It was dusk by the time Waldo made it back to Marjoram, and the City of Spires had lost its lively bustle. All the windows were shuttered, all the doors bolted. Market stalls were shut up tight, animals all locked in their pens. Not a bird twittered. Not a cat cried. The setting sun threw long, wicked shadows across the empty thoroughfare, and the wind rustling the trees sounded like the rattling of bones.
Waldo shivered. He could feel eyes watching him from every nook and corner, but saw no one. His footsteps echoed down the alleys as though someone were following him.
He made it finally to the docks and went up the ramp of the Merry Mariner, exhausted and desperate. He burst through the front door, ran across the foyer and up the back stairs. There he found his family just as he’d left them: paralyzed, sprawled out on the deck, motionless.
“I’m so sorry!” said Waldo, falling on Mamma’s big bosom. “I tried everything, and I just don’t know what to do anymore!” Past Mamma lay the twins, Fritz and Felix. They didn’t seem so mean anymore—they just looked scared.
Under the table huddled Pappa and Pip, hugging each other. Beyond them was Verona, stock-still, shocked and appalled. “This is all my fault,” he whispered, holding Mamma’s big hand in his. “This is all my fault. I wish…I wish I hadn’t said what I said. I don’t hate you. I…I love you. All of you.” He sniffled and tried his hardest to hold back tears. “And I miss you,” he muttered. “A lot.”
He sighed. Mamma’s face was still frozen in horror and pain. Waldo couldn’t look. He turned away, and his eyes fell upon the broken glass jar and his pistachio-bug shell-press machine, lying on the deck where he’d left them.
Waldo stared at the shell-press machine. He felt the gears in his brain start moving. Two puzzle pieces were here, rubbing against one another, almost fitting…but what?
“Holy Eureka’s ghost,” Waldo gasped. “Of course!”
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