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By Sarah Hapgood

Everything over the next few days seemed to conspire to stop them leaving Toondor Lanpin. The peasouper fogs got worse and rolled in everyday without fail, leaving only a couple of hours at lunchtime when things cleared slightly, and a harsh winter sun came through. During these brief periods of brightness they began to shop for provisions to take with them on the sloop.

Bardin went down to the sloop, moored in the harbour, to inspect it with Ransey. Nothing was found amiss. He also took Bengo to the cottage hospital to be examined, and was told bluntly by a harassed, overworked doctor that it was all down to the fog, and he feared an epidemic of such ailments was in the offing. There was no room for Bengo at the hospital, he said, as several people had been admitted already. Bardin replied curtly that he had no intention of leaving Bengo at the hospital. The doctor said that with all their money they could probably find a good, mountain-top sanatorium for him somewhere. Bengo was aghast at the thought of being sent to one of these, separated from all the others, for SIX MONTHS, or even a YEAR! He go so upset that Bardin had to practically write an oath in his own blood, to reassure him that such drastic measures weren’t going to be taken!

After that visit Bengo was confined to bed, and Bardin chafed and fretted at the delay in getting away from the fog-ridden town. The all-too brief days gave way to eerie nights. Zombie sightings continued on both sides of the river (although it was hard to know how anyone could see anything in these conditions!), and the wolves continued to haunt the marshes. Shooting-parties were organised amongst the town-folk to try and scare the beasts away, but these were cautious expeditions. In the dense fog the marshes were treacherous places to be, and everyone was too nervous of stepping off the causeways for their attempts to be successful.

“I wouldn’t mind if you did that all day”, said Bengo, on the morning of New Year’s Eve “You’re good at it”.

Adam was giving him a bed-bath, sponging him down in all his intimate places. He lifted up Bengo’s legs and slapped his buttocks like a newborn baby.

“I had enough practice with Lo-Lo during his nappy-wearing days”, he said “Now put your shirt back on and lie down”.

“Oh I’m sick of being in bed”, said Bengo, sulkily.

“You’re not missing anything”, said Adam, wringing out the sponge and flannel on the washstand.

“I bet I am”, said Bengo “Is it nearly lunchtime yet? I can smell something cooking. What is it?”

“Beef casserole topped with sliced potatoes”.

“Am I gonna get any?”

“No, we’re going to give you bread and milk … of course you’re going to get some!” said Adam “Your appetite seems to be even stronger than ever. You’ll turn into a proper little butterball if you’re not careful”.

“It’s the only pleasure I have left”, said Bengo, gloomily.

“Good grief, you sound like Julian!” said Adam “Except with him it’s his cigars”.

“At least you won’t have to cook tonight”, said Bengo “Not if we’re all going to Myrtle’s”.

“We’re not going to Myrtle’s”, said Adam, folding a towel “You’re not well enough to go, and none of us particularly want to go without you”.

“I can go!” Bengo leapt out of bed and promptly had a fit of coughing.

“Get back in at once!” said Adam, sternly.

“Is he playing up again?” said Julian, walking round the bed “I heard him from the hall. You‘d think after all the beatings we’ve given him over the years he wouldn’t be so domn spoilt!”

“It’s not fair”, Bengo mumbled into his pillow.

“Complete bed-rest, the doc at the hospital said, and complete bed-rest is what you’re going to get”, said Julian, leaning over him “Anymore arguments and I’ll take the strap to you!”

“Well that wouldn’t be very restful would it!” Bengo retorted.

“He’s snookered you there, Jules”, said Adam.

“He’s obviously been taking lessons from Freaky!” said Julian.

The front door slammed shut as Bardin and a handful of the others returned from the sloop. There was a jumble-sale noise of boxes being set down and opened. Bardin came into the dining-room immediately though, still wearing his coat and hat.

“Has he behaved himself this morning?” he said, taking his out gear off and throwing it on a chair.

“Bengo has a complete inability to behave himself!” said Julian.

“I’m practically kept on a leash!” Bengo wailed.

“You normally rather enjoy that!” said Adam.

“What’s he been carrying on about?” said Bardin.

“He threw a tantrum because we’re not going to Myrtle’s tonight”, said Julian “I’m surprised you haven’t explained all this to him already”.

“Nobody ever explains anything to me!” Bengo sat up and shrieked “I get pushed around. Ballast-brained Bengo! That’s me!”

