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Back at the Indigo the others congregated round the small pile of local newspapers that Bardin had bought on his way home. Joby took one copy for himself and retreated to the galley, where he did the Spot The Ball competition on the football pages. He was annoyed when Kieran came in to make tea and, in Joby’s view, to “jabber on” about voodoo and witch-doctors.
“You were right when you said the suicides were all probably due to something that had been put in the water-supply”, said Kieran, putting the big black kettle on the stove.
“I meant that as a joke!” said Joby.
“Many a true word spoken in jest, so there is”, said Kieran “In Medieval times people could go mad if dodgy grain got into their bread”.
“Good job we make our own then”, said Joby “From our own sacks of grain”.
“It could make them hallucinate”, Kieran continued “Make them try and kill themselves or believe they were werewolves. We haven’t heard anything about zombies in this town here recently have we?”
“Give it time!” Joby grunted.
“Now a lot of zombies are caused by drugs as well you know”, said Kieran.
“Figures!” said Joby.
“No I mean some witchdoctors use a drug called Tetradoxin”, said Kieran “They sprinkle it on the ground. The victim absorbs it through their feet, that’s why in Husgalonghi they cut off the feet of the dead … I think .. anyway, the victim goes into a vegetative state and everyone thinks he’s died. After a few days he regains consciousness and rises up …”
“To greet the dawn!” said Joby.
“But he’s severely brain-damaged”, Kieran ploughed on “He can’t move fluidly, and he can’t communicate with anyone on anything like a rational level”.
“Sounds just like Codlik!” said Joby.
“Why do I get the distinct feeling that you’re not taking me seriously?” said Kieran.
“Because it unnerves me when you get that fanatical Irish gleam in your eye about summat”, said Joby.
“Well if we’re going to have national stereotypes”, said Kieran “Then I could say you’re being typically English, with your attitude of let’s ignore it all and do nothing”.
“Sometimes I think that, just for a change, it’d be worth a try that’s all!” said Joby.
“Joby, I need to go ashore”, said Kieran “I need to find a reputable witchdoctor … don’t look at me like that in that cynical way, there are such people. Remember the one I spoke to in Husgalonghi who helped me? There’s a force of darkness at work in this town”.
“That makes a change don’t it!” said Joby.
“We all need to combine forces against it”, said Kieran “Something’s playing with people’s minds, manipulating them. You still look sceptical”.
“Look, this town’s become a no-hope zone”, said Joby “Not many women have come here, it’s become really poor and isolated since the City was destroyed, and the only people who do seem to come here now are up to no good, or are outlaws like us! It could be that these blokes topped ‘emselves simply ‘cos they’d had enough of living, and perhaps it’s a bit like yawning, one does it and it spreads like an infection”.
“Maybe”, said Kieran.
“And you’ve got to be honest with yourself here”, said Joby “You’re a Catholic, to you despair is the ultimate sin, to commit suicide the very worst thing you can do. Are you sure you just can’t accept that some people do ‘emselves in simply because they can’t face life anymore?”
“Perhaps I need to find that out too”, said Kieran “Will you come with me to see one of these fellas?”
“Ransey’ll have a fit”, said Joby “We’ll come back here to find the men in white coats taking him off on a stretcher!”
“Then we must take him with us”, said Kieran “Perhaps you could take him a cup of tea and sweet talk him round for me?”
“I’d better take one of me rock-cakes as well in that case!” said Joby.
“Joby, you’re a jewel”, said Kieran, kissing his ear.
“I’m a bloody fool more like!” said Joby.
Excerpt from Julian’s log-book:
“After all the fuss and consternation caused by that evil Irish goblin and his ‘brilliant' ideas (Ransey stamped around the hold demanding to know why Kieran was allowed to get his own way in everything, Joby’s reply of ‘cos he’s Kieran I spose’ did little to mend matters), anyway as I was saying, after all that, the witchdoctor refused to see him! And I can’t say I blame him one bit!
The three of them had gone out to the voodoo shop which the clowns had seen yesterday. Apparently (according to Joby) the shop was incredibly dark and claustrophobic, and Ransey had shown an unhealthy fascination for a skeleton with a broken jaw. The Doc sent out his assistant to tell them that he couldn’t possibly see Kieran, now or at any other time, and Tinkerbell was asked to leave the shop!
