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A couple of days further up the river they ran into a fog-bank that showed no sign of dispersing in a hurry. They moved at a crawl through the gloom, and some of the Indigo-ites were given uncomfortable reminders of their time aboard Father Gabriel's yacht. Joby was standing at the saloon window watching the mist pressing against the glass. It had brought a damp chill with it, so completely at variance to the blistering weather they had known so far.
Tamaz padded into the room and came across to him. He had been very subdued since leaving the village. The first night out he had had hysterics, convinced that he too could get phases like Lisette's that he couldn't control. Joby and Kieran had calmed him, and since then he had been quiet and withdrawn. He had also gone completely into boy mode, as there had been no audience to be entertained at present.
Joby had been lying on the sofa for most of the afternoon, thinking about the Gorgon. He still vividly remembered seeing her reflection in the mirror at Wolf Castle, and had been appalled by his own stupidity in wanting to walk up to her. He knew this had been largely because of his run-down state at the time. They had just spent 5 months in total darkness and seclusion after all, and Kieran going upstairs with Hillyard had been the last straw. But it wasn't only that. The Gorgon had been beautiful. He had been mesmerised by her, had wanted to just keep gazing at that awesome face. He hadn't thought of this before, but it was exactly the same feeling he had about Tamaz. He felt he could never get tired of looking at him.
They stood next to each other for some time, without talking. Joby knew Tamaz was still distressed deep down, and was waiting for him to speak first.
"You have nothing to fear", he said, eventually "It won't happen, and even if it did we'd still look after you. I promise you that. I'll never let you down".
Tamaz slipped his hand into Joby's.
"Was there more than one Gorgon?" Joby asked.
"No", said Tamaz "But some of the Ghoomers had those kind of tendencies, not as strong as hers, and not lasting as long though. The Lisette creature would have had them because her female side was the strongest half of her".
"With you, it's your male side that's strongest?" said Joby.
"As I keep telling you!" said Tamaz, indignantly "That's why I prefer hunting to breeding. But nobody ever listens to me".
"It's an easy mistake to make", said Joby, jokingly "Particularly with you poncing around in your lace and ribbons. I spose you haven't got 'em on today as you're being all he-man!"
"Yes I have", said Tamaz "They're under my trousers".
"I want to undress you", said Joby, softly.
"Go ahead", Tamaz murmured.
"'12th of May'", Julian wrote in his log-book "'The fog has cleared, the sun has come out, and the weather has got warm again. If I don't sound as full of the joys of spring as one would expect it's because things have turned decidedly weird.
When the mist cleared yesterday lunchtime I went up to the poop-deck to converse with Ransey. He was looking through a pair of binoculars at the distant horizon. He informed me that the hills we could see there were the beginning of the mountain-range around Woll's place. This was very good news, as we are all heartily sick of this endless expanse of boggy marshland that surrounds us on both sides.
I had a look through the glasses and was shaken out of my wits to see a strange giant figure standing at the top of one of the distant hills, ludicrously out of proportion to it! It was naked, scaly and utterly repellent, like one of the Reptile Men only on a grand scale.
I was gibbering like a lunatic after seeing it, and even more so as I couldn't see it at all without the glasses, and Ransey couldn't even see it with them! I cam edown here and shut myself in to collect myself'".
"'Later. I have been racking my brains all afternoon to try and remember what the creature reminded me of, and at last it's come back to me. An old H P Lovecraft story, 'Dagon', about a race of reptilian sea-creatures he believed would one day take over the earth. This is silly! I'm going to have a brandy'".
"'Later again. Damnit, I haven't been able to get that creature out of my head. It was just so huge, and naturally I have a very animal, primeval fear of anything so much bigger than me.
Spent the early evening on deck. No sign of the giant creature. Hillyard did a bit of swimming in the river to cool off, but I don't think he enjoyed it much. He said he kept thinking something was behind him in the water. Not exactly the most reassuring thing I could hear at this time!
There is some kind of structure, a ruined archway, spanning the river a short way ahead of us. We have to go underneath it. This is actually marked on the map as an old river toll-house, but I think we can safely assume there's no one there now'".
"'13th May. Early afternoon. I was wrong. The old toll-house is a mere shadow of its former self, but it is inhabited, and by a bloody Ghoomer, don't you know! Naturally we were rather erring on the side of caution to meet him, but he actually seems quite harmless, and unusually for a Ghoomer, he lives there alone.
