Ugly Company for Minuet

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Minuet sat in the sunshine of the upstairs sewing room, between the tall wool wheel and the loom, embroidering a sketch which she had made of her ewe and lambs grazing by the hollyhocks she had planted by the house. A breeze came and went as a vireo called fromfantasy-minuet the crown of the maple just outside the window. She hummed ever so faintly, turning her hoop this way and that. Suddenly she sat upright with a gasp at the screech of a chair to return immediately to her work, determined to ignore that Ugleeuh was now sitting directly across from her.

Hubba-Hubba finished preening his stubble of pinfeathers and gave himself a thorough shake, nearly losing his balance on the edge of his box of rags. Ugleeuh champed awayfootnote-12 at the fistful of hazelnuts she had brought in with her and crossed her legs. She dangled a slipper from her toe. Hubba-Hubba hopped onto the rags in his box and peered out over the edge with one eye. Ugleeuh heaved a sigh and crossed her legs the other way as she dug at the cud in her cheek with her tongue. She popped another hazelnut into her mouth, rubbing her nose as she chewed.

“Do you actually want something?” said Minuet as she cut her thread and began hunting for another color.

“Well why else would I be sitting here?”

“Hard telling…”

“I was sitting here because you’ve gotten ‘way too-too…”obm006473

“You could have spoken, first thing, and I would have answered,” said Minuet asshe threaded her needle on the first try and picked up her hoop. “But you didn’t, and since I was enjoying myself before you sat down, I was hoping that you just might let me go on
with it.”

“No, no Minnie-Min. You’re just full of yourself since your victory in our little tug o’ war, aren’t you?”

“Look Lee-Lee. If that’s all you want, I’ve no time for it. Think whatever you must, but just go somewhere else and do something nice.

“Well. Since you were polite enough to ask me, I came in here to find out when Father will get back, since he never tells me anything anymore.”

“I can’t imagine why not,” said Minuet as she turned her hoop over and cut a thread, “but in this case, you could have seen him off just as easily as I did. Besides, he told you he’d take you with him, the first chance he gets. Surely your birthday present isn’t more important than saving everyone from the plague.”

“I don’t suppose it ever occurred to you that I might be concerned about him, did it Miss Perfect?”

“No. That would be a shock.”

Ugleeuh gave a whooping sob and sprang from her chair, smacking Minuet’s embroidery Ugleeuh_rub_880683_c_medieval_scarlett_red_hooded_dress_costume_adult_ahoop out of her lap as she tramped across the room. “You used to be my best friend!” she wailed as she yanked open the door and wheeled about. “You used to be my champion! You were the one person in this world I could always count on and trust! Now you’ve turned awful and I’ll never, ever forgive you!”

“I sure was, sweetheart,” said Minuet to the closed door as she knelt to pick up her broken hoop, “but then I woke up to find that no matter what I did for you, every third thing you ever said was a lie.”

“Do some-thing nice… do some-thing nice… just go some-where else and do some-thing nice…” said Ugleeuh in a giddy sing-song as she whirled and skipped down the hallway. At the head of the stairs she stopped short and leant out the window, straining to hear a couple of hands who were singing grandly as they rode a wagon load of timothy hay to theGood_Sister,_Bad_Sis_Cover_for_Kindle barn. “Oh my!” she said with a sweet little bounce as she clasped her hands under her chin. “You two are so tone deaf. I need to do something nice to each one of you. Big sister says so…” And with that, she floated down the stairs and skipped outside.

Ch. 4, Good Sister, Bad Sister

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

Ceidwad the Diatryma Reads Wizard Razzmorten’s Comatose Mind

Diatryma_by_Christoferson

Without a word, Arwr, Lladdwr and Ceidwad sped away, pat, pat, patting over the leaves with Tors galloping furiously to keep up. Arwr lead them single file along the beginnings of a creek that was soon flanked with rock outcroppings which before long formed a deep hollow. Without the slightest hesitation to puzzle over landmarks, he took them directly to the foot of a huge sheer faced bluff of slate grey rocks which formed an overhang several rods long. At the back of the overhang a small cave ran in under the rock. In short order they had Razzmorten and Mary laid out on pallets of leaves.

Lukus knelt by Razzmorten and laid his hand on the old fellow’s forehead. He closed his eyes and quickly set about calming himself as he had been taught in order to readyFotolia_74796694_Subscription_Monthly_M CROPHEAD his magical energies to flow into his grandfather. He let these drain away until he began feeling the inevitable exhaustion which signaled where he must stop. He had no choice now but to rest before going any further. He opened his eyes and studied Razzmorten for any sign of success. He shook his head in weary dismay as he looked up at the hopeful faces gathered ’round him.

“I see no change at all,” he said. “I’ll have to eat and rest a bit, before I can try again.” He stood up on wobbly legs and clenched his teeth. “I can find nothing wrong with him at all. I wish I could read his mind. Then he could tell me what’s wrong.”

“I can do that for you,” said Ceidwad, lowering her head to peer into the cave.

“You diatrymas read minds?” he said, suddenly thinking about what she was saying.

“Yes.”

“But why didn’t you say so long before now?” he said before realizing that he just might sound as though he were making accusations.

“It wasn’t possible with us fleeing for our lives,” she said solemnly. “Mind to mind contact 4F14BB4B9with one who is unconscious is delicate business. It takes time and it’s always best
to see if the unconsciousness one will come around on his own.”

“Why? said Lukus. “Is it dangerous?”

“Not done right, no.”

“So you have a certain expertise?” he said, glancing at Rose.

“I’d not attempt such a thing without being confident. Of course, I’ll only proceed if you wish.”

