When a Picture Inspires Thousands of Words.
Every author is unique, not only as a person but as a writer as well. When we look at a picture, each of us sees things a little differently, and each of us has a unique “muse” to whisper stories into our ears when a sight, smell, sound, or touch triggers a story.
Enjoy the stories written by twelve different genre authors
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Copyright © 2020, by Erika M Szabo Cindy J. Smith Lorraine Carey Christina Weigand Drew Neary Molly Neely Toinette Thomas Rick Haynes Alan Zacher L.L. Thomsen Mary Elizabeth Fricke Ceri Westaway Williams.
Every author retains the copyright to their own stories. This anthology is offered to readers free of charge.
One Picture, Thousands of Words:
When a Picture Inspires Thousands of Words
An anthology by multiple authors. All rights reserved.
Every author is unique, not only as a person but as a writer as well. Each of us sees things a little differently, and each of us has a unique “muse” to whisper stories into our ears when a sight, smell, sound, or touch triggers a story.
One morning as I was searching for a picture to do a book cover design, I came across a portrait of a young woman. Her expression woke up my muse in an instant and a story started forming in my mind.
Then, a thought occurred to me. What if I would challenge a few author friends to look at the picture and write a short story of their own?
We did, and the result was amazing. Not only did we write the stories in different genres and styles, but everyone saw something different in the young woman’s expression, eyes, body posture, and the colors of the portrait, but the combination triggered totally different stories in our minds.
This collection of short stories is published free of charge, and the purpose of the anthology is to introduce the writing style of the authors, to readers.
We hope you will enjoy all the stories. Please visit the authors on the links provided with their short biography and take a look at some of their published books.
As always, happy reading and writing!
~Erika M Szabo
The Magic of Blackmire Forest
by Erika M Szabo
Eyes of the Beheld
by Cindy J. Smith
The Wrong Window
by Alan Zacher
The Lady of Mirror Lake
by Lorraine Carey
The Genie and the Grim Trap
by L.L. Thomsen
by Rick Haynes
by Toi Thomas
The Eyes of the Watchtower
by Molly Neely
by Mary Elizabeth Fricke
The Small Gate
by Ceri Westaway Williams
Searching for Cheryl
by Christina Weigand
All in a Night’s Work
by Drew Neary
The Magic of Blackmire Forest
Generations upon generations, Blackmire Forest was the favorite place of the witches of the Enchanted Maple Coven to search for their ingredients—herbs, barks, leaves, and flowers. Their paths were clearly marked by the coven’s sigil that had been painted on the tree trunks.
Camilla Highmore and her fellow young acolytes, Sarah and Xavier, who were in their late teens, reached the knoll and found the witches’ path. Their long years of apprenticeship was over, and they were expected to perform the final test before they’d be considered as fully trained witches.
They had to find the Woodruff Iris needed to brew the potion as their last test, and the instruction had been very clear. The Woodruff Iris flower thrived on the sweet sap the Snag Maple Trees provided. Dead yet still standing, Snag Maple trees were a rich source of nutrients as well as magical ingredients for both thanomancy and biomancy. The rare flower had to be plucked exactly when the sun barely kissed the horizon and prepared before the last rays of the sun vanished into the cloak of night.
Upon finding the flower, they only had one hour to rush back to the coven and add the flower as the last ingredient to their prepared potions. If they’d be unsuccessful, they’d have to remain apprentices and try again the following year. The pressure weighed heavily on them all.
The trio walked in silence keeping an eye on the trees with the sigil that marked their path. Suddenly, a raven appeared above Camilla and let out a raspy kraa sound. She shivered as the raven flew away. She looked after the bird as it flew higher and higher and disappeared from view. When Camilla lowered her eyes back to the trees, she spotted her grandmother’s small, spiral symbol with a pentacle in the middle carved into a majestic pine tree. She had a strong feeling that she had to follow the path the raven showed her. She hesitated for a minute but soon made up her mind. “I’m going this way,” she called out to her companion and pointed toward the narrow path by the tree.
“We were told to follow the witches’ path,” Sarah said, feeling annoyed. Her red, curly hair flew off her shoulders as she shook her head and rolled her green eyes. Always a strict follower of rules, she often disapproved when Camilla questioned or sometimes even broke the rules. “Why do you always have to break the rules?” She questioned, looking at Camilla.
“I’m not… Okay, I do… sometimes. But my spirit guide…” Camilla stuttered like a scolded child but then her confidence returned. “Oh, never mind that. I’ve been here before with my grandma when I was very young, and I remember seeing dead Maple Trees in that area. Do you want to come with me?”
“No way,” Sarah said, firmly shaking her head.
“I’m staying on this path as we were told. You shouldn’t wander off either,” Xavier warned. His chocolate brown eyes reflected genuine worry.
Xavier was in love with Camilla since they first met, but his sense of duty and obedience kept him from revealing his feelings. When he confessed to his father, he got angry and told him that he was destined to be a witch and follow the footsteps of his ancestors; a strong-willed, often disobedient girl didn’t fit into his future plans. Xavier agreed sadly and accepted his father’s decision. He kept his feelings to himself but couldn’t erase his love for Camilla from his heart.
Camilla stubbornly shrugged and strode off the well-worn dirt road. It made her heart race with excitement every time she followed the ancient path with her grandmother but going alone made her a little nervous. The Raven is my spirit guide and it’s never wrong. She thought, trying to calm her anxiety. It has a good reason to lead me off the usual path, and besides, my grandmother had marked this path for a reason.
The twisting path led her deep into the forest. Fallen leaves crunched under her boots, and she heard the rustle of small scampering creatures under the fallen branches and leaves. She tightened her grip on her gray knitted shawl as she continued along the path, her eyes automatically searching for the Maple Snags that Woodruff Iris preferred.
She still had about ten minutes before the sun began to sink below the horizon. Golden light filtered through the canopy of tree branches above her and the chilly wind cut through the rustling leaves making them dance. Camilla felt goosebumps rising on her skin triggered by the energy coursing all around her. More than anything in the world, she wanted to learn how to tap into that energy and wield the magic of nature.
She spotted an ancient, dead Maple Tree that stood just off to the side of the path. Beautiful even in its decay, its bare branches stood out against the bright late afternoon skies. Armfuls of Woodruff Iris in full bloom waved gently in the wind as they clung to the Snag.
Camilla took a deep breath, bowed to the ancient tree, and to the scurrying creatures it still supported and took a step towards the patch of flowers to wait until the exact time for harvest.
As she took another step, suddenly, her foot crashed through the layer of dead leaves that had so perfectly hidden the tangle of thick roots and the warren between the path and the tree. She let out a sharp scream and the golden light of the world above her was thrust into shadows as she crushed through thin branches and roots, falling into a deep hole. She landed hard on the packed dirt in a deep, spacious room below the maple tree’s roots.
Leaves floated peacefully around her as she stood up, groaning, brushing the leaves from her long hair and the dirt from her jeans. She moved her arms and legs carefully. Nothing is broken, she sighed in relief. Light poked down through the hole above her head, enough so that she could easily look around in the underground room.
Camilla turned to examine the large, square, carved stones put together with precision to make the walls of the room. The stones were covered with moss and a thick layer of dust, but in the darker corner polished stones with runes carved into them caught her eye. “What is this place?” she whispered and shivered. How am I going to get out of here? She looked up at the hole in the ceiling, ten feet above her head.
Her stomach tied into a knot. It was a mistake! Why did I follow the Raven? A scream rose in her throat, but she managed to stay quiet. It’s no use. Nobody will hear me. They will come looking for me when Sarah and Xavier go back to the coven without me, and grandma will know where to find me when they tell her I followed her sigil. The thought of getting help calmed down as her curiosity rose.
She glanced at her watch and cried out, “Oh, no! There’s only five minutes until sundown. I’m not going to get the iris and… well, at least I’ll know where to find the flowers next year.” She shrugged and took a step closer toward the back wall. She could barely see the runes carved into the dark gray stones. “I wish I’d brought a flashlight,” she sighed.
“Whoa!” Camilla exclaimed and stumbled back in fright as the room turned bright. “What the… what’s going on here?” She cried out but her curiosity was stronger than her fear.
She could see the carved runes clearly. I wish I could read them. As soon as the thought entered her mind, eerie green light illuminated the rune letters.
Ye who was born to possess the sight
Brings light into the night.
What is this? Camilla’s legs turned to jelly, and she sat down. I can read the runes. Is this place like a ‘your wish comes through cave’ or something? “I wish I could get out of here!” she said out loud.
She felt lightheaded and closed her eyes for a few seconds. When the dizziness passed and opened her eyes, a strange sensation filled her body and mind. She felt the energy around her and watched in fright as the pile of dead leaves that had cushioned her fall stirred and gathered around her gently lifting her back up through the gap.
“Whoa!” a surprised scream erupted from her chest as she steadied herself at the edge of the gaping hole. This place is magical! I’m going to show it to grandma, she thought dreamily but quickly came to her senses. Glancing at the horizon she knew she didn’t have a second to waste if she wanted to harvest the flower of the Woodruff Iris.
Watching every step carefully, she walked to the beautiful patch of flowers. She knelt, took her athame out of its embossed leather sheath, and waited, blade pressed against a blood-red stem. As soon as the sun touched the horizon, Camilla made the cut. What if the others can’t find the flower? There is plenty here. She thought as the plants shivered, and she held three perfect blossoms in her hands. She allowed herself a few moments to admire the delicate black petals before tucking the knife back into its sheath, and gently placed the flowers inside the leather pouch that hung on a thong around her neck.
After bowing her head for a minute and thanking the plant for letting her harvest its delicate flowers, she stood up and raced back on the path, following her grandmother’s sigils with a satisfied, smile on her face.
She anxiously waited a few minutes until finally, she spotted her fellow acolytes walking back on the witches’ path with shoulders hunched and gloomy expressions on their faces. As they stopped, Camilla noticed their hands were empty. Her heart twisted.
Xavier glanced at her sadly and sat down on the carpet of leaves, looking defeated. “No luck,” he sighed. “Somehow, we got off the path and by the time we found the flowers, the sun was sinking into the horizon and the petals closed up. We were late…”
“We’re not going to be accepted,” Sarah muttered. “What rotten luck! We’ll have to wait another year.”
The words died on her lips when she saw Camilla opening her pouch and holding the precious black flowers. “No worries. Neither of you has to wait,” she said simply. “I have three flowers.”
Sarah stammered, “And you’d share it with us?”
“Of course! Let’s go. We only have half an hour to get back to the coven and fifteen more minutes to add the flowers and finish the potion,” she informed.
Xavier leaped to his feet as Sarah rushed to embrace Camilla in a tight hug.
The spicy-sharp autumn air of Blackmire Forest smelled of pure magic as the apprentices hurried toward the coven.
They rushed back to the coven and under the watchful eyes of the High Priestess and Elders, they added the Woodruff Iris to their prepared, murky looking potions. They stirred the dark grey, thick liquid in their cauldrons and yelled out in surprise when the potion turned into a ruby red, glowing liquid.
“You have passed your last test,” the High Priestess announced and looked at the acolytes with warmth in her eyes and a smile on her lips.
Sarah glanced at Xavier with a sad expression in her eyes, and when Xavier nodded, Sarah looked up at the High Priestess. “We have a confession to make.”
“Oh? What is it, child?”
“We…” Sarah started and cleared her throat. “Xavier and I didn’t get the flower. We were unsuccessful in finding it and Camilla took two extra flowers and gave them to us.”
Xavier looked at Sarah and added in a shaky voice, “We don’t deserve to be witches, only Camilla does.”
“I know, my messenger told me,” the High Priestess admitted and glanced at raven sitting on the windowsill. “I was just waiting for you to admit it.”
“So, we have to wait another year, right?” Sarah asked.
“No, child. You don’t have to wait. The three of you passed the test because of Camilla’s loyalty. She could have taken only one flower, but she took three because she has a good heart, and she’s loyal to her fellow apprentices. Being a member of our coven is not about competing with each other and outdoing each other. It’s about love and loyalty to each other and helping one another.”
After the initiation ceremony a week later, Camilla and her grandmother went on a journey to discover more about the room that had been hidden for centuries. The spicy-sharp autumn air of Blackmire Forest smelled of pure magic as they followed the path to the ancient Maple Tree that guarded the sacred place deep in the woods.
