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By Sarah Hapgood

The day that followed was an extraordinarily fraught one. Cootie was making extensive changes to the show but, bizarrely, was trying to do it without letting everyone know all the details. The dance routines had to be rehearsed in a separate tent, which had all the openings pegged shut. It wasn't unusual to see one or two dehydrated dancers at a time escaping to swig madly from buckets of water placed outside.

The Big Top was erected with its customary efficiency. Fat Man sat outside the freak-show tent, telling anyone who would listen that he wasn't allowed to help as it would burn off too many calories. Cootie ordered the rations for the lions to be cut, so that they would be more aggressive for the show. And Kieran and Lonts rehearsed their routine. Adam had been appalled to hear that this was still to go ahead, as he had hoped that Trixie's new overtures of friendship would cancel out his previous threat. Instead Kieran insisted Lonts be allowed to perform as "he's set his heart on it". When Adam protested, the others howled him down as a killjoy. In a fit of pique he collected Gimmit's belongings together and threw them out of the wagon, saying that from now on he could sleep underneath it.

"That wasn't very nice", said Trixie, who had been watching this operation with a pouty expression on his face. One that Adam had always found exceptionally irritating.

"Well if you're that concerned for his welfare", said Adam "You invite him to share your tent. You've got a damn sight more room than we have. No, I didn't think you'd like that idea somehow".

Gimmit scurried around collecting his belongings from where they had landed. Trixie followed Adam into the wagon.

"I've heard about last night", said Trixie "I can't say I'm impressed. Whatever his faults Vanod is a royal. He is entitled to some respect".

"Don't stand there looking po-faced and pulling rank with me", Adam exclaimed "Vanod is an arsehole, that's all Vanod is. And he's damn lucky that he got away with only a bit of apple pie in his face. Some of the things he said were deserving of grievous bodily harm".

"Even so ..."

"And if I was you Trixie I'd cast a very curious eye over some of the company he's keeping. They look decidedly dodgy to me. The last lot I saw like that tried to sacrifice Lonts".

"Sacrifice him? You mean, like devil-worship?"

"Exactly. They wanted the body of a nubile young virgin to sacrifice to the Devil so that they could get their youth back", said Adam "Same old routine really. You'd better watch out they don't try you next time, as I take it you're eligible?"

"I'm sure Vanod wouldn't get involved with anything like that", Trixie protested.

"There's no bloody reason why he shouldn't, as far as I can see".

"His age Adam", said Trixie "Vanod's young himself. He doesn't need to get his youth back".

"He has some very suspicious beliefs though", said Adam "And he patently doesn't want Patsy to be President. He admires Gabriel but at the same time doesn't really want him as President either. I think he wants the vampires back".

"He has said that he believes life was better under them".

"Only when compared to life under Gabriel!"

"And I think he's quite fascinated by the legend of Angel. He's always been quite disappointed that he can't get Kieran to talk more about him", said Trixie.

"When you say he's quite fascinated by Angel", said Adam "Would you believe that Vanod would be capable of trying to resurrect him?"

"I've told you, Vanod's not into devil-worship".

"How do you know?"

"I live with him. I think I'd notice if he started sacrificing boys and drinking blood! Vanod can be difficult, and I can understand he makes you angry. He upsets me too, but he's not a Satanist, I can assure you of that".

"Will you be at the show tonight?" Adam sighed.

"Of course, I've been hearing intriguing things about it. I'm curious to see the new format Cootie's been bragging about. It promises to be quite spectacular".

Elodie didn't go out on his customary trawl of the streets that evening. There was no need, as it seemed that every member of Quipignan's population was fighting for a seat. Instead Cootie had ordered Elodie to go backstage and change into a special costume. He was to be part of the first act. This was very unexpected news for Elodie, who protested that nothing had been rehearsed.

"There is no need for a rehearsal", said Cootie, who was looking dapper in a Victorian-style frock coat and silk cravat "All you have to do is appear in the costume I have selected for you, and then step out into the ring using your sassiest walk. Starlight will take care of you from then on. Just do everything he does".

"Starlight? So it's some kind of living model type work?"

"That's right", said Cootie, evasively "You'll be a sensation, believe me".

He scurried off to host a pre-show cocktail party outside his wagon. His guests were all from outside the circus, and most of them were so old they looked like members of the living dead. Their age didn't stop them yelling "speech! speech!" at Cootie every five minutes, as though they couldn't get enough of the sound of his voice.

