Home > The Hound of Rowan (The Tapestry #1)

The Hound of Rowan (The Tapestry #1)
Author: Henry H. Neff

For my family, friends, and students

 

 

1

THE BOY, THE TRAIN, AND THE TAPESTRY

Max McDaniels pressed his forehead against the train window and watched storm clouds race across the yellow sky. With a soft patter, rain began to streak the glass, and the sky darkened to a bruise. Fogging the window, Max blinked at his own watery reflection in the glass. It blinked back at him: a dark-eyed boy with wavy black hair and his mother’s sharp cheekbones.

His father’s voice rumbled beside him, and Max turned in his seat.

“Which do you like better?” his father asked with an enthusiastic grin. He held a pair of glossy advertisements between his thick fingers. Max looked at the ads, his gaze settling on the image of an elegant woman at a kitchen sink, her head thrown back in amusement.

“Not that one,” he said. “It’s way too cheesy.”

Mr. McDaniels’s broad, smiling face drooped. Big as a bear, Max’s father had pale blue eyes and a deep, dimpled chin.

“It’s not cheesy,” he protested, squinting at the ad and smoothing his tuft of thinning brown hair. “What’s cheesy about it?”

“Nobody’s that happy doing dishes,” said Max, pointing at the beaming woman up to her elbows in suds. “And nobody does the dishes in a fancy dress—”

“But that’s the whole point!” interrupted his father, waving the flimsy ad about. “Ambrosia is the first ‘ultra-premium’ dish soap! A heavenly lather that’s soft enough for the tub, but still has muscle for the toughest—”

Max flushed. “Dad…”

Mr. McDaniels paused long enough to see the other passengers glancing curiously at them. With a snort, he slipped the ads back inside his raincoat as the train came to a temporary stop on the outskirts of the city.

“It’s not so bad,” Max reassured him. “Maybe you could just make her smile a little less toothy.”

Mr. McDaniels chuckled and promptly slid his ample bottom across the seat to squish his son. Max elbowed back as more people crowded onto the train, collapsing umbrellas and shaking the wet hair from their eyes.

Thunder shook the car and the train started to move again. The passengers shrieked and laughed as the cabin went dark. Max squeezed his father’s arm, and the train’s yellow lights flickered slowly back to life. The rain fell harder now as they neared Chicago, a looming backdrop of steel and brick set in stark relief against the summer storm.

Max was still grinning when he saw the man.

He was sitting across the aisle in the row behind them, pale and unkempt, with short black hair still damp from the rain. He appeared exhausted; his eyelids fluttered as he slouched low in his dirty coat and mouthed silent words against the window.

Max turned away for a moment, swiveling for a better look. He caught his breath.

The man was staring at him.

He sat perfectly still as he focused on Max with a startling pair of mismatched eyes. While one eye was green, the other gleamed as wet and white as a peeled egg. Max stared back at it, transfixed. It looked to be a blind, dead thing—a thing of nightmares.

But Max knew somehow that this eye was not blind or dead. He knew he was being studied by it—appraised in the way his mother used to examine a glass of wine or an old photograph. Holding Max’s gaze, the man eased his head up off the glass and shifted his weight toward the aisle.

The train entered a tunnel, and the car went dark. A spasm of fear overcame Max. He buried his face in his father’s warm coat. Mr. McDaniels grunted and dropped several product brochures onto the floor. The train eased to a stop, and Max heard his father’s voice.

“You falling asleep on me, Max? Get your things together—we’re here, kiddo.”

Max looked up to find the car was light and passengers were shuffling toward the exits. His eyes darted from face to face. The strange man was nowhere to be seen. Flushed, Max gathered his umbrella and sketchbook and hurried out after his father.

The station was crowded with people milling to and from platforms. Voices droned over loudspeakers; weekend shoppers scurried about with bags and children in tow. Mr. McDaniels steered Max down the escalator toward the exits. The rain had stopped, but the sky was still threatening and newspapers eddied about the street in sudden fits of flight. Arriving at a line of yellow taxis, Mr. McDaniels opened the door to one and stood aside to let Max scoot across the long vinyl seat.

“The Art Institute, please,” said his father.

Max craned his neck, straining to glimpse the tops of the skyscrapers as the cab headed east toward the lake.

“Dad,” said Max. “Did you see that man on the train?”

“Which man?”

“He was sitting across the aisle in the row behind us,” Max said, shuddering.

“No, I don’t think so,” said his father, flicking some lint off his raincoat. “What was so special about him?”

“I don’t know. He was scary-looking and he was staring at me. He looked like he was going to say something or come over right before we went into the tunnel.”

“Well, if he was staring at you, it’s probably because you were staring at him,” said Mr. McDaniels. “You’ll see more kinds of people in the city, Max.”

“I know, Dad, but—”

“You can’t judge a book by its cover, you know.”

“I know, Dad, but—”

“Now, there’s this guy at my office. Young kid, still wet behind the ears. Well, my first day I see this kid at the coffee machine with makeup on his eyes, a harpoon through his nose, and music blaring out of his headphones…”

Max looked out the taxi’s window while his father retold a familiar tale. Finally, Max caught a glimpse of what he had been looking for: two bronze lions standing tall and proud as they flanked the museum entrance.

“Dad, there’s the Art Institute.”

“Right you are, right you are. Oh, before I forget,” Mr. McDaniels said, turning to Max with a sad little smile on his broad face. “Thanks for coming with me today, Max. I appreciate it. Your mom appreciates it, too.”

Max offered a solemn nod and gave his dad’s hand a fierce squeeze. The McDanielses had always celebrated Bryn McDaniels’s birthday with a visit to her favorite museum. Despite his mother’s disappearance over two years ago, Max and his father continued the tradition.

 

Once inside, they asked a young woman with a nametag where they could find some of Bryn McDaniels’s favorite artists. Max listened as his father rattled off the names from a slip of paper: Picasso, Matisse, and van Gogh came handily enough, but he paused when he came to the last.

“Gaw-gin?” he asked, twisting up his face and frowning at the paper.

“Gauguin. He’s a wonderful artist. I think you’ll enjoy his work.” The woman smiled and directed them to a large marble staircase leading to the second floor.

“Your mom sure knows all the names. I’ve got no head for this stuff no matter how many times I come here.” Mr. McDaniels chuckled and smacked Max on the shoulder with the map.

The galleries upstairs were filled with color—great swirls of paint layered thickly on canvas and board. Mr. McDaniels pointed to a large painting of pedestrians on a rainy Paris street.

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