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Kieran had never thought that he would be glad to sleep inside a cell again, but this one seemed the epitome of comfort and security. The old monks' cells were below the main part of the abbey, reached by a spiral staircase. They ran either side of a dark corridor, and were each tiny and windowless, apart from a small air-vent towards the ceiling. The air was stale, and the mattresses on the twelve beds stuffed with damp straw, and yet for all that they felt welcoming. And they were safe. Kieran sensed the lingering presence of the peaceful monks, who had dutifully gone about their routines until the madness in the City had reached out and sucked them in.
They had been forced to leave the abbey, and had dispersed soon after. Many had gone to the City and tried to build new lives there, but with the focal point of their entire existence now outlawed it had been almost impossible to carry on. One by one they had died quietly and unobtrusively, each pining for the peace and tranquillity of Gurran. Ever since then, the abbey had been deserted. Very occasionally lone travellers had secretly visited the place out of curiosity, but the monks' vanished lifestyle held little interest for most.
Sheer exhaustion had driven the four new arrivals down to the cells almost as soon as they had arrived. It had also driven away any squeamishness about the damp and the dust. Just to lie down under shelter was enough to be going on with.
Kieran had slept with the door open all night, so that he could hear the snoring of the other three close by him. In the end though he slept so heavily that he didn't hear them stirring when morning came. He lay awake in the very muted grey light of day, savouring the gentle peace. By mutual consent they had all agreed not to travel for a couple of days, and so suddenly it seemed the epitome of freedom not to have to go anywhere.
He was shaving haphazardly in a small cracked mirror, gleaned from Buskin's house, when he noticed Adam walk past the door. He called out to him, but when that failed to elicit a response, ran out into the corridor.
"Adam! Addy!" he cried "Are you avoiding me or what?"
"I didn't want to disturb you", Adam followed him back into his cell.
"Thought you might be trying to treat me with kid gloves", Kieran said, rinsing his face with water from a cracked ewer, brought down from the kitchen the night before.
"Since when did I ever treat you with kid gloves! How are you now anyway?"
"Alive, and that's all that matters".
"You'll survive", Adam touched his face gently "You always will. Don't let a bastard like Tomce distort your view of the world. There are too many about like him, always have been, tarring the rest of us with their brush".
"I'm more tired than anything".
"Then go back to bed. Sleep the day away if that's what you want".
"Nowhere to go and nothing to do", said Kieran "I could get used to this life".
They all went their separate ways for the rest of the morning, as though eager not to intrude on anyone else's space anymore than was necessary.
What was left of the abbey, though spartan, was still in surprisingly good condition, as though the dust and dirt had helped to preserve it. Adam toured the remains of the building, imbibing atmospheres like a florist sniffing flowers. Like Kieran, he found that the overwhelming aura was one of peace. The monks had woven an air of tranquillity around the building that time had failed to pierce. Briefly, around one of the exterior doorways, he sensed a feeling of panic, and imagined the extreme reluctance of the inmates to pass out of its portals for good. Otherwise, all was serenity.
Joby found a wine cellar that led directly down from the kitchen. It was well-stocked, and he silently thanked the previous inmates for their generosity in providing for future visitors so well. He selected three of the bottles and then went to find Kieran.
"This must be a perfect day", said Kieran, as the two of them lay in a grassy fold of the island, with the lake lapping at their feet "Sleep all morning, and get pissed all afternoon in the sunshine".
"I don't like it", Joby mumbled "Reminds me of Green Ways".
"It's nothing like Green Ways".
"We felt safe there, and look what happened afterwards".
"Oh you are an old misery, here", Kieran tipped the dregs of one bottle into Joby's glass "I suppose we should've decanted it first, but ... oh what the hell? What's a touch of gastric flu between friends!"
"You're right", said Joby, as though making a resolution "I've got used to the worst happening, so I keep expecting it. Not right".
"Well remind yourself the worst can't happen here", Kieran propped himself up on his elbow "This is sacred land. The dear old monks left their psychic imprint, which means Angel can't get to us here".
"Not at all?"
"Have you caught any slightest whiff of him since we've been here?"
"He's probably saving himself", Joby grumbled "For when we least expect it. Lull us into a false sense of security".
"He hasn't got that kind of thinking in his pea-brain. Come to think of it, he probably hasn't got a brain! I've told you, we are safe here. Make the most of it".
"I reckon I should've been a monk", said Joby "Simple lifestyle, practical work, that kind of thing".
"Hours on your knees brooding on the wickedness of Mankind. Yes, that would be right up your street! Only problem is, there are certain things you'd have to give up".
"Huh! The world we're in now that wouldn't be too much of a hardship. 'Cept they've gone and outlawed religion. Story of my life really".
