Another day another chapter. And just a short intro because I have some moving to do. Enjoy.
“I never should have trusted you, Pidgeon! I knew it.” Ansel wanted to hit him, but he was too far away.
“No, Ansel,” Pidgeon said, shaking his head. “That’s not true. I helped you!”
“Helped me? You think knocking my friend out and kidnapping me is helping me?”
“No.” Pidgeon shook his head. “We didn’t kidnap you. We rescued you. And he’s not your friend. He’s a protector.”
“He was a better friend than you ever were. He gave me jerky, and he didn’t run away at the first sign of danger.”
“He was the first sign of danger!”
“He wasn’t dangerous! He said he could find my dad. He was trying to help me!”
“Ha! Yeah right.” Pidgeon scoffed. “More like he was lying to you so he could arrest you.”
“Arrest me for what? You saw that gun he had. You said they kill whoever they want, whenever they want. If I was in danger, I would have been dead already. And now I’m never going to meet anyone with a better chance of getting my dad back. You took that away from me, Pidgeon. You and your stupid friends.”
“I—I didn—I’m sorry,” Pidgeon said, almost too low for Ansel to hear. “I was trying to help.”
Rosa came out of the room where they were holding Tom. She had a big smile on her face. “Whatever you said to him did the trick,” she said. “He’s actually listening to what we have to say, at least. He may end up doing what’s best for you after all.”
“What are you making him do?” Ansel asked. “He should be getting my dad back!”
“We told you, girl,” Rosa said. “It’s not in his power to do that. He can aim a gun, though. And thanks to you, we might be able convince him that doing just that is his best way of protecting you. So you did well, child. I appreciate that. Now you and little Richie here are going to have to leave until we’re done with him. Come back tomorrow morning, and he’ll be waiting for you. You got it?”
“But, she doesn—” Pidgeon protested.
“I’m not going anywhere!” Ansel stomped her foot.
“Now I mean it!” Rosa stomped hers back. “You have no investment in that protector, girl. He’s no use to you. We thank you both for leading him our way, and you have our food in your stomachs to show that gratitude, but we’ll be doing business with Mr. Pardy overnight. He’ll be in one piece tomorrow morning if you still want him, but until then, I’m going to have to ask you to leave. Thank you.”
“No, but you sai—” Pidgeon was going to go on, but Ansel grabbed his arm.
“You won’t get away with this,” she said, looking Rosa in the eyes.
“Oh, ho ho, girl.” Rosa laughed. “Get away with what?”
“Whatever you’re making him do. Whoever you’re trying to kill.”
“That, girl, is far enough,” Rosa said. “I’ll have you leave now, and I hope not to see your face again. If you do decide to come collect your friend tomorrow, make sure I don’t see you when you do it. Do you understand me?”
“I understand better than you might think, ma’am,” Ansel said, nodding. “Thank you for the soup. Let’s go Pidgeon.”
Pidgeon tried to protest, but Ansel dragged him out under the stern gaze of Rosa. Neither of them said a word until they had burst out into the open air.
“What was that Ansel?” Pidgeon said, tearing away from her grip. “You can’t treat them like that.”
“And why not?” Ansel asked, grabbing him again and dragging him into the first alley they passed. She let go of his arm and peeked around the corner.
“Because they’re—they’re—old,” Pidgeon said, scrunching up his nose. “And they gave us food, they helped us. And they’re my—my fri—”
“Helped us?” Ansel snapped. “You mean kidnapped.”
“I told you. That was—”
“To protect me. Yeah. I know. But did you ever stop to think that maybe I don’t need protecting?”
“I didn’t—I wasn’t—I just wanted to help,” Pidgeon said, lowering his eyes. “We do nothing alone. Remember.”
“Shhhh. Of course I remember,” Ansel whispered. “But shut up.” She pulled him behind a dumpster and sat on the dirty ground, leaning her back against the cold metal trash can.
“Wh—What are y—” Pidgeon tried to say.
“Shhhhh!” Ansel put her finger to her mouth.
She waited a few more heartbeats then started to breath.
“What are you doing?” Pidgeon whispered.
“I’m finding out what they’re making him do.”
