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"Joby, you'll be relieved to hear that Hillyard's sleeping in Ransey's tent tonight", said Adam "So you won't have to keep fighting him off".
"Best news I've had today", said Joby, glumly.
"Yes well I didn't arrange it for your benefit. I felt it wasn't wise for any of us to be alone here at any time".
"You're nervous about this place too?" said Kieran, following them into the tent.
"Yes I am", said Adam "I have been ever since we got here. And particularly so since it got dark".
"I wonder who it was who slashed Hillyard's shirt?" said Kieran.
"Someone with good dress sense", said Joby.
The fire was banked down and everyone retreated under canvas for the night. The darkness seemed to bring with it an added awareness of the jungle around them, of all the dangers that it held.
Kieran lay tense and uneasy between the others. It had taken him a long time to treat Gabriel's existence, let alone his threats, with any degree of solemnity, other than a slight pang of unease. But with both Noni and Paul now dead, murdered in horrific ways, he'd had to concede that this man was not only serious in what he intended, but pathologically obsessed. The degree of viciousness he had shown towards two ex-members of his staff that he'd considered had "betrayed" him was shocking. Kieran could only uneasily conclude that Gabriel's feelings towards him were a hundred times worse.
He had yet to see the elemental himself, but it had rarely left his thoughts. He was certain this supernatural creature would be capable of destroying him, and didn't know why it had yet to move in on him. Its lack of approach so far was worrying, because it meant Gabriel was keeping his powder dry. It meant Gabriel was prepared to wait and see that the job was done thoroughly.
Beside him Joby flopped onto his back restlessly, gave a deep sigh and sat up.
"Joby, where are you going?" Kieran whispered.
"I can't help it Kiel", said Joby "It's me usual problem. The moment I hit the sack I find I need a leak".
"I sometimes think Adam's right about you", said Kieran "You must have a medical problem! Anyway, you can't go out there alone, I'll come with you".
"I don't need you to hold it for me!"
"Do you want to be alone out there?"
"No, not particularly".
Kieran followed him out of the tent, and waited whilst Joby emptied himself over a nearby bush. There was a distinct rustling sound in the undergrowth which, after the tragic events of the previous night, made Kieran feel distinctly nervous.
"Hurry up Joby", he said "I've never known someone take so long to piddle as you".
"If a job's worth doing", Joby giggled.
He had barely re-packaged his manhood when there was a crunching sound in the bushes close by. Suddenly a dark figure emerged. A large bulky man in dirty ragged clothes. He lunged towards them as though in a drunken stupor. The orbs of his eyes had rolled back to show only the whites. He was an extremely disturbing sight.
Joby stood mesmerised by him, whilst Kieran screamed frantically and tried to drag him away. All the while the creature kept advancing, with the obvious intention of doing serious harm. Eventually Kieran's cries had some effect as Hillyard ran out of his tent, brandishing his hunting-knife. The creature merely turned and walked silently back from whence it had came.
"Who the fuck was that?" Hillyard yelled "Did you see him? He looked completely shot away!"
"Bloody zombies now", said Kieran "That's what he looked like to me anyway. Reminded me of that old film 'Night of the Living Dead'".
"Where the hell did he go to?" said Ransey, who had been delayed by trying to locate his spectacles.
"I think there's only the old temple down that way", said Kieran "Although there might be something beyond it. Perhaps we should look tomorrow".
"I don't think we should stay here any longer", said Joby.
"It'd be ridiculous to try and move now", said Adam "We'd be safer staying put here until daylight. Easier to guard ourselves".
"Adam's right", said Ransey "The middle of the night is not the time to go walking through the jungle, particularly when we've never been here before. As well as snakes dropping on us from overhead branches, we don't know how many friends he might have lurking in the neighbourhood".
"I don't wanna stay here", Joby wailed.
"Don't be such a wimp Joby and get back in the tent", said Adam.
"I don't wanna stay here!" Joby's voice was rising dangerously close to a scream.
Adam slapped him smartly across the face, which stunned Joby long enough for him to be led docilely over to the tent.
"You two get some rest as well", Adam said to Ransey and Hillyard "And if you have an urge to pee yourselves, tie a knot in it!"
Hillyard gave a menacing look at the darkness beyond the bushes, sheathed his knife and retreated back under canvas, followed by Ransey.
"Did you have to hit him that hard?" said Kieran, back inside the other tent "You're always knocking seven bells out of people".
"He was carrying on like a big girl", said Adam, and handed Joby an enamel bowl "There you are. If you get any further urges, piss in there. We'll just have to put up with it. This isn't a time for genteel decorum".
"I'm alright", Joby mumbled "I'm sorry I was trouble".
"I should think so", said Adam, straightening up his bed "You two put years on me sometimes. You can't seem to stay out of trouble for five minutes".
