37 - Where There is a Mouldy Tulip

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         I’d crafted myself a calendar out of my little notebook. I counted the blank pages. There were thirty-two of them. I marked the days of the month (October, now) on each page and set up a system. For every failed day of searching, meaning, for every day we passed with no new discoveries or zero steps ahead, I would rip it out of the notebook. For every day of success, I would keep it in. I hoped most of the pages would stay attached to the rubber spine of my notebook.

         I didn’t throw away the ripped pages, however. I folded them up and paper-clipped them together. At the end of the day, I wrote down what had happened and stowed the page away. Jacoby noticed what I was doing, but didn’t ask. We still hadn’t gotten past my little outburst back at the bus stop in Pine Harbour. I knew it was up to me to make amends—after all, he hadn’t done anything to begin with, besides blush.

         Today was October third. Pine Harbour had been a dud. So had Marspin, the place we’d gone to the day after. And Dackleburry. Hale Meadows was nothing but the remains of a once-popular city. The only exciting thing we’d come across in Hale not-Meadows was a Crawler, and he’d been too busy trying to swat away all the bugs that, well, crawled over him to answer any of our questions. He didn’t even seem sane.

         “Right,” Jacoby said as we backed away slowly from the man. “Right, um, thanks for your, er, help.” The minute we were sure he wasn’t going to leap at us and rob us of our money, we turned tail and booked it away from the bus stop he’d been sitting at.

         “That guy was a psycho,” Beatrice muttered once we felt it was safe to slow our pace.

         “Yeah,” mumbled Jacoby. He adjusted the straps of his backpack and looked around. “This place doesn’t feel right. Bee?” He turned and looked at her for guidance.

         She concentrated, a crease appearing between her eyebrows. “What time is it?” she murmured several moments later.

         “Five thirty,” said Jacoby. “It’s getting dark.” He cast a worried look up at the sky and then at the two of us. These days, it felt like he was playing the part of a father, or an older brother. I found the thought assuring and annoying at the same time. Assuring, because it was comforting to have someone to look to when I didn’t know what to do. Annoying, because his fretting drove me up the wall when I heard it incessantly for hours on end.

         “Then we should probably find a place to stay for the night, right?” I said.

         It was becoming increasingly difficult to find places that would take us. We couldn’t find youth hostels everywhere we went, and Beatrice refused to stay in motels. What made me grit my teeth was the fact that she didn’t offer to pay for anything. Not even food. The message she was sending to me was crystal clear: “I’m a Guider. I’m the only thing that’ll get you to the hideout, and that’s payment enough.” It was beyond rude, and I had no idea how Jacoby tolerated her.

         “’Guys want to bunk here for the night, or move onto the next city?” she asked, blowing on her nails. She’d painted them on the bus, filling the entire vehicle with toxic fumes.

         “And what would that be?” I snapped. I stopped looking at Jacoby, because I knew he didn’t wear the same incredulous expression as me. I knew he couldn’t, not literally, but not even his flowers—the foolproof way to weasel out his real emotions—seemed bothered by Beatrice.

         She closed her eyes again, though she didn’t need to act like she was meditating every time she concentrated.

         “I’m thinking New Duncan.”

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