The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness


Thursday 13 February 1997, 12:30 pm

Jake and Dougal stare in horror at the rapidly spreading fire in the Old Man's Arms.

"We can't do anything here," Jake says, grimly. "We have to leave. Now."

He starts to run, but Dougal seems rooted to the spot.

"If that mob learn I'm here we'll both be lynched!" Jake hisses, grabbing Dougal's arm in desperation. "Take me to Lucy, I'll do what I can."

This has more of an effect. Shaking his head in disbelief, Dougal pulls himself together and follows Jake. Together they make a hurried exit from the village, leaving the roar of the flames and the shouts of the islanders behind them.

"Come out of there, you murdering bastards!"

In the Old Man's Arms, a shout rises above the crackle of flames below.

"What the hell's going on?" Chief Inspector Stewart demands. "Have they gone mad?"

He starts to open the window.

"There they are!" someone shrieks. "I said they were in there! They killed Munroe and Mrs Craig – and now they're going to pay for it!"

The crowd give a bloodthirsty roar.

"Natives are outside," Brian mutters. "They probably set the fire, and I think they are restless. Let's get out of here."

They rush out into the hall. Remembering the hidden pack containing the photographs and tapes, Brian pauses to return to the unused room next to his own. As he does so, he hears Sid shouting wildly on the staircase.

"Fire! Fire!"

He emerges to find the hall filling with smoke and Sid charging towards him with a fire extinguisher.

"I've got to put it out!" the landlord yells, wrestling unsuccessfully with the extinguisher's catch as he runs. "This is our home!"

He rounds the corner and disappears. From downstairs comes the sound of breaking glass, and the roar of the flames intensifies.

"No, wait!" Brian shouts, but to no avail.

Grabbing a wet cloth from the nearest bathroom and clamping it to his face, he descends to the smoke-filled ground floor. The fire is already out of control in the bar, and flames are licking across the ceiling of the entrance hall. Sid is at the bottom of the stairs, his eyes streaming, still trying to work the fire extinguisher.

"The bloody thing's broken!" he wails. "And I only had it tested last year!"

Then the front door begins to shake, and with a fearful splintering crash the head of an axe smashes through. Brian guesses it isn't the fire service.

"Get out of here!" he shouts, grabbing the extinguisher from Sid and flinging it at the opening door. There is a thud and a grunt, and a roar of disapproval from outside. He turns and runs back upstairs, followed by a coughing and spluttering Sid.

Stewart looms towards them out of the smoke at the top of the stairs.

"This way!" The Chief Inspector gestures wildly towards Miss Prism's room. "We can climb out here!"

Throwing down his face cloth, Brian bundles first Sid then, with some difficulty, Stewart through the narrow window and onto the flat roof of the kitchen extension. As he makes the descent himself, he hears clattering and muffled shouts downstairs, swiftly followed by a roaring crash as some part of the ground floor structure collapses.

He drops to the ground beside Stewart and Sid, and using his old aura as a military officer to rally them, leads the way through the overgrown garden to the back wall.

"We can slip away in the confusion," he says, opening the gate – and walking straight into Tom Doonie's shotgun.

"You'll need to do better than that," Tom comments, an unpleasant grin on his face.

"Don't you point that thing at me, you young hooligan!" Sid exclaims. "I suppose you were responsible for that!" He waves despairingly back at the blazing pub.

"We don't like strangers here," Tom says, ushering them out into the alley behind the garden. "And don't say we did not warn you."

"Put the gun down, or it will be the worse for you," Stewart warns. "I'm a police officer. You know what that means."

"Aye," Tom says, slowly. Then: "Hey, stop that!" as Stewart starts to reach into his overcoat pocket.

"I'm just reaching for a wine gum," Stewart says, calmly. "Would you like one?"

Brian takes advantage of this diversion to move his hand slowly towards the knife in his belt – but Tom is quicker-witted than he bargained for. The Doonie brother swings round on him, and with an nasty sense of deja-vu, Brian finds himself looking down the barrels of the shotgun.

"Give me that!" Tom growls, his trigger finger twitching.

"Sure," Brian says – and in a single, lightning-fast motion whips the knife from his belt and into the air.

Tom staggers back, surprise on his face. His hands clutch at the hilt of the knife, buried beneath his left collarbone, and the shotgun clatters to the ground. Brian picks it up with one hand, and lays Tom out with a swift blow to the jaw.

"Good work, Mr Dellis," Stewart says, with some relief.

"Thanks," Brian replies. "Now all we have to do is find Jake and Miss Prism, and stay alive until we can get off this island."

Sid, who has been looking on, white-faced, makes a strangled whimper. "But what about Lucy?" he wails.

