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Then There Were three (part 2)

 
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Finny was nine. But she’d seen enough sick kids, both in The Borough and at the orphanage to know that Worms had more than just something a spoonful of whatever it that was the nurse kept in the big brown bottle could fix. Once or twice, she and everyone else in the dorm had even pretended to be asleep as the urgent whispers of the grown ups around a bed eventually led to silence and an empty bed in the morning.

Just then, Worms doubled over, both arms wrapped around his middle, and groaned. Finny felt her mouth go dry and a cold flush of panic tingle over her skin. Nevertheless, she had to do something. Keeping the fear out of her voice, she turned to Casper and Onetooth.

“Hey guys? I don’t think Worms is feeling very well.”

The two boys looked up from their game of seeing who’s spit sizzled away to nothing first. They looked first at Finny, then to Worms and finally back to their leader. Finny forced a smile and, nodding as she spoke, said;

“I think we better go back an’ take him to the nurse.”

Behind the smile, Casper saw in her eyes that Finny’s words weren’t a suggestion. Onetooth, however, hadn’t picked up on this. He leaned across and treated Worms to a hard stare and a poke on the arm.

“Nah. He’s just feeling sick ‘coz of the sun. He dun’t play out as much as we do.” He sat back and took the bottle out of Finny’s hand. “Give him some water.” Onetooth held the bottle out to his friend. Worms tried to sit up but almost immediately crouched over his arms again and let out another long groan. Onetooth looked at Finny.

In fact, both he and Casper were looking at her. Finny put a hand on Onetooth’s knee.

“We gotta get him back, okay?”

Onetooth nodded.

“’kay.”

Getting Worms down off the high pile of rusty cars had been hard work. He seemed barely able to move and he kept groaning and twice Finny had had to shout at either Casper or Onetooth because both boys were scared that Worms was going to upchuck on them. Finally, though, Worms was down off the pile and was now curled up in a ball at their feet.

The increased shivering and the growing lack of response from their friend was also starting to drive home to the three of them that Worms was probably really sick. Finny also realised that they weren’t just going to be able to walk all the way back to the orphanage. She doubted Worms even had the strength to get out of the scrapyard under his own steam.

“We should get a grown up.” Onetooth said, after she had told them this.

Finny heard Casper’s intake of breath and already knew what his objection was going to be. She was leader, though, so she cut him off.

“Nuhuh. We don’t get a grown up. We can’t trust them. At least not anyone we don’t know.” Even as she was telling Onetooth this, she was wondering how she could get Joe. He’d know what to do and could come and get them and…”

But Casper knew straight away what Finny was thinking.

“An’ not anyone like Joe either.”

Finny’s head spun round, annoyed. Casper didn’t flinch though.

“Joe might help, but he might just get one of his friends to come an get us an’ I don’t trust them.”

This was awkward for Finny. She could overrule Casper but she knew that none of the boys, especially Casper, liked that Joe was getting Finny to ‘do stuff’ and also that they were being cut out of what she did. She wouldn’t even tell them half the stuff she did for Joe. If she got Joe involved, he would just take over and she would lose cred with her two friends. She’d keep Joe out of it then, for now. She shrugged.

“’kay then. Who should we get?”

“Someone from the orphanage.”

At the mention of the orphanage, Onetooth piped up.

“Matron is in today. I saw her in her office with a man from the Union.”

Miss Maisy, the matron, was a favourite of pretty much all the orphans. She was young and pretty and usually fair if you did something wrong. There was silence as each of the three friends standing around the prostrate Worms took a moment to each recall a personal episode they had shared with her. Matro Maisy was the closest thing to a mom that any of them had had since, well, forever in a lot of cases.

It was Finny who broke the silence.

“Right then.” She turned to Onetooth. “You’re the fastest runner. Run to the orphanage and tell Matron what’s happened an’ that she should come quick. We’ll start bringing Worms on Santa Fe.”

“’kay Finn.”

Onetooth took off. Finny turned to Casper.

“Come on. You get on that side of him an’ we’ll hold him up in the middle.”

One on each side of Worms, Finny and Casper pulled Worms to his feet. The little boy lifted his head.

“I don’t feel well, Finn. Everything hurts.”

Despite being a year older and a couple of inches bigger, Finny, and even Casper, struggled to hold Worms upright. Eventually, they managed to get it so that Worms had an arm over each of their shoulders and Finny and Casper supported Worms under his arms.

“It’s okay. We’re gonna get you home. Onetooth has gone for help.”

Worms squinted in the sunlight and his body shivered. Between the three of them they managed to hobble and stagger through the maze of overgrown paths between the piles of junked cars until they emerged at the fence where they had got in. Getting Worms through the small gap they had simply wiggled through earlier was a case of Casper pulling on Worms’ arms while Finny pushed his feet. By the time it was done, they were all panting, and they still had all that grass to cross before even getting onto Santa Fe.

While they got their breath back, Finny checked on Worms. He wasn’t looking too good. Now it wasn’t just his top lip that was sweaty, his short black hair was plastered to his scalp and a droplet of sweat ran across his temple. If Finny hadn’t been watching his ragged breathing with her own eyes, she would have sworn by his pallor that he was already dead.

“Come on,” She said, climbing to her feet and taking Worms by the arm. “Help me get him up. We’ve gotta get to the road afore Onetooth an’ Matron get back.”

By the time they managed to complete that herculean feat, Finny and Casper were exhausted. Worms was heavy and, by now, he could barely drag one foot in front of the other. He only just managed to grunt in response to the chatter Finny had kept up to keep him from giving in altogether.

But they had done it. They were at last on the broken tarmac of Santa Fe and all three collapsed onto the steps of Beau’s Tavern. Finny drank her fill and then passed what was left of the water to Casper. Worms sat like a rag doll between them, his chin pressed against his chest and Finny looked down Santa Fe to the shimmering far end of it, where they needed to go. It seemed such a long long way away.

Though her legs were already like jelly, Finny stood up with a groan. Casper, though, was making no effort to get up. He was slumped forward with his elbows on his knees. She kicked his foot.

“Come on. We need to get going.”

“Can’t we just wait for Matron to come?”

They could, she thought. But what if Onetooth hadn’t found her? What if she didn’t believe him? Or she was busy? They could be waiting for nothing… Except for Worms to die.

“No. We have to keep going. Get up Casp.” Casper didn’t move.

“I said GET UP!”

Casper’s head lifted. Finny stood over him with her fists balled up by her sides.

“Get up or I’ll hit you!”

Casper got up. Guilt pushing the tiredness away.

“Sorry Finn.”

“Get his arm. Come on.”

They staggered on for fifty yards, concentrating on just putting one foot in front of the other. Then the sound of an engine made them both eagerly lift their heads in anticipation… But it wasn’t the Matron’s battered old van. Disappointment hit Finny hard. It wasn’t fair.

The car, crudely hand painted in dirty white with an indistinct pink splodge on the door, pulled up to the curb. The window shuddered down into the door frame and the concerned curly head of nurse Maisie from Hope Springs poked out.

“You nippers all right?”



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