The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
The Dolorous Stroke
August 14th 2.30pm
Isobel and Twitchin’s room.
The group crowds around the two maps, only Peter holding back, more interested in his investigations at the mine than the problem of the drought.
A faint smile creeps into the corners of Sam’s mouth as he looks at Isobel’s map. “Mmm, most impressive. Do you read palms too? Seriously, though, this shape is too regular to be natural. So where does that leave us?”
“I’ve got an idea,” Mark offers. “Mind if I have a closer look?” If it wasn’t for Sam’s drawing, he’d be inclined to dismiss the whole thing as rubbish. But he can’t escape the fact that the two sets of lines are identical. He opens up a third sheet of paper and lays it alongside the other two. “Here, let me try something. This could make me look as stupid as the Bay City Rollers, but…”
The paper he has opened is the map of the mine that Breit gave him. The mine is set well within the boundaries of the drought, but it only takes up a small part of the space and the tunnels form an irregular shape, nothing like the neat pentagrams of the other two maps. Mark shrugs. “Never mind.” He moves his map out of the way and sits down, fishing in his pocket for a bar of chocolate. Biting off half of it at once he stares thoughtfully at the wall as he chews.
The professor traces the pencil lines on Isobel’s map with a forefinger. Frowning slightly he points. “There. That’s the exact centre of the pattern. Um, give or take five percent error, of course. Do we have anything of interest there?”
“Nothing,” Isobel says, puzzled. “According to this, it’s an open space.”
“It’ll probably be worth visiting anyway,” Sam suggests.
She nods absently. “Apart from the village there’s nothing else of significance I can see within the pentagram. It seems to extend in a roughly equal direction all around. In fact, its shape means it misses the next main town.” She glances up at them all. “Spooky,” she concludes.
“I don’t suppose the mining company that has taken the upper hand recently could have anything to do with what’s going on?” Mark asks through a last mouthful of chocolate. “If I remember rightly from the reports Breit gave us, the upturn started around November last year – which was when the Master could have flown back here, wasn’t it?”
Andrew nods agreement. “It could be that something he’s doing in the mine is causing the drought. We just need to find out what, and how.”
“The task is not so difficult,” Peter chips in. “First, find the Master. Second, find a way to pollute or corrupt the ritual. Third…” he hesitates, “Well, I leave that part to the more experienced members of the group.”
Sam shifts uneasily from foot to foot. “Has anyone seen the Master?” His tone of voice suggests that he’s still not convinced such a being exists.
“Eyes like steel and claws like knives,” Twitchin murmurs, quoting something that was said to him what feels like a lifetime ago.
Sam rolls his eyes. “Good. Then we’ve got a fighting chance of recognising him.” Catching Matt’s glare, he flaps his arms irritably. “All right, I’m trying to believe in it. Look, you said Ylids explode if they meet one another. Can we get another one here – maybe from operatives on another mission. And, if they feed on belief energy, perhaps the way to combat that is through disbelief. How about organising a convention of sceptics in Bad Schlachendorf?”
Matt shakes his head. “First of all, trying to lure an Ylid after you would be like trying to lure a wild bear. Only worse. Besides, the Master has access to dubhium so it wouldn’t work. The belief idea is worth bearing in mind, though. The greater the collective faith of an area, the greater the Ylid’s power.”
“What’s dubhium?” Sam asks, confused.
“Something that means Ylid’s don’t explode when they meet.”
John draws in a breath and turns away from the two maps on the table. “A couple of thoughts,” he says quietly. Firstly, the castle. I had a sense of vengeance, Pellam wants revenge. If the Master sees himself as Pellam then he seeks vengeance against us – But who is Galahad? Who is going to heal him…” He leaves the question hanging. “Secondly, if the play itself is you-know-who’s Galahad, we need to corrupt the play. The best way to do this is to take part, take the major roles. The major players wear huge heads therefore their identities are concealed. So who will know that the main players have changed? We need to find out who the main characters are and take their places – perhaps have Galahad slay Pellam rather than heal him. The committee know who is playing who, we need to find out who the committee are and work on them – psychologically, bribing, blackmail – anything to get the identities of the main players.”
“Not bribery,” Matt says quickly, but the others are already looking excited at the idea.
