More Visitors

More Visitors

gone!

We stood there, looking in all directions, but the cloud-muffled light of early evening revealed no sign of the small horse we had dubbed Mystery, nor the snow devils that had bolted from the garden shed with her.

“It’ll be dark soon.” I heaved a huge sigh. “There’s no sense in trying to track her now. The snow’s been trampled down here. In this light, I can’t even see if any of these tracks are fresh.”

My husband and I helped a group of my characters gather the equipment my magic users had been utilizing that afternoon in their examination of Mystery.

“I fear all our efforts were for naught.” Dragon shimmered as she shape-shifted into her customary guise of an elf maiden, then picked up some of her grimoires. “Not only did we fail to determine if Mystery is real or merely an illusion, we lost her to the snow devils.”

“I would hypothesize she is real, else why would the snow devils have taken her?” Cleric lifted an eyebrow at Dragon.

“You should have allowed me to stomp them.” My Foreman frowned as he and the lads picked up the folding tables.

“I agree.” Sorceress pursed her lips as she gathered her vials, potions, and herbs. “No telling what those demons will do to that little horse.”

I furrowed my brow. “I’m still not convinced the snow devils are evil, or that they meant any harm to Mystery.”

My Gypsy scoffed. “They took her, did they not?”

I shook my head. “No, they didn’t. She bolted out of the shed after them. She wanted to be with them.”

“You are right, Mistress.” Cleric’s eyes widened as she recalled the scene. “She did act as if she feared being separated from them.”

My characters gave that some thought as we walked back to the house.

As we put everything away in the conference room, I saw several of my characters yawning widely and rubbing their eyes.

“Everyone looks as tired as I feel. Let’s have a quick dinner, then hit the hay early tonight. We can look for Mystery in the morning.”

                                                            * * *
I did not sleep well, and I awoke with a horrible pounding in my head. I soon realized the pounding was not in my head, but on the bedroom door.

Pounding on door

The pounding woke Miles, too. “What the devil’s going on?” My usually cheery husband sat up in bed and glared at the door.

“Mistress? Master Miles? Come quickly.”

I recognized the panic in Cleric’s voice, and jumped out of bed. “What is it?” But she was already gone.

Miles and I dressed in record time, and sprinted down the hallway toward the living room. Cleric waited for us at the top of the stairs leading to the front door. She pointed, and we stopped dead. There, in the foyer below, my Old Dwarf was brandishing his battleaxe at two uniformed figures.

Dwarf and police officers 2

“Ye be waitin’ right here until tha lass and ’er mate be comin’ down ta be receivin’ ye. Ye do na be disturbin’ their bedchamber!”

“For the last time, sir, we don’t want to hurt you, but you need to put down that axe!” The speaker had her hand on the holster of her service revolver, and a big frown on her face.

“Wait!” I scrambled down the steps as fast as I could, with Miles right on my heels. “Wait! He’s harmless! The axe isn’t even real! It’s part of his Cosplay costume!”

The woman’s hand didn’t move from her holster.

I turned and faced my Old Dwarf. “It’s okay! Just lower the axe and go upstairs.”

“Be ye sure, lass? I kin be stayin’ iffin ye be needin’ me.” He looked past me and glared at the two officers.

“I’m sure!” I gave the old reprobate a shove toward the stairs.

2 Police OfficersMiles and I turned to the two uniformed figures. Their eyes never left my Old Dwarf as he trudged up the steps. Once he was out of sight, both officers visibly relaxed.

“Sorry about that!” This is all I need. How do I explain him to these officers? I’m surprised they didn’t tackle him and arrest him!

“He needs locking up!” The burly man made the statement in a voice that brooked no disagreement, but neither officer made a move to apprehend my Old Dwarf.

I grunted, raised my eyebrows, and lifted my hands, palms up, in a gesture meant to convey my thoughts: What can I do?

The woman stepped forward, still frowning. “Are you two the owners of this property?”

Miles and I both nodded. “I’m Marge, and this is my husband, Miles.” I forced a big smile as I made the introductions.

Notebook 2The woman nodded curtly as she took a small notebook from her pocket and jotted down our names before introducing herself. “Deputy Melody Whitewash.” She nodded toward the other figure, a barrel-chested man in sunglasses. “My partner, Deputy Dustin Dawg.”

Before we could snicker at Deputy Dawg’s moniker, the man spoke up. His gravelly voice was both commanding and accusatory. “We’re in the neighborhood this morning investigating reports of a loose horse rampaging through the yards last night, terrorizing the residents of this community.”

Terrorizing? I scoffed.

Deputy Whitewash pounced. In a flash, she was standing almost nose-to-nose with me. “What do you know about this horse?”

wide-eyed“Er, nothing.” I stared at her and her partner, hoping they would interpret my wide-eyed look as innocence.

They glared at me for a moment, then turned to Miles. He swallowed hard. “We don’t know anything. We didn’t see or hear any horse.”

Deputy Dawg drew himself up, hooking his thumbs into his belt. “That’s not what your neighbors said.”

I tilted my head and furrowed my brow. “Our neighbors? None of our neighbors were with us last night, Deputy, so I don’t know how they could know what we did or did not see or hear.”

He grunted.Police Officer in sunglasses

I wish he’d take his sunglasses off. It’s hard to tell what he’s thinking when I can’t even see his eyes.

Deputy Whitewash glanced at her notebook. “Your neighbors down the street, Mace and Gloria, informed us that last night’s incident was not the first time a horse was spotted running loose around here.”

I might have known those two were behind this interrogation. Mace did warn us that they’d be watching our property.

https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/01/14/the-return-of-the-neighbors/

Deputy Dawg nodded. “They believe you have direct knowledge of said horse, and that you may be harboring this animal in your shed.”

Elf cleric close-upBefore I could open my mouth, Dragon ascended the steps from the area of the conference room and joined us in the foyer. She was, to my great relief, in her customary guise of an elf maiden.

“Hello! I did not realize we had visitors.”

I glared at her. You liar! You can hear a pin drop three houses away! You knew we had visitors. You’ve heard every word!

Dragon smiled sweetly. “I am Missy’s cousin. Missy and her husband are hosting a family get-together this week.”

“Missy?” Deputy Dawg glanced over his partner’s shoulder at the notebook in her hand. “I thought you gave your name as Marge.”

“Oh, Missy is just the family’s pet name for her.” Dragon grinned and squeezed my arm.

That’s right. Keep it up. I’ll take care of you later, just see if I don’t!

Deputy Dawg just glared at us. At least I think he did. Behind the sunglasses, it was hard to see his expression. He turned back to face Dragon. “Deputies Dawg and Whitewash, ma’am. We’re in the neighborhood this morning investigating reports of a loose horse rampaging through the yards last night, terrorizing the residents of this community.”

He sounds like a broken record! Did he memorize those lines? They’re the exact same words he used to explain the purpose of his visit to Miles and me.notebook

“Were you here last night, ma’am?” Deputy Whitewash opened her notebook to a fresh page.

“Oh, yes, we all were. We were all tired, so we went to bed early. We are just now rising for breakfast. Would you care to join us?”

I could feel the color draining from my face. Oh, great, that’s all I need! Two law enforcement officers sharing breakfast with me and Miles and nine medieval characters that have fallen out of my fantasy novel manuscript! How, exactly, do I explain them to the deputies?

“No time, ma’am.” Thank you, Deputy Dawg! “We need to apprehend this wild animal before it does any damage or causes injury to one of the residents of this neighborhood.”

Wild animal? He can’t mean Mystery! I could barely keep from doubling over, laughing, as I pictured the calm little horse.

“Did you see or hear anything last night, ma’am?” Deputy Whitewash had her pencil poised over her little notebook.

“Why, no, nothing at all. As I said, we all went to bed early, and are just getting up now. I am a very heavy sleeper. The horse you speak of could have galloped right through my bedchamber, and I never would have woken.” Dragon simpered at the two deputies.

Deputy Dawg turned back to Miles and me. “Folks, we need to inspect your shed. Your neighbors allege that you’ve been hiding the horse in there for several days.”

three bales of hay in trunk 2“They also said you had transported hay to this location in the trunk of your car.” Deputy Whitewash checked her notes again.

Good grief! She makes it sound as if we were transporting a dead body! “Yes, we did have hay in the car.” I sighed. “As I explained to Gloria and Mace, we had purchased the hay for a friend, for her rabbits.”

“Yes, she said that was your contention.” Deputy Dawg didn’t sound as if he believed that any more than Mace and Gloria had.

“Can we see the shed, ma’am?” Deputy Dawg started to open the front door, apparently confident that we would never refuse his request.

“Can we see your search warrant?” I stopped the deputy in his tracks.

“Oh, pooh! These nice deputies do not need a warrant.” Dragon attached herself to Deputy Dawg’s arm and batted her eyelashes at the man. “We can go look at the shed right now.”

angry faceI am going to kill Dragon. I am! I am really going to kill her!

Left with no other choice, Miles and I grabbed our jackets and followed Dragon and the two deputies out the door.

Walking around the side of the house, I spotted my Foreman and the two lads in the doorway of the barn, across the yard from the shed. Mystery was with them. Great galloping gophers! Don’t let her get loose! Don’t let the deputies see her here!

