Mad About the Boy

A Darkish Comedy
Second in the Elmcombe series of stories, the first of which is 'The Elmcombe Art Show'

Mad about the boy,
I know it's stupid to be mad about the boy,
I'm so ashamed of it, but must admit
The sleepless nights I've had about the boy.
Will it ever cloy?
This odd diversity of misery and joy.
I'm feeling quite insane and young again
And all because I'm mad about the boy.

Music and Lyrics: Noel Coward (1929)

In the countryside the Goat God dances and plays upon his pipes, his furred haunches rising and falling in time to the rhythm, stamping the ground so that the very earth reverberates. He tosses his horns and around them his matted locks pitch and heave writhing as if they have a life of their own.

The wild atonal wailing of the pipes shrieks into the air and birds fly upwards from their shelter in the bushes and trees, screaming their alarm. In the fields the sheep and goats stir uneasily, smelling his musk, which kindles their brutish desires so that they sniff and snort between their partners' legs and mount each other in a promiscuous tup.

One hand holding his pipe, the other frotting the monstrous curved red pillar of his cock, he grins, his lips curling in carnal amusement at the wild havoc he is causing. As he ejaculates, he throws back his head and gives an abandoned and wanton shriek so that the very air itself seems to curdle with terror and lust.

It is the time of the Goat God, and all earth dances to his tune.

* * * * * *

Such a pleasant summer's day. Elmcombe, a village of honey-coloured limestone cottages, under the summer sun. Peace, tranquility. The inhabitants, tending flowers in their gardens, walking their dogs over the sheep-strewn fields, in extremis - because it was after all the placid afternoon - making purchases at the local Co-op. Who could guess that such a rural scene would be so disrupted and so soon?

Yvette Fletcher-Bell in her garden was deadheading her roses, pink Zepherin Druhine, ivory Albertine, the faded blossoms falling to the ground executed by her secateurs. She was followed obediently by her husband, Hubert, who, slightly wheezing, bent and picked up each of the fallen flower heads and deposited them in a plastic bag.

Peter Preston watched the scene idly from the bedroom window of his cottage over the road. He'd been doing the dusting and had intended to make the bed, but his cat, Scruffy, was so comfortably ensconced in the middle and, Preston knew, would be most upset if she was turned off for any bed-making operation to proceed.

Mrs Fletcher-Bell, in deference to the brightness of the sun was wearing a white, rather shapeless dress which did very little for her figure as it emphasised her slight embonpoint. It was matched - the dress that is - by a white hat, the wide brim of which, she impatiently moved aside every so often as it obviously impeded her view.

Suddenly Preston saw both of them straighten and look at the figure of a young man who was walking along the road. His face was turned slightly away from Preston so all he could make out at first was the slim athleticism of his body, as seen from the back, his body lean and elegant, his buttocks moving easily under the cloth of his jeans, his shoulders, broad, his waist, narrow. He had blond hair but saying that gives no idea of the real nature of the colour. There are many blonds observable in summer - blonds bleached almost white, dirty blonds, blonds with hair the colour of old gold, gilded youths back from expensive holidays in the tropics or expensive sessions at the hair stylists - but none matched the rich gold that caught and reflected the sunshine in a way which Preston had never seen before. He hoped for a moment that, whoever it was, wouldn't turn round in case the face was a disappointment.

But at the moment whoever it was, was talking to Mrs Fletcher-Bell who had adopted an expression Preston had never seen before, her head almost coyly tipped to the side, a blossom, held in her hand and slightly extended almost as if it were a gift.

Obviously the young man had asked a question and Mrs Fletcher-Bell was answering, pointing over the road to a cottage, next door but one to Preston's own. The young man, he must be in his early twenties or perhaps late teens, turned and Preston was not disappointed. On the contrary, though beauty is not a word generally ascribed to males, he was beautiful, without being effeminate. It was a quirky beauty, not in the conventional sense, lacking complete symmetry, one eyebrow slightly higher than the other, his nose, not exactly straight and mouth turned up in an entrancing smile.

Preston couldn't analyse exactly what he felt but his heart gave a flutter and he stepped back in case the boy should look up and see him staring. When he looked out again he was gone, hidden by the wall of the house and though Preston peered down and round, he couldn't see him.

