The Year in Review

The Year in Review

Dragon looks up from fireplace“The year in review?” Dragon opened one sleepy eye. She raised her head and gave me a curious look. “What is that?”

I wrinkled my brow. I thought it quite self-evident, but I shrugged and offered Dragon an explanation anyway. “It’s just a brief summary of the events of the past year.”

“Oh.” She went back to basking next to her illusory fireplace, curling up tightly, dropping her reptilian head onto her arms, and tucking her tail around her nose.

Arrogant OneMy Arrogant One shuddered. “Who in their right mind would want to dwell on the events of this year past?”

I shrugged. “Many people would. It’s fun to recall some of the good times we had.”

wish listeners“Not everyone had good times. This year did not start out well for some of us.” The elf’s usual smug, superior look was replaced by a pensive expression. “Do you not remember? At the end of the previous year, I had developed a problem controlling my power. At the start of this year, Dragon and I returned to the land of the Wish Listeners to search for the cause and – mayhap – a remedy for my affliction.”

My Arrogant One grasped his cloak and pulled it tight around himself. His voice was so soft I had to strain to hear him. “Dragon almost died there. And I almost abandoned her to her fate, shaming myself and dishonoring the elven race.” His face was pale, and he drew his cloak even tighter around his shivering body.

the knights paced

Tendrils of black smoke 2

Dragon raised her head again, studying the elf through heavy-lidded eyes. “Yes, I remember that. The elf is right. It was not a good start to the year.” A small plume of black smoke drifted from her nostrils, underscoring her words.

Unicorn and dwarf 2My Old Dwarf walked over to Dragon and caressed her scaly face. “But thet you-nee-corn been tookin’ me ta tha udder world ta be savin’ ye, beastie. An’ tha elfie been doin’ right by ye in tha end, when it really been countin’ fer summat.”

Dragon considered this for a moment before nodding and resuming her basking.

bounty-hunterMy Bounty Hunter cleared his throat and nodded. “It was a long and frightening eight weeks. Those of us who remained here had no way of knowing where you were, what was happening, or if we would ever see you again.”

“There were a number of other frights and scares this past year.” My Young Hero blushed as he remembered. “I was beset by nightmares for a long spell.” He smiled warmly at me. “You helped me understand that even heroes can have nightmares.”

“Your fears were nothing compared to the terror I faced after meeting our young neighbor, Marisol. She quickly demonstrated not only the capability to see through my spell of concealment, but the capacity to see my true nature.” Dragon sat up again, dark smoke drifting from her nose.

Stu-04-NatGalSorceress entered the room as Dragon was speaking. She placed a tray of eggnog and Christmas cookies on the table, then turned to Dragon and nodded. “That was a frightening predicament for all of us. The child’s inexplicable ability may have revealed our existence to the inhabitants of this world beyond Mistress Writer and Master Miles.”

MilesTaking Marisol by the hand“Marisol and her mother, Bastina, were not the only new acquaintances this past year.” Miles helped himself to a glass of eggnog and a few cookies as he turned to me. “You and Dragon met that repairman who came out to fix the heat element in our rain gutters when we had a problem with the formation of ice dams. You remember him and his alleged griffin, don’t you?”Crawford and Griffin

“I assure you, Master Miles, there was nothing alleged about the griffon.” Dragon got a sappy look on her face, and her cheeks glowed bright red. “It was nice to meet someone who understood my nature and my presence here, and with whom I could communicate in the old ways of my race.”

Dray and Griff

Miles gave me a questioning look.

“The griffin apparently arrived here much the same way Dragon and my other characters did – falling out of someone’s manuscript. And, according to Dragon, Griff has the ability to communicate telepathically, the same way the Great Wyrms of Dragon’s world communicate.”Dragon and Griffin

“Oh.” Miles furrowed his brow and nibbled another cookie as he digested this information.

CrawfordGriff2I nodded. “Yes, I had almost forgotten about meeting Crawford. He and his friend, Griff, proved themselves to be allies and valuable resources. After the meeting of the writers’ group Lost in the Words, Crawford directed us to Christine and Talia, the owners of the Chris-Tal Clear Metaphysical Store. He said they might be able to help us determine just what Marisol is and whence she gets her power.”