"Double helpings tonight Cootie", said one of the guests "The Kiskev Survivor and the so-called Vanquisher of Evil in one act. If that doesn't work nothing will".

"I think that by the end of the evening we can be sure of a result", said Cootie, smirking "A very definite result".

The turnstiles had been clicking steadily for some time, and Ransey had been working so hard that his short mousy hair was stiff with sweat, and his glasses kept sliding down his nose.

"It's impossible in this heat, Joby", he said "Go and find some iced water from somewhere. Gallons of the stuff, or we'll never last out the evening".

Joby was only too glad of an excuse to get out of the box-office, even though it was hardly less oppressive outside. He went straight to the water-troughs at the back of the site, and began to fill a couple of buckets with tepid water, hoping as he did so that the ice-bin would have been replenished that day.

"So, if it isn't the boy who likes to laugh", came a familiar voice.

"What do you mean?" Joby whispered, his voice tight with fear.

"You thought I was rather funny last night didn't you?" said Vanod "I saw you sniggering afterwards".

Joby looked around him frantically, but he was alone. Everyone else was busy either inside the Big Top or the freak show. He suddenly felt an urge to scream for Adam, as Lonts did when he was afraid.

"Look I-I'm sorry about that", he stammered "I wasn't sniggering at you. It's just that sometimes I laugh when I'm afraid. Adam's got a bit of a temper. In fact, he's famous for it. But at least no one was hurt".

"Oh no", said Vanod "No one was hurt, until now that is".

Joby dropped the bucket he was carrying and ran hell-for-leather towards the Big Top. Vanod was quite a bit taller than him though and could take bigger strides. He caught up with Joby and felled him with no trouble at all, almost crushing his skinny frame beneath his more muscular well-nourished one. Joby was too breathless to resist when Vanod hauled him to his feet and dragged him relentlessly towards the hay-wagon.

Every twinge in his body told Adam that there was something seriously wrong with the show that was about to go ahead, and this had nothing to do with his critical faculties. Backstage there was a general air of confusion. They had all been told their order of appearance, but other than that no one knew what anyone else was doing.

Adam prowled restlessly amongst the cast, hoping to get some idea of what was causing his sense of foreboding, but not having much luck. The most reaction he could get were from those whose acts had been cut altogether, and weren't at all happy about it. The others were trying to be pragmatic.

"It's probably just a bad house", said the foul-mouthed comedian, who was sounding remarkably sober and clear-headed this evening "You get 'em sometimes. I've been in the business so long I can sense 'em before I even go on. I'll be working bloody hard tonight for very little result, you'll see".

"You should worry", said Ully, who was in costume but resisting putting his heavy wig on until the last possible moment "I'm wondering if I'll get out alive".

"I doubt any of us will", said the comedian, morosely.

Adam went to the head of the cast-line and peered through the gap in the canvas. The house was full and waiting impatiently for the show to start. Trixie was sitting alone in a small fabric-made alcove opposite. There was a gap next to him, which suggested Vanod should be there but wasn't. Another VIP alcove further along housed Cootie, looking hot and uncomfortable by now in his formal suit, although the nervous expression on his face suggested this might be more due to trepidation than the heat.

Next to him sat Selis, looking as old and decayed as ever under his fedora hat.

Adam was so shocked to see him that he felt as though he'd seen a ghost. He'd convinced himself that the old man had faded away at the Waxworks Resort after they'd locked him in the windowless room. It was like a punch in the gut to see him resurrected again. He looked away from the ring in shock and found Elodie standing next to him, waiting to go on. The eunuch looked even more extraordinary than ever. He wore a voluminous lurid pink tulle skirt which stuck out stiffly like that of a ballroom dancer. His costume was completed by a shiny, paste necklace and a pair of elbow-length black plastic gloves, which had been buffed to a mirror-like intensity. His unnatural breasts also looked as though they'd been polished and swung pendulously above the waistband of his skirt.

The show had started. The ringmaster had done his verbose introduction. Starlight appeared in the centre of the ring, looking like a huge raven in an all-enveloping black leather costume liberally dotted with plumes of black feathers, and topped by a gravity-defying headdress made out of the same. His appearance drew considerable cheers, and he began a taunting speech choc-full of double entendres and mocking gestures.

