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It took Yentzi forty-seven days to die of starvation. He had announced in October that he would refuse to eat anymore, as it was the only way he could think of to kill himself that didn't involve soliciting the help of anyone else. Adam had speculated about force-feeding him, but he had refused to follow it through. It was Yentzi's decision, and it was his life. Meanwhile, the others continued to take care of him in every other respect. He was turned regularly. His sores were cleaned, and his nappy changed. He allowed them to give him sips of water, and the odd tot of rum.
When Yentzi knew that death was only a matter of hours away he asked Adam to kiss him, said that everything he had was his, and sent him out swimming with the others. Adam knew that by the time they got back Yentzi would be dead.
They wrapped his body in blankets, and when darkness came laid it out on the verandah to await burial in the morning.
Inside the hut Adam lit a lamp and requested a formal meeting of them all. He expected it to be a sombre occasion, but instead there was a general feeling of relief, that the shadow of death had finally been expelled. This feeling was helped by the rest of them polishing off the rum.
Adam had to start the meeting by hauling Lonts out from under the table. The boy had got into the habit of sitting under it and playing with the sand. Lonts then sat near him, sucking his thumb, and with his nightshirt sliding down to reveal a bare brown shoulder. It made Adam even more fearful as to how they were going to protect him from some of the malign influences of civilisation.
"It has been agreed", said Adam, gloomily "That Yentzi's death should not be in vain, and as soon as Ransey has fixed the chip for the air-buggy we should leave. Ransey has assured me that this will only take a few more days. Actually Ransey, I would like it put on record, as you're acting as secretary, that I personally do not agree with the idea of going back to the City".
"Seconded", said Hillyard, who did not relish the thought of a trip in an air-buggy.
"This is entirely Patsy's idea, and I respect his wishes, but if I had my way we'd stay here for the rest of our lives".
"Adam", said Kieran, in a stern voice "You're being disruptive".
"I don't care, I'm allowed my say. I assume you'll be running a democracy, Mr President?" said Adam, sarcastically.
"Yes. Except when I decide you and Joby can't have a say".
"I'm going outside to have a cigar", said Adam, pushing back his chair.
"You can't", said Joby "Yentzi's out there".
"So? You make him sound like one of Gabriel's zombies! As I said, I'm going outside to have a cigar. You lot can talk amongst yourselves until I get back".
Kieran finally located Adam on the beach, half-a-mile to the west of the hut. The sea was quite choppy and rough this evening, and it crashed around Adam's feet as though aggressively demanding his attention.
"I was hoping you'd come", he said, when he noticed Kieran nearby.
"Are you annoyed with me?" said Kieran "For deciding to leave?"
"All I want to know is, are you doing this because you want to, or because you feel you have to? I've no time for that monster called Duty".
"Neither have I. But I've got the same feeling I had when I knew I'd have to fight Angel. I don't want to, but I won't know any peace until I have", Kieran sat down next to him on the sand "I'm as aware as you are what could happen to us, but I have a feeling that Gabriel's going to find us soon anyway. That feeling is getting stronger with each night that passes".
"You haven't been sleeping properly have you?" said Adam "There are dark circles under your eyes. Are you still getting those dreams?"
"Every night now. If I could only understand what was happening in them they wouldn't bother me so much. But it's this business of him wearing another skin. It doesn't make sense, Adam. If I could only understand that, I might get the key to what makes him tick".
"It reminds me a bit of Xipe", said Adam "He was a Mexican god apparently. I don't know anything about him other than that he wears someone else's skin. It's probably completely irrelevant and nothing at all to do with Gabriel, but it's just your description reminded me of him".
"Oh well", Kieran laughed "All we need to do is find an expert on Mexican mythology. Oh God, Adam, I'm going to miss all this. I can't tell you what the past year-or-so has meant to me".
"It's been the same for all of us", said Adam, kissing his lover's shoulder "But since when has life ever been about playing safe?"
"It's not just me you're worried about though is it? It's Lonts".
"Oh he'll be safe with us. I hope".
"He's got very attached to you these past few months", said Kieran "I have a feeling he'll be alright as long as he's close to you, and I know I haven't got any cause to be jealous there".
"Of course you haven't! I'd feel like a child molester if I tried anything on with Lonts, and I may have been a lot of things in my time but that isn't one of them. The only reason he's attached to me is because I terrify him too much for him to be otherwise".
