As the desk fell to the floor, Gretchen leaped to the safety on the bed, Emerson briefly taking flight before landing again on her head. The pencils went everywhere, and papers from inside the drawer fluttered out all around us. I snipped the twine from Waffles’s collar with my teeth then jumped down into the papers as footsteps sounded from the hall. “Gretchen!” I glanced around at Vivian’s drawings now scattered across the floor. “Which one do we need?”
Gretchen scanned the fallen papers from her high vantage point. “Ah…That one!”
I couldn’t hear her with the barking that Waffles had suddenly broken into. I frowned at the dog, then peered at Gretchen and tried to follow an imaginary line from her finger to the mess, my gaze landing on a drawing of a tower. I grabbed the edge of it in my paws and dragged it across the floor.
Dichall came out from under the bed and helped me. “Eve, take it easy!” He grabbed the other end of the edge and tugged, muscles bulging across his chest.
I snuck a glance, then forced myself to concentrate on absconding with the drawing.
“I have no idea,” a man’s voice in the hall set a jolt of fear up my spine. “You’re the one that let him in the…”
“Well, you’re the one that said to!” A woman’s angry voice cut him off. “If he broke anything, you get to fix it!” Lighter, sharper, footsteps came down the hall and I smelled both human fear and fury. I blinked, glad that I wasn’t where they could see me and tugged harder on the paper.
Gretchen jumped down and grabbed hold of the drawing, Emerson fluttering around and getting in the way.
With one final, hard pull, we dragged the drawing under the bed as the smell of human fear entered the room, along with the father’s stockinged feet and the pungent scent of human sweat.
“Waffles, what on earth? Bad dog!”
Waffles’s ears went back, he lay down on his belly, and whined. I don’t think I’d ever seen such a forlorn expression on someone in my whole life. The approval of his human meant everything to him, poor dog.
The odor of human fury flooded the room, accompanied by the mother’s footsteps. “What is this? Why are all these papers on the floor? What happened in here?! That dog better not have damaged my great grandmother’s desk!”
“I have no idea.” The father’s hands came into sight, scooping up papers. We tugged the drawing back farther from the edge and tried to breathe silently. “Calm down, the desk is fine. He just… knocked it over somehow.”
“It’s an antique, and my grandmother’s. You do not just knock over antiques. Bad Dog!” The mother’s voice rose and Waffles whined louder, scooting backwards from the shoes.
We scrambled even farther back, deeper into the darkness under the bed as the father crouched down and began gathering pencils. Dichall grabbed one of my paws, Gretchen grabbed the other, and we all took a deep breath, then let it out slowly and tried to calm down.
“Leave those and help me with this.”
He stood up, then a few seconds later we saw the desk lift from the floor and settle back into posistion. “There. See? No harm done.” The drawer vanished from the floor and we heard it slide back into the desk. “Right as rain.” He squatted down and scratched Waffles on the head. “Go on, shoo. Go to bed.”
Waffles jumped up and dashed from the room, the clattering of claws echoing off the wood hallway floor for several seconds.
The parents stuck around for several more minutes, retrieving the rest of the drawings and oddiments from the floor then left and closed the door behind them.
I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding and sank down into a heap. The others joined me.
Gretchen hugged Emerson then started stroking him.
I watched her for a moment, briefly wishing I had something small to cuddle, then turned my attention to the drawing. “Let’s hope this is what we needed. I don’t think we’re going to be able to get Waffles back in here.”
Gretchen ignored me, muttering to herself while her gaze wandered over the paper. “I’m sure,” she lifted her head after what seemed an eternity and somehow looked at both me and Dichall at the same time, “this is it. It’s got that uncanny Pananima feeling to it.” She pointed to the drawing.
The drawing was crude, as might be expected from a four-year old girl, the human figures not much more than blobs on sticks, but their orientation… A tall tower spanned the height of the paper, scribbled in with black crayon, and the humans appeared to be standing sideways, like the tower wall was actually their floor. If that was what Pananima was like, I wasn’t super keen on going back there.
Gretchen put one digit on the tower. “I think I have it. If I concentrate on this, I think I can activate the geopattern to bring us to the locus where Vivian is.”
We squeezed under the door and got Waffles’s attention. The adults were watching television, so they weren’t paying any attention to the dog. He came over and sniffed us. “Did you get what you need?”
“Yes, Gretchen is going to try again. Are you ready go to?”
“If I go out now and I’m gone all night, they’ll lock the dog door, I’m sure of it. Then I’ll never be outside without a leash. How about we go tomorrow after my masters go to work? We can sleep here and get rested for the mission.”
I looked at Gretchen and Dichall, who both nodded agreement with this plan. We crawled back into Vivian’s room and found a dark place to sleep.
Dichall rested his head on my belly, putting his big ear on it, listening for the pups. I stroked the fur between his ears. “Can you hear anything?”
“I think so, but it’s probably my imagination.”
“I hope this will be quick. We find her, get her out…”
Dichall’s soft snoring interrupted me. He was already asleep, his head in my lap.
I fell asleep to nightmares of animals that couldn’t talk, growling and chasing us.
The next morning found us huddled once more into Waffles’s fur, meandering through the woods, only this time we were somewhat protected from the cold by the blanket sized drawing we’d spread out across the dog’s back.
I waited until we were deep in, then climbed on Waffles’s head again and grabbed his ears. “Okay, let’s do this. Waffles, close your eye.” He did so and I concentrated on guiding him around obstacles. Behind me, Gretchen, with Emerson in her lap, focused on the drawing that Vivian had made, the quiet sound of her muttered intoning drifting to my ears. Waffles’s paws were silent in the newly fallen snow.
I found myself slipping into daydream mode as we moved, almost falling asleep, and blinked. We were just passing by a tree with a red-breasted nuthatch on its trunk, picking for insects in the bark. She paused in its foraging and looked at us. I nodded to her. “Good morning.”
“Eip eip eip eip.”
I yanked on the dog’s ears to stop him and stared at the nuthatch. “Excuse me?”
“Eip eip eip.” She hopped up the tree and poked at the bark.
I glanced around the woods, the hair raising down the length of my spine, then looked over my shoulder at the others. “Gretchen. I think we’re there.”