New Thing, aka KES, 12
Oh, McFarquhar, get a grip. Somebody lets their dog wander around loose. They’re not supposed to, but it’s the sort of thing that happens in the boonies. Get used to it. You live in the boonies now.
Maybe it’s a stray. Maybe it’s lost and lonely . . .
Maybe they put something in the Golden Tippy Whatsit. I decided the Friendly Campfire was a good place for me after all. I could go to bed early and read something, something comforting, the way I’d done when I was a kid, when the funny shadow flapping across my window wasn’t Mrs Whortleberry’s laundry, strung illegally from the fire escape, but a nightgaunt looking for a tender young victim. My Diana Wynne Jones books, many times proved nightgaunt repellers, were near the top of that carton . . . supposing I could find the right carton.
I looked over my shoulder kind of a lot as I walked slowly back to the main road and (successfully) turned in the right direction for the Friendly Campfire. The sound of my All Stars slapping the pavement was eerily loud (also I have big feet). The sky was so clear that in spite of the (feeble) streetlights you could see the great smudge of the Milky Way. That was pretty cool. Maybe I’d like living in the boonies and having the Milky Way for a neighbor. Maybe a great-great-aunt I’d never heard of would die and leave me a gazillion dollars and I could move back to my city.
I stared at the back of the van for a minute. There was no way I was going to find the right carton in the dark, and if I took too much stuff out I might not get it all back in again. I climbed the steps to cabin seven and said goodnight to my rose-bush. I turned around and looked back down the street I’d just come down. . . .
And there was the low—no, wait a minute, not so low—four-legged black shadow, not trotting, but standing still. Standing still as if looking in this direction, near the entrance to the motel’s parking lot. There might have been a raised tail. There might have been pricked ears. There might have been the glitter of eyes.
I might have been losing my mind.
I let myself somewhat hastily into cabin seven and turned the radio on to drown out the trees and the crickets and the pitter-patter of trotting shadow feet. After an ill-spent youth listening to Led Zep and Nine Inch Nails I’d morphed embarrassingly into a classical nut. On Gelasio’s money we’d had a season subscription to the Metropolitan Opera. On the Friendly Campfire’s radio I could get exactly two stations: the one that played Shrieking Monster Guitar Death and the one that played Turgid Gelatinous Maudlin Swoon. I almost preferred the crickets.
I looked at the silent television and shuddered. I hadn’t watched naked, unfiltered TV in years. I had learned to wait for the boxed DVD set—and watched it on my laptop.
In desperation I ran a bath. The Friendly Campfire went up in my estimation for the scalding hotness of its hot water, and the sound of the water drowned out all other sounds for several minutes. I got in with a lot of superfluous splashing plus all eight verses of Early One Morning (I sing: sue me) and then . . . fell asleep. Being boiled alive tends to give you vivid dreams. I was apparently still worrying about Flowerhair’s skirmish with the attack mushrooms, because an origin story of her opponents assembled itself:
In Ancient Times, there ruled a Demon Wizard Overlord so thoroughly evil that very atoms of his body were evil. (Wait, said the Supreme Editor, who exists to make my life that of never-ending clash and combat, are there atoms in a fantasy? Depends on your fantasy, the Hack Writer replied. Shut up.) In an Epic Battle, he was vanquished by the Twelve Heroes. They divided him up (note: eww) and journeyed to the most distant Twelve Corners of the Earth (twelve-book deal!) to bury the pieces and purify the ground with their own mortal blood. Except one guy who fell off his horse and hit his head on a rock on the way to his Corner deep in the Deep Forest. His sister took up his sword and completed the task but wasn’t privy to the purifying the ground bit and wasn’t a Hero in any case. Unknowingly she carries evil atoms away from the site on her hands. And on the sword.
Generations pass, a giant tree has grown up at the site, drawing the evil atoms (Supreme Editor clears her throat. Hack Writer says hastily: Particles. How about particles?) up from the ground. It eventually dies and from the rotting log grow . . . *
I woke up. The water was cooling. I can use that, I thought. The sister has done the world a favor, although there will be a lot of whining when the news of the atoms/particles gets out, because being protected by a bunch of self-sacrificing Heroes is bad for your character. And so the sister will found a School of Heroines, who are much more practical than Heroes, to deal with the new threat. . . .
* * *
* With thanks to Blogmom for the attack mushroom creation story. —ed.
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