Which Way Did They Go?

Which Way Did They Go?

dragon looking rightDragon looked around cautiously. She stuck her head through the open conference room door and looked, first down the hallway toward Mistress Writer’s office, and then up the stairs toward the front entry. She sniffed the air, then tilted her head and cocked her ears, listening carefully. “I think they are gone.”

Stu-04-NatGalShe turned back to the conference room, where the companions had gathered. Sorceress nodded. “Yes. Mistress Writer and Master Miles left the house about 15 minutes ago. They said they would be gone all day. They told Cleric they are going to spend the day shopping, and then they plan to go to a restaurant and maybe to a movie after that.”

Dragon drew back her lips in a wide, toothy grin. “Good. We may commence.”

* * *

“Hey, Nolan! I thought you said that couple we’re watching left the premises.”

“They did, Johnson, about a half-hour ago.”

“Well, then, who’s that?” The man called Johnson pointed to a car leaving the garage of the property they were watching.

Walkie-talkie“I don’t know! Let me check. Maybe they came back when we were patrolling another area.” Nolan picked up his walkie-talkie. “Hey, Davis, you there? Over.”

The radio crackled, and a scratchy voice replied. “Yeah, I’m here. Who’s this? Over.”

“Davis, this is Nolan, at the stakeout. Are you still tailing that pair in the car? Over.”

“Sure, Nolan. Jakoby and I are right behind them. Why? Over.”

“Well Johnson and I just saw a car leave the garage. It looks the same as the car that left earlier, the one you say you’re following. We thought maybe they came back when we weren’t looking. Over.”

“Don’t know what to tell you. They didn’t return to their house. We’ve been following this car ever since it left your location about a half-hour ago. It’s heading east on 212, and it’s never been out of our sight. Over.”

“Okay. Stay with that car. Don’t lose them. Out.”

Nolan turned back to his partner. “Davis said . . .”

FedJohnson cut him off. “I heard. Contact Pruse and McFadden. They’re at the end of the street. Tell them to tail this new car.”

Nolan contacted the other team and relayed the message.

After a few seconds of silence, a reply crackled through the walkie-talkie. “Nolan, how long ago did you say this car left your location? Over.”

“Maybe five minutes. Why? Over.”

“You putting us on, Nolan? If it left your location five minutes ago, it should have passed us by now. There hasn’t been a car go past since the one Davis and Jakoby are tailing. Now quit trying to be funny! Over and out.”

Miles waving from carBefore Nolan could say anything, he and Johnson saw the garage door open again, and another car leave, identical to the first two. This time, they got a good look at the driver, who smiled and waved as the car drove slowly past them.

Johnson’s jaw dropped. “That’s the guy! That’s the guy we’re supposed to be watching. The one who left here earlier with his wife. The one Davis and Jakoby are tailing.”

Johnson grabbed Nolan’s walkie-talkie. “Davis and Jakoby! Pull that car over! Make sure the occupants are who you think they should be! You hear me? Pull it over! Pruse and McFadden, if a car tries to go past you, stop it!”

* * *

While Johnson and Nolan were trying to make sense of what was going on with the car, Deputies Whitewash and Dawg were patrolling the street east of the stakeout location.

“Whitewash! Look! There’s that crazy old coot with the suit of armor and the axe!”
Dwarf and rabbit
Deputy Whitewash looked in the direction her partner was pointing. She saw the armored dwarf sprinting down the street. He was cussing a blue streak and brandishing an axe at a large rabbit that appeared to be enjoying the chase. Several times, the long-eared critter slowed down and looked over its shoulder, almost appearing to be waiting for the rotund figure who was puffing and panting after it.

As the rabbit led the Old Dwarf closer to the deputies, Whitewash and Dawg heard the dwarf yelling. “I be gittin’ ye this time, ye ornery little beastie, ye jest be seein’ iffin I do na! Thet be tha lastest time ye be getting’ in Mistress Writer’s carrot patch!” He waved the axe wildly over his head.

The two deputies eyed the approaching figure with trepidation. As the dwarf continued chasing the rabbit toward them, they both removed their pistols from their holsters and released the safeties.

“Sir? Sir! Please put down that weapon.” Dawg dropped to one knee and aimed his gun at the dwarf.

“Sir, we don’t want to hurt you, but you must put down that weapon!” Whitewash stood with her feet planted firmly apart and took aim at the approaching figure.

Suddenly, the rabbit and its pursuer made a quick turn and disappeared between two houses. The deputies gave chase.

“Where did they go?” Dawg looked down the side yards separating the houses. Nothing was there.

“They couldn’t have run the length of the houses and gotten to the back yards so quickly!” Whitewash gaped in the direction they had seen the dwarf and the rabbit running.

Dwarf, rabbit, and deputiesSuddenly, they heard a commotion behind them. The rabbit was loping down the side of a house on the opposite side of the street, coming straight toward them. The dwarf was hot on its heels, still cussing and yelling and waving the axe around.

“How did they get over there?” Dawg’s eyes were as big as saucers.

As the two deputies raced toward the dwarf, the rabbit turned right and streaked past several houses before turning again and running between two buildings. The dwarf was still right behind the creature.

“Stop! Stop or we’ll shoot!” Dawg yelled at the back of the departing figure.

When Whitewash and Dawg reached the side yard the dwarf had run down, they saw nothing. Once again, they heard a commotion behind them. They turned and looked just as the rabbit and the dwarf popped out from between two houses on the other side of the street.

Whitewash blanched. “That’s not possible!”

Using their shoulder microphones, Dawg and Whitewash contacted several of the other law enforcement agents who were manning various stakeout locations throughout the neighborhood. Soon, four sheriff’s deputies and six federal agents were chasing the dwarf and the rabbit around the neighborhood.

Dwarf and rabbit 2The dwarf and the rabbit always seemed to disappear between two houses on one side of the street, only to reappear a few seconds later, a little further down the road, running from between two houses on the other side of the street. They kept leading the law enforcement officials further and further down the lane, heading east, away from the house under surveillance.

* * *

Half of the task force was chasing the dwarf heading east, and all but two of the remaining members of the team were at the far western end of the street trying to figure out what was happening with the car that was being tailed, and the other identical cars that Johnson and Nolan swore they had seen leave the garage. Only two agents were still watching the dwelling when Dragon, in her customary elven guise, left the house with Cleric and Sorceress. The agents watched as the three figures crossed the street and hurried to the house of their neighbors, Mace and Gloria.

Dragon tapped on the door, then opened it just wide enough for her and her two companions to slip through. The two agents immediately ran over to the house. One agent crept up onto the porch of the house the three figures had just entered while his partner stayed on the sidewalk and used her walkie-talkie to contact the team leaders. “Johnson? Nolan? Denhurst here. Over.”

The radio crackled. “Nolan here. What’s up, Denhurst? Over.”

“Three of the people from the house we have staked out just left that house and entered the home of our two informants, Mace and Gloria. Over.”

“Stay there. Try to keep them in sight. Mace and Gloria could be in danger. Johnson and I will be right there. Out.”

Moments later, Johnson and Nolan joined the other two agents on the porch of Mace and Gloria’s house. Johnson placed his right index finger over his lips and pointed with his other hand. The front window was open a few inches, just enough to let the agents hear what was going on.

In the living room, Gloria was throwing a hissy fit, screeching and waving her hands around. “What is this? What are you three doing here? How dare you come into my home?”
Confronting Gloria
Dragon narrowed her eyes. “We want to know what is going on, Gloria. We know you are the reason the task force is here, watching us.”

“Get out!” Gloria ran to the window and peeked through the curtains. “Get out now, before you bring them here!”

Sorceress snorted. “And why would you not want them here?”

Gloria’s face contorted into a snarl. “Get out! Get out! You’re going to ruin everything! It was the perfect plan. We convinced the sheriff’s deputies those annoying neighbors, Marge and Miles, and all you people constantly visiting them, are involved in illegal activities. When they saw all of you, particularly that crazy old coot that goes around in the suit of armor and an axe, it was easy to get them to open an investigation. Then, Deputy Dawg called in the feds and they formed a task force. They staked out that house and have you all under surveillance. That way, everyone’s attention is on that house, and nobody notices what Mace and I do. We can’t risk having them come in here and finding . . .”

Gloria’s voice trailed off, and she looked around the room, her eyes wide with fear. She wiped her damp palms on her jeans and sweat poured down her face in rivulets.

“Finding what, Gloria?” Cleric advanced on the woman. “What is it you do not want them to find?”

Just then, Dragon yelped. “I hear someone out front. Come, we must leave. Head for the back door!”

Johnson jumped. “They’re running! Denhurst, you and your partner get to the back of the house and stop them. Nolan, we’ll take the front door.”

Johnson and Nolan waited until Denhurst radioed that she and her partner were in position at the back of the house. Then they drew their weapons and kicked in the front door to Mace and Gloria’s house.

Gloria was just coming down the hallway and into the living room with a hamper of laundry when two federal agents burst through the front door with weapons drawn. Gloria screamed, and dirty socks and wet towels went everywhere.

