Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Cold Inside (a serial novel) Chapter Thirty-Three part three

The Cold Inside
Chapter Thirty-Three
part three
By AL BRUNO III

Friday January 20 1995

Once it had been a book but a century of rough handling had reduced it to a sheaf of ragged pages in an old manila folder. Those pages were painstakingly hand lettered, the black ink seeming to glisten against the faded, yellowed paper. The occasional illustrations were crude but unsettling. None of the pages were numbered and Tristam was sure they were out of order.

Tristam sat on his bed going through the pages for the fifth time tonight. Nirvana’s In Utero was playing on his stereo; the volume was just loud enough to annoy his sister, just quiet enough so his mother couldn’t hear it over the TV. This ‘book’ had been a gift from Phil. He promised it contained all the answers to his questions but like most books of forbidden or holy wisdom it was lacking anything remotely resembling an index. The problem was he would think he had the pages all in the correct order but when he tried to read them he would find the book contradicting itself or dropping in references to things he had never heard of.

Whenever that happened it would completely derail his train of thought and he would find himself shuffling papers again. Phil had called the document The Anima Pilgrimage and said it was a very rare book. Phil told Tristam that the author, Preston Kriely, had journeyed deep into the very heart of the Maelstrom. At first Tristam had thought Phil was screwing with him but sifting through the manuscript had revealed strange truths and ideas; ideas so strange that just knowing them seemed to have made his mind work differently. What he had done to Evan was proof enough of that. He’d never been able to be so subtle with his manipulations before, all the others had sensed the break in their consciousness. Tristam had directed Evan effortlessly.

Of course Greg had still tried to screw that up. Tristam thought, I need to do something about him. I’ll just make him forget or make him unable to speak about what he knows. Maybe I should do that for all of them.

But he wasn’t quite ready for that kind of thing yet. The Anima Pilgrimage had offered vague hints of how he could alter the memories and perceptions of others. He would have to start small but if he played his cards right he could graduate valedictorian without ever having to take a single test.

There were too many things in the pages that Tristam couldn’t understand… The Greater Eastern Council of Mystagogues, the City-State of Olathoe, The Monarchs and the Dark Gods. Tristam had found the pages that described the Dark Gods very interesting and he returned to them often.

The text of the Anima Pilgrimage insisted several times that the Dark Gods were not gods at all but simply refugees from a world destroyed long ago. Some paragraphs stated the Dark Gods were dead; others maintained that they were merely hiding in the lost and empty places. These pages were also the only ones that bore illustrations; crude woodcut like affairs that tried to show some aspect of the strange beings. There was one called ANZON – a wizened, sexless form rendered eyeless and mouthless by a misshapen caul. Tristam mused that if he saw such a creature in a horror movie he might laugh but somehow the woodcut grounded the image in a strange realism.

Next was ELDRAD- a grotesque image of a swordman that had been drawn and quartered; a head sat on top of the pile of limbs and gore, glaring out of the page with dispassionate life. Eldrad was described as a spirit of the battlefield, a war god that didn’t care whose side won so long as the ground was wet with blood.

DAMEIA had a page all to herself, it was water stained and crinkled. The image here skirted between the erotic and the grotesque. Every curve of the woman’s body was lovingly detailed yet her face was hidden by shadow and a coy turn of the head. Worms covered her, masses of them moving as one up over her legs and across her bosom. The text revealed her to be some kind of a fertility goddess one whose rites had been long suppressed. 

The next image was even more bizarre, it was a clown, a scrawny jester with a vacant expression. The figure seemed to be caught in mid caper but its face was dull and still. It was only after examining the picture further and reading the entry about BODGE LOYAR did Tristam understand that the clown-like figure was recently drowned and being viewed from under a sheet of ice. For some reason Tristam’s gaze lingered on that drawing the longest. 

The image of DELPHONOS was almost quaint compared to the others, an angelic figure, its body laced with a network of scars and chains. Its eyes were empty and shark like, its expression patient. The text called Delphonos a saint of yearning.

At first Tristam had thought the next woodcut was unfinished, but a second glance showed him this couldn’t be the case. NOGGAR-DALLIEON was an indistinct shape. Were those wings Tristam saw on the shape? Was the figure of Noggar-Dallieon stooped over or standing tall? What was it cradling in its misshapen hands so reverently? The entry described a classic middle child in godly form, forever reinventing itself in an attempt to outshine its siblings until it drove itself to madness.

The final image was the most jarring because it was the most ordinary; it was of a normal looking man dressed in a gray cassock with a slight smile on his lips. Tristam thought he looked like a monk. The text said he was the Dark God named KRESSOR. The author of The Anima Pilgrimage believed that it was Kressor that  had created the Husk Worlds, but each world he created he found wanting.

