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Dread Rocks Holiday part 12

June 17, 2020

The Nazi brushed a fragment of dust off his otherwise immaculate uniform and stared expressionlessly at Polkinghorn. ‘Your name?’

‘Cubert Polkinghorn, your… your…’ the little squirt floundered. ‘Your Naziness. This is my cathedral.’

‘No longer!’ snapped the Obergruppenführer. ‘I claim it on behalf of the Fourth Reich.’

The Captain and I glanced at each other. The Fourth Reich! It was always inevitable, but who would have thought they would finally show up here underneath Dread Rocks Lighthouse.

Polkinghorn’s face went an off-shade of cerise. ‘No, I can’t allow that. This is my cathedral and I’m in the middle of a jolly important ritual actually. ‘

The Obergruppenführer looked round him, a sneer playing around his lips. ‘A ritual? With no acolytes? No sacrifice?’

‘You frightened them off,’ Polkinghorn squeaked. 

‘Whereas I have brought both acolytes,’ he pointed at his men, ‘and a sacrifice.’ He gestured towards the goat which was now munching one of the discarded robes. 

Polkinghorn staled his little feet. ‘This isn’t fair!’

‘Idiot!’ I muttered under my breath. ‘Expecting fairness from a devil-worshipping Nazi!’

The Captain asked me quietly if id noticed anything odd.

‘Pretty much everything, dear boy!’

He pointed out that the Obergruppenführer wasn’t German.

By Jove, he was right! A non-Teutonic stormtrooper! Who would’ve conceived of such a thing?

‘I thought his English was rather good,’ I whispered. ‘I wonder who he is?’

‘His name is Derek Loveday,’ the Captain told me. ‘We were at Eton together.’

I was shocked into speechlessness. ‘An old Etonian? But they’ve always produced such fine and upstanding citizens.’

‘He was a a scholarship boy,’ explained the Captain, sadly. ‘From Greenford.’

But we were spared any further discussion on the infiltration of our fine public school system by oiks. The goat had been snuffling about the cavern and had found us and was trying to nibble my sou’wester.  I tried to shoo it off as quietly as I could, but the wretched creature was determined. Possibly knew it was its last supper. Unfortunately the kerfuffle had been noticed by the Nazi who, with a click of his fingers, had sent one of his soldiers to investigate. 

Within moments the Captain and I were being held at gunpoint, our arms aloft, as the damn Fascist stared at us coolly. It was soon obvious that he didn’t recognise either of us and just assumed that we were acolytes of Polkinghorn. I glanced at our assumed leader. Would he give us away?

‘Excellent,’ said the Obergruppenführer. ‘Human sacrifices are always more effective than a goat.’

Oh Lor’! It seems I had jumped out of the frying pan only to land back in the same frying pan.

As a man I have few weaknesses. I am brave, handsome, can drink even the darling Queen Mother under the table… but I’m not known for clamping my cakehole shut at those rare times when keeping schtum is the the wisest course of action. But I was cold, wet, tired, hungry, dying for both a jimmy Riddle and the largest Scotch known to man. I’d narrowly missed being sacrificed earlier today and the odds were against another fortuitous escape. Dammit, I wasn’t going to stand here being threatened by a Nazi… and  not even an authentic sausage-eater to boot, but a quisling British one. 

I put my hands down. Keeping my tone calm but steely, I looked the Obergruppenführer squarely in the eyes.

‘I’m a reasonable chap, old thing, but I’ve had enough. And I tell you what you’re going to do. You’ll let my chum and me go, then you and your goose-stepping nancy-boys are going to bugger off pronto as far away from Her Majesty’s territory as humanly possible – and we’ll say no more about it. I’ll get a hot bath and a drink, you don’t get executed for high treason, everybody’s happy.’ I pointed at Polkinghorn. ‘And you get to do what you like with Cubert here. I think our prisons are full enough these days without the likes of him cluttering them up.’ 

I grabbed the Captain by the arm. ‘Come along old bean, let’s hither aloft to the lighthouse. I can lend you some dry socks and we can have a round of toast each.’ To the Captain’s astonishment, I proceeded to march him speedily towards the exit to the lighthouse. 

‘Halt!’

No, I didn’t think it would work. 

Loveday stared at us keenly, his cold eyes piercing me down to my very soul. I must say, he had the whole Nazi thing off to a tee. Apart from the lack of an accent, I’d never have pegged him as a cove from Greenford.

‘Desmond Stirling,’ he suddenly said.

‘Sir Desmond,’ I chided. 

‘How appropriate that you of all people are here as witness to the birth of the Fourth Reich,’ the scoundrel laughed. ‘And that your spilt blood will be the breast milk which will feed the newborn.

Polkinghorn interjected, ‘That was my idea too.’

The Obergruppenführer gestured to one of his men and pointed at Polkinghorn. ‘If this one speaks again, shoot him.’

Polkinghorn emitted a little squeak from both ends. 

‘So what is this all about, eh?’ I asked, partially to stall for time, but also, like most writers, I’m always harvesting ideas for future use. So much easier to plunder a genuine crackpot’s megalomaniacal rantings then have to write them oneself. Loveday didn’t disappoint.

‘Since our lamentable defeat in 1945, we have waited in the shadows to return one day and wipe out the twin scourge of democracy and liberalism. Now, with the demonic power of Dread Rocks Lighthouse to light our way, we will take our rightful place as rulers of the entire world!’ He cackled during this last bit which resulted in some unsightly drool. It was obviously habitual as one of the soldiers automatically stepped forward and wiped his officer’s face with a hanky.

The Obergruppenführer raised his arms over-dramatically. ‘Unleash the satanic power of the Hell-Dong!’

He pointed at me. ‘Prepare him for their sacrifice!’

Here we go again, I thought. I shrugged at the Captain. We were inevitably toast, but we could at least conk out with our dignity intact. 

One of the stormtroopers gestured brusquely at me. I wasn’t clambering onto that altar of my own volition, they’d have to lift me up and deposit me themselves. I didn’t relish being manhandled in the nude by a couple of young, square-jawed uniformed men, but these things are sent to try us.  

But before I could even demand they warmed their hands before laying their nazi hands on me, a bloodcurdling scream rent the air. We all, the Obergruppenführer included, turned to look for the source of that spine-chilling noise. 

The Empty Diving Suit had its hands around the neck of one of the Nazis, squeezing with a supernatural ferocity. The soldier was powerless to resist, and before our very eyes, he sank to the ground and then just…. disintegrated into dust. Barely had the hapless Seig-Heiler vanished than the Diving Suit had grabbed another of the soldiers. Within seconds he too was just swirling particles.

