What do you do when your life as you thought you knew it ends without warning? I thought I’d already been through this, when Gelasio asked for a divorce. I stood there, staring down the flashlight beam, and trying to think. I don’t know what I was trying to think about. Something to make the earth stop whizzing around on its axis in the wrong direction. Where was Superman when you needed him. Maybe a local out late for a hack had left this. It was just horse manure. Ho hum. I wouldn’t necessarily have noticed a large pile of steaming fresh horse manure in the middle of the road as we drove out toward Cold Valley, crouched as I was over the wheel and peering eye-strainingly at the road illuminated by Merry’s headlights. Merry had very good strong headlights.
My hand was starting to shake. The flashlight beam jiggled sympathetically.
Maybe there was a riding stable nearby. I could investigate once I got settled in. Unpacked a few boxes. Put the milk out for the hob. I shuddered again. I didn’t need to be thinking of the hob just now.
Sid, having inspected the horse dung to her satisfaction, had raised her head and was scanning the horizon. Her eyesight after dark was probably a lot better than mine. She didn’t look worried. Presumably that meant that the—company—we had seen were continuing to move away from us. Which was good as far as it went. Which I hoped was farther and farther away from us. Sid wouldn’t be bothered about where that company had come from, and she was telling me they were gone.
It was still hard to turn around—to put my back to—to whatever. To what was moving away from us—away from us, awaaaaay from us—leaving the occasional pile of horse dung behind as a memento. The natives wouldn’t even notice. It was just horse manure. I turned around. I trudged the twenty feet back to Merry. My back was cold, but that was just the wind. Just the wind.
Sid leaped straight in as soon as I opened Merry’s door and sat down on the passenger side like this was something she’d been doing all her life. Well, I thought wildly, one day of a less-than-two-year-old dog’s life was a much higher percentage of the whole than one day of an almost-forty-year-old human’s. . . . I buckled her in. I buckled me in. I turned the key. Merry rumbled immediately to life. Which was something. That meant we could put more distance between us and . . .
I didn’t miss my road. Amazingly. It wasn’t even that I saw it and thought, oh, there’s my road: my hands just hit the blinker and turned the wheel. Some of me knew where we were going. I woke up from whatever daze I’d been in—something about trying to decide if our recent encounter would have been more or less horrifying if there’d been more moonlight. If there’d been more I might have seen that it wasn’t Murac, it was just some random bunch of SCA-ers out for an evening stroll. Or I might have seen not only Murac but his great buddy Astur, whom both Flowerhair and I were pretty sure was a bad guy, although a useful sort of person to have on your side in an argument, so long as you were sure he was on your side, and would stay there till the argument was over.
There were lights on in both the other houses on the . . . on my street. I looked a little wistfully at the house on the corner where, according to Hayley, normal people lived. Well, if they were too normal they probably wouldn’t like me much. One of the problems with normal people is that they tend to hold your book jackets against you, especially if they have or have had teenage boys in the family who bought them for the cleavage. Like Hayley’s brother.
I drove stoically past the Lanchesters, whose curtains, I was extremely glad to observe, were drawn.
I slowed to a near-stop before turning up into Rose Manor’s driveway. This had nothing to do with exhaustion or terror—no no of course not—it was merely I didn’t want to drive into any of those wormhole ruts and discover ourselves driving across a purple desert under a red sky with two suns, six moons and a rvzzlblug in a pear tree facsimile.
We crept over the ruts in a manner that made me wonder if Merry was articulated in funny places. That was one more thing I wasn’t going to think about tonight.
We stopped. I turned the headlights off. I turned the engine off.
It was very dark. I couldn’t even see the Lanchesters’ lights through the hedge.
Very very dark. We sat there, listening to Merry going ping.
We were home.
Maybe I should have asked the hob to turn a light on.
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