“Missy, look who I found while fetching the mail.”
I looked up from my laptop, curious why Dragon was calling me Missy, the name my characters called me in public. I soon saw the reason and smiled. Dragon, in her assumed identity of the delicate lass, Dray, walked over to the gazebo where I sat working. Skipping behind her was a young child.
“Well!” I closed my laptop and walked down the gazebo steps. I bent down, putting myself at eye level with the child, and smiled at her. “Who is this?”
The little girl giggled. “It’s me, Marisol.”
“Marisol?” I feigned shock. “No, it can’t be! Marisol is a little girl.” I held my hand down to indicate someone much shorter than the child in front of me.
Marisol giggled again. “I’ve grown since you saw me. Last week, Mommy measured me, and I’ve grown two whole inches this year!”
“Two whole inches? Imagine that! You’ll soon be as tall as your mother!”
Marisol giggled and rolled her eyes at me.
“Speaking of your mother, is she with you?” I stood and glanced over at the side yard, expecting to see our neighbor, Bastina.
Marisol bowed her head and scuffed her foot back and forth in the grass. Her voice was small when she finally answered. “No.”
Dray frowned. “Does she at least know where you are, child?”
Again, Marisol scuffed her foot back and forth. “No.” Her voice was even softer this time. When she finally raised her head and looked at Dray, the little girl’s brow was furrowed, and she was chewing her lower lip. “I have to talk to you, Dray, and I didn’t want Mommy to hear.”
“Oh?” Dray lifted a delicate eyebrow and tilted her head, studying Marisol closely. “And prithee, what do you need to discuss with me that your mother cannot hear?”
Marisol hesitated. “My birthday is Sunday. I’ll be seven years old. I’d really like to see the horses for my birthday. Maybe even pet them? I mean, it doesn’t have to be on my birthday, just for my birthday. Any day around my birthday would be fine.”
Dray wrinkled her brow, seemingly confused by the child’s request. “You know we do not have horses here.”
Marisol scoffed. “I know you did. I think you still do.”
“Hmmm.” Dray narrowed her eyes. “But you do not believe your mother would want you to be around horses?” Again, Dray tilted her head and carefully studied the child.
Marisol folded her arms in front of her and sighed deeply. “I don’t think Mommy wants me to see the horses.”
When we first met Marisol and her mother last year, we discovered Marisol had the unique power to see past Dragon’s spell of concealment. She was able to see the illusory horses and stable. She was also able to see through Dragon’s shape-shifting ability. She saw not the exotic maiden everyone else saw, but the beast’s true form. While her mother did not understand Marisol’s power, she was uncomfortably aware of it, since another part of the child’s power was to cause those around her to see what she saw.
Marisol dropped her arms to her side and looked beseechingly at Dray. “But horses are my favorite animals, Dray! I mean, except for dragons, of course.” She giggled, then gave Dray another sad look. “I really, really, really want to see the horses. It’s my birthday wish! Please?”
Dray pursed her lips and rubbed the back of her neck.
Perhaps sensing Dray was about to refuse, Marisol tired a different tack, turning to address me as well as Dray. “You know Talia has been working with me, teaching me how to control my . . . problem.”
Dray and I nodded. We knew that Talia, one half of the team who operated the Chris-Tal Clear Metaphysical Store, had taken Marisol under her wing. She was providing guidance and direction to the young conduit of magic.
“Well, I’m doing really well with the exercises she taught me. I promise no one else will see the horses.” Marisol raised her hand as if taking an oath.
Dray sighed. “Suppose I speak with Talia. If she feels you have achieved a sufficient level of control, then I will approach your mother. Mayhap I can convince her to allow you to be our guest one day this week, without revealing the true purpose of your visit.”
“Oh, that would be perfect, Dray! Thank you!” The little girl ran to Dray and threw her arms around the woman, hugging her tightly.
That afternoon, after Dray checked with Talia, I dialed Bastina’s number and handed the phone to Dray to make arrangements.
“How fortuitous!” Bastina was so thrilled with Dray’s offer to have Marisol visit on Saturday, I could hear her enthusiastic reply even though I was standing a good ten feet from Dray. “I have to work the mid-shift at the herb shop Saturday, from eleven to six. I usually take Marisol with me, but after work I need to pick up her birthday cake and make some last-minute arrangements for her party on Sunday. I couldn’t do that if she were with me.”
Dray responded warmly. “It is our pleasure! Is it permissible for us to throw a small celebration for Marisol when she visits Saturday? Perhaps have a cake? Seven is quite the milestone in a young lady’s life, and we would be remiss if we ignored this occasion.”
With Bastina’s blessing, Dray and I began the plans for the party. We called the rest of my characters together, along with my husband, and explained our idea.
