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"You've lost again", said Hillyard, triumphantly "I thought you said you was good at dominoes?"
"I was", said Kieran, scraping the pieces towards him "I must've lost me knack. How much do I owe you now?"
"I'm just totting it up", said Hillyard, scribbling on a piece of paper "It looks as if, according to this, you've got to make me cups of tea for the next 6 weeks!"
"I'd better make a start then", said Kieran.
He got up and dipped the kettle in a bucket of cold water sitting near them. He then stuck it on the open fire in the clearing by the stone cottage at the Bay.
Hillyard walked to the part overlooking the beach, where most of the others were playing a ball-game in the surf. All were naked, apart from Tamaz, who was clambering over the rocks, wearing his patchwork bloomers under a singlet. It was gloriously hot and still, and even for people used to living in Toondor Lanpin with its mild climate, it was hard to believe it was February.
"I'll go and see if Joby wants a cuppa", said Kieran.
He went into the Butlin's Chalet, where Joby was sleeping on the bed in the middle of the room. The bed had been fitted out with linen and a washed mosquito net, as this room now served as private love suite, and a convenient sleeping-post for those who didn't want to stagger the 50 yards to the sloops during the daytime.
Joby was lying under the net, sleeping on his side. His hands were crossed on the pillow next to him. On his wrists he wore a pair of Tamaz's black frilly garters, which he had found lying on the floor. It was the sight of the garters which touched Kieran's heart completely. He leaned over and kissed Joby's cheek.
"Kiel?" Joby murmured, sleepily.
"How did you know it was me?" said Kieran, climbing completely under the net.
"I always know when it's you", Joby smiled.
He pulled Kieran down beside him, and tore off his singlet and pants. Kieran kentl on the bed and grasped the bed-rail whilst Joby buggered him without much further ado. He slapped Kieran's buttocks first. Over the previous 2 years he had finally got over his squeamishness at smacking Kieran. Firstly, because Kieran had goaded him at the monastery by springing a surprise attack on him with his trouser belt. Kieran hadn't hit him hard, but he had known where to hit best for maximum effect. Kieran having set himself up as the aggressor, Joby hadn't felt any compunction about walloping him in return. Secondly, having slapped him hard, Joby then found he rather liked the feel of Kieran's burning cheeks pressing against him when he rogered him. The combination of the reddened and warmed flesh was a distinct turn-on.
"Are you looking forward to the expedition tomorrow?" said Kieran, lying beside him under the net afterwards.
"What I know of it", said Joby "Going up through the forest with the others and the donkeys. You seem to know exactly what we're going to expect. You've been acting all mysterious".
"I think I know what we're going to get at the end", said Kieran.
"Why can't you tell me then?" Joby exclaimed.
"I want it to be a surprise for you", said Kieran.
"A pleasent one I hope", said Joby.
"I wouldn't take you up there if it wasn't!" said Kieran.
Joby slid one of the garters onto Kieran's leg.
"Everything will make sense in the end", said Kieran, quietly "The past couple of years with all the trouble with the FFF and the Barlazzi Demon, and the nonsense all along with me being the Vanquisher of Evil. It'll all fall into place".
"Which is why it bloody annoys me that you won't tell me about it!" said Joby.
"I know, and I love your repressed anger", said Kieran, kissing him on the lips "It's what makes you smack so hard".
"What are you like!" said Joby "I love you, more than my own life".
"Oh Joby", Kieran rolled into his arms.
Lonts came into the room, carrying a large sack.
"I've got a suprise for you", he said, setting the sack on the floor. Tamaz climbed out of it.
"We didn't order that", said Joby "There must be some mistake. Take it away!"
"Well you've got it", Lonts chuckled, and left the hut.
"He's got my garter on", said Tamaz, ducking under the net.
"That's 'cos I like his legs", said Joby.
"Why?" said Tamaz, climbing into the middle of them "They're all boney".
"Yeah, they match your brain!" said Kieran.
He and Joby fell on him and tore his clothes off. Tamaz yodelled with excitement and stuck out his long tongue.
"Kiel", Joby laughed "Our wife's an alien!"
He and Kieran made love to Tamaz both at once, which was delicious and delectable for all 3 of them. Afterwards, Joby lay propped up on his elbow and looked at them both, with the same satisfaction as a man who had just come into a fortune would ogle his gold. Kieran and Tamaz were both so extraordinarily beautiful, like supernatural beings, androgynous and exciting.
"You're beautiful too, you know", said Kieran, after Joby had told him how he felt.
"There are many words to describe me, but beautiful's not one of them!" said Joby.
"You are, actually", said Tamaz, casually, as though pointing out a small spot on Joby's nose.
