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"It's no good, I can't go on", Angel announced, stalling the buggy after having driven barely a mile "I can feel it coming closer and closer, waiting for us at the end of the journey".
Adam unceremoniously turfed the boy out of the buggy and clambered into the front seat himself.
"You either come with us now", he said, as Angel stood helplessly on the dusty ground "Or you find your way back to the prison. Wolves or no wolves. Then again, you might just reach it by nightfall, if you put your best foot forward".
"You don't know how to drive this thing", Angel protested.
"Oh yes I do, I've been sitting back there watching you. It's a piece of cake".
Angel hovered uncertainly and then jumped into the back seat.
"I bet when we get there it's nothing but an old empty house", Joby sneered "And you'll look really stupid then".
The terrain got noticeably rougher, and the buggy slid and tumbled uncomfortably amongst the rocks and craters, its large wheels clutching the ground for dear life. Occasionally, when it hit a large boulder, it groaned asthmatically but with great resilience carried on.
"Nobody can have been out this way for years", said Adam, gripping the steering-wheel tightly "There's not even a trace of where the road might have been".
A few miles further along a dust storm blew up, which whipped and tore at the travellers, stinging their eyes and faces. Adam muffled the lower part of his face, and sent prayers of encouragement to the vehicle.
"I can't see a bloody thing", he muttered, peering through the dust "I'll just keep driving in a straight line, and hope it works out".
When the dust storm died they had their first view of the Loud House. It had appeared quietly on the distant horizon. Bright sunshine bathed it in a harsh glow, as the ultraviolet rays bounced off the roof, windows and towers.
"Hard to tell much from this distance", said Adam, easing the buggy to a standstill to look at the place properly.
"Looks pretty intact though", said Joby, and he nudged the boy next to him "It's just a building. Look!"
"Like Beane's cave was only a cave", Kieran said, quietly, earning a scowl from the man behind.
"I d-don't suppose anyone's been this f-far in decades", Angel shivered "We might be the first ones to s-see it in years. It's w-waiting for us".
"Jesus Christ", Joby exclaimed "If I didn't know better I'd say you'd been watching too many old films".
Another stop was made to answer the call of nature. Kieran returned to the buggy first. He sat down in the front passenger seat, and watched the Loud House as the sun moved behind a cloud, leaving the building in a state of semi-darkness. Instantly, the glistening bulk became a dark, brooding presence.
"Doesn't look so welcoming now does it?" he said, when Joby returned.
"The power of sunlight", Joby replied "Don't listen too much to the demon we've got with us. He talks out of his arse. The government of this crazy land did a good job on brainwashing people where the Loud House is concerned".
"You can't seriously still believe in secret government establishments can you?"
"Look around you. How do they transport themselves in and out. There's no bloody road! You'd think the government would make sure it had decent access for itself. The boy was right. No one's been out here for decades, if not centuries".
"Then what about that singing we heard last night?"
"That's what worries me, because it means there is something there. Question is, what?"
"Hey!" Joby said, excitedly "I've just thought of something".
"Yea, women. What if it's a colony of women?"
"You've been here so long, you've started fantasising".
"No, straight up. They were all murdered right? But suppose a group of them escaped, and came out here".
"And started the rumours themselves to help stay undiscovered?"
"Yea. That could be it you know!"
"It's a nice thought Jobe, but time is against that theory. If what Angel said is true the purges took place about a 100 years ago. Now, in our day, the average life expectancy was about 120. I can't believe, the way everyone lives now, that it's increased that much. So even if there are women there, they're going to be a bit long in the tooth by now".
"Can't you think of anything but sex?"
"I wasn't thinking of that actually. I'm just saying, if the colony is still there it must be on its last legs. Unless they took a handy sperm bank with them they legged it".
"Even if there's only Methusaleh's mother left, she might be able to help us get to the lighthouse".
"Brrr!" Kieran exclaimed "Something just walked over me grave. I'm having dire misgivings about that idea".
"So am I. I was there when the Governor told me all about it wasn't I? What he said didn't make sense, but he was dead serious when he said it".
"Evil forces that we can't see or touch, yet could destroy the world and all its history".
"Not a nice prospect", said Joby "But from what he said, it's still our only chance of getting home".
"And if the Loud House is a colony of women", Adam emerged from behind a bush "They won't be too pleased to see us. Men, the assassins of their sex. And we're men aren't we?"
"Rumour has it", said Joby "We'll just have to take that risk".
Angel was standing by the diseased stump of a tree, which was silhouetted starkly against the darkening sky.
"And that's another little problem", Adam muttered "I hope he hangs onto his marbles when we reach the Loud House, or we could have an hysterical vampire on our hands".
"So you admit he could be a problem, at long last?" Kieran said, sharply.
"Only in so much as he's an unknown quantity, like the Loud House itself. If only those wonderful City authorities had done a bit more than scare him about the place, such as tell him what it is that's frightening about it. Then we might know what we're up against".
"I wonder why it's called the Loud House", said Joby "I mean, I can't even guess as to why it's called that, can you?"
"Everything's dead or dying", a saucer-eyed Angel approached the buggy.
"Well we're not", said Adam, tartly "At least not yet anyway".
The two most striking and immediate aspects of the Loud House were its size, and the silence that surrounded it, which was ironic in view of its name. The house was constructed out of huge blocks of stone, on a scale that was more daunting than lavish. It had been built in a u-shape around a large, central courtyard that was decorated with pillars, around most of which a dead climbing weed had wound itself. The stone slabs in the ground were peppered with large cracks. Boulders of stone, of indeterminate shape, that must have meant something of significance once, lolled around aimlessly. Windows were blank, steps crumbled, and doors and dark entrances seemed to lead off nowhere with no purpose in mind.
Surrounding it all was the silence, as though the very air itself was dead. And yet, in spite of that, and the general aura of decay, the Loud House seemed very much alive. Everything was heavy with anticipation, like a monster that had been awakened from a long hibernation.
The four men stood in the middle of the vast courtyard, and knew, without a doubt, that they were being watched.
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