Kieran suddenly leaned across and kissed him full on the lips. Joby responded for a few seconds, before something clicked in his brain and he pulled away.
"What are you playing at Flannery?" he asked, wearily.
"Just wanted to show you that all is not lost. If you let your inhibitions go you can do anything".
"Yea, that's what I'm afraid of! I can't afford to let 'em go".
"It's love Joby, it's nothing to be afraid of".
"My inhibitions are all I've got left, thank you very much. I'm hanging onto 'em until further notice".
"Really?" Kieran's hand strayed close to the bulge in his friend's trousers.
"It'll ruin everything", Joby cried "It always does. People can never be the same afterwards, there's a tension there. Friends should never become lovers".
"Is that how it was with my wife?" Kieran whispered.
"Yea, if you really want to know! After ... after it had happened things were difficult. I couldn't talk to her in the old relaxed way, there was hidden agendas to everything. It was horrible. I don't want it to be like that with us. It means too much to me. Adam laughed at me when I told him all this, but it's true".
"I won't laugh. I understand what you're saying. Forgive me if me need for physical affection gets the better of me at times. It's just the way I am. But I can take a 'no'".
"I don't suppose you've had many refusals?"
"Can't say I have, but it doesn't mean I can't roll with the punches like everyone else. Am I forgiven?"
"Nothing to forgive", Joby sighed "I'm glad you did it in a way, least now I know what all the fuss is about. With Adam keep going on about you as though you invented snogging I was beginning to wonder what I was missing".
"And it left you completely unmoved I take it?"
"I wouldn't say that exactly", Joby sat up, blushing with embarrassment "But let's just leave it there for the moment. This idiot needs time".
"I think I'm dying".
"You should've got Hillyard to ..."
"Decant it first", Kieran finished "Yes I know that. There's nothing like a bit of I-told-you-so to make things no bloody better".
He lay on his bed, groaning in the light of a candle placed on the chair beside it. Adam gently laid a wet flannel to the younger man's forehead.
"Fine", said Adam "Sleeping like a baby in the next cell".
"Are you sure he's not dead?"
"If he is, he's the noisiest corpse I've ever heard!"
"Oh I know", Kieran groaned "Sometimes I think snoring like his should be made a criminal offence".
"For all we know it probably has been", said Adam, dryly.
"I find it so hard to imagine what it's going to be like in the City. A City without any women at all".
"I have the most depressing images of it. Sometimes I think it will be like some over-expanded meat-rack, full of men getting off on each other".
"I thought that'd be your idea of Heaven", Kieran laughed.
"You sound like Joby. Well it's not. Just because I'm gay doesn't mean I think a single-sex society is a good thing. Gay communities can be soul-destroying. When men get together like that all they're interested in is their next screw. Anyway, I think it's time you slept now".
"No, stay", Kieran grabbed the man's wrist and pulled him back onto the bed "Talk to me. You don't talk to me much. I think you talk to Joby more than you do to me".
"I can usually find more interesting things to do with you that's why", said Adam, warmly "What do you want to talk about?"
"You, yourself. I know so little about the real you".
"That promises to be a pretty dull conversation".
"Seriously. Tell me about your lovers".
"What? All of them!"
"Have there been that many then?"
"I really couldn't say, I can't remember. No need to look so incredulous. It's a fact. There are vast chunks of my life that I have no recollection of at all".
"I've often got into this rigmarole with people", he sighed "They want to know all about me, then they think I'm being arrogant and aloof when I refuse to tell. It never occurs to them that I simply don't remember!"
"God that must be terrible. To have no memories. Memories are very important. I've learnt that so much since we crossed over".
"It's different for you", said Adam "You have a lot of good things to remember. Most of mine probably weren't worth remembering to start with".
"Didn't you ever worry someone would appear out of your past one day?"
"And do what? They could hardly threaten me with a paternity suit. I think even I would have remembered that one!"
"You must have played with fire at times".
"Don't worry", Adam tucked Kieran's arms under the blanket "I would never have risked infecting you with anything. I've had all my injections up to the time we crossed over, and at the last count I was completely clean".
"Didn't you ever worry though that you may have been risking your life?"
"Did you, when you were fornicating with half the female population?"
"Fair enough", Kieran sighed "Tell me about him".
"The one you went to the South of France with. You know, the champagne bottle and the fella getting blinded in one eye".
"It isn't a bedtime story!" Adam exclaimed "Anyway, it was all a very long time ago".
"Did you love him?"
"Hard to say. I suppose I must've done. Then".
"But not now?"
"Patsy, it was all a rather sordid little affair, not the romance of the century. I went to prison because I couldn't control my temper, not for any grand passion for him. It's always the same. People never understand the true facts about the gay world".