As usual Joby had severely underestimated himself. He had filled out in recent years, not in the comfortable roly-poly middle-aged spread-way that Hillyard had, but enough to lose the scrawny gawkiness of his youth. His hair these days usually went untrimmed for great lengths of time, so for convenience he wore it tied back in a small pony-tail as Ransey did. Only Joby's hair had a natural frizziness, so wisps of it were always escaping and weaving about his face, contrasting wonderfully with his startling grey eyes. He wasn't conventionally handsome by any means, but his looks were memorable and alluring. It was easy to see why Hawkefish had been so desperate to make an actor of him.
To Joby though, no amount of compliments would ever convince him otherwise. At a young age he had unconsciously told himself that he had to be the ugly, charmless one to Kieran's sublime beauty, and there was no shaking from it. He would never forget the very first time he had heard Kieran's name mentioned. An excited whisper had gone round the office of "You should see the new guy!" And then he had seen him. A short, skinny, undeniably beautiful Irishman, who looked as though a slight gust of wind would blow him to Kingdom Come, whose flat backside was ridiculously lost in the seat of his trousers, who always looked, from the expression in his eyes, as though he was having a private laugh at someone else's expense. Joby had felt instantly repelled by that laughing expression, and for a long time had rebuffed all Kieran's overtures of friendship.
In fact, for a long time he had hated everything about Kieran, chiefly his success with girls though. And the more he had hated Kieran, the more he had hated himself, because it is a loathesome feeling to dislike someone so intensely who's only trying to be friends with you. It was as if Joby was trying to punish Kieran for being so guileless and charming, as though he was taking perverse pleasure in refusing a loveable child a sweet.
Joby had set up obstacles for him all along the way. First he refused to be civil to him, then he refused to be friends with him, then he had refused to be lovers with him. But Kieran had shown enormous tenacity by breaking down all of these barriers. And why? Because he had sensed in Joby something he badly needed. A rough tenderness perhaps. Someone who wouldn't expect him to play the charming, carefree Irish clown all the bloody time. Someone who wouldn't be disappointed when Kieran's innate melancholia reared its head. Joby would never do as some people would have done, and whine "What's the matter with you at the moment? Why can't you funny and cheerful like you normally are?" Kieran's perceptions about his friend had been well-founded. Like all couples who've been together a long time, they had endured plenty of downs in their relationship, but Joby's steadfastness to him had been remarkable. If Kieran had remained amazingly uncorrupted by evrything that had happened to him, so had Joby.
And now here they were, lying on a bed in one of the most gorgeous parts of the world, on either side of an hermaphrodite. Their "beautiful freak", as Kieran had been known to call him.
Eventually the 3 of them went outside to the clearing, where all the others had gathered, and who were now heckling Ransey, who had wanted to call an Expedition Pre-Planning Meeting.
"There's nothing to pre-plan, old love", said Adam "We're setting off tomorrow morning with the hay-cart and all the animals, and we're going to follow the track down past Midnight Castle, through the forest. We really can't plan anymore than that at this stage".
"Take no notice of the senile old tosser", said Hillyard "He thinks he's back at the Ministry!"
"I'm surprised you haven't got a flip-chart and one of those pointer things", said Kieran "And Finia taking the minutes".
"Don't joke, he has suggested it", said Finia.
"Alright, alright", said Ransey "Forget I ever tried to impose any order. Don't blame me when anarchy breaks out in the ranks".
"What are you talking about?" said Hillyard "It never has yet. We've managed alright so far".
"We are a large group these days", said Ransey "There has to be some discipline".
"Oo-hoo, there'll be plenty of that, I promise you!" said Julian.
"Surely by now we've proved that we all make a good team?" said Adam.
"We need another 20 years together before Ransey'll be satisfied I expect!" said Kieran.
"It's not us that's the problem", said Ransey "It's the younger generation".
"Really?" said Julian "Bardin's not about to stage a coup is he? Is a palace revolution in the offing? Will we oldies have to take to the hills?"
"What's wrong with us all of a sudden?" said Tamaz.
"You're over-excitable", said Ransey, censoriously.
"And we're never like that are we, Jules?" said Adam.
"Models of calmness and propriety at all times", said Julian.
"We don't know what to expect when we go through that forest", said Ransey "Absolutely anything could be waiting for us".
"A situation we have been in many times before", said Julian.
"Look at Bengo", said Ransey.
Everyone did so. As Bengo, like a lot of the others, was stark-naked, this was a pleasure.
"What about me?" said Bengo, nervously.
"He's always getting lost!" said Ransey, as though irritably pointing out the defects of a duff slave at an auction.
"Twice, that's all", Bengo pouted.
"And both times something terrible could have happened", said Ransey "Probably involving savage creatures".
"That's very true", Adam sighed.
