“It’s a bit early isn’t it?” said Kieran “I mean it’s only 10 o’clock”.
“When the hell did you get picky about what time it was to have a drink?” said Bardin, handing him a glass of sherry.
“Just teasing yer Bardin”, said Kieran, taking the glass.
Bardin grunted and sat down next to him on the sofa in his cabin. Although it was early Autumn, the temperatures were still mild, and the sun was pouring in through the open porthole. From outside came the sound of water lapping against the boats, the occasional gull, and noises from the nearby town of Zilligot Bay.
“I take it you’ve called me in here for a reason”, said Kieran, after taking a generous sip of the dark amber liquid “You’ve had things on your mind these past few days”.
“You could tell that could you?” said Bardin.
“Well put it this way”, Kieran sighed “Every time I see you up on deck you’re staring pensively into space, or should I say out across the ocean. I’m going to hazard a wee guess that you’re getting wanderlust, that you want to move on”.
“Am I alone in that?” said Bardin, sceptically “I’m getting a general feeling that we’re getting a bit locked in in this town. I mean we all think it’s a fine place, and the people are great, but … well let’s face it, we’re nomads these days aren’t we? We don’t really belong anywhere. We’re not meant to be part of the fixtures and fittings around here”. “That’s true enough”, said Kieran.
“I wasn’t suggesting we move on immediately”, said Bardin “My feeling is that we should stay here until after Christmas. Do what we did when we lived at the Town House in Toondor Lanpin. We stayed there until Candlemas, and then we set off. That might be a plan, of sorts”.
“And where do we head then? Up the coast?”
“No, out across the ocean, find the source of that mysterious light which Shag saw on the horizon. I’ve got another plan for up the coast”.
“What’s that?” asked Kieran.
“We borrow Dr Xavier’s air-buggy”, said Bardin “And we fly up there and see what that weird castle is that Angel told you about. Just to satisfy our curiosity, nothing more than that”.
“Angel mentioned a number of things that are mysterious about that area …”
“And if it looks interesting”, said Bardin “Then we sail up there, but after we’ve satisfied our curiosity about the mysterious light”.
“Hillyard’s going to pilot it?” Julian exclaimed, when Adam told him about the air-buggy expedition “I thought that thing was the Doctor’s pride and joy, nobody else was allowed anywhere near the controls”.
“He doesn’t want to go himself”, said Adam “His wife is very ill, he doesn’t want to leave her, not even for a few hours, which should be all the time that the air-buggy trip takes”.
“That woman is a total neurotic”, said Julian, brusquely “She has nothing wrong with her that a good dollop of fresh air and a bacon sandwich wouldn’t put right”.
“That is not true”, Adam snapped “Honestly, you’ll be suggesting a damn good spanking next”.
“No, that’s for Bardin”, said Julian.
“Antonia is actually very ill”, said Adam “It sounds like it’s cancer”.
“Good God”, said Julian “Then why isn’t she in the hospital?”
“I think she was for a little while”, said Adam “But to be honest, there’s not much they can do for her. It’s too far gone”.
“Holy moly, I had no idea. I mean, she’s never exactly been blooming all the time we’ve known her, but I didn’t know it was that bad. He is going to be devastated if anything happens to her. She’s his entire life”.
“He’s pretty devastated now”, said Adam “He seems a mere shadow of his former self. She may have always been a fragile little thing, on the surface, but I think she’s been the real strength in that relationship. She’s been propping him up for years”.
“Yes, that’s often the way”, said Julian, more sombrely.
“Anyway”, Adam got to his feet “He’s loaning the air-buggy to Bardin and Hillyard for a day, and they’ll do a quick fly over the Saturn Desert, just to satisfy our curiosity”.
He walked to the cabin door, and then turned round.
“We’re very lucky”, he said “I don’t want to even think what Xavier’s going through at the moment. It was enough of a shock for us when Bengo and Bardin had that near-brush with the Gorgon’s head”.
Kieran walked into the galley, where Bengo was pounding dough in a mixing-bowl.
“Oh hello Kieran”, he said “Did you want a cup of tea?”
“No, just to say that His Bardinship wants to have a word with you”.
“Well he can wait”, said Bengo “Probably wants to have a go at me about something I’ve forgotten I did. That can wait”.
“I think it’s a wee bit more exciting than that”, said Kieran.
“Huh”, said Bengo.
“BENGO!” came the voice of command from across the corridor “Get in here!”
“Get in here?!” said Bengo, exasperated “Will you listen to him! Anyone would think I was one of the dogs! It’s been a couple of days since Adam put him over his knee, he’s clearly in need of another session”.
“I’m sure that can be arranged later”, said Kieran.
“What is it? Can’t you see I’m busy?” said Bengo, indicating his pinny which was coated in flour and remnants of dough.
“I’m amazed any of that winds up in the dining-room”, said Bardin “You seem to get more of it on yourself”.
“You’ll be wearing some of it if you’re not careful. What do you want, Bardin?”
“You’re going to be getting a change of scene tomorrow. Hillyard’s borrowing the Doctor’s air-buggy. I’m going in the passenger seat, but there’s room for two in the back, which will be Ransey and you”.
“ME?!” Bengo exclaimed “You want me to come?”
“That is what I am suggesting, yes”, said Bardin “Why, have you got some pressing previous engagement? Another fight with a lump of dough which must take priority?” “No, I just thought you might want to take somebody sensible instead”.
“Well if you find anybody round here that fits that description, let me know!”
The four of them went over to the Doctor’s house at the edge of the town first thing the following morning. The weather was perfect for the little expedition they were undertaking, fresh and sunny. The air-buggy was stationed at the rear of the Doctor’s house, in the field leading up to the headland. He came out to hand over the relevant keys, but was clearly distracted, and anxious to get back to the house. “We hope to be back in a couple of hours”, said Bardin “Hopefully not much later than that”.
“Take as long as you want”, said the Doctor “Fly round the world with it if you want. I’m not bothered if I never see it again”.
