The Man And His Watch
“‘Welcome to Gale’s Town – please stay off the grass.’ Why, is the grass vicious?”
Alice shrugged as Marty read the sign. “Perhaps. One never knows.”
“Eh, whatever. Just seems weird to me.” Marty looked around at the little town. The roads were mostly packed down dirt, and the shops were all tiny things. “You’re sure we can get horses here?”
“Oh yes,” Alice said, coming up to stand beside him. Victor joined them on Marty’s opposite. “Mr. Statler buys and sells them all the time. It’s just a matter of getting a fair price.”
“Eh, we don’t have to worry too much about money,” Marty shrugged. “I’ve got enough to spare.”
“I wouldn’t recommend that attitude,” Victor said. “I never worried about money at all until I suddenly didn’t have any. It’s rather important for getting on in the world.”
“Don’t worry, Victor, we’re fine,” Marty assured him. “All right, where’s Mr. Statler?”
“He should be down here.” Alice swept along the main path, Marty and Victor trailing in her wake. There were a few people out on the streets, visiting the shops and milling about – Marty noticed they gave their group a wide berth once they noticed Alice. He shook his head. “I’m never going to understand people. Girl kills monsters, and they’re actually afraid of her?”
“Well, perhaps they think that she’ll kill them too,” Victor said. “She seemed quite vicious to me when we first encountered her.”
“Yeah, but she gave us a roof over our heads and dinner. And I bet if you asked those people, they couldn’t name a single person she’s killed. It’s stupid.”
Victor smiled faintly, and took Marty’s arm. “Well then, let me give you a practical lesson about fear. It’s often quite irrational.”
“I’ve noticed,” Marty deadpanned, smiling at him. “Maybe that’s why it’s so hard for me to wrap my head around it.”
At the end of the road was a large horse paddock and stable. A sign overhead declared “Honest Joe Statler – Horses Bought, Sold, and Traded.” The trio watched the scene for a moment. Inside the paddock were a few men exercising some horses, while another man in a top hat and a rather dusty (and rather garish) red suit looked on. “Easy with that mare, boys!” the suited man called. “We mustn’t overstress the poor creature! Otherwise we won’t get a good price!”
“Guess he’s the guy we want to talk to,” Marty said, and headed for the entrance to the paddock. “Uh, excuse me! Hi! We need some horses?”
The suited man promptly spun around. “Customers!” He dashed up to Marty, plastering a large grin across his face. “Well now, son, you’ve come to the best darn horse dealer in all of the kingdom. Name’s Statler, Joe Statler, Honest Joe Statler.” He grabbed Marty’s hand and pumped it up and down. “What can I do you for, boy?”
“We need three horses,” Marty said, pulling his hand free and shaking it – Statler had squeezed his fingers a little too tight. “Three strong, fast horses. The best you’ve got.”
“Oh, that’s easy! We’ll fix you right up! Tony! Bring that mare over here!” Statler beamed at Marty as Tony brought over a young, chestnut-colored horse. “Now, this here mare is the sweetest-tempered young thing to ever be known as a horse.” The mare whinnied and shook her head. “Quiet rider, goes for long distances, previously owned by a little old lady who only rode her to and from church every Sunday.”
Marty eyed the horse. “Riiight. . . .”
The mare suddenly reared, kicking the air with her front hooves. Tony struggled to bring her down. “Here now, calm down, you fool beast!”
Statler’s smile didn’t even waver. “She’s just excited to know you,” he said to Marty. “And I can let you have her for the low low price of – say – ten silver coins?”
“Uh, I don’t know if I have any silver. . . .”
“That’s two hundred copper, if that’s all you have.”
“Or here! You could have that lovely roan gelding over there!” Statler said, grabbing Marty’s arm and steering him toward another horse. “Quiet as a church mouse, could jump a decent-sized river, and owned by an old man who only took him out to mow the lawn.”
“Mow the lawn?”