Lukus looked at Rose. She turned aside to Fuzz and Myrtlbell who each nodded encouragingly.

“Please do, Ceidwad,” said Lukus. “We’ll never know unless you do.”

“Then please carry him to the mouth of the cave,” she said, “we never go inside.”

As soon as they got him moved, she slowly settled onto her keel, fluffed her feathers and gently laid her huge ebony beak across his forehead. After shifting her head a little, this way and that, she blinked a couple of times and then closed her eyes. Hubba Hubba leant so far forward on Rose’s shoulder while watching that he tumbled off and landed on the cave floor with a feathery plop. Pebbles flew down beside him as he picked himself up and gave a shake of his feathers. Taflu snickered, but sobered at once at a look from Fuzz.

images“Do all diatrymas read minds, Lladdwr?” whispered Rose.

“Generally only the hens amongst us,” he said softly. “They listen in on the dreams of our eggs and thereafter they keep track of the chicks in dead silence in the face of danger and while they forage.”

“Then her mind reading won’t heal?”

“I’m afraid it doesn’t, at least nothing beyond the reassurance it gives. But Ceidwad will be able to tell you what ails them and find out what needs to be done.”

At last, Ceidwad stood up and turned to face everyone, singling out Rose and Lukus.

“Your grandfather will survive and will indeed wake up in due time,” she said, “but I’ve no idea at all how long that will be. Those bolts from the sorceresses were much like lightening. If one is struck by lightening, he either dies right then and there or he’s left in a coma for who knows how long. Could be just a few hours; could be days. They got big jolts. Your Grandfather believes that they are both very lucky to have survived. They should be dead. In fact, he wonders if Demonica and Spitemorta deliberately let them live for some reason. So there’s no damage, but I’d allow that he’ll be asleep for some time to come.”

“Oh thank you!” said Rose, as she hugged Ceidwad, muffling a sob in her fluffy neck feathers “You’ve spared us so much worry.”

Ceidwad rattled her beak through Rose’s hair as Hubba Hubba hopped onto Razzmorten’s chest and walked up his beard to point one eye at his face. He stood there for a moment, then trotted back down his beard and flew to Lukus’s shoulder. “He doesn’t look any different at all, Lukus.”

“I’m not worried now,” said Lukus as he scratched Hubba Hubba’s head. “Two very wise birds have just told us he’ll recover, so I know he will.”Stone_Heart_Cover_for_Kindle

“Righty-o!” he said with a proud flap of his wings and a whistle. He shook his feathers. “Now you’re catching on.”

“Absolutely,” said Lukus.

Ch. 19, Stone Heart 

Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

 

Minuet Sees King Hebraun off to Battle

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“Begging your pardon, sire,” said Dunvel as he shifted from foot to foot, “but shouldn’t we be on our way?”

“Polite all at once are we?” said Hebraun without bothering to look at him. Presently Minuet swept back into the room with Herio, who was now completely composed and wearing some of Lukus’s old clothes. She took her seat immediately as she guided Herio to stand right beside her. She took up Hebraun’s hand and squeezed it. They held each other’s eyes for several heartbeats of understanding and then turned as one to look at Dunvel.

Hebraun rose from his throne without a word and drew Minuet up to stand beside him. He nodded ever so slightly at his guards before fixing his eyes on Dunvel.

“See him to the courtyard and wait for me there,” he said as they stepped up to surround Dunvel.

Dunvel shamelessly flung a conceited look at Herio as he turned to go.

giphyHebraun spared a kindly glance at Herio and then took both of Minuet’s hands and looked into her eyes. “I love you more than words can tell,” he said.

“And I love you,” she said as they squeezed hands.

Hebraun stepped smartly from the dais with her, as Herio scrambled to follow, out into the courtyard where the guards waited with Dunvel.

He paused by Vindicator, his huge white march streiciwr brenhinol stallion unicorn and kissed Minuet farewell. He quickly found his stirrup, threw his leg over his mount and looked down at Herio. “I need you to stay here to protect the queen.”

Herio drew himself up and nodded fiercely as Minuet drew him to her side.

“Besides,” said Hebraun as he gave a beady-eyed nod at Dunvel, “You might want to testify when that thing has its trial.”

Herio’s eyes flashed as he nodded and stood proudly beside his queen.

Hebraun shared one last gaze with Minuet then urged his great white unicorn to the

Queen Minuet

gate and vanished. Herio turned aside to see Minuet’s eyes brimming with tears as she stood tall and proud, making her way back to her duties. He trailed along beside her after pausing to see Dunvel being led away to some place fitting. Herio’s face firmed in resolve. That goblin would share his brother’s fate if he had any say in the matter.

Ch. 47, Stone Heart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Wizard Razzmorten Helps Lay Plans

Dave Sheldrake Photographer A3 Art

“King Neron’s message globe is stunning,” said Captain Bernard from under his bushy brow as he tossed a wide-eyed look at Razzmorten. “I’ve heard tell, but I’ve never before seen the like.”

Razzmorten gave a polite but sober nod.

“This is bad news for the Elves,” said Bernard as he began pacing about the room, “I mean, this is plain bad news altogether. There’ll be a lot more Elves die over this, sure
enough, but I can think of two things right now which are bad for us. Oilean Gairdin and
Jutland may be all Elves, but it’s on us. They’re part of Niarg, so if Spitemorta and
Demonica sent the trolls in there, they’ve just attacked us. And the other thing is, by
doing so they look like they could very well be trying to get us to divide our army in order
to make it easy for them to attack Niarg proper.” He paused to look at Minuet, who was
studying him keenly, smiling in a way that seemed to be covering up a smoldering flame.
Razzmorten was not letting on. Minuet ran the flat of her hand over the table top, then
looked up, ready to hear more.