"Oh admit it, you frosty old cynic. You've got the knack where he's concerned. You're firm but caring, both things he needs. God knows he's had precious little affection in his life".
"Yes, but I've got no intention of adding him to my harem. I've got more than enough to cope with having you and Joby. Anyway, what's so astonishing bout a life-long gay having a few paternal instincts?"
"Nothing. I think it's lovely".
"Hmm. You can be mother in that case".
They returned to the hut to find the remnants of the air-buggy key-card system spread all over the table, and Ransey up to his wrists in it. The others were watching him apprehensively.
"I don't know why you have to work overtime on that thing", said Hillyard, sourly "You'll only get it fixed too soon".
"I don't know why he has to be an expert on it at all", said Joby.
"They're quite simple really", said Ransey "Even you two could pick it up if you worked at it long enough".
"Stop moaning anyway", said Adam "It has to be done, and it's no good putting it off. It won't make leaving here any easier".
"It might give us a bit longer to live though", Hillyard grunted "Going up in those things can mean certain death sometimes".
"That is complete cobblers", said Kieran "And don't say such things in front of Lonts. You know he takes everything so literally".
"Why isn't Lonts in bed anyway?" said Adam.
"Because according to the rota it's your turn to do the honours", said Ransey.
"Oh spoken like a true accountant", Adam exclaimed "And we mustn't contradict the rules must we! What if I'd gone off around the island for the rest of the night? I suppose you lot would've gone to bed and left him sitting up!"
Adam led the boy over to the mattress and began the customary process of settling him for the night.
"Adam", said Lonts, quietly "If we get to the City, you lot won't put me away again will you?"
"Certainly not. You're with us for good now".
"Whether we like it or not", said Joby.
"Ignore Joby. He suffers from these delusions that he has a brain", said Adam "No one's going to put you away ever again, Lonts".
"As long as he behaves himself", said Joby "No creeping up on people with meat cleavers, that kind of thing".
"Joby, you are not helping!"
"Well you molly-coddle him worse than Hillyard ever did", Joby protested "No wonder he carries on like a spoilt toddler".
"I rather thought you were the spoilt toddler actually", said Adam "Try and have a bit of compassion, Joby. I shouldn't think anyone's ever molly-coddled Lonts in his entire life before".
"What do you expect from someone who wasn't born but hatched!"
"So were me and Ransey", said Hillyard, indignantly.
"Joby, just shut up before I lose my rag", said Adam.
"Don't be hard on him, Adam", said Kieran "He's nervous about the future".
"So are we all. Take him to bed Patsy, before he starts a riot".
The following morning they took Yentzi's body up onto a small headland overlooking the sea and buried him. Kieran said a few religious words, and Adam spoke about Yentzi's self-sacrificing kindness, dwelling not so much on the accident which had ultimately killed him, but the way he had enabled them to escape from the Colony in the Valley of Freaks, putting his own livelihood and reputation on the line in the process. He recalled Yentzi's air of refinement, his love of art, and his gentleness.
"First Noni, now Yentzi", said Adam to Kieran, as they loitered behind the others on the walk back to the beach "I'm beginning to feel that this whole trip is littered with the corpses of men who fancied me! Just call me Bluebeard and have done with it. I'm obviously unlucky for those who want me".
"Me and Joby seem to be alive and kicking", said Kieran.
"Of course you are. You're both a pair of little demons that's why. It'd take more than the Curse of Adam to see you two off, I'm glad to say".
The second bottle of rum Yentzi had brought with him was broached as part of an informal funeral wake. After lunch Ransey went back to working on the key-card system, Adam went off for a walk by himself, and the others organised a game of cricket on the beach. This rapidly degenerated into a general drunken falling-about.
"Come on Lonts, give us a dance", Hillyard cried, picking up the boy and swinging him around. Lonts screamed and kicked his thin brown legs wildly, begging to be put down.
"I wish you two would stop picking on him", said Kieran, who was annoyed that he didn't feel as drunk as he would liked "You're always doing it".
"Oh put him down", said Joby "He'll only start bawling and screaming. He's no fun at all. I bet he's never had fun in his life".
"Yea, what did you used to get up to in Kiskev of an evening, Lonts?" said Hillyard "We've been there, and we didn't see much in the way of entertainment, so what did you get up to?"
