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By Sarah Hapgood

The air of unreality, which seemed to have hung over them now for as long as they could remember, seemed to intensify over the next few days. The countryside varied very little. Denses of thick woodland, interspersed by desolate areas of nothingness. The silence at times was overpowering.

“I long to hear birdsong”, said Adam.

“Any sign of normality would suit me”, said Joby “Sometimes it feels like we’re in some giant void”.

“Well we know there are other people around”, said Adam “But it has to be said the world seems horrendously de-populated. I’m trying not to think about it too much”.

“Sometimes I wish we had a better plan”, said Joby “Instead of just following this damn river forevermore. We’ve been on this kick before”.

“Now now”, said Adam “Let’s have no dissension in the ranks”.

“I’m not dissenting”, said Joby “I just think we should turn off and find a way back to the Snow Lake area”.

“We’ll turn off when we find a turning”, said Bardin, coming into the room “Do you really think I’d be keeping us on here if I could find a way off it? I just don’t see the point in going backwards though”.

“Fair enough”, said Joby.

“Let’s have some brandy”, said Adam, pulling a bottle out of a cupboard “We don’t need this gloomy atmosphere”.

“You didn’t help matters”, said Joby “Going on about birdsong”.

“Yes alright alright”, said Adam.

“The sky is crackling out there”, said Bardin, sitting down at the table “I can’t tell if it’s a storm coming, or just more of the weirdness”.

“You sound tired, old love”, said Adam “Perhaps you should go and have a nap”.

“No I’m fine”, Bardin stretched his arms “Just got a bit tense that’s all”.

“Perhaps you need spanking”, Adam laughed.

“I always need spanking”, said Bardin.

They all clinked mugs.

“It’d be a good time to do it”, said Bardin “No chance of the neighbours popping over whilst we’re on the move”.

“That sounds a very enticing idea”, said Adam.

“We’ve neglected you a bit since we left the islands back there”, said Joby to Bardin.

“I guess it can’t be like that all the time”, said Bardin “Bengo keeps going on that we shouldn’t have left there, even though I’ve pointed out time and again that it wasn’t a practical place for long-term Fuck, I do get tired of having to be practical all the time though. Where is Bengo anyway?”

“Gone down into the hold to see if the hens have obliged us with any eggs”, said Adam “I do feel sorry for them cooped up down there, but what else can we do?”

“Lonts suggested letting them have a toddle about on deck”, said Bardin “But this area doesn’t feel safe enough for that. When we find another safe haven for a while, we’ll let them up”.

The woodland slowly cleared away, and the river widened considerably. This all helped to ease the claustrophobic feel that they had all been experiencing for some while now. In fact, the landscape became quite pleasant.

“Amazing hat a bit of open space can do for you”, said Joby.

The ships moored for a couple of days, to give some of them the chance to exercise the animals on the open ground. Joby strolled along the riverside, staring at the mountains in the far distance. Sunk in a reverie, he didn’t notice he had strolled close to Lord Robert, who had been left seated in a chair.

“Joby”, Robert hissed “Can I speak to you, man-to-man?”

“I’m a bit busy, Robert”, said Joby, wearily “I’ve gotta get back to work in a moment”.

“You’ve no idea what it’s like”, said Lord Robert “I am being slowly emasculated. The women are taking over”.

“You’ve been ill”, said Joby. As far as he could see, Robert had given himself the indulgence of a nervous breakdown during a time of great crisis, and that Cloris had had to take on a difficult load.

“It’s all part of the end times don’t you see?” said Robert “All part of the prophecies. The natural order will be overthrown”.

“And who’s to say what’s the natural order?” said Joby “Cloris is doing a good job. And if she was operating some kind of feminist conspiracy, wouldn’t she have kept Bea and Cat Woman here? She’s been a lot happier since she offloaded them”.

“No no you don’t understand”, Lord Robert shook his head.

“I understand this”, said Joby “Cloris and Jane have had a bloody tough job, waiting hand and foot on you on top of everything else. They’ve had to keep your ship steering along, whilst the world’s collapsing all around us, and you take to your bed like a bloody great baby who needs his nappy changing! Don’t fucking speak to me of man-to-man cobblers!”

“Well that certainly told him”, said Adam, when Joby had got back to the galley.

“He’s had it coming to him for a long time”, said Joby “Got no time for people who take to their beds and leave everyone else to pick up the pieces. And why did he have to latch himself onto me?”

“Because you were the one walking past, Joby”, said Lonts.

“Yeah, just my fucking luck!” said Joby.

“Yes alright, calm down”, said Adam “Pour yourself some more tea. Sounds to me like Robert is feeling somewhat sidelined. The girls are doing so splendidly without his macho hand at the helm”.

“And whose fucking fault is that!” said Joby “His!”

“What are you yelling about now?” said Hillyard, from the doorway “Every time I walk past this door, you’re yelling about something”.

“He gave Lord Robert a piece of his mind”, said Adam.

“Sure you can spare it, Jobe?” said Hillyard.

“Yeah, very funny”, said Joby.

“If you want to shout at someone else, have a go at Kieran”, said Hillyard “Drove me mad whilst we were sorting the horses out. Kept dishing out Biblical quotes”.

“Probably Revelations”, said Joby “He’s obsessed with that at the moment”.

“Can’t imagine why”, said Adam, facetiously.

“Just give him a smack round the ear if he keeps on”, Joby said to Hillyard “No one should have to listen to that shit”.

“Is it really the end of the world do you think?” said Lonts.

“We’re going through a difficult time that’s all”, said Joby “We’ve been through plenty before”.

“But if Kieran’s predicting things …” Lonts began.

“Kieran doesn’t know everything”, said Joby “I’ll have a word with him later”.

“And if I bump into Lord Robert”, said Adam “I shall point out about us overthrowing the natural order too”.

“Eh?” said Joby.

“Being gay, lovey”, said Adam “If he’s taking the attitude he is, I’m amazed he’s not seeing us as part of the conspiracy as well”.

“He can go and boil his head”, said Joby.

“What is this?” said Kieran “I’m not constantly dishing out Biblical quotes! All it’s about is that I was thinking, whilst we were grooming the horses, about the quotes in the Holy Book that relate to some of the things that have happened”.

“Yeah well it spooked Hillyard”, said Joby “And now you’ve got Lonts obsessing over the End Days”. “That wasn’t me!” said Kieran “That was you and Hillyard blowing what I’d said out of all proportion! Jayz, everyone’s nerves are at concert pitch at the moment”.

“Not really surprising is it”, said Joby “The way things are”.

“We all need to calm down a wee bit”, said Kieran “Perhaps whilst we’ve stopped here, we should do some calming meditation”.

“Oh yeah? Finia doing yoga classes up on deck?!” said Joby.

“Joby my friend”, said Kieran “We should do anything, however trivial it may seem, that will puncture even the tiniest hole in this blanket of Evil that is being thrown over the world at the moment”.

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