* * *

neighborNeighbor 2 facing leftLater that afternoon, Mace and Gloria met with federal agents. They threatened to press charges against the members of the task force. Gloria was almost hysterical. “They broke our front door, and they tore our entire house apart! They kept saying over and over and over that the jig was up, that they had heard everything! They claimed that right before they broke in they had seen and heard me talking with three people from my neighbors’ house. They’re wrong! I was alone in the house when they broke in!”

Mace was not much calmer than his wife. “Gloria said they pointed weapons at her! I think they’re all crazy!”

Every member of the task force was brought in to be debriefed by their superiors. Four sheriff’s deputies and six federal agents all claimed they had been chasing a suspect going east through the neighborhood. Deputy Dawg kept babbling about the chase. “It was that crazy old coot in armor. He had an axe, and he was chasing a rabbit. We called to him to stop, to drop his weapon, but he wouldn’t. He just kept chasing the rabbit. They would run between the houses, but then they would disappear and pop out from between the houses on the other side of the street!”

The deputy’s nine colleagues sat there with him, looking dazed. They all kept nodding at Dawg’s account.

Meanwhile, Agents Johnson and Nolan, along with four of their fellow task-force members, were gibbering about a car that kept leaving the garage over and over and over, without ever first re-entering it. And Agent Denhurst and her partner kept blathering about people who had been in a certain house, talking with the owner, and who just disappeared.

Their superiors frowned. One sighed and raked his hand through his hair. “Maybe it’s time for some of these people to be put on leave.”

Another answered, “Maybe it’s time for them to check into a nice, quiet rest home.”

 

* * *

dragon talking

Dragon smiled at her companions. “That was a good day’s work.”
Arrogant One
The Arrogant One nodded. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak in both hands, puffing out his chest with pride. “I told you I was an illusionist extraordinaire.”

“You did a great job with Master Miles and the car!” The Gypsy’s voice held a grudging admiration for the elf.

Cleric chuckled. “And with our little chat with Gloria as well! Do you think Gloria was able to convince the authorities that she never saw us in her house, let alone spoke with us?”

Sorceress smirked. “Serves her right if she cannot!”

The Old Dwarf doubled over with laughter. “An’ tha looks on tha faces o them deputies! I couldna be belivin’ me ownest eyes, as ye been havin’ tha illusion ye been creatin’ o me be chasin’ thet fool rabbit all o’er tha place! Do ye be thinkin’ tha deputies be still tryin’ ta be catchin’ me?”

Dragon smirked. “I do not believe we will have to worry about the deputies or any of the others ever again.”

* * *

Easter 128Backyard 050As Miles pulled the car into the driveway, I commented, “I hope my characters had a nice, quiet day today and didn’t get into any trouble.”

Miles looked at me as if I had grown a second head. “Yeah. Right. Like that would ever happen!”

We both sighed.

So now that my characters have taken care of the intrepid Deputies Whitewash and Dawg and the other members of the task force, what’s next? Be sure to come back next week and see! We’ll leave the porch light on for you!

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Are They Still There?

Are They Still There?

Suits“Are they still out there?”

I was referring to County Sheriff ’s deputies Melody Whitewash and Dustin Dawg, and a slew of federal agents, who had been skulking around the neighborhood for the better part of two weeks. They plainly had our property under surveillance but would not tell us why.
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/10/21/what-have-my-characters-done-now/

making dinnerMy husband, Miles, shrugged. “I’m not sure. They’ve become so much a part of the scenery, I don’t even notice them anymore.” He took the potato peeler and started working on the mountain of spuds. “We better get dinner in the crock pots, so we can go rake the leaves. In the past two weeks, I think every tree and bush has shed every one of their leaves.”

I chuckled. “Yeah. It’s getting harder for the Keystone Kops to find hiding places.”

I took the Santoku knife and began cutting up the rest of the vegetables. “I still don’t know why we are under investigation.”

“Deputy Dawg stated that he didn’t say we are under investigation,” Miles reminded me.

“He also stated that he didn’t say we aren’t.” I frowned. “If it was just him and Deputy Whitewash prowling around the neighborhood, I wouldn’t be too worried. I would figure our nosy neighbors, Mace and Gloria, were behind it, and it would blow over as soon as the deputies couldn’t find any evidence of whatever the busybodies had accused us of this time.”

Miles nodded. “I agree. But with the alphabet soup of federal agencies involved in this alleged taskforce, I tend to think it’s something much more serious, something that’s not going to blow over any time soon.” He finished with his potatoes and started adding them to the slow cookers.

I stopped chopping and brushed the hair out of my eyes. “I’m still worried that it somehow involves my characters. I know they all deny doing anything that would cause us to be under investigation, but I also know you and I haven’t done anything illegal.”

Miles sighed. “And if it isn’t you and me, that only leaves your characters. Whenever there’s trouble, your characters seem to be right in the thick of things.”

Book manuscript“Honey, you know if I could, I’d send them all back into my manuscripts. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to do that. I still don’t understand how they all fell out of my manuscripts and ended up here, so I have no way to reverse the process.”

“I know, sweetheart. I don’t blame you.” My husband reached over and patted my hand.

* * *dragon talking

“I know Mistress Writer and Master Miles blame us for these people, these law enforcement officials, watching this property.” Dragon addressed a gathering of her fellow characters.
bounty-hunter-facing-other-direction
“They may accuse us, but we are blameless.” The Bounty Hunter slouched against the wall of the conference room. He spoke softly and without rancor.

Arrogant One facing rightIn contrast, his compatriot, the Arrogant One, drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak in both hands. When he spoke, it was in an annoying high-pitched screech, a peculiar combination of arrogance and petulance. “They have no right to accuse us of anything. We are entirely innocent of all transgressions.”

foreman-facing-left“We all agree that we have done nothing to validate Mistress Writer’s lack of faith in us in this instance. However, this has not always been the case.” The Foreman narrowed his gray eyes and glared at the Arrogant One. “Some of us have caused Mistress Writer and Master Miles much grief in the past. It is no wonder they do not believe in our innocence.”

sorceress-facing-rightThe Arrogant One turned beet red and opened his mouth to reply, but Sorceress cut him off, holding up her hand like a cop stopping traffic. “This is unproductive. Does it really matter whether Mistress Writer blames us? Does it even matter whether we are innocent? If these law enforcers remain in the area and continue to observe the activities of Mistress Writer and Master Miles, sooner or later they will discover us.”

Dwarf facing right“An’ why would thet be so bad?” The Old Dwarf rubbed his shield with a soft cloth, buffing it to a shiny finish. He smiled as he saw his bearded face staring back at him. Then he stood, picked up his battleaxe, looked at his friends and scoffed. “Wot could tha law enforcers be doin’ ta us iffin they be discoverin’ us, anywho?”
Elf facing right
“I do not fear what they could do to us, but what they would do to Mistress Writer and Master Miles.” Cleric spoke softly, her words catching in her throat, and tears stinging her cornflower blue eyes.

Gypsydagger - bullseyeThe Gypsy nodded. “It would not be pleasant for them, trying to explain who we are and whence we came.” His arm snaked out, and his stiletto flew across the room, scoring a perfect bulls-eye on the target mounted on the far wall. “I propose we do something to rid the area of these intruders.”

Young hero 2The Young Hero’s eyes widened, and his jaw dropped. “Surely you do not propose murder!”

“Of course not!” His friend frowned. “But a few well-placed pokes with a dagger might deter them.”

“No.” The Young Hero shook his head. “Violence will only make them determined to find the perpetrator. They would never leave the area.”

Dragon with smoke“There will be no violence.” Dragon’s tone of voice left no room for debate. “We must employ some other means to get these people to abandon their investigation and leave the area, and we must do it without involving Mistress Writer or Master Miles.”

“I suppose you have a plan?” The annoying elf sounded more like he was accusing the big reptile, rather than asking a question. He stood with his arms folded tightly against his chest, and he tapped his foot impatiently.

“Mayhap.” Dragon’s eyes closed to slits, and dark smoke wafted from her nostrils.

* * *

The brittle brown leaves crunched and crackled underfoot as Miles and I raked them into sizeable piles.

Pretend bird watchers“Yup, they’re still there.” I jerked my thumb toward our neighbor’s yard. Deputies Whitewash and Dawg, along with several men in suits, seemed fascinated by something they had apparently spotted in one of our trees. They all stood there along the property line, focusing their binoculars on the bare tree at the edge of the yard.

“What are they watching?” Miles turned and raised a hand to shade his eyes, so he could scan the tree. Then turned back toward me, lifted his palms and shrugged. “I can’t see anything.”

I grinned. “Don’t be fooled by the phony bird watching act. They only bolted from their hiding places and pointed their binoculars at that tree when they realized we had spotted them watching us again.”

Miles sighed. “This is getting more than a bit annoying. We can’t even rake leaves in our own yard in peace.”

“Maybe we should talk to them again?” I leaned on my rake and inclined my head toward the group. They were in a huddle, whispering and glancing over at us.

Miles snorted. “I doubt it would do any good.”

We continued raking as the men in suits wandered off in groups of two and three. Soon, only the deputies remained.

Deputy Whitewash“Excuse me, ma’am, sir.” Deputy Whitewash waved at us and beckoned us closer.

