate "I'll have a word with him".

"Who, Bengo?"

"No, not Bengo! The one with the closest resemblance to a brain, Bardin! I'm determined to force this relationship into a fresh field, once and for all!"

"When I ask to see you", he said, a while later "I expect you to come immediately, not in half-an-hours time, or when it most suits you".

"I'm sorry", said Bardin, standing in the middle of Julian's cabin "I guess I have to still get used to your ways".

"Yes, well I'm not Hawkefish you know", said Julian.

"No you're not", said Bardin, with approval.

He smiled fondly at Julian, who was pacing around his cabin stark-naked and smoking a cigar.

"I'm under the impression, correct me if I'm wrong", said Julian "That rehearsals have come to a standstill becuase you and ballast-brained Bengo aren't talking to one another! What's so amusing?"

"Ballast-brained Bengo", Bardin laughed "It suits him!"

"At least tell me what your latest rift is all about", said Julian, perching on the edge of his desk.

"Oh me and Bengo don't have rifts", said Bardin "Just an ongoing continuous hate-in. It's particularly bad at the moment because I just can't seem to relax in his company".

"Are you settling in here o.k?" said Julian.

"Yes, I love it", said Bardin "Even Bengo can't make me regret joining you".

"And yet you had a life back in Toondor Lanpin", said Julian "There must be aspects of it you miss. Like relationships for example. Affairs".

"Nothing at all serious", said Bardin "My career's always come first. Sex to me was just something I felt I had to do occasionally, like cutting my toe-nails".

"And on those occasions it tended to be chorus-girls?"

"Where's this leading, Julian? I mean, I don't mind you asking, but I don't understand ... I've had flings with both sexes, if that's what you wanted to know".

"Oh right", said Julian, with mock-casualness "So you're not avowedly heterosexual like Fradie then?"

"I told you, sex isn't important to me", said Bardin "When I was in the Cabaret of Horrors at the Village of Stairs, there were no women so I couldn't afford to be fussy".

"What made you decide to go to Toondor Lanpin?"

"When the news got out that the Indigo had docked there for good, all the other clowns in the Cabaret were talking about Bengo, and what a jammy little devil he was for getting in with Kieran, and winding up in a place that had women in it. They were all as jealous as hell. I was more interested to hear about his new job at the Little Theatre. It seemed to offer more scope than the Cabaret. So I went there, we resumed our old partnership, and that's it. The rest you know".

"Were you angry when he stowed away with us without giving you any advance warning or explanation?"

"When you've known Bengo as long as I have you used to him being a thoughtless little sod", said Bardin, inadvertently revealing that Bengo's actions had in fact hurt him very much.

"These man-on-man relationships you had at the Village of Stairs", said Julian "Did they ever involve Bengo?"

"No way!" Bardin gave a contemptuous snort.

"I don't see why it merits that reaction", said Julian "Bengo's gorgeous. At your age I couldn't have resisted him for a moment. I have trouble doing so at my age!"

"It'd be more trouble than it's worth", said Bardin "And as you've said yourself, he's not exactly blessed with a lot of brains. And even in a short fling I want someone who I don't have to communicate with in words of one syllable!"

"I want yo to do me a little favour", said Julian.

"Name it", said Bardin.

"I want you and Bengo to become lovers".

Bardin looked incredulous for a moment and then laughed heartily.

"You're a scream, Julian", he chortled "Anyway I wouldn't call that a 'little' favour!"

"At least give it a try", said Julian "You can lose absolutely nothing from it. It's not as if he can get pregnant like Freaky, and I can assure you he's in the best of health. Adam always keeps an eye on that kind of thing. And if it doesn't work out, well you'll both simply go back to squabbling and sulking like you do now, so nothing will have changed. But I think you both need to give this a try. You can't be completely averse to the idea or you'd have chucked a mouthful of abuse at me and stormed out. What say you?"

"I'm speechless".

"Good, that means your brain is allowing itself time to absorb the idea!" said Julian, using all his considerable reserves of chutzpah.

Bardin was filled with terror at the thought of going to bed that night, as it would mean being alone with Bengo. Julian hadn't mentioned his idea to Bengo, and so the younger clown was blissfully unaware of all these machinations behind the scenes.

After dark, when the others had all gone to bed, Bardin went up on deck and helped Hillyard and Joby, who had been doing some evening fishing, to put away their rods. There were lanterns lit on deck, but the night had that intense darkness peculiar to the tropics.

"I hope you're not planning a shore excursion tonight, Bardin", said Hillyard "I swear I saw a puma out there earlier. Or some kind of big cat anyway".

"We're safe out in the middle of the river though aren't we?" said Bardin.

"Yeah", said Joby "You've got no worries on here".

Hillyard finished packing the fish in a bucket of ice. He then bade the others goodnight and went below with it.

"I hope you're turning in too", said Joby, blowing out the wick on one of the lamps "It's eerie out here alone at night. You'd be better off going to bed".

