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When Power entered his bedroom it was to find that his mummified lover was on her feet and had torn off her bandages. She had changed into an oyster pink silk slip that barely reached to her thighs. For the first time ever he saw her as she was before she had so untimely met her death many years before. She was thin and slightly drawn, but otherwise her skin was soft, her hair fine and golden, her eyes so blue. She was a tall, earthly, heaving beauty of a woman. A thoroughbred mare in a world of stallions.
"You're alive", Power gasped, unable to believe his eyes "All these years I've waited for this moment. I'd hardly dared hope it would happen. You don't know what a momentous moment this is".
She silenced him in mid-flow by grasping him firmly round the neck with one hand and then slamming him up against the wall. His head hit the wall so suddenly that his brains exploded all over the plasterwork. She stepped over his body and left the room.
The houses were all empty of any life-forms. Some still had a few sticks of furniture, but these gave little away about the people who had lived there, except that it seemed to be an odd assortment of styles. From futons and painted wind-chimes in some houses, to heavy mahogany beds and wardrobes in others. A cross between simple Oriental design, to a fussy and old-fashioned imperialistic mode. One house had heavy doors that were painted black, with elaborate brass bolts on the inside. There was a badly-tuned piano in the living-room, and the remains of a revolting lamb stew in the kitchen larder. The stew acted as a watery graveyard for several flies and mosquito's.
Kieran found Joby in one of the net-curtained bedrooms, going through a chest of drawers. He was holding a Victorian-style cotton and lace bust-bodice up against himself.
"Joby!" Kieran exclaimed, snatching it away from him "You're no gentleman".
"Didn't you go through your mum's undies drawer when you were a kid?"
"I certainly did not. She'd have taken me to the local priest to be exorcised!" said Kieran "I didn't know you had a such a debauched childhood".
"Oh come off it, it's not as if I tried them on", said Joby "Anyway, this might prove there were women here once".
"Well a drawer-full of lingerie's not conclusive proof isn't it?" said Joby "They might have belonged to a eunuch like Finia".
"Hadn't thought of that", said Kieran, glumly "Never mind, at least there's nothing to stop us putting up here for tonight. Doesn't look like these villagers are going to come back in a hurry".
"I don't know why we couldn't have moved into one of the other houses, by ourselves", said Hirrid, following Hillyard into the house that had the black doors.
"We're not moving in Hirrid, we're only here for one bloody night", said Hillyard, dumping his rucksack on the kitchen floor with a groan of relief.
"I think I'll cook tonight", Hirrid went on regardless "Something special".
"Could be difficult", said Hillyard "We've got nothing but tinned stuff to choose from. We haven't got anything fresh".
"I will be cooking something special", said Hirrid, firmly.
Ransey and Kieran had sat down at the dust-coated table, and had managed to open up a transmission line on the handset. Kieran smoked one cigarette after another as he attempted to get a coherent message through to his deputy, Gorth, at the Ministry.
"I don't understand why I can't get a reply out of 'em", said Kieran "Are they all having a holiday whilst I'm away or something?"
"Perhaps they've had a revolution and kicked you out", said Ransey.
"As long as they let me go quietly I don't mind", said Kieran.
The handset made a few, birdlike squawking noises, and a message attempted to show itself on the blank screen. Words came through, but were so garbled or half-missing that it all looked more like a cosmic display than a typed message.
"That must be what they've been trying to send for days", said Kieran.
"You won't receive much better than that", said Ransey "The conditions are terrible up here. It could be anything causing it. The mountains in the way, or bad weather between here and the City, which is not exactly unbelievable. You'd better just resign yourself to being out of radio contact for a while".
Out on the verandah Lonts sweltered in the steamy heat and flapped his t-shirt against his perspiring body. He noticed Joby emerge from a side-door and begin to make his way down the village street.
"Joby!" Lonts bellowed, running after him "Where are you going?"
"Get back to the house, Lonts", said Joby "I'm only going down to look at the wall".
"You shouldn't", said Lonts "Not on your own".
"I'm gonna be alright", said Joby "What do you think's going to happen? The wall's gonna collapse on me or something?"
Adam whistled at Lonts from the verandah and beckoned him back to the house. When Lonts didn't move he stepped down and walked towards them.
