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Brinslee had hardly slept at all. He lay in bed listening to the storm rattling the shutters all over the house, and not liking the thought that he fancied he could hear other less explainable noises. He hadn't been this nervous at night since he was a child, and he even began to fully believe some of the stories he had heard recently concerning the Sleep Demons.
Eventually he gave up the idea of sleep altogether, and with fumbling hands lit the stub of a candle stuck in a saucer on his bedside table. The candles danced crazily in the draught, and threw hideous shadows against the walls all around him. He hadn't been at ease with himself since Domino's death. He knew it hadn't been his fault that the crazy boy had died, and yet he still carried the unbearable guilt of the bereaved. Silly Domino with his romantic notions about vampires, he just would never be told.
Brinslee dug out his wristwatch from the pocket of his trousers which were hanging over the bed-rail. It was exactly three o'clock. Hours yet before daylight would come and banish the Sleep Demons. He was then shaken considerably by the sound of a tin whistle, piercing into the gloom from somewhere else in the depths of the house. Very soon after somebody could be heard walking slowly and clumsily past his door, brushing slightly against it as they did so. Brinslee blew out his candle and waited anxiously in case the door-knob should begin to turn. But the phantom walker stumbled on down the stairs. Like a little boy, Brinslee clambered back into bed and pulled the covers over his ears.
The storm had kept Julian awake, and in his exhaustion he was slowly being driven to distraction by it. He was sitting up on his bed fully-dressed, staring down into a glass of brandy he cradled in his lap. He too had heard the whistling noise, but had dismissed it as a freak trick of the wind. Even so, he still jumped nervously when his bedroom door slowly opened and a figure in white appeared.
"What the hell are you doing here Lonts?" he asked the boy, who wore his white bath-robe over his nappy "Where's Adam?"
"That's just it Julian", said Lonts, sounding petrified "I don't know. I woke up just now and he was gone. I thought he might have come in to see you".
"He's probably popped to the lavatory".
"No, I looked in there on my way here. He's disappeared Julian!"
"Oh for God's sake calm down", Julian drained his glass and got off the bed "He must be downstairs somewhere, I'll go and have a look. You go back to bed, no on second thoughts go and ask Hillyard if you can stay in his room for a little while. Then at least I know you won't be wandering off alone".
"Adam's alright isn't he Julian?" said Lonts, tears running down his cheeks "Nothings happened to him?"
"Of course not", said Julian "Adam can take care of himself".
"Can't I come and look with you?"
"No you can't! Now stop wasting my time".
Julian took the boy into Hillyard's room, and then peered round the door of Kieran's. Both Kieran and Joby were sleeping huddled together in their cavernous room. There was no sign of Adam, so Julian had to reluctantly turn his attention to the darkness at the foot of the stairs.
There were crashing and thumping noises coming from the library. This led off the living-room, but had been rarely used by any of them as it was dark and cheerless, and the floor was blatantly unsafe in many parts. Julian felt a momentary pang of regret that he hadn't asked one of the others to come down with him, but he squared himself and approached the door.
Inside the library there were candles burning on a wrought-iron candelabra placed precariously amongst a heap of old books and papers. The room was a mess. The floor and every surface were covered with dusty, leather-bound tomes which were all but falling to bits. Rats, mice and spiders scuttled amongst this papery wilderness.
Julian heard someone stumbling around at the far end of the room, and he could make out a dark shape that seemed to be having trouble staying upright.
"Adam?" Julian walked towards it cautiously, as it disappeared behind one of the bookcases "Adam, if that's you don't mess me around. It's the middle of the night, I'm not in the mood for games".
He accidentally kicked an empty whisky bottle lying at his feet. With a deadening clarity he realised what had happened. He picked up speed and pursued the shape down a narrow alley bordered by two dusty and empty sets of bookcases. Adam was standing at the far end, leaning against the wall and giggling uncontrollably. His robe had come undone, and had a large tear in the hem where he had put his foot through it.
"What have you done this time?" Julian whispered, approaching him like a zoo-keeper trying to corner a potentially dangerous animal "It doesn't make sense Adam. Not after all these years. Why now for God's sake? When you've been dry for so long".
"Are you saying I'm pissed?" Adam stared at him belligerently.
"By anyone's standards".
"Well perhaps I just got fed up with watching everyone else enjoying themselves. Perhaps I just got fed up with all the snide jokes about me being t-teetotal. Perhaps I wanted to let go".
"I can understand that, but why pick now? The middle of a stormy night? Why leave Lonts all on his own, and then frighten him half to death when he wakes up and finds you gone?"
"Lonts is a sick little boy", said Adam "Very sick. He's not going to live, you know".
"He's as strong as an ox", Julian grabbed a fistful of Adam's robe and pulled him upright.
