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On the beach the crowd was getting excited. They had risen to their feet and were gabbling agitatedly at first the sea, and then a grey building that had appeared through the mist at the end of the prom. A fog-bank had formed over the sea, and was rolling slowly towards them, as though about to engulf everyone in its density.
"It's near", said one man, apprehensively "It's actually going to happen".
"Well who's bloody subconscious is this?" said Hillyard "It certainly isn't mine".
"And I've had quite enough of mine for one day", said Kieran.
They reached the end of the prom, and the grey building which everyone was getting so excited about. It was like a huge tin can inside which someone had erected stairs, like a helter-skelter turned inside out. There was no furniture, no windows, only this grey construction of nothingness. They went inside. There was nobody there.
"This doesn't look too promising either", said Joby.
"We have to keep looking", said Kieran "And fighting off any subconscious demons that come our way".
"But that could take years", said Joby.
"It won't matter", said Kieran "As long as we get out of here in the end. I've fought the worst things in my subconscious. Amy and that boiling pit at the Bone-House, which I suppose symbolised my guilt over neglecting my religion for so long. Joby, what about you?"
"Mine was Amy too", said Joby "You defeated that for me when you defeated your own".
"I-I'm not sure", Hillyard stammered "Stombal's feet I suppose. I've always felt guilty that he had to die in such a terrible way, and that I got so impatient with him towards the end. I'm not going to see him am I?"
"Do you want to?" said Kieran, sharply "Answer me honestly now man. It's very important".
"No I don't!" Hillyard screamed "He's dead. Life's for the living. However I feel about him he's still dead. He should stay dead. The dead have no right to bother the living".
"The only way you can let him go is to let go of your guilt".
"But it was my fault!" said Hillyard "I took him on that fucking hunting-trip. If I hadn't he'd still be alive".
"Stombal had been ill for a very long time", said Kieran "His mind was gradually tying itself into a knot that he'd never be able to undo. Even if you hadn't gone hunting the chances are that his mind would have given way and he'd have killed himself before long".
"But you don't know that for certain!" Hillyard began to cry, which was an extremely distressing sight "And I was so impatient with him Kieran".
"Because you were tired!" Kieran roared "You were only a young man yourself, and you saw your life slipping past having to take care of someone who refused to take care of himself. However much you loved him you'd still had enough. Stombal was selfish, Hillyard. When his mind started to go he no longer gave a thought to how you were suffering".
"But it's the duty of the strong to look after the weak, otherwise, if we didn't think like that, it'd be every man for himself. No one would care about anything", said Hillyard.
"Stombal refused to help you. He just took all the time", said Kieran.
"But Lonts", said Hillyard "I failed with him too. He was my responsibility and I handed him over to Adam because I could no longer be bothered with him. I'm selfish Kieran, I only care for myself!"
"You care for us, don't you?"
"Of course I do".
"And who is it who washes Lonts's nappies and changes him when Adam's worn out or busy elsewhere?"
"Yes but ..."
"Would you look after me or Joby, or Ransey, or any of us if we suddenly became ill or incapacitated?"
"You know I would", said Hillyard "Well I'd do my best anyway, which probably wouldn't be much".
"Hillyard, you've been washing Lonts's nappies, and scrubbing my back for years now".
"But that's not the same as Stombal".
"It's exactly the same. I was there when you brought Stombal into the house at Kiskev. You did everything you could for him".
"And I got impatient with him, because he kept whining on".
"Because you are only focking human!" Kieran shouted "Not a saint, Hillyard. Just because, in your sheer exhaustion and fright, you felt exasperated with him. You've been letting that one fact cloud out every good thing you've done".
"Have I?" said Hillyard "I didn't know".
"And that's why you won't form another close partnership, because you've got it fixed in your head that you're not worthy of one".
"Well that's him sorted out", said Joby "Now what about Ransey?"
"Mine's upstairs", said Ransey quietly, and he began to climb the metal staircase as though he was ascending a scaffold "And mine's by far the worst".
The room at the top of the stairs overlooked the beach. One wall was given away completely to a balcony open to the elements. On the beach below the crowd was staring up at them pointedly, as though the four were about to perform a "Punch and Judy" show.
"There's nothing here", said Joby, looking round the grey room.
"Yes there is", said Ransey.
The figures came out of the metal wall. Half-a-dozen of them, all men, and all showing neat but bloody gun-shot wounds in their chests.
"Are these the men you killed Ransey?" said Kieran.
"They are victims I was contracted to eliminate", said Ransey, with a dry throat.
