The Contest

The Contest

Cleric closeup“Mistress!”

Cleric skipped into my office without even knocking. “How would you like to judge our contest?”Me

I furrowed my brow. “What contest?”

Cleric smiled, her cornflower blue eyes shining. “While you have been busy all week with your writing, my companions and I have been busy as well. We have been taking nature photos all week. We remained indoors, of course, due to the snow earlier this week, and the abysmal cold. But we took a considerable number of photos through the windows.”Taking nature photos through the windows

I nodded. “The weather this week has been brutal for October, even by Minnesota standards.”

Cleric and camera 2Cleric frowned and nodded her agreement before continuing. “The rules of the competition are simple. We could take photos of whatever animals we fancied, but the images had to be taken with no magical assistance. I was not even to use my ability to communicate with animals to get them to pose for me.”

I nodded. “Sounds like a fair rule.”

Research and prepare presentationCleric smiled. “The other part of the competition was more difficult. We were to research and prepare a very brief presentation on the animals we photographed. So, there should be winners in two categories – the best image and the best research. So, will you judge our contest?”

I feigned indifference and examined my fingernails. “I suppose I could clear my schedule and do the honors.”

“Oh, thank you, Mistress. I told everyone we could count on you! We could meet in the conference room in a half-hour if you would be available then.”

When I nodded, Cleric jumped from her chair and skipped out the door. “I will let everyone know to have their images and presentations ready!”

Dragon in front of fireplaceCleric was as good as her word. A half-hour later, my characters met me in the conference room, each with a thumb drive containing their images. Although all were present, some were less enthusiastic than others. Dragon, her scales as black as her mood, was lying in front of her illusory fireplace, glaring.

LaptopCleric cleared her throat. “Ahem. Well, thank you all for being here, and for participating in this contest. Mistress Writer has agreed to be the judge, and I have already advised her of the rules of the contest. So, who wants to go first?” She gestured toward the laptop computer at the front of the room, where everyone would display their images.

Dragon opened one eye and snorted some black smoke. “This whole silly contest was your idea. I think you should go first.”

Smoke drifting from Dragon's snout

Cleric closeupNo one else volunteered, so Cleric inserted her thumb drive into the USB port on the laptop and began. “My first group of images is of Mourning Doves. Two of the images were taken after the snowstorm earlier this week, and the last one is from yesterday, after it cleared again.”

She gave everyone time to see her photographs, then began her presentation. “The Mourning Dove, or Zenaida macroura, is in the taxonomic order Columbiformes and the family Columbidae. Mourning Doves are extremely abundant year-round across the United States. Males and females look alike, with gray backs and wings, and gray to pale peach below. They have large, black spots on their wings. Both their tails and their beaks are long and thin, and their legs are pinkish. They are M-o-u-r-n-i-n-g Doves, not M-o-r-n-i-n-g Doves, called that after their mournful cries.”

Cleric waited for me to take some notes, then proceeded to her next animal of choice.

“These photos are of Northern Cardinals. The Northern Cardinal, or Cardinalis cardinalis, is in the order Passeriformes and the family Cardinalidae. The Northern Cardinal has a year-round range in the United States from the East to the Midwest. The female Northern Cardinal is one of the few female songbirds who sing. Both male and female Northern Cardinals have short, thick bills and prominent crests. The male is a very conspicuous red with a black mask and throat. The female is dull brownish, with warm tinges of red in her wings, tail, and crest.”

When I had finished taking notes on Cleric’s second set of images and presentation, she removed her thumb drive and sat down.

I nodded and smiled. “Very nice job, Cleric. Who’s next?”

Foreman facing right closeupMy Foreman looked around at his companions, and when no one else responded, he rose and came to the front of the room. Inserting his thumb drive, he began.

“I have three groups of birds here, various types of sparrows. I did not bother with the taxonomical information, as I cannot even pronounce the words. One of my more learned associates informed me the words were Latin, a language I have never heard.”

He paused and looked around at his audience before continuing. “The first group of photos shows the American Tree Sparrow, a winter visitor to this area. The American Tree Sparrow is a plump, long-tailed sparrow with a bi-colored bill, unstreaked underparts, and a dark spot in the middle of their chest. Their gray head is adorned with a rusty cap and eyeline. Male and female look alike.”

My Foreman brought up the next group of photos. “These are Chipping Sparrows. It is unusual to see these birds in this area at this time of year, but perhaps the ones I saw this week were late migrants. They were here at the beginning of the week, right before the snow, and I have not seen them since. The Chipping Sparrow is sometimes confused with the American Tree Sparrow, the first sparrow I showed and described. However, the Chipping Sparrow is slightly smaller, has no spot on its chest, and the eye stripe is black, not rusty. The Chipping Sparrow also lacks the bi-colored beak of the American Tree Sparrow.”

Changing photos once more, my Foreman continued. “The last group of sparrows I photographed is the White-throated Sparrow. This bird would not be mistaken for either of the two sparrows I previously detailed. As the name would indicate, their identifying mark is a crisp white throat patch. They are a large, plump sparrow with a long tail and stubby bill. They are beautifully marked, with a bold facial pattern of black and white crown stripes and yellow lores. In Minnesota, they breed in the north and migrate in the fall, though some overwinter here.”

My Foreman waited for me to nod, then retrieved his thumb drive and resumed his seat.

Young hero 2My Young Hero sprang to his feet. “If no one objects, I will go next.”

Before displaying any photos, the lad explained, “I was an opportunistic photographer. The three types of birds I will present were chosen simply because they were there and did not fly off when they saw me aiming my camera at them through the window. Unlike the three types of sparrows the Foreman chose, these birds are unrelated.”

My Young Hero inserted his thumb drive and began. “The first bird is a juvenile or immature Sharp-shinned Hawk. He will have the vertical streaking on his chest until he molts and acquires his adult plumage. This bird was guarding his freshly caught dinner, which I cropped out of the photo in deference to those persons of a delicate and sensitive nature. The Sharp-shinned Hawk is an accipiter, a type of hawk having short, broad wings and relatively long legs. It is admirably adapted for fast flight through woodlands, where it hunts its prey, mostly small birds.”

Switching photos, my Young Hero continued. “This bird is an American Crow. American Crows are opportunistic omnivores. This one was visiting the feeding station on the deck, gobbling the peanuts. Although he does not look it, he is larger than the Sharp-shinned Hawk. This all-black bird has a relatively short, squared tail, and a raucous, full-throated call.”

The lad brought up the next group of photos. “My third bird is the Blue Jay. He also has a raucous call, along with many other sounds. He even mimics the call of other birds. The Blue Jay is grayish-white below and various shades of blue and violet above. The Blue Jay’s wings and tail are barred black, with a bold, white wingbar, and he sports a black necklace and a prominent crest. Like the American Crow, the Blue Jay is a year-round resident of Minnesota, and is an opportunistic omnivore.”

My Young Hero shuffled through his notes. “I discovered a most interesting fact about Blue Jays while doing my research. Blue Jays are not really blue! Because of the structure of a Blue Jay’s feathers, they appear blue. I found this information on a website called The Buzz. If anyone wants to check it out themselves, you can find it at https://www.reconnectwithnature.org/news-events/the-buzz/nature-curiosity-why-are-blue-jays-blue.”