Dragon led us to the shed. “Here we are, deputies.” She couldn’t have sounded sweeter if she tried.

Miles started to reach for the door, but Deputy Dawg pushed him aside. The two deputies stood on either side of the shed door, drew their weapons, and prepared to breach the shed.Police storming the shed

“Wait a minute!” I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. “Are you looking for a horse, or a desperate gunman?”

“Procedure, ma’am.” Deputy Dawg glared at me. At least I think he did. He was still wearing those sunglasses.

Deputy Whitewash did glare at me. “There might be more of your relatives in there. We can’t take a chance on confronting any more armed and dangerous people.”

Armed and dangerous? I guess she didn’t believe me when I said my Old Dwarf’s axe wasn’t real. Good grief!

As soon as the deputies opened the shed door, I saw my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter. Oh, someone please shoot me. Shoot me now!

 

The two of them rushed past the deputies, who seemed oblivious to their presence. Thank goodness for Dragon’s spell of concealment! She must have extended it to include these two clowns! Maybe I won’t kill her after all.

My Arrogant One confronted me and immediately started protesting our presence. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his robes in both hands. “Is not a person to be granted any privacy at all?” Can you say deja vu?

The elf was screeching in his typical glass-shattering tone. I winced, but the deputies seemed not to hear a thing.

My Bounty Hunter glared at the deputies, then turned to me. “Are you giving another tour?”

Miles tried to shush my characters, and shoo them off in the direction of the house. Deputy Dawg looked at him suspiciously. “Did you say something?”

“Nope. Just making some noise in case any critters got in here. I wouldn’t want to surprise a sleeping raccoon.” Oh, thank heaven Miles remembered what I said to Mace and Gloria when the same thing happened with them!

The two deputies slowly entered the cluttered shed, and warily looked around. They nosed into every corner and peered into every shadow. After a few minutes, they returned to the doorway.

“Well, did you find anything?”

ladder to barn loft 2Deputy Whitewash shook her head at me, but Deputy Dawg walked over to the ladder that led up to the loft. “What’s up there?”

“Piles of old junk.” I glared at him. “Don’t tell me you think the horse might have climbed up there?” Please don’t go up there and find the old horse equipment Gloria found. If you see all that stuff, you’ll never believe we don’t have a horse here!

“Of course not.” Deputy Dawg sounded indignant.

“Well, I guess your neighbors were wrong.” Deputy Whitewash sounded disappointed.

Dragon, Miles and I walked the deputies back to their car. Before he slid behind the steering wheel, Deputy Dawg issued a warning. “We may not have found the horse here today, but don’t think we won’t be keeping a close eye on this place in the future.”

Deputies leaving

Deputy Whitewash agreed. “If even half of what your neighbors told us about the goings-on here is true, you’ll probably be seeing a lot of us in the future!”

Oh, goody! I can hardly wait!

Dragon, Miles and I stood there, big smiles pasted on our faces, waving at the deputies until their vehicle was out of sight. Then we raced back to the barn.

apple for Mystery“Mystery!” I petted the little horse, and reached into my jacket pocket for an apple. She took it gently from my hand and heaved a contented sigh.

“Mistress, Master Miles, you better come into the barn.” My Gypsy led Mystery into the illusory building, and we followed, with Dragon bringing up the rear.

Inside the barn were a half dozen miniature snow devils, whirling around up in the rafters.snow devils in the barn 2

Oh, gee, things just keep getting better and better!

 

Be sure to come back next week, as we continue the adventure of Mystery and the Snow Devils. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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A Devilish Situation

A Devilish Situation

Elf cleric close-upI looked at Dragon, standing there in her familiar guise of an elf maiden. She was trembling, her breathing was rapid and shallow, and her eyes were wide in terror, terror that was reflected in the eyes of all my characters.

My brow furrowed, and I tilted my head to one side. “Calm down! You’re shaking like a leaf! And what do you mean, Mystery could be something much more sinister? What on earth do you think she is?”

Mystery 2Dragon swallowed hard and tried to steady her breathing. Her voice, when she finally spoke, was thin and shaky. “I am not sure, Mistress. We found no evidence during our physical and magical examinations that Mystery is an illusion. However, I question the possibility that she is nothing more than a real horse. None of us, not even Cleric, have been able to communicate with her. Also, we know that she can walk right through my solid and substantial illusions as if they were not there, something a real horse should not be able to do. And now . . .” She paused and looked around nervously. “Now you tell us there have been hordes of snow devils in the yard and around the shed.”

snow devils in yard 2I scoffed. “Well, I wouldn’t say hordes. There were a lot, that’s true – maybe dozens – but the word horde implies sentience. A snow devil is not a living creature – it is no more than a rare meteorological phenomenon.”

“Perhaps in your world, Mistress.” Cleric joined the conversation.

Elf

I raised an eyebrow at Cleric’s statement. “Do I need to remind you we’re in my world? So the snow devils I saw here, in my world, are exactly what I just said – rare meteorological phenomena, rotating columns of snow, mini snownados or snowspouts. They are certainly not sentient, nor are they anything to fear.”

“You don’t understand, Mistress!” Cleric pushed her hair out of her face and sighed deeply. “You said that, in your world, a true snow devil is rare; yet you saw dozens of miniature snow devils in the yard today. Perhaps these small snow devils are not from your world. Perhaps they have crossed into your world through some magical conveyance.”

 

strange-dreams“Magical conveyance?”

“Yes, Mistress. A conveyance such as the magic conduit that, for a time, linked our world with yours. Or the passage that afforded entry into this world to that milky-eyed grackle who was the familiar of the evil wizard, Morcant.”

I blinked. “You think these snow devils are from a different world?”

“I think they may be, Mistress.” Cleric lifted her eyebrows, and raised her hands, palms up, in a gesture of uncertainty. My other characters all nodded.

“Well, why are they so scary? In your world, what are snow devils?” Even though he asked the question, Miles looked as if he really would prefer not to hear the answer.

 

 

Dragon grimaced. “In our world, Master Miles, snow devils are evil creatures that live in the coldest regions of our planet. They are similar to your world’s mythical vampires, only instead of feeding on blood, they feed upon a person’s soul.”

snow devil from other world

 

Miles gulped.

I raised an eyebrow and folded my arms over my chest. “And you think the snow devils in the yard have come from your world and have eaten Mystery’s soul – presuming an animal has a soul?”

“Perhaps not from our world, Mistress, but they may have come from some other world; and perhaps they have not consumed the horse’s soul, if she has one, but they may have possessed Mystery, or at least taken control of her mind. That may be why we can not communicate with her.” Dragon nervously glanced over at the small, scruffy horse, calmly munching her hay.

I snorted. “And why, exactly, would a snow devil want to possess a small, scruffy horse? What would be the benefit of such a deed?”

“Who knows?” My Gypsy was leaning against the wall of the shed, studying his silver stiletto. “My grandmother said that devils, demons, and other evil spirits often do things for no discernible reason.”

 

young-hero-facing-left“Your grandmother was the village witch, was she not?” My Young Hero walked over to stand next to his friend.

My Gypsy nodded. “She taught me many spells to safeguard against evil sprits.”

Elf facing right“And I know a ritual for exorcising demons.” Cleric sounded grim. “Perhaps the two of us should combine our efforts and make certain Mystery is no threat to anyone.”

I balked. “Whoa! Let’s slow down and think about this. I still tend to believe that the snow devils I saw are harmless meteorological phenomena. Is there any way to find out for sure without involving Mystery? I think today’s experiments were more than enough for her to endure.”

“She looks none the worse for wear to me, Mistress.” My Foreman was standing next to Mystery. He reached out and patted the little horse on her neck. “And she was very calm through the entire procedure. She even took a brief nap while the magic users worked.”

 

I sighed. “Well, if you really think there is a need for it, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt anything. Maybe first thing tomorrow, after you have rested.”

Cleric shook her head emphatically. “That may be too late, Mistress. If the snow devils are sentient creatures, evil spirits, then they must know by now we are aware of their presence here. We should start right away.”

I looked at the assembled group. “Are you sure you don’t need to rest first? I imagine what you’re proposing will be grueling. You have already been hard at work for more than five hours.”

“Well, we are exhausted.” Cleric chewed on her lower lip and rubbed her arm. “But I fear what may happen if we leave Mystery alone while we sleep, if perchance we are correct about the snow devils.”

Dwarf“Could someone stay with Mystery and keep watch? Perhaps my Old Dwarf?”

Cleric and my Gypsy considered this, but before they could answer, Dragon shook her head. “No. It would not be safe for him.”

I frowned. “Aren’t dwarves immune from most magic?”

Dragon nodded. “But this is not magic, Mistress. These are malevolent entities. No, your Old Dwarf would be as vulnerable as the rest of you.”

Easter 128“The rest of us?” Miles furrowed his brow and rubbed his jaw. “Are you saying that you are not vulnerable?”

“Not as vulnerable as the rest of you. At least, not in my true form.”

I raised an eyebrow. “How would Mystery react to you in your true form? Even if she is possessed or controlled by malevolent beings, we still don’t need to frighten the poor horse to death.”

