Not finding Dawn in the shed, Kara takes her time getting off the creaky cot and packing up her belongings. She stops at the sight of folded fabric on a shelf that has a note with her name on it taped to the side. Still groggy from a restless night, it takes the girl a minute to realize that she has been given clean clothes. Curious and excited, she strips off her dirt-covered garments and uses a bucket of water in the corner to wash herself. Haphazardly drying herself off, Kara puts on the jeans, green t-shirt, and sandals. She stops when she gets to the bottom of the pile and finds a pair of underwear, which she considers stuffing into her bag. Feeling foolish for the thought, she finishes getting dressed and grabs her baseball cap off a box. After a final check of the shed, the girl hurries into the canvas tunnel, which is shaking due to a mild breeze. Spots of light are all over the pathway and she can hear the faint jingling of the charms, which are tiny shadows against the colorful walls.
The smell of food urges Kara forward, but she stops at the door when she remembers that Dawn may already be inside. She remembers how she stormed off and how the marionettes tried to explain that it was a misunderstanding. The fact that the woman never came back into the store fills her with worry and anger. It is a painful mix of emotions that nearly drive her back into the shed where she knows she can be alone. The rumble of her stomach is too much for her to ignore, so she stares at the ground before pushing the door open. A chorus of clacking limbs greets her and she glances up long enough to see that the aisles have been moved around to make room for a table. Pancakes and bacon have been put on a platter with a bottle of maple syrup on each side. There are no drinks, but Kara knows that she can take something from the coolers. It is a simple feast with a delicious smell that coaxes her into the room. Not seeing Dawn, she moves a little faster in the hopes of getting a few bites before having to face her friend. The girl is halfway to the table when someone coughs behind her and she freezes. Slowly turning around, she sees that the woman has been leaning on the wall next to the door, her hand gripping the knob and a red bump on her forehead.
“So, I owe you an apology,” Dawn says, ignoring the fact that she was hit in the head by the girl’s excited entrance. Sticking a piece of bacon in her mouth, she walks to the table and takes a seat. “It was wrong of me to get upset with you. With everything you have gone through, it makes sense to shrug off death so quickly. I have trouble understanding that because I haven’t been in existence for that long. While I have the body and mind of an adult, you have much more experience with this world. So, I’m sorry for what happened.”
“Well, I shouldn’t have gotten upset either,” Kara admits as she sits down. Not wanting to ruin her new clothes, she puts her satchel in her lap and tucks a cloth napkin into her shirt. “I have seen a lot of people cry even these days. So, there are those who grieve and mourn like you want them to. I always thought they were wasting their time. You never know if the thing that killed a loved one is going to come back for you. I’ve seen beasts attack funerals and corpses explode. Maybe I let it get to me too much, but I’m still alive. If being cold and not mourning has given me an edge then I’ll stick to it.”
“You aren’t nearly as cold as you think,” the woman points out. Watching the marionettes move about the store, she picks her words carefully to avoid another fight. “I mean, you were willing to fight for me. You could have let me fend for myself when we were escaping Ian with the Grand Caravan. Instead, you got the door open and fought those doctors, who were fine with leaving me outside. That was a sacrifice, which cold people don’t make. Again, I thank you for doing that.”
Neatly cutting a pancake, the girl eyes the maple syrup that she has only seen used as bait for humans in the wild. “You would have done the same for me, but that’s what you’re like. I hope you don’t change. Being a caring person is why I like traveling with you. You make me feel warm and comfy like my parents. Everyone else is like me where they’ll save themselves before helping another. You help others, so I want to return the favor. Do you think you’ll always be like this?”
“That’s a difficult question,” Dawn nervously replies. Seeing the cashier marionette reflected in a cooler’s glass door, she takes a sip of water and tries to relax. “You see, I can’t even be certain how long I will exist. Contrary to how I move and look, I’m not really a human being. I’m not that different than the giant beasts that prowled my forest. All of us were created from the mind of monsters and released into the world. That also means I’m technically younger than you, which is why I still have so much naivety. Never leaving my forest meant that I didn’t know what was going on out here. So, I think I have to follow your lead when it comes to choosing our path and how I react to death. The last thing I want to do is let my emotions get you killed. Where should we go?”
“There’s a camouflaged hatch in the shed’s roof that opens to the ground.”
“I was told nobody has ever found it.”
“There was a ball in there and I was throwing it around.”
“It made a different sound when it hit that part . . . and I may have broken a window.”
“So, shall we eat, pack, and head out?”
“There’s no rush.”