Meeting the Neighbors

Meeting the Neighbors

laundry2-for-blogI was downstairs in the laundry room when I heard the doorbell ring. Figuring someone else would get it, I continued sorting my darks and whites, my delicates and permanent press items, my heavy clothes, my towels, and my bedding. After a few moments, I heard the doorbell again, several times in quick succession, followed by a persistent loud rapping on the door. I dropped the laundry and dashed up the stairs, before whoever it was beat the door down.

neighborThere was a young man standing on the front porch sporting glasses and a neatly trimmed goatee. He was dressed casually in well-worn blue jeans and a black hoodie. He looked like one of the roofers who had been going around the neighborhood offering free estimates. As I opened the door, I pointed at the notice hanging beside the door. No soliciting.

The young man frowned. “I’m not selling anything. I’m your new neighbor from down the street.” He sounded annoyed.

“Oh! Well hi, neighbor! Nice to meet you!” I tried to sound chipper.

“Err, hi.” He hesitated. “Ma’am, you do know that this is a residential neighborhood, and it isn’t zoned for livestock, right?”

Unsure of where this was leading, I tried to keep my expression and my voice neutral. “Yes, I know that. I don’t know of anyone in this neighborhood who keeps livestock.”

“Ma’am, there’s a herd of horses in your yard.”

I raised an eyebrow at my new neighbor. “Horses.”

“Yes Ma’am. Horses. A whole herd of them.”

I folded my arms across my chest and leaned against the doorjamb. I gave him a look calculated to give the impression I found the idea preposterous. “A whole herd.”

He hesitated and rubbed his neck. “Well, at least four or five.”

“Ummm, sure.”

Now it was my neighbor’s turn to arch an eyebrow. He stepped aside and pointed. Sure enough, there were horses in my yard. A whole herd of them.horses-in-the-yard-for-blog-2

Before I could react, I heard someone running down the stairs behind me. I turned around and Dragon, in her guise of an elven maiden, joined us. “Oh, I thought I heard the doorbell!” She squeezed past me and smiled brightly at the man on the porch, who was gaping at her delicately pointed ears. “Hello! Have we met?”Elf cleric

“Ummm. No, we haven’t. I’m Mace. Mason. My wife and I just moved in down the street.” He couldn’t stop staring at Dragon’s elf ears.

“Oh, how very nice to meet a new neighbor!” Dragon continued to simper, batting her eyelashes at Mace. Finally, I placed my hands on her shoulders and forcibly moved her aside so I could rejoin the conversation.

“Mace just stopped by to admire our horses.” My voice was strained and I was frowning.

“Horses?” Dragon wrinkled her delicate elven brow and tilted her head. “I did not know we had horses.” She batted her eyelashes several more times.

Mace turned back toward the front yard and started to gesture, but the yard was empty, save a pair of robins checking out their favorite tree. Pushing his glasses up on his nose, he walked to the end of the porch and looked around the corner at the side yard. Then he stepped off the porch and walked to the other side of the house and looked. He removed his glasses and cleaned them on his shirttail. He replaced them on his face, squished his eyebrows together in a frown, and looked again. He scratched his head.horses-all-gone-for-blog

Dragon just stood there, smiling sweetly. I raised my eyebrows at Mace, shook my head and shrugged. He mumbled something that might have been goodbye or it was nice to meet you or I think I’m going crazy; then he wobbled off in a daze.

Dragon and I stayed on the porch as our new neighbor wandered back down the street toward his house. As we watched him go, we noticed him scratching his head several times. At one point, he turned and looked back at our property. We just waved nicely and continued watching until he arrived at his own house and disappeared into his garage. Between clenched teeth, I questioned Dragon. “Where did those horses go? Better yet, where did they come from in the first place?”

dragon facing right

Dragon just giggled. I ushered her inside, where she assumed her true form once again. The large creature stretched and galumphed up the stairs. I followed somewhat more sedately.

My Foreman, my Young Hero and my Gypsy were standing in the living room. All three of them were shuffling around and staring at the floor. They reminded me of three little kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar. I wondered how they were involved in this.

Dragon stretched out on the sofa. I crossed my arms over my chest, frowned and started tapping my foot impatiently. “Now. What about those horses?”

Dragon tittered. “They were very attractive horses, were they not?”

I scowled. I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks, and when I spoke, my voice was several decibels higher than I intended it to be. “It wouldn’t be so funny if that neighbor had taken photos and contacted the authorities. This is a residential neighborhood. We’re not zoned for keeping livestock. Miles and I could receive a summons and have to pay a hefty fine!”

My Foreman stepped forward. “Please, Mistress, do not be cross with Dragon. It was our fault.”

“Oh?”

foremanHe sighed and raked his hand through his hair. “In my world, I was foreman of the most renowned horse breeding farm in the kingdom. The Young Hero’s father owned that farm, and the lad has been around horses since infancy. The Gypsy was likewise born into the world of horses. His clan bred and raised some of the finest examples of horseflesh outside my homeland.”

I nodded. “You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know.”Gypsy

My Gypsy rubbed the back of his neck and stepped forward. “Mistress, you must understand our frustration! We miss our lifestyle. We have an affinity for horses, and their absence has left a great emptiness in our lives and in our hearts.”

