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Kieran was woken by the fog-horns wailing a short time after midnight. The mournful sound was entirely in keeping with his mood. It was interesting how darkness and a bit of sea-mist could transform a town so utterly. During the day Stokva had appeared brash, full of straight lines and gaudy colours, and cheerful, in a very cheap low-key sort of way. Now though it felt like a lost outpost, cut off on one side by a fog-bound sea, and on the other by a mass of volcanic ground stretching for many miles around.
He got out of bed and paced the room restlessly, unwittingly finding himself counting the gaps between blasts of the horns. He had informed Joby of his ideas for going after the Gorgon when he had first come upstairs. Joby had sighed heavily, as though he was being asked to work on his day off, but had said he refused to worry abut it until they had to go. Joby had been snoring contentedly for some time now, but Kieran's thoughts plagued him and kept him awake. The idea of following the monstrous creature thoroughly scared him, and he would only have been too willing to confess as much to anyone who asked. The Gorgon was an extremely formidable foe, she took no prisoners at all. Kieran had witnessed Rooly dying a long and painful death after confronting her. He didn't exactly relish the same prospect for himself or Joby.
"Kiel?" Joby sat up blearily "Come back to bed. Nothing's going to be achieved by you wearing a hole in the floor".
"Aren't you scared at all Joby?" Kieran climbed back under the covers, grateful for his friend's wakefulness.
"Too right I am", said Joby, rubbing some warmth into Kieran's hands "But I see your point of view. We can't leave her where she is, she might decide to go on another walkabout at any time. Although I don't know what's so wrong with my suggestion that we find this tunnel and dynamite it, and then she'd be confined to the island".
"What about anyone who unknowingly lands on the island in future?"
"That's their problem".
"You know we can't leave it at that Joby", said Kieran "We trusted that solution when we left her in Manada's cellar, and then look what happened!"
"Bloody Manada, the stupid fat old pisser. What did he want to go resurrecting her for anyway?"
"She was a useful weapon to us in ending Gabriel's Terror, even if we didn't have to use her in the end".
"And so we go off tomorrow?" said Joby "Just us two. Why can't Ransey and Hillyard come?"
"To put it bluntly Joby, I've already got Hirrid's death on my conscience. I don't want theirs too. I don't want yours either, but I know damn well you won't stay behind".
"How are we going to break it to Adam?"
"We don't", said Kieran "We're not going to say anything to him. It's the only way. I talked it over with Julian, and I can trust him to look after Adam, and not breathe a word of what we're up to until the air-buggy's practically due for take-off tomorrow".
"How the hell do you think they're going to get him aboard?"
"Julian will sort all that. He agreed with me that this is much the best way. He said the less time Adam has to brood on anything the better. It's nice to find a use for Julian at last".
"And the landlord of this place told you he reckons the tunnel is located somewhere about the coastguard station?"
"I don't want to talk about it anymore tonight Joby", Kieran slid down the bed "We'll get it sorted. I hope".
"Trouble is", said Joby "I don't know if I can trust meself. What if I get an irresistible urge to look at her face? You'd better poke me other eye out just to be safe".
"That's her seductive allure", said Kieran "Few men when near her can resist a peek at her notorious face, and see what all the face is about. But just you remember what happens to them afterwards!"
Wayo, the landlord, locked his cash-box for the night, and then combed his hair for good measure. Combing his hair could be counted unofficially as Wayo's favourite hobby. He was a peculiar-looking creature. Young and thin, he wore his mousy hair slicked back severely against his head, like a helmet. This, combined with his shiny complexion and propensity for wearing severe black suits, gave him the look of a shifty evangelical preacher. Wayo though thought he looked good. When it was the private but considered opinion of most of his customers that he looked downright odd. Julian had described him to Adam as "remarkably lacking in anything at all that could be construed as sex appeal". This was unlikely to bother Wayo, who had practised the art of self-delusionment to an astonishing degree.
"Leave that for now", he said to his cheery boot-boy, a harmless little man whom Wayo secretly thought of as The Fool "You can finish the clearing-up tomorrow".
