“THE MOON ROSE LIKE A GREAT BLOATED LUMINOUS BALLOON.”
I looked across at the Colonel with a start, releasing the pause-button of my pocket recorder instantly. I hastily wrote that first sentence down in my little token notebook in case it hadn’t all been recorded, then looked up again at the Colonel expectantly.
His eyes held a glassy, far-away expression and seemed fixed on some point just above my left shoulder, while he took a sizeable swig from his tumbler of Puttumbee’s.
It was almost as if he were speaking thoughts aloud to himself as he continued.
“It rose slowly above the northern rim of Kanabugabugabuga. The twisted, spindly branch and bulbous trunk of baobab and acacia were etched in jagged black across the moon’s huge yellow face, like hunchbacked goblins leaning oddly and grotesquely, presumably for no more reason than they’d love t’ scare th’ very willies out of one.”
The Colonel’s arms lifted like walruses flippers from the Half-Nelson’s great stuffed armrests, as they followed the progress of an African moon that had risen from the land, probably long before I was born.
The electric lighting in the mock-chandelier overhead, had now been dimmed from a dial set into the quarter-Nelson at Colonel Bagfart’s side, and the amber and vermillion reflection from the leaping tongues of fire in the inglenook, flickered across his monocled countenance, rendering it both comical and ghastly.
Then he looked at me and slowly lowered his arms.
“You’ve never been to Africa, have you?”
“No!” I shook my head. “I told you before.”
“Did you? Well, never mind that, now. But I’ll tell y’ one thing, young fellah; you just can’t imagine what it’s like t’ be in Africa till you’ve akchewlly been there and trod its soil for yourself. Films, photographs and whatnot – no matter how realistic – cannot convey the true feel.
But when y’ breathe that tropical air and smell the rich scents borne upon it: the humid soil, pungent vegetation, the musk and sweat of wild beasts and birds – and when y’ see the magnificent panoramas with their range of vivid and subtle colours, and hear the incredible range of sounds for y’self – then you know you’re really there, experiencing it all, first hand.”
I felt sure that a visit to Regents Park Zoo, followed by a visit to the Palm House at Kew Gardens could quite reasonably replicate the whole range of sensations and experiences that the Colonel had just described.
“What’s this Kanabugabugabuga?” I asked, forgetfully draining my tumbler and suddenly recalling my earlier promise to myself to go easy on the alcohol. I felt the potent liquid rushing through my head and refrained from refilling the tumbler from the sparkling decanter next to it – enticing as it looked. As chronicler of the Colonel’s memoirs, I needed a clear head, I reckoned – even if only to know when to stop and start the pocket recording-machine and change tapes when necessary.
“It’s an escarpment,” the Colonel answered. “A great inland cliff that curves in an enormous semicircle for many miles – and probably all that remains of a ruddy great meteor crater, millions of years old. Kanabugabugabuga,” he muttered to himself, as if in momentary prayer. Then he added gravely, “the name is Chantu for, Can-a-man-credit-its-awesome-range-and-size.”
“So that, presumably, is where you were stationed in central Africa in the nineteen-thirties,” I suggested, declining with an upraised hand as, leaning forward in his half-Nelson, the Colonel held the decanter towards me, one bushy great brow acock.
“Precisely,” he replied, refilling my tumbler with a great gurgling splosh regardlessly. “In deepest Congoland, at a place called Mbango – north of the Congo river and just south of Kanabugabugabuga.”
“But how did you happen to find that strange chunk of stone you showed me in your museum – and what is it, exactly?”
“I’m coming t’ that, m’ boy – coming t’ that.” He took a large swallow from his tumbler.
“Now! I had a functional little thatched dhobu – that’s Ndagi, which is a Congolese dialect for bungalow, by the way. It commanded a rather magnificent view of Kananbugabugabuga and the Dfarian bush bowl, built on the topside of a slope, as it was and sheltered at the fringe of a rainforest. Nice vantage point and strategically placed. Had some of my officers and men with me in other dhobus clustered nearby – and some native guides.
We were on a special mission, which I won’t go into at present – but it entailed keeping a lookout on the Kbibbu Pass, a great cleft in the face of Kanabugabugabuga.
