An Old Friend to the Rescue

An Old Friend to the Rescue

Almost a week had gone by, and still Dragon sulked in front of her blazing fireplace.

Dragon in front of fireplace

Temperature steadily risingArrogant One“The temperature outside has been steadily rising all week. Summer has returned with all its heat and humidity, and still that vile beast keeps that inferno blazing in the conference room! The entire house is like an oven! She gives no thought to the comfort of anyone save herself!” My Arrogant One scowled fiercely as he rose from the breakfast table. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak with both hands. “I, for one, have no intention of subjecting myself to such maltreatment. I am retiring to the shed until someone takes that insufferable beast in hand.”

Old DwarfMy Old Dwarf stopped loading his fifth helping of flapjacks onto his plate and jumped up to face my Arrogant One. “Eh, thet insufferable beastie be me mostest specialest friend, so’s ye best be watchin’ yer tongue there, elfie, afore I be puttin’ a knot in it fer ye.”

The elf, predictably, reacted with a glass-shattering shriek. “Do not call me elfie!”

The dwarf chuckled and settled back to finish his breakfast as the elf stomped out of the room.

Bounty Hunter“The elf might be annoying, but in this case, he is right. Something must be done about that cold-blooded reptile before we all bake to death.” My Bounty Hunter threw his napkin on his plate and followed the elf to the relative comfort of the garden shed.

Young hero 2My Young Hero wiped the sweat from his brow. “The rest of us have discussed escaping into the illusory world created for the Foreman.” He refilled his glass from the pitcher of ice water and gulped it down. “Mistress, you and Master Miles are welcome to join us.”

“Thanks, but I think Miles and I should stay here. I’ll try to reason with Dragon again.” I raked my hand through my hair and turned toward my husband.

Miles talking to dwarfMiles frowned. “You better persuade her to get rid of that fireplace before all the paint in the house bubbles off the walls and the paneling warps.”

My Old Dwarf pushed himself away from the table and got slowly to his feet. “Good luck ta ye, lass. Ye be needin’ it! Tha beastie do na even be listenin’ ta meself.” The pain and worry over his friend showed in my Old Dwarf’s red-rimmed eyes, slumped shoulders, and shuffling gait as he left the room.

I sighed and looked at Miles again. Before I could say anything, the doorbell rang.

Cleric closeup“You and Master Miles finish your meal, Mistress. I will see who is at the door.” Cleric trudged out of the room, wiping the sweat from her face. Moments later, she raced back, eyes sparkling and a huge smile lighting up her face. “Mistress, there is someone here to see you! Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm begs an audience.”

I jumped out of my chair. “Ollie? Ollie’s here already? I only called his human this morning.”

“You called James?” Miles looked relieved. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“You were busy making breakfast when I made the call. When I got to the breakfast table, my Old Dwarf was already here, and I didn’t want to mention it in front of him. He and Dragon share a close bond, but nothing like the bond Dragon shares with Ollie. I didn’t want to upset the old reprobate. You know how jealous he can get.”

“Do you really think Ollie can help?” My Gypsy looked skeptical.

“Only one way to find out.” I headed down the stairs and out the front door to welcome our guest.

Ollie and butterfliesWhen I arrived in the front yard, Ollie was sitting there, seemingly mesmerized by two butterflies fluttering around his head. I took a moment to study him. I had almost forgotten how handsome the Old English Sheepdog was, with his elegant head, his intelligent eyes, his muscular body, and his magnificent coat, beautifully patterned in blue merle and white.

Me greeting OllieWhen he saw me, Ollie jumped up and woofed in greeting, a goofy puppy-like grin on his face. When he tried to wag his little bobbed tail, his entire hindquarters wiggled comically with the effort. When he saw me trying not to laugh at his antics, he immediately stopped. He almost looked as if he were blushing, as if remembering he was no longer a puppy, and he quickly assumed a more dignified bearing.

I smiled. “Sir Oliver, it’s been too long since you honored us with a visit! It’s good to see you again.”

Ollie whined and nodded. “Too long, indeed, Marge. I have missed coming here. But please, call me Ollie. Sir Oliver is too formal between friends.”

I smiled and nodded. “Of course, Ollie. How have you been? And how are your human companions, James and Ron?”

Ollie (8)“We are all well, thank you, Marge.” Ollie’s human speech was well developed, as were his manners. “But, please, from what James told me, I would prefer we do our catching up later. James said Dragon needs my help.” Ollie’s distress was evident in his china blue eyes, and the way he started dancing around. He began mixing his canine vocabulary with his human words. “Woof! Where is she? What is wrong? Is she injured? Is she in danger? Woof! Woof! I need to help Dragon! What can I do?” He ended with a heartbreaking whimper.

“Relax!” I placed a hand on Ollie’s broad head and patted him reassuringly. “She is uninjured, and in no danger, save that of losing her friends. She is currently in the conference room, basking in front of her illusory fireplace.”

Ollie scratched behind one ear with a hind foot. Then he cocked his head and gave me a confused look. “Her fireplace? But it must be more than eighty-five degrees today!”

I nodded. “Dragon claims that anything under a hundred degrees is not comfortable for her.”

“Woof! How can she stand it, with her luxurious fur coat?”

“Fur coat?” I furrowed my brow and tilted my head. “Dragon has scales.”

How Ollie sees DragonOllie looked embarrassed. “Woof, woof! Of course! I forgot Dragon is a dragon. You see, when I look at Dragon, I see a beautiful female Old English Sheepdog!”

I chuckled. “I see. Well, at any rate, you can imagine how the rest of us feel with the house so hot.” I gestured toward the front door. “Maybe you can talk with her?”

“Woof, woof!” Ollie shook his head so hard, his ears flapped. “Oh, no, Marge! My own fur coat is quite thick, and I do not tolerate extreme heat very well. Perhaps you could tell her I am here, and I could wait for her in the back yard?”

I nodded and went inside as Ollie trotted around to the rear of the house.

A blast of hot air assaulted me when I opened the door to the conference room, driving me back and making me gasp for air. I steeled myself, pushed through the wall of heat, and entered the room. “Dragon? Dragon!

Smoke drifting from Dragon's snoutThe cranky beast opened an eye, and smoke poured from her snout. “If you are here to complain about the heat, save your breath. I find it most pleasant, and I intend to stay here and enjoy it.”

I shrugged. “Then should I tell your guest you choose not to see him?”

“What guest?” Dragon’s question was delivered with a snarl.

“Ollie has traveled all this way . . .”

Dragon was on her feetOllie (4a)Dragon was on her feet in a heartbeat, eyes wide and a silly grim stretching her reptilian lips. “Ollie? My Ollie . . . er, I mean my friend, Ollie, is here? Where? Show him in! Show him in!”

I folded my arms over my chest and raised an eyebrow. “Oh, I’m sorry.” I smirked. “Ollie has declined my invitation to come in to see you. He can’t tolerate extreme heat. He has a rather thick fur coat, you know. He said he’d be in the back yard if you cared to visit.”

The words were hardly out of my mouth when Dragon was through the doorway and racing up the stairs.

