14: Milo And Francesca- The Chestnut Tree- Milo

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Francesca rose to her feet and brushed off her pants. “We’d better get going,” she said. “Best not to tempt fate.” She started out ahead of them, clambering between two rotating vents.

Milo watched Francesca negotiating her way across the rainy rooftop. When they were laughing just before he had found himself enjoying her company and wishing he could talk more with her. She had a pretty and kind face, and her long brown hair brought out the dark punctuation of her eyes, in such a way that when she looked at him it was as if she was looking at nothing else. She had a way of holding your gaze as she spoke, making you feel as if she listened to every word you said.

Jerry followed behind, mumbling to himself and tripping over things in the dark.

“Where are we heading to?” asked Milo.

Francesca looked back and flicked a lock of wet hair out of her face. “Just a little further. Then maybe we can rest a bit.”

Milo peered ahead and saw nothing but more rooftops and dark drops off into the street below. One section took them across a steeply slanted rooftop that forced them to hug the wall and step sideways along a stone ledge. Street lights glowed in the murk below, but no one walked past; all was quiet but for the sound of the rain.

Francesca suddenly disappeared over a rise and when he clambered up after her he found himself looking up at the huge dark form of a tree canopy taking up the entire space between two rooftops. Rain hissed and dripped through its leaves and Milo could make at the swaying of the leaves in the wind. He looked closer and found that it was a chestnut tree, its broad five-lobed leaves hanging heavily with accumulated rain.

Francesca walked toward the tree and stopped in front of it. Milo and Jerry joined her. She reached up under on of the big branches and pulled something. A bell rang, sounding from down below. There was a series of ringing that followed, ending with the clanging of a gong. Francesca glanced back and smiled. “Come on,” she said.

She reached out and pulled herself up onto a branch. She swung herself around and reach up to another branch overhead, which she used to support herself as she stepped along the branch below. When she reached the trunk of the chestnut tree, she turned about and beckoned to Milo and Jerry. “Come on! It’s easy!” she laughed.

Milo and then Jerry followed her example and clambered across the branch to the tree trunk. Francesca was already climbing down, following a route that Milo couldn’t see. He hunkered down and searched for the handholds she had used, saw one and started to lower himself to the branch below.

“And where do you think you’re going?” said an unnaturally high voice right near his head.

Milo looked about wildly, wondering where the voice had come from, nearly letting go of the branch in the process.

“Right here,” said the voice again.

Milo looked up and saw a silhouette sitting on the branch above. It looked a thin man wearing a suit.

“No, I don’t think I am what you think I am,” said the figure.

Milo peered closer and saw what looked like an enormous grasshopper, with a top hat on its head. It tipped its head and bowed.

“Greetings, my name is Winford Pendergrass. Nice to meet you.”

Milo nearly fell off his perch.