Hail, good readers! Prithee allow me to introduce myself. I am the Gypsy, sidekick and best friend of the Young Hero about whose exploits Mistress Writer has penned numerous tales. I fear I must report Mistress Writer’s malady has not improved since Dragon so kindly and so capably filled in for her last week. But, alas, now Dragon and half our number are ill as well. Dragon has beseeched me to fill in this week in presenting to you readers an entertaining and informative narrative. However, I most humbly confess I am no scribe!
Since any attempt I would make to author a blog would bore the average reader into a coma, I decided to just . . . what is the word Mistress Writer and Master Miles use? Oh, yes! I decided to recycle two earlier blogs.
Reviewing previous blogs, I have found several times in the past when Mistress Writer was ill. I narrowed down the accounts to two instances. Once, she was afflicted with a very bad cold. Another time, she had contracted an ailment she termed cabin fever. I selected these two blogs to recycle today as Mistress Writer seems to be suffering from both maladies now.
Also, both blogs relate to birds, a subject near and dear to my heart. I do not mean to brag – after all, I am the Gypsy, not the Arrogant One – but I am extremely knowledgeable about birds. I could identify every bird in my world by sight and by ear, and I have become almost as well versed in the birds of this world. I daresay I play an important role in the first of the two blogs I selected, identifying some birds for my less knowledgeable companions, and relating information about various types of birds. I hope you find both blogs entertaining and informative.
I do hope you enjoyed the two blogs I recycled. If so, I would consider it a great personal favor if you could leave a comment for Dragon. She warned me what would happen should I not do a good job filling in for her and Mistress Writer. She will char my shoes with my feet still in them – a threat she often makes to Master Miles. And I am most fond of both my shoes and my feet!
I sincerely hope that Mistress Writer and Dragon will have recovered sufficiently by next week that I can step down from my position as temporary scribe. We hope to see you again next week, when we can ascertain if that has happened! We will leave the porch light on for you!
Good morrow, faithful readers! Welcome friends, both longstanding and new! Dragon here, in my persona of an elf maiden, filling in for Mistress Writer. She is, unfortunately, under the weather. At least I think that is the proper idiom. She is once again afflicted with one of her frequent respiratory ailments. I believe I heard Master Miles, her longsuffering mate, tell someone Mistress Writer was coughing up a lung, not that I understand that bit of vernacular. I mean, really, how can someone cough up a lung?
Cleric is administering her healing herbs, and she reports that Mistress Writer is not coughing quite as much as she was, but progress is slow. At any rate, until Mistress Writer is sufficiently recovered to return to her computer keyboard, I fear you will have to bear with me as I attempt to take her place as wordsmith, historian, and entertainer.
A thought recently occurred to me. Although you have been reading for several years now of the adventures shared by me and my companions in this world, what Mistress Writer terms the real world, perchance you are not aware of our prior history. Before the nine of us fell from Mistress Writer’s manuscripts and came to live in this world, we were residents of another world, a world far different from this one. You may term it backward, as it is seriously lacking in your technology. Mistress Writer calls it a medieval world. She notes that it is populated with mythological creatures (such as your obedient servant) and abounds in magic (a force that many believe died out long ago in your world. They are wrong about the magic being gone, of course, but you did not hear that from me.)
Mistress Writer first introduced me into her second manuscript at the point of my initial encounter with her Young Hero, her Gypsy, and Cleric. But I can remember a time before that, a time about which Mistress Writer knows little or nothing. Long before I encountered the others, a dapper young dwarf used to visit me. He sometimes brought me gifts – little wood or stone carvings he made himself. He was an accomplished artist. He and I grew quite fond of each other, though the last time I saw him in my world was long before the events recorded in Mistress Writer’s manuscripts. I have reason to believe he is the Old Dwarf who was the focus of Mistress Writer’s first manuscript, the Old Dwarf who also now finds himself in this world with me and my other companions. Although he and I have never discussed the matter, it is obvious to us, as it should be to you readers, that the Old Dwarf and I share a very special friendship.
Mistress Writer had introduced me in her manuscripts at a point in history when I was a desert dweller. I had been residing there, in the extreme heat, for almost as long as I could remember. Perhaps that is why I so abhor the weather in this place called Minnesota where I now reside. The cold, which seems to last for so many more months than does the heat, seeps into my bones and chills my soul!
The first time I met the Young Hero, the Gypsy, and Cleric in my world, they were visiting my desert. As soon as I encountered them, I invited them to dinner. No, not as my guests; rather, as the main course. You will be relieved to know, I am sure, that did not happen. The four of us became fast friends. I even helped them on a quest!
The Young Hero and I grew particularly close. He was the one who gave me a pronounceable name. I cannot reveal it here, but I can say I was quite enamored of it.
The Young Hero, a half-dwarf, was the star, if you will, of the first two manuscripts in Mistress Writer’s series. He began as a naive and rather sheltered child, raised on a renowned horse farm owned by his adoptive human parents. His best friends – indeed, his only friends for many years – were his adoptive brother, his pony, the Gypsy, and Cleric. The Young Hero was forced by circumstances to grow up quickly. He was forced to assume a role that would, if he could successfully complete his quest, change his world. Although I cannot reveal the nature of his quest, nor if he had successfully completed it by the end of the second book (we know nothing about events past that point, as that was all Mistress Writer had written when we fell out of her manuscripts), I think you would enjoy the segment of his poignant tale with which I am familiar.
The Gypsy, although not the star of Mistress Writer’s tales, was a capable sidekick and a valued member of the ensemble cast. He was a jack-of-all-trades. He and his people were eminent horsemen, and he had some knowledge of magic, learned at his grandmother’s knee. He favored a quick wit and a sharp blade when defending himself or his companions. He also had the peculiar talent of being able to flawlessly imitate any birdcall he heard.
The Gypsy and I had a contentious relationship. Initially, he was convinced that I would, indeed, have him for dinner someday. It took a long time for him to learn to trust me. Meanwhile, I delighted in teasing him and making him nervous.
Cleric, a pious young woman of elven heritage, was the deity-appointed protector of the Young Hero. I am obliged to admit she fascinated me. I was a creature of magic. I did not understand the concept of religion and deities. Cleric’s allegiance to her goddess made no sense to me. Her failure to obey one she claimed to serve made even less sense.
Oh! Mayhap I should not have revealed that information! Forsooth, Cleric is my friend, and I have no desire to embarrass her. Of course, her faith, coupled with her failure, is a large part of who she was, and how she faced the world. At the end of the second manuscript (which, again, was all Mistress Writer had completed at the time we fell out of them and into this world) Cleric had yet to learn a great deal of her own personal history. I hope her journey of self-discovery, which Mistress Writer is making the focal point of the third manuscript, is rewarding.
One of our number whom I met later in the events chronicled by Mistress Writer was Sorceress. This creature was easier for me to understand than was Cleric. Sorceress and I shared a love of, and a mastery of, magic. We also shared a sense of abiding loyalty to anyone we considered a friend.
None of us, not even Mistress Writer, have ever been able to understand what happened to Sorceress when she fell from the manuscripts. The Sorceress who now resides with us in this world bears little physical resemblance to the Sorceress we knew in our world. In our world Sorceress was not human. She was a member of an exotic race. But the Sorceress we know here and the exotic creature we knew in our world are one and the same. Sorceress remembers almost fainting the first time she laid eyes on my majestic form. She remembers aiding the Young Hero, the Gypsy, and Cleric in their quest. And she remembers a musty little man . . . but wait! You know nothing of him . . . yet.
Another member of our ensemble, The Foreman, was a former cavalry officer who was wounded in battle and left a physical and emotional cripple. He found new purpose when the owner of the most important horse-breeding operation in the kingdom hired him as foreman. He found more than that when he had to save the adopted son of his boss and friend. Terrifying memories plagued the man, and for a time he was full of hatred and prejudice, which complicated his quest to rescue the half-dwarf.
