The Analytical Engine Speaks

It was gone teatime when Zelda and Master Dorje appeared wheeling a shopping trolley piled high with junk. Dorje cautiously isolated the readout mechanism and digging out a box of gears and worms began to ferret around in that section of the Analytical Engine’s mainframe immediately behind the blue boy. Meanwhile Zelda, utilising a watchmaker’s screwdriver, detached the lad’s writing hand. She then produced a medium sized tea chest, the contents of which were to remain a mystery to the surrounding, fascinated company.

“What does all that stuff do?”

“What’s in the box?”

“Is it safe?”

A large Papier-mâché ‘morning glory’ gramophone horn protruded from the top of the box and a twangy spring steel strip stuck out of a hole in the side. Zelda donned Chat-style goggles and pulled a welding torch from the supermarket trolley.

“What haven’t you got in that workshop of yours, Dorje?” asked Augusta with a mixture of exasperation and admiration.

Soon Zelda had firmly affixed the steel strip to the wrist tendons of the automaton. The resultant fire damage to its blue sleeve and the writing desk were deemed to be repairable if and when the opportunity presented itself.

“Ready,” she announced.

Master Dorje threw the Readout lever again. An unnerving whirring and grinding emanated from the mainframe, the lad’s arm quivered and a tinny voice issued forth from the trumpet.

“WOW…TK…AN…OY…DOF…OR…YOW?”

“Hm, just needs a little tweak,” said Zelda delving into the tea chest.

“…YEOW

“…YIEW

“…YOU?”

“There,” she said, “ask it a question.”

“How?”

“Ah, you’ll have to type into the teleprinter input port.”

“But that’s ten minutes walk away, round the other side,” said Lady Augusta.

“Am I supposed to think of everything?” The geek was becoming petulant.

“With me, your ladyship.” Slasher stepped up. “We’ll be in charge of the input. Zelda, you and Master Dorje look after your contraption. The rest of you spread out, shouting distance apart, relay messages back and forth.” The exact positioning of the gang round the perimeter of Augusta’s machine was hotly debated, resulted in one minor scuffle and was finally resolved when Aunty Stella took charge. All were in place by the time Slasher and Mrs King had reached the teleprinter terminal.

“What shall we ask it?”

“Something straightforward,” suggested Slasher.

Augusta typed, WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND OUT SO FAR?

The machine whirred. “DO YOU WANT THE GOOD NEW…S OR THE BAD NEW…S FIR…ST?”

“It’s being sarcastic,” shouted Phoebles.

“Just relay the message, Phoebs,” shouted Aunty Stella.

“Is that the message?”

“No.”

“Look,” shouted Augusta. “Can we have some discipline please?”

GOOD NEWS FIRST.

“THE…RE IS NO GOOD NEW…S.”

“Great!” AND THE BAD NEWS?

“YOU A…RE ALL GOIN…G TO DIE.”

“This is going really well,” muttered Slasher.

“Can we junk your machine and go back to making it up as we go along, please?” shouted Phoebles.

“When? Where? Why?” shouted Boz.

COULD YOU BE A LITTLE LESS APOCALYPTIC? typed Augusta. MAKE A SPECIFIC PREDICTION.

“OK. PREDIC…TION: TOMO…RROW LUNCH…TIME – E S T – FOXNEW…S WILL RE…PORT THAT – IN AN AMBI…TIOUS EXPERI…MENT, A 70,600 TONNE…S, 280 METRE…S (920 FT) LONG DRONE CAR…RIER LA…DEN WI…TH LAS…ERS, CAME…RAS AND OTH…ER SEN…SORS – BUT WITH NO ONE’…S HANDS ON THE WHEEL – HAS BEEN DE…PLOYED BY THE WEB-BASED UB…ER TECHNO…LOGIES INC ON…TO THE CHA…LLENGING SEAS OF THE NOR…TH ATLAN…TIC – STEE…RING ITS…ELF TO PRESEL…ECTED CO-ORDI…NATES OFF THE EURO…PEAN SEA…BOARD — AUTON…OMOUS DRON…ES – PRE-PROG…RAMMED FROM THE SAFET…Y OF UBER’…S SAN FRAN…CISCO HEAD…QUARTERS WILL BE DIREC…TED AT STRA…REGIC TAR…GETS WI…THIN THE ROGUE AN…ARCHY.