“But how?” Pidgeon said, shaking his head. “And why? They told you to—”
“Whatever they want him to do, they can’t do it from in there, right? So I’m gonna wait until they come out then follow them to wherever it is they are going do it. That’s how.”
“No. But Ansel. You don’t understand—”
“Pidgeon. If you don’t shut up right now—you know—I’m glad you ditched me. You would suck at hunting. You’d scare all the prey away.”
“No buts. Okay. That protector was my last chance, Pidgeon. Even if he couldn’t get my dad out, he might be able to get me in. Or—I don’t know—get a message in or something. I have to try. You know that don’t you? You would do the same thing if you were in my situation.”
“Of course I would. That’s why—”
“That’s why I need you to shut up. So we can follow them without being noticed. That’s how hunting works, Pidgeon. Or I guess you already said you didn’t know anything about hunting. Well this is lesson one. Shut up so the prey doesn’t run away.”
“If you would just shut u—”
“Wait.” Ansel held up a hand. “Look,” she said, pointing down the alley. “It’s the cat!”
Back toward Anna and Rosa’s place was the black cat licking itself on the sidewalk.
“No way,” Pidgeon said.
“Let’s get it,” Ansel said.
“But what abou—”
She was already gone, and he had to sprint to catch up. The cat bounded down the street straight toward the building they had just come out of. Ansel thought she had it when it stopped right in front of Anna and Rosa’s apartment, but it jumped into the door and disappeared. Ansel stomped to a stop, and Pidgeon ran into the back of her.
“Where’d he go?” he said.
“Did you see that?”
“What?” Pidgeon said, looking around for the cat. “What happened?”
“It went through the door.”
“Did they see you?”
“No. I mean it went through the door. The door wasn’t open. The cat just disappeared.”
“Like in the alley?”
“When you ditched me.”
“He disappeared then, too,” Pidgeon said, ignoring her.
“I’m going in.”
She had already reached out to touch the doorknob, but her hand disappeared before she felt it, cut off in a straight line along her wrist like the clouds behind the invisibility screen in the sky. She pulled her hand out and laughed when it reappeared.
“Ansel,” Pidgeon said, taking a step back. “I don’t think you should do that. You don’t know how it’s going to—I don’t know—affect you.”
“Pidgeon,” Ansel said with a grin. “The Curious Cat just jumped through there. You know what that means.”
“No, Ansel. I don’t think that’s the Curious Cat. I think—”
She didn’t hear the rest of what he had to say, because she jumped through the door into a big, dark closet with clothes piled up all around her. The cat sat on a particularly high mound of clothes in front of her, licking itself.
“I found you,” she said.
The cat meowed.
She took it as a challenge. “Oh, yeah? Well I will then.” She pounced toward it, but it ran out of the open door which provided the only source of light in the room. She chased it and lost all her senses in the blinding white lights that she ran into. She was defenseless, and the cat was gone for sure. When her eyes finally adjusted, she saw a giant in a white uniform, pointing a gun at someone behind the lights. Her first instinct was to flee, but then she heard what the giant was yelling, she recognized the voice. He was telling them that he was doing this for her. She never asked him to do that.
“Don’t!” she screamed as the gun went off. She tackled him to try to stop him before he fired again, and they landed in a tangle on the floor.
“What are you doing?” Tom pushed her up off of him and pointed his gun at her, the gun he had just used to shoot someone in what he claimed was protection of her. She had never seen a gun until she met him, and she had certainly never had one pointed at her. She put her trembling hands in the air and saw his finger flinch, but he didn’t pull the trigger. Instead he pulled off his helmet and looked at her wide-eyed. “Ansel,” he said. “I…”
She didn’t want to hear it. She didn’t care anymore. She squirmed away and ran toward the costume closet in the hope that it would let her pass back through the other way.
“Ansel!” Pidgeon grabbed her and hugged her on the other side. She broke away from him and ran down the alley to sit behind a dumpster and cry into her hands.
“Ansel!” Tom called.
When she heard his bootsteps getting closer, she swung her fists towards his face, but only got high enough to hit him in his padded stomach. “Get away from me!” she cried as she swung at him again.
“No, Ansel,” Tom said, holding her at arm’s length. “You don’t understand.”
“You don’t understand! You pointed a gun at me. A gun!”
“I didn’t know it was you. Why’d you stop me? How’d you even get there?”
