Homer’s Head

blackboys-inn

When Lukus takes his Elven wife and her family into The Suds and Steer in Sweetpea  to enjoy a Stone_Heart_Cover_for_Kindlenice supper in Chapter 40 of Stone Heart, they run into trouble…

Lukus was disappointed that the waitress did not recognize him in the least, though he clearly knew better. It merely made her like nearly everyone else on earth. Soon she was back, huffing and shuffling and sidling between tables as she brought forth the stew. She labored to breathe as she strained to set out the steaming bowls beyond the reaches of her girth without tottering. As she straightened up, Soraya lowered her hood and unbuttoned her cloak in order to eat. The elephantine serving woman stopped wide eyed and rigid, jowls a-jiggle. As a look of hatred swept across her lardy face, she furiously snapped up both bowls at once, slinging stew onto both Soraya and Lukus. “We don’t serve y’r stinkin’ kind in here!” she screeched as she wheeled away to the kitchen with their meal.

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Lukus sprang up, knocking his chair flat as he started after her.

“Hey,” said Danneth, intercepting him. “Perhaps it would be wise if we just left quietly.”

“No,” said Lukus between his teeth. “Not until that sow gives me a better reason than she just did.”

“I’d say there’s a very good chance she’ll not,” said Danneth with a sigh as he stepped aside.

Lukus zigzagged between the tables, catching up to the waitress just as she put her shoulder to black-patina-platesthe swinging door to the kitchen. “Please excuse my abruptness ma’am,” he said as polite as he could manage, “but I’d truly like to know why you refused to serve my wife and me the meal we just ordered. Our money’s as good as anyone’s.”

“I’m s’prised you’ns even ‘ave the nerve t’ come in here a-flauntin’ y’selves amongst decent folks,” she huffed in a thin falsetto, as her eyes turned to hot slits in her red face. “Ye think we don’t know what you’re all about? Ha! The queen told us ‘erse’f, she did.”

“She what? So just what did the queen say about the Elves?”

“You ain’t no Elf!” she screeched.

“No, I’m not. Now, will you please be kind enough to answer my question? Just what on earth ANT02102did Spitemorta say about the Elves?”

She looked across the room at Soraya. “Why are ye traveling with an Elf?” she said defiantly. “Don’t y’ know they’re dangerous?”

“What makes them dangerous, then?”

“They’re after our land. They’re out t’ kill us all for it, too,” she said with wild piggy eyes. “Y’ best get shed o’ that Elf right now! She’ll sooner slit y’r throat as look at ye, young fool!” And with that, she shoved past him through the door with a shriek and a yank of her tray, sending the bowls skittering across the kitchen floor on the other side.

Lukus looked up from his shocked disbelief to find the entire room astir like a kicked hive, every single eye on him. Across the room Soraya and her kin bore emphatically urgent looks. Things were well on their way to getting ugly and they needed to get out.

Lukus tramped across the dining room, put the bail of one traveling basket in the crook of his arm antique-pewter-plate-olivier-le-queinecand the other one in his left hand as he grabbed Soraya with his right, pulling her to her feet and heading for the hall to the stairs, surrounded by Neron, Danneth, Strom and Jerund.

“Just get our belongings and go?” he said, bounding up the steps.

“You mean there’s a choice?” said Neron.

“Is there a way out up here?” said Danneth.

“Everyone grab up your things!” cried Jerund as he hurried ahead. “Good job no one unpacked. I’ll go see.” As everyone raced to his respective door, Jerund reached the window at the end of the hall. “Cac! Léan air! A leithéid de chac!” he cried. Suddenly he broke out the glass and waved out the window. “Hey! Get the coach and the unicorns around front! Now!” He dashed back, by the rooms as everyone came out. “No way out We got ‘o go back the way we came in! If we’re lucky the coach will be somewhere…!”

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Lukus fumbled with buckles, strapping the claymore to his back for the first time. He grabbed up the twins, put his arm around Soraya and was ready. “It’s a mercy no one chased up here after us,” he said. Down they went, plunging into the dining room full of glares, angry jeers and shaking fists. They shoved their way through the jostling and spitting, but miraculously got to the front door. Soraya, Strom and the twins got shoved outside, stumbling onto the steps before the door got slammed painfully on Danneth’s arm.

