by Penny Blake

chpt#3: A wild ride through the night

Drums

Sound

Sirens calling

Heart

Stops

Feeling chill

Will

Strained

Soon you’re falling

Dizzy with the promised thrill

Heart sounds

Fatal rhythm

Drum speeds

Won’t be long your

Will and soul in schism

Listenin’ to the sirens’ song

Feel the light rise up to sweep you

On tidal waves of song

Little angels there to greet you

Let your soul be carried along

Listenin’ to the sirens’ song

 

 

 

 

 

 

“COVER YOUR EARS Y’FOOLS!” Archie Crim bellowed, battening down the brass covers on the enormous metal trumpets which replaced his ears, as a riot of over-ripe mangoes soared amongst the sails of the Plunder Bus, gunpowder-stuffed and detonating at will, to shower him in a putrid rain of rotting fruit-pulp. He slipped and skidded on the metal deck, slick with over a thousand stinking fish-carcasses, and clasped at the main mast for support.

His crew ignored him, eagerly scrambling over the piles of sprats and fruit flesh to launch themselves bodily at the podium, suspended from a spur on the mainmast of the Agro, where the tiny Tammy Rhymer and snake-haired Angel D’Morte were crooning out their intoxicating song, accompanied by a towering structure of strings and metal pipes, through which air was being forced by a set of bellows. These were kept in motion by the voluntary labours of a little red squirrel on a wooden tread wheel, who paused sporadically in his work to add his own voice to the musical mayhem, or to leap between Tam’s shoulder and the mast, as she and Angel danced and wove between the sail guides and struts of the wind-harp, to the appreciative whoops and cheers from the, now frenzied, crew of the Plunder Bus.

“Fire again at will, Giddy!” Jack cried, his voice amplified through the silver beak of his breathing mask. He danced merrily to the music as he surveyed the chaos descending upon the remains of Pendle High Street.

“Aye-aye, Cap.” Gideon Chase, the large amber eyes of his own gas mask gleaming in the firelight from the burning rooftops, swung one of his long metal tentacles towards the spratapult, deftly hooking it around the mechanism and sending another silver rain of scintillating sprats sailing through the smoke-choked night, to land with a satisfying drum roll of soft ‘thlacks’ onto the cobbled street below. The mounting pile of dead fish provided a safe, if slippery, crash zone for the bodies of the Crim Clan – as they flung themselves into oblivion and collided with the cloud of incapacitating nerve-gas pouring from the mouths of the many metal snakes attached to the silver skull-cap worn by Angel D’Morte.

“Curse you, Diamond, you pestilent passerine!” Crim bellowed, now struggling with the gunlock on one of the many small cannons which lined the sides of his Land Ship. “Treacle! Every blasted cannon gummed up with treacle! Curse the flamin’ Agro, I’ll… I’ll…”

“MORE MANGONADES!” Jack sang, cheerfully, as he danced about in time to the pounding, pulsing rhythm of the wind-harp. Dozens of coloured-glass lanterns swung crazily from every guide rope above the deck, so that the Agro, and the surrounding street, were constantly assaulted by dizzying fits of throbbing fairy lights, heightening the effect of the sirens’ spell as their words wove into an increasingly ludicrous and disorientating labyrinth of sound.

 

 

Heart drums, stopping feeling

Sound, sirens calling chill

Will dizzy, straining with the

Promise soon your falling thrill

Drum heart, sounding fatal

Rhythm

Won’t be long and

Soul speeds into schism

Listenin to the sirens’ song

Feel the light rise up to sweep you

On tidal waves of song

Little angels here to greet you

Let your soul be carried along

Listenin to the sirens song

Heart stopping feeling sirens sound straining with the chill

Sound dizzy falling fatal speeding rhythm feeling-quite-ill

Feel the light rise up to sweep you

On tidal waves of song

Little angels here to greet you

Let your soul be carried along

Listenin to sirens

 

 

“Launch the telescopic-casting-claw!” Jack ordered, “And the clarion-vociferator!” He turned to Giddy, “I think it’s time we had a word with poor Captain Crim, don’t you?” He threw himself down into the large, throne-like chair, which had risen through a trapdoor onto the deck, cocked his leather boots over the arm and reached for a set of levers, cranks and pulleys attached to a platform in front of the chair. A long metal limb, jointed at the elbow and ending in an enormous claw, began to extend from the front of the Agro and the griffon let out another metallic shriek.

