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Joby felt as though he had barely slept, when he was woken in his bed by Lonts shaking him.
"Bog off Lonts", he said, trying to push him away "What the fuck do you think you're doing?"
"We all have to get up Joby", said the boy "Governor Brinslee's coming to lunch, as a return favour for yesterday, and Kieran wants us all up to greet him".
"I'm sure you can all manage without me", said Joby, burying his face in his pillow.
"You have to be there. Kieran says you're important", said Lonts "And if you don't get up, Adam says he'll come in here and sort you out".
"I'll sort him out before the day's up", said Joby "Alright, I'll be along in a moment".
A large canopy had been set up on the main deck with a long table arranged underneath it. When Joby finally made it there Kieran was admiring Hillyard's mauve silk shirt, which did nothing to improve his temper.
"Brinslee's got Domino with him", said Adam, peering through a small telescope at the approaching launch.
"That's all we need", Joby groaned "The only thing that's fun about having Domino on-board is watching Hillyard trying to fight him off".
"You are all to enjoy this lunch-party", said Kieran.
"Why?" said Joby.
"I just want you to that's all. I'll try and make it as much fun as I can".
"You'll have your work cut out then", Joby grunted.
"Bearing gifts I arrive!" Brinslee announced, stepping a-board and carrying a large basket of strawberries "Fresh from my own kitchen-garden no less".
"Better give them to Joby", Hillyard snorted with laughter "He likes the way they stain your flesh".
"Take no notice", said Kieran to a perplexed Brinslee "They're much appreciated".
Brinslee re-introduced Domino in a cautious way, as though his consort was a firecracker that was about to go off. Domino had suffered from an eating disorder for some years, and now looked almost skeletal. His nerves were likewise as taut as the skin over his bones. He looked deathly pale with it, and was dressed in a baggy cotton suit, adorned with starched ruffles, which seemed to swamp him.
"Kieran, you're so thin", he said, awe-struck "I don't know how you do it".
"Not eating and donating to vampires", said Joby, abruptly.
"Donating to vampires?"
"Just one of Joby's silly jokes", said Kieran, giving Joby a cross look.
"Oh I see", Domino sounded disappointed "I've never seen a vampire. Since I heard that they'd returned I was hoping to put that right".
"What the hell do you want to see one for?" said Hillyard.
"I'm afraid Domino has some highly romantic ideas of what a vampire's like", said Brinslee, apologetically "I keep telling him they're not romantic at all, but he won't have it".
"Nothing in the least romantic", said Kieran "I expect everyone's hungry so we'll get started".
A lunch of prawns, salmon and artichokes was served up, but in spite of the delicious food it was a strained affair. Domino's twitchiness seemed to infect everyone, and Kieran couldn't shake off an innate feeling he had that it was like the last supper.
He had made up his mind to go to the Bone-House later that night. He had learnt from some of the Captain's maps that the island could be reached by a causeway at Deadman's Handshake, a point up beyond the town. This was the only way across, as the sheer rock-faces surrounding the island made it very difficult to moor a boat. At around midnight the tide would be out and the causeway would be exposed. He had not told any of the others, apart from Hillyard, of these plans, as he didn't want to give them a chance to get worried or anxious. He was glad now that he hadn't told them, as the gathering was gloomy enough without it, exacerbated as it was by Domino's presence and several hangovers.
"Would you like another drink Domino?" Kieran asked at one point, hoping to relax him somehow.
"Red wine", said Domino firmly, as though anything else would be poison. The wine was duly poured, but in his haste to drink it he knocked the glass over Joby's plate.
"Think nothing of it", said Joby sarcastically, as Domino flustered with apologies "I love having wine poured over my food!"
After lunch they all went to what was grandly called the Yellow Salon for coffee. None of the crew, including the Captain, joined them there as it was counted as part of Kieran's private suite. The change of surroundings did little to ease the mood. Domino was getting tenser by the moment, and most of the others acted bored.
"This is no good at all", Kieran whispered to Adam, as he poured out the coffee "Too much soft living lately that's the trouble with all of you".
"I don't know why it's bothering you so much", said Adam "It's just another dreary diplomatic lunch that's all".
"But it's not, Adam".
"Why isn't it?"
"You'll find out later".
"What do you mean Patsy?"
"Would you follow me to the ends of the earth?" said Kieran, suddenly "Even if you didn't know what you might find there?"