"I'd like to do it all now if you don't mind", said the boot-boy, as he finished upending chairs on the tables in the bar.
"Have it your own way", said Wayo "But I'm not paying extra".
Wayo could honestly say that he had tried to like Lak, but all to no avail. Lak was so abominably bloody cheerful all the time that it was quite indecent. When Wayo had once asked him why, Lak had replied "I'm cheerful I guess because I'm happy". This had only made Wayo wish that he could ask another "Why?" but felt that the way the conversation was turning it could go on indefinitely. Lak whistled as he worked. He also sang, and Wayo wasn't the only one it annoyed. On one occasion Lak had been punched in the mouth by a customer who felt he couldn't take anymore of the "I'm so cheerful because I'm happy" routine. Out of duty Wayo had felt he should bar this customer, although secretly his sympathies were with him entirely.
"There's someone at the back door landlord", Lak was now saying.
"I heard", said Wayo.
"I'll answer it shall I?"
"Leave it to me", Wayo snapped.
He went out into the back corridor, which was very dimly lit by a candle at the foot of the stairs. The hammering on the heavy outside door was firm and insistent. To Wayo's annoyance Lak had followed him and was now breathing heavily over his shoulder.
"I wish you'd clear off to bed", said Wayo.
"You might need assistance", said Lak.
"Then the last person I'll call on is you!"
Wayo slid back the bolts on the door and pulled it open. The figure that was standing there was huge, it seemed to fill the entire doorway. It was also extremely hard to get a good look at. It was wrapped in a black cloak and his face was staring downwards.
"Are you alright mate?" said Wayo, now beginning to feel so nervous that he was actually beginning to be grateful for Lak's presence "Can I help?"
The figure screamed and shrugged off the cloak. The Slime Man was revealed in all his glory, a demon on the doorstep. His eyes were like huge globes of fire staring out from the yellow scaly flesh of his face. He reached down and raked his talons across Wayo's face, and then caught his neck in his other hand.
"Get the Vanquisher", Wayo gasped "Move!"
Kieran stepped out into the misty courtyard at the back of the hotel. The Slime Man had somehow got up onto the roof and was tearing off slates and hurling them down at him, sending them crashing onto the cobbled ground. All the while he was laughing and shrieking in a most unpleasant manner.
"There's the landlord", said Joby grimly, pointing at a shape thrown sprawled over a sack-truck. It didn't take much medical knowledge to ascertain that he was dead.
Wayo lay with his neck broken and his eyes gouged out. The skin on his face had been raked to shreds by the demon's claws, and as Kieran watched him, to his utter disbelief, a spider crawled out of one of Wayo's empty eye sockets, followed in rapid succession by another seeping out of his nose.
"Oh shit", Kieran backed away in horror. Even as he spoke an entire procession of arachnids were emerging out of Wayo's corpse. He was stuffed with them. Kieran was so terrified that he was physically sick.
"It's alright, I'll get you back inside", Joby picked Kieran up around his waist and staggered with him back into the building.
"Good job I'm a gardener", said Joby, after he'd bolted the door shut "I'm pretty well-used to the bastards. You never know in a garden where they're going to turn up next".
"Don't talk about them Joby", Kieran pleaded "Oh God, what if there's a never-ending line of them and they're all heading here! And what is that focker doing up on the roof!"
"He can't get in Your Grace", said Lak, cheerfully "We had the inside of the roof reinforced some time back. He can tear off all the slates he likes, but the inside of the roof would withstand a tidal-wave, let alone him".
"Even so you'd better go round and check all the windows are shut", said Joby "Don't take no for an answer, check everyone's rooms".
"I'll put all the storm shutters up", said Lak, as though remembering an extra item on a shopping-list "I've known them withstand gales ..."
"Yea alright", said Joby, shortly "Just do it and fast!"
Lak took no offence at Joby's orders and went off to perform his duties with a willing heart.
"You still feeling queasy Kiel?" said Joby.
