What Has Happened to Him?

What Has Happened to Him?

Dragon studying scroll 3Dragon sighsDragon studied the scroll carefully, then shook her head and placed the parchment back in the cubbyhole in the desk from which she had taken it. She looked around the room and sighed, a large puff of black smoke drifting from her snout.

“This room looks like a whirlwind came through here!” She spoke aloud, but expected no reply, as she knew herself to be quite alone within the guarded and warded room. She sighed again as she started straightening the mess, replacing books and scrolls that she had scattered haphazardly around the room.

Mess

It took almost an hour to return the room to its previous tidy condition, less than a fifth of the time it had taken to create the mess as Dragon had searched in vain for some scrap of information that would help her understand the current predicament involving the Foreman.

Falling out of manuscriptMany years ago, the Foreman, Dragon, and seven other characters had fallen out of a manuscript into this world, the world Mistress Writer termed the real world. Before that, in their own world, the Foreman had been manager of the largest, most successful, and most prestigious equestrian breeding and training facility in the kingdom in which he had lived.

Horses by barnHere in this world, Dragon had created illusory horses and a small illusory stable for the Foreman and his fellow horsemen, the Young Hero and the Gypsy. But trotting around the modest illusory riding arena and drilling the lads in their equestrian skills whenever the harsh Minnesota weather would allow was hardly a substitute for the position the Foreman had held back in their world.

head bowed, shoulders slumpedFor several months, Dragon and her fellow characters had been aware of the Foreman’s growing discontent. Once, his depression could be relieved by those times spent riding his illusory horse. No more. He was bored by his role in this world, little more than a go-fer, if Dragon recalled the local vernacular, fetching and toting for Mistress Writer and Master Miles, and helping his fellow characters whenever they had need.

He grew more and more despondent. Like his fellow characters, the Foreman missed his own world, but it was more than that. As he had explained to Mistress Writer, he also missed who he had been in that world.

Recently, Dragon and her fellow magic users had created an illusory world for the Foreman where he could once again have the duties and responsibilities of managing a large equestrian facility.

Once Dragon and her colleagues had created the illusory world, the Gypsy and the Young Hero had escorted the Foreman into that world. The lads had returned directly to report the Forman was ecstatic with the world his friends had created for him. They told their comrades the Foreman planned to thank them in person at supper that night, and to revisit the illusory world the next day.

Question marksWhen the Foreman did not return that night, everyone figured he was enjoying himself so much, he had lost track of time. When he still had not returned within the week, Dragon and the other characters had entered the illusory world to retrieve him, but he was nowhere to be found. No one with whom the characters spoke had any knowledge of the Foreman. He seemed to be lost in an illusory world, something that Dragon knew to be impossible.

Roaring in frustration (2)

Dragon shook her head and roared in frustration.

Door“Beastie? Be ye al’right, beastie?” The Old Dwarf banged on the door of the conference room he had been tasked with guarding. When Dragon did not answer immediately, the stout dwarf raised his axe, thinking to splinter the door and rescue his friend.

“I would not advise doing that.” Dragon stared at the rotund figure as she swung open the door. “Do you not remember what happened the last time you resorted to force when I had warded this door?”

The dwarf blushed scarlet and lowered his axe. “Aye, I be recollectin’. It do na be an experience I be wantin’ ta be repeatin’ any time soon.”

“Then why did you appear to be about to do so?” The large reptile frowned at her diminutive companion.

“I been heardin’ ye yellin’. I been thinkin’ ye be in trouble.”

Dragon sighed. “And you thought to rescue me, my little friend?”

Dwarf blushingThe dwarf nodded and blushed a deeper red. “Ye be knowin’ full well I couldna e’er be lettin’ anythin’ be happenin’ ta ye, beastie.” He shot the large creature a look full of warmth and affection.

“I appreciate the thought, but I assure you I am quite capable of protecting myself.” Dragon smiled a toothy grin.

The dwarf scowled. “Ye be havin’ a real short mem’ry, ‘specially fer one o yer species. It be only a year and a huff by this world’s reckonin’ thet ye been needing rescuin’ from thet udder world, where ye been attacked by thet udder dragon, and I be tha one what been rescuin’ ye. Meself, an’ no udder!”

memory

EmbraceTears of gratitude stung Dragon’s eyes as she remembered back to that time. “I do remember, old friend,” she said softly as she placed her reptilian hands on the dwarf’s shoulders. “I will never forget.” She smiled warmly, and they stood there for a few moments, enjoying each other’s companionship and basking in their mutual devotion. Then Dragon stepped back and sighed again.

“But as to you hearing me yelling, I was in no danger, small one. I was merely venting my frustration.”

“Ye canna be findin’ a way ta be bringin’ tha Foreman back here?” The dwarf’s brow furrowed, and his shoulders slumped. “But iffin ye canna be bringin’ ’em back, what be happenin’ ta ’em?”

“I do not know.” Dragon’s voice was small, and it cracked. “I . . . I do not know.”

* * *

The Foreman had entered the illusory world not really knowing what to expect. The two lads had accompanied him, and they walked around together for a few hours, marveling at the sights.

Horses in pasture“Look at those horses!” The Young Hero’s eyes grew big and round as he stared at the herd of magnificent animals pasturing behind the gleaming white fence. “I have not seen the likes of them since we left our world.”

The Gypsy leaned on the fence as he replied to his young friend. “Indeed! This place reminds me of your father’s farm.”

The Young Hero nodded and turned to face the Foreman. “What do you think of this world?”

“I agree. This is most reminiscent of your father’s place. I think Dragon and all the magic users did a splendid job creating this, so like the farm I managed for your father. When you return to the real world, please give Dragon and the others my thanks and tell them I will not tarry long this day. Dragon has informed me I may come and go at will, so I will limit my explorations today. I will return to the real world in time to sup with you this evening and return here tomorrow to continue my exploration.”

The lads nodded. Before taking their leave, they reminded their friend to use the name he often used in the real world, when he had to be around people outside Mistress Writer’s house.

“You called yourself Tor.” The Young Hero shook the Foreman’s hand.

