By Sarah Hapgood

Chapter 1

They retraced their route back through the bleak northern wastes, expending as little time as possible. It was a sombre journey, the thoughts of the outside world weighing heavily on their minds. Even the forbidding outpost of the Loud House didn’t seem as intimidating this time round. The Indigio-ites in particular could only think of Zilligot Bay, and the need to get back there as soon as possible. Bardin made it perfectly clear that if any of their guests took to hankering after the Weather Rock, he would put them ashore with as little ceremony as possible.

When they reached Henang they did pause briefly, because Doctor Xavier suggested that they could take the air-buggy and fly over the old prison site. Hillyard piloted it, with Adam in the passenger seat, and Kieran and Joby in the back seat.

“Can you remember which was your cell?” Hillyard shouted over his shoulder.

“Yeah, there should be a big X marking the spot”, said Joby, sarcastically.

“There was a balcony from what I recall”, said Kieran.

“Kiel”, said Joby “They ALL had balconies”.

“Oh did they?” said Kieran, innocently “I just remember it being quite handy at times, that’s all”.

“It’s remarkably intact, after all these years”, said Adam, peering down “Apart from some obvious storm damage”.

“It was a prison, it was built to last”, said Joby, grimly.

“If we find your old cell”, said Hillyard “Would you like to look inside it?”

“No I bloody well wouldn’t!” said Joby.

“I don’t know why we take Old Jobe on these little jaunts”, said Hillyard.

“Still, it’s nice to have a little outing with just the 4 of us isn’t it?” said Adam.

“Yeah, revisiting our old prison”, said Joby, as he and Kieran sniggered on the back seat “It’s a real treat, Ad”.

“Oh shut up”, said Adam “Well I’m finding it fascinating even if you’re not”.

“Anyway, Hillyard wasn’t with us in prison”, Joby pointed out.

“If I was I’d have got us busted out in no time”, said Hillyard.

“I’m not sure about that, Hilly”, said Adam “It was pretty secure”.

“Well how did you 3 get out then?” said Hillyard.

“To this day I’m not entirely sure”, said Adam “We sort of woke up one morning and everybody else had disappeared”.

“Apart from Angel”, said Joby “That little scrote was there”.

“And I still don’t understand how we got out of our cell”, Adam continued “Was the door unlocked or something?”

“I think so”, said Kieran “A lot of all that’s still a mystery, even now”.

Hillyard swooped down, until they were closer to the prison rooftops. Clumps of hard snow clung to the decayed red tiles.

“Did you have an exercise yard?” he asked.

“Yeah, it was called the balony”, said Joby.

“Fuck man, that was hard”, said Hillyard “You mean it was just you 3 banged up all alone together in one cell?”

“And a balcony”, said Kieran.

“We have told you all this before, Hillyard”, said Joby.

“Yeah, but I didn’t really take it all in”, said Hillyard “Just that you were in prison”.

“I suppose it’s not a time in our lives we prefer to dwell upon”, said Adam.

“Let’s get back to the galleon”, said Joby “Save the outings for another day”.

“In a nicer place”, said Adam.

Hillyard changed direction and flew over a stairwell which, over the years, had become open to the elements. Seated halfway down was what appeared to be a bundle of rags abandoned on the steps.

“Is that a person down there?” said Hillyard.

“Hillyard, keep moving”, Kieran ordered “Don’t argue with me now, it’s very important”.

Hillyard did as he was bid, and carried on flying back towards the coast.

“What was that all about?” said Joby, when they were out of range of the prison.

“It was a Gorgon”, said Kieran.

“I had a horrible feeling you was going to say that”, said Joby.

“A live one?” said Hillyard.

“Well put it this way, the snakes were still moving on her head”, said Kieran “We had to get out of there before she looked up”.

“Fuck’s sake”, said Joby “It’s amazing, if anything that place has got even worse!”

The journey continued southwards. At nightfall they anchored safely out to sea. In all this time they had kept in relatively constant contact with Glynis and Jane in Zilligot Bay. So far the band they were on had stayed open. It wasn’t all serious talk with them though. Sometimes they sang over the airwaves to them, or Rumble played his banjo. At times like that they interspersed it with small talk.

“What are you fellers having for supper?” asked Jane.

“Noodles and hard boiled eggs”, Rumble dropped his voice “Don’t tell Adam, but we have that A LOT”.

“Love your playing, Rumble”, said Glynis.

“If you’re not careful, I’ll get Shag in here to drum on something”, said Rumble.

This got the women very excited, and before he knew it Shag was being propelled towards the wireless room with his drumsticks. “Why do people get excited by Shag drumming?” said Bardin, in consternation “Julian was the same last Summer”.

“It must be the primitive, animalistic element to it I suppose”, said Adam.

“It’s just Shag drumming”, said Bardin, still not convinced.

Bardin took the decision to sail past the old railway station as rapidly as they could. The memory of what had happened there, with the demonic chanting, was still fresh with most of them.

“At least we know now about the Trinity character”, said Julian, standing up on deck in the chilly sunlight.

“It is unreal to think we lived on the edge of all that”, said Lissa “I always had uneasy feelings about that forest from the moment we first saw it”.

Umbert could be heard picking out a few meloncholy chords on the piano in the dining-room below. It only seemed to add to the sense of emotional desolation which the area produced.

“I still don’t know how Elaine and Nixx managed to live there alone for 7 years”, said Lissa “It must have been like being in solitary confinement”.

“It’s amazing what human beings are capable of when they’re pushed to it”, said Bardin.

Bardin calculated that if they pushed ahead, making full use of daylight hours, then they could be back in Zilligot Bay within a few days. Not far beyond the old railway station, they saw a young woman standing on a small promontory at the edge of the southern portion of the forest. She was tall but seemed young, and was wearing a long brown coat and a matching beret-style hat. She was standing there as if she expected them. She raised her hand as though she was hailing a bus.

“What do we do?” said Rumble, who was up on the poop-deck.

“We’d better see what she wants”, said Bardin.

“Mate, are you sure about that?” said Rumble “This could be a trap. She could be a fucking demon for all we know. They’re crafty little shits. It wouldn’t be the first time we’d been fooled by one”.

“And she could also simply be another refugee, like Elaine or Lissa. Only a handful of us will go ashore”, said Bardin “And we’ll be well-armed, both with guns and crucifixes. I’m sure Kieran will see to that”.

By the time Bardin, Bengo, Kieran, Joby, Hillyard and Ransey had disembarked, there was no sign of the young woman. She had simply turned and walked away, as if heading back into the forest.

“I’m not sure about this”, said Bengo “It feels odd”.

“If I’d known you were going to be such a coward I would have left you on the boat”, said Bardin.

“Oh shut up”, said Bengo “I’m here aren’t I”.

They had all agreed that they would go beyond the edge of the forest. As it turned out there was no need to go any further. In a small clearing beyond the initial row of trees was a large clearing. In it stood a broken-down hut, with an air-buggy parked nearby.

“Interesting”, Bardin mumbled.

The 6 of them cautiously approached the hut. It looked as if it hadn’t been inhabited for quite some time. The small window next to the only door was smothered in cobwebs.

“Hello”, Bardin called out “Is there anyone at home?”

A scared rambling sound came from within the building.

“Sounds like there is”, said Bardin to the others.

They moved up close to the hut.

“We mean no harm”, said Bardin, to the closed door “We just wanted to know if you needed anything”.

“Go away!” came a nerve-wracked male voice “Take the damn air-buggy. Take what you want. Go away!”

“We don’t want your air-buggy”, said Bardin.

“We have one of our own”, said Bengo, cheerfully.

“Look, can we help you in any way?” said Kieran.

There was a sound as though someone was drumming their fists on the back of the door.

“Go away!” he screamed “Please go away!”

The group stepped away so that they could talk out of earshot.

“We’re not going to get anywhere at this rate”, said Bardin.

“He sounds terrified”, said Bengo.

“Mm”, Bardin agreed “I’ve got an idea. Bengo, run back to the galleon and fetch Elaine and Doctor Xavier”.

“OK, but what for?” said Bengo.

“Perhaps he’s a refugee as well”, said Bardin “He certainly sounds scared enough to be one, and the air-buggy is what brought him here. He might respond better to someone else who has been in the same position. The Doc can suss out straight away if he needs medical help, and Elaine … well he might respond better to a woman’s voice as well. Less threatening”.

Whilst they waited for Bengo to return, the others had a look at the air-buggy.

“Seems to be in reasonable nick”, said Hillyard “He landed it carefully. Knows what he’s doing there”.

“Take it!” screamed the voice from inside the hut.

“I’m getting a bit bored with hearing that”, Bardin muttered.

“I don’t think there’s any point replying to him”, said Kieran “Let’s wait for the Doc and Elaine to get here”.

“This is sooo exciting, a new acquaintance”, Elaine gushed, as she skipped across the clearing “Now don’t roll your eyes like that, Bardin. It is!”

“Spare us the fairy dance, Elaine”, said Bardin “Go up to that door, and speak as softly as you can to the nutcase inside”.

“Well I’m not surprised he doesn’t want to come out!” said Elaine “If that’s the way you refer to him!”

“I shall stand at a discreet distance”, said Ransey, pulling out his gun.

“Oh really, is that absolutely necessary?” said Elaine “Bengo tells me the poor creature is scared enough already”.

“Frightened people can do dangerous things”, said Ransey, sternly.

“Oh very well”, Elaine sighed.

She approached the door and put her hands on the wooden surface of it. She leant up close and spoke softly.

“We mean you no harm”, she said “Some of us are refugees from the City. Are you one too? We would like to help you”.

The door was flung open, and an emaciated, half-naked, unshaven man stood there, glaring wildly at them through a fringe of unwashed hair.

“I told you it would work”, said Bardin to the others “Everybody should listen to me all the time”.

“We don’t usually have much choice!” said Bengo.

“Doctor Xavier is a very good friend of mine”, said Elaine, gesturing at the Doctor “He too is a refugee from the City. He can help you if you have any medical problems”.

The man looked Xavier up and down, and then turned back to Elaine. He was visibly trembling all over.

“He’s sweating like mad”, said Joby.

“It’s not the Sweats!” the man shouted “It’s not!”

“He’s not well”, said Xavier “But it’s not the Sweating Sickness. It’s malnourishment and a severe attack of nerves”.

“You can’t possibly stay here”, said Elaine, peering beyond him into the grim confines of the dark hut “We can take care of you on the galleon”.

“The g-galleon?” the man queried.

“Come with us”, Elaine held out her hands.

“So now we have another one”, said Julian, back on the galleon “And this one seems to be diseased”.

“He is not diseased, Julian”, said Adam, with forced patience “His health is just in an atrocious way from all the trials he’s been through. A bit like when we found Moley”.

“Only this one’s even worse”, said Julian “At least Moley was able to articulate properly”.

“I’m not going to waste words on you at the moment”, said Adam “I’m going to make him a hot drink”.

The “new stray”, as Julian called him, had been placed on a camp-bed in the dining-room, propped up by cushions and pillows. If it was at all possible, he looked even more woebegone in this environment than he had at the hut in the woods. Finia was dabbing his face and chest with a damp cloth.

“Don’t all crowd round him like that”, said Adam, coming in with a mug of hot tea “You’ll make him feel like a prize exhibit in a show”.

“His name’s H”, said Finia “That’s all he would tell us”.

“That’s the name I’ve gone by all my life”, said H, his voice still quavering with nerves.

Adam held the cup for him as he drank, as his hands were shaking.

“Y-you can have the air-buggy”, he said.

“Oh don’t start all that again!” said Bardin “You might have noticed, when you came aboard, that we haven’t got room for another one anyway, so you might as well hang onto it”.

“I think he needs food more than anything at the moment”, said Adam “But a lot of food will be too rich for him at this stage. Joby, could you go and make him some dry toast”.

“Yep”, said Joby, leaving the room.

Whilst H took vital nourishment, a meeting was convened in Julian’s cabin, consisting of himself, Bardin, and Kieran.

“Are we absolutely sure he’s clean of this damn Sickness?” said Julian “Now don’t do an Adam and go all tut-tutting on me. It’s very important we get this one right. If we take him back to Zilligot Bay with us, and he’s infected, he could end up passing it on to everybody”.

“Doctor Xavier is convinced he’s clean”, said Kieran “Says his main problem has been living rough, with next to no food. He was practically delirious with hunger when we found him. Even worse than Moley was”.

“And traumatised”, said Bardin “All we can get out of him is that he was persecuted in the hut after dark. Demons swirled round it apparently, screaming at him. It’s left him shellshocked”.

“So why didn’t he get in the air-buggy and leave come daylight?” said Julian.

Bardin shrugged.

“I think he was convinced that by now it would be same everywhere”, he said “And in many places, he’s probably right”.

“What do we know about him?” asked Julian.

“He was one of the Town Guard back in the City”, said Kieran “Part of his duties was to fly over the City and keep an eye on it from the air, hence why he had access to an air-buggy”.

“When things went really tits up, he got into the buggy and left”, Bardin continued “But had no clear idea where he was going. He wound up here”.

“Is he staying with us?” said Julian.

“He’s prepared to come back to Zilligot Bay”, said Kieran “He needs hospital care. He’s not a bad person Julian, just heavily traumatised”.

“So what do we do about this extra air-buggy we seem to have acquired?” said Julian.

“Doctor Xavier reckons a trip back to the Bay could be done in one flight now”, said Bardin “From here. So 4 could go on ahead of us. I suggest the Doc flies H, plus Benjamin, as he’s not exactly in great nick, and Lissa can go with him. That will fill up the buggy”.

“OK”, Julian nodded in agreement “What about you? Any interest in going?”

“The Captain doesn’t leave his ship”, said Bardin, stauchly “So stop winding me up”.

“No I meant will you be following on in our air-buggy, you great nit?” said Julian.

“And as I said, the Captain doesn’t leave his ship”, said Bardin “You can go if you like, get Hillyard to pilot you”.

“No”, said Julian “I’m staying here”.

“There’s one other matter everybody seems to have forgotten”, said Kieran “The young woman who guided us here”.

“Good God yes, who was she?” said Bardin.

“I think we’ve seen her before”, said Kieran “But not for a long time now. She used to occasionally appear to us many years ago. She was seen once in the garden at Midnight Castle, and she spoke to Adam in the hospital when Lonts had his operation”.

“Who is she?” said Julian “You make her sound like a spirit”.

“I think that’s what she is”, said Kieran.

“Is she our guardian angel?” said Bardin.

“Harrumph”, said Julian “So that would account for why she disappears for long stretches of time!”

“Ach it’s not down to her to mollycoddle us”, said Kieran “Anymore than it is for me to wipe out all the Evil in the world, but occasionally things get a helping hand”.

“There’s no time to waste”, said Bardin, getting to his feet “That air-buggy will have to be removed from the clearing in case anything happens tonight. Doctor Xavier is going to have to do some evening flying”.

“Can he?” said Julian.

“I guess we’ll soon find out”, said Bardin, briskly “If they set off within the next hour they should be in Zilligot Bay by late evening. At least it’s going to be clear this evening, there’s no dark clouds”.

“I’ll quickly write a note to Glynis for them to take with them”, said Kieran.

It was a sombre gathering at the foot of the quarterdeck stairs. A spare coat, hat and boots were quickly rustled up for H. Elaine and Lissa hugged each other closely, both in tears at the parting, even though they kept reassuring each other that they were only going to be apart for a few days.

“Where are you landing the air-buggy when you get to the other end?” asked Adam.

“The grounds of my house”, said Doctor Xavier “There’s plenty of room”.

“Of course”, said Adam.

“Are you setting sail first thing in the morning?” said the Doctor.

“At daybreak”, said Bardin “We hope to break any records getting down there, that’s if there are any. We will be in constant contact with Glynis, for as much as we can. If you don’t arrive there when you’re supposed to, she is to let us know. We can fly over the area, and see if there are any problems”.

Dusk was already gathering when a contingent of them accompanied the 4 travellers back over to the forest clearing. The forest had an intense, almost glowing green light to it.

“Poor bastard”, muttered Joby, referring to H “No wonder he nearly went off his nut living here all by himself. There’s something enchanted about this place”.

“The sooner he’s got to the hospital the better”, Kieran replied.

More goodbyes were said at the air-buggy. Whilst these were in process a strange noise was heard coming from some distance away. What at first sounded like a woman singing in a doleful, wordless way, was replaced by a deep growling.

“It’s s-started again”, H stammered, blancing visibly.

“Get going, Xavier”, said Kieran, he patted H on the back “You’ll soon be out of here”.

Bardin and Ransey stayed up late into the night, to wait for the OK message from the air-buggy crew. It came through at 1:45 AM.

“We are here”, said Lissa, over the airwaves “Xavier was worried we were going to fly off course, as there was virtually nothing in the way of markers, but we just kept going in a straight line until we saw the lights of the village beyond the mountains. We are self-quarantining here at his house for the time being, and when it’s clear none of us are showing any symptoms, then we can go for a roam around the village. It might take several days, so we might still all be holed up here when you get back too”.

Chapter 2

The galleon departed at daybreak. They had spent the night slightly out to sea, and in camoflague. That is, lights up on deck were kept to a minimum, with shaded lanterns only, and no lights were to appear below deck, until all curtains and blinds were drawn first. This state of play was to remain in place until they got back to Zilligot Bay. No one was sorry to leave the forest.