“What can we do for you, Deputy?” I called to her from my position in the middle of the yard, not taking a single step in her direction.

“My partner and I would be more than happy to assist you with your yard work.” Her smile did nothing to warm her expression; rather, it made her look like a vampire trying to mesmerize its victim.

“Thanks for the offer, but Miles and I can manage.” I hoped my smile didn’t look as contrived as hers.

Miles nudged me and whispered, “Hey, if they want to give us a hand . . .”

I cut him off, shaking my head. “They don’t want to help. They want permission to come onto our property, so they can snoop. And if we let these two on the property, all the others will take it as tacit permission to do the same.”

Miles raised his eyebrows and sighed. “I never thought of that.” He paused, giving me a searching look. “You know, either you have become a lot more cynical lately, or you’ve been reading way too many police procedurals.”

“I laughed and winked. “Both. Now let’s get these leaves raked.”

* * *

dragon looking right“Does everyone understand?” Dragon looked from one character to the next. Each nodded in turn, but Dragon saw reluctance in some faces.

“Some of you do not approve?” Smoke drifted from her nostrils.foreman-facing-left

“It is risky.” The Foreman frowned.

Dragon shook her reptilian head. “There is no risk. The elf and I will be doing most of the work.”Gypsy close-up

The Gypsy snorted. “And therein lies the biggest risk – the elf.”

The others murmured their agreement. Dragon lifted an eyebrow. “Elf, you and I share the most important roles. Are you quite certain you can manage? It must be done with perfect timing.”

Arrogant One facing rightThe Arrogant One drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak in both hands. He looked down his nose at Dragon and the others. “Of course I can manage. I am, after all, an illusionist extraordinaire!”

“Very well. Tonight, you will study the rest of us. You will need to know every detail of our appearance. Tomorrow, we will commence.”

What is Dragon’s plan? And will it work, or just create more problems for Mistress Writer and Master Miles? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you!

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Preparing for Halloween

Preparing for Halloween

me questioning my Foreman“Are you all sure you haven’t done anything?”

I was speaking to my characters, who were all busy working on various Halloween decorations.

My Foreman’s gray eyes locked on my brown ones. He frowned and when he spoke, his voice was tinged with annoyance. “I believe you have asked us that 20 times or more in the past few days, Mistress. I do not believe the answer has changed. None of us has done anything to attract the attention of any member of law enforcement.”Foreman's horse painted on pumpkin

He returned to painting a black stallion on his Halloween pumpkin.

Gypsy's Jack-o-lanternMy Gypsy glanced over at my Foreman’s pumpkin, shook his head, and chuckled. “That does not look very scary.” The lad examined the pumpkin he was carving. His tongue stuck out of the side of his mouth as he concentrated. He took his silver stiletto and carefully carved a few more slivers from the jack-o-lantern’s nose. He cocked his head, giving his work a critical appraisal. He nodded in satisfaction. “This is how a Halloween pumpkin should look. As for your question, Mistress, I believe the Foreman is correct. Our answers will not change, no matter how often you ask.”

My Old Dwarf snorted. “An’ wot could we be doin’ wot would be causin’ trubble wit yer law enforcers?”

I raised an eyebrow at that statement.

Dwarf's orange rock jack-o-lantern 2The dwarf paused and squished his eyebrows together as he looked at the large, orange rock he was painting. After a few minutes of deliberation, he carefully brushed some black paint on the rock, creating a reasonable facsimile of a jack-o-lantern . . . if a jack-o-lantern was supposed to look like a sick rabbit. Looking up at me, he continued the discussion. “Dinna ye be sayin’ thet tha people wot be skulkin’ about tha neighbor’s yard be tha same difference as our king’s guard? Thet they don na be jest tha law enforcers o yer little town here, they be tha law enforcers o yer whole country?”

I nodded.

“Wale, there ye be havin’ it, lass! There do na be much any o ussins kin be doin’ wat be so bad as ta be merittin’ tha attention o tha king’s guard!”

My head hurt from trying to follow both my Old Dwarf’s logic and his convoluted use of language. I frowned. “You haven’t been out in public in your full set of armor, have you? Maybe chasing rabbits down the street, threatening to cleave them with your axe?”

My Old Dwarf turned red and sputtered, but he swore to his innocence.

I started pacing around the room. “Well, what about the rest of you? Dragon, you haven’t let yourself been seen by the neighbors when you have been in your true form, have you?”

Dragon's pumpkinDragon had shrunk to the size of a Chihuahua to work on her pumpkin, which she was decorating by magic. She did not look up at my question, but black smoke poured from her nostrils. “Do you really think me so foolish as to allow the inhabitants of your world to see me unless I fully intended them to do so?”

I stared at her. “Well, have you intended them to do so?”

“I have not.” She put the finishing touches on her pumpkin.

I shrugged apologetically and raked my hand through my hair. “Well, someone must have done something. The FBI and all those others do not investigate someone unless they have cause.”

Young Hero's jack-o-lanternI sighed and continued pacing around, as my characters continued to work on their projects. I stopped next to my Young Hero, who was trying to make his jack-o-lantern even scarier than the one his best friend, my Gypsy, was making. “What about you? Have you been riding your pony off the property?”

The lad’s eyebrows shot up, and his mouth fell open. “I would never! The only time I have ridden him off the property was when we all went on that trail ride with Colton and his mother. A number of us went on that ride, including you, Mistress, and – if you will remember – Dragon used her spell of concealment to hide us from the neighbors.”
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/09/02/an-old-mystery-revisited/

I sighed and nodded. “Yes, I remember.”

Cleric's ghost and witch patternsI walked over to Cleric, who was creating patterns to sew ghost and witch pillows. “I don’t suppose you can think of anything you may have done? Maybe when you and Sorceress were out collecting botanicals for your spells?”

Cleric rearranged her ghost on the work table as she considered the question. She looked up at me, her cornflower eyes clear and guileless. “I do not believe anyone in the neighborhood was around when we left the property, Mistress.”

Sorceress's black cat pumpkinSorceress put another dab of paint on her black cat pumpkin, then looked over at me. She agreed with Cleric, and her tone, like my Foreman’s, was edged with annoyance at the questions. “Even if someone had seen us gathering plants and flowers, I do not think they would have paid us any attention. We did not go on private property or take anything from the areas you have warned us about – state or county parks where gathering specimens is illegal.”

“And before you even ask, we have done nothing!” My Arrogant One gestured to himself and his sidekick, my Bounty Hunter. “We have been working hard on the repairs to the shed roof.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/10/14/a-small-problem/

Arrogant One's Haloween scene“Don’t remind me.” I scowled and looked at the illusory figures he was conjuring for Halloween. “You haven’t created any illusions that may have been seen by any of our neighbors, have you?”

My Arrogant One drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak in both hands. He answered me in his usual tone – half arrogant, half petulant, and entirely annoying. “I said we have done nothing!”

Bounty Hunter's ScarecrowMy Bounty Hunter looked up from the scarecrow he was stuffing with straw. The corners of his mouth twitched. “I can vouch for that. We have been working on the shed roof. Even at other times, the elf is usually with me, and I have seen him do nothing that would attract the attention of the neighbors or the gendarmes.”

I sighed once more.

Cleric looked up from her patterns. “Mistress? How do you like our Halloween decorations?”

I tried to focus on the decorations my characters were creating. “They are quite good!”

Cleric’s dazzling smile only lasted a moment. Then she furrowed her brow and chewed on her bottom lip. “We looked through the magazines you gave us, to come up with ideas. We saw lots of ghosts, witches, skeletons, monsters, and other scary things, and many variations of a thing called a jack-o-lantern, but nowhere could I find an explanation of this holiday.”

My Gypsy furrowed his brow and clucked. “We have celebrated Halloween with Mistress Writer and Master Miles in previous years. Do you not remember, Cleric?”

remembering past halloweensCleric nodded. “I remember Mistress and her spouse buying lots of candy to give to visitors. I remember children dressed in costumes, some beautiful, some scary, some strange, coming to the door for these sweet treats. I remember a few decorations being placed around the front door. But I have never really understood the meaning of the day.”

“I also lack an understanding of this day and its history.” Dragon looked at me expectantly.

“Well, let’s see . . .” I tried to think of a simple way to explain Halloween to a group of characters from an alien world. My characters gathered around to listen.

harvest“This holiday has its roots in the ancient celebration called Samhain, marking the end of summer and harvest, and the beginning of winter. ghosts, witchesIt was believed that on that night, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, and the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. Some believed it to be the time when magic was at its strongest, with witches, demons, and other creatures able to openly walk the earth. I think I read somewhere that the practice of wearing costumes – which people still do today on Halloween – came from the ancient custom of people disguising themselves so that they would not be recognized and harmed by the creatures that walked the earth. Of course, Halloween has changed greatly over the centuries, as other religions and cultures tried to change it and adapt it to their beliefs and customs.”

Cleric wrinkled her brow and stroked her chin. “So how has Halloween changed?”