Lonts's eyes filled with tears at the mention of Kiskev.
"Oh for God's sake", said Joby "I don't know why he's so attached to that place. It's always the same though. You get people who come from the gloomiest, most miserable of places, and as soon as they leave they get all sentimental about it. Kiel's lot are just the same".
"Don't you start on me", said Kieran.
"Who were you apprenticed to in Kiskev, Lonts?" said Hillyard "For the benefit of the time-crossers I will explain that Kiskev is one of those places that still had in-breeding, in the hope that all the useful skills would be in the blood".
"So Lonts's real dad would have been the sperm from one of the locals who topped himself?"
"Joby!" Kieran snapped "You're upsetting the boy".
"He's never gonna get over it if he doesn't talk about it is he?" said Joby "And so his mother was just a fertilised ovary planted inside a eunuch. Do you lot ever meet these eunuchs who were your mums?"
"No", said Hillyard, dismissively "They're just carriers. So, as I said Lonts, who were you apprenticed to in Kiskev?"
"The builder", said Lonts, sniffing "He built sledges, and mended the houses".
"Huh, now he tells us", said Joby "If we'd known that he could've built us a decent house".
"Was he kind to you, Lonts?" said Kieran.
"He used to tell me stories, about life in Kiskev in the old days. But he wasn't sober often. And when he drank he ignored me".
"I know how he feels", said Joby.
"You and Hillyard a miserable couple of louts", said Kieran.
"So what happened on the day of the bonfire?" said Hillyard.
"Everybody sang as though it was a holiday", said Lonts "They were so happy I had no idea what they were going to do, until ..."
Lonts burst into tears and ran into the hut.
"I hope you're both proud of yourselves", said Kieran.
"He must have always been a bit touched", said Joby "I've been thinking that for a long time. We all assumed he went barmy after the fire, but perhaps he's always been like that".
"Does it matter?" Kieran snapped.
"Oh lighten up, Kiel. I don't know what's the matter with you", said Joby "You're no fun anymore".
"Perhaps I'm fed up with you keep bitching at everyone. Perhaps I'm just fed up with you full-stop!"
"What are you doing sitting here all alone?" said Adam, coming upon Joby perched on his favourite rock in the twilight.
"Nobody ever gives me a chance", Joby sobbed "They always think I'm thick and ignorant".
"What's happened now?" Adam sighed.
"Had a barney with Kiel".
"Because he's so serious lately".
"He has a lot to be serious about".
"I miss things as they were. When we used to just get drunk together and then curl up and go to sleep. But nowadays I can't say anything right".
"So which foot-in-mouth effort did you achieve this time?"
"He keeps sticking up for Lonts".
"Joby, I find it hard to believe that anyone could be jealous of Lonts. After all, he's one of those people you always think of as being worse off than yourself!"
"He's better-looking than me".
"And I very much wish he wasn't", said Adam "I wish he was as ugly as sin, then I wouldn't worry about him so much. It's difficult returning to civilisation with someone who's effectively a toddler trapped in the body of a very good-looking eighteen-year-old".
"He's got it made he has! Everyone running round looking after him, doing everything for him. And when he's upset all he has to do is throw a paddy and everyone listens to him".
"Not that I've noticed! You're being silly, Joby. Very silly in fact. Lonts isn't a threat to you, either from Patsy or me, and I refuse to believe this rubbish about you being jealous of his looks. Patsy's better-looking than you, but I haven't noticed it stopping you from being close friends all these years".
"I wish you weren't so bleeding honest all the time".
"Looks can fade, Joby. Look at Julian, a right flabby tatty old tart wasn't he? And yet in his day he had men following him round supermarkets because he was so blonde and bronzed".
"Do you think Kieran'll get ugly then?"
"There is a chance, this is years off yet mind, that if he stays as thin as he is, he'll end up looking rather like a skeleton with hair in his old age".
"You'll still fancy him though?"
"He'll always be Patsy. And he'll always have those blue eyes. I can't really imagine Patsy ugly though. He'll probably be striking instead. It might be easier for me to paint him then. I can't seem to capture his beauty at the moment. It always looks too flat on canvas. I can't get that luminous quality to his skin. But whatever happens at least he won't look like an ageing reprobate like me".
"You do alright for yourself", said Joby "If I could look as good as you now I'd be happy, let alone when I'm ... however old it is you are".
