Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain (2 page)

BOOK: Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain
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“No!” Mimi tried to step in front of Hamish X, but he pushed her away. She fell with a splash into the mud.

Hamish X stepped over her towards Mr. Sweet.

Mimi reached up a muddy hand and clutched Hamish X's right boot. “No!” she shouted again. She spat at the agent. “He doesn't wanna go with y'all!” She pulled herself up and grabbed Hamish X's sleeve. He stared vacantly down at her tear-streaked face. “Ya belong here with us.”

For an instant, confusion showed in Hamish X's eyes.

“Yer my friend, Hamish X. You saved us all.”

“Little girl,” Mr. Sweet laughed, “he belongs with us.”

“He belongs
to
us,” Mr. Candy hissed.

“No!” Mimi shook her friend. “These people don't care about ya. I don't know what they want but it cain't be good. Don't go with them. Remember who you are! You're Hamish X!” She swung around, gathered her hands into fists, and ran at the agents. Mr. Sweet stepped forward and calmly held out his arm, easily deflecting her charge and sending her off balance to fall once more in the freezing mud.

Hamish X blinked. He shook his head clumsily, as if trying to clear it. Anger showed in his eyes. “No …” He
drunkenly shambled to interpose himself between the agents and Mimi, who had fallen on her face, banging her bony nose on the ground hard enough to send blood trickling from her nostrils. “Don't touch her …”

The loudspeaker whispered again, more insistently, “Come to Mother, Hamish X. I'm waiting for you at home.”

The voice had an immediate effect. “Home?” Any spark of recognition in the golden eyes was extinguished. Hamish X turned his back on Mimi and walked to the waiting agents.

Mr. Sweet reached into his coat pocket and extracted a pair of smooth white bracelets. “Excellent, Hamish X. We've wasted enough time.” He guided Hamish X to the door of the helicopter. The boy didn't resist. His eyes were dull, his mouth slack.

Mimi pushed herself up on one elbow. Tears and mud plastered her face. Her hair hung in lank strips. She turned to look for Parveen but found he was gone. Had he run away and left her? She couldn't believe it.
“Hamish X!”
she wailed.

Mr. Candy stopped and turned his head towards Mimi, his goggles resembling the glittering eyes of an insect. “The boy you know as Hamish X never really existed,” he shouted over the rising wind. “And soon, neither will you.”

Suddenly, from the direction of the harbour, there came a crash and a rumble. The ground shook. The sky glowed red. Flames leapt into the night as several wooden buildings ignited. Over the slanted roofs of Windcity, a bizarre and terrifying shape rose.

The body was birdlike and balanced on two towering legs. A slender neck coiled with cables ended in a cluster of funnel-shaped nozzles. The overall impression was of a giant ostrich made of dark shiny metal. From the nozzles, gushing streams of flame sprayed over the tilted houses of Windcity, setting them alight, burning them despite the freezing rain that encased them. The heat baked Mimi's upturned face. As she watched in horror yet another of the strange bird machines appeared, rising above the roofs of the houses to the south. The long serpentine neck swung and the nozzle on its head began spitting flame. New fires bloomed.

“Marvellous machines, our Firebirds, don't you think?” Mr. Sweet gloated. “They'll make short work of this tinderbox town.”

“You and your friends have served your purpose, little girl,” Mr. Candy explained, his voice devoid of emotion. “You will be erased.”

Hamish X watched the bird machines approach and something stirred in his golden eyes. “Mimi,” he said groggily. “No!” He turned and looked at her. “NO!” At that moment Mr. Sweet snapped the bracelets over Hamish X's wrists. The light in his eyes dulled once more. Hamish X's head dropped forward, hanging like a lead weight.

The metal birds stomped closer, their paths converging as they moved towards the orphanage. Reaching the edge of the concrete square in front of the factory, the terrible
things paused, their pointed heads swinging back and forth like snakes scenting the air.

“Destroy the town,” Mr. Sweet commanded. The creatures swivelled their heads towards the sound of his voice. “Leave nothing and no one standing.”

