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The first day of the Festival ws one of high emotions and intense experiences. Brinslee laid on a superlative breakfast for everyone, comprising of the very best seafood the town had to offer. Lobster, salmon, and scallops that tasted of white chocolate. All rounded off by some extremely vintage brandy (nearly 200 years old), because Brinslee said he wanted to make everyone feel special.
Adam took Lonts down to see the animals, and they both watched in delight backstage as some local elephants, pressed into service as people-carriers, doused themselves in cold water.
'Love In The Laundry' was scheduled for the afternoon. Bardin had chosen it this way to gauge public reaction. If it was favourable he and the other clowns intended to do a more outrageous sketch an hour later. He had no cause for alarm. Tamaz's tits went down a storm (this encouraged the chorus-girls to dance topless afterwards), and even the previously controversial bit of Tamaz being spanked was greeted with giggles and "aahs". Bardin, with his usual nose for gauging public reaction, had been right when he had said that Rumble as chastiser was simply funny and even rather sweet. There was affection between Rumble and Tamaz, but none of that intense sexual electricity there had been between Tamaz and Joby.
An hour later the clowns staged 'The Nude Waiters'. This was a very funny piece in which Bengo, Bardin, Rumble and Farnol played snooty waiters at a swanky restaurant. The main joke being that the 4 of them performed the whole sketch completely butt-naked, but seemingly oblivious to their nudity, as they dispensed their duties with deadpan, aloof expressions. In the audience even Ransey laughed when Bardin poured out a cup of tea, holding the teapot at cock-level, which meant he looked as though he was urinating through the spout into the cup.
"He does it that way back home!" Ransey exclaimed.
The denouement came when Tamaz came on as the coffee-waiter. His extraordinary hermaphrodite body, now revealed in all its glory, was the perfect punchline.
Backstage afterwards, Farnol joined Joby and Hoowie, who were watching a lengthy and complicated card-trick that one of the chorus-girls was attempting to do on the top of a packing-case. Hoowie though was getting impatient.
"Is there any point to this?" he said.
"Belt up, Hoowie", said Joby "You're like a whiney little kid on a long car-journey!"
"Yeah shut your trap, Hoowie", said Farnol "I'm trying to concentrate, you know, it's called thinking!"
"Bit of an alien concept for him", Joby grunted.
Hoowie was distracted by Tamaz, who was attempting to put his drawers back on. Hoowie grabbed him and pulled him back into a large laundry-basket, which was lying open nearby. Bardin ran across and bundled them back into it, before slamming down the lid, fastening it and then planting himself on top. Rumble and Bengo were giving him congratulations when a stage-hand came over. This young lad was a Toondorie, who had come up with the Little Theatre crowd to help with the practical work backstage. He told them how much he had enjoyed their sketches, and how much his wife would have enjoyed them too.
"Why isn't she here?" said Bardin.
"She's dead", said the lad "She died a few weeks ago. Heart trouble. She was 21".
The clowns looked shellshocked by this terrible news.
"She loved the Little Theatre and any kind of comedy", the boy continued "In fact, she said that making each other laugh was the second most important thing in life, after loving each other. When she was ill the last few months, she said I wasn't to feel sorry for her, and that I was to share what she felt whenever I could", he looked at Bengo and Bardin "I know she particularly wanted me to share it with you".
Bardin, by far the most intense one of the clowns, was deeply upset after this encounter. He was glad when they all went back to Brinslee's house for a rest, as he found himself wanting to burst into tears, weeping for a girl whose name he didn't even know.
Julian, who was scheduled to dine with Adam, Finia, Glynis, Codlik, Brinslee, Dolores and other assembled important public figures that evening, took time out to console him, by inviting him and Bengo into his liver-coloured room whilst he got changed.
"What the young man said to you is probably one of the most important things you'll ever be told", said Julian, winding up his fob-watch "And such things always come unsolicited, out of the blue, and in the most unexpected circumstances. Such philosophies aren't written down in tablets of stone, because perhaps they don't need to be, it might belittle them".
"But 21 ...!" Bardin was sitting slouched in an armchair by the window.
"She certainly wouldn't have wanted you to go harping on about that", said Julian "It's not how much you get, it's what you do with it that counts. Some people could live til they're a 100 and never be able to even grasp something so profound. And sometimes, when someone dies young, it's as if their life has been speeded up, to compact all the thoughts into it, that the rest of us have to wait until we're old to realise. Concentrating the mind and all that. It took me many decades to realise what she realised in only a few short months".
"I've always said clowning was important", said Bardin "And I've always believed it, even when everyone else thought I was just being pretentious".
