Preparing for Halloween

Preparing for Halloween

me questioning my Foreman“Are you all sure you haven’t done anything?”

I was speaking to my characters, who were all busy working on various Halloween decorations.

My Foreman’s gray eyes locked on my brown ones. He frowned and when he spoke, his voice was tinged with annoyance. “I believe you have asked us that 20 times or more in the past few days, Mistress. I do not believe the answer has changed. None of us has done anything to attract the attention of any member of law enforcement.”Foreman's horse painted on pumpkin

He returned to painting a black stallion on his Halloween pumpkin.

Gypsy's Jack-o-lanternMy Gypsy glanced over at my Foreman’s pumpkin, shook his head, and chuckled. “That does not look very scary.” The lad examined the pumpkin he was carving. His tongue stuck out of the side of his mouth as he concentrated. He took his silver stiletto and carefully carved a few more slivers from the jack-o-lantern’s nose. He cocked his head, giving his work a critical appraisal. He nodded in satisfaction. “This is how a Halloween pumpkin should look. As for your question, Mistress, I believe the Foreman is correct. Our answers will not change, no matter how often you ask.”

My Old Dwarf snorted. “An’ wot could we be doin’ wot would be causin’ trubble wit yer law enforcers?”

I raised an eyebrow at that statement.

Dwarf's orange rock jack-o-lantern 2The dwarf paused and squished his eyebrows together as he looked at the large, orange rock he was painting. After a few minutes of deliberation, he carefully brushed some black paint on the rock, creating a reasonable facsimile of a jack-o-lantern . . . if a jack-o-lantern was supposed to look like a sick rabbit. Looking up at me, he continued the discussion. “Dinna ye be sayin’ thet tha people wot be skulkin’ about tha neighbor’s yard be tha same difference as our king’s guard? Thet they don na be jest tha law enforcers o yer little town here, they be tha law enforcers o yer whole country?”

I nodded.

“Wale, there ye be havin’ it, lass! There do na be much any o ussins kin be doin’ wat be so bad as ta be merittin’ tha attention o tha king’s guard!”

My head hurt from trying to follow both my Old Dwarf’s logic and his convoluted use of language. I frowned. “You haven’t been out in public in your full set of armor, have you? Maybe chasing rabbits down the street, threatening to cleave them with your axe?”

My Old Dwarf turned red and sputtered, but he swore to his innocence.

I started pacing around the room. “Well, what about the rest of you? Dragon, you haven’t let yourself been seen by the neighbors when you have been in your true form, have you?”

Dragon's pumpkinDragon had shrunk to the size of a Chihuahua to work on her pumpkin, which she was decorating by magic. She did not look up at my question, but black smoke poured from her nostrils. “Do you really think me so foolish as to allow the inhabitants of your world to see me unless I fully intended them to do so?”

I stared at her. “Well, have you intended them to do so?”

“I have not.” She put the finishing touches on her pumpkin.

I shrugged apologetically and raked my hand through my hair. “Well, someone must have done something. The FBI and all those others do not investigate someone unless they have cause.”

Young Hero's jack-o-lanternI sighed and continued pacing around, as my characters continued to work on their projects. I stopped next to my Young Hero, who was trying to make his jack-o-lantern even scarier than the one his best friend, my Gypsy, was making. “What about you? Have you been riding your pony off the property?”

The lad’s eyebrows shot up, and his mouth fell open. “I would never! The only time I have ridden him off the property was when we all went on that trail ride with Colton and his mother. A number of us went on that ride, including you, Mistress, and – if you will remember – Dragon used her spell of concealment to hide us from the neighbors.”
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/09/02/an-old-mystery-revisited/

I sighed and nodded. “Yes, I remember.”

Cleric's ghost and witch patternsI walked over to Cleric, who was creating patterns to sew ghost and witch pillows. “I don’t suppose you can think of anything you may have done? Maybe when you and Sorceress were out collecting botanicals for your spells?”

Cleric rearranged her ghost on the work table as she considered the question. She looked up at me, her cornflower eyes clear and guileless. “I do not believe anyone in the neighborhood was around when we left the property, Mistress.”

Sorceress's black cat pumpkinSorceress put another dab of paint on her black cat pumpkin, then looked over at me. She agreed with Cleric, and her tone, like my Foreman’s, was edged with annoyance at the questions. “Even if someone had seen us gathering plants and flowers, I do not think they would have paid us any attention. We did not go on private property or take anything from the areas you have warned us about – state or county parks where gathering specimens is illegal.”

“And before you even ask, we have done nothing!” My Arrogant One gestured to himself and his sidekick, my Bounty Hunter. “We have been working hard on the repairs to the shed roof.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/10/14/a-small-problem/

Arrogant One's Haloween scene“Don’t remind me.” I scowled and looked at the illusory figures he was conjuring for Halloween. “You haven’t created any illusions that may have been seen by any of our neighbors, have you?”

My Arrogant One drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak in both hands. He answered me in his usual tone – half arrogant, half petulant, and entirely annoying. “I said we have done nothing!”

Bounty Hunter's ScarecrowMy Bounty Hunter looked up from the scarecrow he was stuffing with straw. The corners of his mouth twitched. “I can vouch for that. We have been working on the shed roof. Even at other times, the elf is usually with me, and I have seen him do nothing that would attract the attention of the neighbors or the gendarmes.”

I sighed once more.

Cleric looked up from her patterns. “Mistress? How do you like our Halloween decorations?”

I tried to focus on the decorations my characters were creating. “They are quite good!”

Cleric’s dazzling smile only lasted a moment. Then she furrowed her brow and chewed on her bottom lip. “We looked through the magazines you gave us, to come up with ideas. We saw lots of ghosts, witches, skeletons, monsters, and other scary things, and many variations of a thing called a jack-o-lantern, but nowhere could I find an explanation of this holiday.”

My Gypsy furrowed his brow and clucked. “We have celebrated Halloween with Mistress Writer and Master Miles in previous years. Do you not remember, Cleric?”

remembering past halloweensCleric nodded. “I remember Mistress and her spouse buying lots of candy to give to visitors. I remember children dressed in costumes, some beautiful, some scary, some strange, coming to the door for these sweet treats. I remember a few decorations being placed around the front door. But I have never really understood the meaning of the day.”

