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Lonts’s corpse was laid out on a table in the telegraph room on the ground floor. Joby was stood nearby, choking back the tears and clutching Lonts’s teddy-bears to his chest. Adam was gently brushing Lonts’s hair with the softest hairbrush he could find.
“To think”, he said “That this is the last time I will ever do this for him”.
… He woke up.
“Oh thank God, a dream”, he said, touching Lonts who was sleeping deeply next to him.
Adam got out of bed and went across to the washstand, wishing he had something stronger in the room than water and coffee, after having been confronted with his worst fear.
“So that’s it”, he said, looking all around him at the bare walls and ceiling “That’s going to be your game now”.
Joby had slept very little. He had spent most of the night trying to relax by planning in his head the garden at Midnight Castle.
“Plant lettuces, courgettes, onions, carrots and potatoes in the spring … if we’re there then”, he added “They should be reading for picking come August. And I’ll get Hillyard to build me a greenhouse. He’ll manage it somehow. And then I’ll really be able to go to town with the tomatoes”.
He had repeated this endlessly for most of the night, going over it like a mantra. At around four a.m he had fallen into a sleep of sheer exhaustion. The others, because of their early night, were all awake before dawn, and were up and around, moving between bedrooms, lighting lamps and stoking fires, as if to banish the night away by sheer force of will.
Kieran and Tamaz left the bed to go across the corridor and see Adam. Joby didn’t get much peace though, as he was immediately joined by Lonts and Bengo, who both wanted to natter on at great length about what a quiet night it had been really.
“Apart from my dream”, said Farnol, coming over to join them “I dreamt my dick was surgically removed! Scared the shit out of me it did! I was left with jus this stump, little stump. Looked a bit like a prawn. ‘Cept not one of those big, whiskery prawns you get, but a little wrinkled pink one, all curled up. No bloody use to anybody …”
“Farnol!” Joby exclaimed “Can it!”
“Is that your worst fear?” said Kieran, appearing back beside the bed.
“He’s a man, of course it’s his worst fear!” said Joby.
Kieran though believed it was all the work of the dark forces in the house. That it was now putting their worst fears into their subconscious, such as Adam’s dream about Lonts’s death. Joby, in exasperation, said that Adam had dreamt this kind of thing before, it was all perfectly natural. But Kieran was convinced that a pattern was emerging.
“Think of the Christmas before last, in Toondor Lanpin”, he said “Angel told me that there’d been a major disturbance in Hell. That something was happening down there, and throwing up ripples up here, like an earthquake. This house is a psychically-aware spot. It is picking up on that. If we’re not careful it’s going to make us live all our worst fears, guilts and worries, which is what happens in Hell. We have to be prepared”.
Joby was thoroughly brassed off by this news. He sat at the breakfast table sunk in deepest gloom, whilst the monks waited on them. Kieran was busy handing out slips of paper to the other Indigo-ites, wanting them to write down their worst fears, guilts and worries, so that they could all be acquainted with them and nothing the house then did would take them by surprise. This was not a popular past-time, it smacked of group therapy for one thing, a depressing occupation.
“After we’ve eaten we’ll all go into the library”, said Kieran.
“And you’ll expose the murderer?!” said Julian “Is this an Irish whodunit? You expose the killer BEFORE the crime’s been committed!”
“Jules, please”, said Adam “No need for that, old love”.
“Well he’s loving every minute of this isn’t he!” said Julian “Public confessional, with him acting as Father Confessor”.
“I‘m going to be confessing too”, Kieran pointed out.
Julian made the most of this one bleak consolation by insisting that Kieran went first, when they were all assembled in the library.
“My biggest fear is that Joby or Adam will dump me”, said Kieran “And I’ll never see them again”.
This was a fear so obviously based on his own father’s rejection of him when he was still only a baby, that some of the others felt uncomfortable. Kieran’s father was all too often the one subject that Kieran considered taboo.
“Are you happy now, you malicious old sod?” said Adam to Julian.
“We’ve all got to go through it”, said Julian.