“Perhaps some of you young ’uns would care to investigate that,” the professor suggests. He casts a smile in Isobel’s direction. “My dear, I have a feeling that before the week is out we’ll all be dancing through the streets wearing papier-mâché heads.”
“I suggest that Peter, Mark and Andrew carry on looking into the mine, John concludes. “And the rest of us concentrate on finding out about the play committee. The carnival has started now so why don’t we all go there?”
“Not all at the same time,” Isobel objects. “I still think we should work in smaller groups. It’s safer and we seem to be doing well that way. I was thinking the professor and I could take a picnic up to the castle.” She gives Twitchin a look of mock severity. “But you can leave your sausage behind, I certainly shan’t be wanting any of that!”
The professor positively beams at her.
“John, Sam and I can take a look at the carnival,” Mickey suggests. “Then later, why don’t we find out what passes for a night club in this place and pay it a visit? It’ll be crowded enough that it won’t look as if we’re together.” He glances in Isobel’s direction. “How about it, Mrs Snodgrass?”
Both Mr and Mrs Snodgrass decline quickly. Peter, too, shakes his head, saying he’s got better things to do. The others agree with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
The afternoon sun is a haze of pure gold across the sky. Little blue tits swoop and dive, snatching at crumbs. One time the grass rustles and a rabbit darts part in a scurry of fright.
Professor Twitchin sits back with a sigh. “So nice of you to suggest coming out here, my dear.” He tips his hat back on his head and stares up at the passing clouds. “So nice…”
“We’re here to work,” Matt points out sharply. He pushes himself to his feet and stalks off towards the castle, leaving Isobel and Twitchin sitting together on the grass. Even with his change of clothes he still hasn’t managed to drop the Goth image, Isobel muses. Now he just looks like a Goth in a tasteless shirt. And his bare legs appear to be burning far too quickly despite the sun cream she insisted he cover himself with.
Somehow, the Prof’s arm has worked its way around her waist. She wriggles aside quickly. “We should have a look around the castle,” she says. “Then we can read up a bit more about the play. And that legal wrangle Blaize mentioned. It might be important.”
“But first the castle,” Twitchin agrees. He stands up and offers Isobel his hand. “Come along, then, Mrs Snodgrass.”
Mark remembers seeing a film, years ago, when a man kept passing on ownership of his shop to himself every time he thought he was looking too young to still have the same name. He wonders if that could be what is happening here, that Breit is just the latest identity of The Master. He closes his eyes and conjures up the bearded face of Breit in his mind. Brown hair, brown eyes, unremarkable. Average build, big nose, smiled a lot. Greedy, he remembers. He tries to match the image with the eyes of steel and claws like knives that Twitchin mentioned. He shakes his head. Somehow, Breit seemed too human, too petty.
If only Matt had managed to find more out about the mine with that computer of his. But the only information was part of the standard tourist package for the area. Nothing at all about the mine history and ownership. Sighing, Mark picks up first of the business reports. Fifty pages, mainly in German. So much for the internet, he thinks. He’s just going to have to do this the hard way.
Peter is also going through his own set of papers procured from the mine.
“The game is afoot,” he announces to the empty room with satisfaction. He begins to read, strewing papers everywhere as he finishes with one set and goes onto another.
First things first: purchasers. All of them registered companies as far as he can see, all of them receiving regular supplies, the levels of which have remained steady for the six years that he has records for.
Peter pauses and snatches up a pen to make his first notes
Working assumption: The Master wants crystal. Therefore he is getting it from the mine. Need to find proof that more crystal is being mined than is being sold – or that one of the purchasers is buying on behalf of the Master. Aim – to find any workforce which is related to none of the mining companies, but is still working in the mines.
Peter’s hands look yellow in the sunlight as he works. Soon his is grinning to himself. So much data to be analysed, categorised, re-analysed. For him, it is heaven.
Taking his disposable camera into a village shop to get it developed, Mickey buys a new one then heads back to the hotel to make a phone call.
“Mickey.” Geoff Blaize sounds resigned. “What is it this time? Machine guns? A cannon?”
