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By Sarah Hapgood

Christmas saw them in Toondor Lanpin, having taken Codlik and Jonner back with them on the sloop. Jonner had announced that he had been given a commission by the local priest to paint "appropriate murals" on the walls of the chapel, and Adam had looked so yearningly at this idea that Julian had magnanimously decided that it would be nice if he could help.

After the Bay and the Village of Stairs, Toondor Lanpin in the middle of winter felt more dark and dismal than ever. On the Monday before Christmas Adam was in the chapel as usual with Jonner, assisted by Lonts and Toppy. At twilight Joby came in with Tamaz (looking very stylish in a new fur coat worn over his jeans), to see how they were getting on.

"Adam!" Lonts bellowed, joyously "Tamaz is here! And Joby".

"Is it nice to be an afterthought?" said Adam, kissing Joby on the cheek.

"I'm used to it", said Joby.

"Lo-Lo, make some more coffee on the stove", said Adam.

"It ent half gloomy in here", said Joby, knocking the single, naked lightbulb which hung down from the ceiling "I dunno how you put up with it".

"It's all very challenging", said Adam "We want to give everything a religious theme, but not so much so that it frightens people We really don't want overly-graphic images of Christ on the cross for example".

"It's been done too many times", said Joby, dismissively.

"I have to agree with you, purely from an artist's point of view anyway", said Adam "The only image of that that ever made a great impression on me was the 'Death Of Christ' by Holbein. Otherwise, all too often it just looks naff. I think Gauguin was the worst offender there. His Christ looked like he had a bad itch on his foot he was trying to scratch!"

"Who did the picture of him stuck all over with arrows?" said Joby.

"That was St Sebastian, not Christ", said Adam.

"Well no one round here would know!" said Joby "Half of 'em haven't heard of Christ, let alone St Sebastian!"

"Patsy would know", said Adam.

"Who cares what he thinks!" said Joby.

"Oh Joby, you've really got to forgive him for handing the Castle over to the vampires", said Adam "It's bad enough that most of his Church are being beastly to him because of it. They obviously don't recognise a good person when they see one".

"No, but they obviously recognise a complete wazzuck when they see one!" said Joby "Thanks to him, I am never gonna know peace of mind again, not whilst those 3 ... Things are at large in the world. When Kieran was President, people used to say he had led everyone out of the darkness and into the light. Well now he's led everyone back into the darkness again! How long is it gonna be before Angel and his cronies get bored with eating the same old zombie flesh everyday?"

"I had a long talk with Patsy about it", said Adam "He says we just have to trust him".

"Hah!" said Joby.

The lightbulb dimmed and went out, and everyone groaned.

"It's been flickering all afternoon", said Lonts.

"The power supply in this town really does leave a lot to be desired", said Adam "It's so temperamental I'm actually quite glad we don't have it at home".

"It's probably Kieran what's done it really", said Joby "His dark Satanic presence must be nearby!"

A mild earth tremor shook the whole building, causing small flakes of plaster to fall from the walls. Adam and Jonner grabbed a couple of torches and switched them on. Toppy had been working at the top of some scaffolding, painting a frieze round the base of the ceiling, when the tremor struck. He gave a whimper as he clung to the bars of the scaffolding.

"Alright Toppy, make your way down as quickly as you can", said Adam, shining the torch up at him.

"I can't", Toppy sobbed.

"I insist", said Adam "Quickly now, just in case there's another one. Lo-Lo will hep you when you get near the bottom".

"Get on with it, Toppy", said Lonts "Or I'll tell the clowns and Hoowie you've been really silly about it".

"That's a point", said Joby, as Toppy gingerly began his descent "Why's that jerk still with us? I thought he was only hitching a ride to Toondor Lanpin?"

"Just accept the fact that he's living with us", said Adam "He has no one else in the world".

"That don't surprise me at all!" said Joby.

"Oh he's not so bad", said Adam "I find him quite amusing sometimes".

"I find him a pain in the jacksey most of the time!" said Joby.

"He's quite harmless as long as he's kept in line", said Adam "And Bardin does a pretty good job of that".

"He's just a big kid", said Tamaz.

"Exactly", said Adam.

