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this gaunt, pale wraith of everything beautiful and innocent and good. Your eyes will
hunt me to the ends of the world and I will have no rest.”
“Then so be it, Ambrosius Codwich. I would have it no other way.” Only love
could have nurtured such a statement.
“You like to know that I suffer?”
Sunbeam gave a cracked smile. “It will sustain me.”
The petrel screamed and revulsion danced in Ambrosius' brain as he jerked
forward and away, away for ever from his home, from love. His face was a mask;
suffering lay deep in the crypt of his soul, booby trapped with vicious spikes of self-
loathing. Every time he tried to access a fond memory of Sunbeam those cruel barbs
shot forth and, as his mind lay bleeding, the living skeleton of Sunbeam loomed over
him, and the whole of his mind's eye was eclipsed by that terrible, cadaverous face –
his mask twitched and ticked but still did not give way. With every yard that trailed
behind him he was further from himself, from truth, from light. He was not conscious
of it but with every flap of the petrel's wings he was becoming a thing of darkness,
like the shadows of Sunbeams hut.
Now Ambrosius was infected with this thing that was spreading over the world –
call it a pisconomic downturn, the apocalypse, the evil tide; call it what you like. He
bore the seed of shadow in his soul, and it was growing fast, sending out a tentative
hypocotyl to quest for light and to turn it to shade – indeed, to make Ambrosius
himself a shade, a spectre, a ghost. He steered the boat down into the mist, until he
could see only a few yards ahead. At such a high speed the danger of collision with an
unseen obstacle was great, and adrenaline surged like a balm through his tortured
brain. Gnashing and weeping tearlessly, Ambrosius hit the jungle and trees whipped
past on either side of the boat. He slowed despite himself and steered in between the
trunks, trying to occupy himself entirely with the steering of the boat. But it was still
there, Sunbeam's maniac laugh. In her love she hated him, and he could do nothing
but love her wholly in return.
It was late afternoon as Ambrosius neared the mist dykes of the City, the petrel
now lamed and chuntering along pitifully at the stern, causing the boat to slow to a
funereal crawl. To say Ambrosius felt better now he neared the City would be
incorrect – he felt worse. But that feeling was of such a negative quality that it had its
own kind of lure, an addictive property that caused Ambrosius to lap it up like it was
slaking some kind of thirst. And another thirst whelmed him, a thirst that was more
literal – he wanted absolution, and, as everyone who has ever been in this state knows,
the promise held by a beer glass was calling strong. The mist gates opened just wide
enough for the jolly boat to pass through, and Ambrosius piloted it to the docks and
moored it. He told the harbour master that the crew of the schooner to which it
belonged could find it at the quayside, and that a bill for a new petrel could be sent to
his office in the Fish Stocks Limited building. He knew that such an address would
probably put the skipper off claiming any damages.
So, with leaden heart and a storm in his head, Ambrosius hit the Cannery Arms.
Chapter 21 – From Bad To Worse