Tor and the lads“Do not forget. Calling yourself the Foreman could lead to confusion and misunderstanding here.” The Gypsy clapped the older man on his shoulder, and the two lads turned and walked off toward the spot where they could return to the real world.

Having said his goodbyes to his two companions, Tor hurried down the lane in the opposite direction, toward the distant complex of barns and sheds. He wanted to get established at this farm before leaving for the day.

Stable boy in yardArriving at the stable an hour later, Tor found a stable lad lounging in the yard and introduced himself. “I am called Tor. I seek employment.”

The lad looked Tor up and down slowly before jerking his thumb in the direction of the barn. “Boss be in dere.”

The boss and the farrierEntering the barn, Tor approached the man he assumed was the boss, a fussy-looking older man who looked rather out-of-place supervising the shoeing of a stallion. The man looked up and frowned. “Waddya want?”

“My name is Tor. I seek employment.” The Foreman extended his hand, which the other man ignored.

“Got nuttin fer a graybeard like you. Move along.” The man turned his attention back to the blacksmith and the stallion.

Tor bristled. “I can do the work of any ten lads.”

“I said move along.” The other man scowled.

the farrier 2Tor did not move. The blacksmith’s actions had caught his attention. “Be careful, smithy! Do not trim a horse’s hoof so short!”

“Mind yer own busness.” The blacksmith’s eyes narrowed as he glared at the Foreman.

Tor frowned. Dragon had told him he would be the manager of a large stable in this illusory world. Did she refer to a different stable? Or was he just supposed to walk in here and assume the duties of a manager? Given the reaction of this boss person, that seemed highly unlikely. Tor sighed. How do things work in this illusion, anyway? I best just stay quiet and watch. Mayhap I can figure it out.

Continuing to watch the blacksmith, Tor could not remain silent. “You are going to cause that horse to go lame!”

Looked upThe blacksmith looked up. “Boss, you gonna get rid of this guy, or am I?”

Tor never heard the answer. Pain exploded in his head and everything went black.

The attack

The stable lad lowered the now-bloody lead pipe and picked up Tor’s hat. He placed it with a flourish on his own head and grinned. “Waddya want me ta do wit ’em, Boss?”

lowered the pipe 2

What has happened to Tor, aka my Foreman? Will Dragon and the other characters be able to find and rescue him? Come back next week and see what happens. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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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

The Truth (Conclusion of The Interview)

The Truth (Conclusion of The Interview)

Colton NooooooPandemonium broke out at Arthur’s proclamation.

Colton continued to wail uncontrollably. “Nooooooo! You can’t destroy Blue! I won’t let you!”

Anna held her son tight, trying to calm him, but the boy continued to sob.

Dray, Clara, and I confront ArthurDray, Clara, and I loudly confronted Arthur, each of us vowing the man would never harm Colton’s pony, Blue. Arthur swore, just as loudly, that he would see to it the beast was destroyed, so it could never harm another person.Didi whistling

Didi moved around, trying to capture the chaotic exchange on her tape recorder. Finally, she put the recorder down. Placing two fingers to her mouth, she whistled shrilly. The rest of us fell silent, staring at her.

Didi taping Arthur“That’s better.” She picked up the recorder again. “Now, Arthur, you stated the police and medical examiner determined your nephew had died of head injuries as the result of having been trampled by Blue. But are you certain of the police and forensic report?”

The man scoffed. “Of course!”

Didi frowned. “Well, then, it seems to me, Arthur, that your story has a major flaw in it.”

“Oh?” The man sneered at Didi.

She nodded. “I covered an incident last year when a child was savaged by a vicious dog. The animal was deemed dangerous and the police destroyed the animal right there, at the scene of the attack.”

“So?” Arthur looked down his nose at Didi.

“So, if Blue killed your nephew, why didn’t the police destroy the pony as a dangerous animal?”

“Good question.” I nodded.

Arthur rolled his eyes and snorted. “When my nephew was trampled, there were no witnesses. The police said there was no proof the animal was dangerous. They claimed it could have been an accident. They refused to destroy the beast.” Arthur’s face contorted with hatred. “It was no accident. The animal struck out at me when I entered the stall. It was obvious to me what had happened. That pony is dangerous and must be destroyed!”

I shook my head and held up my hand to silence Arthur as Colton started wailing again.

Didi and ClaraBefore I could speak, Didi turned to Clara, the alter ego of my character, Cleric. “Clara, didn’t you say you are absolutely certain Arthur is mistaken, and Blue did not kill his nephew, Andrew?”

Clara nodded.

“And didn’t you say you knew exactly what had happened?”

Again, Clara nodded.Arthur and Clara

Arthur pushed Didi aside and confronted Clara, standing practically nose to nose with her. “How can you know anything? You weren’t there! No one witnessed my nephew’s death!”

“I cannot explain how I know . . .”

Arthur stopped her mid-sentence. “You can’t explain, because there is no way you could know!”

Clara sighed. “I assure you I know what happened as certainly as if I had been there. I cannot explain how I have this knowledge. You must trust me.”

“Whether or not we trust you, I’d like to hear what you have to say.” Didi checked her tape recorder once more before gesturing for Clara to begin.

Clara looked at me, cocking one eyebrow in an unspoken question. I nodded. She paced around for a bit, her expression one of deep concentration. I knew she was choosing her words carefully.

Finally, Clara stopped pacing and faced everyone. “I will tell you what I know of the events of that day.”

Arthur scoffed, but the rest of us nodded.

Arthur and Clara 2stable hand“Arthur, do you remember a young stable hand, a painfully thin teenaged boy adorned with several piercings, whose long, stringy hair appeared to have had only a nodding acquaintance with a comb? On the day in question, he was dressed all in black – jeans, shirt, windbreaker, baseball hat, sneakers – and he had what I believe are called earbuds in his ears, as he was listening to music from one of his electronic devices.”

Arthur nodded. “I forget the miscreant’s name, but I recognize the description.” He narrowed his eyes and stared at Clara. “How do you know what he was wearing that day?”

Ignoring his question, Clara nodded. “And was this boy a skillful handler of the horses in his care?”

