"Someone out in the yard? Are you sure?"
"Yes. He's staring at our house."
Mo put down his book. "So what were you reading before you went to sleep? Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?"
Meggie frowned. "Please, Mo! Come and look."
He didn't believe her, but he went anyway. Meggie tugged him along the corridor so impatiently that he stubbed his toe on a pile of books, which was hardly surprising. Stacks of books were piled high all over the house not just arranged in neat rows on bookshelves, the way other people kept them, oh no! The books in Mo and Meggie's house were stacked under tables, on chairs, in the corners of the rooms. There were books in the kitchen and books in the lavatory. Books on the TV set and in the closet, small piles of books, tall piles of books, books thick and thin, books old and new. They welcomed Meggie down to breakfast with invitingly opened pages; they kept boredom at bay when the weather was bad. And sometimes you fell over them.
"He's just standing there!" whispered Meggie, leading Mo into her room.
"Has he got a hairy face? If so he could be a werewolf."
"Oh, stop it!" Meggie looked at him sternly, although his jokes made her feel less scared. Already, she hardly believed anymore in the figure standing in the rain until she knelt down again at the window. "There! Do you see him?" she whispered. Mo looked out through the raindrops running down the pane and said nothing.
"Didn't you promise burglars would never break into our house because there's nothing here to steal?" whispered Meggie.
"He's not a burglar," replied Mo, but as he stepped back from the window his face was so grave that Meggie's heart thudded faster than ever. "Go back to bed, Meggie," he said. "This visitor has come to see me."
He left the room before Meggie could ask what kind of visitor, for goodness sake, turned up in the middle of the night? She followed him anxiously. As she crept down the corridor she heard her father taking the chain off the front door, and when she reached the hall she saw him standing in the open doorway. The night came in, dark and damp, and the rushing of the rain sounded loud and threatening.
"Dustfinger!" called Mo into the darkness. "Is that you?"
Dustfinger? What kind of a name was that? Meggie couldn't remember ever hearing it before, yet it sounded familiar, like a distant memory that wouldn't take shape properly.
At first, all seemed still outside except for the rain falling, murmuring as if the night had found its voice. But then footsteps approached the house, and the man emerged from the darkness of the yard, his long coat so wet with rain that it clung to his legs. For a split second, as the stranger stepped into the light spilling out of the house, Meggie thought she saw a small furry head over his shoulder, snuffling as it looked out of his backpack and then quickly disappearing back into it.
Dustfinger wiped his wet face with his sleeve and offered Mo his hand.
"How are you, Silvertongue?" he asked. "It's been a long time."
Hesitantly, Mo took the outstretched hand. "A very long time," he said, looking past his visitor as if he expected to see another figure emerge from the night. "Come in, you'll catch your death. Meggie says you've been standing out there for some time."
"Meggie? Ah yes, of course." Dustfinger let Mo lead him into the house. He scrutinized Meggie so thoroughly she felt quite embarrassed and didn't know where to look. In the end she just stared back.
"You remember her?"
Meggie noticed that Mo double-locked the door. "How old is she now?" Dustfinger smiled at her. It was a strange smile. Meggie couldn't decide whether it was mocking, supercilious, or just awkward. She didn't smile back.
Copyright (c) 2004, Scholastic Books Inc. Reproduced with the permission of Scholastic Books
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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