Inkbound, Chapters 1–3

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Giles has always felt different, like he’s never truly belonged, and it isn’t until he meets others of his kind that he discovers his true nature. As an Earthbound, he’s both human and Immortal, born to protect the world from an ancient race that has the collective power to destroy the universe.

He embraces his mission, devotes his life to imprisoning every malevolent creature he encounters. But when a routine binding goes awry and one escapes before he can capture it, Giles, who has never been outside California, must travel halfway across the world to the Philippines, where the runaway phantom has taken up residence.

Shaken by his inability to capture it and afraid of failing again, he must venture far beyond his comfort zone to confront the evil creature once and for all. But this time it knows Giles is coming, and it will do anything in its power to stop him…

1.

The first thing Giles learned about the Philippines was that it was hot and humid.

He’d known it was a tropical country, had learned in elementary school that the closer one lived to the equator, the more hot and humid it became. But he couldn’t possibly have appreciated just how truly hot and truly humid it would be until he was deplaning at 10:37 p.m., feeling like he’d just entered a world-sized pressure cooker. Sweat popped out of his skin and his shirt stuck to his back.

It was Giles’s first time outside the United States. In fact, it was his first time outside California. The knowledge that he now stood on the other side of the world, away from everyone and everything he’d ever known, terrified him in a way he couldn’t have articulated back home. He found himself grabbing the sides of the rickety ladder for support as he climbed off the plane, the huge jet engines rumbling beside him, and he felt as if the oppressive tropical heat were trying to push him back. You’re not welcome, the hostile weather seemed to say. Go home. And if he could have, he would have. But a few months ago Giles had made a mistake, and now he was here to fix it.

He waited in line to hand in his health declaration card. Then he waited in line again to get his passport stamped. He waited for his luggage to pass by on the conveyor. Finally, he waited in one more line to clear customs. An hour and a half later, he was dragging a dark gray Samsonite suitcase on wheels through the double doored exit.

Though Giles was sleep deprived, his eyes remained wide open, soaking in every detail of his surroundings. Anytime he saw something move out of the corner of his eye, he would whirl around for a better look and his hand would shoot toward the black leather notebook and pen in his right pants pocket as if not doing so placed them in immediate danger of disappearing.

The sweltering air of Manila embraced him once more as he stepped outside and scanned the crowd for his contact. In the distance, white taxis pulled in to pick up and drop off passengers, horns blaring. A porter passed by and asked if he could carry his luggage toward the parking lot. Startled, Giles staggered back into the wall and had to tell the man no twice before he walked away to help someone else. Finally, Giles spotted a sign with his name to the left, held up by a gray-haired Filipino. The man introduced himself and shook his hand.

“Good evening, sir. I Norbing. How is flight?” Norbing spoke in a clipped accent Giles hadn’t heard before and donned a warm smile that might have been catching if Giles hadn’t been awake for almost twenty hours.

“What?”

“I say, how is flight?”

“Oh. Tiring.” Giles found the bustling parking lot disorienting, and it was hard to pay attention.

“Don’t worry,” said Norbing, “I take care of you. I get taxi over there,” he said, pointing toward the loading and unloading area, “and then we stay in hotel for night. Tomorrow, fly to Bacolod.”

Giles’s heart back flipped. After waiting for so many months, he would at last be able to set things right. That was, if he didn’t screw things up again. The notebook in his pocket seemed to pulse in response, and Giles reached for it once more.

Norbing took his luggage, told him to hang back while he negotiated with a taxi driver, and after a few panicked minutes of standing alone once more, Norbing lead him toward the back seat, where he was at last surrounded by air conditioning and relative quiet. The exhaustion that had been pounding against his battered body broke through his defenses at last, and he was asleep even before he reached his hotel.

2.

Giles has the man right where he wants him. He’s not a man, of course, at least on the inside, but something much worse, something dangerous. As more than a man himself, Giles easily recognizes the creature for what it is. Giles trails twenty or thirty feet behind, watches as the man sits down at a bus stop and pulls out the LA Times.

He angles around to get a better view, and once the man is clearly within Giles’s sights, he pulls out the leather notebook and pen he always keeps in his right pants pocket, opens to the next blank page and begins to write.

It’s a binding, something he’s practiced a dozen times before in his own private language. Of course, the language isn’t important, only that the meaning of the words be clear and concise enough to capture the creature’s essence, to draw it out from the fabric of reality and into the pages of his notebook.

He starts with the more superficial details and works his way in, capturing all the nuances of the man’s behavior as he thumbs through the pages of his newspaper. If Giles does his job properly, the man won’t realize what’s happened until the binding is nearly complete, and by then it will be too late.

The man has already started to fade like the conclusion of a silent black and white film when something goes wrong. A distraction, something that never should have pulled Giles away from what he was doing in the first place. The sound of a car horn. A moment later, the sound of two cars colliding. Giles turns to gawk at the accident.