Arthur snorted. “Him? Skillful? Hardly! He was always looking for shortcuts, trying to get away with the least amount of work possible.”

Horses in barn aisle“Exactly.” Clara nodded. “Now on the day your nephew was killed, that stable hand was supposed to bring the horses into the barn, one or two at a time, and place them in their stalls, where feed and hay were awaiting them. Instead, he just opened the pasture gate and yelled at the horses, whooping and hollering. Since the horses were accustomed to being fed at that time, they all charged into the barn. They milled around in the aisle before entering the open stalls. Many of them entered the wrong stalls, and several horses engaged in kicking matches as they sought to protect their own territory and feed. One of the larger horses, a rangy seal brown thoroughbred, entered Blue’s stall, nudging open the door which your nephew had left ajar. The horse charged into the stall and knocked Andrew over. Blue tried to protect the boy, but the pony was no match for the larger horse. That animal is the one that trampled the boy.”

Arthur scoffed. “Then why was Andrew’s blood all over the pony’s hooves and coat? And why hadn’t the stable hand tried to help Andrew when he entered the barn and found him in the pony’s stall?”

BlueClara shook her head and answered in a gentle voice. “The blood you saw on Blue was not Andrew’s. It was Blue’s. He was savagely kicked several times by the larger horse as he tried to protect Andrew. And the stable hand never saw Andrew because he never looked into any of the stalls. By the time that boy walked into the barn, the thoroughbred had eaten all the feed in Blue’s bucket and had gone into his own stall. Once the stable hand chased the rest of the horses into their stalls, all he did was close all the stall doors without checking.”

We all stood gaping at Clara, trying to wrap our brains around her tale.

Arthur was the first to speak. “You’re a liar!” His face was red, and his hands clenched into fists that he looked dangerously close to using. Dray stepped between him and Clara.

Narrowing her eyes as she stared at Arthur, Dray spoke calmly, but with steel in her voice. “My friend does not lie. For all the years I have known her, she has never uttered a falsehood. I am not certain she even knows how.”

“Then explain this fairy tale she has woven. There is no way she could have such detailed knowledge of that day unless she was there and witnessed the events she described.” Then Arthur’s eyes widened, and he pushed Dray aside to confront Clara once more. “Or are you saying you were there? That you did see what happened and made no attempt to save my nephew’s life?”

“I was not there,” Clara assured him.

“Then how do you know what happened?” This time it was Didi who asked the question. “Do you have proof of your allegations?”

ElfClara shook her head. “I cannot explain how I know these things, and I can offer no proof.”

“Because you are a liar!” Arthur folded his arms over his chest and glared at Clara.

“Without proof, it does seem a bit farfetched.” Didi frowned.

Clara chewed on her lower lip for several seconds. She gave me an apologetic look, then began. “I would like you to consider the . . . possibility . . . of what I am about to tell you, no matter how outlandish or improbable it sounds.”

Dray and I exchanged wary glances, as we both knew what Clara was about to reveal.

“I have an ability that is difficult for me to explain, and even more difficult for others to accept.” She paused, searching for the right words. “I can communicate, after a fashion, with most animals.”

“Are you trying to tell us you can talk with animals, and that’s how you know what happened to my nephew . . . because the pony told you?” Arthur looked at Clara incredulously, then doubled over with laughter. Once he stopped laughing and caught his breath, he placed his hand on Clara’s shoulder. “I was wrong! You’re not a liar, you’re delusional!”

Clara and Blue“I assure you, sir, I am neither. I do talk to animals, but they do not talk to me. They . . . respond to me. I have a sensitivity to animal’s emotions, and an empathetic ability to see images they place in my mind. I know what happened to your nephew because I saw it all happen through Blue’s thoughts as I stood with him in Anna’s barn earlier, calming him. He let me know through the images he placed in my mind, that your presence here upsets him because he knows you blame him for what happened to Andrew. He knows he is in danger from you, that your blind hatred drives you to destroy him.”

“That’s enough! You will never convince me that you can communicate with dumb animals; nor will I believe that pony did not kill my nephew. He must be destroyed!” Arthur tried to push past everyone and head for the door, but Anna and Colton stopped him.Colton

“No!” Colton was no longer crying. His voice was firm and commanding. “I believe Clara. I have worked with Blue. I can’t communicate with animals the way Clara does, but I have bonded strongly with Blue, and I know he is incapable of intentionally harming anyone, let alone a person he has been trained to help. You must believe Clara!”

“Clara, is there any proof you can offer of your ability?” Didi was still recording the conversation.

Clara lifted her hands, palms up, and shrugged her shoulders. “I do not know what evidence I can offer as proof. As none of you can know what goes on in an animal’s mind, how can I prove that I can?”

“You can’t.” Arthur sneered again. “And I refuse to believe some fairytale you have concocted.”

Colton persisted. “I believe you, Clara. You’ve told us of events that day that Arthur did not witness, so he does not believe you. Can you tell us anything about that day that Arthur would have seen?”

Clara wrinkled her brow and rubbed her jaw. Suddenly, she brightened. “Yes, I believe there is! I know what Andrew was wearing.”Andrew

Arthur scoffed, but Clara turned to him with a look of confidence. “Your nephew was wearing a red, short-sleeved pull-over shirt, crisp, dark blue jeans, and a pair of badly scuffed brown Western boots. His short, black hair barely peeked out from under a tan cowboy hat adorned with a brown, braided hatband.”

Arthur’s jaw dropped. He stared at Clara for what seemed like an eternity before collapsing in a heap on the couch. “There is no way you could know that, unless you were there.”

“Mom?” Colton reached for Anna, who understood. She led her son to the couch and helped him take a seat next to Arthur.

Colton and ArthurThe boy reached out, grasping for Arthur’s hand. “There’s no way Clara could know that, unless she was there . . . or unless she saw it through Blue’s mind, as she said she did. I believe her. I hope you can, too.” Receiving no response from Arthur, Colton pressed on. “I know Blue is innocent. He is gentle, and he is dedicated to helping me, as he was dedicated to helping his last owner, Casey, before me, and your nephew, Andrew, before her.”

