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"You don't seem to be enjoying this very much Joby", said Kieran.
"Oh dear", said Joby, sarcastically "And I was trying so hard to cover it up too!"
"There's no need to get like that".
"Well I didn't know I was supposed to be enjoying it", Joby snarled "How can I enjoy it, you tell me that. We're in a slimy tunnel with a mass of sea over our heads, and the possibility that She might be lurking round any corner".
"The native American Indians had a belief that the mood you were in when you died affected how you would be in the After Life", said Kieran "So you might as well smile".
"If we get turned to stone", said Joby "There won't be any After Life, 'cos I expect our souls will get gorgonised too".
"Now there's a subject for a philosophical discussion!" said Kieran, pausing to re-light his candle stub "When we get home you'll have to organise a debate at the City Hall about it. Can souls get gorgonised too? That one'll drive 'em mad".
"You drive me fucking mad", Joby pushed him against the damp wall of the tunnel "There's a time and a place for everything, and now is not the time or the place for a bloody jolly conversation".
"I'm just trying to make you feel better", said Kieran.
"Then don't!" Joby roared, as he pushed past him "Now c'mon, and I don't want to hear another word out of you unless it's a matter of life or death".
Kieran followed him through the slithery tunnel, feeling all the while as though they were creeping through the belly of some enormous snake. Their candle flames were thrown huge and distorted against the clumsy brickwork, and the whole structure looked far too makeshift and fragile to be supporting the huge mass of ocean that lay directly overhead. They had been walking for thirty minutes, and there was still no end to the tunnel in sight.
"This is crazy Jobe", said Kieran, after a very long silence "We can't not speak to each other. Anyway, I want to hear your voice. I find it comforting, even when you're yelling at me".
"I'm sorry", Joby mumbled, as they paused to rest for a little while "It's just that I'm not keen on enclosed spaces. I hated the tunnels at the Loud House, and the ones at Mundaba Heights, and this one's even worse than them. Don't worry though, I'm not about to go all to pieces on you".
"Think of something that'll take your mind off it", said Kieran "What dinner would you really like when we're finished here?"
"Thoughts like that'll drive me insane", said Joby.
"Alright, your favourite sexual fantasy then".
"I can't", said Joby "I just can't think of sex at a time like this. I have never felt less turned on in my life".
"I've got some very Catholic thoughts going through my head", said Kieran "For sheer stupidity and arrogance in ever listening to those Vanquisher of evil rumours in the first place, I feel I want flogging within an inch of me life. I want me cock to be bound up tightly, and me backside to be whacked with a strap until it's sore".
"That could be arranged", said Joby, with feeling "I'm sure Julian would be only too happy to oblige".
"I'm not THAT keen to be punished", Kieran laughed "See, I've taken your mind off the tunnel haven't I?"
"If you say so", Joby took a quick swig from his water canteen and then indicated for Kieran to move on "Come on, let's move even closer to our doom".
They emerged out of the tunnel into the blinding glare of sunlight. For once Albatross Island wasn't blanketed in fog, but even the cold sunshine of the north couldn't disguise what a gloomy place the island was. It was small and treeless, like a mound of peat that had been dumped in the middle of the grey ocean. The tunnel had emerged out of the side of one of the small hills, and apart from the opening there were no other features on Albatross Island at all. Even the seagulls didn't land here.
"No wonder no one wants to live here", said Kieran "Like Castletownbeare on a quiet day".
"The Horror of Fang Rock", said Joby "Still, provided Medusa wasn't behind us in the tunnel, we should be able to see her coming".
"But that's the point isn't it?" said Kieran "Where the bloody hell is she? There's nowhere for her to hide".
"Perhaps we've been led on a wild-goose chase".
"No, those messages were pretty definite that she'd been sighed here".
"Well what did they say exactly?" said Joby.
"That some ships sailing in this area claimed to sight a strange shape walking over the island, and from the outline of it it sounds like the Gorgon, although obviously they didn't see her face".
"So it might not have been her?" said Joby, but he shivered nervously all the same "I hate the sound of the tide, it's so bleedin' gloomy. Kiel?"
