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Kieran used the same technique he had used in Lixix to evacuate the town, he set off the tidal-wave warning system. Unfortunately a lot of time was wasted trying to locate the person who had the key to the shed. The removal of all the animals, old men, and general bag and baggage also felt as though it was a painfully slow process. But they did get up into the hills before the black mass neared the coastline. Kieran had surmised that the Evil would have its boundary, as it had when Father Gabriel had set the curse on them all those years ago, and if they could get far enough away it would reach the limit of its range. It was a gamble, but it was all they had.
They camped in a wooded hollow on the cliff-tops overlooking the town. From there someone always kept a watch at all times. The news was uncomfortably confirmed that the blackness had engulfed the whole of Zilligot Bay, but there it had settled, showing no sign of mounting up the cliffs. Adam spent a hot, exasperating afternoon with Ransey doing an inventory of all they had salvaged, and which had been conveyed upwards in the wagons and carts. When they had finally finished he scrambled up a nearby bank and onto a plain, where the clowns and some of the old men had organised a sort of slow-motion cricket match. He found Joby and Bengo sitting behind the wicket stumps.
“This seems a rather perilous place to sit”, said Adam.
“You’ve gotta be joking!” said Joby “The way this lot are playing it’s the safest place on the pitch!”
“You look so sweet, Bengo”, said Adam.
“I feel absolutely knackered”, said Bengo.
“That must be why, you always look sweet when you’re tired”, said Adam.
“How’s Lonts?” said Bengo.
“Brooding I’m afraid”, said Adam “I can’t shake him out of it when he’s like this. He will take us abandoning the sloop very hard”.
“We had no bleedin’ choice!” said Joby.
“I know, and he will come round to it in the end”, said Adam “Perhaps you could read him a ‘Happy Bears’ story later, take his mind off it”.
“Not the way he keeps looking at everything I’m not!” said Joby “I’d worry he was about to tear my head off!”
“Nonsense”, said Adam “And Patsy’s not feeling well. He’s gone to lie down in your tent. It seems like a bug of some sort to me. Not really surprising after everything that’s happened lately”.
“I’ll go and see to him in a minute”, said Joby. The ball whistled in their direction and Joby caught it expertly in one hand “Howzat!” he cried.
“Oh Joby, I can’t stop shivering, I feel so damn cold”, said Kieran, as Joby wrapped another blanket around him.
“Adam’s right, this is a flu-ey type bug of some sort”, said Joby “Which means it’ll spread like wildfire and everyone’ll get it. Marvellous!”
“But what if it’s not?” said Kieran “What if it’s a result of the Evil, like the hex that Adam had that time at the Waxworks’ Colony?”
“It’s a virus of some sort, Kieran!” said Joby “That’s all it is. It’ll pass … in time”.
“Can I have me rosary beads out of me pack?” said Kieran, pointing groggily at his rucksack.
“For fuck’s sake, Kieran!” said Joby “You’ll be wanting me to perform the Last Rites next!”
He handed the beads to Kieran, who kissed them fervently and muttered along the lines of “Holy Mary Mother Of God”.
“How is he?” said Adam, coming into the tent.
“Making a right meal out of it!” said Joby.
“Patsy always did make an awful patient”, said Adam “Do you remember that time at the Min. H.Q when he terrified everybody with his groaning and wailing?”
“I’ll make him some tea”, said Joby “Put some brandy in it too”.
“I won’t be able to keep it down”, said Kieran.
“Blimey, you must be ill if you’re turning down a drink!” said Joby.
Joby made him tea, and got Toppy to make up a hot-water bottle. A short while later Kieran was violently sick into a bowl that Joby was holding in front of him.
“If I’d only had water it wouldn’t make anywhere near so much mess”, said Kieran.
“This is gonna be like summat out of ‘The Exorcist’, projectile vomit everywhere!” said Joby “Still at least throwing up’ll warm you up a bit!”
“I’m terrified it’s going to shoot out the other end as well”, said Kieran.
“I’ll take you into the bushes”, said Joby.
It was going dark by this time, so Joby fetched a hurricane lamp and lighted Kieran into the nearest bushes. Kieran stumbled along with a blanket over him.
“What are you doing?” said Kieran, once they were amongst the foliage.
“Helping you to get your trousers down”, said Joby.
“Jaysus, I’m not so far gone I can’t manage that for meself!” said Kieran “You just stand there and hold the lamp so I can see what’s what”.
“Great”, Joby grunted, as watery squirting noises came out.
“I shall have grass stains all over me bum now”, said Kieran, snatching up tufts of grass to wipe himself with.
“Well it’ll make a change from red hand-prints I spose!” said Joby.
“Is everyone else o.k?” said Kieran.
“Yeah, ‘cept Lonts is as bad as you”, said Joby “I mean, convinced it’s the Evil what’s done it. I said the only thing evil up here is his damn pipe! That’s enough to make anyone feel ill!”
Joby settled him back in the tent. When he picked up the hot-water bottle Kieran shot out a hand and held onto it like grim death.
“Let go!” said Joby “I’m gonna get it refilled, it’s gone all tepid!”
“How is he, Joby?” said Adam, who was at the camp-fire, watching a cauldron of water slung on a tripod come to the boil.
“Bloody awful!” said Joby “The bad-tempered old scrote! Somebody should make a new horror film and call it The Irish Patient!”
