Tattoo: The Books of Glory

a webserial about people who are not like us

Tattoo Book 3.15

Posted by harmony0stars on April 19, 2009

“We’ll take the boxes out of the van. The girls can at least get out of the cold for the night,” Professor Scott directed as they entered the clearing where the vehicle was parked.

“But professor, we don’t even have any sleeping bags,” Cory protested, lifting a box from the van bed and setting it down just to the side of the wheel. “Can’t you call them to come and get us?”

“There’s no way they’d be able to find us in the dark. We’re just going to have to tough it out until dawn. There’s enough wood all around us to make a good fire. If we sleep in shifts, we should be able to keep it going all night.”

“If there are any empty boxes, we could break them up to lie on.” Gil offered. “At least it will keep us out of the wet leaves.”

“Good idea, Mr. Roche. Empty some of the boxes if you have to. We can pack them back up in the morning. I don’t want anyone catching pneumonia.”

“Won’t… that like, damage the bones?”

Professor Scott gave the girl a withering look of disbelief before slowly replying, “I hardly think a night in the leaves, where they have lain for untold years, is going to do any more damage to the bones, Ms Burroughs.”

“Oh… yeah, um… right.” She turned as red as her hair and crawled into the back of the van without further comment, making a show of moving boxes toward the open doors.

Professor Scott rolled his eyes. Even with extra credit earned by volunteering for this trip, she’d be lucky to pass her anthropology class. Few of the students were actually aware of what was really going on in the clearing only a few yards away. If they had any questions about why they were blowing up a cave surrounded by piles of bones in the middle of state forest lands, they had the good sense not to ask any questions. Most of them, like Ms Burroughs, were simply glad for the extra credit. They willingly played along with the scenario, perhaps believing it was all some kind of sociological experiment.

That was why he hoped Professor Jacoby was wrong about Gil. He was a smart boy with top grades. Unlike Cory who had been recruited by his uncle, another faculty member, Gil had come to them looking into why his friend had gone missing. He was both loyal and determined, qualities that were in short demand in today’s youth. With the average life span of their members, it was only prudent to consider their replacements before they were needed. Cory didn’t know when to keep his mouth shut, nor did he approach these situations with the proper decorum. His cocky attitude could one day get a lot of people killed. While he applauded Gil’s composure though, the professor did wish the boy was just brittle enough after dealing with Jacoby to betray something of his mind’s inner workings. Beyond his schoolwork and loyalty to his missing friend, he was a complete mystery to everyone.

That was perhaps why Cory was constantly trying to goad Gil into a fight, to crack the armor that shielded him from scrutiny. At least their rivalry would allow the professor to pay attention to their safety for the night, rather than worrying over whether Jacoby was right. Watching the two men gathering branches from the tree line, Cory glancing at Gil every few minutes as if to make sure he was still in sight, the professor knew that Cory would watch Gil for any signs of treachery as a matter of course.

***                  ***                  ***

When the darkness had fallen on the trees like a shroud, Glory stepped from the small copse of evergreens and into the clearing. The moon was not yet up, which hid them from the nearby camp. Though most of the bones had been removed from the hollow, footing was still treacherous. Gozala followed her to the cave’s entrance, guiding and supporting Mike as they inched across the bone yard.

At the opening, Glory let herself down into the dark. It was only a short drop to the floor. She gathered the stones that she could find and tossed them out into the leaves, pocketing one for later study. Gozala winced as the stones came sailing past.

Poking her head out the hole, Glory asked, “Do they hurt you?”

“Not exactly.” Gozala stood at the opening, Mike’s arm wrapped in her own. “You know how it feels sometimes before a storm? Like the air has weight and you almost have a headache, but not quite? It’s kind of like that. Plus, I don’t know… I just don’t like their shape. They had them all over the walls of the room where they kept me.”

To Glory they felt comforting in her hand, like cradling a small, warm puppy. She shrugged and scoured the floor for more, wondering how much of Gozala’s discomfort was hereditary, and how much was learned. Were the affects of the stones psychosomatic or genetic?

“Mike?” came a hoarse whisper from across the clearing. The moon was just clearing the trees and shone down into the bone yard like a spotlight. Gil rushed across the clearing, throwing his arms around his boyfriend in relief.

