Lamp-Wick was the laziest boy in the school and the biggest mischief-maker, but Pinocchio loved him dearly.
That day, he went straight to his friend’s house to invite him to the party, but Lamp-Wick was not at home. He went a second time, and again a third, but still without success.
Where could he be? Pinocchio searched here and there and everywhere, and finally discovered him hiding near a farmer’s wagon.
“What are you doing there?” asked Pinocchio, running up to him.
“I am waiting for midnight to strike to go—”
“Far, far away!”
“And I have gone to your house three times to look for you!”
“What did you want from me?”
“Haven’t you heard the news? Don’t you know what good luck is mine?”
“What is it?”
“Tomorrow I end my days as a Marionette and become a boy, like you and all my other friends.”
“May it bring you luck!”
“Shall I see you at my party tomorrow?”
“But I’m telling you that I go tonight.”
“At what time?”
“And where are you going?”
“To a real country—the best in the world—a wonderful place!”
“What is it called?”
“It is called the Land of Toys. Why don’t you come, too?”
“I? Oh, no!”
“You are making a big mistake, Pinocchio. Believe me, if you don’t come, you’ll be sorry. Where can you find a place that will agree better with you and me? No schools, no teachers, no books! In that blessed place there is no such thing as study. Here, it is only on Saturdays that we have no school. In the Land of Toys, every day, except Sunday, is a Saturday. Vacation begins on the first of January and ends on the last day of December. That is the place for me! All countries should be like it! How happy we should all be!”
“But how does one spend the day in the Land of Toys?”
“Days are spent in play and enjoyment from morn till night. At night one goes to bed, and next morning, the good times begin all over again. What do you think of it?”
“H’m—!” said Pinocchio, nodding his wooden head, as if to say, “It’s the kind of life which would agree with me perfectly.”
“Do you want to go with me, then? Yes or no? You must make up your mind.”
“No, no, and again no! I have promised my kind Fairy to become a good boy, and I want to keep my word. Just see: The sun is setting and I must leave you and run. Good-by and good luck to you!”
“Where are you going in such a hurry?”
“Home. My good Fairy wants me to return home before night.”
“Wait two minutes more.”
“It’s too late!”
“Only two minutes.”
“And if the Fairy scolds me?”
“Let her scold. After she gets tired, she will stop,” said Lamp-Wick.
“Are you going alone or with others?”
“Alone? There will be more than a hundred of us!”
“Will you walk?”
“At midnight the wagon passes here that is to take us within the boundaries of that marvelous country.”
“How I wish midnight would strike!”
“To see you all set out together.”
“Stay here a while longer and you will see us!”
“No, no. I want to return home.”
“Wait two more minutes.”
“I have waited too long as it is. The Fairy will be worried.”
“Poor Fairy! Is she afraid the bats will eat you up?”
“Listen, Lamp-Wick,” said the Marionette, “are you really sure that there are no schools in the Land of Toys?” “Not even the shadow of one.”
“Not even one teacher?”
“And one does not have to study?”
“Never, never, never!”
“What a great land!” said Pinocchio, feeling his mouth water. “What a beautiful land! I have never been there, but I can well imagine it.”
“Why don’t you come, too?”
“It is useless for you to tempt me! I told you I promised my good Fairy to behave myself, and I am going to keep my word.”
“Good-by, then, and remember me to the grammar schools, to the high schools, and even to the colleges if you meet them on the way.”
“Good-by, Lamp-Wick. Have a pleasant trip, enjoy yourself, and remember your friends once in a while.”
With these words, the Marionette started on his way home. Turning once more to his friend, he asked him:
“But are you sure that, in that country, each week is composed of six Saturdays and one Sunday?”
“And that vacation begins on the first of January and ends on the thirty-first of December?”
“Very, very sure!”
“What a great country!” repeated Pinocchio, puzzled as to what to do.
Then, in sudden determination, he said hurriedly:
“Good-by for the last time, and good luck.”
“How soon will you go?”
“Within two hours.”
