Sunday, October 5, 2014

Chapter 21 continued

After that, they couldn’t do much other than hang on.  Welly disappeared back into the deckhouse.  Johnny rejoined Aidan; they held fast to the rails and tried to keep a lookout for further monstrous tentacles.  Roger didn’t reappear, but her voice continued to issue colorful pirate curses through the speaker.  Bones appeared to be scrambling around, running errands for Roger.  Only Larissa seemed calm: she stood, near the railing but not holding it, swaying easily with the motion of the ship, absently stroking the snake around her wrist and just ... observing, Johnny supposed.

Johnny’s mind was working desperately.  “Maybe the flare gun again ... ?” he asked Aidan.

Aidan shook his head.  “Trust, me: that thing is much too big to care about a little flare in its guts.  Even if you could hit its guts.”

Well, Johnny thought, you wanted some excitement.  He bit back a laugh, which he felt sure would contain more than a note of hysteria.  “Can’t you do something?” he asked Aidan.

“Not at this speed,” Aidan returned, maintaining his grim hold on the rail.  “As long as we’re moving this fast, I can’t stay stable enough to do anything significant.  Of course, if we were to slow down, then I might not have time to do anything significant.  So I fear we’re parched either way.”  Johnny’s brain translated “parched” as “screwed.”

“Just a tick,” buzzed Roger’s voice from the speaker.  “I think we’re gaining a bit of headway.  Aidan, can you still feel the bugger back there?”

Aidan rolled his eyes, but didn’t bother to complain.  “Johnny, come help me.”  He turned around to face out over the water again as Johnny stumbled the few steps to join him and regrabbed the top rail.  “This is an uncomfortable thing to ask,” he said apologetically, “but I need you to put your arms around me, grab the railing on either side, and press me up against it.  Tight, so I can let go and still not jostle about too much.  Can you do that?”

Johnny shrugged.  “Sure,” he said.  He didn’t think it was that uncomfortable, actually.  Although once he tried it, he could see Aidan’s hesitation: like riding behind someone on a motorcycle, it was practically impossible to do without inadvertently grinding your crotch into the other person’s butt.  But, compared to getting eaten by a sea monster, that didn’t seem all that worrisome.

Once Johnny was in position, Aidan let go and leaned out, and Johnny knew that his grip was all that was keeping the water priest on the ship.  With one ear pressed against Aidan’s back, he could hear the man’s breathing and his heartbeat, and he could see Larissa staring at them in that dispassionate way she had.  As Aidan started to chant once again, Johnny felt a buzzing vibration settle into his bones, and the sounds from Aidan’s lungs began to sound more like waves crashing on the beach.  Aidan seemed like he was glowing, in the same way that the door into the swampworld had seemed to glow—there was no visible light, just a perception in Johnny’s other sense that seemed to connote glowing, somehow.  It was warm, and oddly comforting.  Rocketing along an ocean-like lagoon in a giant wooden flat-bottomed boat, in danger of being eaten by an unknown monster while they ferried a blue-skinned boy-man who spoke in corny comedy routines and sighs to an unknown location so they could retrieve a mystery object, Johnny still couldn’t help but feel like everything was, suddenly and unexpectedly, okay.  He closed his eyes and breathed more slowly.  “Shallédanu lei shonta,” he said softly, almost unaware he was doing so.

Then all that was drowned out by a freezing blast of cold that nearly froze his otherworldy sense solid.  He gasped, and he actually saw steam coming out of his mouth.  Larissa opened her mouth, no doubt to tell him that it was condensed water vapor and not actually steam, but he didn’t wait.  “Go tell Roger we’re almost there!” he shouted at her over the rushing of the wind.  “Tell her to turn just a bit to the right ...”  Johnny stopped as he realized he couldn’t point without losing his grip on Aidan.  “Like two marks past one o’clock,” he said finally, hoping Larissa would know what he meant.

Apparently she did.  She strode over to the speaker, thumbed the brass button, and said “42 degrees to starboard.”

“Aye, aye,” came Roger’s reply.

The boat turned ever so slightly, and now Johnny felt like his heart had been replaced by a large chunk of ice.  It hurt to breathe, and he began to shiver.  Aidan stopped chanting and turned around, which was good because Johnny’s grip was slipping.  He slumped into the priest’s arms, and he heard Aidan whispering to him, but it was hard to make out over the howling winds blowing through his core.  He looked up at Aidan’s face, and he realized the man wasn’t whispering—he was shouting.  Johnny couldn’t hear anything, but he could almost read his lips ...  Off? he thought disjointedly.  Is he saying “off”?  Oh, yeah ... turn it off.  That’s probably a good idea, now that you mention it.  Only ... how do I turn it off?

Aidan was shaking him now, but it was very distant.  Then he felt the older man grab his head between both hands, index fingers pressed into his temples, and a strange sensation, like warm water trickling over him, started at the top of his head and slowly seeped over his entire body.  The arctic winds began to quiet, and he didn’t feel so cold any more.  Gradually his shivering stopped and he unclenched teeth he just now realized he’d clamped shut to stop them chattering.  Aidan was staring into his eyes, chanting quietly.  He stopped as Johnny exhaled and blinked up at him.  “Better now?” he asked, smiling.

“Yes,” Johnny tried to say, but found that his mouth was completely dried out, like he’d been holding it open in a blizzard.  “Um hmm,” he managed finally, rubbing his tongue back and forth to try to work some spit back into his mouth.

When he got back to his feet, he found that Welly had returned to the deck and was eyeing him speculatively.  “You look like a talent scout for a cemetery,” he said, but his gaze was weighing Johnny.

“Henny Youngman,” Larissa said under her breath, as if she knew no one really cared but couldn’t stop herself from saying it anyway.

“Thanks,” Johnny said to Aidan.

“You have to learn to control it,” Aidan said, still holding him by the shoulders and looking into his face.  “It’s not like seeing or hearing.  It’s more like touch: you can choose how much pressure to apply.  When you get this close to something this big, you need to just barely brush it with your fingertips ... you follow me?”

Johnny nodded.  “Dial it down a notch,” he said, still a bit shaky.  “Check.”

Aidan grinned and clapped him on the shoulder.  “Yes, exactly.  Otherwise it’s going to overwhelm you, like it did just now.  Are you okay now?”

Johnny massaged his chest to try to get some bloodflow back into it.  “I think so.  What did you do?”

Aidan smiled.  “All I did, son, was to quiet your mind.  That made it easier for you to ‘dial it down,’ as you say.  Or turn it off altogether ... is that what you did?”  Aidan moved his head, as if trying to get a better angle to see into Johnny’s mind through his eyes.

Johnny nodded.  “Yeah, I guess I did.  Not consciously, but ...”  Johnny stopped, then shook his head, losing whatever tenuous grasp he had on how to complete that thought.

Aidan squeezed his shoulder.  “Don’t worry.  We won’t need it again for a while, I’m thinking.  Seems like we’re pretty close at this point ...”

“Land ho,” Welly said, deadpan.  All eyes turned to him.  “That’s the proper expression, right?”  He pointed directly ahead.  Another cartoon desert island had sprung up out of the distant mists.  They were headed directly for it.

“Shit,” Johnny said.  Aidan’s comment was not in English, but it sounded very similar in character.

Larissa thumbed the speaker.  “Island, twelve o’clock.  Sandy beach, no visible rocks.”

Roger’s voice sounded grim.  “Well, better hang on to something, then, missy.  ‘Cause we canna stop now.”

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