Some Time to Relax

Some Time to Relax

Continued along the roadWorking with horsesIt had been almost a week since my characters had returned from the illusory world where my Foreman had been lost, and where the rest of my characters had gone to search for him. My Foreman and my Young Hero had spent most of that week working with their illusory horses. My Gypsy had split his time between the horses and working with Dragon and the other magic users.Magic users

The spellcasters had been busy inspecting the threads of the magic weave from both outside the illusory world and within, to determine if it would be safe for my Foreman to return there.

Dragon at door to conference roomI was walking down the hallway to my office to work on my weekly blog when Dragon, in her customary form of a delicate and exotic maiden, gestured to me from the doorway to the conference room. “Mistress? Prithee, a moment of your time.”

“Of course.” I walked back down the hallway and followed her into the enormous chamber. I was once again struck by the marvel of this magically constructed room – an ever-changing space that could never conceivably fit inside our modest split-level home.

Conference room

I nodded in greeting to Dragon’s colleagues, who were looking weary and drained by their efforts. Then I turned and addressed Dragon. “What have you discovered?”

Examing the threadsChester“We have spent considerable time and effort examining and testing the threads of the magic weave that created the illusory world we designed for your Foreman, and the threads that hold that world together. We have found only residual evidence of any problem. It would seem that once we brought the unfortunate stranger, Chester, out of that world and returned him to this, the real world, all of the problems caused by him becoming entangled in the spell rectified themselves.”

I nodded and smiled. “So, my Foreman can return to that world, should he so desire?”

“Indeed. He can enter that world and should no longer have any problems returning here. The same is true for anyone, including you and Master Miles, should you desire to explore that world.”

I chewed my lower lip. “Perhaps. At some time in the future.”

Dragon nodded.

“So, what are your plans now?” I looked at the entire group as I asked the question, but it was Dragon who responded.

“Well, Cleric, Sorceress, and I need to replenish our supply of botanicals and other spell components. Your Gypsy lad desires to rejoin his fellow horsemen. But your Arrogant One has made a splendid suggestion. Since we are all exhausted from our recent adventure, the elf suggested we put aside our other activities and spend the remainder of this day in rest and relaxation on the gazebo with you and a tall pitcher of cold lemonade. Perhaps we could even engage in some nature photography.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea! You should invite my Foreman and my Young Hero, who are still working their horses. And someone please find my Bounty Hunter and my Old Dwarf and invite them, too. I’ll make some lemonade and maybe some iced tea and prepare a few plates of snacks – I think I have some cake and cookies. I’ll let Miles know what we have planned, and I’ll meet you all in the gazebo.”Beverages and snacks

GazeboThirty minutes later, the eleven of us – me, my husband, and nine of my characters who had long ago fallen from the pages of my manuscript – were sipping cool beverages, nibbling sweet confections, and enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun in the gazebo.

Dwarf closeup“Oooooo! This be real good!” I wasn’t sure if my Old Dwarf was talking about the idea of nature photography, or about the mouthful of cake and cookies he was talking around.

“There been an explosion o bunnies since last we been here in tha yard.” He watched the furry creatures hopping and eating and lounging all over the yard. There was a gleam in the old reprobate’s eye as he eagerly fingered his axe handle.

Bounty Hunter head shotDwarf chasing rabbit“Yes, I had noticed that as well,” my Bounty Hunter commented dryly as he reached for a cookie. “I imagine they have thrived in your absence, not having to look over their shoulders for a madman in an iron suit clanking after them, waving an axe.”

I laughed. “Yes, they have multiplied and gotten fat and lazy without the dwarf here to coordinate their exercise.” I took a gulp of my iced tea and sat back to enjoy the afternoon.

“Here.” Miles nudged the dwarf and handed him a camera. “Try this instead of the axe.”

The dwarf reluctantly took the camera and gave my husband a pouty look. “Eh, lad, ye be takin’ all tha fun oot o things.”

Miles chuckled and nudged me. “He complains but look how many pictures he’s taking.”

I smiled and nodded in agreement.

Miles taking pixEastern Chipmunk (1)Suddenly, Miles noticed a chipmunk watching us from the trunk of a nearby tree. My husband grabbed his camera and started shooting. Several other chipmunks approached, and Cleric winked at me. She placed some peanuts on the gazebo floor and the chipmunks came running to get their treat. Miles grinned as he took several more photos.

I laughed, and he shrugged at me. “Hey, they’re cute, they qualify as backyard wildlife, and Cleric has them posing nicely. Now I won’t have to get eyestrain trying to find little birds hiding in the lush leaves of the trees.”

“I have missed this.” Cleric sighed with contentment. She peered around the yard while sipping her tea and nibbling delicately on a cookie. “Oh, look at that!” She gestured toward a black-and-white bird with a rosy bib near a speckle-fronted brown bird with a prominent white eyebrow. “A pair of . . .” She frowned and tried to remember the name of the bird.

