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They had been in port for several days, and no one showed any great inclination to move in a hurry. This was partly because they were enjoying the little town too much, and partly because they wanted to see how the situation progressed regarding Gorth.
The only person who didn't go ashore and enjoy the bars, restaurants and little theatre was Julian, who retreated to his cabin and barely emerged at all. This reclusive behaviour didn't go unnoticed by anyone else, and Finia was considerably relieved when Julian called him in one morning after breakfast to help him get dressed.
"I'm glad to see you're to make some effort to get out and enjoy yourself at last", said Finia, fastening Julian's cuff-links for him.
"I'm not going ashore to enjoy myself", said Julian, shortly.
"But I thought I overheard you asking Adam to go ashore with you", said Finia.
"Quite so", said Julian "Little does he know it but I'm taking him to see a doctor".
"You know that isn't what he wants", Finia sighed "I know it's difficult for you, but you have to respect a dying man's wishes".
"He's no more dying than you or me", Julian snapped.
It took a lot to shock Finia, but this did.
"I don't understand", he stammered "He's not been lying has he? I think that's downright cruel if he has been, as well as twisted".
"Oh no he's not lying", said Julian "I think he genuinely does believe he's ready for the knacker's yard, but take a good look at him, Finia. What's your impression of him, physically I mean?"
"He's in pretty good shape overall", said Finia "Apart from the odd coughing attack and a bit of wheezing. And he looks sensational for his age. You both do".
"Exactly", said Julian "I've thought about very little else these past few days, and I can't get away from one fact. Adam doesn't look the slightest bit ill. I've met men with terminal cancer more times than I care to remember, and they tend to get an aura about them. Their skin looks unhealthy for a start, and there's a kind of stooped, exhausted look. Whereas Adam's skin glows, his eyes sparkle, his hair's in good condition and he walks with energy. If he was a dog I could enter him at Crufts and win a trophy! I can't have him going around for the next twenty years upsetting everyone by telling them he's not long for this world!"
"Don't get your hopes up though, Julian", said Finia, seriously "The doctor may still say there's something wrong with him".
"Yes, it's called Honourable Letitia Syndrome", said Julian, tersely "Or terminal daftness to you and me".
Adam had been at the hospital all day, taking part in countless tests and x-rays, answering numerous questions. He did it good-humouredly, making it obvious he was only doing it to keep Julian happy. He was more interested in the building, and fully intended to come back tomorrow and sketch the outside. He was fascinated by the way the steps in the next street ran up the side of it and then cut across the roof to join up with the street further up.
"Here is the problem area", Dr Jicks was saying, slapping an x-ray on the screen and then flicking a switch to light it up "You have a small cancerous area at the base of your right lung".
Adam felt Julian slump back dejectedly in his chair next to him. He had never seen Julian look so utterly defeated before, and he squeezed his hand warmly, resolving not to get cross with him for dragging him to see a specialist who could only tell him what he already knew.
"It's a rare form of lung cancer", Jicks went on "But I've come across it before. It's unusual in that, unlike most cancers, it doesn't spread, it sits in one area".
"Why is that?" said Adam, with the fascinated curiosity of someone to whom it was totally irrelevant.
"Unlike the usual cases of lung cancer we get, it's not caused by smoking", said Jicks "We call it simply non-smoker's lung cancer".
Adam burst out laughing.
"All these years I've been lectured by all and sundry about my love of cigars!" he cried "And it turns out that it's not caused by that! Irony of ironies!"
"Is it treatable?" said Julian, getting impatient with Adam's jocular attitude.
"I've only come across it in very old men before", said Jicks "And to them I've always recommended they let time take its course. They weren't usually up to the strain of a lengthy operation. It involves chipping away at the lung you see, until the diseased section is completely removed. But in Mr Adam's case, I would recommend surgery. He's very fit and I don't anticipate any problems".
"You can remove it?" said Adam, stunned into seriousness "Will I be cured then?"
