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By Sarah Hapgood

Before breakfast Kieran summoned the senior monks to his room and requested that they bless the upstairs corridors, paying particular attention to the doorways of all the bedrooms that were occupied. He was annoyed and embarrassed to find that he couldn't talk to them without weeping. It was simply a nervous reaction he had no control over, like a bad attack of hiccups, but he was infuriated by it nonetheless.

Adam went down to the Service Wing to say farewell to the cook, and was amazed that none of the other servants wanted to leave after the previous night's events! This was for two reasons, one, because some of them had absolutely nowhere else to go, the house had been their home for most of their lives, and two, the others simply felt they'd rather put up with demons and poltergeists than stay with their family and relatives on the estate!

"We look forward to welcoming you back in the near future", said Adam, with great feeling, as the cook tearfully departed, carrying a box containing her own personal cooking utensils.

Adam had little time for mulling over the previous night's events himself, as the kitchen awaited. Not only was there a terrifying number of people to cook for in this house, but the Christmas baking was only halfway through completion.

"I don't know where to start", he said, standing in the larder with Glynis, and surveying the massed ranks of un-iced cakes "This isn't my league at all. I'm a tug-boat chef! Good, plain food".

"I'll take over the Christmas stuff", said Glynis "It's all fairly straightforward really, just a case of finishing off, and I'll prepare any pastry you need for today".

"That will be a help", said Adam "Joby always resolutely refuses to do anything like that, which is very tiresome of him".

"He can do the vegetables in that case", Glynis smiled "Serve him right too!"

Meanwhile, Julian had organised a work-gang comprising of Lonts, the clowns, Mieps, Hillyard and Tamaz, to go to the forest on a tree-felling expedition. For a few days now the maids had been talking about how much they looked forward every year to decorating the Christmas trees, and Hillyard suggested it might be an idea to get them started on this, in order to take their minds off the haunting. Three trees were needed. A large one for the Great Hall, and two smaller ones for the library and servants' hall respectively.

"Why aren't you helping, Freaky?" said Julian, on noticing Tamaz sitting on the box of the largest horse-drawn wagon.

"Because I'm a girl", said Tamaz, haughtily.

"Pah!" said Julian, and he lifted Tamaz off the box and set him, hissing and spitting indignantly, on the ground.

"My period is due!" Tamaz shrieked.

"And I suppose it was too much trouble for you to tell us that before you came out here with us!" said Julian.

"I didn't want to miss the outing", said Tamaz, sniffily "I didn't want to be left behind with Helene The Halfwit and all the other female bozo's".

"If you weren't in a delicate condition I'd kick you in the pants", said Julian, smiling affectionately "Anyway, you'd still be better to keep moving around. It's far too cold to sit still out here".

The trees were loaded onto the two horse-drawn carts, and they rumbled back through the forest, in the blue-tinted half-light which was increasingly passing for daylight now. The house, as they neared it, resembled some huge beached whale, with its occupants moving through its belly. Back inside once more, Lonts ran into the kitchen, shedding his outdoor clothes as he went.

"Hello Joby, it's me", he announced.

"I would never have known if you hadn't said!" said Joby, who was sitting at the table, peeling vast quantities of potatoes.

Lonts collected Snowy from the dresser.

"He's been in the bloody way too", said Joby.

"Oh Joby, you're not being very Christmassy", said Lonts.

"It's hard to feel Christmassy when you've been peeling 3,000,000 sodding potatoes!" said Joby.

"Good afternoon, staff", said Julian "I trust something special is on the menu tonight?"

Adam hadn't heard him come in at first. He was too busy cutting and moulding pastry pots, whilst singing 'On The Street Where You Live' to himself.

"Mushroom compote", he said, on finally noticing that Julian was at large in the kitchen.

"That sounds suspiciously vegetarian", said Julian "Is Tinker Belle in charge of menu-planning these days?!"

"It has 3 different types of mushroom in it", said Glynis, rolling pastry on the other side of the table.

"Anything else, or just mushrooms?" said Julian.

"A bit of onion too, actually", said Adam, defensively.

"Oh whoopee", said Julian.

"I'll put these in the oven now, Adam", said Simeon, who was carrying a tray of sponge puddings encased in small, individual moulds.

"O.K, try to remember not to put the tea-towel in as well this time, Simeon", said Adam.

"What's he doing in here?" said Julian, looking at Simeon with unbridled horror.

"He likes making puddings", Adam sighed.