“I am going to allow Marisol to see me in my true form, and to see the illusory horses.” Seeing the shocked looks on the faces of her companions, Dragon waved dismissively. “I believe Marisol is sufficiently mature that she will not go off blathering about it to all and sundry. Also, Talia assures me the child has achieved a level of control over her powers that will prevent unexpected guests – anyone who crashes the party, so to speak – from seeing what Marisol sees.”
“I think it would be a good idea for us to have a little party for Marisol, leading up to the grand event of the day.” I looked around at the lack of enthusiasm among my characters and sighed. “We can have cake and ice cream and give her some small, token gifts. We can make it a real birthday celebration.”
My Old Dwarf’’s eyes lit up at the mention of refreshments. “Be ye tinkin’ o some chock-lit cake?”
Cleric shook her head. “Marisol does not like chocolate. I will make an orange chiffon cake. It is her favorite”
Seeing the dejected look on the dwarf’s face, cleric reached out and patted his hand. “I know! Instead of one big cake, I will make individual cakes for each person. Yours will be chocolate, my friend. And we can have several flavors of ice cream. Master Miles has shown me how to use the machine that makes it.”
“What sort of gifts can we give Marisol?” My Young Hero frowned and scratched his head.
We spent some time discussing ideas. Dragon decided granting Marisol her birthday wish would be her gift. Cleric felt the party and the cakes could be her contribution, and my Old Dwarf decided to handcraft a present. I offered to do the shopping for everyone else and made a list of what to get.
I looked up. Cleric was there, as she often was when I felt alone, confused, and angry. The concern in her soulful eyes touched me.
I nodded. “Yes. Something is bothering me.”
Cleric gestured toward the door. “It is a beautiful day out. Shall we retire to the deck to sip some refreshing lemonade and commune with nature?”
I was about to tell her I preferred keeping my own company that day, but then I reconsidered. “Yes, that sounds like a good idea. Why don’t we invite Dragon, Sorceress, and my Old Dwarf as well?”
Cleric furrowed her brow and stared at me. “If you wish. I will locate them, and we will meet you on the deck. We will bring the refreshments.”
Soon after, we were gathered on the deck. Cleric poured the lemonade and we all helped ourselves to cookies. Then we sat in silence, watching my Foreman and the lads work their illusory horses. My companions shifted uncomfortably and did not seem to know what to say.
My Old Dwarf was the first to break the silence, talking around a mouthful of cookies. “So’s, the holy lass be sayin’ thet summat be botherin’ ye.”
I nodded. “Do you remember me telling you about my friend, Ruth?”
The others nodded.
“She been an ol’ friend o yourn from back when ye been livin’ in thet udder place . . . New Jersey . . . an’ ye been runnin’ a stable where ye been keepin’ horsies fer udder people. Ruth been keepin’ ’er horsie wit ye, but then she been movin’ an’ ye dinna been keepin’ in touch much after thet.” My Old Dwarf tapped the side of his head. “I be rememberin’.”
“I remember as well.” Sorceress nodded. “If I recall correctly, a year or two ago, you discovered she was living near here when one of her relatives contacted you and asked you to visit her.” She sipped her lemonade as I nodded.
“Yes, that was two years ago. It was the first time I had seen Ruth in almost thirty-five years.” I sighed.
“That was not a pleasant visit for you, was it, Mistress?” Cleric gave me a sympathetic look.
I shook my head sadly. “No, not pleasant.”
My Old Dwarf nodded. “I be rememberin’ all right! Ye been all upset then by how she been. Ye been sayin’ thet she been robbed o ’erself by time. Ye been ta see ’er a few times since then, an’ each time, ye been just as upset.”
Dragon, in her form of a delicate maiden, tilted her head and stroked her chin. “I remember also. Had you not planned to see her again, right before this pandemic closed her facility to visitors?”
“Yes. I was supposed to go, but her niece called me and cancelled the visit.” I took a sip of my lemonade. “That was five months ago. The niece just called me this week to let me know the nursing home was allowing visitors again.”
Sorceress nodded. “You went to see her Wednesday, did you not? I recall you were not upset by this visit. You said it was a good day for Ruth.”
“The visit was remarkable. Ruth had some of her spunk back. There was a sparkle in her eye, and she sat a little straighter. And she remembered things! She talked and talked and talked about the things we used to do, the horses we owned, the places we rode, the auctions we attended.”
“That sounds like a lovely day, Mistress!” Cleric beamed.
“So’s why be ye so upset taday?” My Old Dwarf was still talking around a mouthful of food.
“Ruth’s niece called me this morning. Ruth passed away last night in her sleep.”
“Oh, Mistress, I am so sorry!” Cleric placed her hand on my shoulder while the others murmured their condolences.