He collapsed into a violent fit of coughing. Adam placed a bowl on his knees and Bengo spluttered blood into it. Bardin stood watching, helplessly.

“Jules, go and find Patsy”, said Adam “He’s probably upstairs I think”.

“What’s he going to do?” Julian exclaimed.

“Jules, please!” said Adam.

Julian waved his hands in exasperation and left the room.

Bardin started as though he’d been given a mild electric-shock, and picked up his coat.

“I’m going for a doctor”, he said, firmly “I’m going to make him do something for Bengo”.

“A doctor would be no use, Bardin”, said Adam, laying Bengo down gently.

Bengo was almost unconscious.

“What do you mean, a doctor would be no use?!” Bardin clung onto Adam like a small child in a fit of temper, demanding attention from his mother “What do you mean?” “You won’t find what’s wrong with Bengo in any medical dictionary”, said Adam “I believe he’s been hexed. Do you remember hearing about how I was hexed once by Selis the Vampire at the Waxworks Resort? Someone or something has done the same to Bengo”.

“Angel?” said Bardin, hazarding a guess.

“No I don’t think it’s him”, said Adam “I think it must have happened when he got lost in the fog on Solstice Night”.

“But that was ages ago!” Bardin protested “When you were hexed by Selis, you noticed the effects within a couple of hours”.

“Because I was in a very weakened state, having just traipsed half-dead across the desert”, said Adam “I was also severely malnourished. Whereas Bengo is normally the very image of youth and energy, robust good health. It’s his own well-balanced spirits and good appetite that’s managed to stave it off for so many days”.

Kieran came into the room, wearing his crucifix and rosary beads, as though he’d already calculated what was wrong.

“You said it was TB!” said Bardin, accusingly “I don’t know whether this is better or worse!” “In my heart of hearts I was hoping it was going to be a flesh-and-blood sickness like TB”, said Kieran “We can discuss it later. For now I want you both to leave the room. Leave me alone with Bengo. I’m going to put the chair under the door-handle. I don’t want anyone coming back in until I’ve finished, even if it takes the rest of the day”.

“Why would anyone want to hex Bengo?” Bardin cried, on his way out of the room “He’s never harmed anyone, except me!”

Kieran barricaded the door behind them, and then worked for several minutes sponging down Bengo, who was burning feverishly. Gradually, Bengo returned to consciousness.

“You’re going to have to trust me completely, Bengo”, said Kieran “You do, don’t you?”

“I always have”, said Bengo “I’ve loved you ever since the first time I saw you. I’ve never stopped loving you. Am I gonna die, Kieran? If I am, I want to know. I’ll have to be strong about it you see, because Bardy’ll go all to pieces”.

“You’ll die if I don’t help you”, said Angel, leaning over the rail at the foot of the bed.

He looked terrible. Naked, and covered in body-hair, with long talons and a horrid yellowish tinge to his eyes. He seemed like a Biblical vampire, or an illustration from a Medieval woodcut. Bengo squealed and instinctively backed up against the head of the bed. “Why don’t you go the whole hog and appear in a puff of smoke with a pitchfork?” said Kieran, crossly “I know it’s panto season, but this is ridiculous!”

“I can cure him in an instant”, said Angel “Like I did Spotty’s eye. A simple laying-on of hands”.

He reached out a furry paw as though to grope Bengo. The little clown screamed with terror. He felt hopelessly out of his depth, alone with these two extraordinary beings. He was a child of the earth, as much so as Hillyard or Joby. He wanted to be with Bardin.

“He’s frightened”, Angel cooed “And I bet the longer he stays frightened the more he’ll doubt you”.

“Get out of here!” Kieran seized a pitcher of water off a side-table and flung the contents at Angel, who instantly vanished.

“I wish he was always that easy to get rid of!” said Kieran.

“I would never doubt you, never”, said Bengo “But why is this thing happening to me?”

“You were simply unlucky”, said Kieran “You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is something out in that fog”.

“It’s not natural is it, the fog?” said Bengo.

“This town is a wonderful place on a hot summer’s day, when everyone’s out in the streets, half-dressed, having a good time”, said Kieran “That’s why we chose to live here. But during monsoon season, or when we get fog like this, then something evil moves in. We shouldn’t really be surprised, look what it’s built over”.

“The catacombs?” said Bengo “Where the women used to hide?”

