March 29, 2011

Enchanted Garden Chapter Seven

The top of the ramp led them into a room that was nearly large enough to be the main nave of a cathedral. The room was circular, which was about the only thing it had in common with the small flying-saucer shaped space ship. The ceiling soared high over head, much higher than the height of the compact space ship could possibly have contained. There were stairs off to one side, leading to at least three different heights of balconies, from which doors opened, apparently leading off in all directions to the interior of the ship, including (from the upper balconies) directions that would be behind them.

The pillars that supported the ceiling and balconies were not straight, but curved, and looked more like they had been grown, like trees, rather than made. Perhaps the designers had simply used whole trees in their construction, but the pillars didn’t look like wood, exactly.

The room they were in was obviously a control room of some sort. There was a large circular console in the exact center of the room, which sported all manner of strange switches, dials, buttons, screens, needles, and various other controls. Taken all together, it looked as though it were built from spare parts looted from the junk yards of a hundred worlds.

The lighting was orange over all, but rising out of the central console in the middle of the room was a large tower whose massively soaring blueness dominated the entire room. The floor beneath their feet was of expanded steel, or some other similar metal and they could see through it, into several stories of mechanical fittings and maintenance crawl spaces, which would have extended well into the area where they’d been sitting this afternoon.

The room was simply impossible. There was no way in any world that it could possibly fit into the small space ship that they had watched land in the meadow, next to where they had stood in the forest.

Suddenly, Dusty broke into a huge grin, as he twisted this way and that, trying to take it all in at once. “TARDIS,” he breathed, almost reverentially. “It’s real. It’s all really real. A real TARDIS. It has to be. It couldn’t possibly be anything else. There just couldn’t possibly be two things in the universe that are so similar, and yet not be the same thing. Occam’s razor says so. The simplest explanation that covers all of the facts is usually the right one. Eliminate the impossible, and you’re left with the facts. I never thought I would ever have the opportunity to step foot inside a real, live, living, breathing, TARDIS.”

He moved eagerly into the room, examining every facet of its existence, while carefully and ostentatiously tucking his hands behind his back in a mute promise not to tough anything.

Harold moved up next to Newt. “What did he say before he went haring off?”

Newt shrugged. “None of it made any sense to me. Something about it being real, whatever he means by ‘it’, and some amount of muttering about Occam and his theories, and used some nonsense word a couple of times. ‘TARDIS’, or something like it.”

Captain Hollerin’ Holly the Troll Master stepped closer behind them.

“Where do you want to start?” she asked pleasantly.

“Um,” said Newt, “It’s bigger on the inside?”

“Yup, sure is,” agreed Captain Hollerin’ Holly.

“It’s alien,” said Harold, “but then, we pretty much knew that when we watched you land.”

“It was alien to us when we found it, too,” Holly said, “but although we’ve learned a lot about its operation, we’re still in the learning process. We didn’t really mean to steal it, you know, it kidnapped us, more or less.”

“That’s what you get for poking your nose in to other people’s space ships,” Knit Solo said acerbically, as she walked up to join the quiet conversation. “You know you shouldn’t have come in here, and dragged us all along with you. I’m very positive there wasn’t anything about that letterbox that said, ‘after you’re in the cave, invade the small blue wooden box you find there.’.”

Captain Hollerin’ Holly blushed, but then blurted out, “But Knit Solo, think of this if I hadn’t come in here, and seen all of this, and dragged you all in to see it, then we wouldn’t have had so many grand adventures.”

Knit Solo made a sound through her nose that sounded suspiciously like a snort™, and stalked away. Captain Hollerin’ Holly laughed and called after her, “Now you owe PRE a quarter for royalties.” Knit Solo just waved her hand in annoyance and vanished through a door and down the corridor behind it.

Captain Hollerin’ Holly gathered up the three children, Harold, Dusty, and Newt, and shepherded them down one of the hallways.

“We don’t know every inch of the ship yet,” she said, “and we haven’t done too much exploring, mostly because we don’t want to get lost. We have, however, found rooms to meet all of our immediate needs very near the control room. There are clothes closets down that hallway,” she said, gesturing, “and the kitchen is right here, though we’ll probably need to show you how it works if you stay with us for very long.

“The bedrooms are down another corridor entirely,” Captain Hollerin’ Holly explained, “and that would be the one Knit Solo disappeared down when she got just a little bit irritated with me back in the control room. You can just pick any bedroom that looks unoccupied. But down this way, past the kitchen, is where the craft areas are.”

She opened up one of the doors, and it appeared to lead in to a scrapbooker’s idea of heaven. Hundreds of small shelves with papers and card stock on them, bins full of tools and glues, and tiny drawers that must be holding tiny embellishments.

Newt’s mother was a dealer of scrapbooking supplies, and this made Newt reasonably familiar with most of the items she could see. Oh, yes, her mother would think this room was a little slice of heaven on earth. Well, that is, it would be a little slice of heaven on earth when the space ship was parked on earth, but at the moment, it was a slice of scrapbooking heaven on Purvis Major.

“Now,” Captain Hollerin’ Holly said, “we’re going to make you some small notebooks, so that when we find the treasure tomorrow, you can use your new stamps and log in to the letterbox also.” She took hold of a drawer handle and pulled, and a shelf slid out with a machine on it.

“The first thing you will need is some white card stock,” she said, as she gathered a handful from a near by cubbyhole, and I’ll cut that to size while you three pick out what color cardstock you would like for the covers of your books. You’ll only need one sheet each, it’s for the front cover. We’ll use some chip board for the back cover, and on that, you can choose white or brown.”

Harold and Dusty looked absolutely lost, Newt thought, but at least she knew what Captain Hollerin’ Holly was talking about, thanks to her own mother’s extensive obsession with scrapbooking.

She knew her mother had signed up to be a dealer of scrapbooking supplies simply because she had wanted the discount, and she did sell many supplies to her likewise addicted friends Newt understood that most months, she actually broke even on what she made versus what she had bought.

Newt took the boys over to a rack of colored cardstock and pointed at it. “Pick out a color for the front cover of your book,” she instructed them, and then called to Captain Hollerin’ Holly, “What size are we making? And what method will we be using? Are we using a Zutter?”

Newt’s mother loved her Zutter Bind-it-All, which she often used to make elaborate notebooks to give as gifts. A little computer printer paper, a nice fat wire for rings, and an elaborately scrapbooked and personalized front cover, with the addition of little ribbons tied to some of the wires all the way up the side, and voilĂ©, a wonderful and extremely inexpensive gift book was born.

“Quarter sheet,” Captain Hollerin’ Holly called back from where she was patiently feeding a light weight white card stock into the slicing machine, “and yes, it’s sort of like a Zutter, and it works on the same principle, but this one is a larger, automated machine like they have at some schools, and it can hole punch the entire side of an eight and a half by eleven sheet of paper all at once, and then thread the wire through without you having to do anything special. You load the pages in, along with the covers, the back one in front, and you make sure they’re all lined up perfectly straight. Then you close the clamp and push the button, and the next thing you know, you’ve got a book. Darth Wolf has been in here making a lot of generic log books to take home with her when we get home.”

“I understand completely,” Newt answered with a smile.

Harold had picked out black cardstock, and was tugging at her sleeve for attention. Newt turned to him.

“Hey, after she makes the book, can we decorate the cover? Because I saw some paper over there that looked like tin foil, and I thought a big silver lightning bolt ripping through the black paper would look pretty cool.”

“That sounds like it would look great,” Newt encouraged him. I think all the supplies that are here are for us to use, at least, that’s what Captain Hollerin’ Holly seemed to imply, so go for it!”

Then Newt turned to Dusty. He was holding bright yellow card stock. “I want a yellow cover,” he said, “to match the clothes Adric always wore, and then I’ll cut out a large blue star and glue it to the cover, for his badge for excellence in mathematics.”

“Sounds great,” Newt said, “And I think I’ll choose this crinkly brown paper, and add a lizard to the front. A newt for Newt.”

They went over to some cubbyholes containing the heavier chip board that they would use for their back covers, and Newt picked out a brown that would look good with her front cover. Much to her amazement, there was a nice yellow that would look well with Dusty’s cover, and also a deep black that Harold chose.

The three children, Harold, Dusty, and Newt, returned to Captain Hollerin’ Holly’s side as she finished cutting the inside pages of their books. Captain Hollerin’ Holly put the cutting machine away and the children handed over their materials. She smiled, pulled the machine out again, and made quick work of slicing the covers to size, then put the machine away for the second time. She then proceeded to what looked like another drawer, and pulled out a second machine.

She picked up Newt’s book parts first, carefully tapped them into alignment, and fitted them into the machine, then tightened the special clamp down that would hold the papers in their place. She pressed a few buttons on the machine, then there was a humming sound, a huge “whomp” as the machine punched the holes through the entire stack all at the same time, and another humming sound. At last, the clamp loosened all by itself and all the sound stopped. The lights on top of the machine went out, which Newt interpreted to mean that her book was now bound and finished. She reached out and took the book from the machine and went happily hunting lizard embellishments for her front cover.

Within an hour, all three of their books had been finished completely, and Newt had to admit that even Harold and Dusty’s books looked really good.

They all trooped off to the kitchen, where apparently Darth Wolf had been busy making dinner for everyone. The table was laden with an entire Thanksgiving type turkey dinner, with all of the trimmings that you could dream of.

Dusty snatched at the cheese stuffed celery before it even got to the table, and Darth Wolf gave him the equivalent of what Newt called the hairy eyeball look. Harold poked Dusty in the ribs with his elbow. “What are you trying to do, tick off two um…women in the same day? Don’t tell me that you’ve forgotten the consequences that happened to us when you royally ticked off Old Mrs. M.”

Dusty shuddered. “No, I haven’t forgotten.” He said to Harold, then turned to Darth Wolf with a smile, “I’m sorry that I tried to swipe some of your cheese stuffed celery, Darth Wolf, but I’m very hungry, and that’s one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving dinner.”

“No problem,” Darth Wolf replied gruffly, “help yourself. It’s one of my favorite parts also.” She picked up a stick of the cheese stuffed celery and began munching it.

Knit Solo appeared in the doorway. “Is there any thing I can do to help with dinner?” she asked.

