Go back to previous chapter
"Oh a certain skinny blue-eyed blonde with a highly seductive voice".
Kieran laughed in reply, and let his hands slowly slip from Adam's eyes down to his shoulders and then his chest. Adam, sitting on the edge of the platform with his feet dangling towards the tracks, grabbed one of Kieran's hands and kissed the open palm. An unwelcome reflection flashed suddenly into his mind of Angel doing exactly the same to him at the blindman's inn.
"Are you alright?" said Kieran "You're shivering with cold. You shouldn't be sitting out here like this".
"Something just walked over my grave that's all", said Adam "Nothing that you kissing me won't put right though".
Joby awoke on the hard floor, with a draught from the doorway playing stressfully on his shoulders. On top of that something was niggling at the back of his neck. Half asleep he tried to brush it away as a minor irritation, but the tickling continued. As he fully awoke he grew angry. Some clown was teasing him. He turned over suddenly and encountered Hillyard smiling at him close by.
"Fuck off", Joby snarled and scrambled to his feet. He grabbed a woollen sweater from a chair and rushed outside.
The sharp cold air on the platform lunged at him instantly like a million icy knives. Joby welcomed the onslaught, as eagerly as a Medieval monk would have welcomed flagellation. A chance to prove he preferred pain to sin (although how could you trust yourself to know the difference?). He laughed at the absurdity of it. More like I just couldn't fancy Hillyard, he thought. Then he stopped laughing.
"Oh for Christ's sake!" he hissed in disbelief "Poofters to the left of me, poofters to the right of me. Am I the only person round here who's fucking normal!"
"Come off it Joby", said Kieran, reluctantly releasing himself from Adam's warm embrace "Stop acting as though this is the first time you've heard about it".
Joby had a humiliating feeling he was about to cry, and a traitorous sob did escape him. He turned and ran into the woods.
"I suppose I'd better go and talk to him", said Kieran, wearily.
"No, I'll do it for a change", said Adam "It's time him and me talked".
"You can piss off", said Joby, when he realised that Adam was following him through the ferns.
"I don't think it's a good idea to wander these woods alone. They're deceptive. Easy to lose one's way".
"Yea well you'd know all about deception and making people lose their way".
"That was spiteful Joby".
"But true!" Joby turned to face the other man "He was never remotely like that before you started on him. And I should know! I spent six weeks with him in a cave, and he never once gave me any indication that he was fucking queer".
"Well I can't help it if you missed your chance! That was a joke by the way".
"The truth is it's all down to you", Joby tore off a large piece of fern and mauled it savagely "You've led him astray".
"What complete nonsense. He's not a child, he knows what he's doing. And how do you know he never had such tendencies before? Perhaps you just chose not to see them. Patsy is highly-sexed, and capable of enormous affection ..."
"You forced him", said Joby, accusingly "Back at the prison. The day I got summoned to see the Governor. I thought there was a strange atmosphere in the cell when I got back. You forced him, you can't deny it".
"Yes I can", Adam retorted "Because it didn't happen the way you're insinuating it did. I was simply tired of playing cat and mouse games. It seemed such a waste of time. And with you temporarily out of the way I seized my chance that's all. I would never have come on strongly to him if I'd thought he wasn't interested at all. You can justly accuse me of a lot of things Joby, but I am not a rapist. I do not go around sodomising men against their will".
Joby turned and kicked a tree.
"Patsy loves you very much", Adam continued "Don't you dare turn against him because of this".
"You know I won't turn against him", Joby mumbled "But I can't handle all this sometimes".
There was an uncomfortable pause.
"Out of all of us, if we do get stuck here for good", said Adam, cautiously "You are going to be the one with the harshest problems".
"I'll just have to try and do without then won't I? Anyway, there's always D.I.Y. Just shut your eyes and you can be with whoever you want".
"Not very satisfying over a long period of time".
"That's my problem then isn't it?"
"Oh Joby, don't be so bloody proud!" Adam exclaimed "Sometimes you seem to have the mentality of a suburban middle-class senior citizen".
"That's because being around people like you makes me that way!"