Gypsy close-up“Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.” My Gypsy easily supplied the name as he helped himself to a slice of cake. The lad had come to know every bird native to this area, much as he had known all the birds of his native world. “We rarely see them here in the yard. They usually stop by only when migrating through in spring and fall, even though this area is part of their breeding ground.”

Cleric and camera 2

“That is right. I knew we had seen them here before, but I could not remember their name. Thank you.” Cleric picked up her camera and began coaxing the two birds closer.

 

Bounty Hunter head shot“Oh, my!” My Bounty Hunter was looking toward the back of the yard. “It seems it is a ducky day.” He pointed at the group of waterfowl on the back lawn near the reeds. “Those are Wood Ducks alongside the Mallards, are they not?”

“Yes.” My Gypsy and I answered simultaneously.

“The Wood Ducks are the smaller ducks. You can see how that one female Woody compares in size to the rabbit behind her.” My Gypsy pointed.

Wood Duck with rabbit

“I see.” My Bounty Hunter put down his glass of tea, picked up his camera, and started shooting. “Look! Both have babies . . . what are they called? Ducklings?”

“Yup, ducklings.” I nodded. “You’ll notice the line on a Mallard duckling’s head goes from the bill past the eye and then halfway to back of the head. The line on the Wood Ducklings starts at the eye and extends all the way to back of the head.”

“I will attempt to get images showing that, but it might be difficult at this distance.” The man smiled as he focused his camera on the two groups of ducklings.

“I see the Red-winged Blackbirds are still ubiquitous.” My Gypsy was capturing several images. “I see adult males, adult females, and at least one juvenile male.”

Young hero 2My Young Hero took a big gulp of his lemonade before putting down the glass. “I see a Baltimore Oriole and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.” He took a long time trying to focus on the hummingbird at the nectar feeder. “I fear the hummingbird is too distant for a good image, but I think the oriole pictures will turn out to be acceptable.”

Sorceress close-up“Oh, look at that bird. I am not familiar with that one.” Sorceress was pointing her camera at a small bird in the grass.

“That looks like a White-crowned Sparrow.” My Gypsy looked at me for confirmation, and I nodded.

White-crowned Sparrow (2)

“It is most attractive!” Sorceress scanned the area near the sparrow for more birds as she munched a cookie. “What is that?” Zooming in on the creature, she exclaimed, “Oh! It is a toad!”Toad

“Good eye! They’re hard to spot!” Miles nodded at her approvingly as he reached for another slice of cake.

Elf cleric“Yuck! You can keep your toad.” Dragon, still in her familiar form of a maiden, was focusing her camera on some small yellow birds. “I prefer the American Goldfinches. They are beautiful this time of year, still in their breeding plumage.”

Foreman facing right closeup“I have always enjoyed the woodpeckers and similar birds.” My Foreman was taking pictures of some of the birds on the suet logs and in the nearby trees. “I have captured images of the Downy Woodpecker, the Red-bellied Woodpecker, the Pileated Woodpecker, and the White-breasted Nuthatch.”

Gypsy close-up facing right“I prefer the songbirds.” My Gypsy motioned toward some American Robins near the side of the yard, and he whistled their cheer-up, cheer-a-lee, cheer-ee-o call while he took their picture.

Backyard 050I nodded. “They’re sweet, especially the fledglings.” I took a sip of my iced tea and looked around for more birds. “Ah! A Gray Catbird and a Common Grackle. We’re seeing quite a variety of birds and critters today.”

Arrogant One“Indeed! And there are some of the more raucous varieties.” My Arrogant One aimed his camera at a Black-capped Chickadee on one of the feeders, and then at a fledgling Blue Jay on the fence.

Cleric closeup“The male House Finch is posing nicely for me.” Cleric took a couple of quick pictures. “And the male Northern Cardinal as well.”

Miles“I see some Mourning Doves and some Brown-headed Cowbirds.” Miles snapped a few more images.

We sat there together for the rest of the afternoon, nibbling our treats and enjoying our beverages while watching and photographing our backyard wildlife. As dusk fell, a family of raccoons came to visit, and Cleric insisted on providing the youngsters with some snacks while I photographed the little masked bandits.

“It has been a good day.” Dragon sat back and sipped her lemonade. “We need days like this to rejuvenate our spirits.”

We all murmured in agreement and settled back to enjoy the antics of our evening visitors.

Be sure to join us again next week to see what awaits my little band of displaced characters next. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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The Explanation

The Explanation

Miles poked meI had not realized I had been gaping at the stranger for many long minutes until Miles poked me. “Honey?”

The panic in my husband’s voice mirrored my own fear. What was this stranger doing in our home, and how much did he know about my characters? I looked to my characters for an explanation, but the group that just moments before had been creating an uproar, everyone trying to shout over each other in their eagerness to share their tale, now stood silent, shoulders slumped, feet shuffling, eyes darting back and forth.