"I thought I'd already done that", said Adam.
"Would you do it again though?"
"Better than letting you go off without me old love".
"We all truly love each other don't we?"
"Patsy darling boy, you're not making any sense".
"This may be our last dreary diplomatic lunch in a while", Kieran whispered "I'm going to the Bone-House tonight. I'm assuming you'll all come with me, or do you want to stay here and mind Lonts?"
"Whilst you're off fighting the forces of darkness?" said Adam "Not on your life! Anyway, Lonts comes with us too, like he always has done".
"All the family around me", Kieran smiled with relief "God, I love you all! But you all need loosening up a bit. We'll have to play a few games".
"Hadn't we better get the guests off the premises first?"
"We always seem to have got off on the wrong footing on previous visits", said Domino, waylaying Hillyard in the corridor "I've never handled my feelings for you very well".
"You seem to have that trouble with your feelings about everything", said Hillyard.
"I know. It's because of this weight-loss serum I've been injecting myself with, it gives me severe mood-swings".
"Then why do you do it?"
"Because I can't stand the thought of being fat, like Brinslee", said Domino "I don't want to talk about that at the moment. Look, we're two adults, you and I. Can we wipe the slate clean and start again?"
"Yea, if you like", Hillyard shrugged.
"Good, I was hoping you'd say that", Domino blushed to the roots of his glossy hair "I happen to think you're very attractive".
"You're not bad yourself".
"And if I'm very frank then yes, I would like to go to bed with you".
"I'm very flattered", Hillyard picked up Domino's hand and kissed it "Why don't we go to my cabin?"
"What? Now!" Domino looked horrified "Right this minute?"
"Why not? No one'll mind. And it's not as if Brinslee's not used to your ways".
"But why do we have to move so fast?"
"What's the point in hanging around?" said Hillyard.
"I'm a governor's consort!" Domino exclaimed "Not some cheap tart you've just picked up on the quayside. How dare you!"
"Make your mind up".
"How dare you think you can use me this way?"
"You know what your trouble is?" said Hillyard "You don't know what the hell you want! You just thank your lucky stars I'm a reasonable bloke!"
Governor Brinslee was reluctant to leave, particularly as Kieran was evasive about planning their next meeting or social engagement. So much so that he began to think they'd offended the President in some way. Kieran vociferously assured him that this was not the case, and that they'd be in touch very soon. He then herded everyone else back to his stateroom and dolled out liberal quantities of brandy.
"So there we have it", he said, after giving a lengthy speech of explanation about his forthcoming plans "Now I'm putting no one under any pressure to come with me. It's entirely the decision of each and everyone of you. Those that wish to remain can stay on-board here, as the ship will stay anchored here, at least until I return".
"I can understand your wish to get the job over with", said Julian "But wouldn't it be wise to at least wait until you've had another visit from Angel?"
"Angel doesn't exactly keep to a firm schedule", said Kieran "And although he's on our side we mustn't forget that he's still a vampire. All the while this evil is allowed to stay rife in our land, he will carry on killing. We can't afford these deaths. The plague's getting worse in the City, and there's no end in sight. If all of it, plague and vampires alike are allowed to go unchecked, then in a matter of months the world as we know it could be no more. Now, most of us here have faced Caln before. He's not an unknown terror. But he's devious, malicious and sadistic. He has the ability to move supernaturally, he's not mortal, and he has a pathological craving for human flesh. He is a very formidable foe. He also has the power to raise the dead, and we have to be prepared for the possibility that he may even have an Undead army, similar to what Gabriel had. In short, although we know Caln, we don't know what we're going to face at the Bone-House. Any of you who don't wish to go any further with this can leave the room now, and no less will be thought of you for it".
No one moved.
"Trixie?" said Kieran "You're under no obligation to come".
"I can make a worthwhile contribution", said Trixie, haughtily "You forget Kieran, Vanod is behind all this. And he was my consort. So I may be of some use to you".
"Whilst Adam's stupid enough to follow you", said Julian "I follow him. Likewise Finia follows me".
"The domino principle, see?" said Hillyard "The game, not the person".
"And we go there tonight?" said Joby.
"We certainly head out that way".
"I feel like I'm facing me execution".
"You'd better have some more brandy then", said Kieran, picking up a new bottle "Loosen the old nerves. That's very important. We must be relaxed about this".