Dragon chuckled. “But getting Talia to help was most difficult. Christine had to exert a great deal of persuasion on her partner. Still, the spells the two ladies provided remedied the problem, and we remain undiscovered by most in this world. And Talia did say when Marisol is older, Talia can teach her, train her to use her power rather than be used by it.”

Foreman facing right closeup“We made another new friend this year as well.” My Foreman raised an eyebrow as he settled into the recliner with a glass of eggnog in his hand. “And a new enemy, mayhap?”Gypsy

“By friend, of course, you mean either Didi or Arthur.” My Gypsy waggled his eyebrows and smirked. “But whoever could be the enemy of whom you speak?”

My Foreman guffawed. “Arthur is no friend.” He turned to me. “Mistress, did not Crawford predict you had made a powerful enemy in Arthur?”

I sighed. “He did. I thought after Cleric had put Crawford’s mind at ease over the circumstances surrounding the death of his nephew, the danger he represented was over. But then Crawford apparently interfered with my Arrogant One’s magic, causing one of the elf’s spells to go awry.”

“Didi turned out to be a friend, though.” My Gypsy smiled broadly. “She wrote an excellent article on Colton and his new pony, Blue.”

“Blue!” Cleric exclaimed. “The therapy pony is another new friend we have made this year!” Her smile faded as quickly as it had appeared. “Of course, we lost a good friend when Colton’s first therapy pony, Peaches – who we knew as Mystery – passed away.”

We all nodded somberly.

Young hero 2“But not everything that happened this past year was bad or sad or frightening,” my Young Hero reminded us. “Because of your strong bond with Mystery, and your ability to communicate with animals, Cleric, we attended the auction and found Blue for Colton.”

Colton and Peaches 2John, Casey, and Old Blue 2My Gypsy agreed. “We helped them both deal with their depression over losing their closest friend – Colton had lost his pony, Peaches, and Blue had lost his owner, Casey. Later, after Colton and Blue were working well together, we got to enjoy a wonderful trail ride with them and Colton’s mom. Colton and I had another outstanding competition identifying birds. That blind boy can identify birds by sound better than most sighted people can identify them by visual observation! And then we had a delicious barbecue after the ride.”

“Ye dinna been toldin’ me there be a barbecue at thet trail ride.” My Old Dwarf frowned. “Iffins I been knowin’ thet, I been learnin’ how ta be ridin’, too!”

We all laughed.

camera for blog“The trail ride was not the only fun any of us had this past year.” My Bounty Hunter rejoined the conversation. “Do you not all remember the debate over magic versus technology? We all went on a nature hike and were afforded the opportunity to use Mistress Writer’s magic box that she calls a camera. The wildlife pictures taken by the magic users were no better than those taken by those of us unskilled in the arcane arts.”

ruby-ring2My Old Dwarf scoffed. “Aye, lad, but I already been ‘splainin thet ta all o’ ye. It do na be becausin’ anythin’ thet tha lass be callin’ tech-nol-o-gee. Tha magic box really be magic, but tha magic be in tha object, liken me old ring o takin’ me places.”

I leaned closer to Miles and explained, “He means his ring of transportation.”

“Aye, lass, me ring o trans-port-tatin’. Tha magic be in tha ring, so’s even non-magic folk kin be usin’ it, same as tha magic box ye all be callin’ a cam-er-ah, what holds tha magic inside it.” My Old Dwarf shook his head at our lack of understanding.

I laughed. “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on the technology issue.”

“That was not the only time we got to use the magic box . . . er, camera.” Cleric grinned.

“That’s right. We saw many different birds and animals when Mistress Writer took us on another nature hike at the beginning of summer, as well.” My Bounty Hunter smiled as he remembered. “Dragon had created illusory cameras for us, so we did not have to share. We all took a large number of photographs that day.”

“I remember.” I nodded and turned toward my Arrogant One. “And there was another time when you took some outstanding nature images, too.”

The elf flushed with pride and sat up a little taller.

