They left London a day later, by train. They were instructed to get off the train at Lancaster, stay there a night, and then take a bus to Keswick. From there, they could take a more local bus to Malkirk. The train station was loud, and crowded. Ibola grabbed Adam's upper arm as they negotiated through tubes and tube station. A few times someone growled a unfriendly sentence at them, and Adam was temporarily relieved that Ibola couldn't speak English. The electronic ticket booth was broken, so they stood in a queue for twenty minutes to talk to a sour-looking vendor, who practically spat an exuberant price at them and gestured uselessly when they asked for directions. Down a crowded hallway, that smelled strongly of grease and cigarette smoke, they stumbled to a large room with several platforms. It took them a few minutes to find the right station.
They sat on the train in a daze, facing each other across a hard, grey table. Ibola's fingers played with someone's spilt coffee as she stared out the window, into the drizzle outside. Adam closed his eyes and hunched his shoulders. theerrrrre was a throbbing in the front of his skull, a little above his nose, and it tensed all the muscles in his forehead. He rubbed his temples, eyes still closed, and asked an attendant for a glass of water. Ibola said nothing. The world seemed washed out, desaturated, and flavourless. All the train car's inhabitants seemed glum and distracted. The only colour that peaked through was a wash of sickly yellow. The train was eerily silent, apart from the occasional cry of a baby.
"What are we going to do when we get there?" Ibola asked, gently.
Adam shrugged, "I don't know."
"Do we have to get this-- thing she was asking for? I mean, surely there are other ways of--"
"She has the information we're looking for. I don't trust her at all, but I can't think of any other way of finding out what happened to me, or to your son..." Adam bit back his words slightly, and looked away. Ibola seemed unaffected by the mention of her son.
"If you don't trust her, how can you trust she has the information?"
"I--" Adam began, but swallowed, the sentence dying in his throat. He mumbled, "She didn't give me the information, but she displayed that she had it-- a name. She gave me a name."
Ibola shrugged, and went back to staring out the window, her fingers still playing with the coffee spill. They ate sad sandwiches out of plastic triangles and too-sweet soft drinks. Every attempt to make conversation was muted and suffocated by the dull fog that seemed to inhabit everything. They were on the train for five hours. As it stopped, they were hurried off by a tinny announcement in a non-threatening female voice, and were rushed through to the streets of Keswick. It took them twenty minutes to find a bus station. The buses were spotty, and they had to ask another tinny voice for a bus schedule to Malkirk. "That's interesting, not many people go out that way," the woman said, in a fierce attempt to be friendly. She gave them a bus schedule, a brochure for hotels, and directions to a good pub.
They stood outside the bus station. It was raining. "The next one to Malkirk is at 4:30am tomorrow morning, and it looks like it takes an hour and a half..." Adam said.
"Are we going to make a plan of how to steal this... staff?"
"I think I need a drink, first," Adam said, walking off in the direction of the pub they'd been pointed towards.
The Hog's Head Pub was dingy and squat, and empty. Outside, a few women sat with cigarettes, chatting over their drinks beneath an umbrella. Inside, an old man nursed his pint in the corner. The bartender looked up from a crossword as they came in. "Beer, please," Adam said, proffering his credit car.
The bartender grinned, picking up the hint of desperation in the man's voice, "American, eh? I'll get you something a little weaker than the house, then..."
Adam ignored the bartender's crack, and asked Ibola if she wanted anything. She shook her head.
"Africans!" the old man cried, merrily, "Haven't seen your types up here in a while!"
The bartender waved away at the man, "Shut up, you damned idiot, not every black person is an African. They're Americans, right?"
The end of the bartender's sentence suggested it was a question, but he seemed certain enough that there was no response to be given. Adam grabbed his beer, and the two sat down. "Plan? Please?" Ibola asked.
"I kinda figured we'd go in, asking him to preach to us or something, then you grab it when his head is turned and we run."
"That's a terrible and vague idea," Ibola said, smiling faintly, "But we don't have much else to work with. We don't even know what the layout of Malkirk is like, or what escape routes we could--"
"Did she say Malkirk?" Interrupted the old man in the corner, "I couldn't tell."
"She did?" Adam said, "Why?"
"Are you two going up there?"
"Yeah, we're visiting a friend," Adam paused, "But, uh, we've not been up here before. What's it like up there?"
"Haha, you'll not be needing return tickets. They're insular types, lots of people are attracted to the town but not many of 'em leave! Lots of woods, and they have fairies up there-- real ones, dark ones, not like the pussy-footed ones you have today! The towns small, lots of copses of houses around, and it's all focused in on a church."
"Oh?" Adam said. The critical part of his mind was telling him that the old man was mad, that faeries didn't exist; but if the monster existed, then who was to say what was real.
"You'll want to be in an out soon. It's a depressing place, and the people are mad. Real religious, good, godfaring people, pay their taxes like the rest of us, but mad!" The old man cackled into his drink.
"Thanks, that was very helpful," Adam said dryly, not sure if he was being sarcastic or not. He turned to Ibola, switching back to French, "He says Malkirk's weirder than most small towns."
"Of course it is. We don't go anywhere normal anymore," Ibola said.
The old man didn't seem to apprrreeeeciaaaeciate the attention turning away from him, and burst out, "You have to stay out of their stone rings, or they'll get you! The world's melting away here, don't let them get to you!"
Adam frowned, and downed his drink, "I can tell."
"Can we go?" Ibola stood, her question actually an instruction. Adam followed her out of the pub, but he glanced back a couple of times as they walked away.
They stayed the night in another seedy motel, Adam collapsed on the bedspread, and Ibola barely sleeping. She dug her fingernails into her arm, and planned for the coming day. They would be on the bus, ask for preaching, and then something would go horribly wrong. It had to. She listened to the rain, and wondered if it was too late to go home. Adam mumbled something, and shifted in his bed. Maybe it wasn't too late to get him home.