172. In The Huddle

No plan is perfect. There’s always a chance a great idea will flounder, just as there’s a chance a dumb one will flourish. One thing’s for sure, though—you can’t call a plan successful if you never get to the end of it.

If we ended up dead, then I would loop back to the beginning and have to do it all again. If I managed to get back to this point, it would just happen again. This is why time travel is so stupid. Nothing matters if everything resets again and again.

288 flew off to speak to his fellow converts to the Church of the Poison Mind, or whatever it was going to be called. I fully expected it to be a fully established religion a thousand years from now, possibly with me as a saint. Praise be to me.

I sat down with my back to the stall wall. There had to be a way round the minor obstacle of us getting killed. Hiding was my first thought. Let them all have their big moment while we crawled into a hole and hoped they didn’t find us. I know, hero of myth and legend is clearly my destiny.

Jenny didn’t sit down next to me, which is what she would normally do, she sat with her back to the opposing wall. Her knees were pulled up to her chest and her eyes peered at me over her kneecaps.

“What?” I said, knowing it wasn’t an approving look I was getting.

“You were a bit harsh.”

I shrugged. There were more pressing matters on my mind. “I thought you knew I was like that. You said you didn’t expect me to change.”

“I don’t,” said Jenny. “I didn’t expect you to get worse within five minutes of mentioning it, though.” Her head tilted and her eyes slid away from me towards the end of the stall.

I followed her gaze. Standing in the opening were the other four members of our party. All I needed, a complaint to the management.

“Can this wait?” I asked. “Only I think I was finally about to get lucky with wassername.”

“When have you ever not got lucky with me?” said wassername.

Claire rolled her eyes. “If the sounds you two make every night are anything to go by, you could use a little less luck. Maybe the rest of us might be able to get some sleep.”

Amazing how quickly you can go from front foot to back. This wasn’t the complaint I was expecting.

“You should have said something,” I said, the heat in my face rising. “I didn’t realise we were so noisy.”

“Not both of you,” said Maurice. “Mainly just her.”

“It’s not the noise so much,” added Dudley, “it’s more the length of time it goes on for. Sometimes I wonder what you can possibly be doing for so long.”

They say familiarity breeds contempt, but I must be the only person whose contempt breeds familiarity. Way too much familiarity. They spoke about my sex life (yes, I had one, believe me I’m just as surprised as you) as though they were talking about my cooking. Actually, they’d probably be more tactful when it came to food preparation.

“Don’t be too impressed,” said Jenny. “It takes so long because he keeps stopping to ask for instructions. Where does this go? Is it supposed to look like that? Oh, my shoulder. The actual sex only takes a few seconds.”

Ladies and gentlemen, my beloved girlfriend.

“You’re a terrible liar,” I said.

She smiled at me, which, even though it was dark and malicious, still lifted my spirits. “Do you mean terrible as in I’m not very good at it, or terrible meaning my lies are horrific?”

My mouth curled to one side and then the other. “A little from column A, a little from column B.”

The group had slowly moved into the stall and were now within touching distance. Something appeared to be up.

“You know, we aren’t the only ones here,” said Claire. “There’s over a hundred other people who are going to die if we don’t do something.”

“Then,” I said, “they’re going to die. They weren’t forced here, you know? Just look at their faces, they’re fucking delighted. Dying’s no big whoop for them, they do it all the time. They actually want this.”

Claire sat down on one side of me, Flossie sat down on the other. Their partners took up positions beside them. A pincer movement. I looked from my left to my right. If an attack was incoming, no can defend.

Claire made the first move. She put her arms around me. Flossie did the same for her side. The guys moved in around them so we were one big heap.

This is what happens when you broadcast old episodes of Friends, 24-7. American imperialism at its worst.

“Erm,” I said from under a teepee of flesh. These people hadn’t showered in some time. “What are you doing.” It was deeply uncomfortable and unpleasant. Deeply.

“We know how hard it is for you,” said Claire into my neck.

“We are here for yo’,” mumbled Flossie.

“Yeah, man,” said Maurice. “You can count on us.” Shame on him for taking part in this travesty.

“All for one and all that,” said Dudley. I expected him at least to be too full of shame and embarrassment to subject me to such lewd behaviour. And he called himself an Englishman!

From between the arms wrapped around me, I could see Jenny smirking.

“It’s alright,” said Flossie from somewhere near my armpit. “Ah’m sure that Dorma will save them.”

Her words triggered a memory. “What do you mean?”

Flossie’s red face emerged from out of the mound. “‘Cos he said he’d send the big fella.”

That was right. He was going to send in Commander Varg during the welding. He knew that’s when the masters would be at their weakest; the best time to attack them.