I turned back to the man who had identified himself as Chester and tried to think of something to say. The man beat me to it.Arthur or the Boss

His voice was terse, and his face harsh. “Like I said, I don’t know how I got here. I don’t even know where here is. And I don’t know any of you . . . do I?” Chester folded his arms across his chest and squinted at us through his thick glasses.

I gulped, and I could feel beads of sweat forming on my forehead. “Ahhh . . . Well, I’m not sure if we’ve ever met. You say your name is Chester? Where do you come from, Chester?”

He turned his attention to me and squinted harder, his eyebrows squishing together as he studied me. “I’m from Minnesota. Creekside. Where am I now? How did I get here? Who are all of you?” He sounded agitated as he barked out the staccato questions.

Dray, Clara, ChesterDragon, in her assumed identity of the delicate and exotic maiden, Dray, stepped forward, tugging cleric along with her. She touched Chester on the arm and spoke soothingly to him. “Do you not remember, sir? My sister, Clara, and I were walking along and saw you wandering around by the side of the road. You appeared quite befuddled. You could not tell us your name, or if you were sick or injured. Since neither Clara nor I had a . . .” Dragon thought hard and almost stumbled over the term. “Since neither of us had a cell phone, we brought you home with us. We thought to call the authorities so they can make sure you are well, and help you find your way home.”

The man calling himself Chester stared at Dragon, studying her for a long time. Finally, he shook his head and declared emphatically, “No! No, I don’t remember that. Are you sure about it?”

Dragon nodded. “Quite sure, sir.”

Cleric and ChesterCleric added, “Forsooth! My sister and I were quite concerned when we encountered you. You really did not seem quite yourself.”

Chester scrunched up his face and stared at Cleric. “Huh! How would you know if I was quite myself or not? You don’t know me. And forsooth? Who uses words like forsooth?”

As Chester continued his tirade, I noticed Dragon making strange and intricate gestures behind her back. Then she mumbled something and touched Chester’s arm again. The man froze mid-sentence and stood as stiff and still as a mannequin.

My eyes almost popped out of my head. “What did you do to him?”

“Do not be alarmed.” Dragon gave me a reassuring look. “I have not harmed him. My fellow magic users and I must cast a spell on him to determine if he is a real person or an illusory being, and it would be best were he not awake to witness it. The others will explain.”

While Dragon and her four magical colleagues worked together to determine Chester’s true nature and makeup, my other characters detailed their adventures in the illusory world for Miles and me.

Horses in pastureBoss watched attackMy Foreman told of the illusory world, of the magnificent horses he had seen, and of his encounter with the Boss and the stable hand. “The Boss was smug, cocky, and cruel. The way he treated the stable hand made me feel sorry for the lad. I understood the lad only attacked me because he feared the consequences of disobeying the Boss. When I suggested the Boss might have become the Boss only recently, the lad found the courage to defy the man. That saved me another lump on my head.” My Foreman reached up and gently touched the spot on the back of his head where the stable lad had walloped him with a lead pipe.

Smiling SangreeWhen my Foreman had finished his portion of the tale, my Young Hero, my Bounty Hunter, and my Old Dwarf amused us with their portrayal of Sangree – the grinning fool as my Bounty Hunter dubbed him – and their account of their journey through the region called the Changes.

My Young Hero rolled his eyes as he spoke of the pathfinder. “The ever jovial Sangree proclaimed himself the best guide in the town, but it seemed for a while that he could not guide us ten feet in any direction without getting lost.”

Changing landscapeMy Bounty Hunter nodded. “Of course, that was only due to the phenomenon of the changing landscape. One moment, we might be walking along the road past lush pasturelands, and suddenly we might find ourselves deep in a forest, or knee-deep in a swamp, or on a beach. At one point, we were even walking along some railroad tracks. And things were just as confusing once we found the stable and the Foreman.”

Dual natureMy Young Hero and my Bounty Hunter explained the apparent dual nature of the man they knew as the Boss, the man who now called himself Chester. My Young Hero shrugged. “The spell showed him to be illusory, the same as Sangree and the stable hand, but it also showed him to be real. Dragon thought it best to bring him back here to the real world in order to study the matter further.”

Alarming rate“An’ ye shoulda been seein’ tha beastie, lass! She been changin’ back ta her true self, an’ then been turnin’ blue and been dribblin’ smoke bubbles from ’er snout when thet fool guide, Sangree, be tellin’ ’er he dinna be knowin’ how ta be gittin’ back ta tha town!” My Old Dwarf slapped his knee and doubled over with laughter.

As we laughed over that image, the magic users returned, their task accomplished.

