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By Sarah Hapgood

The younger members of the crew had always admired the original core group, but after their brief visit to the Loud House, they admired them even more. It was astonishing to them that Adam, Kieran and Joby had originally been there alone, except when they had had Angel in tow (which could scarcely have been counted as a comfort). They also revered Hillyard for having gone out to the lighthouse on his own to collect Kieran after his vicious fight with Angel. Hillyard was nonplussed by all this, and said that he would have fetched Kieran from the very depths of Hell if he’d had to, but he was still admired.

After supper that evening, Joby went up to join him on deck. He found Hillyard pensively staring over at the Loud House, which sat like a disgusting, malignant growth on the coastline. Random lights kept appearing in different parts of the building, and occasionally one blob of light ran through it at high speed. Joby looked over at it distrustfully, and then instinctively glanced over the side at the dark waters below them, which was their protection against whatever abominations were on the land.

Hillyard had turned to look at him with relief when he had first appeared on deck, and it occurred to Joby that Hillyard always looked pleased to see him, even on the occasions when they had had Words and fallen out.

“You had enough of being admired then?” Hillyard teased him.

“It’s doing my head in”, said Joby, leaning on the bulwark “Too much of that and I’ll turn into a complete monster!”

“No you won’t”, said Hillyard “Adam’ll smack your bum if you do”.

“I wish he would!” said Joby “I could do with being given a really sound spanking by him at the moment. Been wanting one for ages. But he keeps packing me off to see Julian instead!”

“He has the same problem with you that I do”, Hillyard exclaimed “The close proximity to you drives us insane, and we’re both busy men. We’ve got work to do, can’t afford to be distracted by you!”

“Hillyard”, said Joby “The close proximity to ANYONE drives you round the bend!”

“Yeah, but you got me going the first time I saw you, I thought I want him alright. And then you plays bloody hard-to-get with me for years on end!”

“I know. I spose I’ve always been afraid of admitting to what I really want”.

“You haven’t been this evening”, Hillyard smiled.

“True”, said Joby “Hillyard, that creature I saw earlier, the one that made me feel ill. I saw what it was … what it was shoving up itself. I didn’t tell Kieran what it was, I just don’t want him to know”.

“Knowing Kieran, I suspect he already does. He always seems to know more than he lets on. Now forget it Joby. It’s already made you sick. It’s not worth dwelling on. Concentrate on other things”.

There was a horrible, strangulated scream ringing out from the direction of the Loud House.

“Bardin’s ordered a night-watch”, said Hillyard “But I don’t think anyone should spend too long on this deck at any one time tonight. We’ll all do short sharp bursts. That place seriously messes with people’s heads”.

“It always did”.

“Shall I go down and tell Bardin?”

“No”, said Joby “He’s got Kieran in with him at the moment. Leave ’em to have fun. They’re doing each other good”.

Joby was lighting the oil-lamp in his cabin when Kieran returned, looking glowing.

“Is Bardin still in one piece?” Joby asked, as Kieran casually slung the paddle onto the chair “Or have you flayed him alive in the good old Catholic tradition?”

“It’s done him the power of good”, said Kieran “He’ll be eating his dinner standing up for a week! That man makes a brilliant penitent”.

“Oh goody”, said Joby “We’ll put it on his CV”.

“You know how I am”, said Kieran “Nine times out of 10 I’d rather be on the receiving end of a spanking any day than putting it out, but there’s something about the sight of him in his starchy knickers that turns me into another Julian”.

“Blimey I hope not”, said joby “One’s already enough round here!”

“Are you going to be alright?” said Kieran, staring at him in that disconcerting way of his.

“I’ll be fine”, said Joby, defensively “There’s no need to look at me like that”.

“I’ve been a wee bit concerned about you. The disappointment of the Weather Rock not being there, and now the Loud House, and that’s on top of everything else that’s happened”.

“Well we knew it wasn’t gonna be easy. I’ll be alright. I’ve got plenty to do to keep me mind off things. You to keep in order for a start, that’s enough of a full-time job on its own”.

“And plenty of work in the galley”.

“There’s always plenty of work in the galley”, said Joby “It never ends. But I think, as from tomorrow morning, I’m gonna set out to wind Adam up as much as possible”.

“Is that wise?” said Kieran, looking alarmed “Adam’s under a lot of strain at the moment. This area’s depressing him”.

“Trust me, I know what I’m doing”, said Joby “This’ll be good for him. Stop him going in on himself”.