“Thank you. I’m sad she’s gone, but glad she had a few good days at the end. When I saw Ruth this week, it seemed she was doing so much better and her niece told me Ruth had been doing well all week. She seemed stronger, more engaged, remembering things. She even started working on a crossword puzzle.” I sighed. “It seems so unfair that she’s gone now, just as she seemed to be a bit better.”
“Be ye writin’ summat aboot ’er agin, liken ye did afore?” The dwarf took another handful of cookies.
I wrinkled my brow and shook my head. “No, I don’t think so. I think the blog and the poem I wrote about her two years ago will stand as her tribute.”
Almost a week had gone by, and still Dragon sulked in front of her blazing fireplace.
“The temperature outside has been steadily rising all week. Summer has returned with all its heat and humidity, and still that vile beast keeps that inferno blazing in the conference room! The entire house is like an oven! She gives no thought to the comfort of anyone save herself!” My Arrogant One scowled fiercely as he rose from the breakfast table. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak with both hands. “I, for one, have no intention of subjecting myself to such maltreatment. I am retiring to the shed until someone takes that insufferable beast in hand.”
My Old Dwarf stopped loading his fifth helping of flapjacks onto his plate and jumped up to face my Arrogant One. “Eh, thet insufferable beastie be me mostest specialest friend, so’s ye best be watchin’ yer tongue there, elfie, afore I be puttin’ a knot in it fer ye.”
The elf, predictably, reacted with a glass-shattering shriek. “Do not call me elfie!”
The dwarf chuckled and settled back to finish his breakfast as the elf stomped out of the room.
“The elf might be annoying, but in this case, he is right. Something must be done about that cold-blooded reptile before we all bake to death.” My Bounty Hunter threw his napkin on his plate and followed the elf to the relative comfort of the garden shed.
My Young Hero wiped the sweat from his brow. “The rest of us have discussed escaping into the illusory world created for the Foreman.” He refilled his glass from the pitcher of ice water and gulped it down. “Mistress, you and Master Miles are welcome to join us.”
“Thanks, but I think Miles and I should stay here. I’ll try to reason with Dragon again.” I raked my hand through my hair and turned toward my husband.
Miles frowned. “You better persuade her to get rid of that fireplace before all the paint in the house bubbles off the walls and the paneling warps.”
My Old Dwarf pushed himself away from the table and got slowly to his feet. “Good luck ta ye, lass. Ye be needin’ it! Tha beastie do na even be listenin’ ta meself.” The pain and worry over his friend showed in my Old Dwarf’s red-rimmed eyes, slumped shoulders, and shuffling gait as he left the room.
I sighed and looked at Miles again. Before I could say anything, the doorbell rang.
“You and Master Miles finish your meal, Mistress. I will see who is at the door.” Cleric trudged out of the room, wiping the sweat from her face. Moments later, she raced back, eyes sparkling and a huge smile lighting up her face. “Mistress, there is someone here to see you! Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm begs an audience.”
I jumped out of my chair. “Ollie? Ollie’s here already? I only called his human this morning.”
“You called James?” Miles looked relieved. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“You were busy making breakfast when I made the call. When I got to the breakfast table, my Old Dwarf was already here, and I didn’t want to mention it in front of him. He and Dragon share a close bond, but nothing like the bond Dragon shares with Ollie. I didn’t want to upset the old reprobate. You know how jealous he can get.”
“Do you really think Ollie can help?” My Gypsy looked skeptical.
“Only one way to find out.” I headed down the stairs and out the front door to welcome our guest.
When I arrived in the front yard, Ollie was sitting there, seemingly mesmerized by two butterflies fluttering around his head. I took a moment to study him. I had almost forgotten how handsome the Old English Sheepdog was, with his elegant head, his intelligent eyes, his muscular body, and his magnificent coat, beautifully patterned in blue merle and white.
When he saw me, Ollie jumped up and woofed in greeting, a goofy puppy-like grin on his face. When he tried to wag his little bobbed tail, his entire hindquarters wiggled comically with the effort. When he saw me trying not to laugh at his antics, he immediately stopped. He almost looked as if he were blushing, as if remembering he was no longer a puppy, and he quickly assumed a more dignified bearing.
I smiled. “Sir Oliver, it’s been too long since you honored us with a visit! It’s good to see you again.”
Ollie whined and nodded. “Too long, indeed, Marge. I have missed coming here. But please, call me Ollie. Sir Oliver is too formal between friends.”
I smiled and nodded. “Of course, Ollie. How have you been? And how are your human companions, James and Ron?”
“We are all well, thank you, Marge.” Ollie’s human speech was well developed, as were his manners. “But, please, from what James told me, I would prefer we do our catching up later. James said Dragon needs my help.” Ollie’s distress was evident in his china blue eyes, and the way he started dancing around. He began mixing his canine vocabulary with his human words. “Woof! Where is she? What is wrong? Is she injured? Is she in danger? Woof! Woof! I need to help Dragon! What can I do?” He ended with a heartbreaking whimper.