“And when you and Master Miles were sick with pneumonia this past spring, Mistress Writer, I took a lot of pictures of the birds in your yard and on our deck to share with you after you recovered.” Cleric smiled at the memory.

“We should have taken pictures the previous month, when the weather was so bad, and all those robins were on the deck.” Dragon shivered as she remembered.

Cleric chuckled. “You were so fascinated by the robins, you shrank to the size of a housecat and climbed up on the back of the sofa to watch them.”

“The robins may have been the most numerous that day – I think there were almost a hundred on the deck – but they were not the only birds we saw,” my Gypsy recalled. “I think we identified 11 different species in the snow and ice, including two different hawks.”

“See?” My Young Hero grinned. “I told you not everything about this past year was bad or sad or frightening. We shared a lot of fun and good times as well.”

My Bounty Hunter nodded. “It makes me most anxious to see what the coming year will bring.”

We hope, dear readers, you have enjoyed following the adventures and misadventures of my little band of displaced characters this past year, and for all the years they have been creating chaos in this world. And we hope you will continue to join us in the coming year as we face whatever comes our way – good, bad, sad, or frightening. It will always be nicer for us if you come along and keep us company. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Happy New Year

A Good Deal? Or Crazy?

A Good Deal? Or Crazy?

Cleric blushed deep redCleric blushed deep red. “I most certainly am not kidding!”

Blue roan ponyAnna snorted as she continued to gape at the three-quarter sized blue roan pony standing there with his ears pinned back, and his foot cocked and ready to kick out at the slightest provocation. “Clara, there is no way that pony would make a suitable mount for Colton.”

“That is the one.” Cleric insisted vehemently.

While Anna looked as if she thought Cleric, whom she knew as Clara, had taken leave of her senses, I knew Cleric believed this pony would make the perfect mount for Colton because Colton’s deceased pony, Peaches (AKA Mystery), had told Cleric this in a dream. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/a-new-mystery/

Blue with ears pinned backAs if he knew we were talking about him, the pony gave us a baleful look. He neighed loudly, then walked over to the fence and stared at us sullenly.

Anna frowned. “How can you possibly believe a pony with such a sour disposition could work with Colton?”

Petting Old BlueA nearby man walked over to us. “Old Blue there isn’t all that bad.” He reached over the fence and patted the pony. The animal’s demeanor didn’t change much, but he tolerated the man rubbing his head and scratching behind his ears.

My Gypsy walked over and stood next to the man. “You sound as if you have had experience with the animal. Is he yours?”

The man nodded. “Well, actually, he’s my daughter’s pony. Or he was.”

I gave him an appraising look. “What can you tell us about him, Mister . . .?”

“Denver. John Denver. No relation to the singer.” The man smiled ruefully as he held out his hand.

I shook his hand and made the introductions, then repeated. “So, what can you tell us about the pony?”Introductions

“Well, I can’t tell you too much, really. He was being sold with no prior history at auction about five years ago and I bought him. I don’t know why. He certainly wasn’t a looker or a charmer. But my daughter begged me to get him, so I did. I just couldn’t say no to her.”

I smiled, and John continued. “He was the best thing that ever happened to my daughter. She was handicapped, you see. She couldn’t walk, but Old Blue didn’t care. He was always so gentle and patient with her.”

Anna raised her eyebrows. “Your daughter is handicapped?”

John hung his head, and when he spoke, his words caught in his throat. “She was. Casey passed away six months ago.”

“Oh, I’m sorry for your loss!” Anna and I murmured our condolences.

“Thanks.” John swallowed hard. “I’ve kept Blue around since Casey’s death. I just couldn’t bear to get rid of him. But lately I’ve been seeing a change in him. He’s growing more and more sullen. He doesn’t eat, not even treats I try to give him. He doesn’t run around the field with my gelding. He just stands by the gate, as if waiting for Casey to come and ride him.”

