Trickster Noir snippets will return next week, but to celebrate the publication of The Eternity Symbiote, here is the last snippet (as promised!) from that book, and links for purchase. You can find earlier snippets here, here, and here, in descending order of chronology.
In all other e-formats, click here.
To hide his concern, Jed started to get up to get some more wood. There was plenty of dry, dead branches on the trees, but being black spruce, they were like twigs and good only for kindling. He thought he had seen a dead tree earlier, though. As he tried to stand, he felt the sweat pop out on his forehead, and his head spun. He sat back down heavily and put his head between his knees, sucking in deep breaths of the chilly air. He looked up at Paul when his head cleared, and saw that he, too, was looking rather pale.
“You all right?”
“No… Look!” and he pointed at Gabi, who was having a convulsion.
“Oh, sh…” Jed leapt to her side, trying to ignore his rising gorge. He held her firmly, trying to keep her from rolling into the fire. When it had passed, her eyes were closed and her face bathed in sweat. Jed was dimly aware that Paul had rolled over and gotten to his hands and knees and was puking his guts up.
“Oh, shit,” he got out. Then he, too, lost his dinner.
He managed not to get any on Gabi, and afterwards knelt next to her, feeling weaker than he ever had before. He felt like he was burning up, too. Her eyes were still closed, and he started to shake her, then stopped, thinking of her head injury. He tried slapping her cheeks gently, then tickling the palms of her hands, something he had done years ago to wake her up. She didn’t stir.
“Jed?” Paul asked hoarsely.
“Can you get me the flashlight?”
“Yeah… I’ll try.”
A minute later he crawled over with it, evidently afraid to try to stand up. Jed felt him put it into his hand. he couldn’t take his eyes off of his wife’s still face. He twisted off the red filter and lifted her eyelid to shine it into her eye. Her pupil stayed dilated.
“Oh, shit.” he said again, sagging back onto his heels.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“She’s in a coma.”
Both Jed and Paul vomited several times in the night, dry heaves after all else had come up. Paul managed to sleep finally, shortly before dawn. Jed lay next to Gabi all that night, staring into the darkness, worrying. He had been pushing long and hard, though, and he fell asleep just as the first light touched the mountains. He slept deeply and dreamlessly. When he woke, it was midday. He blinked up at the trees overhead, feeling rather bleary and tasting such a foul mouth that he almost gagged on it. He was starving, and thirsty, he realized. He sat up and checked on Gabi.
She was the same as she had been. Still, so still. His heart skipped a beat, and he kissed her forehead. She felt normal. The fever of the night before had gone. He sighed, and looked over to see Paul lying on his side, peacefully asleep. Relaxed in sleep, he looked very young, and Jed felt very old. He pushed himself to his feet, surprised first at how little soreness he felt, and second at just how hungry he was. His stomach felt hollow. He pulled and MRE out of the pack and ate it without even heating it. Feeling slightly better, he stirred up the fire and put another one on to heat for Paul. As he started to smell it, Paul stirred.
“Oooh,” he put a hand to his head. Then, “That smells great. I’m famished!”
Jed silently handed him the cup and heated another one for himself. Paul finished his and asked, “Any change?”
Jed shook his head. He didn’t feel like talking this morning. He offered Paul a cup of water.
“Thanks. Don’t fret so much. She’ll be fine. She’s tough.”
“Yeah. How’s your leg.”
“I hadn’t even thought about it yet.” He threw back his sleeping bag and looked down, then back up at Jed, a bemused look on his face. Jed came around the fire to see.
There was no sign of the wound. Jed did not think that was possible. It had been quite deep – well into the muscle, with some imbedded glass. Paul pulled the bandage off, and the only thing that remained was a faint scar, and the blood on his trousers and the bandage. He shook the bandage, and a few pieces of glass fell out, glittering in the moss. He poked at his leg, hesitantly at first, then harder.
“It doesn’t hurt,” he marveled, breathless.
“Well, I’ll be…” Jed sat down next to him, and they stared at the unbroken skin for a long moment. Then Paul stood up. He stood still for a moment, then took a few steps. Grinning now, he stood on one leg.
Behind them, they heard a noise. Jed spun around to see Gabi tossing in her sleep, whimpering. He rushed to her side and felt her forehead. Still normal. What was wrong. She mewled and rubbed her cheek against his hand, making smacking sounds with her lips. He felt Paul’s presence next to he, staring, as he was at the unconscious woman and trying to decipher her behavior.
“Jed,” Paul began hesitantly. “Maybe she’s hungry.”
“Yeah…” Jed turned to the kit and rummaged. Protein bars. yuch. “Can you get some water, please?”
“From the lake?” Paul protested.
“Yes!” Jed snapped. He started to break the bars up into the tiny aluminum pot she’d had in her kit. They were remote enough the water should be pure, and anyway, he planned to boil it.
Paul scrambled away with the empty canteen and returned in a minute, wet to the knees.
“thanks.” Jed had built the fire up and now put the pot close with the cold mixture of water and protein bar chunks in it. Paul helped him prop Gabi up and they started to give her water. She drank greedily, eyes half open, but, as Paul commented solemnly ‘no-one home’.
Finally the soup got warm, then boiled. Jed let it go for a minute or two, but then he couldn;t wait any longer. The smell made Gabi restless and he was afraid she would hurt herself with so much movement. Paul started another batch in the canteen cup as Jed fed Gabi the first pot. She ate without reaction, as she had drunk, but almost snapping at him when he didn’t move fast enough.
They fed her four batches and were almost out of bars when she closed her eyes abruptly and fell asleep. Paul sat still with her head propped on his shoulder and stared at Jed, who was still holding a full spoon in his hand, ready to give her another bite.
“Man alive.” He whispered. “What is going on?”
Jed shook his head, feeling the fatigue soak into his bones. It had been a long tie since he’d felt this tired. Like he could just lie down and sleep where he was. He ate the spoonful of soup absently. And hungry. He thought he’d been a teenager the last time he’d felt hunger pangs like this. He looked at Paul, who had settled Gabi back down, and noticed the dark circles under his eyes for the first time.
“Oh, God, yes,” the young man sighed.
They ate the rest of the food between them. Jed thought they should save some, but he couldn’t help it. The urge to fuel his body was more than he could resist, and it frightened him to lose control like this. Paul abruptly curled up on the moss and went to sleep. Jed had barely drawn a sleeping bag over him when he felt sleep roll over him like a fog and he fell…
He woke at dawn, alert and warm. It had been dusk when he’d collapsed, and he’d slept through the night next to what was left of the fire. He moved and felt the sleeping bag fall off him. Confused, he sat up, wondering whether Paul had woken before him. Across the lively fire in the dim light, he looked into Gabi’s smiling eyes. Paul was lounging on the ground in his bag, grinning up at him.
Jed felt his heart racing. Dumfounded, he looked back and forth between the two of them.
“What… what is happening?” he finally managed.
Gabi touched her hair, encrusted with dried blood, and made a face. But her long fingers continued to massage her scalp, and she kept smiling. “Come feel!” she invited. “Wait…”
Jed held his breath.
“Let me wash my hair first,” she continued with a wrinkled nose.
Both Jed and Paul roared with laughter. After an instant, Gabi joined them. They laughed for quite a while, washing away the fears and tensions of that long night. Finally, gasping for breath, Gabi announced that she really _was_ going to go rinse her hair out. When she had gone down to the marshy edge of the lake, Paul asked, “Jed, do you think we ought to look at Major Guptill?”
Jed looked at him in horror. “Maybe I should.” he said finally.
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