Just Who Are These Neighbors and What Do They See?

Just Who Are These Neighbors and What Do They See?

Laughing at Dragon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Marisol! Your manners, child!”

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

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

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

“Obsidian?” Bastina prompted her daughter.

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

“Friesian?” Bastina suggested.

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

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

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

“Friesians.” Bastina supplied the word again.

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

Bastina and Marisol see dwarf

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you were chasing a bunny?”

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

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

“Marisol!” Bastina scowled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marisol nodded.

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

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

scaly dragon looking right

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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News

News

telephone1Backyard 050I hung up the phone and hurried out of my office. I went upstairs and stepped through the French doors onto the deck. I squinted and raised a hand to shield my eyes from the bright sun as I scanned the yard. I saw my Foreman, my Young Hero, and my Gypsy exercising their illusory horses, performing complicated maneuvers similar to those my Foreman would have used when he was a commander in the elite King’s Guard in his own world.

Dwarf and hamI looked around the rest of the yard, but didn’t see any of my other characters, so I went back inside. I headed for the kitchen, figuring it was the best place to look for at least one of my characters. Sure enough, my Old Dwarf didn’t disappoint. There he was, rummaging through the refrigerator, looking for a wee snack as he termed the full ham and the two loaves of bread he was appropriating.

“You do know it’s only an hour until lunch, right?” I raised my eyebrow as two jars of pickles, and a gallon each of coleslaw, potato salad, and pasta salad joined the food he had spread out on the kitchen table.

Dwarf and food

“Eh?” The old reprobate’s eyes widened in surprise. “Be it thet late already?” He opened the refrigerator again and snatched a six-pack of root beer. “I be havin’ ta be hurryin’ then, or I will na be done me snack in time ta be eatin’ me lunch.”

I shook my head. I knew better than to argue, so I just changed the subject. “I just saw my Foreman and the lads working their horses, but I can’t find anyone else. Do you know where the rest of the gang is?”

My Old Dwarf slapped a ham sandwich together and took a big bite. He talked around the mouthful of food, spewing crumbs all through his beard. “Yermisserbenookiniscar…”

I held up my hand. “Would you please learn some manners? Not only is that gross, I can’t understand a word you’re saying.”

Miles waving from carThe dwarf swallowed his half-chewed food, almost choking, then washed it down with a full can of soda. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and began again. “I be sayin’ thet yer mister been tookin’ ’is car inta tha place wot be fixin’ it.”

“I know where my husband is. What about everyone else?

“Wale, I been seein’ tha annoyin’ elfie oot in tha front yard earlier. He been prack-tee-sizin’ wit thet camera. His sidekick, yer Bounty Hunter, been wit ’em, but dinna been lookin’ too happy aboot it.” He paused and stroked his grizzled beard. “An’ tha goodly lass been goin’ off early this mornin’ wit tha magic lass an’ tha big beastie. They be gittin’ low on bits an’ bobs fer their spells, an’ be needin’ ta be collectin’ some bo-tan-i-cals.”

 

I nodded, trying not to look disappointed. “Okay, I guess I’ll see everyone at lunch.” I looked pointedly at all the food the dwarf had piled up on the table. “That is, if there’s anything left for lunch!”

ConversationWhen we were all assembled for lunch, I was eager to share some news, but everyone was chattering away. Miles was telling me what repairs the mechanic had made to the car that morning; my Foreman and the lads were discussing equestrian maneuvers; Cleric, Sorceress, and Dragon were cataloging the botanicals and spell components they had collected; and my Arrogant One was crowing to my bored Bounty Hunter about the beautiful photos he had taken in the front yard. Only my Old Dwarf remained unconcerned about the conversations around him, digging into his lunch as if it had been days rather than minutes since his last meal.

On phone with AnnaWhen it looked like everyone was finished, I cleared my throat and announced. “I had a phone call from Anna, if anyone’s interested.”

Everyone looked up and gave me their full attention.

Gypsy“From Anna? Of course, we’re interested!” My Gypsy’s eyes widened with interest.

Elf facing right“Anna called? Oh, I hope there is good news!” Cleric leaned forward to hear.Young Hero close-up

“How are Colton and Blue?” My Young Hero also joined the conversation.