“We’ll bring it back anyway”, said Bengo.
“He’s really not himself is he”, said Hillyard, when he had settled himself in the pilot’s seat “This thing’s his pride and joy, I never thought I’d see him so offhand about it”.
“He’s on the verge of a nervous collapse”, said Bardin, who was now in the passenger seat “Kieran’s said he’ll pop round whilst we’re out, try and see if he can get to see Antonia. He thinks the Doc hides her away too much, and that can’t be helping anything”.
It was a spectacular ride out across the Saturn Desert. In this world they so rarely saw the landscape from up in the air, and it lent a whole different perspective on things.
“It’s amazing”, said Bengo “You get a sort of a godlike feeling. Are you alright, Ransey?”
“I am fine”, said Ransey, in a stilted voice “I’ll just be glad when we get back that’s all”.
“I never knew that you were nervous about flying!” said Bengo.
“Well now you do, enjoy”, said Ransey.
“Angel was on about force-fields in this area when he saw Kieran”, said Bardin “I hope that doesn’t give us any trouble”.
“When we get near the mountains on the far side”, said Hillyard “I’ll swing her out over the sea, just in case”.
On the immediate side of the far mountains were two sizeable buildings. One was a substantial, but turret-shaped pink building cut into the cliff-face. Further inland was a huge, decaying castle. It ran, four-sided, around an inner quadrangle. At the very top of the four exterior walls was a combination of walkways and narrow steps.
“Cheery looking place”, said Bardin, peering down out of the passenger window.
“Reminds me of the Winter Palace”, said Hillyard “As it was when we first went there donkey’s years ago”.
“A vampire castle”, said Bengo.
At first there didn’t seem to be any sign of life at all, but then a black-garbed figure was spotted on one of the stairways, climbing the steps in a laborious fashion. On hearing the air-buggy it looked up. Its face was skeletal, cadaverous, as though it had been dug up out of a grave. It was hairless, and its eyes were like sunken black pits in its gaunt face. On seeing the air-buggy its face broke into a sickly leer, and it raised its bony fingers upwards, as if it thought it could snatch the air-buggy out of the sky, like a flying toy.
“For god’s sake don’t go any lower”, said Bardin.
“I wasn’t planning to”, said Hillyard, circling round.
By now a few more figures had appeared in the quadrangle far below, but they were indecipherable in the shadows.
“I think they’re trapped in there”, Bengo shouted “They can’t get out”.
“Thank God for that”, said Bardin “Angel was right then, that they’re no threat to us back down in the town”.
“As long as we don’t crash”, said Ransey.
“Yeah, thanks for your faith in my driving abilities, mate”, said Hillyard.
“Take her back out to that pink turret thing on the coast”, said Bardin “That didn’t feel quite so threatening”.
Many of the windows on the Turret were shuttered. Hillyard flew as close to as he could, but it was nigh on impossible to detect any sign of life.
“Angel said something about a woman walled up in there”, Bardin shouted “For being a witch”.
“Poor thing”, said Bengo.
“Well let’s not get carried away with the hankie stuff”, said Bardin “We don’t know what she is, could be another bloody Gorgon for all we know! And that’s why the windows are shuttered! I think investigating this place will be better done by galleon, when we come to sail up the coast here”.
“I think that’s a very good idea!” said Ransey.
“I’m not sure you’re going to be much help to her”, said Doctor Xavier, greeting Kieran at the main gates to his house.
“Well maybe not”, said Kieran “But I’d like to see her anyway, even if it’s just for a gentle little chat. I promise not to tire her”.
After the Doctor had opened the gates to Kieran, and then shut them behind him, he turned as if he was about to explode in an apocalyptic rage.
“Antonia is one of the sweetest, kindest people in the whole world”, he said “Back in the City she was always giving money, food and gifts to the poor. I’ve never heard her say a spiteful or a hateful word about anyone. How can your precious God allow something as cruel as this to happen to her?”
“I get the impression Antonia’s health has been bad for some time now”, said Kieran “The stress and strain of everything that’s happened in the past few years will have taken its toll on her. Particularly as she is, as you said, a very sensitive, empathetic person”.
Kieran didn’t add that the strain of living with someone as dogmatic and forceful as Xavier would have also exacted its toll. He knew that at heart Xavier meant well, but he was also blindly stubborn, and utterly convinced he was right about everything. He distrusted the world so emphatically, that Antonia was the only person he allowed himself to get close to. Since leaving the City (and probably whilst they were still living there too) Antonia had probably been his one and only link to the rest of the human race. She had supported him physically, emotionally and spiritually, day in and day out, usually putting her own life firmly in second place. It was depressingly inevitable that the toll on her would eventually be severe.
“Cancer is like many diseases”, said Kieran, as they walked slowly to the house “It attacks people’s immune system, and often gets them when they’re at a low ebb. There is no justice in what’s happened to Antonia, but God hasn’t got it in for her. He is Love. She has simply become worn down, that’s all”.
“But I have always looked after her!” the Doctor protested “She is my life, I have always put her first! How can this have happened?”
Kieran didn’t like to say that the Doctor’s love was a smothering kind of love. That by making Antonia the focal-point of his existence he had successfully smothered the life out of her. He had treated her like a precious glass ornament, adoring her and dusting her every day, but not allowing her to move in the process. Kieran felt it was best if he left the Doctor’s question unanswered. He had come to see Antonia after all.
Kieran was surprised to find Antonia resting in a small side room at the house. It was barely big enough for a narrow bed and a chair. As he sat down beside the bed, he was uncomfortably aware of the Doctor hovering in the doorway, with his arms folded.
“Xavier”, said Antonia “I’m sure you have plenty to do around the house”.
Fortunately he took the hint and left. After he had gone Antonia leaned close to Kieran and whispered “he is doing my head in”.
“I can understand that”, said Kieran.