“I also lack an understanding of this day and its history.” Dragon looked at me expectantly.

“Well, let’s see . . .” I tried to think of a simple way to explain Halloween to a group of characters from an alien world. My characters gathered around to listen.

harvest“This holiday has its roots in the ancient celebration called Samhain, marking the end of summer and harvest, and the beginning of winter. ghosts, witchesIt was believed that on that night, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, and the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. Some believed it to be the time when magic was at its strongest, with witches, demons, and other creatures able to openly walk the earth. I think I read somewhere that the practice of wearing costumes – which people still do today on Halloween – came from the ancient custom of people disguising themselves so that they would not be recognized and harmed by the creatures that walked the earth. Of course, Halloween has changed greatly over the centuries, as other religions and cultures tried to change it and adapt it to their beliefs and customs.”

Cleric wrinkled her brow and stroked her chin. “So how has Halloween changed?”

“Well, that’s even harder to explain than the origin of the holiday. It is no longer widely celebrated as a harvest feast, nor a magical time. Now, it’s mostly just for fun. In modern times in this country, there are many ways people celebrate the holiday. I think the most widely recognized celebration is Trick or Treat. Children in costume go from house to house, greeting the residents with the words trick or treat, a playful threat to play a trick on anyone who doesn’t give the children treats. Some people celebrate Halloween by watching scary movies or telling ghost stories. Other people have Halloween parties or create a haunted house for people to walk through and view.”haunted house

My Arrogant One’s eyes lit up. “Create a haunted house?”

I scowled at him. “Don’t get any ideas! The houses aren’t really haunted, nor are they created through magic. The people who create them just place a lot of creepy decorations around their homes, and dress in scary costumes, like witches or monsters. There are no real spirits haunting the houses, and there is no real magic involved, not even illusion. And it’s all done just for fun.”

The elf sighed. “That is not very creative.”

“It’s creative enough. You need to remember that this world is different from yours. Magic is not as commonplace, nor are mythological creatures or any of the things we would term demons or monsters.”

“Mistress?” Cleric tugged on my sleeve. “Mistress, did you not once write a scary poem for Halloween? I believe I remember you reading it to us once.”

“Well, I wrote a little ditty once for Halloween, but I really don’t know how scary it is.”

My Young Hero furrowed his brow. “A Halloween poem?”

I shrugged. “Well, sort of. A mood piece that could be used for Halloween.”

My Gypsy scratched his head. “I do not remember hearing it, Mistress. Could you read it to us?”

“I suppose so, if you really want to hear it.”

Several of my characters nodded and murmured their assent.

“I’ll go get a copy.”

It only took me a few minutes to return with a copy of my poem, written many years earlier. I cleared my throat and read it.

Illustration for poem

                            Night Fears

Shadows steal through moonlit room,
Stairs creak and groan and sigh.
Tree limb taps on window pane
As wind moans through the pines.

Field mice scuttle through dry leaves;
Far off, some dog howls.
Trash cans rattle, curtains rustle,
Imagination growls.

Blood rushes, pounding in your ears,
Mouth grows desert dry.
Horror tiptoes from your heart
Up to strangle your mind.

 

 

My characters sat there, looking at me as if expecting more.

I sighed. “Sorry, folks, that’s it. Just a short little piece, nothing more. How did you like it?”

“Oh . . . oh, well, it is quite . . . interesting, Mistress.” Sorceress looked like a deer caught in the headlights as she attempted to be complimentary.

“Yes. Ah, very . . . very evocative.” My Foreman swallowed hard and turned away quickly.

“Wale, I be likin’ it, lass! It be turnin’ tha skin on me arms all ta gooseflesh, an’ tha hair on me neck be all standin’ up, bristly-like.” My Old Dwarf patted my arm before returning to his rocks. “Now, iffin ye be excusin’ me, there be a second rock wot be needin’ some paint.”Dwarf's second orange rock jack-o-lantern

I watched as the old reprobate transformed the second rock into a much better representation of a jack-o-lantern than his first effort had produced.

For today's blog 001As I was admiring my Old Dwarf’s latest effort, Miles entered the conference room.

I looked at him, taking in his worried expression. “Honey, what’s wrong?”

following Miles“Nothing, really, I guess. It’s just that those cops . . . detectives . . . investigators . . . agents . . . whatever they all are . . . are still lurking all around the neighborhood. There were two people in a county sheriff’s car at the end of our street, and they actually followed me to the supermarket!”

“This is getting ridiculous! I wish there was some way to stop it.”

dragon talking“I could take care of it for you.” Dragon’s voice dripped with sweetness, and the expression on her face was pure innocence.

“No roasting anyone!” Miles and I replied in unison.

Dragon shrugged. “As you wish.” She turned away, but not before I saw a sly smile parting her reptilian lips.

 

What is Dragon planning? And will it work? Be sure to come back next week and see. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Lost

Lost

Holiday“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.”

Elf facing right“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.

blue-dragon-facing-leftNow 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.”

arrogant-one-facing-rightMy 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.
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/vacation-is-over/

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.

Miles“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.

Picnic table by lake

camera for blogEveryone 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.”

Easter 128“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.

small figure on trailNeither 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.”

I nodded.

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.”

The Secret TrailWe 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.different steps

Wide avenue

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.

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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!

Memorial Day 3

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.

Thanksgiving (a few days late)

Thanksgiving (a few days late)

scrambled eggsMiles and I were sitting at the kitchen table, along with my characters. The mood was somber. Most of us were just pushing our breakfast around on our plates. The only ones exhibiting a hearty appetite were my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter. The rest of us were having a hard time choking anything down.

For today's blog 001Miles put down his fork and sighed. “It’s just not the same without her here. I never thought I’d miss her threatening to char my shoes with my feet still in them, or the way she ripped up the carpeting when she was writhing around, scratching her back.”

My husband was referring to Dragon, who had disappeared from the conference room more than two weeks ago, along with her companion, the Great Wyrm.

sorceress-facing-right

Sorceress wiped a tear from her cheek. “We have to accept the fact that Dragon might not be coming back.”