“Well, Anna said after Clara and Rocky visited, Colton made a determined effort to make friends with Blue.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/26/an-anxious-day/

“Did he have any luck?” My Gypsy almost held his breath as he awaited my answer.

I tilted my head and rubbed my jaw with my thumb. “Not at first. But a strange thing happened. Anna made arrangements to take Blue to the facility that trained Peaches, who we knew as Mystery, to have him evaluated. She wanted to make sure Blue had the potential to work with a blind rider before she and Colton invested too much time on the pony . . . and before Colton became attached to Blue.”

“That makes sense.” Cleric nodded. “It would be heart wrenching for Colton if he became attached to the pony and then they found out Blue was not suitable for him.”

I nodded. “While one of the trainers was evaluating Blue, she suddenly had the feeling she knew the pony. Since all their animals are microchipped, it was easy to confirm.”

“Microchipped? What is that?” Sorceress furrowed her brow.

“Yes, I have never heard that word.” My Bounty Hunter leaned in to hear.

microchipMicrochipping a horseI sighed and raked my hand through my hair as I tried to think of a way to explain microchipping to a group of medieval characters. “Well, a microchip is an electronic device about the size of a grain of rice. It is like a computer chip in that it contains information that can be used to identify an animal in case the animal is lost or stolen. The microchip is implanted in an equine’s nuchal ligament, which is just below the base of the mane, halfway between the horse’s poll and withers. Then the information contained on the chip can be read with a scanner.”

“I think I understand.” Sorceress nodded, but she and the others still looked confused.

“It sounds like a simple identify spell.” My Arrogant One looked bored.

The others brightened as they thought they understood now. I considered correcting the elf, but decided it was probably the only explanation they really needed. I shrugged.

“Yes, well anyway, when they scanned Blue’s microchip and checked their records, they found Blue had been trained at their facility many years ago. He had been matched up to a small boy who had Cerebral Palsy.”

John, Casey, and Old Blue“A boy?” My Gypsy frowned. “But John said Blue belonged to his daughter.”

“Yes, but remember John said he purchased the pony at an auction, not from a training facility.” My Young Hero steepled his hands as he spoke, and looked to me for further information.

I nodded. “The people at the training center have no way of knowing what happened to Blue after he left their facility. Sometimes a pony’s rider will outgrow the animal and move on to a larger horse. Sometimes the rider passes away. Sometimes the rider’s financial circumstances change, and they are no longer able to keep the horse. The animals are supposed to be returned to the facility if they are no longer needed, but sometimes, like with Blue, that doesn’t happen.”

My Young Hero raised an eyebrow. “So, when John and his daughter found Blue at an auction, they had no way of knowing he was a trained therapy horse, just what Casey needed. Boy, talk about finding a hidden treasure!”

I agreed. “Yup.”

“So, if Blue is a trained therapy horse, will he be suitable for Colton?” Cleric fidgeted with the belt on her robe.

Colton and Blue in round pen“Anna said the trainers are going to work with Blue and Colton. They already had their first session. The trainers put Blue on a lunge line and took him and Colton into the round pen. With the trainer maintaining control through the lunge line, they let Colton ride the pony. Blue was a perfect gentleman on the lunge line, and he responded to all Colton’s cues, so it might work out.” I smiled. “But the most encouraging thing happened after the session. Colton was helping put Blue back in his stall, and he held out an apple for the pony. Instead of walking away like he’s been doing, Blue took the apple and stood next to Colton while he ate it.”Colton giving Blue an apple

“That’s a big step! I bet Colton’s happy.” My Gypsy wore an ear-to-ear smile.

I furrowed my brow. “Well, it’s a good first step, and maybe Blue will come around in time, but Anna said Colton still needs time to work through his own feelings. He still misses Peaches and he feels guilty trying to make friends with Blue. He’s doing it mostly because of what you told him.” I directed my remarks to my Gypsy. “Anna said you made a big impression on Colton when you explained how much Blue misses his former owner, and how depressed the pony is. Colton’s doing his best to put his own feelings aside and help Blue. Anna said her son told her I have you and my relatives and friends to help me with the loss I’ve suffered, but Blue only has me.”