"Here comes Mummy Bear", said Joby.
"Come along in Lonts", said Adam, as he drew near "I want to wash your hair, it's filthy".
"He could do with a shave too", said Joby.
"Joby shouldn't wander off alone should he Adam?" said Lonts.
"You get right up my nose sometimes", said Joby.
"He's got a point Jobe", said Adam, as he noticed Hillyard ambling round the side of the house with his hands in his pockets "At least take Hillyard with you".
"Can't", said Joby "I'm not allowed to be seen with him in public".
"What on earth are you talking about?" said Adam.
"Orders from Kieran", said Joby "Hirrid's got the knives out for me apparently. Or rather the knitting-needles I should say. He's convinced me and Hillyard are having a passionate affair. If I go sloping off with him he'll only believe it all the more".
"Oh what complete rubbish", said Adam "It's time Hirrid detached himself from what Hillyard's up to, or he'll drive himself mad".
"Sounds like it's gone too far to me", said Joby "He's so screwed up about it he can't think straight. Couldn't you help him Ad?"
"Me?" said Adam "What am I, a bloody social-worker? It wasn't that long ago Julian was on at me to help Angel!"
"You went through all this yourself", said Joby "You know what it's like when jealousy and insecurity take a hold".
"Exactly", said Adam "And I was hardly a shining example of how to cope was I?"
"Yes you are", said Joby "Because you've overcome all that, and now all these years later, you and Julian are closer than ever. You could inspire Hirrid ..."
"Just drop it Joby", said Adam "And take Hillyard with you if you're going exploring. I'd rather I knew you were safe than have Hirrid kept sweet".
"I'm not five-years-old Adam", Joby protested "I can take care of myself. I'm gonna get you an apron for your next birthday, you're turning into such an old mother hen".
"Turning?" said Adam "As far as you and Patsy are concerned I always was!"
"It's man-made", said Hillyard, having walked from one end of the wall to the other "It's not a natural part of the landscape I mean".
"So we can assume it was put here to seal off whatever's behind it", said Joby "Perhaps we could find some way of climbing up to the top and having a look".
"There must be an easier way", said Hillyard, scanning the towering plants all around them "Some way of seeing down into it from another vantage point. It's too late today, as it'll be getting dark soon, but tomorrow we should have a proper look round. Good thing about mountains, there are always plenty of vantage points".
"Intriguing isn't it?" said Joby, biting his lip thoughtfully "If the villagers built this to keep whatever it is behind it sealed in, why did they then abandon the place?"
"Perhaps they still didn't feel safe", said Hillyard "If it was dangerous enough to warrant building a damn great wall like this then it must have been like sitting next to a time-bomb. I mean, you're never going to get away from it are you? It's always going to be there in the background. Enough to drive you mad I expect".
"But that booklet about the 'Bandorra Legend'", said Joby "That said there was a hole in the wall that led into a parallel universe, where they found a village, or something like that anyway. These houses here aren't in the lost colony, it's on the other side of this. But as was pointed out before, if the other village had women in it, why did those travellers come back?"
"That's the trouble with these old legends", said Hillyard "Most of the time you only get half the facts. And where's this hole then? That stone's completely smooth, nothing's broken it since it was put up".
"All a bit weird", Joby shivered, nervously.
"Not scared are you?" Hillyard punched his arm playfully "Don't worry, you've got me here to protect you".
"That's exactly what is worrying me", said Joby "I keep expecting Hirrid to leap out of the bushes at me with a lethal implement in his hand".
"What's he said to you?"
"Nothing to me, but he scared Kieran last night", said Joby "The gist of it is he thinks I'm getting in the way of your relationship".
"He may be right".
"You haven't told him that have you?" Joby looked appalled.
"No", said Hillyard "But come on Joby, how about it eh? We've known each other long enough now to be frank about it. I want you".
"You can't have me!" Joby exclaimed "I'm with Kieran".
"I know, and I'm not stupid enough to think I could break that up".
"Oh I see, so it really is just sex you want?"
