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Joby emerged from one of the outhouses, where the hens had been moved for the duration of the Storm Season, carrying a bowl of eggs. With difficulty he shut and barred the main doors. He could have done with some help during this awkward operation, but Bengo was too busy whirling about on the sodden grass, executing some bizarre kind of dance in the wind and rain, his nightshirt billowing out around him.
“Get inside, now!” said Joby, ordering him in through the back door, which he shut with relief.
“You little moron!” he said, putting the eggs safely on the draining-board “You’re soaked through”.
Bengo tugged off his nightshirt, whilst Joby lowered the drying-rack which was on a pulley over the kitchen table. Bengo selected a dry shirt and tossed his nightwear onto the contraption.
“Go and sit by the fire”, said Joby, filling a bowl with hot water from a kettle on the stove. He put a dollop of mustard in it, added a dash of cold water, and then instructed Bengo to put his feet in it “What’s all that about anyway? Do you wanna get ill again or summat? You’re raving mad you are”.
“I’m just happy, Joby”, said Bengo, wrapping a hand-towel around his unruly hair in a bandana-style.
“I have moments of being happy”, said Joby “But I don’t go out and give meself pneumonia because of it do I!”
“No Joby you don’t understand”, said Bengo “You see this time last year we were trapped at Sade’s place, we thought we were never going to leave, but now we’re here. What are you laughing at?”
“Nothing, you just look so funny that’s all”, said Joby. Bengo looked at his most clownish.
“People always laugh when I’m trying to be serious”, said Bengo “Bardy always says that’s the price I have to pay for being a born clown. But you are glad we got back aren’t you?”
“Well what do you think!” said Joby “Do you really need me to give you the answer to that?”
“No”, said Bengo.
“Good”, said Joby “Or I’d think you’d gone completely daft!”
Lonts came in through the back door, shaking rain from him like an enormous great wolfhound.
“Where have you been?” said Joby “I didn’t even know you’d gone out!”
“I wanted to walk round the outside of the house and check everything”, said Lonts.
“You be careful nothing falls on your head”, said Joby “Not that it’d cause any damage there even if it did!”
Joby stripped Lonts of his outdoor jacket and then looked round for something to dry him with. He exasperatedly removed the towel from Bengo’s head.
“Go and sit by the fire as well”, Joby directed “And try not to break anything on the way”.
Lonts kicked off his shoes, removed his socks, and took the wheelback chair opposite Bengo. He planted his great feel in the bowl at the same time as Bengo hastily removed his.
“Where’s …?” Lonts began.
Joby plucked Snowy off the dresser and handed him to Lonts. Once Lonts and Bengo seemed to be settled by the stove, Joby yanked at the pulley and got the drying-rack hooked back up out of the way.
“Haven’t you started the coffee yet?” said Hillyard, ambling in from the back corridor which led to the library “You are a lazy little git on the quiet!”
“Bog off, Hillyard”, said Joby.
“Only teasing you, Gorgeous”, said Hillyard, squeezing Joby’s shoulders.
“I’m the only bugger in this house doing any work”, said Joby “I spose this is the way it’s gonna be from now on”.
He was referring in an oblique way to the clockwork television set which the monks had given them, claiming they no longer needed it now they were fully in retreat from the world, which had led Julian to grumpily remark that they also were supposed to be in retreat from the world.
“But you used to watch a lot of t.v when we lived at the Ministry H.Q, Joby”, Lonts pointed out.
“Only ‘cos I was lonely”, said Joby “With Kieran always in meetings all the time”.
“Television will be the finish of us”, said Bengo “We won’t talk to each other anymore, we’ll just sit round that thing all the time”.
“Dunno why”, said Joby “There’s never bugger all on”.
“Never mind, my little one”, said Adam, coming in “The dreaded machine has just been banished to the laundry-room”.
“Irritated everyone once and for all has it?” said Hillyard.
“The last straw was that perfectly ghastly so-called comedy-drama”, said Adam “Every character in it utterly stereotyped. Including a camp-as-Christmas gay couple who give each other blow-jobs in their back garden”.
“Can’t imagine that goes down too well with the neighbours!” said Joby.
“And they call each other ducky”, said Adam “Almost as ridiculous as saying …”
“Old love?” said Hillyard.
“Oh very amusing”, said Adam “Joby, hurry up with that coffee”.
The tea-trolley was wheeled solemnly down the back corridor as though it was the body of a state leader on its way for burial. The library was cosy to say the least, with everyone in it, the fire lit in the grate, and Julian’s cigar adding the final touch to the very fuggy atmosphere.
Bardin was leaning against the mantelpiece doing ballet-style exercises with his feet and ankles. Bengo went to stand with him, and Julian stared lazily at Bengo’s shapely legs in the firelight.
“Don’t both of you stand in front of the fire”, said Ransey “You’re blocking out the heat from it”. “But it’s not really that cold, Ransey”, said Adam “In fact the temperatures are quite muggy. It’s just wild out there, that’s all”.
“We’re gonna want the telly back in here if this kind of conversation keeps up!” said Joby.
There was a loud hammering on the front door, which caused them all to groan with dismay.
“I do wonder if that could be one of the monks!” Julian sniped.
“Last year it would have been really weird if someone had knocked on the front door”, said Lonts.
“Yeah, far out!” Joby grunted.
“I’ll go”, said Rumble, as no one else seemed to be making any effort to move in that direction.
He crossed the huge, empty, echoing hall, feeling like a butler in an old horror film, and creaked open the iron-studded front door. There was no one in the porch. Rumble peered out cautiously into the driving rain but could see no one nearby at all. He shut the door and recrossed the hall, now feeling perplexed and not a little unnerved.
