My characters came sprinting into the laundry room, drawn by the loud clatter of the washing machine followed by an even louder string of my more colorful expletives.
“Lassie, whatever be the matter?” my Old Dwarf gasped, wide-eyed and breathless. He wielded his great battle axe and looked about for whatever monsters needed slaying. He was backed up by my Bounty Hunter with his crossbow, my Gypsy with his dagger, my Young Hero with his morningstar, and my Cleric with her staff and her healing herbs.
I looked at them, all ready to defend me to the death, and answered sheepishly, “Oh, this darn washer is acting up again. It didn’t drain, and it started jumping around like a thing possessed.”
“Possessed?” My Cleric pushed past the others to scrutinize the situation. She frowned and reached for her pouch of herbs. “I am not certain I have the proper components for a demonic exorcism, Mistress, but I will give it my best effort.”
“I said like a thing possessed, not that it is possessed.” I laughed. “There is no need for any exorcisms.”
“Are you quite certain, Mistress?”
My Cleric’s shoulders slumped, and her normally bright eyes clouded. She sighed deeply. “You know, Mistress, ever since we fell out of your manuscripts and took up residence in your world, I feel you have greatly undervalued us, and the contributions we could make here. I especially feel you have not utilized my abilities to their greatest potential.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, but there will be no exorcisms.” My tone invited no further discussion.
“Well, there must be something we can do to help!” my Gypsy asserted. “A little magic, perhaps?” He grinned and waggled his eyebrows.
I was not amused. “No! No magic! And what you can do is absolutely nothing!” I replied, scowling at the lot of them. “I’ll call the repair service.” I turned toward my office, and added under my breath, “again.”
My Gypsy’s sharp ears picked up that last comment, and he stated in a loud stage whisper, “Oh, yes, please do, Mistress. They were ever so much help all the previous times you had them here.”
I ignored him. I have a service contract with my utility company that covers all my appliances, so the repairs were free. That is a price I find extremely attractive, so I don’t mind if they don’t get it right the first few times.
I dialed the number from memory and went through their automated phone system. After choosing all the correct options, I was, as usual, immediately placed on hold. A recorded voice sweetly informed me that all service representatives were helping other customers. The disembodied voice went on to inform me that all calls were taken in the order received, and cautioned me to remain on the line. Then I was treated to some soothing music (I think it might have been a crossover thrash version of the 1812 Overture), blessedly interrupted at regular intervals by the sweet voice endlessly repeating how much they appreciated my business and assuring me that a customer service representative would be with me shortly.
Ninety minutes later, I was finally connected with a live being, whose tired, irritated voice contrasted sharply with the sweet tones of the automated system. After taking all the pertinent information, the representative assured me that a service technician would be dispatched the next morning, sometime after 8 am.
I returned to the laundry room to find my characters still crowded around the washer, jabbing and poking at it as if they could prod it back to life.
“Okay, why don’t you all go back to whatever it was you were doing before all this excitement?” I suggested.
“Are you quite certain we can do nothing to help, Mistress?” my Cleric inquired.
“There’s nothing you can do,” I assured her. “The service technician will be here tomorrow. And while he is here, all of you are to make yourselves scarce. He won’t need any help.”
“Of course,” my Gypsy replied, his voice ringing with insincerity.
“I mean it. If even one of you miscreants so much as pokes your nose into this room tomorrow, I’ll…”
“…write you all out of the books,” the entire group intoned. I guess they’d heard that threat a few times.
Catching the murderous look in my eye, my Cleric hustled the others out of the room. The last I saw of them, they were disappearing up the stairs, whispering urgently among themselves.
The following day, the repairman arrived bright and early at the break of noontide, and got right to work. About two hours later, I heard a knock on my office door. “Excuse me, ma’am, but are there any children in the house?”
I frowned. “No, why?”
“Well, I seem to be missing some tools, and a metal clamp. I had just set it all out, and had to go out to my truck to get one more item. When I came back, the tools and clamp were gone.”
“That’s strange,” I replied, trying not to choke. “Are you quite certain?”
“Ma’am, I can hardly be mistaken. I had it all spread out on the floor in front of the washer. I was gone for less than five minutes. When I came back, the stuff was gone.”
