|Monstrous Road Kill|
Zebe's POV. In which Tardi meets the woman who intends to drag him from his path. Of course he is tempted. Wouldn't you be?
Zebe fetched his clothes. “If you want in with the Huddle, you need to smell and taste of them. Why would you though?” she said, blushing. “I mean, why would you now?”
He turned his back and dropped the towel. Stepped into the pants. For once not many roots to get in his way. “Umm. Not out of choice. Which would be to be my normal self able to … um … with you.” Would he put it so blatantly if he didn’t see the writing on the wall for himself? How much time would they have? He slid his arms into the shirt she held open for him.
“Umm?” she said encouragingly.
“Well, dally then. A useful Stormy term.”
“Let’s dally. Take what time we have,” she said.
They met in the middle with her stepping forward and him not stepping back.
“If you don’t mind …” he started.
She buried her hands in his weird hair. “What I just said.” Covered his mouth with her lips.
Glued. Sliding. Slipping. Their lips and their tongues.
“Boat’s here,” Shad called.
Tardi groaned. Pecked her for a dessert. “Take what time we have.”
The man Shad and the tree-hair Tardi side-stepped as to who would be first to meet Mr Boatman, for all that they carried bags and chattels under their arms, theirs and hers.
“He knows Callum isn’t with us, he took Trinnet and the young one to the mainland in the first place,” Tardi said, starting along the jetty. Zebe stepped past the glum-faced Stormy.
After one of his cryptic nods, Mr Boatman ignored Zebe.
He addressed the Stormy behind her. “I trusted you.”
An injured sort of tone.
“Haven’t heard from him?” Mr Boatman said. He pushed past them all standing in the well of the boat, one two three, to free the painter from the bollard. “Kiddie used to do this.”
Shad shook his head. “I haven’t.”
“Youngster will not be free wherever he goes,” Mr Boatman said. He pushed back past them.
“I know what you mean. I have that self-same problem,” Tardi said.
“Please sit down, at least two of you,” Mr Boatman flung the words at Zebe and Shad. “So you’ll tell me when he escapes?” he aimed at Tardi.
Tardi slop-slopped and took up a stance to sway with the boat’s movements. He frowned. “There’s only the one way,” he said.
“And you’ll tell me the way and the when?” Mr Boatman said.
“For crying out loud…,” Zebe said.
Mr Boatman turned a severe expression on her. “I grew up puttering this boat between the mainland and the Reefarium,” he said. “I recall when the granddaughter came with that child, to hand him over. A toddler. He named me then and there. Mr Boatman. We hit it off right away. He came along for many a there-and-back boat ride. Over time told me all his stories. Things that happened to him. As he grew older, why he must never step foot on the mainland. I know as much as he does.”
“You know as much as he knew,” Tardi said. “He lies in a spring. He’ll mineralise and be beautiful.”
“He sleeps the forever sleep,” Boatman said. “I’m happy for him.” He pinched tears from his eyes.
Zebe didn’t know whether to be embarrassed for the boatman or what. She was that short on empathy just now. Her stupid stupid sister.
“I’ll take you the long way so you can get a taxi,” Mr Boatman said. “You don’t want to be walking too many places with Mr Tree-man.”
“Have we decided where we are going?” Tardi said, slop slopping in the slop of water in the bottom of the boat.
“Neil and Xanthe’s place, I thought,” Zebe said. “Spare rooms. Where you can tell me your whys and wherefores and I can tell you mine. Plus, where I can get to the bottom of Neil’s news.” Her voice wobbled despite her intention.
All three men looked at her. Mr Boatman with dour interest. Shad knowingly. Neither of them with any hope.
She turned to Tardi. “Do you think Xanthe can still be alive?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“I don’t like how promptly you came out with that,” she said. “The Huddle supposedly eat only male animals?”
“Do you want a hard truth or a soft lie?”
Even Shad looked shaken. “Tar. Please,” he said.
“I have less time every minute to be normal, Shad,” Tardi said.
Zebe didn’t get why Shad grieved, or what for. It was her sister that was taken into the monster.
“Think about it, Zebe,” Tardi said. “What the aliens were said to look like. I heard you asking. Could a human woman be squeezed so flat and live?”
“The bunch of alien females we are talking about?” Mr Boatman said. “Seems to me I’ll get the Anti-Alien League involved. We’ll keep watch twenty-four seven. Any little clue. No work for a boatman anymore with the Reefarium flooded.”
Zebe gave them all up as unsympathetic. She messaged Neil. “I’ll be at the Colman Street jetty in a bit. Come and pick us up?”