Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Decker #13

Decker awoke in a mist of sweat. The carriage had become suffocatingly hot in the mid-afternoon sun. He mopped at his forehead with the back of a furred hand, suddenly realizing what a ridiculous gesture that was. He laughed, causing his two companions to stir. Cletus mumbled a string of rustic curses; Degren merely frowned and looked out the window.
They were rumbling along a seaside bluff in rutted tracks. The satyrs' hooves made a dull, thudding rhythm in the dusty sand. They, too, were sweating profusely, and they sang a sort of deep-throated dirge as they trotted. The air was dense, oppressive; to Decker it felt like the still before a southern Minnesota thunderstorm.
The sea was an unsettling blue-green hue, flat and still. The sky was pasty blue webbed with stringy gray clouds. At the horizon, across the water, was a leaden mass of darkness; one could almost mistake those clouds for looming mountains. Decker put his head to the window to better see ahead; the hotel was a small silhouette wavering in down a long slope the distance, barely visible through heat ripples and a soft brown haze.
"We're almost back to the hotel, boys," Decker said, "but it sure feels like we're in for some weather!"
Degren scratched his neck, still staring out the window. "If that cloud bank is anything like the ones that come across the Wolf Head Mountains at home, we're in for a real drenching."
"Ayuh, and me in muh bran' new duds, too," Cletus complained. "Hope those hairy-butt cayuses kin git us tuh th' hotel right pronto, or we'll git a'blowed right across this here country!"
The first distant peals of thunder vibrated in their guts. The satyrs' gait nearly doubled almost immediately; they felt the massive, malevolent energy of the oncoming front, too.
"It's a'movin' in fast, boys!" Cletus seemed as exhilarated as he was terrified, like a child on his first roller-coaster ride. "Oh, she's a big'un, sure as blazes!" He yanked open the carriage door just as a great gust of wind smacked into the carriage, lifting the seaside wheels a few inches off the ground and rending the door from its hinges, sending it flopping and bounding across the sparse grass. He stuck his head out and shouted, "Hey you horse-assed galoots! Better git us tuh th' hotel lickety split!" His words were barely audible to his companions in the carriage; the satyrs would not even know he'd called.
The cloud front seemed so close now, Decker thought he might be able to reach out the door-less gap and touch it. The entire front was a bright bramble of electricity; the cracks and rumbles of thunder were deafening. The carriage pitched and yawed in the hurricane gusts; the darkness descended over the bluff and the rain and hail crashed down with slashing fury. A fist-hard gust crashed in through the open carriage. blowing the other door out and lifting all four wheels out of their now-submerged tracks. For a moment, Decker thought the eight lightning-illuminated satyrs would be able to hold on as the great kite of the carriage body yanked at their traces; a still greater gust pulled them from their feet and tumbled the whole assembly inland across the flooded grass.
Decker took his opportunity to leap from the door just before the carriage crashed down. He added the thrust of his legs to the drag of the wind, then crabbed and tumbled off at an angle toward what he hoped was the hotel, hoping to avoid being struck by the careening vehicle. He was thankful for the strong, agile body he now occupied; if he had been in his old body, he had no doubt that he would have been crushed. As he saw the carriage tumble away, he grabbed at tufts of grass, dragged his feet, his knees, did his best to slow his battered body's wind-thrust progress. Disoriented, bruised, he finally managed to find purchase in a tangle of dense, thorny shrubs.
Visibility was nil until the lightning flashed; he'd lift his head and stare in a direction until a strobe of blue-white gave him a picture. He caught glimpses of satyrs, some still tied together by traces, moving generally toward him. Once he thought he saw Degren crawling across the ground; he kept his eyes locked in that direction until another flash lit his field of view, but the image was gone.
One flash showed him a low stone wall just a few feet from where he was; he was almost to the hotel! Hand over had through the tearing brambles, he fought to the wall and climbed over it. Here the wind curled around the stone, but in the lee of the wall, its force was lessened considerably. Half-drowned, pelted by grape-sized hailstones, he peered into the darkness, awaiting the next flash.
