Each More Beautiful

A fairytale by Robin Wood

I’m one of 12 princesses, each more beautiful than the last.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Except that “more beautiful” is a relative term. It would be just as true to say that I’m one of 12, each plainer than the next.

My youngest sister, Eleanor, is lovely, with golden curls, dimples, and bright blue eyes. In fact, the youngest four are all really quite stunning, in their separate ways. The three before that are fairly pretty as well. Megan, Princess number five, is just ordinary looking; nothing special, but nothing untoward. Juniper, number four in line, has an unfortunate squint (she will not wear her spectacles) and unruly hair. Grace, the third oldest, is sadly knock-kneed, but happily her dresses hide it. She also freckles and somehow manages to look rumpled most of the time.

Jasmine is the oldest. You’d expect her to be the plainest of all, and I suppose if your idea of beauty is based entirely on softness and femininity you’d think you were right. She looks exactly like our father the king, but without the beard. She inherited his regal, beaked nose, his height, and his breadth across the shoulders, as well as his straight dark hair and piercing blue eyes. Like him, she’s slender and athletic, and inclined to stride about bellowing. She’s also going to inherit his crown, so really, her looks aren’t terribly important. She has plenty of suitors.

I’m Gayla. Second oldest. And I’m a mess. I’m as tall as Jasmine, but also what our mother the queen describes as “heavy set.” She means fat. On someone shorter, as I’ve had explained to me many, many times, it might be considered plump or cuddly. On me, because of my height, it just looks formidable, and unladylike. I’m not at all athletic, so our father has explained to me that there’s no reason for me to be so tall. I’d love to be shorter, but somehow it’s been years since I’ve managed it.

I also have wiry mud-brown hair that knots itself into tangles and escapes from all attempts to control it. My eyes aren’t any particular color, and they’re weak, necessitating the use of spectacles (which I wear.) I have freckles. And a wart next to my nose. And I’m clumsy.

There are 12 of us because our father the king really, really wanted a son and heir. But that didn’t happen, and by the time my mother the queen had had 12 daughters in 14 years, my father realized what story he was stuck in. Privately, I think he’d also grown so fond of Jasmine he wanted her to have the throne, not some hypothetical son of unknown character.

I’d figured out that we were going to be 12 Princesses by the time I was 10. I’d also realized that I was going to be the one that never married. At the time, I was delighted, because I had very little use for boys; I found them loud, stupid, obnoxious, mostly sticky, and with a tendency to laugh at things that weren’t funny.

So I decided I’d grow up to be Court Magician instead, and help our kingdom that way.

That would have worked out better if I’d had some magical aptitude. I was great with potions, but not so hot with the magic itself.

When I was 11, I decided that I’d become a great scholar and historian. My vast pool of knowledge and incisive decision making would save our kingdom in its darkest hour.

But history bored me to tears, and although I loved books, and would read for hours at a time, the books I loved were fiction; especially fantasy stories about places with no magic, and no monarchy. Which weren’t exactly prime material to learn anything that would be useful in the real world.

At 12, it was my ambition to excel at strategy and tactics. I would be a great general, renowned throughout the continent, and opposing armies would quail when they heard my name. I blame that on General Wain, who my father the king employed that year to teach us older girls about the Art of War. I thought he was devastatingly handsome, and cut a dashing figure in his bright uniform, glittering with gold embroidery and so many medals they could have doubled as armor.

It certainly wasn’t because I like war. On the contrary, when I see someone in pain it hurts me, too, and I do whatever I can to ease it and make them feel better. I can’t even kill a bug. There’s not a chance that I could order troops into combat.

I was 13 when Eleanor was born, and my mother the queen said “enough.” In my mind, that pretty much sealed my fate.

In a world like ours, where Destiny and Magic are the most powerful of the Natural Forces, I figured that meant I was just a placeholder. It was clear that Eleanor was going to have some kind of adventure and wind up marrying a hero, and the rest of us would be the 11 Princess who weren’t the youngest.

So we grew up.

We learned all the things that young princess are taught, including Statecraft, and how to rule a kingdom. Even Eleanor had to learn that, because her Hero might also be a Prince. As both our parents, the king and queen, were fond of telling us, it’s immense help to a king to have a queen who is well versed in all aspects of statecraft, including trade and taxes. I’m afraid I didn’t pay much attention, though, because I knew I’d never need it. Jasmine excelled in it, because she was going to have to rule after our father the king, which delighted him.

None of us could actually get engaged until Eleanor had had whatever-it-was, of course. But as the years went on it seemed that the palace was always full of various princes, courting one or another of us, or just hanging around. There’s no lack of small kingdoms like ours, which means lots of alliances and treaties. There’s nothing like a marriage to cement peaceful relations between kingdoms. I never doubted that Megan and even Juniper would wind up marrying some prince or other.

Grace has a lovely singing voice, so I assumed some blind harper would probably snap her up.

Which left me as the only one with no prospects at all.

By the time that Eleanor was 16, and it was reasonable to think that her adventure would happen soon, I was  29. Jasmine had taken over a lot of the State duties for our father, and I was helping with judgements and so on, but I still hadn’t figured out what I was going to do with myself once Eleanor was settled. Most of the younger ones had “understandings” with various princes by then.

I liked all the princes, which was good since a lot of them might wind up being my brothers-in-law, but I mostly sat back and watched rather than joining in. I mean, really, who would want to dance with me? If I stumbled, and I probably would, I might lurch against him and crush him like a bug! They asked, but I knew they were just being polite, so I always refused.

Instead, I concentrated on being happy for the younger ones, and tried not to think of myself too often.

Then it happened, right on schedule.

My parents noticed that Eleanor, who had always had a complexion like a blush rose, was getting paler and paler. She stopped eating, and started mostly playing with her food. She was tired and listless all day, and sometimes her bed looked as if she hadn’t been in it all night.

My father the king knew exactly what to do. He’d been preparing for this for years, after all. As soon as he realized that this was finally it, he sent one of his councilors to check on her in the dead of night. Sure enough, she was missing; but the door guard swore that she hadn’t left the room, and she wouldn’t say where she’d gone, or why.

He sent out a proclamation that very morning, announcing that he would give the hand of a princess in marriage to anyone who could solve the mystery.

All the princes who had been hanging around lined up. A fair number of young, unmarried men who weren’t royalty did, as well. (So did a few who were not young, but after a hurried consultation with my mother the queen, they were disqualified. The proclamation was amended to read “young men (under 35 years of age.)”

I expected Eleanor to perk up. After all, she’d been waiting her whole life for this. But I caught her peeking between the curtains at the line of men signing up for their chance, with tears in her eyes.

“Eleanor?” I said, as softly as I could. “Come to your Gayla,” and I held out my arms. She came, and leaned against me, crying her eyes out. “Do you want to talk about it?”

She burrowed into my shoulder, and then mumbled, almost too softly to hear, “I hate Destiny. Hate it, hate it, hate it.”

I sat down on the bench next to the window, and took her onto my lap. Great girl that she was, I was still much bigger, and had no problem at all cuddling her as if she was still six, with a banged up knee. “Don’t you want to have your Adventure?”

She sat up, and glared at me. “No! It’s stupid! Just because I’m youngest, I’m going to have to marry one of them.” she spat it out like a curse. This girl, who’d spent her childhood dancing around, singing and teasing the rest of us about her Adventure, no longer wanted any part of it! I have to admit, I was stunned.

She collapsed against me again. “Oh Gayla! I wish I was you, not me!”

“Me!?”

She nodded, sobbing. “You’ll never be forced to marry someone you don’t like, while your True Love is out there.”

Oh. “Eleanor,” I said, as softly as I could, “Have you met someone you want to marry?”

She nodded. I handed her my handkerchief. She blew her nose.

“Are you sure that he’s not out there in line, in disguise?” After all, that’s what I would have done, if it had been me in love with a princess. This was the chance for anyone to win her hand, and our parents the king and queen wouldn’t be able to object, no matter what.

“He can’t be.” She sniffled.

“Why not?” I asked. “Oh Eleanor… he’s not a vampire or something, is he?”

She smiled sadly, and shook her head.

“Is he under an enchantment?”

She sat up and looked at me, as serious as I’ve ever seen her. “Can I really, really trust you?”

That hurt, but I tried to hide it. “Oh dear heart! Of course you can!”

She held up her little finger. “Pinky swear?”

I hooked it with mine, without a moment’s hesitation. “Pinky swear!”

She looked up and down the hallway. When you have 11 sisters, you learn to be cautious.

