I recently repotted my little yellow miniature rosebush, and then proceeded to way over-water it. Now it has a bunch of dead or dying leaves, but the new soil does appear to be soaking up the leftover water, so I’m in hopes that it will soon bloom again. Because of being repotted, and also being moved from the bookcase, which is about 52” high, to the desk, which is 40” high, I’m sure it’s been badly shocked. And then, to add insult to injury, I over-watered it. Poor thing. My sister says I should talk to it when I water it, and I haven’t tried that yet, but it may help—who knows?

Have I discussed my collectibles before? I used to collect owls, and got up to 19 of them, all varied but mostly small porcelain or clay figures. When I had to move and downsize, I gave them to my son who doesn’t really care about them, but displays them in his living room. After I stopped collecting owls, I moved on to Erté plates from Franklin Mint. I have six, and two coffee table books about them. But it’s been a year or more since I looked at the books, and I had to put the plates away when I downsized four years ago.

Many years ago, mostly because of my interest in Erté fashion, I started collecting fashionable ladies, mostly in porcelain and mostly less than a foot tall. I now have three 18” tall ladies (one Lladro), two 8” tall Lladro bridesmaids, one 8” tall Royal Daulton lady and a lovely slender 8” tall lady my sister sent me from Paris. My sister also sent me a painting of a pink lady and another of a model wearing a lovely scarf. There is also a 2’ tall plaster white lady that I saw in a thrift shop and had to have.

A friend recently gave me three little snowmen (about 5” tall), and I had long ago found a 15-16” tall Irish Santa figure, that have become part of my collection. In addition, I have a pair of old-fashioned baseball kids, 6” tall, in plaster.

My final topic today is about my latest WIP, a collection of short stories, similar to my self-published book, “The Dawn People,” about life in the Grey Owl tribe of the Megalithic era. I’d drafted ten stories until I started to edit them and realized three of them really didn’t belong. So I had to come up with three more stories that would fit, and those are still in very rough draft form at this point.

I’m still working on two other YA books, one a fantasy about a witch and a gemstone, and the other Book One of a thriller trilogy, about an investigative reporter who takes a sabbatical to drive around the Pacific Coast mourning her beloved husband. I’ve finished a YA novella called “Magical Brownies,” and another, contemporary middle grade book, called “Snow” about a girl and her white horse, which I’ve discussed here before. But so far I haven’t had any luck getting the attention of an agent or a publisher for either book.

17. November 2022 · Comments Off on A SUNDAY PICNIC · Categories: --- · Tags: , , ,

In his new white Lexus convertible, Dave O’Reilly drove his girlfriend of just a few weeks, Iris McArthur, through the quiet Northern California countryside. A closed picnic basket sat on the back seat next to Iris’s black and white Springer spaniel, Maxie. Newly in love, the young couple found it almost impossible to keep their hands off one another.

“I hope you like potato salad,” Iris said dreamily, snuggling close. Dave nodded sagely; he would like just about anything she had prepared for them.

They drove through the countryside on this Sunday afternoon in early spring, listening to their favorite songs on a CD, admiring the scenery, and searching for a likely place to stop for their picnic.

“How about under that tree up there, on the little hill?” Iris asked, pointing her adorable chin.

Dave shook his head. “No, honey; I think that’s private property.” Smiling, Iris nodded and patted his knee, then leaned over to lay her head on his shoulder while he grinned contentedly and put his free arm around her.

After an hour or two – neither of them particularly aware of just how much time had passed – they found a perfect spot for a picnic. As Dave pulled into a verge beside the road, the dog bounded out of the car and directly over to a tall tree, where he lifted his leg to water it.

Iris chuckled, and said, “I guess it’s a good thing we stopped when we did.”

Dave grinned at Maxie’s obvious relief, and they climbed out of the car and carried the basket over to a big, shady oak tree. Iris laid out a blue and white tablecloth from the basket, some covered bowls, plastic glasses, and a bottle of sparkling cider.

Maxie, the dog, bounded joyfully over to a small creek that wound its way through the little valley where they had parked, barked at nothing and ran back to his mistress. He barked again, as if to say that this was indeed a very good spot, and then settled down beside the tablecloth, panting happily.

“Let’s eat,” Iris said, and uncovered the bowls and began pouring the cider. There was cold chicken, potato salad and chocolate cake, which they ate slowly, occasionally passing bits of chicken and cake to the dog or to one another. They chatted tranquilly between kisses, enchanted by the changing images in the clouds floating overhead, and by the sun slowly sinking behind the nearby mountains. After a while, they both grew drowsy in the late afternoon warmth.

***

“Huh, what?!” Dave was suddenly awakened by the feeling of a hand laid lightly on his stomach. Expecting to see his lovely Iris, he smiled slowly and then opened his eyes to observe that the afternoon had grown late and it was getting dark. His smile quickly vanished as he found himself looking directly into the crazed, wild eyes of a life-sized gargoyle.

He jerked upright, suddenly terrified. What had happened? He looked around wildly for Iris, fearing that the monster had done away with her while they slept. The dog lay silently beside Dave, its eyes open but unseeing.

Dave couldn’t see his girlfriend, and then the gargoyle-like creature leaned in closer to him and grinned, its mouth dripping saliva and blood, and he screamed in terror. The monster’s mouth opened wider and wider and, as it came closer to him, Dave saw that it was wearing Iris’s pretty dotted Swiss dress and white shoes.

02. October 2022 · Comments Off on THIS IS A HONEYMOON? · Categories: Short Stories
rock in between grass and flower
Where I thought my honeymoon might be.

It seemed to Alma that a honeymoon wasn’t really supposed to consist of several weeks flying around the galaxy, trying to be first to find a valuable prize, using clues supplied on each of the first seven planets they’d be directed to.

Edward was avidly interested in finding this prize. “As an inveterate gamer,” he said, “I heard of this treasure hunt several weeks ago.”

He had eventually persuaded Alma that it would make for a fun honey-moon.

So newlyweds Alma Pedersen and Edward Whithers set off in their lovely new spaceship, on March 10, 2156. Edward told his wife that all the treasure-hunters were starting from Earth. Their first stop was on a planet the natives called Heaven, to find a clue to the next stop.

“From what I can see in the brochure,” Alma told Edward as they approached orbit, “Heaven is a lot like Earth’s Caribbean island, Guadeloupe.”

She was able to convince Edward to spend at least two days there, “For the honeymoon we never got,” she said.

Walking toward the resort-like hotel where they would stay, Alma pointed out, “I can’t help but admire those flowers.”

They took their time pacing the path, and both stopped to smell most of the blossoms.

“Those pink, orange, red, purple and blue flowers are gorgeous,” Alma noted. “And those high, snow-covered mountains in the distance are just beautiful, aren’t they?”

Without waiting for an answer, she pointed up to the sky. “The clouds are so fluffy and pure white, and the sun seems just the right temperature to make sitting outside comfortable.”

She very much wanted to stay, almost more than she wanted to win that treasure. As a matter of fact, she thought, I don’t really care if we win. But Edward does.

“Isn’t this a beautiful place?” she asked her husband again. “It looks so much like the Caribbean. I wish we could stay longer than just a couple of days.”  

“Well, I’m sorry,” Edward said, “but you know that the whole purpose of this trip is to get to the planet where the treasure is hidden before some other contestant beats us to it.”

Alma nodded, half in sorrow for the wasted beauty.

Heading up to their rooms, they decided to go for a swim before doing anything else. But as they opened the door, they saw a note on the pillow. It told them that their next destination would be the planet Hell.

Once settled into their deluxe room, they descended to the pool and, for the next two days enjoyed themselves sightseeing, eating, and swimming under the hot star, until Edward decided they’d been there long enough.

When he told her to pack up, Alma objected. “But do we really have to check out that awful industrial planet next?”

Edward nodded. “It’s where we’ll get the next clue,” he reminded her. She wondered why he was willing to stop at any place called Hell by its inhabitants, but she knew better than to challenge him about it.

________

As they stepped off the ship on Hell, the second planet on their itinerary, Alma said, “I’m reminded of the Gobi Desert, but without the breezes and the possibility of an oasis.”

Edward laughed, but Alma hadn’t really meant it as a joke. She shook her head ruefully, and hoped they wouldn’t need to stay for very long.

Before they could locate the planetary director for help in finding their way around, Edward and Alma were abducted by protestors and taken to a warehouse-like building. There they were questioned by two hard-looking female miners.

“Why have you come here?” the ladies demanded. “What’s your agenda? Are you affiliated with Management?”

