Miles 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.”
While 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.
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.
I 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.
“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.
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.”
Before 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/
“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.
“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.
Mace 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.”
Mace 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.
They 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? 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?”
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.
I 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.
Dragon 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.