“They probably got fed up with waiting for one of us to come and answer it”, said Joby “Doubtless they’ll return if they’re after summat”.
Joby woke up very early the next morning, and listened to the rain still pelting down outside. He was sleeping in the four-poster in the main bedroom with Kieran. Ransey and Finia were in the double bed opposite. Everyone else was a jumble of feet and blanketed limbs on the communal bed.
There was a strange yellowish light in the room, which Joby put down to the first glimmers of a rainsoaked dawn. He burrowed his face into his pillow and relaxed his body for more sleep.
“I’m coming to take you home, our kid”, came the voice, similar to his own, only harsher round the edges.
“Shit, no!” Joby sat up and stared round him, wild-eyed.
Finia got out of the bed opposite and pattered across the room in his white nightgown.
“Do you know who that was?” he asked, clasping Joby’s hands in his.
“You heard it too?” said Joby “I-I thought I was dreaming”.
“Joby, what’s the matter with you?” said Kieran.
“My brother’s here”, said Joby “We just heard him. Finia heard him too”.
“Is that so?” said Kieran, looking at Finia.
“I guessed who it might be”, said Finia.
“He said he’d come to take me home”, said Joby, now beginning to shake “Kiel…”
“Alright now, pull yourself together”, said Kieran “As soon as it’s fully daylight we’re gonna search this castle from top to bottom, every inch of it. If he is hiding in here anywhere, we’ll find him”.
“I don’t think Adam’s too pleased about me skiving off like this”, said Joby, following Kieran up the twisty stone stairs to the attic floor.
“Will you stop fashing yourself about Adam”, said Kieran, who was carrying one of the torches.
“He thinks me and Finia had some kind of joint hallucination”, said Joby.
Kieran knew Joby was trying to comfort himself with this thought, but he knew that it wasn’t very plausible. At times like this Kieran’s mysticism often gave way to hard-headed practicality, and this was just such a time. He intended to search the Castle thoroughly, staring with the attics, as this was the most likely place for someone to hide out.
The rain drummed down relentlessly on the roof overhead when they emerged onto the top floor. The dusty windows were awash with the monsoon. They searched the two rooms they knew best, and then went into the largest attic room, which was usually ignored by all of them.
“I don’t know why though, it’d be quite a nice room if it was given a fresh lick of paint”, said Kieran, standing in the middle of the bare wooden floor.
The walls had originally been painted a striking peacock blue, and someone had painted a freize of tropical birds on one wall. A full-length window overlooked the back garden. The only item of furniture left in the room was a dusty, narrow wooden bench.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it was once an artist’s studio”, said Kieran.
“You sound like an estate agent”, said Joby, sitting down forlornly on the bench.
“Do you think if we did this up Adam might like to paint in it?” said Kieran.
“Place gives me the creeps”, said Joby “Why are you going on about it as if we hadn’t a care in the world? There’s my horrible brother round here somewhere, threatening to separate us, take me back to our time. I’m shit-scared, and you’re going on about decorating!”
Joby began to cry helplessly. Kieran sat down next to him and put his arm round Joby’s shoulders.
“Josh is here, in this Castle”, he said.
“Can you sense him then?” Joby looked tearfully at his friend.
“Oh yes he’s here”, said Kieran “But Joby, no one can take you away from me. No one”.
“It’s me again, ha-ha!”
Joby spun round, chucking the pan of potatoes he was peeling into the empty air.
“Shit!” Joby cried “Just fuck off will yer!”
“Joby, what is it?” Adam came through from the dining-room.
Joby gave a cry and ran into the room behind the pantry. Adam followed him.
“Leave me alone”, Joby sobbed.
“No I won’t”, said Adam “Not when you’re so obviously distressed. Did you hear him again?”
“He’s fucking haunting me he is”, Joby cried “Oh why did this have to happen? I thought I’d put all of that behind me in another life. The more time went on the more distance I’d put between me and them. How would you feel if your father was haunting you?”
“Pretty annoyed I should imagine!” said Adam “But I would also tell myself that he hasn’t the power to hurt me anymore”.
“But Josh has!” said Joby “He could take me back there! I don’t belong there, I never really did. This is my time!”
“I don’t believe he can do that”, said Adam “And neither does Patsy. He’s just come into this time to aggravate you, the sort of evil little mischief-making that Angel does. Evil has limited power here at the edge of the world”.
Lonts and Bengo appeared anxiously in the doorway.
“Go away”, said Joby “It ent funny watching someone go off their head!”
“Joby, they’re very concerned about you”, said Adam “Don’t take it out on them”.
Kieran came in, looking sodden in an old oilskin jacket.
“Where have you been?” said Joby “I thought you was up in your room”.
“I was just having a poke round in the outhouses”, said Kieran “To see if there was anything I could use to exorcise your brother”.
“Not the old burning creosote on a shovel trick again?” said Joby.
“We haven’t got any creosote though”, said Kieran.
“You probably all think I’m being daft”, said Joby “But none of you knows what it’s like to have a bully for a brother”.
“I had Akim back in Kiskev”, said Lonts.
“What, the mad one up in the mountains who might still be alive?” said Joby.
“He could be a pretty cruel person”, said Lonts “Particularly to me”.
“And we had the other clowns”, said Bengo “They could be awful. Some of the things Hal said to Bardy when Bardy was having to see the voice-coach when he was little were downright wicked”.
“There you are you see”, Adam gave Joby a sharp nudge “Stop feeling so sorry for yourself. We have all come up against bullies in our lives”.