“He is a very empathetic child!” Cleric swiped a tear away. “I hope it works out for them.”

I got up and started clearing the table. “Anna said she’ll keep us in the loop, let us know how Colton and Blue make out with their training and their bonding. And she’ll let us know when they come home, if we want to visit.”

“You bet we will!” My Gypsy whooped, and my other characters nodded in agreement.

Be sure to join us again. Maybe the phone will ring, and Anna will share more news about Colton and Blue. In the meantime, maybe we can persuade my Arrogant One to show us the photos he took in the front yard. Or maybe we can discover what is behind his sudden passion for photography.

We’re always glad to have you along for the adventures and misadventures of my little band of displaced characters. And remember – we’ll leave the porch light on for you!

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A Change of Pace

A Change of Pace

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

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

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

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

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

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

My two characters nodded glumly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

“Did everyone get some good shots?”Elf

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

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

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

Gray Catbird (6)

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

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

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

 

“Them be sum udders o mine.”

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

The rotund figure grinned.

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

“Aye!” My Old Dwarf looked pleased.

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

White-tailed Deer (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

American Goldfinch - male (2)

“Wow! Who took this one?”

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

“Great lighting!”

He smiled and bowed.

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

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

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

Yellow-rumped Warbler

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

“Indeed.”

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

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

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

Song Sparrow (3)

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

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

Song Sparrow (4)

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

Chipping Sparrow (3)

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

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

Chipping Sparrow (4)

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

Eastern Bluebird - male

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

Palm Warbler (1)

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

Palm Warbler (2)

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

I brought up the next image.

Garter Snake (7)

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

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

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

Garter Snake (4)

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

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

Turtles (3)

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

Turtles (4)

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

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

Canada Geese (1)

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

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

 

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

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

“I agree!”

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

Flowers (1)

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

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

sorceress-facing-right

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

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

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

Sorceress and Dragon blushed with pride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chucking pillow at Miles

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

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An Anxious Day

An Anxious Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jus’ cure-ee-os-ka-tee.”

“Yeah, well, curiosity killed the cat.”

“Wot cat?”

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

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

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

“Aye, I be rememberin’.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He wouldn’t hear of it.”

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Cleric’s brow furrowed. “Why not?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleric nodded, and Dragon began intoning an incantation.

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

riding up to Colton's

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coping with loss

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

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

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

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

“Colton, I do not lie to my friends.”

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

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

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

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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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A New Mystery?

A New Mystery?

Waking to Cleric

It was the middle of the night. I had been in a deep sleep, but I felt myself drifting toward consciousness. I was aware of being gently shaken, and a soft voice was urging me to wake up. I opened my eyes and Cleric’s face was inches from mine.

I was used to it. My characters routinely woke me from a sound night’s sleep, usually to complain about something I had or had not written about them. Sometimes they woke me with a genuine emergency. From the look on Cleric’s face, I feared this might fall squarely into the latter category.

“Whadisit?” I tried not to mumble, but my brain was still mostly asleep.

“Mistress, can we go into the hall? We need to talk, and I do not wish to disturb Master Miles.”

Miles not happy with being woken up“Too late.” The voice came from the other side of the bed, the annoyance barely muffled by the blankets under which Miles was snuggled. He pushed off the covers and sat up, yawning and grumbling.

Cleric blushed and clasped her hands tightly. “I am so sorry! But I must speak with Mistress Writer! Now! It is of the utmost importance!”

I sighed, knowing from the urgency of her tone resistance would be of no use. “Okay, let me grab my robe. Meet me in the kitchen. We can have some hot chocolate while we talk.”

spillingBy the time I had apologized to my husband, found my robe and pulled it on over my pajamas, and stumbled to the kitchen table, Cleric had two large cups of cocoa ready for us. I reached gratefully for the oversized cup, but before I could take the first sip of the warm, soothing elixir, Cleric grabbed my arm, nearly spilling the hot liquid all over us both. She was bouncing with excitement.

“Mistress, I have been talking with Mystery!”