The Fletcher-Bells had stopped their deadheading halfway down the row, Yvette going indoors followed by her husband, Hubert. He reappeared a moment later with a glass of some golden liquid in his hand. He slumped down in a garden chair and looked miserable. Yvette didn't reappear.

Preston found the incident vaguely disturbing though he didn't want to analyse exactly why. He probably wouldn't see the boy again. Best forget all about it.

Nevertheless he went out, using the pleading eyes of his collie, Jess, who wanted a walk as an excuse. He crossed the road.

"Morning, Hubert," said Preston.

Hubert grunted. He was never a great conversationalist. Preston hovered. He wasn't sure how to bring the conversation round to the stranger. It would just be too crass to ask who the guy was whom they had been talking to. Would Hubert volunteer the information on his own? Apparently not for he said nothing.

Then Mrs Fletcher-Bell emerged looking almost eager but paused when she saw who it was talking to Hubert. "Oh, good morning, Peter," she said and sounded almost disappointed. "I thought Robert had come back."

"Robert?" asked Preston. "Is that the young man you were just talking to?"

She gave him a sharp look. "Ah. I sensed the lace curtains twitching."

Preston felt aggrieved. He had seen the meeting purely by chance, but he controlled a sharp response. "A good-looking young man," he said encouragingly.

"She likes the tall dark sort," volunteered Hubert from the depths of his glass.

Preston looked at Mrs Fletcher-Bell with a certain amount of scepticism. "Not very dark," he said. "I've never seen a blonder guy. And he wasn't all that tall."

"Dark eyes," murmured Mrs Fletcher-Bell, "Dark and brooding."

Preston hadn't been near enough to make out the young man's eye colour but he couldn't imagine anyone with hair that blond to have 'dark brooding' eyes. Nevertheless Yvette was entitled to her own imaginative interpretation, so he just asked, "Who was he?"

"Robert Shepherd. New employee at the Castle," said Hubert, moved at last to respond. "He's in one of the castle's cottages over there, next to yours."

The gaze of all three swivelled across the road and stared at the blank windows. No head, whether blond or dark was visible and it was with a feeling almost of disappointment that they looked away. Even Jess whined, though that was probably because they were hanging around talking and not walking across the fields. She hadn't a great deal of patience for such social foolishness.

"Come on, then," said Preston. "Let's go and find a rabbit."

He turned to give a last look at the cottage and was aware that the Fletcher-Bells were also gazing across the road.

* * * * * *

"What do you think of the new bit of gaol-bait that's moved into the neighbourhood?" asked Fred.

Fred Sheldon and Rick Tarr owned Beesmoor House, just along the road from Preston. They let out rooms as bed and breakfast for tourists and lived in a built-on extension at the back. Preston called in quite frequently for coffee and a gossipy chat.

"What's this about gaol-bait?" asked Rick, Fred's partner, coming in to the kitchen, accompanied as always by their three dogs, a pug, a terrier and a dalmatian.

"That new kid who's living next door to Peter," said Fred.

"He's not that young," said Preston.

"I doubt whether he's sixteen yet - and the way he waggles his bum. It's more than a respectable homosexual can stand," said Fred.

Preston still hadn't met the newcomer face to face close-to as it were but he couldn't imagine how that face he'd seen across the road and the obviously mature body could have been mistaken for that of a 'schoolboy'.

"Are we talking about the same guy?" asked Preston. "Tall, very blond, sexy, good shoulders, narrow hips, tight jeans and a big package?"

Rick looked severe. "I didn't realise you were a chickenhawk," he said.

Preston protested. "No. No. I'm not."

"Only joking," said Rick. "You go ahead. See if you can tempt him into bed. A frozen lolly and a stick of bubble gum would probably do the trick."

"I haven't even met Robert. I've only seen him briefly from over the road," said Preston, coldly.

"He's choice," said Fred. looking vaguely abstracted.

Rick sighed. "There you are," he said. "Someone else smitten."

"What about you?" asked Fred. "You were positively salivating when you met him yesterday."

Preston sensed a quarrel was about to break out and made his farewells.

On the way home he pondered on the differing perceptions his neighbours had had of the newcomer. Strange, he thought, but perhaps everyone put their own personal attractions onto anyone they fancied. Was he doing the same? Perhaps Robert wasn't the golden boy he'd imagined.