“Get ’em, Homer!” came cries all around, as a hateful face stepped forth and ran a rapier through Jerund’s shoulder.

Lukus went instantly white hot, lunging forward with a furious two handed swing. Gearr Téigh Síós rang with a sharp ping and Homer’s head rolled away across the plates on the floor with a kristeva-severed-topbloody bounce under dancing feet as the crowd gasped, taken by surprise. Suddenly a rotten toothed man with a tar tail charged up with a cutlass to be impaled by Neron, who yanked out his claymore from the fellow and neatly cleaved two heads, while Lukus took off another’s arm. When the crowd hesitated, Danneth pulled Jerund outside, as Neron and Lukus backed out and slammed the door.

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Fuzz Reveals Himself

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Fuzz the Bear reveals himself to Rose and Lukus in The Collector Witch

“Hello there my friends!” he called out as they approached. “Looks like rotten old Ugleeuh was right!”   

Rose and Lukus were astonished at the sight of him. He had an apt name all right, for his skin was indeed covered with a thin nearly velveteen chestnut fuzz, but that fact didn’t prepare them for the shock of his looks. He was scrawny, long necked and huge headed, with stubby limbs and a ponderous melon for a paunch that scarcely cleared the ground when he stood.   (Ch 16)

 They had been back in Fuzz’s den for some time before he limped in, bedraggled and winded. Still with his full pails of precious booty, he stumbled onto the floor at Rose and Lukus’s feet without spilling a bit.

 “Oh my!” said Rose as she fell to her knees beside him. “You’ve been stung from head to toe! You must be in terrible pain.” “Actually no,” he said, managing a feeble grin. “Woozy to beat the band. Dizzy, dizzy! Pain didn’t last long, though. Never does, but a bear with no hair does get nailed a lot. Makes me wonder if I’m even really fuzzy. No need for a fuss. I’m used to dealing with those old bees. I’ll be fine once I catch my breath.”

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“Well,” said Rose, “you certainly don’t look fine. You’re soaked to the bone and covered with stingers.” She turned to Lukus. “I think you should get a fire started so we can get him dried out.”

Lukus set to work at once, impressing Rose with a nice crackling fire in short order. (Ch 17)

 ****

“Fuzz,” said Rose, giving him a squint, “you certainly know a lot about Gastro, Ugleeuh and Niarg. Why is that?”

Fuzz was quiet for so long that she was not certain if he had heard her, or if she had hurt his feelings in some way, but at last he met her eyes and cleared his throat.

“Yes, I do know a good deal about those things,” he said, as he slowly rubbed the scar on his face. “You see I was, or am, perhaps Gastro’s best friend. I was there when all of this happened. Now I see by the looks of both of you, that you have dozens of questions, and before you start in with all of that, let me say that it is getting quite late and we need to get up very early to start on our journey in the morning. Perhaps you could grant an old bear a bit of a reprieve until tomorrow? We can then take up this tale once more as we travel, if it pleases the two of you to do so. And I will indeed answer anything you ask.”

“We’d love it,” said Lukus. “Just one teensy short little question and then we will fly straight to bed.” 

Fuzz nodded with a sigh.

“You aren’t really a bear, are you?”

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“No I’m not, Lukus. Gastro and I grew up together in Niarg and we’ve been close friends for as long as I can remember. When he vanished, I surmised that Ugleeuh’d had something to do with it and set out to discover just what. Eventually I came here in search of answers and found him, a sea monster. By then however, Ugleeuh had been banished here too, and she had no intention of letting me leave to tell the tale.” He drew a deep breath as a bristly shudder swept through him. “It amused her mightily to turn me into…this. And so, I remain a bear to this day, and probably for all the rest of my days, as well. Now please, no more questions until we are underway tomorrow.”