“Well, that’s even harder to explain than the origin of the holiday. It is no longer widely celebrated as a harvest feast, nor a magical time. Now, it’s mostly just for fun. In modern times in this country, there are many ways people celebrate the holiday. I think the most widely recognized celebration is Trick or Treat. Children in costume go from house to house, greeting the residents with the words trick or treat, a playful threat to play a trick on anyone who doesn’t give the children treats. Some people celebrate Halloween by watching scary movies or telling ghost stories. Other people have Halloween parties or create a haunted house for people to walk through and view.”haunted house

My Arrogant One’s eyes lit up. “Create a haunted house?”

I scowled at him. “Don’t get any ideas! The houses aren’t really haunted, nor are they created through magic. The people who create them just place a lot of creepy decorations around their homes, and dress in scary costumes, like witches or monsters. There are no real spirits haunting the houses, and there is no real magic involved, not even illusion. And it’s all done just for fun.”

The elf sighed. “That is not very creative.”

“It’s creative enough. You need to remember that this world is different from yours. Magic is not as commonplace, nor are mythological creatures or any of the things we would term demons or monsters.”

“Mistress?” Cleric tugged on my sleeve. “Mistress, did you not once write a scary poem for Halloween? I believe I remember you reading it to us once.”

“Well, I wrote a little ditty once for Halloween, but I really don’t know how scary it is.”

My Young Hero furrowed his brow. “A Halloween poem?”

I shrugged. “Well, sort of. A mood piece that could be used for Halloween.”

My Gypsy scratched his head. “I do not remember hearing it, Mistress. Could you read it to us?”

“I suppose so, if you really want to hear it.”

Several of my characters nodded and murmured their assent.

“I’ll go get a copy.”

It only took me a few minutes to return with a copy of my poem, written many years earlier. I cleared my throat and read it.

Illustration for poem

                            Night Fears

Shadows steal through moonlit room,
Stairs creak and groan and sigh.
Tree limb taps on window pane
As wind moans through the pines.

Field mice scuttle through dry leaves;
Far off, some dog howls.
Trash cans rattle, curtains rustle,
Imagination growls.

Blood rushes, pounding in your ears,
Mouth grows desert dry.
Horror tiptoes from your heart
Up to strangle your mind.

 

 

My characters sat there, looking at me as if expecting more.

I sighed. “Sorry, folks, that’s it. Just a short little piece, nothing more. How did you like it?”

“Oh . . . oh, well, it is quite . . . interesting, Mistress.” Sorceress looked like a deer caught in the headlights as she attempted to be complimentary.

“Yes. Ah, very . . . very evocative.” My Foreman swallowed hard and turned away quickly.

“Wale, I be likin’ it, lass! It be turnin’ tha skin on me arms all ta gooseflesh, an’ tha hair on me neck be all standin’ up, bristly-like.” My Old Dwarf patted my arm before returning to his rocks. “Now, iffin ye be excusin’ me, there be a second rock wot be needin’ some paint.”Dwarf's second orange rock jack-o-lantern

I watched as the old reprobate transformed the second rock into a much better representation of a jack-o-lantern than his first effort had produced.

For today's blog 001As I was admiring my Old Dwarf’s latest effort, Miles entered the conference room.

I looked at him, taking in his worried expression. “Honey, what’s wrong?”

following Miles“Nothing, really, I guess. It’s just that those cops . . . detectives . . . investigators . . . agents . . . whatever they all are . . . are still lurking all around the neighborhood. There were two people in a county sheriff’s car at the end of our street, and they actually followed me to the supermarket!”

“This is getting ridiculous! I wish there was some way to stop it.”

dragon talking“I could take care of it for you.” Dragon’s voice dripped with sweetness, and the expression on her face was pure innocence.

“No roasting anyone!” Miles and I replied in unison.

Dragon shrugged. “As you wish.” She turned away, but not before I saw a sly smile parting her reptilian lips.

 

What is Dragon planning? And will it work? Be sure to come back next week and see. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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What Have my Characters Done Now?

What Have my Characters Done Now?

computer_keyboardpen and writing pad for blogAfter sufficiently recovering from my . . . uhm . . . small problem of the day before (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/10/14/a-small-problem/), I decided I had neglected my Young Adult Fantasy series for far too long. But before I could return to my book manuscripts, I had to work on this week’s blog.

office-and-bookshelf-for-blog-002I went to my office, intent on getting my blog outlined and written. Evidently, my brain had other ideas. This is a frequent occurrence. A very frequent occurrence. To quote a famous sports figure, it was déjà vu all over again.

computer-308393_960_720I stared at the blank computer screen and tried to wrestle some ideas into submission. My fingernails tapped out a staccato beat on my desk, and I grumbled under my breath. Why did I ever start this blog? No one ever told me how difficult it would be to come up with fresh, new ideas every single week!

“Mistress?”

Elf facing rightI just about jumped out of my skin. If an idea had been about to cooperate and take shape, it was lost now. I spun my chair around, ready to bite someone’s head off. I found myself looking up into the soulful, cornflower-blue eyes of my Cleric, and bit back my impending outburst.

“What can I do for you?”

“I just wanted to make certain you were feeling better after your ordeal yesterday. I was so glad I was able to help.”

Cleric’s warm smile was infectious, and I returned it in kind. “I greatly appreciate your help. I assure you, I’m fully recovered, and now it’s back to work for me.” I glanced pointedly at the computer, my smile fading to a scowl.

“I shall take my leave, then, Mistress, so you can continue with your work uninterrupted.” She turned and skipped off down the hallway, leaving me and the blank screen to stare at each other again.

Pileated Woodpecker on suet logI sighed. I removed my glasses, cleaned them on my shirttail, and put them back on. I squirmed around in my chair. I looked out the window and stared at the huge Pileated Woodpecker on the underside of the suet log. Hmmm…maybe… My fingers moved toward the keyboard.

“Mistress?”

Young hero 2GypsyI jumped again, another idea flying out of my brain, probably never to return. For a second time, I swiveled my chair around, ready to give someone a severe tongue-lashing. This time, it was my Young Hero and my Gypsy sticking their heads in the door. I groaned.

“What is it?”

“It is almost noon. We thought you might want some lunch.” My Gypsy had obviously started without me, as he spoke around a mouthful of food.

food-dinner-pasta-broccoliMy Young Hero placed a small platter on my desk. “There were plenty of leftovers from last night’s dinner.”

“Yes, I had thought to have them for this night’s dinner.” I attempted to frown, but the food did smell good, and my stomach was growling. As usual, I had lost track of time while working on my blog.

After a quick bite to eat and some chit-chat with the lads, I thanked them and handed them the empty platter. They headed upstairs, and I turned back to my computer once more.

146-computer-free-vector-clip-art-lTwenty minutes later, my screen was still blank. I rubbed my head, which was starting to pound. Suddenly, I blinked several times rapidly and leaned in toward the computer. Oh, this is a great idea! My readers will love this! My hands were poised over the keyboard, ready to start typing.

“Mistress?”

I jerked, and my fingers tripped all over themselves, the letters on the monitor jumbling into an incoherent mess.

Arrogant One“What?” I whirled my chair around, ready to take no prisoners. My Arrogant One stood just inside my office door.

My eyes narrowed, and I slowly rose from my chair. “Out. Now.” I pointed to the door.

“But…”

“Now!” I advanced on the annoying elf, the perpetrator of my small misadventure of the preceding day.

He stammered. “B…b…but the Old Dwarf said…”

“If you aren’t out of here in the next 10 seconds, what I do to you will be a hundred times worse than anything my Old Dwarf could ever dream of doing!”

I took another step toward him, and my Arrogant One turned and fled down the hallway and up the stairs. I heard the back-door slam, so presumably the elf was going to take refuge in the shed.

One more time. I sighed as I returned to my seat. The great idea I had conceived just moments before would not revisit my brain. I spent the next half-hour staring at the blank screen, half-formed ideas chasing each other around my mind. Suddenly, my head jerked up and I smiled. Eureka! I started to type again.

“Mistress?”

“Aaaauuugh!”

sorceress-facing-rightI twisted around in my chair to see the latest intruder. Sorceress stood there, her brow furrowed.

I narrowed my eyes and crossed my arms. “What is it?”

Sorceress hesitated in the face of my obvious annoyance. “I am sorry. Am I disturbing you?”

“No, I always give a murderous look to every fifth person who interrupts my train of thought while I’m writing.” I glared at her.

“Mayhap I should return later.” She started backing out of the room.

“You’re here now. Why don’t you just tell me what you want?”

“Well…” She hesitated again, chewing on her lower lip.

“Well?”

“Mistress, do you remember the two sheriff’s deputies who were here earlier this year?”

I felt the blood drain from my face. Remember them? How could I forget them?

2 Police OfficersDeputy Melody Whitewash was a rather non-descript, but extremely efficient, law-enforcement officer. Her partner, Deputy Dustin Dawg, was a barrel-chested hulk who perpetually wore sunglasses, outdoors or in. They had first come to our door in February of this year, investigating a complaint lodged by our neighborhood nosey-bodies, Mace and Gloria, who claimed we were keeping horses on our residential property. I thought the deputies were going to shoot my Old Dwarf, who had held them at bay with his axe when he thought they might disturb my husband and me. (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/02/18/more-visitors/)

I shuddered at the memory. “I remember them. What do those two want now?”