I rose from my chair, and suggested we go take a look. Sure enough, the items in question were nowhere to be seen. My jaw tightened, and the vein in my left temple started to throb. I’ll kill them! I’ll delete each and every one of them from the manuscripts and replace them with characters that know how to stay in their own world and do as their writer tells them!
“Why don’t I just run upstairs for a moment?” I tried to think fast. “There are no children here, but I do have several relatives visiting. Perhaps one of them wandered off with your things.”
The repairman frowned. “If any of your relatives did take the items, ma’am, I’ll have to report it to my supervisor. Our company takes a dim view of pilfering.”
I started to sweat, imagining how I could possibly explain the theft of these items by characters out of a book. “I’ll be right back,” I promised, and I tore up the stairs.
My Foreman and the lads were, predictably, raiding the refrigerator. “Okay,” I accosted them without preamble, “where’s the stuff?”
“What stuff?” My Gypsy and my Young Hero asked in unison.
“The tools and the clamp that disappeared from the laundry room the minute the repairman’s back was turned,” I replied in a hoarse whisper, trying not to screech.
“We had nothing to do with any disappearing tools,” my Gypsy asserted with a frown. “We’ve been here for the last half-hour, having a bite of lunch.”
My Foreman nodded. “It’s the truth, Mistress. The lads have been here with me.”
“Then who?” I asked. I could not imagine my Cleric stealing anything; and while I would not put it past my Bounty Hunter or my Old Dwarf to indulge in a bit of thievery, I could not understand what interest they would have in the tools.
“Disappearing items seems more the purview of the Sorceress, I would think,” retorted my Gypsy, still sounding aggrieved that I had suspected him.
My Young Hero nodded, but my Foreman frowned. “The Sorceress may have the ability to make things disappear, but she would have no motive,” he mused. He chewed his lower lip for a moment, then asked, “Mistress, are these tools shiny?”
I nodded, comprehending. “DRAGON!” I screeched.
I raced into the guest bedroom, and threw open the door of the large walk-in closet my Dragon had claimed as her lair. Sure enough, on the wide built-in shelf at the back of the closet, there was the great beast, curled up and feigning sleep. She lay atop a small pile of shiny trinkets. In addition to several pieces of my flatware that had gone missing some months ago, a silver picture frame, two flashy gold-plated bracelets, and a set of large, gold keys poked out from beneath her bulk.
She opened one eye and yawned.
“Dragon, where are the tools and the clamp you took from the laundry room?”
“You know what I’m talking about…” I started to say.
My Young Hero gently pushed me aside and addressed my Dragon. “You really must return the items, my friend. We shall all be in serious jeopardy if you do not.”
My Dragon giggled, and trilled, “But they are so shiny!”
“I know. But it is not honorable to steal.”
My Dragon stared at my Young Hero, her eyes wide. She sucked in her cheeks, and snorted a puff of smoke from her flaring nostrils. “I did not steal them!” she protested defensively. “I merely borrowed them to admire them more closely.”
“Well, if you will allow me to relieve you of these borrowed items, I will see that they are returned to their rightful owner, and no dishonor will be visited upon you,” my Young Hero promised her tenderly.
My Dragon stared for many long moments into the guileless green eyes of her friend. Finally, she nodded and moved aside, her head held high and her dignity intact. My Young Hero gathered the tools and the clamp, but shook his head when I reached for them.
“Nay, Mistress, I promised my friend I would see these items back to their rightful owner, and I shall.”
He and I walked down to the laundry room. “I apologize for the trouble,” he said to the repairman as he returned the items. “I fear my pet collects shiny objects, and when she saw these unattended, she just made off with them.”
The repairman chuckled and asked, “What do you have? A crow? A kitten? A ferret?”
“A dragon,” my Young Hero called back over his shoulder, as he walked out of the room and left me to face a bewildered repairman. I merely shrugged, and went back to my office.
That evening, I decided to prepare roast beef, a favorite of my Young Hero and his companions. I made certain there were plenty of leftovers for their midnight raid on the refrigerator. Before going to bed that night, I scattered a few shiny trinkets around the house, where my Dragon was sure to find them. And I left a pink rosebud on my Cleric’s pillow, hoping she, and the others, would feel less unappreciated.
If you’d care to see the great repair job the service technician performed on my washing machine, I’ll leave the porch light on for you. I just recommend you leave any shiny objects at home.