“Hell’s teeth”, said Bardin, as Bengo divested him of his sodden outdoor gear “Was it as bad as this the last time we went round the Horn? I can’t remember”.
“Neither can I”, said Bengo “The only thing I can remember about the last trip in this part of the world was that you dreamt you had breasts”.
“Oh yes so I did”, said Bardin, now standing naked by the small fire in the grate “I think we really got off lightly on that trip, if this one’s anything to go by so far. We’ve just about had every bit of bloody weather imaginable. Rain, thunder, sleet, the works”.
“It’s always been a bleak part of the world”, said Bengo, draping the wet clothes over the backs of chairs “Adam said the first time they ever did this route they couldn’t believe their luck when they survived it”.
“Even so”, said Bardin “It can chuck all the muck at us it wants, it’s still got to be an improvement on the Gold River, or being stuck out in the middle of the ocean on those islands”.
“The Enchanted Forest could be a bit of a drag at times too”, said Bengo “It could be quite claustrophobic at times”.
“Yes”, said Bardin “For the first time in years we’re actually free here. Not locked in anywhere. I know we got a touch of it o Peat Bog Island, but we still had That Lot, the yacht gang, lurking somewhere nearby. Ransey hasn’t reconnected the wireless set has he?”
“No”, Bengo laughed “Don’t panic. He says he’d never reconnect it without consulting with you first, and I don’t think he has any inclination to reconnect it for the time being. He says he just knows that the first damn thing he would get on it would be Cloris yelling orders”.
“I’m pretty certain she won’t pursue us down here”, said Bardin, pulling on his dressing-gown “It would offend all her health and safety regulations. My God, we might actually be free of her for a while”.
He pulled up a chalkboard, which he kept by the side of the armchair. On it was scrawled a rudimentary map of the Horn, and the south-western tip of the mainland mass, with Zilligot Bay on the other side.
“Is that where we’re heading to first?” said Bengo “Zilligot Bay?”
“Seems the most logical place”, said Bardin “Not just to get supplies, but to try and find out exactly what’s been going on in the outside world whilst we’ve been stuck out in the doldrums”.
Suddenly a sharp cry went up from the dining-room next door. Bardin and Bengo ran in that direction. They found Hoowie standing by one of the port-holes, with one hand resting on the wall to steady himself.
“What’s the matter with you?” said Bardin.
“I saw a horrible face at the window”, Hoowie gasped.
Bengo burst out laughing.
“Oh yeah I’m sure it sounds very funny to you!” said Hoowie.
“Wasn’t a reflection was it?” said Bardin.
“I fucking knew that one was coming!” said Hoowie “Could see it from a mile off!”
“Well go on, what was it then?” said Bengo.
“I was just looking out, trying to see if it had started snowing properly”, said Hoowie “And suddenly this fucking awful face appears right on the other side of the glass. It was all sort of grey and gaunt, and completely hairless”.
“Well it definitely couldn’t have been your reflection then”, said Bengo, referring to Hoowie’s hirsute state.
“OK calm down”, Bardin told Hoowie “Did it just appear for just a moment?”
“Yeah, sort of flattened itself against the glass, as if it had been flung there”, said Hoowie “And then it slipped down again, back into the water I suppose”.
“Hmm, well whatever it was I’m not keen on the idea of something crawling up the outside of the ship”, said Bardin “I’ll go up on deck and see if they’ve noticed anything, and then I think we should tighten up the deck vigils even further. I won’t be sorry to see the back of this place”.
He grabbed some stray oilskins which were hanging over a chair near the door and put them on. Hoowie pursued him to the foot of the quarterdeck steps, blithering on about the face at the porthole.
“Hoowie”, Bardin paused halfway up the steps “Go and have a cup of tea, or talk to Julian or something. This is the Horn, we’ve got to expect weird shit to happen”.
Up on the main deck, the sleet was slanting horizontally. Bardin cursed himself for not having had time to bring his cap from the cabin. He went over to the bulwark, where Hillyard and Ransey were standing in the gloom.
“This is crazy, Bard”, said Hillyard “Do we drop anchor or keep going?”
“We keep going”, said Bardin “There’s scarcely any point hanging around here. As long as we’ve got some kind of visibility we should keep moving. I’ll arrange for as many lanterns as possible to put round the edge of the deck, so that we can see where we’re going. Agreed?”
“Yes”, said Ransey “The one good thing about the Horn is we know we’ll come out of it sooner rather than later. It’s short and sharp”.
“Hoowie said he saw something crawling up the side of the ship just yet”, said Bardin.
“Was that him we heard shouting a few minutes ago?” said Hillyard.
“Yes”, said Bardin “So extra vigilance is required. God knows what’s lurking below the surface of these waters, and I’m in no hurry to find out”.
“Bardin has clearly imbibed Winston Churchill’s philosophy”, said Adam, talking to Joby down in the galley a short while later “‘When you find yourself in Hell, keep going’”.
“Both Sagittarians”, said Joby.
“Has Finia heard of Winston Churchill?” said Adam, referring to Finia, the ship’s resident astrologer.
“No, I didn’t get it from him”, said Joby “I remember my Nan telling me years ago, back in our time, that it was Winston Churchill’s birthday, and that was at the end of November, so, putting two and two together, he must have been a Sagittarian like Bardin”.
“Well there’s a lot to be said for their put-your-head-down-and-charge approach”, said Adam “He’s right, this really isn’t an area to hang around in. Time to pause and take stock when we get through it”.
“I sometimes wonder if he’s ploughing on to put as much distance between us and Cloris as possible”, said Joby.
“She was starting to become something of a menace”, said Adam “I found her behaviour was getting increasingly thoughtless and arrogant. The way she just changed direction and headed to the Third Island without forewarning us was grossly discourteous”.
“It worked out for the best in the end”, Joby sighed “Otherwise we might still be stuck with ‘em”.
The ship suddenly gave a violent lurch, as if it was a huge dog trying to chuck an unwanted object from its back. Adam and Joby grabbed the edge of the galley table until the roll eased.
“God, I’ll be glad when we’ve navigated this bit”, said Joby, standing up straight again “I think I’ll go to the karsey”.
When he stepped outside the galley, he found Bardin lying flat on his back, and Bengo standing nearby, creased up with laughter.
“Oh well don’t help me up will you!” said Bardin.
“You should’ve seen it, Joby”, said Bengo “When that wave hit, he flipped backwards off the steps, ever so graceful it was”.
“You’re a daft barnpot, you are”, said Joby “Help him up”.
Joby went on down the corridor towards the heads. The light at this end of the corridor was very dim, lit only by a small, flickering lantern at the foot of the main steps. Joby saw his father standing bewildered in the gloom.
“Jobe”, said the older man “What happened to your face?”
Joby instinctively put his hand up to his face. He had had the scar for so long now that he never gave it a thought, not even when he was shaving himself in the mirror.
“Dad”, he said “You’re not supposed to be here, mate. I dunno what magic this is, but you’d better get back to your own time”.
“I dozed off on the sofa”, said Joby’s father “Woke up, it was all dark, and then I see you. Where is this place? What happened to you? You just vanished on us one day”.
“I’m fine”, said Joby, not wishing to step forward any closer until he disrupted something in the ether, and caused his father to stay “Concentrate, and get back to your world. I’m fine, really I am. Don’t worry about me. It’s been too long for us to pick up the reins now”.
His father gave him another intense, quizzical look, and then slowly faded from the scene.
“I don’t understand”, said Adam, when Joby summoned him and Kieran into his cabin to tell them what had happened “Why has he suddenly appeared to you now? After all this time? Was it his ghost? He must have passed away in our time many moons ago”.
“It’s nothing to do with a linear time thing”, said Kieran, reaching for the Magic Whisky Bottle “More like parallel universes. How old did your Da look, Joby?”
“A bit hard to see in the dark”, said Joby “But I wouldn’t have said he was ancient, perhaps late middle age. Said he dozed off on the sofa, which sounds exactly like him! God knows what he thought I was doing in this setting!”
“Somehow he crossed over briefly into this world”, said Kieran “It’s this area, it’s playing tricks with us again. Bardin’s right, the sooner we get through it the better. I’ll give a lot more thought to this when we reach calmer seas, I promise you”.
“Will you be alright, Joby?” asked Adam, concerned.
“Yeah”, said Joby “It was a nice experience, if a bleedin’ strange one!”
“Joby’s handling it awfully well”, said Adam, talking to Julian up on the main deck the following day. The sleet had stopped, but the weather was still tempestuous, with formidable waves on the ocean.
“Of course he’s handling it awfully well”, Julian retorted “I would expect nothing less of him. Anyway, I can’t imagine his father was a terrifying sight. His mother perhaps, from everything I’ve heard about her! Imagine what it would be like if YOUR father appeared”.
“That doesn’t bear thinking about”, said Adam “Violence would probably ensue”.
“I’m not even sure if I can remember what mine looks like”, said Julian “He never exactly made much impact on me back in the day, let alone now!”
“But why did it happen?” said Adam “Why now? God forbid, I hope we don’t get sucked back into our time, not after everything that’s happened. I can’t bear the thought of that”.
“That is exactly the kind of thought that this area is probably trying to imprint on your brain”, said Julian, sternly “It won’t do. Push it to one side”.
The waves began to spray over the side of the boat, so they moved away from the bulwark, and towards the hatch at the top of the quarterdeck steps.
“The next time we see any land”, said Julian “It will be on the other side of the Horn. That’s worth bearing in mind”.
Bardin had gone into his cabin for a nap, having helped out with some of the night-time duties on deck. His sleep was traumatic though. He suffered a nightmare in which a harsh, grating, male voice muttered obscenities at him, including “you filthy little bugger, I’m going to rape you in every orifice I can find”. Bardin almost willed himself to wake up. When he did he was shocked and upset, but he had enough sense to know that it was another feature of the Horn. It made him even more determined that they had to get out of it as soon as possible.
He sat up in his bunk and swivelled round, planting his feet on the floor, and rubbing his head. He became aware that someone had walked softly into the room. It was Kieran.
“Oh thank God”, said Bardin “I need to talk to you. Sit on the sofa”.
Kieran smiled and gave a mock salute.
“How’s Joby?” said Bardin, joining him on the sofa.
“He’s fine”, said Kieran “Treating it more as an interesting occurrence than anything else. I’m a bit concerned something might be trying to entice us back to our old time …”
“No!” Bardin yelped with alarm, his little round eyes going even rounder “That can’t happen surely?! You wouldn’t leave the rest of us would you? We’re your family now!”
“Bardin, calm down”, Kieran put his hand on his knee “There is no way we’d willingly go back to our own time. After all these years? After all the adventures we’ve had together? I’ve completely lost track what we’ve all been through together. The old world holds nothing for us. It was a different life. A different universe. Please don’t fash yourself”.
“I can’t help it”, Bardin looked on the verge of tears “What would we do? Bengo would be devastated, and I wouldn’t be much better! Oh God!”
“Bardin”, Kieran took him in his arms “I didn’t mean to cause you any alarm …”
“I’ve just had the most disgusting dream”, said Bardin “And now this. Everybody expects me to be all bloody Captain-y all the time …”
“No we don’t!” said Kieran “You seem to forget being Captain is just a part of you, you’re one of us. If you keep trying to be super-strong all the time, you’ll end up going down in a blaze of anxiety. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about here. And try and remember that we will get through this demonic area. Joby says the good thing about it is Cloris is unlikely to follow us round here”.
“We’ve all been saying that”, Bardin blew his nose on a ropey-looking hanky he had found stuffed down the side of the sofa “But what I’m finding bloody hard to forgive is the way she crapped on us by just taking off to the Third Island like that. The arrogant cow. I’ve tried to move on from it, but it feels such a betrayal, and so ungrateful after everything we did to help them. How can you forgive that, Kieran?”
“Be practical about it”, said Kieran “Would you rather have her hanging around for years to come, being grateful and getting more and more resentful to us that she has to feel grateful. This way we get shot of her, and we’re all done. No more Karmic debts to be paid. We’re all square. She’s free to do her own thing, and more importantly for us, so are we. When someone treats you badly, you no longer owe them anything in return”.
“I know what you mean”, said Bardin “It must have been that bloody dream sending me into a tailspin. It was horrible. Some disgusting voice mouthing perverted obscenities”.
Kieran squeezed his hand gently.
“Sounds like a classic vampiric trick to me”, he said “Find your weak spot, and go for it, like an arrow at a bulls-eye. Vampires and demons have done that one to me enough times. Always remember one useful rule of thumb: they always lose in the end”.
“If I’d known my old man could have this much of an effect on people, I’d have nominated him as Vanquisher of Evil!” said Joby.
The Horn wasn’t ready to give up its shocks before they escaped its clutches. That afternoon they carefully navigated past a large rock stuck in the middle of the gun-metal grey sea. On it was the corpse of a partially-clothed man. His body was frozen solid, and he had been attacked by sea-birds. By this point in time no one felt inclined to question how he had got there, or why he was there. It was accepted that this was simply to be accepted as part of The Horn. By this point in time they had imbibed Bardin’s extreme focus, and were intent on only getting beyond the area as quickly as possible. Like a cargo of bulls, they put their heads down and charged.
“Kieran’s convinced that dead guy we saw was a ritual sacrifice of some kind”, said Joby, when he and Adam were getting coffee and bread ready for the last afternoon snack “I didn’t have the strength to ask who the fuck was ritually sacrificing anybody right out here. I don’t wanna know, frankly, I just want to be shot of this place”.
“Well somebody dumped the poor chap there I guess”, Adam sighed “I can’t imagine he found his own way there. Then again, of course, he might not be real. He might be just some sort of collective hallucination to try and drive us all nuts. I wouldn’t put it past the Horn at all to try something like that”.
“We talk about the Horn as if it’s a person”, said Joby “Not a geographic location, an entity of some kind”.
“Perhaps it is”, said Adam “Some places are like that, they have an energy all of their own”.
On their final night on the Horn a thick fog blanketed their world. Early in the morning it was strangely beautiful, deadening all sharp edges. It slowly cleared as the morning went on, and it was then that they saw rough, craggy land for the first time in days. They still felt at the end of the world (as indeed they were), but the edge of the Horn was also in sight.
As they neared the land they found that someone had lit a bonfire on the peninsula. A woman with long, matted hair was gesturing for them to go onwards.
“Is this a trap?” asked Hillyard, up on deck “Is she trying to lure us onto the rocks?”
“No I think she’s trying to help us”, said Kieran “She may even be some sort of Gatekeeper to the Horn. She’s a good soul”.
Certainly she waved at them benignly as they ploughed through the waters nearby.
Zilligot Bay was upon them as before they knew it. As they sailed into the near-empty harbour, it felt as if nothing had changed since they had last been here many years before. The whole place felt packed full of memories. A few people stared at them with mild curiosity from the waterfront as they maneuvered into a convenient place.
They were back.
No officious person came forward demanding information or payment, so Bardin took Hillyard, Rumble and Bengo over to the Inn to check out how matters stood. The Inn was even more full of memories than the harbour. They had once lived there, and run it as a business. At first no one seemed inclined to let them in, but after Bardin had knocked repeatedly on the front door, a beaming face suddenly appeared. A tall, thin man was wrapped in a long white apron which was liberally splattered with blood. He also held a meat-cleaver in one hand.
“Oh please don’t be alarmed”, he said, jovially “I’m in the middle of arranging some fowl for tonight’s menu. How can I help you, gentlemen?”
“Could we get some beer?” said Bengo, hopefully.
“Of course”, the man held the door open for them. It was so long since they had come across any kindness from strangers, that if felt quite peculiar. It was almost disconcerting, as if they weren’t quite sure how to respond.
“The thing is”, said Bardin “We haven’t got any actual money, but ….”
He groped down deep into his trouser pocket and pulled out a handful of diamonds, which he placed carefully on the bar-counter. He had had to almost physically man-handle Tamaz to get them out of the hold earlier. The landlord’s eyes popped out of his head. He pulled up a monocle on a black ribbon and inserted it into his eye to get a better look.
“I say”, he breathed “Now look, our beer’s good, we brew it ourselves and we’re very proud of it, but I’m not sure it merits this largesse”.
“I’m afraid it’s our substitute for cash”, said Bardin.
“The thing is”, said the landlord “Pretty though they undoubtedly are, and i’m sure my sister would agree, we haven’t really got much use for them round here”.
“I suppose not”, said Bardin, glumly, pushing his cap off his forehead “OK, do you need any fresh eggs or any little chores doing? Only some of your beer would do us very nicely right now”.
The other three nodded in vigorous agreement.
“Have this round on the house”, said the landlord, moving to the pumps “And take a keg over to your ship”.
“How did you know we had a ship?” said Bengo.
“Well how else did you get here?” the landlord laughed “We have known travellers come overland, but it’s not a well-travelled route. Which direction did you come from?”
“The Horn”, said Bardin.
“My dear sir!” exclaimed the landlord “Then you undoubtedly get a free keg on us. And put those diamonds away, old chap. We’re a pretty law-abiding lot round here on the whole, but there’s no point throwing temptation into people’s paths”.
When Hillyard was presented with the keg of beer, he shouldered it and took it immediately over to the galleon. Bengo and Bardin took their beer to a corner table of the otherwise empty room. Rumble stopped and looked at himself in a mirror.
“Have I always had this furrow on my forehead?” he said.
“Probably”, Bardin shrugged “Stop gawping at yourself in the mirror”.
Rumble joined them at the table.
“I look like chalk”, he said “You’d think I’d be all weather-beaten really”.
“We’ve not seen much in the way of sunlight lately”, said Bardin “And you’ve doing a lot of nightwatch”.
“You’re getting so vain!” said Bengo.
“That’s a bit rich coming from old dimple-chops!” said Rumble.
“It’s odd being back here again though isn’t it”, said Bengo, in a low voice “It was all so long ago. I feel a bit overwhelmed to be honest”.
“Then what are you going to be like if we head up to the Bay?” said Bardin.
“Are we going there?” asked Bengo.
“Possibly”, said Bardin “See how we get on here first. Find out what we can about the outside world”.
“I hope we stay here a little while”, said Bengo “This community has a nice feel about it”.
“Particularly when they dole out free beer”, said Rumble.
There was a clamour of voices outside the front door, and Hillyard burst back in, accompanied by Kieran, Joby, Julian, Hoowie, Lonts and Adam.
“Mention free beer and this is what happens!” said Bardin.
“Why are you carrying a tin of ham?” he asked Adam.
“Well we haven’t really got much to trade at the moment”, Adam replied “And I assumed they might have their own eggs, so I brought this over”.
“Put it down, you look daft carrying that”, said Bardin.
“Not as daft as you’ll look later if you carry on with that attitude!” said Adam.
“I wonder if Thetis still haunts this place”, said Julian.
“Julian, for heaven’s sake!” said Adam “You’ll scare the current inhabitants”.
“Why?” said Julian “She was a game old girl. Be quite fun to have her around”.
“You’re only saying that ‘cos she used to goose you in the passageway here”, said Hillyard.
“So she did”, Adam laughed.
A striking-looking woman with long, black hair extravagantly braided and decorated with lace appeared from a back room.
“Are you the gentlemen with the diamonds?” she said, excitedly “I’m Rosa, Ernesto’s sister. We’re twins”.
“Here”, Bardin put the diamonds back on the counter “Have a look”.
“And they came via the Horn”, said Ernesto, but Rosa was too mesmerised by the diamonds to care about their travels.
“I think we might be alright here for a while”, said Hillyard, adjusting his crotch and sitting down “Ranz is going to put the wireless back together. He thinks we might be safe now”.
“What, from the Curse of Cloris?” said Bardin “Tell Ransey if that abominable woman was to turn up next to us in the harbour we still wouldn’t have to acknowledge her, not after the shitty way she’s behaved. In fact, take pleasure in ignoring her!”
“These two would make nice earrings”, said Rosa, holding up two small diamonds to her ears.
“Very nice, old love”, said Adam.
“Take them”, said Bardin.
Rosa gave a gasp.
“Oh!” she said “You will have free drinks all the time you’re here!”
“I’m not sure that’s wise”, said Adam.
“Don’t stop her!” said Hillyard “It’s a very nice offer”.
“I’m sure we can come to some bartering arrangement anyway”, said Adam.
“As long as it’s better than a tin of ham!” said Bardin.
Bengo suddenly gave a yelp.
“A naked woman’s just walked past the window!” he said “Absolutely butt-naked, not even so much as a fig-leaf!”
He had barely said this when the naked woman came into the bar carrying an empty stone jug. She was wearing a black Cleopatra-style wig, and had painted her erect nipples to match, but otherwise, as Bengo said, was completely starkers. She seemed at home with all this, and calmly handed the jug over to Rosa to fill with beer.
“Oh yes”, Ernesto came over to the Indigo-ites “I should explain. We’ve currently got a cargo of actors here putting on little open-air shows”.
“I can’t wait to see what kind of shows they’re putting on!” said Hillyard.
“They’re sort of morality plays”, said Ernesto.
“Morality plays?!” said Bengo.
The naked woman, her jug filled, had now calmly walked out again.
“They must be saving a fortune on costumes”, said Bardin.
“They are re-telling the history of the past few years and all the troubles”, said Ernesto “A bit too abstract and heavy for my tastes, I prefer light farces, but any entertainment is welcome around here”.
“And what part is she playing?” said Bardin.
“She’s one of the Cyanide Sisters”, said Ernesto “They all appear naked”.
“I can’t remember the Cyanide Sisters being in the buff”, said Hillyard.
“It’s to symbolise their ease with themselves apparently”, said Ernesto.
“Funny, I just remember them being very aggressive and determined to wipe out men”, said Adam.
Kieran and Joby were taking the goats for a walk along the rough track which led from the village up to the old lighthouse.
“Do you remember that clapped out old caravan that used to be there?” said Joby, pointing at a spot on the grass verge.
“We spent the night in it once”, said Kieran “For some reason we had half the ship’s armoury with us, but I can’t remember what all that was about now”.
“Probably summat to do with Crowley”, said Joby “Everything seemed to be about him at that time”.
Just beyond this spot they found a decaying temple set back from the road. It was small and circular, with crumbling pillars and plant-life growing with abandon.
“I wonder what happened here”, said Joby, as they approached it cautiously.
“Some Heathen nonsense no doubt”.
“Kieran! Just because it might not have been Catholic doesn’t automatically make it Heathen! Anyway, you’re Irish, I thought you approved of roadside shrines. You had enough of ‘em round Killarney way from what I remember”.
“When it’s for the right purposes, yes”, said Kieran.
Joby went up a couple of steps to the centre of the little building.
“Be careful in there”, said Kieran “It looks as though the ceiling could cave in at any moment”.
“Someone might have just built it as a little summer-house”, said Joby “And for some reason it doesn’t get used anymore”.
“Ernesto and Rosa might know I expect”, said Kieran, as Joby walked back to join him.
“Yeah what’s going on with those two?” said Joby, as they slowly retraced their steps back to the village “Bit odd innit, brother and sister running a pub together”.
“It’s not odd at all”, Kieran laughed “Jayz, you’re worse than Julian, he was coming up with all sorts of gothic imaginings about them! I expect they inherited it from their parents. I don’t see anything sinister about it at all”.
“Well anyway, Adam’s been given a commission by them”, said Joby.
“A commission?” Kieran’s blue eyes opened wide with delight.
“Yeah, they want him to paint a portrait of the pair of them”, said Joby “So they can hang it in the bar. He’s been doing some preliminary sketches, says he’s going to paint them both sitting side-by-side on the front doorstep. He’s well excited about it”.
“I’m not surprised”, said Kieran “He’s had years on end of only drawing us, he must be sick of the sight of us!”
“I don’t think so”, said Joby.
They found Bengo and Bardin ambling towards them. Bengo was looking elated about something, his coat swinging in the breeze.
“You’ll never guess!” he shouted “I’ve been offered a part in the play!”
“Hey, well done Bengo”, said Kieran.
“I don’t get any lines though”, said Bengo.
“Bloody good job too!” said Bardin “You’d be hopeless at remembering them”.
“Playing what?” said Joby.
“The King”, said Bengo, proudly.