Sorceress wrinkled her nose and tilted her head. “Well, I am not certain what they want, Mistress.”

I furrowed my brow. “Oh?”

Sorceress nodded. “Your Old Dwarf has observed them skulking about the edges of the property.”

I sighed. The blog would have to wait. I needed to find out what the intrepid deputies were up to.exterior-interior-wonderful-white-wooden-entrance-glass-double-french-door-frames-as-modern-interior-accesories-decors-witching-french-door-inspirational-pictures-collection-interior-french-doors-whit-840x1120

I followed Sorceress up the stairs to the living room. We went over to the French doors leading to the deck and peered through the glass.

“See? There, in the next yard.” Sorceress pointed to the left.

Deputies trying to hideI tried not to giggle. “I wonder if Deputy Dawg really believes that tree is wide enough to hide him.”

Sorceress arched an eyebrow and shrugged. “It does a better job concealing him than that short bush does concealing his partner.”

I smirked and shook my head. “Do you happen to know where Dragon is currently? I need to ask her about the spell of concealment she has cast on the property. I don’t want to walk over to the edge of the yard and start talking to the deputies if they can’t see me. It might be hard to explain a disembodied voice.”

dragon talking“You need not worry.” Dragon had overheard the last part of the conversation as she entered the room. “The spell does not conceal anyone who is from your world, what you term the real world. It only conceals your characters and the illusions I have created, such as the barn, the paddocks, and the horses. If you walk out into the yard, the deputies will see you.”

I nodded. “Good. I think it’s time to have a conversation with the deputies. In the meantime, where are the precise boundaries of the spell? At what point would you or any of my other characters become visible to the residents of our real world?”

“Of course, you and Master Miles can see us wherever we are. Other people from your world would see us any time we leave the property.”

“You mean you are invisible until you step off the property, then poof! You’re visible?”

“That is correct.”

I frowned. “That’s no good. Can the spell be altered?”

Dragon nodded. “How do wish it altered?”

horses-all-gone-for-blog“I think from now on, if anyone wants to leave the property, they need to leave the house through the front door and be visible there, just as Miles and I are visible walking out of the house. That way, it looks natural when they walk down the sidewalk and step out onto the street. They don’t just suddenly appear and scare the heart and soul out of anyone who sees them. They should still be concealed by the spell if they are in the back yard.”

Dragon nodded again. “It shall be done.”

Sorceress sighed. “I best inform the others, so they all know to exit the property through the front door and down the driveway.”

I smiled at the two of them. “Thanks. Now I’m off to see what’s up with the deputies.”

Talking to deputiesAs I crossed the yard, the two deputies saw they had been spotted. They stepped out from behind the vegetation and tried to look nonchalant.

I pasted on a grim smile as I greeted them. “Deputy Whitewash! Deputy Dawg! It’s so nice to see you again. Is there anything I can help you with?”

“No, not a thing,” Deputy Whitewash assured me. Her partner merely grunted and gawked at the tree as if watching for squirrels.

I narrowed my eyes. “You seem to be surveilling my property. Is something wrong?”

“No, not a thing,” Deputy Whitewash assured me again, and again her partner merely grunted.

I folded my arms over my chest. “Then why are you watching my property?”

Deputy Dawg drew himself up, hooking his thumbs into his belt. “We’re not at liberty to discuss any ongoing investigations. Department policy.”

“Are you saying my husband and I are under investigation?”

“Didn’t say that.”
Police Officer in sunglasses
I frowned. I wish he’d take his sunglasses off. It’s hard to tell what he’s thinking when I can’t even see his eyes. “Well, then, we’re not under investigation?”

“Didn’t say that, either.”

“Well then, unless you have a warrant allowing you to trespass on my neighbor’s property and stare at my house, I think you had best leave.”
Another person hiding

The two deputies glanced surreptitiously at a nearby tree as if looking for answers. That’s when I spied another figure hiding behind that tree. Judging from his attire, he was not a member of the sheriff’s department.

 

I balled my hands into fists and placed them on my hips. “Just what is going on here?”

SuitsI jumped back when a surprising number of figures, all similarly dressed in black suits, stepped into sight from behind trees, bushes, and the neighbor’s house. One man hurried over to stand in front of the deputies. “Ma’am, as Deputy Dawg indicated, we are engaged in an ongoing investigation and cannot discuss the details with civilians. If you return to your house, you will be safe.”

I scowled at the man. “So, something’s going on that makes my back yard unsafe?”

“We can neither confirm nor deny that, ma’am.”

“Then can you at least tell me who is involved in this ongoing investigation? You certainly don’t look like a sheriff’s deputy.”
Deputy Whitewash
Before the man could stop her, Deputy Whitewash replied, “He’s not. This is a joint taskforce between local law enforcement represented by the county sheriff’s office, and the FBI, ICE and Homeland Security.”wide-eyed

My jaw dropped. What had my characters done now?

 
Be sure to come back next week. If we’re not all in prison, we’ll be sure to leave the porch light on for you.

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The Case of the Poison Mushrooms?

The Case of the Poison Mushrooms?

Young hero 2Deputy DawgMy Young Hero felt the weight of someone’s hand on his shoulder. He whirled around and found himself face-to-face with a frowning Deputy Dustin Dawg of our county sheriff’s department. The youngster’s eyes widened, and his face turned even redder than it had been. “S-s-sir?”

spilled food“I said that didn’t look like an accident to me, son. It looked to me like you deliberately pushed that platter of food onto the ground.” Deputy Dawg’s voice was hard as nails. His mouth was turned down in a scowl, and even with his eyes hidden behind sun glasses, the intensity of the deputy’s glare wilted my Young Hero.

Wiping the sweat from his brow, the lad shrank back from the uniformed figure. He swallowed hard, several times. “Deliberately . . .? Oh, no sir! It was an accident. I have the unfortunate affliction of extreme clumsiness.” But I noticed the lad’s green eyes, normally so open and guileless, were veiled.
Gypsy close-up
My Gypsy placed a hand on the other lad’s arm and nodded. “My friend is right, sir. It was naught but an accident! Your line of sight must have been blocked. I was right next to the lad when he knocked the plate off the table. As he said, he is very clumsy!”
Deputy Whitewash
The deputy continued scowling. His partner, Deputy Whitewash, had been standing silently by his side. Now, she joined the conversation, shaking her head emphatically. “My line of sight wasn’t obstructed, and I agree with my partner. It looked deliberate.”

I stepped into the fray, trying to keep my emotions under control and my voice even. I was torn between defending my characters and not drawing attention to them. “The lad isn’t the type to deliberately do something like this. Besides, why would he?”
Deputy Whitewash
Backyard 050Deputy Whitewash stared at me for a second before recognition darkened her face. She snorted. “Oh, it’s you. Whenever there’s trouble in this neighborhood, you’re close by.” She looked from me to my Young Hero, who was still standing there, red-faced and apologetic. “I should have figured he was related to you.”

I narrowed my eyes. “He’s a good kid.”

Before I could say more, the rest of my characters moved between my Young Hero and the deputies.
Dwarf closeup 2
“The laddie be sayin’ it be jest an ax-i-dent. Be ye callin’ ’em a liar?” My Old Dwarf stood there, glaring at the deputies. His chin jutted, his bushy eyebrows were squished down over narrowed eyes. He balled one hand into a fist and thumped it repeatedly into the open palm of his other hand.

I saw Deputy Whitewash move one hand to the holster of her service revolver. With her other hand, she grabbed her partner’s sleeve and tugged to get his attention. “Be careful. He’s the one that had that axe!” The words were said in a whisper loud enough to carry through the assembled crowd.

I moved in front of my Old Dwarf, trying to keep the incident from escalating. I was spared the need to do anything, by Gloria, of all people.

neighbor-2neighborGloria, who had been rooted in place gaping at the mess on the ground, finally shook herself, as if trying to wake from a bad dream. She turned toward us and addressed the deputies. Given the dark look on her face, her voice was surprisingly perky. It still reminded me of a high-school cheerleader. “Oh, accidents happen. I’m sure the boy didn’t do it intentionally. I was just so upset when it happened because I spent so much time preparing that dish. Oh, well, there’s plenty more food here, no one will starve. I just need to get it cleaned up.” She looked around the crowd that had gathered until her gaze fell on her husband. Her voice and body language switched from cheerleader to drill sergeant. “Mace, help me clean up this mess before someone slips and falls!” Mace jumped to do his wife’s bidding.

My Young Hero waved Mace away and turned to Gloria. “Milady, I made the mess; please allow me to clean it up.”

Gloria gave him an appraising glance. She frowned but nodded. She took Mace by the arm and led him away, beckoning the deputies to follow. The four of them huddled near a tree, gesturing and whispering.

in a huddle

Another one of our neighbors, just arriving at the park, saw Miles and me. He called to us, waving us over to join him and his family. I figured he wanted the low-down on the commotion. I gave my characters a stern look. “I don’t know what’s going on, but there better not be any more trouble. Understood?” Without waiting for a reply, Miles and I smiled at our neighbor and walked over to join his group.