“THEN …YOU …DIE!”

Everyone rushed round to join Slasher and Augusta.

“What on earth is it this time?” said Boz.

“CIA black ops again,” said Slasher. “They’re still in with Les Chats.”

Ginsbergbear puffed on his briar. “Zelda, can you hack an aircraft carrier that’s on autopilot?”

“Not remotely,” replied the geek. “I’d need to be onboard.”

“Good as done,” said Dark Flo. “I’ll alert Beryl.” She took out her smart-phone, looked disappointed, tried holding it above her head. “No signal. We need to get back to the Den.”

“How will we possibly find this drone carrier in the middle of the Atlantic?” said Ferdy.”

“No problem,” said Lady Augusta. “I’ll get Mr Doom and Gloom here to calculate a Latitude and Longitude for it.”

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Quantum Physics

The wall of rock was gone and there was a sudden rush of musty air that seemed to give out a relieved sigh. Dorje stepped back to retrieve his staff.

“Quick you must be. Open for long this portal will not remain.”

“Come on then,” said Boz, rushing through and panning his headlamp around. They found themselves within a passageway whose curving walls, of gleaming obsidian, were at least twenty feet apart and stretched in both directions way beyond the reach of their torch beams. This side branch on the edge of the World Tunnel System looked little utilised and, spacious as it appeared to our heroes, was mean by Atlantean standards.

“What now?” Ginsbergbear’s voice reverberated off the hard stone. “How will we ever find your bubble universe Mrs King? We’re a long way from Jersey.”

“With a little ingenuity the time/space tunnel induced to come to us will be,” replied Master Dorje. “Much there is about the Ancient Ones that even Les Chats Souterrains are unaware of. Now, a suitable venue we must find.”

He led the way and the company followed. Some meek, some inquisitive, all bemused, they trudged behind the diminutive Tibetan along the vaulted highway. The polished basalt road surface was slippery and strangely interactive. With each footfall it squeaked musically.

“Is that a light at the end of the tunnel?” said Ferdy.

“Philosophically or incandescently?” asked Boz. But they were all becoming aware of a lifting of the gloom. Soon they could see clearly. The tunnel opened out beneath a great shaft. Light streamed down from high above and so did water, like gentle drizzle, pooling on the floor.

“Gather round,” said Dorje, “Not too close.”

He removed his orange felt hat and from inside it he took out a tin of mackerel in chip shop curry sauce. He opened it, rolling back the lid, and placed it carefully at his feet. Sitting cross-legged he produced a battered, leather bound copy of the I Ching and three worn bronze Chinese coins.

“What on earth is he doing?” Aunty Stella asked Augusta King.

“No idea. He’s never done anything like this before. Not with me.”

Dorje tossed the coins into the air where they hung longer than seemed right before tinkling to the ground. He read the Book of Changes, quietly to himself.

“What’s going to happen now,” Phoebles asked of no one in particular.

“Shush. Patient you must be. Quantum physics this is.”

Nothing happened.

Then the mackerel tin quivered. Without warning it jumped, or as Master Dorje explained later, all its atoms simultaneously jumped, sideways some six inches. There was a plop and it vanished. At the same moment a plank door with a heart shaped hole and a Suffolk latch appeared behind the old monk. It was painted sage green and bobbed slowly in mid air.

“Wow!”

“A dunny door?” Dark Flo was unimpressed.

“It’s the space/time tunnel,” said Lady Augusta, rushing forward. “Prepare to be amazed.” She flung the door open with a dramatic flourish and revealed a ceramic lavatory pan with a varnished mahogany seat. A black printed legend on the cistern tank proclaimed:

Thos Crapper & Co

Invictas

with Symphonic Flush

“Bugger!” she exclaimed, glaring at Master Dorje.

“I’d give it a minute or two,” he replied. “Yank the chain.”

They all heard the deluge of water, the gurgle as it swirled down the pan, and then the porcelain pinnacle of pissoirs folded through space. The familiar, to some, John Williams intro jingle burst forth, and they were staring into the mouth of the spiralling time tunnel.

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Underground

“Which way did the caretaker say?”

“Right fork… I think,” replied Ginsbergbear absently.

“Probably doesn’t matter so long as we’re headed upstream,” from Boz, “He’d no idea what we were looking for anyway.”