“I’m sure that King Hebraun would have the same thing to say,” he said as he shifted the hilt of his saber and resumed pacing. “It is obvious, after all. And he’d waste no time sending out a strike force, particularly if Prince Lukus and his family are having to flee…”

“So is it your opinion then, Captain,” said Razzmorten, “that Spitemorta and Demonica are indeed doing this in order to strike Niarg?”

“Well sir, everything certainly looks that way. I’d even say so beyond any doubt whatsoever, except that I simply can’t imagine what they’re going to use for an army. My
word! We slew well neigh thirteen thousand of them at Ashmore, and you said yourself,
my Queen,” he said, turning to her with a nod, “that there was narrowly a man between
six ‘n’ ten and sixty to be seen out and about when you scryed Goll.”

“Yes,” said Minuet, standing up at once with a slap of the table top to begin pacing her own 220px-Woman_redhead_natural_portrait_1tight circle beside the one Bernard had been following. “It seems obvious that you are indeed onto something, Captain, and I can certainly guess what they’re going to use as an army. We may have slain theirs, but we have not done a single thing to cripple them magically. If we send troops to aid Oilean Gairdin, she’s very likely to make a magical strike against Niarg.”

“Oh, they could be all set to launch a magical attack if we send aid to the Elves,” said Razzmorten with a screech of his chair on the stone floor, “and it sure seems like they’d have to be, particularly if we’re thinking in terms of armies, but…”

“‘If we’re thinking in terms of armies?’ What else would we possibly be thinking in terms of?” said Minuet. “What better time would there be for a magical strike against Niarg than when we have sent away a substantial part of our army?”

“Oh, there would indeed be no better time if Goll were actually using an army,” he said asthe-alchemist he removed his spectacles and fogged their lenses with his breath. “But if they wanted to cripple Niarg with a magical strike, they would want to destroy as much of our army as they could with one blow, so they’d want us all right here.”

“But why wouldn’t they want to get us and the Elves together when we went to their aid?” said Minuet as she took a seat next to him.

“Because it would leave us able to launch a retaliatory strike with the troops which stayed here,” boomed Bernard as he found the chair across from the two of them and sat with a rattle of chain mail.

“Then we need to be moving!” said Minuet with a fiery tone.

Razzmorten nodded and looked over his spectacles at Bernard.

“I’ll call the troops and we’ll be underway before first light,” he said with a decisive nod, The_Burgeoning_Cover_for_Kindleslapping the table with his gauntlet as he rose and tramped out the door.

Ch. 12, The Burgeoning

 

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

Who is Minuet?

Queen Minuet

Minuet is born to the good wizard Razzmorten and his first wife Blodeuwedd who dies giving birth to her. Blodeuwedd, who was the most beautiful woman Razzmorten had ever seen in all his 329 years before he married her, was known to all as the maiden of flowers.

Millais_John_Everett_A_Souvenir_of_VelasquezRazzmorten is most taken with his new wee Minuet and quickly sees that she could well exceed his own powers someday. He hires a magically endowed woman called Demonica to be her nanny. Demonica is also beautiful and is an engaging companion, so he marries her. Soon she is pregnant. When she bears the child Ugleeuh, she vanishes with the crystal Heart of the Staff from Niarg’s royal treasury, leaving him to care for Minuet and Ugleeuh.

Minuet spends her childhood being a nurturing Good_Sister,_Bad_Sis_Cover_for_Kindleand precociously responsible older sister. For years she is Ugleuh’s staunch defender and champion, but after a time Ugleeuh’s play becomes a string of increasingly reprehensible pranks, forcing Minuet to endlessly undo her mischief. In Good Sister, Bad Sister, Ugleeuh plots to have Hebraun, the prince of Niarg for herself.

The plague comes to Niarg and Razzmorten finds the cure. When Minuet goes to tend plague victims at Fates’ Hospital for the Sick, she is nearly beaten to death by a superstitious crowd. Whilst recuperating, The_Collector_Witch_Cover_for_Kindleshe finds out that Hebraun wants to marry her. Ugleeuh vanishes from sight.

Minuet does indeed marry Hebraun in time for him to become king of Niarg. When their firstborn Rose is three, Ugleeuh appears and tries to murder Minuet and Hebraun.

In The Collector Witch, Rose hears a damning rumor at her sixteenth birthday party that has her running away to far off lands with her younger brother Lukus to find answers. When word reaches Niarg that Ugleeuh is holding them captive, Minuet prepares to Stone_Heart_Cover_for_Kindledeal with Ugleeuh accordingly.

In Stone Heart, word comes to Niarg that Demonica and Queen Spitemorta of Goll are now in possession of the Great Staff and the much more potent Crystal Heart and plan to use them to conquer the entire world. Demonica declares that their first step should be to destroy all Elfkind. Minuet knits, waiting for the Elf Soraya, Lukus’s wife, to give birth. She comforts Hebraun who feels old and tired after finding Niarg’s The_Burgeoning_Cover_for_Kindlegrain ruined by a curse. Fuzz asks for Rose’s hand in marriage. Minuet fits her old wedding gown to Rose and helps her prepare for her wedding. She sees Hebraun off to fight the Golls when they burn Ash Fork to the ground.

In The Burgeoning, she rides forth leading her army, determined to cut out Spitemorta’s black heart and feed it to the hogs. And her tale continues in The The Reaper Witch 01 copyReaper Witch Doom.Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00028]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Minuet Sends Herio with Bernard

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The castle barn owl flew in like a ghost from under the ridge pole to pause on a truss, staring at the echoing voices below before giving a couple of circular bobs with his head and lunging into a glide to his nest with his mouse.