“Don’t get me wrong”, said Antonia, flopping back against a bank of crisp white pillows “I know he means well, but his constant attention is exhausting. I desperately need my own space at the moment, a chance to think, and I can’t do that if he is constantly mithering me. That’s why I insist on coming into this room during the day. It’s small and soothing. It’s my favourite colour, white, and … well be brutally frank, there is very little of him in it”.
“If people are too oppressive then it becomes very hard to marshal our own thoughts”, said Kieran.
“Exactly”, Antonia sighed “And there is so much for me to think about at the moment. I want to go over the past few years, and come to terms with everything that happened. I’m sure you, as a spiritual man, will understand that I want to be at peace when … when my time comes”.
“That is very important”, said Kieran, gently touching her small hand “Ideally no one should pass over with unfinished business on their hands, but sadly it doesn’t always work that way”.
“I can see I’m surprising you with how strong-minded I am”, Antonia smiled “I know the image people have of me, of some little mouse-like thing, constantly in the Doctor’s shadow, but I do know my own mind. It’s just that when you love someone you want to do all you can to make them happy, and sometimes I feel I sacrificed too much of myself to make Xavier happy. And I don’t think it’s done him any good in the long term”.
“Now that’s not true”, said Kieran “To make someone happy is one of the greatest gifts any of us can do for each other. But is there anything you yourself would like now? Not what the Doctor wants, but yourself?”
“Just for one day”, said Antonia “I would like to go around the town without him in tow. Whenever I’ve been out I’ve always been there as a sort of Accompanying Person, doing the things he wants to do, the willing helpmate. I would like, just once, to go out in my own right, as myself”.
“That’s very easy to arrange”, said Kieran “I can have a word with our friends, Glynis and Jane, I’m sure they’d love to meet up with you”.
“People don’t know ME you see”, Antonia continued “And if they do it’s the image of me that Xavier’s always put out, sweet little Antonia, so passive, so cute. Just for one day I’d like people to see the real me”.
“You’re not going to turn into a drunken hellraiser are you, smashing up the bar?” Kieran teased.
“No”, Antonia laughed.
There was the sound of the air-buggy droning in the near distance.
“Sounds like your friends are back”, said Antonia.
“Yes”, said Kieran “Bardin’s dulcet tones will be ringing out across the area once more”.
“He does seem to have an awful lot of energy. It must be like trying to keep an over-active child amused”.
“Ach he’s not too much trouble, and if he gets too bad he has it thrashed out of him”.
“Oh no!” Antonia sounded alarmed.
“No, don’t worry about him”, said Kieran “He loves it”.
“Ooh”, Antonia giggled “Well as my mother used to say, it would be a dull world if everyone was the same”.
“My mother used to say that too”.
“That’s the first time I’ve mentioned her in years”, said Antonia, more soberly “My father disowned me when I met up with Xavier, said he was too old for me, which isn’t true. And after that, well it was as if I had no family. I don’t regret that, but it means I could never really talk about them comfortably. When we got married, we did send out invites to them, but they never came”.
“That’s very hard. Falling out with family can break your heart”.
“Do you ever miss yours?”
“There was only my mother”, said Kieran “I was an only child”.
“Oh so was I”, said Antonia “It makes it even harder to understand why my father disowned me”.
“It sounds like he was a very proud man. He would not have liked the idea of you having a will of your own”.
“I seem to have been surrounded by men like that all my life”.
“So you see, not the little mouse you’ve been dismissing her as”, said Adam, chatting to Julian in his cabin a couple of hours later.
“Yes alright!” said Julian “It’s been a bit hard for me to get any idea of her at all, when she’s constantly hidden away indoors! I was starting to think she was scared of daylight! Anyway, living with an overbearing old sod like him has probably left her scared of her own shadow”.
“Yes well I think we can all understand that one”, Adam sighed.
“I am not like him!” said Julian “He’s a stubborn old git, convinced he’s right about everything”.
“And you’re not like that?”
“No! I have no interest in telling the rest of the world how it should be, I just want my own life to be comfortable. That’s a big difference. Whereas he wants to transform everyone into being like himself. Sounds a bit like Kieran actually”.
“What nonsense!” said Adam “Patsy isn’t remotely like him. There’s something very I’ve-Always-Been-Right about Xavier, and Patsy isn’t like that at all”.
“Has anyone contacted the hospital to ask about a wheelchair?”
“Yes”, said Julian “You’re probably going to need one to wheel her about in all day, and they’re the best place to ask. I don’t suppose anyone’s thought of that”.
“Well no”, Adam conceded “That’s a very good suggestion”.
“Huh, see? Us old gits have our uses sometimes!”
A wheelchair was obtained from the hospital, and on a warm, but stormy early Autumn day, she was taken to the Driftwood to meet Jane and Glynis. The three women ensconced themselves in a corner of the room by the window, and soon they were leaning forward over the table, their heads nodding, as they fell into an intense discussion.
“I think she’s missed female company”, said Adam, who was standing at a corner of the bar, with Julian.
“I think she’s missed any company that isn’t Himself”, said Julian “He’s practically kept her a prisoner in that house. I’m amazed you managed to break her out today”.
“Patsy put it in such a way that he didn’t really leave him much choice”, said Adam “Surely even someone as dogmatic as Xavier can’t refuse a dying woman a harmless little jaunt out”.
“Is she really dying?” said Julian, dropping his voice to a whisper “I mean she does look ill, but is it really as bad as all that?”
“The hospital think so”, said Adam “What makes you ask?”
“Oh nothing”, said Julian “It’s just I wouldn’t put it past the Doc to convince her she was dying, so she would wind up a frail little thing, bedridden, and dependent on him for everything”.
“Julian”, Adam sighed “I know you’re not keen on Xavier, but he isn’t some arch moustache-twirling fiend from a gothic novel. I can’t believe he’s capable of that!”
“I’m not so sure”, said Julian “He seems utterly paranoid that she may develop any kind of life of her own. I mean think about it, this is the first time we’ve ever really seen her at large in this town. I thought she was agrophoboic!”
