Fun and Mayhem With the Neighbors

Fun and Mayhem With the Neighbors

gazebo for blogI was sitting on a very soft cushion I had placed on a hard plastic lawn chair in a shady corner of the gazebo. I was five weeks into what should have been a two week recuperation following a minor surgical procedure. It had been less than a week that I could sit comfortably.camera for blog

I had brought my camera with me, as I had hoped to engage in a little backyard nature photography, but it remained untouched on the table. Instead, I was being entertained by three of my characters.

 

My Foreman, my Young Hero, and my Gypsy were schooling their horses in the back of the yard. These were illusory horses provided by their companion, Dragon, who had also cast a spell of concealment to keep the neighbors from noticing the goings-on. I watched as the three expert riders walked, trotted, and cantered their mounts on the flat, then over a cavaletti, after which they performed diagonals and figure-eights and flying lead changes. Then my Foreman, mounted on his spirited black stallion, demonstrated a piaff, a passage, and a pirouette, followed by a half-pass directly to the gazebo, and a low, courtly bow to me. I applauded and smiled my appreciation of the skill of horse and rider. It was fun to watch. Or it was until I almost fell off my chair.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dragon, in her guise of an elf maiden, stepping out of the house onto the deck. She was wearing an enormous smile, and she was escorting two people. The man was sporting glasses and a neatly trimmed goatee, and was dressed casually in well-worn blue jeans and a black hoodie. The woman, in a matching outfit, had sandy blond tresses framing an open face. I recognized them as our neighbors, Mace and Gloria, who had moved into a house down the street earlier this year. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/meeting-the-neighbors/

Elf clericneighborneighbor-2I felt my heart leap into my throat as Dragon led the visitors down the steps and right toward me.

Oh, no! Not them! Not now! What is Dragon thinking? What is Mace going to say about the horses being here again? How can I explain this?

I tried to rise to greet the visitors, but my legs felt like rubber. Gloria reached out and grabbed me before I fell flat on my face, and she eased me back into the chair. “Oh, please don’t get up! Mace and I heard from one of our other neighbors that you were recovering from surgery. We just dropped by to see how you were doing.”

“Well, I’m coming along slowly.” I tried to smile, but my eyes were darting all over the yard.

Where are they?

ShedOut of the corner of my eye, I saw my Foreman swing down from the saddle and quietly lead his horse away. He and the others led their mounts back to the shed to unsaddle and groom them. My heart was racing, my palms were sweaty, and I’m sure every bit of color must have drained from my face, but Gloria and Mace didn’t seem to notice anything.

“Gloria brought a lovely casserole! I put it in the refrigerator.” Dragon moved some chairs closer to the table and motioned for Mace and his wife to sit.

“Thank you, Gloria! That is so thoughtful!”

I hope my face doesn’t break from forcing this smile.

“I would have made more if I had known your out-of-town relatives were staying with you again. I hadn’t seen anyone around lately, so I only made enough for you and your husband.”

“Oh, well, that’s okay. I mean, how could you know? They haven’t been outside much. They came to help take care of me, after the surgery.”

Good lord, I must sound like a blithering nincompoop!

But Mace and Gloria didn’t seem to be listening. “Hey, what’s that?”

“What? Where?” I almost gave myself a bad case of whiplash, checking the yard for errant characters.

binoculars and field guide“That bird there.” Mace pointed to something perched atop one of the shepherd’s staff poles holding a bird feeder. Immediately, Gloria grabbed a pair of binoculars from her pocket and strained to see the little bird, as Mace pulled a small field guide from his pocket.

“Oh, Mace and Gloria are birdwatchers! Isn’t that nice?” Dragon smiled broadly. “Mis . . .”

No! Don’t say Mistress Writer!

“Missy and her husband love bird watching. In fact, she’s been taking pictures of the birds here in the yard today.” She gestured toward the camera sitting on the table.

Mace frowned. “Missy? I thought your name was Marge.”

