I was sitting on a very soft cushion I had placed on a hard plastic lawn chair in a shady corner of the gazebo. I was five weeks into what should have been a two week recuperation following a minor surgical procedure. It had been less than a week that I could sit comfortably.
I had brought my camera with me, as I had hoped to engage in a little backyard nature photography, but it remained untouched on the table. Instead, I was being entertained by three of my characters.
My Foreman, my Young Hero, and my Gypsy were schooling their horses in the back of the yard. These were illusory horses provided by their companion, Dragon, who had also cast a spell of concealment to keep the neighbors from noticing the goings-on. I watched as the three expert riders walked, trotted, and cantered their mounts on the flat, then over a cavaletti, after which they performed diagonals and figure-eights and flying lead changes. Then my Foreman, mounted on his spirited black stallion, demonstrated a piaff, a passage, and a pirouette, followed by a half-pass directly to the gazebo, and a low, courtly bow to me. I applauded and smiled my appreciation of the skill of horse and rider. It was fun to watch. Or it was until I almost fell off my chair.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dragon, in her guise of an elf maiden, stepping out of the house onto the deck. She was wearing an enormous smile, and she was escorting two people. The man was sporting glasses and a neatly trimmed goatee, and was dressed casually in well-worn blue jeans and a black hoodie. The woman, in a matching outfit, had sandy blond tresses framing an open face. I recognized them as our neighbors, Mace and Gloria, who had moved into a house down the street earlier this year. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/meeting-the-neighbors/
I felt my heart leap into my throat as Dragon led the visitors down the steps and right toward me.
Oh, no! Not them! Not now! What is Dragon thinking? What is Mace going to say about the horses being here again? How can I explain this?
I tried to rise to greet the visitors, but my legs felt like rubber. Gloria reached out and grabbed me before I fell flat on my face, and she eased me back into the chair. “Oh, please don’t get up! Mace and I heard from one of our other neighbors that you were recovering from surgery. We just dropped by to see how you were doing.”
“Well, I’m coming along slowly.” I tried to smile, but my eyes were darting all over the yard.
Where are they?
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my Foreman swing down from the saddle and quietly lead his horse away. He and the others led their mounts back to the shed to unsaddle and groom them. My heart was racing, my palms were sweaty, and I’m sure every bit of color must have drained from my face, but Gloria and Mace didn’t seem to notice anything.
“Gloria brought a lovely casserole! I put it in the refrigerator.” Dragon moved some chairs closer to the table and motioned for Mace and his wife to sit.
“Thank you, Gloria! That is so thoughtful!”
I hope my face doesn’t break from forcing this smile.
“I would have made more if I had known your out-of-town relatives were staying with you again. I hadn’t seen anyone around lately, so I only made enough for you and your husband.”
“Oh, well, that’s okay. I mean, how could you know? They haven’t been outside much. They came to help take care of me, after the surgery.”
Good lord, I must sound like a blithering nincompoop!
But Mace and Gloria didn’t seem to be listening. “Hey, what’s that?”
“What? Where?” I almost gave myself a bad case of whiplash, checking the yard for errant characters.
“That bird there.” Mace pointed to something perched atop one of the shepherd’s staff poles holding a bird feeder. Immediately, Gloria grabbed a pair of binoculars from her pocket and strained to see the little bird, as Mace pulled a small field guide from his pocket.
“Oh, Mace and Gloria are birdwatchers! Isn’t that nice?” Dragon smiled broadly. “Mis . . .”
No! Don’t say Mistress Writer!
“Missy and her husband love bird watching. In fact, she’s been taking pictures of the birds here in the yard today.” She gestured toward the camera sitting on the table.
Mace frowned. “Missy? I thought your name was Marge.”
“Oh, that’s just a little pet name we have for her.” Dragon smiled and winked, and I sighed and tried not to collapse with relief.
Gloria lowered her binoculars. “You’re a birdwatcher, too?”
I nodded, and swallowed hard, trying to find my voice.
“Well, maybe you can help us, then. Mace and I are just beginners, and we don’t know all the different birds yet.”
“Ah, ahem . . . er, sure. Well, that little bird is a Black-capped Chickadee.” I gestured toward the small black and white creature who was still eyeing us from atop the pole.
Mace cocked his head and furrowed his brow. “Are you sure? It doesn’t look like a chickadee to me. Aren’t chickadees . . . well . . . smoother, sleeker?” He paged through his book.
“Yes, I’m sure. But you’re right – most are sleeker. This one has an abnormality of the feathers on its belly – it looks like it’s having a bad feather day. Here, I took a picture of this bird earlier this week. I’ll zoom it in and you can get a closer look at it.” I took a few minutes to find the photo, then passed the camera to Mace and Gloria.
“Hmmm…strange looking.” They compared the photo to the one in the book.
I took the camera again, and searched for another photo. “Here. Here’s a normal chickadee.”
They looked at that, then at the book. “Now this one looks just like the one in the book.”
“Field guides are great, but you have to remember that not every bird is a text-book example of its species. If you look at these two photos carefully, you can see they are the same species.”
They painstakingly compared the photos of the two birds, as I pointed out the field marks – the black cap and bib, and the white cheeks, the long, narrow tail and the small, the thick bill – then they nodded.
Gloria saw some movement in a nearby tree, and picked up her binoculars again. “Is that a Baltimore Oriole?”
I looked at the bird Gloria was pointing to and nodded. “And there’s another one.” I pointed to one who had taken over the chickadee’s perch.
“Cool!” Mace took a notebook from his pocket, pushed up his glasses, and started writing. “Lifelist. The chickadee and the oriole are only our tenth and eleventh birds.” He sounded sheepish.