“Yeah, but none of yours are haunting you now like mine is me!” said Joby.
“Glad to see you’re back to being your old self again”, Kieran exclaimed “You keep your spirits up like that and Josh won’t want to hang around for long! He’ll be seeking out everlasting oblivion in no time at all!”
“Very funny”, said Joby “You were spoilt as a kid you were. That’s why you go around joking about everything”.
“Joby!” Adam cried in exasperation.
“No, let him carry on”, said Kieran “At least while he’s being bloody impossible I know he’s not going into a morbid, nervous decline. The last thing I want is for him to sit staring morosely into the fire for hours on end without saying a word”.
Joby stamped back to the kitchen, followed by Lonts.
“Bengo, would you go and make us some coffee please?” said Adam.
“Yes”, said Bengo.
“Really Patsy”, said Adam “You’re far too easy-going with Joby sometimes”.
“No I know how to handle Joby”, said Kieran, removing his oilskin “Poor old Joby. He takes every problem in life so much to heart. And yet he’s always been my rock and my staff”.
Thunder rumbled in the distance. Kieran sat down next to Adam on the bed. Bengo carried the coffee into the room.
“Adam, do you mind if I go and check up on Bardy?” he asked.
“Of course not, old love”, said Adam “Although I don’t think he’s going to get into much mischief trapped inside the house like this”.
“He’s threatening to go and investigate the bolted door in the cellar again”, said Bengo “Only he hasn’t told me that. I overheard Farnol talking about it. I don’t want him fiddling around with it, not in this”.
He was referring to the thunder, which was now keeping up a steady rumble in the far distance. Adam let him go, and Bengo went out to find the trapdoor to the cellar locked and bolted into place. He went on into the library where he found Bardin sitting by himself, reading a book.
“You’re in here”, said Bengo.
“Shouldn’t I be?” said Bardin, who was sprawled all over the armchair.
“I thought you were going down into the cellar to poke around that old door”, said Bengo.
“Where did you get that idea?” said Bardin.
“I overheard Farnol say to Rumble that you wanted them in the cellar later”, said Bengo “I won’t have it, Bardy. I forbid you to go down there”.
“We’re going to check if there’s much flooding”, Bardin sighed “I don’t know if you’ve noticed at all, but the river is in danger of bursting its banks, there’s been so much rain in the past 48 hours. I wanted to see if much had got into the cellar. It’s got nothing to do with that bloody door!”
“Oh”, said Bengo “But we’ve moved all the stuff out of there, so it doesn’t matter how much water gets in does it? It might even help to drown a few of the rats, I think they’re getting wise to the traps we’ve put down. We really need a cat I suppose”.
“Bengo”, Bardin fearlessly interrupted him “We’re going down there because we can’t just ignore any water level that builds up. We have to keep an eye on things. Now go back to the kitchen, I’m sure Adam’s got loads of things for you to do there”.
Bengo refused, even when Bardin threatened to call Lonts and have him forcibly removed. Bardin had to satisfy himself with ordering Bengo to stay in the hall. The trapdoor was lifted, and the other three clowns went down into the damp, inky depths clutching torches. Ransey came out of the gun-room and said that they had no idea of anything, and fetched a couple of hurricane lamps from the laundry-room.
Mieps followed him out and also invited himself down into the cellar. Bengo began to feel annoyed that he had been barred from descending the precarious steps and followed him.
“There’s some seeping in”, said Bardin, shining a torch at the trickle of water coming through the moist brickwork.
“We’ll get some sandbags out of the shed”, said Ransey “Just in case it rises too high and we need to start protecting the hall”.
There was a loud bang and the large rectangle of grey light at the top of the steps was blocked out. Someone had slammed the door shut and slid the bolt into place.
“I told you to stay up there didn’t I?” Bardin snapped at Bengo “Now look what’s happened! Some arsehole’s locked us in!”
“I’m sorry, Bardy”, Bengo whimpered.
“It can’t have been any of our lot”, said Ransey “They’d have heard our voices”.
“It might be Hoowie playing a trick”, said Farnol.
“No, he’d have opened it again by now to see how frightened we were”, said Bardin.
“Then who was it?” said Bengo.
“There’s no time to speculate on that now!” said Mieps.
Bardin fetched a couple of shovels and spades from the other side of the cellar and they used them to bang loudly against the trapdoor, to attract the attention of any of the others who might be passing through the hall.
It was Tamaz who finally heard them and raised the trapdoor. He peered down at them and let out one of his tee-hee-hee sniggers.
“Tell me it wasn’t you who did that”, said Bardin, brandishing a shovel at him in a menacing fashion.
“I have only just come downstairs”, Tamaz haughtily replied “I heard you all thumping about. It doesn’t surprise me at all that you lot managed to get yourselves locked in. It’s the sort of thing you’d do!”
“No it isn’t”, said Bardin, emerging from the hole “Some bastard’s slammed the door on us”.
“I don’t think it would have been any of the others, Bardy”, said Bengo.
“Could have been Angel”, said Rumble “On one of his little visits”.
“Or Joby’s ghost”, said Tamaz.
(Joby would not have been at all pleased to hear that his brother was now being referred to as his own personal ghost!).
Bardin meanwhile had taken Bengo to one side.
“If I am to be of any effect as Captain at all”, he said “I need your total support and total obedience, is that clear?”
“Yes, Bardy”, said Bengo “But if I had gone to the kitchen as you said, I wouldn’t have been much use to you there either!”