Young hero 2My Young Hero looked at me, and continued in a ragged voice. “Dragon saw how much we missed our former lives, and she was just trying to help. She created the illusion of horses so that we might enjoy ourselves, grooming them, working with them, and riding them for a short while.”

I sighed. “I know how hard it has been on all of you since you fell out of my manuscripts and ended up in my world. You have had to adapt to a whole new world, totally foreign to you – new technology, new foods, new modes of dress, new rules and regulations, new everything. And you have done a remarkable job adapting to this situation.”

“We can but try!” Dragon twisted her lips in a sardonic smile.

I glared at her. “Indeed. But some of you need to try harder.”

She raised her eyebrows and looked at me with mock indignation. “Really?”

“Really! No matter the motivation, there can be no horses in the yard – genuine or illusionary.”

My Foreman heaved a big sigh. “Very well, Mistress. No more horses. We certainly do not wish to cause problems for you with your neighbors or with the authorities.”

The lads nodded, and Dragon shrugged.

The next morning, Miles and I were in the kitchen, compiling our weekly shopping list. “Honey, see if there’s a roast in the freezer. I know we have several bags of carrots, and I’d like to make a pot roast for dinner tomorrow night.”

musical notesAs Miles poked through the contents of the freezer, the doorbell rang. I put down the list. “I’ll get it. You keep looking through the freezer.”

 

neighbor-2There was a young woman standing on the front porch, her sandy blond tresses framing an open face. I immediately pegged her as one of the crew who had descended on the neighborhood earlier in the week, selling magazine subscriptions.

As I opened the door, I pointed at the notice hanging beside the door. No soliciting.

The young woman frowned. “I’m not selling anything. I’m your new neighbor from down the street.” She sounded nervous, and her wide-set eyes kept darting about. “I’m Gloria. I believe you met my husband, Mace, yesterday. I’m sorry, he didn’t remember your name.”

I tried to sound enthusiastic. “Well, hi, Gloria! Yes, Mace did stop by yesterday to introduce himself. My name’s Marge.”

I extended my hand, but Gloria just jumped back and looked as if it were a rattlesnake I was proffering.

I sighed and lowered my hand. “So, Gloria, what can I do for you today?”

“Well, to tell you the truth, Mace and I have been watching your house.”

I could feel the vein in my temple start to throb and my jaw tightened. “Oh? I can’t imagine why.”

Gloria tittered nervously. “Well, we’ve noticed a few unusual things here. Yesterday, for example, Mace swore he saw a whole herd of horses in your yard. I wasn’t home, but he told me all about it over dinner last night.”

“Well, I don’t know what Mace saw, but we don’t have any horses here.” I forced a smile.

“Of course, we both realize that now, but there are other concerns.”

“Such as?”

“Well, er, Marge, was it? Well, Marge, this neighborhood is zoned for single-family occupancy. How many families are living here?”

“One. My husband and I are the only residents.” I crossed my fingers behind my back, and hoped Gloria wouldn’t find my answer suspect. She did.

“We’ve seen dozens of people in your yard.”

I gaped at the woman. “Dozens? I don’t think so. We have a few out-of-town guests staying with us, but hardly dozens!”

“So you say.” Her voice had turned from nervous to haughty. She reminded me of my Arrogant One.

I kept a tight leash on my own voice. “Yes, so I say.”

“Well, if Mace and I see more than a few of your guests in the yard, we will be forced to take the matter to the authorities. And if your guests should overstay their welcome, that will be reported as well. After a period of time, you know, they will be assumed to be permanent residents.”

It was a good thing Gloria flounced away before I could react. I think assaulting my new neighbor would be high on the list of things that would land me in trouble with the authorities, right up there with having livestock in a residential zone and harboring close to a dozen characters from a fictional world.

That night after dinner, the elven maiden Dragon sat in the kitchen while Miles and I cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher. I told them about the visit from Gloria.

“Miles, I have already told Dragon and the others they can not be conjuring horses and riding them around where the neighbors can see them. My Foreman and the lads were upset enough about that. How can I tell them now they are to be confined to the house? It will be as if they were locked away in a prison cell.”

Dragon narrowed her eyes and grinned a wicked smile. “I could always roast Mace and Gloria.”

Miles and I glared at Dragon. “There will be no roasting!”

“It would solve the problem.” Dragon raised her eyebrows and shrugged.

I snorted. “You’d have to roast everyone in the entire neighborhood.”

“That is not beyond my capabilities.”

Miles and I shouted at the same time. “No!”

Dragon just shrugged.

I sighed and raked my hand through my hair. “Miles, what am I going to tell all my characters?”

Miles furrowed his brow, rubbed his neck, and opened his mouth to say something, but I cut him off. “They never asked to be dragged into our world, you know. And I don’t think it’s fair to place such unreasonable restrictions on them.”

Miles started to open his mouth again, but I continued. “Honey, what are we going to do? I like living here, and I don’t want any trouble with the neighbors or with the authorities. And how would we explain my characters, anyway?”

Easter 128Miles tenderly placed a hand over my mouth. “If you would just let me get a word in edgewise here, I might have an idea.”

I gently pushed his hand away. “Sorry.”

Miles steered me to the kitchen table and we sat down across from Dragon. “Do you remember when Cleric was kidnapped?”

My eyes widened. “How could I forget?”

