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By Sarah Hapgood

"I've been looking for you", said Joby, walking into the stables after Christmas lunch, where Kieran was sorting out the horses' feed "Tamaz has been on at me".

"Not another fur coat?" Kieran smiled.

"He says you had Angel in our room earlier", said Joby, gravely.

"I didn't invite him here", said Kieran "He just turned up out of the blue. Took me by surprise".

"I told you he'd do things like that didn't I?" said Joby "But you wouldn't have it! I said we'd never get any peace whilst he was in the world".

"He's got no one else to talk to", said Kieran.

"Too bad!" said Joby "Perhaps if he didn't eat people, and he didn't have the worst halitosis problem in the Universe, then everyone might be a bit more receptive to him!"

"Did Tamaz say anything else?" said Kieran, jingling the leather and brass tackle to cover his nervousness.

"What, about you being God you mean?" said Joby "I'll make sure the straitjacket isn't too tight for you! I always think of you as Kieran meself".

"I am Kieran that's why!" said Kieran "I was born Kieran Flannery in Killarney in the 21st century. Me Mother was Maeve Flannery, a very nice woman who ran a small hotel, and me Father ... well it doesn't matter about that streak of nothing!"

Joby laughed, sympathetically.

"The thing is", said Kieran, cautiously "I don't know about actually being God Himself, but I feel as though He's inside me, like the Devil's inside Angel".

"That's for sure!" said Joby.

"I don't have any time for some of the things Angel's done, not by any means", said Kieran "But I've seen too much evil in my life, and one thing I feel is that, I know this is a peculiar thing to say, but I'd rather his brand of pure, bestial evil, if the alternative is the likes of Gabriel and Vanod and Noah, ones who refuse to acknowledge their own evil, who believe, very much as Hitler must have done, that they were in fact right and everyone else wrong, that theirs was the true way. Angel doesn't deceive himself or anyone else, he knows he's a monster, he is pure in heart in that respect at least".

"Well I'm glad we've managed to find something positive to say about him at last!" said Joby "But don't try and deceive me, Kiel. When I was younger I couldn't accept who you were, because I was afraid for you. Frightened of what the world might do to you, it crushes people like you, destroys 'em, and also because I wanted you all to meself".

"Oh Joby!" Kieran got tearful and grabbed his friend's hand "It's been so hard for you at times. Particularly when I was President".

"That doesn't matter now", said Joby "You gave it up for me, you put me first. No one had ever made a sacrifice for me before, and in the old life I got to thinking that no one ever would. That I just wasn't worth it".

"That damn mother of yours!" said Kieran, angrily "How any parent could talk to their child the way she did to you is something I will never understand".

"Never mind her", said Joby "We're talking about you. The thing is, I've always known you were special, ever since the first day I saw you, and in all the time I've known you since, I've never had reason to change me mind. If you really are God, or possessed by God, well then I might just start believing in Him! Everyone in our lot feels the same. I remember years ago Hillyard, who's normally pretty dense unless he's thinking about sex or food or horses, said there was summat about you. Summat that's made him stick with you ever since, and we all know how fickle he normally is about relationships! Even Julian, who I suspect would quite like to be God himself, believes in you!"

"So much love", Kieran whispered "I don't know what to say".

"An Irishman lost for words!" said Joby "A miracle!"

They met in a warm embrace.

That evening they all went to Persephone's bar to join in the festive celebrations. Whilst there they were accosted by a boy from the telegraph office, delivering a message to them.

"I thought we'd be safe from messages from Codlik on this day of the year", said Julian.

"It's from Glynis actually", said Ransey, who had just perused its contents "To give you some idea of her state of mind it begins 'You bastards!'"

"It's about Hoowie I gather?" Adam sighed.

"'You bastards'", Ransey read "'How dare you send that obnoxious moron to my house ...'"

"She doesn't mince words does she?" said Adam.

"Huh, you should've heard her on the allotments sometimes!" said Joby "No wonder the broccoli never came up!"

"But it's not her house the bumptious little whatsit!" said Julian.

