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When Kieran went downstairs to the hall the following morning, he found Adam sitting alone at the dining table, eating a sliced peach with a fork. They stared at each other warily, until Adam forced his face into a gargoylish smile. This served to entice Kieran off the bottom step and towards the table.
"Has Joby told you the plan?" Adam asked.
"We head south", Kieran whispered "Suits me. Where's mine host this morning?"
"Haven't seen him yet. I heard him bustling about in the Engine Room so I left him to it. He was muttering away to himself. Have you noticed how he is always talking? I thought at first he was just garrulous through loneliness, but he does it even when he's alone. Mutter mutter mutter. He has whole conversations with himself. He was having a row with himself earlier".
"Perhaps a bit of noise helps to keep the ghosts at bay".
"Does it have that effect on dead schizophrenic vampires?"
"Oh you don't believe that too do you!" Kieran exclaimed "Angel returning from beyond the grave! That's just Joby losing his marbles".
"No I'm not", Joby snapped, appearing suddenly on the stairs.
"You look exhausted", said Adam, as Joby sat down at the table and helped himself to bread.
"I am exhausted. I didn't get a wink of sleep last night".
"Oh, you snore when you're awake do you?" said Kieran, sarcastically.
"Well it wasn't restful sleep!"
"Seems like there's been precious little rest all round here", Buskin said, as he walked into the hall "Now let's get this straight. If it was one of you lot I'd like you to own up and say so now. I won't be as cross as you think, I just want to know who it was".
"Who it was did what?" asked Adam.
"Wrecked my Engine Room".
The room was indeed a wreck, as Buskin had so rightly said. Computers had been pulled from the wall, with their screens smashed, leaving large jagged black holes where Buskin's breadth of communication and knowledge should have been. Reams of paper were strewn around the floor, discs had melted and curled from where Buskin had retrieved them from the fire just a fraction too late.
"And all the clocks have stopped", he said "Every single clock in the house. All stopped at ten-past two".
"But not smashed?" said Adam.
"No, just stopped. None of it makes sense ... why would anyone do this?"
"Buskin", said Adam, gravely "I promise you that none of us were responsible for this. I mean, why should we wreck it? You've given us shelter. If you hadn't come along when you did we'd have starved to death on the marshes".
"Yes well I-I didn't think it ..." Buskin worked himself up into a wail "How am I going to explain this to the Ministry? I could lose me job, me home. I'm ruined".
"First off, let's see what we can salvage", Adam seated the little man in a chair and proceeded to collect the scattered papers from the floor. He jerked his head at the other two as a silent order to make themselves scarce. They did.
Joby climbed to the top of the small island, sat down and surveyed the view. Grey Sea. The dead light. Black clouds gathering overhead. Nothing had changed. He put his elbows on his knees and sighed.
"Anything out there?" asked Kieran, appearing behind him.
"No", Joby grunted morosely.
"The tide's still in. I reckon it won't go out until late this afternoon. That's a bad time to be setting out across the marshes".
"We'll be better prepared this time. I spect Buskin'll help us with supplies. Glad to see the back of us after this morning's little incident I shouldn't wonder".
"He doesn't blame us for that".
"I do. We brought Angel here".
"Angel! Angel! You're obsessed with the little scrote".
"Well who else was it did all that indoors then? Wrecked all the equipment, and stopped all the clocks".
"Why should he do a poltergeist attack though?"
"To get our attention that's why. To convince us that he's around. Not that I needed much convincing", said Joby "Ghosts always get violent to get noticed. We've known that for a long time. They break things. They slam doors, chuck people out of bed. To get noticed, because they need help. They're trapped in time".
"How can we help him though?"
"That I don't know".
"There are some pages of a log here Buskin", Adam collected a sheaf of papers from the floor "Fairly recent too".
"I'm glad I kept a paper copy. The old ways are the best. When computers fail us we will always fall back on the old ink and paper routine".
Buskin bustled past with some ruined discs to be ditched in the refuse incinerator. Adam waited until he was out of the room and then scanned the notes hurriedly. They were all dated over the previous fortnight, and were terse one-paragraph summaries of each day's activities and observations.
"LIGHT DEAD. NO WORD FROM MINISTRY" cropped up regularly.
"Longboat sighted immediate NW. Sent up flares as warning of dead light ahead. No response. Longboat seemed to disappear. Fog getting dense though. No further sightings this day".
Even by the following morning, at his 0600 report, Buskin was still fretting over the disappearing longboat.
