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Tomce had slept with his head resting on the kitchen table. The atmosphere in the cottage when he had returned the evening before hadn't been at all what he had expected. It was hostile. His room was out-of-bounds, he was told, because Joby and Kieran were using it. Even the armchairs by the fire were not for his rest, it seemed.
He had tried to protest (albeit meekly) that it was his cottage, but curiously it had seemed to fall flat. Adam had pointedly turned his chair to face the fire, and kept his back turned on him for the rest of the night.
After his long, wearying day, Tomce had slept though, and had woken in the grey dawn to find the room cold and cheerless. When Hillyard went to use the lavatory Tomce followed him. He waited for him outside the door and accosted him when he had finished.
"What's going on? What's happened here?"
"You don't know!" Hillyard exclaimed.
"Something's happened I can tell. I do have a right to know, it is my house after all".
"What do you think's happened?" Hillyard sneered.
"Why are you asking me? I've been away. Believe me, I have no idea. Strange things do happen out here, but one gets used to it..."
"Strange things!" Hillyard spat, pushing Tomce against the back door "Like children disappearing? Is that why the villagers deserted Brinz, eh?"
"I really don't know what you're talking about", Tomce protested.
"Then you'll learn, won't you!"
Adam burst into the back garden, dragging Kieran and Joby behind him.
"I have heard you two get up to some crazy things", he cried "I thought getting trapped by a Medieval Scots cannibal would be the limit for anyone, but this ... what do you hope to prove for crying out loud?"
"I want to confront Tomce with what he's done", said Kieran "I suspect he's hid from it all along".
"And I suspect you're letting this Vanquisher of Evil nonsense go to your head".
"It wasn't nonsense the other day was it? You can't have it both ways".
"We're not gonna give him any GBH", said Joby.
"Then what?" Adam snapped "Appeal to his conscience, is that it? Because I can assure you right now that his sort don't have one. He's no better than Angel, going from one fix to the next".
"Then what do you suggest we do?" Joby roared "Just walk away without saying a word? Because I couldn't live with that and neither could Flannery".
"That is all very well", said Adam "But why do I have to be packed off with Hillyard like some feeble-minded octogenarian!"
"Hillyard'll take care of you", Kieran began, soothingly.
"I do not need taking care of! If you say another word like that I'll knock you both down where you stand".
"That's assault", said Joby.
"I don't care! Take me to a tribunal if that's the way you feel. You'll get about as far as calling out the vice squad to deal with Tomce!"
"You haven't been well lately", said Kieran "So we're just trying not to put anymore strain on you than necessary".
"I've had a bit of a cold that's all".
"Which we can't afford to get any worse".
"At my age is that it? Go on, you might as well say it".
"At your age", said Joby, earning a look of bitter reproach from Adam "Flannery's right. You were never in that brilliant a shape to start with, but after the last few months, with prison and then living rough ... Can't you see, he suggested this 'cos he cares about you?"
Adam drew himself up in a dignified fashion.
"We don't want to lose you", said Kieran.
"Sunset", said Adam, after a lengthy pause "You had both better be with us by sunset, or I won't be responsible for my actions".
"I'll go and help Hillyard pack some supplies", said Joby "It'll give me great pleasure to empty the pervert's larder".
"Sometimes", said Adam, once he and Kieran were alone "It's very hard to stand by and watch someone you love walk a dangerous path. Sometimes I wish it was me who had been designated as the 'Vanquisher of Evil', not for any self-glorification, but because at least then I wouldn't have to see you in danger. But that was never likely to happen. I'm not a strongminded person".
"Could've fooled me at times", said Kieran, wryly.
"No, I have a fundamental flaw in my character. I'm an alcoholic".
"A reformed alcoholic", Kieran sighed "You haven't touched the juice for two years".
"There is no such thing as a reformed alcoholic Patsy, in the sense that the danger is always there you see. One slight stumble is all it takes, and you can't have a Vanquisher of Evil with such an obvious Achilles Heel".
"And do you think I want this either? I don't know what the blazes I'm going to say to Tomce! It's just a gut-feeling I have that I've got to do it. But how do I know that anything I say is going to make any difference at all?"
"He's weak Patsy, very weak. Just say what you know, and then watch him crumble. It might not change anything, but it certainly won't if you don't try".
Adam and Hillyard reached the next clearing by mid-afternoon. It had once been a cultivated field, but had been left to lie fallow since the villagers had evacuated Brinz. They climbed a bank at the far edge of the field, and set up camp beneath the trees. They were both exhausted, having lugged the food supplies with them, along with Kieran and Joby's packs.
"I must have been mad to leave them there", said Adam, watching as a fine drizzle slanted relentlessly across the field "You would never have left Stombal behind I expect".
"Not willingly", said Hillyard, as the small camp-fire he had prepared finally ignited into flame "But sometimes though you've just gotta let 'em do what they think best. Funny thing this strong-minded business. It's deceptive".
"How do you mean?"