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that the gay world can be spiteful and vindictive. Men out for their own ends, wanting nothing more than shags".
"There are plenty of straights like that!" Kieran exclaimed "Of both sexes".
"But not you", said Adam, leaning over and kissing his forehead "I'm very glad to say".
Tiredness, combined with the best of the monks' vintage beetroot wine from the previous century, blotted out Kieran's dreams that night. He slept heavily and awoke twelve hours later to find Joby standing in his cell doorway, clad in Buskin's cast-off robe.
"I wasn't sure if you was gonna wake up or not", he said, entering the room "I feel fucking terrible. I tell you, I'm not touching that stuff again. I expect they used it as paint-stripper really".
"What's that bloody noise? Sounds like someone smashing windows", Kieran sat up gingerly, listening to a faint rustling sound directly overhead.
"That'll be Hillyard", Joby sat down next to the bed "I went upstairs just now, looking for black coffee. He was up there, fussing over a load of fishing-rods he'd found in one of the store-cupboards. Which means we're probably gonna get fried fish for tea".
"Oh don't mention food!"
"Do you think that that killer juice can make you hallucinate?"
"I expect it can make you go blind and cause your best assets to drop off. Why do you ask?"
"Saw something in my cell last night", Joby said "I think I was dreaming though. I mean, I didn't feel properly awake at the time".
"What was it?"
"Some kind of animal. Little thing, sitting on my cell floor. About the size of a cat, 'cept it didn't have fur, more like sealskin".
"Could be some kind of water mammal I spose, got in from the lake perhaps".
"Didn't look like no creature I've seen before. It had little beady eyes, and it was staring at me".
"Bound to be some strange animals in this new world, ones that we haven't seen before".
"Spect so. It weren't threatening or nothing. Just sat staring at me. Then it walked out. It looked like a large worm on legs. Ugly little bastard".
Upstairs in the kitchen Hillyard was practising graceful arcs with one of the fishing-rods.
"He is a fantastic person to have around", said Adam, as the others walked in "He can turn his hand to anything, trapping rabbits, fishing. We'll never starve whilst we have him with us. You like fishing don't you Jobe?"
"I did", Joby replied "Back home, on the canal of a Sunday".
"Perhaps you can help Hillyard. Take Patsy with you if you feel in need of a chaperone".
"I don't see any pleasure in tearing the mouths out of fishes", said Kieran.
"Well you don't have to eat them then do you!" Joby looked temptingly at the fishing-rods "Yea, I think I fancy a spot of fishing".
Hillyard stood out on a rock, about a foot from the bank, flexing the rod with consummate ease. Joby had left his hanging, waiting for a bite. Kieran sat further up the bank, watching them both.
"That water seems to be getting choppier", he said.
"Like a millpond", said Joby, raising his head wearily "Don't talk anyway. You'll disturb the fish".
"Now I know why you liked fishing so much. Gave you a good excuse to lie around and not do anything".
"It's a highly-skilled activity", Joby mumbled, drowsily.
Hillyard landed a catch, reeled it in, and came back to the bank to disentangle it from the hook. Joby refused to comment on it and pointedly ignored the other man's ever-growing haul.
"That water is definitely choppier", said Kieran "And the sky's clouding over. I reckon there's a storm coming".
"That's just a whirlpool", Hillyard pointed at a patch of water that was swirling angrily a lot further out "You often get that".
"Quite the little boy scout is our Hillyard", Joby muttered "Font of useless information".
Kieran stood up and put on a sweater. He turned to look at the sky over the abbey. The outline of the building was etched broodingly against the dark grey clouds. He shuddered. How easy it was for a haven to transform itself into a threatening presence.
"I wish we were on the move again", he said, quietly.
"You've been saying since you got here how nice it was not to be travelling", said Joby "Make your mind up".
"Perhaps it is harder to hit a moving target, as Angel said".
"Are you alright mate?" said Hillyard, glancing at Kieran sharply.
Kieran closed his eyes and remembered every unpleasant detail since leaving the prison. The pathetic blind axeman, everything about the Loud House, Stombal's death, Fobbett's mutilated corpse, Tomce's perversion. He swayed, and would have fallen if Hillyard hadn't dropped his rod and caught him.
"Are you alright?" he asked again.
"I wish", Kieran swallowed with difficulty "I wish we could trust somewhere. Just once".
"I'd better get you inside. You don't look well to me".
"I'll take him in", said Joby, abruptly.
"It's alright, I can handle him. Stombal was always having turns like this".
Remembering what had happened to Stombal, Joby didn't find this reassuring. He pulled Kieran away from Hillyard and tugged him in the direction of the abbey. Hillyard sighed and began to collect the rods.
"I reckon he's sickening for something", said Joby.