Elf

Cleric choked back a sob. “We must have faith! She will return. She will!”

Young hero 2

My Young Hero nodded, and patted Cleric’s arm. “Yes, Dragon will return, I am sure of it! She is powerful and resourceful. She can overcome any danger.”

Gypsy

My Gypsy sighed and shook his head. “It is all well and good to have faith, but we must also be realistic. We have no idea where she is. We know not if she left willingly or was taken by someone who, for all we know, could be even more powerful and more resourceful than Dragon.”

arrogant-one-facing-right

“I say good riddance to the big lizard.” My Arrogant One stuck his nose in the air and busied himself flicking imaginary lint from the sleeve of his robe.

 

dwarf-facing-right

My Old Dwarf jumped from his chair, practically snarling at the elf, and brandishing his war axe. “Ye be wantin’ ta be eatin’ yer teeth fer mornin’ meal?”

 

“Enough!” My glare encompassed my Old Dwarf as well as my Arrogant One, but my warning was for the elf. “In case you’ve been living under a rock or something and haven’t noticed, the rest of us consider Dragon a dear friend. Your remark is both offensive and in very poor taste.”

My Arrogant One assumed an injured air. My Old Dwarf continued to stand there for several long, tense minutes, glowering at the elf and slapping the flat of his axe against the palm of his hand. Finally, he lowered his weapon and wandered off, dejectedly, towards the stairs.

bounty-hunter

As soon as he was out of earshot, my Bounty Hunter snorted. “Any bets on where the old fool is heading? He checks that conference room a dozen times a day. He really believes that creature will return.”

foreman-facing-left

“And you don’t think she will?” My Foreman assessed my Bounty Hunter through narrowed eyes. “Do you know something the rest of us don’t?”

 

“No, but it is as the Gypsy said. We need to be realistic. Who knows what caused her disappearance? She may have decided to stay with that other creature, the Great Wyrm, wherever she resides. Or she may be trapped somewhere, or even dead. We need to get over it and move on.”

Young hero 2

My Young Hero jumped to his feet. His fists were balled at his side, his face was red and blotchy, and his voice cracked as he yelled at my Bounty Hunter. “One does not just get over the loss of a friend! If there is any chance at all she is still alive, we need to search for her and try to rescue her! There must be something we can – -”

 

 

Whatever more my Young Hero was about to say was lost in the sound of running feet and shouting. My Old Dwarf came racing back up the stairs, whooping and bellowing at the top of his voice. “She be back! Er’ybody! Dragon be back! Tha big beastie be back!”

dwarf

For a few moments, we all froze in stunned silence, staring at the dwarf. Then we all jumped up and stampeded to the conference room.

Dragon“What happened to you?” “Are you okay?” “Where have you been?” “Where is the Great Wyrm?” “Welcome home!” Everyone was talking at once, and Dragon appeared quite overwhelmed. Her eyes opened wide, she backed away from us, and dark smoke spewed from her snout.

dwarfImmediately my Old Dwarf pushed his way through the crowd, placing himself between us and Dragon. He stood facing the group with his feet apart, brandishing his war axe, protecting his friend. “Do na any o ye be havin’ the sense ye be born wit? The big beastie been through a great ordeal! She be needin’ ta be restin’ so’s she kin be recuperatin’! Ye kin all be seein’ ’er later. Now ye best be skedaddlin’!”

When we did not move quickly enough, the old reprobate punctuated his demand with a swipe of his axe, scattering those closest to him and Dragon.

Before anyone could get hurt, I started grabbing my characters by the arm and herding them toward the door. “My Old Dwarf’s right. Dragon needs her rest. She’ll let us know when she’s feeling better.”

There were a lot of protests and muttering, but finally only three of us remained in the conference room with Dragon – Miles, me, and my Old Dwarf. But the dwarf did not relent. Scowling, he raised his axe again. “I be meanin’ the two o ye, too!”

Miles yelped and headed for the door, but I grabbed his arm and pulled him back. I stood my ground and glared at my Old Dwarf. “No, you don’t mean us. We will stay and talk to Dragon. You can go and guard the door.”

Slowly, the dwarf lowered his weapon. All the color drained from his normally ruddy face. “Nay, lass! Tha lastest time I be guardin’ thet door, the big beastie been disappeared. I do na be makin’ thet mistake agin. Iffin I be guardin’ ’er, I be stayin’ right here, in the very room wit ’er, where I kin be keepin’ me eye right on ’er. I do na be losin’ ’er agin!”

I smiled and placed my hand on his arm. “All right, old friend. You can stay.”

dragonI turned toward Dragon, who was still cringing next to her illusory fireplace. Her eyes were still wide and the tip of her tail was twitching. I spoke to her in my most soothing tone. “Dragon? It is good to see you again, my friend.”

Getting no response, I moved slowly toward the creature, stopping just a few feet from her. “Can you tell us what happened? You have been gone for more than two weeks.”

Slowly relaxing, Dragon tilted her head and scratched her chin, as if trying to remember. “I am afraid I can remember nothing. I was unaware that I had been gone until that silly old dwarf welcomed me home while flinging himself at me and trying to wrap my tail in a bear hug. I awoke here this morning, curled up next to my fireplace, but I could not seem to remember how I had gotten here. As I tried to remember, things got more and more confused. I have so many images swimming through my brain, and I can not make sense of them. I see people I do not know, and places with which I am not familiar.” She stood there, palms up, shrugging and shaking her head.

I nodded. “It could be you have suffered a great physical or emotional trauma that has caused a problem with your short-term memory. It is equally possible that your recent memory has been suppressed through magical means.”

Dragon snorted. “It would take a remarkably powerful magic user to do that.”

Miles and I exchanged worried glances across the room.

“You know something.” Dragon’s eyes narrowed.

I nodded. “You have recently been in the company of a creature whose magical power is far greater than your own; someone who could have easily altered with your memory.”

Dragon’s jaw dropped.

Miles cleared his throat. He took a few cautious steps closer to me and Dragon and spoke softly. “Don’t worry, she was a friend. She wouldn’t have done anything to harm you. If she is responsible for your loss of memory, I’m sure she has done it to protect you.”

