Authors: Tom Banks
No Slugs We
Throughout these stories of âThe Great Galloon' you will find âGoodnight points'. You may or may not be familiar with these. If not, why haven't you read the other stories about the Galloon? You should. Not now! Read this one. But after you've finished, beg, borrow or buy the others. âGoodnight points' provide you, or whoever is reading this to you, an opportunity to put the book down and tell you to go to sleep. After whoever it is has gone, you should pick the book back up again and look for the bit where one of the characters says âBumcheek'.
In which the author realises that this book
doesn't have chapters, so it's all chapter one.
Stanley watched in awe as Captain Meredith Anstruther leapt around the wheelhouse of his fabled Great Galloon, yanking levers, tapping dials, and wrestling with the mighty brassbound wheel. Outside, the wind was howling, the rain was lashing down, and the clouds loomed all around like disapproving relatives. The Galloon had run straight into a storm, and it was everything the crew could do to keep her steady.
âGive number twelve a tweak, Stanley!' boomed the Captain, his being perhaps the only voice in the world that could compete with the screaming of the storm.
âAye aye, Cap'n!' said Stanley. He threw both arms round one of the tall wooden levers that was sticking out of the floor, and pulled on it for all he was worth. It creaked and strained, and moved about an inch towards him.
âWoah!' cried the Captain. âThat's it! That's it, lad! And now read off that dial!'
Stanley looked to where the Captain was pointing at what he had assumed was a clock. As the Galloon pitched and rolled, he squinted at the two long black hands on it.
âErm â the long hand's pointing to “Mustn't Grumble” and the short hand's pointing to “Turned out nice again'',' he shouted.
âThat can't be right, begad!' boomed the Captain. With one hand on the wheel, he reached across the wheelhouse and tapped the dial with a huge finger. The hands began to spin, and Stanley watched as they came to rest again.
âNow they're both pointing at “Nice weather for ducks”!' cried Stanley.
âWell, that's something, eh?' said the Captain.
Stanley nodded and laughed, though he didn't know what something it was. The Galloon pitched again, and Stanley was thrown against the plate-glass window. Through it he could see the rain, hammering down on the for'ard deck of the Great Galloon, and little else. They were in the middle of a storm such as Stanley had never seen before. Every plank and rope on the Great Galloon was straining to its limit. Lightning flashed, and Stanley saw the great vessel outlined sharply for a second. The deck stretched out before him, rising to the enormous prow, all overtopped by the tangle of sails and balloons that kept them moving through the sky. As the lightning crackled, a shape hurtled by. Stanley saw long black wings, and a yellow beak, before the darkness reclaimed them.
âFishbane!' shouted Stanley, but the shape was gone. Stanley thought he heard the sound of a cry on the wind:
But could see no more. The Captain however, was listening hard.
âThe observatory, you say, my wingÃ©d friend?' he said. âVery well!'
With his dark eyes flashing in the strange, green light of the storm, the Captain spun round, grabbed Stanley around the waist with one great arm, and flung open the door of the wheelhouse.
âWoooo-hooooo!' yelled Stanley.
The wind was now absurdly loud. It blew in through the door and set the levers and pulleys rattling. Stanley was grateful for the Captain's vicelike grip around his waist. The Captain was looking at a bank of small white plungers, like door knobs or organ stops, set in the back wall of the wheelhouse. He selected one that had âDucks, nice weather for â¦' written on it, and one that said âWhy not try this one?' Then he hesitated, before pulling another that said âStorm in a teacup' on it. This done, he turned towards the door, and with one hand on the doorframe, managed to heave himself and Stanley out of the wheelhouse and into the maelstrom. As they stepped out, Stanley felt the rain slapping against his face like a shower of angry sprats. It made him gasp, which only made him cough and splutter. It was as close to being underwater as it was possible to be while actually being a few hundred feet up in the air. The Captain took a moment to steady himself, and then began to make his way, ever so carefully, across the deck.
â---- ----- ---!' cried Stanley, his words whipped away almost before he could think them.
â-- ----- ---!' agreed the Captain.
I wish Rasmussen were here, so we could talk to each other in sign language,
thought Stanley to himself.