I smiled, and spent the next half hour helping Mace and Gloria add to their brand-new lifelist.
“There’s a male American Goldfinch . . . and there’s the female.”
“There’s a Gray Catbird . . . and there’s a Common Grackle.”
“Oh, look!” Gloria pointed to the tree stump in the back of the yard. “There’s one I know – a Red-winged Blackbird!”
“Yup, that’s an adult male, displaying for the female, who’s over there on the fence.”
“She doesn’t look anything like the male!” Mace looked wide-eyed at the bird, then continued jotting down the names of the birds they were seeing.
Gloria had her binoculars up again. “What is that one? The one on the fence, with al the speckles?”
“That’s a fledgling American Robin, and there is the adult, on the edge of the birdbath.”
“Fledgling?” Mace wrinkled his brow.
“A young bird, already out of the nest, but not yet self-sufficient. The adults still feed and protect the fledglings.”
“It doesn’t look much like the adult!” Mace studied it carefully.
“No, it doesn’t. You’ll find that to be true of a lot of birds. It can make identifying a nestling or a fledgling very difficult. Even some sub-adult birds. Some birds, like Bald Eagles and certain gulls, for example, don’t get their full adult colors for years.”
Gloria and Mace looked impressed by this avian trivia.
Just then, I yelped as my Old Dwarf raced past the gazebo, brandishing an axe, chasing a rabbit. “I be gittin’ ye this time, ye ornery little beastie, ye jest see iffin I do na! Thet be the lastest time ye be getting’ in Mistress Writer’s carrot patch!”
Not now! Not now!
I almost fainted, but our visitors didn’t seem to find anything untoward as my Old Dwarf continued to chase the rabbit all around the yard, hollering and cussing up a storm.
“That’s a pretty lively pair of rabbits.” Mace nodded toward the rabbit and the dwarf.
“We’ve had a problem with rabbits eating the vegetables in our garden.” Gloria flipped her hair out of her face. “We found a few commercial products that work well to keep them away from the plants without harming the animals.” The rabbit raced past the gazebo again, my Old Dwarf in hot pursuit. “I can recommend some, if you’d like.”
I nodded dumbly.
What I’d really like is something to keep my characters out of trouble, thankyouverymuch!
“Oh, hello! I did not know we had guests.”
I give up!
Gloria and Mace were gaping as Cleric walked down the steps and joined us on the gazebo. They looked at Cleric, then Dragon, then Cleric again.
“Oh, you haven’t met my sister, have you?” Dragon was smiling and her eyes were twinkling as she gestured toward Cleric. “She’s quite a bit younger than me, but everyone says we look like twins. Sis, these are Mace and Gloria. They live down the street.”
“How nice to make your acquaintance.” Cleric bobbed a little curtsey.
“Charmed.” Mace spoke in a flat voice and gave Cleric a look as if he were trying to figure out what planet she was from.
“Oh, my! I do believe that rabbit is leading the Old Dwarf a merry chase.” Cleric giggled as the old reprobate ran by, still brandishing his axe and cursing a blue streak.
“Old Dwarf?” Gloria frowned and tilted her head.
“Oh, we give some of the creatures here little nicknames.” Dragon winked.
Is this nightmare over yet?
“Oh, look!” This time it was Mace pointing. “What is that?”
With great trepidation, I followed his gaze, then sighed with relief that it wasn’t another of my characters. “That’s a female Wood Duck. There’s the male, over there.”
My relief was short-lived.
“There you are!” The imperious voice announced the presence of my Arrogant One. I turned around and saw him headed for the gazebo. I felt the color drain from my face.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Oh, by all that’s holy, how do I explain this one?
“Mace, Gloria, can I get you something to drink?” Dragon seemed as oblivious to the presence of the annoying elf as were my neighbors.
“Oh, no, thanks. We should really be going. Marge is looking a bit pale. I hope our visit hasn’t been too much for you today.” Gloria was looking at me with concern.
“Oh, not at all. It’s been fun! Thanks again for the casserole. I’ll return the dish as soon as I can.” I smiled weakly.
My Arrogant One pushed past Dragon and Cleric and stood in front of me, glowering, his hands on his hips. “I can not tolerate horses in the shed! The Bounty Hunter and I use the shed loft as our refuge, and the others know it. They put those noisy, filthy, smelly animals in there to spite me! I demand you have them removed this instant!”
Dragon shoved him aside under the pretext of moving some chairs aside.
Mace and Gloria stood up. “Thanks for sharing your expertise today. We added some new birds to our lifelist, and we learned that not every bird will look like the picture in the field guide.” Mace tucked his list and his book back in his pocket.
“We really need to do this again.” Gloria smiled brightly.
“Are you even listening to me?” My Arrogant One’s voice rose in octave so high, I expected to hear all the neighborhood dogs start to howl.
I smiled at Gloria. “I’d really like that.”
Oh, how I lie!
“We’ll see our guests out. You should just stay here and relax.” Dragon gave me a broad grin and a wink as our two neighbors followed her and Cleric. I waved as they disappeared around the corner of the house.
My Arrogant One, his face as red as a beet, continued to screech at me, and my Old Dwarf raced past once more, turning the air blue with his language as the rabbit continued to taunt him. I saw my Bounty Hunter yelling at my Foreman and the lads as they led their horses out of the shed and turned them loose to graze, and I heard Sorceress slam the door as she came out of the house to investigate the commotion.
Relax? I’m going to kill these characters! Or maybe it’s just time to make good my periodic threat to them, and edit them out of my manuscripts and out of my life!
I laid my head down and tried to think happy thoughts, thoughts of a time before my characters had fallen out of my manuscripts, thoughts of normalcy.
Be sure to stop by next week and see if any of my characters survive that long. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.