This branch of the sewer soon began to narrow, the brickwork was old and weathered and the stuff they waded through becoming deeper. The air was thick and treacly with a hint of ammonia, the heat oppressive and the darkness, alleviated only by the skittering beams of their headlamps, was unsettling the reluctant heroes. An eerie mist, faintly glowing a bilious green, hung above the ‘liquor’ that rippled about their knees. There was a splash from up ahead, the mist swirled and a low bow-wave swept towards them. Something large and slithery brushed between Phoebles’ legs. Lady Augusta jumped, shrieked and then looked embarrassed.

“Keep moving,” said Slasher.

‘I’m really not enjoying this a lot,” said Phoebles after a while.

“You should try it from down here,” said Ferdy, whose lack of length in the leg department was, yet again, proving a disappointment.

A pair of turquoise eyes, on stalks, popped up to stare at the interlopers, and Zelda blasted them with her shotgun. Everyone ducked as slime splattered in all directions and the booming discharge echoed up and down the tunnel.

“For…” Slasher howled, “We could have brought the Dagenham Girl Pipers if we’d wanted to make sure everyone knew we were here. Don’t do that again.”

“What’s this?” said Aunty Stella. She was pointing to a semi-circular arch just above head height in the tunnel wall. There was a broad arrow chiselled into the capstone, a grill hanging awkwardly where it had rusted through and a little stream dribbling from the orifice. Dark Flo went over to inspect.

“It’s not sewage, it’s fresh water,” she observed.

“You been tasting things again?” asked Phoebles.

“Glamour it is,” said Master Dorje,

“Eh?”

“A disguise. Making the tunnel a working outlet to look like, it must be.”

“Eh?”

“And it’s not on the map,” noted Ginsbergbear.

“Good enough,” said Slasher, “we’ll check it out.”

Dark Flo yanked the corroded grating off the wall and they were lifting Dorje and Ferdinand into the side tunnel when Ginsbergbear noticed a pair of beady crimson eyes piercing the darkness up the main sewer. There was a squeak.

The two eyes became six and the squeaking increased, attracting Bozzy’s attention. He nudged Slasher. By the time everyone was aware of the situation there were dozens of tiny, perfectly round red eyes with pinpoint black irises peering at them. Flo reached for her katana. Zelda loaded a flechette cartridge into the breach of her SPAS and fired up the tunnel. Blood curdling shrieks filled the air, died away and the eyes were gone. Indescribable shreds of matter flowed past. Phoebles shuddered.

Slasher’s ears were ringing, his hearing muffled.

“I thought I said… Just stop that, Zelda! Now, everyone up into the hole. Quick.”

The side tunnel’s stonework was ancient. Its barrel roof, barely five foot high, forced all but Ferdy to bend over and waddle inelegantly.

“I hope this doesn’t go on long, it’s murder on the knees,” said Phoebles.

They tottered on, with the occasional ‘Ouch’ as someone banged their head. After ten or so painful minutes they came to a small pool where a spring bubbled playfully.

Dorje pointed with his staff. “The source of your stream this is.”

“Hmm,” said Boz, “I think we’d worked that out.”

A low, stone sill just beyond the pool ensured the crystal water flowed in the desired direction and after a few paces the passage took a sharp turn to the left. It began to open out until they could all stand upright at last. Then the tunnel ended, in a solid wall of bedrock. A Minoan Labrys had, long ago, been incised into the rock and picked out in gold leaf.

Master Dorje began to search.

“Let us see. Ah yes.” He was scraping away, with one sandalled foot, at the dried mud that obscured the floor of the passage, revealing a pentagram of Tyrian purple glazed tessera set into a plain mosaic. He thrust his staff into a two-inch diameter hole at the centre of the pentangle and began to rummage in the folds of his yak-hide overcoat. To the amazement of all he produced a soprillo saxophone and handed it to Phoebles.

“Dressed most appropriately for this task you are. When I call for it, a ‘B flat’ you will give me.”

Phoebles fingered the instrument without much confidence.

Dorje placed one hand on each blade of the carved pelekys and began to press.

“Now, Mr P.”

Phoebles blew hard on the sax and the rock wall, like a stretched rubber sheet, began to give.

“Again,” cried Master Dorje.