Fortunately this conversation was halted by the appearance of Hillyard, Bardin, Hoowie and Woolly, who all appeared in the room in a flurry of raincoats and hats. Woolly immediately made for the girls table. The others went over to Adam and Julian.
“Is it still raining?” asked Adam.
“Need you ask?” said Bardin, taking off his cap and shaking the rain-drops off it.
“Don’t complain”, said Hillyard “There’s been hardly any rain round these past few months”.
“Well it’s making up for it now!” said Bardin.
A burst of laughter went up from the table in the corner, and Antonia was heard saying “Oh I do miss the theatre. I used to go when I could back in the City, but Xavier never really liked modern stuff”.
“That doesn’t surprise me”, muttered Bardin.
“He’d have been alright with some of the whiskery old stuff we used to have do sometimes then”, said Hoowie.
Bardin’s eyes narrowed.
“I’ll have you know”, he said “That Bengo and I were very ahead of our time”.
“Yeah so much so people didn’t understand it!” said Hoowie.
“That’s quite enough”, said Adam, who could see a fight developing at this rate “Hoowie, stop teasing Bardin, you should know better than to do a silly thing like that by now”.
“Yeah”, said Hillyard “Get some beer down you, and pipe down”.
“Oh hello”, said Woolly, coming over to them “Aren’t they splendid girls? It’s so nice to see Antonia out and about. I don’t think I’ve clapped eyes on her since they first arrived here”.
Ernesto came out of the kitchen, carrying a tray holding three bowls of curried parsnip soup, which he set down in front of the women, whilst laughing and exclaiming “you enjoy that!”
Bardin was watching all this with a distant expression on his face.
“Are you alright, old love?” asked Adam.
“Yes”, said Bardin “Look I think I’ll go for a little walk round the harbour. I’ll see you all back home”.
He picked up his cap and left the bar.
“What’s up with him?” Hillyard mouthed.
“I think he’s a bit preoccupied about something”, said Adam, with a distinct Let’s-Talk-About-This-At-Home note in his voice.
The rain had eased, and a watery sunlight was attempting to poke through the clouds. Bardin crossed the road outside the Driftwood, and walked down past the Harbourmaster’s house, then past the galleon, and along the narrow ledge which led past Josapheen-Jael’s little cottage, and ultimately out towards the headland which marked the entrance to the notorious Horn of Wonder.
He found Joby standing staring out towards the headland, his hands thrust deep in his pockets.
“I can go away again if you want to think in private”, said Bardin.
“No, stay”, said Joby “I thought you were going over to the Driftwood?”
“I did, but I got fed up with it”, said Bardin.
“One of our lot?” asked Joby.
“No, I just feel restless that’s all”, said Bardin “And I know I shouldn’t say it, because it’s Antonia’s day out, but I was finding it all a bit cloying. I know that’s rotten, but I can’t help it, and I felt it best if I vacated the premises. And then Woolly turned up, and I never feel at ease around him. I know he’s harmless, but he’s too damn wired up all the time for my liking. Are you getting an urge to go back round the Horn or something?”
“You must be joking!” Joby laughed “No, I was thinking of that time when I saw that apparition of my Dad. Y’see, he didn’t look any older than I remember him. And yet after all the time I’ve been gone, he must have been pushing up daisies yonks ago. It just got me thinking random thoughts that’s all”.
“Such as suppose no time at all has past back in my time. Somebody created a fictional land like that once, a whole series of stories. Narnia. Years and years could pass in Narnia, and yet no time at all would pass back home”.
“And say that were true”, said Bardin “How would you feel about it?”
“A bit disturbed to be honest”, said Joby “The thought of stepping back into my own time, exactly as it was, after everything we’ve been through here”, he gave a shudder “no, that’s just too much. Those sort of thoughts really can really mess with yer head”.
“But why are you letting it get to you so much?”
“Well how would you like to wake up and find yourself back at the Cabaret, with none of all this ever having happened?”
“I see your point”, said Bardin “At least Bengo might be there I suppose, unless the little sod had run off again!”
They decided to walk back to the galleon the long way round. A narrow lane ran up past the town’s cemetery, which was at the back of a small white-painted fishermen’s chapel. As they approached it, Bardin paused at the simple black-painted main door, and suggested they go in for a moment.
It was a one-roomed building, done out in a very spartan style, with simply a row of wooden benches facing a large window at the end. Someone had left a donation of a couple of loaves of bread on the stone step leading up to the window. Joby was intrigued by the idea that they still celebrated Harvest Festival down here. He and Bardin sat down next to each other on a bench in the middle of the room.
“Ransey says he picked up some weird message on the wireless earlier”, said Joby, after they had been sitting silently for a couple of minutes “It had happened whilst you were out”.
“What kind of weird message?” said Bardin “I’ve lost track whether the wireless is working or not working these days. Sometimes he has it going and sometimes he doesn’t”. “He thinks it was coming from the hinterland further north”, said Joby “It seemed to be warning people not to look up at the Moon”.
“Sounds like a nutcase”, Bardin sighed “But I guess we should take notice of it, I’ll ask him to keep an eye out for anymore messages like that”.
“That’s what sent me out for a walk actually”, said Joby “It gave me the creeps. I know it doesn’t sound much, but I listened in. It’s just the same message repeated over and over again. Stay indoors, don’t look up at the Moon”.
“And that’s bothered you too?”
“That’s what set me off. Y’see, when Adam, Kieran and me first crossed into this time, and found ourselves in the prison at Henang, there was a lot of talk about the Moon acting weirdly. All sorts of rumours were flying around then”.
“Joby”, Bardin put his hand on Joby’s arm and stared at him intently with his brown eyes “You are not going to end up back in your time. Not after all these years. It’s really wound you up hasn’t it?”
“Just strange energies about that’s all”, Joby shrugged.
“Hm I know”, said Bardin “I think that’s what was making me restless in the Driftwood. Everybody else was being all relaxed and jolly, and I felt like I was the only one who could sense it. I didn’t want to be the party-pooper I suppose”.
