The silky black rose-bush shadow took a couple of steps sideways as I approached the door, which was tactful of it. This meant I didn’t have to wonder if it wanted my money or my life. It. It had feathering all along its belly and the streetlight, which left nothing to the imagination about screaming skulls, was not well-placed for illuminating the undercarriages of hairy black dogs. I unlocked the door and began to open it. And turned to look at the apparition.
It lowered its head and its tail further. It looked up at me through its eyelashes. The very, very, very tip of its tail twitched pathetically. It drooped. It despaired. It was all alone in a hostile universe.
“They must adore you at the community playhouse,” I said. “Not a dry eye and so forth.”
It raised its head fractionally. It moved one forefoot two-thirds of a micron forward, nearer me. The tail twitched again. The tail was epic. It told sad stories of the death of kings.
“You want to come in, don’t you?” I said. “Stap me. I am so screwed. I bet the Friendly Campfire doesn’t allow pets.” I walked through the door, leaving it open. I flipped the light switch, dropped my knapsack on the bed (thud) and turned around. She—when and how had I discovered she was a she?—was now standing in the doorway. Her head had come up at least two microns. Her ears were trying to prick. The ecologically correct low-wattage light bulb in the ceiling lamp was doing pretty near zero for giving me a better look at her. Black is very black at night. I went over to the little table that had the welcome basket on it. Fortunately it was only pretending to be a basket, and was made out of plastic. I dumped its contents on the desk—an assortment of vile teabag tea in paper wrappers for that critical lack of freshness, tinfoil packets of instant coffee facsimile and hot chocolate I was willing to bet had no chocolate in it, Generic Hot Drink Whitener, white sugar, brown sugar, and Sugar Substitute of the Month Which Has No Calories But Will Give You The Interesting New Disease of the Year, Bleeding Ulcers and Dandruff. Especially when ingested with Generic Hot Drink Whitener. I rinsed the plastic basket out in the bathroom, filled it with water, and brought it gingerly back into the front room. I set it down near the door. “Thirsty?” I said.
Her tail gave a definite if cautious wag. She took two steps forward—which meant she was now half in and half out of cabin number seven of the Friendly Campfire Motel which probably didn’t allow animals—and lowered her head for a drink. If this was the Silent Wonder Dog she was larger and hairier than I’d ordered. Trust fate not to read the fine print.
She finished her drink, came the rest of the way into the cabin, and sat down. I sat down on the bed so I was facing her. We regarded each other.
Don’t do this at home, kids.
Fleas, I thought. Ticks. Ringworm. Lyme Disease. Leptospira. Probably not rabies. You don’t generally get rabies in dogs unless you’re Old Yeller or live in Atticus Finch’s town. Ringworm was bad enough. Mom’s Ghastlies had picked it up at a dog show once and we’d all had it.
The (possibly) Silent Wonder Dog stretched out her forelegs, little by little, till she was lying down in the classic New York City Library lion posture. We continued to regard each other. “You’re probably hungry, right?” I said. “That is, after all, the purpose of humans, from a dog’s point of view, to provide food, so you don’t have to catch your own rabbits. Or rats. Or knock over your own garbage cans. That’s what you’ve been training us for, the last forty thousand years.”
The ears half-flattened and pricked again. There was too much matted hair to tell a lot about her ears either—when I called her silky it was more a guess at what she ought to look like if her owner were taking proper care of her—but I thought they were long and dangly. She had a long slim face and enormous black-brown eyes, and she was narrow for her height, and most of the height was leg. Sighthound, I thought, but I’d need a better look at her in daylight. This sounded like I was expecting her to be around when daylight came again. O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown.
She put her face on her paws. She sighed. There was a long tragic history in that sigh. There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me. Tra la la. The raven himself is hoarse, that croaks the fatal entrance . . . no, wait.
“I could call you Sarah Siddons,” I said. “Sid.”
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