John, Casey, and Old BlueThe man sighed, and his voice cracked again when he spoke. “He always took such good care of my little girl, and he always seemed so happy to be around her. I can’t stand to see him so depressed. I figured it was time for him to have another child to take care of. I put an ad in the paper to sell him, but only a few people responded, and Blue really didn’t impress them. So, I figured I’d try my luck here at the auction. But that might have been a mistake. The way he’s been acting, I can’t see anyone bidding on him.”

Cleric stepped forward. “We must have that pony.”

Anna frowned, but before she could say anything, Cleric grabbed her arm. “Anna, this pony has already worked with a handicapped rider. I’m sure he could be trained for Colton.”

John looked at Anna. “You have a handicapped child?”

Peaches and ColtonAnna nodded. “My son, Colton, is blind. His pony, one that had been specially trained to work with a blind rider, passed away from age-related ailments a few months ago.”

“And you need to find another pony for Colton.” John nodded his understanding.

“It’s not that easy.” Anna pursed her lips and scowled. “It can’t be just any pony, not even a pony that’s trained to work with riders suffering other types of handicaps. It has to be one specifically trained to work with a blind rider.”

John continued to nod. “I understand. It’s a shame Old Blue here isn’t what you’re looking for. I think it’s pretty obvious he won’t be finding a good home here tonight.”

Cleric wrinkled her brow and tugged on Anna’s sleeve. “He can be trained. I know he will be the perfect mount for Colton. You need to take this pony home with you.”

Anna shook her head. “I think you’re wrong, Clara. A pony that sour does not have the proper disposition to work with a blind rider. Besides, Colton isn’t ready to think about a new pony.”

John, Casey, and Old Blue 2John cleared his throat and ducked his head. “If it’s Blue’s disposition that scares you, ma’am, all I can tell you is he was a different animal with my Casey. He was a happy pony, always eager to see her come to the barn to ride. He’d whinny and run to the gate as soon as I wheeled her out of the house.”

Anna sighed. “Well, maybe he has a better disposition than he’s showing here tonight, but as I stated, Colton isn’t ready to think about a new pony.”

Cowboy 2Blue with ears pinned back“Maybe not right away, but if he got to know Blue, that might change.” John looked at Anna and then at the rest of us, silent pleading in his eyes. “I really want to make sure Blue gets a good home. He deserves that for all he did for my little girl. If you’d be willing to take him, I’ll withdraw him from the bidding tonight. You can have him, free and clear, just as long as you promise to return him to me if it doesn’t work out with your boy.”

Cleric almost jumped for joy. “You cannot ask for a better deal than that, Anna! And you will see I am right about Blue. He is the pony Colton needs.”

Anna stared at the pony, then looked at me and the rest of our companions. We all nodded our encouragement. Anna sighed and shook her head. “I must be crazy to even consider this sour animal.”

“But you will take him, will you not?” Cleric smiled.

“I suppose it won’t hurt.” Anna turned toward John. “Okay, I’ll give him a month’s trial. If he and Colton don’t get along by the end of that period, you’ll be getting him back.”

Agreeing to take Blue

Will Colton and Blue get along? Will Blue be able to be trained to work with Colton’s handicap? Be sure to come back again next week and see what is happening. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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What Will We Find at the Auction?

What Will We Find at the Auction?

On phone with Anna“Oh, no, that will never work.”

I had called Anna to discuss the idea of going to the auction to look at ponies for Colton. She was less than enthusiastic.

“I’m surprised you would suggest it. With your experience with horses, Marge, you must realize a pony for a blind rider isn’t something you can just pick up at an auction. A mount like that needs extraordinary training. Peaches came from a facility that specializes in training horses and ponies for the handicapped. With over thirty animals in their training program at the time we purchased Peaches, she was the only one they had with the proper temperament and extensive training to work with a blind rider.”

Elf“I realize you won’t be able to pick up a finished therapy horse at auction, Anna, but Cler . . . er, I mean Clara thought you might find an inexpensive animal that would be a good candidate for training to work with Colton. It might be cheaper to find a pony at auction and then send it to that facility for training, rather than purchasing a fully trained animal from them.”

“Hmmm. Well, it might be worth a look, but I’m not getting my hopes up.”

