|Bark Texture, imagine if your back looked like this ...|
In which Zebe herself, through her visit to Zoo Hall, organises proof that the monster sometimes exists in Tardi ...
Tardi and Shad softened down hard bread rolls by wetting them under the tap when they heard the individual sound of Neil’s customised hoverole swing through the intersection into the residential community.
“His air intake pipes have got to have been squeezed to make that screaming,” Tardi said.
“I’ll get the door!” Zebe called.
There had been no communication between Tardi and Zebe since their upset.
The hoverole squealed to a halt as Zebe reached the front of the house.
Rumble rumble, said a male voice. Zebe’s voice was insistent about something. Finally Neil gave way, promising something.
“Couldn’t understand a word,” Shad said.
Neil followed Zebe into the open plan living space.
“Gennelman wears his ‘gzitement right out,” Shad said in a broad version of the Stormy dialect.
Tardi nodded. Neil wore a fixed smile and a tense demeanour. His eyes glittered. He rubbed his hands, seemingly over a feeling of success.
“Neil, could you make us a sandwich?” Zebe said.
Lunchtime was hours ago and surely Neil would’ve eaten in the SoHAB canteen? Zebe gave the man busy work in other words.
“We’ll be upstairs,” Zebe said. She waited on the third step for Shad and Tardi to precede her, almost with her foot tapping.
“Go on,” she said, not playfully.
“Why?” he said. “When you already decided … your discussing the situation on the front door step?”
If that wasn’t the last straw. It wasn’t hard to stage him tripping, with soft carpet and narrow treads.
Not saying a word, Zebe helped him up with a steely hand in his armpit. “I thought we could sit on the settle?” she said.
Tardi only glanced at the space at the top of the stairs. He followed Shad into the master bedroom.
“You surely didn’t have to make this much of a mess,” Zebe said.
Tardi and Shad had stacked the bed and mattress on edge and roughly folded the bedding on top.
Shad pointed upward. “Broken skylight. A piece of wrack in the wind. We saved as much as we could.”
The patio had the tarp stretched over it for shade since the wind dropped. Tardi’s toe-roots pretty safe on the concrete. And anyway, the tree in him was still in retreat.
A fire-pit of scavenged bricks lay on the concrete. Embers glowed. Their swags hung drying over the guard rails.
Tardi watched Zebe noting it all. Pain in her expression. Inadvertent tears that she tried to hide when she saw him watching. Her manner made more sense. How often had he hidden tearful emotions with anger?
Shad started to take down the tarp.
Neil strode through the bedroom. “Fuckers ate us out of house and home.”
“No power,” Tardi said. “We ate everything that would spoil without refrigeration.”
“Where’s your mate?” Neil said.
“I think he saw you coming,” Tardi said. “Find him down by the river maybe, if you want him.”
“Damn. I said I’d bring in the both of you. Two half-Stormies make a whole, right?”
“What’s your prize?” Tardi said.
Neil laughed. “Zebe, of course.”
“Neil, please! I asked you to allow me to tell them.” She stared Neil out of the room and down the stairs. She watched him from the top to make sure he went.
Downstairs, Neil swore. Kicked something. Slammed a door.
Shad vaulted back over the railings. “Tch. Two halves make a whole! If he only knew.”
“You going along with Neil’s orders, Zebe?” Tardi said. “I don’t expect him to have thought them up himself.”
“Have to. For now,” she said. “It’s not too late, Tar. I mean Tardi.”
“Not too late for what?” he said, frowning.
“Don’t start. You want this stupid thing. Yes, it’s stupid. I hate it. And to set it up with SoHAB, I’m having to be a Class A bitch. Xanthe was good at that. Not me.”
Hug to comfort her? Better not, he wanted to hear the rest.
She blew her nose. Continued calmer. “There are no standardised treatments for what you want so I had to sign you up personally. Because how else would they have committed to providing the protocols? Well, that was their argument. And fucking Whit Smith was laughing the whole time because he already knows all about you? I worry about that. How they plan to use you. Neil of course loves the plan.”
“Fuck Neil,” Tardi said. “I’ll hold out for you to doctor me, Zebe. Then you won’t need to live here because they’ll have to house you. Our story will be that I might need you any tick of the clock. Will you, Zebe?”
She sniffed. “Why don’t you hate me?”
He shrugged. “Circumstances. What could you do? Can we kiss and make up?”
“If you’ll try to think up some evidence?” she said. She angled her face. Pursed her lips.
Tardi hugged her. Met her lips with his …
… the fucking monster convulsed in him. It tore him from her with his arms and legs akimbo.
The wall broke his fall. He slid to the floor. He groaned sorting himself.
“I think there’s your evidence, Zebe,” Shad said. “What possible reason could Tar have to tear himself loose from you with such violence and throw himself backwards to smash into the wall? Something about you that the Great Bastard does not like.”
He helped Tardi up. “What alerted him?”
Tardi touched his lips. “The disinfectant, I think. You drank the stuff?” he asked Zebe.
“They made me wipe my face with it,” Zebe said, crouching with them. “The monster did that?”
“Guess he still doesn’t want me to go to Zoo Hall where he is still a prisoner. Gonna be hard work getting me there.”
“Time to go,” Neil said from the door. “Are you coming or do I have to drag you, Tree-man?”
Tardi chuckled. Neil had to drag him.
Shad held back Zebe.