In a chilly grey dawn the following day Bardin was up on the main deck, sitting on a pile of rope, and staring - as was becoming an habitual routine - staring out at the ocean in a westerly direction, the opposite direction to the Horn.
“What ARE you doing now?” said Julian, testily, having come up the main steps.
Bardin turned to look at him. Julian was wearing his raincoat, from which a pair of long, hairy legs poked out from underneath. He was carrying an old umbrella, and it was only then that Bardin realised it had started spitting with rain again.
“Is this what the well-dressed man is wearing this season?” he said.
“What the hell are you doing up here at this hour?” said Julian.
“Is it raining?” asked Bardin.
“Yes”, Julian sighed “Why isn’t Bengo keeping an eye on you?”
“He’s fast asleep”, said Bardin “As I’m sure he’d love telling you, he works very hard and is on his feet all day”.
“Come on, get below, and stop being such a juggins”.
He prodded Bardin to the hatchway. At the bottom of the main stairs, Bardin looked around him, marvelling at how quiet the ship was.
“What time is it?” he whispered.
“About five-thirty”, said Julian, giving his brolly a shake “I think we’re going to have to go back to having a night-watch on duty, if only to keep an eye on the bloody Captain!”
“There’ll be quite enough time for all that when we set off again”, said Bardin.
“Is that what this is all about?” said Julian “Kieran was telling me yesterday that you seem to have a fit of wanderlust at the moment”.
“Yes I feel restless at the moment”, said Bardin “I won’t deny it, but I’m still OK with sticking with Plan A, that we stay here until after Christmas”.
“I’m not sure he’s going to last out until then”, said Julian, chatting with Kieran in his cabin after breakfast “I mean Christmas is several weeks away, and he’s already like a caged tiger. And what’s so damn special about having Christmas here anyway?”
“I think he feels we’re owed a normal Christmas after everything’s that happened in the past few years”, said Kieran, who was sitting coiled up in a chair.
“Did we ever have a normal Christmas?” said Julian “The one we had at the Town House in Toondor Lanpin was pretty random from what I recall!”
“Also to give Glynis and Jane a normal Christmas”, said Kieran “Adam’s already got plans to invite them over here for lunch”.
“Well at least that makes more sense”, said Julian “But I still don’t know if he’s going to last out. Finding him staring wistfully out at the ocean at 5:30 in the morning is not normal behaviour! I suppose it’s all the fault of that damn mystery light Shag saw back in the Summer. Bardin senses a mystery and he wants to go off in pursuit of it”.
“I don’t suspect the mystery light is going to vanish much any time soon”, said Kieran “It will still be there when we set off in the New Year, and if Bardin wants to use up some of that manic energy of his, well we do have to start making plans for this voyage as soon as possible. We can put him to work doing that”.
“And Adam can give him a damn good hiding on a regular basis”, said Julian “That’ll help”.
Bardin was in the middle of eating a sausage sandwich later that morning, when Ransey marched into the dining-room carrying a large chalkboard, which he then proceeded to set up on the opposite side of table.
“I got this from Deborah at the school”, said Ransey “An old one she doesn’t need anymore”.
“Are you going into teaching?” said Hoowie, who had followed him into the room “Here?” “No”, said Ransey “And if I was I wouldn’t have you in my class, I’d know I’d be defeated right from the start!”
Bardin gave a snort of laughter.
“So what’s this in aid of?” he asked “And can I draw maps on it?”
“Not at the moment, no”, said Ransey “We can use it to draw up a shopping list”.
“What for?” said Joby, drifting in whilst wiping a tea-towel round a pudding bowl.
“For when we set sail”, said Ransey, with forced patience “We can going to have to completely restock the ship’s stores, on everything, not just food. I thought that might be a little project you’d be interested in, Bardin”.
“Oh come off it”, said Bardin “It’s normally you and Adam who do all the inventory stuff. Bureaucracy isn’t really my line”.
“I don’t see why not”, said Hoowie “You’re bossy enough”.
“Look I trust you and Adam to sort all this out between you well enough”, said Bardin to Ransey “Particularly if you liaise with Hillyard, he knows what the ship itself needs”.
Suddenly an anguished cry went up from the other end of the corridor.
“Fucking hell”, said Joby, abandoning the pudding bowl on the table “That was Kieran!”
He ran along the corridor in the direction of his cabin, followed by the others. He found Kieran standing outside the cabin, looking rather shaken. As soon as he saw Joby he reached out to him, and Joby wrapped him in a hug.
“What’s happened Kiel?” he said.
“Bad dream that’s all”, said Kieran “I must’ve fallen asleep whilst I was meditating. Jayz, it was so vivid. We were back in the prison at Henang. It was awful. It really like we were there”.
“Get in here and have a sherry”, Julian called out from the doorway of his cabin.
Before he knew his cabin was crammed with Joby, Kieran, Hillyard, Bardin, Bengo and Adam. Even one of the dogs had strolled in.
“You’re not all having sherry”, said Julian “I haven’t got enough glasses!”
“It must have been awful for you, Patsy”, said Adam “I don’t like to think of those days. Not only were they grim, but I really don’t like remembering the person I was back then”.
“Nor me”, said Joby “I was a right grumpy old sod”.
Hillyard nearly spat out the tea from a mug he was carrying.
“You still are!” he said “What’s changed in that department?!”
“OK, but I’m not as uptight as I was back then”, said Joby.
“No, you’re a delightful little thing”, said Adam, patting Joby’s cheek.
“Even so”, said Julian “It was still only a dream”.
“I think there’s some significance to it though”, said Kieran “It reminded me of things from that time I’ve forgotten. When we woke up to find the prison deserted, there had been a lot of talk of a lunar eclipse, and time-cusps moving. At first I thought the dream was some bloody trick by Angel. I should’ve known I wouldn’t get away with working with him completely unscathed”.
“That would be somewhat of an ingratitude on your part”, said Julian “Considering he despatched the Clown Demon for us”.