Eyes of the Beheld
Corey was finishing her walk in the park
Wails of a police siren disturbing the peaceful morn
Tilting her head, she listened and smiled
She knew he was coming for her--the lady in the park
But, has he really figured it all out
All the pieces of the crime in their correct places
Or is he just guessing
Jumping to a conclusion based on a few facts and innuendos
He is getting closer, flashing lights joining the sirens howl
Pulling into the parking lot at full speed his car swerves
Gravel sprays everywhere as he slams on his brakes
Looking through his windshield, she can see his face
Officer Kord is driven, angry...fuming
He unholsters his gun as he opens the door
Head down as he slams it shut
His pace reveals his determination
Steps strong and firm
Quickly he covers the space between them
Corey stands waiting for him
Watching his every move
Marking every nuance of his gestures
Waiting for him to look up
He must look up and see her sometime
Will his gait change?
Finally he does look at her
She can tell it was just a glance
But still he faltered
She smirks, for now she knows
Kord is not sure, not really
He pauses and takes a long look at her
Beholding her, this woman he was seeking
Corey knows she is not beautiful
But she is PERFECT
No makeup could improve her looks
Skin smooth and flawless the color of cafe au lait
Slight blush accents her high cheekbones
Full lips the color of bruised roses
Inviting and yet demure
Her chestnut brown hair flows in soft curls down her back
Luxurious, enticing fingers to run through it
Dressed simply, her comely shape barely evident
She watches Kord's eyes behold her
Observes as his assurance in her guilt crumbles
As he decides he has made a mistake
The vision before him is all the proof he needs
Proof of her Innocence is in his eyes
The eyes of the beholder
Kord finally stands before Corey
Returning her smile he begins to apologize
For his anger, and his obvious accusations
Corey's smirk mistaken for a smile
He looks at her closely
Noting how long lashes frame her forest green orbs
At first Corey's eyes invite him
Slowly they draw him in
Too late he realizes he is looking into a sea of darkness
Drawn into the abyss of her being
Drowning in the ocean of her evil
Lost in the eyes of the beheld
The Wrong Window
It’s almost seven PM. It’s dark outside. Yes, the blinds to her apartment are now closed. She’s gone.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, that may be true, but you can’t hold a picture or words in your arms and hands and make love to it or them. This is what I wanted to do with her—make hot, passionate love. Besides, the only picture I have of her was the one that was in the monthly newsletter from the office of the Hud apartment complex here. In an attempt for the residents here to get to know each other better, they started adding pictures of the residents, and from the moment that I gazed upon that snapshot of her, I was enthroned, enslaved by her look: Long, flowing, golden-brown hair that was coiffed straight back, like the proud mane of a fine thoroughbred; smooth, olive complexion; piercing blue eyes and full lips, painted with red lipstick. But it was that look of hers—that stare that chained me to her: defiant, yet haunting and venerable as if she had a secret.
Then, three months ago, I saw her for the first time, at the window of her apartment, which is directly across from mine. It was a little after six PM, and the white, mini blinds to her apartment were raised, and she was just standing there, in front of the window. Every night, at six, she did this—just stood there, looking out, until the sun went down. I began staring at her every night through my binoculars.
I know that she knew that I was doing this, --she was always looking straight at me—but she never seemed to mind she always kept appearing every evening at the window.
I’m not a pervert. I’m just lonely.
See, seven years ago, I was diagnosed with having MS. I’m crippled now, bound to a wheelchair. I was in a nursing home for the past six years, but last year, in 2018, I got fed-up living there and got this one-bedroom, Hud, apartment. The apartment complex isn’t too bad, but the neighborhood is pretty rundown—old, deteriorating and high crime.
The apartment complex is in the shape of a half of an H. It’s composed of three connecting buildings. Building A in the middle, and building C is to the south, and building B is to the north. The parking lot is between building C and B and extends to the street; separating B and C by sixty or eighty feet. All of the buildings of the complex have three floors, and I live on the third floor, in apartment B-313. She lived directly across from me.
What I had always found so odd about it all was that she always kept the blinds raised; even though it was summer, the air-conditioner, which is below the window, was never on: the two side windows, attached to the main window, were always open and had fans in them that were always on, as was a light in the living-room—all night long! I wouldn’t believe that someone like her—with that look of defiance—could be scared of the dark.
The summer pasted, and every evening, I waited anxiously, longingly, for her to appear—and she always did, and my longing for her, my love for her, grew. I had to meet her! I ached, burned for her.
I have a caregiver, Flora, who comes three mornings a week—cleans my place; washes my clothes, and such. She’s in her fifties; short and fat; has a thick Russian accent; is a gossipy person who prides herself in knowing most of the residents here and their lives.
Monday morning, last week, I was sitting in my wheelchair, at the window. Flora came in, and I said: “Flora, do you know the woman who lives across from me?”
She walked over and stood next to me. I pointed out the window, across the parking lot to building C.
“Oh,” she exclaimed, “that Miss Taylor’s apartment. She nice. She teacher, second grade … You like?”
“Well, yes,” I replied, embarrassed.
Before I knew it, Flora took a picture of me with her cellphone, and said: “I tell her about you. She nice. You see.”
Wednesday morning, Flora comes rushing into the apartment, all excited, saying: “I show her your picture and told all about you. She like. She invites you supper Saturday, at five; her apartment, C-312.”
“Now, wait, now,” I protested, my mind racing, “I-I, well, I don’t even know her name.”
“Name Lorraine,” Flora replied. “You go. Been alone too long. She nice. Get food; talk; kiss; sex; men need this. She nice. You see. Go. Five; Saturday; C-312.”
So, Saturday, at four-thirty PM, using the connecting hallways, I rolled myself over to Lorraine’s apartment. My heart was pounding in my chest with nervousness as I knocked softly on the door of her apartment. A few seconds later, the door open. Before stood a pencil-thin woman with dull color brown hair and matching color eyes—everything about her screamed: dull! In a dull voice, she said: “Hi. Jeff?”
“Yes,” I replied, feigning—well, joy. She invited me into the apartment, and I quickly realized that Flora, and I, had made a mistake. If that person’s apartment was directly across from mine, it would be C-313; not C-312. Not knowing what to do or say, I said: “Do you like living here?”
“Well, I do now,” she replied, sitting down on a couch. “I’m a quiet person,” she continued. “The neighbor in C-313 was a prostitute and drug addict—always loud and with men. She OD-ed three months ago. The stench of her decaying body was overwhelming. The management placed fans in the windows and kept the lights on so that it would seem like someone was still living there. They removed it all today and turned off the lights. It’s over. She’s gone and forgotten. Sad.”
“Yes,” I replied, in a daze. “Sad. Gone … A picture is worth a thousand words—but you can’t hold a picture in your arms or make love to it. It’s the same with a ghost.”
The Lady of Mirror Lake
Linarial O’Connor stared at the rows of dresses in her cramped closet. Her engagement party to real estate mogul, Reed Dawson was a week away. Hmm, I can’t decide on the maxi dress or the short black one, she mused as she pulled out both dresses and placed them on her bed. Maybe I should call Reed? I can never decide, and he knows a lot more about fashion than I do.
Luckily, she caught her fiancée in his office. “Wear the short, black one, babe. It compliments that great figure of yours.”
“Well, I guess that ends it. I was planning on wearing my blue jean dress.”
“Of course I am,” Linarial joked.
“You almost had me! And remember to make an appointment with David over at The Mane Attraction to get your hair done for the party. I love you in an updo. He’s the best. Tell him I sent you.”
Linarial put the two dresses back in her closet and made that hair appointment with David. Her cell was ringing. It was Reed again. “I wanted to know if you’d like to meet me over at the Campbell’s Lake House this evening? I have a showing and I know you love those houses over in that area.”
“I’d love to! I’ve heard legends about that lake behind the house—very intriguing.”
“Well, I’m leaving that legend out of my presentation tonight. I don’t want to scare off any prospective buyers. The Jensons appear to be motivated buyers. Please don’t mention it,” Reed stated firmly.
“I wouldn’t dream of it. Just let me know the time and I’ll see you tonight.”
Reed hung up and thought about Linarial’s interests and how they were such a sharp contrast from his own. He came from a large family as Linarial only had her Aunt Mavis whom she lived with. She never knew her father and her mother died from pneumonia when she was nine years old. Her aunt had told her she was named after a rare flower belonging to the Snapdragon family. That always made her feel special. Since early childhood, she loved the outdoors and had a natural talent for caring for plants and flowers.
Reed, however, enjoyed the party scene, expensive clothes, fast cars, and travel. Being born in the small town of Mt. Gilead, Ohio seemed exciting to a child, but now that he had made a name for himself in the real estate world, he was expanding to other areas in Ohio. He was attracted to Linarial last year when he was at the floral shop she managed purchasing flowers for his secretary. Her gentle voice and those piercing green eyes had him melting as she helped him select the perfect arrangement. Prior to their meeting, he was dating mostly women who were high society gals. He enjoyed helping Linarial choose more fashionable clothes. Some friends considered her to be his ‘project’. But it turned out to be more than that when he realized he’d had his share of the fast lane and never wanted to settle down with the vain women he had dated. His mother was overjoyed that her son had finally found a respectable woman. His brothers would often jest with him at the prospect of being bored with her after a while and returning to his former lifestyle.
Linarial padded into the kitchen where Aunt Mavis was standing at the stove cooking chili. “Mmm smells so good! I’m sorry I won’t be home tonight till late. I’m meeting Reed at the Campbell Lake House for a showing.”
Auntie turned around and wiped her hands on her apron. “I’ll miss you at dinner, but I don’t blame you for going. I know you love that part of the area.”
“I remember the legend you always told me about the Lady of the Lake. It always enchanted me as a child and still does.”
“You always wanted to hear it before you went to bed—seemed to soothe you. The legend goes way back to your great grandmother, Iris. Now you just go and enjoy that handsome soon-to-be husband of yours.
Linarial took one last look at herself in the bedroom mirror. I hope this is suitable for an Open House. She wondered as she turned to check out her backside in her skinny jeans and green satin tunic top. Being a warm evening in June she decided to skip her wrap.
She drove along the center of the quaint village where Amish farms dotted the landscape. It was another twenty-minute drive to the countryside on the upper north side. As she passed the forested area, her thoughts rushed back to her school days when she learned of how the area was home to the Shawnee tribe and how most of this land was touted as sacred grounds. As a child, she’d always wanted to explore the area. Her thoughts quickly turned to Reed and their upcoming engagement party next week. I know I love Reed and hopefully can make him happy. I could never compete with his former girlfriends. I wouldn’t even begin to try.
Linarial pulled into the drive of the Lake House and checked her makeup in the rearview mirror. She added a fresh coat of sparkly lip-gloss.
Reed met her at the door. “You look gorgeous!”
“Think so? I wasn’t sure—“
“Come—let me show you the house before the Jensons get here,” Reed stated.
Linarial was eager to see the house and especially the grounds. The large wood-beamed ceilings and wall-to-wall fireplace reminded her of a ski lodge. She imagined what it would be like to make love to Reed in front of the fire. She knew they’d be looking for a new home after they married and wondered if maybe this might be the perfect home for them. She’d wait till later to bring it up.
The Jensons were just pulling up. Linarial didn’t feel comfortable while Reed was working, so she told him she’d explore the grounds.
She exited through the back deck and headed toward the fence that lined the large property. It was roughly a quarter of a mile to Mirror Lake. The sun would be setting in about an hour. The early evening air was still warm and smelled of pine as she walked along the path.
She spotted a flash of red dart ahead and froze. What was that? Thoughts ran through her mind of the legends of Native American ghosts and other spirits. She could smell the scent of the lake ahead. The reeds had a sweet smell that invaded her nostrils.
Linarial stood at the edge of the lake where a few large boulders were stacked, and some old rickety docks stood. It was apparent no one had used them in a while. The water was calm, almost as though it was a sheet of glass. No wonder they call this, Mirror Lake. It has such beauty! She walked toward the east end of the lake where she noticed a large patch of wildflowers mixed along with the reeds. Some Mallards were enjoying the water as well.
It didn’t take long for Linarial to take off her sandals and wade in the shallows. She caught her reflection in the water and her coppery hair seemed to shine brighter than it ever had. She ran her hand along her long wavy locks looking deeper. “You are beyond beautiful my dear. I’ve been waiting for you,” a soft voice whispered from below the water.
Linarial jumped out of the water, her heart racing. “Who is this? Who’s there?”
“This is where you are meant to be, my dear.” The voice came again.
“What do you want with me? Why can’t you tell me who you are?”
No answer came. Linarial stood frozen on the banks of the lake scanning the area. So the legends must be true! There is a lady in the lake. But I don’t remember how she got there and what her purpose is.
The sun was setting and Linarial turned to head back when that flash of red appeared again. This time it came into focus. It was a red fox. It seemed to lock eyes with her then dash off into the forest. “So it’s you! You nearly scared me to death!”
