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Over the next few days life on-board ship became almost unbearable. The passengers were bored, and didn't have enough to occupy themselves with until they got to Port West. The Captain and crew were still haunted by the mysterious messages that had come through from the "Coronola". The Captain had been right, in that it didn't take much to breed superstition on the high seas, plus at times it was all too easy to get the impression that the "Coronola" was nearby and tailing them.
Angel visited Kieran daily, taking sips of blood through whichever part of his body proved to be the most fleshy. Kieran made sure these were easily concealed and patched them up with bandages. He wore his shirt in bed and snapped at Joby when he commented on this peculiar new form of prudery.
"I wish you'd let me change your dressings", said Hillyard, after bathing him one morning "What is it that's wounded you anyway?"
"Call it religious stigmata", Kieran laughed "It's just some insect bites Hilly. Bound to get them in this tropical climate".
"No one else has got them", Hillyard remarked.
"Bully for them", said Kieran, in a dismissive fashion.
The mystery over Kieran's bandages was just one of many unsettling developments amongst the group. The affair between Gimmit and Finia, which for so long had been treated as a major irritation by Julian, and a load of rather dull nonsense by the others, was taking disturbing turns. Both of them were acting in ways not previously seen by anyone else. Since hurling him out of his cabin in contemptuous disdain, Finia had changed his mind about Gimmit and now seemed to regard him as some kind of sex-god. He pursued him all over the ship, trying to hassle him back into his bed. Gimmit though was having none of it. He slept on deck, and refused to wash, until at times he barely seemed human. His behaviour ranged from aggressive petulance to out-and-out childishness, both with a disturbing edge. He never appeared rational, and couldn't seem to stay in one frame of mind for longer than a minute.
When Joby went into the bar for an early drink one morning he found Gimmit sitting on one side of the room and Finia on the other. Gimmit seemed to be rather enjoying the way Finia was ogling him desperately. Joby decided he wouldn't linger over his drink after all, a feeling reinforced when Julian walked in.
"Ridiculous isn't it?" said Julian, indicating the two star-crossed lovers "I can put up with any amount of Finia's awkwardness, but Finia in love is too grisly a spectacle for my stomach. Particularly hankering after Gimmit of all people. I thought he might have had more taste than that!"
"Can't imagine anyone wanting Gimmit", said Joby "Not just 'cos he's ugly, but he's such hard work to talk to. He's thick and he's always getting uptight about something".
"Talking of those highly-strung, have you seen Adam today?"
"I don't think he's been out of his cabin yet", said Joby "I wanted to pop down and talk to him before lunch".
"Oh do you? So do I. Is your conversation important?"
"Yea, I think so".
"You'd better go first then", Julian sighed.
Joby found the atmosphere no less tense in Adam's cabin. Lonts was sitting on the floor with his thumb in his mouth, whilst tears poured silently down his cheeks.
"What's the matter with him now?" Joby asked.
"I haven't a clue", said Adam wearily, as he folded an endless pile of Lonts's clean nappies "He's been like it since he woke up. Don't try asking him, you won't get any sense out of him. When he does speak it's to accuse everyone of being treacherous".
"Oh yes. We're all treacherous apparently", Adam sighed "Quite what we stand guilty of I don't know, as he won't say. And believe me that's quite a relief. When he does speak he gets himself in one of his petulant rages. You know what I mean. He screws his face up like a gargoyle and practically spits at you. At times like that I just want to slap him, he's such a spoilt brat".
"It's horrible on this ship at the moment", said Joby "Everybody's at each other's throats all the time".
"No one's got enough to do that's why. The worst kind of holiday atmosphere. My grandparents used to go on cruises every winter", said Adam "I don't know why, because they never enjoyed them. They used to say you were holed up on a boat for three months with people you didn't like. All eating too much, and drinking too much, whilst their brains gradually atrophied. That's what's happening to us".
"I hope things are easier when we get to Port West", said Joby "Or will we just be like royals in exile, like Trixie?"
"Not necessarily. It's up to us what we make of it. There's not much standing on ceremony in Port West, from what I remember when we were there two years ago. And at least we can wander off and get out of each other's hair".
"Leave you mean!" Lonts exclaimed "Split us all up, that's what you mean".
"No it isn't you absurd child", said Adam "You're not even trying to get on the same wavelength today are you?"
"Perhaps we should try P-I-L-L-S", said Joby "They might sort him out".
"You can strap him down and shove them in him then", said Adam "Because that's the only way you'll get him to take them. Anyway, change the subject, as he sometimes takes in more of what we're saying than you realise".
"I came to talk to you about Kieran", said Joby "I think he's acting really strange Adam. It's making me nervous".
"What sort of strange?"
"Well he's eating for one thing".