"It is in practice, Jules", said Adam.

"'In the space of only 12 hours he has managed to upset every person here'", Ransey continued.

"That takes some doing", said Hillyard "The amount of 'em there are up there!"

"'Codlik is very distraught'", Ransey read '"He has threatened to go off into the mountains'".

"He may be gone some time!" said Julian.

"Be sure your sins will find you out", Kieran glowered.

Everyone looked significantly at Mieps, who stared back at them belligerently.

"It's not funny you know", said Ransey "She accuses us of ruining their entire Christmas! She says we have to go there and collect Hoowie immediately, without fail!"

"But we don't want him either!" said Toppy, aghast.

"We've cocked up rather badly", said Adam "I foolishly thought he wouldn't be able to cause too much trouble up there".

"I'll go up and see her", said Hillyard, causing everyone else to look horrified "See if I can pour oil on troubled waters".

"Hilly, I don't think that's a terribly good idea, old love", said Adam, nervously "Glynis sounds in a very emotional state. I don't see how you can make things any better".

"S'alright", said Hillyard "I'll put my brown jumper on".

"What good's that gonna do?" Joby exclaimed.

"It makes me look respectable", said Hillyard.

"In your dreams!" said Joby.

"Of course it's all Codlik's fault", said Julian, languidly "If he was honest about his feelings none of this would have happened".

"Yeah, and I spose it had nothing to do with you thinking it'd be fun to have Hoowie up there causing trouble!" said Joby.

"Now listen, I may not be perfect", said Julian.

"You don't say!" said Adam.

"I may not know everything", Julian continued, regardless "But Codlik brought all this on himself. One reaps as one sows".

"Oh Julian, really!" said Adam "Your chutzpah is quite phenomenal at times! Codlik made one iddy-biddy mistake, ONE! I couldn't even begin to count the ones you've made".

"Maybe, but the difference is I'd never expect anyone else to sort mine out for me", said Julian "Whereas we'll all have to go traipsing up there to sort their marriage out for them. Yet again!"

"They wouldn't have these problems in the first place if it wasn't for us!" said Adam.

"They wouldn't even be married in the first place if it wasn't for us!" Julian retorted "You were the one who dragged Glynis kicking and screaming to the church, from what I remember".

"It'll be great if we go up there now", said Tamaz "I'd like to see Fat Glynis and the old snake having a punch-up over Codlik!"

"None of this is being arranged for your amusement, Freaky!" said Adam, testily.

"Oh stop boring for England, Ada", said Julian "I cannot bear it when you get on your moral high-horse about things. Personally I think you're all taking this message far too seriously. We know what life can be like up there. Somebody slamming a door probably causes them all to go into deep trauma! That's why sending Hoowie there was a good idea, and I'm standing by it. They need shaking up, and to shake them up even more we'll fly up and see them".

"All of us?" said Adam.

"Yes, we're all joined at the hip", said Julian "And the inmates haven't had the dubious pleasure of meeting Farnol and Rumble yet. Now somebody get some more beers in".

"I'll do it", said Lonts, jumping to his feet and handing Snowy to Adam for safekeeping "Come along, Toppy".

"I think I should stay at home and mind the house", said Mieps, quietly.

"It doesn't need minding", said Julian "We'll bribe Jonner to keep an eye on the animals".

"Then I'd better help him finish the chapel first", said Adam "Anyway, you don't want to stay behind at the Town House all alone, Mieps".

"It might remind him what he's missing!" said Joby "Peace and quiet".

"Tranquil solitude", said Kieran.

"Not living with a bunch of idiots who make about as much sense half the time as The Clangers!" said Joby.

"Who were they?" said Hillyard.

"Small knitted creatures with big noses", said Adam "They wore little metal waistcoats and no pants".

"Lived inside a moon and spoke in weird high-pitched voices", said Joby.

"Were they real?" said Hillyard.

"Hillyard!" Joby exclaimed, in disbelief "Daft old tosser! How many have you had? Even Lonts wouldn't have fallen for that one!"

"Oh he'd have loved The Clangers!" said Adam.

