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By Sarah Hapgood

Towards early evening the rains came and thunder rumbled in the distance. Finia walked around the house barring the doors and closing the windows, until the downstairs area resembled a greenhouse for humidity. It had been hot enough the night before, but with the storm approaching it was almost unbearable.

It wasn't helped that relationships between most occupants in the house was slightly strained for one reason or another. Joby and Hillyard looked as though they were prepared to start another fight at the slightest provocation. Kieran couldn't bear the way Adam rolled his eyes at their antics, and took it as a personal affront against himself.

Kieran had a problem in that he always felt gauche, ill-educated and immature when meeting acquaintances of Adam's age. He may have beaten the Devil, but it didn't seem to make any odds in situations like this. He still felt that to hold onto Adam would be like trying to carry water in a sieve. It never occurred to him that Adam often felt the same in reverse.

After dinner Kieran slipped quietly back upstairs to his room. He wanted to stand on the balcony and watch the rains, hoping the sound of it would calm him and allow him to get his thoughts in order. He tried to think of Gabriel and what lay ahead, but it felt so daunting and unreal that he couldn't even begin to comprehend it. Instead he was bothered by Adam and his sarcastic first lover, so much so that it had accounted for his irrational behaviour in the garden earlier that afternoon.

"Patsy, you're getting soaked standing there".

Adam had entered the room without his knowledge, his footsteps disguised by the rumbling overhead.

"Everything's so much more alive during a storm", said Kieran, leaning on the rail and staring down into the garden "You can feel the electricity in everything".

Adam stepped over to him and slid his arm around the boy's waist. To his surprise Kieran nudged him away irritably.

"Have I done something wrong?" Adam asked "Is it Julian?"

"I'm letting you go Addy", Kieran whispered.

"What are you talking about?"

"It's a crazy situation. It was unrealistic of me to expect it to continue. Two lovers at a time, it's a recipe for disaster".

"Oh I see, so you're chosen Joby, and I get the elbow, is that it?"

"No!" Kieran protested "I don't want this to happen. I want you both. But I'm not suitable for you. Staying here has proved that. You need a mature relationship with someone like Julian".

"I wasn't under the impression that I'd ever had a mature relationship with Julian!" Adam exclaimed "I want you Patsy. I wouldn't be standing here getting wet and arguing with you otherwise. Anyway, how dare you say you're letting me go as though I'm some underling being fired!"

"Yes, but everything that's happened lately", Kieran began to cry, the rain mingling with his tears "I know I've got Joby, and I don't expect you to be one hundred per cent faithful, but first Noni and now Julian. I don't know where I am half the time".

"Where you've always been", said Adam "Near me in my heart I hope. I admit I've been ... well energetic lately, a trifle naughty perhaps, but it just means you'll have to teach me a lesson sometime".

He enfolded Kieran in his arms, and held him close for some while.

"Let's have no more of this Patsy", he said, eventually "I've told you until I'm blue in the face how special you are to me. I don't expect you to go on ignoring it as though I've never spoken. Here and now, I'm telling you once and for all, I want you. The others are pleasant diversions. And as for Julian, well I feel sorry for the poor old git. He deserves everything he's got, but I still feel sorry for him. And now you've made me sopping wet. I shall probably get pneumonia and rheumatism".

"It'll be my fault if you do", Kieran sniffed.

"Undoubtedly. Anyway Mr ESP, you're not that clever are you? I mean, you haven't sussed out that Julian's impotent yet".

"Is he?"

"Cursed by Gabriel for being a quote 'filthy sodomist' unquote".

"What is it with that man!" said Kieran "He has such a hang-up about sex. I don't understand it. Perhaps he was abused as a child".

"Had a cushy life as a child from what I can gather. Everyone adoring him. I ..." Adam's voice trailed off.

"Adam? What is it?"

"There's something out in the garden. Somebody I should say".

Kieran turned to face the garden. There was a figure lying on the ground towards the far end of the lawn. At first it seemed as though he was dead or seriously wounded, as he continued to lie on the grass, oblivious to the monsoon. Then Kieran saw the vague movement of a hand, and realised this strange person was in fact crawling laboriously across the grass towards the house.

"He's hurt!" Kieran exclaimed.

"No he's not", said Adam, firmly "Don't you dare go running to let him in".

The figure had got markedly closer in a very short space of time. As it neared the house its appearance became more distinct. He had originally been a local man, and looked a little like the witch-doctor with his shaven head. He was wearing a long, shapeless white tunic.

"Come on", said Adam "We'd better warn the others. Just in case they get any brilliant ideas about inviting in the sick traveller".

Downstairs, in the torrid heat of the living-room, Ransey was regaling everyone with snippets from a published work of Gabriel's that Julian had dug out from the back of his bookcase. He had been presented with this enlightening work on arriving at Mundaba Heights. Gabriel had clasped his hand in his own clammy little paw, and said he hoped Julian would find it "spiritually uplifting".