“The King?!” said Joby “King of what?”
“Apparently it’s an allegorical piece”, said Bardin, with mock-grandness “Bengo is meant to signify something. I’m not sure what, I can’t imagine anyone who looks less imperious, apart from Hoowie!”
“Ah you’re just jealous because they didn’t ask you”, said Bengo.
“I’m not remotely jealous”, said Bardin “It sounds a pretty desperate production if most of the cast have to resort to taking all their clothes off to get noticed! But if you enjoy it, then that’s fine by me”.
“Oh well thank you!” said Bengo, sarcastically.
“Will you have to take your clothes off, Bengo?” asked Kieran.
“Not all of it”, said Bengo “I have to wear some sort of loincloth and loads of jewellery, and I sit on a throne, raising my hand to give orders, and I sort of smile or frown, depending on what mood the King’s meant to be in I suppose. And I have to look all sort of magnificent and regal”.
“And I ask once again why in God’s name they’ve cast you!” said Bardin “Don’t look at me like that, Kieran, I am not being disparaging of Bengo’s talents …”
“That’ll make a change”, said Bengo.
“He is a first-rate clown. If you need someone to do a pratfall and or get his head stuck in a bucket of water, or looking all gormless and cute, he’s your man”, said Bardin “But he is not A Serious Actor. I cannot imagine Bengo playing somebody imperious and forbidding. It’s just not in him! I don’t believe in going against type. This is monumental miscasting!”
“Oh c’mon Bardy, it’s easy money, look at it that way”, said Bengo “We used to have to work our nuts off, throwing ourselves all over the stage, just to try and raise a laugh, and now all I have to do is sit on a chair, wearing a loincloth, and trying to look stern”.
“Hang on a minute”, said Joby “You’re actually going to get PAID for this?”
“Not exactly a huge amount”, said Bengo “Glorified beer money really, but I can give it to Adam to put towards some groceries, or Hillyard for ship’s supplies. Plus I’m only on in the first act, so I can then come home. I mean, you couldn’t ask for a better gig really”.
“Perhaps they’ll find a part for Bardin too”, said Kieran.
“What as?” said Joby “The King’s Concubine?!”
“Ha ha!” said Bardin “C’mon, let’s go and get some beer”.
Bengo took the goats back to the ship before rejoining them. By the time he had got to the bar, Adam had also joined the party. He had sketched the outline for the picture, which he could then titivate at his leisure. Most of them were comfortably ensconced in the corner when Bengo hurtled into the room.
“Ah you’re just in time”, said Kieran, putting a pack of cards onto the table “We’re just about to have a game of rummy”.
Bengo ran across the room, knocking over a couple of stools in the process.
“See what I mean!” said Bardin, rolling his eyes “That’s about his level. How on earth do they think he’s going to portray a king!”
“Shut up Bardy, I’ve got news”, said Bengo, breathlessly.
“Now what?” said Joby, putting the stools back into their rightful positions.
“Ransey’s been on the wireless”, said Bengo.
The others gave a collective groan.
“What did he wanna go and do that for?” said Joby.
“I don’t think he can leave it alone”, said Adam, sadly “It’s become a bit of a minor obsession with him. He can’t decide whether to leave it disabled permanently, or keep checking it”.
“Look, will you all listen!” said Bengo, flapping his coat about “He’s heading over here, he’s really cross and unhappy”.
“Why, what have we done?” said Joby.
“No, it’s nothing we’ve done”, said Bengo “It’s Cloris! She’s been on the line!”
“WHAT?!” shouted Joby, causing Rosa to appear in the doorway leading into the back kitchen.
“Oh lor”, said Adam.
“We foolishly thought the Horn would put a big barrier between us”, said Joby “I forgot about that fucking wireless!”
“What does she want?” said Adam.
“You’ll never guess in a million years”, said Bengo.
“For fuck’s sake, just spit it out, Bengo”, said Bardin “You’re really milking the moment here!”
“I haven’t had a chance to spit it out, you lot keep interrupting!” said Bengo “She only wants us to go back there and have a meeting with her, right back on the Third Island!”
“What for?” said Joby.
“To make plans for all our futures”, said Bengo “She’s still harping on about that one”.
“Did Ransey tell her we’re on the other side of the Horn now”, said Adam.
“Yes”, said Bengo “But it doesn’t seem to have made an impact on her. She thinks we can just nip back anytime we want. It’s insane!”
“SHE’S insane more like!” said Joby “Well she knows what she can do with that brilliant suggestion. There is no way I can going back round the Horn. You can all leave me here and come and collect me when you’ve finished. I’ll ask Rosa if she needs a washer-upper”.
“Joby, none of us want to do it again either”, said Kieran “We’re safely on the West Coast now and that’s where we’re staying”.
“Hear hear”, said Bardin “I promise you now, that the only reason we would even envisage going back in that direction would be if something truly cataclysmic were to hit the West Coast, like a bloody asteroid! It aint happening, she can stew in her own juices as far as we’re concerned”.
“Tell Ransey that”, said Bengo, looking out of the window “He’s heading this way, and he looks as if he needs calming down”.
“More beer”, said Adam and Joby, jointly.
“OK OK can I have your attention please?” said Bardin, calling a meeting in the ship’s dining-room to order.
“Yeah get on with it”, said Hillyard “We’ve still got the horses to do”.
“All this is because Ransey has got his knickers in a twist over that stupid bloody woman”, said Julian “There’s no need to call a meeting about it, Bardin”.
“Well I disagree, I think there’s every reason”, said Bardin “If only to reassure him that we’re NOT going to dance to her tune …”
“It’s alright”, said Ransey, quietly, sitting halfway down the table “I understand that one. I was just letting off steam earlier. You can’t blame me for that. She’s enough to try the patience of a saint. She applies bureaucratic logic - if you can call it that - to this world at large. Thinks she can summon us to a meeting as if we’re just in a department in another part of the building! It makes me sick”.
“If it riles you that much though I suggest we put the wireless out of action permanently”, said Bardin.
“Probably not a sensible idea”, said Ransey “You never know if we may need it at some point in the future. I’ve just got to figure out a way of dealing with her that doesn’t send my heart-rate soaring through the roof”.
“Perhaps put someone else in charge of the wireless for a while”, said Julian “And then you can gleefully ignore it”.
“Who do you suggest?” said Ransey.
“I can do it”, said Toppy “I’m often working at this end of the ship. I don’t mind”.
“Motion seconded, agreed and carried”, said Bardin “As long as you don’t go rashly offering to go back there”.
“Captain, I have no wish whatsoever to traverse the Horn again”, said Toppy “Not for a very long time anyway”.
“Is that OK with you, Ransey?” Adam thought he’d better ask, as it unlikely Bardin would do so.
“That’s fine with me”, said Ransey “It’s not as if I haven’t got plenty of other things to do. Rosa has asked me to show her how to do double-entry book-keeping”.
“That isn’t a euphemism I take it?” said Julian.
“Shut up”, said Adam.
Ransey was at the Inn the following morning. He was going through the Inn’s accounts at the kitchen table, whilst Rosa brewed a pot of coffee.
“Time to stop for a moment”, she said, using a cloth to bring the jug to the table.
Ransey sat back in his chair and looked around him.
“It’s very relaxing here”, he said “Reminds me of the kitchen at Midnight Castle”.
“Where was that?” asked Rosa.
“A place we used to have further up the coast. It was a lovely place”.
“Will you head there eventually?” said Rosa, sitting down at the table.
“I don’t know”, Ransey replied “A lot would depend on what it’s like now. It’s so long since we’ve seen it. We have been on the move a very long while. Both the Forest and the islands off the East Coast were very draining for us. It would be nice to find a sanctuary somewhere. If there is such a place in a world that has fallen apart”.
“We’re pretty alright here. We’re too far south and off-the-beaten-track for anyone to bother with. You can always stay here for as long as you need. How long have you lot been together?”
“Oh God”, Ransey laughed “I gave up counting years ago! I couldn’t even begin to work that one out. It doesn’t help that we once got caught in a time-slip which catapulted us forward 60 years. I’ve lost long since lost track”.
“How do you all stay so chummy? I’ve known families that can start a blood-feud over the weather!”
“We only have each other, and I can’t imagine it being any other way. Most of the time we are isolated from everyone else. We have to make it work. And we’ve been through so damn much together over the years. That tends to make you or break you. Sometimes it’s like being telepathic. I can guess what they’re going to say before they’ve even said it. Most of us are natural outsiders. I certainly am anyway. It means a lot then to find a group that you belong to. That you have a place in. Without that I suppose most of us would be totally solitary”.
“We’re a bit like that here”, said Rosa “We’ve sometimes said that Zilligot Bay doesn’t belong to the rest of the world. Did you feel like that when you lived here?”
“We had some great times here, I remember that. It’s nice to be out on a limb”.
“Let me show you my stone garden”, said Rosa, getting to her feet.
“It’s very peaceful”, said Ransey, as they strolled around the walled kitchen garden at the rear of the building.
“It’s very much a work-in-progress”, said Rosa “I do it when I can. I sometimes go down to the beach and bring up buckets of shingle. I want to make it a little oasis of calm”.
“Joby would be interested. He’s the gardener amongst us”.
He could hear a clock chiming from a nearby cottage, and for a moment he felt a rare moment of peace and calm.
“I could almost feel the anger coming out of you there”, said Rosa “What is driving that anger?”
“The world”, said Ransey “I started out under the dark old days of the old Ministry, and it feels as if dark forces have been trying to drag us back to it in recent years. Undo all the good work that Kieran did. Only it’s even worse than that. They have decimated, diseased and poisoned this world. Kieran sasy the demons are losing, and I believe him, but it doesn’t stop my anger. And I am white-hot with anger at Cloris - someone we know - she betrayed us, and now she’s STILL trying to tell us what to do, from halfway around the world. I feel I could lose all reason where she’s concerned. The others have had to take me off wireless duty because I can’t cope with her messages anymore”.
“Some people are so wrapped up in themselves that they don’t see at all the trouble they cause”.
“And some are narcissists, and they simply don’t care. I feel we were taken in by her, and I can’t help resenting that”.
“But you’ve got away from her now”, said Rosa, putting a comforting hand on his arm.
“For the time being”.
“Kieran is right. The Evil is losing. I have felt a sea-change of late. But these things take time. We are not going to emerge blinking into the light all at once”.
“It’s the chaos of the whole thing that has been the hardest to understand. Most of the time we haven’t known who has done this, or WHY they have done it. There has been no logic to any of it, no rationale. It’s just been about sowing hatred and destruction for the sheer hell of it. But I guess that’s what Kieran sometimes calls the Chaos Of Evil. Nothing has to make sense in this world”.
Bengo was getting ready for his big opening night. Although, as Bardin put it, there didn’t seem to be much to get ready for. Finia had loaned him an old duster to use as loin-cloth, and that seemed to be about it. Tamaz had flatly refused to let him borrow any of the remaining Starhanger jewellery to wear.
“You’ll only drop it down a drain or sumpting”, he said “You can’t be trusted with it”.
Bengo put the finishing-touches to his attire in the ship’s dining-room, carefully combing out his long, wet hair to try and make it as straight as possible.
“Where does it say that the King has to have long, stringy hair?” said Bardin.
“Yes, I thought you might want to make it more sort of luxuriant and bouffant”, said Adam.
“He is the king of a wild tribe”, said Bengo.
“Well none of us can wait to see you up on stage”, said Adam “Can we, fellers?”
“I’ve been barred from attending”, said Bardin.
“Oh Bengo, why have you barred Bardin?” said Adam, in dismay.
“I am NOT going to be able to perform with him in the audience”, said Bengo “He’ll put me right off!”
“Well don’t look at him then”, said Joby.
“A professional would be oblivious as to what was going on in the audience”, said Bardin “Even if the ceiling fell in”.
“Not a problem as it’s going to be outdoors”, said Hillyard.
“Bullshit”, said Bengo to Bardin “Nobody could be oblivious to you sitting there, like the worst kind of sadistic theatre critic”.
“Let Bardin come, Bengo”, said Adam “The rest of us will keep him in order, I promise you. It doesn’t seem fair to keep him away on your big night”.
“Oh OK”, said Bengo “It’s not a long run anyway, it’s only a few nights, and then I can go back to making rock cakes again”.
Some elected to stay behind on the galleon that evening, on the grounds that they could see Bengo in the buff any day, they didn’t have to turn out for it. The play was being put on in a large field on the outskirts of the town. Adam, Lonts, Bardin, Hillyard, Joby and Kieran sat on a small row of wooden chairs at the back. The evening air was a bit on the chilly side, but that didn’t seem to bother most of the performers, who were all appearing starkers.
“Nudity is such an odd thing”, Adam whispered “People make such a fuss about it, but when you see it en-masse it soon stops being anything remarkable”. “Particularly with this lot”, said an unimpressed Joby. The show began with a monologue by the play’s narrator, which seemed to go on for hours.
“Talk about Narrator-Who-Won’t-Shut-Up problem”, Bardin hised “He’d have got the Bird back at the Cabaret, waffling on like this”.
“Ssh!” snapped a man wearing a panama hat, who was sitting in front of them.
“Someone actually WANTS to listen to this tripe?” Bardin muttered.
“Now you promised you’d behave, old love”, said Adam.
“I’ll try”, said Bardin.
Suddenly, with a flourish, a curtain was pulled back at the side of the stage, and Bengo was revealed in all his glory, sitting on a makeshift throne, sideways on to the audience. Hillyard whooped and blew an enthusiastic whistle on his fingers.
“If you do that, you’ll distract him”, said Adam.
“If he behaves professionally, he won’t allow himself to be distracted”, said Bardin, sternly “If you remember I told him that back on the ship”.
A naked woman led a small posse across the stage towards him. She faced Bengo but was addressing the audience.
“The King of Useless has decreed more mayhem!” she cried.
At this announcement the Indigo-ites became convulsed with laughter.
“The King of Useless”, said Bardin “They should have chosen Hoowie for this role, it would have been perfect casting!”
“Ssh!” said Panama Hat again.
“Oh shut up”, said Bardin.
“Who the fock is the King of Useless meant to be?” said Kieran “It’d better not be me!”
“Not everything is about you”, said Joby.
Unfortunately the naked woman on stage chose this moment to announce that the Vanquisher of Evil had “abandoned everyone for the Dark Forest”. Kieran gave a yelp of protest and jumped to his feet. Joby pulled him down again.
“The world is abandoned to its Fate”, the naked woman wailed.
Kieran had to be almost forcibly kept in his chair for the rest of the first act, which felt interminable.
“This is supposed to be based on real events”, he snapped “But I don’t recognise any of it”.
“I think it’s meant to be allegorical”, said Joby “Whatever that means”.
“Pah!” said Kieran.
It was with immense relief that the curtain was dragged across to close the First Act.
“I take it we’re not staying for Acts 2 and 3?” said Adam.
“Two more hours of this?” said Joby “That’s more than a human body can stand!”
“If we don’t get out now”, said Bardin “We’ll be held hostage here until breakfast-time”.
The following Joby went over to look at Rosa’s garden. He found Ransey sitting alone on the stone bench, leaning back against the wall, which had been warmed by the morning sun.
“Hey there!” said Ransey, opening one eye and squinting up at him “Glad you could make it”.
He made room for Joby on the bench next to him. Joby sat down with a tired sigh.
“She’s done a nice job of it here”, he said “It’s got a really nice feel to it”.
“A little oasis in a troubled world”, said Ransey.
They sat and listened to the noises around them. Seagulls and someone hammering on a lobster boat in the harbour.
“How many more nights has Bengo got in his show?” said Ransey.
“About 4 I think”, said Joby “It’s not a very long run. Bardin says that doesn’t surprise him at all. Why?”
“Hillyard says he’s had an idea that we can move up the coast a bit. Somewhere in the nearby vicinity of the old lighthouse. It still has easy access to the own”.
“Yeah, along the old trackway. Sounds great, but what put that idea into his head?”
“He fancies himself as a lighthouse-keeper”.
Joby gave a snort.
“Wouldn’t the current lighthouse-keeper have summat to say about that?” he said.
“There isn’t one”, said Ransey.
“Eh? Really?! I’m shocked”.
“No one’s manned the light here for years. I suppose they get so little maritime traffic these days that it doesn’t matter. When a bad storm is due some of them grab lanterns and go out on the rocks just in case”.
“Yeah, but that’s not ideal is it”.
“It could be something for us to think about for a while”.
“We lived in a lighthouse once before”, said Joby “On an island a bit further up from here. It was disused though. It might be the answer to everything, for a little while at least. I’m not in any rush to go exploring the rest of the world at the moment. I don’t see any point in moving just for the sake of it. We’ve done enough of that in recent years. It almost feels too good to be true here. But Kieran’s been nagging me that I’ve got so used to bad things happening that I don’t trust good things”.
“You never did!” Ransey laughed. “I know, I’m a born cynic”, said Joby “But someone’s gotta keep one eye open, and I can’t trust Kieran to do that”.
“Mm, and I’m not keen on him getting sucked into the role of the local parish priest. There doesn’t seem to be one of them around either, and I’ve noticed people are already clamouring around him in the street, badgering him with their problems. He can still do a bit of that at the old lighthouse, but he won’t be quite so accessible all the time”.
“I’ll sell it to him as a sort of spiritual retreat. Not that it’ll need much selling”.
“Y’see we could see get this up and running again in no time”, said Hillyard “A bit of elbow grease and it’ll be cleaned up before you know it”.
Adam stood looking at the stove in the old lighthouse. His arms were folded and the expression on his face wasn’t promising.
“You could wrap it all up in pink ribbon, old love”, he said “And I still wouldn’t use it”.
“Why not?” said Hillyard “You’ve cooked in an old lighthouse before”.
“Yes, and I’m in no hurry to try it again”, said Adam “From what I vaguely recall Joby had to spend all his time holding a torch so that I could see what I was doing! I really don’t see the point in cooking up here when we have a perfectly serviceable galley down on the boat”.
They were standing in a room on the third floor of the lighthouse. It contained the said old stove, and a table and chairs, plus a bookcase, so presumably it had once been the lighthouse-keepers’ main living-area. On the floor below was the bedroom, containing some narrow curtained bunks, and the floor below that was the main entrance hall and loading area.
“Well I just thought it would make it more sorta homely”, said Hillyard.
“You live in it then”, said Joby, who was standing nearby with Bengo “We’ll send you up a flask of coffee and some sandwiches from time to time”.
“If we’re gonna be serious about being lighthouse-keepers”, said Hillyard “Then someone actually has to live on the premises”.
“Then you work out a rota, and take it in shifts”, said Adam “I’m sure Bardin will be delighted to oblige, he loves working out rota’s”.
“Don’t we know it!” said Bengo.
“And I will be very happy to supply you with the necessary refreshments”, said Adam “But I am NOT, I am NOT cooking on that stove. Is that clearly understood?”
And with that, he swept magnificently from the room, with Joby and Bengo following in his wake like a couple of courtiers scuttling after their monarch. Hillyard shoved his hands into his pockets and reluctantly followed them, kicking one of the chairs as he walked past.
They wound down through the lighthouse tower to the entrance hall, where they found Lonts waiting patiently at the foot of the stairs.
“Did you like the kitchen?” he asked.
“No he didn’t”, said Joby.
Suddenly there was a soft clanging noise and Toppy appeared in the main doorway, having clambered up the rusty metal ladder outside. He fastidiously climbed over the ledge and into the tower. Once he was safely in the room he pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his fingers.
“I thought you said wild horses wouldn’t get you in the lighthouse, Toppy”, said Lonts.
“We must have missed that pack of wild horses galloping past us on the stairs”, said Bengo.
“That … that AWFUL person has been on the wireless again”, Toppy stammered.
“Who?” said Adam.
“Who d’ya think?” said Joby “Cloris at a rough guess”.
“Oh lor”, Adam sighed “What now?”
“She says it is imperative that we come to see her on the Third Island and thrash out a deal as to how the rest of the world is going to continue”, said Toppy, now sounding like he was on the verge of tears “And before anyone says anything, I did point out to her that we have already traversed the Horn and have no intention if we can possibly help it of traversing it again … but she just wouldn’t listen!! I have never known someone as stubborn and deluded as her ….”
“OK OK”, Adam patted his arm “We understand, you don’t have to do anymore wireless duty for a while. Did you sign off then?”
“Kieran took over from me after that”, said Toppy.
“And what did he say?” said Joby, warily.
“He repeated what I had said, largely”, said Toppy “He pointed out that we are settling here for a while, and that Zilligot Bay is a very nice place, and that it reminds him of Ireland, and he has no wish to move on from it yet a while”.
“Phew, that’s a relief”, said Joby “I was worried he might go all hand-wringer on us”.
“Oh don’t be silly, Joby”, said Adam “Patsy knows how we all feel about this, he wouldn’t betray us”.
“No he wouldn’t”, said Lonts, fiercely.
“Alright alright, I just get worried that his missionary zeal might take over sometimes”, said Joby.
“I think we are all agreed that there isn’t a hope in hell of us going back to that dreary island”, said Adam “She can stew in her own juices. She is utterly impossible”.
“Now you listen to me!” Bardin thundered into the mouthpiece “Shut up and listen to me! Get this into your head once and for all, we are not coming back round the Horn! We are staying in Zilligot Bay for a while. You are very welcome to come and join us here at any time you want, but we are NOT coming back there to see you. I am not going any further with this conversation, as you have made it perfectly clear time and again that you won’t listen to reason. I am seriously starting to think that you have gone insane. You seem completely incapable of rational thought these days. Goodbye”.
He disconnected the line and flung the headset onto the desk. When he emerged into the corridor he found Ransey leaning against the wall in an exhausted fashion.
“You can fully disconnect it again if you want to”, said Bardin “Be my guest. We’ll rely on the villagers to keep us up-to-date with outside world news”.
“There is a wireless set on the top floor of the lighthouse”, said Hillyard, strolling towards them “We can always use that instead. It just needs doing up, that’s all”.
“I can get on with that in the morning”, said Ransey “With any luck, Cloris won’t be able to find that frequency”.
When he got back down to the galleon Joby wandered along to his cabin, and found Kieran pacing about in it.
“Wos up with you?” he asked “Trying to wear a hole in the floor?”
“Cloris has been on the wireless again …”
“Yeah I already know that, Toppy’s just been up to tell us. Has she got you wild as well?”
“No”, Kieran sighed “I don’t expect anything else from Cloris these days, she’s become a wee bit of a stuck record. Julian heard that I’d been speaking to her, and got completely the wrong end of the stick, thought I was going to promise we’d go back to her”.
“Ah”, said Joby “Well it’s a bit awkward Kiel, but I did worry about that at first, only very briefly though”.
“Oh thank you very much!” Kieran exclaimed “Do y’all think I’m such a monster that I’d make you all sacrifice yourselves for that bunch of ninnies?!”
“Stop pacing about”, said Joby, grabbing him by the shoulders “You’re making me feel dizzy. No it was just an instinctive reaction that’s all. You’re such a bleedin’ altruist some of the time that we have to be a bit wary at first, that’s all. You can’t entirely trust do-gooders, it’s only common-sense”.
“Pah!” said Kieran “For your information, I have washed my hands of that lot. I thought I’d already explained that! They’ve mucked us around endlessly, and we didn’t deserve that betrayal when they suddenly set off for the Third Island without any warning, and we didn’t deserve that telling-off Cloris gave us when we had to flee the New Continent either. She was completely focking unreasonable!”
Joby made soothing noises, as if he was calming a nervous pony. Hillyard was heard whistling as he went into the heads.
“And that’s another thing”, said Kieran “I notice His Hillyship is all abuzz with the prospect of playing lighthouse-keepers. Well that’ll leave me to sort the horses out all on my own! I am aggrieved about that one as well!”
“Oh don’t worry about that”, said Joby “Mention it to Bardin, he’ll have a new rota drawn up before you know it”.
It was a bright, but chilly Spring afternoon a few weeks later. Joby and Hillyard were sitting in the kitchen on the third floor of the lighthouse. Hillyard was polishing a collection of lanterns he had found in one of the cupboards. Joby wasn’t doing anything. He was sitting tilted back in a chair, lost in his own thoughts. The room was cold, with the stove unlit, and a crack in a window which hadn’t been fixed yet. But the sun was also pouring in, taking the edge off it.