"You'll have to go around with a small part of your lung missing", said Jicks "But I've known men get by quite adequately on just one lung before, so I don't anticipate any problems there either".
If Jicks hadn't been present, Julian felt he would have burst into tears.
"We can book you in for the op now", Jicks continued "And you'll be back with your friends in no time at all. May I just say though that I find the behaviour of this doctor you say you saw in the City quite extraordinary. To tell you that it was completely untreatable and that there was nothing that could be done was an act of gross incompetence. He should be struck off!"
"I quite agree", said Julian, as they sat alone together in the small waiting-room, filling in forms a short while later "I want the name of that doctor, Adam. I'll see to it he's struck off. As Jicks said, he's guilty of gross misconduct. So, what was his name?"
"There was no doctor", Adam sighed "You know there wasn't. How could there have been? We haven't been in the City since last Christmas, and then I barely went out because of the cold weather. And when I did you were usually with me anyway".
"So where did this grim diagnosis come from then?"
"I've felt so terrible at times, coughing up blood and wheezing. I became convinced there really was something wrong with me. Drastically wrong I mean. I've had a dodgy chest for so long that I thought it could only be matter of time before it caught up with me. And I didn't want to see a doctor to spell out what I already suspected".
"Have you any idea what you've put me through? Have you?!" Julian bellowed "Or any of us come to that. You've even had poor Kieran organising your funeral for God's sake! You're the bane of my life, Adam. You always bloody have been, ever since the day we first met ! You've never given me anything but grief".
"I'm not going to forget this in a hurry. If you weren't a sick man I'd turn you inside out!"
"Kieran'll be annoyed. I think he wanted to be the first one you saw when you woke up".
"I thought you might come and see me yesterday", said Adam "Straight after the operation".
"The hospital wouldn't let us. And I don't think you were up to receiving visitors", said Joby, sitting on the hard chair at the side of the bed.
"Where's Patsy now?" said Adam, pushing a lock of hair out of his eyes.
"Gone to fetch us some coffee".
"And the others?"
"Hillyard'll be bringing Lonts along shortly".
"I tried asking him when he was gonna come and see you, but he nearly bit me head off".
"Oh dear", said Adam "He blames me entirely. Thinks I made it all up. But I genuinely did think ..."
"It doesn't matter now, Ad", said Joby "It's just good to see you".
"It's pretty good to see you too", Adam took his hand in his own.
"Addy!" Kieran came into the room, and hastily dumped two cups of coffee on the bedside locker "I was hoping you'd wake up before they threw us out. They're so strict with visiting hours around here".
Kieran leaned over the bed and kissed him.
"That dreadful conversation I put you through the other day", said Adam, emotionally "I'll make it up to you, I promise".
"You already have", said Kieran "Just by having had this operation makes up for everything".
"It's Jules you have to thank for that", said Adam "He bullied me into coming here".
"The doc says you're doing fine", said Joby.
"His exact words were 'not bad for a man of your age'", Adam pulled a wry face "Rather like when people stop saying you look gorgeous and sexy, and say you look well instead!"
"You still look gorgeous and sexy and you know it", said Kieran.
Lonts bounded into the room and threw himself at the bed, whilst sobbing helplessly.
"Is it alright now, Adam?" he cried "Have they removed your bad lung like when they removed my brain?"
"That would account for a lot", Joby grunted.
"They removed part of my lung", said Adam "And yes, I should be able to manage fine now".
Hillyard walked in, carrying a large squishy parcel.
"Finia sent these over", he said, handing it over to Adam "It's a pair of Julian's silk pyjamas. He says he knows how unsightly hospital gowns can be. He also said he would come and see you himself but hospitals make him feel ill".
"I know how he feels", said Adam, who was itching to ask if Julian was going to appear, but knew he wouldn't get much of an answer.
"Fun time again!" yelled an extraordinary-looking creature from the doorway.
"You what?" said Joby.
"Oh no", Adam groaned.