Rose and Lukus each quietly hugged poor old Fuzz and went straightaway to bed as their heads reeled with a veritable avalanche of questions.   (Ch 17)

 ****

“They arrested her and called for me, and I sent for Razzmorten while she still held the incriminating vial in her hand…”

“You?” said Rose. “Just who were you, anyway? Gastro’s friend, sure, but you know so much. What was your connection with Niarg Castle?”

images (1)“Captain of the Royal Guard, if you must. Sir Karlton Strong. And I remember the very day you were born, Rose.”

“So when did you come?”

“Here? Well, I was Fuzz the Bear well before Lukus came along, I should think. But as I was saying, Ugleeuh still had the vial in her hand when we got there. The dishes were set on the floor before two good hounds which fell dead, gobbling them up.” By now Fuzz had found a rock to sit on beside the path. He shook his head as if to clear away the memories. “That’s the main reason for Ugleeuh’s exile,” he said as he clapped his forepaws onto both knees at once, launching himself onto his feet. “We’ve got to move. It’s a long, dangerous way, yet.”   (Ch 19)

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Who is Rose?

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Princess (Tywysoges) Rose of the House of Niarg is the eldest child of King Hebraun and Queenmedieval-woman-with-long-hair Minuet of Niarg and the sister of Prince Lukus. Her grandfather, Queen Minuet’s father is the powerful Razzmorten Dewin of Peach Knob Manor, Wizard to the Crown of Niarg.

Rose merely appears as a precocious three year old in Good Sister, Bad Sister, but is the main protagonist in The Collector Witch, which opens on her sixteenth birthday, when it is to be announced that she is to marry Prince James of Loxmere. At her party, a rumor is circulated that she is not the Good_Sister,_Bad_Sis_Cover_for_Kindledaughter of Hebraun and Minuet, but merely their niece, and that her real mother, the queen’s sister, was banished from the kingdom for something vile, immediately after giving birth. Upon a visit to the family grave yard, where she finds the stone of an “Infant Rose,” she goes to her parents for an explanation. When they give her an The_Collector_Witch_Cover_for_Kindleunsatisfactory answer, she saddles her unicorn in the in the middle of the night, hoping to find her mother’s sister in the Chokewood Forest to get and some real answers. Before she gets out of the stable, Lukus forces her to take him along.

The sister turns out to be Ugleeuh, a dangerous sorceress (witch, if you must), eccentric and Scan10028bitter from her solitary exile. Rose and Lukus become convinced that she is indeed Rose’s mother and end up being her prisoners for the entire summer. At last, they find out that Ugleeuh is not Rose’s mother at all, and that she gave birth to Princess Spitemorta of Goll. At this discovery, Ugleeuh tries to use them as ransom, hoping to extort her release from the Chokewoods. Rose and Lukus see their moment to escape, and with the help of Fuzz the bear, flee to the coast. Rose and Lukus safely return home to Niarg.

Years later, in Stone Heart, Rose, Lukus and their Stone_Heart_Cover_for_KindleGrandfather Razzmorten return to the Chokewoods to see what had become of Ugleeuh’s part of the forest to find to their horror that Spitemorta and her grandmother Demonica not only have managed to get their hands on the fearsome Great Staff of Power, but they also have the Heart of the Staff, an even more dangerously powerful artifact, and are determined to use them to take over the world. They cross paths with Fuzz, who has just been accidentally restored to human form by stumbling through a magical ward left by Demonica, and is out making a frantic attempt to recover the Heart. They join forces and soon find themselves being pursued  through the wilderness by Spitemorta and Demonica. Rose and Fuzz fall in love along the way, and when they finally return to Niarg with dire warnings for all of civilization, Fuzz asks Hebraun and Minuet for Rose’s hand in marriage.

image_fadeThey are married at once, but instead of a nice honeymoon, they find themselves sailing The_Burgeoning_Cover_for_Kindleacross the Orin Ocean, in The Burgeoning, to the Dark Empire in hopes of getting help with a strategy to undo Demonica. On the way back, their ship goes down and Rose finds herself alone, washed ashore in a strange land. What happens to her can be discovered in book five: The Reaper Witch.

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Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

 

Who is Fuzz?