“Relax!” I placed a hand on Ollie’s broad head and patted him reassuringly. “She is uninjured, and in no danger, save that of losing her friends. She is currently in the conference room, basking in front of her illusory fireplace.”
Ollie scratched behind one ear with a hind foot. Then he cocked his head and gave me a confused look. “Her fireplace? But it must be more than eighty-five degrees today!”
I nodded. “Dragon claims that anything under a hundred degrees is not comfortable for her.”
“Woof! How can she stand it, with her luxurious fur coat?”
“Fur coat?” I furrowed my brow and tilted my head. “Dragon has scales.”
Ollie looked embarrassed. “Woof, woof! Of course! I forgot Dragon is a dragon. You see, when I look at Dragon, I see a beautiful female Old English Sheepdog!”
I chuckled. “I see. Well, at any rate, you can imagine how the rest of us feel with the house so hot.” I gestured toward the front door. “Maybe you can talk with her?”
“Woof, woof!” Ollie shook his head so hard, his ears flapped. “Oh, no, Marge! My own fur coat is quite thick, and I do not tolerate extreme heat very well. Perhaps you could tell her I am here, and I could wait for her in the back yard?”
I nodded and went inside as Ollie trotted around to the rear of the house.
A blast of hot air assaulted me when I opened the door to the conference room, driving me back and making me gasp for air. I steeled myself, pushed through the wall of heat, and entered the room. “Dragon? Dragon!”
The cranky beast opened an eye, and smoke poured from her snout. “If you are here to complain about the heat, save your breath. I find it most pleasant, and I intend to stay here and enjoy it.”
I shrugged. “Then should I tell your guest you choose not to see him?”
“What guest?” Dragon’s question was delivered with a snarl.
“Ollie has traveled all this way . . .”
Dragon was on her feet in a heartbeat, eyes wide and a silly grim stretching her reptilian lips. “Ollie? My Ollie . . . er, I mean my friend, Ollie, is here? Where? Show him in! Show him in!”
I folded my arms over my chest and raised an eyebrow. “Oh, I’m sorry.” I smirked. “Ollie has declined my invitation to come in to see you. He can’t tolerate extreme heat. He has a rather thick fur coat, you know. He said he’d be in the back yard if you cared to visit.”
The words were hardly out of my mouth when Dragon was through the doorway and racing up the stairs.
Sighing, I wiped away the rivulets of sweat running down my face and trudged down the hall to my office. I walked over and opened the window, hoping for a cool breeze to alleviate the oppressive heat.
I smiled at the scene unfolding before me. Ollie was racing in circles around Dragon, yipping and woofing for joy. Dragon bent over and let Ollie give her puppy-dog kisses, licking her snout and cheeks. Once Ollie had finished kissing her, he sat and looked at her with adoration in his eyes.
“I have missed you, dear one.” Dragon spoke softly and caressed Ollie, tenderly ruffling the fur on his head and gently scratching behind his ears.
Ollie closed his eyes in bliss as he replied, “I have missed you, too.”
I tip-toed away from the window to give them some privacy, but their voices carried through the screen.
“I am so overjoyed at seeing you, I forgot to ask what brings you here today.”
I held my breath, hoping Ollie wouldn’t tell Dragon I had called James to request Ollie’s help. I should have known Ollie would be discreet. He kept my secret.
“Woof. I just thought you might like a visit from a friend.”
When there was no response to Ollie’s statement, I imagined Dragon raising an eyebrow or shaking her scaly head at her canine friend.
“Growf? I felt that you were troubled, and I wanted to assure myself you are safe and well?”
I smiled. I knew I was right, and Ollie’s first response had elicited a skeptical look from Dragon. This time, Dragon must have accepted Ollie’s reply, as she answered him.
“I appreciate your concern, dear one, but as you can see, I am both safe and well.”
This time I imagined Ollie rolling his eyes, as he replied. “Woof! You know you cannot hide your emotions from me. Something troubles you. Cannot a friend offer some help, lend a willing ear?”
I heard Dragon sigh. She took some time before answering Ollie. “You are right. I am troubled.”
“For quite some time now . . . really, ever since falling out of Mistress Writer’s manuscripts and becoming stranded here in the real world with her and Master Miles . . . I have been the one everyone turns to for help. When some of my fellow characters yearned for their horses, I was the one expected to create illusory animals for them. When the Foreman longed for his old life, when he was feeling useless here, I was the one expected to create a solution.”
Dragon paused. She must have begun pacing. When she spoke again, her voice came from a different direction.
“When the Arrogant One creates problems, when the neighbors observe something they should not, when the Young Hero is plagued with nightmares, when some mystery or danger or menace threatens us . . . it is always me, Dragon, who is expected to deal with it.”
