A Change of Pace

A Change of Pace

Elf facing rightGypsy close-upI was on my way to the kitchen when Cleric and my Gypsy trudged through the door from the deck.

“Welcome home. Dragon told me you two went over to see Anna and Colton today. How’d everything go?”

https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/26/an-anxious-day/

Colton meeting BlueMy Gypsy shrugged. “I was able to convince Colton to meet Blue, so I guess that is an improvement. But the pony did not seem interested in meeting his new owner. He allowed the boy to pet him but did not respond the way I had hoped. He did not nuzzle the boy or even nicker at him. After a few minutes, he just walked away. Colton was very disappointed. I had just convinced him Blue needed him as much as he needed Blue. Then the pony showed no interest in being friends with Colton.”

CaseyCleric lowered her eyes and tugged at her robes. “I did my best to communicate with Blue. I told him about Colton’s disability, and I stressed how much Colton needs him. The pony seemed indifferent. The only picture he kept placing in my mind’s eye was a little girl in a wheelchair, whom I assume was Casey, his former owner.” Cleric’s cornflower-blue eyes were wet with unshed tears. “Oh, Mistress, he misses her so much! I wonder if there is room in his heart for a new owner.”

“Well, I certainly hope there is. Colton misses Peaches as much as Blue misses Casey. If they give each other half a chance, Colton and Blue might be able to help each other cope with their respective losses.”

My two characters nodded glumly.

I looked at my watch. “But right now, you’d best get ready for dinner. Miles should have it on the table any minute now.”

They nodded again and headed off to clean up for dinner.

Nature HikeAt dinner, I announced that I would be going on a nature hike the next day, weather permitting. “Anyone wanting to join me better be in the car and ready to go by 7am. And because it’s been a while since our last outing, I’ll remind all of you now – if you are coming with me, there will be no robes, cloaks, suits of armor, etc. You will wear the modern garb of the realm and leave all weapons, staffs, wands, and magic paraphernalia at home.”

gypsy-facing-right“Pfft! It is not our first rodeo, Mistress.” My Gypsy laughed and waggled his eyebrows the way he always does when attempting to be a comedian.

Arrogant One“It is a hike, not a rodeo.” My Arrogant One sneered.

“I know that. It is not my first rodeo is just an expression, meaning that the person saying so has experience in whatever situation they are discussing.” My Gypsy quoted what I had told them the other night on the way to the auction. He raised one eyebrow at my Arrogant One and gave him a superior look. “You really should attempt to learn some of the idioms of this world.”

Bounty HunterMy Arrogant One blushed scarlet and was about to reply, but his sidekick, my Bounty Hunter, cut him off. “Mistress, are we to be allowed some time tomorrow to use your magic box, the thing you call a camera? You have permitted it in the past.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/03/24/magic-or-technology/

“Well, I don’t know.” I stroked my chin as if considering the possibility. “I haven’t had much chance to take my nature photos this spring. The weather and other circumstances have precluded any hikes. I’m not sure I want to share my camera this time out.”

Most of my characters looked disappointed, but Dragon grinned at me as I continued. “Of course, if you all had your own cameras, it wouldn’t be a problem.”

“Our own cameras?” Everyone’s eyes widened.

dragon talking“Yes. Mistress and I discussed the possibility of me creating illusory cameras for each of us. I believe I can have them ready by tomorrow morning.” Dragon smiled.

“Oh, Mistress! Dragon! That would be wonderful!” Cleric’s eyes were shining as she looked from me to Dragon and back again.

“Okay, then, whoever’s coming, I’ll see you first thing in the morning.”

* * *

Bright and early the next day, every one of my characters stood by the car, shifting around and fidgeting impatiently. Each was properly garbed, and each had a camera hanging around their neck.

“Where are we going today?” My Foreman opened the car door and waited for the others to get in before he took his seat.

Spring Peeper MeadowI got behind the wheel and started the car. “We’ll go to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum today. We’ll start at Spring Peeper Meadow and then go to the main section of the Arboretum. The weather is forecast to be warm and sunny all day, so I’m sure we’ll get a lot of great pictures.”

During the short ride to Spring Peeper Meadow, my characters inspected their cameras and discussed the basics of photography they had learned when I had let them use my camera on another hike. When we got there, everyone was chomping at the bit to get out and hone their skills.

* * *

6-19-13 - Miles 001Back home that night, I downloaded the photos from everyone’s camera onto my computer so we could all view the results of the day’s photo hike. I moved the computer into the conference room where there was more space, and Miles joined us.

“Did everyone get some good shots?”Elf

“That is what we are about to discover, Master Miles.” Cleric fidgeted nervously with the cord on her robes.

“Can everyone see the monitor?” I looked around the room and saw everyone nodding. “Okay, then, let’s get started.”

The first image that came up on the screen was a Gray Catbird. I nodded in approval. “Nice! Who took this one?”

Gray Catbird (6)

DwarfMy Old Dwarf raised his hand. “Thet be one I be takin’. I been fass-kee-nat-ed! Thet durn fool birdie been thinkin’ it be a kitty-cat.”

I laughed. “It’s called a Gray Catbird – gray, obviously for its color, and catbird because it can mimic perfectly the mewing of a cat.”

There were two more pictures of the catbird, and then two of an Eastern Chipmunk.

 

“Them be sum udders o mine.”

My Young Hero nudged my Old Dwarf and smiled. “You always find the furry critters.”

The rotund figure grinned.

“Then these next two must be yours as well. Nice shots.” I displayed images of two different Red Squirrels.

“Aye!” My Old Dwarf looked pleased.

“Is this yours as well?” I brought up the next image, a White-tailed Deer.

White-tailed Deer (3)

mens-991728_1280“No, that is one I took.” My Foreman furrowed his brow as he looked at the photo. “It is not as clear as I had hoped. I have to work on my focus.”

I nodded. “It’s hard with a point-and-shoot camera. It tends to focus on whatever is in the foreground, and the deer is behind some branches . . . which you will notice are in perfect focus.”

As I brought up the next two images, my Foreman frowned again. “These Wild Turkeys are in better focus than the deer, but neither bird would look up at me.”

I laughed. “You needed Cleric to sweet-talk them into posing.”

Cleric blushed. “I would have helped, but I guess I was too preoccupied with my own photography to notice that anyone else needed help.”

The next image on the screen was a male American Goldfinch.

American Goldfinch - male (2)

“Wow! Who took this one?”

Arrogant OneMy Arrogant One stood up, held his head high, grasped his cloak in both hands, and rocked back on his heels. “That would be one of mine.”

“Great lighting!”

He smiled and bowed.

“Is this one yours, too?” An image of a Yellow Warbler filled the screen.Yellow Warbler (2)

The elf nodded smugly. “He, too, was in favorable light when I took the photo.”

I nodded. “And the Yellow-rumped Warbler? Yours again?”

Yellow-rumped Warbler

“He is.” My Arrogant One frowned a bit. “The lighting was not as good for this one, but I still like the image.”

“Indeed.”

Bounty HunterThe next two images were of a male Northern Cardinal. My Bounty Hunter tilted his head and studied his photos. “He was a bit far, and difficult to find, even with so little foliage on the trees. I heard him singing for the longest time before I found him. I suppose the images are acceptable.”

“I think they’re quite good. Remember, you are all just learning to use the camera.”

I brought up an image of a Song Sparrow. “Nice!”

Song Sparrow (3)

My Bounty Hunter didn’t agree. “I took that one only because the bird was singing, as a Song Sparrow should. I think the second image of him is better. He’s closer and the lighting was better.”

I brought up the second image and we all agreed with the photographer’s assessment.

Song Sparrow (4)

The next image was a Chipping Sparrow. “Yours again?”

Chipping Sparrow (3)

Young hero 2“No, Mistress, that one is mine.” My Young Hero cleared his throat. “The lighting was poor, and I should have waited, but I liked the bird. I took a second photo of him as well, when he flew into a tree. I think that one is better.”

I brought that one up on the screen and nodded. “Oh, this is a nice image. You can see the mouthful of nesting material the bird has gathered.”

Chipping Sparrow (4)

The next image was a male Eastern Bluebird. My Young Hero smiled. “I took that one as well. It was a bit far, but I think the image is sharp enough. I remembered how you said to try to blur the background for a nice effect, too.”

Eastern Bluebird - male

I smiled. “Very nice! You’re learning a lot!” I brought up the next image, a Palm Warbler.

Palm Warbler (1)

“I did the same thing for this image, too.” My Young Hero looked pleased. “But I could not do it for the second image I took of this bird, as he flew down onto the grass.”

Palm Warbler (2)

I looked at the second Palm Warbler image. “That’s okay, you got a good, clear shot of him.”

I brought up the next image.

Garter Snake (7)

“Eeek! No doubt who took that picture!” Cleric shuddered at the image of a Garter Snake.

gypsy-facing-rightElfMy Gypsy grinned and waggled his eyebrows. “I found him just for you.”

“Oh! He is so big!” Cleric shuddered again as I displayed the second image of the snake.

Garter Snake (4)

My Gypsy laughed at Cleric. “He is just a wee little thing, and he does not bite.”