“Well, yes, horses need to eat, you know. Only seven silver – that’s one hundred forty copper.”
“Yeah, but the thing is--”
“I know what you need!” Statler cut him off again. “You need a nice, big--”
He abruptly cut off, staring over the fence. Marty followed his line of site to see he was staring at Alice, who was leaning on the top post, watching the proceedings with interest. Victor was next to her, frowning as he looked at the horses, then at his own long legs. “That’s Red Riding Hood,” Statler mumbled, his smile finally fading. “What’s she doing here?”
“Oh, she’s with me,” Marty said.
Statler turned to stare at him. “What?”
“Yeah, we’re traveling together. Me, her, and Victor there. That’s why we need the horses.”
“You’re honestly traveling with her?”
Statler turned back to look at Alice. She smiled at him, looking just a touch too friendly. “Did I say seven silver before?” he blurted, quickly facing Marty again with an embarrassed grin. “I meant one, nobody pays more than two or three for a horse, and that roan’s seen better days.”
Marty resisted the urge to laugh at the dealer’s sudden backpedaling. “Okay, yeah, but what I’ve been trying to tell you is--” he started, lifting up his money pouch.
One of the handlers suddenly bumped him as he wrangled a stubborn stallion, causing Marty to drop the bag. It hit the ground, spilling out gold coins in a stream from the opening. “Aw, shit!”
The paddock suddenly fell silent, everyone staring at the money as Marty got down on his hands and knees to gather it up. “That’s gold,” Statler finally whispered, eyes huge and glittering.
“Yeah, I know,” Marty said, scooping a bunch of coins back into the bag. “That’s what I was going to tell you – I don’t have any silver or copper on me.” He picked up a coin and looked at it reflectively. “I guess I should get some of this exchanged – you guys have a bank around here?”
Statler didn’t answer, instead holding out a hand. “Two of those, and you have your pick of any three horses on the lot,” he said, looking like he was about to start salivating at the sight of all that money. “Plus saddles and other gear.”
“Works for me,” Marty said, plopping two coins in his hand. Statler closed his fist around them greedily. “Hey guys! Get in here, we’ve got our pick!”
Alice and Victor climbed over the fence, also staring at Marty’s haul. “You’re carrying around a sack full of gold?” Alice whispered, mouth hanging open slightly.
“Not really a sack – more just a pouch,” Marty said, finishing his clean-up. Getting back to his feet, he added, “I told you guys about the haunted castle.”
“Yes, but – we didn’t realize you’d taken so much of the treasure with you,” Victor said, astonished.
“It’s not that much. I came home with five big sacks of the stuff.” He grinned at them. “Told you we didn’t need to worry about money.”
“I suppose not,” Victor agreed. “Though you’re right to think about getting a little of it exchanged.”
“He should get most of it exchanged,” Alice said. “There’s a good many people around here who would gladly slit his throat if they knew he was carrying gold.”
“I’ve dealt with robbers,” Marty said carelessly. “They’re not that bad. Most of them run away once they see the sword.” He gazed around the paddock. “Come on, let’s get our horses.”
They browsed around the paddock, examining the various mares, geldings, and stallions that were available. Marty finally found a nice brown gelding with a white star on his forehead, Victor a tall, black stallion with one white foot, and Alice a young white mare speckled with spots of brown and grey. “They look all right,” Marty said, giving his horse a pat.
“Almost – they’re not shod,” Alice said, examining her mare’s hooves.
“Haven’t had a chance to get this lot shod,” Statler admitted, standing by Victor’s horse. “The regular blacksmith is away on a trip to see his daughter.”
“Don’t you have anybody to take his place?” Victor asked, tilting his head.
“There is another smith, but nobody likes to go to him much,” Statler said with a disapproving frown. “There’s always funny noises coming from his shop. Not to mention he doesn’t look like a smith should.”
“A blacksmith’s a blacksmith,” Marty said, ignoring the looks he got from some of the stablehands at that. “Where’s his shop?”
