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By Sarah Hapgood

The weather closed in for the next few days. It rained heavily, and mid-morning was almost as dark as night. During a brief lull in the dampness, Bardin organised a hunting-party to the forest, which - as Joby pointed out - would stop him and Kieran getting up to anymore mischief.

“There’s no way Kieran will go along on that”, Joby said to Adam “We’ve got something to thank his vegetarianism for at last”.

“But what about Patsy on his own?” said Adam.

“Don’t care”, said Joby.

“Oh Joby, you don’t mean that!” said Adam.

“Yes I do, and I’ve told him so”, said Joby “He can go faffing round Crowley’s den if he wants to, but he needn’t expect me to go and rescue him if he gets stuck there!”

This attitude of indifference worked on Kieran, far more effectively than any shoutings and hidings could do. Joby flatly refused to listen to anymore talk about Angel’s picture, and merely said “go on, you go if you want to. At least I’ll know where you are!”

“I don’t understand you being like this”, said Kieran.

“It’s very easy, Kiel”, said Joby “I don’t give a fuck about Crowley or Angel. They depress the hell out of me. You can go chasing after ‘em if you like, but as far as I’m concerned they can fuck off. I’m busy”.

The hunting-party returned, sodden to the skin, and bringing with them the spoils of dead rabbits and a couple of dead ducks.

“Great”, said Joby, looking unenthusiastically at the unlovely mound of carcasses which had been dumped on the galley table.

“You be grateful for that lot”, said Hillyard.

“I think you should all go and change out of your wet clothes”, said Adam.

Joby caught a glimpse of Kieran loitering outside the galley door.

“You don’t wanna come in here”, said Joby “It’s full of murdered dead animals!”

“I do wish you wouldn’t put it quite like that, Joby”, said Adam.

“If it keeps him out of the way I will!” said Joby.

“Evil flourishes when good men do nothing!” Kieran shouted.

“Oh naff off!” Joby shouted back.

Bengo was asked to take mugs of tea into the dining-room to thaw out the hunters. When he got in there they were all in various states of undress (apart from Mieps, who was in a dressing-gown), and the clothes were hung over clothes horses and fireguards near the fireplace.

“It’s bloody ridiculous”, Bardin was saying, pacing around, with his ballet-dancer’s gait, in his shorts “We should know better than to let a change of season unnerve us about that forest. We were fine with it all Summer!”

“Did something happen there today then, Bardy?” said Bengo, as he walked around with the tray, doling out tea.

“Not really”, said Bardin “Just everybody getting a bit spooked. Even ones who should know better”.

“That was aimed at me I suppose?” said Hillyard, good-humouredly “Didn’t stop me bagging all those ducks though did it?”

“Bardin, don’t be hard on people”, said Bengo “Those woods could spook anyone on a day like this”.

“Not half”, said Hillyard “Feels like no one’s been in them for hundreds of years”.

“Perhaps they haven’t”, said Mieps.

“Let’s not go letting our imaginations get out of control”, said Bardin “In an area like this it’s too easy to do that”.

“Hoowie heard a strange noise when he was up on deck earlier”, said Bengo “Said it sounded like an explosion in the far distance”.

“From what direction?” said Ransey.

“He’s not sure”, said Bengo.

“Be hopeless relying on Hoowie for useful information”, said Bardin “Although I should’ve been told about this the instant we got back to the ship”.

“Haven’t had a chance!” said Bengo “Anyway, he said whatever it was sounded a really long way away, and he only heard it for a moment”.

“Could be anywhere”, said Ransey “A noise like that could travel a huge distance in a largely depopulated area like this”.

“I want to be told the instant anyone hears it again”, said Bardin.

“If you insist”, Bengo sighed.

“Hoowie charged into the room, like a breathless dervish.

“Bardin!” he yelled “Come on up on deck now! Another weird noise! Only this one’s much louder and much closer! Come on! It’s on our side of the lake!”

“Yes hang on, let me put some trousers on first”, said Bardin, handing his mug back to Bengo “It’s alright for you, you’ve got a coat on”.

Hoowie hopped about impatiently whilst Bardin pulled on his damp trousers. Then he practically dragged him up to the main deck.

“What the hell?” said Bardin “It sounds like a wild animal crashing through the trees. Binoculars someone!”

“A fucking big wild animal”, said Hoowie “It sounds enormous!”

Something seemed to be crunching steadily through the forest, but, as Hoowie had said, whatever it was must be huge. Each step it took seemed to produce a small earth tremor. But they couldn’t see anything. Even when the binoculars were fetched, nothing could be glimpsed through the foliage.

“Whatever it is”, said Bardin, eventually “It’s too big for us to tangle with. Weigh anchor immediately, we’ll move out into the middle of the lake”.

“I keep thinking of that behemoth we saw at the Quarantine House on the New Continent”, said Bardin, once they were in motion “Whatever it is must be that size to create that level of noise”.

“Where the fuck is it though?” said Joby, who had joined the others on deck “We can’t see anything”.

“Could this be Aleister’s doing?” said Adam “We know he’s capable of summoning up minor demons”.

