I had been sitting at my computer all morning, going through e-mails, catching up with social media, and editing a piece of fiction I was working on. I rose stiffly and stretched, trying unsuccessfully to work out a few kinks and knots in my lower back.
I hobbled to the window and gazed at the arctic scene outside. The recent snowstorm had dumped close to a foot of fluffy powder on us. Not entirely unexpected for December in Minnesnowta, but I could have been quite happy without it. My characters seemed to be enjoying it, though. I watched as two of them pelted each other with snowballs. Having earlier shoveled the snow from the deck and the front walk, I knew it to be too dry for proper snowballs. I suspected one of my characters had added some magic to hold them together. I chuckled.
A noise behind me drew my attention back to the room. The door burst opened, and an elegant looking elf dressed in silk and satin swept into my office without knocking. It was my Arrogant One, fully recovered from our recent adventure and completely reverted to his former temperament. He threw me a sullen look and flung himself into a chair. He began without preamble, and his voice took on the haughty tone I had been accustomed to hearing from him before a dreadful fright had caused a temporary improvement in his demeanor. “You told your readers we are on vacation.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “And so we are.”
“The concept of vacation is new to me; however, I do understand it to involve travel away from one’s place of residence.” He paused, scowling. “We have traveled nowhere. For the past two weeks, we have not once taken leave of this place.”
I cocked my head and folded my arms across my chest. “Well, yes, many times a vacation does involve travel. However, a vacation can also consist of just a break in one’s routine, with no travel involved. Such a vacation has come to be known in popular jargon as a staycation.”
“Staycation?” My Arrogant One snorted. “I surmise that to be merely another term for boring.” He rose and looked down his nose at me.
I shrugged. “If you’re bored, why don’t you go join the others? I believe they are having a snowball fight in the back yard.”
“Children’s games!” He grasped the front of his robe with both hands, and rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. “My time is much too valuable to spend in such trivial and undignified pursuits.” Without waiting for a response, the annoying elf turned on his heel and flounced toward the door, almost running into a stout figure entering the office.
“Whoa now, laddie! Ye best be watchin’ where ye be goin’!”
My Arrogant One’s lips curled into a snarl. “We do not seem to be going anywhere!” He shoved my Old Dwarf aside, and marched off down the hall toward the stairs.
“Wall, he seems ta be his old, charming self agin. What be the popinjay’s problem?” My Old Dwarf tramped over to a chair and climbed into it.
“Boredom. Evidently, our vacation is leaving something to be desired.”
“Aye, summat liken a gitaway?” My Old Dwarf raised an eyebrow at me, tapped the side of his nose with his index finger, and nodded.
“Oh, not you, too?” I raked my hand through my hair and heaved a big sigh.
“Wall, it do be me understandin’ thet a vacation requires actually goin’ someplace and doin’ summat.”
I started to counter with the argument that a staycation is a valid form of vacation, but I noticed the twinkle in the old reprobate’s emerald eyes and recognized that I was being made sport of. I threw my hands up and laughed.
“So, old friend, what brings you to my office today?”
“It be almost lunchtime, lassie, and yer man be re-fixin’ some o thet tasty stew from yestereve. He axed me ta fetch ye up.”
I quickly put my computer in sleep mode, and my Old Dwarf and I headed upstairs to the kitchen.
As we reached the top of the stairs, we were greeted by a wondrous aroma from the kitchen, as Miles added the finishing touches to the leftover stew. Some of my other characters were already filing through the living room and into the kitchen, licking their lips, rubbing their bellies, and jostling for places at the table.
Before my Old Dwarf and I could make our way to the kitchen, the French doors to the deck burst open, and my Young Hero and my Gypsy tumbled inside. The two boys were shoving and giggling. Their cheeks were rosy and their clothes were splattered with snow.
Just as they came inside, my Young Hero pushed a snowball right into my Gypsy’s face. The young lad whooped gleefully, and hooted at his friend. The dark-haired youth just stood there, eyes wide, mouth opening and closing like a fish, with snow dripping down his face. The ruddy-faced lad continued to laugh at his friend, who slowly wiped the slush from his hair and face.
My Young Hero noticed me and my Old Dwarf standing there watching the high jinks. He quickly closed the door and motioned to his companion, who turned toward me.
“Mistress!” My Gypsy greeted me with mischief dancing in his black eyes. “We saved one for you,” he said, dipping his hand into his pouch and producing a snowball.
As he threatened to toss it at me, Miles popped in from the kitchen and warned, “There will be no snowballs in here, boy-o! I just cleaned this place!”
My Gypsy’s eyes almost popped from his head. “What did you say?”
Miles repeated himself and bustled over to the lads, towels in hand. “Here! Dry yourselves off, then mop up all this snow you brought in!” His scowl left no room for argument.
My Gypsy took the proffered towel but just stood there holding it. He cocked his head to one side, his gaze unfocused. A smile played at the corner of his mouth, and he sighed quietly.
My Young Hero furrowed his brow and stared at his companion. “What is it?”
My Gypsy continued to stare off, and his friend reached over and nudged him on the shoulder.
“Hey! What is it? You seem far away.”
“Huh? Oh, it’s nothing.” My Gypsy shook his head hard, as if trying to clear it. “I was just thinking.”
“About the last time we made snowballs. Remember? I tried to throw one at our friend, the Innkeeper, and he said the very same thing to me. There will be no snowballs in here, boy-o! I just cleaned this place!”
My Young Hero rubbed his jaw and swallowed hard. When he spoke, his voice was barely audible. “Yes. Yes, I remember.”
