Found

Found

CougarThe attack had been so sudden, Talia had had no time to avoid the gargantuan mountain lion that now pinned her to the ground. Struggling mightily against the heavy creature, she managed to get an arm free. Simply by instinct, she made a few arcane gestures with her hand and muttered an incantation under her breath, the same spell she had used on Dragon to transform the mighty beast into a tiny lizard. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2020/10/04/the-search/

Nothing happened. Talia’s eyes widened and she gasped. I forgot! Once I entered the portal and was ushered into this world, my powers were gone!

snarling cougarThe cougar snarled and brought his face closer to Talia’s. Suddenly, he stopped, and his brow furrowed. He sniffed at Talia. “You aren’t the one I’m looking for.” He released Talia and stepped back. “I’m so sorry. You aren’t hurt, are you?”

Before Talia could answer, she heard the badger call out. “Hey, Rafferty! You gone crazy or something? Why’d you attack the puny human?”

Talia saw the big coyote snap at the badger and say something to him. The badger hung his head.

The other animals came running over. The coyote pup and the fox kit helped Talia up. The woman stood there, wobbling on rubbery legs.

The vixen nudged her kit aside and sniffed at Talia. “Here, dear, just lean on me and take a couple of deep breaths. You’ll be okay. I don’t think Rafferty injured you. I don’t smell any blood.” The fox then turned to the cougar, clucking gently at him in admonishment. “Rafferty, dear, what were you thinking?”

“I’m sorry.” He turned toward Talia. “I’m sorry lady. I saw you running after my friends and I thought you were the one who was trying to hurt them.” He threw himself to the ground and covered his face with his huge paws.

The giant coyote walked up to the cougar and put a paw on the other animal’s shoulder. “Rafferty, old buddy, that was a long time ago. That person isn’t here anymore. We’re all safe now.”

Rafferty looked up at the coyote and furrowed his brow again. “Are you sure, Chaz? I thought I saw her just yesterday, at the market.”

“Nah, Raff. You couldn’t have seen her. She’s long gone.” The coyote spoke gently.

Coyote pup and TaliaThe coyote pup whispered in Talia’s ear. “The person Rafferty thought he saw hasn’t been around since long before I was born. Poor cat. I don’t know exactly what happened all those years ago, but it must have been horrible for Raff. They say he hasn’t been quite right in the head since. When he gets really bad like this, my pop takes care of him, gets him the help he needs.”

Talia frowned. “But he’s a cougar. Why would your father help him?”

The pup scoffed and shot Talia a disgusted look. “Because he’s a friend.” The pup shook his head and curled his lip at Talia. “Don’t you help your friends? Isn’t that what you and the dragon are doing?”

Talia looked at the circle of animals and nodded thoughtfully.

Rafferty got up and shook, dust flying off his sleek, golden fur. “So, what were you all doing just now? The human was running after you. Were you playing a game?”

Chaz shook his head. “We’re looking for a little girl, a human child, who is lost.”

Cougar pleading“Oh, the poor little thing. I’ll help look for her! Can I help, Chaz? Can I?” The mountain lion closed his eyes and pleaded with the coyote.

“Sure, buddy, you can help. But she’s very small and delicate, Raff. Remember that if you find her. No claws. Velvet paws, Raff. You gotta use velvet paws.”

The cougar nodded and started jigging around, excited to help. “I’ll remember, Chaz. I promise.” Suddenly he stopped and his eyes widened. “Chaz! We gotta find that poor little thing before she gets hurt! What if that woman finds her? She’ll hurt the little girl, Chaz. She tried to hurt all of you.”

“Now, now, Raff. That’s all over, buddy. The woman’s gone. She’s gone, Raff.” Chaz patted his friend’s shoulder again.

“Are you sure he’s safe?” Talia addressed the foxes in a whisper while never taking her eyes off the mountain lion.

The reynard frowned and growled softly. “Of course, he’s safe. Do you think Chaz and I would allow him near our kids if he wasn’t?”

Talia blushed, but still looked unconvinced.

Rafferty and Chaz“Let’s go, then. Let’s find this poor little thing.” The mountain lion bounded off, only to come racing back. “Chaz? Which way do we go?” He looked confused, his whiskers trembling and his eyes unfocused.

“We’re going to follow the scent trail this way. I’ll take the lead. Why don’t you hang back and keep an eye on the young’uns, and on our human visitor? You can make sure they don’t get separated from the group.”

“Okay, Chaz. I’ll take good care of them.”

“I know you will, buddy. I know you will.” Chaz nuzzled Rafferty before loping off to take his lead at the head of the group.

The giant coyote led off, with Benny, the badger, close behind, still looking contrite over his earlier careless comments to Rafferty, the troubled mountain lion. The reynard and the vixen flanked them, and all four animals kept their noses to the ground.

Behind them, the coyote pup and the fox kit escorted Talia. The three of them kept their heads swiveling, their eyes peering at every ditch, furrow, tree, bush, and clod of dirt they passed.

They also kept a good eye on Rafferty, who trailed along behind. Sometimes the mountain lion strode along with purpose and determination; other times, he lagged, confused and unfocused. Several times he ran up to Talia and sniffed at her, then muttered, “No, you’re not the bad person. She’s not here anymore. She’s gone. Chaz said so.”

After one such incident, the fox kit bowed his head and whispered into Talia’s ear. “He’s been like this as long as I can remember. He’ll be fine for months at a time, then suddenly, something triggers his anxiety, and he imagines this woman around every corner or behind every bush.”

Junior nodded. “That’s why we have to watch him real close right now. If we find this missing child, my dad and Benny will want to get to her first. Rafferty might mistake her for that woman, since he keeps saying he’s seen her recently.”

Talia’s eyes flew wide, and her jaw dropped. She put her hand on the fox kit’s leg. “But your dad said the cat was safe.”

“He is.” The kit nodded confidently. “We make sure he stays that way.”

Raff sees DragonIt was late in the day with the sun dropping fast toward the horizon, when Talia and her group spotted Dragon and her troop coming toward them along the berm. As soon as he spotted Dragon, Rafferty stopped dead in his tracks. “What is that?”

“That’s just a dragon, Raff. She’s kinda like a big lizard with wings. She’s from another part of the world and she’s here with the lady looking for the lost child.” Junior spoke softly to the mountain lion. The cat shook his head as if to clear it, then started to back up, eyes wide and mouth slack.

“Dad? Dad!” Junior called to the big coyote several dozen yards ahead of them.

The big animal immediately sized up the situation and ran to his friend’s side. He spoke to the spooked cougar softly and reassuringly. “Hey, Raff, it’s okay, buddy. She’s a friend. She’s gentle as a kitten. See? The deer and the rabbits like her. She’s fine. Come on, Raff, I’ll introduce you.”

But Rafferty didn’t appear to want to meet the dragon. He threw himself down on the ground and covered his face with his paws. He lay there, trembling, until Dragon walked over and spoke to him.

Dragon approached the giant mountain lion quietly and gently. “Hello. You must be Rafferty. Your friends told me about you. I would consider it a great honor to meet you.”

Slowly, the big cat looked up. He furrowed his brow and tilted his head. “You would be honored to meet me?”

“Indeed, I would.” Dragon stood a few feet away, making herself look as small and nonthreatening as possible.

Rafferty looked at the other animals, who smiled and nodded at him. He slowly rose and timidly edged close enough to Dragon to sniff at her. “You smell funny.”

Dragon chuckled. “I imagine I do. My name is Dragon. It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

BearsBefore the mountain lion could respond, two huge grizzly bears broke through the adjacent brush and lumbered into the field about a dozen yards away. The smaller bear was carrying something tiny in her arms, and the larger one looked around until he saw who he was looking for. “Hey! Hab’itt! Come on over here, buddy! Did you lose something?”

Rafferty’s eyes glazed over. “You caught her! You caught that dangerous woman! Good work!” He started bounding toward the bears, but Dragon tripped him.

“Oh, I am so sorry. Did I do that? Are you injured?” The scaly beast spoke gently, but positioned herself between the cat and the bears, blocking his view.

Marisol woke up as Hab’itt hopped over to the bears. “Hey, there, little one!” The giant rabbit smiled at the small girl, then looked at the bears. “Where did you find her?”

“She was asleep in our berry patch. She told us she had been with you in the carrot field but had wandered away. She was too tired to go back, so I offered to carry her. She fell back asleep halfway here.” The female bear gently placed the child on the ground. “There you go, Marisol.”

The bigger bear was looking over at Dragon and the mountain lion. “Is that Rafferty?”

Hab’itt followed the bear’s gaze and nodded.

The bear huffed and shook his head. “You better take care to keep him away from the child. He’s been a bit twitchy lately. If he’s having another of his episodes, there’s no telling what he might do.”

Hab’itt nodded. “I think he’ll be okay. It looks like Chaz is taking care of him. And there’s a dragon with him, blocking his view of the child. She came with the human female who came looking for Marisol. I don’t think that creature would let anything happen to Marisol.”

The bear nodded. “Well, Marisol, it was nice to meet you. Be sure to stop for a visit any time you’re in the neighborhood.”

Marisol smiled. “I will. And thank you.”

Marisol rubbed the sleep from her eyes and looked toward Dragon and Talia. She looked past them and stared at the cougar. After a few minutes, she frowned. “That big cat with my friends seems to need some help.”

Helping RaffWithout a second’s hesitation, the child skipped over to the other group, with Hab’itt following on her heels. Without a word, Marisol reached up and grabbed Dragon and Talia by the hand. She gazed silently at the mountain lion, who was nearby, shaking uncontrollably. “The cat needs your help. Say the words, Dragon. Say the words, Talia.”

“What words are those, child?” Dragon tilted her head and looked askance at Marisol.

The child pursed her lips. “The words that will help the big cat, of course.”

Dragon shook her head. “We have no power in this world.”

“I know.” Marisol smiled. “Say the words, Dragon, please. You, too, Talia.”

Dragon looked at Talia, who shrugged. Then they both began to intone an incantation. When they were finished, Marisol smiled again. The child tugged Dragon and Talia over to the mountain lion. “Hello, Rafferty. Are you feeling better now?”

Everyone fell silent as the big cat stopped trembling and slowly stood up. The cougar blinked several times rapidly, then squinted at Marisol. “I feel fine, thanks. Do I know you?”

Marisol shook her head.

Rafferty looked at Dragon. “I . . . I don’t know you either, do I?”

“No, you don’t know her, either.” Marisol nudged Dragon. “Well, if you’re feeling better, Rafferty, I think it’s time for me and my friends to go home. My mother will be worried.”

Hab’itt scratched behind his ear with one of his big back paws. “I . . . I guess I’ll take you back to the portal.”

“Thanks, Hab’itt, but I can find the way. I think Dragon and Talia want to talk to me.” Marisol patted the huge rabbit on his leg. “I hope you’ll come to our world . . . I mean our part of the world . . . and visit again sometime. I won’t tell my mommy if you eat any of her carrots.”

After a round of goodbyes and best wishes, the trio was on the way. As they began walking back to the portal, Marisol yawned. “Dragon, could you carry me?”

“Of course, little one.” The huge beast held out her arms, and soon Marisol was snuggled against her.

The early-rising full moon bathed the path with light, but Dragon still moved slowly so she would not trip and disturb the child in her arms.

As if sensing the beast’s concern, the child giggled. “It’s okay. I’m awake. We can talk if you’d like.”

Dragon furrowed her brow. “Yes, child, I would like to talk with you. Marisol, how did that spell work? Talia and I have no power here. I cannot even shapeshift.”

Marisol shrugged. “Your power is still within you; you just can’t call it forth. So, I did it for you. I called forth the power for you and for Talia.”

Dragon’s eyes widened, and she exchanged surprised glances with Talia. “But how did you know the mountain lion needed help?”