Statler shrugged and indicated a large barn further down the road, on the opposite side of the paddock. “If you must know, it’s over there. I’m warning you, though, he’s not normal, that one.”
“Neither am I,” Marty said calmly. “As long as he does good work, I don’t care.”
Statler shrugged again. “I ain’t your papa. And I do suppose he does well enough at his job. It’s what he does in his spare time that worries the rest of us.”
Marty laughed. “Okay, now I have to see what this guy’s all about. Let’s go, gang.” He headed down the street, leading his new horse. Alice, Victor, and their steeds followed.
The door to the blacksmith shop was ajar – Marty took the opportunity to peer inside after they tied the horses to the nearby rail. It looked normal enough from this vantage point – he could see smithing supplies, and the forge nearby. But as he turned his head, he saw a very large, very odd-looking machine pressed up against the left wall. He lifted an eyebrow, feeling a rush of curiosity. What was that and what did it do? Only one way to find out, he thought, and knocked.
There was a crash from inside. “Damn it!” a voice yelled. “Knocked over the entire – come on in, I’ll be with you in a second!”
Marty promptly opened the door, wanting to find out what had happened. Behind him, Victor and Alice exchanged a brief look before following.
There was an elderly man on the floor of the shop as they entered, gathering up what looked to be logs wrapped in different colored twine. He grumbled to himself as he loaded them onto a little rack. “I just had to walk into that damn thing. Lucky I didn’t break a toe – or my entire foot – on top of everything. . . .” He picked up the last of them, then looked up. “Hello, folks. Sorry about that – crashed into the storage rack, and. . . .” He let the sentence trail off, waving his hand to indicate the previous mess. He got to his feet, setting the final logs on the rack and dusting off his pants. “What can I do for you three?”
Marty looked the guy up and down. The man was – maybe as tall as Victor; it was hard to say as he seemed to walk around somewhat hunched over. He had big brown eyes, and a wild shock of longish white hair. Maybe he was the smith’s father or uncle. “We’ve got horses that need shoes,” he said, getting straight to the point. “Can you get the blacksmith for us?”
The man smirked a little. “I am the blacksmith.”
Marty blinked. “What?” This man was – but he couldn’t be the blacksmith! What kind of blacksmith had white hair? Weren’t you supposed to retire when your hair started turning that color?
“Forgive me for saying so, but you seem a little old to do smithing work,” Victor said, giving voice to Marty’s confused thoughts.
“That’s what everyone says,” the man replied, rolling his eyes. “Do I really look like I can’t handle it?”
The group looked him over again. Marty had to admit, the guy looked far from frail – in fact, he looked to be in pretty good shape for his age. And his face, while definitely having some lines on it, didn’t look that bad. Marty would have guessed him in his late forties if it wasn’t for the hair. “Well, maybe you can,” he admitted.
“How long have you been doing the work?” Alice asked, folding her hands in front of her.
“Three years, seven months, two weeks and five days, approximately,” the man replied. He gave a half bow. “Dr. Emmett L. Brown, at your service.”
“Doctor?” Victor repeated, one eyebrow arching in surprise. “Do you serve as the town physician as well? Mr. Statler didn’t mention anything like that.”
Dr. Brown chuckled. “No – my doctorate’s in science, not medicine. In addition to the smithing work, I’m a part-time inventor.” He smiled at them. “I take it you’re not from around here?”
“Not me and Victor,” Marty said. “Alice here lives nearby, though.”
Dr. Brown took another look at her. “I take it you’re the famous Red Riding Hood,” he noted. “I’ve heard a lot about you. Though the most I’ve seen of you before now is brief glimpses in the town square on occasion.”
“I’ve never had need of a horse before,” Alice replied. “Dr. Emmett Brown. . . . I think I’ve heard a rumor or two about you as well. People say you’re madder than I allegedly am.”
“I’m not surprised. People here aren’t exactly open to the ideas of scientific advancement.” He shook his head. “You blow up your forge once. . . .”