"Just have a good time this evening", said Julian "You've got Bengo the loveable hound for company ... who has just wrecked my bed! Bengo, what are you doing? Get off there, you crazy mutt!"
Bengo, who like Lonts, could never see a bed without wanting to roll around in it, had been scuffling about on Julian's bedspread like a dog in a sandpit.
"I'm sorry, Julian", Bengo scrambled off the bed "I'll make it for you".
"You will not, your housework is atrocious!" said Julian "Unfortunately, I will have to leave Bardin to discipline you".
Ransey came into the room, with a stern expression on his face.
"What do you want, you gloomy old bag of bones?" said Julian.
"Finia and Adam are waiting for you", said Ransey "I said I'd come and hustle you along a bit. Make sure you turn up".
"Were you a prison warder in a former existence?" said Julian.
Once they were alone, Bengo threw himself onto Bardin, and a very physical few minutes followed.
"We have to get up", said Bardin, as they both dozed in Julian's bed.
"I don't want to", said Bengo, drowsily "I want to stay here".
"But we can't", Bardin kissed him tenderly "We're going out".
As if on cue the other 5 of the under-30s poured through the door and fell onto the bed.
"How much longer have we got to wait?" said Farnol.
"Hillyard's given us some readies", said Rumble, pulling out a substantial wad of notes from his pocket.
"I'll take care of that", said Bardin, making a grab for it, but Rumble hung onto the loot.
"No, you haven't got any pockets to put it in", he said.
Bardin got off the bed and hunted for his trousers on the floor. Tamaz picked up Julian's leather paddle and swatted his bottom with it several times.
"I'll wring your neck, you little squirt", Bardin put his hands round Tamaz's throat "I'll chuck you out of the window".
"No you can't", said Tamaz "I'm a prisoner, so I'm not allowed outside alone".
The others laughed. Once Bengo and Bardin were dressed everyone left the house. Contrary to expectations, they didn't head to the nearest bar but instead went to an open-air ice-cream parlour on the quayside. Bardin dropped a generous amount of the cash on the counter, and they proceeded to sample every flavour in stock.
"The midnight double choc chip's the best", Farnol concluded.
"Better than that vanilla", said Tamaz "That tasted like bacon, and it was all watery".
"Must be nice for you, Hoowie", said Farnol "You get to eat the ice-cream, not have it smeared all over your face!"
"I'll smear this all over your nuts if you're not careful", said Hoowie.
"Only if you promise to lick it off!" said Farnol.
"Ugh, no camp jokes, please!" said Bardin "That new comedian Hawkefish has got just comes out with an endless stream of camp jokes in his act. Tedious isn't the word. He wanted to be in our Nude Waiters' sketch, but I put my foot down. He'd have completely wrecked it".
"All a bit hold hat anyway, his sort of thing", said Rumble.
"But we're entirely physical comics", said Bengo "We don't go in for all that verbal wordplay".
"Who the hell wants verbal wordplay when they can look at you and Tamaz in the buff instead?" said Rumble.
"Yeah we'd better do something different tomorrow", said Bardin "No nudity, or they'll think that's all we can do. Rumble, get thinking, we need a new routine, where we all keep our clothes on".
"We'd better involve Hoowie this time", said Rumble "Give him something he can do".
"That's not gonna be easy!" said Bardin.
Inside the bar nearby sat Kieran, Joby, Ransey, Lonts, Hillyard and Mieps. This was the very same bar that 4 of them had fetched up in on their first visit to Port West many years before.
"We're all a wee bit older now", said Kieran.
"Yes, but I don't know about wiser though", said Ransey "Just more battle-scarred perhaps".
"Mieps wasn't with us then", said Lonts, who was sitting with Snowy propped up against his pint-glass "Nor was I. You didn't let me come out with you, which was really mean".
"You were a pain in the arse to take out in those days, that's why", said Joby "You were always bawling or running off".
"He's calmed down a lot these days", said Kieran.
"Yeah, if he calms down much more we'll have him stuffed by mistake!" said Joby.
"You didn't miss much last time, Lonts", said Ransey "From what I remember we spent most of the evening having a vibrant, intellectual discussion about what turned us on the most!"
"You'd have a bit more scope in that conversation these days, Ransey", said Hillyard.
"Ah he's got Finia now", said Kieran.
"Not just Finia though", said Hillyard.
"Look, if this is digging at Adam then don't", said Ransey "Lonts is here, he might not like it".
"I don't mind", said Lonts, who had been contentedly squelching on his thumb "Ransey's one of the family. Adam can't run off with him, not like that Jonner person".
