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By Sarah Hapgood

Joby felt like he had slept for an age. He woke up to hear rain hammering violently on the roof of his cabin. He hadn’t the faintest idea how long he had been asleep, or what time of the day it was. As he sat up he managed to knock an enamel mug onto the floor.

“Ah you’re awake, old love”, said Adam, who had been coming out of the heads.

“Ad, what’s the time?” said Joby “How long have I been asleep?”

“Oh years, a proper little Rip Van Winkle”, said Adam “Only about 12 hours, that’s all. It must have done you the world of good”.

“It’s raining”, said Joby.

“Cats and dogs”, said Adam “That very heavy tropical rain. It’s bouncing off everything like hat-falls of silver coins”.

“Where’s Kieran?”

“He’s in the dining-room. Stop worrying. He’s not up to anything”.

“Ah the malingerer’s woken up has he?” said Julian, striding into the room.

“Julian, go away”, said Adam “You’re about as much use in the sick-room as a cut-glass jockstrap”.

“This isn’t a sick-room, don’t be so melodramatic”, said Julian “Joby had a clonk on the head that’s all. It’d take more than a falling house-brick to affect that skull of his”.

“Yeah, thanks Julian”, said Joby “I’m glad the Samaritans never employed you”.

“All I’m saying is you’ve suffered far worse things in your time”, said Julian.

“Yeah, usually at your hands!” said Joby.

“Julian, leave!” Adam ordered “You’re getting him far too excited”.

“No I’m not, I’m distracting him from his woes”, said Julian “Stop him feeling sorry for himself”.

“I was not feeling sorry for myself!” said Joby “I’ve only been awake for five minutes, I haven’t had a chance to!”

“I’ll go and make you some soup, Joby”, said Adam “Julian, I know there’s nothing useful you can do, but try and find something anyway”.

Hillyard was playing the piano in the dining-room. Kieran was leaning against the top of it, listening to him.

“You have a fine touch on the old keyboard, Hillyard, and no mistake”, he said “You should have been a concert pianist”.

“I wouldn’t have been much use to you as one of them”, said Hillyard “When things have calmed down a bit I’m going to teach Ranz how to play the piano. He says he wants to be a jazz pianist”.

“Is this some new desire of his?” said Kieran.

“I think Umbert’s been telling him about a gig he did once, before he became a monk”, said Hillyard “If we’re not careful Ransey’ll be having us forming our own jazz band”.

“Won’t you have to drag him away from the wireless first?” said Kieran.

Hillyard lifted his hands from the piano keys and leaned forwards in a whisper.

“They haven’t picked up anything since before the quake”, he said “Not a sausage. Not even one of those weird secret service messages Ransey was on about before. It’s as if everyone’s vanished. Giving me the creeps to be honest. It’s as if everyone’s been wiped out, like we saw on the New Continent, some terrible disease …”

“Or a bomb”, said Kieran.

“A bomb? That could wipe out everyone?”

“We had such terrible devices in my day”.

“Yeah, so I’ve heard”, said Hillyard “Perhaps that quake was really …?”

“I guess we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves”, said Kieran, rubbing the goose-pimples which had sprung up on his bare arms “It’s not a thought we should linger with”.

“No”, said Hillyard “But we should keep it in the back of our minds all the same”.

Bardin woke up suddenly in the middle of the night, sitting bolt upright in bed.

“Oh my God!” he cried out.

“Bardy, what is it?” said Bengo, blearily.

Bardin leapt out of bed.

“We’ve got to gt right away from here”, he said “All of us”.

And with that he ran from the room.

“Bardin?” said Bengo, and then he yelled “BARDIN!”

Bardin ran stark-naked from one end of the ship to the other, where he burst into Joby and Kieran’s cabin.

“Oh bloody hell”, Joby groaned “I’d only just nodded off”.

“Kieran”, said Bardin “Wake up. We need to get away from here. All of us. Lord Robert and his yacht. The brothers at the Inn. Everyone!”

“Bardin, can’t we talk about this at breakfast?” said Kieran.

“That’s all we do around here, talk!” said Bardin.

“Well it ent sleeping that’s for sure!” said Joby “Fat bloody chance!”

Bengo came into the room, grabbed Bardin and manhandled him out into the corridor.

“No one’s gonna want to go anywhere at this time of the night, Bardy!” he said, sternly.

The atmosphere at breakfast a few hours later was anticipatory to say the least. What had come over Bardin now? And where did he intend they should all go?

Around mounds of bread and jam, and mugs of strong sweet tea, everyone sat around the table like an unorthodox board-meeting waiting for the company director appear.

Bardin knew how to make an entrance. He bustled to his chair at the top of the table, and seated himself, placing his hands palm down on either side of his plate.

“We need to leave here”, he said “All of us. We need to get away from this area. With very little delay. I have no reason for this other than a gut feeling. I can’t explain it. It’s just there. Now you’re all going to think I’ve gone off my head”.

“What AGAIN?” said Hal.

“What do you mean AGAIN?” said Bardin.

“Ignore him, Bardy”, said Bengo.

“Well like when you saw the Village of Stairs in ruins”, said Hal “You went a bit peculiar for a while afterwards, and then that time years ago when Bengo left …”

“He doesn’t need all that raking up again now!” said Bengo.

“I have a lot of time for gut instincts”, Kieran spoke up “I wish people would rely on them more. Our little inner voice is there for a reason”.

