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By Sarah Hapgood

Over the next few days they bunkered down, as the snow, freezing temperatures and minimal daylight made outdoor activities difficult. There was an outbreak of excitement when a bear was spotted on the shore, and Lonts hustled everybody up onto the main deck, so that they could admire it in all its glory. But otherwise it was a mole-like existence.

“We should be using this time more productively”, said Ransey, sitting round the fire in the dining-room with Hillyard and Julian, drinking beer from a jug “Making plans for the future, that sort of thing”.

“What, like pension funds you mean?” said Julian.

“Alright Lord Smart-Arse”, said Ransey “I mean, thinking about finding somewhere that we can set ourselves up as a religious community properly. Find a building we can use”.

“Ranz old mate”, said Hillyard “Everytime we find a building up in this part of the world it’s either haunted as fuck, or Crowley’s living in it!”

“Let’s stick to Plan A”, said Julian “And go back to the courtyard clearing in the Spring. See if we can do something with that after all”.

Bardin came into the room, and tipped the remains of the jug into a spare glass.

“I guess I’d better drink this before it evaporates!” he said.

“Don’t look at me”, said Julian “Blame our resident accountant here for being so sparing with the rations”.

“I take it you’d like to make sure we have enough beer for the Winter?” said Ransey, tartly.

“I thought Hillyard was finally going to start up his still at some point”, said Bardin.

“I’m not sure that it’s wise doing that on board ship”, said Ransey “Could end up blowing the place up”.

“Thanks for that vote of confidence!” said Hillyard “What a ringing endorsement of my beer-making skills!”

“All I’m saying is that, back at the courtyard clearing we could have used the old kitchen”, said Ransey “Perhaps it should wait until then”.

“Beer-making in the Spring”, said Bardin “I quite like the sound of that!”

He drained his trickle of beer and went over to the galley, where he found Adam alone.

“Where’s Bengo and Joby?” he asked.

“I sent them down to the hold to bring up some supplies”, said Adam “Would you like some tea?”

“I might as well”, said Bardin “It didn’t exactly take me long to drink the beer! If Ransey rations it much more he’ll be doling it out with a teaspoon, like cough medicine!”

“Well if certain people round here - namely Julian - could be trusted not to guzzle it all then he wouldn’t have to. Here, have a rock-cake, they’re fresh out of the oven”.

“Thanks”, said Bardin, sitting down at the table “Such a strange light right now. Feels as though the lid’s being screwed on”.

“Yes, it can feel like that”, said Adam, glancing out of the port-hole.

“I hope nobody gets cabin-fever”, said Bardin.

“Nobody does usually. We’re all used to living like this when all’s said and done. That’s why I think we make a very good religious order really. We can cope with the isolation and seclusion”.

“I don’t think some of our ways of coping would impress a religious order!” said Bardin, coughing on some cake crumbs.

“They would if they had any sense! And didn’t get all tight-mouthed and self-righteous about it”.

An image came into Bardin’s mind, upsetting but vivid, of warm sunlight against a brick wall, with a climbing rose ambling over it.

“Are you alright, old love? Has the cake gone down the wrong way?”

“No, no. Some image just came into my head. A very nice one. I hope I just had a glimpse of the future. Seemed to be part of a sunlit garden somewhere”.

“Then let us hope so. Perhaps you should mention it to Patsy. He takes a lot of notice of your little psychic visions”.

“I’m not even sure that’s what it was. I can only hope so. Anyway, he’ll just say it’s a sign that my special therapy’s working on me!”

“And isn’t it? It’s certainly working on the rest of us!”

“A valuable public service, eh?”

“Ah rock-cakes”, said Kieran, appearing as if by magic “Can I have one?”

He joined Bardin at the table.

“Am never likely to refuse you food, Pats”, said Adam.

“I was looking for you, Bardin”, said Kieran “I think we should try some more astral-projection sometime”.

Bardin gave a cautious glance at Adam.

“Let’s be open about it”, said Kieran “Then they can’t complain about us being underhand”.

“Didn’t it cause enough trouble last time?” said Bardin.

“There’s no danger in it”, said Kieran “Would I suggest something if I thought there was?”