Like a great, ghostly beacon, the marble dome of the hotel flashed directly in front of him! A surge of adrenaline flooded him, as though he'd been struck by a bolt of that wild lightning. It seemed like it was now or never; he could hear a sound like a thousand train whistles coming from the landing storm. He struggled to all fours and then to a crouch, then sprinted for the hotel.
The lightning was flashing constantly; it was as though a full moon strobed insanely, lighting the deluge into a scene of silver pearl hail and rain, revealing the steps to the great double doors. The steps were slick as ice; he stumbled once, banging his forehead on the steps, rising quickly and forging ahead. A door blew open just as he approached, and he fell into the darkness.
The small windows of the hotel foyer allowed barely enough light for Decker to make out its interior. He could hear those larger windows of the broad reception area that hadn't been broken before the storm explode inward occasionally as a particularly severe gust struck; the storm offered no signs that it would lessen soon.
He wondered about his friends; he wondered about the satyrs. He reached for the handle of one of the large double doors. Dare he open it? His concern, especially for Degren, got the better of him. He pulled it open and faced the toothy, howling maw of the storm.
It was a fear-inspiring scene. Great cataracts of lightning spilled from the sky, splintering trees and sending stones flying from walls and structures. The hailstones were even larger now, perhaps the size of small eggs, irregularly formed as though several smaller stones adhered together. The rain seemed to spill in flapping sheets from the sky; the flagstones of the courtyard were rivers of ice and water, the steps a coursing rapids. Beyond that he could see little but vague shapes drowning in an atmosphere that was half-sea.
One of the satyrs staggered toward the doors, carrying Cletus in his burly arms. He staggered up the steps, wild-eyed. Decker pulled the door further open and the satyr came inside. Decker glanced around the courtyard once more, then pushed the door shut and shouted over the storm, "Did you see the other passenger?"
The satyr laid Cletus down on the tile, seeming to ignore Decker's query. Decker grabbed his muscular shoulder, attempting to spin him around; even with his new-found strength, he couldn't budge the huge man-creature. He shrugged Decker's hand free, turning slowly, and flashes of lightning revealed frenzied emotion in his eyes; fear, rage, and excitement commingled to shape a writhing mask of unpredictability on the satyr's face. Fists clenching and unclenching, hooves ringing a slow, jittery dance on the tiles, he gazed into Decker's eyes.
"I-I'm sorry, I...I shouldn't have, um, but my friend...." Decker backed away one step from the agitated satyr. "I'm um, really sorry, but did you see, ah, another one like me?"
The satyr stared at Decker's lips. He seemed confused, unable to decipher the words Decker was saying. Anger gave way to anxiety; the satyr moaned, then roared, pulling at his ears. He slurred the words, "I can't hear! I am deafened!" He banged his fists against the sides of his head, backed up until he bumped a wall, and slid down into a sitting position. He must have been too near one of those great lightning bolts, Decker thought. The thunderclap must have struck him deaf.
Decker knelt over the Cletus' inert form. The miner had tied his new hat strings tightly; it still clung to his head, though it was a limp, bedraggled shade of its original shape. He fumbled with the knots, finally loosening them and removing the hat.
He was breathing, though his skin glowed an ashy white in the flickering lightning. The light wasn't sufficient to do an adequate inspection. Decker glanced around, hoping to find a torch or a lantern, then realizing he'd have no way to light it. He had two choices now: Either sit tight and wait out the seemingly endless storm or go looking for a way to make light.
He glanced over at the satyr. The great, hulking brute had his face in his hands; he was shuddering and sobbing violently. Decker decided to leave him to it; there seemed no point in disturbing him, and every possibility of personal injury should he do so. Cletus was out cold, possibly injured badly. His decision was made; he'd scour the hotel for anything that could help them.
His drenched clothing clung to him, constricting his movements, pulling at his fur. He stripped off everything but his briefs, paused, then stripped those off too. A delicious sense of freedom washed over him, along with the urge to shake like a wet dog. In the midst of all the terror and anxiety, Decker imagined laying on the tile and licking himself clean, bringing a bubble of hysterical laughter to the back of his throat; he fought it back and strode to the reception counter.
