I was staring at the blank computer screen, trying to wrestle some ideas into submission. My fingernails were tapping out a staccato beat on my desk, and I was grumbling under my breath. Why did I ever start this blog? No one told me how difficult it would be to come up with fresh, new ideas every single week!
I just about jumped out of my skin. If an idea had been about to cooperate and take shape, it was lost now. I spun my chair around, ready to bite someone’s head off. I found myself looking up into the soulful, cornflower-blue eyes of my Cleric, and bit back my impending outburst.
“What can I do for you?”
“I just wanted to thank you for taking me, Dragon, and the lads on that outing the other day. It has been a long time since I enjoyed myself that much!”
Cleric’s warm smile was infectious, and I returned it in kind. “I’m glad you enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun, too, but now it’s back to work for me.” I glanced pointedly at the computer, my smile fading to a scowl.
“I shall take my leave, then, Mistress, so you can continue with your work uninterrupted.” She turned and skipped off down the hallway, leaving me and the blank screen to stare at each other again.
I sighed. I removed my glasses, cleaned them on my shirttail, and put them back on. I squirmed around in my chair. I looked out the window and marveled at the lone hummingbird at the nectar feeder. Hmmm…maybe… My fingers moved toward the keyboard.
I jumped again, another idea flying out of my brain, probably never to return. For a second time, I swiveled my chair around, ready to give someone a severe tongue-lashing. This time, it was my Young Hero and my Gypsy sticking their heads in the door. I groaned.
“What is it?”
“It’s almost noon. We thought you might want some lunch.” My Gypsy had obviously started without me, as he spoke around a mouthful of food.
My Young Hero placed a small platter on my desk. “There were plenty of leftovers from last night’s dinner.”
“Yes, I had thought to have them for this night’s dinner.” I attempted to frown, but the food did smell good, and my stomach was growling. As usual, I had lost track of time while working on my blog.
After a quick bite to eat and some chit-chat with the lads, I thanked them and handed them the empty platter. They headed upstairs and I turned back to my computer once more.
Twenty minutes later, my screen was still blank. I rubbed my head, which was starting to pound. Suddenly, I blinked several times rapidly and leaned in toward the computer. Oh, this is a great idea! My readers will love this! My hands were poised over the keyboard, ready to start typing.
I jerked, and my fingers tripped all over themselves, the letters on the monitor jumbling into an incoherent mess.
“What?” I whirled my chair around, ready to take no prisoners. My Arrogant One stood just inside my office door, pale and trembling.
My eyes narrowed and I slowly rose from my chair. “Out. Now.” I pointed to the door.
“Now!” I advanced on the annoying elf, the perpetrator of the recent abduction of Cleric and my Old Dwarf.
He stammered. “B…b…but the Old Dwarf…”
“If you aren’t out of here in the next 10 seconds, what I do to you will be a hundred times worse than anything my Old Dwarf could ever dream of doing!”
I took another step toward him, and my Arrogant One turned and fled down the hallway to take refuge in the conference room.
One more time. I sighed as I returned to my seat. The great idea I had conceived just moments before would not revisit my brain. I spent the next half-hour staring at the blank screen, half-formed ideas chasing each other around my mind. Suddenly, my head jerked up and I smiled. Eureka! I started to type again.
I twisted around in my chair to see the latest intruder. Sorceress stood there, her brow furrowed.
I narrowed my eyes and crossed my arms. “What is it?”
Sorceress hesitated in the face of my obvious annoyance. “I am sorry. Am I disturbing you?”
“No, I always give a murderous look to every fifth person who interrupts my train of thought while I’m writing.” I glared at her.
“Perhaps I should return later.” She started backing out of the room.
“You’re here now. Why don’t you just tell me what you want?”
“Well…” She hesitated again, wringing her hands.
“It is Dragon, Mistress. I am exceedingly worried about her.”
“Dragon? What’s wrong with Dragon?”
Sorceress tugged at her robes. “She may be in danger.”
“Danger? What sort of danger?”
“Well, Mistress, do you not remember charging me to stay alert, lest the familiar of the evil wizard, Morcant, returns?”
I immediately sat up straighter and gave her my full attention. “He’s back?”
Sorceress frowned and shook her head. “No, Mistress, I have seen no sign of the milky-eyed grackle.”
“Well, about an hour previous, while watching for that very recognizable bird, I saw this squirrel…”
“A squirrel?” I blinked.
She nodded. “Yes, Mistress. A small Red Squirrel. And this is not the first time I have seen it.”
“Do you mean Reggie?” I titled my head and squinted at Sorceress.
“No, Mistress. It did not appear to be the resident Red Squirrel you and Master Miles have dubbed ‘Reggie’.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“This Red Squirrel had glowing eyes.”
I rubbed the back of my neck and shook my head. “Glowing eyes?” I quirked an eyebrow at Sorceress.
“Yes, Mistress.” She began wringing her hands again.
“It’s most likely just the way the sun was hitting the squirrel’s eyes.” I waved dismissively.
“The sun, Mistress?”
“Yes, the sun reflecting in his eyes.”
“Mistress, have you glanced out the window lately?”
I followed her gaze and saw a dark sky heralding an impending storm. Not a bit of the bright sunshine I had seen earlier in the day was to be found peeking through the clouds.
“Well, how long has this demon squirrel been hanging around?”
“I first noticed it the day after your outing with Cleric and the lads; but today, I only noticed it a short time ago.”
“Where is it now?” I rose from my desk.
“When last I saw the squirrel, it was in the big maple tree in the yard. Since this is not the first time I have seen it there, I thought it should be kept under observation. Dragon is watching it now.”
