Are we all in agreementThe tension in the room was palpable.

“Are we all in agreement?” The huge, red dragon looked around the room at her companions. “It must be unanimous.”

Arrogant Elf sneeringThe arrogant elf scoffed, his face twisting into a sneer. “Do you really need to ask? Of course, we are all in agreement!”

Bounty Hunter“Indeed.” The bounty hunter nodded and wiped his hand nervously on his leather leggings. “This is what each of us has hoped for since the day we first found ourselves marooned in this world.”

Cleric pleading“Oh, but things are different now!” The cleric’s cornflower blue eyes were wet, and she held her arms wide toward her companions, beseeching. “We have become accustomed to this world. We are finding it easier and easier to assimilate the customs and speech of this world. We are learning to use technology. We have made friends. How can we think of going back to our own world now? We should stay. We must stay.”

No!” The elf screeched, hitting a pitch that threatened to shatter glass and decibel levels that threatened the same fate for nearby eardrums. “We have nothing here that compensates for the loss of our old lives, back in our own world!”

“If we are missing our own world and our old lives, we can visit the illusory world we created for the foreman.” The cleric pleaded. “There is no need to actually go back home. We can stay here and enjoy the best of both worlds.”

Foreman“No.” The foreman shook his head sadly, his gray eyes clouded. “While I appreciate the effort you all made for me creating that illusion, and while it is a fabulous place, it is but a pale shadow of our world and our former lives there.”

Mace and Gloria and the deputies“But we have responsibilities here now.” The cleric still pleaded. “Who is going to protect Mistress Writer and Master Miles from their neighbors, Mace and Gloria, and from the sheriff’s deputies, Melody Whitewash and Dustin Dawg?”

The dragon waved dismissively at the cleric and chuckled. “With us gone, I highly doubt Mistress Writer and Master Miles will have any further altercations with those people.”

MorcantThe cleric tried again. “What if the evil wizard Morcant returns?”

The dragon narrowed her eyes menacingly. “That one will never escape his tower prison.”

ArthurThe cleric furrowed her brow. “Well, what about Arthur, that horrendous man who runs that writers’ club, Lost in the Words? Surly, Mistress Writer needs protection from him.”

The dragon scoffed. “Crawford and Griff will give her all the protection she needs from that slimy toad.”Crawford and Griff will take care of Arthur

The cleric changed tack and gave the dragon a coy look. “And what about Griff? Will you not miss him . . . and Ollie?”

Griff dual personasThe big beast frowned. “My affinity for Griff was nothing more than the pleasure of finding someone in this world with whom I could communicate in the old ways of my species and his, through a linking of the mind. There will be enough of my own kind back in our world; I will not unduly miss Griff. And as for Ollie . . . well, I admit leaving him behind is a deep regret, but one I will have to bear.”


Colton and BlueCleric turned to gypsy, young hero, and foremanThe cleric turned to the Gypsy, the young hero, and the foreman. “And the three of you have no regrets leaving Colton and Blue?”

GypsyThe Gypsy sighed and raked his hand through his hair. “We will miss them, surely, but we have been missing so many from our world – the Innkeeper, the Blacksmith, our Sovereign King, the young hero’s family. We will gladly give up the ones here to reunite with the others there.”

Young Hero facing leftThe young hero agreed, his green eyes shining with fervor. “I have missed my parents and brother so much! Furthermore, I have always had the feeling I was in the middle of something of paramount importance when I fell out of the manuscript into this world. I agree with the Gypsy – we must go home.”

Marisol, Talia, ChristineThe cleric turned back to the dragon. “And what about Marisol? Will you leave her tutoring to Talia and Christine?”

Dragon shrugged. “They know more about Marisol and her powers than do I. The child will be in good hands.”

Cleric looked around the room but found no ally. A tear slipped down her cheek. “But there is so much still to do here. What about the books we have come to enjoy so much? We will never get to read Mistress Rabe’s next Piper Blackwell novel. We will not be here to assist Master Miles as he designs this year’s Christmas Village. We will never again be able to join Mistress Writer on nature hikes and engage in wildlife photography with her. We will not even know whose image and presentation she judged best in last week’s contest.”

Never do again

SorceressThe sorceress walked over to the cleric and took her hands. “Forsooth, there will be things from this world we will miss, people whose absence from our lives will leave a hole in our hearts. But we never really belonged here. We have family and friends in our own world whom we miss and who are missing us. We have things we are supposed to be doing back there. We must go.”

Old DwarfThe old dwarf walked over to the cleric and put his hand on her arm. “Tha magic lass be right, lassie. It do na be makin’ much nevermind how much we be gonna be missin’ this world an’ its people. It do na be makin’ much nevermind how much we be lovin’ Mistress Writer an’ Master Miles. Iffen we kin be goin’ back home . . . back home, lassie! . . . then there be nuttin an’ nobody here wat kin be makin’ it wort’ it ta us ta be stayin’.”

Cleric cryingTears streamed down the cleric’s face. “We . . . we will say goodbye to Mistress Writer and Master Miles, though, will we not? We cannot leave without saying goodbye, without telling them where we are going.”

The dragon shook her head. “It would make it much harder to go. We need to leave. Now.”

The arrogant elf jumped up eagerly. “Then let us proceed.” Suddenly he stopped and stared at the dragon, his eyes narrowing. “You are sure you know what you are doing, are you not?”

Dark smoke“You doubt me, elf?” Dark smoke started to rise from the dragon’s nose.

The elf drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak with both hands. “I do not doubt, I question. You have always said there was no way for us to return home. Over the years, you have researched this and made numerous attempts. You decreed it impossible to return to our own world. Are you quite certain of the discovery you have made that you claim will make this possible?”

“I am.”

The elf stared at the beast for several more moments, then nodded curtly. “Then, let us not tarry. Let us bid this place farewell, and return to our own world, our old lives.”

* * *

I awokeThe house felt different this morning when I awoke. It wasn’t just that it was quiet – quieter than I had heard it in a long time. The house felt different. It felt empty. I hurried through my morning ablutions and hurried to the kitchen.

Miles had just finished making breakfast when I arrived in the kitchen. He had it laid out on the counter and I noticed he had only made enough for the two of us.Breakfast

“No one else is joining us for breakfast this morning?” I looked around for some sign of my characters. “Where are the slugabeds? I was hoping to announce the winners of the nature photography and research contest.”

Miles shook his head. “I haven’t seen anyone.” He motioned toward the table. “Oh, by the way, I found these here this morning when I came in to prepare breakfast. What are your manuscripts doing here? Was one of your characters reading them last night?”Manuscripts on table

I shook my head and frowned. “These should be in my office.” I picked them up and something fell from the pages onto the floor.

Miles reached down and picked it up. He looked at it curiously. “What’s this?”

I took it from him, and my heart almost stopped. “It’s . . . it’s a dragon scale.”Dragon scale

Miles looked at it again. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that shade of blue.”

“It’s Dragon’s true color. Here in this world, she was usually red. If she were confused or embarrassed, she would turn a light blue, and if she were angry or annoyed, she might turn black. But in her own world, she was a magnificent, breathtaking shade of deep blue.”

Me, shockedI studied the scale for several minutes. Suddenly, my eyes widened, and I ran downstairs. As soon as I reached the bottom of the stairs, I cried out.

“Honey? Honey, what’s wrong?” Miles ran after me.

Miles shockedI pointed, and Miles followed my gesture. His jaw dropped. “The conference room is gone!”

I nodded. There in front of us, where once there had been a huge room that changed shape and size according to the needs and whims of the magic users who had created it, there now stood just a blank wall.

Blank wall

“What have your characters done now? Did they decide to move it into the shed, or up on the roof?” Miles chuckled.

I shook my head. I rubbed the dragon scale, and a tear slipped down my cheek. “They’re gone, Miles.”

My husband looked stunned. “Gone? Your characters are gone?”

I nodded. “I believe Dragon intentionally left this scale for me with my manuscripts. I’m sure it was her way of letting me know, of saying goodbye.” I turned to my husband. “Miles, my characters found their way back into the books.”

I looked down once more at the deep blue dragon scale in my hand, and mouthed, Farewell, my dear friends! Farewell!Dragon scale

Well, my faithful readers, it has been a long and wonderful adventure, but it was time for my characters to return whence they came. There were no new situations in which to put them, no new ways for them to cause trouble for me and Miles. I hope you have enjoyed my little band of displaced characters and their antics through the years.

This also ends my weekly blog. I may still find things to share with you on occasion, but I am long overdue for a sabbatical. Stay well, and I hope you will have fond memories of my characters. I know I will miss them terribly.

I’ll be turning the porch light off now. I’ll be sure to turn it on again when I return.

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The Contest

The Contest

Cleric closeup“Mistress!”

Cleric skipped into my office without even knocking. “How would you like to judge our contest?”Me

I furrowed my brow. “What contest?”

Cleric smiled, her cornflower blue eyes shining. “While you have been busy all week with your writing, my companions and I have been busy as well. We have been taking nature photos all week. We remained indoors, of course, due to the snow earlier this week, and the abysmal cold. But we took a considerable number of photos through the windows.”Taking nature photos through the windows

I nodded. “The weather this week has been brutal for October, even by Minnesota standards.”

Cleric and camera 2Cleric frowned and nodded her agreement before continuing. “The rules of the competition are simple. We could take photos of whatever animals we fancied, but the images had to be taken with no magical assistance. I was not even to use my ability to communicate with animals to get them to pose for me.”

I nodded. “Sounds like a fair rule.”

Research and prepare presentationCleric smiled. “The other part of the competition was more difficult. We were to research and prepare a very brief presentation on the animals we photographed. So, there should be winners in two categories – the best image and the best research. So, will you judge our contest?”

I feigned indifference and examined my fingernails. “I suppose I could clear my schedule and do the honors.”

“Oh, thank you, Mistress. I told everyone we could count on you! We could meet in the conference room in a half-hour if you would be available then.”

When I nodded, Cleric jumped from her chair and skipped out the door. “I will let everyone know to have their images and presentations ready!”

Dragon in front of fireplaceCleric was as good as her word. A half-hour later, my characters met me in the conference room, each with a thumb drive containing their images. Although all were present, some were less enthusiastic than others. Dragon, her scales as black as her mood, was lying in front of her illusory fireplace, glaring.

LaptopCleric cleared her throat. “Ahem. Well, thank you all for being here, and for participating in this contest. Mistress Writer has agreed to be the judge, and I have already advised her of the rules of the contest. So, who wants to go first?” She gestured toward the laptop computer at the front of the room, where everyone would display their images.

Dragon opened one eye and snorted some black smoke. “This whole silly contest was your idea. I think you should go first.”

Smoke drifting from Dragon's snout

Cleric closeupNo one else volunteered, so Cleric inserted her thumb drive into the USB port on the laptop and began. “My first group of images is of Mourning Doves. Two of the images were taken after the snowstorm earlier this week, and the last one is from yesterday, after it cleared again.”

She gave everyone time to see her photographs, then began her presentation. “The Mourning Dove, or Zenaida macroura, is in the taxonomic order Columbiformes and the family Columbidae. Mourning Doves are extremely abundant year-round across the United States. Males and females look alike, with gray backs and wings, and gray to pale peach below. They have large, black spots on their wings. Both their tails and their beaks are long and thin, and their legs are pinkish. They are M-o-u-r-n-i-n-g Doves, not M-o-r-n-i-n-g Doves, called that after their mournful cries.”

