Natalie peered around the corner, wondering how much longer she would have to wait before the bird’s murky song echoed through the halls and set her free.
The wizard colonel in charge of the palace was unaware of her existence, and that was the only thing saving her ass right now. Natalie crossed her fingers that he wouldn’t find out about her before it was too late.
The first notes trickled through the corridor, and Natalie blew her advantage by stepping out at just the right moment, right into the path of Wizard-Colonel Larkspur. Their eyes met, and as he raised an eyebrow, the fear in her expression made him realize that this was a person he needed to know more about.
“Seize her!” he commanded, and the first three guards behind him grabbed Natalie by her arms and waist before she could turn and run in a desperate bid for freedom. “Bring her to me.”
The guards somehow managed to march Natalie the four feet between them, and the wizard colonel reached out a finger and tipped her chip up so he could look deep into her eyes. The puzzlement cleared from his face in an instant, to be replaced by a loathing that even the guards behind him could feel. Natalie cringed at the hurtful gaze, fearing the worst was about to happen.
“Take her to the dungeon at once!” His voice trembled the slightest bit on the last word, and Natalie was the only one who caught it. Her heart lifted anew with fresh hope, and she cooperated with the guards tugging her along.
She looked back over her shoulder just once, and her timing was perfect enough to catch Larkspur mid-shudder.
Natalie began to smile as she stood a little straighter. Maybe things weren’t as bad as they seemed after all.
He leaned against the stair railing, shoulders hunched, hands fisted in his blue jean pockets. The overhead light was busted; the empty socket stared from the middle of its broken glass face.
The girl ran up the stairs on a mission. Hey stepped back just enough to let her pass, but kept watch on her beneath lowered eyelids. She wasn’t going anywhere that he found interesting.
He strolled down the breezeway to give her access to the stairway again when she was leaving. She wouldn’t meet his eyes, but he was used to that.
Henry parked the truck in a cloud of dust right in front of the house. “Come on,” he beckoned with a jerk of his head toward the bed of the truck and handed Frannie a single bag containing a loaf of Wonder Bread.He gathered up the rest of the bags in his own arms and headed for the porch.
He dropped his load of groceries on the porch swing in order to struggle with the front door. “I don’t hardly bother locking it up anymore, what with as bad as it sticks nowadays.” He turned his head to tell Frannie.
She nodded solemnly, and her stomach rumbled again, more insistently this time. Henry laughed and finally got the door open.
“Got to get the plane out and fix this, but then I wonder why bother. I only go to town a couple times a week, and my little girl doesn’t visit near often enough.” He expertly threaded his arm through the mishmash of bags on the swing and carried them inside, leading Frannie to the right, through the dining room and into the kitchen. “Here’s good, girl.”
She reached up nearly as far as she could to put her lone bag on the counter and looked up at Henry. He told her to go have a seat at the table, so she did.
“Milk or juice? I got orange,” he offered.
“Orange juice is my favorite!” Frannie had already brightened up immensely.
Henry grinned as he opened the fridge and pulled the jug out. “Now, all I got’s real glass, are you up for the challenge?”
Frannie put her hands on her hips in mock indignation. “I’ll have you know, sir, that I can drink out of a real glass just as good as any grownup I’ve ever met, thank-you-very-much.” She reached out for the glass that he handed her and greedily gulped down three-quarters of the juice in one slug.
Henry had brought the juice into the dining room, so he topped off her cup. “Go a little slower on this one, or you won’t have room for a pb&j.”
Frannie nodded. “Yes, sir.” She sipped more politely.
Henry laughed and returned to the kitchen to put the groceries away. “Grape or strawberry jam?” He asked her, raising his eyebrows. “Or I can do both. Don’t tell anybody, but that’s how I like ’em.”
“My last mother only ever bought grape jelly, so I don’t even know if I like strawberry. Why not both?” Frannie remained as blunt as ever.
