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(advent) Day 9: Decorations are not always what they seem

Friday, December 9

Lily normally enjoyed school, but today, the clock seemed to move at half-speed all day. She spent most of her afternoon staring out the window, watching the wind blow the swings and hearing the whisper of the promise of freedom. The weekend seemed so far away.

Finally, however, the last bell rang, releasing her from the school for two whole days, and Lily raced out to meet Jack, Schrodinger, Kaylee, and Gideon, who were waiting with Pavel to take them all to his house.

And his grandmother.

Even though they had only met Brynna last year, when she and her daughter were reunited with her grandson after his grandfather’s death, Kaylee and Lily had come to adore the feisty sea captain, who still traveled with her own ship when she wasn’t out with Pavel. Her husband Paul lived in the Cove now; he and Ella, Pavel’s mother, kept the large house the two captains had bought while Pavel and Brynna wandered the Realms using the Sea Roads. To hear that she’d come home in time for Christmas had been a wonderful gift, especially since Brynna had promised that perhaps in the summer, Lily and Zoey could travel with her. Without Kaylee.

“Pavel, did you get the castle?” she asked as she joined them.

“Of course I did,” the pirate responded, not looking offended at her question. “How could I forget it, since Molly and Schrodinger had it waiting for me?” He waved his hand at the sleigh, which had a large box lashed tightly to the back. The reinforced black box was more than big enough to keep the castle safe. “Mother and Brynna can’t wait to see it.”

They all piled into the sleigh, and his driver shook the reins, sending the horses off with a smart slap on their withers. The house that Pavel had bought was down by the waterfront, of course, and this was Gideon’s first trip to the harbor portion of Carter’s Cove. Kaylee, Jack, and Schrodinger were telling him all about the ships, and Pavel’s ship, and Lily couldn’t help but remember the first advent calendar, when they were introducing Zoey to the Cove. That seems to be the theme, she thought. Someone new comes to the Cove, and we show them the magic. I just wish Zoey was here to help us.

Then again, next year, think of the fun we will have! And I can tell her that tonight, when I write in my journal. She touched the spot in her bag where her little notebook sat. She and Zoey had decided to do a second Christmas Day in February, when they were reunited, and Lily knew what she was going to give her friend. The notebook, of course. That way, Zoey will still have a Carter’s Cove Christmas.

She caught Schrodinger looking at her strangely, and smiled at him.

Are you okay? He nosed her a little. You’re thinking very hard.

I’m good, she assured him. Just trying to remember it all for Zoey.

Is she having fun in Pennsylvania?

Yes, but she misses everyone. Lily sighed. She says there’s not really magic there.

Tell her to look harder. There’s magic everywhere.

And then they were pulling into the driveway in front of Pavel’s grand house. It was one of the old captain’s houses that had survived nearly two centuries of winter storms on the Maine coast: built of solid stone, complete with a widow’s walk at the top, where countless captain’s wives had waited for their husbands to return from their voyages. This particular house had a large front porch, where Ella and Paul had put out rocking chairs and several small tables. This past summer, Lily, Kaylee, and Zoey had spent countless days there, playing checkers with Paul and helping Ella string peas from the garden behind the house. Next to her own grandparents’ house, it was one of Lily’s favorite places.

Now, there was a light dusting of snow on the front porch, and no one was sitting in the rocking chairs. But as they all piled out of the sled, the front door opened, and there was Ella, all smiles in her green and yellow striped apron, her dark hair (streaked with silver strands that glistened in the sunlight) wrapped in braids around her head. “My darlings!” she cried, opening her arms wide as they piled out. “I’m so happy to see you!”

“Grandma Ella!” Kaylee shouted gleefully as she ran over to her. “I missed you!”

“I missed you too, Kaylee!” Ella told her, snuggling the little girl close. “Are you ready to help us decorate today?”

“Yes!” Kaylee said, and then reached out and grabbed Gideon’s hand. “This is my friend Gideon! It’s his first Christmas in the Cove, and he’s helping us with the Advent calendar!”

