Category Archives: blogging

Whole lotta nuthin’ goin’ on

Geez. Apparently I haven’t had anything to say in recent months and some of you are about to demand proof of life. This tends to happen when there’s either too much or not enough happening in my life. Oddly, this time, it’s both. I’m not sure how to explain that. Not sure it would matter to anyone if I could.

Yes, I’ve been writing. In a distracted-by-interruptions sort of way. Like tonight (Friday), for instance. My daughter is on her way from Boston to the Cape for a long weekend, as her husband is doing a two-week stint there to finish up his residency. My son and his wife are out of town for a wedding. So I figure this is a good time to get some writing done. Right?

Then I get a text:

DD: On the ferry on way to the Cape.
Me: Great! Have fun!
DD: Well, IT got a little wet in my backpack walking to the wharf. Sorry ☹
[I’m not sure what she’s talking about, but I reply . . . ]
Me: Uh oh
DD: It’s just around the edges of the first 100 pages
DD: Gives it character? I hate messing up books

OK, typing this out is too time-consuming. Here, have some screen shots:

And we go on like that with silly word-play for a while. As you do. And then a little bit later, she sends this:

Why yes, I DO use up my annual quota of exclamation marks in text messages. And now I’ve got that creepy song about the Edmund Fitzgerald stuck in my head. Not helpful, brain.

Obviously, some of these distractions are unavoidable. I’m never going to ignore my kids when they text or call me. (She texted a few minutes later to say they were docking, in case you were worried.)

In related news, and speaking of distractions, after seven years of living in other states, my daughter and her husband are finally moving back to THIS state. I am absolutely thrilled and can’t wait for them to get here. In two weeks! *GASP* How did time fly so quickly? It seems like just last week instead of last summer that this decision became official.

Anyway, they’re coming home and then, two days later, as an interlude before starting new jobs . . . they’re leaving Jenny the dog here with her BFF, The White Ninja (and me), and going on an epic three-week road trip. To Points Unknown. Or so they say.

Given their history, I assume they know exactly where they’re going and that it involves proximity to BEARS, and they decided not to tell me their plans so I won’t worry. Please. Like that’s going to stop me.

Provided they survive close encounters of the BEAR kind, upon their return they’ll be living with me until they find a house to either rent or buy. This wasn’t their original plan, but the housing market here is insane. To say it’s a “seller’s market” is a vast understatement, especially in the area they want to live. It might take a while to find something.

This will be interesting. In a good way! Probably. I hope.

So I’ve been preparing for long-term houseguests. Little things like cleaning out the fridge and freezer and pantry, throwing away things that are expired or unidentifiable or inexplicable, so no one dies of food poisoning. Or shame.

I’m also clearing out some closet/cupboard space so they have room to put stuff that isn’t going into storage. When my daughter was here for a quick weekend visit toward the end of April, I convinced her to help me clear off a shelf in the under-stair closet since it held a few things of hers.

Although mostly it was my detritus, like this, which I thought some of you might find amusing:

Yes, that’s a bottle of Crème de Menthe. See the little Georgia liquor tax stamp? I’m not even going to tell you how long ago it was that I lived in Georgia. Suffice it to say, it’s so old it turned blue.

And then there was this little gem that I didn’t even know was IN that closet, shoved way in the back.

Not only do I not know how old it is or where it came from (I’ve never been to Puerto Vallarta), I have no explanation for why no one ever drank it. Too late now.

This is what happens when you have too much room for storage. Things just expand to fill all the available space and then “out of sight, out of mind” takes over until you need that space for something else. Or until you’re in the mood, as I have been lately, to purge all the “crap” from your life and simplify.

What else has been going on . . . Oh, my son-in-law was here for a long weekend in early May for job-related doings, and I made two big pans of lasagna (Ed Giobbi’s recipe, which is a ton of work but so worth it). Doesn’t it look good? It was.

 

My daughter was not happy to miss out and wanted her husband to bring some back on the plane. Yeah, right. I sent her the recipe.

Oh, here’s another distraction, even as I write this: My Bossy Older Sister just texted to tell me her son, who lives in NYC, was texting her about the free ebola on the subway.