 

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images (1)Fuzz is Sir Karlton Strong, captain of the Niarg Royal Guard, when the future queen of Niarg

Good_Sister,_Bad_Sis_Cover_for_KindleMinuet Dewin, is still a young lady at home at Peach Knob Manor in Good Sister, Bad Sister. When his lifelong friend Gastro vanishes, Captain Strong goes in search of him and finds that he has been turned into a sea serpent by Ugleeuh and left to patrol the waters off the coast of the Chokewood Forest for the rest of his days. Ugleeuh is not about to allow Strong to return to Niarg with the news of this, so she casts a spell on him, turning him into a bear with no hair, hopelessly addicted to sukere and confined to her part of the Chokewoods.

 

Minuet marries Hebraun, the future king of Niarg. When their daughter, Princess Rose, is sixteen,Fuzz Small The_Collector_Witch_Cover_for_Kindleshe sets out with her brother, Prince Lukus, in The Collector Witch to find Ugleeuh in order to discover what her true relationship to the House of Niarg happens to be. Ugleeuh holds them captive in her cottage all summer. At last they escape and end up in Fuzz’s den as they flee. Fuzz sets out on a harrowing trek to the sea with them to find Gastro in hopes that he would take them to safety.

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Five years later, Rose and Lukus return to the Chokewoods to find Fuzz freshly released from Stone_Heart_Cover_for_KindleThe_Burgeoning_Cover_for_KindleUgleeuh’s spell, a handsome young man in his prime who falls in love with Rose in Stone Heart and marries her. Instead of having a honeymoon, they sail to the Dark Continent on an urgent mission and are lost at sea in The Burgeoning.

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Waylaid by Elves

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The_Collector_Witch_Cover_for_KindleAfter a nice supper in the Suds and Steer in The Collector Witch, Rose and Lukus find themselves on a dark road in the woods…

Before them lay the border of Loxmere, beyond which lay the Jut of Niarg, a southern arm of their own country, filled with a dense forest known as the Jutwoods. They crossed the border in the broad moonlight by leaving the road in order to avoid the guard houses. When they had found their way back onto the road, they were nearly three leagues beyond Loxmere in very dense woods. Suddenly Rose halted Mystique so abruptly that Lukus ran his knee into the skirt of her saddle. “Hey! Rose, call your shot next time.”

“Hush!” she said. “We’re being watched.”

“How do you know?”

“I swear I saw movement.”

“It must be the robbers from the inn. I told you they were up to no good.”

“Can you see them, Lukus?”

180291 “It’s ‘way too dark. I can’t see anything. They could hide anywhere. They could be right there in the rocks along the cliff, for all I can tell. I think they’re rocks. Maybe they’re pacing us through the woods, just off the road.”

“What are we going to do?”

“Run or hide. We’d better choose one right quick, ’cause I just heard something. We can make out the road by the gap in the trees.”

“Then let’s ride like the wind. They’ll not have mounts even close to ours.”

At once three figures stepped into the roadway. 

“Lukus!” she cried, wheeling square about and frantically digging her heels into Mystique’s flanks 4ud2to charge back the way they’d come. Lukus tried to follow, but Starfire reared and bolted off the road and through the brush to throw him sprawling in the briars. Two hooded figures rushed out of nowhere and grabbed Starfire’s reins. Lukus scrambled to his feet and fell in time to be pounced on and rolled up in a blanket.

Rose was too far away by now to hear him over Mystique’s pounding hooves, but she looked over her shoulder to see if he was behind her. “Lukus!” she cried. The moment she turned about, three hooded figures stepped into her way, spooking Mystique off the road to go crashing through a thicket while she hung onto her neck for dear life. As they raced under the limb of an oak, somebody dropped onto Mystique’s back to grab her as she lost her grip. She gave out a throat shredding scream.

“Hush!” cried the somebody, clapping his hand over her mouth. “You’ll scare lean air out of Lukus, and cac too, Princess!”

Directly, she was helped off Mystique by the one who had caught her and by two other hooded men who set to work at once, unwrapping Lukus. “Good for you!” she shouted. “You have us! Now what are you going to do to us? And just how did you know  Lukus’s name?”

The three calmed the unicorns and stood quietly before them, faceless as wraiths.