Blue Jay featherPrismThe lad waited while some of his friends copied down the information. “According to this website, Blue Jays do not have any blue pigment in their feathers. The pigment in a Blue Jay’s feathers is brown, but we perceive it as blue because of a phenomenon called light scattering. Light scattering is like the effects of a prism. A Blue Jay’s wings contain tiny pockets of air and something called keratin. Keratin is the same substance that is in our hair and fingernails. When light hits these pockets of air and keratin in the Blue Jay’s feathers, all the colors of the wavelength except blue are absorbed. The blue wavelength is refracted, making the feathers look blue.”

Dragon in front of fireplaceAs my Young Hero retrieved his thumb drive and returned to his seat, Dragon stirred. “Forsooth! That was most impressive. It almost shames me to make my presentation now.” Remaining prone, she tossed me her thumb drive, which I inserted into the computer. “Like my young friend, the Hero, I was opportunistic. In fact, some might argue I was lazy. I took pictures – admittedly poor quality – of some Ring-necked Pheasants because they were right outside the window and I could take the photos with a minimum of effort, and without leaving the comfort of my fireplace – the same way I am making this presentation. The plain, brown, speckled one is the female. The more colorful one is the male. They visit the yard occasionally, usually when it is cold and snowy, although I have seen them here in all seasons. They are what is known as a game bird, which mean some people think they taste good.”

Dwarf with sandwich and thumbdriveAs Dragon closed her eyes and continued her nap, my Old Dwarf stomped to the front of the room, a sandwich in one hand and his thumb drive in the other. He tucked his sandwich in his pouch and thrust his thumb drive at me. I removed Dragon’s thumb drive from the computer and inserted the dwarf’s, and he began.

“Wale, I be admittin’ I dinna be doin’ all tha research wot tha holy lass be tellin’ us ta be doin’, an’ I be tookin’ pictures o furry critters, not birdies. I be pho-toe-gryph-in’ some bunnies, some gray squirrelsies, some red squirrelsies, an’ some chippermunkers. They all be year-round residents o this area, though tha chippermunkers be a tad less hardy and be stayin’ in their holesies when tha weather be gittin too cold. I did be findin’ oot thet tha bunnies be Eastern Cottontails; tha gray squirrelsies be Eastern Gray Squirrels; tha red squirrelsies, wot be lessen’ half tha size o tha grays, be Red Squirrels, though they also be called Pine Squirrels, Spruce Squirrels an’ Chickarees; an’ tha chippermunkers be Eastern Chipmunks.”

Not even waiting for me to return his thumb drive, my Old Dwarf dug his sandwich from his pouch, took a big bite, and hastened back to his seat.

Gypsy close-up facing rightMy Gypsy rose and took his turn next. “I have three birds to present, all common visitors to the yard. We see two here year-round, but the third is a winter visitor only.”

My Gypsy inserted his thumb drive into the computer and brought up his first group of photos. “These are Black-capped Chickadees. These gray-and-white birds with black cap and bib are bold, curious little creatures that can be easily coaxed to take sunflower seeds from a person’s hand. Their call – chick-a-dee-dee-dee – sounds like they are scolding someone, while their song – heeey, sweetie – sounds like they are calling after someone.”

The lad perfectly imitated the chickadee’s call and song.

Gesturing to the next group of images, my Gypsy continued. “The Red-winged Blackbird is ubiquitous in this neighborhood in spring and summer, as they nest right in the reeds along the edges of the pond behind the houses. Their conk-a-reeeeeeeee rings through the neighborhood from early morning till late evening during mating and nesting season and the males often display their bright red-and-yellow epaulettes when trying to impress a potential mate or discourage a potential rival. They remain in the area year-round, but they are not as prevalent in winter.”

Bringing up his third group of images, the lad smiled. “These are Slate-colored Dark-eyed Juncos, birds many people hate to see, as they herald the cold weather and snow. In fact, these little birds are known as snowbirds, appearing in this area as winter sets in, and then retreating northward each spring to their breeding grounds. They have several beautiful songs, the first a loud musical trill of 7-23 notes, similar to the songs of both the Chipping Sparrow and the Pine Warbler. This is sung by the male junco.” My Gypsy whistled a perfect imitation of the song.

“They also have a much quieter song as well, a series of whistles, trills, and warbles sung by both male and female, that may sound like an American Goldfinch.” Again, my Gypsy demonstrated.

“In case you had not surmised, I chose these three birds because I love their calls. When they are in the yard, I can coax them close just by imitating their songs.” Smiling, my Gypsy took his thumb drive and returned to his seat.

Bounty Hunter full body 2My Bounty Hunter rose and shuffled to the front of the room, frowning and looking very reluctant to begin. He inserted his thumb drive into the laptop and shrugged. “I did not research the taxonomy of the birds I chose, nor can I imitate any of their calls. I chose woodpeckers because I am fascinated by them and I found no less than six different types in the backyard. I photographed all six, so you can see their similarities and differences.”

zygodactyl feetLooking around uncomfortably, my Bounty Hunter shrugged again and continued. “The woodpeckers I will present all possess characteristic zygodactyl feet. The first and the fourth of their four toes face backward and the second and third face forward. This allows them to easily grasp the limbs and trunks of trees. These woodpeckers can walk vertically up tree trunks while they forage for food and excavate nest holes.”

Woodpecker on vertical surfaceHe paused to collect his thoughts. “In addition to their strong claws and feet, these woodpeckers have relatively short, strong legs and stiff tails. When the woodpecker perches on a vertical surface, its tail and feet work together to give it support. Woodpeckers have strong bills for drilling and drumming on trees, and long sticky tongues for extracting the insects and larvae they favor for food. They also have very specialized skull and brain structure to prevent concussive damage to their brain while they bang away with their bills.”

Bringing up the first group of photos, my Bounty Hunter continued. “These are Downy Woodpeckers, the smallest of the North American woodpeckers. They range from slightly less than six inches to just under seven inches in length and have a wingspan of ten to twelve inches. They are a common, year-round resident of this state. Males have a red spot on the back of their heads, females do not.”

Changing images, my Bounty Hunter smiled. “This is the Pileated Woodpecker, the largest living North American woodpecker, and also a year-round resident of this part of Minnesota. It is approximately sixteen to nineteen inches long and has a twenty-six to thirty-inch wingspan. Males have a red cheek stripe, and both male and female have bright red crests.”

As he brought up the next group of images, my Bounty Hunter chuckled. “These are not more pictures of the Downy Woodpecker. These are another year-round resident, the Hairy Woodpecker. They are almost identical to the Downy, but larger. They are almost ten inches in length, with a fifteen-inch wingspan. In addition to size, you can tell these two woodpeckers apart by their outer tail feathers. The Hairy Woodpecker’s outer tail feathers are pure white, while the Downy usually has black or gray spots along the sides of the white outer tail feathers. Their bills also give clues to their identity. The Downy has a tiny, stubby beak, barely as long as the distance from the front of its head to its eye. The Hairy’s bill is much longer, nearly as long as the bird’s head. As with the Downy, males have a red spot on the back of their heads, and females do not.”

