Go back to previous chapter
The City Harbour was a bit of a misnomer, as it wasn't actually in the City but half-a-day's journey away. A special train took boat passengers down to the Harbour Woods, where they could spend the night at a special holding camp, and so be ready for the 9:00 A.M sailing of the cruiser to Lixix.
Many had often complained about what a dreary start to their luxury holiday a night in the Harbour Woods could be. There was nothing glamorous about this place, which was more like a camp-site for children on an outward-bouned course. Men that might normally have appreciated the mock spirit of adventure that it could give, just became disgruntled when they remembered how much money they had spent on the holiday. Reassurances that it was only for one night weren't welcomed.
Adam, Kieran, Joby and Hillyard arrived in time to partake of the traditional supper of steak and potatoes cooked over one of the many brick kilns dotted about the forest. It was that tense time early on in a holiday, when most of the passengers took a violent dislike to each other on sight, and retreated even more into their own little cliques.
"Nothing special about this lot", said Joby, swigging beer out of a bottle and peering through the smoke from their kiln "Bunch of pampered businessmen as far as I can see. I don't know what makes Adam think we've got anything in common with 'em".
"Where's Adam gone anyway?" asked Hillyard.
"He took his sketchpad further into the woods", said Kieran "He likes to make himself scarce when he thinks we're going to start some serious drinking".
"Awful the way he has to feel left out like that", said Hillyard "I can't imagine what it's like to be an alcoholic. To have drink rule your life like that. What do you think would happen if he suddenly gave into it again?"
"It'd be Hell", said Joby, abruptly "We'd have to spend all our time being yelled at by him, or tripping over him on the floor".
"He'd be either screamingly bad-tempered", said Kieran "Or weeping and wailing. Unbearable in short. I think we prefer him as he is".
Adam found a small clearing filled with the evening sunshine. He sat down against a tree, with his sketch-pad on the grass beside him, although he didn't think he would get much sketching done somehow. It was pleasant just to sit quietly and feel the warmth on his face. He would have preferred to have sat here with Kieran, but he knew better than to try and compete against drinking sessions with the boys. He held out hope that one day Kieran would grow out of all that, but it did give the boy a release, a mental uncorseting that he badly needed, a respite from being the much-hailed Vanquisher of Evil, and Adam didn't want to curtail that.
He was distracted from his reverie by the sound of guitar music floating along on the breeze. The impromptu musician wasn't highly-skilled, but it was pleasant enough to listen to in a woodland setting on a summer's evening. For a while Adam let it waft over him, along with everything else, until suddenly the soft strummer gave a frenzied and violent cacophony to finish it off, quite out of character with the rest of the piece. Soon afterwards Adam heard hurried footsteps coming towards him.
The creature that emerged from the clearing was quite simply breathtakingly beautiful. Very tall, with a firm, lean figure and a shock of blonde hair, he exuded sexual magnetism. His face was of the kind that kept anyone who saw it sneaking back for a second look. He didn't have Kieran's ethereal beauty, the sort that gave the impression of being not quite of this world, but this man's beauty was solidly earthy. It also didn't escape Adam's notice that he was extremely unhappy.
"I'm sorry", said the stranger, in the kind of flat drawl that reminded Adam of an automaton "I didn't realise anyone was near. Did I disturb you?"
"No", said Adam "It's your wood as much as it is mine".
"You're sailing tomorrow as well. I recognised you. Everyone's talking about the Vanquisher of Evil and his party being on-board. The travel operator leaked the gossip as soon as you booked. There was a huge scramble for tickets at the last moment".
"Oh dear. Well I hope they give Patsy a bit of space".
"I'm sure they will. Most of them. My name's Noni".
"Adam", he held out his hand, and the other man shook it as though receiving a great privilege.
"What's the Vanquisher like, as a person I mean?" asked Noni.
Adam felt like replying "drunk at this moment I expect".
"Uncomplicated", he said, instead "Kind, generous, warm. Slightly crazy, but aren't we all in our own different ways?"
"I guess so. How did you get to be one of his party?"
"I knew him long before he was the Vanquisher", said Adam "He worked for me for a while, and then we became lovers, and it's been that way ever since. I expect you'll meet him once we're on-board".
"I wouldn't want to bother him".
"There's no reason why you should. Are you alright?"
"Why do you ask?"