Joby brooded all through the evening candlelit meal. By now Josh was being referred to by everyone as “Joby’s ghost”. This annoyed Joby so much that at one point he got up and marched to the door as though he was about to slam out of the room. Then he remembered that he would be alone in the kitchen if he did, which with Josh at large in the Castle, wasn’t an enticing prospect. He slunk back into the room and sat down again, wordlessly. When he eventually looked up from his plate he found Bengo staring at him as though he’d had a beatific vision.
Bengo obviously had an idea about something and was desperate to tell it to his partner. Bardin though was more concerned with bringing some sandbags into the house to put round the front and back doors, and brusquely told Bengo to get out of the way. The little clown went along to the library where Ransey and Hillyard were putting the storm shutters in place for the night. Bengo lay on his stomach on the sofa and watched them rather forlornly. “O.K Bengo?” said Hillyard, patting Bengo’s head.
Bardin chose that moment to come into the room, shedding his oilskin as he did so. Hillyard and Ransey betook themselves into the great hall.
“So what is it then?” said Bardin, kneeling on the floor next to the sofa.
“You remember that voice I heard in the bathroom at the old governor’s house in Aspiriola?” said Bengo. “The one that said ‘I am from the dead zone’ or whatever it was?” said Bardin “What are you thinking about that for? It’ll only upset you”.
“Bardy, I think that might have been Joby’s brother”, said Bengo.
“It would make sense”, said Bardin.
“That was all I wanted to say”, said Bengo “Just a hunch on my part. He must have latched onto us then”.
Joby had a tense night’s sleep. He had a long and stressful dream in which he was being chased round what seemed to be a very large greenhouse by two psychotic clowns. When daylight arrived though he was able to put the dream in perspective, and even looked forward to amusing Bengo with it as they prepared breakfast.
“They were both in full clown’s rig-out”, he said, as he and Bengo fried eggs in two very large frying-pans on the kitchen stove “Full make-up, costumes, wigs. I couldn’t tell who they were meant to be really”.
“Me and Bardy rarely went into full rig-out”, said Bengo “We’d often paint on the big white smiley clowns’ mouths, but that was it. Bardy quite liked that, he said it disguised his harelip. The only time we’d put the wigs on and all that was if there was a street carnival back in the Village of Stairs and we’d have a clowns’ float. I bet you wouldn’t have recognised us then”.
“I think I’d know you anywhere, you little Herbert”, said Joby.
“Are you two actually doing anything over there or are you just gossiping?” said Adam.
“Yeah we’re working”, said Joby “Don’t start getting grumpy. The rain get us all down, not just you”.
“I’m sorry”, said Adam “I just didn’t want you to mess the eggs up, in case the hens decided to go on a go-slow. They can get quite mopey in this weather”.
“They’re not the only ones!” said Joby.
Adam dropped a tea-cup on the floor and let loose a volley of expletives.
“Alright alright”, said Joby, going over to help him “Don’t have hysterics. You thoroughbreds are so highly-strung all the time”.
“Well you haven’t exactly been an image of tranquillity yourself of late”, said Adam.
“I’m under a lot of emotional strain”, said Joby “My brother’s haunting me, and if this rain keeps up everything in the garden’s gonna be a total wreck. Everything in it’ll rot”.
Bardin was having the same thought as he ate his porridge mixed with milk and sugar in the dining-room. Perhaps it was his clown’s training but Bardin took communal morale very seriously. Because of that he ordered the fire in the great hall to be lit after breakfast, transforming the echoey, empty barn-like area into something markedly more cheerful.
Once he was satisfied with that, he rounded up Farnol, Rumble and Hoowie, and got them into oilskins, in preparation to go and salvage as much of Joby’s kitchen garden as they could before the river burst its banks. Joby watched forlornly from the kitchen as they brought in baskets of large pink potatoes, cauliflowers and cabbages.
“We’ll have to be very careful how to store them”, said Adam, surveying the kitchen table which now looked like a church altar at harvest festival.
“Chances are the mice’ll get at ‘em anyway”, said Joby.
“Joby, I really will give you a thick ear soon if you don’t rally yourself a little”, said Adam.
“Oh that’s nice innit!” said Joby.
“Here’s something to cheer you up”, Bardin staggered in through the back door, clutching an enormous marrow in his arms.
“Think of the jokes you could do around that!” Bengo giggled.
“It’s enormous”, said Adam, prodding it rather tentatively “We’ll have a whole cupboard full of marrow jam”.
“Fried marrer with everything”, said Joby “We’ll have it coming out of our ears”.
“I was getting a bit alarmed”, said Bardin, passing it to Joby as though he was handing over a newborn baby “It was beginning to feel as though I was digging up a dead body!”
“Oh Bardin, what a gruesome thought”, said Adam.
“I’ll give it a wash”, said Joby.
He put it in the sink and began to wash it tenderly.
“Bloody hell, Joby”, said Hillyard, coming into the room “Your dick ent half grown!”
“I knew it was only a matter of time before we started getting the ‘ooh what a whopper’ jokes”, said Adam.
“Joby, I’ve got an idea”, Kieran ran excitedly into the room from the stairs behind the stove “Next time Josh is around, try and talk to him. We need to find out how he got here and what he’s after”.
“I don’t wanna talk to him!” Joby yelled, in a voice that would have cowed a less courageous man than Kieran.
“Now don’t be childish”, said Kieran “I’m not suggesting you make friends with him. Just try and get some information out of him. That’s a big marrow, is it one of yours?”
“No we just nipped round to the local garden centre and bought it!” Joby snarled.
“Joby!” said Kieran, in his best warning voice “Now you listen to me. We particularly need to find out how he got here. See if it’s got anything to do with Angel, or the Marquis de Sade, my ex-church, or anyone else who’s got it in for us at the moment. You can be sure of one thing, he didn’t get here by himself”.