“Well, while she and your Old Dwarf were being held in the shed loft, your Arrogant One had cast a spell that prevented anyone from seeing or hearing them.”

A smile spread across my face. “And you think maybe Dragon could cast a similar spell of concealment, so the neighbors can’t see anything in our yard!”

“Exactly!”

We turned toward Dragon, who beamed at us. “Very clever, Master Miles! I do not know why I did not think of that myself!”

I jumped up and planted a kiss on Miles’ forehead. “You’re brilliant!”

The next day, my husband and I watched my Foreman and the lads curry their horses and saddle them. They rode their mounts around the back yard for hours, and even from our seats on the deck, Miles and I could see the huge grins on my characters’ faces. When they were finished riding, they brushed the animals down again, then turned them loose to graze in the yard.horses-in-the-yard-for-blog-2

Several neighbors were in their yards, but not one appeared to see or hear anything. Not one glanced in our direction.

“This was an excellent idea, Master Miles!” My Foreman reached out and clapped him on the back. The lads grinned and nodded their agreement, and we all went back inside.

blue-dragon-2I excused myself and went down to the conference room to congratulate Dragon on the success of her spell. I found her deep in concentration, with the four items from her world on the table in front of her. I stood there watching her, as she placed her hands over each object and intoned an incantation, attempting to discover the location of the magic conduit and whoever created it. I quietly backed out of the room and softly closed the door.

 

 

Be sure to come back and see how Dragon is faring in her quest to unravel this mystery. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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A Broken Record and Half a Mystery Put to Rest

A Broken Record and Half a Mystery Put to Rest

“What’s going on here?” I could hear the panic in my own voice.

 

My husband, Miles, stood by the kitchen counter, ready to dish up some of his savory stew. Over by the stove stood the Innkeeper, stirring an identical pot of stew. The two figures seemed oblivious to each other.

“Did I ever tell you that the king himself came to my inn just for this stew?” Miles and the Innkeeper intoned in unison.

Miles jumped and twisted around at the sound of the voice behind him. Seeing the figure stirring the stewpot on the stove, he blanched and backed up, almost tripping over his own feet. He turned back toward me, fear and confusion in his eyes. “Marge?” His legs started to buckle.

My Foreman and I ran to Miles and gently guided him to a chair. I started to speak but before I could say anything, the Innkeeper vanished in a shower of sparks. I heard a yelp behind me and whirled around to find my Old Dwarf had seized my Arrogant One, and was handling him none too gently.

 

“Release me! Do you hear? I demand you take your hands off me at once, you ruffian!” The elf tried unsuccessfully to wriggle out of the dwarf’s grasp.

“I do na be thinkin’ so, Yer Imperial Annoyance. Methinks the lassie be havin’ some questions fer ye.”

blue-dragon-facing-left“If she does not, you can be assured I do, you contemptible, aggravating, pompous, loathsome creature!” My Arrogant One shrank back and whimpered as Dragon shoved her face within an inch of his, opening her maw and displaying her impressive mouthful of dagger-like teeth.

I glared at my Arrogant One, my face growing hot and my hands balling into fists at my side. Miles rose from his seat, gaping at the elf. My other characters stepped back, making a path for us. We slowly walked over to my Arrogant One. I grabbed the front of his cloak and gave him a shake. “What is the meaning of this?”

Miles, standing beside me, shook his head in disbelief. “You’ve been doing this to me? Why, elf? What have I ever done to you?”

My Arrogant One pulled out of my grasp. He faced Miles and puffed himself up. “You? You think this is about you? You are beneath my notice, human.” He sneered and turned away from my husband.

I narrowed my eyes. “And me, elf? Am I beneath your notice as well?”

My Arrogant One paled, but tossed his head back and looked down his nose at me. “I have nothing to say.”

My Old Dwarf chuckled and grabbed the elf again. “Oh, I bet ye be havin’ a lot ta converse aboot, elfie.” The old reprobate looked at me. “Ye be wantin’ ’em in the conference room, lassie? Or be he Dragon fodder tonight?”

“Take him to the conference room, please.”

“And do you want this one in the conference room as well?” I turned to see Sorceress hauling my Bounty Hunter back into the room by the scruff of his neck. “I noticed him slinking away and thought mayhap he was in need of a personal invitation.”

My Bounty Hunter shrugged his shoulders and looked at me with a guileless expression. “If you required my presence, Mistress Writer, you had but to ask. You needn’t send your witch after me.”

I locked eyes with him, but he didn’t flinch or look away. Finally, I replied to Sorceress. “Yes, I believe his presence would be beneficial.”

young-hero-facing-left“I think we should all attend this inquisition.” My Young Hero glared at my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter. “We all deserve to hear their explanations.”

I nodded, and everyone made their way downstairs to the conference room. Dragon and Sorceress led the way, with my Bounty Hunter in tow. Ahead of me on the steps, my Old Dwarf had a tight hold on my Arrogant One. As we reached the landing, he suddenly had a tight hold on naught but thin air.

“Hey up! Where be thet dang popinjay a-gone?” The dwarf looked around wide-eyed.

Hearing the commotion, Sorceress returned to the landing. One glance at my Old Dwarf told her the whole story. She turned to me, wringing her hands. “Oh, Mistress, this is my fault! I should have cast a ward on the elf, to prevent his escape.”

