For the first eight or so years of his life, Donald was just your regular Hopeless Maine orphan with a dead dog as sidekick. He remembered very little about his family, and had no idea where the dead dog – Drury – had come from. But hey, the dead dog was neat, and funny, and adored him and it was all fine.
Then, as so many children who live for long enough do, Donald became curious. He took up exploring in his spare time, going out with other young orphans to poke about in old ruins, dodgy cellars, uneasy corners. There’s an element of natural selection here that young humans on Hopeless seem to relish, even though mostly what it does is punish the curious with death, leaving an adult population of survivors who have learned not to ask, not to look too closely, not to leave the path and never to wonder what the funny noise was. For some, childhood on Hopeless is truly a magical, if brief experience. Not all children want to grow up, and the island is all too ready to assist them in this.
Donald’s downfall did not come out of the darkness with far too many teeth. It did not lure him into a deep pool, or latch on to steal his blood. It came in the form of a book. A book hidden in a dusty attic, that called out to him when he first glimpsed its pale spine. He took the book back to his bed in the orphanage, and hid it under a loose floorboard.
Everyone in the orphanage has at least one loose floorboard or moveable bit of wainscoting to hide stuff behind. No one touches anyone else’s hidden stuff – it is one of the unspoken rules of the orphanage. Everyone pretends not to know where other people have hidden their things. So long as floors or ceilings are not compromised by the stash, and nothing comes out and kills someone, the adults also undertake to have no idea who has hidden what.
The book obsessed Donald. It haunted him. When he tried to sleep at night, his head was full of images that tormented his young soul. He could find no peace. He became silent, ghostly, unable to speak. For two years, he said nothing to anyone, and because weird afflictions are the daily business of the orphanage, no one bothered about it too much. He was later saved from this condition, but that, as they say, is another story.
Sometimes, late at night, he would sneak the book out and take it to a window in the hopes of illuminating a few words or images with moonlight. The book showed him other worlds, and while it filled him with misery, he could not let it go. He learned many of the words by heart. D is for Dog left a hollow pain in his chest, but he could not look away.