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The covered market was a colourful, noisy refuge from the driving rain. First though they had to get past the main entrance, where rows of dead game birds were hanging from hooks by their feet, waiting to be plucked and cooked.
“Jayz, you carnivores”, said Kieran, ostentatiously whipping out a handkerchief and holding it to his mouth and nose.
“Alright, don’t start giving a speech”, said Bardin, dragging him along by his coat “Or I’ll start wishing I had brought Joby along as well”.
They meandered along the labyrinthine tunnels of the market, lined on both sides by stalls and kiosk shops selling a whole range of goods, much of it homemade.
“They’re entrepeneurs round here”, said Kieran “They’ll turn their hands to anything”.
“I suppose living this remotely they have to be”, said Bardin.
They paused at a stall which sold nothing but homemade preserves, and caddies of specialised tea. They bought a caddy of Christmas Tea, and two jars of blackcurrant jam for Adam. They eventually wound up at Sweaty Paws’ emporium. His face lit up when he saw them.
“I haven’t seen you in months”, he said “Wasn’t it much nicer in the Summer? When people weren’t wearing so many clothes?”
“Indeed”, Bardin barked.
“What can I sell you today?” said Sweaty Paws.
“Underwear”, said Kieran, quite shamelessly.
“You’ll make me blush at this rate”, said Bardin, as a scuttling Sweaty Paws escorted them to the end of a trestle-table.
“You look lovely when you blush, Bardin”, said Kieran.
“Stop it!” Bardin hissed.
Fortunately, Sweaty Paws was distracted by other customers arriving, so Bardin and Kieran could inspect the undergarments in peace.
“What IS your obsession with stripes?” said Bardin, as Kieran held up a pair of multi-coloured boxer shorts.
“I like colourful stuff”, said Kieran “Have to wear enough dreary colours on top sometimes, it’s nice for me knickers to have some colour in them”.
Bardin fished out a pair of long, baggy, white shorts.
“Not snug enough surely?” said Kieran.
“They’re to go over my thermal drawers”, said Bardin.
“I hope you get the paddle applied to your when you wear them”, said Kieran “TWO pairs of spanking knickers for God’s sake!”
They carried on browsing through the clothes like a pair of giggling children.
“I can’t believe you’re supposed to be the Vanquisher of Evil!” said Bardin.
“Why not?” said Kieran “Evil would never be able to cope with this silliness! It takes everything VERY seriously”.
“Poor shits”, said Bardin “No way to bloody live is it!”
“They have a whole different concept of living”, said Kieran.
“Now back out into the rain”, said Bardin, when they had paid for their purchases “Let’s hope Hedda’s got the mulled wine on the go”.
They were busy warming themselves over the fire in the main bar at The Dancing Dog, when Hedda came out of a back room, in terrible distress.
“Thank God you’re here”, she said to Kieran “Please help me. It’s Monika. She’s in an awful way”.
Kieran and Bardin followed her through the back regions of the hotel until they came to a small, ground-floor bedroom. Monika was lying on a narrow bed. Her body, normally as slender as a reed, was bloated and distended.
“What’s happened to her?” said Badin, who couldn’t help thinking that she looked like a vampire who had been gorging on a victim.
“I don’t know”, Hedda cried “I found her like it about an hour ago. I was going to send someone to the galleon to fetch you”.
Kieran gently placed a hand on Monika’s forehead, and immediately black bile spewed out of her mouth, gushing down onto her nightdress. Hedda gave an anguished wail. Bardin tried to turn her round so that she couldn’t see, but she was a stocky lady, not easy to move. Meanwhile, Kieran pulled off the crucifix he was wearing under his shirt, and placed it on Monika’s face, all the while shouting “begone, you foul creature!”
“I don’t understand”, Hedda wept, piteously.
And then, all of a sudden, that was an uncanny stillness in the room.
“W-what’s happened?” Hedda whispered.
“She’s free, Hedda”, said Kieran, removing the crucifix and softly running his hand over Monika’s face.
There was the sound of heavy footsteps, as of someone running in gumboots, and Jarvis appeared breathlessly in the room.
“She’s dead”, Hedda wept.
Jarvis collected himself quickly.
“It’s for the best, girl”, he said, grabbing Hedda’s arm and pulling her away “Come into the bar, I’m getting you a brandy”.
“I don’t understand though”, said Hedda, allowing herself to be led away “Hadn’t they done enough to her?”
“I don’t understand either”, said Bardin, once he and Kieran were alone.
“This isn’t the place to explain”, said Kieran, pulling a blanket over Monika’s lifeless form.
He and Bardin returned to the bar to collect their parcels. They were prevented from leaving though by Hedda, who insisted on them having a drink as well. She alternated between speaking calmly, and becoming so distressed that Kieran feared she would tear her own eyeballs out with frustration and rage.
