The End of Book 8.

Diary entry 345 was the last entry in book 8 of Ella’s diary.

Book 9 – the final DDsE book! – begins on Saturday June 1.

See you then!

 

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345.

DD – At the library entrance, one of the librarians gave me a frown. A wait-I-know-you,-don’t-I frown. Fortunately, a bunch of sirens blasted by outside and a woman sitting with a magazine at a table started rocking back-and-forth and wailing. The librarian ran to sooth her and I zoomed inside. I found a computer around a corner out of view from the front desk.

Every news site was filled with the same stories. The last couple days, violence had exploded around the country. Around the planet. Of course everyone blamed terrorists from far away parts of the world, but the attackers didn’t try to hide their faces during the attacks and it didn’t take long for survivors to notice. Many of the smiling attackers looked just like the people they were attacking.

Everyone on social media had a different theory about what it meant. The attacks. The attackers so similar to their victims. The attackers smiling.

Then attackers began to spray-paint victims with a slogan.

Death to all humans.

How could that be their slogan? They sure didn’t look like aliens from another planet.

One of the attackers seemed to be a leader. He kept stopping under security cameras like he wanted to get filmed. He’d grin and wave and mouth a single word. He spoke in a lot of languages so it took a while to figure out he was just saying one word. “Goodbye”. He’d say that, he’d grin, he’d turn the camera so everyone could watch him killing some innocent passerby.

By the third camera I was sure. The grinning leader was Alcatur.

I ran back to the van, yanked open the back doors, touched each of the animals. The way they looked at me, strong and unblinking. They already knew what I had just discovered.

Alcatur’s war has begun. – sE

344.

DD – At the outskirts of my old sub, pedestrians ran across streets, wincing and ducking like every car might jump at them. The air had a continuous blanket of sirens near and far.

A guy stood on a corner, waiting for the light to change. I rolled down the passenger window to ask him what the Tupac was going on with everybody. When he noticed my window moving, he walked away, fast.

For the first time in ages I missed my phone with internet. Something was happening. I needed to know what it was.

A flicker behind a window. A TV inside a bar. I parked in a green zone. “I’ll be right back,” I called to the air.

An old gravelly bartender waved at me when I stepped inside the bar. “We both know you ain’t 21, kiddo.”

“Could I use the bathroom? Pleaaaassseee.”

I didn’t need the bathroom. I was stalling for my eyes to get used to the dark enough to see the TV.

When I could see it, I froze. A special TV news report showed fuzzy security camera footage. A fuzzy pale head smiled a skull’s smile straight into the camera. Words crawled along the bottom of the screen. “Homegrown terrorism spreads to 50 states.”

The bartender aimed a remote at the TV and the screen went black. “Go home, kiddo. Lock your door. That’s my plan.” He walked into my space so I had to step back, outside the bar. He flipped the sign in the window. CLOSED.

“You should be home.” Gently, he shut the door in my face.

I locked the van and clutched the steering wheel. Three sets of animals’ eyes met mine in the mirrors. The Trigg family house was as close to a home as we were going to get. I so wanted us to be there. But I needed more details than I’d glimpsed on that TV screen. When I got to the Trigg house there wouldn’t be internet or TV.

The whole drive back to the sub, I’d worried about what if I ran into somebody I knew. I was missing presumed dead and needed to keep it that way. But now I had to take the risk of somebody recognizing me. I went to the library where I used to go on the internet, away from the snooping eyes of Ma and Pa Warden.

We were getting sucked into a whirlpool and I had to see more of it before we went under. – sE

343.

DD – People are so noisy and stressed. I’ve been away in one wilderness or another for so long, I forgot what it was like driving through towns. Traffic, fast angry moves. And sirens. So many sirens. Everywhere we went, emergencies. I finally just kept driving in the right lane so it would be easier to pull over when some emergency vehicle blasted by.

Was it always this bad before?

We were on a road that alternated highway and stoplights. When the next stoplight turned green, the car beside me didn’t move for a while. The driver looked left right left right like she didn’t trust cars to obey their traffic signal. A flashing red light popped on, a garage opened and a fire truck blared past us. The other driver covered her mouth and screamed into her hand.

Was this a normal day for her?

Back on the highway, we hit a stretch without other cars and a shadow covered the windshield. I pulled over. In the rear view mirror, Sariah landed behind the van and pecked at the back doors. I was still opening them when she shoved her way inside. She had to scrunch sideways to fit between Fastidious and the ramp pieces.

The road felt hollow around me. I ran back to my driver’s seat.

By the time I pulled out, Grayfast was in back, grooming Sariah. They were getting to be such good friends.

A thick tangy smell helped me understand. Blood. Sariah was hurt and Grayfast was helping her clean the wound. I raised up to see it better in the mirrors. The wound didn’t look too bad. A small bald patch inside a ring of bloody feathers.

The injury was no big deal. That it happened, however. THAT was a big deal. Hard to imagine any kind of accident the owl could have been in. Which left one explanation. Something attacked Sariah.

Back on the highway, I got motion sickness, my eyes jumped so much between mirrors and windows and windshield, watching everywhere.

The miles went by and nothing happened. Empty road turned into a new town. With new sirens. More empty road. Yet another town. Yet more sirens. Grayfast perched on the front seat watching out the windshield, tail flicking. Sariah and Fastidious dozed in back. Or anyway they had their eyes closed.

It no longer felt like something was coming. Something was here. Something bad. – sE

342.

DD – Trying to leave the beach house took forever.

We couldn’t get Fastidious into the van. I removed the back seat so there was room inside. I measured and he would be able to fit through the back doors but how to get him inside? Sariah could lift him but not fly him sideways into the van. She tried so many ways. That owl has a lot of imagination.