“A car,” Mickey says. “Something nondescript. And Audi or BMW.” He waits for Blaize’s sigh of relief then adds, “And can you fill the boot with a couple of mobile phones, a scanner to eavesdrop on mobile conversations, as many listening devices as you can spare, a long distance sound-detection kit, lock picks, locksmith master keys and a crowbar.”
There is a long silence. “At least it’s not weaponry this time,” Blaize concedes. “All right, I’ll see what we can do. It may take a couple of days. These things are not as easy to come by as you seem to think.”
Mickey sighs. “Thanks. One other thing: can you find out who is on the village council here, and who controls the police force? If the Master is sticking to the usual pattern he’ll have infiltrated some power group to protect him.”
“Then there’s your answer,” Blaize says. “The Master controls the police force. I’m afraid we can’t help you there. It’ll be far easier to check out the village council locally. The police force will be part of the standard German force, I’d imagine. It’s something you’ll have to follow up yourself. I’ll make arrangements for the car. Good luck.”
Bingo! Mark crows. Previous mine owners are listed as a Jakob Rilla from 1972 – 1981, and Arthur Lindberg from 1950 – 1972. A note on the back of a general report tells him that Lindberg sold the mine on retiring and died in 1987, age 78. Rilla was killed in a car crash in 1981. The position of site manager was offered to Breit shortly afterwards. And the mine has been doing a roaring trade ever since, the report concludes.
After several hours of work, Peter’s results are still inconclusive. As far as he can see there are no stocks of crystals being siphoned off to supply the Master, but that’s not to say he isn’t missing something.
He pauses a moment, rubbing his fingers into his eyes, then turns to the half-finished document on his computer screen. ‘Agreement between Ramsey Inc and Bad Schlachendorf mine,’ it reads. Couched in all the legal and technical terms Peter can think of is an agreement that the entirety of the mine’s production should go to the laser company at an increased price to cover compensation payments for the mining companies involved.
Peter sits back with a grin. If the Master is using any of the crystal, the threat of snatching it all from under his nose should bring him into the open.
A slightly nervous voice at the back of his mind tells him that it probably isn’t the safest thing to do: making himself the prime target. He ignores it and gets on with printing the document. Once done, he picks up the phone and dials the mine’s number.
“Herr Breit? Peter Ramsey here. Listen, I was wondering if we could come back to take another look at the mine some time today.”
The castle is quiet, the last tour finished. The stone walls feel cold to the touch despite the sun. Dying ivy clings around the gatehouse.
“Seen enough, dear?” Professor Twitchin asks.
Isobel nods slowly. “Mmm… I don’t sense anything unusual here. I’ve been in places that have felt happier, if you know what I mean, but I don’t think we’re going to find out anything else.” Knowing what John has already told her about the castle, she can’t be sure that any of the feelings she is getting are real, or simply a result of her own expectations. There is a sense of hurt, a vague sense of expectancy that might be to do with the coming play. More than that she cannot tell. She daren’t risk probing deeper lest it alert the Master to her presence.
Twitchin fumbles in his pockets for cigarette papers and tobacco. “How about a nice country drive, then? Just the thing to raise the spirits.”
Isobel gives his an odd, little look. “I suppose so. We’ll have to drop Matt off on the way. And I want to go back to the church later.” She smiles, flushing slightly and adds, in explanation, “There’s more than one way to raise the spirits.”
John and Mickey make their way through the village together, leaving Sam at the museum to do a bit more research of his own. Mickey leafs through his first set of photographs as they walk. He has captured most of the castle including the rest of the tourists who were there at the time, but whether any of it is important or not he can’t tell. So far all he can say is that he has a nice set of holiday snaps.
“This lane leads to the open area at the centre of Isobel’s map,” John comments. Today, the lane is thronging with people. Children clutching balloons and candyfloss, stilt-walkers in clown costumes, juggling bananas between them, groups of teenage girls who whisper and giggle to each other. A babble of English, German and French coming at them from all sides.
At the end of the lane, they stop.
What was an open green is now a mass of tents, banners and cages. A clown with a blue face wobbles precariously on a tightrope strung across the almost-empty river. Beyond that a Ferris wheel rises into the sky, standing motionless though all its lights are on. A merry-go-round throws out distorted waltzes through its speakers and a selection of garishly painted unicorns, griffins and winged monkeys bob up and down in an unceasing, restless dance.