One night, as I’d just returned t’ my dhobu from a spot of binocular-aided field-scouting – Mbutu, the head-guide came gibbering at m’ door, telling me he’d seen ‘big light in sky drop towards Kbibbu Pass and disappear just behind.’
I questioned him thoroughly as to its description, thinking perhaps, it might be a meteor, but deciding in all likelihood that it was a foreign aircraft – owing t’ the fact that he’d said the light was of many colours which, I reckoned, could be the red, white and green lights of a Goliath aircraft-carrier.
Anyhow – not taking any chances and without more ado, I trooped out armed t’ th’ teeth towards the Kbibbu Pass with the head guide, two of his men and two of mine, in the bushjeep – leaving Major Goodshoes, my head-deputy-officer in charge of the camp.
As we approached, deep in the bush bowl, with the cliff towering above us, we saw a strange greenish light flickering behind the divide of the Kbibbu Pass.
The moon was quite high above and a little behind us by this time. We slowed the jeep and stowed it under some loose bits of bush and scrub in a little hollow several hundred yards from the base of the cliff. Then we advanced stealthily on foot, fanning out a little and keeping t’ th’ shadows of the long grasses and bush.”
I smiled to myself as I listened to the Colonel, remembering how I’d stolen from shadow to shadow and the cover of shrubs and bushes in the grounds of Bagfart Manor the previous evening, to avoid another of the Colonel’s invitations to come and get sloshed out of my head.
Listening to the Colonel’s tale now, however, I found my hand automatically reaching out to the refilled tumbler of Puttumbee’s special, but refrained, lighting a cigarette instead. I felt excitement beginning to stir in my chest.
“The cliff-face sloped upwards in a series of terraced ledges above us,” said the Colonel, continuing his tale, “with sort of natural rampways here and there where there were vertical and angled fissures and flutings in the rock. The whole structure averaged at least five hundred feet in height – and approximately half a mile in breadth further northwards.
Whatever it was that Mbutu had seen make a landing, was either on the far side or – more likely – somewhere in one of the hidden canyons that honeycombed this portion of the escarpment. It was quite a bit of ground to cover, but then there was th’ strange green light t’ guide us, which we could still see glowing dimly through the Pass.
There were six of us, remember, and I formulated a rough plan. We would split up into three parties of two each.
Mbutu and I, intended to make our way up to the first ledge, about a hundred feet above and cut through the escarpment on a ledge that climbed and wound its way along the west face of the Kbibbu Pass – the opening of which, began about a hundred yards to our right.
Umptigi, one of the other guides, and Captain Grimble, were to scale up t’ th’ second ledge and cut through a narrow ravine there, leading right through the escarpment and accessing several canyons and gulleys along the way.
The other two men, Bgrunti and Lieutenant Snodgrass together with their assistants Corporal Punishment and Private Parts, were to remain on guard at the foot of the cliff, under cover and within sight of the camouflaged jeep.
We were t’ signal each other of our comings and goings whenever necessary and feasible by means of coded flashes on our Aldis lamps. Each of my men carried one and was armed with pistols, grenades and knives. They also had a flare gun apiece, as an auxiliary signalling device.
The guides carried their own weapons, plus about half a furlong of climbing cable apiece. We were all set. As Mbutu and I made our way along the ledge through the Pass, the green light grew slowly brighter.
We were nearing a sort of crossroads centred by a great circular canyon and subdivided further by flat-topped buttes of various sizes and heights; like giant stepping-stones with causeways running like high-walled pathways between them.
It was like a three-dimensional maze towering up above and spreading out below and beyond us. But here, the green light was much stronger, though partially eclipsed by the black silhouettes of intervening formations.
We took the nearest causeway, leading up towards a huge butte, festooned with ledges and cavern entrances. The queer whooping and twittering sounds of night creatures reached our ears intermittently and a couple of times, dark winged shapes swished past us.
I had intended this trip t’ be purely a reconnoitre – getting the lay of the land before returning to camp and planning out what measures were t’ be taken – which is why there were only six of us. Besides, I was in a hurry to see what was what out there and hadn’t had time t’ wait and drum up more men – but I wished I had.
The place was so damn eerie, I wished I’d taken several jeeploads of men, I don’t mind telling you, so we could’ve travelled at least six to a party. What also bothered me, was that Mbutu seemed t’ be getting a touch jittery. How might he react when confronted with an enemy camp full of tanks and mounted artillery disgorged from a Goliath aircraft carrier? After all, he was only a guide and not a trained military man.
