Go back to previous chapter
The Bandorra township was a very welcome relief after the stillness of the mountain, which was haunted now by the presence of the Pig Woman. Bandorra was so new it squeaked. Soon after Kieran's inauguration as President, plans had been initiated to build a town at the foot of the Thet Mountains, at the mouth to the Uncharted Area. Kieran fully approved these, thinking it would break the daunting spell that the place had acquired during the vampires' long reign of terror. Bandorra now thrived. It was popular for men to as a holiday-spot, enjoying as they did the wildness of the mountains, and the adventuring, pioneer spirit generated by the closeness of the Uncharted Area, which during the winter months was a glacial wilderness, and now, at the start of the long summer, was a dusty desert. This region was an area of extremes and challenges, and it was much in demand for that reason.
The Lonely Mountain Hotel (which since the day it very first opened had turned out to be something of a misnomer), was huge, palatial and gleaming. Built round a huge, central atrium it rose up for several floors, with all the rooms opening out onto multi-layered walkways. Adam's caustic remark that it reminded him of a five-star prison didn't dampen anyone else's enthusiasm for it.
Coming so soon after their experiences in the woods Bandorra gave them a sense of freedom that was completely exhilarating. Even Angel's doleful presence couldn't deaden the atmosphere. The Manager was an enthusiastic, foppish individual whose great passion was collecting vintage wine, and he immediately offered to show Kieran his cellar. An offer that Joby also found hard to refuse.
"Do men go far into the Uncharted Area?" said Kieran, as the Manager opened another bottle of red to go with the existing half-a-dozen already laid out on the cellar table.
"It depends what they're looking for Your Grace", the little man replied, grunting with the exertion of removing a very stiff cork "Some just come for the hunting, which is all very straightforward. Others believe in a more advanced kind of hunting, they think exotic animals are to be found there. Sadly, usually during the icy months, all they encounter are woolly mammoth. That usually gives them more of a turn than they expect! And some come here looking for women".
"Women?" Joby croaked, spilling half his wine in his astonishment.
"Well you see even these days so much of the Uncharted Area is still exactly that, uncharted, said the Manager "And these individuals believe that a lost colony may be lurking somewhere that still has its women".
"But I've seen maps of the so-called Uncharted Area", said Kieran "Most of it is wilderness. Apart from mountains there is isn't very much there, let alone any settlements".
"There is a strong feeling Your Grace that those maps may not have been as comprehensive as the vampires liked to believe".
"Yea well they weren't very bright", said Joby.
"A lot of it may be wishful thinking I'm afraid", the Manager went on "These men like to believe the vampires suppressed all documented trace of female settlers, for their own ends. I regret to say some entertain the idea that the Ministry does hold secret documentation to that effect".
"If they have I've never seen it", said Kieran.
"They either believe you're part of the conspiracy", said the Manager "Or the Ministry are not telling you either".
"I can't believe they'd be able to keep it from me", said Kieran "I've got too good a nose at sniffing out a mystery. And why would I want to suppress it either? If it was true what these conspiracy theorists say, my only concern would be for the safety of the women themselves".
"Nonetheless your presence here will excite them Your Grace", said the Manager "They will take it as proof that you suspect there is truth in the rumour".
"What cobblers", said Kieran "We're here on holiday, nothing else".
"I know. I just hope Your Grace isn't too much troubled by the media whilst you're here. This conspiracy theory is big news at the moment, and as I said your presence here will rather fan the flames".
They had only been at the hotel for a few hours before the press had descended en-masse. Although as far as Kieran could tell they seemed at this stage to be more interested in taking pictures of Lonts, than badgering their President about the possibility of women lurking out in the desert.
Ransey had taken Lonts swimming in the hotel pool, in spite of Adam's grave misgivings. The press were lined up around the marble pillars and arch-ways that rimmed the steaming water, all eager to snap Lonts in the altogether. Adam was appalled.
"You can't keep the poor kid locked in his room because of them", Ransey had snapped "I've promised him I'll take him down there now, you can't disappoint him, he's looking forward to it".
"But Ransey, he'll be so nervous with them there".
"He seems to be loving it to me", said Julian "The way he was smiling and waving at them all in the atrium just now. He's so vain he can take any amount of adoration".
