Read Briarpatch by Tim Pratt Online

Authors: Tim Pratt

Tags: #Fantasy

Briarpatch by Tim Pratt (25 page)

BOOK: Briarpatch by Tim Pratt
13.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“That might be true.” Bridget sounded sad rather than angry. “I thought he’d be okay. I knew I’d disappoint him eventually, that we couldn’t have the little picket fence life he dreamed of. I thought he’d find another girl. But
I
didn’t know I was being used, Nicholas. You went into this with your eyes open.”

“Split hairs all you want,” Nicholas said. “We both fucked with Darrin’s life for our own reasons. At least I was trying to help give his life some meaning, at the cost of our friendship, no less. You think he’ll ever forgive me, even if I explain why I did that shit? Hell, no. I wouldn’t.”

“This is like listening to one side of the world’s most boring phone conversation,” Echo said. “I’m going to wait for Ismael at his house. Have fun rotting, dead girl.”

Bridget burst out laughing.

“What are you laughing at?” Nicholas said.

“She’s laughing?” Echo looked at Orville, who only nodded, not understanding her reaction himself.

“You idiots think Ismael is coming
back
?” Bridget said. “Translate for me, Orville, this is too funny.”

Orville dutifully repeated what she’d said for Echo’s benefit.

“Why wouldn’t he come back?” Echo demanded.

“Why would he? He’s got Darrin, who he thinks is his key to finding a physical passageway to the one place he’s been trying desperately to reach for maybe
centuries
. Why would Ismael come back out of the briarpatch again? They’re just going to stay in there until they find the pathway, or until they give up, and that could take a long time. Darrin can be just as stubborn as Ismael, under the right circumstances.”

“That’s bullshit,” Nicholas said. “Ismael
owes
me. He’s supposed to show me how to live forever.”

“Somebody better tell me what the dead girl said,” Echo demanded.

Orville hurriedly translated Bridget’s words, and Echo curled her hands into fists. “That fucker. He owes me too. He can’t do this to us.”

“Ismael doesn’t bother to pay his debts,” Bridget said. “He just outlives them. I feel bad about letting Ismael trick me, but at least he tricked you two idiots as well. Yeah, go to his house, hang out and wait for him. You’ll be waiting until you die of old age.” She shook her head while Orville relayed her words to Echo.

“She’s right,” Nicholas said, looking gobsmacked. “Why would he come back? I just assumed, he comes and goes all the time, but . . . he’s over there now. He’s searching. He doesn’t need anything else.”

Bridget rose. “Come on, Orville. We’re going into the briarpatch to find them. Once Darrin finds out how Ismael fucked with his life, that he had a part in my death, he won’t help him anymore. Revenge isn’t much, but it’s all I’ve got right now.”

“Darrin already knows Ismael is involved,” Nicholas said. “He saw Ismael on the bridge when you jumped, and they’d met once before, so he knew you guys were spending time together. It’s not going to be a big crushing revelation.”

Bridget blinked. “But . . . why would Darrin help him, if he knew Ismael had a hand in my death?”

That’s got to hurt
, Orville thought.

Nicholas shrugged. “I think he was going to tell Darrin he could find you, like your spirit, in the briarpatch. Or tell him you’d gone to the better world, and that if Darrin helped him find the pathway there, you’d be waiting for him. Darrin loves you a lot more than he hates Ismael.”

“Then I’m definitely going to find him,” Bridget said. “Darrin’s been lied to long enough.”

“I’ll go with you,” Nicholas said, standing up.

“Who’s going where?” Echo demanded.

“No,” Bridget said. “Fuck you, Nicholas. I don’t need you
or
want you with us.”

“Please, Bridget, he’s my friend, I didn’t mean for it to go down this way—”

“No,” she said. “Orville, let’s go.”

Orville nodded. This was all very confusing, but it was a lot more interesting than working the phones at his old job, so he couldn’t complain. Bridget went down the stairs, and Orville followed. The last sound he heard before closing the front door behind him was Echo and Nicholas arguing.

4

“Sure, I can see the briarpatch,” Nicholas said. “Not well, I haven’t been there often, but yeah, Ismael took me enough times that I got a sense of it. But what do I want to go in there by myself for? Or with you? I’d get eaten by fucking bears or fall down a bottomless pit or something. With a guide, sure, somebody like Bridget who’s been there a lot, I’d have a shot, but by myself?” He punched his own thigh, hard. “Fuck. I can’t believe Ismael did this to me. But no, I won’t take you in there.”