There was a knock at the door, Tristam slipped the pages back into their manila folder and slid it under his bed. “Come in.”

His mother stepped into the room, Tristam watched her eyes flick around looking for signs of slovenliness or worse. He wondered if that kind of thing was a learned habit or if you got it the day you became a Mom. She was wearing her bathrobe and had her hair pinned back, she looked tired but she always did these days.

Is that my fault? I hope not.

“Hey.” She said.

“I’m just getting ready to turn in.”

“No rush.” Carol sat down on the edge of the bed, “I just wanted to see how you were dealing with what happened today.”

“You mean the shooting right?”

“Yes.”

Tristam could feel her gauging his expression, he tried to find one that showed he was upset but not too upset. “I guess he got what he deserved, pulling a gun on a cop like that.”

“Didn’t you and Evan used to be friends?”

“That was a long time ago.”

“You know if you need to talk to someone I’m here.”

“Evan was one of the guys that used to beat on me after...”

“Yes but he used to be your friend and he’s in critical condition. I just want to know how that makes you feel.”

He shrugged his shoulders, “Weird, really weird, but its been a weird couple of weeks.”

Carol nodded, even if she hadn’t been hearing about it first hand from her children the local news channel was having a field day with the stories. A car crash, a psychological meltdown, an assault and now a shooting? Blessed Heart and its troubled student body were now the subject du jour; of course that had meant they were back to bringing up Tristam’s case as well.

Carol said, “Maybe this, the dog, happened for a reason.”

Tristam leaned back on his bed, not sure where she was going with this. “Come again?”

“If you hadn’t gotten arrested, you would still be running with that group. Then maybe it would be you in jail or the hospital.” Carol wrung her hands, “They say God has a plan for everyone, maybe part of his plan was to have you running with a nicer crowd of kids.”

“Does this mean you love me again?”

“I’ll always love you. Love doesn’t matter in this, there are consequences.”

“So you think me killing a dog was God’s will but I’m still in trouble for it?”

“I don’t know. I just wanted you to think about what’s been happening to you this year in a new way.”

He mustered a smile, “That certainly is an interesting way to look at it. I figured all this happened because God had it in for me.”

“Oh Tristam.” She smiled back, “What happened to you? Will you ever tell me?”

“Tell you what?” 

“You used to be the easy one.” She paused, “Why? Why did you do it?”

“I don’t think I know why I did it really.”

“Then I guess from now on I need you to think.” She said, “You know after this summer its going to be just you and me. That means a lot of changes for both of us.”

Ah-ha. Tristam thought bitterly, She knows she’s losing her favorite so she’s trying to latch onto the black sheep.

Tristam said, “So Pam is going away to college?”

“More than that.” Carol leaned in closer, “She’s getting married.”

“What?”

“She is marrying Ronnie at the Justice of the Peace in July.”

“Is she pregnant?”

“Tristam…” 

It would be fair to say his mother had issues with matrimony; again and again Carol had told her children to beware of passion and to keep those engagements long. 

And now Pam is running to the altar. What must Mom be feeling right now?

“You know…” Tristam began, “Ronnie is a nice guy. She could do a lot worse.”

Carol narrowed her eyes, “She needs to think about her future, not Ronnie.”

“Maybe she thinks Ronnie is her future. I mean you always said Pam is more mature then you were at her age.”

“I was clueless at her age.”

“But you got married anyway, at nineteen wasn’t it?”

“That was the Seventies Tristam, a very different world.”

He grinned slyly, “I know, I’ve seen the pictures of you.”

“All right...”

“That Sonny and Cher have a lot to answer for.”

She snickered into the back of her hand, “You know I’ve missed us laughing.”

Tristam nodded, “I’ve just missed us getting along.”

“We should go to the movies or grab a bite to eat.”

“Yay. A date with my Mom. What would Dr. Butterfield say to that?”

“Oh Tristam.” Carol stood and headed back to the door. She didn’t look any less tired but the grin took years off her. “I’ll let you get back to whatever it was you were doing. Maybe I’ll take you in to school tomorrow, we can get some McDonalds for breakfast.

“Cool.” Tristam said as the door clicked to a close. 

He stared after her for a long time. That had been nice, it reminded him of the good old days, when he and his Mom and his sister had felt like a family. It was nice to see they could still joke around but it was kind of sad too. It wasn’t the same kind of laughter; it was like watching an old black and white comedy and suddenly realizing that all the actors on the screen were long dead.

Tristam pulled the manila folder out from under his pillow and started going through the pages again.

So Pam was moving on? Well, in his own way so was he.



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