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By Sarah Hapgood

They arrived at the Village of Stairs very late one evening, so late that the normally bustling harbour was relatively quiet. As soon as they anchored they went to bed, too tired to fully take in what it meant to be back here again after all these years.

News of their arrival had spread like wildfire though. This was completely unexpected, as the Indigo-ites had thought the sloop would preserve their anonymity for a while. Unbeknown to them though, their new ship had been well-publicised, particularly after the tragic burning of the original Indigo.

At dawn a horde of young men clambered aboard the sloop, and joyously stormed into the cabin, startling them all out of a deep slumber. Julian was furious and chased them all out with his horse-whip. The young lads were all thoroughly excited by the sight of his huge cock and left whooping with pleasure.

The entire day that followed was equally frantic and mad. In the midst of it all they had been concerned about Tamaz. No one knew how the people of the Stairs would greet him. The hatred against him the night of President Gorth's death was still uncomfortably remembered by some of the other Indigo-ites, and the theatre in particular would be bound to bring back bad memories of this. On his previous visit to the Stairs, when he and Joby had taken Levka to his new home, Kieran had noted that the animosity to Tamaz had died down somewhat, but he had still been greeted with puzzled disbelief as to why he wanted to live with "that murdering freak".

This was where in recent times though Levka had actually done a great deal of good. His new neighbours were always badgering him for tales and anecdotes of his time on Woll's estate, particularly the bizarre autumn and winter that he had spent there with Kieran and his family. Levka was a compulsively honest man, and he found he had nothing bad to say about Tamaz. In all, he remembered Tamaz as a rather high-spirited creature, but essentially harmless. Someone who was even at times unforgettably beautiful, particularly by firelight, which suited his red-gold colouring. The idea of Tamaz, that evil peculiar-looking half-Ghoomer freak, being either beautiful or harmless, was a new one on the Stairs people, and took some taking in. But take it in they did. Eventually. Levka also pointed out that it wasn't true, as some of Kieran's detractors had put about, that Tamaz still did exactly as he wanted and had everyone on a piece of string. In fact, Levka pointed out, this wasn't true at all, and that Tamaz was disciplined quite severely at times if he did wrong.

So, by the time the Indigo MKII arrived in the Village of Stairs, the locals' animosity towards Tamaz had given way to frank curiosity. Was it really possible for a demonic hermaphrodite, a spawn of the Gorgon no less, to reform, to be tamed by Love?

Tamaz himself was terrified at the thought of meeting the people of the Stairs for the first time. He refused to go ashore, and Kieran ended up chasing him round the cabin in an attempt to get him to join them.

"I'm not going out there!" Tamaz squealed, and he jumped into the large laundry basket, pulling the lid down over him.

Kieran opened it again, and jumped in after him.

"What are you up to?" said Joby, lifting the lid on them a few minutes later.

"Tamaz is playing silly buggers", said Kieran "He wants us to leave him here. But we won't. We want him with us".

Lonts came in, and once appraised of the situation, began to sternly bark sense at Tamaz.

"I won't let anyone harm you", he said, standing there clutching Snowy by his foot "You should know that, Tamaz. And you can't stay here alone, so you must come ashore with us. That is my last word on the subject".

"We hope!" said Joby.

Lonts made a very good bodyguard. Wherever they went that day he kept a firm grip on Tamaz, and effectively repelled anyone from pushing too close. They all spent the afternoon at the hospital, where Mieps had reluctantly agreed to be prodded about by a doctor, in order to try and cure his lumbago. This fairly innocuous appointment turned into an historical meeting for the medics. They had never had a fully-fledged Ghoomer on their hands before, and Mieps was possibly the last of his kind. Even Tamaz was half-human, whereas Mieps was the genuine article.