“Lanarial! Linarial!” she heard Reed calling her name. He met her halfway on the path back to the house. “I was worried about you. You went out to the lake, didn’t you?”
“Yes . . . I . . . did.” Her voice was breathless.
“Nothing. I saw a fox and it startled me.”
“I’m sorry. They are common in this area. Do you like the lake?”
“Yes. It’s quite beautiful.”
Lanarial kept her secret as she and Reed walked back to the house. She didn’t want him to think she was losing it. She had wondered if she was. She was quick to make conversation. “Well, how did it go? Are they interested?”
“Hard to tell. The wife liked it, but her husband said they were still looking.”
“Listen . . . Reed, I was thinking—”
“Oh, that can be dangerous,” he quipped.
“No—seriously! What if we buy this place? I mean it’d be perfect.”
Reed hugged her tightly, “Listen, love, I plan to move us out of this small town. I was thinking of somewhere in the Carolinas. I have contacts in South Carolina, and we could get a beach house.”
Linarial pulled back. “But what about your family? You’d leave all of them?”
“I’m not leaving them. It’s time to expand our horizons. I think we’ve both outgrown this place. Once we’re married, you won’t have to work at the nursery or anywhere.”
“I don’t know what to say . . . I need time to think.”
“You have plenty of time to think. Let’s get out of here and get something to eat.
Lanarial followed Reed to a small Italian restaurant just outside Mount Gilead State Park. All the way there she thought about the message she heard at the lake. It scared her yet intrigued her. I’ve got to return to the lake—and soon.
The normal workday at the nursery had Linarial jumpy as a cat and anxious to go back to Mirror Lake. She had tomorrow off, and also, had a date with Reed, but she knew in her mind she’d come up with a good excuse to get out of it. Aunt Mavis has been looking a bit weary these days. Maybe I do need to stay home with her? She texted Reed while she was on break, letting him know her plans. She didn’t wait for his reply as her name was being paged to come to the front store area and assist with a customer.
The Friday morning sun peeked through the wooden shutters of her bedroom. Linarial glanced at the clock to see it was 8 am. “Damn! I never sleep this late!” The smell of fresh coffee wafted from the kitchen. She threw on her robe and followed the scent. Aunt Mavis was sitting at the table. “Come join me my dear. Pour a cup and grab a fresh apple muffin.”
Linarial gave her aunt a hug. “I just love you. Don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Aunt Mavis’s return hug was so strong it nearly took the breath out of her niece. She pulled away. Linarial noticed her usually warm brown eyes a bit watery this morning. “You feeling okay?”
“It’s just these darn allergies. I didn’t get much sleep last night,” Aunt Mavis revealed.
“Well, I want you to rest today. I’m not going out with Reed tonight. I’ll be home with you, and we can sit and have a long chat over tea.”
“So what are your plans today? You know we still have to go shopping for shoes to match that dress you’re wearing to the engagement party.”
“Yes, I know. We can do that this Saturday. I think I’ll take a drive back out to Mirror Lake. I didn’t want to tell you, but something’s been bothering me; it was the other night when I met Reed out at his open house.”
Aunt Mavis’s eyes suddenly lit up. “You actually went out to the lake? What happened?”
“I heard a strange voice coming from out of the water. It said I was meant to be here, and it was waiting for me. It was a woman’s voice—and a soft one.”
“Well, you know the legend, my dear. Maybe the spirit called to you knowing you have a kind heart.”
“Why would it tell me I belong here?” Linarial poured herself another cup of coffee and paced by the kitchen sink. I’m driving back out there this morning—in the daylight.”
“I know you will do the right thing,” Aunt Mavis commented.
Linarial was silent as she tried to decipher just what her aunt had said. She shook it off and went to get dressed then head out to the Lake House. Her jean cutoffs were a good choice for such a warm day.
As she left through the hall area, she noticed her aunt’s muddy shoes on the mat by the door. That’s odd—there’s been no rain for weeks.
Once again, Linarial attributed her aunt’s comment to her age. Now she was eager to get back to the lake. As she passed by the state park, her thoughts turned to the spirits that may be in the forest from the Shawnee Tribe. I’m going to find out just who this is and solve this mystery. Her thoughts came to a halt when Reed had texted her.
Take care of your Aunt.
I’ll l come by tonight to check on both of you.
Linarial shot Reed a short reply as she parked in the driveway of the Campbell’s Lake House. She walked briskly toward the lake. The lake was smooth as glass and the sun shone brilliantly on the water. The water’s got to be warm even this early. Linarial waded in the water and sunk in up to her knees. She looked around for signs of life, but all was quiet. Not a breeze or even a quack from the usual ducks.
“Okay—so you know I’m here. Just who are you and what do you want with me?” Linarial looked deep into the water.
The water began to ripple, and large rings appeared a few feet from where she was standing. “What magic is this?”
“This is good magic, my dear. You have nothing to fear. You don’t know me, but I am your great grandmother, Iris. I’m sure your Aunt has mentioned me.”
“How could you be the Lady in the legend? This is not possible!”
“Oh, it is quite possible my dear. You see I am the Lady of the Lake and the guardian of the forest that surrounds the area. I am of Fae origin as well as you. Your fate was decided the day you were born. You must join your family in our realm, where you were meant to be. It is through this portal that you will travel and finally be home.”
Linarial was quick to respond to the voice. “My fate is to marry Reed and have a family.”
“Your family is right here, and your mother has been waiting for you. You cannot marry a mortal in this world.”
Linarial backed up and walked toward the banks. A different voice spoke—this time Linarial recognized it. It was that of her mother. “My child—you must join us. I’ve waited for years for the day to see you again.”
A transparent figure emerged from the water. Linarial stood frozen. It was indeed her mother. She appeared to look the same as she remembered her as a child. “But I thought you died—I don’t understand.”
“Come my dear—all will be clear when you join us.” The figure extended her arms, welcoming her daughter. “Let me touch you.”
Linarial walked toward her mother and reached for her hand. It felt warm. The transparent figure became more solid and embraced Linarial. “You are going home my dear.”
The ripples in the water swirled faster and faster encircling mother and daughter until they were both submerged under the lake.
One month later~
The Jensons decided to buy the Lake House. One afternoon as they were taking a stroll by the lake, they noticed a large area of Snapdragons on the east end. Mrs. Jenson turned to her husband putting her hand around his waist, “We really made the right decision buying this house. It’s so peaceful here. It’s right where we were meant to be. We’ve finally found our paradise.”
“I have to agree, darling. By the way, did you ever get ahold of Mr. Dawson to tell him how pleased we are?” Mr. Jenson asked.
“Yes, I have. There was a voicemail stating that he had relocated to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I’ll have to phone him at his new number.”
Just as the couple turned to head back to the house a flash of red caught their eyes. It was a young fox dashing across the path up ahead.
“And I think we’re going to love the neighbors as well,” Mrs. Jenson added.
The Genie and the Grim Trap
“Why are you doing this to me?” The tone was that of a confused, hurt young man rather than the Elvern High-King-to-be.
I cast my eyes to where my prisoner, Ang’Liamnar - Liam - crouched before me – unable to move unless I commanded, forced by the laws I’d built into the Grim Trap disguised as a golden lamp, bedecked with opal and sapphire. His wide, slanted eyes were dark in his pale chiselled face of alien perfection as he beseeched me. He would have held me spell-bound but for the fact that I’d also pacified and bound his 7th Tier Spell-Weaving powers to the lamp and thus to service only me.
“I love you! I set you free! I would have given you everything. Etruia, please!” His lustrous voice cracked and for a blink my resolve wavered.
I tugged at the cord that secured my long brown hair in a plain, but functional ponytail. It held tight. Blinking, I looked away, trying to lose myself in the beautiful red sunset that stretched like an ocean across the jagged horizon of the wilderness we were traversing. It was no good.
I wished then, I hadn’t stopped to make camp. I wished I’d kept going and never rubbed that dammed lamp because I felt guilty; felt as barren as the twisted shrubbery surrounding us: remembering his kindness; the kisses that had sent my heart soaring…
But for my people, I had to be strong; I must not falter, yet-
I hated he was the one I’d reap my revenge from. He was not like the others. Over the last month as I’d set my trap and watched him walk right into it, I’d gotten to know him a little too well. He was a scholar, not a warrior. I knew he had a surprising amount of compassion for a royal off-spring of the race I hated the most. But… but I could not relent. He might me young; his infatuation with me might have been love; and he might have proven to be a better leader of the Elvern than any of his ancestors, but I could not have taken the chance. He happened to be the last of his lineage. But so was I. His father and his brothers had seen to that. Yes, he might be young – but he was of the same age as me and my twin, Bellaria, when she and my entire line, all my friends, servants, subjects, were taken from me in one of the Elvern ‘long games’ that my father had always warned us about.
That was over a hundred years ago, now. In-between I’d slept in my lamp, in a ‘long game’ of my own. Waiting for my spell to come full circle to draw one of them to awaken me.
I’d hoped it might have been his oldest brother, but a Venzoian Blight Walker had stolen his longevity and he’d died years ago. The high-King himself had been touched by an attack of the heart just a twinned moon earlier: robbing me of my real target, but at least I could rejoice that the Race Wars had cost the Elvern dearly as well. The rest of Liam’s brothers had all died as a result of the battles fought, and though the High-King might have sired other children in time, his health had not permitted it. I hope someone had poisoned the bastard to make it look like the burden of old age – but now my victory felt shallow. My vengeance had not meant to include me falling in love!
“Etruia.” The former Elvern prince tugged at my attention. “My love, please speak to me.”
I sighed. He deserved an explanation. He’d ‘freed’ me from the lamp, thinking I would finally be his, only to spring the magic of the Grim Trap and ‘switch’ places with me. My first wish had been for him to always obey my commands. My second… well I had all the wishes in the world and he would not like my second, but that was for later.
“You did nothing,” I told him, my gaze weighing and candid, “But I would tell you what your father did; what your brothers did; what your army did!”
As though Liam feared what I was about to reveal, he shivered - crimson long hair swaying in the evening breeze. I was cold too and pulled my pale knitted tunic closer for warmth, but suddenly the old hurt was back, blazing.
“I was making soup in the castle kitchen when the attack came.” I let my bitterness and anger leach into the words. I stepped closer to Ang’Liamnar as though to add impact.
“My twin sister was ill with a cough that made her bark like a walrus and being so closely linked that we were, her affliction grated on me. I wanted her to get well. She was getting married in less than a week. I worried how she might say her vows without a voice? I worried where she might fit the obscene number of crumbled tissues in a dress that was virtually nothing but lace to begin with.”
Ang’Liamnar forgotten, I swallowed hard emotions. With a stab to the heart, my memories bloomed.
“She couldn’t wait to be married. I wanted her day to be perfect and so I was making soup – the next best thing I could think of after magic, but she’d declined my offer of healing. See, she had none of my Affinity; no Talent; so she ‘made do’ – still, it was obvious to me that I should help, but she was always the stubborn one. I could have forced her, but that was not my style so I went to help her in the regular way - I was often in the cellar kitchen anyway, so none of the staff battered an eyelid when I came to make my non-magic potions and lotions. Like any other day, Cook greeted me with an affectionate but respectful, “M’grace Etruia, well met today. Will you require any help?”
I paused. Fond memories wilting. “I loved Cook. She made no fuss when I declined. My sister’s reluctance to embrace my help had annoyed me but I was soon lulled back into an affable mood by the casual background noise of the kitchen alive with people and activity. I remember pondering whether to add garlic and deciding for it; I remember the fat clove smashing under my palm when I broke it against the wooden board, and then-”
Now it was my turn to quiver. “The surge of violent magic hit a blink after. It was a blunt boom that was felt more than heard, then the very walls began to shake as it echoed like a silent shock-wave, pushing wild energy ahead of it, like a ripple across a pond – expanding as it blasted through the kitchen like some reaping entity of invisible construct. It hit me and flung me sideways, something in my ears popping, then hot fluid leaked down my earlobe.
“Everything slowed. I could see the Weave spill through the kitchen, the foundations of my father’s vast castle now groaning as the floor buckled and the staff screeched; many lost their balance, falling like dominoes. My ears were ringing. I tried to get up but couldn’t; those who somehow stayed on their feet tried in vain to stop the tables from upturning, the shelves from tipping, and the utensil from rattling to the now mole-hole shot floor, but it was a lost cause.
“Then the second Weave took out the rest. A pillar buckled in the corner, the ceiling crashed in: a deluge of plaster and white dust. Screams erupted as pans of boiling water bounced from the stoves; injuring. I watched as ovens split; the giant fireplace shook apart, spilling hot coals onto the spit-dog and maiming Cook as she tried to intercept. Mercy, Liam, I tried to counter the disaster with a flash Weave to null the horrors, but it did not take as intended. It should have worked. But it didn’t! Instead the Weaves behaved like lead weights as I grabbed to affect a Persuasion that never took…”
Ang’Liamnar swallowed audibly, his pale skin almost see-through. “I… I’m sorry.”