Me: WHAT?!

Oh, turns out she meant free ebooks (thanks auto-correct) courtesy of the NYPL, celebrating the new free wi-fi on trains. Here’s a pic of the “book train” my nephew was on, which is pretty cool:

Are you starting to see why I haven’t posted for a while? There’s a lot going on but none of it is particularly interesting, let alone blog-worthy.

But I’m plugging along with the current story, in spite of having NO IDEA what I’m going to do with it once I’m done. I suspect that’s part of why it’s taking so long to finish. I’m dragging my feet — er, fingers? — and putting off that decision.

There’s so much uncertainty hovering over this particular project and it has me feeling all ambivalent and lacking momentum and at the same time completely stressed out.

One of my writer friends summed it up well a week or so ago in a group forum when she said she felt stuck because she couldn’t decide what to do with her story once she was done– whether to query agents or self-pub. In my mind I was all, “YES, EXACTLY.” But I didn’t say anything because I have no advice for her. It’s the kind of decision a writer has to make for herself. I know all the options, all the pros and cons of each, have read ALL the facts and opinions out there. And I can’t fucking make up my mind. Or rather, I make up my mind only to change it the next day, or the next hour, each time absolutely convinced I’ve finally made the best choice for this story. And then change my mind again.

I can’t adequately describe how frustrating this is. I’ve faced decisions in my life that were difficult, or that made me uncomfortable even when I knew what was for the best. I’ve honestly never encountered a decision like this where the sides are so evenly balanced that I don’t know what to do. Yeah, I’m a mess.

I know, I know. Cue the tiny first-world-problem violins. I need to just finish the story and THEN decide what to do. I’m trying. Actually, I’m very near to being done enough for delta readers.

And really, I need to hurry up and finish before my distractions manifest in physical form.

In two weeks.

I’m just glad they’re not arriving via ferry.

 

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Filed under blogging, just for fun, parenting, writing

Ten years ago . . .

In September of 2006, I signed up for a Google ID and somehow also ended up with a blog of my own. I had no intention of writing a blog and this was the entirety of my first post:

“Not sure how I ended up with a blog, I didn’t ask for one. Blogger must think I have something to say here.
Blogger is mistaken.
Go read something else.”

And I meant it. I was not going to start blogging. I didn’t have time for that. I was convinced I had nothing to say, never mind knew anyone who would read it.

Pffft. As if that was going to stop me. A mere two weeks later, I wrote another post that began:

“All this white space has been bothering me, you know. It’s just sitting over here waiting for words. So I’m thinking maybe this blog is good for something after all.”

I would not have believed anyone who told me then I’d still be blogging ten years later. And enjoying it.

But I’ve been writing over here, on a somewhat regular basis, ever since. I switched to WordPress after three years with Google (best decision ever) and the stats say I’ve published 307, now 308 posts. Seems like way more than that. Then again, at an average of 1,000 words per post (yes, I do go on, and on, and on) that’s well over 300,000 words.

I’ve made friends, good friends, by way of this blog. And also by commenting on other blogs. Some of those friends have wandered off, as people do. Disinterest, busyness, death. The latter are the tough losses. The people who live on only in your memories. And your heart.

Margaret. Louis. Bryan.

Gone too soon.

But some of the people who have simply wandered off and no longer read my blog, or who do so only rarely, have remained good friends. A handful of them came to visit me, and each other, last week. We had lunch for five hours and it seemed too short. A few came bearing gifts, including this gorgeous orchid, which I have not yet (it’s only been a week) managed to kill.

img_0226

The instructions say to give it three ice cubes, once a week. You’d think I’d be able to manage something that specific. Far more helpful than the advice “don’t overwater.” I’m cautiously optimistic.

After ten years of writing blog posts, I feel as if I should be able to impart some similarly specific advice or wisdom. Other than the obvious, “Don’t try to post every damn day, it will destroy your will to live.”

What makes for a successful blog? Hell, I don’t know. I stopped caring about the “success” of this blog so long ago, it’s not even a distant memory. That’s not why I do it.

