Dad left it up to Kayla whether to stay home sick. He knew she had no great objection to going to school, given how little else there was to do hereabouts during school hours. So when she woke up with a scratchy throat, or rather, failed to wake up very thoroughly, her head foggy and her arms and legs heavy, she fumbled to her father’s desk and scrawled a note on the edge of the paper with the strange haiku. Making her way back to bed, she noted Saffi’s absence. Her guess must be correct: Saffi must make her way, or be summoned, to Dad’s side while Saffi slept. It would be easy, either way: Kayla slept with her door closed and the dog outside it. Before crawling back into bed, she connected with Saffi, expecting to confirm her guess; but Saffi was noticing only the high-pitched squeal of mice in the walls, communicating beyond the range of human hearing. She would have to remember to tell Dad about the mice.
When Kayla woke up again, a good deal better and very hungry, she saw by the light outside her window that she had slept through half the afternoon. She checked in with Saffi and found her restless and unhappy. Had Dad ignored her while Kayla slept?
Now that Kayla was awake, Saffi wanted her to do something. Saffi wanted Dad, even more than usual, and Kayla was supposed to make him appear, apparently. Kayla disconnected. “Sorry, mutt. Not until I eat something.”
Dad had gone shopping before he headed off wherever. The pantry and refrigerator were as full as she had ever seen them, and a loaf of bread — the good stuff with seeds in it — and a bag of apples sat on the kitchen counter. She rooted around in the fridge and freezer, putting together something of a feast, and dug in.
When she had made her way through all the food and done some minimal cleanup, she connected to Kayla and headed out back. “All right, let’s see if he’s out in the workshop.” Though the dog would have looked for him there — but she may as well rule it out.
As she expected, the workshop was empty. Saffi nosed around, whining. She stopped and sniffed closer at the low bench by the door, identifying traces of metal and cloth and dirt. What did that add up to?
Saffi did not want to leave the workshop — at least, not to go back to the house. She pointed toward the woods, whining again. The urge filling her was so specific it was almost verbal. She wanted to Find.
“No, Saffi. I’m not feeling that much better. This is not the time for a trek through the woods, chasing Dad. Come!”
Back at the house, she went back to bed with a pile of books, the childhood favorites with which she indulged herself when under the weather, and called Jean. “Yeah, I felt like crud and took the day off. . . . I might be contagious, but if I am, you’re already doomed. . . . Of course we have homework. No, I don’t want to see it, but I’d better. Thanks. See you soon.” She’d left the door unlocked; Jean could let herself in. Kayla picked up Where the Wild Things Are, then hesitated. Dad had read that book to her, often. So had Mom, sometimes. She looked at the next book in the pile, then shook her head a little, opened the book in her hand, and settled back in bed to read.
She awoke from a doze to Jean’s cheerful greeting and Saffi’s surge of recognition. Apparently Kayla’s sleeping hadn’t kept Saffi from staying somewhat alert. Kayla hauled herself back out of bed and waved Jean toward the kitchen. “We’ve got tons of food for a change. Grab something.”
Jean picked up an apple, dug in her backpack for the homework sheet, and tossed it to Kayla. (They used paper for homework assignments here. Her classmates back home would have died laughing.)
What was Saffi going on about? She was nosing Jean’s backpack, looking back toward the back door and the workshop and back at the backpack. Kayla could sense nothing clearer than a contradictory sense of “same/not same.”
Jean’s backpack, more of a knapsack, was made of a sturdy canvas, not too different from the fabric of Dad’s backpack. But Dad’s had a frame, with a place to fasten a sleeping bag.
Saffi barked, almost a yelp, just as Kayla pictured the backpack. Jean looked baffled; Kayla looked into Saffi’s eyes. “That’s what you were smelling? Dad’s backpack?”
What had Dad been doing with it? And where was it now?
And where was he?
Saffi’s nervousness, her insistence that something was wrong, would have infected Kayla even without the link. Connected, it was close to unbearable. Kayla disconnected, but now Jean was in league with the dog. “What’s wrong, sweetie? Can you show us?”
“Now you’ve done it,” Kayla muttered. As if seizing Jean’s suggestion, Saffi headed to the back door and butted it with her nose. “All right, all right, we’ll go out there! Maybe you’ll find something.”
Saffi shot out the door and headed for a patch of dirt, rough as if recently disturbed. At once she started digging, the dark dirt flying to both sides behind her. Kayla looked into the rapidly growing hole and saw something off-white about half a meter down.
Fetch! But Saffi had already seized the edge of the object in her teeth and was tugging it gently, pulling it loose. As soon as she had freed it, she hustled over to Kayla and held it up near Kayla’s hand. It was a piece of paper, the paper Dad used to print his woodcut proofs, folded over and over, folded small.
Kayla took the paper and hid it in her hand, feeling foolish and frightened at the same time. “Let’s go back in the house.”
As soon as the three of them, girls and dog, had crossed the threshold, Kayla locked the door and threw the bolt. She made her way shakily to the kitchen and sank into a chair, silently waving Jean to another. Then she opened the paper. It was crammed with writing, writing smaller than her father liked to write, squeezed in and hard to read.
Don’t tell anyone what I tell you here, unless you must.
For the rest of the message, you'll have to wait until the book comes out in October. :-)