Cleric waited for me to take some notes, then proceeded to her next animal of choice.

“These photos are of Northern Cardinals. The Northern Cardinal, or Cardinalis cardinalis, is in the order Passeriformes and the family Cardinalidae. The Northern Cardinal has a year-round range in the United States from the East to the Midwest. The female Northern Cardinal is one of the few female songbirds who sing. Both male and female Northern Cardinals have short, thick bills and prominent crests. The male is a very conspicuous red with a black mask and throat. The female is dull brownish, with warm tinges of red in her wings, tail, and crest.”

When I had finished taking notes on Cleric’s second set of images and presentation, she removed her thumb drive and sat down.

I nodded and smiled. “Very nice job, Cleric. Who’s next?”

Foreman facing right closeupMy Foreman looked around at his companions, and when no one else responded, he rose and came to the front of the room. Inserting his thumb drive, he began.

“I have three groups of birds here, various types of sparrows. I did not bother with the taxonomical information, as I cannot even pronounce the words. One of my more learned associates informed me the words were Latin, a language I have never heard.”

He paused and looked around at his audience before continuing. “The first group of photos shows the American Tree Sparrow, a winter visitor to this area. The American Tree Sparrow is a plump, long-tailed sparrow with a bi-colored bill, unstreaked underparts, and a dark spot in the middle of their chest. Their gray head is adorned with a rusty cap and eyeline. Male and female look alike.”

My Foreman brought up the next group of photos. “These are Chipping Sparrows. It is unusual to see these birds in this area at this time of year, but perhaps the ones I saw this week were late migrants. They were here at the beginning of the week, right before the snow, and I have not seen them since. The Chipping Sparrow is sometimes confused with the American Tree Sparrow, the first sparrow I showed and described. However, the Chipping Sparrow is slightly smaller, has no spot on its chest, and the eye stripe is black, not rusty. The Chipping Sparrow also lacks the bi-colored beak of the American Tree Sparrow.”

Changing photos once more, my Foreman continued. “The last group of sparrows I photographed is the White-throated Sparrow. This bird would not be mistaken for either of the two sparrows I previously detailed. As the name would indicate, their identifying mark is a crisp white throat patch. They are a large, plump sparrow with a long tail and stubby bill. They are beautifully marked, with a bold facial pattern of black and white crown stripes and yellow lores. In Minnesota, they breed in the north and migrate in the fall, though some overwinter here.”

My Foreman waited for me to nod, then retrieved his thumb drive and resumed his seat.

Young hero 2My Young Hero sprang to his feet. “If no one objects, I will go next.”

Before displaying any photos, the lad explained, “I was an opportunistic photographer. The three types of birds I will present were chosen simply because they were there and did not fly off when they saw me aiming my camera at them through the window. Unlike the three types of sparrows the Foreman chose, these birds are unrelated.”

My Young Hero inserted his thumb drive and began. “The first bird is a juvenile or immature Sharp-shinned Hawk. He will have the vertical streaking on his chest until he molts and acquires his adult plumage. This bird was guarding his freshly caught dinner, which I cropped out of the photo in deference to those persons of a delicate and sensitive nature. The Sharp-shinned Hawk is an accipiter, a type of hawk having short, broad wings and relatively long legs. It is admirably adapted for fast flight through woodlands, where it hunts its prey, mostly small birds.”

Switching photos, my Young Hero continued. “This bird is an American Crow. American Crows are opportunistic omnivores. This one was visiting the feeding station on the deck, gobbling the peanuts. Although he does not look it, he is larger than the Sharp-shinned Hawk. This all-black bird has a relatively short, squared tail, and a raucous, full-throated call.”

The lad brought up the next group of photos. “My third bird is the Blue Jay. He also has a raucous call, along with many other sounds. He even mimics the call of other birds. The Blue Jay is grayish-white below and various shades of blue and violet above. The Blue Jay’s wings and tail are barred black, with a bold, white wingbar, and he sports a black necklace and a prominent crest. Like the American Crow, the Blue Jay is a year-round resident of Minnesota, and is an opportunistic omnivore.”

My Young Hero shuffled through his notes. “I discovered a most interesting fact about Blue Jays while doing my research. Blue Jays are not really blue! Because of the structure of a Blue Jay’s feathers, they appear blue. I found this information on a website called The Buzz. If anyone wants to check it out themselves, you can find it at https://www.reconnectwithnature.org/news-events/the-buzz/nature-curiosity-why-are-blue-jays-blue.”

Blue Jay featherPrismThe lad waited while some of his friends copied down the information. “According to this website, Blue Jays do not have any blue pigment in their feathers. The pigment in a Blue Jay’s feathers is brown, but we perceive it as blue because of a phenomenon called light scattering. Light scattering is like the effects of a prism. A Blue Jay’s wings contain tiny pockets of air and something called keratin. Keratin is the same substance that is in our hair and fingernails. When light hits these pockets of air and keratin in the Blue Jay’s feathers, all the colors of the wavelength except blue are absorbed. The blue wavelength is refracted, making the feathers look blue.”

Dragon in front of fireplaceAs my Young Hero retrieved his thumb drive and returned to his seat, Dragon stirred. “Forsooth! That was most impressive. It almost shames me to make my presentation now.” Remaining prone, she tossed me her thumb drive, which I inserted into the computer. “Like my young friend, the Hero, I was opportunistic. In fact, some might argue I was lazy. I took pictures – admittedly poor quality – of some Ring-necked Pheasants because they were right outside the window and I could take the photos with a minimum of effort, and without leaving the comfort of my fireplace – the same way I am making this presentation. The plain, brown, speckled one is the female. The more colorful one is the male. They visit the yard occasionally, usually when it is cold and snowy, although I have seen them here in all seasons. They are what is known as a game bird, which mean some people think they taste good.”

Dwarf with sandwich and thumbdriveAs Dragon closed her eyes and continued her nap, my Old Dwarf stomped to the front of the room, a sandwich in one hand and his thumb drive in the other. He tucked his sandwich in his pouch and thrust his thumb drive at me. I removed Dragon’s thumb drive from the computer and inserted the dwarf’s, and he began.

“Wale, I be admittin’ I dinna be doin’ all tha research wot tha holy lass be tellin’ us ta be doin’, an’ I be tookin’ pictures o furry critters, not birdies. I be pho-toe-gryph-in’ some bunnies, some gray squirrelsies, some red squirrelsies, an’ some chippermunkers. They all be year-round residents o this area, though tha chippermunkers be a tad less hardy and be stayin’ in their holesies when tha weather be gittin too cold. I did be findin’ oot thet tha bunnies be Eastern Cottontails; tha gray squirrelsies be Eastern Gray Squirrels; tha red squirrelsies, wot be lessen’ half tha size o tha grays, be Red Squirrels, though they also be called Pine Squirrels, Spruce Squirrels an’ Chickarees; an’ tha chippermunkers be Eastern Chipmunks.”

Not even waiting for me to return his thumb drive, my Old Dwarf dug his sandwich from his pouch, took a big bite, and hastened back to his seat.

Gypsy close-up facing rightMy Gypsy rose and took his turn next. “I have three birds to present, all common visitors to the yard. We see two here year-round, but the third is a winter visitor only.”

My Gypsy inserted his thumb drive into the computer and brought up his first group of photos. “These are Black-capped Chickadees. These gray-and-white birds with black cap and bib are bold, curious little creatures that can be easily coaxed to take sunflower seeds from a person’s hand. Their call – chick-a-dee-dee-dee – sounds like they are scolding someone, while their song – heeey, sweetie – sounds like they are calling after someone.”

The lad perfectly imitated the chickadee’s call and song.

Gesturing to the next group of images, my Gypsy continued. “The Red-winged Blackbird is ubiquitous in this neighborhood in spring and summer, as they nest right in the reeds along the edges of the pond behind the houses. Their conk-a-reeeeeeeee rings through the neighborhood from early morning till late evening during mating and nesting season and the males often display their bright red-and-yellow epaulettes when trying to impress a potential mate or discourage a potential rival. They remain in the area year-round, but they are not as prevalent in winter.”

Bringing up his third group of images, the lad smiled. “These are Slate-colored Dark-eyed Juncos, birds many people hate to see, as they herald the cold weather and snow. In fact, these little birds are known as snowbirds, appearing in this area as winter sets in, and then retreating northward each spring to their breeding grounds. They have several beautiful songs, the first a loud musical trill of 7-23 notes, similar to the songs of both the Chipping Sparrow and the Pine Warbler. This is sung by the male junco.” My Gypsy whistled a perfect imitation of the song.

“They also have a much quieter song as well, a series of whistles, trills, and warbles sung by both male and female, that may sound like an American Goldfinch.” Again, my Gypsy demonstrated.

“In case you had not surmised, I chose these three birds because I love their calls. When they are in the yard, I can coax them close just by imitating their songs.” Smiling, my Gypsy took his thumb drive and returned to his seat.

Bounty Hunter full body 2My Bounty Hunter rose and shuffled to the front of the room, frowning and looking very reluctant to begin. He inserted his thumb drive into the laptop and shrugged. “I did not research the taxonomy of the birds I chose, nor can I imitate any of their calls. I chose woodpeckers because I am fascinated by them and I found no less than six different types in the backyard. I photographed all six, so you can see their similarities and differences.”

zygodactyl feetLooking around uncomfortably, my Bounty Hunter shrugged again and continued. “The woodpeckers I will present all possess characteristic zygodactyl feet. The first and the fourth of their four toes face backward and the second and third face forward. This allows them to easily grasp the limbs and trunks of trees. These woodpeckers can walk vertically up tree trunks while they forage for food and excavate nest holes.”

Woodpecker on vertical surfaceHe paused to collect his thoughts. “In addition to their strong claws and feet, these woodpeckers have relatively short, strong legs and stiff tails. When the woodpecker perches on a vertical surface, its tail and feet work together to give it support. Woodpeckers have strong bills for drilling and drumming on trees, and long sticky tongues for extracting the insects and larvae they favor for food. They also have very specialized skull and brain structure to prevent concussive damage to their brain while they bang away with their bills.”

Bringing up the first group of photos, my Bounty Hunter continued. “These are Downy Woodpeckers, the smallest of the North American woodpeckers. They range from slightly less than six inches to just under seven inches in length and have a wingspan of ten to twelve inches. They are a common, year-round resident of this state. Males have a red spot on the back of their heads, females do not.”

Changing images, my Bounty Hunter smiled. “This is the Pileated Woodpecker, the largest living North American woodpecker, and also a year-round resident of this part of Minnesota. It is approximately sixteen to nineteen inches long and has a twenty-six to thirty-inch wingspan. Males have a red cheek stripe, and both male and female have bright red crests.”

As he brought up the next group of images, my Bounty Hunter chuckled. “These are not more pictures of the Downy Woodpecker. These are another year-round resident, the Hairy Woodpecker. They are almost identical to the Downy, but larger. They are almost ten inches in length, with a fifteen-inch wingspan. In addition to size, you can tell these two woodpeckers apart by their outer tail feathers. The Hairy Woodpecker’s outer tail feathers are pure white, while the Downy usually has black or gray spots along the sides of the white outer tail feathers. Their bills also give clues to their identity. The Downy has a tiny, stubby beak, barely as long as the distance from the front of its head to its eye. The Hairy’s bill is much longer, nearly as long as the bird’s head. As with the Downy, males have a red spot on the back of their heads, and females do not.”