His concentration is only compromised for a moment, but a moment is all it takes. When he turns back toward the bench, the man is gone.

Giles’s heart stops and his mouth runs dry. It takes him a few moments to process what’s happened, to truly appreciate how badly he’s fucked up.

The man is gone. The man. Gone. Oh, fuck.

Giles starts rifling through the notebook, checks to see if perhaps he wrote enough to complete the binding after all. But of course he hasn’t. He can feel the man, floating between two realities, angry and disoriented.

What have I done?

He turns, and now the sun has gone down, as if hours have passed in a matter of seconds. Behind him, an unseen entity gives chase. It’s the man, closing in, and when he speaks, he speaks inside his head.

You fucked up, Giles. You fucked up good.

Giles runs and runs, but he can’t get away, and soon partially substantial hands are closing around his neck—

*              *              *

Giles woke with a start. For a moment, the darkness only confirmed that the dream was real, that a moment later he would find himself unable to breathe, that the man he’d tried to bind would be hovering over him, grinning as he strangled the life out of Giles.

But no, that was impossible. And then Giles came fully awake and remembered he was in a hotel room near the airport. He flicked on the lamp beside the bed and blinked against the sudden flood of incandescent light.

His eyes drifted involuntarily toward the notebook on the nightstand. He could feel the partially bound creature, both inside and out, closer now than it had felt back in the States. It gave off a faint hum, a vibration in the air just on the edge of his perceptual awareness. He took a deep breath and waited a moment to catch his breath.

In another room beside him, thought Giles, Norbing was most likely sleeping. It brought him some comfort, knowing that he wasn’t alone. The man was like Giles, both human and Immortal, what their kind referred to as Earthbound, and that made them brothers. Their cultural backgrounds might have been wildly divergent, but in all the ways that mattered they were exactly the same.

Giles thought he wouldn’t be able to fall asleep again, that he’d stay up the rest of the night haunted by the dream. But the weariness of a seventeen hour direct flight with no sleep had sunk in bone deep, and it wasn’t long before he was asleep once more.

3.

One of the advantages of not sleeping on the airplane and arriving in the middle of the night was that Giles adjusted almost instantly to the new timezone. He yawned. Stretched. Turned over onto his side.

The dream from last night still tugged at him, tainting what would otherwise have been the start of a lovely day. He was troubled not just by the fear it had elicited but by the shame of the memory that had replayed before his sleeping eyes. He should have been more careful. He’d grown too comfortable, too confident to regard his job with the gravity it required. If he’d been more serious about his work, he’d never have let the car accident distract him. He wasn’t good enough for his job, just like he hadn’t been good enough for Dad. Would Giles ever stop fucking up?

The creature, yanked from its bodily anchor but not having been bound entirely to the notebook, had fled through the layers of the world. Where a being in such a state ultimately ended up always seemed random, though none of the other Earthbound could say for sure. Partial bindings weren’t something that happened often, and they had little knowledge of the phenomena.

What they did know was that the creature would have found another anchor, quite often a place, but sometimes a person or an object, that believers in the supernatural who encountered it later might easily mistake it for a ghost. That was how Giles had learned of the creature’s location. His brethren kept their ears to the ground, and when they heard credible rumors of possessions or hauntings they investigated immediately.

If the rumor was real, if it turned out to be one of the creatures they as a race were sworn to bind, word would spread through a vast international network of Libraries, local repositories dedicated to keeping and guarding these imprisoned creatures, until the Earthbound who’d initiated the binding could be found and sent to complete it.

He glanced at his phone, which sat on the nightstand alongside his notebook and pen, and saw that it was already past ten. Fortunately his connecting flight to Bacolod wasn’t until three fifteen and their hotel was only twenty minutes from the airport. He would still have time to shower and eat before moving on to his final destination.

“Good morning, sir,” said Norbing when he arrived downstairs for breakfast.

“Morning.”

“Sleep well?” Norbing’s tone was bright and cheery. He piled a forkful of rice and some kind of sausage into his mouth.

“Yeah.”

Norbing gestured toward the free buffet. “Get breakfast,” he said, shoveling more meat and rice down his gullet. “Try longganisa.”

Giles picked up a scoop of scrambled eggs, white rice, a couple longganisa—they turned out to be the breakfast sausages Norbing was eating—and a cup of pineapple juice. There were other items as well, a red alien-looking fruit with thin green hairs called rambutan, sliced mangoes and something called sisig, but he was too preoccupied with what he had to do to feel hungry.

“Longganisa good,” observed Norbing, pointing toward his plate. “Eat with rice.”

He was right, thought Giles after trying some. It was just a little sweet and had a pleasant porky flavor. Maybe he was hungry after all.

“My favorite,” said Norbing. “Parents make it every Sunday on farm.” His eyes glazed a little, and his face took on a far away cast.

“What was it like,” asked Giles, “Growing up on a farm?”

“Busy,” said Norbing, and his eyes seemed to withdraw even further. “Always busy. Lot of chores. No school. Too much to do on farm.”