Before any of the group could comment on that, a whistle suddenly blew on the mystery machine. Dr. Brown spun and rushed toward it. “Aha! I’ve been waiting for this!” He grinned over at the confused trio. “Could one of you get the other wheel? I can do it myself, but it comes out a lot better when there’s two people operating it!”
Marty, now quite intrigued, ran over and grabbed the lever protruding from the spare wheel. “Thanks, kid! Now turn it all the way around – no, other way! Yes, just like that! And – stop!”
Marty stopped and jogged over to where Dr. Brown was standing, in front of a large spout. The blacksmith pulled a lever, and a blast of cold air rushed out, along with what looked to be a layer of frost. Finally, a single tiny cube of ice came tumbling out into a convenient bowl. Dr. Brown picked it up with a pair of tongs he had handy, then plopped it into a beaker full of a funny brownish liquid. “Iced tea?” he offered with a wide smile.
“Uh, no thanks,” Marty said, staring at the machine. “It makes ice?”
“Cuts ice into manageable chunks, actually,” Dr. Brown said, sipping his drink as the others cautiously made their way over. “Usually it dispenses more than just the one cube, but I’m running low on raw materials.” He patted the spout almost lovingly. “My hope is to one day make a general refrigeration unit. No more huge blocks of ice to be maneuvered around! No more mess from melting water! Cold rooms will be a thing of the past!”
“That sounds rather interesting,” Victor admitted, starting to smile himself. “I know my father would be interested in something like that. If you could make it portable.”
“That’s phase three,” Dr. Brown told him.
“I’ve never heard of anyone serving tea with ice in it before,” Alice noted, eyeing Dr. Brown’s drink curiously.
“I sort of invented the drink over the summer months,” Dr. Brown confessed. “Hot tea just didn’t go down well in that humid weather. It’s actually very good.” He finished off his drink. “All right, back to business. You said you had horses you needed shod?”
“Yeah, they’re right outside,” Marty said, glancing back toward the big double doors. “So you build stuff when you’re not shoeing horses and fixing wagons and all that?”
“Exactly,” Dr. Brown said, going out to have a look at the horses. The group trailed behind. “Invention’s always been my first love – smithing is something I do mostly to keep myself fed and clothed.” He coaxed Marty’s brown gelding into lifting a foot. “Not that I do much of that, either.”
“Mr. Statler d-did mention a bit about your r-reputation, yes,” Victor admitted, pulling at his tie a little.
“Just Mr. Statler? No one else?”
“We haven’t talked to anyone else,” Marty said as Dr. Brown moved onto Victor’s steed.
“They’ve all been avoiding me, most likely,” Alice added.
“Oh.” Dr. Brown glanced back at her, blushing slightly. “I didn’t think of that. Well, as you yourself said, Miss Red Riding Hood, I’m not exactly known as the sanest person around town. I’ll admit that freely.” He turned his attentions to Alice’s horse. “However, I will tell you that I can do my job and do it well.” He studied the speckled mare’s hoof. “These need to be pared a bit more – and cleaned.” He looked up at the horse and gently patted her snout. “Let’s do you first then, hmm?” He untied her and led her inside. “Which of you is the proud new owner?”
“That would be me,” Alice said. “Anything I can do to help you?”
“Just hold her and keep her quiet.” He handed Alice the reins as he got a nipper and began cutting down the hoof on the right front foot. “So, who are you and where are you from?” he asked conversationally. “I know Red Riding Hood – or Alice, was it?”
“Alice Liddell,” Alice nodded, looking pleasantly surprised at the use of her actual first name.
“I’m Victor Van Dort,” Victor introduced himself. “I’m from Burtonsville.”
“Van Dort? Are you related to the fish people?” Dr. Brown asked, glancing up.
“Their son,” Victor confirmed.
“Nice to meet you. I was very impressed by your father’s canning idea. I actually had a few thoughts on the process, if you’re going back to see him. . . .”
