Methven - Day Fifteen - Part Five
I tried to lever myself up and out of my rocky throne and almost hurled myself over the cliff in the process. It was just too difficult and dangerous a task for my Elixir-debilitated body. Not only was I weaker than Coors Light, my every extremity was trembling violently, each limb oscillating at a different frequency.
So I sat and watched night gather in the corners of the valley and tried to ignore the headache that was pounding my skull into pulp.
I discovered that it was just slightly less unbearable if I stayed as still as possible, so I did my best to imitate a statue. Unfortunately, my best wasn't very good--not many statues twitch uncontrollably and fewer still have teeth that chatter like so many small town gossips.
The minutes crept past like exhausted snails.
Ever so slowly, dusk gave way to pitchy dark and revealed the alien stars blazing in the blackness of the sky above me. I sat brooding like a deposed emperor and watched the moons race across the horizon. The larger satellite gained steadily on the smaller one. I'd just come to the conclusion that the big guy must also be closer to Methven's surface than its punier sibling when I heard the regular thump of Mahatna's staff as he stumped down the path toward me.
I was overwhelmed with gratitude that he had actually returned for me. Sitting there with a big, stupid grin stretched across my face, I waited as his soft footfalls and the steady beat of his staff against the path drew nearer.
Mahatna came to a stop directly behind me. I heard him kneel, then he circled my chest with an arm like an oak branch and lifted me up out of that stony perch and set me on my unsteady feet as if I were no more of a burden than a five-year-old child.
My knees were stiff from long hours of disuse and they promptly gave out. If Mahatna hadn't supported my entire weight on his skinny frame, I would have toppled over like a felled tree.
I tried to thank him, but all that came out was an unrecognizable noise somewhere between a cough and a croak.
"Water.." I husked.
Mahatna shook his head.
"You cannot yet drink, Mr. Drew. Now hush. You must save your strength."
Hours earlier, I would have argued with him, but, by then, I was simply too weak and too beaten down even to plead. It was enough that he was there, lending me the strength to keep me from falling.
. . .
It took us a long time to negotiate the path from that overlook to Mahatna's hut.
He did most of the work. I tried my best to help, but every step sent a bolt of sheer agony through my throbbing head and set my limbs jerking and spasming uncontrollably. So Mahatna basically carried me more than half the way--hauling me along with my arm draped over his shoulders and my feet dragging on the trail, while he forged steadily along--never stumbling, never hesitating.
The walk did me at least a little good. By the time we came within sight of the wavering yellow firelight spilling through Mahatna's doorway, I was able to bear most of my own weight--even though my feet didn't seem to want to go quite where I pointed them.
Despite my exhaustion, the second we staggered through the door into Mahatna's home, I tore myself away from his supporting arm and flung myself at his water barrel, plunged my sweaty head all the way into its sweet, gloriously welcome contents and drank and drank and drank.
That is, until Mahatna gripped me by my hair and pulled my head out of the barrel by main force, I did.
He literally threw me across the cabin.
"Fool! Go outside."
I crept outside on my hands and knees, wondering if I'd somehow violated a taboo. Mahatna had certainly acted like I'd committed a breach of etiquette or..
Suddenly, I understood why he'd ordered me outside--and why he'd refused to give me water when I'd first asked him for it, an hour or more earlier.
. . .
It's hard to keep accurate track of time when you're puking your guts out. I look at it as a kind of proof of the theory of relativity, because, regardless of how much time the clock says has passed, subjectively speaking, it always seems to last an eternity.
So, after a couple of eternities--one for the nausea itself and a second one for the dry heaves that followed--Mahatna picked me up once again and carried me back into his cheerily firelit shack. He laid me gently on his bed and wiped my face and mouth with an ornately-needlepointed damp cloth.
"You do not listen well, Mr. Drew."
"So I've heard," I whispered--a whisper being as much volume as I could muster just then.
Mahatna's staff lightly tapped the side of my head.
"Be quiet, Mr. Drew."
I took the hint. It was the wrong time for repartee.
Mahatna's bony fingers passed over my face, softly brushing my eyelids closed. I felt fractionally better with them shut, so I let them stay that way.
It got real quiet. After a while, I felt that same sensation of ghostly fingers sifting through the inside of my skull that I remembered from my experience the previous afternoon. Like a trickling stream, the feeling spread outward and downward, into and through through my body.
Slowly, steadily, my bone-deep weariness receded. My head still throbbed as if it were an active nuclear test site and my tremors were, if anything, worse than they had been as recently as an hour earlier, but somehow I was no longer teetering on the verge of complete physical collapse. On the other hand, as my energy level rose, I became increasingly aware of..not a pain, exactly, but something like a presence behind my eyes.
I could feel something growing about two inches behind the bridge of my nose. And once I became aware of it, I couldn't turn my attention away from it--like an itch I couldn't scratch, it commanded notice.
I began to appreciate why Pith was so agitated the previous night. If his experience hadn't prepared me for it, discovering this thing growing inside my skull would have scared me shitless.
The ghostly tickling sensation inside my head suddenly stopped.
I opened my eyes and looked over at Mahatna, who was using his staff to pull himself to his feet. Even in the ruddy glow of the fire, his face looked gray and drawn. He tottered over to the table and leaned heavily on its surface for support as he pulled out a chair. I watched him half-fall into his seat.
A long moment passed, while Mahatna slumped there, his narrow shoulders bowed with fatigue. Then he lifted his head and turned his clouded gaze toward me. His milky eyes looked out from the bottom of two dark wells nested deep in a seamed web of lines eroded into his ancient face.
