I See a Big Problem Here!

I See a Big Problem Here!

Cell phoneBackyard 050

I put down my cell phone and turned to face my characters.

Cleric twisting cord belt“Well? Did you reach them? Did you invite them over? Are they coming?” Cleric’s cornflower blue eyes were clouded with concern, and she twisted the cord belt of her robe. She had been the one who suggested inviting our least favorite neighbors, Mace and Gloria, to join us for some backyard birdwatching.

Mace and Gloria birdingI nodded. “Yes, they will be here in about an hour, binoculars and field guides in hand. They are very anxious to show off how much they’ve learned since the last time they attempted any backyard birdwatching here.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/fun-and-mayhem-with-the-neighbors/

Dragon’s brow furrowed. “Should I strengthen the wards and the spell of concealment?”

I shook my head. “No, that would defeat the purpose of the experiment. We invited them here to determine if your spell of concealment has been breached. We want everything to be the same when they get here as it was earlier today, when Marisol and Bastina were here and saw what they should not have seen.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/07/07/hello-neighbor/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/07/14/just-who-are-these-neighbors-and-what-do-they-see/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/07/21/what-is-the-problem/

I furrowed my brow, trying to foresee any problems. “I know that Mace and Gloria – in fact, the entire neighborhood – has seen all of you. You all attended the neighborhood get-together with Miles and me last August.”

All my characters nodded, and my Arrogant One snickered. “Ah, yes, the get-together. I seem to remember a stage production of some note.” He snickered again, shooting an amused look at Dragon, who glared at him through narrowed eyes.

“Yes, we remember the entire incident . . . er, day.” A puff of black smoke escaped from her snout.
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/07/29/a-ducky-day-for-collecting-flora-and-overhearing-a-murder-plot/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/08/05/to-die-for-stroganoff/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/08/12/solutions-or-more-problems/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/08/19/the-case-of-the-poison-mushrooms/

I gave Dragon and the elf a quizzical look but decided not to pursue the subject. “As I was saying, even though our neighbors have seen all of you, I think it best if only Dragon and Cleric are here with me when Mace and Gloria arrive.”

“Why is that, Mistress?” Cleric tilted her head and fidgeted with her robes.

“Because I believe you were the only two Mace and Gloria saw with me the day they came to visit, and we ended up birdwatching. I think it would be a good test of Dragon’s concealment spell if everyone else went about the same activities as the last time. Oh, and don’t forget – don’t call me Mistress in front of them!”

Cleric nodded.

My Gypsy turned toward my Foreman and my Young Hero. “I believe the three of us were working our mounts.” They headed off toward the barn.

My Arrogant One gestured toward my Bounty Hunter. “My associate and I shall repair to our refuge in the shed, where we were last time.” He turned with a flourish and swept his cloak around him as he and his companion headed toward the garden shed.

sorceress-facing-right

Sorceress stroked her chin and narrowed her eyes in thought. “Ah, yes! I remember! I was in the house.” She turned and took her leave.

“An’ I been chasin’ thet durn bunny rabbit.” My Old Dwarf glowered at the rabbit, who had returned to raiding the carrot patch.Dwarf chasing rabbit

Elf facing rightElf cleric“I will go get some iced tea and cake for our guests.” Cleric hurried toward the house as Dragon shape-shifted back to her customary guise of an elf maiden.

Cleric returned with the refreshments just as Mace and Gloria rounded the corner of our house and waved in greeting.

neighbor-2neighbor“We’re so glad you called!” Gloria was practically bouncing with excitement. “I’ve been saying to Mace now that we’re more experienced, we should get together with you again for some more birding. See, I even have the right word now. Real bird watchers call themselves birders.” She smiled smugly as she flaunted her newfound vocabulary.

Gloria plopped into a chair between Dragon and Cleric, directing Mace into the chair next to me. She continued to dominate the conversation as Cleric served refreshments, chattering on and on about the various birds she and Mace had seen recently in their yard and at various local parks. I slowly relaxed as our guests did not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary when they picked up their binoculars and began scanning our yard for birds. The horses walking past the feeders were apparently invisible to them.Horses and birdfeeders

“We have everything set up to attract the birds. In addition to the regular feeders, we’ve put some peanuts, dehydrated mealworms, and grapes on an old table at the end of the gazebo boardwalk, and we’ve scattered some millet spray on the boardwalk, to entice the birds to come closer.” I pointed to the areas as I spoke.birdwatching with Mace and Gloria

“That’s a good idea.” Mace nodded sagely. “I know some birders frown on that. They prefer to see and photograph birds in their natural habitat, rather than at feeders. Some say attracting birds to feeders is a lazy way to bird, almost akin to cheating. But Gloria and I disagree. We do it a lot when we’re photographing the birds in our yard. We found, in addition to attracting them closer – an important consideration if you don’t have a powerful zoom lens – it helps keep them in one place longer. Normally, they’re flitting around so much, we can’t get a clear, focused image.”

camera for blogI nodded as I picked up my camera. “I agree. I take lots of photos of birds in their natural habitat, in trees and bushes and foraging in the grass, but I also enjoy seeing them at the feeders. I find I can get a much better look at them that way.”

“Oh, first bird of the day! First bird of the day!” Gloria bounced up and down and crowed as if she had just won some fantastic competition. “There are Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at the nectar feeders!”

