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Adam woke up suddenly and took a moment to figure out where he was. The hotel room was shaded against the late afternoon sunlight, and Julian was slowly coming to consciousness next to him.
"What's the time, Jules?"
"Hold on", Julian nudged the little silver clock on the bedside table "Nearly six. What time did you tell Lonts you'd be back?"
"I just said vaguely between eight and ten", said Adam "The hotel's quiet".
"Everyone getting ready for cocktail hour I expect", Julian sat up and rubbed his eyes. He then threw back the covers and strode over to the window, where he peered out through a gap in the curtains. Adam followed him.
"Still seems strange doesn't it?" said Adam "A beach with no children on it".
"There will be again some day. A few generations on from now. Although somehow I doubt you and I will be around to see it", said Julian "Do you ever wonder what you'd do if you were to wake up some day and find all this had been a dream, that we were back in our time, and we'd never crossed?"
"Sometimes", said Adam "I don't like to imagine it though. You and I would never have got together for one thing. Patsy would still be looking at me distrustfully, Joby would be looking at me with total horror, and I'd never have known Lonts at all. Likewise you with Finia".
"Quite", said Julian "If the cusps are opening up again though, and we were all to cross back again somehow, what would you do?"
"Try and start again in our own time I suppose", Adam shrugged "Although it wouldn't be easy. All that bustle, everybody chasing their own tails, trying to stay one step ahead all the time. There'd be even fewer places to hide there. I hope I'd still be with you, if that's what you're really asking. And I'd carry on looking after Lonts, although goodness knows what he'd make of the 21st century".
"Let alone what it'd make of him!" said Julian "And how would Tinkerbell go back to being a non-entity again?"
"Knowing Patsy, I expect he'd be quite relieved", said Adam "As long as he had Joby he'd be alright".
"Fancy some scoff?" Julian smiled "Let me take you down to the hotel restaurant and show you off".
They were shown into a seat in one of the bay windows overlooking the promenade. Outside, a group of young lads finished loading up a buggy with building materials and then piled into the front of it to share some chocolate bars.
"I do like to watch men working", said Julian, appreciatively.
"Yes I'm sure you do. Squire Julian".
"It's the sight of a man with his sleeves rolled up more than anything".
"Whilst you tell them what to do no doubt", said Adam.
They were handed menu's by the restaurant manager, who then proceeded to recommend to them the chef's special.
"Hang on, I know you don't I?" said Adam "Didn't you use to run the 'Moon and Stars' at Marlsblad?"
"That's right Mr Adam", the man replied "And I remember when you all turned up in the autumn of 3999".
"Good grief, that's going back a bit isn't it!"
"Yes, I remember the Vanquisher when he was a little scrap of a thing".
"He still is", said Julian.
"I used to feel so sorry for him", said the Manager "He used to hide in his room all the time. Can't say I'm surprised, not the way people used to stare at him".
"But how did you survive Gabriel's Terror?" asked Adam "I was told Marlsblad was pretty decimated by the old snake".
"A few of us managed to escape and head for the hills as it were. We hid out in the mountains until Gabriel was killed, and then slowly we came back and picked up the threads again. Our Jem's running the 'Moon and Stars' these days".
"Of course, Jem must be grown up by now".
"Oh very much so. He knows what he's doing alright. That's one of the reasons I took over this place. Thought I'd better get out of his hair and let him get on with it. He's doing a fine job too. You'll have to pay Marlsblad a visit again. It's changed a bit since you were last there. We can actually put ground floor windows in the houses, although we did have a nasty scare a couple of years back when the Gorgon returned for a time".
"I remember", said Adam "She took up residence in the Winter Palace for a while".
"Nasty business", the Manager tutted, as though he'd had a close shave with the V.A.T inspectors "Brought back a lot of bad memories that did. Still, all's well that ends well".
"Is the Winter Palace still standing?" said Adam.
"You bet it is", said the Manager "There are guided tours round the place these days".
"Tell me you're having me on!"
"No, they're very popular it seems. Everyone wants to see where the vampires hung out".
"But it was a dreadful place", said Adam "Think how many people came to a grisly end there. The whole building was a cesspit of cannibalism and debauchery".
"You know what human nature is like though".
"Only too well. That place should be pulled down, brick by brick".
"I agree", said the Manager "I remember when the black caskets used to get taken through the village".
Suddenly Adam recalled the dreadful autumn twilight when he had sat with Kieran, just prior to them setting off through the woods. None of them knowing what was going to be waiting for them when they finally got to the Winter Palace.
"Well I must be getting along", said the Manager "I've got a big party coming in soon. It's been nice meeting you again, Mr Adam. You look very well I must say".
"Perhaps those guided tours aren't such a bad idea", said Julian, once the Manager had left.
