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By Sarah Hapgood

“We seem to be constantly cleaning this table”, said Joby.

“That’s because we’re constantly using it I suppose”, said Adam, standing nearby in the galley, with a slice of toast in one hand and a mug of tea in the other.

“I think we’re long overdue for an holiday”, said Joby “It’s ridiculous how we work our fingers to the bone day-in day-out with never any time off”.

“And just who else is going to feed those ungrateful nutcases if we don’t do it?” said Adam.

“Dunno don’t care”, said Joby.

“Oh Joby!” Adam laughed.

“I don’t want a holiday!” Bengo wailed “If I didn’t have this place to come to, and you two, I’d have to go back to spending all my time with the other clowns, and that would be just terrible!”

“What a ringing endorsement of the noble art of clowning!” said Adam.

“Working with you two has made me feel useful”, said Bengo “When you’ve spent all your life being made to feel a complete clot, you have no idea how good that feels. When Bardin starts on at me, I can have a go back at him”.

“You can anyway”, said Joby “If he gives you a hard time, we’ll give him a good hiding”.

“Not that that ever seems to have much effect”, said Adam.

“Oh it does, it does”, said Bengo “Anyway, it’s not the weather for a holiday. It’s freezing cold and blowing a blizzard”.

“Hopefully it’s hunker down weather”, said Adam “It would be nice not to have any annoying interruptions for a while”.

“Bloody freezing up there”, said Bardin, coming into the galley and shedding his outer clothes as he did so “Any tea going in here or have you drunk it all?”

“I’m sure we can squeeze one out for you”, said Adam.

“From the dregs of the pot”, said Bengo.

“You don’t know how lucky you are staying down here in the warm”, said Bardin, picking up the ship’s cat from the chair by the stove and sitting down in his place.

“I don’t give me that”, said Bengo “You’ve probably been up there for all of about 10 minutes!”

“Ten minutes is a long time in this weather”, said Bardin, stroking the cat.

“What’s that?” said Joby, hearing shouting from up above. He went out into the passageway and stood at the bottom of the quarterdeck stairs “Kieran? What’s up?”

He realised it was Kieran doing the shouting from up on the main deck. Joby scampered up the steps, followed by the others.

“Away with you, you foul creature of the abyss!” Kieran was shouting “You cursed abomination!”

“What the fuck is it?” said Joby.

“Joby, surely you don’t need me to tell you that after all these years”, said Kieran “It’s a focking demon, that’s what it is”.

Up on the headland above the cave, a grotesque creature was looming. It was hard to make out any defined shape in the gloom. It seemed to be constantly changing shape, from a huge winged griffon to a many tentacled creature. It was constantly in a state of flux. It looked as if it had been drawn out of charcoal. Occasionally gobbets of fire spat out of its mouth, but apart from that it didn’t seem to have any facial features, no eyes or nose.

“I banish you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ!” Kieran yelled as loudly as he could. He repeated this several times, whilst unwinding the crucifix from around his neck, and then holding it aloft “I banish you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ! Be gone from here!!”

After what felt like an age the Thing slowly evaporated, reducing in size, and retreating, as if something was sucking it back up into the air.

“Holy cow”, said Kieran, putting the cross back around his neck “It was testing me, I wasn’t sure if that was going to work. I had to really force myself to concentrate. Now I know why we found that bunch of iron keys hanging up outside the door of the cottage”.

“Iron repels the Devil”, said Joby, thoughtfully “You’ve told me that before”.

“Exactly”, said Kieran.

“It’s not coming back again is it?” asked Bengo.

“Not if I’ve got anything to do with it”, said Kieran, and he turned to Bardin “I think for once I’d be very glad if you called a meeting in the dining-room”.

“We’ve travelled through cursed lands before”, said Hillyard, when they were all gathered around the tea-things a short while later “The whole area north of Snow Lake was called the Demon Lands”.

“Huh yes, and this is the Demon Continent”, said Kieran, cramming a crust of bread into his mouth “It always has been. Every time we’ve been here we’ve found that. From seeing the ravages of the Sweating Sickness, to the house where we spent the Quarantine Winter, to when we fled that time”.

