CHAPTER 44

Joshua needed something to calm himself otherwise he’d break down and might never get up.

Might as well get the kitchen in order.

He checked the cell. It was twenty feet from the bars to the brick wall. The wall had a few cracks and holes. The largest was barely large enough to squeeze his fist through. The small coal brazier filled the tunnel with smoke. Along the wall was a long wooden bench. There were two bags of hard feed corn, a basket full of moldy turnips, potatoes and carrots, jars of pickles, some tins of fish, soup and biscuits.

He looked for something to act as a can opener and found a short length of iron bar and a small piece of brick. He chiseled open seven tins, one for each of them; two of the biscuits, one tuna fish, three tomato bisque, and two consommé. He handed one to each of his friends.

“Eat up,” he said and sipped his cold consommé.

They sipped and chewed listlessly. He needed to get them up, get them busy. He couldn’t let them sit there and sulk.

“See if you can vent that brazier,” Joshua said to Lucinda and the twins.

Lucinda looked at him as if he were insane. She seemed like she would shriek at any moment. The twins both got up and gently led her away.

He walked over to Heathcliff who nibbled a dry biscuit.

“Where’s your reed pole? You didn’t really leave it behind did you?”

“Of course not.”

Heathcliff blinked as if roused from deep slumber. He got up and padded his body. He reached behind his back and pulled out the two halves of the pole.

“I’m always prepared.”

He reassembled the pole and strung it with line.

“Do you want me to get something? Fish? Oh the poison fish. You’re going to poison them.”

“No.” It wasn’t a terrible idea except for one detail.  “There’s no way you can get to the river.”

“What then?”

“It just makes me feel better knowing that you have it. Keep it hidden for now.”

Joshua checked on Sophie. She was hunched over and sobbing. She hadn’t touched her tomato bisque. Joshua knelt close to her.

“It’ll be okay,” he told her.

He picked up the can of bisque, dipped his finger in and tasted it. It had a tinny, sour taste. It would have been vile if he weren’t near starving.

“Get this down. It’s not much but it will keep your stomach full,” he told her.

“I’m sorry,” Sophie wept.

“What?”

Sophie babbled, “I kept telling you all those stories about the Rat King. And then he came for us. And he-”

Her eyes were wide and watery. Her voice got higher and higher.

“Stop it, Sophie,” Joshua said firmly.

“You are not responsible for the Rat King being real,” Lucinda assured her.

“That’s not your fault,” said Ollie.

“That’s just bad luck,” finished Rollie.

“It’s not your fault,” piped Dina. “It’s mine.”

Dina gripped the bars of the cage and stared out. Joshua moved over to her.

“Dina.”

“You wouldn’t be down here if I hadn’t followed that kitty.”

“This is no one’s fault.”

No, if it was anyone’s fault it was his. Him and his gift. They were all down here because of him. He had to get them out. But how? All he could do was cook food.

But you can do more than just cook food, can’t you?

The idea came into his head so clearly it was like someone had spoken, someone other than Joshua.

Lazlo? Lazlo Cippolini.

Was it the old man? Or was it just his own mind giving him an answer where there had been none before? He couldn’t be sure. But the voice inside his head went on.

You can make food do what you want it too. Corn, meat, garlic. You have all that you need. You can make these humble ingredients do whatever you wish. You could make a meal fit for a king, but that’s child’s play. You can make these ingredients do anything.  Anything your soul desires. What does your soul desire?

That was obvious. He wanted freedom.

Then make it free you.

The voice inside faded away.

“Wait,” Joshua called out.

Everyone looked at him.

“What is it?” Lucinda asked.

Joshua shook his head. The voice was gone. Somehow he knew it wouldn’t come back. He had to figure the rest out on his own.

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