Thanks to RJ Scott for inviting me to be part of her “The Five Senses Blog Tour” for autism. For this stop, I’ve got the first excerpt from “How to Wish Upon a Star”, which is book #3 in the Howl at the Moon series. It features the sense of smell.
Being Hypersensitive to taste, autistic people may find some flavours and foods too strong and overpowering because of very sensitive taste buds, and this may mean they have a restricted diet. Certain textures may cause discomfort. Some people will only eat smooth foods like mashed potatoes or ice-cream.
“How to Wish Upon a Star” – first excerpt
Above: Milo, the hospice dog, is one of the MC’s in “How to Wish Upon a Star”
From chapter 2 “Finding Milo”:
The hospice hallways had shiny linoleum floors and soothing gray-blue walls with paintings of sunsets and flowers. The decor was meant to be soothing, Lily thought, but it bored her senseless. They should have photos of bunnies and other chaseable creatures if they truly wanted to take people’s mind off their troubles. She passed a nursing station and then rooms 200 and 201.
An odd scent tickled her nose and she stopped to sniff the air, trying to figure out what it was. There were a lot of smells in the hospice wing, most them unpleasant. She could smell a heavy lemon cleaner, salt water, the bitter tang of antibiotics, the copper of blood, hints of urine and feces, hand lotion, and the unhappy smell of sickness. There was a trace of the perfume one of the nurses wore and—
Dog. She smelled a dog. A male dog.
Lily looked around and thought she saw a furry face looking around the edge of the counter at the nursing station. But it was only there for a second. It had to be her imagination, with that smell fresh in her nose. There wouldn’t be a dog at the nursing station! Maybe the dog she smelled in the hallway had been brought in by a relative to visit a sick patient?
Shaking her head, Lily walked on, still looking for room 207. When she arrived, Sophie’s son Dillon was coming out the door. He looked exhausted.
“Lily?” he said with surprise.
“Oh, Dillon!” Lily wrapped him in a hug, and he rested against her gratefully. Dillon had grown up in Mad Creek and was good friends with Lonnie. He was a nice man, even if he was fully human.
When she pulled back, Dillon’s eyes were wet. “It’s nice of you to come. I’m afraid she’s not conscious.”
“That’s all right. Why don’t you go get some coffee while I visit with her for a bit?”
“I need to go into the office for a few hours, actually. There are nurses around so… feel free to stay as long as you like.”
“Thanks again for coming. Mom would have loved to see you.”
Dillon left and Lily steeled herself and went into room 207. Her skin prickled with unease, the hair on her arms and neck standing up. But it was just Sophie in the room, after all. She looked small in the bed, a shrunken version of herself, her strong features more hawk-like than ever. She was deeply asleep, her mouth slack.
Lily pulled a visitor’s chair close to the bed and sat down. She took Sophie’s hand, ignoring the way it felt like dry paper. She proceeded to tell Sophie all the latest gossip from Mad Creek. Lily knew a lot of gossip.
The morning slipped by. Sophie never opened her eyes, but a few times she squeezed Lily’s hand. Lily thought Sophie was truly interested in hearing all about Lance and Tim and [redacted for spoilers!]. Well, who wouldn’t be interested! She also told Sophie about little Jason Kunik, who always was an odd duck but bright as a whip, moving back to town to do research on the quickened. He was now a doctor and everything! Several times, Lily could have sworn someone was at the partially-opened door to the hall. But every time she turned around, there was no one there.
Lily had just about run out of things to say when a nurse came in.
“Hey there!” the nurse greeted Lily. She was a big lady with a wide smile and colorful balloons on her aqua nurse’s top. Her badge said ‘Racine’. “Now, don’t mind me! I just need to check a few things. I’m sure Sophie appreciates you coming to see her. Ain’t that right, Sophie?”
Lily couldn’t resist a new person to talk to. She learned that Racine had worked hospice for six years, had two grown children, and was looking forward to an upcoming cruise for her and her husband’s anniversary. She also seemed to be genuinely fond of Sophie.
“I can tell she was a wonderful woman, and she accomplished a lot. You can always tell by who comes to see them in the end, and how their family member’s treat ’em. You know, we all get here sooner or later. Best to live so you have no regrets.”
“She was smart and honest and a loyal friend. She taught all my kids in high school,” Lily said, choking up again.