“I don’t understand, Your Majesty,” said Herio, looking anxiously from Razzmorten and Captain Bernard to Minuet. “I’m sworn to protect you. Why must I evacuate? Haven’t I proven myself?”

“Oh, Herio,” said Minuet, her voice full of admiration as she sat beside him and took up his hand, “a most worthy knight of this house you be, but truth to tell, you’re far more than that. Since you are now my adopted son and a potential heir to the throne, you cannot be risked. Besides, I need you to go with Captain Bernard and help protect our people.”

“But, King Hebraun charged me to protect you, my Queen…uh, Minuet,” he said, casting a hopeful look at Hubba Hubba, who was carefully following everything from Razzmorten’s shoulder, “and since you’re now my mother, hit’s even a family matter.”

Hubba Hubba let go of a black feather with a silky snap as he eyed the owl gliding from timber to timber on his way back out. “Queen’s got the right of it,” he rattled. “We’ve lost track of Lukus. We reckon he’s alive, but we don’t know that for sure, and Rose already says she won’t sit on the throne. You’re ‘way more important than just a knight, now that you’re part of the House of Niarg, Prince Herio. Got ‘o do what she wants this time. Besides, I’d feel better having you with me.”

Herio nodded resolutely at Minuet and squared his shoulders.

“You’ll do right well, Prince of Niarg,” she said with a look of fierce pride. “Go now and keep our people safe.” She gave him a quick hug and then took Razzmorten’s arm as they rose and filed outdoors, with Hubba Hubba, Pebbles and both their broods, each one of them now in crow form, fluttering along overhead.

Gwynt was waiting beside Captain Bernard as the mounted throng surrounding them fell to a hush. Herio found his stirrup, threw his leg over the cantle and as soon as the crows had all found their places, nodded at Bernard. At a grand and silent wave from Bernard, the The_Burgeoning_Cover_for_Kindlemultitude began ambling toward the gate. Herio did not look back, but he could feel Minuet’s eyes on him for a very long time.

Ch. 38, The Burgeoning

 

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

Rose and Fuzz Reach Dragonsport

 

 

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“Right there,” said Rose, looking out from under the flat of her hand. “That’s where we have to go. As you can see, the snow white cliffs are turning out to be a whole forest of limestone pillars which we could never begin to sail between, if we haven’t improved since Oyster Cove.”

“Remember when I took Edward to explore all the abandoned buildings of Dragonsport?” said Fuzz. “I had no idea about this side.”

“You’ve not seen anything,” she said. “Wait until we start in.”

“Those leaning trees on top of the pillars are spectacular,” said Olloo.

wind-blown-trees-north-of-cape-farewell

“You can see those?” said Rose.

“Well, I can’t decide if they’re oaks…”

“My word!” said Fuzz. “Leaning oaks is indeed what they are. Derwen pwysaf is the old 269495336_32314966dcname. I only know that from discussions, ‘way back when I was here. But I can’t see whether the vegetation on top is trees or not.”

Before long, they had furled their sails and dropped anchor. They decided to row ashore, leaving their unicorns and their strike falcons by themselves on board, except for Olloo’s bird, Baase. Rose had indeed been correct about where to go, for they found themselves rowing ashore along a broad corridor between the gigantic columns of limestone, making for the break in the sheer cliffs behind, which formed a narrow canal where teams of dragons once hauled ships inland to the lagoon and the quays of Dragonsport.

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At the quays, Baase hopped out with a splash and dashed after a lizard. They stepped out as he gobbled it down and hauled their boat ashore in a pulsing sea of cicada calls in the noonday sun and made their way past the abandoned barns and warehouses and up the blinding white dirt lane beyond, which wended up a great flat topped hill covered with leaning oaks.

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“They seldom brought in ships when we were here, so no signs of anyone didn’t bother me,” said Rose, pausing to look back the way they had come. “But the only tracks up this entire lane are ours. Well. If they’re not here, it’s off to the Black Desert, then.”

“I don’t know,” said Fuzz. “The Black Desert is a huge wasteland.”

“Yea, but we’re going to find them.”

“You know that? If it were any one but you a-saying such a thing, I’d not be paying attention.”Shuanghe-Dongqun

Before long, they came to the broad hole in the ground with its great stairway, which was the entrance to the Dragon Caves. By the time they had reached the enormous fountain and statuary of dragons being driven by Razzorbauch at the bottom of the stairs, the caves seemed abandoned to everyone. The Elves begged for an explanation about the towering sculpture from Rose, and held their breaths in rapt attention as her tale echoed from the empty reaches of the vast gallery. There was not a soul.

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Soon they found themselves in Spark and Lipperella’s cavern, respectfully turning over this and that of their remaining flotsam. Rose stepped into Edward and Laora’s room. “Fuzz,” she said, pulling out a wooden stick from under Edward’s mattress. “Look ‘ee here.”Sextantio-Le-Grotte-Della-Civita_11

“My word!” he said, looking it over. “That’s the very sword I was not finished carving for his sixth birthday. I reckon he missed it, under the bed like that. My. Now I never once had the slightest amorous urge for Myrtlebell, as I’ve said many times, but Edward actually grew up as a son to me. Did I ever tell you that he was even born in my old den?”

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“Why no.”

“Oh my. I’m no midwife. I just ran back and forth, fetching clean rags and pans of water. But it had me worried. I mean, I hadn’t so much as pulled a calf nor helped an old ewe in my life, so I dashed out and found Rotundra.”

Rose laughed out. “You didn’t need her.”

“At least I quit dropping and spilling things when she came. And I even managed to pour Myrtlebell’s shot of whisky for Edward’s crowning without spilling a drop. But mercy, did I ever regret it.”