Saw his heartMarisol tilted her head and chewed her lower lip for several long moments before answering. “That’s harder to explain.” She paused again, choosing her words carefully. “I could see his heart.”

“You could see his what?” Talia furrowed her brow.

Marisol squirmed a bit in Dragon’s arms to better see Talia. “Well, you know how you say of someone who is kind and decent he has a good heart?”

Talia nodded.

“And if someone has lost someone he loves, you say he has a broken heart?”

Again, Talia nodded.

“Well, I could see Rafferty’s heart. I could see it was a good heart, and I could see it had been broken. I could see he needed help.”

Talia’s jaw dropped. “You could see the animal’s inner essence.”

Dragon gaped at the child as well. “That is a step beyond seeing a shapeshifter’s true nature. I have never known anyone who could see the very soul of a creature that clearly.”

Going homeMarisol shrugged, as if it were no big deal to her. She snuggled close to Dragon again and sighed. “I like that place. It was just like Hab’itt said – it’s a place of inclusion and acceptance and peace and tolerance, a place where everyone cares about everyone else, and no one cares if someone is different. I think I’d like to live in a place like that.”

Talia nodded and patted Marisol’s arm. “Perhaps you can, someday, child. Perhaps our world can be like that someday, if we all work hard enough to make it so.”

Be sure to come back next week and see what is happening with my little band of displaced characters. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Tense Moments

Tense Moments

Shock, screamSomething ahead of them on the trail screamed, a prolonged, blood-curdling scream. Before the trio could react, another scream followed, louder, shriller, and more heart-stopping than the first. Then the sound of angry voices ensued.

Dragon and Talia remained frozen for several moments, eyes wide and hearts pounding. Then they leaped into action and began to race toward the ruckus. A dozen strides later, their companion, a giant rabbit, hopped in front of them, forcing them to an abrupt halt.

Hopper chuckled. “No need for alarm. I recognize the voices. This is a common occurrence.”

Still chuckling, Hopper led Dragon and Talia toward the source of the sound that had continued and intensified. Seconds later, they rounded a bend in the path and stopped, watching the scene unfold. Talia’s jaw dropped and she turned deathly pale as she saw the field full of giant animals.

What was screaming

“Ooooooooooooooooooooo! Ooooooooooooooooooooo!” A large badger was screaming at the top of its lungs.

“Ooooooooooooooooooooo! Ooooooooooooooooooooo!” A young coyote joined in the cacophony.

Father and son coyotes“Stop it, Junior! You’re giving me a headache!” The larger coyote next to the howling youngster snapped at him, then glared at the badger. “And you stop it, too, Benny. You’re such a diva.”

Fawn“Yeah, Benny!” A spotted fawn lifted her head from the basket of carrots and spoke around a mouthful of food. “Don’t be such a diva! Just stop already!”

Derick on Benny's tailBenny didn’t stop. “Ooooooooooooooooooooo! Ooooooooooooooooooooo! Get him off my tail. Get him off my tail!”

Coyote and foxesThe family of foxes started yipping along with Benny’s howling until the coyote silenced them with a hard stare.

The fawn looked over at the large deer. “Dad, get off Benny’s tail, will ya?”

The deer looked down, a confused expression on his face, but he did not move.

Twitchy the rabbitA small, two-toned rabbit sighed, looked up at the deer and shook his head, a look of disgust on his furry little face. “Derrick, would you please get off Benny’s tail before he damages our hearing with his infernal caterwauling? You’re always dashing around and never watching where you’re going. You’ve stomped on my paws more times than I can count, so I know it hurts like the dickens. Benny isn’t being histrionic.”

Derick the Deer“I’m sorry, Benny. I’m sorry, Twitchy. I’m sorry, everyone.” Derrick the deer finally seemed to understand. He carefully moved his hoof off Benny’s tail, only to place it dangerously close to a large rabbit’s front paw, a rabbit Dragon recognized as Hab’itt. The rabbit jumped back, narrowly avoiding knocking over another rabbit who had been sitting next to him, munching on some carrot greens. “Sorry, Hab’itt.” Derrick hung his head.

Habitt and Bracken“Oops. Sorry, Bracken!” Hab’itt steadied the other rabbit he had bumped into, as he glared at the clumsy deer.

Hopper laughed and moved lazily onto the field. “What a sorry bunch we have here today!”

brothers 2“Hey, Hopper! Where have you been, you big ox? We got tired of waiting, so we started the picnic without you.” Hab’itt hopped over to greet his brother with an affectionate nose-rub.

“Hey, you little runt! I hope you saved some carrots for me!” Hopper returned his brother’s greeting.

Suddenly, Hab’itt noticed his brother’s companions. “Oh, hello!” He cocked his head and sniffed at Dragon. “I met you while I was on my journey, didn’t I?”

https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2020/09/13/yet-another-big-problem/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2020/09/20/an-interesting-encounter/

Dragon nodded.

Talia closeup 2Rabbit 2“I don’t think I met you, though.” Hab’itt looked closely at Talia and sniffed at her. “I’m Hab’itt. Are you with the dragon?” He held out a paw to Dragon’s companion.

The woman nodded. “Pleased to meet you. I’m Talia.”

Dragon noted that her companion nodded affably as she shook the rabbit’s paw. Talia had evidentially become much more comfortable around large, talking rabbits since their initial encounter with Hopper, but Dragon saw that the woman nonetheless kept a careful eye on the other animals closing in around them.

“What brings the two of you here?” Hab’itt’s ears moved around like two elongated radar dishes as he spoke.

“They’re looking for a human child, a little girl who’s lost. They thought you may have brought her here, or that she followed you here without your knowledge.” Hopper twitched his nose.

Marisol 1Hab’itt thumped one back foot and gave Dragon a questioning look. “Marisol?”

Dragon nodded.

“Well, I didn’t bring her here, and I didn’t notice her following me.” Hab’itt called to the others, “Anyone see a human child around here?”

There was a lot of head shaking, and more than a few nos.

“How long has she been missing?” Hab’itt turned his attention back to Dragon and Talia.

Dragon frowned. “Her mother has not seen her since before the child followed you to our yard. I am not certain how long ago that is in your world. It was after dark of the day we met you when we tracked you and Marisol to the portal, but it was midday here when we emerged in this world a few moments later.”

Difference in time

Hab’itt nodded. “Yes, we have noticed time proceeds at different rates in different parts of the world.”

“Different parts of the world?” Talia furrowed her brow.

“Oh, that’s right. You weren’t there when I explained it to the dragon.” Hab’itt frowned. “You define world differently than we do. To me and my kind, there is only one world. Wherever there is life, it is part of that one world. You believe the portals connect one world with another world. We believe they connect one part of the singular world with another part.”

Talia raised an eyebrow but nodded her understanding.

Hab’itt scratched behind an ear with one giant back paw. “Getting back to how long the child’s been missing, I’m not sure if it’s still yesterday back where you came from, or if it’s a week from next Verday.” He laughed, indicating he was just joking.

Hopper frowned and twitched his ears. “This is no joking matter. A mother is frantic over her lost child. If the little girl is, indeed, in this part of the world, we need to find her and return her to her home.”

Hab’itt looked contrite, his ears flat against his neck and back, his eyes downcast. “You’re right. It’s nothing to joke about.” He turned toward Dragon. “You said you tracked both me and Marisol to the portal?”

Dragon nodded. “I could not tell precisely how much time had expired between your passage through the portal and when Marisol went through. If you did not go at the same time, if you did not take her with you, she was just moments behind you.”

“And you picked up her scent again on this side?” Hab’itt scrunched up his face as Dragon again nodded. “If she were that close, I should have seen her. At the very least, I should have heard her.” He wiggled his ears back and forth.

Priceless image“Well, the old bloodhound there will just have to keep tracking.” Talia pointed to Dragon, who gave her a stern stare as smoke started to drift from her nose.

“We’ll help.” The coyotes and the foxes raced over. “It should be easy to pick up the scent of a human. Let’s just sniff you a bit, so we won’t follow your scent.”

Talia blinked rapidly at the advancing animals and started backing away. “Uh, that won’t be necessary. Not that we don’t appreciate the offer, but I’m sure we can manage on our own.”

“We cannot.” Dragon frowned at Talia.

“But . . . but . . .” Talia stammered.

Coyote daddy“What?” The adult coyote fixed her with a steely stare. “You have something against coyotes or foxes?”

“Well, you’re carnivores,” she blurted. “I’m small enough compared to all of you, but Marisol wouldn’t even make one good-sized bite!”

Junior ewwwww“Ewwwwwwwwwwwww!” The coyote pup, sitting at his father’s side, made a gagging sound. “Carnivores? You think we eat meat? Gross!”

Dragon rounded on Talia, lecturing her. “This is not your world . . . or your part of the one world. Things are different here.” She turned to the animals milling around and shooting annoyed glances at the strangers in their midst. “Forsooth! My companion meant no disrespect. She is just ignorant of your customs and dietary proclivities. Any assistance you can render would be greatly appreciated.”

Talia with flaming cheeksTalia shuffled her feet and blushed scarlet. “Of course, if you say we need their help, I welcome it. But I thought your sense of smell was sufficient for the task.”

Dragon shook her head. “Under normal circumstances, I would have no trouble tracking Marisol. However, her scent trail goes off in several different directions.”

“How is that possible?” Talia furrowed her brow and raked her hand through her hair.

The young coyote rolled his eyes. “The child you are looking for evidently traipsed around this area, going this way and that, crossing and re-crossing her own trail as she went. She was probably exploring or attempting to remain hidden.” The pup gave Talia a superior look.

The older coyote nodded. “Junior’s right. So, I suggest we divide into two groups, each following the trail in a different direction. Dragon, you are obviously the one with the best sense of smell. You should take the rabbits and the deer with you. Since the badger, the foxes, and my son and I all have exceptional olfaction, we will go in a different direction. We will take the human female with us, as she is known to the little girl and will be able to reassure the child she will be safe.”

“But who is going to reassure me that I will be safe?” Talia muttered under her breath, giving the animals a nervous, sidelong glance.

“We also have great auditory modality,” the pup whispered to Talia with a sharp bark that passed for a laugh.

Reynard and coyote pupThe reynard walked over to the coyote pup and nudged him. He spoke to the youngster in a loud stage whisper. “Junior! Didn’t your parents teach you not to play with your food?” He gave Talia a wide-mouthed grin.

“Dear, don’t make her nervous!” The vixen frowned at her mate.

Too late! Talia thought, as she edged away from the group. She called to Dragon. “Are you sure I shouldn’t come with you?”

Dragon gave Talia a dismissive wave of her taloned hand and started off, leading her group along the scent trail to the west. The animals in Talia’s group headed off to the northeast.

“Come along, Tidbit . . .er, I mean Talia.” The big coyote sneered at her and started walking slowly and deliberately across the field, nose to the ground. After a few paces, he glanced back over his shoulder at Talia, rooted to the spot. He growled. “Do try to keep up!”

Despite her rubbery legs and pounding heart, once Talia started moving, she had but little trouble sprinting along with the long-legged giants in the pack, until something bolted from the hedgerow. It crashed headlong into her and almost knocked her senseless. She found herself flat on her back on the hard ground, looking up into the slavering maw of a giant mountain lion.

Cougar

Now what? Is Talia about to meet her end? What happened to all her powers? Will Dragon be able to find Marisol and return her safely to her own home? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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The Search Continues

The Search Continues

End of the branch disappeared“What is it?” Talia was pale and wide-eyed. She stared at the tree branch Dragon was holding, the tip of which had vanished when Dragon had thrust it at the spot where Talia had been about to walk. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2020/10/04/the-search/

Dragon frowned. “It appears to be a portal. That is, a gateway or conduit between worlds.”

“A portal?” Talia peered at the air swirling around the end of the branch, like the ripples from a tiny pebble dropped into a mirror-calm lake. “So, what do we do now?”