As we negotiated the narrow curved ledge leading round the periphery of the huge butte in our quest to reach the source of the green light on its far side, we passed the mouths of several large caves. The first one was pitch black when we peered into it. Hot fetid air seemed to breathe out from it onto our faces and there were strange rustlings and whisperings within. Holding a handkerchief over my nose with one hand and shining the light of my Aldis lamp with the other, I peered inwards curiously.
‘Not stay here too long, Bwana,’ said Mbutu. ‘Bad Juju!’ We moved on.
The second cave was another dark and smelly case of bad Juju. The next one, however, was quite different. It pierced the diameter of the butte and we could see green light pouring through from an arched opening at the opposite end.
A short cut straight through the girth of the huge butte. I decided to make use of it and made as if to enter, but Mbutu drew back with a sharp breath, cautioning me urgently.
‘Not go through here, either, Bwana. More bad Juju!’ His eyes widened. ‘Go round whole rock.’
I frowned at him belligerently. I was getting more than a bit fed up with all this bad Juju and it was giving me a nasty touch of the willies – but I was damned if I was going to let a touch of the willies and particularly any old bad Juju, stop me from completing my mission.
‘Why the devil not?’ I snorted, looking in and seeing no apparent obstacles – just a long black tunnel, alight with a dim, greenish glow. ‘It’s the quickest route t’ th’ source of that green light and this damn great rock is at least several hundred yards in diameter!’
‘I sense something – not quite right here,’ Mbutu replied, and his eyes rolled with alarm as I faced him in the greenish light that bathed us both in its eerie glow.
‘Look,’ I said, drawing my pistol from its holster and checking to make sure it was fully loaded and the silencer fitted correctly. ‘If anything s’much as breathes as we pass through this tunnel – if the tiniest shadow moves an inch – I’ll blast it t’ kingdom come. And in case y’ didn’t know it – this here firing-stick’ll put a hole in an elephant the’ size of a bloody tennis ball.’ But Mbutu shook his head.
‘Fire-stick no good against bad Juju,’ he said Not wise to go through cave!’
I could see there was no convincing the’ bugger, so I paused in thought for a moment, weighing up the pros and cons.
I needed Mbutu as a guide – as a native, who knew the local terrain like the back of his hand. What I didn’t need was someone holding me back – getting me all hog-tied with local superstition.
‘I tell y’ what, Mbutu,’ I said. ‘If you’re so worried about bad Juju – you carry on round the long way and catch me up when y’ reach the far side. I’ll even wait for you at the opposite entrance of this tunnel. I’ll be going straight through it,’ I added, pointing inwards at the green glow.
There was disquiet on his features and he shifted from foot to foot. ‘You take my advice, Bwana – and come with me round face of rock!’
‘Nonsense,’ I replied, stepping forward into the tunnel-mouth and waving him to get moving by the long route. ‘Get your skates on, we’ve got a train t’ catch!’ I barked out over my shoulder as I proceeded inwards, pistol at the ready.’ The last thing I saw as I looked back was the naked fear on Mbutu’s face. He made some sort of weird final gesture and was gone from sight.
I was alone and already several paces into the tunnel, its darkness closing around me. Only the eerie greenish glow straight ahead and about the apparent size of a football, though very jagged in shape lit the way ahead. Despite the fact that the light showed quite brightly at the other end, it cast but little illumination on the rock surface within the tunnel itself.
It was gloomy in there, to say the least and, pistol in one hand I unhitched the Aldis lamp from its place at my belt and switched it on, holding it and directing its beam in the other hand. I made my way as quickly as I could but had a couple of hundred yards in all t’ cover.
Because of Mbutu’s warning about bad ju-ju, I found myself a touch more jumpy than good sense dictated, thus expecting danger at every step. A couple of times, things slithered by on the tunnel floor, but when I cast my Aldis lamp down at them – they’d gone.
Apart from that, though there’d been much whooping and twittering of nocturnal life outside – and rustlings and whisperings from the mouths of other caves – this one was disturbingly quiet.
