Go back to previous chapter


By Sarah Hapgood

"Isn't it time you two got dressed?"

Adam woke up to find Joby standing beside the bed. He was dressed in a clean set of shirt and trousers, and was gazing down at them disapprovingly.

"Joby, you've got far too many clothes on", said Adam "It's a crying shame to cover up such a magnificent body. Why don't you whip them off and pop in here?"

"Stop trying to embarrass me Adam, it don't work anymore".

"Not since you poked the arse off him", said Kieran.

"It's nearly dinnertime", said Joby "And I'm not walking down there alone".

"You have nothing to worry about sweetcakes", said Adam, sliding out from under the mosquito net "If Julian gives you any trouble at all just tell me and I'll sort him out".

"And I'm sure you'll both enjoy every moment of it", said Kieran, leaning over the side of the bed and peering around the floor "Has anyone seen my clothes?"

"Here", Joby scooped up the vest and pants from the floor "But you'd better put something clean on".

"I think he really means something that covers your butt a bit more Patsy", said Adam, upending his rucksack on the floor "And I couldn't agree more. Julian will be letching quite enough as it is. I don't think I've got anything clean to wear myself".

"I'll wear what I want", said Kieran "I'm not having Joby tell me what I should wear".

"I'm not. I just thought you'd be more comfortable that's all. I can't say anything right to you can I?" Joby exclaimed "I'm gonna wait in our room".

"Well done Patsy", said Adam, after Joby had stormed out of the room "You've done it again, upset Joby".

"It's not difficult is it?" said Kieran "Alright, I'll go and do every single thing he says, if it'll stop you being cross with me too".

"This lot is worth a small fortune", said Ransey, walking round the dining-table in rapt wonderment "Crystal lead glasses, gold cutlery. Gold mark you, not gold-plated. I wish I knew how he made his money".

"Being a nasty piece of work I expect", said Hillyard "Where is he anyway?"

"The eunuch said he'd be down shortly. You've got to admit, this is an improvement on being out there in the jungle, with bug-eyed zombies after us".

"Even Joby can't argue with that, can you Jobe?" said Kieran, who had spent the best part of ten minutes trying to coax Joby into being nice to him again. In the end he'd had to resort to tickling him.

"This room's like the rest of the house though", said Adam "Too fussy. If I was him I'd clear out half of this junk, I don't care how valuable it is. Some of it should be in an attic gathering dust, well out of sight. But then, Julian never did have much taste".

"You should know Adam, you should know", said Julian, startling them all by suddenly appearing in the room.

"You move like a cat", said Adam.

"And I actually made my money as an interior designer", Julian went on "In the two short years that I've been here I have become the best in my field, working for all the great and the good. I actually designed the decor for the President's private rooms at the Ministry Headquarters. Why are your lips puckering Adam? I recognise the tell-tale signs of old, you're trying not to snigger".

"Oh come on Julian, it's just a bit of a joke isn't it? Interior designer. It's the sort of thing the rich and famous would come out with in our old life. He's not my lover, he's my interior designer!"

"Yes well, we can't all get by using our bottoms can we?" said Julian, sitting down at the head of the table, and indicating everyone else to take a chair "Being the lover of the Vanquisher of Evil must take away the need to earn one's own living".

"Adam has a very successful career in his own right as a commercial artist", said Kieran, stiffly.

"That's exactly what I mean", said Julian "He gets by purely through being associated with you. I cannot imagine why else anyone would want to buy his daubs".

"I think he's very good", said Hillyard.

"Quite", said Julian, bitchily "I rest my case".

"It can't be very convenient for business", said Ransey "Living right out here".

"I've retired", said Julian "Once one's made one's pile, there's no point carrying on. One owes it to the younger talent to back down".

"You retired after just two years?" said Joby.

"Probably ran out of clients who share the same dubious taste as himself", said Adam.

"You simply must try this wine Adam", Julian indicated for Finia to circulate with the bottle "Oh dear I forgot. How thoughtless of me. You can't. All the more for the rest of us".

"I was hoping you'd tell us what was so sinister about this part of the world", said Kieran, picking at his fruit salad "And why are there psychotic zombies roaming about?"

"You're quite safe in here I assure you", said Julian, taking a large swig of his wine "As long as you stay within the house after dark. Finia and I seal the place like a drum then. Nothing can get in".

"I still don't understand. What is it we've got to be afraid of?"

"You described it so eloquently just now. Psychotic zombies. Residents of Husgalonghi that I'm sure all died perfectly natural deaths, were buried in the town's graveyard, and have since been resurrected".

"By whom?" said Adam "And why?"

"I really couldn't tell you", said Julian, flippantly.

"You mean you won't".

"Just accept my word for it that you are safe in this house. I don't expect you to believe me, but you can trust me. After all, I have no grudges against Kieran. It doesn't matter to me who is President or Vanquisher of Evil. And as a connoisseur of beauty I have no wish to see his removed from the face of the earth".

"But ..." Joby began, but was silenced by Adam, who realised that Julian knew an awful lot more than he was letting on, but for reasons best known to himself was deciding to play cagey.

"I dunno how you can live out here", said Hillyard "Trapped in here night after night, no knowing what might be lurking outside".

"Perhaps I just cannot be afraid anymore", said Julian, sounding serious for once "Nothing more can intimidate me".

After dinner Julian dug out a gramophone that looked so antique it was practically pre-historic.

"I haven't seen one of these outside a junk shop", said Joby, trying to figure out where the brass speaker fitted "Where did you get it?"