Elf cleric close-upDragon raked her hand through her hair and heaved a huge sigh. “I have no wish to frighten the little creature, but the only way to tell how she might react is to let her see me in my true form.”

hobbledI nodded, albeit reluctantly. Miles and I watched as my characters moved everything away from Mystery that could potentially pose any danger of injury to the little mare. Then my Foreman slipped her halter onto her head, and fastened the lead. “Do you think we need to hobble her again, or perhaps use a twitch?”

Dragon shook her head. “I think, should she become terror-stricken at the sight of me in my true form, she would be safer not being so rigidly restrained. Just keep a tight hold on her lead, and do not allow her to flip over backward should she panic.”

My Foreman nodded, and my Gypsy and my Young Hero positioned themselves to lend a hand if needed. Cleric and Sorceress joined Miles and me by the door, well out of the way of potentially flailing hooves.

 

 

Dragon approached Mystery. She held out her hand to allow the little horse to sniff her, and she crooned to the mare in a reassuring tone. Mystery snuffled at her and nickered softly.

When she was sure the horse was calm enough, Dragon looked over at me and nodded. “When I transform, I will take on the appearance of my true self, but I will remain, at first, small and – hopefully – unthreatening.”

scaly dragonSlowly, Dragon began to shimmer. The beautiful elf maiden gradually shape-shifted into a scaly, reptilian figure about the size of a Chihuahua. Everyone present held their breath, but the only reaction from Mystery was a huge yawn and a slight wiggle of her ears.

After a few moments, Dragon began growing. She expanded to the size of a Beagle, then to the size of a Labrador Retriever. Mystery watched, bobbing her head up and down.

Mystery munching hayDragon continued increasing in size. Soon, she was as large as a Mastiff, and moments later she was the same size as the small horse. At that point, Mystery started fidgeting and pulling on her lead. Stretching her neck as far as she could, Mystery snatched a mouthful of hay from the pile behind my Young Hero, and stood there munching on it while eyeing Dragon.

Dragon looked at me. I shrugged and chuckled. “She reminds me of someone at a movie, munching on a handful of popcorn while enjoying the film.”

Dragon waited a few minutes, during which Mystery helped herself to a few more mouthfuls of hay. Then, the beast continued to grow, until she was almost double the height of Mystery. The little mare continued to wiggle her ears back and forth, bob her head up and down, and chomp on her hay. She showed no fear of the large, reptilian creature in front of her; in fact, she seemed entertained by the transformation.

Dragon with smoke bubblesDragon looked rather confused. Her color morphed to a pale blue, and smoke bubbles dripped from her snout.

Miles“Well, that was anti-climactic!” Miles ran his hand through his hair and stared at the small horse, who looked for all the world like she was ready to fall asleep now that the show was over.

“Well, at least we know I can stay with Mystery this night while the rest of you get some sleep. I do not believe she will suddenly decide to panic in the middle of the night.”

My Foreman slipped Mystery’s halter off and hung it up. “Okay, we will take all of today’s paraphernalia back to the house, and return here in the morning.”

Dragon turned to me. “Remind your Old Dwarf to keep your Arrogant One and your Bounty Hunter away from the shed. I do not want any interference from them.”

I nodded. Once we had gathered all the books and equipment again, I opened the shed door. I yelped, and there was a chorus of shrieks, squeals, and screams from the rest of the group. We all jumped out of the way as a horde of whirling snow devils whooshed past us and headed straight for Mystery.

Snow devils surrounding Mystery

 

 

What is happening? Where did these snow devils come from, and why are they after Mystery? Can Dragon and the rest of us protect the little horse from the demons? Be sure to come back next week and find out! We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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What is Mystery, Really?

What is Mystery, Really?

sleeping dragon 2

“I will not do it.”

Dragon was curled up in front of her illusory fireplace, shivering, in spite of the fact the temperature in the conference room rivaled that of a sauna.

Elf

 

Cleric bit her lower lip and wrung her hands. “But we must complete our task with all possible speed! Mistress Writer awaits the determination of our examination.”

shaggy pony facing the other wayEarlier in the day, Dragon and her colleagues in magic had agreed to examine Mystery, the scruffy little horse that had appeared in the yard the day before. They were going to attempt, through methods both physical and magical, to determine if the horse was real or just an exceptional illusion.

blizzardBefore they could organize their efforts, however, the temperature had plummeted and a wet, heavy snow had begun falling, driven by gale-force winds. Dragon had immediately withdrawn to the conference room and the comfort of her illusory fireplace. Her companions had followed her and were now attempting to persuade her to assist them.

sorceress-facing-rightSorceress crossed her arms over her chest, and tapped her foot impatiently. “Yes, as Cleric has stated, Mistress Writer awaits.”

GypsyMy Gypsy nodded. “We have made a commitment and we must honor it.”

blue-dragon-2Dragon growled and a large cloud of black smoke rose from her muzzle. “Go away. I will not do it. I will not venture out in this abominable weather to spend hours in that bitterly cold shed.”

arrogant-oneMy Arrogant One, who had been listening to the exchange from the hallway, stomped into the room. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak with both hands. His face was red, and his voice rose to its usual glass-shattering range. “I will not have that malodorous beast in my private sanctuary one moment longer than absolutely necessary! You agreed to assist in this magical examination of the creature. Now get your paraphernalia together and take it to the shed!”

Everyone winced and covered their ears. Dragon snarled at the annoying elf, showing every one of her razor-sharp teeth. She thrust her face to within an inch of his. “If you ever again address me in that tone of shriek, no one will ever be able to find the body – if anyone even misses you.”

My Arrogant One whimpered. The color drained from his face and his eyes widened in terror. He backed out of the room so quickly, his feet tangled together and he almost fell. He grabbed the doorjamb to steady himself, then turned and fled without another sound.

“Pity.” Dragon settled herself in front of the fire once more. “I was actually hoping the pompous creature had more to say.” She narrowed her eyes and licked her lips.

A voice from the hallway startled them. “The elf can be annoying, but he has a point.”

bounty-hunterMy Bounty Hunter pushed himself away from the wall, where he had been leaning, and entered the conference room. He kept his posture relaxed and his voice conversational. “The horse should not be in the shed. The sooner you conduct your examinations, the sooner the animal can be evicted, and the sooner you will not have to tolerate the elf’s impudence.”

Dragon scowled at the man. She growled softly and shook her head. “No. I will not do it. This weather chills me to my very soul, and that shed is freezing.”

My Bounty Hunter shrugged. “You could always take your fireplace with you.”

Dragon blinked. The others nodded in agreement with my Bounty Hunter, but Dragon narrowed her eyes and scrutinized the man. She noticed a sly smile playing around his lips, and she observed that he studied his fingernails, rather than look at her and the others. She rose and faced him. “What is the benefit to you, should we decide to conduct this examination?”

He shrugged again. “Oh, just the obvious benefits. The noxious horse is evicted, so I do not have to smell it in the shed – or watch where I place my feet – and the bumptious elf is placated, so I do not have to listen to him whine.”

Dragon continued to stare at him, unblinking. Finally, the man shrugged one last time. “Well, it is, of course, your choice to make; but I would not forget, if I were you, that a promise has been made to Mistress Writer, and she expects results. She is not someone I would ever want to disappoint.” He nodded to the assembled group, then sauntered out of the room.

Dragon waited until my Bounty Hunter was out of earshot. “I do not trust that man.”

Cleric frowned. “He is not one of my favorite people, but nothing he said seems duplicitous.”

Sorceress shook her head. “I agree with Dragon. He is not to be trusted. He has an agenda of his own, or else he promotes one for the annoying elf.”

“Does it really matter?” My Gypsy raised his eyebrows and shrugged. “We did agree to this task, and he did make a sound suggestion.” The lad turned toward Dragon. “Your fireplace would be as effective in warming the shed as it is in warming this room. We would be able to complete the task in relative comfort. Once we complete the task, we would not have to suffer further conversation with the elf or his cohort.”

Dragon sighed, smoke bubbles dripping from her snout.

Dragon with smoke bubbles

* * *

An hour later, the shed was toasty warm, and the flames from the fireplace added to the light provided by the lanterns. Dragon, who had assumed her familiar guise of an elf maiden, directed my Bounty Hunter and my Old Dwarf as they set up tables along one wall. “We need these for the books and paraphernalia we will use during the magical inspection, but they must be placed out of the way so the horse does not knock them over.”

 

After the tables were in place, she turned to my Foreman and my Young Hero. “Once we begin, you need to keep Mystery as calm and quiet as possible. Ideally, the subject of such an examination is completely immobile.”

“We will do our best.” My Foreman slid a halter on the horse’s head and attached a lead, which he handed to my Young Hero. “You hold her head. I will hobble her.”

mens-991728_1280hobbledYoung Hero close-up

 

 

 

 

ElfMy Foreman deftly attached hobbles and ropes to Mystery, and proceeded to lift one of the little horse’s hind legs off the ground. Cleric’s hand flew to her mouth as she watched him. “Oh, do you really need to do that?”

