Go back to previous chapter


By Sarah Hapgood

The first couple of cottages Ransey and Hillyard arrived at on the quayside were deserted, and looked as if they had been so for quite some time. Peering through the ground floor window of one of them Hillyard saw that it had recently been flooded with sea-water.

“That happens regularly when we have an exceptional high-tide”, came an unknown voice from nearby.

Hillyard and Ransey turned to find they were being addressed by a very thin old man with long, straggly hair. He was clutching an ornate carved walking-stick, which looked like the sort a high-ranking priest might have carried in a procession. His eyes and mouth had a trace of amusement around them, which was encouraging. At least he wasn’t being openly hostile anyway.

“You just come in on that big, fancy ship?” he said “You won’t find many of us left here now. The island isn’t what it once was”.

“We just wondered if we could put in here for a couple of days”, said Hillyard “We’ve been lost at sea, and we need to try and get our bearings. Take stock and all that”.

“You can stay here as long as you like”, said the old man “We don’t own the island. No one does. Anymore. These days we’re just a pinprick in the big, wild old ocean”.

“A welcome sight to us nonetheless”, said Ransey “We haven’t seen sight nor sound of human habitation for weeks”.

“Come into my humble dwelling and have a drink”, said the old man “I can’t remember the last time I spoke to a new face”.

He led them towards a low, rambling and very old building which was slightly above the cluster of deserted cottages. They saw no one else in the street.

“Do you live here alone?” said Hillyard “On this island?”

“No there are others here”, said the old man “Scattered round and about. Just not many of us. Most live up at the Citadel”.

He pointed his stick up in the direction of the impressive-looking building up at the top of the island.

“But even up there things aren’t what they once were”, he said “Just a handful of souls there now”.

As they got nearer to the old man’s house they saw that it was so ancient, weather-beaten and crooked that it was a miracle it was still standing. The old man noticed them looking at it in amazement.

“It could be a 1000 years old”, he said, proudly “No written records go back that far though, so we can’t be sure”.

He pointed to a hatch in the wall, right next to the main doorway.

“It was the island’s main bar at one time”, he explained “Drinks used to be dispensed through that hole there”.

He led them into the main ground-floor area of his dwelling. It was a small, poky and depressing room, filled with old sea memorabilia that seemed to be decaying as quickly as everything else. There was no floor as such, it was bare earth. A large hole had been dug in the corner of it, and a spade stuck in the soil nearby gave it the unwholesome appearance of an open grave.

One of the few items of furniture was a sofa-cum-bed piled with unwashed bed-linen and a very tattered old copy of the Holy Bible. Ransey looked at this item with something akin to despair. He equated religion in his mind instantly with Kieran, and so anyone showing signs of religious tendencies was instantly potential trouble. He had forgotten that he himself was now supposed to be a member of a religious order!

The old man went by the disarmingly prosaic name of Roddy, and he immediately set about pouring them drinks from a dusty collection of bottles in the corner. Meanwhile, Hillyard was frantically nudging Ransey and jerking his head in the direction of the Bible.

“Yes I know, I’ve seen it”, Ransey whispered.

“What was that?” said the old man, genially.

“Just noticed your Bible, that’s all”, said Hillyard.

“My Protection”, said Roddy, passing them two glasses of a sticky, greeny-coloured liquid “It helps me get through the night”.

“Do you have trouble sleeping then?” said Ransey, hoping that the old man kept it just for bedtime reading-matter.

“I’m plagued by demons”, said Roddy, casually, as though mentioning trouble with his drains “They are particularly bad at night”.

“Not those kind of demons”, said Roddy “REAL demons. They come and attack me. But all I do is brandish my Bible, and say ‘the Lord Jesus Christ is my protector’, and they leave at once”.

“How many people live up at the Citadel?” said Ransey, hoping to steer the conversation in a direction he could cope with.

“Not sure really”, said Roddy “Not EXACTLY I mean. About half-a-dozen I’d say”.

“Not many then”, said Hillyard, thinking of half-a-dozen people rattling around that huge, sprawling pile, built probably to house a couple of hundred in its day.

“Do we need to go up there and show we’re friendly?” said Ransey.

“No need to do that”, said Roddy “Though I expect if you hang around they may invite you up there”.

“He wasn’t that curious about us really”, said Hillyard, when they got back to the galleon “Seemed more interested in talking about his perishing demons”.

“You didn’t ask him if he’d heard of Kieran I hope”, said Joby, sharply.