There was another pause, and then her voice came from her original location.
“Still, for all I do for everyone else, no one cares about my happiness or well-being. I desire to be warm. I am a creature of fire and heat, raised in the burning sands of the desert. Yet, they would deny me my fireplace, my warmth, my comfort.”
All the while Dragon spoke, Ollie remained silent, not once interrupting to ask for details or suggesting she might be exaggerating. He waited patiently at each pause, not jumping in with advice or urging Dragon to continue. Ollie continued to remain silent for a long time after Dragon stopped speaking. Finally, I heard him reply, his human-speak combined with a series of whines and whimpers.
“I understand. You feel you carry everything on your shoulders, and you feel unappreciated and ill-used by those for whom you do so much.”
Ollie paused, and I assumed Dragon was nodding, as I heard no reply from her.
Ollie continued. “Do you hate them for it?”
“Who? Mistress Writer and Master Miles, and my fellow characters?”
Dragon took a long few moments before answering. “Hate them? No. I would lay down my life for them.”
Ollie woofed. “Yes. That is your lot, your role in life. You are the Wise One and the Protector. The one who created you endowed you with greatness . . . great wisdom, great strength. For that, and all the burdens it places on you, do you resent the others – Mistress Writer, Master Miles, and your fellow characters?”
I heard Dragon reply in a small voice. “No.”
“Woof! Woof! Then embrace your role in life! Be the Wise One. Be the Protector. It would be no different, you know, if you were still in your own world.”
There was another pause.
“And remember. Not everyone who resides under the same roof with you is a creature of fire and heat. Not everyone in this house was raised in the burning sands of the desert. You alone are comfortable in such an inferno. And part of being the Wise One, part of being the Protector, is not causing harm or discomfort to those in your safekeeping. The Wise One should be able to find a way to remain warm and cozy while not baking the others in the process.”
I heard the sound of Dragon’s laughter, a combination of the melodious tinkling of crystal wind chimes, the gentle babble of a brook, and the soft sound of wind through reeds.
“Dear one! Methinks the One who created you endowed you with much greater wisdom than that with which I have been endowed. Thank you, my friend!”
I quietly left the office, hoping Dragon and Ollie wouldn’t discover I had been eavesdropping. Before I had even walked up the stairs to the kitchen, the house had dropped back to a comfortable temperature.
Miles looked up, expectantly, as I walked into the kitchen.
“Defrost the biggest, juiciest steak we have in the freezer. I’m inviting Ollie to stay for dinner, and he’s earned a tasty reward.”
My thanks to Ollie, and to his human companion, my social media friend, author James Stack, for Ollie’s guest appearance in this week’s blog.
Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm – Ollie – is an Old English Sheepdog who is as wise as he is handsome.
Ollie’s human companion, James Stack, is a recipient of the Freedom of Expression of Courage Award from PEN America. His memoir, WORLD’S FAIR, and collection of poetry, PLEASURES & SEASONS OF VERMONT, were published in 2013. His blog, Postcards From Lebanon, about his experience with chemotherapy, appeared on The Huffington Post during 2013/2014.
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.
I looked up as my husband entered the kitchen, where I was inventorying the contents of the refrigerator before moving on to the pantry. Tomorrow was grocery shopping day, and I wanted to make certain my list was complete.
“What’s the problem?” Noting his annoyed look, I put down the list and gave him my undivided attention. “Did one of my characters get into some mischief again?”
“I’m not sure. Have you noticed how warm it is?” Miles took out a handkerchief and mopped his brow.
I nodded and frowned. “I have noticed, but I thought it was just me. I’ve been scurrying around here this morning like a chicken with my head cut off.”
Miles shook his head. “No, it’s not you. It’s hot in the house. Too hot. It’s almost ninety degrees in here, and it’s only sixty-eight outside. I already checked the thermostat to make sure no one had accidentally turned on the heater. The slide switch was sitting right in the middle, between heat and air conditioning, in the off position.”
“So, why is it so hot in the house?”
We looked at each other for a moment, then both turned and yelled, “Dragon!”
“If ye be lookin’ fer tha beastie, she been in tha con-fer-ence room, lastest I been seein’ ’er. She prob’ly still be there. She dinna be lookin’ much liken she be wantin’ ta be movin’.” My Old Dwarf entered the room, chomping on an apple. He made a beeline for the refrigerator. Holding the remains of his apple between his teeth, he started pulling out two loaves of bread along with everything that could conceivably go on a sandwich, and a whole lot that couldn’t, rendering my shopping list useless.
“You better go see what she’s up to.” Miles spoke to me but scowled at the dwarf. “I’ll stay here and try to make certain your Old Dwarf doesn’t eat us out of house and home.”