Dragon held up her clawed index finger, indicating Talia should give her a minute to investigate. Then the huge reptile pulled the branch back from the portal and examined it. The tip was still intact and showed no signs of damage. Tossing the branch aside, she walked around the portal, giving the area a wide berth. She carefully studied the ground and sniffed all around the area. Finally, the beast turned to Talia. “I see no footprints on the far side of the portal; nor do I detect any scent of Marisol or Hab’itt past this point. It is obvious they went through the portal. Methinks the only course of action left to us is to follow them.”

“Fo . . . fo . . . follow them? Through the portal?

Dragon nodded.

Talia took a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed at the beads of sweat that were forming on her forehead and dripping down into her eyes. “Errr . . . I really think Christine would be better suited for such an endeavor.”

Dragon knew the woman was referring to her partner, the other half of the team that managed the Chris-Tal Clear Metaphysical Store. “Christine is not here. You are.” Smoke started to drift from Dragon’s snout.

“She could be here in nothing flat. Just let me call her.” Talia fumbled for her cell phone.going through portal

“No time.” Dragon clamped a taloned hand around Talia’s wrist and pulled her into the portal.

Talia closed her eyes and held her breath as Dragon tugged her along. The trip was short, just like walking through an open door. One second, they were in one world, three seconds and an equal number of steps later, they were in another.

“Well!” Talia smoothed her jacket and looked around. “That wasn’t at all what I was expecting.”

“Oh?” Dragon looked at her questioningly.

Talia shrugged. “In the movies and on TV, when people go through a portal like this, they fall, or they float, and it takes a long time for them to emerge on the other side.”

Dragon nodded. “Some portals are like that. Conduits can be exceptionally long and take a great deal of time and effort to navigate. Gateways, on the other hand, are simple doorways between two adjacent worlds.”

Talia nodded. “I see. Well, now that we stepped through the door into this world, what do we do? How do we find Marisol?”

“We continue our previous endeavor. We look.”

looking upAs she was saying that, Dragon noticed that Talia was already looking. Looking up. And up. And gulping.

“Haa . . . haa . . . Hab’itt?” Talia’s voice squeaked and cracked as she looked up at a giant rabbit.

Hab’itt?” The immense animal towering over Talia threw his head back and laughed. “Do I look like that little runt?”

Dragon raised an eyebrow. “Hmmmm. It disappoints me to hear such words in the homeland of which Hab’itt spoke so fondly, the land to which he longed to return.”

“Oh?” The rabbit gave Dragon a long look. “And why is that?” He sat back and twitched his ears at her.

“Hab’itt spoke of a way of life enjoyed by his kind, a way of life marked by inclusion, tolerance, acceptance, and peace. Such flippant and discourteous speech, such name-calling, does not seem to fit into that idyllic picture.” Dragon wrinkled her nose at the big rabbit and smoke began to drift from her nostrils. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2020/09/20/an-interesting-encounter/

The rabbit laughed again. “Hab’itt described our homeland accurately. And the name-calling to which you refer is just a pet name, a sign of affection for my little brother.”

Dragon raised an eyebrow again and folded her arms over her chest. “Oh?”

Brothers“Indeed.” The rabbit smiled warmly. “I call him the little runt; he calls me the big ox.” Seeing Dragon remained unconvinced, he chuckled. “Have you never had a relative or friend who used a term of endearment that, to others, seemed unkind?”

Dragon blushed, thinking of the times the Old Dwarf had called her beastie. “Forsooth! You make a good point.” She reached out a clawed hand. “I am Dragon. This is Talia.”

The rabbit took her hand as best he could in his massive paw. “I am most pleased to make your acquaintance. I am Hopper.” He shook Dragon’s hand, then extended his paw to Talia, who took it a bit apprehensively.

“Our pleasure.”

“You are strangers to our land. Did you come to see my brother, or just to see the land he spoke of?” Hopper smoothed his whiskers with his front paws as he spoke.

Marisol 1Dragon shook her head. “Actually, we seek another from our land. We believe a small child either accompanied your brother, or followed him, to your land. We need to return her to her own home and family.”

Carrot Patch“A child, you say. Hmmm. Last I saw Hab’itt, he was with a group of friends in the carrot patch. I saw no small child with them.” Hopper looked from Dragon to Talia and back, then scratched behind one ear with a huge back paw. “What species is this child?”

“She is human.” Dragon saw a strange look on Talia’s face, and added, “to the best of my knowledge. At least, her appearance is that of a human.”

Hopper nodded. “Well, a human would stand out in these parts. We don’t have any, you see. But, of course, a young’un could be easily overlooked if she kept quiet. A small creature can find all sorts of places to hide. Not right here, of course.” The rabbit gestured around at the field in which they were standing amid the remains of grain stalks that had been mown for straw.

Nothing could hide here

Dragon nodded. “Forsooth, nothing larger than a small songbird could hide in this stubble.”

“But there, that’s a different story.” The rabbit nodded to the east. “If the human child you seek has entered that savannah, finding her could prove most difficult.” Hopper thumped one hind leg nervously and smoothed his whiskers again.

Dragon and Talia followed the Hopper’s gaze. The landscape beyond the agricultural field was dominated by thick grasses, ferns, and flowering plants rising shoulder-high to the giant rabbit in some places and dotted by ancient trees with girths large enough for even Hopper to hide behind.

Talia tapped her chin with one finger and noticed her fingernail had broken. “Shoot!” Frowning, she fished an emery board from her pocket and filed down the offending nail while Dragon rolled her eyes at the woman. When Talia finished, she turned and addressed Dragon. “I was thinking . . .”

“Always a difficult undertaking for you.” Dragon raised an eyebrow and smirked.

Talia angry 2Talia scowled at Dragon before repeating herself. “I was thinking . . . maybe you could fly over that area and take a look.”

Dragon furrowed her brow. “The vegetation there is so thick, I doubt I would be able to see Marisol from overhead.” The beast shook her head. “No, let me see if I can see her footprints or pick up her scent here in this field.”

Sidestepping the portal, Dragon looked closely at the ground. She grunted and shook her head. “This stubble makes it difficult to follow anyone’s trail.” She started sniffing. “Ah, yes! The child has been here, and rather recently.” She sniffed a few more times, turning her head this way and that. “Here. She went in this direction.” She pointed to the north.Priceless image

“You do make a good bloodhound.” Talia smirked.

Dragon glared at the woman, and smoke drifted from her nose. “Be glad I do. A keen nose may prove the only way to find Marisol.”

She turned her back on Talia and addressed the rabbit once more. “What is in that direction?”

Hopper twitched his nose and thumped his back foot again. “That is the way to the carrot patch. Perhaps the child did accompany my brother.”

Dragon nodded. “Or she followed him without his knowledge.”

Talia snorted. “Followed him or went with him, what does it matter? Let’s just go and get her.”

Watch the portalThe woman stepped forward, but Hopper grabbed her, snagging the collar of her jacket with his teeth and pulling her back. “Watch out for the portal!”

Blushing furiously and mopping the sweat from her brow, Talia murmured a thank you and carefully followed Hopper and Dragon.

The trio crossed the field to the eastern edge, then walked north along a berm for close to a quarter hour before Hopper led them onto a small path. “This way. The carrot patch is about a half-mile further on this path.”

What passed this wayDragon took a deep breath, trying to identify Marisol’s scent among the many around that area. After a few moments of sniffing, she nodded. “The child has passed this way.” She frowned, as she continued sniffing. “So have a number of other creatures – Hab’itt, several other rabbits, a deer, a family of foxes, a badger, and a band of coyotes.”

Talia blanched. “We best hurry.”

Suddenly, they heard a piercing scream from up ahead.

Piercing scream

Who screamed, and why? Is Marisol in danger? Be sure to join us again next week to see what is happening. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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The Search

The Search

Talia and Dray leaving houseTalia dashed from the house, dragging Dray. The two women made their way down the flagstone walkway, Dray tripping and stumbling as she was tugged along. When they reached the street, Dray stopped dead and jerked her arm free from Talia’s grasp. “Wait! Where are we going?”

“To Marisol’s.”

“Why?” Dray rubbed her wrist where Talia had been holding her in a vice-like grip.

Talia frowned. “Didn’t you say Marisol and some giant, talking rabbit left here together and were supposedly going back to her yard?”

Dray nodded.

“Then, obviously, that’s why we’re going there.” Talia rolled her eyes and shook her head at Dray.

Ferrari“Are we not taking your vehicle?” Dray gestured toward a flashy red Ferrari parked haphazardly at the curb.

“No. I don’t want Bastina to know we’re there. So, stay close to me and be quiet now. I’ll cast a spell of concealment over us.” Talia raised her hand and started to mumble an incantation.

Dray shook her head. “I think we should let Bastina know we are looking for Marisol. She is worried about her daughter.”

Talia angry 2Talia scowled. “You should know better than to interrupt when a spell is being cast. Hush!”

Ignoring Talia’s admonishment, Dray continued talking. “But Bastina . . .”

Talia cut her off. “We told Marge and Miles to tell Bastina we’re looking for Marisol. We don’t have time right now to deal with a frantic mother.”

She raised her hand again and resumed mumbling.

Dray wrinkled her brow. “Bastina will be more reassured if we are the ones to explain what is happening . . .”

Scowling, Talia grabbed Dray by the shoulders and gave her a shake. “I said you should know better than to interrupt when a spell is being cast. Hush!

smoke poured from Dragon 2Dray shimmered as she shapeshifted back to her true form. The angry dragon loomed over Talia and growled, black smoke spewing from her snout. “It is not wise to maltreat a wyrm, or to order one quiet.”

Talia’s eyes narrowed. “It isn’t wise to interrupt me when I’m trying to cast a spell. Some vainglorious reptile might just find herself transformed into a puny lizard and dropped down the nearest storm drain.”

Dragon snarled. “You dare not try; and if you did, you might not survive long enough to regret it.”

Talia scoffed. “Oh, please! Do you really think you could take me on?” She chuckled. “If we had the time, I would love to accommodate you. But right now, it is imperative that we find Marisol. So, get over yourself and come along . . . quietly!”

Gecko in puddleFiery dragonDragon roared, flames erupting from her mouth. The next thing she knew, she was a tiny lizard, swimming with all her might while trying not to drown in a tiny puddle full of fallen leaves next to the curb. Before she was half-way across the water, she was once again a dragon.

Momentarily stunned, she stood gaping at Talia, who crossed her arms over her chest and smirked.

Now can we go . . . quietly?”

Dragon narrowed her eyes and continued to stare at Talia for several long minutes. Finally, she nodded curtly and quietly followed Talia down the street toward Marisol’s house as the smug woman raised her hand and mumbled the incantation that would keep them hidden.

When they reached Marisol’s house, Dragon reached out and clamped a taloned hand firmly on Talia’s shoulder, causing the woman to wince. “Now . . . if you are quite certain you have successfully cast the spell of concealment . . . let us talk.” She raised her other hand traffic-cop style and silenced Talia when the woman opened her mouth to reply. “First, let me say this – do not ever again attempt to cast a spell on me.”

Attempt?” Talia snickered. “I thought I did a lot more than attempt. I thought I was quite successful.”

“For a brief moment at most, and then only because you caught me off guard. Believe me when I say that will never happen again.” Dragon narrowed her eyes, and smoke drifted from her nostrils.

Reached Marisol's house“Fine. Sorry.” Talia shrugged and snickered again, clearly not sorry at all. She attempted to move, but Dragon’s claws in the woman’s shoulder kept her pinned to the spot.

“Now, precisely what are we doing here?” Dragon scowled at Talia.

The woman sighed. “We’ve been through this. Do try to keep up. We are here because you said Marisol and some giant, talking rabbit were supposedly coming back here.”