The unexpected visitor was young and scrawny, with a sun-baked skin and chocolate-brown hair that flowed to his waist. He was naked apart from a leather jock-strap, and festooned with a number of pouches from which he pulled a set of juggling balls and a gazoo. To everyone's horror he proceeded to use both.
"Is he an inmate as well, Adam?" said Kieran.
"He's a clown", said Adam, in the kind of longsuffering voice used by those who are about to be forcibly entertained.
"You can say that again!" said Joby.
"What's he doing here?" said Hillyard.
"The hospital let him wander round the rooms and wards", said Adam "They think it cheers the patients up".
"Someone should put 'em right obviously", said Hillyard.
The clown began to dance around the room, still blowing on his gazoo and scattering juggling balls everywhere. A couple rolled under Adam's bed. As if to try and distract his audience from the general shambles he got out a ball of pig's bladder on a stick and started to flash it around in a menacing fashion. He trotted up to Hillyard and smacked him round the ear with it.
"Watch out!" Hillyard barked.
"How much do we have to pay it to make it go away again?" said Joby.
The clown trotted up to Lonts, who dodged out of his way and ran round Adam's bed. The clown's extraordinary appearance reminded him unnervingly of Gimmit, who had last been seen in the guise of a werewolf. Robbed of one prey the clown went up to Kieran, who fixed his blue eyes on him in a baleful fashion. The clown decided it was an expedient time to round off his act. He gave a last blast on his gazoo and curtsied.
"Bengo wishes to thank his lovely audience for their time", he said, in a voice noticeable for its glottal stops.
"We didn't have any choice", said Hillyard, rubbing his ear.
"Bengo can be found most evenings at the Barn Theatre, performing in the Cabaret of Horrors".
"Figures", said Joby.
"Never trust anyone who constantly refers to himself in the third person", said Adam "Sign of a deeply-disturbed personality".
He tossed Bengo a handful of coins. Bengo took them, bowed gracefully and then did a spectacularly pointless pratfall.
"I've seen you do better ones than that, Joby", said Kieran.
"Yeah. Usually tripping over Lonts", said Joby.
As if reminded of Lonts's presence Bengo scooted round to him. Lonts flattened himself against the wall, as though Bengo was diseased.
"Our principal boy's sick", said Bengo.
"He must've seen your act", Joby muttered.
"You'd be a knockout as his stand-in", Bengo continued, practically peering up Lonts's nose "Peach of a part. Don't have to do much. Just have your clothes torn off accidentally on purpose, and trip over a few times. You get squirted with water a bit, and you have to fall in some fake elephant crap at one point, but it's all quite harmless".
"Go away!" Lonts screamed, in abject terror.
"Get out Bengo", said Adam "Or I'll ring for an orderly and have you removed".
"I've been thrown out of better places than this", said Bengo cheerfully, and he departed.
"Are you alright, Lo-Lo?" said Adam, concerned that Lonts was shaking quite badly.
"He was horrible", said Lonts, gulping "And Joby's never going to let me forget about the elephant crap now".
"Fake elephant crap", said Joby "Come on now, get it right".
"It makes no difference", Lonts sniffed.
Joby walked over and put his arm round him.
"Calm down", he said "I don't wanna see you made a fool of in public".
"Strange how clowns can be so terrifying", said Adam "I suppose it's because they're putting on an act all the time. You never see the real them".
"I wouldn't wanna see the real him", said Joby "The fake one's bad enough!"
Adam felt lonely again as soon as they had all gone, once the visiting bell had clanged. He spent several hours after that lying on his back watching the ceiling fan go round. The supper round was performed, followed by the cocoa round. And then an auxiliary nurse walked around the building turning down the lamps. Another day was over, and he still hadn't seen Julian.
The men in one of the public wards were restless. Some were crying out, and showed no signs of settling. Adam found it all rather eerie, and wondered what was setting them off. He dozed briefly, but was woken by a heavy footfall outside his door. He struggled to sit up and saw tall outline against the frosted glass. The door opened, and Julian walked in.
"Jules", he exclaimed, in delight "You pick a strange time to visit. How did you persuade them to let you in?"
