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By Sarah Hapgood


“The six of them went off at daybreak”, he wrote “Lo-Lo was in a terrible state. He was imploring Joby not to let Tamaz do anything rash, as Freaky can be very naughty when his blood’s up and he’s being impetuous, and then he simply doesn’t stop to think about his own safety. When it came for them to depart I had to dig Mieps out of the food-hold. She had gone in there in a sulk because she hadn’t been invited along (Julian says her womanly side is becoming more apparent everyday!). It distressed me to have to tell her that if anything happened to them she would regret such negative behaviour.

Anyway, off they went, and an extremely painful occasion it was. We watched them until they got sufficiently far out to sea to be undistinguishable as a shape. I had better point out here that they didn’t take the skiff in the end, but borrowed a small boat with an outboard motor. The skiff would not only be very hard work, but would be extremely impractical in the event of a quick getaway.

I went over to the kitchen, as the normal work still had to go on (although sometimes on occasions like that I ask myself why exactly!), and Hegley helped me. At lunchtime there was still no sighting of the six, and Lo-Lo had stayed out on the quayside for hours keeping a look-out. I decided it would be virtually impossible to sit down to lunch without a trace of them in sight, and ordered that the sloop be unmoored and we go off after them. Fortunately no one disagreed with me, although I would have been very surprised if they had!

It is hard to describe quite how strange it was approaching the island, after it had intruded on our lives for so long. The boat was anchored at the foot of a flight of steps cut into the huge rock that seemed to comprise the bulk of the island. In fact bare rock was all that the island was. There was no grass or vegetation of any kind. There was also no sign of any habitation, except a doorway cut into the protruding part of the rock, which suggested that the island inhabitants all lived underground. To say this filled us with foreboding would be an understatement! I kept remembering Patsy’s dream about Thetis trying to crawl out of an underground chamber with some terrible creature attached to her.

It was with indescribable relief that I saw Joby appear at the doorway, obviously alerted by the sound of the sloop arriving. He looked drained and gaunt, quite ill in fact. Naturally I thought that something terrible had happened to one of the others. But no, they were all safe. Then I lost my temper. If everybody was safe why had they worried us all like this, and why hadn’t they come home? He said they were waiting for It to die.

I can’t remember what the others did, but I immediately followed him down some steps that ran down into the rock from the doorway. Patsy and the others were in a sort of underground chamber at the bottom, standing watching a creature seated on an ornate chair against the far wall. Seeing this ghastly creature took me right back to the Winter Palace, and my horrible encounter with Mullawa the vampire. She was pouring blood from all over her body. Not wounds, but sort of sweating it, as though she was sweating blood not perspiration. It saturated her, from her hair, all down her skin and clothing. She kept opening her mouth and a horrible squawking sound came out, as though her vocal chords had been cut. Joby gave me to understand that he thought this was the red-headed girl who had tried to coax him to the island with her, although it was hard to recognise anything under all that blood.

Patsy and Bengo came to the back of the chamber and whispered to me that, from what they could gather, the very depths of the rock were filled with some mutating black slime, which Patsy believed to be Evil in it’s most basic chemical form. It filled the interior depths of the rock like lava in a volcano. Whoever these creatures were that had inhabited the rock, and the blood queen, (as I thought of her), appeared to be the last of them, had kept the Evil fed with victims (our Thetis doubtless having been one of those victims). Something had obviously gone wrong for them recently though as the Evil had also swallowed up the island’s inmates (perhaps they had fed it too well, and it had now got too strong for them?). Patsy said that from the brief glimpse he had given into the pit the Evil was obviously gathering strength at an alarming rate. It was now like a sort of billowing black cloud with tentacles. The only way to stop it growing was to starve it, deprive it of nourishment, a food source.