“No, it is not your fault. You had no way of foreseeing he would attempt to escape. None of us could predict that.”

gypsy-facing-right“We still have his cohort, the Bounty Hunter. Perhaps we should talk to him?” My Gypsy looked at me for a decision.birthdays-weekend-trip-to-wi-018

Miles looked confused. “Is he involved, too? Why have they done this? I thought your characters had come to accept me, perhaps even like me.”

My Young Hero reached out and touched Miles reassuringly on the shoulder. “Most of us do respect you and value your comradeship, Master Miles. And I am sure whatever the Arrogant One and the Bounty Hunter have done, their actions were not the result of any dislike for you.”

Miles smiled gratefully at the lad, and I nodded in agreement. “I think you’ll find, honey, that you were only a target of convenience.” I motioned the others to continue down the stairs. “Let’s see what my Bounty Hunter has to say about it all.”

Once we were all assembled around the conference room table, my Bounty Hunter started to lose some of his composure. His eyes darted about, as if he were searching for the best route of escape, and he continually licked his lips and clenched and unclenched his fists.

I looked about the table at my other characters, all staring at my Bounty Hunter with undisguised dislike, and I almost felt sorry for him. Almost. “So. Care to explain what has been happening?”

bounty-hunterMy Bounty Hunter gaped at me as if I had just sprouted another head. “Mistress Writer, I believe you know quite well what has been happening. I further believe you know my part in it all, and my motivation. We have had this discussion on numerous occasions.”

“Humor me.”

He just sat there, staring at me.

My Gypsy banged his fist on the table. “If you do not care to humor her, perhaps you will inform the rest of us of your little plot. Some of us have been worried sick over our friend, the Innkeeper, whom we were led to believe was in need of our help – led to believe by the trickery of the Arrogant One, whom, I deduce, you were encouraging for reasons of your own. We have a right to hear from you what has been done and why.”

The other characters nodded and loudly voiced their agreement, with much table-thumping for emphasis.

My Bounty Hunter sighed and raked his hand through his hair. “Well, the elf is always bragging about how great an illusionist he is. He claimed to be the equal of friend Dragon, who, as we all know, can produce solid and substantial illusions.”

Dragon snorted. “That charlatan dares claim himself my peer in ability and power? Outrageous!” A deep growl rumbled in her throat, and black smoke poured from her nostrils.

“Of course it is outrageous, but it got me to thinking. I could use the elf’s vanity to goad him into creating illusions that would cause the rest of you to search for a way to return to our own world. I encouraged the Arrogant One to create the illusion that Master Miles was speaking and acting like the Innkeeper. He put those words in Master Miles’ mouth, and caused Master Miles to assume the mannerisms of the Innkeeper. And tonight, he took it one step further, creating the illusion of the Innkeeper in the kitchen with Master Miles.”

My Bounty Hunter paused and took a deep breath before continuing in a smaller voice. “I chose the Innkeeper because of the affection so many of you have for him. I thought for sure if you felt he was in need of your help, you would move the heavens and the earth to find a way to return to him.

I heaved a deep sigh and shook my head. “Not this again! You sound like a broken record!”

My Bounty Hunter furrowed his brow. “A broken what?”

“Never mind. I keep telling you, over and over and over again, that you all are still in your own world. You did not cease to exist there when you fell out of my manuscripts and into this world. Therefore, even if the Innkeeper were in trouble, you – the you who exist in that world with him – would already be helping him. Why will you not accept that?”

My Bounty Hunter hung his head and mumbled. “Mistress Writer, I am not knowledgeable in the ways of magic. I do not fully understand how we all came to be in this world. All I know is the longing in my heart to return to that which I knew, that which I left behind, the mission I must finish. You have not presented me with any irrefutable proof of the claims you make. In the absence of such incontrovertible proof, I used what means I had available to me to try to find a way to get back to my world.”

ElfFor a long time, no one spoke. Finally, Cleric broke the silence. “Mistress, I think we all agree what the Bounty Hunter and the Arrogant One did was contemptible. However, I think all of us who find ourselves trapped here in your world can empathize with the Bounty Hunter’s desire to return. None of us really understand how we can exist in both places at the same time. Most of us accept it solely on your word. If the Bounty Hunter is unable to accept it, we can understand his misery and his motivation for exploiting the Arrogant One’s vanity.”

The others nodded.

“I see.” I looked around the room at the others, who all seemed in agreement with Cleric. I studied the Bounty Hunter, searching for any guile or deception. “Very well. I accept that you did not act out of malice toward my husband or toward anyone here. Therefore, you shall suffer no retribution for your misguided actions. But understand this: this stops here and now. Should you ever involve yourself in such deception again, you will suffer dire consequences.”

“I understand.”bounty-hunter-facing-other-direction

“And such leniency will not be extended to your vainglorious accomplice. My Arrogant One has stepped over the line once too often. When the elf is found, he will be dealt with most severely.”

My Bounty Hunter stared at me, wide-eyed. “Mistress Writer! I am responsible for the elf’s actions. I played on his ego to manipulate him into doing my bidding. If you can forgive me, surely you can find it in your heart to show him some mercy.”

Before I could reply, Dragon spoke. “No. You acted out of a deep yearning to return to your home. He acted, as he always acts, out of conceit and swagger. There is no comparison. He does not deserve mercy!”

