Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain (6 page)

BOOK: Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain
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“Oh, these children. I must keep them safe somehow,” she whispered to the darkness. With a heavy sigh, she gave up trying to sleep and sat up, twisting the knob on the bedside light. Blinking in the sudden glare, she swung her plump legs over the side of the bunk and slipped her feet into the fuzzy pink slippers that were her favourite. They were a little worse for wear after the stint in the pirates' custody and the escape from Windcity, but they were still serviceable. Wrapping her pink dressing gown around her chubby body, she stepped out the door.

The corridor was deserted. All the children were sleeping in their bunks, snug and warm. Mrs. Francis had made sure of that, soothing and whispering reassurances to frightened toddlers. She loved them all as if they were her own children. She dreaded the thought of anything happening to any one of them. Taking special care to make no noise, she crept down the corridor, pausing at each open hatch to look in and make sure each child was asleep.

After the last cabin was checked, she stepped into the
galley
20
to find Mr. Kipling slumped at the table, a cold cup of tea at his elbow and his chin resting on his fist. He snored softly. Mrs. Francis went to him and kissed him gently on the forehead. He opened his eyes and smiled at her.

“Just resting my eyes.”

“Of course, dear.” She wrapped her little arms around his bony shoulders and squeezed.

He winced. “Ribs are still a little tender, dear.”

“Sorry.” She released him.

“Not at all.” He looked at his watch. “Why are you prowling about at this hour? Are the children all right?”

“There's nothing wrong. The children are fine. I just couldn't sleep. My mind won't stop. I'm so worried about Hamish X. And the children. And … Oh I'm just worried about everything!” She raised her hands to her face and began to sob.

Mr. Kipling took her hand and squeezed it in his own. “You mustn't cry, dear. It makes me extremely anxious. We all need you to be strong.” He offered her a handkerchief. She took it and blew her nose loudly.

“I know. I just get so worried sometimes.”

“I understand. I do too. But things will be all right. You'll see.”

“Where are Parveen and Mimi?”

“Outside keeping a watch.”

“I'll make some fresh tea.”

“Lovely, dear.” Kipling smiled a rare smile. “Excellent idea.”

MIMI AND PARVEEN
sat on the ramp in the cool evening air. The moon was a sliver in the sky, casting only a faint light. Mimi stared up into the sky while Parveen read the airship's engine manual with the aid of a small flashlight, making notes in the margin with his pencil.

“Never seen so many stars.”

Parveen glanced up for a second. “Less smog. Higher altitude. Lack of light pollution.”

“Whatever. It's just nice is all.” Mimi was quiet for a moment. “What if nobody comes?”

Parveen didn't look up from his reading. “They'll come.”

“Yeah, but what if they doesn't? What'll we do then? We ain't got nowhere to go.”

Parveen lowered his book and turned the flashlight on Mimi's face. She blinked and blocked the beam with her outstretched hand.

“Mimi, we'll deal with that when the time comes. The world is extremely large. We will find somewhere to hide. Why don't you find something to do and let me read this manual?”

He turned the beam back onto his book, put the pencil back behind his ear, and continued to read. Mimi frowned. “That ain't what you do with a flashlight on a dark night when yer campin'.” She suddenly reached out and grabbed the flashlight and held it below her chin. Her face was outlined eerily. “It's time for a ghost story.”

“Give me back my flashlight, please.”

“C'mon, Mr. Bookworm. Just one scary story.”

Parveen sighed and crossed his arms. “Fine. Although I must tell you, I do not believe in ghosts or the supernatural. I believe all phenomena will one day be explained by science.”

“Wow, that sounds like a lot o' fun. In the meantime, I'll tell ya a great story about the man with a hook fer a head …”

Parveen sighed again. “This seems already implausible to me.”

Mimi ignored him and began her story.

“It were a dark night, sumthin' similar to tonight, in fact. There weren't no moon and two young kids, we'll call 'em Parveen and Mimi just fer simplicity's sake. Anyway, they was out walkin' in the woods and they was lost …”

“Did they have a flashlight?”

“No, they got caught unawares and din't know they would need one,” Mimi said.

“Why would we go out walking in the woods on a moonless night with no light source?”

“It's just a story.”