My Bounty Hunter paused a moment to bring up the next group of pictures. “Here is another year-round resident of this part of Minnesota. At nine to eleven inches long, and having a fifteen to eighteen-inch wingspan, this year-round resident, the Red-bellied Woodpecker, is close in size to the Hairy. The male Red-bellied Woodpecker has a red crown and nape, while the female has only the red nape. The name red-bellied is puzzling to many new birdwatching enthusiasts, as the red patch on their abdomen is often unnoticed, obscured by the pale feathers.”

My Bounty Hunter gestured to the next group of photos. “Minnesota is part of the breeding ground for the Red-headed Woodpecker, but these birds are not year-round residents. This immature bird stopped by for a quick bite to eat during his migration. He was only a day or so ahead of the cold snap and snow. Although quite attractive already, when this bird reaches adulthood, he will be a beauty, with a brilliant red head contrasting with black back, white wing patches, and an unstreaked white belly. Male and female are alike and range from seven and a half to almost ten inches in length, with close to a seventeen-inch wingspan.”

Northern Flicker aMy Bounty Hunter brought up a single photo. “This is a Northern Flicker, another year-round Minnesota resident. It is a mid-to-large sized woodpecker, with a length of eleven to fourteen inches and a wingspan of seventeen to twenty-one inches. Unlike the other woodpeckers I have presented, this one will be seen on the ground as often as in a tree. It does possess the characteristic zygodactyl feet of the woodpeckers, but a flicker eats mainly ants and beetles. It often digs them from the ground with its slightly curved bill, but it will also pluck ants and other insects from the crevices in the bark of tree trunks. This bird is a Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker, referring to the yellow shafts on his flight and tail feathers, as opposed to the Red-shafted Northern Flicker found further west. Both the male and female Yellow-shafted Northern Flickers have a black bib, spotted belly, and red nape. The black mustache marks this bird as a male.”

My Bounty Hunter removed his thumb drive and returned to his seat while Sorceress took his place at the computer.

Sorceress close-up“I have only two groups of images to share.” She gestured toward the laptop. “The first, here, are American Goldfinches. At this time of year, they all look rather drab and bedraggled, but in the spring, the males will molt into their breeding plumage of mostly brilliant yellow and black. They are year-round residents of the southern half of Minnesota, but many inexperienced birdwatchers do not recognize them in their dull winter garb.”

Changing images, Sorceress continued. “These, too, are finches, but they are House Finches. We are on the northern border of this bird’s year-round range. While the females are rather plain brown birds with streaky fronts, the males have reddish hues gracing their face and chests.”

Retrieving her thumb drive, Sorceress continued speaking while walking back to her seat. “Both the male American Goldfinch and the male House Finch have beautiful songs, full of twitters, trills, and warbles. I am sure, if anyone were interested, the Gypsy lad could imitate them for you. I cannot.”

Arrogant One full body 2My Arrogant One rose from his chair at the back of the room. He drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak with both hands. “I have chosen a single bird, a bird with which I strongly identify.”

European Starling (2a)Approaching the laptop, the elf inserted his thumb drive. “This

is the European Starling.” He paused dramatically. “Like me, the starling is a foreigner in this country.” He paused again. “In winter, this dazzling, iridescent, black-and-brown bird is covered with white speckles and dots. In summer, he turns dark and glossy. He is an excellent mimic, copying the calls of up to 20 other species. The European Starling, a year-round resident everywhere in the United States, is an entirely unappreciated bird in this country.”

With that, my Arrogant One grabbed his thumb drive and flounced back to his seat.

“Well!” I stood and looked at my characters. “There were some excellent presentations, along with some great images. This is going to be a difficult contest to judge!”

Gentle readers, will you help me decide on the winners? Who do you think gave the best presentation? Who had the best image? Perhaps we should have first, second, and third place winners in both categories. Leave you choices for winner in the comments and be sure to come back next week. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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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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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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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/
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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.”
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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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Some Time to Relax

Some Time to Relax

Continued along the roadWorking with horsesIt had been almost a week since my characters had returned from the illusory world where my Foreman had been lost, and where the rest of my characters had gone to search for him. My Foreman and my Young Hero had spent most of that week working with their illusory horses. My Gypsy had split his time between the horses and working with Dragon and the other magic users.Magic users

The spellcasters had been busy inspecting the threads of the magic weave from both outside the illusory world and within, to determine if it would be safe for my Foreman to return there.

Dragon at door to conference roomI was walking down the hallway to my office to work on my weekly blog when Dragon, in her customary form of a delicate and exotic maiden, gestured to me from the doorway to the conference room. “Mistress? Prithee, a moment of your time.”

“Of course.” I walked back down the hallway and followed her into the enormous chamber. I was once again struck by the marvel of this magically constructed room – an ever-changing space that could never conceivably fit inside our modest split-level home.

Conference room

I nodded in greeting to Dragon’s colleagues, who were looking weary and drained by their efforts. Then I turned and addressed Dragon. “What have you discovered?”

Examing the threadsChester“We have spent considerable time and effort examining and testing the threads of the magic weave that created the illusory world we designed for your Foreman, and the threads that hold that world together. We have found only residual evidence of any problem. It would seem that once we brought the unfortunate stranger, Chester, out of that world and returned him to this, the real world, all of the problems caused by him becoming entangled in the spell rectified themselves.”

I nodded and smiled. “So, my Foreman can return to that world, should he so desire?”

“Indeed. He can enter that world and should no longer have any problems returning here. The same is true for anyone, including you and Master Miles, should you desire to explore that world.”

I chewed my lower lip. “Perhaps. At some time in the future.”

Dragon nodded.

“So, what are your plans now?” I looked at the entire group as I asked the question, but it was Dragon who responded.

“Well, Cleric, Sorceress, and I need to replenish our supply of botanicals and other spell components. Your Gypsy lad desires to rejoin his fellow horsemen. But your Arrogant One has made a splendid suggestion. Since we are all exhausted from our recent adventure, the elf suggested we put aside our other activities and spend the remainder of this day in rest and relaxation on the gazebo with you and a tall pitcher of cold lemonade. Perhaps we could even engage in some nature photography.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea! You should invite my Foreman and my Young Hero, who are still working their horses. And someone please find my Bounty Hunter and my Old Dwarf and invite them, too. I’ll make some lemonade and maybe some iced tea and prepare a few plates of snacks – I think I have some cake and cookies. I’ll let Miles know what we have planned, and I’ll meet you all in the gazebo.”Beverages and snacks

GazeboThirty minutes later, the eleven of us – me, my husband, and nine of my characters who had long ago fallen from the pages of my manuscript – were sipping cool beverages, nibbling sweet confections, and enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun in the gazebo.

Dwarf closeup“Oooooo! This be real good!” I wasn’t sure if my Old Dwarf was talking about the idea of nature photography, or about the mouthful of cake and cookies he was talking around.