Arthur looked at the boy, then at each of us. He heaved a shuddering sigh and closed his eyes against the tears that gathered in the corners of his eyes. Finally, he rose. “I guess I have no choice but to believe. I’m sorry, Colton, that my grief turned to hatred and rage. Your pony is safe from me now. I hope you have many years of happiness with him.”

He turned and left, and a few moments later, we heard his car heading down the driveway to the road.

“Well, I guess I can take those pictures of you and Blue now, Colton.” Didi smiled. “I have quite an article to write now!”Didi about to take pix of Colton and Blue

 

We hope you have enjoyed the multi-week mystery tale surrounding our friend, Colton, and his therapy pony, Blue. Be sure to return each week to see what my band of displaced characters and our friends are up to. We’ll leave the porch light on for you!

Arthur’s Allegation – (The Interview, part 5)

Arthur’s Allegation – (The Interview, part 5)

“Please tell me he’s lying.” Colton sobbed.

Colton crying

Arthur, angry faceClara and ColtonArthur’s face contorted with anger, but Clara didn’t flinch. She kept her hand on Colton’s shoulder and continued glaring at Arthur as she repeated what she had said to Colton. “Arthur is not lying, Colton, but he is mistaken. Blue did not kill anyone.”

“Are you sure, Clara?” Tears streamed down the boy’s face.

“I am positive.” Clara’s voice was firm.

Arthur scoffed. “You cannot possibly know what happened. I tell you, that animal is a killer!” He turned to the boy’s mother. “You must believe me! You don’t want that beast anywhere near your son!”

Arthur and AnnaAnna moved forward and stared at Arthur, her eyes narrowed and her mouth in a tight line. When she spoke, it was through clenched teeth. “You’re upsetting my son again! Let Clara tell us what she knows.”

Arthur shook his head defiantly. “Whatever she has to say, she is wrong. She cannot possibly know what happened.”

“I assure you I know exactly what happened,” Clara stated calmly.Colton crying

“Tell us, Clara. Prove to that man that Blue isn’t a killer!” Colton’s face was streaked with tears, and his voice cracked with emotion. Anna embraced her son as Clara moved to stand toe to toe with Arthur.

I stepped between them, frowning. “I have a better idea. Let’s hear what Arthur has to say first. Then Clara, you can explain how he is mistaken.”

“I am not mistaken!” Arthur glared at us, and his voice was close to a growl.

I refused to be intimidated. “Okay, then tell us . . . calmly . . . what happened. Why do you insist Blue killed your nephew?”

Beet red and narrow-eyed, Arthur started yelling. I held up a hand. “I said calmly.”

Didi taping ArthurIt took the man a few minutes to get regain his self-control. Finally, he shuddered, went back to the couch and flopped down, shoulders slumped and eyes averted. Slowly, he began. I saw Didi move closer with her tape recorder.

“My nephew had been diagnosed in infancy with Cerebral Palsy. It was not a severe case, but my nephew appeared to worsen as he reached school-age, even though CP is not a progressive disease.”

Art - leader - multi-genre (1)Arthur paused, sitting there, wringing his hands and clenching his teeth.Me

As Arthur’s silence stretched to many, long minutes, I spoke. “I’m so sorry.” As much as I disliked the man, I couldn’t help but feel real compassion for his pain.

He looked up, a confused look on his face, as if he had forgotten where he was. He scowled at me. When he continued, his voice was raw with emotion. “One of Andrew’s doctors suggested that equine therapy might help. I told my brother I thought the idea was insane, but he ignored my concerns.”

Andrew and BlueArthur jumped up and started pacing. “Andrew started attending therapy sessions at a facility where he was eventually paired up with one particular pony. The therapists told my brother they felt that Andrew and the pony had bonded well, and that the boy would make more progress if he consistently worked with just one animal. My brother instantly offered to purchase the pony, and the facility agreed. I think it was just a ploy to get all the money they could from my brother. That animal cost a king’s ransom.”

I nodded. “Trained therapy horses are very expensive. That, and the fact that not everyone has their own stable, is why most people who need equine therapy don’t purchase their own horses. They go to a facility that offers equine therapy on horses owned by the facility. That way, too, a trained therapist is always there to work with the client.”

Arthur shrugged. “My brother had a number of horses boarded at a large stable. The stable had several empty stalls, and my brother saw no problem with boarding the pony there, too. He bought the pony and hired a licensed therapist, well trained and experienced in equine therapy, to work with Andrew and the animal.”

“So, what happened?” I furrowed my brow as I studied Arthur for any signs of deception.

Andrew and Blue 2Arthur sighed and took a few moments to collect his thoughts. “Things went well for a while. Andrew adored the animal and actually seemed to be benefiting from his therapeutic riding.” Arthur paused, frowning. “After his therapy session one day, Andrew was supposed to sit in the clubhouse and wait for his father and me. We were riding two of my brother’s horses on the trails. But as Andrew had gotten older, he wanted to do more and more for himself.Andrew The way the police and medical examiner pieced it all together, Andrew managed somehow to get from the clubhouse to the barn all on his own. It was only about a hundred feet away, but that was a huge distance for Andrew with his forearm crutches. The police theorize Andrew entered the pony’s stall and attempted to place a halter and lead on the beast. The pony trampled Andrew, and the boy died of head injuries.” Arthur clenched his fists and his face was full of hate. “I was the one who found Andrew in the stall. That beast was standing over my nephew with Andrew’s blood on his coat and hooves.”

We all gasped.

“How awful for you!” Didi murmured, as she checked to make sure her tape recorder was still running.

Arthur, angry faceArthur’s face contorted with hatred again. “I told my brother to have the animal destroyed, but he wouldn’t listen. I was going to take matters into my own hands, but the stable owner found out. He stopped me and contacted my brother. Later that same week, my brother took the beast to an auction and sold it, without telling me. It has been ten years since Andrew was killed. It has taken me all this time to track down the animal. It must be destroyed before it can harm anyone else.”

“Nooooooo!” Colton wailed.