"I don't wanna be here".
"You think I do?"
"In fact I wish I was anywhere but here. This place is so depressing. What do we do now?"
"I don't know", Kieran wailed, emotionally "Why does everyone think I have all the answers all the time? I don't know. I don't know anymore than you do".
"I've got some apples in me bag. Do you want one?" said Joby, opening his rucksack.
Kieran nodded, and Joby passed some fruit to him. They ate in silence for a while, staring out at the featureless sea.
"Do you feel very depressed Joby?" Kieran asked, unexpectedly.
"I don't know if it's just depression or tiredness", said Joby "Mind you, this place is enough to depress anyone".
"It's not as simple as that", said Kieran "We're not alone here. Look at the way this candlewax has dripped down and solidified. It is like ectoplasm".
"Kieran?" Joby exclaimed "You aren't going peculiar on me are you?"
"Think of something totally mundane Joby. Think of your garden, anything".
"What are you talking about?" said Joby, wretchedly.
He looked across to where Kieran was gazing. On the other side of the island a ball of smoke was forming.
"Kieran", Joby whispered "Isn't her is it?"
"Those fools!" Kieran leapt to his feet "Those idiots on that ship. It wasn't the Gorgon they saw. She isn't here Joby. We have been led on a wild-goose chase. She could be anywhere".
"Then what's ...?"
The smoke formed into a figure. It seemed to be a man, tall and very thin. A white hairless death's head of a skull atop a figure clothed in flapping black rags, like a scarecrow come to life. It waved its arms wildly and shrieked like the Slime Man. It then began to behave in an even more extraordinary manner. It jumped up and down, screaming wildly all the time.
"What the fuck is it?" said Joby.
"It's a demon".
"What?" said Joby "Another one? Where are they all coming from?"
"I can't fight it", said Kieran, sounding mildly surprised as though he'd discovered there was no milk in the fridge "Joby, if it comes over here I can't fight it. I've lost all my power".
"No you haven't. You're still the Vanquisher of Evil. If you weren't that Thing would be over here like a shot".
"It's playing with me", said Kieran "It doesn't care whether it gets me or not, it knows I'm no match for it anymore. I've had it Jobe, whatever it was that made me so powerful ... it's gone!"
"You just think it has", said Joby, rubbing his friend's hands and glancing nervously over his shoulder at the demon "There's no point in staying if She's not here. I'll get you back to Stokva".
Joby never lost faith in Kieran. All through the traumatic journey back through the tunnel he believed that it was solely Kieran's presence that had stopped the demon attacking or following them. Convincing Kieran of this was another matter entirely.
The full extent of Kieran's nervous breakdown didn't become apparent until Joby had got him back to the hotel in Stokva. This time they were allocated a dark, gloomy room on the ground floor that looked like it would be more appropriately used as a store-room. Joby barely had time to notice his surroundings though. Over the next few days he was fully occupied with looking after Kieran. The Irishman had had "bad turns" before, but none as debilitating as this.
For several days Kieran lived in a nightmarish world of his own, where the most unreal things happened, and yet he swore they were all very real. On one occasion Joby had to fetch him in from the sea-shore, where Kieran had wandered out to scream at the waves.
"There's a bloody worm in there Jobe", he yelled, his hair wet with the spray "A huge great motherfocker. Warn all the fishermen. Tell them not to go out there".
"I doubt they'd listen", said Joby.
"Then wish them Godspeed", Kieran wept.
Joby put him to bed back at the hotel, and Kieran slipped entirely into his own subconscious. He would awake in the early hours of the morning whilst Joby slept, and fancy he saw a woman sitting on the bed. A tall, beautiful fair-haired woman in a pink shift, who looked at him with compassion in her eyes. His other dreams weren't so enchanting. He endured violent wet fantasies in which he was chained to a wall and flogged senseless by some faceless man. The beatings were extremely painful and humiliating, and yet in a perverse way Kieran enjoyed them. He wanted to be punished. He felt he deserved every lick of the strap. He had failed. He couldn't prevent any of the catastrophes that were to befall the human race in its final years. The Gorgon was free, the Ghoomers were free, all the demons were free ... in his mind he fancied he heard his mother's voice urging him to let go. Life was so much easier if you were mad and didn't care. You couldn't feel pain then.