“Pipe down, pet.” Jack said dismissively, as he cranked another lever and a stand holding a long tube of coiled metal, topped with a small bell-shaped mouth-piece, rose up through the deck from below. He grabbed the tube and tapped it several times before speaking into it.

“Archie! Unplug those lugs, my friend. You seem to have lost your crew, but don’t fret, the Agro is more than ready to offer you hospitality for the night.”

“DIAMOND, YOU BASTARD SON OF A PEACOCK!”

“What’s that, Crim? Peacock, you say? Oh, don’t worry my friend, we are perfectly equipped to accommodate any number of strange birds. Here,” he hooked the speaking tube back onto its stand and grabbed the set of levers which operated the telescopic claw, “let me give you a hand getting aboard.”

 

 

Song feeling rhythm stopping drum shaking with the dizzy thrill sirens speeding singing promise little angels never

Will drum soul is falling heart carried all along with angels here to meet you greet you eat you sirens won’t be

long

Feel the light rise up to sweep you

On tidal waves of song

Little angels there to greet you

Let your soul be carried along, listenin’ to the sirens’ song

 

 

 

 

“This. Is. INTOLERABLE!” Mercurio balled his fists to his temples in an agony of rage and frustration as he stormed up and down the narrow cabin, into which he, Skarry and the Last Witch of Pendle had been unceremoniously shoved and told to ‘behave.’

“Perhaps we should put these on?” Skarry ventured, indicating the metal gas mask now dangling at the end of his finger.

His friend turned purple. “I. Am. Not. Wearing. THAT!” the wizard, now in full tantrum, flung the breathing device at the far wall where it fell to the metal deck with a clatter.

“Oh, I think we will be quite safe in here without them.” The Last Witch of Pendle, who had been quietly conversing with her brandy bottle on the edge of a low bunk at the side of the cabin, stirred and rubbed her eyes. “The rune carved onto the cabin door over there is the same as on these helmets, see? I wouldn’t expect a novice wizard to recognise it, of course, but it’s a sign for protection, particularly against sensory attack. Strange really, I wonder how pirates…”

“I shall go perfectly insane in a moment! How can they carry on like this? How? I haven’t seen such ludicrous pantomime since that stage show production at the Garish…what was it…Madame Merry Mongoose and her flying soup dragons?”

“You mean, Amelia Manylentils and her quest for the Siberian Soupophagus?”

“Yes! Yes, that’s it. Wiz, what a farce that was – Amelia Manylentils (simpering seamstress, demure but destitute etcetera et bloody cetera) sets about filling ninety nine pig’s bladders with a gas that is lighter than air, ties them to her rocking chair and flies – FLIES! – across the Ocean Wastes in search of the fabled civilization of Siberian Soup Seers. Historical account? Bah! Hysterical nonsense more like it. But, oh! I shall go mad! They are all stark raving crazy out there – you know that, don’t you? Flinging fish at each other! Exploding tropical fruit, what in the name of Wiz is that all about? And feathers flying everywhere?”

“Amelia Manylentils was, in fact, a genuine historical character,” The Witch murmured, addressing her brandy bottle, rather than the company.

Mercurio ignored her and resumed his frenzied pacing. “Treacle! Treacle, Johnny! I ask you! No – I TELL you. Scarlet Skarry.” His voice became a venomous growl and deep furrows worked themselves into his rage-blotched brow. “Scarlet, bloody, Skarry,” he muttered. “That vixen, this is all her doing.” He rounded suddenly on his friend “You!”

“Me?”

“Yes, you. She’s your sister. This is entirely your fault.”

“Mine?” Skarry spluttered.