I found Dragon in the conference room, as my Old Dwarf had predicted. She was curled up in a tight ball, sound asleep, in front of her blazing illusory fireplace. She had morphed to black. Her color often reflects her mood, I reminded myself.
“Dragon?” I tiptoed over to the beast and cautiously poked at her, but she did not stir. “Dragon!” I shouted practically in her ear. I had to shout several more times before she half-opened an eye. She greeted me with a growl.
“Nice to see you, too.” I frowned.
Dragon’s eyes narrowed dangerously, the tip of her tail started twitching, and acrid smoke drifted from her snout. “I do not wish to be disturbed. I wish to warm myself.”
I scoffed. “You’ve made this room hotter than a dwarven forge with your illusory fireplace! And the whole house is like a sauna!”
Dragon nodded. Her reptilian lips stretched in a smile, revealing terrible, dagger-sharp teeth. “It is my only defense against your Minnesota weather.” She sat up and morphed back to her normal red color. “What happened to summer? Last week, it was deliciously hot. This week is it freezing!”
I snorted. “Hardly freezing! The temperature outside right now is a comfortable sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit.”
“Comfortable for whom?” Black smoke plumed from her snout again. “In case you have forgotten, I am a creature of fire and heat, raised in the burning sands of the desert. When it reaches one hundred on your devices that record the heat, it is finally warm enough for my comfort.”
I glared at her. “Well, it had better not reach one hundred in this house! If you are cold, shape-shift to the form of a person and put on a coat. Or create an illusory desert to visit. Just keep the temperature in this house comfortable for the rest of the occupants, if you don’t mind!”
The beast’s tail twitched, and her reptilian eyes narrowed. “I do mind.”
“What?” I was taken aback by her response.
“I do mind.” She started to pout. “The comfort and care of every other occupant of this house is catered to before mine. I do not hear you complaining when your Old Dwarf raids the refrigerator a dozen times a day.”
“If you don’t hear me complain about that, it’s because you don’t listen very well.” I stared at Dragon, my brow furrowed and my hands on my hips. “What’s gotten into you, anyway? I’ve never heard you complain about not being treated the same as the others.”
“If you do not hear me complain about that, it is because you do not listen very well.” The beast turned my words back on me.
I gaped at the huge reptile. I had never before heard her complain about her treatment.
Continuing to pout, Dragon seemed intent on declaring every slight she felt she had suffered since falling out of one of my manuscripts and becoming stranded in this, the real world.
“Dragon,” she sing-songed. “The Foreman, the Gypsy, and the Young Hero miss their horses. Create some illusory mounts for them. Dragon, the Foreman misses his old life. Create an illusory world for him so he can feel useful again. Dragon, the Arrogant One is causing problems with his magic. Deal with him. Dragon, some neighbors have seen the illusory stable and horses. Do something. Dragon, the Young Hero is having nightmares. Help him. Dragon, something strange is happening. Investigate. Dragon, your fireplace is making the house too hot for everyone. Get rid of it.”
The beast paused to take a breath, glaring at me with an anger I had never before seen her direct toward me.
“The house is too hot for everyone?” She snarled. “Am I not part of the everyone living here? With all I do for everyone here, is not my comfort as important as that of the others?”
At a loss for words, I stood gaping at Dragon as she morphed back to black and curled up in front of her fireplace once more.
* * *
“Ye been noticin’ summat strange aboot tha beastie?”
With his mouth full of the huge bite he had just taken from his sandwich, the Old Dwarf’s words came out more like “Yebenotsinsummitstrgeabotthabeasty?”
Miles gaped at the rotund figure. “What?”
The dwarf swallowed his food, took a big swig of dwarven brew to wash it down, then repeated himself. This time, Miles managed to follow the gist of the dwarf’s question.
“You mean stranger than just being a dragon, in a world where dragons don’t exist?” Miles raised an eyebrow at the dwarf. “No, I can’t say I’ve noticed anything else strange about her.”
The dwarf chuckled. “After us-ens bein’ here in yer world all this time, ye still do na be acceptin’ us, be ye? Ye be actin’ all tha time likens ye be wakin’ up some day an’ be findin’ all o us-ens ta have been jus’ a bad dream.”
“One can only hope,” Miles replied dryly.
The dwarf shook his head and took another bite of his sandwich. This time, he waited until he had swallowed it and taken another drink before speaking, all the time eyeing Miles curiously. “So’s, ye do na been noticin’ any change in tha beastie’s behavin’?”
Miles shook his head. “No. What sort of changes do you think I should have noticed?