"I think we'd better call it a day here, Adam", said Jonner.

"I quite agree", said Adam "Let's hope it's still standing tomorrow so we can continue!"

Bengo and Bardin had acquired a bed. The new arrivals in the family had spurred Hillyard into buying two extra doubled beds. Bengo and Bardin had one (the best one) in the dining-room, to replace their old mattress on the floor, and Farnol and Rumble had one on the first-floor landing.

Very early the following morning, when it was still dark, Bardin had woken up out of a troubled sleep. He lit a candle stub on the bedside table and read some more of the paperback horror he had recently bought. Being back in Toondor Lanpin had sent the memory of the Tall Creature flooding back. The whole atmosphere of the town felt eerie and mysterious after the extreme sunlight of the Bay, Aspiriola and the Village of Stairs. He kept feeling that he could hear the creature approaching, and the small tremor of the day before had only exacerbated his fear.

"Bengo", he said, nervously "Wake up!"

"Go back to sleep, Bardy", Bengo mumbled from beneath the bedclothes.

"Something's not right in this town", said Bardin "I can feel it".

Bengo sat up crossly, and wrenched the paperback out of Bardin's hands.

"It's reading this stuff that does it!" he squawked "You read this stuff in the middle of the night, and you're bound to get edgy".

"What would you know?" Bardin sneered "You've never read a book in your life!"

Bengo hurled the book across the room, causing it to land with a noisy clatter amongst the glassware on the sideboard.

"What was that?" said Hoowie, who was pacing around the living-room across the hall in a ripped t-shirt.

It was the curse of Toppy's life at the moment that he had to share his sleeping-quarters with Hoowie, even though as he had the sofa and Hoowie was relegated to a camp-bed, he had the best of it.

"It was the clowns", he snapped "Having a fight I expect. I wish you'd go to sleep, you're getting on my nerves".

"Have you got a problem with having me in here?" said Hoowie "I suppose you'd rather have Tamaz!"

"Yes I would", said Toppy "On the sloop I used to get to sleep next to him occasionally. Here, he's on another floor!"

"Amazing what a difference a pair of tits can make!" said Hoowie.

"It's got nothing to do with tits", said Toppy, angrily "If that was all itw as about, I'd have made do with Lilli!"

"O.K O.K", said Hoowie, climbing back onto his camp-bed "You know you get too hung up about things".

"Shut up", said Toppy.

"I think somebody might be outside", said Hoowie "Watching the house".

"Then go outside and see them off", said Toppy, thumping his pillow.

"It's just a feeling I get", said Hoowie "A cold shiver. Then again perhaps it's just 'cos I'm not used to the cold".

"No one's stopping you going back to the Village of Stairs", Toppy mumbled "Don't forget to take you ego with you".

"Oh cute, real cute!" said Hoowie "And the others say you have no sense of humour!"

"You always have to have the last say don't you?" said Toppy "I suppose I shouldn't begrudge you that. It isn't as if you get anything else!"

Hoowie for once was at a loss for a response.

"Farnol?" said Rumble, from their bed on the first-floor landing "What the hell are you doing?"

Farnol was leaning over the banisters at the top of the stairs.

"There's a strange atmosphere down there", he said, keenly "A lot of noise amongst the ground-floor mob. I was just trying to work out what was going on".

"Get back into bed", said Rumble "There's a helluva draught coming up the stairs, and you're all that blocks it out!"

"Hey Rumble, Rumble?" Farnol climbed in next to him "Are you still awake?"

"What do you think?" said Rumble, opening one eye.

"Do you think Bardin would mind if we asked him if we could move this bed down next to his?"

"Yeah, somehow I think he'd mind", said Rumble, dryly.

"It's just that I feel a bit vulnerable stuck out here like", said Farnol "It wouldn't surprise me if this house was haunted".

"It is! By your voice!" Joby shouted from a nearby room.

"Yak, yak, bloody yak!" he said, a few hours later, burning toast in the kitchen "Morning, noon and night. He never stops!"

"He asked me just now if they could move their bed into the living-room", said Adam "I said I didn't think Jules would like it".

"It's bad enough tripping over clowns in the dining-room!" said Joby "Without 'em in the living-room too!"