Note:

The Minoan Labrys, also known as “pelekys” or “sagaris”, was a double headed ritual axe, found in ancient Minoan depictions of the Mother Goddess. Its symbolism is related to the labyrinth and it is believed that the meaning of the word labyrinth is the ‘house of the double axe’. The Labrys was used by female priestesses only, for bull sacrifices. The shape of the double axe (referring to the moon) and the belief that it was used in battle by the Amazons make it a symbol associated with female empowerment to this day.

Representations of the double axe are found in Africa, in Old Europe and in Minoan Crete among other places.

Cruisin’ on a Cruiser

A boarding ladder was dropped down from Aurora’s poop deck as the rubber duck came along side, and was climbed with varying degrees of agility. A Starshina piped Boz and his pals aboard and they were met at the rail by Acting-Comrade-Captain-for-the-Day Tchaikovsky in a peach evening gown from Les Modes, abundantly trimmed in lace, and wearing a discrete diamante tiara perched on top of his ginger crew cut.

“Thought I’d best dress for the occasion,” he explained.

Next day most of the gang had dug out their swimwear and arranged loungers around the six-inch gun on Aurora’s foredeck. Dark Flo’s Airtex Y-fronts gleamed white in the sunlight, her pert breasts supporting an angled reflector designed to give an even tan under the chin. The cruiser had rounded Cap de la Hague in the early hours and was rolling gently as she proceeded up the English Channel. Ginsbergbear had his deck chair aft of the third funnel, sheltered from the wind. He was reading a borrowed copy of Michael Moorcock’s Cornelius Chronicles. In view of the impending apocalypse it seemed appropriate, but was not helping.

Phoebles was on the bridge being given a closely supervised turn at the wheel by an alert member of the steering committee.

Boz was in the wardroom consulting with Augusta King and Master Dorje.

“Les Chats Souterrains are capable of popping up almost anywhere at will. The situation back home might already be grave.”

“The answer’s in my Analytical Machine, I’m sure it is. We must find a way of getting to it.” Insisted Lady Augusta.

“Permitted only a limited degree of autonomy the minions normally are. Given the current situation, less than happy the Lizard Kings must be.”

“Or maybe they like it this way,” said Boz. “Aren’t they the Lords of Chaos after all? I think we must try and be patient until we can get to Larry and find out how things stand. We’re just guessing wildly at the moment.”

“But…”

There was a commotion on deck.

“It’s the white cliffs of Dover.” Phoebles shouted down from the port wing of the bridge. Everyone clustered along the rail to view the towering white walls of chalk. Gulls turned lazy circles against an azure sky, the faint sounds of a gramophone playing a Kate Smith rendition of God Bless America drifted across the water. Ferdy sighed.

By the time the Aurora steamed into the Thames Estuary it really did feel as if they were coming to the end of a proper cruise, a cruise on a cruiser. The river seemed remarkably quiet. They saw no aircraft flying in or out of the Silvertown airstrip and the flood barrier appeared deserted. Rounding the Isle of Dogs not a boat passed them in either direction. When they got to Limehouse Reach Dark Flo appeared on deck with her Bergen rucksack.

Can you drop me off at the Den? I want to check they’ve not lost too much trade in our absence.” A jolly boat was lowered and as it approached the ladder at the back of Bozzy’s Catnip Den Ferdy and Ginsbergbear saw Sam the piano player come out onto the balcony to meet her.

And then Tower Bridge loomed before them. The cruiser’s horn blasted out…

Whooooop whup whup whup

…the time honoured signal requesting that the bascules of the bridge be lifted. There was a delay as they drifted nearer and nearer, whilst any traffic was halted, and then the bridge began to open. The Aurora moved quietly into the London Basin, picked up a buoy for’ard and one aft. The Comrade-Officer on the bridge rang down ‘Finished With Engines’.

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Zombies?

“Zombies!” bellowed Phoebles.

“Worse I’m afraid.” Le Brocq jumped down from the airship and joined his nervous companions, “That is one of Captain Midlands’ rogue psychos.”

Boz flicked off the safety on his Saturator AK-47 water pistol, not that anyone believed that a face full of water was going to deter this demon. Everyone else began to walk backwards, very, very slowly.

“Steady now. We don’t want to startle it,” said Augusta.