“You said you were doing it for me.”
“I was doing what you asked me to do.”
“I never asked you to shoot anyone.” Ansel scoffed. “Who’d you kill anyway? You fired two shots.”
“You don’t even know?” Ansel shook her head. “Then how could you know you were doing it for me?”
“I don’t know if I hit him, because you interrupted me. I was shooting at the person who owns the protectors. They have to do what he says, so ultimately, he’s responsible. Right?”
“You have to do what he says,” Ansel reminded him. “He owns you.”
“I—No.” Tom shook his head. “I tried to kill him, to free us.”
“Like you freed my mother”
“No. I didn—”
“But you did. You did, and nothing you can do will ever change that!”
“No. But I—”
“No!” Ansel stomped her foot. “Leave me alone!”
She sprinted out of the alley and down the street, grabbing Pidgeon along the way. He protested a little, but not much, and soon they were running as fast as their feet could take them down the Green Belt. Pidgeon begged to stop not far along, but Haley wasn’t going to stop ever. She didn’t care if he did. She didn’t care if he left her like everyone else. He had already done it once, and he would probably do it again: lie to her just like Tom did and disappear when she needed him the most. She was stupid to trust either of them in the first place. She would get to the end of the Belt by herself if that was what it took.
She heard his footsteps drop out from behind her, but she kept on running anyway. She would run far and fast enough to leave it all behind, Pidgeon and the stupid Concierges that he said were after her, Anna and Rosa and whatever plans they had to kill more people, and especially Tom with his attempts to put responsibility for murders he had committed on her. There was no one left in the world who cared about her. No one at all except for her…dad.
She slowed to a jog, then a walk, then fell to her knees in the middle of the sidewalk. Her dad was the only thing she had left in the world, but how was she supposed to get him back? How could she do it when she was all alone? We do nothing alone.
She caught her breath and wiped her eyes, then turned to see if Pidgeon was still chasing after her. Her heart dropped into her stomach when he wasn’t there. She had run too fast. She had gotten too far ahead of him. He hadn’t ditched her this time, she had ditched him.
The tears came back at the thought of it. Now she really was alone. Before, with him chasing after her, there was still someone driving her on, there was still someone who would be there if she tripped up or lagged behind. But now she had gotten so far ahead that he had given up on her. Now she had less hope than ever of finding her dad. She didn’t even know where to go anymore. She didn’t know where she was. She found herself turning this way and that with tears in her eyes, and the people walking around her couldn’t even spare a second glance.
Then she thought she heard her name. She wiped her nose—and sniffled and coughed—and it came again. It was her name. It was Pidgeon’s voice. He hadn’t given up yet!
“Ansel!” he called. “Ansel, wait up!” He was jogging and out of breath when he finally caught up to her to sit on the ground in a huff. “I thought—I lost you,” he said through deep breaths.
Ansel chuckled a little, her eyes watering again, and said, “You lost me?”
“Yeah.” Pidgeon shrugged, still breathing heavily. “You’re fast.”
“Pidgeon,” Ansel said, working hard to keep her voice from breaking. “Why’d you keep chasing after me?”
“Well.” Pidgeon shrugged. “Because. Besides…You needed me, right? I mean, you need me.” He nodded hopefully at her.
“But you don’t need me, Pidgeon,” Ansel said, scrunching up her eyebrows and wrinkling her forehead.
Pidgeon looked hurt, sitting on the sidewalk, searching for a piece of grass to tear to pieces. “I do though,” he said. “Unless you don’t want to take me along anymore.”
“Take you along?” Ansel frowned.
“Yeah, well.” Pidgeon stood up and brushed himself off. “I guess that was a prank or something. I’ll—uh—I’ll just get back to the orphanage then.”
“No!” Ansel cried a little too desperately. She composed herself and went on. “I mean, you still want to do that? You still want to come with me?”
“Of course I do. I wasn’t lying when I told you what they did to me. I have to get out of there, and I need your help to do it.”
“But Pidgeon,” Ansel said, crossing her arms and looking away from him. “I can’t leave yet. I have to try to get my dad back. Tom may not be able to get him, but I believe him when he says my dad’s still alive.”
“Ansel. He killed your mom. He admitted to that. How could you trust him?”