Her words were like a funny bone strike to Henry’s heart, and he shook his head as he turned to make two sandwiches. “I got to figure out how I can do right by this girl,” he muttered to himself. He cut each sandwich into four triangles, and brought the plates to the table. “Dig in!” he said, with a much brighter tone than he felt.
Read more of Frannie’s Misadventures here and find out how on earth she got where she is today.
“Just toss that bag in the back, there, girl, and climb on in,” he said.
Frannie did as he bid her, and settled herself deeply onto the passenger side of the baja-patterned bench seat with two dips, the one behind the steering wheel much deeper than the other. She peered around, especially eying a trio of pink fluffy googly-eyed creatures stuck to the dashboard, each wearing a sprinkling of beads on top.
The man entered the driver’s door and slammed it behind him, startling Frannie out of her reverie. “Oh, my little girl gave them to me once upon a time,” he chuckled to himself when he saw what she was staring at.
Frannie thought quickly. If he already has a little girl, I might be out of luck–but he’s awfully old to have a little girl my age, isn’t he? Well, nothing but to go ahead and ask. “You have a little girl?” She couldn’t quite keep the wistfulness from her voice, and he immediately reassured her.
“I did once upon a time, but she’s all grown up and has two little girls of her own now.” He nodded ahead of them, down the long straight highway to everywhere else. “I see her once in a while, but they live all the way to California now, so it’s not near as often as I’d like. Say, my name’s Henry, I’m sorry for not introducing myself sooner.”
“Frannie. It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.” She stuck out her hand, and when it caught his eye, bobbing wildly over the gulf between them, he grinned from ear to ear and reached out to clasp her tiny paw with his own. She gave two firm pumps, up and down and up and down, and released.
“Pretty fair handshake you got there, Frannie,” Henry complimented her, still smiling.
She smiled broadly herself, showing Henry the single spaced gap where she’d lost her first tooth just three days earlier. “Thank you. Do you have a wife?”
Henry’s smile faltered, and he shook his head. “She passed away two years ago.”
Frannie was young, and not quite sure what to say to that, but still, she felt the emptiness of something needing to be said. “I’ll bet she was pretty.”
This was exactly the right response. Henry brightened immediately. “She sure was. Prettiest girl I ever laid eyes on. Well, here we are.” He broke off as he turned onto a gravel road.
Frannie wondered where the house was, but just as she opened her mouth to ask, Henry rounded a curve and there it was before them: a lovely old farmhouse. Her eyes widened with excitement.
“Help me carry these groceries in and I’ll get you fixed up with some supper, how’s that sound?” he asked.
“That sounds wonderful!” Frannie’s words came out with more enthusiasm than anything she’d said in hours. She couldn’t wait to get inside a house again. One whole day on the road was more than enough for her.
Read more of Frannie’s Misadventures here and find out how on earth she got where she is today.
Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a young girl named Clara. Clara loved her mother and father very much, but on her twelfth birthday, a dragon swooped down from the blue, blue sky and ate them both up. The dragon looked at Clara, as if deciding whether or not to eat her up, too. Her parents must have made enough of a meal for him, though, and he flew off, burping a fiery belch as he beat the air with his scaly wings.
On her twelfth birthday, Clara decided that she would become a dragon slayer when she grew up.
The best–the greatest, most well-known and world-renowned dragon slayers came from a country bordering Clara’s homeland of Bodoni–a country called Eltis. In addition to training the fiercest, most dedicated dragon slayers in the world, Eltis also hosted the most respected school of magic in the world: two slightly related achievements. Related because dragons cannot be slain without magic; slightly because magic cannot be taught to someone without an innate talent for it.
With her parents lost to the appetite of a giant fire-breathing beast, Clara had no one to take care of her. Her father’s parents had died before she was born, victims of a rogue pixie who had sparked their cottage to flames while they slept peacefully in their bed. Her mother’s father had been crushed by the tree he was cutting down the previous summer, and her mother’s mother died of grief less than a month later.