“Huh, you haven’t seen nothing yet”, said Bengo “You wait til Bardy gets it!”
“Yes, that’s going to be quite something!” said Adam.
The bug cut a swathe through the group over the next couple of days. The only ones who seemed to remain immune were Mieps and Tamaz, Julian (much to Adam’s annoyance) and, surprisingly, Bengo. Kieran was now on his feet for short bursts of time and was able to help Bengo with some of the cookhouse duties.
“This place is like a field hospital”, said Kieran, as it went dark on the fourth evening after they had evacuated the town.
“Well at least they’re all shut away in their tents”, said Bengo, who was very pale and had dark rings under his eyes “So we don’t have to look at them!”
“BENGO!” Bardin yelled, from under canvas nearby “BENGO!”
Bengo took a sharp intake of breath and clenched his hands.
“Do you want me to go to him?” said Kieran.
“No I’d better do it”, said Bengo “Or he’ll think I’ve died or something!”
Bengo went into the small tent that he and Bardin were sharing.
“The lamp’s smoking”, said Bardin, pointing a querulous finger at the hurricane lamp which was hanging from the hook in the centre of the tent.
“Cigars or rolls-up?” said Bengo, unhooking the lamp and taking it outside. He selected a fresh lamp and attended to the wick.
“BENGO!” Bardin yelled, again.
“Give me strength!” Bengo muttered.
“It’d almost be better to give him his whistle back”, said Kieran.
“Yes and throttle him with it!” said Bengo, returning to the tent.
“You left me in the dark!” said Bardin.
“For all of about five seconds, you great baby!” said Bengo.
“Oh thank you for your sympathy!” said Bardin “I wouldn’t be like this to you if you were ill! I’ve never been so ill in my entire life before!”
“Yes you have”, said Bengo “You had Scarlet Fever when we were kids. You had to be quarantined for 6 weeks at the hospital. I remember one of the nurses lifting me up so that I could wave to you through the window. That was the most peaceful 6 weeks of my entire life!”
“Very funny!” Bardin spat “Who’s on watch-duty tonight?”
“Mieps and Tamaz”, said Bengo.
“I don’t want them doing watch-duty together at the same time!” Bardin exclaimed “They can’t be trusted! If anything was to happen they’d probably go off and sort it out themselves and not tell us first”.
“Bardy, there is no one else fit enough to do it!” said Bengo “Julian will take over in a couple of hours, and Kieran will probably help him for a bit. That’s all we can do!”
Bardin flopped back down on his bed-roll and groaned.
“Kieran reckons everything’ll be easier over the next couple of days”, said Bengo “When the bug starts easing. He said he expects to have a lot more energy tomorrow, and if it goes the same for everyone else as it did for him you should all be feeling more sprightly by the end of the week. This is just the worst part that’s all”.
“Are you coming to bed soon?” asked Bardin.
“Not for a little while”, said Bengo “We have to go and make sure everyone’s alright for the night”.
“I hate being in here alone”, said Bardin “I can hear every slightest damn noise”.
“You great baby!” said Bengo, kissing him lightly on the lips.
Julian relieved Mieps and Tamaz at watch at around 3 in the morning. He sat on a stone overlooking the coast, smoking a cigar with a gun on his knees.
“Why aren’t you in bed?” he said, when Kieran came up to him “You need some sleep”.
“Precious little chance of that with Joby snoring his head off!” said Kieran “Anything happening down below?”
“I think so”, said Julian “The blackness seems to be receding slowly”.
The full moon helped with the night vision considerably. The ominous black shape that had drifted out from the island did appear to be edging back out from whence it had come. From what they could discern in the moonlight though it had wrecked the town. Buildings had been slowly crushed beneath its heavy matter, and the sloop lay on its side, partially submerged in the water, like a broken toy left abandoned in a puddle.
“Better not let Lonts see that”, said Kieran, numbly.
“It’s as though the inside of a black hole had exploded outwards”, said Julian “Dense, intangible matter of a very heavy weight crushing everything in its wake. I’ve never seen anything like it before!”
“It’s the essence of what the vampires were”, said Kieran “They evolved out of green slime, and yet it was said they had jars at the Winter Palace containing black matter, which was believed to be the remains of the other vampires they had gradually destroyed. They had been turned back into the essence of evil. How we saw them was as they appeared in human form”.
“The same with Angel I take it?” said Julian.
“Oh I think so”, said Kieran.
“What colour are you in liquid form then, golden?” said Julian.
“I wouldn’t know!” Kieran laughed.
When the worst of the epidemic was over Ransey, Bardin and Kieran took the truck and drove down to the edge of the town, to try and assess the damage. They got no further than the edge because the stench that overpowered the whole area repelled them from going any further. It was as if “a giant stink-bomb had been let off”, as Kieran put it. Ransey turned the truck round and they drove back up to the makeshift camp they had all made.
Bengo, who had been tending the camp-fire, heard them approach and ran over to meet the truck.
“You were very quick”, he said, helping Kieran out of the passenger seat.
“Believe me, there was no point hanging around down there!” said Kieran.
“The sloop, Bardy …” Bengo asked, tentatively, helping his old friend out next “Is it … can we …?”
“Give up on the sloop”, Bardin growled “It’s done for”.
“Oh I see”, Bengo clasped his hands in front of him, forlornly “So what do we do now then?”
“We move on!” said Bardin “It’s time”.
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