I just have enough time to say “Eeeep!” before the scooter’s front tyre hits the wall of the house. And enough time to fear the worst.
I imagine being catapulted forwards, my face squishing up against the stone, and then keep squishing until it splits like a ripe fruit.
I imagine some bone-crunching sound-effects too. My life doesn’t flash before my eyes, but I imagine it does. I spent a lot of time running away from things, but there’s also good times with Mondey, faint memories of my momma, even fond moments with Moh, the Bridgemen and others. Daisy features as a pleasantly laughing herald of doom.
Who is currently driving us up the side of a house.
It takes me a second to realise I’m not imagining it.
We bump over the second storey windowsill at angle, do a little hop and land on the window. We crack the glass but are either going too fast, or there’s too much magic at work, for us to smash through. We crunch over its surface like we’re riding over thin ice.
The roof has ugly plastic guttering and some delicate but actually rather pretty eaves.
We smash through them in a shower of plastic, wood and slate. Daisy joyously toots the horn as we ride on air for a moment.
Gravity asserts itself and we start falling. I yelp and imagine us crashing through the roof and getting dramatically impaled on some woodwork. Instead, we land on the roof almost gently.
Then we’re racing along the slate spine of the terrace. I try to get my breathing and heartbeat back to normal.
Around us, I can see other orange-lit streets and rooftops. They stretch to the horizon, coiled tightly like a maze. I thought we were in a small town, but these sunken streets go on forever.
“Puttputt’s a right little marvel, ain’t he?” Daisy shouts, presumably of her bike.
“I like it at the moment,” I say into her ear. “Anything that gets us away from that bone giant is a friend of mine.”
“He’s a not a thing,” Daisy snaps. “He has a soul. It’s a wild one but it counts.”
“Oh, sorry. You mean he’s wild at heart?” I ask, stupidly.
“No, he caught a wild soul,” she says, confusingly. When I don’t answer, she asks: “You do know about wild souls?”
She turns to look at me. “What do they teach you in homeless urchin school?”
“Daisy! Now is not the time! Could you watch where you’re driving, please?”
“In a minute, love. Listen, things that are loved enough will attract a soul. Strong emotion is like metaphysical crack for them.”
“Okay, sure,” I grin, probably manically, nod at her and point at the direction in which we’re speeding.
This seems to satisfy her. She turns back forward; I breathe a sigh of relief.
“You must have had, like, a cardigan you really loved,” the witch calls back to me. “And it seemed like it loved you too.”
“Um… I’ve never had a cardigan,” I admit.
“Ouch. Okay then; favourite… rags?”
“Nope,” I shake my head, my relationship my rags always felt like mutual hatred. I’ve never really had an emotional connection to an inanimate object. Or have I? “Wait, back in Footfall, me and Mondey had this alleyway. It had a pile of boxes at the end. We used to use it to escape into The Mires when we’d stolen food. That always felt weirdly like it was pleased to see us.”
“Way to laterally think, that girl!” the witch says happily. “See, I’d bet my best tit that that alley had itself a soul. Like a cardie what loved you, it was.”
From behind us comes an almighty crash of grinding masonry. Still holding tight to the witch’s middle, I turn to see the bone giant has hopped up onto the terrace. Its knees and elbows stick out awkwardly and the roof is collapsing beneath its weight. It grins a loud, creaking grin at us and starts scuttling horribly in pursuit, shredding the roof as it comes.
“Go faster,” I tell the witch.
“Nope,” she says, taking her hands off the handlebars. “Here, you drive, love. Puttputt likes to feel someone’s in control.”
I yelp, reach past her and just about get my fingers on the handlebars. “What are you doing?” I squeak.
“Wrecking me coat,” she says, with regret. “And it’ll never forgive me.”
She reaches an arm into a small side pocket and keeps putting it in until she’s up to the shoulder, screwing her face up in concentration as her fingers search. “Nope, nope, no, that’s not it, wait… got it!”
With a great heave and a tearing sound that echoes strangely, she rips the pocket out of her coat. It’s as big as a blanket and she’s struggling with it as if it’s resisting her. “Where’s the big naked bloke?” she asks, waving her fingers arcanely, causing little bubbles of orange magic to rise from them and soak into the fabric she’s holding. “Is he close?”
I twist around for a look, and scream. I just manage to flinch away as one of those antler fingers nearly takes my eyeball.
“Yep, that sounds close, lovely,” the witch says and hurls the oversized pocket ahead of us.
It bends and writhes in the air and more of those orange bubbles of the witch’s magic seem to be fighting it until it’s completely opened out. It’s opened out into a floating hole in front of us.
The witch takes the handlebars and revs the scooter.
“Hold on tight, love,” she says. “This may not work.”
Putputt growls and spews out plumes of white exhaust fumes. The giant creaks a grin in protest and we surge forward into the dark nothing of the pocket.
I may be screaming.