First impressions weren't too good though. He had shut the gates against us. Ransey (ever the diplomat!) was all for shooting him if he didn't let us through. I decided to try a more politic approach and asked him what he wanted. Mieps (such is his name) came aboard to greet us properly. He is of a slight build, and his eyes are remarkably like Freaky's, other than that though time hasn't been kind to him. He tells us he is aged 40, but he looks closer to my age. He is extremely reptilian in appearance, and is an hermaphrodite, although he tells us he worked hard to suppress his female side many years ago (why, we have yet to find out, I can only assume because he wanted to avoid Freaky's fate of being impregnated in a supposedly male-only world). He looks rather like Freaky's dissipated grandfather!
He is fond of punctuating his conversation with the words "we Ghoomers" but not in any bragging or threatening sense, more as a means to explain his strange race to us. He says he has lived alone here for many years. He left a Ghoomer settlement because he found it too gloomy and uncomfortable. Us three oldies of the family - Adam, Ransey and myself - find him quite fascinating from an anthropological point of view. This is the first time we have been able to talk to a Ghoomer in a civilised fashion. (Freaky hardly counts, as to hold a coherent conversation with him is like trying to knit smoke!). I fully admit this is an enthralling experience, rather like meeting a friendly extraterrestrial would have been in our time. Even his reptile looks can't disconcert me, although I'm not so stupid that it didn't cross my mind that there may be some connection between him and the giant I saw (or thought I saw) yesterday. He sensed my nervousness and said this is a strange area, and that is why he would be glad of company for a change. He has invited us into his house (more like a shack, it's built out of corrugated iron) for dinner. "You out-number greatly", he pointed out "I have more to fear from you than you have from me!"
He was apprehensive around Kieran, which was hardly surprising as Tinker Belle insisted on starting at him like a blue-eyed mesmerist. After a while he concluded that Mieps was "on the level". After this gracious benediction, Mieps opened the gates for us, and we guided the Indigo through it with poles.
There is one fly in the ointment, and I need hardly say what it is. Tamaz. To be fair it's not entirely his fault, as Mieps has decided he fancies Freaky with a vengeance. Ye Gods, the sight of an aroused Ghoomer is a truly awesome spectacle! Ghoomers, when they want something, usually just say "I want it" and they consider it done. I pointed out very firmly that Joby was Tamaz's keeper, and wouldn't take too kindly to Mieps staking his claim. Mieps looked startled at this. "But I can take the Ghoomer brat off your hands", he said. Not so long ago such words would have been music to my ears, but I've grown rather accustomed to having Freaky around (I know I'll live to regret this decision!), and Joby would undoubtedly turn into a broken, sobbing wreck if we abandoned his little darling here, so I had to stay firm.
I can see Mieps isn't going to give up the chase in a hurry though, and he stands watching Freaky whilst flicking his long tongue, and making lustful groans of despair. All this could just be tolerable, if Freaky didn't behave so outrageously in return. After calling Mieps a "hideous old worm" to his face, he then proceeded to behave like the total little trollop he is, grabbing his groin in a suggestive manner, and flicking his tongue saucily.
Adam apologised for Freaky's behaviour. Mieps protested that he was well-used to the ways of Ghoomers, being one himself, and that was why he would be able to cope with Tamaz so well. "I need a mate", he said "And he's so young and fresh and perfect. I could handle him. I'd beat him 3 times a day".
I like this hermaphrodite!'"
The dinner-party turned into an all-night session. Mieps' shack was like a dilapidated pawn-shop, full of worthless bits and pieces he had picked up on his travels before arriving at the toll-gates. He had set up his own smallholding there too, with chickens, pigs and goats, and was entirely self-sufficient. He even made his own wine, which he kept stored in small barrels, and which proved to be a welcome addition to the evening's festivities.
Kieran stayed quiet for most of the evening. He liked observing Mieps, but the Ghoomer found his gaze disconcerting and didn't like to meet it. Nonetheless though Kieran showed no signs of distrust, he was merely fascinated by this exclusive peek into a Ghoomer's private life.
Mieps was too busy lusting after Tamaz to want to go creating harm. Tamaz in return sat suggestively on his chair with his legs appart like a cello-player, greedily drinking wine. Mieps was getting increasingly hot and bothered, and Adam began to feel quite alarmed for him.
