Inkbound, Chapters 7–9

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7.

Once more, Giles has the creature right where he wants him, and once more, just before he can commit the essence of it onto the pages of his notebook, he’s distracted by the accident. When he looks up, the creature is gone.

Giles rifles through the pages, as if he can somehow go back in time to finish the job through will power alone. But of course no matter how many times he checks, it’s not there, not entirely, and he knows he’s fucked up good.

A blank starless night descends over the world like a burial cloth, and Giles again senses the creature behind him, pursuing. Giles runs, tries to get away, because if he isn’t fast enough, the creature will catch up to him, kill him, only—

Why should I bother? A soundless voice, echoing inside Giles’s head. You’re no threat. You’re too weak. If you try, you’ll only get distracted and fail like you did before.

“No!” shouts Giles. His voice tapers, damped by the darkness around him. “I’ll get you.” But deep down, Giles doubts. He wonders if the creature is right, if he’ll just fail again. I’m a fuck-up. Why do I bother trying?

Inaudible laughter reverberates inside his head. You fucked up, Giles. You fucked up good. And just like that, the presence that was pursuing him disappears.

Giles feels oddly abandoned. “Come back,” he shouts, turning backward, his face tilted up toward endless black. “Come back, you coward!”

“I’m so disappointed in you.”

Giles whirls just as another man emerges, robed by the night, walking toward him from across the street. He stares at Giles with cold, disgusted eyes, and it takes him a moment to realize who the other man is.

“I always knew you’d be a fuck-up,” says Dad, stopping a dozen paces away, as if he can’t bare to come any closer.

Giles tries to speak, but his throat has closed like a rusty hatch and all he can manage is a low, keening moan.

“Don’t look at me like that,” says Dad before turning away so that Giles can only see the back of his head. “It’s pathetic. Why do you think I left you and your mother in the first place?”

All the insecurities Giles experienced as a child and never quite got over as an adult wash over him at once, an agonizing flash flood of emotion.

“Mom said you couldn’t handle being a father, that it wasn’t my fault. She said I shouldn’t blame myself—”

“Bullshit.” Dad spits the word with such contempt that Giles takes an involuntary step back. “You were such a whiny little brat, always moping around the house. You could never do anything right. You were a failure as a child, and now you’re a failure as an adult.”

Deep down, Giles always believed Dad’s decision to abandon them was his fault, that somehow he must have done something so terrible that Dad couldn’t bring himself to stay. But Giles never expected to confront him like this, never expected to hear confirmation of the truth he always suspected from the man’s own lips.

Dad turns to face him once more, his face a mask of frosty indifference, and proclaims, “You fucked up, Giles. You fucked up good.”

It’s the last thing Dad says before he disappears.

Alone in the dark, Giles sinks to his knees, crying, head crouched between his legs just like the seven year old child who lost his father so many years ago.

“Dad, come back,” he cries between sobs. “I promise, I’ll do better.” But he has nothing but the dark and silence for a reply. “I can do it! I’ll bind it this time, I swear.” But Giles doesn’t really believe that.

*              *              *

Once more, Giles woke with a start. In the distance, a rooster crowed. He reached for his phone and glanced down at the display. 3:17AM. He sighed, wiping sweat from his brow, and pulled himself up to a sitting position. He could feel the notebook, pulsing on the mattress beside him as if it were alive, and he supposed that in a very literal sense it was.

Dad. Giles felt something in the pit of his stomach, a wrenching gut-twisting pull he hadn’t felt in years. He’d tried so hard growing up to be good, to be worthy of Dad’s love. Secretly, he used to wish that Dad would come back, discover he’d grown up to be a successful adult and decide to stay with them after all. A fool’s hope, but Giles had centered his entire adolescent life around it just the same. Only now he’d screwed everything up, and he was sure that if Dad knew anything of his nature and his mistake, he’d only hang his head and say he’d always known Giles would turn out to be a fuck-up.

Giles took a deep, shuddering breath. The notebook beside him was writhing now, uncoiling like a compressed spring, and Giles had to get himself under control. He couldn’t remember every detail of the dream, only bits and pieces, but somehow he knew his mind had been replaying that ill-fated memory, that the creature must have been inside his head as well, playing off his insecurities, trying to break his resolve.

Norbing’s voice floated up from the ether of his bleary, semi-conscious memory. It sense you. It know when you afraid, make you more afraid.

Indeed, and though a rational part of Giles did its best to assert control over the unexpected rush of negative emotions, he found himself seized by a panic that bordered on hysteria. He couldn’t do this. The creature and his father were right, he was a failure. People would get hurt, maybe die, and it would be his fault. He grabbed the notebook, opened it, poured over the pages. He’d been so damn close! He’d nearly captured it. Why had he been so fucking stupid? He couldn’t even complete a simple binding. He was worthless.

When Norbing finally knocked on the door at seven thirty to tell him it was time for breakfast, Giles was still flipping through the pages.

8.

“Eat,” said Norbing between mouthfuls of sisig. “Need strength.”

They’d walked across the street to a small partially enclosed roadside stand called Norma’s Eatery, where jeepney and taxi drivers stopped for meals.

Giles stared down at the tapsilog in front of him—beef, garlic rice and a fried sunny-side-up egg—pushing grains of rice around the plate with a fork. A queasy anxious feeling wormed around inside his stomach. I can’t do this. Fuck, I can’t do this. And he could feel the pulse of the creature in the notebook, resonating with his own insecurities, magnifying them.