“It can’t be much worse than the land we’ve left behind”, said Mieps, solemnly.

“No, that is true”, said Kieran “The whole world is cursed at the moment, and I mustn’t give up, although God knows it’s easy too when you come face-to-face with a sickening monstrosity like that”.

“Is this area protected, Kieran?” asked Lonts “It’s never felt Evil. I do think whoever lived here were good people”.

“Yes so do I”, said Kieran “Evil would not have created that little courtyard garden for instance. It has a very peaceful feel to it. They sliced out a haven here, but they must have constantly been on the alert for attack. I don’t know whether that’s what induced them to finally leave. They might have got tired of it, and moved on elsewhere”.

“As we will when this weather turns”, said Ransey “That elusive tropical island looks more and more tempting by the moment. And how are you supposed to heal the world when you’re living on the edge of the abyss all the time?”

“I would like to know what’s on the other side of those mountains though”, said Bardin “Just to satisfy my curiosity if nothing else”.

“You and your bloody curiosity”, said Bengo, scowling at him.

“Oh pipe down, I’m scarcely going to go mountaineering in this blizzard am I”, said Bardin.

“I wouldn’t put anything past you!” said Bengo.

“We need a plan”, said Ransey “When the weather clears we can look over the mountains, but surely you must all agree that the New Continent is not somewhere to settle for good”.

“What’s got you suddenly all worked up?” said Julian.

“Seeing that Thing out there”, said Ransey “It reminded me of Father Gabriel in his final moments, when he was disintegrating and melting. I’m also reminded of all the dead bodies we saw in the city here, in the aftermath of the Sickness. They are not images I want back in my mind”.

“That’s what seeing that Demon for only a few minutes has done to you”, said Kieran “You’re absolutely right to want to protect yourself”.

“Not just me, all of you”, said Ransey.

“I know that’s what you meant”, said Kieran, in a pacifying way “It worked on you, Ransey, and you can’t afford to take any more chances that way”.

“Why did it get under my skin though?” said Ransey “No one else seems to be affected in the same way”.

“Oh I dunno, Ransey”, said Bengo “It was a horrible sight. It made me feel sick”.

“Same here”, said Joby.

“You saw it for the longest out of all of us”, Kieran said to Ransey “I think that’s probably why. Bardin, I shall do a Blessing, but I’m also going to take a leaf out of the book of the people who lived in the cottage. Can we collect together anything iron-made we have on this ship, and leave it all around the place at strategic intervals, make sure all bases are covered?”

“That’s easy enough”, said Bardin.

“One more question, Bard”, said Joby “Can we move into your cabin tonight and sleep on the sofa? Only it’s bloody freezing in ours”.

“No problem”, said Bardin.

Kieran spent the evening sorting through a jumbled mass of iron items on the dining-room table, largely comprised of old horseshoes.

“They’re just as effective as anything else”, he said “That’s why people used to hang horseshoes over their cottage doors, to repel the Devil”.

“Let’s hope it works”, said Joby.

In the middle of the night though they were to get a nasty surprise. Rumble came hurtling down the quarterdeck steps and into Bardin’s cabin, where the four of them were sleeping peacefully.

“Bard!” Rumble hollered, trying to step over the two sprawling dogs without hurting them “Wake up! Mate, we’re under attack!”

Bardin shot out of bed and reached for his trousers.

“Who is it?” he said, as he hurriedly dressed “What’s happening?”

“Some really horrible-looking goons have appeared on the headland”, said Rumble “Same place where we saw the demon”.

“Are they coming any closer?” asked Bardin.

“They seem to be trying to find a way down to the beach”, said Rumble “They must be looking for the door to the steps which goes down into the cave. There’s loads of ‘em, and they all look pretty repulsive. Some have fired guns in our direction”.

Bardin grabbed his coat, and then his own personal revolver out of a drawer.

“Get Ransey up there”, he directed “And Toppy as well, he’s a crack-shot”.

