Go back to previous chapter
Kieran was woken in the middle of the night by the chief steward, who said he'd had an urgent message from the night porter at the hospital for Kieran to go there. When he'd ascertained that this wasn't because any of the other Indigo-ites had been checked in, Kieran calmed down and agreed to go along in a few minutes.
Tamaz was already awake and sitting up in bed, his bare breasts making an enchanting sight above the red coverlet.
"It's a Ghoomer", said Tamaz "I bet you it's a Ghoomer. I can sense it".
"Alright", said Kieran "Well do me a favour and start getting dressed. I'll wake Joby".
This was easier said than done as Joby was snoring away merrily.
"I was having a nice sleep there", he groaned, on finding Kieran leaning over him "What's the matter?"
"Get your clothes on, I'll explain on the way", said Kieran "And make sure you've got your pistol packed inside your waistcoat".
The night porter was sitting in the entrance hall of the hospital, huddled over a wood-burning stove.
"I've put her in the loonies' ward", he said, when Kieran and his friends arrived "I thought it'd cause less of a commotion that way".
"Her?" said Kieran.
"Yeah, she came up out of the drain cover at the back", said the night porter "I warn you, she don't look none too pretty".
He unlocked the doors to the mental patients' ward, which currently housed about half-a-dozen long-term inmates. All of them were milling around the ward in their garish ankle-length striped robes, taking various peeks at the unusual newcomer in their midst. The Ghoomer was lying unconscious on a bed in the corner. Kieran approached her and then gave a yelp.
"Get these people back to their beds, away from her!" he cried "Can't you see she's riddled with the Virus?!"
"But I thought it'd been wiped out?" said the night porter.
"For fock's sake can't you rely on the evidence of your own eyes?" said Kieran "Look at her face!"
The creature was covered in brown and red corpuscles, the intermediate stage of the disease before it started eating away at the body like a hungry rat.
"We should be grateful it's not the bloody plague or we would have trouble!" said Kieran "Put a screen round the bed, and make sure no one uses anything she uses whilst she's here. And burn her bedding when she goes".
He meant died, as it would be impossible for her to recover now. The night porter had little time to panic over the next hour, although there wre a million questions he wanted to ask.
"Get the Town Constable to mount a guard here in case anymore of 'em decide to put in an appearance", said Kieran, sitting at the porter's desk and scribbling on a sheet of paper "Send a runner down to the Indigo with this note and tell him to give it to Ransey. I've put in an order for him to burn the house where we saw the Ghoomer woman the other day, to burn it to the ground, so make sure he gets anything he asks for in that department. Joby, how many bullets does your pistol have?"
"Six", said Joby.
"And I'm wearing a solid silver crucifix and rosary beads", said Kieran "And we have Tamaz's insight and hunting skills, so that gives us plenty of weapons on our side".
"You can't mean to go after him, just the three of you?" said the night porter, aghast.
"I believe in keeping things simple", said Kieran "A bunch of Virus-infected Ghoomers can't be that big a problem".
"But you can't trust HIM!" the night porter exclaimed, pointing at Tamaz.
"Oh yes we can", said Kieran "He won't give us any trouble, he knows when he's onto a good thing. You're not stupid are you, Tamaz? Now I assume you have some salt in the kitchen here?"
"Salt?" said the night porter, now bewildered as well.
"Yes salt, as used in cooking", said Kieran, impatiently "Also a great cleanser and purifier. Fetch me two containers of it. Better bring us some water-gourds and a small bottle of brandy whilst you're at it".
"Do a note for Adam as well, Kiel", said Joby "In case anything happens".
Kieran wrote a few lines on a separate piece of paper, and got Joby to sign it alongside his own name.
"Right", Kieran rose from the chair "We'll go down the way she came up. Tamaz, are you ready? Is your blood up?"
"Yes, when you're finished poncing around", said Tamaz.
"Let's go", said Kieran.
They walked for an age along the underground tunnel. Joby and Kieran carried torches loaned by the hospital, but Tamaz led the way using only his "infra-red eyesight", as Kieran called it. Eventually the tunnel widened out and revealed itself to be the entrance to an old mine-shaft. There were still a couple of rusted barrows lying about, and there were the remains of metal loops and holes in the floor.
At the end of it they clambered up onto a grassy hillside, and found themselves to be some distance out of town at the foothills of the mountains. It was now dawn, and they sat for a moment in the chilly greyness to have a sip of water and brandy.
"Why are you resting now?" said Tamaz, in exasperation "There'll be time enough to rest after the kill".
"Give us a break", said Joby "We're not as young as you!"
"You're not an old man either", said Tamaz "You're in your prime".
"But we need to stop and take stock occasionally", said Kieran "Tactics are called for as well as luck and initiative".
"Luck is all you need", said Tamaz, restlessly "And we're going to be lucky today. Today is not the day of our deaths".
"We have your word on that do we?" said Joby.
"Yes, the Ghoomers are sick, you've seen it for yourselves", said Tamaz "And I've got my favourite drawers on!"
"Oh well we can't lose then!" said Joby, sarcastically "Do you know, I've heard Lonts make more sense than you!"
"I never know what the blazes you're going to come out with next, Tamaz", Kieran laughed, and he restoppered the brandy bottle "We'll move on up the hillside, that seems to be the logical course to take".
