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Miraculously, none of them did let this extraordinary news slip when they got back to the Indgio MKII. Kieran looked happy and carefree, having spent the afternoon exercising the horses along the beach with Joby. Nobody felt inclined to put a dampener on his spirits. Chances were the whole thing would have stayed quiet, if it wasn't for the disturbing events which took place that night.
Julian woke up after midnight. He immediately heard a horrid, murmuring noise coming from the beach outside. It sounded like a dozen men groaning with pain. He slipped off the bunk and went to look out of the window above his desk. What he saw scared the hell out of him. A large pack of zombies, of the kind Father Gabriel had used to destroy the City, were lumbering down the mountain-road towards them. All of them uttering that terrible, wordless, dirge-like chant that they favoured.
"SHIT!" Julian screamed.
He picked up the hand-bell which he normally used to summon everyone to his presence. The others woke up cursing and swearing.
"Hillyard, get down in the hold and get that bloody engine going", Julian cried "Ransey, get piloting, and someone raise the fucking anchor!"
"Where are we going?" said Hillyard.
"Out into the ocean", said Julian "Into very deep waters. And let's hope none of those bastards can swim very far!"
A scary half-hour followed. Lonts and the clowns ran to raise the anchor, and Hillyard went into the hold as directed. The others all ran up onto the forward deck. The zombies had reached the beach, and were beginning to wade out into the surf. Fortunately what they made up for in dogged, bloodthirsty determination, they lacked in speed.
Julian ordered all the weapons to be assembled on deck too. Not the guns and rifles, as these would have been useless against zombies, but any kind of blunt instrument. Anything that they could use to cosh or wind these remorseless creatures of the undead, if they should manage to reach the sloop.
There was a strange kind of light over everything. Not darkness, not daylight. A shimmering, metallic glow, which showed up the blueness of the ocean, but left the land in darkness.
When he was certain they were safely out of the reach of the creatures, Julian ordered the anchor to be dropped, and he watched the zombies staggering mindlessly about in the surf. It was obvious none of them were capable of anything so sophisticated as swimming.
"I feel like Captain van der Decken of the 'Flying Dutchamn'", said Julian, leaning on the bulwark "Doomed to command a phantom ship on the high seas for all eternity. Never to come into harbour. Where the bloody hell did they come from?!"
"I don't know", said Adam "I haven't heard sight nor sound of zombies since Gabriel's time. That was quick-thinking of yours, Jules".
"I recognised the groans", said Julian "Finia and I heard them enough outside Husgalonghi".
"They must be localised", said Adam "I mean, we've never heard mention of them anywhere else. We're safe at the Bay, aren't we?"
"Adam, if there was anything like this there, we'd have noticed it by now!" said Julian "I should have stuck to my original plan, and just taken us out onto the high seas, not come down here. Are you alright?"
"No", said Adam, candidly "I'm awfully scared".
"Not like you", said Julian "You're a ballsy old chick!"
"Look at this light all around us, Jules", said Adam "What does it mean?"
"One always gets strange lights on the Equator", said Julian, trying to sound reassuring "This is just a peculiar area, that's all. I made a grave mistake bringing us down here at all. We should have retreated back up-river instead, towards No-Name, even perhaps gone back to Toondor Lanpin. Ironically, I didn't want to go there because I thought Codlik might be there! And then he trailed us to the Village of Stairs!"
"Julian", Hillyard walked up to them "The kids have got something to say to you".
Julian was told about the landlord and his vampire on the roof. He then assembled everyone in the cabin, and demanded to know if there were any more secrets anyone else was keeping from everyone else. Tamaz was wretched, convinced everyone was going to blame him for the secrecy, and he hung onto the door-handle, weeping.
"Freaky, stop it", said Julian "You're upsetting me. Come along now. Enough".
"Is it Gabriel who's back?" said Hillyard.
"It's not Gabriel", said Kieran "I think it may be Angel".
"He's dead", said Ransey, indignantly "I killed him".
"He went to earth for a while that's all", said Kieran "To that strange half-existence vampires rest in. The one he took me to when we were at the Bone-House".
"And now he's back from this sanatorium for vampires is he?" said Julian.