“Yes, you’ve perfect timing, as usual,” groused Darth Wolf. “You’re just in time to help eat it. Where’s RavenWolf?”

“She’s writing, as usual,” Knit Solo replied. After all, today is Halloween, and her precious NaNoWriMo starts at midnight.”

“What’s NaNoWriMo?” asked Dusty.

“It’s an almost acronym for National Novel Writing Month,” explained Knit Solo, “which is where people write a fifty thousand word novel in only thirty days. It takes a lot of work, but the people who have been captured by it tell me it’s a lot of fun, and very invigorating to the creative parts of the mind. I myself can’t see what the big deal is, but it’s been making an increasing number of my friends drop off the face of the earth for an entire month while they write a novel. These people don’t seem to want to sleep, or eat, or anything, until they get their daily number of words in, and are ready to go. I keep wondering why they don’t have the contest in October, when there are thirty one days, which would give them an entire extra day to complete their novels. They get to start just after midnight on November first, and end before midnight on November thirtieth.”

“Midnight,” Harold groaned. “I told my mother we would be back by midnight; she’s going to kill me.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Captain Hollerin’ Holly said. “The Troll also travels through time, so when we finally figure out exactly where to put you back, we can probably figure out exactly when, also, and you will only be gone about five minutes or so.”

Newt stared at her. “But time travel is impossible,” she finally said. “Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity says that in order to travel in time, you would have to go faster than the speed of light, and the faster you go, the more energy you need to burn, and there is no way to even reach the speed of light, much less exceed it, so time travel is impossible.”

“Oh, you’re very good,” said a male voice from the door in a crisp British accent. “Very good, I’m the Doctor, what’s your name?”

We dare you to introduce a character from one of your favorite books into your own novel. (The Doctor is in books, too…)

Newt turned to the newcomer, and her stomach promptly did flip flops, while her lungs suddenly felt full of butterflies, and she didn’t think she could even breathe.

We dare you to make one of your characters fall in love with the next person / animal / object they see.

The man who lounged casually in the doorway was very tall, and very thin, and his dark blue pin striped suit fitted him to absolute perfection. His pale skin and dark hair and eyes gave him an almost other worldly look, but by jingo, she certainly liked what she saw. Her heart started beating faster just to be in his presence. She did manage to notice that Harold looked at him with a polite curiosity, while Dusty…Dusty had his mouth hanging open, and his face was so pale that every single one of his gazillion freckles stood out in stark relief against his bloodless cheeks. However, the tall man was looking directly at Newt.

“Um…I’m Newt. I mean, I’m Alexandria Newton, but my…my friends call me Newt.”

“Newt. That’s an interesting nickname. May I call you Newt, or would you rather I call you something else?”

Newt’s stomach did joyous summersaults. He was offering his friendship. “I…um…Newt is fine.” She managed to answer. Why did she feel like a bumbling idiot in front of this man? “And what should I call you?”

His face split into a huge grin. “I’m the Doctor,” he said, “and this ship is the TARDIS, and no matter what she” he pointed to Captain Hollerin’ Holly the Troll Master, of the Talley Valley Farm Clan “might have told you, it’s NOT named ‘the Troll’, and it’s NOT her ship. And they aren’t even pirates,” he added with a sniff, as though that was the final insult. “They’re only dressing up as pirates, because they felt like it today. Isn’t that right, ladies?”

The three pirates were all looking down at their toes, as though the lecture was heartily deserved, and Newt wondered privately what, if any thing, Holly had said to them was true. “Holly?” she asked, and Hollerin’ Holly looked up at her, shame and guilt written all over her face.

“You LIED to me, Holly,” Newt said.

For some reason that she didn’t understand, Knit Solo and Darth Wolf both burst out laughing.

March 26, 2011

Enchanted Garden Chapter Six

And then the aliens landed.

We dare you to start your next chapter with the sentence “And then the aliens landed.”

The ship flew close over the tops of the trees and settled neatly into the meadow nearby, unfolded its legs, and settled to the ground. As soon as the engine cut off, the terrible shaking stopped, and Harold, Dusty, and Newt rose a little unsteadily to their feet. The ship was the blackest black that Newt had ever had the occasion to see, such a darkness of black that it looked like a hole in the sky above her. She felt like she was about to tumble into that hole, and fall into the very depths of space itself. It was the shape of the classic flying saucer, with a convex top and bottom, and a smaller dome in the center of the top. It rested on the soil of the meadow on a trio of short legs, each equipped with an upside down Frisbee shaped foot, similar to the feet of the lunar excursion module that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin flew when they landed on the Moon. There were no lights on the ship, but then, why would any one need lights when they were making a landing in the middle of the day? Newt had no doubt that they had lights available to them in case they ever needed to land at night. Come to think about it, the ship would, for all intents and purposes, be totally invisible at night, if it didn’t have lights turned on.

There was a long period of time after the ship landed that the three children just simply stood and stared at the space ship that had landed in their meadow.

Dusty finally broke the silence.

“Good thing we moved when we did, otherwise they would have probably landed right smack on top of us.”

Harold nodded his assent. “No kidding. I wonder who they are, but I also think they probably know what planet we’re on. Perhaps, if we’re very lucky, we can talk them into giving us a ride back to Earth.”

Dusty snorted. “If they speak English, and if they know where Earth is, and if it’s not too far out of the way, and if they’re willing to let’s work off the price of our passage, because I’m sure willing to bet that we don’t have any money in their currency, and even if we did, it certainly wouldn’t be near enough to buy passage on any ship for the three of us. If you think that all aliens are shaped like humans and they all speak English, and none of them use money, then you’ve been watching far too many low-budget science fiction shows on television.”

Newt opened her mouth to protest, then realized that Dusty was probably right. She wasn’t about to ask him where he learned to think depressing thoughts like that, because he would probably say it was from watching that Doctor Who show, which, she added savagely within the privacy of her own mind, was probably one of those low-budget science fiction television shows he’d just been talking about.

With a sudden, startling movement, one part of the blackness suddenly began to drop from the lower curve of the ship. It opened wider and wider, and a dazzlingly bright light issued forth from the crack in the ship. A whooshing sound accompanied the opening door, or hatch, or whatever the aliens wanted to call the opening in the side of their space ship, and Newt understood that the air pressure inside the ship and the air pressure outside the ship were at least slightly different. The whooshing sound was the exchange of gasses as the different pressures stabilized, much the same as the hissing whoosh that you heard when you opened a bottle of soda pop.

“Well, at least they breathe the same air we do,” Harold said in a soft tone of relief.

“If they breathe at all,” Dusty replied.

Newt found that she herself wasn’t breathing much at all, in anticipation of seeing who, or more properly, what, might come striding, rolling, oozing, or otherwise ambulating down that ramp.

A pair of booted black feet appeared at the top of the ramp, with a black cloak draped across behind them. Newt’s first panicked thought was of Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of the Sith, that mean and nasty villain from the Star Wars universe. Then she mentally chastised herself.

Darth Vader lived only in the imagination of George Lucas, and in the hearts of the fans of the universe of the Star Wars sixlogy.

(Okay, sixlogy is probably not actually a real word, but hey, it makes sense Trilogy is a story in three parts, so sixlogy is a story in six parts, right? Or would it properly be hexlogy, as in hexagon, the six sided polygon? It’s probably hexlogy, although that might be mistaken for a story in which witches cast wicked spells called hexes. But I digress. As often as possible. It raises up my word count quite nicely, thank you.

Where was I? Oh, yes, the black booted feet with the black cape at the top of the ramp that reminded Newt of Darth Vader.)

Just as she dismissed the thought from her mind, Harold whispered softly, “Darth Vader,” just as Dusty said, “But he doesn’t exist! Not in the real world”.

Newt breathed, “But are we still in the real world? Remember Old Mrs. M’s garden. We might be still on Earth, and just having our senses scrambled, or be seeing hallucinations.”

“I don’t think people can share the same hallucination,” Dusty said softly.

The black boots started down the ramp, and all three of them, Harold, Dusty, and Newt, immediately fell into complete and absolute silence.

The boots were followed by long, shapely, female legs covered in black leggings, then a day-glo orange tunic length sweater, in a very simple stockinette stitch design. The day-glo orange sweater was also shaped as though the being wearing it was female, an attribute so shapely that Newt was instantly consumed with jealousy, while Harold and Dusty both stood there with their mouths gaping wide open, and drool running down their chins. She had short blonde hair, cut to just about the length of her shoulders, and was wearing an old fashioned pirate hat, complete with the skull and crossed bones symbol that hopefully didn’t stand for death and piracy through out the universe, and a long and fluffy white feather stuck into the hat band at a very jaunty angle. A short curved sword hung from her belt, the sort that would be called a scimitar in the old Arabic world.

We dare you to put intergalactic pirates in your novel. Bonus Points if they knit sweaters.

By the time the pirate, if she was a pirate, and if she was a she, had reached the bottom of the ramp, two more of her fellows had started downward. They also wore swords, though in differing styles. One of the women carried a rapier, the sort of long, straight sword favored by Zorro and the Three Musketeers, while the other was wearing a katana, the long and very slightly curved sword used by ninjas and Duncan Macleod in the Highlander television series.

Both of these pirates also wore black boots and leggings, although neither one of them was wearing a cape. Perhaps the cape was a sign of which one was the captain of their piratical space ship. The two followers were also wearing tunic length sweaters. The sweater belonging to the one with the rapier had horizontal stripes, and was knitted in horizontally ribbed garter stitch. The stripes were the colors of autumn leaves, brown, copper, orange, and yellow.

The katana pirate’s sweater was a complicated affair with vertical panels that were all cabled, sewn to a horizontally cabled yoke, and a garter stitched panel above the cabling on the yoke. It was in a beautiful light gray, and had a decidedly medieval cast to it. It was the most gorgeous sweater that Newt had ever seen, and she was consumed with jealousy.

All three of the women were wearing identical pirate hats, though the woman with the cape had somehow made her feather jauntier than the other pair. The trio of pirates look a look around, and apparently satisfying themselves that no one was around, gathered around a piece of paper. They were reading it intently, and judging from their lack of caution when coming down the ramp, it was pretty obvious that the pirates were not expecting any trouble on this planet.