This remark led to a blazing row between Adam and Julian, and Ransey took the opportunity to spirit Lonts down to the pool. In the end the press were so unobtrusive, lurking silently behind the pillars like mutes in a Greek tragedy, that they could almost ignore them. There was one dreadful moment when Lonts bent over by the side of the pool to pick something out of his toes, and his rear end sticking in the air was immediately captured for posterity on film. Ransey didn't like to contemplate Adam's reaction when he saw that in his morning newspaper, and threatened to confiscate the reporter's camera.
"We won't print it", the snapper bleated "I promise".
Ransey had to be satisfied with that, although he dreaded to think how much copies of it would now fetch on the black market.
Julian roamed the hotel looking for Adam, who had stormed off and left him after the unfortunate remark about Lonts. He had toured the vast smoking-room on the first floor, thinking Adam might have disappeared in there to enjoy a cigar without being nagged. The only man he knew in there though was Hirrid, who was staring mournfully into his glass like a frog staring into a pond. Not wishing to hear an endless list of Hillyard's many shortcomings Julian beat hasty retreat.
It was early evening by now and happy hour was in full swing. The noise of men's voices and the clink of glasses in the atrium bar was deafening, accompanied as it was by two dinner-jacketed men playing the same piano, which made a harmless little tune sound like a violent struggle for survival. Julian was about to descend to the ground floor when he was accosted by a little bespectacled man on the walkway.
"I came here for a quiet break you know", he said, jabbing Julian in the chest with his finger.
"That was a silly thing to do wasn't it?" said Julian.
"It wouldn't have been if you lot hadn't turned up", said the man "The pool is swarming with press, all trying to get a picture of that boy, who I might say is not wearing any bathing-trunks".
"Some of us do", said the man, haughtily.
"Yes, I should have guessed really".
"I've no time for this nude bathing lark", said the little man "There should be a strict dress code at such times. I mean, I don't know where to put my face sometimes".
Julian felt it best not to offer suggestions and said instead "But does it matter? We're all boys together. There are no ladies' sensitivities to offend".
"There are no standards anymore", said the man, emphatically.
"Oh I agree", said Julian "The moral climate has deteriorated appallingly. Have you thought of writing to the President about it?"
"I wrote to him before Yule", said the man "I was hoping to get him to ban the sale of mistletoe, as it encourages deplorable licentiousness at Yule parties".
"Did you get a reply?"
"Yes, from the President personally, I was quite surprised".
"What did he say?"
"Said he wished he got invited to the sort of parties I went to", said the little man, sniffing disapprovingly.
Julian finally spotted Adam sitting with a group of men in the bar below, and made his excuses to the little man.
"Oh here's Jules", Adam exclaimed, as he approached "Everybody, I want you to meet Jules, he's my oldest friend. In both senses of the word".
"Have you been drinking?" said Julian, sharply.
"Gross calumny", said Adam "We're all on tomato juice, aren't we fellas?"
"It's very nice tomato juice", said one rabbity-looking individual.
"Highly recommended", smirked another.
"Are you taking the piss?" said Julian, belligerently.
"No they are not", Adam hissed "They are genuinely nice guys".
"What are you doing with them then?"
"Sit down Julian", said Adam, firmly patting the leather chair next to him.
"If you don't feel like tomato juice", said the rabbit "I can highly recommend the fruit beer".
"No thank you", said Julian, shortly.
"So how long have you known Adam then?" said another, who was wreathed in the aroma of a very musky aftershave.
"Since he was in short trousers", said Julian.
"And fortunately for us he still is", Aftershave slapped Adam's bare knee affectionately "We would absolutely love it if you'd join me and my friends for dinner".
"Thanks", said Adam "But I'm meeting the President later".
"Perhaps another time then?"
"That would be very pleasant".
"What the bloody hell were you doing with that lot?" Julian exclaimed, after the others had gone into the restaurant "Raving about tomato juice, and 'my friend' this and 'my friend' that. I'm surprised they didn't all carry handbags for God's sake! I thought you have more sense than to get mixed up with a bunch of girls".
"They cornered me when I was in here earlier", said Adam "They were so sweet I felt I couldn't be rude to them".
"You are getting soft in your old age. Years ago you wouldn't have given the time of day to a bunch of comic-cut poofs like that".
