Joshua sat in the quiet room with only one chair and the spider web pattern of scratches on the floor.
The tired looking sergeant opened the door. He grunted at Joshua and jerked his thumb towards the hall.
It was as he walked to the exit that a cold fear crept into Joshua. For the first time in a long while he’d thought about his home in the country, his room, his bed, his handmade army in fields, and his mother and father. All of that was gone now. It had all been taken away in just one night while he waited alone. He feared more than anything that the same thing had happened. He was terrified that he’d walk out of the precinct and somehow Dina, Lucinda, Heathcliff, Ollie and Rollie would not be there. That he’d go back the Dreamer’s Garden and find an empty alley. The mere thought of it almost crippled him.
So when he opened the door of the station and saw Heathcliff across the street it was one of the happiest moments of his life. He ran over to him and shouted with joy. As he reached his friend he saw someone else was there as well, the tall yellow haired girl from before, the one he’d yelled at without meaning to. He remembered her name.
Sophie jumped up and threw her arms around him.
“Oh I was so worried when they took you away,” she cried.
“Uh huh. I was behind one of the warehouses when I heard you call for help. I would have come but I thought you might…”
Her voice trailed off.
Joshua confessed, “I’m sorry I shouted at you. You didn’t deserve it.”
She smiled and finished her story, “So when I saw the constables take you away I followed them here. Then I ran to get Heathcliff.”
Heathcliff still had his reed pole slung across his shoulders.
“I told her you were in no danger. Constables arrest people because that’s what they get paid to do.”
Sophie said, “But they kept you so long I felt for sure something was wrong. I thought I’d have to- Well, you’re here now.”
Joshua looked at the clock tower at the end of the street.
“It’s late. We’d best get back to the alley.”
“Ooo. Can I come? Heathcliff told me all about your friends. I so much wan to meet them,” Sophie asked.
“We won’t be much fun. We have no dinner tonight.”
Heathcliff let out a laugh.
“Don’t be so negative, buddy.”
He held up a wriggling burlap sack.
“You caught a fish?” asked Joshua not quite believing it.
Heathcliff grinned and nodded his head.
He declared, “How do you feel about fish for dinner?”
Sophie clapped her hands and squealed.
For a moment Joshua worried. Now he had to feed seven mouths on Heathcliff’s single bag of fish. But he couldn’t bring himself to un-invite her.
Sophie graciously asked, “Do you have enough?”
He shrugged then glanced down at the squirming bag. Instantly he knew the answer.
“We have enough for seven large sized portions,” He said. The words popped out of his mouth before he realized it.
He stood struck dumb for a moment.
How did I know that?
All he did was look at the bag. He didn’t even see the fish. Yet somehow he knew how many plates of food he could get out of that bag. It was no guess, he knew.
Heathcliff and Sophie didn’t think to question his assertion. They simply picked up the bag and started off. Joshua stood confused until they called to him.
He ran to catch up.
“Is something wrong?” Sophie asked.
He eyed the sack again which swung freely in Heathcliff’s arm. A second later he could see in his head seven white porcelain plates each with a single steaming fillet of fish and a wedge of lemon.
He shook his head.
Curious, he decided. But nothing more than that.
Sophie made a worried face. Quickly he changed the subject.
“You two didn’t wait too long for me, did you?” he asked.
“Oh that was no chore. Gave us plenty of time to talk,” said Heathcliff.
“Really? What did you talk about?”
“The Great Children’s Underground,” Sophie answered.
Joshua stifled a groan.
“It’s unbelievable stuff,” Heathcliff said.
“Exactly what I thought,” Joshua replied.
“Oh Pooh. Just because you never heard of them doesn’t mean they don’t exist,” Sophie said.
Heathcliff continued, “Yeah. Yeah. They’ve done some incredible things, these kids. They broke one boy out of the Irontower prison.”
Joshua believed not a word of it.
“They rescued five child slaves from the Rat King,” Sophie said.
“There’s that name again. Who is the Rat King?”
Sophie declared, “He rules the sewers under the city. Everybody’s heard of him.”
“So there’s a secret society of orphan children who help other children and there’s a giant rat who rules the sewers?”
“The Rat King isn’t a real rat. He’s a man, or he was a man.”
“I never heard of him.”
Sophie told the tale with gusto.
“The Rat King was a man who lived on the streets of Destinapolis just like us. But he was so mean and cruel his neighbors drove him out of his home and into the sewers. There he stayed and lived. He ate the rats for nourishment. Eventually he drew others underground into the catacombs and enslaved them. And if you listen carefully at night, with your ear to the ground you can hear the Rat King shouting orders to his slaves.”
Joshua smiled and nodded his head as he walked. It was completely impossible but it was a fun story.
They walked by the Charity Kitchen. Benjamin Bastion stood on the steps and waved to them as they walked past.
Joshua rubbed the bruises on his face. He expected to feel hatred towards Bastion but for some reason it wasn’t there.
“Who’s that?” Sophie asked.
“No one,” he answered.
They continued to Dreamer’s Garden. They passed by the Mudd’s shack. Joshua stopped and stared at the hovel with its blanket draped in front. That’s when he felt the hate well up inside, not for Bastion but for Mr. Mudd.
Mr. Mudd could have helped me but didn’t.
Just then the blanket moved and Mr. Mudd ambled out. He saw Joshua and quickly looked away.
“Something wrong?” Heathcliff asked him.
“No. Come on. They’re waiting.
He left Mr. Mudd and his hovel and continued on his way.