It had been a good couple of days, at least on one front. No creepy feelings of being watched. No catching movement out of the corner of my eye, only to find nothing and nobody there when I turned to look. I think my Bounty Hunter had gotten the message.
I had seen him moping around several times, but when I approached him to say something, he turned, flamed-cheeked, and walked away. I saw him do the same when any of his fellow characters drew near. I guess it’s embarrassing, not to mention rather ego-deflating, for a bounty hunter to find all his super-sleuthing and creeping about was common knowledge, to find he hadn’t managed to sneak up on anyone.
The eyes were a different story. I thought I had seen them a few times. Each time, they were gone before I was sure I had seen them, before I was sure they weren’t just a figment of my overactive and over stressed imagination.
The most recent pair may or may not have just been staring at me from my computer monitor. I squinted at the screen, trying to bring into focus what may have been a fading image of eyes behind the words I had been typing. Was it or wasn’t it? I squinted harder.
I jumped and looked up from my computer to see Cleric poking her head into my office. Her brow was furrowed, and she looked troubled.
I put my computer in sleep mode. “What is it?”
She edged her way into my office and stood there fidgeting with her cincture.
“Well, Mistress, I am not certain, but I think I saw a pair of disembodied eyes watching me from the looking glass in the garderobe.” She fidgeted some more.
“You’re not certain?” I raised an eyebrow.
Cleric blushed and lowered her eyes. “No, Mistress. I had been using very hot water, and the looking glass was steamed up. I am not sure if I saw the eyes, or if it was just a mirage caused by the swirling vapor.”
“I see.” I raked my hand through my hair. “Well, let Dragon know. If there was something there, she will want to examine the area for trace magic. She believes she knows who is behind these apparitions, but she would like to confirm her suspicions before putting her plan in motion.”
Cleric nodded and scurried away.
Before I could get back to my work, my husband, Miles, walked in. I took one look at the murderous expression on his face and sighed. “What have my characters done now?”
Miles scowled. “Well, your Old Dwarf hacked a good-sized hole in the living room wall. It may be more damage than I can fix on my own. We may have to hire someone to repair the wall and repaint it.”
My jaw dropped and my eyes grew as big as saucers. “My Old Dwarf did what?” I waved off my husband’s reply. “Why would he do that?”
“He said something about gittin’ them eyeballs.” Miles continued to scowl. “He thought he saw eyes watching him. I know first-hand how disconcerting that can be, but really! Attacking the wall? You need to talk with him.”
I sighed again. “Yeah, I’ll go find him right now.”
As Miles and I walked down the hall from my office, we heard a commotion in the conference room, so we took a detour to find out what was happening. We found all my characters there, all talking at once.
I had to shout at the top of my voice to get everyone’s attention. “What’s the brouhaha all about?”
Dark smoke emanated from Dragon’s snout. “It seems everywhere we go in this house, there are eyes watching our every move.”
“Yes. I thought I had seen some. Also, Cleric told me she thought she saw some in the steam on the bathroom mirror, and Miles just told me the dwarf tried to attack a pair he saw on the living room wall.”
I glowered at my Old Dwarf, who scuffed one foot back and forth on the floor. “Eh, I be real sorry-like aboot thet, lass. I be fixin’ yer wall fer ye right quick-like, as soon as I be gittin some materials.”
I nodded, then turned back to Dragon. “Have you been able to find any trace that would tell you who is behind the surveillance?”
“Not yet, but neither have I found anything to gainsay my earlier supposition.” Smoke continued to drift from the huge reptile’s nose as she narrowed her eyes and growled. “I believe I should implement my plan.”
I nodded. “You should do it at your earliest convenience.” I started to go but turned back. “Oh, don’t forget the next meeting of Lost in the Words is tomorrow night.”
Dragon nodded and grinned, revealing her terrible dagger-like teeth. “I have not forgotten.”
