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By Sarah Hapgood

Codlik slept alone downstairs in Bengo and Bardin’s bed, worn out with all the events of that extraordinary night. He awoke very early and sensed someone lying next to him on the bed. He sat up to see who it was and was confronted with the corpse of a complete stranger. Horrified, he clambered off the bed, and as he did so he caused the head of the male corpse, which had been completely severed from the body and just placed where it had once been, to roll off the bed and onto the floor.

“You poor thing, what on earth’s the matter?” said Adam, bustling out of the kitchen in his dressing-gown, when he had heard Codlik retching in the hallway “Sit down”.

He put Codlik into the carved wooden chair and stuck his head between his knees.

“Adam”, Codlik grabbed the front of Adam’s dressing-gown like a condemned man begging for mercy “There’s a b-body in there. His h-head fell off, r-rolled on the floor!”

“I guess I’d better go and have a look”, said Adam, reluctantly.

“No don’t”, said Codlik, gripping Adam’s dressing-gown even more “It’s a terrible sight. He’s d-decomposing!”

“I’m afraid I have to”, said Adam, gently disentangling himself from Codlik’s grip.

Codlik waited apprehensively outside the dining-room, listening for the slightest sound from Adam.

“There’s nothing there, Codlik”, said Adam, taking his hand and tugging him into the room “Come and see. You must have had a bad dream, that’s all”.

“But I was awake!” Codlik protested “I sat up, it was real!”

“A very real bad dream”, said Adam “But just a dream all the same. Hardly surprising after everything that happened last night! Come to the kitchen and have some coffee. All this will wear off as the day goes on”.

They both went into the kitchen where they were greeted with the sight of Farnol and Hoowie both leaning across the table with their bottoms exposed, doing exercises that seemed to involve clenching and relaxing their arse muscles.

“Hoowie read an article in a magazine”, said Farnol “Which recommends this as a way to ward off prostate cancer!”

“You have to clench your butt muscles for as long as you can”, said Hoowie “And then relax them suddenly. You should do it too, men of your age can’t be too careful. Same goes for Mr Codlik here too”.

“I have read that somewhere myself”, said Codlik, sounding very exhausted.

“I get enough buttock clenching thoughts just listening to you two most of the time!” said Adam “Cover yourselves up for pity’s sake. There have been enough gruesome sights lately!”

Adam went to the back door, which was propped open, and stood looking out into the yard, which was bathed for once in morning sunshine.

“Perhaps it really is all over”, he said “And Spring is coming”.

“You can go home then, Codlik”, said Farnol.

“You’ll get your bed back to yourself”, said Codlik.

“Well I must admit Bengo and Bardin do cramp our style a bit”, said Farnol, cheekily “Me and Rumble can’t do any mutual masturbation with them around you see!”

“That’s enough!” said Adam “Codlik is not in the mood for your incessant teasing”.

Farnol hung his head sheepishly and muttered how truly sorry he was to have caused Codlik any distress.

“You are not in the least big sorry!” said Adam, lightly boxing Farnol’s ears “You never stop performing long enough to be! Simply try not to speak at all for the next 5 minutes!”

Tamaz came in, fully-dressed, but still looking very tired.

“I can’t rest”, he snapped, in answer to Adam’s remark that he should still be in bed “Joby and Kieran are still falling out with each other all over the place”.

“Oh really, the tiresome little jerks!” said Adam.

“You’re not the only one who thinks so”, said Tamaz “Julian’s dragged Joby up to the top floor, and don’t you go up there and interfere! It’ll do him good!”

“You have been told time and again, by me, by Adam, by Freaky, by Kieran himself, that you have to relax and accept that occasionally Kieran has to do things which may be ruthless and perilous”, said Julian, lighting a cigar, having bullied Hillyard into accepting that extraordinary times such as this meant a non-rationing of comfort items “As Freaky has pointed out to you, that is what he’s here for!”

“Maybe, but I can’t accept the way all this gets decided without anyone discussing it with me first!” said Joby, standing facing him in his technicolour dressing-gown “As though I don’t count for anything!”

“Could they count on your support? No!” said Julian “You’d simply get as hysterical as Bengo, and about as rational! I doubt they had time for a proper meeting about it anyway. Be reasonable! I know Kieran can be as much of a blonde fiend as I can, but you won’t give the guy a break! When it comes to being unreasonable and downright bloody obstinate, you are about the worst offender I have ever met! What gets into you? Why are you so damn proud?”

“Maybe it’s because I’m a fucking peasant then that’s why!” said Joby “That’s what you’re thinking ennit?”