My Bounty Hunter paused a moment to bring up the next group of pictures. “Here is another year-round resident of this part of Minnesota. At nine to eleven inches long, and having a fifteen to eighteen-inch wingspan, this year-round resident, the Red-bellied Woodpecker, is close in size to the Hairy. The male Red-bellied Woodpecker has a red crown and nape, while the female has only the red nape. The name red-bellied is puzzling to many new birdwatching enthusiasts, as the red patch on their abdomen is often unnoticed, obscured by the pale feathers.”

My Bounty Hunter gestured to the next group of photos. “Minnesota is part of the breeding ground for the Red-headed Woodpecker, but these birds are not year-round residents. This immature bird stopped by for a quick bite to eat during his migration. He was only a day or so ahead of the cold snap and snow. Although quite attractive already, when this bird reaches adulthood, he will be a beauty, with a brilliant red head contrasting with black back, white wing patches, and an unstreaked white belly. Male and female are alike and range from seven and a half to almost ten inches in length, with close to a seventeen-inch wingspan.”

Northern Flicker aMy Bounty Hunter brought up a single photo. “This is a Northern Flicker, another year-round Minnesota resident. It is a mid-to-large sized woodpecker, with a length of eleven to fourteen inches and a wingspan of seventeen to twenty-one inches. Unlike the other woodpeckers I have presented, this one will be seen on the ground as often as in a tree. It does possess the characteristic zygodactyl feet of the woodpeckers, but a flicker eats mainly ants and beetles. It often digs them from the ground with its slightly curved bill, but it will also pluck ants and other insects from the crevices in the bark of tree trunks. This bird is a Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker, referring to the yellow shafts on his flight and tail feathers, as opposed to the Red-shafted Northern Flicker found further west. Both the male and female Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers have a black bib, spotted belly, and red nape. The black mustache marks this bird as a male.”

My Bounty Hunter removed his thumb drive and returned to his seat while Sorceress took his place at the computer.

Sorceress close-up“I have only two groups of images to share.” She gestured toward the laptop. “The first, here, are American Goldfinches. At this time of year, they all look rather drab and bedraggled, but in the spring, the males will molt into their breeding plumage of mostly brilliant yellow and black. They are year-round residents of the southern half of Minnesota, but many inexperienced birdwatchers do not recognize them in their dull winter garb.”

Changing images, Sorceress continued. “These, too, are finches, but they are House Finches. We are on the northern border of this bird’s year-round range. While the females are rather plain brown birds with streaky fronts, the males have reddish hues gracing their face and chests.”

Retrieving her thumb drive, Sorceress continued speaking while walking back to her seat. “Both the male American Goldfinch and the male House Finch have beautiful songs, full of twitters, trills, and warbles. I am sure, if anyone were interested, the Gypsy lad could imitate them for you. I cannot.”

Arrogant One full body 2My Arrogant One rose from his chair at the back of the room. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak with both hands. “I have chosen a single bird, a bird with which I strongly identify.”

European Starling (2a)Approaching the laptop, the elf inserted his thumb drive. “This

is the European Starling.” He paused dramatically. “Like me, the starling is a foreigner in this country.” He paused again. “In winter, this dazzling, iridescent, black-and-brown bird is covered with white speckles and dots. In summer, he turns dark and glossy. He is an excellent mimic, copying the calls of up to 20 other species. The European Starling, a year-round resident everywhere in the United States, is an entirely unappreciated bird in this country.”

With that, my Arrogant One grabbed his thumb drive and flounced back to his seat.

“Well!” I stood and looked at my characters. “There were some excellent presentations, along with some great images. This is going to be a difficult contest to judge!”

Gentle readers, will you help me decide on the winners? Who do you think gave the best presentation? Who had the best image? Perhaps we should have first, second, and third place winners in both categories. Leave you choices for winner in the comments and be sure to come back next week. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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CougarThe attack had been so sudden, Talia had had no time to avoid the gargantuan mountain lion that now pinned her to the ground. Struggling mightily against the heavy creature, she managed to get an arm free. Simply by instinct, she made a few arcane gestures with her hand and muttered an incantation under her breath, the same spell she had used on Dragon to transform the mighty beast into a tiny lizard. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2020/10/04/the-search/

Nothing happened. Talia’s eyes widened and she gasped. I forgot! Once I entered the portal and was ushered into this world, my powers were gone!

snarling cougarThe cougar snarled and brought his face closer to Talia’s. Suddenly, he stopped, and his brow furrowed. He sniffed at Talia. “You aren’t the one I’m looking for.” He released Talia and stepped back. “I’m so sorry. You aren’t hurt, are you?”

Before Talia could answer, she heard the badger call out. “Hey, Rafferty! You gone crazy or something? Why’d you attack the puny human?”

Talia saw the big coyote snap at the badger and say something to him. The badger hung his head.

The other animals came running over. The coyote pup and the fox kit helped Talia up. The woman stood there, wobbling on rubbery legs.

The vixen nudged her kit aside and sniffed at Talia. “Here, dear, just lean on me and take a couple of deep breaths. You’ll be okay. I don’t think Rafferty injured you. I don’t smell any blood.” The fox then turned to the cougar, clucking gently at him in admonishment. “Rafferty, dear, what were you thinking?”

“I’m sorry.” He turned toward Talia. “I’m sorry lady. I saw you running after my friends and I thought you were the one who was trying to hurt them.” He threw himself to the ground and covered his face with his huge paws.

The giant coyote walked up to the cougar and put a paw on the other animal’s shoulder. “Rafferty, old buddy, that was a long time ago. That person isn’t here anymore. We’re all safe now.”

Rafferty looked up at the coyote and furrowed his brow again. “Are you sure, Chaz? I thought I saw her just yesterday, at the market.”

“Nah, Raff. You couldn’t have seen her. She’s long gone.” The coyote spoke gently.

Coyote pup and TaliaThe coyote pup whispered in Talia’s ear. “The person Rafferty thought he saw hasn’t been around since long before I was born. Poor cat. I don’t know exactly what happened all those years ago, but it must have been horrible for Raff. They say he hasn’t been quite right in the head since. When he gets really bad like this, my pop takes care of him, gets him the help he needs.”

Talia frowned. “But he’s a cougar. Why would your father help him?”

The pup scoffed and shot Talia a disgusted look. “Because he’s a friend.” The pup shook his head and curled his lip at Talia. “Don’t you help your friends? Isn’t that what you and the dragon are doing?”

Talia looked at the circle of animals and nodded thoughtfully.

Rafferty got up and shook, dust flying off his sleek, golden fur. “So, what were you all doing just now? The human was running after you. Were you playing a game?”

Chaz shook his head. “We’re looking for a little girl, a human child, who is lost.”

Cougar pleading“Oh, the poor little thing. I’ll help look for her! Can I help, Chaz? Can I?” The mountain lion closed his eyes and pleaded with the coyote.

“Sure, buddy, you can help. But she’s very small and delicate, Raff. Remember that if you find her. No claws. Velvet paws, Raff. You gotta use velvet paws.”

The cougar nodded and started jigging around, excited to help. “I’ll remember, Chaz. I promise.” Suddenly he stopped and his eyes widened. “Chaz! We gotta find that poor little thing before she gets hurt! What if that woman finds her? She’ll hurt the little girl, Chaz. She tried to hurt all of you.”

“Now, now, Raff. That’s all over, buddy. The woman’s gone. She’s gone, Raff.” Chaz patted his friend’s shoulder again.

“Are you sure he’s safe?” Talia addressed the foxes in a whisper while never taking her eyes off the mountain lion.

The reynard frowned and growled softly. “Of course, he’s safe. Do you think Chaz and I would allow him near our kids if he wasn’t?”

Talia blushed, but still looked unconvinced.

Rafferty and Chaz“Let’s go, then. Let’s find this poor little thing.” The mountain lion bounded off, only to come racing back. “Chaz? Which way do we go?” He looked confused, his whiskers trembling and his eyes unfocused.

“We’re going to follow the scent trail this way. I’ll take the lead. Why don’t you hang back and keep an eye on the young’uns, and on our human visitor? You can make sure they don’t get separated from the group.”

“Okay, Chaz. I’ll take good care of them.”

“I know you will, buddy. I know you will.” Chaz nuzzled Rafferty before loping off to take his lead at the head of the group.

The giant coyote led off, with Benny, the badger, close behind, still looking contrite over his earlier careless comments to Rafferty, the troubled mountain lion. The reynard and the vixen flanked them, and all four animals kept their noses to the ground.

Behind them, the coyote pup and the fox kit escorted Talia. The three of them kept their heads swiveling, their eyes peering at every ditch, furrow, tree, bush, and clod of dirt they passed.

They also kept a good eye on Rafferty, who trailed along behind. Sometimes the mountain lion strode along with purpose and determination; other times, he lagged, confused and unfocused. Several times he ran up to Talia and sniffed at her, then muttered, “No, you’re not the bad person. She’s not here anymore. She’s gone. Chaz said so.”

After one such incident, the fox kit bowed his head and whispered into Talia’s ear. “He’s been like this as long as I can remember. He’ll be fine for months at a time, then suddenly, something triggers his anxiety, and he imagines this woman around every corner or behind every bush.”

Junior nodded. “That’s why we have to watch him real close right now. If we find this missing child, my dad and Benny will want to get to her first. Rafferty might mistake her for that woman, since he keeps saying he’s seen her recently.”

Talia’s eyes flew wide, and her jaw dropped. She put her hand on the fox kit’s leg. “But your dad said the cat was safe.”

“He is.” The kit nodded confidently. “We make sure he stays that way.”

Raff sees DragonIt was late in the day with the sun dropping fast toward the horizon, when Talia and her group spotted Dragon and her troop coming toward them along the berm. As soon as he spotted Dragon, Rafferty stopped dead in his tracks. “What is that?”

“That’s just a dragon, Raff. She’s kinda like a big lizard with wings. She’s from another part of the world and she’s here with the lady looking for the lost child.” Junior spoke softly to the mountain lion. The cat shook his head as if to clear it, then started to back up, eyes wide and mouth slack.

“Dad? Dad!” Junior called to the big coyote several dozen yards ahead of them.

The big animal immediately sized up the situation and ran to his friend’s side. He spoke to the spooked cougar softly and reassuringly. “Hey, Raff, it’s okay, buddy. She’s a friend. She’s gentle as a kitten. See? The deer and the rabbits like her. She’s fine. Come on, Raff, I’ll introduce you.”

But Rafferty didn’t appear to want to meet the dragon. He threw himself down on the ground and covered his face with his paws. He lay there, trembling, until Dragon walked over and spoke to him.

Dragon approached the giant mountain lion quietly and gently. “Hello. You must be Rafferty. Your friends told me about you. I would consider it a great honor to meet you.”

Slowly, the big cat looked up. He furrowed his brow and tilted his head. “You would be honored to meet me?”

“Indeed, I would.” Dragon stood a few feet away, making herself look as small and nonthreatening as possible.

