Mothball knelt down on the ground, bringing her eyes level with Tick’s. “They’re right as rain, little sir. You don’t have to worry about them at’all. See what I’m tryin’ to tell ya is that the choices we make in this life can lead to things we’d never s’pect to have anything to do with us. Realities can be created and destroyed.” She gestured with her head to Tick’s tombstone. “That little feller might ruddy well be you for sure, he could. But ya just might have the power within yer beatin’ heart to make sure it doesn’t happen. That’s what it’s all about, really.”

Some of Tick’s anxiety and fear had vanished. Though he didn’t have a clue what Mothball was talking about, he felt . . . moved, which made him feel very adult. “Mothball, when do I get to actually understand what it is you’re talking about?”

Mothball smiled as she stood back on her feet. “Not much for speeches, I’ll admit it. By the looks of it, you’d rather listen to a croakin’ toad than hear me go on a bit. Righto, off we go.” She moved away from the tombstone and walked deeper into the scattered graves of the cemetery, the beam of her flashlight bobbing up and down with each step.

Tick fell in line behind her, having to take two steps for every one of hers, adjusting his scarf and backpack as he went. “When you say ‘off we go,’ where exactly are we off-we-going to?”

“Ah, Master Tick,” she said over her shoulder, “glad we got the bologna-and-cheese talk out the way, I am. Now’s time for the fun part. Hope yer excited.”

“I am, trust me. Anything to get away from this place.”

Mothball laughed, a booming chuckle that seemed sure to wake up a few dead people. “Don’t like the deadies, do ya? That’ll change, it will. Most times it takes a place like this to go off winking, it does.”

“Winking? What’s that?”

“Find out soon enough, ya will. Ah, here we are.” Mothball stopped, then turned around to face Tick. She shone her flashlight on a small patch of unmarked grass. “Have a nice sit-down, we will.” When Tick didn’t move, she gestured for him to sit. “Right here, chop-chop.”

“Why do we have to sit down?” Tick asked as he sat cross-legged in the exact spot where she’d shone the light.

Mothball sat across from him, folding up her huge legs underneath her. “No offense, lad, but methinks I’ve had enough of yer questions for now. Save them for Master George, and we’ll all be a mite happier indeed.”

Tick knew something amazing was about to happen, and his insides swelled with butterflies, like the last moment before a roller coaster shoots down its first gigantic hill. “Whatever you say, Mothball. I’ll shut up.”

“Now there’s a line I’d wish old Rutger’d learn to say. That wee little fat man could talk the ears off a mammoth, he could.”

Tick laughed, but didn’t say anything, keeping his promise.

“All right, that about does it, I’d say,” Mothball said to herself as she settled her body, growing still. “Just keep yourself nice and comfy there, lad, and good old Master George will wink us away any minute.”

There was that word again. Wink. Tick almost asked about it, but kept quiet, nervously pulling on his scarf.

“Feel a little tingle on yer neck and back, you will,” Mothball whispered. “Things’ll change then, right quick. Try to keep yer pants on straight and don’t go screamin’ like a baby or you might just drown. Come to an understanding, have we?”

Tick nodded, his thrill of anticipation suddenly turning a little sour. Drown?

Before he could dwell on what she meant, he felt cold pinpricks along the back of his spine, a quick wave that he might not have noticed if he hadn’t been waiting for it.

Then, as promised, everything changed.

In less time than it took to form a single conscious thought, Tick found himself thousands of miles from the graveyard. He sat in the same position as before, but now he was sitting inside a small raft, bobbing up and down in the middle of a dark and choppy sea of black water.

And it was raining.


A Lot of Water

Nothing happened to mark their transportation from one place to another. No booming alarm, no bright flash of light, no movement of any kind. Tick and Mothball simply went from sitting across from each other on a small patch of grass in the middle of a cemetery to sitting across from each other on a raft in the middle of the ocean.

Heavy, cold rain fell from a sky Tick couldn’t see, pelting his entire body, sluicing down the inward sides of the small boat and forming a standing pool of water. Mothball still had her flashlight fully ablaze; the light cast an eerie cone of radiance revealing countless pellets of rain and a small circle of angrily churning waters just a few feet from where they floated. The raft rocked back and forth, up and down, already making Tick’s stomach ill.

Mothball shifted her body until she was on her knees, then shone the flashlight somewhere behind her. Tick leaned to his right to catch a glimpse of what she was looking at and saw a huge structure floating nearby, rigid and unmoved by the uneasy sea. He couldn’t make out much as Mothball scanned the area with her light, but it appeared to be a building of some sort, a huge square made out of silvery metal walls, rivets and bolts scattered all over its slick and shiny surface. It seemed impossible that it could be a large boat or ship. It was just there, solid, like its foundation went all the way to the ocean bottom.

“Won’t be but a moment!” Mothball yelled over her shoulder, working at something with her large arms and hands.

“Where are we?” Tick screamed back, several drops of heavy rain flying into his mouth, almost gagging him.

Mothball turned and looked at him, her hair and face soaked. “Middle of the ocean, we are!”

“Thanks a lot—figured that one out on my own!” Tick slicked his rain-soaked hair out of his eyes.

Instead of replying, Mothball set her right foot against the edge of the raft and pulled on something, grunting with the effort. After a second of hesitation, a bright light suddenly flared against the darkness of the storm, accompanied by the heavy groan of bending metal and the scrape of rusty hinges. Mothball had opened an enormous door of solid steel that led inside the boxy structure. Tick caught a glimpse of a long hallway lined with cables and wiring and thick ductwork.