New Thing, 6
I did make it to New Iceland in three days—at twilight and completely shattered. The streetlights were winking on (at least New Iceland had streetlights—it might be almost like home except for the total lack of buildings more than two stories tall) as I drove down Sir Alexander Dane Avenue, looking for the Friendly Campfire Motel which should be up here on my right somewhere . . . ah. There it is.
I was already almost driving back out of town again. It was only about five blocks long. And this was the town that people who lived in Cold Valley came to for . . . everything except aspirin, newspapers and milk. Courage, ma brave. I turned into the Friendly Campfire’s parking lot. Reception was a quaint wood-effect cabin on the main road, and the rooms were a series of quaint wood-effect cabins in a kind of semi-circle around the edge of the parking lot. There were trees. I liked trees, in their place, about twenty stories down. These looked like the kind that would probably rustle indiscriminately, and might contain stertorously-breathing crickets that tested the window latches at night. I sighed. I parked.
There was an interesting campfire-effect light in the window of reception. It had a knobby, rectangular, glowing brown lump at the bottom, and a kind of fan of orange-red bars above. They flickered. I stared at them. It had been a long day. I could feel myself becoming hypnotised. I shook my head and pushed through the door. A bell jingled. A perfectly normal-looking human being came through a door behind the counter and smiled at me. “Do you have a reservation?”
“Yes,” I managed. “MacFarquhar.”
The perfectly normal human being looked briefly nonplussed, and opened a giant ledger book. She stared at what she found there. I didn’t ask her how the man who’d answered the phone had spelled my name. I was too tired to cope with such stimulation. “I hope you had a good journey?” she said politely.
“Long,” I said. I looked at my hands. Neither they nor my butt were likely ever to be the same again. Self-drive vans available at the last minute that are big enough to hold a sofa and twenty-five (or thirty) cartons of the miscellaneous rubbish of an ex-life are not necessarily comfortable transport. I thought the springs on this one had probably been old and tired before the fifteen (or so) cartons of books and a rose-bush in a pottery pot had compressed them further. “I’m not used to a lot of driving.”
“You came up from the city?” said the normal person.
“Yes,” I said, not sure ‘the city’ would mean the same thing to her that it did to me. From New Iceland, everything would be the city. Except Cold Valley, of course.
“Do you know how long you will be staying?” said the normal person.
Depends on your crickets, I thought. “A night or two. I guess.”
She nodded. “You can change your mind,” she said. “We aren’t busy this time of year.” She turned the ledger around and offered me a pen. She went kerchung! with my credit card while I scrawled ‘K MacFarquhar’. My handwriting wouldn’t help anyone’s spelling.
“Cabin seven,” she said. She handed me a key. The key chain had a plastic campfire hanging from it. At least it didn’t glow. “Do you need somewhere to have dinner?”
Dinner. There was an idea. “Oh. Yes please.”
“The Eatsmobile is only two blocks away.” She smiled sympathetically. “You wouldn’t have to drive. Everything else is out at the mall. Eats is open for breakfast too.”
“Thanks.” I had an appointment with Hayley at ten o’clock. “Can you tell me where the Homeric Homes office is?”
She looked at me with new interest. I had suddenly become a potential neighbor. I smiled sheepishly. I wasn’t going to tell her I stuck a pin in a map. Or that her front window lighting gave me the whimwhams.
“Yes, of course. Eats is straight down Bradbury Street, at the end of the second block. If you take your first left, onto Schmitz Street, Homeric Homes is almost on the corner.” She hesitated. She was longing to ask more questions. I was too tired to help or hinder her. I stood there like a clueless damsel waiting for a magician to cast a spell on her, unless Flowerhair and Doomblade or the Silent Wonder Dog got there in time. “If you need anything else, please ask,” she said at last.
“Thanks,” I said, and went back outdoors to look for cabin seven. It was easy to spot. It was the one with the campfire flickering in the window.
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