I sighed. “You will probably hear all about it from the others, so I might as well tell you. Do you remember trying to discover and remove the source of the tension and conflict among all my characters?”

Dragon frowned. She started to shake her head, but paused. “Yes . . . yes, I think I do.”

dragon-1964202_960_720“Well, in the course of your investigation, you were aided by another Dragon, the Great Wyrm. Although the others are unaware of her origins, I can tell you – she is from the world about which I wrote in the manuscripts . . . the manuscripts from which you and the others have fallen.”

“The world we characters have always referred to as our world?”

Book manuscript“Yes, that world. Although you confirmed that that world is not your world, not really. Your world exists only in the pages of my manuscripts.”

Dragon stared at me for a very long time. Finally, she nodded. “So, were the Great Wyrm and I successful? Has the source of the tension and conflict been identified and removed?”

“I would say you were most successful, although I don’t know the details of your accomplishment. I only know the conflict has ended, the objects you suspected of being the cause of the hex are gone, and everyone is back to normal. We all owe the two of you a great debt. The disputes here had reached a critical level, and it would not have been long before the other characters would have inflicted serious physical harm – maybe even fatal injuries – to each other, or to Miles and me.”

“Then I am grateful for the help the Great Wyrm provided me.” Dragon sighed, then yawned widely. “Whatever adventures I have had, I fear they have left me devoid of energy. Might I excuse myself? I am in need of a long sleep.”

Miles and I smiled at Dragon, and I nodded. “Of course. We will talk again, when you are feeling better. My Old Dwarf will remain and watch over you. He will see that you are not disturbed.”

* * *

Thanksgiving feastSeveral days later, Dragon still had not sorted out her memories of recent events, but there would be time for that later. Now, we were gathered in the kitchen for dinner. Miles placed the last serving platter on the groaning sideboard, and took his place at the table. I looked around at everyone seated there, and cleared my throat.

 

“Today is Thanksgiving, a day traditionally set aside to give thanks for the bounty and blessings of the past year. Since those of us at this table are of various religions, and worship different deities, I suggest a departure from the traditional prayer before meals that Miles and I usually say. Instead, why doesn’t each person take a turn to state briefly what they are most thankful for this year?”

The silence was deafening. All my characters looked at me as if I had asked them to dance naked on the table.

“Okay, good. I’ll start.” I paused to gather my thoughts.

dwarf“Nay, lass. I be startin’.” My Old Dwarf rose and looked around the table before continuing. “This Thanksgiving, I be most grateful for the safe return o our friend, Dragon.”blue-dragon-facing-left

 

At the other end of the table, Dragon blushed deeply.

 

“Asides from thet, I be grateful for the roof o’er me head, the food in me belly, and the kind lass and her lad who do na be kickin’ us oot, in spite o the way we al’ays be disruptin’ their lives and causin’ ’em problems.”

Around the table, many heads were nodding.

“Hear, hear!” My Young Hero stood up. “I think you have spoken what is in each of our hearts today.”

“Good! I be savin’ ye all tha trouble o sayin’ it! Now kin we be getting’ ta the food already?”

I laughed as everyone grabbed their plates and took them to the sideboard to fill. While the others started eating right away, Miles and I joined hands, bowed our heads, and quietly said grace. Listening to the laughter and good cheer around the dinner table, I realized we had a lot to be thankful for.

 

One of the things for which I am most grateful is a husband who understands my writing process, and is such a good sport that he willingly participates in it. Another thing for which I am grateful is you, dear readers. I hope you will continue to share our adventures and misadventures. We’ll always leave the porch light on for you.

 

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Fireworks

Fireworks

Easter 128“Mind if I join you? This looks like a good place to hide from all the fireworks.”

I looked up from my computer screen to see my husband, Miles, standing at the door to my office. He was wearing an uncharacteristic scowl. I motioned for him to come in.

“Fireworks? Honey, what are you talking about? It’s not even lunchtime yet. The fireworks won’t start until after dark tonight.”office-and-bookshelf-for-blog-002

Miles cautiously made his way through my cluttered office, maneuvering around obstacles and inching his way across the room as if he were walking through a minefield. He removed a few books and a pile of papers from the chair next to mine and sat down, still scowling. “Those fireworks will be tame compared to the ones that have been going on upstairs this morning.”

“Oh, no! Is one of my characters conjuring fireworks in the house? Who is it? My Arrogant One? My Gypsy? Sorceress? Dragon?” I jumped up, ready to go put a stop to such shenanigans.

“That type of fireworks wouldn’t be so bad!” Miles rubbed the back of his neck.

I sank back into my chair and eyed him warily. “Oh?” I wasn’t at all sure I really wanted to know.

Miles nodded ruefully. “So far this morning, I’ve broken up two fistfights between your Gypsy and your Young Hero, and a screaming match between Sorceress and Cleric.”

“Oh-oh.”dwarf

Miles held up his hand to indicate he was not finished. “Then your Old Dwarf almost lopped off my head with that great big axe he carries around.”

My eyes widened. “He did what? Why?”

“About an hour ago, I walked into the kitchen and found him making one of his little snacks – one that would feed the average family of four for a week. I made the near-fatal error of suggesting he wait until lunch.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, that would do it.”

blue-dragon-2Miles’ hand went up again. “Then I went back to the living room and found Dragon scratching her back on the carpet again. When I asked her to stop, she threatened to scorch my shoes with me still in them!”

I giggled. “She hasn’t made that threat in ages!”

“I don’t think it’s funny.” Miles scowled, and I tried to hide my grin. “Last but not least, your Foreman was arguing with your Arrogant One and your Bounty Hunter, and when they saw me standing there, they tried to gang up on me. Dragon put an end to that – she saved me after she herself had just threatened me!”

I sighed. “It’s a confusing time right now, honey. All my characters seem to be at each other’s throats. Dragon theorized it could be the heat or just plain boredom, but she also suggested there could be something more sinister behind it.”

