What is Mystery, Really?

What is Mystery, Really?

sleeping dragon 2

“I will not do it.”

Dragon was curled up in front of her illusory fireplace, shivering, in spite of the fact the temperature in the conference room rivaled that of a sauna.

Elf

 

Cleric bit her lower lip and wrung her hands. “But we must complete our task with all possible speed! Mistress Writer awaits the determination of our examination.”

shaggy pony facing the other wayEarlier in the day, Dragon and her colleagues in magic had agreed to examine Mystery, the scruffy little horse that had appeared in the yard the day before. They were going to attempt, through methods both physical and magical, to determine if the horse was real or just an exceptional illusion.

blizzardBefore they could organize their efforts, however, the temperature had plummeted and a wet, heavy snow had begun falling, driven by gale-force winds. Dragon had immediately withdrawn to the conference room and the comfort of her illusory fireplace. Her companions had followed her and were now attempting to persuade her to assist them.

sorceress-facing-rightSorceress crossed her arms over her chest, and tapped her foot impatiently. “Yes, as Cleric has stated, Mistress Writer awaits.”

GypsyMy Gypsy nodded. “We have made a commitment and we must honor it.”

blue-dragon-2Dragon growled and a large cloud of black smoke rose from her muzzle. “Go away. I will not do it. I will not venture out in this abominable weather to spend hours in that bitterly cold shed.”

arrogant-oneMy Arrogant One, who had been listening to the exchange from the hallway, stomped into the room. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak with both hands. His face was red, and his voice rose to its usual glass-shattering range. “I will not have that malodorous beast in my private sanctuary one moment longer than absolutely necessary! You agreed to assist in this magical examination of the creature. Now get your paraphernalia together and take it to the shed!”

Everyone winced and covered their ears. Dragon snarled at the annoying elf, showing every one of her razor-sharp teeth. She thrust her face to within an inch of his. “If you ever again address me in that tone of shriek, no one will ever be able to find the body – if anyone even misses you.”

My Arrogant One whimpered. The color drained from his face and his eyes widened in terror. He backed out of the room so quickly, his feet tangled together and he almost fell. He grabbed the doorjamb to steady himself, then turned and fled without another sound.

“Pity.” Dragon settled herself in front of the fire once more. “I was actually hoping the pompous creature had more to say.” She narrowed her eyes and licked her lips.

A voice from the hallway startled them. “The elf can be annoying, but he has a point.”

bounty-hunterMy Bounty Hunter pushed himself away from the wall, where he had been leaning, and entered the conference room. He kept his posture relaxed and his voice conversational. “The horse should not be in the shed. The sooner you conduct your examinations, the sooner the animal can be evicted, and the sooner you will not have to tolerate the elf’s impudence.”

Dragon scowled at the man. She growled softly and shook her head. “No. I will not do it. This weather chills me to my very soul, and that shed is freezing.”

My Bounty Hunter shrugged. “You could always take your fireplace with you.”

Dragon blinked. The others nodded in agreement with my Bounty Hunter, but Dragon narrowed her eyes and scrutinized the man. She noticed a sly smile playing around his lips, and she observed that he studied his fingernails, rather than look at her and the others. She rose and faced him. “What is the benefit to you, should we decide to conduct this examination?”

He shrugged again. “Oh, just the obvious benefits. The noxious horse is evicted, so I do not have to smell it in the shed – or watch where I place my feet – and the bumptious elf is placated, so I do not have to listen to him whine.”

Dragon continued to stare at him, unblinking. Finally, the man shrugged one last time. “Well, it is, of course, your choice to make; but I would not forget, if I were you, that a promise has been made to Mistress Writer, and she expects results. She is not someone I would ever want to disappoint.” He nodded to the assembled group, then sauntered out of the room.

Dragon waited until my Bounty Hunter was out of earshot. “I do not trust that man.”

Cleric frowned. “He is not one of my favorite people, but nothing he said seems duplicitous.”

Sorceress shook her head. “I agree with Dragon. He is not to be trusted. He has an agenda of his own, or else he promotes one for the annoying elf.”

“Does it really matter?” My Gypsy raised his eyebrows and shrugged. “We did agree to this task, and he did make a sound suggestion.” The lad turned toward Dragon. “Your fireplace would be as effective in warming the shed as it is in warming this room. We would be able to complete the task in relative comfort. Once we complete the task, we would not have to suffer further conversation with the elf or his cohort.”

Dragon sighed, smoke bubbles dripping from her snout.

Dragon with smoke bubbles

* * *

An hour later, the shed was toasty warm, and the flames from the fireplace added to the light provided by the lanterns. Dragon, who had assumed her familiar guise of an elf maiden, directed my Bounty Hunter and my Old Dwarf as they set up tables along one wall. “We need these for the books and paraphernalia we will use during the magical inspection, but they must be placed out of the way so the horse does not knock them over.”

 

After the tables were in place, she turned to my Foreman and my Young Hero. “Once we begin, you need to keep Mystery as calm and quiet as possible. Ideally, the subject of such an examination is completely immobile.”

“We will do our best.” My Foreman slid a halter on the horse’s head and attached a lead, which he handed to my Young Hero. “You hold her head. I will hobble her.”

mens-991728_1280hobbledYoung Hero close-up

 

 

 

 

ElfMy Foreman deftly attached hobbles and ropes to Mystery, and proceeded to lift one of the little horse’s hind legs off the ground. Cleric’s hand flew to her mouth as she watched him. “Oh, do you really need to do that?”

My Foreman raised an eyebrow. “Would you prefer the horse be free to kick, Milady?” Seeing Cleric’s distraught look, the man sighed. “I have used this sort of equipment on many animals, Milady, and never have any come to harm.”

My Young Hero smiled. “Look, Milady – Mystery is accepting the restraints without fear. I suspect she has been so held before. She will be fine.”

