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Chapter Eight

Arthur awoke feeling wonderful, absolutely fabulous, refreshed, overjoyed to be home, bouncing with energy, hardly disappointed at all to discover it was the middle of February.

He almost danced to the fridge, found the three least hairy things in it, put them on a plate and watched them intently for two minutes. Since they made no attempt to move within that time he called them breakfast and ate them. Between them they killed a virulent space disease he's picked up without knowing it in the Flargathon Gas Swamps a few days earlier, which otherwise would have killed off half the population of the Western Hemisphere, blinded the other half and driven everyone else psychotic and sterile, so the Earth was lucky there.

He felt strong, he felt healthy. He vigorously cleared away the junk mail with a spade and then buried the cat.

Just as he was finishing that, the phone went, but he let it ring while he maintained a moment's respectful silence. Whoever it was would ring back if it was important.

He kicked the mud off his shoes and went back inside.

There had been a small number of significant letters in the piles of junk --- some documents from the council, dated three years earlier, relating to the proposed demolition of his house, and some other letters about the setting up of a public inquiry into the whole bypass scheme in the area; there was also an old letter from Greenpeace, the ecological pressure group to which he occasionally made contributions, asking for help with their scheme to release dolphins and orcas from captivity, and some postcards from friends, vaguely complaining that he never got in touch these days.

He collected these together and put them in a cardboard file which he marked ``Things To Do''. Since he was feeling so vigorous and dynamic that morning, he even added the word ``Urgent!''

He unpacked his towel and another few odd bits and pieces from the plastic bag he had acquired at the Port Brasta Mega-Market. The slogan on the side was a clever and elaborate pun in Lingua Centauri which was completely incomprehensible in any other language and therefore entirely pointless for a Duty Free Shop at a spaceport. The bag also had a hole in it so he threw it away.

He realized with a sudden twinge that something else must have dropped out in the small spacecraft that had brought him to Earth, kindly going out of its way to drop him right beside the A303. He had lost his battered and spaceworn copy of the thing which had helped him find his way across the unbelievable wastes of space he had traversed. He had lost the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Well, he told himself, this time I really won't be needing it again.

He had some calls to make.

He had decided how to deal with the mass of contradictions his return journey precipitated, which was that he would simply brazen it out.

He phoned the BBC and asked to be put through to his department head.

``Oh, hello, Arthur Dent here. Look, sorry I haven't been in for six months but I've gone mad.''

``Oh, not to worry. Thought it was probably something like that. Happens here all the time. How soon can we expect you?''

``When do hedgehogs stop hibernating?''

``Sometime in spring I think.''

``I'll be in shortly after that.''

``Rightyho.''

He flipped through the Yellow Pages and made a short list of numbers to try.

``Oh hello, is that the Old Elms Hospital? Yes, I was just phoning to see if I could have a word with Fenella, er ... Fenella --- Good Lord, silly me, I'll forget my own name next, er, Fenella --- isn't this ridiculous? Patient of yours, dark haired girl, came in last night ...''

``I'm afraid we don't have any patients called Fenella.''

``Oh, don't you? I mean Fiona of course, we just call her Fen ...''

``I'm sorry, goodbye.''

Click.

Six conversations along these lines began to take their toll on his mood of vigorous, dynamic optimism, and he decided that before it deserted him entirely he would take it down to the pub and parade it a little.

He had had the perfect idea for explaining away every inexplicable weirdness about himself at a stroke, and he whistled to himself as he pushed open the door which had so daunted him last night.

``Arthur!!!!''

He grinned cheerfully at the boggling eyes that stared at him from all corners of the pub, and told them all what a wonderful time he'd had in Southern California.


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