I was already wearing athletic socks, Nikes, blue jeans, and a black t-shirt. I quickly pulled on a black denim shirt with long sleeves and buttoned it at the neck.
Orson trailed me downstairs to the foyer. Because the porch was deep with a low ceiling, and because two massive California live oaks stood in the yard, no direct sun could reach the sidelights flanking the front door; consequently, they were not covered with curtains or blinds. The leaded panes - geometric mosaics of clear, green, red, and amber glass - glowed softly like jewels.
I took a zippered, black leather jacket from the coat closet. I would be out after dark, and even following a mild March day, the central coast of California can turn chilly when the sun goes down.
From the closet shelf, I snatched a navy blue, billed cap and pulled it on, tugging it low on my head. Across the front, above the visor, in ruby-red embroidered letters, were the words Mystery Train.
One night during the previous autumn, I had found the cap in Fort Wyvern, the abandoned military base inland from Moonlight Bay. It had been the only object in a cool, dry, concrete-walled room three stories underground.
Although I had no idea to what the embroidered words might refer, I had kept the cap because it intrigued me.
As I turned toward the front door, Orson whined beseechingly.
I stooped and petted him. "I'm sure Dad would like to see you one last time, fella. I know he would. But there's no place for you in a hospital."
His direct, coal-black eyes glimmered. I could have sworn that his gaze brimmed with grief and sympathy. Maybe that was because I was looking at him through repressed tears of my own.
My friend Bobby Halloway says that I tend to anthropomorphize animals, ascribing to them human attributes and attitudes which they do not, in fact, possess.
Perhaps this is because animals, unlike some people, have always accepted me for what I am. The four-legged citizens of Moonlight Bay seem to possess a more complex understanding of life - as well as more kindness - than at least some of my neighbors.
Bobby tells me that anthropomorphizing animals, regardless of my experiences with them, is a sign of immaturity. I tell Bobby to go copulate with himself.
I comforted Orson, stroking his glossy coat and scratching behind his ears. He was curiously tense. Twice he cocked his head to listen intently to sounds I could not hear - as if he sensed a threat looming, something even worse than the loss of my father.
At that time, I had not yet seen anything suspicious about Dad's impending death. Cancer was only fate, not murder - unless you wanted to try bringing criminal charges against God.
That I had lost both parents within two years, that my mother had died when she was only fifty-two, that my father was only fifty-six as he lay on his deathbed...well, all this just seemed to be my poor luck - which had been with me, literary, since my conception.
Later, I would have reason to recall Orson's tension - and good reason to wonder if he had sensed the tidal wave of trouble washing toward us.
Bobby Halloway would surely sneer at this and say that I am doing worse than anthropomorphizing the mutt, that now I am ascribing superhuman attributes to him. I would have to agree - and then tell Bobby to go copulate vigorously with himself.
Anyway, I petted and scratched and generally comforted Orson until a horn sounded in the street and then, almost at once, sounded again in the driveway.
Sasha had arrived.
In spite of the sunscreen of my neck, I turned up the collar of my jacket for additional protection.
Copyright © 1998 Dean Koontz.
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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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