Sorceress and my Gypsy entered the shed, lugging the last of the books and equipment. A blast of snow-filled air followed them before they could shut the door. After they brushed the snow off themselves and their belongings, Dragon and Cleric joined them in finding the appropriate spells in the books and setting up the necessary potions and apparatus. Finally, Dragon turned to my Arrogant One. “The four of us are ready. Where are your books and potions?”Table set for spellcasting

arrogant-one-facing-rightMy Arrogant One drew himself up in his typical, superior fashion, rocking back on his heels, and grasping his cloak with both hands. “Books? potions? Those are the tools of lesser magicians. I need no such objects with which to wield my power.”

Elf cleric“You insufferable imbecile!” If Dragon had been in her natural form, she would have been spewing clouds of black smoke. “Lesser magicians, are we? Any one of the four of us has more power and skill in one finger than you could ever hope to possess!”

“So you keep saying. Well, the four of you can rely on your books and your potions. I will rely on my innate power and incredible skill.”

sorceress-facing-rightSorceress stepped between Dragon and my Arrogant One, pushing the two apart. “Fine. How do you propose to assist us?”

My Arrogant One blinked. “How?”

“Yes. How?” Sorceress folded her arms in front of her chest and tilted her head.

Arrogant OneMy Arrogant One turned beet red and started stammering. “Well, I assumed . . . that is . . . well . . .”

Elf facing right

Cleric glared at him. “You have no idea, do you?”

My Gypsy jumped in before my Arrogant One could reply. The lad herded Dragon, Cleric, and Sorceress over to the far side of the shed and spoke to them in a whisper. “I suspect the elf’s purpose here is not to help, but to hinder. Dragon, I know you do not believe the annoying one to have the skill to produce an illusion as realistic as Mystery, but assume for a moment he does. Presume she is an illusion, and he, the illusionist. What better way to keep us from discovering that than to interfere in our work here today?”

Dragon glanced over at my Arrogant One, assessing him through narrowed eyes. Finally she nodded to my Gypsy. “I still do not believe him capable, but you may be right about his desire to thwart our purposes here today . . . for whatever inexplicable purpose.”

Dragon beckoned my Old Dwarf. “Take that one and his companion out of here. They are not to reenter this shed until we have completed our work. Keep them in the house until you hear from me.”

“It be me pleasure!” My Old Dwarf bowed to Dragon. Then he grabbed my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter and escorted them out of the shed, the two of them struggling and howling in protest.

Dragon slammed the door shut, shivering as the wind reached its icy fingers toward her. She brushed off some errant flakes of snow that chilled her cheeks, then nodded to the others. “Let us begin.”

* * *

Performing magic 2

For more than five hours hours, the four companions physically examined Mystery, recited complicated spells, applied potions to the small horse, and probed her through magical means. Through it all, Mystery stood quietly, even dozing off for an hour.

hobbled“I have never worked with such a docile, compliant animal.” My Foreman sounded amazed.

My Young Hero agreed. “Most horses, even if not fearful of the proceedings, would at least be restless. This one stands almost as still as a statue.”

“Have you arrived at a determination yet?” My Foreman looked expectantly at the four magic users.

Dragon sighed. “I remain perplexed. We have found no trace of magic on her, yet her mind remains unreachable.”

Sorceress saw the confused looks on the faces of my Foreman and my Young Hero. “If Mystery were an illusion, there should be some trace of magic about her. If she is real, one of us, most especially Cleric, should be able to reach her mind, communicate with her.”

Elf facing rightCleric rubbed her neck and furrowed her brow. “I have been able to communicate with every form of animal life I have encountered in this world. I can induce birds and squirrels, rabbits and deer, and all manner of wildlife to pose for Mistress Writer’s camera. I have conversed with neighborhood dogs and cats. Yet I, a cleric who serves the goddess of the horse, can not communicate with this horse at all.”

My Young Hero reached over and placed his hand on Cleric’s arm. “I am so sorry.”

My Foreman turned to Dragon. “Is there anything else you wish to try, or should we release Mystery now?”Elf cleric

“There is nothing more we can do. We have failed.” Dragon shook her head and her shoulders slumped.

As my Foreman removed the hobbles and ropes, he instructed my Young Hero to get the horse her evening feed and water. “She will have to remain in the shed. We can not have her walking through the walls of the illusory barn, and roaming the neighborhood.”

“I know two individuals who will not be happy about that.” My Gypsy waggled his eyebrows and grinned a lopsided smile.

“Indeed.” Sorceress scoffed. “We can tell them once we pack up our books and equipment and return everything to the house.”

“And I must tell Mistress Writer.” Dragon heaved a huge sigh.

“Tell me what?” I poked my head in the door. “Miles and I were just coming out to see if anyone needed a warm beverage.”

 

My husband and I entered the shed and quickly closed the doors behind us, but the cold wind and snow had trailed us in. We shivered and brushed ourselves off.

“No thank you, Mistress. We can wait until we are back in the house. But I must confess we have failed to shed any light on our little Mystery.” Dragon explained all she and her companions had done, all to no avail. “I am so sorry, Mistress. I know you were counting on us.”apple for Mystery

I raked my hand through my hair. “It’s not your fault. I guess it’s time to alert the authorities that we’ve found a loose horse.” I went over to see Mystery, and held out an apple for her. She took it gently from the palm of my hand, then she nuzzled my shoulder, and nickered softly.

My characters had gathered all of their trapping together and were ready to go back to the house. “Here, let Miles and I help you carry all this. The wind is ferocious. I’ve seen a bunch of mini snow devils in the yard today. A true snow devil is supposed to be a rare phenomenon, but there were dozens of miniature ones here today!”

“Snow devils?” My characters gaped at me, the color draining from their faces.snow devil

“Yeah, you know – a rotating column of snow. I don’t know the exact science of how they form, but basically they look like mini-tornadoes made of snow.”

Dragon grabbed my arm. “Mistress, were there any of these snow devils around the shed?”