“I find it unlikely that I would venture out on such a trek without even pausing to make sure I would be able to see adequately.”

“All right! All right!” Mimi rolled her eyes. “Fine. We got a flashlight. Happy?”

“Not happy; it merely seems more likely.”

“Whatever. Mimi and Parveen out in the woods. They're walkin' along and they're lost. They can't see a thing—”

“I thought we had a—”

“The batteries wore out! We're walkin' along and we hear a sound like somebody is followin' us, but every time we stop … it stops.”

Mimi took on a serious expression and pushed up imaginary glasses. “‘Maybe it's an echo of some description. Or perhaps these woods are haunted.'” It was a quite passable impersonation of Parveen.

“That doesn't really sound like me.”

“I think it does.”

“Well, I would never say that.”

“Quiet,” Mimi snapped. “And Mimi says, ‘Yeah, they're haunted all right: by the ghost o' that guy who killed people with a big hook. He eventually got his head chopped off by an angry lumberjack but now he wanders these woods lookin' fer his lost head. He's got a hook on his shoulders where his head used ta be.'”

“That is ridiculous.”

“Quiet. My story! Get it? Okay, anyway … Parveen says, ‘Oh Mimi, I am experiencing such fear. Please protect me.'”

“Oh, this is completely unendurable …”

“‘Don't worry, Parveen. I'll pretect ya.' Just then, they heard a twig snap …”

“Ridiculous.”

Out in the night an owl hooted, causing them both to jump.

Mimi crowed and pointed at Parveen. “See! Ya are scared! Ha!”

“Not in the least.”

HAMISH X DREAMED.

Bright lights shone down, burning through his closed eyelids. He moaned. Voices spoke nearby.

“He's stirring,” Mr. Candy's voice announced. “Increase the dose of sedative.”

“It's already dangerously high.” The Professor sounded worried. “We don't want to lose another one.”

“There are more boys where this one came from,” said Mr. Sweet. “Increase the dosage, Professor.”

A shuddering sigh. “As you wish.”

Hamish felt the pain lessen slightly, fading to a throbbing
ache that emanated from his legs.

“Excellent. Now apply the interface units, Professor. Then the process is complete.”

“As you wish,” the Professor said again, sounding resigned. “Applying now.”

There was a pause, then a strange sensation: a cool, slick substance surrounded Hamish's feet. He murmured softly.

“The interface units are in place.”

“Excellent. Activate.”

“Mr. Sweet, shouldn't we wait until I've run more tests—”
the Professor began.

“Do as you're told, Professor. Consider this the only test you will have the opportunity to run.”

“But—”

“Remember your dear mother, Professor.”

“Activating.”

The cool sensation surrounding his feet and shins suddenly
bloomed into white-hot pain. The sensation was bizarre and horrible—as if hundreds, thousands of tiny worms with heads as sharp as pins were burrowing into his flesh. He screamed and opened his eyes, staring down at his feet. They were encased in huge black boots, slick and shiny in the white light beaming down over the operating table where he lay. Two men in grey surgical gowns stood on either side of the table. In place of eyes, black goggles glittered in the harsh light. Between them stood the Professor, his eyes watery, swimming behind thick glasses. The Professor held a small black box in his hands.

“Why are you doing this to me?” Hamish whimpered. “Why?”

“Why?” Mr. Sweet tilted his head and looked at the boy on the table. “Why? The world is going to change and you are the instrument, the conduit, and the key! As to why you? Just unlucky I guess.”

“Dear God,” the Professor whispered.

The grey men looked at each other. “Hamish X,” one of them said. The other nodded. “The tenth time's the charm.” The man reached out, extending a disturbingly long finger, and pressed a button on the Professor's black box. The pain in Hamish's legs increased.

“Mother!” Hamish X called, terrified. “Mother?” He screamed and screamed.


WHAT THE HECK
was that?”

Parveen sat up. “It sounded like Hamish X.”

In the galley, Mrs. Francis and Mr. Kipling dropped their teacups when the first howl ripped through the airship.

“Hamish X!” Mrs. Francis gasped. In an instant, the two adults were hurrying down the corridor to the boy's cabin. Frightened children, startled from deep sleep, stuck their heads into the corridor. “Stay in your bunks,” Mrs. Francis instructed breathlessly.

