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By Sarah Hapgood

The metallic sound continued for quite some time, and then faded as mysteriously as it had begun. The day had certainly provided enough food for thought, and over supper much discussion was had about the railway line, where it went, who built it, and when it was last used. Plus was it built before the forest earned its enchanted reputation, or was it all part of the general scene?

“One thing is for sure”, said Adam “It gets more weirdly magical the deeper in that we go. It’s almost tangible. You can feel it”.

“Perhaps we’re leaving the rest of the world behind”, said Hillyard.

“God, I bloody hope so”, said Joby.

“I think we’re meant to be here in any case”, said Kieran.

“What does that mean?” Bardin barked, from the other end of the table.

“Nothing”, Kieran shrugged “Just a feeling”.

“Don’t start on Kieran”, Bengo thumped Bardin on the arm.

“Will you stop pacing about, you’re making me feel dizzy”, said Julian.

Bardin stopped and flopped down on the windowseat in Julian’s cabin.

“So what’s giving you ants in your pants then?” asked Julian.

“Kieran”, said Bardin “I wish I didn’t feel as though there were things he’s keeping from us”.

“Well he can be an underhand little bastard”.

“Makes me glad he’s on our side. I wouldn’t want to be up against him”.

“Oh now don’t start getting paranoid. It’s very easy to start thinking Kieran’s up to something all the time, and if he gets wind that we’re suspecting him, he’ll play up to it. Just for the pleasure of causing mischief. As you just said, he’s on our side, and he wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t in our interests”.

“I know, but …” Bardin began.

“Pack it in, you’re over-thinking it”.

“But he seems determined we have to stay in the forest”.

“For our own safety, I expect”, said Julian “And for once he might be considering his own as well. Old Ransey will be pleased!”

“Bardin keeps giving me searching looks”, said Kieran, when he and Joby were tucked up in bed late that night. In spite of the presence of hot water bottles, it was still bone-scrapingly cold.

“He was doing it all through supper”, he continued “It’s unsettling me. I’m going to have to have a word with him in the morning”.

“Yeah well ask me if we can doss down on his sofa at the same time”, said Joby “It’s getting too cold in here. It’s getting so I’m having trouble sleeping”.

“I’d better use me best charm then”, said Kieran “Don’t want to antagonise him”.

“Oh don’t worry about that”, said Joby “Bengo won’t let him refuse us”.

“Kieran wants to have a word with you”, said Bengo, fiercely, confronting Bardin in their cabin after breakfast.

“Well what’s stopping him then?” said Bardin “I’m not the prisoner governor! He doesn’t have to book an appointment!”

“Just you be nice to him”, said Bengo, jabbing his finger at Bardin’s chest “He probably wants to know why you keep glaring at him”.

“I don’t keep glaring at him!”

“Ah now the trouble is it feels that way”, said Kieran, from the doorway.

“I’ll get back to work”, Bengo gave Bardin a parting-glare as he left the room.

“The problem is, you keep dropping these oblique little comments”, said Bardin “And I start wondering if you’re keeping things from us. If you know things you’re not telling us”.

“I would never keep vital information from you”, said Kieran “Sometimes I get a bad vibe about something, which is hard to put into words. If I don’t mention every bad vibe I get it’s because I think keeping up morale is very important. I thought you being a clown you might understand that one”.

Bardin gave a wry smile.

“If some of our worst critics were to be believed, we were bad for public morale!” he said “Let’s have a brandy, I don’t care how early it is”.

“I don’t think time has much meaning round here”, said Kieran, flopping onto the sofa.

“As long as the meals still appear regularly, and the nightwatch rota is still in force, I think that’s the only homage to the clock that’s important”, said Bardin, pouring out the drinks.

“Some of the information we had about the City has been preying on my mind”, said Kieran “It is the end times there. They won’t stop until everything is destroyed. It’s bloody Father Gabriel all over again. I could go and do a Lixix number on it, but frankly that would put the rest of you in danger, and I’m not prepared to do that. Plus I can’t keep interfering. It will fall apart without my help … and the sooner the better. This rubbish has gone on for too long”.

“I said to Julian yesterday that I’m glad you’re on our side”, said Bardin, joining him on the sofa “You can be quite ruthless”.

“Only when all else fails”, said Kieran “Some have often said that Angel and I are two sides of the same coin. The difference is I genuinely want things to work out well, BUT when things stubbornly refuse to move towards the light … well … perhaps then I’m no better than him”.

“Bullshit. I can’t imagine sitting here sharing a brandy with Angel! Brggh, what a thought!”

“He could be almost human at times in the old days. Except even then we could never trust him. Anyway, can we move in here for a wee while? Our cabin’s like an icebox at the moment”.

“Yes, Bengo will be chuffed”.