"If it was just all about sex I'd have lost interest in you years ago", said Hillyard "What I want is what you have with Adam. That seems a pretty civilised arrangement to me. And before you say it, I'm not scared of commitment. Even though I know that's what everybody's thinking. I am committed to you lot. Don't you remember me telling Kieran that in Hell? I'd look after any of you, anytime".
"But you don't want a one-to-one relationship?"
"Only because everybody I really want is already attached!"
"That's convenient", Joby grunted.
"No it's not", said Hillyard "If you'd shown an interest in me, right back in the early days, before you started sleeping with Kieran, we'd have been together ever since. It's just you were so screwed up you didn't give it a chance".
"Yea I was screwed up", said Joby "But I know now that it was largely because of how frightened I was by my feelings for Kieran. I can't expect you to understand that. You grew up in a different world, but for me it was very scary. Anyway, does this mean you want Kieran too? I know you're nuts about him as well".
"Let's just say I think Adam's a bloody lucky bloke. He's got everything I want".
"Julian?" Joby laughed.
"Well perhaps not everything", said Hillyard.
"You're not gonna go getting jealous of Adam are you?" said Joby "One Hirrid's enough to cope with at the moment".
"I'm easy-going, me", said Hillyard "I won't go rocking any boats. I like things as they are too much. But I wouldn't say no to a kiss to be going on with".
Joby desperately tried to think of a reply to this, but completely failed to come up with one. Hillyard had got him in an embrace and taken his prize before he could barely think.
"Why don't you just let go one day and give in to it?" Hillyard whispered "You know you want to".
"I don't know anything where you're concerned", said Joby "But I do love Kieran. I couldn't bear the thought of losing him".
"You're not going to", said Hillyard "Certainly not because of me anyway".
"But if I sleep with you he might think I don't love him anymore", said Joby.
"I can't believe that, can you?"
"What about Hirrid?"
"Yea", Hillyard groaned, sadly "What about him indeed".
"Keep still", said Adam, hovering over Lonts with a cut-throat razor "It is an absolute nightmare shaving you Lonts. I'm just very glad I don't have to do it too often".
"It tickles", Lonts giggled.
"You peculiar child", said Adam, softly scraping with the razor at Lonts's left cheek.
"I wouldn't be surprised if it rained tonight", said Ransey, standing at the window "Who's sleeping where then?"
"We're all down here I think", said Adam "Should just about all fit in this room if we push the bed-rolls together".
"Why doesn't anyone want the bedrooms then?"
"Creepy up there", said Kieran, who was running a cloth round the food-bowls in preparation for Hirrid to dish up "Particularly since we found that blood stain on the carpet by one of the beds. Looked like someone had been dragged out from the under the bed and attacked. He or she must have been hiding from their pursuer. Gruesome thought".
"Here comes the others", said Ransey.
"About time", said Kieran "I thought they were never going to come home".
"The soup's ready", said Hirrid, gravely "There's no bread to go with it though".
"That's another thing", said Ransey "If we're planning to keep on with this expedition we'd better start conserving rations. I'd have to be botanist to know what of the local produce we could safely eat".
"There doesn't seem to be any further we can go", said Adam, handing Lonts a towel "We've literally hit a wall. The path ends here".
Hillyard and Joby walked in, and the air around Hirrid seemed to freeze instantly. Kieran pulled Joby into a corner.
"If the upstairs of this house didn't give me the creeps", Kieran hissed "I'd take you up there and give you a bloody good hiding. After all I said to you last night as well".
"It was Adam who went on that I had to take Hillyard with me", said Joby.
"You could've left looking at that bloody wall until tomorrow, when we could have all gone down there", said Kieran "What have you two been up to?"
"N-Nothing, just a kiss that's all", Joby mumbled.
"That's all! As far as Hirrid's concerned that's a hanging offence, and how am I supposed to feel?"
"I have to put up with you getting carried away with Hillyard, and Julian, and every other Tom, Dick and Harry as well. So don't you start going on at me".
"Is this is a private argument or can anyone join in?" said Julian, tartly "Only dear little Hirrid is looking extremely suspicious".
"Bloody hell", said Joby "We can't even have a decent row in peace".
"Things are going to change between you and me Joby", said Kieran.
"Oh yea, how?"
"No more getting off with anyone else for a start".
"Does that include Adam then?"