“Why not? We did!” said Joby “Look, Josh was an awkward bastard when he was in our time, and I can’t imagine he’s changed much now he’s in this one! He’d never give a straight answer to anyone, not unless it was to tell ‘em where to get off!”
“Yeah, but he might enjoy bragging about this”, said Kieran.
“At the moment he’s just playing games with us though”, said Bengo.
“And he could keep that up until the cows come home!” said Joby.
Joby jerked violently as though he was suddenly having a fit. He fell against the sink and gasped for breath. The others crowded round him in alarm, as though they were instinctively shielding him from his invisible assailant. Kieran felt a sucking sensation like a pocket of air being removed from the room.
“He punched me”, Joby wheezed “The bastard punched me in the stomach!”
“Come in here”, said Kieran, gently guiding Joby into the upstairs room known as Kieran’s Vestry “Now stand jus there, or would you rather sit?”
“No I’m o.k now”, said Joby “Kieran, what is this? What have you brought me in here for?”
“I’ve got to try and give you some psychic protection”, said Kieran “I can’t have you going round being punched by the Invisible Man, so I’m going to do my own special little kind of blessing on you”.
“If you think it’ll work”, said Joby.
“I think you should sit actually”, said Kieran, dragging over a hardbacked chair “You still look a wee bit shaky on your feet”.
“I’m gonna feel a right berk, Kiel”, said Joby, sitting down.
“Cobblers”, said Kieran, getting out a wooden box in which he kept various artefacts he found useful for blessings and exorcisms “It’s a very beautiful ceremony”.
“It’s stopped raining for a bit”, said Joby, looking wistfully out of the window.
Adam and Tamaz were taking a walk along the muddy path at the edge of the garden. They had rolled up their trousers, and were squelching through the mud barefoot. Both obviously enjoying themselves in a childlike way.
“I wouldn’t half laugh if they fell over”, said Joby.
“You concentrate on me”, said Kieran, giving a sneeze as he got out a small jar of salt “Some of it went up me nose”.
“Oh not the bloody old salt-scattering routine again!” said Joby “Do I have to sit in the middle of it?”
“It’s purely symbolic this time”, said Kieran.
“I don’t think symbols are gonna get rid of Josh somehow”, said Joby.
“You’d be surprised what can happen”, said Kieran.
“How are you feeling now?” said Hillyard, who had come up the narrow staircase from the back corridor.
“As well as can be expected under the circumstances”, said Joby “Considering I’m being attended to by a second-rate witch-doctor!”
“You pay attention to what Kieran’s doing”, said Hillyard.
“Do I have a choice?” said Joby.
When Kieran had finished performing his blessing he insisted Joby go to bed and rest, and took him along to the four-poster bed in the main bedroom. He protested when Hillyard went to help him get undressed.
“Well you seemed to be struggling”, said Hillyard.
“I’m having trouble seeing!” said Joby “Me eyes are still watering from all that incense!”
“You’re bound to feel a wee bit stunned in a little while”, said Kieran “When the shock gets to you of what happened downstairs it’ll really knock you for six”.
“Great”, said Joby “I’ll look forward to that!”
Finia came in with a hot-water bottle and tucked it under the bedclothes. Joby stroked Finia’s arms, feeling there was a special kind of softness to Finia’s skin which the others didn’t have.
“Kieran’s exorcisms and blessings are very similar to voodoo”, said Finia.
“Not surprising”, said Kieran “Voodoo comes from Catholicism. It was the bits of Catholicism that the African slaves understood after the Catholic missionaries had …”
“Imposed it on ‘em?” said Joby.
“I don’t know why I bother trying to sort you out!” said Kieran.
“You enjoy the challenge”, said Joby. Adam came upstairs with potato soup a short while later and fed it to Joby, after despatching Kieran downstairs to eat his.
“I can feed meself you know”, said Joby.
“Just lie there and be quiet”, said Adam “You’ve had enough excitement for one day”.
“Would you mind telling my evil brother that!” said Joby “How’s Tamaz? I saw you walking outside with him”.
“Oh we had quite an interesting little talk”, said Adam “I’m always amazed at how far Freaky has come along. It’s hard to believe he’s the same person as that avaricious little sourpuss we saw marrying Gorth. He was telling me why he likes pretty things”.
“Yeah, usually expensive pretty things”, said Joby.
“He said it’s because he had nothing like that amongst the Ghoomers”, said Adam.
“Oh Ad!” said Joby “It’s a good job there are no shops nearby or he’d have had you going round ‘em with your wallet permanently open!”
“Seriously, it makes sense though doesn’t it?” said Adam “Why he likes his silk underwear and sparkly jewels”.
“If you say so”, said Joby “Although Mieps doesn’t waft around in diamond necklaces and lacey drawers”.
“Well obviously everyone’s different aren’t they?” said Adam, wiping Joby’s mouth with a napkin “Like you and your brother were very different”.
“I damn well hope so!” said Joby.
Adam inspected Joby’s stomach, which was slightly bruised from the assault, but Joby said the soreness was already easing. Joby slept for a couple of hours. When he awoke he found that Snowy and Yellowy had been tucked in next to him.
He looked round and found Kieran sitting nearby, next to an oil-lamp, reading, and wrapped in a blanket.
“Are these for protection?” said Joby, holding up the teddy-bears.
Kieran put his book aside and approached the bed, still with the blanket round his shoulders.
“Everyone has their own ways of caring”, he said “Finia brings you a hot-water bottle, Lonts loans you his teddies”.
“You carry out exorcisms!” said Joby.