At Hawkcraig House, Miss Prism stares with mounting horror at the maelstrom she has created.

"Come back!" she yells at Mary's retreating back.

She takes a step forwards and peers into the tunnel of light and smoke, trying to see which way Mary went. Her knees almost give way. The words of the Sixth Commandment echo in her mind: Thou Shalt Not Kill! – and she comes to a decision.

"Mary, I said I'd save you!" she shouts. "I won't abandon you now. Now, come out..."

And in she staggers, determined to bring Mary out – or perish in trying...

Jake and Dougal slip unnoticed out of the village. It is strangely peaceful in the fields; only the black cloud of smoke billowing into the air over Harriestown suggests that anything is amiss. Dougal shivers and wraps his arms around himself.

"We'll head for the beach and collect Lucy," Jake decides, adding: "Don't tell her about the Old Man's Arms. She'll go down there and you'll both be locked up before we can sort this mess out."

When they reach the beach there is no sign of Lucy, but after a few moments of calling her name she appears from within a cave, bedraggled and tear-stained.

"Dougie!" she sobs. "What's happening? Where's dad? What are we going to do?"

Jake looks from her to Dougal and back with a serious expression. "I'll help you," he says, "but you must tell me what you know about what's been happening on the island – or more people will die because of it."

Lucy stares at him, a mixture of incomprehension and rage gathering on her face. "How the hell should I know?" she yells, almost hysterically. "What's it got to do with me? Things were going fine here until you psychos arrived!"

Jake raises his hands in a placatory gesture. "Alright, alright. Don't get upset. Come with me, both of you, and I'll see what I can do."

Coughing and choking, Miss Prism staggers through the roaring furnace that was once Hawkcraig House. From deep within the building, she hears a cackle of insane laughter...

At a run, Jake leads Dougal and a constantly complaining Lucy to Dr Fitzallen's house. The Doctor looks more than a little surprised when she answers his frenzied knock on the door, but he gives her no time to ask any questions.

"I can't explain why," he says, "but it's vitally important that you shelter these two. They're probably suffering from shock. Hide them, don't tell anyone they're here."

"Well, of course," Dr Fitzallen says, "but may I ask – "

Jake shakes his head. "Events are coming to a head and I need your help. Please take my word for all this. I promise I will explain everything when it's over."

He glances nervously over his shoulder, and sees a distant cloud of smoke in the air. Not the Old Man's Arms: it lies in the wrong direction. It is Hawkcraig House, he realizes with horror – Miss Prism's last known whereabouts...

"I need to borrow your car!" he gasps. "Miss Prism's life may depend on it!"

At Hawkcraig House, the insane laughter goes on and on until Miss Prism can no longer tell whether the sound is in the building or somewhere inside her own head. She staggers to one side as, with a screaming roar, a wooden beam crashes down from the ceiling. Through the smoke she can see the staircase ahead, but the flames have beaten her to it; the portraits that line the walls are burning, generations of Doonies turning to ash. Unable to walk, barely able to breathe, she slumps to the floor and prepares to join them...

Then suddenly there are hands under her arms, dragging her through the smoke, past the flames. She feels a cool breeze on her face, and opens her eyes to see Hamish Doonie staring down.

"Mary! The baby!" He shakes her, almost screaming in anguish. "Where are they?"

She raises a shaking hand to point weakly at the house. Hamish pushes her aside and runs back inside. There are more crashes. Miss Prism lets her head fall to the ground and lies on her back, unable to move. The sky is dark. There is a rumble of thunder, and fat, heavy drops of cold rain start to fall from the thick clouds overhead. As if in a dream, she watches the flames spread through the ground floor. The rain falls harder, heavier, penetrating her smoke-filled clothes. There is a crack and rattle as part of the house collapses inwards.

The darkness grows, but the pall of smoke above the house is lit by the flames beneath, and by occasional flashes of lightning. As Miss Prism begins to drift away, the smoke forms into the shape of a gigantic, strangely triangular head, with dark, diagonal eyes and a thin, pointed chin. It hovers over the blaze, staring darkly down at her...

Behind the wheel of Dr Fitzallen's battered old Volvo, Jake races for Hawkcraig House.

"Oh for a chance to run over Ms. St. John," he mutters to himself, "without whom none of this would have been possible..."

The sky grows very dark and it starts to rain. Jake prepares to circle round in case Hamish and Tom are about. As he approaches the house, however, he begins to fear the worst. The building is blazing despite the rain, its roof collapsed in gaping holes through which columns of flame lick the vast black cloud of smoke above. It seems impossible that anyone might remain alive within.

He winds down the window and shouts Miss Prism's name. Even at this distance, the heat is enough to sera his face.