He leaped over the long, pillared counter and rifled the cubbyholes and drawers underneath. There were ink bottles, quills, and a lot of odd paper there, some dampened by blowing rain but some crisp and dry. He tucked a large bundle of dry paper into a dry cubby and continued his search. There were lamp sconces on the walls, but no lamps. Most likely they'd all been taken by thrill seekers. At the back of the reception office there were more cabinets, most of them hanging open and already looking well-rifled. He dug around in the drawers and chanced to find a couple candle stubs and one nearly whole candle. He reflexively thrust them toward a shirt pocket, then laughed.
Now Decker had to figure out a way to get the candles lit. He wondered if Cletus might have anything. Cletus was a miner; he probably would have a way to make fire. Clutching the candles in one hand, he leaped back over the reception counter and raced to the foyer.
The satyr seemed to have regained his equilibrium; he was at the door, peering out through the narrow gap he maintained by firm pressure on the handle. Cletus had curled himself into a ball, making an investigation of his pockets difficult. Decker pried at the wet miner's knees in an attempt to straighten him out, but he kept jerking them back up with shivering convulsions.
Decker looked up at the satyr. Did he dare disturb him? He took a deep breath; he had to. "Um, excuse me. Hello?" He got up and took a couple steps toward the large fellow. "Mister, ah, Satyr? I need your help." There was still no response, so he took one more step and reached to touch a broad, sinewy shoulder. "Excuse me," he repeated, more forcefully this time.
The satyr glanced back at him, then returned his gaze to the storm. His hearing was obviously starting to come back. "My brethren," he asserted, "I must watch for my brethren."
"Um, could you take just a moment to help me search my, er, brother's pockets for a way to make light?"
The satyr seemed torn, but finally turned from the door. "What do you want me to do?"
"Help me straighten him out, then hold him while I go through his pockets."
"My name's Decker, and this is Cletus," Decker said as he searched Cletus' pockets.
"You can call me Tharlo," the satyr replied.
"Did you see anyone out there?"
"Only shadows of shadows. Perhaps tricks of a hopeful eye."
Cletus had a wide assortment of odd junk on his person. The pile Decker made of his findings grew until it hardly seemed possible that the skinny miner would be able to haul such a collection, much less fit it all into his pockets. Satisfied that he'd extricated everything, Decker shuffled around in the pile, finding nothing that might help.
Tharlo pointed out a nondescript chunk of stone, roughly the size of a large man's thumb, and what Decker could only surmise might be a simplified iron version of brass knuckles, a sort of oblong metal hoop that would fit around four clenched fingers. "There are your fire-making tools." He gave Decker a quizzical look, as though he wondered why they'd gone unnoticed.
The light bulb went off in Decker's brain; flint and steel! "Okay, good. Thanks, Tharlo. I'm going to go get some paper. You can go back to your watch, but yell for me if you see someone that looks like me out there."
He brought back some paper and a couple of wooden drawers, one of which he flung to the floor with enough force to splinter. He used a couple sheets of the paper to rub the flint and steel dry, then made a few clumsy attempts to produce sparks before he hit on an effective method. Before long he had a cheerful little blaze going on the foyer tile, and one of the candle stubs stood on the end of a drawer to offer light as he made an inspection of Cletus' injuries.
The worst of it seemed to be a half-baseball-sized knot on the back of Cletus' head. He dragged Cletus' now-limp form over to a built-in stone bench, propping his shoulders against it, holding him in a sitting position as he tried to wake him up. "Cletus! CLETUS!" He didn't think he dared to shake him, so he chafed at his hands and prodded his chest as he shouted. Finally, the ashy miner's eyes fluttered open with a look of foggy confusion. "Cletus, you have to stay awake. You took a nasty fall, and you might be concussed."
"Con-cuss it all anyway," Cletus mumbled, giving an owly glare to a spot some eight inches left of Decker's face, "Lemme sleep, wudja? s'dreamin' 'bout Fiela..."