"You'll have to excuse Hillyard", said Julian "It was the mention of them wearing no pants that got him all excited!"

"Excuse me", a very young girl tentatively approached their large group, accompanied by a handful of giggling friends "Could we have Bengo's autograph?"

"What on earth for?" said Ransey, peering at her as though she was an escaped lunatic.

"We think he's so cute and hunky", said the girl, holding out an old envelope and a stub of pencil.

Bengo had been engaged in the absorbing task of blowing bubbles into his beer, via a straw rammed up his nostril.

"She. Wants. Your. Autograph", said Bardin, speaking to him very slowly and precisely.

"You hold the pencil in your hand", said Ransey.

"She might have to come back when we've taught him how to write!" said Bardin.

Bengo wrote his name very carefully on the envelope.

"I saw you on stage last night", said the girl, leaning towards him as though confiding a secret.

"Embarrassing wasn't it?" said Bengo, dolefully.

"No you were great", the girl hastened to reassure him "You're the best comic there has ever been. Ever!"

"What it is to have someone famous in the family!" said Julian.

"Arf! Arf!" went the 3 other clowns, giving mock-guffaws.

"Of course that's what we're going to have do with Hoowie", said Julian, as the girls went away, delighted with their acquisition "Back to Plan B. We pay Hawkefish tremendous amounts of money to take him on at the Little Theatre. If he must cause mayhem, upset and anarchy, at least let him make a proper career out of it!"

"He and Zooks deserve to work with each other", said Bardin.

"As long as he's not coming back", said Toppy, putting a tray of beers on the table "I refuse to have him back".

"Stop going on, Toppy", Lonts sighed.

Light flurries of snow (a rare but not completely unknown occurrence in Toondor Lanpin) were falling as they walked back to the Town House. Once warmly inside Tamaz teased Mieps mercilessly about his fling with Codlik and the prospect of facing Glynis. Mieps responded by smacking him soundly on the backside and then pounding upstairs, two steps at a time.

"Serves you right", said Adam, as Tamaz knuckled his eyes "Now go upstairs and make amends to him".

Bardin overheard all this from the dining-room and laughed to himself. He liked this time of the evening at the Town House. He and Bengo often slipped away to bed early, but left the door ajar, so that a slither of light escaped from the hall, and they could hear what everyone else was doing.

Bengo had got into bed and was crawling around in it like a dog trying to get comfortable. Bardin sorted out all their various pairs of socks, until Bengo nagged him to get into bed. Bardin did so and they both kissed under the covers, until shaken by another small earth tremor, which caused one of Adam's framed pictures to fall off the wall. A loud thump also occurred from the room directly overhead, which was Adam and Lonts's bedroom.

"Oh I do wish that wouldn't keep happening", said Adam, from the hallway. He came into the dining-room "Are you two alright in here? Only I heard glass breaking".

"Your picture fell off the wall", said Bengo.

"As long as you're not hurt", said Adam, closing the wooden shutters at the window "Keep these closed during the night, just in case we get a bigger one".

"I've never known us get two so close together before", said Bengo.

"AD-AM!" Lonts roared, from the room upstairs "I'VE FALLEN OUT OF BED!"

"That's what that noise was", said Bengo.

"I'm amazed he didn't come through the ceiling!" said Bardin.

"O.K Lo-Lo", Adam hurried towards the stairs.

"It's alright, mummy's coming!" said Julian.

"Shut up, Jules!" said Adam.

Tamaz had been in the process of being stripped by Mieps when the tremor occurred.

"Stay there", said Mieps, and he paused to close the shutters in his room.

"I'm not staying in here again tonight", said Tamaz, even though he knew it was practically a foregone conclusion that he would.

Ransey had been on a tour of inspection throughout the house, to make sure there was no damage and that all the shutters were closed.

"Mieps has been hurting me, Ransey", said Tamaz, when he came into the little bedroom.

"Well you don't seem to be suffering too much because of it", said Ransey, looking at Tamaz's half-clad form.