I cast him a blunt look and clutched my arm where my bracelet rested beneath my black sleeve.
“Are you?” I taunted him, “See I knew of only one thing that would have such a detrimental effect on my Affinity. Knew of only one race to wield it with such precision too. The Elvern!”
I shook my head. “Soon, the sounds of madness and mayhem siphoned through from the corridor beyond. The dust was settling. Again and again I tried to counteract the pressure on me but it was too great for me to fight. How had the Elvern managed to get past our outer defences? And why now? What did they want? To end us all?
“Father always said that was their goal. Since childhood I’d learned to fear and hate the Elvern almost as much as the Venzoians. Father would always warn us that you arrogant varlets were slippery and heartless: that due to your longevity, you played the ‘long game’ so very well in our insane war. Of all the races, he said, you were the ones to watch; to stay ahead of. And we had done. Or at least we’d held out own: created balance. Until that day…”
A tear broke free and skated rapidly down my cheek. I didn’t care. “I was their Princess and yet I was little better than an insect. I was on the floor, the wide flagstone under my hands now cracked by the force of the rogue impacts. My lungs were bruised, and I could barely breathe. But I could watch: the suffering created; the chaos and death! I heard steel on steel; heard the cries of the dying and injured; felt the oppressive magic Pursuations of 7th Tier Weavers tightening in all around me. Then your brother arrived…
“Aieh-ran fei Etruia come-silvarnir!”
I swallowed the memory of the fear that had clutched my heart when I’d heard that rich voice.
“They were looking for me;-” I accused, “-my residual magic clearly guiding them like a beacon, but I’d rather die than be taken!”
“They didn’t get you,” Liam whispered, still prostrate before me since I hadn’t allowed him to move, “But how?”
“I had an artefact,” I hissed, recalling how - guided by sheer panic and fear – I’d managed move enough to reach a hand beneath the simple pale knitwear of my tunic to clasp the silver armlet on my left wrist. “My blood activated the Weave within its design, the shield of invisibility settling around my frame like a second skin – and a good thing too.
“Next your brother vaulted into the now-broken kitchen, blood-soiled curved blade raised at the ready, alien leather uniform of silver and black stirring an image of both whip-cord strength and danger. I didn’t know who he was then, of course, but you resemble him in looks a great deal. Indeed, I would have found him devastatingly handsome if not for the feral, hate-filled expression and the merciless slant of his tilted citrine eyes that narrowed as he surveyed the kitchen. So I cowed as more men followed. I’d never been this close to anyone of the Elvern before. They were as handsome as my mother’s garden in full bloom and as deadly as a pack of Venzoian Hyatts. They were looking for me, indeed. For the Twin Princess. A Spell-weaver arrived: detected a lingering glimmer of my presence; anger and frustration ruled them - and then the slaughter began.”
“Mercy!” If my captive could have moved, I knew he would have come to me then; he would have enfolded me in his arms and comforted me: I could see it in his eyes. No deceit. No arrogance.
I cut short my feelings and turned my back on him. He looked nothing like his brother after all. It made me glad, but also sad.
“Your brother did not comprehend how the remaining kitchen staff would not betray me, but how could they? They could not see me. The magic-blind servants had no means by which to detect my whereabouts, even should they have wanted to, so they were executed one by one.”
I sighed hard. “I would have given myself up but I had not the strength nor power to do so. I regretted every heartbeat; every cruel slash of their blades, every twist of magic, but eventually they left. Eventually…
“Days passed. I think. I could not move, but I did not want to. In due course the original binding spell began to lift. Weak and fearful of what I might come across I stumbled from the remains of the kitchen…” My next sigh became a sob, “What met me was the rubble of my father’s kingdom, the desecration and enslavement of what had been my world; my people’s world; my family’s world; I made it to the stateroom the day your celebrated father sent mine kicking and screaming into a Grim Trap. It was in the shape of full-size silver mirror. They left it on display for a week before your brother with the raven eyes and the pale hair smashed it, leaving my father to wander the in-between forever: with neither a way back, nor forward. By then mother and my siblings were already gone, but my twin had become your father’s trophy. Liam, they’d hurt her! Even as my father suffered his demise, her gaze was on something only she could see.”
I paused, then said, “I swore I would save my sister. And I almost did. Later that night, I found her. I dropped my guise and I got through to her; implored her to leave with me, and for a blink her gaze turned lucid and her voice spoke reason, yet I had already lost her.”
I closed my eyes.
“I’m not long for the Void, Etruia.”
“No!” I protested. Fiercely. “No, Bellaria! We can go now. Before they come back.”
“Etruia, listen, and listen good,” My twin smiled bitterly, “They killed Gendaron: my love, my light. They forced a wedding night upon me but I will not give life to the High-Kings bastard spawn. I will not!”
“But I can heal-”
“No sister. No you cannot.” Bellaria smiled softly, then told me, “I’ve taken poppy shade. But you can make them pay. Like papa said. Remember the ‘long game’…?”
A sound escaped Liam. I realised I’d been speaking aloud.
“Bellaria shushed me.” I continued. Toneless. “I knew we did not have long. As though she’d planned it, my twin pointed towards a golden lamp – the one we now both know so well – and I hastily grasped it, cradling it in my arms.
“The Elvern covet beautiful things almost as much as power,” Bellaria reminded me, “Do you remember the old tales of far-away lands we used to read? Remember the one about the Genie in the lamp?”
“I nodded. I remembered.
“You will have to sleep for a little while,” Bellaria told me, “but enchant the lamp to awaken you when the century is up; cast a spell to make it a Grim Trap; avenge us. Play the ‘long game’ and turn it against them: take back the future. Make the maggots crawl!”
“I stared at the lamp. I knew exactly what she was saying. Some thoughts never needed to be spoken aloud between us. I could cast a Weave just so: ensure my lamp would attract the most powerful Elvern royal! If enough time passed, they would never suspect foul play; not being a real genie, I would not be bound as one, and-”
“You were never a Genie?” My prisoner blinked, understanding slowly clearing the clouds from his eyes. Was that anger I finally spied as he knelt before me like a slave?
“Of course not!” I made my voice hard and made myself laugh as though bemused by his ailing intelligence, “And neither are you! Still, your life is tied to the lamp just the same – and you, my love… you will help me take back the territories your father stole from the Humans; you will help bring your nation to its knees; and you will do it with a smile if I order you to!”
“The lamp is verily a Grim Trap?” Up till then I don’t think Ang’Liamnar had really believed my callous intentions; up till then I think he’d still held out belief that I hadn’t intentionally gone out of my way to rain misery down on his existence, but now he saw me for what I really was; for what I really wanted.
My soul shrivelled when I witnessed his dark eyes narrow with the pain of betrayal, then anger. Before long it would turn to hate. I knew it.
My heart sundered into a thousand cold pieces. Suddenly he looked just like his brother after all. He tried to move, I could feel the ripple across the Weaves of magic that tied him to the lamp. I couldn’t bear it.
“Rise.” I demanded and he flowed upright, the move elegant and fluid but I spied danger in his abused aura.
Tilting my head to look him in the eye, ignoring the tears that formed in my own, I said, “Your soldiers; your Hunters, are following us. I want you to stop them. Now.”
A tick pulled at his jaw. “How?”
“My love, I want you to kill them all. You are clever: I’m sure you can think of something suitably terrifying; something that will echo all the way back to your crystal palace.”
“You would start another war?” he growled, fists clenching.
“No, my love,” I smiled as those cold pieces of my heart solidified, “I would finish one – and make the maggots crawl!”
The innkeeper poured more ale. The man with the scarred face picked up the tankard, downed it in one go, burped and made his way up the creaking stairs to see if the local whore was available. Only one of the thirsty customers took any notice. Dressed in woollen trews, a faded black jacket and heavily soiled leather boots he watched and waited. As the last of the customers were thrown out, he rose from his seat, tossed a silver coin to the innkeeper and climbed the stairs. Removing his sword and dagger from behind a wooden box on the landing took seconds and on reaching the door at the end of the corridor, he didn’t hesitate.
One kick and the door flew open. Three paces and his heavy blade lay across the throat of the scar-faced man. The whore stifled a scream and ran off slamming the door behind her.
“Where is she, Uffe?” Einar spat the words out leaving a trail of spit on the man’s face.
“Leave me alone. I need a drink. Where… Aaah!” With blood running freely from his broken nose, Uffe now found breathing through his mouth easier.
Einar leaned in closer. “If you don’t give me satisfactory answers, I’ll cut off your balls, Seidr-man and leave you tied to a stake so your tame wolves can enjoy a good meal.”
Uffe nodded as he began wiping away the blood from his face. “Inger is safe but lost. You know I am a sorcerer; you know the gods favour me. But you could never understand the massive surge of energy flowing through my body two days ago. I felt so powerful, so mentally strong. Soon afterwards, your beautiful Inger visited me. She knew about my new power. I asked her how she knew but she ignored my question. Instead, she begged me to use my potency and send her into the future. I told her no, I am only a Seidr and it wasn’t possible. She pleaded, threatened me, and offered me her body. And that’s when I knew something was wrong. Your Inger would never stray like that. Her kind deeds have helped many families and her warm smile is welcomed everywhere. More importantly, she loves you, body and soul.”
Einar looked at the sorcerer trembling before him. Maybe, Uffe was telling the truth, he thought. But maybe he wasn’t? “Go on!”
“To placate her feelings, I… reluctantly agreed.” Seeing two ice-cold orbs boring into him, Uffe edged further away.
“You agreed? If I didn’t need to know what happened, I’d gut you now, you pathetic swine.” Einar spat at the Seidr, allowed him to see vengeance in his eyes as he awaited an answer.
Uffe inhaled deeply. “Listen, I haven’t the power to send anyone into the future but I knew it was pointless to argue with Inger. Einar, you of all people know how stubborn she can be and that’s why I agreed even though I knew it wouldn’t work. How could I know Loki was in the guise of your, Inger?”
“Loki? The Charlatan God! I don’t believe you.”
“But it’s the truth. Listen to me, please. Inger told me to say the following words. ‘Send this woman to the 20th year.’ I laughed and told her not to waste her time on something impossible. But she didn’t listen. She demanded I help her and you know how persuasive she can be. Eventually, I agreed, as I was so sure my power was insufficient to send her into the future. Nevertheless, I was shaking so much I repeated myself and said the 20-20 year. As Inger vanished, I heard mocking laughter and the words, ‘I am Loki, the Immortal God. Thank you for believing in me.’ I wish you’d been here, Einar.”
“You think me so stupid?” Einar placed his right hand around Uffe’s throat and gently squeezed. “Where is this master of trickery? I don’t see him. Are you lying to me, Uffe?
A flash of lightning hit the wall nearby. Both men jumped and turned around. A figure dressed in black emerged from the burnt ground. He bowed, smiled and laughed loudly, pointing at two open mouths.
“I am Loki, the Trickster God of many faces. And naturally, the God of Mischief. You called me and here I stand.”
Uffe ran towards Loki. “Tell him, show Einar the beautiful picture of Inger.
Loki waved one arm in the air and a picture of Inger appeared. Her long brown hair was pulled back from her face to cascade over her shoulders. With flawless skin and generous lips, she looked like a goddess.
Seeing Inger dressed in clothes he had never seen before, Einar took his time, wondering what Loki had done. He loved Inger more than himself and now she was gone, sent to another land by Loki, the god he had always admired. ‘Could he fight this god? Would he be able to bring Inger safely home?’ His mind twisted like a tornado inside his head. Inhaling several times helped to slow his heart rate and bit by bit he brought his raw emotions under control.
“Where is she?” He asked through clenched teeth.
Loki shrugged. “She now lives in the year 2020. Her clothes are made of silk and cotton, her hair longer and luxurious, but most importantly any disease in her body has been cured.”
Uffe tripped and fell as he ran forwards. From his sitting position, he shouted at Einar. “I couldn’t stand against a God, could I?”
“That’s enough for today everyone. We may have to repeat some of the takes tomorrow, but we’ll see once we look at the film this evening. Anyway, well done, it’s a good start. So go home, rehearse your next lines, relax, and I’ll expect you back at 8.30 am tomorrow.” As the lights were finally extinguished and the doors to the giant hanger closed, all was quiet.