“The evil bastards”, she wept “It wasn’t enough for them to destroy her, they had to violate her body as well, when that was all that was left of her”.
“Do you want me to help with the burial?” said Kieran “I’ll understand if you have other plans”.
“No, I’d like you to”, said Hedda “We’ll do it after dark though. I want as little fuss as possible. People gawped enough at her when she was alive”.
“No one can hurt her anymore, gal”, said Jarvis.
“No they can’t”, said Hedda, firmly “We’ll put her in the orchard. She used to read there in the Summer months”.
She suddenly stared so fixedly at Bardin that he felt quite alarmed.
“You must be careful”, she said “They’re after you aren’t they?”
“B-but …” said Bardin, baffled as to how she could know.
“They damn well won’t get you as well”, said Hedda, with formidable vehemence “If I have to guard you myself, I like I should’ve guarded Monika …”
“We keep a close watch on Bardin, don’t you worry”, said Kieran “Now I shan’t be treading on any toes shall I? If you have your usual priest here …”
“We don’t have a usual priest”, said Hedda.
“There’s no one like that in this town”, said Jarvis.
“All these months we’ve been here it’s nothing occurred to me to ask”, said Kieran, as he and Bardin made their way to the boatyard to meet up with Hillyard “I’ve never gone seeing them out, like I often do”.
“That’s good isn’t it?” said Bardin.
“Well Joby would certainly say so!” said Kieran.
Monika was buried late the following evening, amidst yet more torrential rain. It was an intense, gloomy affair, lit by lanterns, and surrounded by mud, as she was finally laid to rest in the orchard.
“A beautiful young girl like that should have been surrounded by warm sunshine and flowers”, said Kieran.
“The old Monika died ages ago”, Joby pointed out.
Kieran had officiated at the funeral, attended by Joby and Adam. Hillyard had waited in the bar at the hotel, ready to drive them home at the end of it. Bardin had wanted to come, but it was felt that his presence might send Hedda into a worrisome state. She was concerned enough about him as it was.
“Damnit Bardin”, said Adam, spanking him ferociously with the paddle “I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever bring you to heel”.
Bardin burst into tears. Bengo roughly hauled him to his feet.
“I’ve made him angry”, Bardin sobbed, after the funeral party had left.
“No you haven’t”, said Bengo “He’s just telling you what’s what, that’s all”.
“He might give up on me”, said Bardin.
“Oh don’t be bloody silly!” said Bengo.
The prolonged rainy season gave way to an ice-storm which effectively put life on hold and drove everybody inwards even more. The town went virtually into lockdown, and communication with the outside world via the wireless was non-existent. Fortunately, squally winds heralded an unusually early Spring. When the frosty conditions on the roads eased, Joby and Kieran decided to take two of the ponies out for a hack into town, using the excuse that Ransey (who was spending one of his days at the boatyard) had left his lunch-pail behind.
Joby left Kieran minding the horses at the quayside, and went into the boatyard office, where Ransey was chatting to the captain of a fishing-trawler which was new in town.
“He’s just been giving me news of the outside world”, said Ransey to Joby.
“You don’t wanna know about it”, said the captain, who was sprawled, exhausted, in a chair. He shook his head wearily “Terrible stuff. We’re refugees really. None of us wants to go back after what we’ve seen down there”.
“In the City you mean?” said Joby.
“Not just there”, said the captain “There’s a village to the north of there. EVERYBODY’S been slaughtered. Men. Women. Children. Even all the animals”.
“Why, for fuck’s sake?” said Joby.
“Who’s doing all this?” said Ransey.
“No one knows who they are”, said the captain “Everybody calls them the Dark Forces. The government - what’s left of it - says it’s nothing to do with them, and for once I expect they’re telling the truth”.
“There is still a government then?” said Ransey.
“Of sorts”, said the captain “The last President, a really pretty woman, I liked her, though she seemed a bit spaced-out, well she’s disappeared. It was suddenly put out that she’d been arrested, and no one’s seen her since. No reason given. None at all”.
Joby went back outside. He needed some fresh air, and he felt he wanted to keep a close eye on Kieran. He found him being ogled by the crew of the fishing-trawler, all making approving noises, and Joby could see why. With his short, slender body, and his long fair hair blowing wildly in the squally wind, he looked like a woman.
“Alright KIERAN”, Joby snorted with laughter when he joined him “Let’s go home”.
“Why are you saying my name like that?” said Kieran.
“I think you’ve got some new admirers”, said Joby “It’s that barnet of yours, your female crowning-glory”.
“The focking eejits”, said Kieran.
“Don’t complain”, said Joby “At least they haven’t recognised you!”
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