Rafferty looked at the other animals, who smiled and nodded at him. He slowly rose and timidly edged close enough to Dragon to sniff at her. “You smell funny.”

Dragon chuckled. “I imagine I do. My name is Dragon. It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

BearsBefore the mountain lion could respond, two huge grizzly bears broke through the adjacent brush and lumbered into the field about a dozen yards away. The smaller bear was carrying something tiny in her arms, and the larger one looked around until he saw who he was looking for. “Hey! Hab’itt! Come on over here, buddy! Did you lose something?”

Rafferty’s eyes glazed over. “You caught her! You caught that dangerous woman! Good work!” He started bounding toward the bears, but Dragon tripped him.

“Oh, I am so sorry. Did I do that? Are you injured?” The scaly beast spoke gently, but positioned herself between the cat and the bears, blocking his view.

Marisol woke up as Hab’itt hopped over to the bears. “Hey, there, little one!” The giant rabbit smiled at the small girl, then looked at the bears. “Where did you find her?”

“She was asleep in our berry patch. She told us she had been with you in the carrot field but had wandered away. She was too tired to go back, so I offered to carry her. She fell back asleep halfway here.” The female bear gently placed the child on the ground. “There you go, Marisol.”

The bigger bear was looking over at Dragon and the mountain lion. “Is that Rafferty?”

Hab’itt followed the bear’s gaze and nodded.

The bear huffed and shook his head. “You better take care to keep him away from the child. He’s been a bit twitchy lately. If he’s having another of his episodes, there’s no telling what he might do.”

Hab’itt nodded. “I think he’ll be okay. It looks like Chaz is taking care of him. And there’s a dragon with him, blocking his view of the child. She came with the human female who came looking for Marisol. I don’t think that creature would let anything happen to Marisol.”

The bear nodded. “Well, Marisol, it was nice to meet you. Be sure to stop for a visit any time you’re in the neighborhood.”

Marisol smiled. “I will. And thank you.”

Marisol rubbed the sleep from her eyes and looked toward Dragon and Talia. She looked past them and stared at the cougar. After a few minutes, she frowned. “That big cat with my friends seems to need some help.”

Helping RaffWithout a second’s hesitation, the child skipped over to the other group, with Hab’itt following on her heels. Without a word, Marisol reached up and grabbed Dragon and Talia by the hand. She gazed silently at the mountain lion, who was nearby, shaking uncontrollably. “The cat needs your help. Say the words, Dragon. Say the words, Talia.”

“What words are those, child?” Dragon tilted her head and looked askance at Marisol.

The child pursed her lips. “The words that will help the big cat, of course.”

Dragon shook her head. “We have no power in this world.”

“I know.” Marisol smiled. “Say the words, Dragon, please. You, too, Talia.”

Dragon looked at Talia, who shrugged. Then they both began to intone an incantation. When they were finished, Marisol smiled again. The child tugged Dragon and Talia over to the mountain lion. “Hello, Rafferty. Are you feeling better now?”

Everyone fell silent as the big cat stopped trembling and slowly stood up. The cougar blinked several times rapidly, then squinted at Marisol. “I feel fine, thanks. Do I know you?”

Marisol shook her head.

Rafferty looked at Dragon. “I . . . I don’t know you either, do I?”

“No, you don’t know her, either.” Marisol nudged Dragon. “Well, if you’re feeling better, Rafferty, I think it’s time for me and my friends to go home. My mother will be worried.”

Hab’itt scratched behind his ear with one of his big back paws. “I . . . I guess I’ll take you back to the portal.”

“Thanks, Hab’itt, but I can find the way. I think Dragon and Talia want to talk to me.” Marisol patted the huge rabbit on his leg. “I hope you’ll come to our world . . . I mean our part of the world . . . and visit again sometime. I won’t tell my mommy if you eat any of her carrots.”

After a round of goodbyes and best wishes, the trio was on the way. As they began walking back to the portal, Marisol yawned. “Dragon, could you carry me?”

“Of course, little one.” The huge beast held out her arms, and soon Marisol was snuggled against her.

The early-rising full moon bathed the path with light, but Dragon still moved slowly so she would not trip and disturb the child in her arms.

As if sensing the beast’s concern, the child giggled. “It’s okay. I’m awake. We can talk if you’d like.”

Dragon furrowed her brow. “Yes, child, I would like to talk with you. Marisol, how did that spell work? Talia and I have no power here. I cannot even shapeshift.”

Marisol shrugged. “Your power is still within you; you just can’t call it forth. So, I did it for you. I called forth the power for you and for Talia.”

Dragon’s eyes widened, and she exchanged surprised glances with Talia. “But how did you know the mountain lion needed help?”

Saw his heartMarisol tilted her head and chewed her lower lip for several long moments before answering. “That’s harder to explain.” She paused again, choosing her words carefully. “I could see his heart.”

“You could see his what?” Talia furrowed her brow.

Marisol squirmed a bit in Dragon’s arms to better see Talia. “Well, you know how you say of someone who is kind and decent he has a good heart?”

Talia nodded.

“And if someone has lost someone he loves, you say he has a broken heart?”

Again, Talia nodded.

“Well, I could see Rafferty’s heart. I could see it was a good heart, and I could see it had been broken. I could see he needed help.”

Talia’s jaw dropped. “You could see the animal’s inner essence.”

Dragon gaped at the child as well. “That is a step beyond seeing a shapeshifter’s true nature. I have never known anyone who could see the very soul of a creature that clearly.”

Going homeMarisol shrugged, as if it were no big deal to her. She snuggled close to Dragon again and sighed. “I like that place. It was just like Hab’itt said – it’s a place of inclusion and acceptance and peace and tolerance, a place where everyone cares about everyone else, and no one cares if someone is different. I think I’d like to live in a place like that.”

Talia nodded and patted Marisol’s arm. “Perhaps you can, someday, child. Perhaps our world can be like that someday, if we all work hard enough to make it so.”

Be sure to come back next week and see what is happening with my little band of displaced characters. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Tense Moments

Tense Moments

Shock, screamSomething ahead of them on the trail screamed, a prolonged, blood-curdling scream. Before the trio could react, another scream followed, louder, shriller, and more heart-stopping than the first. Then the sound of angry voices ensued.

Dragon and Talia remained frozen for several moments, eyes wide and hearts pounding. Then they leaped into action and began to race toward the ruckus. A dozen strides later, their companion, a giant rabbit, hopped in front of them, forcing them to an abrupt halt.

Hopper chuckled. “No need for alarm. I recognize the voices. This is a common occurrence.”

Still chuckling, Hopper led Dragon and Talia toward the source of the sound that had continued and intensified. Seconds later, they rounded a bend in the path and stopped, watching the scene unfold. Talia’s jaw dropped and she turned deathly pale as she saw the field full of giant animals.

What was screaming

“Ooooooooooooooooooooo! Ooooooooooooooooooooo!” A large badger was screaming at the top of its lungs.

“Ooooooooooooooooooooo! Ooooooooooooooooooooo!” A young coyote joined in the cacophony.

Father and son coyotes“Stop it, Junior! You’re giving me a headache!” The larger coyote next to the howling youngster snapped at him, then glared at the badger. “And you stop it, too, Benny. You’re such a diva.”

Fawn“Yeah, Benny!” A spotted fawn lifted her head from the basket of carrots and spoke around a mouthful of food. “Don’t be such a diva! Just stop already!”

Derick on Benny's tailBenny didn’t stop. “Ooooooooooooooooooooo! Ooooooooooooooooooooo! Get him off my tail. Get him off my tail!”

Coyote and foxesThe family of foxes started yipping along with Benny’s howling until the coyote silenced them with a hard stare.

The fawn looked over at the large deer. “Dad, get off Benny’s tail, will ya?”

The deer looked down, a confused expression on his face, but he did not move.

Twitchy the rabbitA small, two-toned rabbit sighed, looked up at the deer and shook his head, a look of disgust on his furry little face. “Derrick, would you please get off Benny’s tail before he damages our hearing with his infernal caterwauling? You’re always dashing around and never watching where you’re going. You’ve stomped on my paws more times than I can count, so I know it hurts like the dickens. Benny isn’t being histrionic.”

Derick the Deer“I’m sorry, Benny. I’m sorry, Twitchy. I’m sorry, everyone.” Derrick the deer finally seemed to understand. He carefully moved his hoof off Benny’s tail, only to place it dangerously close to a large rabbit’s front paw, a rabbit Dragon recognized as Hab’itt. The rabbit jumped back, narrowly avoiding knocking over another rabbit who had been sitting next to him, munching on some carrot greens. “Sorry, Hab’itt.” Derrick hung his head.

Habitt and Bracken“Oops. Sorry, Bracken!” Hab’itt steadied the other rabbit he had bumped into, as he glared at the clumsy deer.

Hopper laughed and moved lazily onto the field. “What a sorry bunch we have here today!”

brothers 2“Hey, Hopper! Where have you been, you big ox? We got tired of waiting, so we started the picnic without you.” Hab’itt hopped over to greet his brother with an affectionate nose-rub.

“Hey, you little runt! I hope you saved some carrots for me!” Hopper returned his brother’s greeting.

Suddenly, Hab’itt noticed his brother’s companions. “Oh, hello!” He cocked his head and sniffed at Dragon. “I met you while I was on my journey, didn’t I?”


Dragon nodded.

Talia closeup 2Rabbit 2“I don’t think I met you, though.” Hab’itt looked closely at Talia and sniffed at her. “I’m Hab’itt. Are you with the dragon?” He held out a paw to Dragon’s companion.

The woman nodded. “Pleased to meet you. I’m Talia.”

Dragon noted that her companion nodded affably as she shook the rabbit’s paw. Talia had evidentially become much more comfortable around large, talking rabbits since their initial encounter with Hopper, but Dragon saw that the woman nonetheless kept a careful eye on the other animals closing in around them.

“What brings the two of you here?” Hab’itt’s ears moved around like two elongated radar dishes as he spoke.

“They’re looking for a human child, a little girl who’s lost. They thought you may have brought her here, or that she followed you here without your knowledge.” Hopper twitched his nose.

Marisol 1Hab’itt thumped one back foot and gave Dragon a questioning look. “Marisol?”

Dragon nodded.

“Well, I didn’t bring her here, and I didn’t notice her following me.” Hab’itt called to the others, “Anyone see a human child around here?”

There was a lot of head shaking, and more than a few nos.

“How long has she been missing?” Hab’itt turned his attention back to Dragon and Talia.

Dragon frowned. “Her mother has not seen her since before the child followed you to our yard. I am not certain how long ago that is in your world. It was after dark of the day we met you when we tracked you and Marisol to the portal, but it was midday here when we emerged in this world a few moments later.”

Difference in time

Hab’itt nodded. “Yes, we have noticed time proceeds at different rates in different parts of the world.”

“Different parts of the world?” Talia furrowed her brow.

“Oh, that’s right. You weren’t there when I explained it to the dragon.” Hab’itt frowned. “You define world differently than we do. To me and my kind, there is only one world. Wherever there is life, it is part of that one world. You believe the portals connect one world with another world. We believe they connect one part of the singular world with another part.”

Talia raised an eyebrow but nodded her understanding.

Hab’itt scratched behind an ear with one giant back paw. “Getting back to how long the child’s been missing, I’m not sure if it’s still yesterday back where you came from, or if it’s a week from next Verday.” He laughed, indicating he was just joking.