"It's actually quite a new model", said Julian "It's the only form of home music entertainment that's at all practical nowadays. So many homes, including my own here, have no electricity. And the means for recording music are nowhere near as sophisticated as in our time. Culturally, one must limit one's horizons considerably now we're in the fifth millennium".

This last comment proved to be only too true when they sampled the selection of recording tubes on offer, mainly live but scratchy recordings of concerts given in the City. None of the simple, tinny tunes pre-dated the Warming, and the time-crossers were once again appalled at how much of history had been lost.

"Come on, dance with me", said Kieran, coaxing Joby across the living-room floor "Julian's gone back into the dining-room, so you're quite safe from ridicule".

"I've got two left feet Kiel", Joby protested "I never could dance to save me life. I always ended up shuffling me feet with me arms folded".

"Well this lot these days know nothing about rhythm, so I wouldn't worry too much".

Kieran propelled him around the room, giving him little time to protest any further, watched by Ransey and Hillyard, who were both getting amiably drunk.

"You know more than you're letting on", said Adam, following Julian into the dining-room and pushing the door shut "This zombie business, it's all to do with Gabriel isn't it?"

"Take take take Adam, that's you all over, always was", said Julian, flopping back into his chair "I throw open my house to you and your cute little friends. I give you sensible advice about staying out of the jungle at night, but none of it's good enough. You always wanted my soul too".

"You're pissed".

"I know. And I bet you wish you were too".

Adam suddenly felt depressed. Listening to Julian was like listening to a recording of himself, from the tired, cynical days before he finally had the courage to proposition Kieran, and then had never looked back. Julian was as bitter and angry at the world now as he had been then. Adam sat down in the chair nearest him.

"This seems a singularly pointless exercise Julian", he said "Us trying to communicate like civilised human beings. We never could manage that. So I'll just talk to you bluntly. We are all on our way to Mundaba Heights ..."

"To destroy Gabriel?" Julian laughed.

"Yes. Not only has he threatened Patsy, but he's caused the deaths of two friends of ours. One was bad enough, he was bitten by a death adder, but the other ..."

"What happened to the other?" said Julian, sharply "Tell me".

"Somebody rammed a beer-bottle up his butt".

"Oh very Edward the Second. And very very Gabriel. I would say he had a sick sense of humour, except he hasn't got one at all. It's all the result of his sick little mind".

"You know him don't you? Gabriel I mean", said Adam "You know him well. You can help us, can't you?"

Julian suddenly pushed his chair back, and it fell against the floor with a heavy thud. He then bolted from the room, slamming the door behind him.

In the living-room Finia had joined the throng. For a couple of tunes he had stood on the sidelines, watching as though sizing each of them up. When a slower number came on he started to dance, writhing like a charmed snake, as though mesmerised by himself. He ran his hands slowly down the bony curves of his body, hooking his short, red dress up over his thighs and moaning softly to himself.

The others watched with an appalled fascination, as though the boy had suddenly become possessed by demons. Finia shimmied over to Hillyard and began to ruffle his hair. To Joby's surprise, Hillyard responded by ducking out of his way irritably.

"Give it a rest", he snapped "You're missing a vital component as far as I'm concerned".

Finia hissed venomously and promptly left the room.

"That was grotesque", said Kieran "I'm going to bed".

The party broke up soon after and everyone went their separate ways. Joby went into the dining-room before going upstairs, on the pretext that he wanted to take some oranges up to bed with him, but really to check that Adam wasn't misbehaving himself with Julian. Neither of them were there though. Instead Finia was stacking plates and sniffing violently. His wig was askew, and he looked like a painted marionette doll that someone had hurled around the room a few times.

"Just wanted a couple of these", said Joby, taking two oranges from the silver basket in the middle of the table "We ... er ... we didn't mean to upset you back there".

"Oh don't apologise", Finia snarled, sarcastically "I'm only a eunuch. My feelings count for nothing".

"I don't know really why you want to live way out here. Not at your age. Wouldn't you have more fun in Lixix, or the City even?"

"I'm safe here".

"Safe? In this place? You have to bar all the doors as soon as the sun goes down!"

"Before I worked for Julian I had a job in the brothel in Husgalonghi. I was billed as the Virgin Eunuch, except as you can imagine the truth of the job title didn't bear looking into. It was a rotten job, working for real bastard clients. Then one night, some visiting businessmen came on the scene. They decided I was a freak, and tried to set fire to me as I lay sleeping in bed".

"Were you badly hurt?"

"I had to have skin grafts on my back and thighs. You can't see much now I'm glad to say. So you see, I'd rather be out here with Julian, surrounded by the zombies. At least I know he won't try anything like that on me".

"I'm sorry", said Joby "I've heard that eunuchs have to put up with a lot of abuse from some men but ..."

"Abuse? Baby, my story is far from uncommon believe me! The Union of Honorary Virgins have even let it be known that they'd like us all to be publicly stoned".

"Yea but no one takes any notice of them".

Finia straightened his wig, and smoothed his dress over his hips. Joby realised with a sinking heart that the eunuch was moving in for the kill.

"What's the matter?" said Finia, standing directly in front of him "Don't you like what I have? You time-crossers! I suppose you're going to say I can't compete with a real woman, is that it?"

"You're attractive", said Joby, hoarsely "But I'm sorry. Your jaw's too big, your voice is too deep, and to me you just look like a boy in drag".

"Well I'm not. I'll show you I'm not".

Finia pulled up his dress to waist-level, exposing himself to Joby's horrified gaze. Where his penis had once been was now a vertical ridge of puckered skin, as though a worm had got under his flesh. Finia reached down as though to part the lips of his man-made vagina. Joby pushed him outside, dropping the oranges as he ran.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License.

Go forward to next chapter

Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site