When Dragon simply blinked and said nothing, Talia rolled her eyes and continued. “If they came back here, you should be able to track them from here, either magically or with your keen sense of smell.”

“Suppose they did not return here? Should we not have started tracking them from Mistress Writer’s yard, the last place I saw them?”

Talia scoffed. “I doubt the rabbit would have taken her anywhere else before coming back here. Even a child her age would be suspicious if the creature suddenly suggested a different destination.”

Dragon took a few moments to consider this before nodding. “So, do you believe the rabbit kidnapped Marisol upon their return here, or do you believe Marisol’s curiosity compelled the child to follow the rabbit when he continued on his journey?”

Now it was Talia’s turn to consider. She furrowed her brow and chewed her lower lip before answering. “I’m not sure. Did the rabbit seem like a kidnapper to you?”

Marisol and rabbitDragon shook her head. “No. Hab’itt seemed too open and too sensitive to engage in a violent transgression.”

Talia raised an eyebrow and giggled. “Hab’itt? Hab’itt the rabbit? You’ve got to be kidding.”

“That was the name he gave.” Dragon did not seem amused. “Do try to stay focused. Now, if Hab’itt did not kidnap Marisol, that leaves the distinct possibility that the curious child merely followed him, perhaps becoming lost somewhere along the way.”

Talia, doing her best to stifle her giggles, nodded. “We better check out this yard carefully and see if we can pick up their tracks.”

Dragon frowned. “It seems to me you have sufficient magic to track them yourself. I resent being dragged along to be used like a bloodhound.”

Priceless image“Bloodhound?” Talia giggled again. “Thank you for that priceless image. I admit that was a part of why I brought you along, but I was actually thinking more of having a comrade-in-arms, should the need arise for self-defense.”

Dragon scoffed. “You expect a murderous confrontation? From a rabbit?”

Marisol and rabbit“A six-foot-tall, talking rabbit.” Talia raised an eyebrow and gave Dragon a steely look. “I don’t suppose you noticed if he was disguised, magically or otherwise.”

Dragon shook her head. “I did observe he was not an illusion. Beyond that, I really did not examine him. I suppose he could have been hiding his true nature, but I should think Marisol would have seen through that. She saw him, as did I, as a large rabbit, capable of speech and coherent thought.”

Talia nodded. “Then let’s take a look around the yard and see if we can find any clues.”

It took about forty-five minutes for Dragon and Talia to thoroughly examine the acre-and-a-half of lawn and flower beds between the back of the house and the fence adjacent to the patch of woods to the north, but they uncovered no clues.

“Did you pick up their scent anywhere?” Talia pushed a lock of hair out of her eyes and squinted at Dragon.

Dragon made a gesture of frustration. “Marisol’s scent is everywhere, which I expected since it is her yard and she plays here daily. Hab’itt’s scent is here as well, but I am unable to determine where he entered the property, or whence he left.”

Talia frowned and tapped her chin with a perfectly manicured nail. “Maybe we should try going a couple feet past the end of the yard and see if you can find their scent out there. That might point us in the right direction.”

Going through the fenceDragon nodded and clambered awkwardly over the split-rail fence at the back of the yard. Talia squeezed through the rough wooden rails. “Darn! I snagged my blouse on the fence.”

Examining the damage to her expensive silk shirt, Talia failed to watch where she was going. She shrieked as Dragon grabbed her roughly and jerked her back.

Talia pulled away from Dragon and rounded on the beast. “Why did you grab me like that?” She glared at Dragon, who ignored her and focused on something behind the woman.

Talia turned around and followed Dragon’s gaze. She furrowed her brow. “What is it?”

Dragon picked up a fallen branch. She walked over to the spot Talia had been when Dragon had pulled her back. Carefully, the beast raised the branch about waist-high and thrust it forward. The end of the branch disappeared.

End of the branch disappeared

Dragon looked at Talia. “I daresay we have found whence they left Marisol’s yard.”

Talia’s eyes bulged. “And whence they left this world.”

What has happened to Marisol? Is she in danger? Will Dragon and Talia be able to find her and return her home? Come back next week for more of this exciting adventure. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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The Drama Never Stops

The Drama Never Stops

Dinner was over. I was on my way to my office to pick up where I had left off after lunch, trying to come up with ideas for my weekly blog. Hopefully, this time there would be no unexpected interruptions.
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2020/09/13/yet-another-big-problem/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2020/09/20/an-interesting-encounter/

Talia at the doorI was walking down the stairs and was on the landing by the front door when the doorbell rang several times in quick succession, followed by someone banging urgently on the storm door. Quickly opening the door, I was surprised to see Talia, one-half of the duo that owned and managed the Chris-Tal Clear Metaphysical Store and the person who was instructing our young neighbor, Marisol, in the control of her mysterious power. In the cool evening air that wafted through the open door, I could feel the heat of anger radiating from Talia. Her face was red, her nostrils were flaring, her eyebrows were drawn down in a severe frown, and her hands were balled into fists. She pushed her way past me into the house without even a hello or a by your leave.

“Where is she?” Talia crossed her arms over her chest and tapped a foot impatiently.

I frowned. “Hello, Talia. Wow! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? It’s so nice to see you again. I’m fine; thanks for asking. How have you been?” I hoped my sarcasm would take some of the wind out of the angry woman’s sails.

“What? Never mind. Where is she?” The furious scowl told me I had done nothing to deter Talia.

I sighed and raised an eyebrow. “Where is who, Talia?”

The woman glared at me with so much venom in her expression, I thought if looks could kill, I’d be six feet under!

“Where is Dray?” Talia’s mouth twisted as if the name left a sour taste in her mouth.

Dragon at top of stairs“I am here.” Talia and I turned around and looked up toward the voice coming from the top of the stairs. However, instead of the delicate and exotic maiden, Dray, there loomed Dragon, Dray’s true self. There was a menacing look on her reptilian face, and she flexed her clawed hands threateningly.

smoke poured from Dragon 2Before Talia could open her mouth, Dragon stormed down the stairs. “How dare you push your way into this house? How dare you speak to the Mistress that way?” Acrid smoke poured from Dragon’s nostrils, and she bared her teeth at Talia.

Talia angry 2“How dare you undermine the work I have been doing all these months with Marisol?” If Talia was intimidated by a snarling, smoke-breathing, ten-foot-tall dragon, she was certainly hiding it well.

Dragon scoffed. “Undermine? How have I undermined anything?” The huge beast waved away Talia’s reply. “It does not matter. You still have no right to barge into this house and . . .”

stunt“I have every right. Marisol’s training has been substantially set back by that incredibly brainless, idiotic, shortsighted stunt of yours at her birthday party. Why in the name of all that’s magic would you deliberately allow the child to see your true nature after I provided you a spell powerful enough to prevent that? And why would you purposely allow her to see the illusory horses after I gave you a spell of concealment strong enough to keep them hidden from her? I won’t even ask what you were thinking when you allowed Marisol to ride an illusory Pegasus!” Talia’s voice had risen in pitch and volume with each word, until she sounded much like my Arrogant One throwing a fit.

“I saw no harm in any of those actions.” Dragon, still fuming, spoke in a dangerously low voice, close to a growl.

Talia threw her hands in the air. “That’s the problem. You saw no harm. That’s because you don’t understand what we are dealing with. You don’t know what Marisol is, or what the child must do to control her power.” Talia was standing almost toe-to-toe with Dragon now, glowering up at the snarling beast looming over her, and the woman showed no signs of backing down.

“Uh, honey?”

MilesWe all whirled around to see my husband, Miles, standing at the top of the stairs.

“What is it, sweetheart?” I figured he was going to complain about the noisy altercation.

As he spoke to me, Miles kept a wary eye on Dragon and Talia, but they were not the cause of the concern in his voice. “Uh, our neighbor, Bastina, is on the phone. Is her daughter here?”

“Marisol?” I shook my head. “No, she’s not here now. She was with us earlier, in the backyard. It was just a little after lunchtime, and she didn’t stay long. She said she was going home.”

Miles furrowed his brow and rubbed the back of his neck. “You’re sure she said she was going home? Bastina says she hasn’t seen her daughter since lunch, and she sounds frantic.”

Marisol and rabbitDragon replied. “Marisol left here with the rabbit. She was going to walk with him back to her yard.”

“Rabbit? What rabbit?” Talia’s eyes widened, and she licked her lips nervously.

Dragon looked down her nose at the woman and snarled again. “Not that it is any of your business, but we had a visitor today, a rabbit. Marisol followed him here from her backyard. They left here together, to return to her yard.”

Normal rabbitTalia paled. “Are you talking about a normal rabbit, maybe someone’s pet or a backyard variety of wild rabbit?”

Six-foot-tall rabbit on gazebo“No, as a matter of fact, he was a six-foot-tall, talking rabbit.” I frowned. “Why? Is he a friend of yours?”

Miles cleared his throat. “Ah, honey? I hate to interrupt, but what should I tell Bastina?”

Before I could answer, Talia grabbed Dragon by the arm. “We have to go. Now.

Dragon blinked, then responded to the alarm in Talia’s voice. The beast lost no time shapeshifting into her familiar alter ego, Dray, and Talia immediately dragged her toward the door.

Talia and Dray leavingAs the two figures left the house, Talia called back over her shoulder. “Tell Bastina that Dray and I will find Marisol. And don’t mention the rabbit!”

Where is Marisol? Will Talia and Dray be able to find her? Why did Talia become so nervous at the mention of a rabbit? For these answers and more, be sure to come back again next week. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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An Interesting Encounter

An Interesting Encounter

Gaped 2“I. Am. Not. An. Illusion.” Again, the rabbit confirmed what Dragon had said. He spoke slowly and distinctly, as if talking to obtuse children. My Old Dwarf, Dragon, and I stood, speechless, gaping at the six-foot-tall creature.

“Jes’ wot be ye, then?” My Old Dwarf glared at the giant rabbit but lowered his axe.

“My name is Hab’itt.”

“Hab’itt the rabbit?” I raised an eyebrow and shook my head.

Dwarf facing rightRabbit 2My Old Dwarf brandished his axe again. “Yer name do na be makin’ no nevermind ta ussins. I been askin’ wot ye be. Ye be claimin’ ye do na be illusive . . .”

“Illusory.” Dragon corrected him.

“Aye, wot the beastie be sayin’. Ye be sayin’ ye do na be thet, so jus’ wot do ye be?”

Marisol 1Another voice asked, “Are you sure you’re not an illusion?”

We all whirled around to see the new speaker.

“I am quite certain, child. I told you that before.” The giant rabbit looked down at our young neighbor, Marisol, and twitched his whiskers at her.

“Marisol! What are you doing here, child, and what do you know of this creature?” Dragon frowned.

Our young neighbor remained silent. She bowed her head and shuffled her foot back and forth in the grass.

“Eh, come now, lassie. Iffin ye be knowin’ anythin’ aboot this ginormous critter, ye be needin’ ta be tellin’ us. Ye do na be needin’ ta be afeared.” My Old Dwarf spoke to Marisol, but kept his eyes on the rabbit, towering over them.

Marisol and rabbitHab’itt ignored the dwarf and hopped down from the gazebo steps. He spoke gently to the little girl. “You may tell them, child. No one will harm you.”

I frowned at the rabbit. “Of course, no one will harm her. We’re Marisol’s friends.”

Rabbit, Marisol and dragon“Indeed, we are.” Dragon looked at Hab’itt and sniffed disdainfully. She turned back to Marisol. “Child, I asked you what you know of this creature. Prithee, if you have knowledge, I ask that you share it with us.”

Marisol continued to shuffle her foot back and forth while she spoke. “The big bunny was hopping around my yard. He was sniffing at mommy’s garden. I saw him, but mommy didn’t. When I told her a big bunny was about to eat her plants, she looked where I was pointing, and she turned sort of pale for a minute. Then she shook her head and pursed her lips. She said she was going to call Talia and ask her to work with me some more.” Marisol’s lower lip trembled. “Did I do something wrong again, Dray?”

