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By Sarah Hapgood

An uneasy night followed. Adam was right though, in the sense that knowing what the sisters were made it easier to cope with, but a high level of alertness still had to be maintained.

“What I don’t understand though”, said Hoowie “Is why they didn’t go for you all when you went over there”.

“Praps they’ve got more taste”, said Joby.

“We out-numbered them”, said Kieran “And even if we weren’t, they wouldn’t have taken us on. They’re too weakened for that”.

“So we go feeding ‘em again?” Joby exclaimed.

“Ach a few old tins won’t make much difference to them”, said Kieran.

“Why are we feeding them anyway?” said Tamaz.

“Because bloody Kieran didn’t tell us what they were until we got back!” said Joby.

“It took me a while to fully work it out”, said Kieran.

“It always bleedin’ does!” said Joby.

“Am I never going to be allowed to forget Pabio’s Island?” said Kieran.

“Yes, it’s a little unfair on Patsy”, said Adam “He was quicker to recognise the vampires than he was Pabio”.

“I’d say thanks, but I think that makes me feel worse!” said Kieran.

“Look, let’s get some sleep”, said Ransey “And head off early tomorrow. I take it no one wants to go over first thing and say goodbye to them?”

“Well you can if you like, old love”, said Adam.

Bardin went up on deck in the cold light of dawn to check on the night-watch.

“Was there any sign of them overnight?” he said, gesturing towards the girm little building on the shore.

“Well not as such”, said Farnol.

“What do you mean, ‘not as such’?” said Bardin.

“What he means”, said Rumble “Is they put a lamp in the main room at one point. We could see them quite clearly”.

“And they just sat there”, said Farnol.

“Well it’s not unusual for people to sit quietly in their living-rooms”, said Bardin “It’s just us who never seem to manage it!”

“But they were just sitting there”, said Farnol “Side-by-side on a bench, arms folded, staring into space. Not in our direction, but towards the side of the building. For a couple of hours! It was dead weird”.

“At home with the vampires”, Bardin smirked.

“It must be dead boring being one that’s all I can say”, said Farnol “You’d think they might have come and preyed on us just to liven things up a bit!”

“Perhaps not with Kieran here”, said Bardin “He’s despatched a few of them in his time. Right, we’ll have some breakfast and then set off. Leave them to perch there in peace”.

The countryside grew more lush as they headed along the river. They were gradually leaving the scorched lands behind, and there seemed to be a definite edge to them. They sailed into a forested area, with vibrant greenery springing up on either side of them.

The beauty of all this, after the overwhelming bleakness of the scorched lands was intoxicating. As they went further in, the trees met over their heads, and they became canopied by rich foliage.

“These are the first trees we’ve seen in forever”, said Bengo, lying on his back on the main deck, gazing overhead “Proper trees I mean. When was the last time we saw proper trees?”

“Dunno”, said Joby, was lying beside him “Probably the Snow Lake area”.

“God, has far back as that?” said Bengo “I hadn’t realised I actually missed them until now. You can keep all that bleak, open landscape. This is far better”.

“Yeah, it’s been pretty grim on this trip so far”, said Joby “That’s why I could never see us settling in the Fire Island area. There’s nothing there”.

“And we’d had enough of the Cave4 by that point”, said Bengo “I really went off ‘em when Wesley lost it that time, and started ranting on about how much he hated clowns. That upset me far more than I let on”.

“You shouldn’t take any notice of idiots when they’re pissed”, said Joby.

“Yeah, but what’s the old saying about speaking the truth when they’re drunk?” said Bengo “And a lot of people ARE scared of clowns. I’ve never understood it. I mean I know we can get a bit out-of-hand sometimes, but to say we’re evil and sinister …”

“I think it’s the make-up”, said Joby “But you lot didn’t always wear it. Anyway, YOU could never be sinister, whereas some …”

Bardin, as if on cue, came up the stairs and onto the deck. Bengo laughed.

“He did scare the audience sometimes”, he said “But I don’t think it was in a sinister way. More they cowered from him”.

“What are you two talking about?” said Bardin, coming over to them.

“You”, said Joby “We always are “.

“We do talk about you a lot”, said Bengo “Usually how to get your trousers off you”.

“All that is going to have to wait”, said Bardin.

“Why?” said Joby.

“So that we can explore this area that’s why”, said Bardin “Go ashore and have a mosey round”.

“That can wait”, said Joby “It’s not gonna run away is it!”

“No, but the animals could do with a run”, said Bardin.

“Oh blimey”, said Joby “He always has to bring the animals into it”.

They moored some way into the forest. The area was magical. It’s silence was enchanting rather than unsettling. There were two old trackways running through it, going in opposite directions.

“The usual six of us will take the horses ashore”, said Bardin “We’ll explore one trackway today, and another tomorrow”.

This suited everybody else. It meant there was no pressing need to move onwards down the river just yet awhile.

The air was sultry as they set off, but not heavy. The coolness of the forest saw to that.

“It’s like some enchanted forest out of a Grimms Fairy Tale”, Adam opined.

“Well let’s hope we don’t meet any wicked old crones living in gingerbread huts”, said Joby.

They had ridden a couple of miles into the forest before they felt the atmosphere change. It went from sylvan idyll to something more brooding and watchful.

Then they began to find signs of abandoned civilisation. A stone cottage, which still had its walls intact, but the roof had fallen in. An old railway line disappearing into a tunnel, the tracks choked with weeds.

“Certainly an interesting area”, said Bardin, quietly “We’ll take our time exploring this one”.

They rode on and came to a forest clearing, where they decided to dismount and have a short break whilst they swigged some water. The silence of the area seemed to put a dampener on their spirits, and nobody felt very inclined to make lively conversation.

For a time all that could be heard was the sound of trees rustling slightly in the breeze, and the horses snorting. Then suddenly, almost out of nowhere, a horse-drawn sleigh appeared. It scraped noisily over the forest floor, driven at what Hillyard called “a helluva lick” by someone muffled up in a coat, scarf and hat, in spite of the heat of the day.

It’s passenger was a woman in a fur coat, who nonchalantly tossed a handful of silver coins in their direction, before the sleigh scraped on through the woods and out of sight.

“Did we really just see all that?” said Joby.

“I’m assuming these are legal tender”, said Ransey, collecting the coins from the ground.

“Bloody cheek”, said Joby “Did she think we’re beggars or summat?”

“And why were they done up in all that clobber in this heat?” said Bengo.

“Weird”, said Bardin “Feels like we had a mass hallucination”.

“No, can’t have been”, said Ransey “These coins are real for a start”.

“And the track marks are there”, said Hillyard “On the ground”.

“I spose we should be grateful that that’s all old fur coat and no knickers did”, said Joby “Even so, I know we might look a bit rough but …”

“At least she didn’t seem interested in who we are”, said Bardin.

“More to the point”, said Ransey “Who was she, and where did she come from?”

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