Just at that moment, as the Captain clung to the quarterdeck rail, and Stanley clung onto the Captain, another sound joined the howling of the wind and the crashing of the thunder. Through the grey sheet of rain, Stanley saw a shape come into view through the clouds alongside the Galloon. It was a spindly, wiry contraption, with huge spinning rotors, like a windmill's skeleton. Its long thin rotor blades were cracking like whips as they chopped up the air. It wobbled crazily, and jinked to avoid a packing crate that had been blown from the deck. Then it dipped and went out of sight, before slowly reappearing slightly closer. The rain obscured Stanley's view for a moment, but he felt the Captain laugh, and then gasp. Through a flurry of rain, Stanley saw it was the gyrocopter, one of the many flying contraptions that followed the Great Galloon.
Through its windshield Stanley could see two figures. One was a woman in a leather hat, who seemed to be struggling with the controls. Beside her, and closer to Stanley, was a smaller figure, in a green dressing gown, with its feet on the dashboard, and a sandwich in its hands.
âRasmussen!' he shouted.
Rasmussen, Stanley's infuriating best friend, looked up, as if she were sitting in a sunlounger on a deserted beach, and gave Stanley a little wave. In the private sign language she and Stanley had created for just such occasions as this, she said, âYou look like a drowned kipper,' and went back to her sandwich.
Beside her, her mother, the Countess of Hammerstein, looked across and smiled. She tried to mouth something at Stanley and the Captain â
â“We've clotted the bland macaroon”?' said Stanley.
âNo, no, she's saying â¦' The Captain squinted through his eyeglass â¦ â“We've knotted the random buffoon”. Can that be right?'
âI can't see properly, their windows are steamed up!' called Stanley.
Rasmussen yanked the window back with both hands. Her sandwich, which she had been holding in her mouth, was immediately whipped away by the wind. She glared at Stanley with a force that rivalled the storm itself, and signed with both hands, in the language that she and Stanley had created for eventualities such as this.
âWe,' said Stanley, now looking through the eyeglass that the Captain had lent him.
âCould be “spotted”, “splatted” or “twinkly”.'
âWednesday. No! The.'
âGrand â or stinky. Her finger actions are very imprecise.'
âEither “racehorse” or “Sumbaroon”.'
Stanley turned to see the Captain scribbling the words down in a soggy notebook. Looking back he saw the gyrocopter pitch wildly as another piece of debris tumbled by, then, as it came back into view, he saw Rasmussen frantically throwing shapes with her hands.
âShe seems cross!' said the Captain. âWhat's she saying now?'
âShe's saying we owe her a jam and herring sandwich,' said Stanley, giving back the telescope, and making the sign for âfair enough'.
âFair enough,' said the Captain.
The Countess pointed frantically down towards the sea, and then the gyrocopter waggled a goodbye, before banking away to relative safety.
âSo what's the message again?' said Stanley.
âErrm, let me see. It says, “We have splatted the stinky racehorse”. Or “We have spotted the Grand Sumbaroon”.'
The look on the Captain's face told Stanley everything. âThat poor racehorse!' he said, and felt a lump in his throat.
âErm, I think perhaps, it's the second one,' said the Captain, patiently.
âRight! Of course. Silly me. So they've spotted the Grand Sumbaroon.'
The impact of this took a moment to make its way through Stanley's embarrassment. When he did, his head snapped up and he and the Captain beamed at each other.
âThey've spotted the Grand Sumbaroon!' they shouted, together.
The chase was on. If Stanley thought the Captain had been impressive before, he was positively awe inspiring now.
It was later that day â the Captain had still not slept or eaten. Indeed he had barely even spoken, except to bark out orders. He was running from one part of the quarterdeck to another, testing lines, staring into the storm, taking readings from a wide variety of instruments.
âHard a-port and lower the outriggers!' he cried at one point.
âTighten your slack there, Mr Tump, and we'll make another four knots!' at another.
The Galloon, despite her massive size, was fairly racing along in the storm, her lines humming and her mainsail taut as a drum skin. Stanley tripped over a stack of hammocks as he tried to keep up with the Captain.
âCareful, lad! You're no use to me with a broken ankle!' said the great man, and Stanley felt a thrill at the idea of being useful at all, broken ankle or no. He staggered to his feet, and saw the Captain disappear into the driving rain, bellowing as he went.