Tamaz was so fired up by this time that Joby had to hang onto the sleeve of his coat, to stop him running forward at the first hint of prey.
They climbed down a sharp incline on the other side of the hill and found the remains of what must have been an old army base. Out of use for hundreds of years, the buildings were all falling down, and the perimeter fence had long since collapsed and been mossed over.
"They're all down there", said Tamaz.
What followed next was an experience akin to peeling layers of a psychedelic onion. A series of hysterical moanings led them into the building where the disease-ridden Ghoomers had sheltered themselves. They followed green-painted windowless corridors towards the noise, occasionally passing empty offices along the way. Joby saw an old bakelite telephone in one and ran in to pick up the receiver.
"What are you playing at?" said Kieran "Are you dialling the speaking clock?!"
"I haven't seen a telephone in twenty years", said Joby "I just thought by some miracle the line might still be open, but it's dead".
"Even if it wasn't", said Kieran "Who were you going to call, your gran?!"
"Don't be bloody funny", said Joby.
"Come on, let's follow the noise", said Tamaz, frustratedly "They're making it easy for us!"
Mainly because they had no choice. They located the Ghoomers all heaped together in a large room that must have once been a communal dining-hall. The creatures lay on floors and tables, some on camp-beds and mattresses. All were in the final stages of the Virus. The noise was terrifying. Endless groaning and wailing, like the a relentless echo of pain and animal misery, bouncing off the bare walls. It was like a scene from Dante's Inferno.
"Don't go any further in", said Kieran, holding back Tamaz "The Virus is highly contagious. I wouldn't put it past one of 'em to try to come up and kiss us out of spite, like the old plague victims used to do".
When some nearest the door became aware of Kieran's presence they became markedly agitated and thrust their hands and tongues about as though in an epileptic seizure.
"What do we do now?" said Joby, barely audible above the din.
"Burn the place", said Tamaz, bluntly.
"We'll do that when they're dead, which won't be long now", said Kieran "There's a religious commune of mine in this area. It can't be far from here. They can come out here and guard the place until the last of the demons have expired, then burn it and strew the ground with salt. This whole area's saturated with their presence. I don't think I can keep meself closed off for much longer. Let's get back out onto the hillside for a while".
"O.K, this lot aren't going anywhere in a hurry", said Joby.
Tamaz gave a snort of frustration and stamped back along the corridor. The others yelled and went to catch up with him. Joby was about to remonstrate with him when a Ghoomer servant detached himself from a side corridor and incongruously came towards them carrying an empty tray. His nose had been entirely eaten away by the Virus and his skin was scorched.
"Welcoming cocktail", he said, with effort "And you get to keep the glass!"
"Oh shit", said Joby.
"Joby, shoot the poor bastard", said Kieran "And don't hang about or I'll do it for you".
Joby did so, and the shot seemed to reverberate forever.
The three of them sat silently on the hill overlooking the old camp for an hour afterwards. No Ghoomers emerged from the building, but occasionally the sound of their groaning was borne along to them on the breeze. Kieran had given thanks to the Almighty that the Virus wasn't passed along the breeze as well, like the plague or smallpox might have been.
"Are you o.k now?" said Joby, putting his pistol back inside his waistcoat pocket.
"Feeling like a million dollars", said Kieran, drawing on his cigarette "Or at least I feel a lot better now I'm out of there! We'll hang around this area until the monks have done their piece. I want to bless the area meself when they're done".
"Do you think all those down there are the last of 'em?" said Joby "Apart from the ones Ransey's hopefully sorting out anyway".
"We can't be sure", said Kieran "Demons can breed and swarm as effectively as insects. But the Virus must have ripped through them like a bush-fire, and if it has, they won't stand a chance".
"I think we'll have some more of that brandy", said Joby, unfastening the backpack which Kieran had carried.
"Come on, Tamaz", Kieran called out "I'm sure you'd like another drop too".
Tamaz had been silent since leaving the camp. He had taken off his coat and was now sitting on it, with his bony arms resting on his trousered knees.
"C'mon sweetheart", said Joby, tenderly "We know this isn't easy for you either, and sitting in silence won't help".
"I don't care about them!" Tamaz spat, but moving down to sit between them nonetheless "They're no loss".
"You felt summat for 'em once", said Joby "I know damn well you did, because you asked to go back to them".
"Only because I knew no better, and I thought I'd be killed if I didn't return", said Tamaz "And if Codlik had had his way I would've been. He admitted it himself".
"There'll never be any question of that again", said Kieran "You've proved yourself today".
"Last night you said I could have anything I wanted", said Tamaz.
"I knew we'd live to regret that remark", Joby muttered.
"So what's your request then, Tamaz?" Kieran smiled.
"I don't want you leaving me with Julian again", said Tamaz "I don't like him beating me".
"If you'd behaved yourself he wouldn't have done", said Joby.
"Julian scares me", said Tamaz.
"I'm glad someone does!" said Joby.
"There won't be any reason to leave you alone with him again", said Kieran "Those were exceptional circumstances. It'll always be me or Joby who'll be taking care of you from now on, although you've got to accept that Julian's in overall charge".
"I suppose so", said Tamaz.
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site