“Hello, Gideon, nice to meet you,” Ella said, offering him a hand. He shook it solemnly, and then smiled at her when she smiled at him. “Are you having fun this year?”

“Oh yes!” he said, nodding. “This has been the best Christmas, and it isn’t even Christmas Eve yet!”

Ella started to answer, and then she caught sight of the castle as Pavel lifted it out of the locked box at the back of the sleigh.

Isn’t it amazing? Schrodinger said, sitting on the porch. His mental voice was just a bit smug.

“Yes,” Ella said. “The Snow Queen’s magic never fails to amaze me.” She stood up and moved everyone to the side, so that her son could take the castle into the house. The others followed him, shedding their coats in the hallway before they joined him in the living room.

He set the structure on the low table in the middle of the room, and they all clustered around it. “There are windows, and the numbers are by the windows,” Lily said, as they started looking for the little number 9. “When we find the right one, the window opens and shows us a scene.”

“How wonderful,” Ella said, and looked up as her mother and stepfather came in from the kitchen. Lily had smelled something spicy and sweet as she’d come in, and more of the same smells came wafting in with Brynna and Paul.

It was easy to see that Ella was Brynna’s daughter, even though Brynna’s hair was now solid grey, and the weather lines on her face were deeper. But they shared the same smile (Pavel’s smile, Lily realized, although it was one of the few physical features he had inherited from the women in his family), and radiated the same calm certainty. If ever there were people who were rocks in her world, Lily thought, these women were two of them.

Paul was taller than Brynna, but just as weather-worn; fitting, since he had been her first mate for years before he’d decided to retire. Now, he was happiest keeping house, and since he and Brynna had sold their cottage and moved to Carter’s Cove, he had fit into the community well, using the skills he’d mastered on board the ship as a carpenter to make some of the finest furniture Lily had ever seen.

“Brynna! Paul! Come help us find the 9!” Kaylee said, waving them over.

“Wow, look at this!” Brynna said, coming and kneeling down next to Lily, who moved to make room for her. “Did this truly come from the Snow Queen?”

“And Jack Frost,” Lily said, nodding. “It’s their castle.”

And there’s the nine! Schrodinger said triumphantly, stabbing a paw out. Right here!

It had been hiding on the very front of the castle gate, in a small window above the gate. He touched one claw to it, and the window opened.

It was a small, narrow room, as befitting a small, narrow window. Inside, there was piles and piles of greenery, and Lily could almost smell the piney aroma rising from them. In the midst of the greens were two small people, gnomes perhaps, who were busy braiding the boughs together into a long, massive plait. The braid was being fed out of another window, and through the open window, they could see others hanging the completed garland around the inner courtyard.

There were pine needles everywhere as the gnomes worked, and one of them sailed out of the window and into Pavel’s living room. It transformed into a long curl of ribbon with green writing on it and landed on the table next to the castle.

Decorations are the spice of life. Make someone smile today! Schrodinger read.

“Well, having you here and letting me spoil you all makes me smile,” Ella said. “And the fact that you’re going to help make this house decorated for Christmas is even better!”

“What are we doing?” Lily asked her. “Did you bring ornaments from your old home?”

“Some,” Ella said, and sighed. Then she brightened. “But Paul and Mother brought some too, and we’ve gotten more here. So we have plenty!”

“Indeed,” Paul said. “Pavel and I are going to bring them down now, and you guys can help the ladies decide where everything is going.” He winked at them. “There’s even a garland, although not quite as elaborate as the Snow Queen’s.”

“Not yet, anyways,” Brynna said. “Wait until we’re done.” She looked at her husband. “Bring that box down first, and we can get working on that, while you bring the other ones down.”

“It’s going on the porch, right?” he said. “Why don’t I bring it out there, and you can be decorating it while it’s up?”

She gave him a smile. “And this is why you made such a good first mate. Are you sure you won’t come back out on the ship with me next time?”

“Sorry, dearest, but if I did that, who would make the furniture I’ve been commissioned to do?” He kissed her lightly on the cheek and then he and Pavel went out of the room.

