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The cliffs rose up sheer and level, as if some giant hand had sliced them all smoothly with a sharp knife. A narrow strip of isolated sandy beach ran all the way along the bottom.
They hadn’t seen any sign of human habitation at all since returning to the mainland. The edge of the world feeling, which they had experienced so often in their travels at sea, was never so marked as it was here. There was no sign of the Weather Rock whatsoever.
And then Ransey dropped a bombshell.
“We’ve gone past it”, he said to Bardin “Umbert and I have been doing endless calculations, and we’ve come the simple conclusion that we’re beyond it. We are north of the Weather Rock”.
“That’s not possible”, said Bardin “Surely we would have seen it? There’s been no fog, we’ve had good visibility for miles now, and we’ve been in permanent sight of the coastline. How could we have missed it? It would have stuck out like a sore thumb”.
“Perhaps we haven’t missed it”, said Ransey, slowly folding up some of the maps that had been spread out over the dining-room table “There’s a possibility that it’s simply not there anymore”.
“So where are we then?” said Hillyard.
“Somewhere between the Weather Rock and the Loud House”, said Ransey.
“There’s not much distance at all between those two”, said Hillyard “After all, I hoofed it to go and fetch Kieran from the lighthouse that time”.
“I wouldn’t be upset if the Loud House wasn’t there anymore”, said Joby “Freaky place that was”.
It was clear that Bardin was disappointed about the Weather Rock though.
“But we heard Buskin’s voice on the wireless that time”, he said “That’s why we did this whole trip”.
“And it feels like summat’s been messing with us all along”, said Joby.
“Pabbio?” Bardin guessed.
“I’m loath to think it’s all his doing”, said Ransey “Idiotic little twerp”.
“It could have been though”, said Bardin “I’m starting to think this whole trip may have been an illusion”.
“Well it hasn’t”, said Ransey “You’re here, I’m here, solid flesh-and-blood creatures”.
“I suppose”, Bardin rallied himself “We just keep going. Stick with our latest plan to head back to the Causeway, via the northern route. And at some point, make landfall so Mieps can go hunting”.
When the sprawling ruins of the Loud House hove into view, Bardin was tempted to sail on past it, but he had the curiosity of half his crew to contend with. Many of them had never seen this legendary place, although they had heard a tremendous amount about it. Bardin reluctantly decided that they could moor there for a couple of hours.
“Are you going over?” said Joby to Adam.
“No”, Adam replied “That was the place where I made a complete fool of myself and tried to beat Patsy to a pulp. I don’t want to be reminded of the person I was then. Are you going?”
“Only to keep an eye on Kieran”.
Bardin was marshalling the other clowns around like a bossy tour-guide.
“Have you heard him?” said Joby “Nobody go wandering off now! Mind you, he’s got a point. This place was always too easy to get lost in”.
He and Kieran walked up a short flight of stone steps and into the wreckage of an enclosed garden. Joby tried to remember if this was the place where he had seen the ghost of the woman who had aged a 100 years overnight, but it was far too long ago, and not a particularly pleasant memory to hang onto anyway.
“Fuck me, what was that?” he said, pointing to a darkened far corner “I thought I saw summat then”.
“Probably just a small animal”, said Kieran.
“It seemed to shinny up one of the pillars”, said Joby “C’mon, let’s get out of here”.
They retraced their steps out of the parody of a garden, and found Bardin having a go at Bengo.
“Stop bellyaching all the time”, Bardin was saying “I have enough to contend with without that”.
Bengo whacked him several times hard on the bottom, causing Bardin to jump about as though he’d been electrocuted.
“Stop that!” Bardin yelled.
“You can’t have felt that through your duffel-coat”, said Joby.
Kieran grabbed Bengo’s hand, leaving Joby to take charge of Bardin. The 4 of them ambled, wary as Agag, towards another doorway. This one seemed to lead into a dilapidated hallway, with a grand staircase facing them.
“It looks like the old entrance hall to ’Green Ways’”, said Joby “Only wrecked a bit”.
“That was the house within the Loud House?” said Bengo, with understandable confusion.
“Well we never did figure out exactly what it was”, said Joby “A sort of prolonged time-slip I spose. Green Ways, we think, was the house the Loud House had been before it was the Loud House. Blimey, I’m not making any sense to me, I can’t be expected to make sense to you!”
