I laughed and we parted (I hoped) on friendly terms, with him promising to settle down and do his homework so Serena wouldn’t be mad at him any more and me promising not to sleep with anyone’s wife unless she was really cute and her divorce was about to go through.
Sid had her nose mashed up against the passenger-side window when I came out. Smudgy dog noses, joy. The passenger window in my mom’s dog-show van was usually opaque, because the current favorite would have been sitting next to it while lesser mortals travelled in crates in the back. I had had to sit in the middle. Even my mother drew the line at having a terrier helping her change gears.
I started Merry and we slid over the ramp into the street. In his headlight beams New Iceland looked like the approach to Cirith Ungol. I found the road out of town—I found the right road out of town, we passed the General James B. Cabell High School. There were a few security lights shining on the front doors, and the letters of General James B Cabell High School seemed to dance, or possibly writhe. In a minute I’d be seeing harpies, and I had to save the milk for the hob.
One of the things about living in the city is that it’s never really dark. You can make believe, especially if you live in a penthouse, and we had pretty good thick romantic twilight in the roof garden in Gelasio’s penthouse, but it still wasn’t dark. You can also complain about how you’re being deprived of the majesty of the Milky Way by light pollution and you can think you mean it and get all wistful about it, especially if you’d had a friend in high school who wanted to be an astronomer and made it sound really interesting, and you can spend a lot of time outdoors staring up at the sky when you have holidays in the Adirondacks, especially if you can’t sleep anyway because of the noise the pine trees are making.
Then try getting divorced and moving to the back of beyond—no, the back of the back of beyond—and driving out for your first night in your new house with only your faithful dog for company—and thank all the gods that ever were or will be for the mercy of Sid—in the dark.
The noise Merry’s engine was making was heh heh heh heh heh. Okay, maybe it was a friendly heh heh heh heh heh. I didn’t feel like counting on it. Sid could just be picking up my anxiety, or not a big fan of internal-combustion-engine transport generally, but she was sitting up stiff as a sentinel on the city walls of Diggrud when the Mlilzcori are on the rampage. At a low ebb Flowerhair had been a mercenary in the Diggrud army for a while, and even Doomblade didn’t like the Mlilzcori much.
And then I started seeing flashes of flickering white in my peripheral vision. With every revolution of Merry’s wheels I more regretted the number of times I had reread M R James’ Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You My Lad when I was young and impressionable. On the subject of ghosts and cosmic horror I was still young and impressionable. Impressionable anyway. I glanced at Sid. Sighthounds have excellent vision and are immediately aware of anything that moves: ghosts, giant tentacles, harpies. Her eyes glittered as she tracked something. Or somethings.
Arrrgh. So let’s say some Majormojo shopping bag hadn’t been as well weighted down as I thought. I didn’t bother to pull over—I hadn’t seen a single other vehicle since we left the last of New Iceland’s electric lights behind, and I had a faint recollection, dramatized by darkness and solitude, that there were ditches by the side of this road—but I stopped. The sound of Merry’s handbrake going on said COME AND GET US. Not in a good way.
Risking all, I got out of the cab (leaving the door open for rapid re-entry in case of trolls) and rearranged the bags in the back. I had no idea if any of them had been flapping or not, but the two from Godzilla Food were white. Snow white, one might almost say. It sure felt cold enough to snow. Never mind. I have the kind of skin that burns at the thought of sunlight. Long sleeves year-round would be the least of my problems.
I couldn’t decide if the silence made me nervous or I kind of liked it. Both probably. There was a little breeze going hss hss and the only other thing I could hear was Merry’s turned-off engine going tick tick. (Oh, glory, what if Merry didn’t START again? We’d be eaten by bears or the thousand young of the Black Goat of the Woods. . . . No, wait. I’d phone Mike and he’d rescue us. I was sure he kept his vorpal blade under Nilesh’s front seat.) I scanned the horizon for trolls. No trolls. (Although of course trolls are very good at looking like other things in the dark. Trees. Boulders. Cows.) I looked up, watching for low-flying harpies. Didn’t see any of them either.
And then Sid burst out in a paroxysm of barking.
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