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"I'm not sure about the fat man", said Kieran, as he and Adam sat alone together next to the pump "I can't make him out at all. I think he's alive, but his aura's non-existent. But I don't expect it was always like that".
"He lost it when he came here?"
"He was sent here because he lost it".
"So the others we've seen, including the barman, are all zombies?"
"They haunt this place", said Kieran "And eat any travellers who stray here".
"Of course", said Adam, a vivid image of the anonymous corpse flashing into his mind "I take it we're safe, because we arrived with you?"
"Yes", Kieran sighed "But I don't know how long that immunity will last. I think perhaps the longer we stay here the less of a protective influence I will be. Perhaps it's why we haven't seen them today. They might be biding their time until I'm weaker. It might be why the fat man was so anxious for us to move on".
"Xuste - Dark Zoo", said Adam "A dark zoo for zombies. All of them caged here for eternity. By who though?"
"Korvea", said the fat man, who moved incredibly silently considering his size "Voodoo god, represented as a giant earth-serpent. I told you fellas it's no place for you here".
"Are you alive?" said Adam.
"I don't know. I've never tested myself recently to find out. I can't remember passing over, but then not everyone does you see. Not everyone feels pain when they do. So some get confused and can't tell which they're meant to be. I'm one of 'em".
"Why don't you just walk out then?"
"Perhaps I'm too scared of finding out the truth. Perhaps it's easier for me to kid myself I'm just resting here, then I don't have to think about eternity too much. Because if I am dead then I can't escape. For me the coils of the earth-serpent will be around this village as firmly as any brick wall. You get out first thing in the morning before they trap you in here too".
Over a nightcap Kieran told Joby and Ransey what they had heard. He gave Hillyard some of the rum too, but left him to go to sleep untroubled by such thoughts, partly out of concern for his feelings, and partly because Lonts would have overheard too. When Kieran finally lay down on his bunk, Joby turned to face him in the darkness.
"Is it true?" he whispered "All the ones we saw in the bar yesterday, all ...?"
"Say no more now", said Kieran "We'll be gone from here tomorrow".
In the bottom bunk Adam lay awake, going over in his mind what little he knew about voodoo. It was obvious this all had some connection with Gabriel. The motif of zombies and serpents had been apparent ever since they had known him. At the moment though his head throbbed with the pressure of it all, and he couldn't think straight.
When he first heard the whimpering noise outside the wagon, he thought he had fallen asleep into a dream that would give him no respite from reality. But the whimpering continued and got louder. Ransey was on his feet before he was, and checking his gun for ammunition.
"We need some light", said Adam, stepping over Lonts to get at the hanging oil-lamp "For God's sake don't fire that thing unless you're certain you have to".
"What do you take me for!" Ransey retorted "An amateur?"
He stood close behind Adam, as the other man pulled open the entrance coverings. Adam then shone the lamp down towards the steps. What he saw almost made him drop it out of shock. Another of the ubiquitous fogs had fallen and the waif-like face that had peered up at him through the dim eerie glow looked like a victim of a fatal car-crash resurrected to a living death. It was Gimmit, whimpering in fear and pain.
They pulled him into the wagon and sat him down on Ransey's bed-roll. Adam ignored the queries of the others, and hung the lamp back on its hook. By its glare he could see the full extent of Gimmit's injuries. The nomad had been beaten violently around the face several time, with what looked like almost inhuman brute force. His face was swollen and bruised almost beyond recognition.
"Who did this to you?" said Adam.
"I failed", Gimmit whimpered like a sick cat.
"We're not going to get much sense out of him tonight Adam", said Ransey "He looks done in to me. Perhaps in the morning he might feel stronger".
"But whoever did this shouldn't get away with it!" Adam protested.
"You won't catch him", Gimmit cried, weakly "He's gone. Abandoned me".
"Must be this Master person he keeps on about", said Joby.
"I failed", Gimmit wept "I failed him completely. But I was never fit for it! I knew I'd fail. I always suspected I would. I'm not hard enough you see".
"Failed at what?" said Adam.
"To put you lot out of action. But I wasn't told how. I had no idea".
"Are you in Gabriel's pay?" said Kieran.
"In a way. But I've never met him. I work through my Master".
In a faltering voice Gimmit explained how his Master had rescued him from near-death in the desert, shortly before he had seen them all for the first time near the Waxworks Resort. Gimmit had been roaming the desert for some time, and had increasingly felt desperate and alone or, he said, he would never have been taken in by the beautiful man so easily. The man had promised to take care of him, and in return Gimmit had to locate the Vanquisher's party and fall in with them.
"I first saw you near the resort", he said "You all spoke to me, but I bottled out then. I couldn't bring myself to approach you then, even though you made it easy for me".
"And what was the plan once you had fallen in with us?" said Adam "To kill the Vanquisher, was that it?"
"Nothing so simple", said Gimmit "I was to carry out minor acts of sabotage, such as getting Lonts to steal your food. All very trivial you might think, but out here in the desert such things can escalate out of all proportion. It was to be a form of psychological warfare".
"And what was that meant to achieve?"
"It was to make you eventually lose faith in Kieran and abandon him, to defeat him entirely. Gabriel believes that without the love and support of you lot Kieran would be destroyed".
"He's got something right at last", said Kieran.
"So, tell us about this Master", said Adam.
"He's a sort of go-between for Gabriel".
"A second-in-command?" said Adam.
"To be honest I'm not always sure who is controlling who", said Gimmit "At first I thought my Master was Gabriel's servant, now I'm beginning to wonder if it's the other way round".
"And he's here now?" said Kieran, glancing towards the entrance of the wagon "Your Master?"
"You won't find him", said Gimmit "He's not human you see. He's an elemental. He doesn't always appear to me, although he did this evening. Sometimes he just sits in my head".
