Go back to previous chapter
Adam joked that Gabriel's speciality seemed to be causing fog-banks to appear. After twenty-four hours of being marooned in the peasouper though it was no longer amusing, and it was a full day-and-a-half before the heavy mist cleared. On top of that they had been woken the night before by a terrific explosion out to sea. The doped Captain had steered the doomed ship directly for the semi-submerged mountain. The vessel broke apart on the rocks. Ransey recorded in his diary that he believed Gabriel had arranged for this to happen all along. The new President had had no intention of subsidising what he secretly referred to as "the South Seas lifestyle of a bunch of hopeless ne'er-do-wells'. With the deliberate wrecking of the convict ship, manned as it was by a Captain who shouldn't even have been put in charge of running a bath, Gabriel had rid himself of what he regarded as the worst of the City's criminal and insane element.
At the end of the world, on Miracle Island, the men who had built the new penal colony, waited for a convict ship that never came. Many hadn't been paid in months, and suddenly all communications with the Ministry had ceased. Pandemonium broke out. Men ran amok, others hid in caves, and some prayed for a miracle for Miracle Island. The group in charge guessed the truth. They were to be forgotten. They didn't even try and make sense of it, because it was all too hopeless.
The yacht was taken out once more in the hunt for survivors, but as they circled the mountain, tramping gingerly through the debris, they knew it was a forlorn hope. Most of the ship's passengers had been chained up in the hold, or strapped down in the punishment berth. None of them would have stood a chance. Not one single member of the crew had been sober or clear-headed in any way. They had been steadily driven to distraction by months of torment. They had seen shadowy, phantom-like figures on the decks, faces pressed up against portholes where it would have been impossible for anyone to stand, wailing voices heard in the rigging. Each one to a man had believed the ship to be cursed and haunted.
Kieran's men salvaged some crates of supplies found bobbing on the waters, and took them back to the island. Kieran imagined vividly what it must have been like for the men in the hold, doomed to die. The thought haunted them all, and for several days after the salvage operation there was a very subdued atmosphere on the island. Things began to pick up again slowly, although there was a general nervousness when they recalled how truly awesome Gabriel's powers were.
"At least we don't think he knows we're here", Ransey recorded in his diary, about a week after the shipwreck "We're hanging onto that hope anyway. The boy Lonts is settling in with us. Hillyard's given him his mattress to sleep on, and Hillyard bunks down head-to-toe with Adam. I don't think Adam's too pleased about this, but whenever anyone tries to say anything about Lonts, Hillyard gets very sensitive and starts preaching at us that Lonts has been through enough already. He has a blind spot where that boy's concerned, and I can only assume it's some misplaced Elder instinct as he doesn't get anything else out of it. Quite frankly the boy acts positively infantile, he's like a two-year-old trapped in a seventeen-year-old's body. The others can't seem to make up their minds whether he's better or worse for his long spell in hospital. Kieran says he doesn't seem as confused as he used to be and he's a lot calmer (calmer? Slothlike I would have said!). Adam says it's like having an oversized baby around the place. I agree with him entirely. Lonts seems to get tired very easily, and when such a spell comes on him during the day he'll plant himself on the lap of the nearest available person and then lies there sucking his thumb! He did it to me yesterday whilst I was in the middle of doing an inventory of the stores we'd salvaged. There I was lying on the hut floor, trapped under this slumbering thumb-sucking teenager! Bizarre's not the word for it. Adam came in and rescued me eventually, packing Lonts off to bed. Interestingly, Adam's the only one of us Lonts doesn't impose on. I think the boy is scared stiff of him most of the time".
"If that boy gets any more babyish we'll have to spoonfeed him", said Adam, sharpening his pencils at the driftwood table, and getting in the way of Joby who was trying to prepare supper "Or Hillyard could breastfeed him I suppose, he's got the tits for it!"
Hillyard glared at Adam from the hut doorway, and returned to honing his hunting-knife with renewed vigour.
"It must be something to do with the medication he was on", said Kieran "Perhaps when it fully wears off he might be more like his old self".
"Good God I hope not!" Joby exclaimed "At least like this he's not panicking all over the place. You can ignore him more easily".
