Home > Gossamer(17)

Gossamer(17)
Author: Lois Lowry

"That's dumb. It would taste terrible."

She chuckled. "But you said you knew of a little one who tasted dog food! I wouldn't think that would be so delicious!"

John didn't laugh. "His father made him do it," he said.

"His father? I don't understand."

"He was bad."

"Who was bad, the father?"

"No, the boy, stupid!" John glared at her.

"But—?"

"He was running around the house naked, see. He was just out of the bathtub. He was only little. Three, maybe."

The woman smiled. "That doesn't sound bad. It sounds very sweet."

"Shut up!"

"John," she said to him, "what's wrong?"

"He was running around with no clothes on and he peed on the floor! Like a dog! Like a stupid dog! It was bad! And so the father rubbed his face in it, because that's what you do with dogs!"

"John?"

"I said SHUT UP!"

The boy's face was contorted. "It hurt him. When the father rubbed his face on the floor, it really hurt him. But he didn't cry. He never cries. Cry and you get hit."

The woman nodded, watching him.

"And then the father said that if he was acting like a dog, he had to eat dog food. And that's what they gave him for dinner. That canned stuff. They put it in a bowl on the floor and told him to eat like a dog."

"Who is they, John? I thought you were talking about a father."

"Well, there was a mother too, stupid! She put the bowl on the floor. He told her to! The father told her to, and she did!"

The woman nodded. "The poor little boy," she said.

"No, the dumb little boy! And bad! It was his own fault! And then he wouldn't eat the dog food."

"Of course he wouldn't."

"So he didn't get anything to eat that night. And in the morning, when it was time for breakfast, think there were Cheerios or anything?"

"No. I think I know what happened."

"He was so stupid he thought there would be Cheerios! But it was the same dog food. And for lunch, same dog food, and for dinner, same dog food, and he was only little, and hungry, and finally he ate it! And his father laughed at him!

"'Ha ha ha!'" The little boy imitated harsh laughter. He rocked back and forth in his chair and kicked his legs against it.

"And his mother? I bet his mother didn't laugh, did she?"

His rocking subsided and he leaned forward. "No. She cried, and got hit," he said in a low voice. "She always got hit."

Finished with his breakfast, Toby padded over to the table where the two were sitting. He gazed up at John.

"WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT, STUPID?" The boy jumped from his chair, overturning it so that it fell against the wall and knocked a small potted geranium from the windowsill onto the floor. Then he ran from the room.

The woman sat silently at the table. She thought about the coming holiday weekend, Labor Day, and what she had planned to tell the boy: that school was about to start.

24

"It's coming back tonight. I can feel it." Littlest shuddered and looked up at Thin Elderly. They had just slid in under the door.

Thin Elderly stood poised, listening and feeling. "Yes," he told her. "The air is tainted. They're on the way."

"They?" Littlest asked in a worried voice.

"Yes. More than one. Shhh." Thin Elderly tilted his head and she could feel that he was holding his breath. After a moment he turned to her. "Smell that?" he asked.

Nervously she sniffed. "Yes," she whispered. "Like garbage, and something burning. Something awful."

He nodded. "We've smelled it before, when we huddled and he inflicted on the boy. But this is worse because they're coming together. It's the Horde. Everything is multiplied, even the stench."

"Should we hide?" she asked him, wide-eyed.

"No. They don't want us. They're after him." He gestured up the stairs toward the boy's bedroom door.

"But why the Horde this time?" Littlest One was very frightened. The memory of the hot breath, the pawing hooves, the rank odor, and the dreadful hiss was terrifying to her. But it was true that the Sinisteed had not shown any interest in the dream-givers as they huddled together in the hallway. So she was not frightened for herself. It was because of the boy. The Sinisteed had done such damage to him already! She was frightened on his behalf.

"They know we've strengthened him. It's made them angry. That's why they've gathered the Horde," Thin Elderly told her.

"I fear for the woman tonight, as well," he added. "I think they're coming to inflict on both, tonight."

"The dog, too?" Littlest asked in a small voice. She sucked her thumb briefly.

"No. They don't bother with pets. Shhh." He tilted his head and listened again. "They're still some distance away. It seems they're holding back. Waiting. Maybe for the sleep to deepen. That gives us a little time."

"Time for what?"

Thin Elderly sighed. "More strengthening. It's all we can do, really."

He looked at her and she hastily put her hand, with its damp thumb, behind her back. "Do you have any fragments stored?" he asked her.

"A few. Not many. I always like to give him big, complicated dreams, so I use a lot of my fragments. I did one the other night that had the beach, and a kite, and I combined it with food things: ice cream, and something called a hot dog"—she grinned—"and then I added in Toby and Hee-Haw, both, so they all got mixed up in a big convoluted happiness dream.

"Do you like that word, convoluted?" she asked shyly. "I just learned it."

"Good for you. You can add words to dreams, you know."

She nodded. "I'm working on it."

Thin Elderly sat on the lowest stairstep. His knee jiggled nervously. He was thinking.

"We don't have time to gather new things," he said finally. "So take what you have left. Are they pretty good fragments?"

She nodded. "A baseball game. He got a hit and felt proud. I have that, still. And a time his mother sang him a funny song."

"Good. Combine those."

"And just yesterday his butterfly was born! It came out of the chrysalis. He's going to let it go tomorrow. But I touched it! The wings were still damp!"

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