Thoughts like this and indeed the whole Robert affair became insignificant almost immediately when the Castle launched its grand super plan. And now I must digress for a couple of paragraphs.

For years, of course, the Castle had opened its doors to visitors, on payment of a fairly exorbitant entrance fee. Originally a Tudor building with associations to Henry VIII, it had been severely damaged in the Civil War. Almost a ruin it had been rescued by a couple of Worcester glovers and rebuilt so that it was now more Victorian than Tudor.

Now the present owner, Lady Ashdown, announced that plans were afoot to expand, to turn a farm building into a theme park, to open a restaurant and shops, to create a new car park and to turn a narrow road into a two-way bus route.

The village was outraged, the shopkeepers afraid that the new shops would take away business from their own concerns. Environmentalists said the new road would draw more traffic into the already overcrowded narrow village roads. The Historical Heritage Society maintained that the new car park was planned on a field where there were Anglo-Saxon remains, and naturalists said the barn was the home of bats, a protected species and shouldn't be developed in any way.

The inhabitants of Elmcombe polarised their views.

"I have a certain sympathy for Lady Ashdown," said Susan Crownhatch, leading mezzo-soprano in the church choir, as she and Preston walked with their dogs, Angel and Jess, alongside the Beesmoor Brook. "It must be an enormous expense to keep that big pile of a castle in some sort of order, but she's going at it in the wrong way."

"It's probably not her anyway," said Preston. "She's never at the Castle. Probably some idea invented by her estate manager."

Jess raced out of the stream followed by Angel. Both dogs got as close as they could to their owners and shook themselves vigourously.

"Wouldn't be the manager," said Susan after they had cursed the dogs. "He's lazy. All these new ideas would give him much too much work."

"So who then?" asked Preston.

"There's a new young man joined the force," said Susan. "Probably bursting with new ideas."

"You don't mean Robert?"

Susan gave him a curious look. "Nice young man with a moustache," she said.

"Blond," said Preston. "No moustache."

"I think you'll find he has," said Susan. She sounded almost possessive in her attitude.

Preston held his tongue, wondering how often Susan had met the young man, and threw a stick into the stream. Both dogs plunged in after it.

"There's a lot of opposition in the town," said Preston. "There's even a demo being organised, banners, placards and everything. Will you go?"

"Wouldn't miss it for worlds," said Susan.

* * * * * *

The day of the demo dawned bright and clear, which sounds like a cliché but that's what it did, so why not say it? Everyone had been urged to meet outside the now derelict farm, site of the bats, as that was where the County Council would arrive to look at the area and make their decisions.

New rumours had spread that the public footpaths which criss-crossed the castle grounds were planned to be closed and this brought out even more protesters. Of course the owners of the Castle had no rights of their own to close footpaths. Only the County Council could do that, but it was felt that many members of the council would be in the pockets of the castle, that 'back-handers' would have been passed, that the closure of all the walks was imminent so that, by the time Preston arrived, Jess firmly on the lead - she wasn't very good in crowds - a sizeable group had gathered.

Some had placards saying 'say NO to the castle'. One independent soul with a taste for history had one 'A bas les aristos'. Rick and Fred were there together with Mrs Fletcher-Bell in her best fur coat and pearls. Hubert, though, was nowhere to be seen. Preston thought he heard Susan's booming voice coming from the centre of a small group with a banner hoisted above which said 'Keep the footpaths open'. A small, undernourished man with somewhat shifty eyes walked around uttering "Save the bats" in an appropriately squeaky voice.

A lone policeman stood at the T-junction crossing the little road which was causing some of the controversy, much too small to allow the two-way passage of coaches, argued the protesters. For a demonstration held on a Thursday morning, when most people of working age were at their jobs, it was a good turnout even though many of the protesters were grey-haired or bald. Grandparents had brought their grandchildren and many had dogs. The policeman looked a little warily at one Doberman which was almost as big as its short, silver-haired female owner.

There was a buzz of excitement as a coach almost rounded the corner but then pulled up to a halt as it realised the road, with cars parked on both sides, wasn't wide enough to take it. "Two way coach traffic," shouted someone. "You'll be lucky."