I said, then for goodness sake, why hadn’t they just finished off the Blood Queen, sealed up the pit and departed, all as any sane person would do! Patsy said that the others had wanted to see her die slowly. They had wanted to simply stand and watch the protracted death-throes, and make no effort to help her. I said well they’d had several hours of this now, they must have had their fill of such torment, and now simply let Ransey mop her up. Which he eventually managed, though it was a messy death. It took several tries to make any kind of impact on her (whatever breed this lot were, bullets were obviously not as effective on them as they would be on humans). Even when her flesh was saturating the chair and the surrounding floor she still seemed to be reviving herself one last time, which suggests to me that the humanoid form wasn’t their natural shape, and that perhaps, like the vampires were originally when they came out of the green slime, they were amorphous, intangible creatures. All in all it was a perfectly revolting sight, and I have a feeling I’m going to be off my food for a while!”

“Who is it?” said Bengo, who was lying on the bed in The Landlord’s Bedroom. There was no one working overhead at the moment, as due to the momentous trip to the island the tavern’s normal day-to-day running had been suspended.

“It’s me”, said Tamaz, on the other side of the bolted door.

Bengo got up and let him in.

“Have you been crying?” said Tamaz, joining him on the bed.

“So what if I have!” Bengo snapped “I suppose real men aren’t supposed to cry is that it?!”

“I wouldn’t know”, said Tamaz.

“Oh you hermaphrodites have your own rules”, said Bengo.

“We have to have”, said Tamaz “Nothing in the world is set up for us! Has Old Flat-Cap been getting at you?”

“No he’s o.k”, said Bengo “Well I say he’s o.k, but he’s not feeling very well at the moment”.

“Is he confined to bed?” said Tamaz, hopefully.

“Only for the moment”, said Bengo “Whilst Finia gives him a rub-down. I expect he’ll be up and around soon”.

“You don’t look well either”, said Tamaz.

“Kieran says it’s just the after-effects of coming into such close contact with Evil”, said Bengo.

“I could’ve told you that!” said Tamaz “You didn’t need Kieran to tell it you!”

“Oh Tamaz”, said Bengo, emotionally “I just wish we could get some peace in our lives again. I thought it would all happen once Codlik was dead, but it doesn’t seem to be coming at all”.

“Codlik caused too much hassle for it to come soon”, said Tamaz.

“I don’t want to do this damn Festival!” said Bengo “I really don’t!”

“Well tell Flat-Cap!” said Tamaz “I can’t imagine he’ll enjoy it either, seeing as he never enjoys anything!”

“Oh he does”, Bengo laughed “Sometimes”.

“Bardy, I need to speak to you”, said Bengo, in the cabin a short while later.

Bardin was freshly scrubbed and groomed, and looking as immaculate as a choirboy in his silk bath-robe.

“This sounds serious”, he mumbled.

Toppy was nearby, suddenly making an industrious show of polishing the full-length mirror.

“Toppy, leave us for a moment”, said Bardin.

Toppy left the room with a great show of reluctance. Bardin shut the door on him firmly.

“Well shoot”, said Bardin, once they were alone.

“I don’t want to do the Festival”, said Bengo “I can’t! I want some peace, we all do! And how can we get that if we clog the town up with a load of strangers!”

“B-but Dobley’s set his heart on it”, said Bardin.

“Oh well then we must do it then mustn’t we, if Dobley’s set his heart on it!” Bengo exclaimed, somewhat emotionally.

“Bengo-o!” Bardin drew him to him and held him in his arms “Oh my poor boy. It’s today that’s upset you, it’s upset us all”.

“I’m shocked at myself, Bardy”, Bengo sobbed “I saw a side of myself today that I didn’t know existed”.

“What do you mean?” said Bardin.

“I didn’t know I could be so hard and callous”, said Bengo “I mean I know I can be a selfish git, and I know I’m not always as sensitive to other people’s feelings as I should be, but that’s because I’m thick. But to want to watch someone die like that …”

“Some THING”, said Bardin “That creature wasn’t human”.

“It doesn’t matter!” said Bengo.

“Look stop beating yourself up about this”, said Bardin “We were all very fond of Thetis, and how she died was simply terrible. It’s only natural that you should want revenge on the person who organised it, and that creature was dying anyway, you could see that”.

“But I wanted to watch it die in agony, and I didn’t care how long it took!” said Bengo “That’s not exactly what Kieran calls turning the other cheek is it!”