“Below that”, said Kieran “Think of the Turd House and the Watering-Hole, this town is built over Hell!”

“I always thought you said that was under the Loud House”, said Bengo.

“Hell has no distance or shape”, said Kieran “You can’t map it. If you could it would lose its power and be just any other place”.

“And things come out of it when the weather’s bad?” said Bengo.

“Remember when those hands came out of the marshes and tried to pull Tamaz in?” said Kieran.

Bengo gave a shudder.

“Something has escaped from the depths”, said Kieran “It’s created this fog and is using it as a screen to move around in, to prey on people. I can’t believe you’re the only one it’s happened to, not for a minute”.

“Has Angel got anything to do with it?” said Bengo.

“He’s causing dark mischief”, said Kieran “He’s one more thing we have to be alert about, but he’s nothing to do with the fog or what’s happened to you”.

“What are you going to do?” said Bengo.

“Help you, first and foremost”, said Kieran “I’d like to give you a treat and empower you by taking you up into the ether, but when I did that to Tamaz I scared the bejaysus out of him, and then Angel went and played a filthy trick on us by taking us down into Hell. I can’t risk that happening with you”.

Bengo watched as Kieran pulled the curtains shut, turned the oil-lamp up stronger. He then got undressed completely and climbed into the bed. Bengo was nervous.

“Don’t be”, said Kieran, softly “Think of all the good times we’ve had together in the maze at Midnight Castle, and that we will have again”.

“I’m getting a bit porky I suppose”, said Bengo, ruefully, as Kieran caressed his bare torso after they had made love.

“It suits you”, said Kieran “And you’ve still got a long way to go before you catch up with Hillyard!”

“A-am I getting better now, Kieran?” Bengo hardly dared ask “I feel better. Wouldn’t it be funny if you’d cured me by making love to me?”

“It’s the only thing I can do”, said Kieran “The only thing I’m good at. Fortunately it’s the one thing Angel and some of his pesky cohorts can’t do! Ah, the glamorous, romantic vampires, who shat on the floor and can’t get their leg over, not for love nor money!”

Bengo laughed so much that he had another coughing attack.

“I always feel as though I’ve known you before somewhere, in another life perhaps”, said Kieran, candidly “It’s a very understated feeling, but it’s always been there. Perhaps you were an assistant to me long ago”.

“I worked for you?” said Bengo, in delight “I can’t imagine being anything other than a clown, but I would do anything for you. When I first saw you everything went out of my head, I only knew I wanted to be with you. Poor Bardy. But I couldn’t think straight, you’d blown everything else away. Do you think that that was because we’d found each other again?”

“Could be”, Kieran smiled “Although if I’d known I was causing Bardin all that misery I’d have thrown you back over the side of the boat!”

They lay together in silence for a few minutes, wrapped in each other’s arms. Kieran noticed Bengo was staring intently at the spot where Angel had stood and got concerned. He asked him what he was thinking.

“I-I was wondering if Adam’s saved me any of that beef casserole”, said Bengo, awkwardly.

“Oh I expect he has”, said Kieran.

“You’ve made it uneatable!” Joby roared in the kitchen.

“I think you mean inedible”, Adam corrected him, uncertainly.

“Uneatable!” Joby retaliated, defiantly “You always do this to soups. You put too much bloody seasoning in it. You’ve ruined it by drenching it in black pepper”.

“White pepper actually”, said Adam. “It doesn’t matter!” Joby cried “You’ve still gone and ruined it. I normally like pumpkin soup but I couldn’t eat that without vomiting! Mind you, I spect that might improve it!”

Adam swiped him across the face. Joby, momentarily stunned, then swiped him back.

“Stop it!” Lonts bellowed, who had been washing up the lunch things with Toppy.

Adam stormed out of the room. Mieps and Tamaz were sitting halfway up the stairs and he barged his way through them nd on towards his bedroom, where he slammed the door.

“There wasn’t all this tension and fuss when I was ill”, said Tamaz, sulkily.

“Come along up to my room”, said Mieps, gripping his arm.

“Why?” said Tamaz, fearing he was going to be punished “I haven’t done anything wrong”.

“No, but I’m getting you out of the way in case you do!” said Mieps.