Two more of our companions, the Arrogant One and the Bounty Hunter, were not what you would call our friends in the adventure that Mistress Writer documented. The Arrogant One had only a cameo appearance in Mistress Writer’s second manuscript. The elf was, I must reluctantly admit, an illusionist extraordinaire. His haughty nature and atrocious manners, however, were evident even in his short appearance. I was appalled when Mistress Writer told me the Arrogant One will play a prominent part in the third manuscript.
The Bounty Hunter is a mystery to the rest of us. The Young Hero and his companions made more than one powerful enemy, and more than one bounty hunter was employed to thwart the Young Hero’s quest and retrieve items he had procured. I daresay the Bounty Hunter who ended up here with us could be any one of those bounty hunters, but he refuses to reveal himself to us. He even told us, when he first fell out of the manuscripts, that he was an assassin. Which one he is does not matter, as they were all cunning and dangerous foes. I am not certain I trust him in this world, especially as he and the Arrogant One have become, shall we say, thick as thieves.
The Old Dwarf, the final member of our little band of expatriates, was the focus of the first manuscript, even if he was not exactly the hero. He was someone who generated ambivalence in those who knew him. I have heard him described as one who did all the wrong things for all the right reasons. Suffice it to say, he was the one who set in motion the series of events that Mistress Writer felt important enough to record for posterity.
I hope you have enjoyed this tiny glimpse into the history of the characters with whom you visit each week. The nine of us have changed considerably since our initial entry into this world (or at least most of us have – I doubt the Arrogant One will ever change, despite assurances by Mistress Writer) and I am sure we will continue to change and grow as we persevere in trying to fit into this alien and technologically advanced environment.
Mayhap someday, when Mistress Writer’s manuscripts are published, you will enjoy discovering the grand adventures the nine of us shared. Until then, as Mistress Writer says every week, be sure to come back next week for another of our little adventures. We will leave the porch light on for you!
My Foreman, my Gypsy, and my Young Hero had just finished a morning workout with their illusory horses. Cleric and I, along with the ersatz elf maiden, Dragon, had watched them from the deck as they put their horses through their paces. Now, Cleric set out a tall pitcher of lemonade and six glasses while my Foreman and the lads finished grooming their horses and turning them out to pasture.
Cleric filled a glass and passed it to me. “Watching the riding exhibition this morning, my mind kept straying back to Mystery . . . I mean Peaches . . . and her young master, Colton. I wonder how they are faring these days.”
After a fantastic adventure that included Mystery being possessed by creatures inadvertently brought to our world by Dragon, we had finally discovered that the little horse was actually named Peaches. She was a very special horse, trained to work with a blind rider, and she was owned by a young boy named Colton. She gave Colton a bit of freedom and normalcy in his life. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/03/25/mystery-solved/
“Funny you should ask about Mystery.” I smiled.
“What about Mystery?” My Foreman gratefully accepted a glass of lemonade and sat down on a deck chair to drink it. The two lads also grabbed cool drinks and settled down to join the conversation.
I grinned. “Cleric had just mentioned our old friend, Mystery, a.k.a. Peaches, and the little horse’s master, Colton. I was about to tell her that Colton’s mom, Anna, called me this morning. Colton has invited us to go trail riding with him.”
Cleric furrowed her brow and chewed her lower lip. “Mistress, I have never ridden a horse.”
“The servant of the goddess of the horse has never ridden one of her deity’s favored creatures?” I gaped at Cleric, who blushed furiously and hung her head.
“I have never ridden, either.” Dragon pursed her lips. “I am not sure I want to.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Well, that’s up to you, but Colton will be very disappointed. He told his mom to be sure I understood that the invitation was for the three wonderful ladies who brought Peaches back to him – me, Dray, and Clara.”
Cleric’s cornflower blue eyes widened. “He remembered the names we used!” A smile flashed across her face, but immediately faded to a frown. “But even if we wanted to go riding, we do not have any horses.”
Dragon rubbed the back of her neck and furrowed her brow. “I suppose, if it is really important to the boy, I could produce some illusory horses, similar to the ones I created for our three resident horsemen.”
I nodded. “That would be wonderful, and I’m sure Colton will be happy to have us visit and go riding with him.”
My Young Hero cleared his throat. “Mistress, is there any way the three of us could join you?” He gestured at himself, my Gypsy, and my Foreman.
“Sure. Anna said we should feel free to bring more friends with us.”
The lad smiled, and he had a faraway look in his eyes. “I remember the splendid times I had with my brother, riding through the countryside. We were rarely, if ever, confined within a fence when we rode.” Suddenly, he blushed. “But I do not mean to complain! I know you, Dragon, have gone to a lot of trouble creating the illusory horses and stable for us, and keeping everything hidden from the neighbors with a spell of concealment. And you, Foreman, have spent much time instructing me and the Gypsy, and helping us improve our horsemanship.” He gulped some of the lemonade and fiddled with his glass. Finally, he sighed. “But it would be so nice to ride through woods and fields again.”
Dragon furrowed her brow and looked at me. “When is this trail ride?”
“This weekend, if we can make it.”
“Good. That will give me time to create three more illusory horses with the requisite interwoven spell of concealment, and for the three of us to become accustomed to our mounts. Or should that be four more horses? Will Master Miles be joining us?”
I shook my head. “No, I’m afraid my husband isn’t very keen on horses. He’ll hold down the fort here while we’re off riding.”
My Foreman grinned. “I will teach you ladies how to ride well enough to manage on this trail ride with Colton.”
I looked at my Foreman. “You can concentrate your efforts on Dragon and Cleric. I have no need of instruction. I just need to see if these old bones will hold together while I attempt to mount a horse after all these years.”
Dragon quickly went about creating the illusory horses – a palomino for herself, a strawberry roan for Cleric, and a small Appaloosa for me. “I remember you telling us that you had several Appaloosas back at your stable in New Jersey, and that the Appy was your favorite breed.”
I smiled, remembering those days.
With my Foreman and the two lads instructing them, it didn’t take Cleric or Dragon long to learn the basics of horsemanship and riding. Cleric seemed proud of her accomplishment, as she urged her mount into a trot. “I guess we have watched the three of you for so long, it has become ingrained already.”
“Are you sure they will be okay?” Miles watched the group trotting around the paddock.
I nodded. “They might not be expert riders, but they’ll be no worse off than someone who rents a horse at a public hack stable for an afternoon’s ride. They might be a bit sore the next day, but I’m sure I will be, too.”
Miles chuckled. “I’m sure you will. Have you given any thought about how to get to Colton’s place with the horses? I don’t imagine Dragon is going to conjure up trucks and trailers for you.”
“The farm we’re going to is not far from here. We’ll lead the horses off the property and down the road while they’re still under Dragon’s spell of concealment, just like we did with Mystery. To anyone seeing us, we’ll just look like a group of friends walking down the side of the road. When we reach the first dirt road, we’ll turn. There are no houses along that road, and little traffic. As soon as we’re far enough down that lane so we can’t be seen from the main road, Dragon will let the horses become visible and we’ll mount up and ride the rest of the way. We’ll do the reverse coming back at the end of the day. Now, I had better call Anna, and let her and Colton know when we’ll be there.”
Dragon, Cleric, and I spent the rest of the week working our horses, the other two learning how to ride passably well, and me slowly getting my muscles used to riding again so I would be able to endure several hours in the saddle. Early Saturday morning, my five characters gave up their usual garb and dressed in modern day outfits appropriate for riding, complete with Western boots.
We led our horses along the grassy verge of the main highway until we turned down a wide dirt road. A few yards along that lane, we were able to mount up. In minutes, we were at a two-track that went off through the forest to the left.
“This is so much faster than when we had to lead Mystery along this trail!” Cleric gently reined her horse down the path toward our destination.
“Four legs are always faster than two.” My Young Hero’s smile lit up his whole face.