Sighing, I wiped away the rivulets of sweat running down my face and trudged down the hall to my office. I walked over and opened the window, hoping for a cool breeze to alleviate the oppressive heat.

I smiled at the scene unfolding before me. Ollie was racing in circles around Dragon, yipping and woofing for joy. Dragon bent over and let Ollie give her puppy-dog kisses, licking her snout and cheeks. Once Ollie had finished kissing her, he sat and looked at her with adoration in his eyes.

Dragon carressing Ollie seen through screen“I have missed you, dear one.” Dragon spoke softly and caressed Ollie, tenderly ruffling the fur on his head and gently scratching behind his ears.

Ollie closed his eyes in bliss as he replied, “I have missed you, too.”

I tip-toed away from the window to give them some privacy, but their voices carried through the screen.

“I am so overjoyed at seeing you, I forgot to ask what brings you here today.”

I held my breath, hoping Ollie wouldn’t tell Dragon I had called James to request Ollie’s help. I should have known Ollie would be discreet. He kept my secret.

“Woof. I just thought you might like a visit from a friend.”

When there was no response to Ollie’s statement, I imagined Dragon raising an eyebrow or shaking her scaly head at her canine friend.

“Growf? I felt that you were troubled, and I wanted to assure myself you are safe and well?”

I smiled. I knew I was right, and Ollie’s first response had elicited a skeptical look from Dragon. This time, Dragon must have accepted Ollie’s reply, as she answered him.

“I appreciate your concern, dear one, but as you can see, I am both safe and well.”

This time I imagined Ollie rolling his eyes, as he replied. “Woof! You know you cannot hide your emotions from me. Something troubles you. Cannot a friend offer some help, lend a willing ear?”

I heard Dragon sigh. She took some time before answering Ollie. “You are right. I am troubled.”

“I am listening.”

As Dragon explained her vexation to Ollie, I heard none of the anger or defiance in her words that had been directed at me the previous evening. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2020/08/09/the-summer-of-dragons-discontent/ Instead, there was an almost wistful tone to her voice.

Dragon talking to Ollie 1“For quite some time now . . . really, ever since falling out of Mistress Writer’s manuscripts and becoming stranded here in the real world with her and Master Miles . . . I have been the one everyone turns to for help. When some of my fellow characters yearned for their horses, I was the one expected to create illusory animals for them. When the Foreman longed for his old life, when he was feeling useless here, I was the one expected to create a solution.”

Dragon paused. She must have begun pacing. When she spoke again, her voice came from a different direction.

Dragon talking to Ollie 2“When the Arrogant One creates problems, when the neighbors observe something they should not, when the Young Hero is plagued with nightmares, when some mystery or danger or menace threatens us . . . it is always me, Dragon, who is expected to deal with it.”

There was another pause, and then her voice came from her original location.

Dragon talking to Ollie 3“Still, for all I do for everyone else, no one cares about my happiness or well-being. I desire to be warm. I am a creature of fire and heat, raised in the burning sands of the desert. Yet, they would deny me my fireplace, my warmth, my comfort.”

Ollie (7)All the while Dragon spoke, Ollie remained silent, not once interrupting to ask for details or suggesting she might be exaggerating. He waited patiently at each pause, not jumping in with advice or urging Dragon to continue. Ollie continued to remain silent for a long time after Dragon stopped speaking. Finally, I heard him reply, his human-speak combined with a series of whines and whimpers.

“I understand. You feel you carry everything on your shoulders, and you feel unappreciated and ill-used by those for whom you do so much.”

Ollie paused, and I assumed Dragon was nodding, as I heard no reply from her.

Ollie continued. “Do you hate them for it?”

“Who? Mistress Writer and Master Miles, and my fellow characters?”

“Yes.”

Dragon took a long few moments before answering. “Hate them? No. I would lay down my life for them.”

Ollie (10)What happened to summerOllie woofed. “Yes. That is your lot, your role in life. You are the Wise One and the Protector. The one who created you endowed you with greatness . . . great wisdom, great strength. For that, and all the burdens it places on you, do you resent the others – Mistress Writer, Master Miles, and your fellow characters?”

I heard Dragon reply in a small voice. “No.”

“Woof! Woof! Then embrace your role in life! Be the Wise One. Be the Protector. It would be no different, you know, if you were still in your own world.”

There was another pause.

Ollie (8)Dragon stepped forward“And remember. Not everyone who resides under the same roof with you is a creature of fire and heat. Not everyone in this house was raised in the burning sands of the desert. You alone are comfortable in such an inferno. And part of being the Wise One, part of being the Protector, is not causing harm or discomfort to those in your safekeeping. The Wise One should be able to find a way to remain warm and cozy while not baking the others in the process.”

I heard the sound of Dragon’s laughter, a combination of the melodious tinkling of crystal wind chimes, the gentle babble of a brook, and the soft sound of wind through reeds.Dragon carressing Ollie seen through screen 2

“Dear one! Methinks the One who created you endowed you with much greater wisdom than that with which I have been endowed. Thank you, my friend!”

I quietly left the office, hoping Dragon and Ollie wouldn’t discover I had been eavesdropping. Before I had even walked up the stairs to the kitchen, the house had dropped back to a comfortable temperature.

“Hey, honey?”

Miles looked up, expectantly, as I walked into the kitchen.

“Defrost the biggest, juiciest steak we have in the freezer. I’m inviting Ollie to stay for dinner, and he’s earned a tasty reward.”

Ollie's reward

 

My thanks to Ollie, and to his human companion, my social media friend, author James Stack, for Ollie’s guest appearance in this week’s blog.

Ollie 3

Ollie 1
Ollie dressed as James one Halloween

 

Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm – Ollie – is an Old English Sheepdog who is as wise as he is handsome.

 

 

 

Ollie's companion James StackOllie’s human companion, James Stack, is a recipient of the Freedom of Expression of Courage Award from PEN America. His memoir, WORLD’S FAIR, and collection of poetry, PLEASURES & SEASONS OF VERMONT, were published in 2013. His blog, Postcards From Lebanon, about his experience with chemotherapy, appeared on The Huffington Post during 2013/2014.

 

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

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

The Summer of Dragon’s Discontent

The Summer of Dragon’s Discontent

“Honey?”

InventoryI looked up as my husband entered the kitchen, where I was inventorying the contents of the refrigerator before moving on to the pantry. Tomorrow was grocery shopping day, and I wanted to make certain my list was complete.

MilesMe“What’s the problem?” Noting his annoyed look, I put down the list and gave him my undivided attention. “Did one of my characters get into some mischief again?”

 

“I’m not sure. Have you noticed how warm it is?” Miles took out a handkerchief and mopped his brow.

I nodded and frowned. “I have noticed, but I thought it was just me. I’ve been scurrying around here this morning like a chicken with my head cut off.”

ThermometerMiles shook his head. “No, it’s not you. It’s hot in the house. Too hot. It’s almost ninety degrees in here, and it’s only sixty-eight outside. I already checked the thermostat to make sure no one had accidentally turned on the heater. The slide switch was sitting right in the middle, between heat and air conditioning, in the off position.”