Miles blanched. “You don’t think it could be Morcant again, do you?”

morcant

I shook my head. “No. I am confident that Morcant will never bother us again. When the three crones from his world retrieved his familiar from our world, they collapsed the magical conduit. Morcant will never again be able to send his familiar here.”

Miles sighed and nodded. “That’s good. But what about your Arrogant One?” Miles furrowed his brow. “Is there any way he could create a conduit between the two worlds?”

I snorted and shook my head again. “I don’t think his magic is anywhere near that powerful.”

“He could be the one causing the friction between all your characters, though.” Miles quirked an eyebrow and tilted his head.

“Yes, I suppose he could be behind it. If so, Dragon will discover it and put an end to it.”

“Do you or Dragon have any other theories about what could be causing this? I mean, one sort of expects your Arrogant One to rub people the wrong way, and I guess Dragon and your Old Dwarf can both be prickly at times. But for the lads to be brawling or Cleric and Sorceress to be at each other’s throats . . .” He shrugged. “They’ve always been the best of friends. There must be something more than heat or boredom fuelling the furor.”

blue-dragon-facing-left“Do you really think I’m prickly?”

Miles and I both jumped, and my husband turned beet red as Dragon stuck her head in the door, her broad grin displaying rows of dagger-sharp teeth.

“Dragon! Er . . . ah . . . I didn’t hear you come downstairs!” Miles stammered and turned from beet red to deathly white as Dragon continued to stare at him and grin.

Porcupine for blog“You didn’t?” Dragon feigned surprise. “I suppose I can be very stealthy when it serves my purpose.” The huge beast winked at Miles, then began to shrink. She entered the room and gracefully picked her way through my office, wrinkling her nose in disdain at the untidy conditions. As she approached Miles, she began to transform. By the time she reached his chair, she had shape-shifted into a very hefty porcupine. “Prickly, too.” She giggled.

Miles shrank back in his chair and pulled his feet up. He looked wide-eyed at the porcupine, and started to sweat.

“All right, Dragon! That’s enough! No skewering Miles with your quills. And no scorching his shoes, either – with or without his feet still in them!” I glowered at her.

Elf cleric“You don’t let me have any fun.” The ersatz porcupine shapeshifted into her familiar guise of an elf maiden. She conjured a chair and sat, facing Miles and me. She immediately turned serious.

“Master Miles, you were asking if your wife and I had any theories to explain the change in everyone’s demeanor. I agree with Mistress Writer that it can not be Morcant. However, I have discovered nothing else that can account for the recent conflicts. I have been too busy trying to keep my companions from inflicting serious bodily harm on each other, and have not really been able to devote much time to investigation.” She lowered her eyes and her cheeks turned bright red. “I have also been . . . busy . . . keeping my own violent tendencies under control.”

I reached out and took her hand. “It must be something very sinister indeed to bring out the beastly side of your nature.”

She nodded. When she spoke, I could barely hear her. “I have been thinking of shapeshifting into something that can do no harm to anyone. I can not risk incinerating any of you.” When she raised her head, I saw genuine fear in her eyes.

“Will that really do any good? To shapeshift into something harmless?” Miles quirked an eyebrow at Dragon.

“Miles is right. It wouldn’t do much good. Even if you took the shape of something innocuous, you are a dragon. In a fit of anger, you could immediately change back to your true state.”

“I could ask Sorceress and Cleric to cast a spell on me once I have changed, preventing me from changing back unless they released their spell.”

“No!” I jumped from my chair. “With everyone at odds with each other, you would not be safe. Under the influence of whatever is causing this, the two magic users could refuse to release the spell. Or, when Sorceress and Cleric were not around, you might encounter one of the others who might harm you if you were unable to defend yourself. No, there must be another way!”

Dragon nodded. “I will study on it further and see if there is an alternative. If there is not, I may have to go away until I would no longer be a threat to any of you.”

Before I could reply, Dragon jumped up and rushed from the room, shapeshifting back to her beastly form as she left.

I collapsed back into my chair. Miles and I sat looking at each other, stunned.

“Do you think it will come to that? Do you think Dragon will go away?” Miles seemed genuinely upset at the thought.

I shook my head and shrugged. “I hope not. I realize she feels we may be in some danger with her here, but I trust that she can exert enough control over herself that it would not come to that. And how will we find the cause of all this friction among the characters if she is not here to help?”

dwarfBefore we could discuss the matter further, my Old Dwarf came hotfooting it into the room. “Eh, be we havin’ a midday meal taday or no? I be starved!”

Miles wisely kept quiet and did not comment on the old reprobate’s appetite. We followed him back upstairs to the kitchen, where all my characters had assembled around the table.

Over a tense lunch, I guided the conversation to the festivities planned for that evening. Although July four was still several days away, our town had planned its celebration for the weekend.

I explained to my characters the early history of our country, and exactly what it was we celebrated each Fourth of July. My monologue was met with stony silence and narrow-eyed glares from my characters.

Finally, I got to something that sparked some interest. “So tonight, we will have a barbecue in the back yard.”

“A bar-bee-cue?” My Old Dwarf’s eyes lit up. “Food?”

“Yes, food.” At that, even the others started to look interested. “After that, we’ll go to the park to enjoy our town’s fireworks display.”

“Fireworks?” My Gypsy looked intrigued.

“Fireworks.” I nodded, but met with blank looks from most of my characters.

“Pyrotechnics.”

More blank looks.

“Huge, colorful showers of bright sparks in the sky, usually accompanied by loud booms.”

My Arrogant One’s eyes lit up at that, but my Old Dwarf frowned at Miles and me. “Jest ye two be goin’?” He started fingering his axe.

I hesitated. “You can all go, if you can agree to a few conditions.”

All nine of my characters glared at me. “What conditions?” My Foreman’s voice was almost a feral growl.

“First, all weapons, wands, staffs, and spell components will be left at home. Second, you will all dress in modern garb. Third, you will behave in a civilized manner. Last, you will tell no one who you really are. If anyone asks, you are our out-of-town relatives and friends, visiting for the holiday weekend.”

After considerable debate and grumbling, everyone agreed – even my Arrogant One.

The barbecue was delicious. I was glad I had made enough to feed the entire neighborhood, even though none of my neighbors were there. My Old Dwarf ate more than their share.