"Maybe, but he's not safe to be in here!" said Julian.

"See you in a little while my darlings", Simeon cooed, slamming the oven door.

"He loves doing puddings, it gets him very excited", said Adam.

"We can't afford to get him very excited!" said Julian "We have enough problems on our hands without that!"

Adam tried to look disapproving but couldn't, and in fact had to try and stifle an insane urge to giggle.

"Don't do this to me", he whispered, moving away to the draining-board on the pretext of blowing his nose "Glynis will report me to Codlik! She's picked up some of his bad habits. She's even got Codlik's little pursed lips expression these days. We had the full force of it earlier because Joby told his train-driver joke".

"You've got to be completely devoid of a sense of humour not to enjoy that one!" said Julian.

"One mustn't make jokes about train de-railment", said Adam, in a mock-sombre voice.

"Good grief", said Julian "Merciful relief we haven't got any crackers for the table this year, or we'd have to vet all the jokes first!"

Kieran had spent most of the day with the monks, either watching them perform the blessing upstairs, or listening to one of the novices, who wanted to tell him (in great detail) about how he had finally found his way to God. What he had to say wasn't uninteresting, but he had such an incredibly soft and soporific voice that Kieran found himself pinching the backs of his legs to try and stay awake.

At sunset (around 2:30 in the afternoon) he escaped to the Great Hall to watch the mayhem involved in getting the big tree set up, a task that wasn't helped in any way by Codlik and Ransey both trying to assume command of the operation. Hillyard walked over and joined Kieran, who was sitting on the stairs.

"You look a bit washed-out", said Hillyard, sitting down next to him.

"Just an excess of earnest conversation", said Kieran.

"Why don't I help you unwind?" said Hillyard, caressing his back gently.

"Hillyard, that's your answer to everything!" said Kieran.

"I can't think of a better one", said Hillyard.

"You have a glittering career in politics ahead of you, that's for sure", said Kieran "You have entirely the right attitude!"

"That's not what Codlik says", said Hillyard, ruefully.

"Ach what does he know!" said Kieran "He's only an ex-President!"

"So how about it then?" said Hillyard.

"I'm going to have to pass, I'm afraid", said Kieran "Joby's brassed off enough with me at the moment for inviting Mieps into our room. I daren't give him anymore cause for complaint".

Kieran noticed that Joby had appeared in the hall below. He was standing with his hands tucked into the big of his apron, watching the tree going up. He looked up at Kieran, but ignored him when Kieran waved him over.

"Grumpy little sod", said Kieran, and then yelled "COME HERE!"

Joby looked furious, but came over anyway.

"Did you have to do that?" he snapped "It was completely embarrassing".

"I'll give you embarrassing!" said Kieran "I haven't seen you all day and then when I do you give me a look to curdle the milk!"

"I'm still fucking angry with you that's why", said Joby "And before you say anything it's got nothing to do with Mieps".

"What then?" said Hillyard, with abject curiosity.

"All that mayhem last night, right?" said Joby "The Great Saviour Of Mankind here only decided he wanted to go out and confront that fucking Thing head-on! I had to practically sit on him to keep him in the room!"

"Chances are if I'd gone out there I wouldn't have seen anything", said Kieran.

"You can't be sure of that", said Hillyard "From what I've heard a few of the monks got attacked by it at the monastery, were spat on and bruised. You don't want to encourage it anymore than we have to".

"That's if it is their poltergeist", said Joby "It could be this mountain spirit that tears people to pieces. At the moment we don't know what's at large in this house, or the power of it, and until we do we don't get near it unless it's necessary, and at the moment I don't see that it is. Anyway, I've gotta get back to the kitchen. Adam only gave me a few minutes break, and he'll nag me like hell if I'm too long".

"Joby, now hang on", said Kieran, standing up and following him down the stairs "I'll walk you back".

"Oh lucky me", said Joby "Will I get a kiss at the front door?!"

"Joby, wake up, old love", Adam nudged him gently.

Joby came round to find himself slouched in the cook's rocking-chair by the kitchen fire. The kitchen was the quietest it had been all day, with only the sound of the coal clunking in the grate.

"What time is it?" he asked, groggily.

"Just gone half-past seven", said Adam.

"In the evening?" said Joby.

"Well you haven't been here all night", Adam smiled.

"You can't tell at this time of year", Joby leaned forward and rubbed his eyes.