“I’m not actually, and how dare you decide for me what I’m thinking!” said Julian “It can’t possibly have anything to do with status of birth. Anyway, I don’t regard you as a peasant. Hillyard’s a peasant! And yet he’s not all uptight like you, very far from it. He’s a free spirit. And don’t give me a lot of sentimental guff about being made to feel unwanted and undervalued right from birth, everyone in this house had that! Even me. Especially me! Kieran was abandoned by his father, Adam was repeatedly beaten and insulted by his, Finia was brought up in a brothel, and the others had barely any childhood to speak of at all. I think compared to a lot of us, you came out of it pretty lightly! You may have had a psychotic mother and brother, but your father was a reasonable man, and your grandmother adored you! But we’re not allowed to point all that out are we? Nor are we allowed to drum it into you that everyone here loves you, particularly Adam, who mollycoddles you almost as much as he does his deranged Yeti, and you are loved insatiably by Kieran. That poor little bastard got dragged to the bottom of a filthy river out there last night, it’ll be a miracle if he doesn’t get pneumonia, and yet you’re still giving him a hard time! You are rigid and ungrateful!”

Joby was so tense and wound-up that his whole body seemed like a mass of violin strings which were about to snap. He was also desperately trying not to cry, and turned to leave the room to stop such a terrible thing from happening. Julian stubbed out his cigar in an ashtray and pulled him back.

“And you’re not damn well walking out on me either!” Julian slapped him round the face.

“Bastard!” Joby cried “I’ll tear your fucking arms and legs off for that!”

“I’d like to see you try”, said Julian “I’m taller than you and infinitely stronger!”

Joby felt the perennial curse of helplessness flood his entire being. He leaned against the mantelpiece and sobbed.

“You’re looking for perfection”, said Julian, standing up very close to him “It doesn’t exist, my boy. But just you think back over your life. It’s been a happy one on the whole hasn’t it?”

“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world”, said Joby “If I hadn’t crossed over I’d have probably had a life like my Dad’s, surgically attached to the sofa! This has been good”.

“Then accept!” Julian thundered “Accept that you have to pay a price for it. Ask anyone who’s in love and they’ll tell you the same thing, the biggest fear they have is losing the one they love. We ALL have it. You just worry far more than anyone else that’s all”.

He took off his pyjamas and led Joby over to the bed.

“Come along, get this garish get-up off”, he said, tugging at Joby’s dressing-gown.

Joby shed the robe and climbed onto the bed next to him, but then he lay there rigid and unmoving.

“Well this is fun isn’t it!” said Julian, caustically.

“I’m a bit worried about upsetting Kiel”, said Joby.

“I thought you were angry with him!” said Julian “Anyway, he knows where you are, and I haven’t seen him come crashing up here yet”.

He straightened out Joby’s limbs as though Joby was a fish he was arranging on a dish. He ran his hands up and down his arms and legs appreciatively.

“You have a fine body”, said Julian “Did any of your women friends in our time tell you that?”

“You don’t know much about women!” Joby guffawed “Or certainly not the sort I got mixed up with! Anyway they didn’t tend to hang around long enough to take all me clothes off and admire me body. My sex life in those days was a case of a bit here and a bit there”.

“Not even our dear Vanquisher’s wife?” said Julian.

“We kept most of our clothes on”, said Joby “It was outside, and it weren’t that warm”.

“It really did only happen once?”

“As I’ve always said!”

“I thought perhaps you might have said that just for Kieran’s benefit”, said Julian.

“No, Amy wasn’t a one for repeat performances”, said Joby “Too flamin’ screwed up for that! Mind you, I wasn’t any better. I didn’t have a really satisfying, mature sexual experience until Adam took me in hand in Husgalonghi. He was the first person I’d ever been with who cared about what I was getting out of it. All the women I’d ever had had just been take-take-take”.

“Adam has always been a considerate lover”, said Julian, reflectively “You chose well when you decided to break your duck with him”.

“I know”, said Joby “I didn’t’ want to go to Kieran still all stupid and screwed up, like a bloody schoolboy who can’t cope with puberty! I thought he deserved better than that. I wanted to learn something first, I wanted to know what real adult sex was like, not just tatty ‘feet-out-of-the-window-of-the-car’ efforts! I thought if anyone could show it would be Adam”.

“Interesting that to you he was this experienced guru”, Julian gave a wry smile “The first time I had him he was a tentative but eager virgin!”

“I can’t imagine Adam as a virgin!” Joby laughed, pressing his hands back against the wall and arching his back deliciously.

“Oh yes, and an absolutely mouthwatering one!” said Julian “The pretty untamed schoolboy, ready and willing to try anything! That’s probably why he understood your needs so well”.