"Are these the men you killed Ransey?" Kieran repeated.
"Don't feel sympathy for them!" Ransey yelled "If I hadn't been hired to get rid of them, they would have killed many more. They were serial-killers who the Ministry didn't want the expense of trying and imprisoning, or the moral burden of executing. With me they got a faster and cleaner death than they gave their victims".
"Are these the men you killed Ransey?" said Kieran.
"Yes they bloody well are!" Ransey screamed "I killed them! I killed them!"
There was a long line of cracking sounds which reverberated along the row of men. Each was holding a rifle and was pointing them at them.
"Shit Ransey!" Joby exclaimed "They're going to kill us. You've got to let go of it. For all our sakes".
"If you don't let go of this guilt Ransey", said Kieran, trying to keep his voice as steady as he could "They're going to want all our lives as payment".
"I can't!" Ransey screamed.
At a signal from one of the men they had no choice but to turn and face the crowd on the beach, who were all impatiently waiting for bloodshed. The four linked hands, and were all unanimously shaking in terror.
"Ransey!" Joby cried, desperately "Let it go! For God's sake, let it go!"
There was another sharp sound as the triggers were drawn back. And then came the blast.
"I'll bloody kill him if he ever does that to us again", said Kieran, walking through the courtyard of the Loud House with Hillyard "Talk about cutting it fine".
"He'd buried his feelings so deep it was difficult to dig them out in a hurry", said Hillyard, looking across at the broken window of the Green Room, where Ransey was standing with an inscrutable expression on his face.
"Even so, I was convinced we'd copped it", said Kieran "Are you sure we're not dead? I'm certain I felt something hit me in me back".
"It was me falling onto you when we suddenly landed back here", said Hillyard "Anyway, you look pretty alive to me".
"What the fock is Joby doing up there?" said Kieran, as he caught sight of the said man walking past some of the windows on the first floor "There are still Reptile Men around, he knows not to wander off".
"I'll go and get him", said Hillyard "It looks as though Angel wants to talk to you".
"The fun never ends does it!"
"This was her room at Green Ways", said Joby, standing in the middle of the empty bedchamber "The Woman's Room. I've still got her stocking. I carry it around with me, like a good luck charm".
"I'd hang onto it then", said Hillyard "It obviously works".
"Probably not really", said Joby "If it did we'd never get in these scrapes in the first place".
"Well there's nothing to stay up here for now", said Hillyard, shivering in the gloom "I think Kieran wants to get back to the boat. Adam must be like a cat on hot bricks by now".
"Funny how things turn out isn't it?" said Joby "I remember being in this room with Kieran, after Adam'd beaten him. I was so fucking angry I just wanted to leave Adam here. Get away from him. And now look at us!"
"People change", said Hillyard "Beyond all recognition sometimes".
"You can say that again", Joby sighed "That all seems like a different lifetime. Are you alright now?"
"Yea I'm alright".
"You shouldn't have kept those feelings all to yourself. I know I haven't always been receptive to you, but Kieran would have listened".
"It doesn't matter now", said Hillyard "So that's what Hell's like. An eternal treadmill of guilt".
"And if you never beat it you never get out", said Joby "I suppose that's how it works. Those who've done really terrible things, that can never be condoned or exorcised, are there for good. Constantly reliving their sins".
"Although I don't know how it works for those who feel no remorse", said Hillyard "Or those who enjoyed their sins so much they love reliving them. Like Tomce with his perversions".
"It must work differently for them", said Joby "And I don't think I want to find out how".
"So, here we are again", said Kieran, sitting down on a piece of fallen masonry "We must stop meeting like this darling".
"Smart-mouthed as usual", said Angel.
"Do we all get four gold stars for having survived the terrors of the dark regions?"
"You don't get nothing", said Angel "Except to go back to your normal life. That's considered to be reward enough".
"It'll do for me", said Kieran "You're starting to shiver. Are you alright?"
"It's f-fucking cold round here, in case you hadn't noticed", said Angel, his teeth chattering violently.
"Is your Undead spell wearing off?" said Kieran "You'd better get back up to that limbo-land place of yours, or whatever it was, and re-charge".
"I can't", Angel gulped, wrapping his arms around his naked body tightly.
"Hang on, take this", Kieran removed his oilskin jacket and wrapped it around Angel's shoulders "What do you mean, you can't?"
"Look at my hands", Angel held out a quivering paw "I'm not Undead anymore. I'm not a vampire. That's all gone".