"Miss Prism!" he calls again, despairingly.

Then he spots a still figure lying in the grass. It is Miss Prism, but whether alive or dead, he cannot tell...

Brian, Stewart and Sid continue their trek across the island.

"But what about Lucy?" Sid demands yet again. "You say she's not in the village, but if not there, where is she?" He seems about to grab Brian by the collar and shake him, but apparently thinks better of the idea. "Is there something you're not telling me?"

"She's safe, believe me," Brian says. He wonders whether to tell Sid that Lucy has eloped with Dougal Doonie – and decides that, all things considered, this is unlikely to reassure him.

Then Stewart gasps. "Look over there! Something's burning!"

In the distance, a huge cloud of black smoke is rising into the sky.

Jake skids to a halt outside Dr Fitzallen's house. The Doctor appears almost immediately.

"I've put those two youngsters to bed with a nice hot drink," she says. "They're obviously very distressed about something. What in the Lord's name is – Oh my!"

Jake half drags, half carries the ailing Miss Prism out of the back seat.

"You must help Miss Prism!" Jake gasps. "She's in a bad way. And when we get inside I will try to explain."

With Miss Prism resting upstairs, Jake turns solemnly to Dr Fitzallen.

"I need your help again," he says. "I have to find Brian, but this is not a very safe place for me right now. I have to go into town, but I can't risk being seen. Would you drive me while I hide in the back of the car?"

Dr Fitzallen shakes her head. "I knew there was something strange happening the moment I saw those photographs... I still don't understand it, but of course I'll help you, Mr Carter."

Jake breathes a sigh of relief. "Then let's get moving – there's no time to waste. And on the way we must try to pick up Murdo. Brian can pilot a boat, but we have to be off the island before the night is over, whether we find him or not."

"It's no use, I have to stop," Sid wheezes. "I'm exhausted."

Oblivious to the rain, he drops to the wet ground with a splash, gasps for breath, and rubs his hands over his face. They come away streaked with soot.

"What's your plan?" Stewart asks quietly, taking Brian aside.

Brian sighs ruefully. "I think that term has lost it's meaning, with the our original aims accomplished, and now Miss Prism wigging out. All we can do is find the others, get off the island and clear our names if we're blamed for any crime!"

"Someone's in a hurry," Sid comments with a mournful attempt at humour.

He points at a battered Volvo heading at full speed across the fields towards the headland.

"Are we there yet?"

Jake's voice is muffled as he calls from his position on the floor of the car. It is some time since Dr Fitzallen last told him they had almost reached Harriestown, though the road seems even rougher than before; if he didn't know better, he would have said they were driving on open ground.

"We'll be there soon!" Dr Fitzallen calls back, cheerfully.

Jake risks a look out the window – and is more than a little surprised to see, not the outskirts of the village, but the Old Man dolmen, approaching at high speed.

"What are we doing here?" he asks, struggling to climb onto the seat. The car hits a bump and knocks him back to the floor.

The Doctor gives a rather strange laugh. Jake begins to worry.

"We don't like strangers on Clachantyre!" the doctor says.

And putting her foot down, she steers straight for the edge of the cliff.

"She's heading for the cliff!" Sid shouts. "Bloody women drivers!"

"There's someone in the back," says Stewart.

Brian stares hard at the struggling figure – and gasps when he realizes who it is. "Jake! How the hell – "

He starts to run after the car, though knowing this is futile. The Volvo careers across the headland, swerves around the Old Man, barely avoiding the dolmen, and skids in the wet grass just yards from the edge. All seems lost – then the back door swings open and Jake rolls out. He slides across the ground, seems about to fall, grasps two handfuls of long grass and manages to pull himself to safety... while the car and Dr Fitzallen hurtle straight over the cliff.

There is a shattering crash, then silence.

Back at Dr Fitzallen's house, Jake flings open the door. "Miss Prism!" he yells. "Lucy! Dougal!"

"Lucy?" Sid shouts after him. "Is Lucy here?"

"I left her and Dougal in the Doctor's hands," Jake explains, despairingly. He is still shaky after his own experience. "And Miss Prism. I didn't know she was one of... them. She said she'd put them to bed with a nice hot drink..."

Brian and Stewart exchange glances.

"OK, keep calm everyone," Brian says. "We'll search the house."

But before they can climb the stairs, Lucy appears at the top, looking dishevelled. She seems to be just finishing buttoning her blouse.

"Lucy!" Sid bellows. He runs up the stairs two at a time and grabs her in a crushing embrace.

She pushes him away, embarrassed. "What's all this racket down here?" she demands, sulkily. "We were – umm, I mean, I was trying to get some sleep."

"Lucy, did Dr Fitzallen give you any drugs to take?" Jake asks, still concerned.