“I’ll read these out”, said Kieran, sorting out the slips of paper “I’ll take it from the youngest up”.
“Leaving Julian as the grand finale”, said Adam “Good!”
“Hoowie writes that his worst fear is losing his dick”, said Kieran.
“I thought we weren’t allowed to have that one!” said Joby “Or we’d all put it, apart from Finia!”
“I couldn’t think of anything worse than that!” said Hoowie.
“As it’s Hoowie, we’ll let him off”, said Kieran “Now Toppy …”
“Probably getting his clothes dirty!” Joby grunted.
“Toppy’s is nobody ever listening to him”, said Kieran.
“Christ Toppy, you must be in Hell all the time, man!” said Farnol.
“I mean, having no one to speak to, like when I lived with Pendor”, said Toppy.
“Speak at is usually what you do, lecture”, said Bardin.
“Tamaz”, said Kieran, struggling to read Tamaz’s semi-illiterate handwriting “Not being able to control the power, ending up like Her. Bengo: making Bardin unhappy, being separated from Bardin or me”.
“This is going to get very emotional”, said Adam, and Julian gave a longsuffering sigh.
“Farnol”, Kieran continued “Irritating Rumble, or never seeing him again. Bardin: being lonely and unloved, particularly by Bengo. Rumble: losing his tobacco-tin”.
“I can cope with most things as long as I’ve got that”, said Rumble, as everyone else laughed.
“As it’s you saying it, I can believe it!” said Kieran, who had felt for a long time that Rumble was probably the most psychologically-strong out of all of them. About his most bizarre quirk was wanting to be wet-nursed by Mieps, and they all understood that one!
“Finia”, Kieran continued “To be back in the brothel. Lonts: to be shut up alone in an underground room forever”.
“Like at the Assizes”, Lonts boomed.
“Joby”, said Kieran “To wake up back in our own time, and realise that everything that’s happened as been a dream. You’ve mine. Mieps: never having had sex with Tamaz”.
“That is the Ghoomer equivalent of a deep, psychological trauma!” said Julian.
“Can I add that one to mine as well?” Joby joked.
“Hillyard”, said Kieran.
“Just do the waking up without his dick bit again”, said Joby.
“Behave yourself!” said Kieran “Hillyard: ending up like Woll. Ransey: to have the vampires back in power, to have never met me or Finia or Adam. Adam: losing Lonts”.
“Losing any of you really”, said Adam.
“Julian”, said Kieran “To have never met up with Adam again”.
“Oh Jules”, said Adam.
“Has this little exercise in mass public humiliation actually achieved anything?” Julian barked.
“I don’t know”, said Kieran, putting the pieces of paper onto the fire “But if the worst comes to the worse it might give us an extra layer of strength”.
Hillyard suggested that they all go outside for a while to get some air, although the sedate stroll in the grounds only seemed to reinforce the impression that they were all inmates at a snow-bound luxury mental hospital.
Lonts found some of Leon’s outdoor apparatus in one of the sheds, including a large hand-painted sledge. He proceeded to give Tamaz and Toppy rides on it, dragging them energetically across the hard-frozen snowy ground, a little exercise which at least livened things up.
Adam got walking with Rumble (looking very cool in his sunglasses). He pretended to himself that the was talking to Rumble in order to check that the clowns were bearing up under the strain. When really it was just an excuse to hear more showbiz anecdotes, of which the clowns had an inexhaustible supply.
“Although you see Farnol and me weren’t often invited to actually appear on-stage”, said Rumble, without a trace of bitterness “We were strictly the b-team, brought on to boost up the numbers sometimes, otherwise we were usually sent out into the streets to cut capers and try and lure the punters in. We’re really street-clowns, Bengo and Bardin are the real classy theatrical ones”.
“But I’ve always enjoyed your routines”, said Adam “You’re such fun, and you have such a good rapport together. Sometimes I found Bengo and Bardin’s routines to have too abrasive an edge”.
