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By Sarah Hapgood

“You brought all this with you, Wesley?” said Hillyard.

“Yes, pushed it all the way in a hand-cart”, said Wesley, proudly.

“Got to admire your dedication, mate”, said Hillyard, admiring the still that had been set up in a small back-chamber of the cave.

“I’m a drunk”, said Wesley “Even the unravelling of civilisation can’t change that. And if I’ve got to spend the rest of my life holed up in a cave I can’t do it sober!”

“Well no I suppose not”, said Hillyard.

“Every so often I vow to go on the wagon”, said Wesley “But it never really works. I’m stuck this way. Kitty keeps telling me I can change anytime I want to, it’s just a matter of willpower. But if I was conscious and sober all the time I’d have to listen to her more!”

“Is she as high-maintenance as she comes across then?” said Hillyard.

“She means well”, Wesley sighed “Her heart’s in the right place, and some days she can be very sweet. But all the time, ALL the time mark you, I keep thinking she’s trying to change me. All gets a bit exhausting”.

“Pretty tough existence all round”, said Hillyard “What you’ve got to endure here”.

“Well”, said Wesley “Better than being dead I suppose”.

“You should be proud of yourself for surviving”, said Hillyard.

“Oh I get plenty of black dog moments”, said Wesley “I sometimes keep myself occupied by making up stories in my head. I always wanted to be a children’s author you see, except I doubt there are any children left to read them”.

“You don’t know that”, said Hillyard “One earthquake, however terrible, doesn’t wipe out the entire world”.

“Not just the earthquake though is it?” said Wesley “It’s all these cataclysms everywhere. Weird weather. People rioting. Mutant animals …”

“Mutant animals?” said Hillyard.

“That’s what’s been seen in some places”, said Wesley “I can’t explain it. We were hearing about such things before the quake struck. Kitty says it’s the Earth going through a violent change to become a better place, but I don’t know. I wish I was more convinced of that”.

“Let’s go and see what the others are up to”, said Hillyard.

He turned and bumped into Bardin.

“Fuck’s sake!” said Hillyard “You nearly finished me off there! Do you have to creep about like that in here?”

“What do you want me to do?” said Bardin “Walk around shouting?”

“Well you manage it at home alright!” said Hillyard.

Wesley grabbed the candle that he placed on a rocky ledge, and they went up a short flight of makeshift stone steps into the main chamber.

Beatrix was standing near the fire, chatting to Adam and Hoowie. In her arms she cradled some tins of vegetables.

“Adam’s been so kind”, she enthused, when she saw the others “Donating these to us. It gets so hard to vary the menu at this time of year. And it does bother me. I mean, a high -protein diet can’t be very healthy can it? Oh and this young man, he’s such a character”.

She meant Hoowie. Bardin immediately looked suspicious.

“I hope he hasn’t been bothering you”, he said.

“Oh not at all, he’s such fun”, said Beatrix “Such a joy to have around”.

“Isn’t that marvellous, Bardin?” said Adam, amused “Hoowie’s scored a hit. Wait til Julian hears about it, he’ll be so proud”.

Bardin thought that giving Hoowie lavish praise was a foolhardy, not to say dangerous, thing to do.

“Hoowie”, he said “Go and join the other clowns outside, they’re collecting driftwood”.

“Oh Bardin”, Hoowie wailed “Can’t I stay in here and be amusing?”

“I’m sure a little bit of you being amusing goes a long way”, said Bardin. He clicked his fingers and pointed to the cave entrance.

Hoowie groaned but did as he was told.

“He really is a lovely young man”, said Beatrix.

“He’s a handful”, said Bardin “He needs a constant hard time”.

“And Bardin makes sure he gets it”, said Adam “Don’t you, old love?”

As treasured galley staff Bengo was exempt from the task of collecting driftwood. So he stood on the beach watching the others. Hoowie ran over to him, to tell hi what a massive hit he had been in the cave.

“You should’ve heard Bardin”, he said “He was pig-sick with jealousy”.

“I don’t think he was, Hoowie”, said Bengo “More likely worried you was gonna start causing mayhem”.

“When do I ever do that?” said Hoowie.

“Are you serious?” Bengo exclaimed “Whenever you get the chance usually!”

“What do you think of them?” said Hoowie, dropping his voice to a conspiratorial whisper “They seem alright to me”.

“Yes I think so”, said Bengo “They’ve had a helluva time of it living here. Well, had a helluva time of it generally I spose. Puts our experiences into perspective”.