Above it all twin English and German banners announce: “Welcome to The Dark Carnival of Dr Pretorius.”
Mickey looks at his friend and grins uneasily. “Well,” he asks. “Shall we go in?”
The music and the crowds close around them.
Stopping in the museum to find out the history of the legal wrangle Blaize mentioned, Isobel and Twitchin bump into Sam who’s doing exactly the same thing. They stand at a discreet distance, close enough to overhear, while the professor busies himself examining the items on display.
“I see,” Sam says loudly for their benefit. “The carnival has always used the village green free. But for some reason, in the summer of seventeen-ninety the village council decided the carnival master had to pay the going rate and he refused. Matters were made worse by the weather because everyone got hot and bad-tempered. So what happened next, Fräulein?”
The museum girl smiles at him, enjoying the attention, though frankly Isobel cannot see why. “Everyone was ready to go to court over it. But then the village backed down. The carnival opened a month late. It started to rain on the opening day and didn’t stop for three days, so the story goes, and everyone was happy again.”
“Well the carnival opened today and it hasn’t rained yet,” Sam says with a grin. “By the way, wasn’t it in seventeen-ninety that the play was moved to the castle for the first time? That couldn’t have been anything to do with the row over the carnival, surely?”
She shakes her head. “No, I don’t think so. No one knows why exactly the play was moved. We think it was just because it had been growing bigger and bigger and so it needed a new place. The castle was best.”
Their voices fade from Twitchin’s consciousness. He has found something far more interesting – old plans of the village. The castle, it seems, has no natural water supply, relying on the collection of rainwater. An unusual system, but it does occur from time to time. The main water supply, of course, would be the river running through the village, crossing at the back of what is now the village green. The open area at the centre of Isobel’s pentagram, he recalls. The plans show no record of anything ever being built there. The ground is too soft, no doubt. Twitchin scratches his head. He’ll have to look into this in more detail.
Isobel jabs him sharply in the ribs, disturbing him. “Do pay attention. I said, shall we go now?” Twitchin nods and they make their way out, leaving Sam chatting.
“You see what can be done when you use the old noggin, don’t you know,” the professor mumbles happily. “Too much macho hardware around for my liking.. brain power that’s what solves these things. Brain… er… er.. whatever.”
Working at his computer, Matt has found hundreds of references to mystery plays. Narrowing the search down to ones that are based on Arthurian myth makes the job easier. Most mystery plays are based around the life of Christ, so it seems, generally culminating in his crucifixion and resurrection. But the ones that have taken Arthurian legend as their theme are all very religious. All of them make heavy reference to the Grail as the source of healing and goodness. The Spear of Longinus is there as an instrument of smiting and healing. Galahad, of course, is the perfect knight, healing King Pellam and being granted a vision of the Grail. Balin generally represents the brute force of revenge and anger. He strikes Sir Garlon down as an act of vengeance, but violence leads to more violence with Pellam now demanding vengeance. In defending himself, Balin lays a whole kingdom low and in the end it does him no good as he is killed by his own brother.
So, the senseless nature of anger and violence causes harm both intentionally and unintentionally. It takes the moral perfection of Galahad representing the power of forgiveness to turn the instrument of hurt into an instrument of healing.
So say most of the interpretations Matt can find. The Bad Schlachendorf version is slightly different. Here the suggestion is that Pellam is an innocent victim, struck down by a malicious enemy through no fault of his own. But final redemption always comes to those who merit it and so when the time is right Galahad arrives to perform the necessary healing.
He’s not the only one who needs healing, Matt thinks. He runs his fingernails up his arm. The skin is red and peeling.
“Herr Ramsey!” Johann Breit appears delighted to see them. His bearded face is beaming broadly as he leads them across the complex. “I have made arrangements for you to see the mines. The tourist levels first, and then a sample of the lower levels where the work is carried out. I shall conduct you myself. My only request is that you take care for your personal safety. There may still be some miners working so for your sake and theirs we will have to let them work in peace.”
“I understand,” Peter assures him. With a quick glance at the other two he follows Breit.
Andrew and Mark make their way to the entrance more slowly, Andrew tensed for signs of trouble and Mark alert for signs of anything at all.