“He lives in an underground kingdom, and the gate only opens when the moon shines on it.”

“Ah.” My father the king didn’t want to waste any more time than had already gone by. He’d been waiting too long, and he wasn’t a patient man. So all applicants had to be signed in today, the same day as the proclamation, although from the looks of that line it would take weeks for each of them to have their night.

Unless the answer was found before that, of course.

“Okay. This is what we’ll do,” I said. I had her total attention now.

“If this batch all washes out, then our father the king will have to open the competition again, and your beau can nip out while the gate is open, wait for the morning and the new proclamation, and be first in line.”

She nodded mournfully. “But what if this group doesn’t all wash out?”

“I don’t suppose that you could just go without seeing your prince for a few weeks?”

Her eyes got huge, and she clutched her heart. “I couldn’t!”

“Not even if it meant that you’d be able to marry him eventually?”

She started to cry again, and shook her head.

“Then I’ll see to it that all the ones in this group fail. A sleeping draught is easy enough to make. If they’re asleep, they can’t very well follow you when you sneak out at night.”

She gave me a tentative, watery smile. “You’d do that for me?”

“To see you happy? Of course I would.”

So that’s what we did.

For the next two weeks, I fixed a sleeping potion every night, and every night I’d give it to that night’s prince (or whoever) as he got ready to wait and watch on the couch in Eleanor’s room. Every night, it made him super alert for the first 10 minutes or so, and then he’d sleep soundly. Once he was snoring, Eleanor would creep out, see her prince, and sneak back in.

Every morning, the poor prince (or whoever) would stand before the court, and admit that he’d seen nothing; just the princess laying there. Some of them said she was there all night, and some admitted that they weren’t able to stay awake, but none knew where she went. Only a couple were dishonorable (or desperate) enough to make up stories; but they had no evidence, and broke down under cross-examination.

Eleanor still looked wan, because she still wasn’t getting any sleep to speak of, and she was still not sure that our little ploy would work as we hoped.

In the meantime, all the princes kept hanging around, as they had for years, except now they were joined by an odd assortment of other young men, from the traditional soldiers and woodcutters to the occasional clerk or farmer. We even had one artist, a tall, handsome fellow, who painted little miniatures of all my sisters and thrilled them to bits. He offered to paint mine, too, but I didn’t want one. You wouldn’t either, if you were me. He was fun to talk with, though.

I did what I could to make them all feel comfortable and welcome. My father the king was at his most jovial, since the Long Wait (as he put it) was coming to an end. My mother was a little on the frantic side, as she prepared for a dozen weddings all at once. She was convinced that the rest of us would be married within the week, once Eleanor was “taken care of.”

For those two weeks, all went well, and I was sure it would continue to do so.

Then it was the artist’s turn.

As I handed him the potion, he asked me, “What’s this for?”

None of the others had asked; they all seemed to assume that I wanted my sister married as quickly as could be, so I would be on their side, of course.

For a moment, I couldn’t think of anything to say. Then I said, “I just thought you might want something to drink.”

He reached out, and took the goblet, examining it carefully. Then he looked up, and pinned me with his gaze. “Do you bring this to all the suitors?” he asked.

I smiled. “Of course!”

He nodded. “Of course.”

I watched while he drank it, but the room was dim, and his clothes were covered with stains and blotches from all the paint. I never noticed him dribbling it down his chin, and into his smock.

He handed me back the empty goblet, and I smiled, told him to take care, and left.

My heart was lighter than usual, because the moon was waning. The next night there would be no moon, and it would be safe. More fool I.

The next morning, as usual, we all assembled in the throne room.

Eleanor looked worse than ever, because she knew that she wasn’t going to be seeing her love for a day or so. I was on edge, although I didn’t know why. My other ten sisters were getting impatient; they’d hoped to have this settled by now. The rest of the court was enjoying the show.

The trumpets sounded, the double doors were flung open, and the artist walked up to the thrones with a huge grin on his face. My heart fell to my slippers.

“Well?” my father the king bellowed. Not to be alarmed. He usually does.

The artist gave a sweeping and courtly bow. “Your Majesty, I have solved the riddle!” And he proceeded to lay out the whole thing. How as soon as the moon rose, my sister got out of bed, and tapped on the wall, opening a secret door. How she crept out, and he followed. All about the meeting with a prince dressed in white velvet, moonstones, and pearls. How they whispered vows of undying love, and spoke of the gate being closed except when the moon shone on it. He even had a tiny piece of the prince’s cloak, which had gotten caught on a bush, and tore off as he rushed to get back inside before the gate closed at moon-set.

As he spoke, poor little Eleanor got paler and paler. When he held up the scrap of white velvet, with tiny moonstones sewn to it, she was as white as it was.

Everyone in the court could tell that the story was true. There was no sense in denying any of it.

My father the king sighed, took her hand, and held it out to the artist.

“You have solved the mystery, and her hand is yours,” he said. I don’t think he was happy. He did love her, the most beautiful of his daughters, and she was obviously heart broken.

“Sire,” the artist said, “Your proclamation stated that I could have the hand of any of the princesses.”

My father the king blinked, and said, “You don’t want Princess Eleanor?”

He shook his head. “No sire. I have no wish to break a maiden’s heart.”

Eleanor smiled like the sun coming out. “Oh thank you!” she cried. I don’t think anyone has ever been so delighted to be rejected, before or since.

My father the king let go of her hand, and she quickly withdrew it. “I don’t understand! Would you rather have another of my daughters?”

He nodded solemnly. “Yes, sire, I would.”

“Well, which one?”

There was a rustle among my sisters. He was just an artist, although he was very handsome. I could tell that some were hoping it was them, and some were hoping he’d choose someone else, because of their “understandings.” Jasmine’s jaw muscles bunched, and I knew she was thinking that he was going to claim her, and through her, the throne.

But he smiled, and looked right at me. “Princess Gayla,” he said.

I sat there, stunned, while the room erupted in cheers.

Jasmine and Grace, sitting on either side of me, nudged me. I got to my feet, and stumbled over to my father. He took my hand, smiling as if it would crack his face, and put it in the hand of the artist. He’d scrubbed his hands well. There was only a hint of paint left, around his cuticles.

“Why me?” I asked, under the noise of the crowd.

He smiled fondly at me. “Because you’re the kindest.”

“But I’m so ugly!”

His eyebrows shot to the top of his forehead, and he stared at me. “Why would you say that? You’re lovely!”

I just stared back, thinking that perhaps he needed spectacles too.

He smiled. He has a wonderful smile. “You’ll make a striking queen, as well as a kind one.”

I smiled ruefully back at him. “Oh dear. I’m afraid that it doesn’t work that way. You have me, but not the title.”

“Oh, right! I was forgetting.” He grinned, and winked at me.

“Your Majesty!” he had to bellow almost as loudly as my father the king to be heard. But the crowd quieted as soon as he had.

“Yes?”

“I have a confession to make.” He let go of my hand, and ripped off his old paint-stained smock.

You can guess what happened next.

Sure enough, under it he was wearing a doublet made of cloth of gold, with emeralds sewn in an intricate pattern all over it. “Art is only a hobby of mine. I’m really Prince Giles, heir to the kingdom of Luxinstan.”

I thought the cheering had been loud before. The court pretty much exploded at that. I mean really, hats were tossed, the trumpeters each started to play a different fanfare for no particular reason, children were shouting and jumping up and down. It was just bedlam. After all, Luxinstan is the largest, richest kingdom around here, and my father had been trying to set up an alliance with them for ages. Being allied through marriage pretty much meant that there would be peace in this corner of the world for the foreseeable future.

So my mother was right. She did have to arrange a duodecuple wedding, (which was probably less work than 12 separate ones, but still.) Eleanor married her Prince, and was glowing so brightly she was practically luminous. They got married here, and also in his kingdom, because, as she said, anything worth doing was worth doing more than once. Jasmine married the prince she’d picked out to be her king nearly a decade before, and all the others married the princes they had understandings with. Even Grace married a prince, not a blind harper after all.

It turns out that looks aren’t everything, although Giles still insists that I’m not lacking in that department.

But I do wish I’d paid a bit more attention during Statecraft lessons. Life is a weird, unexpected journey. You never know what you’re going to need.


So, that’s the new story promised every-other-Saturday. I’m sorry there’s no picture for this one. I’ve been pretty sick, and didn’t manage to make one. 🙁

I hope you like the story! If you want to keep ’em coming, please consider joining my Patreon. Thanks!