“Chester is completely real. Whatever part of him was illusory must not have been able to enter into the real world.” Dragon frowned. “Now we must find out where Chester belongs, and figure out how to get him there and erase any memory he might have of our encounter.”

I scratched my head. “How do you propose to do that?”

Dragon rubbed her jaw, raised her eyebrows, and sighed. “Well, he said he is from a place called Creekside here in Minnesota. Are you familiar with that town?”

I shook my head. “Never heard of it. What about you, Miles? You’re a Minnesota native. You ever hear of Creekside?”

MilesMiles furrowed his brow. “Nope. Maybe you could check it on the computer.”

I nodded. “Okay, while I do that, why don’t you take everyone, including Chester, upstairs and get them something to eat?”Checking on computer

A half hour later, I pushed my chair back from the desk and frowned, convinced there was no such place as Creekside in Minnesota.

Miles and ChesterAs I entered the dining room, I overheard Chester complimenting Miles on the food. “This is the best stew I’ve had in a coon’s age.” The huge smile on his face faded as he muttered, “Can’t get vittles like this at Creekside!”Lightbulb went on

A lightbulb went on in my brain. Creekside must be a retirement home or apartment complex, somewhere that served meals. “Where is Creekside, Chester? I can’t seem to find it on a map.” I sat down next to the man and waited for him to refill his bowl with the thick, savory stew.

“Creekside’s where I live. I told ya that.” He scowled.

I smiled sweetly. “Yes, I remember you telling me that, but I can’t find Creekside on a map. Is it near here?”

Chester glared at me while he finished chewing a mouthful of stew. “I told ya before, I don’t even know where here is, so how would I know if Creekside is near here?”

I ducked my head and smiled sheepishly. “Well, here is Waconia. Does that help?”

“Waconia, huh?” He ate another mouthful of stew before answering. “Yeah, I know Waconia. Got people there. My daughter and grandkids. But Waconia’s nowhere near Creekside.”

Dragon interrupted. “Clara and I found you here in Waconia. Had you been visiting your daughter’s family?”

Chester rubbed his chin and furrowed his brow. “I can’t remember. Mighta been. What street was I on when you found me?”

SupermarketDragon blushed. “I have not resided in this town long enough to have learned the street names.” She paused, narrowing her eyes as she thought. “It was quite near the market, though.”

“Bet I was going shopping. Those kids never have enough milk and good food in the house. Soda, chips, junk food, yeah, they got plenty of that. I always stock the pantry when I visit.” Chester frowned. “But if I was going shopping, I shoulda had my car. Why did you find me wandering the side of the road? What happened to me? Why can’t I remember?”

Dragon shrugged. “I do not know.”

“Should I call your daughter?” I did not know how to explain to his daughter how Chester had come to be at my house, but I did not know what else to do.

Dragon and the BossI saw Dragon making the same strange gestures she had made previously, and before Chester could reply, Dragon mumbled something and touched his arm. Once again, the man was as still and stiff as a mannequin.

Dragon rounded on me. “What do you propose to tell his daughter?”

I raked my hand through my hair and sighed. “I don’t know, but what else can we do? We can’t just open the front door and kick him out on the street.”

me and dragon“Let me handle this, Mistress. If he believes he was going shopping, that is the best place to start. My fellow magic users and I will take him to the market and see if he can find his vehicle.”

I raised an eyebrow. “What if he was wrong? What if he wasn’t going shopping? What if he doesn’t find his car in the supermarket parking lot?”

Dragon chewed on her lower lip. “Then we see if he can find his way to his daughter’s house. If he was somehow caught up in the magic as we cast the spell creating the illusory world, he must have been close by. So, it should not take long for him to find something – either his vehicle or his daughter’s house – that will bring back his memory of where he was and what he was doing before the magic entangled him.”

I started pacing, thinking of the myriad ways this could go horribly wrong. “What about his memories of the illusory world, and of being the Boss?”

Dragon shrugged. “He seems to have no memory of that, but we can make certain that if he does, those memories will have no chance of surfacing at a later time.”

I heaved a huge sigh and nodded. It was, in my opinion, an imperfect solution, but I saw no alternative.

Twenty minutes after they left the house with Chester, Dragon and her companions returned.

“Well?” I was impatient to hear how they had fared.

Bastina and Marisol's streetchasing dog chassing squirrel“Well, as soon as we left the house, Chester knew where he was. His daughter lives just a few streets over, on the same street as Marisol and Bastina.” Dragon smiled. “As we walked him to his daughter’s house, part of Chester’s memory returned. He had been out walking his daughter’s dog – a rather large and unruly beast as he tells it – when the animal spotted a squirrel and gave chase. Chester lost his grip on the leash and was racing after the dog, who pursued the squirrel into our yard.”

chasing dog by windowMy Gypsy chuckled. “That is the last memory he had before finding himself in the conference room with all of us. We speculate Chester was right next to the conference room window when we cast the spell, and he got ensnared by the magic. We had no trouble, though, convincing him he must have tripped and hit his head on a tree or something and that is why Clara and Dray found him wandering around with no memory.”