I nodded, but my Old Dwarf chuckled. “Be ye sure ye do na be actin’ outten conceit yerself, beastie? The elfie claimed ta be yer equal. Dinna thet make ye a tad bit testy? Mebe thet be the real reason ye do na feel too kindly toward ’em?

blue-dragon-2Dragon narrowed her eyes and bared her teeth. Before I could stop her, she had engulfed my Old Dwarf in flames.

Dragon!

The huge creature extinguished her fiery breath. My Old Dwarf crawled out from behind his scorched shield and chuckled. “Eh, be thet the best ye kin do, beastie?”

Dragon took another breath, but I stepped in front of her. “Enough!”

The big creature exhaled slowly. “So sorry.” Her flippant tone belied her words.

“I think some tempers need to cool. Why don’t we go back upstairs and see if Miles can salvage any of the stew?”

Miles and my characters silently filed out of the room, giving Dragon a wide berth. When the others were gone, Dragon turned to me. “I wouldn’t really hurt the old rapscallion, you know.”

“Could have fooled me.” I scowled.

She smiled coyly. “Well, we have solved one part of the mystery. The Innkeeper was not trying to contact us and ask for our help.”

I shook my head and sighed. “No, he wasn’t.”

“There is more to the mystery, though. We still need to determine who created the magic conduit that allowed the four items from my world to enter this one.”

I nodded and sighed. “Not only who created it, but why.”

Dark, brooding smoke clouds drifted from Dragon’s nose. “Somehow I do not believe the Arrogant One or the Bounty Hunter will provide any answers to this mystery.”

 

 

 

Be sure to join us again as we try to find my Arrogant One and unravel yet anther part of this mystery. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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A Good Cure for the Wintertime Blues

A Good Cure for the Wintertime Blues

backyard-melting-snow-004I sighed loudly and raked my hand through my hair. I stared through the window at the still-frozen yard trying hard to shed its white winter coat. My Old Dwarf came over to stand beside me. “Ye be lookin’ a bit down in the mouth, lassie. What be troublin’ ye?”

I shrugged. “The usual. It’s winter.”

“But it be beauteous out there taday, lassie! Why do ye na git yer picture-makin’ box and go fer a hike?”

I turned and gaped at him as if he had just suggested I should murder someone. “Are you crazy? It’s cold out there!”

He scoffed. “The sun be shinin’ and I be seein’ some birdies flittin’ aboot.”

My voice rose to a shriek. “It’s 13 frigid degrees out there, and the blasted birdies are wearing their insulated underwear!”

My Old Dwarf stood there laughing. I shook my head incredulously and headed to my office. Go hiking? In these temperatures? The dwarf is mad, mad I say!

computer-and-monitorI shivered violently as I sat down at my computer and immediately checked the weather site. Mistake. It told me the 13 degree Fahrenheit temperature outside my Minnesota house actually felt like negative two. The ten day forecast only showed two days when the temperature might climb above the thirties. Typical for the second week of February. My reaction was typical, too. Just like every other year at this time, I could feel myself sinking into a depression, a victim of Seasonal Affective Disorder. I reached over and turned on my full-spectrum light, hoping it would help me fight these SAD Winter Blues.

I started scrolling through my e-mails. There was nothing of earthshaking importance there, so I decided to check out some friends’ posts on social media. Big mistake. One friend in Alabama had posted photos of a magnolia tree already in bloom in her neighborhood. A Florida friend had photographed area birds already gathering twigs and nesting material. Someone in Texas shared photos of fields of blooming daffodils. And three of my friends from Georgia had posted a profusion of photos of unfrozen lakes and ponds teeming with waterfowl.

I sighed again. Since I have an aversion to any temperature below 65 F, it would be many weeks before I could venture out again, camera in hand, and enjoy nature. I turned off the computer and my full-spectrum light and wandered back upstairs.

In the living room, I went over to the French doors leading to the deck, and scowled as I looked out over the yard. I gave myself a mental shake. This had to be the tenth time I had looked outside today. Did I expect to find that it had suddenly transformed into spring?

My Bounty Hunter and my Arrogant One entered the room. The insufferable elf took one look at me by the doors and turned on his heel to leave. His companion placed a restraining hand on the elf’s arm. He nodded to me in greeting. “Mistress Writer.”

I grunted at the two of them and returned my attention to the scene outside. The wind was picking up, and the few birds I could see were hunkering down into the reeds at the back of the yard.

“Not a very nice day out there.” I looked up. My Arrogant One was still on the other side of the room, but my Bounty Hunter was at my elbow.

I scowled at the intrusion. “Nope.”

“I remember how the wind picked up toward the end of that expedition we enjoyed with you last year. If I recall, Cleric and the Gypsy lad combined their skills so you could get photos of some small birds clinging to the cattails swaying in the wind.” (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/a-surprisingly-pleasant-outing/)

I raised my eyebrows at him. “I’m surprised you remember.”

“Well, that was a most enjoyable outing, Mistress Writer.” His smile would do justice to a snake-oil salesman. He turned to the elf. “I do not believe you accompanied us on that outing, did you?”

My Arrogant One drew himself up and clasped the front of his cloak with both hands. “I do not participate in such frivolous undertakings.”

I snorted. “Of course you don’t.”

My Bounty Hunter turned his smile on me again. “Mistress, many of us are suffering discontent from the weather and the confinement. Perhaps we could go to your office and view your collection of photos on your magic box. I could gather the others, if you approve.”