Bully for You

Another Kip Andrews story! Enjoy. It’ll be up here for everyone to read for free until July 2, and then I’ll be moving it to Kindle.


I was in the middle of a book when the big Glass in the living room chimed.

“Kip, can you get that?” My mother was in the kitchen, making dinner.

I sighed, put my book down and got it.

“Kip Andrews.” The glass cleared, responding to my voice, and revealed a very pretty lady with a huge smile.

“Hi!” she said, all bright and chirpy, “This is Dana from the Pertwee Magical Supplies Assessment Office. Is a parent home?”

“Sure. Please wait a moment.”

I went into the kitchen, “It’s a lady from some Pertwee place.”

Mom put down the apple she was slicing. “Oh good!” She hastily wiped her hands on her apron, and bustled out of the room, calling “Keep your fingers out of that salad!” over her shoulder.

Fair enough. I opened the drawer, and got out an eating knife. No fingers, as ordered.

A squeal from the living room stopped me cold, with my knife poised over the bowl. My mother is not the squealing type.

“Mom? Are you okay?” No answer. I dropped the knife, and rushed into the living room.

“Mom?”

“Oh Kip!” my mom grabbed my hands, and twirled me around. My mom does not do things like that! I pulled my hands free.

“Mom, what happened?”

She clasped her hands under her chin, beaming at me, with tears in her eyes.

“Kip, we had the wood from the tree assessed. It’s all pure Lighting Struck Oak, grade 4, worth 3 ells a decidun. A decidun Kip! And we have a whole tree of it!”

We had a whole tree, because a couple of weeks ago, lightning struck the tree in front of our house, almost killing my brother, Jasper. Usually, lightning struck oak gets burned, or some of the tree isn’t energized. But this had been a big bolt, followed by enough rain to quench any fire. Grade 4 meant it was super charged, and the wood was sound, in pieces big enough to carve things out of.

“Now, we won’t get that much, of course. That’s retail, and we’ll be selling to them wholesale, but still, it’s going to come to several million!” My mom gave a little hop. I could see why. I couldn’t help grinning myself.

We were rich.

This was going to change everything.

By the time I got to school the next day, everyone knew. I have no idea how. I sure hadn’t told anyone. But somehow, the news had spread, and everyone was staring at me.

This was not going to make my life easier.

“Hey, Rich Kid!” I froze. I knew that voice. Lem Carter. He was the biggest kid in school by a fair piece, and he was an equal-opportunity bully. He picked on everyone. But there are degrees of being picked on.

Until two weeks ago, I’d been low on his list.

Yeah, I was hopeless in magic class, but I was a whiz in math. It evened out, at least in Lem’s tiny mind. Until I saved my brother’s life by using magic to get that tree off his throat. Some kids flat didn’t believe I’d done it, and Lem was their leader.

“I hear you got a pile from that tree. What say you give me a thousand or so?” He poked me in the shoulder. A tiny hint of what would happen if I didn’t.

I closed my locker, swiping the crystal to make sure he could see it was locked. Then I turned, swallowed the lump in my throat, and looked at him.

“Are you crazy? It’s not my money. It’s my parent’s!”

“Is that so? Hummmm… “ he rubbed his chin, pretending to consider, but his eyes were narrowed and gleeful. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to be content with whatever you have on you, then.” He grinned.

I scanned the hall. No teachers. Of course. Just his backup squad, cutting me off from everyone else.

I gave him a friendly smile. I hoped.

“Why do you think I have cash, Lem?” I could hardly hear myself over the pounding of my pulse in my ears.

His smile turned meaner than ever. “That’s a point. And I can’t ask you to glass it, you’d only stop the payment.” He paused. “I know! You can bring me cash tomorrow.” He stopped smiling. “At least 100.”

“Why do you think my folks would hand me 100 in cash?”

“You better pray that they do, Stunto. Just pray that they do.”

He laughed, and he and his so-called friends turned and sauntered away. I leaned back against the lockers, trying not to be sick. There was no way I could get that much money. No way.

After that, things just went from bad to worse. Of course. It was Tuesday, and that meant Magic Lab.

I’ve hated magic since I can remember. Two weeks ago, the very day that lightning struck, I realized it’s because I hate change. Magic makes things change into things they have no business being. I mean, I guess I don’t hate the magical tech, or anything. I’m not a Fudder. But tech is different. It’s not something I have to do, myself.

I had hoped that when I understood what my problem was, it would go away, at least enough to get through Magic Lab. But no such luck. It seems that just knowing why isn’t enough. I still had a hard time making myself do it.

So there I was as usual, making a mess of Larkin’s Smooth Surface. It has an easy sigil, which I’d already drawn, but it takes more power to activate than anything we’d done.

Mr. Wilfred had given us all little petri dishes full of dirt. Mine was mixed mud, gravel, and what looked like a crumpled candy wrapper. The spell was supposed to turn the whole thing into a polished slab.

Most of the other kids weren’t having any problems. Their dirt melted and flowed into what looked like marble.

But mine just sat there, stubbornly remaining a handful of dirt. Probably from the playground.

Jamie, who was next to me, leaned over. “Having trouble, Stunto?” she whispered. Then she looked quickly to the table past hers, where Lem was leering as he watched.

I didn’t blame Jamie. She didn’t want to be on Lem’s bad side. No one does. Of course, all his sides are bad, but you know what I mean.

I ignored her.

“Someone who can work half a tree of Lighting Struck Oak shouldn’t have any problems with a measly little smoothing spell.”

I sighed. “What are you trying to say?” I looked past her, at Lem. I knew who was the puppet, and who the puppeteer. And I wasn’t going to waste words talking with the puppet.

“Admit it, Stunto.” He left Jamie out, too. “That tree missed your brother. He broke his arm falling, and you stepped in and took all the credit. You just wanted to look a little less like the Magical Stunto that everyone knows you are.”

“Believe what you want.”

“Oh, no. I’ll believe the truth. And the truth is that you are just a pathetic Stunto. You’re not fooling anyone. If you could do magic, you would. But you can’t, can you, Stunto?”

Around me, I could hear the whispers starting. “Stunto, stunto… “

Mr. Wilfred looked up, from where he was helping Sherri Therein, in the front of the room.

“Lem, do you need something?”

“No, sir.”

We all turned back to our dishes. I hate Magic Lab.

I tossed my stuff onto my desk, and looked over at Jasper. That’s my brother. He’s Perfect, you know. But right now, he has yellow bruises all over, especially on his throat, and his arm is in a cast.

He was reading, with his face all kind of screwed up.

I’ve been trying to be gentle with him, since the accident. I don’t really mean gentle; that’s not the right word. It’s more like he’s taken care of me, ever since I can remember. So I’ve been trying to take care of him. Like the power running the other way, or something. Anyway, I’ve been trying not to bug him.

But this was too much for me, and he was still my big brother, so…

“Jasper, I have a problem.”

He looked up, his eyes clouded. “Oh, for…   What now?” He sounded disgusted. He never sounds disgusted.

“There’s this kid at school, Lem Carter.. “

He rubbed his hand over his eyes. “Let me guess. He’s being a bully.”

“How did you know?”

“He has a brother in the year below mine. Bad news.”

I sighed with relief. I didn’t have to explain.

“Yeah, and he’s telling me that I have to bring 100 ell in cash to school tomorrow, and give it to him.”

Jasper frowned. “Where did he get the idea that you have that kind of money?”

I shrugged. “I dunno. It seems like everyone knows about the tree, and that we’re rich now.”

“We’re not rich now. We’ll be rich in a couple of months, when the sale of the tree goes through, and all the taxes are paid. That kind of money takes a while to set up and transfer.”

“Yeah, I know. I tried to tell him.”

“What do you want from me, Kip? I can’t go to your school and beat him up for you. This is your problem. You handle it. You know what to do. Tell someone, ignore him, make a joke – Mom’s told you all of this.” He went back to his reading.

“Jasper? But.. “

He slammed the book down. “Just leave me alone for once in your life, and don’t keep asking me to do everything for you! Okay?” He got up, and left the room.

He’s changed. I mean, I know he’s in pain and all of that. Mom says he’s coming to grips with his own mortality, whatever that means. But still.

My old brother’s superior attitude could be really annoying. But right then, I wanted my old brother back.

Did you know that you can mold mashed potatoes like clay? They’re lots softer, but they can hold a form, for a while.

“Kip, that’s enough.”

I looked up at my Dad.

“Stop playing with your food, and eat it.”