Adam had tried intently to listen out for any noises from the dining-room, which was directly below his bedroom. All he could hear were Kieran and Bengo murmuring in conversation, sounding totally innocuous, like two men discussing an oil-leak on a car. After a few minutes they were drowned out by Mieps and Tamaz going into the room next door, and communicating in their customary hisses and spits. Adam knew it was rather undignified for a man of his age to sulk in his room, and that he should go back to the kitchen and reassert his authority.

He paid a visit to the bathroom first, more as a delaying tactic than anything else, and by the time he got down to the hall he found the door to the dining-room ajar, and whooping noises coming from the direction of the kitchen. He ran along the corridor, sliding along on the rug but skilfully keeping his balance.

In the kitchen Lonts was bouncing Bengo around in his arms, watched rapturously by Bardin. Kieran and Joby were having an intense conversation in the pantry. When they saw Adam come in, they both glanced at him rather pointedly.

“Bengo’s not ill anymore, isn’t it wonderful?” said Lonts.

“He will be if you don’t set him down”, said Toppy.

“Oh Toppy!” said Lonts, in exasperation “You’ve got no sense of occasion!”

To Bengo’s delight a remaining portion of beef casserole was got out of the stove, and Toppy and Bardin fussed around setting it up for him on the table.

“This reminds me of the red tablecloth sketch”, said Bengo.

“Everything always reminds you of a sketch”, said Toppy, pouring him out a beer.

“Am I allowed to congratulate you, Patsy?” said Adam, shouting into the pantry “Or am I to be completely ostracised?”

“What did you go and slap Joby round the kisser for?” said Kieran.

“Oh don’t go all pious on me”, said Adam “You’ve done the same yourself on many an occasion, particularly at times of great stress”.

“I’ve never raised me hand first”, said Kieran “Only in self-defence”.

“Then it’s high time Joby got a taste of his own medicine”, said Adam “Anyway, that is a lie. You slapped him first when we were at the Freak Colony. I know, because I had to break it up”.

“Jaysus, you’re having to go back a bit there aren’t you?” said Kieran.

“Adam’s got a memory like an elephant”, said Joby, gloomily.

“Well that makes a change”, said Adam “You’re normally telling me I’m going senile!”

“I notice I haven’t had an apology yet”, said Joby.

“No, you little wretch, and you’re not going to get one either!” said Adam “You said some very hurtful things about my pumpkin soup”.

“No one in their right mind’s gonna want to eat it that’s why!” said Joby.

“It doesn’t matter, Adam”, said Lonts, in a misguided attempt to be placating “We can pour it down the sink”.

“Best place for it”, said Joby.

“Joby, let it go”, said Kieran, in a warning voice “You two can stop arguing now. The danger over Bengo has passed”.

“I see you’re as adept as ever at keeping order in your domain, Ada”, said Julian, sarcastically, having heard the raised voices as he approached the room “Right, I want everyone in the living-room. Now”.

“You can’t order us around anymore”, said Joby “You’re not in charge here these days”.

“Bardin’s in no fit state at the moment to organise things”, said Julian “We’re going to have a New Year drink”.

“It’s not midnight already is it?” said Adam, suddenly aware that it had gone dark but he didn’t know how long ago this had happened.

“You daft old bat!” said Julian “You get more like your mother everyday!”

“Well it’s a vast improvement on being like yours!” said Adam.

“Does this give you a feeling of deja-vu?” said Ransey, who was pouring out brandies in the living-room, assisted by Finia, who was already drinking a couple of them.

“Looks like you lot have been toasting in here already”, said Joby.

“We have been under stress too you know”, said Julian “Now, as we are all together in one room … where the hell are the freaks?”

“Oh they’re in Mieps’s room”, said Adam.

“I’ll fetch them”, said Lonts.

He thundered upstairs, was heard summoning them, and then thundered back down again. Mieps and Tamaz followed behind, half-dressed. Tamaz gave a yodel when he saw the brandies and made for one.

“Although I still get hurt when I think how you didn’t show me the same worry when I was ill”, he said, slurping at the brandy.

“You weren’t cursed”, said Julian “You ARE the bloody curse! Now, a toast of unity to us all, and may future New Year’s Eves see us as bonded as we are now”.

“Is he being sarcastic?” said Joby.

“Behave yourself, Joby”, said Hillyard.

“Something serious could have happened to Bengo”, said Julian “It’s made us all realise once again what life would be like if any of us disappeared”.

“Even me?” said Tamaz, sourly.

“Even you!” said Finia, sliding down an armchair.