“Why?”

“Have you any idea how many cozy little romantic suppers I ended up obliged to share with Rotundra after that?”

“Very many?”

“Oh my land yes. An entire eternity of them. At least two, as I remember.”

“Aw!” laughed Rose. “Rotundra was sweet, Fuzz. But I was glad her pursuit of you ended when she became Mary the White. I mean, she’s beautiful and things might have turned out different.”

“Go on! Not after we’d met. I’ve actually been in love with you since we were first acquainted.”

“Fiddlesticks! I was a child.”

“Yea. Sixteen and heart stopping gorgeous. And I was a bear with no hair. I could only yearn. Just remember that there’s a lot behind it when I tell you that you are a dream come true.”

“I love you Fuzz,” she said giving him a dear hug. “Say. You just said something. You said that he must have missed it, you know, the sword. I don’t see how he could have. It was down here, sticking half way out from under his mattress like this, see? Hey look! This paper was right here with it.”

“Why that’s a map,” he said.

“Titled, ‘New Dragon Caves!'” she gasped. “And look. A letter to us both. He says he copied this from a map in dragon’s council room. Thank the Fates the witches never found this.”

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“If Spark or any of the other adults had known Edward had this, they’d have snapped it up The Reaper Witch 01 copyfor just that reason.”

“Edward undoubtedly thought that this was his only way of leaving it behind.”

“He just isn’t old enough to grasp how dangerous something like this could be,” he said. “Hey! You were right. I bet we do find them.”

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

Your Wildest Dreams by Marsha Fox

I inhaled sharply when I recognized the introductory riff wafting from my favorite 80s station as Your Wildest Dreams by the Moody Blues. Even though I had the original 45 RPM record, the album on cassette tape, and more recently, the CD, I kept them safely locked away so I wouldn’t binge on it. Nonetheless, when KPLV, 93.1 FM in Vegas, got around to playing it every few weeks or so, I’d indulge in a break, a delicious reminder of why I was here.

Consumed by ethereal and intimately familiar soundwaves, I got up, closed the blinds, and even though it was unlikely the song’s strains would penetrate my office’s cinder block walls, plugged in my headset so I could crank it up—I mean really up. I melted back into my chair, eyes closed, with what was probably an idiotic smile on my face, savoring each note as the song segued into its lively, 142 BPM tempo. The next three minutes and forty-one seconds, I’d be in heaven.

Even though this song came out eight years after she left, the first time I heard it, back when I was still in college in ’86, I knew two things: One, it would always be “our song”; and Two, I had to find her.

My heart leapt with visions of galaxies beyond, of what might be out there, where she might be. I plunged headlong through space and time, besieged by memories burned into my heart as permanently and painfully as branding was to a newborn calf. Did she remember? Feel the same thing I did? Sense the enchantment of fate-entangled lives?

I memorize pretty easily, which comes in handy, especially with things like the Periodic Table or Maxwell’s equations. And of course, favorite songs. These particular lyrics struck me, hard and personal, from day one, certain it’d been written exclusively for me.

As my eyes teared up, logic intervened and yanked me back to planet Earth.

Grow up, Benson! What are you, a total schmaltz or what?

We were kids, for heaven sakes. A teenage crush. I should’ve gotten over it, but never did. No wonder. Girls like her are rare. One of a kind. She’d already experienced things I never would. Things that were part of my wildest dreams.

The admonition failed, pushed aside by that part of me that felt alive again, jammin’ like a total jerk, mouthing the words as I sang along in my head. It’s not like I’m a teenager anymore, though at the moment I felt like one. No, memories of the heart never die—can’t die, evereven if you try to kill them.

I’d give anything to talk to her. Which of course I have, numerous times over the years, if only in my head. Okay, aloud more often than I care to admit. I could swear it even felt as if she answered a time or two. I suppose that’s how it is with your first love. Or your first kiss, even if it was only a peck on the cheek. It penetrates your soul and stays there forever.

That mid-summer day in ’78 hauling hay was as vivid as yesterday in my mind’s eye. The cloudless sky, sun hot on my neck, the aroma of first-crop alfalfa sweetening the mountain air. I scratched my shoulder, a reflex memory of itchy, stray leaves sticking through my T-shirt. My chest ached as I remembered tear tracks streaking her dust-covered face at something I’d said. Then, days later, that withering look when we lied about her ship.

The one we still have. What’s left of it quietly abandoned beneath a tarp in Building 15, here at Area 51.

How she knew we weren’t telling the truth, I’ll never know. Pretty funny it’s still sitting there. And I’m sure she’d think so, too. I can just hear her saying, “Stupid snurks, I knew they’d never figure it out.” Though actually they did, just didn’t find technology worth pursuing. Even contractors didn’t want it.

I had to admit it was pretty crazy, but she was my motivation to get where I was today: just short of a decade of college linked with serendipity that put me in the right place at the right time, hoping someday I’d find her. My life had changed a lot since then. How much had hers changed? Did she make it home? Was she still alive? With the effects of relativistic travel, which I understood only too well, she could still be a teenager, while I was easing into the infamous dirty thirties.

Not good. If I ever did find her, she’d probably think I was some lecherous old fart. Either that, or, with my luck, she’d be married with a bunch of kids. I winced with the thought.

