surrounded them as they approached the ice cream truck. In the uncertain light
from a distant streetlight and the multicoloured whirl of the ice cream cone on
top of the truck, it was hard to make out their faces. All three wore black
coveralls with some sort of red symbol on the breast pocket, the same outfit as
Doof’s. One of them might have been a girl.
I’m dreaming, thought Will. This is a dream, so
don’t worry, just go with the flow.
“Blaze, Pyro, and
Ember,” said Doof, pointing to each of them in turn. “This is my
hand?” said Blaze. He pushed his face close to Will’s, close enough that
Will smelled something like hot motor oil and saw a tiny tattoo on the boy’s
cheek. Three points joined at the bottom. A trident, same as the symbol on
me!” Will backed up a couple of steps. “I was just talking to
“Doof! That’s not
his name. He’s Ash.”
“I got a new
name. That’s part of the deal.” Doof was still wearing that goofy grin.
“Okay, Ash, how
about we get your friend a treat? What would you like, Will? Popsicle or ice
cream cone?” Ember was a girl. She had a trident tattoo as well.
Remember, you’re dreaming. “I’ll have an ice cream, please.”
Ember jumped into the
back door of the ice cream truck and appeared in the sales window. “I
recommend Cinnamon Glow. It’s one of our starter flavours. You wouldn’t be able
to handle Sulphur Surprise, never mind a Brimstone Sundae!” She popped a
scoop of bright red ice cream into a black cone. As she handed it to Will, her
sleeve pulled up, revealing an iron bracelet that looked too heavy for her
The ice cream glowed
like a live coal, but tasted cold. As Will swallowed, his sinuses filled up
with hot cinnamon, like he’d just swallowed a handful of red heart-shaped
candies. He shuddered and took another lick. He couldn’t stop.
“Who do you guys
work for?” asked Will.
Blaze, Pyro, and Ember
looked at each other. “The Boss,” said Blaze.
downstairs,” said Pyro.
A sharp snap-crack
sounded nearby. “Heya, heya, kids! Time to pack up! Nothing doing
here.” That buzzing voice again. Blaze, Pyro, and Ember scrambled toward
the truck and the figure that stood near it. It was freakishly tall, probably
because of the two upward-pointing projections on its head.
“I’ve gotta go,
Will.” Doof’s head swivelled back and forth between Will and the ice cream
Will threw the remains
of his ice cream cone on the ground, where it burst into flame and vanished. He
turned to Doof.
“Do you know
where this ice cream truck comes from?”
“Not as much as
coming home and seeing my dog hung up dead.”
“Well, I guess I
won’t be seeing you at school anymore,” said Will.
Doof nodded again,
with a smirk.
“Do you get paid?
Like a real job?”
board,” said Doof. “But that’s not all—”
A sharp snap-crack
“Hey Ash! Time to
go. The Boss is getting impatient. ‘Bye, Will!” Will wasn’t sure who said
what as the three piled into the truck.
coming!” Doof’s voice broke Will’s trance. “Not just room and
board,” said Doof, “They grant wishes! I wished for a dog and—”
He glanced at the truck, whose engine fired up, shooting flames out both
tailpipes. “‘Bye, Will. Maybe I’ll see you again someday.”
Doof held out a hand.
As they shook, Will saw a bracelet just like Ember’s on Doof’s wrist. “C’mon
Gryph!” Doof ran to the truck and jumped in, the dog hot on his heels. The
doors banged shut and the service window slammed down.
The driver stood near
the truck. A pair of glowing red eyes focussed on Will. He felt their heat
moving around his face, exploring it, memorizing it. The figure lifted a hand
and pointed at him. A grin appeared below the eyes. A whip cracked, shooting
purple sparks into the air around it.
A dream, it’s only a dream. But something curled around Will’s ankle, hot
and stinging. He turned and ran until his chest was about to explode and he tripped
The truck rolled down
the road, leaving Will lying there, quivering, alternately hot and cold. That
frenetic music floated back to him, slowly fading into the distance. Lullaby and good night. Did we give you a
fright? We’ve got fire and ice. You don’t have to be nice… The music turned
into a siren. Now the ice cream truck was an ambulance from hell. Its mission
was hurting, not helping. Only those that
Will turned and
shambled in what he hoped was the right direction. It seemed a lot farther than
he remembered. A patrolling policeman spotted him and took him home.
Will’s Mom kept him
home from school the next day His head ached and his stomach roiled queasily.
When he felt well enough to get up, it was almost supper time. Putting on his
socks, he noticed a narrow red line around his left ankle. It tingled when he
His dad was in the
living room. The newspaper he was reading descended a few inches when Will came
in. “Feeling better, son?”
“Ready to tell me
what you were doing last night?”
Will’s dad folded his
newspaper and stood. “Answer me properly. You were with that lowlife kid,
weren’t you? Harold somebody. Am I right?”
Will stared at a
headline. Fire at Shady Grove Trailer
Park. One Man Dead.