“And yet we’re refugees as well, when you come to think of it”, said Hoowie “I mean, we have no homeland, we don’t belong anywhere”.

“No, but we have the ship”, said Bengo “It can be a bit cramped sometimes, but it’s luxury compared to what they’ve had”.

“That’s true”, said Hoowie “It’d give me the creeps living in that cave all the time, but I guess it’s their sanctuary”.

Adam, Bardin and Hillyard emerged at the top of the mossy steps, accompanied by Beatrix, still clutching the tins to her ample bosom. They stood there chatting for a little while, until a weird, unsettling noise broke out in the far distance. The clowns stopped what they were doing, and stood up in consternation. Bengo and Hoowie walked over to the steps.

“What the fuck was that?” said Hoowie.

The noise broke out again. It was elusive and indecipherable. Sounding like a combination of heavy machinery and a man groaning. It came in short bursts.

“Oh dear”, said Beatrix “We haven’t heard that for a while. It’s horrible”.

“You’ve heard it before?” said Bardin.

“Yes”, Beatrix nodded “On a number of occasions since we’ve been here. It always sounds slightly different each time. We’ve learnt to try and ignore it as much as possible, but it’s not easy. It seems to come from the Demon Lands. Have you ever heard anything like that on your travels?”

“We’ve heard unaccountable noises”, said Bardin “Usually sounding like wild animals, but not always very easy to define”.

“Fortunately”, said Beatrix “Whatever it is, it never seems to come any closer. I really don’t know what we’d do if it did. If it’s in the Demon Lands well it could be anything couldn’t it?”

“I think we need to set up a signal”, said Bardin “So that you can alert us on the boat if you need help”.

“I could bang saucepans together”, said Beatrix “Or wave a lamp”.

“Do both”, said Bardin “Shout as well. We’ll be staying here for a while, and I think it’s important we all keep an eye on each other”.

“I suppose we should have invited them to stay here”, said Bardin to Adam, when they got back to the galleon “But God knows where. There’s no room. We could try and shoe-horn them into Kieran and Joby’s cabin, and hope their body-heat keeps them warm!”

“I don’t think there’s any need for that just yet”, said Adam “They’ve survived a couple of years here reasonably well, without any help from us. If an emergency happens we’ll take them aboard, but I don’t see any need otherwise”.

“Good”, said Bardin “I’m not sure how our funny little ways would go down. Probably cause them acute embarrassment!”

Adam did give Beatrix a guided tour of the boat the following day. Beatrix could hardly contain her amazement at how civilised it all seemed.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why, but I always think a bunch of men wouldn’t know how to make a home”, she said “That it’d be all sort of rough and basic”.

“Us men may be somewhat primitive”, said Adam “But we do enjoy our creature comforts every bit as much as the ladies do”.

“You must think me dreadfully rude”, said Beatrix.

“Not at all”, said Adam, showing her into the dining-room “Some men do behave like animals, but I’m relieved to say not all of us”.

Beatrix looked with astonishment at the long table, polished to a mirror-like sheen.

“And the floor’s swept too”, she said.

“Bardin is very strict about such things”, said Adam “Everything has to be kept in good order. It must have been his theatrical training”.

“He was on the stage?” said Beatrix.

“He, Bengo, Hoowie, and some of the others were all clowns”, said Adam “They grew up in the theatre”.

“Astonishing”, said Beatrix “He seems so authoritative and in control. I can’t imagine him clowning about all over the place and being anarchic”.

“Oh he can be”, Adam smiled “He is the most disciplined of them though. Very good at keeping the others in order. And they do need it. Hoowie particularly can be a bit wild”.

“Hoowie?” said Beatrix “He’s such a pet!”

“He can be delightful”, said Adam “But he does need a firm hand”.

Beatrix looked around her wistfully.

“You must think us such savages”, she said “Living as we do”.

“Oh no, of course we don’t!” said Adam “We would probably be living exactly the same way, if we didn’t have our old tub here. You’ve survived, that’s the important thing”.

“It’s been a struggle”, said Beatrix “Anton is a lovely man. But occasionally he has dark spells. Oh he doesn’t get violent or anything like that. Or nasty even. He’s always such a gentleman. But he goes into a sort of dark room of his own, terrible introspection. And we can’t reach him then. He says he suffers a mental collapse at such times”.

“That’s very sad”, said Adam “But not wholly surprising, not after everything you’ve been through”.

“I think his mind can only take so much”, said Beatrix “And then it closes down for a little while. I’m hoping that with all of you turning up like this, that it will distract him for a while. Take him out of himself”.