“Blessings”, said Kieran, leaning forward to kiss him on the lips.
Kieran shed the blanket and his shirt, the only item of clothing he was wearing, and slid into bed next to Joby.
“This’ll get Josh worked up if he’s watching”, said Joby.
Immediately, the door to the landing, which had been standing slightly ajar, flew open violently and then slammed shut.
“Josh!” Joby roared, jumping out of bed.
Kieran tried to restrain him, but Joby had moved swiftly to the door.
“Joby, don’t”, said Kieran, following him “You’re too vulnerable”.
“Is he there?” Joby asked, staring belligerently into the dimly-lit corridor.
“No he’s gone”, said Kieran, shutting the door and leading his friend back to the bed.
“Joby, don’t take him on just yet”, said Kieran “He’s got the upper hand at the moment. We can’t see him. At best I can sense him sometimes, but sometimes not fast enough to do us any good. He holds all the aces at the moment. We have to bide our time with him”.
“I’m not gonna let him intimidate me, Kiel”, said Joby “Not this time round. He bullied me for years when we was kids, but I’ve been round the track too many times since then. I haven’t been through all that just to be picked on by him again”.
“I understand”, said Kieran, stroking his hair soothingly “I really do, but please also understand that at the moment we have to keep our powder dry”.
“Alright”, Joby grunted, but he didn’t sound none too convinced.
The door opened and Hoowie came in, looking like a savage with his wild hair, unshaven chin, and wearing a jumper that looked more like two old blankets clumsily stitched together.
“The others wanna know if you want anything”, he said, looking down at Joby.
“Good grief, it’s the wild man of Borneo!” said Joby “No I don’t. And if I did I’d come down and get it for meself. I’m not an invalid you know!”
“Uh-huh”, said Hoowie, and left the room again.
“I’ll give him uh-huh!” said Joby “Has he combed his hair recently, within living memory I mean?”
“Finia hacked a load off not so long ago”, said Kieran “But it seems to have grown again like the clappers”.
The sound of piano music wafted up from the hall. Joby lay down again and looked unnervingly serene, considering all that had happened.
Josh was quiet for the next three days, although everyone seemed permanently braced for another “visit” from him. The weather was also getting on everyone’s nerves. The brief respite from the rain hadn’t lasted long, and it had rained continuously ever since.
A lot of the Indigo-ites began to suffer from peculiar dreams, which were uncomfortably vivid. Adam tried to sketch some of his, but was dismayed by the grotesqueness of them when he did. The only one of them, bizarrely, who seemed in permanent good spirits now was Joby. He was in a fighting mood, like a warrior before a battle, who was convinced of victory. Adam had even found him in the kitchen one day practising knife-throwing against the back door!
“That blessing you gave him seems to have invigorated him!” said Hillyard to Kieran.
“It wasn’t meant to”, said Kieran “It was just to protect him, not turn him into Wyatt Earp!”
“You must have got your ingredients wrong”, said Hillyard “We’d better keep him out of the gun-room from now on!”
Upstairs, Joby was inspecting his vegetables in the four-poster room with Bardin. At least Joby was inspecting them, Bardin was looking through the dream sketches which Adam had put on top of the chest of drawers as he was tired of looking at them. One showed what appeared to be an underground torture chamber, with a pair of naked arms sticking up out of the sanded floor, as though someone had been buried alive there. Another showed Julian and Joby walking up a circular stone staircase, like one you would find in a lighthouse, with a peculiar creature, like a cross between a pig and a dwarf, dressed in a shawl, skirt and an old-fashioned bonnet, scampering on ahead of them.
“Weird”, said Bardin.
“What? Oh them”, said Joby “Dreams usually are. Just another thing at the moment to drive us all round the twist! Still, it’ll all pass. Monsoon season can’t last forever, it just feels like it that’s all”.
Bardin was looking at him with mild astonishment. This breezy self-assurance and heartiness wasn’t the morose Joby they all knew and loved.
“You’re more cheerful than the rest of us put together at the moment”, said Bardin.
“Hard not to be with you looking like that”, said Joby.
Bardin looked down at himself in bewilderment. He was wearing an old blue sweater, pulled all out of shape by communal use, and covered in paint-stains of assorted colour and vintage.
“That jumper suits you”, said Joby “You look like a decadent artist”.
“You sound more like Adam or Hillyard at the moment”, said Bardin.
“I’m empowered”, said Joby “You don’t half have some girly characteristics sometimes. I don’t mean that as an insult, it’s nice. Bit different to your usual bossy Bardin ways. You go all blushy and soft”.
Bardin blushed even more. So far it was only Bengo who knew about his occasional forays into women’s clothing. Only Bengo who had seen him in Finia’s nightdresses or Tamaz’s underwear, and although he loved and trusted all the others, he usually wanted to keep it that way.
“I ent said something wrong have I?” said Joby “Didn’t mean to, mate. Sorry”.
“No it’s fine”, said Bardin “I don’t mind, really”.
He looked around him furtively and then led Joby into the walk-in closet next door.
“There’s something you don’t know about me”, he said “Something only Bengo knows”.
“Bengo’s kept a secret?” said Joby “Bloody hell!”
“I like to wear women’s clothing”, said Bardin “Not all the time you understand”.
“No I think I might have noticed that!” said Joby.
“Just now and again”, said Bardin “Actually it only started recently, and just occasionally, with Bengo”.
“What women’s clothing?” said Joby “Where do you keep ‘em?”
“I borrow Finia’s nightdresses sometimes”, said Bardin “And Tamaz’s undies”.
“Don’t let him catch you, he’d have a fit!” said Joby “And only Bengo knows about this?”
