Study in Blue (Second section)

This is only a part of the 29th chapter of the book on which I've spent the past year or more working. It is unedited, so please excuse any errors or incessant rambling (but do point them out to me, please). I just rather enjoyed the prose, and thought to share it.

The dawn ran like water melting from an unseen glacier in a thin, powdery trickle between the starry night sky and the equally black shadow of the mountains when they left off. As Aucamon finished recounting the way he’d come upon them, the tide at last had risen fully and washed away the distant dots of light overhead, leaving only the better part of the moon as a reminder that it would again recede to night. Gage was feeling the butt of his rifle, familiar and yet still so new to him, for it had only been his for the short time before they were dragged into the mines like dogs. The image of the little boy with the flipper where his arm had been danced upon the surface of his mind as if his mind were a bubble with all the things that had passed since floating in it.

All of them had had their things returned to them thanks to Aucamon and Taipa, things that seemed now far more precious for their resignation to the fact of their forever being gone. For five days the scouts had been scouring the mountain paths and peeks for any sign, and for three of those days they had wandered through the mines under the struggling light of a torch, pursuing the ephemeral trail of Gage’s eight.

“But, what about the miners? How did you avoid them for three days?”

The two scouts exchanged a look of severity enough to stop the group in their tracks. Aucamon, being the more vocal of the two, began with a breath, “The mines are empty.”

Had they been able to halt themselves again they would have. “Empty?”

“Empty.”

“But,” Sen moved toward the siblings, “how? Why? Where have they gone?”

Another of those looks. For the first time Taipa joined in, “They’re headed for Io.”

Everyone remained where they were, their jaws half hung and half tense, trying to comprehend the words; except for Gage, who had turned and begun to march at double speed before the final word had left Taipa’s lips. It seemed not to matter to him whether or not anyone followed.

“Gage!” Rabi called after him. “Gage, stop.”

He did not stop, and did not so much as look back as he replied, “We have to get to Io. You can tell us the rest as we go.”

So they had, having to run to catch him, practically at a full trot with his rifle in both hands and the tails of the black coat Robert had given to him so long ago now lifting up behind him.

Aucamon gave the situation as if he were the disinterested foreman of a jury handing down a sentence, and by the time he was finished they were all matching Gage’s pace.

They did not speak again until the night was so advanced that they could not go on anymore, even by the moonlight. When they did take up again it was around a low haphazard fire, not even dug in, and they did not speak of Io, but of their most immediate problem.

Perhaps the only thing that could have stopped Gage in his state was that David could not go on. Early in the day, and through most of it, he had clung in syncope to Steinar’s neck, thick drool running down the neck of his Hercules, babbling to his brother in the way they had spoken when Andrew had lost his leg and was recovering in the dim and anguishing light of his room. But as the night had drawn on he had become suddenly erect, tense, nervously looking at every until finally he was pushing himself off of Steinar’s shoulders acrobatically with the palms of both hands. When at last he’d gotten free he’d fled from them, dashing for the shadow of a nearby rock like an insect. He’d landed against it with a hollow sound, drawn his knees in, and refused to budge since. They entreated him to take water, but he only drew farther into himself as if they were not his friends, but beasts come from the night amidst the trees, and the trees themselves to wanted at him. At the offer of water the fear had left him, supplanted by violent snaps that forced anyone who came near back and checking for all of their fingers. Though they tried not to think it, he seemed more like a georgian than a man now, and they all began to wonder if perhaps that primal contagion that had first made those creatures still lived on deep underground; then, at that they could not help but to eye Michael warily, watching for the same signs, and then, of course, each other.

They built the fire weak, and as close to them as he would allow, but even as his rage was exhausted into an almost catatonia, he would not leave the shadow of the rock. There he remained, shaking and sweating and clutching himself, looking and seeing nothing, and taking on the tense appearance of a damp mushroom.

When he rolled noiselessly onto his side, nearly aspirating on the copious foam between his teeth, and his milky eyes rolled back into his head, they cautiously approached until they were close enough to throw a blanket over him for their own protection, then dragged him out.

There was no need for the blanket, though, as all of the struggle was well gone of him; and by the time they had him to the fire so was the life. The veil had become a shroud, and there was nothing any of them could have done about it. Knowing this, they were not surprised when they drew it back and found him lifeless, and none of them even flinched at the sight of the lifeless face. After the state he’d been in through the long, long night, some could not help feeling a little relieved at the peace now presented by the deathly visage.

Of course they wept. They wept over their young friend lying face up in the early morning and their final dawn on full approach. They wept as the vivid steel blue of the full moon gave way to the weak insipid celeste of the lighting sky, and all of it falling on the pallid blue face of the young man who they all had loved far more than they had realized. He was framed like a saint in the dark mosaic of leaves and light, looking with the milky white soothsayer’s eyes into the drifting heavens that bespoke the temporality of him and the eternity of the stage on which he had lived and died and so would so many others, and the dawns and the dawns and the dark would rent them twain forever and ever long after they were gone. It seemed even more tragic that the morning was becoming a cool and damp one, as if the very world’s refusal to make the final moment a pleasant one were to remind them how little any of it mattered. Should it not have been sunny, and the birds singing, and the warm white light filling the world, and he had gone in his bed surrounded by those who loved him, with dignity and final words, and the quiet closing of his eyes to pass off to sleep and without question a better place than this? But if this was the way it actually was, then who could think there was something better beyond? How could any hope seem more than the feeble wishes of frightened spores clinging to a wet rock in a vast black vacuum?

“We’ll have to leave him,” broke in Aucamon when the fire had died at last, and even the trail of white smoke no longer rose into the blue from its middle. “We can take the time to bury him, but we have to leave him here.”

Gage only nodded, unable to look up, unable to see the faces of the others, to see their eyes.

Gradually they had returned to their places around the black spot of their fire; except for 

The End

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