“Frankly, yes!” said Bardin.

“Patsy, you really are a little bastard sometimes”, said Adam.

“Trust me”, Kieran laughed “It’ll all be upfront and above-board”.

“Joby will get angry”, said Adam.

“So will Bengo”, said Bardin.

“They’ll be in on it from the start this time”, said Kieran “And I’m quite happy to take a thrashing from Joby”.

“Yes I’m sure you are!” said Bardin “And I’ll get two, one from Bengo and one from Adam”.

“So what are you complaining about?” said Kieran “You’ll get another spanking from this elegant man himself here”.

“YOU’LL get one from me as well!” said Adam “Every bit as harsh as the one I gave you in the desert that time near Lixix!”

“But what are we looking for this time?” said Bardin.

“We’ll explore more of Crowley’s house”, said Kieran “I have a feeling it could be useful”.

“Have we opened a diner then?” said Joby, returning with an armful of tins.

“Yes, it does look that way”, said Adam “I’m afraid Patsy’s had an idea”.

“For fuck’s sake, Kieran!” said Joby “Can’t you put a sock in it for a while?”

“You haven’t heard it yet!” said Kieran.

“I don’t need to”, said Joby “Bound to be summat I don’t like”.

“Does it involve astral projection at Crowley’s house?” said Bengo.

Bardin looked terrified by this show of astuteness on Bengo’s part.

“How did you know that?” he squawked.

“You’re sat with Kieran”, said Bengo “And you’re looking guilty”.

“You could be a detective, Bengo”, said Adam.

“What a horrifying thought!” said Bardin.

“No, I just know Bardy too well”, said Bengo.

“It’ll be the last one I promise”, said Kieran.

“You bet it will!” said Joby.

The second (and final) attempt at astral projection wasn’t a great success. Kieran and Bardin succeeded in getting into Crowley’s house again, but it was a very disjointed experience. Kieran decided that this time they should head into the basement of the house. At first they found themselves in the wine-cellar. Penetrating beyond that they came into a maze of grim subterranean tunnels, with bare brickwork, and a myriad of closed doors. It was like something in a dreamscape, a nightmarish one.

As they went further into this forbidding landscape they found that the experience became more and more disjointed and fragmented. It was like riding the ghost-train at a fun-fair, sudden unsettling images would jump out at them, such as grotesque people scuttling around on all fours, or deformed faces emerging from the stone work.

“What the fuck was all that?” said Bardin, when Kieran decided it was best to bring them out of it.

“I don’t know”, said Kieran “We were either picking up fragments of a haunting, or images of the place as it had once been”.

“What the hell could it have been to produce images like that?” said Bardin.

“A hospital of some kind?” said Kieran “Like the one we found near the Sea Of Torment that time. An insane asylum? Who knows. Then again, it might not be residual at all. We might have seen what is there now”.

“And Crowley lives on top of that?” said Bardin.

“The mystery intensifies”, Kieran sighed “But I don’t think we should attempt another astral journey. I don’t feel confident we’re protected enough against whatever that is. If we go in again it’ll have to be for real”.

“I was going to say the others will be pleased to hear that”, said Bardin “But now I’m not so sure!”

“That will be the last time I promise you”, said Kieran, when Joby cornered him at the foot of the stairs by the heads “It’s too risky to do it again. Too uncertain”.

“You promise me, Kiel?” said Joby, seizing him by the elbows.

“I promise you”, said Kieran “I don’t know what I can say to convince you. If we go in again it will have to be for real”.

“Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it”, said Joby “No point trying to pre-empt these things. I’d better get back to work”.

At bedtime Adam came along with hi to his cabin, and spanked Kieran soundly on his bare buttocks. Joby watched with great satisfaction.

“My God”, said Adam, pausing and resting his hand on Kieran’s little bottom “I should have done that when we were first put into Henang. To both of you actually”.

“I’d have cried!” said Joby. “Oh at first perhaps”, said Adam “But you would have fallen under my spell very soon. Think how much easier my life would have been from then on”.

“No, we’d still have given you trouble”, said Joby “Anyway, give him a few more”.

