Sunday, September 22, 2013

The craft of writing: What I learned at the Southern California Writers' Conference

First: A thanks and summary.

I thoroughly enjoyed the 11th Annual L.A. session of the Southern California Writers' Conference.  It's a conference that focuses on the craft of writing more than the selling of writing.  That sets it apart from the others.  The size of the conference, with only a couple hundred attendees, makes it an intimate experience wherein you can also make friends and contacts in the business.  I want to thank the staff and everyone in the Read and Critiques who gave me their feedback.

Jean Jenkins, freelance editor, had some great feedback on Chapter 1 of REBORN TO BITE.  Her workshop opened my eyes.  Many thanks to Laura Perkins, Melanie Hooks, Rick Ochocki, Oz Monroe, and the rest who gave great feedback and ideas.

I now have a mental picture of diving in a shark tank when I think of the San Francisco Writers' Conference and the San Diego State University Writers' Conference.  Those are coming up, and I really want to attend SDSU.  SF costs $600 and runs head-to-head against the San Diego edition of the Southern California Writers' Conference, so it's out.  SDSU is only $399.  The question is: will I be ready with Rewrite 7 of REBORN TO BITE in time to try to entice agents?  Do I even want an agent?

And now, for "Lessons Learned":

Janis Thomas's workshop explored the difference between "character driven" stories and "plot driven".  Plot outlines are a lot more important with "plot driven".  She suggested listing character attributes to make each character unique in your mind.  In your "character profile", you should have:

  • 3 strengths
  • 3 weaknesses
  • 3 "windows" into the character's personality (fast/slow, gregarious/agoraphobic, happy/cranky, etc.)
  • 3 quirks (nervous ticks, habits, etc.)
Janis suggests opening a novel with the inciting incident in the first paragraph.  This differs from Drusilla Campbell's advice from NovelCram, which recommended scene setting until the end of chapter 1, which should end on the inciting incident.

Marci Nault, Leslie Lehr, Brett Battles, Elana K. Arnold, and Sheri Fink were all great speakers.  Among the gems from these speeches:
  • Be patient.
  • Writing is a business as much as an art
  • We are challenged to establish a relationship with readers
  • Don't settle for good.  Settle for Excellent.
  • Print on Demand can print a book with errors that you can't catch.  We saw an example of a children's book that had the sinking of the Titanic in the middle of it.
  • Try to produce the very best product you can to rise above the noise.
  • You can't fail until you quit.
  • Savor the writing; don't try to force it to happen.
  • Every author, regardless of whether seeking traditional publication or self-publishing, needs to act like an author/publisher. That means taking an active role in publicity and platform.
  • Find your audience
  • Find your niche
There are Seven Steps of Structure to a story:
  1. Weakness and Need
  2. Desire
  3. Opponent
  4. Plan
  5. Battles
  6. Last Battle
  7. Resolution and self-revelation
I took a page of notes on things to look for when doing a critique from Laura Perkins' & Melanie Hooks' session; but I think I'll post that as a separate blog entry later.  They supplement the list below from the workshop entitled "Best Foot Forward: Polishing to Impress" (Pt 1 and 2)

Selected tips from Jean Jenkins, freelance editor:
  • Stick to the word limit range for your genre- plus or minus 3,000 words
  • 3 words you can remove from your narrative: just, very, that.
  • make words work.  "beautiful" doesn't add anything, because it's subjective.
  • Limit yourself to one exclamation point per manuscript.
  • Don't bother using a semicolon.  If a sentence has multiple independent clauses, use a period.
  • Agents and editors like to see definitive action: not "going to", "getting ready to", "almost", etc.
  • "Stood up" vs. "Stood", "Sat down" vs. "sat": The direction is obvious, so you can drop the "up" and "down"
  • "Okay", not "OK" or "O.K."
  • Opening your book:  Page one should tell you (1) who the main character is, (2) what they want, (3) the reason for telling the story.  Avoid excess wordy descriptions.  Show character's attitude (this is reiterated by Robert Gregory Browne in his workshop).  Active verbs.
  • Do a character profile to prevent inconsistencies (I also do an "equipment sheet" to track what they're carrying/wearing, but that's just me)
  • Agents want characters that are sympathetic
  • Action needs to move forward, tension needs to move up.  Flashbacks stop action, losing forward momentum
  • Prologues: Agents and Editors hate them.  Some/many readers might skip them.
  • Write to seventh grade reading level. 
  • Don't say things twice
  • Reduce multiple descriptive words to one most-correct descriptive word
  • Show only what's important
  • "in fact", "however", or "actually" in the narrative indicates "author intrusion". This should be avoided. 
  • Patterns in writing can lull readers to sleep.  e.g.: repeating sentence structure/size, starting everything with "He", using passive structures ("he was standing" or other "-ing" vs. "he stood")
  • A story is not a story without tension.  This comes with action and interaction.
  • When in one character's "hard viewpoint", no need to say "he thought", since POV is clear and it's obvious it was his thought.  Also, italics are not needed for thoughts in this case.
  • Don't use ellipses ... much.  Never in narrative.
  • m-dash ( -- ) for dialog interruptions
  • n-dash ( - ) not used except as hyphen
  • hyphenate compound modifiers
  • Pronouns: Old school said repeat character name 3x per page.  Modern, once per 2 pages (assuming one character in scene).  Avoid repeating starting sentences with "he" or "she".
  • Limit slang and dialect to a couple of minor characters.
  • "rolled her eyes", "threw up his hands" - cliche phrases that are ambiguous in a literal sense and should be avoided
  • Avoid using "it"
  • Avoid using "would" and "could"
Jean also listed out the "Most Egregious Openings" for a story:
  • Showing an unnamed character
  • Main Character has amnesia.  This has been done too often, and is a cliche.
  • Main Character waking up after a dream/ dream sequence.  See above
  • Single person scene: nobody for the main character to work against.
  • No mood and setting

Workshop: "Creating Characters that jump off the page" by Robert Gregory Browne 

The concept that had the most impact for me out of this workshop is that there are four things you really need in a character:
  1. An identifiable Attitude
  2. Emotion
  3. A goal - what drives the character
  4. Action - attitude in motion

More on the "Giving Feedback" session next time.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Fae In The City, Ch. 18

Sharon stared at her Fae father, Eddie, and his mother. The little man next to them had introduced Eddie's mother as Morgana, Queen of Elphame. The Queen of the Fae is my grandmother? Sharon tried to mentally process the shock of learning her heritage included royalty.