"Every creature on Earth needs a mate", Mieps spluttered.
"I appreciate your predicament, old love", said Adam "But Tamaz belongs with us. He was entrusted to our custody for his entire lifetime".
"But I'll make sure he doesn't cause any harm", said Mieps "I so rarely get to have visitors out here, and when we do I'll tie him to the table-leg".
"He'll be talking me round to the idea if he keeps this up", Julian muttered.
"It's hot in here", Tamaz boomed "Can I take my drawers off?"
"No you bloody well can't!" Joby roared.
Tamaz stuck out his tongue so far he could have wrapped it round his neck. Joby grabbed his arm and pulled him outside. Once out in Mieps' little back-yard, under the moonlight, Tamaz calmed down and even managed a placatory whimper.
"I'll tell you what I'm gonna do", said Joby, triumphantly "I'm gonna let Mieps have you".
"You can't!" Tamaz shrieked "You wouldn't dare!"
"It's the best solution", said Joby "As you won't behave".
"You can't leave me with that withered old snake", said Tamaz "He'll beat me".
"You should be used to that by now", said Joby.
"He'll make me work!" Tamaz continued, in despair.
Joby drew an exaggerated intake of breath.
"He'll impregnate me", said Tamaz "All the bloody time. They'll be popping out like hot potatoes. There'll be dozens of the slimy little lumps running around the place! What happened to all those promises you made me that you'd always look after me? You can't do this to me!"
"No, but it was a good joke wasn't it?!" said Joby "I really had you going there. Not often I get one over you!"
Tamaz gave an indignant squeal and leapt onto Joby's back, playfully beating him round the head.
"You two are worse than Bengo and Bardin", said Kieran, leaning against the door-frame with his cup of wine in his hand "You'd better calm down a wee bit, Tamaz. Julian's threatening to take the riding-crop to you".
"You can't let him do that!" Tamaz exclaimed.
"Of course I won't", said Kieran "I wouldn't let him beat my sweetheart".
"You're soft you are!" said Joby "He's been flirting with Mieps right in front of our noses all evening".
"I'm getting at that old snake that's all", said Tamaz "Daring to think he can have me. Ghoomers are disgusting when they get older. You humans age much better".
"That'll be you one day though", said Kieran, teasingly.
"I am different", said Tamaz, haughtily.
"Let's sit over here and look at the Moon", said Kieran, leading him over to the low wall which bordered Mieps' garden from the endless expanse of marshland around them "Joby, come and sit down too. You look worn-out".
"Is it any wonder, looking after him?" Joby pointed at Tamaz "He never lets up for a single moment".
"Then ignore him and let me take over for a while", said Kieran "It's peaceful here. Enjoy it. Think what it'd be like in our time, all that noise and mayhem. People everywhere, all looking miserable, the endless traffic ..."
"Daytime television", Joby grunted.
"Exactly", said Kieran "Think what a life you would have had if you hadn't crossed over. Tamaz may be a sore trial at times, but at least you're ..."
"Not a loser", said Joby "You don't have to tell me, I know. I just need to complain occasionally, that's all".
"I really think you need to calm down, old love", said Adam "Go and douse yourself in cold water perhaps".
"Good grief", said Julian, as Mieps agitatedly tapped on the wooden arm of his chair "Freaky's not even in the room at the moment and we're getting all this carry-on!"
"You don't understand", Mieps wailed, for the umpteenth time "We Ghoomers are a highly-passionate breed".
"Well we humans have our moments too", said Adam.
Mieps gave a snort of impatience.
"All that foreplay and kissing", he said, disparagingly "I've heard it said you even indulge in extended courtship and wooing".
"It depends", said Adam "Everybody mates, as you put it, differently".
"When we choose a mate we take it and stake our claim", said Mieps, fiercely.
"For the very last time", said Julian "You cannot have Tamaz as a mate".
"Hell's teeth!" Mieps got up and began to pace around the room "You can't possibly want him for yourselves, you have each other. I have no one. I am alone here".
"Adam's right", said Ransey, calmly slicing off another piece of cold chicken "Go and douse yourself".
Mieps left to go into the little shed that served as his bedroom-cum-kitchen.
"He really has got it bad", Adam sighed.