‘Stop him!’ the Obergruppenführer screamed. But how exactly do you kill an empty suit? The remaining soldiers raised their rifles and started to fire william-nilliam at the Diving Suit, but to no avail. Yet more soldiers succumbed to the terrifying gloved hands of the Suit.

‘Protect me,’ the Obergruppenführer demanded of the surviving soldiers, who frankly weren’t making a particularly tip-top job of protecting themselves. 

Just as I was about to suggest to the Captain that we take advantage of this distraction, there was a tremendous explosion from high above us. Instinctively, we all eyeballed upwards. A bloody great hole had been ripped in the ceiling of the cavern, and the ocean was cascading down like Niagara. As the water hit the ground it rebounded with a roar, knocking the remaining soldiers down like skittles. 

That’s it, I decided, I’ve had more than enough of this palaver, and legged it towards the exit to the lighthouse. I assumed the Captain was following me if he had any nous which I was pretty sure he did. The remaining soldiers were still screaming, though I was unsure if this was due to the water or the Diving Suit. 

The water was up to my knees by now, and brass monkeys it was too. Any higher and I feared for the future of my orchestras. I scrambled though the hole in the wall, leapt for the lowest rung and began to climb the ladder. I felt something grab my leg as I commenced the climb. I assumed it was the Captain, but when I glanced down it was that wretch Polkinghorn. His face was a mask of terror and he was trying to clamber past me up the ladder. I wasn’t having any of that nonsense; he could wait his bally turn. I kicked out at him and tried to scramble upwards faster. Polkinghorn overbalanced and fell back into the swirling water. I dismissed the toad from my mind and continued my ascent. If he’d got to his age without learning to swim then he deserved to drown.

I briefly wondered where the Captain was, but as he was a trained professional I knew he could take care of himself, unlike that snivelling weed Polkinghorn.

My arms ached. I’m not as young as I used to be, and while still a fine specimen of manhood for my age, the events of the previous 24 hours had taken a brutal toll. I looked upwards to see how far I had yet to climb. I still couldn’t see the top of the ladder. I took a deep breath and persevered. 

A wave of icy water swirled around my head, taking me by such surprise I nearly lost my grip on the rungs of the ladder. The sea was now up to the level of my chest, then my neck. Within seconds it would be over my head. 

Yours truly was doomed!

Dread Rocks Holiday part 9

The Nazi brushed a fragment of dust off his otherwise immaculate uniform and stared expressionlessly at Polkinghorn. ‘Your name?’

‘Cubert Polkinghorn, your… your…’ the little squirt floundered. ‘Your Naziness. This is my cathedral.’

‘No longer!’ snapped the Obergruppenführer. ‘I claim it on behalf of the Fourth Reich.’

The Captain and I glanced at each other. The Fourth Reich! It was always inevitable, but who would have thought they would finally show up here underneath Dread Rocks Lighthouse.

Polkinghorn’s face went an off-shade of cerise. ‘No, I can’t allow that. This is my cathedral and I’m in the middle of a jolly important ritual actually. ‘

The Obergruppenführer looked round him, a sneer playing around his lips. ‘A ritual? With no acolytes? No sacrifice?’

‘You frightened them off,’ Polkinghorn squeaked. 

‘Whereas I have brought both acolytes,’ he pointed at his men, ‘and a sacrifice.’ He gestured towards the goat which was now munching one of the discarded robes. 

Polkinghorn staled his little feet. ‘This isn’t fair!’

‘Idiot!’ I muttered under my breath. ‘Expecting fairness from a devil-worshipping Nazi!’

The Captain asked me quietly if id noticed anything odd.

‘Pretty much everything, dear boy!’

He pointed out that the Obergruppenführer wasn’t German.

By Jove, he was right! A non-Teutonic stormtrooper! Who would’ve conceived of such a thing?

‘I thought his English was rather good,’ I whispered. ‘I wonder who he is?’

‘His name is Derek Loveday,’ the Captain told me. ‘We were at Eton together.’

I was shocked into speechlessness. ‘An old Etonian? But they’ve always produced such fine and upstanding citizens.’

‘He was a a scholarship boy,’ explained the Captain, sadly. ‘From Greenford.’

But we were spared any further discussion on the infiltration of our fine public school system by oiks. The goat had been snuffling about the cavern and had found us and was trying to nibble my sou’wester.  I tried to shoo it off as quietly as I could, but the wretched creature was determined. Possibly knew it was its last supper. Unfortunately the kerfuffle had been noticed by the Nazi who, with a click of his fingers, had sent one of his soldiers to investigate. 

Within moments the Captain and I were being held at gunpoint, our arms aloft, as the damn Fascist stared at us coolly. It was soon obvious that he didn’t recognise either of us and just assumed that we were acolytes of Polkinghorn. I glanced at our assumed leader. Would he give us away?

‘Excellent,’ said the Obergruppenführer. ‘Human sacrifices are always more effective than a goat.’

Oh Lor’! It seems I had jumped out of the frying pan only to land back in the same frying pan.

As a man I have few weaknesses. I am brave, handsome, can drink even the darling Queen Mother under the table… but I’m not known for clamping my cakehole shut at those rare times when keeping schtum is the the wisest course of action. But I was cold, wet, tired, hungry, dying for both a jimmy Riddle and the largest Scotch known to man. I’d narrowly missed being sacrificed earlier today and the odds were against another fortuitous escape. Dammit, I wasn’t going to stand here being threatened by a Nazi… and  not even an authentic sausage-eater to boot, but a quisling British one. 

I put my hands down. Keeping my tone calm but steely, I looked the Obergruppenführer squarely in the eyes.

‘I’m a reasonable chap, old thing, but I’ve had enough. And I tell you what you’re going to do. You’ll let my chum and me go, then you and your goose-stepping nancy-boys are going to bugger off pronto as far away from Her Majesty’s territory as humanly possible – and we’ll say no more about it. I’ll get a hot bath and a drink, you don’t get executed for high treason, everybody’s happy.’ I pointed at Polkinghorn. ‘And you get to do what you like with Cubert here. I think our prisons are full enough these days without the likes of him cluttering them up.’ 

I grabbed the Captain by the arm. ‘Come along old bean, let’s hither aloft to the lighthouse. I can lend you some dry socks and we can have a round of toast each.’ To the Captain’s astonishment, I proceeded to march him speedily towards the exit to the lighthouse. 

‘Halt!’

No, I didn’t think it would work. 

