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The following morning Kieran told the others that he and Joby were simply taking Tamaz out for a walk, but they didn't know what time they would be back. Lonts showed wistful signs of wanting to come with them, but fortunately Adam had a busy day lined up for him at the studio, so he was easily distracted.
Tamaz was very subdued after his bad dream, and he didn't even protest when Kieran and Joby managed to get him stuffed into a t-shirt, trousers, and The Stupid Coat. Joby was apprehensive, but was assured by Kieran that there was no harm in simply checking if this house in Tamaz's dream really existed.
The river-fog had cleared, but the day was chilly and overcast, and they walked towards the outskirts of the town under a leaden grey sky. Tamaz had said that the house could probably be found at the extreme western end of town, but apart from that he remained silent, and in his nervousness he held onto their hands at all times.
The house was located eventually, but it was actually right outside Toondor Lanpin, on the road which ran out across the bleak marshes, eventually towards Woll's estate. Partially obscured from the road by a field which had lain fallow for years, the house was dilapidated two-storey wooden effort, which was long and thin.
"Well we know it exists then", said Joby, peering at it through a pair of binoculars "It looks lived-in, but not very well cared for".
"And you think there's a Ghoomer in it, Tamaz?" said Kieran.
"I know there is", said Tamaz "This is all as it was in the dream".
"Look this is daft", said Joby, sadly "He probably got a glimpse of this place from the cart on the way back from Woll's, and now he's convinced there's something wrong with it. It's just his imagination I expect".
"In that case why did you want to come with us to look at it?" said Kieran.
"Because I wanted a day out, alone with you both, that's why", said Joby "No harm in that is there?"
"No", said Kieran "But in that case there's no harm in us getting a wee bit closer to it".
The three of them walked up the dirt track which ran up the side of the field, with the exaggerated nonchalence of people who know they are trespassing. There wasn't much more to see up close than there had been from the road. Two neat rows of windows, top and bottom, were all closed and uncurtained, but the house didn't give the impression of being empty.
"I dunno what gives him the idea there's a Ghoomer in it", said Joby, sighing.
"There's someone there", said Kieran, catching a movement at one of the upper windows.
Standing up there, staring down at them, was a woman in a white, sleeveless nightgown. It was impossible to determine her age, but she looked pale and haggard. Her eyes were large and dark, and seemed too big for her face.
Tamaz, with his hunter's eyesight, could see more detail about her than the others. She parted her lips and he could see the tell-tale razor-sharp teeth and the flickering snake-like tongue.
"Ghoomer", he said.
She opened the window and then climbed up onto the sill, where she crouched on her haunches like a cat preparing to leap at a bird. Tamaz whimpered as he had in his dream.
"She's not really gonna jump down here is she?" Joby exclaimed. He was uncomfortably reminded of the Pig Woman at Bandorra. There was the same highly malevolent expression on her face, the expression of a hunter espying a long-desired prey.
The three of them stood transfixed by her, all thinking that surely it was impossible that she would actually leap down to them. Kieran experienced the terrifying sensation of being poised at the top of a very high wall looking down.
"RUN!" he suddenly screamed at the others.
They managed to drag each other back out onto the road, where they ran along for some distance until the house was well out of sight. Then they came to a stop and held each other in a large bundle.
"I'm relieved you didn't hang about", said Joby, when they had all caught their breath "I didn't think I'd ever be able to move again. I was just completely mesmerised by her".
"That's what they do", said Tamaz "I'm glad you didn't leave me there".
"As if we were going to!" said Joby "That's the last time we're acting on one of your dreams though!"
"No, it's good we found out for ourselves", said Kieran "We can't have Ghoomers living on the outskirts of our town. People have to be warned about this, but not in a way that'll cause any panic. We don't want them turning on Tamaz".
"Let's walk back now", said Tamaz "I knew what was going to happen, because that's exactly what she did to me in the dream".
"I wish we knew how many more of the bastards were around", said Joby.
"I don't think we'll ever know that for certain", said Kieran "We've just got to be prepared for them to pop up occasionally".
They walked back down the centre of the road, holding onto each other. A short way along, in the middle of a small clump of trees, they saw another house that had escaped their attention before. This place looked truly forbidding. It was solid, square, and completely brown, with heavy wooden doors, and the windows all shuttered. It must be said that it looked as though it had been carved out of a giant turd!
"I don't like the look of that place either", said Joby.
There was an inn on the opposite side of the road a short way further along. In olden days this had been a thriving posting-house for carriages in and out of Toondor Lanpin. Now it was used mainly by fishermen, and people who went shooting birds out on the marshes. Kieran suggested they stop there for some much-need refreshments.