The following evening, Dragon and I arrived at The Local Coffee Shoppe well in advance of the writers’ club meeting. Dragon was in her preferred guise of Dray, a beautiful elf maiden. Her delicate features, slanted eyes, and slightly pointed ears gave her an exotic look, but she easily passed for a human female and raised no eyebrows from the café patrons. At the counter we ordered our beverages – a spiced tea for Dray, and a hot chocolate for me. Then we made our way to the large alcove where tables and chairs were already set up in anticipation of the meeting.
Crawford and Griff were already there. Griff jumped up to greet Dray and pull out a chair for her next to him. I slid into the seat next to Crawford.
Crawford leaned close to me and spoke in an urgent whisper. “Have you figured anything out yet?”
Crawford and Griff had been with me at the Chris-Tal Clear Metaphysical Store when multiple pairs of eyes appeared all around us. Crawford was the one who suggested we were, in his words, barking up the wrong tree when we suspected our young neighbor, Marisol, to be the perpetrator.
“Well . . .” I sighed and raked my hand through my hair. “We’ve discovered who is not behind the eyes. It’s not Marisol, and it’s not my Arrogant One or any of my other characters who practice magic. Dray believes she knows who is responsible, and she has a plan to deal with the perpetrator.”
Crawford looked questioningly at Dray. “Care to share your plan?”
Dray narrowed her eyes and a smile tugged at her lips. Before she could answer, however, the other members of Lost in the Words joined us.
“Hey, strangers!” Didi slid into the chair next to me, and other members took their places around the table. “I was beginning to think you had fallen off the face of the earth!”
I smiled ruefully at the young journalist and aspiring cozy mystery writer. “Been busy.”
“Say, did you ever figure out that problem you were having with the magic system and that strange character in your WIP?” I recognized the person leaning across the table to talk with me as one of the fantasy writers who had been at the last meeting Dray and I attended. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/09/01/still-searching-for-answers/
“We can discuss works-in-progress at the appropriate time during the meeting.” Arthur, the writers’ club president, cut off the conversation as he took his chair at the head of the table and called the meeting to order. “I see you’re back.” He glowered at me. “If you plan to join our group, you’ll have to apply for membership. We can’t have people just dropping in willy-nilly whenever it suits them. We have an agenda to follow.”
Without waiting for me to reply, Arthur addressed the meeting. “Since everyone here tonight was in attendance last time our two . . . guests . . . intruded on our meeting, there is no need for introductions. Let’s begin.”
Two hours later, four members of the group had read selections from their works in progress. Each in turn got excellent feedback and gentle, constructive criticism from the rest of the group before Arthur wielded his verbal scalpel and viciously shredded their WIPs.
When no one else had a WIP they wanted to share, Arthur turned to me and sneered. “I don’t suppose you have anything worth sharing?” He sneered and waved off my response. “No, of course not. I don’t know why you’re here. This is not a social club.”
Without taking a breath, Arthur launched into the announcements – a few writers’ conferences he was endorsing, a few new releases by MN authors, and several newspaper and magazine articles of interest to the local writing community. Finishing up, he reminded everyone of the date for the next meeting and gave a stern exhortation. “Please spend more time at your craft. Much of what was shared tonight was a waste of our time.”
Crawford rolled his eyes. “Arthur’s just so inspirational, isn’t he? A regular breath of fresh air.” His lips twisted into a sardonic smile.
I laughed, then excused myself. Motioning to Dray to accompany me, I approached Arthur as he wordlessly stuffed his notes back into his battered briefcase.
Looking up at the two of us, Arthur grimaced. “I presume you wish to apply for membership.” He checked his watch. “I have some time now. I could conduct the requisite interviews immediately and save you the need to fill out the application.”
“You’re assuming they won’t meet your standards, Arthur?” Crawford raised an eyebrow at the other man.
“That is a distinct possibility.” Arthur’s expression was as sour as his words. “Come along now. I don’t have all night.”
Dray smiled. If someone knew her as I did, they would have recognized the feral smile as a sign of impending danger. Unfortunately for him, Arthur didn’t recognize it as such.