“Is Elaine alright?” Adam asked, later that morning “She seems to have lost her usual joie-de-vivre”.

“I think she’s missing Lissa”, said Joby.

“Yes I see”, said Adam “It’s nice that the girls have bonded so well”.

“I think they used to gang up and have a good gossip about us blokes”, said Joby.

“I don’t blame them”, Adam chuckled “Particularly when Julian or Bardin are shouting themselves hoarse all over the place”.

He had barely said this when Bardin came into the room.

“I do wish you wouldn’t suddenly materialise like that”, said Adam.

“Especially when we’ve just been talking about you!” said Joby.

“I have more important things to worry about than kitchen gossip”, said Bardin.

“Ooh get you”, said Adam “As soon as we’ve offloaded all the rest of our guests you’re going to get a bloody good spanking. It’s long overdue”.

“You’ll have opportunities”, said Bardin “I think we should self-quarantine too, when we get back to the Bay. We can drop Elaine, Nixx and Moley at the Doctor’s house, and then remove ourselves out to sea for a few days. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to smack me there”.

“And don’t worry I will!” said Adam.

“No need to go out to sea”, said Joby “Why don’t we just stay at the old lighthouse?”

“Well as long as we don’t have to use that wretched stove there”, said Adam.

To the astonishment of just about everybody, the sea was remarkably tranquil that day. Waves gently kissed the deserted sea shores. In normal circumstances it would have been nice to have moored for a while, but there was no knowing what horrors may lurk in the trees which hugged the coastline. Even without that though, Bardin’s determination to reach Zilligot Bay kept them pressing forwards.

At one point they had an anxious message from Glynis over the airwaves.

“There was an emergency meeting at The Driftwood last night”, she said “And there was talk about sealing off the town to outsiders for the duration of this damn Sickness”.

“How are they gonna do that?” said Joby, who was the one chatting to her.

“Stop any boats mooring here”, said Glynis “Not that we ever do get any, and put blocks on the mountain passes. It’s crazy, utterly absurd. They have agreed to hold off until you guys get here with the others, because we’ve told them that your visitors will be put into strict quarantine at Doctor Xavier’s house”.

“Makes it sound like there’s not gonna be a welcoming committee for us”, said Joby.

“I think they’re being very unreasonable”, said Glynis “But they’re scared I suppose. I’ve told them you’re unlikely to do anything rash”.

“We were thinking of going into quarantine at the old lighthouse”, said Joby “If that’s too close for them, then I spose we’ll just have to sit out at sea. I take it they can’t stop us from doing that?”

“Of course they can’t”, said Glynis “And I shall make my feelings perfectly clear to them on this subject”.

“Well don’t go getting yourself exiled on our account”, said Joby.

“They wouldn’t DARE do that”, said Glynis “I’m a professional nurse, and they can’t afford to go alienating me!”

As they left the forest area behind the weather took a turn for the worse. Storms came in and buffeted the galleon, with rain lashing down on them. Hillyard was constantly checking the boat for leaks.

“I spose we have been quite lucky so far”, said Joby, gloomily “But it was bound to end some time”.

“That’s our Joby”, said Adam “Always looking for the silver lining!”

“It won’t be me bellyaching about that blasted stove when we reach the old lighthouse!” said Joby.

“It will be if you have to use it!” said Adam.

“We can’t be far off that little island we stayed at when we first set off last Autumn”, said Bengo “It was so sunny there”.

“That’s a point”, said Joby “If the villagers get arsey about us quarantining anywhere near them, we could go back there. It’ll do for a couple of weeks”.

“Oh now that is tempting”, said Adam “Would Bardin agree to it?”

“Of course he will”, said Bengo “And if he doesn’t, we’ll make him!”

“Why would they get shitty about us arriving in the town?” Hoowie was asking, chatting to Bardin and Hillyard at the foot of the quarterdeck steps.

“Probably because they know we’ll have YOU on board”, said Bardin.

“Oh yeah very funny”, said Hoowie “You still haven’t answered my question”.

“Don’t be such an entitled little brat”, said Bardin “I’m sure the heads need cleaning again”.

“They might think we’re carrying the Sickness”, said Hillyard.

“But we haven’t seen anybody!” said Hoowie “Except H, and he’s already there”.

“I suppose we could’ve picked it up from somewhere”, said Bardin “Residue left behind and all that. I don’t care, I’m quite looking forward to being quarantined, provided we’re left alone”.

Bardin was clearly now in one of his Grimly Focussed phases, as if the galleon was a horse and he was urging it to go ever faster. Adam branded such turns “exhausting”, and it did start to seem as though Bardin was not going to accept anyone being lacklustre in any department. At one point he told off Elaine for looking like “a wilted pot-plant”. Normally Elaine was able to cope with most of Bardin’s abrasiveness, as she regarded him as an aggressive stage-director, but on this occasion it all got too much, and she emotionally retreated down into the hold to help Ransey with his inventory.

“All I said was she was starting to act like a right droopy-drawers”, said Bardin, shuffling his pile of maps on the dining-room table “And that is NOT helpful. I don’t know what’s come over her. If she carries on like this, I’ll ask Hillyard to fly the spare air-buggy on ahead, and take her and Nixx with him”.

“No one is flying anywhere whilst this storm is in progress”, said Julian, sharply “So get that idea out of your head at once”. “There’s no point flying on ahead anyway, Bardy”, said Bengo, who was bringing out another plate of rock cakes “We’ll probably be in Zilligot Bay in a couple of days”.

“If it’s of any interest, I think I know what part of the problem may be with Elaine”, said Kieran, coming into the room “It’s lack of sleep. Since Lissa and Benjamin departed, she’s been on her own in our cabin, and she’s not liking it. I think it’s reminding her of her old room at the station. She’s getting claustrophobic and creeped out, and is lying awake most of the night, tense”.

“Get Adam to sleep on the sofa in there”, said Julian, taking a rock cake “He’ll love nannying her all night”.

“For God’s sake, don’t tell him that!” said Bardin.

“I’ve got a better idea”, said Kieran “How about she sleeps on the sofa in your cabin, Bardin? It’ll only be until we get to the Bay”.

“Fine”, Bardin shrugged “Suits me. Especially if it stops her wilting all over the place”.

“It’s ridiculous I know”, said Elaine “Nixx and I spent 7 years all by ourselves at that damn station, and we survived it, but I’ve grown used to having company around me all the time”.

It was mid-evening. She was lying on the sofa in Bardin and Bengo’s cabin, wearing Benjamin’s spare pyjama jacket, which he had left behind.

“I don’t think I’ve ever slept by myself”, said Bengo, sitting cross-legged on the carpet beside her “When we were kids Bardy was always there, and then on the tug-boat, when I first joined the others, everything was a bit too cosy for anyone to sleep alone! I would hate to be in a cabin all by myself”.

“This is much cosier”, Elaine smiled “This is a very nice cabin”.

“Toppy keeps it tidy”, said Bengo.

“That sounds like a stage farce”, said Elaine “Toppy Keeps It Tidy!”

Bardin bustled into the room, carrying a ball of string, and with an old dog blanket slung over his shoulder. Without saying a word to the others, he put the blanket down on a chair, and then proceeded to tie one end of the string to a handle on the chest of drawers.

“What ARE you doing?” Bengo exclaimed, after watching this little procedure in silence.

“I’m rigging up a screen”, said Bardin “So that Elaine doesn’t have to watch us in a state of undress”.

“Oh I don’t mind”, said Elaine “But I must warn you, if it’s so that you can have some privacy for a bit of rumpy-pumpy, I doubt the blanket will be soundproofed!”

“Don’t be such a nit, Bardin!” said Bengo, fiercely “The bloody thing will either keep falling down, or one of us will walk into it in the middle of the night when we’re desperate for a pee. Ransey would probably call it a health and safety issue”.

He leapt to his feet, and wrestled the ball of string from Bardin, untying it from the drawer-handle.

“I’m taking this back to the cupboard in the galley”, he said “That’s where you got it from isn’t it? Well you’d better just hope Adam doesn’t find out, he can get really arsey if anyone takes anything from the galley without him knowing”.

“Yes alright!” Bardin snapped “I was just trying to be helpful, that’s all”.

“Well don’t be!” said Bengo.

“Are you comfy there?” said Bardin, looking down at Elaine.

“Very”, said Elaine “I love it in here. It’ll almost be a shame to get to the Bay”.

“You’ll be alright”, said Bardin “You’ll be reunited with your bosom pal Doctor Xavier”.

“I know some of you have been making jokes about us”, said Elaine, sadly “But we really are just good friends. I felt sorry for him for losing his wife, that’s all. He seemed so sad and withdrawn when we first met”.

“I was just teasing”, said Bardin, more gently.

Bengo came back into the room.

“I think Elaine’s going to enjoy herself in Zilligot Bay”, said Bardin “As long as the villagers aren’t too bloody paranoid about this damn Sickness”.

“You’ll get on like a house on fire with Glynis and Jane”, said Bengo to Elaine “And Woolly will go potty about you. He loves the company of pretty women, even though he’s as bent as a corkscrew”.

Elaine slept much better that night. She awoke about 8 o’clock the following morning to find one of the dogs licking her hand. Elaine smiled and ruffled his fur.

“Oh you cute thing”, she said “Are you immortal too? Like they are?”

The Indigo-ites’ immortality intrigued her, not just for the nature of it, but because they never referred to it. She had once had a conversation with Lissa about it, back on the Weather Rock.

“I guess most of us would be freaked out by the idea of immortality”, Lissa had said “Because we would hate to outlive our loved ones, but they don’t have that problem”.

“It’s a good job they all get on with each other”, Elaine had replied “In spite of all the bickering. I can’t imagine there would be anything worse than spending Eternity with people you couldn’t stand!”

Elaine continued making a fuss of the dog, and listening to the noises of the ship going on around her. There was the usual jumble of men’s voices, Adam raking the stove in the galley, and someone scraping toast. Although she was keen to be reunited with the others at Doctor Xavier’s house, and to see what Zilligot Bay was like, she was also reluctant for this voyage to end. In spite of the storms, and the hostile parts of the mainland, there was something restful about being at sea. As if one had been removed from Life for a time, and swept up into a congenial bubble. She wasn’t sure she was in a hurry for it to end.

“Being faced with a whole new load of people to meet would never have fazed me at all in the past”, she said, speaking to Ransey and Hillyard up on the poop-deck a couple of hours later “Well I was in showbusiness after all, but now, after years of living outside of society I’m not sure I can cope with it”.

“I don’t think there is such a thing as Society anymore”, said Ransey.

“On this voyage I’ve got used to being in this bubble”, said Elaine “It reminds me of when I had to go into the City Hospital once for an emergency appendectomy. I was lucky enough to get my own little room. I could hear all the bustle of the hospital going on around me, but at the same time I was safely cocooned. Being in Bengo and Bardin’s cabin has reminded me of that. I guess I’m not ready to swap it for facing a whole load of hostile strangers”.

“You won’t have to”, said Ransey “You’ll be at the Doctor’s house for a while”.

“So swapping a bubble on sea for a bubble on land”, said Hillyard.

“Take each day as it comes”, said Ransey “That’s all any of us can do at the moment”.

Elaine gave a weak smile. The ship was still bucking a bit, but the rain had stopped.

“I’ll go below deck”, she said “I promised Umbert I’d rehearse a new song he’s written”.

She went down the steps to the main deck, where Rumble was sitting on the coil of rope, smoking a roll-up cigarette. Elaine trod cautiously around the side of the air-buggy, parked on the deck, putting her hands against its side for support. Suddenly it was as if a wall of water had come flying over the side of the boat. Elaine felt herself caught up in it. It was as if something huge and invisible had taken hold of her legs and was dragging her to the side.

“Elly!” Rumble shouted, tossing his cigarette over the side.

He lunged at her, and seized her round the torso. He dragged her slowly back, as the wave receeded. Ransey and Hillyard raced down to join them. They managed to get Elaine to the back of the deck, with the air-buggy in between them and the side, like a barrier. Elaine was gasping for breath, in the throes of a panic-attack. Hillyard propped her up, and stuck her head between her knees, until she had calmed down.

“Fucking hell”, said Hillyard “That was some wave”.

“Freak waves can happen”, said Ransey “We’re lucky we haven’t had any on this trip so far”.

“Are you OK now?” Rumble asked Elaine, who gulped and nodded her head in reply.

“You’d better get below and get dried off”, said Ransey “And get into some warm clothes”.

“I know Ransey was right about the freak waves”, said Elaine, sitting on the sofa in Kieran and Joby’s cabin. She had changed her clothes and towel-dryed her hair. “But I feel there was something else at play there. It really did feel as if someone had grabbed hold of my legs and was pulling me to the side of the boat”.

“Get this down you”, said Kieran, handing her a mug containing whisky from what the others called his Magic Bottle “You’ve had a nasty shock. That will help with it”.

“You do believe me don’t you?” she said, after taking a gulp of the fiery liquid “I know everyone will say I’ve got an over-active imagination, but that really was what it felt like”.

“I’m just glad Rumble was there to grab you”, said Kieran “I don’t know if this is any help at all, but this Sickness isn’t just a physical threat to us all, it’s a spiritual threat as well. I can’t help feeling it’s the last thing to be flung at us in this spiritual war we’ve all been engaged in for some years now. It’s the last thing, and the most serious, because there is nothing people fear more than Death itself. Even a friendly community like Zilligot Bay can turn into cold, distrusting paranoiacs at a time like this”.

“So I am right to be concerned about that?” said Elaine “The others just seem to brush it aside when I raise it”.

“They don’t want to worry you, that’s all”, said Kieran “But I think going into self-quarantine for a few weeks will help you enormously. It’ll give you time to acclimatise for a start, and also it gives them time to realise you’re not some lethal danger from Outside. The fact that you are good friends with Doctor Xavier should help a lot. They will be relieved to see him back. They might be counting on his help at the hospital”.

“Thank you for not brushing it aside”, said Elaine “If there are problems I need to prepare myself”.

“Now, the important thing at the moment is your spiritual protection”, said Kieran, getting up and crossing to the table “You’ve had a nasty shock, and it is a stark fact that Evil feeds on fear, every bit like a vampire feeds on blood”.

He opened a drawer, and pulled out a crucifix on a rope of black beads.

“I’ve collected a few of these over the years”, he said, handing it to her “From various ports around the world, and it’s handy to be able to hand one out when needed. Please wear this, at least until we get back to the Bay”.

Elaine held it up so that the cross was resting against her forehead.

“Do I look like a religious painting?” she said.

“A total vision”, Kieran smiled.

“She seems to have developed some form of social anxiety”, Adam was talking in a low voice to Joby in the galley “It’s come on since we left the Weather Rock”.

“She had her own little community there I spose”, said Joby “And now she’s gotta face starting all over again”.

“But Lissa and the Doctor will be there”, said Adam “And Glynis, Jane and Woolly will love her, I’m sure of that”.

“I spect she’ll be alright”, said Joby “But 7 years in that old station would be enough to damage anybody”.

“But I would like to do night-duty”, Elaine could be heard saying from out in the corridor.

She was standing at the foot of the quarterdeck steps, talking to Hillyard. He was carrying a pair of shuttered lanterns, preparatory to going up on deck.

“It’s like falling off a bicyle and getting back on”, Elaine continued.

“You can do day-watch, it’ll be just as effective”, said Hillyard “Y’see, Lonts has volunteered to help with the night-watch, so that’s that”.

“And it’ll take a bloody big wave to wash HIM overboard!” Joby shouted.

“Joby really …” said Adam.

“I’d better crack on”, said Hillyard, preparing to go up the steps “If one of us gets too tired, we’ll come and give you a call, OK?”

Elaine mooched in a disconsolate fashion over to the galley.

“And I braided my hair especially”, she said, touching a pair of long plaits “To stop the wind from blowing it about”.

“You look very pretty, old love”, said Adam.

“Like something out of Heidi”, said Joby.

“Now why don’t you go and rehearse the new song with Umbert?” said Adam, like a gently bossing nanny.

Elaine nodded her head and wandered over to the dining-room.

“Good job Julian didn’t hear you talking like that”, said Joby “He’d never let you live it down!”

Adam swiped him on the behind.

Chapter 3

They left the forest behind, and were now sailing into more familiar waters. It was the beginning of what they thought of as Zilligot Bay Territory, which admittedly was a vast area, stretching from the Horn of Wonder, to the Bay itself, to the Saturn Desert, and the mountains beyond. As they sailed down the coastline they came to the hamlet which had come under the sway of the Clown Demon the year before. They saw dead bodies randomly scattered along the beach.

“They must have collapsed and died instantly”, said Bardin, looking through the binoculars.

“What do we do, Bard?” said Hillyard, having nightmarish memories of when they had had to clear up the bodies on the New Continent.

“Keep going”, Bardin muttered “If we go ashore and start bustling around, we could pick up any lingering infection still on them, and then we’ll be passing it to Nixx, Elaine and Moley, let alone everybody back in town”.

“We had to quarantine ourselves for months after the New Continent job”, said Hoowie “At that gloomy old house on the coast”.

“There’s nothing we can do here”, said Bardin “On on, keep moving on”.