"I admit that's pretty strange for Patsy, but hardly cause for alarm old love".
"There's no sense to it. He's ordering meals at all hours of the day and night, and shovelling them in as though there's no tomorrow. Last night, I woke up about one-thirty to find he'd just had the cabin-steward deliver him some leak-and-potato soup. And that was on top of that flamin' great dinner we had too! And he ate every course of that, apart from the meat stuff".
"Even so, he doesn't seem to be putting on any weight".
"Exactly, if anything he's getting thinner!" said Joby "I asked him if he was bulimic, but he said 'don't be daft, that's a woman's thing'. And yet it's not entirely. Back in our time I saw something on television about it. It's rare for men to get it, but they can".
"Have you noticed him being sick then?"
"No. And he doesn't go to the loo that much either. So I don't know where all the food's going. It must be sinking to his feet I reckon!" said Joby "And then there's those bandages. He acts so secretive about them that last night I had a peek under one whilst he was asleep. Only he woke up and went ape at me. Told me I could get me own room if I wasn't going to let him have any privacy at all".
"Doesn't sound like Patsy".
"Oh I knew he didn't mean it. At least I hope he didn't".
"I think it's time I went along and spoke to him".
"I was hoping you'd say that", said Joby, looking relieved "Will you come now?"
"No time like the present", Adam finished folding the nappies "Lonts, will you go and sit with Hillyard for a while?"
"Where are you going?" Lonts growled.
"To see Patsy".
"Does there have to be a reason?"
"Why can't I come?"
"Because you won't behave yourself", said Adam "And I want to talk to him alone anyway".
"Joby's going to be there", Lonts protested.
"Don't argue all the time Lonts, I'm not in the mood", said Adam "I'm worried about Patsy, so I can do without you playing me up".
"That's all my fault isn't it?" Lonts exclaimed "Because I saw Isaac and I made Kieran see him as well. It's all my fault. Why don't you just say it?"
Before Adam could answer Lonts flounced into his own cabin and slammed the door.
"Don't look so alarmed Joby", said Adam "Scenes like this aren't at all uncommon".
"He's getting worse Adam".
"Be fair Joby. If this ship is affecting us lot, it's bound to affect Lonts. It doesn't mean he's going into a decline".
"No I suppose not".
The door opened again, and Lonts reappeared, carrying a bundle of his clothes in his arms.
"Going to do some washing?" said Adam, flippantly.
"I'm moving out!" Lonts screamed.
"Bye", said Adam "There you are Joby. If Patsy does throw you out, there'll be room for you here now".
"Where are you going then Lonts?" said Joby.
"I don't know", Lonts burst into tears and dropped his clothes on the floor "I don't wanna leave, Adam!"
"Then do as you are told", said Adam "I don't need any more worries at the moment Lonts".
"I'm sorry Adam".
"And it always ends on that note", Adam smiled "Lonts's catchphrase".
Joby led the way ahead of Adam into the stateroom, and then stopped dead. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. Kieran was lying naked on the bed, flat on his back. Angel, also naked, was crouched over him, sucking vigorously at a spot on his thigh. It was hard to make out Kieran's reaction to this, although it was certain that he knew what was going on, as he winced occasionally.
Joby became possessed by a fury. He screamed at Angel, and ran at the vampire like a bull at a gate. Angel lifted his bloodstained face and hissed violently, before promptly vanishing. Kieran was drowsy. He had a slightly intoxicated feeling and it took him some time to realise what had happened. His vision was blurred for a while, and when it cleared he became aware of Adam and Joby both staring at him. They looked appalled.
All afternoon he tried explaining to them. Adam had listened and accepted it soon on, although he told Kieran that he didn't care if Angel decimated whole villages, he didn't want him taking anymore of his blood. Joby, as Kieran realised all along, took it badly. He said it was the most obscene thing he had ever seen.
"How could you?" he yelled at Kieran "I bet you were enjoying it really weren't you? You'd try anything that's why!"
"Do you enjoy it Patsy?" said Adam, quietly "Are all the old stories right, is being taken by a vampire an erotic experience?"
"Only very briefly, and that's only because of the danger element", said Kieran "At first it hurts like hell, and afterwards I feel disgusted. I just wanted to take a shower. It's a bit like having clinical sex with a very cheap whore. Doubtless some might find it erotic, but I felt used. There's no emotion involved you see, no affection. It's purely a hungry lust on his part, and I'm a convenience food. And I can feel his palms tickling my skin. It's being raped by the Devil".
"Yea, you say that now", Joby snarled.
"Belt up Joby", said Adam "Can't you see he's telling the truth?"
"If you say so", Joby mumbled "I'm going for a walk".
"I'd better go and see if he's alright", Kieran sighed and began to dress, after Joby had slammed out of the room "Why does Joby have to take everything as a personal affront?"