After eating, we ambled down to the park for the fireworks display. The closer we got to the park, the more relaxed my characters seemed to be. We found a grassy knoll no one had yet claimed and we set up our lawn chairs and blankets. As darkness fell, I was happy to see all my characters talking and laughing.

As always, the fireworks display was awesome. Every one of my characters sat, wide-eyed, oohing and aahing at the pyrotechnics.

As we walked back home, I was pleased at my characters’ behavior and lack of any incidents. As soon as we walked in the door, that all changed. Within minutes, the screaming and fighting had resumed. I beckoned to Miles. “Come on. I know a good place to hide from all the fireworks.”office-and-bookshelf-for-blog-002

Will we discover what is causing their hostilities? Will all my characters survive their unexplained acrimony? Will Dragon go away? Be sure to come back next week to find out. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

A New Year, Another Problem

A New Year, Another Problem

coin-talismanI had not slept well for several nights, not since Christmas Eve, when Miles had made the discovery of a small amulet on the stairs. When he had handed it to me, I could feel all the color drain from my face. It belonged to one of my characters, but not one who inhabited this world with us. I could not imagine how or why it had found its way into this world.

innkeeperI was sitting at my computer desk, turning the amulet over and over in my hand, and in my mind. The last time I had seen this talisman – before its appearance here on Christmas Eve – it had been in the beefy hands of an Innkeeper in another world, a world I had written about in several books. Since its discovery here, I had avoided showing it to any of my characters, characters who had fallen out of my manuscripts about that world, and who now resided here. I was particularly worried about the reaction the trinket would invoke from my Young Hero, my Gypsy, my Foreman and Cleric. They were all close friends of the Innkeeper, and the appearance of his talisman here in this world would only further fuel their concerns about his welfare.

Easter 128I jumped at a sound behind me. “Oh, Miles! It’s just you!”

“Well, I love you, too, honey!” He made a funny face at me and laughed.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. I didn’t mean it’s just you, like you’re not important. I meant wow, am I glad it isn’t one of my characters!

“I understand.” He looked down at the talisman in my hand. “Still trying to figure out how that got here?”

I nodded. “I really wouldn’t think much of it if you hadn’t recently taken to talking and acting just like the Innkeeper.”

“Have you come up with any theories?”

I shook my head and raked my hand through my hair.

“Well, why don’t you come upstairs and have some lunch? We’re having the last of the Christmas leftovers, and I think you might want to get to them before your Old Dwarf does. That guy can eat more than any ten people I know!”

I pocketed the talisman and we headed upstairs.

Elf facing rightConversation during lunch took my mind off the talisman. “Master Miles informs us that in a few days, you will be celebrating a new year,” Cleric said as she passed me the bread.

“Yes. Saturday is New Year’s Eve. At midnight, we celebrate the passing of the old year and the arrival of the new.”

“And how do you celebrate?”

I chuckled. “Well, being the old fossils we are, Miles and I will probably go to bed at our normal time and forego the festivities. However, many people attend parties with their friends. Some go to restaurants or clubs or other venues that hold public parties, with music, dancing and food, including champagne with which to toast the New Year. Outdoor events with fireworks or other activities are very common. One of the most famous New Year’s Eve celebrations in our country is televised from New York City. In an event that is attended by well over a million people, and seen by over a billion people worldwide, a huge, specially lighted ball is lowered on a flagpole atop a building at One Times Square at midnight.”

Sorceress cocked her head. “I would enjoy watching that on your magic box.”

Several of the other characters nodded in agreement.

I smiled. “Well, if Miles and I can manage to stay awake, we can all watch it together.”

“I remember the celebrations we had when I was a child, welcoming our new year.” My Gypsy leaned back in his chair, a faraway look in his eye. “First, we had a big feast. Then, the village Wise Woman would tell fortunes. That was followed by music and dancing, which continued right up to the last moment of the old year, when we would creep down to the village stable. new-years-foalThere, all the broodmares most likely to deliver their foals that day were stalled. We would wait, in absolute silence, to see which mare would be the first to give birth. As a people who made our living from breeding and selling horses, we believed whoever owned the first foal of the new year would be blessed with health, happiness and prosperity that entire year. If a mare from each family delivered her foal that day, the entire village would be blessed. Sometimes, the earliest foal would come into the world within the first moments of the new year, but to see if one foal would be born to each family in the village would often take all day, and well into the night.”

My Young Hero frowned. “What happened if no foal was born that day?”

My Gypsy stared at his hands, and his voice faltered. “Tragedy ensues. That only happened once in my memory, the year I turned 12 and thought I was a man. That was the year I caused a terrible thing to happen, and the entire village paid the price for my folly. That was the year two score of the children of our village disappeared.”

Everyone looked aghast, and murmured sympathetically. My Young Hero placed a comforting hand on his friend’s arm. “I am sorry. I had forgotten about that incident. You told me about that once. Your brother was among those children.”

My Gypsy nodded. “I had been searching for him when I came to your father’s horse farm seeking employment.”

My Old Dwarf patted the lad’s shoulder. “Ye ever find yer brudder, laddie?”

My Gypsy shook his head.

My Bounty Hunter gave him a sidelong glance. “It’s such a shame you are stuck here with the rest of us. You have no idea if you will ever find him, perhaps have already found him in our own world.”

I gave him a sharp look. “Let’s change the conversation, shall we?”

“Of course.” My Bounty Hunter sounded apologetic, but I noticed the slight twitch of a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

strange-dreamsThat night was another restless one for me. I drifted in and out of a disturbing dream, in which my Bounty Hunter sat behind the bar, watching as the corpulent Innkeeper was yelling at a bunch of boy-os to keep the Great Room clean. A gang of youthful thugs kept riding horses in and out the front door of his establishment. They intentionally tracked snow and mud and blood all over the freshly scrubbed wooden floors, and chanted “No foals this day, no foals this day! A curse on thee, no foals this day!” The Innkeeper warned them several times that he would not tolerate such behavior but the gang just jeered at him. They repeatedly demanded to know where the Gypsy’s brother was, but the Innkeeper insisted he had no knowledge of the boy-o’s whereabouts. Finally the Innkeeper pulled them all off their horses and reached into his pocket. He produced a small silver talisman, but before he could use it, the hoodlums fell on him, punching and kicking. The big man collapsed under their blows.