My sentimental reverie vanished when my office door slammed open and Hector Buckhorn rolled in. Literally. Hec’s been stuck in a wheelchair ever since he crashed his hang glider into a New Mexico mountainside during spring break his last semester of college. He ridge soared a lot, particularly around Dulce, over restricted areas where he wasn’t supposed to be. Got caught a couple times, but being Native American, never got in trouble, even though it wasn’t his home reservation. He’s amazingly good at playing dumb, in spite of—or possibly because of—his 150ish IQ. He never talked about his accident, said he couldn’t remember. Makes sense, actually, given he suffered a massive concussion. The only time I ever saw him pissed him off was when he woke up in the hospital and discovered they’d shaved off his hair, since grown back beyond shoulder length.

I dropped the headset around my neck and faked a frown. “Don’t you ever knock, butthead?”

“Hey, man, wazzup?” he said, giving me a funny look. “You okay?”

I laughed. “Of course. Just thinking. Remembering. You know.”

Ahhh. They played that song again, didn’t they?”

“Can’t hide anything from you, can I, Chief?”

“Nope. I figured you were up to somethin’ with your blinds closed.”

He wheeled over to the grey metal, government-issue table on the other side of the room and helped himself to a handful of peanut M&Ms. Once I’d realized during my PhD days at Cal Tech that, in a pinch, they made a pretty decent meal, I’d kept that old, wide-mouth canning jar full. He dumped them in his mouth, perusing me with knowing, dark eyes.

“You were sure enjoyin’ that song of yours,” he said, not even trying to stifle his crooked grin as he munched away.

“Yeah,” I replied, uncomfortable with the conversation’s direction.

“We’ve known each other a long time, Allen,” he said. “Don’t you think it’s time you told me about her?”

“Not much to tell.”

He let fly with a popular expletive related to bovine excrement. “C’mon! What’s her name?” he persisted.

I blew out my cheeks and sighed, knowing resistance was futile. “Creena,” I answered, surprising myself when, again, I got a little choked up. I avoided his eyes by likewise heading for the M&Ms.

“So find her,” he said.

“It’s not that simple,” I replied, pouring myself a handful. “I don’t know where she is.” A statement that was truer than he could possibly imagine.

“I have some resources who could help,” he offered with a conspiratorial wink.

I shook my head, then stalled by popping a few colorful orbs in my mouth.

“Why not? If she’s anywhere on this planet, these guys’ll find her.”

I swallowed hard and paused; met his gaze. “She’s not.”

He scowled, making him look a lot like those old pictures of Cochise. “Say again?”

“She’s. Not.”

“Oh! I’m sorry.”

“Why?”

He shrugged. “I assumed she’s dead. She must’ve been quite a girl.”

“She was. Is. She’s not dead. At least as far as I know.”

His jaw dropped, shocked expression broadcasting the fact he’d caught the implications. “You’re not kidding, are you?”

“Nope.”

“Abductee?” he whispered.

“Nope,” I answered, raiding the candy jar again. “Immigrant.”

His eyes widened as he spewed an expletive that elevated excrement to sanctified status. “Don’t tell me she’s an EBE!”

I nearly spewed partially chewed M&Ms across the room. Extraterrestrial biological entity, indeed! Yet by definition, actually, she was.

I chuckled at his expression and shook my head. “No. Quite human. At least as far as I know.”

“Are you?” he added, chocolate-colored irises rimmed with white. His reaction surprised me—UFOs, even aliens, were no big deal in his culture, just business as usual with the Star People.

“C’mon, Chief! You’ve known me since tenth grade, running high school track!”

He leaned back, searching my face with more solemnity than I’d seen since I told him how Dad died. “You’ve got a lot of explaining to do, bro,” he said finally, shaking his head.

“You have no idea,” I said, throat constricting as scratchy lyrics from the headset, audible only to me, issued another reminder of why I was here.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Marcha Fox

 

[NOTE:–This is an excerpt from my upcoming novel, Dark Circles, a slightly dark, hard sci-fi love story. No release date has been set.]

 

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Excerpt From SHADOW OF THE DRILL By Rhani D’Chae

The characters in the following story are from my novel, Shadow of the Drill. After a moderately grueling assignment, they take a day off to enjoy a Sunday barbecue.

 

A Break in the Battle

 

   Charlene squealed, leaning to the side to avoid an airborne hot dog. She need not have worried, for the meaty missile bounced neatly against the chest of JT, who was seated next to her.

   “Damn it, Rudy!” JT grabbed a napkin from the table and scrubbed at his shirt. “That wasn’t funny!”

   “Really?” Rudy flashed an innocent grin over the top of barbecue grill. “I thought it was hilarious.”  He flipped a pair of hamburgers, then added a dash of seasoning to each.

   “You got hot dog grease on my shirt,” JT said crossly. “Next time, warn me so I can duck.”

   “Don’t run your mouth, and there won’t be a next time.” Rudy raised his right arm, pointing at the cast that encased it from wrist to elbow. “Even with this, I can hit what I’m aiming at.”

   JT shot a glare in Rudy’s general direction. “Can you believe him?”

   “You shouldn’t have said he was getting old, and you definitely shouldn’t have said he was losing his touch.” Charlene refilled her glass from the pitcher of lemonade on the table. Lemonade, and just the right amount of tequila.

   “Who’s getting old?” Decker stepped from the dining room onto the deck, leaning on a cane with one hand and holding a bowl of potato salad in the other. “You best not be talking about me!”

   “Don’t worry, Peter Pan, we weren’t.” Charlene pulled the chair to her left away from the table so that Decker could sit. “JT said it about Rudy.”

   “Well, that was stupid.” Decker set the bowl onto the table, then dropped into the chair, leaning the cane against the table before reaching for the pitcher.

   JT pointed to the stain on his shirt. “You’re not kidding! Good arm, bad arm, it don’t matter. He’s dead on.”

   He shifted in his chair, muttering a soft curse when his broken ribs objected.