"Forty-two. I think", Adam laughed "Do you feel pushed out, because of Lonts?"
"Sometimes", Joby muttered "Although I think it's more that he gets on my nerves actually".
"Come here", Adam pulled him close and kissed him lingeringly "Now I can't do anything like that with Lonts. At least not with a clear conscience anyway".
"Isn't the sky a funny colour tonight?" said Joby, nestling against Adam's shoulder.
"Burnt orange", said Adam "It goes with the day. It's felt strange since I got up. And I don't think it's entirely because of Yentzi's funeral. While I was walking round the island earlier all the birds suddenly stopped warbling, and flew off overhead. There was the most almighty flapping of wings. Quite extraordinary. It really unnerved me. But then I don't like being alone in the middle of the island".
"No I don't either", said Joby "You get that closing-in feeling don't you?"
"A feeling of being watched too. Ridiculous really. We've been here well over a year and nothing remotely sinister has happened, and yet sometimes there's been a slight niggle at the back of my head, that we're not completely alone here".
"And yet whoever it is must be happy for us to stay".
"Perhaps because they're just anti-social. They won't bother us as long as we don't go bothering them. Even so, I've never felt it's wise to spend too long on your own here. I wandered off further than I meant to earlier. I felt quite panicky at one point".
"That must mean it's time to leave", said Joby "Perhaps as Kiel said, some things are too good to last".
"The water's choppy again. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a storm later".
They all ate supper on the beach, and watched as the first flickers of lightning rent the sky on the horizon. Thunder rumbled in the distance, as though preparing to run across the waves towards them. The clouds got blacker and speeded up as they raced across the sky, until it seemed as though some god had sent the earth spinning like a top. The gentlest of breezes became a squall, whipping up sand and lashing at their bare skin. They all retreated inside the hut and barred the door.
"I think it might get very rough later", said Adam "It would be wise if you all packed your things in case we have to make a quick escape from the beach".
"This hut's survived storms before", said Joby "Look at the one the night Lonts arrived".
"Yes, but I have a bad feeling about this one".
"Is it natural, or is it Gabriel?" said Hillyard.
"I couldn't say", said Adam "It wouldn't surprise me if it was him. From what Patsy's told me lately he might have discovered where we are".
Bags were packed, and Ransey wrapped the remains of the key-card system in a towel for protection. The storm had moved perceptibly closer. By the time they went to bed it was almost knocking on the their door. Lonts sat huddled in the corner of his mattress, looking so terrified that Adam got worried he might take it into his head to bolt, so he pulled him into bed with him and held him close.
Joby woke up to find the walls of the hut creaking and buckling violently under the impact of the wind outside. Lightning lit up the room in a ghostly silver glare, and the hut was shaking as though it had suddenly taken on a life-force of its own and was breathing heavily. He reminded himself that they had lived through similar storms on the island, and would do the same now. He wasn't convinced though. Thunder rolled restlessly overhead, and Lonts whimpered in terror on Adam's mattress. Joby was annoyed by this as he felt scared enough himself, but he pressed his face into Kieran's back and hoped everything would settle.
Suddenly a gust of wind ripped away the tarpaulin covering part of the roof and exposed them to the elements. After that everything seemed to happen at once. Waves battered directly at the wooden structure, terrifying in itself as the tide never usually came in that far. Water got in under the door and walls, and sucked at them as though trying to drag them out to sea in its wake.
Adam stumbled out of what was left of the hut, and cried out in sheer fright when he saw the size of the waves looming up directly ahead. They had never had a storm quite like this before. He pelted back into the hut, screaming at the others to move, and fast. He had barely got everyone up onto the headland where they had buried Yentzi only that morning, when the sea completely demolished the hut as effectively as knocking down a house of cards.
"That was our home", said Hillyard, in dismay.
"What do we do now?" said Joby "Those fucking waves are getting bigger. I don't think we're going to be safe for much longer even here".
"It's alright, I have a plan", said Adam "We'll go up to the rune hut. I think that's the highest point on the island, it's also a fair way into the interior. I think we should all be safe there".
"Rune hut?" said Joby "What are you talking about?"
"It's a little place Patsy and I discovered ages back. We've been using it as a bolt-hole. Don't argue anymore Joby, we've got a lot of hurried walking to do if we're going to beat the storm".
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