A few minutes later, we arrived at the farm. Colton and his mom were waiting for us. Anna stood next to a showy dapple-gray. Colton was already mounted on Peaches, the little horse we had known as Mystery. Both horses whinnied a greeting, which our horses echoed.
“Hi, Anna! Hi, Colton!” I waved at them, and they waved back.
Anna smiled. “Hi! I was just about to tack up Rosie. It’ll only take me a few minutes.”
I nodded and trotted over to the fence to talk with her son. “Hey, Colton! Thanks for inviting us to go on a trail ride!”
“Hi, Marge!” I was surprised he remembered my voice. “I hear more than three horses. Who else did you bring?”
I motioned for everyone to come over. “Good ear, Colton! You know Clara and Dray.”
Cleric and Dragon exchanged greetings with the boy.
“And these are three more of my friends, Cab, Tor, and Rocky.” I introduced them, using names we had decided on earlier.
“Hi! I’m Colton and this is Peaches.” He patted his pony’s neck. “Do any of your horses kick or bite?”
I smiled. “Nope. You and Peaches are perfectly safe.”
“I was more concerned with my mom. Peaches is good at sensing other horses’ moods, but mom and Rosie sometimes don’t pick up on the clues. Rosie’s been kicked and bitten several times.”
“We will be certain to stay alert to our horses’ moods today, Colton. We will not allow anything to happen to your mother or her horse.” My Foreman, Tor, smiled at Colton, even though he knew the boy couldn’t see him.
“Thanks.” Colton smiled in the general direction of my Foreman’s voice. “Can you tell me about everyone’s horse?”
My Foreman nodded. “Well, Colton, I am on Centaur, a large black stallion with a long, wavy mane and tail.”
“Cab is riding Hero, a chocolate palomino pony.”
“Rocky has a black-and-white Gypsy Vanner, very imaginatively named Gypsy.”
“Dray is on a stocky palomino named Dragon.”
“Clara is riding Blessing, a tall strawberry roan.”
“And Missy is on Scribe, a black Appaloosa three-quarter horse with a small blanket.”
Colton frowned. “Missy?”
“That’s their nickname for me.” I laughed. “I probably have more names than . . .” I was about to say more names than Carter’s has liver pills, but I doubted the youngster would get such an outdated reference. “More names than a cat has lives,” I finished lamely.
“Okay, I’m ready.” Anna swung up onto her horse and reined it around. “I hope no one objects to a short ride today, but I’m expecting a delivery of feed and hay later today. I need to be back in just a few hours.”
We all nodded and waited for Anna and Colton to exit the paddock and join us. Then we all rode our horses at a sedate walk, single file, down the driveway and along the wooded path away from the farm, with Colton proudly taking the lead.
I watched the small boy and his horse as they led the way down the two-track next to their farm, and onto a wider trail through the woods. Colton rode confidently, obviously trusting his mount to keep him safe. It was hard to remember the boy was blind.
He half-turned in the saddle to talk to me. “So, what do you prefer, Marge or Missy?”
I thought about it for a moment. “Why don’t we stick with Marge?”
He nodded. “Okay, Marge.”
As we rode out of the woods and along the edge of a field, Colton pointed up to something in the trees. “Marge, do you hear that?”
I listened. “I hear a robin in the trees.”
“Colton smiled. “Yup, American Robin.” Cheer-a-lee . . . cheer-a-lee the robin called again.
A loud conk-a-reeeeeeeee had Colton twisting toward the cat-tails on the opposite side of the field. “Red-winged Blackbird.”
I looked across the field. “You’re right! There’s one in the reeds and another in the trees.”
Another sound, a squeaky readle-eak had him pointing at the treetops. “Common Grackle.”
“You have a good ear.” I was impressed.
“Black-capped Chickadee!” He pointed to a tree where several small birds sang chick-a-dee-dee-dee. Then, before I could reply, he pointed at another tree-top serenader, singing cheer-cheer-cheer-cheer-purty-purty-purty. “Cardinal.” And twisting around in the saddle, he pointed in the direction of another bird singing witchety-witchety-witchety. “Common Yellowthroat.”
I called back over my shoulder to my Gypsy. “Hey, Rocky! Colton could give you a run for your money identifying birds by ear!”
My Gypsy trotted his horse up and joined us at the front of the group of riders. “Really?”
“Really! He’s identified six birds already.”
My Gypsy took up the challenge. “Did you hear that one? Eastern Phoebe in the tree to the left. Fee-beee.” He flawlessly imitated the bird, following it up with a perfect imitation of the buzzes and trills that were coming from the trees to the right. “Song Sparrows.”
The distinctive notes of an American Goldfinch reached my Gypsy’s ear – bay-beee . . . bay-beee – and he called back, imitating them perfectly.
“American Goldfinch!” Colton beamed at my Gypsy.
“Yes. There is a flock of goldfinches feasting on some thistle that has gone to seed in the clearing on the right.” My Gypsy pointed, then remembered Colton was blind, and he dropped his arm.
“Wow! You’re good!” Colton grinned at him. “I don’t know many people who are interested in birds, and I don’t know anyone at all who can imitate their calls!”
The two of them started a friendly competition. Colton identified the first bird, as it called queedle-queedle-queedle, then screeched cat! cat! cat! “Blue Jay!”
“Yup! It just flew down and grabbed an acorn! But, that one was too easy!” My Gypsy’s tone let Colton know the lad was just teasing.
My Gypsy scored the next identification. A harsh chatter caught his attention, and he scanned the trees to the left. “Eastern Bluebirds! Two males, squabbling over some food.”
Not to be outdone, Colton pointed overhead, where a bird called cheer-up, cheer-a-lee, cheer-ee-o, chink. “Rose-breasted Grosbeak!”
My Gypsy quickly came back with “Cedar Waxwing! Zeee-zeee-zeee.” It was a perfect imitation of the bird calling from a lone tree in the middle of the field to the right.
My Young Hero nudged his horse up next to Colton and my Gypsy. “Hey, guys, what is that big bird sleeping on the log?”
Colton shrugged. “If I can’t hear it, I can’t identify it.”
“Yeah, Cab, no cheating! Ears only.” My Gypsy stuck his tongue out at his friend, who retaliated in kind. Just then, the bird woke up, turned around, and gave a sleepy hoo-ho HOOOO-hoo-hoo, peering at us with one half-opened eye.
Colton and my Gypsy cried out in unison. “Great Horned Owl!”
Colton turned in the saddle at a sound behind us, a loud drumming, followed by a muffled churr-churr-churr. “Red-bellied Woodpecker!” He grinned.
He got the next one, too. “Barn Swallows.” He pointed to a tree where some birds were twittering and whirring.
Suddenly, I heard a familiar call. “Sandhill Cranes!”
Colton nodded. “They’re probably feasting in the cornfields on the other side of these woods. We can go there and see them.”
It didn’t take long to jog our horses over to the fields. As we rode closer, the rattling call of the flock grew louder and louder. I was impressed to see none of the horses were bothered by it. None shied from the sight of the big birds, either.
“Missy! These birds are as tall as you!” My Cleric grinned at me.
“Yes, thank you for noticing that.” I glowered at her, then chuckled to let her know I wasn’t really upset.
We spent a few long minutes gawking at the impressive birds before heading back through the woods. Suddenly, Colton ducked. “Ruby-throated Hummingbird!”
“How did you know?” I was amazed.
“I could feel Peaches tense up just as I heard several birds calling chee-dit almost in my ear.”
“There are a couple in the tree right above you!” My Gypsy confirmed the identification.
The boys continued their friendly competition, and by the time we arrived back at the barn, they had identified more than thirty species.
“We have to do this again!” Colton was all smiles as he swung down from his saddle and patted Peaches on her neck.
“Can we?” My Gypsy looked at me.
“I don’t see why not.”
We all dismounted. Anna and Colton unsaddled their horses and brushed them down before turning them out in the pasture. The rest of us loosened our saddles so our horses could have a breather before we started back to our own house.