"Also I think there's something rather depressing about a bed in the living-room", said Adam "Too reminiscent of elderly invalids I suppose. Commodes and bed-jackets, and rows of medicine bottles on the sideboard".

"Disgusting!" said Julian, coming into the kitchen "Mieps and Freaky are chasing that long streak of nothing, Hoowie, round one of the bathrooms. They're pretending to squirt their tits at him!"

Joby roared with laughter.

"Oh admit it, that's rather funny, Jules, said Adam, as Julian looked hostile.

"Perhaps Julian's got a hang-up about breastfeeding", said Joby "His mum never did it to him or summat".

"I can't imagine a more ghastly thought than sucking on my Mother's breasts!" said Julian "They were probably full of venom, like the rest of her".

"The first man who ever milked a cow", said Kieran, coming out of the pantry "Why?"

"I like that one!" Joby chuckled.

"I must be going now", said Adam "Jonner wants to make an early start today. Joby, don't forget to bring our lunch-pails round later".

"I haven't forgotten", said Joby.

Adam kissed Kieran and Julian on his way out of the room.

"Nice to have seen you for a while!" said Julian, caustically.

Whilst this conversation had been going on, Bengo had been attempting to read Bardin's paperback book, moving his finger and lips as he did so.

"Your guilty secret revealed!" Farnol cried, standing in the doorway of the dining-room "You're reading a book!"

"I'm trying to understand what's upsetting Bardy", said Bengo, as Farnol jumped onto the bed and lay down next to him "I thought perhaps he'd read something and it was preying on him. It's really heavy-going though, like one of Hawkefish's scripts".

Farnol took it from him and began to read.

"Lurid stuff, Bardin", he said, when Bardin came in a few minutes later.

"I know, you can hang onto it if you like", said Bardin, returning his shaving-tackle to the sideboard "The way I feel I only want to read uplifting stuff at the moment. Perhaps I should borrow one of Lonts's 'Happy Bears' books instead!"

He pulled back the curtains at the window, and groaned when he saw the heavy river-fog pressing down outside.

"That's all I need", he sighed.

No one answered him. Farnol was engrossed in the book, and Bengo had dozed off again. Suddenly he heard Adam in the hallway preparing to go out.

"W-where are you going?" said Bardin, running out to him.

"To the chapel", said Adam, who was helping Lonts into his coat "Now don't take that off until we get there, Lo-Lo".

"I know!" said Lonts, crossly "I'm not a baby!"

"Toppy, hurry up!" Adam shouted into the living-room.

"B-but it's foggy outside", Bardin protested.

"We'll be quite safe, old love", said Adam "We're only going down the street. Toppy!"

Toppy, in a rare spurt of anger, kicked over Hoowie's camp-bed on his way out of the room.

Bardin fussed ineffectually as they left the house. Once they were gone, he went into the living-room, leaned against the top of the piano and burst into tears.

"Bardin?" said Hillyard, appearing behind him "What's the matter? Come on, tell me. I might be able to help".

"I think I'm going mad", Bardin sobbed "I can't get that Tall Creature out of my head. I dream about it, and I keep imagining I can hear it approaching".

"Sit down", Hillyard led him gently over to the sofa "Are you sure you're not just feeling under the weather? Things always seem a lot worse when you're a bit off-colour".

"I'm never ill", said Bardin.

"Look, there are a lot of weird things that happen in this town", said Hillyard "You should now that by now. In all the years we've lived here I've never understood half of what goes on. Just accept it's a weird place and you'll be fine".

"I guess so", said Bardin "Trouble is, I've never been too good at just accepting things. It's a character defect of mine".

"We're only here for a little while", said Hillyard "Just until Adam's finished the chapel. You don't feel like this at the Bay do you?"

"No, I often forget all about it when we're there", said Bardin.

"So it can't be that important then", Hillyard smiled, then he noticed Hoowie watching them with abject curiosity.

"What have we got here then?" Hoowie drawled "Isn't this something Bengo should know about?!"

Bardin flew at him, delivering him such a punch on the nose that Hoowie fell against the piano, making a dreadful cacophony as he landed on the keys.

