Go back to previous chapter



By Sarah Hapgood

"The suspension was completely shot to pieces on that contraption", said Julian, dismounting from the hay-cart on the quayside "I felt like I was riding in a tumbril".

"Just wishful thinking", Joby grunted.

"It is a far far better thing that I do now ...!" Adam began, sweeping his arms wide.

"Oh shut up", said Julian.

"The Indigo's back!" Lonts cried, leaping off the back of the cart.

"So I should hope", said Julian "I asked them to bring it back round when they were through".

The younger ones hurtled along the jetty towards it, and a scene followed which bore unwelcome echoes of 'Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House', in which various members of the family found a fresh disaster lurking round every corner of their new residence.

"You can't tell me that hole was there before", said Julian, standing in the hold with Hillyard.

"How would you know?" said Hillyard "You only came down here once in a blue moon!"

"I would still have noticed that!" said Julian, pointing at the offending small hole situated near the ceiling.

"It's above the water-line", Hillyard protested "Just".

"On a very dry day!" said Julian "And I would like to point out that we are still in monsoon season".

"It's not a very big hole", said Hillyard.

"The size is irrelevant", said Julian "However small it is it can still let in water, unless of course you intend to stand down here with your finger in it, like the little Dutch boy!"

Joby and Lonts were watching all this peering down from the hatchway, where they were kneeling in the corridor.

"Does this mean we're sinking?" said Lonts.

"If we were sinking we wouldn't be sat here like this discussing it, would we!" said Joby.

Julian haved himself up through the hatchway.

"They needn't think they've heard the last of this", he said "A full and frank discussion will take place when I get round to that boatyard".

"Ahem", said Ransey, emerging from his cabin with a section of pannelling from the wall in his hand "We now have one large cabin on this side of the corridor, where previously we had two small ones".

Lonts and Tamaz ran excitedly into their room and clambered onto Tamaz's bed, from which they could peer through a sizeable gap in the wall straight into Ransey and Finia's room.

"We can watch you when you're asleep, Ransey!" said Lonts.

"Good", said Adam "Keep an eye on him".

"This is not an occasion for jest", Julian snapped.

"Oh lighten up, Julian", said Hillyard, clambering out of the hatch "There's nothing that I can't fix".

"That's not the point", said Julian "The point is that none of these problems occurred before we put her into the boatyard. They're a bunch of charlatans, the whole lot of them".

"Nothing's stolen anyway", said Adam.

"Oh well that's alright then", said Julian "As long as they didn't run off with the family silver, who cares that we'll sink during the next rainstorm!"

"I'll take the horse and cart back to the stables", said Hillyard "And then I'll come back and get to work on the hole".

"We've got a new engine", said Joby "That's the main thing".

"Then let's hope we stay afloat long enough to use it!" said Julian.

Kieran went off with Hillyard to return the horse and cart, and then dropped in at Persephone's on the way back for a drink, neither of them being in any hurry to listen to Julian go on about the rain, which had just started. In the meantime Julian put Lonts in the hold to watch the water level, which trickled through like a sea-monster spitting through the hole.

"It's just a trickle, Julian", said Lonts.

"Oh yes, it's just a trickle now", said Julian, darkly.

Adam gave a sigh of exasperation and went into the galley where Joby was weeping over an onion.

"Why don't you do that trick with the dishcloth I showed you, you silly boy?" said Adam, folding up a damp cloth and placing it under the bowl of water which Joby was peeling an onion over.

"What are we making exactly, Ad?" Joby sniffed "Only there seem to be a helluva lot of onions in it!"

"Mushroom Wellington", said Adam, sitting down at the table where he was rolling out pastry.

"What's that when it's at home?"

"Button mushrooms in a tomato and onion sauce, encased in pastry. It's a vegetarian dish. I thought Patsy would like it. He must get awfully sick of Welsh rarebit and tinned vegetables".

"Well he's out-numbered ten-to-one isn't he?" said Joby.

"You'll like this too", said Adam "I dimly remember having it in the old life. It's delicious".

Footsteps could be heard on the stairs outside and Kieran came into the room, looking rather the worse for drink.

"Oh great", Joby grunted "We go to all this trouble to do a meal for him, and he'll probably be too pissed to eat it!"

"Joby, you sound like his wife", Adam laughed.

"I have important news to impart", said Kieran, grandly "Adam, Joby, I want you to put down your tools and listen to me".

"We can listen just as well whilst we're working", said Adam.

"I doubt it's anything important anyway", said Joby "He's probably gonna tell us it's some saint's day which you can't eat button mushrooms on!"