"Well, all the time Stombal was alive I thought I was the strong one. It's only since he's been gone that I've realised how much I leaned on him. How much I miss having someone to look after me".
"I thought you did the looking after?"
"At the end, after he'd gone peculiar. But he wasn't always like that. Once, he spent hours looking for a shirt to buy me, 'cos he wanted to show me how much he cared. Course, then he wanted to take me out for a meal so I could wear it! He was always doing things like that. Must' ve blown his whole salary on me that day. I miss all that. I miss him. Not as he was at the end, he drove me mad! But as he was. Before all this religion got to him. Did it cause trouble in your time?"
"Oh yes, but I'm not the right one to really ask, never having been a particularly strong believer in any faith, that's Patsy's department", said Adam "And that's why he's been chosen".
"Religion's disrupting everything, right?" said Hillyard "And yet this Devil that's been mentioned is scared of religion I take it?"
"Not in the legendary vampire-fearing-crucifix sense. Knick knacks won't scare it, but the thinking behind them does".
"It didn't protect Stombal", said Hillyard.
"Forgive me for saying this Hillyard, but from everything you've told me Stombal was mentally unhinged towards the end, that's why the religion couldn't protect him. He had no strong mental barriers. And that's the paradox of religion. It's both a destroyer and a protector. It depends entirely on who has the sword hand".
Kieran sorted the pieces of the torn photograph like a jigsaw, until it resembled a clear picture once more. A picture of a man and a boy. Then he looked up at Tomce, who sat facing it. The contrast between the smooth-faced man in the photograph, and the creature with the lined parchment skin looking at it, was stunning. All people age over a period of twenty years, but Tomce now had the face he deserved.
"So", said Kieran, after a silence that seemed to yawn across eternity "What have you say about this?"
"Who is he for a start?" said Joby "The boy in the picture I mean".
Tomce's face at that moment betrayed no expression of any kind.
"I don't know", he said, simply.
"But we're looking at a photo of him", said Kieran "A photo found in your house".
Another lengthy and pain-filled silence.
"Destruction", Tomce spat suddenly, the lines on his face seemed to dig painfully deep into his skin "Destruction and hatred. That person is from a part of my life that is over! And now they return to destroy me. They are consumed with negative emotion, all they wish to do is to destroy".
"We're talking about one person Tomce", said Joby "The boy in the photo. Just one person".
"You don't know me. You don't know what it was like for me".
"Is he still alive Tomce?" asked Kieran.
"Of course he's alive!" Tomce snapped in exasperation "Destruction breeds destruction don't you know that? And so on and so forth, for generations to come. Hordes of destructive little beasts sweeping down over the years, eating their way down. Evil will always live".
"Evil might, but the two boys didn't", said Joby "The two boys at the bottom of the well".
"Was that why everyone left Brinz eh?" said Kieran "How many were there before that Tomce? It's not far from here is it? Convenient distance for someone as determined as you".
"I was never charged with any offence", Tomce said, firmly.
"Of course you fucking weren't", Joby cried "'Cos you were never caught!"
"But I was", said Tomce "And I was never charged. They saw to that".
"They?" asked Kieran.
"Are you one? Did they make you into one?"
"I am not as they are. I am not a vampire!"
"No", Joby suddenly screamed "You're a paedophile. At the end of the day there's not much to choose between you. You both prey on the helpless, you're both ghouls".
"Leave it", Kieran wept, sweeping the fragments of the photograph from the table "Just leave it. There's no point to his. No point at all".
"They will destroy everything in the end", said Tomce "Even you. You see, they know about you now".
"Where is he?"
"He's locked himself in upstairs", said Joby "He hasn't said anything else, so I don't know what all that other stuff was about".
"Adam was right", Kieran sighed "This has all been a stupid mistake. What did I think I was going to achieve?"
"It didn't come down to achieving", said Joby "We just felt we couldn't go without saying something. Because we always feel we should do or say something, anything, when confronted with this. You feel you owe it to all the victims".
"And yet what can we do? Kill him? Get him arrested? Chop his nuts off? None of it seems a real option somehow. I feel there's something protecting him that at the moment we're powerless against. So, instead what do I do? I give him a bit of a talking-to! The words 'big deal' spring to mind somehow".
"Let's go now. We haven't got much time to get to the clearing by dark as it is".
"I feel so focking helpless Joby! There is nothing to stop him doing it again. Oh I know the Brinz children have gone, but what does he get up to when he goes to the City?"
"We're leaving, that's all I know", said Joby, firmly "But first I'm going to the karsey".
"That's your answer to everything", said Kieran.
He walked into the small parlour at the back and consoled himself by smashing a row of expensive porcelain figurines. By the time he had finished he felt no relief, only another unbearable sense of futility.
A shadow appeared behind him on the wall.