Mystery 2

I blinked then stared at Cleric, trying to determine if she had gone insane. I extracted my arm from her grasp and gulped my hot chocolate, hoping to get at least some in me, rather than on me. After a long drink, I set my cup back down, looked Cleric square in the eye, and cleared my throat. “Cleric, Mystery is dead.”

https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/04/28/sad-news/

She nodded. “I know that, Mistress.”

“You can’t talk to a dead pony.”

“But I did, Mistress! I had a dream and . . .”

I slammed my hand onto the table. “You woke me up . . . because you had a dream?”

Cleric’s eyes widened, and her jaw dropped. “Well, yes, Mistress.” She grabbed my arm again. “Mystery told me . . .”

I pulled my arm from her grip. “Mystery told you nothing. Ponies don’t talk. Besides, she’s dead. You had a dream. I’m going back to bed. I suggest you do the same.”

Boy_on_a_HorseCleric grabbed my arm yet again. “But Mistress, this is important! Mystery told me where to find another pony for Colton.”

I gaped at Cleric, whose face was the picture of sincerity. “Let me get this straight. A dead pony told you . . . in a dream . . . where to find her replacement?”

Cleric nodded, smiling. She was obviously glad I understood. Trouble was, I didn’t.

I felt like pulling my hair out. Instead, I just raked my hand through my tangled tresses and took a deep breath. “Like I said, the pony told you nothing. Ponies don’t talk, especially dead ponies. You had a dream. I’m going back to bed and I suggest you do the same.”

Pony from dreamI started to rise, but Cleric scoffed and continued as if I was sitting there hanging on her every word. “There is an auction, somewhere nearby, very soon. We need to find where and when it is being held. The pony will be there. Mystery told me we will know it when we see it.”

I shook my head vigorously, then hit it several time with the palm of my hand, trying to get my brain to work properly, because I was sure I couldn’t have heard Cleric correctly. “So . . . you don’t know where this auction will be, when this auction will be, or which pony being sold at this auction is the one that is to be Mystery’s replacement?”

ComputerCleric beamed at me, indicating I had understood her perfectly. “I am sure you can find the auction, Mistress. You can research it on your magic box, your computer. There cannot be that many auctions in the immediate vicinity in the very near future. And when we get there, Mystery assured me we would know which pony Anna must get for Colton.”

I chuckled. “And, assuming we can find this auction, just how am I supposed to convince Anna she must purchase a certain pony, based solely on a dream you had wherein a dead pony communicated with you?”

“Oh, you will figure it out, Mistress. I have faith.” Cleric’s smile was warm and genuine, and I could see the tension leave her body as she assumed I would take care of everything. She was in for a rude awakening.

I have a headache. I’m going back to bed. We’ll look into this possible auction in the morning.” The tension was not leaving my body.

“Oh, Mistress, can we not look into it now? I mean, what if the auction is tomorrow? We need to know about it as soon as possible.”

Realizing my character wouldn’t let me go back to bed until I had searched for this alleged auction, I headed for the stairs and beckoned her follow. Once we were seated more-or-less comfortably in my office, I started searching on the computer.checklist

Two hours later, I was ready to throw in the towel. The closest horse and pony auction I could find was a three-hour drive, but it was not being held until two months from now. The auction being held the soonest, the following weekend, was a ten-hour drive. Not exactly checking off the boxes for immediate future or nearby.

Cleric’s cornflower blue eyes clouded, and she chewed her lower lip. Suddenly, she brightened. “Mistress, is there not some other place on your magic box you can look? What about all those places you call social media? Would not an auction like this be advertised there?”

Sign for auction on computerI gaped at Cleric. It still took me aback when one of my medieval characters understood the workings of our modern world. I nodded and brought up several social media sites. On the third site, there it was. A small, weekly auction, held every Wednesday night, known more by word-of-mouth than a large advertising budget. A wide variety of merchandise was run through the auction each week, from horses and ponies, tack and equine equipment, to toys and household items. This week, the auction touted a special event, with a huge number of ponies to be sold. It was only 30 miles from Anna’s farm.

Should I trust Cleric and invite Anna to attend the auction with us? Will the pony Mystery told Cleric to find be there? If so, will Cleric be able to recognize it? Why don’t you come with us next week and see what happens? We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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