"I'll be alright soon", said Kieran, hoarsely "We'd better round up our lot. Make sure they're alright. I don't think that devil's trying to get in. He's doing all that to intimidate us. If he'd wanted to get in here so badly he'd have come through the door when it was standing wide-open. Evil just amuses itself, it doesn't have to have a purpose".
"We could do without this tonight couldn't we?" said Joby.
"Not half", said Kieran.
There was panic on the other floors. Men roamed the landings screaming that it was all a dreadful mistake, that they hadn't paid good money to come and be subjected to all this.
"I came here for a rest-cure", said one "More like a bloody unrest-cure".
"Pampered gits", said Joby, leading a still dazed Kieran by the hand up the stairs.
"If that's a demon up on the roof", the rest-cure freak exclaimed, on sighting his President "Why isn't HE out there confronting it?"
"I think it just wants to intimidate us", said Kieran, wearily.
"Sounds a cop-out to me", said Rest-Cure.
"He is terrifying I'll admit", said Kieran "But Joby and me have come up against him before. He can intimidate, disgust and horrify you, and that in itself can produce a physical reaction, as it did with my friend Joby when he lost the sight in one of his eyes. But that is the extent of this thing's power. Once you know and accept that fact you have strength against it".
"You mean you won't fight it?" said Rest-Cure, belligerently.
"There is no need".
"What about Wayo?" another shouted "It killed him didn't it?"
"Wayo died of fright", said Kieran "Which is quite understandable in the circumstances. That thing desecrated his corpse afterwards. If you all try and stay as rational as possible it won't happen to any of you".
"I still think you should go up there", said Rest-Cure "If it's all as simple as you say it is, then you can just shut your mind off from it".
"No I can't", said Kieran, remembering the spiders "I have weaknesses like everyone else".
"Wank over him then!" another screamed.
"Fuck off, the lot of you!" Joby yelled "You're pathetic, all of you. Always expecting him to fight everything that crops up. Why don't you try sorting something out yourselves for a change? He's only human too you know, not a bloody machine. You're a bunch of ungrateful tossers, and if any of you wants to make an issue out of it then take it up with me. I may not look much but I bet I could take any of you soft gits on anytime".
No one was more surprised (or relieved) than Joby when they refused to take him up on his offer. He followed Kieran into Adam's room, where they both found him and Lonts fully dressed, as though expecting the fire-alarm to go off at any moment.
"Somehow we've got to stop that lot out there panicking and doing something silly", said Kieran, as the rest of the group filed in behind them "If we can just sit it out for the rest of the night we'll be fine".
"Are you certain this creature only attacks people after they're dead?" said Adam.
"My intuition is that that's the case", said Kieran "It's more a ghoul than a demon. But what it also tries to do is to literally frighten people to death. It's not just Joby who's suffered in that respect, but Angel was pretty bad after seeing it too. The trouble is, it's got us all trapped in this building, and human nature being what it is, well it'll only take one person to go completely off the rails and we're in dire straits. That's why I'd like you Adam to talk to them. You're so good at soothing people".
"I'll try", said Adam, doubtfully.
"I'll come too", said Lonts.
"You will not", said Adam "I want you to stay up here out of harm's way. Stay with Patsy, you'll be safer with him than with anyone else".
"But I want to help!" Lonts wailed.
"That boy needs whipping", said Julian.
"No I don't, I want to help", Lonts said again.
"You can help best by staying safe", said Adam "In here with Patsy, like I said, where I know you'll be alright".
"No I'm coming with you", said Lonts, firmly.
Adam wasn't prepared to argue though. He smacked Lonts on the bottom a couple of times and thrust him into a walk-in closet. Once incarcerated Lonts proceeded to scream and cry very loudly indeed. He knew he was in serious trouble when Adam shut him out of sight, it was the severest punishment.
"Hillyard, come down to the bar with me", said Adam "You're pretty good with people too".
"Just try and persuade them to sit the dark hours out", said Kieran "I don't believe that ghoul survives well in daylight. It's an underground creature, it needs the dark. We'll be fine when daylight comes".