Victor blushed and looked down. “N-not in the n-near future,” he said softly.
Dr. Brown frowned, looking a bit concerned, but let the matter drop, turning instead to Marty. “How about you?”
“Marty McFly – I’m from Hill Valley,” Marty obliged him.
Dr. Brown’s face lit up as he moved onto the left front foot. “Really! I grew up there! Tell me, is the clock on the clock tower still frozen at 10:04?”
“Yeah! There’s this group of people trying to fix it, but nobody pays them much attention.” Marty laughed a little, leaning against the wall. “That’s weird that you come from my hometown. Why’d you leave?”
“For the same reason as you, I suspect – I wanted adventure.”
“That led to becoming a blacksmith?”
“Well, I wasn’t always a blacksmith. I used to go around, peddling my inventions and offering people my scientific services.” Dr. Brown frowned at nothing in particular. “It didn’t go especially well.”
“Too bad,” Marty said with a little shrug. “That ice machine you’ve got over there is pretty neat.”
“You really think so?”
“Yeah! What about you guys?”
“I agree, it’s quite intriguing,” Victor said, nodding at it.
“I’m rather impressed myself,” Alice agreed, pulling back a little as her mare tossed her head.
Dr. Brown looked at the three of them, then smiled. “Thank you. It’s not often I get encouragement. Most of the people in this town would say that it’s an eyesore in the shop and that I should tear it apart for scrap.” He sighed. “A more unimaginative bunch I’ve never met.”
“Don’t listen to them – I think it’s cool,” Marty said, then chuckled. “Uh, no pun intended.”
Dr. Brown laughed too. “Thanks.” He moved to the back feet. “What brings you three to Gale’s Town, then?”
“Supplies and horses,” Marty said. “We’re on a quest.”
“Oh? To do what?”
“Kill the evil queen.”
Dr. Brown stopped dead. He looked up at Marty, an expression of disbelief on his face. “Say that again.”
“We’re off to kill the Demon Queen of Hearts,” Marty said, standing up straight again. “I’m hoping it’ll teach me how to shudder.”
“How to what?”
“Shudder. You know, feel fear.”
“You don’t feel fear?”
“Nope. Never have. It’s become a real pain in the ass, so I’m trying to figure out how. Alice told me our lovely Queen is doing all sorts of awful things to the land, so I thought going up against her might show me what fear is. Not to mention stop her from trying to kill us all and take over the world or whatever it is she’s trying to do.”
Dr. Brown stared at him a moment, then looked at Victor and Alice. “And you’re going along with this?”
“I hunt her creatures all the time,” Alice said calmly. “I may as well hunt her.”
“I’m mostly along to keep them from getting too badly hurt,” Victor said.
The blacksmith frowned deeply. “Kids, do you have any idea what you’re getting into?”
“Well, the whole ‘Demon Queen’ thing does provide a few hints,” Marty said, a hint of sarcasm in his tone.
“Don’t get smart. That woman’s dangerous. One of the jobs I held when I was younger was a position as one of her soldiers. I really wasn’t cut out for the job, but I needed some quick cash. The queen was absolutely the most bloodthirsty woman I’d ever met. She’d order your head cut off for the slightest offense. Seemed to be her favorite thing to do. The King tended to pardon everyone once she was out of earshot, but she succeeded in having quite a few people executed.” He scowled. “And this was before she got it into her head to play around with dark magic!”
“I know she’s dangerous, that’s why I want to go after her! I don’t think I’m going to be able to learn what fear is by playing with fluffy bunnies!” Marty paused and thought about that for a moment. “Though there was this one weird girl back home who screamed whenever she saw a rabbit. Can you guys think of any reason why a rabbit would give someone the shudders?”
Victor, Alice, and Dr. Brown all furrowed their brows in thought. “Not at all,” Alice said, shaking her head.
“Unless rabbits can become rabid, no,” Victor nodded.