“That’s the difference”, said Rumble “We were fun to watch, whereas they were compelling. You never knew what they were gonna do next. I’ll give you an example of the difference between us. One evening, when we were in our teens, I was having a drink with Bardin after a show, and one of the punters came up to tell us how much he’d enjoyed it. He said ‘are the shows as much fun to do as they are to watch?’ Well of course I was gonna say ‘yes’, ‘cos I did find them fun, so did Farnol. We had a good time on-stage. It was crazy and stimulating. But Bardin snapped at the poor geezer ‘fun?’ he said ‘of course it’s not fun, it’s work, work!’”
“Oh dear, that does sound very like Bardin I’m afraid”, said Adam.
“That’s the difference you see”, said Rumble “Me and Farnol are the glorified amateurs who are game for a laugh. Bengo and Bardin are the blood, sweat and tears comic geniuses, the true professionals. But however much he complained about the toil of it all, he wouldn’t have done anything else. That’s why I got so damn worried about him when Bengo ran off”.
“If we’d known how much misery he was causing him we’d have taken him straight back”, said Adam “But the little so-and-so convinced us that nobody would mind! Blame Patsy. Bengo saw him and that was that”.
“I can’t blame Kieran”, said Rumble “He worked his spell on us too! But yeah, things were touch and go with Bardin for a while. At one point I even got to thinking that I’d go round his place one day and find him hanging from the ceiling!”
“Oh Rumble!” said Adam.
“I was having to prepare myself for that possibility”, said Rumble.
“You must have got so angry with Bengo”, said Adam.
“Still do, sometimes, when I remember those days”, said Rumble “I love the little fella, you can’t not love him that’s the trouble, but occasionally I just want to pick him and whip his arse, and I have too!”
“It never does him any harm”, said Adam.
They came to Farnol, who was leaning against a fence, staring at the forest which bordered the estate to the north.
“Never does who what any harm?” he said, catching the tail-end of their conversation.
“Spanking Bengo”, said Adam.
“It should happen everyday!” said Farnol “The cute little tosser!”
Several crows were whirling overhead, screeching in a harsh, ugly fashion in the icy sunshine. An enormous one was perched on one of the fenceposts. Adam wanted to make a quip about Alfred Hitchcock, but decided against it for the time being. Not only because it would take a while to explain, but he felt things were quite unsettling enough already.
Julian and Adam got to the dining-room for the mid-afternoon meal ahead of the others, who were still messing about in the corridors of the Service Wing.
“Freaky really does have a brass nerve”, said Adam, as they lifted the lids on the tureens on the table and inspected the contents “I caught him ordering the monks in the kitchen to do his washing. I gave him such a telling-off and all he said was ‘oh they’ll see it as a privilege to wash my drawers!’”
“I don’t know about privilege”, said Julian, ladling out chicken stew and dumplings “Kick perhaps!”
“And he wanted them to call him Lady Tamaz!” said Adam “Really, he’s far too much indulged!”
“It is bloody hard to keep clean up here though”, said Julian “I keep scratching myself. I haven’t had a bath since we left the sloop! I miss my little hip-bath. Going to one of those distant cavernous bathrooms is not an appealing prospect, particularly at the moment. And if these freezing temperatures continue we just won’t bother getting undressed soon. Come the thaw we’ll be scraping our clothes off us with sandpaper! It’s like Wolf Castle all over again”.
“Before the others get here I wanted to say how moved I was by your comment in the library, about not having met up with me again”, said Adam.
“When I think of the Bay it’s images of you that are the strongest”, said Julian “Running about with your sun-bleached hair and your tight shorts”.
“You’re incorrigible”, said Adam.
He noticed that one of the crows was now pecking around on the patio outside the French windows, as though trying to find a way in. Adam gave a shudder.
“Those birds remind me of Father Gabriel”, he said.
That evening was designated as bath night, when some much-needed scrubbing of bodies and clothes was to be put into action. They tried to turn this into a party atmosphere, in an effort to dispel the cold dimly-lit gloom of the first-floor. Julian said that the tension in the house by now was so palpable that it almost crackled like electricity.