"I reckon it's a reaction to all the bad experiences he's had", said Ransey "He's retreated back into toddlerhood. To a time when it was safer, before all the nightmares started happening. You see, even us boring accountants have a grasp of amateur psychology!"
After supper it was Kieran's turn to put Lonts to bed. Each of them dreaded getting lumbered with this chore. Even the fatherly Hillyard resented missing part of his customary moonlight fishing to see to him. So in the end Ransey had had to draw up a rota, where each took turns and ticked off their square afterwards, so that it avoided arguments.
Lonts rarely gave Kieran any trouble, as the Irishman was gentle and soothing with him. When it was Adam's turn Lonts often dived onto the mattress immediately out of sheer terror. Ransey treated him with professional indifference, as though he was a routine balance sheet that had to be completed. Hillyard was tender but hasty, torn away by the seductive charms of his fishing-rod. Lonts normally only ever played up with Joby. In his befuddled mind Lonts had always secretly resented Joby's indifference to him, and also Joby's close relationship with Kieran. Lonts wanted a close friend badly, he had been lonely for as long as he could remember. He still remembered the days when he had lived rough in the forest near his native Kiskev. That sense of being an outsider had never left him, and Joby's impatient exasperation and, far worse, bored intolerance of him, only exacerbated it. He couldn't understand how Kieran could prefer Joby's company to his. But he did. He even slept with Joby, both of them on the mattress directly opposite Lonts.
"It's very hot tonight", Kieran was saying, as he unbuttoned Lonts's hospital-issue nightshirt, the only item of clothing he possessed "So you won't be needing this".
Lonts was suddenly aware that they were alone in the hut. The others had all gone outside to swelter on the moonlit beach. Kieran was talking to him constantly, telling him about Hillyard's plans to cut down a tree tomorrow in order to start building a small verandah onto the hut. If Lonts promised not to get in anyone's way he could go and watch. At that moment though Lonts was more interested in watching Kieran than listening to him. Lonts had grown much taller during his time in hospital, he now stared down into Kieran's eyes. He stood naked in front of Kieran and wondered what the Vanquisher would say or do if he was to suddenly move up very close to him, and press his warm bulge next to his. He had done that once to another boy in the showers at the hospital. The boy had told on him, and Lonts's medication had been increased, to tone down his teenage ardour.
"Do you like me?" Lonts asked suddenly "Are you my friend?"
"We're all your friends, Lonts", Kieran replied "Why do you think the others got you off that awful ship?"
"But I want to be your friend", Lonts said, with great insistence "Your special friend. Will you be? Closest closest of friends".
Kieran didn't say anything. Lonts kissed him on the lips. Kieran was astonished by the force and maturity of the kiss, so at variance to Lonts's normal idle baby behaviour.
"Have you done that to anyone before?" said Kieran "At the hospital?"
"No. Never. I wanted you to be the first one I ever kissed, and you were! Some of the nurses at the hospital said I was cute. I overheard them talking about me once. Said I was really cute, and such a shame I had to be on pills all the time. Do you think I'm cute? I'm not the most good-looking one here, because that's you, but I'm the second aren't I?"
"Get into bed, Lonts", said Kieran, firmly "Adam's not the only one around here that's got a bad temper you know. I can get cross too".
Lonts kissed him again. Kieran tried to push him away, but the boy had a great deal of physical strength to help him. If Joby hadn't come into the hut at that moment, Kieran didn't like to contemplate what could have happened. Joby pushed Lonts away so roughly that the boy fell onto the mattress with a hard smack. For good measure Joby grabbed a handful of his hair and slapped him around the face. Lonts began to whimper in terror.
"What do you think you're doing?" Hillyard bellowed, followed into the hut by the other two "How dare you hit Lonts!"
"Oh it's never your little baby's fault is it?" Joby cried "He was trying it on with Kieran".
"If he was", said Hillyard "It's because he doesn't know what he's doing".
"Bollocks!" Joby roared "He knew exactly what he was doing!"
"Calm down, Joby", said Adam "We can sort this out some other way".
"Oh fuck off, I'm fed up with the lot of you!" Joby stormed out of the hut.
"Get after him, Patsy", said Adam "And bring him back. I don't want him roaming the island on his own at night".
Kieran bolted after Joby.
"As for you", Adam roared at a quivering Lonts "Get into bed and go to sleep. At once. Immediately. I'll be sorting you out personally in the morning, so there's a little treat for you to look forward to".