“Once he was ensnared by the magic, he somehow melded with one of the illusory beings, and that is why he appeared both real and illusory.” My Arrogant One shook his head. “Of course, he has no memory of that, and we ensured that he never will.” The elf chuckled. “As Sangree would say, piece of cake.”

I sighed in relief. “So, does this mean my Foreman will be able to return to the illusory world?”

“We magic users will have to inspect the threads of the magic weave from both outside the illusory world and within. If all appears undisturbed, he will, indeed, be able to return. We all will.” Dragon grinned. “Perhaps you and Master Miles might even be able to join us.”had my fingers crossed

I smiled. “I’ll give that some thought.” I’m fairly sure Dragon did not see my hand behind my back, with my fingers crossed.

 

Be sure to come back next week and see what’s in store next for my little band of displaced characters. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Now What?

Now What?

Raised eyebrow“Yer doin’ it again, sista.” The speaker raised an eyebrow at Dragon, who was still in her assumed identity of a delicate and exotic maiden.

Not Your Sister

“I. Am. Not. Your. Sister.” In a flash, Dragon transformed into her true self and towered over the now-quaking man who called himself the Boss. Black smoke poured from the beast’s snout.

“Yikes! No, you sure ain’t! What the heck kinda monster are ya?” His eyes were bulging as he tried to backpedal away from the brut, only to be hemmed in by her companions.

Elf cleric“Monster?” Dragon stood before the terrified man, once again in her guise of a maiden, batting her eyelashes and feigning innocence.

The Boss rubbed his eyes and gaped at the beautiful woman.

“And just what were you are accusing me of doing again?” Dragon asked sweetly.

Arthur or the Boss“Huh? Uh . . . oh, yeah. You were talkin’ about me like I ain’t right here.” The Boss tried to appear annoyed, but it was difficult to do when his eyes were still bulging, and his forehead was beaded with sweat. After a few moments, though, he seemed to regain some of his bluster. “An’ waddaya mean I’m real and ill . . . illus . . . waddeverthaheck else ya said I was?”

“Both real and illusory. It means you show signs of simultaneously being both a real person and an illusory being.” Seeing the man’s confused look, Dragon continued. “You may be a created being, an illusion.”

“Waddaya talkin’ about? I ain’t no illusion!” The Boss curled his lip and all but snarled the words. “I’m as real as the next guy.” He gestured in the direction of the guide, Sangree, and the stable hand.

Arrogant One full body 2The Arrogant One chortled as he drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, grasped his cloak with both hands, and looked down his nose at the Boss. “That statement has little meaning if either of those two” – he indicated the two figures at whom the Boss had gestured – “are the next guy to whom you refer, considering both of them are illusory.”

The Boss looked at the Arrogant One as if the elf were speaking a foreign language. “Waddaya sayin’?”

Gypsy close-upSympathy tinged the Gypsy’s voice as he tried to explain the situation to the Boss. “He is saying Sangree and the stable hand are illusions, created to fulfill a specific function in this world, a contrived world, an illusory world; and we believe you may also be an illusion.”

Sorceress close-up“More accurately, you appear to have both properties marking you as a real being, and properties revealing you as mere illusion.” Sorceress was still gaping at the man as she spoke. “We do not know how this could be. As I said before, one is either real or illusory. One cannot be both. Or so we thought.”

“Wha . . . wha . . . wha . . .?” The Boss looked like a fish gasping for air. Before the confused man could form any intelligent words, the Old Dwarf pushed him aside.

Dwarf closeup“Wot be wrong wit all o ye? Why be we wastin’ tha time ta be jawin’ aboot this man? It do na be makin’ no nevermind ta us iffins he be real or iffins he be illusionable. We been findin’ tha Foreman, likens we been come here ta do. Now we be needin’ ta be skedaddlin’ back ta tha town, so’s we kin be gettin’ back ta tha real world . . . afore we be gettin’ losted in this make-beliveable world fer e’re.”

“He is right. The most important thing right now is to find our way back.” The Gypsy nodded.

Young hero 2“Indeed. We did not come all this way to find the Foreman just to end up staying here with him. We must return to the real world and take him with us.” The Young Hero placed his hand on Tor’s shoulder and gave him a reassuring look.

Dragon pursed her lips and nodded. “What you say makes a great deal of sense. This mystery, though important, is not our paramount concern. Returning to the real world is. We should leave immediately.”

She turned to the Boss, who was still looking gobsmacked. “You will come with us. If we can get you back to the real world, perhaps we can unravel the mystery of your identity and your nature.”

“Well, sista . . . er, I mean lady . . .” The Boss gulped nervously and gave Dragon a wary look before continuing. “What if I don’t wanna go witchya?”