“Wow!” Mace pointed at another of the nectar feeders. “The bees are sure making it difficult for the birds!”Bees on nectar feeder

I nodded. Before I could reply, Gloria squealed. “Look at those two Black-capped Chickadees. The one on the left looks a lot like the one we saw here before, the one with the feather disorder. Remember that one?”

Black-capped Chickadee

I turned my camera toward the birds in question and clicked a few photos. Checking the images, I nodded. “Yes, the one in the tree above the feeders looks like the one we saw previously. Its feathers aren’t as bad as the one we saw before, but you can see the difference between the ruffled feathers of the one chickadee and the smooth plumage of the chickadee posing on the dead branch to the right.”

Mace and Gloria examined the images I had taken and nodded.

Cleric pointed toward the table. “It seems some Blue Jays have decided to visit the feeding station. There are some on the table, and two waiting on the railing.”

“And the chipmunks are sneaking up onto the boardwalk and grabbing their share of the spray millet before the birds get it.” Dragon smiled and pointed.

“They’re so cute, but they’re such brazen little thieves!” Gloria laughed, as we all watched the action at the far end of the walkway.

“There’re some waterfowl at the back of the yard, by the pond.” Mace studied them with his binoculars. “The two larger ducks look like female Mallards. The four smaller ones are Wood Ducks, a male and three females.”

“And there’s a Canada Goose, too.” Gloria smiled broadly, showing off her knowledge. “Mace and I had been calling them Canadian Geese, but a naturalist at the park corrected us.”

“Marge, what are those brown birds with the streaked fronts and sort of scalloped markings on their backs?” Mace pointed to some birds foraging in the grass. “We’ve seen a few in our yard but can’t find them in our field guide.”

I smiled. “They’re juvenile Brown-headed Cowbirds. They’re barely more than fledglings. Their various adoptive parents stopped feeding him about two weeks ago.”

“Adoptive parents?” Gloria tilted her head and gave me a quizzical look.

I nodded. “Brown-headed Cowbirds are brood parasites. A female cowbird doesn’t make a nest or raise her own babies. She lays her eggs in the nests of other bird species, who then raise the young cowbirds. Each of these juveniles was raised by a different set of parents.”

“Why do they do that?” Dragon looked intrigued.

“Originally, they followed the herds of bison that roamed the country, feeding on the insects the herds stirred up from the grasslands. If they took the time to make a nest and raise their own babies, they’d starve, as the herds of bison wouldn’t be waiting around for them.”

Gloria’s eyes widened. “Wow! No wonder we couldn’t figure out what those birds were – there were no adult Brown-headed Cowbirds around them!”

Mace scanned the yard again. “There’s an adult American Robin splashing around in your birdbath, and another one on the fence, waiting its turn. And I see a fledgling robin on the fence, too. I remember you said the youngsters had speckled fronts.”

“And there’s an adult robin eating on the table, now that the Blue Jays have moved.” Gloria pointed.American Robin adult on table

“Our hanging feeders are very busy now, too.” Cleric pointed at the various feeders as she identified the birds. “A pair of Northern Cardinals is in the safflower feeder. There is a female American Goldfinch enjoying the sunflower chips in one of the cage feeders, and a male is in the feeder next to it.”

“Another male goldfinch is in the tree above the feeders, waiting his turn.” Dragon pointed.American Goldfinch male in tree

“He may have to wait a while.” I pointed back to the feeders. “A White-breasted nuthatch just chased the male goldfinch from the cage feeder. There’s another nuthatch on one of the suet feeders, while a third one’s on the tree trunk waiting his turn.”

“Now, a Chipping Sparrow is eating the sunflower chips.” Gloria pointed. “And one male House Finch is in the other cage feeder, and a second male House Finch is in the safflower feeder. The female House Finch is on the feeder pole, waiting.”

“The Gray Catbirds are watching us from the feeder poles.” Mace gestured toward the north side of the gazebo. “And there’re Downy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Red-winged Blackbirds on the suet feeders in the back of the yard, and in the trees surrounding those feeders. You really have a busy yard today!” He looked impressed.

“Looks like you still have a rabbit problem.” Gloria smirked.Dwarf chasing rabbit

I followed her gaze and froze mid-smile. My Old Dwarf was running right toward us, cussing a blue-streak and brandishing his axe at a swiftly fleeing rabbit. He stopped next to the gazebo. “Do na be worryin’, lass. I be gittin’ tha little varmint!”

“Oh, look!” Gloria pointed right at my Old Dwarf and laughed again. “It looks just like that big rabbit is talking to us!”

Eastern Cottontail talking

I heaved a huge sigh of relief and relaxed once more. It was obvious Dragon’s spell of concealment was working well. I started to point at another bird when we were all startled by a new voice behind us.

“Excuse me, please. I hope you don’t mind, but I came back to see if I could pet the horses today.”

Marisol stood next to the gazebo, pointing at the three illusory horses my Foreman and the lads had just released into their simulated pasture. “Is that why you’re here, too? For the horses?” The small child addressed Gloria and Mace.Marisol points out the horses

I swallowed hard, then almost went into a dead faint as I saw my neighbors gaping at the spot where Marisol had pointed.