"I think so", said Kieran "Mieps, that person who cornered you in the alley back at the Village, what did he look like?"
"Disgusting and horrible", said Mieps, dismissively.
"Sounds like Angel", said Joby.
"His eyes", said Kieran "If it was really Angel, you'd have noticed his eyes".
"Yes, they were very blue and hypnotic, like yours", said Mieps, casually "I knew who he was".
"I see!" Julian snapped "Are there any more secrets we're all keeping from one another?"
"I didn't want to alarm Kieran", said Mieps.
"Neither did we", said Bengo.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but I wasn't aware that Kieran was such a fragile little flower!" said Julian "This is the man who went 10 rounds with Angel, bare-knuckle! Adam, what are you smiling about? I fail to see anything to smile about!"
"Oh Jules", said Adam "Everyone's so sweet and considerate".
"I have a feeling your little blonde bombshell is going to tell us something to wreck your warm glow", said Julian.
"Angel wants to take me 2000 years into the future", said Kieran "At least that's a dream I had ages ago, when we were still living on the waterfront. It was very real and disturbing. I had a feeling at the time that one day it might come true, that that was what he was telling me".
"How can you sound so casual about it?" said Joby.
"Believe me, that's not how I feel inside!" said Kieran.
"Why would he want to take you 2000 years into the future, Kieran?" said Lonts.
"Because, if it's like the dream I had", said Kieran "There's nothing there".
"What?" said Joby "We're having this great, glorious new age, just for it all to end in 2000 years time?!"
"It'll be a vacuum", said Kieran "Which means that it will be either the end of the world ... or the beginning".
"Time in a circle", said Mieps "As I always said".
Julian was in no mood for such "existentialist claptrap", as he referred to it. Neither, he said, should all of them lose sleep because of "that little bastard, Angel". He said that 2 watches should be kept, with a few of them doing two 2-hour shifts until daybreak, whilst the others slept. He, Bardin, Kieran and Lonts would do the second shift, whilst Hillyard, Joby, Rumble and Mieps would do the first.
The first 4 tried playing cards to wile away the time, but they had trouble concentrating. Hillyard got up at one point and went to the window in the corridor. On the distant shore the zombies were still maundering confusedly in the surf, the sea forming a formidable barrier against their prey.
"Roll on daylight", Hillyard muttered.
He noticed Joby standing near him. His heart went out to his old friend. Kieran's safety was worrying enough to all of them, but to Joby it was terrifyingly acute. Hillyard couldn't think of a single comforting thing to say, not anything that didn't sound like a cliche anyway. He wrapped him in his arms and held him to his chest.
This helped enormously (it always does), and after a while they went back to join the other 2 sentries, who were sitting in the space just outside the cabin-door. Mieps's eyes were luminous in the semi-dark, and Rumble was methodically building card-houses on the floor.
"Ennit it peaceful when Farnol goes to sleep?" said Joby, sitting down next to Rumble.
"I think he's frightened if he stops talking we won't notice him", said Mieps.
"He's alright, leave him alone", said Hillyard.
"It's easy to handle Farnol", said Rumble "You just chuck a bit of attention his way now and again and he's happy. He's completely harmless".
"Yeah, you can trust him", said Hillyard.
"What's that supposed to mean?" said Mieps, sharply.
"Just don't you go getting ideas about organising vampire-hunts of your own!" said Hillyard "Your blood's up, I can tell. You can't hide anything from me. You're all but snorting and pawing the ground!"
"And you can forget any idea of taking Tamaz with you!" said Joby.
"They're not going anywhere, either of 'em", said Hillyard, firmly, and he aggressively shuffled the deck of cards.
When Julian neared the end of his shift, with his 3 fellow sentries, it was full daylight. The zombies had gone from the shore, and the morning was as beautiful and vibrant as it had been the day before, with the tropical birds in full throttle, and even pink flamingoes flying over the water. Julian took the wind-up gramophone up on deck and played a song from 'La Boheme', as a heady riposte to the ghouls of the night. When the others all woke up he ordered the sloop to return to the Village of Stairs.