“What a pity! If it were only one hour, I might wait for you.”
“And the Fairy?”
“By this time I’m late, and one hour more or less makes very little difference.”
“Poor Pinocchio! And if the Fairy scolds you?”
“Oh, I’ll let her scold. After she gets tired, she will stop.”
In the meantime, the night became darker and darker. All at once in the distance a small light flickered. A queer sound could be heard, soft as a little bell, and faint and muffled like the buzz of a far-away mosquito.
“There it is!” cried Lamp-Wick, jumping to his feet.
“What?” whispered Pinocchio.
“The wagon which is coming to get me. For the last time, are you coming or not?”
“But is it really true that in that country boys never have to study?”
“Never, never, never!”
“What a wonderful, beautiful, marvelous country! Oh—h—h!!”
Finally the wagon arrived. It made no noise, for its wheels were bound with straw and rags.
It was drawn by twelve pair of donkeys, all of the same size, but all of different color. Some were gray, others white, and still others a mixture of brown and black. Here and there were a few with large yellow and blue stripes.
The strangest thing of all was that those twenty-four donkeys, instead of being iron-shod like any other beast of burden, had on their feet laced shoes made of leather, just like the ones boys wear.
And the driver of the wagon?
Imagine to yourselves a little, fat man, much wider than he was long, round and shiny as a ball of butter, with a face beaming like an apple, a little mouth that always smiled, and a voice small and wheedling like that of a cat begging for food.
No sooner did any boy see him than he fell in love with him, and nothing satisfied him but to be allowed to ride in his wagon to that lovely place called the Land of Toys.
In fact the wagon was so closely packed with boys of all ages that it looked like a box of sardines. They were uncomfortable, they were piled one on top of the other, they could hardly breathe; yet not one word of complaint was heard. The thought that in a few hours they would reach a country where there were no schools, no books, no teachers, made these boys so happy that they felt neither hunger, nor thirst, nor sleep, nor discomfort.
No sooner had the wagon stopped than the little fat man turned to Lamp-Wick. With bows and smiles, he asked in a wheedling tone:
“Tell me, my fine boy, do you also want to come to my wonderful country?”
“Indeed I do.”
“But I warn you, my little dear, there’s no more room in the wagon. It is full.”
“Never mind,” answered Lamp-Wick. “If there’s no room inside, I can sit on the top of the coach.”
And with one leap, he perched himself there.
“What about you, my love?” asked the Little Man, turning politely to Pinocchio. “What are you going to do? Will you come with us, or do you stay here?”
“Come with us and we’ll always be happy,” shouted the one hundred and more boys in the wagon, all together. “And if I go with you, what will my good Fairy say?” asked the Marionette, who was beginning to waver and weaken in his good resolutions.
“Don’t worry so much. Only think that we are going to a land where we shall be allowed to make all the racket we like from morning till night.”
Pinocchio did not answer, but sighed deeply once—twice—a third time. Finally, he said:
“Make room for me. I want to go, too!”
It was going to be fine. Ash was her kind. Besides, she didn’t have anything worth stealing this time. And if there was any chance of finding Joseph… “Where are we going?”
“Down to the beach.” Ash glanced over her shoulder. “There’s something down there I have to show you.” Her stride was long, her arms swinging feely as they walked.
“So what do you do here?” Pine tried to be polite. Maybe if she knew more about her, she wouldn’t be as nervous.
“This and that. Mostly, I work for Paloma, helping other synadroids.” They passed through the scrub brush that crested the slope onto the beach.
“Helping them? To do what?”
“Escape, of course.” Her expression turned incredulous. “You mean you don’t know?”
“Know what?” Had she missed something?
Ash stopped and put her hands on her hips. “Are you sure you know Paloma?”
“Of course I do. I just don’t—” Maybe there were two Palomas and this was a misunderstanding. But Ash had mentioned Joseph.
“Maybe she just didn’t trust you.” Ash sniffed and kept walking.
That stung. “But she lent me her boat.”