Brynna laughed and looked at the rest of them. “Okay, if we’re decorating outside first, we’ll need to stay warm! Let’s get our coats and everything back on, and we can decide how this garland will go.”

The box that Paul and Pavel brought out was huge, and Lily’s eyes weren’t the only ones that widened. It was actually a massive sea chest, and as Brynna threw the lid back, the combined smells of pine and salt wafted up into the cold air. Inside, coiled like a giant snake of green, was a braided garland.

“What is it?” Gideon asked.

“It’s the garland that Paul and I put together when we were first married,” Brynna told them. “There was a wise woman on our ship who married us, and she cast a spell that as long as we were together, the garland would never fade. It’s an integral part of our decorations. I’m happy that it will finally have a home here.”

“What do you mean?” Lily asked her. “Didn’t it have a home before?”

She saw Brynna start to say something, and then the older woman paused, looked at Schrodinger, and then smiled down at Lily.  “Of course it did,” she said. “But now, it’s a permanent home. Paul and I aren’t going to live anywhere but the Cove.”

Somehow, Lily knew that wasn’t what she had been going to say, and wondered what Brynna had been about to tell her. She looked at Schrodinger, her eyes narrowing thoughtfully. What aren’t you telling us?

He didn’t answer her, which meant he was keeping secrets. Again. But what kind of secrets was he keeping around Christmas? That was a mystery that she found herself really wanting to figure out.

“So how do you want to do this, Mother?” Ella asked, pulling Lily’s attention back to the present.

Brynna was surveying the porch, looking at the area and then back to the garland, chewing her lower lip thoughtfully. “Well, I think honestly, I want to wrap it around the railings,” she said finally. “We can run it from one end to the other, and have Pavel and Paul help up put it up around the entrance. And that way, we can show off the bows that I have to go on it.”

So that’s what they did. The garland was not as heavy as Lily had originally suspected – most of the weight was in the trunk itself, which Brynna told them was enchanted as well, to protect the garland from the sea when it was on the ship. Paul came out with a short ladder, and carefully hung the greenery up and over the entrance.

Underneath the garland was a small sailcloth bag. Brynna opened it and pulled out some stunning bows that she handed to the children to attach at intervals along the garland. Lily fingered the one she was handed, feeling the silky softness of the ribbon and marveling at the colors. The bows were in watercolor shades of blue and green and white, shot through with silver and gold threads. “Where did you get these?” she asked Brynna, as she used the small copper wire on the back to affix the bow to the railing.

“The wise woman who married us gave me the ribbons, and my cook made the bows,” Brynna told her. “Aren’t they lovely?”

Stunning, Schrodinger agreed. But there’s more needed. He backed up and looked at the front porch. Lights, I think.

“Lights? Like these?” Paul asked, coming out with an armful of what looked like ship’s lanterns. These particular lanterns, however, had blue and green glass in them, instead of clear ones, and were small, barely the size of a can of soda.

Perfect! The CrossCat agreed.

Once the lights had been set at intervals along the edge of the porch, and Paul had showed them how to turn them on (they were an ingenious little magical gadget, with a crystal inside that glowed when you blew on it), Lily had to agree that the unorthodox decorations made the front of the house look amazing in the setting sun. Once the front yard was dark, it would look spectacular.

“The rest of the decorations are in the living room,” Paul said, ushering them back inside. “But first, I think the stew is ready!”

Is that what I’m smelling? Jack asked eagerly. Stew?

“Indeed,” Paul said, beaming. “It’s a fish stew from my native lands. I hope you like it!”

<><>

May I join you?

The voice was low, not threatening, but Caliban recognized it immediately, even before he looked up and saw the emerald green eyes of the Librarian looking calmly at him. The great CrossCat stood in front of him as he sat on a bench, not moving to jump up next to him until he nodded.

You’ve been doing some walking, she noted, picking up one paw and washing it delicately. And some thinking?

“Yes,” he said, not bothering to reply mentally. The park was empty except for them, not surprising, considering it was snowing rather heavily at the moment. He still had no idea what Realm he was in, and found he didn’t much care. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.”