They all had a blazing row on the way home, or at least Ransey and Kieran did, Joby had to try and act as mediator. A job he hates but is usually pretty good at in his own way. Doubtless they would still be out there yapping at each other now, if it hadn’t gone dark. That part of the town isn’t a place to find oneself in after dark, whether one is the Vanquisher of Evil or not! The impression I get is that there aren’t necessarily just earthly reasons for this. But that is something I don’t feel prepared to go into right now. It’s a mad world, my friends, and one that seems to defy all natural laws of physics, let alone logic.
It has been a very hot and humid evening, so close it’s touching, as the old saying goes. Adam and I had a long chat alone in the galley. Me sitting on the steps, and he opposite me, sitting astride a chair. Both of us drinking lemonade, which he had kept on the cold shelf in the food-hold.
We talked about Piers. I refuse to countenance any idea of Piers joining us on-board here. Adam said he felt concerned for Piers alone in Lixix. I pointed out that I also had found myself alone in Lixix all those years ago, and I had had to get by so why couldn’t he? Adam wearily said that I surely must know the answer to that one. Yes I do. Piers is stupid. Piers has always had someone (usually our dear mother) to wipe his bottom for him. Well I refuse, I absolutely refuse, to take on mother’s role! And I forbade him to do it either! Adam said he was far too busy to cosset Piers, but it still didn’t seem right to abandon him in a place like Lixix.
Worn out with the whole subject of Piers, I neatly sidestepped the issue by saying that it was ultimately up to Bardin, as Captain, who was allowed on-board. Adam said I have the cheek of the Devil sometimes. Rubbish! The Devil is an amateur compared to me!”
“I can’t believe how hot it is tonight”, said Ransey, up on the forward deck with Adam “I thought it might get cooler after dark, but the darkness seems to be making it worse”. “It is torrid”, said Adam.
“I don’t relish trying to sleep below”, said Ransey “I think I’ll sleep up here. Anyone care to join me you think?”
“I’d better not”, said Adam “Lo-Lo’s already asleep, and if he wakes up during the night and finds I’m not there he might panic. I expect some of the others might though”.
In the end all the clowns, plus Tamaz and Finia, hauled their bed-linen up on deck and joined Ransey in the open-air sleepover. Ransey was glad of their company. He felt unbearably tense and the heat was making it worse. The younger ones fell asleep with little trouble, but the arms of Morpheus eluded him. At one point he got up and went over to the bulwark facing the town. He was pleasantly surprised when Rumble joined him.
“Sort of the town that time forgot this place isn’t it?” said Rumble, in a low voice suitable for the time of night.
“It always was a strange old place”, said Ransey “It was here that I decided to chuck in the towel and join Kieran. He was out in the desert at that time, and I sort of ran away to him I suppose”.
“There must have been times since when you’ve wondered why!” Rumble joked.
“Never, not at all”, said Ransey “Not even when he’s been at his most infuriating! I remember the dark old days too well. Men had stopped caring then, to care about anything almost seemed inexplicable to them. But it was obvious that Kieran cared, and so did his friends. I wanted to be with people like that. To be with people who knew how to get emotional, and not just about power or money, which was how so many others were like. There was too much deadening cynicism everywhere else. This town reminds me of it too well”.
“The Village of Stairs was like that”, said Rumble “That’s why the Cabaret of Horrors was the most popular entertainment there! No nice cosy revues like the Little Theatre in Toondor Lanpin, but sadists’ slapstick”.
“And yet it turned out such a benign fellow as Bengo”, said Ransey.
“Bengo sort of breezes along in his own world really”, said Rumble “He knows how to fight though when he has a mind to it. There is toughness below those dimples!”
“Did you see that?” Ransey suddenly exclaimed “There was a sort of sudden pinkish glow on the far side of the town. Just for an instant”.
“Probably just somebody letting off fireworks”, said Rumble.
“In this town?!” said Ransey “Did you see it though?”
“I wasn’t looking over that way”, said Rumble “It’s probably a good idea if we tried to get some sleep now”.
Ransey agreed, but he spent a very troubled night. Towards dawn he had a bizarre dreamlike experience, in which someone unseen came aboard the boat and attached themselves clammily to him, putting its mouth over his as though trying to suck the life-force from him. He was left highly disturbed by the experience.
“Where’s everyone else?” he asked, when Adam settled him in the cabin after daybreak.
