With small noses pressed against the side windows, Nurse Maisie drove her clapped out excuse for a car-cum-ambulance down Hope Springs' indistinct main street.
Then on past the clinic where it turned left in front of the impressive former home of the Barret family, now the Town Hall. Finally turning left again down a side road.
This was the first time the members of the Reading Group had been to Hope Springs,
the original destination of the ill-fated adventure that had ended up with them all being captured by the Devil's Own.
Later to be rescued by Dr Tukiko Troy,
the 'Mrs Doctor Lady' who sometimes visited the factory where they worked and who was rumoured among the workforce to either be Joe Spivey's secret daughter or his secret mistress,
depending on who you listened to... and your understanding of what a mistress was.
Whoever she was, the kids liked the young doctor and Finny was hoping they might get to see her now they were in Hope.
At the moment, though, the three orphans who weren't semi-conscious were more interested in the town itself.
Born and raised in the concrete and brick confines of New Flagstaff, the clapboard buildings, little gardens and general all-round grassiness were something strange and new.
At the end of the cul-de-sac they had turned into, their destination became apparent by several people going in and out of a ramshackle and rundown house that looked, to Casper at least,
like the typical haunted house of movie lore. Finny, however, was looking at the people and what they were doing.
It seemed like a lot of stuff was being taken out of the house to be piled in a heap in the garden. Bed frames mainly, but other furniture too, and boxes, lots of boxes.
Some stuff though was being taken into the house.
Most of this coming from the building next door and Finny recognised some of it as being like the machines and medical things she had seen on her infrequent visits to the Union Medical Centre.
All of this too-ing and fro-ing was being organised by a blond lady standing on the roof of a pink car and directing things by pointing a lot.
Their car came to a halt. Nurse Maisie turned in her seat and pinned them with a serious glare.
"You three stay put. Don't even think about getting out of this car until I come back for you."
The nurse's face, and the seriousness of the whole situation since Worms had got sick, cowed Finny, Casper and Onetooth into much meeker versions of their usual selves.
Satisfied she had their obedience; Maisie got out of the car and opened the back door. Outside, everyone stopped what they were doing, even the bossy lady on the car.
Some backed away from the path that led to the old house.
Nurse Maisie lifted the unmoving body of Worms into her arms and gently carried him past the line of whispering onlookers into the building.
Finny and the two boys looked at each other. Everything was starting to get a bit scary.
The people started to leave in twos and threes; except for one man who remained standing outside the front door with his arms folded.
Some of the people looked inside the car, but only a few of them smiled at the three kids sitting on the back seat.
The blond lady did though, and she waved, but Finny saw on her face that even she looked worried.
Then Finny saw the Mrs Doctor Lady come out of the house and jog over to the building where all the medical stuff had come from.
Seeing her cheered Finny up and, inside, Fear slunk off for a little while.
After a few minutes, nurse Maisie came back out.
She handed the man by the door a paper mask that covered his nose and mouth, just like the ones Finny had seen the nurses wear at the medical centre in Flagg.
When Maisie reached the car, she opened the door.
"Right, come on, you three."
Finny Casper and Onetooth slid across the back seat and, one by one, hopped down onto the cracked tarmac.
They stood nervously together by the picket fence, its neglected white paint thin and peeling in harmony with the house itself, and looked around.
There were other houses on the street and here and there a curtain twitched. It still felt strange to the three orphans. Sort of in a town, but not in a town.
It was too open, too much space between the buildings.
Maisie, busy pulling boxes and bags out of the car, noticed them and how they huddled together. She looked around, too; something was spooking them. Nope, nothing.
Then she got it and rolled her eyes. City kids.
"Oi, don't just stand there. Make yourselves useful and help me fetch these supplies in."
The distraction worked and, laden with parcels, the three of them trooped after Maisie back towards the house, like ducklings following Momma.
Inside, the house smelled musty and unused. Finny's nose even picked up the faint but unpleasant aroma of mold somewhere above. It was untidy, too.
Finny guessed that where they stood was probably what had been the living room.
Even though a lot of furniture had been removed, there were still piles of bed frames, mattresses, chairs, tables, and other household stuff stacked carefully all around the walls.
Casper nudged Finny and nodded towards where four beds had been assembled and arranged next to each other along one of the walls.
They had mattresses and sheets, and pillows and each bed had two blankets folded across the bottom. Finny frowned. If these were their beds, then where was Worms?
Nurse Maisie deposited her parcels on top of a long table that took up much of the middle of the room.
Finny, Casper and Onetooth did likewise and then stood and watched as the nurse checked the items off against a list. Once again, Finny felt Casper's elbow in her ribs.
She treated him to a hard stare but took a step forward.
"Please, Miss. Um. Where's Worms?"
Maisie stopped what she was doing, slightly irritated that she had been interrupted, and turned to Finny.
The little girl took half a step back, before correcting herself and crossing her arms across her chest. Finny poked her chin out.
"He's our friend."
The words held defiance.
Hope Spring's head nurse, not known for her good humour or her willingness to put up with silliness... even from her boss, certainly didn't stand for any nonsense from children.
Even if they had come in bleeding or limping or, as in one case, holding their severed fingers in their other hand,
she expected a degree of stoicism while she sorted out whatever it was wrong with them. Parents of said children didn't fare much better.
However, Maisie knew these kids. Once a month she or the doc visited the ammunition factory specifically to check on the employees' wellbeing.
She knew most of their stories, and the orphans often took the little bit of alone time they had with her to let the mask of hard, streetwise gutter-rat,
slip a little and divulge their little dreams and fears. Because of this, Maisie was prepared to cut the kids from the orphanage some slack... just a little, mind. She put down her list.
"He's in the next room. Do you want to see him?" Three untidy heads nodded as one. "Come on then. But be quiet, he's asleep."
Maisie led them out of the living room and down a short passage in the direction of the kitchen. She stopped at a door and opened it quietly.
With a finger to her lips, she beckoned the three kids towards the opening.
Worms was a very small bump under the vast blueness of the hospital blanket.
And, against the stiff whiteness of the pillow, the sallow skin of his face had a deathly sheen that was beaded in sweat.
As they watched, they could see his wet lips twitching, murmuring something that only Worms' fevered mind could hear.
Maisie felt a hand touch hers and looked down. It was the smaller of the two boys. Maisie searched for the name, Scott... something, although she doubted that was what the others called him.
"Miss? Is he going to die?"
The question turned the heads of the other two and Maisie found herself looking down into three concerned, and yet strangely accepting, faces.
"Well, we don't even know for sure what is wrong with him yet, but even if it is what we think it is, then we have medicine for it." She changed the subject. "Is anyone hungry?"
The worried faces quickly turned into eager nods. Maisie quietly closed the door and led Finny and the boys back to the living room.
"Right. How do bacon sandwiches sound?"
Apparently, bacon sandwiches sounded delicious, judging by the chorus of yummies and the exaggerated drooling sounds. Maisie smiled.
"Well, great..." She went over to the table and unfastened one of the parcels, coming back with three glass tubes.
She broke the seal on one of them and pulled out a long stick with a gnarled plastic ball, about the size of a marble, on the end.
"But first, I need to take some samples from you all to make sure you haven't caught what your friend has.
" Finny, Casper and Onetooth looked at each other, and then at the little stick the nurse was holding. Maisie continued to smile.
"Okay then, who wants to be first?"