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By Sarah Hapgood

Half the household it seemed wanted to eavesdrop on Madame de Sade’s Confessional. Adam found a whole knot of them tied up in a rugby-scrum of nosiness outside an empty room on the first floor, which Kieran had taken the Frenchwoman into for “privacy”.

Adam chivvied them along to the landing, where Tamaz was voicing disbelief that they could be so interested in “the Sade woman”, when somebody had delivered a whole load of boxes at the main gates. Adam took a party of them out to see what had happened, and it turned out to be a delivery of groceries that had just been left there.

“This must be all part of a Silling Productions standing-order”, said Adam “Like the meat delivery was. We’d better make the most of it, until they cotton on that things have changed here”.

“Why didn’t they come up to the house?” said Joby.

“Afraid probably”, said Adam “Can you blame them?!”

The boxes were put on sledges and taken up to the front steps of the house, which Toppy had been sweeping, and then they were taken into the hall. The clowns were engaged in a snowball fight, Tamaz was already tearing open the boxes (assisted by Lonts), and Adam went along to the billiard room to tell Julian what had happened.

He found Julian and Hillyard, both butt-naked, playing billiards, but using their dicks in place of cues.

“Only big boys can play this game”, said Hillyard “You qualify, Ad. Not sure about Joby!”

“Ah shaddup!” said Joby.

“Doesn’t it hurt?” said Finia.

“Not at all”, said Hillyard “You wanna try it. Oops I forgot, you can’t!”

Bardin meanwhile had gone in to see Sade, who had been noisily demanding to know what was going on in the hall.

“Some supplies have been delivered to us”, said Bardin “Tho’ we’d like to know who pays for them”.

“I have no idea”, said Sade.

“You must have!” said Bardin “Who brought you into this time? Who gave you all this?”

He gestured around at their opulent surroundings. Sade shrugged.

“How is it the English say?” said Sade “Do not look a gift-horse in the mouth? I was brought out of the wretchedness of my own time, where I was a defeated man, condemned by hypocrites, and here given the life of my fantasies! A man would be a fool to question such largesse landing in his lap”.

“He can still ask what it’s all about though”, said Bardin “And why. And what his so-called ‘benefactor’ wants in return for such generosity”.

“I know exactly what was wanted”, said Sade “My creative mind. The very thing that was reviled in my own time! And yet here it was the thing that was most coveted! Silling Productions is a massive organisation, my young friend, it has many layers. No one knows who controls it at the top. I am as much a pawn in the game as your Monsieur Crowlee. And that is another thing, is it not? That man has done far worse things in his time than I, and yet he is not kept chained up like a dog!”

“You’re let free at mealtimes now”, said Bardin.

“Oh such riches!” said Sade “I treated you all more fairly at my Chateau did I not?”

“You kept us locked in our room at night”, said Bardin “Threatened us with the dungeon if we didn’t do everything you said, and tried to abduct Tamaz in the middle of the night!”

“Tch!” said Sade “I do not expect a clown to understand the ways of a nobleman!”

“Get into bed”, said Bardin to Bengo, late that evening “I haven’t had a chance to tell Julian about my conversation with Sade yet, so I’ll just pop over now”.

“Can’t I come too?” said Bengo, looking like a child in his nightshirt.

“No, I want you to warm the bed up”, said Bardin.

“But we’ve got the hot-water bottle to do that”, Bengo protested.

“Bengo!” said Bardin “Do as I say!”

Bengo, muttering, climbed into the four-poster. He rumpled up the bottom sheet on Bardin’s side as much as he could, and then lay there staring up at the canopy.

The door was gently pushed open and a figure in white seemed to glide into the room. It was an immensely fat woman in a white night-gown. She had long blonde hair tumbling around a face heavily-caked in make-up. She looked like the sort of woman who would have been beautiful in her youth, but who now looked like a particularly blowsy drag queen.

“Who are you?” Bengo exclaimed.

A frisson went through him that he might be seeing a ghost, as she seemed to move so noiselessly. She came up to the bed and stared down at him menacingly. Bengo felt terrified and completely helpless, like a baby about to be smothered by a huge pillow. The figure opened he mouth and Bengo saw the decayed teeth. The evil glint in her eyes gave no room for doubt.