Colton had a huge smile on his face as he thanked each one of us for coming on the trail ride. We promised to do it again soon as we tightened our cinches, mounted up and turned for home.
We hope you enjoyed our little trail ride this week. Be sure to join us again next week for another of our little adventures. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.
The late afternoon sun was shining, the birds were singing, a cool breeze was wafting . . . and I wasn’t noticing any of it. Sitting in my backyard gazebo, I was lost in thought.
I looked up to see Cleric standing next to me, her brow furrowed, a look of concern clouding her blue eyes.
“Huh?” I hadn’t even noticed her walk into the gazebo.
Cleric bit her lower lip and fidgeted with her corded belt. When she responded, she spoke softly, as if embarrassed. “Mistress, I have been talking to you for the past several minutes. You did not appear to hear me. Is everything all right?”
I sighed. “Yeah, everything’s peachy.”
Cleric took a seat opposite me at the glass-topped table. “I think mayhap you are being . . .” She paused and rubbed her chin. “Sarcastic?” She lifted an eyebrow at me.
“What gave you the first clue?” Before she could answer, I cut her off with the wave of my hand. “You know, I’d just like to be alone right now, if you don’t mind.”
Looking like a puppy that had just been kicked by its favorite human, Cleric rose and left without another word. I felt worse than I had before, if that were possible.
Before I had time to thoroughly berate myself for my despicable behavior and return to my previous musings, Cleric returned – with reinforcements. She placed a pitcher of iced tea and four glasses on the table, then resumed her seat opposite me. Sorceress took the seat on my right. Dragon, in her customary form of an elf maiden, sat to my left.
Cleric poured tea for everyone and passed the glasses around. I grunted my thanks, then gulped down half the glassful in one swallow.
Dragon raised an eyebrow. “Mayhap you are in need of something stronger? I could ask the dwarf for some of his brew.”
I shook my head and frowned.
As if conjured by the mention of his name, my Old Dwarf walked down the steps from the house and joined us. He took a chair, turned it around, set it back away from the table between me and Sorceress, and straddled it. “Ye be servin’ real dwarven brew, lass?” He looked eagerly at Dragon, who scowled and shook her head. The old reprobate snorted, then took out his flask and slurped a mouthful of the liquid. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and sighed contentedly. “Ye do na be knowin’ wot ye be missin’.”
Sorceress gave my Old Dwarf a scathing look, which he ignored as he turned toward me. “So’s, what be tha problem?”
I shrugged. “No problem. I just want to be alone.”
Cleric cleared her throat. “Mistress, you seem very . . . despondent.”
When I didn’t reply, Dragon asked, “Does it have something to do with the old friend you visited this morning?”
“What old friend?” Sorceress tilted her head and wrinkled her brow.
I ignored Dragon’s question and answered Sorceress. “Ruth. I knew her many years ago. She kept her horse at my boarding stable in New Jersey. She was friends with me and my husband for a long time. We rode our horses together, and we attended auctions together, went to horse shows, watched movies, assembled jigsaw puzzles, did so many things together, even just hanging out together. She was always around. She was our third musketeer, one of our closest friends. Then her job transferred her halfway across the country. We kept in touch at first, with weekly telephone calls and long letters. In time, our contact consisted of annual Christmas cards and a phone call on each other’s birthday. Eventually, even that stopped. I never even contacted her when I moved to Minnesota, an hour away from the last address I had for her.”
“How did you happen to go visit her today?” Cleric asked.
“I got a call from her niece. She asked me to go visit Ruth.”
“And this visit upset you?” Dragon frowned. “Cleric mentioned you had seemed out of sorts since returning from your sojourn.”
I nodded and drank some more tea. I remained silent for a long time. In my mind, I was traveling back through the years.
* * *
I was cleaning stalls. I heard someone calling from the entrance to the barn. “Hello? Anyone here?”
I propped the pitchfork and rake against the wheelbarrow and walked down the aisle. “In here.”
The speaker walked in. She was about two inches taller than my four-foot-ten-and-a-half-inches and she was stick thin. Her bottle-blonde hair was chin-length, and her brown eyes sparkled. “Marge?”
“Hi! I’m Ruth. I called earlier about boarding my horse here.”
We shook hands and I gave her the tour, detailing the stabling arrangements, the feed and hay we used, and the available riding areas, including an outdoor arena and nearby trails. We discussed security for the horses and tack, liability of the stable versus the horse owners, both while on the property and when riding the trails. I gave Ruth the written rules, which included such mandates as no drug or alcohol use and no borrowing of horses or equipment without the written permission of the owner. I detailed the stable owner’s rights should a boarder become delinquent in their payments. She signed the contract and informed me she would trailer her horse to the stable the next day.
“Meanwhile, it looks like you were cleaning stalls when I interrupted you. Let me give you a hand finishing up.”
I gave Ruth a cynical look. “No discount for helping with the stable chores.”
“I never expected there would be.”
She dove right in and we were finished in no time. Then she went with me to pick up a load of hay and feed. The vet arrived to do routine de-worming and inoculations just as we finished storing the feed and stacking the hay, and Ruth stayed to assist with that, too. And that was the start of our friendship.
* * *
Dragon cleared her throat.
I looked up. Four sets of eyes focused on me, four friends waited for answers. I pulled myself back into the present.
“Yes, the visit with my old friend . . . with Ruth . . . left me feeling out of sorts, depressed, angry.”
“Why?” Sorceress tilted her head.
I frowned and sighed heavily. “Because time has robbed her.”
I could see from the quizzical looks my characters gave me they did not understand. I sighed again.
“I first met Ruth when I was in my early twenties, and she was a good two and a half decades my senior. She had more energy than the average kid on a sugar high. She routinely worked 60-hour weeks at a stressful job in the field of high finance but seemed to have unlimited energy whenever she came to the stable to ride her horse and help with stable chores. As small as she was – just a bit taller than me – Ruth was strong. She used to toss around 75-pound bales of hay and hundred-pound bags of feed as if they were feather-light. She hauled heavy water buckets and helped with the hard work of cleaning stalls. And she was always on the go, not just at the stable, either. She rode, she hiked, she skated, she skied, she bowled, she swam, and she played tennis, handball, and softball.”
Dragon lifted her eyebrow. “Ruth sounds like quite the . . . what is the word you use? Dynamite? Dynamo?”
“Dynamo.” I nodded. “She was. And she was sharp as a tack, too. Her career in finance took a lot of intelligence. She was a great puzzle-solver, too – jigsaw puzzles, number puzzles, word puzzles, logic problems – and she read every mystery novel she could get her hands on, solving most of them long before the end of the book.” I chuckled. “It was like a challenge to her. I remember once she solved a whodunit before the end of the fourth chapter.”
I paused, swiping at a tear that threatened to leak from the corner of my eye.
“You said time robbed her, Mistress. What did you mean? How can time rob a person?”
I took a long swallow of my tea as I tried to find an answer to the question Sorceress posed.
“Ruth didn’t stay strong and healthy. Her niece told me that over the years, Ruth has been able to do less and less. Today, Ruth hobbles around with the aid of a walker. She can’t go more than a few yards without having to stop and rest. She’s got heart and lung problems, a bad back, and a bad hip. And it’s not just her body that is failing. Today, I took her a bunch of puzzles and books, and she didn’t even want to look at them. Her memory’s shot – during the three hours I visited with her at the nursing home, she lost track of who I was a half dozen times. She had a hard time remembering any of the things she used to do, and when she did remember, she cried because she could no longer do any of it.”
Dragon nodded. “I can understand your difficulty upon seeing your old friend this way.”
I swiped at another tear. “I know it’s been more than 35 years since I saw Ruth, but I wasn’t expecting this drastic a change in her. She . . . she’s just a shell of the person I used to know.”
Cleric, Sorceress, and Dragon nodded and murmured in sympathy.