I made various ramps but once Fastidious started up them, they would collapse or flop sideways. Still, each failure gave me a new idea. For the next failure.

I worked faster and faster. The way Grayfast and Sariah watched the neighborhood, standing around in this driveway might not stay safe. And how could this group not attract attention?

Fortunately, early morning, weekday, cold. No one was driving past to be first to the beach today, so no one noticed us.

At last I invented a ramp that worked. The ramp was a mattress-cardboard-wood sandwich held in place with storage containers filled with heavy junk.

Fastidious teetered at the top of the ramp then tumbled himself forward onto the floor of the van.Yes! He was inside! I scattered a whole package of lettuce around him to celebrate.

I dragged half the ramp pieces back into the garage then realized. We would need them again. I packed them into the van before Fastidious had finished the lettuce. He’s a careful chewer but still. I was fast. We needed to hurry though I couldn’t say why.

Grayfast hopped in beside the tortoise. Sariah let go of her perch on the roof rack and hovered outside the van doors. When she flapped her wings she made a breeze that tingled my sweaty skin. The van had room for her – barely – but she rose high above us. OK – she’d fly.

I felt good to be driving, even though the freeway didn’t get us far, thanks to rush hour plus accident plus construction. I had plenty of time to write this sitting in traffic!

I hadn’t realized how stuck I had been feeling. At last I was going to be taking action, whatever the Tupac it turned out to be.

We were heading for something, not leaving things behind.

Such a strong sense of endings and beginnings. In honor of a brand new chapter, I’m going to get a new journal out of my backpack tonight so I can switch to writing in a new book even though this one still has some blank pages. – sE

341.

DD – What a strange night we had. Strange as in impossible, mysterious, magical.

My memories of it are confused. Like the vacation when my parents took me to South America, before Matty was born. They could speak Spanish but not me and when I couldn’t understand the conversations, I couldn’t remember much of what happened, either. Here or there a smile, a bright-painted neighborhood, a fountain. I had a thing about playing in fountains.

After Sariah brought Grayfast back from hunting dinner in the bushes, the animals took turns “talking” about themselves. I learned so much about each of them, including Grayfast! I couldn’t remember much beyond my wows, though.

Inside my head were images, impressions a lot more foreign than Spanish words. Their lives from their points of view were strange enough, but on top of that, they didn’t take turns! I had three dreams going at the same time.

My brain turned to scrambled eggs and sensations rushed past me… Wind gusts yank my wings… A rustle under a bush bursts like a full moon in a black forest… Thousands of sand grains bounce across my flippers and I feel every grain… The vibration of my purr changes when I leave my baby bird’s lap and sit beside her. Change the purr, change our feelings… Rain water fills my nostrils and floods away the dust…

How cold the night air had become. I think the animals were mostly “talking” to each other because they didn’t react when I went downstairs. Didn’t notice when I brought blankets for them to nestle in. I was okay with that. For me, this sharing was all wow factor. For them it was more. They were serious and focused like the sharing was part of a job, a mission.

I couldn’t handle any more wow and I needed to sleep before our long drive tomorrow.

I left Grayfast on the roof with the other animals, who had no choice but to stay there. Fastidious was too big for me to carry and too wide to fit through the skinny doors of this house. The rooms were too low and small for Sariah to flap her huge wings. And I couldn’t picture either of them walking down flights of stairs!

I lay on my mattress trying to remember what the animals had shared, trying to stop impossible questions from ricocheting around and keeping me awake (Examples: Do changeling animals exist in times when no changelings are around? How different are changeling animals from regular animals?)

When Fastidious walks through sand, it’s like a billion-grain massage. I bet that could put me to sleep. – sE

340.

DD – Fastidious stretched out his neck and legs like he wanted to absorb every bit of sun that hit the roof. Sariah stayed on the railing, swiveling her head, watching everywhere.

Grayfast lounged beside the tortoise but I didn’t get the feeling any of them were relaxing. They were aware of each other’s smallest movements, the way people get when they are conversing and concentrating on each other’s words.

I brought them pans of water then I went downstairs. To pack. Because from one minute to the next I knew.

It was time for us to go. I needed to join the others. My tribe. Paul, Lourdes, Franklin, Aunt Axi. Lewis. The sirene! The coyote kids!

When Paul and I took our surf lesson, the teacher was surprised that I was so good. “You’re a natural,” she said. Actually I was good because I was in changeling mode. Before I knew what that was.

During the surf lesson and today, I was partly in my everyday world and partly somewhere else. In changeling mode, I could pull back from normal life and I could see over the wall that usually blocks my view about what’s coming next. It wasn’t telling the future, it was knowing what I needed to be ready for next.

Next was returning to the sub. I kept thinking about Paul’s home there. Nothing particular, not bad or good, it just kept coming up. So. Tomorrow I would drive us to the Trigg family home. All of us. Me and my three changeling animals.

I was pretty sure that Sariah and Fastidious were only mine temporarily. Anyway, believing that made it easier for me. If it was just for now, I could drop my guilt about hogging so many animals. When they were temporary, I could focus on enjoying them.

I got the van packed by dinner time and went back on the roof, where I spread lettuce and oat flakes and almonds – the most plausible hope for dinner for these guests. Fastidious ate everything. Sariah tried a nut.

Tonight’s sunset sky was meh so I watched the colors change in the ocean. Sariah let me stand near her at the railing. She smelled like musty old twigs.

She flapped over to Grayfast, surrounded him with her talons, and flew away with him. That gleam in his eye. Ew. They were going hunting.

Two houses away, a neighbor’s yard was thick with bushes. Sariah set Grayfast down and he pounced immediately under one bush. Sariah dive–bombed nearby. It was too far away for sounds but on some level I heard tiny screams.

Behind me, Fastidious crunched lettuce. Phew! So nice to have one vegetarian around! – sE