“So, why is it so hot in the house?”

We looked at each other for a moment, then both turned and yelled, “Dragon!

Dwarf with apple“If ye be lookin’ fer tha beastie, she been in tha con-fer-ence room, lastest I been seein’ ’er. She prob’ly still be there. She dinna be lookin’ much liken she be wantin’ ta be movin’.” My Old Dwarf entered the room, chomping on an apple. He made a beeline for the refrigerator. Holding the remains of his apple between his teeth, he started pulling out two loaves of bread along with everything that could conceivably go on a sandwich, and a whole lot that couldn’t, rendering my shopping list useless.

“You better go see what she’s up to.” Miles spoke to me but scowled at the dwarf. “I’ll stay here and try to make certain your Old Dwarf doesn’t eat us out of house and home.”Dragon in front of fireplace

I found Dragon in the conference room, as my Old Dwarf had predicted. She was curled up in a tight ball, sound asleep, in front of her blazing illusory fireplace. She had morphed to black. Her color often reflects her mood, I reminded myself.

“Dragon?” I tiptoed over to the beast and cautiously poked at her, but she did not stir. “Dragon!” I shouted practically in her ear. I had to shout several more times before she half-opened an eye. She greeted me with a growl.

“Nice to see you, too.” I frowned.

Smoke drifting from Dragon's snoutDragon’s eyes narrowed dangerously, the tip of her tail started twitching, and acrid smoke drifted from her snout. “I do not wish to be disturbed. I wish to warm myself.”

I scoffed. “You’ve made this room hotter than a dwarven forge with your illusory fireplace! And the whole house is like a sauna!”What happened to summer

Dragon nodded. Her reptilian lips stretched in a smile, revealing terrible, dagger-sharp teeth. “It is my only defense against your Minnesota weather.” She sat up and morphed back to her normal red color. “What happened to summer? Last week, it was deliciously hot. This week is it freezing!”

I snorted. “Hardly freezing! The temperature outside right now is a comfortable sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit.”

Angry Dragon (2)“Comfortable for whom?” Black smoke plumed from her snout again. “In case you have forgotten, I am a creature of fire and heat, raised in the burning sands of the desert. When it reaches one hundred on your devices that record the heat, it is finally warm enough for my comfort.”

I glared at her. “Well, it had better not reach one hundred in this house! If you are cold, shape-shift to the form of a person and put on a coat. Or create an illusory desert to visit. Just keep the temperature in this house comfortable for the rest of the occupants, if you don’t mind!”

The beast’s tail twitched, and her reptilian eyes narrowed. “I do mind.”

“What?” I was taken aback by her response.

“I do mind.” She started to pout. “The comfort and care of every other occupant of this house is catered to before mine. I do not hear you complaining when your Old Dwarf raids the refrigerator a dozen times a day.”

“If you don’t hear me complain about that, it’s because you don’t listen very well.” I stared at Dragon, my brow furrowed and my hands on my hips. “What’s gotten into you, anyway? I’ve never heard you complain about not being treated the same as the others.”

“If you do not hear me complain about that, it is because you do not listen very well.” The beast turned my words back on me.

I gaped at the huge reptile. I had never before heard her complain about her treatment.

Continuing to pout, Dragon seemed intent on declaring every slight she felt she had suffered since falling out of one of my manuscripts and becoming stranded in this, the real world.

SingsongDragon,” she sing-songed. “The Foreman, the Gypsy, and the Young Hero miss their horses. Create some illusory mounts for them. Dragon, the Foreman misses his old life. Create an illusory world for him so he can feel useful again. Dragon, the Arrogant One is causing problems with his magic. Deal with him. Dragon, some neighbors have seen the illusory stable and horses. Do something. Dragon, the Young Hero is having nightmares. Help him. Dragon, something strange is happening. Investigate. Dragon, your fireplace is making the house too hot for everyone. Get rid of it.”

The beast paused to take a breath, glaring at me with an anger I had never before seen her direct toward me.

angry dragon

“The house is too hot for everyone?” She snarled. “Am I not part of the everyone living here? With all I do for everyone here, is not my comfort as important as that of the others?”

 

At a loss for words, I stood gaping at Dragon as she morphed back to black and curled up in front of her fireplace once more.

Dragon in front of fireplace

* * *

“Ye been noticin’ summat strange aboot tha beastie?”

Dwarf with sandwichWith his mouth full of the huge bite he had just taken from his sandwich, the Old Dwarf’s words came out more like “Yebenotsinsummitstrgeabotthabeasty?”Miles talking to dwarf

Miles gaped at the rotund figure. “What?”

The dwarf swallowed his food, took a big swig of dwarven brew to wash it down, then repeated himself. This time, Miles managed to follow the gist of the dwarf’s question.

“You mean stranger than just being a dragon, in a world where dragons don’t exist?” Miles raised an eyebrow at the dwarf. “No, I can’t say I’ve noticed anything else strange about her.”

The dwarf chuckled. “After us-ens bein’ here in yer world all this time, ye still do na be acceptin’ us, be ye? Ye be actin’ all tha time likens ye be wakin’ up some day an’ be findin’ all o us-ens ta have been jus’ a bad dream.”From Nicki 146

“One can only hope,” Miles replied dryly.

The dwarf shook his head and took another bite of his sandwich. This time, he waited until he had swallowed it and taken another drink before speaking, all the time eyeing Miles curiously. “So’s, ye do na been noticin’ any change in tha beastie’s behavin’?”

Miles shook his head. “No. What sort of changes do you think I should have noticed?

“Wale . . .” He crammed the last bite of sandwich into his mouth and chewed on it, a pensive look on his face. He took his time chewing that bite and took an extra-long swallow of brew when he had finished. He squared his shoulders and faced Miles as he spoke. “Now, I do na be for sure certain aboot it, but it be seemin’ ta me thet tha beastie jus’ do na been ’erself lately. E’er since we been returnin’ from tha make-believe world what she an’ tha other magickers been creatin’ fer tha Foreman, the beastie been seemin’ . . .” The dwarf struggled to find the word. “She been seemin’ all oot o sorts, sulky-like. Likens summat be on ’er mind, be eatin’ at ’er..”

Out of sorts

Miles considered this. “Well, you know her better than I do. I thought the two of you shared a pretty close bond. You would, no doubt, notice things about Dragon long before anyone else would.”

The Old Dwarf sighed. “Mebbe. But thet do na be meanin’ I be knowin’ what ta be doin’ fer ’er.”Who

Walking in on the last of the conversation, I thought sadly, I’m not sure I know what to do for her, either. But I might know someone who would.

 

What can I do . . . what can any of us do . . . to help Dragon? Be sure to come back again next week and see to whom we might turn to help Dragon. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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

Some Time to Relax

Some Time to Relax

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

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

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

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

Conference room

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

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

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

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

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

Dragon nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I smiled and nodded in agreement.

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

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

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

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

Cleric and camera 2

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

 

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

“Yes.” My Gypsy and I answered simultaneously.

