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That evening they received garbled wireless messages which appeared to speak of another cataclysmic storm, this time somewhere on the west coast. The messages were infuriatingly cryptic, and it was impossible to locate exactly where they were coming from. There was an undercurrent that perhaps the messages couldn’t be trusted, that it was all part of the weird psychological warfare.
“My gut feeling is that they’re real”, said Bardin “If we go down the route of disbelieving everything, we’re done for”.
“No way to live is it”, said Joby, in surprising agreement.
A reassuring sign was the river gradually widening out. They must be getting near the entrance to the ocean. On the south side of the river stood an abandoned fishing-cottage, completely covered in a foul-smelling slimy mess. The immediate landscape surrounding it was covered in the same noxious weed. Once again, the stench up on deck was overpowering.
“I dunno which was worse”, said Joby “The dust-clouds or this”.
“This”, said Kieran “The dust was a pain in the … well … everything, but the smell of this is disgusting. Reminds me of the Moss Palace up north”.
“Yeah”, said Joby “More of the demonic little bastards. How bloody widespread is all this? How many times have we asked that on this trip?”
“It’s not saturation blanket Evil”, said Kieran “More like pockets of it”.
“It feels pretty saturated along this river”, said Joby.
“But even along here we’ve had pockets of respite”, said Kieran “The inn for example”.
“God knows how they’ve managed it”, said Joby “Living on the edge of it all like that. Surrounded by blanket fire-bombing and Christ knows what else”.
“They’re pretty tough people”, said Kieran “Tough but not hard, callous bastards. That helps us. If they were hard bastards they would be no better than the unfeeling vampire sisters we saw a while back”.
“It’s hard to know now whether people have been made bad by the environment, or they ARE bad naturally”, said Joby “Oh blimey, all this is doing my head in. I’m gonna go and make some rock-cakes. I don’t want you hanging around up here whilst me back’s turned either”.
“Why not?” said Kieran.
“Don’t argue, Kieran!” said Joby.
“OK so”, said Kieran.
When the sea finally opened up it almost felt like an anti-climax, after all the months of anticipation. It seemed to creep up on them, if that wasn’t a strange way to describe such a turbulent watery maelstrom. As soon as they left the river behind them, they knew that their troubles were far from over. If anything, it now appeared that the west coast had perhaps been the cause of the beginning of all the calamity.
The west coast had been ravaged by a series of storms, in rapid succession. Storms so monstrous and vicious in their intensity that it felt as though the planet was trying to destroy itself. Whole villages had been wiped out. Large chunks of the coastline had fallen into the ocean.
The vampires and demons hadn’t caused the Evil to flourish initially. They had merely been able to capitalise on the chaos that the storms had brought with them. Even the communities that had survived had been racked by demoralisation and poverty as a result.
They travelled in a shocked dreamlike state in a northerly direction. They were heading for the Village Of Stairs, although everyone dreaded what they might find when they reached it.
“I’m dreading going ashore, Bardy”, said Bengo, standing at the bottom of the quarterdeck stairs “I can’t imagine what we might find there”.
“Well then you don’t have to come do you”, said Bardin “If you’re going to wimp out on me then you might as well stay and snivel here!”
And with that he clambered up the steps in a right strop.
“Well really!” said Adam, standing in the galley doorway, arms akimbo “The little wotsit! He needs another good hiding!”
“Oh he’s nervous too”, said Bengo “I can tell. He always used to accuse me of wimping out just before a big show. It meant he was as nervous as me really”.
“Even so, there’s no call for him to accuse you of wimping out. When I think of how brave you were on the Cursed Isle”.
“Adam, it doesn’t matter”, said Bengo “It’s just him being the way he is. I know this town hasn’t been our home for a very long time, but it’s where we come from, and we’re dreading what we might find there. I know we’ve probably seen worse on the New Continent, but even so …”
He gave a resigned shrug and proceeded to climb up the steps, in a more stately fashion than his partner had done.
“But give him a good hiding when we get back if you want to!” he shouted back down.
The main central part of the Village Of Stairs was in ruins. Buildings like broken teeth, some parts completely wiped away as though they had never been there at all.
Heavily-armed, a party from the galleon, including Lord Robert and The Girls, prowled the deeply silent streets like an army arriving in a war-wrecked city.
“If we’re going to find out anything of what’s going on round here we should head to the Governor’s House”, said KIeran.
“You go on up there”, said Bardin “We’ll follow you up”.
Bengo and Bardin drifted through the desolate streets. They felt as lost as they had as small children sometimes. Not lost in a literal sense, more directionless, and all too aware of the cruel, harsh world that surrounded them.
After a while they unconsciously began to hold hands.
“Where is everyone?” Bengo whispered.
“Some would have been washed out to sea”, said Bardin “Others - hopefully - might have got to higher ground perhaps”.
“So we’re assuming it was a giant wave then?” said Bengo.
“Some kind of horrendous bloody wave”, said Bardin, barely audible.
They stood outside what had once been The Cabaret of Horrors. Half of it had collapsed in on itself, but enough of the shell remained to enable them to walk cautiously into what had been the auditorium.
“The ceiling’s come down”, said Bengo.
“Not surprising”, said Bardin, gruffly “I’m amazed anything’s left at all”.
“We’d better not go too far in”, said Bengo.
“No I know”, said Bardin.
He reached the stage area, and suddenly pushed a load of rubble from a heap nearby. He disclosed a battered piano which was all but falling to pieces.
“Remember when we used to try and practice two handers on this”, he said “We were rubbish. I don’t know what we were thinking of”.
