Hildreth inserted the streamlined stake into the open slot. His fingers ran on automatic, tightening the strings and resetting the hammer plate.
I’ve done this so many times.
His heart ached as he remembered the feel of his master’s hands guiding him.
“Mayhew! Your strings are not tight enough.”
Hildreth rubbed his nose. “Are too. I can’t make them any tighter.”
Master Initskay took Hildreth’s small hand and helped him turn the strings’ knob. “One. Two. Three. There. Now, you can’t make them any tighter. Next! Reset the hammer plate.”
He tried, but the plate refused to fit into its assigned slot.
“Keep trying, Mayhew. You can do it.”
“It doesn’t fit.”
“It does. Try harder.”
“I am trying harder. It doesn’t fit.”
“I will not always be here to help you, Mayhew. Make it fit. Turn it. Twist it. Make it fit.”
“I can’t!” He set the weapon on the table. “I can’t do it. It won’t work. It doesn’t. It can’t. It’s stupid. I just can’t.”
His master looked down at the weapon before looking up at him. “I’m sorry. What happened to your parents—”
His throat tightened. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“You have to. I need to.”
“I don’t. Just leave me alone. Leave me alone!”
He bowed his head. “I can’t talk about it. Even if I wanted to, I can’t. There’s too many words in my head and I can’t say any of them. It hurts, Master. Every time.” He wanted to curl up on the floor and hide his face. “It always hurts.”
He waited for the expected “Time will heal all wounds” speech that almost everyone else had told him.
“Pick up your weapon and try again.”
Good. He didn’t say it. “Yes, Master.”
But it hurts.
It’s all my fault. No one else’s.
My parents died because of me.
The conductor’s voice came over the speaker. “Hello. This is your captain speaking. Ha. Ha. Just teasing. Trying to see if you all are as wide awake as me. As I? As me? Well! Anyway, just want to make sure you’re all wide awake back there. This is your conductor speaking and we are approaching the mighty fine small itty bitty two block town oooooofff—-Penceforth! Yeeeeay! Come on, everyone! Let me hear a cheer for Penceforth. Pence-forth! Pence-forth! Let’s grab our bags and gooooo toooo Peeeeencee-fooorrrrth! Yeeeeeeee-haaaaw! Weeeeaooo!”
“Well.” said Hildreth. “Someone spiked the conductor’s tea.”
The train decelerated.
“If you’re getting off here, you’d better grab your little flower bushels and grocery bags and munchkin urchkin children. Because—-”
The train stopped.
“Here. We. Are. Aaaaaaat PENCEFORTH! YAY! YAY! HIP-HIP HOOOOORAY!”
Hildreth nodded his head. “Yep. Someone definitely spiked his tea.” He put his Bossman 550 into his duffel bag, zipped it all up, and carried it to the nearest exit.
“Oh, you all’ve been a great crowd. A really great crowd. Come on and see me again. I’m here all night. Yeess!”
The exit door unlocked and opened automatically and the stairs descended.
“All right! I hope you all have yourselves a great great great great awesome great terrific hop-diddily-doo time at Penceforth!”
Hildreth glanced back at Jeb.
Jeb sat in the aisle seat in the far back row. Polly lay still in his arms.
“Are you coming?”
Jeb shook his head. “This isn’t my stop.”
I should tell him good luck or good-bye or something.
But the words stayed stuck to the back of his throat.
Hildreth nodded at the vampire, walked down the stairs, and stepped onto the platform.
“Well. I’m back.”