“They’re searching the boat”, said Adam “Just in case we did have a real intruder last night. It seems real enough, the effect it’s had on you”.
“I had something similar years ago”, said Ransey “When we lived at Wolf Castle. Something invisible attacked me in my room there. Adam, I’m not fit to be the bodyguard of the group at the moment”.
“You’re run down”, said Adam “You need rest. It’s been a very tense time lately”.
“Put Rumble in to do my job for a while”, said Ransey “He’s level-headed. Toppy can give him help with the guns. You can’t have somebody as flaky as me riding shotgun at the moment!”
“I’ve never handled a real gun before”, said Rumble, eating cereals with the other clowns up on the forward deck “Only stage-props”.
“Very little difference as far as I can see”, said Bardin “These’ll fire real bullets is all”.
“Great, I’m well-comforted now!” said Rumble.
“A bit like the mallets we used to bash each other on the head with”, said Bengo “They were only plastic really, but the audience didn’t know that”.
“Yes they did”, Bardin sighed “They just played along with us for the fun of it”.
Bengo looked quite put-out by this.
“So much for the illusion!” he snapped. “Bengo!” Bardin snapped back.
“I’d better get below”, Rumble scraped his bowl clean “I’ve got an assignation with Toppy in the ammo store!”
It was only to be expected that Toppy would have the ammo store, buried deep in the hold, to be scrupulously well-organised, the bullets kept polished and neatly docketed in their own respective boxes. Rumble, who had never bothered much with the ammo store before, regarding it strictly as Ransey and Toppy’s domain, found it an eye-opening experience.
Even more eye-opening was when Toppy, clad in pinny and gauntlets, led him to the cupboard containing the silver bullets and tiny pistol-fired silver coins, which Kieran believed helped to repel demons, vampires, werewolves, and other such undesirables.
“When did he have all these made?” said Rumble.
“When he was President”, said Toppy “He had them minted at the Ministry HQ. As you can imagine they are like gold-dust these days”.
“Silver-dust surely?” said Rumble.
“Y-e-s”, said Toppy “You’ll have to forget you’re a clown for the time being, Rumble. You’ll have to think like Ransey”.
“I’ll try”, said Rumble.
Bengo came in festooned all over with swathes of garlic.
“Kieran’s suggested we decorate this room with them”, he said “To protect our ammo against these creatures that keep getting on here. He’s said we should have done it before really but he’s only just thought of it”.
Meanwhile, Kieran was at the hands of demons in a small, obscure dark corner of the hold that was known on-board as “the waste of space” because it wasn’t used for anything. Kieran couldn’t recall how he had got in there or why he had none of the garlic with him. The first thing that he was conspicuously aware of was that he was being pinned down. Leering over him was a bloodless-looking old hag with fangs, who cackled into his face. More shadowy figures moved in the background, and disembodied hands seemed to be groping their way out of the wooden walls.
Demons! Shit, I might have known he’d try something like this! Thought Kieran. He instinctively tried to genuflect but something had hold of his hands and had pulled them firmly behind him. This something must be reaching out of the floor itself, like the hands in the wall, as Kieran was practically lying on the floor.
“I exorcise you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost!” Kieran shouted this several times, his voice felt as though it was trapped inside his chest, but he could hear it loud and clear in the room “I exorcise you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost!”
Three men in dark suits emerged out of the gloom. Their eyes were like hard brown pebbles, completely taking up the sockets, like that old film ‘The Man With X-Ray Eyes’, after he had torn his own eyes out.
“I exorcise you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost!” Kieran yelled again.
“Those words are so pointless aren’t they?” said one of the men to his ‘colleagues’.
“I ex …”
Hillyard was patting his face gently to bring him round. Kieran found himself lying in the doorway of the outer room that led to the waste of space.
“What …?” Kieran asked.
“You must have fainted”, said Hillyard “I’m not surprised, it’s stifling down here”.
He picked Kieran up in his arms, and carried him to the cabin.
Joby sent for a doctor, who announced that Kieran was suffering from nervous exhaustion and dosed him with a mild sedative to calm his nerves.
“It seems you’re not the only one round here in that condition”, said the doctor, glancing at Ransey, who was standing nearby in his dressing-gown.
“You’re not one of Them, I can tell”, said Kieran.
“I’m a doctor”, said the doctor, with a lifetime’s experience behind him of answering peculiar questions from patients.