"You look so unhappy. Seeing someone as attractive as you looking miserable, well it's like trouble in Paradise".
"You think I'm still good-looking?" Noni sounded surprised "I'm thirty you know".
"That doesn't stop you being attractive does it?"
"I guess not, although my looks have always been a monkey on my back. When I was younger I used to get frustrated because all people saw was this cutie boy, not the real me. And now I'm frightened of losing my looks".
"I don't think you need to worry just yet", Adam sighed, relieved that Kieran didn't carry on like this "I think you're being a bit too sensitive".
Noni looked like he was about to cry.
"Who are you travelling with?" Adam asked suddenly, hoping to distract him from an emotional crisis. Noni looked as though he might get through several of these in the course of one day.
"There's a small party of us", Noni replied, sounding evasive "Me and a colleague travelling with our employer".
"Oh, a business trip then?"
"What is it you do?"
"I guess I'd better be getting back now", Noni began to walk away "See you on-board".
Joby stood with his back to the hut door and kicked it open with the heel of his foot. He then stepped backwards into the room awkwardly, with Hillyard following on behind. Both were carrying an unconscious Kieran between them. They carried him over to the bed and threw him roughly onto it.
"What a dump", said Joby, as Hillyard turned up the oil-lamp which hung suspended from the ceiling "Like being back in prison".
"It's only for one night", said Hillyard, although he too was depressed by the sight of the bare walls and floor in the windowless room. Four beds stood toe-to-toe and constituted the entire furniture in the room.
"I dread to think how much we're paying for this", Joby exclaimed.
"The boat'll be better".
"I damn well hope so".
"Perhaps we should turn him on his side", said Hillyard, gazing down at Kieran, who lay on his back with his arms thrown out like a gesture of salvation.
"Don't fuss", Joby snapped "Bloody old woman you are".
Hurt, Hillyard retreated to his own bed, which was at the foot of Joby's. They had barely undressed and climbed into their respective sleeping areas when Kieran regained consciousness with a start. He sat up and promptly fell out onto the floor. He lay there bewildered for a while before asking Joby to help him.
"No, I've just got comfortable", he replied.
"Please Jobe", Kieran tried to raise himself, but his arms seemed to have turned to jelly.
Hillyard took pity on him, picked him up and laid him gently back on the bed.
"You're a true friend Hillyard", Kieran grasped Hillyard's face in his hands.
"You shouldn't drink so much if you can't take it", said Hillyard.
"I can take it", Kieran protested "It's just I don't pace meself properly".
"Can't you two keep an eye on him just once?" Adam exclaimed, coming into the hut like a whirlwind "Get into bed Hillyard. Your own preferably".
Kieran clapped his hands at Adam's appearance, and then immediately sank back into oblivion.
"What a dreary little room", said Adam, undressing and gazing around him critically "Like a state-run lunatic asylum from long ago. Mind you, we should all feel at home in it in that case".
"Whoah! Get a load of those nipples!" Joby whistled, as Adam peeled off his shirt.
"Shut up Joby".
"I don't know how you can bear having that done", said Hillyard "I think I would have been sick".
"Very likely you would", said Adam, cattily, and turned down the lamp.
It was fairly cold in the grey light of dawn, and only the mist lurking amongst the trees gave any indication of the hot day ahead. Adam lit his first cigar of the day and sat down on the step of their hut, pulling his robe close around him for warmth.
"Do you want to be alone?" Kieran whispered, appearing at his side.
"Not particularly", said Adam "No hangover Patsy? You really must be divine".
"It's pot-luck whether I get them or not. When I do they're real stinkers".
"Take advice from an old soak Pats, it's not good for you to drink like that".
"It's only once in a while".
"Yes, but it doesn't agree with you", Adam stood up and jabbed him in the chest "You don't look after yourself enough. I shall have to try and wean you off the booze somehow. If I can't do it then no one can".
"I think the others get fed up with me", said Kieran, ruefully "It's not much fun going out drinking with someone who goes and collapses on you. I didn't make meself too popular last night".
"See, if you'd stayed off it you could have come into the woods with me".
"Oh don't rub it in", Kieran shivered. He wore only a shirt, having never possessed anything so civilised as a dressing-gown.
"You're hopeless Patsy", said Adam, fondly "You can destroy the Devil, but you won't take care of yourself. The shop's just opening over there. Come on, I'll buy you a coffee to warm you up".