I sliced the head off the tiny statue of Lem, lying defeated on my plate, and dutifully ate it.

“What’s wrong, Kip?”

“Lem Carter,” said Jasper. Traitor.

“Who is Lem Carter?” my dad was puzzled.

“This kid at Kip’s school. He’s decided to extort 100 ell from Kip, or the beatings will commence.”

I glowered at him, but he ignored me.

“Oh Kip!” said my mom, putting her knife down. “That’s serious! What did your principal say when you told her?”

I looked away. “I can’t tell her. It’ll just make him worse. I was hoping Jasper would have some useful trick, or I wouldn’t have told him, either.” I shot him an accusing glare.

“I’m glad Jasper told us,” said Dad. “And we will certainly let your principal know. This ends here.”

But it wouldn’t. I knew it wouldn’t. It would only give Lem a real reason to hate me.

“Kip,” said my mom, “I’ve taught you how to handle a bully, haven’t I?”

I nodded. Only about a thousand times.

“A bully targets you because they’re jealous, to feel powerful, or to look popular. Some are being bullied themselves, or in other kinds of intolerable situations. You need to understand, reframe the bullying, and treat them with empathy and .. .”

I tuned her out. Yeah, yeah. Poor unfortunate bully. Acting out because they’re so unhappy. Yada yada. There are other ways to handle unhappiness that don’t involve making everyone else miserable. I’m sorry, but I didn’t pity Lem a bit. I thought he probably deserved whatever bad stuff might be happening to him.

“Understand? Kip?”

I snapped back, and quickly reran the conversation in my head. Oh no! They were seriously going to talk with my principal!

“Mom, Dad, really, I can take care of it. Okay?” He’d break my bones if I got him kicked out of school! Then I remembered my parents gushing over the idea of a new house. “Besides, we’re going to move soon, right? I can handle it a while longer. Please.”

They looked at each other doubtfully.

“Even if we had the money in hand, Kip, it will take at least six months before we can move. I really think we should have a meeting with your principal,” said Dad.

“But what if he was just kidding?”

“Do you really think that’s a possibility?”

“Maybe? Please.. Just don’t go to the school about it.”

“Okay. Unless he actually assaults you, we’ll let it ride. For now.”

Predictably, Lem was waiting for me in the hall by my locker.

“Hi, Stunto the Rich Kid,” he grinned, and held out his hand.

I don’t know what came over me, but I reached out and shook it.

His little cohort whooped with laughter, but he pulled his hand out of mine and scowled. “Yeah, good joke. I want 100 ell, punk.”

I smiled innocently at him. “I can understand that. I’d like 100 ell, too. But you know, neither of us actually has that kind of money.” In fact, I didn’t have cash at all. I’d made sure of that.

“Yeah? I gave you a whole day to come up with it.”

“I could explain how long it takes to actually get money when you’re selling magical supplies, but you’re not interested, are you?”

He grinned evilly. “No, I’m not. Tell ya what, since you don’t have cash, I’ll take that jacket.”

“This jacket? It would never fit you!” It just popped out.

“Yeah, that’s a point. Tell you what, give it to me, and I’ll sell it.” He smirked. “It would be nicer if you just handed it over now. I’ll get it, one way or another, and I’d prefer it without bloodstains. They’re such a nuisance to remove.”

He advanced, and I retreated, looking quickly over my shoulder. No teachers. How did he do that? If I tried to do anything bad, a teacher always popped up! Maybe I should do something against the rules now, and conjure one.

He took another step forward, and I took another back. Thinking about rule-breaking had given me an idea.

Most people need to physically draw sigils before activating them. But there are people who can do magic in their heads. They don’t need to draw anything. They just visualize the sigil on the thing they want to change, activate it, and wham.

I’d never been able to do that. I’d barely managed to do any spells, no matter how carefully I drew the sigils, except in an emergency.

Judging from the racing of my heart, this was one. And Larkin’s Smooth Surface has a really simple sigil.

I pictured it on the floor, as clearly as I could, and activated it as strongly as I was able. I couldn’t tell if the floor was any slicker than it had been. It was pretty polished anyway.

I took another step back.

Lem and his friends took another step forward. And it was perfect! Their feet went right out from under them, landing them smack on their rumps! They tried to get up, but they couldn’t; the floor was too slippery. They just kept sliding around, while the ones who hadn’t fallen laughed like loons.

And yep, there was a teacher, right on cue.

I reversed the spell as quickly as I could, and was relieved to see that worked too. As they climbed to their feet, I murmured, “You wanted to see me do magic.”

Lem glared. His face was brick red. “Just you wait, Kip Andrews” he whispered.

Oh no. I’d only postponed the beating. I was dead meat.

I couldn’t concentrate on any of my classes after that. Well, who could have?

Everything I knew about bullies and how to deal with them kept going round and round in my head. I knew that nothing worked with every bully, but there had to be something that would work with this one. Negotiation didn’t work. Joking didn’t work. Placating didn’t work. Nothing worked! It was horrible! There was nothing I could do!

But then I looked at Lem’s broad back in the seat in front of me, and remembered what Jasper had said, about Lem’s brother. For my whole life, Jasper had always been kind and patient; someone I could depend on. Right then, he was in a bunch of pain, and snappish from it, but even so, I knew he would never beat me up.

What would it be like to have an older brother like Lem had, instead. To be afraid of someone in your own family? Someone you could not escape?

His parents must be just as bad, or they would have stopped it.

That would be awful!

He didn’t even have any friends. All he had were followers, who followed from fear. I mean, I don’t have a ton of friends. But I do have a couple, and we’re friends because we like each other. He had no one.

It’s strange, but I really did feel sorry for him. I wished he could have a friend. A real friend, who wasn’t afraid of him.

How would I act around him, if we were friends?

I was musing it over, kind of lost in that alternate reality, when my pencil broke. Without thinking, I leaned forward, and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around, with his mouth open, and one eyebrow raised.

“Got a spare pencil I can borrow, please?” I whispered.

He glanced at the teacher, then back at me, and wordlessly handed me a pencil.

“Thanks!” I smiled at him.

“No problem.” He looked kind of pole-axed, and turned back to his work.

After school, sure enough, there he was by my locker. But his hands were shoved deeply into his pockets.

“Why did you do that?” he blurted out, as soon as I was in hearing distance.

I shrugged. “I broke my pencil, and didn’t have a spare.”

He shook his head.

“I really don’t have the money, you know.”

He shrugged. “It’s not important.” He looked at me quizzically. “I can’t figure you out, you know?”

“What’s to figure?”

Lem shrugged, looking puzzled.

I pulled the pencil out of my case. “Here. Thanks for the loan!”

He took it from me, and carefully put it in his own case.

Then he looked up. “You’re all right. You know that?” He turned, and walked off.

I thought about that all the way home. We’ll probably never be real friends. But at least he was off my back. And really, he’s not completely evil.

News – Second Life, Writing, and More!

Sorry for vanishing like that! I got sick, and the medicine the doctor put me on made it really hard to focus or do much of anything. But I’m better now!

I have been trying to get some stuff done while I was gone. First off, I got a citronella candle out for Second Life.

Citronella Candle for Second Life
Citronella Candle for Second Life

I’m pretty pleased with it. Like the res of my candles and lamps, it works (either Local Lights or Fulbright.) I don’t really see the point of a light that doesn’t light!

It’s also color changing; there’s a script to change the color of the candle or the bucket, although since it’s copy/mod you can also just change it all manually, if you prefer.

If you would like to know more about it, you can see it in the SL Marketplace.

Café Stool for Second Life
Café Stool for Second Life

I also released a stool to go with the café table and chairs. That was week before last, but I had a story that I blogged that day, so I was going to wait to talk about this, and then I got sick.

It has 12 sit poses, is also copy/mod, and you can find out all about it in The Marketplace as well.

Speaking about SL, there are only two weeks left of The Arcade. As always, when it’s over you’ll be able to keep playing my machine on Livingtree; but you won’t be able to get the special Rewards for playing the machine 50 times ever again. So if you want those, you only have a couple of weeks to get them!

There won’t be a new item out in Second Life this weekend, because the thing I’m working on right now is going to take me longer than that to finish. I think it’ll be worth the wait though.

Test Render - Hammock for SL in Progress
Test Render – Hammock for SL in Progress

It will come in three parts; the hammock itself (I still need to make the pillows but they’re coming,) the stand, and the shade canopy.

That’s so the hammock can swing. Swinging in the hammock is important! It also will mean that if you have trees, you don’t need to use the stand. And if you don’t want the canopy, you can save the LI and not have it.