My thoughts keep returning to Brené Brown and her TED talks about the power of vulnerability, and understanding shame, and how those things are important, even necessary, for creativity. For establishing connection.

transportation-quote

And I think, if there’s any measure of success to communicating on the internet — via blogs or twitter or facebook, or even through fiction — it’s that. The connections you make with other people.

Speak your truth. Even if people ignore or disagree with you, maybe especially if they do. Be vulnerable. Find your connections.

brene-brown-quote-432x195

And if the world gives you a blank space, fill it. Be courageous. Create the thing that only you can create. However long it takes.

 

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Filed under blogging, creativity, deep thoughts

A to Z Challenge: G

GPart G, in a continuing story from A to Z  [link to the beginning]

Zoey wasn’t surprised to see Benton on hand to open the door for them. Nor was she surprised by his pithy “I see you found her” remark to Ferraro. The two were a matched pair when it came to pointed brevity.

She was surprised to see the cook, Mrs. Darby, hovering anxiously nearby.

“Lord have mercy, look at you!” the woman said. “You come with me to the kitchen, Ms. Prescott, and we’ll get you fixed up right and proper.” Mrs. Darby leveled a stern look at her employer, as if Zoey’s condition were somehow his fault, and herded her charge off toward the kitchen.

“Heavens, child, your hands are bleeding. And what a nasty sunburn on your face. You really must apply sunscreen if you plan to be outdoors for any length of time.”

Zoey doubted sunscreen was much of a defense against dragons, but she just nodded and examined her knuckles. The scrapes had indeed cracked open and oozed a bit, probably the result of crawling through the tunnels rather than the severity of the wounds. She was hardly bleeding to death.

“I’m sure it looks much worse than it is,” she said in an effort to reassure the cook, but Mrs. Darby wasn’t having it.

She hustled Zoey over to the large kitchen sink to wash and rummaged through an upper cabinet for a first aid kit. Zoey dried her hands and face and took the kit, promising to use it once she’d had a hot bath.

“I suppose I should join Mr. Ferraro for dinner,” Zoey said, bracing herself for an unpleasant meal.

“Oh my, no. It’s past ten o’clock. Mr. Ferraro dined hours ago. You just sit down at the table here and I’ll have something for you in a jiffy.”

Zoey concealed her surprise at the time and managed to stay awake long enough to eat two bowls of hearty chicken soup and a thick grilled cheese sandwich. Comfort food, for which she thanked Mrs. Darby profusely. She had just finished making an awkward request for dessert to be left out on the back stoop — a request the woman agreed to as if it were customary — and was finishing off a glass of milk when Ferraro entered the kitchen.

“Ms. Prescott,” he said, then stopped and stared at her mouth just long enough for her to realize she must have a milk moustache. She wiped it away as he continued.

“I anticipate tomorrow will be a long day, catching up on correspondence,” he said.

Oh, crap. She had managed to forget all about her “job” here. She smiled, trying to project calm confidence. “There’s not all that much to catch up on, Anton.”

“In that case, Ms. Prescott, perhaps I’m overpaying you. I rise early and will expect you to join me in the study an hour past dawn.”

Mr. Tall Dark and Imperious left the room and Zoey gave a mock salute to his back, then snuck a glance at the cook, who was busily wiping down already clean counters. Was that a trace of a smile she saw curving the woman’s mouth?

“Mrs. Darby?” she asked, fighting a yawn. “What time, exactly, is dawn?” Zoey wasn’t a morning person and hadn’t seen a single sunrise since she’d arrived.

“Don’t you fret about it, dear. I’ll come knock on your door to wake you in plenty of time for breakfast. You go on to bed now.”

Upstairs, Zoey took one look in the mirror and concluded Mrs. Darby hadn’t over-reacted after all. What a disaster. She took a hot shower, fairly certain she’d fall asleep and drown if she soaked in the bathtub, and applied antiseptic cream to the worst of her injuries before getting ready for bed. She dropped her filthy torn clothes in a pile in her room, knowing they were ruined but too exhausted to sort it out tonight.

All she wanted was a good night’s sleep. Everything else could wait for tomorrow.