The foyer to the camp shop, which supplied all possible distractions for the journey ahead, contained a bank of drinks machines. The area was also crammed with unshaven men in varying stages of undress, all desperately seeking their first caffeine fix of the day.
"I think I'm cramping everyone's style", said Kieran, uncomfortably aware that no one wanted to be faced with the Vanquisher of Evil at this hour "Let's go and have a look round the shop".
They wandered around, sipping their coffee. Adam found a rack of graphic novels, all it seemed featuring various acts of dismemberment. He took great delight in criticising the cheap and shoddy artwork on the cover of each one.
"I can't even make out what this man's being eaten by", said Adam, holding up one garish edition "It looks like a combine harvester".
"You'd think after sixty years of the vampires", said Kieran "they might have got sick enough of that kind of thing in real life".
"Few saw what we did", said Adam "Anyway, boys will be boys".
They emerged back into the dawn, which was slowly beginning to shed it's chill.
"Why are you blubbing Patsy?" Adam asked, pausing to stare at the younger man.
"You are. Those big blue eyes of yours keep filling up. What's the matter?"
"I was just thinking how much I brass everyone off".
"What complete nonsense!" Adam exclaimed "Everyone adores you, you silly twerp".
"I still brass 'em off. I stupidly thought that once I'd defeated Angel I could go back to being myself again. But it seems all people see is the Vanquisher of Evil when they look at me".
"Don't take no notice of those morons back there", said Adam, jerking his thumb in the direction of the shop "They're like me, not human until they've had their first coffee of the day".
"It wasn't them I was thinking of, but you three".
"Codswallop. Hillyard practically wet-nurses you, I adore you as much as I've ever done, and ..."
"And Joby has no time for me anymore. He just grunts and calls me names".
"He's always been like that! What on earth's the matter? Doesn't he play with you enough anymore?"
"I suppose not", Kieran laughed.
"He's just been working too hard lately that's all. It'll be easier on this trip, now we've surgically detached him from his bags of compost".
"Adam, do you still feel the same about me?"
"Could I ever feel any different about you!" Adam paused under a cherry tree, and put his arms around the slim young man "I think myself lucky everyday. It's enough for me that you're simply around, and not off somewhere combating the forces of darkness".
"If there was ever anyone else ..."
"There won't be".
"If ever there was", Kieran continued "I'd want to know".
"I'm not saying I might not get carried away in my old age and want a few final flings", said Adam "But Patsy, you are completely unique. You're the only person I've ever met who has never bored me, or irritated the shit out of me. And you know how difficult I am, so you see you should realise you're nothing short of a miracle. I love you".
"And will you still love me when another gorgeous young fella comes along? One a lot taller than me perhaps, and certainly hunkier?"
"Patsy?" Adam looked confused, and not a little scared.
"Let's just say it's the price you pay for falling in love with someone as psychic as me. Sometimes if I work hard at it, I can read your thoughts even when you're not with me. I still haven't perfected it as well with you as I have with Joby, little does he know it, but then me and him are practically twins so it's easier. For instance, I know when he's been overdoing it on the allotment because he gets cramp in his hands. I can pick it up even when I'm at home and he's on the other side of the City".
"Alright Mr Smart-Arse, then you will have already realised how I feel about you, so you didn't need to ask!"
"Sometimes I still want to hear it from your own lips".
"And as for Droney Noni, yes it's true I wouldn't pass up the chance to turn him over ..."
"He's one of the final flings you might have in old age?"
"Perhaps", said Adam "But he has about as much chance of elbowing you out of my life, as Hillyard has of marrying a woman!"
Suddenly a small dark-haired sallow-skinned man appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and pressed his lips on Kieran's hand. He looked flustered and kept glancing round him nervously.
"Can I help you?" Kieran asked, trying not to sound bad-tempered.
"I know who you are", the little man bleated "Please take the greatest of care. He means you harm!"
"I can't say", the little man began to rapidly retrace his steps "But take the greatest of care".
"They're not all locked up yet", Adam muttered, after the man had gone.
"What did that mean? Who means me harm?"
"Patsy, as the Vanquisher of Evil, there are bound to be some nutters who'd like to see you out of the way. All I can say is, they're going to be very disappointed, aren't they?"
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site