My Old Dwarf had been listening quietly, nipping from his flask. Now he took a big swig of his brew and slammed the container down on the table. “So’s ye be sittin’ here blubberfyin’.”
I gaped at my Old Dwarf, stunned. “Well, just what do you propose I do?”
He gave me a wistful smile, and patted my hand. “Lass, ye can na be doin’ naught fer yer friend now, udder den be givin’ ’er voice.”
I furrowed my brow. “I don’t understand.”
He snorted. “Lass, ye be a writer. Ye be needin’ ta be writin’. Fer ’er, yer friend. An’ for alla the udder Ruths in tha world.” He gave me a pointed look and took another long swallow of his brew.
For many long minutes, I stared at him. Then I nodded, rose, and went to my office to write.
My world is growing smaller.
I can no longer walk as far,
Carry as much,
Work as hard,
See as clearly,
Hear as precisely,
Taste as acutely,
Smell as effectively,
Think as critically,
Remember as accurately,
Concentrate as completely,
Sleep as peacefully,
Breathe as deeply,
Laugh as freely,
Feel as intensely,
Enjoy as abundantly.
I am no longer as healthy,
I am no longer as much . . . me.
I am less able,
My friends are fewer,
Dropping away one by one,
Broken links in the ever-shortening chain
That tethers me
To my humanity,
To my sanity.
I will not fear death.
I will not fight death.
What can it take from me
That is not already gone?
What indignity can it impose on me
That I have not already endured?
My world has grown smaller.
My world is gone.
We hope you’ll come back again next week. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.
My Young Hero felt the weight of someone’s hand on his shoulder. He whirled around and found himself face-to-face with a frowning Deputy Dustin Dawg of our county sheriff’s department. The youngster’s eyes widened, and his face turned even redder than it had been. “S-s-sir?”
“I said that didn’t look like an accident to me, son. It looked to me like you deliberately pushed that platter of food onto the ground.” Deputy Dawg’s voice was hard as nails. His mouth was turned down in a scowl, and even with his eyes hidden behind sun glasses, the intensity of the deputy’s glare wilted my Young Hero.
Wiping the sweat from his brow, the lad shrank back from the uniformed figure. He swallowed hard, several times. “Deliberately . . .? Oh, no sir! It was an accident. I have the unfortunate affliction of extreme clumsiness.” But I noticed the lad’s green eyes, normally so open and guileless, were veiled.
My Gypsy placed a hand on the other lad’s arm and nodded. “My friend is right, sir. It was naught but an accident! Your line of sight must have been blocked. I was right next to the lad when he knocked the plate off the table. As he said, he is very clumsy!”
The deputy continued scowling. His partner, Deputy Whitewash, had been standing silently by his side. Now, she joined the conversation, shaking her head emphatically. “My line of sight wasn’t obstructed, and I agree with my partner. It looked deliberate.”
I stepped into the fray, trying to keep my emotions under control and my voice even. I was torn between defending my characters and not drawing attention to them. “The lad isn’t the type to deliberately do something like this. Besides, why would he?”
Deputy Whitewash stared at me for a second before recognition darkened her face. She snorted. “Oh, it’s you. Whenever there’s trouble in this neighborhood, you’re close by.” She looked from me to my Young Hero, who was still standing there, red-faced and apologetic. “I should have figured he was related to you.”
I narrowed my eyes. “He’s a good kid.”
Before I could say more, the rest of my characters moved between my Young Hero and the deputies.
“The laddie be sayin’ it be jest an ax-i-dent. Be ye callin’ ’em a liar?” My Old Dwarf stood there, glaring at the deputies. His chin jutted, his bushy eyebrows were squished down over narrowed eyes. He balled one hand into a fist and thumped it repeatedly into the open palm of his other hand.
I saw Deputy Whitewash move one hand to the holster of her service revolver. With her other hand, she grabbed her partner’s sleeve and tugged to get his attention. “Be careful. He’s the one that had that axe!” The words were said in a whisper loud enough to carry through the assembled crowd.
I moved in front of my Old Dwarf, trying to keep the incident from escalating. I was spared the need to do anything, by Gloria, of all people.
Gloria, who had been rooted in place gaping at the mess on the ground, finally shook herself, as if trying to wake from a bad dream. She turned toward us and addressed the deputies. Given the dark look on her face, her voice was surprisingly perky. It still reminded me of a high-school cheerleader. “Oh, accidents happen. I’m sure the boy didn’t do it intentionally. I was just so upset when it happened because I spent so much time preparing that dish. Oh, well, there’s plenty more food here, no one will starve. I just need to get it cleaned up.” She looked around the crowd that had gathered until her gaze fell on her husband. Her voice and body language switched from cheerleader to drill sergeant. “Mace, help me clean up this mess before someone slips and falls!” Mace jumped to do his wife’s bidding.
My Young Hero waved Mace away and turned to Gloria. “Milady, I made the mess; please allow me to clean it up.”
Gloria gave him an appraising glance. She frowned but nodded. She took Mace by the arm and led him away, beckoning the deputies to follow. The four of them huddled near a tree, gesturing and whispering.
Another one of our neighbors, just arriving at the park, saw Miles and me. He called to us, waving us over to join him and his family. I figured he wanted the low-down on the commotion. I gave my characters a stern look. “I don’t know what’s going on, but there better not be any more trouble. Understood?” Without waiting for a reply, Miles and I smiled at our neighbor and walked over to join his group.
* * *
The lad and his friends all pitched in to clean up the spilled stroganoff. Dragon, inconspicuous in her customary guise of a delicate young maiden, whispered something to them. They all nodded and started picking the mushrooms out of the mess and concealing them in napkins.
Dragon raked her hand through her hair. “Something is not right.”
Sorceress tilted her head. “Other than the fact our neighbor was trying to poison people?”
Dragon lifted an eyebrow. “Mayhap she was not.”
The companions finished cleaning up the food they had spilled, and surreptitiously handed the napkins full of mushrooms to Dragon.
Dragon was staring at the group huddled under the tree. “Some of you keep an eye on the two deputies. The rest of you, do not allow Mace and Gloria out of your sight.” She turned back to Cleric and Sorceress, who were looking at her quizzically. “Come. We need to examine these mushrooms.” The three women headed back toward the house.
* * *
Forty-five minutes later, the three women were back at the park. They gathered their friends and found a quiet spot to talk, away from the crowd.
Keeping her voice low, Dragon announced, “Forsooth, we were wrong.”
Everyone stared at Dragon, brows furrowed, heads tilted.
“What be we wrong aboot?” The dwarf scratched his bearded chin.
“Cleric, Sorceress, and I examined the mushrooms from Gloria’s stroganoff. They were not poisonous.” Dragon looked as confused as everyone else as she made this revelation.
The pompous elf looked down his nose at Dragon. “But you said you were sure of what you overheard.”
Dragon glared at him. “I was sure. I am sure. Cleric, Sorceress, the dwarf, and I were coming back from gathering botanicals. We took a short-cut, under my spell of concealment. We found ourselves in Mace and Gloria’s yard. They were sitting in their gazebo, and we were close enough that I distinctly heard their conversation.” Dragon paused, her brow furrowed in concentration. “They were discussing a problem they were having with some neighbors, obviously Mistress Writer and Master Miles. Mace’s exact words were ‘they’ve been nothing but trouble since we moved here. We need to do something about them, and soon.’” Dragon paused again, her eyes narrowed. “Gloria told him not to worry, that she had it all planned. Then Gloria explained to Mace about the poison mushrooms in the stroganoff.”
The elf sneered. “But you just said the mushrooms in the stroganoff are not poisonous.”
Dragon sighed. “They are not. I can only presume Mace and Gloria changed their minds when they realized Mistress Writer and Master Miles might not be the only ones to fall victim to the poison if they used the mushrooms in the food served here today.”
“Thet be meanin’ they be tryin’ ta be kiltin’ the lass an’ ’er lad some udder way.” The dwarf mumbled around a mouthful of food.
