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By Sarah Hapgood

When Kieran came to he felt a pounding in his ears, and a sound like several excitable people all talking at once. It took a while to clear, and when he fully regained consciousness he found he was lying on the sofa in the living-room, with a blanket wrapped round him. He could hear several of the others out in the corridor and intermittent hammering. He called out. Joby, who had been standing in the living-room doorway, came over to him.

“What’s going on?” said Kieran.

“Nothing”, said Joby, pushing him gently back onto the sofa “We’re just blocking up the cellar door that’s all”.

“But why?” said Kieran “We’re starting to make progress”.

“Look Kiel”, said Joby “I don’t give a toss who lived here before, or what happened to ’em quite frankly. We’ve got enough to cope with as it is, what with huge creatures stalking all around us, plus the weather’s enough to deal with on its own! And on top of all that I don’t wanna see you taken ill like that again!”

“Alright, alright“, said Kieran, feeling too weak to argue “But what about our stuff stored down there?”

“We’ve moved it up to the kitchen passage”, said Joby “It’s always cold there, and we can keep an eye on it better, particularly if we’re starting to get rats around the place”.

“You can’t blame me for being curious though”, said Kieran.

“No, but I can blame Bardin for doing his Barnum bit”, said Joby “And ordering you down there to do some kind of great medium spectacular!”

“It’s not his fault either”, said Kieran “After all, it’s not every day you hear ghostly voices in the cellar!”

“Maybe”, said Joby “But I think an exorcism’s more called-for than a bleedin séance!”

Bengo came in, carrying a bowl of tinned peaches.

“I thought this might help to perk you up, Kieran”, he said, proffering a spoon.

“Serving up tinned peaches at 3 o’clock in the morning!” said Joby.

“Well it thought all the sugar in the syrup might help to energise him”, said Bengo.

“Thank you, Bengo”, said Kieran, taking the bowl of peaches “It’s a lovely idea”.

“You could perk us all up by giving that partner of yours a good thumping”, said Joby.

“What else could Bardy do though?” said Bengo “When something like that happens you can’t just ignore it, and if anyone could get a result it’s Kieran”.

“Oh yeah, he got a result alright!” said Joby “A bloody nose!”

“God, what a depressing room this is”, said Julian, striding into it “Particularly at this hour”.

“What brought that on?” said Joby.

“Probably seeing me in it!” said Kieran, who was pretty certain that Julian was going to let rip at him sooner or later.

“No room looks great at 3 in the morning”, said Bengo.

“Bengo, fix up some soup for everyone if you don’t mind”, said Adam, from the doorway “We can have a sort of combined midnight snack-cum-early breakfast”.

“Good”, said Joby “Then that means we can have a lie-in … when we finally get to bed that is!”

“We’re having porridge for lunch?” said Julian, in tones of obvious disapproval as Adam slopped it into a bowl.

“Well we had soup for breakfast, so why not?” said Adam, flippantly.

For once Julian couldn’t think of a Smart Aleck reply, instead he merely remarked: “I’ll be glad when we’re shot of this damn place. Sometimes it feels like a constant battle of wits between us and it all the time”.

“You do seem very out of sorts today, old love”, said Adam.

“Just a bit subdued that’s all”, said Julian.

Hillyard, who was carrying in a fresh consignment of logs for the dining-room fire, thought that a subdued Julian might be quite a refreshing change for a while.

“This house gives me the creeps”, said Hoowie, tumbling into the room with Tamaz behind him “We could have sworn we’ve just seen a strange dog in the upstairs passage, didn’t we, Tamaz?”

“Probably one of our dogs, you nits”, said Joby.

“It was nothing like our dogs”, said Tamaz “It was a horrible, mangy old thing, all scrawny and underfed”.

“I suppose it could have got in from the outside”, said Adam.

“I think it’s a ghost”, said Tamaz, sitting down at the table, as though the subject wasn’t worthy of any further thought.

“Yeah, there was something about it”, said Hoowie “Not quite right. Though we’d only seen it for a moment”.

After their porridge-y lunch, a few of them went upstairs to see where the mangy dog had been sighted. This was in the corridor directly above the kitchen passage, in the largely disused part of the house. For that reason it was particularly gloomy, as it was unheated and uncared for. Thick cobwebs abounded in the rooms which ran down one side of it. They looked in all of these for the mysterious dog, but found nothing.

“I think you really did see a ghost, my old cocker”, said Hillyard to Hoowie.

“Tamaz saw it as well”, said Hoowie, as though they were all going to start disbelieving him.

“What were you doing here?” said Adam, who couldn’t understand why anyone would want to come into this part of the house.

“I heard it scrabbling about”, said Tamaz “So I came in to see what it was”.

The sighting of the dog increased the atmosphere of claustrophobia in the house. An atmosphere which was already pretty unsettled as it was.

During the afternoon Joby and Bengo took a brief break in the courtyard, mainly to actually get outside the confines of the house, even if only for a moment.

“All we need now is for Kieran to start rattling on that it’s a demon or summat”, said Joby.

“It certainly sounded ugly enough to be one”, said Bengo, thinking fondly of their own loveable hounds.

“Once this Winter’s over”, said Joby “And we can all get away from here, I don’t think I ever wanna live in a house again. I understand how gypsies feel about living inside 4 walls now”.

He looked up at the sky.

“More of the blasted stuff coming in”, he said “Come on, we’d better go back indoors”.

“Please don’t give Bardy a hard time at dinner tonight”, said Bengo, as they went back in through the side door “Sometimes a performance goes wrong that’s all”.

“Well I spose your main star-turn getting a nosebleed and dropping down in a dead faint halfway through the act can be put down to just bad luck”, Joby joked.

The sombre mood at the house persisted through into the evening, and Bardin was starting to get concerned. He believed (rightly so) that keeping up morale was very important, and nowhere more so than in a claustrophobic environment like this.

After dinner that evening he went into the living-room and found a scene that to his mind was almost deathly subdued. Rumble and Lonts were playing draughts by the fire, and the room was so quiet that (very unusually) Bardin could hear the clock ticking.

“This won’t do”, said Bardin.

“What’s wrong with a bit of peace and quiet for a change?” said Rumble.

“Nothing”, said Bardin “But people seem depressed”.

“Not really surprising is it”, said Rumble “A whadja-call-it … a behemoth stalking around outside, ghostly voices in the cellar, and now a phantom mad dog upstairs!”

“Julian thinks it’s a real dog, a mad, sick dog”, said Lonts “Says next time we see it we should shoot it”.

“If anything’s gone mad round here it’s him!” said Bardin “Of course it’s not real! We tore the place apart earlier looking for the damn thing. If it was real we would have found it!”

Bengo drifted in whilst this conversation was going on, and he thought that none of this was exactly helping to improve morale.

“We should be concentrating on arranging some festivities instead of going over all this again”, he said “Some fun things to take people’s minds off everything”.

“Well Christmas will be here soon”, said Bardin, as though uncertain whether this was a help or a hindrance.

“Let’s make some hard-boiled eggs and get our swimming cozzies out”, said Rumble “Pretend it’s Summer”.

“At least we’re trying to think of something!” said Bengo. It never took much for him to get rattled with Rumble.

“No I’m being serious”, said Rumble “We can’t do much about the weather, but we could have a Summer-themed beach-party”.

Lonts looked at Rumble as though he had completely taken leave of his senses, but the other clowns were rather taken with the idea.

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