It will probably wind up tweaked a bit from what you see in the picture, and it needs textures and things, of course. It is, after all, a work in progress. But I thought you might like to see what I’m cooking up.

On the writing front, I’m in the process of editing a book about Wicca that I wrote nearly 10 years ago now, but then Life happened and I forgot to do anything with it. Michael reminded me about it, so now it will see the light of day!

It’s for people who aren’t necessarily interested in joining the religion at all, but who want to know something about it because they have friends, neighbors, or clients that are Wiccan.

With any luck, that will be available in the next month or so.

The next Kip Andrews story will be published here on my blog on Saturday. I hope you like it.

If you liked the last one (Stormy Weather) I’d really appreciate it if you could review it on Amazon. If you want to read it again, you can read it for free if you happen to subscribe to KindleUnlimited. Otherwise, the book is only 99¢.

If you want to read my stories early, you can join my Patreon. I would really appreciate your support.

I’m also starting to work on the redesign of the site, in my copious free time. (Haha.) Since there’s not a whole lot of free time, it might be a while before you can see it, but I’m working on it.

So, that’s what I’m up to at the moment!

Thanks for reading, and if you have a question, comment or suggestion, please let me know.

Expectations

I was working on an embroidery panel for Sami’s wedding dress when I heard the unmistakable sound of a mouse skittering through the wall. My house is warded against natural mice, of course, so I checked the magic signature to see who it was.

Then I heard the scrabbling as he emerged into my pantry! I jabbed the needle into the cloth to hold it, and practically threw the whole piece onto my side table.

“Willoby Jamison Vogelman, don’t you dare touch my food in mouse-form!”

There was a flash of magic, and my great-grandson sauntered out of the pantry, with a brownie in each hand.

“How did you know it was me?” he asked with his mouth full. He was scattering crumbs everywhere. I have no idea why ten year old boys disdain little niceties like plates and forks, but in my experience they all do.

“I have ways.” One thing I’ve learned, with 3 children, 9 grandchildren, and 21 great-grandchildren is never to tell them how you know things about them. Not until they are old enough to need the tricks for their own youngsters. Thinking that adults simply know everything is a powerful deterrent, and with a brood like mine, I need all the deterrents I can get!

He settled on the stool in front of me, chewing serenely.

“You’re making crumbs in my sitting room.”

In reply, he shoved both brownies into his mouth at once. They didn’t fit, of course. The child has a wide mouth, but I am generous when I cut my brownies. He made a valiant effort, but crumbs leaked everywhere. I thought about requiring him to return to mouse form and eat them off the floor, but he would probably enjoy that. So I just glared at him instead.

For some reason, that made him grin, which made the crumb problem worse. I decided to ignore him, and picked up the embroidery, making sure the charm that kept the white from getting smudged with anything, including chocolate, was intact.

Will chewed energetically and watched me work until the double brownies were gone.

“Why didn’t you want me to eat in mouse-form? I would have gotten full more quickly.”

“You know that only lasts while you are a mouse. As soon as you became a boy, you’d have been as ravenous as ever. And I’d have been left with half-nibbled brownies, and tiny chocolate footprints all over the pantry.”

“What would you have done if I’d stayed a mouse?”

Will is one of the ones who always wants to know the outcomes of every possible choice. Not a bad trait; it will make him a careful, thoughtful adult. But at the moment, he’s still a child, and sometimes prone to repeating behavior, good or bad, to test the variables.

“I’d have dragged you out of the pantry by your tail, and warded it against you for a week.”

He looked at me, his hazel eyes full of mischief and speculation. “But would you have been able to catch me?”

I almost laughed. “We can try the experiment any time you like.”

He smiled and sat back. He has learned that when I’m that sure, it’s not wise to test me. Besides, I never, ever, lie to any of them, and they know that.

I finished the leaf I was stitching, and cut the thread.

“So, to what do I owe the pleasure?” I asked. There are times my family drops in just to visit, but I was pretty sure this wasn’t one of them.

“Mom sent me,” he answered. “She said to give you this.” He fished in his pocket, and pulled out a note. It wasn’t in bad shape, considering everything I was sure had happened to it since his mother handed it to him.

I set aside the embroidery, broke the seal on the note, and spread it on my lap, smoothing the wrinkles enough to read it. I was being invited to dinner on Friday.

That was odd. Not the invitation; I was frequently asked to join my various family groups to share meals, celebrations, and so on. But generally not in writing.

Will craned his neck, trying to see, and I realized that for some reason, Peg hadn’t wanted him to know I was coming. I folded the note in half, thwarting his efforts, and tucked it in my work basket. Peg hadn’t given me any details, so she was either assuming I could handle whatever it was on the fly, or that I already knew what was going on.

Sometimes giving grandchildren the illusion that you know everything can come back and bite you!


On Friday, I showed up at Peg’s house punctually at 4:00, as requested. I find punctuality important. It allows people to plan.

“Nana!” Peg greeted me warmly. “Thank you so much for coming!”

I laughed and hugged her as tightly as I could with one arm occupied. “Of course! Now, care to tell me what this is about?”

“It’s Steph. She’s very troubled, but she won’t tell either Greg or me what is wrong. We tried to send her to you, but she won’t go. So I decided to bring you to her.”

“Ah. Why the note and the mystery?”

She shook her head and smiled, “You know Will; he’s such a tease. If he knew, he’d be likely to taunt Steph with it, and close her up tighter than ever.”

Steph is one of my younger great grands. She’s only seven, and very quiet and reserved. Unlike the rest, she never changes into something unexpected and just pops over and lets herself into my house. When she does come to visit, she always knocks on the door, and always in human form.

I put the cake I’d brought on the kitchen table.

“Where is she now?”

“On the swings. She’s been spending most of her time there. What a lovely cake! You didn’t have to!”

I just smiled. If I ever showed up without something good to eat, I’m fairly sure they’d all wonder if it was really me.

I let myself out the back, and walked to the little copse where the swings are. I could see Steph, her back to the house, listlessly kicking the ground in a half-hearted attempt to swing. Something wrong, indeed.

She looked up as I took the swing next to her. “Grandnana. I knew they’d make you come.”

Might as well get right to the point. “They are worried, because they love you.”

She turned her head away, but not before I saw her eyes fill with tears.

“They won’t, when they know.”

Oh dear. This was worse than I thought. I stood up, gathered her out of her swing, and carried her over to the double glider. I’m so glad young children are small enough to pick up easily!

For a while, I just held her and swung gently, while she cried. “That’s right.” I murmured, “Let the tears wash the pain away. And know that I will always love you, no matter what.”

She wrapped her arms around me, and wept for a while.

“Now,” I said, “who did you murder?” She was startled enough to laugh, and doing that while crying caused her to hiccup. Loudly. Which made her gulp and half laugh again.

She sat up, and I handed her a handkerchief to dry her tears. She took it, took care of herself, and shook her head.

“It’s not that! You know I’d never do that, right?”

“I didn’t think so.” I gave her a squeeze. “So, we’ve established it’s not as horrible as murder. What is it?”

She sighed, and relaxed against me. “You know they teach shape-shifting in second grade, right?”

I did, indeed. Although my descendants  generally figure it out well before that. I’d never seen Steph – oh no. I knew where this was going.

Sure enough, she started to sob again. “I tried, Grandnana. I tried really hard. They’re going to kick me out of the family, aren’t they? Please don’t hate me, Grandnana! Please!”

I held her as tightly as I could, and covered the top of her head with kisses.

“Oh, my poor little Stephie! My very own, dear little Stephie! Of course not! I’m so sorry you thought that for a minute! You’re our own darling Steph, and we don’t care a bit if you can’t Shift! Not everyone can, you know!”

“Everyone in this family can! Everyone but me. I’m a failure.”

She was holding me so tightly that it hurt. She had accidentally grabbed a pinch of my skin, under my shirt. I’d have a bruise there tomorrow, but that was insignificant next to this.

“No, honey bunch, you are not a failure. Don’t say that about my great-granddaughter. Lack of one talent does not a failure make.

Besides, haven’t I taught you that people may fail at many things, but people, themselves, are never failures?”

She nodded, and sat up slightly, releasing her hold. Oh thank goodness!

“But you are so famous for shifting, and I can’t do it at all! People will make fun of me.”

I held her close, taking her hand in mine. She could hold my hand as tightly as she liked. “What will they say?” I asked.

“They’ll say I can’t Shift!”