I cocked my head and considered this proposal. “I’m not sure that would help anyone feel better. I was looking at photos some of my friends posted online, photos of other areas of the country that are already enjoying spring-like weather. It just depressed me further.”

My Bounty Hunter shrugged. “Well, I suppose you could just stay here and continue staring at the bleak scenery outside. But is that really making you feel any better?” He quirked an eyebrow at me. “Besides, remembering what you enjoyed, and will again enjoy when the weather improves, is different than viewing with envy that which others are enjoying now.”

I glared at him. I hate people who counter my bad moods with logic. “Fine. We’ll see how much better it makes us all feel. You round up anyone who’s interested, and I’ll meet you downstairs. My office is too small to accommodate more than two or three people comfortably, so I’ll set up the computer in the conference room.”

My Bounty Hunter nodded. As he turned to take his leave, I noticed him and my Arrogant One exchanging sly smiles. I wondered what they could be up to, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort to find out.

 

A half hour later, my characters and I met in the conference room. Cleric smiled broadly as she took a seat next to me. “This should be quite enjoyable! You took many walks last year, Mistress, and we are all looking forward to seeing some of your photos.”

I noticed that all did not include my Old Dwarf, my Arrogant One, Dragon or Sorceress. The rest of us made ourselves comfortable and I began.

“I don’t think anyone here has seen the photos I took at Purgatory Creek and Staring Lake last year, and they are among my favorites. Let’s start with those.”

I brought up a photo of a blossoming tree. purgatory-creek-and-staring-lake-099

Cleric was most enthusiastic. “Oh, how lovely! Pink is my favorite color!”

“That is pretty, isn’t it? These photos were taken in the beginning of May, just as the flowers on that tree reached full bloom.” I smiled as I scrolled through the images. “It was also the beginning of the nesting season for many of the birds in this area. Here’s a male Red-winged Blackbird, trying to attract a mate. And here’s a female, ignoring him.”

My Gypsy nodded. “We saw a number of them on our outing with you last year. They are quite amusing to watch. The way the males puff themselves up and squawk, they remind me of the Arrogant One.”

We all shared a good laugh over that one, then I brought up two more images. “The swallows were really active that day. Here’s a pair of Tree Swallows. In the first shot, they’re on top of their nest box, and in the second picture, they’re setting up housekeeping.”

I gave them a chance to view those pictures, then brought up the next one. “This is a pair of Barn Swallows. They nest under the observation deck on the opposite side of the lake from the Tree Swallows.”

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My Young Hero turned to me. “You have taken many photos of these two types of birds, have you not?”

I nodded. “They are relatively easy to approach and photograph. I have a few more of each type. Here are the Tree Swallows.”

 

“And here are some more Barn Swallows.”

My Bounty Hunter joined the conversation. “You said nesting had begun at the time these photos were taken. Were any of the birds tending offspring yet?”

“I believe so.” I scrolled through the photos. “Yup. The Canada Geese had babies on the water already. purgatory-creek-and-staring-lake-180

My Gypsy gave me a knowing look, and showed off his expertise. “Geese are fiercely protective parents. You need to be careful approaching them.”

“You’re right. This goose was upset by a Mallard that was too close to the goslings.”

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“My, he does look fierce!” Cleric stared in awe at the photo.

“Yes, he does. Of course, the Mallard wasn’t overly impressed.”

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Everyone laughed.

My Foreman asked, “Were there creatures other than birds there that day?”

“Only a few turtles.”

 

“Mostly, there were birds that day.”

“Can we see some more photos of the birds?” Cleric scooted closer.

“Sure.” I continued scrolling through the images. “Here’s a Killdeer.”

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“And here’s a Great Blue Heron.”

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“This one’s a Pied-billed Grebe.”

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“Of course, I got the ubiquitous Song Sparrow.”

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“Here’s a Black-capped Chickadee.”

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“And this one’s a female Hooded Merganser.”

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“I got several good shots of a Yellow-rumped Warbler.”

 

“And this one is an Eastern Phoebe.”

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When we finished looking at the photos from that day, everyone seemed unwilling to stop. Cleric said, “You go hiking so often, you must have other photos you can show us.”

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My Old Dwarf chose that moment to interrupt, popping into the room to summon us. “Ye best be waitin’ fer another day fer thet. Right now, dinner be almost ready.”

 

My disappointed characters thanked me profusely for the afternoon’s entertainment, and slowly filed out of the room. As he passed me, my Bounty Hunter flashed his oily smile at me.

My Old Dwarf helped me carry my computer equipment back to my office. “Ye seem ta be feelin’ a bit brighter, lassie!”

“I hate to admit it, but my Bounty Hunter actually had a good idea. I really enjoyed sharing those photos. I don’t feel as glum as I did earlier.”

 

 

As we headed upstairs for dinner, we heard a commotion. When we reached the top of the steps, we found Dragon standing with eyes narrowed, watching something in the kitchen. Beside her, Sorceress stood gaping. She saw me and pointed to the kitchen. My jaw almost hit the floor. There, by the counter, stood my husband, Miles, ready to dish up some of his savory stew. Over by the stove stood the Innkeeper, stirring an identical pot of stew. The two figures seemed oblivious to each other.