Dray hugging Marisol“Of course not, child.” Dragon shapeshifted into her familiar guise of the delicate and exotic maiden, Dray. She leaned down and scooped Marisol into a gentle hug. “It is not wrong for you to have power, and it is not wrong for you not to be in full control of it. You are still young, and you and Talia have more work to do. Eventually, she will teach you how to fully control your talent.”

“Talent?” Marisol scoffed. The child, who had just celebrated her seventh birthday, looked at Dray with a sadness too deep for her few years. “More like a curse. I see things others don’t see. I tell them what I see, and then they see it, too. Then they are afraid . . . not just of whatever I caused them to see. They are afraid of me. Mommy’s right. People think I’m a witch.”

“But you know you are not. You are a conduit. You are affected by magic, and you cause others to be affected by it as well.” I could see Dray struggling to find the right words to comfort and reassure the child. “Eventually, Talia will train you to control your ability so completely that you alone will see what others do not. You will not cause anyone else to see things they should not, and no one will label you a witch or a sorceress.”

“But it is so hard!” Tears started to spill down Marisol’s cheeks. “Talia makes me practice the exercises she taught me for hours each day. I don’t have time to have any fun anymore.”

Birthday memoriesI smiled at the little girl. “You had fun at your birthday party, didn’t you? You received some nice presents, and Dray made your special wish come true.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2020/08/30/a-birthday-wish/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2020/09/06/a-birthday-wish-come-true/

Marisol brightened at the memory. “Oh, yes! It was the best birthday I ever had!” Then the smile faded, and the tears started again. “But Talia has made me do an extra half-hour of exercises every day since then. She said seeing Dray in her true form and seeing the illusions of the horses and the Pegasus set me back in my training.”

“Hmmmm. And how did Talia happen to know of these events? I believe I swore you to secrecy.”

Talia closeup 2Marisol hung her head. “I’m sorry, Dray. Talia seemed to know something. She asked me about my birthday party. I started telling her about the one mommy and my aunt and uncle had for me, but she said not that one. So . . . I told her.”

“I see.” Dray frowned. “I am sorry if I am the cause of you having been given more work, but I fail to see how the events of that day would set you back in your training. I will speak with Talia.”

Marisol nodded. She wiped away her tears and tried to smile. “Dray, if the big bunny isn’t an illusion, why couldn’t mommy see him until I told her about him?”

Rabbit“I do not know. Perhaps Hab’itt can explain.” Dray turned to the giant lagomorph, who was still watching Marisol. The rabbit’s whiskers were still twitching, but he remained silent.

“Well?” Dray demanded.

“Well, what is it you wish to know?” Hab’itt looked at Dray, a curious expression on his face.

“Let us start with what you are, whence you hail, and for what purpose you are here.” Dray cocked an eyebrow, folded her arms over her chest, and waited.

Hab’itt frowned. “You are quite an inquisitive creature.” He sighed. “Very well. I am a rabbit. I have no idea what you call the place whence I hail. And I have no real purpose here, other than to find my way back home.” He paused and watched Dray’s reaction. “These answers do not satisfy you?”

“They do not.” She frowned.

My Old Dwarf scoffed. “How kin ye be a rabbit? Rabbits do na grow thet big.” He scowled at the giant creature.

Rabbit looking embarrassed“Perhaps in your experience they do not. But be assured, whence I come, I am considered a runt.” Hab’itt bent his head and smoothed his whiskers with his paws in what seemed to me a gesture of embarrassment.

“And where is that, exactly?” I frowned.

“As I said, I have no idea by what name you call my home.” The rabbit wrinkled his nose at me disdainfully.

I scoffed. “Well, suppose we narrow it down a bit. Maybe we can figure out what we call it if we know what you call it.”

“Home.” Hab’itt stretched and yawned, as if bored.

Dray raised an eyebrow. “And is your home in this world, or have you entered this world from another?”

Rabbit scratching“Define world.” Hab’itt seemed to sense our impatience, and quickly continued. “To me and my kind, there is only one world. Wherever there is life, it is part of that one world. But I can see you define the word differently.” He stopped and scratched behind his ears with one enormous back leg. “I would hazard a guess and say no, I do not come from this world as you define the word.”

“Then how be ye gittin’ here, ta this world . . . as we be definin’ tha word?” My Old Dwarf fingered his axe blade and narrowed his gaze at the big beast.

Hab’itt thought about that a moment, scratching behind his ear again. “I . . . I just walked. I am on a journey, a journey taken by each of my kind at a certain age. We travel the world . . . as we define the word . . . and learn things.”

I interrupted him. “I thought you said you had no real purpose here save finding your way back home.”

The rabbit shrugged. “I have no real purpose here . . . in this yard. I had a purpose, but my journey is over. I have completed my quest. I have learned things. But in the process, I lost my way back home.”

“What have you learned, Hab’itt?” Marisol asked softly.

Marisol and rabbit“I have learned that, in most places, to be different is to be shunned or feared, to be discriminated against, or to suffer intolerance or even violence. I have learned that the way of life enjoyed by my kind, a way of life marked by inclusion and tolerance and acceptance and peace, is rare and is not to be taken for granted. I have learned that I miss the comfort of that acceptance, and need return home.”

Marisol patted the rabbit’s huge paw. “I understand. That is what happens to me when people realize I’m different. They avoid me, or they are scared of me, or they call me names and threaten to hurt me.”

A tear slipped down Hab’itt’s face. “I am sorry you are treated this way, child. Some day, perhaps, things will change for you.”

After a few moments of silence, the rabbit sighed. “Well, I have enjoyed this conversation, but it is time for me to go. I must find my way home.” He looked around, shook his head, and thumped a back foot. “I must find my way home!” A note of panic entered his voice.

I raked my hand through my hair. “Can’t you just retrace your steps to find your way home?”

Hab’itt cocked his head and scratched behind his ear again. “Perhaps. Perhaps I have been overthinking the issue.”

me and Marisol“Dray, have you figured out how I was able to see the bunny right away, but mommy couldn’t see him until I pointed him out to her?” Marisol looked troubled.

Dray furrowed her brow and stroked her chin. “I believe it is because the rabbit is not of this world . . . as we define the word. You can see whatever exists in this world, no matter its place of origin, just as you can see through most spells of concealment, and just as you can see the true nature of any entity that has shapeshifted, transformed, or disguised their true nature through magical or physical means. But it is only through your power that others can see what you see.”

Marisol nodded and smiled. “I understand.” She looked at the big rabbit. “Well, I need to go home now, too, before mommy misses me. If you need to retrace your steps to find your way home, you need to go back to my yard, where I first saw you. Do you want to walk back there with me, Hab’itt?”

“It would be my pleasure, and my honor.” Hab’itt gave a sort of stiff bow and hopped slowly beside Marisol as she walked away. The little girl turned several times and waved goodbye to us.

Just before they turned the corner of the house, Hab’itt called back over his shoulder. “Dwarf! Tell the insufferable screechy one he is wrong. The rabbits in this yard enjoy your game. They realize they are in no true danger from you, and they are amused by your . . . colorful language.” He winked and disappeared around the corner.

“Eh, thet big critter be pretty smart! Tee-hee! Tha elfie will na be happy ta be hearin’ thet he be wrong aboot tha bunnies an’ I be right!”

Dwarf petting bunnyI chuckled as I watched one of the backyard rabbits stretch up to sniff at my Old Dwarf. It almost looked as if the rabbit were trying to entice the dwarf to chase him again. The dwarf absently started petting the animal.

I turned to Dray. “So, where do you think Hab’itt came from?”

“Not from this world . . . as we define the word.” She winked. “But how he traveled from his world to this one, I could not say.”

“I would na be worrin’ much aboot it. The big critter dinna be seemin’ dangerous.” My Old Dwarf was still petting the rabbit.

Dray nodded but frowned. “No, I daresay the rabbit meant no harm. However, if creatures from his world are in the habit of making these journeys, mayhap the next one that wanders through here might not be so benign.”

As Dray and I mulled over that dire possibility, my Old Dwarf suddenly yelped. “Ye consarned little scamp! Ye been nippin’ me!”

The chase is on againAnd the chase was on again, with the rabbit staying just out of range of the axe being wildly swung about by the dwarf, as the rotund figure huffed and puffed along behind the little critter, turning the air blue with his colorful language.

I looked at Dray and smiled. “You know, I think Hab’itt knew what he was talking about. That little bunny looks perfectly happy.”

Dray nodded. “As does the dwarf.”

As the chase headed along the side of the house, toward the front yard, I called after them. “Stay on this property! We don’t want any problems with the neighbors!”

I hoped my Old Dwarf heard me.

I hope you’ll visit with me and my little band of displaced characters again next week. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Yet Another BIG Problem

Yet Another BIG Problem

Dragon in front of fireplaceI stopped short as I was walking past the open door to the conference room and did a double-take. There was Dragon, curled up in front of her illusory fireplace. The fire was roaring, and the leaping flames should have been enough to transform the entire house into a sauna, as had often been the case in the past. Yet, I realized, I was perfectly comfortable.

I scratched my head, and cautiously entered the room. The temperature felt only slightly higher on that side of the doorway than it had in the hallway. I furrowed my brow and walked across the room toward Dragon and her fireplace. As I approached, the temperature rose exponentially, until I found myself bathed in sweat as I reached Dragon’s side.

Smoke rose from her snoutDragon opened one eye and glared at me. Without preamble, she immediately began complaining. “What is wrong with your Minnesota weather? It is only early September, and already the temperature has fallen into what your heat-measuring devices register as the thirties.” Angry black smoke rose from her snout. “The thirties! That is winter weather!”

I laughed. “Yes, I saw the temperature this morning was only 36 degrees Fahrenheit. But that was a fluke.”

Dragon scoffed. “A fluke? You mean an aberration? An anomaly? Not something normal for this time of year? I have a better name for it, human! An abomination! Your Minnesota weather is an abomination!

Comfortable autumn weatherI stifled a chuckle and tried to look sympathetic. “I know, I know. I’m not happy about it, either. But it’s not going to last. According to the weather forecast, we should be enjoying some extremely comfortable autumn weather for the next several weeks, with temperatures ranging into the high seventies most days, and only dipping to the mid forties overnight.”

“Well, that is somewhat better.” Dragon closed her eyes, but continued grumbling under her breath, and smoke continued to drift from her nostrils.

I chuckled and walked away. Stopping by the door, I called back to Dragon. “By the way, I must commend you. You seem to have found a way to bask by your fireplace without roasting the other inhabitants of the house.”

Dragon with smoke bubblesDragon turned blue, and the smoke started dripping like bubbles from her nose, as typically happened when she was embarrassed. “Errr, yes . . . well . . . when Ollie visited, he did suggest it would be only polite of me to find a way to control the heat . . . you know, out of consideration for my fellow characters and for you and Master Miles.”
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2020/08/16/an-old-friend-to-the-rescue/

Ollie (10)I smiled. “I knew I liked that big Old English Sheepdog!”

Mmmmm so do IDragon slowly morphed to her favored hue of deep red, and a dreamy look settled on her face. A silly smile pulled at her reptilian lips, as she nodded. “Mmmmmm . . . so do I.”

I shook my head. “Well, on that note, I think I’ll go up and see if Miles has lunch ready yet. Are you coming?”

* * *

Old Dwarf chasing rabbitDragon in front of fireplaceAfter lunch, Dragon returned to her fireplace, and I retired to my office to try to come up with some ideas for my weekly blog. As I gazed absently out the window while turning over several ideas in my mind, I saw my Old Dwarf chasing after a rabbit. He was threatening the creature with his axe, and even through the closed window, I could hear the old rapscallion cussing up a storm.