“Oh calm down, Smiling Boy”, said Hillyard “Credit us with some sense. We’re hardly gong to go pointing him out to all and sundry are we!”

“There’s a chance he may never have hard of him”, said Adam “Patsy’s fame never seems to have spread to the ’New Continent’”.

“This lot are closer to us than the mainland were”, said Joby, who had a natural gift for finding the remotest flaw in any situation.

“Probably best to stick to the religious order idea”, said Julian “I suspect the worst that can happen is that the old timer might want us to arrange an exorcism for him”. “Oh Patsy will love that”, said Adam.

“Worth coming all this way for really”, said Ransey, pouring himself another glass of water from the jug on the dining-room table.

“You seem to be rather thirsty, old love”, said Adam.

“I don’t know what the hell that stuff was that he gave us to drink”, said Ransey “But I wouldn’t swab the decks with it! It tasted like paint-stripper”.

“It might have been for all you know”, said Joby.

“Did he say what form these demons took?” said Kieran, now talking alone with Joby and Hillyard in his cabin.

“No he didn’t”, said Joby “Stop getting yourself all excited”.

“He asked me the question actually”, said Hillyard, in a rather lofty manner.

“Well you’d better answer it then hadn’t yer!” said Joby.

“I wasn’t paying much attention I suppose”, said Hillyard to Kieran.

“Oh Hillyard!” said Kieran, in mild exasperation.

“I get bored with demon-talk, that’s the trouble”, said Hillyard, apologetically “I do remember him saying though that sometimes they tried to come onto him sexually”.

“Sounds like fantasising to me”, said Joby.

“Joby, don’t be an eejit”, said Kieran “If he was fantasising out of loneliness, he’d simply invent another person surely? Why bother tormenting himself with a demon?”

“’Cos perhaps he’s a Catholic like you”, said Joby “And gets himself all riddled with guilt about it. Makes it easier then to blame a demon seducing him”.

“Without knowing anymore”, said Kieran “I don’t see the point in wild speculation. I should go ashore on the next trip and speak to himself”.

“We travel all this way”, said Joby “Going through endless shitty weather, and the first thing we do when we hit land is you arrange an exorcism for some mad old git living in a hovel! That wasn’t what I had in mind when we sailed over the horizon. I’m going to the karsey”.

“Ach, poor old Joby”, said Kieran, when Joby had gone off on his great mission “I’ll make it up to him somehow”.

“I’ll make it up to him with a kick in the pants if he’s not careful”, said Hillyard “He could try counting his blessings for once”.

“Oh c’mon now”, Kieran laughed “You know that’s not his style. Joby’ll be fine when we’ve given him a little trip ashore”.

Nothing shore of a dose of bubonic plague was going to keep Bardin from going ashore on the following day. Although he was still weak and prone to dizzy spells he was up early getting ready.

“You’re not coming with me though”, he said to Bengo.

“Why on earth not?” said Bengo.

“Have you looked at yourself lately?” said Bardin “You’re looking awful, all pasty and washed out”.

“There’s a reason for that”, said Bengo, crossly “It’s called nursing a bad-tempered, cantankerous old sod like you for several days and nights!”

“Exactly. So you need a little time without me. Enjoy the peace and quiet and have a nap”.

Bengo plonked himself down on the edge of the bunk, pulled out an unsavoury-looking handkerchief and began to bawl into it.

“I don’t see what’s so funny”, he wailed, when he saw Bardin looking at him with some amusement “I suppose it’s hilarious watching someone in distress!”

“You do look funny”, said Bardin “Come on, don’t take it to heart. I’ve told you many times before, it’s the price we pay for being clowns. We can be breaking our hearts and the audience will find it funny. No wonder so many of us are basket-cases! Your trouble is you’re tired. Forty winks will do you the world of good”.

“I suppose so”, said Bengo, grudgingly.

Bardin put on his duffel-coat and turned to leave the room.

“Bardy”, said Bengo “Don’t forget we’re not supposed to mention that Kieran’s the Vanquisher”.

“I’ve learnt my lines”, said Bardin.

Julian had called Kieran into his cabin to tell him virtually the same thing. Standing there, with a clean freshly-ironed shirt on, and his Bible tucked under his arm, Kieran looked deceptively like an eager young priest about to go out on his first mission.

“Don’t start attention-seeking once you’re over there”, said Julian, sternly “And telling the man you’re the Vanquisher of Evil”.