“And you think Dragon is in danger from this little Red Squirrel?”
“Yes, Mistress. She has employed her shapeshifting ability in order to observe the squirrel unnoticed. She has transformed into a small bird. I believe the Gypsy called it a Black-capped Chickadee. I told Dragon I doubted such a small bird could hold its own in an altercation with a Red Squirrel, but the Gypsy assured us they are very feisty little birds.”
I heaved a deep sigh. “I guess we’d best go check it out.” I turned off my computer and followed Sorceress out of my office. I didn’t even bother saving the half-sentence I had managed to type for my blog.
Upstairs, we found my Gypsy in the living room. He was standing by the French doors, peering outside. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw us.
I looked outside. “So where are Dragon and this demon Red Squirrel?”
“Do you really think it’s a demon?” My Gypsy’s eyes widened.
I grunted and shook my head. “Figure of speech.”
“Oh.” His shoulders slumped and he almost sounded disappointed.
“Well? Mistress asked where they are.” Sorceress frowned and tapped her foot.
“I’m not sure where the ‘demon’ Red Squirrel is. The normal-looking Red Squirrel — the one you and Master Miles call ‘Reggie’ — chased him off.”
I looked out the door and saw Reggie lounging on the deck, munching peanuts and grapes. He looked smug, having safeguarded his territory from the intruder.
“So where’s Dragon?”
My Gypsy shuffled his feet and swallowed hard.
“Well? Did you not keep Dragon under surveillance?” Sorceress was still frowning, and now her arms were folded in front of her.
My Gypsy shrugged. “If you’ve see one chickadee, you’ve seen them all. It’s pretty hard to pick out one specific bird once it’s mixed in with an entire flock.”
“Great. Here we go again!” I groaned and raked my hand through my hair.
“Maybe Sorceress should get her scrying bowl?”
I shook my head at my Gypsy’s suggestion. “Not yet. Let’s see if we can find Dragon by more conventional means first.”
I opened the door and walked out onto the deck. Reggie dropped the grape he had been munching and scampered to the safety of the nearby maple tree. He shrilly scolded me for daring to encroach on his domain. I ignored his chattering protests and descended the steps.
I heard a lively chorus of Chickadee-dee-dee. I walked toward the sunflower seed feeder, which was being systematically emptied by a flock of Black-capped Chickadees. I watched as each tiny bird in turn flitted from the safety of the trees down to the feeder, grabbed a morsel and flew back to the tree to devour it. I wondered if I would be able to recognize Dragon in her guise as one of these sassy little birds.
I returned to the deck. The clouds that had rolled in so quickly after lunch were breaking apart already. Small patches of turquoise and azure dotted the sky, and the sun was visible again.
“Why don’t we sit out here and enjoy some afternoon sun? Summer’s almost over and there won’t be many more opportunities like this.” I winked at Sorceress and my Gypsy through the screen.
“That is a delightful idea.” Sorceress joined me while my Gypsy withdrew to the kitchen, returning with a pitcher of iced tea and some glasses.
As the three of us sat there on the deck, sipping our tea, a Black-capped Chickadee flew down and perched on the nearby railing. It loudly sassed us, then flitted up to the tree adjacent to the one occupied by Reggie. Seconds later, it was back on the railing. Chickadee-dee-dee!
“Something seems to be agitating this bird.” I shot a knowing look at Sorceress and my Gypsy.
“Indeed!” Sorceress lifted a hand to shield her eyes from the sun, and scanned both the tree where Reggie sat, and the nearby one that had been the source of the chickadee’s attention.
My Gypsy followed suit. “Do you see anything?”
Sorceress shook her head.
The chickadee continued flitting back and forth between the deck railing and the tree. Chickadee-dee-dee! Chickadee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee!
Suddenly Reggie came to attention. He was up on all fours, his tail was lashing, and he started to chatter loudly at something. The chickadee fled back to the safety of the deck railing to watch the spectacle with us.
Reggie raced out to the end of the maple limb he was on and made an astounding leap to the adjacent ironwood tree, the tree the chickadee had been flitting to and from. He raced along a branch toward the tree trunk. He shot straight up the trunk, still chattering. We soon saw the cause of his consternation. Sitting on a branch high in the ironwood tree was another Red Squirrel, one with strangely glowing eyes.
My Gypsy, Sorceress, and I watched, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, as Reggie charged the other Red Squirrel. As Reggie neared striking distance, this interloper simply rose from the tree limb and flew off.
When I had recovered my voice, I asked my Gypsy, “What did you put in this iced tea?”
“Then how do you account for the fact that I just saw a squirrel fly?”
My Gypsy shook his head. “I don’t know. I saw it, too.”
Sorceress cleared her throat. “Strictly speaking, we saw the squirrel levitate. It has no wings; therefore, it can not actually fly.”
We sat there and watched the strange apparition disappear behind a neighboring house. It was several long minutes before any of us spoke.
The three of us said it in unison. Somehow, Morcant had made his familiar, the milky-eyed Common Grackle, take on the appearance of a glowing-eyed Red Squirrel.
By evening, my Gypsy and Sorceress had informed my other characters of the strange events of that afternoon. Right after dinner, I went downstairs to meet with them in the conference room. My Old Dwarf had evidently called a truce with my Arrogant One, as the two of them entered the room together, followed closely by my Bounty Hunter. Cleric, Sorceress, my Foreman and the lads arrived not long after. Last to arrive was Dragon, back in her true form. The room was dead quiet, and all eyes were on me.
Before I could say anything, Miles entered the room and took his seat next to me. “Mind if I join you? I already turned on the porch light.”