"Cletus, you're gonna DIE if you don't stay awake! Don't make me slap you!"
"Awright, awright, whut's yer pants all bundled fer? Oh, ya got no pants. Izzat yer problem? Yeah, yeah, I'm awake. Now gimme some of thet good hotel likker tuh mellow this con-cuss-ed hangover!"
"Here's the deal, buddy: you're going to tell us a story. A long story. I don't care what it's about, you just don't get to stop talking until I say, no matter if we seem to be listening or not. Degren's still out there, and so are the other seven satyrs." He pointed to the hulking fellow in the doorway. "That's Tharlo, by the way. I'm going to go find out if he's seen anyone."
Tharlo grunted a negative, but then Decker saw his shoulders tighten. "Wait....there! Someone's out there!" He yanked the door inward, extinguishing the candle and nearly spraying the little fire out in his haste to get out. Decker pushed the door shut behind him, nursed the fire back to life with some paper and a few more drawer splinters, then took up the satyr's post. "Keep talking!" he shouted to Cletus as he watched Tharlo's big back disappear into the pounding rain.
His hopes rose momentarily as he saw Tharlo struggling up the steps, an inert form over his shoulder. When he opened the door for the them, he saw it was another satyr he carried. He felt the Furge personality surge up, all desperation and grief; threatening to take over, threatening to do something crazy like race out into the storm in search of his lost mate. Decker nearly succumbed. It was then that he realized how near the time was when he'd no longer be able to maintain his own persona at the fore. There was a sense of desperation in his own heart at this revelation, but something of relief as well; one way or the other, this struggle would soon be over. He had, after all, come to enjoy being in this new, stronger, more agile form.
The new satyr had obviously been knocked unconscious somehow; in the light of the fire, Decker noted that there were abrasions on the still chin, and when his eyes drifted to Tharlo's hand, he could see blood welling from the knuckles.
Tharlo's eyes met his, and Decker could see the agony there. "He was...I had to...the storm, we-"
"You did what you had to to get him to safety. I saw your distress when you first came in. You, um.." He couldn't find words with the right delicacy. "It's a wicked, scary storm."
The guilt-stricken satyr's shoulders slumped in relief. "We..our kind...don't do well with storms."
"You got him back safe."
They gathered more wooden doors and drawers, and they moved the fire far enough into the reception area so it wouldn't be effected by more comings and goings. Decker checked Cletus over more thoroughly, to the groggy miner's protests. Tharlo let his "brother" sleep, declaring his fervent hope that he'd awaken in less of a panic. They kept a small fire going, taking turns watching through the door, for what seemed an eternity. Finally, as their wood ran out, the storm broke as though cracked open by a knife of sunlight. spreading a blue sky that chased half a double rainbow to either side.
They got Cletus to his feet, supporting him on either side, so he could witness the end of the storm. He was too weak to stand for long, and they brought him back to the bench. Decker worried that the miner had been grievously injured. He hoped he'd be alright, but it didn't look good.
The other satyr awakened, not much the worse for his evening's panic and the blow to the chin that had ended it. Tharlo introduced him as Kugh.
Though he dreaded leaving Cletus alone, he felt he must go in search of Degren. Both the satyrs were already on their way out to seek their brethren. "Cletus, I have to go try to find Degren. You stay awake in here, okay? I'll be back soon."
"Yup, um, kettle bark cave noodle," Cletus mumbled, worrying Decker further. Still, he had to go.
"I'll be back soon."
"Turtle snort."
He found Degren in the cabana by the pool, huddled under the bar, clinging to the foot rail, exhausted but unharmed. The satyrs returned with all six of their brethren; as much as the storm had disconcerted them, it seemed insufficient to actually harm such hardy stock. They all returned to the hotel, where they found that Cletus had nodded off. Decker decided not to wake him until Degren had gotten some sleep; Decker, as well, was feeling the end of his adrenaline. Perhaps everyone could do with a little rest before the next decision had to be made.

No comments:

Post a Comment