0052 – Gareth & Stem: Departure, Part 5

Gareth woke up, underneath Stem. He didn’t remember falling asleep. The ragged young girl was clinging to his robe, buried against it as though she had been trying to wrap it around her.

Not wanting to wake her, he lay still, listening to the gentle sound of the wind in the grass and trees. Was this what it was like to be a father? Pam’s age meant that he had never considered the possibility. He didn’t think of himself as particularly mature – quite rightly – and had always taken quiet reassurance in the idea that he would “probably be an irresponsible father at any rate.”

Yet now, with Stem sleeping on top of him, having fed and sheltered her, he wondered if perhaps he’d been missing out.

Gareth smiled at the young girl’s sleeping face. She looked peaceful, but gods, was she filthy. He had, thus far, tolerated the reek out of politeness, but finding the poor girl a stream or something to bathe in would have to be one of today’s priorities. He had brought soap and shampoo from the cottage, after all.

Next to them, the last embers of the campfire were finally dying out. It was lucky that the fire had lasted all night. Why hadn’t he thought to make sure it was adequately supplied before he nodded off? Come to that, why hadn’t he taken out the perfectly good bedding he had in his pack?

He closed his eyes, listening to the birdsong. Stem’s weight and warmth lay sleeping on his chest. Sunlight shone red through his eyelids. Lying on the cool ground, the smell of damp dew settled on the grass: Pam would never again experience any of these things.

While he was resting peacefully, she was suffering. Every second that passed for him was probably a torturous eternity for her, trapped as she was in the confines of her senseless body.

Hold on a moment, thought Gareth. Why did I think that? That time would slow down for her?

Hadn’t he thought about this recently? Hadn’t he, only a week or so ago, thought out how it would feel to hang, isolated, in complete darkness?

“Hang?” Why “hang?”

Suddenly, he put two and two together. He tried to roll Stem gently off onto the soft ground, but the motion woke her up.

“Oh…. g’morning….” She said groggily, looking at him through half-lidded eyes.

“Good morning.” He greeted her, abruptly. Pulling himself to his feet, he left the young girl sprawled on the floor, where she promptly curled up into the fetal position and fell asleep again.

Gareth dug out the Sermomantic texts he had written so far. One of them had slipped through his memory, simply because it didn’t actually work.

Here it was, right at the back of his sad pile of makeshift books. The one with BA’LIEL on the cover. The one that described “Escape.”

The book had failed to work for one simple, elementary reason – somewhere out there in the world, there was already a Sermomancy book that bore that name. The briefest, most elementary, and most powerful names had already been taken long ago, supposedly. Gareth had not been aware of this when he wrote Escape, or else he would never have attempted to practice the Craft with so short a title.

Gareth flipped open the flimsy book and read the short story he had scrawled within. At the time of writing, he had been aware of only two things: The need for the story to describe, accurately, the concept of Escape, and the need for it to be more than a thousand words long.

He had been so desperate to finish writing the book and try out the book’s effect that he’d been content to fill out the basic structure of the story with any old thing. He cringed when he saw that he had even gone so far as to write it in present tense, something which always reminded him of “Young Adult” books.

The first eight paragraphs all described the effect of boredom, isolation, and sensory deprivation upon the prisoner in the story. They described his mind slowing down, him screaming the names of loved ones, unheard, into the darkness.

Exactly as Karl had described in Eternal Isolation.

Gareth had intended to give his book familiar the cold shoulder for a while, as part of a stroppy display of anger at not having been warned that the content – as well as the Name – of Sermomantic texts could affect physical reality. But this was too important. He broke his silence, pulling the familiar out to interrogate it.

“Can Karl read what I’m writing?” Gareth asked, straight to the point.

He gave the book a second to compose its reply in print on the first page, as it always did. Then, he opened the cover.

“WHAT?” The book, apparently, had not followed his line of reasoning.

“That first book I wrote, before I made you. Escape. It describes a prisoner going mad in isolation, in darkness. I pulled out the imagery to fill the word count up, but Karl used most of it back at me in Eternal Isolation.

“YOU DO REALISE HOW LONG KARL’S BOOK WAS PROBABLY SITTING IN THAT STUDY, RIGHT? IT WAS DEFINITELY THERE SINCE YOU ARRIVED, WASN’T IT?”

“Yes, so?”

“SO HOW COULD HE HAVE WRITTEN IT AS A RESPONSE TO SOMETHING THAT YOU ONLY WROTE AFTER YOU WOKE UP IN THE COTTAGE?”

This was an excellent point.

“So what, I stole the imagery from him? Somehow?”

“HOW COULD YOU? YOU HADN’T READ HIS NASTY LITTLE BOOK UNTIL THAT DAY WHEN YOU STOPPED WASHING OR SHAVING. DON’T BE STUPID.”

“But something is going on here, damn it!” Gareth thumped a large rock with his fist, and immediately regretted the gesture. “It’s too similar!”

“BUT YOUR BOOK DIDN’T WORK. I DOUBT IT WAS AT ALL MAGICAL.”

“I divined its Name!” Gareth protested.

“LOOK. I DON’T KNOW. YOU’VE GOT PROMISE, GARETH, BUT YOU REALLY NEED TO STOP OVERTHINKING SERMOMANCY.”

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