"Be fair Patsy, you did give us a bit of a turn", said Adam "I don't blame him for being upset. Sometimes I don't know who's the most trouble, you or Lonts. I think you should both be walloped on a regular basis".
Kieran laughed, picked up a hair-brush from the dressing-table and held it out to him suggestively.
"It'd be no damn good punishing you that way", said Adam "You'd only enjoy it!"
"I really had better go and see to Joby", said Kieran "He'll only brood otherwise".
Lonts was getting confused, and when he was confused he panicked and began to behave even more irrationally than usual. He had wandered the corridors of the cabin deck, trying to find someone to talk to, but having little luck. Joby had rushed past him, looking angry.
"Bog off Lonts!" he had exclaimed, when Lonts went to talk to him "You're always getting in the bloody way".
Upset, Lonts drifted towards the dining-room which was full of stewards trying to look busy, and Trixie sitting in solitary splendour at the main table, eating all by himself.
"Lonts!" he cried, on seeing the boy "Am I glad to see you! I was beginning to think I'd have to eat alone this evening. Where is everyone?"
"I-I don't know", said Lonts, nervously "There are strange things happening all over the ship".
"You'll eat with me won't you?"
"Perhaps I'd better not", Lonts stared at him warily.
"Has Adam warned you about being alone with me?"
"You're perfectly safe here", Trixie gestured around him "We're in public, nothing can happen to you. Surely even Adam can't object to you eating with me in public?"
"Alright", Lonts sat down two chairs along from Trixie.
"Have some of this salmon, it's absolutely delicious", said the Grand Lord "Or would you prefer lobster?"
"Salmon. I don't like the way they cook lobster".
"And what would you like to drink?"
"Red wine", said Lonts, beginning to perk up. He liked red wine, but Adam usually rationed his glasses.
"You can't have red wine with seafood", said Trixie "It's a terrible social gaffe. I'm surprised the others haven't educated you about that".
"No", Lonts ducked his head in a hurt fashion "They drink what they like".
"Yes of course", Trixie collected himself "It doesn't matter at all. I'm sorry I went on about it. It's just that these things always seemed so important in Pepuaah, and they're not at all really are they? Not on the scale of things".
Lonts grabbed the bottle when it was brought over and slopped some of it into his glass, spilling a large quantity of it over the white tablecloth. Trixie slowly began to be aware that Lonts was acting even stranger than usual, and started to look around surreptitiously for signs of anyone else on the horizon.
"You should try and relax a little", he said, nervously.
"I can't", said Lonts, gulping down more of the wine "You don't know what sort of things are on this ship Trixie. Demons, vampires, monsters. And more of them waiting for us in Port West. They want to destroy us all. And it's all your Vanod's fault. He's what's done it".
"I'm sure Kieran will sort it out".
"He can't. He's not well. The others have been talking about it, although they try and keep it from me. But I know. He's not well at all. And if he goes, we all go".
"Hellfire, I didn't realise it was foggy up here", said Kieran, stepping up to Joby on the deck.
"Didn't you hear the hooter going?" said Joby.
"I suppose I did, but it didn't register. You get used to odd noises on ships".
Since going dark a sea-mist had got denser and denser, until it now blanketed the ship like a grey muffler. Joby was sitting on one of the reclining chairs, wrapped in a blanket. He made room for Kieran, who joined him, wrapping part of the blanket around himself. They sat silently for some time, punctuated only by the intermittent monotone of the hooter, until Joby spoke.
"I'm sorry I went on", he said "You must get really fed up with me".
"Not much", said Kieran, taking his hand "It must look stupid what I did. But I promise you I know what I was doing".
"How can you be certain you can control Angel though?"
"I can't. And that's the frightening thing. There have been times when I've had trouble pulling him back".
"Then don't do it!" said Joby "Adam's right. I don't care if Angel goes mad in every town there is, as long as he doesn't have you. And I don't care if that is selfish".
"At least it got me eating properly", Kieran joked weakly.
"What are you thinking of?" said Joby, after another long pause.
"You and me. All the years we've known each other. You've always tried to stop me being hurt haven't you Joby?"
"Are you thinking of anything in particular?"
"I think you know".
"Not Amy again", Joby sighed "Even after all these years, it still hurts you doesn't it? What happened between me and her?"
"Yes, but not in the way you've always thought".
"You always knew she was a tart didn't you Joby?"
"Now let's be upfront about it for the first time", said Kieran "I've always known the truth, and it's always hurt me that you've known the truth. Amy threw herself at you didn't she? Made it hard for you to refuse? And you always tried to keep that from me. You'd always I rather thought badly of you than her".