I snapped out of the dream, jolted awake. My heart was racing; I was drenched in sweat and panting for breath. Once my heart and respiration rates had returned to near-normal, I looked about. Sunlight was streaming through the window. I smiled. Miles must have realized I had had another restless night, and he had let me sleep in. I dragged myself out of bed and stumbled, bleary-eyed, through my morning routine. I was still yawning and rubbing my eyes when I got to the kitchen, anticipating breakfast.

coin-talismanMy eyes shot open and all thoughts of food evaporated. Miles was standing there, holding the silver amulet. He was rubbing it and mumbling something I couldn’t quite hear. I launched myself at him and slapped the talisman from his hand. I grabbed it from the floor and swiftly pocketed it.

Miles blinked. He shook his head as if trying to clear his mind. “What . . . what happened?”

“I’m not sure. You had the amulet, and you were rubbing it and mumbling something.”

He gaped at me. “I didn’t have the amulet. You hid it last night.”

“Well, I guess you must have seen where I hid it, because you certainly did have it!”

Miles slowly sank into a chair. “I don’t remember seeing where you put the amulet. I don’t remember taking it. I don’t remember rubbing it, or mumbling anything.” He sat there, shaking his head, while I poured him a cup of coffee. “I mean, how would I even know how to use such a thing?”

“I wish I knew.”

He reached for my hand. “Honey, I know your Gypsy and your Young Hero were upset by my recent behavior, when I acted and sounded like their friend, the Innkeeper. And I know you didn’t want to discuss this talisman with any of your characters, for fear of upsetting them further.” He paused and drew a shuddering breath. His voice was raw when he continued. “But, Marge, we must discover how it got here. We must know the reason it is here. And we must figure out the connection between me and the Innkeeper.”

I scowled and nodded. “I agree. This is getting more than a little alarming.” I raked my hand through my hair and sighed loudly. “I’ll talk to Dragon later today.”

Two days later, I still had not broached the subject to Dragon. It had been cold and windy all week, with frequent snow squalls. Dragon had taken to sulking about the weather. She stayed curled up in front of her conjured fireplace, growling at anyone who ventured too near. She was much too cranky to engage in civil conversation. Meanwhile, I was still being plagued by strange dreams at night, dreams of the Innkeeper, and I was still trying to keep the talisman hidden from Miles.

 

News Year’s Eve, we enjoyed a huge buffet in the kitchen, then arranged ourselves around the television in the living room. I explained to my characters that the New Year’s celebration we would watch from New York was in a different time zone, so the ball would drop at 11 pm Minnesota time.

“Different time zone?” My Foreman wrinkled his brow.

“Hard to explain. Different parts of our world have different time zones. New York is an hour ahead of Minnesota.”

My characters all looked confused, except Dragon, who nodded sagely. “The sun rises and sets there earlier than here.” Dragon looked smug that she understood what the others didn’t.

Television setWe settled in to watch the show. The entertainment was fair, the commercials incessant. Predictably, Miles and I were sound asleep by the time the countdown to the ball drop commenced. Cleric and Sorceress nudged us awake in time to see it drop, accompanied by fireworks, confetti, and balloons. On TV, there were shouts of Happy New Year from the nearly two million people in attendance, followed by a rousing rendition of New York, New York. When the show switched to celebrations on the West Coast, we decided to forgo any further festivities.

Soon after, my characters all went to bed and Miles and I cleaned up the kitchen. Then Miles went down to make sure the porch light was on, and I headed for bed. I almost tripped over a horseshoe in the hallway.new-years-horseshoe

I was still standing there, staring at it, when Miles headed toward the bedroom. I picked up the object and held it out toward him. “What is this doing here?”

Miles took the horseshoe from me and examined it. He pushed an errant lock of hair out of his eyes and smiled. “I told the boy-os not to fret. The Blacksmith will lend a hand. Old Smyth could always be relied on!”

I almost fainted dead away.

 

Happy New Year from Mistress Writer (Marge Cutter), all my characters, and Master Miles! May 2017 bring you all – old friends and new readers alike – good health, good fortune, grand adventures, and wonderful reading; and may it leave you next year with the fondest of memories! I invite you to come back often and enjoy my characters’ exploits. We’ll be sure to leave the porch light on for you!

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Our Happy Holiday as the Mystery Continues

Our Happy Holiday as the Mystery Continues

snowman2After a week, the snow wasn’t looking so dazzling white, or as attractive to my characters. The inaugural snowball fight of the winter was followed by several more the next day, and the next; and then almost everyone joined in to make a huge snowman. But after that, the novelty seemed to wear off and fewer and fewer of my characters ventured out into the frozen yard. By Christmas Eve morning, everyone was content to stay inside.

One who had from day one staunchly declined all invitations to romp in the snow was Dragon. She stared through the French doors at the frozen white expanse and growled softly. “Why would I want to go out in the snow? It is cold, it is wet, it is uncomfortable. And it does not even taste good!”

My Young Hero laughed. “I bet your friend, Ollie, loves the snow.”

blue-dragon-2Dragon fixed my Young Hero with an intense stare. “My friend, Ollie, has a luxurious fur coat. Does this look like a fur coat?” She gestured to the shimmering cerulean blue scales covering her body. “I think not.”

My Gypsy nudged my Young Hero, mirth twinkling in his black eyes. “You could always shapeshift into something warm and furry, Dragon.”

The large creature cocked her head. There was a dreamy look in her eyes, and tiny smoke rings drifted lazily from her nostrils. “Perhaps . . . if someone warm and furry were here to romp with. But, lacking anyone with a thick fur coat to help me stay warm, I will retain my most majestic appearance and lie here by the fire and stay toasty.”

fireplace2“Fire? What fire?” My head jerked up and the book I had been reading slipped off my lap and thudded onto the floor. My jaw almost hit the floor with it, as I saw a crackling fire in a rustic stone fireplace along the wall where the television used to be. “But we don’t have a fireplace!”