“Why can you not stick to images of creatures like these?” Cleric pointed to the photo of two turtles on the screen.

Turtles (3)

My Gypsy grinned. “That is one of my images as well. And the next one, when they were on the log in the pond.”

Turtles (4)

Cleric tilted her head as she studied the second turtle photo. “Oh, I think I saw you take that photo. I was trying to coax a pair of Canada Geese into showing off their goslings.”

“You mean these goslings?” I clicked onto the next image, two adult Canada Geese swimming with a line of five goslings between them.

Canada Geese (1)

Cleric smiled broadly. “Yes, that is the image. I also got a closer shot of the same five goslings on land, and a single adult goose in the water.”

I brought up Cleric’s other images and nodded my approval.

 

“Are the images of the male Wood Ducks yours as well?”

Cleric nodded. “I did not like the first one. That duck would not pose nicely. But the second one seemed to understand what I was looking for, and he swam right in front of a rock that was reflecting in the pond. I think it created a very nice effect.”

“I agree!”

I brought up the next photo, a beautiful flowering tree.

Flowers (1)

“That is one of my images.” Sorceress pointed. “Dragon and I decided that a trip to an arboretum demanded some images of flowers.”

Dragon nodded, then giggled. “Besides, flowers do not fly away and hide when you try to photograph them.”

sorceress-facing-right

As we viewed the images of the flowers, Sorceress identified hers. “Besides the flowering tree, my images include the purple and yellow pansy, the bleeding hearts, the yellow daffodil, and the two-toned columbine.”

dragon talkingDragon introduced the next images. “I took the photos of the two-tone daffodil, the orange-accented yellow tulips, the purple tulips, and the frilly orange flower, which I believe is also a variety of tulip. And, of course, my namesakes, the snapdragons.”

“Wow!” I looked impressed. “Your photographic skills are as good as your knowledge of flowers.”

Sorceress and Dragon blushed with pride.

Backyard 050“Well, I guess that just leaves my images. I managed to get two shots of my nemesis bird, a male Common Yellowthroat. Usually they just call from the undergrowth and reeds, and never show themselves when they see me with a camera.”

After the yellowthroats, my next image was an Eastern Phoebe. “The Phoebe only stayed around for one image. It was the same with my last bird, a Black-and-white Warbler.”

When we had finished discussing everyone’s images, my Arrogant One surprised me by asking, “May we do this again soon? It was a most enjoyable day!”

“I don’t see why not, as long as this fickle Minnesota weather cooperates.”

My smile turned to a frown as Miles announced, “The ten-day forecast calls for seven days of rain.”

I picked up a pillow from the sofa and chucked it at him.

Chucking pillow at Miles

Be sure to come back and enjoy the adventures and misadventures of my little band of displaced characters. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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An Anxious Day

An Anxious Day

Cleric popped into my officeCleric popped into my office for the third time that morning. “Have you heard from Anna yet?”

I folded my arms in front of me and frowned. I was tired and cranky. It had been a late night followed by an early morning, and I had a lot of work to do. I glared at Cleric. “What did I tell you the last two times you asked?”

“Ummmm…you said you would let me know as soon as you heard?” Cleric blushed and lowered her eyes.

I continued glaring. “And did I let you know anything?”

Cleric looked up and furrowed her brow. “Well, no, Mistress. That is why I am asking.”

I groaned and raked a hand through my hair. “Did it ever occur to you that I have not yet let you know anything because I have not yet heard anything?”

“Maybe I should come back later.” Cleric beat a hasty retreat.

“Yes,” I called after her loudly. “Maybe you should come back after I let you know I heard something!”

Old Dwarf popped into my office“Eh, now how kin ye be lettin’ tha lass be knowin’ ye been hearded summat iffin she do na be comin’ back?” My Old Dwarf entered my office and plopped himself down in a chair opposite me.

“Why are you bothering me?” I scowled at the old reprobate as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a half-eaten sandwich.

The dwarf gave me a look of pure innocence. He took a big bite of his sandwich and talked around the mouthful of food. “I be botherin’ ye, lass?”

“Ye be, er, I mean you are.” I averted my eyes and tried to ignore the bits of food that spewed onto the dwarf’s beard as he chomped his food open-mouthed. “What do you want?”

“I jus’ be wonderin’ wot been happenin’ las’ night at thet auction place ye an’ tha udders been off ta.”

I heaved a big sigh and gave him the short version. “Anna got a pony for Colton.”Anna, Blue, Colton

“Eh?” The dwarf raised one eyebrow and waited. “There mus’ be more ta tha story ’en jus’ thet.”

I glowered at the rotund figure. “Why do you want to know?”

“Jus’ cure-ee-os-ka-tee.”

“Yeah, well, curiosity killed the cat.”

“Wot cat?”

ColtonI heaved a bigger sigh but decided the only way to get rid of the dwarf and get back to work was to give him the rest of the story. “Okay, do you remember Colton, the boy whose pony showed up here several years ago?”

Mystery being led“Aye, he be tha owner o tha wee beastie ye been callin’ Mystery.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/12/31/mystery/

“That’s right, the one whose name was actually Peaches. She was a therapy animal, specially trained to work with Colton, who is blind.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/03/25/mystery-solved/

“Aye, I be rememberin’.”

“And you know Peaches died recently.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/04/28/sad-news/

The dwarf nodded and took another big bite of his sandwich.

Blue with ears pinned back“Well, shortly after we received the news that Peaches had died, Cleric had a dream. In the dream, Peaches told her where to find another suitable pony for Colton.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/a-new-mystery/

“So’s ye been tellin’ Colton’s mam aboot tha dream, an’ she been getting’ tha pony fer her laddie?”

I shook my head. “No, we couldn’t tell her about the dream. We could never explain that. But we did get her to go to the auction with us.”

My Old Dwarf grunted and stuffed the last bite of his sandwich into his mouth.

I saw he wasn’t going to budge from the chair until he heard every last detail, so I related all that had happened the previous evening at the auction. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/12/what-will-we-find-at-the-auction/ and https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/19/a-good-deal-or-crazy/

I finished with another sigh. “Since it was so late when we finished getting the pony settled, Anna decided to wait until today to tell Colton about it. She said she’d give me a call later today and let me know what happened.”

Just then, Cleric peeked into the office again. “Any word?”

Before I could explode, my Old Dwarf jumped up and hustled Cleric away, scolding her loudly. “Iffin tha lass been hearin’ anythin’, she been tellin’ ye. Now, ye do na be botherin’ ’er no more taday. She be busy.”

I rolled my eyes, shook my head, and tried to get back to work.

When the phone finally rang about a half-hour later, I checked the caller ID and snatched up the receiver.

On phone with Anna“Anna! What’s the good word?” I held my breath, hoping that Colton had been pleased with his new pony.

“Sorry, Marge, there is no good word today.” The voice on the phone was weary. “When I told Colton at breakfast this morning I had gotten him a new pony, he threw a fit.” Anna did an impression of Colton’s voice. “How could you do that? Peaches can’t just be replaced! She wasn’t a saddle or a truck or a pair of shoes. She was family!”

Anna paused, then continued in a normal tone. “And then he stormed off and locked himself in his bedroom. I could hear him in there crying for over an hour.”

“Oh, Anna, I’m so sorry! I knew it would be hard introducing a new pony so soon after he lost Peaches, but I didn’t think he would react like that. He didn’t even go out to meet Blue?”

“He wouldn’t hear of it.”

I apologized again. “Is there anything we can do?”Petting Old Blue

I heard Anna sigh. “No, but thanks. I’ll give it a few days and see if Colton will at least go out to meet Blue. If not, I guess I’ll have to return the pony to John.”

After promising to let me know if anything else happened, Anna hung up, and I went off in search of Cleric.

* * *

Old Dwarf and ClericThe aged dwarf led Cleric into the conference room. He looked into her cornflower-blue eyes, wet with unshed tears, and he spoke gently to her. “Now, lassie, yer heart be in tha right place, but I do na be thinkin’ thet ye be thinkin’ this through.”

“Wha . . .what do you mean?” Cleric hiccupped with the effort to control her tears.

“Lassie, ye be tha one wot been knowin’ Mystery better’en any o’ us. An’ ye be tha one wot Mystery been talkin’ ta in tha dream. Ye be tha one wot be knowin’ wit’oot a single doubt thet tha new pony be tha one tha laddie be needin’. But ye do na be tha one wot be needin’ ta be talkin’ ta tha laddie.”

Cleric’s brow furrowed. “Why not?”

Gypsy, Old Dwarf and ClericBefore the Old Dwarf could answer, the conference room door opened. The Gypsy lad walked into the room and joined the conversation. “I could not help overhearing . . .”

“Ye coulda been helpin’ it, laddie, iffin yer great big ear dinna been pressin’ agin tha door!” The twinkle in the dwarf’s emerald green eyes belied his annoyance at the lad.

Ignoring the jibe, the Gypsy addressed Cleric. “I agree with the dwarf. You are not the one to talk to Colton. I am.”

When Cleric started to protest, the Gypsy cut her off. “Look, you may be the one who knew Mystery best, but I think I am the one who bonded with Colton.”