Loveday stared at us keenly, his cold eyes piercing me down to my very soul. I must say, he had the whole Nazi thing off to a tee. Apart from the lack of an accent, I’d never have pegged him as a cove from Greenford.

‘Desmond Stirling,’ he suddenly said.

Sir Desmond,’ I chided. 

‘How appropriate that you of all people are here as witness to the birth of the Fourth Reich,’ the scoundrel laughed. ‘And that your spilt blood will be the breast milk which will feed the newborn.

Polkinghorn interjected, ‘That was my idea too.’

The Obergruppenführer gestured to one of his men and pointed at Polkinghorn. ‘If this one speaks again, shoot him.’

Polkinghorn emitted a little squeak from both ends. 

‘So what is this all about, eh?’ I asked, partially to stall for time, but also, like most writers, I’m always harvesting ideas for future use. So much easier to plunder a genuine crackpot’s megalomaniacal rantings then have to write them oneself. Loveday didn’t disappoint.

‘Since our lamentable defeat in 1945, we have waited in the shadows to return one day and wipe out the twin scourge of democracy and liberalism. Now, with the demonic power of Dread Rocks Lighthouse to light our way, we will take our rightful place as rulers of the entire world!’ He cackled during this last bit which resulted in some unsightly drool. It was obviously habitual as one of the soldiers automatically stepped forward and wiped his officer’s face with a hanky.

The Obergruppenführer raised his arms over-dramatically. ‘Unleash the satanic power of the Hell-Dong!’

He pointed at me. ‘Prepare him for their sacrifice!’

Here we go again, I thought. I shrugged at the Captain. We were inevitably toast, but we could at least conk out with our dignity intact. 

One of the stormtroopers gestured brusquely at me. I wasn’t clambering onto that altar of my own volition, they’d have to lift me up and deposit me themselves. I didn’t relish being manhandled in the nude by a couple of young, square-jawed uniformed men, but these things are sent to try us.  

But before I could even demand they warmed their hands before laying their nazi hands on me, a bloodcurdling scream rent the air. We all, the Obergruppenführer included, turned to look for the source of that spine-chilling noise. 

The Empty Diving Suit had its hands around the neck of one of the Nazis, squeezing with a supernatural ferocity. The soldier was powerless to resist, and before our very eyes, he sank to the ground and then just…. disintegrated into dust. Barely had the hapless Seig-Heiler vanished than the Diving Suit had grabbed another of the soldiers. Within seconds he too was just swirling particles.

‘Stop him!’ the Obergruppenführer screamed. But how exactly do you kill an empty suit? The remaining soldiers raised their rifles and started to fire william-nilliam at the Diving Suit, but to no avail. Yet more soldiers succumbed to the terrifying gloved hands of the Suit.

‘Protect me,’ the Obergruppenführer demanded of the surviving soldiers, who frankly weren’t making a particularly tip-top job of protecting themselves. 

Just as I was about to suggest to the Captain that we take advantage of this distraction, there was a tremendous explosion from high above us. Instinctively, we all eyeballed upwards. A bloody great hole had been ripped in the ceiling of the cavern, and the ocean was cascading down like Niagara. As the water hit the ground it rebounded with a roar, knocking the remaining soldiers down like skittles. 

That’s it, I decided, I’ve had more than enough of this palaver, and legged it towards the exit to the lighthouse. I assumed the Captain was following me if he had any nous which I was pretty sure he did. The remaining soldiers were still screaming, though I was unsure if this was due to the water or the Diving Suit. 

The water was up to my knees by now, and brass monkeys it was too. Any higher and I feared for the future of my orchestras. I scrambled though the hole in the wall, leapt for the lowest rung and began to climb the ladder. I felt something grab my leg as I commenced the climb. I assumed it was the Captain, but when I glanced down it was that wretch Polkinghorn. His face was a mask of terror and he was trying to clamber past me up the ladder. I wasn’t having any of that nonsense; he could wait his bally turn. I kicked out at him and tried to scramble upwards faster. Polkinghorn overbalanced and fell back into the swirling water. I dismissed the toad from my mind and continued my ascent. If he’d got to his age without learning to swim then he deserved to drown.

I briefly wondered where the Captain was, but as he was a trained professional I knew he could take care of himself, unlike that snivelling weed Polkinghorn.

My arms ached. I’m not as young as I used to be, and while still a fine specimen of manhood for my age, the events of the previous 24 hours had taken a brutal toll. I looked upwards to see how far I had yet to climb. I still couldn’t see the top of the ladder. I took a deep breath and persevered. 

A wave of icy water swirled around my head, taking me by such surprise I nearly lost my grip on the rungs of the ladder. The sea was now up to the level of my chest, then my neck. Within seconds it would be over my head. 

Yours truly was doomed!

To be continued…

..

Dread Rocks Holiday part 11

June 3, 2020

But as Cubert Polkinghorn was about to plunge the business end of his gleaming knife into my manly chest, Old Jethro clutched his master’s arm, causing the knife to scuttle into a corner of the cavern.

Polkinghorn was outraged. ‘How dare you molest your master as he is about to perform a ritual!’ he squealed, more petulantly that outraged, I thought.

‘But Master,’ pleaded Old Jethro. ‘The diving suit which walks by itself…’

‘What of it?’ Polkinghorn spat impatiently.

‘It be a sign,’ pleaded Jethro. ‘A sign that disaster is nearby.’

‘We’re devil-worshippers,’ said Polkinghorn, unnecessarily sarcastically, in my opinion. ‘We like disaster.’

‘Even if the disaster is for you?’ I asked him, innocently.

Polkinghorn laughed. ‘As you were the only one to see this so-called diving suit, I should think the disaster is yours, Sir Desmond.’

‘But Master, ‘Old Jethro continued, ‘Death and destruction always follows the appearance of the Empty Diver. Every sailor on this coast knows that.’

There was a murmur of assent from the acolytes.

Polkinghorn sneered and clicked his fingers for the knife to be retrieved. No one moved.

I do enjoy a touch of dissent in the ranks. Unless it’s union-led of course.

Polkinghorn was getting rather irked by now. ‘The ritual must take place now!’ He actually stamped his little feet. ‘Otherwise we will miss our chance’

The acolytes shuffled nervously, looking at each other.

I became aware of something in the corner of my eye. I glanced around, and there was the Empty Diving Suit standing by the hole in the cavern from where I had entered. It made a beckoning gesture with its hand. Was that aimed at me?

There was a shriek. The old dear from the tobacconists had seen the Diving Suit too.

This was followed by the pandemonium to which the lower orders succumb when not ruled firmly by their betters. The acolytes started making a frightful racket and running hither and thither, screeching like monkeys whose tails have been set alight. Polkinghorn raised his arms and his voice, but neither had the slightest effect.