“And so we go in!” Breit announces. The damp chill of the mine covers them.
The air is cold here and carries a vague, mossy smell. The ground underfoot is slippery, uneven and there is little enough natural light that they all have to feel their way. “This part is to show people what it would have been like working here a hundred years ago,” Breit’s voice comes back to them. “There would have been no light, and only very basic tools to cut the crystal out of the rock.” Andrew runs his hand down the wall beside him. The surface is pitted, chipped away. He can well imagine men working here, chipping lumps of crystal free with chisels and hammers. Higher up the wall flashes of colour catch his eye: tiny remnants of crystal that have been left behind.
“What are conditions like now?” Mark asks.
“Much better. Modern machinery, modern safety methods, heating, lighting. Our people have worked hard to make this mine a going concern. Not just a tourist curiosity, you know.”
Breit is going into a sales speech again. Mark interrupts it to ask about potential for expanding the mine. “Obviously there’s no point us taking on a venture that hasn’t found any new ‘lodes’ for a long time. We need to be sure you have the capacity here to meet our customers’ requirements.”
“I’m sure we do. I’m sure we do.” Breit hesitates a bare moment before answering.
A group of people in grotesque costume are carrying out some sort of mime while behind them others labour to erect an enormous, black tent. Sam wanders closer to have a look. One of the mimers beckons to him and he grins, joining in willingly.
“Hi,” he begins. “The name’s Sam. I’m here to see the play, but seeing as you were set up I thought I’d take a look. I don’t suppose…”
The mimer raises a sharp finger to his blackened lips. Sam shrugs. “Never mind. Nice costume, by the way.”
On the other side of the green, sitting in the beer tent with a group of locals, John and Mickey are playing the parts of eager tourists.
“I’m writing a research paper about the psychology of the mystery play,” John explains. “I wanted to talk to the main players before and after the play but so far no luck. No one seems to know who they are.”
“Only the committee know that,” one of the other men says unsteadily. He appears to have had too much to drink already. John moves to sit next to him and puts another beer down in front of him.
“So, who’s on the committee?”
The man scratches his head. “Shouldn’t really say, and I only know one name anyway, an’ that’s only because I heard people talk, you understand?” His speech is slurred. John looks at him carefully. As far as he can tell, he’s telling the truth. He’s certainly not faking the drunkenness in any case.
John puts an arm around his shoulders. “You can tell us. We won’t breathe a word to anyone. Promise.” He smiles encouragingly.
His new friend down his beer and sighs loudly. “Breit,” he says. “Tall man, works at the mine. A bit stuck up. Was on the committee last year and is again.”
John thanks him and stand up. No point pushing their luck.
“So Herr Breit is involved in the play,” Mickey murmurs. “That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Shall we-”
He stops so suddenly that John is startled. “What is it?”
In front of them the entrance to the ghost train gapes like a hole. The awning is painted with a variety of weird creatures. Above the entrance a thin, humanoid face grins at them, showing far more teeth than is natural.
“There,” Mickey breathes. He has gone completely white. “I’ve seen it before. That’s the thing that killed my wife.”
“Really, dear. Do you have to make so much noise,” Isobel hisses, sitting down in the front pew of the little church.
A suitably mollified Professor Twitchin slips in beside her. “Sorry dear.” The words come so automatically that it really does feel as if he has been married to her for twenty years. He waits quietly while Isobel bows her head in prayer, amusing himself in the meantime by reading the texts on the walls. A very plain church, he concludes, and dull. The texts are all psalms: ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ and so forth. Entirely lacking in imagination.
After a few minutes of silence Isobel manages to clear her mind of everything except the immediate concerns. To disrupt the play and find the Master are the important things, as Peter Ramsey said earlier. Maybe the Master is in the mine and using the crystals, If so, Peter, Mark and Andrew will find out. Isobel hopes they realise what they are up against here. Andrew will be all right, but Peter and Mark have never been in a situation like this before. Whatever they think the Master is, they are bound to be unprepared for the reality.
A feeling of calm steals over her. Events will unfold as they will, she thinks. Just as in the play. In her mind the play swells in importance, ritual repeated on ritual, century after century. Even in the calm of the church she can feel the excitement stirring. She becomes conscious of Twitchin fidgeting next to her and she opens her eyes and stands up. “How about that country drive, then?” she suggests brightly.