"And in return for selling your soul to him", said Adam "He takes care of you, makes sure you don't starve. For a nomad you strike me as being singularly incapable of taking care of yourself".
"I can", Gimmit protested "Few know the desert better than me, but I suppose I was just tired of being alone. When I first started this life I thought I could cope with it, but it seems I fail at most things".
"We'd better leave it for tonight Adam", said Ransey "He's got a touch of battle-fatigue from the sounds of things".
"Alright", said Adam, reluctantly "But at some point I'm going to want to know the whole story. I've a feeling there's an awful lot he's not telling us".
"I'll tell you anything you want to know", said Gimmit "But please let me stay with you for a while. I'm afraid to be alone in case he comes back".
"You can stay in here tonight", said Adam "If you sleep on Lonts's bed-roll he can come in with me, and I hope I don't live to regret this reckless act of compassion on my part".
Gimmit smiled, or as much as the state of his face would allow him to anyway. He was given a damp towel to hold over his throbbing flesh and then everyone shuffled about trying to re-locate their sleeping places. It was only when they were all still again that they became aware of the creeping noise outside the wagon. Someone was pacing round it rapidly, and from the accompanying swishing noise they were wearing long flowing garments.
"It can't be the fat git", said Joby "He'd have started effing and blinding by now".
Ransey wearily reached for his spectacles again, and then the gun which he kept by the side of his bed-roll. Gimmit protested loudly.
"You mustn't go out there!"
"I'm just going to give 'em a scare that's all", said Ransey.
"There was a fog coming down earlier", said Gimmit "It's Gabriel's doing".
"You think that's the elemental out there?" said Adam.
"In one of his forms", said Gimmit, swallowing hard "He's trying to intimidate you into throwing me out. I've failed him, so he now wants my body as well as my soul".
"We can't just listen to it going round in circles all night", Joby protested.
"If you say out loud Kieran that I can stay for good it will leave", said Gimmit.
"Gimmit can stay for good!" Kieran yelled.
The noise ceased, trailing off into a low, growling noise, like a high velocity engine winding down, or a demon being re-called to Hell.
"That simple, eh?" said Adam, suspiciously.
Adam spent the night dreaming of gaunt-faced witches in flowing black robes demanding human flesh to eat, and then transforming themselves into birds, black crows. When he awoke it was daylight but the terror of the dream took a long time to leave him. He could hear the handle of the pump cranking and shouts from the others. Lonts though was still next to him in the bunk, and was in fact trying to gently shake him into consciousness.
"Wake up Adam", he said, climbing onto his chest "It's morning".
"So it is", said Adam, easing himself away from the boy "If we're going to share a bunk Lonts, you'll have to give me a bit more space in future".
"Can I sleep with you again then?" said Lonts, excitedly.
"I'd rather you put it another way, but yes you can. Doesn't look like we have much choice really, when we have Gimmit as a house-guest".
For the first few days after they had left Xuste the journey went without a hitch. It did get noticeably hotter, and the endless vista of sandy nothingness was disturbing, but otherwise they rolled smoothly onwards, even so the fact that they never saw any other travellers occasionally gave them cause for concern. Gimmit did nothing that Adam could distrust, but then again he also did nothing that made him accept him either. As a guest Gimmit tried to be as unobtrusive as possible, although his appetite soon became as legendary as Ransey's. It seemed he wasn't happy unless he was perched on one of the wheels eating his way through a fist-sized wad of roughage. This, combined with his waif-like appearance, could be quite incongruous.
"You stink", Joby informed him one evening.
"You're not exactly fragrant yourself", Gimmit replied.
"At least I try and wash meself occasionally. You'd have to chisel through a mound of dirt first".
"I'm conserving water", said Gimmit "Stuck right out here we can't afford to waste it on armpits can we?"
On the fifth day everything began to fall apart, and at the very worst part of the journey. They were slap-bang in the middle of nowhere when Dobbin Senior stumbled sharply on a broken part of the road and developed a noticeable limp. It was decided to rest up for the night whilst they debated what was the best course of action. No one wanted to shoot the horse, but the animal was in pain and they couldn't simply abandon it there. Hillyard begged for the death sentence to be deferred until morning, and Adam agreed, although he knew it would take a miracle in the form of a travelling vet to save it.
As darkness fell they noticed a swarm gathering on the horizon. At first they thought it was the dreaded tsetse fly and hasty preparations were made. The canvas was checked on the wagon and any loose bits were nailed down. They knew when the swarm arrived that they could only get under cover and hope for the best. Gimmit gloomily informed them that he had heard of men shooting themselves out of desperation after getting caught in a swarm, which did little to make anyone feel better.
"Those aren't flies", Joby cried, as the swarm got closer "Get under cover, they're locusts!"
The attack seemed to go on for hours, as the insects swarmed at the canvas, trying to eat their way through and filling the air with their horrendous drone. Inside the wagon they covered themselves in their sheets and fought off any that got through. No part of the body felt safe from the attack, they even felt them crawling up their noses. But the swarm ended as suddenly as it had begun, having lasted barely a minute in real time. Nevertheless they had left behind large gaps in the canvas, numerous bite-marks on their bodies, and the floor was littered with their swatted corpses.
"Very Biblical I must say", said Adam, emerging from under his sheet "Gabriel's bloody doing I don't doubt. What next? Frogs? Bees?"
Hillyard went outside to check on the horses, and was next heard wailing in grief. The others ran out to join him, and found him standing over the corpses of the animals. The locusts had, in a very short space of time, completely stripped the flesh from their bones. Hillyard sank to his knees and wept violently. Kieran ran back into the wagon and hurled himself onto his bunk.
And when Gabriel came to him in his dreams that night he was powerless to resist him.
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