When they reached the cabin they found the room in a shambles. Hamish X was up on the big Captain's bed. All the other furniture was overturned or smashed to kindling. The bedclothes were torn to tatters. He was turned away from them, facing the wall and kicking it furiously. With every strike of boot against the wooden wall, a crackle of sparks splashed across the tortured planking. Flares of light shot off the footwear, casting a weird blue glow over the room and making Hamish X appear almost demonic. In his hands he clutched the green leather book
Great Plumbers and Their Exploits
. He turned and glared at the two adults when they rushed into the room, stopping them short with the fevered intensity of his gaze.

“I have to find my MOTHER!”

“Yes, Hamish X,” the soothing voice in his head said. “Don't let anyone stop you. Come to me now.”

He nodded and gritted his teeth. Summoning up a surge of energy, he drove a boot into the wall. The surface cracked under the furious kick. Boards shattered into slivers. The concussion was deafening in the enclosed space of the cabin. Hamish X looked like a creature possessed. His golden eyes were wild and staring. He pointed at the boots.

“These! I don't want them! TAKE THEM OFF!”

“No, Hamish X,” the Voice said calmly. “You need the
boots. They are good.”

“I don't LIKE THEM. I DON'T LIKE THE MEN!”

He seemed to be trying to smash the boots as much as smash his way through the wall in the process.

“Hamish X!” Mrs. Francis cried. “Stop!”

His golden eyes blazed with terror and rage. Teeth exposed in a snarl, he shouted, “Where is my mother! WHEEERRRRRRRE?” The howl raised hairs on the back of Mrs. Francis's neck. There was no recognition in the boy's eyes, only fear. The gentle if mischievous boy who had first come to Windcity was nowhere to be seen.

“Hamish X, please! Calm down. It's me … Mrs. Francis.” She held out her hands to him. “It's all right. You're safe.”

“Don't listen to her. She means you harm. Come to me. Now!”

“MOTHERRRRRRRRRRRR!” The howl ripped from his lungs again. He looked at her, his eyes like slits. The fear had been replaced by rage. “Did you do this to me?” He pointed at the boots. “DID YOU?”

“Settle down, dear Hamish X,” Mrs. Francis soothed, a tremor of fear in her voice. “We're your friends …”

He seemed to hesitate, confusion twisting his face. “I HAVE NO FRIENDS!” He hooked his fingers around
the leather binding of the book. Squatting down on his haunches, he glared at Mrs. Francis. “I want my mother!”

“Come then, Hamish X. I'm waiting.”

Mr. Kipling interposed himself between Mrs. Francis and Hamish X. His hand strayed to the sword hilt at his hip. “Son. Settle down now. There's a good lad. We'll find her.”

“They mean you harm. COME!”

Hamish X barked a savage laugh and snarled again. “You can't hurt me any more! NO MORE!” He gathered himself and sprang like a cat, hands extended like claws.

Mr. Kipling dove to the side, hauling Mrs. Francis along with him. Hamish X missed him by a hair, but the momentum carried him on to the bulkhead. He swung his boots towards the wooden barrier and it exploded outwards in a rain of sparks and singed splinters. He landed in a crouch and then hurled himself down the corridor towards the cargo ramp, howling at the top of his lungs. Mrs. Francis helped Mr. Kipling to his feet. Hamish X's boots trailed wisps of blue fire.

Inside Hamish X's head, the woman's voice was speaking. Her tone was calm but insistent. “These people mean you harm, Hamish X. You must escape. You must come to me. I am in Providence, Rhode Island. Come to me now.”

Hamish X shouted, “Yes, Mother! I'm coming!” and ran as fast as he could down the corridor.

Outside on the cargo ramp, Mimi and Parveen stood transfixed. “I think it was Hamish X,” Mimi said. “I think he's coming this way!”

Hamish X burst into the cargo hold and skidded to a stop on the steel plating of the floor. A shower of sparks sprayed where the soles of his boots struck the metal. He clutched the book tight as if it were the only thing of
importance in the world. Casting his gaze wildly back and forth, he saw the cargo ramp with Mimi and Parveen standing gaping in surprise.

BOOK: Hamish X and the Hollow Mountain
11.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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