THE CHILDREN OF THE LOVE-VAMPIRES
We arrived in a long curving corridor. We followed the curve around—until someone appeared from the opposite direction. She gasped in delight, we gasped in revulsion. It was Urnea.
She was now so bloated, she looked ready to burst. Her face was a mass of red blotches. Even the whites of her eyes were suffused with blood. She stretched out her arms to us in a coaxing, loving gesture.
We turned on our heels and fled. Urnea lolloped along behind us, calling out at the top of her voice.
‘Here they are! Our dearest darlings! Cumsy-wumsy-mumsy!’
We passed the flight of stairs and kept going. At the far end of the corridor was a single wooden door, which stood invitingly open. We rushed through and swung it shut.
This time there was no bolt. Horace and Lord Sain leaned with their shoulders against the door-panels.
‘Find something heavy!’ shouted Lord Sain. ‘Something to put against the door!’
Ingel Brankel swept his Illuminator round the room. We were in an enormous dormitory with a hundred iron beds. Beside each bed was a numbered locker and a bedside table.
‘Use the beds!’ cried Raveena.
With help from the Reverend Squench, she propelled the nearest bed across the floor and wedged it tightly against the door. Horace on his own pushed a second bed into position behind the first.
Urnea twisted and shook the doorknob. Then she began to thump on the panels, still calling out at the top of her voice.
‘Let’s go,’ said Lord Sain. ‘Before they all arrive.’
Again he took the lead, with Brankel at his side. The occupants of the dormitory seemed to have vanished, but there were children’s toys scattered over the floor. Wooden building blocks, crayons, painted animals—as though dropped in a hurry a minute ago.
We hastened along the central alley between the beds. I thought I could hear faint sounds of childish tittering. I remembered the young lisping child behind the bedroom wall. Were they spying on us again?
In the middle of the dormitory was a magnificent doll’s house, almost three feet high. We detoured around it—everyone except Fliss. She couldn’t resist stopping for a look.
‘Come on!’ Linaeus called out over his shoulder.
‘Wait! The roof is on hinges! I’m going to see what’s inside!’
She swung the roof open and let out a scream. She dropped the roof with a crash and fled.
‘Horrible, horrible!’ she cried as she caught us up. ‘There’s a baby in there!’
At that very moment, the doors of the lockers flew open all around the dormitory. Inside every locker was a baby. They were swollen and naked, squeezed in like squashed balloons. Small chubby hands extended towards us, small bloated digits wiggled in the air.
‘The babies of the love-vampires!’ exclaimed the Reverend Squench.
The diminutive red rings of their mouths opened and closed, opened and closed. They made a wet burbling sound.
But the tittering came from somewhere else. There was no mistaking it now. Louder and louder, not babies but children.
Then Ingel Brankel lifted his arm. The light from the Illuminator angled up towards the ceiling. High overhead hung a hundred naked children.
They had packed themselves into the hollows between the ribs of the vault. They were like clustering pink cherubs, suspended without visible means of support. For a long moment we gazed, transfixed. Their sound of their tittering whispered in ripples above us.
Then they began to drop. First one, then another, then more and more. In soft fleshy blobs they rained down upon us.
Plop! Plop! Plop!
Some landed on the floor, some on the beds and lockers. We ran for the door at the other end of the dormitory. We dodged from side to side with our arms wrapped over our heads
Plop! Plop! Plop! Plop! Plop! Plop!
We escaped from the dormitory into another room. Raveena closed the door on the bizarre deluge. We stood for a moment recovering our breath. Mewling whimpers of disappointment came from behind the door.