Fire spurted from the horrible heads, setting the houses next to the factory alight. Mimi scrambled backwards in terror. Mr. Neiuwendyke, still dressed as a cat, staggered out of his burning home, meowing loudly.
6
He dodged into an alleyway to escape the marching behemoths' rage.

“Hamish X! Parveen! Somebody help!” Mimi screamed.

Mr. Sweet and Mr. Candy seized Hamish X's arms and heaved him into the helicopter. They climbed into their seats and the craft began to rise above the destruction wrought by their horrible creations.

A huge metal foot crunched in the mud just in front of Mimi. She looked up into the terrible funnels and waited for the flames to engulf her.

“Hey!” Parveen's voice caused the machine's head to jerk in the direction of the ruined doors of the factory. Droplets of flaming liquid spattered and fizzed on the wet ground. Mimi spun towards the voice of her friend. In the factory doorway, Parveen, tiny but defiant, stood holding a tangle of wires and circuit boards loosely duct-taped together. “Try this.” Parveen stabbed a finger into a button on the side of the bundle and hurled the object into the air.

With a loud
Crump
the device exploded, showering bits of plastic and copper wire all around. The explosion wasn't large but the effect on the mechanical creatures was
profound. The one close to Mimi lurched back and spun in a circle. Mimi rolled out of the way to avoid being trampled by its flailing feet. Suddenly, it reeled to one side, staggered several metres, and fell headlong into a burning building with a resounding crash. It tried to rise but failed, spouting flames directly up into the night sky. Then it collapsed back into the rubble. After a single twitch of one spindly leg, it lay completely still.

The second thing fell sprawling on its front, smashing through abandoned houses as if they were all so much paper and matchsticks and skidding to a stop under a pile of burning debris.

The helicopter didn't escape unscathed. In its cockpit the two agents flailed as though an electrical current were coursing through them. The craft turned lazy circles in the sky, completely out of control. After spinning around three times and knocking down a row of abandoned shops with its tail, it dropped hard on its runners, snapping them off and slamming the craft hard onto its belly. The running lights flickered and went out. The rotors shattered against the walls of the buildings nearby. Mimi and Parveen threw themselves to the ground as a large piece of metal scythed through the air at head height, burying itself in the brick wall of the factory.

Finally, save for the crackle of the burning houses, silence fell.

As Parveen hauled Mimi to her feet she shouted, “What the heck was that?”

“EMP bomb,” Parveen said matter-of-factly. “It generates an electromagnetic pulse that fries all electronic circuits. I made it from the old microwave and some other junk I scavenged. Just for fun, to see if I could do it, you know?”

“Just fer fun? Who does that fer fun? Baseball's fun! Hide and go seek. That's fun!” Mimi wiped a blob of mud from her cheek and mumbled, “Still, it did the job. Thanks for saving me. Fer a second, I thought ya'd run off and left me.”

Parveen stared into her eyes. “I would never do that.” Then he shrugged to dispel the serious mood. “Come on.”

Mimi and Parveen ran through the freezing rain to the helicopter. Mr. Sweet and Mr. Candy lay twitching in their seats, their goggles flickering with some ghostly internal light. Mr. Sweet's fedora had fallen off, revealing a nest of circuitry that sparked and sizzled.

“They ain't people at all,” Mimi breathed. “What in heck are they?”

Parveen reached down and peeled one of Mr. Sweet's grey gloves off his limp hand.

“Look,” he said.

The hand was sickly pale, the veins easily seen beneath the surface. Stranger still were the fingers. They were too long. Mimi held up her own hand and compared it.

“They got one more knuckle than me! That's just weird.”

“Weird, yes, but we have no time to puzzle over extra knuckles now. We've got to get Hamish X out of here before they send reinforcements.” Parveen pushed Mr. Sweet aside and revealed Hamish X, lying face down behind the seats.

Mimi and Parveen dragged him out of the helicopter. He was unconscious, limp as a wet noodle. The restraining cuffs hung open on his hands. Parveen ripped them away and threw them back into the helicopter. Mimi shook Hamish X and shouted into his face. “Hamish X!
Hamish X!” There was no response. His breathing was slow and regular; he looked as if he were asleep.