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

Wood Duck with rabbit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White-crowned Sparrow (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Explanation

The Explanation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragon nodded. “Quite sure, sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragon shrugged. “I do not know.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Now What?

Now What?

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

Not Your Sister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sangree nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Piece of cake!” He beamed with pride.

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confused

 

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

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

Real or Illusory?

Real or Illusory?

Dragon and the Boss“Arthur?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He dead?” The stable hand sounded hopeful.

“No.” Dragon shook her head.

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

“Sez you,” the youth muttered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Search Begins

The Search Begins

Falling out of manuscriptThe companions – eight of the characters who had fallen many years ago from the pages of a manuscript into what Mistress Writer termed the real world – stepped into the illusory world the magic users among them had created for their friend, the ninth companion to fall from the manuscript.

Foreman facing right closeupThat character, known as the Foreman, had become bored and unfulfilled in the real world. As he had explained it to Mistress Writer, he not only missed the world from which he had come, he missed who he had been in that world.What he had been There was no place in this real, technologically advanced world, for the manager of the largest and most prestigious horse breeding facility in the medieval world from which he had been torn.

The lads and Foreman with horsesEven the illusory horses and small barn and paddock Dragon had created for him and two of the other companions who had also been proficient horsemen in their world did not alleviate his sense of worthlessness. In the real world, he lamented, he had become little more than a go-fer.

So Dragon and the other magic users among the companions had created an illusory world for the Foreman, a world where he could once again manage a large and prestigious stable. But something had gone wrong.

Tor and the ladsThe Foreman had entered the illusory world in the company of the two lads. The lads had returned with glowing reports of how wonderful the world was, and with the Foreman’s promise to return that evening to sup with them and thank them properly for their gift. But the man had not returned that night.

When the Foreman still had not returned several days later, Dragon and the others had entered the illusory world and searched for him, but to no avail. They could find no trace of him, and none of the illusory residents of that world admitted to ever having seen him.

getting ready to scryvague outline appearedAfter that, Sorceress had used her ability to scry and had seen the Foreman. However, she could not pinpoint his location, so the companions once again entered the illusory world to track him down.

Elf clericDragon led the group as they emerged in the illusory world. The beast had transformed into her preferred – and less formidable – guise of a delicate and exotic maiden. She held up her hand and commanded the attention of her comrades. “Take heed! Stay together, remain aware of your surroundings, and do not assume the illusory beings inhabiting this world are harmless.”Dwarf facing right

“Eh, ye really be thinkin’ thet a bunch o peoples ye been makin’ up outten smoke an’ a fancy turn o phrase be posin’ any real danger ta us?” The Old Dwarf snorted.

Dragon scoffed at her diminutive friend. “Forsooth! Remember my prowess at creating illusions. My illusions are solid and substantial. They exhibit all the traits, characteristics, and features of the real item. Indeed, they are virtually indistinguishable from the real object. And I had the help of four other powerful spellcasters in creating this world, to strengthen and enhance my spell. Therefore, a person in this illusory world would be able to inflict as much damage as any real person.”

Sorceress close-up“Dragon is correct.” Sorceress furrowed her brow. “And if, perchance, something has interfered with the spell that created the illusion, the denizens of this world could be deadly.”

Gypsy close-upThe Gypsy lad frowned and rubbed his jaw. “I think the first thing we should do is examine the threads of magic that created this world and that keep it intact, to see if anything has tampered with the enchantment.”

Dragon nodded. “I examined it as much as possible from the outside, but a more thorough inspection should be feasible now that we are on the inside.”

Bounty Hunter head shotbeing watchedThe Bounty Hunter spoke in a low tone. “We need to find somewhere you can do that without drawing attention.” He nodded toward a small group of people at an open-air market, whispering among themselves and staring at the companions.

Cleric twisting cinctureCleric fidgeted with her cincture. “Dragon, could you not simply place a spell of concealment around us?”

Dray angry 2Dragon furrowed her brow and chewed on her lower lip. Even though she was not in her true form, smoke drifted from her nose as she obviously wrestled with her thoughts. “Perchance that would work if nothing has interfered with the spell creating the illusory world. However, since we do not know if the magic has been tainted, I do not know if a spell of concealment would work. And the fact that we already have people watching us makes it much harder. We cannot simply poofer out of sight.”

saw in the distance“When the Gypsy and I left him, the Foreman was headed toward a complex of barns and sheds he saw in the distance, past the fields of horses.” The Young Hero pointed down the road out of town. “Perhaps we should go there. The Bounty Hunter and I could search there for the Foreman, while the magic users could examine the threads of the spell shielded from sight within one of the buildings, with the Old Dwarf standing guard.”

The companions turned toward Dragon, their leader, who paced back and forth for a few minutes, rubbing the back of her neck. Finally, she nodded curtly, and the group started the long trek toward the farm.

The group moved along at a steady pace and by lunchtime they were a stone’s throw from the beginning of the fenced pastures.

“This looks like a good place to rest and partake of some refreshment.” The Bounty Hunter indicated several wooden picnic tables in a grassy spot next to a meandering stream that paralleled the road.

Picnic tables by stream

Dragon frowned. “Picnic tables? Those are anachronistic” Seeing the blank look on some of her friends’ faces, she explained. “They should not be here. They are not correct for this world, which was designed to represent a world similar to our own, a world that Mistress Writer would term medieval.”

“Eh, be they correct or nay, they be here, an’ there be no signs what be warnin’ anyone away.” The Old Dwarf made a beeline to the nearest table and started pulling food and beverages from one of the bags of holding Dragon had provided.

The others approached the tables with caution, looking around warily. Finally, having seen nothing else untoward, they sat and shared a midday repast.

well-traveled highway“Does anyone else find it strange that, although this road is wide and well maintained and has the appearance of a well-traveled highway, we seem to be the only ones using it?” The Gypsy reached for another sandwich as he spoke.

“It does make one wonder.” The Bounty Hunter nodded. “Perhaps we should ask the person who has been shadowing us ever since we left the village.”

The Young Hero’s eyes widened. “I noticed no one.”

Bounty Hunter full body 2The Bounty Hunter smirked. “I told you my skills would be useful. He is about a half league behind us.” He finished his sandwich and washed it down with three gulps of cool water while the others strained to see their pursuer. “Perhaps I should remain behind while the rest of you continue toward the barns. I could lay in wait here and find out what the rascal is up to.”

Dragon shook her head. “No, I think it best we stay together. We do not need to be searching for more than one of our company.”

“We will be separating at the barns. Why not now?” The Bounty Hunter frowned.

“The separation will not be so great a distance there, and the Old Dwarf will be able to keep his eye on both groups.”

The Bounty Hunter considered Dragon’s words, then nodded. “Very well. But if he still shadows us when we arrive at the stable, I may deal with him then.”

Dragon nodded. “Let us finish eating now and get on the road. We still have a distance to travel.”

First pastureNot long after, the companions came to the first of the pastures and the Young Hero stopped. “This should be where we left the Foreman.”

The Gypsy nodded. “We had come across the fenced pasture, and we were admiring the magnificent horses right before we parted company.”