“I feel so calm”, said Kieran.
“It was only a mild sedative, Your Grace”, said the doctor, closing his bag “No mind-altering drugs. There’s enough of that goes in this town already”.
“What did you mean just then?” said Joby, after Ransey had escorted the doctor up to the forward deck “He’s not one of Them”.
“This whole town is in the hands of the dark forces”, said Kieran.
“They’re welcome to it”, said Joby “It’s a dump!”
“No Satanic being would call me Your Grace”, said Kieran “Not with the remotest glimmer of sincerity anyway!”
Kieran slept for a whole, and when he woke up he felt the most mentally strong he had felt in some time. Adam made him poached eggs on toast and a pot of tea, and Kieran devoured the lot, watched by an awestruck Tamaz.
“Do you want some more?” Tamaz asked, when Kieran put his knife and fork together with a clatter.
“No I’m fine for the time being”, said Kieran “I wonder what the doc thought of all this garlic hanging round the boat!”
Garlic dripped from every door-handle, it was also arrayed up the quarterdeck steps and suspended from above the bed.
Tamaz shrugged, having no interest whatsoever in what the doctor thought about the garlic. He was only interested in Kieran, as Joby had assigned him to keep an eye on him. As such he gave a gasp of protest when Kieran got out of bed and began to get dressed.
“You can’t get up”, Tamaz wailed “Joby told me you had to stay in bed!”
“Tamaz”, Kieran paused to kiss him “I love you very much, but just this once I have to ignore you. There’s a lot going to happen in this town after dark, and as such I have a lot of preparations to make”.
The clowns were despatched to remove Brother Iggy from the hospital, by force if necessary, and they had even equipped themselves with a stretcher and leather restraints in case he wouldn’t obey. Fortunately he came quietly.
Julian went to fetch Piers from the Red Moon Hotel, and somehow got it through to him that he had to leave with them out of town, pronto. Julian stressed that he could travel with them as far as Magnolia Cove, but he was under no obligation whatsoever to stay with them beyond that! Somehow he got his brother out of the hotel, but only after they had both stood and stared at Piers’s luggage. Eventually Julian’s rather caustic comment that it “wouldn’t grow legs and walk you know” convinced Piers that no one was going to carry it but himself.
When they got out into the brief twilight Piers was shaken by the town’s klaxon going off. It was the official emergency klaxon, used to warn the inhabitants of a possible tsunami. It was a warning for them to seek high ground immediately.
“You must know something I don’t, Julian”, said a nervous Piers.
“Quite likely I imagine!” said Julian, marching him briskly through the streets.
“Can Kieran foretell disaster now?” said Piers.
“Only those he causes!” was Julian’s peculiar response.
“No need to panic”, said one man, walking pas them with a bundle of his possessions in his arms “Last time we had one of these tidal wave warnings, it was only a trickle by the time it got to us!”
“Don’t take any chances”, said Julian “Get to high ground above the town”.
“Reminds me of the catacombs below Toondor Lanpin”, said Joby, walking cautiously through the low-ceilinged archive rooms below the towns’ sad and neglected museum.
“Ransey told me about them”, said Kieran “He had to come and do some work here for Father Gabriel in the old days. It seems a shame to destroy it all but …”
A decaying figure crept out of one of the walls and made a pathetic attempt to lunge at Joby. In return Joby shook the garlic and crucifix at it that he was wearing. It slid back into the walls almost as though it operated automatically.
“As you can see they’re everywhere”, said Kieran “The whole town’s infested. These subterranean parts are perfect hiding-grounds for them. It would be no good destroying the town and leaving all this intact. They’d still have their secret maze underground connecting with other communities across the world”.
“Everything’s happened so fast”, said Joby “I can’t get my head round it!”
“I’ll explain as much as I can when we get to Magnolia Cove”, said Kieran “For now just help me lay these fuses. The darkness must be coming on real fast out there now. They get a lot of their strength in the dark”.
On the surface the population of Lixix made steady progress towards the hills at the northern part of the town. Many were excited at the possibility of seeing a giant wave from a close but safe vantage point. The more better off (the few that there were) had already taken their boats into the protected inland waterways beyond the hills.
What they saw wasn’t a wave though. Loud bangs heralded the start of something altogether different. The following morning newspaper headlines around the world proclaimed the news: “LIXIX DESTROYED BY FIRE”.
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