Julian sucked Joby’s cock, and Joby fell back into the pillows, feeling as though he was diving back into a mound of well-plumped velvet cushions. He was vaguely aware of Julian urging him to abandon himself to him completely, but Joby had already done that. Julian could have taken him by his penis and led him through the streets and he wouldn’t have had the will or the energy to object!

He had barely orgasmed when Julian rolled him over, propped up his buttocks and entered into him bare-knuckle.

“It’s twenty-past-eight”, said Joby, leaning over Julian and looking at the bedside clock “I’d better go and help Adam do the breakfast or I’ll never hear the end of it”.

“If he starts on you tell him to come up here and see me”, said Julian “He’s bound to nag a little, because he’ll be insanely jealous. Thinks no one can make love to his little boys as well as he can”.

“Yeah well you’re not bad I spose”, said Joby.

Julian pulled him across him and spanked his buttocks hard.

“You didn’t really think you’d get out of it did you?” said Julian.

Joby wrestled with him, managing to roll him over, so that he could execute a love-bite on his behind.

“And I shouldn’t think that’s the first one you’ve had there either!” Joby exclaimed.

He jumped off the bed and reached for his robe. Julian pursued him across the room and managed to give a second spanking before Joby got to the door.

“Oh and tell Tinkerbell I want my riding-crop back”, said Julian “I’d like to get the chance to use it on you myself sometime!”

Joby stumbled breathlessly down the stairs, pulling on his bath-robe as he did so, thankfully concealing the evidence of their fun and games from those who were horsing around on the landing.

Bengo and Bardin were still in bed, and Adam was standing in the midst of Lonts, Mieps, Tamaz, Rumble, and Farnol, who was doing a complicated but hilarious practical joke with a bicycle pump stuffed down the back of his underpants, using it to inflate a condom stuck between his legs.

“High time you reappeared”, said Adam to Joby “Patsy’s moping about like a peacock in a thunderstorm. What have you got to say for yourself?”

Farnol let loose the inflated condom which sped hysterically across the landing. Lonts roared with laughter and had to clutch at Adam for support.

“Betraying the workers, Joby!” said Rumble, thrusting up his arm in a mock gesture of insult.

Joby thrust up his in return.

“Jealousy’ll get you up there as well if you’re not careful!” he retorted, and then turned to Adam “And the same goes for you ‘an all, you scabby old bat!”

“Had your butt spanked by any chance, Joby?” said Adam, pulling up the back of Joby’s dressing-gown and exposing his arse to view.

Joby shook him off and went into his bedroom, where Kieran was sitting on the bed, looking out at the sunlit street.

“Adam says you’re like a peacock in a thunderstorm”, said Joby, crossing over to him.

“Yeah”, said Kieran “I’m stamping about with a load of bedraggled feathers hanging out of me arse!”

Joby flung himself on his knees and buried his face in Kieran’s lap.

“Oh Kiel, I’m so sorry!” he wailed “For giving you a hard time”.

“Which one of many?” said Kieran.

“Yesterday, and today”, said Joby “It’s just that I was worried about you, and I was worried about Tamaz”.

“Well I won’t say I won’t be relieved if you ease up on me a bit”, said Kieran “Last night Angel wrestled me to the bottom of the river, today I don’t feel strong enough for a personal crisis. Perhaps I’m getting too old for such stunts”.

“I feel ashamed”, said Joby.

“Good, must be Julian’s thrashing that did that”, said Kieran, teasingly “I heard him scream at one point. What did you do to him for revenge?”

“Bit him on the arse”, said Joby “Even Tamaz won’t be able to top that one!”

He climbed up onto the bed and they rolled around on the mattress together, before Kieran lay on Joby’s chest, tucking himself up like a foetus.

“I feel safe when I’m with you”, said Kieran.

“You’ll be even safer when I get you back to the Bay”, said Joby, stroking his hair.

“This landing is an utter shambles!” Julian could be heard yelling outside their door.

“Somebody needs to point out to him that he’s not Captain anymore”, said Joby.

“It would be a waste of time”, said Kieran.

“Get it cleaned up!” Julian was now shouting as he went downstairs to the ground floor.

“Freaky, make a start tidying up”, Adam sighed.

“Me?” Tamaz exclaimed “Why me? It’s not my mess!”

“Make a start I said”, said Adam.

“Are you going to come out here, Joby?” Tamaz opened the bedroom door and yelled in “They’re a bunch of chauvinistic jerks! They think ‘cos I’ve got tits I can tidy up!”

“Leave it out, Tamaz”, said Joby “You’re beginning to sound like my Auntie Chloe! She saw everything as a male conspiracy”.

“She was probably right!” Tamaz squawked.