"Leave it", said Hillyard, getting between them and separating them, making a substantial buffer "Leave it, both of you!"

"He's broken my fucking nose!" said Hoowie.

"No he hasn't", said Hillyard "There isn't even any blood".

"What's going on?" said Bengo, standing in the doorway with Farnol behind him.

Bardin went to leave the room, yanking Bengo after him. Back in the dining-room they sat silently side by side on the edge of the be. Bengo had been tersely informed about what had happened, but was now uncertain what exactly he was supposed to say in return. He kept looking helplessly at Bardin, as though imploring him to help him out. Heavy emotional scenes weren't his forte.

"Perhaps I should've been a boxer", said Bardin, eventually "After all, it wouldn't have mattered if my face had got bashed about!"

Bengo picked up a pillow and clouted him round the head with it. A pillow-fight ensued which resulted in most of the bed getting covered in feathers.

"Obnoxious clowns!" Julian roared, as the BB's wrestled on the bed.

Bengo and Bardin sprang to their feet guiltily. Julian took a wad of notes out of his pocket and peeled some off.

"You'd better go and buy some new pillows", he said "And clear this place up first, otherwise Adam will have hysterics when he sees it. Also, Rumble's just told me he and Farnol are going to meet your old colleagues for a drink. Perhaps you should go along with them".

"To see Zooks and Godle?" said Bardin, unenthusiastically.

"Go on, it'll do you good", said Julian.

"Aren't you cross with us at all?" said Bengo, sounding disappointed.

"I would dearly love to punish you both severely", said Julian "But Hillyard's taking me out to lunch, so it will have to wait, and then afterwards we're going to call in on Michaelangelo, to see how he's getting on in the chapel!"

"Something's going to have to be done about Hoowie", said Julian, sitting with Hillyard in Myrtle's restaurant a couple of hours later.

"He's not fitting in is he?" said Hillyard, taking a sip from a mammoth tankard of ice-cold beer.

"Well I'm glad to hear someone else agreeeing with me!" said Julian "All I get from Adam is a load of Codlik-style liberal guff about how harmless he is, and how he's still very young. He tries to make out I was worse at his age, which is an absolute lie! My memory isn't that faulty! Hoowie has even managed to make Toppy lose his temper, which even Lonts has never managed to do!"

"I was talking to Farnol earlier", said Hillyard "From what he's told me Hoowie's not that harmless. Apparently he used to share a room with a guy who was a bit on the fat side. Hoowie decided he should be punished for this, and made him walk down the street in his underwear! What I can't understand is why the bloke agreed to do it".

"To curry favour, I suspect", said Julian "No one likes to be thought of as a bad sport".

"Anyway, he was pretty upset about it afterwards", said Hillyard "Hoowie wouldn't have got me doing it!"

"Perish the thought!" said Julian, in mock-horror.

"Oh I suppose Adam's right in a way", said Hillyard "It's an age thing. It's very schoolboy stuff. I expect you did do that sort of thing at his age".

"No I didn't!" said Julian "I only liked bullying the delicious boys who excited me, like Adam. The Piggys of this world have never interested me. I used to simply ignore them, which I expect they were quite relieved about really!"

"What are we going to do about him though?" said Hillyard "He's a pain in the neck, he can't stay with us".

"Perhaps Hawkefish could do with another clown", Julian suggested.

"He can't afford to take on anyone else", said Hillyard "Although I could pay him to have him I suppose. That's no trouble".

"I have a better idea", said Julian "He can go up to the big house, become a steward. Think of the trouble he could cause up there!"

"Yeah, just think of it!" said Hillyard "He knows all about Mieps and Codlik. He'll spread it around like a contagious disease! Poor old Glynis, she doesn't deserve that".

"Yes she does, the little trollop!" said Julian "It might make her appreciate him a bit more. Up til now, quite understandably, it's probably been hard for her to realise that anyone else might be remotely interested in Codlik".

"But what about the maids?" said Hillyard "He'll cause havoc amongst them".

"They'll soon see him off", said Julian "They're amazons in aprons! It'll do him the world of good".

"You're evil", said Hillyard.

"No, but I can be rather wicked at times!" said Julian.

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