Elena_Alexandrina_Bednarik_-_Zâna_apelorHowdy, howdy, howdy.

You know how there are some phrases which, once you’ve heard them used by a particular person/character, you can’t ever hear them in a normal voice again? Or without finishing the phrase as quoted by the character in question? Well, “howdy, howdy, howdy” is one of mine. I always picture a shark bouncing about with Woody’s hat on his head. “Look, everyone! I’m Woody! Howdy, howdy, howdy.”

All of which has nothing to do with anything.

Ten-gallon hat wave to K.L. Schwengel and the WIPpeteers. WIPpet math = 8 paragraphs for the twenty-Eighth of January.

Seraph led the way down the hall in the opposite direction of Zeeb. Rich, burgundy carpet muffled their footsteps, but they may as well have been stalking the halls in broad daylight the way the strong LED bulbs lit the passage. Between the pairs of ornate mahogany doors marking every five yards they walked, elegant paintings, cases of small sculptures, and woodcarvings lined the cream-colored walls.

Harsha recognized a Monet among the paintings. For half a heartbeat, she let her step slow while she admired it. A half-heartbeat later, she froze altogether. “Seraph,” she whispered, “did you hear that?”

Seraph, already at the end of the hall, strode back to Harsha’s side. “Stay focused.” She took Harsha’s elbow and started to lead her on.

“No wait. You must have heard that. Someone in that room needs help.”

“It’s probably one of Younkins’ people. Speaking of whom, we’re probably going meet a few soon. Now come on.”

Harsha let herself be led forward three or four steps before she stopped again. Something about that noise gave her the distinct feeling the occupant of the room was not one of Youkins’ people. “At least sniff it for me. If it’s a human, we’ll move on, okay?”

Seraph met Harsha’s eyes. Her eyes held a soul-searching quality and Harsha knew she wasn’t going to like what was coming next. “We’re not here to rescue anyone, Harsha. We’re here to [spoiler].”

She’d been right. She hadn’t liked it. Her entire being railed against it. “You’re right. And while we’re at it, why don’t we just open a few doors.”

The Artist's Garden at Giverny by Claude Monet, 1900.

The Artist’s Garden at Giverny by Claude Monet, 1900.