"You've proven your loyalty to me, son. Now leave this place and come home so we can wed you to a proper bride," the Queen said.

"I have a wife, mother; you know that," Eddie said. "You also know I have no intention of leaving here without her."

"Perhaps if I banished the sylph and her offspring," the Queen said, raising a hand toward Caroline.

Sharon's heart raced. Banished? Her mother was a sylph? What did that mean?

Eddie moved to block the Queen's gesture toward his wife. "I know what you're doing. Sharon is of age, and must choose without your interference."

"Eddie, darling boy. I merely want to end this phase in your life and put it behind us," the Queen said, lowering her hand. "The Court is watching and a scandal could tip the scales this time. Come home. Wed a proper woman and give the Court something to cheer."

"My Queen," Eddie said, bowing. "I cannot do as you suggest. I love my wife and have much to teach my daughter. I have faith you'll weather the scandal if it comes to that."

Morgana's eyes swept the group. She raised her chin. "We'll talk again soon, my son. I'm sure you'll see the wisdom of my position in time. Just make sure that you decide before more damage is done."

With that, the Queen turned and sliced the air with her hand. A shimmering strand opened like a curtain, exposing a glowing blue-green tunnel. The Queen and the little man with her stepped into it, and the opening in the air disappeared.

Sharon stared at the place where they had vanished.

Her father stepped in front of her and put his hands on her arms, lifting her up to her feet. "Welcome to the family, Sharon. That was your dear Grandmother."

Sharon blinked.

Caroline stood and wiped the dirt off her knee. "And you see now why we couldn't come fetch you."

"I'd like to say she has a good side, but I think you just saw it," Eddie said. He gave Sharon a hug and stood back. "I'll go check on our soon-to-be-free human." With a a quick nod to his wife, Eddie walked back into the cottage.

Sharon turned to Caroline. "So you're a sylph? What is that?"

Caroline smiled. "We are creatures of the air. You inherited much of that from me. Your wings, your shape. We have much to discuss, daughter."

Sharon's heart flipped at the affection in the Fae woman's voice. "So Eddie is a prince? Shouldn't he be 'Edward' then?"

Caroline laughed. "We chose names to blend in. I promise to tell you more if you tell me all about California, and your life there."

Caroline strolled toward the cottage, and the girls followed at their leisurely pace.

"What happens now?" Sharon asked. After the words had left her mouth, she realized she was deferring to Caroline like a child would to a parent. She cursed the fact that it seemed so right.

"I presume you'll want to take us to California and reunite Diana with her parents."

"You want to go too?" Sharon asked.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Caroline replied, her warm smile putting Sharon at ease. "Besides, we must orchestrate her assimilation properly; and for that you'll need our guidance."

They found themselves standing at the front door to the cottage.

"Would you like to rest and join us for supper before the return journey?"

"No fairy food," Heather said, her hand on Sharon's arm to remind her of their previous discussion. "I'd rather not starve to death."

Caroline rolled her eyes. "I abhor when literature imbues figurative prose as literal. The legends skewed a few writings and blew everything out of proportion."

"What are you saying?" Heather asked.

"If I recall the legend, it says: Once you've had fairy food, human food will never again sate you. Mundane food will turn to dust in your mouth, right?" Caroline said.

"Exactly," Heather said.

"Poppycock," Caroline laughed. "We just make the best food you'll ever taste. Everything else will seem like dust in your mouth by comparison. Besides, Diana will be cooking, so fret not."

Caroline held the door open, and the girls walked in. Sharon watched Heather and followed, taking care stepping over the threshold into a real, honest-to-goodness fairy cottage. Sharon sensed that they would be safe here, and let her appreciation for the wonder of it all seep into her mind.

The interior of the cottage looked nothing like what the outside promised, in dimension or style. The interior reminded Sharon of a palace: the grand entry foyer blazing with the light from a brazier the size of her bed at home, surmounting a waterfall fountain; marble columns and balustrades on the sweeping staircases to either side of the foyer; a checkerboard of black and white marble tiles on the floor; and a moving fresco of clouds and butterflies on the ceiling. Doors led to the right and left at the bases of the stairs, and a set of double doors stood open at the far side of the foyer. At the top of the stairs, Sharon could see three more doors set back from the gallery railing.

Diana smiled down at them from the top of the stairs. "So what do you think? Not bad for a prison, eh?"

Sharon couldn't reply. She was too busy looking at the room to the right, which looked like pictures she had seen of the hall of mirrors in the Palace of Versailles.

"Just like your place back home, isn't it?" Heather said with a snarky tone.

Sharon nodded, her mind in complete overload.

"My human family lives in a palace?" Diana asked, excitement dancing in her eyes.

Sharon shook her head, trying to get a grip. "No, they have a nice mansion, but it's not a palace."

"Well, I'm sure I'll love it," Diana said with a sigh.

"The dining room is this way," Caroline called to them from the door opposite the hall of mirrors.

Sharon and Heather followed Caroline into room with wood-paneled walls reaching to an arched ceiling twenty feet above them. Large chandeliers lit the room, which looked as wide as it was tall, and at least fifty feet deep. A long wooden table spanned the center of the room, with a dozen chairs on each side. Five place settings had been set up at the far end. A very small man stood in nineteenth century servant's livery by the table, his head barely clearing the level of the tabletop. He bowed as they approached.

"Thank you, Roland," Caroline said, taking a seat at the head of the table. The diminutive servant pushed in each of their chairs with white-gloved hands before disappearing through a doorway.

"Who was that?" Sharon asked.

"Our house Brownie, Roland. He's an amazing chef."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fae In The City, Ch. 17

The fairy cottage lost some of its magic as the glow from the windows dimmed and the echoes of the enchanted music faded in the trees. Sharon took a few careful steps backwards, grabbing Diana by the arm and signaling Heather with her eyes and a quick jerk of her head.

"I need to get Diana back to her real parents," Sharon said. "This place has been her prison long enough."

Sharon's long lost Fae mother reached out a beseeching hand. "Sharon wait. I can explain."

Sharon shoved Diana and Heather back, and faced Caroline, pointing a shaking finger. "Why should I listen to anything you have to say?"

"The music is part of our security system. It keeps the house safe when we're gone. That's all. Did you hear it when you were here before?"

Sharon bit her lip, trying to remember. No, there hadn't been music before. Just the calm before the rain.

