The Void of Mist and Thunder (The 13th Reality #4)(10)

by James Dashner

“How dare old Georgy Porgy send two rats here to nibble on my cheese,” she said, her voice low but somehow full of venom. “I told him what would happen if he did that. I sure did. Death, true and true.”

The old lady lifted her pistol and aimed it at Paul’s face.

Chapter 9

A Dusty Road

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” Paul shouted, holding his hands up as he got to his feet. Sofia did the same next to him. “You haven’t heard why we came yet!”

Gretel cocked the old silver pistol and took a step forward. She kept the barrel pointed directly at Paul. “Don’t need hearing your nonsense, boy. I’m here for a reason, and that reason is more important than two pipsqueak babies begging for their lives on my lawn.”

Paul’s immediate instinct was to tell her she was crazy for calling the mud and weeds on which they stood a lawn. Luckily, Sofia spoke up before he could, as calm and collected as a sheriff in an old Western movie.

“You want to shoot us, Gretel? Go right ahead. But you’ll need to answer our question before you do.”

Her words took the lady aback a little, as it did Paul. Was this really the time to ask if they could use her bathroom? Then again, Paul thought it was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard come out of George’s mouth anyway.

“A question, you say?” Gretel responded. “You say you have a question for me?”

“That’s right,” Sofia said. “Just one. May I please use your bathroom?”

The old woman swung her gun away from Paul and pointed it off somewhere in the distance. She pulled the trigger, and a boom rocked the air and smoke puffed up from the gun. Gretel spun the pistol on her finger like a cowboy and smiled, her teeth looking like they’d chewed one too many chicken bones throughout the years.

“Yes, you may, my darling,” she said. “Yes, you may. Do come in.”

Sofia glanced back at Paul, who shrugged. They both headed up the steps of the rickety old porch.

Mothball had always prided herself on being a nice, genuine person who could see the good in everyone. Yes, she loved to tease and rib, but deep down she had a heart of gold, soft and snuggly and warm. At least, that’s what she liked to think.

But Sally irritated the living jeepers out of her. How in the bloody tarnations had she ended up with him on this mission? The man was like a walking bullhorn, he was.

“So, Miss Purty Legs,” he said as they walked down a long country road in the Twelfth Reality. “Whatcha thinkin’ this old bag of cornfeed’s gonna help us with?”

“Don’t know as yet,” she replied. “Just hopin’ I can hear a bloody word that comes out of his mouth over your yappin’ tongue. No offense, of course.”

Sally bellowed his deep, booming laugh. “None taken, missy. None taken. You should be used to yappin’ after hanging out with that friend a’yorn. Rutger could talk the ear off an elephant.”

Mothball couldn’t help it—she laughed too. Sally always knew how to make her smile eventually. “The wee little fat man can talk, no doubt about it.”

“Anyhoo, why we startin’ with this farm boy again?”

Though she could swear she’d already explained this to him, Mothball did so again. “He’s not really a Realitant, but he’s a friend of ours. Lives out in the boonies so as he can keep tabs better without worryin’ over communications and such. Watches over the world, he does. Has every satellite and radio and cell service you can dream up in this quaint little Reality. We pay him right nicely, too. He’ll know what the goings-on are about.”

“Goings-on are about?” Sally repeated. “What the heckamajibber does that mean?”

“We need to find what’s the trouble here. We’re on a research mission, silly bones. Clean out them bloody ears, would ya? Master George explained it all right nicely. Gathering information, we are.”

“Well, I sho ’nuff knew that! I’m just tryin’ to figger out how you people speak in them fancy lands a’yorn.”

“I know the feeling,” Mothball muttered under her breath.

They reached a dusty old mailbox on the side of the road with the word “Tanner” printed on the side in faded black letters. A long, gravel driveway cut through a cornfield before disappearing into a grove of trees about a half a mile away.

“Here we are,” Mothball said. “He’s waiting for us I ’spect.”

Thankfully Sally didn’t say another word as they started walking down the long driveway.

Rutger sat in front of his huge screen, reviewing all the data he’d gathered from the instruments spread throughout the Realities. The ones that had survived the destruction, anyway.

He missed Mothball.

Yes, she was a tall sack of bones who took every chance she got to make fun of him. But she was also his best friend, and he hated thinking of her out there without him, especially considering how dangerous things had become. A world suffering from chaos that you can’t help breeds chaos that you can. The thieves and looters and murderers would be out in full force now that the police, firemen, and other authorities were occupied with search and rescue.

Of course, Mothball was a tough old bear. She’d be fine.

He began scrolling through the data—everything from weather reports to measurements of quantum anomalies in atmosphere particle waves. The data was haywire, still settling from the massive disruptions caused by that red-faced Mistress Jane and her attempt to sever the Fifth Reality from existence. What a disaster that had been, saved only by the inexplicable powers of Master Tick. However, it seemed as if saving the universe from one final and all-ending catastrophe had created lots of smaller ones.

Something caught his eye.

He zoomed in to take a look at one of the measuring stations located in an old forest in the Third Reality; a box of instruments had been left there almost a decade ago. There’d been an absolute flurry of activity there just a couple of days earlier, spiking the Chi’karda levels through the roof. And then it had ended abruptly, going from immeasurably high to zero in an instant. Rutger read through it all, trying his best to interpret what it could mean.

He noticed that the information had an attachment: a photograph. Many of the instrument boxes had cameras installed nearby, but Rutger was surprised to see that something had been taken and sent before whatever had happened to end the data flow. The box had to have been destroyed eventually.