“Hey Jobe”, said Hillyard.
“Wossup?” Joby looked over at him.
“Do you think much about that lot on the Third Island?”
“I still can’t get my head round it all”, said Hillyard, busying himself with his duster “Why they wanted to do that. I look at us here. I mean, Zilligot Bay’s a pretty special place. And then I think of them over there, on that bleak godforsaken place, and I could despair”.
“They made their bed, they can lie on it”, said Joby “It was entirely their choice. Are you worried about Glynis?”
“Occasionally. I know she’s a big girl now, and it was her choice too …”
“Too right it was, she could’ve come here with us. She could’ve got a job at the cottage hospital in the village. They’re crying out for nurses, she’d have fitted in well there with all her experience”.
“That’s what makes me want to weep”, said Hillyard “She’d have had a damn good life here”.
“You can’t make other people’s decisions for ‘em, Hillyard”, said Joby “You have to leave ‘em to it sometimes, even when they’re making no bloody sense at all”.
“Just the horror of it gets me”, Hillyard shook his head sadly “Holed up on that bleak island in the middle of the ocean with Cloris dictating everything”.
“Stop dwelling on it, mate”, said Joby “It’ll do you no good at all. I suspect we’re gonna be here for a while, so we’ll be here if she needs us. You’ve just gotta look at it that way”.
Bardin was practically kneeling on the galleon’s long dining-table, with a huge sheet of blank paper laid out in front of him. He was preparing to draw a map.
“Do we actually need a map of the village, old love?” said Adam “I mean it’s not exactly a huge metropolis, I can’t see us getting lost in it”.
“It’s just something I want to do, OK?” said Bardin “A creative challenge”.
“Fair enough”, Adam finished stacking a tray with used coffee-mugs and took it into the galley.
“Our little Captain has some unique ways of amusing himself at times”, he said to Bengo.
“It’s keeping him quiet, so be thankful”, said Bengo, who was drying some cutlery with a tea-towel “It’ll stop him nagging me to have a bath and wash my hair. He claims I’ve become obsessed with the grunge-y look since playing the King of Useless. Not true, I just haven’t had time to ponce around and beautify myself lately. Since we’ve come to the old lighthouse everyone seems to be wanting cups of coffee and cocoa at all hours of the day and night”.
“True”, said Adam “Ransey and Hillyard do seem to think that being professional lighthouse-keepers simply involves drinking gallons of cocoa”.
“Never fear, Joby’s here”, said Joby, after clomping down the quarterdeck steps and into the galley.
“And how was the kitchen at the old lighthouse?” said Adam, with a distinctly snarky tone to his voice.
“Everytime I go over there you ask me that”, said Joby.
“Yeah, you keep blathering on about that old stove. You’ve got a right fixation about it”.
“Only because I am totally paranoid that Hillyard is going to make me cook on the damn thing!” said Adam.
“And just how is he gonna make you do that?!” Joby exclaimed “Lassoo you and drag you up there”.
“He wouldn’t dare!” said Adam, fiercely.
“Exactly!” said Joby “Sometimes I wonder if you’re where Lonts gets his stubbornness from”.
“No, that’s because Lonts is a Taurean, according to Finia anyway”, said Bengo “Like being a Sagittarian naturally makes me a clumsy clown apparently”.
“Philosopher-clown Bengo, philosopher-clown”, said Adam.
“Hey”, said Bardin, dragging the large sheet of map-paper into the room “What shall I call the Old Shrine on this?”
“How about the Old Shrine?” said Joby.
“Yeah, what a silly question”, said Bengo “What do you think it should be called? Rose Cottage?!”
“What I mean is, is it really an old shrine?” said Bardin “It’s only Kieran what calls it that, it could be anything. Could be an old water feature for all we know”.
“Looks very like an old shrine to me, old love”, said Adam.
Bardin grunted and dragged the sheet of paper out of the room again. Adam picked up a large basket from the floor, which was stuffed with green, leafy vegetables.
“Look at this, boys”, he said “Fresh produce. At long last. I have dreamt of this day, when we can finally do some proper cooking, and not keep producing rock cakes, bread and jam, and boiled eggs all the time. It may be only a little store in the village, but what it has got is fresh stuff”.
“And Rosa operates a hatch system”, said Bengo “In the side of the pub, for if anyone needs stuff out of shop hours”.
“We are going to like it here”, said Adam.
A short while later Joby went into the dining-room to begin setting it up for tea. He found Julian lolling about with his legs sprawled across the table, reading a book.
“Hey!” said Joby “Get your bloody big feet off the table, Toppy polished that earlier!”
“He won’t mind polishing it again”, said Julian “He loves it”.
“You arrogant old …”
“Yes, never mind all that. God, it’s so nice having fresh reading matter again. Have you tried the little library in the village?”
“Not yet”, said Joby “They must have a filthy books section then, ‘cos that’s the only literature you read”.
“Not necessarily. I’ve managed to get hold of a copy of The Time Machine”.
“Blimey, I’ll have to reserve it after you”.
“I’ll lend it to you next, I should be finished with it today”, said Julian “They don’t seem terribly bothered as to how long we take things out for. I guess the customers don’t often run away in a hurry round here”.
“Adam’s been raving about getting proper produce at last”, said Joby “And I’m gonna work on a fresh herb garden for the galley. It’s what I had planned for Hy Brasil, until we went and let that ungrateful cow Cloris have it”.
“It turned out alright in the end”, said Julian “I’d damn well rather settle here for a while, than that windswept rock in the middle of the ocean. Hey, I’ve just remembered, let me show you something”.
He opened the library book and pulled out a piece of card that he had been using as a bookmark. He slid it across the table to Joby, who picked it up. It was a striking-looking watercolour depicting a huge pair of iron gates standing at what appeared to be the entrance to a desert. The gates had no wall on either side, they were simply standing there, almost as if disembodied. The landscape beyond was dusty and rock-strewn, like a hot weather version of a lunar landscape.
“The librarian slipped it into the book as I was checking it out”, said Julian “I’m wondering if she was trying to tell me something”.
“It could just be a posh bookmark”, said Joby.
“No I don’t think so”, said Julian “I’m wondering if it’s the countryside beyond the hills at the back of the town. Might be worth having a trudge up there sometime”.
“Might be”, said Joby, for whom the idea of A Trudge anywhere didn’t hold much appeal “Have a word with Bardin about it”.
“What the hell is that racket?” said Julian, as a loud drumming sound broke out on the main deck directly overhead.
“Oh that’s Shag”, said Bengo, carrying a tray laden with crockery into the room.
“Remind me which one’s Shag out of you clowns”, said Julian “The little skinny one who never speaks?”
“Yes”, said Bengo, putting the tray on the table “He’s been given two drums”.
“And which sadist gave him those?” said Julian.
“Ernesto and Rosa”, said Bengo “At the tavern. One of us must have mentioned that Shag sometimes played the drums during a musical skit we used to do. I think they want to us to take part in a musical evening at the tavern some time”.
“I can’t imagine that’s gonna do much for custom!” said Joby.
“Oh Shag’s not bad at drumming”, said Bengo “He does it standing up. The only problem we used to have was making sure he paid attention, as he’d keep looking round to see what the rest of us were doing. But otherwise, he’s not bad really”.
“Good God”, said Julian “I would never have thought he’d have it in him!”
The musical evening on the main deck of the galleon was a great success. Bardin’s singing went down a storm, and Shag proved to be a revelation with his drumming. Although he still had a tendency to look around him at what the others were doing, as Bengo had recalled. Julian became dangerously excited at the sight of him, which worried Adam, as he was concerned that Hoowie would get jealous.
“I am merely being appreciative”, said Julian, which earned a tut from Adam.
At the end of the musical numbers jugs of beer were passed round again.
“If I’d known we were going to go down this well”, said Bengo “I’d have passed round the hat as well!”
Joby located Kieran at the back of the deck, looking pensive.
“What are you thinking about?” said Joby, warily “You’ve got that look about you”.
“I can’t stop thinking about Glynis”, said Kieran.
“Oh don’t you start! I’ve had all this with Hillyard. Look, I really hope you’re not going to suggest …”
“No I’m not going to suggest we sail back round the Horn and go to the Third Island”, said Kieran, firmly.
“Thank fuck for that”, said Joby.
“I’ve got no wish to sail back across that ocean either. But there are other ways, such as flying”.
“How? Have you got a hot-air balloon stashed away somewhere? We travelled that way once, back up in Henang Province, from what I recall”.
“That wouldn’t be practical either”, said Kieran “I was thinking more along the lines of air-buggy. And I know a man who’s got one. Do you remember that dude in the panama hat who kept shushing us during Bengo’s show?”
“According to Rosa, he once was a prominent doctor years ago up in the City. Earned a fortune. But when things started to go pear-shaped up there, he bought a private air-buggy and flew down here with his wife. Apparently he helps out at the hospital when it’s needed. But anyway he lives in this big, swanky villa on the far edge of town. He occasionally still uses the air-buggy to do a reconnaissance around the interior land to the north of here, to make sure there’s nothing unpleasant heading this way”.
“And he would loan it to us?” said Joby, sceptically.
“That’s what I’m not sure about. Apparently he’s quite reclusive. Has decided he hates the human race and what it’s done to the world”.
“I can’t say I blame him there sometimes”.
“I don’t think he’s a hate-filled person, it’s just that he’s allowed his disappointment in human nature to overwhelm him”.
“It’s probably not gonna improve much if a bunch of idiots like us turn up on his doorstep asking to borrow his air-buggy!”
“There are ways of going about these things”, said Kieran “It just needs a bit of thought, and some tact and diplomacy”.
“Better leave Bardin out of it then!”
Kieran’s ideas about the doctor’s air-buggy sent a ripple of alarm throughout the galleon. It turned out that nobody wanted to go back to Third Island, not even by the much faster route of flying there.
“What if we can’t get back again?” Lonts wailed.
“Well it’s not the Moon, Lolo”, said Adam “The others would have to form a rescue-party on the galleon”.
“So we’d still end up bloody sailing there anyway!” said Hoowie.
“You won’t be coming on the air-buggy, Lonts”, said Joby “Apparently it’s only big enough to hold about 4 people”.
“I still think it’s a really reckless idea”, said Lonts, fiercely.
“Has Kieran gone into hiding?” said Julian “I haven’t seen him all morning”.
“No he hasn’t gone into hiding!” said Joby “He’s out exercising one of the horses. Anyway, he’s not an unreasonable man, if he’s told we all hate the idea, he won’t pursue it”.
“Huh, I’m not so sure about that”, said Julian.
“The big news is that someone in this town owns an air-buggy”, said Hillyard “Now that is useful to know. We could ask if a couple of us could join him next time he does one of his surveys of the hinterland”.
“Or fly up the coast”, said Ransey “Although I suppose we could just sail that”.
He drained his coffee mug and stood up.
“Anyway”, he said “I’m going to see if I can contact the Third Island on the lighthouse wireless set. If I reach it I shall demand to speak to Glynis, and say we have a possible option if she needs rescuing. But I don’t see the point of going to all the trouble of going out there if she doesn’t”.
“She’s a grown person”, said Bardin “Kieran has to realise that people should be left to make their own decisions, however potty they may be. He needs to cut back on the bossiness”.
Bengo nearly spat out his tea.
“Is was you said who just said that, Bardy?” he exclaimed.
“Well I still think the really exciting news is that there’s an air-buggy in the town”, said Hillyard.
“Yeah far out, man”, said Joby.
Kieran was riding past the old shrine when he decided to dismount and get a closer look. He left Fergus, the horse, tethered to the remains of a tree and walked closer. A shadow was flung over him. He looked up, expecting to see a cloud passing across the face of the Sun, but the sky was azure blue. Suddenly he felt winded, as if somebody had punched him violently in the stomach, and he fell to the ground. By the time he had recovered himself, he was aware only of a dark shape fleeting away, like a large scrap of burnt paper fluttering in the breeze.
Kieran recovered his hat, and then went over to soothe Fergus, who was whinnying nervously.
“OK old feller”, Kieran patted his nose “We’ll get out of here. It’s a horrid place anyway”.
“You’ve got a helluva large bruise on your shoulder, mate”, said Joby, pulling down Kieran’s t-shirt and inspecting it “Summat must have grabbed you there”.
“I don’t know”, said Kieran “All I can remember is feeling as if someone had rammed their fist into my belly”.
Joby glanced over, to make sure their cabin door was firmly closed.
“And you think it was a demon?” he asked.
“Well a minor demon”, said Kieran “If all it could do was knock me over!”
“Come off it, it’s left you pretty shaken”.
“It’s more what this … wraith has been put there to guard that bothers me”.
“And you think that’s what it’s there for?”
“Yes, it all fits. I can’t remember that shrine being there when we were last here, can you?”
“No”, said Joby “All there was at this end of the town was the road leading to the lighthouse, that was it. I guess we can try and do some discreet questioning round town, find out why it was built”.
“I have a feeling that doctor with the air-buggy might know”, said Kieran “He strikes me as the sort of feller who might be a keen observer of everything that goes on, for all his reclusive airs”.
“Anyway”, said Joby “I want you to promise me that you won’t go near that old shrine again on your own. Promise me?”
“I promise”, said Kieran “And I want everyone else to promise that too”.
After Kieran had been patched up, they wandered over to the lighthouse, and found Ransey and Hillyard in the operations room on the top floor.
“It’s no good”, said Ransey, removing his spectacles and pinching his nose “I cannot get through to the Third Island. I think they may simply be too far away, out of range. I should’ve guessed that really”.
“Well at least you tried”, said Kieran, who was feeling tired and drained after his bruising encounter.
“So we might have to fly out there then?” said Hillyard.
Joby looked thunderous.
“No, YOU can fly out there”, he said “I spect the doctor will want to fly his own air-buggy, and you’ll need a seat for Glynis, plus you, well that only leaves one more space, so Ransey can take that”.
“Oh no Ransey can’t take that”, said Ransey “I am not going and that’s final. There is far too much to occupy me round here. I am delighted to discover that someone in town has an air-buggy, but I feel it’s far too valuable a resource to risk flying it out across the ocean. Even if we could persuade the doctor to let us use it, I would rather use it to explore the hinterland. If you are absolutely set on this foolhardy rescue enterprise Hillyard, you are on your own”.
Hillyard looked shocked at this outburst. He went to say something and then found that he couldn’t. Instead he shoved his hands in his trousers pockets and went down the stairs to the floor below.
“Oops”, said Kieran.
“Serves him right”, said Joby “He’s been doing nothing but chucking his weight around since we’ve come here. He upset Adam with that fucking stove, and now he’s doing my head in with this Rescue Glynis idea. You’re right Ranz, if he wants to do it he can do it himself”.
“What if Bardin gets it into his head to accompany him though?” said Ransey.
“He won’t”, said Joby “He hates the idea, and even if he did suggest it, Bengo would probably wring his neck first”.
“Is it so wrong to prioritise and build a safe haven here?” said Ransey “Is it?”
“As safe as it can be in this troubled world”, said Kieran, unaware that he was rubbing his bruised shoulder “There are enough mysteries around here to keep us occupied for the time being”.
Hillyard clambered out of the lighthouse, and went for a walk along the lane. About halfway along he climbed down some rocks and onto the little slither of beach which ran along the coastline in this part of the world.
“Oh hello!” came a cheery voice.
Hillyard turned, from where he had been gazing out at the ocean, to find a skinny little man sitting nearby. The man was shirtless and beaming at him.
“I’ve seen you at the Driftwood”, said Hillyard.
“Yes, it’s a favourite haunt of mine”, said the man “Well let’s be honest, it’s the ONLY haunt of mine. I have to try and keep on the right side of them, otherwise I’ll be confined to drinking by myself at home, and I think that would get very depressing. Although I have to say it’s not easy to rein in the old high spirits when I’ve had a few, but I do like to tell Ernesto and Rosa that I am at least a happy drunk. Not everybody is y’know”.
“No”, Hillyard gave a laugh.
“The maudlin drunks are the worst”, said the little man “Far worse than me. The ones who start sobbing into their beer. I can’t imagine you’re like that”.
“I hope not”, said Hillyard “Though if I keep upsetting people the way I seem to be at the moment it might go that way”.
“Oh dear. Are folks getting a bit tetchy?”
“I dunno”, Hillyard sighed, and perched on a nearby rock “I seem to keep putting my foot in it. Trouble is, the family want to have a bit of a rest here, and I can’t say I blame them really, and it’s coming across as though I’m constantly nagging them to do things”.
“Yes, sometimes you have to let people go at the own speed”, said the man, and he proffered a hand “My name’s Woolly. Well it’s not my real name, but I was given this moniker because people think I’m woolly-minded, but I’m really not”.
“Hillyard”, said Hillyard, shaking hands with him.
“Well yes I know who you are”, said Woolly “You’re one of the Saint Kieran brigade. It can’t be easy living with a saintly man”.
“Oh Kieran’s alright”, said Hillyard “Sometimes he goes off into a bit of a reverie, and then it can feel like talking to somebody underwater, but there’s nothing finger-wagging and preachy about him. Do you come from Zilligot Bay originally?”
“Nooo”, said Woolly “I’m from the City. You’ll find a few of us city refugees around here. I left there so long ago though that sometimes it can feel as though I barely remember it. I managed to hitch a ride with a fishing trawler, and worked my passage down here. It took forever, but I got here in the end. I wouldn’t go back up there if you paid me”.
He pulled a silver hip-flask from the small rucksack at his feet.
“Would you like a sip?” he said “Oh don’t worry about me, I’m not about to turn into a raving monster once I have a swig. Help yourself”.
Hillyard took a swig of a very a strong, colourless liquid, and nearly found his eyes watering.
“What the hell was that?” he gasped.
“Rosa brews it”, said Woolly “The whole world feels a better place with one sip of that I can tell you. Never fear, you won’t go blind or lose your nuts”.
“You wait til I tell the others about that!” said Hillyard.
“It might make you a popular chap again”, said Woolly.
“It might”, said Hillyard, dubiously.
“There are rumours around town that you lot might not be staying here for very long, that you’re planning to carry on up the coast. I hope that’s not true. You won’t find many places as good as this left in the world, I can tell you that”.
“That I can believe”.
Hillyard wandered back to the ship in a thoughtful way, helped by the swigs of Rosa’s home-brew, which did a splendid job of concentrating the mind. When he got back below deck, he wandered along the main corridor and through the dining-room, without meeting a soul. He was relieved when he finally found Adam in the galley.
“I was beginning to wonder if everybody had run off and left me!” said Hillyard.
“Now why on earth would we do that?” said Adam, who was kneading flour.
“Because I keep upsetting people!”
“Nonsense. Some of the others have gone into town, some have having a siesta, and some are up in the lighthouse, that’s all”.
“Did Joby tell you about the set-to up there?”
“He mumbled something about everything being bloody Hillyard’s fault, but I’ve heard that one so many times over the years that I didn’t take much notice”, said Adam “What happened?”
“I was told, in no uncertain terms, that if I wanted to rescue Glynis I’d have to do it all by myself”, said Hillyard.
“Shouldn’t we find out if she wants rescuing first?”
“We can’t. Ransey says he just can’t get a signal that far out”.
“I think you have to accept this is your baby, Hilly”, said Adam “For sheer practicalities if nothing else. The air-buggy - even if we are allowed to use it - will not accommodate very many people. And if you are intent on doing this, I would suggest keeping at least one seat free in case anyone wants to leave with her. So I’m afraid that does just leave you. Don’t worry, you will have our support if that’s what you choose to do, but you also have to accept that the rest of us are moving on from that miserable lot on the Third Island. Things are happening here. Patsy got attacked earlier, at the old shrine”.
“What?” Hillyard exclaimed “When?”
“This morning?! So that must have been BEFORE he and Joby came to the lighthouse, and they didn’t bloody tell me anything!”
“Perhaps they didn’t have a chance”, said Adam “You were too busy going on about …”
“The wireless, yes I know, but they could have still told me! Who attacked him?”
“Some supernatural creature, it didn’t seem to have any visible features”.
“He was a bit quiet earlier”, said Hillyard “But I didn’t think anything of it. He didn’t seem to be injured in any way”.
“Bruising on his neck and shoulder”, said Adam “Otherwise it could have been a lot worse. Bardin is going to make a statement at dinner tonight that we are not to go near that place on our own. Clearly something horrible has been put there to guard it”.
“For fuck’s sake!” said Hillyard “And I wasn’t told a thing about it!”
“As I said”, said Adam “Perhaps they didn’t get a chance”.
Hillyard went in search of Kieran, and found him lying on the bunk in his cabin.
“For fuck’s sake, Kieran, how are you?” said Hillyard, going over to him.
“I’m fine”, said Kieran “Just having a bit of a read of the town newsletter”.
He waved some sheets of orange typewritten paper about.
“Bengo’s show has had a good write-up”, he continued “Although I don’t know how he’ll feel about being described as ‘a promising newcomer’”.
“Never mind all that”, said Hillyard “I’ve only just heard you’ve been attacked!”
“Oh that! You’ve been attacked by a demon and all you can say is ‘oh that’?!”
“Well let’s face it Hillyard, it’s not exactly the first time it’s happened! I mean, it’s old news really isn’t it? Kieran gets attacked by a demon. I’m bored with it already”.
“I do want to find out what the hell is being kept at the old shrine that’s so important it has to have a focking demon guarding it!” said Kieran “I think it is very important to try and find that out, but as for me I’m doing OK. I was just a wee bit tired that’s all. You look in more need of sympathy than me, what’s the matter with ya?”
“Probably his bloody mission of mercy with the air-buggy again”, said Joby, coming into the room “If he’s gonna do it, I wish he’d fucking well get on with it. Then perhaps we might be able to move on”.
“Ach now Joby, don’t be harsh”, said Kieran.
“I’m starting to wish we’d never heard of the Third Island, or the yacht crew, or any of ‘em”, said Joby “It’s doing my head in. Just wanna move on from it all now. We went through enough with the Enchanted Forest, and then the islands out on the ocean, then the demons on the New Continent, and then the fucking Horn!! It feels like someone’s taking the piss going on about the Third Island again as well”.
“If I do go out there will you come and see me off?” said Hillyard.
“Of course we will”, said Kieran.
“Depends what time it is”, said Joby.
“Joby!” said Kieran, in a warning voice.
“Thanks”, Hillyard left the room in a hurry, clearly emotional.
“Don’t be harsh on him, Joby”, said Kieran, sitting up in bed and swinging his legs round “He’s got himself in a terrible state with all this”.
“And whose fucking fault is that?!” said Joby “Christ alive, life’s been hard enough in recent years without hitting yourself with a bloody great hammer as well!”
“Once he’s got this out of his system, he’ll be fine again”, said Kieran “It’s an itch he has to scratch. We’re just have to bear with it until it’s done. But we don’t have to make anymore of it than it needs. If he’s expecting us to make a big production out of it though, then he’s going to be disappointed”.
Several of the Indigo-ites accompanied Hillyard to the far side of Zilligot Bay on the morning he left on his mission to rescue Glynis. It was a chilly crack-of-dawn start, with some lingering traces of sea mist. The doctor had turned out to be unexpectedly keen on the idea.
“I think, under that bitter, cynical I Hate The World exterior”, Adam had said “He’s a bit of an old romantic on the quiet. He likes the idea of rescuing a beautiful woman from some godforsaken island”.
“More likely he’s bored out of his brain living in that old mausoleum with his dippy wife”, Julian had replied “And is craving some adventure”.
“How on earth do you know she’s dippy?” said Adam.
“I’ve seen her around the town a few times”, said Julian “Takes vacuity to a whole new level. Looks a bit fey and lost in her own world. A man of high intelligence like him must be bored to distraction with her”.
“Oh I think he adores her”, said Adam “Patsy said from the way he speaks about her, you’d think they had only just begun dating for the first time”.
“Exactly”, said Julian “The relationship hasn’t matured has it”.