Master Dorje, on the other hand, marched towards the creature holding aloft his twisted yew staff, “Now then son, looks to me as if a fair bit of stress you have had of late. Due for some rest and recuperation you must be.”

The eyes of the thing that had once been a Navy Seal stared blankly into space, the lad’s connection to the real world as tenuous as that of a teenager with a smart phone. It uttered a curdling scream and charged, brandishing the lethal golok. Dorje stood his ground.

Before the creature could cross ten feet of open ground a vaguely pinkish whirlwind surrounded it, its head snapped back and its feet, still running, took to the air. It landed heavily and was instantly leapt upon by the indistinct figure of a Ninja. Dark Flo had her left knee pressed down on his carotid and was now in possession of the machete. She poised, about to bring the golok butt down on his temple, changed her mind, and put him out with two fingers and a thumb pinched just above his collarbone.

“Contravening the Geneva Convention is the Vulcan death grip,” exclaimed Master Dorje.

“The only Genever I know of is Dutch gin,” said Flo, “and unless you’ve got a bottle it’s hardly pertinent.”

“Oh Flo,” said Boz, “we thought you’d gone off with the pirates.”

“Nah,” she replied, “I had a feeling this bloody great black airship parked in the clearing would attract some sort of unsavoury attention.”

Radial engine spluttering and coughing and better late than never, a maroon autogyro chose this moment to land next to the Queen Anne’s Bounty, with Ferdy at the helm and Ginsbergbear in the front cockpit wielding a Purdey 12-bore.

“Have we missed all the fun?”

 

When the prisoner awoke he had been divested of hat and boots. For the sake of propriety he had been put into a pair of Mother Superior’s bloomers and, for safety, into a straight jacket. He was dangling from a girder within the ‘Games Room’ on the Queen Anne, upside down with a chain round his ankles. His head hung a few inches above a bucket that Smee swore was filled with hyena offal though from whence it came he would not tell.

“Time for a chat,” said Rotskagg.

“I don’t have to tell you anything but my name, rank and number,” said the tattooed fiend. His chain jerked and head dropped an inch or so.

Rotskagg indicated the newly appointed replacement cabin boy straining to hold the handle of a winch. “Roger be not a strong lad and he has to pop off in a mo to help the cook. I wouldn’t hang about longer that you have to if I were you. Do you even remember you name?

“Look boyo, whatever concoction it is that you be on, withdrawal is not going to be pleasant. All we be wanting to know is how much of these rumours about you degenerates be true. Oh, and the location of your camp’s defences, troop numbers, fire power and future plans.”

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Zelda’s Triumph

“Has anyone here got an old iPod?” Zelda was kneeling in front of the Bounty’s gramophone. A grizzled corsair stepped forward.

“It’s got Patsy Cline on it. You won’t wipe it will you?”

“I’ll be careful.”

“Er… We’ve got a karaoke mixing desk in the crew’s mess too. It’s not very sophisticated, but could you use it?”

“Not half. And wire, lots of wire. And a soldering iron.”

The Queen Anne’s Bounty was airborne and purring her way towards the ancient cairn at La Hougue Boëte, with a skeleton crew, and the post-PinkFloyd speaker arrays swung out ready for a trial run as soon as Zelda’s contraption was prepped. Powerfull searchlights panned across the landscape below, scanning for any possible danger.

“We’ll be over the target in about ten minutes.” Called Rotskagg.

“Right,” said Boz. “Drop down as low as you dare. And we might need to stick something in our ears.”

They held position, in fact, until the first milky rays of dawn streaked over the hilltops. An ornithopter shuttle dropped Boz, Phoebs and Zelda the Geek near the overgrown mound. Beryl had been granted the honour of piloting the wing-powered craft and was exhilarated, even when she landed rather heavily.

“I hope I haven’t broken anything.”

They searched the wild shrubbery as best they could in the half-light but could find no indication of an entrance or sign of where the archaeologists had broken in.

“I suppose this is the right mound,” said Phoebles.

“Do you really want to question Rotskagg’s navigation?” said Boz. “It must be. We’ll just have to blast the whole hillock with sound and see what happens.”

Zelda took over the shuttles radio. “Ready Flo? In ten.”