Cleric tilted her head, considering her friend’s words. Finally, she nodded. “Very well. But I will go with you.”

The Gypsy turned to go. “We will take the horses.”

Cleric grabbed his arm. “Dragon released the spell after the trail ride last September. I do not have a horse.”

Dragon appears“I will create another illusory horse for you.”

The three companions jumped at the voice. They looked around and saw Dragon shimmering into sight, curled up in front of her ersatz fireplace.

The dwarf gaped at Dragon. “By tha great god’s beard! Be ye tryin’ ta be stoppin’ me heart in me chest? Where did ye be jumpin’ up from?”

Dragon puffed a small cloud of black smoke from her nostrils. “I have found it advantageous at times to remain concealed. Usually that means fewer disturbances of my nap.”

The big beast turned to Cleric. “I presume you want the same horse as before?”

Cleric nodded, and Dragon began intoning an incantation.

Just two hours later, Cleric and the Gypsy dismounted in Anna’s driveway. In the nearby paddock, Blue studiously ignored the newcomers but Anna’s dapple-gray mare, Rosie, whinnied a loud greeting at their approach. Anna appeared at the barn door moments later to see what was disturbing Rosie.

riding up to Colton's

“Clara! Rocky!” Anna called to them, addressing them by the names they had used before. “What brings you here?”

The Gypsy smiled. “We were just taking our horses out for a bit of relaxation on the trail, and we found ourselves on your road. We did not think you would mind an unannounced visit.”

“Of course not! You’re always welcome to drop in.”

“How is Old Blue settling in?” Cleric led her horse over to the fence and reached toward the pony to pet him, but he walked away.

Clara shrugged. “He isn’t a kicker or a biter. When Rosie ran up to him, he just ignored her and walked away. He pretty much ignores me, too.”

“And Colton?” The Gypsy furrowed his brow. “How is he with Colton?”

Clara sighed, and slumped her shoulders. “Colton refuses to come out and meet Blue. I don’t know how to convince him.”

The Gypsy pursed his lips and squared his shoulders. “Perhaps if I talked with him?”

Anna shrugged again. “Be my guest. He’s in his bedroom – upstairs, first door on the right.”

Rocky and ColtonThe Gypsy handed his horse’s reins to Cleric and walked to the house. He found Colton in his bedroom, the door wide open. Remembering Colton was blind, the Gypsy called to him before entering the room. “Colton? Hi! Remember me? Rocky? Clara and I were out riding, and we thought we would stop by and visit. May I come in?”

“Sure. I remember you.” Colton sniffled and rubbed at his eyes. The Gypsy could see the boy had been crying. Before he could say anything, Colton turned toward him and blurted, “Do you know what my mother did? She got a new pony for me! It’s as if Peaches was no different than a pair of shoes I outgrew, or a truck that broke down.” The boy balled his hands into fists, and he punched his pillow. “Peaches can never be replaced!”

Boy_on_a_Horse“Of course not!” The Gypsy sat on the bed next to Colton and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Peaches was very special. She was more than just your pony. She was your friend. Friends can never be replaced.”

“That’s right!” Colton nodded. “I knew you’d understand!”

“Oh, I do!” The Gypsy’s voice caught in his throat. “My family raised horses. It was my job to gentle the colts once they were weaned. Every year, I made friends with these colts, and every year they left for new homes once I had gentled them.”colt

“That’s horrible! You lost your friends over and over again?” Colton’s blind eyes widened.

“I did, but then the next year I would have more colts to gentle, and I would make new friends. I came to realize that none of the colts I helped raise could ever be replaced, but I had enough room in my heart for each new colt that came along. I didn’t stop missing the ones that were gone, but I did make new friends that helped me not miss the old ones so much.”

Colton didn’t say anything for a long time. When he did speak, his voice held a new note of understanding. “You’re saying that this new pony isn’t to replace Peaches, but to help me cope with my loss?”

Coping with loss

The Gypsy nodded and smiled. “That is exactly what I am saying. But there is more to it, something you do not know about the pony.”

“What’s that, Rocky?” Colton sounded curious.

John, Casey, and Old Blue“Old Blue used to belong to a little girl, a girl who couldn’t walk and had to use a wheelchair. She and Blue were best friends. Blue took care of her the way Peaches took care of you. But a few months ago, the little girl died. Blue lost his friend, and now he’s just as sad as you are. He needs someone to help him cope with his loss, too.”

Colton frowned. “Is that the truth, Rocky? The pony’s owner died? You aren’t just saying that to make me feel sorry for the pony?”

“Colton, I do not lie to my friends.”

Colton paused, and furrowed his brow in concentration. Finally, he squared his shoulders and set his jaw. “Rocky, will you introduce me to the pony?”

“Sure I will, Colton! I have a feeling you two are going to be very good friends.”

Will Colton really give the pony a fair chance? Will Blue give Colton a chance? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens when Colton and Blue meet. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Sad News

Sad News

cryingtelephone1I put down the phone and wiped away a tear. I left my office and headed upstairs. As I approached the landing by the front door, I was almost bowled over by my Old Dwarf, who was barreling down the stairs. “Ah, there ye be, lass! Yer mister be wantin’ ta knowed iffin ye be ready fer some lunch.”

I nodded, half-heartedly. “I suppose so.”

My Old Dwarf furrowed his brow and gave me a sharp look. “Summat be bodderin’ ye, lass? Ye still be feelin’ sick?

I shook my head. “No, I’m pretty sure I’m well over my bout of pneumonia now. I’ve finished with both of my prescriptions, most of my congestion has cleared, and I’m breathing a lot better.”

“But summat be wrong.” It was a statement rather than a question.

I nodded. “I have some news to share. Will everyone be at lunch?”

dwarfThe rotund figure stroked his beard, and scrunched up his face in concentration. “Wale, I be thinkin’ tha Annoyin’ One an’ ’is cohort mighten be eatin’ alone, out in their sank-tee-ary in tha shed, but e’eryone elsens oughtten be at tha table, an’ be waitin’ on ussins right now.”

I nodded and trudged up the remaining steps in silence, the dwarf trailing behind.

My Old Dwarf took his seat at the table, and loudly hushed everyone. I stood behind my chair and looked around the table.

 

“What is it, Mistress?” Cleric gave me an appraising look. “You seem distressed.”Anna

I nodded. “I just got off the phone with Anna.”

Colton“Colton’s mother?” My Gypsy furrowed his brow.

I nodded again. “She called about Colton’s pony, Peaches, who we initially knew as Mystery.” I swallowed hard. “Anna wanted to let us know Peaches passed away at the end of February.”

shaggy pony 2

(The saga of Mystery started with the December 31, 2017 blog, https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/12/31/mystery/ and continued each week until the mystery was solved in the March 25, 2018 blog https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/03/25/mystery-solved/)

Everyone looked shocked. There was a chorus of comments from around the table. “Oh, no!” “Not Mystery!” “Not Peaches!” How did it happen?” “Colton must be devastated.”

I sighed. “Anna said that the vet performed a necropsy, and it appears the pony died of natural causes. Peaches was very old and had not been doing well this winter. Anna said she had the vet out numerous times for the pony, for ailments ranging from colic to a serious respiratory infection that resulted in heaves.”

mens-991728_1280My Foreman looked shocked. “The animal looked vigorous and robust the last time we saw her.”

I agreed. “But that was seven months ago, before the hard winter took its toll on her health.”

Young Hero cryingMy Young Hero slumped in his chair and swiped at a tear that leaked from the corner of his eye. His voice was raspy. “What is Colton going to do without that pony?”

Colton riding Peaches barebackI shook my head. “I don’t know. The pony was Colton’s eyes. Being blind from birth, Colton felt very isolated, even though he participated in some school activities. Anna confided in me that the other kids didn’t go out of their way to include Colton in their plans. With Peaches, the boy felt like he had some independence, and felt the equal of his peers. He was able to go on trail rides with the other kids. He was even talking about joining 4-H.”Young Hero crying

“I recall our trail ride with Colton and his mom. It was hard to remember he was blind, watching how confidently he rode Peaches.” My Young Hero’s words caught in his throat, and he wiped away another tear.

gypsy-facing-rightMy Gypsy nodded. “I wish we had taken the opportunity to ride with him again. I really like Colton, and enjoyed our friendly competition identifying birds by ear.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/09/02/an-old-mystery-revisited/

“Well, maybe Colton will be able to get a new pony eventually. Anna said she tried to talk to him about it, but it’s too soon. He doesn’t want to think about another pony.”

Cleric cryingColton and Peaches 2“Even if he decides at some point in the future he wants another pony, it will be hard to replace Peaches.” Cleric dabbed at her eyes, wet with unshed tears. “She was such a remarkable animal!”

I nodded. “She was, but there are other horses trained to work with handicapped riders. Anna’s going to call the facility that trained Peaches and see if they have any other ponies available.”

Milesstadium jumpingMiles furrowed his brow. “I don’t know a lot about horses, but I do remember seeing a program on television about a blind rider. He competed in stadium jumping. The thing that sticks out in my mind is the way the rider had to use vocal cues from other people stationed around the arena in order to know in which direction to ride, and when to prepare for a jump.”

