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"You stupid little ..."
Adam had slammed the pantry door and turned the key in the lock. He then began to block up the keyhole with wads of tissue-paper.
"Did you see her, Adam?" Joby wept.
"Get in the kitchen and wait for me there!" Adam bellowed "I've got to make sure this room is as safe as I can make it. Fortunately it's windowless, otherwise we'd be in dire trouble by now".
Adam dragged various boxes and sacks and propped them against the door. As he worked he could hear the Gorgon moving about on the other side of the door. At one point she tested the door-handle, but seemed to lose interest in it quickly. Adam emerged back into the kitchen and locked the larder door as well.
"I think this is the only key to the pantry", he said "And there aren't any other doors. Thank God she can't move supernaturally like the vampires. We were damn lucky she didn't decide to come in through the front door like everyone else!"
"What are we going to do?" said Joby, tearfully.
"Leave her in there until we can get hold of Manada. He created her, he can sort this out", said Adam, panting breathlessly "Christ, we've had a close shave, Joby. It must have been her footprints Julian saw in the snow. She must have been close by when he and Lo-Lo were skiing! Well at least we've got her confined now".
"We can't have her under the same roof as us!"
"Joby you cretin, you were quite happy to run into her arms just now!" Adam exclaimed, angrily "What the bloody hell were you thinking of man?"
"I don't know", Joby wailed, desperately "I was upset. Kieran and Hillyard ... and Ransey thinking I could be like him ... I wanted to die".
Adam grabbed him by his shirt and pulled him onto his feet, slamming him against the dresser. Joby flinched, expecting ringing slaps to rain down on him at any time.
"Have you any idea how I would have felt if you'd been killed?" Adam whispered "Or don't my feelings count?"
"Yes they do", Joby sobbed into Adam's shoulder.
"You exasperating ..." Adam shook him gently "Strange I've never beaten you Joby, because God knows you've given me more worries at times than Patsy and Lonts put together".
"You're not going to now are you?" Joby sniffed.
"No, we've got a wall to build".
"We're going to seal her up in there, like the Countess Elizabeth Bathory. Have you heard of that legend?"
"Countess Dracula wasn't she?"
"Quite. We can't risk facing the Gorgon in order to destroy her..."
"But she was beautiful, Adam", Joby protested "What if the legend's all in the mind? What if she can only turn you to stone if you think she can?"
"That's her power you idiot. Didn't you learn anything from the horrible way in which Rooly died? She has the most terrifying seductive powers. I bet if you had gone in there you wouldn't have seen beauty then".
"What would I have seen?"
"I don't know", said Adam, but he recalled the shocking pictures Rooly had scrawled over the walls of his cottage. How often had the Gorgon killed because men just couldn't control their curiosity? Or just refused to believe that she was as appalling as legend had it?
"But she was beautiful", Joby muttered "I'll never forget her face".
"Joby you must, or she will destroy you", said Adam, imploringly "We have to block off the pantry door. Make it inaccessible".
"We can't leave her in there forever", said Joby "She can't die naturally. She doesn't eat, so she can't starve. Have we got to have her here for always?"
"Only until Manada gets here".
"It's too risky, Adam", said Joby "What if one of the others tries to get in to look at her? We've got Ransey, who's going more mental everyday, and the baby for God's sake!"
"Joby, what other option do we have in the meantime?" said Adam "We can't turn her loose again. This way she is contained. She can't kill whilst she's trapped in there".
Adam decided to keep the news of the Gorgon's "unexpected arrival" away from the Ministry men, who were fortunately too busy playing hunters in the village to worry about what was going on up at the Castle. Gorth surprised the others by showing more concern for the inhabitants of the house, than his own safety. He even helped Hillyard to construct a wall, using concrete blocks they obtained by dismantling the large coal bunkers outside. Whilst they worked they occasionally heard the Gorgon pacing about on the other side, and no one could even remotely relax until the blocks had been cemented into place. By the time they had finished it was past one o'clock in the morning.
"Strange", said Kieran, who was making tea in the kitchen "I know she's lethal, and I know she's not human, but I can't help feeling as though we've just walled her up alive. What a horrific way to go. Just endlessly pacing about in that gloomy room. Except she can't go. She can't simply die".
"Can she think?" said Gorth "Is she aware of who she is, and what's happening to her?"
"Dangerous talk, Gorth", said Adam "Lonts might start feeling sorry for her and let her out".
"He'd need dynamite then", said Hillyard, pleased with his evening's work.
"We've got dynamite", said Ransey, quietly.