“He’s probably never heard of the Vanquisher of Evil!” Kieran exclaimed.

“Good!” said Julian “And I want it to stay that way!”

“Come along Kieran”, Hillyard called out as he passed down the corridor.

To everyone’s relief (including Kieran’s) Roddy gave no sign of recognising him at all. He was delighted that Kieran had come armed with a Bible though, and instantly started telling him about the demons. Kieran was having trouble concentrating though. He was mesmerised by the sheer awfulness of Roddy’s home. The lack of a proper floor, the grave-like hole in the corner, the filthy bed-linen, the walls running with damp ….

“Why don’t you go and live up at the Citadel with the others?” he asked Roddy.

“Sometimes a man’s happiest on his own dung-heap”, Roddy replied.

“Dung-heap’s the word”, Joby whispered to Bardin over by the window.

Like Kieran, Bardin was appalled by the squalor of the room.

“I’d rather live in a tent than in here”, he whispered back to Joby.

“So this demon”, said Kieran, dragging himself back to the main business of the day “Is it the same one that comes each time?”

“Always the same one in this room”, said Roddy “Always late at night. It wants to fuck me”.

“To …?” said Kieran “You mean it’s an incubus, or a succubus?”

“That may be what you call it”, said Roddy “The Lord Jesus Christ acts to protect me though”.

Kieran walked carefully around the room. He peered cautiously at the open grave, and then opened a door in the wall. It revealed a cramped box staircase leading upwards.

“What’s above us?” he asked Roddy.

“A bedroom”, said Roddy.

“Why don’t you sleep up there?”

“Because that room is awash with evil”, said Roddy, as though the room they were in was a serene haven by comparison “Even Jesus is powerless up there”.

“Jesus is never powerless anywhere”, said Kieran, and he began to go up the steps.

Ransey gave a moan of impatience and followed him. He in turn was pursued by Roddy, Hillyard, Bardin, and Joby bringing up the rear.

The staircase was very narrow, and they could only stand on it in single-file. At the top Kieran, with some difficulty, wrenched up the wooden latch on the door. The room beyond seemed to be filled with beds, and nothing but beds. There were 4 of them, of different sizes, all crammed in any old how. There was not much available floor space left to be had, and there was nothing else in the room at all, not even any curtains at the grime-encrusted window.

Kieran could sense an atmosphere in the room though. A thick, cloying, almost glutinous atmosphere. He described it when they got home as feeling like being slowly drowned in filthy fish-tank water.

“You can sense it too can’t you?” said Roddy, in a hushed voice.

“There is definitely something here”, said Kieran “How long has it been like this?”

“Many years”, said Roddy “About 40 perhaps”.

“Forty years?!” said Kieran.

“Couldn’t say EXACTLY”, Roddy shrugged.

“You’ve been living like this for 40 years?!” said Kieran.

“What else could I do?” said Roddy “There aint many people I can turn to, stuck all the way out here”.

Kieran had to concede the truth of this. Suddenly Joby cried out from the direction of the stairs. When the others found him he was lying sprawled at the bottom of the steps, half-in and half-out of the downstairs room (it would be a bit of a cheek to actually call it a living-room). The others galloped down to him and helped him to his feet.

“Summat pushed me”, he said “It just gave me a shove”.

“You’ve got marks on your neck”, said Kieran, examining two red narrow lines that had formed on Joby’s skin “We’d better get you back to the galleon”.

They made their goodbyes to Roddy, who had worn a very knowing look throughout all this, as if to say “I warned you that might happen”.

“Oh God, poor Joby”, said Bengo, when they had all got back to the galleon. Bardin had gone along to their cabin immediately to tell him what had happened. “But why did the demon attack him? I would’ve thought it would have gone for Kieran”.

“I’m sure Kieran would be delighted you think that!” said Bardin “We think Joby got attacked just because he was the last one on the stairs. He says he felt something tugging on his shirt just before he was pulled over”.

“And what about the marks on his neck?”

“It’s alright. Finia’s putting some antiseptic on them”.

“It was still a pretty horrible thing to happen”, said Bengo.

“Bog-standard demon stuff”, said Bardin “That’s what Kieran says anyway. He called it ’the usual pathetic attempt to scare us off’”.

“Oh dear, that sounds like Kieran getting fired up to sort it out”, said Bengo “Joby’ll hate that even more than the demon attacking him!”

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License.

Go forward to next chapter

Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site