Things relaxed somewhat after this and idle chatter broke out. Hillyard grudgingly allowed Julian to have to his daily cigar, and Julian began to smoke it leaning on the mantelpiece with Adam.

“You look even more stressed than me, my dear”, said Julian “You’ll have to come up to my room later and be sorted out. What’s upsetting you now?”

“It’s just been a very irksome day that’s all”, said Adam “It’s not very nice to have one’s culinary efforts so scathingly criticised by one’s assistant”.

“Oh Joby always gets aggressive when he’s worried”, said Julian “Even more so sometimes than the rest of us. He was never brought up to channel it into less negative traits”.

“Like drinking?” said Adam “How many brandies have you had before this?”

“Would you rather I threw petulant rages instead then?” said Julian.

“That’s normal behaviour for you, Jules!” said Adam.

“Cheeky soddo, you need another spanking”, said Julian “I’ve been rather neglecting that over the last few days. Bring Joby up as well, and I’ll do him too”.

“He would never hear of it!” said Adam.

“I wasn’t actually planning to ask his permission first!” said Julian “We treat him far too much with kid gloves. What could he do if we used a … er … little coercion instead? I mean, he’s hardly likely to leave home or shop us to the Town Constable!”

“No, but he would go on about it afterwards, Jules”, said Adam, with a deep sigh “At very great length. Patsy wouldn’t get another decent night’s sleep for ages!”

“Then he’d just have to give him another caning!” said Julian “You two pussy-foot around that surly boy, you always did”.

“What nonsense!” said Adam “I have always been very firm with Joby when it’s needed, as has Patsy. It’s simply that we’ve both learnt that timing is of the essence if it’s to have any effect at all. It’s no good just chucking one’s weight around with him for the hell of it, all that does is make him even more moody and cantankerous”.

“You’re a liberal-minded milksop”, said Julian “If I was left alone with him for 24 hours, like I was with Lonts that time above Zilligot Bay, you would see a marked improvement in his entire attitude”.

“Work miracles now do you?” said Hillyard, who had been avidly listening in to the entire conversation “The best way to handle Joby is squelchily on the mattress!”

“That appears to be your rule of thumb for handling the entire human race!” said Julian, tersely.

“Well it’s an improvement on going round flogging people!” said Hillyard “You’re always easier to cope with after you’ve been given a good shag!”

“How very true!” said Adam.

“Aren’t all men?” Julian rasped.

“Are we going to get any supper tonight?” said Tamaz, plaintively “I’m hungry!”

“Well it’ll have to be bread and cheese”, said Adam “There is nothing else, not now my pumpkin soup’s been consigned to oblivion”.

“Don’t tell me we’ve finally run out of cold turkey?” said Julian.

“We ran out of it on Boxing Day actually!” said Adam.

He headed for the kitchen, dragging Joby along with him by the arm.

“Alright! You don’t have to manhandle me!” said Joby, when they had reached the kitchen door “What a life I’ve got! Locked up in a kitchen with a wicked old poofter!”

“This wicked old poofter is going to spank you with your pants down before this year is out”, said Adam.

In the kitchen they found Kieran sprinkling cooking salt along the window-ledge and then along the doormat just inside the back door.

“I should have thought of this before”, said Kieran “It might help to keep Angel out. I’m going to do it around all the outside doors and windows. We should be safe from his visits then. I’m blessing it as I go. He appeared briefly this afternoon. Poor old Bengo was terrified out of his wits”.

“We’ve got some cloves of garlic in the pantry”, said Adam.

“I don’t like using old superstitious things, it makes me feel like a Medieval peasant”, said Kieran “But anything’s worth a try at the moment”.

He hung a couple of garlic bulbs from the handle of the back door, and then took the rest into the other parts of the house.

“Trouble is”, said Joby, once he was alone again with Adam “These old techniques don’t tend to work on Angel. I mean, if you believe all the old superstitions he’s not supposed to come into a house unless he’s invited, but he’s never let that stand in his way!”

“As Patsy said, anything’s worth a try”, said Adam “He has to be kept out somehow”.

They busied themselves getting out plates and cutlery, and then Joby noticed something uncomfortably odd. The stout candle that was kept permanently lit above the back door was burning with a blue flame.

“Ad”, he said, huskily “Angel’s outside there now … or something is”.

“A candle flame burns blue when a demon or a witch is nearby”, said Adam, reciting from memory something he had once read.

They both edged closer to the door.

