Without – Excerpt 5

March 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

 

The tree seemed huge to him. Enormous. So big he could barely see the top of it, so very large that it made sense to him that a dog could climb up it and get stuck in its branches, even a dog as big as Bahamut was. Up in the tree, the shivering black dog allowed itself to be cradled in his father’s arms.

His father seemed huge to him, too. Possibly that was the reason the tree itself seemed so massive: anything that could dwarf his father had to be unreasonably gigantic. Staring up into the boughs he watched as dad, holding the big black dog against his body with one arm, climbed down without even looking where he was putting his feet, murmuring reassurance to the dog the whole way down.

It seemed a very long climb down. Yet dad didn’t make a single misstep the whole way, and didn’t stop making those soft, comforting noises while the dog whined and occasionally kicked with his back legs. It was always a bit of a mystery how the dog climbed the tree in the first place… no one had ever seen him do it, yet somehow that great black bulk would end up half-way to the top, howling in distress until someone came up and got him.

Dad’s feet found soil with a soft thud as he let go of the tree and fell two feet, cushioning the fall with bent knees and placing Bahamut on the ground. The dog’s stub-like tail waggled like a bee pointing out flowers to a hive.

“I should have named you Falak. Maybe then you’d stay out of trees.”

In an ecstasy of joy, the dog threw itself into dad’s legs, nearly knocking him over in the frenzy of wagging and licking and nuzzling it put on. Neither the boy nor the man were fooled: the dog would climb the tree again, at some point in the future. It did not seem to have a reason nor did it need one. That square black head rammed itself into the space between dad’s thighs, nearly catching him square in the crotch.

“Yes, yes, you big dummy, I love you too. Now get out of there.” Half-laughing, he pushed the dog away. “Here, play with… “ The sound faded, the word that had been said vanished, and the world itself grays as the mind fights to catch what is gone. A shift, and color returns again, with the sensation of the big black dog pushing his young body down onto the ground and licking madly at his face, tongue wet and everywhere, breath as awful as only a dog can get.

“Lemme up! Let me up you dumb dog!” Laughing despite himself as the dog ignored all protests to lick and wag, finally managing to roll over and get to his feet. The dog’s back about even with his chest. “Why’d you go and get us all worried like that?”

“He didn’t mean to do that. He’s just a dog, son.”

“He’s a stupid dog is what he is.” His hand busied itself scratching behind the ears, trying to find that spot that made the dog’s legs twitch. “I can’t believe you climbed up after him. I’d have never done that.”

“Don’t be so sure.” His father’s face, broad, with a red beard and blue eyes like the bay in summer and hair the color of dried hay, set itself into familiar lines, down turned the corners of the lips, brow cut in sudden furrows. “You don’t know what you’ll do until you find yourself having to do it. And even then, you don’t know what you’ll do the next time.” They walked past the fading red of the barn, the blue wheelbarrow that he’s already come to associate with forking the trampled droppings of the horses out of their stalls, the smell of urine and horseshit like a punch to the gut. He didn’t think he’d ever get used to it. “Solon said you shouldn’t count any man happy until he was dead, and that’s not bad advice for other things. Don’t think you know yourself until you’re done. A man’s the sum of his experiences.”

He stared up at his father, his hand wrapped around Bahamut’s collar, as always soaking in the man’s pronouncements like they came from God himself. Truth be told, to his mind God sometimes looked an awful lot like his father, except when the Almighty chose to look like his mother instead. The big dog pulled lightly on his hand, content for now to follow as he was led instead of dragging the boy along behind him as he was amply suited to. The sun was beginning to set behind the woods to the north and west of the house, sending orange shafts of light spearing between the trees as it descended into the ocean. At least that’s what it seemed to do to him, the same way the island itself seemed to stare up at the world from the broad flat rocks that peered up from the ground all along the flat expanse that had served as an airstrip before he was born. Planes still landed there, when friends of his father would visit and talk into the night about things he wasn’t supposed to know about.

The house was bright blue with a black roof.

As always, he woke up before they went in it. His eyes stared up at darkness, taking in the few green stickers that had been left behind from a previous tenant, a series of small five pointed stars that were arranged in a strange eel-like shape. It might have been a real constellation, or perhaps was simply there to look good, or might well have fit in to a larger decal starscape long since faded or fallen away.

That green sinuous serpent came into sharper focus as he slowly came out of the spacey delirium of sleep. He wondered why he never seemed to dream of the inside of that house. Maybe out of mercy… it was bad enough dreaming of his father, he had no idea what seeing his mother alive would do to him.

Hell, he sometimes wanted to cry over missing the dog.

He lay motionless a few seconds longer, feeling the pain in his shoulder and ribs from the still-healing bite and claw-gouges. Even with the power of Seth having done much to cleanse and close them, whatever that half-finished monstrosity had borne on its teeth and claws had left their mark. He didn’t think they would have healed at all otherwise.

In the dark, he could see with perfect, frozen clarity the sight of bodies savaged by those claws lying on the floor of the warehouse, perfectly visible in the red haze of the god of desert thunder. If he’d been faster, maybe they wouldn’t have died. Then again, had he not been shielded by the shell of the World Turtle going in, maybe he would have been dead before the monstrosities even arrived, or injured by the initial attack, so fast… and maybe pixies would have shown up in their pink supercar if you’d worn your magical tutu, asshole.

Groaning, he forced himself to sit up and wished he’d gotten drunk, or found himself a warm body to wake up next to. Sleeping alone wasn’t the problem, but waking up alone was a special kind of pain when he had dreams.

This is the miracle of creation. This is the warm sun on my face, and the sand under my feet, and blessed am I among others.

He shook his head, feeling his hair wet with his sweat and tangled, needing to be combed and washed, his sheets also wet, the sofa-bed smelling of too many nights with unchanged bedding. He wasn’t used to being on the defensive. It didn’t sit right.

It was time to do something about that.

He threw the sheets aside and stood quickly, reeling for a brief moment before regaining his balance. First a shower, he sniffed at himself. When you offend yourself, it’s definitely time for a shower or three.

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