That sort of climate – with one child bathed in the golden glow of attention while the other was relegated to the loneliness of letter vandalism – was not the best environment for nurturing sibling love. I have a vague memory of Stinna occasionally pinching me when Mum wasn’t looking. At other times she would come running after me and Aunt Anne Katrine as we walked hand in hand along Birkebladsvej. ‘I want to come too!’ Stinna would shout, throwing dirt and pebbles into the air.
‘No,’ Anne Katrine would reply. ‘Not possible today.’
A little girl with her grandfather’s dark complexion and proud French nose would be left behind on the pavement. What a little bitch, she would think, giving Anne Katrine an angry glare.
So it wasn’t until I was three and started developing a harmless fear of the dark that my sister and I became close. ‘There are no moles living under the beds in my house,’ my father was fond of saying at bedtime whenever his son voiced dubious theories about the diffuse nature of the dark.
‘Dogs won’t come out of the walls when I turn off the light,’ my mother assured me. But not everyone agreed that we lived in a perfectly harmless house.
‘Down in the basement, in the space under the stairs, you know,’ said Stinna, ‘that’s where Doghead lives, you know, and it’s VERY DANGEROUS.’
‘Doghead?’ I stammered. ‘What does it do?’
‘I have no idea,’ replied my sister. ‘But it’s very dangerous, you know. It’s so dangerous that I don’t even know what it does.’
‘Doghead?’ said Dad, giving me an enquiring look.
‘Doghead?’ said my mother.‘Don’t be silly.There’s no such thing.’
‘Then what’s that thing that sits on the front of a dog?’ Stinna asked, giving my mother an innocent look. ‘And who lives in that space under the stairs?’ she went on, until Mum said she’d had enough of all her babbling. ‘Stop scaring your brother,’ said Leila, and she sent Stinna to her room.
But in conjuring up Doghead, Stinna had demonstrated a stroke of genius, and the invisible connection between the Doghead in the space under the stairs, Grandpa Askild’s mysterious talk about German shepherds and bloodhounds, and all of Mum’s mythological creatures soon began disturbing the peace in my parents’ bed. It wasn’t long before Dad got tired of the third party who kept slipping in between him and his wife at night, drowsily murmuring incoherent phrases about a doghead. Dad started out cautiously by having a serious father-to-son talk; later he issued a firm prohibition – and when that didn’t help, he at last resorted to locking the bedroom door before he went to bed. Looming large in my childhood was that locked door, not only as a monument to a lost land, but also as a new beginning. Standing there – at once so close and yet so far away from the promised land of my parents’ bedroom – it suddenly occurred to me that I had a sister.
‘Okay,’ she said and lifted her quilt, ‘but then you have to take me along with you and Aunt Anne Katrine tomorrow.’
I might as well tell the story right now. ‘There’s a dog in the basement,’ I said, at the age of eight, to my paternal grandfather during a family dinner. And Askild couldn’t help smiling when I challenged him to go down there himself in five minutes and take a look around.
It was all Stinna’s idea. She was the one who had found the badger skull; she was the one who nicked the two candles; and she was the one who spent half the evening persuading me to lie down in the space under the stairs where the badger skull was already waiting, with two lit candles flickering in its empty eye sockets.
Excerpted from Doghead by Morten Ramsland. Copyright © 2009 by Morten Ramsland. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, a division of St Martins Press, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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