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The density of the fog now made it hard to tell if it was day or night at the Loud House. By the time the decision was made to kill Angel no one could tell if hours or days had elapsed since their unexpected return from Green Ways.
"I don't agree with this", said Kieran "Killing is killing, whatever you say. Why don't we just leave him here?"
"Because that's crueller", said Joby "Abandoning someone to rot. That's no kind of life, and it's time he was put out of his misery. Think of him as a mad dog that tears the throats out of sheep. If he was you'd have him put down, wouldn't you?"
"He's not a dog though", Kieran protested "And I'm having nothing to do with it".
"Fine. Then stay out of it, and let us get on with it".
Adam and Joby retreated down to the bottle-green room to formulate a plan. Adam pointed out several large shards of broken mirror lying on the floor.
"We have our murder weapon", he said, quietly "In the heart or the throat. It doesn't really matter which, death should be pretty instantaneous in either case".
"Who does it?" Joby swallowed hard.
"I suggest we both do it. Share the responsibility. But I need to be sure that you won't let me down at the last moment".
"I'll be alright", Joby said, firmly.
"There is no other way", Adam said "These fixes he's getting now won't last him the journey out of here. He'll either start on us, or someone else if we reach a populated area".
"You don't need to convince me", Joby exclaimed "I know".
"Patsy won't try and interfere will he? Warn Angel I mean?"
"Do me a favour! He may sound worked up, but he's too bone idle to do anything about it. He only ever has energy for enjoying himself. His other passions are wet farts. I thought you might have worked that out by now".
A nerve twitched in Adam's jaw. He didn't reply. Instead he wrapped one of the jagged glass pieces in a handkerchief and passed it to Joby, before selecting one for himself.
"Let's go vampire-hunting", he said, wryly.
Angel had run through the Loud House in a state of panic. Kieran's unexpected reaction to his offer of "help" had frightened him. It reminded him of an Elder's similar reaction back at the camp when he was a child. He had been punished for that. Locked for days in the room with green walls until he had nearly convinced himself he would become hysterical if he ever saw that colour again.
Why didn't anyone ever help him? The Governor had been sympathetic at the prison, but Angel had still had to get his fixes illicitly, risking Isolation if he had been caught. And Isolation would have been the death of him. As a vampire he needed company more than life itself, if only to destroy it.
Extra rations, snippets of news secretly gleaned from the Governor's files, or a bit of jerking off, Angel had exchanged them for his fixes when he went out on the meal rounds. Such pleasures were more common at the prison than would ever have been admitted. For five minutes the guards would turn a blind eye. It kept the prisoners malleable .. and of course Angel was a very pretty boy. Even they weren't immune to his charms.
Both the prisoners and some of the guards (not all, some would have been happy to clap him in Isolation if they could have caught him, Angel had had to use his wits as to which ones to trust) were happy to receive such pleasures, in return for a few droplets of blood squeezed out of an arm or a gash on their chest. On a good day Angel would return to his solitary cell after a meal round, bloated, satiated, ready to sleep heavily until the next time. It had been the perfect life for him. His only worry was that one day he would be old, wizened and ugly. His charms long gone. Without them he wouldn't be able to get his fixes. Without his fixes he would either go mad or wither away.
It was a terrifying thought. Particularly as the man in the woods had told him he would have eternal life. But Angel didn't want it, because then he might well live until he became a withered specimen in a bottle on a shelf, screaming "I want to die!"
On the day of the Vanishings at the prison Angel's world had collapsed because his food source had also vanished into thin air. For hours he had scoured the prison for signs of life, until he had eventually found one old man lying, shaking with fear, under his bed. Angel had enticed him out, whilst the old man had bleated that the Blue Men had come for them all, as he had always known they would. Angel had torn out his throat in mid-bleat. He had stowed the man's corpse back under the bed, where it remained mercifully undetected by the other three when they went snooping around.
He had realised all too soon that the other three were a different proposition altogether. They were time-crossers, unused to the social problem of vampirism in everyday life. He had had that trouble before. He knew he had to tread warily, bide his time. He had even begun to believe that he was luring the eldest one round, but then there was that hideous episode at the inn. Not only had the innkeeper been disgustingly full of green blood, but Angel realised he had shown his own true colours too soon.
Apart from the green walls in one room (he had tried to keep his eyes shut in there), he had found the Loud House, for so long dreaded by him, to be in fact a haven of satisfaction. He had hunted through the warren of corridors, rooms and derelict sections, picking up child-goblins, reptiles and spiders at will.
It had all been too good to last. He had shown his true self to the other three once too often, and now their disgust was insurmountable. It was vital now to stay hidden from them. Here, he knew, he had a distinct advantage. During their short stay at the Loud House he had become fully acquainted with its tricks, twists and turns, whereas they were still like blind men in a maze.
As long as he avoided the cellar he knew he could outwit them. Like Kieran, he too had almost encountered the Reptile Man. He wouldn't make that mistake again in a hurry, he thought.
Adam and Joby stepped slowly through the murky, fog-ridden gloom of the courtyard, calling Angel's name. Each carried a long shard of glass, wrapped in a handkerchief. From the top of an outside staircase Angel watched them, secure in the knowledge that they couldn't see him above the fog. It was almost fun, this game.
Suddenly a chair came crashing through an upstairs window. Joby furiously ducked the flying pieces of wood and glass. Kieran appeared in the ragged aperture, looking red with anger.
"What you're doing is wrong!" he yelled.
"Sod off!" Joby bellowed back "This is none of your business. You just stay out of it until it's done".
Angel took advantage of the conflagration to slip through a side-door halfway down the steps. He ran along a darkened corridor inside until he came to the top of a short flight of stairs. He was about to descend when he heard the slithering noise again. He had heard this sound before during his previous tours of the house. Each time he had thought his heart might stop beating through terror.
It was a slow, dragging sound, like a cumbersome snake hauling itself laboriously along. Sometimes he had heard it behind him, sometimes down one of the many corridors to the side. Sometimes it had been approaching him, at other times going the other way. All he knew was he had no wish to confront whatever it was head-on.
This time the noise was in the corridor directly below him. Angel panicked. He couldn't tell which direction it was going in. It grew louder until the rustling seemed to fill his head. He gripped the top of the bannisters, and hoped his breathing wasn't loud enough to attract it. The noise lessened. It was moving away.
Angel trod quietly down the stairs, all too aware that at any time it could return. The corridor below was empty, stretching away into the darkness beyond. Angel decided against pursuing it. Instead he passed through a door to the side. It led into a small inner garden, or what had once been a small inner garden. It was now a mess of diseased and blackened tree-stumps, and climbing weeds that were browned and dry with death. Somebody had once loved this place, but that was many centuries ago.
The boy advanced into the dead garden cautiously. He sensed another presence, like a dog senses the approach of a storm. He peered through the murky fog, and discerned a bulky shape step from behind one of the stunted trees.
Angel froze to the spot, unable to move. With a shocked gasp, he realised it was the one the others had nicknamed the Reptile Man. Caught in the warmth of its arm-lock, Angel had his neck twisted until it broke and he was dead.
Far from being over though, for him it was all just beginning.
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