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By Sarah Hapgood

Bardin stood on the poop-deck and stared ahead as the galleon nosed its way up the river. All around them were signs of storm devastation. Trees and branches lay sprawled everywhere. One tree lay precariously out into the river.

“This will slow us down”, said Ransey.

“I guess so”, Bardin shrugged “Can’t be helped though. We have to be careful”.

Lord Robert’s yacht followed close behind them. The sound of the two boats was the only noise to be heard in the area. The wind and rain had stopped, leaving only a saturated, sodden silence.

Bardin went down to the main deck, where Kieran was leaning on the bulwark, gazing into the forest.

“Can you feel it?” said Kieran “The whole atmosphere’s changed. Feel for a moment”.

“It’s heavier”, said Bardin “Which is weird. You would think it would be lighter after the storm. Instead, everything feels dead. It gives me the creeps”. “We shouldn’t be surprised though”, said Kieran “The negative energy in this area will produce that effect”.

“Then the sooner we get out of it the better”, said Bardin.

Kieran knew that was a heavy hint not to get any ideas about trying to go ashore.

For the next day they hacked their way down-river, trying to penetrate through the storm-damage. Bardin was so busy choreographing everyone that Hillyard lost patience with him.

“Look, we could get on a lot quicker without you constantly sticking your beak in”, he said “Me and Ranz have got it all sussed”.

“Bardin!” Bengo shouted from the galley doorway “Go into our cabin and look at your maps”.

“What for?” said Bardin

“I dunno”, Bengo shrugged “Just to get you out of the way I suppose”.

He swatted Bardin with a tea-towel as he went past. Back in the galley Bengo found Tomas had come over on another supply-swap, and Adam had gone into the hold to dig out more stuff for him. Tomas meanwhile seemed to take this opportunity to get in the way.

“What are you making?” he asked, looking at the doughy mix on the table.

“Rock cakes”, said Bengo “I swear I could make them in my sleep, but they’re nice and easy, and we always have plenty of dried fruit on hand. That never goes off”.

“You’re not as daft as …” Tomas began, before trailing off awkwardly.

“As daft as what?” said Bengo, molding the dough into round shapes “As I look?”

“Oh just something someone said”, said Tomas.

“Kitty the Cat Woman at a rough guess”, said Bengo.

“Oi!” said Joby, appearing in the doorway “Adam’s waiting for you up on deck. You’ll need to go home before we move off again”.

He stood back to let Tomas leave.

“That’s gotta stop”, said Bengo “Tomas keeping on coming over here I mean. I’m always finding him poking around. He’s worse than Toppy”.

“Far worse”, said Joby “Toppy might like listening at doors, but he doesn’t go rifling through people’s things. Well not unless it’s the washing anyway. I found Tommy-boy poking around in our cabin”.

“No?” said Bengo, in a shocked voice “What was he looking for?”

“Dunno”, said Joby “He was poking through our bedside locker. All we keep in there is our undies, weapons for keeping Kieran in order, and an emergency bottle of whisky. And I made sure he hadn’t pinched any of them. Particularly the whisky”.

“I’ll tell Adam and Bardy”, said Bengo “If he’s gonna be doing things like that he shouldn’t be allowed on here”.

Adam woke up and found he couldn’t move. As he scrambled to consciousness he realised that his arms were pulled tightly behind his back. For one awful, panicky moment he thought he had become paralysed.

His eyes struggled to adjust to the strange light. He was in a darkened, cavernous room, but there was a large fire burning to the right of him. As he tried to sit upright he slowly realised he was tied to a chair. His hands fastened securely behind it. He could barely move.

“Ah he’s with us”, came a woman’s voice.

A pale face lunged at him out of the fiery gloom.

She could have been attractive, if it was not for the spiteful expression which was plastered all over her features. Her face was framed by a mane of hair, which looked almost purple in this light. She ran an icy-cold hand over his face. Adam flinched.

“What’s the matter, Adam?” she said, tauntingly “Aren’t you used to being touched by a pretty woman?”

“You’re not a pretty woman”, said Adam.

“Not very chivalrous are you?” the creature pouted.

“I don’t feel very chivalrous when I’m tied to a chair against my will”, said Adam “Where am I?”

“I bet you wouldn’t mind so much if it was a man who’d done this”.

“That rather depends on the man, and why he’s brought me here”.

“Do you think about men all the time?” she asked, her face seemed to constantly loom in and out of his vision “Are you obsessed with thoughts of them sticking things up your arse?”

“Where am I?” said Adam “Where are the others?”

“You are here because you are the biggest challenge, and I like a challenge”.

“What do you mean?”

“If I can convert you”, said the creature “Where would that leave all your friends? Where would it leave Kieran?”

Adam noted she had trouble saying Kieran’s name.

“You’re being childish”, said Adam “And wasting both our time. Let me loose. This is a very silly game … whoever … whatever you are. And you’re clearly not very bright if you think it will work on me”.

“D’you not like women? Do you hate them?”

“No I don’t hate women. But I don’t believe you are one. I don’t believe you’re human”.

The creature receded back into the gloom, like a puppet being pulled through the curtains at the back of a stage. Adam found his hands were free. He pulled them forward, the rope still tied loosely around his wrists.

He got up from the chair and peered into the gloom at the far edges of the room. He made out the shape of a doorway and headed for it. The corridor on the other side was forbiddingly black, but it was his only way out. He groped his way along it. The walls felt damp, slimy and vile to the touch. He made out a patch of light ahead. Feeling in a very dreamlike state, Adam moved as rapidly as he could towards the circle of light, feeling as though his legs were mired in treacle.

He emerged, blinking, into the dark, humid air of the forest. There was a soft drizzle falling all around him He wandered through the trees, tapping each one as he passed, as though to reassure himself that he was actually awake.

Eventually he heard voices, familiar voices. He stumbled towards them, until Bardin and Julian came into view.

“Where the hell have you been?” Julian barked.

“Well frankly, that’s what I’d like to know!” said Adam.

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