“Well, yeah, they were all over the yard. Why?”something sinister 2

Dragon’s eyes widened in fear. “Mistress, you must not alert the authorities to the presence of Mystery! I fear mayhap she is neither illusion nor real horse. Perchance she is something much more sinister.”

shaggy pony facing the other way

Looking up from her pile of hay, Mystery whinnied.

 

Be sure to join us again next week for our continuing investigation into the true nature of our little Mystery. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Advertisements

A Puzzling Mystery

A Puzzling Mystery

Sleeping Woman 2“Good morning, sleepyhead.”

I opened one eye and slowly my husband came into focus, already up and dressed for the day, and sounding way too chipper. I groaned. “What time is it?”

Miles chuckled. “Relax. You have time to shower and dress before we have to start breakfast.”

I opened my other eye, sat up, yawned widely, and ran my hand through my hair in an unsuccessful attempt to tame the overnight snarls and tangles before putting on my robe and heading for the bathroom. I felt like a zombie. It had been rather late last night when I finally got to bed.

computer_keyboardMy search of the web had provided no clues to Mystery’s true identity or origin. What I had found were an astonishingly large number of websites and social media pages where missing horses, whether strayed or stolen, could be reported. There were even a number of those dedicated to missing equines just within the state of Minnesota. It had taken a few hours to find all the sites and then sift through all the reports. In the end, however, I had found no horses reported on those sites matching the description of the small, scruffy horse that had shown up in our yard. Nor did my check of local news and law enforcement reports online yield any mention of missing horses nearby. Mystery remained a mystery.

bathroom

I had finished brushing my teeth and was about to turn on the shower when someone started banging on the bedroom door. “Mistress? Master Miles?” I recognized the voice of my Young Hero.Young Hero close-up

What?” I’m sure I sounded as annoyed as I felt, as his response came hesitantly, with much stammering.

“M . . . Mistress? Mistress, er, I think, ah, perchance you should, er . . . I think mayhap . . . ah . . . I think your presence is needed.”

Why?” I had already given up on the idea of a shower, so I returned to the bedroom and quickly threw on a tattered pair of jeans and a slightly worn sweatshirt.

“Well, ah, Mistress . . .”

I threw open the door. “What is it?

One look at my Young Hero’s face told me I wasn’t going to like whatever he had to say.

“What’s wrong?” I tried to control my annoyance.

shaggy pony facing the other way“Mystery is gone.”

“What?” My voice shot up into the range usually occupied by the screeching of my Arrogant One or by irritating operatic sopranos. “Didn’t you latch the stall door last night after you gave her hay and water?”

“I was not the last one to visit her, Mistress.”

“Well, who was?” I raked my hand through my hair.

“Does it matter?” Miles was already urging me out of the room. “Let’s go see if we can find her, before she ends up in Mace and Gloria’s yard, and we get a visit from the county sheriff.”

Gypsy close-upWe were in the living room, struggling into our boots when my Gypsy entered through the French doors from the deck. He spoke to my Young Hero. “We are waiting for you. We have the horses saddled, and we are ready to go search for Mystery.”

Before the other lad could respond, I grabbed the two of them by their coat sleeves. “What? Are you crazy? You can’t go riding through the neighborhood looking for Mystery!”

“But, Mistress! As you know, horses are herd animals. They seek out their own kind. We thought our mounts would lead us right to her.” My Gypsy tilted his head and shrugged. “We often used this method to search for missing horses in our village.”

“Yes. You can use real horses to look for real horses. What you can’t do is take your illusory horses out of the area that is protected by Dragon’s spell of concealment and ride them through the neighborhood, where everyone can see them. And I highly doubt that illusions can be used to track a real animal.” I shook my head. “If you go looking for her, you need to do it in on foot – especially if you plan to covertly trespass in anyone’s yard.”

dwarf“Eh, what be all tha commotion?” My Old Dwarf came into the living room, gnawing on a turkey leg and wiping the grease all over his tunic. “I be thinkin’ ye can be hearded all tha way back in me own-est world!”

I blushed and lowered my voice an octave and quite a few decibels. “Mystery’s missing. I was just explaining to the lads why they can’t . . .”

“I be hearin’ what ye be tellin’ ’em. I be thinkin’ tha dead kin be hearin’ ye!”

“Sorry.” I blushed deeper, and continued struggling into my boots.

Backyard 050I looked at the lads. “Why don’t you two go back out and help my Foreman unsaddle the horses and stable them?” I turned back to my Old Dwarf, who had dropped the remains of the turkey leg into his pouch, trading it for some donuts he fished out of the same sack. He stood there munching them, leaving crumbs all over himself and the carpet. I wrinkled my nose, shook my head, and heaved a huge sigh. “And why don’t you brush yourself off and come with us in the car? With your excellent night vision, you might be able to see her in the dim morning light.”

arrogant-oneAll three of my characters nodded. Before they could move a finger, however, my Arrogant One came bursting in from outside, eyes narrowed and face beet red, screeching in his normal glass-shattering register. “What is that filthy animal doing in the shed? I thought I had made myself quite clear – I will not tolerate such odoriferous creatures sharing my private sanctuary!”

We all just stared at him, slack-jawed, and for about ten seconds you could hear a pin drop. Then we all pushed my Arrogant One aside, almost trampling the elf as we rushed out the door and to the shed.

We found Dragon, in her guise of an elf maiden, along with Cleric and Sorceress, in the shed. The three of them stood in front of Mystery, protecting her from my Bounty Hunter, who was threatening the small horse with a crossbow.protecting Mystery 6

I cried out, and my Old Dwarf immediately pushed past me and smacked the crossbow out of my Bounty Hunter’s hand with the flat of his battle axe.

bounty-hunterWhat is going on here?” I glared at my Bounty Hunter, who was rubbing his hand where my Old Dwarf had hit him.

shaggy pony facing the other way“This creature does not belong here. You assured us that the animals would be kept in the barn.” My Bounty Hunter glared at me, eyes narrowed.

Before I could respond, Cleric came forward. “Mistress, we had to bring Mystery in here last night.” Cleric spoke rapidly, and her eyes were wide with fright. “She would not stay in the barn with the other horses.”