That night the whipping in his dream was worse than ever. The faceless man was grabbing his balls as well, twisting them until he screamed with pain. Meanwhile he thought he could feel the skin on his back bleeding.
"It was just a dream Kieran", said Joby, trying to sponge him down with cold water "A wet dream. We all get them. I once dreamt that a woman peed over me. Don't mean to say I'd want it to happen in real life!"
"I deserve it Joby", Kieran ranted.
"No you don't", Joby sobbed "Don't talk like that. You're not being fair on yourself".
"I should be flogged senseless. You'll have to do it".
"I won't", said Joby, firmly "I love you, I couldn't do that".
"Me mam", Kieran whimpered "I keep hearing her voice. I wonder if she ever really loved me. Or did she just resent me being around? It was because of me, my existence, that she was so unhappy".
"She loved you", said Joby "Think how she'd feel if she could see how upset you are now. You wouldn't want that would you?"
"I disappoint everyone I love", Kieran's lips twisted into a grimace of emotional pain "Her. You. Amy. Adam".
"You haven't disappointed any of us", said Joby "Your mum was very proud of you, and Amy's problems were all down to Amy. She knew that better than anyone. And as for me and Adam, it's crazy to say you've disappointed us. Adam's as potty about you as he ever was".
"Then why does he need Lonts?" Kieran snarled, in a tone of voice that Joby had never heard him use before "Because Lonts gives him the love he needs. Because I failed him. I should've given myself to him wholeheartedly like Lonts has done, but I was too busy keeping a bit back".
"It's all rubbish", said Joby "Lonts needs looking after that's all. You're reading too much into it. It's not fair to start asking why Adam needs Lonts. It's not right to question love. Sometimes it's all we've got".
Kieran subsided into an exhausted half-slumber, too drained to pursue the conversation any further. Joby slept in the chair by the fire, so that Kieran could sprawl out on the bed if he wished. Kieran woke again an hour before dawn to find the Tall Woman near him. She was crying softly as though sharing his pain. As her crying increased Kieran knew she was taking some of it into herself, eating his pain for him.
When she vanished Kieran woke Joby and coaxed him into the bed.
"You must be cold", said Kieran "The fire's gone out".
"I'm alright", Joby grunted, sleepily "Good job we both kept out socks on isn't it? Our feet'd be like ice otherwise".
Kieran got him under the bedclothes and wrapped his arms around him.
"Are you alright now Kiel?" asked Joby.
"I don't know", said Kieran, candidly "I feel so damn tired all the time".
"Sleep then", Joby murmured "Night night".
They slept for the rest of the night and most of the following day. They were only woken then because Hillyard and Ransey came bursting through the door like a police raid.
"There you are!" said Ransey, angrily "All tucked up in bed nice and cosy".
"The Gorgon's been sighted round Marlsblad", said Hillyard.
"Marlsblad?" Joby exclaimed, rubbing his eyes.
"Gone back to her old stamping-ground by the looks of things", said Hillyard "The villagers aren't happy. They've had to seal off the woods again. Been lousy for the summer holiday trade".
"And don't either of you suggest flying off there next", said Ransey "Try having a bit of sympathy for Adam for a change. You haven't got a clue what he's been through lately. Worrying about you on top of everything else".
"What do you mean, everything else?" said Joby.
"Lonts has been ill", said Hillyard "He's had to have an operation. Benign brain tumour".
"Oh poor Addy", said Kieran "He must have been worried sick".
"Putting it mildly", Ransey grunted "So you've caused him all this worry for nothing. Skulking off to Albatross Island when the Gorgon wasn't bloody there to start with".
"We didn't know that", Joby snapped "It was misleading eyewitness reports what caused all the trouble, and how were we to know the baby was sick? We'd have been home like a shot if we had".
"How's Lonts now?" said Kieran, anxiously.
"Come home and find out!" said Ransey.
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