Nina pressed close against Riley while the dumbwaiter shifted and whirred. It dropped a half-inch, rumbled, then -- with a squeak and a churning noise -- began to climb upward. The square entryway dropped below, and Riley and Nina ascended into darkness.
The walls of the dumbwaiter shaft were cool and metallic and smelled like copper and salt. The squeaking of the mechanical pulley filled the shaft, but as she moved up and up Riley could hear other sounds across the walls of the floors that she passed:
A shuffling, snorting, coughing noise of someone or something eating.
The soft chimey ring of a music box plucking a gentle tune.
A low mechanical hiss and groan, accompanied by commanding shouts.
The faint choke and sniffle of someone crying.
The murmur of a distant television, and a frothy voice chuckling.
Whispers. A thousand faint voices across the elevator shaft wall, all speaking quiet and at once.
When the whispering faded and fell below -- when Riley's dumbwaiter had ascended long past it -- silence fell. There was no longer anything to hear but the squeak and whirr of the dumbwaiter.
But then, finally, was another sound: wind.
As she ascended higher, the howling rush of wind grew louder.
The walls of the dumbwaiter shaft were no longer metal now, but wood. She rose past smooth slats of pine and knotted oak.
Wind rushed outside, but distant. The stillness was almost deafening. Nina barely moved and barely breathed.
In front of Riley was a set of slatted folding doors that could be pushed open with little effort. On the other side was a perfectly human-sized kitchen. Sunlight streamed in through pear-patterned curtains, pooling gently on clean counters and scrubbed wooden floors. Dust motes drifted lazily in the light; it seemed no one was home.
"What if she doesn't want to help?" A young boy's voice could be heard just outside.
"She most probably doesn't care a lick about helping at the moment," said the fox. She grinned a little, though, and tilted her furry head at Arthur. "Because she don't know you just yet. How's she goin' ta know she wants ta help you if she don't know you? A stranger don't have any responsibility to see you home -- but a friend! Ah, a friend will go to the ends of the world to get you back to your own soft bed. How're you intendin' to go home without makin' a few friends on the way? It's a long way to go just by your lonesome." She poked her nose a little closer to the boy. "The gold lady is lonesome too, I've heard."