"I was thinking of Julian actually", said Hillyard.
"Julian?" Ransey exclaimed, nearly choking on his beer.
"You always talk to him with a great deal of passion", said Hillyard.
"That's exasperation, not passion!" said Ransey.
"On many occasions it can be the same thing", said Kieran, teasingly.
"That's right", said Hillyard, nodding in agreement.
"If exasperation was a sign of passion", said Ransey "Then I would be in a permanent state of arousal around you, and I can assure you that is not the case!"
"Hey, what about that Christmas up at the big house?" said Joby "When you and Julian got in bed together".
"I might have known that one would come up!" said Ransey "That only happened because Hillyard the fat slob played a filthy trick on us!"
"Not very accountant-ly language, Ransey", said Kieran.
"And I've always thought more happened there than was ever let on", said Hillyard, darkly.
"If it did, I was so drunk I can't remember anything about it", said Ransey.
"Cobblers", said Kieran "I've been rat-arsed many times in my life, but I have always been able to remember a sexual encounter afterwards. This idea that you get so drunk you can't remember ANYTHING is a myth put about for convenience by people who don't drink very often. I mean, some of the finer points might get a wee bit hazy round the edges, but you always remember the gist of it".
"Yeah, so come on, cough up", said Joby "You've kept it from us for too long".
"And we know something did happen", said Hillyard "But Julian always bites my head off when I mention it".
"It was pretty basic stuff that's why", said Ransey "A bit of mutual masturbation, real school-dorm level".
"Julian's speciality!" Kieran laughed "He tends to go for the furtive encounter".
"He was furtive enough with Hillyard for a long time", said Joby "After all, we didn't know anything about that for years".
"I think the secrecy turns him on", said Hillyard "He likes to feel he's getting up to something no one else knows about. He's alright though. When I first started going with him he didn't even like kissing much. He wanted to do a quick fumble and then get out again. We've gradually thawed him out over the years".
"Tamaz says Mieps has been like that", said Lonts.
"I didn't know any better", said Mieps, curtly "I thought all there was to sex was that you got on with it when you needed it. Tamaz was the first person I'd met that I'd ever had to play games with. In a Ghoomer community you'd see people fucking each other whenever the urge came on them, with whoever was nearest usually, and everyone else would just carry on around them as normal. We had no such things as mating rituals and foreplay. Perhaps some of us have got a bit wiser".
"Well yes I am pleasently surprised that some brainless fool hasn't suggested going to see the Bone-House yet", said Ransey.
"They can count me out if they do", said Joby "Although we can't see it from here it's bad enough that we know it's nearby".
"There's nothing to see there", said Kieran "Brinslee told me it's been empty ever since we left it, so it can stay that way as far as I'm concerned".
"We can't be here in Port West and not see the Bone-House!" Hoowie was saying at this very moment "We might never come here again".
"If you want to go and see it, then you do it on your own", said Bardin, swigging from a bottle of beer "It's a long trek up through the woods for nothing in my opinion, and we've got a show to think about".
"And Kieran wouldn't like it", said Bengo.
"He wouldn't object to us just showing a healthy curiosity", said Hoowie.
"That's not healthy, that's downright morbid", said Bengo "Like sick jerks who go and look at accident sites".
"Tamaz, what about you?" said Hoowie.
If he had bargained on Tamaz's wilfulness coming in useful, then he was to be mistaken. Tamaz hadn't seen the Bone-House, but he had heard all about it from Kieran and Joby. It reminded him too much of a gloomy building he had fetched up in when he had foolishly fled Wolf Castle the morning of the comet blast. He had joined up with a bunch of other Ghoomers, and settled in a place that was the epitome of dirt and decay, liberally decorated with Ghoomer excrement. Although the Bone-House hadn't been like that, that was the image that Tamaz had of it in his mind.
"No I don't want to see it", he said "It'd make Joby unhappy for one thing".
"Why, you great bunch of wussies!" said Hoowie.
"There's nothing to stop you going", said Bardin "We're not putting you under restraint. Go, if that's what you want to do".
"Just like that?" said Hoowie, hurtfully "I bet you'd put the brakes on Bengo or Tamaz if they wanted to go".
"Yeah, because I can", said Bardin "But with you, I just have to rely on you being reasonable, and as you're incapable of that, then I just have to let you do what you like".
Farnol, ever the amiable one, was about to step in and try and heal the rift, when the waterfront was disturbed by a tinny tootling noise.
"What's that?" said Bengo.
"Looks like that prick Zooks has hired himself a land-buggy", said Bardin, as Zooks nosed the vehicle through the maze of people, chairs and tables scattered along the road.