“What rubbish”, said Adam “And for that matter you still sound like that about Hoowie enough times!”
Hillyard looked anxious as he bade goodbye to them on the headland behind the doctor’s house, where the air-buggy was parked.
“You are all still going to be here when I get back aren’t you?” he asked.
“No we thought we’d leg it!” said Joby “Don’t be such a bloody plank Hillyard. Of course we’re still gonna be here. Anyway, I expect you’ll only be gone a couple of days tops”.
“Yes, the doctor has estimated it will take you about 5 or 6 hours to get the island”, said Adam “And I can’t imagine he’s going to want to linger there for very long”.
“He’s got his lovely wife to rush back to”, said Julian.
“Julian shut up!” Adam hissed “He’s coming towards us”.
The doctor was coming across the grass towards them. He was a tall, thin, crow-like man, wearing a long trench-coat and a flying helmet.
“I’ve made you some sandwiches and a flask of tea”, said Adam, handing over a package wrapped in greaseproof paper and the said flask “Should be enough for both of you there”.
Hillyard looked like he was about to burst into tears.
“Oh for god’s sake Adam!” said Julian “He’s not a little boy going off on a Boy Scout camping trip!”
“I appreciate what he’s done, Julian”, said Hillyard “Belt up!”
“I do love these emotional farewells”, said Julian.
“My wife won’t come out”, said the doctor.
“Because it’s daylight?” said Julian.
Adam looked as if he was about to thump him. Fortunately the doctor didn’t take any notice.
“She very concerned about me flying across the ocean”, he said “I’ve had to reassure her that I will be the most minimum time away possible”.
“That suits us absolutely fine”, said Adam “We shall be counting the hours until you return”.
“Kieran, will you be OK doing the horses by yourself?” said Hillyard.
“Get on the bloody plane, Hillyard!” said Julian.
“I’ll be fine”, said Kieran “Farnol’s going to help me”.
“If you’re not back by this time next week”, said Bardin “And we’ve heard nothing from you, then we’ll set off back round the Horn to come and find you”.
“And we’ll be really pissed off if that has to happen”, said Joby.
It felt very strange for Hillyard, flying over the ocean which he had sailed with the others before. He peered down below at the choppy waves of the ocean, and tried not to imagine the water engulfing them if they crashed.
“I know what you’re thinking”, said the doctor, in the pilot’s seat “But this air-buggy has served me faultlessly for years, and I keep it in tip-top condition”.
“Such a difference flying from sailing”, said Hillyard “A route that takes days on end can be done in no time at all”.
When they reached the ‘Hy Brasil’ island, Hillyard hoped they wouldn’t slip into some sort of time-warp. The area around the island was notoriously quirky for strange phenomena. He peered intently down at the little whitewashed cottage on the top, and the remains of the vegetable garden which Joby and Mutton Broth had begun laying out.
“Bringing back memories?” said the doctor.
“Yeah, it all feels weird”, said Hillyard.
Peat Bog Island reminded him of the joyous spiritual retreat they had enjoyed there, and Hillyard felt overcome again. He was starting to feel embarrassed that he might burst into tears at any moment, and shame himself in front of the doctor.
“Are you missing the others?” asked the doctor.
“I know it’s only been a few hours but ….”
“I’m the same. I can’t wait to get back to my wife. I hope this friend of yours appreciates your efforts”.
“You get a much different perspective of the world from up here”, said Hillyard “Sort of alien and godlike, and smaller. Things don’t seem so forbidding and remote”.
“And the huge bonus of not having to go round the Horn!” the doctor chuckled.
When they finally reached the Third Island there appeared to be a snag. There didn’t seem to be any room to land. The island was rocky and inhospitable, built in a narrow, pyramid shape. The doctor aimed for the top, where they were able to find a small clearing in the trees. A handful of makeshift huts surrounded it, and the occupants ran out on hearing the aircraft. Hillyard recognised them, and he waved a pink silk scarf which Finia had loaned him as a conciliatory signal, in case they met aggression, as it was the least threatening-looking thing he could think of.
“Why have you done this?” said Glynis, meeting Hillyard in one of the huts.
The doctor was outside, being mobbed in a friendly fashion by the others. Hillyard couldn’t help noticing that Glynis was pale and thin.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about you”, said Hillyard “Zilligot Bay is such a safe haven, and we felt you should be there. It’s like Toondor Lanpin was all those years ago, when we lived on the waterfront. You could have a good life there, Glynny. The doc’s said he can get you a job at the hospital, and there’s plenty of places in town that can put you up. You could even have your own boat again if you wanted”.
“You’re playing games with me”, said Glynis “You have no intention of promising me anything …”
“For christ’s sake Glynis”, said Hillyard “Haven’t I done enough? You need rescuing from all this, from this mad woman’s paradise you’re in here. You’re not happy, I can see that. OK so I can’t promise you love and marriage, and neither can Joby. But I can take you back to somewhere where you stand a good chance of getting it. You’ve always demanded something of us we can’t give you, and turned your back on the friendship we can”.
“That’s not fair”, said Glynis “I have never turned my back on you!”
Hillyard went to her and put his arms around her.
“Listen to me”, he said, softly “Get your things, the stuff you really don’t want to leave behind, and then get on that air-buggy with me and the doctor. We’ll be back in Zilligot Bay within a few hours. We’ll have more time to talk there. You can tell me what’s it been like here. I can see from looking at you what it’s been like”.
“Oh you have no idea what it’s been like it”, Glynis wept “She is insane …”
“OK OK, as I said we’ll have bags of time to talk about that when we get back”, said Hillyard “Any chance of Jane coming with us? Adam was asking me to persuade her too”.
“I would love to”, said Glynis “But she won’t leave Cloris, I am certain of that. We’re going to have to rush, Hillyard. Cloris is down on the yacht. She must know by now that you’re here. We have to get away before she gets up here”.
“Quick, grab your things then”, said Hillyard.
Glynis tied a blanket around a few items of clothing and jewellery, and followed him out to the air-buggy. When they got out into the clearing, Jane rushed towards them, her face was tear-stained.
“Glynis, rush now, as quickly as you can”, she said.
“Please come with us, Jane”, said Glynis “For my sake, you will be company for me. We’ve become such friends”.
She grabbed Jane’s hand. Hillyard noticed that Jane showed hesitation and he seized upon it.
“We’ve no time to lose!” he shouted “Doc! Get her on the air-buggy!”
The doctor came over and gently but firmly propelled Jane towards the air-buggy. Jane protested, but it was noticeably weak.
“I haven’t even got a change of underwear”, said Jane, when Glynis joined her in the back seats.
“Don’t worry about knickers now”, said Glynis “I’m sure they sell them in Zilligot Bay”.
“Rosa probably sells them at the pub”, said Hillyard “She seems to sell everything else!”
They arrived back on the headland above Zilligot Bay in the early evening. It was grey and overcast, but the relief they all felt when they finally landed was palpable.
“Well that was a nice little adventure, but I’m certainly glad to be back”, said the doctor, switching off the engine. He glanced over at Jane and Glynis were huddled together, wrapped in a blanket on the back seat “Are you ladies alright?”
“We will be”, said Glynis.
They all decanted from the aircraft, and stood on the grass, for a moment looking and feeling disorientated. Jane was looking cold and shivery, wearing only a thin shirt and trousers.
“My wife will look after you at the house”, said the doctor “Glynis, perhaps you could be kind enough to walk her there. I think if she doesn’t get warmth and comfort soon, she will go into shock”.
Glynis escorted her down the short incline to the sprawling whitewashed villa at the bottom.
“They can stay here for as long as they need”, said the doctor to Hillyard “I suspect Jane will need a lot of rest. If I could ask you not to barrage her with questions for a few days”.
“I won’t”, Hillyard promised “She can have as long as she wants. The important thing was getting them here”.
“And that’s done”, said the doctor “You are quite the conquering hero”.
“It was you who did most of the work”.
“Would you care for a bite of supper?”
“Thanks, but I’ll get along home”, said Hillyard “Would it be alright if a couple of us called in some time tomorrow, to see Glynis?”
“Yes, please do”, said the doctor, and they shook hands firmly.
Hillyard walked through the town, which was pleasantly quiet in the early evening air, and then along the track which led to the lighthouse. He paused as he passed the old shrine and stared at it distrustfully. It had a brooding atmosphere, but nothing appeared to be amiss.
When he got to the galleon he found Rumble alone on the main deck, leaning on the bulwark and staring out at the ocean. He was smoking a roll-up.
“Hillyard!” he said “Fuck me, that was quick! There and back in a day!”
“A long day”, said Hillyard “But flying makes all the difference. For someone who’s used to sailing, it was a bit disorientating I can tell you. Are the others all at supper below?”
“Yeah, they’ll be chuffed to bits to see you”, said Rumble “I think they were dreading a long night of waiting. Did you get Glynis?”
“Yep, and Jane too”.
Rumble’s face was a picture of joy.
“Oh that’s brilliant, man”, he said “I never thought she’d be prised away from that mad cow Cloris”.
“We didn’t really give her time to think about it too much”, said Hillyard “But she’ll be alright”.
He went down the quarterdeck steps. He could hear all the others talking in the dining-room, but didn’t feel like making a grand entrance just yet. He went into the galley to see if there was a teapot on the go, and found Adam stirring one with a spoon.
“Hilly! You’re back”, Adam went over to him and they hugged “I’m so relieved. What’s the score? How did you do?”
“Two rescued”, said Hillyard “Glynis and Jane”.
“Jane too?” said Adam “Oh that’s marvellous. I never thought she would leave Cloris”.
“That’s what Rumble just said, but I could see she was wavering”, said Hillyard “In her heart of hearts she wanted to leave, but I knew if we left it any longer she’d stay there out of loyalty, and to be brutally frank, I think that would have been the end of her”.
“Did you see Cloris?” asked Adam.
“No”, Hillyard gave a shudder “Fucking hell, I think seeing her would have been like seeing one of the Gorgons! The thought sends shivers down me”.
“Sit down”, said Adam “I’ll pour you some tea”.
Hillyard did as he was bid.
“Cloris was down on the yacht”, he said “We landed at the top of the island. Thank God Glynis was up there, so we didn’t have to waste valuable time looking for her. They’re both at the doctor’s house at the moment. I said we might pop in tomorrow to see them. Would you come with me?”
“Yes of course I will”, said Adam “And Patsy too. That’ll be enough I expect, the three of us. We don’t want to crowd them out by turning up mob-handed, and I expect seeing Joby will be too much for Glynis at the moment. We’ll leave Bardin out too, his bedside manner isn’t brilliant at the best of times”.
“Same goes for Julian”.
“How have things been with them there?”
“We haven’t heard much yet”, said Hillyard “The girls were pretty quiet on the journey back. I think they’re both exhausted. There’ll be plenty of time to talk in the next few days. I know everyone thinks I was mad to go …”
“No they don’t, they think you’ve been pretty awesome actually, and they will think it even more when they find out what you’ve achieved”, said Adam “I think some of us are feeling a bit ashamed that we didn’t give you more support”.
“There wasn’t any more any of you could do”, said Hillyard “It was all down to practicalities. The air-buggy only held 4, and that all turned out fine”.
“You looked knackered, sweetie”, said Adam “I think you should go and have a snooze in Bengo and Bardin’s cabin. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure they don’t disturb you”.
“Oh I don’t mind if they do”, Hillyard smiled.
As planned, Adam and Kieran accompanied Hillyard to the doctor’s house the next morning. They were taken to Glynis, who was sitting on a side terrace, wearing a man’s dressing-gown. Jane was still in bed, and Kieran was taken to see her there.
“How is she?” said Adam, when he and Hillyard sat down with Glynis.
“She’ll be OK”, said Glynis, pouring out coffee for them “She’s just dreadfully tired, that’s all”.
“Any guilt-tripping?” said Hillyard.
“I think, to be honest, she’s too tired to think at the moment”, said Glynis “We became dreadfully malnourished on the island, and she needs to get her strength back up”.
“I don’t suppose the Third Island was much good in the way of natural produce”, Adam sighed.
“Oh it wasn’t too bad really”, said Glynis “There was livestock there, indigenous to the island, such as wild boar and goats, but we weren’t allowed to touch them. Cloris got it into her head we would somehow bring down the wrath of the island if we did so”.
“Hah”, said Hillyard “A bit like Kieran with those rabbits on Hy Brasil”.
“No it wasn’t like Kieran”, said Glynis, sadly “From what I can gather Kieran felt there was something magical about the rabbits, and I can’t believe he would have stopped you having them if you were hungry. He could never be that cruel. Whereas Cloris has been laying down bizarre rules all over the place. The bit about not touching the livestock was just one of them”.
“But if you were all hungry, why on earth didn’t you just ignore her?” said Adam.
“I don’t know”, said Glynis, sounding wretched “How can one explain human nature at times like this? I’m still struggling to get my thoughts straight. But whenever anyone did suggest slaughtering one of the animals Cloris would have complete hysterics. She would start screaming at us that we were murderers, this would go on for hours at a time. I still feel shaken by it now”.
“Good God”, said Hillyard “She really has gone mad”.
“Yes, and it took us quite some time to really grasp that one”, said Glynis “You deny it to yourselves for so long. You don’t want to believe it. The doctor has been very kind. He’s offered to do a food parcel drop sometime. I think he enjoyed the flight. He said it made a change from constantly flying over the desert to the north of here. But I don’t have any confidence that Cloris would let them have the parcels”.
“Then it’s down to them to make sure they do”, said Adam.
“I’m afraid that’s the size of it”, said Glynis “But there’s nothing to stop us trying. I will help to make up the parcels, but I’ll be honest, I do not want to join in the flight. I am terrified of somehow getting stuck there again. The thought haunts me. I have to keep pinching myself as it is that we’re here now. I feel like I have broken out of prison”.
A strange honking noise broke out in the distance.
“What on earth was that?” said Glynis, jumping out of her skin.
“S’alright”, said Hillyard, patting her hand “It sounds like a seal, probably at the foot of the cliff”.
“Oh my god”, Glynis laughed “My nerves! Good heavens, what a clot I am!”
Kieran stepped out of the french windows, and they all stopped laughing to turn to look at him.
“Ach the mad old Irishman appears, and so all the laughter ceases”, he said.
“Don’t be silly, Patsy”, said Adam “How’s Jane?”
“She’s very very tired”, said Kieran “I think it will be best if she has a few days at the hospital. The doctor’s kindly offered to pay for her keep”.
“I can help out with any chores they need doing”, said Glynis “That can go towards it too. I can also look for any digs in town at the same time”.
Joby wandered into Jane’s hospital room, carrying a bunch of flowers wrapped in pink paper. He tried not to act shocked when he first saw her, but it was difficult. He always thought of Jane as a bouncy redhead, all freckles and full of life. Instead here she was, painfully thin, and with dark rings etched under her eyes, as if she hadn’t slept in months. She looked pleased to see him though.
“I got these from Rosa’s walled garden”, he said, placing the flowers on the bedside table “It’s a lovely spot. A real sun-trap. It’s a nice place to have a sit and a think”.
“I shall have to seek it out when they finally let me out of here”, she said “Do I look so awful You keep looking at me in a strange way”.
“Course you don’t look awful, and anyway I’m in no position to talk!” he replied, pointing at the scar on his face “No, just you need a bit of beefing up that’s all. What happened on that island, Jane, to make you so poorly?”
“The long and the short of it was that Cloris went off her head”, said Jane “I don’t know why we went along with all her mad plans, I really don’t. Why do people do these things? How would you all cope with Bardin went mad?”
“Nobody’d notice any difference!” said Joby “Anyway, we have our own ways of sorting him out”.
“Kieran then”, said Jane “I know he has had problems over the years”.
“When Kieran battled mental health issues he tended to turn on himself”, said Joby “He didn’t take it out on others. He had that bloody eating disorder for a while, got even thinner than you are now. But it was himself he took everything out on, not the rest of us. He came through it all though, thank God. What sort of things did Cloris do?”
“She had crazy rules”, said Jane “I suspect you’ve heard about the not touching the wildlife one, but there were others. It must have been some form of extreme OCD, because in the end we all became paranoid about touching things, or using things. And if we infringed her rules we would be put into solitary confinement”.
“Yes, she used a small cabin on the yacht. People could end up locked in there for days on end, fed on starvation rations. I don’t know what Kieran would make of all that”.
“He’d love it!” said Joby “All that praying and meditation time, and eating bread and water. He loves punishment, he’s a weird one y’know”.
Jane laughed, and they squeezed each other’s hands.
“You’re free from her now”, said Joby “I’m so glad Hillyard didn’t leave you behind”.
“It’s very difficult when someone you love becomes completely irrational”, said Jane “Well I don’t have to tell you, you went through it all with Kieran. It’s as if their personality has been removed, and a strange one inserted in its place. It’s frightening and disorientating. She wasn’t the Cloris I had always known”.
“And I don’t expect Lord Fathead Robert was much help to you?”
“He hasn’t been much help for years”, Jane sighed.
“Are they treating you right here anyway?” said Joby, looking around him.
“Yes, everyone’s been very kind”, said Jane “But I won’t lie, I will be glad to check out of here. It’s not the staff, they’re very good, but something about this building unsettles me. Particularly at night. I’m starting to wonder if it’s haunted. Sometimes if I wake up in the night I feel like I’m being watched”
“Probably one of the nurses keeping an eye on you”.
“No it doesn’t feel like that. It can spook me quite badly. Sometimes I wish I was in a shared room, but the doctor said I needed privacy after everything I went through. Still, I hope to be out of here in a couple of days. Glynis has found us a room in one of the cottages in town. I will be glad to start my new life”. “Don’t tire this patient”, thundered a nurse from the doorway.
“Yeah alright!” Joby snapped “Blimey, it’s like being in prison!”
He gave Jane’s hand a final squeeze, and told her she would be out before very long. He exchanged hostile looks with the nurse as he passed her in the doorway. Back out in the corridor he saw a figure watching him from the other end. It was completely in shadow, and he could just about make out that it was a woman with shoulder-length hair. When she realised that he had noticed her, she took a step backwards, further into the shadows. Joby had no wish to pursue this particular scenario, and he turned and left the building in the opposite direction.
As he came out of the hospital gates he bumped into a scruffy-looking young man. As they righted themselves Joby recognised him as one of the acting troupe who had entertained them when they had first arrived in Zilligot Bay.
“Hey where’s the old King of Useless?” said the young lad, who seemed to be possessed of a Hoowie level of excess energy “We’re wondering if he would be interested in our next production”.
“Dunno, I’ll have a word with him if you like”, said Joby “I’m not sure he’s very keen, he has a lot to do at home, but ultimately it’s down to him. I’ll ask for you”.
“Cheers pal”, said the lad, aiming a mock-punch at Joby’s arm “Hey, you’re not having to have treatment in that place are you?”
“No I was visiting a friend”, said Joby, as they resumed walking along the sunlit street “She’s in for a few days. Nothing serious, just needs bed-rest and supervision really”.
“Rather her than me”, said the lad “I’ve heard that place is haunted”.
Joby had to resist the urge to roll his eyes.
“Hospitals often are!” he said “Must be down to the fact a lot of people die in ‘em!”
“Even so”, the lad replied “My head would practically have to be hanging off before I spent a night in there”.
“Hang on”, said Joby, pausing a moment “Do you know anything about that old shrine, the one on the road to the lighthouse?”
The young man visibly blanched, and then tried hastily to cover it up. Not terribly convincingly. Joby felt it didn’t hold out much hope for his acting career.
“N-n-nothing concrete”, said the lad “There’s a lot of weird old shit round this town. Old stories, folklore that sort of thing. Rosa at the Driftwood’s the one to ask really. I think she collects a lot of the old tales. I’ve never given that place much thought. I’ve never heard of anybody using it for anything. No one goes near it really”.
“Yeah”, Joby grunted “That’s what I thought”.
“Gloomy bloody place if you ask me”, said the lad “Life’s too short to waste on places like that!”
They parted at the end of the street, and Joby took the road that led past the Driftwood. He was going to pop in and ask Rosa about the shrine, but she and Ernesto were both busy, sleeves rolled up, unloading some baskets of crabs and lobsters at the main door.
“Hey up!” shouted Hillyard, pummelling into him.
“For fuck’s sake, Hillyard!” said Joby “I wish people’d stop barging into me! I’ll be a nervous wreck by the time I get home!”
“Bit jumpy aren’t we?” said Hillyard, as they walked alongside each other.
“Must be the atmosphere in that hospital”, said Joby “Jane said she finds it creepy at night”.
“She won’t be in there for very long”, said Hillyard “Glynis has got a room for them both at some old biddy’s house. They’ll be alright there”.
Jane’s final night in hospital was stressful, and she slept fitfully. She would wake up, heart pounding, convinced there was something unpleasant nearby. She had never been so glad to see daylight come round again. Soon after breakfast Glynis came to collect her.
“I can’t wait to get out of here”, said Jane, stuffing herself into the shirt and trousers which Glynis had borrowed for her from the doctor’s wife “I think I would go as demented as Cloris if I had to stay in here much longer”.
“Well our new room’s all ready”, said Glynis “It’s a bit dark and poky, but it’s close to the harbour and the inn, so I think we’ll be alright”.
“Good, I can’t wait to start our new life”, said Jane.
“Hillyard’s bringing a few pieces of furniture over from the galleon for us”, said Glynis “Just to get us started”.
“People have been so kind”, said Jane.
Their new lodgings were on the first floor of a narrow terraced cottage. When Glynis and Jane arrived at it, Bardin was already directing some of the clowns in manhandling a chest of drawers through the front door.
“You didn’t have to give us all this”, said Jane, looking at the random bits of furniture which were arranged on the front path and in the street.
“It’s nothing”, said Hillyard “Stuff that’s been down in the hold for ages. No use to us, and it’d make some extra storage room if you took it off our hands”.
“You don’t have to keep it”, said Bardin “Once you’ve found your feet you can get rid of it, chuck it out of the window if you want”.
“I’m sure that would make us popular with our new neighbours!” said Glynis.
“Looks like you already are”, whisphered Bengo.
The woman who lived in the rooms directly below was standing just inside the front door. She wore a long dress, and a flower-decorated hat, and was looking suspiciously at every item of furniture which was being unloaded from the back of the cart. Jane went over to introduce herself.
“Annette”, said the woman, offering a weak handshake “Do you like having a lot of parties?”
“Give ‘em a chance!” said Hillyard “They’ve only been in town about five minutes!”
“I’m sure if we feel like a party we’ll go to the inn”, said Glynis.
“Or come to us”, said Bengo.
“I’m just concerned you see”, said Annette, who came across as an intense, nervy sort of woman “I don’t want loud noises to disturb my cats”.
“Oh boy”, Hillyard muttered to Bardin “Another mad cat woman, that’s all we need”.
“Fortunately we don’t have to live with her this time”, said Bardin.
When the rest of the furniture had been taken upstairs, Bardin went up to check that all was in place. When he was satisfied, he softly squeezed Jane’s hand.
“I’m glad you’re out of that hospital”, he said.
“So am I”, she replied.
Bardin turned and went back down the stairs, leaving Bengo to smile sheepishly at the women.
“He’s quite a complex character is Bardin, isn’t he?” Jane said to him “All abrupt, and then he comes out with random things like that”.
“He has his moments”, said Bengo “Sometimes he has whole afternoons!”
Bengo and Bardin followed Hillyard to the Driftwood, where Ransey was already enconsonced in the bay window overlooking the harbour. He had spent the morning helping Rosa with the accounts again, and had managed to bag them all a free round of beer.
“I’ve been trying to decide which I prefer”, said Bengo “This place or The Dancing Dog up at Snow Lake, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I prefer this place”.
“I bet Bardin does too, he used to get picked up at The Dancing Dog”, Hillyard teased “All those old salts who had been travelling for too long and thought he was a girl!”
“I would rather not be reminded of that!” said Bardin.
“Here, there’s one thing I don’t understand with these accounts, Ranz”, said Hillyard “You mentioned they were paying tax earlier, well who to? There’s no government anymore!”
