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By Sarah Hapgood

Ransey and Hillyard delivered the beer out to the old man the next day, using the truck. Ransey insisted on being the driver on the road out, and drove like a bat out of hell, his hands gripping the wheel tightly.

“Calm down, mate”, said Hillyard, from the passenger seat.

“What’s the matter?” said Ransey “Worried we’ll crash into something?!”

“This isn’t like you at all”, said Hillyard “It’s not like you insist on driving for a start, let alone driving like this!”

“I needed to work off some energy”, said Ransey “How the hell does he manage to live all the way out here? Alone? Surprised he hasn’t gone stark, staring mad”.

“Perhaps he has”, said Hillyard “I’m not sure I’d be able to tell anymore!”

The old man was tending his parched garden when Ransey and Hillyard turned up. He was delighted with the delivery of the beer, but didn’t show much inclination to let them stay, not that they were terribly fussed about that anyway”. “I think he was a bit disappointed Kieran wasn’t with us”, said Hillyard, now taking the driver’s seat.

“A damn good reason to leave him behind”, said Ransey “Come on Hillyard, floor it, I don’t want to end up getting stuck out here in these arid wastes”.

“Oh there you are”, said Adam, when Joby finally returned from delivering some eggs to the Inn “I was beginning to think you’d been abducted”.

“Yeah alright, don’t start”, said Joby, putting the empty basket on the galley table “I got cornered by the old lady”.

“Yes she does seem to have a bit of a thing about you”, said Adam.

“Her latest is that I shouldn’t be wearing bright colours”, said Joby, indicating his battered and faded red shirt “And none of us should wear bright colours if we go into the woods”.

“Why?” said Bengo.

“Christ knows”, said Joby “Probably thinks the Little People will get us or summat. I had to promise I would never wear this shirt if I went down to the crypt. That was the only way I could get away from her! I’ve got her dictating my wardrobe now!”

“And a very fine one it is too”, said Adam.

“Ha ha!” said Joby.

“What colour are we supposed to wear then?” said Bengo.

“Oh don’t you start”, said Joby “Black apparently. Only black”.

“I don’t like black”, said Bengo “It makes me look washed-out, and it’s a horrible colour in this heat”.

“Well take it up with her!” said Joby.

The intense heat meant that Adam had no choice but to utilise the old crypt. It was the only place in the entire vicinity which generated anything approaching cool air.

He took his galley staff (i.e Joby and Bengo) over to the Inn, so that they could collect many of the perishable goods together. They went accompanied by Lonts and Bardin. (Bardin, to Adam’s distress, insisted on carrying a rifle). This time the old lady seemed to have more of a fixation with Bengo than Joby, just for a change.

“I have seen you before”, she said.

“Probably”, said Bengo “I’ve been over here loads of times”.

“No, when you were younger”, she said “On the magic box”.

“The magic box?” Bengo queried.

“I think she means television”, said Bardin.

“Oh right”, said Bengo “A couple of our old shows did get put on there”.

“Until they saw sense”, said Joby.

“You were so angelic”, said the old lady “The face of a cherub”.

Bardin gave a long-suffering snarl and went over to pick out random chords on the piano.

Bengo had to make some effort to shake off the old lady’s constant reiterations that he had the face of an angel. When they finally made it outside again, Bengo seemed uncharacteristically morose.

“You must be so used to that by now, Bengo”, said Lonts.

“He’s always had that”, said Bardin.

“But I’m not a bloody kid anymore!” said Bengo “Look at me, I’m a chumping great fat thing!”

“You were as a kid too”, said Bardin.

“That’s not very nice, Bardin”, said Lonts.

“True though”, said Bardin.

“Look it’s very simple”, he added “Some people want you to stay as the little dimpled cherub. Now don’t go into a strop on me”.

“But we’ve been through so much”, said Bengo “I think I’ve earned the right not to be called a child anymore”.

“Of course you have, old love”, said Adam “She’s an old lady …”

“And she’s not all there”, said Joby, bluntly.

“Well …. yes”, said Adam “If she wants to remember your sweet little face - which you still have by the way - is that really so bad?”

“Stop being stroppy and self-indulgent Bengo”, said Bardin.

“Stroppy and self-indulgent?” said Bengo “You could give lessons in it!”

“Let’s go down to the crypt”, Lonts boomed.

“Yeah let’s go down to the crypt”, said Joby “The solution to all life’s problems”.

Adam jangled the key into the rusty lock, and led them all in with difficulty. An overpowering smell of mould and damp wafted up to them.

“Be careful”, he said, over his shoulder.

“I know, you could break your neck on these steps”, said Joby.

