I 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.
There 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.”
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.
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?”
“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.
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 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.”
He 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.”
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.”
My 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.”
As 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.”
There 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.”
“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?”
Miles 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!”
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.
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.
I 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.