With apparently no reasonable-sounding motives for being there, they were nearly pressed into hard labor in the fiery, humid mines.

Alma was soon seen to be sympathetic for their cause, and the two interrogators decided they liked her too much to toss her into the mining camp. They were already dissatisfied with the way things had been going in the mines so they told her keeping her behind would be another form of protest.

As the couple were leaving Hell, they found a note stuck in the hatch, with a clue that led them to the next planet, which was called Aroma.

Traveling on to the planet, they found humanoid people. Stepping off the ship as they landed, they were approached by several natives. Thinking these were the welcoming committee, the couple stepped forward and were hugged, one at a time, by all four natives. That’s when they realized that the natural smell of the natives was appalling. These putrid-smelling creatures loved to hug one another, as well as tourists.

Even Edward was repelled by the eagerness to share their overwhelming odor, and agreed with Alma that they couldn’t get off that planet soon enough. Before they left Aroma, they were notified that the next destination was called Heinlein.

On Heinlein,, the couple hesitated because of the previous stop. They slowly exited the ship, but found no one there to meet them. They took waiting transport into the city and encountered humanoid robots, who nearly ran them over and walked on, heedless. The robotic natives didn’t care at all where they walked, and ran into others, or stepped on them if they didn’t get out of the way in time.

Alma witnessed several unfortunate collisions of the natives with fellow tourists, and thanked God that she was young and nimble. She had needed that agility several times.

When they returned to their ship, they were handed a note by the human guide, a clue that sent them on to Flash.

_________

On Flash, they encountered a human guide who offered to show them around for the two hours they’d allotted for this planet. They met six native creatures, who gazed at them and flashed several different colored lights. Neither Alma nor Edward could work out just what these lights meant, and the guide was no help at all.

They asked to speak to a native but they where told there was no communication possible with them. These alien creatures turned into blue, green or purple lights for no discernible reason. When Edward questioned their guide, he told the couple that these inhabitants changed lights with their moods. And no one knew what those moods might be.

“The best I can tell,” he told them, “the blue lights express hunger; the green light is for happiness; yellow is for sadness, and the purple light says they’re thinking of leaving wherever they are. I don’t know anything more than that.”

Before they left Flash, their guide told them their next stop would be on a world called Woodland.

As soon as they’d disembarked on Woodland, Alma and Edward encountered what they thought looked like a lovely copse of trees. They stepped onto a path that seemed to lead through the trees. Thinking it would be restful, and might lead to an adventure, they set off along the path but suddenly they could hear whispers, and then chattering.

Alma and Edward looked all around, wondering if some travelers might be walking ahead of them, but no one who’d left their ships had gone in this direction. But before very long, Alma determined that it was the trees that were talking. Astonished, she tried to engage a couple of them in conversation, but she was ignored and it seemed that the trees simply talked to one another.

However, on the path back to their ship, they were directed by a tree to their next stop, a world everyone simply called Serpent. When they landed there, the name of the place appeared to have no Earth-like sounds at all.

There were several snakes where they landed, and the guide told them, “This world is inhabited by human-sized snakes that seem to completely ignore the tourists, mostly.” He then added, “It’s okay; the snakes rarely kill anyone,”

Alma turned to find herself standing beside a huge snake and screamed, and the guide pointed out calmly, “It’s usually the ones that scream and yell that get killed.”

When she heard this, Alma announced, “I’m going back to the ship! I’m not staying somewhere that snakes this big might kill me, rarely or not.”

_________

On their final day of travel, they landed on the planet of the treasure, and found several other ships already there. Using the clues they’d found on the previous worlds, they raced to the finish line. Edward pushed off quickly, leaving Alma to take up the rear, which she didn’t really mind.

But the Spieler announced that Chimneysweep had won. He said there were no other prizes, and that Alma and Edward had come in fifth.  

After hearing this, Edward turned and chastised Alma. “If we hadn’t stopped at that Heaven planet for two days, we might have been here first.”

But Alma didn’t for a moment regret having stopped there; it was the closest they’d come to a real honeymoon.

They boarded their ship and flew straight home, Edward in a dejected mood. But Alma was happy enough, realizing they were still alive and in love, and that they had had several quite interesting, though on occasion uncomfortable or frightening experiences.

02. October 2022 · Comments Off on SARAH-LOU AND THE THREE CREATURES · Categories: Short Stories

Her mom would say she was pouting, but twelve-year-old Sarah-Lou didn’t really care what you called it—she was upset!

To begin with, in math class that morning, Mrs. Young asked for homework to be passed forward. She saw right away that Sarah-Lou was empty-handed and said, “Sarah-Lou, I’m disappointed in you. This is not the first time you’ve skipped doing your homework, is it?”

“No, ma’am,” Sarah-Lou said, “but I just can’t see how fractions and climate studies are ever going to do me any good.”

Shaking her head, Mrs. Young turned back to the class and said, “All right, people, this quiz is on the material you studied last night. I’m sure most of you will do fine.”

“Oh-oh,” Sarah-Lou murmured, knowing what was coming. Sure enough, before class ended, Mrs. Young dropped her quiz paper in her desk with a bright red “C-” at the top. A few snickers went around the class among those who could see it.

Mrs. Young smiled grimly and said, “If you’d studied, Sarah-Lou, I’m sure you would have done much better.”

When the school day was over and her mom came home from work, Sarah-Lou felt good until almost dinnertime. Her mother hit the roof about the C- and told her dad. She could hear them arguing in the kitchen, and worried about what would happen next.

A few minutes later, her dad stomped out of the kitchen and nodded at her. “You won’t be going to the zoo this weekend,” he said, and she could hear the disappointment in his voice. “You’ll have to study instead.”

And after that, all she did was throw some books at her bedroom door! This, of course, upset both her parents and they sent her to bed! Well, she was upset, too!

As she started to drift off to sleep, she wondered once again whether her parents truly loved her—maybe they weren’t her real parents at all. She often had this worry. It was strange that she was tall and thin, with dark hair and eyes, while her siblings Geraldine and Dennis were short and chubby, with blond hair and lively blue eyes; Sarah-Lou looked nothing like them. However, the thought that she might not be her parents’ child alarmed her, so she decided to think about her grandpa’s horses instead.

Sarah-Lou thought horses were fabulous, and her grandpa had promised at her last birthday that he’d get her a filly of her very own someday. She’d call her Sparkle, and she’d be . . .

Suddenly a strange noise in her closet startled her out of her reverie. Not a child who feared a monster in the closet, she got up and opened the door. Suddenly, she was being lifted a long way up and looked into the face of a tall, very ugly creature with wild hair. This being had apparently emerged from her closet. But scary as those words are, for some reason the creature didn’t really frighten her.

His pale, thin, lanky body made her think of a skinny goblin, and clumps of ridiculous-looking hair stuck up all over his head. His wide floppy ears seemed far too big for his head, and a strange yellow mustache drooped down over a cheerful smile. He wore a funny-looking sweater that made her think of Christmas sweaters but without the cartoon-y images. His sandals looked like her dad’s beach clogs, and she could see his round, dimpled toes sticking out of them.

“You have to help us, girl,” the creature pleaded in a soft, rumbly voice. Us? Sarah-Lou looked around to see who else was there, but saw no one. The creature wrapped his arms tightly around her and bent at the waist, peering all around the room. She felt like a baby in his arms, but also like a well-protected, precious object. Apparently satisfied that they were alone in the bedroom, he tiptoed over to Sarah-Lou’s bed, leaving the closet door open. He placed her gently on the bedspread and knelt beside the bed to lift the dust covers and peer underneath. He stood, and Sarah-Lou watched him open each drawer in the dresser; she was pleased to note that he seemed to find nothing disturbing.

He sat on the bed next to her and called out quietly, “It’s okay; you can come out now.” As Sarah-Lou turned to look at him, she saw out of the corner of her eye that two other equally strange-looking creatures were creeping shyly out of the closet. One was very, very short and fat, almost bearlike, and wore a funny hat with what might have been a purple feather in the hat band. The other looked almost like one of those “little grey men” her dad talked about now and then, but this one had normal-looking eyes, and smiled shyly at her.

The one on her bed said, “My name is Hemdahl, girl, and this is Micheaa a and Offenheil. Micheaa a’s the little one.” The other two grinned bravely, and Sarah-Lou noted they were even odder-looking than Hemdahl. Micheaa a was shorter than Sarah-Lou but as fat as Humpty-Dumpty. Sarah-Lou thought the other one, Offenheil, looked like a Martian, though she had to admit she’d never seen a Martian.

