Wolf Boy nodded impatiently.
"Okay, here goes. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh!
The Grim retreated in a flurry of filthy water. Darke creature though it was, it lived a quiet life in the watery wastes of the Municipal drain, which ran along Fore Street and widened out to a comfortable space below the House of the Port Witch Coven. The Grim's hearing was adapted to the gentle gurglings and gloops of the drain, not to the screams of Lucy Gringe. The Grim sank back down onto the muddy brick floor of the Municipal drain and stuffed the tips of its tentacles into its multiple hearing tubes.
"Aaah! Aaaaaaaaaaaaah! Aaah! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh!"
In the darkness of the Coven's kitchen lurked thirteen cats. The Coven's cats were a litter of bloodsucking kittens - now grown - that had been thrown from an incoming ship after they had ambushed the cabin boy and drained him dry of blood. Linda had recognized them for what they were. She had snatched a small boy's fishing net, scooped the vampire kittens from the harbor flotsam and taken them triumphantly back to the Coven, from where they sallied out to prey upon babies and small children.
"Aaaaaaaaaaaaah! Aaaaaah! Aaaaagh! Aaaaaaaaaaaaah!"
From the piles of rotting garbage, the cats Watched Wolf Boy frantically search for something to feed to the Grim. Wolf Boy could feel the Watching of twenty-nine pairs of eyes crawling across his skin and, in his feral state, he sensed where they were coming from. In less than thirty seconds, he found two cats hidden in a giant fungus beneath the sink. Wolf Boy pounced.
Lucy's screams drowned out the cats' yowls perfectly.
Holding the struggling, scratching beasts at arm's length, Wolf Boy ran to the trapdoor. The dark water slapped and slopped below, but there was no sign of the Grim. It could feel the vibrations of Lucy's screams and it was not coming up for anything - not even fresh cat.
Lucy's screams began to falter. "Aaaaa...aaa...ahem...uhurgh!" She coughed and put her hand to her throat. I'm losing my voice, she mouthed. In the depths of the Municipal drain, the vibrations from Lucy's screams faded. The Grim removed its tentacles from its hearing tubes - which doubled as its nose - and it now smelled food. Fresh food. The oily water below the trapdoor began to stir, and suddenly a great black glistening head broke the surface. Wolf Boy let the cats drop. The effect was impressive.
The Grim flipped backward, revealing a great, gaping serrated beak. A forest of tentacles enclosed the screaming cats, and the kitchen was filled with a revolting, sucking sound as the Grim set about eating its first meal of fresh meat in almost fifty years. (The last meat had been provided by a young Aunt Zelda. She had been offered the Coven's goat and had accepted it, thankful that they had not given her the boy next door, which they had done to her predecessor, Betty Crackle. Betty had never quite recovered from this and refused to tell anyone whether she had accepted the boy or not. Aunt Zelda rather feared she had.)
The Grim, excited by fresh food, put a few tentacles out the trapdoor and began searching for more. (This had, on occasion, been successful. Intended Keepers did not always return from their Task.) As the thick tentacles with their powerful suckers crept toward Wolf Boy, his first instinct was to slam the trapdoor shut and get out of the kitchen fast - but there was still something he must do. Bracing himself against the Darke, Wolf Boy kneeled beside the trapdoor and took out a small, silver pocket knife. And then, to Lucy's amazement, with one swift slice, he cut off the tip of its tentacle. The Grim did not notice. It did not notice anything much anymore as, due to some bizarre evolutionary blip, each tentacle held a portion of the creature's brain. And with each successful visit of an Intended Keeper, the Grim became just a little bit more stupid. Clutching the bloodied portion of Grim brain, Darke and dripping, Wolf Boy triumphantly slammed the trapdoor shut - and immediately wished he hadn't. At the clang of the door hitting the metal rim, a distinctive Dorinda squeal came through the ceiling.
"Oooh, he's done it. He's fed her to the Grim!"
Suddenly a great thundering of boots erupted on the ceiling above and a shower of plaster rained down on Lucy and Wolf Boy. The Coven was on its way.
