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Adam doused Joby's face liberally with water. Kieran crouched nearby on the rocks and watched anxiously. Adam and Hillyard had turned up in time to see Joby tripping out very badly. Adam was already in a foul temper, from finding the camp bereft of all life-forms when they first arrived. Joby and Kieran had commandeered the horse so that they could ride it bareback to the rocks. Hillyard had found the remains of the mushrooms in the frying-pan over the fire. It didn't take a genius to work out what had happened.
"Joby? Can you see me clearly?" said Adam, and he slapped the boy's face for good measure.
"Don't hit him", Kieran wailed.
"Shut up Patsy. I haven't started on you yet".
"I'm alright", Joby mumbled "Just don't know why there are two of you Adam that's all".
Adam hauled him up by the armpits and handed him to Hillyard like an unwanted parcel.
"Put him on the horse", he said "And get him back to the camp. Put him in the tent, out of the sun. I'll be along in a moment, when I've walloped Patsy".
"Better make sure the horse gets some water too", Hillyard grunted, slinging Joby over his shoulders as though he was a tote-bag.
"It wasn't Joby's fault", said Kieran, once he was alone with Adam "It was all my idea".
"That does not surprise me in the slightest", Adam snapped "Are you two so desperate for kicks you'll try anything? What next for fuck's sake? Meths drinking? Glue sniffing? Or whatever will give you brain damage the quickest!"
"I thought it'd be fun. I know that was stupid of me".
"Stupid? Patsy, you excelled yourself this time".
"Damn it Adam, I didn't think magic mushrooms were dangerous. They're the milk and cookies of drugs when all's said and done".
"You just don't think full-stop".
"It was just stinking luck on Joby that's all. Poor sod. He's never allowed to enjoy himself", Kieran sniffed.
"With you as a best friend he doesn't stand a chance of enjoying himself! Listen to me! All I seem to do is go on at you, telling you off all the time. Do you think I enjoy sounding like a boring old fart?"
"Quite. So why don't you two just try behaving for once and then I won't have to".
"You can talk!"
"How was Noni last night then?"
"You're the mind-reader. You figure it out".
"You didn't enjoy it?"
"About as much as Joby enjoyed rolling around with you just now having his brain bursting. You unscrupulous little ... you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself. Doping up your best friend just so that you could screw him and get back at me!"
"It wasn't like that. I happened to find the mushrooms, and Joby and me ... w-we like each other. I thought it'd make it easier for him. He wants to so much".
"I'm not listening to anymore of this rubbish Patsy. You are going to behave from now on. I won't give you any choice in the matter. You are going to be on a very short leash indeed".
"Does that apply to you in return?"
Adam gave him a sharp look and then burst out laughing.
"You need spanking Patsy", he said, wrapping his arms around the boy's grit-covered body "And when I get back to being cross with you that's exactly what I'm going to do".
"I should be so lucky", Kieran kissed him lightly "Now let's go and see how poor old Joby is".
"Hang on", said Adam, grabbing him by the wrist "Patsy, I just want to say that Noni was simply one of those things".
"You don't have to explain to me", said Kieran "You don't stop me trying it on with Joby, so I can't say anything".
"As long as you understand", said Adam "You know how devoted I am to you. But, I am cross with you. I don't blame you entirely as I've been too lax with you lately. You and Joby have run wild. So, just in case you think the old fairy is getting soft in his twilight years ..."
Suddenly Adam pulled Kieran over his knee and administered several vigorous spanks onto his bare rump. Kieran screamed and kicked, but even he didn't know if it was because his buttocks were getting sore or because he was enjoying it so much!
"Oh God, you look remorseful", said Joby, lying in the inner shade of the tent "You're not going to start saying fifty 'Hail Marys' or something, because I don't think me nerves could stand it. Anyway I cooked the bloody things and ate half of 'em quite willingly so ..."
"Are you alright now?" Kieran dug a clean singlet out of his bag and pulled it on "What happened to you?"
"Don't know. I'm a prat aren't I?" Joby rubbed his hand over his face blearily "Just my eyesight started going. Everything got out of focus and there was a double to everything. Anyway, come here".
Kieran knelt on the floor of the tent next to him, and Joby stroked his face.
"Sometimes I think there's a conspiracy against us two", said Joby.
"Rubbish", Kieran replied "It'll happen one day I'm sure of it. The mushrooms was a stupid idea though. We were trying too hard".