Micheaa a seemed more like a stuffed doll than a bear, with skin that resembled a vinyl tablecloth and yellow curls like her dad’s corkscrew. His eyes were little black buttons, and he wore tiny eyeglasses that hooked behind small round ears. His brown suit and bright yellow bow tie made her think of a short, chubby businessman.

The little creature called Micheaa a trembled as she looked him over, and stared at the floor. Hemdahl elbowed him and he hiccupped and said, in a tiny, faint voice, “How-do, little girl,” and stuck his hand out.

As she shook his white-gloved three-fingered hand, Sarah-Lou said, “I’m pleased to meet you, Micheaa a,” just like her mother taught her.

The other creature, Offenheil, was green. She must be a female, Sarah-Lou thought, because she had very dark hair cut neatly above her shoulders. Though normal, her brown eyes were still quite large and shiny. She was about Sarah-Lou’s height, but thin. She seemed to Sarah-Lou as if she might fit right through the keyhole. Her green skin was shiny, not at all like a goblin’s, and weirdly, Sarah-Lou thought, she wore a pale yellow dress and sandals.

Offenheil pursed her lips and, in a voice that startled Sarah-Lou, who expected a weird, alien voice like her appearance, she said quietly, “’Allo, ducky. Pleased ta meetcha.” Her voice was much deeper than Micheaa a’s, Sarah-Lou noted, and she had what sounded to Sarah-Lou like an English accent that made Sarah-Lou think of Eliza Doolittle in the movie, My Fair Lady. Her face looked humorless and serious, like Sarah-Lou’s third-grade teacher, Mrs. Holman.

Why are these people in my closet? Sarah-Lou wondered.

Hemdahl answered her unspoken question with, “We must have come here by accident, girl. We weren’t at all sure what to expect so we had to be very careful. We’ve never been to this dimension before.”

Sarah-Lou frowned. She thought she knew that there were three dimensions – height, depth and width. But the rest of his statement made no sense at all.

“Arrived from where?” she asked. “And why did you have to be careful coming out of my closet? And what do you mean by ‘this dimension’?”

“Well, girl,” Hemdahl said, nodding, “I was just about to tell you everything. Let’s all get comfortable, shall we?”

They all sat down on Sarah-Lou’s bed, and then Hemdahl said, “This is about a map, you see. And our queen.”

As he talked, the other two kept butting in with comments and Micheaa a with hiccups, until Hemdahl finally told them they could finish the tale. The story the creatures told Sarah-Lou all came down to this.

***

Micheaa a started. “We are Appevines from the kingdom of Elemia. That’s in a different dimension, you see.”

Offenheil took charge, and her accent seemed to disappear, or Sarah-Lou got so used to it she didn’t hear it any more. “Ya see,” she said, “We’ve a special map that’s s’posed to help us find our Magic Princess.”

“Magic Princess?” Sarah-Lou asked. “I didn’t know there was any such thing as a Magic Princess. Is she in England?”

Offenheil grinned and shook her head. She went on. “While we were tryin’ to follow the map’s puzzlin’ directions, we must’a took a wrong turn, and ended up in your closet.”

Hemdahl took up the story again, “We’re being followed by Hablo, an adventurer from a kingdom near ours. He stole the map nine years ago and then sold it to me at the bazaar last month. He wants the map back now. I think he followed me after I bought it, and heard us talking.

I’ve been looking for this map for the last nine years and I finally traced it to Hablo. But I couldn’t figure out how to get it until he decided he needed money and put it up for sale. You see,” he said, “this is the map that will lead us to the Magic Princess.”

Micheaa a chimed in, “But Hablo’s a good-for-nothin’ thief. Since he’s a liar himself, he was suspicious and followed Hemdahl. He (hiccup) overheard him tellin’ us we could now go lookin’ for the treasure. You see, Hemdahl was always careful not to say he wanted to find the princess, so Hablo only knew the map was for somethin’ valuable. But if he knew what it was really for, he’d just try all the harder to get it back.”

Offenheil nodded, and went on with the story. “Our king’s dotter, the Magic Princess, ya know, was taken away as a babby, after the evil Prince Eddington decided she was a threat to ‘is future reign over the Elemia kingdom. A servant stole the Princess to protect ‘er, and made up this map an’ then hid it. But no one knew where it ended up. Then, only a year er so ago, our Hemdahl stumbled on the info about the princess an’ the map. He’s bin tryin’ ever since ta figger out a way ta find her.”

Hemdahl said, “Yes, girl, we believe the princess has been disguised, and she may not even know who she is.” He stood up and walked restlessly around Sarah-Lou’s room, peering into her toy boxes and looking out the window.

Offenheil said, “The princess must ‘ave a very good disguise. We fink she looks loike just an ordinary ‘uman girl. She was prolly exchanged fer someone else’s own babby, an’ raised by commoners.”

Sarah-Lou was startled when Offenheil said the princess must be human. She said, “Aren’t you human?” Offenheil and Micheaa a giggled, and Micheaa a said, “Oh, no, little girl. We told you – we’re Appevines. We’ve (hiccup) always been bodyguards for the royal family. They’re all human, and most of the kingdom is, too. But for every duke and duchess, earl and lady, there’re Appevines guardin’ them.”

Then Hemdahl came back to stand beside the bed, and said, “We have to go back to our own dimension now. That’s where the princess is going to be found. I’m not at all happy about this side trip.” He closed his eyes for a moment as if to make a decision, then walked over to the closet and gazed into the dark space while the other two turned back to Sarah-Lou.

Offenheil said, “The princess must be brought back ta the queen, her mother. She’s missed her very much.”

Looking at his hands crossed in his lap, Micheaa a broke in to say, “The map’s the only record of where she went, and we’ve gotta find her soon. The evil Prince (hiccup), Eddington, is gonna take over the kingdom if the princess don’t come home before the queen dies. She’s very ill and ain’t gonna live more’n a month. She’s been ailin’ ever since the princess was taken. She don’t eat, don’t sleep, just paces all the time. Now the doc’s told us that she’s on her last legs. This means that she don’t have long to live,” he confided solemnly as he looked into Sarah-Lou’s face.

A tear appeared from under one of his eyes and streamed down his stony-looking cheek, and his trembly voice continued: “The princess can’t rule when the king dies ‘cause she’s so young, and ‘cause we don’t know where she is. But if we could find her and bring her back before too long, the queen will likely recover and keep ruling until the princess can take over. But as the late king’s nephew, Prince Eddington has the blood, and he’s desperate to rule the kingdom.”

Sarah-Lou wondered why the princess’s magic didn’t let her find her own way back to the kingdom. She said, “I know if I had any magic, I’d be using it.” Maybe to get a hundred on my next math test, she continued to herself. Or maybe, she thought, she’d turn her brother and sister into white mice or turtles.

Offenheil said, “Oh, little girl, we know she’d use her magic to come back ta us, if only she could. But,” she continued, “the princess prolly doesn’t know about her magic. For many centuries now, the royal magic hasn’t developed unless the heir was akshally inside the kingdom’s borders. This is prolly still true, so wherever she is, the princess prolly doesn’t realize she has magic at all.”

Sarah-Lou asked to know more about the magic, so Hemdahl went on, “Most royals must be trained to develop their magic powers. The Court Sorcerer trained both the late king and his brother-in-law, Prince Eddington’s father, but they both died five years ago. But the prince didn’t get any training; he developed his magic powers all by himself, and he believes that he deserves to be king because his magic is so powerful.”

Micheaa a said, “Ya know, he’s just thirty years old, but his magic’s more powerful than any other royal in history, even the king. But without the trainin’ he would’ve had if his mother (hiccup), the king’s sister, had been able to afford it, he never had to learn to hold back or control his magic. He uses it for everythin’, even conjurin’ up cake and ice cream, but he likes to use it ’specially for wicked purposes. He hates us Appevines and the whole Elemia kingdom fears that we’ll all be overpowered by his evil spells if he inherits the throne.”

Offenheil nodded slowly in agreement. She looked at Hemdahl for a long moment, and Sarah-Lou thought they were talking without words, like her parents often did; then he nodded quietly. Offenheil said coolly, “Hemdahl and me believes the prince is ‘aving the queen poisoned.”

Hemdahl said, “I hate to have to admit it, but it’s possible. He has sometimes barged into the royal kitchens and tossed everybody out, and several of the serving people say they admire him and wish he were in control.”

He continued: “Several other Appevines have searched for the princess over the years, but no one has ever found a trace of her. Last year, we found some evidence that a nurse, who had loved the queen very much, took the princess when she learned that Eddington wanted her out of the way. She carried the princess away from the palace, but no one knew where. I knew I should wait to go searching for her until I was able to find the map she’d drawn, which the new evidence said would tell where the princess had been taken. I still think it’s the only way to find her.”