Young hero 2Arrogant One“But this is wrong.” The Young Hero frowned. “These are not the same horses.”

The Arrogant One scoffed. “So, they rotated their stock, and different horses are now in this pasture.”

“No.” The Young Hero shook his head and gestured emphatically. “These are Appaloosas. That is a breed found in Mistress Writer’s real world. They should not exist in a medieval world.”Appaloosas 2

Sorceress furrowed her brow. “Perhaps a similar breed was developed in this illusory world.”

The Young Hero frowned. “True. Appaloosas are not the only spotted breed in the real world, so I suppose a breed of spotted horses could exist here.”

The Gypsy interrupted. “But the horses are not the only thing that has changed. The day we were here with the Foreman, the fencing was lime-washed bright white, like the fences around the horse farm he used to manage in our world.”

Horses in pasture

The companions gaped at the natural wood fencing, untouched by whitewash, paint, or stain.First pasture

“Are you certain we took the right road from the village?” Dragon addressed the lads.

“Positive,” the two friends answered in unison.road toward mountain range

The Gypsy turned from examining the fence. “There is only one road in and out of the village, and in the opposite direction, it takes a quick turn and heads directly for a mountain range.”

“Then let us proceed to the barns. Perhaps we will find the answer – and the Foreman – there.”followed him to barn

Are the companions on the right road? Is this the same pasture they saw before? What will they find when they arrive at the barns? Is someone following them? Be sure to come back next week. 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

Will This Work?

Will This Work?

can't sleepDragon was exhausted. Sleep had eluded her most of the previous night, as she had tossed and turned, examining the mystery of the Foreman’s disappearance from every conceivable angle. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2020/05/24/you-cant-get-there-from-here/ could barely keep eyes open

At breakfast, her head drooped, and she could barely keep her eyes open.

sitting next to Dragon 2Foreman closeupMy Young Hero, sitting next to the huge beast, furrowed his brow and picked at his food. “Have you no further thoughts on how we might find the Foreman?”

Dragon shook her head.

Sorceress and DragonSorceress cleared her throat. “Mayhap I might be of service?”

Dragon did not respond; she merely regarded Sorceress through bloodshot eyes and waited for the magic user to explain.

“I thought . . . perchance . . . I might be able to find the Foreman by scrying.”

Dragon’s head shot up and she immediately brightened. “Yes! Yes, it might be possible.”

Gypsy close-up facing rightMy Gypsy whooped. “That is an excellent idea! Why did I not think of it?”

Sorceress raised an eyebrow. “Because you are but a child, and not nearly as wise as I?” The twinkle in her eyes belied her sarcastic tone of voice.

Several other characters snickered at my Gypsy, and my Young Hero elbowed his friend in the ribs. My Gypsy responded with an exaggerated waggle of his eyebrows. “But I thought I was born wise.”

Sorceress close-up 2Sorceress snorted, then turned serious. “Also, because your forte is Gypsy magic. Although I tutored you in the art of scrying, divination is not your strong suit. Therefore, your mind would not necessarily turn to thoughts of scrying when confronted with a situation like this.”

“Well, I am glad your mind turned in that direction. When do we start?” My Gypsy was already halfway out of his chair and several other characters were following suit.

stopI held up my hand in the fashion of a traffic cop. “Hold on! You can get started as soon as everyone has finished breakfast.”

There were a lot of muttered protests, and I glared at my characters. “You’re all going to need your strength, especially Sorceress. Scrying can wait a few minutes. Eat!”

Dwarf with apple“Eh, tha lass be right.” My Old Dwarf, already on his third helping of everything, reached for another apple. “We be needin’ ta be keepin’ up our strength!”

Sorceress reluctantly took another mouthful of cereal and quickly washed it down with some goat’s milk. She delicately dabbed at the corners of her mouth with her white linen napkin, then turned to me. “Will you and Master Miles be joining us?”

I nodded. “We will meet you in the conference room as soon as we have cleaned up the breakfast dishes. That should give you sufficient time to gather your materials.”

Less than an hour later, Miles and I walked into the conference room. Dragon had created a small amphitheater so we could all sit above and behind Sorceress and see into the scrying bowl.

getting ready to scry

Sorceress addressed us all as we were taking our seats. “You must remember to remain silent, no matter what you see. If I am distracted, I can easily lose the image.” She turned to my Old Dwarf. “Would you mind remaining outside the door, standing guard?”

“Nay, lass, I be havin’ no objection ta bein’ guard o tha door. It be me usual place.” He quickly took up his position in the hallway.

Door

Checking that the rest of us were present and seated, Dragon closed the door and intoned an incantation. “This room is now warded against intrusions both physical and magical. Sorceress, you may proceed.”

Taking a deep breath, Sorceress unstoppered a flask, and poured the contents into the bowl. She began intoning the incantation that should allow us to see my Foreman, adding certain botanicals and other ingredients to the liquid as she chanted. Gradually, as Sorceress fell into the magic, we could see a change in the surface of the liquid.silvery liquid

First, the silvery liquid grew cloudy and began swirling lazily, counterclockwise. Beads of sweat formed on Sorceress’ forehead, and her breathing became labored as she worked to strengthen the spell.

vague outline appearedGradually, shadowy forms began to appear in the liquid. The vague outline of fences and horses appeared, with a wavering image that might have been my Foreman.

The lads squirmed on the edges of their seats, but a stern look from Dragon quieted them. My Gypsy did nudge my Young Hero and point to the images in the bowl. His thumbs up gesture seemed to indicate that he felt certain it was, indeed, my Foreman, and the other youngster nodded enthusiastically.

followed him to barnAll of us watched with bated breath as the shadowy figure reached over the fence and patted a horse on the neck. Then we followed him as he walked along the lengthy expanse of fence and down a path toward a barn. The figure seemed the right height and build for my Foreman, and his bearing was similar. We looked toward Dragon for confirmation.

Studied imageDragon cocked her head and studied the image in the swirling liquid. She leaned over the bowl, doing her best not to distract Sorceress. The big beast examined the image carefully, taking note of every shadowy detail. Finally, she rose and shook her head. “It is not enough. The man in the image is, I believe, the Foreman; but his location is uncertain. He could be anywhere. Can you expand the image, so we can look for any of the landmarks of the illusory world we created for him?”

As the image disappeared into the depths of the bowl, Sorceress fell back, exhausted. She shook her head and panted for breath as she spoke. “No. That was the best I could manage. But because the image was so shadowy, I think we can presume it to have been the illusory world. If the Foreman were here, in this world, the image should have been much sharper.”

Blue dragonDragon nodded. “That makes sense.” She paced back and forth, turning from her usual vivid red to a pale blue. Smoke bubbles dripped from her nose as she considered the problem. Finally, she transformed again, her scales a brilliant red once more. “I will just have to return to the illusory world and search for him again.”

The lads“We will come with you!” My Gypsy and my Young Hero spoke in unison as they jumped from their seats. “When do we leave?”Dragon sighs

We do not. I will leave immediately.” Dragon punctuated her comment with a puff of black smoke.