Although they cheered when they saw the Old Lighthouse in the distance, it was still a gloomy homecoming at the Bay. The village had a shuttered, gloomy feel to it, not helped by the dark clouds overhead. The galleon sailed along the coast until it reached the harbour and beyond.

“Where is everybody?” said Lonts.

“Well I wasn’t expecting red carpet treatment”, said Joby “But this is starting to make me feel like I’m on a plague ship!”

“Don’t take it personally”, said Bardin “For all we know they might be like this all the time these days”.

“This is gonna be a jolly old riot isn’t it?” said Rumble.

“We’re not stopping here”, said Bardin “Once we’ve unloaded our guests, we’ll head back to the Old Lighthouse, and if that still makes us feel unwelcome, we’ll got to the island we visited last year”.

Beyond the harbour were the cliffs that signalled the beginning of the dreaded Horn of Wonder. A steep flight of stone steps were cut into a hillside, which led up to the grounds of Doctor Xavier’s house. The Indigo-ites had been in contact with the Doctor’s house over the wireless, and said they would anchor at the foot of the steps until someone came to collect their passengers.

They were only there for about 20 minutes, before the tall, lanky figure of the Doctor appeared on the headland, flanked by Lissa, and H, looking tidier, but squinting over at them as if he’d just emerged from a prolongued spell under a rock. Lissa galloped ahead, running down the steps at a reckless speed. Elaine, standing on the main deck, squealed and waved her arms in the air.

“Oh my word, it’s so good to see you all again”, said Lissa, shaking hands and hugging everybody like a politician at an election rally.

“It’s not been that long”, Hillyard teased.

“Maybe not”, said Lissa “But it damn well feels like it, we’ve all been worried about you so much. We thought something might happen to distract you, or make you lose your way”.

“Nope”, said Hillyard “Bardin was pretty determind to get us here, and that he did”.

“Will you stay here now?” said Lissa “Right here I mean, in this position?”

“Well we hadn’t thought of that”, said Bengo “We know we’re probably not going to be popular in the town, so we thought we’d head back to the Old Lighthouse, or to a small island out in the ocean”.

“WHAT?!” Lissa exclaimed “What on earth do you want to go all the way out there for? Why don’t you stay here at the bottom of the steps?”

“You can get into my garden from here”, said Xavier “Without having to go into the town at all”.

“We can try it and see how it turns out”, said Bardin “If the townspeople start acting as if we’ve got rabies though, we might have to move on”.

A short while later Adam went back below deck, and found Joby sitting at the table in the galley, his hair mushed up, from where he had been wearily running his hands through it.

“I’ll make us some tea”, said Joby, gruffly.

“No sit there, I’ll do it”, said Adam, picking up the kettle.

“Have our guests departed?” asked Joby.

“Yes”, said Adam “I know Bardin’s worried that we might end up getting run out of here, but I think if we sit it out quietly, I don’t see what the villagers have got to get uptight about. It’s not as if we’re going to be roaming far and wide”.

“How long are we quarantined for?”

“A couple of weeks minimum”, said Adam “I don’t believe for one minute that we are infected or carriers, this is all entirely a public relations exercise”.

“The one thing that I thought would make quarantine bearable was a lot of privacy”, said Joby “But it looks as if we won’t even get that!”

“Yes we will”, said Adam “Those cliff steps aren’t exactly a quick hop down to get to us, and we will have a permanent watch night and day”.

“What’s happening with the air-buggy on deck?” said Joby “I know it’s nice and convenient to have it, but it don’t half get in the way”.

“Hillyard’s going to fly it back up to Xavier’s garden tomorrow”, said Adam “To join the other one, he’s going to look like he has his own little mini airport soon”.

He went over to a cupboard, and scanned its contents.

“What are you looking for?” said Joby.

“The cooking brandy has given me an idea”, said Adam “I think, now we’ve come home so to speak, that we need to resurrect the Spanking Bardin Club”.

“That’s the best news I’ve heard all day”, said Joby “Probably all month”.

“You, me, and Bengo”, said Adam “In here, after supper tomorrow night, we’ll get the brandy out”.

“Bardin’s gonna need it!”

“We’ll have our own private little session, just the 3 of us, like we used to”, said Adam “Spanking by the light of the stove”.

“In here, all cosy”, said Joby “But why have we got to wait until tomorrow night?”

“We need a whole day here to see how the land lies”, said Adam “There’s no point in organising treats if we find we have to suddenly sail out of town quickly”. *

“Adam was saying you’re getting your own airport here”, said Hillyard, after landing the air-buggy on the big patch of scrubland at the back of Dr Xavier’s house.

“Both air-buggies are still yours”, said the Doctor “You can use them any time you want, just think of this as their parking space”.

“Hillyard!” came a shout from nearby.

Hillyard strolled over to the front of the house, and saw Glynis, Jane and Woolly standing at the big closed, ironwork gates which led out into one of the town streets.

“About time you 3 showed up!” Hillyard whooped with delight.

“You’d better not come any nearer, darling”, said Glynis “Apparently we have to keep 2 metres between us”.

“And it’s a real bore as we want to give you a hug”, said Jane.

On hearing the voices Bengo had run round the side of the house. Hillyard had to stop him from running up to the gates.

“Oh for God’s sake!” said Bengo, crossly.

“It’s just for a few days”, said Hillyard.

“How are you all?” Glynis shouted.

“We’re OK”, said Hillyard “We’re supposed to be staying moored at the bottom of the cliff-steps for the time being, but I’m not sure it’s going to work to be honest. It doesn’t give us any space to exercise the horses, and they need it poor things, whereas the area at the Old Lighthouse would”.

“Well can’t you take one of the air-buggies with you to the lighthouse?” said Glynis “And use it to fly back and forth to here? Then you can fly over the town, and not bother with them”.

“Hey that’s an idea”, said Hillyard.

Bengo nodded enthusiastically.

“Did you hear that, Bardin?” Hillyard shouted, as Bardin hove into view round the side of the house.

“Yes”, Bardin replied “We’ll do that this afternoon”.

“Hey Bardin!” Glynis, Jane and Woolly shouted from the gates.

“Grand work getting everyone back here, Bardin”, Jane continued.

Bardin gave a gracious bow in reply, but he was feeling too knackered to go into any semblance of exuberant greeting. The joyful whooping didn’t show any sign of calming down, so he made his excuses and went to talk to Lissa, who was standing at the back of the house, gazing out over the scrubland towards the cliff edge.

“Have you noticed anything odd out here?” asked Bardin.

“Because of all the strange tales there are about the Horn area?” said Lissa “Doctor Xavier has told us that it has always had a legendary aura about it. I haven’t seen anything myself, but I guess I haven’t been here for very long. I will tell you if I do”.

“I would appreciate that”, said Bardin.

Bardin felt even more exhausted when he got back down to the ship. He took off his outdoor gear and lay down on his bunk. He dozed for the next couple of hours, being only vaguely aware of the ship raising anchor to move to the Old Lighthouse at one point.

“I think we should hold off on re-inaugurating the Spanking Bardin Club for another night or two”, Adam was saying in the galley.

“Oh but I think he’d like to do it”, said Bengo.

“I know, old love”, said Adam “But it doesn’t feel right at the moment, he seems exhausted, and I don’t see anything fun about thrashing a tired man. That OK with you, Joby?”

“Yeah, whenever”, Joby shrugged “I’m hoping now we’re back here at the Old Lighthouse that we’ll have limitless time at our disposal. That would be nice”.

“I think he did find the others at the gate a bit too much to cope with”, said Bengo “I hadn’t quite appreciated how tired he was until that point”.

“So we’ll see how things are tomorrow”, said Adam.

“I heard one bit of interesting news whilst I was up at the house”, said Joby “Lissa’s planning on taking flying lessons from Doctor Xavier!”

“She’s a game girl isn’t she?” said Adam.

“So this Thing has got some way to run yet?” said Bardin, sitting on the sofa in his cabin with Kieran “I suppose there was a small glimmer in my heart that it would be a short and sharp thing”.

“My gut feeling is we’re talking a few months”, said Kieran.

“Oh hell!” said Bardin “The damage it can do in that time!”

“The best thing anyone can do is to quarantine themselves”, said Kieran “It deprives this Trinity creature of sustenance, and that’s our only way of destroying her. She would eventually starve through lack of nourishment. If people DON’T take precautions, and unwittingly make themselves available to her, then she will keep strengthening and going in search of fresh victims. A lack of victims will make her weaker and weaker”.

“Somehow we need to get that message out to the world at large”, said Bardin “Without putting anyone at risk in the town here”.

“Ransey and I can work out a way of doing some broadcasts on a public airwave”, said Kieran “Although we will have to be cautious. As you said, we can’t risk exposing people around here. I’m hoping though that self-quarantining should be a matter of commonsense”.

“Unfortunately not everybody has it”, said Bardin, dryly “Some will refuse to believe any of it is real, and carry on as if nothing was happening”, he gave a sigh “So anyway, the villagers here are right to be wary of us”.

“Yes”, said Kieran “I don’t believe any of us are carrying this disease, but they are right to be cautious. And if they can carry on being cautious and STILL don’t want anything to do with us, then we shall just stay here for the time being. Enjoy the privacy we’ve been longing for for months now”.

“That would certainly make being quarantined worthwhile”, said Bardin.

“Ach”, Kieran laughed “You need a good spanking, Bardin!”

“I’m hoping I’ll get my bum smacked later”, said Bardin “Paddle, hairbrush, bare hand, all three if necessary, I can’t wait! I can’t remember the last time I was put across his knee, probably back at the Weather Rock”.

There was a droning noise outside.

“There’s Hillyard with the air-buggy”, said Kieran. *

Hillyard had stayed behind at Doctor Xavier’s house, when the galleon had set sail for the Old Lighthouse, so that he could fly the air-buggy over in due course. Kieran and Bardin ran up the steps to the main deck. When the buggy was safely landed, they went ashore.

“Isn’t she brilliant!” Hillyard enthused, opening the pilot’s door and leaning out “How can he be so keen to give this away?!”

“He has his reasons”, said Kieran “Anyway, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”.

“I’m going to give it a thorough deep clean over the next couple of days”, said Hillyard.

Bardin leaned in and inspected the interior.

“It looks alright to me”, he said.

“Nah”, said Hillyard “These things need constant love and attention”.

“Sounds like she’s going to get it”, said Kieran.

“Did you see anyone about in the town when you flew over?” asked Bardin.

“Hardly anybody”, said Hillyard “Not even down by the harbour. It felt like a ghost town. Lissa tells me the school has been closed for the duration of this thing”.

“Probably sensible”, said Kieran “But I fear they’re in for a long haul. I’ve just been telling Bardin that it could take months until we’re out of the woods, and this Thing is defeated”.

“That takes us up to the Summer”, said Hillyard “I don’t see why we can’t have some little jaunts out in this thing. Fly up over the desert like we did before. What d’ya think?”

“It’d probably be a sensible idea to keep an eye on the whole area”, Kieran agreed.

The Spanking Bardin Club was reopened at 8 o’clock that evening, after supper. Adam, Joby and Bengo left the others to their own activities in the dining-room and the big Saloon, and took themselves back to the galley.

“Now are you sure he’s up to this, Bengo?” said Adam, in a low voice.

“Oh don’t start all that again!” said Joby “He’s fine, he could barely contain himself all through dinner”.

“He’s been going through his knickers drawer this afternoon”, said Bengo “Presumably trying to decide which ones have got the most starch in them. If you postpone it again, Adam, he’ll probably go off like a volcano”.

“Fair enough”, said Adam.

“When do we get stuck into the cooking-brandy?” said Joby, looking at the 4 brightly polished glasses neatly arranged on the galley table.

“Afterwards”, said Adam “Important things first”.

Bardin sidled into the room, still fully dressed. He knew that Bengo always enjoyed taking his trousers down. They all exchanged kisses of almost formal greeting, like a secret signal.

“Bolt the door, Bengo”, said Adam. Bengo willingly did so.

“I think we can safely say”, Adam continued “That once Bardin’s chastisement has taken place, then we are completely in quarantine”.

He took a handkerchief, screwed it up, and stuffed it into Bardin’s mouth. Bengo knelt down and unbuttoned Bardin’s trousers, sliding them down his legs. Bardin already had an erection sticking out of the front of his shorts.

“He’s gonna go off like a rocket, any moment”, said Joby.

Adam decided not to waste any more time, and put Bardin across his knee near the stove. He took up a paddle and whacked him soundly across his starched posterior. Bardin gave a moan. Adam delivered a few more solid whacks, then stuck the paddle between his teeth, and continued spanking him by hand. Bardin tried to hold the ejaculation in for as long as he could, but it wasn’t long before he conceeded defeat, and felt the whole glorious mess seeping out of him. Bardin lay spent and panting across his lap.

“That was worth waiting for”, Joby whispered.

“Ooh, it’s so nice to have you all to ourselves again”, said Bengo, ruffling Bardin’s hair “Our little poppet and spanking-slave”.

“We won’t always be able to keep him to ourselves, loves”, said Adam, caressing Bardin’s behind “I shall have to do the occasional public spanking too, or the others might feel left out. But mainly, he is all ours”.

“Damnit”, Bardin spat out the handkerchief “I wanted it to go on much longer than that”.

“Entitlement”, said Joby.

“Bear in mind Joby, we haven’t tamed him for ages”, said Adam “He has gone unspanked for a long time. We have our work cut out, but we will make up for lost time”.

He roughly pushed Bardin to the floor, and Bengo helped him to his feet.

“This is gonna be like our sanctuary on Peat Bog Island all over again”, said Joby, approvingly.

Bardin adjusted his shorts, satisfyingly aware of the damn patch at the front.

“That was still too short”, he said, rubbing his behind.

“Now I know you’re deliberately winding me up”, said Adam “Be careful what you wish for, I’m going to come to your cabin after lunch tomorrow and take the hairbrush to you”.

“That can be a private one for Bengo”, said Joby “It’s nice to have these little variations sometimes”.

“I think we should have little meetings”, said Bengo “And do a schedule”.

“YOU?” said Bardin “Organise a meeting?!”

“Well Adam will probably organise it”, said Bengo.

“That’s quite enough lip, Bardin”, said Adam “That will go down in the minutes of our first meeting that you got lippy with Bengo, and we will have to devise a further punishment”.

“I can’t wait for this”, Joby laughed “It’s gonna be a riot!”

“I will still appear tomorrow afternoon”, said Adam “And wallop him in front of Bengo, we’ll see how long it takes him to stop getting lippy”.

“Probably forever”, said Bengo.

“Then it will take forever”, said Adam.

“Let’s have that brandy now”, said Joby.

Although Bardin was sore from his chastisement the following day, he still found himself almost in a permanent state of arousal. The spanking the previous evening had done more than unleash some sperm, it had helped to expunge some of the tension from him which had accumulated over the voyage down from the Weather Rock. He found himself constantly getting erections, and took to rubbing himself against tables and doorways to try and ease it. Bengo had to do an emergency blow-job at one point.

“If this is gonna be like this all the time”, Bengo said, afterwards “Then we’re all gonna be delirious!”

A Saturday night supper was held that evening, which was to be a combination of beginning the Quarantine/Lockdown period, and also an informal way to make plans for its duration.

“I think we should try and have as strict a routine as we can”, said Bardin.

“What d’ya mean, Bard?” said Mutton Broth “I thought we’d just be carrying on as normal”.

“Look, the world is now in complete chaos”, Bardin began.

“It has been for years”, Joby pointed out.

“Even more so now”, said Bardin “And it’s important that, in our little corner of it, we try and impose some structure”.

“But we always have structure, Bardin”, said Lonts.

“Let him have his say, Lonts”, Bengo groaned “Or we’ll be here all night”.

“To begin with”, said Bardin “The horses and the goats have to be exercised every day. Down the track towards the Old Temple, but no further, and no one is to go into the Old Temple”.

“Nobody WANTS to go into the Old Temple!” said Hillyard.

“So I suggest at 10:30 every morning, the animals are exercised”, said Bardin.

“I hope you aren’t going to go through the entire day like this”, said Julian.

But Bardin was on a roll now.

“A complete inventory of the food stocks to be carried out every Monday and Friday morning”, he said “Ransey and Adam are to do that”.

“We were going to do it anyway”, said Adam.

“A complete deep clean of the whole ship every Wednesday morning”, said Bardin “I also think some sort of barrier should be put up across the road near the Old Temple. Just as a warning for anyone from the town not come any further”.

“They probably don’t want to anyway!” said Hoowie.

“Just in case they do”, said Bardin “It doesn’t have to be a completely invincible barrier, it’s more symbolic than anything else, use any old rubbish you can find around here or up at the lighthouse”.

“That’s not a bad idea”, said Hillyard.

“Why thanks!” said Bardin “Make that your first job tomorrow, Hillyard. Take any of the clowns you need with you to help, apart from Bengo, who is sacred to the galley of course. Now it doesn’t all have to be about work and duty …”

“Oh there’s going to be some Organised Fun as well is there?” said Julian, sarcastically.

“He’s a clown, it’ll be Disorganised Fun”, said Tamaz.

“Well for you, that wasn’t bad!” Bardin riposted “No, as a clown, I know how important it is to keep morale up”.

“Really?!” Bengo exclaimed.