He saw that Sarah-Lou was very interested in their tale, and asked if she would be willing to help them. “Even though we found you by accident, there could have been a good reason for us to come to you. I’m very sure you can be of help to us, because of your great charm and beauty.”

Flattered, despite her doubts, Sarah-Lou nodded and agreed to go with them, but said she couldn’t leave without telling her parents. Offenheil helped her write a note saying for them not to worry and that she would be back before tomorrow night. Offenheil assured her that was true.

Gathering up her purse and her birthday money, Sarah-Lou pulled a T-shirt on over her nightie, and drew on her blue jeans and ballet shoes, and they all stepped into the closet. With the door closed it was very dark, and Hemdahl admitted he had no idea how to get wherever they were supposed to go.

At first he tried jiggling the doorknob back and forth and, when nothing happened, he knocked on the door in a certain rhythm which he told Sarah-Lou was a favorite practice among his people.

“Like my grandpa showed me,” Sarah-Lou said, “‘shave-and-a-haircut, six-bits.’” He nodded, and suddenly they were somewhere else.

***

No longer in the darkness of the closet, Sarah-Lou saw they were now surrounded by bright sunlight. They were in a quiet forest glade, with tall, friendly-looking trees all around. Although it had been early evening when they went into her bedroom closet, it was now broad daylight. There was a faint path in front of them and Micheaa a hiccupped, then asked, “How do we know which way we should go? There’s a sugar cane on the map, but what does that mean? And see, the path goes both right and left. Sarah-Lou, should we toss a coin?”

Sarah-Lou looked at Hemdahl, then at Offenheil who smiled encouragingly. She paused to think and then, because it seemed to take them away from the deeper forest, said, “Maybe we could try the path to the left.”

The others nodded again and they set off through the woods in pairs, Hemdahl and Offenheil in front. Micheaa a held Sarah-Lou’s hand as he was a bit worried by so many trees. They followed the path a short way until they came around a large tree and suddenly, in front of them was a small pink castle. Sarah-Lou said, “That must be where the princess is!”

Hemdahl cocked his head and thought about it for a moment. Then, taking Sarah-Lou’s hand, he led the rest forward. Just as they reached a bridge crossing a small moat, Sarah-Lou saw movement out of the corner of her eye. Thinking it was a bird landing on a nearby branch, she turned and saw instead a tiny dragon. Never having seen a dragon before, she had always thought they were huge, scary creatures. But this one was just a little larger than a parrot, and its wings were thin and filmy, just like a fly’s wings. The dragon perched on the tree limb looking down at them until Offenheil said, “Allo’, Mr. Dragon. Did ya want sunthin’?”

In a voice that made Sarah-Lou think of Elmer Fudd, the tiny dragon said, “Yeth, you mutht leave before my mathter, the Margriffe, arriveth. He will be here in leth than an hour. He ith to be married to the Pink Printheth in that cathtle today, and nothing mutht get in the way. I’ve been put here to thtop all trethpatherth. Pleathe leave!”

But Micheaa a had other ideas. Sarah-Lou saw that, for a trembly little fat man, he was very brave. He pushed forward and, after hiccupping twice, puffed himself up as large as possible and proclaimed loudly, “We’re here on a royal mission! We must go into the castle to meet with the Pink Princess. We’ve been searchin’ for our own Magic Princess for a long time, and if she’s here, we gotta find her!”

The dragon fluttered down into Micheaa a’s face, his little wings flickering rapidly, and cried out, “No, no! You mutht leave! If the Margriffe returnth and findth you here, he will dethtroy all my brotherth! I’ve promithed him there will be no trethpatherth. Now leave, or I’ll have to breathe fire on you!”

Offenheil, who seemed to Sarah-Lou to be the peacemaker, stepped forward and stretched her hand out to the dragon. He fluttered silently in place for a moment, then dropped onto her arm, perching on it as he had on the tree limb. He looked around at his visitors and seemed to admit the difficulty he would have in fighting them, so he said in defeat, “Oh, well, if you mutht go in, pleathe try to be out in an hour.”

Hemdahl smiled at Sarah-Lou, then said quietly to the dragon, “Well, we don’t have to go in if you’ll tell us whether there’s a young girl in there – she’d be about twelve years old.”

“No,” the dragon said. “There’th no one in the cathle egthept the Pink Printheth, her parentth the Pink King and Queen, and their thervanth, none of whom ith under the age of 50. You’ll have to look thomewhere elthe for your Magic Printheth! Tho you thee you have come to the wrong dwelling, and now you can leave.”

Hemdahl said, “Yes, we’ll leave. But first, maybe you can help us to find where we’re really supposed to be. Would you look at our map and tell us whether we’re going in the right direction?”

The little dragon fluttered over to Hemdahl’s shoulder and looked down at the map. He turned to look back along the path the way they had come, and said, “Go to the village jutht a half hour’th walk to the thouth; it’th called Thitthell. You’ll find your way to your printheth there.” Looking back and forth between Hemdahl and the dragon, Sarah-Lou asked, “Is that south? I know we studied directions in school last month, but I just can’t remember which is which.”

“Yeth, that’th thouth,” the dragon told her. Hemdahl thanked the dragon and asked him to give to his master, the Margriffe, their wishes for his happiness in his upcoming marriage, and for many children. Then the travelers set out for Thistle.

The first person they ran into when they arrived at the village was a young woman sitting on a bench labeled “Train Stop.” She agreed to help them, and told them to call her Fudge. Sarah-Lou commented to Offenheil in a whisper that “Fudge” was certainly a strange name for a person, but the young lady was very helpful.

When Hemdahl explained their errand to her, Fudge told him, “I believe I saw the princess as a baby, just after she was stolen. I think the baby was taken to the owner of a circus that was passing through.”

When Hemdahl looked at the map again, he was surprised to notice a circus tent, one he hadn’t seen before. “This must mean that Fudge is right. What else can you tell us, Miss Fudge?”

“The woman who had the baby,” she said, “was looking for a family who would adopt her. She said someone else had told her about the circus owner, and she believed that he’d see the child got a good home.”

Fudge went on to say, “I can’t tell you where the circus went after they left Thistle. But I think our local psychic might help if you cross her palm with silver.” She directed them to her house, and said, “Her name is Madame Celeste.”

When they met with her, the psychic, Madame Celeste, agreed to look at their map. She said, in a mysterious voice, “I see it all … You will go to a shop near here where they sell circus tents … There you will purchase a specially-made tent that will show you the way to where the princess stopped next … Be sure to reward the shopkeeper well or you’ll have nothing but bad luck.”

Hemdahl nodded gravely, and thanked Madame Celeste. Sarah-Lou handed her the only silver she had – a shiny new quarter that her little brother had given her for her birthday. Madame Celeste rolled the quarter around in her palm and pinched it between two fingers, then smiled her acceptance of this reward.

They found the shop Madame Celeste told them about, and were shown hundreds of tents of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Hemdahl said to the owner, “We were told you would be able to show us a special tent for finding a princess. Is that true?”

The shopkeeper considered the question for a moment, then took them to the back of his shop where there were even more tents. He reached into an old wooden cupboard and brought out a brilliantly colored tent. He grinned, and said, “This might be what you’re looking for. I’ve had it for almost ten years now, but it never seems to mildew or get dirty. It must be something special, and I think it might get you where you want to go.”

Offenheil asked the cost and the shopkeeper coughed a little, then lowered his head and directed his eyes at Sarah-Lou’s belt Endalle. The Endalle, which Sarah-Lou’s mom and dad had bought for her in New Mexico when they visited last year, was sterling silver and turquoise. She really didn’t want to give it up, but Hemdahl assured her, “If we don’t find the princess, girl, all the Appevines will be killed when Eddington takes over. And if we do find the princess, I’m sure she’ll be most happy to award you an even lovelier belt Endalle.”

Offenheil touched Sarah-Lou’s arm and smiled, and then Micheaa a put his arm around Sarah-Lou and squeezed, saying, “Please, Sarah-Lou. I know you won’t regret it.”

So Sarah-Lou unbelted her Endalle and handed it to the shopkeeper, who grinned happily and gave Hemdahl the tent. The four of them walked to an open area next to the shop and set up the tent. When it was upright, Sarah-Lou thought it looked like a booth at the county fair, where she remembered her mom paying a gypsy to read her palm. There was a little white fringe over the entrance, and the tiny tent was covered with wide green, yellow, red, blue, and purple stripes.