“D-demon!” Bengo screamed “Demon!”

A whole torrent of people swarmed into the room like an unstopped dam. Thetis fired her pistol, filled with silver charms, at the figure, who drifted backwards to the wall, its nightgown billowing like an untethered tent. It faded into the wall.

“I want you, for once in your sordid life, to speak plain English, if you can”, said Julian, who had, after making sure that Bengo was being looked after, run along to Crowley’s room “None of your usual pompous verbosity. Were you responsible for sending that … that Thing into Bengo’s room?”

“No, I was not”, said Crowley, helping himself to brandy and pouring one for Julian as well “Was that succinct enough for you? It would not be remotely in my own interests to do something as grossly irresponsible as that. For one thing I find the little fellow to be utterly captivating. Not only is he beautiful, but he has an air of complete incorruptibility to him. No wonder he has been buggered so much by yourself! I would only be interested in putting myself into his room, not a demon!”

Julian ignored the brandy and paced the floor. Victor, who had a habit of scuttling away from people like a spider on being exposed to sudden light, had gone into the bathroom. He hated confrontations.

“As a fellow old roué”, Crowley continued “You must see that I am speaking the truth”.

Julian didn’t trust himself to reply in a sufficiently civilised way to this one. Instead, he went across to the bathroom, told Victor he could come out now, and then set off on the eerie walk back to the north end of the house, along the dark, first-floor corridor.

He found all the others still congregated in the clowns’ room. Thetis and Madame de Sade were flanking the doorway like a pair of stone lions on a driveway.

“Yes alright, get to your rooms”, Julian snapped at everybody “We should try and get some sleep, for what’s left of the night!”

He tugged Adam onto the landing.

“I’ll take the clowns into my room”, he said “You, Lonts and Toppy go into Kieran’s. Safety in numbers and all that. We don’t know what else is going to come out of the woodwork round here! Where’s Hoowie sleeping?”

“In with Farnol and Rumble”, said Adam “As he has done ever since we got here, if you’d but taken the trouble to find out!”

“Yes alright!” said Julian “Piers, Codlik and Josh can all sleep together. God, what a grisly thought!”

“And what about my ‘usband?” said Madame de Sade.

“What about him, Madam?” said Julian.

“You can’t leave him down on the ground floor all by himself!” Madame de Sade wailed.

“I wouldn’t have thought it was currently in your best interests to bring him upstairs!” said Julian.

“He can come into our room”, said Ransey “And she’d better come in as well”.

“We’ll go down and get him”, said Hillyard, heading to the stairs with Rumble.

Bengo helped Mieps to re-arrange the big bed in Julian’s room so that 5 of them could sleep in it comfortably. Mieps had also tuck a chair under the handle of the door leading to the secret passage, except he doubted this would stop any demons getting in.

“This is where we could do with a the communal bed on the sloop”, said Bengo.

“Even that couldn’t fit in all 24 of us”, said Mieps.

“The other lot could have their own!” said Bengo.

Bardin came in, looking wretched, and Bengo feared he would start berating himself for having left Bengo alone in the other room. Fortunately Julian came in, lifted the back of Badin’s nightshirt, and smacked his behind whilst telling him to snap out of it. And thus a potentially traumatic scene was successfully diverted.

“Toppy had better go in the middle, because he’s the littlest”, said Lonts, who was helping Toppy and Adam to arrange the mattress from their room on Kieran’s bedroom floor.

Joby was already in bed, reading a gardening magazine, and looking more and more brassed off by all this late night disruption.

“You’d better be careful if you step out of bed in the night, Joby”, Lonts continued “Or you might step on me”.

Joby grunted.

Kieran and Tamaz came out of the bathroom, and Kieran switched the bathroom light off behind them.

“Could you shut the door as well, Kieran?” said Lonts “Or that patch of dark in the doorway will be really spooky”.

Joby gave an exasperated sigh, lowered his magazine in frustration, and then raised it again.

“It’s nice to see Julian back to his old self again isn’t it?” said Adam.

“Personally I preferred it when he was going into a morbid decline!” said Joby “It was a damn sight more peaceful round here for one thing!”

“I don’t know how you can say things like that round here, Joby”, said Lonts.