Adam obliged, doling out ringing smacks. Joby helped Kieran to his feet when he’d finished.

“I shall see you bright and early”, aid Adam, bidding them goodnight.

“And to think he was so gentle with me the very first time!” said Kieran.

“Ah, he knows you can take it now”, said Joby “C’mon, let’s go to bed. I wanna fuck your sore bottom”.

“What are you hovering by the door for?” Julian barked at Kieran the following morning, just before breakfast “You can come in. I don’t fancy eating stringy little Irishmen!”

“I’m feeling tender this morning”, said Kieran, who was still clutching his behind.

“I promise I’ll keep my hands to myself”, said Julian “I don’t feel like being lectured by Joby today. Sit on the padded stool”.

“What did you want to see me about? Jazy, I’m sore as hell!”

“If it’s any comfort I expect old Starchy Spanks is too”.

“But that’s just it, he gets to keep his knickers on! Two pairs sometimes! For an artist, Adam’s got big, rough hands”.

“Yes, not refined like mine. So what are your conclusions about your little excursion with Bardin yesterday?”

“A wee bit freaky to say the least. Yesterday I thought we might have seen a residual haunting, but now I’m more inclined to believe Crowley is living over something. I suspect he’s got himself into some terrible situation”.

“And yet on the whole he’s been quite careful about that. He used to rave about idiots who messed around carelessly with demonology”.

“I suspect boredom has made him take risks. Crowley’s not the sort of man to sit quietly and twiddle his thumbs, or do a spot of gardening. He needs constant stimulus, extreme stimulus, both mental and physical”.

“That’s probably why he’s kept trying to goad us into a fight then”.

“Oh yes, that’s what I believe to be very much the case. Eternity’s a long time to fill, and Crowley’s addicted to danger”.

“So do you think we’ll be bearding him in his lair again at some point?”

“To be honest, I don’t see as to how we’re going to have any choice, if he doesn’t go away. Not if we want to stay in this area”.

After this conversation Kieran ambled along to Bardin’s cabin, where he found Bardin rifling through a drawer. Kieran smacked his rump, and Bardin jumped up, startled.

“Pack that in! How many times …?” he stopped “Oh it’s you, Kieran. I thought it was Hoowie. He keeps doing that”.

“Has he dropped the subservient act then?” said Kieran.

“No. But he can’t keep his hands off me either”.

“Lucky you. Hoowie’s a sexy little devil”.

“Sex-mad you mean. He doesn’t need any encouraging. How are you?”

“Oh I’m fine. Just been having a chat with Julian. Coming to the conclusion that we’re going to have to call in on Crowley again at some point”.

“If he doesn’t call on us”.

“What makes you say that?”

“I’m not sure really. It just came out. I keep getting this kind of thing at the moment, it’s pissing me off”.

“Roll with it. You have to with psychic stuff, no point fighting it, and remember: it could turn out to be useful”.

Under the heavy snow the surrounding landscape took on an ultraviolet feel, a strange blending of colours in the now very muted daylight that was on offer. Strong winds blew the snow in thick flurries, and the waters of the lake developed thick rollers.

That particularly wintry evening, like on the galleon took on a particularly lazy feel below deck. In the dining-room there was a card-game in progress, as well as a session of backgammon. Elsewhere around the ship were private conversations in various different rooms. Most of these were pleasantly low-key, apart from the one in Bengo and Bardin’s cabin, where they were having a quarrel.

“For God’s sake Bardy, just give Hoowie what he wants”, said Bengo “And then he’ll calm down and stop bothering you so much”.

“I doubt that! There have to be professional boundaries, Bengo”.

“Prof …?” Bengo exclaimed “Ooh I could smack your bum for that! We’re not in the theatre now! This is us lot! Now answer me this one question, and a straight yes or not answer, do you fancy Hoowie?”

“Yes but …” Bardin gabbled “There’s no big deal to that, we all fancy each other around here. Well apart from Hal, I could never fancy him in a million years”.

“Then just have sex with Hoowie”, said Bengo “Because this is doing my head in. Hoowie’s great in bed. He’s gentle, and he does whatever you want”.