When it was erect, Hemdahl walked into the little tent, followed by Micheaa a. Sarah-Lou watched, thinking the tent would be too small for all of them, then Offenheil gently pushed her into the tent. Once they were all inside it, they suddenly became aware of a very strong odor. Hemdahl exclaimed, “What in the world is that foul smell?”

Micheaa a and Offenheil held their nostrils closed with their fingers, and Sarah-Lou stepped outside to see what could have arrived here that caused such a disgusting stench. She immediately saw that they were now somewhere else, no longer in the meadow next to the tent shop. She saw the tent was now located in the roadway, right in front of a lovely wood-shingled green and white house with a yard full of roses; a tiny dog barked at her from behind a white picket fence.

The smell that had driven her out of the tent turned out to be a strange mixture of the lovely aroma of newly baked cinnamon buns, being sold from a small shop next door to the cute house, and the awful odor of a pigsty right behind their tent. Holding their noses, the little party crossed to the cinnamon shop and asked the shop owner, who told them his name was Carroll, where they might find the circus.

He appeared very happy to see them, especially Sarah-Lou, and showed them a brightly colored circus poster that directed patrons to a town Carroll said was just a half-hour’s walk to the west. Sarah-Lou said, “I know which way that is – it’s away from the sunrise, right?”

Carroll said that was correct, and then said, “You’re so clever and so lovely, Sarah-Lou – I’d like you to have a free cinnamon bun.”

Sarah-Lou replied, “Oh, thank you, but I couldn’t eat a bun all by myself when my friends are hungry, too. But I don’t think we have enough money for cinnamon buns.”

She started to figure out how much it would cost for four buns at 75 cents each, but soon gave it up. Carroll smiled, saying, “There’s no need for money – I’m happy to help out such a lovely girl and her friends. I have free buns for all of you.”

He handed them each a warm, sticky cinnamon bun, and Sarah-Lou thanked him sweetly as the four of them started off toward where he told them the circus would be.

Within about ten minutes, as soon as the little town of Thistle was out of sight, the four travelers found themselves walking through another forest. Unlike the first one, this forest was deep and dark, and even Sarah-Lou felt a bit frightened. Micheaa a gradually began trembling more and more, and he finally stopped walking.

He said, “Effie, don’t you think there might be another way there? Let’s try another way.” And he turned and began walking rapidly back in the direction they had come from.

Offenheil looked helplessly at Hemdahl, who strode over to Micheaa a and grabbed him by his jacket, stopping him in his tracks. “Don’t worry,” he told the little man. “There’s nothing here to be frightened of. It’s just trees. Trees aren’t going to hurt you.”

After a few minutes of quiet discussion, Micheaa a sighed, hiccupped, and set off again, now walking between Hemdahl and Offenheil. Sarah-Lou paced along behind them, looking around and wondering if Hemdahl was right that there was nothing to be afraid of. She hoped so.

They were soon surrounded by dark, threatening trees, with only the path they were on to hint that anyone else might exist in the whole wide world. It was very quiet, and Sarah-Lou wondered why she could hear no birds singing. She noticed the sun seemed to have gone behind a cloud, dimming the whole day.

As they walked, Micheaa a seemed to cheer up a little, although Sarah-Lou found she was feeling a little sick herself. She wondered if this was what anxiety felt like, and Offenheil, seeing her distress, soon dropped back to walk with her.

At the point when they could see nothing but trees in all directions, a huge black horse, carrying a rider dressed all in black, thundered down the path toward them. The horse had a thick black mane, and his tail flew out behind him. The rider wore a black plumed hat and a long, dangerous-looking sword.

As soon as Hemdahl saw him, he stepped protectively in front of his little group and put his arms up to halt the rider. Sarah-Lou wondered how such a tall, thin goblin-looking man might stop that large horse and the scary-looking rider. The horse seemed to skid to a stop inches in front of Hemdahl, and the black-clothed rider demanded, “Hand over your valuables!”

Since they had no valuables except Sarah-Lou’s purse and the map, which they would need to continue their journey and pursue their quest, Hemdahl told him he was sorry but they had to refuse him. At this, the brigand jumped off his horse and pulled his sword out, waving it threateningly, as Offenheil and Micheaa a tried to hide behind Sarah-Lou. The bandit thrust the sword first at Hemdahl and then at Sarah-Lou, but then suddenly, his horse bolted and ran off into the trees.

The rider stood there, astounded, and then sprang off after his horse, the sword flashing in the sun which had finally come out again. The little group was shocked and puzzled, as they could see no reason for the horse’s action.

Micheaa a whimpered, “Oh, he was so scary, wasn’t he?”

Sarah-Lou agreed, saying, “I was very frightened; I wished that awful man would just go away and not bother us anymore. And then that’s just what he did. It was remarkable.”

The other two agreed, but decided to continue their journey; as Offenheil said, there really was no alternative.

It wasn’t long before a huge circus tent came into view. It was set up just outside the town’s walls, and they could see several adults and more children lined up at the entrance. They walked toward the line and were stopped by a very friendly clown who greeted them with a loud, “Hi, there, folks! I’m Wally Paar, the owner! Welcome to the Parr & Parr Circus! Step right over here, and I’ll treat you to a free ride on the roller coaster!”

Hemdahl tried to say, “Hello there, Wally. We’re here to ask . . .” but the clown would not let him finish. He encircled Hemdahl and Offenheil in his arms and swept them all toward the barker standing in front of the roller coaster. The barker shouted, “Welcome to the Parr & Parr roller coaster. Just answer a few simple questions, and you can ride free! How much is 24 minus 9? And how do you spell leopard?”

Sarah-Lou quickly said, “The answers are 15, and L-E-O-P-A-R-D. Is that right? I’d love to ride the roller coaster – can we?” she begged.

All four of them climbed into the roller coaster, Hemdahl and Offenheil a bit reluctantly as they kept trying to make Wally listen to them. As they got into the cars at the front of the roller coaster, the circus owner yelled, “When you finish that, we’ll have some cotton candy! You like cotton candy, don’t you? Everybody loves cotton candy!”

As they started off, zipping up and down, around the curves, and over and under, they couldn’t help but become excited and happy. Sarah-Lou thought, This is what circuses and amusement parks can do for you.

They spent the next hour quite joyfully with Wally, Micheaa a tossing bean balls and Hemdahl throwing darts at balloons. Hemdahl won a little panda bear that he gave to Sarah-Lou. Then Wally took them to meet the other clowns and to ride the elephants, and they took a trolley car through the Tunnel of Horrors and saw skeletons, vampires, and monsters of all kinds. Wally wanted them to try all the rides, but finally they were able to convince him to stop for a moment and take a look at their map.

Hemdahl reminded Wally about the baby that had come to the circus twelve years before, asking him who had adopted her. Finally, Wally agreed to look at the map.

“I can only see the seashore after you pass the circus tent. This must mean the baby must have been adopted by a family who took her to a resort town called Monterre. You’ll find that near the ocean, forty miles from here.”

When he saw that his visitors had had enough of the circus, he ran off to find other unsuspecting customers, and the seekers were on their way again.

Sarah-Lou and Hemdahl were disappointed and a bit downcast at the news that their next goal was forty miles away. Micheaa a wailed, “We can’t walk forty miles! How’re we goin’ to get there?”

Offenheil seemed ready to cry, though Sarah-Lou thought her stern face wasn’t really meant for tears. She said quickly, to stop her friend from weeping, “Maybe we can find a taxi to take us there. Or maybe there’s a train. There are trains, aren’t there?”

Hemdahl assured her, “We will definitely get there, girl.”

But she couldn’t help wondering how; they had no idea how much farther they might have to go after they found Monterre, and she wasn’t sure they could find the Magic Princess and be back to her home by that evening. She couldn’t help but feel very gloomy.

As they stood brooding over what to do next, a very nice young man walked up to them and said, “I heard you folks talking, and I’d like to offer you a ride to Monterre. My name’s Hank, and I have a wagon. I have to go to Monterre today, so if you’ll allow me, I can take you there. I don’t want to charge you since I’m going anyway, but it would be a little harder on the horses if I took all four of you.”

Sarah-Lou saw that he was young and pleasant looking, and had a dark brown beard and a floppy red hat; she thought they could trust him and convinced the others. Hemdahl accepted his offer, saying they would be glad for his help. As he left to collect his wagon, Sarah-Lou wondered what they could pay him with.