“I don’t trust him,” Ansel said, turning back to Pidgeon and shaking her head. “I believe what he’s saying. There’s a difference.”
“How can you believe him, then?”
“Because he wouldn’t admit to killing my mom and lie to me about my dad being alive.”
“Unless he wanted to arrest you.”
“Then he would have already.” Ansel sighed. “You saw how big he was. He could have picked me up with one hand and carried me away. Haven’t we been through this already?”
“Well I’m not negotiating. I’m gonna get my dad back whether you help me or not.”
“I don’t know.”
“So what are you going to do next?”
“I don’t know.”
“So you want me to agree to nothing, then.” Pidgeon scoffed. “What’s the point?”
“I just want you to know that’s what my goal is, that’s all I care about. I’m getting my dad back and nothing else matters.”
“Well, let’s do it, then,” Pidgeon said, finally standing from the sidewalk and looking ready to go.
Ansel rubbed her forehead. “Pidgeon,” she said. “You do understand what this means, don’t you.”
He didn’t answer. Ansel could tell he wanted another blade of grass to tear apart.
“He was taken by the protectors, he’s being held by them, so we have to go to them to figure out how to get him back.”
“Ansel, we can’t,” Pidgeon said. “You don’t—”
“You don’t have to come with me. That’s why I’m telling you now.”
“But how are you going to get to him? Anna and Rosa. They can—”
“I’m not asking them for help,” Ansel said, crossing her arms. “You weren’t there, Pidgeon. There were people there that were bigger than the protectors, but they were a different kind of big, wide, too. And Tom tried to kill one of them, but I stopped him.”
“What are you talking about Ansel?” Pidgeon shook his head, confused.
“I’m saying Anna and Rosa aren’t my friends. You can go back to them if you want, and I’ll just find my own way to get my dad back.”
“But they can get him. When you disappeared I tried to tell you. That was them. They transported you. They can get your dad the same way.”
“I don’t care, Pidgeon.” Ansel shook her head. “I can’t work with them. It may be asking too much, but I’m asking it. Like I said, you don’t have to come with me.”
“I just don’t know how you’re going to get him without them.”
“I don’t either, Richard. But I will.”
“Well…” Pidgeon thought about it for a second. “If you’ll take me with you, I’ll still come, then.”
“You don’t have to.”
“Then if you’ll take me with you, I still want to come. I can’t go back to the orphanage. I won’t.”
She realized how selfish she had been. She realized that they were standing in the middle of the street with people walking all around them. She realized how vulnerable they were. “You’re right, Pidgeon,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
“We need to get out of here, though. We’re not hunters anymore, we’re prey. What road are we on?”
“I don’t know,” Pidgeon said, looking around for any indication. “Roman or something.”
“Roman and what?”
“I don’t know,” he repeated. “I was trying to keep up with you, I wasn’t taking the time to read every sign I passed.”
“Fine,” Ansel said. “Okay. Just follow me.” She went down the closest alley she could find in an attempt to set her bearings. She could almost see the street sign across the way when it disappeared along with Pidgeon and the rest of the city around him. She turned and made to go back to find him when someone grabbed her from behind, lifted her off her feet, and carried her back the other way. “Put me down!” she demanded, kicking and struggling to get away, but whoever it was didn’t respond.
They carried her through a short hall into a big room that had a lot of metal tables covered with glass tubes and jars which were filled with different colored chemicals. There were little flames coming out of metal tubes, heating some of the glasses of color, and the chemicals were bubbling and boiling with their essences all mixing together. It was the most interesting thing Ansel had ever seen. She stopped struggling, too busy gawking at the place to fight. She was still staring in awe at her surroundings when the person dropped her on the floor in front of a tall chair which was turned with its back facing her.
“Let me go,” Ansel said, standing and turning to find a big mechanical arm with its hand open and waving. “Who—What are you?”
It kept waving.
“You won’t get anything out of that one,” a voice said behind her.
She turned to see a woman sitting in the chair which was now facing her. “Who are you?” Ansel said. “Let me go.”
“Settle down, girl,” the woman said.
“I’m not a girl!” Ansel said, crossing her arms.
“We’re here to help you,” the woman said.
“Who are you?”
“I’m someone trying to get back what they took from me. Just like you.”