“No, but then again, I’ve never come into close contact with a rabbit,” Dr. Brown said, going back to the hooves of Alice’s horse. “It’s possible she was bitten by one severely or something else. Phobias like that are rarely rational.” He frowned back up at Marty. “But I do know that going after the most dangerous woman in history will most likely get you killed.”
“Yeah, well, that’s a risk I’m willing to take,” Marty shrugged.
“Is learning about fear really worth risking your life?”
“To me it is.” Marty gave Dr. Brown a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, I’ve faced off against lots of crazy monsters. There was this castle that was full of them, and I beat them all with just a cutting board knife, a lathe, and some matches to make a fire.”
Dr. Brown tilted his head, narrowing his eyes in suspicion. “Are you telling the truth, or are you just boasting to what you think is a gullible old man?”
“I’m not lying!” Marty felt his hands start to make fists. “I stayed three nights in that castle when nobody else could stay one! And I still didn’t see what all the fuss was about!” He pulled out his money pouch. “Look, you want to see some of the treasure I picked up? Take a gander in there!”
Dr. Brown finished the last foot, then paused in his work to take a look. His eyes widened. “Great Scott!”
“Yeah! And I brought home five sacks of this stuff! Plus the sword,” he said, patting the sheath at his belt.
“I can vouch for him not feeling fear,” Victor said, holding up a hand. “We came across a pack of wolves in the forest, and he faced them without even breaking the slightest sweat. And he slept comfortably in a bed a woman had been murdered in last night.”
“Alice said she’d cleaned the entire thing up,” Marty shrugged, putting his money away again. “And it was really comfortable. Lot better than the floor, anyway.”
Dr. Brown pursed his lips a bit, looking at Marty dubiously. “Well, all right, perhaps you are a stranger to fear,” he allowed. “But going after the Demon Queen? What will you do if your friends are in danger?”
“Defend them. Plus Victor’s got this magic stuff for wounds, so we’re set there.”
Dr. Brown looked at them all for a moment, then shook his head. “I still think it’s a fool’s errand, but if you’re determined, there’s little I can do to stop you.” He got the hoof pick and set about cleaning the feet of the mare. “Just – be careful, all right? You’re all so young, and I’d hate for you to get yourselves killed in the prime of your lives.”
“Don’t worry, Victor will tell us if he spots Death sneaking up on us,” Marty said, lightly nudging his new friend. Victor blushed and let out a weak chuckle. “So, have you got any other inventions around here?”
Dr. Brown smirked over at him. “That’s like asking if I breathe regularly. Why, are you actually interested in hearing about them?”
“Well, the ice maker was pretty cool.”
“I’m personally curious about those logs,” Alice said, eyeing the colorful bundles on the rack. “Why are they all wrapped up like that?”
“Oh, those are Presto-Logs,” Dr. Brown said, moving onto the next foot. “The twine’s been chemically treated to burn hotter and longer than regular wood. The different colors indicate how much anthracite dust I’ve put into that particular log. Green is the least, then yellow, then red. I use them in my forge so I don’t have to stoke it.”
“I assume their invention is related to the previous incident you spoke of?” Victor asked.
“What – oh, my forge blowing up. Yes, I – overdid things a tad the first time I made a red log.” Dr. Brown blushed slightly. “Science is all about trial and error, but I think I should have avoided that particular error.”
There was a round of chuckles. “Anything else?” Marty asked, now quite intrigued.
“There’s the breakfast machine over there.” Dr. Brown nodded at a conglomeration of various cooking implements set up over a couple of hot plates, along with a nest in a cage. “Every day, at precisely seven o’clock in the morning, it makes me toast and bacon. And eggs, if the chicken cooperates.”
The group went over to investigate. “I don’t see how it makes toast,” Victor confessed. “Aren’t you supposed to heat it over an open flame?”
“Nope – you can get roughly the same effect by simply holding the bread up to any hot surface,” Dr. Brown said, rubbing the mare’s leg before moving on to the back feet. “I found a way to heat a pair of coils in a special case – one on each side. Stick the bread inside, wait a few moments, extract it – voila! Toast.”