“We should move to a more private area.” Dray’s smile seemed more menacing as she pointed to a table in the corner that was well away from the other patrons. “I will get us some refills. Arthur, what were you drinking?” She gestured at his empty cup.
I waved to Crawford and Griff and bade them goodbye as Arthur and I made our way to the other table, and Dray went up to the counter to get the refreshments for the three of us.
With no preamble, Arthur demanded, “Why do you want to join Lost in the Words? How do you think our group will benefit you, and how do you plan to bring value to our group?”
Placing his drink and a large apple in front of Arthur, Dray slipped into the chair next to me, facing Arthur. While Arthur’s attention was on me, I saw Dray make a few arcane gestures, and I knew our confrontation with Arthur would go unnoticed by the other patrons.
Impatient, Arthur repeated his question. “I asked you why you want to join Lost in the Words. How do you think our group will benefit you, and how do you plan to bring value to our group?”
“Oh, trust me, Arthur. We can bring a great deal of value to this group.” Dray leaned forward. “And we can bring a great deal to you specifically.”
“What do you mean?” Arthur scowled. “Are you actually trying to gain admission to this group through bribery?”
“No, Arthur. We seek a different sort of admission. The admission we seek is from you, owning up to your recent deeds.” Dray fixed him with a cold stare.
“Wha . . . what do you mean?” Arthur squirmed in his seat, and beads of sweat formed on his forehead.
I cleared my throat. “Arthur, we believe you are behind some recent, unsettling events. Do you care to guess to what I am referring?”
“I . . . I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He reached for his briefcase. “I have no time for such absurdity. Good night!”
But as he tried to push his chair back from the table and leave, he found it stuck fast to the floor.
“Arthur.” Dray spoke in a soothing voice. “You see, Arthur, ceilings, walls, doors, mirrors, and computer monitors are not the only things with eyes, Arthur.” She gestured to the piece of fruit on the table in front of him.
Arthur gaped at the apple, which now sported a pair of eyes.Dray continued, her voice still calm and melodic. “And eyes are not the only features that things can have, Arthur.” She gestured again, and the color drained form Arthur’s face as the apple bared a set of fangs.“Arthur, if a pair of eyes should ever again appear near us, you will find apples are not the only things with teeth. Do you see, Arthur? Do you understand?” Dray pointed to the wall next to Arthur.
Arthur started to hyperventilate as the image of a fanged monster appeared on that wall.
“Do you understand, Arthur?” Dray morphed into her true self and roared at Arthur. The man’s eyes looked as if they would literally pop out of his head, and his jaw almost hit the table as he gaped at the snarling beast.
“Arthur? Do you understand me, Arthur?” Dray spoke softly.
Arthur nodded. He could barely speak. When he finally found his voice, he stammered hoarsely. “How . . . how did you do . . .?” His voice cracked and he trailed off. Licking his lips nervously, he tried again. “How . . . how did you know it was me?”
“Oh, something someone said.” Dray narrowed her eyes and her lips slowly spread in a tight smile.
The color gradually returned to Arthur’s face, his ragged breathing slowed to normal, and he regained his composure. Slowly, his eyes narrowed as he took Dray’s measure. “So, I was right about you. I knew you were more than you appeared to be, you and the rest of your friends.”
“Yes, you were right.” Dray nodded and took a sip of her spiced tea. “You have that knowledge now . . . knowledge that you will neither share nor use in any way.”
Dray shimmered. “Unless you would like to have first-hand knowledge of these teeth.” Dragon flashed a toothy grin at Arthur.
Arthur jumped and rubbed his eyes. He furrowed his brow at Dray, calmly sitting next to me and sipping her tea.
Dray put her cup on the table and raised an eyebrow at Arthur. “Well?”
Arthur nodded. “I see that I have no choice. Your secret will remain undisclosed.”
“Good. Then I think we’re done here.” I smiled.
“But do not forget our applications for membership in Lost in the Words.” Dray’s eyes twinkled as Arthur scowled.
I have a feeling we’ll have no more problems with Arthur. I hope you’ll join us next week and see what’s in store next for my little band of displaced characters. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.