"We are at war", said Kieran.

"We'd better not be!" Joby exclaimed, indignantly "What have you been up to, eh?"

"I've just been watching the t.v in Persephone's bar", said Kieran "The news was on. Codlik apparently is 'expressing concern' about events in Toondor Lanpin".

"What events in Toondor Lanpin?" said Joby.

"Everything", said Kieran "Subversive elements in our shows, the way we didn't consult the Ministry on how to handle Milich ..."

"But we're a Free State", Adam protested "It's got nothing to do with them! I wish Codlik was here in this room, I'd soon give him a piece of my mind, the little creep!"

"He wants to send an envoy down here", said Kieran "To see exactly what's going on".

"He can't", said Joby "We went through all that last year with old Minister Crum. That's why we became a Free State, they didn't make any objection then".

"I've always felt they were indulging us rather", Adam sighed "Oh well, let him send another idiot down here. We've got nothing to hide".

"Oh no", said Kieran "I won't stand for that".

"What do you mean, you won't stand for it?" said Joby "You're not in charge round here. No one ever seems to be in charge in this town!"

"I am taking charge", said Kieran "It is time we showed the Ministry we are to be taken seriously as a Free State. If we don't this will keep happening. Every five minutes some officious oaf coming down here and giving us what's for. And who knows? If we don't comply with their rules they make retake us by force, like the Russians did in Hungary, or the Nazi's in Austria. Well I'm not having that! Oh no! I am going to send a message to Codlik first thing in the morning along the lines that any attempt by him to send a representative down here, will be seen by us as an act of aggression on their part".

"Oh don't be absurd!" Adam cried.

"Let me show you something, you drunken spud", said Joby.

He tipped up the remains of a bag of flour on the table, and Adam gave a moan of exasperation.

"This is the world, right?" he said, pointing at the flour. He then jabbed a tiny hole in it with his finger "And this is us! And all the rest of it, every single bit, is run by the Ministry. Now we, who are very small, would be completely mad to take on them, who are very big. Basic law of physics is that. It can't be done".

"I don't agree", said Kieran.

"Why not?" Joby cried, in exasperation.

"I don't understand you", said Kieran "Is this the attitude that made Britain great, is it?"

"How could you know!" Joby exclaimed.

"Look, before this develops into a slanging match", said Adam "I would like to suggest that we allow this representative of Codlik's to come here, just like Minister Crum did, have a mooch round and go away again. I really do think it's a little early to go making such warmongering noises. As Winston Churchill once said, jaw jaw jaw is better than war war war. I would strongly advise you to sleep on this, Patsy. You're in no condition at the moment to go making life-changing decisions".

"He's just frustated that his trouble", said Joby "Annoyed 'cos no one takes any notice of him anymore. After all, the only time anyone notices him these days if he's on rollerskates, and then they're usually looking at Tamaz!"

"I wouldn't go threatening war just for that!" said Kieran.

"Joby knows that", said Adam "He's trying to calm you down, that's all".

Kieran sheepishly turned to leave and then stopped.

"I-I know you think I'm being dramatic", he said, humbly "But the fact remains that sooner or later we have to prove to the world once and for all that we are a Free State. The trouble is, that's a dangerous thing. It could inspire other places to do the same, and the Ministry won't like that. We've lived in cloud cuckoo land down here, always assuming the rest of the world is as easygoing as we are", he began to cry softly "But it's not. We're heading for a very delicate time. Poor old Toondor Lanpin. The 'live to loaf' place up against all that grey ambition. I just think we have to show them we're serious. Perhaps try and persuade them somehow that our attitude to life is just as viable, if not more so, than theirs. You two are English, you have no idea what it's like to be occupied by an enemy, to have their ideas thrust upon you".

"Maybe not in the same dramatic way as you're thinking of", said Adam "But we've had despots of our own, we know what you're talking about".

"Then help me stop this", Kieran implored.

"Sure", said Adam "But first we have to take a risk and invite them down here, and you have to be civilised about it".

"Somehow this has got to be the final showdown", said Kieran "I want this so much. I want us to be free of them for good. We don't need them to tell us how to behave, we know. Look at us here, WE KNOW!"

Joby went into their cabin a short while later and found Kieran undressed and lying in bed.

"Aren't you gonna have some dinner then?" he said, sitting down on the edge of the bunk next to him "I've just had a bit of the Button Wellington, it's quite tasty".

"I'll have mine later", said Kieran.

"Yeah, but you won't though will yer!" said Joby "I'll be scraping it into the bin like I was always having to do when we lived in the hut. If you eat summat, your nerves won't feel so on end".