She’d set the white quartz on her nightstand and it emitted a soft rosy glow once she turned off the lamp. She wasn’t even surprised. A crystal capable of adjusting to circumstances was least remarkable thing she’d seen that day.

Seconds later, she was drifting off to sleep when she heard the sound of children giggling. She sat straight up in bed, looking around the room for the source. Nothing. She was alone in the room. She must be imagining things. She knew there were no children living on the estate. She’d asked, first thing when she arrived.

She’d settled back into the comfy warm bed when she heard it again, a bit louder this time. It was the type of giggling particular to children who thought they were being quiet but ended up making more noise than if they hadn’t tried.

Zoey stared up at the ceiling, so tired she was in favour of having them all summarily executed if she got her hands on them. She was working up the energy to go find a maid or, god forbid, even Benton to deal with it when she noticed that the ceiling was . . . moving.

She rubbed her eyes and looked again, but the pale swirling shapes were still there. Not the ceiling, exactly, but something up near the ceiling.

One suddenly swooped down and bounced off the end of her bed, just missing her feet, prompting a fresh round of poorly stifled laughter.

Ghosts, she thought dully, somehow unsurprised by this as well. She had ghosts in her bedroom. And not just any ghosts, the ghosts of mischievous children.

She was too tired to even begin to think how to deal with them. All she knew was that if she didn’t get some sleep she’d be suicidal, maybe even gleefully homicidal, by the time she met with Ferraro in the morning.

There were thudding sounds off in the distance and at first she thought she was imagining them. But they drew steadily closer, became ever louder. She felt the vibrations right through her mattress. She saw a bright flare of light outside her window, heard a magnificent roar of sound, and smiled as she watched the pale shapes converge and flee en masse through the gap under the door.

The old girl might not be light on her feet, but she certainly was efficient. Zoey’s lips moved in a silent but heartfelt “thank you.”

Her gaze swept the room to make sure they all were gone and paused on a deeply shadowed area over in a far corner. An irregular shape, it was small and dark and absolutely still. It almost seemed to exude malevolence.

Unable to keep her eyes open, Zoey dismissed it as a symptom of exhaustion. But as she drifted off to sleep, one last thought made a reprise: there are monsters in the dark.

G is for Ghosts

 

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Filed under A to Z Challenge, Anton and Zoey, blogging, just for fun

A to Z Challenge: F

FPart F, in a continuing story from A to Z  [link to the beginning]

Fortunately, Ermie accepted her apology for thinking he was a giant white rat. He was sort of cute, once she got over her initial misconception. And quite charming with his accent.

“So, you’re a Scottish ermine?” she asked.

He replied in a distinctly non-Scottish accent, “Nope, I just really like the accent. And the ladies love it.” Then he winked at her and said, “Come along then, lass, or ye’ll be answering to Himself for tardiness. Tardiness.” And he scurried into a dark tunnel.

Good grief. Zoey refrained from rolling her eyes and clutched the softball-sized chunk of white quartz he’d given her. It had looked unremarkable in the fire-lit cave, but once they entered the dark tunnel it glowed brightly enough for her to see several feet in front of her. She hoped he didn’t want it back once they got out.

Zoey realized Ermie was muttering something and caught up with him so she could make out what it was.

“This is highly unusual. Highly unusual,” he said.

“You’re telling me,” Zoey said. “Cave Dragons, talking animals. What’s next?”

Ermie stopped and gaped at her. “She granted you her protection, lass. Her protection.”

“But that’s what she does, right? She protects treasure. People must come into her cave all the time with treasure to protect.”

“Lass, no one dares enter that cave without permission. They wait outside. Outside.”

“Oh?” So she’d breached dragon etiquette just by walking in. It’s a wonder she was still alive.

“Aye, she vowed to guard yer treasure. But she also granted you protection. Were ye not listening? She hasn’t done that . . . in centuries. Maybe not ever. Not ever.”

“Oh.” Well, that was unusual then. Zoey hoped it wasn’t going to be a problem when she needed to leave this place.