She watches him with a mixture of exasperation and affection as he wanders out ahead of her.
The lower, working levels of the mine are reached via a tiny elevator. When the door slides back Andrew, Peter and Mark find themselves looking down a narrow tunnels, sloping away from them at a shallow gradient, lit at intervals with the blue flicker of fluorescent lights. An inconstant rumble of machinery trembles the air around them and every so often there is the sharp knock of metal on stone.
“The miners,” Breit says needlessly. “There are several tunnels going off this one and all of them are being worked.”
Andrew pauses to stare down one of them as they pass. In the half-light he can see a couple of men working at the rock face. “How is the mine worked?” he asks. “Is it a case of round the clock shifts?”
“Not at all.” Breit pulls Mark back before he can start down the tunnel. “Sorry. I did say we shouldn’t disturb the miners when they are working. They are using heavy machinery and we don’t have the necessary safety equipment. No, to answer your question, work finishes here at eight o’clock every evening. We leave two people on site overnight, and others on call in case of emergency, but we’ve not had any problems yet. No doubt we could introduce a night shift if we need one to meet your requirement. Have you seen enough yet?”
“Our requirement is the entire output of the mine,” Peter tells him. He produces the contract he wrote up earlier and brandishes it like a weapon. “Shall we discuss this in your office?”
Breit is already shaking his head. “The entire output? I’m really not sure… We have ongoing contracts with purchasers, you understand. I wish I could help you gentlemen, but…”
“There will be adequate compensation,” Peter says.
Breit gives him a despairing look. “Herr Ramsey, it is not a matter of compensation. We cannot break existing contracts.” He takes the contract off him and flicks through it. “I will show this to the heads of the mining companies and get their opinions. But I do not think they will agree, so unless you are willing to alter your proposal I fear you have wasted your time here.”
The noise from the carnival drifts in through the open windows of the hotel. Professor Twitchin puts the finishing touch to his postcard and sits back.
‘Just like Oxfordshire, Steven,’ it says. ‘Mad locals with funny accents.’ It is addressed to the hospital where Side-step is lying in his unbroken coma. Twitchin sighs. Another thing to hold against the Master.
Anyway, he’d better get on if he wants to catch his old colleagues at work. Using the hotel phone he rings the archaeology department at London University. Getting through the usual pleasantries about the weather and his health, he asks about the village of Bad Schlachendorf. Have they anything on file about it. “Research papers, journals, um, you know. I’ve had a look at the castle but I wondered if there was another more ancient site. Has anyone ever done any excavation work here? Get back to me as soon as you can, will you?” He gives them the hotel phone number. Setting the receiver down carefully he glances across at Isobel. She is engrossed in the book about the mystery play. Twitchin heaves a sigh and settles down to wait.
Drinking coffee in the hotel lounge, one cup after another, Peter spends some time catching up on his email, sending a few short messages to people at the uni back home. His mind is still on the problem of Herr Breit and the mine. He’s going to need to investigate Breit’s house next, he reckons, and he’ll need all the help he can with that.
The Master must be in the mines. His mind, quickly coming up to caffeine overload, can’t let the thought go. All the purchasers of the crystal looked legitimate, there is no evidence of any crystal being siphoned off for other uses, but Breit refused to hear of signing an exclusive contract. Wouldn’t even wait to hear the details.
The Master must be behind it. That is the only explanation Peter can come up with. The crystal is getting to him somehow. He makes a mental note to ask Mark later to investigate the transportation arrangements. Maybe that’ll throw some light on the matter.
The phone rings.
“We’ve checked the journals for you, Professor,” the voice at the other end says. “I’m afraid we haven’t found anything. The castle is the only building of archaeological importance in the area and it’s fairly well established that it was built on top of the hill where it is because it was the easiest place to fortify. It never housed anything more than a small garrison. Apart from that, there’s the crystal mine which goes back hundreds of years and was important as a source of employment. It’s got an appalling safety record, by the way. The highest death rate of any mine of its type.”