I nodded. “I remember seeing that program, too.”

“But you said Colton used to ride Peaches out on the trail, sometimes even going out alone.”Colton riding Peaches bareback

Again I nodded.

Miles rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, Peaches must have been trained more like a seeing-eye dog. She must have been aware of all the various dangers and situations they could encounter on the trail and know how to keep her rider safe. Otherwise, Colton could have been knocked off the pony by overhanging branches, or he could have fallen if the pony did something unexpected, like jump a small obstacle on the trail.”

Cleric dabbed at her eyes again. “I told you that pony was a very remarkable animal! She will be all but impossible to replace.”

DwarfElf cleric“Mebbe the beastie here kin be illusionin’ a pony fer tha lad.” My Old Dwarf pointed at Dragon. “She been creatin’ illusory horsies fer yer Foreman and tha two lads, and she been makin’ some fer tha rest o ye who been on tha trail ride with ’em. She could be illusionin’ a horsie wot can be doin’ all tha thin’s tha other horsie useta been able ta be doin’ ta be keepin’ its rider safe-like. An’ wit’ a make-believe horsie, tha laddie would na e’er be havin’ ta be worryin’ aboot it be gittin’ sick or be diein’.”

I raked my hand through my hair and heaved a huge sigh. “That’s a very kind, compassionate idea, old friend, but I don’t think it wise to be creating illusions for outsiders, for people who do not understand whence you all came, and what powers some of you wield.”

“I agree.” Dragon nodded.

Elf facing right“Well, we have to find some way to help Colton find a new pony!” Cleric squared her shoulders and set her jaw.Stu-04-NatGal

“And how do you propose to do that?” Sorceress lifted an eyebrow at her friend.

Cleric tossed her head defiantly. “I do not know. But we will. We must!”

How will Cleric and the others help Colton? Come back next week and see if they come up with any ideas. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Characters I Write About and Characters I Write

Characters I Write About and Characters I Write

Young hero 2

NightmareI didn’t get a chance to talk to Dragon for the better part of a week. Thankfully, it was a fairly quiet week. My Young Hero no longer seemed to be wrestling with nightmares. If he was, he was doing it quietly.

Smoke drifting from Dragon's snoutOn Friday, I found Dragon in the conference room, shivering in front of her illusory fireplace. She greeted me with a growl.

“Nice to see you, too.” I frowned. “I’ve been looking for you all week. I need to talk to you.”

Dragon’s eyes narrowed dangerously, the tip of her tail started twitching, and acrid smoke puffed from her snout. “I do not wish to talk. I wish to warm myself.”

I scoffed. “You’ve made this room hotter than a dwarven forge with your illusory fireplace!”

Dragon nodded solemnly. “It is my only defense against your Minnesota weather. What happened to spring? Last week, the temperatures were just starting to rise to comfortable levels, and some flowers had started sprouting.” The unhappy beast scowled at me. “Then the ice and sleet and snow came again, and the temperatures are frigid!”

I laughed. “Oh, come now! The temperatures aren’t that bad, at least not by Minnesota standards, and the slush is already starting to melt. By Sunday, it should all be gone.”

“For how long?” The despondent creature hung her head and looked miserable.

“Hopefully until next winter, but in Minnesota, you never can tell. The latest snow ever recorded in MN was June 4, 1935, when one and a half inches fell in northern Minnesota.”

“Oh, you are just full of fascinating minutiae.” Dragon glowered at me.

I raised an eyebrow and chuckled. “Funny, you don’t look fascinated.” Before Dragon could respond, I quickly pressed on. “But I didn’t want to discuss the weather. It’s not like we can do anything about it anyway.”

Dragon growled and thumped her tail on the floor. “I have offered more than once to change your weather to something more agreeable.”

“And I told you that is not an option.”

“Did you?” Dragon gave me a coy look. “I am afraid I do not remember.”

“Funny thing, memory.” I steepled my fingers and gazed at Dragon. “And that’s exactly the topic I wish to discuss.”

“Oh?” The big beast looked interested in spite of herself.

I nodded and took a seat in the recliner, pausing a few moments to gather my thoughts.

manuscript“Dragon, do you recall when you fell from my manuscript and entered this world?”

Dragon frowned. “Of course, I do. It has been a number of years, but I clearly remember the look on your face when you entered your office and found me sitting at your desk.”

I smiled at the memory. “Ah, yes! I remember that day, too. You weren’t the first of my characters to make the passage from book to reality, so it wasn’t as much a shock as it could have been. Still…”

Dragon in officeThe memory of the scaly creature sitting on the arm of my chair, shock and disapproval clearly etched on her reptilian face as she surveyed the chaos I call an office, still made me chuckle.

I shook my head and dragged myself back to the conversation at hand. “But I am really more interested in your memories of the world from which you came. Do you remember what you were doing when you fell from the manuscript?”

Dragon frowned. She rolled onto her stomach and tucked her front arms under her chest, assuming a sphinx-like pose. She tilted her head in thought and remained silent for a long time before replying. “No. No, I do not.”

“What memories do you have of your previous existence?”

Dragon studied my face. “Why do I get the feeling it is not my memories that concern you?”

I ducked my head guiltily. “How easily you can see through me, old friend. You’re right . . . or at least partially correct. I am trying to understand something about a character’s memory once that character has fallen from the manuscript into this world.”

“Any character in particular?”

“Yes, but we can discuss that later. For now, I am curious about your memories. Since you first arrived here, it has been obvious you and my Old Dwarf share a very special bond.”

dragon and dwarf

 

Dragon nodded. “Indeed, we do.”

I frowned. “Yet, in the two manuscripts I penned, you never met.”

Dragon blinked. “Are you sure?”

I raised an eyebrow.

Dragon scratched her head. “But I have such clear memories.” She paused, then frowned. “Well, maybe not so clear. More like snatches of memories – friendly banter, small gifts the dwarf carved for me.”

I shook my head. “Those events were not part of the stories I chronicled.”

Dragon stared off into the distance. “No… no, I do not suppose they were. I was just a very young dragon then, barely more than a wyrmling.”

I wrinkled my brow. “So, if the memories are from before the events in my manuscripts, how is it you can recall them? Remember, you are not the Dragon about whom I wrote. You are the Dragon I wrote, the Dragon I created in my books. And the only memories you should have are the events in the book from which you fell.”

dragondragon-1964202_960_720Dragon pondered. “I believe I may have an explanation. The Great Wyrm. I believe she is the Dragon about whom you wrote, only much further along in her life than when you wrote about her. I believe she may have inadvertently shared some of her memories with me when she and I crossed paths.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/10/01/waiting-to-see-if-it-worked/

I raised my eyebrow. I was surprised she had worked that out. I put that tidbit of information aside and continued the conversation. “I see.” I sighed. “Well, that solves that mystery, but it doesn’t help me understand recent events regarding my Young Hero and his memories. Unlike you, he seems to be missing memories he should have.”missing memories

“Oh? Enlighten me.”

I raked my hand through my hair. “You remember my Young Hero recently suffered a spate of nightmares.”
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/03/31/nightmares/    and
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/04/07/do-heroes-have-nightmares/

Dragon nodded and frowned, a puff of black smoke escaping her nostrils. “Yes. He should have come to me for help.”

I waved at her dismissively. “Perhaps, but he was embarrassed. You know, a hero being frightened by bad dreams.”

“Ah, yes. He felt a hero should be brave enough to face his nightmares.” Dragon nodded sagely.fear vs heroism

“Exactly. But when he described his dreams to me, he said they were people and images he thought he should know but didn’t. He felt they were snatches of memories he could not clearly recall. From his descriptions, however, I recognized them as scenes from my first manuscript. I assume my Young Hero fell from my second book, as he has very clear memories of various people and events from that book – the Innkeeper, the snowball fight with my Gypsy . . .”
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/vacation-is-over/

Dragon nodded again. “So, you wonder why he has no memories predating the second book, even though you wrote about your Young Hero in the first book as well.”

“Exactly.”

Dragon shrugged. “You answered your own question. It is as you said of me, Mistress Writer. I am not the Dragon about whom you wrote. I am the Dragon you wrote, the one you created.”

I frowned, not understanding.

Young hero 2Young Hero passing out“Well, neither is your Young Hero the hero about whom you wrote. He is the hero you wrote, the hero you created. But, having fallen from your second manuscript, he is also not the hero you wrote in your first book. So, his memories would not be the memories of that hero. Those memories would be but an echo in his subconscious.”

I blinked. “I think I understand. You know, I may have to go back to my manuscripts and rewrite you. I don’t think I made you nearly as wise and insightful as you really are.”

Dragon smiled smugly. “Does that mean I can go back to warming myself by the fire, while you go change me in your book to a creature more closely resembling my most splendiferous self?”Dragon looks up from fireplace

I chuckled. “Go back to your fire, old friend. I’ll try not to disturb you again until spring is really here.”

“I can make that happen any time you say.” The big beast winked at me.

