Wednesday, towards sunset
Twelve-year-old Cyrus Wentworth licked his sweat-salt lips as he climbed atop Old Noah, his family's one-eared, one-eyed mule. Today would be Cyrus' last ride to pick up his nine-year-old brother, Jimmy, from Miss Eponna's school. Come the morrow, the Wentworths would pull up stakes and move to Cincinnati so Jimmy could get better schooling.
Cyrus shook his head. Who needed more learning than Miss Eponna provided here in Dryton? Why, she had even started Jimmy on something called "algebra" that struck Cyrus as pure old magic. What's more, Jimmy could already read books that nobody besides him and Miss Eponna saw beans nor bacon in.
A strange wagon was parked outside of town. Its blood-red walls and the black wings carved into its sides just felt wrong. Dusty gray words sprawled across the wagon read "Professor Corax' Traveling Medicine Show" and "See the Mysterious Thingwing." A black-feathered, child-sized maybe-bird crouched inside a square-framed cage that hung from the wagon. The critter sneered behind wings that ended in shriveled hands. Cyrus shook his head. Something with a beak couldn't have an expression like that. Only it did.
"I am Professor Sableton Augustus Corax," a voice from behind him croaked. "The outlay for admission to observe the Thingwing, the mysterious bird-man of the Andean peaks, is one nickel."
Cyrus turned. A humped-over man with a curved-beak nose studied him with coal-lump eyes. The stranger's scarred face look like he shaved with barbed wire. A carved bone of some huge beast replaced most of Corax' right leg. The Professor wore an undertaker's coat and a tall hat that stuck to his bald head like a hungry tick.
Cyrus frowned. Who would buy medicine from someone so sick-looking? "Ain't got no nickel."
Corax wrinkled his brow as though listening to something Cyrus couldn't hear. "No, this one won't do, but one near him might," Corax muttered. "Well, young sir," he said, his voice resuming its medicine show tone, "we will excuse, on this singular occasion, the lapse in protocol."
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