My Foreman raised an eyebrow. “Would you prefer the horse be free to kick, Milady?” Seeing Cleric’s distraught look, the man sighed. “I have used this sort of equipment on many animals, Milady, and never have any come to harm.”

My Young Hero smiled. “Look, Milady – Mystery is accepting the restraints without fear. I suspect she has been so held before. She will be fine.”

Sorceress and my Gypsy entered the shed, lugging the last of the books and equipment. A blast of snow-filled air followed them before they could shut the door. After they brushed the snow off themselves and their belongings, Dragon and Cleric joined them in finding the appropriate spells in the books and setting up the necessary potions and apparatus. Finally, Dragon turned to my Arrogant One. “The four of us are ready. Where are your books and potions?”Table set for spellcasting

arrogant-one-facing-rightMy Arrogant One drew himself up in his typical, superior fashion, rocking back on his heels, and grasping his cloak with both hands. “Books? potions? Those are the tools of lesser magicians. I need no such objects with which to wield my power.”

Elf cleric“You insufferable imbecile!” If Dragon had been in her natural form, she would have been spewing clouds of black smoke. “Lesser magicians, are we? Any one of the four of us has more power and skill in one finger than you could ever hope to possess!”

“So you keep saying. Well, the four of you can rely on your books and your potions. I will rely on my innate power and incredible skill.”

sorceress-facing-rightSorceress stepped between Dragon and my Arrogant One, pushing the two apart. “Fine. How do you propose to assist us?”

My Arrogant One blinked. “How?”

“Yes. How?” Sorceress folded her arms in front of her chest and tilted her head.

Arrogant OneMy Arrogant One turned beet red and started stammering. “Well, I assumed . . . that is . . . well . . .”

Elf facing right

Cleric glared at him. “You have no idea, do you?”

My Gypsy jumped in before my Arrogant One could reply. The lad herded Dragon, Cleric, and Sorceress over to the far side of the shed and spoke to them in a whisper. “I suspect the elf’s purpose here is not to help, but to hinder. Dragon, I know you do not believe the annoying one to have the skill to produce an illusion as realistic as Mystery, but assume for a moment he does. Presume she is an illusion, and he, the illusionist. What better way to keep us from discovering that than to interfere in our work here today?”

Dragon glanced over at my Arrogant One, assessing him through narrowed eyes. Finally she nodded to my Gypsy. “I still do not believe him capable, but you may be right about his desire to thwart our purposes here today . . . for whatever inexplicable purpose.”

Dragon beckoned my Old Dwarf. “Take that one and his companion out of here. They are not to reenter this shed until we have completed our work. Keep them in the house until you hear from me.”

“It be me pleasure!” My Old Dwarf bowed to Dragon. Then he grabbed my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter and escorted them out of the shed, the two of them struggling and howling in protest.

Dragon slammed the door shut, shivering as the wind reached its icy fingers toward her. She brushed off some errant flakes of snow that chilled her cheeks, then nodded to the others. “Let us begin.”

* * *

Performing magic 2

For more than five hours hours, the four companions physically examined Mystery, recited complicated spells, applied potions to the small horse, and probed her through magical means. Through it all, Mystery stood quietly, even dozing off for an hour.

hobbled“I have never worked with such a docile, compliant animal.” My Foreman sounded amazed.

My Young Hero agreed. “Most horses, even if not fearful of the proceedings, would at least be restless. This one stands almost as still as a statue.”

“Have you arrived at a determination yet?” My Foreman looked expectantly at the four magic users.

Dragon sighed. “I remain perplexed. We have found no trace of magic on her, yet her mind remains unreachable.”

Sorceress saw the confused looks on the faces of my Foreman and my Young Hero. “If Mystery were an illusion, there should be some trace of magic about her. If she is real, one of us, most especially Cleric, should be able to reach her mind, communicate with her.”

Elf facing rightCleric rubbed her neck and furrowed her brow. “I have been able to communicate with every form of animal life I have encountered in this world. I can induce birds and squirrels, rabbits and deer, and all manner of wildlife to pose for Mistress Writer’s camera. I have conversed with neighborhood dogs and cats. Yet I, a cleric who serves the goddess of the horse, can not communicate with this horse at all.”

My Young Hero reached over and placed his hand on Cleric’s arm. “I am so sorry.”

My Foreman turned to Dragon. “Is there anything else you wish to try, or should we release Mystery now?”Elf cleric

“There is nothing more we can do. We have failed.” Dragon shook her head and her shoulders slumped.

As my Foreman removed the hobbles and ropes, he instructed my Young Hero to get the horse her evening feed and water. “She will have to remain in the shed. We can not have her walking through the walls of the illusory barn, and roaming the neighborhood.”

“I know two individuals who will not be happy about that.” My Gypsy waggled his eyebrows and grinned a lopsided smile.

“Indeed.” Sorceress scoffed. “We can tell them once we pack up our books and equipment and return everything to the house.”

“And I must tell Mistress Writer.” Dragon heaved a huge sigh.

“Tell me what?” I poked my head in the door. “Miles and I were just coming out to see if anyone needed a warm beverage.”

 

My husband and I entered the shed and quickly closed the doors behind us, but the cold wind and snow had trailed us in. We shivered and brushed ourselves off.

“No thank you, Mistress. We can wait until we are back in the house. But I must confess we have failed to shed any light on our little Mystery.” Dragon explained all she and her companions had done, all to no avail. “I am so sorry, Mistress. I know you were counting on us.”apple for Mystery

I raked my hand through my hair. “It’s not your fault. I guess it’s time to alert the authorities that we’ve found a loose horse.” I went over to see Mystery, and held out an apple for her. She took it gently from the palm of my hand, then she nuzzled my shoulder, and nickered softly.

My characters had gathered all of their trapping together and were ready to go back to the house. “Here, let Miles and I help you carry all this. The wind is ferocious. I’ve seen a bunch of mini snow devils in the yard today. A true snow devil is supposed to be a rare phenomenon, but there were dozens of miniature ones here today!”

“Snow devils?” My characters gaped at me, the color draining from their faces.snow devil

“Yeah, you know – a rotating column of snow. I don’t know the exact science of how they form, but basically they look like mini-tornadoes made of snow.”

Dragon grabbed my arm. “Mistress, were there any of these snow devils around the shed?”

“Well, yeah, they were all over the yard. Why?”something sinister 2

Dragon’s eyes widened in fear. “Mistress, you must not alert the authorities to the presence of Mystery! I fear mayhap she is neither illusion nor real horse. Perchance she is something much more sinister.”

shaggy pony facing the other way

Looking up from her pile of hay, Mystery whinnied.

 

Be sure to join us again next week for our continuing investigation into the true nature of our little Mystery. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

A Puzzling Mystery

A Puzzling Mystery

Sleeping Woman 2“Good morning, sleepyhead.”

I opened one eye and slowly my husband came into focus, already up and dressed for the day, and sounding way too chipper. I groaned. “What time is it?”

Miles chuckled. “Relax. You have time to shower and dress before we have to start breakfast.”

I opened my other eye, sat up, yawned widely, and ran my hand through my hair in an unsuccessful attempt to tame the overnight snarls and tangles before putting on my robe and heading for the bathroom. I felt like a zombie. It had been rather late last night when I finally got to bed.

computer_keyboardMy search of the web had provided no clues to Mystery’s true identity or origin. What I had found were an astonishingly large number of websites and social media pages where missing horses, whether strayed or stolen, could be reported. There were even a number of those dedicated to missing equines just within the state of Minnesota. It had taken a few hours to find all the sites and then sift through all the reports. In the end, however, I had found no horses reported on those sites matching the description of the small, scruffy horse that had shown up in our yard. Nor did my check of local news and law enforcement reports online yield any mention of missing horses nearby. Mystery remained a mystery.

bathroom

I had finished brushing my teeth and was about to turn on the shower when someone started banging on the bedroom door. “Mistress? Master Miles?” I recognized the voice of my Young Hero.Young Hero close-up

What?” I’m sure I sounded as annoyed as I felt, as his response came hesitantly, with much stammering.

“M . . . Mistress? Mistress, er, I think, ah, perchance you should, er . . . I think mayhap . . . ah . . . I think your presence is needed.”

Why?” I had already given up on the idea of a shower, so I returned to the bedroom and quickly threw on a tattered pair of jeans and a slightly worn sweatshirt.

“Well, ah, Mistress . . .”

I threw open the door. “What is it?

One look at my Young Hero’s face told me I wasn’t going to like whatever he had to say.

“What’s wrong?” I tried to control my annoyance.

shaggy pony facing the other way“Mystery is gone.”

“What?” My voice shot up into the range usually occupied by the screeching of my Arrogant One or by irritating operatic sopranos. “Didn’t you latch the stall door last night after you gave her hay and water?”

“I was not the last one to visit her, Mistress.”

“Well, who was?” I raked my hand through my hair.

“Does it matter?” Miles was already urging me out of the room. “Let’s go see if we can find her, before she ends up in Mace and Gloria’s yard, and we get a visit from the county sheriff.”

