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It was very quiet come morning. That in itself was startling enough. Kieran had woke up twice. The first time, when it was still dark, to hear that the storm had returned with a vengeance. He had lain for several minutes listening to the window rattling, and trying desperately to summon up Amy's dream ghost. After a great deal of effort she had came to him, but it was all slightly awry. There was something not quite right. She wasn't real enough, and most upsetting of all he couldn't hear her voice. That distinctive soft voice with its musical Edinburgh lilt had faded. He even had trouble visualising her face. All he saw was a pale blur, crowned by a halo of yellow. Not so soon, he protested, she couldn't have gone so soon!
When he woke again, after a deeply unsatisfying sleep, the storm had gone and left behind a grey, chilly dawn, with a distinct metallic scent. He lay still for a while, trying to figure out exactly what seemed different about the prison this morning.
Then he realised. There was no noise at all. Henang would normally have been seething by now, with the breakfast round in full swing. But there was no loud clatter as the morning offering of rice, bananas and cigarettes was pushed through a gap in the door, like a bizarre postal delivery. There was an unnatural silence everywhere.
"What if they've all gone and left us?" said Joby, pacing up and down the centre of the room in his underpants, and drawing on a cigarette nervously.
"Is there any reason why they should?" asked Kieran "Anyway, if the entire population of the rest of the prison went on the move, I'm sure we'd have heard something, wouldn't we?"
"Summat to do with that lighthouse", Joby muttered, restlessly "Evil forces, the Governor said yesterday".
"Evil forces that left us alone?" Kieran exclaimed.
"Can you think of something then?"
"Not at the moment".
"Well, what happens to us?" Joby went on "We can't stay locked in here, we'll starve. I don't like it at all".
The Skirra Fludd lighthouse was hidden once more behind its veil of fog, as was the entire coastline. A massive fog-bank had rolled in and deadened all sight and sound in its wake. Up on the balcony Adam shivered in the cool air, and scanned what he could see of the countryside.
"Not a single bloody thing", he said, speaking over his shoulder to Kieran "Not a clue. Nothing out of place. Nothing but that damn fog".
"Perhaps that's what's out of place", Kieran said.
Adam turned and gave a rough resemblance of a smile.
"Are any of us still sane?" he said "What does it say in Lewis Carroll's books, if I could believe six impossible things before breakfast..."
"I've given up believing, and now just accept".
"Accept?" Adam queried "All of it?"
"Perhaps I've never had any choice", said Kieran "Really. Perhaps I've always suspected the truth all along".
"Hey!" Joby appeared at the window "The cell door's been unlocked!"
"Somebody must have unlocked it in the night, and left it like that. I didn't notice until now", Joby stood with his back to the stove "No sign of anyone having been in here though".
"No traces of Blue Men?" said Adam, nudging the heavy steel door open cautiously.
The silence outside was deafening and formidable. Not a rustle. Not a murmur.
"Not a sign of anything", Adam continued "Looks like it's time to explore, my little darlings. It's either that or we stay in here and rot".
"What if we're the only ones left?" said Joby.
"In some ways let's hope that we are", said Adam.
They found they weren't completely alone though. Sitting halfway down the Governor's green stairway was a boy. Angel was very young, with a slim body that owed more to a tendency of not eating food than athleticism. He could have had all the classical good looks of the lithe young Adonis, if it wasn't for the peculiar stare in his eye. Angel had a glassy, messianic gaze which had disturbed his Elders when he was a child. Many had branded it psychotic, and were relieved when he was eventually sent to Henang, on a charge of compulsive thieving.
The Governor may have boasted to Joby of the final vanquishing of religion and other "old superstitions", but many of the beliefs still lurked in the collective subconscious. It was true that Society prided itself on everyone being the same nowadays, but when anyone, such as Angel, displayed "abnormal" tendencies the reaction was still the age-old one of fear and deep distrust.
"So there is someone else here", Angel stopped biting his nails and rose to greet his fellow inmates in astonishment "I-I thought I was the only one left. The whole place is deserted. All where I've looked anyway".
"What happened?" asked Adam.
"I don't know. I woke up to find my cell door open and everything quiet..."
"That's exactly what happened to us", said Kieran "What's the significance of the orange vest you're wearing? Are you in the netball team or something?"
Angel looked down perplexedly at his luminous orange over-vest as though seeing it for the first time "I-I'm a trustee prisoner", he mumbled "I work in the kitchens here. I'd got halfway down to there this morning before I realised something was totally wrong".
"What about your cell-mate, or mates?" asked Adam.