Perhaps the pirates just simply knew that they had landed on an uninhabited portion of the planet and were not expecting to meet any local denizens, in which case it was good for the three children, Harold, Dusty, and Newt that the pirates had indeed landed there, so that the children didn’t have to walk the entire length of a continent just to find out what planet they were on.

Taking her courage into her hands, along with a double handful of dress, Newt stepped in to view.

The three pirates’ heads snapped up as they stared at her, and the paper vanished from sight. Newt suddenly realized that the lady pirate’ sword belts were not just wide belts, but had an assortment of pouches built into them, most of which were, judging from their bulkiness, stuffed absolutely full of something or other. Newt could understand them being startled by her sudden exit from the woods. It’s not an everyday occurrence to have someone dressed as Marie Antoinette step out of the lavender woods in to the bright blue sunlight under a blazing red sky.

The woman Newt had taken as the leader of the pirates swaggered over toward her.

“Well, well, well, look what we’ve here, ladies,” she drawled.

The pirate in the gray medieval sweater sauntered over to Newt, and walked a complete circle around her, as though she was examining some new species of bug. “Looks like some rich little girl is a long, long way from home, Captain Holly,” she answered.

The third pirate in the autumn leaf striped sweater strode briskly over to add her two cents. “I wonder where she’s from, and how much her poor little picked on parents will pay to have her returned to them,” she said.

Captain Holly put her hands on her hips and threw back her head as she laughed, long and loud.

‘So much for aliens not speaking English,” Dusty muttered from the shadows behind Newt.

Holly’s laughter instantly died from her lips. “And what’s this, ladies? Have we found ourselves some men folk? She drew her curved scimitar and pointed it in to the shadows of the trees behind Newt.

“All right, boys, come out quietly, and with your hands up,” she commanded with a perfect voice of authority.

Harold and Dusty both stepped from the forest, all four of their hands raised to shoulder height, in perfect western movie form.

“Now,” said Captain Holly, “who are you and what are you doing on Purvis Major?”

“I’m Harold,” said Harold, “and this is my friend, Dusty,” he added with a nod in Dusty’s direction, “and my other friend Newt,” and he nodded toward Newt. “May I ask who you are?”

Captain Holly smiled a long, slow, smile that tended toward the dark side of power.

“Certainly you may,” she replied.

There was a sizable silence. Then Harold, apparently realizing what he had actually asked, said, “Who are you?”

Captain Holly smiled again before she answered. “I’m Hollerin’ Holly the Troll Master of the Talley Valley Farm Clan, and South Carolina Sith Lord, and these are my crew mates, Darth Wolf, and Knit Solo. And that’s my ship, the Troll,” she added almost offhandedly, using the hand not holding the curved scimitar to gesture over her shoulder at the ship.

“It looks like a very fine ship,” Harold said. “It’s a strange thing indeed to me to come so far from my home and to find people who speak the same language as I do, when I know people who live just down the street from me who don’t speak the same language as I do.”

Hollerin’ Holly laughed again, and then with the hand not holding her drawn sword, she indicated a small metal chip clipped to the neckline of her bright, day-glo orange sweater.

“I don’t necessarily speak the same language that you do, Harold, but this little thing is a…hmmm how do I put this…a universal translator. It usually manages to get the gist of the meaning right, even when the syntax is a little mixed up.”

“How does it work?” Dusty asked with a note of eagerness in his voice. Newt winced, but then, she reminded herself, universal translators were the stuff of the science fiction television shows that Dusty so admired.

“Well, actually,” Captain Hollerin’ Holly the Troll Master said, “this,” and she gestured again to the metal tab on her collar, stroking it just a bit with the tip of her finger, “is just a link to the central core of our ship, The Troll. Actually, The Troll has a psychic circuit that gets inside your mind, and translates all of the languages, all of the time for you. It translates any language, all languages, both in their written and in their spoken forms.”

“The collar chip,” explained Knit Solo, the pirate in the light grey medieval type cabled sweater, “is just a repeater relay, kind of like a booster station for the psychic signal. It also keeps The Troll from having to look for us. It pinpoints where we’re, and then the poor little overworked Troll only has to translate languages seen and heard in our immediate vicinity.”

“But,” interrupted Darth Wolf, as though she were afraid Knit Solo would give away too much information about their ship, “You never answered Captain Hollerin’ Holly the Troll Master’s second question. What are you doing on Purvis Major? This is supposed to be an uninhabited planet.”

Harold answered for the three of them. “Actually, we don’t know how we got here, or, until you asked us what we were doing on Purvis Major-“

“Major,” Darth Wolf corrected, as her left hand caressed the hilt of her long straight rapier.

“Purvis Major,” Harold corrected himself, “well, until you asked us, we didn’t even know which planet we were on.”

Darth Wolf laughed delightedly, and reached out with her right hand and stroked his face.

Harold shuddered at her touch, but didn’t retreat so much as a single step.

“Well, you’ve intestinal fortitude, or what otherwise might be called guts, I’ll give you that,” she stated, and then she returned to the company of her fellow lady pirates.

“Purvis Major is uninhabited?” Dusty asked, his white face betraying his fear.

Newt was in shock also. They could have walked forever, in any direction, and grown to old age and died before they found anyone or were rescued. What a blessed coincidence it had been that the lady pirates had landed just before they walked too far away to hear the ship. Now all they had to do was talk the lady pirates into actually rescuing them.

“Um” Newt began, “do you think there is any possibility that you three could give us a lift home? We don’t have any money, and I’m sure we probably use different currency in any event, but we would gladly work for our passage home” she finished in a rush.

“Well, that depends,” Captain Hollerin’ Holly the Troll Master said, “entirely on where your home is. It’s not like I have landing permits on every planet in the universe.”

“We’re from Earth,” Harold said, eager to be of some help.

“We’re from Earth,” Darth Wolf mimicked him with great mockery. “Are you perhaps not aware that every single civilization names their home planet some variation on the word ‘earth’? Earth, Dirt, Soil, Home, Mud, Sand, Swampish, Ground, Clay, Dust, Duff, Gravel, Humus, Loam, Loess, Marl, Silt, Subsoil, Topsoil, Land,” she paused here for a breath. “I’ve seen them all, I’ve stood on their surfaces, and I’ve hunted treasures on all of them, and every single one of them translates to the simple, stupid word ‘Earth’. So don’t bother with useless names. What are the galactic coordinates of your home planet?”

By the end of her diatribe, Harold was nearly in tears.

“I...I don’t know” he stammered.

Dusty spoke up. “We don’t know the galactic coordinates. Until this morning, we didn’t even know there were other habitable planets, although our scientists have long suspected their existence. I may not have the right words or numbers for you, but I can relate some facts about our galaxy and solar system to you which might help your computer to narrow things down,” he paused for a moment, and Newt was certain it was simply for dramatic effect, then he continued, “You do have a computer, I suppose?” he asked with a condescending sneer in his voice.

“Hold it!” Hollerin’ Holly the Troll Master said with a sneer in her own voice. “I haven’t agreed to take any one any place, so at this point it simply doesn’t matter exactly where their home planet is, or what it’s called. To begin with, I think that it’s pretty obvious at this point that they mean us no harm.” She sheathed her curved scimitar, and added, “You boys can put your hands down now.”

Harold and Dusty both did so, with relief evident in their faces. Harold and Dusty both rubbed vigorously at their hands. Newt suspected they were trying to wake up the extremities of their limbs and bring feeling back in to the flesh and joints located there.

“Now,” said Captain Hollerin’ Holly the Troll Master, “come over here and sit in the shade of our ship, The Troll, and share your story with us.”

She confidently turned her back on them and strolled underneath the ship, having to duck her head only a little bit to walk comfortably beneath it.

“Knit Solo, would you please grab us some chairs? And tell RavenWolf to come out too. I’ve a feeling this will be a story that she will want to hear. Yes, I know November starts tomorrow and she’s working on the last preparations for her NaNoWriMo novel, but she can stop working for a few minutes and perhaps she will hear something really cool that she can add to her novel.”

We dare you to get your characters in the NaNoWriMo spirit and have them write their own novels.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Knit Solo replied, saluting, “but don’t let them start until I get back, promise?”

“I promise,” laughed Hollerin’ Holly the Troll Master as she led the way beneath The Troll.

Knit Solo dashed up the ramp into the ship as the three children, Newt, Dusty, and Harold followed the pair of lady pirates, Hollering Holly the Troll Master and Darth Wolf into the shade beneath the ship.

They chatted and made desultory conversation while they waited for the promised chair.

“You’ve a crew of four, then?” Dusty wanted to know.”

“Actually, the Troll pretty much flies itself, once we’ve put in the coordinates and set it in to motion,” said Captain Hollerin’ Holly.

“It’s an interstellar ship, obviously,” Dusty asked.

“Interuniversal,” answered Darth Wolf.

“Cool,” said Harold.

There was the rattling sound of two pairs of feet thudding down the ramp. The new pirate, RavenWolf, was dressed much the same as her shipmates. She carried a fencing foil thrust through her belt with the blade naked, and Newt could see that the tip had been sharpened. Her sweater was done in knit four purl two ribbing, and was in horribly clashing horizontal stripes of maroon, burnt orange, and mustard yellow, with an occasional very thin stripe of deep purple separating the wider horizontal bars.

“Interesting sweater,” Newt said by way of greeting.

“Oh, thank you, do you like it?” gushed RavenWolf. “It’s the first thing I’ve ever knitted, and I wasn’t too certain about the colors, but I think they will do nicely, now that they’re all together.”

“So you knitted it yourself?” Newt asked, trying to avoid mentioning to her hostess that she hated the colors and thought that they absolutely didn’t go together in any manner at all, and they didn’t look any better on a sweater than they did on Southwest Airline’s airplanes.

“Oh, yes,” added Knit Wit, “we all made our own sweaters. Knitting gives us something to do on long interuniversal trips. The further we go, the longer it takes us to get there. At first, I was the only one knitting, and the long distances gave me plenty of time for knitting. They all got jealous of my sweaters and asked me to knit them some, so instead, I taught them how to knit their own sweaters. We have a whole room in the ship just devoted to yarns of different fiber types and colors, so that we can always make exactly the sweater that we want to create.

“While I’m sure all this talk of yarn is just fascinating to our young guests, you nitwit, I, for one, want to hear the tale of how they arrived here,” Darth Wolf stated flatly.