Hopper frowned and twitched his ears. “This is no joking matter. A mother is frantic over her lost child. If the little girl is, indeed, in this part of the world, we need to find her and return her to her home.”

Hab’itt looked contrite, his ears flat against his neck and back, his eyes downcast. “You’re right. It’s nothing to joke about.” He turned toward Dragon. “You said you tracked both me and Marisol to the portal?”

Dragon nodded. “I could not tell precisely how much time had expired between your passage through the portal and when Marisol went through. If you did not go at the same time, if you did not take her with you, she was just moments behind you.”

“And you picked up her scent again on this side?” Hab’itt scrunched up his face as Dragon again nodded. “If she were that close, I should have seen her. At the very least, I should have heard her.” He wiggled his ears back and forth.

Priceless image“Well, the old bloodhound there will just have to keep tracking.” Talia pointed to Dragon, who gave her a stern stare as smoke started to drift from her nose.

“We’ll help.” The coyotes and the foxes raced over. “It should be easy to pick up the scent of a human. Let’s just sniff you a bit, so we won’t follow your scent.”

Talia blinked rapidly at the advancing animals and started backing away. “Uh, that won’t be necessary. Not that we don’t appreciate the offer, but I’m sure we can manage on our own.”

“We cannot.” Dragon frowned at Talia.

“But . . . but . . .” Talia stammered.

Coyote daddy“What?” The adult coyote fixed her with a steely stare. “You have something against coyotes or foxes?”

“Well, you’re carnivores,” she blurted. “I’m small enough compared to all of you, but Marisol wouldn’t even make one good-sized bite!”

Junior ewwwww“Ewwwwwwwwwwwww!” The coyote pup, sitting at his father’s side, made a gagging sound. “Carnivores? You think we eat meat? Gross!”

Dragon rounded on Talia, lecturing her. “This is not your world . . . or your part of the one world. Things are different here.” She turned to the animals milling around and shooting annoyed glances at the strangers in their midst. “Forsooth! My companion meant no disrespect. She is just ignorant of your customs and dietary proclivities. Any assistance you can render would be greatly appreciated.”

Talia with flaming cheeksTalia shuffled her feet and blushed scarlet. “Of course, if you say we need their help, I welcome it. But I thought your sense of smell was sufficient for the task.”

Dragon shook her head. “Under normal circumstances, I would have no trouble tracking Marisol. However, her scent trail goes off in several different directions.”

“How is that possible?” Talia furrowed her brow and raked her hand through her hair.

The young coyote rolled his eyes. “The child you are looking for evidently traipsed around this area, going this way and that, crossing and re-crossing her own trail as she went. She was probably exploring or attempting to remain hidden.” The pup gave Talia a superior look.

The older coyote nodded. “Junior’s right. So, I suggest we divide into two groups, each following the trail in a different direction. Dragon, you are obviously the one with the best sense of smell. You should take the rabbits and the deer with you. Since the badger, the foxes, and my son and I all have exceptional olfaction, we will go in a different direction. We will take the human female with us, as she is known to the little girl and will be able to reassure the child she will be safe.”

“But who is going to reassure me that I will be safe?” Talia muttered under her breath, giving the animals a nervous, sidelong glance.

“We also have great auditory modality,” the pup whispered to Talia with a sharp bark that passed for a laugh.

Reynard and coyote pupThe reynard walked over to the coyote pup and nudged him. He spoke to the youngster in a loud stage whisper. “Junior! Didn’t your parents teach you not to play with your food?” He gave Talia a wide-mouthed grin.

“Dear, don’t make her nervous!” The vixen frowned at her mate.

Too late! Talia thought, as she edged away from the group. She called to Dragon. “Are you sure I shouldn’t come with you?”

Dragon gave Talia a dismissive wave of her taloned hand and started off, leading her group along the scent trail to the west. The animals in Talia’s group headed off to the northeast.

“Come along, Tidbit . . .er, I mean Talia.” The big coyote sneered at her and started walking slowly and deliberately across the field, nose to the ground. After a few paces, he glanced back over his shoulder at Talia, rooted to the spot. He growled. “Do try to keep up!”

Despite her rubbery legs and pounding heart, once Talia started moving, she had but little trouble sprinting along with the long-legged giants in the pack, until something bolted from the hedgerow. It crashed headlong into her and almost knocked her senseless. She found herself flat on her back on the hard ground, looking up into the slavering maw of a giant mountain lion.


Now what? Is Talia about to meet her end? What happened to all her powers? Will Dragon be able to find Marisol and return her safely to her own home? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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The Search Continues

The Search Continues

End of the branch disappeared“What is it?” Talia was pale and wide-eyed. She stared at the tree branch Dragon was holding, the tip of which had vanished when Dragon had thrust it at the spot where Talia had been about to walk. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2020/10/04/the-search/

Dragon frowned. “It appears to be a portal. That is, a gateway or conduit between worlds.”

“A portal?” Talia peered at the air swirling around the end of the branch, like the ripples from a tiny pebble dropped into a mirror-calm lake. “So, what do we do now?”

Dragon held up her clawed index finger, indicating Talia should give her a minute to investigate. Then the huge reptile pulled the branch back from the portal and examined it. The tip was still intact and showed no signs of damage. Tossing the branch aside, she walked around the portal, giving the area a wide berth. She carefully studied the ground and sniffed all around the area. Finally, the beast turned to Talia. “I see no footprints on the far side of the portal; nor do I detect any scent of Marisol or Hab’itt past this point. It is obvious they went through the portal. Methinks the only course of action left to us is to follow them.”

“Fo . . . fo . . . follow them? Through the portal?

Dragon nodded.

Talia took a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed at the beads of sweat that were forming on her forehead and dripping down into her eyes. “Errr . . . I really think Christine would be better suited for such an endeavor.”

Dragon knew the woman was referring to her partner, the other half of the team that managed the Chris-Tal Clear Metaphysical Store. “Christine is not here. You are.” Smoke started to drift from Dragon’s snout.

“She could be here in nothing flat. Just let me call her.” Talia fumbled for her cell phone.going through portal

“No time.” Dragon clamped a taloned hand around Talia’s wrist and pulled her into the portal.

Talia closed her eyes and held her breath as Dragon tugged her along. The trip was short, just like walking through an open door. One second, they were in one world, three seconds and an equal number of steps later, they were in another.

“Well!” Talia smoothed her jacket and looked around. “That wasn’t at all what I was expecting.”

“Oh?” Dragon looked at her questioningly.

Talia shrugged. “In the movies and on TV, when people go through a portal like this, they fall, or they float, and it takes a long time for them to emerge on the other side.”

Dragon nodded. “Some portals are like that. Conduits can be exceptionally long and take a great deal of time and effort to navigate. Gateways, on the other hand, are simple doorways between two adjacent worlds.”

Talia nodded. “I see. Well, now that we stepped through the door into this world, what do we do? How do we find Marisol?”

“We continue our previous endeavor. We look.”

looking upAs she was saying that, Dragon noticed that Talia was already looking. Looking up. And up. And gulping.

“Haa . . . haa . . . Hab’itt?” Talia’s voice squeaked and cracked as she looked up at a giant rabbit.

Hab’itt?” The immense animal towering over Talia threw his head back and laughed. “Do I look like that little runt?”

Dragon raised an eyebrow. “Hmmmm. It disappoints me to hear such words in the homeland of which Hab’itt spoke so fondly, the land to which he longed to return.”

“Oh?” The rabbit gave Dragon a long look. “And why is that?” He sat back and twitched his ears at her.

“Hab’itt spoke of a way of life enjoyed by his kind, a way of life marked by inclusion, tolerance, acceptance, and peace. Such flippant and discourteous speech, such name-calling, does not seem to fit into that idyllic picture.” Dragon wrinkled her nose at the big rabbit and smoke began to drift from her nostrils. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2020/09/20/an-interesting-encounter/

The rabbit laughed again. “Hab’itt described our homeland accurately. And the name-calling to which you refer is just a pet name, a sign of affection for my little brother.”

Dragon raised an eyebrow again and folded her arms over her chest. “Oh?”

Brothers“Indeed.” The rabbit smiled warmly. “I call him the little runt; he calls me the big ox.” Seeing Dragon remained unconvinced, he chuckled. “Have you never had a relative or friend who used a term of endearment that, to others, seemed unkind?”

Dragon blushed, thinking of the times the Old Dwarf had called her beastie. “Forsooth! You make a good point.” She reached out a clawed hand. “I am Dragon. This is Talia.”

The rabbit took her hand as best he could in his massive paw. “I am most pleased to make your acquaintance. I am Hopper.” He shook Dragon’s hand, then extended his paw to Talia, who took it a bit apprehensively.

“Our pleasure.”

“You are strangers to our land. Did you come to see my brother, or just to see the land he spoke of?” Hopper smoothed his whiskers with his front paws as he spoke.

Marisol 1Dragon shook her head. “Actually, we seek another from our land. We believe a small child either accompanied your brother, or followed him, to your land. We need to return her to her own home and family.”

Carrot Patch“A child, you say. Hmmm. Last I saw Hab’itt, he was with a group of friends in the carrot patch. I saw no small child with them.” Hopper looked from Dragon to Talia and back, then scratched behind one ear with a huge back paw. “What species is this child?”

“She is human.” Dragon saw a strange look on Talia’s face, and added, “to the best of my knowledge. At least, her appearance is that of a human.”

Hopper nodded. “Well, a human would stand out in these parts. We don’t have any, you see. But, of course, a young’un could be easily overlooked if she kept quiet. A small creature can find all sorts of places to hide. Not right here, of course.” The rabbit gestured around at the field in which they were standing amid the remains of grain stalks that had been mown for straw.

Nothing could hide here

Dragon nodded. “Forsooth, nothing larger than a small songbird could hide in this stubble.”

“But there, that’s a different story.” The rabbit nodded to the east. “If the human child you seek has entered that savannah, finding her could prove most difficult.” Hopper thumped one hind leg nervously and smoothed his whiskers again.

Dragon and Talia followed the Hopper’s gaze. The landscape beyond the agricultural field was dominated by thick grasses, ferns, and flowering plants rising shoulder-high to the giant rabbit in some places and dotted by ancient trees with girths large enough for even Hopper to hide behind.

Talia tapped her chin with one finger and noticed her fingernail had broken. “Shoot!” Frowning, she fished an emery board from her pocket and filed down the offending nail while Dragon rolled her eyes at the woman. When Talia finished, she turned and addressed Dragon. “I was thinking . . .”

“Always a difficult undertaking for you.” Dragon raised an eyebrow and smirked.

Talia angry 2Talia scowled at Dragon before repeating herself. “I was thinking . . . maybe you could fly over that area and take a look.”

Dragon furrowed her brow. “The vegetation there is so thick, I doubt I would be able to see Marisol from overhead.” The beast shook her head. “No, let me see if I can see her footprints or pick up her scent here in this field.”

Sidestepping the portal, Dragon looked closely at the ground. She grunted and shook her head. “This stubble makes it difficult to follow anyone’s trail.” She started sniffing. “Ah, yes! The child has been here, and rather recently.” She sniffed a few more times, turning her head this way and that. “Here. She went in this direction.” She pointed to the north.Priceless image

“You do make a good bloodhound.” Talia smirked.