“But no, I actually think he was trying to help us”, said Kieran.
“How so?” said Bardin.
“I think it all ties in with Shag’s mystery light, and those strange messages Ransey’s been finding about the Moon”, said Kieran “I would never have put two and two together without that dream of the prison. I had completely forgotten about the time-cusps and the lunar eclipse! It is significant to what’s happening now”.
“How so?” Bardin repeated.
“We have to avoid that light”, said Kieran.
“What?” said Bardin, in an ominous voice.
“It’s a trap, Bardin”, said Kieran “That’s what Angel’s been warning me about. That light is a trap. There must be a time-cusp opening up in that part of the world. It would explain so much. Even down to Joby’s thoughts about seeing his Da on the Horn. It left you worried we’d get thrown back to our time, didn’t it Joby?”
“Well yeah”, Joby shrugged “But I think that was just me reading too much into it”.
“Not necessarily”, said Kieran.
“God forbid”, said Julian “I have no wish whatsoever to go back to our time”.
Bengo had been following all this with his mouth open in a perfect ‘o’.
“I don’t want you to either”, he said.
“We’re fine if we’re careful”, said Kieran.
“What, hiding out in this village forevermore?” snapped Bardin.
Bengo thumped him on the arm.
“Listen to Kieran”, he said.
“We’re not trapped here, Bardin”, said Kieran “It just means we avoid the area of the Phantom Light. You can still have your ocean voyage. We’ve been talking about sailing up the west coast, and see what’s been happening anyway”.
“But can’t we get anywhere near to it, to see what it is?” said Bardin.
“That light’s been weaving its magic on you hasn’t it?” said Hillyard.
“No it is not that!” said Bardin, and he left the room very decisively.
Kieran and Joby went over to the Driftwood for a drink. They were the only ones in the bar, and they took one of the benches near the main window.
“Just before we left”, said Kieran “Bardin laid into me. Said I was trying to think of excuses to keep us here in Ziiligot Bay! I mean, what kind of a manipulative monster does he think I am!”
“Oh take no notice of him”, said Joby “You should know by know what he’s like tact and sensitivity isn’t his strongest point at the best of times. As Finia would no doubt say, he’s a classic Sagittarian”.
“Yes well if he carries on with that attitude, I’ll shove his little arrows up his arse!” said Kieran.
Joby gave a guffaw of laughter.
“And for his information”, Kieran continued “I was as keen to go off on that little adventure as he was. I’m ready for a wee bit of ocean sailing as well. Jayz, he’s being completely unreasonable, even by his standards!”
“Alright, calm down”, said Joby “It’s all bloody Hillyard’s fault. He didn’t help matters by winding him up like that. I think we all need to calm down”.
“OK”, Kieran sighed, and took a slug of Rosa’s homemade beetroot wine “This is cracking good stuff. When we do finally set sail, we’re going to have to make sure we’ve got a good supply of this”.
“Adam should do another painting for her”, said Joby “And then she can pay him in beetroot wine. Hey, have a look at that”.
He pointed out of the window. Glynis was chatting to one of the lobster fishermen at the harbour. She was laughing and looking very relaxed. The fisherman had his hand tentatively placed on her back.
“She does like it here”, said Kieran “Says it reminds her of the waterfront at Toondor Lanpin, back in the old days when we all lived there. He seems keen doesn’t he?”
“I don’t understand why she doesn’t have the men of this town throwing ‘emselves at her feet”, said Joby “She’s one of the best-looking women here”.
“I think she’s being cautious”, said Kieran, lowering his voice “It’s the perils of being immortal. We’re alright, because we all are, but Glynis doesn’t have that luxury. She’s already outlived many who have been close to her”.
“Yeah I see what you mean”, said Joby.
Glynis was handed a paper-wrapped lobster, which she deposited in the basket on her arm, and then she walked away in the direction of home. The lobster fisherman looked wistfully after her.
Kieran and Joby exchanged a knowing look between them, and supped at their beer.
The following morning Kieran went over to see Glynis at the small apartment which she shared with Jane. At first he had trouble getting in, as Annette, the eccentric woman who occupied the ground floor, seemed to think he was after kidnapping her cats. Annette had taken against Kieran at the village wedding they had all attempted back in the Summer. As a strict vegan, she couldn’t understand how Kieran, a vegetarian of many years standing, could tolerate his ship mates being meat eaters. Fortunately Glynis heard them, and came running downstairs to greet him.
“Oh don’t worry about her”, she said, taking him upstairs “She’s decent enough on a good day, but when she gets a bee in her bonnet about something there’s no shaking her”.
“Hah, sounds like Bardin!” said Kieran “Is Jane at work?”
“Yes, she helps out at the hospital in the mornings now”, said Glynis “Taking round refreshments, and changing the patients library books, that sort of thing. She does like to keep busy”.
The main room of their apartment was fresh and sunny, with the windows open over the main street which led to the harbour. Kieran noticed new cushions on the windowseat, and sat down amongst them.
“You’ve made this very cosy”, he said.
“Ah we like it”, said Glynis, busying herself with the coffeepot.
“Neither of you missing the Third Island then?”
“You’ve asked us that before”.
“Well we have to make sure”, said Kieran.
“Why on earth would we miss that place, when we’ve got here?” said Glynis.
“No reason at all”, said Kieran, aware that he was irritating her slightly “It’s just Jane and Cloris were very close that’s all”.
“Cloris turned into somebody we didn’t recognise”, said Glynis “Jane always says she wasn’t the woman she had known all those years”.
Kieran got the distinct impression that this wasn’t a subject she wanted to pursue any further, not because there was anything she was embarrassed or hurt by, but because she simply wasn’t interested. It was all in the past, and she had no interest in glancing backwards.
“I felt a bit of a twerp”, said Kieran, when he bumped into Hillyard down by the harbour a short while later “As if I’d been probing her on things which were irrelevant to her. Not much of a neighbourhood spiritual advisor!”
“Nah, she won’t think that”, said Hillyard.