“I be gittin’ ye this time, ye consarned, ornery liddle critter, jest ye be seein’ iffin I do na! It ne’er be makin’ no nevermind how oft I be tellin’ ye ta be stayin’ outten Mistress Writer’s carrot patch, ye al’ays be sneakin’ in dere an’ be snitchin’ tha bestest carrots! Wale, thet be endin’ right here and now, ye furry little scobberlotcher! Ye cumberground! Ye quisby! Ye useless liddle smell-feast!”

I sighed and tried to ignore the kerfuffle, knowing full-well my Old Dwarf would never actually harm the rabbit. Both dwarf and rabbit seemed to enjoy these routine chases, the rabbit often stopping and waiting for his pursuer if the dwarf fell behind. The rabbit always managed to stay out of range of the dwarf’s weapon, whether by the critter’s own speed and skill, or by the fact that it really was just a game to the dwarf.

However, today’s hoo-hah was too loud and too prolonged to ignore. I left my office and headed to the backyard.

“Hey! Are you tormenting that poor, defenseless, little animal again?” I winked at my Old Dwarf, who abandoned the chase and sat down on the steps of the gazebo, huffing and puffing.

“Nay, lass! Ye be knowin’ thet I do na be harmin’ ’em none. I jus’ be ’splainin’ ta ’em thet he should na be pilferin’ all tha bestest carrots outten yer garden.”

Upset elf“Not harming him? Not harming him?” My Arrogant One joined the conversation, drawing himself up, rocking back on his heels, grasping his cloak with both hands, and screeching like a banshee at the dwarf. “You are terrorizing that poor creature, chasing him around, threatening him with your axe, and yelling obscenities at him at the top of your lungs.

My Old Dwarf snorted and looked up at the elf. “Eh, do na be gittin’ yer knickers in a twist! Ye be gittin’ more upset aboot it all then tha bunny be, elfie.”

Do not call me elfie!”

I took a quick inventory of the windows on the back of the house, checking for shattered glass, before turning back to my two characters. Before I could say anything, however, someone else joined the conversation.

“It would appear to me that there are good arguments on both sides of the issue.”

The deep, rumbling voice came from the other side of the gazebo. A moment later, a sleek, reddish-brown, six-foot-tall rabbit hopped up onto the structure and looked curiously at the dwarf and the elf.

Six-foot-tall rabbit on gazebo

My Old Dwarf chuckled. “Nay, elfie. Ye will na be makin’ a fool o me agin wit thet illusion.”

“Yeah, give it a rest.” I frowned at my Arrogant One. “It wasn’t funny the first time.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/07/07/hello-neighbor/

The elf blanched and shook his head. “I have created no illusion.”

RabbitThe rabbit appeared offended. He scrunched up his face, he flattened his ears against his back, and he thumped one hind foot. “Indeed, he has not! Hrumph! Do I look like an illusion?”

As the rabbit rose to his hind legs and glowered at us, my Arrogant One screeched and took off for the presumed safety of the garden shed.

My Old Dwarf kept an eye on the giant lagomorph as he addressed me in a dry voice. “Mebbe yer mister should be invitin’ this one ta dinner. It be lookin’ liken it be in tha carrot patch more’n oncet, and would be the makins’ o a fine rabbit stew.”

The rabbit curled his upper lip in obvious contempt. He looked the rotund dwarf up and down. “And you, sir, appear to have spent considerable time at your trough. Perhaps you would be the makings of a fine pig roast.”

Instead of taking offense, my Old Dwarf slapped his knee and doubled over, laughing until tears ran down his cheeks. “Thet be a good un! Ye be havin’ a fine wit aboot ye, rabbit.”

“What is going on here? Why has that blasted elf been shrieking? How am I to sleep with all that caterwauling? I have been courteous enough to keep the heat from my fireplace confined. Can the elf not be as considerate and curtail his noise? I thought he was going to shatter my crystal chandelier!”

The rabbit, the dwarf, and I all swung around and looked at the new speaker. Dragon was stomping down the stairs from the deck, black smoke spewing from her snout.

Rabbit and dragonMy Old Dwarf chuckled. “Eh, it be nuttin, beastie. Tha elfie been illusionin’ a big bunny, liken he been doin’ oncet afore. Then he been actin’ all skeerdidy-like, as iffins he dinna been knowin’ the critter be a fake, and then the liddle popinjay been runnin’ off.”

The rabbit pinned his ears back again and thumped his hind leg once more. His deep voice rumbled with anger. “I told you before, I am not an illusion.”

“Iffins ye be sayin’ so, bunny.” The dwarf chuckled again.

Dragon gave the oversized creature a perfunctory glance. “The rabbit is correct. He is not an illusion. Now, where is that annoying elf?”

wide-eyed“What?” I gaped, first at Dragon then at the rabbit. The former merely looked annoyed, but the latter gave me and the dwarf a smug look.

“I asked the whereabouts of the elf.” Dragon spewed some more smoke.

“No . . . not that. What did you say about the rabbit?”

Dragon with smoke bubbles2“I said he is not . . .” Suddenly it appeared that Dragon’s rational mind prevailed over her anger at the elf, and she realized exactly what she had said. Gaping at the rabbit, Dragon turned blue, and the clouds of smoke turned to bubbles, dripping from her nose. “He is not an illusion,” she finished weakly.

“He do na be an illusion?” My Old Dwarf’ eyes grew as large as saucers and he gulped.

“He isn’t an illusion?” My eyes were probably as large as my Dwarf’s.

“I. Am. Not. An. Illusion.” The rabbit confirmed what Dragon had said, speaking slowly and distinctly, as if talking to obtuse children. My two characters and I stood, speechless, gaping at the six-foot-tall creature.

Gaped 2

Why is there a six-foot-tall rabbit in my backyard? Where did he come from, and what does he want? Be sure to come back next week and see if we can get to the bottom of this. I’ll leave the porch light on for you. Oh, yeah – you might want to bring some carrots. Big carrots!

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Another Winner for Jean Rabe

Another Winner for Jean Rabe

Backyard nature photographyAfter a wonderfully relaxing day of camaraderie and backyard nature photography (https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2020/07/26/some-time-to-relax/), my characters got back to their normal routines.

Returned to normal routinesMy Foreman decided he was not quite ready to return to the illusory world my spellcasters had created for him, so he, my Gypsy, and my Young Hero spent a few days working their ersatz horses. Dragon, Sorceress, and Cleric began collecting botanicals and other raw spell components and processing them, to replace the components they had used in recent spellcasting. My Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter retreated to the seclusion of the garden shed, an area they had long ago overhauled and claimed as their place of refuge. My Old Dwarf returned to chasing the rabbits around the yard, cussing at them and brandishing his axe, but never quite catching any of them.

I arrived for dinner one evening midweek to an empty table, save for my husband who was looking confused. “Honey, are we the only two eating tonight? I made enough stew for an army.”Dinner table

I frowned. “I don’t know of any reason the others wouldn’t be eating with us tonight. Give me a few minutes and I’ll see if I can round them up.”

Before I could move, Dragon, Sorceress, and Cleric appeared at the top of the stairs, looking exhausted. As the three trudged to the dining room, Dragon gave Miles and me a sheepish look. “We are sorry to be late to table. We managed to collect an extensive array of botanicals yesterday, and it has been a monumental task today, preserving and processing everything. We simply lost track of time.”

As the three magic users took their places at the table, another trio of my characters scurried through the door from the deck. Rushing to the table, my Foreman and the lads were all apologies for being late. My Gypsy grimaced. “We really worked the horses hard today, and it took longer than expected to walk them cool and groom them before giving them their grain and water.”

My Old Dwarf was the next one to arrive, plodding to the table, dragging his axe behind him. “I be right tuckered! I do na be knowin’ iffin I even be able ta be eatin’ anythin’ tonight, I be so tired oot from been chasin’ them long-eared varmints!” He almost crashed down into his chair and immediately placed his head down on his arms on the table. Moments later, his head shot up and he sniffed the air. “Be thet yer stew, laddie?”

My husband nodded.

“Wale, mebee I be able ta be forcin’ a few mouf-fuls.”

Miles tried to stifle a chuckle as I reached over and smacked the dwarf’s hand as he reached for the stewpot. “Wait until everyone’s here, please.”

The remainder of my little band of displaced characters, my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter, made their appearance at that moment. “Sorry.” My elf’s tone clearly indicated he was not. “Your Bounty Hunter was assisting me in the perfection of a few of my more difficult illusions. We lost track of the time and only realized it must be nearing the hour for the evening meal when this lout’s stomach started to rumble.” He jerked his thumb in the direction of his companion, who shrugged but made no comment as the two took their places at the table.

I nodded. “It sounds like everyone had a busy day. I guess no one is going to be up to doing any reading tonight, but I though some of you might be interested to learn Jean Rabe’s next book in the Piper Blackwell series is out.”

“It is?” Dragon’s eyes widened and all signs of fatigue and exhaustion melted away. “I have been looking forward to reading it. The rest of the botanicals can wait!”

“Indeed!” Cleric jumped from her seat and ran over to me. “What is the title of the book? Do you have a copy of it?” Without waiting for an answer, she turned to Dragon. “May I read it after you have finished with it?”

“Awwww . . . I wanted to read it after Dragon!” My Gypsy pouted.

“I thought you all had your own e-readers.” I raised an eyebrow at them. “Didn’t you procure them when Jean’s last book came out, so you could all read it right away and no one had to wait?”

“That’s right!” My Gypsy whooped. “We can all read the book at once!”

“What is the name of this new book?” My Bounty Hunter appeared mildly interested.

The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge.”

ridge pic 1

“That is a peculiar title. What is a Jerusalem Ridge?” My Arrogant One furrowed his brow.

I smiled. “Jerusalem Ridge is the place in Kentucky where the story begins.”

The elf tilted his head and gave me a confused look. “I thought I remembered these books being set in a place called Indiana.”

Paintball“They are. The main character, Piper Blackwell, is a sheriff in a rural county in Indiana. She’s just in Kentucky for a three-day holiday. She’s visiting some old army buddies, and they’re engaged in an extreme sport known as paintball. I know you’ll have no knowledge of this sport, but you’ll understand it after a while. Jean does an excellent job of describing everything so even people who aren’t familiar with the sport can follow the action.”

“That is one of the things I like about Mistress Rabe’s books.” My Gypsy wore a wide grin. “There is a lot about this real world of yours that we, your characters, have never encountered in our medieval world. Yet, I have no trouble following the events in Mistress Rabe’s books. She explains everything very well, often when a character has to explain something to Sheriff Blackwell, who is rather inexperienced.”

“Indeed!” Cleric nodded. “I remember in . . .” She paused to think, her brow furrowing in concentration. “I believe it was in her second book, The Dead of Night, she wrote about topics such as computer hacking and banking fraud, things of which I had no knowledge, yet I had no trouble understanding the story. Evidently the sheriff had little experience with these topics, either. So, as she learned, the readers learned.”

“Yes, yes, we know all that, but what is this book about?” My Sorceress frowned and waved Cleric off. “Is it as good as her past books?” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/12/31/mystery/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/08/18/jean-rabe-has-done-it-again/

“Well, I thought it was fantastic, every bit as good as the first three in the series, and I daresay you will enjoy it, too. There are two mysteries presented. One involves an incident at Jerusalem Ridge during the paintball. Another occurs back in Sheriff Blackwell’s jurisdiction, where her department is investigating a crime.” I motioned for my characters to wait a moment.

ReviewI retrieved my laptop and brought up one of the sites with book reviews. “Look at this. The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge already has ten reviews on this site alone, and it’s only been out a couple of weeks. And every one of the reviews here gives the book a five-star rating, the highest rating possible. Here’s one of the reviews.” I read it aloud to the others.

Another Winner for Jean Rabe. The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge is the fourth installment in award-winning author Jean Rabe’s fantastic Piper Blackwell series, and it hits its mark squarely.