“Wale . . .” He crammed the last bite of sandwich into his mouth and chewed on it, a pensive look on his face. He took his time chewing that bite and took an extra-long swallow of brew when he had finished. He squared his shoulders and faced Miles as he spoke. “Now, I do na be for sure certain aboot it, but it be seemin’ ta me thet tha beastie jus’ do na been ’erself lately. E’er since we been returnin’ from tha make-believe world what she an’ tha other magickers been creatin’ fer tha Foreman, the beastie been seemin’ . . .” The dwarf struggled to find the word. “She been seemin’ all oot o sorts, sulky-like. Likens summat be on ’er mind, be eatin’ at ’er..”
Miles considered this. “Well, you know her better than I do. I thought the two of you shared a pretty close bond. You would, no doubt, notice things about Dragon long before anyone else would.”
The Old Dwarf sighed. “Mebbe. But thet do na be meanin’ I be knowin’ what ta be doin’ fer ’er.”
Walking in on the last of the conversation, I thought sadly, I’m not sure I know what to do for her, either. But I might know someone who would.
What can I do . . . what can any of us do . . . to help Dragon? Be sure to come back again next week and see to whom we might turn to help Dragon. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.
My Foreman decided he was not quite ready to return to the illusory world my spellcasters had created for him, so he, my Gypsy, and my Young Hero spent a few days working their ersatz horses. Dragon, Sorceress, and Cleric began collecting botanicals and other raw spell components and processing them, to replace the components they had used in recent spellcasting. My Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter retreated to the seclusion of the garden shed, an area they had long ago overhauled and claimed as their place of refuge. My Old Dwarf returned to chasing the rabbits around the yard, cussing at them and brandishing his axe, but never quite catching any of them.
I arrived for dinner one evening midweek to an empty table, save for my husband who was looking confused. “Honey, are we the only two eating tonight? I made enough stew for an army.”
I frowned. “I don’t know of any reason the others wouldn’t be eating with us tonight. Give me a few minutes and I’ll see if I can round them up.”
Before I could move, Dragon, Sorceress, and Cleric appeared at the top of the stairs, looking exhausted. As the three trudged to the dining room, Dragon gave Miles and me a sheepish look. “We are sorry to be late to table. We managed to collect an extensive array of botanicals yesterday, and it has been a monumental task today, preserving and processing everything. We simply lost track of time.”
As the three magic users took their places at the table, another trio of my characters scurried through the door from the deck. Rushing to the table, my Foreman and the lads were all apologies for being late. My Gypsy grimaced. “We really worked the horses hard today, and it took longer than expected to walk them cool and groom them before giving them their grain and water.”
My Old Dwarf was the next one to arrive, plodding to the table, dragging his axe behind him. “I be right tuckered! I do na be knowin’ iffin I even be able ta be eatin’ anythin’ tonight, I be so tired oot from been chasin’ them long-eared varmints!” He almost crashed down into his chair and immediately placed his head down on his arms on the table. Moments later, his head shot up and he sniffed the air. “Be thet yer stew, laddie?”
My husband nodded.
“Wale, mebee I be able ta be forcin’ a few mouf-fuls.”
Miles tried to stifle a chuckle as I reached over and smacked the dwarf’s hand as he reached for the stewpot. “Wait until everyone’s here, please.”
The remainder of my little band of displaced characters, my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter, made their appearance at that moment. “Sorry.” My elf’s tone clearly indicated he was not. “Your Bounty Hunter was assisting me in the perfection of a few of my more difficult illusions. We lost track of the time and only realized it must be nearing the hour for the evening meal when this lout’s stomach started to rumble.” He jerked his thumb in the direction of his companion, who shrugged but made no comment as the two took their places at the table.
I nodded. “It sounds like everyone had a busy day. I guess no one is going to be up to doing any reading tonight, but I though some of you might be interested to learn Jean Rabe’s next book in the Piper Blackwell series is out.”
“It is?” Dragon’s eyes widened and all signs of fatigue and exhaustion melted away. “I have been looking forward to reading it. The rest of the botanicals can wait!”
“Indeed!” Cleric jumped from her seat and ran over to me. “What is the title of the book? Do you have a copy of it?” Without waiting for an answer, she turned to Dragon. “May I read it after you have finished with it?”
“Awwww . . . I wanted to read it after Dragon!” My Gypsy pouted.
“I thought you all had your own e-readers.” I raised an eyebrow at them. “Didn’t you procure them when Jean’s last book came out, so you could all read it right away and no one had to wait?”
“That’s right!” My Gypsy whooped. “We can all read the book at once!”
“What is the name of this new book?” My Bounty Hunter appeared mildly interested.
“The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge.”
“That is a peculiar title. What is a Jerusalem Ridge?” My Arrogant One furrowed his brow.
I smiled. “Jerusalem Ridge is the place in Kentucky where the story begins.”
The elf tilted his head and gave me a confused look. “I thought I remembered these books being set in a place called Indiana.”