“I didn’t mean to keep harping on about Cloris”, said Kieran “It’s just I wanted to make sure everything was OK”.
“I know exactly what the problem is”, said Joby, who had been loitering nearby.
“Go on then”, said Hillyard.
“Kieran was projecting his bloody Catholic guilt onto the girls”, said Joby “Just ‘cos he’d be getting himself into a constant state, he expects everybody else to be as well!”
“I was just trying to make sure everything was alright that’s all”, said Kieran.
“I’m going back to the ship”, said Joby.
“Bye”, said Hillyard.
“I suddenly feel very tired”, said Kieran “I think I’ll avoid people for the rest of the day”.
“That could be tricky at home”, said Hillyard.
“Neighbourhood Spiritual Advisor?” spat Julian “Who the hell appointed Tinkerbell Neighbourhood Spiritual Advisor?!”
“Well to be fair Jules”, said Adam “It is a role he sort of naturally falls into”.
“Then he can naturally fall out of it again!” said Julian “God knows, Kieran can be annoying enough at times, without him turning into some kind of bustling parochial busy-body, constantly sticking his oar in where it’s not wanted, and foisting his Catholic guilt on everybody in the process”.
“I see you’ve been talking to Joby”, said Adam.
“No, Hillyard emparted the details of the conversation to me”, said Julian “I have my spies everywhere. Go and fetch Kieran, and send him in here, I want a word with him”.
“I shall do no such thing”, said Adam, heading to the cabin door “I’ve got work to do, and Patsy is up on deck having a chinwag with Bardin. If you want to speak to him you’ll have to go and fetch him yourself!”
Kieran and Bardin were up on the main deck, watching as the clouds gathered out on the horizon.
“Why is all this bugging you so much?” asked Bardin “The visit to Glynis I mean?”
“Oh that’s no bugging me itself”, said Kieran “But I’m only human, contrary to what some would have you believe I’m sure! No one wants to feel as if they’re being boring, and that’s what I came away feeling like. A boring do-gooder”.
“Out on his pastoral visits?” Bardin smirked.
“Yes, something like that”, Kieran sighed “Out bothering people, whether they want to be bothered or not, sort of like Codlik”.
“You can scarcely beat yourself up for caring about people”, said Bardin “Anyway, Glynis has always been a bit edgy with you hasn’t she? It’s all that Joby nonsense. Bloody silly of her if you ask me, if she hasn’t got the picture on that by now she never will”.
“I think she has, to be fair”, said Kieran “But you’re right about the edginess. Glynis is never openly hostile towards me, but I suppose I can sense that deep down I’m not her favourite person, and I never will be”.
“Well you’ll just have to put up with it”, said Bardin “You’re spoilt that’s your trouble”.
“Gee thanks”, said Kieran.
“No you are”, said Bardin “You’re so used to everybody adoring you all the time, that you can’t accept when someone doesn’t roll over and kiss your feet”.
“It’s not like that!” Kieran protested.
“Is everything alright here?” said Bengo, approaching with two mugs of tea on a tray.
“Oh fine”, said Kieran “Bardin’s just giving me some psychological counselling, that’s enough to make anybody feel a wee bit bruised”.
“He’s the last person anybody should go to for that!” said Bengo, setting down the tray.
“No, I think he’s being quite effective”, said Kieran.
“I was merely saying that Kieran is so used to being flavour of the month, that he can’t accept that not everybody on the planet thinks the sun shines out of his porthole”, said Bardin “He’s not used to somebody not completely adoring him”.
“Whereas you’re well used to people being uncomfortable around you”, said Bengo.
“He also thinks he’s being boring”, said Bardin.
“I hope that’s not because of anything you’ve said!” said Bengo, fiercely.
“No it bloody isn’t, he’s brought it all on himself!” said Bardin.
“OK fellers, can we forget I said anything at all?” said Kieran “I just don’t want to feel like some hand-wringing do-gooder that’s all”.
“Oh Kieran, you’re not”, said Bengo.
Bardin grunted and rolled his eyes.
“You won’t have a chance to feel like a hand-wringing do-gooder once we’re back out at sea”, he said “Even if we’re not allowed to sail as far as the Phantom Light. There won’t be any chance for that”.
“I can certainly see us leaving before Christmas”, said Kieran.
“Good”, said Bardin “Stop this rubbish about having Glynis and Jane over for Christmas dinner. There’s no point. I expect they’d much rather go to Woolly’s house and have a high old time there!”
Over the next few days the atmosphere in the town subtlely changed. Part of this was due to the weather, as it seemed to rain endlessly, with cloud-bursts often coming randomly and violently. But it also began to feel as though the town was collectively turning its back on them, as if, now that the Indigo-ites had decided their departure was imminent, everyone else had collectively washed their hands of them. It wasn’t done in an overtly hostile way, but the inference was there.
“We had a stark choice I suppose”, said Julian “Either stay here forever, or leave now. Clearly Kieran being made to feel boring was the tipping-point!”
“This isn’t the life he was put in here for”, said Hillyard “He’s not meant to just meander around the town calling on people. Anymore than Bardin could be satisfied with just titting about the harbour all the time!”
“Do you really have to go?” asked Rosa, when Adam went over to see her at the Driftwood.
“It has to be this way”, said Adam.
They were the only ones in the bar at this early time of the day. Adam got some satisfaction from how eye-catching his painting of the Saturn Desert was above the fireplace.
“Yes, I suppose it does”, said Rosa “You are nomads really. And it’s hard to see you all settling permanently into the neighbourhood. Bardin seems to have been quite bad-tempered lately, he keeps snapping at people for no reason”.
“Well he’s often like that!” said Adam “But yes, it’s as if he’s biting at his restraints”.
“Where will you go?” said Rosa.
“Out onto the ocean for a little way, just to see what’s out there”, said Adam “And then we will go right up the west coast. We’re going to have a complete reconnaissance, see what the world is like now, after all the horror of the past few years. Possibly revisit some old haunts like Port West. We may even go all the way up to the top, and then round and down the east coast”.
