The Voice of Doom was shrieking something indecipherable but clearly relating to the end of the world in my ear. I shot awake and . . . nearly fell out of the bed I was in. Wha’? Where? Huh? Ugh.
I located the source of the shrieking and hammered it till it shut up. Okay. Regroup. I stared (blurrily—where were my glasses? Okay, there. Whew. Put glasses on. Let’s try this looking thing again) at the wall opposite, which was a sort of mottled brown with small square objects suspended on it. These looked way too much like food squashed under glass and then inexplicably framed. The frames looked like they were from the ‘sale’ bin of the local do-it-yourself store. I like ratatouille, but not on the wall. A bowl of pasta dropped on the floor looked a lot like the one on the left. . . . Don’t ask me how I know this. . . . Oh gods, I’ve been kidnapped by Flowerhair’s wizard and imprisoned underground, and the wall decorations are to drive me mad with hunger. I suppose after a few days vertical pasta will work as well as anything, but a giant poster of chocolate would be faster.
I glanced toward the window which, mercifully, appeared to be letting sunlight in through the half-sheer curtains—around the giant toad monster squatting malevolently on the middle of the sill. The silhouette of the toad monster looked vaguely familiar. . . .
Oh. It’s a Friendly Campfire. Of course. I knew that.
And I want breakfast at Eats before I meet Hayley at ten. Which means I have to walk that far before my first cup of tea (with the Eatsmobile in prospect, I was not going to essay the Friendly Campfire’s tea bags). New life, new challenges. Hey.
I made it. I didn’t get lost or anything. I fell, to the extent that you can fall up, onto the first empty stool, and propped myself on the counter. A sympathetic-looking waitress materialised in front of me. “How do you like your caffeine?” she said.
“Tea,” I croaked.
“Special breakfast blend for that turbo-charged start to the day?” said the waitress.
“Two cup, four cup or six cup pot?”
I wavered. “Four,” I said regretfully. I had the rest of the day to get through, and I’d already concluded that eighteen cups a day was too many. “You’ll warm the pot first, won’t you?”
“Of course,” she said. Her nameplate said Bridget. Bridget, Mistress of Tea.
She brought teapot, mug, sugar and milk on a little round tin tray. The tray had purple irises on it. The teapot had robins on it. The mug had Pre-Raphaelite damsels on it. The sugar bowl had red and pink polka dots. The pottery milk jug was a sheeny, crackly teal blue. The mug was hot too. Can you fall in love with a restaurant? Bridget returned ten seconds later with a tea cosy. The tea cosy had a clipper ship on it with an impressive bow wave. It was official: I was in love with this restaurant. I also had the blueberry spelt pancakes with maple syrup and bacon. If any evil magicians imprisoned me underground after last night’s dinner and today’s breakfast, I’d survive a very long time.
I waddled out the door, back down Bradbury, and paused at the corner of Schmitz Street. It was a sunny, clear day, and the blue of the sky extended all the way down to the horizon in a way you don’t see in the middle of a city, even from your penthouse roof. I looked around carefully, but all the shadows seemed to be accounted for: buildings, stop signs, parking meters, people, including one being walked by her dog. The dog came lunging up to me, dragging her person: “Oh, Flossie,” said the person, in accents of resignation and despair. I leaned down with difficulty over my stomach as Flossie attempted to bound up my leg, frantically wagging her tail and uttering little yips of, My long-lost best friend! At last I have found you! Terriers all have bedsprings where most other dogs have legs. The person eventually dragged her away, no doubt to gladden the hearts and muddy the jeans of other long-lost best friends. The Silent Wonder Dog would be friendly but reserved with everyone but me. I of course would be the pinnacle of all aspiration, to the Silent Wonder Dog, who would behave accordingly.
I turned down Schmitz and stopped in front of Homeric Homes. I took a deep breath. I opened the door, which went, ding! There were three desks and an open door into another office at the back. There was a young blond woman who had been a cheerleader up until very recently, or perhaps still was in her spare time, at the first desk, standing up and stuffing papers into a red canvas briefcase. She looked up at the ding! and smiled at me. Nervously, I thought. Probably because I wanted to live in Cold Valley. “Are you Kes?” she said. I nodded, wondering if I could talk to a cheerleader about Yog-Sothoth and the nightgaunt-shaped stain in the bedroom ceiling.
“I’m Hayley,” she said, and held out her hand.
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