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By Sarah Hapgood

It was a very long night. Intolerably long. There wasn’t much more in the way of ghostly phenomena. It was confined to a spot of random bell-ringing and pebble throwing, but Kieran wasn’t the only one who believed there was thoroughly earthly forces at work behind all this.

At the first glimmers of sunrise, Bardin announced they were returning to the galleon. They emerged into the Citadel’s courtyard like prisoners coming out a prison’s main doorway after a long stretch inside. On the other side of the courtyard sat the unsightly thug who had accosted Adam. He was lethargically chucking stones in the direction of the mangy cat, who was clearly an old hand at dodging these missiles. The thug gave them all a revolting scowl, but said nothing.

“Who is that person?” Kieran asked Flavia.

“Our cousin Nicholas”, said Flavia.

“Not exactly the pride of the family I take it”, Kieran couldn’t help saying.

Flavia’s incessant pride came tiresomely to the fore again.

“He adores Mary”, she said, as though this redeemed everything “He would do anything for her”.

“Yes”, said Kieran, in the closest he could ever come to a biting voice “So we’ve observed with your ’haunting’”.

As they were turning the wagon round Kieran saw a spray of dead bourgainvillea hanging from a nearby wall. It seemed to sum up the whole island to him.

Back at the galleon the others were waiting impatiently for news of the night’s happenings. Bardin had more important things on his mind though.

“We’re starving”, he said, sweeping aboard the ship “Let’s have some breakfast, quick”.

After breakfast Bardin ordered that anchor was to be weighed, and they were to set sail immediately in a northerly direction out of the archipelago. Before landing at Mud Island they had all speculated about exploring the whole area, but the extreme dreariness of Mud Island had effectively killed any enthusiasm for that plan. They returned the wagon to Roddy, and gave him a parting gift of some eggs and a bottle of whisky. After supervising the anchor being pulled Bardin and Bengo went to bed for several hours. So did the other 4 who had been involved in the night at the Citadel.

When Kieran and Joby went up on deck that afternoon they were overjoyed to see that Mud Island had disappeared completely, and that nothing but a vast expanse of sunlit ocean faced them.

“I wonder what’s gonna happen to Roddy though”, said Joby “He’s the only one I got concerned about, living in that horrible little house”.

“Perversely I think the demons in the house are what’s keeping him motivated”, said Kieran “Otherwise he’d have nothing to think about but his own demise. Roddy’s a very sick man. He’s only got about 3 months to live, at the most”.

“Oh my God, the poor old bastard”, said Joby “I had no idea. Did he tell you?”

“I largely worked it out for myself”, said Kieran “Perhaps it was psychic intuition, who knows? That’s one of the reasons he was so adamant he didn’t want to move up to the Citadel. I’m sure Flavia would have looked after him, but he’d have had to put up with Mary’s antics as well”.

“She needs a good swift kick up the backside that one”, said Joby.

“It wouldn’t make any difference whatsoever”, said Kieran.

“Spose not”, said Joby “No sense no feeling, as my old nan used to say. Is nothing ever gonna change up at that place?”

“Not whilst Mary’s on this mortal coil”, said Kieran “Short of a cataclysmic disaster anyway. She’s got them in the grip of an emotional tyranny they’re not strong enough to break out of”.

“How do some people do that?” Joby exclaimed “Get such a hold on people I mean. You see it all the time, whether it’s non-entities like her, or bloody great dictators. And yet they never seem to have much going for ’em, personally I mean”.

“Nope, but they know how to pull the strings”, said Kieran “And they’re usually unscrupulous enough to exploit other people’s good intentions. Mary does it because she has some pathological obsession that she’s somehow special and that it’s the duty of everybody else to acknowledge that fact”.

“Hang about”, said Joby “Yet the one person her treated her more special than anyone else, the old tutor I mean, she hated more than anything! How does that work out?”

“Simple”, Kieran smiled “Mary doesn’t know what she wants. If you treat her as special, she’ll exploit you and despise you for it. If you stand up to her and treat her as a grown-up who is just like everybody else, she’ll be full of fierce resentment. Mary doesn’t know how to be happy, it’s not in her. The best anyone can do around people like that is to protect themselves as best they can. The Marys of this world are nothing but psychic vampires”.

“Is that why you were such a funny old bugger whilst we were there?” said Joby “You were all closed off”.

“That island is a stagnant place”, said Kieran “Yet it’s like quicksand. If you open yourself up to it, it can suck you in. Don’t ask me how, but it does. If I had breezed in there and treated it as no different to anywhere else, well the horrifying fact is we could have found ourselves there for years”.

“Fuck me, God forbid!” Joby shuddered.

It can be a hugely enjoyable feeling - running away. And nowhere is it more enjoyable than in fleeing a no-win situation. That was certainly the feeling that stayed with them almost constantly as they sailed further and further away from Mud Island. As if to coax them ever onwards the weather stayed beautiful. This was the ocean at its very best, kind and mellow, sunlit and hugely benevolent in its isolation.

Civilisation had to be attained at some point though. Hillyard had found a leak in one of the engines, the kind that will worsen considerably if it is not attended to. So they sped on with much hilarity back to the environs of the east coast of ’The Old Continent’. Eventually they began to get company. A boat-load of boisterous fishermen, all on the hunt for sword-fish, hailed them cheerfully, but left them alone. Too intent on earning a living to go getting xenophobic about any strangers lurking nearby in their waters.

Peridot was situated between Lixix and Brimstone Point, and was the only community of any size along that vast length of coastline. It was a small but very bustling place. Its nearest neighbour was either Lixix, many many miles away, or a remote landlocked town buried way up in the hills above them. As such, any visitors were quite an event, and the galleon was greeted by an army of boisterous, bare-footed children all spreading along the quay to welcome them.

“So much for hoping to slip in quietly”, said Joby.

The waterfront was clogged with fishing-craft, and many of the villagers lived on their boats, which gave it all a very colourful atmosphere.

“Should have no trouble finding someone to help us do repairs”, said Hillyard.

“But how are we going to pay for it?” Bardin wailed, irritating Bengo so much that he felt like knocking his cap off him.

“For fuck’s sake, Bardin”, said Hillyard “We’re not THAT short of loot. Try and keep a grip on yourself”.

“I wasn’t aware I was coming apart!” Bardin retorted.

“Let’s go and find somewhere to have a drink”, said Joby.

“A positive suggestion?” said Hillyard “From you? What’s got into you?!”

“This ent bloody Mud Island”, said Joby “That’s what’s got into me!”

“It’s very very different to Mud Island”, said Bengo, with great satisfaction.

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