"We make an exception for him", said Kieran "But otherwise it's going to have to be total fidelity".
"I bet I can keep at it for longer than you", said Joby.
"The way you've been lately?" said Kieran "Don't make promises you can't keep!"
An uncomfortable night followed. The darkness and the sultry heat made the house feel like a coffin, but they were still too uncertain of the locality to risk sleeping on the verandah. The fear of what might be lurking behind the wall at the far end of the village was over-powering during the hours of darkness.
At round three a.m Hirrid had what was best described by Joby as "a funny turn". Quite what instigated it was unknown, but he suddenly leapt to his feet (which was no easy task as they were all wedged in like sardines), and started yelling. The gist of his ranting seemed to be a general diatribe against men and sex. The words "disgusting", "animal behaviour" and "depraved" cropped up fairly often.
Adam noticed that a small chopping-knife and his cut-throat razor lay on the table, easily within Hirrid's reach. Fortunately Hirrid was so busy with his ranting that Adam managed to secure them both. In the meantime Kieran tried to pacify Hirrid. He tried using the technique that Adam used to such good effect on Lonts, which was to place his hands on his head and ease him into a sitting or crouching position. It took some time, but Hirrid was subdued in the end. Eventually he just sat whimpering on the floor.
"What was all that about?" said Joby.
"This is all your bloody fault Hillyard", said Adam.
"Mine?" Hillyard exclaimed.
"You won't do the decent thing and tell him where he stands. He's a tormented soul".
"He's crackers", said Joby.
"Shut up Joby", said Kieran "You haven't helped matters at all".
"Look it's pussy-footing round his feelings that's got him in this mess", said Joby "Everybody trying to protect him from what Hillyard gets up to. We all know what Hillyard's like for God's sake. Hirrid must be mad if he thought he was gonna reform just for him!"
"Joby!" Kieran screamed "Can it. Now!"
"Alright", said Joby "but I've got one more thing to say. You don't go into a relationship expecting someone to completely change their personality just for your sake. It's wrong and it's unfair".
There was a loud hammering on the front door.
"And that's probably one of the neighbours come to complain about the noise!" Joby added.
"Who the hell can it be?" said Adam, more seriously.
"Well someone had better answer it", said Julian.
Ransey picked up his revolver and went purposefully down the corridor towards the heavy black door. He slid back the brass bolts, stiff with lack of use, and pulled the door open to confront another man with a gun. Only his was bigger and more powerful.
On the other side of Bandorra the Pig Woman got an even greater shock when she opened her own front door.
"Y-You got out?" she exclaimed, her voice was deep and hard.
"Soon after you did", the Tall Woman replied "Aren't you going to ask me in?"
The Pig Woman held the door open for her, and then went to pour herself another glass of gin.
"I can't help you", said the Pig Woman, firmly "I'm trying to live a new life. It isn't easy, there are some real nosy bastards about. Fortunately most are too suspicious of me to go broadcasting me. Poor dopes. When they do see a woman they're too bloody scared to make use of her".
"You always did drink too much", the Tall Woman sat on the kitchen table and swung her long, shapely legs in a leisurely fashion.
"I didn't think you'd still be alive", the Pig Woman blurted out "Not after ..."
"No, it's going to give quite a few of them a shock isn't it?"
"Are you going back there then?"
"I have unfinished business with them".
"Can't you just leave it?" said the Pig Woman "It were all a long time ago now".
"Start a new life?" the Tall Woman laughed unpleasantly "I'll never forget what they did to me. Turning me out into this world of insanity. A woman like me! It's not as easy for me to be unobtrusive as it is for you".
"I haven't got your goddess looks you mean?" the Pig Woman drained the gin from her glass, and then immediately poured another one.
"Your 'guests' come well-supplied don't they? Or do you only lure dipsomaniacs here these days? How many of them are lying in the cellar now?"
"Two or three", said the Pig Woman, evasively.
"And the rest!"
"The pigs have gotta eat".
"And you make sure they do".
"Where have you been all this time then?"
"Around and about. Not always looking as good as this. Death wasn't very becoming for quite some time", the Tall Woman looked around her critically.