"I'm not in any hurry to get in with Bengo", said Bardin, nervously.

"Is he being difficult again?" said Joby "Take advice from an expert at dealing with the temperamental ones. Don't put up with it. Just kick his arse".

Bardin found this sage advice surprisingly helpful. Not because he had any intention of kicking Bengo (he could do that plenty of times during their act!), but because he reasoned that if Joby could have a successful relationship with Tamaz and Kieran, then surely he and Bengo should be a doddle by comparison?

Bengo was lying on his side when Bardin got down to the saloon, although from the way he was restlessly fidgeting it was obvious he was awake.

"It's the heat, I can't get to sleep", he muttered, in answer to Bardin's query.

Bardin went across the room and pushed open the window as wide as it would go.

"Although I don't think it'll make any difference", he said, quietly "It feels hotter outside. The air's like soup out there".

Bengo got up and came over to join him at the window. They stood silently staring out into the torrid blackness for several minutes.

"You seem to have a lot on your mind", said Bengo.

"Oh just thinking back over my life", said Bardin "Did you know, that I have never once in my whole life, been kissed on my mouth?"

"Why's that?" said Bengo.

"Too self-conscious", said Bardin "I know what an ugly mouth I've got. I've always felt it must revolt people".

"You've never gone on like this about it before", said Bengo, thoroughly perplexed.

"Sometimes, when things go that deep", said Bardin "You don't want to talk about it. But you must see what I mean".

"No, not really", said Bengo "I don't give it much thought. I've known you since we were kids, and when you see someone practically everyday for as long as we have, well you don't think about it I suppose. Anyway, it's only a harelip ..."

"It's not only a harelip", Bardin turned on him, fiercely "It disfigures my entire face! People look at me and that's all they see. When your face is disfigured there's no way you can hide it. Fat lot you'd know. Old sexy-legs Bengo! Gorgeous hunk of the year! Do you know how much I get sick and tired of being the ugly one, the ugly clown?!"

"Yes I do know", Bengo hissed "'Cos you make sure I damn well suffer for it in our act! I'm going back to bed. If we stand here having another row, Julian'll come in again, and it'll be me he threatens with a thrashing, not you, teacher's bloody pet!"

"Bengo", said Bardin, sharply, causing him to halt in his tracks "Would you kiss me on my mouth?"

Bengo seemed to freeze in mid-step for an eternity. Then he turned back and kissed him very vigorously on the lips.

"Why did you never do that before?" Bardin asked, eventually, feeling as though he'd been liquified.

"I thought you'd thump me if I did", said Bengo.

"Well you can't be completely brainless", Bardin sighed "You caught on a lot quicker just then than I thought you would".

"Let's make love", said Bengo "Let's misbehave!"

"Jules has really overstepped the mark this time", said Adam, as he and Joby cleared away the breakfast things the following morning "Fancy ordering people to have sex with each other purely for his own amusement! That's the sort of thing Caligula used to do!"

"I can't understand why Hillyard's so damn happy about it", said Joby "I thought he and Bengo were still an item".

"Hillyard's happy about it because Hillyard thinks it'd be better for Bengo to be with someone nearer his own age!" said Hillyard, coming into the galley rather suddenly.

"I do wish you wouldn't creep about like that, Hilly", said Adam, crossly.

"Particularly when you're talking about me, eh?" Hillyard chuckled.

"We were talking about Julian actually", said Adam "Or rather his disgraceful behaviour, to be precise".

"Well I think he did exactly the right thing", said Hillyard "Say what you like about old Julian, but he gets things done. I've said before that I sometimes wish everyone in the world was like him".

"What an absolutely appalling thought!" said Adam.

"A world full of Julians", said Joby "Sounds like a really scary episode of 'The Twilight Zone'!"

"I think I need to go up on deck for some air after that", said Adam.

They were out of the rain-forest territory by now, and in very open countryside. The river was wide here and tapered slowly at the sides via mud flats into marhsland. There was absolutely nothing or no one else in sight. The Indigo chugged along steadily, but there was really very little for Ransey to do at the wheel whilst they were in these doldrums, except stand there half-asleep under the scorching sun.

Adam stood near him on the poop-deck, leaning on the bulwark, and trying to catch the slightest breeze to refresh him. Below, in the foreward deck, Kieran and Tamaz were playfully swatting Joby with damp washing that they were supposed to be hanging up on the line that stretched across from one bulwark to the other.

"Get on with some work!" Julian bellowed at them as he came topside. All this really achieved was that it made Ransey jump out of his skin instead. Julian came up onto the poop-deck, noticed Adam was giving him a miffed look, and decided to address him sternly.

"Before you start getting all moralistic on me, Ada", he said "Let me point out that what I was advising the clowns to do was only what you advised Tinker Belle and Goofy to do all those years ago".

"That was different", said Adam.

"How?" Julian barked.

"Because I knew Pats and Joby would get together in the end", said Adam "So I decided to try and hurry them along a bit because the suspense was killing me".