“Well correct me if I’m wrong”, said Bardin “But Kieran was with us today! I know that the unwritten rulebook of decent behaviour says that we’re supposed to rise above Evil, and most of the time we should, but we wanted that thing today to suffer as Thetis had suffered at the end. We got what we wanted, and rightly or wrongly, and I don’t honestly know which it is in this case, I FEEL BETTER FOR IT!”

“So suddenly, at just one word from the brat, suddenly Bardin says we’re not doing the show!” said Hal, who was looking very hot and sweaty after hammering a load of nails into a tea-chest in what looked like an entirely fruitless exercise.

“Was it old dimples-and-curls who wanted it stopped then?” said Mutton Broth, who was idly rubbing a ruler through his grubby toes.

“Yeah that’s what I’ve just been saying!” said Hal “Haven’t you been listening?”

“Well did you tell him we wanted to do it?” said Mutton Broth.

“He said if we wanted to do a show that much we should go back to the Village of Stairs”, said Hal.

“I don’t wanna go back there!” said Mutton Broth.

“None of us do”, said Hal “I like being in retirement here. But I don’t know why he’s suddenly doing things at a word from Bengo, he never used to!”

“Marriage has made him soft”, said Mutton Broth “It was easier when they were just comedy partners”.

“Bengo says he don’t wanna do the show and Bardin panics ‘cos he don’t wanna perform alone”, said Hal “The great soft wuss! I tell you somethink, if he dares to lecture us on professionalism at any time in the future, I’ll give him a few choice words I can tell yer!”

“Kieran! What the fuck are you doing!” Joby yelled, running through the orchard.

Hegley had been shooting rabbits in the field beyond the orchard, destined for Adam’s cooking-pot. Kieran in turn had been firing a rifle in Hegley’s direction. Hegley had panicked and jumped up the nearest tree.

“Hah!” said Kieran “Why the sudden great concern for Hegley? You’ve barely given him the time of day since he got here”.

“That don’t mean I want him shot!” said Joby “Have you really flipped once and for all?”

“He’s in no danger”, said Kieran “These are blanks”.

“You can still kill someone with blanks you know!” said Joby.

“Only if you hold the focking gun right against his head!” said Kieran “Anyway, I was firing at the ground, not at him, I was just trying to scare him”.

“Well I think you’ve managed that ent yer!” said Joby “The poor bastard! There he is trying to fetch our supper for us, and this mad bloody Irishman appears firing a gun at him!”

“At the ground I keep telling you!” said Kieran “I was showing more concern for him than he was showing for those rabbits. I could see the little ears sticking up through the grass”.

“Kieran, we have often have rabbit casserole”, said Joby “Where the fuck do you think the rabbits come from? Sainsburys?!”

“You lot may eat the rabbits, I don’t!” said Kieran.

“We don’t all wanna be vegetarian do we!” said Joby “And it don’t exactly do you much good, you look like an emaciated stick-insect!”

“Half the people in the world want a figure like mine”, said Kieran “What does that tell you?”

“There are a lot of planks out there!” said Joby “This has been a mental day this has, completely mental! There’s Bengo having a nervous breakdown, and there’s you shooting Hegley! I’d better warn Mieps and Tamaz next time they goes out hunting! We’ll have to lock you up first!”

“Hey!” Hillyard sauntered through the trees “Hey, you ent half gonna cop it, Kieran! Ransey’s on your tail, taking the gun off with you like that. You’ll get his favourite lecture of the importance of gun safety”.

“At length I hope!” said Joby, who had taken the rifle off Kieran and disabled it.

“Was Hegley doing up the tree?” said Hillyard.

“Crapping himself probably!” said Joby “I’m going back to the kitchen, and I’m taking this”, he waved the rifle “With me”.

Julian walked into the bar-room, which was empty, apart from Ragen, who was tapping away on his typewriter in the corner. Julian gave him a disgruntled look and then bellowed “SHOP!”

Adam came out of the kitchen, looking flustered.

“Oh for goodness sake, Jules”, he said “It wouldn’t have hurt you to help yourself you know”.

“We’ve opened a self-service bar now have we?” said Julian “Where’s old Frog-Features anyway?”

“Renee?” said Adam “I think she went into town to do a bit of shopping. As she said it was for her old man I didn’t like to enquire what she was buying! Anyway, you’ve got brandy over on the sloop, you could have had some of that”.