“Oh, that’s just a little pet name we have for her.” Dragon smiled and winked, and I sighed and tried not to collapse with relief.

Gloria lowered her binoculars. “You’re a birdwatcher, too?”

I nodded, and swallowed hard, trying to find my voice.

“Well, maybe you can help us, then. Mace and I are just beginners, and we don’t know all the different birds yet.”

“Ah, ahem . . . er, sure. Well, that little bird is a Black-capped Chickadee.” I gestured toward the small black and white creature who was still eyeing us from atop the pole.Backyard 078

Mace cocked his head and furrowed his brow. “Are you sure? It doesn’t look like a chickadee to me. Aren’t chickadees . . . well . . . smoother, sleeker?” He paged through his book.

“Yes, I’m sure. But you’re right – most are sleeker. This one has an abnormality of the feathers on its belly – it looks like it’s having a bad feather day. Here, I took a picture of this bird earlier this week. I’ll zoom it in and you can get a closer look at it.” I took a few minutes to find the photo, then passed the camera to Mace and Gloria.

“Hmmm…strange looking.” They compared the photo to the one in the book.

I took the camera again, and searched for another photo. “Here. Here’s a normal chickadee.”Backyard 039

They looked at that, then at the book. “Now this one looks just like the one in the book.”

“Field guides are great, but you have to remember that not every bird is a text-book example of its species. If you look at these two photos carefully, you can see they are the same species.”

They painstakingly compared the photos of the two birds, as I pointed out the field marks – the black cap and bib, and the white cheeks, the long, narrow tail and the small, the thick bill – then they nodded.

Gloria saw some movement in a nearby tree, and picked up her binoculars again. “Is that a Baltimore Oriole?”Backyard 008

I looked at the bird Gloria was pointing to and nodded. “And there’s another one.” I pointed to one who had taken over the chickadee’s perch.Backyard 051

“Cool!” Mace took a notebook from his pocket, pushed up his glasses, and started writing. “Lifelist. The chickadee and the oriole are only our tenth and eleventh birds.” He sounded sheepish.

I smiled, and spent the next half hour helping Mace and Gloria add to their brand-new lifelist.

“There’s a male American Goldfinch . . . and there’s the female.”

“There’s a Gray Catbird . . . and there’s a Common Grackle.”

“Oh, look!” Gloria pointed to the tree stump in the back of the yard. “There’s one I know – a Red-winged Blackbird!”

“Yup, that’s an adult male, displaying for the female, who’s over there on the fence.”

“She doesn’t look anything like the male!” Mace looked wide-eyed at the bird, then continued jotting down the names of the birds they were seeing.

Gloria had her binoculars up again. “What is that one? The one on the fence, with al the speckles?”

“That’s a fledgling American Robin, and there is the adult, on the edge of the birdbath.”

“Fledgling?” Mace wrinkled his brow.

“A young bird, already out of the nest, but not yet self-sufficient. The adults still feed and protect the fledglings.”

“It doesn’t look much like the adult!” Mace studied it carefully.

“No, it doesn’t. You’ll find that to be true of a lot of birds. It can make identifying a nestling or a fledgling very difficult. Even some sub-adult birds. Some birds, like Bald Eagles and certain gulls, for example, don’t get their full adult colors for years.”

Gloria and Mace looked impressed by this avian trivia.

Just then, I yelped as my Old Dwarf raced past the gazebo, brandishing an axe, chasing a rabbit. “I be gittin’ ye this time, ye ornery little beastie, ye jest see iffin I do na! Thet be the lastest time ye be getting’ in Mistress Writer’s carrot patch!”

Not now! Not now!

I almost fainted, but our visitors didn’t seem to find anything untoward as my Old Dwarf continued to chase the rabbit all around the yard, hollering and cussing up a storm.

“That’s a pretty lively pair of rabbits.” Mace nodded toward the rabbit and the dwarf.

“We’ve had a problem with rabbits eating the vegetables in our garden.” Gloria flipped her hair out of her face. “We found a few commercial products that work well to keep them away from the plants without harming the animals.” The rabbit raced past the gazebo again, my Old Dwarf in hot pursuit. “I can recommend some, if you’d like.”