“You’re not from the inn,” she said as they pushed back their hoods.    

The middle one smiled at her. 

“You’re Elves!” she gasped at their pointed ears. “But you don’t exist. You must be an enchantment.”

“Nope,” said the middle one with a bow. “We’re as real as you are. And enchantment would be beyond you, I’m afraid. I’m Danneth and these are my brothers, Strom and Jarund, and we most certainly mean you no harm in the least. In fact, we’re here at your service.”

“Yea?” said Lukus. “And how is stamping on us and rolling us in the blackberry briars the same as serving us?”

“Yes, that was awkward,” said Danneth. “You have lots of energy. It took quite a bit to get you to hold still.”

“Just how many of you are there? Nine? Twelve?” said Rose. 

“We are three only,” said Danneth.

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“Now you’re playing us for fools,” she said.

“Not at all,” said Jerund. “We merely move quickly when we must.”

“Rose, they don’t have to let us find out. It’s pointless,” said Lukus, turning to Danneth. “Though it would only be fair if you all at least told us what you stopped us for and just what you are.”

“But Rose saw at once that we are Elves,” said Danneth.

Danneth looked like his brothers to Rose, but where his hair was silvery, Strom’s was metallic golden and Jarund’s was iridescent and black as pitch, far blacker than any black hair she had seen in her life. “They have to be what they claim, Lukus,” she said, turning to the Elves. “I’m convinced that you’re Elves, but telling us that you’re at our service is no explanation at all for your waylaying us.”

 

Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

 

 

The Day My Brother Became my Hero

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It has been far too long to remember just what I was doing out in the yard amongst the bees and the dandelions, but it was a glorious spring day. I looked up at a rattle of bicycle fenders to see one of my brother’s chums hop from his bike, leaving its wheel spinning in the grass. “Hey Cricket!” he called, trotting straight up to my brother.
“Hey, what’s up, Ronnie?” I hollered.
They weren’t about to notice a six year old girl. After all, they were all of nine or ten. The screen door to the kitchen clacked shut behind them. I was on my feet at once to find out what they were up to.
“Yea?” said Mom, planting her ball of dough on the bread board as I stepped inside. “And Ronnie’s welcome to stay here and play all afternoon if he wants.”
“But how can he show me his new puppy? His puppy’s at his house. That’s why he came to get me.”
“Take your sister if she wants to go…”
“No way!”
“Or stay here.”
“She ruins everything,” he said, throwing down his cap. “Can’t she go to Kay’s or something?”
“They’re gone for a week, kiddo,” she said, rolling out her dough this way and that. “So how about it Carol? Want to go with Greg and Ronnie to see a new puppy?”
“Sure,” I said, in spite of Greg’s smoldering look as they tramped out the door.
“You need shoes.”
“Can I wear my brand-new red tennis shoes?”
“Oh…try to keep them clean.”
“Goodie!” I cried as I dashed over to their cardboard box on the closet floor to sniff at their new rubber before tying them mercilessly tight, since they were a full size too large. I watched my two feet walk as I stepped outside.
“I’m ready,” I said as I caught up with Greg and Ronnie at the end of the lane.
They kept their backs to me and set out, trading mumbles.
“Hey!” I cried, clopping to keep up. “This isn’t the way to Ronnie’s house. Mom’s going to…”
Suddenly Greg wheeled about, giving me a shove that nearly knocked me off balance. “No she isn’t, or I’ll fix you up a whole lot worse.”
“Why would she ever find out?” I said, knowing in my bones that I was still going to pay for this.           
“Good! Just stay far enough behind us not to be nosy and keep your mouth shut.” And with that, he and Ronnie resumed their saunter down the buckled sidewalk, past the catbirds and the daffodils, and past the privet and the picket fence which was at last replaced by parking meters and paving brick. They walked into a dime store and bought some candy.
“Could I have some?” I said. “I didn’t bring any money.”
Greg took a big bite of his candy bar. “Then you don’t get any,” he said, thrusting his chewing mouth into my face.
They looked at boy’s toys for some time and then went to the park to spend the afternoon, playing baseball. No one was about to let a girl play. I looked all about for clover in the grass to make bracelets, but there was none. I might have gone home, but Greg would get into trouble and take it out on me.
Presently it was past time to go and Ronnie was convinced that it was at least an hour late. “We’ll take a shortcut,” said Greg with a wave, as he set out at a brisk jog.
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I ran along after them until we wallowed through some daylilies and clambered up a bank to the tracks with my side aching. A green heron called, somewhere beyond the chorus of cricket frogs. I could scarcely keep up. I watched the white toes of my red tennis shoes come down upon tie after tie. Once in a while, I’d slip off a tie and stumble. I was falling behind. Just as I heard a train whistle, my toe slipped off the back of a tie into a deep hole, catching me hopelessly fast by the heel and setting me down hard. There was the whistle again. I couldn’t begin to reach my laces. Greg and Ronnie were getting too far away to hear. White hot terror flooded me as I yanked and yanked on my leg.
Suddenly they were running for me, wide eyed and waving their arms. “The train’s behind you!” screamed Greg as he grabbed below my knee and pulled with everything he had. “You idiot sister!” he sobbed as Ronnie heaved from under my arms. Without warning, we were on our sides in the nodding weeds of the steep bank as the train raced by.
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“My shoe!” I wailed. 
Greg shot to his feet. “I’ll get your damned shoe after the train’s past,” he said, furious that I’d brought tears to his eyes.
Mom met us at the screen door. “Just in time for supper,” she said. “Did you have fun?”
“Yea,” said Greg. “The uh, puppy’s real cute and stuff.”
           