"Why do you think I was so relieved to see you, you silly twerp?" Adam laughed "Anyway, they caught me feeling vulnerable. Everyone else seemed to have disappeared and I was lonely".
"Are Tinkerbell and Goofy still in the wine cellar then?"
"We'll be lucky if we see them for about a week!" said Adam "That was a mad mistake on the Manager's part, he won't have a valuable collection left by the time they've decimated it".
"Oh dear God, now Finia's going to make an exhibition of himself", Julian sighed.
Finia, wearing a bright red dress that was about the size of a dishcloth, was dancing with one of the bar-stewards, in a way that involved an extraordinary amount of leg-flinging.
"He's very attractive isn't he?" said Adam "Finia I mean. In a very striking sort of way. Have you never felt the urge to bed him?"
"No", said Julian "It's all gilding isn't it? Once you've divested him of his frock and his wig, what are you left with? A castrated bald-headed pygmy".
Kieran and Joby hove into view, both looking glassy-eyed and blurred. Joby was carrying a large reel of tape under one arm.
"I bought this from a greasy old peddler outside", said Joby, in answer to Adam's enquiry "Cost me a small fortune. It's a soft-porn film".
"Looks like it", said Julian "What's it called then? 'What The Butler Saw'? It's probably about that vintage".
"Listen, this is state-of-the-art technology for the fifth millennium", said Joby.
"We've just got to hire a projector from the manager", said Kieran.
"You haven't heard the best bit yet", said Joby "It has got a Real Woman in it".
"I thought as much", said Adam "That's why it's on the black market. I take it you don't want to have dinner with me tonight now?"
"Oh good, you can come out with me instead", said Julian.
"Do you mind Addy?" said Kieran "Only we thought it'd be a nice surprise for Ransey too. We've got to try and convince him somehow that not all women were evil Sleep Demons".
"And you think a tape of Fatima doing the Dance of the Seven Veils will convince him?" said Julian "More likely to torment him even more".
"Nah, it'll be great fun", said Joby "Get him pissed too, that'll help".
"He's got a long way to go before he catches up with you", said Adam.
"Do you want us to babysit Lonts for you?" said Kieran.
"I'm not sure about that", said Adam.
"What's the matter?" said Julian "Frightened your little darling will get corrupted by the sight of female flesh?"
"Don't be silly Jules", Adam snapped.
"He'll be alright", said Kieran "We've been assured that it's all sex and no violence!"
"I know you said it was an old tape but this is ridiculous", Ransey boomed drunkenly, as the tape needed fixing for the umpteenth time.
"Well it's bound to be old innit?" said Joby "If it's got a woman in it. Come on hurry up, she's been frozen in that pose for ages".
"Doing things to you is it eh?" Ransey laughed, giving the projector a thump for good measure "The sight of a woman after all these years?"
"She's a bit of a size isn't she?" said Kieran, looking at the woman's semi-clad ample girth frozen on the projector screen "They obviously liked them hefty before they ... before they killed them all".
"Did they all look like you in your time then?" said Ransey.
"Yea", Joby laughed "If he'd changed his sex he could have been a top fashion model in our time. He's certainly scrawny enough".
"What was the point of having women who looked like boys then?" said Ransey "If I was in your time I'd want women with huge tits and arses".
"Oh take him away nurse", Kieran groaned.
"Just something that looked as different to you lot as possible", said Ransey "What about you Joby? How did you like your women done?"
"I was grateful for what I could get", said Joby, mournfully "I loved 'em all really. Fat, thin, short, tall. Just they never went for me".
"I wouldn't say never exactly", said Kieran, quietly.
"You'd better watch out if we do find some in the Uncharted Area Kieran", said Ransey "Or you won't see your consort for dust".
"He's got nothing to fear", said Joby "That's not to say I wouldn't look mind, and I hope this machine doesn't break down completely before we get to the really interesting bit".
"Can't we watch something else?" said Lonts, plaintively "What's the point of a film about someone taking their clothes off?"
"You know sometimes I really wonder if he's as dim as I think he is", said Joby "And then I realise he is".
"But what's the point?" said Lonts.
"There isn't one", said Joby "She's a sex goddess, there doesn't have to be a point. Anyway, there isn't anything else to watch. We haven't got any 'Tom and Jerry' so you'll have to make do with this".