“And look what happened.” At the crestfallen expression on Pine’s face, Ash relented. “I’m only teasing you. Paloma never told you because she wanted to be sure she could trust you. That’s where I come in—I’m the one who gets to tell you.”
“Tell me what?” Annoyance bit at her. What did this have to do with Joseph? James and Blue wouldn’t be gone much longer. And if she wasn’t there when they got back, James would have a conniption.
Ash sensed her irritation. “Okay, sit.” She flopped down a few yards from the water’s edge and patted the patch of sand next to her. She took a microcomm out of her pocket. “It’s almost time.”
This time, Pine refused to ask. She crossed her arms over her chest and glared out to sea.
“Okay, fine. You’re not much fun, are you?” She leaned back on her palms. “Paloma helps secrete sentient androids like you and me away from here.”
Pine gawked down at her. “She does what?” Harbormaster Paloma was a synadroid smuggler? That was news to her. She’d never given anything away when Pine was with her.
“You heard me. Now sit down. You’ll draw attention to us if you stand there with your mouth hanging open like that.”
Pine sat and scanned the beach around them. Save for themselves, it was empty. “Why aren’t there guards out here? I thought this island was supposed to be a closely guarded secret?”
Ash smirked. “They believe their barrier is impenetrable. That no one can get within thirty miles without them knowing.”
“And can they?”
Ash smiled. “Of course. The right people, anyway.”
Pine’s annoyance flared again. “Now tell me about Paloma. And what do you know about Joseph? What did you drag me down here for?” She would give Ash two minutes then she was leaving, regardless of what the synadroid had to say.
Ash gave a dramatic sigh. “Which do you want to know about first? Which one’s more important to you?”
Pine didn’t miss the sidelong look Ash gave her. This was not an innocent question. She decided to be truthful. “Joseph.”
“His boat was capsized in that storm. There was marks on it, huge gouges. She believes he was eaten by a shark.”
The reverberation of the ocean rushed into Pine’s ears, deafening even the breaking of her heart. The dream swallowed her again, this time lucid and agonizing without the protective fog of sleep. She was choking. Joseph was dead, and it would drown her. He’d promised he wouldn’t leave her. A frail human’s final betrayal.
“Pine? Pine, are you all right?”
Pine looked up into Ash’s concerned face. When did I lie down? “Joseph’s dead.” She needed to say it out loud.
“I know, Pine. And I’m sorry. I truly am.” To her credit, she did look it.
“But if Paloma knew, why didn’t she tell us? Why let us take the boat?” None of what Ash was saying made any sense.
“She was helping you escape.”
“Escape? Why would I need to escape?”
“Because Joseph is dead. What do you think will happen to you?”
“I— James would help me. I know he would.” Out of loyalty to Joseph’s memory, if nothing else. Wouldn’t he?
“The man from the market? Are you sure about that? Are you willing to stake your life on it?”
“Think about it. On the same day you get out of prison, Joseph goes missing. Not everyone will think it’s a coincidence.”
“But he was on his way to come get me.” Surely no one would think she’d done anything to him. How could they?
“Maybe, maybe not. Who knows what people will believe? I mean, you have only one assault on your record, right?”
“Yes, but I—”
“And then you steal a boat and disappear…”
“But he was my father.”
“So what? You think you can bat those doe eyes at a jury and they’ll believe you? Do you think you’d even get a jury? Or a trial?” Ash sneered, an ugly, human curl of her lip. “You know how nervous we make people. And I know you’ve heard the stories out there about us.”
Pine did know, because James was one of those people. The very thing he’d worried about happening was exactly what people might believe had happened.
“And this James, how far do you think he’s willing to go to defend you?”
They’d only just stopped fighting each other, and at the end of the day, she was still a synadroid, and always would be.
Ash pressed her advantage. “And even if you do manage to prove your innocence, how long do you think your relationship—”
“We’re not in a relationship,” Pine protested.