Tamaz gave a hiss of annoyance, but nonetheless spent the rest of the night, unrocked by any further tremors, in Mieps's room.

In the cold white light of Boxing Day, no one felt in any great hurry to leave the cosy warmth of the Town House, to go traipsing up to the Arctic wastes of Hillyard's estate.

"The weather's probably too bad to fly anyway", said Julian, sitting by the blazing fire in his room, wearing a pair of tinted glasses as protection against his hangover "And that house is so vast they can surely lose Hoowie in it for a few more days".

"Perhaps if we leave it long enough", said Adam, with an optimism he didn't feel "They might get used to having him up there".

"Yes, give it a few decades!" said Julian.

"Ransey's going to send Glynis a message this morning", said Adam "Saying I have to finish the chapel first, but we should get up there very early in the New Year. Hillyard has suggested holding - in his words - a really big, really wild Twelfth Night party there, which I'm not sure is what Glynis actually needs to hear at the moment!"

"Yes, he's been coming up with ideas for it", said Julian "Quite extravagent they are too. If I didn't know any better I'd say he fancied himself as the Great Gatsby!"

"He's have loved being around in those days", Adam laughed.

"He suggested inviting Dolores too", said Julian "I think he wants his own harem around him. It surprises me no little Hillyards have been born in No-Name!"

"Good job you can't get pregnant, Jules", said Adam.

"I'm a little too old for it even if I could", said Julian "I couldn't bear being a woman, it must be hell".

"I can't say I've ever given it much thought", said Adam "No matter what my Father used to say! Although some of the things Freaky's been through do make me rather glad I'm male. Of course he has a perspective on both side, and he always says he prefers his male side".

"Yes", said Julian, dubiously "That's why he parades around in frilly knickers and fur coats! And he certainly likes to use his female side to manipulate us".

"So does Mieps", said Adam "Ever since his little escapade with Codlik he's been quietly flaunting his sex appeal for all its worth, walking around with one boob hanging out of his shirt, and then actually batting his eyelashes when I told him to shove it back in! Really quite extraordinary".

"Codlik, Sex God Of Vampire Castle!" said Julian.

"These Ghoomers are something else", Adam sighed "I'm not sure taking him and Freaky to the big house would be a very good idea at the moment".

"O-ho!" Julian exclaimed "When Freaky hears about this planned party there'll be no stopping him, you'll see!"

Ransey had got delayed at the telegraph office, by most of the town (or so it felt like) all sending festive greetings to the rest of the world. This was annoying, as there were too many interesting things going on back at the Town House to waste time here. Before setting out he he had discovered a fascinating crack in the dining-room wall. This had undoubtedly been caused by the tremor last night. The Town House was very solidly built, and on firm foundations, so there was no cause for alarm, but he wanted to see if any cracks had appeared anywhere else.

A tawdry fight broke out in the telegraph office between two young girls. One had dragged in a small child with her, who was the unfortunate offspring of the other girl.

"You said you'd be home at 1 o'clock last night", the babysitter roared "It's now fucking noon, and I had to come and find you here! What kind of a mother are you?"

The child started screaming.

"Come to Mummy", said the other girl, cooing in a way that was downright sinister. The child, understandably terrified out of his wits by this prospect, screamed even louder.

"This is a very long message you know", said the telegraph operator, from behind his wire grille.

"Eh?" said Ransey, who had been quietly thinking that the crack in the dining-room wall now seemed even more seductive.

"It's a very long message you want to send", said the man "It'll cost you".

"Look, I was up half the night composing that, and now you want me to change it!" said Ransey.

"I was just saying", said the man "It'll cost you".

"Yes well let's be reckless shall we!" said Ransey.

Eventually, after what felt like an eternity, he managed to escape from the telegraph office. He trudged home through the sleet, and was annoyed to find that he was developing an old man's acute fear of slipping over. When he got back to the house, he went to open the front door, and found it rebounded on him. Someone had put the chain on in his absence.

"Morons!" he yelled, pounding on the wood "Open up! It's me!"

"What's up?" said Kieran, flinging open his bedroom window.