   Decker smiled sympathetically, knowing from firsthand experience how he felt. “Give it a couple of weeks,” he advised. “You’ll feel better before you know it.”

   “I know,” JT replied. “But in the meantime, it really hurts!”

   “Your face looks better.” Decker reached across the table, tilting JT’s head to the right. “At least, the swelling’s gone down. You’ll have the color for a while, yet.”

   Charlene leaned back, tuning out the conversation while she thought back over the last six days.

   It had started as just another job, but it had quickly become so much more. Hired to find and retrieve a stolen Shelby Daytona Coupe, Decker and his team had landed in the middle of an auto theft ring that stretched from Bellevue to Portland. Finding the missing car had been difficult – retrieving it had been damn near impossible.

   The car had been located in Vancouver and liberated in the dark of night with considerable damage to all concerned. By the time the Shelby was safely in a truck headed north, Decker had calculated how much of a wear and tear fee he was going to charge his employer before the car was offloaded at its destination.

   Bruised and broken, Decker’s team had limped back to Tacoma and gone their separate ways. After checking on the Shelby, Decker had contacted the owner and arranged a time to meet.

   Charlene had greeted him at the door when he arrived home, the sight of his battered body bringing tears to her eyes. He had assured her that he was not seriously hurt, so there was no discussion of seeking medical help. He knew his body – and its injuries – better than any doctor, so she did not question his analysis of the situation.

   Injured and exhausted, he had needed rest. A great deal of rest. But, after only a day and a half, he was limping restlessly from room to room, and she knew that something needed to be done.

   The barbecue had been her idea, and he had willingly agreed. Though they often entertained, they had never invited more than two or three people over at once. The fact that it was JT’s first social visit to the house contributed to the uniqueness of the event, as did the presence of Decker’s old friend and occasional teammate, Hunter Grae.

   The side gate rattled, and Charlene jumped up to open it before Davis dropped his armload of Tupperware containers. The investigator gave her a warm smile, thanking her for her assistance.

   Charlene looked over his shoulder. “Where’s Bert?”

   “She’ll be along soon,” Davis told her. “She had to run her mother to the grocery store, so she’s a little behind schedule. But don’t worry, she’s not far behind me.”

   He handed over three of the containers. “Pasta salad, deviled eggs, and some sort of asparagus thing.” He shrugged apologetically. “Personally, I don’t think asparagus has any business being at a barbecue, but you know how Bert is.”

   Charlene laughed, then sobered when she noticed the manila envelope beneath the remaining two containers. “That better not be what I think it is.”

   “It’s everything I could find for the Palmer job. I promised I’d bring it by today.” He waved at Decker and JT, then slid the envelope from beneath the Tupperware to show he’d brought it.

   Charlene put her hand on his wrist, stopping him. “Not today, please. He’ll open it up, they’ll spend the rest of the day plotting and planning, and that’ll be it for the day off. You know it as well as I do. They just can’t help themselves.”

   Davis thought for a moment, then nodded. “You’re right,” he agreed. “Okay, I’ll toss this back in the car and give it to him tomorrow. I can’t stall any longer than that, but at least it won’t ruin today.”

   “Thank you,” Charlene said gratefully, then headed for the kitchen to unpack the Tupperware while Davis returned to his car.

   When she passed Rudy, he handed her a plate loaded with hotdogs and hamburger patties.

   “Here’s a first round. Is everything on the food table?”

   Charlene glanced over the long fold-up table that Decker had set on the grass. It held assorted buns and condiments, as well as paper plates and plastic silverware.

   “Just about. Hunter’s in the kitchen slicing cheese, and I have to put Bert’s stuff on plates, but it won’t take long. So yes, it’s pretty much ready. “

   “That’s a good thing.” Rudy pressed his fingers against the pieces of tape that held a long strip of gauze to the side of his face, checking that they were still secure. “So we’re just waiting on the cheese.”

   As if on cue, Hunter appeared on the deck, carrying a serving tray that had been loaded down with small plates of pickles, slices of cheese, and crisp lettuce leaves. He called out a greeting to Davis and Roberta, who were coming through the gate together, then headed for the picnic table to unload the tray.

   He was clad in shorts and a tank top, and Charlene could clearly see the stitches where the blade of a knife had cut into his calf, and the colorful section of bruising that a heavy object of some sort had left along his collarbone.

   She joined him at the picnic table, calling to the others as she set the plate down. She was able to get her hamburger onto a plate, along with potato salad and baked beans, before the table was surrounded by hungry people.

   Glad that she had escaped the swarm, Charlene returned to her place at the oversized table on the deck. Taking her seat, she enjoyed a moment of silence, knowing that a moment was all she would probably get.

   A light breeze brought the scent of roses, and Charlene closed her eyes, inhaling with pleasure. So far, the day had been wonderful, and she knew that the evening would be just as fine.

   Opening her eyes, she looked around at the people who mattered in her life. It couldn’t be more perfect, she thought with a contented smile. Fun, food, and the very best of friends combined to make a day that she would long remember. Especially since, for a few short hours, it was a fairly safe bet that no one was going to die.

 

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PRISON WIVES By Nonnie Jules

 

PRISON WIVES

 

I am an unlikely character to tell these stories, but, I do know that each day that we are blessed to open our eyes, we never know what surprises, good or bad, that day will bring. No matter how much and how well we plan, the universe always steps in to show us just how much, we are not as in control of things as we thought we were.

These are real stories of moms, wives, spouses…those significant others who are left behind; those innocent, and maybe even not-so-innocents, who are left to pick up all the pieces that are shattered when their husbands walk out the door and don’t return in the time frame in which they are expected to.