Caroline's blonde hair shimmered like strands of gold in the firelight spilling from the front door of the cottage. Her blue eyes sparkled like gemstones, and her slight smile felt like warm friendship. Caroline's voice even sounded like home. "You can trust me, Sharon."

"Not with you throwing the glamour out full force like that," Sharon said, fighting the strange urge to like them.

"What would convince you to trust us?" Caroline asked.

Diana put a hand on Sharon and turned her. The human girl who looked like what Sharon had been for the last sixteen years had a sad look on her face. "Sharon, this is my home. You can't just take me from here without bad stuff happening. I'd like to meet my real parents, I really would. But my life here hasn't been bad. You can trust Caroline and Eddie. They're good people."

Sharon stared at Diana, at a total loss for what to do. Trust her parents? Eddie and Caroline couldn't lie, but Fae could omit so much truth that you could be misled. So the music truly was their security system. Maybe they could be trusted. She caught Heather's smirk out of the corner of her eye.

Sharon narrowed her eyes at the witch. "I can tell you've got an idea."

Heather's smile widened. "Let's have everyone drop their glamour. No magic. Let's see everyone as they truly are."

Sharon narrowed her eyes at Heather. "Oh, I'm sure you'd love that, Stalker. You have nothing to hide."

Heather's eyes darted down and back, her smile only faltering for a fraction of a second.

Sharon's mouth dropped. "You're using magic on yourself? All this time? What magic?"

"I thought you could tell. I must be better than I thought," Heather said. She squared her shoulders with pride.

"You're included then."

Heather swallowed. "Um-"

"It was your idea," Sharon said. "In fact, since your dreams are about to come true, you go first."

"What dreams?" Diana asked.

"Heather's been dying to know everything about the Fae. She's a little obsessed, if you ask me," Sharon said.

"Am not," Heather said, crossing her arms in defiance.

"You took a picture of me while I was sleeping, stalkerazzi."

"The drool was cute," Heather giggled.

"So help me-" Sharon's hands clenched into fists.

"Girls, girls," Caroline said, interrupting them. When she had their attention, she clasped her hands together and held them to her chin in contemplation. "We are not accustomed to revealing ourselves, even to our own kind. Diana has not seen our true forms, and we've been very careful to shield her from too much knowledge of our world. We hoped that someday we would be allowed to return her, without nightmares to haunt her."

Sharon's brows knitted together. "But I've seen my true form, and it's..." She hesitated to say "beautiful", because she still couldn't see using that word to describe herself, even if she'd been amazing. She settled for using someone else's opinion "Diana's little brother Bobby thinks it's amazing."

"You showed your true form to a human?" Caroline asked, her voice shaking slightly.

"Yeah, but he's cool. I made him promise not to tell anyone. I showed Heather too when we were working on Glamour exercises."

Caroline closed her eyes and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "You had no way of knowing. I'm sure the Queen-"

"What's the big deal?" Sharon asked.

"Diana, can you excuse us?" Caroline asked. "Papa will need help packing your things for the journey to your parents' home."

Diana looked between the older Fae and Sharon. "You think Morgana will let us leave?"

"We followed her rules, so I think it is time. Go and prepare for the journey, child."

"Yes, Mama," Diana said, giving Heather and Sharon a nod and a smile before scampering into the cottage.

Caroline walked over to the garden and knelt in the lush plants. She picked a strawberry and stood. "Heather, you must swear the oath of binding that you will not share what you have seen or will see. Failing to do so will incur the Queen's wrath. She will send nightmares to you until you are driven insane. Will you swear?"

Heather spoke the words of a spell, and magic raised in the air. Heather took the strawberry from Caroline's outstretched hand, and bit into it. The magic swelled and died.

"We'll need to do that with Bobby too, I guess?" Sharon said, thinking of her little brother. Even if he wasn't her blood brother, she couldn't stop thinking of him as a brother.

Caroline nodded and regarded the girls for a moment before speaking. "So seeing my true form will earn your trust?"

Sharon looked to Heather, whose pleading eyes didn't help. Sharon knew Heather just wanted to see fairies, but there was some kernel of wisdom in dropping their guards and opening themselves to a deeper understanding. She took a deep steadying breath. She's see her mother's true form. It might help. She nodded to Caroline.

"Heather goes first," Sharon said.

Heather grimaced. "Look, you need to promise not to say anything. I have really bad acne."

"That's all?" Sharon looked shocked, but as she watched Heather say the words that broke the spell, she realized that having acne could have been a huge issue for anyone. She watched Heather's face transform into a pimple-and-crater filled surface that the girls at school would have mocked, and watched Heather's happy, confident demeanor disintegrate. Heather looked vulnerable and fragile. Sharon focused on her true form and believed herself into it. She looked at her claws, then looked up to her Fae mother.

Caroline stood before them, her pale ivory skin clad in silver high-heeled platform sandals with silver silk ribbons lacing up to her knees. Silver markings gleamed on her skin. A loose two-part gown sparkled like silver with diamonds woven into the fabric, but left her midriff bare like a belly dancer. Her slender arms were covered with what looked like tattoos of silver vines with silver roses on them, ending with tiny vines on her clawed hands. Her wings changed color with the light, like iridescent pearls. Her silver-blonde hair was streaked with the blue of her cat-shaped eyes and color of her wings.

Heather's saucer-wide eyes never stopped moving as she took in the woman before them, and Sharon, side-by-side. "You must get the brown hair from your dad," she mumbled to Sharon.

Sharon stared at Caroline, seeing all the similarities and differences between them. "You changed clothes too. I hadn't thought to do that."

"Are you satisfied, young ones?" Caroline asked, looking like an avatar from a video game.

"You're amazing," Heather said. "You're both amazing. And I'm..."

Sharon could sense her friend's distress and grabbed Heather in a hug. "You're amazing too."

Heather shook her head and stepped back. She reached in her pocket and pulled out a compact. She popped it open, took the brush from within, and wiped at her face. Her acne disappeared, and her smile returned as she looked herself over in the tiny mirror. "There. No longer the ugly duckling of the group."

"I could make the acne go away," Sharon said, smiling at her friend.

"No thanks," Heather replied. "Grandma has a spell that will fix the damage after my hormones level out. It's our way. Besides, I heard too many horror stories as a kid about fairy magic."

Caroline's eyes shot wide at something over Sharon's shoulder before the silvery Fae shifted to human in a sudden ripple of magic.

Shocked by Caroline's sudden change, Sharon turned to see the cause for alarm.