“Of course. But it might just be a fun night out for us. I haven’t been to a horse auction in more than 15 years, not since I moved here from New Jersey. And I know that Clara and the others would love to go.”

Pony from dreamshaggy pony facing the other wayWhat I didn’t tell Anna was that Cleric, or Clara as Anna and Colton knew her, was adamant we attend the auction. Cleric knew without a doubt there would be a pony at the auction that would make the perfect mount for Colton. Cleric knew, because Colton’s deceased pony, Peaches (AKA Mystery), had told Cleric this in a dream. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/a-new-mystery/

* * *

Wednesday afternoon, on the way to Anna’s farm, I reminded my characters to address each other by the names they had chosen when we first met Colton and Anna. Sitting in the front passenger seat, Cleric nodded. “I am to be Clara, Dragon is Drey.”

From the back seat, my Gypsy chimed in. “I am Rocky, your Foreman is Tor, and your Young Hero is Cab, correct?”  https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/09/02/an-old-mystery-revisited/

“Yup. It’s very important you remember that. And also remember to act as if you didn’t just fall out of a manuscript of a novel set in a medieval world. There will be things here tonight you may not have seen before but try not to gape. You need to fit in, to act as if this isn’t your first rodeo.”

Rodeo?” Cleric tilted her head and furrowed her brow. “I thought it was an auction.”

I sighed. “It is, it is. It’s not my first rodeo is just an expression, meaning that the person saying so has experience in whatever situation they are discussing.”

“You mean we are to act as if we regularly attend horse auctions in this modern world.” Dragon, or Drey, nodded sagely. “Do not worry. We will not forget.”

When we arrived at Anna’s farm, she was already behind the wheel of her shiny pickup, with a sturdy stock trailer in tow. I beeped and waved, and she put her truck in gear and moved slowly down the driveway. “Anna knows where we’re going, and we wouldn’t all fit in her truck, so we’ll just follow her.”

Truck and trailer

“Is Colton coming?” Cleric craned her neck to try to see the passenger’s seat of Anna’s truck.

I shook my head. “No, he’s staying home tonight with his aunt and uncle. He isn’t ready to think about a new pony.”

parkingAt the auction, Anna was directed to the parking area reserved for vehicles with trailers, and we were pointed toward a large dirt field filled with trailer-less cars and trucks.

“Wow!” When we caught up with Anna, I was the one looking around as if I had never seen a horse auction before. “This is a lot bigger than I had expected.”

“You did say you’ve been to horse auctions before, right?” Anna led the way toward the office, where she and I would register and get our numbers, allowing us to bid on any animal we fancied.

My characters and I followed along. “Oh, yes, many, many years ago. I used to go to New Holland and Doylestown in Pennsylvania a few times a year, as well as Bunchy Grant’s, the Roosevelt Sale, in northern New Jersey. I even attended the pricy auctions at Front Royal in Virginia a few times. But most of the auctions I attended were little rinky-dink local affairs, where you could find the twenty-five-dollar-ponies. I don’t know how many of those auctions are still in existence.”

“Twenty-five dollars for a pony?” Anna’s jaw dropped. “You must be a lot older than you look! Ponies have never been that cheap in my lifetime!”

I laughed. “It was rare to actually get one for that price, but we still called them that, the twenty-five-dollar-ponies. They were the ponies nobody really wanted. Some were half-starved, some hadn’t seen a farrier’s rasp or a curry comb in years. Some had serious conformation or health issues, some were just too nasty to make a good child’s mount, and some looked like they were old enough to have been the colt that carried Jesus into Jerusalem.” I tilted my head, remembering. “Occasionally a real diamond in the rough could be found among them. But not often.”

Twenty-five-dollar-ponies

Anna nodded. “Oh, I agree that you can pick up real bargains at auctions. But I still don’t understand the name for the ponies. Why that amount? Why twenty-five dollars?”

“That was the usual cost back then to adopt a dog or cat through the local shelters. Calling them the twenty-five-dollar-ponies indicated that the only good place for these unfortunate animals was a shelter or rescue facility.”

bidder's numbersOnce Anna and I had our numbers allowing us to place bids, we beckoned my characters to follow as we headed to the stalls and pens to inspect the ponies. We had arrived early enough to allow plenty of time to look before the bidding started.