“I can’t go by myself, Nicky,” Echo said, trying to keep her cool. “I need you.”

“Go to hell, psycho. We’re done.”

“I will kill you if you don’t help me,” Echo said. She’d never actually killed anyone, but Nicholas probably believed she had. She was certainly capable of killing someone, but so far the risks had always seemed to outweigh the rewards.

Nicholas just stared at her. “You can try it, but you don’t have the element of surprise with me, Echo. I know what you are. And I won’t hesitate to put you down myself if I get the chance.”

They stared at each other for a moment, until finally Echo spat on the floor. “Shit. You’d be worthless in there anyway.” She’d suddenly had a better idea. Nicholas might be able to get into the briarpatch, but he’d stumble around blindly for a while and then get lost. She needed a guide with more experience, someone who knew the secret byways of that strange world. And, because luck was always on Echo’s side, she had an idea where to find just such a guide. “Take care, Nicky. See you around.”

“Not if I see you first,” he muttered.

Echo went into the kitchen, took Darrin’s biggest, sharpest butcher knife, slipped it into her purse so only the handle was showing, and went down the back stairs.

5

Arturo strolled back up Park Boulevard, hoping the Wendigo would see fit to cough up a little cash again tonight. Since getting thrown out of the bar with the mutton-chopped bartender, he’d been reduced to spending most of his waking hours at a bar a few blocks down, by the Parkway theatre, and they demanded real money in exchange for booze, as opposed to a pinprick of blood like the other place had taken.

When Arturo reached the corner, he saw right away the Wendigo had turned itself around—the headlights were pointed toward him. Arturo swore. The Wendigo was known to drive itself, so maybe it had just executed a neat three-point-turn in the wide residential street and re-parked itself, but Arturo didn’t think so. He wasn’t particularly prone to the metaphysical, and had always been reckoned a practical, hard-headed man by his friends and family, but he understood the Wendigo was more than just a car—being a car was a convenience for it. Arturo didn’t think it bothered with the brute business of moving around on the street. He thought it just reversed direction, quick as a blink, modifying reality to suit its needs.

Anyway,
how
was less important than
why
. The Wendigo was finally pointed away from Darrin’s house, and at the street—pointed
out
, which meant maybe they were ready to go. Arturo didn’t know what had changed, but he put his trust in the Wendigo. It had never steered him wrong.

He reached the car and put his hand on the door. Suddenly something cold pressed against his throat, just below his chin, and he went still. Unless Arturo was very much mistaken, someone had a knife to his throat.

“I’m Echo,” said a pleasant female voice right in his ear. “What’s your name?”

“Arturo,” he said, trying not to open his mouth too wide when he spoke, afraid of getting cut. Then, because politeness was a reflex, he mumbled “Pleasedtomeetcha.”

“Likewise.”

Arturo wondered if she was going to cut him. Slashing a throat was harder than most people realized—there were a lot of tough muscles in the neck—but death was still pretty likely if she left him bleeding.

“You’re going to take me for a ride,” Echo said, and Arturo almost laughed, he was so relieved. “Go around and open the passenger door.” The knife left his throat, only to prod him between the shoulder blades. “I won’t hurt you if you behave, but I’m still close enough to bury this in your kidneys.”

Maybe one kidney
, Arturo thought. Anatomy probably wasn’t her strong point. He walked around the back of the car, his unseen carjacker staying close behind. He didn’t even think about running, or fighting back. If she wanted to get into the Wendigo, he wouldn’t stop her. The Wendigo had its own ways of dealing with unwelcome passengers. “Open the door,” she said, and Arturo did. “Empty the crap out.” He pulled on the tottering pile of paper that filled the passenger seat, sending reams of brightly coloured paper spilling out onto the street. He felt a twinge of guilt, but knew the Wendigo’s papers would disappear before they could get stuck in gutters or tangled among tree branches.

Eventually the seat was clear—mostly—and Echo told him to get in and scoot across the seat to the driver’s side. He did, and got his first glimpse of her, though she kept the knife angled so she could slice out his eye with a single thrust. “You’re Darrin’s girl,” he said. “Well, hell, I didn’t realize he was datin’ the criminal element.”

“Quiet, walrus.” She slid into the seat beside him, keeping her knife handy.

Arturo frowned. Was that a crack about his moustache, or his weight?

Echo glanced around, then reached for the door handle.

That’s it
, Arturo thought.
Shut the door
. Once she was closed in, the Wendigo would do . . . whatever it did to unwelcome passengers. He turned his face away, closed his eyes, and listened to the door click shut.