“I can’t”, said Julian “Bengo and Bardin are still holed up in the cabin. I thought I’d be decent and let them be for a while longer”.

“Bardin hasn’t left the sloop?” said Adam “So how did he tell the other clowns about the cancelling of the Festival?”

“Sent Toppy over as carrier-pigeon”, said Julian.

“That was remarkably brave of Toppy”, said Adam “The clowns tend to rough him up a bit when he goes into the skittle-alley, not anything serious, they just disarrange his clothes and his hair. He’s always complaining to me that he never wants to get sent in there again”.

“Oh I think this time he wanted the enjoyment of being the bearer of disappointing news!” said Julian.

Father Levka shuffled into the room, glancing all around him like a conspirator.

“Is Kieran here?” he asked.

“No he’s not”, said Adam “He’s been a very naughty boy and has been put to work grooming the horses”.

“What’s he done?” said Julian.

“Tried to shoot Hegley”, said Adam.

“WHAT?!” said Julian.

“Oh not for real”, said Adam “He fired blanks at the ground, he just wanted to scare him. Hegley was shooting our supper and you know how Patsy feels about all that”.

“I need to speak to him”, said Father Levka.

“If you absolutely insist you’ll find him in the stables”, said Adam.

“Here y’are”, said Joby, handing a cup to Kieran in the stables “I’ve put four sugars in it so you can’t complain it’s not sweet enough, like you normally do”.

“You don’t normally stir it enough either”, said Kieran.

“That’s why I’ve left the spoon in it!” said Joby “You can do it yourself! What did Rasputin want anyway? He was carrying on as though he’d murdered somebody!”

“Oh typical of my Church”, said Kieran “Wanted to chew my ear off about everything we got wrong over on the island. He seems to think we should have destroyed the black slime”.

“How?” Joby barked.

“Exactly”, said Kieran “I did point out to him, as patiently as I could, that attempting to destroy it could be very irresponsible, you could end up scattering it to the four winds and then we’d never know what was what. All we could do was to try and contain it”.

“Well he could always go over there and sort of keep permanent watch on it if he likes”, said Joby.

“I don’t like criticising him”, said Kieran “He does a lot of good work in the Village of Stairs, I just wish he’d go back there and carry on doing it! We didn’t get rid of one Codlik just to end up with another on our hands!”

“Julian’s on the warpath”, said Joby “Heard about you taking pot-shots at Hegley earlier”.

“Oh heck that means a hell of a spanking tomorrow morning”, said Kieran “I shall probably weep and sob all over the place. You’ll have to come over and kiss me poor botty for me afterwards”.

“I’ll do better ‘en that”, said Joby “I’ll rub some cream into it. Gawd, what a contented-looking pair we’re gonna make! Me with me bashed-up face and you with an arse like a beetroot!”

“I think your face is going down actually”, said Kieran “It doesn’t look anywhere near as lurid as it did”.

“It looks bloody awful, Kieran and you know it!” said Joby “Don’t try and console me, I can see it n the mirror when I’m shaving. I look like a joint of raw meat that’s gone off! I’m surprised flies don’t settle on it!”

“I stand by what I said”, said Kieran “I think it’s going down”.

Bardin bustled into the stables clutching a newspaper.

“Kieran!” he exclaimed, excitedly “See this. Look at the World-Wide Round-Up section”.


“Eh?” said Joby “There aren’t any vampires anymore are there? Except Angel … oh does that mean he’s moved up there now?”

“It doesn’t sound like Angel to me”, said Kieran “Whatever’s doing this is preying on people in their sleep and taking little nips out of them, that sounds a wee bit effete for Angel. He normally scatters the remains of his victims all over the room”.

“Oh it’s probably just a load of hysterical nonsense”, said Joby “More likely people are getting bitten by insects in bed and think it’s a bleedin’ vampire! That always was a strange area”.

“B-but that’s where the Winter Palace is!” said Bardin.

“We do realise that, Bardin!” said Joby “We were there you know, hardly likely to forget it, even after all these years!”