“It might not even be him”, Joby whispered “It might be whatever this Thing is that’s terrorising the town after dark”.

The door panels creaked alarmingly as though they’d suddenly become made of leather and were being leaned on heavily from the other side. Adam checked the key was turned, and then gingerly slid the bolt across.

“That’s not Angel”, said Joby “I’ve seen him so often I feel I’d know if he was there”.

“There’s no accounting for the tricks he’s capable of, Joby”, said Adam.

“It’s not trying the door-handle”, said Joby “Perhaps the garlic really is having an effect”.

There was a low moaning sound, which Joby recognised immediately as the same one he had heard in the fog on Solstice Night.

“There’s another jar of salt in the pantry”, said Adam, picking up the bread-knife from the table “Go and fetch it”.

Joby did so. When he returned the moaning sound had moved slowly to the corner of the house, where the yard turned into the garden. He put the small ceramic jar on the table and bolted over to the window, roughly pulling the curtains shut.

“I don’t wanna see it!” he panted, hanging onto the edge of the draining-board.

Suddenly they could hear other voices. Lonts, Hillyard and Kieran were trooping past the kitchen window.

“What the fuck are they doing out there?” Joby yelled in disbelief.

Adam was equally horrified and he helped Joby to unlock the door. Joby swished around the poker from the stove in a threatening manner before hurtling outside.

“Who left the yard-door open?” Hillyard was now saying “I locked that earlier”.

“You pillock!” Joby was so excited and breathless he fell to his knees “What are you doing out here? The fucking zombie’s been in the yard!”

Hillyard and Kieran both grabbed an arm each and hauled him back onto his feet.

“I’m not surprised if someone goes around leaving the yard-door open!” said Hillyard.

He stamped over to shut and bolt the doors. He decided against looking out into the street before doing so, which was a very wise move, because if he had his head would probably have been torn off.

“Lo-Lo, get back indoors”, said Adam.

“No, I’m helping Kieran to put salt round the chicken-run and the stables”, said Lonts “To protect the animals”.

“Lonts!” said Adam, in his sternest voice.

“No!” Lonts shouted back, and went over to help Kieran sprinkle salt around the outside of the chicken-run.

“He wants to do it, Adam”, said Hillyard “If you make him go indoors like a little child, you’ll just upset him. And I still want to know who opened the yard-door, so that the zombie could get in”.

“It was probably Angel, did it out of spite”, said Kieran “I’m surprised he’s never attacked any of our animals yet”.

“Why the fuck do you let him live?” Joby cried “Look at all the trouble he’s giving us! Why can’t he be destroyed?”

“Because I’ve had enough of destruction!” Kieran said, angrily “There’s been too much of it”.

Tamaz had been watching from the living-room patio with Mieps and Finia. When he saw how upset Joby was getting, he put on his trousers and ran out across the lawn towards him.

“Joby”, he said “Remember you’ve got me. I can destroy anything if I have to, even Angel”.

“No!” Joby put his hand over Tamaz’s mouth “Don’t say that, Tamaz. It’d just give Angel one more grievance against you if he knew you could kill him”.

“You think he hasn’t already worked that one out for himself?!” said Tamaz “Come inside the house”.

He and Joby returned to the house across the lawn, hand-in-hand.

At 11 o’clock Adam and Julian went up to the top of the house to inspect the fog from Julian’s bedroom window. They found themselves peering out over the top of it as it only seemed to reach up to the second floor level of the houses.

“Let’s have our own New Year toast now”, said Julian, pouring out two brandies from his decanter, and appreciating the wonder of being able to invite Adam to join in.

“What year is it going to be?” said Adam “I can never keep track”.

“If you really want to know there must be a newspaper around here somewhere”, said Julian.

“No leave it”, said Adam “I like the idea of not being aware of time, probably because I’ve got fed up in recent years with it always being later than I thought”.

“Well perhaps the way things are going with us”, said Julian “That shouldn’t be a problem from now on. Anyway, I’d better not keep you up here too long. Haven’t you got to make peace with your little darling before midnight chimes? After all, he was Openly Defiant towards you earlier”.

“Not exactly a unique event, Jules”, said Adam, ruefully “And I object to Hillyard making out I overly-mollycoddle Lo-Lo. I’ve had enough of all that from you! Lo-Lo is my little boy and that’s all there is to it. I refuse to feel guilty anymore about the way I feel about him”.