"I wish I'd gone out with Adam", Lonts pouted.
"I wish you had too", said Joby.
"He's got a point though", said Kieran "I mean, it's not very absorbing is it? She just sort of strips. It'd be different if she'd do a little dance or something as well".
"When you're drunk", said Joby "Your Irishness really shines through. It's like that old joke about the naked woman running through the streets of Dublin on a Saturday night. And one Irishman says to another, 'will you look at that poor woman, she's lost all her clothes!'"
"And there's another old joke too", Kieran retaliated "Great English Lovers - one of the world's shortest books!"
"Well you'd know", said Joby "You've got two of us as consorts. Mind you, that's probably why you need two of us, to make up a full one".
"Right", said Ransey "I think I've nearly managed it. We should be getting somewhere in a minute".
"Hey Jobe", Kieran squawked with laughter "This doesn't half give you a good idea of what going to bed with Ransey would be like!"
"It takes him a while", said Joby "But he gets there in the end".
"'The Cafe Terrace on the Place de Forum'", Adam enthused "That's what this place reminds me of".
"Don't tell me", said Julian "It's a painting by van Gogh".
"It's almost exactly like it", said Adam, looking around him at the warm glow of the outdoor restaurant lights against the velvety night sky "Lonts would have loved it. We should have brought him along too".
"I wonder how the porn film's going", said Julian "Do you think Fatima's got down to her seventh veil yet? I hope they've got plenty of tissues handy for when she does".
"You can be so coarse sometimes Jules".
"Well I have to be don't I?" said Julian "It's either that or sit here and listen to you telling me once again about Lonts's endearing little foibles".
"I know I can be a bit of Lonts-bore", said Adam "But he would have enjoyed this. I'm not sure sitting in front of a screen watching some ropey old film is going to amuse him very much. He does get bored so easily".
"That's his problem isn't it?" said Julian "I will put up with playing surrogate doting parent to your over-grown toddler, but just occasionally it's nice to be without him. I can't have a proper conversation with you when he's around. You've got into this bad habit of breaking off to answer him everytime he asks you something, regardless of what we're talking about at the time".
"I know I know".
"And sometimes he's just so dopey it's not true".
"Oh Julian, that's hardly fair".
"Maybe not", said Julian, grudgingly.
"And he's such an affectionate boy isn't he?"
"Yes", Julian sighed "Actually I sometimes think he helps to hold the family together. If Lonts wasn't there things might have got decidedly awkward between us, the President and your rival consort by now".
"I might have had to choose you mean?" said Adam "Fortunately once Patsy retires, everything should get easier. I'll have him as my bit of fantasy one night a week".
"And Lonts and I will be your boring, staid reality, is that it?"
"Hardly old love", Adam laughed, and then broke off abruptly "The bloody nerve! Look what he's doing now!"
"Who?" said Julian, looking round him frantically "Who are you talking about?"
"I know he's an old friend but my patience is wearing thin with him".
"Adam, who are you talking about?"
"It's Hillyard, look", said Adam, pointing in the direction of the far end of the terrace cafe, where Hillyard was sitting with his back to them.
"So?" said Julian "He's having a spot of dinner that's all".
"But look who he's with!"
"I don't recognise him I'm afraid", said Julian, peering at the suave olive-skinned individual sitting next to Hillyard "Good-looking though. Quite dashing in fact, you can imagine him in the 'Arabian Nights'".
"That's not the point Jules", said Adam "It is not Hirrid".
"Well if I had to choose between dining with that marvellous specimen or the homely charms of Hirrid, I know which I'd choose".
"It wasn't very long ago that you said you couldn't understand why Hillyard didn't settle with Hirrid", said Adam.
"Yes, but some things are worth being distracted from the home fires for".
"Yes, and you'd know all about that".
"Don't start", said Julian "I don't know why on earth we're arguing about Hillyard for. It's his business Adam, he's got to sort it out. If Hirrid's daft enough to put up with his ways then he's only got himself to blame".
"I see", said Adam, stiffly "Is that how you used to think about me?"
"Now listen", Julian exclaimed "For the thousandth time, that was all a very long time ago. And once more I might just point out the fact that I'm having to share you with three others. So don't start playing the martyr with me".
"I'm sorry Jules", said Adam, squeezing his friend's hand.