She touched the smooth piece of pale green sea glass the dragon had given her before they set out. It had a small hole in the center through which ran a delicately woven silver chain. The dragon had told her to keep it with her always and then stared at her, fierce and unblinking, until Zoey put it around her neck and promised not to take it off.

She and Ermie made their way through tunnels that were more dirt than rock in places, a passageway that hadn’t been used in some time if the spider webs were any indication. Parts of it narrowed enough that Zoey had to crawl, a claustrophobic sensation she disliked immensely, though it helped to have the ermine in front of her, urging her to hurry.

The last turn was rather abrupt and Zoey realized they’d emerged under a large stand of thick bushes growing near a back corner of the mansion. Nicely concealed, she’d never have noticed it. She climbed out of the tunnel after Ermie, tucked the quartz in her coat pocket, and just sat there, breathing in fresh air and savouring the sunset.

Wait a minute. The sun was still hovering at the halfway mark, just as it had been when she entered the cave. The only difference being that clouds had gathered on the horizon and prevented reflection on the flat sea. The top half was still glowing brightly.

She turned to ask Ermie how that was even possible, only to find him with one paw up to his mouth, making a low shushing sound. He gave a quick nod toward the cliff.

Oh, hell.

Ferraro stood there in the last rays of the setting sun, hands clasped loosely behind him, staring out to sea. For all his apparent ease, he was taut as a newly tuned string, displeasure radiating off him in waves that were almost tangible. Zoey remembered what the dragon had said about his temper and control and decided she might do well not to test it any further just now. Assuming she was the reason for it. Maybe he just hated sunsets. She moved to stand up and the ermine hissed at her.

“Sit down, lass. Ye’re a filthy mess. Ye cannae greet Himself looking like that. Not like that.”

Zoey figured her appearance was the least of her problems, if the look on Ferraro’s face was any indication. She flicked one hand in casual dismissal. “Oh, I don’t care ab–”

“Ack. Haud yer wheesht, lass,” he hissed.

“Hold my . . . what?” she whispered back.

“It means stop talking. Think before ye speak and have a care what ye wish for. Words have meaning and power. Aye, meaning and power.”

Zoey paused to consider the truth of that. “All right, yes, it would be nice to freshen up a bit. Perhaps you know of a nearby stream? Although, I wouldn’t say no to a long soak in a nice warm bathtub if you were to conjure one up.”

The ermine made a sound that could have been irritation or amusement. “Close yer eyes and be still.”

She did as instructed and felt the soft brush of paws whisking over her hair and face and then down over her coat and jeans. Quick movements, finished almost as soon as they began.

“Aye, that’ll take care of the worst of it.”

“What, no bluebirds to fix my hair?”

“Ye’ve a quick tongue, lassie. Some folks, such as m’self, appreciate that. Others,” he glanced at Ferraro, “others nae so much. Nae so much. Ye ken?”

Zoey sighed. “Aye, I ken.” She leaned over to brush a cobweb from his ear and then pressed a quick kiss on his soft silky head. “Thanks for your help, Prince Ermie.”

Not wanting to just pop up out of seemingly nowhere, or draw attention to the cave entrance, Zoey scooted around behind the back of the mansion before she stood up. She gently stretched her sorely abused muscles, shook her hands vigorously, then walked out into the side yard as if nothing were amiss.

Ferraro didn’t so much as twitch, but she could tell he sensed her presence by the way his posture seemed to get impossibly more rigid.

She walked up next to him, leaving a good few feet between them. “Lovely sunset.”

He slanted a sideways glance at her and there was thunder in his eyes, lightning too. Or maybe it was fire. She had an odd feeling in that moment that he knew exactly where she’d been and what she’d done the past several hours. She made a mental note to check for security cams on the beach, next time she ventured out. That there would be a next time was not even in question.

She turned her gaze out to sea for a moment, collecting herself as exhaustion started to set in, and when she looked at him again he was his normal cold and implacable self. He raised one sardonic eyebrow and waited, as if expecting her to speak.

What was it with the raised eyebrows all the time? Was it some kind of code? Like the language of fans? It was all she could do not to raise one back at him, though who knows what message she’d send. She kept her mouth shut and her eyebrows in place. She knew enough not to volunteer an explanation.