"Leave me now, Mr. Drew."
He had never looked older--or more fragile--than he did at that moment.
. . .
Getting down the mountain to the Clanhome proper by myself in the dark was no fun at all.
I just gritted my teeth--mostly to stop them from chattering--and kept on stumbling and staggering and falling down, over and over again until, at last, I made it to the Clanhome's back entrance. Then it got easier, because I had walls around me to lean on--and to bounce off of.
By the time I finally got to own my door, I was half hoping that my head would just make good on its threat to come all the way off. My poor throat felt like it was lined with used sawdust, but my hands were trembling so violently that, when I tried to pour myself a cup of water, more of the pitcher's contents wound up on the floor than in the cup--and everything in the cup ended up on my shirt and trousers, instead of in my gullet.
I threw the empty cup against the door--hard--and kicked the useless pitcher after it. I've never been so frustrated in my life.
It was no use kidding myself. I needed help.
So I lurched down the hall to Pith's room and pounded on his door.
He answered my knock in his skivvies.
"Hey, dog. Wondered when y'd show up."
I mimed drinking and croaked out something that sounded vaguely like "Water."
He nodded and waved at his bed.
I wobbled over to his bunk and collapsed on the sleeping furs while Pith poured a cup of water from the pitcher on his writing table. I was encouraged to note that his grip was sure and his hands displayed only the faintest hint of tremor.
He sat me up and supported me with a hand on my back as he brought the cup to my lips for me to drink.
"Slow, doggy. Don' overdo it."
It was good advice. Hard to follow, but good. Somehow, I forced myself to take slow sips, when I wanted long, sustained gulps, instead.
It felt so good, bathing my parched tongue and throat. I've never tasted anything sweeter or more welcome.
Pith shook his head.
I wasn't especially eager to demonstrate the theory of relativity again--especially so soon after my last such exhibition--but I was still so damned thirsty.
He shook his head.
"Give it another couple minutes."
He was right, but..
"Made th' trains run on time. How'd y'like th'lixir?"
"Sucked. Big time."
"Y'got that right."
I considered how much I should tell him. Not the stuff about Alison, of course and I wasn't about to say anything about Rector, either. And I'd die under extreme torture before I told anyone about Mom.
Hell, I didn't even want to think about that. Ever.
But what I'd discovered about Dad--that was a different story. In some ways, Pith and I are closer than brothers. I know from experience that he can keep a confidence. And, although I needed to talk to somebody about Dad's secret life, I wasn't quite ready to brace Læ up about it. Not yet.
"Can you keep a secret?"
He made an X over his heart, then held up two fingers.
"Then get me another cup of water and I'll tell you a wild one."
"Deal. Jus' don' ralph on me, dog."
So I drank some more water and told him about what I'd learned of my father's clandestine career and how he and my mother had died. While I talked, Pith busied himself rolling a joint. I reached the end of my narrative just as he set it aside to dry.
"Y'sure 'bout all this?"
I shook my head.
"Hell no, I'm not sure. But it all fits like a coat of paint--and it explains a lot of things about Dad that never made sense to me before."
"Damn good question. Wish I had a good answer."
"Y'gonna talk t'Læ?"
"Eventually, yeah. Right away? I dunno. I was kind of hoping you could help me figure that out."
He grew pensive.
"As I see it, I have basically three choices: I can confront her with it now, I can wait and see if a better opportunity presents itself, or I can just keep it to myself."
"Keeping it to myself just isn't gonna work. Sooner or later, I have to find out the truth."
Pith nodded, solemnly.
"If I tackle her about it now, she'll either deny it or confirm it. Either way, I've shown her all my down cards."
Pith nodded again and picked up the joint he'd set aside to dry. It was lumpier-looking than his usual handiwork, probably due to the lingering effects of the Elixir.
"On the other hand, if I wait and see what develops once we get back on the road, she might let something slip that would give me proof--or, at least, more evidence--that Dad worked for her."
Pith nodded a fourth time, squinting against the curling smoke as he bent over the lamp on his desk to light the jay.
"After all, as long as she doesn't know that I know-- or that I suspect--Dad was one of her operatives, she won't have any particular reason to watch what she says to me."
Pith nodded, holding in a lungful of aromatic pot smoke, and offered the reefer to me.
I shook my head.
His eyebrows shot up.
"I know, I know--but I want to think this through, first."
He shrugged, still holding his toke.
"I think I could even work a conversation around to it without arousing her suspicions--I could ask her about her family, for instance. That'd be an interesting conversation in and of itself and it'd give me a perfect excuse to talk about my folks."
Pith exhaled, massively. There was no trace left of the smoke he'd taken in.
"It'd give me a reason to talk about the..the accident. I could tell her that I'd always wondered what Mom and Dad were doing in Ano Nuevo in the first place and then mention the coroner's verdict that it was suicide."
Pith nodded and took another lung-straining pull on the swiftly- shrinking jay.
"I wonder what she'd say to that?"
Pith shrugged, holding the smoke in.
"I could even mention that there weren't any skid marks..what the hell, that's in the accident report--if she knows what really happened, she'd thing it was strange if I didn't mention it. And how she reacts to that could tell me a lot!"
"Yeah, that's definitely the way to go. Bide my time and hit her with it when her guard is down."
Pith nodded vigorously.
"Thanks, buddy--you've been a big help."
He grinned and blew out a small, gray cloud of spent smoke.
(Copyright© 1997, 1998 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)