"Oh finish your dinner".
"It's easy for me to forget what it's like for you. You normally cope with it so well".
"Shut up Adam", said Julian.
They ate in companionable silence for several minutes, and Adam almost forgot that Hillyard was in the same restaurant, until the said man spoke to him as he passed their table on his way out.
"Hello Ad", he said casually, his new friend standing at his side "I didn't know you and Julian were here. Not a bad place this is it?"
"Aren't you going to introduce us to your new friend Hillyard?" said Julian, whilst Adam glared at them.
"Yea sure", Hillyard giggled "Mushti, I want you to meet Julian, and this is Adam, one of the President's consorts".
Mushti bared his lips to reveal a set of very white teeth. He looked like the wolf sighting Little Red Riding-Hood.
"And what's Hirrid doing tonight then?" said Adam, aggressively.
"He had one of his headaches", said Hillyard.
"Perhaps if you paid him a bit more attention he wouldn't get them so often".
"One day Adam, we'll go into all the things you've been up to over the years", said Hillyard "And then, IF we've got any time left, we'll start on me. G'night".
"Let us just be thankful Hillyard kept his voice dignified and quiet", said Julian, after Hillyard and Mushti had departed "Or it'd be all over the gossip columns that the President's consort and his valet were seen having strong words in a public restaurant. Every crumb is seized upon so eagerly, you know that".
"I did rather mess it up didn't I?"
"Hillyard's right. I don't know what makes you think you can set yourself up as everybody's moral guardian".
"I don't, I just ..." Adam trailed off awkwardly "I just messed it up that's all".
"Hm", Julian took a long swig of his wine "I should take you back to the hotel and teach you a lesson. Your bottom is particularly spankeable in those shorts".
"Oh well I'll have to wear them again then won't I?" said Adam, teasingly.
"Saucy little soddo", said Julian.
"These lift's always give me vertigo", said Adam, as the glass elevator slid up one side of the atrium like a giant transparent snail.
"It's better than listening to your chest caving in as we tackle the stairs", said Julian.
"It's been alright this evening. Even Hillyard didn't manage to upset it", said Adam "I must be completely relaxed".
"Why don't you come back to my room for a little while?" said Julian "Ransey won't mind hanging onto Lonts for a bit longer. It's not as if he's expecting a woman to drop in!"
"Yes, but I don't like to presume on his good nature", said Adam "And Lonts will be expecting me".
"Chances are the others will have got him so smashed he'll have collapsed in a great snoring heap by now".
"That's quite possible", said Adam "But we'd better make it a quick performance".
"God, it's late Jules", said Adam, as they later galloped along the walkway to Ransey's room "He's going to be bloody furious that I left him minding Lonts for this long".
"Well I would have been quite happy with a quick blow-job", said Julian, slipping his arm round Adam's waist "It's you who wanted all the kinky stuff".
"I couldn't disappoint you could I?"
"You didn't, you certainly didn't", said Julian "I shall lie in my lonely bed tonight, with fond memories of your neat little posterior sticking pertly upwards".
"You certainly enjoyed yourself anyway".
"Well I had to punish you for your disgraceful behaviour in the restaurant, and I know how much you enjoy being given a really sound spanking. No token slaps for you Adam, it has to be the whole discipline ritual. I wonder if that old git of a father ever suspected what he started with you".
"He was just a brute", said Adam.
"Yes he was, but he left you with a Biblical desire to be punished for all your sins. No wonder you and Tinkerbell get on so well. Have you ever thought of becoming a Catholic yourself?"
"Ssh", Adam laughed helplessly, as they reached Ransey's door.
"Does Joby ever ... you know?" Julian whispered "After that walloping he gave Lonts the other day I couldn't help but notice that he has a pretty good whacking arm".
"He's never done it to me", said Adam "Although I've felt like paddling him enough times! Patsy says he'd have to be pretty angry first. Joby's not one for doing things in cold blood, just for the hell of it. Why do you ask?"
"Curiosity. He's such a grizzled little conundrum I can't help being fascinated by him", said Julian "I find it so hard to imagine him in a state of arousal".
"He's very gentle and considerate", said Adam "I can't understand why he had so little luck with women. He's such a kind and thoughtful lover".
"Kindness and thoughtfulness weren't what women wanted though".