                                                                   * * *

Elf cleric close-upThe lad and his friends all pitched in to clean up the spilled stroganoff. Dragon, inconspicuous in her customary guise of a delicate young maiden, whispered something to them. They all nodded and started picking the mushrooms out of the mess and concealing them in napkins.

Dragon raked her hand through her hair. “Something is not right.”

Stu-04-NatGalSorceress tilted her head. “Other than the fact our neighbor was trying to poison people?”

Dragon lifted an eyebrow. “Mayhap she was not.”

The companions finished cleaning up the food they had spilled, and surreptitiously handed the napkins full of mushrooms to Dragon.

Dragon was staring at the group huddled under the tree. “Some of you keep an eye on the two deputies. The rest of you, do not allow Mace and Gloria out of your sight.” She turned back to Cleric and Sorceress, who were looking at her quizzically. “Come. We need to examine these mushrooms.” The three women headed back toward the house.

                                                                    * * *

Forty-five minutes later, the three women were back at the park. They gathered their friends and found a quiet spot to talk, away from the crowd.

Keeping her voice low, Dragon announced, “Forsooth, we were wrong.”

Everyone stared at Dragon, brows furrowed, heads tilted.

“What be we wrong aboot?” The dwarf scratched his bearded chin.

“Cleric, Sorceress, and I examined the mushrooms from Gloria’s stroganoff. They were not poisonous.” Dragon looked as confused as everyone else as she made this revelation.

The pompous elf looked down his nose at Dragon. “But you said you were sure of what you overheard.”

Dragon glared at him. “I was sure. I am sure. Cleric, Sorceress, the dwarf, and I were coming back from gathering botanicals. We took a short-cut, under my spell of concealment. We found ourselves in Mace and Gloria’s yard. They were sitting in their gazebo, and we were close enough that I distinctly heard their conversation.” Dragon paused, her brow furrowed in concentration. “They were discussing a problem they were having with some neighbors, obviously Mistress Writer and Master Miles. Mace’s exact words were ‘they’ve been nothing but trouble since we moved here. We need to do something about them, and soon.’” Dragon paused again, her eyes narrowed. “Gloria told him not to worry, that she had it all planned. Then Gloria explained to Mace about the poison mushrooms in the stroganoff.”

The elf sneered. “But you just said the mushrooms in the stroganoff are not poisonous.”

Dragon sighed. “They are not. I can only presume Mace and Gloria changed their minds when they realized Mistress Writer and Master Miles might not be the only ones to fall victim to the poison if they used the mushrooms in the food served here today.”

“Thet be meanin’ they be tryin’ ta be kiltin’ the lass an’ ’er lad some udder way.” The dwarf mumbled around a mouthful of food.

Sorceress frowned at his manners but nodded at his conclusion. “We need to keep a sharp eye on Mistress Writer and Master Miles today.”

Everyone nodded.

                                                                      * * *

Elf clericBackyard 050“Missy! There you are!”

I could hear the relief in Dragon’s voice. I looked up from my conversation with one of our neighbors and saw all nine of my characters crowding around, worry creasing their faces. I frowned. “What’s wrong?”
Dwarf closeup 2
“Eh, there be nuttin’ wrong, lass. We jest dinna be knowin’ where ye be.” My Old Dwarf spoke around a mouthful of food.

bullhornNeighbor 2 facing leftBefore I could pursue the matter further, a voice blared over a bullhorn. “Everyone . . . everyone . . . can I have your attention?” Gloria addressed the gathering in full cheerleader mode, voice perky, body language bouncy – I almost expected her to start turning cartwheels. “Hi, neighbors! Thanks for coming out today! Isn’t it great to get together and get to know everyone in the neighborhood a little better? Be sure to grab something to eat before we start clearing the tables. In about an hour, we’re going to rearrange everything into a semicircle over there.” She pointed as she spoke, indicating a shaded corner at the far end of the park. She continued without pausing for a breath, one of her talents that never ceased to amaze me. “We’ll need a few strong helpers to move the benches, then everyone who has something to sit on should bring it – lawn chairs, camp chairs, blankets, whatever you have. We have a surprise for you! I’ve arranged for some entertainment for our neighborhood get-together!”

Stage
A little more than an hour and many bull-horned directions later, the entire neighborhood sat around a small stage that had been erected in the northeast corner of the park. Miles and I sat in canvass stadium chairs, while my characters perched on boxes or sprawled on blankets around us. All eyes were on Gloria as she hopped up on the stage.

Thankfully, Gloria had managed to set up a sound system that did not require further use of the bullhorn. She had no problem being heard over the noise of the crowd. “Well, neighbors, I don’t like to toot my own horn – well, yes, I do! Toodle-de-toot!” Gloria followed this with a deep, throaty laugh before continuing. “But tonight, I am very pleased to share center stage with a group of people who have been working hard for the past few weeks. Please welcome Waiting in the Wings in Waconia, our new local theater group!”

Looking embarrassed, Gloria’s husband, Mace, stepped up on the stage next to his wife. Deputies Whitewash and Dawg, and several of our neighbors whom I did not know as well, stepped up to stand next to the wooden platform.

On stage

“Tonight, folks, we’re going to present a very short play, a murder mystery, penned by none other than yours truly.” Gloria gave a little curtsey. “We didn’t have the time or the manpower to build sets, so you’ll have to use your imagination.”

Gloria set the scene for the first act, explaining what the set would look like, if there was a set. Then she explained the storyline. “I play Penelope, a southern belle. Mace plays the part of Beauregard, Penelope’s husband. We recently moved to a new house and one of our neighbors is not very nice.

Gloria and Mace then took center stage, as the other players sat on the edges, waiting their turns.

Backyard 050MilesI tried not to giggle as Gloria and Mace delivered their lines. I leaned over to Miles and whispered in his ear. “If this is the best Gloria can do as a playwright, she better not quit her day job.”

Miles put his finger over his lips and leaned forward to hear the play.

neighbor“They’ve been nothing but trouble since we moved here. We need to do something about them, and soon.” Mace/Beauregard frowned.

Neighbor 2 facing leftGloria/Penelope laughed a deep, throaty laugh. “Don’t worry, darling! I’ve got it all planned.”

“Oh?” Mace/Beauregard quirked an eyebrow.

“Remember the mushrooms?” Gloria/Penelope smiled smugly. “Is it my fault some poisonous fungi got mixed in with them?”

“Poison mushrooms?” Her husband’s eyes widened, and a smile spread across his face. “Do you think you can get our . . . friends . . . to eat them?”

“Oh, darling, do you know anyone who can resist my stroganoff?” Gloria/Penelope simpered at her husband. “By this time next week, we will have one less headache with which to contend in our happy little neighborhood.”

The play turned out to be more comedy than mystery, with the two deputies bumbling through their lines just as the characters they played bumbled through the investigation of the murder. Still, the neighborhood crowd was happy to be entertained, and we gave the cast a standing ovation. After Gloria tried to drum up some more members for Waiting in the Wings in Waconia, the gathering wound down and we all started to pack up and head for home. I looked around for my characters, but they appeared to have slipped away already.

                                                                       * * *

Arrogant One facing rightDragon elf maiden turning redTheater!” The annoying, pompous elf giggled. Dragon turned red and glared at him.

“How were we to know?” Dragon scuffed her feet as she trod along the street toward home.

“It sounded very real when we overheard them.” Cleric’s face was as red as Dragon’s, and she couldn’t stop wringing her hands.

“Well, one thing is certain.” Sorceress glared at her companions. “We do not mention this to Mistress Writer . . . ever!”

For once, there was no dissent among the companions.

We hope you enjoyed this little misadventure, and we welcome you to come back next week and see what my characters are up to then. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Solutions or More Problems?

Solutions or More Problems?

Elf facing right

“To . . . to die for?” Cleric gaped at Dragon, who – in her customary guise of an elf maiden – stood there, pale and shaking. “What does that mean?”
DragonEliminate M&MDragon’s voice was low when she answered, and it cracked several times as emotion constricted the woman’s throat. “It . . . it appears our obnoxious neighbors, Mace and Gloria, plan to . . . to do away with Mistress Writer and Master Miles at the neighborhood get-together. Gloria was gloating over a . . . a dish she is preparing for what she termed a pot-luck, whatever that might be, which will be part of the festivities.” She took a deep breath before concluding. “The dish she spoke of is the stroganoff dish she was discussing with Mace last evening . . . the one laced with poison mushrooms.”

DwarfThe dwarf stepped forward. “Now will ye be lettin’ me at ’em wit me axe?” He was seething, his bushy eyebrows squished together over his green eyes, and his mouth an angry line between his unkempt mustache and beard. He held his weapon in one hand, slapping the flat of the axe head against his other palm.

sorceress-facing-rightDwarf and police officers 2Many of the other eight characters nodded and murmured in approval, but Sorceress cut them off, slashing her hand down for emphasis. “No!” She whirled around and faced the dwarf. “I have already explained to you that should Mace and Gloria be found dead at the hands of an apparent axe murderer, Deputy Whitewash and her intrepid partner, Deputy Dawg, will be breaking down the door to get to you. They are sure to remember you brandishing an axe at them when they first encountered you six months ago!”

The dwarf stood there trembling, anger and frustration building. “Bah!” He spat out the expletive before his shoulders slumped in defeat.