"It's his mind Jules. It's going to inflame and burn out. He'll go into a coma and he'll die. The doctors all said so. And I dreamt it tonight. I saw it all in vivid detail. It was so real. I lived every moment of his last hours".
"You had a nightmare, so you thought you'd get smashed out of your head? I'll tell you something Adam, you are really going to regret doing that".
"Don't tell me what I'll regret", Adam pushed Julian against one of the bookcases, which rocked slightly under the impact "I regret meeting you that's what I regret. I should've ignored you the first time I met you, but everyone kept raving about your looks ... a-and you were so different, so sure of yourself. You had the whole school in a turmoil, I remember it. No wonder you thought of me with contempt".
"That is a bloody lie".
"And you still have it now, that mysterious something", Adam smoothed Julian's hair back, which had straggled over his face "Even now you're getting old and flabby, and your face has hardened, and you have a debauched twist to your lips ..."
"Good grief, I must be quite monstrous", Julian smiled "I'm surprised men don't scream and run into corners when they see me".
"Because you still have it, you bastard, you know you do".
"Well if I have, it's all yours, dearest one. Unlike the small army I have to share you with, or is that your revenge on me for all those others that went before?"
"I used to lie awake you know", said Adam "All those years ago. I used to lie awake and wait for you to come home. And I used to think, everything will be alright if he'll just say something nice to me, something warm and affectionate. But you never did. You never even said sorry. You were always a prize bitch of the first order. Never could resist kicking a man when he's down, could you?"
"I expect that's all true, but then I never deluded myself that I was perfect".
"D-Do you still take those pills Jules?"
"I broke off from all that a few years ago".
"You never said".
"It must've slipped my mind", said Julian, flippantly "Either that or I knew you'd start worrying in case I went back on them".
"Why did you hate me so much all those years ago? Why did you have me around, was I some kind of pet to you, was that all?"
"I never hated you, I've always loved you", said Julian "I had a crazy streak that was all, and it was a mile wide when I was young. You had one too! All those others that I carried on with, it was because I could, because they were there and available, and because being in love was such a huge responsibility and I couldn't handle it. I didn't do it because I wanted to hurt you, and the reason I couldn't be nice to you afterwards was because I'd have felt too much of a hypocrite. I never did believe in papering over the cracks. I was a fool and I've paid for it ever since. We could have been happy living in that crumby apartment, and it was my fault we weren't. I'd give anything to live like that again, just you and me. I wanted to come and see you when you came out of prison, in spite of everyone warning me off, saying that you were trouble, blah-blah-blah".
"Then why didn't you?" Adam sobbed.
"I heard what a state you were in, the drinking, the blow-jobs for a bottle of scotch".
"Oh don't remind me Jules, please!"
"And I knew it was all my fault you were living that way. I've been living with that guilt for most of my adult life! At the time I couldn't go and see you, because I simply didn't want my nose rubbing in it. I didn't want to be confronted with the fact that somebody I loved was living like a pissed rent-boy because of me. I didn't have much courage in those days. Now it would all be so different. Now I wouldn't hesitate to go round to you and sort you out".
"And I kept hoping you would".
Julian kissed him warmly on his hair. Adam squirmed against him, trying to assuage some of the unbearable pressure building up in his penis.
"The dream was so vivid", he said "Help me Jules, help me!"
"Come on", Julian half-dragged him back across the floor.
"I always wanted you all to myself", said Adam "But I always wanted Patsy all to myself too".
"You don't want much do you", Julian laughed "When it comes to love and affection Adam, you always did have this fervour for wanting to drink the bowl dry. Perhaps that's another reason why I treated you so badly all those years ago. You frightened me. I had to keep you at arm's length somehow. And I didn't have a Joby to help protect me from your emotional needs".
"H-How am I going to explain this to Lonts?"
"You should've thought about that shouldn't you?" said Julian "Oh don't worry, you can stay in my room for what's left of the night. Lonts'll be alright with Hillyard. I'll tell the boy you were hungry and went to the kitchen for a snack".
"What you said just now about my emotional needs", said Adam, as they neared the library door "You make me sound impossible to love".
"Now you're being absurd, and sounding like some old drama queen to boot. Why the hell do you think I put up with you Adam? With your fey Irish lover, and your demented baby? After all, Tinkerbell can't look at me without wanting to whip out his garlic, and as for Lonts ... you're forever changing his nappy. I see more of his arse than I do of yours! Do you seriously believe I could even begin to tolerate this situation if I didn't love you?"
"W-Why do you though? Love me, that is?"
"I haven't a clue".
"I've had an accident Jules", Adam looked down at his lower half.
"Then I just hope Tinkerbell doesn't give us a bill for having the carpet cleaned!" said Julian.