Hanging from the bar holding the gantry lights, Loki tried hard to suppress his sniggering as he leapt to the floor of the hanger. He made a soft landing. A flick of his fingers and the set was swathed in bright lights once more. ‘What a terrible script. I’ve seen better acting when the fairies come asking Freya for more power when they really want fertility charms. And, with all their knowledge gathered over so many centuries these humans still don’t believe in the gods. How foolish they are.’
Loki rubbed his hands over his chin. ‘Now, what mischief can I conjure up? Changing their minds about the existence of the Norse gods would help. Or, I could shape-shift into a savage beast. Better still, I could show them what a real god looks like instead of the pathetic specimen they chose to play me. Yes, what an interesting thought; playing myself seems the best option. I guarantee carnage and mayhem tomorrow. Oh... If only Freya could see me now?’
He grinned as he licked his lips with expectation. ‘Maybe tomorrow is going to be a fun day after all.’
A flash of light and a goddess swathed in pure white robes appeared. “I think I’d like to join in your mischief Loki. I can’t have a human woman looking as beautiful as I, can I?”
Loki bowed low to Freya, the Goddess of Sex and Fertility. “My wonderful Goddess of Love and Infidelity, what a pleasure to see you again.” His scornful laughter faded away as he disappeared in a wisp of smoke.
Freya smiled. ‘I’ll play Loki at his own game. Whilst he plays himself, I’ll take the place of the long-haired girl with generous lips. I can visualise his shocked face when he realises I’m undermining his every word and deed. And when he eventually returns to our home in Asgard, I’m sure Odin and the other gods will be generous with their sarcasm.’
‘After all his malicious acts against me, the sweet taste of revenge will soon be mine.’
“Anna, don’t do it!” Mark shrieked.
“I don’t have a choice dear boy.” The silver-haired woman gripped the covered canvas of the framed work of art with desperation in her eyes. “This is my only hope.”
Mark’s long dark hair fell into his eyes as he pleaded. “And what will you do if it’s not the one? The one we’ve spent the last decade searching for?”
Anna exhaled and lifted her nose to the sky. “Then I will die.”
Without hesitation, she ripped the cover and peeled it back as though it was a Christmas present. She held the portrait of the Swedish maiden in her hand for only a moment before dropping it to the floor, causing the brass frame to clang and bend under the pressure of the impact.
Anna whaled, “I’m doomed!”
Mark rushed to her and wrapped his arms around her. “My love,” he bellowed as she fell into his embrace, giving way to unconsciousness.
A portrait leaned against the wall, propped up on the floor, with a sliver of sunlight streaking across its base. The thin layer of dust coating the canvas was unable to hide the wonder of the work. A painting so smooth it looked like a photograph, displayed an elderly woman with long silver hair, pulled partially into a high ponytail while the rest flowed behind her ear, down her back, and cascaded over her shoulder. A thin, delicate shoulder, drooping a bit, with arms and hands folding up; one hand peeking out of its dark sleeve to rest on the dark-clothed wrist of the other hand, with fingers barely touching the base of a tired, yet elegant neck. The woman’s beauty couldn’t be diminished by the fine lines and wrinkles indicating her advanced age.
As she tilts her head slightly to the side and glances at the viewer, it’s clear that she sees and searches for someone in particular. There’s a subtle crease in the center of her forehead, as her cheeks lift to reveal a wanting smile. The background depicts a blue moonrise, snow-covered trees, and a white hill. The grey shawl draped across the woman’s back and shoulders had begun to fade- to disappear into the canvas.
Mark entered the room and spots the portrait on the floor and scoops it up, huffing his discontent. Pulling his handkerchief from his front pocket, he wiped away the dust as he props the painting onto one of the twin easels facing away from a large bay window. Mark sighed heavily and then pulled the cord to part the curtains and let in the light.
The frail figure in the bed began to squirm, lifting a weak hand to shield her face from the light. “Damn you, Mark,” Anna groaned. “Why won’t you let me die in peace? The shawl is almost gone.”
“Oh, is it?” Mark snapped. “How would you even know that? I found your portrait on the floor, deprived of light.”
“Don’t be so dramatic,” Anna replied, pulling her thin bones into a sitting position. “It wasn’t on the floor. It was propped up, leaning on the wall…”
“On the floor!” Mark interrupted. “I get it. Watching your death grow nearer can’t be easy, but the more sunlight the painting gets, the longer you have.”
Anna coughed and reached out her hands. Mark turned and picked up a cup of tea he’d brought in earlier and handed it to her and then quickly set up a bed tray for her. Anna took a sip of tea and sighed. Placing the cup on the tray, she inquired. “The longer I have for what? You won’t even let me search anymore.”
Mark crossed his arms in front of his chest and tapped his foot. “I don’t want you searching anymore because it upsets you and drains what little energy you have left.”
“Oh, my love, how considerate you are. But if I don’t find that portrait, my time will come to an end.”
Mark stepped forward placing a saucer of biscuits on the tray and sat next to Anna, cupping one of her feeble hands. “You don’t have to carry this burden alone. I’ve been searching for you and I think I’ve found something.”
Anna squeezed Mark’s hand and lifted her eyes to his. “What- what is it, darling? What have you found?”
Mark patted Anna’s hand before standing and announced. “I’ve made all the necessary arrangements for us to go out on the hill today. There you will find the portrait of the young girl.”
Tears formed in the corners of Anna’s eyes and she struggled to swallow and gather air to speak. “Mark are you sure it’s the right one? I can’t risk such a journey if you aren’t sure.”
Mark took a deep breath and nodded his head, his long dark hair bobbing forward and then back. “It’s the one, my love. It’s you as a child. It’s the self-portrait you painted the same day as the portrait of your future self.”
Anna pushed her body forward, discarding teacups and biscuits and threw off her covers. “We mustn’t waste another moment. I must reunite the twin portraits and regain my youth and power.”
Trudging up the hill, in one hand Mark toted the future portrait and grasped Anna around the waist with the other. Anna held tightly to Mark with one hand and use the support of a marble cane in the other to fight her way up the hill, an easy feat for Mark, but a true battle for the fading Anna.
At the crest of the hill, there stood two easels, one empty and one containing a covered image. Mark placed the future portrait on the empty canvas and then turned both easels to face one another.
Anna reached out to Mark who took her hand and helped to place her in just the right position as they waited for dusk to come. Anna stood, with the support of her cane, and watched as Mark approached the covered image to reveal what laid beneath. With one flip of his wrist, the drape was pulled away and Anna stared at her younger self for the first time in a half-century. She clutched her chest, overcome by the site of the young, dark-haired girl standing on a green hill with white puffy clouds and lush trees in the background.
“Now,” Mark whispered in awe, “all we have to do is wait for just the right light.”
Anna lifted her head, nose high in grace and humility. It was she who dared defy The Ages- her kind. Born like humans, as children, who reach maturity and then never age further, she dared to paint her a past and a future she could control. When the other Ages found out, a thief on an assassin’s mission was sent to steal one of her portraits. Without both of them together, it would mean a death sentence.
But that was all behind her now. The twin portraits were united on the hill, in the very place Anna herself had painted them. As the sunset and the sky turned a golden orange, Anna’s age began to melt away. The shawl in the future painting became bold grey wool to match the one draped around the young girl in the other painting.
In moments, after a golden shower of light had dissipated, Anna was a combination of the two images, with long flowing dark hair and a subtle smile of triumph. Anna stood on a golden hill surrounded by dark tree branches as the sunset behind her. Anna tilted her head to the side and glanced forward to an unknown future.
The Eyes of the Watchtower
She stepped out of the car, the smell of aged wood and time filled her nostrils. The house of her childhood stood dormant and looming, it's ghosts and secrets clung desperately to the clouded windows, begging to be released. She knew coming back here would be a mistake. But there were more than memories buried under those floorboards, and the past needed to be exhumed.
Brittle leaves left abandoned in the driveway, crackled under her feet as she made her way to the porch. A gust of wind, damp and cold, pushed the length of her coat to one side, exposing her mostly bare legs to the mercies of October.
As she climbed the faded steps, a voice from past swirled around her head like a swarm of gnats.
“You'll never be as great as your father...”
The idea made her shiver inside. Like the tickle of an invisible finger running up her spine. Was he going to be disappointed? There hadn't been a changing of the guard in over three hundred years. It always happened on the last day of October.
The thought of letting him down was a painful one. Her father had been such a wise and powerful man. His opinion was everything.
“... or me.”
The hinges on the front door cried out, their stiff joints, unaccustomed to use, would not perform their function without complaint. She chuckled to herself. Even the house was desperate to expose her inadequacies.
Stepping into the foyer, she closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. In spite of decades of abandon, she could still smell her mother's perfume embedded deep in the wood, all musky and sweet.
Her mother had been the most beautiful woman in town. Long, luscious brown hair framed a cherubs face, with eyes the color of honey. Many a man had the breath stolen from his chest while gazing into those golden eyes.
The pangs of jealousy she spent years suppressing, came flooding back. They clung to her very soul, like the cobwebs that draped the vaulted ceiling above her head. She couldn't believe mother still had that kind of power over her. The power to invoke fear and timidity, envy and spite, all at once. All from the grave.
“You shouldn't be here,” the voice whispered.
She nodded in silent agreement. The voice was partially right. None of this would have been necessary if her mother hadn't been so-
She nodded again. “You took the words right out of my head,” she answered.
Yes. Time was ticking on and wouldn't wait for her anymore. Her stomach began doing loopty loops. She wished her father was here. He would know just what to say. Just what to do. Being a Guardian, he always did.
The walk through the kitchen brought back emotions she forgot she could still have. The countless hours spent dying Easter eggs, frosting cakes and churning ice cream seemed like a distant dream. And yet as she ran her hand along the cracked kitchen table, those moments came rushing back.
Mother was kind and gentle in those days. Back before that night.
She unlatched the door that led to the basement. Out of habit, she reached up and yanked on the string attached to a single light bulb that hung just beyond the door frame. The familiar click of the light switch echoed down the still blackened steps. She rolled her eyes. Of course. There was no power.
Taking ginger steps, she descended the creaky staircase into the belly of the old house. Her eyes zeroed in on a faint amber light glowing like a beacon in the corner of the basement.
“She said you'd come,” the voice mumbled. “said you'd do anything to steal the tower.”
Her heart fluttered with nervous adrenaline. How did this stranger know about the tower? Mother had no friends. No confidants to harbor her black secrets. The realization made her blood chill.
There was only one.
“Who raised you?” she yelled into the blackness. “I saw you dead and buried. How dare you come back here and try to keep me from my birthright!”
A crumpled figure hobbled out from the shadows. There in the dim light of a single candle stood her dearly departed grandmother, the mother of her father. A woman who had passed on into the next life decades earlier. A woman whose lust for power was rivaled by only one other. The woman with eyes the color of honey. The woman in the ground.
“It's not yours to take,” grandmother hissed. “The tower and the guardianship should have passed to me long ago. Besides, the Guardians will never accept you. You broke the rules. You killed your own kind.”
Her legs wobbled under her. How did that walking corpse discover what she had done?
“What do you know about it?” she fired back. “You died years ago. Your time is up old woman, why don't you tell me the reason you're here?”
Grandmother took a step forward and held out her palm. A glowing sphere of yellow energy began to form in her hand. Then, like a pitcher, she threw the sphere at her. Its blinding light cut through the dank basement air and blasted apart a portion of the old brick wall behind her.
“I'm here to right a wrong,” the old woman growled, forming another sphere in her hand. “I wasn't willing to let my own son stand in my way. So don't think I'm above murdering my only grandchild.”
She drew back and flung the second ball of energy. This time the powerful magic hit its target. Grandmother watched as her only surviving kin broke into pieces like human glass.
A snort escaped her nostrils as she wandered through her grand daughter's shattered remains, absently shuffling the shards with her foot, searching for any sign of life. Satisfied, she turned on her heel and walked back to the shadowed corner to fetch a shovel.
For the next hour, the old woman scooped up shovelfuls of the basement floor. The deeper she dug, the softer the earth became. Finally, the tell-tale clink of metal on metal rang out from the ground.
The old woman flung the shovel behind her, then dropped to her knees and frantically began brushing away the soil. Soon, the top of an oblong box emerged from under her brittle hands.
Waving a single finger over the box, the old woman uttered a spell. A thin blue beam of magic shot out from her fingertip, cutting through the box like a blow torch. Within moments, the box was open.
There beneath the floor of the family basement, lay her daughter in law. The once angelic face had sunk into itself like a mummy in the desert. Her skin, dry and tight, clung to her bones like plastic wrap.
“You foolish whore,” the muttered to the corpse. “stealing my son, TWICE! If the child hadn't done it, I would have killed you myself.”
Grandmother let out a gasp, as her eyes fell on her daughter in law's left hand. There on her finger rested a single gold band, covered in faintly carved runes. The setting held a small crystal, shaped like a closed human eye.