“There been an explosion o bunnies since last we been here in tha yard.” He watched the furry creatures hopping and eating and lounging all over the yard. There was a gleam in the old reprobate’s eye as he eagerly fingered his axe handle.

Bounty Hunter head shotDwarf chasing rabbit“Yes, I had noticed that as well,” my Bounty Hunter commented dryly as he reached for a cookie. “I imagine they have thrived in your absence, not having to look over their shoulders for a madman in an iron suit clanking after them, waving an axe.”

I laughed. “Yes, they have multiplied and gotten fat and lazy without the dwarf here to coordinate their exercise.” I took a gulp of my iced tea and sat back to enjoy the afternoon.

“Here.” Miles nudged the dwarf and handed him a camera. “Try this instead of the axe.”

The dwarf reluctantly took the camera and gave my husband a pouty look. “Eh, lad, ye be takin’ all tha fun oot o things.”

Miles chuckled and nudged me. “He complains but look how many pictures he’s taking.”

I smiled and nodded in agreement.

Miles taking pixEastern Chipmunk (1)Suddenly, Miles noticed a chipmunk watching us from the trunk of a nearby tree. My husband grabbed his camera and started shooting. Several other chipmunks approached, and Cleric winked at me. She placed some peanuts on the gazebo floor and the chipmunks came running to get their treat. Miles grinned as he took several more photos.

I laughed, and he shrugged at me. “Hey, they’re cute, they qualify as backyard wildlife, and Cleric has them posing nicely. Now I won’t have to get eyestrain trying to find little birds hiding in the lush leaves of the trees.”

“I have missed this.” Cleric sighed with contentment. She peered around the yard while sipping her tea and nibbling delicately on a cookie. “Oh, look at that!” She gestured toward a black-and-white bird with a rosy bib near a speckle-fronted brown bird with a prominent white eyebrow. “A pair of . . .” She frowned and tried to remember the name of the bird.

Gypsy close-up“Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.” My Gypsy easily supplied the name as he helped himself to a slice of cake. The lad had come to know every bird native to this area, much as he had known all the birds of his native world. “We rarely see them here in the yard. They usually stop by only when migrating through in spring and fall, even though this area is part of their breeding ground.”

Cleric and camera 2

“That is right. I knew we had seen them here before, but I could not remember their name. Thank you.” Cleric picked up her camera and began coaxing the two birds closer.

 

Bounty Hunter head shot“Oh, my!” My Bounty Hunter was looking toward the back of the yard. “It seems it is a ducky day.” He pointed at the group of waterfowl on the back lawn near the reeds. “Those are Wood Ducks alongside the Mallards, are they not?”

“Yes.” My Gypsy and I answered simultaneously.

“The Wood Ducks are the smaller ducks. You can see how that one female Woody compares in size to the rabbit behind her.” My Gypsy pointed.

Wood Duck with rabbit

“I see.” My Bounty Hunter put down his glass of tea, picked up his camera, and started shooting. “Look! Both have babies . . . what are they called? Ducklings?”

“Yup, ducklings.” I nodded. “You’ll notice the line on a Mallard duckling’s head goes from the bill past the eye and then halfway to back of the head. The line on the Wood Ducklings starts at the eye and extends all the way to back of the head.”

“I will attempt to get images showing that, but it might be difficult at this distance.” The man smiled as he focused his camera on the two groups of ducklings.

“I see the Red-winged Blackbirds are still ubiquitous.” My Gypsy was capturing several images. “I see adult males, adult females, and at least one juvenile male.”

Young hero 2My Young Hero took a big gulp of his lemonade before putting down the glass. “I see a Baltimore Oriole and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.” He took a long time trying to focus on the hummingbird at the nectar feeder. “I fear the hummingbird is too distant for a good image, but I think the oriole pictures will turn out to be acceptable.”

Sorceress close-up“Oh, look at that bird. I am not familiar with that one.” Sorceress was pointing her camera at a small bird in the grass.

“That looks like a White-crowned Sparrow.” My Gypsy looked at me for confirmation, and I nodded.

White-crowned Sparrow (2)

“It is most attractive!” Sorceress scanned the area near the sparrow for more birds as she munched a cookie. “What is that?” Zooming in on the creature, she exclaimed, “Oh! It is a toad!”Toad

“Good eye! They’re hard to spot!” Miles nodded at her approvingly as he reached for another slice of cake.

Elf cleric“Yuck! You can keep your toad.” Dragon, still in her familiar form of a maiden, was focusing her camera on some small yellow birds. “I prefer the American Goldfinches. They are beautiful this time of year, still in their breeding plumage.”

Foreman facing right closeup“I have always enjoyed the woodpeckers and similar birds.” My Foreman was taking pictures of some of the birds on the suet logs and in the nearby trees. “I have captured images of the Downy Woodpecker, the Red-bellied Woodpecker, the Pileated Woodpecker, and the White-breasted Nuthatch.”

Gypsy close-up facing right“I prefer the songbirds.” My Gypsy motioned toward some American Robins near the side of the yard, and he whistled their cheer-up, cheer-a-lee, cheer-ee-o call while he took their picture.

Backyard 050I nodded. “They’re sweet, especially the fledglings.” I took a sip of my iced tea and looked around for more birds. “Ah! A Gray Catbird and a Common Grackle. We’re seeing quite a variety of birds and critters today.”

Arrogant One“Indeed! And there are some of the more raucous varieties.” My Arrogant One aimed his camera at a Black-capped Chickadee on one of the feeders, and then at a fledgling Blue Jay on the fence.

Cleric closeup“The male House Finch is posing nicely for me.” Cleric took a couple of quick pictures. “And the male Northern Cardinal as well.”

Miles“I see some Mourning Doves and some Brown-headed Cowbirds.” Miles snapped a few more images.

We sat there together for the rest of the afternoon, nibbling our treats and enjoying our beverages while watching and photographing our backyard wildlife. As dusk fell, a family of raccoons came to visit, and Cleric insisted on providing the youngsters with some snacks while I photographed the little masked bandits.

“It has been a good day.” Dragon sat back and sipped her lemonade. “We need days like this to rejuvenate our spirits.”

We all murmured in agreement and settled back to enjoy the antics of our evening visitors.

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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Taking Our Minds Off Our Worries With a Little Birding

Taking Our Minds Off Our Worries With a Little Birding

wide-eyedWhat?” I gaped at my characters, my brain unable to wrap itself around their revelation.

Blue dragonFinally, Dragon – still pale blue and dripping smoke bubbles from her snout – spoke. Her voice was so soft I had to strain to hear her. “We knew how unhappy your Foreman has been recently. We were just trying to help.” She hung her head, and a tear slipped down her reptilian cheek.

I rubbed my neck and continued to gape.

Gypsy close-up facing right“We really meant no harm.” My Gypsy gave me a guilty look. “As Dragon said, we were just trying to help.”

“And you created an illusory world for him?”Cleric twisting cord belt

“Yes, Mistress.” Cleric fidgeted with her cincture and gave me an apologetic look. “We never imagined he would get lost there.”