Elodie then walked out into the ring as though he was strolling on air, giving the audience the benefit of his sexiest walk, as Cootie had directed. He stepped up to Starlight, and the other eunuch proceeded to kiss and caress him. The audience loved it, because from a distance they looked like two women getting off on each other. Even in this world of men without women, it seemed some sexual fantasies hadn't changed.

Adam felt something jabbing at his bottom. He turned round to find Julian standing behind him, stabbing at him with his umbrella.

"Where on earth have you been?" said Julian, irritably "I lay awake half last night expecting you to call".

"Julian I haven't time for that now", said Adam "There's something seriously wrong with this show".

"If you ask me there's always something seriously wrong with this show. It must be due to the complete dearth of talent that's in it!"

A riotous cry went up from the audience. Adam hurriedly pulled back the canvas. The first thing he saw was that Vanod had regained his seat, and was being glared at suspiciously by Trixie, but that wasn't the cause of the audience's delight.

Starlight had blood on his face and his headdress was slightly askew. Sprawled face-up across the props table was Elodie. His breasts were covered in blood, and there wan intensely black hole where his heart should have been. The audience was going wild with delight.

Cootie had never before looked so pleased with himself as he did then.

"Listen, you must listen! None of you must go on, you'll be chopped down like thistles. This whole evening is to be an orchestrated bloodbath, don't you understand? You are all to be sacrificed!"

Adam ran along the cast line like a madman, screaming at them to understand. He yelled that Elodie was dead, and the rest of them were to follow. Julian escorted him, looking numb with shock. They eventually came across Hillyard who was standing patiently in line, with his hand on the bridle of the white stallion. Sitting on the back of the horse was Kieran with Lonts behind him. Each of them were naked apart from the gold pants. One with hair so bleached by the sun that it was practically white, the other with jet-black hair and nut-brown skin. Both young. Both to be the highlight of the mass orgy of sacrifice that had just begun.

Hillyard had the bridle wrenched from his hands and Adam led the horse out of the line.

"You'll frighten him", Hillyard cried "Grabbing at him like that".

"He'll be a damn sight more frightened if he goes out there", said Adam.

"What the fock are you talking about Addy?" said Kieran.

"Elodie's been killed", Adam yelled "You're all going to be fucking killed! This whole evening is one long snuff movie".

"I don't understand", Kieran protested.

"Don't try and understand Patsy. Just get off that horse and try and persuade some of this lot that what I'm saying is the truth. And whatever you damn well do don't go out into that ring yourself. We are all in serious bloody trouble".

Adam pulled Lonts down from the horse. The boy instantly burst into tears.

"I want to do the act Adam", he wept, stamping his foot "You said I could. You said!"

"You just behave yourself Lonts or I'll give you the hiding of your life", Adam screamed "You stay with Hillyard. You do everything he says. You do not wander off unless he's with you. Do I make myself clear?"

"Where are you going then?" said Hillyard.

"To find Gimmit", said Adam "I've got a job for him".

Gimmit was preparing to begin the lengthy business of being trussed up for his act. He was standing in the sawdust surrounded by enough chains, wrist restraints, padlocks and ropes to keep a string of sex-shops in business. Adam grabbed him and practically lifted him bodily away from the mess.

"You're going to do your other party piece tonight Gimmit", he said "This one might enable you to live, which is more than your normal one would do this evening. You're going to raise a storm for me, a huge mother-fucker from Hell storm".

He dragged Gimmit into the hay-wagon, closely followed by Julian.

"And you're going to stay in here until you've managed it", he added.

"It's no good Adam", said Gimmit "I have to be outside, in touch with the elements, or it won't work".

"Get outside then and stop wasting my time!" Adam cried "Get out!"

Gimmit bolted, looking like a skinned rabbit.

"Adam, I really think you need to calm down", said Julian.

"Calm down!" said Adam "This is a life and death situation Jules".

"I know, and it'll be your death if you're not careful".

"O.K, but I'm scared".

"We all are".

"What was that noise?" Adam paused, as a low moaning sound came from under the straw.

Adam pulled away armfuls of the stuff, and finally uncovered Joby who was lying face down in the chaff. Adam pulled him out and the boy screamed with pain. There was blood on his tee-shirt, one side of his face was swollen, and his lips were cut and bleeding.

"Vanod did this", Joby mumbled with difficulty "He doesn't share our sense of humour Adam".

"He did this to you because of last night?" said Adam "The man's a fucking psychopath".