Chapter 10 Out of the Stew Pot
W e've gotta get out of here," Wolf Boy whispered, heading for the kitchen door. He grabbed the handle and pulled - the doorknob came off in his hand and sent him flying backward. There was a clink as the spindle fell out on the other side of the door. Wolf Boy stared at the door - how were they going to open it now?
"Leave it, stupid!" hissed Lucy. "Come on!" She grabbed Wolf Boy's hand - the one that did not hold a disgusting tentacle tip - and dragged him across the sodden kitchen, through the mush of garbage and past silent, Watching cats. They had just reached the cellar door when the ladder began to shake. Wolf Boy glanced around and saw the unmistakable spikes of the Witch Mother's boots appear through the hole in the ceiling. He did not resist when Lucy pulled him through the door.
Wolf Boy closed the door and began pushing the huge bolt across it.
"No," whispered Lucy. "Leave it open. Like it was. Otherwise they'll guess we're here."
"But - "
"Come on. Hurry." Lucy pulled Wolf Boy down the cellar steps. With every step he felt more trapped - what was Lucy doing?
At the foot of the steps they were met by a sea of filthy water heavily populated by pulsating brown toads. Wolf Boy was shocked - was this where Lucy had been kept prisoner? He stopped for a moment, wondering how deep it was. He really didn't like water - it always seemed to turn up in his life when things were bad. Lucy, however, was unperturbed. She waded in and, to Wolf Boy's relief, the water only came up to her knees.
"Come on," said Lucy, kicking a toad out of the way. "Don't just stand there gawping like a stuffed herring."
In the kitchen above, the Coven streamed off the ladder. The sound of their boots hitting the ground sent Wolf Boy plowing through the toad-strewn water. Wading frustratingly slowly, as if he were in a bad dream - a really bad dream - he followed Lucy across the cellar, trying to avoid the well-aimed spit of the toads. At the far end of the cellar, Lucy stopped and proudly indicated a few missing bricks in the wall.
"It's the old coal chute. They bricked it up. But look at the mortar, they got the mix wrong, it's all powdery." Lucy demonstrated, but Wolf Boy's attention was not on the quality of the mortar - he was listening to the heavy thumps coming from above. Lucy took out a couple of bricks and handed them to Wolf Boy.
"Oh, gosh, hang on, I forgot," said Wolf Boy, realizing he was still clutching the tentacle tip. He quickly shoved it into the leather wallet that Aunt Zelda had made him wear around his waist; then he took the bricks and quietly put them in the water.
"I spent all yesterday and today doing this," Lucy whispered. "I was nearly out of here when that spiteful cow came and grabbed me." Quickly she removed a couple more bricks. "We can get out through here onto the pavement. Good thing you're thin. I'll go first and then I'll pull you up. Okay?"
The voices of the Coven in the kitchen were getting loud and angry. Wolf Boy helped Lucy up to the hole. She wriggled in, and soon all he could see of her were the wet soles of her boots - and then she was gone. Wolf Boy peered in, and a shower of dust fell. He wiped the dust from his eyes and grinned. Far above he could see Lucy's grubby face looking down and behind her was a small chink of blue sky.
"Come on," she said impatiently. "There's a weird nurse person wanting to know what I'm doing. Hurry! "
Suddenly a howl of rage came from the kitchen. "Blood! Blood! I smell Grim blood. Blood, blood, I taste Grim blood!"
"Oooh!" This was from Dorinda.
And then: "The blood - it leads to the cellar. They've taken our Grim to the cellar!"
A thunder of feet pounded across the kitchen toward the cellar stairs.
"Hurry up! What are you waiting for?" Lucy's voice came from far above. Wolf Boy was not waiting for anything. With the sound of footsteps clattering down the stairs, he pulled himself up into the hole. It was not as easy as Lucy had made it look. Although he was thin, Wolf Boy's shoulders were broad and the coal chute was a tight fit. He raised his arms above his head to try to make himself narrower and, skinning his elbows and knees, he pushed up through the rough bricks toward the light. Lucy's helping hands reached down to him, but Wolf Boy could not reach them. Try as he might, he could not move.