"I've been locked out, that's what's up!" Ransey roared.

He heard the chain being slid back, and Toppy opened the door, looking mortally afraid. From the living-room Hillyard could be heard tinkling on the piano keys.

"It wasn't me", Toppy bleated "I didn't know the chain was on".

"I did it!" Tamaz yelled from the dining-room.

Ransey stormed into the dining-room, where Tamaz was sitting at the end of the clowns' bed, leaning against the bedrail and eating an apple. Bengo and Bardin, who were both reclining behind him, were fondling his naked breasts with their feet.

"Why?" Ransey barked, standing over him.

"I thought there was a horrible person outside", said Tamaz.

"There was", said Ransey "Me!"

He pulled off his sodden overcoat and draped it over Tamaz's head, before stamping off to the kitchen. Tamaz pulled off the coat and slung it disdainfully on the floor.

"Tamaz", Bardin gasped, shocked into seriousness "What horrible person?"

"I don't know", Tamaz shrugged "It was just a feeling I had. Nothing very strong, just a mild instinct".

"You know more than that!" Bardin grabbed him roughly "Tell me!"

"That is all I know", said Tamaz "I just thought something weird was about nearby, so I put the chain on for safekeeping. I didn't know Ransey had gone out. I didn't think anymore about it, it was just instinct I tell you".

"You know more than that!" Bardin gave him a hard smack on the rump.

Tamaz squealed, and Bengo lunged at Bardin.

"Bardy, no!" he cried "Don't beat him up, he gets enough of that from Mieps!"

"Mieps! Of course!" Bardin leapt off the bed and grabbed his bath-robe "He's got the best instincts of anyone".

He stopped in the middle of his mad flight from the room, and ran back to Tamaz, kissing him frenziedly all over his face as an apology.

"He's crazy!" said Tamaz.

Bardin galloped upstairs, watched with abject fascination by Farnol and Rumble in their bed on the first-floor landing. He burst into the little bedroom where Mieps was putting on a clean shirt.

"You've gotta come downstairs and stand just outside the front door", said Bardin.

"What for?" said Mieps.

"Tamaz says he sensed someone horrible out there", said Bardin "But then he says he doesn't know who it is, it was just instinct he says".

"He was probably having you on", said Mieps "If he's upset you I'll lock him in the cellar for a couple of hours".

"No!" said Bardin "Just come downstairs and stand outside the door for a minute".

Mieps followed him out onto the landing, where Farnol and Rumble interrupted their conversation again to watch them walk past.

"It's annoying having those two on the landing", said Bardin, preceeding Mieps down the stairs.

Mieps obligingly stood outside the front door for a little while, but confessed that he could sense nothing untoward at all.

"Shut the fucking door!" Joby bellowed from the hallway "You're letting all the heat out!"

Bardin and Mieps came back in and went into the dining-room, where Bengo was making love to Tamaz under the bedclothes, amidst much joyful yodelling from Tamaz. Bardin gave a heavy sigh and buried his face in Mieps's breasts, feeling that if he was going insane he might as well go crazy happy.

Adam spent the afternoon at the chapel. When he got home at twilight he went up to the top of the house, where he found Julian going into raptures over a piece of china he had ordered before Christmas and which had just been delivered. He waited impatiently whilst Adam turned it round and round in his hands.

"Go on admit it", Julian snapped "You think it's naff don't you?"

"Not at all", said Adam "I think it's very elegant. If I was quiet it's because I still can't get over seeing women depicted so openly in art, not when for years it was all suppressed".

"I know what you mean", said Julian "Those were sad times, in the world at large anyway. Amongst ourselves we still did alright".

"We always do", said Adam, replacing the figurine carefully on the mantelpiece "How's Bardin been this afternoon, after all his gallumping about at lunchtime?"

"Bardin worries too much", said Julian, lighting a cigar "But that's a good thing, shows how conscientious he is. I told him he had to try and switch off a little from what goes on outside. This town has always had a unique atmosphere".

"That's what first attracted us to it", said Adam.