"I still think it should be pulled down", said Adam "That kind of horror must never be put on a par with trips round Windsor Castle or the Statue of Liberty!"
"Oh come down off your high horse", said Julian "As he says it's human nature, you'll never change it. And it's the most effective way to stop people forgetting".
"But it glamorises the vampires", Adam protested.
"The best way to stop that is to show them all the bucket and shovel Braw had to use to clean up their shit!" said Julian "I think it'd do you good to go on one of those tours. You could show me exactly what happened and where".
"I don't want to see that place again".
"It'd kill a few nightmares don't you think? After all, you remember it as this Gothic horror-house, full of half-chewed corpses and Caln leaping around in his spiky condom. Imagine walking round it with a bunch of fat slobs taking pictures and reading guide-books".
"Yes, and having to listen to their puerile comments", said Adam "'Oh is this the room where Caln molested Lonts?' 'Is this the room where Tomce had his balls cut off and shoved in his mouth?' 'Is this the room where Kieran passed out and everyone thought they'd lost him for good?' I couldn't stand it!"
"Float it with the others and see what they think", said Julian, taking a sip of his wine.
"I will not", said Adam "The last thing I'd want to do is take Lonts back there. He had a terrible time of it, being possessed by Krik and all that. I don't want him reminding of it".
"Don't you think it'd help him too?" said Julian "See it with his Auntie Adam, walking round it in perfect safety".
"It's all over Jules, it's best forgotten".
"You'd be quite safe with me there to protect you", said Julian.
"You want to see it don't you?"
"I can't help it. I've heard you all talking about it so much over the years, I'd quite like to see it for myself. I expect Ransey would too".
"I'll think about it", said Adam "But I really don't want to take Lo-Lo back there".
"If everyone else goes, you won't be able to keep him away", said Julian.
When they got back to the camp-site later that evening they found everybody else dancing around a wind-up gramophone, which was playing some bouncy jazz music.
"I can't see the vicar anywhere", said Julian "Are you all celebrating because he's finally buggered off?"
"We didn't see the going of him", said Joby, nearly dancing into a carriage lamp which was hanging from one of the trees "Him and Ketts just seemed to pack up and move off whilst we were all having a swim earlier. Didn't leave a note or anything".
"That was a bit peculiar", said Adam "Did you say something to upset him, Patsy?"
"I didn't say anything to him", said Kieran "There was a lot of whispering going on between them this morning though. Ketts seemed to be getting quite heated at one point. We just left 'em to it".
"Can't we just be glad they've gone?" said Lonts, plaintively.
"I'll second that", said Kieran "Get on with our holiday instead".
Adam told him about his meeting with the restaurant manager, and Julian added the news about the Winter Palace. Ransey was enthusiastic about going there, and dug out his world atlas from his rucksack to locate the said place.
"It'd be great", he said "After we've left here we could go up to Marlsblad, take in the sights, then hire a boat and travel down the river".
"I was rather hoping we could go somewhere warm", Adam grumbled "Marlsblad in the winter is colder than an Eskimo's moist bits".
"Are your moist bits cold, Lonts?" said Joby.
"Look, I really don't think it's a good idea", said Adam "And who the bloody hell wants to see the Winter Palace again?!"
"It might be reassuring for us to see it looking safe and normal", said Kieran.
"Normal?" Adam exclaimed "That place couldn't look normal if you fitted it out with chintz curtains and frilly duvet-covers! I think you're all insane".
"It has a certain grotesque curiosity", said Kieran.
"Grotesque being the operative word", said Adam.
"We don't have to stay there long", said Ransey "And what do you think of my boating idea anyway?"
"I think it sounds great", said Joby.
"We could hire a boat in Marlsblad", said Hillyard "Or buy one might be better, as then we don't have to worry about a time-limit. Then, according to Ransey's map here, we could take it down the Long River and ... well take it anywhere really. It does down to the desert eventually. Would that be warm enough for you there, Adam?!"
The following evening Adam took Lonts down to the hotel restaurant, after spending the afternoon with him upstairs.
"How's your cocktail?" he asked, as Lonts sipped at a large glass of rum and tomato juice.
"Takes you by surprise", Lonts giggled "Would you like some?"
"Better not", said Adam "If it gave you a kick I dread to think what it'd do to me!"
"I'm sorry, Adam", said Lonts "Sometimes I forget. It must be difficult for you, not being able to drink".
"Only when I'm the only one who's stone cold sober", said Adam, ruefully "Sometimes, like watching you drinking that cocktail, I feel like a fatty on a crash diet watching someone else stuffing themselves with a cream cake!"
"Would you rather I had a soft drink?"
"No I wouldn't. I want you to enjoy yourself. The others are always saying I inhibit you too much".