“Wasn’t her stall door latched?” I elbowed my way through my group of characters and stood next to Mystery, checking the scruffy horse to make certain she was unharmed. She nickered softly and nuzzled my hand.Automatic Horse Stall Doors Med Art Home Design Posters intended for dimensions 1024 X 768

“Her stall door was latched.” My Foreman entered the shed and joined the conversation. “I always check the barn before retiring for the night. I had filled the water buckets one final time, our horses’ with the illusory water, but Mystery’s with real water. I also gave them each two laps of hay, again giving her the real hay. I latched all their stalls, extinguished the lamp, closed the barn door, and headed back to the house. I heard hoofbeats behind me, and turned around. Mystery was following me.”

shaggy pony facing the other way“Well, she’s a regular little Houdini, isn’t she?” I chuckled and scratched the horse behind her ears, and she sighed contentedly. “I wouldn’t think her tall enough to reach over the stall door and unlatch it.”

“She is not.” My Foreman sounded grim, and his eyes were dark with concern.

“Well, how did she get out of her stall, then?”

Dragon lifted an eyebrow and crossed her arms over her chest. “She walked through the door.”

I frowned and tilted my head. “I don’t think I understand.”

Mystery escaping barnDragon sighed. “She walked right through the stall door, and then the barn wall, as if the structures did not exist. I saw her do this, after your Foreman alerted me to her escape and we returned her to her stall.”

My jaw fell open. “I didn’t think that was possible. I thought your illusions are . . . what is the term you use? Solid and substantial? How did she walk through your illusion as if it wasn’t there?”

Elf cleric close-upDragon chewed on her lower lip, and rubbed her arms. She spoke softly, her voice tinged with fear. “I do not know, Mistress. My illusions are as solid as the real object. If you wanted to go through one of my illusory barn walls, you would have to use a sledge hammer or a battering ram to do so. I do not know how this horse walked through my illusion. She should not be able to do so.”

Miles scratched his chin. “Could she do it because she’s not real, because she’s just an illusion?”

Dragon took many minutes to consider the question before answering with a shake of her head. “Even if illusory, she should not be able to act as if my solid and substantial illusions did not exist all around her. None of the illusory horses I created can just walk through their stall doors, or barn walls.”

sorceress-facing-rightSorceress frowned. “Could that be because you created them? Because they are all part of a single illusion of your design? If someone else created the illusion of another horse, perhaps it does not interact with your illusion in the same way as the horses that are part of your own illusion.”

Dragon sighed and tilted her head. “I suppose that is possible. But, remember, I did not detect any magic residue on Mystery. And she will not partake of the illusory hay, feed, and water. She will only partake of the real thing. I still do not believe her to be illusory.”

birthdays-weekend-trip-to-wi-018Miles furrowed his brow. “But you also said that you, and even Cleric, were unable to communicate with her the way you can with a real animal.”

Dragon sighed and shrugged. “You are right, Master Miles. If Mystery is a real horse, Cleric should be able to communicate with her, even if I can not.”

I frowned. “Is there any way to be absolutely certain? Perhaps you and your colleagues in magic should examine her by both physical and magical means, the way you did with the books that came through the magical conduit.”

gypsy-facing-right“That will be very difficult, Mistress.” My Gypsy frowned. “It is very hard to immobilize a living creature in order to perform the examinations of which you speak. A pile of books sits on a table. A horse does not remain still. It wanders around, whether in a pasture or even in a smaller area, like a stall. And if Mystery can walk through the illusory walls, then we would have to perform the spells of discovery in here.” He looked pointedly toward my Arrogant One, who had quietly slipped into the shed in the middle of the conversation and was standing next to my Bounty Hunter, listening intently. “We would need privacy.”arrogant-one

My Arrogant One narrowed his eyes. “You seem to forget that I, too, am one of your colleagues in magic. If you are to examine the animal here, in my sanctuary, I will take part in this undertaking.”

Cleric sputtered, and Sorceress laughed. If Dragon had been in her true form, she would have been snarling at the annoying elf. “There is no way we will allow you to assist us in this endeavor. You have not the requisite skill, nor the ability to work with others.”

My Bounty Hunter’s mouth twitched. “I do not imagine you want the elf to best you at your own craft.”

Dragon glared at him threateningly through narrow eyes. “On his finest day, and my worst, that charlatan could not best me if I had one eye closed and my hands tied behind my back.”

“This is not a contest.” I glared at both Dragon and my Bounty Hunter. Then I turned to my Arrogant One. “But it strikes me as extremely out of character for you to offer your assistance to anyone, if you do not directly benefit from the task.”

“I will benefit, madam, from the quick completion of this examination, resulting in the expeditious removal of that animal from this shed.”

I frowned. It sounded logical, but I knew my Arrogant One well enough to know he probably had an ulterior motive. “You know, I don’t believe I ever asked you – Mystery is not one of your illusions, is she?”

magic energy traceDragon snorted. “I told you before, Mistress, the annoying elf is not capable of creating an illusion that leaves no trace of magic. If she was one of his illusions, I would be able to tell.”

My Arrogant One shrugged and gestured toward Dragon. His meaning was clear – he was not going to contradict her. Still, I wondered.

“Okay, how soon can you complete your examination?”

Dragon grumbled, and gestured toward Cleric, Sorceress and my Gypsy. “If it were just the four of us, we could complete it within a day.” She turned toward my Arrogant One and glared. “Having him to contend with, it might take considerably longer, if we can complete the task at all with his interference.”

 

arrogant-one-facing-right

I sighed. “Give it a good try. I would like to know just what we’re dealing with.”

shaggy pony facing the other way

 

I gave the little mare another pat on the shoulder. Just what are you, Mystery? Why can you do things that should be impossible?