By this point in time the folding chairs had been set up in the soft, knee high grasses under the ship, and the pirates had discarded their swords and settled comfortably into the chairs. The boys sprawled in their chairs also, and Knit Solo had even brought a chaise lounge without arms that accommodated Newt and her wide hoop skirt.

The words flowed from the children’s mouths, and they tumbled over one another, interrupting and backtracking, as they explained how they had set out for the Halloween party at the mall in Belly Button, Arizona, and found the enchanted path, and then met the witch, who had apparently sent them here out of a fine state of pique just because they had trespassed just a little in her garden.

Darth Wolf appeared to take the attitude that they had deserved it, and that banishment for an unspecified period of time to an alien planet was a just and fitting punishment. RavenWolf and Knit Solo appeared to be more sympathetic to their plight, while Hollerin’ Holly the Troll Master showed no emotion one way or the other until they had finished their long and involved narrative of their account of their adventures.

When they had reached the part about the ship landing and mentioned seeing the pirate ladies studying a piece of paper, the lady pirates actually blushed and exchanged guilty looks with each other, as though they had been caught doing something they ought not to be doing, or at least ought not to be caught doing.

“I’ve come to a decision,” Captain Hollerin’ Holly said after they had completed their fantastical tale. “If we can figure out where your planet ‘Earth’ is, then I’ll give you a ride home-“

She was interrupted by the trio of children cheering loudly and raucously, but a sharp whistle brought instant silence as Darth Wolf removed her two fingers from her mouth, where she had placed them in order to facilitate the creation of her loud whistle.

“Thank you, Darth Wolf,” Captain Hollerin’ Holly said in to the silence, then continued, “as I said previously, I’ll be more than happy to give you a lift home, but first you must help us to find the treasure that we seek here on Purvis Major. And for that to happen, you will each need a nickname and a stamp. What nicknames do the three of you usually go by?” she asked.

Knit Solo reached into one of her belt pouches and pulled out three brand new, never been used, pink school erasers, and a red, tear drop shaped device with knurled metal at one end. She laid the erasers on her knee and pried open the end of the red device, and then tipped it upward, spilling some curved bits of wickedly sharp looking metal into the palm of her hand.

“So” Knit Solo said, “Newt. That’s a nickname you go by, is it not?”

Newt nodded. “Yes, my last name is Newton. Some people at Rallison Junior High School call me ‘Fig Newton’, but I prefer ‘Newt’.”

“But a newt is also a lizard,” said Knit Solo, so I’ll carve you a stamp with a lizard on it.” She quickly attached a large flat blade to the red thing, which turned out to be a handle.

Quickly and neatly she sliced the slanted ends off of the pink school erasers. Dumping the ends back into her belt pouch, she pulled out a tiny stubby pencil that had writing on it.

Sketching lightly on to the pink school eraser, she soon had a very rudimentary lizard outlined, with a cute zigzag design running down his back.

“How does this look?” Knit Solo asked, showing the drawing to Newt. “Remember that when he’s stamped, he will be reversed.”

“He’s really cute!” Newt exclaimed as she reached out and touched the pink rubber eraser with a tentative finger.

Knit Solo grinned and changed the big flat blade for one of the smaller curved bits of metal, and then looked around, scowling.

“The light isn’t good enough here,” she muttered, and quickly gathered her things up in the hem of her sweater, then stood, grabbed her chair, and moved into a small slice of direct sunlight between the forest and the pirate ship.

With quick but even strokes, she used the curved metal tip to carve away bits of the eraser, leaving her penciled in lines standing tall above the newly carved surface. Within just a few minutes, Knit Solo had wrested the never before used pink school eraser into a rubber stamp of a cute little lizard. She pulled a small note book out of another pocket, and a marker out of someplace else, and used the marker to color the face of the lizard stamp. She stamped the image into her note book along side other beautiful stamped images, but the book was closed too quickly for Newt to get a very good look at them.

She handed the stamp to Newt, then took up the next eraser and looked at Harold.

“And what are you called?” Knit Solo asked him.

“I…my name is Harold Porter,” he answered her truthfully. “A lot of people call me Harry Potter, because of the names being similar, you know, plus the fact that I wear glasses, and I even have green eyes and black hair. They accuse me of being able to do magic, or taunt me that I’m not as good as Harry is, because I can’t do any magic. Well, before today, that always bothered me. And I didn’t believe in magic, not the least little bit. But now, I know that magic is a real thing, even if I’m a muggle. And I don’t really have any other nickname. My friends both call me Harold, because they know how bad I hated being called Harry Potter. But if I need a nickname and a rubber stamp with a sigil on it in order to hunt this treasure of yours, then perhaps I ought to be Harry Potter, who was raised among muggles, but finally learned that there was magic in the world, and perhaps my sigil should be his glasses and his lightning bolt scar.”

Knit Solo smiled. “Instead of the glasses and the scar, perhaps a better stamp for you would be the sign of the deathly hallows.”

Harold suddenly beamed. “Oh, yes,” he said, “I think that would be perfect!”

It was the work of mere minutes for Knit Solo to produce the triangle with its inscribed circle and the bisecting line, which together signified the resurrection stone that could bring people back to a half life, the invisibility cloak that never failed, and the elder wand, the wand that would always protect its true master.

When she was finished carving, and the image of the deathly hallows was safely stamped beside Newt’s newt, Knit Solo turned at last to Dusty.

“My name is Dustin Brown. My friends call me Dusty, but I can’t think of any way to turn the word Dusty into an image you could stamp. But my favorite television show is Doctor Who. I would love to be called the Doctor.

Knit Solo smiled again, a little sadly, and shook her head.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, “but a good friend of mine is called Romana, and she and her daughter are treasure hunters like us. Romana’s daughter is already called Doctor. So we can’t give you the same name. Is there any other character from the television show that you would like to adopt?”

We dare you to write yourself into your own novel. You might have fun in there!

For a long while, Dusty stood thinking, dragging the toe of one of his sneakers in the dirt, which, strangely, was actually brown.

Finally, he grinned shyly at Knit Solo and said, “Well, it’s been a long time since he was a character on Doctor Who, but he’s still well remembered and well loved. There was one, a young man, and pretty good looking, too, who was named Adric. He was really very good at math, and had even been given an award, a blue star, for excellence in mathematics. And I always get straight A’s in math class, and while I’m nowhere near as good at math as Adric was, still, I’m better at math than any of the other students at Rallison Junior High School. In fact, I’m working on high school level math already, and Mr. Tennant, the math teacher, thinks I’ll be doing college math before I get into high school. So could you carve me a star, and do you have a blue marker so it can be stamped in blue?”

Knit Solo nodded, and quickly sketched the outline of a star and it wasn’t long before a blue star for excellence in mathematics was shining in her small book beside the other two.

By this point in time, however, the sun was well on its way down. Captain Hollerin’ Holly the Troll Master consulted the sky, and then a piece of paper that appeared out of one of her pouch pockets. Then she calmly folded the paper and tucked it back away.

“Is that the map to the treasure?” Newt asked.

“Not a map, no, not precisely,” evaded Darth Wolf.

Knit Solo once again came to their rescue. “We’re what are called ‘letterboxers’. And what we do is search for hidden treasure. But what we call treasure isn’t what other people think of when they think of the word treasure. We’re hunting rubber stamps that people have hidden. Once they’re hidden, they write clues to them. Some times the clues are pretty straightforward, and some times they’re mysteries, either coded, or so shrouded in mystery that they become nearly impossible to figure out. Some times there is a sizable hike to get to the box where the stamp is, and some times you can drive right up to it. It all depends on who planted it, you see.

“We four, are after a particularly difficult box planted by a legendary letterboxer who goes by the name of wassamatta_u. And we’re here to find his box. When we find it-“

“If we find it,” Darth Wolf growled.

“When we find it,” Knit Solo proclaimed, her voice full of hope and determination, “then we’ll carefully remove it from its hiding place, and we’ll each stamp our stamps into the book in the box, to show those who come behind us that we were here. We’ll also take the stamp in the box, and stamp it into our own books, to give us memories, and to prove that we were here and found it. Then we’ll put everything back in the box, exactly as we found it, and replace the box back in its hiding place, exactly as we found it, and then return to our ship, to continue on with our adventure of finding treasures.”

“I still say it’s a matter of if we find wassa’s box,” Darth Wolf growled. “Remember the last one of his we went after? We had to snorkel all the way across the lake and take the compass heading, only to discover that the box was hiding beneath the place that sold the snorkeling gear. And there was that other box of his, that’s only accessible if you’re hunting it by cell phone light. And-“

“And that’s enough of giving away secrets to wassa boxes,” Captain Hollerin’ Holly the Troll Master said firmly. “There isn’t enough time left tonight to go after the box and get back to the ship before dark, I don’t think. So I think I shall order all hands inside, and we’ll have a good meal, and our new people here,” she waved her hand to include Harold, Newt, and Dusty, “can learn how to make their own logbooks, and then we’ll all get a good night’s sleep, and be ready to set off first thing in the morning so that we’ll have the most amount of daylight in order to find this box of wassa’s.”

No one disagreed with her, or even so much as scowled to themselves, but all of the pirate ladies got up and picked up their chairs, and retreated into the pirate ship which was named The Troll.

Newt and Dusty walked up the ramp side by side, shoulders brushing each other, while Harold and Captain Hollerin’ Holly the Troll Master were the last two to start up the ramp in to the ship.

As they reached the top of the ramp, Newt and Dusty froze in a perfect unison of shock and awe at the sight which met their eyes.

March 22, 2011

Enchanted Garden Chapter Five

Newt blinked and opened her eyes. The brightness of the clear red sky was nearly dazzling. She slowly came to realize that she was lying on her back among purple plants that were tall enough to hide her supine body. Her legs were straight out from her body, and her ankles were close together. Her hands were held out to her sides, and each one was still being held by what felt like a warm male hand.

We dare you to send your characters through a portal to an alternate reality.

She turned her head from side to side, and couldn’t see anyone, because of the purple plants. It wasn’t a grass, precisely, nor was it a small bush, but seemed to have some of the qualities of both types of vegetation.

The hand on her right stirred, and Newt was glad that she wasn’t the only member of their trio who had survived whatever it was that Old Mrs. M had done to them.

Dusty let go of her left hand and rolled over with a loud groan.