“Minor?” said Joby “That sounded like fucking major!”

“Well it’s capable of intimidating us”, said Adam “And causing fear. But can it do more than that?”

“I don’t propose we try our luck to find out”, said Bardin “Something that size could shatter the boat like matchwood. And then where would we be? The safety of the ship is paramount”.

“Well I wasn’t proposing that we go hunting it, old love!” said Adam. “Let’s hope that if it is Crowley’s doing”, said Umbert “He’s no good at summoning up lake monsters!”

“To be on the safe side, I think Kieran should put a protection around the ship”, said Bardin “As best he can”.

“Good”, said Joby “That’s the one thing I know will keep him out of bloody mischief for a while!”

“Thank goodness we didn’t store anything much in the courtyard kitchen”, said Adam, when he, Joby and Bengo returned below to the galley to prepare supper.

“No”, said Joby “We only really used it to spank Bardin in”.

“Well at least we managed that before having to high-tail it out of there”, said Adam.

“I like being in the middle of the lake”, said Bengo.

“You might be getting a lot more of it now”, said Joby “I has a feeling we’ll e on the move again after tonight”.

“Well perhaps it’s time”, said Adam “Things have been getting too difficult here lately. We’ll just have to find somewhere else”.

Over dinner Bardin announced that there would be some night-shifts on deck overnight, and that they would set off away from the area after breakfast the following morning.

“Which direction?” said Hillyard.

Bardin held up his knife and pointed it southwards.

“What the fuck are you doing, you great hairy buffoon?” said Bardin, being rudely roused out of slumber by Hoowie pulling on his bedclothes.

“Can I join you, Bardin?” said Hoowie, pathetically.

“No you bloody can’t!” said Bengo, crossly “There’s not room for 3 in this bed, not comfortably anyway”.

“But I’m freaked out on my own”, said Hoowie “Julian’s on night-watch”.

“Sleep on the sofa then”, said Bardin.

“I can’t”, said Hoowie “It’s covered in boots”.

“Then sleep in the armchair!” said Bengo.

Hoowie laboriously shifted one of the chairs across the room, so that it was by the bed.

“What was that noise?” said Bardin.

“Hoowie of course, what d’ya think!” said Bengo.

“No ssh listen”, said Bardin “It’s outside”.

There was a high-pitched scream in the far distance.

“A wild animal?” said Bengo.

“I’d better go up on deck and see”, said Bardin “You two stay here”.

He scrambled into his clothes and left the room.

“Can I join you for a bit, Benje?” said Hoowie.

“No!” said Bengo.

“I don’t know what the fuck it is”, said Hillyard, up on the main deck “Something screaming from the sounds of things”.

“From our old side of the lake”, said Bardin.

The noise was now fairly repetitive.

“Could it be the Cyanide Sisters again?” said Rumble “They’ve tried those sort of tactics before”.

“We’ve seen nothing of them in this area all the time we’ve been here”, said Bardin “Anyway, that doesn’t sound like a woman, or a man come to that. It’s inhuman”.

“A man could go mad listening to that”, said Julian “Which is doubtless what Crowley is intending”.

“You think he’s doing all this?” said Bardin.

“As we’ve already said”, said Julian “Conjuring up minor demons is small beer to him”.

“OK, the way to get through this”, said Bardin “Is to treat it like an unknown animal. If it gets too bad, then we won’t bother waiting for morning in order to leave”.

The horrendous noise lasted for about 40 minutes. It wasn’t long after that the first glimmers of dawn began to appear. Bardin sent Toppy below to get shots of brandy for everyone. As they were handed round he said “you should all get some rest. In the meantime we’ll set sail immediately. I trust no one has any objection?”

“Not at all”, said Julian “The sooner we’re away from Crowley’s field of influence the better. We can’t risk him taking you”.

They were soon underway, sailing southwards. Bardin was too restless to sleep, and organised Shag and Mutton Broth to move the mountain of boots from the sofa in his cabin to a neat stockpile outside the wireless room door.

“Won’t they be in the way there?” said Adam.

“No”, said Bardin “I’ve arranged it so they’re not impeding you at all”.

“I meant for getting into the Wireless Room”, said Adam.

“Just have to climb over them”, said Bardin. He followed Adam back into the galley.

“I really do think you should go and rest, old love”, said Adam “You look done-in”.

“I’d like some tea first”, said Bardin, sitting down at the galley table.

“Of course”, said Adam “It’s very satisfying to hear us moving like this. Getting you safely away from Aleister’s clutches”.

“That’s weird”, said Bardin “That’s virtually what Julian said earlier”.

“Not weird at all”, said Adam “It’s how we feel. You’re very precious to us”.

Bardin eyed the wooden butter paddles which were lying on the table.

“Yes”, he said “You enjoy spanking me”.

“That’s a major pleasure it’s true”, said Adam.

“Not half”, Joby concurred.

“But not all of it by any means”, said Adam.

“I think you’re all nuts”, said Bardin, collecting his mug of tea.

“Takes one to know one!” said Joby.

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