Lily was about to tell Racine more about Sophie, but her ears heard the tiny release of air that came from the door opening a bit more. She turned to see a long, furry brown face looking at her from around the door. Oh, you sneaky thing. It’s been you all this time, has it? This time, the dog didn’t run away. Lily narrowed her eyes and looked at him thoughtfully.
“Do you know that dog?” Lily asked Racine, very quietly.
Racine turned to glance at the door. A smile lit up her tired face. “Oh, yeah! That’s Milo. He’s our comfort dog.”
“Mm-hmm. He visits with the patients and family members and comforts ’em. He’s just a ball of love, that one. He’s so gentle with the patients! We all think he’s a little bit magic ’cause he always knows when someone’s about to pass. More like than not, we find him curled up next to the ones who just slipped away. Milo makes sure they never go alone.”
“Huh. Does he belong to one of the nurses or doctors?”
“No. Well, he belongs to all of us, I guess. See, a couple of years ago, the head nurse, Mrs. Barton? She read about using service dogs in hospice, how they can help ease stress and fear in the patients and all. So she called the local shelter and asked if they wanted to bring a few dogs by, see how it went. They brought several, but Milo’s the one who stuck. The other dogs weren’t all that interested in the patients and were too rambunctious. But Milo knew just what to do, who needed him the most, and how to be careful.”
“Is that so?”
Lily studied the cute face. The dog blinked at her. He was tall with curly golden hair, a lab-poodle mix, Lily thought.
“Uh-huh. So the shelter brought him by once a week. And the patients were always askin’ for him. ‘Where’s Milo! How come he’s not here today?’ Then one day the shelter called and said they gonna put him down because he’d been there so long without being adopted, you know?”
“Oh no!” The very idea that shelters did that made Lily so sick and furious she wanted to bite someone.
“Oh, yes indeedy. So we had a meetin’ and we decided to bring him to live here? He’s got a bed in the staff room, and everyone takes turns walkin’ him and feedin’ him all that. Ain’t that right, Milo?”
Usually a dog would look at a person who said his name, but Milo’s eyes never moved off Lily’s face. She looked deeply into his eyes, trying to see if her suspicion was correct. Those eyes were like a warm pot of misery stew. There was heartbreak in them, and resignation, fear, and curiosity. The intelligence in them was uncanny. Lily sniffed as discretely as she could, but the stale, medicinal tang to the air kept her from catching a clear scent of the dog. As if he realized what she was doing, he quickly ducked behind the door and she heard the faint click of his nails as he trotted away down the hall.
Oh no you don’t.
“Excuse me a moment,” she told Racine.
Lily slipped from the room into the wide, quiet halls of the nursing home. She had to find that dog! She was not leaving the hospital without having spoken to him in private. The sound of his nails stopped. He’d gone into hiding somewhere nearby. His smell was simply everywhere so it was hard to pinpoint where he was right now. And there were a number of rooms occupied by patients and their families. She couldn’t exactly barge in!
Well, she could. She was Lily Beaufort. And she would, if she had to. But she could at least try to be subtle first. She stopped in an empty hallway and took a deep breath. She spoke, her voice so low a human would only hear her if they were inches away.
“Hello, Milo. My name is Lily. I know what you are. It’s okay. I’m like you. Will you please talk to me? I promise I won’t hurt you. And I won’t tell anyone, if you don’t want me to.”
She stood there in the florescent light of the hall, hardly daring to breath for fear she might miss the tiniest response. As she waited, she couldn’t help but wonder. Was Milo aware of what he was, what he could do? Had he ever met another quickened? She’d known dozens of dogs who’d gotten the spark. Heck, she’d helped their transitions into Mad Creek, and she’d heard their stories. The loneliness and confusion they felt before finding others like them just broke her heart. Like this poor baby.
How many dogs like Milo were out there? Quickened, but all alone, not even knowing others existed? Ugh. The idea made her crazy. They’d talked many times at pack meetings about starting an outreach program. But where did they even begin? These lost souls could be anywhere—anywhere there were dogs and owners who loved them.
After a few minutes, Milo appeared around a corner at the end of the hall. He stood there, keeping his distance and watching her.
“It’s okay, hon. Is there someplace we can talk?” Lily whispered.
Milo gazed at her for another long moment, then he turned and walked away, glancing back over his shoulder. Lily followed.
Comment on here or on RJ’s Five Senses blog post that links to here for a chance to win a free ebook of “How to Wish Upon A Star” when it comes out in May 2016.