I raked my hand through my hair. “How, exactly, does one get lost in an illusion?”

The adepts all started talkingMy magic users pushed my other characters aside. The adepts all started talking at once, each trying to be heard over the other. I held up my hand to silence them. “One at a time! One at a time!” I glared at them until they quieted down. “Okay. Let’s start at the beginning. First, whose idea was this?”

Dwarf closeupMy Old Dwarf pushed to the front of the group again and gave me a sheepish look. “Wale, I be guessin’ thet would be me.” Seeing my frown, he hastened to point out, “Wale, ye dinna be doin’ nuttin ta be helpin’ yer Foreman, an’ anyone could be seein’ he be feelin’ lower ’en a blue-nosied, two-toesied Tunnel Terror!”

I blinked. “That’s the second time you told me that. What exactly is a blue-nose . . .?”

head bowed, shoulders slumpedThe old reprobate waved me off and blustered at me. “It do na be makin’ no nevermind wat it be. Yer Foreman be lower ’en it! He be walkin’ aboot tha hoose liken he be walkin’ in ’is sleep. ’Is head be hangin’, ’is shoulders be slumped, an’ he jus’ be starin’ oot inta nothin’-ness. Ye dinna be doin’ nuttin, so I been thinkin’ o a way ta be helpin’ ’em.” His eyes flashed with anger and his face was flushed.

Young hero 2My Young Hero stepped forward and placed his hand on my Old Dwarf’s shoulder. “Do not blame him, Mistress. We could all see how miserable your Foreman was. Your Gypsy and I had told you some time ago that your Foreman no longer even took pleasure in riding his illusory horse.” He paused, his brow furrowed. “As the dwarf said, someone had to do something.”

“I see.” I continued frowning and rubbed my jaw. “So, what did you all do?”

Dragon stepped forwardDragon stepped forward. She had stopped dribbling smoke bubbles and had returned to her normal coloring. Her voice was still a bit shaky, however. “The . . . the dwarf approached me with an idea. He . . . he remembered how much fun we all had on our illusory trip. He wanted to know if . . . if it were possible to do something along those lines for your Foreman, to . . . to create a scenario wherein your Foreman could have the same duties and responsibilities he held in our world.”

The big beast paused, wrinkling her brow. “It . . . it seemed like such an easy task. However, I petitioned the other practitioners of magic for their input.”

Sorceress close-upSorceress stepped forward primly and spoke in clipped tones. “We all agreed it would be no great feat to accomplish. Dragon created the illusion, and we assisted her. When it was completed, the lads fetched your Foreman and accompanied him into the illusory world.”

Young Hero close-up“It was spectacular!” My Young Hero sighed. “We were tempted to remain there with him. The stable reminded me of my father’s place. Hundreds of magnificent horses grazed in lush pastures surrounded by miles of lime-washed fencing.” As he stood there, remembering, I could see the longing in his eyes.

My Gypsy nodded. “It was most tempting to remain.”

I raised an eyebrow. “And how long did you stay?”

“The lads returned within the hour, Mistress. The rest of us had waited in the conference room for them.” Dragon sighed. “We expected your Foreman would return within a day, maybe two. We had told him it would be possible for him to revisit the illusory world whenever he wanted, so we expected him to take short forays.”

Arrogant One“To be fair, time in the illusory world can pass at a much different rate than time in the real world.” My Arrogant One nodded toward Dragon. “Even you, beast, were not aware of how much time had passed when we were on our illusory trip at the beginning of this year. You thought we had been gone only a few days, when we actually had been gone for more than five weeks.”

Dragon hung her head. “That is true.”

“So, it could be just a case of my Foreman losing track of time?” I sighed. “Whew. That’s a relief!”

“Well . . .” Cleric chewed her lower lip and fidgeted again with her cincture. “It might not be that simple.”

“Oh?” I crossed my arms and waited, but Cleric just blushed furiously.

Bounty Hunter head shotFinally, my Bounty Hunter spoke. “When your Foreman did not return after a time, we entered the illusory world and searched for him. Not only was he nowhere to be found, no one to whom we spoke there had ever seen or heard of him.”

I gaped at my characters again. “So that brings us back to my previous question. How, exactly, does one get lost in an illusion?”

Dragon gulped. “We . . . we are not sure, Mistress. But I am working on determining what has happened, and on finding your Foreman.”

MilesMy husband cleared his throat. “Ah, just a thought . . . why don’t you just dispel the illusion? Wouldn’t the Foreman return to reality, and pop back into the conference room?”

dragon looking rightDragon shook her head. “Normally, I would say yes. But the fact that we could not find the Foreman in the illusory world, the fact that no one within the illusory world has seen him, nor heard of him . . . well, that changes things. It could be dangerous to just dispel the illusion. We could lose him for all time.”

I frowned. “I don’t understand any of this.”

“Neither do we, Mistress.” Dragon sighed. “That is why I am going to sequester myself in the conference room with all my tomes and grimoires and reference materials. I will determine the cause of this aberration, and I will bring your Foreman home.”

“And we will all help.” My Gypsy pounded his fist into the palm of his other hand and nodded.

Dragon shook her head. “No. I appreciate your offer, but I need solitude in order to access my research materials. I will let you know if I need your help.”

Dwarf closeupDragon studying scrollLong, anxious hours passed. My Old Dwarf stood guard in front of the conference room door as Dragon worked within, trying to find the solution to this problem and bring my Foreman back.

 

Foreman facing right closeup

 

The rest of us were congregating in the living room, moping, when Cleric suddenly announced, “We can do nothing to help Dragon or the Foreman, and it is beautiful weather outside today. Let us sit out on the gazebo and engage in some nature photography. We have not done that in such a long time, and it will help take our minds off our worries.”

You're my witnessRefreshments“That sounds like a great idea. I’m not that good with a camera, so I’ll bring out some refreshments for you. Then I can come in and prepare tonight’s dinner.” Miles smiled.

It took a while to convince the rest of us, but eventually we were seated on the gazebo with our cameras and refreshments.

American GoldfinchMy Gypsy was the first to spot a bird. “Look!” He started whistling, and a beautiful male American Goldfinch in bright breeding plumage hopped through the branches of a nearby tree until he was close enough to photograph.

Cleric scanned the tree near the goldfinch. “There is an American Robin!” Cleric pointed to a bird with its back to us. She talked to it for a few minutes, charming it into turning around for us.

Black-capped Chickadee

My Young Hero was the next to spot a bird. “There is a Black-capped Chickadee on the thistle feeder.”

Sorceress pointed to a bird on a nearby tree trunk. “Is that another chickadee?”

White-breasted NuthatchMy Gypsy looked, then shook his head. “That is a White-breasted Nuthatch. See how he walks down the trunk of the tree, head-first?”

Sorceress frowned. “I always get that one wrong. Oh, well, at least there is no mistaking those.” She pointed to some ducks at the back end of the yard, near the pond. “Those are Mallards.”

My Gypsy laughed. “They seem to be enjoying the seed you scattered out there earlier, Mistress.”