Be sure to come back next week and see what is happening with my little band of displaced characters. We might be in the middle of a heat wave by then. You never can tell about the weather in Minnesota, especially if a Dragon is involved. And, of course, we’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Fixtures Light Elegant Lighting Fixture And Supply Company Intended For Front Porch Light Fixtures Front Porch Light Fixtures

Elf facing rightHello, cherished readers. Cleric here. Shortly after the completion of this week’s blog, Mistress Writer went to see her doctor. (Why she never allows me to treat her, I cannot understand!) Mistress Writer has been diagnosed with pneumonia, and is undergoing treatment. Master Miles is experiencing heavy chest congestion and will see his doctor this week. We all hope Mistress Writer will be able to continue her duties preparing this blog for your entertainment; however, it may be a while before she is up to such strenuous activity. If we are absent for a time, please know we have not forgotten you, and we look forward to returning with more adventures and misadventures.

Magic or Technology?

Magic or Technology?

Looking foward to relaxingIt had been a long day. I was finally home, and all I wanted to do was grab a huge bowl of ice cream, sit down, put my feet up, and maybe watch some television with my husband. Instead, I found my characters waiting for me in the living room.

Out of the jumble of excited comments that greeted me, I could only make out a few. “Did you get it?” “Where is it?” “Can we see it?”

I scowled. So much for ice cream and television. “Can you see what?”

Elf facing rightCleric tilted her head and furrowed her brow. “We thought you said you were going to purchase a new . . . what do you call that type of magic box?”

laptopI sighed. Even after all these years in this world, Cleric and my other characters still struggled to understand some things. I tried not to sound annoyed when I answered her. “It’s called a laptop computer. Yes, I did purchase a new one. The old one was a piece of junk, and I was unable to use it any longer.”

My Gypsy pushed to the front of the assembled group. “So, can we see your new laptop computer?”

I shook my head. “Afraid not. I didn’t bring it home.”

“You purchased it, but you did not bring it home?” My Bounty Hunter gave me a perplexed look.

“I left it at the store. Their tech department is going to set it up for me.”Set up

My Old Dwarf gave me a look that clearly said he thought I was a bit strange. “They be settin’ it up? Where? Be they placin’ it way up on a shelf or on top o a big, tall piece o furniture?”

tech setupI shook my head again. “They’re going to prepare the laptop so I can start using it as soon as I bring it home. Between the time the computer was manufactured and now, there have probably been several updates issued. The technicians will install those updates for me. They will also install my preferred browser – the program I use to access the internet – and a word-processing program – the program I use for writing. They will eliminate any unnecessary software, and they will install a top-of-the-line anti-virus program.”

computer virus“Wait!” Dragon gaped at me. “Anti-virus? Did you not once tell me a virus, a type of germ, makes people sick? Do germs attack inanimate objects in your world?”

I tried not to chuckle. “Yes, I did explain to you that viruses and germs make people sick. But a computer virus is not a germ. A computer virus is a piece of code that can harm a computer.”

“Code?” My Arrogant One frowned.

I sighed. “Let me try to explain in terms you might understand. Computer code is a set of instructions that tell the computer what to do. Think of code working in the same way the words to one of your spells work.”

Sorceress nodded. “So, the anti-virus code is like the wards Dragon places on something to protect it.”

I nodded. “That’s a good enough analogy, I suppose.”

My Gypsy frowned. “So how long will the store have to keep your new laptop?” How long will it take for them to get all this done?”

“It should only take a few days, depending on how many orders they have to complete before working on mine. They’ll call me when the laptop is ready for me to bring home.” I looked at my characters and narrowed my eyes. “Why are you all so interested in my new laptop, anyway?”

gypsy-facing-right“We want to see what it can do.” My Gypsy’s tone of voice placed an unspoken duh at the end of his explanation, as if it should be obvious to me.

Backyard 050I folded my arms across my chest and glared at them. “You know what a computer can do. You’ve snuck into my office on more than a few occasions to read my stories on my desktop computer. You also took my laptop computer into the conference room to read the anthology that contained two of my short stories. You even managed to download the book onto the laptop. How you can manage that when you don’t understand technology is a mystery to me.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/12/02/its-here/

My Gypsy grinned. “Cleric remembered all you had done to get the book onto your big computer, and we just did the same thing on the laptop. That is the nice thing about your magic boxes. Someone with no knowledge of your system of magic can still get them to work, just by pushing the right buttons. It is not like our magic, where you need to have magical ability in order to cast a spell.”

I laughed. “That is because it isn’t magic. It’s technology.”

“So, what is the difference between magic and technology?” My Foreman asked the $64,000 question.

“I think my Gypsy pretty much summed it up. Technology can be learned, but one must have magic within them.” The expressions on the faces of my characters told me they did not understand. I raked my hand through my hair and tried again.

turning on the lights“If I asked if someone would turn on the lights in here, one of you would walk over to the switch on the wall and flip it to the on position. The lights would go on. It wouldn’t matter which of you did it – it would work just as well for my Old Dwarf or my Foreman as it would for Dragon or Sorceress.” I looked around and saw all my characters were nodding.

creating light by magic“Now, if I asked if someone would cast a spell creating light, only those with magical ability would be able to do it. Even if the rest of us were given the right words to say and the right components to use – and we recited those words precisely and combined the components correctly – we could not produce light.”

examples of technology“But not everyone can use what you call technology, either.” My Young Hero frowned. “For example, I cannot drive a car. I cannot use your communication device that you call a cell phone. I cannot use the things we see in stores that you call cash registers. I cannot use the thing you termed a sewing machine that your friend uses to create clothing. And I cannot take a picture with that other magic box, the one you call a camera.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, I can’t use a sewing machine, either. My mom didn’t have the patience to teach me. But most people can learn to do such things. People who do not have magical power can never learn to cast spells.” I had a sudden idea. “Say, since the weather is improving, the temperature has gone up, and most of the snow is gone, maybe some of you would like to go on a nature walk with me tomorrow and take some pictures. I will teach anyone who is interested the basics of using the camera. That way, it might be easier for you to understand the difference between magic and technology.”

The next morning, I was surprised to find all my characters waiting to go on the nature hike with me. I looked at my Foreman and the two lads. “I thought the three of you would be working with your horses today.”

“We are easing into that.” My Foreman ducked his head, cheeks flaming. “We rode yesterday for the first time since the beginning of winter. We are all a bit sore right now.”

“A bit?” My Gypsy snorted, rubbing his rump. “More than a bit, I think.”

My Young Hero nodded. “We thought we would go with you this morning and do some walking to ease our muscles. We can do some more riding this afternoon or tomorrow.”

I smiled. “Okay, let’s go to Memorial Park in Shakopee. They have open water already, and for the past week, my friends from this area have been posting photos on social media. They’ve been seeing a lot of different waterfowl at that park.”

Squirrel near snowPhotographerThe first thing we saw at the park was a squirrel. “Well, this will be a good opportunity for me to show you how to use the camera.” I removed the lens cap and showed my characters how to use the viewfinder and shutter button. Then I explained how to use the zoom feature, and what settings to use. “Since this is your first time using a camera, I think you should leave the settings on automatic. Then you won’t have to try to remember so much.”

I snapped a shot of the squirrel and showed my characters how to view the photo I had just taken. “Okay? So, who wants to try?”

“Are you being honest with us?” My Arrogant One viewed me suspiciously. “We really do not have to intone an incantation or use any spell components?”

I raised an eyebrow. “I am being completely honest. This is technology, not magic. Have you ever heard me recite an incantation, or have you ever seen me use spell components, when I have been taking photographs?”

The elf furrowed his brow, then shrugged. “No. No, I have not.”

“You’ll see. The photos taken by those of you who are adept at magic will be no different than the photos taken by the non-magic users among you.”

All my characters still looked doubtful.

“Let’s go over to the river bank to start. I see a number of waterfowl on the ice by the opposite shore. There are also numerous birds swimming in the open water.”

writing spellcamera strapWe walked the few yards to the river, and my characters gathered close as I gave them their final instructions. “Take turns with the camera. Just be careful not to drop it. When you are taking pictures, you need to have the strap around your neck.” I took out a notebook and pen. “And I’ll keep track of who takes what photos so when we get home and I download them onto the computer, you will be able to see there is no difference between the photos taken by the magic users among you compared to the ones taken by those with no magical ability.”

The rest of the morning was spent photographing the various waterfowl on the river, birds in the trees, and a few mammals. When we got home, I downloaded the photos onto my computer so my characters could see the results of their efforts.

bounty-hunter“Okay, I think most of the photos turned out exceptionally well.” I turned to my Bounty Hunter. “You were the first to attempt taking photos. You captured three images – a pair of swans and a flock of Mallards on the ice on the opposite side of the river, and some really good shots of the Wood Ducks in the protected cove to the right of the first photo you took.”

My Bounty Hunter turned a critical eye on his photos. “Yes, I believe you are right – they are not too bad!” He smiled proudly.

foreman“Our second photographer was my Foreman. He took two pictures of a pair of Blue-winged Teal.”

My Foreman and the others crowded around the monitor to see. “They are not as good as I had hoped.” He looked downcast.