“You will come with us.” Dragon’s tone of voice did not invite further discussion.

Dwarf and BossThe Old Dwarf stood by Dragon’s side, glaring at the Boss and brandishing his sword. “Ye been hearded the Beastie. Ye be comin’ wit us. Now, be ye movin’ along on yer ownest two feetsies, or be I slicin’ ye up inta little bitty pieces wat we kin be carryin’ in our pouches?”

The Boss blanched. “My feet’ll do just fine. No need ta get dicey.”

Tor turned to say goodbye to the stable hand. “I do not even know your name, friend.”

The lad shrugged and made a moue. “Don’t know it myself. Had one, once . . . I think.”

warm handshakeTor extended his hand. “Well, take good care of yourself and these horses, friend. Maybe someday I will be able to return, and you will have remembered your name.”

The other man nodded and accepted Tor’s hand, shaking it warmly. “I’ll be right here if ya ever git back.” Then he turned and started distributing the feed and water to the stalled animals.

Tor nodded to Dragon, indicating he was ready to go.

“Sangree, you will lead us back to the town.” Dragon motioned for the man to proceed.

looked like startled deerThe self-proclaimed best guide in the town looked like a startled deer. “But . . . but . . . nobody ever asked to go back to the town. The road leads away from the town.”

Cleric twisting cincture“Well, it should be easy enough to follow the road back in the opposite direction, toward the town.” Cleric picked up her pouch and tied it back on her cincture, adjusted her robes, and started walking out of the barn. She stopped when she noticed no one following her. “Well, it will be easy, will it not?”

Sangree shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never tried.”

Sangree and Bounty Hunter“Oh, this is ridiculous!” The Bounty Hunter scowled at the man. “You have guided many people away from the town, correct?”

Sangree nodded.

“Well, how do you get back to the town to lead the next group away from it?”

“I . . . I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever gone back to the town. I’m just there when someone needs a guide.” Sangree furrowed his brow and scratched his head. “I have no idea how to get to the town.”

Elf clericDragon sighed. “That makes sense. Sangree is an illusory being, designed to be a guide for people entering this world. People enter at the town. He guides them to places within the town, or to places away from the town. Once he guides someone to their destination outside of the town limits, they would presumably be able to find their own way back to the town, so he is not designed to lead people in that direction.”

Cleric twisting cinctureCleric’s eyes widened and she started fidgeting with her cincture. “How will we find our way, then? How will we negotiate that treacherous region Sangree called the Changes? Sangree had enough trouble finding his way through there!”

Alarming rate“The first thing we will do is not panic.” Dragon would have sounded more convincing had she not transformed into her true nature, then immediately morphed blue and started dripping smoke bubbles from her snout.

Sorceress rolled her eyes. “Good advice. You should listen to it.”

The Old Dwarf pushed through the companions, dragging the Boss with him and making sounds of disgust. “There do na be no reason ta be panickin’.” Pointing to Sangree, he demanded, “Wat be tha place nearest tha town thet ye been guidin’ folk to?”

“Why would that matter?” The Bounty Hunter furrowed his brow and scratched his head.

The dwarf sighed and rolled his eyes. “Iffins tha guide be takin’ us ta tha place closest ta tha town, mebe we kin be findin’ tha rest o tha way our ownest selves.”

SangreeSangree furrowed his brow and put his hand to his chin. The tip of his tongue poked out of the corner of his mouth and his eyelids almost closed. He remained in that position for several long minutes. Just as the dwarf was reaching for him to shake him out of his stupor, Sangree’s eyes flew open and he smiled broadly. “This stable! This stable is the closest place to the town that I’ve ever led anyone to.”

“Oh, that’s really helpful!” The Boss snorted.

The Gypsy frowned at the Boss and turned to address Sangree. “Okay, so this is the place closest to the town, but what about places within the town where you have led people?”

Smiling SangreeAgain, Sangree furrowed his brow and put his hand to his chin. Again, the tip of his tongue poked out of the corner of his mouth and his eyelids almost closed. But this time his eyes flew open almost immediately and his smile was so wide, it looked as if his face would split. “The marketplace! Almost everyone wants to stop at the marketplace for supplies before leaving the town.”

“Well, then, can you lead us to the marketplace?” Dragon had changed back into the form of a maiden and was looking hopefully at Sangree.

“Piece of cake!” He beamed with pride.

After five days of wandering around the ever-transforming landscape of the region known as the Changes, Sangree led the companions into the town. “See? What did I tell you? Piece of cake!”

All nine characters and the Boss glared at Sangree and muttered an expansive array of expletives, epithets, and profanities at the man, who just stood there grinning.

Finally, the weary group of travelers took their leave of the best guide in the town and emerged in the real world.