What happened next occurred so fast that afterwards he never was able to piece it together clearly in his mind. And yet at the time it appeared to last forever, and Joby's intervention seemed a precious long time in coming. Tomce pushed him forward onto the floor, and tore at his clothes, pulling his shirt up. Kieran felt something sticky and clammy on his naked spine. It brushed across his flesh, and he experienced an overwhelming surge of nausea. Joby told him later that he had screamed blue murder, but he couldn't remember that. Only a nightmare feeling that it would never ever end.
When Joby grabbed at Tomce and pulled him away, it was like watching an aggressive underwater ballet. Tomce had ceased to look like Tomce. In fact he had ceased to look human, as though he was some fiend wearing a parchment mask. His purple-headed penis spluttered sperm, and then dangled in the air as though uncertain where to roam next.
Joby managed to get Tomce into an armlock and dashed his head repeatedly against the mantelpiece. Unfortunately Tomce's head seemed remarkably resilient, and Joby was nigh on exhausted before Tomce faded into unconsciousness. Joby then released him, and the paedophile fell to the floor in a black swoon.
"I tried", Tomce gasped, before he passed out "They must know that I tried".
"I never thought he'd pick on someone his own size", Kieran panted, as they paused for breath in the forest.
"How far did he go?" Joby asked, aggressively.
"As far as you saw. I don't think he ever takes it to full penetration. I think he has a thing about wanking on people. Oh God! It was humiliating enough for me ..."
"C'mon. We've gotta keep moving. The twilight's catching us up".
"There's blood on your shirt".
"Well as long as it's his I don't care".
The night was simply another enemy they had to try and out-pace. It pursued them mockingly through the forest like a sneering Fury. Added to which a mist came down through the branches and tried to claw at them as they ran beneath.
"If this gets any worse we'll be well and truly lost", said Kieran "We could be anywhere".
"Hillyard said we'd be alright if we kept heading in one direction".
"Oh what does he know? He's never tried to do it in cottonwool".
The trees cleared eventually, and with united gasps of relief they saw the glow from a camp-fire a short distance ahead. Feeling the mist on their faces and hair, and tasting it in their mouths, they stumbled half-blind across the field.
"I know what you're thinking", said Joby, staring into the flames "That we risked everything for nothing. That Tomce is still alive, and still as much of a shit as he was before".
"Quite frankly I'd rather he was still alive than dead", said Adam "At least you know where you are with the living, relatively so anyway. Our experiences with Angel prove that the dead merely create whole fresh new problems".
"It don't surprise me that he gets his kicks from wanking on people", said Hillyard "His sort would. They just enjoy humiliating others, and kids are easy game for that. After all, someone his own size might stand up to him. Then he wouldn't have any power".
Kieran ate little of the supper Hillyard had prepared. His appetite had gone. Everytime he raised a morsel to his lips he smelt Tomce's sperm, endured the stickiness once more on his skin. He was shrewd enough to realise that eventually this feeling would pass, but at the present time it was horribly acute.
He longed for a hug from one of the others, an assurance that life would be alright again. But they all seemed to be treating him with kid gloves, frightened to touch him in case they scratched an open wound on his mind and triggered off more of the revulsion.
He lay awake as the others slept, and felt incapable of stopping his mind from panicking. Whatever it was that had caused Tomce to attack him had achieved a direct hit in his armour. He no longer felt uncomplicated, instead there was confusion and a sickness of heart, reigned over by a white hot fear. Out of sheer exhaustion he slept for an hour before dawn. He was woken by the others stirring, and moving wordlessly about in the early morning mist. He was cold, and the fear still gripped his stomach like a vice. And when his brain veered unwelcomingly in a particular direction he could still feel Tomce on his back.
The landscape changed completely during the day's travelling. The forest cleared, and gave way to a lush open green countryside. After the spartan austerity of the marshes and the land near the Loud House, and then the dark oppressiveness of Kiskev and the forest, it was like being stood under a cascade of cold, clear water. The colours seemed to stand up independently, as though each was determined to outdo the other for vivacity and freshness. The blue of the sky, the green of the meadows, the startling whiteness of the clouds and the snow-topped mountains in the distance. Everything sparkled like newly-washed crystal.
They picnicked in the middle of a green nowhere, each inwardly marvelling at the clarity of everything and the giddy sense of freedom. There was no sign anywhere of human habitation, and so it was easy to start believing that the land was theirs, and theirs alone. It was all suddenly, unbelievably perfect, even the sun shone down with a cool autumnal crispness, not too hot and yet warm enough to make travelling a pleasure. The air itself was like wine.
They dozed in the sun for half-an-hour, until the heat began to wear off, and then walked on. Everything about the countryside in the world so far had felt oppressive or forbidding. It was now as if the landscape had unfolded like a fan around them.
By deep twilight they had reached the edge of the Gurran Lake. A footbridge, rotted away in parts, led out to the island. It was little more than a green hump, like the back of a slumbering dinosaur, in the middle of the water. All that remained of the old abbey was a tower and a one-storey building attached to it, which had housed the kitchen and refectory.
To the four of them, as they gingerly crossed the bridge under the bruise-coloured sky, nowhere had ever looked more welcoming.
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