"Precisely", said Julian "But sometimes I told him it gets a little too spooky, and then it's easy to let it get on top of you. I also pointed ut that we've all had some inexplicable experiences since we've been here, but we've all survived and none of them were worth going bonkers over".

"And how was he after this little pep talk?" Adam smiled.

"He seemed to be fine", said Julian "Although I think Mieps's tits had more of an effect! Freaky is most disgruntled that everyone keeps homing into that region!"

"You have to admit it is worrying though", said Adam "This strange presence that is constantly being detected outside I mean".

"Adam", Julian sighed "What is your usual impression of the atmosphere inside this house?"

"It's wonderful", said Adam "Even when we're all shouting at each other, it's wonderful. It's almost as good as the Bay".

"Quite", said Julian "And that's what counts. When this Strange Presence starts being felt inside the house and it begins causing friction and unpleasentness, then we'll get worked up about it, but not until. Call me an ostrich if you like, but I prefer it this way. I value our wonderful atmosphere too much to go poking around in things that probably don't amount to very much, and aren't anything to do with us".

"I value it too", said Adam, softly "When I think of all those gloomy years I lived alone back in our time. I was one of that 'happy' breed who always made excuses not to go home after work. Oh I'll do a bit more work, go shopping, go to a bar. Now being elsewhere feels like an irritating inconvenience, apart from when I'm doing something very absorbing like the chapel, and even then I'm not particularly saddened when it's time to leave".

"I used to dread going home during the school holidays", said Julian.

"Not half as much as I did!" said Adam.

"You'd be surprised", said Julian "School wasn't up to much, but home was deadly. Nothing but chilly silences and painful attempts at conversation".

Joby lugged a coal-scuttle into the room and deposited it by the fire.

"You can put some more on whilst you're here", said Julian "I did ask for that to be brought up 20 minutes ago".

"Very sorry m'lord", said Joby, sarcastically "But the fire don't look in any imminent danger of going out to me!"

"You are insufferable sometimes, Jules", said Adam, giving Julian a despairing look.

"Here", Joby pulled out a slip of paper which he had tucked inside his shirt "It arrived a few minutes ago. Another telegraph message from Glynis".

"Ah, he wore it next to his heart!" Julian cooed, taking the piece of paper from him.

"What's the matter with her now?" Adam sighed.

"She doesn't want us up there", said Joby "Has said there's no reason for us to come. She can put Hoowie on the next cargo air-buggy out of the place. Talk about making it plain we're not wanted!"

"'Codlik and I are resolving our differences'", Julian read.

"That's something I suppose", said Adam.

"I thought it was a daft idea going up there anyway", said Joby "I'd rather have a party here. We all would. Going up there was a really stupid suggestion".

"It was my suggestion", said Julian.

"Figures", said Joby.

"Draw the curtains, and don't get coal-dust all over them", Julian barked.

"Stop giving Joby orders, Jules", said Adam "He's under my control, not yours".

"Everyone is under my control", said Julian "I am Caesar!"

Joby groaned and went over to the window, which after giving a startled look out of it, he suddenly flung open, letting in a flurry of snow.

"Hey!" Julian shouted.

"There's someone on the other side of the street!" said Joby, excitedly "Watching the house. I swear they've got horns, look!"

"I can't make out anything very clearly", said Adam "The light's so bad".

"If it's Angel I'll ..." Joby began.

"Why on earth should it be Angel?" said Adam "He hasn't got horns".

"You don't know that", said Joby "None of us know that. We've only seen him in plain clothes up to now!"

Julian angrily slammed the window shut, and yanked the curtains across.

"Now see hear", he said to Joby "You're letting your imagination run wild. As Adam said, the light is bad, it's snowing, there's only one rather pathetic and feeble street-lamp, and your eyesight isn't up to much at the best of times. You did not see Angel or anyone sinister, with horns or without!"

He left the room rather smartly and stamped down the stairs. Adam and Joby checked that he had gone, and then rushed to open the window again. They both leaned out as far as they could, blinking against the snow-flakes, but they could see nothing.

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