She did have an uncle on her mother’s side, but no one had heard from him since he disappeared on his own twelfth birthday, nearly twenty years earlier. Sometimes Clara felt that she’d known him, she’d heard her mother talk about him so often and so fondly. Other times, Clara wondered if her uncle ever really existed. She had her doubts, since no one in their village knew of any other inexplicable disappearances.
Clara Paused to consider the fact that she was the only witness to her parents’ demise. Would anyone believe her? Of course they would; Clara was a trustworthy girl, and the marauding dragons had become more and more problematic as the year progressed. Of course they would believe her. She was twelve years old now; old enough for apprenticeship or marriage, even, if her family had been better off.
Clara laid down next to the scorched patch of ground that was all that remained of her parents. The clouds broke overhead, and a single shaft of sunlight reached down to caress her faced, drying her single tear and warming her clammy skin. Clara closed her eyes and drifted into sleep.
When she woke it was dark, and the air was growing chilly. She sat up quickly, and for a moment, lived again in a world with her parents. Then she turned her head enough to catch a glimpse of the burnt grass, and reality slammed back into her chest with a physical pain. She turned the opposite way to shut out the sight, and cocked her head as she realized that a fairy ring had sprung up around her as she slept. The small white mushrooms almost seemed to be glowing in the moonlight.
Clara tucked her feet beneath her as she sat up in curiosity, her grief momentarily forgotten. They were glowing; it wasn’t just a trick of the light. She leaned forward until she was on all fours and slowly, so slowly, crept forward.
The swish of wings sounded above her, and Clara cringed as she looked upward in fear, but it was a swooping bat, hungry for insects, not a dragon, hungry for Clara. She sighed in relief and returned her attention to the mushroom surrounding her.
But they weren’t mushrooms, after all, Clara saw as, one by one, the tiny glowing orbs began to craze with jagged cracks, She had no idea what was about to happen; no one had ever said anything about weird mushroom eggs hatching in the middle of the night. Having just turned twelve, however, Clara had precious little caution to begin with, and so she threw that little bit of caution to the wind and reached out to touch the nearest egg with one finger.
The shell fell to the ground in pieces, and Clara jerked her hand back. She quickly looked around as she heard the tinkling of the other dozen or so shells crumbling into shards. The light coming form the eggs intensified until Clara had to shield her eyes with one hand.
As one, the bright orbs rose from the ground and hovered a few inches above it. Clara fell back from the edge, then rose to stand in the center of the circle.
…to be continued.
Melissa rested her chin on her crossed forearms and stared out the window at the rolling countryside. Summers at her grandfather’s old farmhouse had been a joy when she was younger, but as a teenager, they weren’t nearly as much fun, at least, not at the start. She missed her friends and the old familiar places.
She stood up and closed the window, then turned to pull back the covers and get into the same bed that she’d slept in every summer for as long as she could remember. When she stretched her legs out, her toes encountered an odd square object tucked away at the foot of the bed.
She stretched a little bit further and hooked the top of her foot around whatever it was and slowly dragged it up the bed until she could grasp it with the spread fingers of her waiting hand. It felt like a small paper box, and she brought it up from beneath the covers to have a look at it, as best she could in the dimness of the country summer evening.
It was too dark to see much, so Melissa reached up and snapped on her bedside lamp. She blinked a moment, but her eyes hadn’t spent too long adjusting to the darkness, so in next to no time she was reading the fine print on the box containing one deck of tarot cards.
She brushed her fingertips around the perimeter of the box in wonder, but she was so sleepy after a long day of teenaged moping that she promised herself that she would go through each and every one of the cards first thing tomorrow before tucking them away in the drawer beneath the small lamp.
Her eyelids were heavy as she reached to switch the lamp back off, and she was asleep mere moments after her head hit the pillow, dreaming of cups and swords.