“What happened?” he asked with another low moan.

Harold let go of Newt and got to his knees, dusted off his red pirate jacket, and then straightened the lacy ruffles of his shirt. He offered his hand to Newt, and she gladly accepted his help, because getting up in a hoop skirt wasn’t going to be easy.

Dusty also scrambled to his feet, and the three of them stood in the middle of the meadow, looking around warily, and wondering the same thing.

“Where are we?” Dusty was the first of them to find his voice and to put the common question into words.

“We’re in a meadow,” Harold answered.

“No kidding,” Dusty replied with a sarcastic note in his voice. “We’re in a meadow where? How in the world did we get here? What’s this plant stuff? It doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen, or anything I’ve ever read about, either.”

“Well, where ever we are, I don’t think we’re in Belly Button, Arizona, any more,” said Newt as she paraphrased from the Wizard of Oz. She suddenly understood how Dorothy had felt on waking up in Munchkinland.

“Well, we’re not going to find out how to get home, unless we find out where we’re at,” said Harold, flatly, “and we’re not going to find out where we’re at, unless we can find some people of some sort to ask.”

“And,” Newt added, “we’re not going to find any people of any sort to ask, unless we move from where we’re at now.”

“Exactly my thought,” said Harold. “So the only question we need to be asking ourselves is which direction we’re going to proceed in.”

Newt looked around; they appeared to be in the exact center of the large meadow, and the forest looked pretty much the same distance away on all sides. It seemed a little strange to have a meadow that was perfectly circular in shape. There was also something very disturbingly wrong about the trees, although Newt couldn’t quite put her finger on what was wrong.

“The leaves are purple.” Dusty said. “The leaves are purple, and the grass stuff is purple, and the sky” he looked up meaningfully, “is very red. So we’re very obviously not on Earth any more.”

Newt looked up at the sky also, and realized with a slight bit of shock that Dusty was absolutely without doubt correct. There was no way that they could possibly be on Earth, when the sky was bright red at midday. With a further peculiar lurch in the middle section of her body, she realized that the sun that shone precisely overhead was a beautiful sapphire blue.

The usual rule of heading downhill if you’re lost in the great outdoors wasn’t going to help them at all in this situation. The meadow seemed to be absolutely as flat as a pool table. Additionally, there was no stream in the meadow, so there was no way to determine which way “downhill” was.

Harold picked a direction by holding his index finger high above his head, then spinning around and suddenly stopping with his hand outstretched.

“That looks like a good direction to go,” Harold said. Newt and Dusty looked at each other.

Dusty shrugged. “Might as well go that direction as any other direction,” he agreed, and the three of them set off in the direction Harold’s hand had ended up pointing.

The walking was fairly easy, though Newt’s dress and Dusty’s translucent cloak kept getting snagged on the grasses. Eventually, Dusty stripped off both his transparent cloak, and the phantom hood he was wearing, and found it much easier to move through the grasses in just his black clothing. He left the cloak and hood lying in the purple grass underneath the red sky and its blue sun, to molder as it would, abandoned on some foreign, alien planet.

Newt wished she could do the same, but unfortunately her gown was rented, and she had had to borrow money from her mother to cover the deposit. If the dress came back dirty, torn, or with parts missing, she would owe her mother three hundred and fifty dollars, and it would probably take her several years to earn enough money to pay her mother back again. She settled for grasping the skirts and hoops firmly in both hands and lifting them clear up to her knees, but it made walking more difficult, especially as she was unable to see where she was putting her feet. On this terrain, it wasn’t a problem, but she could see how, if the footing were different, her inability to see her feet might become a very difficult problem. In the meantime, she was very glad she had chosen to wear her sneakers under the gown, rather than the little dancing slippers that had come with it.

Harold, Dusty, and Newt finally reached the pleasant violet shade of the forest. As usual, Dusty was the first to speak.

“The trunks aren’t brown; they’re so deep purple that they look almost like they’re black.”

“Well, what did you expect?” Newt asked. “Nothing else here is the same color that it’s on Earth.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” Dusty said, “but on Earth, the trunks and the leaves of trees are different colors. Name me one tree on Earth that has the same color leaves as trunk. You can’t. And do you know why? Because there aren’t any, that’s why.”

“Palo Verde,” Harold said.

“What?” said Dusty.

“The Palo Verde tree has bark and leaves that are the same color. It’s the state tree of Arizona, which you would know if you’d been paying attention in Arizona History last year. It’s a green trunk, as well as green leaves. I saw some of them when we were down in Phoenix visiting my grandparents last Thanksgiving. They have some Palo Verdes in their yard. The tree does its photosynthesis in the bark as well as the leaves, so that if things get too dry during a drought, the tree can shed the leaves and still have photosynthesis, without losing water through the leaves.

“Even without the color being the same, it’s a funny looking tree. The trunks are twisted, as though the heat was just too much for the poor little thing, and the leaves are tiny. You can see through the leaves to the clear blue sky, even when it’s fully leaved and in bloom. But it makes an awful lot of shade, for a tree you can see through. It surprised me how much cooler it was in the shade of the Palo Verde that grew in my grandmother and grandfather’s courtyard. It was a very nice place to sit and read my book. Anyway, the point is that the Palo Verde tree has bark the same color as its leaves.”

“All right, Harold, you’ve made your point, at least two times over. So there is at least one tree in the known universe that has a trunk that’s the same color as its leaves. At least it’s a green tree,” Dusty grumped. “These abominations are purple!”

Just then there was a bone shattering rumble. The trees and the ground shook so heavily that Newt was certain the trees would begin falling at any moment.

“It’s an earthquake!” Harold shouted as he flung himself to the ground. Dusty followed quickly in his wake. Newt hesitated just a moment longer, weighing the destruction of an expensive gown against her own survival. The shaking increased, and the decision was made for her. Her quaking legs would no longer support her against the shaking earth, and she collapsed in a heap of pearl encrusted blue silk.

March 18, 2011

Enchanted Garden Chapter Four

They stood at the side of a lovely pale blue Victorian mansion. In front of them spread formal gardens, with carefully designed neat herb and flower beds. In the center of the formal garden sat a small white gazebo, its fresh paint gleaming in the sun. A lovely young woman in an old fashioned gown sat within the gazebo sipping at a cup of tea.

Beyond the gazebo, Newt could see the edges of a vegetable garden, with the plants ready for harvest, all laid out in neat rows.

The woman in the gazebo looked up and noticed them, then smiled in a welcoming manner.

“Hello children, would you care to stay and have tea with me?” Her voice was honey sweet, yet Newt felt a cold shiver run down her spine.

Harold’s voice sounded in Newt’s ear. “Don’t eat anything. It’s the first rule of all enchanted realms. If you eat or drink anything, you’re stuck there forever.”

Newt nodded and prodded Dusty in the back. “Tell her no,” she hissed, not certain whether or not Dusty was paying attention to anything more than the beautiful woman and her honey sweet voice.

Dusty neither moved nor spoke, apparently transfixed by the woman, therefore Newt took it upon herself to answer the woman’s invitation.

“We can’t stay for tea, but we thank you for the invitation. We really have to be going. We have urgent business in other places this morning.” She smiled at the woman to take the sting from her refusal, then grabbed Dusty’s hand and led him across the manicured lawn, resolutely moving toward where she guessed the back of the property ought to be.

Harold caught her other hand, and she promptly tripped over her dress. Obviously seeing her predicament, Harold immediately shifted his grasp to her elbow, and she was able to grab at her skirts with her now free hand.

With their backs to the woman, Dusty appeared to come to his senses, and took her by the other elbow, freeing her second hand to hold her skirt more completely out of the way. Dusty’s other hand was busy holding his own cloak out of the way, but they were now able to make fairly good time through the garden.

Presently the path became tangled again, and the way narrowed. They reverted to marching single file, but still kept hold of one another. Newt turned back once to look at Harold, and saw with shock and dismay that the narrow winding path was closing up behind them as they passed through it.

She opened her mount to speak, but he curtly shook his head, and she subsided.

“It did that on the way in, too,” he whispered softly. “One way in, one way out maybe and just hope and pray that we’re on the path going out rather than heading deeper in. Just keep moving, and whatever you do, don’t leave the path and don’t let go of either one of us. We mustn’t allow ourselves to become lost, or to become separated under any circumstances.”

Newt nodded and continued forward as Dusty pulled her along. Harold had done the most reading on fantasy realms, and knew the rules better than either she or Dusty could possibly understand them.

Suddenly an arm clad all in black reached out from between a brace of the plants lining the enchanted pathway and snatched at Newt’s beautiful light blue pearl encrusted skirts. Newt screamed with surprise, and jumped out of the way. With dawning horror, she realized that her feet were now off of the enchanted path. Instantly, the garden transformed before her eyes into its usual tangled mess. She let go of her skirts, now not caring if they became wet or soiled, and clung to the hands of her two best friends in the entire world. They were her best friends in any other world, for that matter. She felt her palms become moist with her fright, but resolved that she wouldn’t let go of the boys’ hands, no matter what else happened.

At her scream, the boys jumped also, and came to a complete halt, though they remained with their feet on the enchanted path.

Slowly, the grasping arm came further out from between the bushes, and when the ancient and bent body of Old Mrs. M followed it, Newt almost breathed a sigh of relief. Here, at least, was something that was familiar enough to almost be comfortable, except for the fact that in addition to her usual black gown, she also wore a tall and pointed wide brimmed black hat with three long sweeping feathers that were also as black as midnight, if not more black. Newt had seen blackbirds, but none who grew feathers of that length, or that swoopy and droopy. They almost reminded her of a pheasant’s tail feathers, save for the fact that pheasant feathers didn’t, of course, come in black.

Old Mrs. M drew near and stabbed a long crooked finger at each of their chests, touching them lightly, as though marking their identities.

“What do you young children think you’re doing in my garden? Did you come to steal an old woman’s supper vegetables?” the extremely ancient black garbed crone screeched at them.

“No, ma’am,” Harold assured her with a slight bow. “We didn’t come to steal anything that might belong to you, or to any one else. We were very simply taking a short cut in order to get to the shopping mall more quickly. It was wrong of us, and we’re very sorry to have alarmed you in any way.”

“Alarmed me? Alarmed me?” Old Mrs. M cackled. “Do you think I could possibly be scared of the likes of you?”