Licking her lips, the old woman reached in and took the dead woman's hand in hers. She lightly brushed her thumb across the gold band, clearing away years of grave dust. The eye shuttered in its setting, then opened, silently taking in all there was to see. Then she slipped the ring off the corpse's finger and stood up.
“Hello, Son,” grandmother cooed, stroking the gold band with the tip of her finger. “I told you I would find you first.”
The eye shuttered again. Unable to cry out or defend itself, it began looking for a way to escape.
“Don't be nervous,” the old woman continued. “I'm not here to harm you. But two hundred years ago I told you the guardianship and the tower would be mine and I meant it.”
The old woman placed the ring on her finger. The eye began to cloud over and turn black. Then grandmother raised her hands to the sky.
“Oh great guardians of the Watch Towers! Hear my pleas! Grace your most humble and loyal servant with the powers contained in this relic.”
The ceiling of the basement became alive with movement. Great swarms of storm clouds formed, blowing back the old woman's long, gray locks of hair. Thunder rattled the old wooden support beams. The house cried out with creaks and pops as the door hinges and window frames strained to keep it all together.
“Yes!” the old woman moaned into the gale, “I am worthy!”
Through the howling wind, the old woman sensed another presence. She opened her eyes and glanced over her shoulder, then sucked in a deep breath as fear and rage flooded her veins.
“I told you, your time is up!”
Grandmother's mostly reanimated granddaughter swung the business end of the forgotten shovel, smacking the old woman square in the face.
“The Watch Towers have favored me since my birth,” she snarled, dropping the shovel. “You have to grovel and call upon them, but the Guardians call upon me!”
She reached down and snatched the ring off her grandmother's finger, then gently placed it on her own. The eye looked up at her. Then slowly the clouded blackness cleared, revealing a bright sapphire blue. She reached out her hands into the wind-swept air of the basement.
“Father?” she called out. “I'm here, Father. I have come to claim my ancient birthright.”
The ring blinked once, then began to glow.
“Father,” she repeated, “Pass your mantle on to me!”
Light from the eye exploded into the room, consuming every inch of space. Her body, acting like a sponge, began to absorb light. She shivered and quaked as the magic filled her, seeping deep to the very marrow of her bones. Her mind raced, as the memories of previous guardians melded with her own. When her body and soul could take no more, the ring darkened.
“Thank you,” she gasped, dropping to her knees.
Then she removed the ring, set it on the dirt floor and stood up.
“I am the Guardian of the Watch Tower of the North,” she called out. “and I release you from these gilded bonds!”
The ring began to expand and stretch. Its crystal eye retracted into the setting, as if to disappear into a tiny black abyss. As the band grew wider, a swirling portal appeared in its center.
She held her breath as a hand reached out from the portal, grasping the ground.
“Daddy?” she mumbled, taking a step closer.
With a few grunts and groans, a man of fifty hoisted himself out of the portal and collapsed at her feet.
“Daddy?” she whispered, “You're alive!”
He nodded, hoisting himself up on to shaky legs. Then he wrapped his arms around his daughter.
“Yes,” he whispered in her ear. “I never lost hope that one day you would find me and set me free.”
“When I found out what mother had done to you,” she began.
“It's all right,” her father said, stroking her hair. “The need to defend and protect has coursed in your veins since you were a baby. That's how we knew you were the one to take my place.”
“Really?” she asked.
“Oh yes,” he replied. “It's also the reason your mother imprisoned me in the ring. Even with all her beauty and power, she was still jealous of a little child.”
She pulled back slightly, keeping her grip on his faded green coat. So much of her childhood made perfect sense now. Even when mother was loving and caring, there was something else lurking under the surface. Something rotten. There were so many opportunities for her mother to kill her. Her young life flashed before her eyes, as wave after wave of close calls began to surface from her subconscious. She shuttered.
“Ugh, enough!” she cried, pressing her palms to her eyes.
The faded images drifted on, leaving behind a clean slate.
“Daddy,” she said, lowering her hands, “what just happened?”
“My gift to you,” he said cradling her face. “Your conscience is now clear. Your mother's darkness can never infect you, never posses you, never harm you, but most of all, it will never influence you.”
She let out a deep sigh, releasing twenty-four years of pent up fear. Then she nodded over her shoulder at her crumpled grandmother lying passed out on the dirt floor.
“What should we do about her?”
Her father chuckled and pulled away.
“You're the guardian, it's your word that is the final word.”
She turned and faced the old woman.
“Rise. Hear your sentence.”
The old woman opened her eyes and slowly gathered herself. Then she stood and faced the Guardian of the Watchtower of the North. Grandmother's jaw was locked, her eyes like embers as she glared at her only grandchild with contempt. She held out her hand and began to summon another ball of energy.
“Enough of this!” the guardian yelled. She reached out and snatched the ball of light from the old woman's hand. The old woman recoiled.
“For your treachery, I will afford you the same courtesy your daughter in law afforded your son, my father.”
“No,” her grandmother whispered. “It would be worse than death. Please, just kill me.”
The Guardian shook her head. “We do no harm,”
“No harm?” her grandmother hissed, pointing to the grave. “Your mother's corpse would say otherwise. I'm not surprised. She was a whore. It only makes sense that she would spawn a murderous heathen like you-”
“I said ENOUGH!” the Guardian bellowed, firing a mass of white energy at the old woman.
The blast picked her up off her feet and flung her down into the still open portal of the ring. Grandmother's screams echoed and faded into the pit, until finally there was just silence.
The Guardian waved her hand over the open grave and mumbled an incantation under her breath. Slowly her mother’s corpse lifted out of the ground, hovered a moment, then lowered down into the portal. With the body safely inside, the ring portal began to shrink back to its normal size.
“Loose ends?” her father asked.
“It all ends tonight,” she replied with a nod. “no more ghosts, no more secrets.”
Her father nodded then bent down and picked up the gold band. Taking her hand in his, he gently slid the ring onto her finger.
“As you wish, great Guardian,” he replied.
Together, father and daughter climbed the creaky steps of the basement, then walked hand in hand out the front door of the family home. As they descended the porch steps, the old grandfather clock in the house struck midnight. Its gong-like chime echoed through the brittle walls and catching the wind like a scent.
Above them, the sky opened up. The moon, brighter than usual, illuminated a long-forgotten foot path leading off into the woods.
“We should be on our way,” Father said, motioning to the path. “The ceremony has probably already started.”
“You go ahead,” she replied, turning back and facing the house. “I have one more thing to do.”
Her father smiled and stepped onto the path.
“Don't be long.”
As her father's footsteps disappeared into the night, she stared deep into the face of the old family home, with its ghosts and its secrets. She gently raised her hand to her lips and blew the house a kiss.
Rumbles and grunts erupted from its belly, as if she had awakened a sleeping giant. The faded and peeling paint on its exterior began to smooth, while the loosened and missing shingles realigned themselves on the roof.
“That's it,” she whispered, walking towards the path. “Get yourself ready, Daddy and I will be moving back in at dawn.”
The tree leaves folded over the road like a colorful canopy. So many colors. The sunlight peeping through here and there, a bright beacon turning the leaves to a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors radiating through the mass covering high wide limbs. She had always loved fall. The mild temperatures and colors as days grew short, beckoning the coming winter. She loved watching the animals scurry to create their winter hideaways and birds fly south seeking warmer climes against pending frost.
The mild wind created enough chill she was grateful for the jacket she’d pulled on before leaving the house for this short stroll. She gathered the front panels closer, hugging herself, not so much for warmth as to gather her thoughts while taking this mental assessment. She needed to consider the situation out here in God’s enchanting world. Her gaze traveled past the trees lining the lane to take in the building she’d left behind. She’d grown up here, watched her parents age here. So much of her essence was buried inside the depths of the stone house she and Andy had recently moved into. Even now, even though there was no fire in the huge hearth in the family room, she could recall the scent of smoke rising from the chimney. She could hear the voices, laughter, conversations, so many conversations and yes, sorrow too. The stone house and the storage buildings and detached garage beyond were not just familiar memories, they were safe havens. How many times had she come to this place seeking comfort, love and recognition?
Wind rustled the trees, rippling her hair and causing her to nestle the collar around her neck. It rattled a loose gutter on the house. Her shrewd, contemplating eye caught a slipping tile on the roof and the chipped paint on the upper window dormers.
Her gaze dropped to lower floor windows that were no longer glistening clean and the gathering of dusty tree litter along the front stoop. The flowerbed lining the house foundation and the walk needed serious tending. She smiled, remembering cleaning those flowerbeds on numerous occasions. Her mother was a particular horticulturist wanting absolute perfection. Mom spent hours tending her flowers indoors and out while Dad had been a bit more lax in repairs on the house. Hence, the loose gutter and slipping roof tile. She would find more if she searched. Mom was no longer here to tend her flowers. Dad was…perhaps there was more work than she imagined. Perhaps it wasn’t time to take this step just yet…perhaps…
There were disappointments twice before. She wondered if they would succeed this time. Was it the right thing or should they not take this step just yet? After their attorney called she wanted to phone Andy with the news right away; but decided she should wait until this evening when they could discuss everything in detail. The situation could change so rapidly. They’d been so disappointed twice before, it was difficult to try again.
Things could turn so easily. It almost seemed as if the attorney’s news was the means to an end.
Her foot skidded on a rock. She stumbled. No! Oh no! What kind of a sign was that? Was it an omen? A warning of eminent failure…again? Were they taking on too much at once?
Calm down! She was being silly! Andy would scold her for waiting for him out here in the middle of the road. It could become dangerous if she fell. But she wanted to observe the beauty God had created outdoors while she contemplated the beauty she and Andy had created inside her body.
The mound of her belly shifted as if the baby inside was telling her all was well. She should not worry. There were rapid changes taking place in their lives: but it was really only a matter of making the proper steps at the proper time…and taking very good care of herself and her baby. She would not falter. She would not fail again….
Wind rustled the colorful leaves. Daylight was waning. Andy would be home soon. Of course, she would tell him as soon as he walked in the door.
And they would celebrate! All the legal channels were complete. This property would soon be theirs to raise their family on (as her parents had raised her).
Her doctor’s office called, too. The tests confirmed all was well with the baby growing inside her body. There was no need to worry. There was only reason to rejoice!
This time, with the love that filled this haven, they would succeed. But she would have to wait to clean out her mother’s flowerbed next spring.
The Small Gate
Almond blossom was it? Or cherry...never could tell them apart. Nor trees.
Big, small, thorny, green, not green.
Now she did know monkey-puzzles. Because they looked cross. Waving their arms in annoyance at dogs. And people who came to this park.
They were dotted about the place in a negligent way, (the trees, not the people,) as though someone had tossed infant seeds into a high wind and didn't bother where they landed until they grew angrily right here. The lucky ones were near the pond with the ducks she loved.
This year there were babies and she woke early each day to go and see them grow. Several streamed past her now in the wake of one parent. Through lily pads and reeds, endlessly twisting in the eddies, soft yellowwet and sleek.
Today though there was a red string around her favourite tree. It began there and then led away to others. Joining them up in red. All twisty round things like bark and shrub and trunk. It was ribbon and shiny and she wasn’t entirely sure what to think about it.
Oddly gauche and a little cheap. Mummy would be very unkind about the fabric.
She really didn’t like this interruption of the green and all the things that lived, and swam and grew in the park. After all, it was at the bottom of their garden. With their own gate.
She couldn’t quite work out why it was there or who had placed it there during the night. It must have been in the night because she has been asleep. She hadn’t brushed her teeth because mummy had changed the toothpaste to something that was white and gritty and reminded her of a quarry they had visited in Wales.
“Don’t be silly Sarah, it’s much better for you. And if you don’t clean your teeth they will all fall out and then no man will want to marry you.”
Under her favourite monkey-puzzle yesterday, mushrooms had started to grow. No fairy circles of magic yet, but brown buttons that fallened and burst when you poked them leaving a mess not to step in. If you stepped inside, you would vanish. Whisked away below into darkness by fairies that, unlike the dreamy Arthur Rackham ones, were nasty. Fairies were builders.
And very clever.
Sometimes they were called “sorcerers’ rings” or “witches rings” In Germany, they grew very suddenly on Walpurgisnacht, the eve of April 30, when witches met to hold parties because of spring. It was the 30th today. Meaning people at school in the morning, would hit you on the arm and say pinch punch for the first of the month. So she may very well lie about being ill so as not to go tomorrow. Or not tell anyone and just not go.
The clocks had gone back during the night. Such a strange concept. Grown ups did such odd and insensible things like trying to turn back to a time you've only just had -which even she knew, and she was very far from their age.