No, he didn’t run off with another woman…he was apprehended somewhere between here and there by a law enforcement officer, and, for whatever reason, he’s now being held behind bars…property of the city until the state steps in to claim ownership. And, although these men are the ones incarcerated, it is the entire family that serves the time.

These are not sob stories to drum up sympathy for the accused. But, this book will serve as a doorway into an open dialogue, so that we are all aware of just how much children suffer when their dads are taken away.

These stories are but small ways to shine light on the effects of imprisoning low-level offenders for long periods of time, ripping them from their children’s lives, and the negative imprints left behind. This is a plea for reform of a justice system that will quickly parole a drug dealer, murderer, rapist or child molester, who will more than likely repeat-offend, yet hangs on to low-level offenders who may have made a one-time mistake or even worse, was forced to take a plea for a crime which he is innocent of, simply because he was too poor and couldn’t afford top-of-the-line defense. We do know that this happens, don’t we?

Lastly, this is so that we don’t forget those that are forced to soldier up and walk into battle each and every day, standing on the front lines of a war that they have been shielded from for far too long. These soldiers fight daily just to keep a roof over the heads, food in the mouths, and hope in the spirits of the children who are also being penalized in this war.

These are the stories of PRISON WIVES.

 

CHAPTER ONE – SAMMIE

Sammie was so excited about their upcoming road trip. Not for the travel element, but, because their son Jeremy, was about to lead his team to another high school championship for a third straight year. Jeremy was a senior and also big man on campus, as Rozdale High’s, 6’3, All-American Quarterback. The one drawback to Sammie’s excitement, was they had to travel cross country to play. Sammie hated to travel, she also hated to fly, so road trips were always the name of the game for her family. This year, she was especially apprehensive about their road trip and yet, she had no idea why.

The drive would take them 21 hours and 32 min to reach their destination of Clearwater, FL. from Lubbock, TX. And, since Jeremy had to be there on Friday, this would mean a full day and a half of travel prior to. Sammie, mother of three daughters and one son, knew that her husband Josh had a suspended driver’s license, yet, he would have to share the drive time with her anyway.  This was not an option as none of their children were of legal driving age, and Jeremy, the oldest, would not get his license until he turned 18 in the following year.

On that hot July morning as they backed out of their driveway, Sammie sat in the passenger seat and prayed. “Dear Lord, guide my family safely from this place to the next and back again. Return us all safely to our home…together. Amen.” Sammie wasn’t what you’d call a deeply religious woman, but she embraced her spiritual side and she strongly believed in the power of prayer.

The family drove along Interstate 20, then passing through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, they finally entered into the state of Florida. There were many stops along the way, but it was the last one that they would never forget. With almost seven hours left in their journey, they heard the sounds of a police siren behind them. When Sammie looked over her shoulder from the backseat, which she’d retired to hours before to stretch her legs, her heart sank so low, she could almost hear it hit the floor of the rental van.

Pulling over into the gas station they were headed to for their next potty-break, Sammie’s mind raced wildly. Not only did Josh have a suspended license, but he also had an outstanding warrant back home for a false probation violation, which they were aware of.

“I know I wasn’t speeding, officer,” Josh offered as the policeman approached his door.

“Yes, you were, sir,” the officer responded, surprisingly with a smile. A lie, I thought. “License and registration, please.”

Knowing all too well that it was going to take a miracle to keep him from being arrested right there, Josh, ever-protective of his children and family, asked the officer if they could get out of the van to use the restrooms.  If the worse happened, he didn’t want his children to see him in handcuffs or in the back of a police car. The officer said “Sure,” again, with the same smile on his face.

With his entire family inside, Josh tried to convince the officer to please let him get his family to safety and then he would return home to deal with the issue. His wife had no idea how to make the rest of the long journey without him, he shared.  But, still being kind, the officer said that he just couldn’t do that. He had to take him in.

Sammie’s phone rang from inside the gas station. “He is arresting me,” came Josh’s shaky voice through the phone. Her heart sank again. “You are going to have to make the rest of this trip without me. Sam, you can do it.” His voice quickly changed and now held a firmness to it. He knew he had to appear strong or she would quickly become unraveled.

Tears filled Sammie’s eyes. She’d been married to this man for 15 years and for 15 years he’d taken care of her, done everything for her…made her life so easy. Now, he was telling her she had to continue on this long journey without him. OK, but when they arrived, what then? Josh had shielded her from the real world for so long, she wasn’t sure if she could take a breath without him. But, she had to…for their kids. If she had been alone, she might have given up right then and there.

Sammie stood in the parking lot and watched the officer drive away with her husband in the back seat of the car, while she had asked the kids to stay inside and away from the windows.

When she realized that she wasn’t dreaming, she wiped her tear-stained face with the tissue in her hand. Composed and in brave face, she walked back inside to collect her children, as they were now both her reason and her strength to get them through this long, arduous journey –  a weekend without their father and then back to Texas, safe and sound.

Sammie had no idea how hard it would be once they headed back home five days later with the questions and comments from the kids about their father.  “We can’t leave here without him,” said 8-year-old Vanessa. “How is he going to get home?” asked 12-year-old Maggie.  “Why can’t we just stay here until this is straightened out? It can’t take that long,” added 16-year-old Zandra, the sassy one of the bunch. Sammie was thankful at that moment that Jeremy had chosen to remain silent.  His un-asked question was one less stab to her heart.

Not knowing the severity of the situation, Sammie drove along, oblivious to all those words that could cut deep into her heart. How would she find the words to tell these kids, who had never gone more than 7 hours without seeing the dad they worshipped, that she didn’t know when he’d be coming home again?

 

 

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(Nonnie Jules) RWISA Author Page