"Adam wasn't too hard on you was he? I'll tell him it wasn't your fault".
"I doubt if he'd believe you. He knows me too well".
"Did he sleep with Noni?"
Kieran nodded in reply.
"Then he can't criticise you then can he? The randy old git!"
"No maybe not", Kieran giggled "But I've just been spanked anyway".
"Is your arse sore?"
"Like a furnace".
Joby grabbed his arms and pulled him down with me, kissing him tenderly.
"I'm sorry Kiel. It's all my fault".
"Eejit. I quite like having me bum smacked. Mind you, he doesn't normally do it quite that hard!"
"You're terrible you are!"
"Well I have to be don't I? I'm your alter-ego".
Kieran later found Adam lying on one of the Moonbeam Rocks with his sun-hat over his face.
"Who is it?" he mumbled, from under the hat "And go away".
"It's me", said Kieran, clambering up the rocks towards him.
"Oh you can stay", Adam removed his hat and sat up "Well you look a bit cleaner than you did the last time I saw you".
"Just had a wash. I came to tell you that it's getting dark".
"Yes, I often find that happens at night".
"I mean, it gets cold out here very quickly once the sun's gone down. And it's not good to sit out here on your own. You don't know what's about half the time".
"Very true", Adam sighed "It's best to stay near firelight then. We learnt that during our travels up north didn't we?"
"Brrr! It was so damn cold up there. I think I prefer this somehow".
"How's the psychedelic kid?"
"Made a complete recovery. He's cooking supper".
"Good. Hillyard has been forcibly kept away from our supplies has he? I'm glad to hear it. It never ceases to amaze me how that man can turn perfectly good food into complete poison. It must be a natural talent".
Kieran was helping Adam to his feet when he heard a howling noise in the distance. This evening it seemed even eerier than ever, mainly because he was now standing on a rock surveying the desert for miles around, and he couldn't see anything at all which could account for the noise.
"What was that Patsy?" said Adam "Have you heard it before?"
"Last night. It can't be a wild dog like we thought".
"Well it's always coming from the same direction you see. And it never gets any nearer or moves away. A wild dog would move around, or at least I assume it would".
"Perhaps somebody lives out there somewhere. In such an isolated spot it wouldn't be surprising if they kept a guard-dog outside".
"That's probably it", said Kieran, although he didn't feel very reassured "Let's get back to the fireside Addy".
Joby fried eggs, bacon, and for Kieran's benefit, vegetarian sausages over the fire, whilst Hillyard made the coffee and surreptitiously sneaked drops of brandy into Kieran and Joby's mugs when Adam - or the "Temperance Police" as Kieran had nicknamed him - wasn't looking. Subsequently the meal was a very relaxed affair, in spite of periodic outbursts from the mystery beast in the distance.
"I'll cook tomorrow night", Hillyard announced.
"You will not", said Adam, with ill-concealed horror.
"Me and Adam are on cookhouse duties on this trip", said Joby.
"What about me?" said Kieran.
"You're an even worse cook than him!" Joby exclaimed.
"Don't sulk Hillyard", said Adam "There are plenty of other things you can do".
"Perhaps we should draw up a duty-rota", said Hillyard.
"We managed quite well without all that nonsense up north, we did things as and when they were required. And that is how we'll do things on this trip. Anyway, I dislike the whole idea of rota's. It means on a regular basis you put up with someone doing something they have no earthly aptitude for, just because their name is on the rota".
"We should all stick to things we can do", said Joby.
"Exactly. Joby cooks, and does a spot of fishing if we get near a large stretch of water. Likewise with you", Adam added hastily, as Hillyard presented an image of hurt pride "You can also look after the horse, and do any trapping that crops up. I'm in charge generally".
"Simply by virtue of my great age that you all keep on about. And Patsy ..."
"This'll be the difficult one", said Joby.
"Can tend the fires", said Adam "No one else collects and strips kindling as efficiently as he does. He even knows how to start a fire without using matches don't you Pats? He showed me how it's done once, it's quite erotic to watch".
"It's all the gentle blowing that's involved", said Kieran "Anyway, I can also help with the horse".
"You know nothing about horses", said Hillyard.
"Of course I do! I'm Irish, it's in my blood. During the school-holidays I used to help the trap-drivers ferry the tourists around the Killarney countryside".