“That was due to the limitations of the zoom feature on my camera. The teal were pretty far away. I think these are good images, considering.”

gypsy-facing-rightMy Gypsy clapped my Foreman on the back. “I bet my images are no better than yours. I also took photos of birds quite distant from us.”

“Yes.” I nodded. “You got six shots of some Hooded Mergansers which were only slightly closer to us than the teal. Again, not bad images considering the distance.”

young-hero-facing-leftMy Young Hero stepped forward. “I believe the first image I captured was from a distance, but the other three were closer. How did they turn out?”

“The Redheads with the Ring-necked Duck were about as far as the swans and Mallards my Bounty Hunter took, not quite as far as the birds my Foreman and my Gypsy took. It turned out very well, as did the images of the closer Redheads.”

My Young Hero looked at his images on the monitor and grinned. “You’re right! They are as good as the others!”

Elf cleric“And how do my photos look?” Dragon, in her customary guise of an elf maiden, pushed to the front of the group.

I brought up her images on the monitor. “You got some excellent photos of the Canada Geese!”

Dragon smiled and acquiesced.

Stu-04-NatGal“And my ducks?” Sorceress moved closer to the monitor.

I smiled. “Your Mallards are excellent as well.”

arrogant-one-facing-right“And my images?” My Arrogant One looked nervous.

“Your Trumpeter Swan images are superb!” I pointed at the monitor. “I particularly love this first close-up.”

The elf drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak with both hands. “That is my favorite as well.”

ElfI looked at the remaining photos. “Cleric took some shots of birds in trees – a Black-capped Chickadee, three shots of a Northern Cardinal, and a Pileated Woodpecker. They are all exceptionally good.”

Cleric blushed, but a smile spread from ear to ear.

I brought up the final three images. “My Old Dwarf captured the only images of mammals today, other than the squirrel I photographed at the beginning of the hike. He got an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit, a Red Squirrel, and an Eastern Chipmunk. Nice photos!”

DwarfThe dwarf grinned. “I be liken’ furry thin’s moren feathery thin’s. They do na be hidin’ so easy, and they do na be takin’ off the minute I be tryin’ ta look at ’em.”

I smiled at the old reprobate. “So, looking at the images you all took today, can we agree that the photographs taken by the magic users were no better than those images taken by the non-magic users?”

Everyone nodded.

“But ye do na be provin’ anythin’ by thet, lass.” My Old Dwarf shook his head.

I tilted my head and furrowed my brow. “I think I have proven that technology, unlike magic, can be used by everyone.”

“Eh, I been thinkin’ aboot thet, and I be sayin’ thet be twaddle. There be some magic items what kin be used by anyone. Back in me ownest world, I been havin’ a ring o takin’ me places.”Ring of transportation

I raised an eyebrow. “A ring of what?”

Sorceress cleared her throat. “I believe he means a ring of transportation.”

“Aye, thet be what it be called. Tha wearer o such a ring kin be goin’ anywhere jus’ by tha power o tha ring. Anywho, I been havin’ such a ring, and it been no problem fer me ta be usin’ it. Ye be seein’, lass, tha power be in tha ring, not in tha user. Thet means e’en a dwarf liken meself, what be havin’ no magical power whatsose’er, kin be usin’ tha ring. An’ I be arguin’ thet it be tha same wit yer magic box what ye be callin’ a camera. Tha magic be in the item, so’s even non-magical folk kin be usin’ it. It still be magic, though, not thet teck-noll-o-gee stuff ye be blatherin’ aboot.”

I gaped at my Old Dwarf, who stood before me with a smug smile on his face. How do I argue that point? I sighed.

So, what is your opinion? What is the difference between magic and technology? Are objects like cameras magical? Let me know what you think. Be sure to come back next week and see what my characters are doing. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Not Exactly Déjà Vu All Over Again

Not Exactly Déjà Vu All Over Again

For today's blog 001“Honey?”

My husband came into my office.

I looked up from the computer screen and saw a big frown on his usually cheery face. “Uh-oh. What did my characters do now?”

Miles laughed. “It isn’t your characters this time.”

“An historic moment! You’re frowning, and it isn’t because of anything my characters did!” I blinked. “Wait! This is weird. I feel like we’ve had this conversation before.”

Miles frowned and stroked his chin. “I get that same feeling. To quote baseball great Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

I raked my hand through my hair and frowned. “Yeah, but I can’t quite remember the particulars.” I shrugged “Oh, well. Back to the problem at hand. If it isn’t my characters, then what is the trouble?”

“The heat element in the rain gutters out front doesn’t seem to be working. We’ve got icicles hanging from the gutters, and the beginning of an ice dam on the roof. There’s already a six-inch-thick glacier in the roof valley over the front porch, and I don’t think today’s temperatures will be high enough to melt it.”

I gaped at my husband. “Hold on! I’m sure we’ve had this conversation before!”

Miles wrinkled his brow. “I think you’re right, but how could that be?”

“We had problems with the heat element before. Let me check my files. I know I kept the receipt.”

looking for fileNote 2It took me about twenty minutes to find the receipt in the mess I termed my filing system. “Yeah, here it is. We had someone here to fix it in December of 2017. And the repair technician, Guy, attached a note to the receipt. It says if the heating element ever fails again, please call another company to deal with it.

“Oh, that’s right! How could we ever forget that? Your characters caused quite the hullabaloo. I thought Guy and his co-worker – I think his name was Bill? I thought the two of them were going to have coronaries!”

https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/just-another-typical-day/

I sighed. “Yeah. I remember that, too. And now the heating element isn’t working again?”

Miles nodded.

“Great. Well, why don’t we look at a few things before we make any calls?”

checked everythingWe checked that the unit was plugged in, we checked that the power switch was on, we checked that neither the ground-fault circuit interrupters nor the circuit breakers were tripped, and we checked everything else we could remember the repair technicians checking the last time we had a problem. They all looked ship-shape and Bristol fashion. We walked back to my office.

I frowned and chewed on my lower lip for a few minutes. “December 2017 . . . that was, what, 15 months ago?”

Miles nodded.

“Do you think we could risk calling the same company to send someone to look?

Miles shrugged. “Why not? I mean, what are the odds the same techs would still be working for that company?”

I brightened a bit. “True. Companies don’t seem to retain employees like they did years ago. I’ll give them a call and see if I can get anyone to come out.”

phone with caller IDI dialed the number and I was quickly connected to the company’s automated phone system. A recorded voice directed me to please listen to the entire message, as their menu options had recently changed.

I listened. The options sounded the same to me as they had 15 months ago – press one for sales, two for customer service. I pressed two. The same recorded voice told me to press one for billing inquiries or two for repairs and technical assistance. I pressed two, and got more options from which to choose. After navigating through all the correct options, I heard a different recorded voice sweetly advise me that all service representatives were helping other customers.

I looked over at Miles, who was waiting patiently next to my desk. “All service representatives are helping other customers. I guess they haven’t hired any more employees.” Back when we first contracted with them to install covered rain gutters and heating elements, the company only had a total of about a dozen employees, including Skit and Skat, co-vice-presidents in charge of rodent control in their warehouse.

Skit and Skat

The disembodied voice droned on, informing me that all calls were taken in the order received, and cautioning me to remain on the line. Then I was treated to some soothing music.

I glanced over at Miles again. “I’m on hold, with music. It sounds like the same crossover thrash version of the 1812 Overture, accompanied by yowling dogs and cats during a car crash that entertained me the last time I called them.”

noise 2

The music was blessedly interrupted at regular intervals by the sweet voice endlessly repeating how much they appreciated my business and assuring me that a customer service representative would be with me shortly.

Forty minutes later, I was finally connected with a live being, whose tired, irritated voice contrasted sharply with the sweet tones of the recorded voice on their automated system. After taking all the pertinent information, the representative put me on hold again, this time, blissfully music-free.

Another twenty minutes passed. I was beginning to think either I had been disconnected, or the customer service rep had forgotten about me. Then the tired, irritated voice came back on the line – this time sounding a lot more irritated. “Mrs. Tesch?”

“Yes, I’m still here.”

“Mrs. Tesch, our records indicate you just had the heating element replaced in December.”

December 2017I corrected the speaker. “December 2017.”

I heard the rep shuffling through some papers. “Oh, yeah, December 2017. Still, that’s only . . . what? 15 months ago? Why are you calling about it again? What’s the problem?”
eyes rolling
I sighed and rolled my eyes, even though I knew the other person couldn’t see me. “I should think that would be obvious. The problem is it’s not working again. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be calling for a repair technician to come look at it, would I?”

“Well, why isn’t it working?”
scowl
I scowled. “How should I know why it’s not working? Why don’t you just send a repair tech out here and let him determine why it’s not working?”

Completely ignoring that suggestion, the customer service rep proceeded to ask me questions. “Are you certain the heating element is plugged in?”

eyes rolling“Yes, I’m certain the heating element is plugged in.”

“Is the power switch in the on position?”

“Yes, the power switch is in the on position.”

eyes rolling“Are the ground-fault circuit interrupters tripped?”

“No, the ground-fault circuit interrupters are not tripped.”

“What about your circuit breakers?”