A familiar-looking gray-haired man stood beside a woman whose slender fashion-model frame dwarfed him. Sharon guessed the woman to be over six feet tall, with reddish-brown wavy hair, and a soft tan. She looked to be in her twenties, but she radiated magic. The woman sneered as her eyes raked the group with cold contempt.

"Your Majesty," Caroline said, dropping to one knee. "Sharon sought us out, and the other-"

"Silence," the woman said. "I see the earth-borne..." her mouth puckered like she had sucked on a lemon as she paused, taking in Sharon's Fae shape, "has taken after you."

Sharon turned back to Caroline in time to see a warm motherly smile grow and take over her expression.

Caroline looked up at Sharon with warm eyes. "She is everything I had hoped she would be, my Queen."

"She seems fond of her true shape. Perhaps a century in the Shadow Realm will cure her of that."

Sharon felt stripped bare and a sudden need to cover herself. She shifted back to her human persona, and had a sudden recollection about the man beside the Queen. "You're the man from the road," she said, pointing at him. "The one that made the trucker pull over."

"You may call me Horace," the man said, crinkling his nose. "After you bow to Morgana, Queen of Elphame."

Sharon mimicked her mother's one-knee courtesy, and watched Heather do the same.

"The human has taken the bonding?" Morgana asked, staring at Caroline.

"She did the magic herself. She's a witch," Caroline replied.

The Queen tsk-tsked. "How interesting that a witch would find a way into our world through your folly, Caroline. You find new ways to disappoint me every year."

"I'm sorry-"

"Save your apologies for your unfortunate husband. How he tolerates you is beyond my understanding. The shame you brought on us all by spawning this," she gestured at Sharon without looking, "here in this pathetic world can never be undone."

Sharon felt shock to her core, her stomach churning as she looked at the Queen and then to her mother. Are you going to let her say that?

"She has returned to us, despite your desire to keep her away; and we intend to welcome her back," Caroline said.

The Queen narrowed her eyes. "There will be consequences."

The sound of the cottage door creaking caught their attention. Eddie stepped out and walked toward the Queen. Sharon watched as the Queen's expression grew warm and friendly as Eddie approached.

Eddie stopped in front of the Queen and lifted her hand in his. "Mother. I trust all is well."

"My esteemed son. Leave this wretched plane with me and it will be."

(go to Chapter 18)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Just launched:

As someone with a fairly unique name, I was surprised to find that I couldn't get an email address with my name @ gmail.  I guess that the other Mark Gronwald in the world (in Germany according to Facebook) must have snapped it up.  So I got worried that I might not be able to secure  Turns out GoDaddy is having a sale on domain names right now, so it seemed like the perfect time to snap one up.  There's not much there, but feel free to check it out:

I'm getting better at posting reviews of the books I read on Goodreads (  I'm getting really motivated to finish final edits on Reborn to Bite, and get an edited draft of book 2 and book 3 so I can get them out.  That and work have been my major delays in getting Fae In The City finished.  I'll be posting another chapter of Fae In The City this weekend; and it's a fun one.  Sharon is in for a big surprise.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Fae In The City, Ch. 16

Sharon stared at the phone as it rang again. The shipping container banged as the truck went over a bump in the road, startling Sharon and her two companions.

"Well? Answer it!" Diana yelled, looking angry.

Sharon pressed the button and held the phone to her ear, her heart pounding so hard she didn't realize she'd set it on speakerphone.

"Diana? Are you there?"

"I'm here, mama!" Diana shouted.

"Mama?" Sharon asked, then covered her mouth as the thought sank in. I'm talking to my mother for the first time. She started to blink, her eyes burning with a sudden pressure.

"Who is this? Who am I talking to?"

"It's me," Sharon said, her voice sounding small. She cleared her throat. "It's Sharon Mary Elizabeth. I won't say the rest, because, well, you know."

There was silence on the other end of the line for what seemed like an eternity. Sharon could feel her heart beating in her throat even as the big truck bounced on the road, the sound of the rattling container trailer drowning out whatever was going on at the other end.

The phone made a rustling noise and then a man came on the line. "Sharon?"

Sharon sucked in a breath. "Yes?"

"My name is Eddie Vaughn. The woman you were just speaking to was Caroline Vaughn, my wife. We've been hoping to find you for a very long time. Can you tell us where you and Diana are?"

"We're in the back of a truck, headed south," Sharon said, wiping tears from her face. She wasn't even sure why she was crying. She looked at the other girls and their eyes welled as they watched. "I think we're stuck until the driver stops, though."

"Can you describe the truck?" Eddie asked.

"It has a big red shipping container for a trailer," Sharon said, watching the door move open a little.

The phone made a noise. "Sharon? It's Caroline. I think I know the truck you're in. We can see a truck ahead of us with the back open. We'll pick you up when it stops. We'll be in an old Jaguar. You don't have anything to fear from us. We won't let any harm come to you."

Sharon nodded, wanting to believe everything he said, and realized they wouldn't see her reaction. "Okay."

"I'm so very pleased that we'll be able to see each other again. We thought you were lost to us forever."

Sharon didn't know what to say.

"See you soon, Mama!" Diana yelled.

Mama. Sharon looked to the human girl, and then chewed her lip. Diana wasn't a slave or a prisoner. These Fae were her family. Sharon mumbled goodbye to the phone and clicked it off. "I am such an idiot."

Heather extended a hand full of witch-made cookies. "Here, take one. It'll make you feel better."

Sharon grabbed a cookie and chomped it. Heather offered them to Diana, and Diana took one as well. They sat in silence, eating cookies and feeling better. The truck swerved around a corner in the road, then swerved again the other way. The momentum from the cornering caused the back door the swing open. Sharon looked out the door at the road, watching the spray from the truck's tires making a trail. The rain had lessened to a light sprinkling here, but a the road still shimmered with a light coat of water. The Jaguar from the house followed four cars back. The car directly behind them flashed his bright lights, blinding Sharon for a second. She held up her hand to block the light as the driver put the brights on and kept them on.

Then he started honking.

The truck slowed, and pulled over onto the side of the road. The car that had been honking stopped also.

Sharon and Heather grabbed their backpacks and hopped out. They turned together and helped Diana down, Diana's long peasant dress flowing as she hopped off the container.

"Hey! You're not supposed to ride in the back of lorries," the man in the car yelled as he got out, pointing at the girls and wagging an accusing finger. His lumbering gait and grey hair might have been charming if he'd been smiling.