“Careful!” hissed Gozala, stepping out of the way. Gil glared down at her, his look clearly communicating his disinterest in anything she had to say. “You’re going to hurt him. He’s not so sturdy any more,” She growled, glaring right back at him.

“Mike? Why won’t you talk to me?” He peered up into his boyfriend’s face, but it was obscured by his hood.

“He can’t.” Glory responded from the cave opening. “No more vocal chords.”

Gil looked down at her helplessly, then back at Mike. He reached under Mike’s hood to touch his face, but Mike caught his hands in his own and slowly shook his head. Gil looked at his bandaged hands and back up to Mike’s face. “Let me see you!” he demanded, near tears.

Mike released his lover’s hands and slowly reached up to his hood. He hesitated before pulling it back, revealing nothing but the bandages that swathed his head. Between the bandages and the darkness, Gil was probably better off not seeing the affects of the fungus that had invaded Mike’s system.

“You did this!” Gil growled, turning on Gozala. “This is your fault.” He turned to grab hold of her, but Mike caught him by the shoulders and turned him back around to face him. He silently shook his head once more.

“If you want to blame anyone, it’s your friends over there.” Gozala hissed, gesturing towards the soft glow of the campfire. “If they’d just left me and my dad alone, none of this would have happened. I didn’t do anything to him aside from trying to warn him off.”

It was clear that Gil didn’t want to believe her, but after a moment, he took Mike by the wrist and said. “Come on. Let’s get out of here. I’ll drive all night until we get to a hospital somewhere where no one could possibly know us.” Again, Mike shook his head.

“I think it’s… too late for that, and for Geber’s manuscript.” Glory announced climbing from the cave mouth. Mike nodded sadly. “I’m sorry Gil. I don’t think there’s anything anyone can do anymore.”

“Then why even come back here?” Gil demanded angrily. “What was the point?”

Mike gestured to Gozala who was scrambling into the hole Glory had vacated. She looked from Mike to Gil and back before giving Mike a sad smile. “He just wanted to bring me home. I don’t hold him responsible, and I wish I could fix him, but I don’t think there’s anything anyone could do, even if the infection had been caught in time.” She looked from Mike to Gil to Glory. “Thanks,” she said, giving Glory a nod before looking back to Mike. “ Thanks for everything, and I‘m sorry… for everything.” Without another word, she disappeared into the cave.

Mike leaned into Gil, resting his bandaged head on Gil’s shoulder before making as if to follow after Gozala. “Hey! No, wait… you got her home. You don’t need to go down there too!” Gil cried, catching at Mike’s arm.

“Gil…. Think about it. I don’t think he wants you to see him… waste away.“

“I’ll take care of him!“ he asserted, crawling to the cave entrance where Mike had already disappeared.

“No, look…. His mind seems to be okay, but who knows how long his body’s got. Do you think he wants to let you watch him turn to slime? Going down there is probably his only alternative unless he wants to let your Miskatonic friends dissect him, and they certainly won’t be humane about his feelings. They’ll treat him like any other thing they’ve encountered in their monster hunts.”

“Then I’m going down there too!” He put his feet through the hole and slid down into the dark without waiting for a response.

With a sigh, Glory followed him into the opening. She was morbidly curious about Gozala’s father, and despite Gil’s current wishes to the contrary, she suspected that Mike would appreciate it if Gil managed to get back out when all was said and done.

The cave was pitch black. Gozala probably knew the contours of the cavern like the back of her hand. Mike probably could home in her or get directions psychically or something. Glory had extremely good night vision, but she did need some light in order for it to be effective. Despite her misgivings, neither she nor Gil had a flashlight, so she popped her sword. She had found that the sword assumed the shape of her will, small or large depending upon her need. Instead of assuming the shape of a blade now, she let the light wrap around her fist like a ball and held her arm above her head to illuminate their way.

Gil looked at her round-eyed. “More magic,” he muttered dismissively before turning to look for Mike. She was glad that he was taking it in stride, but she suspected it was more distraction than anything. He was too concerned with his lover’s illness to demand answers for this newest display. Which was just as well since she had none for Aaron’s gift.

From somewhere in the depths of the cavern, they heard a cry of joy. Presumably Gozala had been reunited with her father. An ancient cave painting was briefly uncovered by her light as they hurried down the passage, and Glory wished she had more time to examine it. But Gil was at the very edge of her light and moving fast. There was too much of a chance that he might fall or otherwise injure himself if she didn’t keep up.