“Good”, said Hillyard “Let’s have an orgy every Thursday night in the Saloon, I can’t think of anything that would be better for morale”.

Bardin tried not to laugh.

“And a musical soiree on Friday nights no doubt”, said Julian “Just to lower the tone even further”.

“Serious suggestion here”, said Kieran, raising his hand “And stop focking groaning. I’d like to do me broadcasts on a Sunday evening, say at 6 PM”.

“What? Sort of like Evensong?” said Joby.

“More like Sunday Mass”, said Kieran.

“OK that’s fair enough”, said Bardin.

“Do the rest of us have to attend?” said Julian.

“You wouldn’t all fit in the Wireless Room”, said Kieran “It’ll just be myself and Ransey”.

“For the next few weeks no one is to come across the barrier to us”, said Bardin “I know Lissa has suggested flying out here, but I think it’s best at the moment if they don’t. We can stay in touch with them via the wireless, or shouting across the barrier to Glynis and Jane if needs be, like we did at Doctor Xavier’s house. Right, I think that’s enough for the time being, how does all that sound?”

There was a general banging of hands on the table to show support. Bardin sat back in his chair, relieved.

“Great”, he said “All we need now is a custard pie fight to top it all off”.

“There won’t be any of that!” said Julian.

“No Captain”, Toppy breathed, in horror “Think of the mess”.

“And think of the absolutely obscene waste of food”, said Adam “Sometimes Bardin, I think you set out deliberately to wind us up”.

“Well of course”, said Bardin.

Chapter 4

The following morning Hillyard, accompanied by Rumble, Farnol, Hal, Shag and Mutton Broth loaded the truck with various bits and bobs of old furniture they had gleaned from the hold of the ship and the Old Lighthouse, and drove down the track a little ways. In the cellar of the lighthouse they had also found some bundles of rusted barbed wire, which were also added to the haul.

“As Bardin said, it’s more a statement than anything else”, said Hillyard, when they reached the part of the track which branched off towards the Shrine.

Bardin had deliberately chosen this spot to set up the barricade as there was no reason for anyone from the town to go beyond this point other than to go the Old Lighthouse. Hence this part of the track was theirs.

Hillyard found the clowns a delight to work with. They were a straightforward bunch. As long as one gave them clear instructions they would follow them faultlessly. Whenever he worked with them, he marvelled how, behind their chosen anarchic comedy, there was usually a painstakingly well-choreographed structure. He knew why they responded so well (however much they might complain) to Bardin’s bossy directions. If Bardin had been more vague and mellow in his dealings with them, then nothing they had done would ever have worked as well.

“There’s no way I could be as forceful with directions as him”, said Hillyard.

“Thank God, we need a break sometimes”, said Mutton Broth.

“But you lot are great”, Hillyard finished.

“Tell him that when we get back home”, said Rumble “Although he’ll never believe it!”

Meanwhile, back on the galleon, Joby was chatting with Glynis over the airwaves. Glynis was using the harbourmaster’s wireless set.

“Have you guys got enough?” said Glynis “How are you doing for soap and candles?”

“We’re OK”, said Joby “Although it’s a hassle having to ration soap but wash more at the same time, but we’ll manage, and now the nights are getting a bit lighter we won’t need lamps and candles so much. Come high Summer, we’ll probably go to bed when it gets dark. It all helps to ration it out”.

“What about loo roll?” said Glynis “There’s so many of you, how do you manage?”

“We don’t always use it”, said Joby, bluntly “We keep a bottle of warm water in the heads and use that. We always wash our hands thoroughly afterwards, it’s not as grotesque as it sounds. On the desert island years ago, we used to use plant leaves. Julian once told me that in the old days, sailors would dangle a rope in the sea-water and use that instead”.

“Ugh!” said Glynis “If there is anything you need, please tell me, we can arrange to lob it over the new barricade that’s going up”.

“Only if it really is going spare”, said Joby “Otherwise you might as well hang onto it yourself. We don’t know how long this bloody situation is gonna last”.

“I know”, Glynis sighed “We have got much more careful about wasting anything since all this kicked off. Every bottle and tin is drained to its last drop”.

“How is life in town?”

“It’s OK. Not brilliant, we’re all missing the normal days. Everything can feel very closed up at times. We try to get out for a walk, but even then, everybody keeps their distance from one another. It’s all very sad. When I go into the baker’s now, he just puts the loaf on the counter and then steps back so we can collect it. And the Driftwood now only opens on Sunday afternoons. Rosa has a little side hatch, and she hands us some of her garden produce from it. The thought of months and months of it being like this is horrible. Jane and I keep telling each other how grateful we will be for normalcy when it returns”.

“That’s for sure”, said Joby.

“Mealtimes are the most irritating thing”, said Glynis “Shall we have soup tonight, or shall we have omelettes. It does get very boring, but I suppose it could be a lot worse. We sometimes chat through the gates with your friends at Doctor Xavier’s house. Apparently he is getting very annoyed at being locked in. He wants to go to the hospital and offer his help, and is starting to see it as a conspiracy to keep him out!”

Joby laughed.

“Unfortunately”, Glynis continued “Some of the younger men in town have heard that and have taken it as real. They don’t believe the Sickness really exists, and that it’s a ruse to keep us all separated and locked up. These are strange times. I’m starting to yearn for last year, and God knows, that was far from easy!”

“This damn thing has changed everything”, said Joby “More than all the other shit that’s happened in recent years. At least none of that kept us physically apart from each other, but this is”.

“I’d better not hang around here for too long”, said Glynis, sadly “The harbourmaster keeps glancing through the window at me. He wants his cosy little office back. But shall we make these little chats a regular thing. Say every Tuesday and Friday morning?”

Joby agreed.

“We’ve all been through some times together haven’t we?” said Glynis “That time when we visited you at the Bay and Midnight Castle all those years ago seems completely unreal by comparison”.

“There’s nothing to say they can’t come back”, Joby tried to reassure her.

Up on the first floor of the Old Lighthouse Bardin was peering through the window with binoculars, scrutinising the building of the barrier in the distance.

“They won’t like if they find you’ve been spying on them, Bardy”, said Bengo.

“Then they’ll just have to put up with it won’t they!” said Bardin.

Bengo swiped him on the behind, and Bardin jumped out of his skin.

“Serves you right”, said Bengo.

The Spring sunshine was flooding into the stone-built circular room, making it seem more appealing than it normally did. By the old stove was a decaying armchair, which always gave the impression that it was spewing its insides out.

“Let’s sit there and have a snog”, said Bengo.

“On that thing?!” Bardin exclaimed “You don’t know what’s in it. It’s probably riddled with fleas!”

“I’ve never seen any”, said Bengo “And if you sit on my lap, you’ll be safe. They’ll come and bite me instead”.

“You’ll have to bathed with carbolic soap and disinfectant when we get back to the ship”, said Bardin.

“Ooh!” said Bengo “You’ll have to scrub me all over”.

“Yes well, you always were a right little scrubber”, said Bengo.

They both piled onto the armchair, and kissed hungrily. When they came up for air, Bengo stroked Bardin’s legs.

“The others wanted you to keep your trousers off”, he said.

“Mm I know”, said Bardin “But I am not clambering around this draughty old lighthouse in just my flimsies, so they can forget that”.

They heard men’s voices on the stairs outside. It was Kieran and Ransey, but they continued climbing upwards, towards the old wireless room on top floor.

“Oh I quite like it sometimes”, said Bengo, continuing his appreciation of Bardin’s legs “I think of all that tight, starched kinkiness hidden underneath”.

“Well”, Bardin rubbed his nose “You can pull them down any time you want”.

They kissed again, and Bengo began to unbutton Bardin’s flies. They jumped when the door suddenly opened.

“I’m so sorry, loves”, said Adam, on seeing them “Please pretend you didn’t see me, I shall reverse out again discreetly”.

Bengo and Bardin made noises of protest.

“No come in”, said Bengo.

“I can’t, it wouldn’t be right”, said Adam “You both look so deliciously cosy there”.

“We want you to come in”, said Bardin “And bolt the door behind you”.

“Aye aye Captain”, said Adam, forcing across the rusted bolt.

The clowns clambered awkwardly to their feet.

“I only came up to have another look at this dratted stove”, said Adam, crossing the room “Ransey assures me that it will make a simply marvellous back-up if anything happens to the galley stove, but I’m afraid that its charms are still wasted on me”. “He’s right though”, said Bardin, as they stood in front of it “It just needs a good clean that’s all. Even if you don’t want to use the oven part, the hob area should still be fine”.

Bengo gave an exasperated sigh.

“Oh dear, sorry Bengo”, said Adam “I really do seem to have stopped you coming to the boil. My sincere apologies”.

“Don’t worry about him”, said Bardin “He’ll soon come back to it alright”.

“Shall I pull his trousers down?” said Bengo.

“Well I’m not sure Bardin is up to having his bottom smacked again is he?” Adam teased.

“You reckon?” Bardin kicked off his shoes.

“Ooh I do love these little impromptu sessions”, said Adam “Every bit as fun as the organised ones”.

Bengo roughly yanked down Bardin’s trousers.

“I see you’ve got your very sheer knickers on”, said Adam, admiring the starched underwear that clung very smoothly to Bardin’s thighs.

He put Bardin across his knee, and spanked him very soundly. The noise of the smacks resounded beautifully in this old stone room. Adam would occasionally pause to stroke Bardin’s smooth cottoned posterior, and then would resume the spanking with renewed vigour. Although it undoubtedly was a very sound spanking indeed, Bardin found it curiously relaxing. In fact he joked afterwards that he could have fallen asleep there, lying across Adam’s lap. When he came it whooshed out of him, deliriously, but he begged him not to stop. Adam continued to spank him for a little time further. It was all immensely satisfying for all three of them.

“That was some spanking”, said Bengo, helping Bardin to his feet.

“Who would have thought this dreary little room would end up giving so much pleasure”, said Adam.

“Oh I don’t know, I think it’s growing on me”, said Bardin, rubbing his behind “It seemed more cheerful today, with the sunlight and everything”.

“I think we should use it again”, said Adam “We’ll come up here on Sunday evening, about 6 o’clock, when Patsy’s doing his broadcast, so we won’t be in earshot of him”.

“Will you do it exactly the same?” said Bengo “Just your hand smacking him like that, it really worked up here. I loved it!”

“I shall give him the jolly sound spanking he thoroughly deserves”, said Adam “Well I hope that’s taught you a lesson for today, and that you’ll be relaxed and mellow until the next time”.

When they got back down to the ship, Bengo took Bardin into their cabin and gently removed his clothes. He cleaned him up a bit, and then Bardin lay face-down on the sofa, so that Bengo could rub some cream into his posterior, and give him a general massage.

“He really thrashed you didn’t he?” Bengo giggled.

“Oh you noticed”, said Bardin, mumbling into a cushion.

“He tanned your behind good and proper”.

“God I loved it, didn’t want it to stop. It’s really sorted me out”.

“It was clearly your tight bloomers inspiring him”, said Bengo.

The shorts had been rinsed in the shaving bowl, and were now hanging from the handle of the window.

“I shall have to wear slightly baggier ones for the rest of the day”, said Bardin.

“I’ll go and fetch them”, Bengo rushed over to the chest of drawers, and pulled out a heap of Bardin’s underwear. He went through the pile lovingly.

“Will these do?” he said, holding up a looser-fitting pair.

Bardin nodded.

“Although with all the starch in them, they’ll probably stand up by themselves”, Bengo joked.

“I shall just have to take it steady for the rest of the day”, said Bardin.

Unfortunately that was not to be. Soon after dusk he was alerted by Rumble that a gang of young men from the town had congregated on the other side of the makeshift barrier. So far they weren’t making any attempt to get through it, but their presence was forbidding nonetheless.

“OK let’s sort this out now”, said Bardin, struggling into his trousers “Otherwise we’ll be getting them appearing every night, like that damn Clown Demon last year”.

Hillyard had left the truck parked next to the air-buggy ashore, and he elected to drive Bardin, Kieran and Ransey down to the barrier. Kieran and Ransey sat in the front, next to Hillyard, and Bardin stood precariously on the running-board, hanging onto the passenger door. He liked travelling this way, it appealed to his clown’s spirit, but his sore bottom also made it a bit of a necessity. When Hillyard parked at the barrier, leaving his headlights on, Bardin jumped down. He was wearing his gun holster over one shoulder. Normally he didn’t like appearing with it on public display, feeling that this was unnecessarily showy, but tonight he felt it was for the best.

“OK what’s the problem?” he called out, facing them through the barrier.

“Oh look it’s little blondie the chief clown”, one of them sneered.

“I haven’t got time for the loveable banter”, said Bardin “What do you want?”

“What’s this fucking barrier for?” another one shouted “Why you keeping us out?”

“We’re not”, said Kieran, who had slid out of the truck and was now standing behind Bardin “It’s to keep us in. When we are sufficiently assured that we are not carrying the Sickness then the barrier will be removed”.

“There is no fucking Sickness!” a stocky man who was wearing no shirt yelled out “It’s all a fucking fairy-tale, invented to scare us!”

“The Sickness is very real”, said Kieran “It is also highly contagious. We saw the results of it ourselves on the New Continent. It wiped out almost the entire population there, and now the whole land is over-run by Evil. We can’t afford for that to happen here”.

“So if you’re the Vanquisher of Evil why did you let it happen?” said a snarly youth.

Kieran had to resist the urge to roll his eyes at this question.

“I have no control over everything that happens”, he replied.

“So you’re not much of a Vanquisher then are you!” was the snarly youth’s predicatable response.

“Look fellers, I would love to have a philosophical discussion about this with you”, said Kieran “But this isn’t the time or the place. It’s a bit hard to debate this through a load of rusted old barbed-wire!”

“So in the meantime you hole yourselves up all cozy over there”, said the stocky, bare-chested one.

“Do you think we wouldn’t like to pop into town whenever we feel like it?” said Kieran, angrily “That we wouldn’t love to drop into the Driftwood, and see our dear friends in person, instead of over a wireless set? Do you? Neither do we enjoy feeling like lepers. So we felt it best to quarantine ourselves for the time being to reassure everybody we are safe!”

There was an uncomfortable silence to this, but Ransey, sitting back in the truck, felt that it could all whip up again at any moment. He got out and walked towards them. The lads had heard all about Ransey’s exploits from Glynis, of how he had once been a hitman for the Ministry. It was also very obvious to them that Ransey, like Bardin, was wearing a gun.

“Probably best if you go home now”, said Ransey, in a steady voice.

There was some discontented mumbling, but the men began to walk away, like a bunch of sulky children.

“Let’s get home”, said Bardin, patting the outside of the truck.

“So what happens now?” said Bengo, when Bardin got back down into the their cabin “Do we put a night-vigil up at the barrier?”

“I don’t see any point in doing that”, said Bardin, pouring a couple of glasses of sherry “The usual night-vigil on deck can keep an eye on it from there, and they’re always armed anyway”.

“Heck, I hope it doesn’t come down to a shoot-out”, said Bengo “That wouldn’t make us very popular in town either!”

“It won’t come to that”, said Bardin “They’re bored and frightened, it’s a pretty toxic combination, but I don’t think they are any really serious threat to us. Just treat them as annoying hecklers in the theatre”.

“I still think you were pretty brave going up to them like that”, said Bengo.

“Not really”, said Bardin “We had Ransey sitting behind us, riding shot-gun. Plus I was armed too. Anyway, when you’re constantly getting thorough spankings from Adam, nothing else fazes you!” *

Over the next couple of days the weather turned grey, cold and squally, depriving them of even the solace of Spring sunshine. It shrieked and boomed around the galleon and the Old Lighthouse. In the Wireless Room Joby was having one of its bi-weekly chats with Glynis over the airwaves.

“I hope those boring louts didn’t unnerve you the other night”, said Glynis.

“More irritating than anything else”, said Joby “It really would be boring if they insisted on making an habit of it though”.

“Are you lot alright over there?” said Glynis “Particularly now the weather’s gone all dreary again”.

“We’re fine”, said Joby “It could be a lot worse. The Old Lighthouse is actually starting to feel like home, or an extension of home anyway. I don’t see any reason for us to move away from it at the moment”.

“I do hope not”, said Glynis “I don’t think I could bear it if you lot went off on your travels again. It comforts me to know you’re there”.

“Aw Glynny”, said Joby “It’s you I feel sorry for, being stuck in that doom-laden village, with everybody all shutttered up around you”.

“Thankfully I have Jane and Woolly, they really are terrific friends to have around”, said Glynis “And Nixx told us through the Doctor’s gates yesterday that their quarantine should be coming to an end soon, and when it does, we are all to go up to the Doc’s house for tea. I can’t wait, it sounds fun”.

“Woolly and Elaine in the same room”, said Joby “That’ll be like a circus on its own!”

“When do you think your quarantining will be ending?”

“Ransey and Bardin did a bit of calculating last night. They think about 15 days. We’ve put it all up on a chalkboard in the dining-room, trying to remember to tick off each day after supper”.

“I’ve just had a thought”, said Glynis “If those ghastly louts can come and shout at you through the barbed-wire, I don’t see why I can’t. What do you think? Could you be ready in half-an-hour?”

“It won’t take me THAT long to get me pinny off!” said Joby.

She was waiting on the other side of the barricade when he walked down the track.

“You’ve had your hair done”, said Joby.

