|Close Up of the Living Mud|
A hand grasped Tardi's shirt collar. Jerked him up.
He bit down on a scream. The monster jounced in him as turgidly as a water-filled balloon.
“Fuck it Tar, don’t make me have to kill myself as well,” Shad said, hauling Tardi up.
The football slowly deflated.
You saved me, my best-beloved shadow.
“I know I know,” Shad said. “It’s what I signed up for. To die when you die. But shit! I didn’t expect to have to when we’ve only barely left home.”
Tardi licked his teeth. “Spit or swallow?” he said.
Shad shrugged. Wiped mud from Tardi’s face. “You lost the chair, I expect,” Shad said. “You should come out, anyway. Have a shower. The old lady is packing her gear. She aims to paddle a kayak? There’s no accounting for what a sapient will do. Meaning the sea-doors?”
Ah. Shad stressed about the sea coming in. Tardi spat.
After helping Tardi clamber from the tank, Shad led him into the shower cubicle. “You want me to take a knife to your clothes? Get them off you that way?”
“I’ve got no spares,” Tardi said.
“Soaked to the seams with the grey stuff,” Shad said.
Tardi fell in with Shad’s mood. “So rassle up some spares somewhere about this place?”
“When? Wear the towel in the meantime.” Shad dipped a leather sack into the mud and let it half-fill. Raised it above the surface thoughtfully, apparently to weigh it.
“I can help carry,” Tardi said. “Anything.”
“Right. Yes. I managed to get the old lady tipsy enough to get the recipe out of her. Because I forced Trinnet leave his dandelion wine behind. It were a powerful brew. Eyech. ‘Start with a goodly amount of the grey stuff’, she says. Is this a goodly amount would you say, Tar?”
“Yes.” He rested his head against the wall in front while the water sousing him went to luke-warm. Too many facts coming at him. The fucking monster with another trick. And Callum, that youth. Such courage. Yet making the fucker the heavier a load to carry. Not that anybody knew that’d happen.
“Callum is good, Tar,” Shad said. “A hero.”
“Yes,” Tardi said.
Shad shoved the curtain aside. Closed the taps. Handed Tardi the towel. “He drank all that mineralised water and that water is going to permeate him.”
Shad jumped back to where the grey mud was starting to try to amalgamate with the rest by escaping from the open mouth of the leather bag and creeping up the outside of the tank’s wall. He whipped a plastic glove from his pants pocket and eased the grey stuff back into the bag.
“Is that all necessary?” Tardi said.
“The old lady says she encourages Zebe always to use gloves, so as the Huddle will never learn Zebe. Nor do I ever want them to learn me, you know? Like as not, they’ll plot to eat me.” He tied off the bag by looping the string around the pursed gatherings, finishing with a lark’s head knot and a half hitch.
He sat back, finally looking Tardi in the eye. “There can’t be no dying for you or me until the thing is tamed, Cuz. The young one will be a sight to behold, mineralised and beautiful by the time someone finds him. Won’t be his grandmother.”
How do you know, Tardi wanted to say.
In the corridor someone screamed. “What are you saying!”
Shad frowned, made like he listened. Shook his head minimally all the while. Denying whatever it was, that obviously couldn’t be denied.