“Shit. We have to stop them.” I pushed everyone off me and staggered to my feet. If Varg’s troops engaged with the golems when the golems were trying to take care of the masters, it would be a classic military fubar. The only ones to benefit would be the masters.

I left my well-meaning bunch of muppets in the stall and rushed to the one shared by Phil and David.

Phil sat in a corner in cross-legged yoga pose with his eyes closed. David was lying with his hands behind his head.

“You have to stop Dorma,” I blurted out.

Phil slowly opened his eyes and David sat up. Neither looked particularly interested in what I was saying. That’s the trouble with chewing people out and treating them like children; makes it very hard to ask them for favours.

“Stop him doing what?” said Phil, his voice an unimpressed drawl. If you factored in that they were both in their thirties and I wasn’t even twenty yet, it was hardly surprising they didn’t jump up eager to do my bidding.

“He’s sending Varg to attack the masters during the welding. They don’t know the golems are on our side. They’ll just get in the way, maybe even stop them being able to finish the masters off.”

Despite our differences, surely even they could see we had to stop the attack.

Phil shrugged. “How do you suggest we contact them? And even if we could, they don’t follow our orders.”

“What about Yuqi?” I said. “Can’t you contact her through meditation or whatever.”

Phil looked at me with utter disdain. “No. Why don’t you try it? I’m sure someone as accomplished at everything as you can achieve Nirvana on the first attempt.”

Sarcasm aside, Phil had a good point. I actually had a way to contact Yuqi. “Okay, thanks, I will.” I ran back to the stall where the others were in the middle of a discussion, probably about me or, more likely, the ramifications of Dumbledore being gay. Fucking nerds.

I dived onto Jenny and started rooting around in her clothes.

“In front of everyone?” said Jenny. “You’re getting bold. I like it. Bit to the left.”

I found the crystal ball and yanked it out. I gave it a quick polish with my sleeve. Not sure that had any effect but it felt like the right thing to do.

“What are you doing with that?” Jenny asked suspiciously.

“I need to talk to Yuqi. Back in a minute.”

A hand clamped onto my wrist. “I’m coming with you.” It wasn’t a request. Not that I minded. Clingy girlfriends are a pain, except when they insist on fighting your demons for you.

“Fine by me,” I said. A few seconds later, blackness surrounded me.

I looked around. Jenny was standing next to me, glowing sword in hand. There was nothing else apart from the darkness.

“Hello?” I called out. There was no response. “Hey! Yuqi! I need a word.” Nothing. “It’s important. It’s about getting you back into your body.” Strictly speaking, it wasn’t about that, but I thought it was more likely to get her attention. It was.

“What do you want?” The gravelly voice was no more than a whisper on the wind. It flitted past us.

“You have to stop Dorma sending his men to Darkholme. They’re going to fuck things up.”

“Fuck things up? Fuck them up, is it? Like you can’t do that by yourself, you and your little protector. Attached at the hip are you? Is it true love? Truuuuue looooove. How beautiful. Why are you here, Colin? Miss me too much?”

Call it an educated guess, but I didn’t think she’d quite got over our last visit.

“Listen to me, we’ve convinced the golems to help us. They’re going to take down the masters during the welding. If Varg goes in there all guns blazing, he’s going to get in their way.”

There was a pause.

“The golems will do your bidding?”

“Sort of. They want to be free of the masters, too. This is the best chance we have.”

“Yes. Yes. That’s good. That’s perfect.”

“So you’ll do it?” This was going better than expected.

“No. The attack will continue. But their objective is not the masters or their pets. You don’t have to worry about that.”

“Then what’s their objective?” I asked. If they weren’t planning to attack the masters, what was the point of going to the mountain?

“Nag, nag, nag. I said, you don’t have to worry about that, so stop worrying. Now get out!”

There was a blast of cold air and a doorway opened. I had a strong intuition that she was up to something and it wasn’t something good. There was a tug on my sleeve. Jenny also had a strong intuition; hers was that we should leave while we could.

When my eyes opened, I was back in the stables. Despite Yuqi’s insistence I had nothing to worry about, I felt worried.

“Is everything okay?” asked Claire.

Everything was not okay. “Yes,” I said, “everything’s okay. We should get some rest. I have feeling things are going to get hectic later.”

They all left and I lay down. Somehow my head ended up on Jenny’s lap even though that wasn’t where I had aimed it. Not that I was complaining. Even though the chances of things working out were slim, at least there was a chance. I felt my eyes start to close.

“How are we going to avoid getting eaten before the welding thingy?” Jenny asked.

Damn it, I knew I’d forgotten something.

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