“That’s incredible,” Marty said, impressed. “You must be some sort of genius.”
Dr. Brown smirked. “I wouldn’t argue the point. Though I think it’s more I’ve always thought the world could be better than it currently is. The need to invent, the need to explore, is always foremost in my mind.”
“So we see,” Alice said with a smirk of her own.
They talked for a bit more after that, Dr. Brown telling them more about some of his inventions as he finished cleaning the horse’s feet, then measured her hooves and got the shoes ready. After a while, though, Marty began to feel somewhat restless. “How long is this gonna take?” he asked as Dr. Brown fitted the first shoe to the mare’s foot.
“The shoeing? Not too long, but you don’t have to stay here if you don’t want.” Dr. Brown pulled out a silver pocket watch, engraved with a pair of coiling snakes, and popped it open. “Come back in forty-five minutes – I should be done by then.”
“Okay. I was just thinking, we ought to get some more food here,” Marty said, looking at the others. “And Victor, you really need some new clothes. Hate to tell you this, but that suit’s – kind of ripe.”
Victor blushed deeper and ducked his head. “I know,” he confessed. “It’s been a while since I was able to get a proper bath in.”
“There’s a tailor down this street,” Alice said. “He may be able to cut a few shirts for you, at the very least.”
“There’s also a bath house, if you three would care to indulge,” Dr. Brown commented, glancing up. “You don’t smell all that wonderful yourself, Master McFly.”
Marty snorted. “Okay, yeah, I probably don’t. Hate to give the Demon Queen any hint that I was coming just by my smell.”
“Precisely. You three head off, and I’ll see you once these horses are done.”
“Right.” Marty led the way out of the shop.
A couple of kids met them at the entrance. “Were you really just talking to Crazy Old Brown?” one of them, a blond boy, promptly asked, eyes wide.
“Uh, yeah,” Marty replied, blinking at the suddenness of the question. “He’s shoeing our horses.”
“It’s extremely impolite to refer to him as Crazy Old Brown,” Victor scolded. “He’s perfectly sane, from what we’ve seen.”
The kids took no notice of him. “Did he try to experiment on you? My Mom says he waits for people to come to his shop, and then he cuts them up for parts.”
“I heard he’s trying to blow us all up,” another boy, this one a brunet, said. “That he loves to make things explode.”
“He couldn’t have done anything to them,” a little redheaded girl pointed out. “That’s Red Riding Hood! Even Crazy Old Brown would be afraid of Red Riding Hood!”
“Hey, that’s not very nice,” Marty protested.
“I’m used to it,” Alice told him with a sigh.
“Mummy says you’re a witch,” the redheaded girl continued, looking up at Alice. “Mummy says that if I’m bad, she’s going to send me to your house in the woods to punish me.” The other kids nodded.
“Really? I’ll be sure to stock up on candy then, so I can send you home to your parents filled with sugar and honey.”
The kids’ eyes lit up. “We’re gonna go be bad,” the blond boy announced, and the children scattered.
Marty and Victor both snorted. “That was good,” Marty told her.
“Thank you,” Alice said, grinning at them.
“Indeed,” Victor agreed. After a moment’s pause, he added in a shyer voice, “You should smile more often. It’s – very p-pretty.”
Alice looked stunned for a moment, then blushed bright red. “Thank you,” she said, her own voice softening.
Marty, oblivious to the moment, grabbed both their arms. “What do you think, guys? Bath house first? Or should we buy some stuff?”
“Bath house,” Alice said, regaining her former composure and heading straight for the building surrounded by wide wooden tubs at the opposite end of the street. “I could do with a wash myself.”
“Okay then! Come on, Victor.” Marty set off after her.
“Coming.” Victor took a moment to look to the sky before following. “I don’t ask much of you – but, please, please let them have indoor baths,” he whispered desperately.