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Kieran slept little that night. He didn't like the idea of himself as a vanquisher of evil at all. It sounded far too exhausting for one thing. And yet something in Fobbett's wild remarks had sounded uncannily real. He couldn't help but be reminded of the fact that he was the only one of the three not to have sensed Angel's presence, in spite of him usually being the most psychic. Ordinarily he would have said he had deliberately closed himself off from Angel's psychic attacks, and yet he had firmly believed the boy was dead and gone in the beginning, so why should he have done so?
All this bloody responsibility! I'm not interested, he yelled silently at fate. All I want is a loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou. Whether 'thou' was Amy, Adam or Joby didn't matter. He wanted all of them, and nothing else.
When daylight came it was noticeable how preoccupied he was, but as everyone else was busy packing up no one commented on it. After breakfast they all said goodbye to Fobbett like school-children taking leave of teacher at the end of term.
"I hope you're wrong Fobbett", Kieran said to him, after the others had gone out onto the platform.
"I am not wrong in this Kieran".
"What the blazes can I do though?"
"You will know when the time comes, and you cannot afford to be afraid of it. If I sound a little confident", said Fobbett "You must forgive a dying man the odd indulgence. I am merely an observer now, not a participant".
"I can't save the human race Fobbett".
"No that is beyond salvation. In the meantime be content with simply trying to destroy the Devil".
After they had gone, and he had watched them disappearing around the bend in the track, Fobbett sat for a long while on the platform. The sun was quite intense and glinted off a fresh fall of snow. In spite of many disappointments he counted his life as a successful one. He had a great inner capacity for happiness, and this had enabled him to withstand many things, such as interrogation by the Ministry, a long stint in prison, and the gruelling trek to his final resting-place.
He was by no means pleased to be departing this mortal coil so soon, and yet even so he was satisfied he had at last met the Vanquisher. He didn't know how he was certain it was Kieran, it was simply a gut feeling. It seemed hard to believe that the yellow-haired lad with the strangely soothing voice would be able to halt this calamitous entity in its tracks, and yet Fobbett had great faith that he would.
The three, plus Hillyard, walked for several hours on a carpet of dead leaves and snow, until they came to a disused wolf-shelter in the middle of the forest. This particular wolf-shelter hadn't simply crumbled through neglect, one side of it had been completely demolished, as though someone had taken a large bite out of it.
The late autumn days were very short this far north, and it was decided to camp there for the night. A fire was essential, in order to ward off any number of unexplained evils. Kieran went to collect twigs for firewood, whilst Joby began stripping some bushes of late blackberries and plums.
"I can manage", he scowled, on finding Hillyard offering him assistance.
"I don't understand you", Hillyard began.
"Tough shit", Joby retorted "I dunno how you can even think of coming onto me when Stombal's barely cold in his grave, or at least he would be if we'd put him in one".
"He would've wanted me to be happy. That's all he ever wanted for anyone, that's why he got into all this religious nonsense. Thought he could enhance people's lives with it".
"Poor sod", Joby grunted, and plucked some more berries "The fact remains though you're wasting your time chasing me. I wouldn't be interested, even if you had hormone injections. Anyway, most people fancy Flannery instead. Why don't you go for him?"
"Blondes aren't my type", said Hillyard "They're usually only after your money. I thought he was Adam's babe in any case"
"Hillyard ..." Joby paused and looked at the other man, then shook his head wearily "Oh never mind".
"I couldn't think of a polite way of saying 'you make my skin crawl'".
Joby had met up with Kieran, who was stripping and sorting branches into neat piles of kindling.
"He's not such a bad lad", said Kieran "You're being hard on him".
"Alright BABE, I knew I couldn't expect much help from you".
"He's really got to you hasn't he?"
"Yea, now you might believe me when I say I can't stand it".
"I do believe you, it's just that ... well when Adam first tried it on with me at the prison, I reacted much the way you are now".
"You must have felt some attraction for him to start with, or was it all just frustration?"
"Cobblers, was it only frustration!" Kieran exclaimed "I just didn't want to be honest with me own feelings that's all, they scared me too much. I was only teasing about you and Hillyard anyway. I can tell you don't fancy him. There's no point trying to spark chemistry if it's not there".
He was interrupted by a distant howling noise, barely perceptible at first, but growing more persistent.
"What was that?" he asked.
"Wolves", said Joby, quietly "Miles away from the sounds of it".
"C'mon, let's get that fire going. I don't fancy ending me days being torn limb from limb by some savage beast".
"Adam's not that bad is he!"
"Oh shut up".
By deep twilight Fobbett had barricaded himself into the old station building. Now that he had the place to himself once more he found the silence hung around him like a mourning veil. For a moment he regretted not having travelled on with the others, but he knew he would only have been a liability. "All change for the terminally ill. This train terminates here. All change".
He made himself some more tea, and sat huddled with the cup in his hands, letting the hot fluid burn through the thick china to warm his fingers. He wished his hearing wasn't so good, as it picked out the restless silence with no effort at all.
Hours could have passed, or just minutes, he had no idea, except that the tea was still relatively warm in his hands. He sipped at it at long last, and winced at its bitterness. He would have a job removing the taste from his mouth now, and it made him feel slightly nauseous.
When a soft tapping came at the small, filthy window next to the door, he nearly leaped out of his skin. He looked up. Through the grime he could detect the small outline of a hand, the fingers crooked like skeleton's claws, the long nails tapping at the glass like a deadly Morse Code.