He rode up a few minutes later in the front seat of a large wooden wagon, drawn by a pair of elderly gray and black horses. He said, “If you could just give me your charm bracelet, young lady, I can take you all to Monterre.”

After a little thought, as it had been a gift from her best friend, Lucy, Sarah-Lou agreed and they all climbed into the wagon.

As they drove, they talked over their dilemma with Hank, and reached the resort town in just an hour without incident. But when they got there. and Hank dropped them at the corner where he had to turn, he told them, “I’m very sorry but I’m unable to help you find the couple who adopted the baby.” As he rode away, the group of travelers feared they might have run into a dead end.

The resort town of Monterre sat across a little lane from the seashore, and profited from the light ocean breezes. It was a cute little town, and as they stood on the corner they were passed by a number of people dressed in shorts, eating ice cream cones, and walking dogs. Sarah-Lou looked at the sun shining bright in the sky above, and the warmth of the day felt good on her skin. She realized she was hungry, and that she hadn’t eaten since Carroll had given them the cinnamon buns, so she looked around and soon sighted a hot dog vendor nearby.

Using two dollar bills from her coin purse, she bought lunch for them all. While they were standing around eating hot dogs and drinking sodas, Offenheil got Hemdahl’s attention and told him she was overhearing an interesting conversation. Motioning toward two funny-looking strangers who stood fifteen feet away with their heads together, she whispered, “They seem to be having an enthusiastic argument.”

“So?” Sarah-Lou said. She thought they both looked a little like her brother’s Frankenstein doll, only shorter. They were just a bit taller than she, and had square, lopsided-looking heads and mismatched arms and legs. She told Micheaa a, “They look like they’ve been put together by someone who didn’t know what people should look like.”

Offenheil whispered to Sarah-Lou, “They’re Appevines, too. I heard them say, ‘Our Lord Eddington will get here very soon.’”

Micheaa a told Sarah-Lou quietly that Offenheil had exceptional hearing, and that she would tell them what the two bad Appevines were saying. As the funny-looking characters talked on, Offenheil repeated what they said:

“Eddington told the short one that ‘e found ‘Ablo, and that ‘e knows ‘oo took the Magic Princess away twelve years h-ago. The short one says ‘Ablo ‘as drawn the map from memory. The tall one says the prince duddn’t know where she was taiken, but she c’n be found near ‘ere, and ‘e wants ‘em to pick up ‘er trail.”

Sarah-Lou wasn’t sure which was the short one and which the tall one – they looked exactly the same size to her.

Micheaa a suggested to Hemdahl, “We should follow them. I don’t think they know we’re (hiccup) also lookin’ for the princess.”

Hemdahl answered, “I agree they don’t know we’re on the trail, but I’m not sure that following them will do us any good. They might figure out what we’re doing and trick us – that kind of Apppevine has the bad habit of deceiving people, especially since they were hired by the evil prince.”

Sarah-Lou said, “Well, maybe they don’t know about Offenheil’s good hearing so they won’t figure out we’re after them until it’s too late. Let’s just follow them for a while and see if they know where to start. If they don’t, we can just go on with what we’re doing.”

All three good Appevines nodded. That seemed like an excellent plan, and so the four of them followed the bad Appevines. The peculiar creatures first went to the Mayor’s office, where they spoke to the Records Clerk. As she stood inconspicuously fifty feet away, Offenheil listened and told Sarah-Lou that they asked where they might find a child stolen twelve years ago and adopted in this town. “So they do ‘ave h-enough h-information to ‘ave gotten ‘ere,” she said.

The clerk told them, and Offenheil told the others, that without the names of the adoptive parents, there was no way she could help. The bad Appevines told each other that since they didn’t know the names they would have to figure something else out.

Hemdahl and Sarah-Lou decided together that the bad Appevines were no better off than they were, so they decided to keep following their own map.

***

Leaving the Monterre Mayor’s office building, the four friends sat on a bench at a bus stop to look at the map. Hemdahl told them he had found a hook and ladder fire truck on the map, and Sarah-Lou thought that must mean a firehouse. They looked around and asked passers-by for a nearby firehouse, finally finding one a block away. When they walked in, the Fire Chief came to meet them, saying, “Howdy, folks. It’s nice to see strangers in our little firehouse. Is there something I can help you with?”

Hemdahl stepped forward to tell him what they were looking for. He thought about it for a moment, then said, “You know, I recall a beautiful baby girl, who got adopted by some nice people twelve years ago and taken to live at Land’s End. That’s another half-hour walk south.”

So, since it was still good weather and not too late, they headed out to walk to Land’s End. As they left the little resort town heading south, Hemdahl saw someone walking towards them about a block away. He recognized the thief Hablo, and turned to warn Sarah-Lou that they should avoid him. As he came near them, he reached over and grabbed the map out of Hemdahl’s arms and started to run.

Micheaa a gave chase immediately, and Sarah-Lou dropped the panda bear and ran after him too, but they were soon outdistanced. Then Hemdahl came running up behind them, and Offenheil right along with him.

Hemdahl and Offenheil passed Micheaa a, who stopped and panted for a while, trying to catch his breath; then the two of them passed Sarah-Lou. She saw that the two bigger Appevines could run much faster than she could, and she watched as Hemdahl and Offenheil almost caught up with the thief.

But then Hablo put on a burst of speed and disappeared around a corner. When Offenheil reached the corner and stopped, she turned to Hemdahl and shook her head. It looked to Sarah-Lou as if Hablo was out of sight, and Offenheil didn’t know which way he had gone.

Sarah-Lou’s distress began to increase, and soon she had grown quite angry. She said to herself, “That just isn’t right! Oh, I wish that bad man hadn’t gotten the map!” As she turned to walk back to Micheaa a, she became aware that although she had dropped the bear, she was still clutching something in her hand. She stopped and opened the map, and was so startled she almost dropped it. As she stood there wondering what on earth was going on, Hemdahl and Offenheil came up to her and saw that she held the map.

Perplexed, Hemdahl asked, “Where did you get that, girl?”

“I don’t know,” she answered. “I just watched you two lose Hablo and I was heading back to wait with Micheaa a when I found it in my hand.”

“That must be magic,” Offenheil said. She smiled and said to Hemdahl, “Maybe the Magic Princess h-is real close now, and she somehow knew we needed ‘er ‘elp. Maybe she magicked the map back to h-us.”

“Well,” Hemdahl said, frowning. “I suppose it’s possible. But why didn’t she magic it back to me, and not Sarah-Lou? I was the one who had it first.”

By this time they had reached Micheaa a, who had stopped panting and sweating, and was almost recovered. He saw that they looked confused and puzzled, and asked, “What’s the matter?”

Sarah-Lou said, “I don’t know. The map just appeared in my hands. We think maybe the Magic Princess knows we’re trying to find her, and helped us.”

“Well,” Hemdahl said, “I don’t know. It could be that Sarah-Lou has some magic, too. Maybe that’s why the map first took us to her. Do you think that might be it, Offie?”

Offenheil considered and then said, “Oi’m not sure. H-it could be why that black rider’s horse ran away when Sarah-Lou was frightened. Sarah-Lou, try h-and do some magic now. H-if you can, we’ll know that’s the answer.”

So Sarah-Lou waved her hand at a passing car and said, “Car, stop and take us to our next location.” Nothing happened. Micheaa a said, “Maybe ya have ta make a rhyme; I heard a magician once who (hiccup) did magic with rhymes.”

“Well, okay, I’ll try. But I’m not very good with rhymes,” Sarah-Lou said.

“Abra cadabra, passing truck, stop and bring us our good luck.” Again, nothing happened, so she tried once more: “Hickory dickory cookery cow, bring us to the princess now.” Once again, nothing.

Convinced that Sarah-Lou didn’t have any magic after all, Hemdahl told his little group that since Hablo had seen them and knew where they were, they should disguise themselves.

“What kind of disguises should we wear?” Sarah-Lou asked. Micheaa a pointed out that, “Hemdahl, I think that Hablo doesn’t know where we’re going. So just about any disguise will be as good as any other.”

They pondered where they might get disguises, then Offenheil called Hemdahl’s attention to a surplus collection bin they were passing. They could see some clothing sticking out of it. Pulling things from the bin, they were soon dressed in quite interesting outfits.

Hemdahl wore a huge tan trench coat and found a funny-looking hat that he said was a deerstalker cap, like the one Sherlock Holmes wears. He seemed to Sarah-Lou to drown in the large coat, and the cap sat on his wild hair like a crow on a cuckoo’s nest.