“Is that true, as far as we know right now?”

She sniffed, and nodded miserably.

“Then say, ‘Yes. And?'”

“What?”

I sighed. “People who tease are trying to get a reaction from you. Lots of times, they don’t care what reaction, as long as they get one. Any reaction at all makes them feel, just for a minute, like they mattered to you. Just for a minute, you saw them, and interacted with them.

“People need interaction with other people as badly as they need air and light. They’ll do anything to get it, even when they have no idea that’s what they are doing.”

“So, if I just say yeah, as if it’s no big deal, they’ll leave me alone?”

“Perhaps. They might also be reaffirming their group identity, showing their friends that all of them like the same thing, so they are part of the same group.

“The trick is a two prong approach. Let them know that not shifting is something neutral for you, like having dark brown hair or green eyes. But also interact with them doing things that make you all feel good, because it’s the interaction they crave.”

“But it’s not neutral! It’s one of the most important things there is! Ever since I was tiny, I’ve been waiting until I could turn into a bird and fly through the sky, or turn into a horse and run like the wind, or be a fish in the brook! And now I never will!”

I held her close, and felt the pain I would feel if I had to give up all those things. “You’re right. It’s hard to give up dreams and expectations. It hurts a lot. I know.”

“How? Did you ever have to give up anything?”

“Oh my darling, yes. Think how old I am. I’ve had to give up so much! So many dreams, plans, hopes that never happened.”

“Can you tell me one?”

Well, it was only fair. She’d shown me her pain. “The worst was when I realized I’d have to live without your GrandGrampa. I didn’t think I could. I’d always imagined us going on forever together. But life doesn’t go on forever, and his ended before mine.”

“How did you manage?” she whispered.

“By concentrating on the things I still had. Your grandpa, and your great-aunts, and all your aunts and uncles and various cousins.”

“And me?”

I squeezed her. “You weren’t born yet. But now that you are, yes, you.”

She was thoughtful as we swung for a while, and I left her space to think. I had memories of my own to think through.

Finally she said, “I can still throw a charm faster than Will or anyone, even if I can’t shift. If he wants an interaction, I can make his pants fall off!”

I had to laugh. “Well, yes. But that’s not quite the kind of interaction I was thinking of. That would probably not make him feel good.”

She laughed too. I was so happy to hear it. “Probably not! What is the most important thing, Grandnana?”

I could answer that one without thinking. “Being kind. And that’s not dependent on any talent or ability or skill in the world. Everyone can do that, no matter what.”

She nodded, thoughtfully. “I better go tell mom what’s been bugging me, huh?”

“Yes. Want me to come with?”

She turned, gave me a kiss, and slid off my lap. “No. I can do this. You’re sure she’ll still love me?”

“I’m sure. She might want to have you tested, or tutored, but that’s because she doesn’t want to give up her hopes and expectations for you, not because she doesn’t love you, even if you never shift at all.”

She nodded. “That makes sense. Okay. Love you, Grandnana!”

“Love you, Steph.”

She straightened her little shoulders, and marched off to the house.

I watched her go, her back straight and head up, and thought about my husband. I still missed him dreadfully, at times. But I know he’d be so very proud of our brood!

Stormy Weather on Amazon

I got Stormy Weather made into a Kindle book yesterday, and today it’s up for sale on Amazon!

I really should have researched the title before I used it. I had no idea how many other books were also called “Stormy Weather” although I certainly should have. It’s not like it would have been hard to do. Oh well, too late now! It’ll be easier when it’s just the name of the first story in the collected Kip Andrews book. (It’s a very short read – only 13 print pages, so it’s perfect for reading during break.)

If you’re a member of KindleUnlimited you can read it for free. If not, I’m afraid it’ll cost 99¢. Amazon won’t accept a lower price.

I’d like to thank everyone who read it here, and encouraged me. If you liked it, and you can leave a review, that would be great! Good reviews really help.


If you’d like to read any of the 3 stories that are still here, while they’re still free, you can find links to them below.

Beauty and the Beast Retold

A Little Bird Told Me – A Grandnana Story

May Eve

I have a Patreon Page

As planned, I’ve bitten the proverbial bullet, and posted a page on Patreon.

If you’re enjoying my stories, it would be great if you could help support me by becoming one of my Patrons.

In case you’re not familiar with Patreon, it allows people who enjoy the work of various artists to give them donations in support of that work. It’s one of the reasons why many creative people no longer have to have a “day job” and can, instead, use their time to make the wonderful things that people enjoy.

In my case, if you choose to support me, Patreon will bill you once a month, for whatever amount you have pledged.

You can pledge as little as a dollar, because every bit helps. If you do, you’ll be able to interact with me on the special Patreon member page, and you’ll also be able to read the stories the day before I post them here.

If you can pledge $3 or more, you’ll be able to read the story that will be posted on June 4 right now! (It’s another Grandnana one.) You’ll always get the stories 2 weeks early, as my thanks.

For $5 a month or more, you’ll get the Kip Andrews story scheduled for June 18 right away. You’ll always be able to read all the stories a month early.

If you can pledge $15 or more, I’ll be posting some of the backstory for longer stories that won’t ever be posted here. Things like the world building for Kip’s home, which is also the setting for the novel I’m working on. (world building, the way I do it is geography, currency, form or government, technology, fashion, and a whole lot more. The background that the stories are woven from.)

For $25 a month or more, you’ll also get to see what I’ve written each day. I’ll post it, as raw and terrible as it comes out, at the end of the day. (Most days. Some days I don’t write anything, because of Reasons.) Whatever it is will probably change some before it’s printed. It might change beyond recognition, and I might just dump the entire project. It’s also going to be short stories some days, and a couple thousand words from a novel other days. It’ll vary, and it’ll be raw, but that’s the fun of it! I usually don’t show that to anyone but my husband, but if you’re willing to support me at this level, I’m willing to let you look. (You don’t have to read it, if you’d rather not.) You’ll even be able to leave me comments on it!

For $50 a month or more, I’ll put your name in a special Acknowledgements section, on any finished novels or collections of short stories. You’ll also get all the things above, or course.

For $100 a month or more, first, are you sure? That’s a lot of money. I deeply appreciate it, though. So very much that I’ll use your name in one of the stories. If you’d rather not have your name in a book, I’ll use whatever name you like, as long as I like it too. (Sorry, you can’t name a character Evil McEvilface and have me use it. Unless I decide to write a piece of farce, and you never know!)

So that’s that. The stories are up, and ready to be read this minute. There’s not a video intro (yet) but all my prospective Patrons are readers, so you’re not afraid to read, right?

The rewards and goals are on the right side, when you go to the page. I really hope that you decide to become one of my Patrons; but if you don’t, I fully understand. The short stories will continue to be posted here, every other Saturday, as usual.

Thanks!

May Eve Story

It’s Saturday, and time for another short short. This one is just shy of 1000 words. I wrote it on May Eve, and thought I should post it before the month is over.

Hope you like it!


May Eve

It was raining that day. If it hadn’t been for the rain, none of the rest of it would have happened.

Without the rain, I’d have been out on the Lake, sailing to the Island where the woods were carpeted with spring beauty and glory-of-the-snow. I’d have been picnicking under the tender new maple leaves.

That was my plan for the day.

If it hadn’t rained, I wouldn’t have been stuck indoors. I wouldn’t have gotten bored, and decided to put together a wreath out of dried flowers and bird feathers and bits of this and that, all hot glued to an old form I’d been given for a long-ago housewarming. Without the rain, I’d have been far away from the house, and I’d never have heard the doorbell, even if it rang.

But I did make the wreath, and hung it proudly on the front door, where the porch sheltered it. And I was home, so when the bell rang I answered it.

At first glance, I thought it was a child, standing there as gray as the rain, dripping on the mat. I wondered who was letting their little girl wander around in the rain, without so much as a hat. But then she lifted her eyes, and I realized it wasn’t a child at all.

I can see you expecting me to say it was a Little Person. But it wasn’t.

She wasn’t human. No human has ever been born with eyes like that. Solid green, those eyes, with flecks of gold floating in them. No whites, no dark pupils, just shades of green, dancing like leaves in a forest breeze, burning as if lit from behind.

Those eyes captured me, and I stood there stunned, unable to move.

“Can I come in? It’s very wet out.”

I stepped aside, and motioned her past me. That was probably a mistake, in retrospect, but I wasn’t thinking really clearly at that moment.