"Ransey!" Adam snapped.
"No need to worry about me, Adam", said Lonts, indignantly "I remember coming near her in Marlsblad forest. I don't want to come that close again. You forget, I watched Rooly die".
"Yes you did", Adam stroked the boy's hair gently.
"We're going to be alright", said Hillyard "As long as no one goes letting her out. It'd be certain death to anyone who did".
"The dogs are restless tonight", said Adam, sitting in a chair by the fire in Julian's room "I'm surprised Lonts isn't getting agitated about them".
"He's asleep", said Julian, indicating the door into Finia's room "They're both curled up in each other's arms, it's quite sweet. There's no need to go disturbing them. You might as well stay in here tonight".
"It's three o'clock", Adam shivered "I hate this hour. When you're awake at this hour, you feel as though everyone else in the world was at peace, except for yourself".
The house in fact was quite noisy. The dogs scrambled restlessly up and down the main staircase, sounding like a swarm of giant rats. Much more disturbing though was the sound of a distant booming noise coming from further off into the mountains.
"What the bloody hell is that?" said Julian, crossing to the window "It sounds like thunder, but I'm sure it's not".
"We've heard it before, Jules", said Adam "In Bandorra, remember?"
Julian made a non-committal grunting noise, and got a bottle out of his cupboard.
"I'm going to have a gin", he said "Do you mind?"
"No, have one for me whilst you're about it", said Adam "I don't know how much more I can take. We've just lived through a nuclear winter, and now there's a Gorgon in our pantry! We have got one of the most dangerous of mythological monsters under the same roof as us!"
"You should calm down", said Julian "You're not the only one who's uneasy".
"I know I'm going on, but I can be weak with you, Jules".
Julian patted his shoulder reassuringly. They both jumped nervously when the door opened.
"Joby!" Adam exclaimed "You look terrible old love, has something happened?"
"I'm just being a prat", said Joby, vaguely "But I woke up just now and I got scared. I don't know why, perhaps I thought the Gorgon was on the landing or summat".
"Well where's Patsy?" said Adam.
"In our room I expect".
"Where were you then?" said Julian, closing the door to shut out the bitter cold.
"I knew Adam was in here, so I thought I'd take his room for the night", Joby replied "Can I have a gin too? I could do with something".
"You've decided to ostracise Patsy?" said Adam "I don't blame you, but you hate sleeping alone though".
"I do, and I got the creeps tonight", Joby gulped down the gin and promptly held out his glass for another one.
"Don't let that nonsense with Hillyard come between you, Joby", said Adam.
"Oh I wanna bit of fun", Joby dropped to his knees on the hearth-rug and slipped his robe from around his shoulders "Keep the gin glowing, Julian".
"With pleasure", Julian topped up the glass once more.
"Julian for God's sake", Adam hissed "Can't you see he's in a state?"
"And seducing him will do him the power of good, won't it Joby?"
Joby grinned lecherously.
"And what better way to restore his bruised self-esteem?" said Julian, flopping down on the rug next to him "Don't be a bore Adam and join in. You could do with a bit of 'unwinding' too".
"Joby, why don't you go and see Patsy?" said Adam "He's all alone".
"Good. Serves him right", said Joby, gulping more gin "He really pisses me off sometimes. Kieran I mean. He thinks he's so fucking superior. The Irish are like that. They patronise us English, think they're so much smarter than us. They think we're idiots, daft, silly. Well what's wrong with being silly? We enjoy being silly, and they just look at us with their smug, bewildered expressions".
"Patsy's not like that", said Adam, stroking Joby's neck soothingly.
"Oh yes he is. He has sex with me as though he's doing me a favour. It pisses me off no end. And he laughs at me. You've been there Adam, when we've been at it. He laughs at me".
"He's being affectionate, there's no malice in it. He adores you", Adam protested.
"Perhaps that's why Amy had all those other men. Perhaps he was like that with her, I don't know. But I think that right now I know exactly how she must have felt".
"You're drinking much too fast", Adam went to take the glass from him, but Joby snatched it back again "It's not true about Patsy".
"What's he like in bed?" asked Julian.
"He's alright", said Joby, unenthusiastically "He doesn't make me feel exciting like Adam does though. Adam makes me feel as though I'm the one he wants to be with".
"But of course you are!" said Adam.
"Yea well git-face doesn't make me feel like that", said Joby "He makes me feel like a time-filler. A comfy fock as he puts it".
"If you feel like that it's entirely within your own crazy head", said Adam.