He cleared his throat. “Perhaps you’d like to invite your friends to dinner.”

“My friends?”

He tilted his head in a slight nod, indicating something over her right shoulder.

No, it couldn’t be. Surely they wouldn’t. She turned, slowly, to see Ermie and Bubbie peeking around the far corner of the mansion. The dragon must have flown, there’s no way she’d have fit through the tunnels. Then it dawned on her . . . he could see them too? She wasn’t sure whether that was disturbing or reassuring.

“Ah, they aren’t my–” She cut herself off when she saw the twin looks of disappointment, the suddenly slumped shoulders of her new friends. Meaning and power. “Er, that is, they aren’t hungry. My friends ate earlier. I plan to leave some dessert on the back stoop for them later.”

He stared at her for a long moment. “I see. Do inform Cook. Perhaps then you’d care to dress for dinner.”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Fine,” he repeated.

There went that eyebrow again, even higher this time. She could only imagine just how not-fine and bedraggled she looked. “Perfectly fine. I would like to wash my hands, though.”

“And perhaps your face,” he muttered under his breath.

But she heard and gave him one of her brightest smiles in return. “I seem to have lost track of time, exploring your lovely estate. I do hope I’m not late for dinner.”

He gave her an inscrutable look before he replied. “I’d say you returned just in time.” He made a sweeping gesture toward the front of the mansion. “After you, Ms. Prescott.”

Just before she turned away, she saw the sun set. In an instant, as if the string holding it up had suddenly been cut. And in an instant, the darkness of night was complete.

Zoey walked ahead of Anton to the front door she’d exited what seemed like a lifetime ago, and felt the weight of his disapproving stare on her back the entire way.

F is for Friends

 

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Filed under A to Z Challenge, Anton and Zoey, blogging, just for fun

A to Z Challenge: E

EPart E, in a continuing story from A to Z  [link to the beginning]

She was curled in a soft blanket, warm and content, dozing in front of the fireplace, flames creating flickering images on her closed eyelids.

She frowned. Something was wrong with the flames. Too hot. Roaring.

Dragon!

Zoey came to with a start, heart racing, panic and adrenaline surging through her body. She sat up fast, hitting her head on the sloping rock wall at her back. Eyes wild as memory returned, she frantically searched the shadows beyond the circle of light cast by the small fire in the center of the space.

There. Movement on the other side of the fire. She had hoped she’d imagined it, conjured the beast from her fear, but no. There was a dragon staring at her with glittering golden eyes. A huge, scaly, winged dragon. With claws and a tail and sharp teeth. It was hideous, the stuff of nightmares.

And somehow not as mind-numbingly terrifying now that she could see it. But maybe that was because she was already dead. It seemed likely. “I’ve died and gone to hell.”

“Don’t be insulting,” said the dragon.

Zoey drew in a sharp breath. She knew dragons were dangerously unpredictable, but had never heard of one that could speak.

It spoke again, sounding oddly bored. “So, what’s your treasure? Where is it?”

Treasure? Like a tribute, or a bribe? She had nothing. Zoey just shook her head. No.

“Oy, you just got here. Already with the disagreement? Of course you have treasure. Show me.”

Was a gift of treasure the price of life, of freedom? Damn, she was in big trouble here. “I–” She cleared her throat. “I have no treasure.”

“Listen, sweetie, I’m a Cave Dragon and this is my cave. No one gets in here without treasure. It’s not even possible. So where is it?”

Great, it was getting angry. Did she dare make a run for it? She thought about the cave’s total absence of light and reconsidered. “I swear, I don’t have–”

“All these centuries guarding treasure, for this? So some puny human can come in here and tell me THE RULES OF MY OWN CAVE?”

She cringed as the dragon bellowed the last part, tiny weak flames dancing around its mouth. The roar ended with a coughing fit. “Sorry. It’s the fog rolling in. Puts a real damp-er on a proper flame.”

Zoey blinked. Did it just crack a joke?

The dragon caught its breath and resumed the rant. “You come schlepping up to MY FRONT DOOR and you have NO TREASURE? Chutzpah, is what it is, to come into my lair empty-handed. Such a thing I never heard of.”