I decided that buggering off pronto was the better part of valour, so I surreptitiously slipped off the altar. But where to go? The route back to the lighthouse meant approaching the Diving Suit, but without a map I could imagine being easily lost in the catacombs down here. Before I could ponder this dilemma any further, a hand grabbed my arm.

‘This way, sir.’

It was the acolyte who had removed his Army & Navy underpants. He was in his thirties, good-looking in rugged way, with muscularity chiselled on the battlefield, not in a pansy gym. Now it seemed obvious he was a Forces man. He handed me my sou’wester.

‘Captain Nigel Hardwicke-Moneyshot. Special Forces Anti-occult Unit. Undercover. We knew there was something big going on here.’

Anti-occult! I had written the initial proposal for such a unit back in the 1950s, commissioned by darling Winnie himself. Adolf and his murky mob had thrown any demonic shenanigans they could at us, and I warned that we needed to be better prepared the next time. But that oik Wilson later put the kibbosh on the proposal and so we had always been, as far as I knew, open to supernatural attack from any tinpot dictator with a cauldron and a family-size pack of eye of newt. 

‘Delighted to meet you, Captain?’ I clasped his hand. His grip was pleasingly masculine. ‘But is that buffoon Polkinghorn really worth your attention?’ I queried.

‘Don’t underestimate him,’ the Captain said. ‘There’s more to all this than meets the eye. Come on, let’s get out of here.’

He started to bustle me to back to the well which led up to the lighthouse lantern room.

‘Hang on,’ he said, taking a detour. He retrieved his underpants from the rock on which they had landed and slipped them on.

‘Feels wrong to be representing Her Majesty without at least part of her uniform on.’

I liked this cove.

‘What about Matey in the Diving Suit?’ I asked.

He shrugged. ‘Gone now.’

We approached the exit, but my attention was distracted by movement above. I looked up – and, dear listener, if you thought I was past the point of incredulity, you would’ve presumed incorrectly. Despite all I had been through in recent days, my jaw dropped.

Drifting down from the top of the cavern was a goat, suspended below a parachute, bleating pathetically as it descended. I pointed it out to the Captain.

‘Did you order a goat?’

He shook his head. ‘No, no goats on the schedule.’

Even in my long and sexually-active life I’d never seen a parachuting goat before so if today has given me nothing else, it is one thing less on the bucket list.

‘I once parachuted into Germany dressed as a nun, I told the Captain. ‘It wasn’t during the war; I’d been on a bender in Soho with the Duke of Edinburgh and I’d lost a bet.’

The Captain nudged me out of my nostalgic reverie. ‘Save it for over a pint. My treat. The Egg and Cress in Great Percy Street. Come on, let’s beat a tactical retreat and call for back up.’

But before we could make our escape from the cavern, there was a loud noise from high above us. We looked up, and could see dark figures descending the walls, bouncing vigorously as they clambered speedily downwards.

‘Chums of yours?’ I asked the Captain. He shook his head, peering through the darkness. He nodded at the rock behind which I had secreted myself earlier, and we ducked down in order to observe whatever the ruddy hell was going on.

The goat had landed on the ground and started to eat its parachute. Of the acolytes there was no sign. I wasn’t sure if they had scarpered or were quaking in a crevice somewhere. I spotted Polkinghorn. He had found his knife and was standing still by the altar, wrapped in his robe, taking in all that was going on, his face revealing nothing, but the knife held outwards, ready to stab anyone who got too close.

I must admit to being stumped. Every time this situation seems to have used up its full quotient of rumness, something even queerer would occur. Who were these coves abseiling from the roof? Those who’d achieved groundfall were lurking in the shadows, not revealing themselves, presumably waiting for an order. But from whom?

The answer came soon. Another parachute suddenly dropped from up above. Rather than a bearded ruminant, this one had an black-clad figure attached to it. He landed elegantly, effortlessly slipping off the parachute.  The abseilers instantly produced rifles and stood to attention. This was, one assumed, the ringleader. I glanced at Polkinghorn’s face and saw an expression of awe on his pinched little face.

I couldn’t blame him. This new chap was a stranger to me, but I recognised his uniform immediately, particularly the Swastika on his sleeve.

The Nazis had arrived!

To be continued…

(c) Anthony Keetch 2020

Dread Rocks Holiday part 10

May 22, 2020

My blood ran cold. How could the bounder know I was here? Perhaps he was bluffing, hoping to weasel me out of my hiding place? I held my breath and kept mum. No one could fault the Stirling nerve. I’ve had years of practice hiding in wardrobes when husbands have returned unexpectedly. I once had to spend an entire bank holiday weekend breathing silently under a double bed when a well-known MP decided to surprise the mistress we were inadvertently sharing, and promptly developed the flu, which meant he never left the bed until the Tuesday when he was whipped back into the House to vote on Rhodesia.

While I was reminiscing about those happy days, I failed to notice that two naked Satanic disciples had appeared in front of me, grabbed me by the elbows, and were hauling me to meet their Master.

Nonchalance was my favoured tactic. It usually aggravates villains.

‘Hello, old chap,’ I said breezily. ‘Having a shindig, are we? If I’d known, I would’ve brought a bottle and some Twiglets.’

The Magus wrapped his velvet robe around him and stood right in front of me. Poor darling was only about 5 foot nothing, so his eyes were on a level with my nipples. I resisted the urge to squat down as one would with a child.

‘We meet at last, Sir Desmond,’ he said.

‘You have me at a disadvantage, sir,’ I replied, with some impressive raised eyebrow action.

‘My name is Cubert Polkinghorn.’ He waited for an awed gasp.

I scratched my chin. ‘The name rings a bell.’ I considered. ‘No, sorry, it’s gone’

Of course, I knew exactly who he was. I have the memory of a man half my age, but these self-aggrandising little twerps are easily irked if you don’t recognise them.

I clicked my fingers. ‘Of course, you’re the cove who write the book about The History of Dread Rocks. Not a bad tome, bit dry. Needed more pictures and I deplored the absence of an index.’

‘I am the world’s leading authority on the history of Dread Rocks Lighthouse,’ he told me, tragically proud of himself.

‘Can’t be much competition,’ I responded.

Polkinghorn barked out a laugh. ‘Au contraire, Sir Desmond, Dread Rocks Lighthouse is a world-renowned focal point for the students of the uncanny.’

‘Of which I consider myself one, so how come I’d never heard of the place until I decided to rent it?’