“I knew you had horses here!” Mace jumped up and whirled around to face me. “I knew it wasn’t my imagination that first time I came here. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/meeting-the-neighbors/

Very blue dragonDragon blanched, shapeshifting into a very blue version of her true self, smoke bubbles dripping from her snout at an alarming rate. “But . . . but how can you see them? You did not see them before!”

Cleric turned toward Marisol, studying the little girl. “No, they did not see them before. They did not see them until this child pointed them out.”Gaping at the child

Dragon, Cleric, and I gaped at Marisol, who was staring, transfixed by the horses and ignoring us.

Gloria turned from gawking at the horses. She saw Dragon in her true form, screamed, and fainted into her husband’s arms. Mace eased his wife’s limp form off the gazebo, away from Dragon. Then he pulled his cell phone from his pocket and called the county sheriff.

 

Is Marisol a witch? How else could she have defeated Dragon’s spell of concealment? How do we talk our way out of this with Gloria and Mace, and with the local authorities? Are my characters about to be revealed for what they really are? Come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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What Is the Problem?

What Is the Problem?

wide-eyedTaking Marisol by the handMy characters and I stood, gaping, as the woman and child walked down the side yard and turned toward their home. They had arrived in the back yard, having followed my Old Dwarf after they saw him, in full armor and brandishing an axe, chasing a rabbit down the street past their house. Once in the yard with us, the child – and possibly her mother – had seen Dragon in her true form, and all the things Dragon’s spell of concealment was supposed to hide from prying eyes.
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/07/07/hello-neighbor/ https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/07/14/just-who-are-these-neighbors-and-what-do-they-see/

After they departed, we all stood for a stunned few seconds. Then panic set in.Pandemonium

It was pandemonium. Everyone was talking at the same time, voices rising, angry accusations being flung back and forth. It took me three tries to get my character’s attention.

“Quiet, everyone! Just settle down. We aren’t getting anywhere this way. Quiet!” I raised my voice to be heard over the racket.Arrogant One accusing Old Dwarf

Everyone fell silent, except for my Arrogant One, who ignored me. He pointed to my Old Dwarf. “If that witless lout had not gone gallivanting through the neighborhood chasing that rabbit, we would not be in this predicament.” The elf drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, grasped his cloak with both hands, and sneered at the dwarf.

“Let’s not be making any accusations.” I frowned.

“Eh, wot tha elfie be sayin’ be true ’nuff, lass.” The old reprobate hung his head and sighed. “If I only been stayin’ on yer property, liken’ ye al’ays be tellin’ me ta be doin’, mebbe yer neighbors wouldna been seein’ me. An’ then they wouldna been followin’ me an’ been seein’ everythin’ here.”

Dragon with smokeDragon shook her scaly head, and black smoke drifted from her nostrils. “Dwarf, you should not have been chasing the rabbit through the neighborhood, that is true. But even if you had remained here, if my spell of concealment has failed anyone can see us now even if they do not come onto the property. Our current predicament is, I fear, my doing, not yours.”

My Arrogant One gave Dragon a smug look. “Yes, well if you require assistance maintaining a spell of concealment, I am at your service.”How to hide all this

Dragon snorted. “You? You could not conceal a hummingbird! How do you propose to assist in the concealment of a barn, a paddock, a pasture, three horses, and a host of medieval characters?”Bounty Hunter Intervened

My Arrogant One’s cheeks flamed scarlet, but before he could reply, my Bounty Hunter stepped between the elf and Dragon. “Rather than lay blame, shouldn’t you be negating the spells of illusion that created all this? That way, in the possible absence of a spell of concealment, there will be nothing untoward for anyone to see.”Witches

Elf facing right“But that may not be necessary.” Cleric furrowed her brow and chewed her lower lip as she walked toward Dragon. “Maybe your spell of concealment has not failed, Dragon. Did not the child, Marisol, claim she and her mother were witches? Perhaps this is why they could see everything here.”Table set for spellcastingsorceress-facing-right

Sorceress nodded. “In our world, many who use herbs and botanicals practice some form of magic.” She turned to face me. “Is it possible the woman and child are witches?”

Dragon snorted again, black smoke shooting from her nostrils. “Do you think I would not have recognized someone with magical ability?”

I raked my hand through my hair and sighed. “Well . . .”gypsy-facing-right

“Witches? Magic? In this world?” My Gypsy raised an eyebrow. “You keep telling us that there is no magic in your world, only technology.”Dwarf facing right

“An’ iffin ye be rememberin’, I be already provin’ thet all thet jest be a lot o twaddle! Tha thingamabobs wot be called teck-noll-o-gee here be jest liken tha items in our world wot be havin’ magic in ’em, so’s thet anybody kin be usin’ ’em, iffin they be havin’ magical ability or no.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/03/24/magic-or-technology/

Young hero 2“And, if you will remember, Mistress Writer never said there was no magic in her world, only that the things that seemed magical to us – computers, cameras, cars, sewing machines, cash registers – were not magical.” My Young Hero rubbed his jaw. “I think that is different than saying there is no magic. There still could be witches in this world, could there not?”

I furrowed my brow. “Well . . . there are those in this world who claim to have magic power. Some call themselves witches, others have different names.”foreman-facing-left

My Foreman cleared his throat. “Then, rather than dispel the illusory magic, perhaps it would be better to find out if the small child and her mother really do possess magical ability. If they do, and that is why they can see the horses and everything that the spell of concealment is designed to hide, then that would prove Dragon’s spell did not fail.”