"Longboat must have been headed for S.F rock. Sea-mist bad. Visibility poor. Am very concerned about men in boat. No response from Ministry".
0900: "Lit bonfire on top of island. Feeble and primitive method. Also probably ineffective in this fog. But I feel I must DO something".
1200: "Notes prepared for evening shipping bulletin, but no means of sending them. Lines inoperative between me and Ministry. Very very worrying situation. No traffic sighted at all this morning. Feel very alone".
1500: "Shape seen on marshes nearby. Long and black. Got fuel in early. Don't wish to be outside after dark. Short of a shipwreck anyway".
2100: "Completely dark now. Shutters closed. Fancy I hear noises. Not voices this time, more a buzzing and slithering sound".
0600: "No sleep last night. Left lights on all the time. Makes me feel comforted and vulnerable at same time. No overnight messages from Ministry. No bloody messages at all from Ministry!"
0700: "Re-tested emergency back-up communications. All of it completely dead".
0720: "Just been to top of the island. Black shape sighted again. Too close to causeway for comfort. Do not like look of it one bit".
"I-I think that lot should all be burnt", said Buskin, when Adam held out the papers to him "Chuck 'em on the fire. I can say they got destroyed as well. No one'd know any different".
"But it's your personal log", Adam protested.
"Yes I know", said Buskin, nervously "But if the Ministry sees that lot of hysterical ramblings, they'll think I've gone completely potty".
"This black shape you saw, the last sighting was yesterday morning. Just before we got here".
"I know, that's one of the reasons I was worried about you all being out there".
"What is it then?"
"Wish I knew", Buskin said, softly, and for a moment was actually silent "Occasionally, every couple of months or so, I see this shape out on the marshes. Normally it's a long way off. Indiscernible. So for ages I just assumed it was an animal of some kind, a marsh mammoth perhaps, although they tend to be further inland. When it got closer recently I saw it was hairless, so I thought oh it's a sea-cow, got on land like. But just recently ... well it's shape became clearer. I've never seen nothing like it before. I had long, spindly legs like a spider ... oh I don't know. Perhaps I've been out here too long. I'm seeing things".
"Whatever it is it's frightened you to death Buskin", Adam watched in concern as the little man sweated and shook at the memory of the sightings.
"I know, daft isn't it? I mean", Buskin attempted a nervous laugh "It's only a shape. But I'm scared stiff that it'll come onto the island, particularly whilst I'm incommunicado like this. Fancy being scared of something when you don't know what it is! You must think I'm crazy".
"Not at all. You forget, we've camped out on the marsh. It's a place that can play tricks on the mind".
"Then you do think I'm seeing things?"
"No I don't", Adam paused, uncertain how much to tell him "In our travels we ... we've seen some pretty odd things. Things I haven't a clue what they were, but they were very real. I'm prepared to believe anything of this place".
"Quite right too. If you'll forgive me for saying so this area is not for travelling in. I'd head south as soon as possible if I was you, and keep heading south. Stay close to the coast as much as you can. The further south you go the better chance you have of getting picked up by a fishing trawler. Few come up this far, except in times of a severe fish shortage. What I'm saying is don't go into the interior".
"I-I'm not sure. I came up here by ship, everyone does, even the Ministry. No one travels up overland".
"There must be maps of the area surely?"
"Antiques. Hundreds of years out of date".
"No one's re-charted it since?"
"No. Not since the Warming 400 years ago".
"I don't like to leave you alone here".
"I have to stay", Buskin looked exhausted "I'm under contract".
"To a Ministry that might no longer be there?"
"I'm still here to do a job of work, even if the world comes to another end. It's people like me that kept things going 400 years ago when the climate changed. Without the likes of me we'd all be savages again. The little men who no one notices, we're what keeps things going".
Joby accosted Kieran at the top of the stairs.
"Got summat to show you", he said.
"We can't go poking around up there", Kieran protested, when he was shown up a spiral staircase at the end of the landing "I think that's Buskin's private room".
Joby hauled him through a hatchway at the top of the staircase and into a tiny white-painted room. Apart from a mattress on the floor, and some hooks for clothes, the area was entirely taken up with books. From large leather-bound tomes to small, brightly-coloured softbacks.
"This is where he lives", said Joby "When he's not eating, or working in the Engine Room".
"It's like an old priest-hole".
"It probably is an old priest-hole".
"Don't be daft. I shouldn't imagine there are any houses from that far back left standing".