Colton Noooooo

 

 

Is Blue a killer? Will Arthur find a way to carry out his threat to destroy the animal? Or can Clara convince him of the pony’s innocence? Be sure to come back next week for the conclusion of this adventure. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Arthur Hijacks the Interview

Arthur Hijacks the Interview

angry scream of a ponyRunning to barn

The angry scream of a pony spurred us on as we raced toward the barn. Running inside, Dray, Didi, and I skidded to a halt several feet behind Anna and Arthur.

Clara was in a stall at the back of the barn, trying to calm Blue, who was stomping, kicking, and baring his teeth. Blue’s young, blind master, Colton, was in the aisle, facing in the general direction of his mom and Arthur.

In the barn

DidiArt - leader - multi-genre (2)“But why, mom? I don’t understand! I thought Didi was writing about me and Blue.” Colton’s forehead was furrowed, and his hands were clenched. “Blue doesn’t like Arthur, and I don’t, either. I don’t trust that man.”

“Don’t talk back to your mother.” Arthur narrowed his eyes. “She said I am going to write the article, and that’s that. Now, come inside so I can interview you and your mother.”

“No.” Colton stayed where he was, face red and arms folded across his chest. “You need to leave. You’re upsetting Blue.”

“Colton!” Anna gaped at her son. “Don’t be rude! Now come in the house so Arthur can interview us.”

Colton shook his head and didn’t budge. “I won’t, mom!”

 

ElfClara slipped out of the stall, latching it behind her to keep Blue contained. “It is all right, Colton. We shall all go in.” Although Clara spoke to Colton, she raised an eyebrow in the direction of Dray and me and gave us a slight nod.

Arthur objected. “You’re not wanted or needed here. Anna, the boy, and I will go . . .”

Elf cleric close-up“We must insist, Arthur. We will accompany you into the house and observe the interview.” Dray gave Arthur a withering look.Anna angry with Dray

“Now wait just a minute!” Anna turned and glared at Dray. “How dare you invite yourself into my home?”

“Anna, trust us.” I started to move toward her, but Arthur blocked my way.

Colton spoke up. “Mom, I won’t go in and talk to Arthur unless our friends go with us.”

Anna looked confused. Arthur took her hands in his and started speaking in his most beguiling voice. “Anna. They don’t need to be here. You know I’m right, Anna. Tell them to leave. Tell your son to come with us.”Arthur trying to cajole Anna

Anna stared at Arthur for several long minutes before responding. When she did, her voice was calm. “Of course, Arthur. Marge, you and your friends need to leave. Colton, come with me.”

Colton stood his ground. “No, mom. I’m sorry, but I will not go without our friends.”

Finally, seeing no way around it, Arthur threw his hand up in disgust. “All right, then. They can stay. Let’s just get this done.”

Arthur interviewingOnce everyone was settled in the living room, Arthur began. He covered much of the same information Didi had during her interview of Colton and Anna – Colton’s previous pony, how Colton and Anna had acquired Blue, how the pony had performed on the previous day’s trail ride. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/10/27/the-interview/

During the interview, Colton was polite, my companions and I remained quiet, and Anna seemed mollified about our presence. But then, the interview took a curious turn.

“When you discovered the pony you call Blue had been trained as a therapy horse, didn’t you think it peculiar he was so sour and unresponsive?”

John, Casey, and Old BlueColton and Peaches 2Arthur had addressed the question to Anna, but Colton cut her off as he jumped to his pony’s defense. “Blue had just lost his owner. He was in mourning. Of course, he was sour and unresponsive.” The boy’s voice was strained, and his face was red. “I had just lost my first pony, Peaches, and I was just as bad. It took us time to get over our respective losses and begin to work together.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/19/a-good-deal-or-crazy/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/26/an-anxious-day/

Arthur scoffed. “The way the animal acted yesterday and again today – balking, spooking, and running off with you – you have to admit he is not a good animal for someone with a disability.”

Again Arthur had addressed the comment to Anna, but again it was Colton who responded. “If you will remember, sir, it was your presence that caused Blue’s behavior. After you left yesterday, he was the model of a perfect therapy horse on the trail.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/10/06/heading-for-the-trail-ride/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/10/13/a-surprising-situation/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/10/20/will-arthur-be-a-problem/

“That’s true.” Anna looked confused.

Arthur trying to cajole AnnaArthur immediately jumped up, pulled Anna from her seat, and took her hands in his. “Anna. You know I had nothing to do with the pony’s behavior, Anna. He is just not a suitable animal.”

Before Anna could respond, Clara walked over to her and pulled Anna away from Arthur. “Do not listen to this man, Anna. He is a mesmerist.”

“What?” Arthur scoffed, although he turned beet red. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

Dray confronts Arthur“So that is why you cannot influence Colton. He is blind, and a mesmerist must be able to maintain eye contact with his subject.” Dray narrowed her eyes.

Anna looked confused. “I don’t understand what’s going on here.”

Clara raised an eyebrow at me questioningly, and I nodded. She turned to face Arthur. “Would you care to explain your purpose here, Arthur, or shall I?”

Arthur all but snarled as he answered her. “I don’t know what you think you know, but my only purpose here is to get a story.”

Clara confronts Arthur“I think not.” Clara stood her ground as Arthur glared daggers at her. “You are here because of a past connection with Blue.”

Arthur’s eyes flew wide and he looked as if Clara had slapped him. He gaped at her for many long minutes, his labored breath coming in jagged gulps. Finally, he calmed himself, and reached for Clara’s hands. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, my dear.” He gave her an ingratiating smile.

Blue with ears pinned backClara snatched her hands away from Arthur. “Oh, but I do, sir. And you will find that in addition to Colton, your hypnotic abilities will work neither on me nor on Dray. So, why not explain your true reason for being here. You may start with Colton’s pony, the one you referred to as the pony you call Blue. If you have no previous connection to the animal, how did you know he used to go by a different name?”

Arthur squirms and stammersI snickered at the sight of Arthur squirming and stammering. I had suspected, when my cleric, Clara, had raised her eyebrow and nodded at me in the barn, she had learned something from Blue.

“Well, Arthur? I’d like to hear an explanation.” Anna frowned at him.