"How many tourists did you lose?" said Joby.
"None, and I used to collect a fortune in tips".
"So I should think", said Adam "With your looks".
"This is the first time I've really started to relax on this trip", said Joby "It's actually starting to feel like a holiday now. Where are we heading to tomorrow then?"
"I don't know yet", said Adam "I haven't had a chance to look at the maps. I'll look properly over breakfast, but basically I think we should just head towards different landmarks, taking into consideration that it pays as much as we can to make sure there's some water nearby".
"Good point", said Hillyard.
"Are we heading towards the jungle eventually?" said Kieran.
"No reason why we shouldn't. After all, we have all the time in the world".
In spite of the fact that the presence of four grown men made the confines of the tent seem very small, none of them had any trouble getting to sleep later. Adam caught a suspicious whiff of alcohol in the air once they were all under canvas, but thought enough scenes had been caused for one day and said nothing about it. He didn't want them to start thinking of him as some prim old maid, censoring everything in sight.
"Does that animal go on all night?" Hillyard muttered, as another distant howl split the air. He was feeling especially nervous, as he was the one sleeping next to the entrance. He remembered the time when he had camped in an old wolf-shelter on the tundra with Stombal, waking up to find his friend being dragged through the doorway by a slavering beast. Stombal had died of his wounds later that night.
"Don't worry", Kieran muttered, drowsily "I don't think it ever gets very close to us here. Goodnight".
"There's someone moving about outside", said Joby, in an urgent whisper two hours later.
"Switch that torch off Joby", Adam hissed "They can probably see it through the canvas".
"Perhaps we should all rush out at once", said Kieran "Yelling and screaming. Give 'em a scare".
"Don't be daft", said Joby "Knowing us we'd just get caught up in the tent and bring it down on us".
"They might be stealing the horse", said Hillyard.
"We can't just sit here and let them", said Kieran.
Suddenly the folds at the front of the tent parted and Paul poked his head through.
"I-I'm sorry if I gave you a scare", he said, looking sheepish "I don't mean any harm".
"Hillyard!" Adam roared, indignantly "What's he doing here?"
"I didn't know he was going to turn up", Hillyard protested.
He tried to extricate himself from his blanket and succeeded in elbowing Joby in the face in the process.
"What's he doing here then?" Joby yelled.
"We've come to join you", said Paul.
"We?" said Adam, suspiciously "You'd better explain yourself".
Paul made to enter the tent, but Hillyard stalled him.
"Better not", he said, holding up a warning hand "It's quite crowded enough in here at the moment. We'll come out".
"The thing is", said Paul, as they all stood around the glowing embers of the camp fire "We've come to join you on your travels".
"We are on holiday", Adam exclaimed "Not a crusade! How dare you invite yourself along like this, and bringing those two as well".
"We look out for each other", said Paul, indicating Noni and Ransey "One of us couldn't really come and leave the others behind".
"Yes but he", Adam pointed a a quivering finger at Ransey, who blinked owlishly from behind his spectacles "He's a naffing accountant! What bloody use is he going to be on a trip like this?"
"I've been working for Gabriel for the past fifteen years", said Ransey.
"So?" said Adam.
"It's a very good job. But I can't cope with what's happening now. It's all wrong. When I heard what he'd done to Noni I just decided I didn't want no more to do with it. Anyway, I'm sick of being a man in a suit. I felt it was time to travel before I got too set in my ways".
"Fine", Adam spat "But why did you have to travel in this direction?"
"What did he do to Noni?" asked Kieran, hoping it was something humiliating.
"Gabriel's put a curse on him", Paul explained, whilst all the while Noni stood with his eyebrows knitting together, as though he was having trouble keeping up with the conversation "A particularly vicious elemental is haunting him".
"I can't feel him around now", Noni spoke "Not here anyway. I think that has got to be due to the presence of the Vanquisher. I've come here to beg him to remove it from me".
"Why did he curse you?" said Kieran.
"Carnal reasons", Noni muttered.
"He means because he had sex with Adam", said Joby, causing Noni to blush violently "Isn't that right?"
"Sorry, can't help you then", said Kieran, heading back to the tent "I'm not doing curses tonight".
"Why does that involve Gabriel cursing you anyway?" said Adam "Oh forget it, I don't want to know. Not tonight anyway. I'm too tired. And I think I've got one of my heads coming on".
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