“Jane snipped a bit off the length for me”, said Glynis, tossing her blonde mane about “Do you like it?”

“Yeah it suits you”, said Joby “Very elegant, as Adam would say”.

And Glynis was looking svelte and sophisticated, like a 1962 Marilyn Monroe. Her hair hung sleekly to her shoulders, and she was wearing a baggy shirt, jeans and deck shoes.

“Why on earth didn’t we think of this before?” said Glynis.

“Probably ‘cos I’m a bit slow on the uptake”, said Joby.

“Jane wanted to come as well”, said Glynis “But I wanted a little solitary reunion first. It’s so hard to get to talk alone in circumstances like this”.

“Not ‘alf”, said Joby “If you come here around 10:30 in the mornings, then you’ll probably find the others exercising the horses. You can see Hillyard’s lovely little face again”.

“Is there anything you need that I can bring you?” said Glynis.

“No you hang onto it”, said Joby “We’re OK. The hens have started laying again. They must’ve got a bit stressed out on the journey, but they’re back up and running again, so eggs are back on the menu. That always helps. I could give you some, but it probably wouldn’t be much good lobbing them at you over the barrier”.

“Not really”, Glynis laughed “I don’t fancy joining Bardin’s clown troupe”.

“I hope those louts don’t give you any trouble”, said Joby “If they find out you’re talking to me like this. If you do get any trouble from ‘em, let me know over the wireless, and we’ll send Ransey into town, quarantine or no quarantine”.

“Woolly is already planning a party at his house for when all this is over”.

“Oh blimey, I’m gonna need to build up to that one!”

When they went to leave again Joby said “Probably best not to come up here too much on your own Glynny. It’s too near the Old Shrine, and that place is seriously freaky. Kieran got attacked there last Summer. None of us will go near it”.

“Yes, it’s not a place I like very much either”, said Glynis.

Later that day Bardin decided that they should use the remaining rusted barbed-wire from the basement of the Old Lighthouse, and also barricade the track which wound up through the hills nearest them. “I don’t see the point of that, Bard”, said Hillyard “None of the villagers will use that, they’d have to go too near the Saturn Desert, and they’ve got a real superstition about that place”.

“It wasn’t them I was thinking of so much”, said Bardin “But anything else that might get the idea of coming over that way”.

He assembled a party of them to carry the stuff required up the track. The barricade was to be about halfway up. Hillyard still didn’t see what the point of it all was, but decided to humour Bardin anyway.

“What a shame we haven’t got a few man-traps you could chuck in as well!” he said.

“No”, said Bardin “Because animals might get caught in those. People though … can’t say I care that much”.

“Don’t you like people anymore, Bardin?” said Lonts, in concern.

“Well I like you lot”, said Bardin.

“That’s a relief”, said Rumble.

“Glynis is alright though isn’t she?” said Lonts.

“Glynis is fine”, said Bardin “But I’m starting to get seriously brassed to death with the rest of the town. Do you realise that, apart from those louts the other night, we’ve barely seen a sign of life from the town at all. No fishing-boats, nothing. What the hell are they all hiding from? No strangers come near this place for them to worry about, and the rest of us have all been quarantining ourselves”.

“It’s the perils of being a remote community stuck at the edge of the world”, said Kieran “It must breed a certain amount of paranoia. It doesn’t help that the rest of the world is a genuinely scary place at the moment”.

“Yes, but what the hell are they living on?” said Bardin “They’re not doing any fishing or anything”.

“From what Glynis has said, tinned stuff”, said Kieran “And rice, and the vegetables they can get from their allotment”.

“They need bloody shaking up a bit!” said Bardin, crossly.

“God help ‘em when you get out of quarantine then!” said Hillyard.

“The way I feel about them at this moment”, said Bardin “I am not going anywhere near them!”

“It’s not good that he feels like that”, said Bengo, on hearing about this conversation afterwards “It goes against the whole performer’s ethos”.

“Plenty of performers have hated the public”, said Joby “Clowns and comedians were notorious for it”.

“It has been my life’s work to stop Bardy from turning into the Bitter Old Clown type”, said Bengo “And I’m not having him doing it now!”

“Oh Bengo, you are sweet”, said Adam “But I don’t think he’s turning bitter at all, I think he just gets a bit exasperated with them. I can see why. I try not to think about it too much, but I confess I have been somewhat dismayed by their attitude since we came back here. I wasn’t expecting to be greeted with bouquets and champagne, but … well not quite the total cold shoulder we have been served. I guess I expected better from them than that. It’s not as if we’re complete strangers to them”.

“Miserable shits”, said Joby, bluntly.

“Well it’s certainly not good”, Adam sighed.

“And from what Glynis has said”, said Joby “Doctor Xavier’s getting brassed to bits with ‘em as well. He’s offered his services at the hospital for when he comes out of quarantine soon, and they’ve basically told him to get knotted. Well not in so many words like that, but that was the general gist of it. He’s got the right hump about it”.

“Yes, that’s the sort of thing Xavier will brood over”, said Adam “He will take it terribly personally”.

“I’m not having Bardin doing any brooding”, said Bengo.

“Oh don’t worry about it, Bengo”, said Adam “Our Sunday evening session in the lighthouse kitchen beckons. We will sort him out. Joby, are you sure you don’t want to come to that one?”

“You and Bengo had such a good time last time …” Joby began.

“Well that doesn’t mean you can’t be at the next show!” said Adam.

“I wanna stay here whilst Kieran’s doing his premiere”, said Joby “Give him a bit of moral support, know what I mean? You’ll have to do a special session for me one morning, outside the galley door”.

Chapter 5

Bardin embarked on a plan to give the Old Lighthouse a thorough overhaul, to make it fit to be an extra living space for them. The long years of neglect and disuse it had suffered seemed to add to his general grievance with the villagers. It was also as if he was “marking his territory”, as Hillyard put it, to prove to the population of Zilligot Bay that they were making their home here for the time being, and there was nothing they could do about it.

“I will not tolerate ANY complaints from that lot in the future”, he said.

It was hoped that this project, along with his general Captainy duties, and the regular spankings from Adam would help to channel his great energy. He devised a plan that they would work from the top down. The other clowns teased Toppy that he would have to clean the glass round the disused light. Toppy - not one to appreciate a joke at the best of times - panicked, and said in that case he was going on strike.

“We’ll rig you up a special harness”, said Bengo “So you can hang from the railings up there”.

“Bengo, stop it!” said Adam “Toppy still hasn’t recovered from Bardin’s threat to have a custard pie fight. You lot really are rotten to him at times. It won’t be just Bardin who gets a smacked butt at this rate”.

“Ooh!” said Bengo.

Ransey, accompanied by Hillyard, Kieran and Joby climbed up to the top of the lighthouse tower. Bardin’s plan to overhaul the lighthouse from the top down suited him perfectly, as it meant the Wireless Room would be one of the first areas to get sorted out. Ransey had got the wireless working up there, but had decided that they should do a regular scan of the airwaves every day. Being so high up the wireless in the lighthouse could often reach distances that the one in the galleon might struggle with.

He also liked this room. Some of the others found it bleak and gloomy, but Ransey thought it had a sort of monastic charm. On some days daylight would flood through the little window high up in the wall, and rays of sunlight would beam onto the stone walls and floor, catching up dancing dust-motes. Sometimes its stillness also made a change from the necessary bustle of the ship.

He seated himself at the desk and began to fiddle with the set. As if inspired by the quietness of the room itself, Hillyard, Kieran and Joby watched him silently. Some days he picked up nothing but distant mumbles, which could sound incomprehensible and at times downright sinister. Suddenly though a man’s voice blared out in a belligerent fashion “YELLOW VALLEY HAS FALLEN TO THE CONTAGION! HA HA. AND ITS IMPROVED IT!! MORE UPDATES THIS TIME TOMORROW! HA HA!!”

“Where the hell is Yellow Valley?” asked Hillyard.

“We’ll go through Bardin’s maps”, said Kieran, sitting cross-legged on the desk “It doesn’t sound like anywhere near here. We’ve got such a vast expanse of desert behind us”.

“Who the fuck was that moron?” said Joby.

“Probably just a random idiot”, said Ransey, leaning back in the chair with a sigh “Unfortunately we’re never completely free of them in this world”. A minor earth tremour shook the building. They held themselves in place until it passed.

“I know this old lighthouse has probably withstood a few of those”, said Hillyard “But let’s get back down to the ship”.

Whilst the others went to rifle through Bardin’s maps, Joby went down the track to speak to Glynis.

“Bardin’s decided to strengthen this barricade”, he told her “We’ve found a load more old bits and pieces around the lighthouse that would be useful for it. But don’t worry, we can still have our little chats”.

“But why has he decided to strengthen it?” said Glynis “Was it those idiots the other night?”

“Partly”, said Joby “But I think it’s more just a general feeling. He says you can feel the tension in this world at times, and I agree with him”.

“I will be glad when you guys come out of quarantine”, Glynis sighed.

Joby didn’t say anything, but he had a suspicion that none of the others wanted to come out of quarantine. The chilly hostility from the townspeople had saddened them all. The general feeling now was that they wanted to stay at the Old Lighthouse until Kieran could think of a way to locate Trinity, the source of the Contagion and stop her in her tracks. At the moment their first plan, once the quarantine period was up, was to take the air-buggy on another flight over the desert, not to go into the town.

“We might have to accept that we’re an isolated Order for some time now, fellers”, Kieran had told them.

“We can be an Isolated Order forever as far as I’m concerned!” said Julian.

Bardin had located a map with the Yellow Valley area on, and had spread it over the dining-room table. He was leaning across it to locate the precise area. Most of the others were more distracted though by the sight of his neat bottom and sheer white cotton shorts bent over the table.

“Stop that!” he ordered, as Hillyard caressed his behind “This is important”.

“So’s your bum”, said Hillyard.

“OK the Yellow Valley is quite some way far north of here”, said Bardin, indicating the area with his pencil “It seems to lie on the edge of the southern tip of the Great Forest”.

“Are there towns and villages there?” asked Kieran.

“Looks like a few hamlets dotted around”, said Bardin “Probably not a hugely populated area, but it still doesn’t sound too good. It means she can probably cut a swathe through it pretty quickly, with no trouble at all”.

“I think we can draw the conclusion”, said Kieran “That Herself is gradually working her way South. Fortunately there’s not much left of the City she can play havoc with these days”.

The group at Doctor Xavier’s house came out of quarantine on the following Sunday afternoon, and Jane, Glynis and Woolly were invited up to see them for tea. It was a welcome respite for the three from the town, who had been getting increasingly fed up with the rest of the community. There were times when Glynis felt almost depressed.

“Are Kieran’s lot likely to leave?” asked the Doctor.

“Not willingly”, said Glynis “The Old Lighthouse suits them, but I’m concerned the townspeople might make life even more difficult for them. I don’t understand people anymore. I don’t understand how they can turn on them that way. The Indigo-ites have behaved very responsibly since they came back here. I’ve heard mutterings that the town doesn’t like the way they’ve commandeered the Old Lighthouse. And it makes me so damn angry. They haven’t given a damn about the Old Lighthouse for years!! They ignored it and let it slide into decay. No one from the town even goes far along the track, Lighthouse Lane, certainly not much further than the Old Shrine anyway. As far as I can gather, Woolly was the only one who used to venture up that way”.

“I used to like to sunbathe on the rocks below there, that’s all”, said Woolly “I chose it for that reason, because it was private, none of them ever went there”.

“And now suddenly they’re huffing and harrumping about ‘our lighthouse’, ‘our track’”, said Glynis “All that sort of thing. The bloody idiots!”

Elaine patted her arm soothingly.

“They’ve done the same to Doctor Xavier”, said Lissa.

“Well they’ve been messing me about too”, said the Doctor “One minute it’s oh yes we want you to come to the hospital, then it’s no, bugger off, stay away, you’re a leper, then it’s why aren’t you doing your duty and coming to help us, again? I have lost track where we are now. It’s got to the point where I feel like telling them I can’t find my stethoscope!”

“It’s all a muddle of indecision”, H spoke forth. He had been sitting in an armchair in the corner, staring admiringly at Jane “There is no leadership in the town, pulling them together”.

“Be careful what you wish for, H”, said Doctor Xavier “This lot are the sort that would fall under the spell of some deranged cult leader. Thank God we can rely on Kieran not enslaving them!”

At that moment in fact Kieran had decided to scrap his Sunday evening wireless broadcast.

“Since hearing that thug over the airwaves yesterday”, he explained to Joby “I’m not sure about it. It’s the old problem of accidentally giving away our location, so I’ll shelve it for now. I’ll light a candle at sunset instead, to signify lighting a candle in the darkness”.

The Spanking Bardin Club still went ahead and met in the lighthouse kitchen though. Minus Joby, who still elected to stay with Kieran, who seemed down-in-the-dumps. Adam, Bardin and Bengo found they had the whole lighthouse to themselves, which was a novel experience.

“You can shout and scream as much as you like, Bardy”, said Bengo, when they arrived on the first floor.

“Thanks”, said Bardin, dryly, taking off his duffel-coat “I could happily push an enormous custard pie right in your smug little face right now”.

Bengo whooped with laughter.

“This endless humiliation of me must have been what you’ve been waiting for all along”, said Bardin.

“Well the taming of Bardin is a rather lengthy and ongoing project”, said Adam.

“And when you’ve succeeded”, said Bardin “Bengo will become Dictator”.

“Oh rubbish”, Bengo snorted “You’ll always be the boss, you know that. Always have been, always will be. I can’t be the bossy one in the relationship, I’m hopeless at it. I’d start giving orders and forget what I was saying halfway through!”

They put 3 cups, and a flask filled with brandy-laced coffee on the table. This was to be for after-chastisement refreshments.

“Now the aim today”, said Adam “Is to make Bardin very subdued for the rest of the evening, if not for the whole of tomorrow”.

“And the next day, and the next day”, said Bengo.

“As long as no louts come to the barricade again”, said Bardin, glancing through the window, which afforded a good view of the barricade in the distance.

“That’ll be reinforced tomorrow”, said Bengo “Hillyard will do it first thing”.

“Prepare the grand unveiling, Bengo”, said Adam.

Bengo divested Bardin of his trousers, and they were both lost, once again, in awe of Bardin in his tight white shorts. Bardin walked towards Adam, the starch rubbing tantalisingly together.

“I am simply going to smack your butt this time”, said Adam “No paddles, no hairbrushes, just a good smacking, like last time. But don’t think you’re getting off lightly”.

He put him across his knee and spanked him thoroughly, each smack as firm as he could make it. By the time he had finished he had achieved the desired result … Bardin didn’t seem like he was capable of saying anything. He just lay there, spent. Adam also felt flushed, excited, and exhausted.

“My God”, said Bengo “I don’t know how you do it, you just keep getting better each time!”

“Plenty of practice is the answer”, said Adam, letting his arm drop “I don’t know what I’d do without you two at the moment”.

“Well it’s Bardin’s butt really”, said Bengo.

“No it’s both of you”, said Adam “You’re such fun to be around. You’re such tough little survivors too”.

For a moment it looked like he was going to cry, but Adam managed to contain himself.

“We must have a few more sessions like this”, he said, carressing Bardin’s behind, his voice emotional.

“Oh you can smack Bardy as often and as firmly as you like”, said Bengo “You’re so strict with him, it’s exactly what he needs. Nothing else works”.

Adam laughed, and gave Bardin a few more smacks. Bengo helped him to his feet afterwards, and they broke out the brandy-laced coffee. The light was slowly fading outside.

“Let’s quickly have a little look round the lighthouse”, said Adam “Whilst we’ve got the place to ourselves”.

“What for?” said Bardin, rubbing his behind which was tingling like mad “You’ve seen it all before”.

“Well perhaps because I just like the thought of you wandering around it in your underwear”, said Adam “Anyway, shut up and do as you’re told, or I’ll put you across my knee again”.

“That’s exactly the way to speak to him”, said Bengo, approvingly.

At first Bardin couldn’t see what pleasure there was to be had in him climbing the narrow, twisting stairs in the lighthouse in his shorts, but he had to concede that Adam knew what he was talking about. Adam and Bengo went on ahead up the steps to the sleeping quarters on the floor above, and he followed meekly behind them, his bottom sore and tingling under the starch. It had a tantalisingly reckless, and potentially humilating, vibe to it, like tearing your clothes off on stage.

The room above was lined with four bunks, the traditional “banana beds” of lighthouse keepers, so-called because they were curved to fit into the circular walls, like bananas. Apart from a couple of chairs, and some coat-hooks, that was the only furniture in the room.

“This does make a good watch tower”, said Adam “Perhaps some night-watch parties could be arranged here, 4 people at a time”.

“And you’ve still got a good view over to the barrier”, said Bengo.

Bardin agreed with all this, but took on board that he hadn’t been given permission to speak. He stood in the room, simply relishing the feel of his smarting behind instead.

“The bunks are cosy”, said Bengo “Look, they must have had a curtain on each one once, for extra privacy. There are curtain-rings here”.

“Perhaps we can persuade Finia to make some new ones”, said Adam “Oh dear, it is really getting dark now. I think we’d better stuff Bardin back into his trousers and get back to the ship”.

When they got back to the ship, Bengo and Bardin were pleasantly surprised to find that Toppy had set up the hip-bath in their cabin, along with a couple of large jugs of steaming hot water.