The truck driver joined them, his hands stuffed in jacket pockets. "What's all this, then?"

"These lasses were stowed in your trailer there, like it was some sort of caravan. Are you smuggling them?"

The driver looked at the girls. "I should say not! What are you girls up to? How did you get in there?"

The Jaguar pulled up behind them, and Diana spoke as Eddie and Caroline Vaughn got out of their car. "We were just having a bit of harmless fun. You were stopped by the side of the road, and we hitched a ride. Look! Our parents are here now."

Everyone turned to watch the couple approach.

"Are these your girls?" The driver of the truck called.

"Aye" Eddie said, playing the part of a long-suffering parent to perfection. "Were they causing trouble again?"

Sharon stared at the Vaughns, her heart racing. They were beautiful; the most handsome man and the most radiant woman she had ever met. The light drizzle didn't even touch them. She sensed that Caroline's magic was shielding them.

"How did you even get in there?" The grumpy man from the car asked, looking to Sharon.

Sharon snapped out of her trance, feeling the threat in his voice. She shrugged "We saw you stopped by the side of the road, and... well, the back was unlocked..."

"You're American?"

"Visiting my family," Sharon said, gesturing to the Vaughns. Her heart lurched as she took them in. They stared at her with palpable affection, a tear streaming down Caroline's face.

The men groused and grumbled, carrying on about how the police should be notified, and how the Vaughns were bad parents to allow the girls out of their sight. Eddie and Caroline handled their bluster with a calm kindness that infected the men. The discussion might have taken minutes, but it seemed like hours to Sharon as she watched her parents – her real parents - handle the men and send them on their way. When the men finally departed, a silence fell over the group.

Sharon watched the elder Fae as light drizzle stopped. Birds chirped, the breeze moving the sparse trees and the lush grasses in the fields by the road. The sun peeked from between the clouds. A rainbow arched across the hills behind them.

Diana hugged Eddie and Caroline, then she gestured to Sharon. "Mama, Da, this is Sharon."

A spike of jealousy pierced Sharon's heart at the way Diana claimed the Vaughns. She stood there, taking in the the looks in the eyes of the Fae. Her biological parents were nothing like she had imagined. She felt numb. They watched her as they greeted her; the words sounding familiar and carrying sixteen years of pain, longing and regret with them.

Sharon braced herself as Caroline enveloped her in a warm hug and held tight. Sharon tried to detach herself from what was happening, to stay on her guard in case these people were somehow horrible monsters. She felt a lump in her throat and pressure in her eyes as tears burned to be let free. This Fae creature had given her life.

And then given her up.

Caroline stepped back, her smile radiant, and Eddie took her place. He held Sharon in a gentle hug, his chin resting on her head. He whispered something in a language Sharon didn't recognize, but his voice broke. He took a ragged breath and kissed the top of her head.

Sharon couldn't hold back the traitorous tears as her resolve broke. She wiped away the evidence. "Why?"

"Why what?" Eddie asked.

Sharon swallowed and wiped her nose. She looked Caroline in the eyes. "Why did you give me away?"

"Come and visit with us for a while," Eddie said. "This isn't a discussion to be had by the side of the road. What you need to know foremost, was that we had no choice in the matter."

The Fae walked to their Jaguar, and Sharon followed as they piled in. The parents sat in the front and the girls in the back. Heather took the middle seat in the back, smiling and humming with excitement.

"So where did you travel from?" Diana asked.

Sharon sat in shock, her brain numb from the adjustment to this new reality, and let Heather answer.

"San Francisco."

"How did you know to come here?"

Heather smiled. "We used magic."

"Your location was hidden from us by magic on this end, else we would have sought you out," Caroline said, looking back at Sharon.

Diana and Heather continued to chat, mostly about California.

As they made their way through the tiny town, Sharon noticed that Diana never once mentioned her human parents. Her true parents. Did she not know they were alive and well? As the car stopped, Sharon looked out to see the bridge they had crossed earlier, complete with the shimmering magic wall.

Eddie opened the driver's door. "I'll be right back. Just have to pay the troll."

Sharon thought she'd heard wrong. "There's a toll here?"

"Troll," Caroline said. She turned in her seat. "He put up a barrier to stop Diana and her kidnappers from leaving. That was before we knew it was you, and that you could fly. Can you see the barrier?"

Sharon nodded, and just then the barrier sank. Eddie returned to the car, and they made their way across the bridge. The car rumbled along the country road as though everything was right in the world.

Sharon watched as they approached the Fae home, fear making her wonder if this was some sort of trap. Had they just brainwashed Diana? Was it possible that someone else had taken Sharon as a baby to protect her from the Fae? What would they do once they passed through the veil of the Glamour and were within their realm?

The car turned into the unmarked drive. Sharon watched them all for some signs of treachery, wondering what she'd see if they were truly evil. The stories about Fairies eating people had to have come from someplace.

The car approached the barrier. The veil of glamour washed over them and they drove up to the house.

Sharon watched as everyone got out of the car, and walked with them to the front door of the mystical little cottage. She heard folk music and thought about the tales of music that entrapped people forever. She looked to Heather, and saw nothing but a rapturous face devoid of doubt. Diana wore a similar expression.

Sharon narrowed her eyes as Eddie opened the door to the cottage and light bathed the group. The music grew louder, and Sharon could feel it tugging at her. The song was full of joy and hope, happiness and revelry. She covered her ears. "Can you turn off that music please?"

Caroline and Eddie shared a look, and nodded to each other. Eddie entered the house, and the music stopped.

Sharon watched as Heather and Diana lost their blissed-out expressions and blinked. "I knew it! You were brainwashing Diana. This is a trap!"

(continue to Ch. 17)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Fae In The City, Ch. 15

"We're here to rescue you," Sharon said, grabbing Diana's hand.

Sharon started dragging Diana toward the road, and caught sight of Heather, staring in fascination at the cottage.

"Heather! Snap out of it! Come on!"

Heather blinked and followed. They struggled through the barrier of Fae magic. Diana dragged her feet, and a sudden bolt of lightning lit up the sky. Diana yelled something, but all Sharon could hear was the thunder, practically on top of them.

Sharon felt frantic, wondering what to do next. They had to escape, and walking wouldn't be fast enough. What could she do? They needed a car or something, but she was pretty sure she couldn't wish a car into existence. All that iron. What to do?