Sorceress close-up 2They lads immediately started to object, but Sorceress held up her hand and silenced them. Turning to Dragon, she crossed her arms over her chest and spoke firmly. “No, we will go. If you remember, it was not you alone who created the illusory world for the Foreman. All of us proficient in the use of magic helped, and all of us who helped should accompany you in this search.”

Arrogant One full body 2Dragon frowned, but before she could argue, my Arrogant One stepped forward. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, grasped his cloak with both hands, and scowled. “I have little desire to go traipsing off into that illusory world in search of a man for whom I hold no regard. However, Sorceress is correct. All of us who assisted you in the creation of that world should go.”

The others gaped at the elf. My Gypsy almost choked. “You are offering to go? Why? What possible benefit can you derive from helping us?”

My Arrogant One turned beet red. “I seek no gain from this expedition. But unless all who assisted in the creation of this illusory world now join in the effort to examine it, the task may well fail.”

Dragon sighsDragon studied the elf through narrowed eyes, black smoke spewing from her snout. Finally, she nodded. “Very well. If even the Arrogant One is willing to go, I capitulate. All of the magic users will go.”

Dragon turned toward the door and, with a few words and gestures, dismissed the wards on the room.

Bounty Hunter head shotMy Bounty Hunter stepped in front of the beast as she opened the door. “I will accompany the group, also. I have no magic, but my skills may be of use, nevertheless. I am most proficient at tracking.”

Dwarf closeupStill standing guard at the doorway, my Old Dwarf slapped the flat of his axe on the palm of his open hand. “Iffin I be hearin’ right, ye be mountin’ a search party. Do na be thinkin’ fer one minute thet ye be leavin’ me an’ me axe behind.”

Young hero 2My Young Hero protested. “I will not be the only one left behind! The Foreman is no less my friend than he is any of yours. There must be something I can do to help.”

Do not think about goingDragon shook her head, but the youth stood there defiantly, hands balled into fists, jaw jutted, eyes flashing. Finally, the beast sighed. “Very well, you may go with us.” Quickly rounding on Miles and me, she growled. “But you two do not even think of offering to come.”

“Don’t worry! The thought never entered my head.” Miles shuddered.

I scoffed. “I know we would be of no use to you in the illusory world. Miles and I will wait here for your return.”

could barely keep eyes open 2Dragon lowered her voice. “It is not that you would be of no use, Mistress, although – truth be told – you would not. But I worry more of the danger to you and Master Miles should you venture into that world before we find the cause of your Foreman’s disappearance.”

I smiled warmly, and patted Dragon’s forearm. “I understand, my friend, and I am grateful for your concern. Just be careful yourself. The danger exists for you and the others as well.”

Dragon gathers the othersDragon nodded. She turned quickly and gathered the others around her. “Go prepare. Magic users, gather whatever components you think you will need for spells of protection and spells of seeking. Cleric, bring as many of your healing herbs as you can carry. The rest of you, arm yourselves heavily, but discreetly. We may need to defend ourselves, but we do not want a show of arms initiating a fight that we could avoid.”

“An do na be forgittin’ ta be bringin’ vittles. We do na be knowin’ how long we be lookin’ afore we be comin’ back. Lookin’ be mighty hungry business.” My Old Dwarf rubbed his belly and nodded somberly.

“We will leave within the hour.” Dragon herded everyone out of the room to make their preparations.

arm around shoulderMiles put his arm around my shoulder and squeezed tight. “Don’t worry, honey. They know what they’re doing. They’ll return, safe and sound, and they’ll bring your Foreman with them.”Question marks

I sighed. “I would like to think so. But if they really knew what they were doing, would my Foreman be missing in the first place?”

 

Will my other characters find and retrieve my Foreman? Or will they all be lost forever in the illusory world they created for him? And how does one get lost in an illusion, anyway? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. I’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

You Can’t Get There From Here

You Can’t Get There From Here

dinnerMiles and I were sitting down to dinner with my characters. Apart from my missing Foreman, they had all arrived, silent and subdued. Last to take their seats were my Old Dwarf and Dragon.

I gave Dragon a questioning look, and she shook her head. I frowned. “No luck?”

Foreman facing right closeupBlue dragon“No, Mistress. I have searched through every reference work I have. I can find no explanation for your Foreman becoming lost within an illusory world. One simply can not get lost within an illusion. There is no way for it to happen.” The big beast heaved a huge sigh. Smoke bubbles dripped from her nose as her scales faded from fiery red to pale blue, as often happened when she was confused.

MilesMiles furrowed his brow. “And you still say it would be dangerous to simply terminate the illusion?”

Alarming rate“Absolutely, Master Miles. Until I know with what we are dealing, I dare not terminate the spell.” The smoke bubbles began flowing from Dragon’s snout at an alarming rate.
“If the Foreman is lost within the illusion, his disappearance must somehow be bound to the spell. Terminate the spell and you might well terminate him.”

Bounty Hunter head shotDragon with Tears“Then how, exactly, do you propose finding him and returning him to this reality?” My Bounty Hunter spoke softly, but his tone danced between smug and curious.

“I do not know.” Dragon bowed her head and tears mingled with the smoke.

Patted her forearm“There, there, Beastie! Do na be gittin’ yerself so upset. Ye be findin’ a way ta be bringin’ ’em back.” My Old Dwarf patted his friend on her scaly forearm and tried to reassure her. “Now, ye mus’ be eatin’ summat. Ye be needin’ ta be keepin’ yer strength.”

“Yes, you need your strength.” My Young Hero gestured to the bowl of stew in front of Dragon. “Eat a good dinner, have a good night’s sleep, and attack the problem anew on the morrow, refreshed and clear-headed.”

“Mayhap you are right.” Dragon sighed, wiped her tears, and slowly regained her color. “I will retire directly after this meal.”can't sleep

Exhausted as she was, sleep did not come quickly for Dragon. She tossed and turned, her brain refusing to give up chewing over the facts of the mystery, as well as the possibilities.

Tor and the ladsThe ladsThe Foreman entered the illusory world I and my colleagues created for him. He was in the company of the lads, who returned to this reality unscathed. The Foreman did not return as promised to sup with us that day, nor have we seen him return since. When we entered the illusory world looking for him, we could find no sign of him. When asked, the illusory inhabitants of that world claimed no knowledge of him.

Question marksIt is impossible to become lost within an illusion. Therefore, how has the Foreman become lost within an illusion? Is he lost within that illusion? Is he even still in that illusory world? Did he leave the illusion and return to this reality without telling any of us, only to wander off somewhere within this world? Or, mayhap has someone interfered with the illusion? Has he somehow been taken into another world?

The possibilities seemed endless, and Dragon’s mind seemed determine to examine every one of them from every conceivable angle. Eventually, though, her mind grew sluggish and exhaustion dragged her into a fitful sleep.

* * *

cobblestone walkwaySlowly, Tor opened his eyes. It was too dark to see his surroundings, but he was aware of lying on his side on a cold, hard surface. In his befuddled mind, it took him back to the smooth cobblestone walkways of his youth, and he drifted back to those times in his dreams.

too dark to seeTor did not stay long in his dreams; pain quickly brought him back. As he slowly regained his senses, Tor moaned. His head felt as if it had exploded. He tried to reach for the back of his head, where the pain seemed the worst, but found he was restrained. His arms had been pulled behind him and were lashed tightly at the wrists.