This wasn’t happening. It was too bizarre to be real. “I- I’m sorry.” Maybe she was dreaming.

“Or maybe,” the dragon paused and narrowed its glittering eyes at Zoey as if it could hear her thoughts. “Maybe you are the treasure?”

For some reason, that sounded like a trick question. What was the right answer? She went with the truth. “No, I’m no treasure. Ask anyone.”

The dragon tilted its head and gave her a considering look, tapping one sharp claw on an even sharper tooth. “Yes, I think that’s it. Now to decide whether you’re worth guarding. It’s my choice, you see. Some treasure I agree to keep safe. Feh, some I don’t.”

Zoey didn’t find this reassuring. She had no experience with dragons and, in spite of hoping this might be a dream, it all seemed very real. Very precarious.

“I’ve never guarded living treasure before. Perhaps you’re dying? Bones, I can guard. Not a problem. I have a lovely collection of skeletons.”

“I don’t– no, not that I know of.”

“I suppose I could kill you.”

Zoey shuddered. “I’d rather you didn’t.”

“How did you get here?”

By an act of stupidity, she thought, but said, “Over the boulders.”

“Yes, yes, I know.” The dragon waved a claw impatiently. “Before that. Did you come from the sea?”

“I climbed down the cliff.”

“Ahhh, from the mansion.” The dragon seemed to smile. “So you belong to Himself. That explains it.”

Explains what? “I don’t belong to anyone. I was hired to work for him.”

“Such a nice boy. Is he feeding you? He should feed you.”

Nice boy? She couldn’t think of two words less suited to describe the man. “Are we talking about the same person?” This was insane. She was having a conversation with a dragon.

“Of course. Anton Ferraro, the Youngest. What a magnificent temper he has. Such fire.”

Zoey rather suspected he was a cold-hearted and unemotional bastard.

The dragon interpreted her expression correctly, or heard her thoughts again, and huffed out a puff of smoke like a laugh. “Ah, so you’ve only seen his iron control. I’m telling you, it’s a direct reflection of the fire inside. There are times I could swear the boy breathes it. Such a fine young man. You’re not married?”

Zoey was saved from a reply by the sound of flapping wings and that distinctive chirping noise she’d heard on the beach. Oh please, not the bats. Zoey crossed her arms over her head and curled into herself, trying to make a smaller target.

“Oh yes, here they are! Come to Bubbie, my precious babies, come show me what you’ve found.”

Did the dragon just call herself grandmother? She sounded so happy, Zoey lifted her head slightly to watch.

The dragon spread her impressive wings and dozens of bats swarmed around, dropping things on the floor at her feet before perching on her shoulders and along the top edge of each wing. “Oh, marvelous. Excellent. Such beautiful treasures you’ve found.”

Only . . . they weren’t bats, Zoey realized. She sat up straighter. “Baby dragons,” she whispered. They were shimmering green and gold miniatures, not yet scarred by life or made dull with age. Tiny baby legs and claws and tails, miniscule scales and delicate little wings, wispy fine wreaths of smoke circling their heads.

They were glorious and completely adorable.

They’d dropped smooth round stones and bits of sea glass and delicate sprays of seaweed at the old dragon’s feet. Each item beautiful in its own way, but utterly worthless.

“Don’t question the value of what others hold dear,” the dragon said sharply.

“I wasn’t– I mean, no, of course not.” Zoey felt slightly ashamed of her cynicism, remembering her own childhood treasures.

“As the elders say: Judge not, lest all that glitters be the bell that tolls for thee.”

That . . . almost made sense. “You’re right, it was thoughtless of me. They’re lovely treasures.”

The dragon reached up with a scaly claw and plucked one of the babies off her shoulder. “This little one is starting to look like his Grandpa David, alav ha-shalom. So fierce already. My mate was a War Dragon, gone these many years.”

Was it proper to offer condolences to a dragon? Zoey had no idea. “I’m sorry for your loss. Was– was he killed in war?”

