The monster enables/forces Tardi to experience Callum's last actions ...
Tardi sat in the mud. Wither-wondering. Hope Shad can think of a way to take some mud with us. Wonder if the monster is entertaining Callum and or Trinnet with my doings?
The black-haired brow overhung his own, or in other words, he looked through Callum’s eyes. He heard Trinnet excusing himself by way of Callum’s ears.
“Don’t need to look at me so blackly, young one. I did it for the best. A load shared is a load halved, is what we Stormies say. Ace halved Tardi’s load. An elder halving a youth’s load, there’s a topsy turvy in there somewhere, if you get my meaning?” Trinnet stopped, maybe expecting an answer.
Callum said nothing but continued to stare.
Trinnet continued. “Topsy-turves are my favourite corrections. The Great Bastard is a heavy load to bear and youths are famously the stronger. You’re a youth and I’m the one that were put upon with the load. Bastard rarely sleeps and I aim to kip the dark of the night away. Hence.”
Tardi-in-the-monster-in-Callum watched Trinnet get ready for the night. Keeping hold of the pillow-end of his blanket roll he flung the rest free. Laid it next to his side of the fire.
Trinnet lay down on a narrow half of his blanket, facing the fire, and pulled the other half of his blanket over himself. “Keep the fire fresh, there’s a good lad. All that fuel you gathered.”
Silence but for the crackling of the fire.
Was Trinnet really so dumb that suddenly he couldn’t feel any danger in his situation? Stupid question, Tar-boy. If Trinnet felt the danger he wouldn’t be so stupid. Was it that the monster decided Trinnet was supernumerary? More to Callum than meets the eye, then.
Stupid again. Stupid cliche. Callum reminded you of one of the Huddle, or at least the life-sized poster in the foyer at SoHAB. Trinnet suddenly was nothing because the monster recognised Callum.
Tardi swore, short and severe.
All those goodbyes. The young person had already decided. Don’t stand in his way. Steve all over again. He cried, couldn’t help his tears joining the mud. The little hands stroked and stroked.
Callum hummed a lullaby, at first only in his mind.
Tardi hummed with him. Trinnet in a light sleep might feel the fire dying, he thought at Callum. Would his hint cross the virtual monster-membrane between them? Or, in other words, would the monster allow the message to cross?
Callum fed the fire. He aimed to have it snapping and crackling with small flames licking the firewood without interruption.
A kind of confirmation. Tardi sweated in the mud bath and the little hands stroked him calm. This was where Callum learned his cool?
Tardi’s eyesight dizzied with patches of fire-lit forest, now here, now there, against the glistening underlay of the neck-deep mud he sat in. Callum was on the move.
Now Tardi saw bare ground. Now the blanket roll in Callum’s hands. Now a close up of Trinnet on his back, snoring.
Callum straddled his blanket roll over Trinnet’s face. Pressed down on the ends.
Trinnet woke kicking and flailing. His screams were high pitched groans.
Too much for the boy. He slid his hand to Trinnet’s throat, dug in a thumb.
Trinnet slumped. The foul rotting vegetable stink of his loosened bowels made him a rotting corpse instantly.
The monster in Tardi exulted.
Callum whimpered. “I don’t want to be so ugly. So stinking. What if Gran comes to find me?”
Tardi crooned the lullaby. The little hands helped soothe him, soothe the monster, soothe the boy. He’s a nine the younger than Shad. A nine the younger than me. The same age as Steve was.
“I won’t go back,” Callum said at the world. “All the goodbyes I said. I don’t want to unsay them.” His voice trembled. “Got to find a better way, that’s all.”
Tardi thought clear water at the monster. A spring. Would the monster fall for a new thing? Clear, strong, blue-green spring water. In the mountains. He wondered now whether everything that happened to him back home was due to the monster’s insatiable curiosity?
He would’ve added, somewhere to lie in peace for the rest of time. But he couldn’t be sure that the thought would reach Callum, or that it wouldn’t galvanise the monster, and so galvanise Callum.
How far would it be? How many hours? Should he leave the tank, go to bed? Or stay? Quite comfy if he rested against the tank’s wall. Sleep.
Callum tasted the water. Strong and oily, it seemed to slide down his throat all of a piece, like a long sausage. He drank more, he needed to fill his stomach. The sandy spring bottom looked as blue as a coral shore. Neither vegetation nor fish marred the clarity of the water. Beautiful.
Just as well Zebe could never teach him to swim.
He thought again of Gran finding him so didn’t take off his clothes. Just the clumsy boots. He set them side by side.
Slid into the water down a rock.
Tardi slid from the bathing stool onto his knees. His nose just above the surface.
Oh! Callum startled. Water was deeper than he’d thought. Can’t breathe! He struggled to keep his head above the water. He was too short. Feet down. He stood on tip-toes. Still too short.
Tardi sat back. His green hair floating on the surface of the mud breathed for him. Help me to help him … he stopped thinking as Callum’s lungs filled and they wheezed in distress. His own lungs squeaked in sympathy.
Callum’s heart out-paced Tardi’s. Faster faster.
It’s fear. He’ll burst. Stop him hurting!
The monster sank down in Tardi. Twice as heavy. Three times as heavy, with Trinnet’s portion as well. His insides stretched where its boundaries tried to slide past. No go.
Callum spread his arms and legs, dumpled over like a doughnut. Turned face-up. Surprise in his eyes as bubbles rose from his mouth and nose.
Tardi swallowed those same bubbles, in reverse, with difficulty. His gullet felt stretched out of proportion as the monster tried for freedom within its confines. My body. A football-sized tumour trying for freedom. How would he walk?
A hand grasped his shirt collar. Jerked him up.