“Yes, yours and…grrrrrr! Can’t we shut that wretched machine off? I cannot string a sentence together with it verbatiming everything I say and then, adding its own commentary to the affair…what is it? Some kind of torture device?” He strode over to, what appeared to be, a tall wooden closet, from which a deep, metallic sounding voice was, indeed, repeating every word spoken, both in the room and above deck, and passing an amusing and remarkably witty commentary on both, a skill which could only be accomplished by…

“Grrrr! How does one make it stop?! And, for the record, there is nothing remotely witty about a talking piece of furniture AND I AM NOT HAVING A TANTRUM!”

“Oh, I think y’are, guv.”

“Eeek!” The Last Witch of Pendle suddenly screamed and pointed a trembling finger towards the machine. “It’s got a head!”

The grubby face that had emerged from behind a curtain in the side of the wooden closet grinned impishly at them. “Well observed, missus! Oooo, look! It’s got arms n legs n’all! Spooooky, eh?” The aforementioned limbs, even more grease-slicked than the face, were dangled out from the curtain, one by one to verify the statement and, in a fit of wicked giggles, a small boy, of about twelve, jumped out and waved his derriere in The Witch’s direction. “Yah-boo! It walks too – a flamin’ miracle eh?”

“Now, see here!” Skarry said, firmly. “That is no way to behave towards a lady!”

The boy stuck out his tongue. “Firstly, guv, she ain’t no ‘lady’ – she’s a witch. Just like I ain’t no ‘machine.’”

“We can see that,” Skarry said gruffly. “You are impudent little urchin who needs to be taught some manners!”

“No I ain’t! I’m the captain’s log,” the boy said, indignantly. “An’ I got a job t’do, so, if you snotty folks don’t mind, I’ll be gettin’ back to it…”

“Oh no you don’t!” Mercurio seized the boy by his shirt collar and hauled him off his feet. “I refuse to allow you back into that machine if you are going to persist in letting it mock me whilst I am forced to stand here and endure it.”

“Gerroff! It ain’t the machine mockin’ you, dough-brain, it’s me, look, I’ll show yous.” He wriggled free of the wizard’s grasp, leapt to the curtain and pulled it back with a flourish. “Behold, gents (and witch-lady), The Captain’s Log.” His crest fell as he saw their vague looks of confusion. “Ain’t arf thick, ain’tcher? Look,” he pulled a metal mouth-piece, shaped like an over-sized bell flower, from a hook on the wall of the cabinet. “Look, I speaks in ‘ere, right? That’s what you’re hearin’ – my voice echoin’ round inside this ‘ere can.” He pointed to a large array of periscopes and spy-holes on the wall, “An’ through these here, I can see all what’s goin’ on above deck and below. What’s gratin’ on you is pure incidental t’the workin’ though – if y’follow me. My voice travels down this ‘ere tube…” he pointed to a piece of copper piping which passed from the mouth-trumpet into the front wall of the cabinet, “…and inside ‘ere it vibrates against a lot o’strings. Bit like a harp or one o’them fiddle-me-jigs y’get.”

“You mean a violin?” The Witch asked, teetering a little as she wobbled over to peer inside.

“Yeah, that’s right witch-woman. One o’them. Anyways, don’t ask me t’explain to you dunces abou’ the wonders of Tinker Technology, coz I can’t and I won’t. So there. But, basic, what happens is, these strings pick up just what I’m sayin’ and then these little hammers, here…” he shoved Skarry rudely out of the way to squeeze around to the front of the machine again where a plethora of tiny metal hammers hung poised, each attached to a long, thin metal bar. “…these hammers print it into words so the Cap’s got a record to give to Billy Blythe, every time he docks back in London.”

“Oh yes! Look at that!” The Witch mused, also pushing Skarry out of the way to get a better look at the apparatus. “Well, isn’t that clever? Each hammer connects to a sort of arm, which in turn holds an inked nib…oh dear, but what are all these funny little marks and scratches on the paper? This isn’t writing. Not any writing I am familiar with at any rate.”

“Code innit, dough-fer-brains!”

“Will you watch your mouth?” Skarry exclaimed.