She caught up with him just in time to grab the back of his shirt as he almost pitched over a substantial landslide of scree. Glory’s light washed over Gozala wrapped in the arms of huge mountain of a man, or at least it had been a man once. If that was what Mike looked like under his bandages, it was no wonder he didn’t want Gil to have to deal with his eventual dissolution.

The corpse looked up at Glory’s light, its oozing face twisting in a furious rictus. “No!” Gozala shouted, putting her hands on his chest and holding him back from charging up the hill of loose slate and shale. “They’re my friends. They helped me get home.”

Gil paid no attention to Gozala or the body her father was inhabiting. Instead, he slid down the scree pile and went right to Mike’s side. Mike had reached the bottom of the pile and seated himself next to a carpet of gray mold, apparently Gozala‘s actual father. Other fairly well preserved bodies of animals rested in the slime. It was obvious that bodies were kept in the temperature controlled cavern until they were no longer useful, then sent out to decompose in the little depression above. Otherwise the cavern would be littered with bones. But the cave floor was clean and for the most part worn smooth by the passage of hundreds or thousands of visitors over the millennia.

The corpse beside Gozala tracked Gil’s movement as he approached Mike and knelt by his side. Glory could see what probably attracted most of the slime mold’s human victims. Gold or iron pyrite, the walls around the carpet of slime glittered alluringly. Gil sat down next to Mike and put his head on Mike’s shoulder. With an air of defeat, Mike turned his head slightly and lay it against Gil’s.

Some instinct caused Glory to turn just as a man snuck up behind her. Before she could react, he hit her with the butt of his gun, knocking her down the scree pile. The wind was knocked out of her on landing, but otherwise she was unharmed aside from a few cuts in her hands. Her light went out, but the man had a flashlight… the light of which had been obscured by her own. Once she reached the bottom, she let her light out again. Gozala’s father gave her a wary look, stepping away from Glory’s light and taking Gozala with him. It was evidently something he was familiar with and did not particularly care for. After a moment, he turned his attention back to the man who had interrupted them as the more important threat.

“I knew you were in league with these freaks, Gil. I knew it!” Cory announced triumphantly. “I can’t wait to get back to the camp and tell Professor Scott all about his golden boy.”

As if use of the word had caused him to notice the glittering walls, he blinked and then stepped into the scree, letting himself slide down in a controlled descent as he continued to keep his gun trained on Glory, Gozala, and her father. Gil and Mike didn’t move, but even a few yards away, Glory could see Gil was crying.

Cory anxiously tried to keep track of everyone in the cavern, his gun moving from Gil and Mike to Glory, Gozala, and her father and back again. Gil and Mike seemed oblivious to his presence, but the glittering walls were what really had his attention. Stooping, he picked up a chunk of stone and examined it in the light of his flashlight. Glory could practically see the wheels turning in his head as he considered the fact that in the morning, this cavern would be sealed and any chance he had to collect the treasure would be lost.

Cory looked around at his companions before focusing on Glory. “You. Come here.” He kept his gun trained on her, but switched off his flashlight. Whatever questions he might have about her light, the gold was suddenly more important to him. He tried to position himself to keep an eye on the others, even as he gestured for Glory to step in front of him. “Grab anything that glitters. You’re going to help me remove as much of the loose pieces as possible.”

Wordlessly, Glory began picking up rock. Behind her, Cory divided his attention between his captives and the gold, grabbing at anything near his feet. After several seconds, he was paying more attention to the glittering litter than his prisoners. Even with the starstone that he no doubt carried somewhere on his person, Glory suspected Gozala’s father was influencing him, feeding his greed at the expense of his common sense. As Cory strayed close to the furred body of some unidentifiable animal lying in the slime, it launched itself at his head, clawing and biting as he spun and struggled to pry it away. In the enclosed space of the cavern, the sound of the gun was like the crack of thunder. Cory fell onto the floor as more decomposing animals launched themselves at him.

But the animals were the least of his worries, as large chunks of rock began to rain down from above. The scree pile was only a small example of cave ins that had probably been occurring naturally for centuries. His gun shot, and then a second one a few seconds later, had triggered a much larger one that threatened to bury them all.