“I asked him to do that”, Adam confided to them “As a little thank you to you. I shall leave you to bathe each other in peace”.

There wasn’t room for two people to sit in the tub at one time, so they took it in turns to bathe each other. Bardin bathed Bengo first, simply because he could enjoy himself lathering Bengo all over, and then slapping the flannel in his face, like a custard pie. Bengo was helpless with laughter.

“We should have done this on stage”, he said “It would have been so funny”.

“Well the audience would certainly have relished the sight of you sitting naked in a bath-tub”, said Bardin “We would have probably got shut down for public indecency!”

“Oh I dunno”, said Bengo “We used to get away with some outrageous stuff sometimes. I always thought any sketch involving lots of water could get quite racy, particularly when you used to get drenched. Remember the burning house sketch? I used to dress up as firefighter and drench you with my big hose. God, I used to love that one. What was your favourite?”

“Anything that involved you getting covered from head-to-foot in whipped cream”, said Bardin “And sometimes after being spanked in front of you, I still fantasize about it!”

“Adam is brilliant though isn’t he?” said Bengo.

“Yep”, said Bardin, soaping Bengo torso “He knows what he’s doing alright”.

“It doesn’t hurt too much does it?”

“Well I get as sore as hell, but not in a way that becomes horrible, no. Sometimes I don’t want him to stop. And he thinks of all these little extra things, like me climbing the steps in my undies. And when he speaks to me sternly, wow! I think I could kiss his feet then”.

“I’m not sure he’d like that, Bardy”, said Bengo “That’s more Julian’s sort of thing”.

“You’re probably right”, said Bardin “Will you rub some cream on me after?”

“Of course. You’re gonna have to sit in my soapy water now?”

“That doesn’t bother me at all”.

There were more earth tremours over the next couple of days, but fortunately minor ones which didn’t amount to much more than the vibration you would get with a heavy vehicle going past. Nevertheless the ship was inspected thoroughly every day to make sure of no damage. Adam and Ransey went down into the hold to do the first of their twice a week inventories. They had begun excavating at the far reaches of the hold to see if they could unearth anything worth using.

“Look at this”, said Ransey, digging out a couple of crumpled packets “Bags of tobacco”.

“Good heavens”, said Adam, peering into them “Not many of us smoke anymore. Lo-Lo occasionally has a pipe after supper but that’s about it. I’ll put them on the dining-room table and if anyone wants it they can help themselves”.

“We’re damn lucky Hillyard keeps this ship in such good condition”, said Ransey, peering around him “I don’t want to think of the hassle if we got damaged and had to try and salvage everything”.

“Yes he’s worth his weight in gold”, said Adam “He always was, right from when we first knew him. Patsy, Joby and I were strangers in a strange land, no idea where we were or what we were supposed to be doing, and he was the first one to properly befriend us. Well we had met Buskin on the Weather Rock first, but that was only a temporary stop. Hilly stayed with us”.

Adam took the small haul up to the galley, where Bengo was sitting at the table, drying cutlery with a cloth.

“Some tinned veg”, said Adam, putting the goods on the table “And a jar of coffee”.

“We’re not doing too badly at the moment are we?” said Bengo.

“It could be a lot worse”, said Adam “Although it would make a nice change to have some fresh fruit and vegetables, but frankly, I don’t feel very inclined to go scrounging round the village, even when we DO come out of quarantine”.

“We could always do a barter with Glynis”, said Bengo “She has offered to exchange goods with us through the barricade, Joby’s said so. We could give her some eggs or goats milk, in exchange for some fresh veggies”.

“Bengo, you are a little genius!” said Adam.

“Am I?” said Bengo, in shock “Well it was Joby’s idea really”.

“Yes, but he hasn’t seen fit to pass it onto me yet!” said Adam “Whereas you have. It is a splendid idea. Let me kiss your funny little face”.

Bengo laughed as he did so.

“Bardy will never believe you called me a genius!” he said.

“Don’t worry about Bardin”, said Adam “The first word out of line and he gets the hairbrush next time. I intend to be extremely strict with him from now on”.

“He will absolutely love it”, said Bengo.

Joby and Kieran took some of the tobacco up onto the main deck, and tried it out rolled in a couple of cigarette papers given to them by Rumble.

“I can’t remember the last time I smoked”, said Kieran, sitting beside Joby on a pile of rope.

“I certainly can’t!” said Joby “God knows what’s in this, probably old cabbage leaves and unwashed socks!”

Kieran spluttered when he took the first drag.

“I am really out of practice”, he winced.

Joby took a tentative draw.

“Yeah, I don’t think I’m gonna be taking up smoking again anytime in the near future”, he said.

Bardin emerged from the top of the quarterdeck steps, blinking in the chilly sunlight. He had just woken up from a nap, and was wearing his pink nightdress.

“Blimey, there’s a vision-and-a-half”, said Joby, and gave a wolf-whistle.

Bardin strolled across the deck towards them. They could hear the starch of his shorts swishing underneath the nightgown.

“This level of sexiness isn’t good for us, Bardin”, said Kieran.

“Do you want my fag?” said Joby, holding it out to him.

“I have never smoked in my life”, said Bardin “And I have no intention of starting now”.

“I don’t blame you”, said Joby “This is rough, no wonder it got banished to the back of the hold”.

Bardin leaned back against the bulwark. The squally wind flatted his nightgown against him, outlining his body.

“Give us a quick flash of your knickers”, said Joby.

“Behave yourself!” said Bardin “If you come below in a few minutes, you’ll probably see all you want to see of them”.

“We can never get enough of them”, said Kieran “We’re addicted to you, Captain Starchy. Don’t ever get tired of having your bum smacked”.

“Unlikely”, said Bardin “I’ll take as much of it as I can”. Joby ground out the offending cigarette, and then yanked up the front of Bardin’s nightie, causing him to desolve into fits of laughter.

“That’s draughty!” he cried.

“The gift that keeps on giving”, said Kieran.

Bardin suddenly became aware that Hillyard was talking to Glynis at the barricade.

“Damn”, said Bardin, adjustsing his nightdress “Glynis is there, and I’m dressed like this”.

“She can’t see much of you from over there”, said Joby “Anyway, she won’t mind”.

“Maybe, but I will”, said Bardin “The nightie is entirely private amongst us lot, same with my drawers. I’m going back below”.

He sashayed back along the deck towards the steps. As he was clambering down them, Bengo whipped up the back of his nightie and kissed his behind.

“Look stop it, you’re all nuts”, said Bardin.

“You’ve got the extra starchy ones on”, said Bengo, flicking the edge of the shorts playfully, and resting his head under Bardin’s bottom.

“Crazy!” said Bardin, who wasn’t minding it at all. He loved any amount of playfulness like this.

When he finally managed to get to the bottom of the steps, Bengo pulled up the nightdress until it was bunched up around his waist.

“That must make things a bit cooler around your legs”, said Bengo.

“You just want more humilitation from me, that’s all”, said Bardin.

“So do you”, said Bengo.

Adam came out of the galley carrying a silver-backed hairbrush. He put Bardin across his knee on the chair that was kept outside the door, primarily for this purpose. Bardin’s head was stuck in the folds of his nightdress, as Adam whacked him with the brush. Halfway through this little exercise, Hillyard came down the steps carrying two cauliflowers.

“Listen up”, he said to Adam “Glynis has come up trumps for us”.

“Oh Hillyard, that’s wonderful”, said Adam, pausing in his labours.

“I’ll put them on the galley table”, said Hillyard “You can go back to whacking him”.

“Hang on hang on”, said Bardin, trying to pull his nightie off his head “Glynis isn’t coming down here is she?”

“Why would she be coming down here you daft idiot?” said Hillyard “She can’t get through the barrier anyway”.

“OK just checking”, said Bardin.

“Rest assured Bardin”, said Adam “Our little world belongs to us alone”.

“I just wanted to make sure”, said Bardin.

Afterwards Bardin went into his cabin and pulled down his nightie, dropping it to his feet. Standing only in his shorts, he rubbed his behind.

“I’ve made you some nice, hot, strong tea, Bardy”, said Bengo, coming into the room with a mug.

“Cheers”, said Bardin “I could do with it”.

“Adam said he hopes you’re OK”, said Bengo, handing him the mug “He’s said he’ll try and finesse some little humiliations for you which give your bum a rest occasionally, like making you walk around the lighthouse in your undies. You enjoyed that”.

“Yes”, said Bardin “Although nothing’s better than a good spanking, except perhaps one of your blow-jobs. Nobody does them better than you”.

“Ooh I’ll gobble you up anytime!” said Bengo.

He put his arm around Bardin and pulled him close.

“I think it must be Spring”, said Bardin “We’re all sex mad at the moment”.

“This is the best Quarantine EVER”, said Bengo.

Chapter 6

Kieran was communing with Nature up on the main deck. He had slipped off his dressing-gown and was standing in the breezy sunshine, butt-naked. Lonts and Tamaz had gathered some wild flowers from the roadside, and had woven them into a garland for him. He was now standing in various yogic poses, gazing out at the sunlight sparkling off the waves.

“Isn’t all this getting dangerously Pagan?” said Julian, who had been watching him from nearby.

“You can’t wind me up this morning, Julian”, Kieran replied “And I used to do a lot of this at one time. Emulating St Francis of Assisi”.

“I always thought you Irish were supposed to be quite prudish about nudity”, said Julian.

“We are on the whole”, said Kieran “We certainly don’t go whipping our clothes off at every opportunity like you English do, but there are exceptions”.

“Leave him alone, Julian”, said Joby, as Kieran moved away further down the deck “It’s doing him good”.

“He teases me enough times”, said Julian.

“Yeah well you bleedin’ well deserve it!” said Joby.

Joby stood up and looked around at the shore.

“I can’t find anywhere here where I can start a proper garden”, he sighed “Not even some patch of old scrag land that the lighthouse keepers might have used”.

“They probably didn’t need to”, said Julian “I suspect they used the allotment in town, like the villagers do”.

“I ent using that!” said Joby “Apart from Glynis, I don’t wanna see any of ‘em at the moment. It’s the only thing that’s missing here, the potential to create a proper garden”.

“You do in your own fashion”, said Julian “I thought you kept a little herb garden in the galley?”

“It’s alright”, said Joby “But I’d like to do summat a bit more ambitious, to help Adam out”.

“I admit I am not one of Nature’s natural gardeners”, said Julian “But I thought there were vegetables you could grow indoors, and not necessarily in a greenhouse”.

“‘I’ve sometimes tried that on board”, said Joby “But the rooms are too dark below deck. You need a lot of sunlight for that kind of thing”.

“Then use the lighthouse!” said Julian, in exasperation “You get plenty of sunlight over there, particularly in the upper rooms!”

“I could grow lettuces, tomatoes and peppers”, said Joby “Hey, that’s a brilliant idea, Julian!”

“Oh good”, said Julian.

“Well it’s like the old joke about monkeys and typewriters isn’t it?” said Adam, when informed of this latest development “Julian was bound to have a good idea one day, even if it’s just by some accidental law of averages”.

“Ah no don’t be like that, Ad”, said Joby, who was fired up with enthusiasm “I’m gonna have a poke around and see what seed packets I can find”.

“I’m sure Glynis can help you with some fresh ones”, said Adam.

“And there are some old seed trays in the hold”, said Joby “I might also need some foil, to reflect the sunlight”.

“Which room are you going to use in the lighthouse, Joby?” asked Lonts.

“The bedroom on the 3rd floor”, said Joby “And perhaps a bit of the old wireless room at the top, if Ransey doesn’t mind”.

“I’m sure he won’t object to you putting some seed trays up there”, said Adam “After all, it’s for a good cause. It’s us using it for frivolent, decadent purposes that he might object”.

“No spanking Bardin in the wireless room”, Joby laughed, and he went off on his quest to search for seed packets and trays.

“Good heavens, that has quite cheered him up!” said Adam.

“I could get fresh veggies for you in as little as a couple of weeks”, Joby announced to Adam the next morning, as he gathered together all the stuff he needed to take over to the Old Lighthouse “And peppers within a month. It’s spuds and lettuces that take longer”.

“I will be happy with whatever you produce”, said Adam “Now don’t let me hold you up, the sooner you get started the better”.

“The secret is to keep the soil moist y’know”, said Joby, on his way out.

“Well I’m sure you can manage that”, said Adam, practically ushering him on his way.

Joby carried the trays, foil and seeds up to the lighthouse bedroom, followed by Rumble and Hillyard, maneuvering a folding table up the steps, and Lonts lugging a bag of compost. Once they got into the bedroom, Joby gave directions as to where everything should go.

“Are you gonna be alright up here all by yourself, Jobe?” asked Hillyard “It might start feeling a bit creepy”.

“I’m not planning to move up here permanently, Hillyard!” said Joby “I’m not going into solitary confinement! Anyway, I’m not gonna be on me own up here altogether. Ransey’s up in the wireless room at the moment, and the SB Club are gonna meet in the kitchen below soon”.

The other three stood in a row, watching him.

“Alright, you can go now!” said Joby “Thanks for your help, but I don’t need an audience”.

Back down on the galleon Bengo, Bardin and Adam were getting ready for another session in the Lighthouse kitchen.

“I think you should leave your trousers off completely this time, Bardin”, said Adam.

“And clamber up the ladder to the lighthouse in my skimpies?” said Bardin, appalled.

“I don’t see as how that should be a problem for a nimble acrobat like you”, said Adam “If anything, it should be easier in your shorts”.

“Think of all that breezy air wafting around your legs, Bardy”, said Bengo.

“Yes, just think of it!” said Bardin, unimpressed.

“I dunno what the problem is”, said Bengo “You waft around the ship all day in your knickers, including up on deck, so I don’t see why the Old Lighthouse is out of bounds”.

“Say I go up there without my trousers”, said Bardin “Leaving them down here. And say that mob, that bunch of barbarians, suddenly turn up at our barricade again. I do not fancy the idea of going to confront them in my underwear! OK I enjoy humiliation, but that’s with you lot, not the rest of the sodding village!”

“But you wouldn’t have to face them in your underwear, old love”, said Adam “Bengo can take your trousers up with us, can’t you, Bengo?”

“Yes I’ll tie them round my neck”, said Bengo “Just do as you’re told, Bardy, I can’t wait to see your neat arse shimmying up the ladder”.

Rumble, Hillyard and Lonts had returned from the lighthouse, and were getting ready to do some fishing from the poop-deck. Rumble and Hillyard, with great effort, refrained from wolf-whistling and cheering Bardin when he appeared, knowing that it would be a surefire way to guarantee him finding a nasty, messy job around the ship for them later.

Adam clambered up the short metal ladder which led to the main door of the lighthouse. The galleon had been positioned so that it could be accessed directly from the poop-deck. Bardin followed behind him, and then Bengo. The clowns enjoyed this bit of clambering. At the top the main door opened into the lobby area of the lighthouse. When all three were assembled in this small space, Adam propped the door open. The view outside was breath-taking. The ocean, sparkling, foamy and blue, stretched ahead to the far horizon.

“Let’s take a moment to enjoy it”, said Adam “When Bardin’s been soundly chastised, we’ll bring some chairs down and have another gaze at it”.

“I think you should paint it, Adam”, said Bengo.

“The ocean is always both a challenge and an inspiration for artists”, said Adam “But I love that idea. I could use the doorway as a framing device”.

“It is wonderful”, said Bengo “As though we’re on the edge of nowhere”.

“We ARE on the edge of nowhere”, said Bardin “It’s just we’ve got that town behind us, that’s all”.

“Let’s go upstairs”, said Adam, with a mischievious look “Bengo, you follow up behind me, Bardin can go last”.

Joby heard the spanking begin whilst he was laying out compost in the trays, and couldn’t resist going down to have a look. When he got down there, Bardin was being smacked very soundly.

“Joby!” said Adam, pausing with his hand resting firmly on Bardin’s starched white behind “So glad you could join us”.

“Don’t stop on my account”, said Joby.

Adam continued to smack Bardin’s bottom. Bardin occasionally gave a yelp or a groan, but apart from the slaps, that was the only noise in the room.

“Just a minute, I have an idea”, said Joby, and he proceeded to land a firm smack on Bardin’s behind using his compost-covered hand. A perfect black handprint was left on Bardin’s pristine white shorts.

“I love it!” said Bengo.

“Thought you might”, said Joby.

“Have a few more”, said Adam, tightening his hold on Bardin so that he couldn’t wriggle out.

Joby smacked him a few more times, stopping at the end to rub the compost over Bardin’s behind even more.

“I’d better get back upstairs now”, said Joby “Fair play though, you’re doing a good job of keeping him in line”.

“It is a task that is a never-ending source of joy”, said Adam, roughly pushing Bardin to the floor.

Bengo helped him to his feet, and then adjusted the legs of his shorts into their customary neat way. “Damnit!” said Bardin, rubbing his behind “Toppy will have 40 fits when he sees this”.

“Yes”, said Adam “What a shame we haven’t got a convenient water-trough to chuck you in”.

“That would be wonderful too”, said Bengo “Could Hillyard build us one d’you think? After all, the animals could use it. Anyway, stop blithering about your shorts, Bardy, I’ll wash them in the shaving-bowl when we get back. I can’t wait to pull your knickers down”.