"Jobe, listen to me", said Kieran "If things get nasty with the Ministry ... w-what I'm saying is if, during the nastiness, if anything was to happen to Tamaz - I wouldn't put it past those bastards - I-I'm terrified you'll hate me for it".

"Of course I won't", said Joby "I'd never blame you for anything like that. What kind of a person do you think I am?"

"Not even here", Kieran touched the area round Joby's heart "Deep inside you".

"Not anywhere", said Joby "Not in me heart, me brain, me elbow, me big toe!"

Kieran laughed, and then looked very serious.

"I'll try me very best to keep him safe", he said.

"We'll all keep each other safe", said Joby "But I'm more scared for you than for him. The Ministry have got more to gain from bumping you off than him these days, and that thought scares the shit out of me more than any other".

"Oh Jobe", Kieran exclaimed "I'm so glad you and me are still alright".

"Not half as glad as I am", said Joby "I was terrified of coming out of his 'mid-life crisis' and finding you were no longer there! I always thought Hillyard would make a better consort for you than me".

"Hillyard?" Kieran exploded with laughter "Hillyard!"

"Well he's everything I'm not", said Joby "Good-looking, charming, gets on with everyone".

"Yes, too damn well! Don't get me wrong, I love him more than a brother", said Kieran "But the whole notion's crazy. Who would I have a good fight with? Who is it who puts everything in perspective for me? Give us a kiss, you daft chump".

"Only on condition you come and have a bit of Button Wellington", said Joby.

"It's a deal", said Kieran.

"What's is this?" said the clerk at the boatyard the following morning, after Ransey had chucked a heap of wooden pannelling on his desk.

"My bedroom wall", said Ransey.

"Well what's it doing here?" said the clerk, above the cacophony of hammering and drilling that was going on below his office window.

"Thanks to you it is no longer in place", said Ransey.

"Oh no", the clerk tutted and took another bite out of his rock cake "We did what was required and no more. You can't pin anything on us. That vessel was not in the best condition. But what do you expect? You've been halfway round the world in her, and she's not as young as she was. But she's still river-worthy and that's all that matters, complete with new engine to boot".

"What about the hole in the hold?" said Ransey.

"We weren't aware of that", said the clerk "If you book her in again though I'm sure we can get it sorted out".

"No chance", said Julian, after he and Ransey had left the office "We'll get Hillyard to sort it out like we originally said".

"I'm surprised you weren't giving him a mouthful in there", said Ransey, who was carrying the section of his bedroom wall under his arm "I was expecting you to start at any moment".

"Perhaps it's old age coming on", Julian sat down at the top of the stairs which led down to the boatyard "Or rather more likely I'm concerned as to what the Ministry are going to do when they get here".

"If you can't see them off, no one can", said Ransey, sitting down next to him. He patted Julian's back in a rare show of affection.

"Do you think they're going to take us over?" said Julian.

"And do what with us?" said Ransey "Have us all shot?! If the vampires were still around we'd have cause for concern, but they're not. Codlik and his bunch are a pain in the arse there's no denying, but they are not like we've known in the past".

"But the women", said Julian "We have to watch they don't take them".

"Can you see this lot being easily subdued?" said Ransey "And if all else fails, we have Kieran remember".

"There's no chance they'll try and have ..." Julian tried to say, awkwardly "Well the work you used to do. They won't have him assassinated? No man who's ever lived has been invincible, and Kieran whilst he lives is a thorn in the side to them, particularly as he's made no secret at times that he doesn't agree with them. And this is going to enhance that. These are dangerous bends, you know".

"What else can he do?" said Ransey "This is what he was meant to do. Someone's got to break the law of the Ministry, and it can't be done without risk. Yes it's true, that if we insist on being a proper Free State, that others could copy us. It's a huge risk ... but it has to be done. The way of life the Ministry represents, that the City represents, has got to die, it's sterile, non-loving, rotten ..."

"You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs", Julian sighed, heavily "Why do I get the feeling this is crunch time?"

"Julian, no one down here knows the Ministry better than me", said Ransey "Not even Kieran. They may not be actively evil anymore, but I want them gone. If only for the way they soul-destroyed me, and countless others like me, and are still doing so! If Kieran represents anything, it's the opposing force to that. You're a time-crosser. I know you've lived in this world a long time now, but it's still probably difficult for you to understand quite what these bastards do to us from an early age. The way they dehumanise us, make us cold".

"Actually I do understand", said Julian, quietly "Because I was brought up the same".

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