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«Deep Wizardry», Diane Duane

Book 2 of the Young Wizards series

Summer Night’s Song

Nita slipped out the back door of the beach house, careful not to let the rickety screen door slam, and for a second stood silently on the back porch in the darkness. It was no use. “Nita”—her mother’s voice came floating out from the living room—“where’re you going?”

“Out,” Nita said, hoping to get away with it just this once.

She might as well have tried to rob a bank. “Out where?”

“Down to the beach, Mom.”

There was a sigh’s worth of pause from the living room, broken by the sound of a crowd on TV shouting about a base that had just been stolen somewhere in the country. “I don’t like you walking down there alone at night, Neets…”

“Nhhnnnnn,” Nita said, a loud noncommittal noise she had learned to make while her mother was deciding whether to let her do something. “I’ll take Ponch with me,” she said in a burst of inspiration.

“Mmmmmm…” her mother said, considering it. Ponch was a large black and white dog, part Border collie, part German shepherd, part mutt— an intrepid hunter of water rats and gulls, and ferociously loyal to his master and to Nita because she was his master’s best friend. “Where’s Kit?”

“I dunno.” It was at least partly the truth. “He went for a walk a while ago.”

“Well… okay. You take Ponch and look for Kit, and bring him back with you. Don’t want his folks thinking we’re not taking care of him.”

“Right, Ma,” Nita said, and went pounding down the creaky steps from the house to the yard before her mother could change her mind, or her rather, immersed in the ball game, could come back to consciousness.

“Ponch! Hey Poncho!” Nita shouted, pounding through the sandy front, through the gate in the ancient picket fence, and out across the narrow paved road to the dune on the other side of the road. Joyous barking began on the far side of the dune as Nita ran up it. He’s hunting again, Nita thought, and would have laughed for delight if running had left her any breath. This is the best vacation we ever had…

At the top of the dune she paused, looking down toward the long dark expanse of the beach. “It’s been a good year,” her father had said a couple of months before, over dinner. “We can’t go far for vacation — but let’s go somewhere nice. One of the beaches in the Hamptons, maybe. We’ll rent a house and live beyond our means. For a couple weeks, anyway…”

It hadn’t taken Nita much begging to get her folks to let her friend Kit Rodriguez go along with them, or to get Kit’s folks to say yes. Both families were delighted that their children had each finally found a close friend. Nita, and Kit laughed about that sometimes. Their families knew only the surface of what was going on — which was probably for the best.

A black shape came scrabbling up the dune toward Nita, flinging sand in all directions in his hurry. “Whoa!” she shouted at Ponch, but it was no use; it never was. He hit her about stomach level with both paws and knocked her down, panting with excitement; then, when she managed to sit up, he started enthusiastically washing her face. His breath smelled like dead fish.

“Euuuuw, enough!” Nita said, making a face and pushing the dog more or less off her. “Ponch, where’s Kit?”

“Yayayayayayayaya!” Ponch barked, jumping up and bouncing around Nita I in an attempt to get her to play. He grabbed up a long string of dead seaweed in his jaws and began shaking it like a rope and growling.

“Cut it out, Ponch. Get serious.” Nita got up and headed down the far side of the dune, brushing herself off as she went. “Where’s the boss?”

“He played with me,” Ponch said in another string of barks as he loped down the dune alongside her. “He threw the stick. I chased it.”

“Great. Where is he now?”

They came to the bottom of the dune together. The sand was harder there, but still dry; the tide was low and just beginning to turn. “Don’t know,” Ponch said, a bark with a grumble on the end of it.

“Hey, you’re a good boy, I’m not mad at you,” Nita said. She stopped to scratch the dog behind the ears, in the good place. He stood still with his tongue hanging out and looked up at her, his eyes shining oddly in the of the nearly full Moon that was climbing the sky. “I just don’t feel playing right now. I want to swim. Would you find Kit?”

The big brown eyes gazed soulfully up at her, and Ponch made a small beseeching whine. “A dog biscuit?”

Nita grinned. “Blackmailer. Okay, you find the boss, I’ll give you a biscuit-Two biscuits. Go get ‘im!”


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