Joby shared a bath with Bengo, sitting behind him as though they were sledging together, with Joby vigorously scrubbing the back of the little clown. He became so absorbed in this that he was genuinely startled when he heard loud noises, as of the furniture being shunted about, coming from Julian’s room, directly across the corridor.
“Is IT in there?” said Bengo.
Actually it was Mieps, although the state he was in he was almost as disturbing as any demon or poltergeist. Mieps normally had very steely nerves, after years of living alone on the marshes. Unfortunately though, because of this primitive, solitary lifestyle, his nerves were taut in tense situations, ready as it were to try and alert him to any possible danger. After several days of living at the Big House, where he was constantly alert for a danger that toyed with them but never actually materialised, he was ready to snap. And he did.
Julian, Hillyard and Bardin went into the room to try and stop him from wrecking it. Things had been thrown against the wall and smashed, the clowns’ bedding was all over the place. When they advanced on him, Mieps backed himself up against the washstand. He hissed at them to stay away. Julian motioned the others to stand back, but himself stepped up close to Mieps.
Mieps grabbed the cut-throat razor from the wash-stand and flicked it open, waving it dangerously near Julian’s face. Julian didn’t say anything. He simply put his hand over the blade, holding into it tightly.
“Now pull it away if you wish to”, he said.
Mieps couldn’t have done this without cutting Julian’s hand to ribbons. Fortunately there was enough of a kink in the black veil currently shrouding his mind to see this. Julian managed to separate him from the razor without causing injury to either of them.
“Hillyard, put this somewhere safe”, said Julian, handing him the razor.
“We’ll get him on the bed”, said Bardin.
“I want to help, I CAN help”, said Tamaz, barging his way into the room “Don’t send me away”.
He did help, greatly. Once Mieps was settled on the bed, Tamaz noticed that his long tongue was flicking about, uncontrollably.
“He might hurt himself”, said Tamaz “We need to put something in his mouth, as a wedge”.
Bardin used his handkerchief for this purpose, and then set about getting Mieps some brandy.
“We’ve poured enough down him to knock out an elephant”, said Julian, joining Adam in his room for coffee a short while later “He should be calm from now on. Wow, our bath nights really go with a swing don’t they! And stop examining my hand like that, I’m not bleeding”.
“I was just checking, that’s all”, said Adam.
“Can I have a coffee please, Ad?” said Hillyard.
“Yes, of course”, said Adam “Unfortunately the kettle takes a while to boil. I’ll just go and see if any of the others want one too”.
He left the room. Hillyard sat down wearily in the other armchair.
“What are we gonna do about Mieps?” he asked.
“See how he is in the morning”, said Julian “I strongly suspect he’ll be fine. If he’s not though, we’ll send him back to the sloop for the duration. Someone’ll have to go with him of course”.
“It can’t be me”, said Hillyard “Whether I like it or not, I own this bloody place. I have to stay here”.
He looked around at the four walls with acute loathing.
“I can’t go either”, said Julian “I know I’m not Captain anymore, but I am still the eldest”.
Hillyard was trying to say something but he began to cry and mop at his face with a handkerchief. It was a most distressing sight.
“Hillyard”, said Julian “Pull yourself together, man. Come on now, you’re normally a robust old walrus. I rely on you for that. After all, I have Adam and Mieps for uncontrollable emotion!”
“I’m sorry”, said Hillyard “But I’ve got to thinking that … that perhaps that screaming noise we heard when we first came here might be Woll! That he’s in mental pain the after-life, still lonely”.
“I can’t believe that for one minute”, said Julian “Not when he’s got Lady Red there to annoy him!”
“I hope it is like that”, said Hillyard, in a rare moment of reflection.
“Of course it is”, said Julian.
Joby and Bengo had resumed their interrupted ablutions in the bathroom, and were now getting ready for bed. Bengo was putting on one of Julian’s old white shirts, which was too big for him, but made a warm, serviceable nightshirt. Joby, belting himself into his Technicolour dressing-gown, was looking at him as though he wanted to take a knife and fork to him. He started guiltily when Bardin came into the bathroom to see how they were.
