|The Huddle's Mud Turned to Stone|
“She be glad to be leaving,” Shad said. “Let’s be at it, Tar.”
“Whip crack about the sea-doors stung you,” Tardi said.
“Not wrong. Go in clothes and all. Takes you too long to get them off over your tree bits.”
Tardi found a stool and a chair arranged to step up into the tank. “She stung me with her whip-crack about her witch’s cauldron,” he said. “Thought I might turn into the frog-prince.”
Tardi felt around with his foot in the steaming grey mud for a step down into the tank. “Found it.” He squatted slowly into the mud aiming for a seat on the stool, taking notice he couldn’t help but, the stuff happening at the boundaries of himself and the mud.
A sensation of a hundred thousand dulled points walked up him as he sank. He nearly missed the monster’s distress. Settling on the stool, he concentrated.
The monster cringed out of all the places it had expanded into.
Tardi shuddered recalling that feeling of the thing as he called it then, twisting and turning in him, making itself a nest. A kinaesthetic delusion, all it was.
And now the monster retreated, ha ha, in advance of a grey mud army. Another delusion. He lifted a couple of handfuls of the mud to face-level.
The way it dripped wasn’t like normal slurry mud or even like sand in seawater say you dug out a moat around a sandcastle. This went in globs and strands, with … he saw close-up … slime mould sporangium-sized fingers six millimetres tall and two millimetres thick … glued together along their lengths with a grey slime …
“Almost like a egg-white, say you’re trying to separate it,” Shad said. “You know, when you toss the yolk from shell to half-shell?”
“Mmm.” If he talked, he’d lose his grip. Besides, his mouth too dry. The mud was alive?
Of course it was. What was it that Cele said? The mud learned.
Fluid in the grey nearly-transparent fingerling bodies glittered as they compressed and lengthened. Hydraulically almost. The origin of the pointillist sensation.
The mini-fingers stood up on his hand, more and more of them rising to an upright position. Bits of the mud threatening to drip from the sides of his hand was pulled in by the elasticity of the slime.
Those standing on the hummocks of the friction pads at the base of his fingers started to rhythmically compress and lengthen, first only the dozens on the friction pads, then those near to them, spreading out to all that fitted on his hand.
Definitely alive. Definitely having intention. He swung his hands down, a giant elevator, for them to join the rest in the tank.
On his back, on the side where the bark ridges reached for his left shoulder blade, he couldn’t feel the tamping except as a generalised pressure as if through a layer of cardboard laid over the whole area.
But … he concentrated all his attention there … the diligent pressuring of the creatures shredded the imaginary cardboard.
At the surface of the mud they built towers of themselves to reach higher and fell back.
“Why don’t you do a head to toe?” Shad said, observing. He glimmer-smiled. “We don’t want none of them old stories coming true.”
Tardi nodded. He slow motioned forward onto his knees. Cross-legged onto the tank floor with his face turned up for air.
He took a deep breath.
Did the head to toe. Counted.
The pressuring on his back grew more localised. Should he think because the pins shredded the actual bark as well as the imaginary cardboard? Would they stop at his skin?
His gut seemed relaxed … he had his gut feelings back? He angled his face up out of the mud. Sighed. about the relief of it. He’d missed being able to trust his gut to help make decisions.
Started rising, slowly, giving the mud creatures time to coalesce and not fall from great heights. Knees under him. Engage leg muscles to standing.
He couldn’t feel the monster in him anywhere.
Where would it go? Trinnet? The rest of the Stormies back home would surely be a backward step for it?
Shad laughed. “If only you could see yourself now. Proper mud man.”