Dawn was kissing the sky purple and orange by the time Lyle’s lonely engine reached The Masque. It groaned to a halt in front of the platform and snorted smoke high above its weather-worn chimney. There was no one waiting to meet it.
“He ought to have someone on guard,” Peter said. “Why doesn’t he?”
Neither Aidan nor Lori had an answer to offer. The occupants of the tiny, soot-stained cabin were each in a miserable mood. Their journey had been full of nerves and anticipation, and the uninterrupted swaying and jostling had done little to help.
“He must know you are coming,” Lyle spoke up. He had kept silent during the entire trip, guiding the train at speeds which its line of cars had previously made it incapable of. Withered bones creaked and cracked as he turned to the fool and let a grim line of a frown disrupt his face. “You aren’t going to succeed.”
“Would you like to help?” Peter asked. “Or would you prefer to keep making useless comments?”
The decrepit conductor shook his head. “I cannot. There is not much I can do, outside this train.”
“Then shut up.”
Later, Aidan would regret not bothering to thank Lyle for his help in getting them to The Masque. The poor man deserved some gratitude; he had ruined his train for them, after all. But at the moment Aidan was still wrapped up in the sight of Eve crumbling under a bullet. He couldn’t shake it, even once they were off the train. He followed Lori and Peter without knowing where they were going. Only when the fool laid a hand on his shoulder did he begin to wake.
The Masque jutted from the darkness in front of them. Aidan had seen it from the outside before, of course, but he had forgotten how menacing it looked. Or perhaps his vision was being colored by the fact that they were venturing into its belly with only the vague plan of “stop Sir Hugo.” It was laughable. This was not some performance where the actors sorted everything out in the end and the curtain fell on an up note. It was real life they played at now.
“Are you coming?” Lori asked.
“Yeah,” he nodded. “Are you sure you still want to? I mean, you may not make it out alive.”
She shrugged. “In which case, I’ll come back dead.”
“Maybe you should stay by the train.”
“Seriously? You think I can’t handle this? After everything we’ve been through?”
“No, it’s not that. It’s just…you have a home to go back to.”
He must have been mistaken, but for a moment he could have sworn she looked amused. “You don’t get it,” she said as they walked. “I’m okay with not surviving.”
“Don’t talk like that. There are better things than-”
“Yeah? Seems to me life sucks just as much as death. Seems to me there isn’t much difference, anymore.”
“Would your dad really want you to do this?”
She didn’t stop, didn’t turn, but her voice went tense and sprouted venomous strains. “He didn’t care too much about me,” she said. “Truth be told, he was an awful parent. He was a pathetic junkie who couldn’t keep his life together. He’s probably screwed up his death, too, wherever he is.”
“Then why do any of this?”
“Because!” At last she faced him, and her eyes were red with tears as they glared to the backs of his sockets. “Because…I’m doing this for me,” she admitted. “Because I can’t ever go home, not really. It went up in flames around me.” She shook her shaven head and made an attempt to be calm, “Why do you even care? You’re not my dad.”
“Do I need to be, to care?”
“…I guess not. But I don’t think your idea for protecting me is going to work. What am I supposed to do, hang around until someone wonders why there’s a great big train in the middle of town and I get dragged off for questioning? Besides,” she added with a bitter laugh, “how are you going to stop me? You’ve only got one arm.”
Aidan sighed. “Fine.” He started off, but before he had gone five paces, she called out,
“Hey. I’m sorry.”
He nodded, and in awkward silence they followed Peter, who was already at the backstage door. It was the same through which the fool had carried Aidan an age ago. They let him work, until at last he had picked the lock and wrestled the door open. Music, soft and solitary at this distance, floated up from the darkened bowels of the theatre. There was an early morning rehearsal going on. As they began the long creep inside, Peter whispered to them,
“I think you should adopt her, Bare Bones. You already argue enough to be her dad.”
(TCOS will continue on Thursday!)