“Now come on, show a bit of enthusiasm”, said Hillyard, leading a small group of them across the dilapidated wooden jetty towards an island in the middle of the lake “This could be just the job for us”.

“How?” said Joby “It’s bloody cold and miserable here”.

“Well it’s bound to be miserable with your cheerful, smiling face around isn’t it!” said Hillyard “I mean, it’s an island, it’s surrounded by water”.

“Yes, islands tend to be”, said Adam, looking around him apprehensively.

“I mean”, said Hillyard “If Kieran’s right, nothing Evil on the shore can cross to get here. We’d be safe”.

“Unless it comes up through the floor, like that other island we found, the one off the West Coast”, said Bengo.

Hillyard rolled his eyes and led them all up to a tumbledown shack at the top of the small islet. It was completely empty, apart from a few abandoned sticks of furniture.

“Oh I don’t know Hilly, I really don’t think we should stay here”, said Adam “Not for long anyway. Joby’s right, it’s cold and depressing”.

“What about when Summer comes?” said Hillyard.

“We’re not staying here that bloody long!” said Joby.

Bengo glanced through the open doorway down to the jetty, where Bardin was talking to Ransey.

“Bardy won’t like it here”, said Bengo “He’s not in any hurry to come up and explore”.

“Can’t you sort Bardin out, Ad?” said Hillyard “He’s always more receptive after a good hiding”.

“I don’t think any amount of spanking is going to make Bardin like this place”, said Adam “And I don’t blame him. I don’t understand why you’re so keen on it”.

“He just wants somewhere to set up a still!” said Joby.

“There’ll be time enough for all that when we get to Snow Lake”, said Adam.

“Bardy wants to keep pushing on”, said Bengo.

“We might persuade him to stop here for a couple of nights I suppose”, said Adam “That would give us a little respite”.

“Yeah, a LITTLE one”, said Hillyard.

Toppy shouted from the main deck of the galleon.

“Now what?” said Joby.

The word “Cloris” wafted across the still air towards them.

“Cloris must be on the wireless”, said Adam, and he led the charge back down the small hill which constituted the main part of the island.

There was a brief tussle at the entrance to the wireless room as Adam and Bardin battled it out as to who would speak on the wireless. Bengo yanked Bardin back to let Adam get to it.

“Cloris?” Adam shouted into the microphone, after adjusting the headphones.

“Oh Adam, it’s so lovely to hear your voice”, came Cloris, sounding like she was talking from the other side of the galaxy “Where are you now?”

“Well we have absolutely no idea”, said Adam “But that’s often the way with us. Still chugging our way through the forest”.

“Only you could make it sound like a pleasure cruise!” Cloris laughed “We’re still at the Sanctuary. Some more refugees have turned up. By boat this time. Look listen, I must tell you in case we’re suddenly cut off. News from the City. Typhoid has broken out there. The whole city has been quarantined. The Demons are desperate to stop it spreading. They fear a repeat of what the Sweating Sickness did to the New Continent”.

“I would have thought they’d be pleased by that. As they seem to get off on destruction”.

“Uh-huh. This is going too far even for them. If we’re all wiped out They’ll have nothing left to feed upon, let alone anyone to keep them in the style which they’ve become accustomed. The stupid bastards. FINALLY they realise they can’t get by without us. Oh the bloody irony. Anyway, the City has been completely sealed off. I suspect it’s too late though. Those that are left there will be either too weak to work, and the ones that aren’t - from what I can gather - are refusing to”.

“Plus they’ll be contaminated. I learn that in our early days in this world. The vampires couldn’t feed on anything they considered to be contaminated meat. A bit like us eating meat that’s gone over I suppose. What a gruesome conversation”.

“Mm, but we have to be pragmatic. This is no time for pussyfooting around. We miss you all terribly here, though it’s probably best you stay in the forest, however grim it is. They’re still putting it about that Kieran’s a heretic”.

“How is Glynis?”

“Oh she’s doing very well. She’s our resident head nurse, I don’t know what we’d do without her. Some of our visitors have been in a very bad way. She looks after them. It’s so frustrating that I can’t ask you more about yourselves, but I’m terrified of us giving away too much info. Though I do think the further into the forest you are, the safer you are”.

“Yes well I can’t imagine anyone else wanting to venture too far into it to be honest”, said Adam “We will talk more when the coast is clear”.

They signed off with many endearments.

“Did you have to tell her we don’t know where we are?” said Bardin, standing there, arms akimbo.

“It happens to be true”, said Adam “And even if it wasn’t, we have to be very careful what we reveal over the airwaves. Now Bardin dear, I think you should take your trousers off. I’m going to put you over my knee”.

“I thought you’d never get round to it”, said Bardin.

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