"Relaxed he says!" Joby exclaimed.
"You suggested playing some games Patsy", said Adam.
"Oh just what we need", said Joby, sarcastically "A nice game of charades to while away the afternoon!"
"Since when have we ever played that?" said Kieran.
"I hope you're not suggesting that one we played at Yule?" said Ransey "The banana down the trousers game? I was having nightmares about that until the middle of February!"
"I was thinking", said Kieran "How about the Spanking Game?"
"The what?" said Joby, incredulously.
"It's been all the rage in the City on the dinner-party circuit the past few months apparently", said Kieran "One person is blindfolded and bends over the back of the chair, whilst everyone else takes turns to give 'em a few smacks, and he has to guess who each one is".
"Sounds like your kind of game Patsy", Adam laughed.
"Not a bad suggestion for you Tinkerbell", said Julian.
"I'd expect that from two public school jerks like you", said Joby.
"What is your grief Joby?" said Adam "It's all good clean fun. No one'll get hurt".
"It's humiliating that's what it is", Joby muttered.
"Cobblers", said Kieran "Everyone has to take turns being It, so what's humiliating? Get another few brandies down you, you'll have the time of your life".
"I wish I had a garden to go and water", said Joby, desperately.
"You don't have to join in", said Julian.
"Oh he will Jules", said Adam "We always get these vehement protestations from Joby when you suggest anything new, and then before you know it you can't tear him away".
"I'll get some matchsticks out to draw lots", said Trixie.
"See!" said Adam "Even Trixie wants to play".
"It's a great leveller game Joby", said Ransey "You get plenty of chances to have a go at anyone who's annoyed you recently".
"Yea, and they get to have a go at me", said Joby.
"Addy", Kieran pulled Adam aside "I don't think wee Lonts should join in. His brain's still stuck in childhood. He sees spanking solely as a form of punishment. It might upset him".
"Yes, you're quite right", said Adam "And I'd find the idea of all of us taking it in turns to whack a retarded boy for pleasure quite grotesque".
Lonts though burst into tears at this news.
"No one lets me play anything", he wailed "I'm not allowed to go out with you, and now I'm not allowed to play the Spanking Game. It's not fair!"
"That's a turn-up for the books", said Adam "Lonts begging to be spanked!"
"Alright", said Kieran, trying to stem Lonts's noisy sobs "You can play. But you're not being It. You won't like it".
"Fucking marvellous", Joby complained "He gets everything his own way".
"I can't wait for when it's your turn Joby", said Adam "I'll probably have to be pulled off you for your own safety".
They drew matchsticks to see who would go first.
"It's me!" said Hillyard, in a mixture of dismay and excitement.
"Someone has to go first", said Kieran.
"Come on", said Julian, plucking at Hillyard's trousers "Let's get these off".
"I hope you're all going to be gentle with me", said Hillyard.
The game took up the greater part of the afternoon. The crew were quite stunned by some of the noises coming from Kieran's stateroom, and by the constant demands for more brandy. The alcohol went in at a constant flow, and the empties were lined up neatly outside his door like milk bottles. At the end of it everyone collapsed in an exhausted heap on the bed, sofa and floor.
"It looks like the aftermath of a Roman orgy in here", said Adam, putting his coffee-pot over the small burner.
"I think you must have the reddest bum of the lot of us", said Kieran, stroking Adam's rear gently "It looks terribly sore darlin'".
"Well that's bloody Julian for you isn't it!" Adam exclaimed "Sadistic bastard. Now you know why he was made head prefect at school. I certainly had no trouble guessing him".
"Hello Julian", said Kieran, as the said man drew near "Just talking about you".
"You have such a bony little arse Tinkerbell", said Julian "I'm surprised there's anything for Adam to get his hands on. I notice you had no trouble recognising him".
"I should think not", said Adam "After all these years".
"You were the most sensual", said Kieran "Although Joby came close. Those firm but gentle gardening hands of his".
"Yes he was pretty good", said Adam "Didn't lay into me, like I thought he was going to".
"Joby wouldn't do that", said Kieran.
"No. Unlike some!" said Adam.
"My hand hurts actually", said Julian.
"Serves you damn well right", said Adam.
"Does Lonts think we've all completely flipped?" said Kieran "He giggled a lot, so I assume he's alright".
"He's fine", said Adam "I could tell when it was him straightaway too".