Anyone who has ever lived through a stressful night will know the relief that only daybreak can bring. It was a cold, moist daybreak, but it was still daylight.

Joby had a small lie-in, and then ambled along casually to the galley, where he found Adam on is own, pouring porridge oats into a big pot.

“Oh there you are, what joy”, said Adam “All I need is one more and I’ll have the full-set!”

“Don’t be like that”, said Joby, putting on his pinny “I can have a lie-in if I want to”.

“No you can’t!” said Adam, putting down the porridge and staring at him, arms akimbo “I don’t know what’s come over you lately. I rely on you at difficult times to help me, and you’ve been bloody awkward these past few days. Sometimes I think you’re asking for a jolly good smack!”

“I am, but you won’t give it to me”, said Joby “Keep sending me to Julian!”

“Well Julian adores your company, and he doesn’t get to see you as much as he’d like”.

“Are you competing with Kieran to become ship’s saint or summat?! How bloody irritating!”

“Joby”, Adam sighed “I’m infatuated with your cute arse. I fancy everyone on this ship, and sometimes I have to forcibly keep myself battered down. And it’s very difficult when I spend all day brushing past that pert little butt of yours. Not to mention look at that lovely lugubrious scowl of yours”.

“Anyone’d think to hear you talk that I walk around scowling all the time!” said Joby.

“Well you do do rather a lot of it”.

Joby kissed him.

“My little grey-eyed fiend”, said Adam “Sometimes this sexually-charged atmosphere gets rather too much for me”.

“And yet it’s gonna help us through all this”, said Joby “Bit of a turn-up for the books this innit? ME telling YOU to loosen up! Sorry, I haven’t shaved very well this morning. There was only cold water in the jug”.

“That’s alright. I never object to the erotic feel of facial stubble”.

“You don’t have to batten down the hatches with me”, said Joby, after they had kissed again “Besides, I really could do with having my backside tanned by you”.

“I couldn’t possibly resist that”, said Adam.

There was a sudden commotion overhead. A burst of raised voices and rushing feet.

“Right on sodding cue!” said Joby “I might’ve known!”

“Don’t worry, old love”, said Adam “I’m scarcely likely to forget. Think of this delay as adding to the sexual frisson”.

Joby felt he had enough sexual frisson already to spontaneously combust, but they had no choice but to go and see what was happening.

Bardin emerged from his cabin, with his bath-robe flying open.

“Fasten yourself up”, said Joby “Flaunting yourself all over the place like that!”

“You’ll catch your death up on deck”, said Adam.

“Of course I won’t”, Bardin snapped, impatiently, heading for the quarterdeck stairs.

“Oh those legs!” Adam groaned with desire.

Joby squeezed Bardin’s buttocks as he went past.

“Stop that!” said Bardin.

“Sorry”, said Joby “Couldn’t resist. Sore enough for you is it?!”

Bengo scurried out of their cabin, clutching a pair of Bardin’s boots.

“Oh Bardy, put these on!” he trotted up the steps.

“Never mind his feet”, said Joby “It’s the rest of him that needs covering up!”

They all gallumped up to the main deck, where several of the others were milling about in consternation.

“What’s up now?” said Joby.

“Listen”, said Ransey.

At first it was hard to hear anything above the commotion the others were making. But then he heard a woman’s voice calling out in the distance. He was vaguely aware of a small boat that could be glimpsed fleetingly through the mist.

“Is it someone in trouble?” he said.

“It’s a trap”, said Kieran, glumly “That’s all it is, a demonic trap”.

“Not bloody Pabbio again?” said Joby.

“It’s Mary of Mud Island”, said Kieran.

“Mary of …?” Joby looked at Kieran as though he had taken leave of his senses once and for all “How can it be? She’s down in the other hemisphere!”

“How did she get all the way up here in a little boat?” said Farnol.

“Do we have to go and rescue her then?” said Bengo, who didn’t relish the prospect of having Mary on board.

“There would be no point”, said Kieran “She’s not really there. She’s projected herself …”

Joby gave a moan of mental anguish.

“That’s it”, he said “I’ve given up trying to understand now. This whole voyage has been one bleedin’ madness after another. Nothing but a tail of illusions”.

“Where we are and where we’re going is not an illusion”, said Bardin, heading back to the steps “It is very real and don’t you forget it!”

“That told me didn’t it!” said Joby.

The others listened as the eerie woman’s voice slowly faded into the mist, and was eventually swallowed up by it.

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