The rest of Norbing’s food lay before him uneaten.

“Was very hard. Youngest of seven children. We no get along. Liked to be alone and they tease me. They always say, Gadinamgo nga bugtaw1, always make faces and hit me when parents not looking. We inherit farm when we older, but I no want to be farmer. All I want is draw.”

“Is that your medium? Drawing?” Every one of the Earthbound worked through a particular medium, their own private means of binding the dangerous creatures that roamed the world in hiding. There were writers, sculptors, painters, even musicians. The medium didn’t matter, only that the work be expressive enough of the creature’s nature to capture its essence.

“Oo,” said Norbing, nodding in the affirmative. “I draw everything. Sky, bird, carabao, even family when they no looking. I try so hard, do best to learn, try to be better artist. I try—” Norbing paused, either attempting to find the words or struggling to translate them into English. “How do I say, want to make real…”

“You tried to capture their essence,” said Giles, understanding perfectly, “Tried to reproduce every detail.”

“Oo. Spend hours drawing, but parents get mad, say I no good worker, say I no inherit farm with brothers if I no work hard.”

Giles hadn’t realized how difficult life could be for others of his kind. True, he’d been picked on in school for being different, and he’d had family problems of his own, given that Dad had run out on he and Mom when Giles was only five and a half. In fact, Giles supposed he could sort of relate. He’d felt responsible at the time, as if something he’d done as a child had disappointed and driven Dad away, and he’d spent hours locked in his room with the lights off, brooding in guilty silence as he pondered what he could have done differently to make him stay.

But Mom had accepted him for who he was, at least in so far as she could understand not being Earthbound herself, and when Giles had ultimately left home to pursue his purpose, she’d been happy for him. It was a tragedy Norbing hadn’t experienced that same acceptance.

“When older, I feel different. Not like others. I—” He paused again. “My English no good.”

“It’s okay,” said Giles, “I know what you’re trying to say.”

Giles knew because he’d been through it himself. That feeling that you weren’t yourself, that your humanity was only a part of who and what you were, that just beneath the flesh and blood exterior there was something foreign, something the human part of yourself couldn’t understand yet was forced to accept. For Giles, there had been hints of his dual nature since childhood, but it wasn’t until he was an adolescent that it had really started to haunt him, and by then it had almost torn him apart.

Norbing nodded, stared down for a moment at the wood grain surface of the table. “Was hard,” he said more softly. “Getting angrier, more confused, more frustrated. Had to go into world, discover who I am. Have big fight with father. He disown me. Throw me out. Tell me never come back.

“I live on street with squatters. Was robbed. Have no money, no food, but I still try draw, try find simple jobs so I have money for paper and pencil. All I want is draw, even if I hungry, if I only eat few times a week.

“Then a woman, Ms. Mylene, she find me on street. She know what I am, take me in, clean me, feed me, teach me what I am. She like mother. Very hard when she die.”

Giles wondered how many others were out there in the world like Norbing had been, homeless, perhaps never discovering what they were. Maybe without help, their dual natures had driven them mad. Giles felt truly blessed for the support his mom had given him growing up, and he decided that when he returned home he would visit her and tell her how much he loved her.

“I try contact family. No phone on farm, but write letters. They never answer. Still don’t know what happen to them, don’t know if brothers still alive.”

“That’s terrible,” said Giles, and he began to fidget, suddenly uncertain and self conscious because he wasn’t sure he could understand the man’s struggles.

But then, just as Giles thought Norbing would cry, the man broke into an iridescent smile. “I happy now. I know who I am, know what my life for.”

And then Giles could relate once more. That was how he’d felt when he finally learned the truth, when he was introduced to the Libraries and his purpose had finally unfurled before him like a late blooming flower.

Of course, that was how he’d felt before the accident. Now, self doubt gnawed at his insides, and he wondered if he would ever feel secure again.

“Norbing, did you ever make mistakes, ever do things you regretted?”

“Oo. I human too.”

“But did you ever do something really bad?” pressed Giles. “Something awful? Something that made you doubt you could ever do your job again?”

Norbing leaned back into his chair and looked up for a moment. Then he peered down at Giles, as if gazing through him. “We all do bad things,” said Norbing. “We Immortals, but we also human, and humans make mistakes. You young, you maybe too confident. So you make mistake. Now you own mistake, and you fix mistake, and next time you be careful because you remember mistake.”

“I hope so.”

“You will,” said Norbing. “You Immortal too.” The man looked down at Giles’s plate and tsked. “You eat now. I get you more longganisa,” and before Giles could protest Norbing was already at the buffet counter, picking up more rice and sausage.

The first 9 chapters of this novella are available online for free.

To continue reading chapters 4–6 for free, click here.

Footnotes


1. “Gadinamgo nga bugtaw” is Ilonggo and translates literally to “Dreaming while awake.” An equivalent Tagalog expression would be, “Nangangarap nang gising.”