"Yes", said Julian "Large, clammy hands. Like being smacked with a wet fish".
"I'm glad we didn't use him though", said Kieran "That would've left a bad taste in me mouth I think".
"How the hell do we follow that then?" said Hillyard "We've still got a couple of hours before setting-off time".
"We get some kip", said Kieran "And put together what you want to take with you. But everyone really should get some sleep. It's very important. We leave here at ten o'clock sharp".
"Does the Captain and crew know where we're going?" said Hillyard.
"I just told the Captain that we had an important trip to make", said Kieran "That I had no idea how long we'd be gone, and to just keep the normal maintenance of the ship ticking over here until we got back. To be quite honest with you, I don't think he wanted to know anymore than that".
"That was some party", Joby yawned, as he waded through the bottles and cushions, after everyone had departed to their respective cabins "I don't think I've been to one quite like it before".
"It's what we all needed", said Kieran, pulling back the covers on the bed "Did you enjoy it Jobe? I mean, we didn't force you into it did we?"
"It helped to pass the time", said Joby, climbing into the bed "Not very sexy though. More like the sort of game a rugby club would do. The way you go on about it I was expecting something more steamy, but it wasn't intimate enough for that".
"A bit hard to be intimate when there are nine of you", said Kieran "Anyway it was more a party game than anything. Between two of you though it can be very steamy indeed. Why don't I roll you over and show you?"
"I think my arse has taken enough punishment for one day", Joby laughed "You'll have to give it time to recover. It'll be something for us to look forward to when we've got the Bone-House out of the way".
"Oh don't remind me", Kieran flopped onto his side of the bed "And when that's done I'm abdicating. Seven years is quite long enough to be President, particularly in a crazy world like this".
"Are you serious?" said Joby.
"Don't you want that cottage in the woods?"
"Too true. You and me?" said Joby, eagerly.
"And a fridge for the chocolate ice-cream", said Kieran.
"You could try helping me Lonts", Adam exclaimed, as he stuffed various items of clothing into different bags "It's only a few minutes until ten o'clock, and I haven't sorted your nappies out yet. God knows how many I take with us, as we haven't got a clue how long we're going to be gone for".
"Are you saying I'm just a nuisance to you?" said Lonts, who had been sitting astride the back of a chair and singing in his tuneless fashion.
"No I didn't say that", said Adam "Don't be so touchy. I just find it all a bit bizarre that's all. You never hear of vampire-hunters in books having to worry about packing nappies!"
"Do we have to take any Adam?" said Lonts, climbing off the chair "I hate having to wear them. What if someone outside the family sees me in it?"
"I know it's no fun for you Lonts, but it can't be helped. You have a problem in that area, and that's all there is to it".
"I'll try not to mess myself then".
"We'll take them anyway", said Adam, humouring him "Just as a back-up eh?"
"Joby once said you can't have a consort that wears nappies", said Lonts "So I'm going to try and do without, because I'd be alright as a consort wouldn't I?"
"Sort yourself out a sweater Lonts, it might get chilly out beyond the point at night", said Adam.
"Nearly ready then?" said Kieran, walking into the cabin fully-dressed "You look exhausted Adam, are you sure you're up to this trip?"
"If you think I'm staying behind on this ship", said Adam "Sitting in a bath-chair with a rug tucked around my knees, waiting for you to return, you're mistaken".
"Alright, I was only showing concern".
"Sometimes you're as bad as Julian!" Adam lowered his voice "If I'm a bit haggard it's because Lonts seems to be having one of his turns".
"Impeccable timing", Kieran sighed.
"I don't think he'll be any trouble. He just gabbles a bit that's all. Starts talking a lot of nonsense".
"No wonder he gets on so well with the rest of us", said Kieran "Are you going to be good Lonts?"
"If I was your consort Kieran", said Lonts "You wouldn't mind if I carried on sleeping with Adam would you?"
"We'll discuss that when we return from the Bone-House", said Kieran.
Outside the door Trixie could be heard giving complicated but firm instructions to one of the stewards about the care of his dogs whilst he was away.
"If any of them", he said "Loses a single pound in weight whilst I'm gone ..."
"It'll be a bloody miracle", said Adam.
"I will be very cross", Trixie went on.
"They'll just die of fatty hearts instead", said Kieran "Well as it's nearly time, I suppose I'd better go and sharpen up me wooden stake".
"If only it were that simple", said Adam.
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