“Perhaps we should go up there and investigate it”, said Bardin “This would be so much more straightforward than dealing with that island …”

“You don’t seriously want to go up to Marlsblad, Bardin?” said Kieran.

“Well some of us have never been there”, said Bardin “It would be nice to see where you all had your early adventures”.

“NICE?!” said Joby “The Winter Palace, NICE?! I tell you what, you kids go up there for a little holiday, we’ll stay down here”.

“It’d be more Christmassy”, said Bardin.

“You can say that again!” said Joby “Everything bloody freezing and under six feet of snow!”

“I think you’d better go back to organising your Festival, Bardin”, Kieran smiled.

“No, no I can’t”, said Bardin “I’ve promised Bengo I’ve dropped the whole thing”.

“Well taking him up to the Winter Palace isn’t gonna be much of a substitute!” said Joby.

“You keep mentioning the Winter Palace”, said Bardin “But I was thinking more of the Marlsblad area”.

“The trouble is”, said Kieran “We can’t think of Marlsblad without thinking of the Winter Palace, it does tend to dominate things up there”.

Bardin quietly took the newspaper from Kieran, folded it methodically, and left the stables.

“He’s a determined little divil on the quiet isn’t he?” said Kieran “I can see he’s going to get his own way in this if we’re not careful!”

“You’ll burn a hole in that newspaper”, said Bengo, tramping round the corner of the tavern towards where Bardin was sitting on the broken-down wall at the edge of the orchard, reading the newspaper again.

“How did you get on with Ragen this time?” asked Bardin.

“Oh it was alright”, said Bengo, sitting down next to him and taking his arm “I told him about when you came and joined us on the old tug-boat. It sounded quite romantic the way I said it”.

“Would you like to see Marlsblad, Bengo?” said Bardin.

“It’d be a bit cold at this time of year won’t it?” said Bengo “We’re hot-house flowers, Bardy, we don’t adapt to cold climates very well. Look how miserable the Big House was”.

“I don’t think that was entirely due to the weather somehow!” said Bardin “Don’t be such a wimp!”

“I’m not a wimp am I, Adam?” said Bengo, now in the kitchen.

“I would never say that, Bengo”, said Adam “Has Bardin been getting at you?”

“He wants to go on this stupid trip up north”, said Bengo “It’s entirely the wrong time of year to do that if you ask me”.

“It’s always the wrong time of year where that place is concerned!” said Joby.

Hegley came into the kitchen, looking anxious and furtive.

“Is he around?” he whispered.

“If you mean Patsy”, said Adam “He’s still in the stables”.

“S’alright”, said Joby “We’ve taken the gun off him”.

Adam poured some cooking brandy into a mug and passed it to Hegley.

“What’s he getting that for?” Joby demanded.

“He’s had a shock”, said Adam.

“It was only Kieran for God’s sake!” said Joby, and he turned to leave the room.

“Where are you going?” said Adam.

“To the karzey!” said Joby.

Mid-evening, Joby was sitting alone in the galley on the sloop drinking a mug of cocoa. He was more tired than he could ever remember being before. Suddenly Bardin scuttled in from the food-hold.

“Can you hear that noise?” he said, eyes flushed with excitement.

“What noise?” said Joby, and he strained his ears to listen. He detected a faint whistling noise in the far distance “Sounds like a pressure-cooker steaming up”.

“It’s coming from outside”, said Bardin “I don’t like the sound of it”.

He galloped up the galley steps, Joby wearily followed. Tamaz was standing on the forward deck, shaking and pointing tearfully at the horizon. The island had become cloaked in a dense black cloud, which was slowly expanding and beginning to grow outwards over the sea, as though it was thrusting out tentacles.

“Shit, the Evil’s escaped!” said Joby “KIERAN!”

He ran to the quarterdeck steps and yelled down them.

“He’s in the heads, Joby”, Lonts shouted back up.

“Well get him out!” said Joby “This is urgent, Lonts!”

“We have to get up into the hills”, said Bardin “It’s our only chance”.

“Why can’t we just take the sloop and sail away?” said Tamaz.

“No that’s too risky, we have to abandon the sloop”, said Bardin “Disappearing up into the hills is our only hope. Look, we’ve got to get everyone together and get things organised, there isn’t much time!”

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