“So would I!” Colton glared in the direction of Arthur’s voice. “What do you know about Blue, and why does your presence upset him so much?”

Colton confronts Arthur

Yes, why does Arthur’s presence upset Blue so much? And what is his real motive for wanting to write this story? Be sure to come back again next week and see if we can get to the bottom of this little mystery. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

The Interview, Part Two

The Interview, Part Two

Colton getting Blue from paddock

Colton was wearing an ear-to-ear grin as he maneuvered confidently across the yard, opened the gate to the paddock, and snapped a lead onto Blue’s halter. “That’s a good boy, Blue. You and I are going to have our picture taken.”

Blue pricked his ears forward, listening to his young master. He bobbed his head up and down and allowed Colton to lead him from the paddock. He waited patiently as the boy turned and closed the gate behind them.Colton leading Blue

Colton started to lead the pony toward us, the two of them easily avoiding some bales of hay and several other obstacles. The boy patted the pony’s neck, and Blue rubbed his face on Colton’s shoulder, nickering softly.

Didi taking picturesI stood with Colton’s mother, Anna, and my companions, Dray and Clara (the alter egos of two of my characters, Dragon and Cleric). We all swelled with pride as we watched Colton, sightless since birth, and his pony, Blue, work faultlessly as a team. The reporter, Didi, snapped photos to go with her human-interest story on the blind boy and his therapy horse.

Suddenly, Blue stopped dead, feet planted firmly. Colton came to an abrupt halt when he reached the end of the lead that attached him to the pony.

AnnaDeja vu“Oh, not again!” Anna started sprinting across the yard as Blue pinned his ears back. The pony turned and trotted across the yard and into the barn, practically dragging Colton along with him.

“What happened?” Didi’s eyebrows shot up as she turned to us.

Where Arthur had lurked before“I’m not sure, but I think we may have uninvited company again.” I motioned to Clara. “You go with Anna and Colton. See if you might help calm the pony.” I gestured to Dray and Didi and led them to the area where Arthur had been found lurking the previous day.

A quick examination of the bushes and surrounding area turned up nothing. I frowned. “I was fairly certain we’d find something here . . . or, rather, someone.”

“You mean Arthur?” Didi raised an eyebrow.Arthur in a tree

I nodded. The three of us continued to look around but found nothing. Suddenly, Dray stopped and looked up, scanning the trees. She pointed to a nearby red elm and turned her head toward me. “Do you see something strange in that tree?”

I nodded. “A rather large nut, if I’m not mistaken.”

Didi giggled, then quickly raised her camera and documented Arthur’s extremely graceless descent. He managed to rip his coat in several places and skin his knuckles. As he dropped to the ground, he glared at Didi. “Put that camera away!”

“Arthur, aren’t you a bit old to be climbing trees?” I folded my arms over my chest and narrowed my eyes. “Just what were you doing up there, anyway?”What are you doing here again

Arthur scowled. He sucked on his raw knuckles, then examined his ripped coat before answering. “I have not abandoned the idea of writing this article. I am quite certain you and Didi will fail miserably at interviewing the boy and his mother and will embarrass yourselves no end. Then perhaps the boy’s mother will allow me to handle this story. I have not only the talent to write it, but also the contacts to place it in a prestigious publication, not merely a local rag.”

I raised an eyebrow. “I thought you said there was no story here.”

Arthur shrugged. “I may have been premature in my assessment. I’ve decided to continue researching.”

Me and ArthurI frowned. “Care to explain why you were conducting your research from the branches of a tree?”

Arthur gave me a look of pure innocence. “I did not want to spook the boy’s pony again. I thought by placing myself above its eye level, I would remain unnoticed.” He snickered. “But I can see that was not the case. Once again, the pony has proven it is not the astounding super-star of the therapy horse world it is reputed to be.”

I shook my head. “If anything, Blue has proven he can recognize danger wherever it lurks and protect Colton from it. Now, I suggest you leave before Anna comes out here and finds you trespassing again. She may call the police this time.”

“I’ll take my chances.” Arthur gave us a smug smile.

Arthur and DrayDray studied Arthur intently. “Why is it so important to you to write this article?”

Arthur looked down his nose and gave her the same look one would give something found stuck to the bottom of one’s shoe. “What business is that of yours?”

Dray narrowed her eyes and glared at Arthur.

I cleared my throat. “Answer her, Arthur.”

Arthur assumed another innocent look. “All right. Who said it is important to me?”

Dray snorted. “Well, you are putting far too much effort into it for it not to be important to you.” She gave him another intent look. “And I really think there is more to it than just wanting Didi and Missy to look bad.”

“Missy?” Arthur furrowed his brow and tilted his head.

“That’s what some of my friends call me.” I waved off further questions. “But let’s stay on topic. I agree with Dray. I think there is more to this.”

“Think what you want.” Arthur’s expression turned hard. “But know this – if I determine there is a good story here, I will be the one to write it, or no one will.”

Dray confronts Arthur“Again I ask – why is it so important to you to write this article?” Dray walked toward Arthur. “And I would suggest being forthcoming in your answer. I will know if you are lying.” Even in her guise of a beautiful and delicate elf maiden, there was something feral, something dragon-like, in Dray’s expression. It did not go unnoticed by Arthur, who gulped and tugged at his collar.

Before he was able to answer, Anna stormed out of the barn and over to where we were standing. She stood practically toe-to-toe with Arthur “Are you trying to cause my son serious injury?”

Anna looked as if she would strike the man, so I stepped between them and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Is Colton okay?”

Arthur and AnnaShe nodded. “No thanks to that man, though.” She pushed me aside and resumed yelling at Arthur. “What were you thinking? You saw yesterday what your presence here did. Why are you here again? Are you purposely trying to upset my son’s therapy horse?”

Arthur sneered. “Some therapy horse! I thought animals trained to work with the blind are supposed to be rock-steady and not spook from anything.”

I laughed. “You know, for someone who wants so badly to write a story on Blue and Colton, you sure aren’t showing the pony much respect.”

“Write a . . .?” Anna gaped at Arthur. “I thought I made it clear someone else is writing the story about my son and his pony.”