They were the only two left in the kitchen. The dinner-plates had been washed and left stacked on the table, and the tea-towels were hanging from the laundry-rack.

"I don't think I'm up to this", said Joby "Not day-in day-out. Peeling spuds and making sandwiches all day, and being kept awake by demons all night!"

"Tomorrow should be easier", said Adam "You won't have to do any peeling. We're going to have potatoes in their jackets instead".

"Why couldn't we have had 'em today as well?" Joby exclaimed.

"Because I thought boiled potatoes would go better with the mushroom compote", said Adam.

"How did it go down in the end?" said Joby.

"The plates all came back clean", said Adam "So they must have enjoyed it, either that or they've been chucking it to the dogs behind our backs!"

"Ad, look", Joby whispered, and pointed in the direction of the doorway which led into the corridor.

The doorway was standing slightly ajar, and a black dense mass had formed in the gap, spreading itself in a wispy tentacle over the whitewash of the wall next to it. Adam pulled the meat-cleaver out of the knife-rack and ran nimbly across the room, hurling the cleaver into the wall. The shape evaporated instantly. Both he and Joby stood staring at the doorway where it had been.

"I-I don't know what I thought I was trying to achieve!" said Adam, collecting himself eventually "Hurling meat-cleavers about!"

"Yeah, you haven't done the paintwork a lot of good", said Joby, pulling the cleaver out of the wall and shutting it away in a drawer of the dresser.

"It needs re-doing anyway", Adam sighed, and slumped against the dresser, running his hands through his hair. He noticed that Joby was getting quietly emotional, and pulled him into a hug.

"Oh Christ, look at me", Joby sniffed "I'm such a fucking wimp sometimes".

"Nonsense", said Adam "Actually I quite enjoyed hurling the cleaver into the wall. Made me feel charged-up. Reminded me of the old days when I was your heroic leader. Before Julian came back on the scene and reduced me to being his hand-maiden instead".

"If it's any comfort I still think you're more terrifying than he is", said Joby, wiping his face on the hem of his apron.

"Jules never scares you?" said Adam.

"Nah, he's just a grumpy old aristo", said Joby "We jump when he barks only 'cos it makes for a quiet life".

"Yes, one gets used to doing that with Jules", Adam laughed.

"But what you see with him is what you get", said Joby "There are no dark depths".

"He's just a vulnerable, insecure little boy deep down", said Adam "Wants everyone to love him and take notice of him".

"Whereas you ... !" said Joby.

"I'm a psychopath, yes I know", said Adam, shortly "A terrifying ogre, a brutal sadist. That must be why everyone treats me as though I was the poor old Countess Rostov in her bewildered, twilight years!"

"Well you've always scared me and Kieran", said Joby.

"And thank goodness too!" said Adam "Come along, I'll help you take off your pinny, and then let's go and find the others".

When they got to the library Joby was relieved to find Kieran playing billiards with Bengo and Bardin. He realised how much time lately Kieran had spent in some Godforsaken part of the house performing shamanistic rituals, and he also realised how Kieran's constant absences both irritated and worried him.

Lonts and Toppy were supposed to be decorating the library tree, but were more intent on festooning Lilli and Drusica with tinsel. Tamaz had been regally installed on the sofa by the fire with blankets and cushions, and was now methodically eating his way through a tin of chocolates.

"Tamaz!" said Joby, when he saw just how many he had consumed "You'll make yourself ill".

"I am treated like a worm!" said Tamaz, when Joby took the tin away from him.

"A very spoilt little worm", said Adam, fondly, as he collected the numerous empty sweet wrappings from the floor and transferred them to the fire.

"What exactly is the matter with him?" said Glynis, coming through from the Yellow Salon.

"He's having his period, poor love", said Adam.

"Such a fuss!" said Glynis "We women have one every month and we don't make the fuss he does. Must be because he's half-man!"

"Joby, come and join us in a game", said Kieran, unnerved by the look of total disgust Joby was giving Glynis "You and me take on the clowns".

"Sure", said Joby, turning away from Glynis with relief "Clear the scoreboard".

"He reminds me of women who make a lot of fuss about pregnancy", said Glynis "And childbirth. The sort who groan and scream all the way through their labour".

"From what I've heard about childbirth I'm not surprised!" said Adam.

Glynis, normally a nice, amiable woman with everyone else, turned into the queen of the catty remarks when around Tamaz. She knew this wasn't an attractive trait and tried her best to combat it, but everytime she saw Tamaz or heard his name mentioned, one thought only went through her mind: "Joby prefers that creature to me".

