Go back to previous chapter
They spent the rest of the night in Angel's room, with most of the bedding stacked against the doorway. Immediately daylight came they quit the visitor's wing, with precious few feelings of regret.
On leaving it Adam returned to the Governor's office, to study the available maps once more. There were a handful of buildings marked in the northern area, usually with the italics "derelict" next to them. Apart from one, of substantial size, some twenty miles to the direct south of the infamous Loud House. Adam doubted it would have inhabitants though, and so decided they would come to no harm if they headed there for their first night.
One of the small buggy vehicles used by the guards was unearthed from an outbuilding, and Angel demonstrated his knowledge of starting it without benefit of the necessary authorised key-card. It was, said Angel, "stupidly easy". As the inner workings of the buggy looked horrendously intricate, Adam had a gnawing suspicion that Angel was now indispensable to the journey.
"What does it run on?" asked Joby.
"Run on?" Angel looked incredulous.
"How does it go?" Joby repeated, patiently.
"It's programmed mate, it's all on a chip inside. Trouble is, we don't know how far it's programmed to take us before the chip needs re-charging".
"Can't you hazard a guess?" Adam snapped.
"It varies. I don't think this'll go far. It's only meant for use in the area round the prison. It might get us to the Loud House, but it probably won't get us back again".
"Can't we take the re-charger with us?" Joby suggested.
"Don't be stupid!" Angel sneered "You'd have to take the entire prison's fucking generator system".
The buggy started on a wing and a prayer, and after a few convulsive shudders purred smoothly into action. Angel drove, with Kieran in the passenger seat, and Adam and Joby behind. Stacked under their feet was the bedding, and a few food supplies, mainly rice and fruit, with the exception of the Governor's precious Bunders, nobody felt that, even the prospect of starvation, was enough to risk taking them!
Firstly they did a nervous circuit of the prison's grounds, on the pretext of seeing if anyone else had been accidentally left behind, although Adam felt it would be nothing short of a damn nuisance if anyone did turn up, as there was no room for them in the buggy. If possible the whole place seemed even more eerily deserted than ever.
"I wonder where they all did go", said Joby.
"Let's hope we don't find out", Kieran replied.
Angel was a highly competent driver, having spent the majority of his childhood stealing buggies from various parts of the City, and driving them hysterically for a few miles before abandoning them somewhere. It had all helped to pass the time until he was finally caught.
This particular buggy purred contentedly in his hands, and on its huge tyres moved smoothly over the difficult, rock-strewn terrain. As they headed vaguely north Angel seemed to have forgotten his superstitions about the Loud House, in the excitement of being behind a wheel again. Instead he gave himself up to the sensuous pleasure of driving.
It was a soporific journey, with very little to see to break the mood. The landscape was lunar in style, peppered with craters and rocks, lit by a blinding white sunshine, uninhibited by any cloud cover to mellow its fierceness. After an hour of steady driving they saw their first unusual sight, a tiny, crumbling ruin, shaped like a large beehive, with one wall in pieces, revealing an empty interior.
"What's that?" Adam asked, leaning forward in his seat and flicking his fingers close to Angel's ear to get his attention.
"Old wolf shelter", the boy replied "Built about 300 years ago, when people still used to travel out this way. If they found themselves stuck out here after dark they could stop inside one of these for the night, safe from the wolves. There's loads of 'em about, all ruins now I expect".
He was right. Over the next hour or so they were to see the shells of several wolf-shelters, all in a state of near-collapse.
"Why did they stop travelling out this way?" asked Adam.
"Dunno", Angel shrugged "Visiting people who must've lived out here then I suppose".
"Or they were visiting the Loud House, perhaps?" said Joby, muttering from underneath the cap which he had pulled down over his eyes.
"They've must've been fucking mad then", Angel said.
Adam's fears that the buggy would de-programme itself miles from anywhere, and leave them stranded in the lunar landscape, with no intact wolf-shelter in sight, proved unfounded. By late afternoon he guessed from his calculations that they must be approaching the building he had seen marked on the Governor's map. If they broke down now it didn't matter, as they could safely reach the building on foot by nightfall.
The terrain had changed slightly. The ground became softer, more peaty, and more gorse bushes appeared. The countryside became less lunar, and moorlike instead. Suddenly, standing crookedly by the side of a large gorse bush appeared a signpost, bearing the unambiguous words "GO BACK".
"Why?" asked Joby.
"Obvious", said Angel, driving on "We're not far from the Loud House".
"You're beginning to sound highly repetitious", said Adam.
"Doesn't look like we'll be going there tonight though", said Kieran "There's a fog bank dead ahead".
Wisps of fog had started to appear around the buggy, like floating scraps of cottonwool. A dense bank of fog had rolled in, seemingly out of nowhere, to sit across their path like a brooding ambusher.
"The lights must be here somewhere", said Angel, taking both hands of the steering-wheel to ferret amongst the dashboard. Kieran steadied the wheel as he did so "Got 'em".
A pathetically dim light tried to do battle with the denseness of the fog, but was hopelessly inadequate.
"At least we're not likely to prang anyone else", said Joby, gloomily.
Clumps of grass appeared amongst the gorse bushes, like a desperate sign of civilisation. Gradually though the fog became so dense that even these couldn't be glimpsed through it.
"There's something ahead", Angel exclaimed, excitedly.
A large, dark shape loomed up silently in the near distance. The unnamed building on the Governor's map was now real. Angel slowly drove the buggy as close to it as he could without actually hitting it.
It was a long, low building in complete darkness. The windows were small and anti-social in their blind gaze. The structure of the building was very old, but had weathered the elements and the years of neglect far better than the wolf-shelters had. An inn-sign, so disfigured by the weather that the original name on it was lost, creaked eerily in the fog.
"It's an old pub", said Joby, getting out of the buggy and walking over to the main doorway, which was a heavy wooden affair dotted with iron studs "An old pub out here, would you believe it!"
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site