Stepping into the first barn, myriad odors tickled my nose. The sweet fragrance of fresh hay and molasses feed mingled with the rich smell of well-oiled leather and saddle soap, masking the faint stench of animal urine, manure, and sweat.

first barnThe ponies stalled in this barn were well groomed animals, with excellent confirmation. They looked fit and healthy, and they stood calmly as their handlers snapped lead lines onto expensive leather halters bearing brass name-plates.

“These ponies are the cream of the crop. They have good pedigrees and impeccable show records.” Anna held up one hand and rubbed her thumb over the tips of her index and middle fingers. “You better have a lot of cash on you if you plan to bid on any of these.”

My characters were impressed. My Foreman and the lads walked over to several stalls to give the ponies a closer look. I gave Cleric a surreptitious glance, but she pursed her lips and gave a slight shake of her head. I guessed her dream pony was not among this group.

Flashy all-around ponyAfter examining all these ponies, we filed out of the barn and walked by some paddocks where ponies were being presented to potential buyers. Cleric studied them carefully, paying particular attention to a flashy pinto that was touted by her owner as “. . . an all-around pony. She rides and drives. She can go all day on the trail or bring home a slew of ribbons from the show ring. She’s gentle enough for any child, but when under the hand of an experienced rider, she has spirit.”

Cleric watched the pinto for several minutes before giving me another almost imperceptible shake of her head.

Behind the paddocks, we entered a second barn. This barn had less of the fragrant odor of fresh hay and sweet feed, and none of the rich leather smell. The stench of animal sweat and waste was heavier.

ponies sharing a stallshared stallsThe stalls in this barn were larger, and each held a number of ponies. None had the flawless confirmation or impeccable grooming obvious in the occupants of the first barn, but as I looked them over, no red flags went up in my mind.

Anna confirmed my evaluation. “Most of these ponies would make good family pets or first ponies for a new rider. Some are a bit long of tooth, some haven’t seen enough groceries recently, but they all seem sound and quiet and should go for a decent price.”

We spent about an hour inspecting these ponies, but Cleric’s disappointment showed clearly in her face. The pony of her dream wasn’t in this group either.

“Are there any others?” My Gypsy also looked disappointed.

Anna frowned. “There might be a few in the pens out back. The auction management usually keeps any studs back there, away from the mares. They sometimes put problem animals there as well. I doubt there would be any ponies there that would be suitable for Colton.”

“May we take a quick look anyway? Mayhap we will discover something unexpected.” Cleric was already heading for the back door of the barn.

penned poniesTwenty-five-dollar-poniesThe pens were a shock. In contrast to the high-end animals in the first barn and the perfectly acceptable animals in the second barn, the ponies in these pens were not going to garner many bids. I heard several ponies coughing, and a quick look in the first two pens revealed two ponies with ringbone, another with a huge knot on its knee, several with splayed feet, four that were cow-hocked, and two with ewe necks. Not one of these ponies was groomed, few had seen a farrier recently, and many were far underweight. Several dirt pens were occupied by a single stud pony, not one of which should ever have been considered breeding material. The twenty-five-dollar-ponies still existed, I realized sadly.

Blue roan ponyFurther back, in a grassy pen, a group of ponies huddled tightly together, some rolling their eyes in fear at the large pony standing at the other end of the small enclosure. In that far corner of the pen, a shaggy blue roan gelding had his back to the others, his ears pinned back, and one hind foot cocked and ready to kick out at anything or anybody getting too close. He stood, head hanging, lower lip protruding in an almost human sulk.

Pony from dream

We approached the fence and I was about to comment on the sour-dispositioned animal when Cleric broke into a huge smile. “That is him! He is the one!”

 

We all gaped, first at Cleric, then at the pony. Anna snorted. “You have got to be kidding!”

 

What is Cleric thinking? Could this sorry creature possibly be the pony that Peaches (AKA Mystery) told Cleric to find for Colton? Be sure to come back next week and find out. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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