ONE HUNDRED EIGHT
We? Need? I wanted to burst into tears or possibly throw up. If I tried to take a step I would fall down. Especially if the point of my sword was stuck in the floor. And there was this . . . corpse in the way. If I stepped in the blood I would throw up and there was so much of it and I was in no shape for gazelle-like leaping. How was I going to explain a corpse to my real estate agent at dinner tomorrow night? There was a sudden, strangely comforting weight on one foot, and a shaking thing leaning against my leg. I looked down. Sid was standing next to me, one paw on my foot, panting. Panting is an expression of anxiety. She didn’t like dead guys either.
In an attempt to focus my rapidly deliquescing brain on something other than corpses and blood and stands and swords and throwing up, so that I could hold it together for my dog, it occurred to me that he’d called me Lady Kestrel. He knew my . . .
Another gigantic BANG and a flash of fire visible through the door into the kitchen. That would be the where we were supposed to be making our stand, I thought, moving into that murky grey disassociation head space like someone on a bad drug trip. I was rapidly getting lost in the murky grey and offered no resistance when Watermelon Shoulders slid an arm around my waist and hustled me toward the scene of the action. My legs seemed to be working again. How very surprising. I took a moment to appreciate the sense of my legs and feet doing their bending and stretching job and making me move forward. Although I was maybe leaning on Watermelon Shoulders a little hard, Sid was leaning on me pretty hard from the other side. I don’t want to be burnt up doing this stand thing, I thought, all grey and dissociative.
Some still almost-there part of my brain was waiting for my bare feet to touch something wet and sticky. When this happened I would instantly become the madwoman in the attic. If there was one occupying the premises already she’d just have to move on.
It didn’t happen. Maybe Watermelon Shoulders had a charm for beguiling blood away from the bare feet of his . . . um. What was I? Ally? Poor Watermelon Shoulders. Could he make the blood stay away from my books? If I could remember how to speak I would ask him.
To the extent that I could see it the kitchen still almost looked like a kitchen when we reached it. The looms and shadows looked more like appliances than like Yog-Sothoth and his poker buddies. My brain started to produce a but. . . . No. Stop right there. Stop. Right. There. Watermelon Shoulders let go of me and I leaned on the table, carefully not thinking about anything. My leaning hand—the one that didn’t still have a sword in it—bumped into Sid’s pebble. There, I could think about the pebble. It was just a pebble that had used to live in the Friendly Campfire’s parking lot. Completely ordinary, that pebble. I rolled it back and forth a little with one finger. Pebble. Possibly unusually round for a parking-lot pebble, but still . . . just a pebble.
Whatever the bang and flash of fire had been, it had swallowed itself up again until . . . until . . . no, that was another thought I wasn’t going to think. I didn’t like the dark swirling whatever—also it made me queasy, but dead guys bleeding all over your floor may perhaps make you kind of prone to queasiness—but when I glanced (still fiddling with Sid’s pebble) in what should have been the direction of the upstairs hall I could see a faint glow, like a hall light left on. It looked several miles farther away than it should but at least it was there.
Perhaps my eyes were adjusting to this unpleasantly lively dark, because I could make out the greyness that was the windows—as opposed to what was going on in my brain—and someone seemed to have left the door of Caedmon’s firebox open, because there was a small but intense orange flicker that made the outline of the stove visible, a blacker blackness. Caedmon looked bigger than I remembered. On the whole I thought this was a good thing.
The chairs had been pushed aside, and our nice comfortable bedding scattered. By what? I didn’t remember the pre-corpse throwing stuff around. Suddenly sleeping on the floor next to a wood stove in an almost empty strange house seemed the epitome of safety and well-being. Emphasis on the empty. Funny about that. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, like the song says.
I looked the other way again, through the door into the parlour. The greyness of those windows silhouetted my rose bushes and in the corner near the door, where the hob’s bowl had sat on the window seat next to them . . . there was a very odd shadow. Very odd. Tall. Thin. Positively spiky. Those might almost be limbs. I was trying to convince myself that a pile of book boxes could make a shadow like that . . . when it moved. As if it was turning to look back at me.
If those were limbs, it was offering something that might almost have been a salute.
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