Joby rolled up his magazine and reached down to where Lonts was now lying on his mattress. He clouted Lonts on the head with it.

“Adam!” Lonts cried “Joby hit me on the head with his magazine!”

“Pack it in, you two”, said Adam.

“Well he was starting to sound like Codlik”, said Joby “It’s bad enough having one of ‘em in the house, let alone two!”

When the first fingers of daylight came through the gaps in the red velvet curtains, Hillyard got out of bed and poked the glowing embers of the fire into light, and then added some more logs.

“It’s morning”, said Bengo, getting out of bed as well and joining him on the hearth-rug “We’ve survived the night”.

Hillyard smiled and ruffled Bengo’s hair. Bardin peered, or rather scowled, at them from his place on the bed. Bengo scowled back, determined not to let Bardin resume his old jealousy of Hillyard, not after everything that had happened recently. Bardin appeared to take the message, and Bengo thought that, at last, they might be able to “tame Bardy”.

“What’s all this?” said Adam, pulling back the blankets which had covered Joby “Patsy tells me you’re threatening not to come down to work”.

“He had no right to tell you that!” said Joby, glaring at Kieran, who was standing behind Adam.

“I would have soon found out don’t you think!” said Adam “We are all stressed out in this house, but that’s no excuse for you to carry on like an angst-ridden teenage boy!”

“That’s ‘cos I feel like an angst-ridden teenage boy!” said Joby “There’s no end to all this is there?”

“There will be one day”, said Adam “The problem is we don’t know how long it’s going to take, or what we’ve got to go through in the meantime”.

“But it will end”, said Kieran “And when it is we can do anything we like. Go back to Zilligot Bay perhaps. I don’t think the Castle’s going to be fit to live in for quite some time, but we enjoyed running the bar at Zilligot Bay didn’t we?”

“Yeah, it was a laugh”, said Joby.

“Well can’t you sort of pretend we’re back there?” said Adam.

“How?” Joby barked “I don’t see any similarities meself! The bar wasn’t built over the entrance to Hell …”

“Not that we know of”, said Kieran “Tho’ strange things happened a lot in that town”.

“We didn’t have Sade and Crowley and fucking Codlik with us”, Joby continued “And it wasn’t fucking snowing!”

“That’s quite enough!” said Adam “Now I won’t take anymore hysterics. Patsy and I rely on you, and we don’t want you going to pieces”.

“He was accusing me the other day of coping too well!” said Joby.

“I didn’t accuse you of anything!” said Kieran.

“Stop it!” said Adam “I rely on you, Joby, to help me keep things ticking over. It’s not fair, it really isn’t. No sooner do I cure Julian of his morose introspection than you start! It’s more than a human body can stand! How would you both like it if I took myself off to bed and just growled at anyone who came near me?”

“Alright, don’t go on!” said Joby.

It became clear though as the morning wore on that Joby’s current attack of the glooms wasn’t simply another of his morose moods, he seemed to be genuinely depressed. He confessed that he simply couldn’t face another night in this house. The episode with the demon last night was the last straw. He had closed his mind to all the depraved horrors that had gone on here, but now the goblins were coming out of the walls at them. Surprisingly, it was Mieps who was his biggest supporter.

“This house is a charnel-house”, he said to Adam down in the kitchen. Joby was on the other side of the room drinking cups of tea with Kieran “We try and make it look homely, but it’s still a soulless pit”.

Adam looked round at the huge, gloomy kitchen. He thought of ‘Tartarus’ below their feet, and of the two young girls who had hid in terror in the pantry from the rampaging Ghoomers.

“But what can we do?” he asked.

“Burn it to the ground and leave”, said Mieps “What are we doing here anyway? We’re living in a fool’s dream, trying to carry on as normal and wait for that door to open. And then what? Send ourselves into the pit?! We should do what we did in Lixix, and cleanse the place with fire”.

“The evil seems to have grown stronger somehow overnight”, Kieran was saying to Joby at that moment “The walls seem electrified in some parts of the house, as though it’s generating an energy field of its own. Nothing I try seems to be working. Angel won’t communicate with me, and the bugger of a fact is I need his help! And Aleister says he can’t seem to co-ordinate his thoughts here …”

He broke off as Thetis appeared, looking pale and shocked.