Though quite large, the tunnel being about eight feet wide and perhaps a little more in height, there were a lot of outcroppings and recesses along the walls at each side. Some of the recesses appeared t’ branch out into other tunnels or caves that intersected the one I was in.
It was at one of these intersections, about halfway down t’ my left, that something glowing at th’ corner of my eye made me turn m’ head in that direction. I might have thought it t’ be a reflection of the light ahead, streaming in and bouncing off some angled surface in the recess, but f’ th’ fact that it wasn’t green.
I shone the beam of my Aldis lamp upon it, but whatever it was, immediately died down or was outclassed by the stronger beam of m’ Aldis lamp.
What I could see now, was the entrance to a shallow cave, with another cave leading from it at an acute angle. But there was something else, I noticed, that completely captured my attention.
Something very faint seemed to be changing colour in a peculiar shifting pattern.”
The Colonel broke off at this point in his narrative and looked over at me. He was in the act of pouring out his umpteenth glass of claret and leaning over to top up mine. He still seemed remarkably sober, though. “You can probably guess what comes next,” he twinkled and with an enormous gulp of claret, continued his story.
“Wedged in a lateral groove, between two shelves of the rock face, was the very chunk of rock that now rests atop the Double-Nelson while I speak. I walked over to it, placing the Aldis lamp at an angle on an outcropping where it would shine full on the stone and examined it closely, pistol still held in m’ right hand. As we’ve already noted, the stone glowed with a faint inner light, constantly changing colour in a most intricate and fascinating way.
I was intrigued. I’d never seen anything like it afore. With my free hand I tugged gently at the stone and found t’ my surprise that it moved easily.
What’s more, it felt amazingly lightweight, which belied its rather solid appearance.
I tugged some more and it came free of its position in the groove, nearly falling from th’ damn shelf. I tried lifting it with one hand and was amazed at the ease with which I could do so, noting that more of the substance seemed t’ wedged behind it, deeper in the groove.
Without knowing why, I tucked the stone under my arm, picked up the lamp and continued on m’ way t’ th’ opposite end of th’ tunnel at a brisk march t’ make up for th’ few minutes I’d lost.
On the way, in case th’ stone happened t’ be bad ju-ju in M’butu’s eyes I had th’ presence of mind t’ stuff it into th’ military knapsack I carried over one shoulder f’ situations just like this, as my backpack was already stuffed with everything but the kitchen sink.
I reached the opposite end of the tunnel, which opened out onto a much wider ledge, protruding liplike for several yards. It dipped slightly at the other end like the spout of a teapot and beyond that point, somewhere below, the green light radiated upwards with increased luminosity.
“There was no sign of Mbutu as yet. I looked to my right, the direction from which he should be appearing and though some twenty yards or so of the butte wall was visible before it curved away from sight, there was still no sign of him.
“While waiting for him to appear, I walked cautiously t’ the rim of the ledge. I could see downwards for no more than about twenty yards, owing to the fact that a series of terraced ledges foreshortened the view below.
“The only way to see what lay at the bottom of the canyon, was t’ negotiate the terraces one by one. They were like giant steps with an approximate five-foot drop between each – easy enough t’ negotiate. I looked to my right and left and lowered m’self as quietly as I could to the next ledge.
“There were five in all before I had a clear view t’ th’ floor of the canyon. What I saw there made me draw breath sharply in surprise.
“I lay prone at the rim of the lowest ledge, gazing over the lip down a sheer drop that was not negotiable without climbing apparatus and beheld the most unearthly I‘ve ever seen in my life. There on the floor of th’ canyon in a huge space walled in on all sides from outside eyes was a titanic structure alive with glowing green light and humming softly like some sort of huge insect. I only wish I’d had a camera with me, and a colour one at that – ‘cept they weren’t standard issue then.
“It would have dwarfed a Goliath aircraft carrier, making it look like a mouse beside an elephant.
“I couldn’t make out the details ‘cause the green light seemed t’ be shielding its outlines, making them vague and hard to determine – though I thought I caught a flashing glimpse of clarity now ’n’ again that reminded me of Captain Nemo’s undersea city in Jules Verne’s 2000 Leagues.