"Don't have any. Trustees don't. Perhaps they feel we get enough socialising when we're working".
Kieran couldn't help noticing how animated the boy's eyes were when he spoke. They rolled around in their sockets as though drunkenly searching for a home. His whole manner was one of complete nervous energy, and he answered questions as though on trial for his life. It was unnerving to witness.
"Show us the way to the Governor's office", said Adam.
"Well at least we know the lie of the land", Adam said, as he expanded the map on the screen to include the whole country.
"Land Mass", said Kieran, reading out the name "So that's what it's all called now. Land Mass. Doesn't exactly strike at the old heart does it? You can't imagine anyone getting a yearning for a homeland called Land Mass!"
"Somehow we all got pushed together, by the looks of things", said Joby "And some of the seas disappeared".
"You're time-crossers aren't you?" asked Angel, who had glanced nervously from one face to another.
"We might be your dim and distant ancestors old love", said Adam.
"Some of us might", said Joby, darkly.
"And we need you to tell us our way round", Adam went on "Maps are all very well, but they don't help us with the hidden dangers, like the wolves and such like".
"How should I know?" the boy exclaimed "My world's been turned on its head too. With everyone gone I don't know what to do for the best. I'm as in the dark as you are".
"But you are of this place. We aren't. Or at least it looks nothing like it did when we left it".
"We go north", said Joby "Remember what the Governor said to me yesterday? Our cusp has shifted north, so we have to follow it and go north".
"We've only got his word for it that it did", Adam said, sombrely "He may have told you that in order that we would accept our lot, and refrain from putting in further requests for a move".
"There's nothing north", Angel exclaimed "Everything of any importance is to the south. The City's in the south. Everything that matters happens in the City".
"There's quite a bit of land below the City too", Adam scrolled up the screen "But nothing marked on it. What's there?"
"Nothing. Desert mainly. They say at the heart of it you could melt lead ..."
"Angel", Adam interrupted, as something else caught his eye "What's the Loud House?"
"Yes", Adam re-scrolled the screen "There's a huge building marked here, overlooking the coast of the Grey Sea. Actually it can't be all that far from the Skirra Fludd lighthouse. It say's it's called the Loud House. Peculiar name".
Angel had paled even more, as though the mentioning of the Loud House and the Skirra Fludd light in one breath was almost too much for any human to bear.
"Never heard of it mate", he said, trying (and failing) to strike a casual air "New one on me".
"If someone lives there", said Adam "We may be able to borrow a boat from there and get out to the lighthouse".
"No one lives there", Angel blurted out "Who'd wanna live there!"
"You just said you'd never heard of it".
"I-I don't know why I said that. Of course we've all heard of the Loud House, but no one's lived there for centuries. No one knows why it was built even. I mean, bloody peculiar place to build a house! With all that fog around it's even a mystery to me how they built it".
"It's not foggy all the time surely?"
"They say it is there", said Angel, stubbornly "I spose it might have been important once, otherwise why go to all that trouble?"
"I think we shall head to the Loud House", Adam briskly snapped off the visual display "It's our best bet. And if we have no luck there, if, as Angel says, it's a deserted ruin, then we can always go south. To the bright lights of the City".
"You can't go there!" Angel exclaimed again "To the Loud House I mean. There are tales about that place".
"What tales?" asked Kieran.
"Little blue men probably", Adam sighed impatiently "I am sick and tired of these tales already. For a civilisation which prides itself on doing away with superstition, you all seem riddled with it".
"It's got a sort of mystical aura to it. I heard it described as somewhere you must never go to in a frivolous mood", said Angel, as though reciting from a guide-book.
"I have rarely felt less frivolous", said Adam, tartly.
The day had moved on apace, and the scent of evening was in the air. Soon the wolves would be prowling. To Angel's considerable relief there was no question of going to the Loud House until morning. He was like a condemned man given a stay of execution, with the hope of a possible appeal.
He obligingly led the way to the kitchens, which were cavernous but remarkably primitive. Apart from reassuring them that there was a plentiful supply of rice (the staple diet at Henang), the rooms still gave no clue as to what had happened or why. All pots and pans were polished and neatly in place, bags of food packaged up and labelled, floors scrubbed. It looked more as though the kitchen had never been used, like a display in a museum.
"When was the last time this place was used?" Adam asked Angel.
"Last night, for the supper round", the boy replied "Oatcakes and apples. Not much preparation to that, and no clearing up, as it's all carried round in baskets. That's why it's all so tidy now".