"I think that you resent the fact that we know how to be ourselves. You're frightened. You think that it entails losing a grip on yourself. It's not a good thing to be afraid of sex Joby".
"I'm not!" Joby protested "I just don't like the idea of what you get up to. I know know how you can. Shoving it up each other's arses. It must be fucking painful for a start".
"Yes it can be. More often than not gay sex is literally just a pain in the arse".
"Well then ..."
"But if you want someone, well it simply all follows on. And anyway there are ways round that problem".
"I don't care, I still don't like the sound of it. In fact it makes me cringe even to think of it. And it's not natural anyway, like with like".
"You may have got away with that kind of thinking back home, but it's a bit bizarre to trot out all that in this world we now find ourselves in".
"Oh so buggery's compulsory now is it?"
"Don't be childish. I would never try to force you into anything, and I find it very hard to believe Patsy would either".
"No of course he wouldn't. I've told you, he was never like that before you started on him".
"Are you completely sure? Think about it".
Adam walked past him, further into the woods. Suddenly all sorts of unwelcome images began to flash into Joby's mind. There was that time, in Beane's cave, when Kieran had had a wet dream. In his sleep he had slithered over Joby like a wet eel, caressing him, and murmuring endearments. Joby had woken him sharply, and had been shocked by the casual way Kieran had accepted it. He had expected profuse apologies and embarrassment. Had wished there had been so that the whole thing could be put back on an even keel, because Kieran had disturbed him and no mistake.
"There has to be some self-control!" Joby roared at the trees "We're not animals, to go around rogering each other whenever we feel like it".
Adam laughed sarcastically.
"It's called having respect for people", tears of frustration fell from Joby's eyes "And I value friendship too much to go threatening it. It's different for you, you've never had friends, only lovers. That's why you don't know how to treat people properly. You either love them or hate them. Nothing in between. To you they're just fuckable objects".
"Oh don't tell me please! Patsy means too much to you to become a lover, is that it?"
"Yes!" Joby cried "You can sneer, but it's true".
"So you're quite happy to exercise your iron-clad self-control?"
"Well what's the pissing alternative? We share him like a cake I suppose. That'd be right up his street that would! I don't think you'd like it though".
"No I don't suppose I would", Adam sounded grave for once "Doubtless you hate me for this conversation, but you've been a closed book to me for too long Joby. You've worried me greatly at times".
"Because I was beginning to feel that I was forcing you to live in an unnatural way. Stunting your relationship with Patsy. You sleep with him but can't make love, because of me".
"Bollocks", said Joby, robustly "I sleep with him because I get insomnia otherwise! That all dates back to Beane's cave again. I had a feeling of being safe as long as he was still around. I spose I just never de-programmed meself afterwards".
"How on earth did you manage at home then?"
"I didn't. I was lucky if I got a couple of hours sleep a night. I used to wander round the flat at four in the morning, trying to think of things to do that wouldn't upset the neighbours".
"You should have told someone. If not me, then Susan, or Amy".
"Oh brilliant! I can just hear meself saying to Amy, sorry darling but I can't sleep without your husband near me. He has to be my teddy-bear because I keep seeing cannibals in the dark".
"I think you could've told Amy all that Joby. After all, it's not as if you and she weren't used to being intimate".
"He told you! ... The bastard. I'll kill him. He had no business to go telling you all that".
"Whyever not? What possible harm can it do? If we did get back home, I'm hardly likely to try blackmailing you over it, there wouldn't be any point. Particularly as the betrayed husband has known about it all along".
"What exactly has he said to you?" Joby asked, quietly.
"The bare facts, such as they are. And that he's fed up with you both being miserable, simply because he's in the way".
"Oh very noble, very self-sacrificing! The little jerk. He knows she wouldn't leave him, the smug bastard".
"She might now", Adam pointed out "Few women would put up with their husband's sleeping with other men".
"Oh I see. You and him together. Then she can come to me. What a merry little foursome we'd be! And what makes you think I'd want that?"
"Because you love her".