“You know what it’s like when you’re married”, said Bardin, who counted Joby and Kieran as married, even though they hadn’t ever gone through a formal ceremony together “Your partner knows things about you no one else knows, even when we all live together like this. There must be things you know about Kieran that no one else knows”.
“Yeah, mainly that he’s raving mad!” said Joby “So why have you told me?”
“I guess it doesn’t seem right it being a secret anymore”, said Bardin “I was too embarrassed by it. After all, it’s not a very Captainly thing to do is it?”
“Oh I dunno”, said Joby “I’d rather have you prancing around in nighties than Julian swishing his cane all over the place! When he got carried away we had to walk round him in a large circle! Are you gonna tell any of the others?”
“Yes, I’m gonna make a formal announcement”, said Bardin.
“Oh gawd, is that really necessary?” said Joby.
Yes, Bardin was rather taken with the idea of making a public confession. It was nicely theatrical. He chose to do it when everyone assembled for coffee in the dining-room late morning. First, he had to confide his plans to Bengo in front of the hall fire.
“Oh Jules aren’t they sweet?” said Adam, peering through the doorway at them “I could eat them all up”.
“Be a bit chewy I would’ve thought!” said Julian.
“I have something to tell you all”, said Bardin, a couple of minutes later, standing at the table as everyone else sat. Bengo was looking round at everyone as though he would immediately go for the jugular of anyone who was unkind to his old friend.
“This is beginning to feel like one of those dreadful bourgeois dinner-party plays”, said Julian “What is this oh-so shocking announcement?”
“You’re not a homosexual are you, Bardin?!” said Adam.
“I sometimes, during sex, like to wear women’s clothes”, said Bardin.
“You kinky old devil you!” said Hillyard.
“You’ve never done that with us”, said Tamaz, sounding quite indignant.
“He probably will now”, said Joby.
“What’s one more perversion around here!” Ransey sighed.
“I had a feeling it might be you borrowing my nightclothes”, said Finia “I could tell somebody had, from the smell. There was a man’s odour on them”.
“What made you assume it was me?” said Bardin.
“You seemed to be the most likely closet transvestite around here”, said Finia.
“Why?” said Bardin.
“Eunuch’s intuition”, Finia shrugged.
“Have you been borrowing anything of mine?” said Tamaz.
“Drawers”, Bardin mumbled.
Tamaz hissed and got up to leave the room.
“Where do you think you’re going?” said Joby.
“To check them over”, said Tamaz.
“Not at the moment you’re not, sit down”, said Joby “I’m not having you roaming the house on your own, not with Josh here”.
“I could soon see him off!” said Tamaz.
“He could hurt you”, said Joby “He could push you down the stairs and break your neck, now sit down”.
Tamaz sat, but continued to glower at Bardin for the rest of the coffee-break.
“Have you finished with this?” said Joby, who was collecting the dirty coffee-cups.
“As it’s empty I would have thought so”, said Julian, lighting a cigar-butt in a leisurely fashion.
“You’re a right smart-alec aren’t you!” said Joby.
“You’re so tense my child”, said Julian, reaching out and stroking Joby’s neck.
“So would you be if your brother was haunting you”, said Joby.
“Piers?” said Julian “More likely to be utterly bored I expect! Piers was inept enough in our time, in this he would be completely tedious”.
“Lucky old you. Now hang on a minute, Julian”, said Joby, as Julian pulled him onto his knee “Adam won’t like it”.
“Of course he won’t”, said Julian “I am touching one of his little darlings. Come upstairs for half-an-hour with me. You can’t say the thought doesn’t excite you”.
“I’m supposed to be working”, said Joby.
“All work and no play makes Joby a stressed-out boy”, said Julian “Think how much Josh will hate it if he sees us”.
Hate it? He’d be off his head with annoyance, thought Joby. Me rolling around with a good-looking ex-public school homosexual, a self-confessed snob with a huge dick … Joby went upstairs with Julian.
“I can’t say you fancy everyone”, said Joby, lying on the four-poster in the room he’d been talking with Bardin in earlier “No I can’t say that”.
“Tis true”, said Julian, stroking Joby’s chest “I would quite happily forgo a night of pleasure with Codlik for example!”
“But why do you fancy me?” said Joby.
“Why is it that anyone unfortunate enough to want to go to bed with you has to give you a list of your sterling qualities first?” said Julian.
“No it’s not that”, said Joby.
“Yes it is that”, said Julian “Allt hose years when you refused to have sex with Kieran …”
“It was only a couple of years really”, said Joby.
“Was it because you really believed no one really wanted to have sex with you?” said Julian “It wasn’t a hang-up about sodomy at all was it?”
“It was a bit of everything”, Joby stammered.
“You refused his advances solely because of your own neurotic hang-ups?” said Julian “God in heaven, you should have been horsewhipped you little swine!”
“We all sometimes hurt people we care about without meaning to”, said Joby “You caused Adam enough misery because of your own psychological problems when you were younger. I bet you caused a lot more damage than I ever could have done! I never stopped being a friend to Kieran, not once”.
“Not even when you were screwing his wife?” said Julian.
Joby moved as though to jump off the bed, but Julian pinned him down and turned him over.
“Go steady”, Joby whispered.
“I don’t see why I should”, said Julian.
Joby had a feeling, dangerously exciting, that they were like a couple of dogs rutting. An image which helped to block out the worst of the pain and made it so necessary and so bearable. Julian’s oh-so masculine body flopped down next to his afterwards and lay there panting. Joby was panting too, as though they’d just run a vigorous cross-country marathon in record time.
