Noah’s Boy – Snippet 22
Kyrie let go of his shoulder now, and went to the shelves that were stacked with mustard pots. She started turning them so they all faced the same way, and spoke as though to the mustard pots. “I don’t think I like this,” she said. “I don’t like the idea that there’s… other… that there are other people in there.”
“They’re not people. More like… the information in people,” he said slowly, more sure as he went along and touched each file, without opening it, and yet getting from it a listing of contents. “Like, what they learned.”
“Don’t care. Where did this came from? Who downloaded it?”
“I think,” Tom said slowly. “I feel it was the Great Sky Dragon, only that’s not quite right.”
“Damn him. First Bea, now this.”
“We’ll go and talk to him. Are you going to be all right?”
“Yeah,” Tom said, making tentative movements, and taking a step towards Kyrie. It all worked fine. “I just… I think I was momentarily overloaded. It was very hard not to shift. I was afraid I’d eat Conan. How is he doing, by the way?”
“How is his show going? I remember hearing clapping.”
“Oh, yes. He can sing, Tom. He really can. They’re … people love it, and he’s lapping it up, even if he has the world’s worst taste in clothes.”
“We should go out there, Kyrie,” Tom said, feeling he had to do something normal, to act normal in some way or he was going to implode. Inside him, the locked information was like a sore tooth that one tries to avoid touching with one’s tongue, but which one is aware of at all times. “We should be selling stuff, and making sure the serving stuff isn’t overloaded. I suppose Laura has left now, and she was never supposed to serve, anyway, which leaves Jason serving and Anthony manning the fryer. He might forget to keep a close eye. What if the fryer explodes?”
“You have a weird relationship with that fryer,” Kyrie said.
Tom grinned at her, and this time didn’t feel like he had to force it. “I don’t like things that can destroy the diner if they blow up.”
“Like half the customers?”
“Well, that too, but then so can I. I meant …”
“I know what you meant.” Kyrie touched his arm tentatively. “On the good side, you’re no longer burning.”
“No, I think that too was a function of the… download,” he said. He opened the door to her and waited for her to step through.
She started to, but then turned around. Through the open door came the strains of “you are not alone,” in a powerful voice no one could believe could come from Conan’s unimpressive frame. “Tom? What was that you said? When I touched you first? Was it… what language was it.”
Tom had no idea what she was talking about, at first, but then remembered pronouncing words, words that made his throat hurt in pronouncing them. He remembered their coming out of his mouth, though he didn’t remember forming them in his brain, and as he thought of them, his mind automatically zoomed in on one of the more deeply-buried files, the ones that his brain told him were oldest.
A touch brought up memories of a language that sounded like that, though he needed to make an effort to open the subfile for all the words he’d heard. Words in a language whose sounds made his throat hurt with remembered injury poured out, their meaning felt rather than known as such.
He squinted against the stronger light coming from the hallway, against the sound of clapping out there. He tried to concentrate on English, as the other language blurred and blended with it, the edges indistinct.
“It was…” He said. “I am not… gon… no. I am not dead. I’m… covered? Hidden? No. Buried. I am buried … beneath… the dragon.”
* * *
He cleaned up nice, Bea thought. And on the heels of that was shocked at herself for letting her guard down.
There was something faintly scandalous about the whole situation, anyway. She was in this cabin in the woods, isolated, with a man she had never met until a few hours ago, and he’d just come out of the shower, smelling of soap and shampoo.
He was wearing what looked like running shorts, very short and loose, and a tan t-shirt that had a picture of a big lion with “The Lion Sleeps IN Tonight.” Her eyes widened a little at the words, remembering he shifted into a lion, and he followed her eyes, and had the grace to blush. “My mom gave it to me,” he said. “When I was twenty or so, because, you know, it’s what I wear on weekends, when I do sleep in.”
She nodded, but still felt uncomfortable. Not because she felt they were too intimate, but because she didn’t feel shocked at their being so intimate. There should be… more embarrassment, she thought, rather than just embarrassment at not being embarrassed.
With a shrug at her own foolishness, she said, “I found some steaks and stuff, but they’re all frozen.”
“We can defrost them,” he said. “We have the technology!” He opened a sliding door to display a wall-mounted microwave discretely hidden behind it. “Mom just doesn’t like to give the impression that this is in the twenty first century, you know — but it doesn’t mean she wants to cook over an open fire. Though we do that too, at times. There’s a grill out back.”
“Yeah,” Bea said, blushing a little, and not sure why. “Only, you know, I think steak is better if it is allowed to defrost properly right?”
“Right, and marinade,” Rafiel said. “What else do we have?”
“Well, you have a bunch of frozen veggies.”
“Yeah, mom buys them in the summer, then deep freezes them for when we come up in winter, but the last winter was so bad we didn’t come up much.” He opened the freezer drawer at the bottom of the freezer, and looked up at her. “Do you eat chicken?”
“Sure. I mean… doesn’t everyone?”
He shrugged. “I’ll cook up a couple of chicken breasts, make a sherry sauce to disguise the defrosted-in-haste taste, and I think we have rice somewhere up there — would you look?” He pointed at a cabinet and she looked, bringing out a package of brown rice. He nodded. “I’ll make us some stir-fried veggies to go with it. Tomorrow we’ll go to the local market and grab fresh veggies. It’s kind of a small market, for the communities up here, but it does have veggies, or it should by now, even if the selection will be more limited than in the city.”
While he talked, he stood up, and started the chicken defrosting, then got out the still-frozen vegetables: carrots and mushrooms and green beans. He made a face. “It won’t be the best thing I’ve ever cooked.” His hair was damp from the shower and rather than standing up like a mane, curled around his ears and the back of his neck. For some reason this made him look young. It was very endearing. He concentrated wholly on the cooking.
The spacious kitchen had a central isle, with the stove on it, and that was where he moved to work. She pulled one of the barstools to it, and sat there, watching him work.
He looked up half-smiling at one point, “So, you don’t cook at all.”
She waggled a hand at him. “Ramen. I’m in college, remember?”
“Ah, yes. So… your parents… do they have any idea where you are?”
She hesitated. “I think they think I’m back in college. I tried to make sure… I didn’t expect to be gone this long.” She hesitated again. “But if I call them…”
“The Great Sky Bastard will track you down? Likely. He doesn’t seem to ever forget a grudge, does he?”
“No.” She hesitated. The whole idea of what had happened to her, the idea that she had in fact been dead for some unspecified period of time was unbearable. She sighed. “No.”
Rafiel stopped, as he dumped the vegetables from the cutting board onto the oil. It was just a moment, after which he grabbed a wooden spatula and started working the spattering-still-frozen veggies around. “I could call them. My cell phone, I mean. Whatever — I mean, I don’t think whatever it was… Whoever it was who attacked me has the type of capabilities that the Great Sky Dragon has. I could call your parents and tell them you’re fine, and will get back in touch when –”
“No,” the word practically screamed itself. She sighed. “I’m sorry, but really, no. You know, the thing is… I mean… You’re a man.”
He laughed lightly as he turned the fire down. “Noted. And yeah, I can sort of see your point.” He bit his lip. “Tell you what… I have to call my mom anyway, or they’ll worry.” He blushed a little, again looking much younger than his late twenties. “I know it’s silly when I’m a grown man, but really, they will worry, so I tell you what… I’ll call them and ask them to call your parents. Would that work?”
“It might,” she said. “The Great Sky Dragon might suspect I’m in Goldport, but he knows that anyway. Yeah. That might work.”
“All right,” Rafiel said. “It’s a deal.” But something in his eyes looked worried.