Joby held out his hand. On it were two bloodied teeth.

"Back ones fortunately", he grimaced.

Adam gently pulled Joby's skinny arm around his shoulders and asked him if he could walk properly.

"I think so", said Joby "My head's spinning. He's got a punch like a sledge-hammer".

"Did he do anything else to you?" said Adam, anxiously "You know what I mean".

"No, thank God. Or thank the Devil I should say. He's a follower of Angel, believes sex these days is unnatural. You wouldn't think Angel had anything in common with the Honorary Virgins would you?"

"Alright, don't try to talk", said Adam "I'm going to take you to Ransey. He'll look after you. Stay with him, it's important. This whole place is going mental".

"I don't feel like going anywhere", said Joby "A-Adam, I'm worried. He kicked me in the stomach and in the balls. Several times. I'm frightened he's damaged me. He's like Gabriel, he's got a hang-up about sex. I think he might have tried putting me out of action".

"I'll give you a checkover later. Hey, isn't that something to look forward to?" said Adam "In the meantime you'll have to make do with one from the M.O, which I know won't be nearly as much fun ..."

"Adam!" Julian grabbed his arms and tried to hold him back "Stop and think for God's sake. This won't do you any good".

"I don't care Julian, I've got to do something", Adam cried "It's all my fault. Everything in the fucking world is my fault. It's my fault that I can't seem to look after any of my lot properly. That they live hand-to-mouth and are now close to death. It's my fault Joby's been beaten. It was me who humiliated Vanod last night, ME! And yet poor little Joby takes my beating for me, and because of it he may end up like you!"

"And killing Vanod isn't going to put things right".

"I'm not going to kill him, although God knows it's tempting. But I'm going to give him some of what he gave Joby".

"Don't talk like that Adam", said Julian, imploringly.

"Oh don't be such a wimp Jules".

"I'm not. I'm frightened for you that's all. I was there when you lost your temper like this once before, remember? It put you inside for five years. This time it could be even worse. I'm begging you to stop and think Adam. You want to look after your lot so badly, well this isn't the way to do it".

"And what do you know eh?" said Adam "You've never done a single fucking favour for anyone in your whole useless life!"

"I'm trying to now!" Julian yelled "You saw what he did to Joby, well he could do the same to you".

"I won't give him the fucking chance".

"Adam, I know as well as anyone that you're possessed of a pretty mean right hook, but the fact remains you're forty-two. Vanod is twenty years younger than you, and in a lot better condition. He also hasn't been debilitated by living rough and malnutrition these past two years. This man is bad news Adam. He's a prize thug, and I don't want to have to pick bits of you out of the sawdust".

"He must also be a coward", said Adam "Or he'd have come for me this evening wouldn't he? But no, he picks on Joby instead".

"He got to Joby first that's all. For all we know he was saving you up for the grand finale. Talk sense, Adam".

"So I just let him get away with it do I?" said Adam, screaming into Julian's face "Because you think I'm over the hill!"

"You could try thinking in ways other than of using violence for once in your life. That's your answer to everything isn't it Adam? Punch, fight and kick into getting your own way. You spent five years in prison because of it. A man in our time is half-blind because of it, and you nearly lost Kieran once because of it. But you just won't learn will you?"

They stared silently at each other for several seconds. The confrontation was only broken by Trixie appearing, looking distraught.

"You have to stop it Adam", he wept "They're all getting killed out there".

"They're still going into the ring?" Adam cried "My God, it's like the Coliseum. The idiots have to be stopped".

"I'll do that", said Ransey, suddenly standing there and carrying two revolvers and a flare pistol that he had got out of Cootie's safe "I'll stop anyone else going on. You think of some way of getting us all out of this mess".

"Where's Patsy?" said Adam.

"Vanquishing some evil with any luck", said Julian.

"He may need help", Manada arrived on the scene, looking quite regal in a wide purple hat "And so this is where I came in".

"You must understand Joby, I've got to confront Selis. He's behind all this", said Kieran, sitting on the floor of the box-office with his arm around the other man "You go to the hay-wagon until all this is over".

"Oh not the fucking hay-wagon again?" Joby groaned "I've had more than enough of that place. Why can't I stay and keep an eye on you?"

"Because you can't, it's as simple as that".

Lightning lit up the room and rain began to pelt down on the hardboard roof. Slowly but steadily they could hear the wind gathering force outside. Gimmit had raised his storm.

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