But as a gesture of goodwill she had changed the hands on the bedside clock accordingly.
A small sun awoke her. Rays squeezing between the gaps where the curtains never met because of spare curtain rings stuck in the middle. A wee gap for the weather seasons.
Tugging on a warm jumper, cord trousers and wellingtons, she made her way downstairs and turned the key in the kitchen door, leaving it ajar for when she returned.
She knew it was later in reality; and whilst the human world had been duped she felt an overwhelming need to follow the correct time by continuing its rhythm and routines as usual. In the park.
The small gate in the wall was latched and locked. Large key on the metal hook drilled into the brick. It weighed her pocket down, and stretched the fabric, but she always locked the gate behind her in case the ducklings escaped into her garden where she knew a nightly fox prowled.
It was too early for the dogs and their walkers, too early for prams and mothers who met. Far too early for children (besides herself) to come running and playing and fishing. This morning there was just herself, and the natural clock of the park.
And now this thread of shiny red.
Setting off under the shades of the monkey-puzzles, she felt like a mobile sundial- checking to see if her shadow defied the time here. Or there. Behind or forward. Although it shouldn't be forward. It would be now. Not past. An hour leapt over. An immediacy. Like the thread she now followed.
New mushrooms had sidled up quickly during the shortened time/night and she crossed fingers and hoped for a circle. Sadly they had merely popped up with no regard for symmetry or fairychangelings. Just an autumnal freckling within the grass.
Some were leggy and some squat. Floppy grey heads staring down at the ground. Mummy said she had reached that leggy stage. She wasn’t sure what that mean exactly All she knew was that her trousers now circled her ankles and that was a bit annoying.
Despite being in a big city, it was very quiet in the morning park. Like a Sunday but without the bells of St Helens. You learnt about other bells in another city in a nursery rhyme, but as she had no interest in London she had chosen to forget the names.
A slight breeze touched her face and the mushrooms wriggled a bit. If it picked up speed and became a wind then the pond eddies would whip up waves and drown the ducklings.
Hurrying towards the waters edge she searched frantically for the wakes telltale signs of the family on an early morning outing. All was still. No wicked wave wind. Reeds upright and furry. Pads absent of toads.
Perhaps she mused, small hand fingering the long key, perhaps the grown ups were correct. Perhaps they, and the wicked world, accepted that the clocks going backwards decreed accuracy in the physical world. Was a scientific fact. And she alone was a dis-believer and thus misplaced in a selfish time belonging only to her.
A bit like discovering yourself in the mushroom circle. Disappearing completely as the rest of the world carried on somewhere else.
Circles of black. No sounds overhead unless she listened and then they did. Claws and feathers. Flapflap. Round and above. Above the water they flew. Making such a racket that the park seemed to squeeze itself smaller in irritation. Like Daddy. He was always irritated.
Mainly with her.
The magpies seemed to follow the thread on a route to the north of the park. You had to count them. It was rule. Like poetry having to rhyme. And not turning over the corners of pages in books.
She hadn’t really been up there much because her wellingtons became heavy and after about an hour or so, her calves ached and she got hungry.
She stopped midway to look more closely at the thread.
It was quite thin. Like the one that new girl had worn to school before the long summer holidays. And the teacher had said to them all to be kind because the little girl didn’t go to school because she travelled with fairground people. Or gypsies. Or some such.
Her mother was calling to her. From back beyond the red thread. She needed to come back inside. Now.
So she did.
Taking off her wellingtons she noticed that the soles of her feet were wet and had left damp marks on the old tiled floor that led into their kitchen.
The big stove was on. Pushing heat into the room. But no further. Vicarages made for people a long time ago, were always very cold. This one had 3 floors, an attic and a cellar. And vicars, as Mummy always said, were poor. Very. And tutted. And wished they could have a sensible house with proper insulation like Auntie Marge and Uncle Bill in Cottingley.
Over breakfast, which today was a porridge that her mother made from a Scottish recipe (which didn’t include sugar only salt and was rather horrid,) she decided not to tell them about the thread. Her father would doubtless say it was a prank or something, and change the subject. Usually to the contents of his weekly sermon, or one of his parishioners who was ill.
She’d read that fairies were the dead- with unfinished lives. Which was silly. Because fairies were nice. And anything dead, wasn’t. This book in the study was one that Mummy had when she was a little girl. It wasn’t really a proper study, just piles of books belonging to her parents. Most of which were difficult to understand.
It was a book about folklore and legends. Ghosts and fairies, and other wee folk, and had pretty pictures in it. In between the pictures and the print were fine gossamer sheets that were see through. Mummy said they were to protect the pictures, which had real silver filigree around the edges. But she thought it was because the fairies were quite private and needed looking after.
William Blake claimed to have seen a fairy funeral. That was another one of Mummy’s books. With pictures of God. And men looking cross.
“'Did you ever see a fairy's funeral, madam?' said Blake to a lady who happened to sit next to him.
'Never, sir!' said the lady.
'I have,' said Blake, 'but not before last night.' And he went on to tell how, whether she liked it or not, that-in his garden, he had seen a procession of creatures of the size and colour of green grasshoppers helping to carry a body laid out on a rose-leaf, which they buried with songs, and then disappeared.
Burial mounds for fairies were just little lumps you see. Not like in the churchyard at Daddy’s church. No. You had to look very closely at the grass to see them. Some people never knew they were there at all. But she did. And so did William. Who was very dead by now.
She always checked there were none in the park, because the dead and the fairies both lived under these green mounds, and you couldn’t eat food in both Fairyland or Hades. She wasn’t quite sure why. But she was certain none of them would like her mummy’s porridge.
After breakfast she decided she had better go to check on the red ribbon. Mummy and daddy were arguing about something. Probably money, because they didn’t have any.
“Poor as church mice we are.” Mummy would say, and then launch into how she had had money in her family and had once been pretty and look at her now. Saddled with debt, and all this.
And she usually looked at Sarah at that point.
She’d take the book though in case there was anything in there that gave a clue to the threads sudden appearance. Even though mummy wouldn’t have let her. So she tucked it into the waistband of her too short trousers, and retraced her steps through the gate and back into the park, which was now a bit fuller with other people.
Not that she took any notice of them mind.
Sitting next to the waters edge she kept one eye out for the duckling family while looking through the pictures. Pictures always had tiny clues in them so she looked really closely at each one. Right in the middle of the book, near where the pages are all sewn together, she found it.
Oh dear she thought.
She really shouldn’t have worn her jumper. The sun beating down on her was making her very hot. She didn’t want to go back into house where her parents would now not be speaking to each other and there would be that awful silence through which she wandered as though everyone had forgotten she was even really there at all.
Picking up her book, she went and sat under her monkey-puzzle. The sunlight never reached through the leaves and branches, so the grass here was withered and browny. There little whorls here and there as though tiny feet had been marching round and round.
Like fairy crop circles.
Tomorrow was the first of May.
The missing posters had long since faded within their plastic wallets. The rain had got into them and leaked all the colour from the text and her picture.
In time they fell from their trees and the lampposts.
Were replaced in shop windows with coupon offers and for sale signs.
The police no longer considered it an open case, and her parents aged and faded like the posters.
In time too she might ask to be returned. But only if the fairies and those with un- finished lives decided they no longer loved her as much as they did.
And they did. Didn’t they.
Everything is a story
In a book
Searching for Cheryl
“Mom, why did we move here?” Chrissie yelled, stomping into the kitchen of the farmhouse. “I want to go home. Cheryl isn’t here.”
Irritated, Mom set down the cake mix she was mixing. “You know why we moved here. It was too hard to stay in that house after your accident and Cheryl’s death”
Chrissie ran out of the room. “I was fine in our old house. I could still talk to Cheryl and I didn’t miss her so much,” she cried as she grabbed her jacket. “Whenever I needed her I could just go to our room or the old tree house.”
“Chrissie, stop. Where are you going?” Mom called out as she ran after her. “It’s almost dinnertime and you still have homework.”
“I don’t know. I just have to leave,” Chrissie put on her jacket. “I hate it here and I hate you for bringing me here!”
She slammed the door behind her and ran down the long winding driveway. She turned on the old dirt road and ran to a place where the creek narrowed so she could cross. Then she climbed a gentle slope and sat down beside a small stream that trickled into the creek. The trees burned in autumn hues and the late afternoon sun in concert with a gentle breeze created dancing shadows on the grass that softened Chrissie’s mood.
Chrissie made herself comfortable on a soft mound of grass and pulled out her journal. She wrote, “Cheryl, can you ever forgive me for not saving your life? I should’ve stayed in the creek with you. If I had been driving more carefully then I wouldn’t have had to swerve off that road to miss the deer. Why didn’t I take the regular way home then we would never have been there in the first place? Please forgive me. I never wanted you to die. I need you. Please come back to me.”
A bright iridescent light began to glow around her.
Chrissie looked up from her journal and saw a hazy figure floating in the trees across the stream.
On the whisper of the breeze Chrissie heard a soft voice, “Chrissie, come to me.” As the white haze, solidified Chrissie saw a figure in a flowing white dress that fluttered in the breeze with gold flecks that twinkled in the sunshine and a hand held out beckoning Chrissie.
Chrissie stood up as if in a trance and approached the figure. When Chrissie reached the vision, she saw her sister’s face. Chrissie shook as she took a step back.
“Cheryl, you’re alive?” Chrissie stammered. “But, how did you get out of the car?” She wanted to throw her arms around Cheryl but held back unsure of what she saw. Maybe it was a dream because she had been missing Cheryl so much. She stepped forward and tried to grab the outstretched hand. Chrissie’s hand passed right through Cheryl’s hand.
“Hush,” Cheryl replied tenderly. “I’m not alive. I’m in heaven now with Jesus and I’ve come to help you and Mama find peace. Come with me, I have something to show you.”
The trees surrounding them began to spin as the sky darkened. Chrissie felt dizzy and sick to the stomach. She closed her eyes to regain her balance and when she opened them up again it was dark and raining. Her and Cheryl were sitting in a tree above the road where their car went off the road that fateful night.
“What are we doing here?” Chrissie asked with a shaky voice. She wasn’t sure what was happening, but she was certain she didn’t want to be here. She had relived the accident so many times in the last months and she didn’t want to do it again. It always ended the same and Cheryl would be gone again.
“Shhh! Watch,” Cheryl whispered.
Rain pelted the windshield and lightning flashed as a deer ran out in front of the car. “Look out!” Cheryl yelled.
Chrissie swerved to miss it, lost control of the car on the wet road, and drove into the river swollen from rain. As the car sank, Chrissie unbuckled her seatbelt.
“Cheryl, unbuckle your seat belt, and grab my hand!” Chrissie said as she watched Cheryl flail around. Cheryl smacked her and pushed her away.
“Cheryl, stop, listen to me. Calm down. We need to get out of here.”
Water filled the car. Fear flooded Chrissie’s mind as she struggled to get Cheryl’s seatbelt unbuckled. “Hold on, Cheryl. Don’t die, I’m going to get help,” Chrissie swam out of the car. Her lungs felt on the verge of exploding. She couldn’t hold her breath much longer.
As she broke the surface, she took a huge gulp of air.
Rain pelted her face, but she noticed the red flashing lights and suddenly the police were there pulling her onto the bank.
Chrissie floated above the scene and watched it unfold with a horrid fascination. She was torn between turning away or continuing to watch as the scene played out eerily before her eyes.
“Good thing that guy on the hill was walking his dog and saw the accident. If he hadn’t called us, we wouldn’t have found you.”
Chrissie pushed away the oxygen mask. “My sister is still down there. You have to get her,” Chrissie whispered as she struggled to go back into the water. A policewoman held her while trying to put the oxygen mask on her face. She fought her until she saw a diver jump into the river and a few minutes later return with Cheryl’s body.
Chrissie shook her head and they were back in the present. A wave of nausea swept over her and she fell to her knees with tears streaming down her face. Cheryl stood beside her, a look of compassion on her face. “This was not your fault. You did all you could. It was meant to be. Now you need to focus on the present. If you don’t, then you will never be happy,” Cheryl said. Slowly her image faded into the autumn sunset.
“Wait! You can’t leave me. I need you,” Chrissie cried out as she ran towards the fading figure. Nevertheless, Cheryl didn’t come back. Chrissie fell to the ground and cried tears that had refused to come in September after the accident. The sobs racked her body and the sounds of her wails echoed through the hillside. When she could cry no more, she pushed herself up and trudged back to the house.
The sun had finished its daily journey and the stars were twinkling through the rain clouds gathered on the horizon. Chrissie fell into her bed and fell asleep before her head hit the pillow.