He attempted to roll over and straighten his legs, but the ropes that bound his arms were tethered to something immovable. His legs were similarly bound at the ankles, and those fetters were likewise tied to something unyielding.

Horses in pastureTor tried to remember what had happened to him. The pain in his head made it hard to think. He recalled a horse farm, so big and beautiful and full of magnificent horses, much like the one he had managed in the past, in a different world . . . a different lifetime. His thoughts started drifting to that long-ago place.

Looked upTor shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts and bring himself back to this world. No! This horse farm was here, in this world. He remembered a farrier, and someone called the boss. And there was another person. He furrowed his brow.

Stable boy in yardThe attackYes, another person. The stable lad who had sent him into the barn to speak with the boss. It must have been the stable lad who had snuck up behind him and walloped him over the head.

Tor tried to shift his weight around to ease his aching muscles. He started wiggling and rotating his wrists and ankles to restore some circulation to his hands and feet. He groaned loudly as he began to get some feeling back in his extremities, and they felt like they were being stabbed by a million fiery pins and needles.

pain in hands and feet

Tor lapsed into periodic unconsciousness. Whenever he awoke, he worked on restoring the circulation in his hands and feet.

Drifting in and out of consciousness, Tor was unaware of the passage of time. It could have been hours or days before he heard a noise that brought him wholly awake.

“Tink he’s still alive, boss?”

Tor recognized the voice. The stable lad. He lay still as death.

Tor heard the boss reply. “Don’t know. Can’t tell. Untie him.”

First mistakeTor smiled to himself. That is your first mistake, Master Boss.

Footsteps drew closer. A booted foot nudged Tor painfully in his side. He almost cried out but disciplined himself to remain quiet and still.

The stable lad sliced through Tor’s tethers, then cut the ropes that bound Tor’s hands and feet. He worked slowly, kicking Tor after every cut and waiting to make sure there was no response from his captive before making the next cut.

With the final slice and kick, the lad turned to the boss and declared, “He’s gotta be dead, Boss. He ain’t moved once. Don’t even see ’em breathin’.”

capturedOpening his eyes just a slit, Tor was glad to see it was lighter now, and he could see. He judged the distance between himself and the lad. Steeling himself against the pain he knew would come with a sudden movement, Tor grabbed a length of his former tether, bunched his muscles, and sprang at the stable lad with the speed of a cheetah. Before the young thug knew what was happening, Tor had the rope around the boy’s neck.

“Hey! Quit it! Le’ go!” The lad squirmed, but Tor held fast to the rope and tightened it against the boy’s throat.

“Boss! He’s killin’ me! Tell ’em ta quit it! Tell ’em ta le’ go!” The boy struggled against the tightening rope.

“Stay still.” Tor’s words came out in a growl. “You make it worse by struggling.”

Once the boy stopped struggling, Tor addressed both men. “Who are you? Why have you assaulted me and tied me up?”

The Boss 2“I’m the boss. He’s one a my stable hands.” The man’s smug smile did not reach his eyes, which remained cold and hard.

“And?” Tor prodded when the man was not forthcoming with more information.

The boss shrugged. “And I told you to move on. You didn’t listen.”

Tor furrowed his brow. “So why did you truss me up and leave me here? What did you plan to do with me?”

“Didn’t decide yet.” The man’s smile reminded Tor of a rabid wolf.

Stable boy in yard“Well, I have decided. I am leaving this place and returning whence I came.” Tor loosened the rope around the boy’s neck, slid it down over his shoulders and pinned the boy’s arms to his sides. “You will show me the way back to the barn where we met, and I will release you. I can find my way back home from there.”

The boy nodded, eager to be free of the noose. But the boss laughed. “You really think so?”

“What?” Tor raised an eyebrow at the man. “Do I think I can find my way home from your stable? Yes, I do think so.”

The boss laughed again. “We’ll see.”

Slowly, Tor prodded the boy forward. Shuffling and stumbling, the lad led Tor back to the stable yard. Tor removed the rope and held out his hand toward the youth. “I will thank you for the return of my hat, as well.”

Nothing looks familiarHat in hand, Tor turned to trace his steps back to the spot where he could leave this illusory world and return to the real world. But the road did not go in the right direction. Tor looked down the road one way, then the other. Nothing looked familiar.

Tor whirled around and snarled. “I told you to take me back to the stable where we met. This is not it.”

The boy muttered something unintelligible, then spat at the ground by Tor’s feet. “Is.”

“No, it is not. This is not the road I traveled to get to the stable where I met you.”

Is the stable.” The boy stuck out his chin defiantly.

The boss chuckled. Then, seeing Tor’s angry face, he shrugged. “The lad’s right. This is the stable where we met. Just the world around it what changed. The place you wanna go? Well, there’s an old saying – you can’t git there from here.”

Tor gaped at the boss, who doubled over with hysterical laughter.

Second mistakeAs the man laughed uncontrollably, a smile tugged at Tor’s lips. That is your second mistake. Tor barreled into him, knocked him over, and tied him up like the cowboys he had watched on Mistress Writer’s magic box she called a television – cowboys competing in something called calf roping. Tor stepped back and admired his own work – two wraps and a half-hitch, and he had the other man’s limbs immobilized.Two wraps and a half-hitch

Tor motioned for the stable lad to move over next to his boss, where Tor could watch both men. His voice was a deep growl again. “Now, just what do you mean you cannot get there from here?”

Watching both men

 

 

What’s going on? Will Tor find his way back to the real world? Or will Dragon mount a rescue? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. I’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

What Has Happened to Him?

What Has Happened to Him?

Dragon studying scroll 3Dragon sighsDragon studied the scroll carefully, then shook her head and placed the parchment back in the cubbyhole in the desk from which she had taken it. She looked around the room and sighed, a large puff of black smoke drifting from her snout.

“This room looks like a whirlwind came through here!” She spoke aloud, but expected no reply, as she knew herself to be quite alone within the guarded and warded room. She sighed again as she started straightening the mess, replacing books and scrolls that she had scattered haphazardly around the room.

Mess

It took almost an hour to return the room to its previous tidy condition, less than a fifth of the time it had taken to create the mess as Dragon had searched in vain for some scrap of information that would help her understand the current predicament involving the Foreman.

Falling out of manuscriptMany years ago, the Foreman, Dragon, and seven other characters had fallen out of a manuscript into this world, the world Mistress Writer termed the real world. Before that, in their own world, the Foreman had been manager of the largest, most successful, and most prestigious equestrian breeding and training facility in the kingdom in which he had lived.