"I didn't", said Julian, closing the door behind him "I just walked in. No one apprehended me".
He came over and sat on the edge of Adam's bed.
"I thought you were determined to ignore me", said Adam.
"I was going to", Julian confessed "But the others were so full of how well you looked that I had to come and see for myself. And I didn't want to go to sleep one more night without kissing you first".
"I really didn't mean to worry you, Jules", said Adam "I honestly thought my number was up".
"Ssh", Julian picked up his hand and kissed his palm "We're going to grow old together, you and I".
"The way you said that reminded me of when we were in our teens", said Adam "When we were still at school, and you said 'when they finally let us out of this dump we'll get a place together, you and I, and bugger what our families think'".
"It'll be like that again", said Julian "Except we'll make it work this time".
Adam was hoping that Julian could stay for most of the night, but an orderly appeared and asked him to leave. Alone again, Adam lay on his side and tried to compose himself for sleep. But he kept imagining the Indigo at that moment, and wishing he was there. He was tense with the excitement of getting out of hospital soon, and yet frightened in case they found some more reasons to keep him in even longer.
It was some time before he was aware that he was being watched. Cautiously he sat up and looked towards the doorway, which the orderly had left open when he had escorted Julian out. What he saw there made his heart miss several beats. He had seen her before. Many years before, standing at the City railway station when they had all returned from the Loud House. The lady in black. Who looked as though she was in the throes of decomposing. Now he knew who she really was. The Gorgon. Kieran and Joby had seen her corpse looking identical to as she did now. Her eyes were a piercing emerald green, and she turned the full glare of them on him.
Adam screamed and jammed the bell in the wall next to his bed, which connected him to the night orderly's office.
"She was there, staring at me", he gasped, when the burly man appeared.
"Now calm down, Mr Adam", the orderly laid him gently on his bed as though he was a baby "You're not the only one to be disturbed tonight. So many of our patients are having trouble settling".
"Have they seen her too?"
"Do you want me to fetch you a sedative?"
"No I don't want a bloody sedative", Adam cried "I want to know I'm not turning to stone. I could be. Rooly took hours to fully gorgonise".
"It can't have been Medusa now can it?" said the orderly, in a mild bantering tone "You didn't see any snake's heads did you?"
"N-No", said Adam "She had a bonnet on. A black, frilled bonnet. Like a diabolical flower. The petals framing her face".
"It's just a restless night that's all. A touch of mass hysteria. It's not that uncommon in small hospitals like this. One man has a bad dream, and suddenly everyone's getting infected".
"We're not all hallucinating", Adam protested "She's in this hospital. Pacing the corridors. She was real, I tell you!"
"No one's getting turned to stone, Mr Adam", said the orderly "I think we on the staff might notice if that was the case. You're still completely flesh and blood, believe me".
Adam was so tense he eventually agreed to take a mild sleeping-tablet. He slept heavily for two hours and awoke at dawn. The first thing he did was to feel his arms and legs, and then touch his face. The orderly had been right, he was still completely flesh and blood.
The orderly came in to see him after breakfast, to give him a shave whilst he was still in bed.
"How is everyone this morning?" said Adam.
"No one's been turned to stone overnight, if that's what you're wondering", said the orderly, gently.
"I'm not mad, you know".
"I would never say that of you, Mr Adam. And to be truthful with you I felt a bit nervous after I'd gone back to my office. These old buildings can have that effect. Too many dark shadows, and the lamps can distort things out in the corridors. It doesn't help of course that many believe the building's haunted, you know. It was built on the site of an old Massacre pit".
"Oh it's not!" said Adam, in dismay "You mean, there are women buried beneath the foundations?"
"I'm afraid so", said the orderly, as though apologising for the tacky decor "So it wouldn't surprise me at all if there was a ghostly woman stalking the corridors".
"Well I'm not spending another night here", said Adam, vehemently "I'm checking myself out. I am not going to convalesce on top of a charnel pit!"
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