"It's hardly our fault if there's zombies roaming about", said Kieran.
"Shut up Patsy. Neither of you dare move outside until daylight".
"I'm not likely to", said Joby.
Daylight lifted the sinister aspect of the jungle considerably, and by relief accentuated its beauty. The warbling of the tropical birds, which had grown irritating the day before, were now as welcoming as an advert break in a deeply disturbing horror film. It was an intrusion of normality.
There had been a short, sharp shower of rain towards dawn, and Joby and Kieran washed by taking it in turns to stand under a tree whilst the other one shook the branches. Afterwards they ran naked down to the old temple to test their courage.
"He must have gone up through the bushes from here", said Kieran "This was the direction he came from".
"Here's his tracks", said Joby, pointing down at a row of scuffed footprints which led up to the altar and then stopped "It's a sort of dragging of feet motion by the looks of things. That ties in with the Fred that we saw".
"At least it wasn't a mass hallucination then", said Kieran "But where did he go? The footprints stop dead here, as though he vanished into thin air".
"I wonder what he was god of?" said Joby, staring up distrustfully at the icon "Looks a hard bastard. I bet they made sure they kept up their offerings to him! Probably why they're too scared to come here now".
Kieran suddenly recalled an image of his mother kissing the feet of a statue of the Virgin Mary in a gentle and lingering fashion, performing the act with such devotion and love. Ever since puberty he had found his own religion to be full of such erotic images. He had known many people who would have been appalled by his interpretation of sacred rites, but to him it merely increased his fondness for it. He could think of no other religion he knew that heightened the senses to such an intoxicating level. He could well understand St Teresa of Avila's orgasmic trances.
"What are you thinking of?" said Joby.
"I suppose you don't approve of all this?"
"There's nothing to disapprove of now is there?" said Kieran "This heathen image has long been abandoned. Bit of a sad old git now isn't he?"
"Still looks a hard bastard to me", said Joby "I don't know how people can be religious. Worshipping something they're afraid of. Constantly trying to think of ways to keep on their god's good side. I'd be a nervous wreck in no time at all".
"You'd be far more unforgiving of yourself than any god could".
"Do you ever worry that your god might not like what you're up to? With me and Adam I mean?"
"I personally believe that He stands for love. After all, I couldn't have defeated Angel without the love of you two. I don't see how any form of genuine love can be a sin, or an abomination, or whatever the shits would call it. Don't you agree?"
"All I know is I think I would have gone mad long ago if it wasn't for you", said Joby "And to me that makes you a good thing. So what we do is a good thing. I'm not interested in any arguments that the likes of Gabriel may put out about self-control. It might work for some, but it wasn't working for me in the end. And it doesn't seem to have done Gabriel any good either. He's completely barking".
"And yet Ransey seems fine".
"Some people are like that", Joby shrugged "Low sex-drives, unless they meet the right person, and he's never likely to is he?"
"The love of a good woman you mean?"
"Exactly. And look what he gets instead. A night in a tent with Hillyard!"
They dried each other thoroughly back in their own tents, and Joby electrified Kieran by suddenly announcing that he wouldn't swap him for ten women.
"I don't believe that!" Kieran retorted.
"Well you'd better, 'cos it's true".
"I suppose it's easy to say when you're never likely to be put to the test".
Joby took umbrage at this and stormed out of the tent, almost colliding with Adam in the process.
"Have you been upsetting him Patsy?"
"He claims he wouldn't swap me for ten women. I refuse to take that kind of comment seriously".
"You are a complete birdbrain sometimes aren't you?" said Adam, pushing past him so that he could roll up his bedding "Joby doesn't say things easily. He certainly doesn't say them gratuitously. Poor old Jobe. All along the line you've completely disregarded his feelings for you".
"I have not!"
"Countless times in the past I've had to try and get it through to you how he feels, and you've just laughed. You deserve to lose him if you keep that up".
"I won't, will I?"
"Probably not, no. He's devoted to you. But it won't be through lack of trying on your part! Anyway, hurry up and finish packing. I want us to cover a good distance today. There's a house marked on the map that's almost exactly halfway between here and Mundaba Heights. If we're energetic we can be there by sunset. They might let us camp in their grounds if we're lucky".
"Probably find it's full of zombies".
"If that's the case then I'll leave you there won't I!"
Breakfast was eaten standing up, whilst the tents were taken down and the packs made up. Hillyard had cut bamboo sticks for them to use as beaters on their trek through the undergrowth, but there was a rough path of sorts, indicating that someone passed this way occasionally, even if it was out of the way of the usual jungle traffic and trappers and traders.
"I hope zombies only come out at night", said Joby, as they set off in single file.
"What are the more mundane dangers?" said Adam "Do you know much about jungle life Ransey?"