Horses by barnHere in this world, Dragon had created illusory horses and a small illusory stable for the Foreman and his fellow horsemen, the Young Hero and the Gypsy. But trotting around the modest illusory riding arena and drilling the lads in their equestrian skills whenever the harsh Minnesota weather would allow was hardly a substitute for the position the Foreman had held back in their world.

head bowed, shoulders slumpedFor several months, Dragon and her fellow characters had been aware of the Foreman’s growing discontent. Once, his depression could be relieved by those times spent riding his illusory horse. No more. He was bored by his role in this world, little more than a go-fer, if Dragon recalled the local vernacular, fetching and toting for Mistress Writer and Master Miles, and helping his fellow characters whenever they had need.

He grew more and more despondent. Like his fellow characters, the Foreman missed his own world, but it was more than that. As he had explained to Mistress Writer, he also missed who he had been in that world.

Recently, Dragon and her fellow magic users had created an illusory world for the Foreman where he could once again have the duties and responsibilities of managing a large equestrian facility.

Once Dragon and her colleagues had created the illusory world, the Gypsy and the Young Hero had escorted the Foreman into that world. The lads had returned directly to report the Forman was ecstatic with the world his friends had created for him. They told their comrades the Foreman planned to thank them in person at supper that night, and to revisit the illusory world the next day.

Question marksWhen the Foreman did not return that night, everyone figured he was enjoying himself so much, he had lost track of time. When he still had not returned within the week, Dragon and the other characters had entered the illusory world to retrieve him, but he was nowhere to be found. No one with whom the characters spoke had any knowledge of the Foreman. He seemed to be lost in an illusory world, something that Dragon knew to be impossible.

Roaring in frustration (2)

Dragon shook her head and roared in frustration.

Door“Beastie? Be ye al’right, beastie?” The Old Dwarf banged on the door of the conference room he had been tasked with guarding. When Dragon did not answer immediately, the stout dwarf raised his axe, thinking to splinter the door and rescue his friend.

“I would not advise doing that.” Dragon stared at the rotund figure as she swung open the door. “Do you not remember what happened the last time you resorted to force when I had warded this door?”

The dwarf blushed scarlet and lowered his axe. “Aye, I be recollectin’. It do na be an experience I be wantin’ ta be repeatin’ any time soon.”

“Then why did you appear to be about to do so?” The large reptile frowned at her diminutive companion.

“I been heardin’ ye yellin’. I been thinkin’ ye be in trouble.”

Dragon sighed. “And you thought to rescue me, my little friend?”

Dwarf blushingThe dwarf nodded and blushed a deeper red. “Ye be knowin’ full well I couldna e’er be lettin’ anythin’ be happenin’ ta ye, beastie.” He shot the large creature a look full of warmth and affection.

“I appreciate the thought, but I assure you I am quite capable of protecting myself.” Dragon smiled a toothy grin.

The dwarf scowled. “Ye be havin’ a real short mem’ry, ‘specially fer one o yer species. It be only a year and a huff by this world’s reckonin’ thet ye been needing rescuin’ from thet udder world, where ye been attacked by thet udder dragon, and I be tha one what been rescuin’ ye. Meself, an’ no udder!”

memory

EmbraceTears of gratitude stung Dragon’s eyes as she remembered back to that time. “I do remember, old friend,” she said softly as she placed her reptilian hands on the dwarf’s shoulders. “I will never forget.” She smiled warmly, and they stood there for a few moments, enjoying each other’s companionship and basking in their mutual devotion. Then Dragon stepped back and sighed again.

“But as to you hearing me yelling, I was in no danger, small one. I was merely venting my frustration.”

“Ye canna be findin’ a way ta be bringin’ tha Foreman back here?” The dwarf’s brow furrowed, and his shoulders slumped. “But iffin ye canna be bringin’ ’em back, what be happenin’ ta ’em?”

“I do not know.” Dragon’s voice was small, and it cracked. “I . . . I do not know.”

* * *

The Foreman had entered the illusory world not really knowing what to expect. The two lads had accompanied him, and they walked around together for a few hours, marveling at the sights.

Horses in pasture“Look at those horses!” The Young Hero’s eyes grew big and round as he stared at the herd of magnificent animals pasturing behind the gleaming white fence. “I have not seen the likes of them since we left our world.”

The Gypsy leaned on the fence as he replied to his young friend. “Indeed! This place reminds me of your father’s farm.”

The Young Hero nodded and turned to face the Foreman. “What do you think of this world?”

“I agree. This is most reminiscent of your father’s place. I think Dragon and all the magic users did a splendid job creating this, so like the farm I managed for your father. When you return to the real world, please give Dragon and the others my thanks and tell them I will not tarry long this day. Dragon has informed me I may come and go at will, so I will limit my explorations today. I will return to the real world in time to sup with you this evening and return here tomorrow to continue my exploration.”

The lads nodded. Before taking their leave, they reminded their friend to use the name he often used in the real world, when he had to be around people outside Mistress Writer’s house.

“You called yourself Tor.” The Young Hero shook the Foreman’s hand.

Tor and the lads“Do not forget. Calling yourself the Foreman could lead to confusion and misunderstanding here.” The Gypsy clapped the older man on his shoulder, and the two lads turned and walked off toward the spot where they could return to the real world.

Having said his goodbyes to his two companions, Tor hurried down the lane in the opposite direction, toward the distant complex of barns and sheds. He wanted to get established at this farm before leaving for the day.

Stable boy in yardArriving at the stable an hour later, Tor found a stable lad lounging in the yard and introduced himself. “I am called Tor. I seek employment.”

The lad looked Tor up and down slowly before jerking his thumb in the direction of the barn. “Boss be in dere.”

The boss and the farrierEntering the barn, Tor approached the man he assumed was the boss, a fussy-looking older man who looked rather out-of-place supervising the shoeing of a stallion. The man looked up and frowned. “Waddya want?”

“My name is Tor. I seek employment.” The Foreman extended his hand, which the other man ignored.

“Got nuttin fer a graybeard like you. Move along.” The man turned his attention back to the blacksmith and the stallion.

Tor bristled. “I can do the work of any ten lads.”

“I said move along.” The other man scowled.

the farrier 2Tor did not move. The blacksmith’s actions had caught his attention. “Be careful, smithy! Do not trim a horse’s hoof so short!”

“Mind yer own busness.” The blacksmith’s eyes narrowed as he glared at the Foreman.

Tor frowned. Dragon had told him he would be the manager of a large stable in this illusory world. Did she refer to a different stable? Or was he just supposed to walk in here and assume the duties of a manager? Given the reaction of this boss person, that seemed highly unlikely. Tor sighed. How do things work in this illusion, anyway? I best just stay quiet and watch. Mayhap I can figure it out.

Continuing to watch the blacksmith, Tor could not remain silent. “You are going to cause that horse to go lame!”

Looked upThe blacksmith looked up. “Boss, you gonna get rid of this guy, or am I?”

Tor never heard the answer. Pain exploded in his head and everything went black.

The attack

The stable lad lowered the now-bloody lead pipe and picked up Tor’s hat. He placed it with a flourish on his own head and grinned. “Waddya want me ta do wit ’em, Boss?”

lowered the pipe 2

What has happened to Tor, aka my Foreman? Will Dragon and the other characters be able to find and rescue him? Come back next week and see what happens. I’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