Adam could see that she might get unbearable this evening if she wasn't checked, so he manoeuvred her out of earshot of Tamaz.

"Now listen Glynis", he said, standing by the bookshelves with her "One thing I cannot abide is people mouthing off about things they know nothing about. To the best of my knowledge you have never been pregnant or had a baby, whereas Tamaz has had six".

"Six?" said Glynis, shocked "I thought it was four".

"He had a litter of six", said Adam "Two were stillborn".

"I never knew", Glynis gasped "He must have been so uncomfortable, a stomach full of 6 babies!"

"He had trouble moving during the last few weeks from what I can gather", said Adam "He was kept propped up on cushions all the time. All that done against his will, with not a genuinely compassionate face in sight, just a lot of dreary Ministry men, who treated him as though he was a prize heifer. And all at the tender age of 15. All down to us too, it was our idea".

"You thought you were doing it for the best at the time", said Glynis "But I suppose that's why you spoil him now?"

"I won't deny he is very spoilt", said Adam "But to be fair he has to put up with a lot too. I know the words 'Tamaz' and 'longsuffering' don't automatically go together, but he is a good sport. He puts up with an awful lot from us".

"There's something I want to tell you", said Glynis "But you must promise me not to mention it to anyone else, not even Lonts or Julian".

"I'm completely fascinated", said Adam "Go ahead".

"I think I might be pregnant", said Glynis.

"But that's wonderful!" said Adam "Why have I got to keep it a secret though?"

"Because I'm not entirely certain, and I don't want everyone to know until I'm absolutely sure", said Glynis "I've missed one period, and the next is late, but they've been a bit erratic the last few months anyway, because of the diet I was on. But somehow I feel I might be. The thing is, I haven't even told Codlik yet. I don't want to raise his hopes too soon, I know how much he'd like a family".

"A dynasty of Codliks, heaven preserve us!" Adam giggled.

"Promise you won't say anything yet?" said Glynis "I'd hate him to hear it from anyone else first".

"Of course", said Adam "It's going to be difficult, but I promise".

Soon after, Bertha announced that coffee was being served in the hall. Glynis fetched a cup for Tamaz and brought it to the sofa for him.

"I've put some little marshmallows on the top", said Glynis, handing it to him.

"Thanks", said Tamaz, looking at her in complete and utter confusion.

"I know we can put past differences behind us", said Glynis.

Tamaz shrugged, indifferently. All he wanted from Glynis was that she should go home soon!

"We are going to be close friends in the future", said Glynis, with painful sincerity "Perhaps even like sisters".

Tamaz, who didn't feel remotely like anyone's sister, spluttered in his coffee.

"I've got enough friends already, thanks", he growled.

Glynis hadn't caught Codlik's missionary zeal for nothing though. She patted Tamaz's hand, as though she knew better.

The haunting continued that night, and Glynis suffered the worst of it. She had awoken in the small hours to hear a child crying from somewhere in the depths of the house. At first she thought nothing of it, children often cry after a nightmare or simply through being afraid of the dark, and she assumed its mother would soon be attending to it, but then she remembered there were no children in the house at all. The youngest member of staff was Sherilyn, the scullery-maid, and she was 14!

Even after the crying died away, Glynis was agitated and disturbed. She got up and paced the room, and Codlik could only coax her back into bed with difficulty. He had barely got her settled again, when the most horrendous hammering broke out on their bedroom door. It lasted for only a few seconds, but felt more like hours. It died away eventually, but poor Glynis by now was in a terrible state, and Codlik, who was feeling pretty shaken himself, spent the next few hours trying to soothe her.

"I'm pretty certain that whatever it is can't physically harm us", he said, even though he knew he wasn't really certain of any such thing "They're just noises".

"Like the child crying was just a noise?" said Glynis, emotionally.

"Yes, it seems to have a way of being able to pick noises that intimidate us or upset us the most", said Codlik "All we can do is to try and sit it out. I'm sure if it could harm us it would have done so by now".

"So it's a war of nerves?" Glynis muttered.

"I think so", said Codlik "And at the moment it has an advantage over us because we don't know exactly what it is. It has the element of surprise on its side".

"And the fact that we're its captives", said Glynis.

In the morning Codlik sent one of the stewards down to the village to fetch the local doctor, feeling that Glynis needed a sedative of some kind. Whilst he was attending to this, Kieran came and sat with her.