“You don’t know anything about me,” Ansel said.
“I know more than you think, girl. I know you were there at the Feast with that protector. I know you’re running away from home. I know you’re looking for something and we can give it to you.”
“You would have started with that if it was true.” Ansel scoffed.
The woman laughed. “You’re a sly little one, aren’t you? It’s partially true. We can get it for you, but we don’t know what it is.”
“Then how do you know you can get it?”
“We can get it,” the woman said with a grin. “Don’t you worry about that. Whatever it is, we can get it.”
“I want Pidgeon to be here, first,” Ansel said. “Can you get that?”
“You want a pigeon?”
“No.” Ansel sighed. “Pidgeon. Richard. He was following me, but he won’t come through the portal or whatever. He never does.”
“You’ve been through one before?” The woman raised an eyebrow.
“Pidgeon,” Ansel said. “Bring him here. Prove you can get what I want when it’s simple, then I’ll bargain with you.”
“I swear,” the woman said. “You Sixers are more miserly than the owners. Fine. Popeye, you heard the girl. Go get Pidgeon and bring him in. What does he look like?”
“I don’t know,” Ansel said, shrugging. “A kid. Dirty clothes. Dark hair. Pimply face. He’ll probably be standing exactly where I disappeared, wondering if he should follow me or not. That is if he hasn’t run off already. You’re losing time.”
“Go on Popeye,” the woman said. The metal arm rolled out through the door they had come in. “There. Popeye’s fetching your pigeon. Now how did you get into the Feast?”
“How did you know I was there?”
“I’m not here to play games with you, girl. You interrupted an important operation. Tell me how you got there.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just saw a bunch of really fat people acting like babies. I don’t know how that could be important.”
The woman laughed again. “No,” she said, shaking her head and trying to suppress a grin. “That wasn’t the important part, you’re right about that, but I still need to know how you got there.”
“I’m not saying anything until I see—”
“Hey! Let me down!” Pidgeon’s voice cut her off. The big metal arm dropped him on the floor next to her. “Ansel,” he said. “How did you get here?”
“Alright,” the woman said. “Your boyfriend’s here. How did you get to the Feast?”
“I don’t know,” Ansel said. “I tried to open a door, and I ended up in a costume closet.”
“The closet,” the woman said, more to herself than to Ansel. “Of course. I should have known.”
“So you already know about the closet,” Ansel said.
“Ansel,” Pidgeon said. “Anna and Ro—”
“Shhhh!” Ansel elbowed him.
“Girl,” the woman said. “We’re going to find out one way or another. You might as well let your boyfriend tell us now. We’ll be more likely to help you if you cooperate.”
“I’m not her boyfriend,” Pidgeon said, crossing his arms.
“That doesn’t matter, boy,” the woman said. “Shut up. Now, your Pidgeon is here. I held up my end of the bargain. So tell me, how did you get into the feast?”
“I told you!” Ansel stomped her foot.
“Where did it happen?”
“I don’t know,” Ansel said. “Pidgeon?”
“St. Roch and St. Claude,” he said. “That’s where it—”
“You heard him,” Ansel said. “Now how are you going to get my dad for me?”
“And you say you tried to open the door, but you went through into a costume closet?” the woman asked.
“Am I here all alone?” Ansel said. “Yes. Then I heard the protector say he was doing what he was doing for me, so I tried to stop him. I never asked him to shoot anyone. He was supposed to help me get my dad back just like you are now. Right?”
“Right,” the woman said. “But you’ll have to wait for the Scientist for that.”
“Wait for the what?” Ansel said, losing her temper. “Listen lady. Tell me how you plan on getting my dad back, or we’re leaving.”
Pidgeon didn’t look as sure of himself as Ansel was. He was still staring at the mechanical arm, afraid it might grab him again. The arm didn’t seem to be paying any attention to him, though. It was sweeping up something on the floor. The woman laughed and turned her chair around so Ansel could only see the back of it. “Well leave then, girl,” she said. “See if I care. We already have what we want. You should have held your cards closer to your chest if you wanted to negotiate.”
“You’re lying!” Ansel rushed at her, but Pidgeon grabbed her arm and turned her around.
“Uh…Ansel,” he said, staring at the door they had come in.
