I’m on the back of a scooter.
I’ve never been on the back of a scooter before, or the front of one or, truth be told, on many vehicles. They scare me a bit.
I did have a go on a hoverstick back in Footfall. It wasn’t a proper one though. Mondey and me knew the junker boys were off doing business in Closefar Village so we had the rare treat of having the whole of the Junkfield to ourselves.
We found two corrupted Handies, those little golden floating fixer droids posh people use. They’d been stripped good of course but they still had their pod drives, probably because they were fritzing. I found a smooth length of piping, Mondey got some wire and we tangled it all together into something approximating a hoverstick.
It was nearly impossible to steer but that didn’t matter. We had a whole morning of giggling, crashes, cuts and bruises before one of the pod drives finally fritzed proper. It sucked all its metal into itself and vanished, and that was that.
We came out of the Junkfield looking liked we’d lost a fight, but we had big grins which we could summon back with stories for months after.
This is, I think, the first ground vehicle I’ve been on since then.
I’m pressed up against the lunatic witch, clutching onto her.
She smells faintly of offal, strongly of birthday cake for some reason, and she absolutely reeks of old, sweaty magic.
Like beast magic, actually. Every now and again in Footfall, something huge and primal would pass through, disinterested in the city, on its way to somewhere else. Everyone would cower indoors until it went away. You may get glimpses through the gaps of whatever you were hiding in and pungeant wafts of its power. The witch smells like that. A person shouldn’t smell like that. It’s not right.
We go over a bump on the cobbles and I yelp and clutch tighter.
“Lower, please!” The witch calls back to me. “Me norks are not the grab-bars!”
“Oh, sorry,” I say, adjusting my hands. “Do we have to go so fast?”
I see her peek into one of the protruding mirrors, which makes me check behind.
An ivory hand takes up most of the view behind me. The fingers taper to points like antlers. It’s reaching for me. I scream and cling on.
“Argh!” The witch cries with me. “Quit mangling the girls!”
“Move your pincers first, innit?”
I do. The little scooter’s engine roars, a gout of white fumes obscures the world behind, and we surge ahead, the terraces on either side of us are an orange blur.
It’s not like the hoverstick. The combustion engine rumbles and growls like it’s going to shake my bones apart until they’re gravel.
“He’s quit playing with us now we’ve got the wheels, you notice that, love?” Daisy says. “Messing he was before. Serious-serious he is now. Thinks we might get away, like.”
“Yeah, I spotted that,” I squeak. Under the engine noise, I’m sure I can hear the steady, deep thud-thud-thud of its statue-heavy run.
“Is it? Would you believe that, like, ninety percent of the time of the time I just tinker in me grampy’s garage?” the witch asks out of nowhere. “I tinker, I fix stuff for people and I’m perfectly content, like floaty-serene-hippy-content.”
“Um…” I try to think of something positive to say but settle for honesty. “No, sorry. When I think of what you’d do for fun it involves… I don’t know… something with a lot of blood and you finding it all hilarious.”
“Exactly, right?” she says. “Most of the time me yellow mac is up on the hook, but I’m always getting dragged into something, it’s Daisy help, a monster ate my baby, or our Dai is vomiting up very small bibles, or Nick the Fish has had his tackle tickled by the Unmentionables again and I have to put the mac on and people are all like – oh no, it’s The Wasp. That’s what they calls me, see? The Wasp. They get me out but it’s oh no, it’s The Wasp and they’re browning their undies the second they sees waterproof yellow.”
I look at Daisy’s jacket, it’s right in front of my nose. It might been the yellowest fabric I’ve ever seen, except it’s shiny. Under the glaze you can see the thread, knotted in complex repeated patterns, almost like words… I frown and peer closer.
“Oi!” the witch shouts. “Don’t be reading me jacket, love. The devil will widdle in your brain. Like right in it.”
I drag my eyes away. “Sorry,” I say. “And thanks for helping me.”
“There, duw, was that hard? You’ve caught me at an unrepresentative juncture is what I’m saying. I mean, yes, I occasionally has to hunt some people, but that’s for the best and The Pob has been messing with my mind today. So, don’t draw conclusions about me based on the last few hours is what I’m saying.”
“Um.. okay,” I say. “Um, Daisy, where is this coming from?”
“Didn’t you just call me a psychotic little-” she uses a word I’m not familiar with, but I assume is a swearword and probably a body-part.
“What? No. I don’t even know what one of them is.”
She’s silent for a moment, then: “Bloody Pob!”
“It’s The Pob still. It really does know better than to push me too far, it knows what’ll happen, but I think it’s still half asleep is the problem. Must be. It would be handling everything better else.”
“I’m very grateful and… pretty scared of you, Daisy. But more grateful,” I say, going for honesty again.
“Well, I can’t ask for more than that,” she says, sounding pleased.
And drives us straight into the wall of a terrace.