The back end of the coach still stuck out across the main road and traffic coming from both directions couldn't get past. Someone impatiently began to sound their horn. The crowd cheered and the policeman began to look flustered. The faces of the Council members inside the coach peered out and looked uncomfortable.

The policeman gestured to the driver to back out but of course he couldn't as there was no clear space behind him. Clearly at a loss, the policeman could be seen walking round the back to try to make the cars move out of the way, then, when he realised this was impossible, speaking anxiously into his walky-talky to get help - or advice.

Eventually he spoke to the council members and asked them to get out which they did, though rather sheepishly. It seemed as if they weren't sure whether this crowd of senior citizens was dangerous or not. Hesitantly they walked through and the crowd followed on their heels.

The demonstration moved towards the farm and the castle and the policeman was just about able to wave the coach into the road and park.

Preston was about to follow when he realised there was someone standing next to him. He turned to face the golden-haired young man, Robert.

"Isn't this fun," Robert said, his eyes gleaming with a sort of mischievous glee. And they weren't dark and brooding, but of a glorious hyacinthine blue, and he didn't have a moustache either, and he certainly wasn't a kid. Not far into his twenties certainly but that body - there was nothing school kid or gangly about that, no adolescent spots erupted from the smooth tan of his face, no grease or lankness about that golden hair.

Preston realised he was staring. "Yes it is," he said in answer and then felt it was inadequate.

"I'm Robert Shepherd," the young man said and held out his hand.

"Peter Preston," said Preston taking it and, as he did so, experiencing a sort of shock rather like the one when you stroke a cat on a nylon rug, a sudden burst of static electricity.

"I haven't met you yet. Let's go and have a coffee," said Robert, smiling.

Preston knew he wouldn't say no, but all the same he looked around as if to say, 'I'm here with all these others on the demo. I can't run off and leave them.'

Almost as if he had heard, Robert said, "It's all over now. The protest's made. They've got the message. I need a coffee. You wouldn't want me to have it on my own?"

Preston certainly wouldn't. He gave the departing crowd what he meant to be an apologetic glance. Most of them were already down the road fifty yards. Only Rick had turned back to look where Preston had got to. Softly, over the sound of the demo's slogans, Preston heard the word, "Slut", sibilant and emphatic.

* * * * * *

Back in Robert's room, coffee forgotten, with the French windows leading onto the garden and the wood behind, Robert went to Preston and kissed him, a rough, brutal kiss that was almost bruising in its intensity, crushing Preston's lips against his teeth. They stood face to face, their bodies inches apart, Preston's arms hung meekly down his sides. Robert grabbed Preston's shoulders as he stared into the other's blue, blue eyes. Blue they were yet in the last light of the evening sun, they seemed to glow with a yellowish tint.

The shadows were half way up the garden now. The scent of honeysuckle was almost overwhelmed by another, goatish smell. A sexual tension crackled in the air or perhaps it was the electricity from the storm clouds now hanging over the house. Robert drew Preston to him and their loins touched. Robert's hands dropped from his shoulders to grasp Preston's buttocks and pull him even closer so that their genitals, hard and hardening, were pressed together through the material of their trousers. Robert's fingers explored the cleft between Preston's buttocks.

"Not here. Not now," protested Preston.


Preston looked round. "The windows are open. Anyone could see," he said.

"There's no one there. No one to see," said Robert.

And indeed only the shadow-tips of the tallest treetops were on the ledge of the door. Perhaps one was just inside. The honeysuckle scent was entirely subsumed into the goatish reek. The last rays of the setting sun reached out from behind the wood, red, angry. Again there was a snuffling sound.

"What's that noise?" asked Preston.

"What noise?".

Preston heard padding all around as if leopards prowled the length and breadth of the room, and hard clipping sounds like cloven hooves tapping on the floorboards. He breathed in and then out deeply through his nostrils.

Robert snuffled like an animal exploring an interesting smell.

They were still standing face to face, chest against chest, loins pressed together. Only Robert's legs were apart so that Preston stood inside his partner's. A sound broke the air which has momentarily stilled - the calm before the storm. It resembled the wind blowing down an organ pipe. There were two notes, two solitary notes, high-pitched and tremulous. They seemed oddly apart as if neither belonged to the scale of the other. One high and the other lower but discordant so that the ear drum, hearing them both together, felt abraded, as if the very sound scraped something deep inside the head.