The little chap stood on his tiptoes so he could almost but not quite look me in the face. ‘Because only I know it’s true purpose!’ he squeaked.

He waited me to ask. I contemplated not giving him the satisfaction, but, dammit, I wanted to know.

‘This precise location has long been a focal point for demonic forces. Even before it was a lighthouse, the Rocks hosted rituals going back millennia. But it was such a dangerous part of the coast that many died even attempting to reach it. The power of the rocks was amplified by being steeped in blood.’

He licked his awful lips.

‘Is it built on a hell-mouth?’ I asked him.

‘Not a mouth, but another part of the body.’

I shrugged.

Polkinghorn sighed. ‘Think of the shape.’

I tried to think which part of the body had a lantern at the tip.

Then the penny dropped. ‘Oh, a todger.’

Polkinghorn’s eyes gleamed. ‘Not a Hell-mouth, but what we Scholars of the Profane call a Hell-willy. Where the forces of damnation thrust their way out into the world.’

‘New one on me’ I said, mentally filing it away for a future bestseller. I could do with a new Rolls.

‘As a young man I worked as a lighthouse keeper. My fellow keepers were weak and succumbed to the demonic forces which swirl here, but I…’ here he thumped his chest just in case I didn’t realise he was babbling about himself, ‘I studied them and learned to resist, and then control the whirlpool of evil which eddies around Dread Rocks.

He dribbled a little as he got excited. No breeding, these iniquitous coves.

‘Who is Evil Eddie?’ I asked, amusingly. Not a snigger. No sense of humour, the wicked, I find.

‘Your presence on Dread Rocks has been meticulous planned by myself from Day One,’ the little squirt continued.

I pshawed.

He squinted at me through piggy eyes. ‘Why did you choose Dread Rocks Lighthouse as your bolthole from the virus?

I sent my mind back. ‘I had a brochure though the post. Most fortuitous…’ My words trailed away as the implications hit me.

Polkinghorn smirked. ‘And you have gratifyingly behaved according to my plan. You even caught the Suicide Porpoise who nobly sacrificed his life to give you food poisoning.’

‘Frightful palaver just to get my autograph,’ I quipped. Like all great heroes, the prospect of death greatly hones my wit.

‘Oh we want more than that from you,’ the tiny Satanist chuckled. ‘You have been a blight on the Necromantic world for too long, Sir Desmond Stirling. Mocking us in your tawdry books or foiling the plans of my fellow sorcerers.’

I bowed my head graciously. ‘This reminds me of when I was on This Is Your Life. Darling Eamonn Andrews, completely starkers, only the Big Red Book hiding his orchestras from the viewing millions, nabbed me in mid-game of Badminton at my sadly short-lived nudist club Hampton Uncaught…’

The little twerp clapped his hands. ‘Enough of this inane babble. It is time!’

Old Jethro and another of the acolytes grabbed me, while the old dear from the tobacconist removed my sou’wester.

‘I say…’ I began to protest, but the two minions picked me up and dumped me onto the altar like a large cod on a fishmonger’s slab. My legs were held down while the wellingtons were removed.

‘The joke is over now,’ I said firmly. ‘Release me now, you scoundrel, or there will be hell to pay.’

Polkinghorn laugh, a horrid mirthless bark. ‘Oh, hell will be paid… in full! By you, Sir Desmond Stirling for your crimes against Diabolism!’

I was beginning to feel a tad worried now. ‘And how exactly am I to repay this debt?’

Polkinghorn lifted the knife above his head. ‘With your still beating heart!’

My finely tuned mind started to race. ‘Not a Guardian reader then? They claimed I didn’t have one.’

How the Dick Francis was I going to get out of this mess, I wondered to myself? ‘Tell me,’ I asked hurriedly, brain churning over with potential schemes. ‘I’ve had a good life, sold millions of books, made love to many beautiful women, quaffed enough booze to flood a small village in a French valley… but don’t let me die without the answer to one simple question.’

Polkinghorn held the knife still, and stared at me suspiciously. ‘Which is?’

I pointed at Old Jethro. ‘What’s with the gills?’

Cubert Polkinghorn shrugged. ‘Centuries of inbreeding, probably. Old Jethro comes from a long line of genetic oddities even by local standards. Useful though…’ he tousled Old Jethro’s hair. ‘My very own Conger Eel.’

He raised the knife again

‘Hang on, old chap,’ I interrupted again. ‘What about the ghostly galleon?’

‘A mere legedermain,’ he said. ‘A touch of phantasmagoria to chill your blood. Such tricks are mere bagatelles to a master sorcerer such as I.’

‘And the diving suit?’

Polkinghorn’s eyes narrowed. ‘What diving suit?

‘The empty diving suit,’ I said. ‘That chased me to the top of the lighthouse without a soul inside it. Very impressive, I have to say. I tip my hat to you.’

‘I know nothing of any diving suit,’ Polkinghorn said. ‘You imagined it. That poisoned porpoise was more potent than I thought.’

‘Are you telling me the diving suit was nothing to do with you?’ This was rum.

‘Stop prevaricating, Sir Desmond,’ the tiny devil-worshipper said. ‘It is time for your agonising sacrifice.’

And he raised that blasted knife into the air again, it’s evil-looking tip on a direct trajectory with the Stirling ticker.

‘Well, if you didn’t send that diving suit, who did?’ I blustered. I wasn’t just playing for time, this was a mystery I wanted solving before conking out.

Polkinghorn ignored me and, muttering the usual Latin nonsense under his breath, clutched that dratted blade closer. Hypnotised by the glint of its lethal point, I was powerless as the knife began its downwards path to my oblivion!

 

 

To be continued…

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Dread Rocks Holiday part 9

May 7, 2020

Old Jethro!

In the robe of a devil-worshipper preparing an altar for some no doubt sickening and nefarious ritual…

I hadn’t seen that coming. 

But I wasn’t entirely convinced. I’ve encountered many of these villainous rogues. I’ve looked in their eyes and seen the festering pools of beastliness within. When I stared right at Old Jethro all I saw was lumpen idiocy. A man with the respiratory system  of a fish and quite possible the brain to match. Old Jethro wouldn’t be the ringleader of whatever dastardliness was going on here; he would be at best a doltish follower. Besides, I had never known a magus who lit his own candles, idle sods.

Old Jethro turned away from the altar and held out his arms. He was approached by about half a dozen robed figures.

‘Greetings, brothers-in-darkness!’

He’d pinched that from one of my books! The nerve…

The robed scoundrels gathered around the altar. I held my breath in anticipation. I’d written about many such rituals in my time, but had attended very few. I usually made my excuses and left before a chicken’s throat was slit or a Virgin was defiled.