“Can we get one sometime, Mom?” I caught Greg’s eye. I could see that he was ’way more than merely glad that we got home. He might have had his awful moments, but he would certainly do for a brother.
Carol Marrs Phipps

Elf Killers, Epic Fantasy Adventure: Download for Just $2.99

 

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It is the very worst time to be in the woods.

Oisin’s plan is to come with his bow to help Aedan and Doona lead a party of children into the forest to gather the maidenhair seedlings his people would take across the sea as they flee the trolls who hunt them as prey. Maybe he can be back in time for supper. And if he only dares to dream, he might also be back in time to speak with Doona alone.

Dyr’s plan is an early evening head smash for the foolish Elves who think they can steal away to the sands of the endless eye sting water and build their strange float huts. They will make a glorious feast.

But on the way, Dyr’s brutes stumble across Oisin’s gathering party and attack, leaving Aedan mortally wounded and scattering Doona and the children to flee in terror into the dark mountain woods, only to be run down and captured by the bloodthirsty trolls.

Can Oisin find the bonfires of the trolls and rescue them before it’s too late? And what then? Will any of them live long enough to reach safety?

What They’re Saying:

“The world that the authors created is a fascinating place. The creatures that inhabit the pages of this book are brilliant.” Robyn

“Elf Killers is a fast-paced, descriptive ride of emotional turmoil and flight or fight drama right from the get go.” Melissa Chesley

“This debut novel, from the husband and wife team of Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps, is a fantasy delight” Rae

“There is something very brave about this book. First the attempt to create a half-language that the reader can still absorb and understand, yet completely imprints another culture. That would be brave enough on its own – but second, there is a sense of these two authors showing real courage in breaking taboos. They do not stint on the violence and some may find that harsh, but it’s a harsh world they have allowed us to glimpse. They show a world in which no-one is safe, including children, and don’t step back with false sentiment to protect the reader. Their world is not our world, but it’s as real as it can get.” KV

“Truly enjoy the twists and turns of imagination that these two authors are able to spin. I would highly recommend these authors to anyone who is a fan of fantasy stories.” Lana C

“This book opened my eyes to a whole new different world..took the trolls and elves up to the next level…The fantasy and thrill that shook my mind and senses all those running, journeys to save the other elves from killer trolls was indeed a fantastic adventure! Truly epic!” Kimyunalesca

 

           

The Day My Brother Became My Hero

 It has been far too long to remember just what I was doing out in the yard amongst the bees and the dandelions, but it was a glorious spring day. I looked up at a rattle of bicycle fenders to see one of my brother’s chums hop from his bike, leaving its wheel spinning in the grass. “Hey Cricket!” he called, trotting straight up to my brother.