“There’s a Town Community Tax”, said Ransey “It’s put towards the general upkeep of the town, including the hospital. Any business has to pay a certain percentage of their profits to them. Fortunately it’s a fairly reasonable tax. I hope for their sakes they never get anybody unscrupulous running it. You have to watch these bureaucrats like a hawk sometimes”.
“Yeah, look what happened to Cloris”, said Bardin “Fine until she got a bit of power, and then went completely off her trolley!”
“Hey look, it’s old Jobe”, said Hillyard, as Joby walked into the bar from the back garden, carrying a sack of potatoes.
“I do wish you’d stop calling me Old Jobe”, said Joby “Makes me feel like Methuselah’s granddad!”
“Are those for us?” said Bengo, looking at the sack of spuds.
“A donation from Rosa”, said Joby “Adam should be pleased. Jacket spuds all round for supper. Looks like your dotty friend from the beach is outside, Hillyard”.
Woolly was prancing lightly around the harbour, beaming at everyone he saw.
“Oh he’s alright”, said Hillyard “I think he’s just got a bit of a problem with the old …” he mimed raising a drinking glass “That’s all. But he’s a happy drunk, he doesn’t all shouty and belligerent”.
“He’s another refugee from the City isn’t he?” said Ransey.
“Ages back, yeah”, said Hillyard “Had quite an interesting time of it, but he’s well settled here now”.
They all finished their beers and wandered outside, over to the harbour. Bengo and Bardin were assigned to carry the potato sack between them. Woolly greeted them with one of his customary cheery “ooh hallooo” greetings.
“I do like strolling round the harbour every day”, he said “You see so many handsome young men”.
He gave an approving look at Bengo and Bardin. Bardin pulled his cap down over his eyes, and stared out to sea.
“You’re what Adam would call an incorrigible old fruit”, said Hillyard.
“Oh very likely”, Woolly laughed “And he’s a handsome bit of alright too isn’t he. I can never resist that bronzed fair-haired type”.
“We’ll pass that on to him”, said Hillyard.
They bought some crab with the money Adam had given them from the profits of his Driftwood assignments, and then collected the cart and the other clowns from outside Glynis and Jane’s new lodgings. When they got back to the galleon they found Adam leaning on the bulwark on the main deck.
“Oh they look so sweet”, he enthused, as Bengo and Bardin carried the potato sack onboard.
“Who?” said Joby “The spuds or the clowns?”
“I was referring to Bengo and Bardin”, said Adam “It suddenly came over me how sweet they looked”.
“Have you been on the cooking-brandy, or is there something in the water round here?” said Joby “You’re carrying on like daft Woolly from the town!”
“Now that’s enough of that, Joby”, said Adam “Or I’ll put you over my knee”.
“I’d rather you did it to Bardin”, said Joby “It would be more fun”.
“Later”, said Adam, taking the potato sack from the clowns “Whilst the potatoes are baking. Are you alright Bardin, you seem a bit tense?”
“No I’m OK”, said Bardin “It’s just Woolly’s antics, I guess I’m not very good at flirting”.
“Oh I wouldn’t say that, old love”, said Adam “You just have a different way of doing it that’s all”.
By late afternoon there was the comforting smell of baking potatoes wafting through below-deck. But Bengo found Bardin loitering oddly in the doorway of their cabin.
“What’s up with you?” asked Bengo.
“Is Adam avoiding me?” Bardin hissed.
“I can’t imagine he is. Probably just talking to Joby, that’s all”.
“I think it was me being tense earlier, he seems afraid to handle me. As though he’s treating me with kid gloves”.
“Rubbish”, said Bengo, stoutly “Why would anybody treat YOU with kid gloves? Tell you what, if you’re desperate for a good smacking, I’ll go and get him wound up, in the mood. I can’t wait to see you getting your backside tanned either. It feels like it’s been ages!”
Bardin’s behind tingled inside his starchy shorts in anticipation.
“God, I hope he does”, he breathed.
Bengo went into the galley, where Joby was telling Adam about Woolly’s appreciation of his physical attributes.
“He says he likes men who are blonde and bronzed”, said Joby “So I think you’re in there, you’re his type”.
“Joby, I think just about ANYONE is Woolly’s type!” said Adam “Anyway, he’s not mine. I don’t have a predilection for highly-strung, over-excitable drunks. I used to be one myself! Are you alright, Bengo? You look as if you’re bursting to say something”.
“Bardy’s been going on about this camping-trip into the desert”, said Bengo, assuming a tone of mock gravity “And I’m not sure we’re ready for it yet, I mean we need a bit of settled life here for a while”.
“I thought he said earlier that he was happy to do it just as a short, few hours trip”, said Joby “Just enough to give the horses some good exercise”.
“Ah yes”, said Bengo, improvising “But he seems to be changing his mind. Is there any way you can put a stop to it, Adam?”
“Well I shall have to try my best won’t I, old love?” said Adam.
He roughly grabbed Bardin, who was conveniently nearby, and pulled him over his lap on the stool that was situated just outside the galley door, at the foot of the quarterdeck steps. He spanked him soundly on his starched posterior, only pausing at one point when Julian appeared in the dining-room doorway.
“About bloody time!” said Julian “I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to get round to it. Do you realise we’ve had none of this since we got here?”
“Surely that’s not true?” said Adam, resting his hand.
“Nothing substantial that I can recall”, said Julian “And he’s probably still in desperate need of it after everything that’s happened since we left the New Continent”.
“Well stop interrupting him then!” Joby exclaimed “Strewth! Some people!”
Adam continued the spanking with full vigour, watched avidly by Julian, Bengo and Joby, who were crowded closely nearby. Bardin yearned for it to go on for as long as possible. When Adam had nearly exhausted himself, he roughly tipped Bardin onto the floor, and stood up.
“Gosh”, he said, breathlessly “I needed that”.
Bardin decreed, to everyone’s delight, that they were to have another “spiritual retreat”, like the one at Peat Bog Island, only this time with better weather. At the end of it some of them were to go on the horse-ride into the desert, but this kept getting postponed. After the allotted 3 days were up, it got extended to a week. The arrival of a spell of hot weather only reinforced the issue.
“I don’t how you’re going to ride anywhere anyway”, said Hillyard, massaging cream into Bardin’s sore behind, as Bardin lay face down on the sofa in his cabin.
“Eventually I might manage it”, Bardin breathed into a cushion.
“Hah!” said Bengo, and he dealt Bardin a smack.
“Pack that in!” said Bardin “Or I’ll sort you out”.
“In your current condition?” said Bengo “You’ve gotta be kidding me! Anyway, you’ll get a bit of a rest this morning. Adam’s popped into town briefly, to do a foody swap with Rosa. He said he’ll be back by lunchtime though”.
“He could probably do with a rest as well!” said Hillyard.
“Oh God, I am dizzy with lust all the time!” said Bardin.
Rosa had another commission for Adam.
“You see, what I would like is this”, she said, leading him back into the main bar “I need something striking to fill the big gap above the fireplace, and I didn’t want to go for the usual harbour or seascape stuff”.
“What did you have in mind?” said Adam, fanning himself with his hat, and amused by this quirky but purposeful young woman, who wore her hair in dark plaits to her waist, and was swathed in a spotless white apron.
“Well I couldn’t help hearing the others talking when they were in here the other day”, said Rosa “And they were discussing you all going for a ride over the mountains and into the Saturn Desert. A desert scene would be very striking. You can get some awesome colours over there. I appreciate this is quite an ambitious undertaking, and I would like a fairly large landscape”.
“No I would love to do it”, said Adam “A creative challenge would be wonderful”.
“I would supply the canvas of course”, said Rosa “And any other materials you need”.
“The canvas would be helpful, but I’m sure I can rustle together the necessary materials”, said Adam.
“As for the fee …”
“Can I suggest, if it’s alright with you, that you pay me in supplies? Only that would be far more useful for us than cash”.
“I was going to suggest that myself”, said Rosa, and she dropped her voice as though discussing something deeply confidential “The thing is, money is being gradually fazed out amongst us all here in Zilligot Bay. There is no point to it you see. It never leaves the town, so all it does is go circulating around like a bothersome fly. Well what’s the point in that? The Town Council still insist on it for the Community Tax, but frankly they have to, as they haven’t got anything to barter in return!”
“Well no I can see that”, Adam smiled.
“But the rest of us are falling more and more back on barter, whether it be goods or skills. And it doesn’t even have to be anything terribly practical. For instance Josapheen-Jael, who lives on the other side of the harbour, does Tarot readings, and massages. I go to see her when I get a chance. I feel like I am floating on air after one of her massage sessions”.
“A barter system suits us so much better too”, said Adam “We have a few pieces of jewellery left stowed away, but not very much to be honest. And there’s no one in town who’s terribly interested in it anyway. Well what can they do with precious stones? They could make something out of them I suppose ….”
“Jael does that too, makes jewellery”, said Rosa “She’s like you, awfully clever and artistic”.
Adam blushed and protested.
“No no”, said Rosa “I don’t believe in people hiding their talents. My brother is like that. He gets dreadfully bashful when anybody praises him”.
“I would be delighted to accept the commission”, said Adam “The only trouble is, I’m not certain when we’re going. We’re having a little holiday at the moment, and none of us are terribly keen to end it”.
“That doesn’t matter”, said Rosa “We have the whole Summer ahead of us. And you’re not planning on running away from us anytime soon are you?”
“It would take a terrible calamity to do that at the moment!” said Adam “Like a meteor strike or something”.
Rosa went over to the bar-counter, and leaned over it. She pulled up a bottle of brandy from the shelf below.
“Take this”, said Rosa “As a little celebration of our pact”.
“I can’t take this, Rosa”, said Adam, examining the bottle “This is good stuff. You don’t want to waste it on us!”
“Hardly anyone here drinks brandy”, said Rosa “All our customers usually prefer beer or cider. The only time they ever touch brandy is at midnight on New Year’s Eve! Please take it, I shall be awfully offended if you don’t”.
Adam felt on a high after receiving his latest commission from Rosa, and he had to go for a walk around the harbour to try and release some of the euphoric energy. On the other side he saw a little three-roomed shanty cottage, which he deduced belonged to the aforementioned Josapheen-Jael. This was confirmed when a middle-aged striking-looking woman passed him, carrying a wreath of seaweed. She had waist-length dark hair, like Rosa, but wore hers unfettered by braids. She walked up to the cottage and let herself in.
He walked back to the other side of the harbour, where Hillyard had left Tabitha, their little long-haired pony, who had brought them into town on the small cart. Tabitha was busy cropping at some plantlife nearby. Hillyard had been chatting to the harbourmaster whilst waiting for Adam.
“Well”, said Hillyard, once they were ensconced on the cart “How did you get on?”
Adam gestured at the basket of the goodies he had collected from Rosa, and told him about his latest commission.
“Hey, that’s brilliant!” said Hillyard “How long do you think it will take you?”
“Not sure”, said Adam “Once I’ve got the idea of how I’m going to do it, I shall be able to throw myself into it completely, and so it shouldn’t be too long. I hope she’s not disappointed with the result”.
“I can’t see why she would be”, said Hillyard “And if she is, we’ll hang it in the dining-room!”
Back on the galleon Joby and Bengo were almost insultingly pleased at the prospect of Adam being distracted by his commission.
“Don’t you worry about us”, said Joby “We’ll be able to manage alright, take all the time that you need”.
“Oh I’m sure you’re both looking forward to having heaps of fun without me!” said Adam “But just bear in mind I will still be on the galleon”.
“But how will you paint the desert from the galleon, Adam?” asked Lonts.
“I shall do some preliminary sketches when we go on our little trip, old love”, said Adam “And make notes of colours and tones and what have you, and I shall do the main body of the work here”.
He took the bottle of brandy into Bengo and Bardin’s cabin. Bardin had been dozing, and was still lying on the sofa, draped like a blanket over a washing-line.
“You don’t want to waste that on us!” he said, when Adam presented him with the brandy bottle.
“Funny, that’s exactly what I said when she gave it to me”, said Adam “I’m giving it to you and Bengo as a little present. I thought you might like to have an early night with it later”.
“That’s very kind”, said Bardin “But I hope you’re not feeling you owe Bengo anything. He’s not remotely jealous I can assure you. He’s having the time of his life, he can’t get enough of me being walloped!”
“Even so, I thought it might be nice for you to have some time together”, said Adam, putting the bottle on the carpet “Now don’t argue, the whole point of this spiritual retreat is that you do as you’re told!”
“OK”, said Bardin “But good brandy’s still wasted on Bengo, the nettle beer’s more his line!”
A short while later Bardin went into the dining-room to look over the maps he had put together for the upcoming trip.
“Trouble is”, he said, talking to Ransey “I think it is going to have to be an overnighter. Adam’s probably going to need to view a sunset and a sunrise I suspect”.
“That’s alright”, said Ransey “The teepee must still be down in the hold somewhere. We’ll leave half of us here on the ship to mind the shop as it were. It’s not as if we’re going very far”.
“How did you get on with the wireless set at the lighthouse? I keep forgetting to ask”, asked Bardin.
“I abandoned it”, said Ransey “I gave it a go, but my heart wasn’t really in it, and I always had the niggling worry at the back of my head that it would rebound on us in some way. Call it paranoia if you like, but sometimes paranoia is justified. I worked at the Ministry long enough to know that!”
“Fair enough, if you weren’t comfortable with it”, Bardin shrugged “I wasn’t particularly bothered whether it was fixed or not. It’s wearying enough sometimes knowing that the outside world is still there, without it getting in touch with us!”
There were three routes available across the rocky hills to the Saturn Desert. One led past the old shrine, so that was vetoed very quickly. Another ran from the town itself, and another ran more conveniently from behind the lighthouse. That was the route they took first thing the following morning. The party consisted of Bengo, Bardin, Kieran, Joby, Adam, Lonts, Julian, Hoowie, Hillyard, Ransey, Mieps and Tamaz. The others were all to manage the galleon in their brief absence. To their astonishment Bardin didn’t overload them with huge list of instructions before he left.
“Blimey, he must be feeling mellow”, said Rumble “I was expecting a list a mile long”.
“All he said to me was to bring the trestle tables up from the hold for dinner when they got back”, said Farnol “I pointed out they were still on the main deck from the musical evening. And he just went ‘ah right’ and walked off! We won’t recognise him if he carries on like this”.
“I said to him we’ll come and look for them if they’re not back by lunchtime tomorrow”, said Hal “And he told me not to make such a big girl fuss!”
“What a shame you’ve got your trousers on, Bardin”, said Hillyard, as they set off like a bunch of nomads “Seems a pity to cover those legs up again”.
“Maybe, but I am not going up into the hills in my underwear!” said Bardin.
“Do you need a lift up onto one of the horses?” said Hillyard.
“Thank you, but I am walking alongside”, said Bardin “As you well know!”
Adam had soundly spanked him with the paddle the day before, and the experience had been so awesome that he had been tempted to call off their excursion so that they could concentrate some more on the “spiritual retreat”, but Adam’s commission from Rosa got them all motivated. The sooner he could do his preliminary sketches the sooner he could get started on it properly. It was fair to say that everybody was very excited for him.
The narrow pathway up through the hills was too steep and rocky to take a cart with them, so Mieps and Ransey pushed a barrow with the teepee and the rest of the camping gear in. The horses went at the front, Adam - carrying his sketch-pad - walked alongside the barrow with Lonts, and Bengo and Bardin brought up the rear, holding hands.
“You could take your trousers off here, Bardy”, said Bengo “There’s no one else around at all”.
“If everybody sees my legs all the time”, said Bardin “They’ll get sick of the sight of them!”
“Not very likely, old love”, Adam called over his shoulder.
Bengo squeezed Bardin’s buttocks, and whispered in his ear “you are so sexy”.
“Behave yourself”, Bardin hissed, trying not to laugh. He was still aroused from the spanking the day before, and part of the arousal had been from being walloped in front of Bengo. He got almost as much a kick from Bengo watching his chastisement, as the hiding itself. The memory of his cock rubbing against Adam’s leg was almost too much for him.
They dropped back a little so that they could talk quietly together. All the way Bengo kept squeezing and patting Bardin’s sore behind.
“If you keep that up”, Bardin whispered “I won’t be fit for anything!”
“The others will understand”, said Bengo.
“It turns me on no end having you watching”, said Bardin “You’re always much more masterful with me afterwards, you take care of me”.
“I’m sure we can do it loads more times like that”, said Bengo “I can’t imagine Adam’s gonna mind!”
“The trouble is this commission is going to distract him a lot”, said Bardin “I mean I don’t mind or anything, but we’ll have to expect that”.
“Well I can always do the odd session”, said Bengo, mischievously “Although you might not get your own way all the time with the shorts on. I might tan your bare behind occasionally”.
“I’ll tan yours as well in that case!” Bardin retorted “And I won’t hold back”.
“Ooh!” said Bengo.
At the top of the ridge they found they had a magnificent view out to the ocean. Today the sun was sparkling on the waves, and white horses were crashing on the rocky beach. They all elected to stop there for a lunch break.
“This is utterly magnificent”, said Adam, sitting down on a large rock and opening his sketch-pad “Why on earth haven’t we been up here before?”
“Because we’ve usually been too busy farting about down there”, said Joby, pointing behind him.
Looking back the way they had come they could see in the galleon in the distance below them.
“It reminds me of when I first saw the Farne Islands off the Northumbrian coast”, said Julian “Back in our time I mean”.
“Why do we still persist in calling it Our Time?” said Adam “We’ve been in this one far, far longer than we ever were in that one”.
“Convenience I suppose”, said Julian, easing the saddle on one of the horses “So the others know what we’re talking about”.
“Do you ever miss that time?” asked Lonts.
“Good God, no”, said Julian.
“Not even through all the dark times that have happened in this one?” said Lonts.
“Not even then”, said Julian “I wouldn’t have swapped any of this for that, not at any time”.
“Was it THAT bad back then?” said Bardin.
“Well you lot weren’t there for a start!” said Julian.
“This is starting to feel like Picnic At Hanging Rock”, said Joby, as they all drowsed in the noonday heat “We’d better be careful some of us don’t go slipping into another dimension”.
“Trust you to put a sinister slant on it!” said Adam.
“It’s nice just to look out over the ocean”, said Kieran “It reminds me of Ireland”.
“Kieran, EVERYWHERE reminds you of Ireland”, said Joby “The Enchanted Forest reminded you of Ireland, Hy Brasil reminded you of Ireland …”
“Perhaps everywhere IS Ireland”, said Lonts.
“That wouldn’t surprise me”, said Joby.
“I suppose we should move on”, said Hillyard, not moving at all “If we’re going to get camp ready by sunset”.
“Why do we have to move on?” Tamaz grumbled “Why do we have to go down there at all? Why don’t we just turn around go back home?”
“Because Adam needs to see the sunset and sunrise over the desert”, said Ransey.
“Don’t hold me responsible for everything!” said Adam “Anyway Freaky, it’s only overnight. A few hours”.
“And you’ll be asleep for most of that”, said Joby.
Reluctantly, they all stood up with a collective groan, and began to gather their bits and pieces.
The Saturn Desert was a huge expanse of empty landscape stretching ahead for miles to another range of hills in the far distance. The ground was parched, and covered in large cracks.
“How on earth is it so parched?” said Adam “It’s a fairly temperate climate in this part of the world. I don’t see why there’s a desert here at all, let alone one so arid and parched as this”.
“It’s almost as if the weather changes at the hills on the edge of town”, said Joby.
“You can get that though”, said Julian “Remember California? Beautiful, temperate coastline, and then you went over the mountains into scorching desert”.
“Yeah, but probably not as close by as all this”, said Joby.
“If there’s one thing this world has taught us”, said Kieran “It’s to expect anything at any time. I recall when the ocean appeared in the middle of nowhere once”.
“Oh that’s right”, said Joby “Bloody weird that was. Whoever designed this world makes it up as they goes along”.
“That might explain why so many maps are completely useless!” said Bardin.
“I’m missing them”, said Farnol, lying on the main deck late that evening, a cushion behind his head, gazing up at the stars.
“They’ve only been gone for a few hours, mate”, said Rumble, rolling a cigarette nearby.
“I know”, said Farnol “But somehow it’s as if so much of the life has been sucked out of the place”.
“It’s a lot quieter without Bardin stamping around all over the place, that’s for sure”, said Rumble “They’ll be back tomorrow”.
Suddenly Shag came clambering down the metal steps which led up into the lighthouse. He reached the bottom rung and then jumped nimbly down onto main deck.
“Don’t tell me something’s come through on the wireless?” said Rumble.
“No there’s some weird light out on the horizon”, said Shag, pointing westwards.
Rumble and Farnol jumped to their feet and walked quickly up to poop-deck. In the very far distance a small white light winked on and off. The darkening sky was made even more so by heavy storm clouds which had gathered on the horizon.
“Looks like another lighthouse to me”, said Rumble.
“Then why have we never seen it before?” said Shag.
“I don’t know”, said Rumble, quietly.
“Could it be a ship?” said Farnol.
“No it seems too consistent”, said Rumble “More likely to be a lighthouse, though God knows why we’ve never noticed it before. Oh well”, he gave a sigh “At least we’ll have something to tell Ransey when he gets back”.
At the foot of the hills, on the very edge of the desert, the others had lit a campfire, and erected the teepee. They had eaten a light supper of scrambled eggs and coffee, and were now sitting around, gazing out at the sparten landscape ahead of them, and the huge arc of the starlit night sky overhead.
“This is where we could do with Rumble and his banjo”, said Adam “A little gentle music would help the atmosphere”.
“Might make things feel a damn sight less creepy”, said Joby.
“Do you find it creepy, Joby?” asked Adam.
“I can’t say I find it very relaxing”, said Joby “The atmosphere on this side of the hills feels electric-y, as if there are force-fields everywhere which we’re not aware of”.
“Don’t let your lurid imagination get the better of you”, said Julian “Or you’ll never be able to sleep”.
“I think I could sleep, no trouble at all”, said a drowsy Bengo.
“You’re so much more laid back these days, Bengo”, Adam laughed.
“Wasn’t I always?” Bengo asked.
“Well no not really”, said Adam “You used to be such an excitable little thing”.
“Must be old age coming on”, said Bengo.
“Here”, said Hillyard, coming out of the teepee carrying a small bottle of whisky “There’s enough in this for a drop for all of us”.
“Good show”, said Julian “Top lad”.
“You can always rely on me to provide those little extras”, said Hillyard, adjusting his crotch.
One of the dogs sat bolt upright, and stared intently at the far hills, growling and shaking.
“It’s OK, old boy”, said Adam, patting him.
Lonts moved over to comfort the animal.
“He must be able to sense something”, he said.
“I think we’ll have that whisky now, Hillyard”, said Joby, wiping out his coffee-mug with the edge of his t-shirt.
It wasn’t the most comfortable of nights. The nocturnal hours were punctuated by weird, random noises that didn’t seem to belong to any known creatures. At one point a strange, semi-musical sound like a distorted aeolian harp could be heard wafting over in abstract segments. Although not a harsh sound, it had a vaguely threatening air about it.
Bardin got out of the teepee and stood gazing at the far distance, hands on hips.
“Will you pipe down!” he yelled, and to his astonishment the noise did.
“Good God, it worked”, said Joby, propping himself up on his elbows.
“Bardin’s awesome authority”, said Adam, sleepily.
It was a relief that there was very little actual darkness at this time of the year. By 4 in the morning it was broad daylight once more. Adam reluctantly rolled out of the teepee to get the sketches that he required in the dawn light.
“Frankly if this is what being A Proper Artist is”, he grumbled “I’ll still to drawing you lot in the nude!”
They got such an ecstatic reception on arriving back at the galleon late the following morning, that Bardin instantly got suspicious.
“Has something gone wrong whilst we’ve been away?” he said.
“Ah jeez man, can’t you accept we’ve missed you?” said Farnol.
“We are genuinely pleased to see you back”, said a more laid-back Rumble “In fact, Choppsy here has made everybody a bowl of beetroot punch to celebrate”.
“Beetroot punch?” said Bardin, dubiously “Don’t tell me, this is one of Rosa’s recipes”.
“It’s spicy stuff”, said Farnol “It’ll blow your boots off”.