After watching the ducks for a few minutes, I spotted more birds. “There! On the suet logs! A pair of Downy Woodpeckers.”

“How do you know they are a pair, and not two males or two females?” My Arrogant One strained to see the two small birds.

“The male has the red mark on the back of his head.” My Gypsy was quick to show off his knowledge.

Red-bellied WoodpeckerAs the Downies flew off, another bird took its place at the suet. My Arrogant One studied it carefully. “That is a Red-bellied Woodpecker, correct?”

I nodded. “A female. The male would have a red crown as well as the red nape.”

Hairy WoodpeckerSorceress pointed to a bird in the nearby tree. “That appears to be a woodpecker, also. It looks like the Downy Woodpecker, but it is almost as large as the Red-bellied Woodpecker.”

“That is a Hairy Woodpecker.” My Gypsy showed off his expertise once again.

Pileated Woodpecker (4)“And there is the largest woodpecker you will see here.” I pointed to a bird on a tree stump at the back of the neighboring yard. “That is a female Pileated Woodpecker.” I took a quick photo of her before looking for her mate. “And there is the male.” We watched as he flew from a tree to the suet logs. “They both have red crests, but he has a red stripe on his cheek while she has a black stripe.”

It was only a few minutes before we had another flurry of activity in the yard.

“Red-winged Blackbirds! They are in the trees, and on the feeder poles.” Sorceress turned to my Gypsy. “I remember you told me the female is a rather drab brown bird so she can remain unseen by predators while sitting on her nest and protecting her eggs or nestlings.”

Red-winged Blackbird displayingMy Gypsy nodded. “And the adult males in breeding plumage have the bright shoulder epaulettes that they display to the females during courting, and to other males during disputes over mates, territories, and food.”

My Arrogant One pointed at some birds in a tree. “I believe you have previously identified those birds for me as Common Grackles. I remember how attractive I found their iridescent feathers, not at all common looking.”

A few minutes later, my Gypsy started whistling, and was promptly answered by two Song Sparrows, one in a tree and one on the ground.

Yellow-rumped WarblerMy Young Hero smiled. “I always wished I could whistle like the birds. Could you imitate the call of that Yellow-rumped Warbler?” He pointed to a bird sitting in a neighbor’s tree.

Mourning DoveMy Gypsy obliged, then started imitating the gentle cooing of a Mourning Dove, who answered from its perch on a feeder pole in the middle of the yard.

Northern Cardinal - male (2)My Young Hero smiled again. “It is truly amazing how you can mimic the birds.” He cocked his head for a moment. “Do you hear that? It sounds like a Northern Cardinal.” He scanned the treetops. “There he is! Can you mimic him?”

My Gypsy grinned. “I would, but I would not wish to interrupt him while he is serenading his mate.” He pointed to the female who was on the ground, eating a grape.Northern Cardinal - female

As we prepared to go inside for dinner, I turned to my Bounty Hunter. “I think you are the only one who did not spot any birds today.”

My Bounty Hunter chuckled. “I left the birding to the rest of you. I thought I would get a couple of pictures of the Eastern Cottontail rabbit to show your Old Dwarf. I know how fond he is of the little varmints, as he calls them.”

Miles had prepared a wonderful meal for us, but most of us just picked at our food. Everyone kept glancing at the empty chairs around the table.

“Don’t worry.” Miles reached over and gave my hand a squeeze. “Dragon will find a way to bring your Foreman back.”

Foreman closeup

Will Dragon be able to find my Foreman and return him to reality? Or will he be lost to us forever, somewhere in the illusory world? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

The Year in Review

The Year in Review

Dragon looks up from fireplace“The year in review?” Dragon opened one sleepy eye. She raised her head and gave me a curious look. “What is that?”

I wrinkled my brow. I thought it quite self-evident, but I shrugged and offered Dragon an explanation anyway. “It’s just a brief summary of the events of the past year.”

“Oh.” She went back to basking next to her illusory fireplace, curling up tightly, dropping her reptilian head onto her arms, and tucking her tail around her nose.

Arrogant OneMy Arrogant One shuddered. “Who in their right mind would want to dwell on the events of this year past?”

I shrugged. “Many people would. It’s fun to recall some of the good times we had.”

wish listeners“Not everyone had good times. This year did not start out well for some of us.” The elf’s usual smug, superior look was replaced by a pensive expression. “Do you not remember? At the end of the previous year, I had developed a problem controlling my power. At the start of this year, Dragon and I returned to the land of the Wish Listeners to search for the cause and – mayhap – a remedy for my affliction.”

My Arrogant One grasped his cloak and pulled it tight around himself. His voice was so soft I had to strain to hear him. “Dragon almost died there. And I almost abandoned her to her fate, shaming myself and dishonoring the elven race.” His face was pale, and he drew his cloak even tighter around his shivering body.

the knights paced

Tendrils of black smoke 2

Dragon raised her head again, studying the elf through heavy-lidded eyes. “Yes, I remember that. The elf is right. It was not a good start to the year.” A small plume of black smoke drifted from her nostrils, underscoring her words.

Unicorn and dwarf 2My Old Dwarf walked over to Dragon and caressed her scaly face. “But thet you-nee-corn been tookin’ me ta tha udder world ta be savin’ ye, beastie. An’ tha elfie been doin’ right by ye in tha end, when it really been countin’ fer summat.”

Dragon considered this for a moment before nodding and resuming her basking.

bounty-hunterMy Bounty Hunter cleared his throat and nodded. “It was a long and frightening eight weeks. Those of us who remained here had no way of knowing where you were, what was happening, or if we would ever see you again.”

“There were a number of other frights and scares this past year.” My Young Hero blushed as he remembered. “I was beset by nightmares for a long spell.” He smiled warmly at me. “You helped me understand that even heroes can have nightmares.”

“Your fears were nothing compared to the terror I faced after meeting our young neighbor, Marisol. She quickly demonstrated not only the capability to see through my spell of concealment, but the capacity to see my true nature.” Dragon sat up again, dark smoke drifting from her nose.

Stu-04-NatGalSorceress entered the room as Dragon was speaking. She placed a tray of eggnog and Christmas cookies on the table, then turned to Dragon and nodded. “That was a frightening predicament for all of us. The child’s inexplicable ability may have revealed our existence to the inhabitants of this world beyond Mistress Writer and Master Miles.”

MilesTaking Marisol by the hand“Marisol and her mother, Bastina, were not the only new acquaintances this past year.” Miles helped himself to a glass of eggnog and a few cookies as he turned to me. “You and Dragon met that repairman who came out to fix the heat element in our rain gutters when we had a problem with the formation of ice dams. You remember him and his alleged griffin, don’t you?”Crawford and Griffin

“I assure you, Master Miles, there was nothing alleged about the griffon.” Dragon got a sappy look on her face, and her cheeks glowed bright red. “It was nice to meet someone who understood my nature and my presence here, and with whom I could communicate in the old ways of my race.”

Dray and Griff

Miles gave me a questioning look.