"Bloody Ghoomers don't know any restraint, that's the trouble", said Ransey.
"I'll play Devil's advocate", said Finia "And suggest we're standing in the way of the natural order of things".
"Oh Finia!" said Adam "Do you really want to see Tamaz tied to the table-leg and mercilessly flogged 3 times a day?"
"Don't answer that, Finia!" said Julian.
"I'm not really suggesting we leave Tamaz here", said Finia "I'm just pointing out that there's no way we can make Mieps happy, so I don't know why you're all fretting so much".
"Neither do I", said Ransey, censoriously "It won't do a Ghoomer any harm to be denied his desires for once".
Mieps wasn't one to be thwarted easily though. He had only had one lover before in his life. She had been a Ghoomer too, but with an advanced female side. Or rather it would be more truthful to say she had dressed like a woman and affected to be a woman, but was so sour, vindictive and spiteful it became hard to think of her as anything really. She had been short and very spindly in build, so spindly that it almost seemed as though bits of her threatened to break off at any moment.
He had got involved with her (in typically hasty Ghoomer fashion) before realising just how irretrievably malevolent she was. She had been possessed of the most extraordinary jet black hair and eyebrows, and twisted thick lips, and Mieps still recalled with a shudder how these could pierce into his soul with such a shocking effect. He had fled the Ghoomer colony to escape her, because he became convinced she was trying to kill him by the sheer negative power of her psychic force alone. Even now, all these years later, he could still picture her face, and the memory of it could still make him feel sick to his stomach.
Tamaz was different, as Tamaz himself had so rightly pointed out. He was wild and wilful, but Mieps was excited by the thought of breaking him in. He was desperate to have him.
Hearing voices returning across the back yard, he looked out through the small window above his sink. Tamaz was trailing along behind Kieran and Joby. Mieps knew if he could get his timing just right, he could stake his claim on Tamaz before the others fully realised what was going on.
He had got the length of rope over Tamaz, binding his arms close to his body, and pulled him into his bedroom, before the others were fully aware of the fact. By then he had pushed the bolt against them, and Joby was reduced to yelling "OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR!" from the other side of it.
"By the time they break in", Mieps said, winding the length of rope which now bound Tamaz's wrists round the railings of the bed "You will be mine. Our destinies are entwined".
"As soon as you take your clothes off I'll laugh at you, you vile old snake", Tamaz hissed "I bet you have breasts like a couple of withered bat's wings".
"You can't fight me every minute of the day, Tamaz", said Mieps, climbing onto the bed "You'll get tired of it, and you'll prefer your creature comforts instead. I know Ghoomer brats like you too well. You have no morals, all you want are the good things in life".
"Oh that is true", Tamaz idly stretched his arms back, or as well as he could with his hands bound above his head "But I can get that already".
Mieps jammed his hand between Tamaz's legs and kneaded his crotch.
"Name me one thing you can give me that they can't", said Tamaz "You can't! All you've got is your aged body and this pathetic tin-shed ..."
The door suddenly splintered away from its frame and Lonts stood on the threshold, looking triumphant.
"Don't panic, Tamaz", he cried "I've come to rescue you!"
Mieps got up wearily and began to loosen the rope from the railings.
"Ghoomer brats could survive anything", he said, not without admiration "You don't have to all look so threatening, I give in quietly, as all survivalists should when faced with impossible odds. I just wish I didn't have to give him up so soon".
"Come on", said Joby, finally freeing Tamaz from his shackles.
"Why aren't you upset for me?" said Tamaz, indignantly.
"Because you don't exactly look as though you've been suffering an ordeal!" said Joby.
"He could have assaulted me!" said Tamaz, storming over to Julian and stamping his foot "He could have impregnanted me, and then where would you be?!"
"Joby, take this creature out of my sight", said Julian "And try and get it into the little horror, that if he flirts this outrageously with anyone again, I'll beat him so soundly he won't be able to sit down for a week!"
"I bet bloody Glynis would get more sympathy if she'd been tied to a bedpost", said Tamaz, angrily.
"This way", said Joby, leading him outside.
"Please don't leave just yet", said Mieps to Julian "You have to understand ..."
"You were desperate", said Julian, wearily "But I don't understand how keeping Freaky around to torment you is going to help. However much I threaten him he's still not going to behave all the time".