“Have you told Bardin about the strange light on the horizon yet?” said Shag, tugging at Farnol’s sleeve.
“What strange light on the horizon?” said Bardin.
“Can’t we at least get the horses settled first?” Hillyard shouted from nearby.
“Your rubbish timing”, said Farnol to Shag “We was gonna tell him when we got downstairs!”
They filled Bardin in on the distant light over supper, which was liberally dosed with Farnol’s beetroot punch. This was served in an old cut-glass fruit bowl, and looked as if someone had had a nasty accident with a pair of shears and bled copiously into it.
“It looks like a blood clot has bust”, said Tamaz, witheringly.
It didn’t stop him drinking his share of it though.
“So what do we do about the strange light, Bard?” asked Shag, insistently.
“Take a note of when it appears, see if there’s any rhyme or rhythm to it”, said Bardin “Tomorrow, I suggest some of us take the cart into town. We must be about due for a supply-run. And at the same time, I think we should make some calls around town, try and find out more about the Saturn Desert for one thing”.
“I think the Doc would be a good bet for that”,s aid Hillyard “Trouble is, I get the impression he’s not keen on visitors”.
“Well just for once he’ll have to be I suppose”, said Bardin.
A posse of them set off at around 10 o’clock the following morning. It had that fresh whiteness to the air which spoke of a hot day to come. Rumble and Bardin insisted on riding along by hanging on either side of the cart in a precarious fashion, to emulate a promo stunt they had once done in the Village of Stairs, when they were working at the Cabaret of Horrors.
“Clearly ‘ealth and safety weren’t a concern for ‘em”, said Joby.
“An alien concept to them”, said Adam.
They pulled up at the harbour, near to the front of the Driftwood. When they had all disembarked, Hillyard appointed himself as team-coordinator.
“Now you know me”, he said, as though addressing a gang of bored and skeptical school-children “I’m an easy going kind of guy …”
“Is this going to take long, Hilly?” said Adam “Only I want to go and discuss the art project with Rosa”.
“And I want to go and discuss the accounts with Rosa”, said Ransey.
“All I’m saying is that I don’t normally go around giving orders”, said Hillyard.
“But you thought you’d start today”, said Bardin.
“Look, Julian’s going to the library to see if he can find out more about the Saturn Desert”, said Hillyard “Adam and Ransey are going to the Inn …”
“We already know all this, mate”, said Joby.
“So I thought the rest of us could go and see the Doc”, said Hillyard.
There was an explosion of protest about this idea.
“I was going to call in and see Glynis”, said Kieran.
“You can see Glynis anytime”, said Hillyard.
“Well if it comes to that I can see the focking Doc anytime!” said Kieran.
“I shall lead the Doc posse”, said Hillyard “Because he knows and trusts me the best”.
“Then I suggest you get on with it, old love”, said Adam.
“And leave the rest of us in peace”, said Joby.
“Bengo, you’ll come with me won’t you?” said Hillyard.
“Well I …” Bengo protested, weakly, having no wish at all to go and see the Doctor.
“Bardin agreed to come yesterday”, said Hillyard “And we need a softening influence around, so we don’t scare his wife. You’ll fit the bill there”.
“Oh bloody typical”, said Bengo “I have to be the sweet, human influence, so the audience don’t get scared stiff of Bardy! There’s nothing new under the sun”.
“Shut up, it won’t do you any harm”, said Bardin.
“Yeah well, I’m going off for a walk round the harbour”, said Rumble “I’ll see you all back at the pub in a little while”.
Bengo watched longingly as Rumble sauntered off without a care in the world.
“Kieran, you’re coming with us”, said Hillyard “I have a feeling his wife might like to see you, think of it as parish visiting”.
“Ah for fock’s sake!” said Kieran.
“I don’t see why I have to come”, said Joby “My ugly face will give her the willies”.
“If I’m having to go, YOU’RE having to go”, said Kieran.
Hillyard led a reluctant Bengo, Bardin, Joby and Kieran up the main street. They saw Jane and Glynis in the distance, heading down a side street towards the harbour, arm-in-arm. The girls didn’t see them, but they appeared contented enough.
“See?” said Hillyard, looking round at Kieran “They wouldn’t have been in anyway!”
Kieran stuck his tongue out at him.
As they passed a narrow white-painted house, a ground floor sash window was flung up and Woolly’s cheeky head came out.
“Hellooo!” he said “Why don’t you come in for a little elevenses?”
“Yes I think we will”, said Kieran, firmly, and then muttered to Hillyard “parish visiting”.
Hillyard looked momentarily furious, but even so he couldn’t resist the opportunity of seeing Woolly again.
Woolly bounded over to the front door, and pulled it open. He was as affable and cheery as ever, although it was obvious from his breath that he had already been on the sauce.
“Not often I get a whole horde of visitors at once”, he said, ushering them into the dark, cool interior “Well not often I get visitors full-stop, except occasionally one of the lads from the lobster boats, if you know what I mean”.
“Nudge nudge wink wink”, muttered Joby.
The room was cluttered, particularly with books and old magazines which seemed to be festooned over every available surface, but even so, it had a pleasant, homely feel.
“Sit down sit down”, said Woolly, bustling around them “Just chuck stuff on the floor, that’s what I do. I like guests to feel at home”.
He stood and gasped at Kieran and Bengo, who stared back at him impassively.
“Golly gosh”, he said “Not often I see such male beauty around here, I can tell you … and the rest of you aren’t so bad either”.
He disappeared into a back room, and the others disported themselves around the room as best they could.
“Do you like it here, Woolly?” Kieran shouted “Here in Zilligot Bay I mean”.
“Love it, my dear, love it”, Woolly called back “I know some of the locals despair of me a bit at times, but I always say I’m never an aggressive drunk, they’ve nothing to fear from me on that score”.
He carried in a tray laden with glasses of all shapes and sizes, setting it down on a coffee-table, which Bengo had hastily retrieved a pile of magazines from.
“You have an impressive face”, said Woolly to Joby “It looks really used and lived in”.
“It’s certainly that”, said Joby.
“Where did you get the scar?” asked Woolly.
“Ages ago”, said Joby “I was attacked by a vampire up North somewhere. D’you know, I can’t even remember exactly whereabouts it was now”.
“Yellow Palace wasn’t it?” said Bardin “Except I can’t recall where that was”.
“Horrible place”, said Kieran.
“Oh yes, that was where you got …” Bengo began, and then shut up when the others shushed him. It wasn’t nice for Kieran to be reminded of the time the demons had trussed him up and smeared shit all over him.
“Sorry”, Bengo mumbled.
Kieran smiled at him reassuringly.
Woolly came back into the room, carrying a bottle of port.
“Now don’t go all stuffy”, he said “And tell me how early it is”.
“We’re not exactly renowned for keeping set drinking hours”, said Bardin.
“I didn’t think you would be”, Woolly laughed, as he began pouring the drinks “You’re all chums with the new girls down the street aren’t you? Splendid girls, so friendly, always ready to stop and have a chat. Some round here can be a bit too on the reserved side for me, but the girls always have time for you. Perhaps it’s because they’re refugees like me”.
“I get the impression there’s a lot of you like that round here”, said Kieran.
“Including us”, said Bardin, sipping the port.
“And himself the Doctor”, said Kieran “Another refugee from the City, like yourself, Woolly”.
“Yes he’s not quite so friendly”, said Woolly “Oh don’t get me wrong, he’s courteous enough. But he always seems lost in his own thoughts. Not quite the chatty, garrulous sort. His wife is very kind, she’s the sort that would give her shoes to you if you needed them, but she’s very, very shy. And very nervous. I suppose that’s not really surprising after everything that’s happened. And it probably doesn’t help that he keeps banging on about all the troubles in the world all the time. It’s bound to make her nervy, having to listen to that all day long. I don’t think it does any good to keep dwelling on it all. And I don’t think she’s in the best of health, he really shouldn’t keep droning on about it all, it won’t help her”.
“How much work does he do at the hospital?” asked Kieran.
“I think he’s in more of a consultancy role”, said Woolly “He goes in and advises them from time to time. I don’t think the rest of the staff are keen on him. He’s too dogmatic in his ways, thinks everything done in the modern era is bad, that sort of thing”.
“That sort have always been around”, said Joby.
The village library was housed in a dilapidated caravan near the harbour. It was crammed with old books that had been abandoned by their owners, or left behind in the pub or at the hospital. On a piping hot day like this the skylight was open, but it still felt like being sealed up alive inside a tin can. Julian couldn’t understand how Mabelyn, the librarian, could sit so serenely at her desk, with no sign of perspiration on her. She was quietly reading a book when Julian approached her.
“The last time I took out a book here”, he said, sitting down in the spare chair nearby “You enclosed a postcard with it, of the Saturn Desert. Can you tell me anything about that place?”
“Only that we tend to avoid it as much as we can here”, she said, softly closing her book, and removing her glasses.
“Why is that?”
“We’re not absolutely sure”, said Mabelyn “But over the course of many years now people have been abducted from that area. Ones who have wandered over the hills have never come back”.
“Perhaps they just moved on”, said Julian, fanning himself with his hat “Travelled to the other hills on the far side”.
“I don’t think so”, said Mabelyn “I have lived in this town all my life, I have never left it, and I’ve heard all the stories. I know enough to know that it is an area that is not to be trusted. When I was a very small child I had a bad dream about it, of people being taken to a farm on the far side, and harvested there. I know you will say it was only a child’s bad dream, but it has stayed with me all my life. I gave you the card because it signifies that it may be a portal area. A place of time distortion. I really wouldn’t advise you travel you there”.
“We spent a night there recently”, said Julian “It’s not an experience any of us care to repeat. We heard strange sounds there …”
“You heard them?” Mabelyn sat up alert “You heard the noises? What happened?”
“Nothing really”, Julian shrugged “Bardin shouted at them at one point, and they seemed to stop”.
Mabelyn looked shocked.
“He had that effect on them?” she gasped.
“It was probably just a coincidence”, said Julian.
“I do not believe in coincidences Mr Julian”, she replied, crisply “I do not believe there is any such thing. I think you should just be pleased that you had Bardin there with you, and that you were able to get back safely”.
After leaving the library Julian headed for the Driftwood, which he found full of the others, all standing around in the main bar, holding pint mugs of Rosa’s beer.
“What the hell are you lot doing here?” Julian barked “You’re supposed to be visiting the Doctor’s house”.
“We didn’t make it that far”, said Bengo “We got waylaid by Woolly. By the time we’d finished there we couldn’t be bothered to go on to the Doctor’s place”.
“Woolly’s a lot more communicative anyway”, said Bardin.
“If you’ve been visiting that old fruit”, said Julian “You’re probably half-pissed already!”
“Woolly’s alright”, said Rosa, who was behind the bar “He can get a bit wild with his drinking sometimes, but he never gets abusive, and he can really brighten up the bar on wintry, stormy nights”.
“Like a Christmas decoration no doubt”, said Julian.
“Yeah so put a sock in it, Julian”, said Hillyard “Before you cause a diplomatic incident and get us run out of town”.
“Well whilst you’ve all been quaffing sherry with him ...” said Julian.
“Port actually”, said Joby.
“I’ve been talking to Mabelyn, the librarian”, said Julian.
“That was nice for her”, said Joby, unconvinced.
Julian told them what she had said about the strangeness around the Saturn Desert.
“She was disturbingly impressed by Bardin yelling at the noise to stop”, he concluded “Before we know it he’ll be hailed as some kind of messianic figure, and we’ve already got one of those”.
“It was just a coincidence”, said Bardin.
“That’s what I said”, said Julian “But she didn’t seem to want to believe me”.
“The Doctor doesn’t like visitors”, said Rosa, now swabbing down the bar-top “It’s probably better you called in on Woolly instead. And it IS impressive if the noises stopped when Bardin shouted. Some of us have heard those sounds from the hills behind here, and they can send a shiver down the spine”.
“Well we are always proud of our little Captain”, said Adam, discreetly pinching Bardin’s behind.
“He must have some special kind of force of personality”, said Rosa.
“No he’s just used to yelling at other clowns”, said Bengo.
There was a commotion at the door, and Woolly entered, with Glynis and Jane on either side of him, and his arm around each waist.
“I found these two wonderful ladies outside”, he said “And lured them in”.
“We can never resist Woolly”, said Jane, who was looking much perkier than she had when she had first been brought to the Bay.
There was a bit of a hiatus whilst more drinks were ordered. Bengo and Bardin were stood at the back of the little crowd, nearest the main window in the bar. It darkened briefly, and they turned in time to see a large, bulky shape walk past.
“Who the hell was that?” Bengo whispered.
They walked out of the main door, and were in time to see what appeared to be a large, portly man dressed in traditional clown’s costume disappearing around the side of the building.
“Is there another show on in town?” asked Bardin.
“Not that I know of”, said Bengo “Last I heard the next production was still in the talking stage”.
They rounded the corner and into the street which led up between the pub and the main row of cottages. This lane wound up past the allotments at the back of the cottages, where many of the townsfolk grew their own vegetables, and eventually disappeared up into the hills. Bengo and Bardin had a brief look at the allotments, but there was nowhere that a large, bulky clown could disappear out of sight so easily!
“This isn’t the first time this has happened”, said Bardin “I remember when we were here before we saw some joker in clown’s rig on the path to the lighthouse”.
“Is there a phantom clown haunting the Bay then?” asked Bengo.
“If there bloody is we’re getting Kieran in to exorcise him!” said Bardin “God knows what goes on round here. There seem to be endless mysteries below the surface of this place. C’mon, let’s go back and rescue our beer, before any living clowns drink it for us”.
Joby went out into the stone garden to take some cuttings, which Rosa had suggested for him. As he neared the far wall he found a man standing near one of the rose bushes. He was tall and slender, with tousled hair, and wearing tinted wireless spectacles.
“Don’t go near the Saturn Desert again”, he said, in a soft voice “It’s not safe. There are some areas in this world where even Kieran’s power doesn’t reach”.
“You look familiar”, said Joby.
“I’m a lightworker”, said the man “That’s all you need to know”.
“But if there’s Evil there”, said Joby “Then Kieran will want to destroy it, you must know what he’s like”.
“Tell him to leave it be”, said the man “It’ll destroy itself in time. Don’t give it any of your energy, except if it attacks you directly”.
“Hey”, said Joby, before the man could leave “What’s in the Old Temple? Do you know?”
“Something that could destroy the entire town, mate”, said the man “Best you leave it where it is, eh?”
“I think I saw John Lennon in Rosa’s garden earlier”, said Joby, when he and Kieran were in bed late that night. The heat was so much that they had kicked off the blanket, and were lying naked on the mattress.
“Nothing would surprise me with this place”, said Kieran “What did he say?”
Joby repeated the conversation.
“He’s right”, Kieran sighed “Although I’m tempted to suggest we stick Bardin in the hills and get him to yell at it again!”
“There are mysteries in this town we need to clear up though”, Kieran continued “I think you and I need to go and see the Doctor in the morning. Just the two of us. If we turn up mob-handed, as we were planning to do today, we’d probably stand no chance of getting in. But we DO need to get information out of him, and I think he knows an invaluable amount”.
Joby and Kieran walked into town first thing after breakfast the next door, before the heat became too much.
“I feel like some waif and stray waiting at the Big Man’s gate”, said Kieran, as they stood outside the wooden gates at the edge of the Doctor’s land. They had just rang the bell attached to the gate.
“He really doesn’t like people does he?” said Joby, looking at the security that surrounded the house.
“It’s how he perceives people”, said Kieran “Something has damaged him very badly”.
“We wouldn’t dream of disturbing you normally”, he said, when the Doctor had let them into his house “But I feel this is very important”.
They were shown into a large, cavernous room which doubled as the dining-room and the Doctor’s study. There was no sign of Antonia, his wife.
“She is resting upstairs”, the Doctor explained “Antonia has been ill for a few years now. I sometimes think I worry constantly about the outside world, because it takes my mind off worrying about her”.
He gestured at two chairs on either side of an empty fireplace. Kieran and Joby sat down.
“I’m sorry to hear that”, said Kieran “This world can so easily crush people, particularly those of a very sensitive disposition”.
“She is like a fragile butterly”, said the Doctor “And yet she is possessed of so much strength really. I could not have survived this far without her”.
“I’ll get straight to the point”, said Kieran “I feel you know what the mystery of the Old Temple is. What’s in there? We’ve received information that there is something in there that could destroy the population of this town if it was released”.
“It’s a Gorgon”, said the Doctor.
“I had a horrible feeling you were going to tell me that”, said Kieran.
“It was incarcerated there several years ago”, said the Doctor “The man who occupied this house before me was some kind of magician. He confined the creature in the Temple, and set a minor demon to guard it. Unfortunately she’s not the only one. There is the wraith of a Gorgon which haunts the hospital as well. I don’t think her power is as strong, but it’s enough to cause alarm, let’s say”.
“I can try and exorcise the place”, said Kieran “I’ll do it as discreetly as I can, so as not to disturb the patients”.
“I can arrange that”, said the Doctor “I don’t know how those creatures ended up here, I can only assume they walked in over the hills. This town is full of wonderful people, and yet they are constantly haunted by the Evil which surrounds them. To be honest, I don’t know how they survive”.
“People are pretty good at that usually”, said Joby.
“Everyone has their own ways of doing so”, said Kieran.
“I would strongly advise you to leave the creature where she is”, said the Doctor “I know you have the power to face one of them, but …”
“I couldn’t risk her escaping”, said Kieran “If she got past me somehow and into the town, well I’m sure you don’t need me to point out the carnage that would ensue. If she is contained, then she needs to stay contained. For the time being. At the moment, we need to concentrate on simply living”.
“That is taking all of my strength at the moment”, said the Doctor “I simply don’t have any energy left over for anything else”.
The gilt had worn off the gingerbread. Zilligot Bay no longer felt like the tranquil safe haven it had when they had first arrived several weeks earlier. This was not the fault of the town itself, or many of the people who inhabited it. They were mainly ordinary people getting on with their lives. But there was no denying that they were, as the Doctor had put it, surrounded by dark forces, and some of these weren’t safely located on the other side of the hills, but was infesting the town itself. It’s also hard to completely relax when you know there’s a Gorgon incarcerated beneath the Old Temple just down the road.
During the heatwave the Indigo-ites had hoped to continue to have a mellow vacation at the old lighthouse. But this was proving difficult, with nerves jangled again, and a constant state of apprehension gripping everyone. Adam was lucky that he had his creative project for Rosa, in which he could throw himself into for hours at a time. But when he surfaced the uneasiness returned. It was particularly prevalent at sundown, when the short night hours came on. It was then that the strange energies of the area seemed to become more apparent.
Bardin frequently went up into the lighthouse at sunset, to see if he could glimpse the mysterious light on the horizon that Shag had seen whilst they were away on their short jaunt into the Saturn Desert. So far it had been elusive, but he said he would keep trying for as long as they were there.
When he got down to the entrance floor of the lighthouse he was met by Mutton Broth, who was looking highly anxious.
“Can’t you hear that noise, Bard?” he said, twisting his hanky in his hands.
“Now you come to mention it, yes”, said Bardin.
That was a weird sound coming from outside, which sounded like someone frantically blowing on a clown’s horn. An uneasy frisson ran through Bardin. He went to the doorway, and clung onto the metal railing of the ladder which ran up to it. He peered round the side of the lighthouse. Standing on the dirt track which ran up to the building was an extraordinary sight. It was the bulky clown which he and Bengo had fleetingly glimpsed in the town before. It was jumping up and down, with a grotesque leer on its face, squeezing a honky horn.
“Right, you bastard”, said Bardin, through gritted teeth, and he prepared to descend the ladder.
“No Bard, wait mate!” called Mutton Broth “Don’t go near it!”
Bardin ignored him, and carried on down the ladder. At the bottom he jumped onto the poop-deck of the galleon, and then crossed from there to landfall. The creature was still jumping up and down and jeering.
“Fuck you!” Bardin yelled.
The “clown” dropped the horn, and then jabbed its fingers in the air, in obscene gestures, whilst sticking its tongue out.
“Who are you, you prat?” Bardin shouted.
The clown bent over and simulated farting noises. As Bardin went to move towards it though, it straightened up and ran off down the track, like something out of a cartoon.
“I take it, I’m on the naughty step?” said Bardin, who had been summoned to Julian’s cabin after breakfast the next morning. He hadn’t been asked to sit down, which was usually a bad sign.
“You know what you did last night was reckless”, said Julian “God knows what that Thing is, but rushing to confront it on your own like that was madness”.
“Maybe so”, said Bardin “I agree, it wasn’t the sensible thing I could have done, but … oh heck, I can’t explain it. I hold my hands up, I got it wrong. Do I get put on the spanking machine?”
“That’s Adam’s job”, said Julian, who found it hard not to laugh at that “Although God knows, nothing seems to work with you. Go away, and go and be a Captain out there”.
Bardin went into the dining-room. Adam’s easel had been set up near the piano, where he was engrossed in working on Rosa’s picture. Bengo was setting the table for lunch. He gave Bardin a filthy look when he appeared.
“Yes alright”, said Bardin “I’ve been told off, does that make you feel better? I’m starting to wonder if I’ve got ANY positive virtues at the moment”. “Of course you have, old love”, said Adam “You’ve got courage for a start”.
“Reckless courage”, said Bengo, in a forbidding voice.
“So you’d rather I sat on my hands, and bleated ‘everything’s alright, mustn’t grumble’?” said Bardin.
“I can’t imagine you doing that somehow”, said Adam.
“Well tell him to stop scowling at me!” said Bardin, pointing at Bengo.
“Why don’t you go into the galley and see if Joby’s got any tea on the go?” said Adam.
Bardin walked past Bengo, them both glaring at each other, and into the galley. The kettle was on the stove. Bardin sat down in the chair beside it.
“I am starting to feel like a complete waste of time at the moment”, said Bardin.
“Oh don’t start all that beating yerself up routine”, said Joby “I get enough of that with Kieran!”
“Perhaps someone else should take over from being Captain”, said Bardin.
“Like who?” said Joby “Hoowie?!”
“Well no, perhaps not”, said Bardin “But I probably have made things worse. That Thing will now delight in constantly coming here and taunting us”.
“Maybe”, said Joby “Maybe not. Maybe you’ve scared it away”.
“In my dreams!”
“But even if it comes back, what can it do? Make a nuisance of itself on the shore that’s all. It plainly doesn’t want us getting up close to it, otherwise it wouldn’t have ran off the way it did”.
“We’ll see”, said Bardin “But I’m not counting my chickens there. I just hope I haven’t inadvertently energised it in some way. You wouldn’t like to be Captain would you?”
“No I bloody well wouldn’t!” said Joby “Anyway, whilst Adam’s working on his masterpiece, I get to be in charge in here, and that suits me fine”.
That afternoon Hillyard drove Adam into town to do some bartering with Rosa at the Driftwood. Bengo and Bardin accompanied them, but they were still squabbling with one another, and by the time Hillyard brought the cart to a halt near the harbour, Adam was losing patience.
“Both of you”, he said sternly to the clowns “Go and sit quietly in the bar and wait for me there”.
“Where are you going then?” asked Bengo.
“I’ve just spotted Glynis, and I want to have a little chat with her”, said Adam “And you don’t order any beer until I get there”.
“Well they might not like us just sitting there and not drinking anything, Adam”, said Bardin “I mean, it’s a bar not a park-bench!”
“Tell them I will be along shortly”, said Adam, heading off in Glynis’s direction.
“I’m popping over to see Woolly”, said Hillyard “Try and see if you can stop fighting by the time he gets back [meaning Adam], otherwise he’ll be spitting feathers for the rest of the day”.
“This is all YOUR fault”, said Bardin, as the clowns walked over to the bar “If you’d stop scowling at me and chewing my ear off, everything would be alright. Oh boy, when you get a bee in your bonnet there’s no stopping you”.
“Yes alright”, said Bengo “I just wanted to make my point that’s all”.
“Well you’ve made it, so shut up!”