“No she wasn’t”, said Joby “Most men I’ve known wouldn’t be able to get organised enough to form a conspiracy!”

The 4 clowns plus Hoowie (honorary clown) went out for an hour after breakfast, because Rumble wanted to visit the nearby tattooing parlour to get a lip-ring put in, which was to be his own personal vestige of civilisation he wanted to take to the Bay with him.

“It’ll probably get in the way when you eat”, said Bengo, leaning over the chair in which Rumble was reclining after having two small holes punched in his face.

“You’d better not have it done then”, said Hoowie, who was examining a tray of tattooing needles “It’d hinder your favourite occupation!”

“Hoowie, don’t touch ANYTHING!” said Bardin, as though he was talking to a 3-year-old.

The tattooist was trying to edge round Bengo, so Bardin yanked him out of the way by his jumper.

“We’re gonna give you a job at Madame Simone’s “, said Hoowie “Old Bossy-Britches Bardin. ‘Cept I notice it’s still Julian who’s doing the disciplining”.

“I can’t go beating up the likes of Mieps and Joby”, Bardin sighed “They’re older than me, it wouldn’t’ seem right. Whereas Julian’s older than everybody, so he can wallop who he likes”.

“So what’s the point of having you as Captain then?” said Hoowie.

“I didn’t know you had such a strong desire to be beaten up by Bardin, Your Hoowieness!” said Farnol.

The tattooist stood up and gazed at Hoowie curiously through his cigarette-smoke.

“I’ll try anything, me”, said Hoowie “I’m a total whore”.

“You ever thought of putting him out on the streets?” the tattooist drawled.

“We did try it once”, said Bardin “But the bin-men refused to take him away!”

Rumble laughed from his languishing position.

“You can’t even handle Tamaz”, said Hoowie, still on at Bardin “And he’s half-cunt!”

“How can you have half-a-cunt, Hoowie, you tossing cretin?” said Farnol.

“You know what I mean”, said Hoowie.

“Good job somebody does!” said Rumble.

“Bengo’s better at handling Tamaz than I am”, said Bardin.

“I guess so, although I don’t know why”, said Bengo, looking awestruck at some pictures of previous clients.

“He doesn’t wind you up as easily as he does me”, said Bardin “He knows how to get me uptight”.

“So does everybody”, said Hoowie “That’s why I can’t understand why you’re Captain”.

“Commonsense, jerk!” said Rumble “Bardin’s got commonsense and maturity”.

“Sometime when we’ve got a spare few weeks”, said Farnol “We’ll try and explain to you what those is”.

When they were finished at the tattooists, Rumble’s new adornment was greatly admired.

“You’ll have to be careful you don’t catch yourself on it in your sleep”, said Bardin, once they were back out in the street “Does it get in the way of kissing?”

“Try it and see”, said Rumble, and Bardin obliged.

“You two’ll have to watch out”, said Hoowie, standing behind Bengo and Farnol “Those two get cosier everyday. Re-igniting old fires”.

“Then we’ll just have to ease our frustration by shagging you, won’t we!” said Farnol.

“You’d have to get some blubber off first”, said Hoowie “Or I won’t be able to find your dick under your fat belly!”

“That’s alright”, said Bengo “We can always use the bicycle-pump again!”

He and Farnol laughed, linked arms and walked away, leaving Hoowie to trail along behind them.

“You guys can be the two short, fat ones!” he shouted.

“I think he’s just some curse we have to live with”, said Farnol.

“More than likely”, Bengo sighed.

Back at the house, Bardin sent Hoowie to work in the yard, sawing up the Christmas tree. He was still at it when Codlik returned from the telegraph office, where he had been wiring Glynis that he would be returning home the following day.

“It’s not going to be easy for a young man like you”, said Codlik “If they decide to live a the Bay all the time. You’ll probably miss town life”.

“I’ll be fine”, said Hoowie, scratching a sweaty armpit “Long as we don’t suddenly become a celibate order, I’ll survive, and I can’t see even him bringing that one into play!”

He gestured with his saw at Bardin, who was leaning in the kitchen doorway, watching him over a cup of tea. Codlik went into the main part of the garden, where Adam and Kieran were watching Hillyard inter the zombie’s feet in the flower-bed by the wall. At the double glass doors which led into the living-room, Joby was trying to stop one of the goats from getting into the house.

“This is what happens when you go poncing out and leaving the door open!” he shouted at Lonts and Bengo, who were standing on the patio “The animals get in and ransack the place!”

“But he didn’t get in though, Joby”, said Lonts “You stopped him in time”.

“I dunno who’s dafter, you two or the fucking goats!” said Joby, slamming the door on them.