* * *

MilesMiles and I jumped up from the breakfast table. “What in the world is that racket?” Miles looked at me in alarm. After so many weeks of just the two of us rattling around the house, the slightest noise seemed to echo through the place. And this was no slight noise.

Me“It sounds like a herd of elephants stampeding around downstairs.” I grabbed my husband’s hand and tugged him toward the stairs, a smile spreading across my face. “My characters must be back!”

We ran downstairs to the conference room and threw open the door. As I had hoped, there were my characters, all appearing safe and sound.

As soon as they saw Miles and me, my companions fell silent for just a split second; then pandemonium broke out again, with everyone talking at the same time. I held up my hand like a traffic cop to quiet them. “Welcome back.”Back home

StopThe clamor picked up immediately, and the characters pressed in around Miles and me, each trying to tell us what had happened. Suddenly, I held my hand up a second time and called for silence.

Me confronting ArthurI walked over to a man standing among my characters. “Arthur? What are you doing here?”

The man shook his head. “My name is Chester.” He looked around, a dazed expression on his face. “And I don’t know what I’m doing here. I don’t even know where here is.”

Confused

 

Where did Chester come from? Is he the Boss? Is he real or illusory . . . or some impossible combination of the two? How will my characters figure things out? Will they be able to help Chester and return him to wherever he belongs? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Real or Illusory?

Real or Illusory?

Dragon and the Boss“Arthur?”

Dragon – still in her guise of an exotic and delicate maiden – gaped at the figure standing before her.

Arthur?” Cleric’s voice sounded incredulous as she pushed past her companions. “Why, it is Arthur!” Her eyes widened and she took a step back.

The Gypsy jostled to get a glimpse of the man in question and scowled. “What is he doing here?”

The Young Hero frowned. “Arthur? Are you sure that is Arthur?”

Tor and BossThe Foreman, Tor, gaped at the man he knew as the Boss. “I should have recognized him! When I first saw him here in the barn with the farrier, I thought he looked out of place, but I did not realize he was someone I had met in the real world.”

“I can hear ya, ya know. Ya don’t hafta talk about me like I ain’t right here!” The Boss sneered.

Dragon approached the man and studied him carefully. “You are Arthur, are you not?”

The man gave her a smug look. “Maybe. Maybe not. What’s it ta you, sista?”

Not his sisterDragon gave him a cold stare. Smoke started to drift from her nose, despite the fact that she was not in her true form. “Most assuredly, I am not you sister.”

“Whatever.” The man gave her a curious look. “So, who are ya, and what’s yer business here?”

Dragon ignored him and turned to the Foreman. “What do you know of this man?”

Tor took off his hat and raked his hand through his hair. “I know him as the Boss, but nothing more. I did not recognize him as Arthur, though I sensed he might not be from this world. For several hours now, I have repeatedly asked him who he is and how he came to be in this place. I have gotten nothing but evasion and double-talk.”

The BossThe other man tsk-tsked and smirked at Tor. “Whatchya talkin’ about? I already told you. I’m the Boss. I came here from the town, same as you probably did, and I got here by walking, same as you probably did.”

“Yes, yes, you have told me that. But you refuse to reveal the identity you held before you came here and became the Boss. You refuse to reveal where you came from before you were in the town, or how you got to the town.” Tor’s voice was strained, and a vein in his temple throbbed.                                                                                                                    Flopped back down on hay

Dragon studied the man closely through narrowed eyes. He seemed singularly unconcerned as he flopped back down on the bale of hay.

After many long minutes, Dragon turned back toward her companions and addressed Sorceress, the Arrogant One, the Bounty Hunter and the Old Dwarf, none of whom had ever met Arthur. Their confused looks faded as Dragon explained, “This man appears to be Arthur, the man who runs the writers’ group, Lost in the Words, and who has – on numerous occasions – caused serious problems for us.”

“Yes, he does appear to be Arthur,” Cleric interrupted, still sounding incredulous. “But can we be certain? How could Arthur be in this illusory world?”

Dragon frowned. “I do not know how he could be here. And, no, I am not certain he is Arthur. The physical resemblance is exceptional. However, his manner of speaking is all wrong. And, if he were Arthur, he should recognize some of us.”

Dwarf and the Boss“Be there no way ta be sure, beastie?” The Old Dwarf moved closer to the seated figure. “Mebe I can be gittin’ ’em ta be more forthcomin’ wit ’is answers?”

Another voiceDragon started to reply when another voice drew everyone’s attention to the far end of the barn. “If you folks’er here lookin’ ta buy some horses, yer just gonna hafta wait. I’m jus’ giving ’em their grain and water now. Come back later in tha day an’ they’ll be ready ta show ya.”

Tor gestured toward the newcomer. “That is the stable hand.”

Dragon and stable handThe other companions stared at the figure while Dragon walked down the length of the barn aisle and studied the lad closely. “You are from this place, are you not? Like Sangree, the guide, you have a specific function here.”