I tilted my head, considering. “I’m not sure how we would go about proving they’re witches. Perhaps it would be easier to find out if anyone else in the neighborhood can see what should be hidden from them.”Dragon with smoke bubbles

“But if we wait, and find out my spell of concealment has failed, how do we deal with others seeing everything?” Dragon was turning blue again, as she did when she was confused or nervous. Smoke bubbles dripped from her nose.

“We can deal with that problem if and when the need arises.” Sorceress frowned. “I agree we need to see who, beside Marisol and Bastina, can see what should be hidden.”Mace and Gloria birding

Cleric turned to me, a moue tugging at her lips. “Perhaps it is time to invite your good friends, Mace and Gloria, back for a bit of bird-watching? https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/fun-and-mayhem-with-the-neighbors/

Cell phoneI paled at the thought but realized Cleric might have the best idea. And the sooner we managed to get them into our back yard, the sooner we would know if we were dealing with a failed spell, or witches in the neighborhood. I picked up my cell phone to call my least-favorite neighborhood nosy-bodies.

Will Mace and Gloria accept an invitation to engage in some backyard birdwatching with us? If they come, will birds be the only things they see? If Dragon’s spell is still concealing the illusions on our property, how did Marisol and Bastina see everything? Do we have witches in the neighborhood? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Just Who Are These Neighbors and What Do They See?

Just Who Are These Neighbors and What Do They See?

Laughing at Dragon

Dragon bent down and gawped at the small human who called herself Marisol. The child showed no fear of the behemoth; in fact, when the befuddled beast turned blue, and smoke bubbles started dripping from her nose, the little girl giggled.Taking Marisol by the hand

“Marisol! Mind your manners!” Bastina hurried over to her daughter and took her by the hand.

“But, mommy, the dragon is dribbling bubbles from her nose!”

Bastina blushed scarlet. “I am so sorry. My daughter has an extremely vivid imagination and has not yet learned to hold her tongue.”

Dragon tilted her head, giving me a confused look, and I raised an eyebrow before turning to the woman and child. “Hello! There’s no need to apologize. My name is Marge, and these are some out-of-town relatives who are visiting.” I tried hard to remember the names my characters had previously used in public, but I ended up just waving my hand in their general direction and foregoing the individual introductions.

“Hello! As my daughter already told you, my name is Bastina, and this is Marisol. We live on the next street over. I’m so sorry we invaded your yard this way.”

“No problem.” I gave her and the child my best welcoming smile. “Always glad to meet one of our neighbors.”

We met before“I believe we have met before, actually.” Bastina peered at me thoughtfully. “It was over a year ago, but I’m sure it was you. I have a pretty good memory for faces. You and one of your relatives were making some purchases at the herbal shop my sister and I operate. It’s the one at the organic farm she and her husband own at the edge of town. I was waiting on customers that day, and I rang up your order.”

I furrowed my brow, trying to remember.Herbs and botanicals

Cleric walked over and joined the conversation. “I remember.” She turned to me. “You drove me to the farm so I could procure some herbs when the rest of our . . . relatives . . . came down with that serious malady.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/04/15/what-next/

“Of course! I remember now!” I turned to Bastina. “You really do have a great memory for faces. That was ages ago!”

“Your shop is very impressive!” Cleric smiled at Bastina.

“Thanks! Danica and I try to provide a variety of hard-to-find herbs and botanicals along with the more common ones. We persuaded her husband to let us open the shop there.”

“Is your brother-in-law an herbalist, too?”

Bastina shook her head. “No, just my sister and I. Robert grows organic vegetables, but he has turned over about ten acres to me and Danica for our herbs.”

Witch and cauldronMarisol giggled again. “Mommy uses lots of herbs. She’s always brewing something with them. She’s a witch.”

Bastina’s eyes flew wide and her jaw dropped. “Oh, baby! Why would you say such a thing?”

Marisol’s sunny countenance turned stormy in a flash. “Mommy, I have told you and told you – I’m not a baby anymore. I’m five years old, and you said yourself that’s practically grown up! And you are a witch. So am I.”

Bastina blushed again. “As I said, she has a wild imagination.”

“I really do.” The little girl nodded somberly, then broke into a wide smile.

Marisol with elf Dragon“How precious.” While we had been talking, Dragon had slipped away unnoticed. Now, returned in her accustomed guise of an elf maiden, she studied the small human. Dragon tilted her head and stroked her chin as if trying to figure something out.Red and blue scales

Marisol stared at her. “You look better with red scales than blue.”

“Scales?” Dragon lifted a delicate eyebrow at the child. “I have scales?”

“Well, not anymore.” Marisol giggled and started to say something else, but her mother grabbed her by the hand again.

“Marisol! Your manners, child!”

“I’m sorry.” The half-frown, half-pout on her little face belied Marisol’s apology. “Mommy, can I go pet the horses now?” She pointed at the three illusory horses milling about in front of an equally illusory barn.

“Horses?” Bastina looked where her daughter was pointing and frowned. “There are no horses.” The woman looked at us again, rolled her eyes and shrugged. “I don’t know where she gets such an imagination!”

black stallion 2 for blog“But I am not imagining the horses. They’re beautiful! One is a big, powerful-looking horse, the color of ob . . . ob . . .”