Harold cleared his throat. “No, Ma’am, I don’t think you would be frightened of the three of us, but I thought perhaps you might be frightened on behalf of your garden, that the three of us might accidentally trample it beneath our feet.”

Old Mrs. M appeared to consider his words for a long moment. Then let out a long and loud cackle of laughter. “Scared on behalf of my vegetables. Well, you’ve a pretty tongue, my good young fellow, I’ll grant you that, but I want you to understand in the deepest recesses of your young selfish little hearts that you’re absolutely never to come near my small piece of property again.”

The three of them began vigorously nodding their head up and down, and Newt thought they must look like a line of bobble head dolls, or those silly hula dancers people stuck in the back window of their cars that dance a jiggle hula as you drove down the highway.

Old Mrs. M scratched at her chin, and Newt couldn’t help but notice that with her great age, the old woman’s chin had become as stubbly as an old man’s, and that there were several large warts ensconced there, each sprouting long and crooked hairs from their depths.

We dare you to have someone in your novel kidnapped at the end of the next page. (Okay, they’re not held-for-ransom kidnapped, but they’re stolen-away-from-their-life kidnapped)

Suddenly the old woman cackled again. “I know exactly what I’m going to do about you.” She drew herself up straight and threw up one hand straight into the air. Muttering under her breath, she mumbled words unintelligible to her trio of listeners.

Old Mrs. M slid her other hand into what appeared to be a hidden pocket in her dress and pulled out a small, straight piece of some dark sort of wood, which had been either inlaid or overlaid with a lighter wood in a pattern of vines and leaves. Still muttering, she whirled the short wand about, drawing a trio of circles in the air.

Newt felt as though the air thickened; it was suddenly stuffy and hard to breathe, like the air in a very small bathroom after a very long and very hot shower.

Old Mrs. M tucked the wand away again, and reached out with both hands to where she had drawn the first circle. She made gathering motions with her hands, as though she was gathering and packing a snowball. Though there was nothing visible between her hands, Newt could feel a tension in the air, and the short hairs on the back of her neck stood on end.

Old Mrs. M threw her ball of nothing straight at Dusty’s chest. He gasped, and fell to his knees, letting go of his robe and grabbing at his chest, as though he were having a heart attack.

Still muttering, Old Mrs. M gathered up another ball of nothing and threw it this time at Newt.

Though she had seen nothing, Newt couldn’t deny that she’d been hit by something. It was sheer cold as it penetrated her chest, and she sank to her knees with the pain of it. She longed to grab at her chest also, in the hope that it would ease the pain somewhat, but she didn’t dare to let go of Harold and Dusty. She had already broken one of the rules Harold had given her, and knew that her feet were off of the enchanted path. She feared what might happen if she released her hold on her fellows more than she feared the pain in her chest. Besides, Dusty didn’t look as though holding his chest was helping him any.

The third ball of nothing struck Harold squarely in the chest, and he joined his friends in the dirt of the enchanted garden, gasping for breath as he knelt before what was undoubtedly to their minds, most definitely a witch.

Apparently finished with throwing air, Old Mrs. M reached up into the sky again, this time with both hands, and called aloud in some language that Newt had never heard before. She grasped the air again, and screamed “Until midnight! You only have until midnight!” Then she pulled two great big handfuls of something down from the sky. A bolt of lightning struck just behind Old Mrs. M. The blaze of white light dazzled Newt and the thunder of the blast knocked Newt and her friends the rest of the way to the ground.

March 14, 2011

Enchanted Garden Chapter Three

The shopping mall was only a few blocks from Newt’s home, and it didn’t usually take very long for them to walk there. Dusty kept tripping on his long cloak until he learned to hold it up in one hand, much the same as Newt was holding up the hem of her dress with both hands, but otherwise they had no trouble along the way, until they tried to cut through the witch’s back yard.

Old Mrs. M wasn’t really a witch. Newt knew this, because there was really no such thing as witches.

Well, she knew there were people who called themselves witches, but if you were meaning the wicked, spell casting wicked-witch-of-the-west sort of witches, every one knew that they didn’t really exist. Of course, if you were casting the part for a movie, you wouldn’t ever find a better candidate for the role than Old Mrs. M.

For one thing, she always wore a long black dress. Widow’s weeds, Newt’s mother called it, although Newt didn’t quite understand why. As far as she knew, Old Mrs. M had never actually been married. There was no Old Mr. M., and she’d never seen or heard of any children.

Plus, Old Mrs. M lived in the spookiest house in town, a three story Victorian town home that had grayish-blue peeling paint, and was set well back in a garden that looked like it had been run over by a truck hauling weed seeds and spilling them out the back. The plants grew every which way, though Mrs. M didn’t seem to mind. She very rarely shopped at the grocery store, claiming that she grew all of her own vegetables in her garden and didn’t eat very much meat, but Newt couldn’t begin to guess how she could tell vegetables and herbs from the weeds.

Also, Old Mrs. M had a cat. Specifically, she had a very large, sleek cat that was midnight black in color, and even though the cat had been around as long as Newt could remember, and should be going grey with age by now, he stubbornly remained the deepest, darkest, most velvety black you could imagine. Sometimes Newt wondered if Old Mrs. M dyed the cat’s fur to keep him looking young, but she couldn’t imagine that the cat would sit still for that.

It was Dusty’s idea to cut through her yard, of course, because it would save them an eternity of walking clear down and around the end of the block to get to the shopping mall. The mall was straight through from Old Mrs. M’s yard. And of course, hers was the only unfenced yard in the block. None of the neighbors wanted people cutting through their yards to get to the mall. Despite the obvious temptation, no one ever went through Old Mrs. M’s yard, because she was a witch. Rumor had it that the tangle of weeds in her yard was enchanted, and they would pull you down and hold you for her. All nonsense, of course, because there was really no such thing as witches, or witchcraft, or enchanted plants that would attack you and hold you down until their owner arrived, but the general consensus was that it was still better to be on the safe than to eternally regret a little harmless trespass, so out of both custom and courtesy, no one ever quite dared to cut through the allegedly bewitched yard of Old Mrs. M, the alleged witch.

Naturally, it was Dusty who made the outrageous suggestion. He was usually the originator of the ideas that got them in to the most trouble.

“Let’s just cut through the witch’s yard,” he said in a desultory fashion, as though it was an idea that had just occurred to him on the spur of the moment.

“Let’s not do that,” answered Harold in his usual answer to Dusty’s usual suggestion, as though that would put a finish to the suggestion, as it usually did.

Newt continued down the sidewalk toward the corner, as they usually did.

Dusty broke their longstanding pattern by coming to a complete stop in front of Old Mrs. M’s dilapidated house. Newt stopped also and turned back to face him and hurry him along. The carnival was only going to be at the shopping mall until about noon.

“I’m going to cut through her yard,” Dusty announced, but before he could step over the invisible line marking the edge of her property, Harold caught at his arm.

“You can’t be serious,” he said in a low voice full of superstitious concern. “You want to cut through the witch’s yard, and rile her up, on Halloween? Are you crazy? Have you absolutely taken leave of what little senses you have?”

Dusty shook Harold’s hand off of his arm, so that he was free to do as he wished, but he turned to face his friend.

“No, I’m not crazy. Are you crazy? Why in the world would you want to go all the way down to the end of the block when we can cut through Old Mrs. M’s yard and be at the shopping mall getting candy from all the vendors that much earlier? It’s not like she’s a real witch. There is no such thing as a real witch, Halloween or no Halloween. What do you think she’s going to do to us, cast a spell on us?”

Newt stared at the old woman’s yard in what amounted to fascinated horror. Then she mentally shook herself. Dusty was right, there was nothing in the yard that could possibly hurt them, up to and including the old woman herself. She added her argument to Dusty’s.

“He’s right, you know, Harold,” she said softly. “She’s just a harmless old woman, and she can’t possibly do us any harm. Let’s cross through her yard and get safely to the shopping mall that much more quickly.”

Harold shook his head. “I have a bad feeling about this,” he said.

“What do you think’s going to happen?” Dusty asked with a sneer in his voice.

Harold shook his head. “I don’t know, but what ever it is, it will be a bad thing. I just simply know that this isn’t a thing we should be doing.”

Dusty settled the matter by simply turning his back on his friends and stalking off through the middle of Old Mrs. M’s yard. Newt shrugged at Harold and lifted her skirts high before following him. Harold, his reluctance obvious from his scowl and the set of his shoulders, followed his friends into what he clearly considered to be a bad and possibly dangerous situation. Newt privately felt that Harold had read far too many fantasies, where not only was magic possible, but an everyday occurrence.

The trio wended their way through the overgrown yard, following what appeared to be a very narrow and meandering path through the long front yard of the set back house. The trail wound its way through plants of ever increasing height, until the children couldn’t see either the street or the house, and had to rely entirely on staying on the path to keep from getting lost.

Newt thought they had come much further than the distance of the entire property, and she certainly hadn’t recalled seeing any vegetation of this size from the street; she was beginning to wonder if the yard was indeed enchanted, and whether or not Old Mrs. M really might be a witch after all. Newt didn’t dare speak aloud her concerns, because she didn’t want to alarm her companions, or to jinx them, just in case the enchantment was one that didn’t work unless you talked about it out loud. They were on the path, and they had no choice but to go forward, or else retrace their steps, and that was something she instinctively knew Dusty wouldn’t do. He didn’t often get in a stubborn mood such as this, but when he did, there was no dissuading him by any means from his intended course of action.

She resolutely followed in his footsteps, making certain to keep him in sight, as well as listening to the path behind her to be sure that Harold still remained at her heels. The further they went, the more certain she became that they had somehow wandered from the normal ordinary and somewhat boring world of Belly Button, Arizona, and entered some enchanted realm far distant in both time and place from their homes, family, friends, and most urgently, the shopping mall where the candy and carnival was free all morning, thanks to the generosity of the league of store owners in the shopping mall.

So intent was Newt on her private musings, that she failed to notice Dusty had come to a complete halt, and she ran smack into the back of him, overbalancing him and knocking him to the ground. She let go of her skirts and offered him a hand up, but as he rose to his feet, she froze in wonderment at the sight of the wide clearing they had just entered.

