Chapter 16.4

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Carmen looked up at the tempus in ParliamentTower. It was twenty-five to three. "We're not going to make it."

"It's mostly downhill now," Slops said. "Come on." He threw his weight behind the wheelchair. Grandmere squawked like a happy baby.

Carmen's house couldn't have been further from the Derricks. Because they lay at opposite corners of the city and the streets were laid out in a grid, Carmen and Slops had to head south to the Wharflands, before turning east and making for the river.

Just getting Grandmere downstairs had taken twenty minutes. The wheelchair Joe Carmichael had built for his mother was made of solid timber. The wheels had been pillaged from a broken street cart, and were banded with iron. The chair weighed more than Grandmere herself.

"How in Eden did they get it up here?" Carmen said.

"Maybe they didn't have to," Slops said. "Uncle Joe probably built it upstairs."

Carmen and Slops had walked Grandmere down the stairs, her arms slung over their shoulders. Halfway down the staircase they had come close to overbalancing. Carmen wondered briefly what she would tell her parents if they dropped the old bird and she tumbled downstairs and broke her neck; this thought was followed by a sickening swoop in her stomach as she realised she might never speak to her parents again. Grandmere didn't seem to have noticed how close she had come to cartwheeling down the stairs. She was clearly excited, having breathless conversations with invisible people, her speech peppered with nonsense words. Carmen was relieved when they put her on a sofa and returned upstairs for the wheelchair. The old woman's chatter was creepy.

Neither of them was prepared for the wheelchair's weight: three steps down it lurched free like a bolting horse. Carmen watched in horror as it bounced down the stairs, gathering speed. It hit the ground at a terrific pace, shooting past Grandmere, who laughed out loud and clapped her hands. "Cookies!" she cawed as the wheelchair flew down the hall and exited through the back door with a tremendous crash.

They found it upside down in the yard, one of its wheels spinning lazily. They righted it and swept the broken glass away. It was undamaged.



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Writing tip: If the plot begins to flag, introduce a wheelchair.

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