Dragon stretched her reptilian lips into a reasonable facsimile of a coy smile. “Oh?”

As she spoke, the fireplace by which she was sprawled slowly disappeared.

I frowned at her as I retrieved my book. “Cute. I would appreciate it if you characters wouldn’t do things like that! You know the problems illusions have caused, or have you already forgotten the fright I suffered when my Arrogant One conjured the illusion of the evil wizard Morcant right outside my office window? I could really live without those types of frights!”

“So, what do you suggest we do for entertainment, if we can not torment you?” Dragon grinned a toothy smile.

“Well, I thought you and Cleric and Sorceress would be trying to figure out why Miles suddenly started acting and talking like your friend, the Innkeeper.”

“Too little information to go on.” Dragon shrank to the size of a Cocker Spaniel and started writhing on the floor, scratching her back on the carpet, her hard scales tearing tufts of fiber.

“Stop that.” I glared at her. “What do you mean, too little information?”

She ignored me and continued to enjoy a nice scratch. “I mean exactly what I said. We do not have enough information to determine the reason Master Miles acted and spoke as he did.”

“I think it is obvious.” My Young Hero’s jaw tightened and his hands curled into fists at his side. “Something has happened to the Innkeeper. He needs our help.”

The corners of my mouth turned down. “I told you if that were the case, you would help him. Not the you that exists here in this world, but the you who exists in that world.”

My Young Hero’s shoulders slumped, but he nodded. “I know, but that does not make the me in this world worry any less about my friend.”

“Nor this me, either.” My Gypsy placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “But if Mistress Writer says the we that exist there will help him, then we must accept that.”

“Good.” I looked at my watch. “Well, it is time for me to get to work in the kitchen. Perhaps you two strapping lads can go downstairs and give Miles a hand with the Christmas tree.”

“Christmas tree?”

“Yup. It’s that time of year again. I’m going to finish baking the Christmas cookies, and Miles is setting up the tree and the last of the decorations.”

The two lads looked at each other, dubious expressions on their faces, but then they both shrugged. “Sure, we’ll give Master Miles a hand.” They tromped off down the stairs just as Cleric entered the room.Elf

“Did I hear you say you are going to bake some more cookies?” Her blue eyes were alight with interest.

“Yup. Would you like to help?”

“Oh, yes! I love baking!”

Elf clericDragon quickly shapeshifted, taking on the appearance of an elf maiden, almost a twin to Cleric. “I like baking, too.” She looked at me hopefully.

I smiled. “Good! Let’s get working, then.”

As I set the oven to preheat, Cleric got the cookie sheets out. “What type of cookies will we bake?”

“Today, we are going to bake Norwegian Wreaths, what my mother used to call Norwegian Christmas cakes.”Norwegian Christmas Wreath cookies

“These are special for Christmas?” Dragon looked at the cookbook “Classic Christmas Recipes” propped up on the kitchen counter.

“I believe they are. At least, Christmas is the only time of year I remember my mother making them.”

Dragon frowned. “Mistress? You have been making Christmas cookies all week; Master Miles has been putting up Christmas decorations and now a Christmas tree; you have had Christmas music playing on your magic box, and you have been shopping for Christmas presents for your family members.”

I nodded and reached for a measuring cup. “Yes, Christmas takes a lot of preparation.”

“So, just what is this Christmas that you make such a fuss about?”

I paused, my brow furrowed. “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, in human form, of Jesus Christ, the Son of our God. 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.”

Cleric tilted her head and chewed her lower lip. “Are there many different religions in your world, Mistress?”religions

“Oh, yes, just as there are in your world.”

“How do followers of different religions get along with each other, with persons not of their own faith?”

I put down my mixing spoon and bowl, and wiped my hands on my apron. I frowned and chewed on my lip for a long while before answering. “Well, I wish I could tell you we all get along fantastically, and we all respect each other’s beliefs. Unfortunately, that is not so. Some people feel their beliefs should be the ones held by all people. They get angry with people who believe differently. Some even hate people of other faiths, and many wars have been waged and much violence has been committed in the name of religion.”

Dragon gaped at me. “Surely all people do not feel this way?”

“No, not all. Perhaps not even most. Many people are very accepting of all people, regardless of their faith. They live in harmony with everyone, and do not disrespect other people’s religious beliefs.”

Cleric and Dragon fell silent for a while, and we continued mixing the cookie dough and forming the wreaths on the cookie trays. I put the first two trays in the oven and set the timer. Cleric and Dragon began to wash out the measuring cups and clear the counter so we could cool the trays as they came out of the oven.

After a few minutes, Cleric put down the dishcloth and looked at me. “Mistress?”

“Yes?”

“I am glad you respect people who do not believe as you do.”

I smiled warmly at her.

christmas-treeLater that evening, my characters joined Miles and me around the Christmas tree. We sang carols and ate cookies and drank eggnog. Then we went over to the Nativity scene that Miles had set up at the other end of the room. From the Bible, I read aloud 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 we had some more eggnog and cookies. 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 one of my personal favorites, 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, 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, Miles stopped and leaned over. He picked up a small object from the bottom step.

“Honey, did you drop this, or does it belong to one of your characters?”coin-talisman

He held out what looked like a coin, a little larger than a dime. I took it from him and examined it carefully. It was a small silver talisman, round and flat, with fine runes etched on either side. I could feel the color drain from my face.

“What’s wrong?”

“This talisman belongs to my characters’ friend, the Innkeeper.”innkeeper

Miles furrowed his brow. “Maybe he gave it to one of your characters before they came here?” He sounded hopeful.

I shook my head.

“Well, how did it get here?”

“How did my characters get here? It must have fallen out of one of my manuscripts, just as they did. The question is, why now? Why did this appear here now, just as you have been speaking and acting like the Innkeeper? It can’t be a coincidence.”

Miles frowned. “Well, whatever the reason for it, we will figure it out tomorrow. Let’s go upstairs and get some sleep, so we can attend Christmas Mass in the morning.”

mistletoe2I nodded dumbly and followed him up the steps. He stopped on the landing, reached over and switched on the porch light. Then 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-my-readers

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

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.

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