"Is there anything you've noticed Patsy?" Adam asked the boy, who he had propped on one of the high-backed refectory chairs "Anything you want to tell us?"
"He kept going on about a storm", said Joby.
"Well it does look as though one's coming on. The sky has got very oppressive out there, and there's a bit of a breeze starting up".
"Worms", said Kieran, suddenly "Giant worms. Joby saw one".
"No I didn't. I said it looked like a large worm on legs. I think it was some unusual lake creature I saw in my cell last night", he elucidated for Adam's benefit.
"Worms", Kieran repeated.
"Come on Patsy, snap out of it", Adam patted his hand "You're not making sense, and I can't believe this is a serious psychic vision".
"I don't think he's well".
"You're probably right. He might have got a bit feverish from all this sleeping in damp places lately. I'll take him down to his cell to rest", Adam went to lift Kieran, but he wriggled away in panic.
"I'm not going down there!" he cried "Not alone. You can't leave me down there. I'm fed up with this! Nowhere is what it seems. Everything's twisted and freaky. Ask Buskin what he saw on the marshes".
"What's he on about?" asked Joby.
"Buskin wrote in his log that he'd seen a strange creature out on the marshes, I told you about it. In fact it doesn't sound dissimilar to the creature you saw last night", said Adam.
"Yea, but that wasn't frightening. Just looked a bit peculiar that's all. He's not getting worked up about that is he?"
"Seems to be".
"Stombal", said Kieran, lolling his head against the back of the chair. To all appearances he seemed to be talking in his sleep "The axeman. T-the woman at the Loud House. Fobbett. All deformed and destroyed".
"We know all that", said Joby, testily.
He slapped Kieran across the cheek. Adam gave a moan of protest but Joby stalled him.
"He was getting himself all worked up", he said "And to no useful purpose".
"What the fock did you do that for?" Kieran exclaimed, now fully 'compos mentis'.
"You were carrying on", said Joby "Started ranting and raving. Upsetting yourself".
Kieran sat up in the chair, and looked around him in bewilderment.
"I was having a little snooze on the grass that's all", he said "I remember thinking, better get in soon it's gonna rain, then I must've fallen asleep. Next thing I know I'm in here and you're clobbering me. And I won't forget that in a hurry!"
"I didn't mean to", Joby waved his hands helplessly "Just you were carrying on like some daft old medium in a trance".
"Somebody's trying to get through to me", Kieran rubbed his head thoughtfully "It's just that he's not very coherent".
"One of the monks?" said Adam.
"Yes. He's warning us. And I was trying to shut him out! I was getting so angry. So mad at all the wanton destruction in this world, what it does to people. I keep seeing Fobbett's torn-out eyes. I spose I tried shutting the monk out 'cos I didn't want anymore bad news".
"You mustn't close yourself off", said Adam.
"You've been doing that too much lately", said Joby.
"Because I wanted peace!" Kieran protested "A respite from all this insanity. I wanted us to be able to rest here for a while. I didn't want no more ghouls and monsters, not now we're safe from Angel".
"It isn't him then?" said Joby "That's something anyway".
"The monks left here with the greatest reluctance", Adam paced around the refectory table as he spoke "And only because they were force to by an insane government in the City. We know that much. They did not leave because of any ghouls and monsters, as Patsy put it, so if there is danger here then somehow they learnt to live with it. There's no reason at all why we shouldn't do the same. After all, we survived the Loud House, in spite of all the terrible warnings about it".
"There is a great deal of good here", said Kieran "But it's constantly being threatened by another force, internal or external I can't quite tell".
The door burst open and Hillyard staggered in, under a weight of fishing tackle and dead fish. He dumped them all on the refectory table, and sank thankfully into an empty chair.
"I think I've just seen my first lake monster", he announced.
"Of course I've heard about them before".
"Don't tell me", said Joby, sarcastically "They're commonplace too, along with vampires and eunuchs".
"Let him speak Joby", Adam sighed.
"I wouldn't say they was commonplace", said Hillyard "There's a stuffed one in the City Museum. It was one a lighthouse-keeper on Button Island, that's just off the City Harbour, shot a few years back. Sometimes corpses get washed up on the shores, but no one's ever caught one alive. They're pretty elusive as a rule".
"We had similar stories in our time", said Adam "So what did you see just now exactly?"
"Kieran was the one who spotted the water getting choppy. I thought it was just a localised whirlpool. But after the others had gone inside I stood and watched it for a bit, because it seemed to be getting bigger. And then suddenly this huge creature, a sort of blacky-brown colour, rose up out of the water and then ducked down again. It had a very long head, and a coiled back".
"The Loch Ness Monster now", Joby groaned "It looked like a dinosaur did it?"
"No, a worm", said Hillyard "A giant worm".
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