“Not yet. But it’s obvious you feel something for him. Do you actually think he feels anything for you? A synadroid? Will he fix you when you break down? Or send you to the junkyard? Or here?” She gestured carelessly over her shoulder toward the town. “The law doesn’t care, so he can just toss you out the minute he grows tired of you.
She paused and gave Pine an apologetic half-smile. “I’m sorry, Pine. I’m not trying to hurt you. But I think you’ve forgotten your place among these humans. For now, they treat you like a person, but for how long? What if they don’t like the way you react to something? Don’t forget who the enemy is.”
“Why are you doing this?” The barrage of missiles had hit home. James wasn’t her enemy, not any more. But if Ash had wanted to force Pine to shine a light on all her doubts, she was doing a fantastic job.
“Because I want you to understand how precarious your situation is, Pine. I’m offering you a way out. An escape to a safe place. But if you can tell me, honestly, if you are one hundred percent confident that this James has your best interests at heart, that he will always protect you, then I’ll go now, and I’ll never contact you again.”
Pine could’ve lied. But the truth seemed obvious now. Ash was right. She couldn’t trust James with her future. The way he felt about synadroids, the way his world saw her…that couldn’t change overnight. And it was her life at stake. “I can’t.”
Ash nodded, satisfied. “Then come with me, Pine.”
“But where? Where are you going?” The only place Pine wanted to go was somewhere quiet, where she could think everything through. She just needed a bit of time to digest everything Ash had said, to decide what she wanted to do.
“It’s another island, called Bonehearth. Synadroids are free there, Pine. To live however they want. We’ll have all the rights of citizens, because we are the citizens.”
“Have you ever been there?” Pine had never heard of Bonehearth.
“No, but that doesn’t matter. It’s not just an island for us, you see. It’s a movement. Toward our freedom. I’ve helped nearly two dozen synadroids get there, and now it’s finally my turn.” She pulled the device out of her pocket and checked it again. “Any minute now, the boat will be here. Are you coming?”
“I— I need to talk to James first. I need to tell him about Joseph.” She would be able to read her future in his reaction.
Ash snorted. “Pine, of course he’s going to tell you what you want to hear. He’s—”
Two shapes converged on Ash and Pine at the same time—the first a speedboat, bearing down on the island, the second a man barreling down to the beach, screaming Ash’s name and a command that sounded like a safe word.
But Ash didn’t freeze; she scrambled to her feet. “Luckily, Paloma thought of everything.” She shoved Pine’s shoulder. “We have to go, now.”
But the man was on them long before the boat reached the shore.
He pushed Pine aside and grabbed Ash’s arm. The boat was only a few hundred yards away now and gaining. A man stood on the bow, a shotgun cradled in his arms.
Ash and the man grappled with each other, slamming into Pine and knocking her to her knees in the sand. The man was much larger than both of them, thickly muscled, and angry. Pine had never seen anyone in such a rage. He twisted Ash’s arm behind her back and forced her onto her knees next to Pine.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he roared, his breath fetid with the scent of alcohol and something sweet.
“Away from you,” Ash shrieked.
A single shot rang out from the ocean. The man froze, bewilderment passing over his face as he looked down. A dark crimson stain spread just underneath his sternum, soaking into the grease-stained t-shirt. He dropped to his knees and the three of them stared at each other as the sand beaded with blood.
Ash was the first to recover. “Pine, come on. Now. We have to get to the boat. This is our only chance.”
“But we have to help him— And James. I have to—” She stared at the body of the man, now facedown in the sand. In the distance, an alarm sounded.
“This man is a terrible person, Pine. You can’t imagine what he did to me. If you don’t come now, the same thing might happen to you. You can’t be sure that it won’t.”
No. I can’t. The truth filled her lungs, threatening to crush her from the inside. I can’t.
As the boat sped away, Pine gazed back at the rapidly shrinking island. Ash had been right, as had Pine’s own heart—there was no future for her here. There never would be. She would finally have the freedom she’d always wanted. No longer would she be a possession, her fate clutched in someone else’s hand.
So why then did she feel more trapped than ever?