“Hey, what’s up, Ronnie?” I hollered.

They weren’t about to notice a six year old girl. After all, they were all of nine or ten. The screen door to the kitchen clacked shut behind them. I was on my feet at once to find out what they were up to.

“Yea?” said Mom, planting her ball of dough on the bread board as I stepped inside. “And Ronnie’s welcome to stay here and play all afternoon if he wants.”

“But how can he show me his new puppy? His puppy’s at his house. That’s why he came to get me.”

“Take your sister if she wants to go…”

“No way!”

“Or stay here.”

“She ruins everything,” he said, throwing down his cap. “Can’t she go to Kay’s or something?”

“They’re gone for a week, kiddo,” she said, rolling out her dough this way and that. “So how about it Carol? Want to go with Greg and Ronnie to see a new puppy?”

“Sure,” I said, in spite of Greg’s smoldering look as they tramped out the door.

“You need shoes.”

“Can I wear my brand-new red tennis shoes?”

“Oh…try to keep them clean.”

“Goodie!” I cried as I dashed over to their cardboard box on the closet floor to sniff at their new rubber before tying them mercilessly tight, since they were a full size too large. I watched my two feet walk as I stepped outside.

“I’m ready,” I said as I caught up with Greg and Ronnie at the end of the lane.

They kept their backs to me and set out, trading mumbles.

“Hey!” I cried, clopping to keep up. “This isn’t the way to Ronnie’s house. Mom’s going to… 

Suddenly Greg wheeled about, giving me a shove that nearly knocked me off balance. “No she isn’t, or I’ll fix you up a whole lot worse.”

“Why would she ever find out?” I said, knowing in my bones that I was still going to pay for this.           

“Good! Just stay far enough behind us not to be nosy and keep your mouth shut.” And with that, he and Ronnie resumed their saunter down the buckled sidewalk, past the catbirds and the daffodils, and past the privet and the picket fence which was at last replaced by parking meters and paving brick. They walked into a dime store and bought some candy.

“Could I have some?” I said. “I didn’t bring any money.”

Greg took a big bite of his candy bar. “Then you don’t get any,” he said, thrusting his chewing mouth into my face.

They looked at boy’s toys for some time and then went to the park to spend the afternoon, playing baseball. No one was about to let a girl play. I looked all about for clover in the grass to make bracelets, but there was none. I might have gone home, but Greg would get into trouble and take it out on me.

Presently it was past time to go and Ronnie was convinced that it was at least an hour late. “We’ll take a shortcut,” said Greg with a wave, as he set out at a brisk jog.

I ran along after them until we wallowed through some daylilies and clambered up a bank to the tracks with my side aching. A green heron called, somewhere beyond the chorus of cricket frogs. I could scarcely keep up. I watched the white toes of my red tennis shoes come down upon tie after tie. Once in a while, I’d slip off a tie and stumble. I was falling behind. Just as I heard a train whistle, my toe slipped off the back of a tie into a deep hole, catching me hopelessly fast by the heel and setting me down hard. There was the whistle again. I couldn’t begin to reach my laces. Greg and Ronnie were getting too far away to hear. White hot terror flooded me as I yanked and yanked on my leg.

Suddenly they were running for me, wide eyed and waving their arms. “The train’s behind you!” screamed Greg as he grabbed below my knee and pulled with everything he had. “You idiot sister!” he sobbed as Ronnie heaved from under my arms. Without warning, we were on our sides in the nodding weeds of the steep bank as the train raced by.

“My shoe!” I wailed. 

Greg shot to his feet. “I’ll get your damned shoe after the train’s past,” he said, furious that I’d brought tears to his eyes.

Mom met us at the screen door. “Just in time for supper,” she said. “Did you have fun?”

“Yea,” said Greg. “The uh, puppy’s real cute and stuff.”

“Can we get one sometime, Mom?” I caught Greg’s eye. I could see that he was ’way more than merely glad that we got home. He might have had his awful moments, but he would certainly do for a brother.