"I listened to this rubbish for years", said Ransey, flicking the pages in disgust "The corruption amongst those in power was his favourite subject, but the one that used to kill me was his idea that the sin of sexual intercourse, if indulged, would show up on your body. He painted such a graphic picture of it I felt glad I was celibate".

"He was thinking of the Virus", said Hillyard "Far as I know that was successfully contained".

"There haven't been any further outbreaks", said Joby.

"Gabriel's ideas never had anything to do with the real world", said Ransey "He's on a different planet to the rest of us".

"What was that noise?" said Joby, suddenly.

"The thunder", said Hillyard.

"Hang on, he's right", said Julian "Someone's knocking on the front door".

"Don't let him in", cried Adam, bursting into the room like a police raid "For God's sake, don't let him in".

"Credit me with some sense Adam", said Julian, irritably "I never open my door after dark, not to anyone. Where's Tinkerbell?"

Adam suddenly realised that Kieran hadn't followed him into the room. He ran back out into the hall to find Kieran standing near the front door. By now the zombie was hammering on it so insistently that the intricate brass lock-and-chain on the inside was jumping about under the impact.

"We're alright, he won't come in", said Julian "He can't, unless one of us invites him".

"He could be genuinely hurt", Kieran yelled "Why do you instantly assume he's a zombie?"

"Stop talking bollocks Kiel", said Joby "Of course he's a fucking zombie!"

"There's no 'of course' about it", said Kieran "He could be someone who's got hurt in the jungle".

"That very slim chance is not worth the risk of finding out", said Julian "Take it from me. Everybody get back in the living-room. Go on! That includes you Finia. Adam, do something about your hysterical pet, he's disturbing everyone else".

Adam socked Kieran unconscious.

Kieran came round to find himself lying on his bed. The room was being lit up every few seconds by vivid sheets of lightning. Just above the deafening roar of the storm could be heard the gramophone downstairs. Julian had put it on to try and drown out the noise of the zombie hammering on the front door. The knocking was still going on, although much fainter and more laborious now, as though the creature was slowly running out of steam.

"I wanted to look out through the bedroom window over the verandah", Joby was saying, from the other side of the mosquito net "Try and get a look at it. But Julian said they're capable of mesmerising you if you get eye-contact with them".

"I'm relieved Patsy didn't manage that at least", Adam replied.

Kieran felt a dull ache in his jaw. It matched the one in his heart. He'd made a fool of himself. Acting hysterical, and willing to endanger the lives of his friends to assuage his conscience over a stranger. A born fanatic, he thought bitterly, that's what I am. A compulsive do-gooder who never gets it right.

"Patsy, you're still alive", said Adam, creeping under the net.

"No thanks to you".

"I'm sorry my baby, but you really were getting yourself in a state".

"Don't go apologising to him!" Joby exclaimed "He was behaving like a complete tosser. He deserves everything he gets".

"You haven't got any bruises, that's the main thing", said Adam.

"Doesn't matter if he has", Joby grunted.

"Oh belt up Joby!" Kieran yelled "Isn't it bad enough that I was completely humiliated in front of Julian?"

"Nonsense", said Adam "Julian's probably pig-sick with jealousy. I wouldn't put it past him".

"That's the second time today he's carried on like this", said Joby "I don't know what I'd do if you weren't here Adam. He'd drive me fucking mad".

"The feeling's mutual!" Kieran cried "I could do with a ciggie".

"You're not smoking in here", said Joby "It's a disgusting habit, smoking in bed".

"You did enough of it at one time".

"Shut up the pair of you", said Adam "This is a very serious situation".

"But not uncommon out here", said Kieran.

"I can't say I'm looking forward to tomorrow night", said Joby, lolling at Kieran's feet "Being out in the open with the likes of that thing out there nearby".

"Exactly", said Adam "So we have to make sure we're under shelter tomorrow night. According to the maps there's a couple of disused buildings at the foot of Mundaba Heights. Used to be an overnight stop for travellers, until people stopped coming out this way. A bit like the old wolf-shelters up north. It'll be a push getting there before nightfall, but I really don't think we have much choice. The closer we get the more desperate Gabriel will be to separate Patsy from us".

"You don't think he'll try abducting him do you?" said Joby.

"It's a possibility", said Adam "As time goes on Gabriel will get desperate enough. Whatever grisly plans he has for Patsy at Mundaba Heights will be far more beneficial for Gabriel if we aren't around".

"It wouldn't be so bad if we could count on Kieran co-operating", said Joby "But he won't. He was only going to go off for a walk on his own this afternoon!"

"Then you just have to be firm with him Joby", said Adam "I'm counting on you for support".

"I don't like feeling chained-up", Kieran protested.