I nodded dumbly.

What I’d really like is something to keep my characters out of trouble, thankyouverymuch!

“Oh, hello! I did not know we had guests.”

I give up!

Gloria and Mace were gaping as Cleric walked down the steps and joined us on the gazebo. They looked at Cleric, then Dragon, then Cleric again.

“Oh, you haven’t met my sister, have you?” Dragon was smiling and her eyes were twinkling as she gestured toward Cleric. “She’s quite a bit younger than me, but everyone says we look like twins. Sis, these are Mace and Gloria. They live down the street.”

“How nice to make your acquaintance.” Cleric bobbed a little curtsey.

“Charmed.” Mace spoke in a flat voice and gave Cleric a look as if he were trying to figure out what planet she was from.

“Oh, my! I do believe that rabbit is leading the Old Dwarf a merry chase.” Cleric giggled as the old reprobate ran by, still brandishing his axe and cursing a blue streak.

“Old Dwarf?” Gloria frowned and tilted her head.

“Oh, we give some of the creatures here little nicknames.” Dragon winked.

Is this nightmare over yet?

“Oh, look!” This time it was Mace pointing. “What is that?”

With great trepidation, I followed his gaze, then sighed with relief that it wasn’t another of my characters. “That’s a female Wood Duck. There’s the male, over there.”

My relief was short-lived.

“There you are!” The imperious voice announced the presence of my Arrogant One. I turned around and saw him headed for the gazebo. I felt the color drain from my face.arrogant-one

No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Oh, by all that’s holy, how do I explain this one?

“Mace, Gloria, can I get you something to drink?” Dragon seemed as oblivious to the presence of the annoying elf as were my neighbors.

“Oh, no, thanks. We should really be going. Marge is looking a bit pale. I hope our visit hasn’t been too much for you today.” Gloria was looking at me with concern.

“Oh, not at all. It’s been fun! Thanks again for the casserole. I’ll return the dish as soon as I can.” I smiled weakly.

My Arrogant One pushed past Dragon and Cleric and stood in front of me, glowering, his hands on his hips. “I can not tolerate horses in the shed! The Bounty Hunter and I use the shed loft as our refuge, and the others know it. They put those noisy, filthy, smelly animals in there to spite me! I demand you have them removed this instant!”

Dragon shoved him aside under the pretext of moving some chairs aside.

Mace and Gloria stood up. “Thanks for sharing your expertise today. We added some new birds to our lifelist, and we learned that not every bird will look like the picture in the field guide.” Mace tucked his list and his book back in his pocket.

“We really need to do this again.” Gloria smiled brightly.

“Are you even listening to me?” My Arrogant One’s voice rose in octave so high, I expected to hear all the neighborhood dogs start to howl.

I smiled at Gloria. “I’d really like that.”

Oh, how I lie!

“We’ll see our guests out. You should just stay here and relax.” Dragon gave me a broad grin and a wink as our two neighbors followed her and Cleric. I waved as they disappeared around the corner of the house.

My Arrogant One, his face as red as a beet, continued to screech at me, and my Old Dwarf raced past once more, turning the air blue with his language as the rabbit continued to taunt him. I saw my Bounty Hunter yelling at my Foreman and the lads as they led their horses out of the shed and turned them loose to graze, and I heard Sorceress slam the door as she came out of the house to investigate the commotion.

Relax? I’m going to kill these characters! Or maybe it’s just time to make good my periodic threat to them, and edit them out of my manuscripts and out of my life!

 

I laid my head down and tried to think happy thoughts, thoughts of a time before my characters had fallen out of my manuscripts, thoughts of normalcy.