"I know what's wrong with you really", he smiled "You're going to have a baby".

"Adam told you?" said Glynis, in dismay "But he promised!"

"No he didn't tell me", said Kieran "I didn't even know you'd told him".

"Then how?" said Glynis.

"It's a little gift I have", said Kieran "I've been able to do it for as long as I can remember. I used to embarrass me Mam like hell when I was a kid. I could often tell her friends were pregnant before they knew themselves!"

"So it is definite that I am then?" said Glynis, hopefully.

"Yep", said Kieran "And I think you'd better tell Codlik before I go and accidentally give the game away".

"I'll tell him when he comes back up", said Glynis "And you might as well tell the others too. There's no point in keeping it a secret, and that Thing knows too. I'm sure that's why I heard the child crying in the night. It knew that would distress me".

"I'd hang fire on that theory for a wee while", said Kieran "I think if you heard a child crying then that means there's a child at the centre of this haunting somehow. Perhaps it must means that in your condition you were able to tune into it better than the rest of us".

"Unfortunately", said Glynis.

Glynis's pregnancy turned out to be one of the weirdest open secrets. A lot of people seemed to have already guessed, but had, for various reasons, kept quiet about it. Tamaz startled Mieps by telling him he'd known for some time, had sensed it, like Kieran.

"I'm surprised you didn't go blabbing to everyone", said Mieps.

"No way", said Tamaz "I know what a performance there'd be when everyone heard, as if no one had ever been pregnant before! I wasn't in any hurry to start that circus up!"

Mieps, who'd heard from the others the details of Tamaz's own cold and hideously businesslike pregnancy, felt a rare pang of tenderness in his heart. So much so that he offered to look after Tamaz whilst he was laid up in bed with his period. He was beginning to understand why the others wanted to love this fiery Ghoomer brat, and not simply treat him like the wild insensitive little beast Mieps had originally classified him as.

By far the biggest shock occurred though when Kieran broke it to the other Indigo-ites in the dining-room. Both Hillyard and Ransey had known for some time, almost as long as Glynis had suspected it herself.

"I think it's mine that's why", said Hillyard.

"Yours?!" Julian squawked "Is there anywhere you won't stick it in?!"

"I hope it wasn't against Glynis's will?" said Adam.

"Of course it wasn't!" said Hillyard "What do you take me for, an insensitive sex monster?!"

"W-e-e-ll ..." Adam began.

"It happened in the stables one evening after we'd been out with the horses", said Hillyard "Not long after she first came here. We both just felt like it. I don't think she was getting much from Codlik".

"Which hardly comes as a surprise", said Kieran.

"In the stables", Julian sneered "How utterly lacking in style".

"Don't try it on, Jules", Adam sighed "I can think of far more unsavoury places where you've been at it in your time!"

"Not with a woman", said Julian.

"Oh well that's alright then!" said Ransey, dryly.

"What I meant was that I thought women had higher standards than us", said Julian.

"Oh Jules, you're so sweet, innocent and old-fashioned sometimes", Adam giggled.

"Shouldn't you get back to the kitchen, Ada?" Julian snapped "Joby might have burnt it down by now".

"You'd better tell him the news too", said Kieran.

"This is going to cause untold problems", said Julian "What if Codlik finds out? That could be the end of their marriage!"

"I doubt it", said Hillyard "He wants a family too much, and I think he loves Glynis very much as well".

"Not enough to put up with her fornicating in the stables with every Tom, Dick and Harry!" said Julian.

"It happened just the once, and I'm an old friend, not just anybody", said Hillyard.

"Even so ..." said Adam, uneasily.

"Look, I think he'll be alright about it", said Hillyard "You know what he's like, tries to be as broad-minded and liberal as possible".

"Even so ..." said Adam, again.

"And I'm not Joby", said Hillyard "It's Joby he's paranoid about. He'd rather she went with an entire football team than with Joby! He knows he's got nothing to fear from me, and I might even be able to do him a good turn".

"Why, are you going to have him next?!" said Julian, waspishly.

"Ransey's helped me make out my will", said Hillyard "Except I'm not going to wait until I die before it comes into effect. When we finally leave here, in the spring or whenever, I'm going to sign the house and the estate over to Codlik and Glynis".

"And to any descendents they may have", said Ransey.

"So I think that might cushion the blow for Codlik if he finds out", said Hillyard "Woll always wanted this to be a family home, but we're not the family for it. We're too uncivilised, not used to living in a house anymore".