Trixie had wandered the landing in a state of bewilderment, not helped by the fact that he too was very drunk. In spite of all this he would swear on his life, if he had to, that he had heard what sounded like a wild animal at large in the building. As he reached the bend in the stairs just below Kieran's room the growling got distinctly louder.
He climbed down nervously for a few steps and then stopped dead. A large, bulky shape was crawling on all fours up the staircase towards him, growling and snarling. Trixie pushed open the door of Julian's room, went in and tried to shut it behind him, but the bottom of it dragged on the deep carpet. To his horror it wouldn't shut properly, and the growling noise was getting closer all the time.
Even in his befuddled state Trixie could imagine what it would be like to be torn to pieces by a wild animal. It was something that had haunted the back of his mind ever since the dreams he had had many years before about a pack of wild dogs chasing him relentlessly through the Palace of Shells. Or the adolescent wet dreams he'd had of black bulls trying to crash through his bedroom door.
He fell back against the bed, just as the door grated open and a hideous shadow was thrown against the adjacent wall. The growling was now so loud that it filled his head completely. He climbed under the blanket, lay flat on his back and pulled the covers up over him.
The growling was close, the growling was actually upon him. A huge, heavy creature was crushing his body as it clambered onto the bed, over him and then, mercifully, off the other side. Even after he'd heard it leave the room, Trixie lay in the stifling darkness, hardly daring to breathe.
"Oh just what we need", Julian snarled, as he pulled Adam into the dark hallway, lit above by every single bedroom door which all stood open "A bloody reception committee!"
"What's going on?" said Adam blearily, unable to focus his eyes.
"It looks as though the Grand Lord of Pepuaah is doing his damnedest to get his head stuck in the bannisters".
Trixie was sitting halfway down the stairs, leaning against the bannisters and screaming hysterically. Joby and Hillyard were arguing as to what to do about this sudden attack.
"We're just going to have to brazen it out", said Julian "Come on Adam, one foot in front of the other, you remember how it's done".
Somehow Julian got Adam up the stairs and into his room, ignoring Trixie's screams and the incredulous cries of the others.
"I feel so ashamed", Adam looked at the sticky line running down the inside of his leg "At my age, I can't ..."
"Just lie down and shut up Adam. I'd better go and make sure the others don't let Eskimo Nell in here".
"A.k.a the Kiskev Survivor".
"And it probably wouldn't be a bad thing if Tinkerbell popped in to see him", said Julian, standing two steps down from Joby "Oh don't look so stony-faced! I know he's been an idiot, but it's not as if he makes a habit of falling off the wagon".
"And he got pissed because he had a bad dream?" said Joby, leadenly.
"It was a particularly nasty dream. He'll tell you all about it himself if you ask him. In fact, I'd appreciate it if you did. He's been carrying this secret around with him for too long. I can't tell you about it here because it's too public".
"I've just had a bad dream!" Joby suddenly roared "I dreamt Kieran had disappeared again, and do you know something? When I woke up I found he had!"
"Yea, he's gone vanquishing, as he calls it. Just as he threatened he would. And I never wanted him to do that again, not without me. But he's vanished and left me behind. My bloody bad dream has come true!"
The wind kept up its monotonous and relentless wail as Kieran climbed down the stone steps to the cellar. If anything the storm seemed to be louder down here. When he reached the bottom he found the cellar had flooded and the water level was up to his ankles.
Clutching the earthenware jar he had got from the kitchen and a hammer, Kieran waded through the rat-infested gloom towards the far end. When he got there he put the jar down on the floor, gripped the hammer in both hands and began to repeatedly swing it against the wall which Hillyard and Ransey had hastily constructed several weeks before. Gradually he had pierced a large enough hole, and clambered through it. Once on the other side he reached out for the jar and took it in with him.
By now Caln was a deformed, slithery lump, like a limbless baby with an oversized head and chest. Kieran released the creature from its chains, and at once could feel it attempting to expand in his hands. Hastily he crammed it into the jar, roughly pushing down the slimy head into the dark confines.
Once it was secured he clambered back out through the hole, cradling the jar in his arms. He heard the rumbling noise approaching at once, like a gas main that was about to explode. Suddenly the floor split open barely inches away from him, and he was thrown onto his back. The jar slid from his grasp, and Kieran could feel the thick, almost sulpherous heat and smell of the waters below the cellar bubbling up to meet him.
The jar rolled down the new incline and was swallowed up in the boiling green liquid in the pit. Kieran tried to claw onto something, anything, to stop his own inexorable slide. It was impossible. His fingers touched only slippery stone, it was useless to try and get a grip. As the abyss yawned at his feet Kieran slowly began to slide towards it.
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