"Yes", Joby said it abruptly, as though he was vomiting up an indigestible fact "I love the pair of 'em though. The fact remains that whilst we three here might be able to come to some sort of weird arrangement, somehow I don't see Amy ..."
"Fitting into the equation?"
"Putting up with it", Joby said, shortly "Women have more sense than we do. They won't put up with anything for a comfortable life like we will. I can't see any woman tolerating me sleeping with him, like you do".
"I understand it now, that's why".
"Anyway, I don't believe we will get back".
"Then what kind of a life will you have here?"
"Pretty much as I had at home I expect!" Joby laughed "Women weren't exactly battering my door down to get at me".
Kieran was waiting on the platform as the other two walked out of the woods. I've been here before, he thought, in this situation anyway. The Highlands of Scotland, watching as the two people I cared for most came skulking out of the woods together. He stood and watched in a detached silent dream as they came closer.
"Good grief Patsy", Adam exclaimed "You do look serious".
He walked past Kieran, and into the station building. Kieran stared at Joby, who stared back.
"Been at it again have we!" Kieran spat "Lodger! What is it about you when you get near a forest? It must be all those trees".
"We've been talking. Wondering what we'll do if we don't get home".
"So, what have you and Adam decided between you about our glorious future?"
"Nothing really", Joby shrugged "Except to carry on as we are".
"Oh yes, and you're happy with that?"
"Hillyard has gone poaching", Fobbett was explaining as they entered the building "He said he knows how to snare rabbits. If he catches one I hope he skins it himself. I don't think I could bring myself to do it".
"I spect Hillyard will be good at that", said Joby.
"Will you tell him you're time-crossers?" Fobbett busied himself making coffee.
"Only if he guesses", Adam replied "I don't see any point in telling him otherwise. He'll only ask too many questions".
"I don't think he will. Even if he guesses. He wants to travel with you too much to cause problems. In this troublesome time no one feels safe travelling alone, and he may be a useful ally in a tight spot. Brawn is always rather handy at such times".
"And what about you Fobbett?" said Adam "Will you be travelling with us? We need a guide. We are strangers here".
"Oh dear, I was hoping you wouldn't ask. Truth to tell I've been in prison for so long I'm almost as much a stranger here as you are. All this new-found religious fervour for instance, it's terribly unsettling. Not that I have anything against it of course. You, I understand, intend to make for the City. Well I have no wish to go there again".
"So what will you do?"
"Stay here for a while".
"Here?" said Joby "At the station?"
"That's not wise Fobbett", said Adam "You'll be vulnerable. If the government comes out here again you might be caught".
"They won't come out here again. Not for some time anyway. They are cowards Adam. They avoid anything they don't wish to see, or don't understand. If they can't lock it away, as they did to us, they pretend it never existed. Although how they'll keep the fur trade going without anyone at Kiskev will be a major headache for them. Unless they join forces with the likes of Hillyard!"
"I still believe in safety in numbers Fobbett. You'd be better off with us".
"I mean no offence Adam, but I'm tired of travelling for the present, and as I've said I've no wish to re-visit the City. The way things are going they'll be burning witches again there before long".
Hillyard came back with the corpse of a rabbit. He skinned it and then left it lying around, looking uncomfortably like a dead baby, until it was time to cook it. Fobbett cringed as Hillyard sliced it up with a wood-chopper.
"You look like one of Angel's fantasies", said Adam, as the chef's face and bare chest became liberally splattered with blood.
The cooked rabbit was consumed with enthusiasm though, and in the meantime the darkness fell outside. The others were planning to leave first thing in the morning. This time tomorrow Fobbett knew he would be alone here. For a moment his resolution to stay behind nearly failed him. He had enjoyed having company. Being alone again would remind him too much of the endless nights alone in his cell.
But he was genuinely tired of travelling. He had wondered often over the past few months if he was seriously ill. At times he suffered severe pains in his pelvis, and when answering the call of nature his bladder felt as though it was on fire. He knew that he dwelt on these problems too much, but there were many times that he had feared dying in the open, his body left to the mercy of the wolves. At least here he could have some peace and dignity. He felt like a wounded animal that had managed, by the skin of its teeth, to drag its dying body to a quiet, safe corner to lie down in. I will not be dying in the open, he thought to himself triumphantly, nor in prison.