What had started out as an appointment for backache, turned into an examination reminiscent of the Elephant Man being scrutinised by the colleagues of Dr Treves. Doctors crowded into the room at the hospital to look over this astonishing creature. Mieps bore it all for some time, allowing himself to be inspected and turned about, but then he suddenly annoucned "I've had enough, Hillyard can just massage me in future", and walked out. The others felt they could hardly blame him.

That evening they went to the Cabaret of Horrors to see Ully, but were informed that he was "under the weather". Sadly, this was only too truthfully translated as "drunk", and they went round to the front of house to see the show instead. Although playing to a packed house, this show was a miserable affair. Ully's drink problem was now so acute that his direction and management was non-existent, and the performers were wretchedly demoralised.

Bengo and Bardin were embarrassed that their friends were seeing their old stamping-ground and childhood home in such a bad light, and they decided to take over the late evening show, which was regarded as the most important one of the day. Bardin quickly resurrected some of the hoary old tricks he remembered from years ago.

Just before the show he sent a stage-hand out to the front of the building with a bucket of fake blood, which he poured conspicuously down a drain, whilst the punters queuing at the box-office looked on with horror. This was a publicity stunt as old as the hills, but it worked.

Meanwhile, an aged magician was bribed out of retirement (Hillyard's money came in very useful when putting on a show at such short notice), and he revived his most bloodthirsty act. This involved sawing a young assistant in half with a giant mill-saw, amidst great, violent splashings and squelchings of fake blood. A stomach-churning routine, and immensely popular with the punters.

Bengo and Bardin revived one of their own routines from the old days and performed it during the second-half. This was a squeamish little number involving live rats, which fully showcased Bardin's comic virtuosity. He had to keep up a rapid-fire commentary on how to love and care for rats all the way through it, whilst the rats crawled over them both. Bengo wasn't required to say anything. He simply had to sit there and look his most deliciously innocent, bewildered and beguiling self. This was a horrid act to perform (pretty unsettling to watch too!), and both had hoped never to have to do it again. A fact which didn't show up at all on stage, as the two of them pulled it off with aplomb.

The Indigo-ites were impressed and proud of them. Adam was waiting backstage, and Bengo ran into his arms like a small child who had been bullied in the school playground.

"Don't let that lunatic talk me into it again!" he cried.

"You were wonderful", said Adam "You looked so sweet out there, I could have eaten you up".

"I swear one of those little bastards has bitten me", said Bardin, yanking down his trousers and trying to examine his own backside "Can you see any teethmarks?"

"Yeah, your rectum's got big nip-marks on it!" said Ransey, coming towards them "You'll probably get rabies!"

"Serve you fucking well right!" Bengo hollered at Bardin "We can't let the show down, you said. Well it can fold tomorrow night for all I care!"

"No worries", said Bardin "That was our swansong. I just wanted to show the others what we were capable of".

"Yeah, insanity!" said Ransey.

Adam got out a little torch which he carried in his pocket, along with other useful odds and ends. He crouched down and examined Bardin's private parts.

"You look fine", he said "Anyway, you've had a tetanus jab so you've got nothing to worry about".

"Rat bites carry plague", said Ransey, smugly.

"Then we'll all die!" said Adam, testily "Oh dear how sad, never mind!"

A clown clad entirely in stiff black leather, which restricted his movements to robot-like jerks, came backstage carrying a basket of pink roses.

"An admirer sent these round for Bengo", he said "Quite like old times. He must be keen, he's even had them all de-thorned!"

"Bloody marvellous!" Bardin rasped, pulling his trousers back up "I'm the one who does all the graft, and he gets all the attention! 'Oh dook at Bengo, idn't he dweet!'"

"Don't start again!" Bengo cried, pulling the roses out of the basket and hurling them at Bardin like grenades.

Adam roared at them to behave, but when they refused he pulled a large net off a heap of props and chucked it over them, leaving them both thoroughly enmeshed. Lonts and Tamaz appeared at this moment. Lonts guffawed with laughter, and Tamaz, who had got fed up with being hauled around all day by his hand, gave a much-needed yodel.