“None of the circuit breakers have been tripped.” I sighed. “Look, my husband and I have already checked out all the obvious things. We need a repair tech.”

I heard more shuffling of papers. “Well, Mrs. Tesch, we might be able to get someone out there next week. Or maybe we could refer you to another company?” The voice sounded hopeful.

I could almost feel the steam coming out of my ears. My voice dropped to a dangerous growl. “Look. By next week, the damage to the roof caused by the ice dams could be considerable and costly. We need someone here today.” When I got no response to that, I took a deep breath and pressed on. “Your company installed this system, and your repair techs worked on it last. So I suggest you get someone out here now.”

The voice responded, sounding considerably cowed. “Ah, yes ma’am. We’ll have someone there within the hour.”

Backyard 050MilesAfter hanging up the phone, I shared the details of the conversation with Miles, who looked impressed. “My wife, the tiger!”

I grinned. “Well, the tiger better go have a chat with her characters, so we don’t have a repeat of the last debacle! Care to accompany me?”

“Actually, no. I’d prefer not getting on the bad side of any of your characters, thanks.”

“Coward!” I gave Miles a quick peck on the cheek before scurrying off to round up my characters.

In less than 10 minutes, I had my characters rounded up and corralled in the conference room.

Elf facing rightCleric was the first to speak up. “Why did you wish to see us all here, Mistress? Is something wrong?”

I nodded. “There is a problem with the heating element in the rain gutters out front. The . . .”

Arrogant OneI was cut off mid-sentence. “Well, we certainly did not cause it!” My Arrogant One drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak with both hands. My other characters nodded, and several muttered similar comments.

Dwarf“Aye, we be inn-o-sent, lass!” My Old Dwarf was beet-red, obviously upset at the notion he stood accused of anything.

I sighed and waved my hand dismissively. “I am not accusing anyone. I just wanted to let you all know the company is sending someone here to fix the problem.”dragon looking right

“The same repairmen they sent last time?” Dragon snickered.

I gave her a narrow-eyed glare. “I don’t know. What I do know is you are all to stay right here in the conference room until the repairmen finish their work and leave. I do not want a repeat of the trouble you caused last time.”

My Old Dwarf gaped at me. “But lassie! We just been tryin’ ta be helpful.”

I rounded on him. “Well, don’t. Just stay here, out of the way.”

My Old Dwarf’s face crumpled, and I almost felt bad about speaking so sharply. Almost. Until I remembered the murderous look in the dwarf’s eyes when Guy called him Gramps. And the looks on the repairmen’s faces when they witnessed Dragon change from her elf maiden guise to her true form.

“The repairmen will be here any minute. I don’t know how long it will take them to fix the problem. Not one of you is to leave this room until I come back here and tell you it’s okay. Understand?”

There was a lot of muttering and grumbling, but everyone nodded their understanding.

I headed up the stairs and had just reached the landing by the front entry when the doorbell rang. I opened the door to find an old man standing there, squinting through his coke-bottle glasses at a clipboard.

repairman

“Can I help you?”

The man looked up, startled. “Eh?”

I sighed, perceiving his eyesight was not the only sense with which he had problems. I raised my voice. “Can I help you?”

He relaxed. “Oh, yeah, maybe you can. Are you Mrs. Tesch?”

I nodded. “That’s me.”

He smiled hesitantly, and flashed me his company identification. “I’m Crawford. I was asked to look at your heating element.”
icicles
I pointed at the rain gutter, festooned with icicles. “There it is.” I pointed to the cord and the power switch. “It’s plugged in, the switch is on, and my husband and I have checked the ground-fault circuit interrupters and the circuit breakers.”

CrawfordCrawford looked taken aback. “Well, seems you folks did half my job for me.” He looked at the rain gutter and squinted at the notes on his clipboard, then turned back to me, grimacing. I wasn’t sure if the expression was directed at me, or if the man just had a touch of indigestion.

Crawford 3Suddenly, Crawford seemed a bit startled. He looked over my shoulder and seemed to be squinting at something behind me. I glanced behind me, but saw nothing. I turned back. Crawford was looking directly at me and giving me a big smile. “Well, Mrs. Tesch, why don’t you give me about an hour or so, and I’ll see if I can’t get this little problem resolved.”

Somewhat confused, I merely nodded. “Okay.” I looked in the direction of his truck but didn’t see anyone else. “Do you need some help? My husband could . . .”

“Oh, no, ma’am! The company frowns on non-employees assisting us. Insurance and all that, you understand.” Another big smile.

He turned to begin work, and I went back inside and returned to my chores. I thought Crawford’s estimate of an hour to be optimistic. I figured it would take the old man, working alone, several hours to complete the job.

I was surprised when, only about 40 minutes later, the doorbell rang. I ran to answer it.

Crawford stood there, a bill in one hand and a thick, flat cable in the other. “Here you go, ma’am. I replaced the heating element for you. The old one was damaged. It looks like a chipmunk or squirrel was gnawing on it, maybe last fall, and the melting snow just shorted out the unit. Happens all the time.” He showed me the damaged cable. I could see the bare wire and the scorch marks on the insulation.

After examining the damaged unit, I stepped outside and looked at the rain gutters and roof. The ice dams were gone, as was most of the snow.

“Wow! That was fast! How did you manage to clear all the ice and snow so quickly?”
Crawford 3
Crawford gave me a sly smile and a conspiratorial wink. “I have your friend to thank for that. Never could have done it without her.”

“My . . . friend?” I furrowed my brow and narrowed my eyes.

“Yeah.” He smiled again, looking like the cat that swallowed the canary. He leaned closer and lowered his voice. “You know, your dragon should get together with my griffin. I bet they’d have a grand old time together!”

Dragon and Griffon

Crawford leavingI gaped at him as he thrust the bill into my hand, turned, walked back to his truck, and hopped in. Before he drove away, Crawford rolled down his window and called back to me. “You know, there’s a great writers’ group that meets twice a month at the local Coffee Shoppe. Maybe I’ll see you there sometime. Be sure to bring your dragon!”

I stood gaping at the departing vehicle for several stunned moments. Then I turned and charged back into the house. “Dragon!

scaly dragon

Is it possible that other writers have had characters fall from their manuscripts? Hmmmmm. I guess we may never know for certain. Be sure to return every week to see what new adventures and misadventures await my band of displaced characters. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Armchair Birding Ten Days Before Spring

Armchair Birding Ten Days Before Spring

Elf facing rightPurgatory Creek and Staring Lake 099“It is only 10 days to the vernal equinox, the first day of spring.”

Dragon opened one sleepy eye and regarded Cleric with disdain.

“What? Am I incorrect?” Cleric blushed under Dragon’s glare.

Dragon in front of fireplaceSnowy deck“I do not know. I do not care.” Dragon rolled over to toast her other side by the heat of her illusory fireplace. “I do not understand the climate of this world. Spring, indeed! The temperatures are still frigid, and the snow is so deep you could lose a good size horse in the drifts!” She glanced out the French doors to the snow-covered deck and snorted. “In our world, spring meant green grass, flowers, birdsong, sunshine, and blessed, blessed warmth!”


“You and the Arrogant One should be glad you were absent from this world for a while. The temperatures while you were gone were brutal! What Mistress Writer terms the feels like temperature due to the wind chill factor was as much as 30 degrees below zero! Even the real temperature was below zero, though not by as many degrees.” Sorceress gathered her cloak closer around her and sipped from her cup of hot tea.

Dragon scowled. “Those numbers mean nothing to me. I do not comprehend the various systems of measurement they use in this world. Mistress Writer calls the temperature here degrees Fahrenheit, while other parts of this world measure temperature in degrees Celsius. I do not know what comprises a degree, nor do I understand Fahrenheit or Celsius.

Cleric nodded. “I agree it is confusing. I only know it was positively numbing. Only Mistress Writer and Master Miles have ventured out of the house since you and the elf left for the other world, and they only go out when absolutely necessary. But even in the house, I can feel the chill.”

sorceress-facing-rightcup-of-teaSorceress placed her teacup on the end table. “The Foreman and the lads are getting quite cranky. They have been unable to work with their horses since the beginning of winter.”

Smoke drifting from Dragon's snoutunicorn“And I am so cold, my scales ache.” A cloud of black smoke drifted from Dragon’s snout. “I think we should all go back to visit the Lord of the Forest and the others in his world! It was tolerably warm there!”

I walked in in mid-conversation, but I had heard enough to comment. “From everything you told us about your recent adventure there, I’m not sure that would be a good idea. I must admit, though, the part about it being warm there makes it tempting. I can’t stand much more of this weather myself. And I don’t think the birds are very happy about it, either.”

I juggled several plastic containers as I struggled to open the door to the deck. “How about a hand here?”

Cleric jumped up and opened the door for me and grabbed half the containers from my arms. We went out and filled the various dishes and food stations around the deck with mealworms, assorted seeds, peanuts and grapes. We were hardly in the house again before a huge flock of birds descended to gobble up the food.

American Robins - overwintering flock (1)

Dragon birdwatchingDragon glanced out the door and her eyes widened. “So many birds!” She shrunk to the size of a housecat and clambered onto the back of the sofa to watch through the window.

