Chapter 40 from the Ama audiobook
“Had me an eel once, but—”
“It tasted like a soggy turd?” Jason interrupted, as he limped along, using the baseball bat for balance and support.
“Aye! Aye, you got the rabbit right between the eyes, a soggy turd. Aye, that’s what it tasted like. Not that I ever ate a turd, soggy or not. Had me a pigeon once… Angels kissing yer lips when there be a pigeon on yer plate…”
“Derwood, I’m happy to let you go on about food, but my stomach is about ready to jump out and throttle you.”
“Sorry. I does go on a bit. Likes me food… Liked me food, is what I meant to say. It’s all up here anyway.” He tapped the side of his head with the blade of the hunting knife. “Johnny told me that.”
“Aye, Johnny. Daft bugger he were. The local poacher. Not much good at it, mind.” Derwood chuckled and then continued, “How he kept his life fer as long as he did I got no idea. Anyways, he spent a few nights as the landlord’s guest, after taking a pheasant or two. They caught him and chained the poor sod up in one of the lower rooms of the big house. The landlord thought it would be fun to throw week-old scraps at him, maggots and all. Johnny told me he’d hold his nose and eat everything that got thrown at him, and while chomping down on all that filth he’d think of a banquet table full to overflowing with all manner of glorious food.”
“Did it help?”
“Aye, so he said. Looked pretty healthy when he told me the story. Although they did hang the silly bugger a week later. The landlord thought a second turn as his guest wasn’t going to be enough for trying to claim one of his deer, so they hung him out for all to see from a tree by the road. Old Johnny dangled from that old oak till folk could hear the local children tapping their sticks on his bones.”
“For stealing a deer?”
“Aye. Deer is good meat, hard to come by unless thee don’t mind decorating a tree… Wonder what the old crows thought about while they ate old Johnny. Tis what I be getting at, see. It’s like sucking on these things, I suppose.” He spat the ruby into his hand, looked at it for a moment, and then put it back in his mouth. “All in yer head.”
“Suppose it is. Pizza, chips and a good bottle of red, that’s what I’m thinking of.”
Derwood scrunched up his nose and had a quizzical look.
“Bread with various meats and vegetables scattered on top.”
“Oh, aye. Peat’s chips?”
“Pizza. The chips are just sliced up potatoes.”
Derwood looked at the knife in his hand and then murmured, “Ye better have this back.”
“I don’t want it no more.”
“Friends are hard to come by, Derwood, in life and more so here. If…” Jason corrected himself, “When we run into another problem, another bloody freak comes our way, I’ve got your back, like I hope you’ve got mine.”
“Ye mean that? We be friends? I never had a friend before. I call everyone friend, but nobody ever called me one before.”
“You hold onto that knife, Derwood, and we’ll both get out of this place.”
“Don’t think I’ll ever be leaving…”
“Yes, you will. In fact, I know you will. That bitch Lilith told me you will; in fact, she said you did. Hell and time travel, what a mindfuck.”
“Like I said, we’ve met before, Derwood. You don’t remember. I don’t know why you don’t remember, but we have met, and soon after, Lilith told me you worked up the nerve to go into the cave.”
“She be evil like I never knew. Telling such lies, and does things to ye… Horrible… Poking the fear inside, until ye agree to do her bidding.”
“We’ll get out of here, Derwood, I know we will. I know you do, so it follows that if I’m with you, I’ll get out of here too. Stick together, watch each other’s backs, and we’ll beat this.”
“Wish I’d spent more time talking to God, praying and such…”
“Forget about God. I didn’t like Him much when I didn’t believe. I like Him even less now that I know He’s real. What kind of God would allow something like hell to exist? He doesn’t give a shit about us, so why should we care about Him? If we get out of hell, it’ll be because of our doing, nothing to do with God. Just as in life, you want something to happen, you make it happen. Supreme being? Supreme shit…”
“Don’t like God much, does ye, Jason?”
“Are you kidding me? With all the shit He allows to happen in the world.”
“I once asked a holy man about that very thing, and he asked me if I be blaming the father for the sins of the child…”
“You’re damn right I would,” Jason snapped.
“I don’t know. How free would we be if God interfered?”
“Okay, maybe, but why punish us like this when we screw up. It’s like giving a box of matches to a baby and then getting mad with the kid when your house burns down. There are children here, Derwood. Children are in hell. I found one locked in a cage. How is that right? I know kids can do bad things too, but… hell? It makes no sense to punish people like this. What would be the point? If anything, it makes us more sinful and barbaric. When I think of some of the things I’ve seen and… things I’ve done since coming here.”
“I don’t understand all this, no spark for the whys and wherefores. I thinks that, maybe, if I had tried to talk to God and listened really hard, me head wouldn’t be so fuzzy about it now.”
“You make it out of here, Derwood, I know you do. Although, I can’t help thinking there is more torment to come for me… I wasn’t with you when you went into the cave, so…”
“So, it be a mind doodah. Me and thee will walk into that cave, and our footprints will be side by side. Ye said it yerself, Jason, we be watching each other’s back now. I won’t let my friend down.” Derwood looked at the knife and then at his feet. “Before, I… but… not now. I won’t do what she asks.”
“What would thee do, Jason, to be with yer daughter again?”
“Anything. Anything at all. What’s the matter, Derwood? What did she want you to do?”
“Nothing… A bad thing… I just wanted to get to the mountain and leave this place, tis all. But… every time I get close, something happens… Someone does something to me and I have to start this nonsense all over again. The beast woman said if I… If I did something for her she’d take me straight to it. She said it would amuse her, that’s how she put it, it would amuse her—she’s an evil witch. Well, I ain’t going to do it. Ye better take this back. I’ll just cut me self with the damn thing anyhow.” Derwood held the knife out, handle first, towards Jason.
Jason didn’t take it. “What did she want you to do?”
Derwood shook his head as if being bothered by a wasp. “It don’t matter no more, because I ain’t doing it.” He threw the knife to the ground and then looked up and shouted at the sky, “I ain’t going to do it. Ye hear me, old hag. He’s not hurt me, he’s me friend. Ye be nothing but a dead crow, able to peck at us no more.”
Jason leaned over and picked up the knife. “She wants you to send me back to the start?”
Derwood looked at Jason with tearful eyes. “I’ve been here for so long, please don’t think bad of me for telling her I would.”
Jason heard his name on the wind. He looked back along the path and could see someone running towards them. A moment later he turned back to Derwood and smiled. “Three. There are three of us now.”
They both watched as Lucia drew near.
“I saw the carriage back there,” she said with a bright smile. “You let them go?”
“I’m sorry I left you,” Jason said as he embraced her.
Lucia held him tight for a long moment. “I’m just glad you let them go.”
“I should have come back for you…”
“Damn fool if you had. Not the place to play hero. Our paths have crossed again, and that makes me happy.”
“Me too, Lucia. Me too.”
Lucia smiled at Derwood. “Hello. Another stray joining our little band in paradise?”
“This is my friend Derwood. He was thinking about killing me, but he’s a good man, so he’s decided not to.” Jason handed the knife back to his friend.
“Good to hear. Hello, Derwood.”