Sorceress frowned at his manners but nodded at his conclusion. “We need to keep a sharp eye on Mistress Writer and Master Miles today.”
* * *
“Missy! There you are!”
I could hear the relief in Dragon’s voice. I looked up from my conversation with one of our neighbors and saw all nine of my characters crowding around, worry creasing their faces. I frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Eh, there be nuttin’ wrong, lass. We jest dinna be knowin’ where ye be.” My Old Dwarf spoke around a mouthful of food.
Before I could pursue the matter further, a voice blared over a bullhorn. “Everyone . . . everyone . . . can I have your attention?” Gloria addressed the gathering in full cheerleader mode, voice perky, body language bouncy – I almost expected her to start turning cartwheels. “Hi, neighbors! Thanks for coming out today! Isn’t it great to get together and get to know everyone in the neighborhood a little better? Be sure to grab something to eat before we start clearing the tables. In about an hour, we’re going to rearrange everything into a semicircle over there.” She pointed as she spoke, indicating a shaded corner at the far end of the park. She continued without pausing for a breath, one of her talents that never ceased to amaze me. “We’ll need a few strong helpers to move the benches, then everyone who has something to sit on should bring it – lawn chairs, camp chairs, blankets, whatever you have. We have a surprise for you! I’ve arranged for some entertainment for our neighborhood get-together!”
A little more than an hour and many bull-horned directions later, the entire neighborhood sat around a small stage that had been erected in the northeast corner of the park. Miles and I sat in canvass stadium chairs, while my characters perched on boxes or sprawled on blankets around us. All eyes were on Gloria as she hopped up on the stage.
Thankfully, Gloria had managed to set up a sound system that did not require further use of the bullhorn. She had no problem being heard over the noise of the crowd. “Well, neighbors, I don’t like to toot my own horn – well, yes, I do! Toodle-de-toot!” Gloria followed this with a deep, throaty laugh before continuing. “But tonight, I am very pleased to share center stage with a group of people who have been working hard for the past few weeks. Please welcome Waiting in the Wings in Waconia, our new local theater group!”
Looking embarrassed, Gloria’s husband, Mace, stepped up on the stage next to his wife. Deputies Whitewash and Dawg, and several of our neighbors whom I did not know as well, stepped up to stand next to the wooden platform.
“Tonight, folks, we’re going to present a very short play, a murder mystery, penned by none other than yours truly.” Gloria gave a little curtsey. “We didn’t have the time or the manpower to build sets, so you’ll have to use your imagination.”
Gloria set the scene for the first act, explaining what the set would look like, if there was a set. Then she explained the storyline. “I play Penelope, a southern belle. Mace plays the part of Beauregard, Penelope’s husband. We recently moved to a new house and one of our neighbors is not very nice.
Gloria and Mace then took center stage, as the other players sat on the edges, waiting their turns.
I tried not to giggle as Gloria and Mace delivered their lines. I leaned over to Miles and whispered in his ear. “If this is the best Gloria can do as a playwright, she better not quit her day job.”
Miles put his finger over his lips and leaned forward to hear the play.
“They’ve been nothing but trouble since we moved here. We need to do something about them, and soon.” Mace/Beauregard frowned.
Gloria/Penelope laughed a deep, throaty laugh. “Don’t worry, darling! I’ve got it all planned.”
“Oh?” Mace/Beauregard quirked an eyebrow.
“Remember the mushrooms?” Gloria/Penelope smiled smugly. “Is it my fault some poisonous fungi got mixed in with them?”
“Poison mushrooms?” Her husband’s eyes widened, and a smile spread across his face. “Do you think you can get our . . . friends . . . to eat them?”
“Oh, darling, do you know anyone who can resist my stroganoff?” Gloria/Penelope simpered at her husband. “By this time next week, we will have one less headache with which to contend in our happy little neighborhood.”
The play turned out to be more comedy than mystery, with the two deputies bumbling through their lines just as the characters they played bumbled through the investigation of the murder. Still, the neighborhood crowd was happy to be entertained, and we gave the cast a standing ovation. After Gloria tried to drum up some more members for Waiting in the Wings in Waconia, the gathering wound down and we all started to pack up and head for home. I looked around for my characters, but they appeared to have slipped away already.
* * *
“Theater!” The annoying, pompous elf giggled. Dragon turned red and glared at him.
“How were we to know?” Dragon scuffed her feet as she trod along the street toward home.
“It sounded very real when we overheard them.” Cleric’s face was as red as Dragon’s, and she couldn’t stop wringing her hands.
“Well, one thing is certain.” Sorceress glared at her companions. “We do not mention this to Mistress Writer . . . ever!”
For once, there was no dissent among the companions.
We hope you enjoyed this little misadventure, and we welcome you to come back next week and see what my characters are up to then. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.
“To . . . to die for?” Cleric gaped at Dragon, who – in her customary guise of an elf maiden – stood there, pale and shaking. “What does that mean?”
Dragon’s voice was low when she answered, and it cracked several times as emotion constricted the woman’s throat. “It . . . it appears our obnoxious neighbors, Mace and Gloria, plan to . . . to do away with Mistress Writer and Master Miles at the neighborhood get-together. Gloria was gloating over a . . . a dish she is preparing for what she termed a pot-luck, whatever that might be, which will be part of the festivities.” She took a deep breath before concluding. “The dish she spoke of is the stroganoff dish she was discussing with Mace last evening . . . the one laced with poison mushrooms.”
The dwarf stepped forward. “Now will ye be lettin’ me at ’em wit me axe?” He was seething, his bushy eyebrows squished together over his green eyes, and his mouth an angry line between his unkempt mustache and beard. He held his weapon in one hand, slapping the flat of the axe head against his other palm.
Many of the other eight characters nodded and murmured in approval, but Sorceress cut them off, slashing her hand down for emphasis. “No!” She whirled around and faced the dwarf. “I have already explained to you that should Mace and Gloria be found dead at the hands of an apparent axe murderer, Deputy Whitewash and her intrepid partner, Deputy Dawg, will be breaking down the door to get to you. They are sure to remember you brandishing an axe at them when they first encountered you six months ago!”
The dwarf stood there trembling, anger and frustration building. “Bah!” He spat out the expletive before his shoulders slumped in defeat.
Another character spoke. “Then what do you propose we do?” The speaker, the unpopular and annoying elf illusionist, glared at Sorceress, his eyes like slits, and his lips curled with disdain. “If Mistress Writer is killed, what will happen to us?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “We will cease to exist!” Seeing all eyes on him and a few of his companions nodding, the elf pompously drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his robes in both hands. “I say, let the dwarf deal with the would-be murderers. Then the authorities can deal with the dwarf.” He sneered with contempt at the dwarf.
Dragon had shape-shifted into her true form before the elf had finished talking. Flames shot from her mouth and the elf’s cohort, the Bounty Hunter, barely had time to push his friend out of the way and prevent the illusionist from becoming elf flambé.
“Do . . . not . . . ever think of allowing anyone to deal with the dwarf!” Dragon bared her teeth at the elf. Dark smoke plumed from her nostrils.
The elf scowled. “Better him than Mistress Writer. Her demise means our demise; do not doubt that for a moment! And it would be better to lose one of our number than for all of us to perish.”
The dwarf nodded, still slapping his open palm with the flat of the axe head. “I be agreein’ with tha elfie.”
“Do not call me elfie!” The illusionist’s face turned beet red with anger and contorted with hatred. His voice reached a register so high, the neighborhood dogs started howling.
“Settle down.” The Bounty Hunter placed a restraining hand on his friend’s arm, then glared at the other characters. “All of you. This is not accomplishing anything.”
The elf pulled away, his eyes flashing in anger. “Then what do you suggest?”
The Bounty Hunter shrugged, then raised an eyebrow. “If Mistress Writer and Master Miles do not attend the neighborhood get-together, they cannot partake of Gloria’s food.”