She closed her eyes, stumbling, holding onto Diana's hand in a death grip. Believe horses are in the road, waiting for us.

They reached the end of the trail, which spilled into the road. In front of them the road stood empty, leaves whipping in a sudden wind and droplets of rain beginning to splat on the pavement.

Heather muttered something, her voice drowned out by thunder and the sudden cacophony of rain around them.

What had happened? Sharon wondered. She raised her voice to Heather to be heard over the whip of the wind. "There should have been horses here."

Sharon turned and did a double-take when she saw the fear in Diana's face. Then she saw the marks on the ground where Diana had dragged her feet. Why hadn't dragging Diana been harder?

"Let me go!" Diana yelled, the rain plastering her hair down. "Please, please let me go."

It must be Stockholm Syndrome or whatever, Sharon thought. How could the girl think that she was better off with the Fae? There was no time to argue, so Sharon focused on a point between Diana's eyes. A few seconds later, Diana went slack and fell into Sharon's arms.

"How did you do that?" Heather yelled.

Sharon gently set Diana on the ground. "A tailored glamour. She thinks she's asleep and dreaming, so her body believed it too."

"That could be really useful on a bad date!"

Sharon stared at Heather for a second before laughing. "We need to get out of here fast, and you're joking around."

"So conjure some horses?"

"I had the same idea, but it didn't work."

Heather thought for a second. "Maybe you need mice or something to transform them into horses, like in the fairy tales."

"But I didn't need anything to make the frogs or the butterfly-"

"Maybe there was a tiny microscopic bug there in each case or something, but you can't transform an insect into a horse?"

The sound of a car starting from the Fae house distracted them. Sharon's pulse jumped. She felt the overwhelming urge to fly. She couldn't outrun the Fae on foot, dragging Diana. Rage and helplessness tugged at her. She was in the land of the Fae. She had to blend.

Sharon closed her eyes and wove a glamour around them to hide them. It might not work on Fae, but she had to try something. Sharon stared at Heather, a wild plan forming in her mind. "How do you feel about being a rabbit for a while?"

Heather's head whipped back and forth between the Fae barrier and Sharon. "I'd rather be a bird."

"Hand me your backpack. When it's done, take off and cross the river. Do you remember that little campground before we entered town? Let's meet there."

Heather handed over her backpack. Sharon took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and released her energy. She believed in the transformation she wanted. She opened her eyes, and found a raven where Heather had been. A rabbit sat where Diana had been. She stuffed Diana's peasant dress and the rabbit in her backpack, and Heather's clothes in Heather's pack.

The raven shook out her wings, then took off.

The car burst through the barrier, fifty yards away. The sky opened up, drenching the world in a sudden downpour; but Sharon had a split-second where she saw a blonde woman and a dark-haired man in the car.

They looked familiar.

Now or never, Sharon Mary Elizabeth Dulcet Vaughn.

Fairy wings sprouted from Sharon's back. She grabbed the backpacks with her clawed hands, and jumped into the air. She beat her wings hard. She shot into the sky, and didn't look back until she reached the river. The car was nowhere in sight, but she couldn't shake the feeling that she was being followed.

Sharon climbed higher in the air, and crossed over the river, seeing a shimmering wall of magic a hundred feet below. Something crawled under the bridge, looking monstrous. Bells rang somewhere nearby.

As Sharon looked back, a bubble of something passed between her and the magic barrier wall, looking like it was following her. She felt her own glamour fading, magic draining from her.

She recalled the vineyard, and the way she had felt renewed by the plants. She needed to get lower. She crossed the main road and the town, and dropped to tree-top level. She buzzed the trees, trying to rub an arm here, a leg there. Lightning struck too close, and the thunder deafened her.

Sharon dropped onto a bare branch of a large pine, and wrapped her arms around the trunk, a backpack in each hand. She almost dropped Heather's pack, but recovered. She soaked in the feeling of life from the tree. A tingle and warmth flowed into her. Rain soaked from head to toe, she shivered; but felt renewed. Precious seconds ticked away, and she made herself invisible against the tree.

The rain slowed.

Sharon watched the sky for any signs. She caught glimpses of something passing through the trees – raindrops bouncing off a round space in the sky. It headed toward her, but at a slight angle; and she realized that it was following the path she had taken before veering toward this tree.

Have to move.

Sharon reluctantly pulled herself from the tree and dove off the branch, focusing on her glamour again. She headed back toward the town, but not too close to the road. She followed the tree line, watching for signs the bubble was following.

She could see the campground ahead. Behind her, the bubble appeared again, looking like the rain was avoiding a spot in the sky. If not for the trees as backdrop...

Sharon wondered for the briefest moment if she had a bubble like that, but the rain pelting her back assured her it wasn't so. It must be one of the Fae, following her and using a glamour too; but how could a Fae track her?

Magic. She's sensing my magic somehow! That had to be it. Sharon dropped to the ground and skimmed the surface. She had to hide her magic somehow. Block it.

Iron. She watched the road as she flew, and caught sight of a freight hauler truck with a large shipping container as a trailer. It was heading south, and only a minute behind her. She sped toward the campground, zigging and zagging between trees and even circling a few times to confuse her trail.

A familiar looking raven sat perched on the "Welcome to Strathyre" sign. Sharon put one arm through the backpack straps so she could free her hands, and scooped up the raven as she flew by. She circled the campground with the raven squawking in her arm, and headed back to the road, landing on the shipping container's top as the truck hauling it continued down the highway out of town.

Sharon's arms sagged under the weight of the backpacks and Heather-the-raven, so she dropped the packs on the corrugated metal. The wind from travelling forty miles per hour on a truck whipped at her wings. The rain pelted her back. She focused on Heather, transforming her friend back to human.

Heather squawked and then coughed, shivering in a ball.

Sharon grabbed Heather's pack and pulled her jacket out, wrapping it around the shivering witch. She had to get them inside the container, and fast. She closed her eyes, and believed the driver into a bladder emergency.

A moment later, the truck pulled to the side of the road. The driver jumped from the cab and ran into the bushes by the shoulder.

Sharon jumped off the back of the container. The levers that held the container door shut were unlocked, and she managed to work a door open. She peeked in. Empty.

Heather passed Sharon the backpacks, then grabbed the edge of the metal and swung down. She landed gracefully with a little flourish, and smiled at Sharon's wide-open mouth. "Four years of gymnastics."