Kieran took his hand and examined it thoroughly. The palms were smooth and free of fur, the nails a normal size. Angel had also lot his excess body hair, and his breath no longer stank like an unburied corpse.
"Are you cured?" said Kieran "Are you alive, or dead, or what? I don't understand".
"I'm alive", said Angel, shivering so frenziedly he could hardly speak "Although not for much longer if I continue to sit here like this".
Adam and Julian were pacing down the gangway of the cabin-deck, having instructed Brinslee to set up hot drinks and brandy in the saloon, and Lonts to stay in his cabin until he was called. The others swarmed down the steps from the main deck looking exhausted, but triumphant.
"I never felt like this the last time I was here", Kieran exclaimed, his eyes shining "I was just weary then. Now ... well now I think it's all really worked".
"What the ...?" said Julian, as Angel padded bare-foot into the saloon, still with Kieran's coat clutched around his shoulders.
"Oh Angel's cured", said Kieran "I don't know why".
"He's alive?" said Adam.
"Yes I think it must be a reward for having helped us all these months".
"Even though he's been getting his pound of flesh in return", said Joby, darkly.
"Well he had to keep himself going somehow", said Kieran "He had an addiction to feed".
"I damn well hope he's cured of that", said Adam "He gave us quite enough worries during the early days".
"Give it a rest", said Angel "I'm alright".
"We're all alright", Hillyard bellowed "Even Ransey's alright now".
"I will be when I've had some more brandy", said Ransey "And a hefty slab of fruitcake".
"So did you bury the Devil then?" said Adam, feeling that things weren't quite as he'd expected.
"Bury the Devil?" said Kieran "Oh yes, we managed that quite early on. The bastard's contained for the rest of my lifetime I hope. I've had more than enough of him. So much has happened I'd almost forgotten about him!"
"Well what have you been doing all this time?" said Adam, in astonishment.
"And what was Hell like?" said Julian "Full of fire and brimstone? Naked, writhing bodies in torment?"
"Oh calm down Julian", said Adam "You'll give yourself a seizure if you keep fantasising like that at your age".
"The conventional image of Hell might have been easier to cope with", said Kieran "And that would have been no good at all, because we would have been prepared for it".
"Will you pop in and see Lonts now?" said Adam "He's been very good".
"Can't we get time off for good behaviour?" said Joby.
"Let him out Adam", said Kieran "He must be going distracted, shut in there and hearing us all out here".
Lonts ran around the saloon hugging everyone, when he was finally allowed to leave his cabin.
"Did my bit of vest help?" he demanded to know.
"Oh yea", said Joby "We'd never have managed without that".
"It was very useful Lonts", said Kieran "It'll help to keep the Devil in his place for a while".
Kieran lay on Adam's bunk with him, heaped under a pile of blankets. He had laughed, he had cried, and finally managed to tell him everything of what had happened.
"So Hell isn't an actual place?" said Adam "In spite of its location. It really is a state of mind. I dread to think what I'd have seen if I'd gone. Probably a man coming at me with a broken bottle, wanting to half-blind me in return".
"It probably would have been".
"I think it's a shame you and Amy have never been given a chance to reconcile what happened at that hotel", said Adam "After all, it's very similar to what I had to put up with from Julian, and we're fine now".
"You don't get bitter anymore?"
"No, but I still feel guilty about Lance's eye", said Adam, mentioning the name of the man he had attacked for the first time in years, and certainly the first time to Kieran "But I don't feel bitter towards Julian, even though he and Amy must have had similar problems. And I think you two would have come to an understanding in the end".
"So do I", said Kieran "But we couldn't have stayed married. I couldn't give her what she wanted. Even though I've always been able to give it to you and Joby".
"You always were a closet gay all along", said Adam "That's why. You couldn't give her all of yourself, however much you loved her, and you did. And it was that bit of you that you wouldn't give that she needed".
"And that's what made her unhappy", said Kieran "All through me not being honest with myself".
"You didn't know yourself. Some people go through their entire lives never knowing themselves. Anyway, that's enough psychology for one day. Lonts will be in soon with the coffee".
"All will be well now Adam", said Kieran.
Lonts walked into the room baring a tray on which stood two cups of coffee.
"Yours is the blue one Kieran", he said "Because it's got brandy in it. Adam's hasn't. Adam, Joby says could you go and sort Julian out?"
"He's pestering Angel, and I don't think he likes it".
"Not surprising", Kieran laughed "Angel's quite personable now he's shed the fur, the talons and the halitosis".
"Julian's a daft old fool. He's probably looking for a young lover to rival mine", said Adam "Some people never learn".
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