The Gypsy snorted. “And how do you propose we keep them from going?”
A sly grin spread slowly across the Bounty Hunter’s face. “Mistress Writer is always so eager to go on outings. Several days before the neighborhood event, we could all develop a sudden interest in going somewhere, somewhere that would necessitate us leaving the house early and staying away all day. We could manipulate Mistress Writer into planning the outing for the same day as the event.”
Cleric shook her head. “No!” Her face drained of color and she wrung her hands. “No! Do you not remember the ordeal we suffered on our last outing? We cannot go on another!”
Sorceress scoffed. “We have already discussed this. The chances of a portal to another world opening and us being transported from this world are exceedingly slim, but if it were to happen, it is just as likely to happen here, within this house, as elsewhere.”
“I know. My mind understands but my fear does not.” Cleric hung her head and fidgeted with the cord belt on her robes. Tears welled up in her eyes.
The Foreman of the group stepped forward and placed a reassuring hand on Cleric’s shoulder. His voice was soft yet commanding. “I do not believe we need to go on an outing right now. If Mistress Writer and Master Miles do not attend the neighborhood event, it will only postpone the inevitable. We need to find a way to prevent Mace and Gloria from committing this murder, not just at the event but at any place or at any time.”
Others nodded, but the Young Hero stroked his chin and frowned. “You are correct – if they do not attend the event, it will only postpone their demise. However, Gloria’s plot makes no sense. If Mace and Gloria want to murder Mistress Writer and Master Miles, why would they do it at a public event, where the poison food could be consumed by any of those in attendance? They could conceivably wipe out the entire neighborhood!”
“The lad has a point.” The Foreman turned back to Dragon. “Are you quite certain you heard them correctly?”
The beast had settled down and had shapeshifted back to the form of an elf maiden. She pursed her lips and nodded. “Yes, I am sure. Mace was complaining about Mistress Writer and Master Miles, and Gloria revealed her plot to eliminate them using poison mushrooms. She said the mushrooms would be in her stroganoff. And just now, she was braying to Mistress Writer about her – and again I quote – to-die-for stroganoff that she will serve at the neighborhood get-together.”
The Foreman nodded. “If we elect to protect the lives of not only Mistress Writer and Master Miles, but the majority of our neighbors as well, we should alert the authorities.”
The dwarf scoffed. “And iffin we even be figurin’ how ta be contactin’ ’em, why would they be believin’ us? I be rememberin’ tha two o ’em been takin’ Mace and Gloria’s word over our lass an’ ’er lad. Nay, we be needin’ ta be takin’ care o this our own selfs!”
“That is not an option!” Sorceress snapped at the dwarf. “Get that through your thick skull!”
Dragon furrowed her brow. “If we need to alert the authorities, we can do it easily enough. The deputies left their cards with our Mistress when last they were here, and I believe several of us have mastered the use of the talking device, the thing called a telephone.”
The dwarf snorted. “So’s we kin be gittin’ ahold o ’em. How, perzactly, do we be gittin’ ’em ta be believin’ us?” He crossed his arms over his barrel chest and tapped a foot impatiently.
“The dwarf is right – they simply would never believe any of us, should we accuse Mace and Gloria. However, mayhap we have no need of the authorities.” The Young Hero quirked an eyebrow, and there was a twinkle of mischief in his green eyes.
“What do you propose?” Dragon looked intrigued.
“Well, you know how clumsy some of us can be.” The lad grinned. “It would be such a shame if Gloria’s stroganoff was to be knocked all over the ground.”
Everyone relaxed and started nodding and smiling; there were even a few impish chuckles from the group.
* * *
I cringed. Before I even looked, I knew who it was. My far-less-than-favorite neighbor, Gloria, had an unmistakable voice. It was full of perk, arrogance, and acid, all mixed together with a Midwestern twang. I turned and watched as she bounced over to our yard, all but dragging her husband, Mace, also one of my far-less-than-favorite neighbors.
“Hello, Gloria, Mace.” I tried to paste a smile on my face, but all I could manage was a thinning of my lips. My husband, Miles, didn’t seem any happier than I to see these two.
If Gloria noticed, she didn’t let it dampen her enthusiasm. She started in, sounding like a high school cheerleader, almost every sentence sounding like it ended with an exclamation point. “It’s a beautiful day! Not a cloud in the sky! Looks like every single person in the whole neighborhood made it to the get-together! And there are a lot of guests, too! You aren’t the only folks who have visiting out-of-town family! I hope we have enough food for everyone! What culinary delight did you contribute?” She said all that in one breath, and never ran out of air.
“Marge made a few of her specialties.” I detected a hint of pride in my husband’s voice. “She made her famous German potato salad, two baked hams, and four cakes – two apple cakes from her Bubbie’s recipe, and two chocolate chip cakes. And I made my famous stew.”
Mace looked impressed, but Gloria seemed annoyed. “You didn’t have to bring all that.”
“Miles and I volunteered to contribute more, since we have so many guests attending the event. Your fellow food-committee member, Joanne, gave me the thumbs-up on the choices. She checked what everyone else had signed up to bring, and she said our stuff wouldn’t be redundant.”
Before Gloria could sputter a reply, Cleric, Sorceress, and the ersatz elf maiden, Dragon, joined us. They nodded politely to Mace and Gloria before Dragon turned to me. “Excuse us, Missy . . .”
Gloria interrupted, her brow furrowed and her hand on her hip. “Why do you always call her Missy? Isn’t her name Marge?”
Dragon blinked. “It’s just a family nickname.”
Yeah, I thought, my family of characters calls me Missy in public because I’ve warned them enough times not to call me Mistress Writer in front of other people.
Dragon turned back to me. “Missy, the lads are taking your food for the pot-luck to the tables that have been set up in the park at the end of our street.”
I nodded. “We should go there now. It’s almost lunchtime.”
“We’ll meet you there!” Gloria waved and headed for the park, still all but dragging Mace along. “Should we save a couple of tables for you?”
Miles shook his head. “We’ll find some seats when we get there.”
Miles and I walked down the street arm-in-arm, with the three companions a few steps behind. We were approaching the park when we heard Gloria above the sounds of the crowd.
“Noooooooo!” Gloria was wailing. We ran the rest of the way to see what had happened. When we drew near, we saw Gloria standing next to one of the picnic tables that had been set up to hold the pot-luck buffet. On the other side of the table, my Young Hero and my Gypsy stood, looking aghast. By their feet, Gloria’s to-die-for vegan/tofu stroganoff was all over the ground.
My red-faced Young Hero was apologizing profusely. “Oh, I am so sorry! It was so clumsy of me! I was just trying to move it over a bit to fit our food onto the table, and the next thing I knew, the whole thing was on the ground.”
Dragon, Cleric, and Sorceress exchanged knowing glances. “Oops.”
Just then, Deputy Whitewash and Deputy Dawg walked up behind the lads. Deputy Dawg placed a beefy hand on my Young Hero’s shoulder. “Son, that didn’t look like an accident to me.”
Dragon, Cleric, and Sorceress exchanged guilty looks. “Oops.”
Be sure to join us next week to see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.
The four friends hurried down the quiet suburban street toward the split-level house they called home. Three houses shy of their destination, Cleric reached out with one hand and grabbed the ersatz elf maiden, Dragon, by the arm. With her other hand, she snagged Sorceress by the strap of the canvass satchel she carried. “Wait!” She firmly planted her feet and jerked the other two to a dead stop. The dwarf, a few steps behind the women, almost ran into them.
“What is it?” Sorceress frowned and pulled the bag’s strap from Cleric’s grasp, while Dragon shook her arm free and reached around to steady the dwarf.
“What are we going to tell Mistress when we get home?” There was a catch in Cleric’s voice and her face was pale.
“We tell her nothing.” Dragon narrowed her eyes. Her tone of voice invited no argument, a fact that was apparently lost on the panicky Cleric.