"EXACTLY!" Julian exclaimed "That's exactly how I felt. Now let us drop the entire subject. All has worked out for the best. Now that Bengo and Bardin are finally lovers, they can get back to concentrating on thinking up new sketches and routines".

"They needn't hurry", said Ransey, morosely "We're probably going to be stuck in this glorified mud-bath for months!"

"Not if Dolores' maps are anything to go by", said Julian "There are settlements up-river, we just have to reach them".

"Oh I'm not in any hurry", said Adam "I'm really rather enjoying the peace out here".

"Finia's just putting the final touches to a new costume for Freaky", said Julian "Rather fetching. Sort of ballerina style. White satin with a big, flouncy skirt. Non-detachable this time".

"I'm quite relieved", said Adam "I do feel sorry for poor Tamaz sometimes, he does rather go through it as the F.O".

"He loves it", said Julian "A born little show-off".

"I think we should anchor for a while", said Ransey "I'm falling asleep at the wheel here. I suggest we move again later when it's cooler".

"O.K", said Julian "I expect Hillyard will appreciate it down in the dungeon".

Lonts, Tamaz, Kieran, Joby and the clowns took the skiff ashore. Tamaz had told them that he could catch crabs for them on the mud-flats, and this idea was seized upon with relish by the others. Tamaz enjoyed being in complete boy mode (even if he wore his lacey drawers under his t-shirt), and happily scrabbled in the mud and under rocks for the edible shellfish. Lonts followed him closely, watching with awe.

"Don't you get nervous groping in the dark?" said Lonts "You might grab hold of anything!"

"Better not stand too close then", Tamaz smirked.

All was going very well indeed. They had harvested quite a substantial catch, when suddenly a change came over Tamaz, entirely without any warning, and he insisted on being taken back to the Indigo.

"But what's wrong?" said Joby, perplexed.

"I want to go home!" said Tamaz, emotionally.

He flung himself into Joby's arms. His bare legs were covered in mud from where he had been wading on the shore, and his drawers were looking decidedly bedraggled.

"But I don't understand what's wrong", said Joby, caressing him with soothing gestures "What's upset you?"

"Can't you feel it?" said Tamaz, impatiently. He yelled at Kieran "Surely you can feel it? There's evil here, out on these marshes. We can't see it, but it's here".

"Alright, let's get home", said Kieran, calmly "We've got enough of a catch to give Adam".

Tamaz's nervousness infected Joby, and he panicked when they got back to the skiff, and couldn't see Lonts anywhere.

"Where's the baby?" Joby screamed.

"I'm here, Joby", said Lonts, looking up over a rock nearby.

"What are you playing at, you little scrote?" said Joby "I thought you'd disappeared!"

"I had to go", said Lonts, emerging from behind the rock and buttoning his shorts at the same time "You usually get annoyed if I tell you first!"

Back at the Indgio Kieran took Tamaz into their cabin and washed the mud off his legs.

"I don't think you'll be wanting to put these back on somehow", he said, holding up Tamaz's discarded drawers "I think we've got to say goodbye to these. Although if I pull the ribbon out Finia might be able to use that for something".

Tamaz rifled through the cupboard and pulled out a clean pair.

"You damn well did sense it too out there", he said, putting them on "And if you try to deny it I'll call you a liar".

"Now don't get carried away, 'cos I'm not actually sure", said Kieran "I sensed a blackness, a blackness with tentacles".

"Yes, exactly what you walked into after Gabriel's death", said Tamaz "Evil in its purest form".

"But hang on, there are marsh creatures that look like that", said Kieran.

"And they're evil", said Tamaz, insistently "I should know, I saw enough of them when I lived with the Ghoomers, or do you think I'm so stupid that I'll fear any creature?!"

"Tamaz, one thing I know about you is you're not a coward", said Kieran "But whatever this thing is we sensed, it's out on the marshes. That means it's not here on the Indigo. We're safe here".

"It could get out here", said Tamaz "I'm not sure, but I think these creatures are amphibians. What if it came over tonight whilst we're all asleep?"

"Ransey always bolts the topside doors", said Kieran "And he'll warn everyone to keep all the windows shut, just in case. They'll just have to put up with the heat".

"Our window's right above my bed", Tamaz glanced up at it apprehensively "If it comes in here, I'll be the first!"

He began to trash his bed in a rage. Kieran grabbed his arms and shook him gently.

"Now stop it", he said "You'll get youself into grief with Julian otherwise. Tamaz, stop it or I'll give you a smack ... That's better. Now I don't expect a born hunter like you to lose his cool so easily. If it bothers you so much we can move your bed into the middle of the room, between the bunks. It'll be like having one big bed in the room, and Lonts'll have something soft to land on if he falls out of his bunk!"

"Why can't you, me and Joby have a double bed we can all sleep in?" said Tamaz.

"I think we will have one day", said Kieran "I'd like that too. I could keep an eye on you easily then!"

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License.

Go forward to next chapter

Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site