Preston shuddered at the sound and the movement of Robert's body against his aroused him.

A third note squealed its way between the other two. A pause and then there were three more so that the six notes formed a tune but one which raised the hairs at the nape of Preston's neck, set vibrating some primitive nerve endings at the base of his spine, weakened the sinews in his legs so that he wanted to run in a drunken panic away, away from the sound.

But Robert held him fast and, whereas the tune, if it could be called that, terrified Preston, it provoked Robert into a mounting state of sexual turmoil. Wild urges were clamouring to be released. Preston's quivering body pressed against Robert aroused his cock. The shirt which Preston was wearing was an unnecessary encumbrance between their flesh. He tore at it while Preston protested.

"What are you doing? That's my best shirt."

The protests were ineffectual and the material rent from top to bottom while the music played faster and faster. Robert slavered. Clothes were an irrelevance.

Robert scrabbled at the zip of Preston's trousers, found the metal tag and dragged it down reaching in to find Preston's cock restricted by the soft warmth of his underpants.

The sun disappeared behind the trees. Where it had gone, there was a halo of dark red-gold which seemed to shine up from the depths of the earth as if with a last despairing gasp, The piping was suddenly punctuated by sharp cracks of thunder and a jagged bolt of lightning streaked from west to east across the sky. The first few drops of rain fell, fat and heavy, followed by a downpour which slapped against the leaves of the trees. They nodded and tossed in protest. The rain drummed against the roof slates and coursed down and through the windows soaking the floor.

"Wait!" shouted Preston, and then, as if looking for a valid reason, "The rain's coming in."

And other things were coming in, not that Preston could see them. There was a feeling of pressure, of bodies filling the space around them, warm, hungry bodies, panting, and giving off smells of wet fur, or hair or skin. Unwashed bodies, rank and malodorous, smelling of earth and sweat and even less agreeable stenches, faecal, sexual. And still the music played, in its wild, unmelodic, discordant mode, stretching the nerves, grating the nails and teeth, echoing in the cavities of the brain.

Preston's scalp prickled as he struggled to escape, then suddenly didn't want to. Robert's cock stood on end as he struggled to strip off the obstructing clothing. He had torn off Preston's trousers, ripped away his underpants and somehow divested his own clothes so that both were naked and able to feel, if not to see, the pelts of whatever presences surrounded them. It was pitch black outside and Preston and Robert were just pale struggling figures in the livid blue-white flashes of the lightning.

Without knowing it, Robert was snarling his lust and Preston a fear which was almost longing. The room screamed with sexual abandon as satyrs and centaurs coupled with each other and the dryads and hamadryads of the trees. Preston was turned and entered. There was a crescendo of animal noises, brute and human indistinguishable. Faunus, Silenus and his fauns, Bacchus, Pan, Silvanus, Cemmunos, the Green Man, Dionysus and his Maenads. "Robert! Robert! You're killing me." Squeals of lust. Animal grunts, heavy breathing, whickers and whinnies, harsh coughs and snorts.

Combining into a final orgasmic howl.

And then silence. . . . .

* * * * * *

It had been a most curious week in Elmcombe.

James Archer's dog, Meg, advanced on the flock of sheep in response to her master's whistle. Move them up to the top of the field, thought James. What's the matter with the beasts? The sheep, instead of running off had converged into a tight group, turning to face the dog who, not unnaturally, was a little bemused. The sheep in front pawed their ground. Meg barked but this only seemed to enrage the flock and they advanced on the dog who whined and looked back at her master.

James shouted to her to go on but she only lay down and looked very unhappy, ears laid flat and an unnatural snarl twisting her mouth. The sheep continued their advance and the dog at last gave up and fled, coming back to her master and cowering behind him, her tail between her legs. James could not believe his eyes.

The shepherd raised his stick and shouted at the flock but this only seemed to attract their attention to him and they herded towards him. He kicked out as the leading one came within range and the sheep opened its mouth showing yellow teeth and bit him in the leg. He yelled and the other sheep milled around biting and pawing at the ground. Meg whined and then howled as she received a bite.