Silence. Then “I said be quiet, not avert your eyes.” She sounded more amused than angry.

Arturo looked at her. She still had the knife held at the ready. The Wendigo wasn’t eating her, which meant the Wendigo
wanted
her to be here. Which meant Arturo did too, whether he liked it or not.

“You don’t need the knife. You’re welcome here.”

“Oh, really? Look, walrus, I’d just leave you in a ditch somewhere, but I’m guessing it takes more than a key and a full tank of gas to get the most out of this car.”

“True enough. And my name is Arturo, not walrus. Where do you want to go?” He turned the key and the Wendigo growled to itself as the engine turned over.

“Into the briarpatch.” She said it with great relish, as if delivering the scene-ending line in a movie.

“Well, yeah,” Arturo said. “But
where
in the briarpatch?”

For a moment, the pretty woman beside him lost her sly, self-satisfied expression, and revealed a face of total bafflement. “I need to find Ismael.”

“Don’t know him.”

“He’s . . . did you say you know Darrin? Ismael is with Darrin.”

The Wendigo’s engine revved, though Arturo hadn’t pressed the accelerator. “All right, then.” He shifted the car from park to drive. “Let’s see what we can do.” He reached out for the radio.

“Did I tell you to touch that?”

Arturo looked at her. “Miss, if I’m drivin’, I’m listenin’ to the radio. If you object, you can stick that knife in my belly and drive yourself into the briarpatch. If you think the Wendigo will let you.”

For just a moment, he thought he’d miscalculated, and that she
was
going to stab him. He wondered what the Wendigo would do to stop her, if anything. Maybe he was meant to die at her hands, and take the direct route of death to find Marjorie.

But instead she just said, “Whatever. Get moving.”

He turned on the radio, and it was Willie, singing “On the Road Again.” The Wendigo always got the best stations on the radio, except when it didn’t get any radio stations at all. Arturo pulled away from the curb, easing down this rational road, looking for an on-ramp into the briarpatch. It felt so good to be driving again, even at knifepoint, that he started singing along with the radio.

After a moment, Echo started singing too, her voice off-key but enthusiastic.

Could be this won’t be so bad
, Arturo thought. Road trips were always more fun with company.

Darrin and Ismael Take a Walk

1

From the stairway, Ismael led Darrin down a gravel path between high hedges, and whenever Darrin demanded to know where they were going, Ismael would only say, “Into the briarpatch, to find Bridget.”

Finally, after what seemed an hour spent trudging through an English hedge-maze, Ismael stopped. “There’s a house up ahead, through there.” He pointed to an iron gate at the end of the hedgerow. “Follow my lead. Once we get inside, don’t go into any of the doorways we pass, no matter what you see there, even if you think you see Bridget. It’s a house of mirrors, in a way, and you see what you want to see—it’s nothing real. But we need to pass through it. We should rest first.”

He unslung his shoulder bag and reached inside, withdrawing a bottle of water. He offered it to Darrin, who scowled, thinking,
Poison
.

Ismael sighed, uncapped the bottle, took a swig, and said “See? No cyanide. I’m not your enemy, Darrin.” He sat cross-legged on the gravel and began rolling his head around, as if working out kinks in his neck.

Darrin sank to the ground across from him, their knees almost touching in the narrowness of the hedgerow, and took the water bottle. He wasn’t tired from their long walk—he’d been well-conditioned over the past few months, having spent most of his days walking—but it was important to stay hydrated. He hadn’t come prepared for a long trip, though at least he was wearing decent hiking boots. His greatest regret was that he hadn’t brought his camera. The long walk, looking at the back of Ismael’s head, had helped drain away some of his rage toward Nicholas and Echo, though the opportunity for contemplation had brought a lot of questions too. He was no longer overwhelmed by the very idea of the briarpatch, though he was still a little unclear on what it
was
, exactly, and why he was able to enter it when other people couldn’t. But he had other questions.

“I’m not going any farther with you until I get some answers,” Darrin said.

BOOK: Briarpatch by Tim Pratt
13.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Ghost Hunting by Jason Hawes, Grant Wilson
Feral by Berkeley, Anne
Belle Prater's Boy by Ruth White
Party Girl by Stone, Aaryn
They Rode Together by Tell Cotten
The Gemini Contenders by Robert Ludlum
Skylark by Patricia MacLachlan
The Sportswriter by Ford, Richard
Historias Robadas by Enrique J. Vila Torres