 

 

 

 

 

Be sure to come back next week and see if we have learned anything new about Mystery. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Fixtures Light Elegant Lighting Fixture And Supply Company Intended For Front Porch Light Fixtures Front Porch Light Fixtures

The Return of the Neighbors

The Return of the Neighbors

three bales of hay in trunk 2Miles and I were just pulling into the driveway, three bales of hay conspicuously sticking out of the trunk of our car, when I yelped.

“What’s wrong?” Miles jammed on the brakes and looked all around.

I pointed. “We have company.”

Walking around our side yard were our neighbors from down the street, Mace and Gloria. They were coming from the back of our property, and they were looking at the ground.

In his best cartoon character voice, Miles whispered, “Jiggers! The cops!”

I giggled, but Miles raised an eyebrow. “Okay, maybe not the cops, but they are the self-proclaimed neighborhood watch.”

I snorted. “More like the neighborhood busybodies.”

Miles nodded and frowned. “What are they doing here?”

“I don’t know, but I bet it’s nothing good.”

Gloria was pointing at something on the ground at the west edge of our yard. Mace leaned over and stared at it for a few moments. Straightening up, he removed his glasses, wiped them with a handkerchief, and replaced them on his face, jamming them onto the bridge of his nose. He squished his eyebrows together in a frown, and looked at the ground again. He shook his head and shrugged at his wife.

Gloria nudged Mace and nodded toward Miles and me as we sat in the car watching them. They hurried over to the car, scowling. Miles whispered to me out of the side of his mouth, “Do you think we could make a run for it?”

I giggled. “We could try.”

Instead, we plastered big smiles on our faces as we opened our car doors. “Howdy, neighbors!” I can sound really chipper when I try. “What’s up? 2018 treating you okay?”

Gloria frowned and pointedly ignored my greeting. “There’s been a horse running loose through the yards. We’ve seen it and so have a lot of other people in the neighborhood.”

“A horse?” I tried my best to sound skeptical.

“Yes, a small horse.” Gloria sounded accusatory, and she placed her hands on her hips as she waited for a response.

“Ah, well, okay. If we see one, we’ll be sure to let you know.”

Black stallion rubbing against tree in snowFor today's blog 001While this conversation was taking place, my Foreman’s black stallion wandered up from the back yard. He walked over to the tree in the front yard and started scratching his neck and shoulder against the trunk. My husband spotted him and turned white as the snow. He grabbed my hand, but I just gave him an almost imperceptible shake of my head.

Miles slowly turned and started slinking toward the car, but Mace reached out and grabbed his arm.

“We’ve been looking at the tracks.”

“Tracks?” Miles sounded like he was about to choke, and I could see sweat beading on his forehead and upper lip.

“Yes, the tracks from the loose horse.” Mace started tugging my husband’s’ arm. He led Miles and me over to the edge of our property.

“See? There in the next yard?” He pointed.

hoofprints in snow

Miles and I looked. There were hoofprints all over the yard.

“Funny thing about those tracks.” Gloria folded her arms over her chest and took on a smug tone.

The stallion wandered over and stood right behind Gloria. He sniffed at her, sneezed violently several times, and trotted away, shaking his head. Miles looked like he was about to faint, but I ignored the illusory animal and stared where Mace had pointed.

“Oh? I don’t see anything funny. They look like normal hoofprints to me.” I smiled sweetly.

12-28-13 - MN Arboretum 080I kept an eye on my husband, who seemed on the verge of panic. He watched the stallion as it trotted toward the back yard, where its two illusory companions were rolling in the snow. Then he looked back at our neighbors, who seemed completely oblivious to the presence of the three equines. If my husband had been a character in a cartoon, a light bulb would have appeared over his head at that moment. By his relieved expression, I could tell he realized that Dragon’s spell of concealment was working.

With my attention on Miles, I almost missed what Gloria was saying. “What’s funny about the tracks is that they’re in almost every yard in the neighborhood . . . except yours. They stop at the exact edge of your property.” Gloria quirked an eyebrow at me as if daring me to try to explain that.

deer repellent“I guess that deer repellent works on horses, too!” Miles smiled broadly and gave Gloria and Mace a guileless look.

Thank heavens for a quick-witted husband!

“Deer repellent?” Mace lifted an eyebrow and cocked his head. “We haven’t seen any deer in the neighborhood.”

Miles didn’t miss a beat. “See how well it works?”

“Well, we don’t think it has anything to do with deer repellent.” Gloria was sounding even more smug. I wondered – and not for the first time – if she could possibly be related to my Arrogant One.

“Oh? And to what do you attribute our yard’s lack of hoofprints?” I tried to keep my voice neutral, but I think I sounded more annoyed than curious.

“You used something – probably a broom or a pine bough – to erase all traces of the tracks.” Gloria ended this accusation with a toss of her head.

pine branch

My eyes widened and my jaw dropped. I gaped at her, speechless, for a few moments before recovering my composure. “You know what, Gloria? I think you’ve watched one too many low-budget detective flicks. Why on earth would we do something so tedious and so pointless as to erase hoofprints from our yard?”

“Because the tracks were made by your horse. You’re hiding it in that oversized garden shed.”

horses-in-the-yard-for-blog-2Before I could respond to Gloria’s accusation, Mace interrupted. “That first day I came over to introduce myself after we moved in, I saw horses in your yard. I told you then that this neighborhood wasn’t zoned for livestock.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/meeting-the-neighbors/

stallion comes up behind Mace“Mace, if you will remember correctly, you thought you saw horses in the yard, but then we couldn’t find any and you realized it was just your imagination.” I frowned, but it was difficult for me to keep a stern tone of voice as the black stallion came up behind Mace, stuck his nose in the air, and curled his upper lip.

“Well, now we’ve seen a horse.” Gloria couldn’t sound any smugger if she tried. “It definitely wasn’t our imagination.”

“Not in this yard you didn’t.” I folded my arms over my chest and tilted my head, still trying not to laugh at the antics of the stallion, who seemed most interested in Mace.

“If you don’t have a horse, then why do you have three bales of hay in the trunk of your car?” Mace sounded almost as smug as his wife.

