. Out on the Streets
“I’m kinda scared about where we’re going,” said Little Wally. “Folks say that old Dunsany has monsters in the cellar; right fearsome creatures that come out at night to eat kids that ain’t in bed. Why do you hafta leave me and Elvira inna place all full of monsters?” the boy had been pleading off and on since they set out from Rutherford Common about a half hour earlier. “Can’t we stay with you, Mr. Flax?”
Randall Flax glanced to Whiskey Jack, who balanced Little Wally’s baby sister, Elvira, on one hip. Rounding out the group was Ezra Crumb, who had helped Randall rescue the children from the burning bakery.
The small group was trekking east through the cobbled streets of Clockhaven, on their way to the Dunsany Institution. For two days following the fire, Randall Flax and Ezra Crumb had volunteered their services to help establish the relief camps along the north wall. It was earlier this morning when Whiskey Jack had come upon them with news that Martha Foehammer and her son Cecil were staying at the Dunsany. Immediately Ezra Crumb was determined to go to Clockhaven and Randall took the opportunity to accompany him after making a difficult decision regarding the future of the two surviving McNettle children..
Randall stopped and put his hand out, turning little Wally so he could face the boy directly. “Listen, I’m real sorry my kin ain’t got the space to take you in but we got us a lot of blood relatives that lost their homes; they are all needing our help and we can only do so much. I know the stories about this place to where we’re going—the Dunsany. I heard ‘em often enough myself—and maybe I even repeated a few. But I’m going to tell you something and I want you to listen up good. Sometimes us grown-ups tell kids stuff that ain’t always strictly speaking the truth.”
Wally stared up at Randall with big eyes. “Are you saying parents tell lies?”
“Not exactly,” said Randall. “The truth ain’t always so black and white, see. Sometimes we tell kids stuff in a way that is easier to understand. It’s what you call a pair of balls.”
“Parables,” Ezra corrected.
“Right,” said Randall. “Like when we say the woods outside the city is all full of big bad wolves, and witches, and ghosts. Ain’t none of that stuff is real but we tell kids that for their own good see. I know these things. I’m a father myself seven times over.”
“But witches is real,” protested Little Wally. “I have an auntie from Massitushits. Pa says she’s a witch and if we don’t behave she’ll turn us into newts.”
“Well, I ain’t one to contradict your Pa—he was a wonderful man and everyone loved him dearly.” said Randall his voice cracking ever so slightly. “So we’ll leave the subject of witches for the time being. But you mark my words. I want you to be assured of one thing, ain’t no monsters at the Dunsany. I been there myself not more than three mornings ago. You’ll be right safe there. Won’t they Mr. Crumb.”
“I hope so,” Ezra’s distraction and preoccupation with Martha Foehammer had him speaking before he remembered the presence of the children. “Of course you’ll be safe.” He tried to cover, but it was an awkward attempt.
“We ain’t going to leave you, son,” Whiskey Jack took his turn to assure the boy. “I’ll nose about; if I sense even a hint of danger about the place I’ll take you home myself.” Whiskey Jack paused to clear his throat of some acrid, black phlegm. “Damn fire burnt my throat so bad it hurts to smoke.” He took a deep breath. “Here’s the thing though, if I take you, we’ll have to find alternate arrangements for your sister. I’m not too partial to babies and this one’s a might shrill and too damn smelly for my liking. She might do better in the country where she ain’t going to disturb no one with all her screeching.”
“I’ll be good,” said Little Wally, relief evident in his voice. “And maybe when Elvira gets on a little bit she won’t be so noisy and she can come be with us.”
“Hold to now,” said Whiskey Jack. “We’re getting ahead of ourselves. We may find them that are at the Dunsany ready to give you a safe and comfortable upbringing. You like Mrs. Foehammer, right? I seen how well you two got along the other day. She’s at the Dunsany right now. She’s a right decent one ain’t she Mr. Crumb?”
“Yes,” Ezra replied though he still appeared distracted..
“I’ll have a good long chat with Mrs. Foehammer,” said Whiskey Jack, picking up the pace once more, nodding to Randall and Ezra to do likewise. “Afterall, we don’t want to make any rash decisions.”