The series follows the efforts of the young and inexperienced, but very capable, rural sheriff, Piper Blackwell, and her impressive team as they go about solving gruesome crimes. The action, which rarely slows for the reader to catch a breath, is at times heart-stopping and jaw-dropping.

The series is populated by rich, multi-dimensional, and sometimes quirky characters so well written that the reader will feel as if they could strike up a conversation with them. Readers will never suffer a two-dimensional, cardboard cutout character in one of Rabe’s books, and it is her inclusion of details from both the professional and personal lives of her characters that makes them feel so real. Rabe’s meticulous eye for detail, and her use of language that sings, brings the rural settings to life as well.

As The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge opens, main character Piper is taking a few days off to enjoy the company of some old army buddies and engage in the extreme sport of paintball in the eponymous Jerusalem Ridge, Kentucky. As often happens in Piper’s life, things go wrong . . . horribly wrong. The young sheriff finds herself in the middle of a mystery while dealing with serious injury and tragic personal loss.

Upon her return to the rural Indiana county where she lives and works, Piper finds her department investigating a hate crime which is dividing the usually close-knit community . . . a hate crime that takes a deadly turn. Piper immerses herself in both investigations while trying to recover from her injuries and deal with events in her personal life.

The pacing of the story, with its various twists and turns along the way, will keep the reader on the edge of their seat. The details of the crimes will draw the reader into trying to solve the mysteries of whodunit and why. The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge, like all Jean Rabe’s Piper Blackwell books, is a wonderful weave of cozy mystery, police procedural, and suspense. And the ending delivers a delightful surprise.

I can’t wait for the next book in this series.ridge pic 7

“Oh, this sounds so exciting! I cannot wait to read it!” Cleric gushed.

“Nor I!” Sorceress turned to Dragon. “Yes, the rest of the botanicals will have to wait. We need to do some reading.”

I grinned at their eagerness. “Just as a side note, on the day The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge came out, Jean Rabe won an unrelated award. She received the Faust Award, bestowing on her the title of Grandmaster, from the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers, for a lifetime of writing great tie-in books.” https://iamtw.org/2020-faust-award-winner-jean-rabe-grandmaster/

“Tie-in books?” My Gypsy looked confused.

I smiled. “A tie-in book is a work of fiction based on a film, a video game, a television series, or another such product.” Seeing the lad still looked confused, I tried to explain. “For example, Jean has written books set in the Star Wars universe, as well as tie-in books for many other products.”

“You will have to show us all of Mistress Rabe’s books someday, but right now, I want to start reading The Dead of Jerusalem Ridge.”

With that, my Gypsy and his companions gobbled their food in record time, then raced away, each intent on finding a quiet place to read.

Be sure to join us again next week to see what awaits my little band of displaced characters next. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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jean brown picjean summer

Jean Rabe is a former reporter and bureau chief turned novelist. She has more than 35 books published in various genres, and more than four dozen short stories. Perhaps best known for her fantasy and science fiction works, she has made a name for herself with her urban fantasy and her mystery tales as well. Rabe lives in a small Midwest town, enjoys board games and roleplaying games, and always has a dog or three lying across her feet as she writes.

 

The Explanation

The Explanation

Miles poked meI had not realized I had been gaping at the stranger for many long minutes until Miles poked me. “Honey?”

The panic in my husband’s voice mirrored my own fear. What was this stranger doing in our home, and how much did he know about my characters? I looked to my characters for an explanation, but the group that just moments before had been creating an uproar, everyone trying to shout over each other in their eagerness to share their tale, now stood silent, shoulders slumped, feet shuffling, eyes darting back and forth.

I turned back to the man who had identified himself as Chester and tried to think of something to say. The man beat me to it.Arthur or the Boss

His voice was terse, and his face harsh. “Like I said, I don’t know how I got here. I don’t even know where here is. And I don’t know any of you . . . do I?” Chester folded his arms across his chest and squinted at us through his thick glasses.

I gulped, and I could feel beads of sweat forming on my forehead. “Ahhh . . . Well, I’m not sure if we’ve ever met. You say your name is Chester? Where do you come from, Chester?”

He turned his attention to me and squinted harder, his eyebrows squishing together as he studied me. “I’m from Minnesota. Creekside. Where am I now? How did I get here? Who are all of you?” He sounded agitated as he barked out the staccato questions.

Dray, Clara, ChesterDragon, in her assumed identity of the delicate and exotic maiden, Dray, stepped forward, tugging cleric along with her. She touched Chester on the arm and spoke soothingly to him. “Do you not remember, sir? My sister, Clara, and I were walking along and saw you wandering around by the side of the road. You appeared quite befuddled. You could not tell us your name, or if you were sick or injured. Since neither Clara nor I had a . . .” Dragon thought hard and almost stumbled over the term. “Since neither of us had a cell phone, we brought you home with us. We thought to call the authorities so they can make sure you are well, and help you find your way home.”

The man calling himself Chester stared at Dragon, studying her for a long time. Finally, he shook his head and declared emphatically, “No! No, I don’t remember that. Are you sure about it?”

Dragon nodded. “Quite sure, sir.”

Cleric and ChesterCleric added, “Forsooth! My sister and I were quite concerned when we encountered you. You really did not seem quite yourself.”

Chester scrunched up his face and stared at Cleric. “Huh! How would you know if I was quite myself or not? You don’t know me. And forsooth? Who uses words like forsooth?”

As Chester continued his tirade, I noticed Dragon making strange and intricate gestures behind her back. Then she mumbled something and touched Chester’s arm again. The man froze mid-sentence and stood as stiff and still as a mannequin.

My eyes almost popped out of my head. “What did you do to him?”

“Do not be alarmed.” Dragon gave me a reassuring look. “I have not harmed him. My fellow magic users and I must cast a spell on him to determine if he is a real person or an illusory being, and it would be best were he not awake to witness it. The others will explain.”

While Dragon and her four magical colleagues worked together to determine Chester’s true nature and makeup, my other characters detailed their adventures in the illusory world for Miles and me.

Horses in pastureBoss watched attackMy Foreman told of the illusory world, of the magnificent horses he had seen, and of his encounter with the Boss and the stable hand. “The Boss was smug, cocky, and cruel. The way he treated the stable hand made me feel sorry for the lad. I understood the lad only attacked me because he feared the consequences of disobeying the Boss. When I suggested the Boss might have become the Boss only recently, the lad found the courage to defy the man. That saved me another lump on my head.” My Foreman reached up and gently touched the spot on the back of his head where the stable lad had walloped him with a lead pipe.

Smiling SangreeWhen my Foreman had finished his portion of the tale, my Young Hero, my Bounty Hunter, and my Old Dwarf amused us with their portrayal of Sangree – the grinning fool as my Bounty Hunter dubbed him – and their account of their journey through the region called the Changes.

My Young Hero rolled his eyes as he spoke of the pathfinder. “The ever jovial Sangree proclaimed himself the best guide in the town, but it seemed for a while that he could not guide us ten feet in any direction without getting lost.”

Changing landscapeMy Bounty Hunter nodded. “Of course, that was only due to the phenomenon of the changing landscape. One moment, we might be walking along the road past lush pasturelands, and suddenly we might find ourselves deep in a forest, or knee-deep in a swamp, or on a beach. At one point, we were even walking along some railroad tracks. And things were just as confusing once we found the stable and the Foreman.”

Dual natureMy Young Hero and my Bounty Hunter explained the apparent dual nature of the man they knew as the Boss, the man who now called himself Chester. My Young Hero shrugged. “The spell showed him to be illusory, the same as Sangree and the stable hand, but it also showed him to be real. Dragon thought it best to bring him back here to the real world in order to study the matter further.”

Alarming rate“An’ ye shoulda been seein’ tha beastie, lass! She been changin’ back ta her true self, an’ then been turnin’ blue and been dribblin’ smoke bubbles from ’er snout when thet fool guide, Sangree, be tellin’ ’er he dinna be knowin’ how ta be gittin’ back ta tha town!” My Old Dwarf slapped his knee and doubled over with laughter.

As we laughed over that image, the magic users returned, their task accomplished.

“Chester is completely real. Whatever part of him was illusory must not have been able to enter into the real world.” Dragon frowned. “Now we must find out where Chester belongs, and figure out how to get him there and erase any memory he might have of our encounter.”

I scratched my head. “How do you propose to do that?”

Dragon rubbed her jaw, raised her eyebrows, and sighed. “Well, he said he is from a place called Creekside here in Minnesota. Are you familiar with that town?”

I shook my head. “Never heard of it. What about you, Miles? You’re a Minnesota native. You ever hear of Creekside?”

MilesMiles furrowed his brow. “Nope. Maybe you could check it on the computer.”

I nodded. “Okay, while I do that, why don’t you take everyone, including Chester, upstairs and get them something to eat?”Checking on computer

A half hour later, I pushed my chair back from the desk and frowned, convinced there was no such place as Creekside in Minnesota.

Miles and ChesterAs I entered the dining room, I overheard Chester complimenting Miles on the food. “This is the best stew I’ve had in a coon’s age.” The huge smile on his face faded as he muttered, “Can’t get vittles like this at Creekside!”Lightbulb went on

A lightbulb went on in my brain. Creekside must be a retirement home or apartment complex, somewhere that served meals. “Where is Creekside, Chester? I can’t seem to find it on a map.” I sat down next to the man and waited for him to refill his bowl with the thick, savory stew.

“Creekside’s where I live. I told ya that.” He scowled.

I smiled sweetly. “Yes, I remember you telling me that, but I can’t find Creekside on a map. Is it near here?”

Chester glared at me while he finished chewing a mouthful of stew. “I told ya before, I don’t even know where here is, so how would I know if Creekside is near here?”

I ducked my head and smiled sheepishly. “Well, here is Waconia. Does that help?”

“Waconia, huh?” He ate another mouthful of stew before answering. “Yeah, I know Waconia. Got people there. My daughter and grandkids. But Waconia’s nowhere near Creekside.”

Dragon interrupted. “Clara and I found you here in Waconia. Had you been visiting your daughter’s family?”

Chester rubbed his chin and furrowed his brow. “I can’t remember. Mighta been. What street was I on when you found me?”

SupermarketDragon blushed. “I have not resided in this town long enough to have learned the street names.” She paused, narrowing her eyes as she thought. “It was quite near the market, though.”

“Bet I was going shopping. Those kids never have enough milk and good food in the house. Soda, chips, junk food, yeah, they got plenty of that. I always stock the pantry when I visit.” Chester frowned. “But if I was going shopping, I shoulda had my car. Why did you find me wandering the side of the road? What happened to me? Why can’t I remember?”

Dragon shrugged. “I do not know.”

“Should I call your daughter?” I did not know how to explain to his daughter how Chester had come to be at my house, but I did not know what else to do.

Dragon and the BossI saw Dragon making the same strange gestures she had made previously, and before Chester could reply, Dragon mumbled something and touched his arm. Once again, the man was as still and stiff as a mannequin.

Dragon rounded on me. “What do you propose to tell his daughter?”

I raked my hand through my hair and sighed. “I don’t know, but what else can we do? We can’t just open the front door and kick him out on the street.”

me and dragon“Let me handle this, Mistress. If he believes he was going shopping, that is the best place to start. My fellow magic users and I will take him to the market and see if he can find his vehicle.”

I raised an eyebrow. “What if he was wrong? What if he wasn’t going shopping? What if he doesn’t find his car in the supermarket parking lot?”

Dragon chewed on her lower lip. “Then we see if he can find his way to his daughter’s house. If he was somehow caught up in the magic as we cast the spell creating the illusory world, he must have been close by. So, it should not take long for him to find something – either his vehicle or his daughter’s house – that will bring back his memory of where he was and what he was doing before the magic entangled him.”