Hillyard unlocked the cellar door and distributed free drinks to the assembled clientele. As he circulated with the bottles Adam followed him round the bar, repeating what Kieran had said about sitting it out until sunrise. Hillyard said afterwards that he didn't know how Adam calmed people, but he did. Not even Rest-Cure was prepared to give him any trouble.
"Keep them stuffed with food as well", said Adam, pointing Lak in the direction of the kitchen "Nothing tames men quicker than full stomachs".
When the noise from the roof had died down and the men were getting satiated with bacon sandwiches and brandy, Adam allowed Lonts to come downstairs too.
"You see I can be useful", the boy said to a group of men sat near him "But it's always the same. In times of crisis the others won't give me anything to do".
The noises from the ghoul didn't cease entirely. At periodic intervals it could be heard running up and down stairs like a loose cannonball. (It didn't surprise anyone that it could get indoors so easily). At other times it scratched repeatedly on the walls, and they later found talon-marks gouged out of some of the wooden doors. It was deeply disturbing, but Kieran repeated his mantra that they were only noises, and recommended them to treat it like a thunderstorm: disturbing, but only dangerous if you took unnecessary risks.
The sun rose eventually, and the fog rolled back over the sea, to blanket Albatross Island from view. The dawn was grey and bland, but its arrival meant that the terrors of the night were over. The men went to their rooms and instantly began making arrangements to leave. By breakfast-time the telegraph office already had more business than it could cope with, and had put up a blackboard outside with the unwelcome news of "MESSAGES MAY BE DELAYED BY THREE HOURS, OWING TO PRESSURE OF LOAD".
Hillyard went into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee for Adam, and found that one of the meat-cleavers had been rammed so fiercely into the kitchen-table that the wood had cracked like a ravine along the middle.
"Were you sure it only attacked after death?" he asked Kieran, who had followed him in.
"Pretty sure", said Kieran "But by God it would do its best to drive you into death. Never underestimate being literally scared to death. That's the ghoul's stock-in trade".
He was distracted by the sight of Ransey involved in an altercation with Rest-Cure at the foot of the stairs. Angry words were being exchanged, and then Ransey suddenly started slapping Rest-Cure viciously about the head. Kieran ran to separate them.
"What the blazes is going on?" he yelled "Ransey, pack it in at once!"
Rest-Cure took advantage of Kieran's entrance to run upstairs, the jaw of his face was obviously bruised.
"As your head of security ..." Ransey began.
"As my head of security", said Kieran "You are only entitled to start beating people up if they start beating me up! Now what was all that about?"
"He was goading me", said Ransey "Said some terrible things about you ... and about Adam".
"Your loyalty is much appreciated", said Kieran "But I don't want you being hauled up on a charge of assault because of a little git like him. Now you're obviously tired, go to bed".
"Be nice when we're out of here won't it?" said Hillyard, after Ransey had thumped upstairs "On our way back to the City, all our problems behind us".
Kieran could be forgiven for not joining in so enthusiastically with this plan. In fact he went up to bed feeling very depressed.
"I almost gave in there and then", he said to Joby in the privacy of their room "And said to hell with it, the Gorgon and the Ghoomers and everything. I'm just going to abdicate and get on with building our cottage. God, I hope we get off Albatross Island alive".
"Back in our time", said Joby, reflectively "There was an advert on the telly that I really liked, in fact I thought of it as depicting one of my favourite fantasies. Two guys in a flash car going along a scenic mountain road. Guy in passenger seat sees a car broken down by the roadside with a beautiful bird stood next to it. They pull up to help and she goes over to the passenger window, leans in and kisses him".
"What does his friend do? Look discreetly the other way, start humming a little tune?"
"You sound like Adam".
"Well what's the point of this anecdote Joby?" said Kieran "Other than to get me jealous of your secret fantasies?"
"Nothing. I was just using that to show how funny life turns out. I mean, that was my fantasy then, and look what I ended up with".
"Instead of a beautiful damsel in distress, a scrawny Irishman who has to go off and fight monsters", said Kieran "Anyway, why did she kiss him just like that? Couldn't she resist his aftershave or something? And where were him and his mate of to in the first place?"