Backyard 052

 

Be sure to stop by next week and see if any of my characters survive that long. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

 

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Meeting the Neighbors

Meeting the Neighbors

laundry2-for-blogI was downstairs in the laundry room when I heard the doorbell ring. Figuring someone else would get it, I continued sorting my darks and whites, my delicates and permanent press items, my heavy clothes, my towels, and my bedding. After a few moments, I heard the doorbell again, several times in quick succession, followed by a persistent loud rapping on the door. I dropped the laundry and dashed up the stairs, before whoever it was beat the door down.

neighborThere was a young man standing on the front porch sporting glasses and a neatly trimmed goatee. He was dressed casually in well-worn blue jeans and a black hoodie. He looked like one of the roofers who had been going around the neighborhood offering free estimates. As I opened the door, I pointed at the notice hanging beside the door. No soliciting.

The young man frowned. “I’m not selling anything. I’m your new neighbor from down the street.” He sounded annoyed.

“Oh! Well hi, neighbor! Nice to meet you!” I tried to sound chipper.

“Err, hi.” He hesitated. “Ma’am, you do know that this is a residential neighborhood, and it isn’t zoned for livestock, right?”

Unsure of where this was leading, I tried to keep my expression and my voice neutral. “Yes, I know that. I don’t know of anyone in this neighborhood who keeps livestock.”

“Ma’am, there’s a herd of horses in your yard.”

I raised an eyebrow at my new neighbor. “Horses.”

“Yes Ma’am. Horses. A whole herd of them.”

I folded my arms across my chest and leaned against the doorjamb. I gave him a look calculated to give the impression I found the idea preposterous. “A whole herd.”

He hesitated and rubbed his neck. “Well, at least four or five.”

“Ummm, sure.”

Now it was my neighbor’s turn to arch an eyebrow. He stepped aside and pointed. Sure enough, there were horses in my yard. A whole herd of them.horses-in-the-yard-for-blog-2

Before I could react, I heard someone running down the stairs behind me. I turned around and Dragon, in her guise of an elven maiden, joined us. “Oh, I thought I heard the doorbell!” She squeezed past me and smiled brightly at the man on the porch, who was gaping at her delicately pointed ears. “Hello! Have we met?”Elf cleric

“Ummm. No, we haven’t. I’m Mace. Mason. My wife and I just moved in down the street.” He couldn’t stop staring at Dragon’s elf ears.

“Oh, how very nice to meet a new neighbor!” Dragon continued to simper, batting her eyelashes at Mace. Finally, I placed my hands on her shoulders and forcibly moved her aside so I could rejoin the conversation.

“Mace just stopped by to admire our horses.” My voice was strained and I was frowning.

“Horses?” Dragon wrinkled her delicate elven brow and tilted her head. “I did not know we had horses.” She batted her eyelashes several more times.

Mace turned back toward the front yard and started to gesture, but the yard was empty, save a pair of robins checking out their favorite tree. Pushing his glasses up on his nose, he walked to the end of the porch and looked around the corner at the side yard. Then he stepped off the porch and walked to the other side of the house and looked. He removed his glasses and cleaned them on his shirttail. He replaced them on his face, squished his eyebrows together in a frown, and looked again. He scratched his head.horses-all-gone-for-blog

Dragon just stood there, smiling sweetly. I raised my eyebrows at Mace, shook my head and shrugged. He mumbled something that might have been goodbye or it was nice to meet you or I think I’m going crazy; then he wobbled off in a daze.

Dragon and I stayed on the porch as our new neighbor wandered back down the street toward his house. As we watched him go, we noticed him scratching his head several times. At one point, he turned and looked back at our property. We just waved nicely and continued watching until he arrived at his own house and disappeared into his garage. Between clenched teeth, I questioned Dragon. “Where did those horses go? Better yet, where did they come from in the first place?”

dragon facing right

Dragon just giggled. I ushered her inside, where she assumed her true form once again. The large creature stretched and galumphed up the stairs. I followed somewhat more sedately.

My Foreman, my Young Hero and my Gypsy were standing in the living room. All three of them were shuffling around and staring at the floor. They reminded me of three little kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar. I wondered how they were involved in this.