“They are. The main character, Piper Blackwell, is a sheriff in a rural county in Indiana. She’s just in Kentucky for a three-day holiday. She’s visiting some old army buddies, and they’re engaged in an extreme sport known as paintball. I know you’ll have no knowledge of this sport, but you’ll understand it after a while. Jean does an excellent job of describing everything so even people who aren’t familiar with the sport can follow the action.”
“That is one of the things I like about Mistress Rabe’s books.” My Gypsy wore a wide grin. “There is a lot about this real world of yours that we, your characters, have never encountered in our medieval world. Yet, I have no trouble following the events in Mistress Rabe’s books. She explains everything very well, often when a character has to explain something to Sheriff Blackwell, who is rather inexperienced.”
“Indeed!” Cleric nodded. “I remember in . . .” She paused to think, her brow furrowing in concentration. “I believe it was in her second book, The Dead of Night, she wrote about topics such as computer hacking and banking fraud, things of which I had no knowledge, yet I had no trouble understanding the story. Evidently the sheriff had little experience with these topics, either. So, as she learned, the readers learned.”
“Well, I thought it was fantastic, every bit as good as the first three in the series, and I daresay you will enjoy it, too. There are two mysteries presented. One involves an incident at Jerusalem Ridge during the paintball. Another occurs back in Sheriff Blackwell’s jurisdiction, where her department is investigating a crime.” I motioned for my characters to wait a moment.
I retrieved my laptop and brought up one of the sites with book reviews. “Look at this. The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge already has ten reviews on this site alone, and it’s only been out a couple of weeks. And every one of the reviews here gives the book a five-star rating, the highest rating possible. Here’s one of the reviews.” I read it aloud to the others.
Another Winner for Jean Rabe. The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge is the fourth installment in award-winning author Jean Rabe’s fantastic Piper Blackwell series, and it hits its mark squarely.
The series follows the efforts of the young and inexperienced, but very capable, rural sheriff, Piper Blackwell, and her impressive team as they go about solving gruesome crimes. The action, which rarely slows for the reader to catch a breath, is at times heart-stopping and jaw-dropping.
The series is populated by rich, multi-dimensional, and sometimes quirky characters so well written that the reader will feel as if they could strike up a conversation with them. Readers will never suffer a two-dimensional, cardboard cutout character in one of Rabe’s books, and it is her inclusion of details from both the professional and personal lives of her characters that makes them feel so real. Rabe’s meticulous eye for detail, and her use of language that sings, brings the rural settings to life as well.
As The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge opens, main character Piper is taking a few days off to enjoy the company of some old army buddies and engage in the extreme sport of paintball in the eponymous Jerusalem Ridge, Kentucky. As often happens in Piper’s life, things go wrong . . . horribly wrong. The young sheriff finds herself in the middle of a mystery while dealing with serious injury and tragic personal loss.
Upon her return to the rural Indiana county where she lives and works, Piper finds her department investigating a hate crime which is dividing the usually close-knit community . . . a hate crime that takes a deadly turn. Piper immerses herself in both investigations while trying to recover from her injuries and deal with events in her personal life.
The pacing of the story, with its various twists and turns along the way, will keep the reader on the edge of their seat. The details of the crimes will draw the reader into trying to solve the mysteries of whodunit and why. The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge, like all Jean Rabe’s Piper Blackwell books, is a wonderful weave of cozy mystery, police procedural, and suspense. And the ending delivers a delightful surprise.
I can’t wait for the next book in this series.
“Oh, this sounds so exciting! I cannot wait to read it!” Cleric gushed.
“Nor I!” Sorceress turned to Dragon. “Yes, the rest of the botanicals will have to wait. We need to do some reading.”
I grinned at their eagerness. “Just as a side note, on the day The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge came out, Jean Rabe won an unrelated award. She received the Faust Award, bestowing on her the title of Grandmaster, from the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers, for a lifetime of writing great tie-in books.” https://iamtw.org/2020-faust-award-winner-jean-rabe-grandmaster/
“Tie-in books?” My Gypsy looked confused.
I smiled. “A tie-in book is a work of fiction based on a film, a video game, a television series, or another such product.” Seeing the lad still looked confused, I tried to explain. “For example, Jean has written books set in the Star Wars universe, as well as tie-in books for many other products.”
“You will have to show us all of Mistress Rabe’s books someday, but right now, I want to start reading The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge.”
With that, my Gypsy and his companions gobbled their food in record time, then raced away, each intent on finding a quiet place to read.
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.
Jean Rabe is a former reporter and bureau chief turned novelist. She has more than 35 books published in various genres, and more than four dozen short stories. Perhaps best known for her fantasy and science fiction works, she has made a name for herself with her urban fantasy and her mystery tales as well. Rabe lives in a small Midwest town, enjoys board games and roleplaying games, and always has a dog or three lying across her feet as she writes.