Sharon pulled the door closed, but the latches were outside. The truck started to move, and Sharon used a final burst of magic to transform to human and dry out. The door started to swing open as the truck accelerated, but Sharon held it until they were up to speed and it stayed shut.

Heather started to dress.

Sharon reached into her backpack and removed Diana-the-bunny. The bunny scrambled in her hands, attempting to get away. The crazy rabbit almost bit her, before she managed to grab it by the scruff. She pulled out Diana's clothes and willed the girl back to human.

Diana stared at Sharon and Heather for a moment, her eyes wild and her lips trembling. Her voice was barely audible over the road noise and the rattling in the huge empty container.

"Who are you?"

Sharon handed Diana her dress, waiting for her to get dressed before speaking. "My name is Sharon Vaughn; and until yesterday, I was you."

"You're the changeling?"

Sharon nodded. "I had no idea what I was. As soon as I found out, I came to rescue you."

Diana's voice had a tinge of hysteria in it as she clung to the clothes in her hands. "Rescue me?"

"From the Fae," Sharon said. "I'm so sorry you had to suffer so long. It must have been horrible."

Diana's mouth dropped open. "You don't know anything, do you?"

Sharon opened her mouth and closed it. What did she really know? She had assumed Diana would want to leave. She was a slave to the Fae; or wasn't she?

"We need to go back. Now!" Diana said, straightening her dress.

"Why?" Heather asked.

Diana looked at Heather, then back at Sharon. When Diana spoke, her voice had a distinctive Scottish accent. "You're the Earth-borne Fae Eddie and Caroline had to give up and trade for me. Your parents have been longing for your return; but if we don't go back, they'll think someone abducted me, and send some very nasty things to hunt us down."

Sharon blinked. "Wait. I'm what?"

"Just get us out of here, and back to Strathyre; and your parents will explain everything."

Sharon looked at the slightly open door and thought about jumping. She tried believing the truck driver had another bladder emergency, but the truck didn't stop. Then she rubbed her face in frustration. "I got us into this container to keep the Fae from tracking me; but I think we're stuck now."

"What do you mean we're stuck?" Diana cried.

Heather patted Diana's shoulder and smiled. "We can get out as soon as the truck stops, but that may be a while. So now we can trade life stories."

Diana glared at Heather. "Who are you, again?"

"My name's Heather, and I have cookies," Heather said, ignoring the barb.

"Ooh, pass me one!" Sharon said, watching Heather rummage through her pack. Heather kept rummaging, her face twisting in confusion.

Sharon's cell phone started to ring.

"You having trouble finding the cookies?" Sharon asked, digging in her pocket.

"No," Heather said, rummaging more.

Sharon looked at the display on her phone, where it showed Heather's face and number. "Did you butt-dial me?"

"That's just it," Heather said, looking up. "My phone is missing."

(go to Chapter 16)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Poetry exercise for Conejo Valley Writers' Group

Assignment:  Write a 10-line poem in 10 minutes, using a common phrase but adding a twist.  Use 5 of the following words:
  • cliff
  • needle
  • voice
  • whir
  • blackberry
  • cloud
  • mother
  • lick
Katherine Hamilton of the group's Poetry Read and Critique sub-group created the challenge.  Here is what I wrote (with a tiny edit):

I looked to my mother,
A cloud over her face like no other;
Steel in her voice as she said,
But for luck I'd be dead.
I insisted it wasn't that bad.
I couldn't see why she was so sad.
"But Mom, everyone else does it too!"
Her needle-sharp gaze stabbed me through.
"If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?"
I did, and survived it too!

Hitchcock's Birds, a poem.

The thundercloud of small beating wings

Signals the approach of flying things

Death is the only song the flock sings

Strange what such a simple sickness brings

Yet there - between us and them - it sits

Temptation just too great to resist

Avian plans just cease and desist

Our fates delayed, our good fortune kissed

A freshly washed car summons each bird

Beating wings stop and silence is heard

Could it be that the disease is cured?

Nope. They just had to take a small... break.

-Mark Gronwald, 2013

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fae In The City, Ch. 14

As they passed a lake that seemed to go on forever, Sharon started feeling homesick, combined with an eerie sense of déjà vu. She felt music in her soul, resonating from the ground they were passing over in the bus. As the lake disappeared and the forest-covered Highlands loomed, her stomach churned.

The clouds parted, and the sun cast rays like a scene of divine majesty toward the road ahead. A rainbow arched in front of them for a few moments before fading away.

As they passed a small campground and a sign that said “Welcome to Strathyre”, Sharon's heart started to race. She gripped the seat in front of her, whispering to Heather so as not to break the spell of whatever was happening. “I feel something. Could I feel something if we were close?”

Heather shook her head. “I don't know, but I feel the spell working. We're close for sure.”

As the bus pulled into the tiny town, Heather and Sharon stood and ran to the front. The bus had barely stopped when they jumped out and looked around.

The bus idled in front of little building called “The Village Shop”, which also appeared to be the Post Office. A middle-aged couple sat at the tables outside, smoking and chatting in brogue.

The door to the bus closed and it pulled away, revealing a tiny two story Victorian hotel across the street with tables out in front. The town seemed to consist of about two dozen buildings, with a tiny monument by the side of the main road marking roughly the center. Roads led into the woods on each side of the main road, and smoke curled into the sky from chimneys hidden behind the trees.

Sharon sighed, happy that the rain had stopped so she wouldn't have to conjure umbrellas. “So where to now, Sacagawea?”

Heather squinted at Sharon. “What'd you call me?”

Sacagawea. You know. The woman who guided Lewis and Clark across the frontier? She's on a dollar coin?”

Heather wiped her face in frustration. “I'm one sixty-fourth Native American. Don't give me crap about my ancestors or I'll scalp your ass.”

I thought they scalped heads.”

Heather made a face like a grimace, but it looked a lot like she was fighting not to laugh. “You're a lot less funny after sixteen hours of no sleep. Just follow me, Fairy Princess.”

Heather closed her eyes for a minute and aimed herself, then led them down the main road a short way before taking a side road to the left. The road narrowed before an old stone bridge spanning a small river. Heather paused every minute or so, turning in a small circle.

Sharon got bored of the circle turning and stopped at the center of the stone bridge to listen to the water burbling. She stared at the water and found strange joy in the languid motion of the river as it caressed the rocky bottom. She could see fish hugging the shores on either side, moving in a slow dance to music she could almost hear.