“Obsidian?” Bastina prompted her daughter.

“Yes, obsidian. Thank you, mommy. I think he may be a Fr . . . Free . . .”

“Friesian?” Bastina suggested.

Gypsy Vanner 2Chocolate Palomino PonyMarisol nodded. “The second horse, a black-and-white pinto, looks like a Gypsy Vanner with long, feathery hair on its legs. And the third one is a small, saucy-looking chocolate palomino pony.”

I shot Dragon a look of alarm, then stooped down to be eye-level with the little girl. “Well, you have quite the vocabulary for a five-year-old! Not many children your age would know the word obsidian. And you certainly know your horses!”

Marisol readingThe little girl beamed. “Mommy and I read all the time. I like to learn new words. And I love horses! Mommy gave me a picture book of different types of horses. I can recognize Palominos, Appel-loosas, Arabians, Pintos, Free . . . Free. . .”

“Friesians.” Bastina supplied the word again.

“Yes, and Gypsy Vanners. Horses are my favorite animals! Well, them and dragons.” Marisol giggled and gave Dragon a knowing look before turning back toward the horses. “Horses are so graceful. And fast! Faster than the rabbit the short man in the funny metal suit was chasing.” The child frowned up at her mother. “I hope you aren’t going to say that was my imagination, too, mommy! I know you saw the man and the bunny!” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/07/07/hello-neighbor/

Bastina and Marisol see dwarf

Bastina furrowed her brow. “Well, I saw something. It looked like someone chasing an animal. It appeared to be a small dog or a cat, but I suppose it might have been a rabbit.”

“It was a bunny, mommy!” Marisol frowned and crossed her arms over her chest. “And the man who was chasing it was short and fat and he wore a metal suit.”

“Marisol!” Her mother looked equal parts shocked and embarrassed. “You do not refer to someone as fat. That is rude!”

“Eh, do na fret, lass.” My Old Dwarf chuckled as he walked over to Bastina and her daughter. “Tha wee lassie be right. I do be a mite fluffy aroon’ me girth.”

metal suitMarisol smiled at the dwarf. “And your suit is made of metal, isn’t it?” Marisol reached out and touched the armor on the dwarf’s shoulder.

“Aye, lassie, it be a type o plate mail armor. It be protectin’ me, but still be lettin’ me be movin’ aboot free and un-en-cum-burred like.”

“And you were chasing a bunny?”

“Aye! Tha durn varmint been inta tha carrot patch agin, so’s I been chasin’ it . . . ’till it been suddenly growin’. It been gittin’ taller ’en me! An’ then it been turning aboot an’ been chasin’ me!”

Marisol laughed. “Silly! Rabbits don’t grow that big, and they don’t chase people, not even short people!”

“Marisol!” Bastina scowled.

“I’m sorry, mommy! But he is silly. And he is short.”

“I apologize for my daughter.” Bastina took the little girl by the hand. “She is usually much better behaved! I think she needs a nap. It was so nice to meet you all.”

“Mommy, naps are for babies.” Marisol pouted.

“Naps are also for young ladies who have forgotten their manners.” Bastina’s tone of voice invited no further discussion.

“Okay.” Marisol scuffed her foot back and forth in the dirt. “Can I come back later and pet the horses?”

“Baby, there are no horses.” Bastina sighed.

Horses by barnMarisol turned to me and pointed toward the back of the yard. “There are horses over there in front of that barn, aren’t there? Three horses, just like I said before?”

I swallowed hard, not knowing how to answer. Dragon saved me.

“Do you believe there are horses there?” She knelt down to speak with the child.

Marisol nodded.

“Then there must be.” Dragon leaned closer to Marisol and lowered her voice. “And do you believe that I am a dragon, and I could gobble you up?” A puff of smoke drifted from Dragon’s delicate elfin nose.

Marisol giggled. “No, you’re not a bad dragon. You don’t eat people.” She threw her arms around Dragon’s neck and whispered in her ear. “And I still think you look prettier with red scales, not blue.”

scaly dragon looking right

Startled, Dragon shape-shifted back to her true form.

Bastina gasped and her eyes widened, but in an instant, her expression returned to a frown directed at her daughter. The change was so quick, I wondered if I had imagined her initial reaction.

“See mommy?” Marisol crowed. “I told you she’s a dragon.”

Bastina took Marisol’s hand. “Child, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you! Such an imagination!” But the woman glanced nervously at Dragon as she exchanged farewells with us and led her daughter away.Taking Marisol by the hand

wide-eyedMy characters and I stood, gaping, as the woman and child walked down the side yard and turned toward their home. After a stunned few seconds, we all started talking at once.

 

What is going on? Is Marisol really a witch? What about her mother? Why would the woman pretend not to see things she obviously sees? Have we seen the last of mother and daughter? Be sure to come back and find out. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Hello, Neighbor

Hello, Neighbor

Marisol and Bastina in gardenMarisol sat on a blanket on the front lawn while her mother tended the garden. The little girl wrinkled her nose as her mother turned over the rich, black soil. She furrowed her brow and tilted her head as her mother pulled out some plants and discarded them, and placed fertilizer around others. After a while, she lost interest in her mother’s activity, and turned to her pile of picture books.