Arthur glared at us. “This article is rightfully mine. These two hacks stole my notes. They’re not only untalented, they’re also unethical. They have no business writing this story.”Dray and Arthur

Dray narrowed her eyes, and when she spoke her voice was almost a feral growl. “I do not appreciate you casting aspersions upon my friend. Now, one last time I ask you – why is it so important to you to write this article?”

Arthur ignored Dray and focused all his attention on Colton’s mother, grasping her arms. “Anna.” His addressed her in his smarmiest voice. “Anna, you know I’m right. You know I should be the one to write this story.”Arthur speaks to Anna

Anna stared at Arthur. Several emotions flickered across her face – anger, fear, confusion, and finally a calm acceptance. “Of course, Arthur. You will write this story. Come, you need to interview Colton.”

Didi, Dray, and I gaped at the departing figures as Anna led a smug Arthur toward the barn.

“What just happened?” I scratched my head.

 

Running to barnangry scream of a pony“I am not sure, but I think we need to follow them. Clara is still in the barn.” Dray took off after Anna and Arthur at a dead run. I grabbed Didi’s hand and followed. Halfway across the yard, we heard the angry scream of a pony.

 

 

What is happening? Why did Anna suddenly agree to Arthur writing the article? And what has Blue so upset? Be sure to come back next week and find out. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Will Arthur be a Problem?

Will Arthur be a Problem?

Arthur extracting himself from bushesI don’t know how he managed it, but Arthur succeeded in extracting himself from the shrubbery with no sign of embarrassment. He did not blush, he did not lower his eyes, he did not sweat or slump or shuffle his feet. In fact, he looked rather arrogant. His brown eyes narrowed behind his dark-framed glasses, and his mustache and goatee didn’t quite hide the smug smile that pulled at his mouth. He brushed off his threadbare suit with an air of impatience and looked down his nose at the assembled group gawking at him. Not exactly the actions I would expect from a grown man found lurking in the foliage.

“I asked what you’re doing hiding in a clump of bushes, Arthur.” I glared at the man.

“So you did.” His tone was dismissive, and he continued brushing off his jacket and slacks.

“Well?” I crossed my arms over my chest and raised one eyebrow.

Arthur ignored me.

annaArt - leader - multi-genre (2)“Who is this man?” Anna stepped toward us.

“This is Arthur, a journalist and author who runs the writer’s group Lost in the Words.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/09/01/still-searching-for-answers/

Anna placed her hands on her hips and gave Arthur the once-over. “So, what is he doing on my property, uninvited, and why is he lurking in the bushes, scaring my son’s pony?” Her voice was harsh, and her face hard.

“I don’t know, Anna.” We both continued to glare at the intruder. “Care to explain, Arthur?”

The man shrugged. “I am exercising due diligence.”

Rocky confronting ArthurMy characters, who had been edging closer and forming a semi-circle around Arthur, Anna, and me, snorted at the man’s explanation. Rocky moved forward, standing toe-to-toe with Arthur. “And just what is that supposed to mean? You almost caused Anna’s son, Colton, a serious injury by spooking his pony.”

“Yes.” Arthur snickered. “The pony is rather flighty for a therapy animal, one supposedly well-trained to work with the blind.”

“You seem to know an awful lot about my son’s pony.” Anna pushed past Rocky to confront Arthur. She was visibly struggling to keep her temper under control.

“Yes, I do. And now I know everything I need to know.” Arthur started to turn away, but my characters blocked his path.

I cleared my throat. “From the beginning, Arthur?” I worded it as a request, but I was sure my expression left no doubt it was a command.

Art - leader - multi-genre (1)Colton and BlueArthur sighed. “Very well. I was alerted to the possibility of a wonderful human-interest story. A boy, blind from birth, had a therapy pony who was so well trained to work with the blind, the boy was able to ride him on the trails all by himself with no chance of danger.”

newspaperArthur paused and studied his fingernails for several moments before continuing, a sour look on his face. “I have been tipped off before to possible story ideas. When I was younger and less experienced, I would go right to the subject and tell them I wanted to do a story. Half-way through an interview, I would realize there was no story. But people get angry after you’ve told them you are going to write a feature article about them in their local paper, but then you have to tell them they are not worth a story.”

He paused, looking down his nose at us. “So, I started to research more carefully, to verify the facts I was given before approaching potential subjects. Most times, I found the tips I had been given were baseless.”

Arthur pointed at Colton and Blue. “Case in point. I was told your son and his pony would make for wonderful copy. So, I decided to observe them, to see if the pony was as great as I had been told. And, of course, it’s not.”

“He is too!” Colton’s face was red, and his hands were balled into fists. “And there’s already a journalist who’s going to write a story about Blue and me.”

“Oh?” Suddenly, Arthur didn’t look so smug.

“Yes.” Anna nodded. “Someone contacted me yesterday. She said she was a friend of yours, Marge, so I figured you had told her about Colton and Blue.”

I shook my head. “I never mentioned them to anyone. What’s this journalist’s name?”

Anna’s brow furrowed, and she rubbed her chin. “Didi something-or-other. I can’t remember her last name.”

What?” Arthur guffawed, sounding like a braying donkey. “Didi? That hack? She can’t put two words together and have them make sense.”

Anna frowned and started rubbing her forehead. “Marge?”

Didi 2Backyard 050I reluctantly started to agree with Arthur, but then I saw Colton’s face crumple. I sighed. “I do know a writer named Didi. She’s a member of Lost in the Words. I never told her about Colton and Blue, but if you’ve agreed to let her write a story about them, I’ll help her.”

“That pathetic little sneak probably saw my notes and decided to scoop me.” Arthur was so angry he was almost spitting as he whirled to confront me. “And if she gave you as a reference, you were probably in on it with her! Two hacks trying to steal my story! Well, I get the last laugh! There is no story here!”

I shook my head. “I didn’t try to steal anyone’s story, Arthur, but I have news for you. The laugh’s on you. There’s a whale of a story here, and I’ll make sure Didi gets it all – every single column inch of it.”

I continued smirking until Arthur narrowed his eyes and took a step toward me. He lowered his voice to a near-feral growl. “You’ll regret this!”