The dragon huffed out a smoky snort. “Nonsense. You can’t kill a dragon, no matter what you read in stories. Agree to take a fall one time so that rascal George could win fair maiden and we’ve yet to hear the end of it.”

Zoey didn’t know what to say to that so she just nodded.

“Dragons die of two things: sorrow and loneliness. Not much for War Dragons to do these days, what with modern weapons. They’re all but extinct now.”

She sounded so forlorn, Zoey rushed to change the subject. “So, these are your babies?”

The dragon beamed with pride. “Grandbabies, yes. My daughter, bless her heart, mated a Story Dragon. She has attachment issues, not that I didn’t raise her better, and follows him from place to place. He’s in high demand. So many movies and books and plays. I warned them to stay away from the toy market, but do they listen?” She made a sound of disgust. “Plastic dragons. They’re killing me.”

Zoey wondered whether it was possible to dream and hallucinate at the same time. Play along, she told herself, you’ll wake up soon. “I didn’t realize there were so many different types of dragons.”

There was a moment of silence as the dragon stared into the fire. Not a good sign, Zoey thought. The dragon seemed pleasant enough, when she wasn’t being absolutely terrifying in the dark, but she was still a dragon.

Although, thinking about it, all the dragon had done was stomp through its own cave and pick Zoey up and bring her to this “room.” A room where there was heat and light. And baby dragons. Okay, it also shot flames and roared at her, but what homeowner wouldn’t defend against an intruder. Zoey’s own fears were what had made the entire thing a nightmare. Still. It was a dragon, one with apparent mood swings, and not to be underestimated. Plus there was the little unresolved matter of getting out of there alive.

“I’ve made my decision,” the dragon said abruptly and flexed her wings, sending all the baby dragons flying.

Zoey flinched and ducked as they circled and swooped before hovering in a cluster near the ceiling of the cave. Then flinched again when the dragon seemed to grow even taller, her massive wings still outspread, and spoke in a stern booming voice.

“STAND AND SPEAK YOUR NAME.”

Talk about mood swings. Zoey stood, fearing the worst. She was going to die in this cave after all. Would anyone know to carve “Death by Dragon” on her grave marker?

“SPEAK.”

Might as well get it over with. “Zoey Prescott.”

The dragon nodded. “I thought as much. ZOEY PRESCOTT, I HEREBY GRANT YOU MY PROTECTION. I ALSO GIVE YOU MY SOLEMN VOW THAT I WILL GUARD YOUR TREASURE.”

“What? But I–”

“It’s done. You didn’t ask and I give this freely, my mitzvah for this century. No need for payment.”

Payment? Zoey wasn’t sure she liked the sound of that.

“Although,” the dragon added softly, “there usually is a price for everything. Eventually.”

Exactly. Hence her concern. “Thank you, ma’am, but really–”

“Oh, call me Bubbie. We’re practically family now. I suppose you’d like to get out of here and head back to the mansion in time for dinner. You should eat.”

“Yes! I mean, thank you for having me, but if you could just point me toward the exit . . .” Zoey trailed off, at a loss for proper manners in this situation. She really didn’t want to anger the beast, even if this was a dream.

“Oy, and how far do you think you’d get if I did? God forbid she should ask for help. Ermie!” The dragon called out as if that were a name.

Sure enough, Zoey heard scuffling sounds and saw movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned to look and– “AIEEEEEEEE. It’s a rat!”

“He most certainly is not. Ermie, come introduce yourself before the girl plotzes again.”

The sleek white creature held its head high and managed to look both dignified and affronted as it approached. “‘Tis nae a proper way to address royalty, lass.”

Never mind that it could speak too, the rodent had a Scottish accent. “Are you sure it’s not a rat?”

“Do I look like I’m not sure? He’s an ermine. Claims to be a royal prince of some country with a name we can’t pronounce, so we call him Ermie. He’ll guide you out and back up top. After you apologize for the slight, of course.”

It was a sign of how very desperate Zoey was to get out of the cave, whether dream or reality didn’t even matter anymore, that she found herself down on one knee, a dragon looking on in approval, offering an abject apology to an ermine. No, a royal ermine prince.

E is for Ermine.

 

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