Illustration from Seapenguin — the coracle, and Tuppence climbing Flannan Isle lighthouse, by Barry Nicol (copyright Barry Nicol)

An excerpt from the sequel to Seapenguin (available to buy now in paperback on Amazon) which includes all the same characters and settings, plus some more.

I seem to have been stung by one of the Tupfinder General’s Giant South American Wasps. The sting was pretty painful; excruciating, if I’m being honest — which is difficult for me. Given my last remark, you can believe that, or not, as you judge best. But take it from me, I have a very large swelling on my left bottom, which didn’t get there by itself. Again, you might well choose not to take it from me, and that is entirely up to you. It is, as they say, your choice. Your choice, sunshine. Nevertheless, here we are, my tweezers have snapped and I am all out of mustard plasters and anti-histamines.

It has, however, not proved fatal. Obviously, as I’m sitting here writing this. It is merely…how can I explain…psychedelic. Turns out that the T-G has been experimenting in his underground laboratory again, crossing our common or garden wasps with the South American genus, to produce a slightly smaller, hugely more bad-tempered variety that produces a non-fatal but highly psycho-active venom.

Which is now racing around my brain in a rather alarming fashion. Synapses colliding and getting all muddled up and confused, leading me to believe I’m a one-legged diabetic morbidly obese cross-dressing homicidal Latin American arms dealer, running guns into the Galapagos Islands so the Komodo dragons can escape from David Attenborough’s camera-wielding henchmen, in exchange for the egg of the rare WhackywhackyOoops Fire-setter-bird, which I plan to have for my breakfast. Nothing else will do.

Said egg is laid only once every ten years, and only then if the WhackywhackyOoopses have managed a successful mate, which is highly unlikely given that they can suffer only their own company, and are so insecure that they will set light to anything seen as a threat — which is pretty much anything, especially other WhackywhackyOoopses.

So, that is where my head is at this evening. Part of my frazzled brain knows that I’m still clinging to the ivy, three hundred feet up the topmost turret of Tupfinder Towers. The other part is in darkest Ecuador, waiting for a helicopter.

*************

“Do you have issues around your sexuality, Mr Tuppenceworth?”

“What? What?” I was thrashing around in a dense thicket, unable to escape from the thorns and tightly-knit branches around me. The voice came from out-with the thicket, and sounded unnervingly penetrating and cocksure, with a grating, slightly metallic and disembodied edge.

“Do you have issues around your sexuality? Do you, Mr Tuppenceworth? Tell me about yourself.”

“Why in the name of the freshly anointed Pope should I? Who on earth are you?” I tried to sound belligerent but my voice came out reedy due to an excess of nerves.

“My name is Doctor Kilbadly, and I am trying to help you out of a state of prolonged psychedelic psychosis, brought on by being stung by a mutant wasp. If you don’t co-operate, it could prove permanent and you’ll be stuck in that thicket for the rest of your natural life.”

“My name is Tuppy Tuppenceworth and I’m a hundred and forty three years young. I take a size six shoe and my favourite meal is lasagne and chips. I live with a bird called Geoffrey and my hobbies are sitting down and eating crisps. What do you mean, natural life? Isn’t every life natural? Is there such a thing as an unnatural life?”

“Just a turn of phrase. Please don’t attempt to undermine the psychoanalytic process, because you’ll never manage it. I’m much too clever and I’ve heard it all before. Now, you mentioned that you live with a bird. Is this germane to your sexuality? Are we getting somewhere at last, Mr Tuppenceworth?”

“How unspeakably ghastly. No.”

**********************

“Oops inside ur hed sed oops inside ur hed. Whackywhacky ooops inside ur hed sed whackywhacky oops inside ur hed…come on now Mr Tuppenceworth. Sing along, or we’ll start the Twirly Wirly song again.”

“No! No more! Please!” I was still caught in that terrible thicket, and the Kiltie Twins had caught up with me. Or were they merely part of some awful hallucination? I groped in my duffel bag for the winter mixture, which had previously distracted the terrible twosome. Surely if they ate sweets, they had to be real, I reasoned feverishly. But was that a good or a bad thing?

“Here Kiltie Twins — have the lot! There’s a Soor Ploom, a piece of ginger Edinburgh Rock, half a Berwick Cockle, an aniseed twist and four cinnamon balls.” It nearly killed me to say “have the lot”, as winter mixture is my favourite, but desperate times, et cetera.

“Berwick Cockles aren’t winter mixture Mr Tuppenceworth, but we’ll not split hairs. Pass the bag through that gap in the thicket and we’ll be on our way.”

“Wait a minute Mr Tuppenceworth,” said a metallic, slightly disembodied voice.

“Not you again, Kilbadly!” I snapped, scrambling to my feet, “Don’t bother with the so-called essential questions around my sexuality — whatever that might mean — because I’m off! There’s a gap in this thicket — the Kiltie Twins have just told me — and I’m going through it! Have a nice life, DOCtor!”

“Hang fire, Tuppenceworth. Not so fast. How do you know that gap isn’t a hallucination? How do you know that the Kiltie Twins aren’t a hallucination? While I’m at it — how do you know that I’M not a hallucination? There — that’s taken the wind out of your wind sock, hasn’t it?”

“No! Nothing takes the wind out of MY wind sock unless I say so. I’ve got a pair of nail scissors somewhere in my duffel bag, and I’m going to — oh!”

There was something else in the duffel bag — something I’d forgotten all about.

Yes, there was something else in there besides nail scissors, winter mixture, my medical kit, three tins of korn bif, four bottles of methylated spirits, five pounds of crack, Rick Wakeman’s triple special edition album of his Eight Wives of Henry the Sixth, half a packet of custard creams, four sausage rolls, and some paper hankies. It was something shapeless, black, and vast………

********************

“I need you to unleash the Twirly Wirly thing, and I need you to do it now T-G.”

I had managed to scramble up the ivy, after glimpsing the Dark Thing in my bag and remembering, despite the lingering haze of mutant wasp venom, why I was there, three hundred feet up a wall, in the first place.

“Yes get a move on Uncle Tuppy. Do stop making like a woolly spider and get into the secret room before we all die of boredom.”

I could scarcely believe it! My nephew Tuppence was already there, leaning out of the mullioned window alongside the Tupfinder General!

I decided to leave the whys and what-fors till I was safely off the ivy with both hands free and a clear head; I had a distinct feeling that I might need to have my wits about me. I grabbed hold of the end of the shepherd’s crook which the Tupfinder was helpfully pointing in my direction, and heaved myself up and over the window ledge.

Unfortunately my hoof caught on a strand of ivy, and as I kicked it free, I knocked out one of the leaded panes of glass in the T-G’s mullioned windows.

“Oops! Sorry T-G,” I gasped, as the shards tinkled and clattered to the ground.

“Tuppy! Have a care, for pity’s sake! That glass is original 12th century Venetian, lifted from the Doge’s Palace by my ancestor Mad Finlay. Besides, it’s draughty enough in here. Mrs T-G will have a fit — especially when she finds out it’s you that did it. She’s still fuming about the French Diary episode.”

“Sorry T-G. I can plug the hole with my old hanky. That’ll stop the draught at any rate.” As I stuffed my large pocket handkerchief (embroidered with the letter “T”) into the broken pane, I glanced downwards and saw the ghastly Kiltie Twins staring up at me and pointing. Another figure, bulky, and wearing a rough Harris tweed two-piece, was heading towards them, carrying what looked like a shotgun slung across her ample shoulders, and a tray of black sausage rolls.

It was Mrs T-G.

(the story continues in Seapenguin 2, which should be available shortly.)