“Good grief”, said Rosa “How long will that take?”
“I have no idea”.
“Will you eventually wind up back here?”
“At some point in the future I expect”, said Adam “But lords knows when. Everything changes I suppose”.
“Not round here it doesn’t”, said Rosa, stiffly, as if the idea was an affront.
That evening Woolly hosted a farewell party for some of the Indigo-ites at his house, along with Jane and Glynis, and a guest appearance by Antonia. Kieran, Joby, Hillyard, Bengo and Bardin went along to it. Bardin was never easy in Woolly’s presence, but in the end he went along for the sake of the women.
It turned out to be a very cosy evening, and - as was to be expected with Woolly - the drink flowed copiously. Woolly’s house was overstuffed with furniture, including sofa’s and armchairs, so there was always somewhere to flop down.
“You always seem more relaxed without your restraining order around”, said Joby, lolling on the windowseat, close to Antonia, who was in her wheelchair.
“My restraining order?” Antonia laughed “What a thing to say!”
“Well that’s the impression he gives at times”, said Joby, sipping at his drink.
“Xavier’s a very kind man really”, she said “He means well, and that can often be the trouble. He has a never-ending urge to reform the world. I suppose you get the same with Kieran sometimes”.
“Yes”, Joby sighed “The Doc though seems to take it as a personal affront when the world doesn’t want saving”.
“And then he can withdraw into himself”, said Antonia “I do worry what’s going to happen to him when … when It happens”.
“You mustn’t waste time worrying about that”, said Joby, squeezing her hand “He’s a big boy, he’s survived this far. Perhaps he should concentrate on working at the hospital, that might help him get through it”.
“I’ve urged him to come and see the girls if he needs company”, said Antonia “But he gets all huffy when I suggest that, as if I’m trying to find a second wife for him! He says nobody will ever match up to me, which is very flattering, but …”
“As I said, don’t worry too much about it”, said Joby “This is your time, you’ve gotta get as much out of every day as you can”.
“I do, I wish I’d done it sooner”, said Antonia “Woolly is such a laugh isn’t he, although how he hasn’t drunk himself into his grave by now I’ll never know. He must have a cast-iron liver. I have suggested that if things get too lonely here, perhaps Xavier should try and come and find you lot in his air-buggy. I hope you don’t mind”.
“No, although Hillyard would probaby wanna jaunt out in it!” said Joby “We owe the Doc anyway, if it wasn’t for him it would have been much harder to rescue Jane and Glynis”.
“I was hoping Adam would come over this evening”, said Antonia “I’m surprised he didn’t”.
“I think he’d find it too hard to say goodbye to Glynis”, said Joby “They’ve always been good mates, right back to our waterfront days in Toondor Lanpin”.
The party wound on in an increasingly mellow fashion for most of the night. Woolly passed out. Hillyard went upstairs with Jane and Glynis, and took avantage of one of Woolly’s collection of old brass bedsteads. Antonia lay on one of the sofa’s, looking like a frail child, with a blanket pulled up around her. Joby, Kieran and the clowns dozed nearby.
“This can be my Christmas night”, said Antonia, drowsily.
At the first glimmers of a chilly daybreak, they all drank coffee, and went their separate ways. The Indigo-ites walked past the Driftwood, which was closed up, and looking forlorn.
“I know it’s still very early”, said Bardin “But I think now would be a good time to leave the stage. No fuss”.
“I hope he hasn’t put either of them up the spout”, said Julian, when Adam told him about the party at Woolly’s house. He was referring to Hillyard’s cosy bunk-up with Glynis and Jane.
“Of course he hasn’t”, said Adam “What nonsense. Hillyard’s far too sensible for that”.
“Not when it comes to sex he isn’t”, said Joby.
“It sounds to me like they had simply had a nice little snuggle together”, said Adam.
“A nice little snuggle?!” Julian exclaimed.
“I know such things are beyond your coarse and lurid imagination, Jules”, said Adam “But sometimes people do do that. Anyway, I don’t know if that’s possible with Glynis anymore. I don’t know how the laws of immortality stand on such issues. It’s never been a problem with us. And I can’t imagine Jane would be reckless in that department, not unless she wanted to be of course”.
“And what does that mean?” barked Julian.
“Well unless she actually wanted a baby I mean”, said Adam.
“God forbid, anymore perishing little Hillyards running around!” said Julian “And what does Ransey make of all this?”
“He doesn’t make anything of it”, said Adam “He’s been too busy getting us all set up for the departure. Come along Joby, we’ve got things to do”.
“Yes, bustle along, Joby”, said Julian, sarcastically.
“Pipe down”, said Joby, following Adam out of the room.
“Just when I think we’ve got rid of old Julian for good”, said Joby, as they went down the corridor towards the galley “Somehow he manages to resurface”.
“Oh I think there’s a spot of jealousy there”, said Adam “Julian gets jealous of Hillyard’s relaxed approach to affairs of the heart. It’s because he himself is more intense than he cares to let on”.
“Daft bugger”, said Joby.
They found Ransey standing in the corridor between the galley and the dining-room, intensely scanning a clipboard.
“Have we got enough in the stockpile then?” asked Joby.
“Should be enough to keep us going for a while”, said Ransey “Provided we don’t go raving mad”.
“I expect you’ll ensure we don’t do that, old love”, said Adam, as the engines started up below them.
Bengo drifted into the corridor, still looking as if he was suffering from the effects of the night before.
“Has Bardin gone back to bed?” said Adam.
“No, I wish he would”, said Bengo “He’s drawing a map”.
“Well that should keep him out of our hair for a little while”, said Adam “Providing he doesn’t try and take over the dining-room table”.
“I’ve told him he’s only allowed to do it in our cabin”, said Bengo “And if he breaks tha rule, you’ll sort him out, most severely”.
“Hah, what a lark!” said Adam.
Ps - if it ends a bit abruptly, that’s because it’s time to get on with the next adventure.
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