Gypsy close-upWe were in the living room, struggling into our boots when my Gypsy entered through the French doors from the deck. He spoke to my Young Hero. “We are waiting for you. We have the horses saddled, and we are ready to go search for Mystery.”

Before the other lad could respond, I grabbed the two of them by their coat sleeves. “What? Are you crazy? You can’t go riding through the neighborhood looking for Mystery!”

“But, Mistress! As you know, horses are herd animals. They seek out their own kind. We thought our mounts would lead us right to her.” My Gypsy tilted his head and shrugged. “We often used this method to search for missing horses in our village.”

“Yes. You can use real horses to look for real horses. What you can’t do is take your illusory horses out of the area that is protected by Dragon’s spell of concealment and ride them through the neighborhood, where everyone can see them. And I highly doubt that illusions can be used to track a real animal.” I shook my head. “If you go looking for her, you need to do it in on foot – especially if you plan to covertly trespass in anyone’s yard.”

dwarf“Eh, what be all tha commotion?” My Old Dwarf came into the living room, gnawing on a turkey leg and wiping the grease all over his tunic. “I be thinkin’ ye can be hearded all tha way back in me own-est world!”

I blushed and lowered my voice an octave and quite a few decibels. “Mystery’s missing. I was just explaining to the lads why they can’t . . .”

“I be hearin’ what ye be tellin’ ’em. I be thinkin’ tha dead kin be hearin’ ye!”

“Sorry.” I blushed deeper, and continued struggling into my boots.

Backyard 050I looked at the lads. “Why don’t you two go back out and help my Foreman unsaddle the horses and stable them?” I turned back to my Old Dwarf, who had dropped the remains of the turkey leg into his pouch, trading it for some donuts he fished out of the same sack. He stood there munching them, leaving crumbs all over himself and the carpet. I wrinkled my nose, shook my head, and heaved a huge sigh. “And why don’t you brush yourself off and come with us in the car? With your excellent night vision, you might be able to see her in the dim morning light.”

arrogant-oneAll three of my characters nodded. Before they could move a finger, however, my Arrogant One came bursting in from outside, eyes narrowed and face beet red, screeching in his normal glass-shattering register. “What is that filthy animal doing in the shed? I thought I had made myself quite clear – I will not tolerate such odoriferous creatures sharing my private sanctuary!”

We all just stared at him, slack-jawed, and for about ten seconds you could hear a pin drop. Then we all pushed my Arrogant One aside, almost trampling the elf as we rushed out the door and to the shed.

We found Dragon, in her guise of an elf maiden, along with Cleric and Sorceress, in the shed. The three of them stood in front of Mystery, protecting her from my Bounty Hunter, who was threatening the small horse with a crossbow.protecting Mystery 6

I cried out, and my Old Dwarf immediately pushed past me and smacked the crossbow out of my Bounty Hunter’s hand with the flat of his battle axe.

bounty-hunterWhat is going on here?” I glared at my Bounty Hunter, who was rubbing his hand where my Old Dwarf had hit him.

shaggy pony facing the other way“This creature does not belong here. You assured us that the animals would be kept in the barn.” My Bounty Hunter glared at me, eyes narrowed.

Before I could respond, Cleric came forward. “Mistress, we had to bring Mystery in here last night.” Cleric spoke rapidly, and her eyes were wide with fright. “She would not stay in the barn with the other horses.”

“Wasn’t her stall door latched?” I elbowed my way through my group of characters and stood next to Mystery, checking the scruffy horse to make certain she was unharmed. She nickered softly and nuzzled my hand.Automatic Horse Stall Doors Med Art Home Design Posters intended for dimensions 1024 X 768

“Her stall door was latched.” My Foreman entered the shed and joined the conversation. “I always check the barn before retiring for the night. I had filled the water buckets one final time, our horses’ with the illusory water, but Mystery’s with real water. I also gave them each two laps of hay, again giving her the real hay. I latched all their stalls, extinguished the lamp, closed the barn door, and headed back to the house. I heard hoofbeats behind me, and turned around. Mystery was following me.”

shaggy pony facing the other way“Well, she’s a regular little Houdini, isn’t she?” I chuckled and scratched the horse behind her ears, and she sighed contentedly. “I wouldn’t think her tall enough to reach over the stall door and unlatch it.”

“She is not.” My Foreman sounded grim, and his eyes were dark with concern.

“Well, how did she get out of her stall, then?”

Dragon lifted an eyebrow and crossed her arms over her chest. “She walked through the door.”

I frowned and tilted my head. “I don’t think I understand.”

Mystery escaping barnDragon sighed. “She walked right through the stall door, and then the barn wall, as if the structures did not exist. I saw her do this, after your Foreman alerted me to her escape and we returned her to her stall.”

My jaw fell open. “I didn’t think that was possible. I thought your illusions are . . . what is the term you use? Solid and substantial? How did she walk through your illusion as if it wasn’t there?”

Elf cleric close-upDragon chewed on her lower lip, and rubbed her arms. She spoke softly, her voice tinged with fear. “I do not know, Mistress. My illusions are as solid as the real object. If you wanted to go through one of my illusory barn walls, you would have to use a sledge hammer or a battering ram to do so. I do not know how this horse walked through my illusion. She should not be able to do so.”

Miles scratched his chin. “Could she do it because she’s not real, because she’s just an illusion?”

Dragon took many minutes to consider the question before answering with a shake of her head. “Even if illusory, she should not be able to act as if my solid and substantial illusions did not exist all around her. None of the illusory horses I created can just walk through their stall doors, or barn walls.”

sorceress-facing-rightSorceress frowned. “Could that be because you created them? Because they are all part of a single illusion of your design? If someone else created the illusion of another horse, perhaps it does not interact with your illusion in the same way as the horses that are part of your own illusion.”

Dragon sighed and tilted her head. “I suppose that is possible. But, remember, I did not detect any magic residue on Mystery. And she will not partake of the illusory hay, feed, and water. She will only partake of the real thing. I still do not believe her to be illusory.”

birthdays-weekend-trip-to-wi-018Miles furrowed his brow. “But you also said that you, and even Cleric, were unable to communicate with her the way you can with a real animal.”

Dragon sighed and shrugged. “You are right, Master Miles. If Mystery is a real horse, Cleric should be able to communicate with her, even if I can not.”

I frowned. “Is there any way to be absolutely certain? Perhaps you and your colleagues in magic should examine her by both physical and magical means, the way you did with the books that came through the magical conduit.”

gypsy-facing-right“That will be very difficult, Mistress.” My Gypsy frowned. “It is very hard to immobilize a living creature in order to perform the examinations of which you speak. A pile of books sits on a table. A horse does not remain still. It wanders around, whether in a pasture or even in a smaller area, like a stall. And if Mystery can walk through the illusory walls, then we would have to perform the spells of discovery in here.” He looked pointedly toward my Arrogant One, who had quietly slipped into the shed in the middle of the conversation and was standing next to my Bounty Hunter, listening intently. “We would need privacy.”arrogant-one

My Arrogant One narrowed his eyes. “You seem to forget that I, too, am one of your colleagues in magic. If you are to examine the animal here, in my sanctuary, I will take part in this undertaking.”

Cleric sputtered, and Sorceress laughed. If Dragon had been in her true form, she would have been snarling at the annoying elf. “There is no way we will allow you to assist us in this endeavor. You have not the requisite skill, nor the ability to work with others.”

My Bounty Hunter’s mouth twitched. “I do not imagine you want the elf to best you at your own craft.”

Dragon glared at him threateningly through narrow eyes. “On his finest day, and my worst, that charlatan could not best me if I had one eye closed and my hands tied behind my back.”

“This is not a contest.” I glared at both Dragon and my Bounty Hunter. Then I turned to my Arrogant One. “But it strikes me as extremely out of character for you to offer your assistance to anyone, if you do not directly benefit from the task.”

“I will benefit, madam, from the quick completion of this examination, resulting in the expeditious removal of that animal from this shed.”

I frowned. It sounded logical, but I knew my Arrogant One well enough to know he probably had an ulterior motive. “You know, I don’t believe I ever asked you – Mystery is not one of your illusions, is she?”

magic energy traceDragon snorted. “I told you before, Mistress, the annoying elf is not capable of creating an illusion that leaves no trace of magic. If she was one of his illusions, I would be able to tell.”

My Arrogant One shrugged and gestured toward Dragon. His meaning was clear – he was not going to contradict her. Still, I wondered.

“Okay, how soon can you complete your examination?”

Dragon grumbled, and gestured toward Cleric, Sorceress and my Gypsy. “If it were just the four of us, we could complete it within a day.” She turned toward my Arrogant One and glared. “Having him to contend with, it might take considerably longer, if we can complete the task at all with his interference.”

 

arrogant-one-facing-right

I sighed. “Give it a good try. I would like to know just what we’re dealing with.”

shaggy pony facing the other way

 

I gave the little mare another pat on the shoulder. Just what are you, Mystery? Why can you do things that should be impossible?

 

 

 

 

 

Be sure to come back next week and see if we have learned anything new about Mystery. 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

The Return of the Neighbors

The Return of the Neighbors

three bales of hay in trunk 2Miles and I were just pulling into the driveway, three bales of hay conspicuously sticking out of the trunk of our car, when I yelped.