“Yes, no more complaints out of you”, said Adam to Bardin, who was blushing violently “Or all my hard work will have been in vain, and I’ll start wondering if it’s worthwhile”.

Bardin began to splutter a protest, but Adam continued “I think it’s going to have to be the paddle again next time”.

“Not the sessions we have in here though?” said Bengo “I love these private ones where you just simply tan his behind”.

“Anything for you, Bengo”, said Adam.

Bardin gave a mutter of disgust.

“Let us not forget, Bengo”, said Adam “That this is now our mission, to tame Bardin thoroughly, and it goes on 24 hours a day”.

“It won’t work”, said Bengo “But we can have fun trying”.

“Come on”, said Adam “Let’s take some chairs down and sit in the lobby for a little while”.

Bardin, relegated to a footstool, complained that he wouldn’t be able to sit on it.

“You will do as you’re told”, said Adam, simply.

That evening there was a riotous supper aboard the galleon, which involved a lot of toasts to such random special things as “Kieran’s eyes”, “Adam’s cooking”, “Umbert’s music”, “Toppy’s ironing”, and “Bardin’s shorts”. Ransey drew the line firmly at anyone having a toast to his gun though.

“Here, I’ve had an idea”, said Hillyard “Seeing as we haven’t got much longer in quarantine, why don’t some of us take the air-buggy out for a flight tomorrow?”

“You can still do that anyway”, said Bardin “I assume you’re not planning on landing anywhere?”

“No, just a quick flight over the desert”, said Hillyard “Like we did last year”.

“You don’t have to wait for quarantine to end to do that”, said Bardin.

“Now he tells me”, said Hillyard “So Ranz can come with me, and Kieran, and you”.

“No, not me”, said Bardin “There’s no way I’m going to be able to sit on the air-buggy for a couple of hours”.

“Well you’ve been sitting here alright all evening”, said Bengo.

“I’m sitting on a soft cushion”, said Bardin.

“You can sit on a soft cushion on the air-buggy!” said Hillyard “You’re coming and that’s all there is to it. Wouldn’t be right not having the Captain along”.

“I’m Captain of this ship, not of the air-buggy”, said Bardin.

“Bardy, stop arguing”, said Bengo “If Hillyard wants you to go, you will go”.

“OK, but I’m wearing my trousers”, said Bardin.

“That’s a shame”, said Hillyard.

The Aerial Four set off the following morning after breakfast. It was a chilly morning, but the sun trying to force its way through the grey clouds gave promise of good visibility. Most of the Indigo-ites turned out in force above deck to see them off.

“You’re not gonna fly straight at the Old Lighthouse when you take off are you?” said Joby.

“I wasn’t planning to, Jobe, no”, said Hillyard.

It was a giddy moment to suddenly find yourself lifting off from the ground, and seeing everything else drop away below. Hillyard pulled back the throttle and lifted the air-buggy over the mountain range that backed onto them. They flew over the vast expanse of the Saturn Desert, following more or less the same route they had done the year before, when they had borrowed Dr Xavier’s air-buggy. As they approached the mountain range on the far side, they saw a couple of strange shapes. One appeared to be clinging to the mountain rocks, and the other was standing bolt-upright on the desert floor.

“They’re petrified, in an ossified sense I mean”, said Kieran “A Gorgon’s been here”.

“Were they travellers?” asked Bardin.

“They might have been fleeing the Sickness, poor souls”, said Kieran “But we don’t know how long they’ve been here. Hillyard, could you fly us over the vampire castle?”

“Sure thing”, said Hillyard.

Hillyard changed into a north-westerly direction.

“Don’t swoop too low when we get there, Hillyard”, said Ransey.

It wouldn’t have been easy to do that anyway. When they got to the vampire castle, which was situated perched up on the cliffs on the coast, they found it swathed in what seemed to be a thick, giant cobweb.

“What the heck has happened here?” Bardin exclaimed.

“I don’t know”, said Hillyard “But I don’t want to meet the spider that’s done that!”

“Here, look what I’ve found”, said Joby, carrying a wicker basket into the galley “It must have been poked through a hole in the barricade”.

He set it on the table, and Adam pulled out two large tins of spam meat.

“Was it just left there?” he asked.

“Must’ve been”, said Joby “I can’t imagine it was Glynis, she wouldn’t just leave something there without a word like that”.

“Good heavens”, said Adam. He delved further into the basket “And there’s more”.

Underneath a checkered tea-towel he found a bottle of brandy.

“That’s a bit more like it”, said Joby.

“Are you sure it can’t have been Glynis?” said Adam.

“Why would she leave it anonymously?” said Joby “She’d say something to me like ‘I’ve got a surprise for you tomorrow’, that would be more Glynis’s style”.

“The brandy”, said Adam, thoughtfully “Perhaps it was Rosa and Ernesto from The Driftwood?”

“Why would they leave us spam?” said Joby “Both of them are ardent vegetarians, like Kieran”.

“Well ..” said Adam “Perhaps they found it at the back of their larder and wanted to get rid of it. Oh wait, there’s more”.

He pulled out a jar of homemade chutney, which was right at the bottom of the basket.

“Now I know that it’s Rosa and Ernesto”, said Adam “This must be one of Rosa’s creations”.

“Decent of ‘em”, said Joby “I was wondering why Rosa hadn’t been in touch. You and she got quite matey when you were doing that picture for her last year”.

“I must admit I have felt quite saddened to be cold-shouldered like that”, said Adam “But it’s such an odd time that I felt we had to roll with it”.

“Well it seems they haven’t forgotten us after all”, said Joby.

There was the noise of the air-buggy returning overhead.

“The prodigals return”, said Adam.

Hillyard had done a circular spin round over the village before landing the air-buggy back in Lighthouse Lane. All they saw from their vantage point were deserted streets, and neglected window-boxes. It was a relief to get back on the other side of the barricade.

“How was it?” said Joby, helping Kieran out of the back of the buggy.

“Interesting”, said Kieran “We’ve made a few discoveries, all on the weird side”.

“I wouldn’t expect anything else from the Saturn Desert!” said Joby.

“So there’s possibly another Gorgon roaming the mountain range on the far side?” said Julian, when they all had a coffee meeting down below.

“We can’t be certain how long ago those people were gorgonised”, said Kieran “But Gorgons aren’t exactly unknown in this part of the world”.

“And hopefully she’ll stay on the far side of the desert”, said Hillyard.

“Well we can only do so much”, said Kieran “We’re all pretty vigilant as a rule on here, and the villagers aren’t exactly unused to such matters”.

“Perhaps she might do us all a favour, Kieran”, said Lonts “And keep the Trinity demon away from us here”.

“She might at that, Lonts”, said Kieran.

“Or turn the bloody thing to stone anyway”, said Joby “That would stop the Sweating Sickness in its tracks”.

The following day the SB Club had had another meeting in the lighthouse kitchen. This had, as was customary, turned out to be very satisfactory, and Adam, Bengo and Bardin were sitting afterwards in the lobby area of the tower, looking out over the ocean, when Toppy appeared on the poop-deck at the bottom of the metal ladder.

“Sorry to interrupt Adam”, he called “But Rosa is at the barricade, I thought you’d like to know”.

“Most definitely”, Adam called back “I’ll be right down, Toppy”.

“That’s a good sign”, said Bengo.

“One hopes so”, said Adam, getting to his feet “I’ll go and see what she wants, and thank her for the provisions. You two can stay here as long as you want. Bardin might want to savour his sore butt for a bit longer!”

Bengo laughed, and Bardin had to resist the urge to push him off his stool, but he was conscious that he had to be in Obedient mode, for the time being anyway. Although Bengo had asked that Adam should smack Bardin with his hand, Adam had used the paddle, saying “I think you will enjoy this, Bengo”. And he had.

“I hope you don’t mind me speaking on a level with you, old love”, said Adam, standing on the other side of the barricade to Rosa “Because I do regard you as a dear friend …”

“Us Scorpios should stick together”, said Rosa.

“Absolutely”, Adam laughed “The most misunderstood sign of the lot! But anyway, I do think you are not looking well, you look as if you need a good dose of Vitamin D”.

Rosa, with her customary waist-length plaits, looked extremely thin and pale. A look exacerbated by her black sweater and long purple satin skirt.

“Why aren’t you sitting out in your lovely garden?” said Adam.

“Because it doesn’t feel the same”, said Rosa, emotionally “The atmosphere is so tense, I wouldn’t find it relaxing. This is the first time I’ve set foot outside in ages. Ernesto left the basket of provisions here for me”.

“And they’re much appreciated”, said Adam “I hope you don’t incur the wrath of the villagers by doing that for us”.

“I couldn’t care less about that lot!” said Rosa “Anyway, we run the only bar for miles around. If they boycott us, they’ve got nowhere else to go! I don’t care what they think”.

“Oh dear”, said Adam, sadly.

“It disgusts me the way they’ve treated you”, said Rosa “You lot have always been good to us, and you went to all the trouble of locking yourselves into quarantine for our sakes …”

“Well to be honest, we’ve rather enjoyed it”, said Adam.

“But that’s not the point, Adam!” said Rosa, heatedly “All they’ve done is grumble since you’ve come back here, and now they’re moaning about you taking over the Old Lighthouse”.

“So we gather”.

“None of them have been near that place in years. It could have fallen into the sea for all they cared! And now they’re suddenly talking about it as if it’s their own precious thing!”

“If it becomes too much of an issue”, Adam sighed “Then we’ll have to move on. We don’t want to, but if it becomes that much of a local controversy then we will have no choice. It would be a great shame, as we are very happy here, we think we can make something of it, but …”

“You are not to go anywhere!” said Rosa, fiercely “Why should you? I regard you all as an asset to the area. Whereas this lot are a bunch of thick-headed louts, well apart from Glynis, Jane and Woolly”.


“And the new people at Doctor Xavier’s house”.

“Of course”, said Adam.

“Would you like some more tinned luncheon meat?” asked Rosa, changing tack “We’ve got heaps of the damn stuff in our cellar, and I can’t stand the sight of it”.

“It would be much appreciated”, said Adam. He was about to suggest that some of the villagers might like it too, but had a fear that this would send Rosa off like a rocket, so he forebore to comment.

Kieran was having trouble sleeping. That night he got out of bed and took to pacing up and down the long corridor which ran down the main spine of the ship. After he had done this a few times, Joby got him back into the cabin.

“Joby, just go back to sleep”, said Kieran.

“How can I, with you pacing about?” said Joby “I’m surprised Julian has been complaining!”

He got Kieran back into their bunk.

“What’s the matter anyway?” asked Joby “Why are you restless?”

“Something’s preying on my mind”, said Kieran “It’s this damned Sickness, something isn’t adding up about it. There’s some smoke-and-mirrors stuff going on”.

“You think it might not be real?” said Joby, hopefully.

“I wish it was as simple as that”, said Kieran “If it wasn’t real it would mean people weren’t really getting sick and dying, but it’s not that straightforward. I do think the Sweating Sickness has broken out in a couple of regions, and that IS very serious. We’ve seen the results of the Sickness, we know how devastating it can be. It’s horrendous for the people caught up in it, but … what I’m probably trying to say is that it’s a perfectly natural outbreak, it’s not down to this damn Trinity character”.

“She’s pulled a fast one on us?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been taken in by a demon now would it!”

“But you saw the note she left at the house up north”, said Joby “The I Am Contagion note”.

“Any old fool can write a note on a piece of paper”, said Kieran “And make up a pack of lies. I believe she is a demon, and I believe she is stalking this land and wrecking havoc wherever she goes. But I think the havoc she is wrecking is psychological. She’s conveniently picked up on the Sweating Sickness breaking out in a couple of regions, which to be honest is not unknown, certainly in the past few years when the world has been in such chaos, and she’s using it to spread Terror. People are already fearful if they’ve heard there’s been a spot of the Sickness breaking out, can you imagine what it would be like if she then turned up and announced she was the Contagion in human form? People would go absolutely out of their heads with fear and worry. There may even, God forbid, be mass suicides”.

“That idiot on the wireless who was on about the Yellow Valley being wiped out …”

“That’s another case in point. Someone who is a natural trouble-maker, who gleefully likes to spread horror, will end up adding to the mix. The truth goes right out of the window when Evil is stalking around”.

“So she isn’t dangerous in herself?” said Joby.

“She’s a minor demon, so she’s not to be written off as harmless”, said Kieran “But she’s more of a troublemaker than a genuine terror. She’s dangerous in that she has picked up on the human psyche and is using it against us. Look at what H was like when we found him in the forest”.

“He was a gibbering wreck, poor sod”.

“And now, here in Zilligot Bay, we barely recognise the people they have become. Locked in, fearful, intensely paranoid, seeing the world outside their houses as a terrifying place. The town is dying on its arse. If this situation is allowed to continue, then ultimately starvation will set in, because their gardens and allotments won’t be tended, and the fishing-boats won’t go out”.

“Bardin was complaining about that the other day”, said Joby “So was quarantining wrong then?”

“Not at all”, said Kieran “Initially it was a good idea. When there is an epidemic like the Sickness in the world, then it’s perfect common sense to have a lockdown whenever it strikes in an area, or when outsiders first appear. You have to make sure people stay free of the contagion, but the villagers are showing no sign of coming out of confinement”.

“Glynis was telling me that the gang at the Doctor’s house are avoiding the town as much as possible”, said Joby “Not because of the Sickness, but because they sense such hostility there. They try and keep to themselves at his house”.

“And that’s not the Zilligot Bay we’ve always known”, said Kieran “How are they at the moment?”

“They’re OK”, said Joby “H wants to take his air-buggy out on some trips. Said he wants to Hillyard to take ours out too. H has suggested flying over the Horn of Wonder. Hillyard’s not keen on that idea, says he doesn’t wanna see the Horn from the sea or from the air at the moment But you’re right, the lockdown should’ve ended by now. The Doctor’s gang must be well out of quarantine, and we must be close to it”.

“And Rosa should have opened the Driftwood again etc etc”, said Kieran “They are right to stay cautious about outsiders coming in, whilst the Sickness is still active in some areas, but let’s face it, this Trinity creature can’t possibly be as terrifying as a Gorgon. I’ll be amazed if she can kill you with one look!”

“So what do we do then?”

“We have to destroy Trinity”, Kieran sighed “It won’t make fock all difference to the areas that have the Sweating Sickness, but it’s psychology again. If she is destroyed, then it shoud make them feel safer. She has used psychology by telling us she is the Contagion in human form, well we use that psychology against her, and destroy the so-called ‘Contagion in human form’”.

“Have we gotta go looking for her?” said Joby, unenthusiastically.

“No”, said Kieran “My gut feeling is she is on her way here. It makes sense, she is working her way down across the continent, and we are at the very bottom edge of the continent. We will be the last place she comes to, and I have a feeling she isn’t that far away, perhaps on the far side of the Saturn Desert. I suspect, unfortunately, she will get passed the Gorgons that may be active there, and then we will be the next stop”.

“Those bodies we saw on the beach”, said Joby “On our way down here, where the Clown Demon presided. Was it the Sickness that killed them? Is it that near?”

“I was hoping I would never have to mention this”, said Kieran “But I think it was a mass suicide. To put it bluntly, they were a gullible people, that’s why they chose him as their leader. When they heard about the Sickness … well I don’t have to explain anymore. I expect many of them simply tried to walk into the sea. Some got washed back up on the beach. It’s appalling, but there you are”.

“You’re gonna have to tell the others all this at breakfast”.

“And somehow we have to get the message out to the town, and that is going to be insanely difficult”.

Chapter 7

“I was going to suggest that we start dismantling the barricade today”, said Bardin, at breakfast the next morning “But I don’t feel any inclination to do so, I’m still fed up and disheartened by the village. If any of the rest of you want to dismantle it, you can do so, but it’s not something I can get hugely enthusiastic about”.

“Perhaps we could make a sort of little doorway in it for Glynis or Rosa”, said Lonts.

“Sounds fine”, said Bardin “But we’d better make it so that one of us has to be there to let them in, or God knows who will end up turning up here”.

Joby went down the lane for his customary chat with Glynis, and to tell her about Kieran’s theories regarding the Sickness.

“I hope he’s right”, she replied “This current situation is fast becoming intolerable. I feel like we’re in Purgatory. Jane and I feel like we’re back on the Third Island!”

“Well at least you don’t have to put up with Cloris here”, said Joby.

“And I get to speak to you”, said Glynis “Kieran’s right though, quarantine for a short while is a very sensible idea, but this looks as if it’s going to go on forever, and that thought is too depressing for words”.

“It can’t go on forever”, said Joby “Everything’s being brought to its knees as it is”.

“Rosa is very unhappy”, said Glynis “Some of the villagers found out about the basket of goodies she handed over to Adam, and now they’re all chewing the furniture as a result”.

“It was only a few tins of spam!” said Joby “And she only gave it to us because she couldn’t offload it onto anyone else!”

“Plus the bottle of brandy”, said Glynis “I know, I know, it’s completely absurd. People are being very absurd. A bloody nightmare in fact. They’ve been thoroughly unreasonable about you lot ever since you got back here. I keep hoping we’ll wake up from this nightmare and find it was all a sick joke, but so far there isn’t any sign of that”.

“It will end one day”, said Joby.