"I don't know", said Joby "It was an advert, not a film!"
"What were they advertising then?"
"The car I think".
"The one that had broken down?"
"Kieran!" said Joby, in exasperation "I'm just saying that life couldn't be more different to as I'd once hoped".
"Oh great, thanks a lot".
"I didn't mean it that way", said Joby "Anyway, things like that didn't happen to blokes like me".
"I doubt they happened to anyone".
"And even if it had, she'd have looked across and fancied you instead".
"Nah", said Kieran "I was hopeless at fixing cars, and I expect she was looking for a mechanic really. Besides, didn't her mother ever tell her about talking to strange men, or kissing 'em come to that?"
"I suspect that if we'd never crossed over I would never have kissed you".
"Probably not. Let alone Adam. Where's all this leading, Joby?"
"It's not leading anywhere", said Joby.
"Well stop going all round the houses then. You could be a woman yourself, the way you have of getting to the point illogically".
"There is no point. Just saying that I love you that's all".
"You've just spent the past five minutes telling me all about your erotic fantasies involving stranded women, and basically saying that in the old life you wouldn't have touched me with a barge-pole, and you try and tell me that signifies you love me?"
"I sometimes think talking to Lonts makes more sense than talking to you", said Kieran "Right, pack your things anyway. We're off".
"I know we haven't had any sleep, but it's a case of now or never", said Kieran "The air-buggy the Ministry are sending is due to land late this afternoon, and we have to be well away by then, and we've still got the tunnel to locate. Now's a good time to get off. The others'll be asleep, with any luck".
"I'm not happy with sneaking off like this. Not saying goodbye", said Joby.
"It'd be a lot harder if we didn't, believe me. And Adam would only get himself into a state. Please Joby, trust me, this is the only way".
"I can't help feeling we're being mean to him. Not telling him what we're doing. We're a three, remember?"
"Yes, but we're a three with others attached. There is no way Adam could come with us. Not only is his health against it, but he couldn't leave the baby, and there's no way I'd let Lonts come along on this one. Adam will be fine. Julian and Lonts will keep him occupied, with any luck. And it'll be a great relief for me to know they'll all be safe at the Ministry until we get back".
"What if we don't see him again?" said Joby "What if we don't come back?"
"We will", said Kieran, firmly "You and me aren't cut out to be garden furniture, as Adam once put it. You will get your cottage, I promise you".
Lonts had been in a strange mood when Adam put him to bed. He was drowsy with tiredness, but desperately wanting to know if Adam was proud of him.
"I know I don't always get it right Adam", he said, sleepily "But I do try".
"I am always proud of you Lonts", said Adam, kissing the boy's forehead.
"Back in your time", Lonts went on "Would you have been proud of me then?"
"Of course I would. Why do you doubt it?"
"Julian said to me once that your family were important. Would you have been embarrassed to introduce me to them?"
"More like I'd have been embarrassed to introduce them to you!" said Adam "They might have put you off me".
"You're always kind to me Adam", Lonts smiled.
"My family were nothing special Lonts", said Adam "All they had was money. It doesn't mean much when it's not tempered with warmth or compassion. If Julian wasn't such a snob he'd tell you the same. His family left a lot to be desired too".
"What would your family have made of me?"
"They'd have been completely baffled I expect, and secretly very jealous of what we have together. Go to sleep now, you're very tired".
Adam also slept soundly for a few hours. He awoke again when Lak brought a lunch tray into the room.
"Thought you'd want waking in plenty of time", said Lak, chirpily "Do you want me to pull the curtains?"
"Not just yet", said Adam "Lonts is still asleep. Don't let me keep you. I expect you've got a lot to do".
Lak took the hint and left the room. Adam went back over to the bed and nudged Lonts gently.
"Food's arrived", he said, softly "You must be hungry Lo-Lo".
Lonts opened his eyes and grimaced with pain.
"My eyes are all blurry Adam", he said "And my head hurts. I think my bad time's beginning".
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