“Did I ever tell you that the king himself came to my inn just for this stew?” Miles and the Innkeeper intoned in unison.

 

 
Come back next week, as we investigate the appearance of the Innkeeper. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Getting Nowhere Fast

Getting Nowhere Fast

Dragon slowly released my Arrogant One, and my Bounty Hunter helped him to his feet. The elf was white as a ghost, weak-kneed and trembling like a leaf. As he rose, several items fell from his robes and clattered to the floor. I gasped at the sight of a silver talisman, an iron horseshoe, a ruby ring and a royal seal.

As I bent to retrieve the items, they slowly dissipated in a shower of sparks. I whirled to face Dragon. “I thought you said these items were real, that they were not illusions, they had not been conjured.”

Dragon gaped at the bare spot on the floor where the items had been. She seemed as startled as was I. “They . . . they were real. I examined them. And, even had I not, I am the only one here capable of producing solid illusions.”

“Mebbe so. Mebbe nay.” My Old Dwarf stood, axe raised, guarding my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter. “Them gew-gaws be soundin’ pretty solid ta me.”

The color was returning to my Arrogant One’s face, and with it, the elf’s smug attitude returned as well. “You always did underestimate my skills and power, beast!” He sneered at Dragon.

Black smoke billowed from her nostrils. “You contemptible creature! You pompous, puffed-up popinjay! Power? Skill? You possess neither, in great quantity. You are a sham, a fraud! You deal in chicanery, misdirection, and sleight of hand!”

The elf narrowed his eyes. “I will not tolerate such insolence!”

Dragon lowered her head, bringing her nose to nose with my Arrogant One. “Tolerate? Insolence? Brave words from a tasty morsel.” She grimaced, displaying her maw of dagger-like teeth.

“Enough!” I raked my hand through my hair. “This is getting us nowhere. I want answers, elf, and I want them now.”

“I have done nothing for which I must answer, most especially not to you or your oversized pet.”

Dragon growled a loud warning, and I stepped between her and the elf.

“Look, if you do not care to be her next meal, perhaps you’d best lose the attitude and just answer my questions.”

My Arrogant One glowered at me, and started to offer a retort, but my Bounty Hunter placed a restraining hand on the elf’s arm. “No sense antagonizing anyone. You may have great power, but it will be most difficult to wield it from the belly of the wyrm.”bounty-hunter-facing-other-direction

I narrowed my eyes and studied my Bounty Hunter, still trying to determine his role in these incidents. I turned back to my Arrogant One. “You would be wise to listen to your friend, elf.”

“And if I do not? If I refuse to stay here and be insulted and misused? Certainly, you do not expect me to believe you would allow your beast to eat me?” He rocked back on his heels, his narrow-eyed glare and his tight-lipped smile daring me to prove him wrong.

I mirrored his cold smile. “If you do not stay and answer my questions in a civil manner, I will be forced to remind you . . . quite graphically . . . of my own power.” I paused, gauging the elf’s reaction. When I saw I had his attention, I continued. “I am The Writer. While Dragon may be able to devour you, and other characters may be able to harm you through the use of physical attack or magical assault, I am the one who can literally unmake you. I can delete every mention of you from my manuscripts. You will cease to exist.”

The elf blanched, but made no reply.

“Right. Now I think we should retire to the conference room and sort everything out.” I gestured toward the stairs. My Arrogant One glowered at me, but my Bounty Hunter took him by the elbow and urged him along.

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At the conference room, my Old Dwarf took his place in the hallway by the door. “I be guardin’ the door here, elfie, so do na be tryin’ ta go nowhere, ceptin the lassie be tellin’ ye to.”

The look my Arrogant One gave my Old Dwarf is probably the one found in the dictionary, illustrating the idiomatic phrase if looks could kill. “Stop calling me elfie, you boorish, dim-witted ruffian!” If his voice got any higher, I feared the neighborhood dogs would start howling.

“Oh, I be so sorry! I be meanin’ no disrespect, Yer Most Highest Annoyin’ One.” The old reprobate snickered and took his place at the door while Dragon and I prodded the other two into the room.

Once inside the room, my Bounty Hunter released his grip on my Arrogant One’s arm. “Well, no need for me to remain. I would only be in the way.” He turned to go, but found his way blocked by the dwarf. “What I said ta the elfie I be meanin’ fer ye, too. Ye do na be tryin’ ta go nowhere, ceptin the lassie be tellin’ ye to.”

My Bounty Hunter raised his eyebrows and shrugged, then sauntered to the table and sat down. My Arrogant One flounced over and threw himself into the chair next to him, rubbing his arm where his companion had been holding it. I took a seat opposite them and Dragon reclined on the floor by her conjured fireplace.

I studied the elf and his confederate while I formulated the questions I needed answered. My Bounty Hunter sat motionless, and met my gaze with unwavering poise. My Arrogant One crossed his arms over his chest and tapped his foot. He kept shooting nasty looks at Dragon. She, in turn, rolled to her belly and rearranged her bulk into a sphinx-like position, with her small arms curled like a cat’s under her chest, and her wings folded neatly out of the way. The elf looked away from her and gave his companion a sidelong glance, but the Bounty Hunter never took his eyes off me.

After a long few moments watching this interplay, I cleared my throat and addressed my Arrogant One. “Okay. You created illusions of four very interesting items. Care to tell me why?”