A car honked, and she looked up to see that an old luxury car only a few feet from her. Somehow she hadn't heard the tires on the pavement as the car approached. She turned and ran the rest of the way across the bridge to catch up to Heather, taking shelter on the small sidewalk as the car zoomed by.

The road was barely wider than a car, the sidewalk ended as the road took a bend deeper into the woods. Sharon watched over her shoulder, worried that they might get run over. She found herself playing Heather's words back. You can't die in a plane crash. You'd wake up next to the smoldering debris field wondering what happened.

So I'm essentially indestructible? She sighed and thought to herself that something made of iron could probably squash her, and cars had lots of iron, so it'd be just her luck that she'd become a hood ornament on a Range Rover.

As they passed a pair of circular signs with a black diagonal line on each, Sharon stopped. “What do those signs mean? Are we going the wrong way?”

Heather looked up. “Oh. Those just mean there's no speed limit any more.”

Sharon stared at the strip of pavement ahead of them, curving deeper into the woods, and the amount of grass on the shoulder on each side. “I'm going to die out here. I just know it.”

Heather shrugged her backpack higher. “Want me to help you search your backpack?”

Sharon squinted at Heather. “What for?”

Your big girl panties.”

Sharon opened her mouth to reply, but Heather was already laughing and running away. Something about the way she said it made Sharon forget all her worries. She thought about Heather being out here in the damp, cold air, helping her. For what? It's not like she had begged Heather to help. Heather would not be denied. Heather was suffering through all this because she cared. Maybe she was a true friend after all.

I'm so getting you for that!” Sharon yelled, running after Heather. She completely forgot about becoming a traffic statistic as they laughed and chased each other.

A half an hour later, after turning onto an unmarked trail, they found themselves surrounded by trees in every direction. The place seemed to hum with life, not just the buzzing of insects and chirping of birds; but it seemed to vibrate with a kind of soft resonance that Sharon could feel in her bones.

Something's here. I can feel it.”

Heather nodded, handing the tartan back to Sharon. “You're home, but I guess it's obscured by Fae magic. Maybe a Glamour.”

Sharon looked around, trying to pinpoint some shimmer or hint that magic was obscuring their sight. The place seemed to be nothing but trees. She looked back to Heather. “Why can't I see through it?”

Heather shrugged. “I know I look like an expert on all things Fae, but everything I know is based on stories passed down from my Grandmother's Grandmother or a cousin's friend who heard it from a guy who heard it from a guy... if you know what I mean. Nobody I know has actually met a Fae.”

Sharon stared at Heather for a minute.

Yeah,” Heather said, staring back. “Like I said, you're kind of a big deal.”

Sharon crossed her arms. “Can't you use a spell or something?”

If we have a week to spare. Or if you know some local witches.”

Sharon unhooked her arms and rubbed her temples in frustration. “What use are you?”

I brought cookies. Chocolate chip.”

Sharon laughed, then made a come hither motion with her hand. “Break 'em out. I could use some chocolate about now.”

They sat on a boulder, taking off their backpacks to relax. Heather opened her pack and pulled out a bag with a fancy gold foil label with stars and scripted writing:

*** Seven Sisters Bakery. ***

World's Best Cookies.

I've never heard of these before,” Sharon said, taking one from the bag and passing it back. She took one bite and moaned. “Oh. These are good.”

Esmerelda's coven makes them. A little magic in every bite!”

They sat and enjoyed their cookies. Sharon felt more relaxed and calm with each bite. The cookies seemed to be exactly what she needed.

After her cookie was gone, Sharon stared at the road. In another life, it could have been the road home. As she looked at it, she realized that the way home was back the way they had come; and that she desperately missed her life with the Morgan family already. Even with her mother nagging, her parents working all the time, and Bobby annoying her, she would miss them.

She stared at the road, thinking about how her life had changed since the night when she fell asleep in the cast iron bathtub. Hadn't she been content? She tried to recall what had upset her, and somehow everything before that night in the tub seemed insignificant now.

You seem like you're a million miles away.”

Sharon blinked and turned to Heather. “I was just thinking about how much my life has changed.”

Since the picnic, when I used the spell on you?”

Sharon shook her head. “The night before that, I fell asleep in a cast iron tub. I woke up with wings and claws.”

Heather nodded, kicking a leaf as she seemed lost in thought. “A cast iron-”

Sharon could almost feel the click in their minds at the same time, as they both looked at each other. “Cast iron!” They said at once, grabbing their things and running toward the road. They searched the roadside, walking back toward town. A remnant of an old fence post stood in the dirt to the side of the road. Steel cables wrapped around it held a piece of broken pipe.

Heather unwound a scrap of wire holding a metal pipe against a wooden post, and Sharon yanked the pipe free from the ground where it had rusted apart.

Sharon could feel the her magic fighting the insidious force of the iron, and handed the pipe to Heather. “You better hold that. It kinda stings.”

They walked the hundred yards or so back to the spot where they had felt magic in the air. They clasped hands, and Heather led them forward, holding the pipe in front of her.

The world seemed to shift on its axis, and the air pressed against Sharon like a thick gelatinous mass. The trees blurred, and for a minute Sharon felt like she was being ripped apart. Pain. Pressure. Her ears rang, and her mouth felt dry. Her skin crawled, and she fought to hold herself up. Just when she was sure she was going to die, the pressure stopped and the world righted itself.

They both fell to the ground.

Sharon looked to Heather first. The witch was shaking her head and breathing hard. Heather looked looked back and then around at their surroundings.

Sharon followed Heather's gaze to an old-style cottage in front of them. It reminded Sharon of a Thomas Kinkade painting. A weathered cobblestone driveway led up to it. An old Jaguar sedan sat parked in a porte-cochère between the cottage and what might have been a barn or workshop. Smoke curled up from a chimney in the back of the house, and the windows on the front of the cottage glowed with a warm inviting light.

A girl with brown hair was on her knees in a small garden off to the side of the house, her back to them. She stood, holding a handful of fresh herbs. She turned and stared, confused for a moment at Sharon and Heather.

Sharon's heart stopped. She stared at the girl she'd been for sixteen years. Diana Jean Morgan, flesh and blood human girl, stood not thirty feet away. She opened her mouth to say something, but her mind went blank. She turned to Heather, and found Heather staring slack-jawed in wonder at the magical Fae cottage in front of them.

Diana approached, rubbing the dirt off her hands onto her apron, looking for all the world like a medieval peasant. Her first words would live in Sharon's memory forever.

Can I help you?”

(go to Chapter 15)