The youth nodded. “I’m from here. I tend tha horses.”

“Do you know that man? The one sitting on the bale of hay?”

The stable hand scowled. “Calls himself the Boss. Ain’t my boss. I won’t work fer that man no more.”

Dragon nodded. “How long has he been the Boss?”

The stable hand frowned and scratched his head. “Not sure, really. Can’t remember but seems like maybe there usta be another boss. Don’t matter, though. Ain’t gonna work for that one no more.”

Dragon turned back to the group at the other end of the barn. “Sangree? Are you still here?”

“I am right here, milady! Do you need me to guide you to another place?” The self-proclaimed best guide in the town scurried down the aisle toward Dragon and the stable hand, a broad grin on his face.

Sangree and the stable hand“Not yet. I do need you to stand here, next to the stable hand, please.”

Sangree took his place without question, grinning like a fool.

“Now you.” Dragon pointed to the man who called himself the Boss. “Come here and stand with them.”

“Whatchya got in mind, sista?” He made no move to join them.

“Tha beastie been tellin’ ye afore, she do na be yer sister.” The Old Dwarf had retrieved his axe from his satchel and stood before the Boss, smacking the flat of the blade against the palm of his open hand. “Now, be ye walkin’ o’er there on yer ownest two feetsies, or be I slicin’ ye inta little bitty pieces wat I kin be carryin’ there?”

The Boss narrowed his eyes and took the Old Dwarf’s measure. He rose slowly and stretched. “All right, all right, I’m goin’. No need ta git yer tin can all steamed up.” He started strolling lazily down the barn aisle but picked up his pace considerably when the dwarf whacked his derrière with the flat of the axe blade.

Boss, Sangree, Stable handOnce the Boss stood with Sangree and the stable hand, Dragon motioned to Cleric, Sorceress, the Gypsy, and the Arrogant One. She drew her four magic colleagues close and spoke in a whisper. “Share your power with me, please.”

The elf drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, grasped his cloak with both hands, and sneered. “My power? For what purpose?”

Dragon silenced him with a raised eyebrow. “Not just your power, elf. I need all of you to strengthen a spell I will cast on those three. We know two of them are illusory – residents of this illusory world you helped me create for the Foreman. We need to determine if the third one – the one who calls himself the Boss, but who looks like Arthur – is also illusory, or if he is real.”

blue auraThe Arrogant One frowned but nodded. The others agreed with no hesitation. They all joined hands and concentrated as hard as they could. Brows became furrowed, shoulders grew tense, and tongues peaked out of the corners of several mouths. Finally, Dragon intoned a spell in an ancient and arcane language.

After several minutes, Sangree and the stable hand were outlined in a soft blue light. Several more moments passed before the third figure also started glowing softly.

WrithingSuddenly, the light around the Boss intensified. He fell to the ground, writhing in a carnelian glow.

“What has happened?” Cleric broke the circle, pulling away from her companions and rushing toward the thrashing figure.

“Do not touch him!” Dragon reached out and grabbed Cleric.

“But he may need healing.” Cleric was already reaching for her pouch of herbs and her clerical emblem.

“I doubt he has been harmed, and even if he has been, I doubt you would be able to help.” Dragon kept a tight grip on Cleric’s arm, moving her away from the Boss, who lay, groaning, in a fading aura of reds and blues.

Slowly, the man’s spasms slowed, and he lay there still, with only an occasional twitch.

“He dead?” The stable hand sounded hopeful.

“No.” Dragon shook her head.

The man rolled over and glared at the stable hand. “It takes more’n a few fireworks ta finish me. I’m the Boss!”

“Sez you,” the youth muttered.

The Boss dragged himself into a sitting position. “What’dya do ta me, sista?”

Dwarf threatening sitting Boss“Ye be callin’ the beastie sister just oncet more, and ye be seein’ wat it be gittin’ ye.” The Old Dwarf glowered at the Boss, and vigorously pounded the flat of his axe blade into the palm of his open hand again.

The Boss scowled at the dwarf, but kept his mouth shut as he finished dragging himself to his feet. He stood there, leaning unsteadily against a stall door, shaking his head.

Once they were certain the man had sustained no serious or permanent injury, the companions huddled together and looked at Dragon.

“So, do we know any more now than we did before?” The Gypsy asked the question that was obviously on everyone’s mind.

“Yes and no.” Dragon pursed her lips. “The soft blue aura that surrounded the three figures marked them as illusory beings. The reddish radiance showed the one to be real.”

“How can that be?” Sorceress gaped at Dragon. “One is either real or illusory. One cannot be both.”

Dragon shrugged. “He is.”Arthur or the Boss

How can the Boss (or is it Arthur?) be both an illusion and real? How are the companions going to solve that mystery? And will they ever find their way out of this illusory world and back to the real world where Mistress Writer and Master Miles await their return? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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