“Just ignore him, Bengo”, said Lonts, taking Bengo’s elbow and steering him away from the house in a dignified fashion.

In the living-room Mieps was twirling one of the Christmas tree baubles around on his fingers. He caught Codlik staring at him through the window and gave an exasperated sigh.

“He won’t leave me be!” he cried, particularly annoyed because Julian had remarked that if he caught a whiff of anything between Mieps and Codlik before Codlik returned hom, he would chase Mieps all over the house with the riding-crop.

“Well that’s what you get when you tangle with the likes of him”, said Joby, pulling the curtains across and shutting Codlik out “Still waters run deep. You shouldn’t have gone and lit his candle in the first place!”

“It was just one bout of fornication!” Mieps spat “And now I’m being stalked by him for it. I will never understand humans!”

“Neither will I”, Joby sighed “And I’ve got less excuse than you!”

“What are you both doing in here with the curtains drawn?” Julian snapped.

“Wouldn’t you like to know!” said Joby, pulling them back again, and relieved to find that Codlik was now engrossed in a conversation with Adam.

“Store those carefully”, Julian ordered Mieps, referring to the baubles “We don’t want to shatter them in transit. We’ll need them at the Bay, as we’ll probably be there next Christmas. Now I’m going upstairs to have a wash and a shave”.

Joby followed him out into the hall on his way back to the kitchen.

“Stay there whilst I chuck my pyjamas down to you”, said Julian, going up the stairs “They need washing”.

“Well I’m not doing ‘em”, said Joby “Adam’d have a fit”.

“You can pass them on to the appropriate department”, said Julian, pulling them off and chucking them down the stairs at him.

He pulled the nearest large-sized nightshirt out of the airing-cupboard, put it on and went into a bathroom. Codlik saw him shaving at the basin from the garden, and had an uncomfortable feeling he was being scrutinised in case he stood too close to Adam.

“Julian’s got us under observation”, he said, trying to make a joke of it.

“So he has”, said Adam “He watches everybody from up there. I don’t know why he doesn’t install one of those little telescopes you used to get at the seaside!”

Adam returned to the kitchen, going in at the back door at the same time as Joby came in from the hall, carrying Julian’s pyjamas.

“Oh he has got you tamed hasn’t he?” said Adam, snidely “One session with him and you’re all demure and docile, and washing his pyjamas!”

“You know damn well I ent washing ‘em! It’s not my job!” said Joby, edging past Bardin, who was now sitting at the table, and dumping the garments on the draining-board “And I’m not all tamed and docile”.

“Yes you are, you’re all simpering and fawning”, said Adam.

“Nowhere near as much as you get when you’ve just been with him!” said Joby “You turn into a Stepford Wife then!”

“Nonsense”, said Adam, putting his canvas pinny back on.

A suspicious sawing noise was heard from the pantry. Tamaz was discovered hacking at a loaf of bread.

“He must have slipped past me whilst my back was turned”, said Bardin “Don’t you ever stop eating, Freak-Face?”

“I’m hungry”, said Tamaz.

“What again?” said Joby, in disbelief.

“You haven’t long had breakfast”, said Adam.

“I have to retain my energy levels”, Tamaz pouted.

“Rare rump steak and fried eggs are obviously called for”, said Adam.

“An astronaut’s breakfast!” said Joby.

“It’s time you made some more bread”, said Tamaz “This lot’s going sour”.

“If it’s not one thing needs doing it’s summat else”, said Joby, gloomily.

“He’s right though, I’d better do that”, said Adam “You prepare some onions for the pie later. Now … um … do some mince first”.

Joby was putting a cut of beef through the mincer screwed onto the table, watched with fascination by Bardin, when Ransey came home unexpectedly. Unexpectedly because no one realised he had been out!

“That doesn’t surprise me at all”, Ransey rasped “I might as well be the invisible man where you lot are concerned sometimes! I had rather important matters to organise in town”.

“If you’re going to mention that bloody butcher’s bill again, Ransey …” Adam began, irritably.

“I was referring to the catacombs”, said Ransey.

“Oh God, I’m bored stiff with hearing about the catacombs!” said Joby.

Julian thumped on the bathroom floor above.

“What’s he getting all excited about?” said Joby.

“Adam’s left the hot tap running”, Bardin point out “His water must be running cold up there”.

“Oh dear!” said Adam, sarcastically, attending to the tap “We can’t have that can we!”

“Do you want to know what I’ve been doing or not?” Ransey yelled.

“Yes go ahead, old love”, said Adam “We’re all simply agog!”

“I went down into the catacombs”, Ransey began.

“On your own?” said Joby, in surprise.