Flailing his stick wildly and kicking out, the shepherd went down under a woolly onslaught of teeth and hooves while Meg alternately growled and then whimpered on the outskirts of the melee.

It was fortunate that James was not seriously injured.

* * * * * *

Mr and Mrs Fisher lived in Briar Cottage with their thirteen year old daughter, Emily. She was an unprepossessing girl with a violent temper and a selfish temperament, and had become increasingly difficult to cope with as she approached puberty.

She had just had a screaming tantrum and stormed up stairs leaving her father and mother staring blankly at each other.

"Perhaps it's just a phase she's going through," suggested Mr Fisher.

"I don't think I can cope with much more of it," said Mrs Fisher.

Mr Fisher was about to suggest they get some professional advice when out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of a movement. For a moment he thought it could have been a mouse running along the mantelpiece but when he went over to look, there was nothing alive there. The clock, a huge ugly old black marble timepiece, a legacy from a now-dead great aunt, stood in the middle, ponderously ticking away the seconds.

Various photographs in cheap frames of the family in happier times - Mrs Fisher was a great one for taking, and preserving, holiday snaps - were arranged on either side and at each end stood a matching pair of tall vases. "What are you looking for?" asked Mrs Fisher.

"Nothing. I thought I saw a mouse or something - but there's nothing here."

He sat down, and as he did so, one of the vases started rocking and then tipped over the edge to smash on the tiled surround of the fireplace below.

Mrs Fisher screamed, more from surprise than fear.

"What the . . . !" said Mr Fisher.

"You must have knocked it as you moved," said Mrs Fisher.

"No I didn't."

"You're not going to tell me it fell off of its own accord."

At that moment, the vase from the other end did just that.

And then the photographs in their frames, one after the other, started hurtling across the room as if thrown by an unseen hand. This time Mrs Fisher was too terrified even to make a sound.

Then the huge old clock started to move. It juddered towards the edge of the mantelpiece and Mr Fisher, even though he thought it an ugly thing, dashed over to try to save it. He was just too late. As he arrived there, the heavyweight toppled off and, though he tried to catch it, the clock crashed to the stone hearth and shattered.

In her room upstairs, hearing the noises from below, Emily Fisher smirked.

* * * * * *

St Michael's, Elmcombe's parish church, is built from local Cotswold stone but in a variety of styles. It was started in 1245 so the records state, and the chancel with its apse has tall lancet windows in the Early English manner. This is the earliest part as the previous building of possible Norman date was completely demolished for the new church. Later, when the town became rich from the wool trade, the nave was rebuilt in the Decorated style, the windows showing the typical fanciful tracery and ornamentation. This part of the church therefore is much lighter. The invention and use of flying buttresses enabled the walls to be thinner with more space allocated to the windows and the clerestory. The narrow pillars soar into the vaulted roof together with the voices of the choir.

Susan Crownhatch enjoyed singing in the choir; it calmed her when she was anxious and it increased her joy when she was happy. The Sunday after her evening with Robert Shepherd, she raised up her voice to the Lord. They sang the Introit, as they processed from the vestry, around the church and down the nave from the west window towards the altar.

As she walked, she imagined the feel of his hand on her breast and then wondering if perhaps this wasn't the appropriate place for such physical recollections, concentrated on her singing. "Introibo ad altare dei." All of a sudden her voice soared, performing a variation on the tune which was unfamiliar to the choir - and indeed to the congregation. The other voices faltered but still Susan's rose and rose. She hit a top C - way beyond her normal range - and it came out pure and clear.

The other voices became silent and still Susan sang, her pure tones floating up to the vaulted roof, echoing through the dusty, mote-filled spaces and filling the nave and transepts with the sound. The organ reached the end and stopped but Susan continued, rejoicing in her own way until they took her outside through the scarcely muted buzz of conversation as everyone discussed the phenomenon.

* * * * * *

Rick and Fred were quarrelling. This wasn't a particularly unusual event - it's impossible to live with someone for twenty-five years and not fall out from time to time. Fred was a volatile character and was always finding fault with something, the activities of the B & B visitors, the dogs, the weather, while Rick was placid and usually ignored Fred's squabbling, smoothing all the jagged edges so that quarrels seldom lasted long.