“Ye laddies al’ays seemed right fond o the Innkeep. I never met him meself, but I remember ye telling me ye spent a lot o hours in his establishment.”
The lads nodded, wistfully.
Cleric walked in from the kitchen and joined the conversation. “He was always such a jovial person. He was a good friend to all of us, and a sort of father figure to the boys. I often wonder what happened to him . . . what is happening to him?” She tilted her head and furrowed her brow. She looked at me, obviously expecting an answer.
I jumped at the voice at my elbow. I turned to see my Arrogant One standing there, a smug expression on his face.
“Is happening,” he repeated, narrowing his eyes and glaring at me as if daring me to dispute that claim. When I said nothing, he continued. “I trust time has not stopped in our world just because we have fallen out of the pages of your manuscripts and into this insufferable existence.” The annoying elf adjusted his robes and sneered. “After all, you keep insisting that we all still exist in our own world, at the same time as we are captive here.”
“Captive is a harsh word. I assure you, if I could send you all back, I would have done so immediately upon discovering you here.”
“But that still does not answer the question.” My Arrogant One sneered at me, and moved to the center of the room, a move obviously calculated to better play to his audience.
My Bounty Hunter stole his thunder, joining the conversation from the edge of the room. “No, it does not. Mistress Writer, are you quite certain we are still a part of what is happening in our world? Are you quite certain we exist in both worlds at the same time? And, if so, why do we have no knowledge of what is happening to our other selves?”
I frowned. My Bounty Hunter and I had had this conversation before. If I reminded him of our previous discussion, I would be divulging alarming information to another character. I wondered if my Bounty Hunter could be seeking to provoke such a revelation. I looked at him, but his expression revealed no ulterior motive.
My Arrogant One quickly tried to reclaim the limelight from him. He drew himself up and stood there, glaring at me. “Indeed! If we really do, as you claim, exist in both worlds, why do we not know what we are doing in our own world? What proof can you offer that your claim is valid?”
I met his gaze and held it for several long minutes before addressing all my characters. “I can offer no absolute proof, only my own observations.” I paused and licked my lips, trying to find the right words. “As you know, you did not all arrive here together. Each of you fell out of my manuscripts at a different time.”
All of my characters looked at each other and nodded.
“Yet, you each have memories of things that you did together in your own world, things that were happening after one or more persons with whom you shared your adventure had come to exist in this world. Those persons already residing here have no memory of that specific adventure in your world, but you do. How could you have been doing anything with a person who no longer existed in your world?”
I saw nothing but confusion in the faces of my characters. I tried again.
“Old Dwarf, you and my Young Hero have been here the longest. Yet, Cleric, my Gypsy, and my Foreman can all tell of a year-long adventure they shared with the two of you; an adventure of which you have no memory, as it happened after you had fallen out of my manuscript here in this world.”
My Old Dwarf frowned. “Iffin ye sez so, then it be so. But it do na make much nevermind ta me. I be here now, and this world be the one I have ta live in. So, why do na we git ta eatin’ thet stew afore it turns cold agin?”
Miles nodded. “Okay, let’s eat. All, except you two.” He frowned at the two lads, still dripping snow on the living room carpet. “You boy-os clean up this mess before you get anything to eat!”
My Gypsy grinned and waggled his eyebrows. “Ah, Master Miles, you really do sound just like the Innkeeper!”
I stroked my chin and narrowed my eyes, as I followed my husband and the others to the table for lunch.
Conversation at the table was sparse, as everyone attacked the leftover stew with gusto. As several characters took their second or third helping, Miles prepared two heaping plates and set them aside for the lads. When the boys finally joined us at the table, the others were already finished eating and had wandered off. Miles quickly reheated the meal for the lads.
“Here ya go, boy-os. Nice hot stew. And I’ll get some mulled wine to go with it.” He brushed a straggly strand of hair out of his eyes and wiped his face with his apron.
I gaped at my husband. “Miles?”
“Huh? Did I say that?” He gave me a sheepish look and shook his head. “Hot cocoa. I meant to say hot cocoa.”
The lads looked from Miles to me, and back again. They wore matching frowns.
“Mistress?” My Young Hero swallowed hard. “Before today, Master Miles has never referred to us as boy-os.”
“But you know who did.” My Gypsy’s eyes were as big as saucers.
“The Innkeeper.” The two of them said it in unison.
“And I can’t remember how many times I saw the Innkeeper brush that errant lock of hair from his eyes.” My Gypsy stared at Miles.
“And he used to wipe his face on his apron all the time!” My Young Hero’s voice quavered. “I have never before seen Master Miles do that.”
Miles looked at the three of us, gaping at him.
“What’s wrong? What’s happening?”
I chewed on my lower lip while I considered the problem. “I’m not sure.”
“I am.” My Young Hero spoke with conviction. “Something has happened in our world. The Innkeeper is in trouble!”
“We must help him!” My Gypsy leaped up.
I placed a restraining hand on his arm. “If something is wrong in your world, you will deal with it. The you that is still there, that is. There is no way for the you that is here to help someone back there.”
My Gypsy pursed his lips and ran his hand through his hair. My Young Hero nodded hesitantly and dropped his gaze to the floor. Miles stepped forward and offered his reassurance. “Don’t fret, boy-os. The Blacksmith will lend a hand. Old Smyth could always be relied on!”
My jaw dropped.
“Honey? How do you know about Old Smyth?”
Be sure to come back each week and see what’s happening! We’ll leave the porch light on for you!