“Not on your life!” said Ransey “No I went down with a party of men from the town. We scoured the place for any more of those little critters that Tamaz might have missed, but he seems to have got the lot of ‘em”.

“But they must have come up from somewhere else”, said Bardin.

“Yes, the Other Place, as Kieran would call it”, said Ransey “And if he gets any ideas about going down there again, knock him over the head with a wooden mallet because I never want to see it again!”

“Neither does he”, said Joby “He’s quite firm about that”.

“I’m relieved to hear it”, Ransey sighed.

Everyone in fact was quite categorical on this point. Nonetheless after lunch they decided to fasten the horses to the hay-cart and go for a little drive out of town, in the direction of the Turd House. They argued that this was really an excuse to give the horses some much-needed exercise, but really it was to satisfy their curiosity that there was nothing amiss about the Turd House, at least without actually going too near it.

“Codlik’s been asking me strange questions”, said Ransey, standing outside the back door with Adam, whilst Hillyard was getting the horses tacked up “He gets some weird fixations in his head sometimes”.

“Well he is a politician by trade, so I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised”, said Adam, stirring a cup of tea with his gloves on “I hope this latest fixation is an improvement on the Mieps one! Jules is getting quite short-fused about all that”.

“I think that one will always be there”, said Ransey, wearily “I don’t normally share Julian’s passion for corporal punishment, but the way Mieps has behaved at times a good hiding wouldn’t be anything but beneficial! I thought he’d behave with more dignity, but he’s been carrying on worse than Tamaz!”

“He seems to be coming to his senses now at least”, said Adam.

“I hope he stays with his senses then”, said Ransey “Because Codlik and Glynis are bound to come calling on us at the Bay sometime”.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it”, said Adam “What’s Codlik been saying to you anyway?”

“He seems to think I’m about to leave home”, said Ransey, in astonishment “Where he got that idea from I really don’t know, he seems to be away with the pixies most of the time! Started going on at me earlier about how he hoped I wouldn’t do anything rash, as if I ever would!, and that you all need me. I said I didn’t need him to tell me that, it’s been obvious for years!”

“I think I know where he’s coming from”, said Adam “You’ve been rather crotchety of late”.

“I thought I always was!” said Ransey, in genuine surprise.

“You are”, said Adam, as though reassuring him “But Codlik doesn’t see you all the time. Perhaps your innate loveable grumpiness struck him afresh, and he started reading things into it”.

“In my opinion he reads too damn much into everything!” said Ransey “He’s a politician alright! Goes round all the time seeing examples of Great Significance everywhere, when all people are doing is getting on with their lives!”

“He’s quite sweet really”, said Adam “A pain in the butt but quite sweet. He should have been a missionary. That was his true vocation”.

“As bloody usual, it’s me doing all the sodding work!” said Hillyard, when he had finished jingling the harness “You two had a good natter have you?”

“Next time I put your dinner down in front of you”, said Adam “I’ll get all self-righteous shall I, and claim I’m the only one who does all the work!”

“He’ll have forgotten by then”, said Ransey “He can never remember anything for longer than 30 seconds!”

“All aboard the skylark!” Kieran shouted.

“Do you have to be so damn cheerful about it?” said Joby, climbing into the back of the hay-cart “Most families, when they go on a little outing, go on a picnic or summat, but not us. We go and have a look at the mouth to Hell!”

“Is Codlik coming with us?” said Lonts.

“Oh probably”, said Joby, glumly.

“It might have been an idea to take some sandwiches with us”, said Ransey, impressed by Joby’s mention of a picnic.

“You’ve only just had lunch!” said Adam.

“You really want to sit and eat outside the Turd House?” said Hillyard.

“Perhaps not”, said Ransey.

Hillyard went to help Julian up onto the box and got barked at for his pains, so Hillyard climbed up next to him and took the reins in his hands. They turned out of the yard-gates and into the street. Their stately progress down it in the middle of the afternoon was watched by everyone in the street and leaning out of their houses.

“Stop!” Kieran yelled, when they were halfway down “Stop right here!”

Hillyard eased the cart to a halt outside the iron gates of the cottage hospital.

“Where are you going?” said Julian, as Kieran jumped down off the back.

“A necessary diversion”, said Kieran “Tamaz come with me. There are vampires in that building, I can sense them like a bloody stink-bomb!”

“How did they get past the iron gates?” said Joby.

“I’m sure they found a way”, said Kieran, bitterly.

There was confusion as most of the Indigo-ites wanted to come with them, but it was a mess of people and traffic in the street outside the hospital. Kieran and Tamaz slipped through the gates and into the building.