Arrogant One facing rightAnother character spoke. “Then what do you propose we do?” The speaker, the unpopular and annoying elf illusionist, glared at Sorceress, his eyes like slits, and his lips curled with disdain. “If Mistress Writer is killed, what will happen to us?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “We will cease to exist!” Seeing all eyes on him and a few of his companions nodding, the elf pompously drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his robes in both hands. “I say, let the dwarf deal with the would-be murderers. Then the authorities can deal with the dwarf.” He sneered with contempt at the dwarf.

Almost elf flambeDragon had shape-shifted into her true form before the elf had finished talking. Flames shot from her mouth and the elf’s cohort, the Bounty Hunter, barely had time to push his friend out of the way and prevent the illusionist from becoming elf flambé.Dragon with smoke

“Do . . . not . . . ever think of allowing anyone to deal with the dwarf!” Dragon bared her teeth at the elf. Dark smoke plumed from her nostrils.

The elf scowled. “Better him than Mistress Writer. Her demise means our demise; do not doubt that for a moment! And it would be better to lose one of our number than for all of us to perish.”

The dwarf nodded, still slapping his open palm with the flat of the axe head. “I be agreein’ with tha elfie.”

“Do not call me elfie!” The illusionist’s face turned beet red with anger and contorted with hatred. His voice reached a register so high, the neighborhood dogs started howling.

bounty-hunter“Settle down.” The Bounty Hunter placed a restraining hand on his friend’s arm, then glared at the other characters. “All of you. This is not accomplishing anything.”

The elf pulled away, his eyes flashing in anger. “Then what do you suggest?”

The Bounty Hunter shrugged, then raised an eyebrow. “If Mistress Writer and Master Miles do not attend the neighborhood get-together, they cannot partake of Gloria’s food.”Gypsy close-up

The Gypsy snorted. “And how do you propose we keep them from going?”

A sly grin spread slowly across the Bounty Hunter’s face. “Mistress Writer is always so eager to go on outings. Several days before the neighborhood event, we could all develop a sudden interest in going somewhere, somewhere that would necessitate us leaving the house early and staying away all day. We could manipulate Mistress Writer into planning the outing for the same day as the event.”

Cleric shook her head. “No!” Her face drained of color and she wrung her hands. “No! Do you not remember the ordeal we suffered on our last outing? We cannot go on another!”

Sorceress scoffed. “We have already discussed this. The chances of a portal to another world opening and us being transported from this world are exceedingly slim, but if it were to happen, it is just as likely to happen here, within this house, as elsewhere.”

“I know. My mind understands but my fear does not.” Cleric hung her head and fidgeted with the cord belt on her robes. Tears welled up in her eyes.

mens-991728_1280The Foreman of the group stepped forward and placed a reassuring hand on Cleric’s shoulder. His voice was soft yet commanding. “I do not believe we need to go on an outing right now. If Mistress Writer and Master Miles do not attend the neighborhood event, it will only postpone the inevitable. We need to find a way to prevent Mace and Gloria from committing this murder, not just at the event but at any place or at any time.”

Young Hero close-upOthers nodded, but the Young Hero stroked his chin and frowned. “You are correct – if they do not attend the event, it will only postpone their demise. However, Gloria’s plot makes no sense. If Mace and Gloria want to murder Mistress Writer and Master Miles, why would they do it at a public event, where the poison food could be consumed by any of those in attendance? They could conceivably wipe out the entire neighborhood!”

“The lad has a point.” The Foreman turned back to Dragon. “Are you quite certain you heard them correctly?”
Elf cleric close-up

The beast had settled down and had shapeshifted back to the form of an elf maiden. She pursed her lips and nodded. “Yes, I am sure. Mace was complaining about Mistress Writer and Master Miles, and Gloria revealed her plot to eliminate them using poison mushrooms. She said the mushrooms would be in her stroganoff. And just now, she was braying to Mistress Writer about her – and again I quote – to-die-for stroganoff that she will serve at the neighborhood get-together.”

The Foreman nodded. “If we elect to protect the lives of not only Mistress Writer and Master Miles, but the majority of our neighbors as well, we should alert the authorities.”

The dwarf scoffed. “And iffin we even be figurin’ how ta be contactin’ ’em, why would they be believin’ us? I be rememberin’ tha two o ’em been takin’ Mace and Gloria’s word over our lass an’ ’er lad. Nay, we be needin’ ta be takin’ care o this our own selfs!”

“That is not an option!” Sorceress snapped at the dwarf. “Get that through your thick skull!”

Telephone authoritiesDragon furrowed her brow. “If we need to alert the authorities, we can do it easily enough. The deputies left their cards with our Mistress when last they were here, and I believe several of us have mastered the use of the talking device, the thing called a telephone.”

The dwarf snorted. “So’s we kin be gittin’ ahold o ’em. How, perzactly, do we be gittin’ ’em ta be believin’ us?” He crossed his arms over his barrel chest and tapped a foot impatiently.

“The dwarf is right – they simply would never believe any of us, should we accuse Mace and Gloria. However, mayhap we have no need of the authorities.” The Young Hero quirked an eyebrow, and there was a twinkle of mischief in his green eyes.

“What do you propose?” Dragon looked intrigued.

“Well, you know how clumsy some of us can be.” The lad grinned. “It would be such a shame if Gloria’s stroganoff was to be knocked all over the ground.”

Everyone relaxed and started nodding and smiling; there were even a few impish chuckles from the group.

*  *  *

“Hi, neighbor!”

I cringed. Before I even looked, I knew who it was. My far-less-than-favorite neighbor, Gloria, had an unmistakable voice. It was full of perk, arrogance, and acid, all mixed together with a Midwestern twang. I turned and watched as she bounced over to our yard, all but dragging her husband, Mace, also one of my far-less-than-favorite neighbors.

“Hello, Gloria, Mace.” I tried to paste a smile on my face, but all I could manage was a thinning of my lips. My husband, Miles, didn’t seem any happier than I to see these two.

If Gloria noticed, she didn’t let it dampen her enthusiasm. She started in, sounding like a high school cheerleader, almost every sentence sounding like it ended with an exclamation point. “It’s a beautiful day! Not a cloud in the sky! Looks like every single person in the whole neighborhood made it to the get-together! And there are a lot of guests, too! You aren’t the only folks who have visiting out-of-town family! I hope we have enough food for everyone! What culinary delight did you contribute?” She said all that in one breath, and never ran out of air.

food“Marge made a few of her specialties.” I detected a hint of pride in my husband’s voice. “She made her famous German potato salad, two baked hams, and four cakes – two apple cakes from her Bubbie’s recipe, and two chocolate chip cakes. And I made my famous stew.”

Mace looked impressed, but Gloria seemed annoyed. “You didn’t have to bring all that.”

“Miles and I volunteered to contribute more, since we have so many guests attending the event. Your fellow food-committee member, Joanne, gave me the thumbs-up on the choices. She checked what everyone else had signed up to bring, and she said our stuff wouldn’t be redundant.”

Before Gloria could sputter a reply, Cleric, Sorceress, and the ersatz elf maiden, Dragon, joined us. They nodded politely to Mace and Gloria before Dragon turned to me. “Excuse us, Missy . . .”

Gloria interrupted, her brow furrowed and her hand on her hip. “Why do you always call her Missy? Isn’t her name Marge?”

Dragon blinked. “It’s just a family nickname.”

Yeah, I thought, my family of characters calls me Missy in public because I’ve warned them enough times not to call me Mistress Writer in front of other people.

Dragon turned back to me. “Missy, the lads are taking your food for the pot-luck to the tables that have been set up in the park at the end of our street.”

I nodded. “We should go there now. It’s almost lunchtime.”

“We’ll meet you there!” Gloria waved and headed for the park, still all but dragging Mace along. “Should we save a couple of tables for you?”

Miles shook his head. “We’ll find some seats when we get there.”

Miles and I walked down the street arm-in-arm, with the three companions a few steps behind. We were approaching the park when we heard Gloria above the sounds of the crowd.

Noooooooo!” Gloria was wailing. We ran the rest of the way to see what had happened. When we drew near, we saw Gloria standing next to one of the picnic tables that had been set up to hold the pot-luck buffet. On the other side of the table, my Young Hero and my Gypsy stood, looking aghast. By their feet, Gloria’s to-die-for vegan/tofu stroganoff was all over the ground.spilled food

My red-faced Young Hero was apologizing profusely. “Oh, I am so sorry! It was so clumsy of me! I was just trying to move it over a bit to fit our food onto the table, and the next thing I knew, the whole thing was on the ground.”

Dragon, Cleric, and Sorceress exchanged knowing glances. “Oops.”
Collared
Just then, Deputy Whitewash and Deputy Dawg walked up behind the lads. Deputy Dawg placed a beefy hand on my Young Hero’s shoulder. “Son, that didn’t look like an accident to me.”

Dragon, Cleric, and Sorceress exchanged guilty looks. “Oops.”

Be sure to join us next week to see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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To-DIE-For Stroganoff?

To-DIE-For Stroganoff?

