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By Sarah Hapgood

“You know in some ways”, said Hoowie, at dinner that evening “It’s a shame we’re not evil and ruthless with the powers that we’ve got”.

“What powers?” said Bengo.

“Immortality”, said Hoowie.

“That’s not a power, it’s a gift“, said Bardin.

“Why do you want to be evil and ruthless, Hoowie?” said Kieran.

“I don’t”, said Hoowie “But if we were, we’d live a lot better. We’d have pots of money and be head of organisations. We could all be on a board of directors”.

“Sounds quite ghastly, frankly“, said Adam.

“Oh blimey”, said Joby “He’s as bad as Lonts when he goes off on one of these tangents”.

“We could have our own top-notch hotel”, said Hoowie “And we could live in it”.

“Doesn’t sound like that would be very nice for the other guests, old love”, said Adam.

“We wouldn’t have any other guests”, said Joby “Nobody in their right mind would wanna stay there!”

“This corned beef is as tough as old boots”, said Hillyard.

“Well that’s a bleedin’ shame innit!” said Joby. He gave a shudder “It’s definitely getting even colder. Helluva draft somewhere”.

“You’re sitting in front of the doorway”, Adam pointed out.

“No it feels different to that”, said Joby.

“We seem to have brought a bit of that wretched place home with us”, said Bardin “Kieran, I understand what you meant earlier by using that place as a shield, but I’ve changed my mind. It’s not healthy here”.

Bengo and Bardin retired early to their cabin. Bardin flopped onto the sofa. Bengo knelt at his feet and began to remove his shoes for him.

“What DO you think you’re doing?” Bardin smiled.

“Making you more comfy”, said Bengo “When was the last time you slept properly?”

“Can’t remember”, said Bardin.

“Hm, so I thought”, said Bengo.

“It seems that every time I try to sleep the other clowns are bursting in here like a bunch of neurotic chorus-girls”, said Bardin “All complaining about the night-watches. If I’m such a miserable, slave-driving bastard I don’t know why they insist on staying around. They know where the exits are”.

“Because they secretly like you being a miserable slave-driving bastard”, said Bengo, now massaging his partner’s feet “They always did. I remember how terrified of you they were when you first arrived at the Cabaret”.

“Good”, said Bardin.

“They watched you at your audition dancing on the stage, and they were speechless”.

“That must’ve been the last bloody time that lot were ever speechless!”

“And I remember”, Bengo giggled “Hal saying, all sort of awestruck, ‘that guy can really dance’. It was so funny”.

“Well I’ve never been able to figure out what it is he can do”, said Bardin “Why he was ever hired in the first place. It certainly can’t have been to add decoration to the stage!”

“I think Ully’s idea was that he’d be the funny fat boy”, said Bengo.

“Yes”, Bardin mused “You’ve got to hand it to us lot at the Cabaret, we have always been beacons of classy good taste!”

Joby found Adam still sitting by the stove in the galley, even though it was now getting on for midnight.

“Want some cocoa?” said Joby “I’m making Kieran some”.

“Jolly good idea”, said Adam, glancing up from an old cookery-book he had been leafing through “I was just trying to remember when was the last time I saw porcine mushrooms”.

“If you think we’re going mushrooming again after what happened last time …” said Joby.

“No I was just speculating”, said Adam “There’s a recipe here for sausages in spicy tomato sauce with porcine mushrooms”.

“That sounds disgusting”.

“After all these years I’ve never been able to get you educated in the finer culinary arts”.

“Finer culinary arts?” Joby exclaimed “The most sophisticated thing we ever make is bread pudding!”

“Yes it would be nice to attempt something really ambitious for once”, said Adam, closing the recipe-book with a sigh “Wow everyone with what we can really do”.

“That lot wouldn’t notice”, said Joby “In spite of all their moaning sometimes they’ll eat anything”.

“And a good thing too”, said Adam “Considering we haven’t exactly got a vast range of ingredients to choose from”.

Ransey shuffled noiselessly into the room, and Joby gave a dramatic start, dropping a spoon on the floor.

“Do you have to move about like that!” said Joby “You’re like the bleedin’ Grim Reaper, with glasses!”

“Bit jumpy aren’t we?” said Ransey.

“He’s been jumpy all evening, haven’t we, Joby, old love?” said Adam.

“Nerves are in shreds after visiting that bloody horrible place earlier”, said Joby.

“Best to try and put it behind you if you can”, said Ransey, briskly “We’ve been in worse places”.

“Yeah, I’m not sure about that!” said Joby “What are you doing creeping about at this time of night anyway?”

“I’m creeping about as you put it”, said Ransey “To try and not disturb anyone. Though there was scarcely any point when you start dropping cutlery all over the place! I fancy some cocoa”.

“Good job we’re making some then”, said Joby, adding more goat’s milk to the saucepan.

“Can’t you settle either?” Adam asked Ransey.

“No”, said Ransey “Too many thoughts rattling around my head”.

“I’m not surprised”, said Adam “After today’s rather cryptic events. Will you help me do a food inventory in the morning, old love?”

Ransey - understandably - looked rather shocked at someone actually asking him to do an inventory. Normally he could never get anyone motivated to do something so sensible.