Offenheil put on a bright orange jumpsuit, and Micheaa a said she looked like a jailbird. He found a Santa Claus suit, which Sarah-Lou thought suited him perfectly, and she found a long, shiny, dark blue cloak with a hood that made her feel like a “child of the night.”

They returned to their original plan of walking south toward Land’s End, enjoying the warmth of the day and the exercise they were getting. At one point Micheaa a pointed to a passing vehicle and asked Hemdahl, “Is that them Appevines from before? (Hiccup)”

Hemdahl and Sarah-Lou both looked up as the truck passed them, but couldn’t tell who was in it. But Offenheil said, “Yar, matey – that’s them. If they get to Land’s End before we do, they might find the princess first! But wait, the truck is turning in the wrong direction, iddn’t it? They must not know the next stop is Land’s End.”

The other three cheered quietly and, continuing their walk. They arrived at Land’s End quite soon. Hemdahl said, “Those Appevines might have had a bright idea when they asked at the Hall of Records. Let’s try that, too.”

A passerby directed them to the Hall of Records, but they were disappointed when they got there to get the same answer the bad Appevines had been given in the last town. However, the clerk, whose name was Jackie Albert, took a liking to Sarah-Lou. He told her, “I’m sorry I can’t help you with the official records, but I might have an idea how to find the adoptive family you’re looking for.”

Jackie arranged to meet them after work an hour later, and took them to the edge of town to visit his mother, Maggie Albert. She told them, “I was a member of a royal family myself, in an earlier life. I remember the magic I could do, and that I was so happy. I’d love to help you find your little Magic Princess.”

She thought about it for a moment, then said, “I remember when a darling little brown-eyed, brown-haired baby girl was adopted nine years ago, by a couple who were called Turner. They lived in a little house on the corner, but they moved away seven years ago and I don’t know where they went. I’m so sorry.”

As a thank-you, Sarah-Lou gave Maggie and Jackie the lovely appliquéd purse that her grandmother had given her. Then, gloomy and sad, they left the Alberts’ house, fearing they’d reached a dead end once again.

Sarah-Lou said, “Oh, Hemdahl, what are we going to do now? I have no more valuable items to pay people with, even if we find someone who knows where the princess was taken.”

Discouraged, the four of them walked back into the town and sat on a bench in a small park. As they were chatting unhappily among themselves, a sleek brown ground squirrel came out of the trees and crouched in front of them. At first they didn’t notice him, but soon Sarah-Lou pointed him out to the others.

He stared at them with what Sarah-Lou could swear was a thoughtful look, until they returned to their sorrowful discussion and began to forget about him. Suddenly they heard a loud “bang,” and the squirrel had changed into the evil Prince Eddington.

The horrid Crown Prince stood before them, tall and imposing, and glowered at them darkly. He roared, “I warn you, Appevines, stop searching for the Magic Princess! It’s none of your business, especially yours, Miss whoever-you-are.” He pointed at Sarah-Lou and then swung his arm around and, in a cloud of black smoke, an evil-looking apparition materialized. This demonic-looking presence boomed out, “HEED THE MASTER! STAY AWAY!”

Eddington gestured to his other side, and still another monstrous-looking image appeared in another cloud of grey smoke. This vision also thundered, “HEED THE MASTER! STAY AWAY!”

Then Eddington gestured all around him, and five more horrible phantoms appeared, all shouting, “HEED THE MASTER! STAY AWAY!” Huddling together on the bench, Sarah-Lou and Micheaa a were very frightened. Offenheil and Hemdahl, sitting on either side of the pair, shook and trembled also.

Finally, after throwing a few bolts of lightning all around them, and causing the ground to rumble and shake beneath them, Eddington sneered and commanded, “Heed me! I am the Master! I command you to stay away from the Magic Princess!”

Upon hearing this, Sarah-Lou decided she had had enough, so she stood and yelled at him, “Go away, you terrible man!” And then, as suddenly as he had appeared, he was gone, and all his phantasms with him.

***

“Little girl, did you do that?” Hemdahl asked. He and Offenheil stared quizzically at her, and Micheaa a hiccupped and scuttled backwards on the bench. Sarah-Lou nodded and said, “I think so. I just got so impatient with those awful threats, and I remembered the last time when I wished that Hablo wouldn’t keep the map and then I had it. I figured if I did have any magic, maybe I should do something, so I tried it. And it worked! I guess Hemdahl was right, and I do have some magic after all.”

“Blimey, that’s wot it looks like,” murmured Offenheil, although she didn’t look too sure. She said, “Well, Oi guess we should keep going. Hemdahl, can you figure h-out what the map says now?”

As he looked once more at the map, Hemdahl said, “Oh, yes. It looks as if our next step is to find a particular piece of jewelry. There’s an image here that might be a pin or an earring.”

Offenheil studied the map also, and said, “It looks like sunthin’ wif’ a dark blue or purple stone. Where do you fink we might find sunthin’ like that?”

Sarah-Lou had been gazing at the jewelry store across the street, and said, “That’s where it is. Let’s try there.”

Hemdahl and Offenheil looked at each other in silent communication again, then they all trooped across the street and into the shop. There were cases and cases of jewelry of all kinds displayed. “How are we going to find what we need here?” Micheaa a asked. “There are so many (hiccup) pins and earrings, and there’re blue stones and black stones and purple stones – I’m afraid we’ll never figure it out!”

The shop owner approached them and said, with his eyes on Offenheil, “What exquisite thing may I get you to enhance your natural beauty?” Hemdahl looked out of the side of his eyes at the flirtatious shop owner, but Micheaa a answered him, saying, “We need a pin or earrings with a blue or purple stone, but we don’t know what it looks like. Can you recommend anythin’?”

Offenheil thought the shop owner quite nice-looking and, since he was flirting with her, she smiled and flirted right back. Sarah-Lou looked on in amazement, and then turned to examine the cases of glittering bracelets and rings. She concluded that despite her earlier decisive-sounding statement, there was little chance they’d find what they needed here. As she started to admit this to Hemdahl, she heard the shop-keeper tell Offenheil, “You know, we’ve had an amethyst pin in our Lost and Found box for almost ten years. We have no idea where it came from, and it’s not all that valuable, but for some reason we’ve never thrown it out. Let me show it to you; maybe you’d like it.”

He brought out a sweet-looking little pin that was shaped like a crown, with purple stones at the tips. It had no clasp for the pin part, and Offenheil said, “Oh, matey, it’s loverly; thanks ever so!” She took it and, having nowhere to carry it, handed it to Sarah-Lou to put in her pocket. As she did, she felt a little lurch and suddenly the four searchers again found themselves somewhere else.

Sarah-Lou looked around at the splendid room they were now in, which she knew could only be inside a palace. She saw guards in glittery purple uniforms all around them, and chairs with red and gold silk or velvet cushions everywhere. There were gorgeous tapestries on the walls and beautiful marble floors underfoot, and there were lovely scented candles of all colors and magnificent flowers on tables along the walls. Everything Sarah-Lou could see appeared to be made of solid gold or studded with jewels, or both.

With great surprise, Micheaa a hiccupped and exclaimed, “I know where we are! We’re in the reception room at the palace in our own Kingdom of Elemia!” The four of them stood for a moment wondering how they had gotten here. Then Hemdahl and Offenheil asked each other why they would have returned to the palace without having found the Magic Princess. Just then the king and queen entered the room and, seeing Hemdahl, Micheaa a and Offenheil standing there, rushed over to ask if there was any news.

Micheaa a and Offenheil started talking at the same time, Micheaa a hiccupping excitedly and recounting their adventures to the king, and Offenheil trying to tell the queen that they had not succeeded in finding the Magic Princess.

As they all talked at once, Sarah-Lou found herself standing back shyly and wondering what to make of it. After a moment, she noticed that the king was staring directly at her. He had stopped talking and stood gazing at her for a long moment. Then, realizing that his attention had wandered from Hemdahl, the queen turned to look at Sarah-Lou, and she too stood and stared at Sarah-Lou.

Hemdahl, Micheaa a and Offenheil, who were babbling away about their adventures and their lack of success, abruptly fell silent and watched as the two royals looked at their new young friend. The queen suddenly sucked her breath in with a great gasp, and tears sprang to her eyes. She rushed forward and, kneeling, grabbed Sarah-Lou’s shoulders and wrapped her in a warm hug. Sarah-Lou was stunned and didn’t understand why the queen would embrace her.

As Hemdahl looked back and forth at the king, the queen, and Sarah-Lou, he began to smile and nodded knowingly to the other two. They all backed away from Sarah-Lou, and the king and queen. The king clutched at his chest, staggering toward his wife and Sarah-Lou and, when he reached them, he enfolded them into his own grasp and exclaimed, “My baby is home!”