“It did cross m’ mind that it might be some new-fangled invention of the Germans, emitting some kind of masking ray. They were experimenting with all kinds of things at the time, as y’ probably know from you’re history lessons at school. I figured that it must have been a secret base and most likely military in nature. There were no signs of any men, machinery, vehicles or aircraft in the vicinity – perhaps everything was housed within the structure. It just sat there on the canyon floor, sort of oscillating and humming – and looking monstrous and alive.
“Something had t’ be done about it immediately, I decided. What with th’ threat of war, looming on the horizon an’ all. Before Mbutu had come knocking on m’ dhobu door earlier that evening gibbering about ‘big light in sky dropping behind Kbibbu Pass,’ there’d been news of several sightings of unidentified landings in the area during the preceding weeks.
“It was the reason I was there in the first place – t’ find out if th’ rumours were true, investigate ‘em and report back t’ Blighty forthwith.
“The first part of my mission had been accomplished. The next part was clear. As soon as I got back t’ camp, I’d radio back to England and await further orders. All I had t’ do now, was climb back up t’ the ledge outside the tunnel entrance, collect Mbutu when he reappeared, if he hadn’t already, then off back t’ th’ jeep and rendezvous with the others and – “
Colonel Bagfart paused at this juncture in his tale to refill his claret glass yet again, shaking his head and frowning to himself. I regarded him through an intervening cloud of cigarette and pipe smoke.
I had been enthralled by his story up to that point, but was now beginning to find it just a little too fantastic to credit as actual fact.
However, there was the matter of the chameleonic stone, only a few feet from me atop the double-Nelson desktop! Surely it wasn’t an elaborate fake, fitted inside with batteries and an alternating current?
And if so, – why? The Colonel seemed a reasonable, intelligent, well-educated, down-to-earth, ex-military man.
It was hard to believe that he would go to all the trouble of faking the stone, merely for a bit of sensational attention – or would he?
“What about the stone?” I asked. “And what was the huge object, lurking on the canyon floor?”
“Ah! I’m coming to all that, m’ boy!”
It was at this point that the Colonel’s old-fashioned telephone rang with a strident jangling tone that made me almost jump out of my comfortable seat. Even the Colonel started and picked up the receiver with a sudden nervous jerk, as if to silence the offending interruption.
“Bagfart,” he boomed and then fell immediately silent, a frown deepening between his brows as he listened intently to a voice that flowed urgently from the earpiece like the buzzing of an agitated insect. I could hear it from where I sat, watching the Colonel’s eyes widen till I thought that they would pop out of their sockets. His jowls quivered and he fidgeted from foot to foot, a hand in one trouser pocket and visibly fumbling frantically with some unseen object within.
“I’ll come at once,” he roared and slammed down the phone. Then he rushed past me and out the door without a word, leaving me high and dry.
He reappeared briefly in the doorway and called out: “Sorry, old chap. Something extremely urgent just came up. Forgive my rudeness. Must dash. Cheerio.”
And that was the last I saw of Colonel Bagfart.
However, some months later I did receive an explanatory letter from the Colonel, addressed to Joseph King Esquire, care of Plunkett Ponsonby-Smythe, at Bagfart Manor. Fortunately, Plunk had my address and promptly forwarded the letter to me. He’s a great guy; very efficient, attentive and accommodating and an absolutely hilarious entertainer in his macabre Frank Zappa-like way.
In the letter the Colonel relates that he climbed back up from the canyon ledge in the Kbibbu Pass to the rendezvous point where Mbutu and the others were gathered. He then returned to his military camp in the Dfarian Bush Bowl and “reported home t’ Blighty by radio forthwith.”
But by the time people were sent to deal with the situation, the green light had gone and the large construction in the canyon turned out to be completely deserted – It was searched and thought to be the empty hulk of some sort of laboratory complex with storage facilities for equipment.
Since then, nothing further has come to light.
So the mystery of the Kbibbu Stone remains just that – a mystery. Unsolved. Though the Colonel [shades of kryptonite], says he is convinced that it is a piece of some distant planet.
I finished recording my album with The Psycho De Licks and we have long since departed from Bagfart Manor. From my completed cassette tapes of the Colonel’s narrative, I also finished writing the Colonel’s memoirs and duly received payment through the Estate of Bagfart Manor, some of which I owed and paid to the band for their recording services.