"You carry on running about like that", said the Pig Woman, taking in the pink silk slip "And you won't stay unnoticed for very long these days".
"They won't notice me. I won't give them time enough to", said the Tall Woman "And nothing on this earth is going to stop me getting back amongst the Ghoomers. They will suffer for what they did to me. They are the lowest of the low. I reckon they held wagers, speculating about long I would last before something unthinkable happened to me".
"You're not the only one who suffered", said the Pig Woman "It's just I wasn't as good at playing the martyr. But I survived out here. In my own way I've got my own back on 'em. The best form of revenge is to live well, and unlike you that's what I did, I lived".
"You call this living?" the Tall Woman sniffed disdainfully "It's not even an existence".
The Pig Woman was spared from answering by an hysterical squealing noise breaking out from the direction of the pig-sty outside.
"I must go and see to me pigs", she said "Check there are no intruders".
She lifted down a meat-cleaver from a hook on the wall, and went outside.
Her beloved animals were squealing in agony in their sty. By the dim light of the Moon, which kept retreating inconveniently behind the clouds, she saw that their skin had taken on an unhealthy grey sheen. This didn't bother her so much as their agonising screams. Someone had been tormenting them. There was an intruder on the premises, and she didn't like intruders. Not when they upset her pigs.
The door of the shed swung open in the soft breeze. It had been securely fastened after she had given the pigs their evening feed, shortly after returning them from their regular afternoon stroll through the woods, which she did everyday. Now the rusted padlock lay on the ground, and wood had splintered where the door had been forced. She grasped the meat-cleaver more firmly and went inside.
In the gloom she heard a scuffling sound and someone retreated further into the shadows. She pursued the intruder resolutely, as very little scared her these days. As she drew nearer she was startled to see that the intruder had bare feet. Small, feminine, bare feet, covered in a soft scaly substance, glimpsed beneath the hem of a silk skirt.
"Don't tell me we've got another refugee on our hands?" said the Pig Woman "Perhaps I should start up me own colony of half-human Ghoomer women. Come on, show yourself! You're mad if you think I'm going to be scared of just another female".
The darkened figure jerked stiffly into life. All too late the Pig Woman noticed the faint hissing sound, which got louder and louder until it filled her head completely. Now she understood why the skin of her pigs was turning grey. Stone-coloured grey.
The Tall Woman heard the screams, but wasn't perturbed by them. She herself cared for nothing these days, and was in turn afraid of nothing. Unlike her cousin, the Pig Woman, she had been granted immortality. Out of curiosity she went into the gloomy, over-grown garden. She saw the Gorgon emerge from the shed, and knew at once what had happened to the Pig Woman, the person who had at one time been her closest friend as well as a relation. But immortality had robbed her of such sentiments.
The Gorgon registered no surprise that for once someone didn't fall screaming to the ground on encountering her. The Gorgon was a true monster, she felt nothing. For the briefest of moments the two extraordinary creatures faced each other. One, fabled for her destructive ugliness, whereas the other had once been feted for her beauty.
The Tall Woman could stare into the face of the monster and suffer no effects at all. The Gorgon's power only worked on mortals.
The snakes' heads were practically fizzing in their excitement, weaving frantically about the creature's face. Gradually the monstrosity stumbled past the Tall Woman and out of the garden. The Tall Woman hadn't been left completely unmoved by the encounter, she felt revolted by the close proximity of the Gorgon. And even though the creature's face had no effect on her, it was still an extremely disturbing sight.
She too left the garden eventually, and sped on her way. She could now run forever without stopping if she wished. She could cover huge distances with a speed and agility unknown to any living creature. Men spoke from that night on of seeing a ghostly creature, resembling a beautiful woman, sprinting like a gazelle over the countryside. There was a whole spate of these sightings over the course of a few days, and the conspiracy theorists who had stuck staunchly to their belief that women existed, formed pressure groups to try and get the Ministry to investigate these sightings. When the Ministry refused to respond they took this as further evidence that a government cover-up was going on.
The Ministry though had their own thoughts fully occupied. There was the worrying matter of the disappearance of the President. Air-buggies had flown out to Grup and circled the Thet Mountains in that region to try and locate him. But of him or his party there was no sign. They appeared to have vanished without trace.
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