“Yah!” the boy sneered “You’re all thick! ‘Course it’s gonna be in code – old Bill don’t want The Watchers knowin’ everythin his are up to, does he? Eh? And each ship’s got its own code so that no cap can read another’s log. Only Bill knows ‘em all – makes sense, don’t it?”

“I suppose so.” The Witch said, vaguely.

“And we’re supposed to believe that a scruffy little tic like you, who can barely sort his vowels from his consonants, produces all this eloquent garbage are we?” Mercurio asked, sneeringly. Skarry frowned at him – it was one thing to upbraid the lad on his behaviour, but to make sport of his intellect and social standing seemed base and unmanly. But to his great surprise, the boy grinned broadly and cleared his throat.

“Ah-hem. I will have you know, that Mr. William Blythe takes the education of his captain’s log recruits very seriously. Each boy or girl is given a bare minimum of three years schooling, with a particular focus on literacy, numeracy, elocution and execution. Before they are apprenticed to a Land Ship. The apprentice period lasts for two years, after which time, the child may choose to take full time employment as a captain’s log or leave the Pirate City and make his, or her, own way in the world according to their personal whims and fancies. So stick that your effin’ pipe n smoke it!”

“Oh! Bravo!” The Witch said, with admiration.

“So if you can speak properly, why in the name of Wiz don’t you?” Mercurio snapped, folding his arms in a querulous manner.

“Who’s t’say what’s proper, guv?” the boy shrugged. “F’me, it’s just a matter o’ personal taste, innit?”

The wizard opened his mouth to argue the point but was interrupted, as the cabin door suddenly flew open.

“Move aside there and clear that bunk!” Scarlet bellowed, as she and Biddy struggled through the narrow doorway, heaving between them the weight of man whose entire body and gas-masked face were covered in a mass of thick black treacle. They laid him on the bunk and, without any explanation, turned and marched back out again.

“Oh my goodness! What happened to you?” The Witch exclaimed, staggering over to his side.

The Captain’s Log burst into raucous laughter. “Aw, don’t worry abou’ him witch-woman, that’s just Albert Tross. Always bringin’ some disaster or other on ‘imself he is! What’s happened this time, Albie? Treacle cannon backfired again? Bloody dough-brain, Jack told yous t’check em last night didn’t he?”

Albert groaned and pulled off his gas mask with a clawed metal hand that was stiff with treacle. “Forgot,” he said faintly.

“Ha! Knew you would. Don’t worry, someone’ll get you cleaned up in a minute, I’ve gotta get back to the task,” he peered into one of the periscopes and slapped his thigh, “woo! Looks like it’s all over; they’re bringin’ Crim aboard now, an’ he don’t look to ‘appy about it I can tell you!”

Skarry moved cautiously towards the door, which Scarlet and Biddie had negated to secure on their way out, but Mercurio imperiously waved him out of the way and strode through onto the deck. Skarry sighed and turned back to The Witch. “My apologies, for my friend,” he said, lamely. “I think he’s a little upset, that’s all. Shall we?” He offered his arm and The Witch took it unsteadily as he guided her up the short flight of steps and out of the cabin door.

The siren’s music had stopped now and, through a miasma of fog, smoke, fish-stench and dancing lights, Scarlet’s voice could be heard, bellowing instructions to the crew. “Swab the decks down, quick sharp, get these sprats outter here! An’ switch Aggie to reverse. We’re all hooked up t’the Plunder Bus now, that’s it – keep steady, Aggie -”

The griffon let out an indignant silver screech, “Easssier sssaid than done, Missss. Sssskarry!”

“Appreciated. Come arn! Let’s give Aggie all th’help she needs t’get outter this cursed town in one piece. We’re towin’ th’Bus back t’London an’ Bill can do what he likes with old Crim when we gets there – but LET’S GET THERE, C’MARN, MOVE!” She spun on her heel and tripped straight into Mercurio’s arms. There followed a number of awkward seconds, during which both parties tried to convey the urgency of their desire to disentangle themselves without actually succeeding in doing so. Eventually, they forced themselves apart and stood glowering at each other.

“What in th’name o’ Wiz? What’r you clowns doin’ up here? I told yer t’stay below!”