Dragon stretched out on the sofa. I crossed my arms over my chest, frowned and started tapping my foot impatiently. “Now. What about those horses?”

Dragon tittered. “They were very attractive horses, were they not?”

I scowled. I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks, and when I spoke, my voice was several decibels higher than I intended it to be. “It wouldn’t be so funny if that neighbor had taken photos and contacted the authorities. This is a residential neighborhood. We’re not zoned for keeping livestock. Miles and I could receive a summons and have to pay a hefty fine!”

My Foreman stepped forward. “Please, Mistress, do not be cross with Dragon. It was our fault.”

“Oh?”

foremanHe sighed and raked his hand through his hair. “In my world, I was foreman of the most renowned horse breeding farm in the kingdom. The Young Hero’s father owned that farm, and the lad has been around horses since infancy. The Gypsy was likewise born into the world of horses. His clan bred and raised some of the finest examples of horseflesh outside my homeland.”

I nodded. “You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know.”Gypsy

My Gypsy rubbed the back of his neck and stepped forward. “Mistress, you must understand our frustration! We miss our lifestyle. We have an affinity for horses, and their absence has left a great emptiness in our lives and in our hearts.”

Young hero 2My Young Hero looked at me, and continued in a ragged voice. “Dragon saw how much we missed our former lives, and she was just trying to help. She created the illusion of horses so that we might enjoy ourselves, grooming them, working with them, and riding them for a short while.”

I sighed. “I know how hard it has been on all of you since you fell out of my manuscripts and ended up in my world. You have had to adapt to a whole new world, totally foreign to you – new technology, new foods, new modes of dress, new rules and regulations, new everything. And you have done a remarkable job adapting to this situation.”

“We can but try!” Dragon twisted her lips in a sardonic smile.

I glared at her. “Indeed. But some of you need to try harder.”

She raised her eyebrows and looked at me with mock indignation. “Really?”

“Really! No matter the motivation, there can be no horses in the yard – genuine or illusionary.”

My Foreman heaved a big sigh. “Very well, Mistress. No more horses. We certainly do not wish to cause problems for you with your neighbors or with the authorities.”

The lads nodded, and Dragon shrugged.

The next morning, Miles and I were in the kitchen, compiling our weekly shopping list. “Honey, see if there’s a roast in the freezer. I know we have several bags of carrots, and I’d like to make a pot roast for dinner tomorrow night.”

musical notesAs Miles poked through the contents of the freezer, the doorbell rang. I put down the list. “I’ll get it. You keep looking through the freezer.”

 

neighbor-2There was a young woman standing on the front porch, her sandy blond tresses framing an open face. I immediately pegged her as one of the crew who had descended on the neighborhood earlier in the week, selling magazine subscriptions.

As I opened the door, I pointed at the notice hanging beside the door. No soliciting.

The young woman frowned. “I’m not selling anything. I’m your new neighbor from down the street.” She sounded nervous, and her wide-set eyes kept darting about. “I’m Gloria. I believe you met my husband, Mace, yesterday. I’m sorry, he didn’t remember your name.”

I tried to sound enthusiastic. “Well, hi, Gloria! Yes, Mace did stop by yesterday to introduce himself. My name’s Marge.”

I extended my hand, but Gloria just jumped back and looked as if it were a rattlesnake I was proffering.

I sighed and lowered my hand. “So, Gloria, what can I do for you today?”

“Well, to tell you the truth, Mace and I have been watching your house.”

I could feel the vein in my temple start to throb and my jaw tightened. “Oh? I can’t imagine why.”

Gloria tittered nervously. “Well, we’ve noticed a few unusual things here. Yesterday, for example, Mace swore he saw a whole herd of horses in your yard. I wasn’t home, but he told me all about it over dinner last night.”

“Well, I don’t know what Mace saw, but we don’t have any horses here.” I forced a smile.

“Of course, we both realize that now, but there are other concerns.”

“Such as?”

“Well, er, Marge, was it? Well, Marge, this neighborhood is zoned for single-family occupancy. How many families are living here?”

