By Lois Lowry
An owl called, its shuddering hoots repeating mournfully in the distance. Somewhere nearby, heavy wings swooped and a young rabbit, captured by sharp talons, shrieked as he was lifted to his doom. Startled, a raccoon looked up with bright eyes from the place where he was foraging. Two deer moved in tandem through a meadow. A thin cloud slid across the moon.
The pair crept stealthily through the small house. Night was their time of work, the time when human conversation had ceased, when thoughts had drifted away and even breathing and heartbeats had slowed. The outdoors was awake and stirring but the little house was dark and silent.
They tiptoed, and whispered. Unaware, the woman and her dog slept soundly, though the dog, on his pillow bed of cedar shavings at the foot of the woman's four-poster, moved his legs now and then as if chasing a dream rabbit.
"Are we a kind of dog?" Littlest One asked suddenly.
They crept through the bedroom, out into the dark hall.
"May I talk now?"
"Oh, all right. Very quietly, though."
"I asked if we are a kind of dog."
Littlest One, whose name was sometimes shortened affectionately to simply Littlest, was working on this night with Fastidious, the one who had been designated her teacher. Littlest was very small, new to the work, energetic and curious. Fastidious was tired, impatient, and had a headache. She sniffed in exasperation.
"Whatever makes you ask such a thing? The other learners never ask questions like that."
"That's because they don't take time to think about things. I'm a thinker. Right now I'm thinking about whether I am a kind of dog."
"You just tiptoed past one. What did you notice about him?"
Littlest One thought. "A slight snore, a whiff of doggy breath, and his upper lip was folded under by mistake, just above a big tooth. It gave him an odd expression."
"Does he resemble us in the least?"
Littlest pondered. "No. But I believe there are many kinds of dogs. We saw that book, remember."
"Hurry along," Fastidious said. "There's much to do, and we have to go down the stairs yet."
Littlest One hurried along. The stairs were difficult, and she had to concentrate.
"You do remember the book, don't you? Ouch!" She had stumbled a bit.
"Grasp the carpet fibers. Look how I'm doing it."
"Couldn't we flutter down?"
"We can't waste our flutters. They use up energy."
They both made their way carefully down. "I hear there are houses that have no stairs," Fastidious murmured in an irritated tone. "None at all. I sometimes wish that I had not been assigned this particular house."
Littlest looked around when they reached the bottom of the stairs. She could see now into the large room with the very colorful rug. The small-paned windows were outlined in moonlight on the floor by the rug's edge. "I think this house is lovely," she said. "I wouldn't want any other house."
They tiptoed across. Littlest noticed her own shadow in the moonlight. "My goodness!" she exclaimed. "I didn't know we had shadows!"
"Of course we do. All creatures have shadows. They are a phenomenon created by light."
A phenomenon created by light. What a fine phrase, Littlest thought. She twirled suddenly on the rug and watched her shadow dance. "Why is your shadow darker than mine?" she asked Fastidious, noticing the difference just then.
GOSSAMER by Lois Lowry. Copyright (c) 2006 by Lois Lowry. Posted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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