Key rings the size of small kitchen appliances are at least relatively hard to lose. I’ve seen toasters smaller than my ring of keys for Rose Manor. I dove for my jacket, which was hanging drunkenly off the back of one of the chairs from the weight of the keys in one pocket. Now all I had to do was figure out which marlin-sized key opened the kitchen door. . . .
Thunk. Gotcha. I opened the door.
Mike came in, looking rather the worse for wear.
“Cobwebs?” I said. “It’s true I’m a terrible housekeeper but I haven’t had the van long enough . . .”
“Not the van,” said Mike. “Under the house.” He went on past me, and dumped his filthy armful on the already-less-than-pristine floor. I winced. I was going to have to find the broom before tomorrow night. Even if Hayley managed to wear jeans I was willing to bet her sneakers would be so clean it would hurt to look at them. I doubted white-gloved, chignoned outrage at the state of the space under the porch would become me. Even if I had a pair of white gloves, or knew how to make my erratic hair lie down in a chignon.
“Logs,” said Mike. “Nobody with a Guardian is not going to use it, so I thought it was worth a look for what the last guy might have left behind. I’ve got a hatchet in Nilesh. Hang on.”
He was back before I was finished staring. Sid was only mildly interested, although sighthounds are mostly only interested in things that run away, and the logs were all lying low. Mike fumbled with his treasure trove and pulled out something that looked more like an exploded muppet than a piece of firewood. “Think something’s been chewing on this one,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said. “That’ll be deinonychus.”
“Or orcs,” he said, not missing a beat. He stood the muppet on one end and began chipping at it with his hatchet. Don’t do this at home, kids. I hoped Mr Demerara was going to be understanding about the new hole in his floor and the bloodstains. I hoped Mike had a brain-surgeon license for his hatchet. “This stove’ll also burn coal, but around here wood is cheap and easy, you have plenty of space to store it, and a stove like this, you can burn exactly as fast or slow as you want.” A little pile of shreds was building up and the blade of Mike’s hatchet hadn’t hit the floor once nor even glanced off a finger. “You got any scrap paper in any of those boxes? That I can burn?”
I turned to the nearest book box, peeled the tape off with a noise like a sensitive neighbour catching her first sight of a van emblazoned with screaming skulls, and pulled out several pages of last week’s New York Times. Wallaby found in Riverside Park, said the headline uppermost. And the giant rat of Sumatra lives in the East Village, I thought, I used to see him there often. LEATHER SALE headed the top of the second page over a photograph that was trying to look like Robert Mapplethorpe on one of his less controversial days. Gelasio had asked for my phone number at a Mapplethorpe retrospective. To my horror my eyes filled with tears. I gave a giant sniff, like I was trying to inhale my nose back into my face, crumpled the LEATHER SALE and gave it and the wallaby and several more pages I was careful to avert my eyes from, to Mike.
“It looks pretty clean,” said Mike, “but we’ll just check for birds’-nests. Or pterodactyls.” I looked at him sharply but he was twisting the New York Times into a torch. He flipped a lever on the chimney pipe, snagged the box of matches off the back of the dorm reject, lit his torch, and held it at Caedmon’s gaping maw. There was a roar, and the darkness sucked at the fire, which went streaming up into invisibility. “Great,” said Mike. I was thinking of dragons, which might very well enjoy breathing a little light refreshing fire through a chimney pipe the way the rest of us might slurp a milkshake through a straw. Or maybe Cthugha lived in my chimney.
Mike dropped the remains of his torch on a neat little pyre that he must have built while I was having my historical moment. The fire blazed into life and crackled wildly. Mike fiddled with the pipe lever and the fire settled, like a dog that’s just been reminded of the end of its lead and is thinking oh well.
“There,” said Mike. “You’ll be warm tonight.”
“Um,” I said, feeling urban and pathetic. “I don’t know what to do. You have to put logs in and stuff, right? And you have to put them in the right way so you don’t set fire to the neighborhood. Preferably. I assume.”
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