“Indeed,” the wizard sneered, straightening his collar with obvious irritation, “but I refuse to be cast into a closet like some inconvenient truth. Thank you for your dubious hospitality, but the danger is obviously now passed and, if you will please direct us to the… gang-plank, or whatever it is you call it… we will be taking our leave of this anarchic carnival of chaos.”

“Y’ll shut yer bleedin’ mouth an’ stay outta th’way!” Scarlet snapped. “Your stay on the Chronic Agro will be over when th’captain says it is and…”

Her tirade was interrupted by a low whistling sound which swelled, intensified, pitched and, as every head aboard the Agro turned skyward to locate its source, ended in an almighty crash as a nearby rooftop shattered under the force of the clockwork creature which had collided with it. The beast struggled to right itself, flailing four legs and snorting steam as the disengaged cogs that had once connected its wing joints whirred uselessly against thin air.

“Winged unicorns falling from the stars!” The Witch murmured, taking another gulp of brandy as she clung to Skarry’s arm. “The scrolls! Amelia has returned!”

“SKYWAYMEN!” Scarlet bellowed. “Where’s Albert? We may need those cannons back in action. ROWLAND!”

“Scarlet Skarry! Ahoy there! No, up here dear, up… look up.. yes, that’s it! Hello! I say, dear, you couldn’t see your way clear to… er… helping out an old chum? Could you? Afraid I’ve got myself into rather a pickle!”

“I’ll pickle yer bloody onions Gabriel – this is our party!” Scarlet screamed up at the Skywayman who was dangling by his cloak from a spur high above the deck of the Agro. “Bill always said you’d end up swinging from a tree, y’can bloody well stay there.”

“Oh now, sweetheart, really, you wouldn’t…oh no! My hat! Oh Scarlet, my hat, get my hat! Please! I can’t have treacle on my…”

He trailed off as Jack strolled out of the myricoloured miasma and deftly stopped the descent of the tricornered article. He twirled it thoughtfully on his index finger and looked up at the hanging Gabriel. “Gabriel, hello!”

“Hello Jack!”

“Hello!”

“Just thought I’d drop in!”

“So I see! Although, I’m never quite sure whether we should be pleased to see you. Where are the rest of your little band?”

Gabriel spread his hands and then scrambled frantically as a few threads of his cloak gave way and he dropped a few inches, rotating slowly until he faced them again, a rather pleading grin straining his features. “Actually, Jack, I’m afraid I’ve been sort of left behind at the first fence, as it were. You see, we’ve been doing you rogues a bit of a favour.”

“Explain.”

“Well, of course, when we spotted Aggie, you know, and the Bus over there, we thought…”

“Yes?”

“Well, of course we thought we’d come and see what fun you chaps were stirring up.”

“And what you could get out of it.”

“Well,” Gabriel spread his palms again, “a gentleman needs to eat, Jack. I don’t pretend to be any different to the next man on that score but I…oh!” There was a ripping sound this time, as part of the cloak came away and spiraled slowly down to the deck like a wounded crow. Jack watched it, one eyebrow raised, before returning his gaze to the blanched Skywayman. “Anyway,” Gabriel continued, his voice now slightly choked, “fact is, old boy, you had an army of Watchers up there who noticed your little jamboree here tonight.”

“Watchers? Really? Yes, that makes sense, I wondered why the clockwork angels hadn’t put in an appearance, didn’t you Scar?”

“Aye, it had crossed me mind,” Scarlet relented.

“Well, precisely!” Gabriel spluttered, as he spun round again and almost garrotted himself with his coat collar. “We’ve been ‘keeping them occupied’ for you, so to speak. Just a bit of fun, you know, leading them a merry dance across the steeples. Couldn’t stand by and see our good friends The Agronauts being waylaid by the law now, could we? That would never do.”

“Oh sure!” Scarlet spat. “Who would you scavenging’ vultures pilfer from if we was out of action? There’d be no carcasses left ter squabble over!”

“Easy there, me love,” Jack grinned, “I don’t really think we can be the lion who turns and bites the head off the jackal. Tempting as it may be. No. We’re most grateful to you, Gabriel, for keeping the vigilante law keepers out of our hair this evening, and one good turn certainly deserves another, we’ll get you down from there, my friend, don’t you worry.”

