The Cold Inside (a serial novel) Chapter Thirty-Four part three
The Cold Inside
By AL BRUNO III
Tuesday January 24 1995
Alone in his storage building Phil worked as quickly as he could. He pushed everything to the edges of the room; the assorted souvenirs and mementos, the steamer trunks and cardboard boxes, the detritus of thirty-six years scrabbling to survive in a world that was occupied territory. Then, taking a piece of chalk made from the ground up tusks of a beast that had never walked on this world, he set to work.
It wasn’t as easy as he had thought it would be, the flickering light from the old kerosene lantern and his own shaking hands conspired to make a born again amateur of him. There was a time when he had known these runes as well as he had known how to pick a lock or break into a safe but now he found himself second guessing every line he drew.
The runes were a precaution nothing more, if Tristam screwed up somehow, or tried some kind of betrayal, this network of unearthly glyphs would give him a place to retreat to with Zara.
The symbols completed, he knelt at the center of them rubbing his aching back. There was a carpet bag beside him, he reached inside and drew out a black ruby; it was finely polished and cut like a teardrop. There was a small fortune of the strange little gems in the bag, Phil tossed them carelessly into a corner and readied himself.
When he reached out with his consciousness he could just sense Tristam’s spirit on the move. Maybe there’s hope for this younger generation after all. Phil thought as he placed the black ruby on the back of his tongue and swallowed it dry. He knelt there for a moment feeling the gem scrape its way down his throat.
I wish John was here.
Phil slowed his breathing down, letting it become deep and relaxed. His eyes closed, he lost himself in the darkness they found. That familiar feeling of weightlessness followed and he untethered his spirit. Phil watched his body slump forward.
Well, He thought, Here we go.
He found Tristam easily; his spirit was making slow barrel rolls in the sky over the Carvale Home. “I guess this is good-bye.” He floated towards Phil.
“With any luck.”
Tristam flew close, “I wanted to thank you.”
“Just don’t screw up, that’s all the thanks I need.”
“You got it.” Tristam made a mocking salute before disappearing through the roof of the facility.
This is it. Phil rocketed towards the hospital, barely noticing the landscape flowing past him.
The critical care ward was quiet, a nurse sat at her desk going over forms. Phil slipped from one layer of reality to the next and found the room choked with the remnants of the dead. Phil cut through them until he was at Zara’s bedside.
Did he sense a flicker of recognition from her? There was no time to be sure. He just tried to think soothing thoughts as he reached in and pulled.
Zara’s soul struggled in his grip, all fear and desperation. “Calm down now. It’s me. It’s all going according to plan. We’re almost free. Don’t be afraid any more.”
Marshaling all his strength he drew her down through the layers of reality. “It’s all right now. We’re almost there.” He carried her through the Realm of Dreams, noting how stormy it seemed tonight, how every stray bit of reverie was tinged with nightmare. It was like swimming through choppy waters. He almost considered turning back and keeping Zara safe in a corner of his mind for a while.
Her soul shivered in his grip and Phil knew he couldn’t risk it.
Moving faster was the only alternative. He passed through the barrier between Dreams and Matter feeling the world snap back into blinding focus. He was still in the critical care ward but it was laid bare. No human eye would ever perceive the world like this.
It was almost a relief to find himself in the Realm of Energy next; matter fading away to reveal skeletons of energy arcing though every power grid and nervous system. Phil could see bits of magic- spells, prayers and even the occasional wish, accelerating this way and that, twisting the world out of focus with their passing. He steered well clear of them.
Zara’s mind was whispering now but her thoughts was so muddled that Phil couldn’t understand what she was trying to say. “I love you.” He said in absence of anything else, “I love you.”
Tristam’s panicked exclamation tore through the layers of reality like a peal of thunder, “HELP! PHIL! IT ISN’T-”
“Tristam?” Phil called to the boy without thinking.
Phil felt Zara shuddering. There was a familiar mind, a familiar soul homing in on them.
Caution forgotten, he threw himself at the border between the Realm of Energy and the Husk Worlds with all his might. Zara’s soul writhed in pain and confusion. In the distance ahead better, safer worlds beckoned. He only had to reach them.
There was a shape clawing its way through the stratums of existence. Phil had never sensed anything like it; a soul stripped of all pretense of humanity. Even as it pursued them it also drew them back from the brink of escape. Tugging on the two souls like an unforgiving alien gravity.
“No!” Phil howled into the mass rising up to catch them. The Husk worlds dwindled and disappeared. Desperate Phil attacked the shape, pelting it with spells and curses. A ribbon of black darted out from the mass snatching Zara’s soul away.
“Not her! Please!”
But she was already lost to him, consumed utterly.
A dozen more tendrils sprouted from the shape, they tore into Phil and held tight. The pain was too much for him to concentrate but not so much that he might pass out. Phil was splayed open and filleted for what seemed like hours, and then the jumbled, shuddering remnants of his soul were returned to his body.
Finally Victor Kovach spoke, “Recuperate now my wretched little turncoat. Your punishments will continue soon enough on the corporeal plane. This was all merely a preamble to the greater agonies I have planned. First however I must awaken, at long last I must awaken.”