The clowns fought their way free eventually, helped by Lonts, who grabbed Bengo by the ankle and then deftly lifted him up into the air, holding him dangling, Bengo's long hair brushing the floor.

Whilst all this had been going on Ully had been in his dressing-room, desperately trying to sober up. He had been informed of the Indigo-ites' arrival and the evening's events, and had wanted to see them all badly, but his intoxication had been at that frighteningly helpless stage, where even with the best will in the world, the simplest tasks are insurmountable. By late evening he had, with the help of his personal dresser, at least got about as close to sobriety as he would ever manage.

He got backstage in time to see Lonts holding Bengo by his ankle and roared with laughter for the first time in an age.

"Adam, I wish there was a way I could recruit that boy from you", he said, surreptitiously straightening his wig.

"Lo-Lo's beyond price", said Adam, kissing Ully on both cheeks "It is good to see you, old love".

"You look so fine", said Ully "You must be a sorceror".

He enviously looked at Adam's hair, which was bleached platinum by the sunshine, his deep tan, and his nipple-rings visible under his shirt, which were this evening joined by a silver chain hanging between them.

"No, just off the booze for many years", said Adam, whispering in his ear "It's not easy, but I wish you'd try".

"I would that I could, my dear", said Ully "But it's not easy being an aged drag queen".

"Nobody loves a fairy when he's old", said Adam, wryly.

"Not unless he looks like you anyway", Ully sighed.

Lonts set Bengo down.

"Do you know what I'd like to do to you?" Bengo squawked at Tamaz, who was still yodelling helplessly "I'll show you".

He threw the skirts of Tamaz's petticoats over his head and simulated buggering him.

Ully felt he'd better comment on Bardin's rescue mission, and found it hard. He had always had an inner fear of Bardin, in the way an ageing schoolteacher, long since past his prime, would fear a particularly gifted pupil.

"I have to thank you for helping out this evening", said Ully to Bardin "You saved the show".

"I'm glad someone appreciates me", said Bardin, looking at the scattered roses.

"Are you going to join us for supper, Ully?" said Ransey, and then without giving him a chance to reply, said "Good, I'll go and tell the others".

"We'll be along shortly", said Adam "Bardin, clear these flowers up".

"They're Bengo's, not mine", said Bardin, sourly "He's the babe of the Cabaret, not me".

"You may not be the babe, but you're acting like a great baby at the moment", said Adam "When we get home you're going across my knee. I'd do it here, only I might too excited!"

"Clowns take some handling", said Ully, sympathetically "They're all anarchic little jerks really".

"We keep them on dog-leashes most of the time!" said Adam.

The clowns calmed down a little at the taverna in town where everyone adjourned for supper, mainly because of Julian's presence. Adam sounded so sexy when he scolded them that it only made them even more frisky, whereas Julian at least carried an element of danger.

Bardin confined his sniping during dinner to a caustic comment to Bengo of "Do you want me to bring your drink into the garden for you?" - referring to the basket of roses which now sat on the table.

Ully had mixed feelings all through the meal. It was good to see them all again, but their closeness to one another only made him feel even more lonely, and he began to resent that. At first he had thought it would be pleasent to be among people who sincerely believed that love could still conquer all, and that the scum of life didn't always automatically rise to the surface. Ully had spent most of his life surrounded by hardened cynics, by people who through bitter experience had learnt that the only way to survive was to build as hard a crust around yourself as possible, who believed that no good deed ever went unpunished, and that the world was essentially a vile place.

Real life is in fact a combination of both extremes, always has been and always will be. But such simple facts are often the hardest to grasp. It is also a simple fact that it's easy to face life defiantly and on your own terms when you are supported by a loving, close-knit group of friends. The Indigo-ites didn't have to face the world alone. Their problems didn't have to be borne alone, and their demons didn't have to be vanquished alone.