‘Greet the Master!’ old Jethro bellowed. As one, the disciples turned towards the entrance of the cave and lay prostrate on the floor. A fellow in a rather snazzy red velvet robe approached, the hem of his robe picking up all sorts of muck from the cavern floor which would surely require dry-cleaning afterwards. Should’ve had his robe turned up, I thought to myself. Short-arse, I guessed, who wouldn’t admit that he needed a shorter frock.

The scarlet-robed fellow walked to the altar and turned to face his prostrate lackies, 

‘Tonight is the culmination of our dreams. Everything we have strived for, fought for sacrificed our jobs, our money, and in one case, our grandmother…’ he gestured to one disciple who nodded. ‘After tonight, the world will be ours for the taking.’

‘Disrobe!’

All the disciples shed their robes and stood in their unashamed nakedness. Well, apart from one cove who was wearing a pair of somewhat grubby underpants. The magus snapped his fingers crossly at him, and the discipline sheepishly removed said Y-fronts. He didn’t know where to put them so flung them over his shoulder. They landed on the rock behind which I was hiding. Army & Navy Store own brand.

My trained eye soon spotted that one of the disciples was actually a woman. I think she was the old dear who ran the newsagent of the front at Poltaxriots. On the day I arrived she sold me a Telegraph, the latest Titbits and a Bar 6. I wouldn’t have put her down as a Satanist which just shows you never can tell.

I wondered what the next stage in the ritual would be?  Many are, disappointingly, just a lot of chanting and mumbo-jumbo, nothing fruity at all, An orgy? I didn’t envy them that, considering the quality of participants. A sacrifice? But of what? Or whom…?

The Johnny in the red robe lifted up a particularly vicious looking knife from the altar. He raised it above his head and then stabbed it down into the altar where it stayed, vibrating from the impact.

Then, with a – to my eyes – somewhat effeminate flourish, he flung off his robe. 

No, didn’t recognise him, and I’m fairly au fait with the worlds most notorious Diabolists. He was a mousey cove, getting on a bit, one of those curious hair-dos where hair is scraped over their egg-like pate. And I was previously correct, he was not tall. Unsurprisingly, no Johnson to speak about either. 

I felt rather reassured. I was in the presence of an amateur. I hadn’t the foggiest what was going on here, not just from this motley lot, but the ghostly galleon, Old Jethro’s gills, not to mention the empty diving suit, but this chap wasn’t exactly A-list in the world of necromancy. 

The ‘Master’ threw back his head and started chanting.

TAHSNAM TSUDASRAE WEHNAM TSUDAS NAMD LOYM!’

Not an incantation I recognised, but, trade secret here, I just make up the ones I use in my books.

His acolytes repeated it while shuffling awkwardly in a circle around the altar. I must say that if they had been my disciples, I’d have booted them all up the arse for such lily-livered worship. Put some damned welly into it!

Tahsnam tsudasrae wehnam tsudas namd loym!’ they mumbled into their chests. Honestly, and with such splendid acoustics as this cavern offered.

With a swiping motion, the Master gestured for silence.

‘And now,’ he bellowed, ‘it is time for the sacrifice.’

Here we go, I thought, time for some poor poultry to face it’s maker. 

The Master raised his hands to the ceiling. ‘Bring me Sir Desmond Stirling!.

And the rotter pointed at where I was hiding!

To be continued...

Dread Rocks Holiday part 8

April 25, 2020

 

I must have been unconscious mere moments. As soon as I woke I scrambled to my feet, head throbbing like my own personal Passchendaele, to escape the looming galleon. But to my utter bewilderment, of the ship there was no sign. Where could the blasted thing have buggered off to? It had been mere yards away, and there was no way on earth that it would have missed the lighthouse. If that ship was the Titanic, then Dread Rocks Lighthouse was the iceberg, and a collision was as inevitable as Christmas.

The storm hadn’t abated in the least during my brief snooze. I stood on the balcony for while, clinging to the railing to prevent my being swept overboard, urging the sea air to clear my muzzy bonce.  

This was a fine old puzzle, I admitted to myself. I wasn’t sure if even the mighty Stirling grey matter could decipher this one.

I staggered back into the lantern room. Mayhaps the diving suit had scarpered along with the ghostly galleon? But before I could investigate that, another odd thing distracted my attention. Where I had fallen and bashed my head on the base of the lantern, a panel had swung open, revealing… what? A sliver of darkness lay beyond, allied with a whiff of stale damp air. What could this be? I tugged the panel fully open and peered into the darkness.  Beneath the lantern there was a ladder descending down a deep, unfathomably deep, dark well. Where the Hassel could it lead? I can’t say it looked enticing; there’s a rarely anything good in impenetrable gloom, but frankly, could it be any worse than what I was facing in the lantern room, what with spooky ships and ambulatory diving suits?

I was however clad only in underpants – shoeless too; not ideal armour for a possibly dangerous expedition into dark and mysterious depths.

I had noticed earlier an oilskin sou’wester hanging in the lantern room. There were some Wellington boots too. I niftily clad myself in them, hauled myself into the well, and began the descent into who knows what…

That’s when I discovered that climbing down a ladder while wearing wellington boots was a skill I had yet to master.

Within moments I was engulfed in a blinding darkness. I couldn’t even see the ladder to which I was clinging. I continued to descend, my sense of time evaporating with my vision.  I tried to match the number of rungs I descended to the number of steps there were in the Lighthouse. By my reckoning I must have plunged much further than the ground floor, and was now below sea level. I still couldn’t see a damn thing, but the air felt damper with each passing rung. How far could it go? I began to worry that the next step would just plunge me into the sea. I could no longer hear the storm, just a background rumble which I presumed to be the sound of the sea although as it was now a long time since I last ate it could’ve been my stomach. A tot of whisky wouldn’t go amiss either.

I began to be aware that I could see more of my surroundings. Either my eyes had finally adjusted to the blackness or there was light leaking in from somewhere. I suspected the latter. I looked down. Yes, there was a shaft of light a few yards beneath me. I felt a urge sense of relief. Strong as I am, even my muscular arms were tiring and I knew I would soon have to rest. I refrained from rushing though; who knew what I would encounter when I reached the source of the light…

The ladder came to an abrupt halt. The small amount of light revealed that I had reached the bottom of the shaft and the only exit was a small hole, just big enough to crawl through, which was also the source of the meagre light. The ground was wet but solid enough.

I was excited at the prospect of what I was to discover, but my many wartime experiences taught me to be cautious. There may be trouble ahead…

I crawled though the hole towards the light… and gasped at what I discovered!