About 20 minutes later, Bastina glanced up from her gardening. Her daughter seemed content sitting on the blanket. She had obviously tired of leafing through her picture books, which lay scattered on the grass next to the child. Now, Marisol was putting together the 10-piece jigsaw puzzle, dumping the pieces out of the frame, and putting it together again, over and over.

The young woman sighed and looked wistfully at her daughter. Oh, why can’t she take an interest in the garden? Most children delight in digging in the dirt. Bastina shook her head vigorously, as if to dislodge that thought. No, she decided. There will be time enough for Marisol to learn her craft when she is older. For now, it is sufficient that she just enjoys being a child.

Bastina put down her trowel and pruning shears, stood, and stretched. Her muscles ached more today than a thirty-year-old’s muscles should. The woman performed a quick mental inventory of her supply of herbs, deciding she would try some chamomile tea and a peppermint rub later. She walked over and sat down on the blanket next to her daughter. “Have you finished looking at your books, baby?”

Marisol’s little face darkened like a thundercloud. “I didn’t look at them, mommy. I read them. I keep telling you I’m not a baby anymore.”

Bastina and Marisol on blanketThe little girl’s mother smiled indulgently at her daughter. “Oh, yes, I forgot. You’re a whole five years old now, not a baby at all! In fact, you’re practically grown up! So, perhaps you would be so kind as to finish weeding that flower bed for me while I relax?”

Marisol shook her head and frowned. “You know I don’t like digging in the yucky dirt, mommy. There are worms and bugs and other nasty things in it! And the last time I pulled a plant out of the garden, you got very cross. You told me it was not a weed, but a plant that would have produced a very beautiful flower.”

Bastina was about to answer her daughter, but she noticed the little girl was no longer paying any attention to their conversation. Marisol was looking toward the street at something – something quite fascinating, Bastina thought, if the expression on the little girl’s face was any indicator.

The young woman turned around to see what had captured her daughter’s attention. She shook her head and did a double-take, unsure she had seen correctly the first time. She and her daughter jumped up and stared at the approaching spectacle.

Bastina and Marisol see dwarfA dwarf in full plate armor was clomping down the street. He was cussing a blue streak and brandishing an axe at a large rabbit that appeared to be enjoying the chase. Several times, the long-eared critter slowed down and looked over its shoulder, almost appearing to wait for the rotund figure puffing and panting after it.

“Oh, my!” Bastina’s eyes widened.

Marisol tugged on her mother’s sleeve. “Mommy, can I go play with the man in the funny metal suit, and his bunny?”

* * *

Dwarf chasing rabbitI was lounging in the gazebo, reading a book. Sorceress, Cleric, and Dragon sat nearby, watching my Foreman and the lads work their illusory horses. I glanced up as my Old Dwarf raced past us, brandishing an axe, chasing a rabbit through the yard. “I be gittin’ ye this time, ye ornery little beastie, ye jest be seein’ iffin I do na! Thet be the lastest time ye be getting’ in Mistress Writer’s carrot patch!” The rabbit seemed to be enjoying the chase, slowing up whenever it seemed the dwarf might be lagging too far behind.

I smiled and returned to the book. Seconds later, I dropped the book and yelped as my Old Dwarf raced past again. The rabbit, now over 6 feet tall, was in hot pursuit of the diminutive figure.Rabbit chasing dwarf

I heard a snicker behind me. Without even looking around, I knew it was my Arrogant One. “Cut it out.”

“But it is so much fun!” The elf’s voice was an annoying combination of petulance and arrogance.

“Release the spell. End the illusion. Now.” I turned and glared at my Arrogant One.

Dragon and Arrogant One“Yes. Do it immediately!” Dragon turned toward the elf and smoke spewed from her snout.

“Oh, very well.” The elf snapped his finger and the rabbit disappeared.

My Old Dwarf stomped over and stood next to the gazebo. “I be bettin’ ye be thinkin’ thet be real funny.” The dwarf doubled over, gasping for breath.

My Arrogant One scoffed. “Yes, I do think it quite amusing that you are too witless to realize a small, helpless rabbit you are chasing relentlessly around the yard and through the neighborhood is not likely to suddenly grow and turn on its tormentor.”

I could feel the blood drain from my face. “Wait. Did you say through the neighborhood?” Without waiting for the elf’s reply, I rounded on my Old Dwarf. “How many times do you need to be reminded to stay on our property, protected by the spell of concealment? Do you want people to see you?”

“Ummmm . . .” My Old Dwarf shuffled his foot and fidgeted with his axe. “Lass? I be afeared thet mebee some people be seein’ me . . . right now.”

“What?” If I had been standing, I doubt my legs would have supported me.

wide-eyed

“Hello?”

My characters and I turned as one to face the new voice.

A small child tugged on the hand of a young woman, urging her further into our backyard. “See, mommy? I told you the man in the funny metal suit chased his bunny into this yard.” The little girl pointed, then her eyes grew big and round as saucers as she spied something else. “And, Mommy, look! They have horses!”

They see us

 

“Dragon?” My mouth went dry, and I could hardly speak. “They can see everything!”

Dragon’s eyes widened. “Forsooth! This is not good.” Her voice was barely a croak.

“Oh, hello!” The little girl let go of the young woman’s hand and walked up the steps of the gazebo. “We followed that man in the funny metal suit. He chased a rabbit into this yard.”