Adam and Glynis sat on a wooden bench near the harbourmaster’s office. Nearby three boats were moored close to the jetty, and bobbing up and down in the water. It was late afternoon, and the whole town had a winding-down feel. Some fishermen were preparing to set off for an evening’s fishing down on the beach.
“You are looking very well I must say”, said Adam, approvingly. Glynis looked fresh and healthy. She was clad in a serviceable shirt and trousers, and her long hair was swept off her face and secured by a black velvet hairband.
“Careful”, Glynis teased “Or I shall think you’re on the turn!”
“Sometimes I damn well wish I was!” said Adam “Men can be a sore trial to live with at times”.
“Women have their moments too”, said Glynis “Oh don’t look alarmed, Jane and I rub along fine, but Annette downstairs can be a bit of a menace. She is obsessed with animal welfare. Sometimes I think she’d like to go through our shopping, and see if we’ve bought any meat products. She regards all meat-eaters as murderers. She’s not afraid to shout about it either”.
“Oh dear”, said Adam “I’m glad Patsy doesn’t carry on like that. Mind you, I think we’d lock him in his cabin if he did”.
“And remember what Cloris got like?”
“Mm yes. You don’t miss the Third Island at all then?”
“Not on your life!” said Glynis “I do think a lot about the ones we left behind. Sometimes I wonder if we should try another rescue mission, like when Hillyard rescued us. But I have to be honest, my cowardice gets the better of me. I’m terrified something will happen to leave us stranded there, and I can’t bear the thought of that”.
“That’s not cowardice, just good old survival instinct”, said Adam.
“I am so happy here”, said Glynis “Sometimes I really do feel like pinching myself, the old expression had it right. There have actually been days when I’ve woken up in the mornings and panicked a bit because I thought we were back there. Everybody has been so kind to us. Jane has got a cleaning job at the school. She’s there now. She cleans the schoolroom when all the children have gone home at 4 o’clock. I thought she might look down her nose at it a bit, considering she was once one of Lord Robert’s right-hand women at the Ministry, but she says she likes having a job that is entirely physical. I don’t think she’d appreciate a desk-bound job at the moment. I’m the same. I work a few hours a week helping out at the hospital, and it does me good. They want me to do some night-shifts though, and I’m not sure how I feel about that, after what Jane told me about how creepy it gets there”.
“Patsy was going to offer to come and do a Blessing around the place”.
“I think they’d like that. But no, we are very grateful for the way the community has taken us in. There’s to be a wedding in the village on Friday, it’s open to everybody, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind you all coming”.
“ALL of us?” said Adam, trying to envisage the entire contingent of Indigo-ites descending on a harmless family wedding “Perhaps a few of us, who promise to behave, which rules the clowns out”.
The news of the wedding met with mixed response on the galleon. Julian announced vehemently that he had no interest in any weddings whatsoever, and particularly someone he had never met. Even the prospect of free booze couldn’t entice many of the others.
“This is it now”, said Joby, gloomily “We’re getting sucked further and further into this community, soon we won’t be able to leave”.
“For heaven’s sake, it’s not a prison, Joby!” said Adam “Anyway, I’m insisting you and Patsy come with me. Someone has to. Lo-lo is flatly refusing to come”.
“He’s not as daft as he looks sometimes is he”, said Joby “Anyway the sight of my face might frighten the bride”.
“The entire universe doesn’t revolve around your lovely little face”, said Adam “As long as you remember to smile sometimes, it really won’t matter”.
“I’ll escort you, Ad”, said Hillyard “Ransey’s refusing to come, says he’d rather fiddle about round the lighthouse instead. And if Woolly and the girls are there, it should be a laugh”.
“That’s the spirit”, said Adam.
“What about …?” Hillyard nodded in the direction of Bardin, who was sitting further down the deck, reading the town newsletter. Bengo was closer by, looking hopeful.
“I suppose it would look odd if he didn’t come”, said Adam, taking pity on Bengo.
“Ooh I was hoping you’d ask us!” said Bengo, clapping his hands “Don’t worry, Bardy will behave himself”.
“The triumph of hope over experience”, said Joby.
The wedding feast was due to start late Friday afternoon, after the happy couple had been married on the quayside by the harbourmaster. There was currently no priest in town, and the harbourmaster sort of took on the old ship’s captain role when it came to marriages in Zilligot Bay. It had been done this way for many years, and no one knew nor cared about any legalities of it.
On the galleon the hip-bath was dragged out and set up in Bengo and Bardin’s cabin, so that the wedding guests could make some effort to look presentable.
“You do realise you’re acting like the token gay characters in an old chick-lit novel”, said Julian.
“I wouldn’t know, old love”, said Adam “That wasn’t my type of reading literature”.
“There was always a token gay couple”, Julian spat “Or the gay besty friend of the heroine, and they were always cloyingly lovely, camp as Christmas, the sympathetic shoulder-to-cry-on, and the souls of generosity”.
“I don’t think you’d fit that role at all, mate”, said Hillyard.
“No, but Adam would”, said Julian.
“What nonsense!” said Adam “You do spout a load of rubbish at times, Jules. We’re not going there as the token gay characters, can you honestly see Joby in that role? Or Patsy come to that?”
“Or Bardy”, said Bengo.
“I can’t remember the last time I wore me best trousers”, said Kieran, coming into the dining-room, holding his trousers up around him by the waist “Took me ages to find out where they were. And now I find they don’t seem to fit!”
“Good heavens, don’t tell me you’ve lost weight”, said Adam, going over to inspect “You can’t afford to lose any weight, Patsy, there’s nothing to you to start with”.
“It seems like I have”, said Kieran “Can somebody lend me a belt?”
“I’ll fetch you one”, said Rumble.
As they left the galleon, to ride into town on the cart, Julian made more barbed comments about chick-lit novels.
“I swear I shall wring his fucking neck when we get home”, Adam muttered under his breath.
The wedding feast was held in a field near the allotments, with long tables and benches laid out, covered in food, and pitchers of wine and beer. It was a free-for-all. Everyone could sit where they wanted. The Indigo-ites grouped themselves at one end of the table, with Glynis and Jane. Woolly hadn’t appeared yet, but they had it on good authority he was on his way.
“I say our boy does scrub up well”, Adam said in a low voice to Hillyard. He was praising Bardin, who was looking impeccable in his best clothes. “With that trim figure he can wear anything”, said Hillyard “It’s chubby sods like me who have to work at it”.
“Rubbish, you look very handsome”, said Adam.
Bardin’s smartness and upright stature seemed to affect everyone who saw him. Nearby guests looked at him in silence as he took his seat, as if he was the presiding magistrate. Little did they know that his upright demeanour was due to a fierce spanking with a wooden paddle which Adam had given him the night before. This was information which was not to be divulged to anyone else at the feast though. What happened on the galleon stayed on the galleon.
They were joined at the table by a rather earnest young woman called Deborah, who was the village schoolmistress. She wore a pretty, bright yellow dress, and had her hair neatly plaited up over her ears in a headphones style. Her bookish exterior though concealed a fun-loving disposition, and after a couple of glasses of cider she was giggling infectiously. This was enhanced further when Woolly sprung himself on them, with a whoop of “hellooo there, boys and girls!”
“Thank goodness Julian’s not here”, said Adam.
Ernesto came out to replenish their jugs, and expressed regret that the rest of the Indigo-ites hadn’t joined them.
“Oh dear me, no, you don’t want them here”, said Adam “They would swamp proceedings”.
As they began tucking into the food, Annette, Glynis and Jane’s downstairs neighbour, came over from a nearby table.
“I am very surprised at you that you allow meat products to be partaken in your vicinity”, she said to Kieran, who had barely had a chance to lift a morsel of mushroom quiche to his lips “All animal products are MURDER”.
“Oh blimey”, muttered Joby.
“Annette, I have long since accepted the limits of my power”, said Kieran “I am not here to tell people what they should eat”.
Annette looked apocalyptic, as if she was about to launch into a fierce tirade. She saw Kieran’s indulgence of meat-eaters as a personal betrayel. Bardin suddenly spoke up from across the table though, using his best theatrically-trained voice projection technique.
“I don’t see being vegan as a good survival practise”, he said “With us being at the ends of the earth like this, and the rest of the world in god-knows-what state, I don’t think you can afford to restrict yourself so severely when it comes to food. This is also neither the time nor the place for a lecture about dietary requirements. Go and rejoin your seat, Madam!”
Annette gave him a blistering look, and went back to her own table.
“Oh dear”, said Deborah, who had watched the whole proceedings open-mouthed “She didn’t look very happy did she?”
“Serves her right”, said Jane “She’s a bloody nightmare. She was lecturing me the other day about me using paper bags to bring home our shopping in. Said I should be using my bare hands. I felt like slapping her with my bare hands!”
“She clearly wants to save the world, perhaps she’s the next Vanquisher of Evil”, said Kieran, mischeviously “I would pit her against Angel any day!”
“Poor bastard wouldn’t stand a chance”, said Joby.
“We should come up here more often”, said Adam.
“No we shouldn’t”, Joby panted.
Adam had dragged Joby up to the top of the lighthouse.
“Oh come on, Joby”, he said “You have to admit it’s a stunning view”.
“I can get all the stunning views I want without climbing up all those friggin’ stairs!” said Joby “Anyway, what did you want to come up here for? Is this gonna be the subject of your next masterpiece? ‘View From The Top Of The Lighthouse’”?
“Well it wouldn’t be a bad idea”, said Adam “Hillyard wants to take the boat on a little trip. Says it’s not good to have it in dock all the time, and I can see his point. I think he’s just planning to take it up the coast here a little bit, and then out to sea. It’s just be a few hours long”.
“Sounds alright”, said Joby “We’d better tell Glynis and Jane though, or they’ll think we’ve run off and left ‘em. Don’t wanna cause any panic”.
“Ever since Shag told us about that light he saw on the horizon”, said Adam “I’ve been thinking about that awful island we went to all those years ago, when we lived here before. That terrible creature who was covered in blood, do you remember?”
“Yeah, I think we called it The Evil Island or Island of Evil, summat like that. It was in that direction somewhere”, said Joby, waving his hand vaguely in a westerly direction “Do you think it’s summat to do with that?”
“I don’t know”, Adam sighed “Sometimes I think my brain gets overloaded with memories, and coming back here has intensified that. I keep remembering us running the inn, and Alastair’s antics, and Thetis. Oh lordy, it all gets a bit too much at times”.
“Imagine what it would be like if we went back to the Bay and Midnight Castle!”
“Quite. That’s the perils of enduring I guess. I feel crowded out by the past sometimes, as if every person I’ve ever known and every place I’ve ever been, and everything that’s ever been said, is weighing on me”. “Blimey, that’s not good, Ad”, said Joby.
“Oh don’t get me wrong, I’m fine”, said Adam “It’s just, although we have found a little safe haven, Life is still pressing on us very strongly”.
“It doesn’t help that things are still so much in the air”, said Joby “We haven’t come to a solution. We don’t know what’s happening in the outside world. There could be massed armies bearing down on us for all we know”.
“Well that’s a cheery thought”.
“No I’m just saying we haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on. Sometimes I wonder if there’ll ever be anything like normality again. Are we stuck with it like this forever?”
“Perhaps we shouldn’t look at it that way”, said Adam “Perhaps the lesson is that we take each day as it comes. I don’t know. I didn’t come up here to philosophise. Time seems to have slowed down since we came to Zilligot Bay. Do you find that? Usually everything seems to go like the clappers, months whizz past, but here it all feels infinite. I mean, the last few months, Spring and Summer, seem to have been going on for years. It’s all very odd. Most peculiar”.
The short excursion up the coast turned out to be rather more informative than they had bargained for. They had barely travelled for a couple of hours when the coastline changed dramatically. Until then it had been rugged and desolate, with high, sheer cliffs keeping out any glimpse of the edges of the Saturn Desert. As they rounded a small peninsula though the cliffs dropped away, and suddenly they were upon a small hamlet tucked a short distance back from the beach.
The air was so still that they had travelled up the coast under steam power, but on seeing this Bardin ordered the engines to be cut. From this short distance they could see a bunch of people congregated in what seemed to be a market square.
“Toppy, fetch me my binoculars, or a telescope, or something”, Bardin ordered.
“Right here, Captain”, said Toppy, proferring a pair of binoculars.
On peering through them, Bardin got the shock of his life. The Clown Demon - as he thought of his unwanted tormentor the other night - was sitting on a raised platform, wearing a cape, and what appeared to be a tacky gilt crown on his dishevelled head. Shabbily-dressed people passed in front of him, proferring some rather sorry-looking fruit and vegetables. These were then laid in a row at the edge of the platform.
“What the fuck is going on?” said Joby, who had been looking through his own binoculars.
“Oh my God”, Bardin burst out laughing, and once he started he found he had trouble stopping.
“What is this?” said Adam “Who are they?”
“If you’ve all had your fill of that sight”, said Bardin, coughing and spluttering “I suggest we restart the engines and sail out further into the ocean, before heading home”.
Before turning away Bardin had another look through his binoculars. The Clown Demon looked straight at him. His eyes were little black pits in his flabby face. He stared intently at Bardin, but there was no sign of any deep reaction within him.
“I wish you’d pull yourself together and tell me what’s so damn funny”, said Bengo, crossly.
Bardin had been pacing up and down in the dining-room since going below deck, and chortling away to himself. He couldn’t seem to stop long enough to make any sense.
“BARDIN!” shouted Bengo “I’m getting really fed up here. Stand still and tell me what’s going on, or I’m gonna call Adam down here to give you such a spanking you won’t sit down for a month!”
“Oh you can do that anyway”, said Bardin, stopping and putting his hands on Bengo’s shoulders “I’m sorry, I just find it all so funny”.
“WHAT IS??” cried Bengo.
“That … that Thing, the one that’s been tormenting us”, said Bardin “God, how pathetic. THAT is his kingdom. That pathetic little hamlet”.
“He’s their King? Jeezus, they must be desperate”.
“Exactly! Oh my God. We have been sitting down there in Zilligot Bay, wondering what the hell was on the other side of the Saturn Desert, thinking it was something truly dreadful, and all the time it’s that fucking shabby Clown Demon, and those pathetic wretches are his people, and for some god only knows what reason, probably because they’re as thick as shit, they’re putting up with him”.
“How does he get to us and keep tormenting us?”
“He’s a supernatural creature”, said Bardin “I guess he doesn’t operate under any normal laws, a bit like everything else in this world. Next time he appears though I’m going to laugh my ruddy head off”.
“It was all a bit pathetic wasn’t it?” said Bengo “That tacky little crown and cape. I think we had better props than that at the Cabaret!”
Very soon after getting back to Zilligot Bay, Kieran insisted on going into town to pay a visit to the Doctor. Hillyard got the trap out again, and said he hoped Tabitha would be able to cope in the heat.
“Make sure she’s got plenty of water”, said Kieran “I’ll take Bengo with me. He might help to soothe Antonia, if she’s around”.
Bengo of course was dead chuffed at the honour of accompanying Kieran.
“I know you don’t like visitors Doctor Xavier”, said Kieran, when he and Bengo had finally gained access to the gloomy house on the edge of the town “And I wouldn’t have disturbed you if I didn’t think it was very important. How is your wife?”
“She’s resting again”, said the Doctor, taking them into the cavernous dining-room. It was at least cool in the heat. The three of them arranged themselves formally round the table.
“I’ll try and be as brief as I can”, said Kieran. He explained about their short trip up the coast. “I have a feeling in my bones that you know about that strange little hamlet, and its bizarre leader”.
“I have seen it when I’ve flown out over the desert”, said the Doctor “The Clown Demon, as you call it, clearly had noticed me as well. He’s paid us a visit here”.
“What did he say?” asked Bengo.
“It wasn’t a very sociable visit”, said the Doctor “He appeared in a battered old truck one day, and parked it across the entrance to our house. I went out to reason with him and ask him to move, but first of all he just glared at me, and then he laughed, like an hysterical, braying donkey. It was most unsettling. I was glad Antonia was indoors and didn’t see it. I felt both angry and helpless at the same time. I came back here and collected myself for a moment, and when I went back out again he had gone”.
“This gets more bizarre by the moment”, said Kieran “He’s clearly a supernatural creature, albeit a minor one, like the one that guards the Old Temple, and yet the people in the hamlet revere him”.
“I suspect he inveigled himself into their community when they were at a very low ebb”, said Doctor “It has happened throughout history. Nature abhors a vacuum. In a time of crisis any charismatic charlatan can persuade people to believe in him. My feeling is that, like an awful lot of places, the beach hamlet has struggled greatly in recent years. Not just physical hardship, but great loneliness too. Who knows what he promised them when he arrived. It is a completely absurd situation. No one should believe in a creature like that, but … well they do”.
Suddenly a pink balloon bounced silently into the room. Bengo gave a start.
“Oh it’s nothing to be alarmed about”, said the Doctor “I wanted something to cheer Antonia up, and Deborah, down at the village school, gave me a packet of old balloons she had in stock. I blew them up and just let them waft around the house. We’ve got rather used to them”.
Whilst Kieran and Bengo were calling on Doctor Xavier, Hillyard had dropped in at the village school to see Jane. There were no set term times in Zilligot Bay. The school ran for most of the year, apart from on Feast days or when the weather was being extreme. As such, Deborah had closed it for the duration of the heatwave. Hillyard found Jane in the baking hot courtyard, which served as the school’s main playground, where she was busy sanding down an old bookcase.
“Bit hard work for this weather isn’t it?” said Hillyard, leaning on the fence.
“Ha ha, maybe, but it seemed a good time to do it when the school’s empty”, Jane laughed, and straighted up “Come into the classroom, I’ve got a jug of water in there”.
He followed her into the main room of the school, which was a miracle of cleanliness. Polished bare wooden floors, and tables and chairs, of all sizes, neatly arranged.
“It wouldn’t be this tidy if the children were here!” said Jane, going over to a glass carafe on the teacher’s table.
“Where’s Deborah?” asked Hillyard.
“She’s gone for a cycle ride up into the hills”, said Jane “Now don’t look like that, she’s very outdoorsy, said the heat doesn’t bother her. And she’s lived in this town all her life, so she’s unlikely to get lost”.
“I wasn’t thinking of the weather”, said Hillyard, accepting a glass of water “Just … well you know all the weirdnesses that can happen round here, particularly close to the Saturn Desert”.
“She knows what’s what”, said Jane “And she won’t go out of sight of the village”.
She pulled a rag out of her trouser pocket and dabbed her forehead.
“This heat”, she said “The villagers say they’ve never known a heatwave like this before”.
“No, I’ve never known it this hot here”, said Hillyard “Normally Zilligot Bay’s pretty temperate on the whole. How are you settling down?”
“I love it”, said Jane “I’m my own person at last. I’ve never really put myself first in life. I joined the Ministry fresh out of college, and from then on my life was bound up with Lord Robert and Cloris. I feel like I’m discovering myself anew. Becoming my own person”.
“Well it was always Cloris and Jane for several years”.
“Mm yes, sadly the Cloris I used to know seems to have gone. I don’t recognise this person who has taken her place. She is like a stranger to me”.
Deborah got off her bicycle halfway up the narrow track which led up into the hills. She pushed it a few more feet, intending to then turn around and free-wheel her way back down into the village. She paused and turned to look down over the village. She never got tired of this view. It reminded her of everything she loved about her home-town. The huddle of rooftops crowding round the harbour. A slither of smoke coming out of some of the chimneys, even in this heat. The bobbing of a handful of boats on the water. In the distance she could see the lighthouse, and the galleon moored close by.
She pushed the bike up another few feet, and took a bottle of water out of the basket. As she replaced the stopper, a movement in the small patch of trees to her right caught her eye. Her heart nearly froze in her chest. A tall figure was sitting on a large rock some way into the trees. Mercifully the person had it’s back to her. Wild-eyed with horror, Deborah could make out the snakes heads weaving around like an elaborate hairdo. She had to put her hand to her mouth to stop herself from gasping out loud.
Hastily, she turned her bike around and ran with it, pushing it down the slope. She didn’t want to risk free-wheeling it down, in case she fell off and found herself at the mercy of that … Thing.
A short while later she ran gasping into the classroom. Jane and Hillyard were sitting opposite each other, perched on a couple of the desks. Both turned to look with astonishment at her.
“Deborah!” Jane gasped “What on earth has happened”.
Deborah pushed her bike into the room, and then let it clatter unceremoniously to the floor. She paused against the door-frame, trying to get her breath.
“What’s happened?” said Hillyard, as they went over to her.
“Have you been attacked?” asked Jane, putting her hand on Deborah’s shoulder.
“No”, Deborah wheezed.
“Deep breaths, gal”, said Hillyard, gently.
“There’s … there’s a Gorgon up in the woods, in the hills”, said Deborah.
“My God, you SAW her?!” Jane exclaimed.
“Well no, fortunately she had her back to me”, said Deborah.
“Thank God for that”, said Hillyard.
“She was sitting on a rock, facing in the opposite direction”, said Deborah “I don’t think she was aware of me. She seemed pretty oblivious. She was very tall …”
“Are you absolutely sure it was a Gorgon?” said Jane.
“Absolutely”, said Deborah “The snakes … I couldn’t have been mistaken about that. And there was an aura about her. Something unnatural. Now I think of it, everything seemed unnaturally quiet up there. As if all the birdlife had abandoned the area”.
“So there’s more of the wretched creatures in the area”, said Jane.
“We thought we had got the only one”, said Deborah “We should have known really. We must warn everybody. It’s not safe to be up there. And God forbid, if she should come down into the town …”
Bardin sent Bengo out around the town, to act as a sort of human megaphone, allerting the villagers to a meeting in the main bar of the Driftwood. Bengo was given the brass hand-bell Rosa normally used to call Time, to help him on his way.
“I feel sorry for her a bit”, said Lonts.
He and Joby were sitting on the stone bench in the rear garden, leaning against the sun-killed brick wall.
“Who?” said Joby.
“The Gorgon”, said Lonts, taking his pipe out of his mouth to speak out “She must be very lonely up there”.
“Are you completely off your rocker?!” Joby exclaimed “Well I don’t suggest you go and have a chat with her, Lonts!”
“I know she’s very dangerous, Joby”, said Lonts “There’s no need to take that tone, but she still must be very lonely, monster or not. Is Kieran going to go and behead her?”
“No he’s not”, said Joby “He’s pretty adament about that. Said he’s had enough of death and destruction. Although, to be honest, I dunno what other solution there is. We can’t just pretend she’s not there. She’s too dangerous for that”.
Bardin came out of the back door of the pub, and ambled over to them, looking drained.
“What’s up lad?” asked Joby.
“That lot in there”, said Bardin, jerking his head in the direction of the bar “They don’t seem to understand the seriousness of the situation. They are acting totally nonchalant about the whole thing. They don’t seem to grasp that there’s a fucking Gorgon up in the hills!”
“Praps they do grasp it”, said Joby “After all, at one time they imprisoned one of ‘em in the base of the Old Temple. It’s not as if they haven’t been round this block before. It might be a touch of same old same old”.
“Deborah was very shaken though”, said Lonts “Hillyard said so”.
“Yeah I think they know the dangers, mate”, said Joby to Bardin.
“Good”, said Bardin, with a breezy air he certainly didn’t feel.
“It’s just that, as I said, they’ve been round this block before”, said Joby “They aren’t gonna suddenly take on a new attitude just ‘cos we’ve ridden into town”.
“Perhaps we should leave them to deal with it”, suggested Lonts.
Bardin grunted and went back to the bilding. In the kitchen, Ransey was chatting to Rosa.
“I think I’ll head back home”, said Bardin “I’m feeling weary. It must be the heat”.
“This heat isn’t natural”, said Rosa.
“Hold on a moment”, said Ransey “I’ll round up the others. You don’t want to be walking back past the Old Temple by yourself”.
There was suddenly an earsplitting scream coming from the direction of the hills above the town.
“My God”, said Bardin “Has She claimed a victim?”
“No”, said Rosa “I think that was her. I have heard screams coming from the hills in the past”.
“Shitting hell”, said Bardin.
The quiet hubbub in the bar had ceased altogther. When the screaming didn’t resume, they all gradually began talking again.