Lucy frowns. "Well, yes, she gave us both a couple of green pills. She said they would make us sleep."

"But you didn't take them?"

"No..." she replies, cautiously, but is saved from explaining further by the appearance of Dougal behind her. He looks similarly dishevelled.

"Then let's get Miss Prism and go," Brian says.

Carrying the semiconscious Miss Prism between them, they make their way outside. The rain is easing but it is still very cold.

"What are we going to do now?" Sid asks. "It'll be dark before long, and we can't take a boat from Harriestown!"

Thunder rumbles overhead.

"There's still Five Acre Farm," says Dougal. "The Drummonds have a boat. It's none too seaworthy, but it should hold together long enough to get us to Flannen Island..."

"But can we trust the Drummonds?" Brian asks, doubtfully.

"You must have met them." Dougal replies. "They've always been a little... different to the rest of the islanders. At this moment, I'd rather trust them than anyone else. And we don't seem to have any other choice."

At Five Acre Farm, they find Jock and Fergus in the yard, together with Daisy the sheep and a tiny lamb they haven't seen before. The lamb is balancing a chick on its nose.

Jock spots them and waves enthusiastically. "You have chosen a fine moment to come calling!" He grins broadly.

"See – Daisy's bairn." Fergus's voice is weighty with emotion and pride. "She's a chip off the old block, there's no mistake."

"We were going to have a dram to celebrate," Jock says. "Why not join us?"

"We'd love to, but we're in a bit of a hurry," Jake replies. "Can we borrow your boat? No – can we buy your boat?"

The Drummonds don't look surprised at this, as though people ask to buy their boat every day. Fergus scratches his nose. "How much are you offering?"

Jake looks round the others. "How much have we got? What about you, Chief Inspector? Could you claim it on expenses?"

Stewart frowns and sucks on a mint imperial. "I'd never get it past our finance department."

"How long," Brian asks, slowly, "do you think we can hide on an island this size?"

"I take the point," Stewart says. He reaches into his jacket pocket. "You'll take a cheque?"

"Aye, that will do nicely," Jock says. He nudges Fergus. "This could be the start of something big," he whispers. "With this we can make another trip to Australia – and then, who knows? Today Clachantyre, tomorrow the world!"

As Brian steers the boat out to sea, the sky begins to clear and the sun makes its first appearance for days. The party are too exhausted to celebrate, however.

Jake stands beside Brian, out of earshot of the others, and speaks to him in a low voice. "You must destroy the monolith, Brian."

Brian nods. "I'm planning to. But first let's get us all to safety and Miss Prism to a hospital."

They fall into an uncomfortable silence.

At the stern of the boat, Lucy gives Dougal a playful nudge.

"I bet you've forgotten – it's Valentine's Day tomorrow."

Sid's eyes open wide. "What? You don't mean..." He glares furiously at Dougal. "So that's what's been going on. What have you been doing with my daughter, you sex maniac? And what do you mean by putting her in all this danger? You've got no sense of duty, young blokes these days. In my day, a man would ask a girl's father for the honour of courting her – not turn her against her poor old dad then spirit her away in the dead of night and get her into God knows what trouble while her family home burns down and there are maniacs with petrol bombs roaming the streets – Oh no..."

"I wanted to tell you about me and Dougie," Lucy interrupts, "but I was scared of what you might do to him."

"And you were right." Sid scowls, but calms down a bit.

"I'm sorry I ran away." Lucy puts her arms around his neck. "I won't do it again, I promise."

"There's not much to run away from now," Sid says, wryly. "The pub's all gone."

"I don't care about the pub – I never have," Lucy replies. "All I care about is Dougie – and you. Let's go back to Coventry, Dad. I miss my friends and the rest of the family."

Sid shrugs, and manages a smile. "You're right love," he says. "I suppose there really is no place like home."

Saturday 15 February 1997, 12:00 midnight
Off the west coast of Clachantyre

In the dead of night, Brian dives for the last time into the cold black waters of Clachantyre, behind him the boat he hired yesterday from Flannen Island, in his pack the explosives supplied by Chief Inspector Stewart. By the thin white light of his lamp, he finds the tunnel once more and swims into the underwater cave.

There have been some changes since his last visit – the video camera is gone, as are the five glowing panels in the wall. In their place lie five ragged holes, each one about three feet deep. The monolith in the centre of the cave remains, however, as dark and implacable as ever.

Working quickly, Brian sets the charges, checks and double checks, then slips silently back into the icy water...

He watches the explosion from a safe distance. It causes barely a ripple at the water's surface; it seems the sea is determined to hide its secrets.

Satisfied, he turns the boat about and heads for Flannen Island.


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