Marisol meets DragonThe little girl walked right up to Dragon and gave her an appraising head-to-toe look. “I am Marisol.” She pointed to the young woman. “And that is my mother. Her friends call her Bastina, but I call her mommy. We live down the street. What’s your name? Do you live here?”

Dragon with smoke bubbles

Dragon bent down and gawped at the small human, who showed no fear of her. The flummoxed beast turned blue, and smoke bubbles started dripping from her nose.

 

Has Dragon’s spell of concealment failed? If not, how did Marisol see everything in our yard? Can her mother see it all, too? Be sure to come back again as we get to know these two neighbors. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Company?

Company?

Guess what“Hey, guess what?” I burst into the kitchen where Miles was preparing lunch.

Miles put down his ladle. He cocked his head and furrowed his brow, taking in the ear-to-ear smile I wore. “Your characters found their way back into your manuscripts?” His voice was full of hope.

Cousin Debi and her grandkids“Nice try, but no.” My smile stretched a little further. “I just got an e-mail from my cousin Debi. She wants to know if she and her grandkids can come for a visit this fall!”

Miles mirrored my smile. “Well, that’s wonderful! Can’t wait to meet them.” Without a second’s pause, he continued, “What about your characters? How will you keep Debi and the kids from finding out about them?”

I could feel my face crumple and my shoulders slump. I felt like a deflated balloon. “Oh, no! I never thought about that! What should I do?”

Miles picked up his ladle again and stirred the soup. “We’re going to have to think about this.”

Dwarf comes into kitchen“Wot be ye thinkin’ aboot?” My Old Dwarf marched into the kitchen and scooted over to the stove. He sniffed at the soup Miles was preparing. “Mmmmmmmmm. Creamy wild rice soup! Do ye be rememberin’ tha carrots an’ tha corn?” He picked up the pepper mill.

“It has enough pepper, thankyouverymuch!” Miles plucked the mill from the old reprobate’s hands. “And yes, I remembered the carrots and corn. Also, the onions, celery, mushrooms, thyme, marjoram, sage and rosemary. Anything else you want to know?” He scowled at the rotund figure, who ducked his head.Dwarf going downstairs

“I be thinkin’ I jes be roundin’ up tha rest o tha gang now. I be lettin’ ’em all be knowin’ thet ye soon be ready ta be servin’ up tha mid-day vittles.” My Old Dwarf made a hasty retreat, his armor rattling as his heavy footsteps pounded down the stairs.

“Oh, yeah, I can just see trying to explain that one . . . or any of them . . . to your cousin and the kiddos.” Miles pursed his lips and shook his head.

“Well, I can’t ask Debi not to come!” I chewed on my lower lip as I thought. “Why can’t we just have all my characters dress in regular clothes and tell them they must behave for the duration of Debi’s visit? We have taken them out in public before, and the neighbors have all seen them. My characters do know how to behave.”

meleeMiles gaped at me. “Yes, we have taken them out in public. But know how to behave? I think not! I can remember once you had to all but drag them on a walk with you so you could keep an eye on them because as soon as your back was turned, your Old Dwarf, your Bounty Hunter, and your Arrogant One were back in their medieval apparel, weapons drawn, ready to engage in a melee. Your Foreman, your Gypsy, and your Young Hero were also in their traditional attire, astride their horses, preparing to joust.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/05/27/lost/

CollaredI started to sputter that Dragon had cast a spell of concealment on them, but Miles held up his hand. “And you are correct, our neighbors have seen them. As have the local sheriff’s deputies. Or do I need to remind you of the incident in the park after you allowed your characters to join the neighborhood festivities?” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/08/12/solutions-or-more-problems/

repairman 2

Profession Portrait Face Man Old Trainer Senior

My husband raised his hand again, cutting me off as I made another attempt at a reply. “And I know of several repair technicians who might not agree that your characters are well-behaved.” Miles gave me a knowing look. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/the-case-of-the-missing-tools/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/01/22/another-repairman-bites-the-dust/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/just-another-typical-day/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/03/17/not-exactly-deja-vu-all-over-again/

I raised my hands in surrender. “Okay, okay. I agree there have been problems in the past. But this just has to work out. I can’t remember the last time I saw Debi, and I don’t think I’ve ever met any of her grandkids. I really want this visit to happen!”

Miles sighed. “Well, you said she wants to come this fall. We have a few months to figure out how to make it work. For now, let’s just get your gang in here and have lunch.”

I nodded. “Okay, but this is going to affect us all. I think I should tell them right away. The sooner we put them on notice, the longer I have to drum it into their skulls that they must be on their best behavior around my relatives.”

Miles quirked an eyebrow at me. “I think that might be a mistake, but it’s your decision. They’re your characters.”

* * *

dragon“Are you sure?” The dragon frowned at her diminutive companion.

Dwarf facing right“Eh, I be knowin’ wot I been hearin’.” The dwarf thumped his armored chest for emphasis. “When I firs’ been goin’ ta tha kitchen ta be checkin’ on tha vittles, tha lass an’ ’er mister been sayin’ they be needin’ ta be thinkin’ on summat. So’s when I been leavin’ I been sneakin’ back ta be findin’ oot jes wot they be havin’ ta be thinkin’ aboot.”

The other companions crowded around to hear.

“So, what is this earthshaking information you have discovered?” The arrogant elf sneered.