“We've got to go!” Parveen insisted. They lifted Hamish X by the arms and carried him, his once-powerful boots now dull and dragging, through the mud towards the factory. Mrs. Francis met them at the door, wringing her hands in her apron.

“Oh my dears! Are you all right? I was so worried. I have all the children under the tables in the cafeteria. Mr. Kipling has broken a rib, I'm sure.”

Mimi said nothing, running to the little woman and wrapping her arms around the former housekeeper's ample girth. She smeared Mrs. Francis with mud and blood in the process but the chubby woman hardly noticed, so happy was she that the children were safe. Then she saw Hamish X lying inert on the ground. “What's happened to him?” she gasped. Then, taking in the slain bird machines, the wreckage of the helicopter, and the burning town, she clutched her heart. “Oh my word.”

“Load the children and all the supplies into the airship,” Parveen said sharply. “Bring Viggo's strongbox and anything portable that has any value. We have to leave and we have to leave now!”

“What? We can't leave,” said Mrs. Francis. “Where will we go?”

“We have no choice. The ODA will be coming back and we can't be here when they do. Also …” Parveen stopped and pointed at the advancing flames. A vast swath of Windcity's rickety wooden structures was already blazing. Hot cinders rained from above. Parveen suddenly handed Hamish X off to Mrs. Francis. “Take him!” Then he ran back to the helicopter.

“What's he doing?” Mrs. Francis asked. “Watch! Don't burn yourself!”

Parveen reached into the ruined machine and, after a moment of rummaging, pulled out the green book. Clutching it in both hands, he ran back to them. “Let's go!”

Mrs. Francis and Mimi dragged Hamish X through the ruined door. Parveen stood for a moment watching Windcity burn, the flames reflected in the thick lenses of his spectacles. Then he scuttled after them.

WHEN THE AIRSHIP ROSE
into the night sky less than an hour later, the brick cheese factory, Viggo Schmatz's pride and joy, was at the centre of a sea of flames. The powerful wind that gave Windcity its name had become the instrument of its destruction. Fanning the flames to a furnace blaze, it consumed everything in its path.

Aboard the airship Parveen ran from station to station on the bridge, checking systems, inspecting upgrades to see if they functioned. Mimi, standing at the wheel, looked down on the flames engulfing the Windcity Orphanage and Cheese Factory. “Well, I never thought I'd say it, but I'll shore miss that place.”

Mrs. Francis came in, supporting Mr. Kipling, whose ribs were tightly wrapped in plaster bandages. He winced in pain as he took the wheel from Mimi. “I'll carry on, dear. It'll take more than a couple of broken ribs to keep me out of action.” Mimi surrendered her position to Mr. Kipling. “Heading?” he called out.

Parveen looked up from the chart table. “Due east for the moment. We just want to get as far away from here as possible.”

“Aye, Captain.” Mr. Kipling smiled. Parveen looked embarrassed but a little pleased, too.

IN HIS BUNK
, lying under the scratchy blanket, Hamish X dreamed.

Sand and the smell of salt stung his nostrils. The sky arched overhead, a blue dome with wisps of clouds. The roar of breakers filled his ears. He stood on a beach of white sand watching the crystal blue water roll in foaming breakers towards him. He felt a strange sensation and looked down. Foamy water rolled around his feet … Feet!

He could see his feet. The boots were gone! At first the sight of the pale flesh distressed him, but as he wriggled his toes in the wet sand, squeezing it through them, he felt a shiver of pleasure and laughed aloud. He looked out at the sea. Sunlight danced on the brilliant surface of the water. He began to run out into the waves, smiling and splashing his hands in the water.

“What is this place?” he thought. “Where am I?”

He ran until the water was up to his waist. The waves were
larger and more powerful so far out. They rolled in over his head, soaking his hair and plastering it down over his eyes. Stinging salt water filled his mouth. He coughed.

BOOK: Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain
6.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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