"That's not true, Adam", said Lonts. He sighed and leaned back in his chair.
"You've got something on your mind haven't you?" said Adam "I wish you'd tell me what it is".
"I want to, but I can't".
"Whyever not? What's to stop you?"
"I'll rot in Hell", said Lonts, suddenly getting tearful "I heard what the others said about that place, how you keep re-living your worst moments. I couldn't bear it, Adam".
"Lo-Lo!" Adam gasped "Who's put such thoughts into your head? Tell me, please!"
"It's my fault Monene and Ketts left", Lonts sniffed "I looked at Ketts when he was naked and I shouldn't have done. I just wanted to check he wasn't a girl that's all. It was terrible, Adam. He had strap marks all over his back and stomach, where someone had thrashed him. He said if I told anyone about them though I'd rot in Hell!"
"Rubbish", said Adam "Ketts hasn't got that kind of power".
"He frightened me. I haven't felt so uneasy around someone since Angel was alive. You've mustn't tell Kieran about it, Adam. He'd do something about it. And then Ketts would know that I'd told on him".
"He founded the New Church, he does have a right to know if they're getting up to such brutality".
"Please, Adam!" Lonts begged.
"I won't do anything that will make you unhappy", said Adam "If the Church has a problem, it's up to them to sort out when all's said and done".
"I don't like priests", said Lonts "I know they're not all bad, but I still don't like them".
"Hardly surprising after what happened in Kiskev", said Adam "Let's forget the whole subject of priests for the rest of the evening shall we? Let's just concentrate on enjoying ourselves. It's not often I get a chance to go on a date with you".
"No", Lonts laughed, warmly "I hope I'm not boring".
"Lonts, you could never in a million years be boring", said Adam.
"I'm not sophisticated though am I?" said Lonts "I bet you have sophisticated conversation when you're alone with Julian. What are you laughing at?"
"Life", said Adam "I remember years ago Patsy saying exactly the same thing. He had the daft idea I wouldn't find him as stimulating as Julian either. You reminded me of him then. I don't know where any of you get the idea Julian is sophisticated. He's not at all! I expect if he was here now he'd be grumbling about the decor or the prices, or accusing me of flirting with the barman".
"Is he more exciting than me in bed?"
"What brought that on?"
"I just wanted to know", said Lonts "He's got a bigger thing than me".
"I don't see what on earth that's go to do with anything", said Adam "Patsy's whang is pretty minuscule, and its never stopped him putting it about".
"Joby once said Kieran's thing looked like a bruised chip left in vinegar for too long", Lonts giggled.
"Joby has a very descriptive turn of phrase sometimes", said Adam "And has always had a hang up about size. It was his consolation prize, having the bigger prick, for him having to get all the spots when he was younger".
"It changed my life completely, the first time you and me made love", said Lonts, sombrely.
"It had a pretty marked effect on me too", said Adam "From that moment on you had me enslaved for good".
"I wish we had always been lovers", said Lonts "On the island, in the wagon, even in the litter".
"So do I", said Adam, quietly "I should've let you into my life a lot sooner. If I had had the courage to do so in the very early days, you wouldn't have wound up on that convict ship. Sometimes I go hot and cold when I think of how I might have lost you forever".
He suddenly pulled Lonts towards him and they embraced enthusiastically.
"Julian and I were talking yesterday, about what he'd have missed if we hadn't crossed over", said Adam, emotionally "And I thought about the possibility of never having met you, and it was too awful for words. I couldn't imagine life without you now. Would you like to spend the night here?"
"Won't the others be expecting us back?"
"They know where we are".
"But Julian might get grumpy".
"Then I'll have the pleasure of trying to get round him tomorrow", said Adam "You wouldn't want to deprive me of that would you? Now how about it, shall we have dinner and then go back upstairs?"
Lonts grinned and nodded enthusiastically.
They spent a swoozy, melancholy night together in the hotel, and it was no less enjoyable for that reason. When he awoke an hour before dawn, with Lonts sleeping beside him, Adam was more convinced than ever that they shouldn't go back to the Winter Palace. They and the world had moved on so much since those days. Adam now had peace of mind, and Lonts was far removed from the dirty, confused and disturbed little boy he had been then. Adam didn't want him reminding of all that, and he had to be honest and admit to himself that he didn't want reminding of how badly he had treated Lonts in those days. How he had shouted at him, allowed him to wander off and encounter so many evils, and had completely failed to understand the myriad demons that filled the boy's head at that time.
"What are you thinking of?" said Lonts, reaching out and spanning one of Adam's nipples with his fingers.
"You. Surprise surprise", said Adam "And how I don't want to take you back to the Winter Palace".
"But it'll be different this time, Adam".
"I know, but I don't want reminding of what a shit I was to you in those days".
