My name is Snuff. I’m a guard dog. But you may already know that. I live in America now with my master Jack and, for over a quarter century now, a witch named Jill and cat named Graymalk have joined us as we’ve moved from place to place to research, to collect, and to prepare.
“Are you ready for tomorrow Snuff?” Graymalk asks, watching from where she’s seated in front of a large window as people pass by.
Tomorrow October begins.
It’s been over a quarter century since the last todo. That’s when and where we met Jill and Gray and when Things happened -- or almost happened.
“I have my list. And you?” I don’t want to give too much away. Yes, we have been companions over all of these years, but Gray is a cat and I am a dog and the last time the moon was full at the end of a long October month Jill had wielded the Opening Wand. Or would have if not for a rogue intervention.
Gray dodges her head down and laps at a paw. I don’t know if she’s playing for time, but I don’t press. There is still time before lines will be established, and besides, I want to give the years together the weight they deserve.
“Much the same,” she says at last, her attention still focused on the world on the other side of the glass. “Everything is so different now.”
I sit, literally as well as figuratively, and wait.
“Yes. The first in a new century always requires adjustments. Especially now.” I look at the radio in the sitting room, at the telephone and the cars outside.
Graymalk turns to look at me. “There’s good reason why the Sphinx is part cat and not part dog.”
She stands up and arches her back. A man outside stops to watch. That in and of itself would be enough to catch my attention, if the scars on his face that are only partially hidden by a deep brimmed hat and a pale mask hadn’t already caught my eye. That and the cape that looks a few decades out of fashion amid a sea of slicked hair and suits.
I scan the area around him but don’t spot any creatures. I wonder if we’ve already seen his familiar.
“Well I won’t deny that I’m happy to have one less Player to figure out. I wasn’t looking forward to being on opposite sides again and I prefer not having to outsmart a cat.”
Gray laughs. “That’s bold of you to think you would.”
Jack will be happy too, and she knows it. We’ve teamed up with others before over the centuries, but that had always been a temporary thing usually established only during the month. And never with a someone who had once been on the other side.
But Jill was different.
“She’ll need a new artifact,” I say, thinking of the opening wand and wonder whose hand will wield it this time. “Or does she already?”
Now that the door has been opened (as it were) for discussion, I feel it’s okay to ask the questions.
“Or is that among the things of your list? If you need some help...”
Graymalk is different, too. In all of my years since Jack summoned me, I have only every served him, and yet somehow I find myself offering my assistance to a cat.
“I think I’ve given enough information today.” Graymalk hops down from the window seat and brushes by me toward the kitchen. “I’ll expect some in return.”
And with that, she disappears into the other room.
I look at the clock. It’s late afternoon, and there are things that have to be done tonight, I raise myself onto my hind legs and rest my paws up on the seat Graymalk vacated and commence barking at various strangers as they walk by.
Jack emerges from his study, a leash in hand. “Who’s ready for a walk?”
I run over to him, tail wagging.
“Good boy, Snuff,” he says, grabbing his long jacket and fedora. Given the date on the calendar, he adds his long knife with the symbols carved into it in case an opportunity arises to cross something off of our list.
Tonight I’ll take the lead, sniffing for hints of where the Ritual could take place. To watch for any Players that might also be taking the lay of the skyscraper- and cement-filled land. I take him down toward the Museum named after the department store owner. I’m almost certain he’ll need something from there, but the crowd is too big and so we merely walk by.
“Well?” Graymalk asks when we arrive back home.
There are any number of questions she could be asking, and although I could take a page from her book and answer her question with a question -- I do owe her.
“Something’s there for sure. Although what, I don’t know yet. Also a crow followed us. He’s definitely someone’s, but it was too early to ask. And I didn’t think he’d answer with Jack there.”
“Jill’s made dinner.”
I follow Graymalk into the dining room where Jack and Jill are already sitting. Jill’s hair is cut in the short style that is popular now, and I notice for the first time there’s a jeweled clip that flashes in the light. It matches the jewels in her ears and at her neck.
There’s a bowl of fish for Graymalk next to Jill’s chair, and Jack places a plate of liver on the floor for me. This is a special night and it’s treated as such. The rituals that we’ve settled into over the last quarter century are about to change and that’s to be celebrated and memorialized.
We’ll listen to the radio, perhaps a little closer in case any hints travel along the wireless waves. And when the clock strikes midnight, I’ll settle in Jack’s study and share with him what I’ve learned. And in the kitchen, among Jill’s books and bottles and herbs, Graymalk will do the same.
And we’ll prepare as the Game begins once again.