Suddenly the sound of hammering broke out overhead. The 4 of them were terror-struck, until they heard a familiar voice.
“That’s Hillyard”, said Joby “What’s he up to?”
He hollered up the stairs to him.
“Hello?” Hillyard shouted back.
“What are you up to?” shouted Joby.
“Knocking a wall down”, said Hillyard.
“Ask a silly question I spose”, said Joby “Hey!”
He was startled by Kieran sprinting up the stairs, yelling at Hillyard to stop. The other 3 followed in confusion.
Kieran located the room in which Ransey and Hillyard were pulling away some old plasterboard from a wall.
“Stop it!” Kieran exclaimed “Stop it now! Don’t go messing with this accursed place!”
“But someone’s already started it”, said Hillyard “We found this old hammer and crowbar lying on the floor. They’d clearly begun trying to pull the wall down”.
“There’s an old staircase behind it”, said Ransey.
Kieran peered at the filthy iron hand-rail that could be glimpsed beyond the wrecked plasterboard. The staircase wound down into a thoroughly unwelcoming-looking black hole.
“Jaysus”, said Kieran “Do I have to remind you this place is built over an entrance to Hell?! You don’t just go excavating it on a whim!”
“Calm down, Kieran”, said Hillyard, giving a nervous laugh “You blessed us all before we came over here”.
“That doesn’t mean it’s safe for you to act like a jerk!” said Kieran.
“A jerk?!” said Hillyard.
“Alright, let’s get back to the ship”, said Joby “There’s no bleedin’ point in hanging around here. It scrambled with our heads the first time round, and it’s doing it again”.
“It’s best we get out before we get sucked any further into the building”, said Bardin “It’s like a maze as it is”.
At the bottom of the main staircase Joby glanced into one of the side rooms, and could have sworn he saw some odd creature hanging from the top of the wall, which appeared to be shoving something up its fundament. When Joby got outside he was physically sick.
“What did it look like?” said Bardin.
“I dunno”, Joby snapped “I didn’t wanna go up to it and gets its particulars! Sort of half-human half-animal. Just horrible”.
“Did it notice us?” said Bengo.
“Go and fucking ask it!” Joby shouted.
“Alright Joby, calm yourself”, said Kieran, firmly.
Joby apologised to Bengo.
Rumble came galloping towards them, closely followed by Farnol.
“We’ve just seen something really freaky, man”, said Farnol.
“Join the club”, said Joby “What did yours look like?”
“It was standing in a corner”, said Rumble “From the waist up it was a man, and from the waist down, it had sort of animals’ legs”.
“We thought it was just a dude wearing furry trousers at first”, said Farnol.
“Like a centaur”, said Rumble “But it had only two legs, not 4”.
“It was vile”, said Farnol “Just something about it was too revolting for words”.
Once everyone was safely reassembled on the ship, Bardin ordered it to be taken out to anchor at deep sea. He didn’t want the risk of any of the creatures from the Loud House getting on-board. They were to spend the night there, with a full watch on duty, and then continue with their journey at first light. Meanwhile, everyone milled around, helping themselves to the collection of booze which had been assembled on the dining-room table.
“Are you going to find Kieran?” Hillyard asked Joby “Put in a good word for me will you?”
“You’ll be alright”, said Joby “I’ve never known Kieran to get really angry with you”.
He wasn’t so sure about that though when he got to their cabin to find Kieran waving the paddle about.
“I hope you’re not intending to use that on Hillyard”, said Joby “He’s not one of the Flagellants’ Club, it wouldn’t be fair”.
“No, I wouldn’t dream of it”, said Kieran, giving a chuckle “I’m not cross with him anyway. He was just a wee bit reckless that’s all. There was no bad intent there. With Hillyard there never is”.
“I’m surprised at Ransey though”, said Joby “Going along with it like that”.
“Human curiosity is a powerful thing”.
“So who’s the paddle for?”
“Bardin”, said Kieran “I thought he might be able to do with some therapy this evening, and it’ll help me to work out some of my aggression at the same time”.
“Poor old Bardin”, said Joby.
“Poor old Bardin forsooth!” said Kieran “He’ll be protected by all his starch, I get it on me bare arse!”
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