“The griffin apparently arrived here much the same way Dragon and my other characters did – falling out of someone’s manuscript. And, according to Dragon, Griff has the ability to communicate telepathically, the same way the Great Wyrms of Dragon’s world communicate.”Dragon and Griffin

“Oh.” Miles furrowed his brow and nibbled another cookie as he digested this information.

CrawfordGriff2I nodded. “Yes, I had almost forgotten about meeting Crawford. He and his friend, Griff, proved themselves to be allies and valuable resources. After the meeting of the writers’ group Lost in the Words, Crawford directed us to Christine and Talia, the owners of the Chris-Tal Clear Metaphysical Store. He said they might be able to help us determine just what Marisol is and whence she gets her power.”

Dragon chuckled. “But getting Talia to help was most difficult. Christine had to exert a great deal of persuasion on her partner. Still, the spells the two ladies provided remedied the problem, and we remain undiscovered by most in this world. And Talia did say when Marisol is older, Talia can teach her, train her to use her power rather than be used by it.”

Foreman facing right closeup“We made another new friend this year as well.” My Foreman raised an eyebrow as he settled into the recliner with a glass of eggnog in his hand. “And a new enemy, mayhap?”Gypsy

“By friend, of course, you mean either Didi or Arthur.” My Gypsy waggled his eyebrows and smirked. “But whoever could be the enemy of whom you speak?”

My Foreman guffawed. “Arthur is no friend.” He turned to me. “Mistress, did not Crawford predict you had made a powerful enemy in Arthur?”

I sighed. “He did. I thought after Cleric had put Crawford’s mind at ease over the circumstances surrounding the death of his nephew, the danger he represented was over. But then Crawford apparently interfered with my Arrogant One’s magic, causing one of the elf’s spells to go awry.”

“Didi turned out to be a friend, though.” My Gypsy smiled broadly. “She wrote an excellent article on Colton and his new pony, Blue.”

“Blue!” Cleric exclaimed. “The therapy pony is another new friend we have made this year!” Her smile faded as quickly as it had appeared. “Of course, we lost a good friend when Colton’s first therapy pony, Peaches – who we knew as Mystery – passed away.”

We all nodded somberly.

Young hero 2“But not everything that happened this past year was bad or sad or frightening,” my Young Hero reminded us. “Because of your strong bond with Mystery, and your ability to communicate with animals, Cleric, we attended the auction and found Blue for Colton.”

Colton and Peaches 2John, Casey, and Old Blue 2My Gypsy agreed. “We helped them both deal with their depression over losing their closest friend – Colton had lost his pony, Peaches, and Blue had lost his owner, Casey. Later, after Colton and Blue were working well together, we got to enjoy a wonderful trail ride with them and Colton’s mom. Colton and I had another outstanding competition identifying birds. That blind boy can identify birds by sound better than most sighted people can identify them by visual observation! And then we had a delicious barbecue after the ride.”

“Ye dinna been toldin’ me there be a barbecue at thet trail ride.” My Old Dwarf frowned. “Iffins I been knowin’ thet, I been learnin’ how ta be ridin’, too!”

We all laughed.

camera for blog“The trail ride was not the only fun any of us had this past year.” My Bounty Hunter rejoined the conversation. “Do you not all remember the debate over magic versus technology? We all went on a nature hike and were afforded the opportunity to use Mistress Writer’s magic box that she calls a camera. The wildlife pictures taken by the magic users were no better than those taken by those of us unskilled in the arcane arts.”

ruby-ring2My Old Dwarf scoffed. “Aye, lad, but I already been ‘splainin thet ta all o’ ye. It do na be becausin’ anythin’ thet tha lass be callin’ tech-nol-o-gee. Tha magic box really be magic, but tha magic be in tha object, liken me old ring o takin’ me places.”

I leaned closer to Miles and explained, “He means his ring of transportation.”

“Aye, lass, me ring o trans-port-tatin’. Tha magic be in tha ring, so’s even non-magic folk kin be usin’ it, same as tha magic box ye all be callin’ a cam-er-ah, what holds tha magic inside it.” My Old Dwarf shook his head at our lack of understanding.

I laughed. “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on the technology issue.”

“That was not the only time we got to use the magic box . . . er, camera.” Cleric grinned.

“That’s right. We saw many different birds and animals when Mistress Writer took us on another nature hike at the beginning of summer, as well.” My Bounty Hunter smiled as he remembered. “Dragon had created illusory cameras for us, so we did not have to share. We all took a large number of photographs that day.”

“I remember.” I nodded and turned toward my Arrogant One. “And there was another time when you took some outstanding nature images, too.”

The elf flushed with pride and sat up a little taller.

“And when you and Master Miles were sick with pneumonia this past spring, Mistress Writer, I took a lot of pictures of the birds in your yard and on our deck to share with you after you recovered.” Cleric smiled at the memory.

“We should have taken pictures the previous month, when the weather was so bad, and all those robins were on the deck.” Dragon shivered as she remembered.

Cleric chuckled. “You were so fascinated by the robins, you shrank to the size of a housecat and climbed up on the back of the sofa to watch them.”

“The robins may have been the most numerous that day – I think there were almost a hundred on the deck – but they were not the only birds we saw,” my Gypsy recalled. “I think we identified 11 different species in the snow and ice, including two different hawks.”

“See?” My Young Hero grinned. “I told you not everything about this past year was bad or sad or frightening. We shared a lot of fun and good times as well.”

My Bounty Hunter nodded. “It makes me most anxious to see what the coming year will bring.”

We hope, dear readers, you have enjoyed following the adventures and misadventures of my little band of displaced characters this past year, and for all the years they have been creating chaos in this world. And we hope you will continue to join us in the coming year as we face whatever comes our way – good, bad, sad, or frightening. It will always be nicer for us if you come along and keep us company. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

Happy New Year

I See a Big Problem Here!

I See a Big Problem Here!

Cell phoneBackyard 050

I put down my cell phone and turned to face my characters.

Cleric twisting cord belt“Well? Did you reach them? Did you invite them over? Are they coming?” Cleric’s cornflower blue eyes were clouded with concern, and she twisted the cord belt of her robe. She had been the one who suggested inviting our least favorite neighbors, Mace and Gloria, to join us for some backyard birdwatching.

Mace and Gloria birdingI nodded. “Yes, they will be here in about an hour, binoculars and field guides in hand. They are very anxious to show off how much they’ve learned since the last time they attempted any backyard birdwatching here.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/fun-and-mayhem-with-the-neighbors/

Dragon’s brow furrowed. “Should I strengthen the wards and the spell of concealment?”

I shook my head. “No, that would defeat the purpose of the experiment. We invited them here to determine if your spell of concealment has been breached. We want everything to be the same when they get here as it was earlier today, when Marisol and Bastina were here and saw what they should not have seen.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/07/07/hello-neighbor/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/07/14/just-who-are-these-neighbors-and-what-do-they-see/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/07/21/what-is-the-problem/

I furrowed my brow, trying to foresee any problems. “I know that Mace and Gloria – in fact, the entire neighborhood – has seen all of you. You all attended the neighborhood get-together with Miles and me last August.”