“Don’t take it personal”, said Julian “Hillyard was just annoyed because of the yard-door being tampered with. Joby having hysterics all over the shop didn’t help. As I said to you earlier downstairs, if there’s anyone you do mollycoddle too much, it’s him! He’s like Bardin, he gets too intense and worked-up. And a good thrashing always sorts Bardin out!”

“You’ve got a one-track mind”, said Adam “If I ‘mollycoddle’ Joby it’s because I’ve always felt sorry for him. He’s had a rocky road through life”.

“No more than anyone else!” said Julian “And he deliberately makes it rocky sometimes”.

“He was given a hard load to carry, Jules”, said Adam “Having a Messianic figure as his life-partner. I remember when Patsy left us at the Freak Colony to fight Angel. We didn’t know where he was going, or even whether we’d ever see him again. Joby sobbed in my arms, he was absolutely wretched with misery. I suppose I decided then I would always try and be a support to him. I fail to see how a good thrashing would have helped him at that moment!”

“It wouldn’t have, I agree”, said Julian “Even I’m not that bad!”

“One can never be too sure with you!” said Adam.

Tamaz was sitting on Joby’s lap on the big wooden chair in the hall. They were fooling about with a sprig of mistletoe, giving each other random kisses.

“The little blonde guy said that, unlike Her, I could use my power for good, because I can control it”, said Tamaz “He says I’m the ultimate weapon”.

“He had no right to say that to you!” said Joby “I could wring his scrawny little neck! He can be bloody ruthless sometimes, and he’s always taking stupid risks”.

“He has to, that’s what he’s here for”, said Tamaz “And I can help him”.

“And meanwhile, whilst you two are busy being the Dynamic Duo, I have to worry meself sick”, said Joby “It’d be so much easier if we could just annihilate Angel. Kieran calls his mischief ‘just a bit of tricksiness’. Well it’s not! Angel deliberately left the yard-door open so that the zombie could get him. It could have killed one of us!”

“It’s the sort of thing I’d have done when I was evil”, said Tamaz “He doesn’t like being left out on the outside. He resents us”.

“He was given every chance years ago, and he ballsed it up”, said Joby.

“The rot had set in too deep by then”, Tamaz shrugged “Even Kieran couldn’t cure it. That’s why Angel’s the Devil I guess. He knows he has to stay on the outside, and sometimes he doesn’t like it”.

A thick-eared piece of ragtime jazz was hammered out on the piano in the living-room. Joby and Tamaz migrated in there.

“I thought I recognised your elegant fingerwork, Hillyard”, said Joby “Kitten on the keys!”

Kieran looked at Joby suspiciously, and then jokingly slid to the carpet on the other side of the piano, as though hiding from him.

“Your ears been burning have they?” said Joby, and went over to kiss him playfully.

Hoowie leapt up from behind the sofa, and got out his own dick, wagging it about drunkenly.

“Happy New Year!” he cried “I have the biggest dick in the whole house!”

“You are the biggest dick in the whole house!” said Joby.

“I bet Julian’s is bigger”, said Hillyard.

“Perhaps we should measure them”, said Adam, as he and Julian had just come into the room.

“Don’t be vulgar”, said Julian.

“You used to enjoy doing that at school, Jules”, said Adam “It used to confirm your belief in your own natural superiority!”

“I can’t imagine he needed much help with that one!” said Kieran.

“Perhaps we should see who’s got the smallest dick instead”, said Julian, tartly “I have a feeling you might stand a chance with that one, Tinkerbell”.

“Surely that would be Finia?” said Kieran.

“As I don’t have the necessary equipment anymore, I’m not in the running”, said Finia.

“It’s probably going to be me”, said Tamaz.

“Hermaphrodites aren’t in the running either”, said Julian.

“Why not?” said Mieps, indignantly “I can compete with most of you lot easily”.

“Strewth!” said Joby “Make your mind up who you wanna be! One day you’re a Barbie Doll, the next you’re King Dong!”

“As he’s an hermaphrodite, he can be whichever he chooses to be, I would’ve thought”, said Adam.

“I have played some diabolical party games with you lot in my time”, said Ransey “But I refuse to go in for dick-measuring!”

“Aw, doesn’t he want his dick measured?” Finia cooed, tweaking Ransey’s nipple under his shirt.