“We shall try our best”, said Adam, feeling slightly uneasy “But if you find any of our lot getting too much, just send them home. No one will mind”.

Kieran flitted past the door and into the galley opposite.

“Who was that?” said Beatrix “I just caught someone with a shock of blonde hair out of the corner of my eye”.

“Do you like music, Bea?” said Adam.

“Yes I love it”, said Beatrix “I can’t remember the last time I heard any though”.

“Let me show you our gramophone”, said Adam.

“Is there some point to all this cloak-and-dagger stuff?” said Joby, in the galley, as Kieran peered around the edge of the door towards the dining-room.

“Beatrix is here”, Kieran whispered.

“Yeah I know”, said Joby “Adam’s showing her round the ship”.

“You lot make all this bloody fuss about me having to be hidden away, said Kieran “And then you start giving guided tours without telling me!”

“Behave yourself”, said Joby “If we’re planning on staying here then they’re gonna have to meet you sometime”.

“Well nobody told me the rules of the game had changed!” said Kieran, sitting down at the table “I was still in hunted fugitive mode!”

“We’re gonna have to be upfront with ‘em”, said Joby “If we try covering up who we are it’ll probably all come out at some later date, and that’ll be really boring”.

“And what about Cat Woman?” said Kieran.

“It ent gonna help if you go around calling her things like that is it!” said Joby.

“I’m afraid of meeting her, Joby”, said Kieran “She’ll probably chew my ear off and give me a hard time, like Sister Whatsherface did”.

“Am I hearing you right?” said Joby “This is the man who’s gone ten rounds with the Devil in his time! And you’re afraid of some shrewish woman?!”

“Yes”, said Kieran “The Devil is wholly rational by comparison! I have more chance of reasoning with him!”

“Bollocks”, said Joby “Even Kitty’s an improvement on Angel!”

Hillyard hurried into the room, pushed the door up behind him, and then peered round it, as Kieran had done.

“Oh not you as well!” said Joby “It’s only Beatrix for fuck’s sake!”

“Is it just her?” said Hillyard “Not …?”

“Cat Woman’s not here apparently”, said Kieran.

“Kieran!” said Joby “I’m gonna beat the pants off you in a minute!”

“She’s a bit high maintenance that one”, said Hillyard, adjusting his crotch and joining Kieran at the table “Too long in her company and we’ll all be worn-out nervous wrecks. What are you making?”

“Cheese scones”, said Joby “Not that anyone deserves any!”

“Good old Jobe”, said Hillyard “Full of cheery benevolence as always!”

Adam could be heard exclaiming from out in the corridor, and then the soft murmur of another female voice coming down the quarterdeck steps.

“Oh my God!” Kieran exclaimed, in a horrified whisper “Its’ her! The Cat woman! She’s here!”

“Yeah alright, calm down”, said Joby.

“I’ll shoot out the back door”, said Kieran.

“We haven’t got a back door, you daft sod!” said Joby.

“Well there must be some other way out of here”, said Kieran.

“If there is I’ve never found it”, said Joby “We could pick you up and shove you through the porthole, though it might be a tight fit, even for a skinny little squirt like you!”

Adam came in.

“Put the kettle on again, Joby”, he said.

“How long is she staying here for?” said Joby.

“As long as it takes to drink a cup of tea I suppose”, said Adam “They won’t be here for long, it’ll be going dark soon. I was wondering whether to offer them the use of Julian’s hip-bath sometime”.

“Oh why not invite them to move in whilst you’re at it!” said Joby.

“Now don’t be uncharitable, old love”, said Adam “We could put it in the dining-room and make it nice and private for them”.

“No need to worry about that”, said Joby “We’re all a bunch of queers. Well except Umbert, he’s celibate”.

“Yes, thank you for that little ray of sensitivity”, said Adam.

“Well if Kieran can be daft, I don’t see why I can’t be”, said Joby.

“How are you going to suggest that to them tactfully then?” said Hillyard to Adam “’Nice to meet you, now would you like to have a bath?’”

“I hope you’re gonna put a lid on all this neighbourly charitableness, Ad”, said Joby “I don’t mind helping ‘em, but there has to be boundaries”.

“Of course there’ll be boundaries!” said Adam.

“Good”, said Joby “Don’t encourage ‘em to drop in whenever they feel like it”.

“Particularly Cat Woman”, said Kieran “She might want to get into endless round-the-clock debates with me”.

“Not if she’s got any sense at all she won’t!” said Joby.

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