“So, what do you think we should do for the holiday?”
I wrinkled my brow and tilted my head, considering my husband’s question. “Holiday? What holiday?”
Miles chuckled and shook his head. “Memorial Day.”
I frowned. “It’s Memorial Day already? Where did the time go?”
Miles smiled. “Yup, it’s this coming Monday.”
I continued to frown. “I hate that it’s a holiday. It used to be – and still should be – a day for remembering and honoring those who died in active military service. Now, it just the beginning of the summer season, and an excuse for a three-day weekend, with barbecues, picnics, beach parties, etcetera.”
“What be this aboot a bar-be-cue and pick-a-nick?” My Old Dwarf stomped across the room and joined the conversation, a wide grin on his face. “Be ye needin’ me help ta pack up tha food?”
I scowled at him. “Barbecue and picnic. They’re the only two words you heard, aren’t they? I was just saying how Memorial Day is no longer observed in the way in which it was intended.”
“There be nuttin’ wrong wit honoring yer war dead by throwin’ a feast in their memory, lass, an’ raisin’ a mug or two in recognition o their courage and sacrifice. Thet be tha way we Dwarves be doin’ it!”
My husband smiled and shrugged at me. “Can’t argue with the Dwarven way!”
“Be thet ta mean we be goin’ on a pick-a-nick?” My Old Dwarf’s eyes brightened.
I sighed. “I suppose we could go on an outing.”
“What is this about an outing?” Cleric entered the room and caught part of the conversation. “Are we going on another nature trek to take pictures, Mistress?” Cleric’s eyes sparkled with anticipation, and she fidgeted with the cord on her robe.
I shrugged. “I suppose we could do some nature photography as part of the outing.”
“As long as ye do na be forgittin’ tha food!” My Old Dwarf smacked the flat of his axe against his palm for emphasis.
Now Dragon entered the room and the conversation. “Nature photography? Food? What is transpiring?”
“This coming weekend is Memorial Day weekend, and Miles thinks we should do something to celebrate. My Old Dwarf wants to have a picnic or barbecue, and Cleric would like to go on a nature hike. Do you have any preferences?”
“Yes. I think we should stay at home and enjoy a day of rest.”
My Arrogant One, who had been right behind Dragon, grimaced and stuck his nose in the air. He commented in a petulant whine, “I thought you said it was a holiday. I suppose you are proposing a stayiday, like our last vacation was a staycation?”
I rolled my eyes as I remembered what my Arrogant One had said about that vacation. “The concept of vacation is new to me; however, I do understand it to involve travel away from one’s place of residence. We have traveled nowhere. For the past two weeks, we have not once taken leave of this place.
And when I had attempted to explain the concept of a staycation to him, he had declared the word to be merely another term for boring.
I sighed. “Yeah, I agree. I guess staying home to celebrate a holiday would be much the same as staying home for a vacation.”
“It be all set, then.” My Old Dwarf rubbed his hands together. “I be helpin’ wit tha food.”
“Of course you will.” Dragon sighed a puff of smoke at the old reprobate, who just laughed at her.
“Ye be seein’, beastie. It be a whole lot o fun!”
Dragon lifted an eyebrow and snorted. “I suppose I will be required to go.”
I nodded. “I think it would be nice if we all went. And besides, you’ve enjoyed these outings in the past.”
“Very well.” Dragon shrugged. “It might not be completely unbearable.”
“I will let the others know.” Cleric started to leave the room.
“Wait a minute! We haven’t even decided where we should go, or on which day of the three-day weekend.” I looked at Miles. “What do you think, honey?”
“Why don’t we go Saturday? We should be able to prepare enough food by then. And we can go to your favorite picnic area by that woodland lake.”
I nodded, and Cleric skipped off to inform my other characters of our plans.
My Old Dwarf grasped Miles by the arm and led him off to check out the freezer. “Be ye thinkin’ we be havin’ enough vittles, or be we needin’ ta go to tha market?”
The rest of the week passed quickly as we prepared for our outing. The night before our trek, I called all my characters together. “It’s been a while since we’ve all gone on an outing. Let me remind everyone of the rules. First, all weapons, wands, staffs, and spell components will be left at home. Second, you will all dress in the modern garb of this world. Third, you will behave in a civilized manner. Last, if we encounter anyone, you will tell no one who you really are. If anyone asks, you’re some out-of-town relatives and friends, visiting for a few weeks.” I glared at them. “Do you all understand?”
Everyone nodded. My Arrogant One sniffed disdainfully. “This is not our first outing! We do understand the rules of deportment.”
“That’s rich, considering the last time we went on an outing, I had to remind you that you could not wear your robes.”
My Old Dwarf snickered.
“And I had to remind you that you could not go wandering around in public in your chain mail!” I scowled at the two of them.
Everyone murmured promises of good behavior, but the next morning when we were packing the car, it was as if we had gone back in time. Everything was just as it had been the last time we went on an outing.
Despite the previous night’s agreements, I had to confiscate several weapons and one staff, and neither my Old Dwarf nor my Arrogant One wanted to change their outfits.
I frowned at my Old Dwarf. “I’m sorry, but I’ve told you before that you just can’t wander around in chain mail. It would draw too much attention.”
I turned to my Arrogant One. “And I have told you that your robes are far too extravagant for an outing like this.”
It took another 15 minutes, and a lot of animated discussion, to convince them, but by the time Miles had loaded the picnic hamper and coolers into the car, everyone was presentable and ready to leave.
Ninety minutes later we arrived at one of my favorite picnic areas, a beautiful lakeside venue. My characters were eager to get set up, and they piled out of the car the moment my husband had it parked. Miles and I unloaded our supplies, and my characters helped us carry everything down the trail to the picnic table in the shade of the trees by the lake.