“It’s getting near time”, said Lonts, peering closely at the clock on the mantelpiece and tracing the face of it with his hands “In Kiskev we had a custom of opening all the doors and windows at midnight to let the New Year in”.

“Brilliant idea, Lonts”, said Joby “We’ll let the zombie in too whilst we’re at it!”

“I wasn’t suggesting we do it here, Joby”, said Lonts, impatiently.

The clock tried to strike midnight, but because it hadn’t been wound for a few days it gave a clunk instead.

“Cheers!” said Hillyard, picking up his pint-glass from the top of the piano, which was half-full of beer.

“Perhaps we should sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’?” said Adam, dubiously.

“I can’t remember the words”, said Julian “Which comes as somewhat of a relief really!”

“Can we go to bed now?” said Ransey, testily.

“There was nothing stopping you going up before, old love”, said Adam.

The 4 clowns were all half-asleep on one of the sofa’s anyway, draped across each other like a stack of laundry which had toppled over.

Ransey paused on his way out of the room.

“I don’t think anyone should sleep on the ground floor tonight”, he said “You never know. They all seem a bit vulnerable down here at the moment”.

“Yes, they are a bit like far-flung outpost of the empire here”, said Adam.

It was decided that Mieps should sleep up on the top floor with Julian and Hillyard, so that Toppy and Hoowie could have his room. Bengo and Bardin were to go in the bed on the landing with Farnol and Rumble. This presented a few problems regarding fitting them all comfortably into it. They tried to settle down but messed the bed up so much that they had to get up again to straighten it out.

“Don’t let Bengo sleep nearest the stairs”, said Adam, fussily “Or he’ll be in the draught, and he’s still recovering”.

“Oh we’ll treat him like spun gold!” said Farnol, facetiously, stroking Bengo’s face and hair “In fact, we’ll all volunteer to sleep on the cold hard floor and let him have the bed to himself!”

“Such a lot of silly fuss about having to put 4 of you in it”, said Adam “We sleep 16 to a bed on the sloop”.

“That’s a different kind of bed”, said Rumble, who was trying not to stick his feet in Bardin’s face.

“I notice he didn’t offer to swap places with any of us”, said Farnol, after Adam had gone into his room.

“The last thing we need is another tall bastard in here!” said Bardin, blowing on Rumble’s foot.

They all groaned in dismay when Hoowie appeared on the landing, looking rather shopworn in a sleeveless vest and pyjama bottoms.

“I’ve just had a thought!” he announced.

“We don’t wanna hear it, Hoowie, you long streak of piss!” said Farnol, pretty certain it was going to be something that would thoroughly annoy all of them. He was right.

“If Angel or anything else does break in”, said Hoowie, triumphantly “You lot’ll be the first they come across, and unlike the rest of us, you won’t have any means to shut them out!”

“That was the Reverend Hoowie with another comforting Night Thought!” said Rumble.

“Oh go and curl up with Toppy, Hoowie!” said Farnol.

“The girl of his dreams!” said Rumble.

Hoowie laughed gleefully and disappeared into Mieps’s room.

“He’s got a point though hasn’t he?” said Bengo, in agitation.

“Will you watch where you’re sticking your foot!” said Farnol.

“Settle down, Bengo”, said Bardin.

“But it’s true”, said Bengo “We are vulnerable stuck out here”.

“Bengo!” said Bardin, very firmly.

Bengo gave a whimper and rolled over to chew his pillow.

Kieran came out of his room, clutching a jar of salt, and he began to sprinkle a line of it across the top of the stairs. The clowns watched him as he methodically performed this task. When he’d finished he jokingly sprinkled a handful over them and went back into his room, where he got back into bed with Joby and Tamaz.

“Do you know what I’ve just found in this bed?” said Joby “A fucking monkey-wrench! Tamaz had it under his pillow!”

“I found it in one of the bathrooms”, said Tamaz “I thought it might be a useful weapon”.

“Ach well if you find you can’t sleep, Joby”, said Kieran “You can always go and do a spot of plumbing!”

“Yeah, I’ll change a couple of washers”, said Joby “That should wake everyone up. What did you think you was gonna do with it, Tamaz? Wrench Angel’s nuts off or summat?”

“You’d have to find ‘em first!” said Kieran.

There was the sound of someone shrieking with laughter drunkenly in the street.

“Is that gonna go on all night?” said Joby.

“Perhaps it’s the zombie patrol”, said Kieran “Sweet dreams!”

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