As opposed to the dank little tunnel I’d expected, I found a most enormous cavern; a natural chasm originally, but later carved into something quite magnificent, one might almost call it a rock-hewn cathedral. The ceiling was so high that it must be situated just below the sea bed. Vast stalactites hung from the roof like the fangs of giant vampires. Rocks of varying sizes were dotted about the cavern, and on each flickered a blood-red candle. The air was surprisingly fresh, albeit with a tang of salt in the air, not to mention a whiff of fish. At the far end of the cavern there was  a large table, carved from an enormous slab of stone. A scarlet cloth was draped over it, on which stood more guttering candles. It put me in mind of an altar. Perhaps this place was more cathedral-like than I originally surmised? But I suspected it wasn’t as cosy as our beloved parish churches, presided over by a eccentrically-eyebrowed parson who would cycle from cottage to cottage whether dispensing wise counsel to despairing wives or death-rites to the imminently dead. This place reeked not just of salty fish, but of heathenry My fears were confirmed when I noticed what has hanging above the altar. A vast crucifix suspended from the ceiling. But this crucifix differed from those in the cathedrals which give such delight in our green and pleasant country. In a mockery of all that is holy, this crucifix hung upside down!

I was getting a bad feeling about this.

A tingle of danger crept up my spine. I instinctively ducked down behind a handy stalagmite. A robed and cowled figure was approaching the altar. Whoever it was bowed before the inverted crucifix, the filthy swine, and then placed a silver tray on the altar. I couldn’t see what was on the tray but past experience convinced me that they would be implements of beastliness.

The figure suddenly turned away from the altar. He glanced around the cavern, the black eyeholes in his cowl coming to halt in my general direction. Could he see me? I was sure the stalagmite was hiding me sufficiently. I held my breath and tried to quell the thumping of my heart. 

The robed figure seemed reassured and, once more facing the altar, removed his cowl. Even with his broad back to me, I instantly identified the scoundrel…

It was Old Jethro!

To be continued…

Dread Rocks Holiday part 7

April 10, 2020

 

I gawked in horror at the looming ship. Was this the final curtain for Yours Truly? It seemed frightfully unfair. I had come to this wretched lighthouse for some isolation away from the plague bombarding the world outside. All I required was my typewriter, my whisky, and some peace and quiet… and instead I’d ended up with mystery after mystery, indigestion from an under-cooked porpoise, and now death by a several tons of Galleon…

I pulled myself up by the bootstraps? Did I just say ‘Galleon?’ I inspected the impending ship. Yes, it wasn’t the modern liner I’d originally taken it for, or a luxury yacht (which now I come to think of it is where I should have been spending my seclusion), or even a cross-channel ferry, the sort that hoists the Oi Polloi from one coast to another to purchase their cheap booze. No, this was a Galleon! Seventeenth- century if I wasn’t mistaken, the sailing ships used by those scurvy rogues of the seven seas, pirates!

But the last thing I observed just before the Galleon rammed the Lighthouse and sliced poor old Stirling in twain was that it appeared to be… glowing

 

Then oblivion gave me a great big wet one on the kisser…

 

To be continued…

 

Dread Rocks Holiday part 6

April 9, 2020

I’m a brave fellow. I’ve seen many terrible things in my rich and full life, from Nazi Satanists sacrificing goats at black orgies to Clement Atlee doing the conga at a nudist camp, but the sight of that empty diving helmet made my pure blood run cold.  I decided to tactically retreat in the general direction of away. As I couldn’t get past the diving suit to go downstairs, I made the calculated decision to reverse and climb the circular staircase, all the way to the top of the lighthouse, to the lantern room if necessary.

I reached the lantern room and bolted the door behind me. I took a deep breath – not from the climb, I am a man in my tip-top prime – but to clear my mind of unnecessary thought,  a tip I learned from a monk who was on the Tibetan team in a Celebrity edition of It’s a Knockout.

I pondered all the mysteries; Jethro and his gills, not to mention his inexplicable appearance at the Lighthouse last night; the empty, yet ambulatory diving suit; the legends…

My conclusion as that the best place for me to be was back on the mainland – and never mind the plague currently ravaging the land – but this seemed a daunting prospect, what with the mystery figure on the diving suit, the distinct lack of a boat, the howling storm… I am an Olympic-class swimmer, but I didn’t give even myself a good chance of making it to shore in these conditions. I couldn’t even radio the coast guard without somehow pushing past that eerie deep sea diver blocking the staircase.

I dashed out onto the balcony which circled the lantern room. The weather was even filthier than earlier, the rain and squall making visibility almost nil, while the wind threatened to blow me over the side.  Exactly the conditions for which the Lighthouse was originally built. A lightbulb immediately popped on above my head, almost as though I were myself a human lighthouse! Why not light the lantern? It should warn someone on the mainland that something fishy was afoot, after all the Lighthouse had been in darkness for many years.

I examined the lantern itself. A rusty old thing it seemed to be, unused for decades, still reeking of the oil which powered it. I’ll be honest; I’m not the most technically-adept of chaps, leaving that sort of things to the boffins and the weeds, but I had been in the scouts and the SAS, surely I could light what was in essence an over-sized oil lamp?

Fortunately, I soon found a book called How to Operate a Lighthouse by Sir Edward Stone. I quickly flicked through its pages and soon picked up the barest gen. Of course, it all depended if there was enough oil to light the lamp. I’d found several barrels the previous day, but they were downstairs. My luck was with me as I found a family-size can of Crisp’n’Dry.

By now, the diving suit had reached the lantern room and was banging rhythmically on the door.

‘Oh, do belt up, there’s a good fellow!’ I called out, scrabbling for a match that wasn’t sodden.

The seventh match sparked along the side of the box, and I achieved sufficient flame to light the wick. I stood back and protected my eyes from the dazzle as the light flared up and started to rotate. I felt a marvellous sense of achievement, not to mention historical import as the lighthouse sparkled into action for the first time in decades. Let’s just hope someone on the mainland saw the light and realised that Yours Truly was in trouble!

Suddenly the air was rent by a terrific honking noise. Was that me, I wondered? Had I simultaneously cranked up a foghorn by igniting the lantern? The deafening noise thundered though the air again, but this time I could tell it was emanating from outside. I rushed out onto the balcony, wishing that I was wearing something more than just my underpants. The gale threatened to blow me over the edge, but I clung to the rail and stared in horror at the source of the foghorn.

A ship was tearing through the waves at the rate of knots. It was aimed directly at the Lighthouse!