Dragon glared at the woman, and smoke drifted from her nose. “Be glad I do. A keen nose may prove the only way to find Marisol.”

She turned her back on Talia and addressed the rabbit once more. “What is in that direction?”

Hopper twitched his nose and thumped his back foot again. “That is the way to the carrot patch. Perhaps the child did accompany my brother.”

Dragon nodded. “Or she followed him without his knowledge.”

Talia snorted. “Followed him or went with him, what does it matter? Let’s just go and get her.”

Watch the portalThe woman stepped forward, but Hopper grabbed her, snagging the collar of her jacket with his teeth and pulling her back. “Watch out for the portal!”

Blushing furiously and mopping the sweat from her brow, Talia murmured a thank you and carefully followed Hopper and Dragon.

The trio crossed the field to the eastern edge, then walked north along a berm for close to a quarter hour before Hopper led them onto a small path. “This way. The carrot patch is about a half-mile further on this path.”

What passed this wayDragon took a deep breath, trying to identify Marisol’s scent among the many around that area. After a few moments of sniffing, she nodded. “The child has passed this way.” She frowned, as she continued sniffing. “So have a number of other creatures – Hab’itt, several other rabbits, a deer, a family of foxes, a badger, and a band of coyotes.”

Talia blanched. “We best hurry.”

Suddenly, they heard a piercing scream from up ahead.

Piercing scream

Who screamed, and why? Is Marisol in danger? Be sure to join us again next week to see what is happening. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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The Search

The Search

Talia and Dray leaving houseTalia dashed from the house, dragging Dray. The two women made their way down the flagstone walkway, Dray tripping and stumbling as she was tugged along. When they reached the street, Dray stopped dead and jerked her arm free from Talia’s grasp. “Wait! Where are we going?”

“To Marisol’s.”

“Why?” Dray rubbed her wrist where Talia had been holding her in a vice-like grip.

Talia frowned. “Didn’t you say Marisol and some giant, talking rabbit left here together and were supposedly going back to her yard?”

Dray nodded.

“Then, obviously, that’s why we’re going there.” Talia rolled her eyes and shook her head at Dray.

Ferrari“Are we not taking your vehicle?” Dray gestured toward a flashy red Ferrari parked haphazardly at the curb.

“No. I don’t want Bastina to know we’re there. So, stay close to me and be quiet now. I’ll cast a spell of concealment over us.” Talia raised her hand and started to mumble an incantation.

Dray shook her head. “I think we should let Bastina know we are looking for Marisol. She is worried about her daughter.”

Talia angry 2Talia scowled. “You should know better than to interrupt when a spell is being cast. Hush!”

Ignoring Talia’s admonishment, Dray continued talking. “But Bastina . . .”

Talia cut her off. “We told Marge and Miles to tell Bastina we’re looking for Marisol. We don’t have time right now to deal with a frantic mother.”

She raised her hand again and resumed mumbling.

Dray wrinkled her brow. “Bastina will be more reassured if we are the ones to explain what is happening . . .”

Scowling, Talia grabbed Dray by the shoulders and gave her a shake. “I said you should know better than to interrupt when a spell is being cast. Hush!

smoke poured from Dragon 2Dray shimmered as she shapeshifted back to her true form. The angry dragon loomed over Talia and growled, black smoke spewing from her snout. “It is not wise to maltreat a wyrm, or to order one quiet.”

Talia’s eyes narrowed. “It isn’t wise to interrupt me when I’m trying to cast a spell. Some vainglorious reptile might just find herself transformed into a puny lizard and dropped down the nearest storm drain.”

Dragon snarled. “You dare not try; and if you did, you might not survive long enough to regret it.”

Talia scoffed. “Oh, please! Do you really think you could take me on?” She chuckled. “If we had the time, I would love to accommodate you. But right now, it is imperative that we find Marisol. So, get over yourself and come along . . . quietly!”

Gecko in puddleFiery dragonDragon roared, flames erupting from her mouth. The next thing she knew, she was a tiny lizard, swimming with all her might while trying not to drown in a tiny puddle full of fallen leaves next to the curb. Before she was half-way across the water, she was once again a dragon.

Momentarily stunned, she stood gaping at Talia, who crossed her arms over her chest and smirked.

Now can we go . . . quietly?”

Dragon narrowed her eyes and continued to stare at Talia for several long minutes. Finally, she nodded curtly and quietly followed Talia down the street toward Marisol’s house as the smug woman raised her hand and mumbled the incantation that would keep them hidden.

When they reached Marisol’s house, Dragon reached out and clamped a taloned hand firmly on Talia’s shoulder, causing the woman to wince. “Now . . . if you are quite certain you have successfully cast the spell of concealment . . . let us talk.” She raised her other hand traffic-cop style and silenced Talia when the woman opened her mouth to reply. “First, let me say this – do not ever again attempt to cast a spell on me.”

Attempt?” Talia snickered. “I thought I did a lot more than attempt. I thought I was quite successful.”

“For a brief moment at most, and then only because you caught me off guard. Believe me when I say that will never happen again.” Dragon narrowed her eyes, and smoke drifted from her nostrils.

Reached Marisol's house“Fine. Sorry.” Talia shrugged and snickered again, clearly not sorry at all. She attempted to move, but Dragon’s claws in the woman’s shoulder kept her pinned to the spot.

“Now, precisely what are we doing here?” Dragon scowled at Talia.

The woman sighed. “We’ve been through this. Do try to keep up. We are here because you said Marisol and some giant, talking rabbit were supposedly coming back here.”

When Dragon simply blinked and said nothing, Talia rolled her eyes and continued. “If they came back here, you should be able to track them from here, either magically or with your keen sense of smell.”

“Suppose they did not return here? Should we not have started tracking them from Mistress Writer’s yard, the last place I saw them?”

Talia scoffed. “I doubt the rabbit would have taken her anywhere else before coming back here. Even a child her age would be suspicious if the creature suddenly suggested a different destination.”

Dragon took a few moments to consider this before nodding. “So, do you believe the rabbit kidnapped Marisol upon their return here, or do you believe Marisol’s curiosity compelled the child to follow the rabbit when he continued on his journey?”

Now it was Talia’s turn to consider. She furrowed her brow and chewed her lower lip before answering. “I’m not sure. Did the rabbit seem like a kidnapper to you?”

Marisol and rabbitDragon shook her head. “No. Hab’itt seemed too open and too sensitive to engage in a violent transgression.”

Talia raised an eyebrow and giggled. “Hab’itt? Hab’itt the rabbit? You’ve got to be kidding.”

“That was the name he gave.” Dragon did not seem amused. “Do try to stay focused. Now, if Hab’itt did not kidnap Marisol, that leaves the distinct possibility that the curious child merely followed him, perhaps becoming lost somewhere along the way.”

Talia, doing her best to stifle her giggles, nodded. “We better check out this yard carefully and see if we can pick up their tracks.”

Dragon frowned. “It seems to me you have sufficient magic to track them yourself. I resent being dragged along to be used like a bloodhound.”

Priceless image“Bloodhound?” Talia giggled again. “Thank you for that priceless image. I admit that was a part of why I brought you along, but I was actually thinking more of having a comrade-in-arms, should the need arise for self-defense.”

Dragon scoffed. “You expect a murderous confrontation? From a rabbit?”

Marisol and rabbit“A six-foot-tall, talking rabbit.” Talia raised an eyebrow and gave Dragon a steely look. “I don’t suppose you noticed if he was disguised, magically or otherwise.”

Dragon shook her head. “I did observe he was not an illusion. Beyond that, I really did not examine him. I suppose he could have been hiding his true nature, but I should think Marisol would have seen through that. She saw him, as did I, as a large rabbit, capable of speech and coherent thought.”

Talia nodded. “Then let’s take a look around the yard and see if we can find any clues.”

It took about forty-five minutes for Dragon and Talia to thoroughly examine the acre-and-a-half of lawn and flower beds between the back of the house and the fence adjacent to the patch of woods to the north, but they uncovered no clues.

“Did you pick up their scent anywhere?” Talia pushed a lock of hair out of her eyes and squinted at Dragon.

Dragon made a gesture of frustration. “Marisol’s scent is everywhere, which I expected since it is her yard and she plays here daily. Hab’itt’s scent is here as well, but I am unable to determine where he entered the property, or whence he left.”

Talia frowned and tapped her chin with a perfectly manicured nail. “Maybe we should try going a couple feet past the end of the yard and see if you can find their scent out there. That might point us in the right direction.”

Going through the fenceDragon nodded and clambered awkwardly over the split-rail fence at the back of the yard. Talia squeezed through the rough wooden rails. “Darn! I snagged my blouse on the fence.”

Examining the damage to her expensive silk shirt, Talia failed to watch where she was going. She shrieked as Dragon grabbed her roughly and jerked her back.

Talia pulled away from Dragon and rounded on the beast. “Why did you grab me like that?” She glared at Dragon, who ignored her and focused on something behind the woman.

Talia turned around and followed Dragon’s gaze. She furrowed her brow. “What is it?”

Dragon picked up a fallen branch. She walked over to the spot Talia had been when Dragon had pulled her back. Carefully, the beast raised the branch about waist-high and thrust it forward. The end of the branch disappeared.

End of the branch disappeared

Dragon looked at Talia. “I daresay we have found whence they left Marisol’s yard.”

Talia’s eyes bulged. “And whence they left this world.”

What has happened to Marisol? Is she in danger? Will Dragon and Talia be able to find her and return her home? Come back next week for more of this exciting adventure. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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The Drama Never Stops

The Drama Never Stops

Dinner was over. I was on my way to my office to pick up where I had left off after lunch, trying to come up with ideas for my weekly blog. Hopefully, this time there would be no unexpected interruptions.

Talia at the doorI was walking down the stairs and was on the landing by the front door when the doorbell rang several times in quick succession, followed by someone banging urgently on the storm door. Quickly opening the door, I was surprised to see Talia, one-half of the duo that owned and managed the Chris-Tal Clear Metaphysical Store and the person who was instructing our young neighbor, Marisol, in the control of her mysterious power. In the cool evening air that wafted through the open door, I could feel the heat of anger radiating from Talia. Her face was red, her nostrils were flaring, her eyebrows were drawn down in a severe frown, and her hands were balled into fists. She pushed her way past me into the house without even a hello or a by your leave.

“Where is she?” Talia crossed her arms over her chest and tapped a foot impatiently.

I frowned. “Hello, Talia. Wow! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? It’s so nice to see you again. I’m fine; thanks for asking. How have you been?” I hoped my sarcasm would take some of the wind out of the angry woman’s sails.

“What? Never mind. Where is she?” The furious scowl told me I had done nothing to deter Talia.

I sighed and raised an eyebrow. “Where is who, Talia?”

The woman glared at me with so much venom in her expression, I thought if looks could kill, I’d be six feet under!

“Where is Dray?” Talia’s mouth twisted as if the name left a sour taste in her mouth.

Dragon at top of stairs“I am here.” Talia and I turned around and looked up toward the voice coming from the top of the stairs. However, instead of the delicate and exotic maiden, Dray, there loomed Dragon, Dray’s true self. There was a menacing look on her reptilian face, and she flexed her clawed hands threateningly.

smoke poured from Dragon 2Before Talia could open her mouth, Dragon stormed down the stairs. “How dare you push your way into this house? How dare you speak to the Mistress that way?” Acrid smoke poured from Dragon’s nostrils, and she bared her teeth at Talia.