“What’s wrong?” Miles jammed on the brakes and looked all around.

I pointed. “We have company.”

Walking around our side yard were our neighbors from down the street, Mace and Gloria. They were coming from the back of our property, and they were looking at the ground.

In his best cartoon character voice, Miles whispered, “Jiggers! The cops!”

I giggled, but Miles raised an eyebrow. “Okay, maybe not the cops, but they are the self-proclaimed neighborhood watch.”

I snorted. “More like the neighborhood busybodies.”

Miles nodded and frowned. “What are they doing here?”

“I don’t know, but I bet it’s nothing good.”

Gloria was pointing at something on the ground at the west edge of our yard. Mace leaned over and stared at it for a few moments. Straightening up, he removed his glasses, wiped them with a handkerchief, and replaced them on his face, jamming them onto the bridge of his nose. He squished his eyebrows together in a frown, and looked at the ground again. He shook his head and shrugged at his wife.

Gloria nudged Mace and nodded toward Miles and me as we sat in the car watching them. They hurried over to the car, scowling. Miles whispered to me out of the side of his mouth, “Do you think we could make a run for it?”

I giggled. “We could try.”

Instead, we plastered big smiles on our faces as we opened our car doors. “Howdy, neighbors!” I can sound really chipper when I try. “What’s up? 2018 treating you okay?”

Gloria frowned and pointedly ignored my greeting. “There’s been a horse running loose through the yards. We’ve seen it and so have a lot of other people in the neighborhood.”

“A horse?” I tried my best to sound skeptical.

“Yes, a small horse.” Gloria sounded accusatory, and she placed her hands on her hips as she waited for a response.

“Ah, well, okay. If we see one, we’ll be sure to let you know.”

Black stallion rubbing against tree in snowFor today's blog 001While this conversation was taking place, my Foreman’s black stallion wandered up from the back yard. He walked over to the tree in the front yard and started scratching his neck and shoulder against the trunk. My husband spotted him and turned white as the snow. He grabbed my hand, but I just gave him an almost imperceptible shake of my head.

Miles slowly turned and started slinking toward the car, but Mace reached out and grabbed his arm.

“We’ve been looking at the tracks.”

“Tracks?” Miles sounded like he was about to choke, and I could see sweat beading on his forehead and upper lip.

“Yes, the tracks from the loose horse.” Mace started tugging my husband’s’ arm. He led Miles and me over to the edge of our property.

“See? There in the next yard?” He pointed.

hoofprints in snow

Miles and I looked. There were hoofprints all over the yard.

“Funny thing about those tracks.” Gloria folded her arms over her chest and took on a smug tone.

The stallion wandered over and stood right behind Gloria. He sniffed at her, sneezed violently several times, and trotted away, shaking his head. Miles looked like he was about to faint, but I ignored the illusory animal and stared where Mace had pointed.

“Oh? I don’t see anything funny. They look like normal hoofprints to me.” I smiled sweetly.

12-28-13 - MN Arboretum 080I kept an eye on my husband, who seemed on the verge of panic. He watched the stallion as it trotted toward the back yard, where its two illusory companions were rolling in the snow. Then he looked back at our neighbors, who seemed completely oblivious to the presence of the three equines. If my husband had been a character in a cartoon, a light bulb would have appeared over his head at that moment. By his relieved expression, I could tell he realized that Dragon’s spell of concealment was working.

With my attention on Miles, I almost missed what Gloria was saying. “What’s funny about the tracks is that they’re in almost every yard in the neighborhood . . . except yours. They stop at the exact edge of your property.” Gloria quirked an eyebrow at me as if daring me to try to explain that.

deer repellent“I guess that deer repellent works on horses, too!” Miles smiled broadly and gave Gloria and Mace a guileless look.

Thank heavens for a quick-witted husband!

“Deer repellent?” Mace lifted an eyebrow and cocked his head. “We haven’t seen any deer in the neighborhood.”

Miles didn’t miss a beat. “See how well it works?”

“Well, we don’t think it has anything to do with deer repellent.” Gloria was sounding even more smug. I wondered – and not for the first time – if she could possibly be related to my Arrogant One.

“Oh? And to what do you attribute our yard’s lack of hoofprints?” I tried to keep my voice neutral, but I think I sounded more annoyed than curious.

“You used something – probably a broom or a pine bough – to erase all traces of the tracks.” Gloria ended this accusation with a toss of her head.

pine branch

My eyes widened and my jaw dropped. I gaped at her, speechless, for a few moments before recovering my composure. “You know what, Gloria? I think you’ve watched one too many low-budget detective flicks. Why on earth would we do something so tedious and so pointless as to erase hoofprints from our yard?”

“Because the tracks were made by your horse. You’re hiding it in that oversized garden shed.”

horses-in-the-yard-for-blog-2Before I could respond to Gloria’s accusation, Mace interrupted. “That first day I came over to introduce myself after we moved in, I saw horses in your yard. I told you then that this neighborhood wasn’t zoned for livestock.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/meeting-the-neighbors/

stallion comes up behind Mace“Mace, if you will remember correctly, you thought you saw horses in the yard, but then we couldn’t find any and you realized it was just your imagination.” I frowned, but it was difficult for me to keep a stern tone of voice as the black stallion came up behind Mace, stuck his nose in the air, and curled his upper lip.

“Well, now we’ve seen a horse.” Gloria couldn’t sound any smugger if she tried. “It definitely wasn’t our imagination.”

“Not in this yard you didn’t.” I folded my arms over my chest and tilted my head, still trying not to laugh at the antics of the stallion, who seemed most interested in Mace.

“If you don’t have a horse, then why do you have three bales of hay in the trunk of your car?” Mace sounded almost as smug as his wife.

“We picked up that hay for a friend . . . for her rabbits.” Miles isn’t the only one in this family who can think fast under pressure.

Shed“Really? Then I guess you wouldn’t mind if we took a look in your shed.” Mace started walking toward the back of our yard.

Miles placed a restraining hand on his arm. “Why, Mace, you didn’t tell us you had joined the sheriff’s department!”

“Or that you had a search warrant,” I added in a saccharine voice.

horselaugh 2Mace slowly turned and stared daggers at us. The black stallion sounded off with what could only be described as a horselaugh. I could hardly keep from doubling over laughing, too. It’s almost a shame that Mace and Gloria are missing all this hilarity! Almost.

My lips must have twitched as I tried to keep from laughing. Gloria looked livid as she scowled at me. “I don’t know what’s so funny. Maybe you’d like us to call the police and wait for them to bring a search warrant?” Gloria was fairly spitting now.

“And what evidence can you give them that would allow them to procure a search warrant?” I tilted my head and stroked my chin.

Gloria drew herself up and rocked back on her heels, and she grasped her coat in both hands. Her petulant voice went up at least an octave. “We know what we saw.”

I rolled my eyes. She must be related to my Arrogant One!

I sighed. “Look. In the interest of neighborhood harmony and goodwill, we’ll let you investigate our shed . . . this time. But after that, you leave and you never set foot on our property unless we have invited you, understood? Or we’re the ones who will be calling the police.”

In front of the barn 3Mace and Gloria both turned beet red, but they nodded curtly and walked toward the shed with us. As we approached the building, we passed the illusory barn, almost a mirror image of the shed, but larger. Dragon had created that for the illusory horses when my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter kept complaining about the animals being kept in their shed. Dragon, in her guise of an elf maiden, was standing at the door to the barn, holding Mystery. My Foreman and the lads were with her, helping her keep the horse quiet. Our guests walked right past them, unawares.

When we got to the shed, Miles pulled open the big double doors and I turned on the lights. Mace and Gloria paused at the threshold.

“Come on, take a good look around. If you find any horses, you can call the police and report us.” Please let my characters keep that horse out of sight! I don’t need it bursting in here and causing a commotion!

It wasn’t Mystery that I needed to worry about. My Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter were in the shed, and they immediately started protesting our presence.

“Is not a person to be granted any privacy at all?” My Arrogant One was screeching so loudly, the black stallion, who had followed us into the shed, winced in pain and whinnied loudly.

“Get that filthy animal out of here!” The elf screeched even louder. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his robes in both hands. “I will not share this shed with those vile, odoriferous creatures!” Oh, yes, he and Gloria must be related!

My Bounty Hunter saw Mace and Gloria at the shed door, and he immediately crossed his arms over his chest. “Are you giving tours now?”

I tried to hush my characters as inconspicuously as possible. “Not now. Go to the house.”

“Did you say something?” Gloria looked at me suspiciously.

“Nope. Just making some noise in case any critters got in here. I wouldn’t want to surprise a sleeping raccoon.” I tried to look innocent.

Gloria and Mace slowly entered the cluttered shed, and warily looked around. While they were on the far side of the room, nosing into every corner and peering into every shadow, Miles and I pushed my indignant characters out of the shed.

“Go. Now.” The two of them took one look at my expression and headed straight for the house at a dead run.

After a few minutes, Gloria and Mace returned to the doorway.

“Any luck?”

ladder to barn loft 2They shook their heads. Then Gloria nudged her husband and pointed at the ladder to the loft.