 

Continued…

Dread Rocks Holiday part 5

April 7, 2020

I awoke with a gasp, drenched in sweat, unusual in a draughty old lighthouse like this. I didn’t recall making my way to bed, but I had topped up our whisky glasses more than I’d intended to…

Old Jethro! That was the last thing I remembered. Old Jethro pushing back his beard and showing me … his gills! Surely it must have been a dream? Did he even come to the lighthouse, whether by boat or swimming like a hairy haddock?

Only one way to find out? I leaped out of the hammock. If Old Jethro had arrived here last night, he’d presumably still be around.

I pulled on my underpants; I wasn’t going to caught out again, orchestras akimbo, but before I could leave the bedroom, I heard a noise. Footsteps! Heavy ones too. They were accompanied by the sound of wheezing, the sound made by that dirty fellow who would constantly ring my wife ad make filthy suggestions. Wretched man reversed the charges too and she would always accept them.

‘Old Jethro, is that you?’ I called out. Answer came there none.

‘Are you looking for the lavatory?’ I asked. ‘It’s further downstairs, but I usually just pop the Johnson out of the nearest porthole. I amuse myself by trying to pot a cormorant.’

Still no reply, although the footsteps were getting nearer, the wheezing louder.

‘Don’t bother coming up any further,’ I shouted. ‘I’ll come down and meet you.’

I peered around looking for something I could use as a weapon. Ah, the perfect thing! A harpoon I’d brought along just in case I fancied a spot of whaling. I grabbed it and left the room. I trod gingerly down the circular staircase, not because I was scared, but I didn’t want my footsteps to intrude on the sound of whatever – whoever, I corrected myself, now was not the time to be imaginative – was approaching.

I hadn’t even reached the floor below when I caught my first glimpse of what was climbing the stairs. I could scarcely believe my eyes! It was someone in an old-fashioned diving suit, of the type I can imagine used by Captain Nemo’s crew aboard the Nautilus! The whole outfit, made of some sort of canvas, I assumed, was topped by a round brass helmet at the front of which was a porthole. I peered through the glass, but I couldn’t see who was inside.

‘Is that you, Old Jethro?’ I asked trying to keep my voice steady. ‘So that’s how you got out to Dread Rocks, is it? You must have needed a very long air hose?’ I joked.

At which point I noticed that there was no air hose attached to the outfit. Whoever was inside had no access to oxygen…

‘You must have frightfully good breath control,’ I said, giving my brain time to work out what to do next. But before my brain had made a decision, my body leapt forward, grabbed the porthole at the front of the helmet and wrenched it open. I stared inside the helmet.

There was no-one inside!

 

Continued…

Dread Rocks Holiday part 4

April 3, 2020

Yes, it was Old Jethro, the salty cove who’d rowed me to the Lighthouse the previous day. He was soaked through and his eyes were wild. He opened his mouth and  seawater cascaded out onto the floor.

‘Can I help you?’ I asked politely.

He raised his hand to his mouth and retrieved a fish. He flung it to the floor where it flapped, frantically gasping.

‘Oi brought your provisions,’ he growled.

‘It’s the middle of the night,’ I said incredulously. ‘It could’ve waited until daylight.’

‘Oi… Oi… Oi had to come,’ he gasped.

‘Well, top marks for diligence, old chap, but minus points deducted for common sense. Now why don’t’ you get back in your boat and…’

Something bothered me. I pushed past Old Jethro and looked at the Lighthouse jetty. There was no sign of a boat.

‘Now I don’t want to alarm you,’ I informed him, ‘but your boat seems to have disappeared.’

The storm was howling so I closed the main door to keep out the violent squall.

‘Oi bain’t come by boat,’ he whispered.

‘Then how the dickens did you…’

Jethro suddenly seemed to actually look at me. ‘‘ere, why bain’t you got any clothes on?’

I puffed out my firmly-proportioned chest. ‘Because, sir, I am a proud Nudist and if a chap can’t be starkers in his own Lighthouse, where can he be starkers?’

Jethro shrugged and started to unbutton his jacket.

‘It’s not compulsory,’ I hastily added.

‘Oi be soaked through,’ he said and continued to divest himself of his clothes.

‘Fair enough,’ I relied, ‘I’ll get you a blanket.’

 

I must admit that I was feeling pretty chilly myself by now, so the pair of us ended up sitting around the stove wrapped in old blankets seemingly stitched together from shredded wheat. I’d poured us a tot of whisky each, and slowly Old Jethro dried out. He was a hairy chap and I was fascinated by how his huge tangled beard seemed knitted into his chest hair.

Old Jethro knocked back his whisky (well, mine actually) and handed his glass back to me. I assumed he wanted more, but I wasn’t prepared to indulge him until he’d supplied me with some answers.

‘What on earth made you come all the way out to Dread Rocks Lighthouse in the middle of the night during what can only be described as a bitch of a thunderstorm, eh?’ I interrogated him.

His face fell as another whisky wasn’t immediately forthcoming. He paused and then said, ‘The voice told me to.’

‘Voice? What voice?’

He looked at me, scared. ‘Oi was woken by the sound of a woman’s voice. Beautiful it were, and she bid me go to the Lighthouse and don’t delay.’

‘Did she give you any reason, this so-called beautiful voice?’ I failed to keep my scepticism out of my own voice.

‘She said ‘ee be in danger.’

‘Is that so? From whom may I ask?’

‘She bain’t say.’

I resisted the urge for my eyebrow to raise wryly. ‘And how were you to rescue me from this danger?’

He shrugged. ‘Take’ ee back to the mainland.’

‘Ah!’

I poured him a small tot of whisky. He swallowed it in one gulp. No more of the good stuff for him.

‘And how,’ I asked him, ‘were you to bring me back to the mainland without a boat?’

He didn’t answer.

My patience was wearing very thin. ‘No more shilly-shallying! I want some answers from you, Old Jethro. You must have come here by boat so where is it now?’

‘Oi told ‘ee, Oi bain’t come by boat.’ He replied sulkily.

I felt sorely tempted to boot this shaggy old matelot out of the door, storm or no storm, and let him find his own way back to the mainland, boat or no boat.

‘So’ I asked between clenched teeth, ‘how did you get here? It’s a long way to swim in the best of conditions, never mind while Father Neptune is churning up the waves. Perhaps you parachuted from a passing biplane? Or rode here on the back of a passing squid?’

Old Jethro said nothing. He lifted his hand to his ear, tugged his hair away and turned his head away. To my bewilderment, there behind his ear, pulsating rhythmically, was a gill!

 

Continued