"He's no more trouble than Lonts was at his age", said Joby "And he was always running off on purpose!"
"I don't see why you had to bring all that up now, Joby", said Lonts, crossly "I didn't think as much as I should have in those days".
"And you mean you do now?!" Joby exclaimed.
"You can all stop panicking", said Bardin.
"Can we?" said Julian "How thoughtful of you".
"I have a solution to Bengo getting lost", Bardin continued.
He opened up one of the tea-chests which they used as makeshift chairs, and got out one of a pair of dog-leashes which they had bought for the goats. Bardin fastened it round Bengo's neck, and then demonstrated this wonderful new invention by walking him round the clearing. Bengo responded by getting down on all fours.
"Well I've always maintained that Bengo is the family's pet labrador!" said Julian.
Bardin swished the leather handle of the leash across Bengo's buttocks, which caused the others to give whoops of encouragement. Bengo padded over to Julian and rested his chin on his knee. Julian stroked his hair and patted his head.
"Excellent idea, Bardin", said Julian "Perhaps we could use the other one on Freaky. Shame we've never thought of it before!"
"Oh no you're not!" cried Tamaz.
Julian's erection was steadily growing as they spoke. Bengo feasted his eyes on it from close-range, like the glutton in Hades who had been condemned to having a dish of delicious food always just out of his reach. Bardin gave him another couple of swipes with the dog-leash and then jerked him away in the direction of the Indigo MKII.
"Anyone else care for it?" said Julian, after they clowns had gone.
"If you were able to grow it just a little bit more", said Joby "You'd be able to suck yourself off!"
"Come over here and say that", said Julian.
"Bardy?" said Bengo, lying beside him in the communal bed on the sloop "Are you thinking?"
"No, not really", said Bardin, sitting serenly propped against a bank of pillows.
"Do you ever fantasise?" said Bengo, rolling over to face him.
"Of course, doesn't everybody?" said Bardin "What's your current fantasy then?"
"You wouldn't like it", Bengo sighed.
"Why?" Bardin smiled "Does it involve something violent happening to me?"
"Sort of, I suppose", said Bengo "I imagine that it's you who gets lost for a change, and I have to rescue you".
"Doesn't sound very violent so far", said Bardin "Just a bit implausible".
"Well I kidnap you and use you as my slave", said Bengo "A-and you're really ... sort of scared of me 'cos I'm so fierce".
Bardin looked a bit nonplussed by this confession.
"We could act it out I suppose", he said, eventually "I'll go for a walk in the forest one day and you can find me. Although the bit about you being so fierce and me being scared might be beyond my acting abilities. It'd be beyond anyone's!"
"Why?" said Bengo, annoyed.
"Because you're too sweet!" said Bardin "Anyway, this is all just because you're being too sensitive about the others ragging you".
"It's hardly surprising is it!" said Bengo "Did you have to tell them that the other clowns at the Cabaret used to call me Bengo The Bimbo?"
"I thought they already knew!" said Bardin "Stop fretting on it. Not everyone can be a brain-surgeon, and with your looks you shouldn't care! You're cute and that's all there is to it. Just be happy with being everyone's pet".
"I could be", said Bengo "But I'd just like to rescue you too. I'd like to be a hero!"
Departure the following morning was very early, when the dawn chill was still over everything. Lonts and Bengo made mugs of strong tea over the fire in the clearing, whilst the hay-cart and the animals were prepared.
"Where's Tamaz?" said Mieps, who was standing around with his coat over his shoulders.
"He's in bed", said Lonts.
"What?" said Mieps "When everyone else is up?"
"There's nothing for him to do yet", said Bengo.
Mieps swore under his breath.
"Would you like a cup of tea, Mieps?" said Lonts.
"No!" Mieps snapped, and then instantly softened "No, no thanks".
He went onto the sloop, where everyone else was traipsing backwards and forwards carrying bundles over to the cart. They weren't leaving much behind on the sloop, just in case anyone decided to come out to the Bay and make off with it, which was unlikely. The supplies they weren't taking with them had been packed securely into boxes and concealed in various parts of the forest, as well as over at the ruined lighthouse. The hens were staying behind, and were going to fend for themselves in the clearing, as they were quite capable of doing.
Tamaz was lying rolled up in his quilt on the communal bed. Mieps grabbed his ankles and pulled him off.
"Get up, you little brat!" he said.
Tamaz hissed and jumped back onto the bed.
"Leave me alone, you ugly old reptile!" he cried.
"I'm so ugly you just can't stop looking at me, can you?" said Mieps, spreading himself on top of Tamaz and kissing him.
"We're going up-country", Tamaz breathed, excitedly.
"Have you got your bundle together?" said Mieps.
"Then let's go!" said Mieps, joyfully "Let's go and see what we can hunt down!"
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