Klukelunnen looked up at the clock. Not yet an hour since Night-shift Louisa came on duty. She didn’t usually need to ‘spend a penny’ so soon. Still, the wise stone misses no opportunity.
As soon as the door closed behind her he threw back his covers, threw his legs around the red fire-stick, manoeuvred it erect between his legs and, nipping tight with his knees, dragged the ribbed wheel over the flint (which, from this position, he couldn’t see). The wheel moved but slowly, and not enough to draw a spark. He tried again, applying more pressure. O Yay, he saw the spark! But … he sniffed. That wasn’t him, he hadn’t gassed. Ah, it was the fire-stick. Daisy had warned him not to press the black metal pad till he was ready to make fire else he’d release all the fuel. He must have caught it.
He tried again.
Wowzah, wowzah! A veritable volcano, fierce in its heat, shot high.
But how-how-how … how to get rid of it? He was afraid if he let go of the red-stick he’d lose control of the fire and … and his hands were beginning to burn. Ouch! He pushed the fire-making contraption away from him, aimed at the floor where it might be safe.
It was safe. As soon as he released that black lever the flame died.
Oops, the door beep-beep-beeped.
He leapt from his bed and across the floor to retrieve the red fire-stick. He shoved it beneath his covers and scrambled back onto his bed. He wasn’t yet beneath his covers when Night-shift Louisa opened the door.
She stopped. Sniffed. Frowned. Then with a shrugged shoulder and a quirked mouth, she retrieved her magazine and sat down. The paper rustled as she flicked to a new page. In less than a sweep of the clock’s long hand, she was fully engrossed.
Klukelunnen reviewed his practice run. What had he learned? That the black metal lever released the gas which fuelled the flame. And that flame wasn’t enough to spark the fire alarm. He needed to create smoke as well. Loads of smoke, that’s what Daisy had said. He looked at his bedding. That should do it. Except the bedding wouldn’t readily take the fire. No, but Louisa’s magazine would. Content he knew what to do, he waited for Louisa’s next trip to the ‘spend-a-pennery’.
The clock’s short arm pointed to between eleven and twelve when Louisa abruptly stood, slapped her magazine on the chair, muttered of ‘spending a penny—again’, and left the room.
Nearly half-past eleven; not exactly twelve o’clock. But better to make his escape now than to leave it late and miss his slot to be picked up.
He hurriedly fetched Louisa’s magazine to place it beside him as he again sat on the edge of his bed, his legs wrapped around the red fire-stick. Ten pairs of miners whacked with their hammers against his chest while slithery somethings squirmed around his throat. He didn’t want to do this. But what if he didn’t? He was certain now this was no ‘Home Office’ anything. It was all a scam pulled together by the professor. Klukelunnen didn’t know what the professor intended to do with him, but he could guess it wouldn’t be nice. The professor was the Usurper’s servitor, sworn against everything in Grandma’s Original Creation, and that included him. So, could Klukelunnen do this, or could he not?
He could. And would. And now!
He dragged the wheel with all his might, firmly depressing the lever while the fire jetted out. But now what?
He needed the magazine to catch the fire. But he needed both hands to hold the lever. Without the lever depressed the gas wouldn’t jet, and without that the flame would fail. He looked from magazine to flame, and up to the clock. The long hand was sweeping, the minutes ticking. How to …? And his fingers were beginning to burn. He tilted the fire-stick. But that didn’t work. The flame gushed out a clear finger-space above the paper. He pulled on the edge of the page and arched it over the flame—not easily done with only one hand and the paper so shiny-slippery. The edge of the paper began to darken. It turned a tea-stain brown. It wrinkled, curled and … yes! It burst into flame.
But time was ticking alone fast. He had to make enough smoke to spark the alarm before Louisa came back.
He wasn’t a brainless gnole; he knew if he piled his bedding atop the flame the fire would putter out. But if he held his duvet above the flame … so the flame, unable to escape, licked along it … and if he held it there until the duvet cover began to smoulder, until flames began to peck at the fabric … and then if he lifted it slightly and wafted it. Oh, yes, that was the way to do it.
Smoke billowed out from beneath the duvet. Flames licked along the lead edge of the cover. Time to take his position. As soon as that door bleeped open, he had to run.
He stationed himself beside the door, ready to make his dash.
Drats! The map? Where was it? Oh no! He’d left it under the covers, and those covers now were burning, smouldering, producing smoke that stung his eyes and made them water.
And the alarm hadn’t yet sounded. Why hadn’t it sounded? The door hadn’t yet bleeped open. Why hadn’t it opened? He waited, poised to run.
He heard the soft tumpity-squeak of Night-shift Louisa’s shoes as she returned from the ‘spend-a-pennery’. He heard the sequenced bleeps of the chip-filled lock. He watched as the door cracked open …
The sudden draught caught the smouldering fire and swept it up the walls and across the ceiling. Louisa slammed shut the door before the flames could hit her full frontal.