“He’s got arthritis something chronic. And wind. And my feet are killing me.”
“Are you sure it was a baby?”
Arika was standing next to a pile of books, waving a parchment in the air. She’d been rifling through a stack of papers, but so far hadn’t found anything of interest. Most of the papers were detailed records of conversations, presumably between Wilfred and whoever he brought down here to interrogate. They were written verbatim, regardless of substance or interest, documenting day-to-day chores, interactions with friends and neighbours, trips to the city, records of livestock purchases and the like.
Dylan didn’t look up. This was the third time she’d asked the question and she’d probably keep on asking it until he said, “No, it was a cat.” He shouldn’t have told her about the baby. It was just that Kane had been gone for so long and he was getting frustrated they hadn’t found anything. He turned over the page. He was browsing through a green cloth-bound book that had pages crammed with long strings of text that looked like spells.
“Pretty sure,” he said at last, though in reality he wasn’t. He was dazed after being popped back into his body. The squirming thing wrapped in a dirty jacket might have been an animal, the hand he thought he saw, a paw.
“It couldn’t have been a baby. Really.”
He shrugged and thumbed through the rest of the book. The text was small and crabbed, written in a foreign language. It was impossible to tell whether these were spells or just the attempts of a wannabe poet. He clapped the book shut. Probably the Necromonicon was just as indecipherable and this whole expedition would end up being a complete waste of time. A tear – whether of frustration or sadness, Dylan didn’t know – rolled in a line down his cheek and dropped with a splat on the book.
“We’d have heard something if babies were going missing,” Arika said.
“Suppose so,” shrugged Dylan. She had a point there. People tended to make a big thing of it when their kids went missing. It was probably a cat. But what type of divine being did Wilfred expect to conjure through sacrificing a boring old housecat? He changed his mind again. It must have been a baby.
Arika dropped the parchment and lifted a bulldog-clipped set of papers off the shelf. “Can you imagine the things Waite gets up to down here, all alone?” she asked, her eyes roaming the room.
Dylan shrugged again. He laid the book on the table and picked up another.
“The thought of … well, you – here – doing God knows what … makes my stomach churn.”
“Aw, thanks. Just the thing a red-blooded teenager wants to hear from a girl.”
“Sorry,” smiled Arika. “You know what I mean.”
“Don’t worry about it. My stomach churns whenever I look at me too.”
Replacing the papers on the shelf, she skipped over and pulled out a chair. “How does it feel? Being in that body?”
Dylan glanced down at his rumpled clothes, at the squat, shrunken, wrinkled body inside them that didn’t make any sense. “Just … weird.”
“It would be a researcher’s dream to study this.”
“I’ll donate my body to science after I kick the bucket.”
Arika didn’t react; just kept staring in fascination at his body. “Does it feel different to your own body?”
“Course. It feels … smaller. Everything’s bigger.”
“Does it hurt?”
“All the time. He’s got arthritis something chronic. And wind. And my feet are killing me.”
“Do you feel old or is it more like your brain’s working normally but your body isn’t?”
Dylan was starting to resent all the questions. They were here to get his body back, not while away time discussing the physiology of ageing. “It feels like I’m in a rubber chicken suit,” he said, opening the book.
“Like you’re yourself, but in a costume?”
He ignored her.
She ignored the snub. “Maybe over time you’ll get used to it. The body is pretty resilient and adaptable.”
Her remark sent a stab of anger through him. Arika seemed to be assuming he was in this rotting bag of meat to stay.
“I’ll get out,” he shot back, glaring at her. “Kane will make sure of it.”
She patted his scabby hand. “I know he will. He won’t stop for anything.”
“I wonder how he’s going.”
Arika took out her phone. “Still no signal.”
“We should’ve made a plan for how long he was gonna take. We could be waiting here forever, not knowing when he’s coming back.” An icy dread hit him. “He could be lost … or something worse.”
“If he’s not back in fifteen, we’ll go look for him.”
With a terse smile, Arika got up and went back to the bookshelf.
“Do you think Waite is still trying to raise Yog-Sothoth?” she asked, picking up the wad of papers again.
“That was the plan.”
“What will that be like?”
“We never got to that part.”
“He didn’t say?”
“He made it sound like it would be this booming voice from the sky – like God.”
“He wasn’t expecting any physical manifestation?”
“I think he was expecting to see it. The Messenger was supposed to clear the way. So it could appear in person.”
“I wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall for that.”
“Apparently the spell has to be done in a place called M’lal’orla – a charmed place that pulls in mystical energy from the Earth. Yog-Sothoth isn’t an easy god to summon.”
“That makes sense. I’ve never heard of anyone actually succeeding. Did he say where this charmed place was?”
“Nup. It could be in another country for all I know.”
“That’s not likely, seeing as he raised the Messenger here. Must be somewhere close. It could even be the altar you saw. M’lal’orla might be Big Martha.”
“I did think of that. But it could be anywhere. Those spells in the Necromonicon are pretty specific. Get one thing wrong and nothing happens.”
Arika’s face turned pensive. “He seems bent on gaining immortality, doesn’t he?”
“Wilfred? He thinks he already is.”
“After two hundred years, I suppose you’ve either had enough of life, or you’ve tasted eternity and want more. I’m not sure where I’d sit.” She thought for a moment. “I suppose if I was offered immortality, I’d have to take it, just to see what it was like. But if I didn’t like it, the only way out would be suicide, I guess, which isn’t a nice thought. Unless life is just stretched out, like Waite did before he stole your body. You’d have more time, but there’d still be an end.”
Dylan was trying to read his book, a treatise on demonic possession.
“I wouldn’t mind being around for space travel – going to Mars and beyond. That’d be worth waiting around for. Not so keen on seeing how global warming or cyber-terrorism or over-population play out, though. How about you, Dylan?”
“Yeah,” he grunted, not really paying attention.
“Don’t you think immortality is the ultimate form of greed? If you make the most of the life you have, you should have plenty of time to do everything. I guess. It’s hard to tell. I know a lot of people work hard all their life and don’t have time to enjoy it till they retire, so being immortal will at least stretch out your retirement. As long as you’re healthy enough to enjoy it. Which is Waite’s thing, isn’t it? – why he had to steal your body. Now he has another three decades of youth to enjoy.”
He heard that bit.
“I mean – that’s his aim. Not that we’ll let that happen.”
Looking sheepish, she turned her attention to the papers in her hand. As she read, her eyes opened in surprise. “Oh. My. God.”
Dylan raised his head. “What is it?”
At first she appeared not to have heard him. With an effort, she pulled her eyes away from the papers and waved them at him. “Dylan, old man, you will never guess what this is.”
Read Chapter 29: Back