Talia angry 2“How dare you undermine the work I have been doing all these months with Marisol?” If Talia was intimidated by a snarling, smoke-breathing, ten-foot-tall dragon, she was certainly hiding it well.

Dragon scoffed. “Undermine? How have I undermined anything?” The huge beast waved away Talia’s reply. “It does not matter. You still have no right to barge into this house and . . .”

stunt“I have every right. Marisol’s training has been substantially set back by that incredibly brainless, idiotic, shortsighted stunt of yours at her birthday party. Why in the name of all that’s magic would you deliberately allow the child to see your true nature after I provided you a spell powerful enough to prevent that? And why would you purposely allow her to see the illusory horses after I gave you a spell of concealment strong enough to keep them hidden from her? I won’t even ask what you were thinking when you allowed Marisol to ride an illusory Pegasus!” Talia’s voice had risen in pitch and volume with each word, until she sounded much like my Arrogant One throwing a fit.

“I saw no harm in any of those actions.” Dragon, still fuming, spoke in a dangerously low voice, close to a growl.

Talia threw her hands in the air. “That’s the problem. You saw no harm. That’s because you don’t understand what we are dealing with. You don’t know what Marisol is, or what the child must do to control her power.” Talia was standing almost toe-to-toe with Dragon now, glowering up at the snarling beast looming over her, and the woman showed no signs of backing down.

“Uh, honey?”

MilesWe all whirled around to see my husband, Miles, standing at the top of the stairs.

“What is it, sweetheart?” I figured he was going to complain about the noisy altercation.

As he spoke to me, Miles kept a wary eye on Dragon and Talia, but they were not the cause of the concern in his voice. “Uh, our neighbor, Bastina, is on the phone. Is her daughter here?”

“Marisol?” I shook my head. “No, she’s not here now. She was with us earlier, in the backyard. It was just a little after lunchtime, and she didn’t stay long. She said she was going home.”

Miles furrowed his brow and rubbed the back of his neck. “You’re sure she said she was going home? Bastina says she hasn’t seen her daughter since lunch, and she sounds frantic.”

Marisol and rabbitDragon replied. “Marisol left here with the rabbit. She was going to walk with him back to her yard.”

“Rabbit? What rabbit?” Talia’s eyes widened, and she licked her lips nervously.

Dragon looked down her nose at the woman and snarled again. “Not that it is any of your business, but we had a visitor today, a rabbit. Marisol followed him here from her backyard. They left here together, to return to her yard.”

Normal rabbitTalia paled. “Are you talking about a normal rabbit, maybe someone’s pet or a backyard variety of wild rabbit?”

Six-foot-tall rabbit on gazebo“No, as a matter of fact, he was a six-foot-tall, talking rabbit.” I frowned. “Why? Is he a friend of yours?”

Miles cleared his throat. “Ah, honey? I hate to interrupt, but what should I tell Bastina?”

Before I could answer, Talia grabbed Dragon by the arm. “We have to go. Now.

Dragon blinked, then responded to the alarm in Talia’s voice. The beast lost no time shapeshifting into her familiar alter ego, Dray, and Talia immediately dragged her toward the door.

Talia and Dray leavingAs the two figures left the house, Talia called back over her shoulder. “Tell Bastina that Dray and I will find Marisol. And don’t mention the rabbit!”

Where is Marisol? Will Talia and Dray be able to find her? Why did Talia become so nervous at the mention of a rabbit? For these answers and more, be sure to come back again next week. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Yet Another BIG Problem

Yet Another BIG Problem

Dragon in front of fireplaceI stopped short as I was walking past the open door to the conference room and did a double-take. There was Dragon, curled up in front of her illusory fireplace. The fire was roaring, and the leaping flames should have been enough to transform the entire house into a sauna, as had often been the case in the past. Yet, I realized, I was perfectly comfortable.

I scratched my head, and cautiously entered the room. The temperature felt only slightly higher on that side of the doorway than it had in the hallway. I furrowed my brow and walked across the room toward Dragon and her fireplace. As I approached, the temperature rose exponentially, until I found myself bathed in sweat as I reached Dragon’s side.

Smoke rose from her snoutDragon opened one eye and glared at me. Without preamble, she immediately began complaining. “What is wrong with your Minnesota weather? It is only early September, and already the temperature has fallen into what your heat-measuring devices register as the thirties.” Angry black smoke rose from her snout. “The thirties! That is winter weather!”

I laughed. “Yes, I saw the temperature this morning was only 36 degrees Fahrenheit. But that was a fluke.”

Dragon scoffed. “A fluke? You mean an aberration? An anomaly? Not something normal for this time of year? I have a better name for it, human! An abomination! Your Minnesota weather is an abomination!

Comfortable autumn weatherI stifled a chuckle and tried to look sympathetic. “I know, I know. I’m not happy about it, either. But it’s not going to last. According to the weather forecast, we should be enjoying some extremely comfortable autumn weather for the next several weeks, with temperatures ranging into the high seventies most days, and only dipping to the mid forties overnight.”

“Well, that is somewhat better.” Dragon closed her eyes, but continued grumbling under her breath, and smoke continued to drift from her nostrils.

I chuckled and walked away. Stopping by the door, I called back to Dragon. “By the way, I must commend you. You seem to have found a way to bask by your fireplace without roasting the other inhabitants of the house.”

Dragon with smoke bubblesDragon turned blue, and the smoke started dripping like bubbles from her nose, as typically happened when she was embarrassed. “Errr, yes . . . well . . . when Ollie visited, he did suggest it would be only polite of me to find a way to control the heat . . . you know, out of consideration for my fellow characters and for you and Master Miles.”

Ollie (10)I smiled. “I knew I liked that big Old English Sheepdog!”

Mmmmm so do IDragon slowly morphed to her favored hue of deep red, and a dreamy look settled on her face. A silly smile pulled at her reptilian lips, as she nodded. “Mmmmmm . . . so do I.”

I shook my head. “Well, on that note, I think I’ll go up and see if Miles has lunch ready yet. Are you coming?”

* * *

Old Dwarf chasing rabbitDragon in front of fireplaceAfter lunch, Dragon returned to her fireplace, and I retired to my office to try to come up with some ideas for my weekly blog. As I gazed absently out the window while turning over several ideas in my mind, I saw my Old Dwarf chasing after a rabbit. He was threatening the creature with his axe, and even through the closed window, I could hear the old rapscallion cussing up a storm.

“I be gittin’ ye this time, ye consarned, ornery liddle critter, jest ye be seein’ iffin I do na! It ne’er be makin’ no nevermind how oft I be tellin’ ye ta be stayin’ outten Mistress Writer’s carrot patch, ye al’ays be sneakin’ in dere an’ be snitchin’ tha bestest carrots! Wale, thet be endin’ right here and now, ye furry little scobberlotcher! Ye cumberground! Ye quisby! Ye useless liddle smell-feast!”

I sighed and tried to ignore the kerfuffle, knowing full-well my Old Dwarf would never actually harm the rabbit. Both dwarf and rabbit seemed to enjoy these routine chases, the rabbit often stopping and waiting for his pursuer if the dwarf fell behind. The rabbit always managed to stay out of range of the dwarf’s weapon, whether by the critter’s own speed and skill, or by the fact that it really was just a game to the dwarf.

However, today’s hoo-hah was too loud and too prolonged to ignore. I left my office and headed to the backyard.

“Hey! Are you tormenting that poor, defenseless, little animal again?” I winked at my Old Dwarf, who abandoned the chase and sat down on the steps of the gazebo, huffing and puffing.

“Nay, lass! Ye be knowin’ thet I do na be harmin’ ’em none. I jus’ be ’splainin’ ta ’em thet he should na be pilferin’ all tha bestest carrots outten yer garden.”

Upset elf“Not harming him? Not harming him?” My Arrogant One joined the conversation, drawing himself up, rocking back on his heels, grasping his cloak with both hands, and screeching like a banshee at the dwarf. “You are terrorizing that poor creature, chasing him around, threatening him with your axe, and yelling obscenities at him at the top of your lungs.

My Old Dwarf snorted and looked up at the elf. “Eh, do na be gittin’ yer knickers in a twist! Ye be gittin’ more upset aboot it all then tha bunny be, elfie.”

Do not call me elfie!”

I took a quick inventory of the windows on the back of the house, checking for shattered glass, before turning back to my two characters. Before I could say anything, however, someone else joined the conversation.

“It would appear to me that there are good arguments on both sides of the issue.”

The deep, rumbling voice came from the other side of the gazebo. A moment later, a sleek, reddish-brown, six-foot-tall rabbit hopped up onto the structure and looked curiously at the dwarf and the elf.

Six-foot-tall rabbit on gazebo

My Old Dwarf chuckled. “Nay, elfie. Ye will na be makin’ a fool o me agin wit thet illusion.”

“Yeah, give it a rest.” I frowned at my Arrogant One. “It wasn’t funny the first time.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/07/07/hello-neighbor/

The elf blanched and shook his head. “I have created no illusion.”

RabbitThe rabbit appeared offended. He scrunched up his face, he flattened his ears against his back, and he thumped one hind foot. “Indeed, he has not! Hrumph! Do I look like an illusion?”

As the rabbit rose to his hind legs and glowered at us, my Arrogant One screeched and took off for the presumed safety of the garden shed.

My Old Dwarf kept an eye on the giant lagomorph as he addressed me in a dry voice. “Mebbe yer mister should be invitin’ this one ta dinner. It be lookin’ liken it be in tha carrot patch more’n oncet, and would be the makins’ o a fine rabbit stew.”

The rabbit curled his upper lip in obvious contempt. He looked the rotund dwarf up and down. “And you, sir, appear to have spent considerable time at your trough. Perhaps you would be the makings of a fine pig roast.”

Instead of taking offense, my Old Dwarf slapped his knee and doubled over, laughing until tears ran down his cheeks. “Thet be a good un! Ye be havin’ a fine wit aboot ye, rabbit.”

“What is going on here? Why has that blasted elf been shrieking? How am I to sleep with all that caterwauling? I have been courteous enough to keep the heat from my fireplace confined. Can the elf not be as considerate and curtail his noise? I thought he was going to shatter my crystal chandelier!”

The rabbit, the dwarf, and I all swung around and looked at the new speaker. Dragon was stomping down the stairs from the deck, black smoke spewing from her snout.

Rabbit and dragonMy Old Dwarf chuckled. “Eh, it be nuttin, beastie. Tha elfie been illusionin’ a big bunny, liken he been doin’ oncet afore. Then he been actin’ all skeerdidy-like, as iffins he dinna been knowin’ the critter be a fake, and then the liddle popinjay been runnin’ off.”

The rabbit pinned his ears back again and thumped his hind leg once more. His deep voice rumbled with anger. “I told you before, I am not an illusion.”

“Iffins ye be sayin’ so, bunny.” The dwarf chuckled again.

Dragon gave the oversized creature a perfunctory glance. “The rabbit is correct. He is not an illusion. Now, where is that annoying elf?”

wide-eyed“What?” I gaped, first at Dragon then at the rabbit. The former merely looked annoyed, but the latter gave me and the dwarf a smug look.