March 11, 2011

Enchanted Garden Chapter Two

Newt stared at her reflection in the mirror. She stuck her tongue out at the reflection. The reflection stuck its tongue out back at her. She pulled her tongue back in and wrinkled her nose. The five small freckles centered on the tip of her nose bounced up and down in the mirror until she unwrinkled her nose again.

“Dressing up as Marie Antoinette may have been a serious mistake,” she announced to no one in particular, then continued, “but it’s definitely too late now to do anything about it.”

She tugged the dress upward again. It had obviously been cut for someone who was, well, built with just a bit more curves than she had. The dress didn’t move. It fit her perfectly in the lower torso, but there was definitely something lacking about the fit in the upper torso. She understood completely that what was lacking wasn’t the dress. It was her. Specifically, there were certain parts of what she considered to be her “severely underdeveloped body”, that were apparently necessary for the dress to fit properly, and which she was sorely lacking. In short, she was shaped as straight and flat as a boy.

Newt sighed. Then she took a deep breath in and held it while she examined the mirror for any hopeful signs that the dress would suddenly fit properly. Nothing happened. She let her breath out with a slow whistle, and noticed the large gap between the fake pearls sewn at the neck edge of the light blue gown, and the frilly blouse of dazzling white lace trimmed cotton she was wearing beneath the gown. Suddenly, an idea burst across her brain.

She slid out of the jewel and pearl encrusted blue gown, and laid it carefully across her bed, depositing the slip with the hoops embedded in it on top of it, and then slipped quietly down the hall way to the laundry room dressed only in her blouse and the cute ruffled knee length knickers that she was certain had been added to the costume for modesty. If she recalled correctly, knickers didn’t become an item of women’s under clothing until the civil war period, and that was about four score, or eighty years later than the French revolution. Then again, perhaps she hadn’t been paying strict enough attention during her world history class. Too bad they couldn’t teach history in the order it had happened, instead of chopping it up into chunks based on where it had happened. If they taught it chronologically, you’d have a better idea of when things happened and what else was going on in the other parts of the world at the same time.

Having gained the laundry room with out being noticed, Newt utilized all of the stealth that her thirteen year old body possessed, which could be quite a lot of stealth, depending on who you asked, as she dug through the laundry that had been washed and dried and folded and was now waiting patiently on the shelves marked with each family member’s name for that family member to come and claim it and take it to their own individual bedroom to put it away. Newt’s mother washed laundry only once each week, but it was up to every one to put their own laundry away. You also had to make certain that you got all of your dirty laundry to the laundry room before washing day. If you didn’t, then you had to wash your own laundry, or hope you had enough pairs of underwear to make it through to the next washing day.

The reason Newt needed such great stealth, however, was because the shelf she was rummaging so carefully through wasn’t her own shelf, but the one belonging to her older sister, Karen. Karen was sixteen; bossy, nosey, and just by some coincidence of fate happened to have curves that would fit this dress perfectly. Newt giggled softly. Karen’s upper curves would fit the dress, but her lower torso was probably too wide to get the dress done up properly, since, as Newt liked to remind Karen whenever their parents were not around to witness it, Karen’s “butt and her gut were at least as big if not bigger than her chest”. It wasn’t just the uncouth language that made Karen so angry when Newt told her this, although that was certainly part of it, but it so happened that the facts were true. Karen had been slender until she began to develop, but then she had developed in all areas at once. After watching Karen, Newt had decided that she had better take after their still slender mother, rather than their Aunt Artie whom Karen resembled in both appearance and nature.

Because Newt usually didn’t like to use such crass language, however, she reserved the butt and gut rhyme for when she was seriously annoyed at Karen, generally after Karen had been indulging in her favorite pastime of spying on Newt and then tattling with the specific intention to get Newt grounded when she really had her heart set on doing some specific activity that Karen wrongly thought she wasn’t old enough or mature enough to be engaging in.

Newt’s fingers finally closed on the object she was seeking. It was one of Karen’s bras. She slid it from the stack and concealed it beneath her blouse, then picked up her own laundry stack and carried it to her bedroom. She thought the laundry pile made the perfect cover for the real reason she’d gone down the hall, just in case anyone was looking, like Karen the snoopy spy.

Once her bedroom door was shut securely behind her, she dumped her laundry unceremoniously across her bed and stripped the frilly white blouse off. She rummaged through the socks and underwear in the top drawer of her chest of drawers until she found the tiny sewing kit that her great aunt Shirley had given her for Christmas last year. Sure enough, it still had the safety pins in it that she had so clearly recalled seeing.

With a pair of safety pins, she was able to make quick work of securing the bra in its proper place around her upper torso. A couple of other pins, one on each strap, shortened the straps to the point that they would fit her, without running the risk that Karen would notice the change in the size adjustment and become suspicious that her bra had been borrowed or tampered with in any manner.

A little further rummaging in her sock and underwear drawer produced two pairs of balled up knee high soccer socks that would fit just about perfectly in the purloined brassiere. She poked and squeezed the balls of socks into the proper shape, so they would look more natural, although anyone who knew her, which in fact was everyone in town, would know that there was no way on earth the socks were actually a part of her severely underdeveloped body.

The frilly blouse went back on, followed by the slip with the hoops that would hold the skirt out, and finally the pearl covered light blue dress. This time, Newt had a little trouble getting the zipper up, but when she finally turned to the mirror again, she saw that the blouse puffed out where it should, and now lay properly inside the bodice of the dress.

The last bit of the costume would be the trickiest. She quickly split her hair in a central part down the middle, and began plaiting the first braid. When she finished, she wound an elastic band around the bottom tip, then released it. The braid slid down and slapped against her bum while she braided the second one.

It was a matter of just a few scant minutes before her twin braids were twined around her head, and securely pinned into place. Then she took the tall white wig and placed it carefully on her head, and secured it by taking two extremely long and thick straight pins with fake glass jewels at the ends, and wove them in through the wig, in through her own braids clear to her scalp, and then back out again, and then finally back out through the wig again.

Newt shook her head, gingerly at first, and then a little more energetically, and satisfied herself that the wig was securely fastened, at least for now. She made a mental not to avoid the most violent of the carnival rides at the shopping mall, though, just in case. Just for luck, she fastened a third long hair pin through the wig, and finally felt that she was nearly ready to go.

She quickly powdered her face and put on a very little bit of rouge, and then slathered a generous amount of cherry red lipstick on, and checked herself one last time in the double wide full length mirror. Eminently satisfied, she gathered her skirts in her hand, and opened her bedroom door.

She immediately heard Karen’s voice whining from the other end of the hall.

“But I know I had one clean bra left,” she whinged in her most piteous poor-little-picked-on-me voice.

Her mother’s calm voice was a sharp counterpoint to Karen’s high pitched and petulant tone.

“If you won’t take your laundry and put it away in your own bedroom, then it’s your own fault you’ve lost track of your clothing,” her mother replied.

“But I need that bra; I can’t go to the party tonight with out a bra!” Karen was almost whimpering now.

Newt listened with anxiety. Since this time she was actually guilty, if the truth were discovered, it would be she who would be going nowhere today, rather than Karen who would now have to stay home and do some of her own laundry instead of going to the carnival at the shopping mall.

“You know I only do laundry on Wednesday,” her mother said, in what Newt knew Karen would take as an infuriatingly calm tone, “so if you want an extra load done now, you’re going to have to do it yourself.”

Newt decided that she would definitely wait until Karen was out of the way before she dared go into the living room. If her sister got even one look at her new faux cleavage, the game would be over before it had begun.

Newt smiled to herself, and then picked up the small blue purse, or reticule, that was a part of her costume. She hurriedly stashed her money and mp3 player into the soft folds of the purse, and pulled the drawstrings tight, looping the strings over her wrist. She also tucked the obligatory handkerchief up one sleeve, and a second one into her new cleavage, and then with a last long look in the mirror, declared herself ready to face the world.

She listened as Karen banged things around in her bed room, apparently looking for enough clothing to wash to make a full load to go with the bra she intended to wash today. That was another one of the laundry rules. Nothing less than a full batch of laundry must ever be run in the washer. After all, they lived in the desert, albeit the high and chilly part of the desert, and their family must do their utmost to conserve the precious water at each and every opportunity.

She gathered her skirts, this time in both hands, and stepped out into the hallway, carefully closing the door behind her before gathering her skirts up again.

She made her stately way down the hallway and into the living room, where she carefully arranged her skirts around her as she perched on the arm of the couch. It was only a few minutes before the doorbell rang. She sat regally, waiting, while her mom opened the door. Listening carefully to the conversation that drifted through the door, she deduced that Harold was the first to arrive.

Within moments, he entered the room, and she was treated to the sight of his wonderful pirate costume, complete with a sword, and a rather battered fake parrot sitting on one shoulder. As she watched, the parrot dropped what was obviously only one in a long series of feathers. Her eyes followed the pirate’s parrot’s falling feather as it drifted to the green carpet.

Harold’s jaw dropped as his eyes fastened on her costume. “’re gorgeous!” he stammered and gasped.

Newt felt the heat in her cheeks, and knew she was blushing fiery red.

“Thanks,” she managed to answer, her eyes still on the floor. Hopefully Harold didn’t think she was gorgeous only because of her new and improved mature shape. Or possibly that was what had made him say that. The fact that she had heard guys liked that sort of curvy femaleness explained why she was currently in despair over the undeniable fact that she hadn’t yet begun the process known as “filling out”.

Newt stood up and twirled around slowly to show off the entire costume, moving with what she considered to be a stately grace, but also fearing that if she moved too quickly, her wig might fall off, or the dress might shift. Or certain additions under the dress might shift, and then she’d look just plain ridiculous.

She seated herself on the couch arm again, and then watched as another feather floated to the floor.

“I would say the same thing about you, but you really ought to lose that poor beleaguered parrot,” she said with a wicked smile.

He grinned back at her with almost a pained grimace. “Can I leave it here? My little brother insisted that I take his parrot with me, because he claimed that every respectable pirate needed a parrot. He ran out of the house and followed me half way down the street trying to get me to take it, so I finally did, just to shut him up.”

“Sure,” Newt said, “you can leave it here. You’ll look a lot more like a respectable pirate without it, but be really sure to pick it back up after the party at school, so your brother won’t figure out what happened.”