"There have been times of religious turbulence since", said Joby "The biggest one of all in fact. When they outlawed religion, after the Massacre of the Women".
"So some houses might have continued to practise in private?"
"Yea, I bet there are a few rooms like this left around all over the place. And here's another thing", Joby pulled an old hardbacked book from under Buskin's mattress "Our friend Buskin reads the Bible".
"And won't he be in trouble with that if the authorities find out!"
"There's something more interesting than that though", Joby unrolled a map and held it up "Land Mass, as it's now so quaintly called".
Kieran studied the map closely, from the Henang penal colony in the north, down to the City, and the deserts and jungle below that. In the middle was nothing but a large white space, with the words "UNCHARTED AREA" marked in forbidding red letters.
"So everything is done by sea", said the Irishman "Buskin is visited by boat, and prisoners are transported up the west coast. No one ventures into the interior. And somehow I have a feeling we're going to be daft enough to do so".
"Sounds like you're already learning to think like someone from the year 4000".
"What?" said Kieran, quietly.
"That's where we are in time. Almost anyway. The year 3999 in fact".
"The end of the 4th Millennium", Kieran breathed out slowly "How the hell did we manage that then?"
"Careless fucking planning", Joby rolled up the map aggressively "We are nearly 2000 years ahead of our time. I've been looking through some of Buskin's stuff. There's encyclopaedias and reference books and God knows what else. None pre-date the Warming though, which is what all the climate changes are usually called".
"And when exactly did that take place?"
"The end of the 35th century. Only 400 years ago. A comet plunged into the planet and destroyed three-quarters of life as we had known it".
"But global warming had started even before our time though".
"Yea, and the comet accelerated it. As well as annihilating millions of people, it left only a fraction of the previous landspace intact. And if you think all that sounds a barrel of laughs wait 'til you read about the Massacre of the Women. In 3888 apparently there was a serious famine in which millions of people died. Severe shortage of food, temperatures that summer that shot up to 52 degrees centigrade, comets seen in the night-sky. Everyone got shit scared. Street preachers went around whipping up a frenzy, and blamed everything on the government of the time, which was run by a corrupt President who just happened to be a woman. It didn't help that most of her Ministry were women too".
"Religious zealotry got a stranglehold then I take it?"
"Aided and abetted by one of the President's rivals, who gave speeches saying that the entire female population, no less, was the curse under which civilisation had lived for too long. It is thought, although no one's ever been able to prove it, that he ordered her assassination when she appeared at a memorial service for the famine victims. That then set off the purges".
"And his nibs became President?"
"Not for long. A few years later he was stabbed to death by a eunuch in his private rooms. The following president though had a conscience, it seemed, and ordered the complete abolition of all religious practices".
"And since then they've come and gone", Buskin startled them by appearing in the hatchway "Good presidents, bad ones, incompetent ones. And not one of 'em seems to know what to do for the best. Some bring back hanging (except they can't find anyone to do it), some abolish it again ..."
"How long have you been there?" asked Joby.
"Couple of minutes", Buskin sighed, and sat down on the mattress "Makes depressing reading, the history of our great society don't it? When we massacred the Women Mankind reached its very own standards of evil, never to be surpassed again. No one can turn the clock back and put things right. They didn't just deprive some of us of female companionship and sexual love, they deprived us of mother love, and the consequences that that's had ... all I can say is no wonder they brought back the Cage. Only it hasn't worked. Brutality sickens us now. Except the ones who are driven to it out of frustration. And that's why I live out here, on this rock in the sea. Here I can build me own world. I can trust you, I know I can. You won't tell the authorities about me books and Bibles".
"You can trust us", said Kieran "And I understand your need for spiritual reading".
"Yes, somehow I had a feeling you would", Buskin stared into his eyes in a way that Kieran couldn't comprehend "It can be a comfort. Although I avoid Revelations. Reminds me too much of the Massacre. But I like the story of the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve. Strange your friend has a Biblical name isn't it? Perhaps it's poignant in a way ... Anyway, the whole of the early part I like really. Go forth and multiply. Spill thy seed upon the ground. Two by two. I suppose that's why I don't like the story of the Nativity much".
"You surprise me there".
"Well, Immaculate Conceptions!" Buskin snorted in disgust "That's all we bloody have now! After all, the Virgin Mary was nothing but a flaming eunuch herself. Anyway, I came up to tell you the tide's going out. Thought you might like to know".
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