“We picked up that hay for a friend . . . for her rabbits.” Miles isn’t the only one in this family who can think fast under pressure.

Shed“Really? Then I guess you wouldn’t mind if we took a look in your shed.” Mace started walking toward the back of our yard.

Miles placed a restraining hand on his arm. “Why, Mace, you didn’t tell us you had joined the sheriff’s department!”

“Or that you had a search warrant,” I added in a saccharine voice.

horselaugh 2Mace slowly turned and stared daggers at us. The black stallion sounded off with what could only be described as a horselaugh. I could hardly keep from doubling over laughing, too. It’s almost a shame that Mace and Gloria are missing all this hilarity! Almost.

My lips must have twitched as I tried to keep from laughing. Gloria looked livid as she scowled at me. “I don’t know what’s so funny. Maybe you’d like us to call the police and wait for them to bring a search warrant?” Gloria was fairly spitting now.

“And what evidence can you give them that would allow them to procure a search warrant?” I tilted my head and stroked my chin.

Gloria drew herself up and rocked back on her heels, and she grasped her coat in both hands. Her petulant voice went up at least an octave. “We know what we saw.”

I rolled my eyes. She must be related to my Arrogant One!

I sighed. “Look. In the interest of neighborhood harmony and goodwill, we’ll let you investigate our shed . . . this time. But after that, you leave and you never set foot on our property unless we have invited you, understood? Or we’re the ones who will be calling the police.”

In front of the barn 3Mace and Gloria both turned beet red, but they nodded curtly and walked toward the shed with us. As we approached the building, we passed the illusory barn, almost a mirror image of the shed, but larger. Dragon had created that for the illusory horses when my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter kept complaining about the animals being kept in their shed. Dragon, in her guise of an elf maiden, was standing at the door to the barn, holding Mystery. My Foreman and the lads were with her, helping her keep the horse quiet. Our guests walked right past them, unawares.

When we got to the shed, Miles pulled open the big double doors and I turned on the lights. Mace and Gloria paused at the threshold.

“Come on, take a good look around. If you find any horses, you can call the police and report us.” Please let my characters keep that horse out of sight! I don’t need it bursting in here and causing a commotion!

It wasn’t Mystery that I needed to worry about. My Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter were in the shed, and they immediately started protesting our presence.

“Is not a person to be granted any privacy at all?” My Arrogant One was screeching so loudly, the black stallion, who had followed us into the shed, winced in pain and whinnied loudly.

“Get that filthy animal out of here!” The elf screeched even louder. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his robes in both hands. “I will not share this shed with those vile, odoriferous creatures!” Oh, yes, he and Gloria must be related!

My Bounty Hunter saw Mace and Gloria at the shed door, and he immediately crossed his arms over his chest. “Are you giving tours now?”

I tried to hush my characters as inconspicuously as possible. “Not now. Go to the house.”

“Did you say something?” Gloria looked at me suspiciously.

“Nope. Just making some noise in case any critters got in here. I wouldn’t want to surprise a sleeping raccoon.” I tried to look innocent.

Gloria and Mace slowly entered the cluttered shed, and warily looked around. While they were on the far side of the room, nosing into every corner and peering into every shadow, Miles and I pushed my indignant characters out of the shed.

“Go. Now.” The two of them took one look at my expression and headed straight for the house at a dead run.

After a few minutes, Gloria and Mace returned to the doorway.

“Any luck?”

ladder to barn loft 2They shook their heads. Then Gloria nudged her husband and pointed at the ladder to the loft.

I snickered. “You think the horse is up in the loft? Is this horse a circus performer that can climb ladders? Or maybe you think it’s Pegasus?”

Gloria’s cheeks burned, but she pushed her husband, and followed him up the ladder.

“Aha!”

Aha? What in the name of all that’s holy could they have found in the loft? Certainly not Mystery!

Miles and I scrambled up the ladder. At the top, Gloria confronted us. “No horses, huh? Then what are these for?”what was in the loft

She dumped the contents of the bucket she was holding. There was a farrier’s rasp, a hoof knife, a hoof pick, and a dozen or so old, rusty horseshoes. I heaved a huge sigh of relief.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake! That’s stuff I never got rid of when I sold my horse farm in New Jersey and moved here to Minnesota. If you move enough of this junk, you’ll probably find some more buckets, a few feeders, an old horse blanket or two, and maybe even my old saddle and bridle. But I haven’t had horses in over 15 years, and never on this property!”

Gloria was about to reply, but Mace took her by the arm and tugged her toward the ladder. “Let’s just go, Gloria. We haven’t found anything that proves they’re keeping a horse.”

After we all descended the ladder, Mace turned to us with a warning. “We’ll be watching this place, and if we see any more suspicious activity . . .” He let the threat hang.

Backyard 050I could feel my last bit of patience evaporate, my last nerve snap. “If you two know what’s good for you, you’ll do all your watching from the confines of your own property. If we see you on our property uninvited again, we’ll see a lawyer about a restraining order, and maybe a lawsuit for harassment.”

We stood there in the doorway of the shed and watched our neighbors stomp off in the direction of their own house. We waited until they were out of sight and we ran over to the barn.

Elf cleric close-upDragon raised her eyebrows and tried to stifle a laugh. “And I thought they were such a charming couple when they came to see you last summer after your surgery.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/fun-and-mayhem-with-the-neighbors/

“Yeah, charming.” I shook my head. “Anyway, we got the feed and hay for Mystery. If anyone can find a foolproof way of getting it here from the car without our charming neighbors seeing it, we can let the poor horse eat.”

“We will attend that chore, Mistress.” My Young Hero beckoned to my Gypsy, and the two lads headed across the back of the yard and up along the far side of the house so that Mace and Gloria would be unable to see them from their house.

 

 

An hour later, the feed and hay had been put away and Mystery was happily munching her dinner. Miles and I went back to the house, still shaking our heads and chuckling over our neighbor’s visit.

Miles looked at his watch. “It’s almost time for our dinner.”

