I backed up a semi-paralytic step or two so the door wouldn’t bang into me as Cthulhu squelched out.
The door opened.
. . . About an inch, squealed like a trophy wife at the sight of a diamond bigger than her head, and stuck. Cthulhu, still invisible behind it, gave it another shove and it opened another inch. Maybe an inch and a half.
The suspense was going to kill me before Cthulhu had the chance.
A third wallop from the far side that made it shudder—hey, that’s my floor you’re destroying, even if you are a dark noisome thing from the immemorial depths—and the corner of the door clawed a fresh mark in the floor and flew open. . . .
Not Cthulhu. A monstrous metal robot thing with . . .
It was a dwarf, carrying a metal stepladder. He was wearing jeans and a workbelt and his hands and face were smeared with dusty grime from the cellar. He was about four and a half feet tall with dark curly hair and he was as startled to see me as I was to see him. Possibly he wasn’t expecting an elder thing from beyond the stars however, and was therefore less profoundly relieved than I was, but he was still clearly startled. He stopped where he caught sight of me, at the top of the stairs.
The dwarf regained his composure first. He said, “Sorry—are you looking for something?”
“Er,” I answered, and was horribly embarrassed to discover that my voice was wobbly. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Er. I’m—er—waiting for Hayley. The realtor who’s showing me this house. She’s out in front on her phone. She told me”—I was embarrassed all over again at the way I sounded, like a little kid insisting she has permission to rollerskate in the living room—“it was okay if I went in and looked around.”
“Oh!” The light went on. “Oh, I’m sorry—you’re the new renter, are you?”
Blast and hurricanes. Gossip doesn’t half travel fast, does it? I haven’t said I’m renting it yet. Not out loud, anyway. “Er,” I said again. Since I was clearly on a roll doing the intelligent response thing I went on: “Well, that’s the plan. Sort of. I guess.” I hesitated. He might be a little vertically challenged but there was nothing meek or self-effacing about the look in his black eyes. I noticed he had long thick curly eyelashes. Gelasio had long thick curly eyelashes. Stop that. I plunged on: “I’m from the city, and I—er—decided I wanted to live in Cold Valley, but I’m not sure what I’m looking for.” I looked around. Table. Window. Sunlight. A frond of something tapped against the glass. Triffids. “This house is bigger than I had in mind, but I want to get a dog, and the other house Hayley offered doesn’t allow pets.” We would pass over in silence the mauve siding, the yard-free house, and the one with the whooshing pine trees. I had my mouth open to say the next stupid thing and thought, you’re babbling. Shut up.
The dwarf had narrowed his large black curly-lashed eyes thoughtfully while I was talking and seemed to be giving me some kind of careful once-over. This did not add to my sense of security and having-a-clue-ness. “Well, you’ll do, I expect,” he said, and while I was thinking what the hell?, he stepped out into the hallway and set down the ladder and a toolbox I hadn’t noticed he was carrying. “Yep—it’s big enough, true that. Plenty of room for dogs. You say you’re from the city—you sure you’ll like living up here? Gets mighty quiet, this place.” He moved toward me and I cringed out of the way as if he were waving a bad-tempered enchanted sword. (Flowerhair had got in trouble more than once when Doomblade recognised an old enemy from one of its previous, more heroic, bearers.) But he was only heading for the kitchen sink. He hooked a stepstool I also hadn’t noticed (I know authors are supposed to be observant. It had been a hard few weeks) out from under the table with one foot, climbed up on it, and began to wash his hands. There was soap in the soap dish and a dingy-looking towel hanging on a hook. More basic furnishings. There would be a quarter of a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom and a disintegrating can of Comet under the sink.
Yeah, I thought. Mighty quiet. And there are all those crickets. And things. Yeep. Okay, this is why I’m getting a dog. If there are funny noises it’s the dog. Out loud I said: “Yeah. I know. Theoretically. I’ve never lived in the country. But it’s why I want a dog.” I suddenly got unparalytic enough to think: Wait a minute. Who is this guy? What is he doing in my cellar? (Oops—there’s that ‘my’ word again.) And washing his hands in my sink? And keeping his stepstool under my table? Well, the landlord’s table. Where was Hayley? Maybe Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu had got her. With the dwarf at the sink I had a clear run for the front door, at least if I didn’t mind vaulting over a toolbox. . . .
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