“One. My husband and I are the only residents.” I crossed my fingers behind my back, and hoped Gloria wouldn’t find my answer suspect. She did.

“We’ve seen dozens of people in your yard.”

I gaped at the woman. “Dozens? I don’t think so. We have a few out-of-town guests staying with us, but hardly dozens!”

“So you say.” Her voice had turned from nervous to haughty. She reminded me of my Arrogant One.

I kept a tight leash on my own voice. “Yes, so I say.”

“Well, if Mace and I see more than a few of your guests in the yard, we will be forced to take the matter to the authorities. And if your guests should overstay their welcome, that will be reported as well. After a period of time, you know, they will be assumed to be permanent residents.”

It was a good thing Gloria flounced away before I could react. I think assaulting my new neighbor would be high on the list of things that would land me in trouble with the authorities, right up there with having livestock in a residential zone and harboring close to a dozen characters from a fictional world.

That night after dinner, the elven maiden Dragon sat in the kitchen while Miles and I cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher. I told them about the visit from Gloria.

“Miles, I have already told Dragon and the others they can not be conjuring horses and riding them around where the neighbors can see them. My Foreman and the lads were upset enough about that. How can I tell them now they are to be confined to the house? It will be as if they were locked away in a prison cell.”

Dragon narrowed her eyes and grinned a wicked smile. “I could always roast Mace and Gloria.”

Miles and I glared at Dragon. “There will be no roasting!”

“It would solve the problem.” Dragon raised her eyebrows and shrugged.

I snorted. “You’d have to roast everyone in the entire neighborhood.”

“That is not beyond my capabilities.”

Miles and I shouted at the same time. “No!”

Dragon just shrugged.

I sighed and raked my hand through my hair. “Miles, what am I going to tell all my characters?”

Miles furrowed his brow, rubbed his neck, and opened his mouth to say something, but I cut him off. “They never asked to be dragged into our world, you know. And I don’t think it’s fair to place such unreasonable restrictions on them.”

Miles started to open his mouth again, but I continued. “Honey, what are we going to do? I like living here, and I don’t want any trouble with the neighbors or with the authorities. And how would we explain my characters, anyway?”

Easter 128Miles tenderly placed a hand over my mouth. “If you would just let me get a word in edgewise here, I might have an idea.”

I gently pushed his hand away. “Sorry.”

Miles steered me to the kitchen table and we sat down across from Dragon. “Do you remember when Cleric was kidnapped?”

My eyes widened. “How could I forget?”

“Well, while she and your Old Dwarf were being held in the shed loft, your Arrogant One had cast a spell that prevented anyone from seeing or hearing them.”

A smile spread across my face. “And you think maybe Dragon could cast a similar spell of concealment, so the neighbors can’t see anything in our yard!”

“Exactly!”

We turned toward Dragon, who beamed at us. “Very clever, Master Miles! I do not know why I did not think of that myself!”

I jumped up and planted a kiss on Miles’ forehead. “You’re brilliant!”

The next day, my husband and I watched my Foreman and the lads curry their horses and saddle them. They rode their mounts around the back yard for hours, and even from our seats on the deck, Miles and I could see the huge grins on my characters’ faces. When they were finished riding, they brushed the animals down again, then turned them loose to graze in the yard.horses-in-the-yard-for-blog-2

Several neighbors were in their yards, but not one appeared to see or hear anything. Not one glanced in our direction.

“This was an excellent idea, Master Miles!” My Foreman reached out and clapped him on the back. The lads grinned and nodded their agreement, and we all went back inside.

blue-dragon-2I excused myself and went down to the conference room to congratulate Dragon on the success of her spell. I found her deep in concentration, with the four items from her world on the table in front of her. I stood there watching her, as she placed her hands over each object and intoned an incantation, attempting to discover the location of the magic conduit and whoever created it. I quietly backed out of the room and softly closed the door.

 

 

Be sure to come back and see how Dragon is faring in her quest to unravel this mystery. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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