I started pacing, thinking of the myriad ways this could go horribly wrong. “What about his memories of the illusory world, and of being the Boss?”

Dragon shrugged. “He seems to have no memory of that, but we can make certain that if he does, those memories will have no chance of surfacing at a later time.”

I heaved a huge sigh and nodded. It was, in my opinion, an imperfect solution, but I saw no alternative.

Twenty minutes after they left the house with Chester, Dragon and her companions returned.

“Well?” I was impatient to hear how they had fared.

Bastina and Marisol's streetchasing dog chassing squirrel“Well, as soon as we left the house, Chester knew where he was. His daughter lives just a few streets over, on the same street as Marisol and Bastina.” Dragon smiled. “As we walked him to his daughter’s house, part of Chester’s memory returned. He had been out walking his daughter’s dog – a rather large and unruly beast as he tells it – when the animal spotted a squirrel and gave chase. Chester lost his grip on the leash and was racing after the dog, who pursued the squirrel into our yard.”

chasing dog by windowMy Gypsy chuckled. “That is the last memory he had before finding himself in the conference room with all of us. We speculate Chester was right next to the conference room window when we cast the spell, and he got ensnared by the magic. We had no trouble, though, convincing him he must have tripped and hit his head on a tree or something and that is why Clara and Dray found him wandering around with no memory.”

“Once he was ensnared by the magic, he somehow melded with one of the illusory beings, and that is why he appeared both real and illusory.” My Arrogant One shook his head. “Of course, he has no memory of that, and we ensured that he never will.” The elf chuckled. “As Sangree would say, piece of cake.”

I sighed in relief. “So, does this mean my Foreman will be able to return to the illusory world?”

“We magic users will have to inspect the threads of the magic weave from both outside the illusory world and within. If all appears undisturbed, he will, indeed, be able to return. We all will.” Dragon grinned. “Perhaps you and Master Miles might even be able to join us.”had my fingers crossed

I smiled. “I’ll give that some thought.” I’m fairly sure Dragon did not see my hand behind my back, with my fingers crossed.

 

Be sure to come back next week and see what’s in store next for my little band of displaced characters. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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Now What?

Now What?

Raised eyebrow“Yer doin’ it again, sista.” The speaker raised an eyebrow at Dragon, who was still in her assumed identity of a delicate and exotic maiden.

Not Your Sister

“I. Am. Not. Your. Sister.” In a flash, Dragon transformed into her true self and towered over the now-quaking man who called himself the Boss. Black smoke poured from the beast’s snout.

“Yikes! No, you sure ain’t! What the heck kinda monster are ya?” His eyes were bulging as he tried to backpedal away from the brut, only to be hemmed in by her companions.

Elf cleric“Monster?” Dragon stood before the terrified man, once again in her guise of a maiden, batting her eyelashes and feigning innocence.

The Boss rubbed his eyes and gaped at the beautiful woman.

“And just what were you are accusing me of doing again?” Dragon asked sweetly.

Arthur or the Boss“Huh? Uh . . . oh, yeah. You were talkin’ about me like I ain’t right here.” The Boss tried to appear annoyed, but it was difficult to do when his eyes were still bulging, and his forehead was beaded with sweat. After a few moments, though, he seemed to regain some of his bluster. “An’ waddaya mean I’m real and ill . . . illus . . . waddeverthaheck else ya said I was?”

“Both real and illusory. It means you show signs of simultaneously being both a real person and an illusory being.” Seeing the man’s confused look, Dragon continued. “You may be a created being, an illusion.”

“Waddaya talkin’ about? I ain’t no illusion!” The Boss curled his lip and all but snarled the words. “I’m as real as the next guy.” He gestured in the direction of the guide, Sangree, and the stable hand.

Arrogant One full body 2The Arrogant One chortled as he drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, grasped his cloak with both hands, and looked down his nose at the Boss. “That statement has little meaning if either of those two” – he indicated the two figures at whom the Boss had gestured – “are the next guy to whom you refer, considering both of them are illusory.”

The Boss looked at the Arrogant One as if the elf were speaking a foreign language. “Waddaya sayin’?”

Gypsy close-upSympathy tinged the Gypsy’s voice as he tried to explain the situation to the Boss. “He is saying Sangree and the stable hand are illusions, created to fulfill a specific function in this world, a contrived world, an illusory world; and we believe you may also be an illusion.”

Sorceress close-up“More accurately, you appear to have both properties marking you as a real being, and properties revealing you as mere illusion.” Sorceress was still gaping at the man as she spoke. “We do not know how this could be. As I said before, one is either real or illusory. One cannot be both. Or so we thought.”

“Wha . . . wha . . . wha . . .?” The Boss looked like a fish gasping for air. Before the confused man could form any intelligent words, the Old Dwarf pushed him aside.

Dwarf closeup“Wot be wrong wit all o ye? Why be we wastin’ tha time ta be jawin’ aboot this man? It do na be makin’ no nevermind ta us iffins he be real or iffins he be illusionable. We been findin’ tha Foreman, likens we been come here ta do. Now we be needin’ ta be skedaddlin’ back ta tha town, so’s we kin be gettin’ back ta tha real world . . . afore we be gettin’ losted in this make-beliveable world fer e’re.”

“He is right. The most important thing right now is to find our way back.” The Gypsy nodded.

Young hero 2“Indeed. We did not come all this way to find the Foreman just to end up staying here with him. We must return to the real world and take him with us.” The Young Hero placed his hand on Tor’s shoulder and gave him a reassuring look.

Dragon pursed her lips and nodded. “What you say makes a great deal of sense. This mystery, though important, is not our paramount concern. Returning to the real world is. We should leave immediately.”

She turned to the Boss, who was still looking gobsmacked. “You will come with us. If we can get you back to the real world, perhaps we can unravel the mystery of your identity and your nature.”

“Well, sista . . . er, I mean lady . . .” The Boss gulped nervously and gave Dragon a wary look before continuing. “What if I don’t wanna go witchya?”

“You will come with us.” Dragon’s tone of voice did not invite further discussion.

Dwarf and BossThe Old Dwarf stood by Dragon’s side, glaring at the Boss and brandishing his sword. “Ye been hearded the Beastie. Ye be comin’ wit us. Now, be ye movin’ along on yer ownest two feetsies, or be I slicin’ ye up inta little bitty pieces wat we kin be carryin’ in our pouches?”

The Boss blanched. “My feet’ll do just fine. No need ta get dicey.”

Tor turned to say goodbye to the stable hand. “I do not even know your name, friend.”

The lad shrugged and made a moue. “Don’t know it myself. Had one, once . . . I think.”

warm handshakeTor extended his hand. “Well, take good care of yourself and these horses, friend. Maybe someday I will be able to return, and you will have remembered your name.”

The other man nodded and accepted Tor’s hand, shaking it warmly. “I’ll be right here if ya ever git back.” Then he turned and started distributing the feed and water to the stalled animals.

Tor nodded to Dragon, indicating he was ready to go.

“Sangree, you will lead us back to the town.” Dragon motioned for the man to proceed.

looked like startled deerThe self-proclaimed best guide in the town looked like a startled deer. “But . . . but . . . nobody ever asked to go back to the town. The road leads away from the town.”

Cleric twisting cincture“Well, it should be easy enough to follow the road back in the opposite direction, toward the town.” Cleric picked up her pouch and tied it back on her cincture, adjusted her robes, and started walking out of the barn. She stopped when she noticed no one following her. “Well, it will be easy, will it not?”

Sangree shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve never tried.”

Sangree and Bounty Hunter“Oh, this is ridiculous!” The Bounty Hunter scowled at the man. “You have guided many people away from the town, correct?”

Sangree nodded.

“Well, how do you get back to the town to lead the next group away from it?”

“I . . . I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever gone back to the town. I’m just there when someone needs a guide.” Sangree furrowed his brow and scratched his head. “I have no idea how to get to the town.”

Elf clericDragon sighed. “That makes sense. Sangree is an illusory being, designed to be a guide for people entering this world. People enter at the town. He guides them to places within the town, or to places away from the town. Once he guides someone to their destination outside of the town limits, they would presumably be able to find their own way back to the town, so he is not designed to lead people in that direction.”

Cleric twisting cinctureCleric’s eyes widened and she started fidgeting with her cincture. “How will we find our way, then? How will we negotiate that treacherous region Sangree called the Changes? Sangree had enough trouble finding his way through there!”

Alarming rate“The first thing we will do is not panic.” Dragon would have sounded more convincing had she not transformed into her true nature, then immediately morphed blue and started dripping smoke bubbles from her snout.

Sorceress rolled her eyes. “Good advice. You should listen to it.”

The Old Dwarf pushed through the companions, dragging the Boss with him and making sounds of disgust. “There do na be no reason ta be panickin’.” Pointing to Sangree, he demanded, “Wat be tha place nearest tha town thet ye been guidin’ folk to?”

“Why would that matter?” The Bounty Hunter furrowed his brow and scratched his head.

The dwarf sighed and rolled his eyes. “Iffins tha guide be takin’ us ta tha place closest ta tha town, mebe we kin be findin’ tha rest o tha way our ownest selves.”

SangreeSangree furrowed his brow and put his hand to his chin. The tip of his tongue poked out of the corner of his mouth and his eyelids almost closed. He remained in that position for several long minutes. Just as the dwarf was reaching for him to shake him out of his stupor, Sangree’s eyes flew open and he smiled broadly. “This stable! This stable is the closest place to the town that I’ve ever led anyone to.”

“Oh, that’s really helpful!” The Boss snorted.

The Gypsy frowned at the Boss and turned to address Sangree. “Okay, so this is the place closest to the town, but what about places within the town where you have led people?”

Smiling SangreeAgain, Sangree furrowed his brow and put his hand to his chin. Again, the tip of his tongue poked out of the corner of his mouth and his eyelids almost closed. But this time his eyes flew open almost immediately and his smile was so wide, it looked as if his face would split. “The marketplace! Almost everyone wants to stop at the marketplace for supplies before leaving the town.”

“Well, then, can you lead us to the marketplace?” Dragon had changed back into the form of a maiden and was looking hopefully at Sangree.

“Piece of cake!” He beamed with pride.

After five days of wandering around the ever-transforming landscape of the region known as the Changes, Sangree led the companions into the town. “See? What did I tell you? Piece of cake!”

All nine characters and the Boss glared at Sangree and muttered an expansive array of expletives, epithets, and profanities at the man, who just stood there grinning.

Finally, the weary group of travelers took their leave of the best guide in the town and emerged in the real world.

* * *

MilesMiles and I jumped up from the breakfast table. “What in the world is that racket?” Miles looked at me in alarm. After so many weeks of just the two of us rattling around the house, the slightest noise seemed to echo through the place. And this was no slight noise.

Me“It sounds like a herd of elephants stampeding around downstairs.” I grabbed my husband’s hand and tugged him toward the stairs, a smile spreading across my face. “My characters must be back!”

We ran downstairs to the conference room and threw open the door. As I had hoped, there were my characters, all appearing safe and sound.

As soon as they saw Miles and me, my companions fell silent for just a split second; then pandemonium broke out again, with everyone talking at the same time. I held up my hand like a traffic cop to quiet them. “Welcome back.”Back home

StopThe clamor picked up immediately, and the characters pressed in around Miles and me, each trying to tell us what had happened. Suddenly, I held my hand up a second time and called for silence.

Me confronting ArthurI walked over to a man standing among my characters. “Arthur? What are you doing here?”

The man shook his head. “My name is Chester.” He looked around, a dazed expression on his face. “And I don’t know what I’m doing here. I don’t even know where here is.”

Confused

 

Where did Chester come from? Is he the Boss? Is he real or illusory . . . or some impossible combination of the two? How will my characters figure things out? Will they be able to help Chester and return him to wherever he belongs? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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