I snickered. “You think the horse is up in the loft? Is this horse a circus performer that can climb ladders? Or maybe you think it’s Pegasus?”

Gloria’s cheeks burned, but she pushed her husband, and followed him up the ladder.

“Aha!”

Aha? What in the name of all that’s holy could they have found in the loft? Certainly not Mystery!

Miles and I scrambled up the ladder. At the top, Gloria confronted us. “No horses, huh? Then what are these for?”what was in the loft

She dumped the contents of the bucket she was holding. There was a farrier’s rasp, a hoof knife, a hoof pick, and a dozen or so old, rusty horseshoes. I heaved a huge sigh of relief.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake! That’s stuff I never got rid of when I sold my horse farm in New Jersey and moved here to Minnesota. If you move enough of this junk, you’ll probably find some more buckets, a few feeders, an old horse blanket or two, and maybe even my old saddle and bridle. But I haven’t had horses in over 15 years, and never on this property!”

Gloria was about to reply, but Mace took her by the arm and tugged her toward the ladder. “Let’s just go, Gloria. We haven’t found anything that proves they’re keeping a horse.”

After we all descended the ladder, Mace turned to us with a warning. “We’ll be watching this place, and if we see any more suspicious activity . . .” He let the threat hang.

Backyard 050I could feel my last bit of patience evaporate, my last nerve snap. “If you two know what’s good for you, you’ll do all your watching from the confines of your own property. If we see you on our property uninvited again, we’ll see a lawyer about a restraining order, and maybe a lawsuit for harassment.”

We stood there in the doorway of the shed and watched our neighbors stomp off in the direction of their own house. We waited until they were out of sight and we ran over to the barn.

Elf cleric close-upDragon raised her eyebrows and tried to stifle a laugh. “And I thought they were such a charming couple when they came to see you last summer after your surgery.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/fun-and-mayhem-with-the-neighbors/

“Yeah, charming.” I shook my head. “Anyway, we got the feed and hay for Mystery. If anyone can find a foolproof way of getting it here from the car without our charming neighbors seeing it, we can let the poor horse eat.”

“We will attend that chore, Mistress.” My Young Hero beckoned to my Gypsy, and the two lads headed across the back of the yard and up along the far side of the house so that Mace and Gloria would be unable to see them from their house.

 

 

An hour later, the feed and hay had been put away and Mystery was happily munching her dinner. Miles and I went back to the house, still shaking our heads and chuckling over our neighbor’s visit.

Miles looked at his watch. “It’s almost time for our dinner.”

“Okay. I’ll give you a hand in the kitchen. After dinner, I’ll have plenty of time to check the internet and see if I can find any information about a missing horse.”

Come back next week and see if my internet search sheds any light on our little Mystery. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Mystery

Mystery

Dragon reading books 2I opened the conference room door, and was almost driven back by the blast of sauna-like heat. Dragon was there, toasting herself in front of her blazing illusory fireplace while poring over a pile of books.

My characters have been in this world for a number of years now, and most have taught themselves to read at least a bit. Dragon reads voraciously. She has worked her way through my complete library of fantasy fiction. She loves to discuss the similarities and differences between the various worlds in those novels and her world, the world I wrote about in the manuscripts from which she and eight of her fellow characters fell into the real world.

Dragon with smoke bubblesToday, whatever Dragon was reading did not seem to be to her liking. She kept changing colors, growling softly, twitching the tip of her tail, shaking her head, and snorting clouds of smoke bubbles. I tried not to giggle at the sight of the smoke, dripping from her snout like the soap bubbles from a toy bubble-pipe.

“So, what are you reading?” I closed the door behind me, and walked across the conference room to stand beside the big creature.Dragon reading book

“A book.” Dragon narrowed her eyes and glared at me. She was obviously upset, either by my intrusion or by whatever she had been reading.

What book?” I braved her glare and tried to look over her shoulder at the book.

jean mugThe Dead of Winter by Jean Rabe.” Dragon growled softly again and shook her head slightly. There was a look of disgust on her reptilian face.

I raised an eyebrow at Dragon. “I’ve read that book. It’s excellent.”

Dark smoke drifted from the creature’s snout, and the look she gave me clearly said I did not know what I was talking about.

“Well, what’s wrong with it?” I tilted my head.Dragon

“No dragons.”

I laughed.

“I have read other works by this scribe. Mistress Rabe is a most excellent chronicler of events in worlds where Dragons and elves and dwarves and magic users abound. But this?” Dragon shook her head and snorted. “No dragons.”

I nodded. “Jean is well known for her sci-fi and fantasy novels.”

“Sci-fi?” Dragon tilted her head and furrowed her brow.

“Science fiction. A story that uses advanced technology – sometimes real and sometimes imaginary – and alien races from other planets the way a fantasy story uses magic, elves, dragons, dwarves and such.”

Sci-fi and fantasy

 

Dragon drew herself up and narrowed her eyes. “You talk as if magic and the creatures of which you speak are not real.”

I shrugged. “Well, dragons and elves and dwarves and the various other creatures that inhabit fantasy literature are not indigenous to this, the real world; and the existence of magic is an oft-debated subject. But, that is a topic for another day. We were discussing Jean Rabe’s book, The Dead of Winter, and why you don’t like it.”

Dragon growled softly again. “No dragons.”

Again I laughed. “I know it can be disappointing to some readers when one of their favorite authors switches genres, but the same fine craftsmanship, credible characters, and attention to detail that make Jean’s fantasy and sci-fi books so popular are what makes her mysteries so wonderful.”mystery

“Mysteries? Plural? This scribe has penned more than one of these?” Dragon pointed to the open book and grimaced.

“Oh, yes.” I nodded. “As a matter of fact, Jean has published a second book in the Piper Blackwell series, The Dead of Night, and I believe she is already working on her third. I’ve read both of her current mysteries starring Piper Blackwell, and I can’t wait for the next one to be published!”

Dragon blinked. “Why?”

“Because they’re excellent books!”

Dragon looked unconvinced and I sighed. “Jean’s first Piper Blackwell novel, The Dead of Winter, is a real page-turner. That means it’s so exciting, I didn’t want to put it down. Jean revealed the first dead body on page one, and the action never stopped.”

Dragon tilted her head, and stroked her chin. “Continue. What about the second book?”

“Well, in book two, The Dead of Night, I just love the way Jean weaves together the solving of two unrelated mysteries with historical details of the rural Indiana county where the action takes place. Minutiae of the character’s daily lives and routines add flavor and charm; the technical details of police procedure give it authenticity; and Jean’s penchant for detail that makes all her novels so realistic shines through in the discussion of topics such as computer hacking and banking fraud. Finally, all the twists and turns Jean introduces in the investigation of the crimes will keep readers guessing right up to the minute Piper and her deputy crack the cases.”

Dragon frowned. “Well, if you are so impressed with these books, I suppose I should reconsider. I will read them both and try to see the value of them, even if they have no dragons.”

I laughed. “I should think you would like mysteries. You have often been instrumental in solving them.”

“I suppose.” Dragon tilted her head and rubbed her reptilian jaw. “Perhaps I still do not feel completely familiar with your world. I can solve mysteries in my own world, or mysteries in your world that involve aspects of my world – features such as magic, and creatures that you would term mythical – but things like police procedure and . . . what did you say was included in the second book? Computer hacking? Banking fraud? Well, these are topics with which I have little familiarity or understanding.”

police procedure

I nodded. “I think you will find that Jean does an excellent job explaining these things. Her main character, Piper, is brand-new to the job of county sheriff. She needs to be instructed on some of these topics, too, so you will learn with her.” I looked at my watch. “But why don’t you leave that until later? Miles should have lunch ready by now.”

“I do not suppose your good husband would deliver some here? I do hate to leave the warmth of the fire.” Dragon tried to look beguiling, but her toothy smile was less than charming.

“I’m afraid not.” I chuckled. “He did set the thermostat a bit higher today, though, knowing how you hate the cold.”

“Then, I suppose I should refrain from terrorizing him with my usual threat to char his shoes with his feet still in them.” Dragon winked.

As we walked up the stairs, I frowned. It felt just as uncomfortably warm as it had in the conference room. “I better talk to Miles. I think he’s set the thermostat a bit too high.”

fireplace2Dragon giggled. When we reached the kitchen, I saw why – there was her fireplace, blazing away. The rest of my characters, assembled around the table for lunch, were panting and dripping with sweat. They all started shooting dirty looks at Dragon as we entered the room.

dwarf-facing-rightMy Old Dwarf jumped from his seat and commenced bellowing. “Ye consarned beastie! Ye might be all comfy-like wit all this heat, but tha rest o us be meltin’ away here! Iffin we be wantin’ ta be this hot, we be workin’ in a dwarven forge!”

Arrogant One facing right“Indeed!” My Arrogant One sniffed disdainfully. “Why must the rest of us be subjected to these intolerable conditions just because of that vile creature? My robes are wilting!”

My other characters nodded, several adding their own complaints, rather loudly.