“But . . . but . . . Mace and Gloria are planning to murder Mistress Writer and Master Miles!” Cleric almost burst into tears. “We must warn them!”
The dwarf scowled. “I be toldin’ ye, there be no need ta be tellin’ anyone. I kin be takin’ care o Mace and Gloria. Just ye be lettin’ me be gittin’ me axe.”
“Oh, yes, that will solve the problem nicely.” Sorceress snorted, and her words dripped with sarcasm. “If Mace and Gloria are found dead at the hands of an apparent axe murderer, where do you think Deputy Whitewash and her intrepid partner Deputy Dawg will begin their investigation?”
“Deputy whosis?” The dwarf tilted his head in confusion.
The dwarf scrunched his bushy eyebrows down and stroked his unkempt gray beard. Suddenly, his green eyes widened, and he nodded. “Eh, those two! Aye, now I be rememberin’ ’em!”
“And I think it safe to say you would not welcome a visit from them, remembering you were brandishing your battle-axe at them the first time they encountered you.” Dragon raised an eyebrow and inclined her head toward the dwarf, who had the grace to blush.
“So then, what are we to do?” Tears threatened to spill from Cleric’s cornflower-blue eyes, as she looked to Dragon for answers.
Dragon furrowed her brow. “Well, we cannot tell Mistress what we heard. That would entail admitting we were trespassing and eavesdropping.” She paused, her eyes narrowed. “I need time to think. For now, we say nothing. We will take turns observing Mace and Gloria – under the protection of my spell of concealment – and we will not allow them access to Mistress Writer or Master Miles. Should they attempt to implement their nefarious plan, we will stop them.”
* * *
I was just on my way up the stairs by the front door when four of my characters came trudging into the house, an assortment of flowers, leaves, and branches peeking out of the heavy sacks they were lugging.
“Well, I see your day was successful. It looks like you collected your fair share of botanicals.” I smiled at them.
The four of them shuffled their feet and nodded. Each one mumbled something unintelligible, and not one of them met my eye. They tried to scoot around me, looking as nervous as four long-tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs.
I planted myself directly in their path, holding up one hand like a cop stopping traffic. “Hold it! What’s wrong?”
My four characters stopped dead, eyes as wide as those of deer caught in the glare of oncoming headlights.
“Wrong?” Cleric’s eyes widened further, almost popping from their sockets.
Dragon tried to elbow cleric without me noticing. She failed. “Nothing is wrong. Why do you ask?” She shrugged, and she wore an expression of pure innocence.
“We are all just tired, and we still need to work with these botanicals tonight, Mistress. After all our hard work procuring them, we must get them preserved them before they start to wilt and spoil.” Sorceress presented a logical discourse, completely at odds with her guilty appearance, as she tugged at her shirt, shifted her weight from foot to foot, and looked everywhere but at me.
“Oh, me tummy! I be eatin’ too many o them apples!” My Old Dwarf’s face contorted with pain and he clutched his stomach. He bulldozed his way past me and scampered down the steps to the conference room, his three companions hot on his heels.
I shrugged but continued up the stairs rather than following my characters in the other direction. Sometimes it’s best not to know, I reasoned.
My husband was at the top of the stairs. “We both missed dinner tonight. I was just heading into the kitchen for a snack. Care to join me?”
I nodded, absentmindedly.
Miles tilted his head and furrowed his brow, obviously trying to read my expression. “A penny for your thoughts.”
While we walked to the kitchen for a bite to eat, I told him of the strange encounter I had just had in the foyer.
Miles raised an eyebrow. “Do you think they’re up to something?”
“I don’t know. They certainly acted guilty of something.”
“Well, I’m sure we’ll find out about it soon enough.” He handed me one of the deli-bought sandwiches he had taken from the refrigerator. I took it and sat down at the table. Miles grabbed another sandwich for himself, and a couple cans of soda.
As he sat down next to me, he grabbed a few napkins from the holder in the middle of the table. “Oh, by the way, while you were in your office this afternoon, I walked out and checked the mailbox. We got the normal pile of junk mail, a few bills, a postcard from your sister, and a reminder about the neighborhood get-together next week.”
“The get-together!” I shuddered. “I had forgotten all about that. Do we really have to go?”
Miles shrugged. “Not if you don’t want to, but I think it should be a lot of fun.”
“Are we all invited?” I raised an eyebrow at Miles.
He blinked. “Oh.” He took a big bite of sandwich and delayed his answer while he slowly chewed and swallowed. “I guess I never thought about your characters going.”
“They’d be hurt if we told them they couldn’t go with us, but we can’t keep a tight rein on nine characters all day long. I’d go crazy! And they certainly can’t be trusted to behave appropriately on their own. It would be simpler if we stayed home.” I finished my sandwich and took my plate to the sink.
Miles followed suit. “Well, we’ll think about it later. Right now, Father Brown is on, and I don’t want to miss this week’s episode.”
* * *
Bright and early the next morning, the doorbell rang, and I almost collided on the stairs with Dragon, still in her guise of an elf maiden. “I’ll get it!” we said, simultaneously.
I nudged her out of the way and opened the door. I gaped at the smiling young woman, with sandy blond tresses framing an open face, standing on my front porch.
“Hi, neighbor!” The perky greeting took me by surprise. The last time I had seen Gloria was more than six months ago. She and her husband, Mace, had been stomping out of our yard after unsuccessfully trying to find a horse they had accused us of keeping on our property. At that time, Miles and I had made it quite clear they were not welcome to return here without an invitation. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/01/14/the-return-of-the-neighbors/
Since I certainly hadn’t invited Gloria to visit, I crossed my arms over my chest, leaned against the doorjamb, and scowled. Gloria seemed undeterred by my obvious hostility.
“I’m just following up on the reminders the get-together committee sent out this week. We don’t want anyone forgetting about our little neighborhood event in the park next week. Will you and your hubby be there?”
“We haven’t decided yet.” I continued to lean against the door frame and scowl.
“Well, don’t wait ’til the last minute! We need to have an accurate count for seating, and we need to know what everyone’s bringing. We can’t have all desserts and drinks, and no main courses, now can we?”
I raised an eyebrow, and Gloria prattled on.
“I’m making my to-die-for vegetarian/tofu stroganoff. There’ll be plenty of it, so if any of your out-of-town relatives are here then, they’re more than welcome to come with you and your hubby!”
“My hubby and I will keep that in mind. Anything else?” I glowered.
“Nope, that’s it. Just be sure and let the committee know whether you’re coming, what you’ll contribute to the potluck, and how many guests you’ll be bringing. We need to know by Wednesday of this week. See you at the get-together, neighbor!” Gloria twirled and strutted down the walk, presumably off to irritate another neighbor with her way-too-early-in-the-morning perkiness.
I closed the door, turned, and almost walked right into Dragon. Her face was pale, and beads of sweat dotted her brow. Before I could ask what was wrong, she fled to the conference room. I shrugged and went back upstairs to gather laundry.
* * *
All of Dragon’s fellow characters were in the conference room, waiting for her to return. Dragon had gathered everyone earlier that morning and explained to those who had not been with them the night before what she and her comrades had overheard in Mace and Gloria’s yard. She explained how Gloria planned to put poison mushrooms in the food she would serve to Mistress Writer and Master Miles.
As Dragon raced back into the conference room, everyone looked up.
“What’s wrong?” Cleric saw the stricken look on Dragon’s face.
“That was Gloria at the door. She was checking with Mistress to see if she and Master Miles are planning to attend some neighborhood gathering next week.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Sorceress tilted her head and narrowed her eyes.
“Gloria is making her – and I quote – to-die-for stroganoff for the event. She and Mace are going to kill Mistress Writer and Master Miles at the neighborhood dinner!”
Are Mace and Gloria really planning to murder Mistress Writer and Master Miles at the neighborhood get-together next week? Can Mistress Writer’s characters protect her and her husband? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you. But if you do join us, I’d steer clear of Gloria’s stroganoff if I were you!