The four friends hurried down the quiet suburban street toward the split-level house they called home. Three houses shy of their destination, Cleric reached out with one hand and grabbed the ersatz elf maiden, Dragon, by the arm. With her other hand, she snagged Sorceress by the strap of the canvass satchel she carried. “Wait!” She firmly planted her feet and jerked the other two to a dead stop. The dwarf, a few steps behind the women, almost ran into them.

“What is it?” Sorceress frowned and pulled the bag’s strap from Cleric’s grasp, while Dragon shook her arm free and reached around to steady the dwarf.

“What are we going to tell Mistress when we get home?” There was a catch in Cleric’s voice and her face was pale.

“We tell her nothing.” Dragon narrowed her eyes. Her tone of voice invited no argument, a fact that was apparently lost on the panicky Cleric.

“But . . . but . . . Mace and Gloria are planning to murder Mistress Writer and Master Miles!” Cleric almost burst into tears. “We must warn them!”

The dwarf scowled. “I be toldin’ ye, there be no need ta be tellin’ anyone. I kin be takin’ care o Mace and Gloria. Just ye be lettin’ me be gittin’ me axe.”

“Oh, yes, that will solve the problem nicely.” Sorceress snorted, and her words dripped with sarcasm. “If Mace and Gloria are found dead at the hands of an apparent axe murderer, where do you think Deputy Whitewash and her intrepid partner Deputy Dawg will begin their investigation?”

“Deputy whosis?” The dwarf tilted his head in confusion.

Dragon sighed and shook her head. “You do not remember the two Sheriff’s deputies who came to investigate Mace and Gloria’s claim that Mistress Writer and Master Miles were keeping a horse in their garden shed?” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/02/18/more-visitors/

2 Police OfficersThe dwarf scrunched his bushy eyebrows down and stroked his unkempt gray beard. Suddenly, his green eyes widened, and he nodded. “Eh, those two! Aye, now I be rememberin’ ’em!”

Dwarf and police officers 2“And I think it safe to say you would not welcome a visit from them, remembering you were brandishing your battle-axe at them the first time they encountered you.” Dragon raised an eyebrow and inclined her head toward the dwarf, who had the grace to blush.

“So then, what are we to do?” Tears threatened to spill from Cleric’s cornflower-blue eyes, as she looked to Dragon for answers.

Dragon furrowed her brow. “Well, we cannot tell Mistress what we heard. That would entail admitting we were trespassing and eavesdropping.” She paused, her eyes narrowed. “I need time to think. For now, we say nothing. We will take turns observing Mace and Gloria – under the protection of my spell of concealment – and we will not allow them access to Mistress Writer or Master Miles. Should they attempt to implement their nefarious plan, we will stop them.”

                                                                    * * *

I was just on my way up the stairs by the front door when four of my characters came trudging into the house, an assortment of flowers, leaves, and branches peeking out of the heavy sacks they were lugging.

“Well, I see your day was successful. It looks like you collected your fair share of botanicals.” I smiled at them.

The four of them shuffled their feet and nodded. Each one mumbled something unintelligible, and not one of them met my eye. They tried to scoot around me, looking as nervous as four long-tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs.

I planted myself directly in their path, holding up one hand like a cop stopping traffic. “Hold it! What’s wrong?”

My four characters stopped dead, eyes as wide as those of deer caught in the glare of oncoming headlights.

Elf facing right“Wrong?” Cleric’s eyes widened further, almost popping from their sockets.

Elf clericDragon tried to elbow cleric without me noticing. She failed. “Nothing is wrong. Why do you ask?” She shrugged, and she wore an expression of pure innocence.

sorceress-facing-rightbag of botanicals“We are all just tired, and we still need to work with these botanicals tonight, Mistress. After all our hard work procuring them, we must get them preserved them before they start to wilt and spoil.” Sorceress presented a logical discourse, completely at odds with her guilty appearance, as she tugged at her shirt, shifted her weight from foot to foot, and looked everywhere but at me.

Dwarf facing right“Oh, me tummy! I be eatin’ too many o them apples!” My Old Dwarf’s face contorted with pain and he clutched his stomach. He bulldozed his way past me and scampered down the steps to the conference room, his three companions hot on his heels.

I shrugged but continued up the stairs rather than following my characters in the other direction. Sometimes it’s best not to know, I reasoned.

for-todays-blog-011My husband was at the top of the stairs. “We both missed dinner tonight. I was just heading into the kitchen for a snack. Care to join me?”

I nodded, absentmindedly.Backyard 050

Miles tilted his head and furrowed his brow, obviously trying to read my expression. “A penny for your thoughts.”

While we walked to the kitchen for a bite to eat, I told him of the strange encounter I had just had in the foyer.

Miles raised an eyebrow. “Do you think they’re up to something?”

“I don’t know. They certainly acted guilty of something.”

Snack“Well, I’m sure we’ll find out about it soon enough.” He handed me one of the deli-bought sandwiches he had taken from the refrigerator. I took it and sat down at the table. Miles grabbed another sandwich for himself, and a couple cans of soda.

MailAs he sat down next to me, he grabbed a few napkins from the holder in the middle of the table. “Oh, by the way, while you were in your office this afternoon, I walked out and checked the mailbox. We got the normal pile of junk mail, a few bills, a postcard from your sister, and a reminder about the neighborhood get-together next week.”

“The get-together!” I shuddered. “I had forgotten all about that. Do we really have to go?”

Miles shrugged. “Not if you don’t want to, but I think it should be a lot of fun.”

“Are we all invited?” I raised an eyebrow at Miles.

He blinked. “Oh.” He took a big bite of sandwich and delayed his answer while he slowly chewed and swallowed. “I guess I never thought about your characters going.”

“They’d be hurt if we told them they couldn’t go with us, but we can’t keep a tight rein on nine characters all day long. I’d go crazy! And they certainly can’t be trusted to behave appropriately on their own. It would be simpler if we stayed home.” I finished my sandwich and took my plate to the sink.

Miles followed suit. “Well, we’ll think about it later. Right now, Father Brown is on, and I don’t want to miss this week’s episode.”

                                                                     * * *

Bright and early the next morning, the doorbell rang, and I almost collided on the stairs with Dragon, still in her guise of an elf maiden. “I’ll get it!” we said, simultaneously.

I nudged her out of the way and opened the door. I gaped at the smiling young woman, with sandy blond tresses framing an open face, standing on my front porch.

Neighbor 2 facing left“Hi, neighbor!” The perky greeting took me by surprise. The last time I had seen Gloria was more than six months ago. She and her husband, Mace, had been stomping out of our yard after unsuccessfully trying to find a horse they had accused us of keeping on our property. At that time, Miles and I had made it quite clear they were not welcome to return here without an invitation. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/01/14/the-return-of-the-neighbors/

Since I certainly hadn’t invited Gloria to visit, I crossed my arms over my chest, leaned against the doorjamb, and scowled. Gloria seemed undeterred by my obvious hostility.

“I’m just following up on the reminders the get-together committee sent out this week. We don’t want anyone forgetting about our little neighborhood event in the park next week. Will you and your hubby be there?”

“We haven’t decided yet.” I continued to lean against the door frame and scowl.

“Well, don’t wait ’til the last minute! We need to have an accurate count for seating, and we need to know what everyone’s bringing. We can’t have all desserts and drinks, and no main courses, now can we?”

I raised an eyebrow, and Gloria prattled on.
Stroganoff
“I’m making my to-die-for vegetarian/tofu stroganoff. There’ll be plenty of it, so if any of your out-of-town relatives are here then, they’re more than welcome to come with you and your hubby!”

“My hubby and I will keep that in mind. Anything else?” I glowered.

“Nope, that’s it. Just be sure and let the committee know whether you’re coming, what you’ll contribute to the potluck, and how many guests you’ll be bringing. We need to know by Wednesday of this week. See you at the get-together, neighbor!” Gloria twirled and strutted down the walk, presumably off to irritate another neighbor with her way-too-early-in-the-morning perkiness.

I closed the door, turned, and almost walked right into Dragon. Her face was pale, and beads of sweat dotted her brow. Before I could ask what was wrong, she fled to the conference room. I shrugged and went back upstairs to gather laundry.

                                                                        * * *

All of Dragon’s fellow characters were in the conference room, waiting for her to return. Dragon had gathered everyone earlier that morning and explained to those who had not been with them the night before what she and her comrades had overheard in Mace and Gloria’s yard. She explained how Gloria planned to put poison mushrooms in the food she would serve to Mistress Writer and Master Miles.

As Dragon raced back into the conference room, everyone looked up.

“What’s wrong?” Cleric saw the stricken look on Dragon’s face.

“That was Gloria at the door. She was checking with Mistress to see if she and Master Miles are planning to attend some neighborhood gathering next week.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Sorceress tilted her head and narrowed her eyes.

“Gloria is making her – and I quote – to-die-for stroganoff for the event. She and Mace are going to kill Mistress Writer and Master Miles at the neighborhood dinner!”

Are Mace and Gloria really planning to murder Mistress Writer and Master Miles at the neighborhood get-together next week? Can Mistress Writer’s characters protect her and her husband? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you. But if you do join us, I’d steer clear of Gloria’s stroganoff if I were you!

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