“Okay. I’ll give you a hand in the kitchen. After dinner, I’ll have plenty of time to check the internet and see if I can find any information about a missing horse.”

Come back next week and see if my internet search sheds any light on our little Mystery. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Fixtures Light Elegant Lighting Fixture And Supply Company Intended For Front Porch Light Fixtures Front Porch Light Fixtures

Looking for Clues

Looking for Clues

Elf clericshaggy pony in barnThe ersatz elf maiden, better known as Dragon, led the equine newcomer, whom we had dubbed Mystery, into the open stall and shut her in. Then she turned back to me, her brow furrowed.

“I believe the horse to be real. I can detect no trace of magic on or around the animal. However, I am unable to sense anything from her. I can not tell if she is from this world or another.”

I considered the situation. “Someone go get Cleric. She has a way with animals. She’s the one who always gets birds and wildlife to pose for me when I’m taking photographs. Let’s see if she can shed any light on our little Mystery.”

My Gypsy nodded and headed for the house. A few moments later, he returned with Cleric.

“Your Gypsy has explained the problem, Mistress, and I am more than glad to help. Where is this horse?”

shaggy pony 2Elf facing rightCleric’s eyes lit up as soon as she saw the shaggy creature. The mare seemed to take to her, too. Mystery nickered and pricked her ears forward to listen to Cleric, who entered the stall and spoke softly to the horse. After about 10 minutes, however, Cleric left the stall. She was downcast and wringing her hands. “She seems friendly enough, but I can not communicate with her. I do not understand her the way I do other animals. This is very distressing.”

I patted her shoulder. “Don’t feel bad. Maybe the horse is just an illusion.”

Cleric brightened. “I certainly hope so! Imagine, a Cleric of the Goddess of the Horse, unable to communicate with one of her deity’s favored creatures!”

Dragon shook her head and folded her arms over her chest. “I do not mean to distress you, Cleric, but I do not believe the horse to be an illusion. There is no trace of magic on the animal.”

I raked my hand through my hair and sighed deeply. “Is that conclusive evidence?”

Dragon shrugged. “Well, if she is an illusion, she has been created by a magic user whose skill and power are far superior to mine. That is the only way to account for the absence of a detectable aura of magic. And I have encountered no one in this world more gifted than I at the craft of magic.”

I furrowed my brow and thought. Suddenly, I slapped my forehead. “Duh! An illusionist! My Arrogant One!”arrogant-one-facing-right

Dragon’s eyes widened. Her face turned crimson, and she snorted. If she had been in her true form, she would have been fuming clouds of black smoke at me. She sputtered and tired to speak, but it took several attempts for her to choke out a response. “You can not be serious! The very idea! I said someone superior to me! That buffoon, that . . . that charlatan has not even the slightest hint of talent!”

“Oh, come now! The elf has always been a fair illusionist, and he’s been practicing. Remember, all the way back in April he was already able to create the illusion of a slice of chocolate cake that my Old Dwarf pronounced solid and substantial, with aroma, taste and texture. My Old Dwarf said it was solid enough to be picked up, only dissipating after he had it in his mouth. If my Arrogant One was that good so many months ago, couldn’t he have perfected his illusions by now?”

Dragon refused to entertain the notion, and just kept shaking her head and glaring at me.

“Well, I think I better make sure. Someone find the annoying elf and bring him here.”

This time it was my Foreman who nodded and trotted off toward the house. It was almost a quarter hour later that he returned, alone.

I frowned. “Couldn’t you find my Arrogant One?”

My Foreman shook his head. “He was not in the house, but your Old Dwarf volunteered to track him down and deliver him here.”

A few minutes later, my Old Dwarf came into the barn, dragging my Arrogant One by the collar. Over the elf’s screeching, he asked, “Ye be wantin’ ta be seein’ this un?” He released the squirming, kicking, struggling elf, letting him drop onto the dirt floor.

The elf scrambled to his feet and started dusting off his clothing. “How dare you?” My Arrogant One’s voice was in the register that can shatter glass. The horses were snorting and shying from the commotion.

“Lower your voice! You are upsetting the horses!” My Foreman glared at the elf, and took a menacing step toward him.

My Arrogant One yelped and backed away a few steps. “I am upsetting the horses?” He looked down his nose at my Foreman, then turned to me. His face was beet red, and his eyes narrowed as he glared at me. “I demand to know why I have been abducted and manhandled in such a fashion! That oaf nearly ripped my robes!”

shaggy pony in barnIgnoring his complaints, I pointed to Mystery’s stall. “Why did you create this illusion of a horse?”

He blinked. “Me? I did nothing of the sort. I know nothing of this beast!”

“I told you he was not skillful enough to create such a convincing illusion.” Dragon smirked.

My Arrogant One’s voice started to ascend the scale again. “What?I lack not the skill, you repugnant beast! Merely the motivation.”

“Oh?” I quirked an eyebrow.

“I tell you, I had nothing to do with this filthy beast.” He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his robe with both hands. “My time and my talents are too valuable to waste in such trivial endeavors.” He turned on his heel and started to leave.

My Old Dwarf stepped in front of him, brandishing his battle axe, and blocked his exit. “Ye do na be leavin’ ’lessens tha lass be sayin’ ye be leavin’, elfie.”

My Arrogant One turned an even deeper shade of red, and his voice hit a whole new register. “Do not call me elfie!”

The horses started rolling their eyes, wringing their tails and neighing. The black stallion reared up and almost flipped over in his stall. My Foreman grabbed my Arrogant One and clamped his hand firmly over the irate elf’s mouth. “I told you not to upset the horses!”

I motioned to my Old Dwarf. “Get him out of here before he causes one of the horses to injure itself. I don’t believe he knows anything about Mystery.”