Kieran's greatest contribution to the world hadn't been destroying the vampires, Father Gabriel, or even enabling the women to re-integrate into public life again without fear. His greatest contribution had been to prove that even during the world's darkest days it had still been possible for humans to live together in a loving unit. That the true essence of family life (which had nothing to do with blood ties, duty, and rigid laws of hierarchy) had been encouraged to survive. A certain obnoxious Brit had once said that there is no such thing as society. She was about as wrong as it is possible to get. There has to be society. Human beings need each other if they are not only to survive, but to flower. An American philosopher once wrote "If I could love my neighbours I would have more self-respect". End of sermon.

The Indigo-ites' problem, at least as far as Ully was concerned, was that they had succeeded too well. They had achieved what is the aim of all happy families, to love each other so much that the rest of the world is reduced to background noise. Their achievement only made those like Ully, who were still toiling on the cold, dark fringes, to feel their own loneliness even more. It was the loneliness of the solitary drinker in the bar, watching a cheerful, noisy group nearby. The loner can then only console himself with the cold comfort of how much the group will suffer when anything tragic happens to one of them, of the pain they will endure. Ully was too nice a person to take genuine comfort from this, in fact he feared for them when it should happen, but their love for each other was almost too much for him.

As he watched them throughout the evening he realised that the reason they knit together so well was that, unlike some families or small groups, they didn't oppress one another. Each individual member was allowed to be fully himself. Discipline was exerted when it was necessary, particularly regarding the clowns and Tamaz (as it had been for Kieran, Joby and Lonts when they were younger), but this was only if their behaviour threatened the comfort and peace of the group as a whole, it wasn't to turn them into obedient, repressed drones.

Whilst he was having breakfast the following morning Julian told Adam to send the clowns into the cabin to see him for a verbal disciplining. Bardin appeared alone.

"Bengo's gone out", he mumbled, sulkily "Said he was going for a walk around the town".

"Then you'll have to go and find him", said Julian "I don't want him walking around out there alone".

"Bengo can take care of himself", said Bardin.

"Of that I have no doubt", said Julian "But this is a town full of strange characters, and I'm not just referring to us! It is also a port, which makes a lot of them transistory. I don't want Bengo to wake up on some strange ship, at the mercy of a disreputable old sodomiser, not unless it's me anyway! And that could easily happen, he's a very good-looking boy".

"Don't I know it!" Bardin muttered.

"Yes, and you're going to have to damn well deal with it!" said Julian "I have enough problems with Lonts wandering about up there on deck without a stitch on".

"Yes he is", said Bardin.

"He claims everyone will get used to the sight of him and won't tkae anymore notice after they've seen him once. Hah!" said Julian "He doesn't seem to realise he's someone that bears several looks. And the same applies to Bengo. Get after him and stop being such a fool. All because of a silly basket of flowers you're undoing the relationship you've forged with him since you joined us".

Bengo had roamed the myriad backstreets of the Village of Stairs, finding it a weird sensation to be back somewhere he had spent so much of his early life in, and yet finding he had no deep feelings for it at all. He came across a tall, narrow house where he and Bardin had once had lodgings. They had fought constantly in those days, the landlord was always complaining about them, and yet they had laughed too, often bitching in private about the other clowns and performers. When he looked back on the passion with which they had lived, he was amazed they hadn't become lovers then. The only reason they hadn't was because it hadn't occurred to them!

He made up his mind to go back to the sloop and nibble Bardin's ear, kiss his toes, stroke his hair, slap his backside, anything in fact that would make them friends again. First though he went into an open-air urinal, and was accosted in there by a young baby-faced man of his own age. This person turned out to be an employee of the fan who had sent Bengo the flowers the night before. Bengo had had quite enough of these flowers (in fact he had deliberately left them behind in the taverna), and gave the boy short-shrift.