When he got to the bottom Adam shone his lantern around the crypt.

“Horrible”, he shuddered “I keep expecting some awful face to appear”.

“Joby’s!” Lonts chortled.

“Yeah, very funny”, said Joby.

“Come along”, said Adam “Let’s get everything unloaded onto this … er … tomb thingy here”.

Bardin meanwhile wandered over to the entrance of the westerly tunnel. Adam cast an irritated look at the rifle hanging over his shoulder. He deplored the need for them to go armed, especially on a simple trip like this. But he was pragmatic enough to go along with it, out of necessity.

Suddenly there came a rumbling noise, which sounded like a train approaching from the distance. Bardin peered down the tunnel, as though expecting a locomotive to come zooming out at any moment.

“What on earth …?” said Adam.

“It’s a quake”, said Joby “A fucking quake! C’mon, everybody upstairs! Right now!”

In spite of his urgent exclamations there seemed to be a somewhat stately progress towards the steep, narrow staircase.

“C’mon!” Joby yelled “Like a bunch of old dowagers out for a bleedin’ walk!”

Up on the surface the noise was much louder. Ransey appeared at the edge of the forest.

“Out of the woods and then flat on the ground!” he ordered.

The noise was terrifying, like some demonic express train heading straight towards them, accompanied by a million stamping feet of marauding demons. It only lasted a few minutes at the very most, but it felt like an eternity. There were ominous cracking noises coming from nearby, but at this stage no one could gauge exactly where they were coming from.

Joby raised his head, feeling as if he was in a dream. Everything felt surreal. As if a gigantic slash had been made in the fabric of reality, and it now gaped open like a tear in silk. To his alarm he found he couldn’t focus his eyes properly. He could just make out a blur of dust and debris, accompanied by the racket of cries and shouts ringing out all around him.

“Alright Jobe”, came Hillyard’s voice from nearby “Don’t try and move, mate”.

“Have I broken something?” Joby asked, when he found himself on his bunk.

“No, just a bit concussed that’s all”, said Hillyard, who was dabbing at Joby’s face with a damp cloth “Finia’s given you the once-over. Said you just need to lie still for a bit. Half the roof of the Inn’s gone. I think some of it landed on you”.

“Kieran!” said Joby “Where’s Kieran?”

“He’s alright, no need to worry”, said Hillyard “He’s having to see to the old lady. She caught it in the quake. Heart-attack”.

“Oh no”, said Joby, closing his eyes.

“It’s not very surprising”, said Hillyard “It was a helluva do. At least it would’ve been sudden”.

“Hm, people always say that don’t they”, said Joby.

“Comfort I suppose”, said Hillyard “So Kieran’s over there, doing what needs to be done at such times. He knows you’re alright. He’ll be over as soon as he can”.

“What about everybody else?” said Joby.

“That’s what we all still need to find out”, said Hillyard “Everything’s chaos. Ransey’s checking the ship out”.

“Shouldn’t you be doing that?”

“Well, had to make sure you was alright first you know”.

“I’ll be fine”, said Joby “You go and do what you have to do”.

Kieran returned from the kitchen at the Inn, and left Finia and Cloris to prepare the old lady’s body for burial. The main room of the Inn - the bar area - was still intact, but covered in dust from the falling plaster from the ceiling. James was drinking a pint of lukewarm beer. He immediately went to fetch Kieran one.

“No no you stay there”, said Kieran “I can have one back on the boat. Stanley tells me she’s to go in the garden”.

“Yes, not the forest”, said James “She was always afraid of the forest. Ever since I can remember. She used to warn us against it when we were children. But I never knew why. She always refused to say. Will there be another one? Quake I mean”.

“Who knows?” said Kieran “We have to be prepared for that eventuality”.

Cloris appeared in the doorway. She was swathed in a big white apron which Stanley normally wore for chopping up wild animals in.

“Is she ready to go?” asked James, bluntly.

Cloris nodded, and stood aside to let him pass into the kitchen.

“Kieran”, he said, as he passed “Take some beer back to the ship with you”.

Kieran nodded in reply.

“Where’s Kieran now?” asked Joby “I saw him when he came back, but I must have dozed off again”.

“He’s in the dining-room, having some bread and cheese”, said Adam “He told me to reassure you that he’s not back ashore tonight”.

“He knows me inside out”, said Joby.

“I only popped in to tuck you in”, said Adam.

“Tuck me in?” Joby laughed “You know you missed your vocation, Ad, you should’ve been a nanny”.

“Shut up”, said Adam “You sound like Julian”.

“I meant it kindly”, Joby murmured drowsily, touching Adam’s face.

“I know you did, old love”, said Adam “Sweet dreams”.

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