"Don't be too hard on him, Adam", Hillyard followed Adam outside like a dog anxious to please its owner "He's been through so much. He's had such a hard life".
"We have all had hard lives", said Adam "And I am not having him causing trouble here, or before we know it he'll be playing us all off against each other, and it'll be like tribal warfare".
"It's Joby's fault. He over-reacted, he always does".
"See! It's happening already. And from what I can gather Patsy looked pretty terrified, so Joby had every right to be angry. Lonts may have the brain of a confused child, but he has the body of a very fit young man. It pays not to forget that! It could be a disastrous combination for us all if we don't watch out".
"It's Patsy the wonder dog to the rescue!" Kieran climbed up onto the rock next to Joby "Adam sent me out to 'fetch you back', as he put it. Have you been crying?"
"No!" said Joby, defiantly "Well alright so what if I have? You've seen me cry before. We were alright here until the Fruitcake turned up again".
"Would you rather he'd gone down with the ship then?"
"Of course not. I just don't see why he couldn't have stayed in hospital that's all".
"Because Gabriel, in his wisdom, thought otherwise. Oh cheer up Joby. Lonts will settle down eventually. The trouble is men in his condition sometimes have such huge ego's, and he's curious about sex".
"Don't try and play it down. He scared you".
"He took me back a bit that's all. I won't be so stunned if he tries it again. I'll give him a clip round the ear and push him into bed".
"Doesn't it worry you? Being holed up on a desert island with a nutter at large?"
"Not really, I've got used to you".
"I'm being serious", Joby exclaimed "He's so mad he could develop psychopathic tendencies. He had them before".
"Only because he was possessed by Krik at the time. Joby, you couldn't get anyone less like a psychopath at the moment than Lonts. To kill someone he'd have to stop sucking his thumb long enough! Anyway, even if by some chance he did go even more peculiar, there are five of us here to sort him out".
"Fat lot of fucking use I am", Joby hugged his bony knees morosely "Built like a bloody stick-insect. I get so frustrated about it. I wish I was Hillyard's size, then I could defend you properly".
"You did a pretty good job back there", Kieran tapped Joby's knee playfully "We'll have to get together some time and have a bone-rattling session. Come on now, Adam'll be worried. We'll come and sit out here another night, when things are a bit less fraught back at the old homestead".
"Goodnight", said Adam to the room at large, and turned down the lamp. As he made his way to his own mattress he noticed that Lonts was already asleep. His thumb had fallen out of his mouth and he was dribbling into his pillow.
"We seem to be stuck with that boy for life", he said to Hillyard.
"Someone's got to look after him", said Hillyard "At least we'll try and take care of him, not just stuff him with pills, and strap him to a table when he's disobedient".
"I wonder at what age we'll stop calling him The Boy, and start referring to him as the Mad Old Git instead", said Adam.
"When we're mad old gits ourselves I expect", said Hillyard.
Kieran was having a bad dream. Joby woke in the middle of the night to find him thrashing about beside him as though he was going through cold turkey. The air was sultry, and Kieran's body glistened with so much sweat that he resembled a well-greased stick. He muttered and kicked out at random. Joby pulled him over onto him and tried to wake him without waking the others too.
"What is it?" Kieran cried, waking suddenly "What's happened? Where am I?"
"Nothing's happened", said Joby "And you're still in the same place you were when you went to sleep. You've had a nightmare that's all".
Kieran flopped back onto the mattress.
"Oh God, Joby. It was so real. I could feel him here. In the same room as us".
"Gabriel?" said Joby, nervously.
"He was melting".
"I'm not surprised in this heat!"
"Joby, he was! It was so vivid. He was like a candle that had got all mis-shapen. He was all liquidy. He was sitting in the corner staring at me. I couldn't get away from his gaze. I tried to. I wanted to run away, but I just couldn't".
"Has he found us, Kiel? Does he know where we are?"
"He's trying to find us, that's why I dreamt about him, I'm sure of it. He's trying to communicate with me, and if I don't shut him out somehow he will find us. And it'll be all my fault!"
"But why was he melting?"
"I don't know. He looked like an old man, or like someone wearing a grotesque rubber suit. Joby, I think I saw the real him!"
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site