“I think we should leave”, said Ransey, to Bardin’s quiet delight “There’s nothing to stay around here for. It’s getting increasingly untenable. We need to think more long-term. And this is not a place to stay long-term”.

“Thank you”, said Bardin “Now I need someone to go over and chat to Lord Robert. Someone diplomatic and persuasive. Adam, I want you to go”.

“Alright, old love”, said Adam “I hope I live up to expectations”.

“Ranz and me’ll take the truck and go out to see the old man”, said Hillyard “It don’t feel right running off and leaving him out there in the middle of nowhere”.

“OK”, said Bardin “But don’t be too late back”.

Adam went over to Lord Roberts’ yacht straight after breakfast. He was immediately taken into the ship’s dining-room, which was considerably more plush than the functional mess-room on the galleon. The dining-table was polished to a glass-like veneer, and Adam privately thought how much Toppy would approve of it.

Lord Robert managed to be both regal and welcoming at the same time. He listened to Adam patiently, with a slight smile on his lips.

“Whatever we decide, will you leave anyway?” he asked, eventually.

“Well we’re hoping it won’t come to that”, said Adam “But yes, I suppose we will”.

“Because Bardin has a hunch?” said Lord Robert.

“He is our Captain”, said Adam “And we trust his judgement. He’s taken us all over the world, and he has bundles of courage. We don’t expect anyone else to see it the same way, but that’s the way we see it. I think also we feel it is time to move on. It makes no sense to sit here and wait for the volcano to erupt over us, figuratively speaking of course”.

“Except we don’t know what the ‘volcano’ is”, said Cloris, who was seated on the other side of the table.

“Another reason to emerge out into the world and find out”, said Adam “We seem to have been on this river an awful long while”.

“And where do you plan to go?” said Lord Robert.

“We haven’t discussed that in great detail yet”, said Adam “But certainly head Westwards. And then perhaps further north, up beyond the Village of Stairs”.

Lord Robert turned to Cloris and addressed her.

“I think Jane should go over to the Inn and have a word with the brothers”, he said “Persuade them to come on here with us”.

Adam breathed out. It looked as if the mass exodus was on.

To everyone’s surprise Ransey and Hillyard returned with the old man. He had lived alone out in the middle of nowhere for so long that everyone assumed he was happy with it. A natural recluse.

“I don’t feel secure there”, he explained “Not with the way things are now. I have no wish to spend the remainder of my time here speculating if I am the last man on Earth”.

“We thought we’d try and find the female member of your … er … type, race, whatever it is”, said Bardin “The one you said resided on an island off the West Coast”.

“Ye, it would probably be better to head West”, said the old man, chewing on his bottom lip pensively.

He was to stay on Lord Robert’s yacht, along with James and Stanley from the Inn.

“I’m quite relieved about that”, said Adam “He seems a somewhat effete old gentleman. I would rather fear for his state of mind if he stayed with us”.

“Can understand that”, said Joby, who was seated at the galley table with a bandage round his head.

“Wouldn’t you rather be in bed, old love?” said Adam.

“No, I’m bored in bed”, said Joby.

“I shall remember that”, said Adam “Next time you complain that I work you like a slave, and you’re not allowed to have any rest!”

“It’s hard to relax with all this mayhem going on around me”, said Joby “Like trying to get a kip at Paddington Station!”

“I did that once”, said Adam “I had nowhere else to go so I took a nap on a sofa in the bar there. Not a high point of my life I must say, comfy though the sofa undoubtedly was”.

“You poor sod”, said Joby “Blimey, no wonder none of us misses the old life!”

“Quite the reverse”, said Adam “The amount of bad dreams I’ve had over the years where I’ve dreamt I was back there”.

“I dunno how I’d even cope back with all that”, said Joby “I’d rather cope with all the shit we’ve got here now”.

“It was madness back then wasn’t it?” said Adam “I mean, I know the world isn’t exactly a haven of sanity now but … oh dear, I can’t explain it. It seems odd to sit here, from the point we are now, and say THAT was mad, but it feels like it!”

“None of that feels real when I look back on it”, said Joby “Like everyone was living in a bubble. All of it seems quite artificial now. I dunno how I’d carry on if I was back there”.

“If we were all together it would be OK”, said Adam “Absolutely ghastly if I was alone. Perhaps I shouldn’t talk about that”.

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. I just feel a bit uneasy voicing a grave fear out loud”.

“In case the demon’s are listening?” said Joby.

“Yes. Probably”, said Adam “Dear oh dear, am I getting paranoid now? That won’t do at all”.

“After that experience you had on the other side of the river that time I don’t blame you”.

“Yet d’you know, I’ve almost completely forgotten about that”.

“Perhaps your subconscious hasn’t”, said Joby.

“Oh good heavens you’ll be commending me to a psychiatrist next!” said Adam “And we haven’t got time for all that”.

Lonts and Bengo burst into the room, carrying a laundry basket full of apples between them. They heaved it onto the galley table. Joby had to hastily pull his coffee-mug out of the way.

“That was as much as we could get out of the orchard”, said Bengo.

“Well yes that should keep us going for a while”, said Adam.

“You can’t leave ‘em in here”, said Joby.

“I know we can’t, Joby, we just brought them in to show you”, said Lonts.

“Put them in the wireless room”, said Adam.

“Won’t Ransey complain if you put ‘em in there?” said Joby.

“Yes, he probably will, but he’ll complain even more if we leave them just outside the door!” said Adam.

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