“I can’t do this,” said Giles out loud. “Norbing, I can’t do this.”

“Stop,” said Norbing, his voice hard as steel. It hit Giles like a slap. “You no doubt. You can do it, you will do it. Say it.”

“Say what?”

“Say I will do it. Say now.”

“I will do it,” said Giles in a hollowed out voice. “I’ll catch it.”

“Yes,” said Norbing, “You will.”

And after a moment his panic began to subside. It didn’t go away, not completely, but after a little while the emotion had died down to a more tolerable level. Beneath all the fear and uncertainty, Giles once more felt the creature’s own fear, radiating off the notebook in thick undulating waves. Yes, Giles realized, it was desperate. There was nothing it could do, nowhere it could run, and it was doing whatever it could to prevent Giles from completing his assignment.

Giles took a deep breath. “You were right. I can feel it inside my head, chiseling away at me, trying to take advantage of my weakness. I’m scared, Norbing.”

“It okay to be scared,” said Norbing, “As long as you do job anyway.”

Giles finally took a bite of his breakfast. “This is good,” he said. Norbing had taught him the Filipino way to eat just about any dish, a bit of the main course paired with a forkful of rice.

“My favorite resto,” said Norbing, smiling. “Good food.”

Giles hadn’t been sure what to think until he’d tried it. Now he was a believer. Gems, he thought, often hid in the most unlikely places.

He fanned himself with his free hand. It was only 8:22 in the morning, and already the temperature was climbing into the eighties. And it was so damn humid. Norbing had told him the weather was coolest November through February, only about 21 to 23 degrees Celsius (or 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit he’d determined after some quick Googling.) But it was only mid October and still hot, and he lamented the fact that he would be going home before he could experience much of the better weather. At least they hadn’t been hit by a typhoon.

After a few moments of silence, Norbing called out to the woman running the stand—“Dai”—and when she looked up, he drew a rectangle in the air with his fingers.

“What does that mean?”

“Bill out.”

Sure enough, the woman came with a tiny slip of paper in a bamboo basket. She said something to him in Ilonggo. He laughed, said something else with a wink and a nod, then reached into his pocket and produced 150 pesos.

“Salamat,” said Norbing when the woman came back with change. Then to Giles: “We go now. We have thing to catch. Remember, you can do it, you will do it. Say again.”

“I will catch it,” said Giles, this time with a little more confidence. But then he fingered the notebook in his pocket, and he doubted once more.

9.

Norbing gave Giles a ride in his tricycle, wending through a series of small narrow side streets. It was little more than a rickety steel sidecar welded to a low cost motorcycle, and it clanged, jittered and sputtered as Norbing snaked and swerved around the cars in front of him. It was his first time in such a vehicle, and for a moment he actually forgot about the creature partially bound inside his pocket.

It’s a death trap.

“Is this safe?” said Giles, raising his voice above the noise of the lawn-mower-like engine.
Norbing laughed. “Oo.”

Finally, they pulled up to the curb outside a rundown three-story apartment building, flanked on both sides by flimsy squatter constructions. Outside the front of the building was coarse brown rope blocking the entryway, along with a wooden sign with the words, “Danger. Keep Out.” printed in red paint.

Why am I bothering, thought Giles, while inside his pocket he could feel the creature beating like a perpetually startled heart. It was chomping at the bit to get away, yet its bond to the building was strong and it didn’t have the strength to flee a second time.

Giles could feel an invisible darkness, cloying to the building like tar, pulsing to the same frequency as the notebook.

“This is it, isn’t it?”

“Oo,” said Norbing, looking up into the windows on the upper floors. “It abandoned now. After creature attach to building, woman kill herself, jump out three story window. Library know local government, get building closed down. Residents told gas leak.”

“Someone died?” Guilt began to circulate through his system like blood poisoning.

It’s my fault. I lost focus, the creature escaped and it killed someone.

Of course technically, the woman had killed herself, but there was no doubt who the true responsible party was. The creature had fed off her positive emotions, leaving behind only the darker ones, refining them, enlarging them, until all that was left was a rotting aching despair that found no termination save in death. She’d been as good as pushed, and it was because of Giles’s failure that the creature had gotten to her.

Norbing must have noticed a change in his features, because the man grabbed his shoulders and shook him hard until he turned and they were face to face.

“Not your fault,” said Norbing firmly. “Say it. Not my fault.

“It’s not my fault,” but Giles didn’t really believe that.

“Sige. Say again. Not my fault.

“It’s not my fault.”

“Sige. Good. You go in there, you bind it, you no let it get to you, you no let it take control.”

“Okay,” said Giles, letting himself off the tricycle.

“You can do it,” said Norbing. “You will do it. Say it.”

“I will do it.”

“Good,” said Norbing. “Good luck.”

“Thanks.”

Giles pushed aside the rope and walked inside.

I hope you enjoyed the first 9 chapters of “Inkbound.” I’m working hard on becoming a self-sustaining writer so I can craft stories like this full-time, but to do that I need your help. That’s why, if you pledge to my Patreon at any level, I’ll send you the entire novella, along with free digital copies of all my published books. If you change your mind, you can cancel your pledge at any time, no strings attached. To learn more and receive your copy of “Inkbound,” click the “Become a Patron” button below.

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