"That is exactly what you will be if you don't behave", said Adam "Your life means more to us than your finer feelings at this time".

There was a perfunctory knock on the door and Julian entered, looking a lot more agitated than he normally did.

"I've come to say that the creature appears to have moved off", he said, as a lightening flash illuminated his face briefly "I thought you might be relieved to know. No one's ever come to the door before. Finia and I have occasionally glimpsed figures shambling through the garden but ..."

"Are you alright, old love?" said Adam, who had never seen Julian look agitated before. Not even at the Antibes incident years before, when he had appeared incensed instead, as though Adam had caused one embarrassment too many.

"A bit shook up", Julian confessed "As I said, they've never come up to the door before. I'll be glad when daylight comes. Adam, I would appreciate a word with you. In private".

Adam left Joby with strict instructions not to let Kieran out of his sight, and followed Julian into his own room across the corridor.

"What's the problem?" said Adam, closing the door behind him.

"I don't want you to go", said Julian, awkwardly "I know I haven't got much to offer you, and I'm not promising I'll reform from being my usual obnoxious self, but over these past two days I've got used to having you around. I'd like you to stay".

"Julian, we had our chance when we were nineteen. We blew it, and I don't believe in going backwards".

"You don't know what you're facing up there!" Julian exclaimed "It's a terrible place. You don't know what Gabriel's capable of".

"No I don't", said Adam "But there is no way I'm leaving Patsy to face it without me".

"You love him don't you?"

"Is that so hard for you to understand?"

"It could've been me, couldn't it? The love of your life I mean".

"And so it was, for a long time. Until I realised you weren't capable of returning it".

"What attracted you to him?" said Julian "Apart from his looks I mean".

"He was uncomplicated, open-natured. Not cynical, not disillusioned. He can be infuriating at times, like anyone can. But there is absolutely no malice in him at all. He would never be capable of deliberately hurting someone".

"You chose him because he's not like me".

"I chose him because he's Patsy", said Adam "You don't love me now Julian, anymore than you did when we were students. You just want what you can't have. That's always been your problem".

"You simply wanted someone to love you. That's all you wanted all along isn't it?"

"Yes. And I had to wait a bloody long time to get it!"

The door burst open and Kieran strode in, followed by Joby who lingered on the threshold looking exasperated.

"You've had long enough to say your party piece Julian", said Kieran.

"Very well Irish", said Julian "He's all yours. Who'd have thought it? I lost out to a bumpkin from the boondocks".

"Well of course it helps that I don't have your complaint", said Kieran, looking pointedly at Julian's groin.

"Adam dearest, I thought you said this creature had no malice in him?"

"That's not malice", said Kieran "It's just us bumpkins from the boondocks enjoy a bloody good laugh occasionally, preferably at somebody else's expense".

Julian looked him up and down, and then exited the room in a dignified fashion.

"Joby, you're hopeless at controlling him", Adam exclaimed.

"He slipped out of me grasp! I told him not to interfere, but he never listens to me".

"Must try harder Jobe!"

The night seemed endless. Each of them tried sleeping, only to alternate that with roaming the house searching for peace. Ransey lay on the living-room sofa flicking through Gabriel's book, which filled him with disturbing memories. He remembered the man's acute paranoia. It was so bad that he had once made Ransey conduct a meeting with him inside a walk-in safe at the office, because he believed it was the only place where they couldn't be overheard. He remembered the uncontrollable rages everytime someone saw Kieran walking about the streets of the City. He would sob for hours over anything said about the Vanquisher, and then try and claim it was solely because he feared for their future in his hands, convinced that everyone had been duped solely by Kieran's looks.

"Gabriel's a fucking weirdo", said Hillyard, watching Ransey return the book to the shelf.

"I suppose we all are in a way", Ransey sighed. His hair was sticky with sweat and he ran his hands through it until it stuck up on end "You're a bit of a strange one yourself".

"I am?"

"Can't make you out. You don't seem to fit in with the other three".

"That's only because I'm not a time-crosser".

"Did you recognise Kieran as the Vanquisher of Evil when you first saw him?"

"At the time I never really believed in any of that", said Hillyard "I thought it was just stories. For a while I thought he was just some blonde babe belonging to Adam. But as I got to know him more and more I sensed something different about him. Don't ask me what, I can't explain it. But it's there, whatever it is".

"Do you think he's up to defeating Gabriel?"

"I hope so. I wouldn't want to lose him. I was the first one he saw when he'd beaten the Devil. He was in a bad way. I swore at the time that I'd always take care of him, and I'll stick to that. Poor little bastard. He keeps hoping it'll all end, and then he can have a peaceful life, but I don't think that's ever going to be likely now".

"There is a strong chance that when we get to Mundaba Heights, Gabriel will separate us from Kieran".

"We'll just have to make sure he's got his work cut out then", said Hillyard.

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