A range of emotions flickered across his face – amusement, defiance, fear, disinterest, cunning. Finally he raised his chin and looked down his nose at me. “Simply practicing my craft. If one does not constantly hone one’s skill, one can not possibly improve.”

“Uh-huh. Practicing.”

“Indeed. Now, if there is nothing further, I will take my leave. I grow bored.” He began to stand.

Black smoke drifted from Dragon’s nostrils. “Stay bored.” She bared her multitude of impressively sharp teeth. “Unless you grow bored of living.”

My Arrogant One slumped back into his seat. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his brow. I tried to hide a smile. Judging from the look the elf shot me, I was not very successful.

“Okay, let’s just pretend I believe you. What made you choose those specific items with which to practice your skills?”

The elf waved his hand dismissively. “They were just four random items.”

I raised an eyebrow and tilted my head. “Really?

He jumped from the chair, cheeks flaming, and lips contorting into a snarl. “You dare suggest I lie?”

“I dare.”

“Why do you care what illusions I create?”

“I care.”

“They seemed most unremarkable items to me.” My Bounty Hunter leaned back in his chair, stretching his legs and folding his arms across his chest.

“Did they?”

He nodded, his face devoid of expression.

“Uh-huh.” I turned back to my Arrogant One. “Unremarkable?”

“Utterly.”

I placed my hands on the table, templing my fingers. “I see. Well, in order to create an illusion of an object, you must be fairly familiar with it. Otherwise, how could you make the illusion look real? So when did you come into contact with these four items? The real items, that is.”

Again, my Arrogant One waved dismissively. “Oh, I must have seen them at some point in time. I really do not remember exactly when.”arrogant-one

Where did you see them?” I fixed him with a steely gaze.

“Well, somewhere back in my own world, of course.”

“Really? I don’t remember you ever seeing any of those items in your world. I never chronicled you seeing them.”

“Well, I . . . I must have. How else would I know what they look like?”

“I think you saw them here.”

“Those items were here?” My Bounty Hunter raised his eyebrows.

“They were. They are. And I think both of you have seen them here.”

“Well, I for one have not.” My Arrogant One’s voice was petulant and he tossed his head defiantly. “But even had I seen them here, what difference does that make?”

“I am trying to determine if the items I have seen here were real, or just illusions you created.”

“They were real!” Dragon jumped to her feet. “I examined them. They were real.”

I noticed a sly smile tugging at the corners of my Arrogant One’s mouth.

I raised my hand, silencing Dragon. “I want to hear the elf’s answer.” I turned to him. “Well? Were the items I saw here before today real or were they illusions?”

He shrugged. “How should I know what you saw?”

“Was today the first time you created these specific illusions?”

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed my Bounty Hunter lean forward slightly, studying the elf, waiting for his answer.

My Arrogant One shrugged again.

I rounded on my Bounty Hunter. “What do you know of this?”

“How would I know anything?”

Dragon growled. “This is pointless. We will get no information from these two!”

I rose from my chair and paced the length of the room and back. “Perhaps you’re right, Dragon. I guess I’ll go start editing my manuscripts, removing some characters.”

“Wait!” Fear flickered in my Arrogant One’s eyes. “I . . . I have conjured these illusions several times recently.”

“The items I saw previous to today were your illusions?”

“No.” He spoke so softly, I had to strain to hear him.

“Why did you create these illusions?”

“The Bounty Hunter and I saw you find two of the items, the talisman and the horseshoe. We discovered where you were keeping them, and found the other two items with them.”

“Go on.”

The elf turned to his companion. “The Bounty Hunter convinced me that if I could duplicate these items through illusion, we could use them.”

I furrowed my brow. “For what purpose?”

My Bounty Hunter scowled. “I thought if we could convince you someone in our world sent them as a way to request help, you would be more agreeable to finding a way for us to return to our own world.”

I sighed. “I keep telling you, you are already in your own world.”

bounty-hunterMy Bounty Hunter looked uncharacteristically flustered. He stood and took a few steps toward me, his hands balled into fists at his sides. His eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened. When he spoke, his voice was ragged. “You keep telling us we exist in both places at the same time. You have offered us what proof you have, which amounts to nothing more, really, than your own observations and conclusions.” He stood there, shaking his head. “Mistress Writer, I am a Bounty Hunter. When I awoke one day and found myself in this world, I had been in the middle of a mission, hot on the trail of my quarry. I need to know, Mistress Writer, beyond all shadow of a doubt, that I am really still in my world, completing my mission, even as I stand here before you.”

He went back and slumped into his chair. When he continued, his voice was small, empty. “I thought if we could create the impression that one or more of your characters from my world – dear friends of the other characters here – you . . . or the other characters . . . would finally find a way to return us to our world, or find proof positive that we are, really, still there.”

I sighed and raked my hand through my hair. “Well, I guess that explains some things. But it leaves a lot of questions still unanswered.”

“Indeed.” Dragon nodded. “We are really no closer to solving the mysteries than we were before. Who created the magic conduit that allowed the items . . . the real items . . . to enter this world in the first place, and for what purpose?”

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“Yes. And is there a connection between those items entering this world, and the fact that my husband sometimes talks and acts as if he were the Innkeeper?”

 

 

Be sure to come back next week as we continue to search for answers. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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