Both boys writhed in the iron-maiden clutch of hungry saurians and bristly apes.
Will did not know whether to weep with joy or new despair.
Below, across the avenue, passing from church going home, was his mother and Jim’s mother.
Not on the carousel, not old, crazy, dead, in jail, but freshly out in the good October air. She had been not a hundred yards away in church during all the last five minutes!
Mom! screamed Will, against the hand which, anticipating his cry, clamped tight to his mouth..
”Mom,” crooned Mr. Dark, mockingly. “Come save me!”
No, thought Will, save yourself, run!
But his mother and Jim’s mother simply strolled content, from the warm church through town.
Mom! screamed Will again, and some small muffled bleat of it escaped the sweaty paw.
Will’s mother, a thousand miles away over on that side-walk, paused.
She couldn’t have heard! thought Will. Yet—
She looked over at the library.
”Good,” sighed Mr. Dark. “Excellent, fine.”
Here! thought Will. See us, Mom! Run call the police!
”Why doesn’t she look at this window?” asked Mr. Dark quietly. “And see us three standing as for a portrait. Look over. Then, come running. We’ll let her in.”
Will strangled a sob. No, no.
His mother’s gaze trailed from the front entrance to the first-floor windows.
”Here,” said Mr. Dark. “Second floor. A proper coincidence, let’s make it proper.”
Now Jim’s mother was talking. Both women stood together at the curb.
No, thought Will, oh, no.
And the women turned and went away into the Sunday-night town.
Will felt the Illustrated Man slump the tiniest bit.
”Not much of a coincidence, no crisis, no one lost or saved. Pity. Well!”
Dragging the boys’ feet, he glided down to open the front door.
Someone waited in the shadows.
A lizard hand scurried cold on Will’s chin.
”Halloway,” husked the Witch’s voice.
A chameleon perched on Jim’s nose.
”Nightshade,” whisked the dry-broom voice.
Behind her stood the Dwarf and the Skeleton, silent, shifting, apprehensive.
Obedient to the occasion, the boys would have given their best stored yells air, but again, on the instant recognizing their need, the Illustrated Man trapped the sound before it could issue forth, then nodded curtly to the old dust woman.
The Witch toppled forward with her seamed black wax sewn-shut iguana eyelids and her great proboscis with the nostrils caked like tobacco-blackened pipe bowls, her fingers tracing, weaving a silent plinth of symbols on the mind.
The boys stared.
Her fingernails fluttered, darted, feathered cold winter-water air. Her pickled green froes breath crawled their flesh in pimples as she sang softly, mewing, humming, glistering her babes, her boys, her friends of the slick snail-tracked roof, the straight-flung arrow, the stricken and sky-drowned balloon.
”Darning-needle dragonfly, sew up these mouths so they not speak!”
Touch, sew, touch, sew her thumbnail stabbed, punched, drew, stabbed, punched, drew along their lower, upper lips until they were, thread-pouch shut with invisible read.
”Darning needle-dragonfly, sew up these ears, so they not hear!”
Cold sand funneled Will’s ears, burying her voice. Muffled, far away, fading, she chanted on with a rustle, tick, tickle, tap, flourish of caliper hands.
Moss grew in Jim’s ears, swiftly sealing him deep.
”Darning needle-dragonfly, sew up these eyes so they not see!”
Her white-hot fingerprints rolled back their stricken eyeballs to throw the lids down with bangs like great tin doors slammed shut.
Will saw a billion flashbulbs explode, then suck to darkness while the unseen darning-needle insect out beyond somewhere pranced and fizzed like insect drawn to sun-warmed honeypot, as closeted voice stitched off their senses forever and a day beyond.
”Darning-needle dragonfly, have done with eye, ear, lip and tooth, finish hem, sew dark, mound dust, heap with slumber sleep, now tie all knots ever so neat, pump silence, in blood like sand in river deep. So. So.”
The Witch, somewhere outside the boys, lowered her hands.
The boys stood silent. The Illustrated Man took his embrace from them and stepped back.
The woman from the Dust sniffed at her twin triumphs, ran her hand a last loving time over her statues.
The Dwarf toddled madly about in the boys’ shadows, nibbling daintily at their fingernails, softly calling their names.