For a while they lay there, not saying a word. Joby was bizarrely reminded of a story he had been told long ago at school of a man, a lone traveller, who had sought shelter from the hostile elements in a mountain cave, and had found himself sleeping next to a wolf, who had also come in from the weather. Lying next to Julian, fussy old Julian whom Joby had joked about from the first time he had met him, he had the same sensation.
After a while they both got up and got dressed without saying a word to each other. Like two strangers who had passed the night in a deserted railway station in anonymous companionship. It was a remarkably civilised feeling.
Joby returned to the kitchen via the stairs behind the stove. Julian went out across Kieran’s Vestry (empty) and went down the narrow staircase to the long back corridor, where he found Adam fitting some storm shutters into the windows. The wind had risen remarkably whilst they had been upstairs.
“Hello, it’s Mr Smug”, said Adam “You’ve got your ‘only tomcat in the neighbourhood who hasn’t been neutered’ look about you. Can I have Joby back now you’ve finished with him?”
“I did him an immense amount of good”, said Julian “I’ll bet you’ll find he’s a new man, empowered”.
“He was acting pretty empowered before”, said Adam “That was what was so alarming!”
“If I could have him all to myself for a few days, as I did when I took Lonts into the hills above Zilligot Bay”, Julian began.
“And got him lost and made him spend the night in a brothel!” said Adam.
“And also got him back safely!” said Julian “You would find a much more self-assured Joby, away from you and Tinkerbell keep on mothering him all the time”.
“Really”, said Adam “I suppose you have some ludicrous fantasy in your head that you’d turn him into your faithfully, devoted and silent serf!”
“No not THAT ludicrous!” said Julian.
“I’d like some coffee sometime”, he added, slapping Adam on the rump as he went on towards the library.
Adam went grumpily towards the kitchen were Lonts and Bengo were playing chess on the table, Lonts smoking his pipe majestically at the same time and gazing at the board with fierce concentration. Adam found Joby in the larder, hacking off bits from a fruit cake and stuffing the crumbs into his mouth.
“Finished playing Julian’s fag for today have we?” said Adam.
“Leave it out”, said Joby “I bet I keep a lot more dignity to me when I’m with him than you do”.
“Well yes, if you consider crouching there with your bare arse in the air as dignified!” said Adam.
Joby growled and went into the kitchen, where Bengo was giggling at him, his little round face lit up with mirth.
“What’s so bloody funny!” said Joby, giving him a light thump on the shoulder as he walked past.
“Concentrate Bengo”, Lonts ordered.
“Would you like to take Julian’s coffee into him, oh little fag?” said Adam to Joby.
“Are you gonna keep this up for the rest of the day?” said Joby.
A shrill cry rang out in the distance from the direction of the forest. It was hard to tell if it was human or animal.
“What the fuck was that?” said Joby.
“I don’t know”, said Adam, going to stand by Lonts’s chair, as an almost instinctive maternal reaction of a mother set to defend a child.
“Reminded me of that scream we kept hearing up at the Big House”, said Joby, giving a shudder.
“Shriller though”, said Bengo.
“The animals are all locked up aren’t they?” said Adam. On hearing that they were he put the bar across the back door.
Walking round the house a few minutes later he found Julian up in the blue room in the attic, the one that Kieran had likened to an artist’s studio.
“I keep seeing a ball of light amongst the trees”, said Julian “Some way off though. Can’t tell what it is at all. Lordy, what a situation! A vicious living ghost inside the house, and screaming aliens outside”.
“I was thinking that Josh has been remarkably quiet for most of today”, said Adam, as though trying to find reassurance from somewhere.
“I was expecting invisible tantrums from him after mine and Joby’s session this afternoon”, said Julian “Perhaps it’s exorcised him, with any luck!”
They both walked in a melancholy fashion through the other attic rooms.
“I suppose”, said Julian “This place was only ever loaned to us”.
“Oh Jules, that’s a very defeatist attitude!” said Adam “We’ve been very happy here”.
“One should never get too attached to places”, said Julian “It doesn’t matter where we live really now does it?”
“I guess not”, said Adam “But this place is so perfect. It’s big enough for all of us, and it’s off the beaten track”.
“Apart from every weirdo in the whole world seemingly finding their way here eventually”, said Julian.
They went down to the next floor and into Kieran’s Vestry. Lonts and Bengo were kneeling on one windowseat looking out, Kieran and Joby were on the other. Suddenly a yellow flash lit up the whole window momentarily, as though a giant flash-bulb had gone off outside.
“Are you all alright?” said Adam “Can you see?”
“Yeah, can now”, said Joby, blinking rapidly “Strewth! We were watching some balls of light bobbing about amongst the trees, as though a load of people were carrying lamps, and then suddenly … THAT!”
“Get away from the window”, said Julian “In case anything else happens”.
The woman in grey rode on mule through the forest. Her body made shapeless by the long grey cassock-like garment she was wearing. Her hair was hidden by a veil. Her eyes were hidden by a blindfold. She jerked her head constantly, alert for every noise around her, sensing danger every inch of the way. She had every reason to do so, she was being hunted to the death.
She rode very awkwardly, because her hands were tied behind her back, and it was only thanks to her skills as a horsewoman that she managed to stay on the mule at all. She knew she had almost no hope of getting out of the forest alive. As the hunted she hadn’t even been given a sporting chance, having no use of her hands or eyes. She knew she would die violently at any moment.
Three shots rang out from close-by. The front of her garment quickly became saturated with blood. She fell sideways from the mule and landed heavily at the base of a tree. Her unseen attackers ran off back through the forest, squealing with laughter.
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