“Are you worried?” he asked.

“No, but I would like to know exactly what we’ve got”, said Adam “Just in we’re going to be stuck out here at the back of beyond on our own for any great length of time”.

“I’m amazed how much flour we’ve still got”, said Adam, browsing in the depths of the hold with Ransey the following morning “Considering how much we use”.

“And weevil-free”, said Ransey “Does that reassure you at least?”

“Oh yes”, Adam replied, just as the ship’s engines started up “So how are we going this time, do you think?”

“Just a bit further down the lakeside”, said Ransey “So we’re not quite so in the shadow of THAT place”.

“Are you alright, old love?” said Adam “You’re looking a bit dazed”.

“I just haven’t had much sleep lately”, said Ransey.

“I thought that was the case”, said Adam “We share the same bed, remember. Too many thoughts?”

“And bad dreams. God, that sounds so pathetic!”

“Not at all. Nightmares can be very upsetting, and if we get too many it can make us dread going to sleep. Perhaps you should try having a nap now, in daylight hours, see if that helps”.

“But I think it’s going to snow this afternoon”, said Ransey “The sky looks full of it”.

“Well frankly old love”, said Adam “I don’t see how you staying awake is going to change that!”

“Adam!” Julian bellowed “If I hear another word about That Poor Old Love I swear I’ll chuck this ash-tray at you!”

“I was only saying he looked very tired”, said Adam.

“Yes I get the picture!” said Julian “Of course he can’t bloody sleep if he keeps fretting about everything all the time. Typical bureaucrat, he’s a compulsive worrier. He thinks too damn much, that’s his trouble”.

“Well I guess that’s not a charge that’s ever likely to be levelled at you”, said Adam “No sense, no feeling, as your old nanny used to say”.

“She was talking about Piers, not me”.

“No she wasn’t, she was talking about you! Piers was very sensitive”.

“And had a complete vacuum where his brain should be!”

This was so undoubtedly true that Adam found it impossible to disagree with him, galling though this was.

Ransey woke up suddenly. He found the only other person in the big saloon - apart from himself - was Finia, who was knitting by the fire.

“How long have I been asleep?” Ransey barked, in alarm.

“About four hours”, said Finia, calmly.

“Four hours?” Ransey exclaimed “I said I was only going to lie down for 20 minutes!”

He fumbled for his glasses, which he kept in a hard case under his pillow. When he had put them on he saw that it had got considerably darker outside than it had been when he went to sleep. Out there was a strange light, which could only mean one thing: it had snowed.

“Why don’t you go and fetch us a cup of tea?” said Finia, who didn’t want Ransey hopping around the saloon in a pointlessly agitated way.

“Yes, tea”, said Ransey, vaguely, and he pulled on some clothes.

The ship felt unusually quiet when he emerged from the saloon, as though the snow had wrapped it in a big blanket, muffling sound. The sound he heard was a familiar creaking and squeaking when he walked past Julian and Hoowie’s cabin. The galley was a cave of steam and bustle by contrast when he went into it.

“Do those two ever stop having sex?” said Ransey “Julian and Hoowie I mean”.

“Oh don’t complain, old love”, said Adam “It all helps to keep Julian out of our hair. If it wasn’t for Hoowie he’d constantly be roaming the ship, getting on our nerves”.

“There is that”, said Ransey “Is this a bad time to ask for some tea?”

“Not at all”, said Adam “Joby, put some water on the stove to boil”.

“Where’s Bengo?” said Ransey, looking around him as though Bengo was hiding under the table.

“He went out with Bardin to take the dogs for a walk”, said Adam “They won’t be long”.

“A walk?” said Ransey “Out there?”

“Oh Ransey old love”, Adam laughed “They’re not children you know”.

“I’m not entirely convinced of that!” said Ransey.

“I think it’s Christmas Day today”, said Bengo “I don’t know why, it just feels as though it might be”.

He and Bardin, accompanied by the dogs, were climbing steadily up the lakeside slope. The trees around them were bare, with complicated gnarled roots stretching out like old women’s fingers.

“As we don’t eve know what year it is”, said Bardin “I guess there’s not much point in worrying what particular day it is!”

They walked on a bit further, but it was not a pleasant experience. The sprawling hard tree roots underfoot felt as though they were crunching over human bones. Bengo gave a noticeable shudder.

“Do you want to go back?” said Bardin.

“Yes”, said Bengo, in a small voice “Sorry. I’m being a wimp”.

“No it is creepy out here”, said Bardin “I expect it’s just because it’s winter and all the trees are bare”.

“It’s not just because it’s winter, Bardy”, Bengo exclaimed, crossly “This place is DEAD!”

“Look, you’ve got to try and keep a grip on your imagination …” Bardin began.

“No I won’t!” said Bengo, now sounding like an obstinate child.

“But Mieps says there are small animals here”, Bardin protested “So how can it be dead? If it WAS dead there would be no life at all”.

“I’m not saying there’s life to it”, said Bengo “It’s just what I feel, a gut feeling, that’s all”.

Bardin could see there was no point in trying to win this debate, so they made their way back to the galleon, with Bardin feeling quiet concern for his old friend.

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