"No it's not!" Joby shrieked, tearfully "I've done everything I can for him. I've risked my life for him, I've put up with his endless bloody nervous breakdowns, which aren't my idea of fun by any means. And what thanks do I get? He goes and screws Hillyard that's what! Hillyard! The walking health hazard!"
There was the sound of another distant boom, followed by a wolf howling in the forest. The dogs barked anxiously from the stairs.
"I wish we were back in the City", said Joby "In that poxy little flat we used to have, remember Adam? You with your bed next to the stove, me and git-face in the next room, and Hillyard the Harlot shut away in the box-room".
"I think we'd find it a bit cramped these days", said Adam.
"I don't care, I felt safe there", Joby mumbled.
There was a hammering on the bedroom door. Joby sat up, snarling like a guard-dog.
"That's him, I know it!" he said.
Suddenly he bolted across the room and turned the key in the lock.
"Joby, don't be a pillock, let me in", came Kieran's dulcet tones.
"Bugger off!" Joby yelled, the shadow of his naked form thrown against the walls by the candlelight "I'm in here with Adam and Julian, and I don't wanna come out just to see you".
"I know you're only doing this to spite me", said Kieran, from the other side of the door "Look I'm truly sorry, but I can't make it up to you when there's a piece of wood between us".
"I don't want you to 'make it up to me'", said Joby "I don't need your fucking charity. Give it to Hillyard. He does!"
"Joby, I'm getting angry now".
"Quite makes up for not having a television doesn't it?" said Julian.
"And you needn't think you can scare me by coming out with things like that", Joby went on.
"Then unlock the focking door and face me!" said Kieran, slapping the wood in frustration "Adam, talk some sense into him".
"It's Joby's decision", said Adam, and he led the younger man over to the bed, where he wrapped the eiderdown around him.
"It's gone quiet out there", said Julian, when nothing was heard from Kieran in response "He hasn't given up already has he?"
"Not if I know Patsy", said Adam.
"He can stay out there", said Joby "I'm not going to let him intimidate me".
"I see", said Adam "That's why you're hiding in here is it?"
"I'm not hiding!" said Joby "There's nothing to be frightened of with him. He's a bloody stick-insect".
Lonts could be heard exclaiming in surprise from the next room.
"Oh dear", said Julian "We forgot about the other door".
Kieran walked through the doorway which led from Finia's room. He looked like a wild spirit, an elemental. His thin frame almost luminous beneath his nightshirt, and his long hair in disarray.
"He scared me!" said Lonts, appearing behind him resentfully "I thought he was a ghost, standing there in the moonlight".
"Yes, you do look pretty spectral, Patsy", said Adam.
"He's a fucking shit!" Joby threw off the quilt and bounded over to Kieran. He landed him such a smack across the face that Kieran toppled backwards into an armchair. Lonts screamed and jammed his fingers into his mouth.
"There'll be quite enough of that, Joby", said Adam, hauling him back by his elbows "Now calm down at once. I'm sorry Patsy, but Julian's been feeding him great quantities of gin".
"I was only giving him what he wanted", said Julian.
"Joby, you know you shouldn't binge-drink like that", said Kieran, struggling to get into an upright position "It only gets you depressed".
"We shouldn't be falling out", said Lonts, emotionally "Not with the Gorgon downstairs, and that weird noise out there".
"Quite right", said Adam, helping Kieran to his feet "Are you alright Pats?"
"I think so", Kieran shook his head vigorously, as though trying to dislodge his brain "The way he came at me then reminded me of the Slime Man".
"Isn't anyone going to sleep tonight?" said Finia drowsily, pulling his wrapper around him "I'm surprised we haven't had Ransey in complaining about the noise. You know what he's like".
"You should be in bed", said Julian.
"I'll go back to bed when everyone else does", said Finia "So if you don't want my death on your hands, you'd better give it some thought".
"It's cold in here", said Joby, looking round his own room a short while later "You've let the fire go out".
"Yes I know", said Kieran, dejectedly "But I was too worried about you to give it much thought. We'll be warm enough in bed".
"I'm sorry I hit you", Joby mumbled "Your face is red".
"Your mother would've been proud of you", Kieran sighed "I should've come and found you sooner, but I was afraid to".
"I thought you'd tell me we were through. No one would blame you if you did", said Kieran "I know it sometimes looks as though I take you for granted Joby, but I don't. I'm aware all the time of the occasions when I've let you down, made you unhappy, and everyone has a limit. And for a time there this evening I thought I'd exceeded me credit with you".
"But why Hillyard of all people?" said Joby "You've got Adam".
