Tattoo: The Books of Glory

a webserial about people who are not like us

Tattoo Book 3.11

Posted by harmony0stars on March 22, 2009

Gil didn’t know a lot about Gozala or the circumstances that had led to her capture, but he did know that Mike had gone on a camping trip to the Jersey Pine barrens before he got sick. Only a few months before, the school had sent three men, including Mike, to survey old ruins in the pine barrens in preparation for excavation in the spring. According to the men who had recruited Gil, Mike was the only one who came back.

Though they couldn’t be sure where Mike and Gozala were going, it was a safe guess that Gozala might be trying to get home now that Mike‘s condition was getting so bad, not that Glory told Gil that. On the other hand, Mike could not have given up hope if he’d taken Geber’s manuscript. Maybe they were just heading into the barrens to get Gozala’s father’s advice or so that Mike could deposit Gozala there before he was too far gone to get her home at all.

Glory’s makeshift “Mike” compass did not waver in its heading, no matter which road they were on. The needle invariably pointed southwest. Knowing that they were probably heading to the pine barrens was a long way from knowing where in the million plus acres of mostly national forest they were going. Still it gave them a general direction as they headed towards the nearest edge of the barrens and allowed them to choose a route that would take them there quickly even if the compass did not always agree with their course.

Stopping at a store as they left Sybar City, Glory picked up some plastic wrap for the bowl. She didn’t want it sloshing around and spilling if they went over a bump. She also found a map of New Jersey. She would have preferred a topographical map of the pine barrens, but beggars couldn’t exactly be choosers.

They didn’t hit much traffic until they left the Garden State Parkway for route 72. Within minutes, traffic came to a sudden, grinding halt. There was barely any movement whatsoever in the cars in front of them and after a few minutes, Glory turned the radio on hoping for some news. She panned through several stations until mention of the Pine Barrens caught her notice.

“…that’s right folks,” the DJ announced in a mocking tone, “local and state law enforcement has blocked several roads through the Jersey Pine Barrens because of heh heh… sightings of the Jersey Devil! Apparently people have been seeing something strange in the Burlington area for a couple months now. Allegedly a car was run off the road earlier today by some kind of… mutant roadrunner is how one witness described it. Now I’m not an expert on local folklore, but it sounds to me like someone was raising ostriches or something and one got loose, scared the beejeezus out of a bunch of people, and now the police are out there trying to catch the stupid thing…” he went on to speculate about the intelligence of the police and whether the owner of the ‘ostrich farm’ would come forward any time soon to clear up the whole mess.

“Huh… I wonder…” Glory murmured to herself.

“What? Now we have to worry about urban legends?” Gil growled. It was clear from his tone and posture that he was completely frustrated. He gripped the steering wheel with white knuckled hands.

“Probably not… it could just be a coincidence, but if it is, it’s a really weird one.”

He growled as she carefully set the bowl on the floor and consulted the map. The cars slowly inched forward and Gil rode the bumper of the car in front of him. She’d have told him to relax, but in her experience that usually just made people more anxious and angry.

“Look for an exit for Willow Grove Road. It looks like it goes in the general direction we want.”

“Yeah, okay… We’ll see if we get there before nightfall,” Gil muttered through gritted teeth.

It was almost two hours before they could see a sign in the distance and another hour before they were near enough to read it. Gil whined and banged his forehead into the steering wheel. Another mile or so would take them to the exit they wanted, but that could be another hour at least. Glory rubbed his shoulder compassionately. She wished she’d bought some food for him. At least it would give him something to do instead of think about being stuck in traffic.

For the next hour and half they inched towards their exit with a purpose. Even as they neared it, they could see men and state troopers working their way up through the stopped cars… which was very odd. There couldn’t be any reason to go from car to car unless they were looking for someone. They were within a car length of being able to leave route 72 when Gil’s head shot up like a deer who’s just heard a hunter step on a twig. “That’s my professor,” he whispered in a horrified and bewildered voice, nodding towards the scruffy man accompanied by a trooper four car lengths away. They were only one of several pairs of men and troopers slowly working their way through the idling cars. Gil’s professor had obviously not seen them yet, but it was unlikely that they’d get to the exit before he did look in their direction. Traffic was simply moving too slow.

“Inch onto the shoulder. Not too fast or they may think we‘ve got something to hide, and try not to look at them.”

Gil did as she instructed, but the driver of the car in front of them was one of those people who seemed to take exception to others trying to get around them in traffic. She could see him glance at them in his mirror before also inching forward and a bit onto the shoulder to block their progress. Traffic was moving though, however slowly, and his tactic would only work so long as the driver in front of him stayed stationary. But the car in front of them stubbornly refused to move even as the car in front of it pulled forward a few feet. Even if the driver had pulled forward by one foot, Gil might have squeezed by on the shoulder.

“Can I see your license and registration please?” A trooper asked, leaning into Gil’s window. Beside him stood another man who Glory could only assume worked for Miskatonic if Gil’s professor was involved. He did not seem to recognize Gil though for which she imagined they were both grateful. “Where are you folks heading?”

“Sweetwater,” Glory interjected before Gil could fumble an answer. It was just a town on the map so far as she was concerned, but it was in the general direction they were going and seemed to satisfy the trooper. He nodded without comment and handed Gil’s identification back to him.

“We’re sorry for the inconvenience,” he announced in a voice that showed it was a statement he’d been making a lot that day. “My companion here is going to ask you some questions about anything you might have seen in the area.” He was also clearly not thrilled to be babysitting someone who was not law enforcement.

The other man stuck his head in the window and looked them both over. Satisfied that they were not Mike and Gozala, his first question was whether they had seen a little girl with pink hair accompanied by a very pale man in a hoodie or otherwise bundled up.

“No, sorry,” Glory answered for the both of them as Gil only seemed capable of shaking his head.

“Have you seen anything odd along the road in past few months?”

“We’re not from the area. This is our first time through.”

He nodded, patting the door dismissively. “Okay, thanks for your time.” He stood, moving onto the next car in line.

The car in front of them had moved up just enough for them to pull onto the ramp to Willow Grove Road. As they carefully inched around the other driver so as not to scrape his bumper, Gil’s professor happened to look up and directly at them. His mouth fell open, and he raised his hand to point at their car as if he were a pod person signaling his companions that the unconverted were in their midst.

“Don’t give any sign that you notice him,” Glory said hurriedly. “Just drive like you normally would, at speed limit.”

Gil pursed his lips, but did as she said. The urge to race onto the ramp and away from the police was almost overwhelming, especially now that they’d been noticed, but he did no more than 25 miles per hour as he made the exit. Behind them, they could hear the professor shouting and shrilly denouncing them as heretics, race traitors, and a whole host of other slurs. Most of his colleagues had the good grace to look embarrassed for his behavior. Maybe they weren’t all as unhinged as he was. Several of them tried to quiet him while their police escort looked seriously pissed. They’d already been forced to spend a day unlawfully holding up traffic so the men from Miskatonic could ask questions better left to the police. Now they’d have to deal with the bad press of racial slurs and having assisted an apparent lunatic. Very few of the troopers looked at their car as they drove away. After all, they’d already been examined by one set of questioners, their papers were in order, and they were not racing to get away. A few of the troopers almost wished that Glory and Gil had stopped, if only to file a complaint. Already many of the people in the cars around them were giving the troopers and scholars ugly looks.

to Book 3, page 12

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