I turned toward Dragon, my eyes narrowed, my expression grim. “Lose the fireplace.” My tone did not invite discussion. Dragon hung her head and sulked, but the fireplace disappeared, and the temperature in the room dropped immediately to a more comfortable level.

Dragon shimmered and shape-shifted into her alter-ego, an elf maiden, so she could sit at the table with us. Miles served lunch, ladling up bowlfuls of thick, creamy chowder, brimming with corn, carrots, potatoes, onions, and several of his secret ingredients.

Conversation during lunch was scant, limited to requests for additional servings of the steaming chowder, or slices of thick, crusty bread slathered with sweet butter. Once everyone had finished their second helping, and some were on their thirds or fourths . . . or more . . . pockets of quiet conversation started up among my characters.

foremanMy Foreman leaned across the table to address Dragon, who was sitting to my right. “That new horse was a bit rough, don’t you think? I mean, a winter coat is one thing, but that animal was absolutely scruffy when we first saw her. It took us hours to groom her, and she still looks a bit like a furball. Who did you conjure her for, anyway?”

Dragon stared at my Foreman as if he were speaking a foreign language.

My Foreman frowned, and red tinged his weathered cheeks. “What? Was she supposed to be a surprise for someone here? I am sorry if I let slip a secret.”

Dragon continued staring. Finally she replied, “I have no idea of what you speak. I have added no new mounts to your illusory stable.”

GypsyMy Gypsy snorted. “Well, then, what did we spend all morning working on?”

“I have no idea.” Dragon’s elven eyes showed concern, and she quickly rose from her seat. “Show me this new horse.”

I jumped up. “I think I better tag along.”

My Foreman and the lads led Dragon and me out the door to the deck, then across the stable yard to the barn. The stable was an elaborate illusion Dragon had created for my Foreman and the lads because they missed their former lives so much. In their world, my Foreman had been a legendary cavalry officer. When injuries had forced his retirement, he went on to become foreman of the largest horse breeding operation in the kingdom. That stable had been owned by the parents of my Young Hero, who had grown up around horses. My Gypsy, too, had been raised around horses. His people had earned their livelihood breeding, training and selling fine Gypsy horses.

One of the best features of the illusory stable, in my opinion, was the spell of concealment Dragon had woven into the illusion. None of our neighbors or visitors to our home ever saw anything other than our normal back yard, even when the horses were grazing in the pasture or being ridden in the paddock.

We ducked through the paddock fence and walked to the barn. My Young Hero opened the barn door and lit the lamp. From the first stall, we heard a deep nicker. My Foreman’s spirited black stallion stuck his head over the stall door, a snatch of alfalfa trailing from his mouth. In the second stall, my Gypsy’s flashy black-and-white cob was crunching a carrot. Standing on tip-toe, I checked the third stall. My Young Hero’s chocolate palomino pony was sleeping in a corner. The remaining stall was open and empty.

“So, where’s this new horse?” I looked at my Foreman and the lads, who were all frowning.

“She was here this morning. We put her in the stall next to my pony.” My Young Hero took the lamp and moved toward the back of the barn, where the feed and tack were stored. “Wait. There she is.”

shaggy pony in barnThe horse was cowering in the shadows in the far corner. As we approached, she scooted past us and stood just inside the open door, eying us intently. Standing in the doorway, backlit by the harsh glare of sunlight bouncing off the snow in the paddock, the shaggy mare was difficult to see. She appeared to be a large pony or small horse. I judged her coat condition to be equal parts winter growth of hair and lack of a regular deworming regime. Other than the light mane and tail, her color was dubious. I reckoned she could be a chocolate palomino, like my Young Hero’s sleek pony, or perhaps a flaxen sorrel. She watched us all warily, flicking her ears back and forth, and flaring her nostrils.

Dragon motioned us all to stay back. She quietly approached the mare, who snuffled suspiciously at the elfin figure. Dragon reached out and placed her hands on the horse, who trembled but submitted. Dragon stroked the horse gently, while mumbling some arcane words in an ancient language. Finally, Dragon turned to us. All color had left her face.

question mark“I can not tell if this horse is real or illusion. If illusion, she has been created by a magic user even more gifted and skilled than myself. She is solid and substantial, and I am unable to detect the slightest aura of magic around her. If real, I can not tell if she is from this world or another. I sense nothing from her. She is a mystery.”

“Mystery.” I looked at the nervous little mare, and then at Dragon. “That’s a good name for her.”

Be sure to come back and join us as we attempt to solve the mystery of Mystery. We’ll leave the porch light on for you. And if you love a mystery as much as I do, be sure to check out Jean Rabe’s excellent Piper Blackwell books, The Dead of Winter and The Dead of Night.

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays

Elf facing right“Mistress?”

“Hmmm?” I looked up from the table, where I was helping my husband set out the Christmas Eve buffet. Cleric’s brow was furrowed, and she was biting her lower lip. I placed the napkins in a pile at the end of the table, then walked with Cleric over to the sofa. “What’s wrong?”

“If it came upon a midnight clear, why do so many people dream of a white Christmas?”

I chuckled. We had been listening to holiday music on the radio all evening. Evidently, Cleric could not reconcile the various visions of Christmas.

arrogant-one-facing-rightMy Arrogant One did not wait for me to answer Cleric. “And why is Christmas such a big deal, anyway? We have been subjected to this banal music for more than a month now!” As usual, if something did not revolve around my Arrogant One, he felt it a waste of time.

I sighed. “I explained this last Christmas.”dwarf-facing-right

“Thet be a whole year gone away, lass. Ye do na be expectin’ the elfie ta be rememberin’ summat fer thet long, now do ye?” My Old Dwarf chuckled and my Arrogant One turned scarlet.

sorceress-facing-rightSorceress chimed in. “It has been a long time. Since we are all gathered together now, why do you not explain to us again what Christmas is all about?”

gypsy-facing-rightI looked around at my other characters, who all nodded and moved closer to listen. My Gypsy turned off the radio so everyone could hear. “Yes, just what is this Christmas that you make such a fuss about?”

 

“Well, as I explained last year, that’s really a hard question to answer. You see, in my religion, Christmas is a holy day. It is the celebration of an event that took place more than 2,000 years ago. It is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of our God, in human form. But other religions have different beliefs. Many people who celebrate Christmas today celebrate it as a secular holiday, not a religious holy day. For them, it is merely a day for giving and receiving gifts, and sharing good will and good times with family and loved ones. Then, still others do not celebrate it in any form.”

“I remember you reading from your Holy Book last year, the story of the baby being born in the manger.” My Young Hero furrowed his brow. “Could you read that again this year?”

I rose and retrieved my Bible, thumbing through it until I found Luke’s account of the Christmas birth.

angels-and-shepherdsNow it happened that, while they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the living-space. In the countryside close by there were shepherds out in the fields keeping guard over their sheep during the watches of the night. An angel of the Lord stood over them and the glory of the Lord shone round them. They were terrified, but the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid. Look, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by all people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And all at once with the angel there was a great throng of the hosts of heaven, praising God with the words: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace for those he favours.

My characters sat, mesmerized as I read. They remained silent for a long few minutes following the reading.

Cleric broke the silence. “That was a beautiful story!” The others nodded in agreement.

I put the book away, and Miles called us over to the buffet table, which was groaning under the weight of sandwiches, salads, casseroles, eggnog and cookies. We all filled our plates, then we popped some CDs in the player and listened to “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Feliz Navidad,” “White Christmas,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Little Drummer Boy” and “Frosty the Snowman.” We finished with two of my personal favorites, “Mary, Did You Know?” and the Dar Williams classic “The Christians and the Pagans.”

 

Everyone clapped and Cleric spoke for them all when she said, “What great songs!”

dwarfBut then my Old Dwarf, on his third pint of eggnog, started to sing. My Foreman winced and covered his ears. “I think that’s our cue that it’s high time the festivities came to an end for the evening.”

He motioned to the lads, and my Bounty Hunter, who helped the off-key singer to his feet. Everyone said their goodnights and headed off to bed, my Old Dwarf still bellowing and hiccupping.

I started gathering the empty plates and glasses while Miles turned off the CD player and the lights on the Christmas tree. As we started to ascend the stairs, I murmured “Tonight felt like déjà vu.”

Miles nodded. “I think you’re right – I think this Christmas Eve is exactly the same as last year, including your Old Dwarf wrapping up the festivities with his off-key singing! At least this year, I have not been talking like the Innkeeper for the past week, and I didn’t find his talisman on the steps tonight.”

“True. I suppose I should be grateful that that mystery has been put to bed after more than a year.” I smiled. “If only I wasn’t so worried about what might happen next. With a house full of fictional medieval characters, one never knows what to expect.”

mistletoe2

I followed Miles up the steps. He stopped on the landing, reached over and switched on the porch light. Then, just like last year, he pointed at the mistletoe overhead and gently pulled me close for a kiss. “Merry Christmas, honey!”

I barely had time to respond “Merry Christmas!” before our lips melded in a tender holiday kiss.

Happy holidays to all our readers. No matter your beliefs, may peace and love be in your hearts now, and throughout the New Year!

happy-holidays-to-my-readers

Be sure to stop back from time to time to see what is happening with my characters. The porch light will always be on for you.