"Adam wasn't there at that particular moment, and at that particular moment I just needed someone".
"I was only a few feet away".
"I didn't know that at the time".
"Would it have made much difference if you had?" Joby pouted.
"Of course it would! Why didn't you come out to me, Joby? I could have cracked some joke to spare Hillyard's feelings, and then ..."
"Was he better than me?" said Joby, sharply "I mean he should be an expert, the amount of practice he's had".
"If you want to know what Hillyard's like in the sack you can find out anytime yourself", said Kieran "He'd only be too happy to show you, and you haven't been that unwilling yourself at times. The amount of times I've caught him groping you are beyond number. If it'd been you in my place at the bottom of the back stairs today, then who's to say exactly the same thing wouldn't have happened?"
"Bloody nuisance isn't he!" said Joby "I-I've said some terrible things about you this evening Kiel. And in front of Julian too, he won't forget 'em in a hurry".
"What kind of things?"
"That when we had sex you treated it as though you were doing me a favour. That you thought you were superior to me", said Joby "I want you to know, 'cos doubtless he'll tell you".
"Is that really the impression I give you?" said Kieran, incredulously "Joby, you eejit, you prize wanker of eejits. You excite me, don't you realise that? You drive me focking mad at times, but you excite me. You always did. Just the closeness of your body near me sometimes ... Joby believe me, it's not me who's doing the favours here".
Joby clasped him tightly in his arms and held him close.
"Let's get into bed", said Kieran, softly "You think everyone hates you Joby, but we all love you to pieces".
"I just feel like such a clumsy pillock sometimes", said Joby "Comes of being English. I said that to the others just now. And that was why you look down on me".
"When you're my height you have a bloody hard job looking down on anyone!"
"You know what I mean", said Joby "You're the charming Irishman, and I'm the ugly sexless Englishman. And I hate meself for having to say it".
"Would this be the same Englishman who took me under his wing when I was seventeen?" said Kieran "When I was homesick as hell, and wishing I'd never heard of England. When I felt like the whole world was sniggering at me. When those fellas in the pub that time started picking on me, and you had to rescue me. And you said to me afterwards, take no notice of those gits, they're only jealous 'cos you're something special".
"Did I say that?" said Joby "That must have slipped out. I nearly gave the game away right at the start didn't I?"
"Did you fancy me in those days?"
"Probably. But I'd never have admitted it in a million years".
"I'm exactly the same", said Kieran "For a bloody long time I denied to myself how I felt about you. I had never been close to a man before in me life, and it scared me, even just at a friendship level and not anything else. Ask Adam, I was still denying it even after we'd left the prison. So you see, you and me aren't so different under the skin".
"I feel rotten now", said Joby "I told them you weren't very exciting in bed".
"Oh charming", said Kieran "That wasn't what Hillyard said earlier".
"I was upset, I wanted to get back at you, I didn't really mean it".
"I never realised I made you feel so undervalued", said Kieran "That's all my fault".
Joby led him over to the bed and they slipped under the covers.
"You make me feel wonderful", Joby whispered.
Ransey didn't know whether he was awake or dreaming. He'd had vivid dreams before, ones that were hard to differentiate from reality, but nothing so extraordinary as this. He was being throttled. Something was sitting on his chest, with its bare clammy hands around his throat. Frantically he tried to free his own hands from under the mass of bedclothes and get them around his tormentor somehow.
The trouble was, he couldn't see this fiend. Even allowing for the fact that his candle had burned low and he was without his spectacles, he reasoned that he should still be able to see something. Anything! There wasn't even the outline of a shape, a dark mass of matter. And yet this creature was sitting on his chest, only a few inches from his face.
The creature was small but heavy, that much he could feel. Its skin was coarse, covered with a filmy down fur, and cold to the touch. It was also completely invisible.
Ransey managed to release the creature's claws from his throat and throw it off the bed. It landed with a loud thump on the floor, and there was a frantic scrabbling noise as it tried to find its feet. With fumbling hands Ransey tried to strike matches, clumsily lighting as many candles as he could find. Shadows like caricatures of the furniture leered up against the red flock wallpaper. Of another living thing in the room, there was no sign.
And then it was on is back, grasping his throat until he felt his windpipe would crush under its claws. He staggered around the room as though in a drunken stupor, trying to wrest the beast from his back. But the creature was succeeding in squeezing the life out of him. He fell to his knees on the carpet, choking and gargling as though the death-rattle was already in force. If this was a dream he willed himself to wake up immediately. He couldn't. He was already awake.
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