"Oh Jules, you old misogynist", said Adam "If that was really the case I'm surprised they weren't queuing round the block for you!"
"They'd have been wasting their time that's why", said Julian.
The door opened and a disgruntled Ransey appeared.
"If you're going to come in, come in", he said "Don't stand outside my door giggling and whispering".
"Sorry Ransey old love", said Adam, following him into the room "We didn't mean to be this late".
"It's alright, he's been no trouble", said Ransey, indicating Lonts who lay dozing on the sofa "You could've left him there all night if you wanted to, I wouldn't have minded".
"Now he tells us", said Julian.
"You can still leave him there if you want", said Ransey, sounding unnaturally agitated.
"No, I'll collect him now I'm here", said Adam "Otherwise he might wake up and wonder what's happened to me. Come on Lonts, wakey-wakey".
"Where have you been Adam?" said Lonts, sleepily.
"Out for dinner, like I said".
"It was a rotten film", Lonts went on "The projector kept breaking down, and Joby snapped at me whenever I spoke. He hates me".
"No he doesn't. Come along".
Ransey was sorry to see them all go. He wished he'd insisted on Lonts staying (although how, he wasn't quite sure), or that he'd pressed a night-cap on Julian. Now he was alone, and the disturbing feeling was stronger than ever. The feeling that someone was standing in the corner of the room watching him, even though he couldn't see them, apart from a very brief glimpse occasionally out of the corner of his eye. His fear was so acute that he cursed his own pride, which stopped him running to one of the others for help.
He knew it was all irrational. There was nothing there he could look at head-on, nothing he could touch. And yet he knew it was there. He climbed into bed and turned out the lamp, knowing that the room was so dark it would dispel any lingering shapes. He lay for a while, tensing every muscle in his body and gritting his teeth. He hadn't a hope in hell of getting to sleep like that.
It had got into bed with him, the shape from the corner. He felt the mattress on the other side dip sharply, and then a gentle tugging of the bedclothes. Ransey was horrified, and could only gasp at the sheer fearless audacity of this ... Thing, whatever it was.
"I can't spend the night like this", he said in his head "I have to confront it. At the moment it's probably feeding on my fear".
Hurriedly he sat up and turned on the lamp, blessing the Lonely Mountain Hotel for its lavish electricity. He would never have managed an oil-lamp at that moment, let alone matches and a candle. Next to him the shape had pulled the bedclothes right over itself, leaving only its outline to show it was. It moaned softly and began to squirm about, as though relishing the feel of the sheets next to it.
"Alright!" Ransey shouted "Show your bloody self!"
Suddenly he pulled back the bedclothes and exposed the beautiful naked form of the Golden Woman.
"Oh shit", Ransey began to cry despairingly.
The Golden Woman sat up and stared at him. Then she leaned forward on her haunches and pressed her face up against his. Instinctively Ransey went to kiss her, but she drew back quickly and screamed. With the scream the whole shape of her face changed. It transformed itself into something bestial. Her jaw jutted out in an exaggerated fashion and tusks seemed to sprout from her nostrils. There was an odour like rotten eggs in the room, and he fancied he could also hear a small bell tinkling in the distance. He recalled only too well all that Kieran had said once about demons, and he screamed like he had never screamed before.
Kieran had heard the screaming from his suite next door, and had run into Ransey's room immediately. He cradled the hysterical man in his arms whilst Ransey blubbed out helplessly what had happened.
"She's gone now", said Kieran, soothingly "She's gone Ransey".
"I'm losing my mind", Ransey cried.
"No you're not", said Kieran "We won't leave you alone again. Hillyard or Julian can share with you. In fact, we'll all take it in turns if necessary".
"I-I suppose the whole f-fucking hotel knows what's happened".
"As far as they're concerned you had a bad dream that's all", said Kieran "They won't be surprised by that. They know what a stressful job you have looking after me".
"It was the same woman we saw in the Yzel Park that time", said Ransey "You remember?"
"Yes, and the same one who appeared to me at Machin's house, and to Hillyard on the train, and who poor Lonts stabbed", said Kieran "She certainly gets around".
"Who is she?" said Ransey "A demon, is that it?"
"Yes she's a demon", said Kieran "But at the moment I haven't got the first idea what she's after, or how much harm she's capable of".
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site