Fobbett set down the cup, and rose to his feet.
"Go away", he cried, softly "I won't let you in. Go away".
The sudden chill in the room ruffled his hair, and pinched his cheeks. A shadow was now standing on the inside of the door, a couple of feet away from him. For a moment it seemed loath to detach itself from the wood behind it.
"Leave me please", Fobbett begged "I need peace now. Please".
The form, which had a density like treacle, shaped itself slowly in a liquidy way. Within a few seconds it was recognisable. Fobbett drew in his breath in one short sharp inhalation of terror.
"Angel", he said, with grim understanding.
"Are they getting nearer do you think?" whispered Hillyard, as another distant howl split the night.
"Hard to say", said Adam "They're certainly getting more frequent".
Their voices could barely be heard above the crackle of the fire. Adam fed the flames repeatedly with the kindling Kieran had gathered.
"I heard once", Kieran began, in a loud voice, as though to dispel the superstitious silence that had descended "That wolves rarely attack humans. It's all a myth".
"Depends how hungry they are", said Hillyard.
The whole scene was reminding him uncomfortably of the last night he had spent on the tundra with Stombal, and of the shape that had burst into the wolf-shelter. The shape that had managed to kill poor pathetic Stombal by infecting him with green blood.
A crunching sound in the bracken nearby made his heart miss a beat.
"Something's near", he hissed, his whole mind in turmoil.
"By the pricking of my thumbs", said Adam "Something wicked this way comes".
By the time Angel had finished with him Fobbett was reduced to a few lumps of bloody gristle, scattered to the four corners of the room. He had been splattered over the walls, the floor and even the ceiling. Angel had ended the little man's life in one brief frenzy of naked blood lust. He had torn at his flesh, shredded his skin, bit into his stomach as though it was a marshmallow, and pulverised his heart before impaling the bloody lump on a broomstick.
For a while Angel lay amongst the remains, bloated, and shivering with orgasmic convulsions. His head was tearing apart inside under the exquisite pain of it all. He lay there until the fever passed, and he was once more aware of the cold, dark room. Then he departed, slipping in Fobbett's blood, but without a backward glance at the obscene mess he left behind him. Gentle Fobbett, with the soft voice and healing hands, was now reduced to a butcher's bloody carcass.
"That was no wolf", said Kieran "That was human, I'll swear on it".
"Whoever it was, they seem to have gone away again", said Adam, hoping that his shivering wasn't too noticeable.
"Perhaps we should have called over to him", said Joby "Approached him or summat".
"Go ahead then! He can't have moved too far away".
"I'm just saying that we've got to trust the locals sometime", Joby protested "It might just have been someone wondering what we were up to".
"Then again it might have been that nutter Angel you all keep on about", Hillyard remarked.
"And then again it might have been the Yeti that attacked Stombal", said Joby, determined not to be outdone.
"Oh shut up the pair of you!" Adam exclaimed "What it was we don't know. All I know is I refuse to trust it until it's ready to show itself".
"The wolves have stopped", said Kieran "Listen".
"Not a good sign", muttered Joby "I think I preferred it when I could hear them".
The dawn limped round eventually, bringing with it a milky haze of autumn mist. The forest was very still in the early morning light, as though acknowledging respectfully that strange creatures had walked abroad there that night, but it was now staying silent about their identity.
Adam tended the fire (as he had done for most of the night) and tried to brew weak tea. He coughed repeatedly in the early morning dampness. The others didn't seem to have noticed how unnaturally still the area was. There should be some natural noise, he thought. Small animals rustling through the undergrowth, birds flying through the treetops. Instead there was nothing.
The others had gone off in three different directions to answer the call of nature. Adam, alone and feeling every second of his thirty-eight years, struggled to generate some body heat. His susceptibility to atmosphere was working on even more overdrive than it had the night before. He felt chilled to the marrow, and it disturbed him greatly.
"I knew I was fucking right", Joby exclaimed "Hey Flannery, come here!"
Kieran brushed aside the bracken, and found his friend staring down at some blurred footprints that had walked up to a large bush, and then seemingly walked away again.
"It WAS a person watching us last night", said Joby "I knew it. We should've called out to 'em".
"For God's sake Joby, use your commonsense", said Kieran "Just because it's human doesn't make it friendly. It could've been a serial-killer or someone of equally dubious character".
"It wasn't Angel, I know that much. I would've sensed him".
"Angel's probably not the only evil bastard in this place!" Kieran cried "Just because someone isn't Angel is not good enough reason to go instantly trusting them, now is it?"
Joby sighed heavily, and was about to speak when Hillyard ran over, panting with the effort.
"There's a house, just down there in a clearing", he said, pointing back the way he had come.
"Did you see anyone about?" asked Kieran.
"No, but there's smoke coming out of the chimney, and a buggy outside the door. It all looks quite lived in to me. Are we gonna chance it?"
"It's probably whoever was watching us last night", said Joby "I wish you lot'd listen to me more often".
"Never mind all that now. We're getting low on food, so let's hope they want to play Good Samaritan", said Kieran "And listening to Adam's cough I wouldn't object too strongly if they offered to put us up for a few days".
"Who'd wanna trust us on sight!" Hillyard exclaimed "They'll probably bolt the doors when they see us coming".
"If Joby's right then they've already had a good look at us", said Kieran "And could also see we're about as threatening as a washed lettuce!"
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