“I hope you’re right”, said Glynis, and she gave a heartfelt sigh “I suppose I’d better get back now, or our neighbour downstairs will be making more snide remarks about me going out self-indulgently and breaking the quarantine”.

“That mad bitch Annette?” said Joby, bluntly “Tell her if she gives you any trouble we’ll set Bardin on her again, he sorted her out at the wedding last year”.

“I wouldn’t wish that on Bardin”.

“He’ll be able to cope with it, don’t you worry about that”.

Glynis looked so utterly dejected at the prospect of the short walk back into town, that Joby felt wretched himself.

“Hang on a minute”, he began to fiddle with some old packing-cases which were serving as part of the barricade at one end.

“What are you doing?” said Glynis “Oh now Joby, I can’t come through, what would Bardin say?”

“He won’t mind”, said Joby “He’s feeling so rebellious himself at the moment that it’s becoming a full-time job for us keeping him under control! Anyway, I’ve been wanting to show you my new indoor garden”.

He lifted up a string of barbed wire with the instruction to “mind yer head”, and Glynis bent down to wriggle through the gap. Once she was safely through, Joby replaced the makeshift barricade. When he had finished, they stood facing each other.

“Dare we hug?” said Glynis, as though they somehow had to be given permission first “What if you’re still infectious?”

“I don’t think I was ever infectious to start with!” said Joby.

Glynis laughed and they embraced.

“Oh God, what a nonsense it has all been”, she said, tearfully.

“You can say that again”, said Joby “C’mon, I’ll show you what we’ve been doing with the old lighthouse”.

When they had climbed up the metal ladder to the main entrance, they paused in the lobby area.

“Wow”, said Glynis, turning to look at the view “That is wonderful”.

“Pretty special innnit”, said Joby “Adam loves it. He keeps threatening to paint it, but he hasn’t got round to it yet”.

They went up the first flight of steps to the kitchen.

“It’s a lot better than I was expecting it to be”, said Glynis, looking around her “I was expecting something all mildewed and derelict”.

“We’ve been tarting it up a bit”, said Joby, cautiously looking around him to make sure no signs of the SB Club, like a paddle, had been accidentally left there “Hillyard wants to decorate it, though I don’t know where he thinks he’s gonna get the paint from”.

“It has a nice feel to it”, said Glynis “You lot must have put some love into this place”.

“Sort of”, said Joby, thinking that most of the activity the kitchen had seen so far was Bardin being given a sore behind “Come on up to the next level, that’s where my garden is”.

Glynis was suitably impressed with his efforts so far, and even asked some technical questions, such as what the little foil screens were for.

“Extra light, for cloudy days”, said Joby.

He heard muffled voices coming from below, and for a moment thought that the SB Club were convening. He rushed over to the doorway and shouted down the stairs “Who’s down there? I’ve got Glynis up here”.

“It’s me and Kieran”, Hillyard shouted back.

He raced up the steps, closely followed by Kieran. When they got into the old bedroom, Hillyard picked Glynis up and whirled her around. “Joby thought I looked unhappy”, said Glynis “So he decided to cheer me up”.

“Oh yeah, he’s a great one for cheering people up, is old Jobe”, said Hillyard.

“Joby can be very effective, in his own way”, said Kieran.

“You lot have really made this place special”, said Glynis “It had been neglected for years until you came here”.

“I wouldn’t mind getting the light itself working again one day”, said Hillyard.

“Hillyard’s always fancied himself as a lighthouse-keeper”, said Joby.

“That’s ambitious”, said Glynis.

“It’ll take a bit of thought”, said Hillyard.

The following day Bardin ordered that most of the barricade be dismantled, but the pieces were to be left on the roadside in case they needed to be hastily reassembled. News of this activity must have spread to the other side of town because an invitation to tea was issued over the wireless airwaves from the Doctor’s house.

“We’ll take the truck”, said Hillyard “It could do with a good run”.

“Not the horses then?” said Kieran.

“I don’t want them exposed to that miserable lot in the town”, said Hillyard “It might severely traumatise them!”

The ones who elected to go were Hillyard, Ransey, Bengo, Bardin, Julian and Joby. None of the others seemed terribly keen, and chose to stay at home. To everyone’s surprise Kieran also chose to stay behind. He didn’t give a reason why, other than to say that he wasn’t feeling “in the mood to be sociable over the tea-cups”.

As he was getting ready to go, Finia appeared in Bengo and Bardin’s cabin, and presented Bardin with a pair of silk drawers he had been surreptitiously making.

“I thought your rump could do with something more soothing than all that starch constantly chafing you”, he said.

Bardin was so touched he was almost lost for words.

“They’ve even got fly buttons!” said Bengo.

“I may be a eunuch”, said Finia “But I do know some things are necessary”.

“I don’t know what to say”, said Bardin.

“That makes a nice change”, said Bengo.

“They’ll be a godsend on the truck”, said Bardin “I wasn’t looking forward to all that bumping about on rough roads”.

He kissed Finia on both cheeks.

“I’ll put them on now”, he said.

“They’ll go better under your nightie too”, said Finia “I never thought the heavy-duty shorts seemed right with it somehow”.

Bardin secretly disagreed with this, but thanked him all the same. Finia left the room, and Bardin changed into the slinky underwear.

“Oh my God”, Bengo breathed “They’re gorgeous. He’s got your size just right, they fit where they touch. Wait til Adam sees them, or are they not for spanking in?”

“Well of course they are”, Bardin blushed “If only to see what it’s like, and then Kieran can’t constantly complain that I have masses of thick starched cotton protecting my behind, like he normally does. Adam might have to be a bit more gentle with me though”.

“Like hell!” said Bengo “You’ll get a proper smacked bottom, and serve you right too!”

“Stop it, I’m getting a hard-on”, said Bardin “Anyway, most of the time it will be the starched knickers”.

“Good”, said Bengo “None of us can get enough of them”.

The drive through the town was a dismal affair. Everything was still shuttered, and the noise of the truck sounded horrendously loud as they thundered through the empty streets.

“This is ridiculous!” Hillyard yelled from the driver’s seat “They should’ve come out of quarantine by now! It’s totally stupid!”

Ransey grunted in agreement from the passenger seat.

By contrast, the Doctor’s house was a babble of excited voices when they arrived, and Elaine threw herself at them all, kissing everyone enthusiastically.

“Julian, you look so much better than you did on the Weather Rock”, she said.

“Thank you”, said Julian “I take it this is another of your special compliments”.

Needless to say it was a lively tea-party, with much hubbub. Even Doctor Xavier seemed to have lightened up from his usual tense state. The only time he got angry was when he talked about the local cottage hospital.

“Well I’m amazed they haven’t been beating down your door, trying to get you back there”, said Joby.

“That’s because there’s no one in the damn place!” said Doctor Xavier.

This caused a complete cessation in chatter, and tea-cups were dropped onto saucers in shock.

“How do you mean?” said Joby, eventually.

“The hospital is empty”, said the Doctor “Apart from the staff I mean”.

“I don’t understand”, said Bengo.

“Glynis told me this morning”, said Doctor “She had volunteered her nursing services right from the start of this damn epidemic, but was constantly rebuffed by them. In frustration she walked up there yesterday, said she was determined to help. She managed to get right into the main building and peered through the doors at a couple of wards before she was stopped. She said it was as silent as an empty cathedral, rows of empty beds, only the odd member of staff drifting about like a lost ghost. There weren’t even any standard, non-Sickness, patients anywhere. No one”.

“I-I suppose it’s not surprising”, said Elaine, trying to gather herself “I mean there have been no reported outbreaks of it in the town, so …”

“There weren’t even any normal patients, Elaine”, the Doctor sighed, more in sadness than anything else “Even in normal circumstances, you’d expect SOMEONE to be in there, even if it’s just because they’d dropped something on their foot, or injured themselves falling down the stairs, that sort of thing. And the amount of furtive boozing behind closed doors that’s been going on round here that wouldn’t surprise me! But there was no one there. It’s all a monumental fat lie”.

“I still don’t understand”, said Bengo “Why would they lie about such a thing?”

“Attention-seeking?” Bardin suggested.

“Something like that”, said the Doctor “It was all very strange when the news of this epidemic first kicked off here. Everyone took to their homes, decrees went out from the Village Council that people had to stay locked in and that was that, said it all had to be done to protect the hospital, no new patients were to be admitted, as it would never be able to cope with the inundation otherwise. Only of course there never was any inundation”.

“That’s crazy!” said Elaine.

“All I can say is, having worked at that place, sadly it doesn’t surprise me”, said the Doctor.

“Smoke-and-mirrors again”, said Bardin “As Kieran said”.

The tea-party broke up soon after. As they went into the grounds, H pestered Hillyard about taking the air-buggies out again. Hillyard said he was interested in the idea, but had no wish to fly over the Horn of Wonder.

“I only want to see that area again if it’s absolutely necessary”, he said.

The sky was clouding over, and there was an electric charge in the air, as if a storm was coming. Bardin said that he wanted to drive the truck home, and, to everyone’s astonishment, Hillyard agreed.

“Is that wise?” said Ransey “Bardin hasn’t driven in years, and he was only ever rudimentary”.

“I’m virtually going to be driving in a straight line between here and the lighthouse”, said Bardin “And as the streets are completely empty, I’m not going to be likely to run anybody over!”

“You’re going to let Bardy drive?” said Bengo “In your truck?”

“Yeah, he can have a go”, said Hillyard “As long as I sit in the passenger seat and closely monitor proceedings”.

Ransey raised his hands in the air, in a “on your head be it”, sort of gesture.

Watched keenly by Hillyard in the passenger seat, Bardin drove steadily back through the empty streets of the town.

“Not bad not bad”, said Hillyard.

“I told you”, said Bardin, adjusting the gear stick “I’m driving in a straight line, how hard can it be?”

“That’s usually the sort of comment someone makes just before an accident happens!” said Hillyard.

As they drove out of the far end of the town, and headed towards Lighthouse Lane, Bardin noticed someone standing motionless in the middle fo the road, near to where the remains of their barricade were. He brought the truck to a halt and rested his hands on the top of the steering-wheel.

“I was expecting this”, he said.

“Who is it?” said Hillyard.

“It’s her”, said Bardin “Trinity”.

“How do you know?” said Hillyard.

“Let’s just say I have a hunch”, said Bardin “It’s been coming on all afternoon. Kieran always said I was more psychic than I realised, and I sensed she was near. It was only a matter of time after all”.

“She’s standing between us and Kieran”, said Hillyard, in a hushed voice.

“Not for much longer”, said Bardin, ramming the vehicle into gear.

Hillyard didn’t have time to query what was going on. Before he knew it, Bardin had roared ahead, thundering at the figure at high speed. Hillyard barely had time to notice what appeared to be a very old lady, dressed entirely, head-to-foot in black garments. She was spindly and hunched over. The black garments and her strangely long, misshapen limbs gave her the appearance of a human tarantula. She faced the truck, and as it got nearer, her mouth opened in a black, toothless O-shape. She was clearly no more expecting this development, than Hillyard was.

Drving at high speed, Bardin slammed right into the creature, and everyone felt a sickening crunch as the wheels drove over the creature’s body. A short distance on, Bardin paused, and said “hold on”, before slamming the truck into reverse, and running back over the remains one more time.

“OK!” Ransey shouted “No need for an encore, I think we’re done here!”

The creature lay, like splattered roadkill, all over the track. The others had clambered out of the truck, and were standing around it warily.

“I think she’s done”, said Joby.

Several of the others, on hearing the commotion, had raced along from the galleon, including Kieran.

“Um …?” he said, when he got to the scene of carnage.

“I think Bardin has just saved you from another showdown with Evil!” said Julian.

Bengo raced round to the driver’s door, and pulled it open. Bardin was bleeding copiously.

“It’s alright”, said Bardin “It’s just a nosebleed that’s all”.

“You’ve never had a nosebleed in your life!” said Bengo.

“Well I’m having one now!” said Bardin, looking down at his hands and the blood-spotted front of his shirt.

“It’s alright, Bengo”, said Lonts, muscling in “I’ll carry him back to the ship, Finia can have a look at it”.

That evening Bardin shut himself in his cabin and refused to see anybody. Eventually he had to see Bengo, if only because it was Bengo’s cabin too. He found Bardin lying on their bunk, wearing only the silk knickers and an old sleep-mask he had dug out of a drawer. “I don’t want to see anybody tonight”, said Bardin “They’ll just have to accept it”.

“I think they’re just a bit concerned that’s all”, said Bengo, sitting on the bunk next to him, and stroking Bardin’s bare leg.

“I don’t know what came over me, Bengo”, said Bardin, staring up at the ceiling “Something seemed to possess me. I haven’t driven since years back, when Ransey gave us some driving lessons at Midnight Castle, and now suddenly here I was elbowing my way into the truck and running over decrepit demons!”

“Kieran says you did a brilliant job”, said Bengo “He says you should be the next Vanquisher of Evil!”

“He’s only saying that because of that nonsense Julian was coming out with”.

“I don’t think he was entirely joking, Bardy”.

“I’m no Vanquisher of Evil!” said Bardin “I’m a fucking clown for god’s sake!”

“And a pretty good ships captain”, said Bengo.

“It doesn’t solve anything really does it”, said Bardin, after a pensive pause “Getting rid of her I mean. The Sweating Sickness is still at large in the world”.

“But she’s not around generating fear and panic”, said Bengo.

“No, people seem to be managing that all by themselves”, said Bardin.

“Oh come on, cheer up!” Bengo nudged him “Treat it as a dangerous stunt that you managed to pull off”.

“I’ll be alright tomorrow”, said Bardin “Tell the others it’ll be business as normal then”.

“I think we should eat supper by ourselves in here tonight”, said Bengo “I’ll arrange it with Adam”.

They did so, and afterwards, they both stripped off naked and danced to the wind-up gramophone which had been loaned to them for the evening.

“Imagine if we’d done this on stage!” said Bengo, as they hung onto each other.

“We’d have been run out town”, said Bardin.

“I think it must be Eastertime”, said Kieran, standing up on the main deck in his dressing-gown first thing the following morning.

“How can you tell?” said Joby, who had skived a few minutes off doing breakfast duty to join him “I’d struggle to know what month it is at the moment”.

“Just a feeling I have”, said Kieran “I had a notion earlier that I could hear church bells in the distance, but I know that was probably just a wee fancy of mine”.

“Who knows?” said Joby “The way things are at the moment”.

“I keep thinking of that Easter we spent in Pepuaaah”, said Kieran “When we were in the Voodoo Circus, do you remember?”

“Crikey, that’s going back a bit!”

“Mm I know, but I often think of it at this time of year, I don’t know why. It’s strange how some memories stay firmly in your head, and others vanish completely”.

“Weird how little trivial things stay in your head too”, said Joby “And big events become all vague. I’ve often found that. I sometimes think of the candle holder above the back door at the Town House in Toondor Lanpin. Everybody used to light their candles from it before going up to bed. I can remember that one so clearly, and yet the times we were living at the Ministry I’ve almost completely forgotten”.

“Probably because you weren’t happy there”, said Kieran “The mind does a grand job of protecting itself sometimes”.

Many of the clowns had gone out to clear up the remains of the demon from the road, and were now returning, carrying an assortment of brooms, shovels and buckets.

“They are astonishing”, said Kieran, softly.

“Hey-up!” Hal called out “Must be nearly breakfast-time”.

“Yep”, said Joby “I’d better get back below”.

Bardin, clad in his bath-robe, put in an appearance at the breakfast table.

“Well well look who’s turned up”, said Julian.

“Julian!” said Adam, in a warning voice “Everybody needs some time alone occasionally”.

“I was just teasing him”, said Julian “Stop being such an old nanny-goat”.

“I’m OK”, said Bardin, sitting down “I just wasn’t feeling I’d be very good company last night”.

“We’ve got scrambled eggs, Bardy”, said Bengo, setting down a big platter of the same on the polished table.

“Good”, said Bardin.

Adam poured him a black coffee from a silver coffee pot.

“Hey, what’s the posh coffeepot doing out?” said Hoowie “It’s a bit gay isn’t it?”

“It’s called being civilised”, said Adam.

“Yeah, you wouldn’t understand!” said Bengo to Hoowie.

“Patsy reckons it’s Easter”, said Adam “He told me so last night, so it seems as good a time as any to get the posh dinner things out”.

They had barely all got seated when a strange noise broke out in the distance.

“Oh now what?” Joby groaned “Can’t we even have breakfast in peace?”

Bardin stood up and went to the quarterdeck steps, followed by several of the others.

A large congregation of the villagers had gathered at the remains of the barricade, and were standing in a row, facing them, all clapping vigorously.

“What the hell?” said Bardin “They’re all clapping like a bunch of demented seals! What the hell is going on?”

“I think it’s a sort of unwanted tribute”, Adam sighed “For ridding us of the demon”.

“For fuck’s sake”, Bardin glared at them “Can they NEVER get anything right?! I’m going back below to finish breakfast. They can stand there and clap at the sky if they feel like it”.

He went below deck, closely followed by Bengo, and resumed his seat at the head of the dining-table.

“It was all a bit silly wasn’t it, Bardy?” said Bengo, sitting down next to him.

“I have never felt less like taking a curtain call in my life!” said Bardin.


11:03 AM 8th April 2020

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