A dark-faced man that was even taller than Tom walked into the room. He was wearing a black suit, with a black piece of cloth tied in a bow around his neck, and a tall, black hat on his head. He looked down at them, took the single gold-rimmed lens out of his eye, and said, “Ahem. Rosalind. You didn’t tell me our visitor—or should I say visitors—were here. Hello, ma’am. Sir.” He took off his hat and did a little bow. “My name’s Huey. It’s so nice to finally meet you.” He held out his hand and bent over at the waist so Ansel could shake it.
She looked at it, not sure what to do. She didn’t know what to think of this giant. Why was he being so nice? And was that woman in the chair as big as he was? It was probably a good thing that Pidgeon had stopped her before she could hit the jerk.
“Go ahead,” the giant said. “I won’t bite.”
She put her hand in his, and when he closed it around hers, her hand disappeared. She drew it away as soon as she could, and he extended his hand to Pidgeon.
“You, too, sir,” he said. “Even though I know less about you than I do about our mutual acquaintance whose name I don’t even know.”
Pidgeon took his hand. “Hi, sir,” he said. “I’m Pidg—er—Richard. And this here’s Ansel—Ow!”
Ansel elbowed him. “I can speak for myself.”
“Well.” The giant looked between the two of them, studying their appearance. It made Ansel feel self-conscious so she started kicking at nothing. “Ansel and Richard. As I said, I’m Huey. And you’ve already met my sister, Rosalind.”
“Sister?” Pidgeon said.
“She said you could get my dad back,” Ansel said.
“Rosalind,” Huey said. “The lab? Really. We couldn’t find a more comfortable place for our guests to wait?”
“I’m plenty comfortable here, Mr. Douglas,” the woman in the chair said. “Thank you.”
“I’m sure you are,” Huey said. “But I imagine our guests would prefer a soft seat and a nice view.”
“Then why don’t you take them to a more comfortable location,” the woman said. “Popeye and I here need to get some work done anyway.”
“Work?” Huey scoffed. “If ever there was a time to take a break, it was now.”
“A break?” The woman scoffed back. “You always want to take a break, brother. And, like always, you will. So go ahead. I’ll get my break when my work’s done.”
Huey sighed and shook his head. He turned back to Ansel and Pidgeon. “Her position is so much more difficult than mine,” he whispered to them. “It’s a shame she can’t enjoy these small victories like I do. Anyway. Let’s go then. The Scientist has a little more business to tend to, but she’ll be right with you. Let’s go somewhere more comfortable to wait. Shall we?”
He led them to a door, opened it, and showed them through. They walked out into the little hall she had come in through, and Pidgeon kept walking for a bit, but Huey said, “Uh—ahh—Richard. This way, please.” He reopened the door they had just come out of, but the lab was gone, and in its place was a room with a big desk and a table surrounded by several tall, puffy chairs which Ansel forgot all about when she saw the view out the window making up the opposite wall. Pidgeon ran up to it and put his face against the glass to get a closer look. Ansel looked up at Huey first.
He nodded. “Go ahead.”
She ran after Pidgeon and put her face on the glass, too. There was more green grass and blue skies than could be found in the entire Belt. There were hills, and trees she had never seen before, and she couldn’t count the number of animals that were standing out in the open for anyone’s taking.
“What is that?” Pidgeon asked.
“How do we get there?” Ansel asked.
Huey sat on one of the puffy chairs, putting his hat and lens on the side table. “That’s a wilderness reserve,” he said. “And getting there isn’t hard, if that’s what you decide you want.”
Pidgeon kept staring. Ansel took her attention away from the view and sat in the chair across from Huey. She had to jump and struggle to climb up into it. Huey smiled as he watched her. When she was comfortable, she said, “That woman said you could get my dad. Can you?”
“Oh ho. No, Ansel,” Huey said, shaking his head. “Not me. But the Scientist can. I have no doubt about that.”
“Yes,” he said with a smile. “You’ll meet her soon. She…She can give you anything you desire. Or at least she can tell you how to get it yourself.”
“Whatever I want?”
“Within the bounds of reality, of course,” Huey said with a nod.
“And you’re sure she’ll help?”
“Certainly, child. Just you wait and see.”
# # #
Thanks for reading. I gotta get back to work. Peace.