"Only what I've picked up in Lixix, and in the camp when I was little", said Ransey, who was bringing up the rear "Snakes and spiders that sort of thing. Nothing to be sneezed at. There's a type of spider that, if it bites you, means you'll be dead within four seconds".
"How can we avoid it?" said Joby.
"Just be on your guard", said Ransey "Check your shoes before putting them on. Inspect your bedding before getting into it. That sort of thing. They like warm dark places".
"I did think about hiring a local guide back in Husgalonghi", said Adam.
"You'd never have got one to stay at the old temple last night", said Ransey "I doubt also he would taken us all the way to Mundaba Heights. Few of 'em will stay overnight in the jungle at all".
"Remembering that weird 'un last night", said Hillyard "I can't say I'm surprised".
They made a lengthy pitstop at noon, simply by setting down their packs in the middle of the path. Kieran went off, with Hillyard and Ransey as an "armed escort" as he put it, to collect kindling to make a small fire, so that they could brew coffee. Adam and Joby used up the last of their fruit rations in preparing lunch.
"What's up between you two?" said Joby, as they chopped pineapples and bananas "You and Kiel I mean. You've been really frosty with him all morning, and he keeps giving you funny looks".
"We're alright really. I just gave him a bit of a telling-off earlier. Teasing you when he shouldn't".
"I can take it. I'm used to it from him. Don't fall out over me!"
"We haven't. I'll make it up to him when I get a chance. I just felt that we consorts have to stick together".
"Consorts?" Joby laughed "If he becomes president that's what we'll be? Long as I don't have to provide an heir I don't mind".
"That could be tricky! Actually I suppose we're more concubines really. So, as I said we need to stick together. Particularly during those times when he's crying out for a good smack".
"You're better at that than me. That can be your department. I don't frighten him".
"It would be nice to think I had some other use occasionally than just frightening people! It can be quite disheartening".
"What can?" said Kieran, reappearing with an armful of twigs.
"Adam's ability to frighten people", said Joby.
"If you find out who sets these, I hope you frighten them", said Hillyard, holding up a lethal-looking man-trap, the jaws of which were clamped around a piece of wood he had chucked into it.
"It's only the sort of thing you used I expect when you went poaching", said Joby.
"No I didn't", said Hillyard "I used rope-snares. They weren't completely humane, but they're an improvement on these things. If any of us had got our foot caught in that we'd be in agony. Better watch where you're treading. Whoever set this might have left a trail of them".
They came upon what Adam had nicknamed the "halfway house" by mid-afternoon. This looked an incongruous place to find in the middle of the jungle. It was a substantial wooden building with carved balconies and a layered roof, looking like a cross between a Swiss chalet and a Japanese tea-house. It was surrounded by a garden that had been lovingly cultivated and laid out in a precise way, as though a lot of thought had gone into its planning, even if the overall result was too fussy to be completely successful.
"I'm surprised it hasn't got gnomes in it", said Joby, disdainfully.
Adam had decided to call on the owner with only Hillyard in attendance, "for muscle" if needed. They left the others at the end of the garden-path, and went looking round the side of the house for a door. They eventually came across a screen-door latched from the inside. Adam hammered on it and called out.
There was a movement in the gloom on the other side of the screen. The door was unlatched and swung open. The figure that appeared gave Adam a shock at first, thinking that his brain was playing tricks on him and he was actually seeing a woman. He was in fact looking at a eunuch. And a very young one at that. He couldn't have been more than fifteen, although he was heavily made-up to look about thirty-five instead. His coffee-coloured skin was accentuated by the blonde bob-wig short red dress that he wore.
"Is the owner of the house in?" said Adam, remembering that eunuchs weren't allowed to own property.
"You wish to see him?" said the eunuch lazily, whilst all the time running an approving eye over both of them.
"Briefly. We won't take up too much of his time".
"You'd better come in", the eunuch stood back to let them pass.
"What an amazing place", said Hillyard, standing in the middle of the living-room "This guy must be worth a fortune".
"Good stuff I grant you", said Adam, critically "But there's too much of it. It's too fussy, like the garden".
The living-room looked to him in fact as though it belonged to some rich Victorian dowager, newly back from a colonial outpost of the British Empire, full of overstuffed sofas and chairs, heavy ornaments and statues, and an incredible amount of tassels and fringes everywhere. Adam felt that if you spent too long in this room you'd get a great urge to start digging an escape-tunnel.
"You wished to see me?" came a well-spoken voice from the doorway.
Adam turned to greet him, and then nearly had to grab Hillyard for support. The man that faced him was his own age, fair-haired, but portlier than he was, with a face that had been very attractive once, but had now started to sag around the jaws and run to fat. He was very familiar to Adam indeed.
"It can't be!" Adam gasped "It can't!"
To Hillyard's considerable surprise, Adam fell to the carpet in a dead faint.
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