"And the longer we stay here the more he'll drive you insane", said Adam.
"I don't care", said Mieps "Surely you know what it's like? Surely you've experienced this kind of passion yourself?"
"Yes but ..." Adam began, awkwardly "I don't see any hope of this getting resolved. We're not going to change our minds and leave Tamaz here with you".
"I want him", Mieps walked up to him, and Adam stared at the thick lines etched around his mouth "He was meant for me".
"I think we need to get some sleep", said Ransey "We're just going to keep going round the houses at this rate".
"I am treated like a worm!" Tamaz strode over to where the clowns wre sitting on a wall outside "That old snake ties me up and threatens to screw me, and I don't get a word of sympathy from anyone. Not a single bloody word!"
"That's not true, Tamaz", said Bengo "We just knew you could sort him out that's all".
"How could I sort him out when I was trussed up like a fucking chicken?" Tamaz squawked.
"You were pushing your luck with him all evening", said Bardin.
"Huh, don't be surprised if you don't get any sympathy from him", Bengo snorted, who had been arguing with Bardin about the finer points of a joke when Tamaz had come outside.
Joby trudged over slowly, looking like a man who'd been pegged out on a lawn and run over several times with a steam-roller.
"Hillyard said he was going home to make some tea", said Bengo, looking at him with concern.
"Good, I could do with a cup", said Joby, numbly.
"And then some sleep by the look of things", said Bardin.
"Yes", Joby spoke as though in a deep trance. He then walked away towards the Indigo.
"Poor old Joby", Bardin sighed "Looks as though you've finally worn him out, Tamaz. Be careful he doesn't change his mind about leaving you here. It must be a tempting offer at the moment!"
"You are tired, and I am tired", said Julian, sitting in his cabin "We could both do with a good morning's sleep, but I am not letting you go to bed without trying to get it through to you somehow, Tamaz, that you have to take part responsibility for what happened earlier. Whilst I do not condone Mieps' actions in the slightest ... are you listening to me?"
Tamaz had been surreptitiously glancing round the cabin for any sign of the infamous riding-crop.
"Yes", said Tamaz, distractedly.
"Whilst I do not condone Mieps' actions", Julian continued "You behaved very badly all evening. That sort of outrageous flirting is only acceptable if you fully intend to carry it through, and you had no such intention. I accept you are a brazen little trollop and there's nothing we can do about it, but even so I will not have you endangering yourself so recklessly. I do not enjoy sounding like your wicked father, but someone has to talk to you in this way. Ransey hasn't the experience or the emotional ability to sort you out. Your behaviour is even more inexcusable considering you are fully aware how lacking in restraint Ghoomers are".
"It was just a bit of fun", Tamaz shrugged "I knew even when he bolted the door that you lot could break in easily".
"Then don't expect sympathy from us!" Julian roared "You make the world's least likely trauma victim! If Joby was to come in here now and say 'take this bloody creature off my hands. Give him to Mieps', I wouldn't hesitate for one moment. In fact I'd pack your bloody frilly drawers myself!"
"No you wouldn't", said Tamaz "You'd miss me around here ... wouldn't you? I do try to behave".
Julian gave him an incredulous stare.
"I do", Tamaz insisted "But I'm a Ghoomer too, and it's as hard for me to restrain myself sometimes, as it is for Mieps. I see a victim and I want to toy with him, like a cat with a bird. I can't help myself".
"Is it safe to come in yet?" said Adam, edging round the door "Your tea's going cold, Tamaz".
"Go on, get out of here, Freaky", Julian sighed, wearily "At least whilst you're asleep you can't cause any harm, I hope".
"I'll see you later", said Tamaz, sheepishly.
"Yes, I expect you will", said Julian.
"I wasn't expecting to find him still in one piece", said Adam, after Tamaz had left the room.
"He reminds me of me so much sometimes I find it quite uncomfortable", said Julian.
"Yes, you did use to behave just as badly at his age", said Adam "It must be like coming face-to-face with yourself".
"Alright, don't push it", said Julian "My acts of contrition only go so far. I leave the full-out penances to Tinker Belle. What are you doing in here anyway? I thought you'd be slumbering in your bottom bunk by now".
"I just wanted to check that Freaky hadn't given you a heart-attack", said Adam.
"Not yet", said Julian, wryly "But he's working on it!"
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