"Too gypsy", said Adam, romantically.

"Quite", said Hillyard "And so I think somehow they might be more at ease here than we are".

"I can't stand it anymore!" Joby yelled, storming into the larder "You've been nagging and having a go at me since 7 o'clock this morning, from the very minute I got down here".

"You were late that's why", said Adam "Eight minutes late to be precise, when I distinctly remember the very last thing I said to you last night was that I wanted you here on the stroke of 7".

"I left my room at 7", said Joby "It's just that it took me 8 minutes to get down here, and that was even with me running all the way! You won't give a guy a break will you! I was 8 minutes late so I've gotta be punished for the rest of the day! I notice Toppy gets allowed a break. Oh yes! He's allowed into the garden for a few minutes, but not me. All I wanna do is take Tamaz's lunch-tray up to him".

"If I let you go up there you'll be gone for the rest of the afternoon", said Adam "And I can't afford to lose you".

"Well you're gonna have to lose me", said Joby, fumbling with his apron-strings, but without much success "I resign. Find yourself a new cook's assistant".

"Joby!" said Adam, sternly.

"I'm not listening", said Joby, still not having managed to untie his apron-strings.

"I'm sorry if I've been going on", said Adam "I get carried away, you should be used to me by now. Please don't resign, I need you. Not only that but Jules would scold me mercilessly if you left, you know what he's like. I'd still be hearing about it at Easter! You can take Tamaz's tray up, if you promise not to be too long. You have to learn to trust Mieps anyway".

"I don't see why I should", said Joby.

"Because he cares about Tamaz", said Adam "And he can hardly get into his bloomers at the moment can he! Freaky's in purdah".

"Alright", said Joby, grudgingly.

They returned to the kitchen, where Sherilyn was lethargically washing-up tea-cups in the sink. Through the window, out in the snow-covered kitchen garden, Lonts was putting Toppy into the swing as though he was Snowy. Toppy sat there very seriously whilst Lonts went round the back of him and began to push, with a very earnest and solemn expression on his face.

"What a pair they are!" said Joby.

"I know, they're awfully sweet", said Adam "And they've been getting on so since I had them both in with me. They've hardly squabbled at all. They put Jules and me to shame".

"And me and Kieran come to that", said Joby.

"Toppy's even started shaving Lo-Lo", Adam laughed "Lo-Lo stands in the middle of the room, and Toppy stands on a little stool to do it".

"We're gonna have to call 'em Pinky and Perky at this rate!" said Joby.

Joby got to his room, buckling under the lunch-tray, and kicked at the heavy wooden church-like door. Mieps opened it and let him in.

"How's he been this morning?" Joby asked, nodding at Tamaz, who was sitting up in bed.

"Very bad-tempered", said Mieps.

"Oh you poor sod", said Joby.

"What do you expect when I've got what feels like a length of carpet between my legs?!" Tamaz shrieked.

Joby set Mieps's dinner out on a side table, and then took the tray over to the bed.

"What is it?" Tamaz snapped.

"Poached eggs on toast, followed by treacle sponge pudding", said Joby, setting the tray on his knees.

"What kind of a lunch is that?!" said Tamaz.

"Alright, don't have it then", Joby went to take the tray away, but Tamaz stalled him.

"I bet bloody Glynis is getting more than this", said Tamaz.

"She's had exactly the same as you", said Joby.

"I notice you took hers up first", said Tamaz, accusingly.

"Codlik came down and fetched hers actually", said Joby "God, I can tell your female side is to the fore at the moment! Just get it down you, and preferably not all over your pyjama jacket. I don't know when it'd get washed again, the laundry seem to be on a go-slow at the moment".

"I'd better do his bloomers myself then", said Mieps.

"Has he had a leak?" said Joby.

"'Fraid so", said Mieps "Quite a bad one".

"Are you sure you wanna do 'em?" said Joby.

"Nothing new to me", said Mieps "I used to do my own".

Joby thought of what his dreadful mother's reaction would have been if she'd been asked to wash out someone else's menstrual stains, and felt something akin to awe regarding Mieps.

"How did you manage before?" Mieps asked.

"We took it in turns", said Joby "I washed 'em, or Kieran, or Adam. He says it's no worse than washing Lonts's nappies".

"You're quite some guys, you lot", said Mieps.

"Are we?" said Joby "I wish you could tell all our critics that!"

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