Everyone pitched in and helped my husband prepare the food. After a huge lunch, I suggested we go exploring. “I know Cleric wanted to assist with some nature photography, so I brought my camera. You’re all welcome to join us if you wish, to check out the resident wildlife.”
“I’m sorry, honey.” Miles looked at me apologetically. “With the medications I take, you know I can’t tolerate the sunlight. I must stay here in the shade. The rest of you go enjoy yourselves. I’ll just clean up everything here and then take a nap under these trees.”
I gave my husband a quick kiss, grabbed my camera, and headed down the path. Dragon, in her guise of an elf maiden was right behind me, along with Cleric and Sorceress. When I turned around to see who else was coming, though, I stopped dead in my tracks.
My Old Dwarf, my Bounty Hunter, and my Arrogant One were back in their medieval apparel, weapons drawn, ready to engage in a melee. My Foreman, my Gypsy, and my Young Hero were also in their traditional attire, astride their horses, preparing to joust.
“What is going on here?” I think my sister in Connecticut, some 1300 miles away, could probably hear me shriek.
Dragon shrugged. “They wanted to hold a tournament. I did not see the harm.”
“Didn’t see the harm?” I gaped at her.
Dragon sighed. “Do not fret. I have cast a spell of concealment. No one will ever see them.”
I frowned and crossed my arms over my chest. “No. This is not going to happen. You three dismount. Everyone get rid of the weapons and return to the clothes you were wearing when we left the house this morning. Now!”
“Oh, Mistress, why can we not . . .” My Gypsy started to wheedle but stopped when he saw the look I shot him.
Muttering and sighing, all my characters returned to modern gear. The horses and weapons disappeared, fading slowly out of existence.
“Come on. We’ll all go for a nature hike. I daren’t let any of you out of my sight!”
Grumbling, my characters trudged along as we headed down the trail that took us around the lake and into the woods on the other side.
My Old Dwarf walked next to Dragon and whispered to her. “Sometimes I be wishin’ thet tha lass be a wee bit more understandin’ aboot us. It be difficult ta be tryin’ all the time ta be fittin’ inta a new life. Oh, I be knowin’ thet we be livin’ here in her world for a good long time now, but we a been livin’ in our own world a whole lot longer afore thet! It be hard ta be givin’ up tha life we been knowin’ then.”
“Indeed!” Dragon nodded. “I wonder how well Mistress Writer would adapt to being ripped from her own familiar world and finding herself suddenly dropped into a totally alien society.”
“Now thet be a thought!” My Old Dwarf chuckled at the notion.
Neither Dragon nor her companion saw the small figure on the side of the trail. It was only slightly smaller than the squirrels that were scampering through the tall grass. It had a white beard and long, rabbit-like ears. A sly grin spread across its stony face as it listened to the conversation between my Old Dwarf and Dragon.
Despite their initial grumbling, all my characters joined in with enthusiasm when we started to see wildlife along the trail. They began a friendly competition to find, and identify, each animal along the way.
My Gypsy was first, much to Cleric’s disappointment. He pointed to two birds in trees near the lake “Look! There are two male Red-winged Blackbirds!”
Not to be outdone, Cleric pointed. “And there are the females!”
My Young Hero spoke up. “There’s a Song Sparrow.”
My Gypsy looked where the other lad was pointing. “No, that is a Swamp Sparrow. That one is a Song Sparrow.” He pointed at another small bird in a nearby tree.
Sorceress pointed at a group of birds on the lake. “I believe I have heard you call those large birds Canada Geese, Mistress.”
Dragon pointed at a single goose, closer to the shore. “There is another one. What a lovely reflection!”
“That Mallard also has a beautiful reflection!” My Bounty Hunter pointed.
My Arrogant One pointed at a bird on the wooden fishing pier. “Is that another of the same type, a Mallard?”
My Gypsy nodded.
Our attention was drawn to a nearby copse of trees, where we heard a persistent tapping. We followed the trail away from the lake and into the woods, looking for the source of the sound. “There!” My Foreman pointed. “A Red-headed Woodpecker!”
“Red-bellied Woodpecker,” my Gypsy corrected him, as I took some photos.
“An’ there be three right furry little bunny rabbits.” My Old Dwarf pointed.
My Gypsy looked where the dwarf was pointing and laughed. “I believe two of them are squirrels.”
We continued along the trail, enjoying the warm weather, the scenery, and the camaraderie. We had walked a considerable distance when I spotted a path off to the right, marked by a sign proclaiming it a Secret Trail. “Hmmm. I thought I knew every trail in this park, but I don’t ever remember seeing that one before.”
I began to lead the group up the overgrown steps rising from the forest floor.
“Stop!” Dragon cried out. “This trail does not feel right.”
“What do you mean?” I called back over my shoulder from the top of the steps.
“Mistress, take heed! There is something amiss here.” Dragon was wide-eyed, and the color had drained from her delicate elven features.
I immediately turned around. “Let’s go back, then.”
But the woods at the bottom of the steps looked different. I could not see the trail leading back toward the lake. From our position at the bottom of the steps, steps which also looked much different than the ones we had started to climb, the trail branched off in three directions. To the right, the path was choked by protruding tree roots. To the left, the trail was lined with boulders. Straight ahead, a wide avenue passed under a canopy of trees.
This was not the park where we had had our picnic, where we had just been hiking and taking wildlife photographs. Where were we?
Where are my characters and I? How did we get here? Will we be able to find our way back to the picnic grove, and to my husband? Be sure to come back next week for another exciting episode. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.
And on this Memorial Day weekend, my husband and I, as well as my characters, wish to offer tribute to all who have perished in the service of their country. They will never be forgotten!