With a grin, Harold detached the molting parrot from his shoulder and dropped it on to the coffee table in front of the mocha brown overstuffed suede couch. Then he sank comfortably into the folds of the couch.

“So,” he said, “have you seen Dusty yet?”

Newt shook her head. “No, I haven’t seen him yet, but I expect him to show up any moment now.”

Just then, the door bell rang again, and Newt heard her mother step to answer it. There was a sharp intake of breath, and then they heard Dusty’s laughter. “It’s just me, Mrs. Newton, I promise. I wouldn’t hurt you.”

Newt’s mother laughed then, and there was the sound of a few foot steps from the hall, before an unidentifiable thing appeared in the doorway.

Dressed in a pair of long black pants and a black long sleeved shirt, and his usual black sneakers and his hands encased in long black gloves, Dusty had also put on one of those phantom masks, so his head was also entirely masked in black. It was that sort of mask where you appear not to have a face at all, but you can clearly see out through the fabric. Well, not clearly, exactly, because you could never recognize faces well, but you could see clear enough not to run into things. Dusty also had a hooded cape made of some semi transparent black fabric draped over the entire outfit, so that it softened the lines of his silhouette and made it very hard to make your eyes focus on him.

There was a very long pause in which the silence was so thick that you could have cut it with a knife and stacked it in slabs.

“What are you supposed to be?” Newt finally asked, breaking the long moment of silence.

“I’m the Vashta Nerada!” Dusty’s cheerful voice exclaimed from the depths of the phantom mask

“You’re the what?” Newt and Harold asked in near perfect unison.

“I’m the Vashta Nerada.” Dusty repeated, and then explained. “It’s a bunch of creatures from Doctor Who. You can only see them sometimes, they look like dust specks in sunlight, but pretty much most of the time they’re totally invisible, and they can hide in shadows and strip corpses to the bone in mere seconds. They’re not in every shadow, of course, but they can be in any shadow. You’ve to make sure to count how many shadows you’ve, because they attach themselves to you with an extra shadow, and then they eat you. That’s how they hunt. You can’t even get rid of them at all. They breed in forests, but their eggs are so tough that they can even survive being ground up into paper pulp and made into paper and printed and bound into books.

“Even the Doctor can’t do anything about them, he said that the only thing you can do when you meet the Vashta Nerada, is to run. Just run. That’s a pretty bad opponent, when even the Doctor can’t beat them.”

Newt and Harold had both rolled their eyes at the first mention of the words ‘Doctor’ and ‘Who’. It was an English television show that Dusty was inordinately fond of. Actually, obsessed might be a better word. The pair of them stubbornly refused to be drawn into his madness; partly for fear that they would end up as obsessed with the show as Dusty, and start sounding as totally geeky on the subject as he did.

Newt had to admit, however, that there were times that Dusty’s obsession with the show came in handy.

Every so often there was the most amazing and obscure fact that Dusty knew, and when they would ask him how in the world he knew that, he would blame it on that infernal show. So yeah, occasionally it did come in handy.

“So,” said Harold, “to summarize, you’re a shadow full of nasty, ill tempered, invisible carnivorous creatures that no one can see, and your sole purpose in wearing this costume is to scare the living daylights out of all of the little kids at the shopping mall in the hope that they will drop their candy bags so that you can pick the bags up and have their candy too? Did I get that right?” He made his statement sound like a question, probably just in case there was some remote possibility that he had misunderstood Dusty in some way, although Newt thought he had hit the nail precisely on the head.

“Yeah, basically,” Dusty said with a shrug, and even though they couldn’t see his face, Newt could hear his shy and crafty grin in the voice that issued from beneath the hood.

“Are we ready to go then?” Newt asked, looking at the pair of boys who were the absolute best friends anyone could ever have in the entire world.

Both boys nodded, and Harold and Newt rose to their feet. As they moved into the hall, Newt heard the washing machine start, and she called out to her mother that they were all leaving.

Newt’s mother called back that they should have a nice time, and the rich tones of her loving voice drifted from the kitchen as though the words were wafting on the fumes of the freshly baking bread that were beginning to permeate the entire house.

The three friends left the house, closing the door carefully behind them, and set off together on the biggest adventure of their young lives.

March 08, 2011

Enchanted Garden Chapter One

Author’s note: This was my 2008 NaNoWriMo novel. I didn’t use a formal outline or plot, but allowed my story to be shaped by the NaNoWriMo Young Writer’s Program dare machine. This caused a few abrupt changes in plot direction, and added elements I would ordinarily not put in a book. One of the plot dares had me inserting characters from a favorite television show, and the story became fan fiction. I want to state at the outset that I don’t own all the characters in this story, and no copyright infringement is intended, this story was written only as a practice exercise, and not with any thought of commercial exploitation. Because the plot does shift more abruptly than usual, I have included the text of each dare that I used in the text of my novel. The dares are each their own paragraph, and they are bold and red. –Marie

The Enchanted Garden

Chapter One

We dare you to start the next chapter with this sentence: “Everything changed that fateful day.”

Everything changed that fateful day.

In the years to come after this particular Halloween that happened during the autumn that the trio of children Harold Porter, Dustin “Dusty” Brown, and Alexandria “Newt” Newton were thirteen, they forever after viewed life in an entirely different manner.

The day began ordinary enough. Harold squinted hard into the mirror while he tried to button up the red pirate jacket. The lace at the neck of his frilly white shirt kept getting in his way, and he had really hoped the mirror would help him to see what he was doing. Unfortunately, his reflection appeared to be a large red and white and black blob. He sighed deeply and with resignation, and then reached out for his glasses, devoutly hoping they were still on the top of his chest of drawers where he thought he had last left them.

His questing fingers closed around them almost immediately. It was a good thing he was in the habit of carefully fixing in his mind where he laid his glasses down each time, because without them he was blind enough that he would need to be wearing his glasses in order to find them. Carefully unfolding the thin plastic frames, he slid the thick lenses in front of his eyes and watched the reflection in the full length mirror come sharply into focus.

The pirate costume was absolutely perfect. Well, it would be perfect, he thought, if he didn’t have to wear his glasses. His glasses would look perfectly at home perched on the nose of some atomic scientist laboring over his computer screen deep in a secret underground vault someplace. Or perhaps the glasses should be carefully balanced on the bridge of the nose of some old grandmother as she sat comfortably in a rocking chair, with her knitting in her hands or in the basket at her feet, and her arms around a favorite and beloved grandchild. The geeky plastic glasses very definitely didn’t go with the extremely suave pirate costume.

Harold sighed again. What he wouldn’t give to be able to see without the monstrosities. On the other hand, he was pretty glad he was able to see with them. Now that his glasses were on, he was very quickly able to get the jacket buttoned up. He pulled on the knee high boots, and strapped on the wide belt, complete with the jeweled scabbard and cheap plastic sword. The sword was plastic rather than the steel he would prefer to be wearing so that he could wear the thing to the party at Rallison Junior High School. After all, what good was a pirate without his trusty sword?

Their principal, Mr. Archibald, had explicitly stated that there were to be no real weapons disguised as parts of Halloween costumes among those in attendance.

At least their school, Rallison Junior High School, was having a Halloween party, even if it was on a Saturday, and not during official school hours. He had heard that a bunch of “very concerned Christian citizens” across town had complained because Halloween was “all about devil worship”, and they made the town’s only other junior high school, Hatch Junior High School, cancel their Halloween party entirely.

In his opinion, Halloween was a holiday to have fun on, and it was about dressing up and getting candy, and having fun with your friends. It had nothing to do with your religion, and whether or not you were a Christian, or a devil worshipper. As far as he knew, neither he, nor any of his friends, nor any of the other students at either of the town’s small junior high schools, or even the high schools, for that matter, would even know how to go about practicing devil worship on Halloween or on any other night.

Though he himself had, in fact, like every one else in town, been raised to be a good Christian boy, he wasn’t so rabid or narrow minded or set in his ways that he believed that there was any harm in dressing up in a costume and having fun going to a party with his two best friends. Anyway, as a result of the "very caring and concerned Christians group", a lot of the kids from Hatch Junior High would be coming to Rallison Junior High’s party.

In addition, when you considered that the two junior high schools were the bitterest of rivals, and also that the big football game was coming up between them in only two weeks, and that feelings between the students were already running pretty high, Harold could really understand what had prompted Mr. Archibald, the principal of Rallison Junior High School, to declare the silly no-weapons-as-part-of-your-costume rule.

Harold flicked some imaginary lint off of the sleeve of his red pirate costume, and then clattered out of his bedroom and down the stairs. His mom was waiting at the bottom of the flight of stairs.

“You look great! Are you all ready to go?” she asked with a wide smile on her face.

Harold nodded, trying to be polite to his mother, whom he loved very much, but at the same time trying to get himself in the proper frame of mind to be a pirate all day. Characterization was very important to him.

“Are Newt and Dusty going as pirates too?” she asked.

Harold shrugged. He liked the way the lace moved whenever he moved his shoulders. It also moved when he breathed. He thought it was pretty cool, but then, he’d always liked dressing up in any sort of a costume. That’s why he was president of the Rallison Junior High School Drama Club. He was really looking forward to January, when the tryouts for the spring play they would be putting on at the school would take place.

“I don’t know,” he said, “the three of us all decided to keep our costumes secret even from each other until we all got together today.”

“I see,” his mother replied. “Are you all meeting over at Dusty’s house today?”

“Not today,” Harold grinned. “We’re meeting at Newt’s place, because it’s closer to the shopping mall. The store owners all have a trick or treat promotion going in addition to the carnival, and we’re going to get a big haul of candy. Then for the afternoon we’ll leave the candy at Newt’s place while we go on to the party at the boys and girls club, the one over by the skate park.

“When it gets dark, we’re headed downtown to the court house for the haunted mansion, and then finally we’re going over to school for the big party there. We’ll probably be home shortly after midnight, I would guess, since the party at school is supposed to have a very special and spooky ending at the very stroke of twelve midnight. And we’ll still have to go over to Newt’s to divvy up the candy before we come home.”

“Have fun!” his mother said, giving him a hug and then swinging the front door open for him.

Harold gave her a light hearted hug and half skipped, half ran out the door. His spirits were high, and his friends were waiting. He may not have been quite as filled with excitement and anticipation if he had known what really awaited him on this, the most momentous day of his entire life.