From Clarinda Blaumer’s perspective, supper that evening was a perfectly normal affair. She and her two boarders talked, joked and acted just like always. Unbeknownst to her, though, there was a dance of subtext going on beneath the conversation. Every sentence Deke directed at Taylor had extra meaning as he circled around, looking for an opening, trying to spot a weakness. Taylor’s responses were insultingly open, bragging of his superior position, inviting Deke to make a play. The two used Clarinda’s innocent words to launch feints at each other, each daring the other to overcommit.
“So how are things going at the mine, Taylor?” she asked.
“Oh, they’re going great, Miz Blaumer. We’re really working as a team now. Everyone’s on the same page, you know?” He looked straight at Deke as he emphasized the word “page,” and Deke knew that Taylor knew he had seen the blank book.
“Is Porfirio helping you boys?”
“Time and again, Miz Blaumer. We definitely couldn’ta done all of this without him.” Taylor grinned and added, “Speaking of, Pa, when’re you coming up? That arm’s looking pretty well.”
“I’ll be along presently,” Deke said. “Coupla days, most likely. Gotta tend to my snares tomorrow. Ain’t right to leave something out there to suffer once it’s been caught.”
“Sure hope you manage to catch something, Pa. You’re starting to look poor as Job’s turkey.”
“Taylor!” Clarinda admonished. “That’s no way to talk to your pa.”
Deke waved her off. “I ain’t worried if the boy wants to run his mouth. Porfirio showed me some good places to set ‘em. I’m feeling downright confident.”
Taylor and Deke smiled at each other, teeth bared.
Clarinda smiled as well, happy to see the two getting along so well. The town, such as it was, had been so strange lately. It was good to see them still in such good spirits.
“Clarinda,” came a call from the other room. “Come spare me a minute, darlin?”
Clarinda rose. “If you’ll pardon me,” she told her boarders. “Let me just go see what John wants.”
The two men watched her leave. Deke stirred his spoon slowly through his porridge, then took a mouthful.
“John Blaumer’s dead,” he said conversationally.
“Funny thing, that,” replied Taylor. “Just don’t seem to be sticking like it used to.”
He idly scratched his chest, just below his heart.
“Got something there bothering you?” Deke asked. “Bug bite or some such?”
“Nothing major. Had a scorpion try to sting me. But I fixed him up good.”
“Did you now. Squished him with your boot? You sure you got him?”
“Oh, I’m positive. I didn’t squish him. I trapped him under a glass. Left him out there in the desert with no way out. I know right where he is. I’ve been keeping an eye on him.”
“Yeah? You worried about him breaking out after all?”
“No sir.” Taylor smiled. “But it surely is funny to watch him raise up his claws like he thinks he’s still got a fighting chance.”
Taylor stared Deke down brazenly. Deke returned the gaze, calmly spooning more porridge into his mouth. “Ain’t that a thing.”
“You’re looking kinda tuckered out, Pa. You thinking about turning in early?”
“I am, at that. Expecting something of a long day tomorrow. You?”
“I think I’ll stay up for a while yet.”
“Haven’t seen you sleep much lately, boy. You ought to take care of yourself.”
“I’m sleeping as much as I need. It just don’t seem to be catching me like it used to. Appreciate your concern for my welfare, though.”
“I aim to take care of you.”
“And I appreciate your efforts. Pa.” Taylor raised both hands and clicked his fingers like a scorpion’s claws.
Deke pushed his chair back from the table. “Well, I believe that’s enough banter for me for an evening. Good night, Taylor.”
“Need some reading before you go to bed? I have a book you can borrow.”
“I know where it is. I can just grab it if I’m feeling literary.”
“Help yourself, Pa. I read it so many times I know all the words by heart.”
Deke, at a loss for a counter, simply nodded and left the room. Taylor’s laughter escorted him upstairs.
Once in the room, Deke eyed the thin wooden chair and contemplated wedging it under the doorknob. After a moment he shrugged and set the chair aside, but left it behind the door so that it would scrape across the floor if someone entered the room.
Deke knelt in front of Taylor’s trunk, opening it quietly to lift out the worn leather satchel. He drew forth the book it contained and flipped quickly through its pages. They were all still blank. Deke nodded and set the book aside, then replaced the satchel in Taylor’s trunk and closed it.
Taylor had been taunting Deke with the book. Clearly, he felt it was no threat to him. And with its pages completely blank, he was obviously right. Deke had tried to refill those pages before, and they had resisted. But an idea had occurred to him over supper, and so Deke took out his pencil, flipped to the first page and started to draw.
The symbol he had seen on Ray’s leg still shone boldly in his head, as did all of these words. They were not the sort of thing one forgot after seeing them. With bold strokes of the pencil, Deke drew in the swoops and interlocking lines of Contain.
The book struggled against him. The air seemed to thicken, gripping the pencil and making it like pushing through molasses. The page undulated in Deke’s vision, attempting to throw off his design. Deke closed his eyes, gritted his teeth and forced his hand forward, drawing the symbol he saw burning in his mind.
Some time later, Deke opened his eyes. Sweat dripped from his brow and stained his shirt. His pencil was dented in at the sides where he had gripped it, his fingers tight enough to leave impressions in the wood. But the page before him said Contain in its dark language, solid and unwavering.
Deke stared at the symbol he had written, then seized up his pencil again and began to write. Symbols tumbled swiftly from the end of his pencil, line upon line of ancient text filling the page beneath the heading of Contain. Even as he wrote these words, Deke could not precisely read them, but he knew that they were the instructions and the power for the symbol above. They were somehow within it, and it was within them, and they were one and the same.
The words flowed out of him like water from a broken dam, filling two pages before they finally stopped. Deke regarded what he had written for a moment, then closed the book with a shudder. The interlocking circles on its cover regarded him balefully from the floor, a triad of overlapping eyes.
“Didn’t much like that, did you,” Deke told the book. “Well, I got bad news about what tomorrow holds.”
Deke tucked the book under his mattress and got undressed for bed. He laid down, one hand on the knife under his pillow, feeling the lump of the book beneath him. If he was lucky, he’d be able to use the book to crack through the glass he was trapped under. And if he wasn’t lucky—well, Deke was working on a plan for that, too. He liked to be prepared for every eventuality.