***

The king and queen of the Kingdom of Elemia had recognized Sarah-Lou as their long-lost daughter, the Magic Princess. They were all deliriously happy and, after she was hugged and kissed all around, the king took her aside to explain. “The servant who took you away was a Triggam nurse. When she came back, she told us she had tried to find a family to adopt you that Eddington wouldn’t be able to locate.

“When we finally met the Turners, who were visiting from the other dimension where you live, they agreed to adopt you. But they didn’t know you were a Magic Princess, and the servant was never able to cross over again to collect you, so she drew up that map, hoping that someone else would succeed.

But then she fell ill and died, and the map was stolen out of her home. No one knew where it was until finally, the brave and brilliant Hemdahl learned that it had been taken by the thief Hablo, who put it up for sale at the bazaar where Hemdahl bought it.”

Their great happiness lasted only a little while, just until the evil Eddington materialized right there in the reception room. He flashed in with a roll of thunder, and all the merry courtiers began trembling and went down on their knees, which he demanded whenever he dropped in. He stood in front of the throne and made a wide gesture, and his phantoms appeared, all seven of them. They shouted and screamed that Sarah-Lou was an imposter.

Eddington demanded to be heard by the king and queen, and claimed that even if this child were the real Magic Princess, she had not been trained in magic and had no magical powers, so she was not qualified to rule the Kingdom of Elemia after the king. Only he, Eddington, should rule, and she would rue the day she tried to usurp him as Crown Prince.

For a long time, he kept the entire court cowed as he ranted and raved, using his horrid images over and over again to threaten the king and queen. But finally, the king and Sarah-Lou tired of his theatrics, and the king whispered to Sarah-Lou. Then together they made a certain intricate magical gesture that caused all of Eddington’s phantoms to disappear, leaving the prince completely helpless. He had finally found that his own magic was a bit short on power in comparison with the king’s and Sarah-Lou’s combined magic, and he was quickly sent into exile.

Members of the Court were deliriously happy that the evil Eddington would no longer threaten them, and a great celebration began that was to last for ten days. Sarah-Lou was asked to live with the king and queen, and to ascend to the throne when the time came. But she agreed only on the condition that she would live for part of the time with her adoptive family in the other dimension.

She told the queen how much she missed her brother and sister, and her parents and grandparents, and her dog. The king showed her how to use her magic to move between the dimensions. She arranged to return to her home that evening, but said she would come back the next day and take her rightful place as the Magic Princess of the Kingdom of Elemia.

The king recovered his health amazingly quickly, especially after Eddington was exiled and Offenheil took over the cooking. The Kingdom of Elemia had been saved from the evil Eddington, and the entire kingdom rejoiced. Hemdahl, Micheaa, and Offenheil swore fealty to Sarah-Lou (which means, they told her, they would stand by her forever), and the king appointed them to be her bodyguards and companions.

And, of course, everyone (except Eddington, that is) lived happily ever after.

28. September 2022 · Comments Off on A CITY OF GHOSTS · Categories: Short Stories

As we set out on this perhaps poorly-conceived quest, I have to wonder why I ever agreed to join, aside from my feelings for Henry.

To begin at the beginning, as my mom always demanded when I tried to tell her about the events in my life, I first became aware of this expedition a year ago. A group of archaeologists were to go on an expedition across the Sahara desert in search of a fabled ancient lost city. They were also hoping to recover a golden crown that legend said King David had once used to trap a sorcerer.

The leader of the expedition was to be Dr. Lawrence Bingham, 58, a seasoned archaeologist who had found an artifact containing what he believed to be directions to this fabled lost city. In addition, this artifact referenced the golden crown of King David. Larry knew of a different artifact that hinted of King David’s golden crown having been used to trap a sorcerer, something most of us in the group doubted.

Dr. Lawrence (Larry) Whidden Bingham, a brilliant archaeologist/professor, had had numerous adventures ala Indiana Jones, and I was to be his second in command. I’m Adele Jenkins, and I’m a seasoned archaeologist/anthropologist myself at, I’m proud to say, the young age of 27.

I was at that time in love with the other scientist in the group, Henry Rasmussen, a 31-year-old researcher. We were acquainted through previous digs, and it turned out he was jealous of Larry, but also very respectful of his qualifications and his six best-selling books. Henry was to write the story of the expedition.

Two others in the group were Larry’s students, Jacques Fournier, age 25, an exchange student from France, whom we called Jack, and Emily Taylor, a 23-year-old African-Americana fourth-year Social Sciences student, aiming for her Ph.D. Larry had also insisted on bringing along his nephew, Albert Bingham, a 21-year-old boy who ended up as Larry’s servant. Abe Mohsen, 36, an experienced guide from Demshir in Egypt, completed our group as we left that city to begin our trek.

By the third night of camping out on the desert sand, Jack and Emily had become good friends. They spoke about Larry’s exploits, as described in several of his books, and I occasionally sat in on their chats. They both admired him, and wished to be just like him.

At some point, Abe had joined them. He didn’t know the stories of Larry’s previous adventures, and the students were happy to tell him all about them. But he told me later that he wasn’t sure he believed them.                                              

Crossing the Sahara desert, we had to deal with the hot sun, treacherous sand dunes and storms, dry heat, and arguments among the group. Henry and Jack argued about language; Emily and Larry argued about a study plan; and Henry and I argued about why Larry was “so great!” as Henry described him. I guess I might have been a bit jealous of him at that point.

More than halfway across the desert, uncovered by a severe sandstorm, we encountered a dead city, though not the one we were seeking. In this place, we found a mummified queen and the petrified inhabitants of the city, as well as life-like humanoid robots and androids.

We found ourselves having to fight our way through the city as these non-living beings seemed to have been enchanted to prevent their queen’s rest from being disturbed.

Most of the group were involved in fights with these creatures. Some were injured, but none mortally, and all of us were able to go on. Once past the dead city, some of the group wanted to turn back, but we all finally agreed to go on. We were by then more than halfway to our destination.

The love story between Henry and I accelerates about now, and Henry’s jealousy of Larry caused me some problems. There was also a sexual encounter between Emily and Abe, which she tried hard to keep secret, but Jack found out and confronted Abe, threatening to go to Larry. He told Abe he must agree to break it off completely with her, to which he agreed; I thought his agreement came a bit too readily.

Soon after that, we met up with a golden horseman just outside the ancient city we sought. This horseman put up a huge battle as he tried in vain to keep us from entering the city. When Larry defeated him with a “sucker punch,” we found the ancient lost city. It had now become a “ghost town,” and it was here where we believed we would locate the crown of King David..

We encountered actual ghosts in this ghost city, and eventually Larry, who let us all battle the ghosts while he snuck through the city, succeeded in locating the golden crown. This led to his encounter with the ghost of King David, who told him all about the legend.

It seems that King David had enjoyed wearing a golden crown during his reign. He visited a city where he stayed for a little while to court a lovely princess, who eventually turned him down, despite the glittery headpiece. But during this visit, he was harassed by a young wizard called Kasiya, who was determined to damage the king’s reputation, as he had been jealous.

This sorcerer caused spiders and snakes to bedevil the king, and refused to stop even when the king offered him gold. When Kasiya created a dog-headed shapely girl-thing to entice him, the king had had enough.

He found another wizard, called Rashidi, who agreed to help rid him of Kasiya. This new sorcerer enchanted the king’s crown. The Golden Crown was used by Rashidi to craft a spell that, when Kasiya tried to create a spell against the king, his feet would light on fire. It was thus the sorcerer was defeated.

Before the king left this city to return to his own kingdom, he had Rashidi create a mist around it so that it seemed to the observer disappear. And over the centuries, it had become the myth of a lost city, where treasure might be found.

Now that Larry had learned the secret of the ancient city, and the myth of King David’s golden crown, we prepared to return home. Unfortunately, it was the time of the desert sandstorms, and we encountered at least three of these. We lost only one of our group, the young Albert, who was swept so quickly into a dune that built up around him that we couldn’t recover him at all.

Emily and Abe had to say goodbye to one another once we left the desert, and Henry would write up all that had occurred. Henry and I were now engaged.

As we traveled across the desert and back to Demshir, we talked about how we should present our findings. But we decided that it would be best not to let others know about the dead city, as the dangers still existed.

We prepared a story about how we’d found the crown, and whatever else we needed, to cover up the part of the story about the dead city. We wanted to tell only of Larry’s encounter with the ghost of King David, and that he’d learned the secret of the ancient lost city.