Cleric nodded. “And they are all so hungry!”

“Well, it is extremely cold, so they need a lot of food to stay warm.” I watched them make short work of the mealworms and start on the peanuts and grapes. “They are ravenous today!”

“Yes, they seem to eat even more than your Old Dwarf.” Sorceress quirked an eyebrow and smirked.

Dwarf and hamAs if on cue, my Old Dwarf walked into the room, munching on some ham. He gave Dragon an affectionate look, then followed everyone’s gaze. “Wow! Thet be one big bunch o birdies!” He walked over to the doors and watched as the birds ate. “They be makin’ me hungry! When be lunch?”

I gaped at the rotund figure. “Lunch? You’re eating right now!”

“Eh, thet be jus’ a little snack ta be holdin’ me over.” He turned and walked toward the kitchen. “I be seein’ iffin yer mister be needin’ any help ta be fixin’ lunch.”

I shook my head and chuckled at the old reprobate.

“Mistress?”

I turned my attention to Cleric. “Hmmm?”

She tilted her head and scrunched her brow as she looked at the birds. “Are these birds all robins?”

I checked the flock and nodded.

American Robins - overwintering flock (2)

“Is that not unusual for Minnesota in the winter?”

“Well, I don’t know how unusual it is for the rest of Minnesota, but I have never seen such a large flock of overwintering robins in our neighborhood. Most winters, if we have any robins at all in our yard, there are only a few, never more than three or four. This winter, we have a flock that has grown from around 30 birds in December to almost 100 now.”

After a frantic few minutes, most of the food was gone. Cleric and I stepped out and refilled the plates and feeders, then returned to our seats to do some more birdwatching.

gypsy-facing-rightMy Gypsy entered the room and came over to join us as the birds returned to the buffet. “Oh, robins! I love them. They display more variation in color and markings than most people notice.” He pointed to specific birds on the deck railing  as he commented. “Some are pale and have a great deal of white while others are deep brick-red on their fronts. And some have much more white around their eyes than others.”

Once the robins ate their fill and flew off, other birds ventured onto the deck, or waited their turn in the nearby trees. Cleric and my Gypsy settled into their favorite game of seeing who was quickest to identify the birds.

My Gypsy was first. “See the little brown bird on the dish, eating safflower seed? The rufous cap and line through his eye, the smudged dot on his chest, and the bi-color bill all tell me he is an American Tree Sparrow.”

American Tree Sparrow

The two companions looked to me, and my Gypsy grinned as I nodded in agreement with his assessment.

Not to be outdone, Cleric quickly identified some birds. “See the two birds on the posts and the one on the dish? The black cap and bib, the white cheeks, the gray wing feathers edged in white, and the stubby bill tell me these three are Black-capped Chickadees.”


I smiled and nodded. “One apiece. Who’s next?”

My Gypsy immediately pointed to another small bird on a post. “That bird also has a black cap and white cheeks, but no black bib. His longer bill, his white throat and belly, and his bluish-gray back tell me this compact little bird is a White-breasted Nuthatch.”
White-breasted Nuthatch
“Two for my Gypsy and one for Cleric.” I smiled approvingly at my two characters.

“Oh, look!” Cleric pointed to another bird that had just landed on the snowy railing. “Blue crest, black necklace, gray front, blue back, and various shades of blue with some black plumage on the wings and tail tell me he’s a Blue Jay, and there are two more in the trees.” She pointed again.


“Two-all. You’re both getting really good at identifying these birds!”

My Gypsy grinned, missing the opportunity to score another identification, as Cleric quickly continued. “Those three are Dark-eyed Juncos, also called snowbirds, as they are winter visitors here. They are mostly dark gray to black, with white bellies. They have white outer tail feathers, which, of course, you can only see on the bird sitting on the post. Oh, and they have pink bills.” She pointed to the birds, one on the post, one eating from a dish, and one pecking at some spray millet.

“You forgot to identify the sub-species.” My Gypsy gave her a smug look. “There are at least seven sub-species of Dark-eyed Juncos. These three belong to the Slate-colored subspecies.”

“I’d say you each get a point for that one. That puts you at three apiece.” I grinned.

My Gypsy immediately tried to pull ahead in the competition. “There are three female Northern Cardinals eating from the clay dishes.” He pointed, and continued, “See the short, thick bills, and the pale brown coloring, with tinges of red in their crests, their wings, and their tails?”

Cleric nodded, and quickly pointed to the trees. “And there are three male Northern Cardinals in the trees, waiting for their mates to finish eating. They have brilliant red coloring, long tails, and black masks. And one is singing!”


“Another point each! You’re doing so well!” I gave them both an encouraging smile.

Cleric beamed at the praise. “It is fun to practice our skills identifying the birds of your world, Mistress. While we knew most of the birds in our own world, everything was foreign to us when we found ourselves in your world.”

My Gypsy nodded. “Even after several years here, we still sometimes have trouble identifying some birds. For instance, I can tell the little woodpecker eating from the dish on the deck is a Downy Woodpecker. He is close enough that I can see he is very small and has a short beak relative to the size of his head. But there are three woodpeckers in the trees that look like Downies, but I cannot be sure. They might be the larger look-alike, the Hairy Woodpecker. From this distance, I cannot judge their size accurately, nor the relative size of bill-to-head.”

Cleric and I looked where my Gypsy was pointing. I turned to her. “Do you want to weigh in on this?”

Cleric nodded. “I believe all three are the smaller one, the Downy Woodpecker. Although there are no other birds near any of them by which to judge their size, they appear very compact to me. Also, while I am not positive, I believe I am seeing dark spots on their white outer tail feathers, which would confirm their identity as Downies.”

“Excellent! You both scored another point!”

My Gypsy furrowed his brow, obviously upset that he was unable to confirm the identities, but he quickly brightened when he saw another bird. “Well, I can see that bird in the tree well enough to identify it. A soft-gray bird with black spots on its wings, a long, thin tail, pink legs and a thin, slightly curved black bill – that’s a Mourning Dove!”
Mourning Dove
I nodded. “Very good! You just took the lead.”

“Oh, no! I do not suppose that one would count – an Eastern Gray Squirrel, who has chased all the birds from the deck!” Cleric frowned at the furry animal, then laughed. “I think he wants to know if we have any more peanuts. The birds did not leave any!”
Eastern Gray Squirrel (1)
“I don’t think we should put any more out right now, and you might want to suggest to the squirrel that he gets out of sight.”

No sooner had I said that when a hawk flew down from the tree, landing on the railing. The squirrel made a hasty escape into the bush next to the deck.

Cooper's Hawk (2)

“Oh, my! I am glad our furry little friend did not end up as this bird’s dinner!” Cleric gaped at the bird, who struck a regal pose. “Mistress, is this a Cooper’s Hawk or a Sharp-shinned Hawk?”

Cooper's Hawk (1)My Gypsy, eager to show off, did not even give me a chance to answer. “Oh, I know! This bird is larger than the average Sharp-shinned Hawk, which is only about the size of the Blue Jay we saw earlier. The eyes are close to the front of the head, and the feathers on his nape are lighter than his head feathers, giving him a capped look, rather than a hooded appearance. This is a Cooper’s Hawk.”

I nodded. “Yup, and the red eyes and the vertical barring tell us it is a full adult.”

There was a commotion on the deck, and we watched as a smaller hawk came and chased off the Cooper’s Hawk. The newcomer settled itself on a post and looked around.

Sharp-shinned Hawk (1)

Cleric tilted her head and studied the bird. “Oh, this hawk has yellow eyes and streaks rather than barring. This is a juvenile, is it not?”

“Yup. But a juvenile what?” I grinned.

Cleric chewed on her lower lip. “A Sharp-shinned Hawk?”

My Gypsy raised an eyebrow. “Are you certain?”

Cleric grinned. “Yes. This bird is smaller than the other hawk, and the barring is very large and bold. The barring on a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk would be thinner, finer. It is a Sharpie.”

We watched as the bird moved around, showing off its beautiful plumage.


Dragon frowned. “The Gypsy said a Sharp-shinned Hawk was about the size of a Blue Jay. While this hawk is smaller than the other hawk, it is noticeably larger than the Blue Jay we saw earlier.”

Cleric nodded. “It is probably a female. The female birds of prey are larger than the males. A female Sharp-shinned Hawk could be almost the same size as a male Cooper’s Hawk.”

I nodded. “Excellent! I am very impressed by both of you!”

My Gypsy frowned. “But which one of us won? Who identified the most birds?”

I reviewed the birds we had seen, and who had identified each one. “I think it was pretty much a tie.”

“Well, I will win next time.” My Gypsy squared his shoulders and set his jaw.

“We will see about that!” Cleric smiled.

Sorceress rose from her chair and beckoned us. “Right now, I think we should see if perchance lunch is ready.”

Dragon hopped down from the back of the sofa, resuming her former size before her feet hit the floor. “Only if I can move my fireplace into the dining room.”

fireplace2

We hope you enjoyed our winter armchair-birding adventure. Be sure to return every week to see what new adventures and misadventures await my band of displaced characters. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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