“Ah much better!” she chirped. She scooted by, and straight to the fireplace. There wasn’t a fire, of course. I seldom turn on the gas, except for holidays and other special occasions.

“Your hearth is cold!” She gave me such a look! Accusation, disappointment, condescension, disdain, annoyance. In my own home!

Wordlessly, I walked over and flipped the switch. With a whoosh the gas caught, and blue flames licked the artificial logs.

She started, and then peered at the fire. “What is this? You’re no sorcerer!”

I shook my head. My voice was still not working.

“Speak!”

She pointed a surprisingly long finger at me, and I found myself saying, “It’s a gas fire. Natural gas is piped into the house, and a spark from the electronic ignition unit causes it to burn, but very cleanly. There’s no ash, and no smoke.”

“Huh.” She turned back to the blaze. “Well, it’s truly fire, so I suppose that’s legal, even if it doesn’t smell right at all.”

She turned her diminutive back to the warmth, and shook her hair out with both hands. In no time at all, it dried to white frizz like a dandelion clock, all over her head.

“So, I suppose we should come right to the point,” she said.

“The point?”

“Why I’m here. Are you daft?”

“I’m not sure.” Ten minutes earlier I’d have said not a chance, but I was standing there talking to someone who wasn’t human, and I had no idea if anyone else would even find her visible. So yeah, of course I was questioning my sanity. Wouldn’t you?

She peered up at me, and then around the house, or as much as you can see from the living room. “Not bad, although it’s been far too long since you washed your curtains. Still, I’ve seen worse.

“Okay, I’ll take the job. Payment will be a full saucer of cream, delivered nightly, and mind it’s fresh! I’ll have none of the waste that you’re thinking of giving to the pigs.”

“Wait.. what? What job?”

She looked at me, my own puzzlement reflected on her tiny face, and then scampered to the door, and threw it open. “There’s the sign, right enough, hung smack dab on the middle of the door, on May-Eve.” She pointed to my new door wreath. “Did you think no one would answer?”

“I … Did I… Sign for what?”

She stared at me for a moment, and then started to laugh. I’d never heard such a sound, like a brook chuckling, and butterflies dancing, and bright ribbons waving in the breeze. It was pure merriment. I had to laugh too. I couldn’t help it.

“Oh me, oh my!” she gasped for air, and then sat right down on the floor, pointing weakly at the wreath.

“You’ve no idea, do you? Well, that’s just too bad. I was looking for a new situation, and I’ve found one! You’ve hung the sign, and invited me in. You kindled your fire anew for me. It’s all signed and sealed, according to the old laws. The contract is made, and now you’re stuck with it!”

“Stuck? What?”

She hopped up and skipped over to me, where I’d collapsed on the couch. As quick and soft as a kitten, she patted me several times on the knee, and said, “It’s okay. You’ll get used to it. But don’t forget the cream, or you’ll wish you’d never been born!”

Then she twirled around once, and vanished.

But she didn’t leave. Oh no. She never left.

I’m not saying that I’m not grateful for her help at times, although I’ve learned not to say “thank you.” Not ever.

But you see, that’s why I need cream. The freshest you have, please.


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A Little Bird Told Me

A new short story; it’ll only be up for four weeks, so if you want to read it for free, now’s your chance!


A Little Bird Told Me

by Robin Wood

I was just starting to knit the lace trim on a cap for the newest baby, when a little blue bird with a yellow head and white bib flew through my open window.  It settled on the footstool next to me, hopped up down a couple of times, and then plunked right down on its tail feathers, sticking its little twig legs straight out in front of it.

As soon as it did, it’s legs grew longer and thicker, while its body stretched up, the feathers sank into her arms, and her face changed from a bird to a girl. In a moment, my fourteen year old great-granddaughter, Sophie, was sitting there, with her blond curls, a blue dress with a white collar, and a scab on one brown knee. Her eyes were still bright black, and still laughed at me.

I have no idea why she sits down like that to change. I find it much more comfortable, not to mention graceful, to change while standing. But grace wasn’t high on Sophie’s priority list.

“Hi Grandnana!” she said. “Do you have any cookies?” And she hopped off the stool and went into the pantry to investigate.

I only had three children, but between them, they presented me with 9 grandchildren, and so far I have 21 great grandchildren and 3 great-great grandchildren with no end in sight. All of these people feel free to drop in unannounced at any hour of the day or night. I do love them, but I tell you true, some days I think about going to live at the bottom of the sea just to get a little peace! Except I’m sure they would find me before I had a chance to unpack.

When I was young, and just had the three, I worked very hard to make sure everything was always even. If I made Gertie a new dress, I made one for Caroline, too, and a shirt and tie for Albert.

I tried to keep that up with the grandchildren, at first. But the day baby Ellie came crying because her little hands were cold, and I realized if I stuck to “everyone equally” I’d have to knit 9 pairs of mittens to give one toddler warm fingers, I gave it up. I made one tiny pair, and stopped worrying about the others.

Now I give to each what each one needs. If one needs more than the others, that’s for the gods to sort out. None are left wanting, and none have piles of things they will never use.

They help themselves to whatever food I have whenever they come over, though. All of them. I try to keep lots on hand. Anything I especially want to eat, I disguise. They think I have a fondness for particularly stinky cheese, and I’m not about to disabuse them of that notion.

On this occasion, Sophie’s voice rang out, “Chicken pie! That’s even better than cookies. I’m starving.” She wandered back out, with a generous slice on one of my good dishes, her mouth already full.

“Not that I’m not glad to see you,” I said, “but to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” I didn’t bother to mention she wasn’t using an everyday dish. I gave up that battle long ago.

She swallowed, and waved her fork airily, scattering pastry crumbs. “Oh, Mom’s started spring cleaning, so I thought I’d get out of there.”

“Didn’t it occur to you that your mom might want your help with the cleaning?” I asked.

“Sure! That’s why I left,” she chomped down on another forkful of pie. “I’ve cleaned enough for one day, and she’s nuts on the topic. No one will ever see the top of the cupboards.”

I let that pass, too, along with speaking with her mouth full. Her mother could teach her all of that. I was tired.

I was also not going to get any more knitting done. It was a new pattern that I hadn’t memorized yet, and counting stitches to follow written instructions was not going to be possible. I made a note of which row and stitch I was on, and folded the knitting neatly into the pattern, setting it aside for later, while Sophie polished off the pie.

When she was done, she licked the plate. Disgusting, but flattering in its way.

I got out some piecework to sew, while she mounted another raid on my pantry. She came back with a slice of cake, on the same plate. I suppose she thought it was “clean enough.”

She ate that without a word, while I sewed squares of bright cotton together with a quarter inch seam. Something was bothering her. If I didn’t push, she’d tell me what it was. I suspected that was the main reason for her visit, although avoiding housework had certainly played a part.

When the cake was gone, she got up without a word, went into the kitchen, washed the dish and fork, and put them in the rack to dry. Without being asked. Whatever was bugging her, it was bad.

Then she came back, reached into the work basket, and took out a block to sew. I keep them there, pinned together in order, for just such an occurrence. And my own convenience too, of course. She threaded a needle, and got to work.

Outside, the bees hummed around the window box, birds sang, and the creek chuckled to itself as it hurried to its eventual appointment with the sea. The only sound inside was the clock ticking.

I finished my nine-patch block, and started another. Sophie got the first three patches of hers sewn, and reached for the clapper board to set the seam.

“Grandnana, have you ever made a bad promise?”

“A bad promise?”

She sighed deeply. “Yeah. There’s this girl in my class at school. I don’t know her all that well. She doesn’t really have any friends, and I guess I felt sorry for more than anything else.”

She set the seams, and put the row aside, picking up the next two squares to sew. Not the way I’d do it. I sew all three rows before setting the seams. But her way would finish the block, and was only a little more work.

“Anyway, she asked if I’d help with a spell, and I said yes without asking what kind of spell it is.” She shook her curls away from her face, and looked up at me. “I know that was dumb, but I never thought it was going to be anything but a common, simple spell!”

“I take it that’s not what she wanted.”

Her mouth twisted, she looked back down, and jabbed the needle viciously into the cloth. “Not hardly. There is this new boy, called Mitt, who is really handsome. I mean, if you picture masculine handsomnimity, he’d be what you imagined. He’s rich, too. His Dad owns this big business or something. Anyway, they moved into that huge house on Chestnut, and he gets a ride to school in a limo with a chauffeur and everything.

“No one knows what he’s doing at our school. You’d expect him to be at a ritzy boarding school or something. Apparently he was, but his family missed him too much. Or maybe he wasn’t fully appreciated there. Or something. No one knows the real story.”

