It was quiet in the tram car. The air was still. Tiny pellets of sleet peppered the roof. The new boy ran to the back and struggled to force down the open window. Napoleon raced around sniffing the seats. The little match boy dumped their stuff on a stiff, leather bench and sat down.
Not that it was warm in there (it wasn't), but at least they wouldn't freeze. The new boy managed to force down the window. Then he came up to the front and collapsed.
You want a piece a cookie? - said the little match boy. He still had almost two of the big ones left........ Nah - said the other kid. Maybe later. Let me sleep first..... So the match boy just nodded and stared out the window. But after say about eighty eight heart beats, his eyes started to close. And he was almost asleep when Napoleon began to growl..... Not loud..... but you could tell she really meant it.
The tired little match boy sighed. He slid off the seat and went back to see. There was another leather covered bench toward the rear. The spaniel just stood there pointing. Remember, they are hunting dogs, after all. The match boy stroked her back to calm her. He could feel the low vibrations eminating out from her lungs. But then he heard it too. There was a tiny, small sound coming out from under the seat. He held his breath and listened. A thin, raspy, whistle, like a tea kettle boiling away in a distant flat.
He quietly sneaked back to wake his friend. It didn't take much. Street kids are light sleepers. Just a soft, little tap on the cheek. The new boy opened his eyes. Shhhh, went the match boy. He pointed toward the spot where Napoleon stood guard. They silently crept down the central aisle. The match boy just listened. His friend did too. Then the new kid saw something. He leaned over, whispering in his ear - I think it's a lid. I think they keep things in there......... Like what?- mouthed the little match boy........ Like tram car stuff - whispered his friend........... Heartbeats went by. Finally the new kid slowly reached out. He put his fingers under the edge of the bench. It was heavy..... Help me - he said......... The little match boy lifted too. The dog kept right on growling. The hinge connecting the leather covered board to the wall went 'pop' and the seat flew up. A gnarled old man looked up at them through one good eye, the other sealed shut by hard, shiny, scar tissue. The boys stood frozen to the spot. Napoleon started barking. And the wild-haired ogre sprang to life, frantically searching through his pockets. Then he found it. He found the knife. He held it, a big country dagger like hill folk use to skin rabbits. The boys screamed. They raced up front to the door, desperate to force it open, but the frozen metal track wouldn't budge. Napoleon lunged at the nightmare figure. She bit down on his dirty, sour wrist. But he just picked her up and threw her against the back of the car, where she whimpered and crawled under a seat. The old man liked that. He grinned an evil grin. Then he turned around and limped up the aisle, all the while muttering curses in a language all his own.
And the helpless children crouched down on the floor and waited.....
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