“They really do have their own ways of coping”, said Bardin.
“This town has lived in the shadow of the Gorgons for over 60 years now”, said Rosa “At first they were much more troublesome. But when our grandparents generaiton trapped the one in the Old Temple, we haven’t been intruded upon quite so much since. Just occasionally, things are seen, or heard”.
“You should have told us this before”, said Ransey.
“We didn’t want to”, said Rosa “We didn’t want to drive you away. It would be too much to say we have gotten used to it. But we are able to push things to one side. Except … when we are reminded again”.
“If you know Gorgons occasionally stray into the hills”, said Ransey “Then why did Deborah cycle up there?”
“I could say something trite like Life Has To Go On”, said Rosa “But there have been no fresh sightings for some time now. And Deborah knows the risks. She is a very sensible woman. As she proved”.
When they returned to the galleon, Bardin went and sat up on the poop-deck. He took his binoculars with him, in case the mysterious light on the horizon appeared again. A short while later Bengo came up with two mugs of cocoa for them both.
“Seen anything?” he asked.
“Not a sausage”, Bardin shook his head “But I’ve come prepared if that bloody clown demon fool appears again”.
He pulled back the corner of an old blanket which lay nearby. Underneath it was his gun.
“I don’t have any confidence that it’ll do any good”, he said “But you never know. What’s the matter with you anyway? You look doleful”.
“I’ve been offered a job”, said Bengo, sitting down next to him “The theatre lot are putting on another show. This one sounds dismal. A dark thriller about a serial-killer. They want me to play the psychopath”.
“You?!” Bardin spluttered, nearly choking on his cocoa “I can’t think of anyone who looks less like a psychopathic killer!”
“That’s the point apparently”, said Bengo “They want someone whose looks are deceptive”.
“Well I suppose many might jump at the chance”.
“Not me. I’ve told them I do comedy, not horror, and right at this moment I have got no wish to change that. I mean, you would think wouldn’t you, that people would want something feelgood and uplifting in these stressful times, not bloody dramas about a serial-killer! I’m wondering if they should cast Hoowie. He could scare anybody on a dark night”.
“No point”, said Bardin “He’d never manage to turn up on time, that’s if he turned up at all. It’d be a waste of everybody’s time”.
“Anyway, Adam’s got a whole load of new recipes out of Rosa”, said Bengo “And he wants us to work our way through them. I’d rather do that than play a fucking serial-killer! Plus I don’t feel like turning out for all that. Doing the King of Useless was OK because I only appeared in the First Act, and then I could bugger off. With this I’d be stuck with it all evening”.
“And matinees as well probably”, said Bardin.
He suddenly sat up straight.
“What’s up?” asked Bengo.
Bardin didn’t reply, but quietly reached for his gun under the blanket. On the rough track which led up to the lighthouse, where a small whirlwind was in progress. Dust was swirling round and round, and gradually forming itself into a figure.
“It’s that bloody demon again isn’t it?” whispered Bengo.
Bardin got to his feet, followed by his partner. The dust formed into the Clown Demon.
“Ok”, said Bardin, quietly to Bengo “What’s the latest prank going to be?”
The Demon let out a yell, and hurled something onto the main deck. It gave another earsplitting yell before rapidly vanishing again.
“What is it?” asked Bengo, going to move down onto the main deck, but Bardin stopped him.
“Don’t go near it”, said Bardin.
All that could be seen was what appeared to be a mass of swirling greenish-coloured worms.
“Oh shit”, said Bardin “Bengo, whatever you do, stay here”.
“What the fuck is it?” said Bengo “There’s blood coming out of it”.
“It’s the Gorgon’s head”, said Bardin.
“What’s going on up here?” said Ransey, appearing at the head of the steps at the far end of the deck “What’s causing all the racket?”
“Ransey!” Bardin shouted “Whatever you do, don’t come any further up onto the deck. For fuck’s sake, go and get Kieran immediately! He’s the only one who can handle this thing. Please! Do as I say. The time for explanations is afterwards”.
Ransey went back below. Bardin breathed a sigh of relief, and gestured for Bengo to turn around, facing the sea. He did the same.
“Thankfully for us”, said Bardin “It rolled onto its face. Kieran’s the only one that can dispose of it”.
“That must have been the scream we heard earlier”, said Bengo “He killed her”.
“Just to terrorise us”, said Bardin.
He sensed Kieran coming up the quarterdeck steps.
“It’s on the deck, Kieran”, said Bardin.
“OK I can see it”, said Kieran “Stay right where you are. Make sure Bengo doesn’t turn round”.
“I’m not completely daft”, said Bengo “Even if I look it most of the time!”
There was a loud splash as it landed in the water, and then Kieran grabbed one of the oars which were normally used on the skiff, and used it to prod the thing further down, so that it didn’t bob back to the surface.
“Ideally I should’ve burnt it”, said Kieran, coming over to them “But I couldn’t risk how long it would take, and the chance one of the others might come up”.
“Bloody hell”, said Bardin, shakily.
“Now I’m going to suggest we take the galleon back to the harbour in the town”, said Kieran “I don’t think for the time being it’s safe to be out here on our own like this”.
“I’m beginning to think we should get out of town completely!” Bardin exclaimed “We don’t seem to be helping matters by being here. The locals can handle this sort of thing better than we can”.
“To be fair to us, I don’t think they’ve had gorgons’ heads lobbed at them!” said Kieran “Anyway, we can discuss that better tomorrow”.
Kieran and Bardin sat up on the main deck of the galleon, watching Bengo walking over to the Driftwood with a basket of provisions to swap with Rosa. As he got near the main entrance he was accosted by one of the younger members of the travelling players, who was clearly asking him something. Bengo shook his head vigorously and waved his hand, before going into the pub.
“Poor old Bengo”, said Kieran “He really doesn’t want the part of the serial-killer does he?”
“It’s a bloody stupid idea”, said Bardin “Bengo would not be comfortable with anything as heavy as that. He’d start ad-libbing and larking about to try and lighten the mood. Mind you, that might an improvement on what they’ve got in mind!”
The harbour area of Zilligot Bay was looking so normal on this soft late Summer’s morning that it was hard to equate it with all the weird nonsense that had gone on lately.
“I’m glad you suggested coming back here”, said Bardin “Rumble said he wondered if it would make us look cowardly, fleeing the lighthouse area, but frankly, I couldn’t give two shiny shits if it did”.
“There’s nothing cowardly about doing the sensible thing”, said Kieran “Your priority is everyone’s safety, not making some grandstanding gesture. Lonts asked me earlier if I was going to arrange for a tsunami to hit the village ruled by the Clown Demon. I can’t say I’m too pleased with the idea that my answer to everything is to wreck destruction!”
Bardin laughed, but then he sat, reflectively, staring at the wooden boards beneath his feet. Kieran had noticed that Bardin had been doing a lot of this over the past couple of days, since the incident with the Gorgon’s head.
“It’s really rattled you hasn’t it?” said Kieran, taking his hand.
“Well I can’t say the thought of Bengo and I being turned into ornamental garden clowns was a cheering one!” said Bardin “That was too much of a close shave for comfort. People must think that because we’re immortal we’re completely invincible, but it’s not true is it. Plus we can be beheaded as well, like she was. I’m pretty unsettled at the thought that that Thing can run around doing things like that”.
“I once heard of a poor woman who got beheaded by a madman in a shop, back in our time”, said Kieran “She was completely innocent, out minding her own business, and this crazy man appeared with a sword. We all of us hang on a slender thread. We’re not any exception. I wish I could think of an answer to all this at the moment, but I can’t. I can Bless the area, which I’m planning to do later, as well as the hospital, but I can’t think of an answer to him at the moment”.
Harg the Harbour Master came out of his little house, and stood staring out at the ocean, fumbling in his jacket pocket for his matches, with which to light his pipe.
“Now there’s a natural leader”, said Kieran “Why don’t we pop over and have a chat with him?”
Bardin hit it off immediately with Janifer, Harg’s wife. Janifer had also been a refugee from the City, and had been a classical dancer in her younger days. She was delighted for the chance to be able to reminisce with a fellow theatrical. Harg and Kieran left them talking on the bench outside the cottage, and strolled off around the harbour.
“Janifer will like that y’know”, said Harg “I think she misses all that sort of thing more than she lets on. She once suggested starting up ballet classes in the village here, but Josapheen-Jael talked her out of it, said they wouldn’t be any interest. Between you and me, I think she was jealous. She can be a bit controlling on the quiet, that one”.
“Ah the trouble with wannabe amateurs, as Bardin would no doubt say”, said Kieran.
“Are you fellers alright after that nasty incident?” asked Harg.
“It shook Bardin up”.
They stopped and leaned on a metal fence.
“I’ll be straight with you, Kieran”, said Harg “I wasn’t sure I’d be comfortable around you lot when you appeared. I don’t think I’m homophobic at all. I believe in live and let live. But I don’t understand how any man could want to kiss someone with stubble on their face!”
“Oh I find that quite comforting sometimes”, Kieran laughed, thinking of Joby when he needed a shave “Don’t worry about it. We’ve come up against some absolute stinker homophobes in our time. Anything you say won’t shock me”.
“Nah nah, let’s not get off on the wrong foot”, said Harg, tapping his arm “I like you a lot. I’m just being upfront with you. But you lot have stayed together through thick and thin, and that says something”.
“Well I think it helps that we are a lot more to each other than just ship mates”, said Kieran.
“And from what I can gather you’ve done some pretty heavy-duty fighting in your time”, said Harg, impressed “Didn’t you once bite Angel’s ear off?”
“That’s not an incident I’m particularly proud of”, said Kieran “Angel and I have had our moments over the years. I seem to rattle him just by existing. But he’s been surprisingly helpful to us on occasion. It just saddens me that he won’t ever allow Love in his life, but I’ve long since given up any hope of that happening”. “Isn’t there any way you could get him to help in dealing with the Clown Demon?” asked Harg “Send a rat to catch a rat, as it were”.
“It’s an idea”, said Kieran, thoughtfully “I’ve got to think of a way of making it worth his while. Angel doesn’t exactly do favours out of the goodness of his heart. There has to be something in it for him”.
“If anyone can think of something”, said Harg “I’m sure you can”.
That evening was to be the grand unveiling of Adam’s picture of the Saturn Desert in the main bar of the Driftwood. Adam had insisted that Rosa come over to the galleon for a sneak preview, because, as he put it he “didn’t want to give her any nasty surprises”. Fortunately Rosa expressed herself fully satisfied with the picture, and loved the mix of orange and browns in the colours. She said it would help to cheer up the bar on dark and overcast days.
Some of the Indigo-ites went over there in the early evening to help with the grand unveiling. Kieran and Joby took advantage of everybody being distracted to go off up the dirt track which led past the allotments to the foot of the hills. At this time of day the place was deserted. The locals were either having supper, getting ready to go night-fishing, or in the Driftwood.
“He’s there”, said Kieran, pointing to a dark shape which was sitting on a rock outside the entrance to one of the caves which peppered the foot of the hills.
“How do you summon him?” asked Joby “Do you have some kind of dog-whistle the rest of us can’t hear?”
“A sort of psychic dog-whistle”, said Kieran “There’s a telepathy between us, but most of the time I choose not to access it”.
Angel looked better than he had done at times in recent years, in spite of his missing ear. On some occasions he had looked grotesque and decayed, as though someone had dug him out of a grave, but today, although pale, he almost looked like the Angel they had first known at Henang Prison, more years ago than anyone cared to remember.
“Did you have to bring HIM?” Angel snarled.
“I wasn’t gonna let him come on his own!” Joby snapped.
“We haven’t interrupted you from anything important I hope”, said Kieran, with more than a touch of sarcasm in his voice.
“What the fuck are you doing at this end of the earth?” said Angel “It’s miles from anywhere”.
“Compared to many places we’ve been in in recent years”, said Kieran “It’s a heaving metropolis”.
“I did wonder if the demons on the New Continent had got you”, said Angel “It’s over-run with them by all accounts”.
“We got driven back from there”, said Kieran.
“You wouldn’t have liked it anyway”, said Angel “It’s a complete dump these days, makes this continent look almost civilised, and that’s saying something. Particularly the City, after you’d finished with it! Here, let me show you something”.
He led them over to a door-sized entrance in the rocks. Inside was a small cavern. Hanging from some of the rocky walls were what appeared to be decapitated heads.
“What the fuck is this?” Joby exclaimed.
“Don’t fret yourself, they’re not real”, said Angel “They’re wax masks”.
Kieran stopped in front of a woman’s head. The hair was still intact, but the face was that of a skeletan.
“Apparently they did that to show what they did to Gorgons if they found one”, said Angel “Burnt away her face. As you’ve probably noticed, Gorgons stray into the area from time to time”.
“What is this place, Angel?” asked Kieran.
“Once upon a time it was a museum”, said Angel “Years and years ago. To show the dear old history of the area. It was abandoned after a while, couldn’t make it work, after all this area’s not exactly crawling with tourists is it. Plus some of the locals believe these caves are infested with Evil, so I can’t imagine that was good for business”.
“No wonder you seem at home here”, said Joby.
“I can’t believe the locals would do something like that”, said Kieran, still staring at the female skeletan.
“Why not?” said Joby “There’s one locked up under the Old Temple!”
“People are capable of all sorts of things when they’re scared”, said Angel “You two should know that by now. Y’know, this area’s fascinating. All sorts of stuff lurking below the surface. I’ve been having a good old explore. Are you planning on staying here?”
“We haven’t made any plans yet”, said Kieran.
Joby privately thought that they wouldn’t tell Angel if they had.
“Did you see much of the village up the coast on your Good Old Explore?” said Kieran.
“That place is on its last legs”, said Angel “The natives are starving. They don’t seem to have it in ‘em to grow food. Don’t waste your thoughts on them, they’re as thick as shit, and they put all their faith in that stupid minor demon”.
“It’s about him …” Kieran began.
“Yeah I know”, said Angel “You want me to take him out. That’s always the way it is with you isn’t it? Ransey sorts out the flesh-and-blood problems, but you need some little extra help with the other kind”.
“I’m tired of so-called natural disasters, Angel”, said Kieran “Too many innocent people get hurt”.
“There’s nothing innocent about that bunch of cunts!” said Angel “They knew exactly what they were doing when they let that Thing in to take over!”
“Why did they let him in though?” said Joby.
“The story goes”, said Angel “That the locals round here, in Zilligot Bay, wanted to trade with ‘em, after everything went to shit in the rest of the world. Sorta help each other out. That lot weren’t having it. Wanted to hang onto the few bits they did have, and got all sorta proud, and said oh no, we don’t need any help, we can manage perfectly on our own. Except, as I told you, they’re as thick as shit. So now they’re starving”.
“Did the Clown Demon seize his chance with the chaos and move in on them?” said Kieran.
“They regard him as their King y’know”, said Angel “It beggars belief how bloody stupid humans can be at times”.
“Not all of them”, said Kieran.
“I’d happily take the lot of ‘em out”, said Angel “It pisses me off no end when people are that fucking stupid and deluded, they deserve everything they get”.
“No I don’t want that”, said Kieran.
“If you just take him out, they’ll only go back to being miserable and starving”, said Angel “It won’t improve anything for them, I can tell you that”.
“OK, but at least they’ll be back under self-determination”, said Kieran “It’s entirely up to them then what they do with themselves”.
“Fuck all if you ask me”, said Angel.
“We want that Thing, that Clown Demon out of the way”, said Joby “And I don’t care how you do it”.
“You lost your bottle for vanquishing then?” Angel asked Kieran.
“Ach well if you’re going to be like that I might as well do it me focking self!” said Kieran.
“Don’t you fucking dare, I’m doing it!” said Angel “Minor demons irritate me almost as much as minor humans do. They’re scarcely worth the air around ‘em. All they do is keep titting about, and showing up and being a bloody nuisance when I’ve got important things on my hands”.
“I’m not gonna ask what they are!” muttered Joby.
“What are you going to do with him?” said Kieran.
“Lure him to the other side of the Saturn Desert”, said Angel “I don’t know if you’re aware, but there’s a castle beyond the mountains on the far side. It’s infested with cannibalistic devil-worshippers, a bit like your old friend Crowley’s crowd. I’ll dump him in there”.
“How will that work?” said Joby “He’s a minor demon, not an innocent human being!”
“I’ll tear him to pieces”, said Angel “Scatter his bits and pieces all over the castle. They won’t know what’s hit ‘em. Serves ‘em bloody well right. They’re always harping on at me to do things for them. I get really pissed off with it. This will really freak them out”.
“About this castle …” said Kieran.
“Yeah don’t worry about them”, said Angel “They can’t get over the Desert. Some odd quirk about the place, like an electric force-field. They’re only a problem if people go getting too close to ‘em. There’s lots of places like that in the world. There’s another castle up the coast, which just has one woman living in it. I think she’s a witch or something. She was sealed up in there as a punishment. Been there for years. Sometimes I scare the shit out of her by appearing out of dark corners”.
“Everybody gets their kicks in their own ways I spose”, said Joby, glumly.
“The problem with you lot is you worry too much about what everyone else is up to”, said Angel “Most of ‘em aren’t worth it, take my word for it, fuck ‘em!”
“We forgot to ask about the light Shag saw on the horizon”, said Joby, as they walked away from the caves a short while later.
“Joby, I think we’ve got enough information to absorb for the moment”, said Kieran.
“That was almost civilised and sociable for him”, said Joby, in astonishment “I think it’s the first time I’ve ever spoken to him without wanting to bash his brains in”.
“Sadly Angel will always be a monster”, said Kieran “He’s like the Gorgons in that respect. They are at the mercy of how they’re made, they can’t help themselves. Angel’s gone way too far down the path of evil and destruction to ever be bought back. BUT … sometimes he has his uses”.
“All I’m saying is that I’m angry that you just went off like that without telling any of us where you were going!” said Bardin “Jeezus, sometimes I can see why Ransey gets so fed up with you!”
“I didn’t have much time to tell you, Bardin”, said Kieran, as they faced each other across the well-worn carpet of Bardin’s cabin “And if I had it would have caused chaos and confusion. Half of you all would have wanted to come with me, and if that had happened there’d be a very good chance that Angel wouldn’t have turned up at all!”
“Anyway for fuck’s sake, have some faith in Kieran that he can square up to Angel”, said Joby “He’s fought him plenty of times before”.
“Yes Bardy, calm down”, said Bengo.
“So what is His Angelship going to do to sort out the Clown Demon?” asked Bardin.
“Probably best you don’t know”, said Kieran “But I promise you it will get sorted. What happens to the people of the hamlet up the coast after that is frankly their concern”.
“Oh good”, said Bardin “Well I’m glad you’re not planning on going there to vanquish the bloody place or something”.
“Bardin, I think you’re very tired”, said Kieran “And you’ve had a stressful couple of days …”
“Don’t start patronising me”, Bardin snapped “Go to bed”.
“OK”, said Kieran “I’ll see you in the morning”.
“Huh”, said Bardin.
“Bardy”, said Bengo, when Kieran and Joby had gone “You didn’t have to be like that. You could’ve said goodnight to him nicely”.
“I’ll say good morning to him nicely instead”, said Bardin “I might feel more in the mood then”.
“Well it would serve you right if he ignored you”, said Bengo.
“When have you ever known Kieran do that?” said Bardin “He wouldn’t be able to stop teasing long enough! It comes to something when we have to call on the Devil Incarnate for help!”
“Harg had it right”, said Bengo “Send a rat to catch a rat”.
Over the next few days Lonts repeatedly asked when they would know if Angel had sorted out the Clown Demon, and HOW they would know. Adam’s response of “I’ll guess we’ll just have to wait and see, Lo-Lo” was deemed entirely unsatisfactory. But the trouble was, that was all they could do.
Life in Zilligot Bay resumed its normal daily course. The Indigo-ites felt secure at the harbour. They still had plenty of space and privacy, but they didn’t feel vulnerable and exposed as they had increasingly done at the old lighthouse. Things gradually began to feel more relaxed. Bardin even took to appearing on deck in his shorts, on the grounds that a man in shorts was scarcely an astonishing sight in this weather.
Nevertheless Harg the Harbourmaster predicted that the weather might well turn in the next few days, that the worst of the heat, which seemed to have been plaguing them for weeks on end, might slowly ease. As such, Deborah decided she would restart the school, and Jane was called in to give the classroom another quick going-over before the children returned. There was a feeling of the seasons turning, and a new cycle beginning.
Jane was busy mopping the bare wooden floorboards of the classroom, when she noticed a shadow lurking near the main doorway, out of the corner of her eye. The door was propped open with an upturned ceramic flower-pot, and she was aware of someone leaving something on the edge of the doorway and then moving away. Jane propped her mop against one of the desks and walked over to it.
She found a large black canvas sack left abandoned on the edge of the courtyard which served as the children’s playground. She peered up and down the street, to see who could have left it, but there was no one in sight. She went back to the sack and gingerly opened it. She recoiled immediately when she saw what was inside. Grinning up at her was the decapitated head of the Clown Demon.
“What the fuck is it round here with decapitated heads?!” said Joby.
He and Kieran were at the far end of Rosa’s garden. Kieran was sitting, with his back against the sun-baked brick wall.
“Joby, will you stop pacing about”, he said “You’ll wear a hole in the path at this rate!”
Joby sighed with exasperation, ran his hands through his hair, and then sat down next to Kieran.
“Just be still for a moment”, said Kieran, gently “This reminds me of when I came to find you in the City gardens all those years ago. You had a job working there, do you remember?”
“Well back in the early days”, said Joby “I can barely remember it now. It’s funny how memory plays tricks with you as you get older. I can remember stupid little things so clearly, and others have vanished completely into the ether. I must have worked there for quite a while, but I can’t remember much of it at all. I do remember that poky flat we had in the City. You, me, Adam, Hillyard and Lonts. We had that grumpy neighbour who kept complaining about us. Lived permanently in his dressing-gown”.
“He was still there when we came back after Father Gabriel’s reign of terror!” Kieran laughed.
“Daft old sod”, said Joby “He could still be there now for all we know! That wouldn’t surprise me at all. It’s weird. I remember stuff from the very early days we came to this world as clear as a bell. The Loud House, Marlsblad, old Buskin on his rock. And I can remember tonnes of stuff from Toondor Lanpin, and the Bay, and the Big House. But some of the stuff in recent years, from up Snow Lake and all that, I can’t remember much of at all. There’s whole patches of stuff I have amnesia about. I do remember thinking at one point we were never gonna get out of the Enchanted Forest”.
“The human brain can only hold so much”, said Kieran “I can’t remember much of our adventures up at the Yellow Palace, but then again, perhaps that’s just as well”.
Joby could remember clearly what the demons had done to Kieran up there, and agreed, thinking it was best that his old friend had relegated this episode to the dim reaches of his subconscious.
“All I can remember is Bardin getting pushed down a well at one point”, said Joby.
“So he did”, said Kieran “And he was able to use his acrobatic skills to climb his way out! He’s an astonishing feller”.
“I’m glad he’s speaking to you again”.
“Can you seriously imagine Bardin NOT speaking?! Anyway, Bengo would keep giving him an ear-bashing if he didn’t. I think there’s something we’re pretty sure of after all this time, us lot were made to be together”.
“I can’t imagine life without us all together”, said Joby “I don’t WANT to imagine it. How’s Jane anyway? That was a pretty gruesome experience for her”.
“I think once she got over the initial shock she was fine. Doctor Xavier is going to take the air-buggy out and drop the bloody sack into the ocean. He’s said that’s the best way”.
“Why did Angel have to do such a grim grand finale? He’s such a bastard sometimes”.
“That was classic English understatement if ever there was one”, Kieran laughed “We can’t do a deal with the Devil and not expect a macabre prank like that. Considering he once stuffed Tomce’s balls in his mouth, I think we got off lightly”.
“I can understand him doing it to us”, said Joby “But why poor old Jane? Oh you don’t have to answer that. It’s Angel when all’s said and done. He always operated under his own rules”.
“Come on now”, Kieran patted Joby’s knee “Let’s go and have a walk round the harbour”.
Joby put his cap back on, and followed him out of the garden.
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