I blanched and my blood ran cold as I remembered Crawford’s warning. “You know, you’ve made a powerful enemy in Arthur.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/09/08/still-looking-for-answers/

I gulped as I watched the writer turn on his heel, push past my characters, and storm off toward the road.

Blue calmed downOnce Arthur was gone, Blue settled down. Anna still wanted to cancel the ride, but Colton begged so hard, she capitulated. “But you must promise to keep Blue in the middle of the group, where other riders can help you if you get into trouble.”

“I promise, mom, but I just know Blue and I will be fine.”

Tor and Centaur

Various terrains for the ridewildlife on the trailMy Foreman, Tor, led off on his ebony stallion, Centaur, setting an easy pace. The trail wound through a variety of terrains. We rode through woods and past farm fields, through an outcropping of rocks, along the banks of a large lake, and across a shallow stream. Blue was nothing short of amazing, deftly taking his young, blind rider around all obstacles and never once shying at any of the birds and wildlife that popped up along the trail. Soon, Colton and Rocky were competing again to see who could identify the most birds.

“That’s four for me, and only three for you.” Colton laughed.

“Four? What four? You got two.” Rocky was laughing, too.

“Oh, no! I got four.” Colton was adamant. “I heard the cheer-cheer-cheer-purty-purty-purty of a Northern Cardinal back by Mr. Mulligan’s fence.”

Northern Cardinal - male (2)

“Okay, I will give you that one. It was a beautiful male. But I got a female Northern Cardinal along the outcropping of rocks further along the trail. So that’s one apiece.” Rocky sounded smug.

Northern Cardinal - female

Colton nodded. “Then in that same spot where you saw the female cardinal, I heard the feee-beee and the chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee of some Black-capped Chickadees. And I heard the Ol’-Sam-Peabody-Peabody-Peabody of a White-throated Sparrow there, too.”

“Okay, but that is still only three.” Rocky grinned.

Colton held up four fingers. “I also heard the eh-eh-eh of some White-breasted nuthatches there, making four for me. There were a lot of birds on that area. You said it looked like someone had thrown some bird seed and cracked corn on the rocks there.”

“Yes, I saw Dark-eyed Juncos and a Fox Sparrow eating there.”

Colton grinned. “Yup. Three for you, four for me.”

“I think you are cheating.” Rocky laughed. “I think Blue is telling you where the birds are hiding.”

Colton scoffed. “You’ve forgotten to listen. You’re only using your eyes, and a lot of times the birds are hidden.” Suddenly, a huge smile split his face as he pointed toward the lake we were riding past. “Do you hear that bird? Sort of like ohhh-OHH, ohhh-OHH? That sounds like a Trumpeter Swan. That’s five for me!”

Trumpeter Swans

Rocky looked over toward the sound. “Yes, there is a pair of swans there. But I also see some Wood Ducks and Pied-billed Grebes. So, we’re tied again, five apiece.”

“But I hear the honking of Canada Geese and the quacking of Mallards. Seven to five!” Colton laughed again.

Looking around as the trail veered away from the water, Rocky cried out in triumph. “A pair of American Goldfinches and an Eastern Meadowlark! We are tied again!”

Colton shook his head. “Sorry, but I hear the cheer-up, cheer-a-lee, cheer-ee-o of an American Robin in the tree. I’m ahead by one.”

American Robin

“There are some White-crowned Sparrows in the underbrush and on the ground. Tied again.” Rocky laughed.

“I hear something chattering.” Colton listened intently. “But I guess I can’t count a Red Squirrel, can I?”

Red Squirrel

“Nope. The contest remains a tie.” Rocky sounded smug.

By the time we had returned to Anna’s farm at the end of the ride, the score was still tied, and between them, the two boys had racked up an impressive total of 30 species.

barbecueIt took a while to unsaddle all the horses, water them, groom them, and turn them out to graze in the paddock, then wipe down our saddles and put all our saddle blankets on racks to dry from the horses’ sweat. My characters and I took care of Anna’s mount, Rosie, so Anna could start the barbecue. By the time we were done, the tantalizing smell of grilling dinner was causing our stomachs to rumble and our mouths to water.

picnic tableClara sat next to me at the picnic table. She smiled as we talked about the ride. “Blue is a superb successor to Peaches, or Mystery, as we knew her. Colton was listening for birds and talking to Rocky while depending on Blue to carry him safely along the trail, just like Mystery used to.”

I nodded and raised an eyebrow. “Well, Mystery did tell you where to find a new pony for Colton.”

Clara, my cleric, smiled at the memory. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/a-new-mystery/

Blue calmed downSoon Anna joined us. “What do you two think?” She nodded toward her son. “Didn’t Colton and Blue do great on the ride today?”

Clara and I nodded.

I grinned at Anna as she refilled our glasses with sweet tea. “I don’t think you could have found a better pony for Colton if you had cloned Peaches.”

“You will make sure this girl, Didi, does a good job on the article, won’t you?” Anna furrowed her brow. “If any of Colton’s classmates read it, I want Colton to be proud of the article.”

“Do you have Didi’s phone number?”

business card“I’ll give you her business card before you leave.”

“Then I’ll call her tomorrow and let her know I’ll help her with this.” I gave Anna a reassuring smile, and she returned it warmly.

The barbecue was a big hit. We were all enjoying ourselves so much, no one was in a hurry to go home. By the time my characters and I saddled up again and headed for home, we were all very full, very tired, but very happy.

Elf cleric close-up

Appaloosa for me 2“I saw Anna give you one of Didi’s business cards.” Dray was riding alongside me. “Are you really going to help her with the article?”

“You don’t think I should?” I frowned.

“I think there is more to Arthur than meets the eye, and I do not think he will like you helping Didi.”

“You may be right, but I’ve already promised Anna and Colton. So, I’ll deal with Arthur if the need arises.”

We will deal with Arthur . . . when the need arises.” Dray smiled a wicked smile.

What does Dragon, aka Dray, sense about Arthur? Will the need really arise to deal with him? Will I need Dragon’s help? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.