There were a lot of questions Kitty could ask, and if she’d been in school, she’d have waved her hand wildly to ask them all.
But the only one she really wanted the answer to was, “Why should I trust a talking sign?”
“Because,” the sign said chipperly, “I’m the only thing not trying to kill you.”
Lowie raised her hand.
Kitty rolled her eyes. “The Wicked Step-Mother isn’t here, Low. You don’t have to raise your hand.” She’d prefer it if her baby sister would just stop speaking.
“So, um, what if–what if–what if we–”
Kitty stopped listening for a minute while her sister tried to figure out what she really wanted to say. She kind of understood. Both their parents and their new step-parents could talk and talk and talk, so if either of the girls wanted a chance to have their say, they had to interrupt, and then stammer to remember what they wanted to say.
Lowie was still learning.
And Kitty was out of patience. “How do we know you’re not trying to kill us?”
Lowie glared up at her.
Kitty pointedly ignored her.
“Try for yourself, if you like,” the sign said and seemed to spring in place. “See how far you make it.”
“Why do you want us to go see Tick Tock, whatever?”
“I don’t want you to see the the Tick-Tock Master.”
“Then, why’d you–”
“I didn’t say anything about the Tick-Tock Master,” the sign said.
It was very frustrating talking to something that had no face. “Fine.”
“Your sister mentioned it.” The sign jiggled on its post, making the Tick-Tock arrow wiggle. “Likely because he was the one who brought her here. You, too, for that matter.”
Oh, great. Just another time when Lowie got all the attention. The only reason Kitty was even there was because she’d fallen through the floor. She didn’t want to be there anymore. Her stomach was empty. She was grouchy, and she just wanted to find her bed again, open up a book, and disappear inside it.
“Don’t you want to know why?”
Would that sign never shut up? “Not really.” She needed to find a way out of there that didn’t involve her dying. The Wicked Witch was out of the question. She had a Wicked Step-mother–who was also a witch, or so she claimed–and one “wicked” person in her life more than enough.
The Flying Monkey Lake sounded like a disaster waiting to happen.
Apparently, the Red Forest Road was bathed in the blood of those who walked it.
She couldn’t find the door to the floor under the bed.
And the Tick-Tock Master was dangerous.
“You’re here because the Tick-Tock Master can’t open any more doors,” the sign said.
“Doors to where?” Lowie asked, her voice high and excited.
Kitty rolled her eyes. Again. Did Lowie try to be cute because it was just really annoying.
“Everywhere,” the sign said. “Used to be, I could point to anywhere, any time.”
The arrows flipped, the names shifted, and the cardboard trees fell down and were replaced by a cardboard town.
“Used to be, I was important. Told people how to get where they wanted to be.”
Interesting. “What happened?”
“Don’t know,” the sign said, flipping the arrows again. The cardboard town disappeared, and the one-dimensional trees sprang up again. “But he’s been bringing kids like you here, hoping to figure out how to open the doors again.”
Kids like them? Doors to everywhere?
What was going on here?