They each packed wax plugs into their ears and put on massive ear-defenders. The first notes hit them like a gust in a gale. There were woos and boings mixed with a discordant variation on God Save the Queen. Grass withered and several important bits of the ornithopter began to rattle. The dissonant notes clashed together in an unholy crescendo. Phoebles’ tummy turned to butterflies and tunnelling moles were ejected, squeaking, from their holes. An area of mound began to shimmer. Something a bit like a figure began to waver in and out of view. The ground was shaking.

Zelda gave Beryl the thumbs up and Beryl shouted, “NOW, FLO!” into her helmet microphone. A shattering burst of sound; water sprang from the quivering earth under their feet and several defoliated trees split open lengthways. The spectre was more distinct, but not stable. Zelda stepped forward, pointed a compressed-air foghorn and added a strident ‘Worraaargh’ to the mounting cacophony. There was a boom and a green flash and the portal was open, a neat portal of dressed granite. And standing in the portal were Augusta King and Master Dorje, surprised at first and then dropping onto their knees clutching their ears.

Zelda made an urgent slashing motion with hand across her throat and Beryl relayed, “Kill it, Flo.” With a small explosion from the direction of Rotskagg’s dirigible and a puff of smoke out of her hangar bay, silence descended on La Hougue Boëte.

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Bandit Country

komodo-dragon-sAugusta King stepped smartly out of the spacetime tunnel and into the bubble universe.

“Wheeeee!”

Two flying kittens careered into her from behind and all three collapsed in a heap. Kiki landed on top. Consuella Starcluster added to the pile. Then Mother Superior, who rolled away with an agility that belied her age and sprang into the rampant mongoose posture.

“Here perfectly safe you are madam.” Dorje seemed to float out of the tunnel and landed lightly next to the cautious nun.

“Oh wow, again, what is it?” Scarlet DuBois was staring in wonder at the Analytical Engine. It clacked intermittently and with a loud hiss its steam engine, way down the far end, emitted a dense cloud of vapour.

“It’s a sort of computer,” explained Augusta, as the group straightened itself out. “I shall feed in details of our predicament and it will calculate a solution, eventually.”

“Putting the kettle on in that case I shall be,” said Master Dorje.

*

Phoebles was on his fourth banger. But he was slowing up and coming a poor second to Zelda, tucking into her fifth.

“These things taste fantastic,” she said. “What sort of vegetables are they made of?”

Beryl looked up; of course, the Lesbian Brides were supposed to be vegan. She spoke quickly, before Phoebles, who was spluttering a little, could put his oar in.

“Processed vegetable matter, mostly potato peelings.”

“Converted to a hi-protein plant substitute by Mr Porker,” added Flo helpfully. “It’s mixed with breadcrumbs and a few spices I think. Good, aren’t they?”

“You lot will get it in the neck if she raves about sausages back at the convent,” Le Brocq whispered conspiratorially to Boz.

“Yeh, well we’ll worry about that later. We’ve got this rescue first,” he replied. “Come on everyone, we’ve got to find Rotskagg. Shouldn’t be hard to spot a big black airship.”

“No one leave the bus when we get up north,” commanded Le Brocq. “Latest word is the renegades have taken over Durrell’s old zoo. Turfed out any animals they couldn’t eat. There could be anything in those woods.”

The Routemaster left the main A8 and took to the country lanes. They were in bandit country from now on and did not want to be any more conspicuous than necessary. As they wove their way slowly northwards, taking it in turns to be ‘airship spotter’ on the top deck, storm clouds rolled in from the southwest. It began to rain, a persistent, penetrating downpour. All but the lookout had retreated to the lower deck at the first spit and with the light fading a drenched Flo descended the stairs.

“Can’t see a thing out there anymore.”

Le Brocq strained to see their way as windscreen wipers clacked from side to side. Foliage dripped, broken twigs and cones rattled off the bus, the darkening undergrowth bordering the road came alive, twitching and rustling. The huddled passengers each, please let it be only in their imagination, saw golden eyes, pinpoints of fire peering from behind every tightly packed tree. Boz, remembering the all too accessible open rear platform, nervously inched his way to the back of the bus. Quick as he could manage he stretched a chain across the doorway. A dangling sign read ‘Out of Service’. Now he was gasping for air, must have held his breath during the entire, horrid operation.

At that very moment of uncertain relief a long, mournful, hollow howl rent the evening gloom, feasted on their terror. Answered from near and far the ghastly calls echoed off the looming hillsides.

 

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