The main bar was large and simply-furnished, with an impressive central wooden staircase, and stone floors. The only occupant was an old man smoking a pipe by the fire. This reminded Joby of Lonts.
"I'm glad we didn't bring the baby", he said.
"Jaysus, so am I", said Kieran.
The landlord came out from a back room to serve them, and initally looked put out to see Tamaz on his premises. But he was impressed by Kieran's quiet authority, and the way Joby took off Tamaz's coat and sat him down with gentle firmness.
"Three beers in your largest mugs, please", said Kieran "And what food do you have?"
"Meat pasties", said the landlord.
"That'll be alright for these two", said Kieran "But could you run me up some bread and cheese?"
The landlord agreed, and the refreshments wre brought out with commendable speed.
"What a morning!" said Joby, taking a prolonged sip of his beer "I never thought anywhere near Toondor Lanpin could give me the willies like that. As if we haven't got enough to sort out at the moment!"
"How's your dinner?" said Kieran.
"Good", said Joby "Packed full of meat, potatoes and carrots".
Tamaz was too busy shovelling his down to say anything.
"He's quite well-behaved isn't he?" said the landlord, when he came out to refill their mugs.
"Fortunately he's having one of his quiet days", said Joby.
"I've never been up close to him before", said the landlord "I hadn't realised how beautiful he was. After all, I was expecting him to be like his mother!"
"He's quite a bit like her at times", said Kieran "But not too much so you don't have to worry. Our fingers aren't going to start breaking off all over the place as we slowly turn to stone!"
"Don't say that", Joby shivered, as he remembered Rooly.
Kieran pulled out a wad of notes and asked the landlord to keep refilling their mugs whenever he saw they were empty.
"Nice to be able to do that isn't it?" he said, when the landlord returned to the back room "No more watching every single thing we spend".
With some food inside him and a couple of beers, Joby began to relax. He pushed his hat to the back of his head, and chatted with Kieran about innocuous subjects. Neither of them feeling they should mention the Ghoomer in public just yet, even if at the moment the public did only consist of one old man and his pipe.
"Still", said Kieran "You've got to admit this is a change from local politics now isn't it!"
"I'll tell you something", Joby dropped his voice and leaned across the table towards him "I just like being out with you both like this".
"Well you didn't have to lower your voice to tell us that!" Kieran exclaimed "I thought the way you were carrying on you were going to say something about the Ghoomers!"
"Ssh!" Tamaz hissed, and jerked his thumb in the direction of the old man, who hadn't given any indication that he'd noticed their presence at all.
A couple more beers went down rather pleasently and suddenly the Ghoomer woman didn't seem so important anymore. In fact they felt rather foolish for having run away from her.
"Not when you think what dangers some people have faced in their lives", said Joby "What we've faced come to that!"
"I feel a bit of a wimp now", said Kieran "After all, what could she have done if she'd dropped down to us?"
"Killed us", said Tamaz.
"Ach cobblers", said Kieran "There were three of us against her ... mind you, we don't know what else was in that damn house. What say we go back there in a moment and have another look?"
Fortunately the others were spared from answering by the landlord reappearing with three bowls of fish broth, which he said his wife had just finished preparing, and they would be pleased if the three of them would have it on the house. To add to this generous offering, his wife had sent out a small bottle of perfume which she thought Tamaz might like (to wear that is, not drink).
"I could get jealous", said Kieran, once the landlord had again retreated behind the scenes "It used to be me who got all the prezzies ... no correction, it used to be Lonts who got all the prezzies!"
Tamaz squirted himself with the perfume as though it was water, and then playfully dabbed some on the necks of Kieran and Joby.
A couple more beers followed.
"Hey", Kieran rose from his seat and indicated for Joby to lean towards him in a conspiratorial fashion "Why don't we ask if they do rooms here? We could hire one for the rest of the afternoon, the three of us".
"That is a very immoral suggestion", said Joby, sombrely.
"You always say that jsut before doing something!" Kieran giggled.
"I don't know why you're both whispering", said Tamaz "My hearing's good you know, and I know what you both want to do. You want to fuck me. If we all had a place of our own we could do that all the time".
"No, we couldn't trust you to behave yourself", said Joby "And I haven't got Julian's flair with a riding-crop!"
"I can behave", said Tamaz, indignantly.
"And we'd have to watch you didn't get pregnant", said Joby.
"Would it matter if he did?" said Kieran "We could found our own dynasty. Wouldn't it be interesting to see who the bairns took most after? Dark like you, or blonde like me. Or they could be half and half. Which would be terrible, because when they grew up they might fight each other".