“Bardy, let’s go”, said Bengo “I don’t see any point in hanging around here. It’s giving me the creeps. It feels like we’re being watched by the ghosts of everyone who’s ever been here”.
Bardin didn’t reply. He stroked the broken keys in a zoned-out state.
“Bardin!” Bengo shouted and clapped his hands at him “Come on. We’re going to find the others”.
He grabbed Bardin by the arm and roughly yanked him out of what had once been the old orchestra-pit.
“Yes”, Bardin complained “Don’t pull my arm out of it’s socket. Haven’t we got enough to cope with now without that!”
They found Hillyard standing outside the wrecked gates of the Governor’s House at the top of the town.
“Is there anyone around?” asked Bengo, who still had a firm hand on Bardin.
“No one”, said Hillyard “It must have been a giant wave. One of those broadcasts we heard mentioned waves hundreds of feet high”.
“Yes that must be it”, said Bengo.
“What’s up with Bardin?” said Hillyard.
“He’s not feeling well”, said Bengo “I shall take him back to the boat”.
“Oh bloody hell”, said Hillyard, with concern “I’ll come with you. I’ll just give the others a whistle. There’s no reason for anyone to hang around here”.
“Has Bardin gone off his head then?” said Tamaz, with characteristic bluntness.
“No Freaky, he hasn’t gone off his head”, said Adam “He’s just suffering from a touch of exhaustion”.
“We’ve put him in our cabin to have a rest”, said Joby, coming into the galley “He’s fagged out and he’s not making much sense, but that’s scarcely anything new! He should be alright when he’s had some kip”.
“I hope so”, said Rumble “I remember when he went off the rails before, when Bengo left him”.
“That was a very long time ago”, said Adam “And anyway, Bengo is very much here. And I have every confidence the little fellow will sort him out”.
“And”, said Hillyard “Let’s be selfish for a minute. Whilst he’s laid up we can turn the ship round and head off back to the in. Me and Ranz have been talking about this. There’s nothing to hang around here for. The west coast is done for”.
“Sadly it does seem to be that way”, said Adam.
“And we can’t risk him deciding he wants to hang around here for sentimental reasons”, said Hillyard.
“I can’t imagine he does”, said Adam “Bardin’s not really the sentimental sort”.
“You can never tell with these theatrical sorts”, said Hilyard.
“What’s the time?” Bardin barked from Kieran and Joby’s bunk.
“Time?” said Bengo, who was sitting on the sofa, darning socks “I don’t even know what month it is let alone the time!”
“What are you doing?” said Bardin.
“That’s Finia’s job, not yours”.
“Yes, but I ahd to have something to do whilst I’ve been sitting here all this time”, said Bengo “And the last time I read a book it seriously traumatised me”.
“What do you mean, all this time you’ve been sitting here?” said Bardin.
“Only a day or so”.
“A day or so?!” Bardin exclaimed “Have I been in a fucking coma or something?”
“No Bardy, you’ve just been very very tired that’s all”, said Bengo “You needed a good rest”.
Muttering, Bardin clambered out of the bunk. He pulled at his pink nightie.
“Who put this on me?” he said.
“I might’ve known, it’s all scrunched up and crumpled”.
“Well you’re definately feeling better!”
“God knows what Lord Robert and The Girls must think of me”, said Bardin “Wussing out like that”.
“They don’t see it that way”, said Bengo “Jane’s going to make you some of her special soup. She always made it when someone was taken ill back on the island”.
“We’re moving!” said Bardin, with a burst of recognition on hearing the ship’s engines.
“Yea, and don’t make a scene about it”, said Bengo “We’re going back to the inn”.
“I wasn’t going to make a scene!” said Bardin.
He sat down on the sofa, next to Bengo, and tucked his feet up.
“What happened back there?”
“We think the entire west coast has been destroyed by a monster wave”, said Bengo “Ransey says we need to find out what else has happened”.
“What else … jeez, hasn’t that been enough?” said Bardin “But no, I see what he means. It’s just so much to take in, but I guess we have to”.
The trees in the woods by the inn were bearing blossom. It was incredible that such beauty could exist in a world of such cruel indifference, both on the part of Mother Nature and of their fellow man.
“At least we’re not the only ones left in the world”, said Bardin, as he strolled through the trees with Kieran “Sometimes lately it’s felt like it”.
“Oh no we’re not alone”, said Kieran “But what a world there is left! There is a government of sorts, or so we believe”.
“Holed up somewhere, beyond the City?” said Bardin.
“Well the City itself has been in a state of anarchy for some time now”, said Kieran “Jaysus I feel old! Sometimes I expect to see a focking skeletan when I look in the shaving-mirror! Anyway, that was self-indulgent of me. There are pockets of civilisaton around, such as this one”.
“Sometimes I think it would be better without a government”, said Bardin “If it goes around fire-bombing us all. All this time we thought we were simply up against demons and vampires, the usual old shit. And it seems it was never as straightforward as that. We’re really up against Nature and brainless politicians”.
“It’s easier in some ways to sort out Evil”, said Kieran “You just eradicate it when you get the chance. This isn’t so easy”.
“You’re not going to confront the government at some point are you?” said Bardin.
“I don’t want to waste my time dealing with politicians unless I absolutely have to”, said Kieran “I suspect they’re all holed up somewhere, quivering with cowardice and making up impressive speeches that no one will have the time or the inclination to take seriously. In the meantime, we simply have to pause and take stock. Literally so. We have to try and gauge how many people are left out there, and where they are”.
“And cope with anymore chaos the world throws up us presumably?” said Bardin.
They linked arms and walked slowly back to the galleon.
“Do you know”, said Kieran “In the old days being the Vanquisher of Evil was a helluva lot focking simpler!!”
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