Glory stepped around the struggling man. Her humanity said to help him; her instincts said he wasn’t worth saving. Blood already soaked the rock strewn floor and his struggles were becoming more and more feeble. He had already dropped the gun. Even if she managed to get him out, she suspected he would end up like Mike, or worse.

She looked up at Gozala and her father. He was watching her, while Gozala looked up at the falling ceiling. After a moment, he pushed Gozala toward Glory and gestured toward the exit.

“No!” Gozala cried in frustration. “I don’t want to go!”

Regardless of her wishes, he pushed her again before striding over to Mike and Gil. Gil let out a squawk of outrage as the corpse lifted him up by his shirt. When Gil tried to fight back, the thing shook him as if to bring him to his senses before half tossing him towards Glory as well. Mike stirred himself enough to point up the scree pile, clearly wanting Gil to save himself. As if to put an end to any further argument, a boulder half the size of Gozala smashed into Mike from above, splattering his head and upper body into a red and black gooey mass.

Gil let out a wail of agony, falling to his knees. Glory grabbed him by the arm just under his shoulder and hoisted him back to his feet, dragging him upwards while dodging falling rock. He stumbled by her side as if in a daze, no longer fighting their egress. Seeming to have come to an agreement with her father, Gozala also climbed along with them, but she didn’t look happy.

Cory’s gunshots had triggered a much larger cave in than anything the cavern had seen before. The whole place was shaking, even as they struggled to the cave mouth. Glory helped push Gozala through the opening, then Gil with Gozala pulling from outside. She pulled herself out last and lay panting in the wet leaves before the sound of shouts from the nearby camp reminded her that they were still in danger.

Gil lay curled up in a ball, crying, and Gozala sat glassy-eyed and miserable as well, neither of them caring much at that moment how the people a few yards away would deal with them. Glory grabbed Gozala and shook her before the girl looked up into her face with any recognition.

“Go, hide in the evergreens.” When Gozala nodded, Glory turned her attention to Gil. When shaking him didn’t get his attention, she slapped him. He gasped, but finally looked into her eyes. “He wanted you to live, and if you want to honor what you had with him, that’s what you’re going to do.” She shoved a piece of stone into his hand. “Tell them you followed that other guy into the cave and saw him collecting the gold. When you confronted him, he tried to shoot you. Got it?”

Gil sobbed one last time as he pulled himself together and nodded. Light from the camp was coming closer. Glory quickly stood and sprinted across the hollow to their hiding place.

***                  ***                  ***

Gil stood in her doorway, hollow eyed and pale. In the few weeks since she‘d last seen him, he‘d lost weight. He looked tired but determined. Glory invited him in, but he shook his head.

“I.. just wanted to thank you, for all that you did. I’ve… decided to live. I wasn’t sure I wanted to, but you were right. Mike would have been pissed if I decided to kill myself after all that. I know what he did was to spare me having to watch him die, I just wish he would have asked me what I wanted before trying to be some kind of unselfish martyr.” His tone said that he didn’t think Mike had been unselfish in his choice at all.

“What about Miskatonic?”

“I left school. I don’t know if they believed my explanation or not. I showed them the gold nugget, but I just don’t know. After all that happened though, they didn’t argue when I asked to take some time off, get my head together.”

“What are you going to do now? Go home?”

“No… I had it out with my parents. Told them I was gay and about Mike. They said awful things, that… his parents should be relieved he w-was dead.” He broke down in a sob. “His parents, they knew. They… I’ve been staying with them, but I’m… I’ve decided. I’m going back to the woods.”

“Gil, you can’t…”

He waved off her argument. “I’m not going for Mike. I know he’s gone. But Gozala’s still out there. She’s just a little girl. Now that her father is stuck underground, someone needs to look after her.”

Glory wanted to tell him he was wrong, that Gozala was more than capable of looking after herself, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Gil needed something to occupy his time and fill the space Mike had left behind. She didn’t doubt that Gozala needed someone too. She nodded and wished Gil luck, letting him find his own reason to live in a world that had utterly changed now that Mike was gone.

::: End Book 3 :::

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One Response to “Tattoo Book 3.15”

  1. Miladysa said

    Great writing!

    Fingers crossed that you manage to get the computer repaired or a new one! Come back soon 😀

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