That night she slept a dreamless sleep and, in the morning, woke up feeling as if a weight lifted from her shoulders. I’m not responsible for Cheryl’s death, so why does Mom blame me for the accident? Cheryl wouldn’t let me help her. Mom made us move because of the accident. I didn’t want to move here. I don’t belong here. Maybe, I could go back to our old house.
The temperatures in Pennsylvania had been unseasonably warm for autumn so Chrissie dressed in lightweight clothing and headed downstairs for a quick breakfast. Mom and Aunt Sybil were already there.
“Chrissie, what are your plans for this fine Saturday in October?” Aunt Sybil asked. “Do you think you could drive me into town, and we can pick up some stuff for your birthday party?”
Chrissie’s lips quivered and her eyes grew to the size of hockey pucks. “No, I can’t drive. I’ll never drive again.”
“Birthday party? I don’t think that it would be a good idea this year. Your sister has only been gone a month. I’m not ready to dredge up the memories of your birthdays and the accident. It would be too painful,” Mom said with a hint of sadness in her voice. “Chrissie, why didn’t you come home the way we always come home. Then Cheryl would be here, and we would be celebrating both of your birthdays.”
Mom dropped the dish she was washing as tears dripped into the dishwater.
“We have to have a party,” Chrissie yelled, “I can’t believe that you don’t want to celebrate my birthday. I hate you!” She pushed herself away from the table and went back to her bedroom.
Chrissie walked over to her closet and pulled out her duffle bag. She threw some clothes and books in the duffle bag and stopped at the desk to scribble a quick note to her mother.
Chrissie grabbed her duffle bag and ran out the door.
As she ran, she thought, Cheryl, where are you? How can Mom blame me for the accident? I did everything I could to get you out of the car, but you wouldn’t let me help you.
When she reached the stream, she crossed and sank to the ground.
Soon Chrissie regretted running out of the house so quickly. The sky was darkening, and the temperature started to drop. Snowflakes drifted down and melted as soon as they hit the ground. However, she couldn’t go back. She pulled a jacket out and wrapped it around her arms. A book fell out, so she picked it up and started reading. Her eyelids drooped. The gentle trickling of the stream and the rustling of the leaves put her to sleep.
A few hours later Chrissie awoke to the feeling of snow on her face. The snow had changed from flurries into a storm while she slept. Snow covered the ground. Chrissie’s rubbed her hands together trying to warm them up. They were numb from the cold and her bones were aching from sitting on the cold ground. She looked around, and saw Cheryl standing in the trees.
“Cheryl, thank goodness you’re here. Mom blames me for the accident and to punish me she won’t let me have a birthday party.”
“Chrissie come with me. There is something you should see,” Cheryl stretched out her hand to Chrissie. They went to the farmhouse and into Chrissie’s bedroom.
Mom rushed over to Chrissie’s bed and read the note.
“Why would she do this? How could she run away like this?”
Aunt Sybil followed Mom into the room, “Patty, everything will be okay.”
“I don’t blame her for the accident. How could I let her think that?” Mom cried as she fell on the bed. “I love her so much. She is my whole world.”
Aunt Sybil took Mom in her arms. “Don’t worry, Patty. We’ll find her. I’ll call the police and you go out and look for her.”
Chrissie looked at Cheryl and frowned. “How could I have thought that Mom blamed me for the accident? I have to go home. I need to talk to Mom.”
Cheryl and Chrissie returned to the spot by the creek. Cheryl faded away and Chrissie started for home. She wanted to get home and tell Mom she loved her.
Stepping on the icy stones, she struggled to cross the creek. Her foot slipped on an ice-covered stone. She fell into the icy cold water and twisted her ankle. Chrissie sputtered and spit as she floundered in the water to get up. The water chilled her to the bone, and she was shivering uncontrollably.
When she stood up and tried to walk, a shot of pain traveled up her ankle and she winced in agony. After scrambling to the bank, she sat down on a big rock, and rubbed her ankle while she looked for something to use as a crutch.
When she found a large enough stick, she hobbled toward home, but stopped when she heard a noise. “Help, Chrissie…” She could barely hear it over the howling wind and blinding snow. She walked unsteadily through the deepening snow trying to locate the source of the sound.
As she stumbled on a rock, she saw a figure seated underneath a tree and heard a low moaning sound. She stopped, listening for the sound again.
Chrissie limped over to the figure and brushed the snow away from the figure. The stick dropped out of her hand as she gasped, “Mom what are doing here? Oh no, you’re bleeding. What happened?”
“I was looking for you, when I tripped and hit my head on a rock,” Mom finished wiping off the remaining snow.
“I’m so happy you found me. We were so worried about you,” Mom says as she tried to stand up. She fell back to the ground. She pulled herself back up and leaned onto Chrissie for support.
“Mom, I’m sorry for everything,” Chrissie said. “I was wrong, and I shouldn’t have left that way. Can you forgive me?”
“My dear child, there is nothing to forgive. I wasn’t thinking of you. Can you forgive me?” Mom pulled Chrissie in close. “We can have your party next week. I’ll take you into town tomorrow for supplies.”
“Mom, I love you,” Chrissie hugged Mom even tighter, “and I still need you.”
“I need you too. Please don’t ever run away again. I love you baby.”
Chrissie and Mom struggled to walk back to the farm. Chrissie turned to look back, and saw Cheryl floating around the trees. Chrissie waved goodbye, as Cheryl faded into the snow-covered forest.
“Come on Mom. It’s time to go home.”
“Chrissie you know we can’t go back to the city.”
“No Mom. I mean the farm. That’s our home now. Cheryl is wherever we go.”
All in a Night's Work
The wandering folk of Everon speak often of the things that live in the shadows. Blood is the seat of the soul they say. As a man bleeds out his last, some of elemental power of that soul drains away within the crimson flow.
They say that the emotions of the dying, the pain, the horror, the fear and despair flavour the last few drops of blood and can be tasted, savoured and cherished by those with the darker souls.
Avadine remembered her brother telling her this one stormy night. Hid under the covers, with a tiny lantern, scary stories and creepy rhymes as their Father strode into the night, a crossbow in one hand a wooden stake in the other, the Shepherd out into the black to protect his flock. That simple piece of wood had saved his life that night.
She wondered if her brother's words were true, as she collected the blood of her victims in the last of the three vials given to her by her Employer. Did vampires thirst for the blood of men merely to fuel their supernatural strength and eternal youth? Or was it the taste of fear they craved, the horror of their victim as they drained his body dry and stole away his life?
Her task complete, she opened a small satchel and slotted the vial into place. It nestled, abutting the one containing the purest, clearest water, drawn from the well within the Temple of Light. Said to have the power to cower the undead and force them to flee.
The Assassin knew not the truth of this but she trusted her employer and accepted the vial gratefully. After all insurance was always good to have, especially when dealing with the undead. She had considered using it as an opening gambit to begin her attack, but decided against it, deciding to put her trust in the more substantial tools of her trade.
Smiling lovingly she gently cleaned the dagger's long obsidian blade. It had taken almost five years of lies, theft and murder to acquire the weapon- across the length and breadth of Everon and beyond.
Corpses of men, beasts and other dark beings marked her passing until she finally found her prize. A blade that could cut through any substance-flesh, armour, steel or hide- all yielded to its touch. She held the blade to the open window, pale moonlight catching it's razor edge causing it to glint with an emerald hue.
Fading, the moonlight was smothered by passing clouds heavily pregnant with rain. The room was once more in shadow, just as it had been when she had slid into it several minutes ago.
For more than an hour she had clung outside, hidden in the darkness cast by the bay window. Her midnight cloak wrapping her in matt blackness. The runes stitched into the hem by a secret hand, hid her presence from the vampire returning to her lair.
She had listened as the wild, drunken laughter drifted through the catchment. Listened as the door slipped tight. Heard the sounds of falling fabric, so soft it nearly evaded her.
She listened as the murmurings became the sounds of lust and need. Then came the sharp intake of breath that heralded muffled sobs of pain and helpless resignation. It was not until the final low ecstatic moan of sated blood lust slid out of the window did she make her move.
The vampire lay on the bed next to the drained husk of her victim, her head rolled back, eyes staring at the ceiling in gorged delirium, slender fingers plucked the sheets beneath her, as the stolen blood that filled her veins danced with the arcane narcotic the intruder had added to the room wine earlier.
Avadine attacked with a wild frenzy, eager to make every second count as the vampire fought to regain her senses. Even in this state she was a dangerous opponent and it took every ounce of considerable skill to take down her mark.
She had what she came for. Now it was time to dress the scene before she made her leave. She looked down at the torn and punctured skin of her kill. At the crevasse of ruptured flesh that opened to the ruined black heart. Her gaze ran up the long swan-like neck to the small, perfect features of the exquisite mask the monster wore so easily to enthrall its prey.
The vampire lay quite still, but the Assassin took no chances. The problem with the undead was even when you put one down they had a nasty habit of getting back up again.
Reaching behind her, she unfastened the weapon nestling in the small of her back. Loosening the haft that ran the up the length of her spine, and releasing the single bladed axe, said to once belong to a witch hunter's executioner. Taking a double-handed grip she rested the smile of the axe on the monster's exposed neck, and in a blur of movement swung the axe over her head and cut the head. It flew from the shoulders to land in the shadows.
Lifting it by long, dark hair she remove the elongated incisors with a pair of heavy pliers.
Her trophies collected, she returned the head to the bed, laying it face down just above the neck in a rapidly expanding pool of crimson. Of the desiccated youth lying next her mark, she paid she him no mind.
Satisfied the scene was set in such a way that few would ask questions; she fled through the same aperture she had entered, once the moon was suitably shadowed in thick cloud.
Wrapped in her cloak of Midnight, her face hidden by a black, fine mesh veil, she crouched low and quickly, carefully made her way over the curved roof tiles. Slippers, crafted lovingly in the deserts beyond the pewter moon, easily gripped the smooth surfaces as Marinhold's rich merchant class slept peacefully below her feet, blissfully unaware of her passing.
She had to hurry now. For she had another more pressing matter to attend to. She gently slid from her perch, her smooth slippers touching down silently onto the polished marble balcony of Marinhold's grandest hotel.
At her employer's behest the glass door had been left open for her, the scent of rose petals greeted her entry and brought the curve of a gentle smile. She moved around the large bed, her fingertips lingering on the carved flowers on one its four vertical columns. A low fire cast a weak orange glow into the room from within the stone surround. A pair of adorning silver bells hung there.
She could make out the source of the fragrance she found so pleasing- dark petals laid into the shape of a heart lay stark against the finest white sheets.
Mindful of the passing seconds she quickly crossed the room, carefully opened the door and slipped into the empty corridor. Keeping low she kept to the shadows.
Soon she came to the railings that over looked the grand hall. Just as she had hoped the gentle sound of snoring met her ears. Below, guests in their finery slumped over tables in deepest slumber.
Her eyes quickly rested upon her bridegroom and she smiled. Strands of blonde had fallen over his closed eyes. He looked so handsome, so young, so at peace. Waiting staff stood around the guests, like statues, poised with silver platters laden with food and the finest wines and spirits. Just as her employer said it would be.
The timing of the re-emergence of the vampire had been inconvenient to say the least. But the presence of such a creature in their city could not be left unchallenged. Her employer understood that she could not be in two places at the same time, so he had used a portion of his considerable power and influence to make it appear she had never left the hall. Toasting wine laced with the hint of the cleverest of magic, by the employers most trusted confidant. Tasteless, odourless but enough to put the drinker into a deep sleep only to be awoken by a whisper, never aware that they had slept at all.
Satisfied she slipped back to the room. She lit a few candles and undressed quickly. She found the basin that had been left for her and washed away the labours of her nights work in lemon-scented water.
The tools of her trade, her trophies and clothes were placed in a specially constructed suitcase and left just inside the door.
Sitting in front a large dressing table mirror she applied a little shadow around her almond shaped eyes and a little blush of pink to her full lips. As she fastened delicate pearl studs to her ears, she brushed an auburn curl behind her ear. The movement warmed her with fond memories of her father doing just the same when she was a little girl. She would lie with her head on his lap and he would stroke her ears gently teasing her by saying she had the ears of a forest elf.
She laughed at the memory as she pinned her hair up. She dressed quickly and made to leave the room. She paused for a moment and removed the small punch dagger from her white garter belt and secreted it into a drawer that no well-bred gentleman would care to look.
Before extinguishing the candles she stood in front of the full-length mirror, its gilded frame stained orange in the firelight. Her heart nearly skipped a beat at the image that met her eyes. She saw how beautiful she looked in her wedding dress. And with a joyful heart she gently closed the door behind her and went to re-join her blissfully unaware bridegroom.