I signed forty-six dozen pages—no, forty-six hundred dozen—requiring my thumbprint in blood plus a small lock of my hair as collateral or hostage, further promising to enter into indentured servitude for a duration equivalent to thirty-two times the length of the stipulated term plus the value of pi to 1,000,000,000 places applied to the square root of the tower at Rose Manor if I ever fell more than 6.2 hours behind on the rent or failed to maintain fresh offerings on the altar to the unknown goddess, which was probably down around Yggdrasil somewhere. I’d look for it after I moved in. What these offerings were to be was not specified. Perhaps they would come to me in a vision. Contracts. Gah. They’re all alike.
While I was getting my breath back and drinking a cup of tea to replace lost fluids (forty-six hundred dozen thumbprints is a lot of blood), Lena said, “Excuse me,” and handed me an envelope with ‘Kes’ written on the outside. I had been staring into the depths of my mug and wishing for Golden Tippy Froufrou Hoohah, although as corporate tea went this wasn’t too bad. I goggled at the envelope. I don’t know anyone in New Iceland to scrawl my first name familiarly across an envelope. “Serena brought it,” said Lena. “Serena from the Friendly Campfire.”
Oh. What. . . . There was a motel rule that forbade rose-bushes on the cabin porches. One of the other paying guests had gone off in fits at the sight of my van and was suing me for emotional distress. The international Weird Neon Logo Inc development team and sales force were coming to New Iceland for their annual meeting and they needed my cabin back tonight. I opened the envelope. Don’t do anything rash, Serena had written. Jan has a car for you. Well, a vehicle. Serena. I wasn’t sure, by the phrasing, if this was good news or not.
I looked up. Sally was back in her office. She had a phone in a cradle on her shoulder and was staring at her computer screen. Hayley fooped a stack of pages down in front of me (well, what do you think that smack of pages sounds like? It’s sounds like foop to me) and said, “There’s your copy. Sally’s trying to get your bank to talk to our bank.”
“Did she remember the strawberry shortcake to placate the guardian dragons?” I said.
“Oh yes,” said Hayley, straight-faced. “She’s good at that. The robot ninjas with the heat-seeking shuriken are more of a problem.”
“Oh dear,” I said. “I hate robot ninjas. Especially with heat-seeking shuriken.”
“—But if she succeeds,” Hayley went on, “and she probably will, you can have the keys tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” I squeaked.
“It’ll take a week or two for all the final hard copy to come through, but you don’t have to wait. It’s in Mr Demerara’s contract that we can accept a tenant on his behalf. He’s also never home so it’s a good thing.”
Tomorrow. Well, I had to unload the van somewhere. Forethought had been a little thin on the ground since Gelasio first told me he was leaving. Although forethought had never been a strong point. It was a characteristic I shared with Flowerhair although so far my poor choices had resulted in fewer evil magicians than hers. Although hers involved fewer cockroaches. I should have hired a (larger) van for longer, of course . . . but apparently I had both a house and a . . . vehicle. Real life. Eeep.
Hayley was looking at me anxiously. I managed to smile. “Thanks,” I said. “Um. Can you tell me how to find the mall? I need to buy. Food. Light bulbs. Stuff. Cushions for those grim chairs.”
“Oh yes, of course. If you turn left at the Friendly Campfire and keep going on Dane Avenue, as you start coming out of town again you’ll see the sign for the Majormojo Mall. Everything’s there—Godzilla Food, Thor’s Hammer Hardware, Elysian Household, Moriarty’s Department Store . . . there are a lot of little shops too.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“Done!” called Sally. We both turned toward her. Lena was crouched over her computer, possibly doing battle with some robot ninja of her own. There was another woman at another desk who had not, so far as I could tell, looked up once since Hayley and I had returned, clicking away furiously and deploying her mouse like a rapier: thrust. Parry. Thrust, her eyes never wavering from the screen. I guess you learn powers of concentration if you work in an open-plan office. I’ve always been a oh-look-there’s-a-cloud/cockroach/crack in the ceiling that looks like my fourth-grade teacher/I wonder what’s in the refrigerator kind of worker.
Sally walked toward us, beaming. “Let me welcome you again to New Iceland, Kes,” she said. “This time as a neighbor.”
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