I could see where this was headed, but I waited for her to tell me.

“Anyway,” she dropped the sewing into her lap, heedless of the needle, and scrubbed her face with both hands. “This girl, Chrissy, decided she is in love with him. She wants help with a love spell. I tried to tell her she doesn’t know him. I tried to tell her how spells like that bind people, and it’s coercion and wrong, and how when the victim finds out, and he will, he will hate and resent you forever. I tried to explain how horrible it is to be bound to someone who hates and resents you.”

She dropped her hands, and grabbed her skirt, twisting it while staring at me with anguished eyes. “I tried every way I know, Grandnana, and she *still* insists she wants to do the spell!”

I reached over, and picked up the needle from her lap. She had missed running it into her hand by about half an inch. She glanced down as I did, saw how narrow her escape had been, and made a face.

“I don’t know what to do! I can’t let her do the spell, and she says she can’t anyway without my help. Her spells all fizzle, except the really simple ones.”

I used the needle to catch the patches she was sewing, and lifted them out of the way before she tangled the thread or did herself an injury. I put it back with the rest of that patch, and laid my own aside too. She just waited, looking at me with a tortured expression. Finally I said, “Then don’t help her.”

“But I gave my word!”

“You did. But you didn’t know what you were promising. Would you have promised if you had known?”

She shook her head violently, curls whipping everywhere. “No, never!”

“So promising was a mistake?”

“In the worst way! I wish like everything I’d asked her what spell, first!”

I nodded. “I’m sure you do. Would keeping that promise make the original mistake better, or worse?”

“Only about a quadrillion times worse!”

“Then break the promise.”

“But…. I thought breaking a promise is a horrible thing! You have to keep your word. It’s your honor and your bond!”

I reached out my arms, and she came and sat in my lap, great gangly girl that she is. I wrapped my arms around her, and held her close. “It is, honey bunch, and you must never break it simply because keeping it is inconvenient, or because you have found a different thing you would rather do, or because you are angry at the person you gave your word to, or afraid keeping it will be hard.

“But sometimes you find that it was a mistake to give your word in the first place. Sometimes, you’ll be coerced. Sometimes someone will lie about the circumstances, or about what they are asking for. Sometimes you simply won’t have all the information, like this time.

“In all those cases, and probably more, keeping your word will make a bad situation worse. When there is no good choice, always choose the path that will cause the least harm.”

She rested her head on my shoulder. “I’m going to go back and tell her I won’t help. She’ll tell everyone I broke my word, and people might hate me. But that’s better than helping to ruin two whole lives.”

I rocked her gently. “She might not tell anyone. Telling them will reveal the kind of spell she had planned. But if she does, even if you choose not to explain why, and you could certainly do that, people will get over it. They always do, eventually.”

She nodded, reached up, and kissed my cheek. “Thanks, Grandnana. I knew you would be able to help me.” As annoying as my family can be, they all know exactly how to  melt my heart.

I had just finished threading the ribbon through the cap for the newest baby when a little bird flew through my window.

It was Sophie again.

“Hi Grandnana!” She headed into the pantry. “Guess what! Oh! Donuts! Yumm!”

She came out, with a donut in each hand, spewing powdered sugar with every word. “You know that new boy I told you about? Mitt? Well…” She settled on the footstool, and looked up at me, eyes glowing, “It turns out he was expelled from that fancy school for ‘excessive cruelty’.” She put half a donut in her mouth, and chewed with great satisfaction. “He was caught torturing a puppy,” she scowled fiercely, “can you imagine? They took it away, and it’s going to be okay, and it has new owners now.” Her face cleared, and she popped the other half of the donut into her mouth. “But it turns out he’s just as mean and nasty as he can be, and he’s been expelled from our school, too.” She finished the other donut in three bites, and licked her fingers.

“Chrissy told me she is *so* glad that I didn’t help her with that love spell. Can you imagine being bound to someone like that? And she says she’s swearing off compulsion spells for life.”

She wiped her hands on her skirt, and gave me a very satisfied look. “So that turned out better than I expected! I’m so happy I came to you!” She hopped up, and went back into the pantry. “Ewww. There’s that horrible cheese again. Got any roast beef?”

I’m glad she came over too. And I’m glad she doesn’t like stinky cheese. I’m planning to have that leftover beef for my supper.


Picture Attribution; IMG_1878-333 by Nigel Used under a Creative Commons 2Generic License. Resized, but no other changes made.

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One of Those Days

The news has been really discouraging for the last little while. I’m so very, very tired of all the bias and judgement. So yesterday I wrote a tiny little piece of flash-fiction, and I’m posting it today, even though it’s not Saturday. Hope you like it!


It’s been one of those days. Do you ever have them? I’m achy and cranky, and I can’t settle to doing anything.
From the time I crawled out of my warm little nest this morning, all I’ve wanted to do is crawl back in.
I can’t even decide what gender to be, or what skin color, or age, or orientation or anything.
Usually I have a hard time deciding because every choice limits the rainbow of possibilities. If I pick a middle aged straight man, I can’t skip down the street no matter how much I feel like skipping. If I decide to be a 7 year old mixed race girl with a mass of curly red hair, I can skip, but I can’t buy lunch without people calling Social Services. If I settle on an androgynous teenager, I can get lunch, and probably even skip, but what will I do if I need to pee before I get home?
You know how it is.
But today, I can’t make up my mind because everything I can think of comes with more responsibility, or more hassles, than I want to deal with.
If I choose a large black gay man, white women are likely to pull their children out of my path. If I choose to be a straight Latino cis female, then I have to watch every word, and put up with endless nonsense, just to let my hair flow and wear a pretty dress and strappy sandals. I could be an old woman, not a young one, and become pretty much invisible; but not if I wanted to wear that dress and sandal combo. People would frown, and think I was behaving inappropriately.
Usually, when I feel overwhelmed by it all, I just go as a nondescript white male of indeterminate age. That seems to be the default in the culture I’m currently studying, so it’s easy to blend in and not be noticed. But the thing about that is you have to be strong, and can’t cry. And I feel like I might burst into tears at any moment.
I’ve been standing in front of the Wardrobe, dithering.
I could be homeless. Homeless people are invisible, and can cry or even talk to themselves without anyone giving them a second glance. But if I go out like that, I’ll have to stay out all day. Homeless people can’t step into a store or other public place, even though they are more in need of them than anyone.
I nearly just gave up and crawled back into my nest, but reports are due next week, and I’m behind. I can’t afford to waste a full day.
I need to find something that will let me go out in public, and just be however I feel like being at the moment, without anyone judging me, or attacking me, or barring me from participation in society.
Just something that everyone will treat with kindness, dignity, and respect.
Got any ideas?


Picture Attribution; Unity in Diversity by fady habib Used under a Creative Commons 2Generic License. Resized and lightly cropped on the top and bottom, to fit this format.

Just for Fun – Flamingos

I love flamingos. I’m not sure why.

Perhaps it’s because they are such an absurd bird. Perhaps it’s because they’re not pink at all – that’s just an effect of their diet, which amuses me. Perhaps it’s because of the place they hold in popular culture; simultaneously a symbol of tropical elegance, and of trashy kitsch.

I love the real ones, stalking through the shallows like pink prehistoric predators, scooping up crustaceans with their hooked beaks. Busily consuming the various carotenoids that give them their rosy hue. I love their jerky, time lapse movements, that melt in an instant to smooth fluidity when they take flight. I love to see them standing on one long leg, the other tucked up under their bodies, heads held high. I love to see them flying, long legs stretched out behind, black wing feathers spread, like soaring good-and-plenty candy against the sky.

I love lawn flamingos, too. They are so completely ridiculous, with their pink plastic bodies posed forever on wire legs, wading through grass shallows. I especially love flocks of lawn flamingos, surreptitiously deposited during the night in the yards of the unsuspecting. Can you imagine waking in the morning to find plastic flamingos have invaded your home? Spectacular!

I love art deco flamingos, perhaps most of all. The geometric angles of their legs paired with their long, sinuous necks made flamingos very attractive to art deco artists. Combine that with their flamboyant coloring, and they became irresistible. You can find them pacing gracefully, or cavorting without a shred of dignity, parading through the bathrooms, cafés, and salons of the 1920s. Such fun!

Perhaps it’s that inherent contradiction in flamingos that I find so appealing. They are at once graceful and awkward, stylish and silly, sophisticated and ludicrous.

I just love them!