The kitchen held limited interest for Adam. Instead he drifted back to the Governor's office, which promised more for the curious than bags of rice and copper pans. He opened drawers and cupboards, all crammed with old-fashioned disks and files. Disappointingly, the information these contained was mundane in the extreme. Food orders (highly repetitious), a plaintive request for more guards, all the flotsam and jetsam of prison bureaucracy. The City authorities seemed singularly awkward about helping the Governor in any way. Where Henang was concerned, they wanted the policy of out of sight, out of mind.
A file on one disk marked "weather" turned out to be a daily forecast of climatic conditions sent down-line from a weather station. Occasionally the Governor had singled one out that he had found of potential interest. Strangely these were always accompanied by memo's, from him to the authorities, demanding extra staff. Adam was curious to find that these memo's coincided with storms (such as the one on the previous evening), heatwaves and even lunar eclipses. The memo's were usually received with unsympathetic replies from the Ministry, stating tersely that no extra help was forthcoming, and they would merely have to manage.
One such effort was signed by the Junior Minister for Justice.
"The Minister regrets he cannot take up your offer of an official visit to Henang in the foreseeable future. The lunar eclipse on the first of October is not, he feels, in itself sufficient reason to make the journey. He has every confidence that yourself and your well-trained staff will handle the situation with calmness and discipline".
The first of October ... four days away apparently.
Below the memo was a short missive from the Governor to his deputy.
"Have you seen that message about the Moon? It's a bloody disgrace! They'll be telling us to wear tin hats next".
The deputy had replied: "Clean underwear in case of accidents perhaps?"
Adam laughed, removed the disc and inserted the next one. It was marked "personal", but contained few files. The Governor had obviously been a cautious man, he had erased most files soon after use, and the ones remaining were, at the most, only a couple of weeks old.
The largest file contained a half-written report (obviously intended for publication) on reasons why the Cage was not an effective deterrent and should never have been used. The words "cruel and inhumane" cropped up regularly. The Governor had been a man of conscience, it seemed, and from what Adam had gathered about the faceless bureaucrats at the Ministry, he must have been a thorn in their side at times. He had this annoying habit of regarding the inmates as human.
Another file contained only an illustration of Angel's face. "Teacher's pet eh?" Adam said, wryly, and ended the file in preference for one of more interest.
One was marked "diary" and contained a list of dates with short notes alongside. These were brief but secret as though the Governor needed a confessional occasionally. They were mostly abrupt rantings against the prison regime and authorities, his frustration at getting anything constructive done, and his many mysterious fears.
22 September: light visible last night, which, of course, means a restless prison. I understand their fears, because I share them. If only it was permanently out of sight.
23 September: Request to finally have the Visitor's Wing demolished refused by the fatheads down south. Say it would not be "prudent", so we have to live with it. Sometimes I wish they were living IN IT!
24 September: Angel is all that keeps me sane sometimes. How the system fails young people like him. They need love and care, not locking away.
(Adam drew a sharp intake of breath. The Governor had obviously had a naive, blind spot where Angel was concerned. He may easily have been taken in by his good looks, but how could he possibly have failed to notice that suspicious glint in his large eyes?)
25 September: Terrible day. Disturbing meeting with one of our oldest lags. He swears his cell-mate didn't die, but was abducted. Refused any reassurance on the subject. Had to have him sedated. Felt bad about it, as I don't think he was ranting, but he disturbed me too much.
Later: The air is like sulphur, a storm must be coming. The M.O has just told me that the inmates in the sick bay are highly restless tonight. Some have had to be strapped down. These distressing primitive methods upset me, but we have no choice when such ancient fears as full moons and thunderstorms set them off. It's all getting to me. I'll have to have a screening of the Twins to keep me calm.
Adam recalled seeing a large disc labelled "the Twins" earlier. He located it and fitted it into a bigger drive that looked as though it had been brought in off the Ark. Instantly the wall opposite him came alive with brash jazz music, accompanied by a very old video of two identical women with candyfloss hair, and wearing red sequined outfits, doing a brisk tap-dance on a flight of steps. Adam laughed uproariously at the sight of the Governor's secret fantasy, and watched the dancing with disbelief. The girls finished their energetic routine by dancing to the bottom of the steps and then collapsing on the polished floor. The closing shot was of them lying spreadeagled, wreathed in smiles, with their fluffy hair spread out around them. They looked like a pair of colourful paper dolls.
It was all so incredibly tacky and dated that Adam could understand why the Governor found them relaxing. They were colourful, energetic and, above all else, cheerful. All qualities that were distinctly lacking at Henang.
The door opened behind him, and Adam turned to find Angel standing there.
"Angel", he said to the boy "I think it's time you showed us the visitor's wing".
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