“What’s happened now?” said Joby.

“I’ve just been down to the basement to check on the door”, Thetis replied.

“You shouldn’t go down there alone!” said Joby “It’s not open is it?”

“No, and be thankful that it’s not!” Thetis exclaimed.

Kieran, Joby and Mieps went back down to the basement with her. The atmosphere down here was appalling, as though the imprint of all the evils in this area had formed into a living matter which was contaminating the place like a particularly cruel and vicious disease.

“What’s that noise?” said Joby “There’s a sort of moaning sound”.

It was on the other side of the door, the sound as of a hundred lost souls all crying and wailing in despair. There was also the sound as of hands and feet beating on the door to get out.

“If they do get out”, said Thetis to Kieran “You won’t survive. They’ll tear you to pieces, you MUST realise that”.

“Remember the people who were decapitated up at the Big House?” said Mieps.

“I know”, said Kieran “But it means running away again, don’t you see?”

Joby grabbed Kieran by the arms and spun him round to face him.

“Listen to what you’re saying!” he said “You’ll be tortured and killed if whatever they are on the other side of that door gets out!”

“We have to burn this place”, said Mieps.

“Cleanse it with fire”, said Thetis.

“O.K!” said Kieran “We’d better make a start I guess”.

Joby put his hands to his face and let out a gasp of relief.

The house was scoured for anything inflammatory they could lay their hands on, from matches, to paraffin, to vintage whisky. Those that weren’t engaged in this activity were boxing up valuables that they didn’t think should be lost in the demon-burning inferno.

“I know one shouldn’t say this”, said Adam, as he and Joby packed up gold-plated cutlery and crystal wine-glasses in the kitchen “But all this is rather fun”.

“It’s your criminal past asserting itself”, said Joby.

“I suppose it must be”, said Adam.

“What’s he up to?”

Joby had noticed Hoowie peering through the kitchen window, as if to check there was anyone there. The next thing they knew there was a shattering of glass as Hoowie smashed the window with a mallet.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Joby shouted, running outside to him.

“I’ve always wanted to do this”, said Hoowie “Smash windows, but I’ve never had the chance. You can’t normally get away with it. I thought that, as we’re gonna torch this old place anyway, it wouldn’t matter if I did”.

“Someone could get hurt!” said Joby.

“No, I always check there’s no one in the way first!” said Hoowie.

Julian retrieved the box of jewels from the back of the wardrobe in his room, and opened it to show the priceless baubles to Tamaz.

“I want you to hold onto this for me”, said Julian “I’m not giving it to you so don’t look too awestruck. I just want you to keep charge of them for a while”.

“Me?” Tamaz exclaimed.

“Freaky”, said Julian “I know for a fact you won’t let them out of your sight!”

Julian took a swig from a bottle of whisky.

“It’s a crying shame to use decent whisky like this”, he said “But here goes”.

And he swished the contents of the bottle over his bed before striking a match.

Lonts let the dogs out of their lair, put them on heavy-duty leashes and happily let them drag him through the snow up to the front gates. The others were all gradually emerging from the main doors, clutching baggage, fur coats and valuables.

“Philistines!” spat Sade, who was bounced down the front steps in his wheelchair by Hillyard “How can you destroy such a fine house? You are no better than those filthy peasants who destroyed my Chateau in the Revolution”.

“Well you obviously shouldn’t have upset ‘em so much should you!” said Hillyard.

Kieran was the last to emerge from the doors. He gave a last lingering look round the main hall before pulling the doors shut behind him. He looked up at two stone gargoyles over the doors, faces that were etched as though they’d had their eyes sewn shut. Joby came up the steps towards him.

“I’m o.k, my old friend”, said Kieran “Come, we mustn’t linger”.

They retreated a safe distance up the main gates, where all the others had congregated.

“Look at us all”, Joby muttered to Kieran “We look like a bleedin’ travelling circus!”

“Complete with our own clowns!” said Kieran.

As the fire gripped Starhanger, like a gigantic funeral pyre, Thetis got very excited. Her eyes shone and her heavy, fevered breathing began to sound very suspicious. Julian watched her with some amusement, and patted her on the shoulder.

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