Unusually this time it was Rick who seemed upset. "Have you cleaned the rooms yet?" he asked.

Fred, who was drawing on an art pad, grunted.

Bella, the Dalmatian, recognised the signs and got into her basket in the corner of the room, lying down and trying to make herself as small as possible. The other two dogs, less sensitive to atmosphere were play-fighting over a rubber bone.

"Does that mean yes or no?" asked Rick. "I can't do it all myself."

"I've never asked you to," said Fred, shading something on the pad with a 4B.

"If they're not done by lunchtime, you know the family will be back and stuck in their room for the rest of the day." He looked out of the window, noticing the dark clouds massing. It would start to rain at any moment and that would probably mean the guests (as they euphemistically called them) would be watching TV once the storm broke.

Fred grunted again and drew a delicate line.

Rick moved towards him trying to see what Fred was drawing. He flipped the cover close but not quickly enough. Rick had recognised the youthful features of Robert Shepherd and that the figure was tall, lissom and naked.

"Is that from life?" he demanded

"Could be."

"Well," he said, and his voice was just this side of hysteria, "sleep with him if you must."

Fred looked up and there was a smile (of triumph?) twisting his lips. "I already have," he said.

Rick said, "There's no need to crow," he said nastily. "So have I."

There was a snarl from Wilma or Petra. Suddenly the play was over, they were fighting, growling and trying to bite each other. Bella whined unhappily.

* * * * * *

Mrs Fletcher-Bell wandered around her garden as if she were in a dream. She touched the rose blooms with a gentle hand, lowering her head to smell their scents. Then, with a sudden twist of her hand, she twisted the stem, hardly noticing the cruel way a thorn scratched her skin and the blood running into her palm. She sighed deeply as if she were reliving the tortured agonies of adolescence.

Her husband, Hubert was slumped in a deck chair and slurped from a glass of whisky and soda, though from the colour, there was more whisky in it than soda.

Surreptitiously she glanced across at the windows of the cottage where Robert lived but they remained blank as the dregs of disappointment.

"Lookin' for someone?" asked Hubert.

"Of course not," she said and thought, 'God, how I hate him'.

Hubert made a noise in his throat which could have meant practically anything. He thought back to two evenings ago when Yvette had been out, when there had been a ring at the door, when Robert had been waiting on the threshold. When they had had a few drinks together and then they had gone upstairs together. He smiled a twisted smile and thought, 'God how I hate her'.

* * * * * *

Preston was walking across the fields, Jess by his side. Suddenly the dog's ears pricked up and she raced towards a figure Preston immediately recognised. He wasn't sure though whether he wanted to meet him.

Then Robert was standing in front of him, smiling. He bent his head and kissed Preston on the lips. Through the sweet scent of clover and lime flowers, Preston thought he could sense the goatish smell of musk.

"Isn't it fun?" said Robert, a mischievous glint in his eye.

"I thought it was at first," said Preston, "but now I realise that my friends are falling out with each other, families are breaking up, even the village is at war with the castle. It isn't fun any more."

Robert looked taken aback, rather like a child who has been enjoying himself doing something which his parents disapproved of, and had given him a sudden sharp slap. His eyes shadowed and grew dark. For a moment Preston could see how Fred and Rick could have seen him as a young child, and Yvette as dark and brooding. He was all things to all men - and women.

"Let's go to your house?" said Robert, in a tone of almost pleading. "We could have fun there."

"And upset Mrs Fletcher-Bell even more," said Preston. "No, Robert, it's time you moved on, worked your magic somewhere else though I feel a bit sorry for whoever lives there."

It seemed for a moment that there was sadness in those eyes which looked at him so seductively and Preston was almost persuaded to give in but then he saw Robert's eyes clear. The look of mischief returned. "A new place, new people," he said. "Yes, that would be fun. Would you like to come with me."

Preston almost considered it but then he laughed. "I think you'll do better on your own," he said. "And leave us to get back to normality."

He watched Robert turn and walk away. There was a spring in his step and for a moment those elegant, jean-clad, legs almost looked furry and had a curious animal shape to them.

"Boring normality," said Preston rather sadly.

* * * * * *

Date started: 26, Saturday June, 2004
Words: 5,980

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