"With yours and Tamaz's genes in 'em that would be very likely", said Joby.
"We could all sleep in the same bed if we had our own place", said Tamaz.
"Look, we can have a room at Myrtle's or Persephone's anytime if we want to do that", said Joby "We don't have to move out of the Indigo".
"Then why don't we ever do that?" Tamaz exclaimed.
"He has a point there", said Kieran "I mean, it's a good idea when you think about it".
"Alright we'll do it sometime", said Joby "Very soon. It's getting dark outside. I think we should be heading back".
"Jeez, have we been in here that long?" said Kieran.
Joby tossed Tamaz's coat at him, and Tamaz tossed it back.
"I won't forget your promise you know", he said, pouting.
"God, it's worse than dealing with Lonts!" said Joby.
"Oh far worse", said Kieran "Tamaz is half-female!"
They got outside into the gloaming, and Kieran and Tamaz did an impromptu waltz down the centre of the road.
"Just practising our routine", said Kieran.
"What are we gonna do about that woman, Kiel?" said Joby, walking along beside him with his hands in his pockets.
"I'll have a word with Ransey when we get back", said Kieran "As I said before, it's important we don't cause a scare. The earthquake was enough of an upset for everyone, without us scaring 'em with tales of Ghoomers. Fortunately not many people go out that far, and certainly we haven't seen anyone out there today".
"Yeah, thank God for the apathy of Toondor Lanpin for once!" said Joby.
It was practically dark by the time they got back into town, and they admitted that they were glad to be off that desolate marsh road. The centre of Toondor Lanpin, with various people milling about under the eccentrically-placed streetlamps was a welcome sight. The lamplighter had just been round, and in one pool of light Bengo was watching as the second lead from the Little Theatre (known to everyone as Second Lead) stripped to the waist, and began pasting up a promo poster for the Yuletide show on the outside wall of Persephone's bar.
"Isn't he cold like that?" said Joby.
"He's such a poseur he wouldn't care", said Bengo, dismissively. He was carrying the bucket of paste "This is his punishment anyway".
"Why, what's he done?" said Kieran.
"He's not in Hawkefish's good books", said Bengo "You know that scene in 'Murder At Nightmare Hall', when he has to rush on punch Hawkefish in the stomach? Well he only went and kneed him in the balls by mistake! Hawkefish was not amused I can tell you!"
"Easy enough mistake for anyone to make", said Second Lead, sulkily "I got carried away that's all".
"You keep getting carried away like that and you'll find yourself as the permanent poster-boy", said Bengo.
"You couldn't ask for better publicity", said Second Lead, haughtily "Not if kept stripping off like this to do it".
"Modest ent he!" said Joby.
"Oh I guess all actors are a little vain", Bengo sighed "But he abuses the privelege sometimes!"
"He's got a strange-looking body", said Tamaz.
"Huh, you can talk!" said Second Lead.
"I think he looks like Popeye from the neck down", said Kieran "Very broad in the shoulders and chest, and very narrow in the waist, like a cartoon hunk".
"His acting's like something out of a cartoon as well!" said Bengo "Come on, we've got to go and put one up outside the hospital now".
"A sort of aversion therapy I spose", said Joby.
They noticed the lamps were still on in Adam's studio and called in there.
"Good timing", said Adam "Lo-Lo and I were just packing up. You've been gone a good long while. Although from the smell of things I take it you've been in a bar most of the time?"
"You'll have to watch it, Ad", said Joby, examining a half-finished portrait of Julian "You sound shrewish".
"Merely making an observation", said Adam "What do you think of that one so far?"
"It's good", said Joby "He looks quite harmless in it".
"Mm, mainly because his mouth's shut!" said Adam "Doubtless this evening we'll get the latest installment of his gangrene poisoning".
"Eh?" said Joby.
"After you went this morning Julian nicked his thumb opening a tin", said Adam "Finia attended to him immediately, put iodine on it. But Jules is still utterly convinced he's got gangrene and that he has only a fortnight to live".
"We couldn't be that lucky!" said Joby.
"Tell him not to worry, we'll make sure he gets a good send-off", said Kieran.
"If only to make sure the old bugger's really dead!" said Joby.
"You lot are rotten", Adam laughed "Lo-Lo, make some fresh coffee. We'll have a cosy little chin-wag, quintet-style, before we go home".
"Oh Adam, I've just cleaned out the pot", said Lonts, in dismay.
"Come on, it won't do any harm", said Adam "We need something to fortify us against an evening of Julian's galloping hypochondria!"
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