"It showed up my weaknesses", said Joby "Because I should've pushed her off. And I didn't. Couldn't. She was very attractive. Looked a lot like you. People always used to say you two looked more like brother and sister than husband and wife".
"That's probably how we'd have ended up", said Kieran "When we first got married everyone cracked jokes about me staying faithful, as though it would be such an impossible thing to achieve. The sick joke was it wasn't me who had any trouble staying loyal. They say it's a sickness with people like her. They're addicted to sex you see, always want the excitement of someone new. And you knew that about her long before I did, didn't you?"
"She married you", said Joby "So she must have loved you in her own way".
"Amy had an image of me that she liked to believe in. The light-hearted philanderer", said Kieran "A mirror image of herself. She used to go around saying to people, 'me and Kiery are so well-suited, we have an understanding, we dance the same dance'. That's why I never said anything about you and her at the time. That's why I pretended it didn't matter. Because it was all part of the game you see. I think she liked to see us as like a couple out of an old Noel Coward play. Young and attractive, having affairs, going through life not taking it too seriously. And that's how everyone else wanted to see us too. I was the charming carefree Irishman, she was the brisk no-nonsense Scot, who never let anything get her down. It was all a lie, as far as I was concerned. And yet I acted that part for so long, even after we'd crossed over here. I'd got so into the practice of not listening to my serious side that I pretended it didn't exist. That must have been what so maddened Adam at the Loud House that time. He knew me serious side was there and was trying to reach it, but I carried on shutting it out for as long as I could, pretending sex was just sex, that you weren't anything important to me, that he was just a convenience. I was so stupid, Joby".
"It's all a long time ago now Kiel. What happened with Amy, it doesn't matter anymore. And I know she loved you in her own way".
"She loved her image of me. It would never have lasted, our marriage".
"Does that matter now?"
"I suppose not", Kieran brushed away some tears with the back of his hand "All those affairs she had. You knew all about them didn't you?"
"You're not the only one who kidded himself. I did for too for a long time", said Joby "I was so lonely in the old life that I wanted to believe she felt something for me. But all along I was just some urgent release for her".
"We'd have been so unhappy if we'd stayed there", said Kieran "All those years of frustration and pretence we'd have lived through".
"And Adam would never have got his Patsy", Joby laughed.
"If I'd known then what I know now, I'd have gone into his office at work and thrown meself weeping at him. It's a lovely fantasy. I wonder how he'd have reacted".
"Probably rogered you over his desk, and then taken you home for a cup of coffee".
"And I'd never have left again", said Kieran "Not willingly".
"It would've given them all something to talk about, that's for sure".
"Are you two planning to sit up here all night?" said Adam, approaching out of the fog "It's not exactly the weather for sitting around in. What are you talking about that's so engrossing anyway?"
"The old days", said Joby.
"My wife's nymphomania", said Kieran "You must have been one of the very few men who never knew the truth about her Addy".
"No reason for him to know was there?" said Joby "Even Amy wasn't going to try it on with him!"
"Being a bit harsh on her aren't you?" said Adam, sitting down on the other side of Kieran "Just because she took a shine to Joby one evening".
"Oh Joby wasn't the only one by a very long way".
"As she's not here to defend herself I'd let the subject drop if I was you".
"She was a sex-addict", said Kieran.
"One affair doesn't make someone a sex-addict".
"There were a few more than one", said Joby.
"Amy?" Adam exclaimed "But she was always such a bubbly little thing, and sensible with it. Quite unusual for a woman. Anyway, what's caused all these skeletons to fall out of the cupboard now?"
"Oh perhaps the end of the world is a time for clearing out old closets", said Kieran.
"Well now you've done it, let it rest", said Adam, coughing violently "I still want to think well of her, even if you don't".
"You shouldn't be up here in this fog with your chest", said Kieran.
"No", said Joby "You should go below and light up another cigar!"
"You two can be a most obnoxious couple sometimes. I think my life would have been far less stressful if I'd crossed over alone".
"No it wouldn't", said Joby "You'd have probably drunk yourself into your grave by now".
In the wheelhouse the gauges were going haywire. Compasses pointed due north in a fixed fashion. Mysterious white lights had been picked up on the sensors.
"It must be some kind of magnetic storm sir", said the First Officer "Although there was nothing about it on the wireless, or in the messages from the Weather Rock".
"That's because it's all due to the 'Coronola'", said the Captain, as though he was talking in his sleep "She's near. Very near".
Trixie had taken Lonts into the library for coffee. They had the place to themselves, but Lonts was on edge and restless. He wouldn't lean back in his chair when Trixie asked him to, and every so often would run up to one of the portholes and look out anxiously, as though waiting for someone.
"Listen!" he suddenly cried "Can you hear it?"
"Hear what?" said Trixie.
"The ship's engines have died".
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