Isobel does her best to shut out the professor’s voice, turning another page in her book. There is very little about the actual details of each stage of the play. These vary very much from year to year, it says, depending on the individual actors. Sometimes it is not even obvious what is supposed to be happening. Because of the numbers of participants, the play is not rehearsed as a whole, but the main players practise their parts and the rest of the ‘cast’ – which is most of the village – fit in around what they are doing, making appropriate responses. Each section of the play lasts between fifteen and thirty minutes, culminating in a very strong, symbolic action of what has just happened. The rest of it is a mix of dancing, mime and acrobatics, all very colourful.
Isobel puts the book down. It will be a nice change to take part in a play, she thinks.
A round of all the local pubs takes a couple of hours. Eventually the whole group minus Peter, Isobel and Twitchin end up in the village’s only nightclub. Andrew, with his blonde hair and semi-military looks draws a lot of female attention. So is Matt, to his embarrassment. John and Mickey keep up their system of playing the role of foreign tourists, moving rapidly from one group of people to the next, concentrating their efforts on the locals.
So far they have found out that local people favour German beer, that they all think prices are too high, and that everyone is looking forward to the play. More importantly, they discover that many people see the play as a way of ending the drought. A good performance will make the miracle of Pellam’s healing happen all over again. John can sense the feeling of hope around him; a light-headedness not entirely coming from the amount of alcohol being consumed.
In the nightclub, Mark and Sam find themselves sitting at a table together. “So, what do you think of the group?” Sam asks, shouting above the blare of the music. Even Mark has to admit that they’re unlikely to be overheard in this place – unless someone was standing right next to them which he’d notice. He shrugs.
“All right, I suppose.” He gives Sam a brief smile.
Pleased to get that much, and not taking the hint that Mark might prefer to be left alone, Sam rests his elbows on the table and grins at him. “I bet you’re a fan of Haagen Daaz Coffee Mocha Chip, too.”
John and Mickey have cornered a girl between them and are asking her about the carnival as they dance.
“It’s great,” she says. “I go every year. You should see it, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before, I promise.”
“We’ve seen it,” Mickey says, suddenly serious. He draws in a breath. “You been on the ghost train?”
She shivers and laughs. “Five times a day! It’s the best – really scary.” She leans in towards him, taking his hand and John’s in the same movement. “You know what they say… People have been for a ride and have disappeared completely. What do you think about that?”
Andrew stands with his back to the bar and surveys the room. Most of the shouted conversation going on is in German with a few bits of broken English thrown in. Generally, though, the music drowns all voices. Andrew smiles to himself. A typical night-club. He can see Mickey and John talking to some girl, Sam and Mark in conversation at a table by the entrance. Matt is leaning morosely against the far wall by himself, looking bored and ill.
Matt is feeling ill. His skin itches all over and his head is starting to pound with the bass beat of the music. People blur in and out of focus as he watches them. Gradually, without him really being aware of it, the room fades to mist. It glitters around him, fragments of light spinning him around, hurting his eyes to look at them. And then, in the middle of it, a pair of eyes gazing calmly back at him. Cold, like sharpened steel.
It is because Andrew is looking directly at Matt that he is the first to see him stagger sideways a step and then slide down the wall, unconscious.
August 15th midnight.
Twitchin, Isobel, Peter – the hotels.
The others – the village nightclub.
ISOBEL: Matt assures you he’s all right and coping. But it doesn’t take a lot to sense that he’s lying. His strength is failing faster than he’ll admit even to himself.
MATT: “So you don’t believe I’m an investigator,” Sam says. “That’s good. A bit of healthy scepticism never hurt anyone. Except maybe the Master. I don’t believe you’re one of the undead, either, despite appearances to the contrary.”
Extra (necessary at this point) information. You are completely unconscious, but you will recover soon, and feel considerably better. All you remember is the mist and the eyes watching you.
SAM: Matt doesn’t respond to your baiting. Come to think of it, he doesn’t look well at all. Maybe the heat is getting to him.
JOHN: You find it difficult to meditate. The noise from the carnival and the various pubs destroys your concentration even when you make it back to the hotel for a few quiet minutes. Your wolf totem is silent. All you get from the carnival is a sense of manic delight, as if people are determined to enjoy themselves no matter what. The spear holds a strange duality in your mind, its potential for destruction and healing equally balanced.