Before exiting the Portmans’ house, Robert made certain that the refrigerator was nowhere in evidence. Then he hit the ground running, pelting across the street and between two houses. He knew there was a ravine back there somewhere, and he was almost certain that the refrigerator would have to take the long way around to get to him. The trick was to get to the ravine without being spotted.
As he was about to go among some trees behind the houses, he heard the refrigerator screaming at him.
“I see where you’re going, Robert Wilson! You cannot escape me!” Then there was a shrill roar.
Robert dove, and a blast of unearthly chill sailed over him and encased a nearby bush in an icy prison. Robert used his forward momentum to somersault to his feet and kept running. Within seconds, he had reached the ravine. He clambered down it, jumped the narrow creek, and went up the other side. He found himself in the back yard of another row of houses. He ran around to the front and looked for a street sign in order to get his bearings.
But there was no street sign.
Every house on the street was clearly abandoned. Here and there, a window was broken or boarded closed. A screen door banged gently in the wafting breeze. Lawns were knee high. A yellowed newspaper drifted lazily down the sidewalk towards Robert. There was no background hum of traffic. No bird chirped.
Robert made his way into the middle of the street, making a survey of the derelict buildings that surrounded him. “What the hell?” he muttered.
A moment later, Robert heard a faint buzzing sound. It seemed to be coming from all around him. Not knowing which direction to run, Robert could do nothing but wait and see what developed. He didn’t have to wait long. The noise grew steadily louder and was soon recognizable as small motors. Specifically, internal combustion engines.
Then they appeared. From behind eleven different houses all around Robert, eleven go-carts tore through yards, down sidewalks, and over devil strips. They made straight for him from every direction, and he became concerned that they were going to crash into him. But almost as one the drivers slammed on their brakes, screeching to a halt amid smoking tires. They formed a perfect ring around him, engines idling ominously.
Robert could see now that the go-cart drivers were all boys, roughly eleven years old from the looks of them. They were of unidentifiable ethnicity, and somewhat unkempt and dirty. The word “roguish” described them perfectly.
One of their number wore an ornate crown, which should have looked ridiculous but didn’t. The wearer had an unmistakably noble bearing.
As Robert regarded this motley bunch, they regarded him in turn. The only sound for some moments was the grumble of the engines. Then, the boy to the crowned boy’s right spoke.
“We are the riders of the Perpetually Eleven,” he said in a clear voice. “You are a trespasser. You find yourself in the realm, and indeed the presence, of the Go-cart King. State your business here.”