"Please", said the boy, following him out of the urinal. He kept flattening his bushy hair down with one hand, only for it to spring up again like a souffle "My Master really wants to see you".

"Your Master?" said Bengo "You're weird!"

"He wants to take you into his household", said the boy "He says I'm not to come back until I've got you".

"Piss off!" Bengo screamed.

"Bengo?" said Joby "You alright?"

He was walking along hand-in-hand with Tamaz. They had been killing time whilst waiting for Kieran to finish seeing Levka. The Master's emissary was delighted to see Tamaz, because the Master had been very taken with him last night as well. In the bright light of day, Tamaz looked as beautiful in a shirt and trousers as he had the night before in a petticoat and fur stole.

"He wants you both in his collection", the boy bleated.

"Clear off will yer!" said Joby "Lunatic!"

"Bengo? What's up?" said Bardin, approaching from the other direction.

The boy, seeing he was well and truly out-numbered, scuttled off down a side-alley.

"I dunno what that was all about", said Joby.

"Creepy jerk", said Tamaz.

"He sure was!" said Bengo "Wanted to put us in his scrapbook or something!"

"What did he say to you?" said Bardin.

"Nothing", said Bengo, grabbing his arm forcibly.

The 4 of them went down a narrow flight of steps which led into a small market-place. Kieran was here, berating one of the stall-holders, who was selling spider-monkeys, to be turned into a local delicacy. Joby had been dreading a scene like this ever since hearing about the dish the night before at the taverna. He went over to try and wrest Kieran away.

Meanwhile, some old colleagues of Bengo and Bardin's were sitting at a ground-floor window nearby, eating a late breakfast of bread and cheese. This area had always been a popular lodging-place for the clowns at the Cabaret, and all of the ones at the window had known Bengo and Bardin since their childhood.

"Christ, you look like a bunch of really rough old tarts at a brothel!" said Bardin.

"Hail the Messiah!" said an olive-skinned dwarf, who was crouched on the window-sill "Ully's been telling us how we couldn't have got through last night if it hadn't been for you. You'll be taking over as director next!"

"Not a chance", said Bardin, with great feeling, aware that he was getting the full resentment of those left behind for the ones who had got away.

"And where would we have been without Bengo's beauty to save the day?" said the dwarf, kissing Bengo's cheeks in a exaggerated clownish fashion.

"Is it true you're sticking it up his arse these days?" said Hal, the oldest clown, who was blessed with a face that people only had to look at to want to laugh, a great gift for a comic.

"That's none of your business", said Bardin, leaning casually against the wall.

"You two always did set yourselves apart from the rest of us", said the dwarf.

"Well I wonder why that could have been!" said Bardin, sarcastically.

"Hey, if it isn't the famous Tamaz", said the dwarf, pulling Tamaz towards him and peering down his cleavage "I think his tits might actually be real! I thought from old pictures they were falsies!"

"Leave the kid alone", said Bardin.

"Tits are nothing", said another clown, dismissively "Guys can get tits by taking pills. It's whether he's got a C-U-N-T that's important".

"I have", Tamaz mumbled.

"So you say", said the dwarf "Prove it".

"He doesn't need to", said Bardin "I can vouch for him".

"My! Aint you been busy!" said another of the clowns.

They were diverted by Joby dragging Kieran away from the market-place, hauling him along with his arms round his slender waist.

"People eating spider-monkeys!" Kieran roared, indignantly.

"We should've bought a couple", said Joby "We could've all had a leg each!"

"Some joke!" said Kieran.

"I thought it was quite good!" said Joby.

The clowns were awed by having Kieran so close, and stopped their sniping to gaze at him and stroke his long, yellow hair.

"Watch out", said Bengo, looking behind them "Brush-head's back!"

The Master's Emissary was staring at them from the steps they had previously descended. He suddenly advanced on them. Kieran, Bardin and the others climbed through the clowns' window, and effectively escaped from their stalker's clutches.

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