“I’m gonna turn in”, said Joby, marching past them “G’night”. “Goodnight Joby”, said Bengo, as Joby left the room “That was a bit terse, even for him!”
“Frustration”, said Bardin “You look good enough to eat, as usual”.
“Why should he want me when he’s got Kieran?” said Bengo “Anyway, he’s usually telling me what an idiot I am!”
“Bengo”, Bardin sighed “It’s not your brain that drives people mad with lust now is it!”
“Good job really, or no one’d fancy me would they!” Bengo laughed.
“What are they talking about in there?” said Rumble, coming up on Farnol, who was blatantly eavesdropping on them in the corridor.
“How cute Bengo is”, said Farnol, striking a sex-kitten pose.
“Doesn’t anyone eve talk about anything else?” said Rumble, going into the bathroom.
“I’ve an idea”, said Farnol “Let’s, for a change, us three be the cute ones who everybody wets their knickers over, and Bengo can be the back end of a bus!”
“I don’t think it’ll fool anyone somehow”, said Bardin “Put out the candle, Rumble. It’s time to turn in”.
Kieran found Joby reading alone in bed when he went into their room. Tamaz was still attending to Mieps down the corridor.
“Did you enjoy your bath with Bengo?” said Kieran, sitting on the edge of the bed and removing his shoes and trousers.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Joby snapped.
“It means, did you enjoy your bath with Bengo?” said Kieran “It’s nice, you and him on such great terms these days”.
“We always did get on”, said Joby “S’no big deal. Stop trying to make something out of it! I’m tired. Today has been emotionally exhausting, what with one thing and another. I think Bertha’s right. I think we should all clear out of here. Abandon this place. Let Hell take it over if that’s what it wants”.
“And what about the local people?” said Kieran “How are they going to feel wit this useless huge white elephant on their doorsteps?”
“I dunno, and I don’t care very much”, said Joby “They were all too fucking quick to get out when things start getting hairy. We haven’t had any help or support from ‘em at all. They don’t give a stuff what happens to us up here, and they’ve made us feel like pariahs in the village. I don’t see any reason why we should worry about their feelings. We can easily find a place for Codlik, in fact the monks might be willing to take him on. It’s the sort of thing monks are supposed to do, look after the sick. They could have Nola as a lay-sister!”
“And what happens to the monks?” said Kieran.
“They can build a community anywhere they like”, said Joby “Hillyard can pay for it. In fact, he’ll have plenty more money when he’s not paying for the upkeep of this place anymore!”
“What if they choose to build it at the Bay?” said Kieran.
“It won’t bother me at all, not a bit”, said Joby “As long as they build it on the other side of the river, in that empty field. Then we can always blow up the bridge if they get too pesky! And think how much happier Glynis and the kids’d be living permanently at the Town House”.
“Especially as I expect Drusica and Lilli would stay with her”, said Kieran “It does sound nice doesn’t it?”
Tamaz bustled into the room, elbowing Rumble and Farnol out of the way, who were also coming to bed.
“You can sleep in the middle tonight, Joby”, said Tamaz “In case I need to get up and attend to Mieps”.
“Strewth, Nurse Tamaz!” said Joby “We’ll have to get you a white uniform!”
“Don’t’ turn the lamp down completely”, said Tamaz, now giving Rumble instructions “It gets too dark in here like that”.
Hillyard gently removed the handkerchief from Mieps’s mouth, who carried on sleeping deeply. Bengo watched this delicate operation anxiously, and then went over to help Bardin sort out their bedding, which Mieps, in his mad fury, had wrecked.
“Do we all have to leave here, Bardy”, Bengo whispered.
Bardin nodded in agreement. Julian finished cleaning his teeth at the washstand, and then stepped over them on his way to bed. He was convinced he could hear someone creaking about in the corridor outside the door, so he cautiously slid the bolt into place.
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