"Now don't tell us, let us guess", said Rumble, as the vehicle drew up by them "You're taking a trip out to see the Bone-House!"
"Anyone want to join me?" said Zooks.
Bardin and Hoowie glared at each other, as though taking part in a staring contest. Neither spoke as Hoowie climbed into the passenger seat of the buggy. Bengo gave a heartfelt sigh.
Back at Brinslee's house, Adam and Julian were sitting on a low, squashy red velvet sofa, watching Codlik and Glynis execute a slow waltz in the middle of the ballroom. Finia was fast asleep in an armchair nearby, with one leg tucked up underneath him like a small child.
"He can't be very comfortable like that", said Adam.
"No, but if I try to move him I'll wake him up", said Julian.
Bardin hove into view, looking stricken. He told them about Hoowie's escapade.
"Don't worry, they can't actually get out to the Bone-House", said Julian "It's high tide, the causeway'll be covered".
"They'll just have to stand on the headland and admire it in the moonlight", said Adam.
"But there are wild animals in the forest", said Bardin "Dangerous ones".
"And they'll take one look at those two idiots and run a mile!" said Julian "Go and get some sleep, you've got a long day tomorrow, and you've had quite a one today".
Bardin bid them goodnight and went up to bed.
"He's worse than you for getting so emotional about everything", said Julian "You can't afford to worry too much about the Hoowie's of this world".
"Strangely I don't", said Adam "I think because I can't imagine him in any serious danger".
Hoowie and Zooks drove up through the forest to the headland. The bar at the top was still there, although shuttered for the night. Out in the ocean the sea was flat-calm and completely covered the causeway. The shape of the Bone-House could just about be discerned in the moonlight. The house where Kieran and the others had lived for 4 months whilst they waited for Caln to shrink. The house where Domino, Brinslee's consort, had been murdered by vampires, where Angel had taken Kieran into the ether, where Caln had munched on human eyes, where Father Isaac had resurrected all the suicides from Lonts's village, and on top of that they had all been subjected to intense psychological fears. No wonder no one wanted to live in it now!
"That must have taken some bottle", said Zooks, quietly "To live there all those weeks, waiting for that vampire to shrink".
"What are you doing out here?" an old man came round the side of the bar, pointing a rifle at them "I could've shot you 2 kids! What are you, ghouls? Wanta take a look at the Bone-House I spose? People never learn any sense. Leave the damn place alone, I say".
"If everyone did that, you'd get no customers", said Zooks, haughtily.
"Oh yes I would, you cheeky little snot-nose!" said the landlord, still with his gun pointed at them "I get plenty of hunters and walkers, I don't need no sensation-seekers. Now you get back to town and leave places like the Bone-House alone".
"I'll have you know that my friend here is one of Kieran's gang", said Zooks.
"That so?" said the landlord, spitting on the ground "Then he should know better. I met the little fella when he called in before going over to the Bone-House. I didn't want him to go there, I thought the vampires would get him for sure, but he sorted 'em out. God, he was so skinny too. Looked like he couldn't of sorted out a field-mouse! There sure is alot of power packed into that small body".
Now he had started talking about Kieran, it seemed as though the old man didn't want to stop. In spite of all the years that had passed, the evening when Kieran had walked into his bar was still as vivid as ever.
"You kids get back to town", he said, softly "He wouldn't want all that raking up again".
In the early hours of the morning Bardin was pacing restlessly along the covered walkway which overlooked Brinslee's back garden. The roof was hung with wind-chimes, which all tinkled in the gentle night breeze. Hoowie had slipped in thorugh the back gate, and found Bardin, in his short silk bath-robe, waiting for him.
"Satisfied now?" Bardin snapped "Seen it have you?"
"Where's Bengo?" said Hoowie, yawning.
"Asleep", said Bardin "Like I should be! I'm going to give you shit tomorrow! Whatever we give you to do, you'll do, understand? If I decide to hang you upside down in a gunge tank, you'll do it!"
"I didn't see as how going out there would do any harm", Hoowie shrugged.
Bardin knew this was the closest he'd get to an apology, and accepted it.
"But you should've stopped me if you felt that bad about it!" Hoowie exclaimed "It makes me feel like you don't care".
"Then what am I doing down here when everyone else is in bed?!" Bardin squawked "Get inside, you gormless moron!"
Inside the house, they climbed the main staircase, wearily. Kieran had been sitting at the top. When he heard them nearby he slipped softly away to his own room.
"Where did you go?" said Joby, half-asleep.
"Karsey", said Kieran, slipping in beside Tamaz.
"Oh", said Joby, and went back to sleep.
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