“I asked the whereabouts of the elf.” Dragon spewed some more smoke.

“No . . . not that. What did you say about the rabbit?”

Dragon with smoke bubbles2“I said he is not . . .” Suddenly it appeared that Dragon’s rational mind prevailed over her anger at the elf, and she realized exactly what she had said. Gaping at the rabbit, Dragon turned blue, and the clouds of smoke turned to bubbles, dripping from her nose. “He is not an illusion,” she finished weakly.

“He do na be an illusion?” My Old Dwarf’ eyes grew as large as saucers and he gulped.

“He isn’t an illusion?” My eyes were probably as large as my Dwarf’s.

“I. Am. Not. An. Illusion.” The rabbit confirmed what Dragon had said, speaking slowly and distinctly, as if talking to obtuse children. My two characters and I stood, speechless, gaping at the six-foot-tall creature.

Gaped 2

Why is there a six-foot-tall rabbit in my backyard? Where did he come from, and what does he want? Be sure to come back next week and see if we can get to the bottom of this. I’ll leave the porch light on for you. Oh, yeah – you might want to bring some carrots. Big carrots!

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A Birthday Wish Come True

A Birthday Wish Come True

Bastina dropping off MarisolWe had just finished setting up the party in the backyard Saturday morning when Bastina arrived with Marisol. After a quick thank-you to all of us and a reminder to her daughter to mind her manners, our neighbor drove off.

As soon as her mother was out of sight, Marisol dashed to the backyard. The disappointment in her face was obvious. As she turned to Dray, her lower lip quivered, and her eyes grew moist. “Dray? I . . . I thought I was going to see the horses.”

Party was set up“The day is young, child. Be patient.” Dray pointed to the gazebo, festooned with bunting and banners. Refreshments were set out on tables, and a pile of presents awaited the birthday girl.

Marisol’s jaw dropped and her eyes grew round. She slowly walked over to the gazebo, noting the Happy Birthday sign and the tables laden with cakes and beverages. She stopped and pointed to the boxes adorned with festive paper and bows. “Are . . . are these for me?”

Are these for me

Dray nodded. “There is a small something from me among those gifts, but my special present will come later, after refreshments.”

Marisol’s grin stretched ear to ear, and she nodded her understanding to Dray.

Start by opening presents“Happy birthday, Marisol!” I placed my hand on the child’s shoulder. “Why don’t you start by opening these presents, and then we can all have some refreshments before Dray gives you her special present.”

Marisol nodded. The child carefully unwrapped each gift, taking care not to rip the paper. Her eyes lit up when she opened the first gift, a collection of story books and jigsaw puzzles, all featuring horses or dragons.

BD gift for Marisol from everyone else

YH and company with Marisol“We know that horses and dragons are your favorites, and your mom told us you are quite the reader, reading well above your age level, and you love putting jigsaw puzzles together. So, this is from the four of us.” My Young Hero pointed to himself, then gestured to the group around him – my Foreman, my Gypsy, and my Bounty Hunter.

“Oh, thank you! These are wonderful!” Marisol couldn’t stop smiling as she looked through the collection.

BD gift for Marisol from Cleric and SorceressSorceress and Cleric with MarisolThe next gift was a children’s book about herbs and wildflowers. “This is from Clara and me,” Sorceress told Marisol. “Your mother told us you have recently shown an increased interest in this subject. I think you will find the illustrations and anecdotes in this book quite extraordinary.”

“Oh, it is beautiful!” Marisol leafed through the book. “I’ll enjoy it very much! Thank you!”

BD gift for Marisol from me and MilesNext, Marisol opened the gift from me and Miles. “Oh! Binoculars! A book on birdwatching, and a journal to keep a list of the birds I see! Thank you!”

“I remember you saying you enjoy observing the birds. Miles and I thought this might assist you in that activity.”

GoldfinchMarisol tried out the binoculars. “Oh, these are great! I can see a Goldfinch on that feeder pole!” She immediately opened her new journal and laboriously wrote the day, date, and location, along with the name of the bird, twice asking for help with spelling. When she finished, she grinned at me. “I will make great use of this gift!”

BD gift for Marisol from DragonNext, Marisol opened a leather-bound notebook, with her name and a picture of a dragon and a horse on the front. “Oh, this is exquisite!” The child ran her hand over the cover before opening it.

Elf cleric“You can paste pictures in there, or draw images, or write your ideas, your desires, your hopes . . . whatever pleases you.” Dray smiled at Marisol, and the child nodded.

“Thank you! I will treasure this, Dray!”

Marisol reached for the last present on the table, a gift bag. In it were several hand-crafted figurines and a small charm bracelet.

Bastina and Marisol see dwarfOld DwarfMy Old Dwarf stepped up. “I been makin’ tha wristlet fer ye, lass. I be knowin’ ye be right partial ta horsies an’ dragons, but I been includin’ a bunny, too, causin thet be how ye been meetin’ alla usins, when ye been followin’ me when I been chasin’ a bunny rabbit. But I dinna be knowin’ iffins ye be o an age where ye be likin’ gew-gaws like thet, so’s I be carvin’ a few little figures fer ye, too. Ye kin be keepin’ ’em on a shelf in yer room, or inna box wit yer udder trinkets.”

“Oh, these are marvelous!” Marisol smiled at my Old Dwarf. “I do like jewelry, and I will wear this always!” She put it on her wrist. “It’s a perfect fit! And I know just where I can put the figures, where I can see them every night before I go to sleep!”

BD cake for Marisol with candlesMarisol spent a few more minutes looking at all her gifts while Cleric served the cake and ice cream. “I made individual cakes so everyone could have their favorite. I made you the orange chiffon you liked last time.” Cleric handed Marisol her cake and the little girl made a silent wish and blew out the candles.

While we were all eating, Miles nudged me. “Your Arrogant One felt the party was beneath him?”

I shrugged. “I’ve been wondering that same thing. I noticed he was missing but didn’t want to make a big deal of it.”

After everyone finished eating, Dray took Marisol’s hand and walked her to the barn. She murmured an incantation under her breath. From the look on Marisol’s face, the spell worked.Dray shows Marisol the horses

“Oh!” Marisol stared at the steeds, who looked curiously at the newcomer.

Black horseForeman facing right closeupMy Foreman gave a hand signal for his horse to step forward. “The black stallion is mine. His name is Centaur. Would you like to pet him?”

Marisol nodded wordlessly, and my Foreman lifted her in his arms and let her pet the big horse.

“Oh! He’s so soft!”Gypsy horse

Gypsy close-up facing right“This one is Gypsy, and he’s soft, too.” My Gypsy led his horse over and Marisol cooed over him, too.

Giving Hero an appleYoung hero 2“And this is my pony, Hero. He loves apples. Would you like to fee him one?” My Young Hero showed Marisol how to hold her hand flat and let the pony take the apple gently from her hand.

Marisol giggled. “His whiskers tickle!”

Suddenly, my Arrogant One stepped out of the barn, leading a three-quarter size horse. “Marisol? How would you like to ride a pony?”

AO leading pony from barn

Marisol gaped at the elf leading the pinto to her and squealed. “Really? You’d let me ride?”

Arrogant One with Marisol and horseThe elf nodded. “Of course. This animal is quite gentle and will be an excellent mount for you.”

“Oh, yes! Yes, please!” Marisol seemed beside herself.

I rushed over to my Arrogant One. “No tricks.”

He gave me a look of pure innocence and continued talking to Marisol. “His name is Pegasus. Here, let me help you mount.”

Once Marisol was securely in the saddle, my Arrogant One led the pony around, first at a slow walk, then a little faster.

“Are you comfortable?” The elf brought the pony to a stop.

“Oh, yes!” Marisol’s eyes were shining as she leaned forward and patted the pony on his neck.

“If I give you the reins, do you think you could handle the pony on your own?”

I stepped forward. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Please? I’ll be very careful,” Marisol pleaded.

The elf scoffed. “I will not allow the child to be harmed.”Riding by herself

Without waiting for permission, my Arrogant One handed the reins to Marisol.

“What do I do? How do I tell the pony to walk?”

My Foreman and the lads hastened to her side. My Foreman instructed the child in the basics of walk and trot, and how to stop the pony. The lads walked beside her, one on each side, until she was comfortable with controlling her mount.

“That was a nice thing to do.” I walked up behind my Arrogant One.

“You need not sound so surprised.” He sneered.

“Actually, I do. This is not exactly in character for you.”

AO learning magicThe elf turned to me, a wistful smile pulling at one side of his mouth. “When I was but little older than her, I wanted nothing more than to learn the art of illusion. I remember how thrilled I was when someone not only invited me to watch them perform some illusions but encouraged me to learn some of them. They spent all afternoon with me, teaching me, and then giving me space to try on my own. When something means so much to a person, even a little encouragement can mean the difference between elation and heartbreak.”

I raised an eyebrow at the elf, surprised that he would share something so profoundly personal.

Then he shrugged. “Besides, the beast ordered me to do it.” He turned from me and walked back to Marisol. “Do you know why he is named Pegasus?”

Marisol tilted her head and stroked her chin. “Pegasus was a figure in Greek mythology. Mommy and I read a book about him. He was a winged horse.” Her eyes grew large. “Does this horse have wings?”

The elf winked at her and nodded. Suddenly, the horse she was riding changed. In an instant, the saddle was gone, and the horse sprouted wings. “Hold the mane and ask him to fly.”

I screeched as the pony leaped into the air, but my Arrogant One held his hand out toward the pony, keeping it just a foot or so off the ground.

Marisol didn’t say a word, but the expression on her face spoke volumes. She looked like she had never enjoyed herself so much.

“Beast?” My Arrogant One looked at Dray questioningly.

She nodded, and shape-shifted into her true form, taking to the air with Marisol and Pegasus as my Arrogant One dropped his hand and his control over the winged horse.

FlyingMy heart just about stopped, and I held my breath as I watched Dragon and Marisol fly higher, circling the treetops for several long minutes. Then they floated back to the ground. Dragon changed back into Dray, and Pegasus was once more just a saddle horse. I think that was when I remembered to breathe again.

Marisol jumped out of the saddle, radiating joy and awe. Her eyes sparkled and a huge grin spread across her face. “Oh, thank you! Thank you, everyone! Thank you, elf, thank you, Dray! I will never forget this birthday as long as I live!”Marisol hugging Dray

We hope you enjoyed Marisol’s birthday party. Be sure to get a piece of cake and some ice cream before you leave, and please join us again next week for more exciting adventures with my little band of displaced characters. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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A Birthday Wish

A Birthday Wish

“Missy, look who I found while fetching the mail.”looked up from laptop

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?”me and Marisol

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.Bastina

“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?”

Marisol close-upAgain, 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?”

are there horsesMarisol 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.”

Horses by barnMarisol accuses Dragon who changes 2When 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.

Talia and MarisolPerhaps 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.”Marisol hugging Dray

“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.

Dray talking to Bastina“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.

Dragon explains“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.”

Me“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.”

Old DwarfMy Old Dwarf’’s eyes lit up at the mention of refreshments. “Be ye tinkin’ o some chock-lit cake?”

ElfCleric 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.”

Make individual cakes

Young hero 2“What sort of gifts can we give Marisol?” My Young Hero frowned and scratched his head.

Made a listWe 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.