"You weren't", Lonts leaned over him "I was possessed by Krik, you couldn't have loved me when I was like that. And you were worried about Kieran".
"And you were such a little boy lost", said Adam, softly "If only I'd known then what I know now, I would have looked after you so much better".
"But then that means it's a good thing if we go back there", said Lonts "It'll show you how much we've moved on".
"Oh Lonts, you can be so wise sometimes".
"I'm not always stupid then?"
"You're not half as stupid as the rest of us can be", Adam sighed "I just can't believe anyone would want to look round that place. What next for heaven's sake? Guided tours of the Loud House?"
"I don't think Kieran would let them", Lonts smiled "Isn't it nice and warm in here, us two together like this".
"I love you so much".
"I know that, Adam", said Lonts, contentedly.
"I sometimes think he understands the idea of fighting evil with love better than any of us", said Adam, sitting with Kieran the following morning on a rock overlooking the mud flats.
"Everything he said was right", said Kieran "It will show us how much we've moved on. And I'm afraid I have to say that it appeals to my macabre sense of humour. The idea of the Winter Palace as a tourist attraction!"
"Patsy!" Adam exclaimed "I expected better of you".
"I see it as a good example of how life can move on and heal", said Kieran "What was yesterday a terrible place, full of death, decay and decadence, is today a harmless object of curiosity. What do you think of that one?"
"I see what you mean. But I can't shake off this feeling that it's a bit like Pandora's Box. Open it up again and God knows what may fly out".
"Remember what was the last thing to come out of Pandora's Box?" said Kieran "Hope. Sums up everything I've been saying".
"I can see at this rate I'm going to be heavily outnumbered".
"Seven to one I'd say".
They walked back to the camp to find the others deeply engrossed in yet another sensational, but totally fictitious instalment of Hillyard's life-story.
"It's not fucking fair and it's not fucking true!" Hillyard roared, tears pricking at his eyes.
"Calm down old love", said Adam "Treat it all with the contempt it deserves".
"I can't", Hillyard bellowed, tearing pages of newsprint into shreds "Some of the things he has me doing you wouldn't believe! Everything short of fornicating with donkeys and chickens!"
"That's tomorrow's instalment", said Ransey, dryly.
"I don't know what you're getting worked up about", said Finia "All he's saying basically is that you've had a lot of sex with a lot of people, and we know that's true".
"Not as much as he claims", Hillyard protested "If I'd done everything he'd said I'd have died of exhaustion years ago!"
"Or something far worse", said Joby, darkly.
"Yeah and that's another thing", said Hillyard "I may have had the odd touch of the clap now and again, but he claims I've got syphilis!"
"We know that isn't true", said Kieran.
"Of course it isn't", said Hillyard "Adam always reminds me when I'm due for another jab, he's never let me forget".
"In our time Trantin would have said AIDS", said Joby.
"Wouldn't it be nice to be able to go back to our time and assure everyone that the AIDS virus will get eradicated in time?" said Adam.
"Even if we're not sure when it was eradicated", said Kieran "Just that it was sometime in the past 2000 years!"
"It's a terrible thing to say, that I've got syhpilis", said Hillyard "Who the bloody hell is gonna want to go with me after this? He could've destroyed my sex life for good".
"Yes, you might have a case for suing him there", said Julian "It's easily proved that you haven't got the disease, just get a medical certificate, and then shoot Trantin up the arse with a libel suit. Defamation of character, damaging your reputation, that sort of thing".
"Damaging his reputation?" Joby exclaimed "Don't make me laugh!"
"Joby!" Kieran hissed. Seeing that Hillyard was close to exploding, he stepped in front of Joby pretty sharply to prevent a physical assault.
"Do you think I might have a case, Julian?" asked Hillyard, when he had calmed down slightly.
"Hilly I beg you, don't get mixed up with lawyers", said Adam "This is playing right into Trantin's hands, he's probably hoping you'll do this. If you do, the book will sell like hot cakes, and the newspaper will be rubbing its sweaty little hands with glee. And if it goes to court they could put you through anything. May even have you dropping your trousers in the witness-box. Don't do that to yourself. Try and ignore these stupid stories".
"But I can't just let him get away with saying these things", Hillyard wailed.
"Get a medical certificate saying you don't have syhphilis", said Julian "And you can show that to any prospective lovers to reassure them. Not terribly romantic I know but Adam's right, it is a lot less traumatic than a court case".
"If I ever get my hands on this git ..." said Hillyard.
"You'll do nothing", said Kieran, firmly "Let him fade back into his own obscurity. We'll support you in public. Just try and enjoy your holiday".
"How can I after what's been written about me?"
"Damnit Hillyard", said Kieran "All you've had is a few dodgy remarks spread about you, Joby had a knife chucked at him! Just let it go!"
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