A couple of year’s later; I received news that Colonel Bagfart and his stone have both disappeared – I discovered an article tucked away on a page halfway through a daily newspaper headed, ‘Colonel disappears.’
I phoned Bagfart Manor recently, only to find that it has changed hands and that Plunk has sold up and moved the studio away. The Psycho De Licks Play Bagfart Manor made an entry third from the bottom of the ‘200 Album Chart’, so we’ve barely broke even on our total outlay from the trickling sales flow since then. Still, better than a kick up the backside, I suppose.
That’s all I’ve got on the whole affair.
Joe King, September 1972
The Mystery of the Kbibbu Stone – Part 3 of The Colonel Bagfart Trilogy
Located in the Stories Category of the Art Section
You can see a full-sized image of the Colonel Bagfart Illustration in the Caricature and Fantasy sections of the Art Pulldown Menu, beneath which, is a full account of how, why and when the image was created: In 1979 he was a newly invented stereotyped Cartoon caricature named Colonel Nesbit Snodgrass but really took off when he went through an evolutionary metamorphosis finally becoming Colonel Nesbit Bing-Baddeley Snelgrove Bagfart. He was then utilized as the central character in the Colonel Bagfart trilogy, which I began writing in 1989, starting out in Part One as a humorous characterisation and becoming a fully fledged mystery thriller by the time it reached Part Three in 1990.
Dave Draper 2014
The Colonel Bagfart Trilogy
From the Colonel Bagfart illustration in the Portrait, Fantasy and Caricature Categories of the Art Section
Although the three consecutive stories in The Colonel Bagfart Trilogy, undoubtedly revolve around the central character, the Colonel himself – they are actually a story about two, very central characters, both vitally integral to the Story.
First of course, there is the Colonel, portly, monocled, heavily jowled and 77 years old – but then there is Joe King [Joseph Kennedy Kinneth King] a young musician of 27 who has travelled down in his clapped out old Bedfort Transit with his band the Pyscho De Licks to Bagfart Manor to record an album of his latest songs in the then, bang up-to-date studios [in 1967] of Nigel Nesbit Plunkett Ponsonby-Smythe, the Colonel’s nephew and a giant of a man who resembles a very wild and macabre version of Frank Zappa.
Without Joe King present, to accompany the Colonel on his drinking sprees, listen to all the Colonel’s reminiscences as a Special Investigator of unusual sightings and circumstances in strange and remote locations throughout two world wars and, to eventually take over as paid active chronicler of the Colonel’s memoirs, represented up until then only by vague snatches of half formed scribble, but which Joe manages so skillfully and meticulously with a cassette recorder and backup notebook, there would be no Colonel Bagfart Trilogy.
When unexpected news issued on the national media reports that the Colonel has disappeared mysteriously Joe King returns to the Manor to find out what has happened, but even Plunk has moved out, so he draws a blank in his investigations.
Determined to successful conclude the Colonel’s Memoirs by himself, Joe sets about writing his own conclusion, with the media report of the Colonel’s mysterious disappearance that has since, never been explained.
Dave Draper, March 2014
From beneath the illustration of Colonel Bagfart
Located in the Portrait, Fantasy and Caricature categories of the Art Section.
This is the authentic Colonel Bagfart who actually began life as a cartoon caricature in 1979, invented by yours truly.
Actually, he really started out as simply: Colonel Nesbit. I think various other components were tried out and then some were dropped and some later again added such as; Nesbit Snodgrass, Nesbit Bagshott, Nesbit Snelgrove until he eventually became what he is now – Colonel Nesbit Bing-Baddeley Snelgrove-Bagfart.
The photographic representation in my Specimen Display Portfolio of the original above cartoon, shows the very exact self-same drawing seen here, as it is and was, rendered in Biro and Coloured pencils.
It has been cropped from its previous full format, which had a large speech balloon above the Colonel’s head, bearing the legend; “When I was in Poona, I bagged a tiger, you know? What?” and the name listed below the image with my signature left intact, was Colonel Nesbit Snodgrass.
All the previous text has been scrubbed in PhotoStudio and relaced with the text you see now – although the original artwork remains [somewhere in my archives], as does a photographed copy.
The aforementioned change was made in accordance with the updates in, and to accompany the Launch of the Colonel Bagfart trilogy in 1989.
Dave Draper, March 2014