“Much obliged, Jack, much obliged,” Gabriel said, wearily.

“Tam!” Scarlet bellowed “Swing across, will yer, an’ get Mr. Hounds outter his precarious predicament!”

Tammy Rhymer, who had been lounging on the podium, her little red squirrel cradled on her lap, rolled her eyes but, after a short, hand-signed, discussion with Angel, which left them both shaking with laughter, she skilfully looped a snake of rope across the spur and swung herself off the platform, towards the mast from which the spur protruded. Tucking the rope into the belt strap of her green calf-skin trousers, she quickly ascended the mast with a skill barely bested by her little pet, who kept pace with her all the way. When she finally reached the spur, she straddled it and eased her way along to where Gabriel Hounds was still swinging helplessly.

“Thank you, Tam, thank you. You’re an absolute dear, really, I can’t thank you enough, you’ve saved my neck, dear, you really have.” Tam shook her head and handed him the rope and he struggled awkwardly to grasp hold of it whilst she untangled his cloak from the pole. “Oh that’s better, yes that’s lovely, just lovely, thank you, thank you so much, Tam.”

Tam waved sardonically, as Gabriel slowly began his laborious descent down the rope to the deck. “Oh that is better!” he said faintly, dusting himself off as his feet touched the solid surface of the deck. “Ah, Jack! My hat?”

Jack handed it back to him and the Skywayman examined it carefully before returning it to his head.

“Now, I was rather hoping, old boy…”

“Yes?”

“Well, you know…” Gabriel cast a meaningful look at his crippled pega’ton, which was still struggling to right itself amid the wreckage of the rooftop.

Jack folded his arms and raised his eyebrows but said nothing.

“Well…” Gabriel spread his palms helplessly.

“Well?”

“Oh, dash it, man! You know what I’m trying to say!”

“Hmm.” Jack clasped his chin and looked thoughtfully from Gabriel to the Pega’ton and then back again.

“Oh dash it! Look at the state of this!” Gabriel suddenly tore off his cloak and threw it down in disgust. “Look here, I’m sorry. What I mean is, I mean, I don’t suppose you could, sort of, give us a ride back? I mean… poor Gwyn there, I’d have to leave him behind and, well, someone will find him won’t they? And pull him to pieces, no doubt.”

“Yes, it’s a long walk back to The Forest of Annwn isn’t it, my friend?” Jack mused. “A long walk and, at night, one might say quite a dangerous one. I’m sure many a traveller has been ‘pulled to pieces’ taking that route. Is that what you were thinking?”

“Well,” Gabriel spread his palms again and grinned, the sort of grin that caused Skarry to take a sudden and very great dislike to the man. “What can I say? You and I, old boy, we know the ways of the world better than most. It’s no good at all to assume one will always be in the fortunate position of being the hunter, as it were.”

“True enough. Although I wouldn’t compare my methods of ‘hunting’ with your own, my friend. Be that as it may, you are absolutely right. Never let it be said that The Agronauts would pluck a man from the frying pan and pitch him into the fire. Take Biddie and a couple of others and get your steed into the hold.”

“Good man, Jack, thank you! Thank you very much indeed!” Gabriel wrung the captain’s hand obsequiously for far too long before vanishing into the fog to see about his Pega’ton.

“Excellent fun!” Jack clapped his hands together and examined his pocket watch. “Decks all clean now, Scar?”

“Aye, Captain.”

“Cannons ready? Plunder Bus hooked up? Bellows filled? Spratapult, trebuchet and mangonel cleaned and returned below decks?”

“Aye, Cap, we’re all ready to go. An’ old Archie Crim’s in the cage up there where he belongs.”

“Well, Bill can deal with him when we get back to London, me love. Now, give the order to make way at will, we have a long night still ahead of us and, I think, that means it must be time for Junkie.”

 

cat

 

 

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One response

  1. Pingback: The science behind the fiction #2 | The Curious Adventures Of Messrs Smith And Skarry

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