Once, somewhere in this world, not long ago and not far from where you are reading this, it was the middle of the night on a quiet block in a city of canyons. Everyone who lived in the tall brick apartment buildings that lined either side of the street was asleep. Sleeping children. Sleeping grownups. Sleeping cats and dogs and birds and mice.
There in the middle of the night on that quiet city block, everything was dark except for the street lamps on either end. The lamps shined down from their tall poles and made pools of light that illuminated a few squares of sidewalk before the dark closed in again. In a few hours, when the sun began to rise on the far side of the river at the edge of the city, the street lamps would switch off. The sky would lighten. Everyone who was sleeping would begin to stir.
For now, the honking of cars and the revving of motorcycles and the beep beep beep of reversing trucks were absent. Had you been standing there, you might have assumed that nothing was happening, nothing except sleep and silence.
But that wasn’t true.
At the far end of the block, in front of a triple-locked and shuttered storefront door, a small dog lay sleeping. This dog was familiar to the inhabitants of the block, although no one knew his name. Everyone who had noticed him trotting along the sidewalk, day in and day out, assumed that he lived with someone in an apartment. Or that he belonged to a shopkeeper and lived in the shopkeeper’s store. Or that he was a restaurant kitchen dog who went home with a busboy or a sous-chef and a bag of scraps at the end of each long night.
They were all wrong.
The truth was that the small dog had no home. If he belonged to anything, he belonged to the block itself. He hadn’t been there long. No one knew exactly how old he was, but if you looked at him carefully you would have seen that he was young. A puppy, maybe.
The street lamp shined down on the orange letters written in swirly script on the whitewashed stone above the door.
As he slept, the small dog nosed and scrabbled and sighed and panted. Maybe something was chasing him in his dream. Maybe he was trying to hide from someone. Maybe he was too hungry to sleep well. The door to Sanjeev’s Store was locked, and in his sleep, the dog pushed himself tight up against the door, so that if it opened suddenly, he would roll right inside.
Had you been standing there that night, on that block of sleepers and dreamers not far from where you are reading this, you might not have known that anything was unusual about the block. But it wasn’t an ordinary place. The tops of the two tallest brick buildings were often draped in clouds, so that their inhabitants looked out on soft whiteness instead of clear air. Sound around the cloud dwellers was muffled. Telephones didn’t work in those apartments, and neither did televisions or radios or computers or anything else that most other people took for granted.
There was something else unusual about the block, a dark and hidden something, but it would take two children –Miranda and Bernard– to figure that out.
No, it wasn’t an ordinary place at all.
Maybe that’s why, even if someone had noticed the small dog huddled against Sanjeev’s Store in the middle of that one night, he wouldn’t have thought twice about him. No one was there, though. No one noticed when a lone car stuttered around the corner and then came rocketing down the street. The car’s lights were off. Its engine revved and its brakes squealed as the driver, peering through the windshield, tried to avoid the street lamp looming up next to the store.
The driver never saw the small dog, confused and terrified by the sudden noise, leap up and skitter away from the door. The radio in the car was too loud for the driver to hear the crunch as the dog was flung into the air. As he ricocheted off the fender. As he collapsed in a heap on the sidewalk. All the driver knew was that somehow he had managed to miss the street lamp, and that made him happy. So he stomped down on the gas pedal and careened on down the empty street, swung left through the red light and was gone.