As my Old Dwarf hustled the indignant elf out of the barn, my Foreman and the lads calmed their mounts. Cleric and I entered Mystery’s stall, but the little mare did not seem to be bothered by the commotion. I stood there and looked at her again, tilting my head and stroking my chin.shaggy pony in barn

“What are you really, Mystery, and where did you come from?” The little mare nickered. She nosed around the stall some more, snuffling and rooting through the straw. I slowly approached her and placed my hand on her back. She stiffened, but did not attempt to kick, bite, or flee. I moved my hand down over her ribs.

Cleric watched me assess the horse. “She looks thin.”

“She is thin, but not starving. I can feel her ribs, but her backbone’s not sticking up. Let’s see if she’s dehydrated.” I pinched a fold of her skin on her lower chest, but couldn’t really see through all the hair if it sprang back immediately or if it took a few moments. “Let’s look at her gums.”horse-gums

Cleric helped me get Mystery’s mouth open. I pressed gently on the horse’s upper gum and watched. It took several moments for the color to return. I nodded at Cleric, who released the mare. “She needs water.”

We left the stall. Cleric picked up a bucket and filled it with water, while I got a few flakes of hay. We placed the water and hay in the mare’s stall. I motioned to my Foreman, who quickly got a scoop of oats and poured it in the feed trough at the front of the stall.

Mystery sniffed at the hay and feed, and put her nose in the water and splashed it around, but she made no attempt to eat or drink.

“She looks thin under that shaggy winter coat. You would think she would eat!” My Young Hero looked at her with concern.

I nodded. “She is thin. But maybe Dragon’s right. Maybe Mystery’s not an illusion. Maybe she’s a real horse, and needs real hay and feed and water.”

My Gypsy sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “We can get her some real water, but where can we get real food for her?”

apples and carrots“I have some apples and carrots in the refrigerator. I’ll go get some and see if she shows any interest in them. Meanwhile, Dragon, you need to cast a spell of concealment on her. If she is illusory, she should be as invisible to outsiders as the rest of the illusory stable and horses; but if she’s real, we don’t want the neighbors seeing her and calling the police.”

Dragon nodded. As I left the barn and walked toward the house, I could hear her intoning her spell.

I found Miles in the kitchen, still cleaning up from lunch. He looked up when I entered the room. “Oh, there you are! Is everything okay? You and the others left in a big hurry.”

I reached in the refrigerator and brought out a bunch of carrots and a few apples. “We have a visitor.”

Easter 128I must have sounded pretty grim, as Miles dropped what he was doing and came over to listen. “My Foreman and the lads found a new horse this morning. They have her in the barn right now. Dragon and Cleric are with them now. I’m going to see if the horse will eat some carrots or apples.”

“Why don’t you feed it the same food as the other horses?” Miles frowned, then his eyes widened. “Or are you saying that this horse needs real food because it is not an illusion?”

“The horse is a she, not an it. For lack of a better name, we’re calling her Mystery. She may be an illusion, but Dragon can not detect any trace of magic on her.”

telephone-310544_960_720Miles reached for the phone. “I’ll call the police and report it.”

“Don’t do that!” My voice rivaled that of my Arrogant One in its glass-shattering quality.

Startled, Miles dropped the phone. “Why not? If the horse just wandered onto the property, we need to report it. Someone’s probably looking for it.”

“Looking for her.”

“Okay, for her. We better report it . . . her . . . before one of our neighbors sees it . . . her . . . and they call the police.”

“Dragon cast a spell of concealment on Mystery, so the neighbors will be none the wiser.”

“We should still call the police.”

“And tell them what? That a horse, who may either be real or an illusion, is in our yard? That if she’s real, she may be from this world, or she may have come through a magical conduit from another world?” I snorted. “Oh, yeah, I see that ending real well.”

Miles heaved a big sigh. “Well, what do you suggest?”

“I suggest we get her some real food and water, since she showed no interest in the illusory variety. I think I still have some old rubber water buckets in the shed, something I kept all these years since the days when I had a horse farm. Maybe you could look for one?”

“Okay. If I find one, I’ll clean it out and then fill it with fresh water. I’ll meet you in the barn.”

“Thanks, honey!”apple for Mystery

I returned to the barn and offered the little mare an apple. She took it gently from the palm of my extended hand.

Miles brought a bucket of water. I smiled. “Thanks, honey. Just hang that in her stall.”

birthdays-weekend-trip-to-wi-018My husband backed away, his eyes nearly popping out of his head. “Oh, no! You were the horseowner. The only time I ever got near a horse, I tried to ride double with a friend on his Thoroughbred and got bucked off. I haven’t been near one since!”

I laughed.

water bucket“I will do it, Mistress.” My Gypsy picked up the bucket and hung it in Mystery’s stall. She waited calmly at the back of the roomy box stall for him to leave and close the door, then she approached the bucket and dipped her nose into the water. She drank deeply, draining the bucket in just a few moments. My Gypsy retrieved the bucket and handed it back to Miles. “I think she could use some more.”

Miles nodded and left to refill the bucket. I slipped into the stall and placed the rest of the apples and carrots in the feed trough. By the time Miles returned, Mystery was crunching the last bit of her snack.

Miles handed the bucket to my Gypsy. “She’s eating? Does that mean she’s real?”

I shrugged. “It’s a good clue. I think we can go on the assumption she’s real. Feel like doing some shopping?”

“Shopping?” My husband looked at me suspiciously. “You aren’t thinking of keeping her?”

“Well, as I said before, we can’t call the police and report that we found a horse if we aren’t 100 per cent sure the horse is real, and from this world. So, until we can make that determination, we need to keep her existence here quiet. But she needs feed and hay – real feed and real hay. From the looks of her, she could use a good deworming, too. The Farm Supply Store here in town should have some paste wormers.”

Miles sighed. “Then I guess you and I will go shopping.”

I nodded. “When we get back, I’ll do some research online and see if anyone in the area is missing a horse.” I stopped and sniffed. “Oh, and we better figure out how we’re going to dispose of some very real horse manure.” I chuckled at the look on my husband’s face.

 

Be sure to join us again next week, as we attempt to solve the mystery of Mystery, while doing our best to keep her hidden from our neighbors. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.