“Can’t you ever get a little bit jealous?” Bardin pouted “This is starting to feel like you’re my pimp!”

“Aw”, Bengo melted “I can’t get jealous of Hoowie, he’s no threat. He’s just an old friend. If I thought there was even the slightest risk from him I wouldn’t let him anywhere near you. I do love you, Bardin”.

Across the corridor, in the galley, Adam and Joby were sharing some whisky.

“They seem to have quietened down now”, said Adam, referring to Bengo and Bardin “I wonder what all that was about”.

“God knows”, said Joby “Those two quarrelling is hardly anything new. Not exactly hold-the-front-page stuff. I spose I’d better go and find Kieran in a minute. Time I rubbed some cream onto him”.

“Haven’t you done that yet?” said Adam “He’s been sore all day!”

“He won’t mind. I enjoyed that session, watching you tanning his backside. Gave my hand a rest!”

“Oh I always enjoy spanking Patsy. He’s so deliciously naughty. It was nice to be alone with you two again, we manage it so rarely these days. The original three together again”.

“We’ve been through some times together”.

“Just a few”.

“I remember that time at the Freak Colony, when went off with Angel. Thought we was never gonna see him again. Ugh!”

“Do you mind if I join you?” said Bengo, poking his head round the door.

“What’s the matter?” said Joby “Finally throttled Bardin?”

“No”, Bengo giggled, joining them at the table “I’ve told him to get it on with Hoowie once and for all. Hoowie’s in there now. Bardy keeps doing this playing hard-to-get act, and he’s got to stop it”.

“He’s one of those people that likes to make the rest of us sweat for his favours”, said Adam.

“Some of us need time”, said Joby.

“I sometimes think that with you and Bardin you’d take all eternity if the rest of us didn’t sort you out!” said Adam.

“And then”, said Bengo “And then he starts waffling on about relationship boundaries. He gets me so fucking exasperated sometimes!”

“Keeps you on your toes, old love”, said Adam.

Hoowie stood on the carpet in his bare feet, wearing only his dressing-gown, and trying to look demure. Bardin had to confess that Hoowie the buffoon did look very sexy right at this moment. Hoowie meanwhile was frightened to say a word in case he said the wrong thing, and shattered the delicate atmosphere. Fortunately, from living with Julian, he was used to someone else taking the lead, and was happy to be directed all the way.

Bardin stepped up to him and slipped the dressing-gown from his shoulders. It landed around Hoowie’s feet. The problem now was that Hoowie was quite a bit taller than Bardin, so it was hard for Bardin to take the initiative when it came to kissing. Hoowie obliged by inclining his head. Bardin undid the bath-robe he had changed into whilst Bengo had been fetching Hoowie, and Hoowie slid his arms around Bardin’s body. Bardin was completely naked under the robe. For once, he had dispensed with his shorts. Hoowie was encouraged to see that Bardin was already in a semi-aroused state.

“I’m scared of making a wrong move”, Hoowie confessed “Benje always says you like to be taken in hand, but it don’t feel right to me”.

“Roll with it”, said Bardin, repeating Kieran’s words from earlier.

There was a knock at the door.

“I can’t believe that just happened!” said Bardin.

“Neither can I”, said Hoowie.

The knock came again, and Toppy could be heard excitedly crying out “Captain! Captain!”

“My God, this had better be colliding-with-another-planet scale of interruption”, said Bardin, doing up his bath-robe and striding over to the door.

“Oh Captain!” said Toppy, when the door was opened “I’m so sorry”.

“Toppy, I’m relying on this to be of exceptional importance”, said Bardin.

“It is I’m afraid”, said Toppy, and Bardin became aware that the dogs were running around barking “That terrible man has appeared on the shore”.

“Crowley?” Bardin whispered.

“He seems to have walked here”, said Hillyard, coming up behind Topy “Overland. Got ski’s and snow-shoes”.

“Why in God’s name can’t he leave us alone!” Bardin cried “Damnit!”

“So sorry, Captain”, Toppy repeated.

“It’s alright”, said Bardin “Well I guess I’d better put some clothes on”.

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