All my characters nodded, and my Arrogant One snickered. “Ah, yes, the get-together. I seem to remember a stage production of some note.” He snickered again, shooting an amused look at Dragon, who glared at him through narrowed eyes.

“Yes, we remember the entire incident . . . er, day.” A puff of black smoke escaped from her snout.
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/07/29/a-ducky-day-for-collecting-flora-and-overhearing-a-murder-plot/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/08/05/to-die-for-stroganoff/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/08/12/solutions-or-more-problems/
https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2018/08/19/the-case-of-the-poison-mushrooms/

I gave Dragon and the elf a quizzical look but decided not to pursue the subject. “As I was saying, even though our neighbors have seen all of you, I think it best if only Dragon and Cleric are here with me when Mace and Gloria arrive.”

“Why is that, Mistress?” Cleric tilted her head and fidgeted with her robes.

“Because I believe you were the only two Mace and Gloria saw with me the day they came to visit, and we ended up birdwatching. I think it would be a good test of Dragon’s concealment spell if everyone else went about the same activities as the last time. Oh, and don’t forget – don’t call me Mistress in front of them!”

Cleric nodded.

My Gypsy turned toward my Foreman and my Young Hero. “I believe the three of us were working our mounts.” They headed off toward the barn.

My Arrogant One gestured toward my Bounty Hunter. “My associate and I shall repair to our refuge in the shed, where we were last time.” He turned with a flourish and swept his cloak around him as he and his companion headed toward the garden shed.

sorceress-facing-right

Sorceress stroked her chin and narrowed her eyes in thought. “Ah, yes! I remember! I was in the house.” She turned and took her leave.

“An’ I been chasin’ thet durn bunny rabbit.” My Old Dwarf glowered at the rabbit, who had returned to raiding the carrot patch.Dwarf chasing rabbit

Elf facing rightElf cleric“I will go get some iced tea and cake for our guests.” Cleric hurried toward the house as Dragon shape-shifted back to her customary guise of an elf maiden.

Cleric returned with the refreshments just as Mace and Gloria rounded the corner of our house and waved in greeting.

neighbor-2neighbor“We’re so glad you called!” Gloria was practically bouncing with excitement. “I’ve been saying to Mace now that we’re more experienced, we should get together with you again for some more birding. See, I even have the right word now. Real bird watchers call themselves birders.” She smiled smugly as she flaunted her newfound vocabulary.

Gloria plopped into a chair between Dragon and Cleric, directing Mace into the chair next to me. She continued to dominate the conversation as Cleric served refreshments, chattering on and on about the various birds she and Mace had seen recently in their yard and at various local parks. I slowly relaxed as our guests did not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary when they picked up their binoculars and began scanning our yard for birds. The horses walking past the feeders were apparently invisible to them.Horses and birdfeeders

“We have everything set up to attract the birds. In addition to the regular feeders, we’ve put some peanuts, dehydrated mealworms, and grapes on an old table at the end of the gazebo boardwalk, and we’ve scattered some millet spray on the boardwalk, to entice the birds to come closer.” I pointed to the areas as I spoke.birdwatching with Mace and Gloria

“That’s a good idea.” Mace nodded sagely. “I know some birders frown on that. They prefer to see and photograph birds in their natural habitat, rather than at feeders. Some say attracting birds to feeders is a lazy way to bird, almost akin to cheating. But Gloria and I disagree. We do it a lot when we’re photographing the birds in our yard. We found, in addition to attracting them closer – an important consideration if you don’t have a powerful zoom lens – it helps keep them in one place longer. Normally, they’re flitting around so much, we can’t get a clear, focused image.”

camera for blogI nodded as I picked up my camera. “I agree. I take lots of photos of birds in their natural habitat, in trees and bushes and foraging in the grass, but I also enjoy seeing them at the feeders. I find I can get a much better look at them that way.”

“Oh, first bird of the day! First bird of the day!” Gloria bounced up and down and crowed as if she had just won some fantastic competition. “There are Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at the nectar feeders!”

“Wow!” Mace pointed at another of the nectar feeders. “The bees are sure making it difficult for the birds!”Bees on nectar feeder

I nodded. Before I could reply, Gloria squealed. “Look at those two Black-capped Chickadees. The one on the left looks a lot like the one we saw here before, the one with the feather disorder. Remember that one?”

Black-capped Chickadee

I turned my camera toward the birds in question and clicked a few photos. Checking the images, I nodded. “Yes, the one in the tree above the feeders looks like the one we saw previously. Its feathers aren’t as bad as the one we saw before, but you can see the difference between the ruffled feathers of the one chickadee and the smooth plumage of the chickadee posing on the dead branch to the right.”

Mace and Gloria examined the images I had taken and nodded.

Cleric pointed toward the table. “It seems some Blue Jays have decided to visit the feeding station. There are some on the table, and two waiting on the railing.”

“And the chipmunks are sneaking up onto the boardwalk and grabbing their share of the spray millet before the birds get it.” Dragon smiled and pointed.

“They’re so cute, but they’re such brazen little thieves!” Gloria laughed, as we all watched the action at the far end of the walkway.

“There’re some waterfowl at the back of the yard, by the pond.” Mace studied them with his binoculars. “The two larger ducks look like female Mallards. The four smaller ones are Wood Ducks, a male and three females.”

“And there’s a Canada Goose, too.” Gloria smiled broadly, showing off her knowledge. “Mace and I had been calling them Canadian Geese, but a naturalist at the park corrected us.”

“Marge, what are those brown birds with the streaked fronts and sort of scalloped markings on their backs?” Mace pointed to some birds foraging in the grass. “We’ve seen a few in our yard but can’t find them in our field guide.”

I smiled. “They’re juvenile Brown-headed Cowbirds. They’re barely more than fledglings. Their various adoptive parents stopped feeding him about two weeks ago.”

“Adoptive parents?” Gloria tilted her head and gave me a quizzical look.

I nodded. “Brown-headed Cowbirds are brood parasites. A female cowbird doesn’t make a nest or raise her own babies. She lays her eggs in the nests of other bird species, who then raise the young cowbirds. Each of these juveniles was raised by a different set of parents.”

“Why do they do that?” Dragon looked intrigued.

“Originally, they followed the herds of bison that roamed the country, feeding on the insects the herds stirred up from the grasslands. If they took the time to make a nest and raise their own babies, they’d starve, as the herds of bison wouldn’t be waiting around for them.”

Gloria’s eyes widened. “Wow! No wonder we couldn’t figure out what those birds were – there were no adult Brown-headed Cowbirds around them!”

Mace scanned the yard again. “There’s an adult American Robin splashing around in your birdbath, and another one on the fence, waiting its turn. And I see a fledgling robin on the fence, too. I remember you said the youngsters had speckled fronts.”

“And there’s an adult robin eating on the table, now that the Blue Jays have moved.” Gloria pointed.American Robin adult on table

“Our hanging feeders are very busy now, too.” Cleric pointed at the various feeders as she identified the birds. “A pair of Northern Cardinals is in the safflower feeder. There is a female American Goldfinch enjoying the sunflower chips in one of the cage feeders, and a male is in the feeder next to it.”