“I bet they’ve come for Zooks”, said Kieran “He was taken here from the theatre for a blood transfusion, and he was kept in”.

A nurse told them that Zooks had been given a private room, because he kept upsetting the other patients with tales of life in the castle in the rainforest. Kieran and Tamaz went to the room, which was on the ground floor at the back of the building.

Caln and Angel had come up through the plumbing, oozing out of the plughole of the basin in Zooks’s room, and gradually forming out of the glutinous treacle, the form they had used in transit. They hadn’t in fact come to take Zooks away, but to finish him off, and both had decided they each wanted to be the one who did it. When Kieran got to the room, Zooks was cowering on the floor in his nightshirt, whilst Angel and Caln engaged in a violent argument over him. Caln refused to give Angel superiority in the matter, even when Angel threw him bodily against the wall.

“I’m the Lord of Darkness”, Angel exclaimed “It’s been written thus, ever since time began!”

“Bullshit, you’re a maverick, always have been”, Caln retorted, his voice sounding strange and gritty to Kieran after all this time “I was once the most powerful being on Earth”.

“I thought that was me actually”, said Kieran.

“Aagh!” Caln jumped like a cat onto the basin and crouched there “The creature! Kill him Angel, you fucker! Kill him!”

“Why have I gotta do it?” said Angel, chewing his finger in agitation “You’re the great supreme being, you do it!”

“I’d be careful if I was you, Caln”, said Kieran “The last two times you came into bodily contact with me you were set on fire and shrunk into a jar!”

“Both times you had help”, Caln sneered “You seem to be on your own this time”.

“Do I now?” said Kieran.

Tamaz sidled into the room, looking very predatory.

“Never before have I had such a powerful weapon as this”, said Kieran “You had the Gorgon as a weapon once, Caln, but you were as afraid of her as everybody else was”.

Caln was mesmerised by Tamaz. He reached out a talon as though he wanted to stroke his face.

“Child of the Gorgon”, he breathed, softly “I can look into your face”.

“For the time being”, said Tamaz, bluntly.

“I always wanted to see the Gorgon for myself”, said Caln “Even though I knew she would destroy me. I understood her allure as much as any stupid sap in Marlsblad village. I used to take risks roaming in the forest, knowing she could be nearby. Do you look much like her?”

“I don’t know”, said Tamaz “I never saw her face either”.

“You’re not invincible with that Thing”, Angel taunted Kieran “We could still tear its head off before it even had a chance to start working its magic”.

“That so?” said Tamaz, grabbing Caln’s talon and putting it on his neck “Try it then. Destroy the child of the Gorgon, if you can”.

“Don’t you ever focking do that again!” Kieran pushed Tamaz against the wall of the corridor outside the room “Are you on some kind of death-wish or something? Don’t you love us anymore?”

“I had to call their bluff don’t you see?” said Tamaz “Otherwise they could keep threatening me. I suspected Caln was vulnerable where I was concerned. He was looking at me the way Codlik looks at Mieps. He’s in my thrall. I had to find that out once and for all, because it makes us even more powerful”.

“No it doesn’t”, said Kieran “You haven’t snared Angel, and he hates you like blazes, and that worries the crap out of me!”

“That’s just too bad”, said Tamaz, disdainfully “Nobody can snare Angel, he can’t be reached by love or sexual infatuation. The only one who has any power over him at all is you, and the big joke there, is that he’d like you to have even more power over him”.

“Yeah, at the expense of everybody else!” Kieran snapped.

“I don’t see what you’re so riled about”, said Tamaz “We’ve de-vampirised the place. Those bastards went back down the plughole, and where Caln’s concerned, you’ve got to admit we’ve found out a valuable fact about him”.

“But I don’t appreciate you sticking your focking neck in his hands in order to find it out!” said Kieran, angrily “I’m not going to tell Joby about what you did, and neither will you. We’ll just say we threatened them with you. He’s had enough worries where we’re concerned lately. We’ll just have to take the risk of it coming out perhaps at a later date. He needs a respite from worry at the moment. Agreed?”

“Of course!” said Tamaz “Anyway, it’s you who causes him the most worry, not me”.

Kieran growled and gave him a slight kick in the pants.

“I hope you haven’t been upsetting my patient, he’s ringing his bell”, a nurse, crackling with starch, approached them along the dimly-lit corridor “He’s a neurotic case as it is”.

“You’d be a neurotic case if you’d been living with Caln and Angel for the past 2 months!” said Kieran.

“He is perfectly safe here”, the nurse snapped, as she continued down the corridor towards Zooks’s room. “He is now”, said Kieran.