Bardin tore up the stairs and into the icy night air at the top.

The scene on the mainland was horrific. A mass of dark figures were crowding onto the headland. Some were carrying flaming torches, which, for no logical reason, they tossed down into the sea. They were making grotesque, inhuman noises, like pigs squealing.

“Shit”, said Bardin, catching sight of their faces through the binoculars Hillyard had handed to him “That’s a pretty ugly reception committee. Hillyard, go below and get the boiler fired up. We’re getting out of here. I am not risking any damage to the ship from that lot”.

“Sensible feller”, said Hillyard, clapping him on the shoulder as he went below.

“If they get down to the beach they’ll soon be along the jetty”, said Bardin, to the others remaining on the main deck “You lot, arm yourselves, and if any get down to the beach fire in their direction. Just warning shots for the moment. Anything to give us time to get out of here. Thank God we didn’t spend the night in that damn cottage! Get ready to move the ship out on the double. There’s not a moment to be wasted”.

“Any particular direction?” said Julian, as if he was casually asking the way to someone’s house.

“Just out into the ocean for now”, said Bardin “Back to Peat Bog Island perhaps for the time being. Fortunately for us none of that lot look as if they are seaworthy! We need the depth of the ocean to protect us”.

It was a very tense time as they got the ship prepared for sailing. The disgusting pig-like creatures found the steps down into the cave, and swarmed down like a flea infestation.

“Fucking hell, they want our blood”, said Joby, as he watched them swarming out of the entrance to the cave and onto the beach. He picked up a rifle and fired warning shots along with the others, but the creatures seemed oblivious to the barrage.

“Damnit, we have to get away from here before they reach the jetty”, said Bardin “There’s too many of them for us. Where the hell are they all coming from?”

He was under no illusions. These creatures were primeval. If they managed to get onto the Indigo, they would literally tear everyone on it limb from limb.

“And Kieran may have given us immortality”, thought Bardin “But I doubt we could survive that”.

“Fucking hell that was close”, said Joby, sitting down at the dining-room table and putting his head in his hands “I don’t think I’ve been so shit-scared in a long time”.

He took a moment to listen to the comforting hum of the ship’s engines.

“I’m not even sure we should stop when we reach Peat Bog Island!” he said “Even that feels too close to ‘em!”

“Let’s see what Bardin says when he comes down”, said Adam “Being far out into the ocean should help protect us for the time being”.

“Particularly as they won’t be able to cross water”, said Kieran.

“What are they?” said Joby “D’you know?”

“Minor demons”, said Kieran.

“MINOR?!” said Joby “They were more bloody scary than the major one we saw! And not as easily repelled either!”

“Maybe so”, said Kieran “I’m not denying they’re highly dangerous, if only because there are so many of them”.

“We would have really been up against it if they’d got aboard”, said Joby.

“That accursed focking Continent”, said Kieran “I was mad to think it would be safe to go back there. Mad!”

“Now don’t start beating yourself up, Patsy”, said Adam “We all thought it would be interesting to come here. We were lured there by the sight of the Pink Mountains”.

“Yes we were”, said Kieran, pensively “Perhaps Cloris and the others were right to turn tail and head to the Third Island when they did”.

“The bastards didn’t try to ask us along though did they!” said Joby.

“Calm down, Joby”, said Adam “I shall go and make us some tea”.

“Yeah that’ll make everything better!” said Joby.

“JOBY!” Adam shouted, and went into the galley.

“Well he can’t blame me for getting worked up can he!” said Joby.

Kieran opened a cupboard and pulled out a bottle of brandy.

“Let’s have a quick one before the others get down here”, he said “Catch our breaths as it were”.

“That hideous squealing noise has faded”, said Ransey, coming down into the room “We’ve moved far enough away from them”.

“Thank God”, said Joby.

“If it’s any comfort”, said Ransey “I couldn’t see any of them getting into the water to pursue us”.

“No, as I thought”, said Kieran “If Bardin agrees I think we should spend the rest of the night out here on the ocean, and decide where to move on in daylight hours”.

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