"'You wouldn't believe what a squawking chicken-coop this vessel has been this morning'", he later wrote in his log-book, as they sped back through the water "'Everyone seems determined to have a fight. Hillyard well-primed me to be on the lookout for any furtive behaviour by Mieps, and so I was instantly suspicious when I came into the cabin here to find him hissing at Tamaz, who was blubbing in terror.
Freaky, for once exhibiting signs of commonsense, said he had no wish to go after the vampires, as Joby had enough worries at the moment. I sent him up on deck and then gave Mieps a complete rollicking. He was infuriatingly unrepentant. When the hunter's instinct comes over him he is deaf to all reason. He becomes hypnotised by his own base instincts. I said if he didn't work to control them I woul dhave him back in his lowly tin-shed so fast he'd think his tits were on fire! I also said that until he proved to me that he was making some effort to control these instincts, I would make sure Freaky wasn't left alone with him at all. He looked as though he was going to fly at me after this. I said if he did I'd give him a helluva slap round the kisser, and lock him in the heads until we got back to the Bay. He did a lot of indignant fussing and fiddling with his pyjama jacket, but I think I got my point across.
Soon after, Adam, Joby and Lonts had what amounted to a tag-wrestling match in the galley. All started by Joby getting so keyed-up about everything that he deliberately knocked a heap of crockery off the dresser, including a bottle of red wine which spilled all down the woodwork. Adam, needless to say, reacted like a fishwife, particularly when Lonts sided with Joby! Hillyard had been grooming the nags in the hold at the time, and went along and yelled at them all that they were upsetting the horses.
I was in here, having a cigar and recovering from my bout with Mieps, when Adam came flying into the room. He tore off his pinny and his clothes and jumped under the quilt on the bunk. Lonts came along in hot pursuit, and they proceeded to have the most filthy, bloodcurdling marital dispute one can imagine. When Lonts started waving his damn great fists about, I roared at him to go and stand back against the wall, and to calm down before any serious damage was done. Lonts then looked at me with a completely guileless look and said "But I would never really hurt Adam. I was just making my point".
"I was quite safe from Lo-Lo, Jules", said Adam.
The next thing I knew they were both under the quilt, indulging in throaty cries and gurglings of "Oh Adam!" and "Oh Lo-Lo!"'.
"'We arrived back in the Village of Stairs this afternoon'", Julian wrote, early that evening "'God knows how, (probably through some form of demonic telepathy), but Codlik knew we were arriving, and was waiting on the waterfront for us. He said he was very relieved to see we had all come to our senses (yeah sure!) and returned, as he had not heard a single positive comment about the countryside surrounding the town. After last night's spooky re-enactment of 'Night Of The Living Dead', I can't say I feel any safer here than I did down there. Zombies can get anywhere, as Gabriel proved during his reign of terror.
I said to Adam that the problem of us now being such a large group was that we couldn't keep an eye on everyone's safety at once. He said something remarkably sensible though, by pointing out that we can all keep an eye on each other. As such, I decreed that no one was to go ashore in groups of less than 3, and that Freaky and Mieps were not to be left alone together at all.
I relaxed the 3 or more rule for myself though. I felt badly in need of a little retail therapy. Normally I would have taken Finia with me, but I wasn't in the mood for hearing a long spiel about what a lot of pressure all this Angel nonsense was putting on Poor Ransey. Instead I took Bengo with me, as he was the one I thought would least infuriate me.
We went to a draper's shop and purchased a stack of ready-to-wear shirts for all of us. I was very glad I had taken Bengo. He is so utterly delectable, and all the old mincers in there were drooling with envy that I had such a prize in tow. Bengo, naturally, showed off to the hilt, sitting on top of one of the glass cabinets and swinging his amazing legs in a very distracting fashion. A vision enhanced by the fact that he was wearing only a thong beneath his baggy shirt. When I said that if he didn't behave I would take him straight back to the sloop, he grabbed me and greedily kissed me on the lips.
I could write all evening about Bengo's charms, and I would find it a far more absorbing subject than that whiney little brat Angel and his pathetic existence. But unfortunately that whiney little brat Angel is what crops up next.
Here is what happened ....'"
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