"You must get bitter Fobbett", Kieran was saying "At the government putting you away for so long, when you haven't done any harm".
"I was", said Fobbett "Now it doesn't seem to matter. I feel sorry for them actually".
"Sorry for 'em!" Hillyard cried "Those bastards?"
"They are trying to run a vast country that is slipping way beyond their control", Fobbett placed his coffee-cup precisely on the table, and nudged it constantly as he spoke "Something is walking this land that they are powerless against. It is an evil that is beyond their scope. It deforms and destroys. And it has other subtle ways, such as enabling the growth of the religious evangelism that he have heard so much about and which is going to cause so much misery if it isn't checked. When people are scared and confused they invariably turn to fanatics to lead the way out. We saw it happen at Kiskev. It will happen in other places too, unless someone of the necessary calibre can put things right. The government only has itself to blame for this situation. It should have stamped on it sixty years ago when it all began".
"But what's set this evil thing off?" asked Joby "It must come from somewhere".
"And it must have a catalyst", said Kieran "And an energy source".
"Things have been happening slowly but steadily for the past sixty years", said Fobbett "I think it all began when those two men died at the visitor's wing at the prison. Something was unleashed then".
"The green stuff shooting out of the fireplaces?" said Kieran.
"You have heard about it then?"
"Angel told us".
"Hmm", Fobbett paused, and then went on "The changes have been subtle, but the rot is there, well set in. We are witnessing a society in long decline, fronted by a government that has hid for far too long from its mistakes".
"What has this to do with a force for evil stalking the land?" said Adam, impatiently.
"The force for evil has been sustained by this government, Adam. I do not know all the details, as you can imagine not everything is given out to the public. We have to fill in with so much guesswork".
"Is it to do with Marlsblad?" asked Hillyard, suddenly.
"Marlsblad is a dumping-ground for the government's mistakes", said Fobbett "You see, what it all boils down to is that our race is dying. Humans have lived on borrowed time for centuries now. The truth is we should have all died out at the time of the Warming 400 years ago. But we will one day certainly cease to exist as effectively as the dinosaurs did. Possibly within the next 100 years. The government knows this, as does the evil that controls them. And as more people die off, never to be replaced by up-and-coming generations, the evil will get more desperate. And we will all corkscrew into eternity together. Many reckon that the children being born now may even be the last generation ever".
"But why don't they just keep the women who time-cross?" said Joby "Impregnate them or something?"
"That idea has been thought of, but the evil at large doesn't like the idea. We might all get strong again and start taking the law into our own hands. The evil has seen to it that every foetus the government tries to preserve nowadays ends up contaminated and diseased, and subsequently has to be destroyed. However much care they take it always seems to happen. When I was in Port West, after escaping from Henang, they were talking about little else but this".
"Does this evil take on human-form?" asked Adam.
"It may take people and use them as a host body for a time. Only one at a time, which is small mercy".
"Is it using Angel now?" asked Joby.
"That is a very strong possibility".
Kieran was returning from his nocturnal stroll along the platform, when he met Fobbett standing just outside the doorway of the station building. The little bespectacled man closed the door softly, and then clasped Kieran's hand in his.
"I knew as soon as I saw you. I may even have realised when I saw you in your cell. It may have been why you were spared".
"Knew what?" asked Kieran, warily.
"You are The One", said Fobbett, enigmatically "You are the one that can confront the Devil who controls it all and destroy it".
"Don't be daft Fobbett, I'm nothing special".
"You are strong Kieran. You have the advantage of an uncluttered mind. There aren't many such as us left like that you see. And when I am gone ..." he patted Kieran's hand "Take very good care".
"I always do".
"It is aware of you".
"That's comforting! What is?"
"The Devil. It is afraid of you too. But only for the time being. Until it gets your full measure. Do not give it a chance to seek out your vulnerability. It must stay afraid, because only you can challenge it. You are the Vanquisher of Evil".
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site