A small crowd had gathered around the cart when they got outside, concerned that perhaps Kieran had been admitted to hospital. They slowly dispersed when it was obvious that Kieran was in fact fine (just looking bad-tempered), and the cart resumed its rumbling down the street.

They went beyond Persephone’s bar and out onto the road that travelled across the marshes, and which eventually, two days journey down the line, came to a termination at Hillyard’s big country estate. The town petered out fairly soon on this road, and the stretch near the Turd House was desolate indeed. They halted the cart on the road, and listened to the doleful shrieks of the marsh birds. Large blackbirds gathered in the clump of short trees which lined the rough drive which led down to the dwelling nobody really wanted to see.

They decanted from the cart, and Hillyard carefully turned it around so that it was facing back in the direction of the town.

“What are we all doing here?” Toppy suddenly squawked “None of us want to be here, and some of you can’t even look at that place!”

Joby was looking at it though. The Loud House, which was the mouth to Hell which he knew best, was a large, crumbling place, a mass of decay and completely illogical in its layout. By contrast, the Turd House was small, closed in and compact, claustrophobic and fetid. It had no windows, and its only opening in fact seemed to be the vague outline of a door right in the middle of it.

“Hallo-o-o-o!” a man’s voice cried out across the marshes “Halloo-o-o-o!”

The figure of a man could be seen a short distance away, running across the marshes towards them. But he didn’t seem real, more like a hologram that had been superimposed on the landscape. Two-dimensional. A distant figure in a painting that had suddenly come alive and started moving about. It disappeared, and in an instant reappeared at the doorway of the Turd House, which had opened behind it to reveal a grotesque figure slowly coming out. The grotesque figure was like an animated skeleton clad in a lurid dressing-gown. It had empty eye-sockets, and a long Ghoomer-ish tongue which flicked about it bony face constantly.

“Come and join us!” the man called, heartily “Come and join us inside!”

“What must it be like in there?” Joby whispered, appalled at the very thought.

“Get up here!” Hillyard yelled firmly, from the box.

They did as he bid. By the time they had all reassembled in the cart, the two figures had disappeared and the door to the Turd House was shut.

The sun was setting as they returned to Toondor Lanpin, streaking the sky with great swathes of pink and red. The town itself felt the most relaxed they had known it over the entire Christmas season. An old woman was walking along the street in a leisurely fashion, tapping her stick on the ground as she went. Two younger women were gossiping, leaning against the wall of a shop. They pointedly broke off whenever anyone went passed, as though what they were discussing was too secret and scandalous to be overheard by anyone.

“The wind’s getting up”, said Hillyard.

“Good”, said Julian “At least then we won’t get anymore of that blasted fog!”

“They’ll have to make do with soup tonight”, said Adam, inspecting the tins in the pantry when they got home “They shouldn’t need much else after that filling lunch”.

“They always want a lot”, said Joby, in a distracted fashion.

“True, comes of being men I suppose”, said Adam “We’ll have to fill a packing-case with tins like this before we leave. They’re always good fall-backs and they keep for ages. Did you give the stove a good rake?”

“Yeah”, said Joby “Ad, what’s it all been about? This afternoon and everything weird that’s happened over Christmas? I mean, none of it makes sense”.

“Evil never does”, said Adam, glibly. “But …” Joby began.

“But at least Patsy left the Turd House well alone”, said Adam “I don’t want any of us to ever see what’s inside there”.

“It’s symptomatic innit?” said Joby “For years we’ve brushed with all this kind of thing, and somehow it’s always survived, like bloody Angel always survives”.

“You ask a question that people have asked for thousands of years”, said Adam “If God exists, why does he let Evil exist? There are two answers to that, either He has no power over evil, or evil has to exist, because without it we’d end up like the Eloi in the H G Wells story, with no appreciation of good, and no appreciation of genuine worth. We’d all sit around all day simpering ‘because I’m worth it’! Personally, I think both answers are right. Patsy has limited control over Angel, and even less so in Hell. But they are two sides of the same coin, whether we like it or not”.

“But what’s all these antics over Christmas proved?” Joby cried, in exasperation “Angel and his vile friends put us under all this damn pressure, and what’s it all been to prove? Apart from the fact that we survived it”.

“There is nothing to prove other than that”, Adam kissed his forehead in passing “You’ve got it, gorgeous boy. We survived it. Doesn’t that make you feel more at ease with yourself?”

“Yeah, with myself, but not with them!” said Joby “They survived it too, except the zombie and he doesn’t count!”

“It doesn’t matter about any of them”, said Adam “We survived, as we’ve done many times before, and it gives a huge kick to us to realise that. We’re still standing, all in one piece”.

“You and your bloody simple answers!” Joby muttered, when Adam had into the pantry.

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