ONE HUNDRED FIVE
I still had both of those copies of TTT somewhere in those book boxes that Mike had carried up the stairs this afternoon. The things you do when you’re eleven: the next morning I finished carefully spreading the fallen-out pages from the old crumbly copy all over my bedroom so they would dry out. My mother let me do my homework on the kitchen table that night because there was no spare surface area in my bedroom—as it was I had to pile up all the pages on my bed, punctiliously interleaved with notebook paper, over the ones on my desk, so I could sleep. And yes, a Ghastly will absolutely eat your homework if you go off and leave it unguarded while you make yourself a sandwich, especially if you are foolish enough to leave your chocolate-flavored pencil lying across it, and your chair too close to the table. Many little dogs have pogo sticks for legs but Ghastlies are unusually gifted in this area.
My mother managed to nail the miscreant before he’d swallowed anything crucial and, more important, she didn’t notice the pencil, which she would have considered provocative. The day after that I put all the dry, curly pages in order, slid them as far as they’d go back between their frail paper covers, and tied the whole thing together with twine. I’d had to replace the fraying string once in the ensuing almost-thirty years but I hadn’t lost any pages.
But tonight it was the iPad. I find that I can read faster on an iPad due to frictionless page-turning—especially if I know what I’m reading so well that the words on the page are more of an aide-memoire than real text. Ordinarily I’m a slow reader, but under stress I have been known to read LOTR in two days, although not a lot of sleeping, eating or relating to the outside world is involved. Tonight I was hoping that a few chapters would relax me enough to sleep. (Stop remembering Murac’s face in the moonlight. Just stop). Odo Proudfoot is offended; Gandalf sees Bilbo on his way; Lobelia calls Frodo a Brandybuck—and my Agate Ironman’s namesake is introduced. And then Gandalf brings the shadow of the past to Frodo’s study. . . .
I’m not sure when I began dropping in and out of sleep. I’ve dreamed Middle Earth so much in my life that my dream-versions are almost as familiar as Manhattan’s Upper West Side. My dreams usually began in the green, comfortable Shire with its fields and trees and hobbit villages, and with a background feeling that is a mixture of unease and excitement. Sometimes the unease deepens to fear and even terror—sometimes (this is my most frequent Middle-Earthian dream) I am riding one of Rohan’s magnificent horses at full pelt and I don’t care what may be chasing us. Or what we may be pelting toward. Sometimes I’m aware of the jingle of weaponry as well as tack, and that there are riders either side of me looking grim and determined.
I seemed to be hearing hoofbeats as I nodded over Frodo, Sam and Pippin setting off toward Crickhollow in the dark. Hoofbeats. And the jingle of weaponry. . . .
Sid whined. I half-woke, turned the iPad—her name was Luthien Tinuviel, just by the way—off, and prepared to snuggle down farther in the tangle of bedding. Oh, Sid, don’t be a spoilsport. . . .
Sid leaped to her feet and started barking, a full, committed barking using all the resonance of her deep chest. Barking and snarling. She was prancing as she barked, and managed to step on me. Ow. I was fully awake now. There was the most almighty clang, like Caedmon had opened all his doors and slammed them shut again simultaneously, and the house, including Caedmon at my back, shivered. Now I was more than fully awake: I was rapidly approaching hysterical.
I lurched to my feet, and made a dive for the bedside lamp on its chair, wrenched it on and held it aloft, like a very cut-price Statue of Liberty. In the original full-size version you can’t see that her nightgown has little pink rosebuds on it.
The light flickered, which was no doubt my shaking hand, but it seemed also strangely dim, more like candle- than modern electric light. Sid was still barking and barking. I dropped my other hand to grab her collar—which felt strangely thick and heavy in my hand—as I swung the lamp around, trying to see . . . anything. We were in the kitchen, for pity’s sake, and even in Rose Manor it wasn’t so large that I shouldn’t be able to see the table and the walls and the windows. And I’d left the hall light on. I thought I had left the hall light on.
There was a gleam that might have been the sink tap, and a murky grey smudge that might have been the window beyond it. I couldn’t hear much beyond Sid’s barking, but there might have been a kind of booming roar like perhaps the universe at the bottom of the ruts in the driveway had got bored with waiting for fresh victims and was coming after us. . . .
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