“Tha lass been tellin’ ’er mister thet one o ’er kinfolk be plannin’ a visit in tha fall.” The rotund figure looked around, making sure he had everyone’s attention. “It be ’er cuzin, a lass by tha name o Debi.”

“Debi?” The foreman turned pale as a ghost.Keys 015

“Aye, Debi.” The dwarf nodded. “Dinna thet been tha name o one o tha readers wot been showed up here one night a few years past, tha ones wot been lookin’ fer answers aboot tha keys?”

“Yes.” The cleric chewed her lower lip. “It was Debi, Arlene, Susan, Mary, and Dawn.”

Is this the same DebiThe young hero swallowed hard. “Do you think it is the same woman?”

The gypsy shrugged. “She never identified herself as one of Mistress Writer’s relatives. In fact, none of the five acted as if they had ever met Mistress Writer.”

The sorceress shuddered. “It’s a good thing they were never here.”

“And if Mistress Writer ever finds out anything to the contrary, we will wish we had never been here!” The dragon was sweating, quite a feat for a scaly creature who thrived on fire and heat.

“She already knows, remember?” The cleric started pacing.

“She knows there were visitors here once, asking about the keys, but I do not believe we ever identified those people. Mistress will not be aware that her cousin is possibly one of those visitors.” The bounty hunter’s argument seemed quite logical.

Is this the same Debi“So, we are in the clear with Mistress Writer, as long as we never let her know her cousin may have been here once. But this cousin Debi, if she is the one who was here, must not know.” The dragon was adamant on that point.

“But what if this Debi is the one who was here, and she does remember?” The cleric wrung her hands.

“They were never here.” The sorceress repeated herself as if reciting a mantra. “She will not remember, because they were never here.”

“But what if she does remember?” The cleric looked as if her knees were going to buckle.

“They were never here.” The sorceress repeated, again. “They were never here.”

“Eh, this cuzin jes might be rememberin’ how she dinna e’er been here.” The dwarf raised an eyebrow at his companions, who turned an even paler shade of white.

“Well, you said she wants to come this fall.” The dragon stroked her chin thoughtfully. “We have a few months to figure out how to proceed. For now, we must try our best to remember exactly what happened, and what part we played in it all.”

https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/05/08/the-keys/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/05/15/the-keys-part-2-in-pursuit-of-the-mystery/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/05/22/the-keys-part-3-the-mystery-continues/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/05/29/the-keys-part-4-the-mystery-resolved/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/06/05/the-keys-epilogue-the-mystery-rehashed/

“We had best get upstairs for lunch, before Mistress Writer becomes suspicious.” The young hero headed for the stairs, his companions following nervously behind.

* * *

Lunch seemed unusually quiet to me. There was no loud chatter around the table, and my Old Dwarf was the only one of my characters not picking at the food. Miles and I exchanged questioning looks.

Backyard 050“Something bothering you guys?” I furrowed my brow in concern.

A quick chorus of denials came from every corner of the table.Miles

“Why isn’t anyone eating, then?” Miles looked upset. “I thought everyone liked this soup.”

A quick chorus of assurances came from my band of misplaced characters.

I shrugged. “Well, I have some news. This fall, we might be having company. My cousin Debi . . .”

Before I could get any further, Cleric keeled over, falling off her chair in a dead faint.

Cleric fainting
Will my characters reveal to me the identities of the five readers who visited several years ago? Will cousin Debi and the kiddos have an uneventful visit this fall, or will chaos reign? You’ll have to wait a few months to find out. But in the interim, keep coming back for more of the adventures and misadventures of my little band of displaced characters. We’ll be sure to leave the porch light on for you!

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A Change of Pace

A Change of Pace

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

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

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

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

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

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

My two characters nodded glumly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

“Did everyone get some good shots?”Elf

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

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

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

Gray Catbird (6)

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

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

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

 

“Them be sum udders o mine.”

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

The rotund figure grinned.

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

“Aye!” My Old Dwarf looked pleased.

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

White-tailed Deer (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

American Goldfinch - male (2)

“Wow! Who took this one?”

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

“Great lighting!”

He smiled and bowed.

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

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

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

Yellow-rumped Warbler

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

“Indeed.”

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

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

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

Song Sparrow (3)

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

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

Song Sparrow (4)

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

Chipping Sparrow (3)

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

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

Chipping Sparrow (4)

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

Eastern Bluebird - male

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

Palm Warbler (1)

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

Palm Warbler (2)

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

I brought up the next image.

Garter Snake (7)

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

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

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

Garter Snake (4)

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

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

Turtles (3)

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

Turtles (4)

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

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

Canada Geese (1)

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

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

 

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

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

“I agree!”

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

Flowers (1)

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

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

sorceress-facing-right

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

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

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

Sorceress and Dragon blushed with pride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chucking pillow at Miles

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

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An Anxious Day

An Anxious Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jus’ cure-ee-os-ka-tee.”

“Yeah, well, curiosity killed the cat.”

“Wot cat?”

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

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

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

“Aye, I be rememberin’.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He wouldn’t hear of it.”

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Cleric’s brow furrowed. “Why not?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleric nodded, and Dragon began intoning an incantation.

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

riding up to Colton's

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coping with loss

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

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

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

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

“Colton, I do not lie to my friends.”

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

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

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

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