I looked at the wall clock on our way out of the clinic. (I almost forgot to notice the time because I was distracted by the design: there were two alert-looking cats standing on the two hands, and an assortment of frolicking dogs marking the hours.) I’d been planning on being on the road to Cold Valley by now. Not that the diversion from schedule wasn’t totally worth it, but JoJo would be here in eight hours, and I probably wouldn’t be able to train Sid between now and arrival at Rose Manor to help unload the (bulging) back of the van. Here, I could say to her, take this plastic bag of t shirts and underwear upstairs and put it in the bottom of the wardrobe. —To-do list included a chest of drawers. And a strong young man to carry it upstairs. I’d settle for a flimsy middle-aged man to help me carry it upstairs.
. . . I was leaving out the Revelation of the Thing in bottom of the wardrobe, or the trap door which, when opened, revealed The Colour Out of Space. My wardrobe would not contain fur coats and a lamp-post. No, wait, it would be okay, I now had a trusty and redoubtable companion. Mr Lovecraft’s problem was that he hadn’t had a dog to make him keep his mind on the important things, like cheese and long walks. There would be nothing in the wardrobe but dust. And possibly a mouse skeleton.
There was kind of a funny echo. All Stars, even with me wearing them, don’t really thud. It’s hard to thud with rubber soles. And this was New Iceland: we weren’t walking down a canyon of skyscrapers that would reflect the sound of pursuing footsteps. . . .
He wasn’t pursuing. He was thumping along beside me, to my right as Sid trotted (soundlessly) on my left. The black guy with the cape. The big black guy with the cape, and the glinty, pointy thing that couldn’t possibly be a sword sticking out below the hem of his cape. Mr Watermelon Shoulders. As I turned my head to look at him, he smiled at me and said, “Thou’rt fortunate. Thy new comrade is swift and loyal and high-couraged. Thou and she will go far both as the world doth count span of distance, and in the journey of the heart.”
“Forsoothly,” I said disbelievingly. “I have never, ever written forsoothly, let alone high forsoothly. I’m imagining you, aren’t I? I haven’t had enough sleep in several months, and you’re a manifestation of—of ringworm of the brain.”
But he was gone and I was talking to myself, because of course he hadn’t been there in the first place. We turned down Bradbury again, crossed Sir Alexander Dane, and picked up a trot to sprint across the Friendly Campfire’s parking lot, before anyone saw us.
It didn’t work. I’d got the door of cabin seven not only open but closed again behind us and was breathing a sigh of relief—except for the hallucination thing, but I’d worry about that later—as I swept my toothbrush back into its washbag, stuffed my dirty laundry in an empty Majormojo shopping bag, and prepared to . . . attempt to persuade Sid to climb in the passenger seat of the van, as soon as I made enough space in the passenger seat for even a narrow, underweight dog to plant her bony butt. Okay, my anxiety level was rising again: Sid had to come with me, and she was going to come to the end of this Perfect Dog routine sooner or later. Make it later. Please make it later.
There was a knock on the door.
Pond scum. And liver flukes.
I looked round for Sid. She was standing, poised, alertly watching the door that had just made that noise. I was partial, of course, but I thought she already looked better than she had last night. We were stopping at the mall on our way to Cold Valley—the mall was not on the way to Cold Valley—so I could buy dog food and a brush.
I opened the door.
“Can’t take you anywhere,” said Serena. She peered past me at Sid. Sid looked back at her. “I thought that was a dog, and not a disturbingly strange shadow indicating that your cloaking device is breaking down and you’re an alien from another planet. Although I’m not entirely sure. If that’s a dog, it needs serious remedial work.” She sighed. “The Friendly Campfire has three cabins that take pets, but this isn’t one of them. You’re leaving soon, right? I don’t like to think what your new friend is distributing in its vicinity. Please tell me it didn’t sleep on the bed last night.”
“She,” I said. “She’s a she. And her name’s Sid.”
“And you’re not answering my question about the bed.”
I didn’t say anything.
Serena sighed again. “Okay. We will boil the bedding and it’s probably time the carpet in here had the industrial-strength alien-combating deep-clean again anyway. And if the little plastic bag by the steps is what I think it is, put it in the trash can on the street, okay? Don’t bring it in here.”
“Yes ma’am,” I said.
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