About?

“What I want,” he said, stretching out his legs and looking at his boots. “And where I want to go.” He pulled the little brown leaf with its edging of silver frost on it from his coat pocket and regarded it. “And if I want to deal with this.”

What do you mean?

“Well, it’s obvious who sent it,” Caliban said, tracing the edge of the leaf with one gloved fingertip. Even after several days in his pocket, it hadn’t crumbled or melted, proof of its magical origin. “But I can’t figure out why he or she would want to see me. Unless it’s to hand me back to my father.”

The Librarian stopped her washing and looked squarely at him. And is that the only reason you can think of?

“At the moment,” he said, returning the leaf to his pocket. “I might think of more later.”

What if I told you I knew who sent it?

Caliban considered that for a moment, watching the snow fall through the trees that surrounded the park, falling in and melting in the little stream that still burbled merrily over ice-coated rocks. “Who else would, though?” he asked her. “What point would there be?”

Perhaps someone wanted to point out to you that there are other things in life other than power, she said. Things like friendship, love, happiness. She paused, and added, Change.

He pulled the leaf out again and looked at it, wondering how much Jack Frost had had to change in order to win the Snow Queen’s heart.

He thought he would have to give up everything he was, the Librarian said, also looking at the leaf. And yet, in the end, he found that having her there made him whole again. Isn’t that what you’ve been looking for? Something to make you whole?

“I don’t know,” he said honestly, looking over at her for the first time. “I thought I did, and when I left Nadine’s, I was sure that I wanted to go and find them, ask them why they were tormenting me by sending this. But then I got out on the Roads, traveling as someone ordinary, and you know, I rather enjoy it.”

Oh?

“No one knows who I am,” he said, leaning back and putting the leaf into his pocket again. “I’ve never really been anywhere where no one knows who I am. It’s always been pomp and ceremony, and people bowing and scraping and plotting against me.” He waved a hand at the empty park. “Caliban the prince could have never stolen a moment like this, with no one in sight, and knowing that there is no one hovering in the background, watching and waiting for me to need something. It’s so…” he paused, looking for the right word.

Refreshing? She suggested, and he nodded.

“Yes. I’m dependent on myself, and the small bit of money in my purse. When that is gone, I shall have to think of something else, but that’s okay.” Caliban shook his head. “You’re the first person who has recognized me since I left Nadine’s.”

She gave him a feline smile. In all honesty, Caliban, I have been watching you since you broke out of your father’s prison.

He wasn’t all that surprised. “Why?”

Because prison wasn’t the right place for you anymore, she said. I realize your father may not agree with me, but that is because he is not objective enough. You’ve been punishing yourself for your brother’s death for years, even if you didn’t let anyone else see. I have seen. She jumped down from the bench and started off, pausing only to look back at him and say, Perhaps whoever sent you that leaf meant for you to start looking forward, instead of back. To look to the future, and what you want to do with your life, rather than living it in the shadow of past misdeeds.

“Can misdeeds like that ever be forgiven, though?” Caliban said wistfully. “Ever?”

Almost everything can be forgiven, the Librarian said. Then she walked off and vanished into the falling snow.

Caliban sat there for a long time, looking out into his past and wondering if that were true.

And what he was going to do next.

>Activity: Put up a garland or wreath and decorate it. Greenery takes all sorts of lovely decorations well!

(advent) Day 5 – What treasures we find…

snow-full

Monday, December 5

 

Lily sat at the table in the tea room after school, supposedly doing her homework. In reality, she was absently twirling her pencil in one hand while she watched Kaylee and Gideon work on a puzzle at the next table. Schrodinger and Jack were napping in the big cat bed next to the wood stove, and there was a steady hum around her, as people came in and out of the bookstore.

 

Her thoughts were as far away as her best friend was. Zoey’s absence was painful, but Lily found that what she missed most was sharing the magic with her. The castle was even more amazing than their last advent calendar.

 

“Everything okay, Miss Lily?”

 

She looked up, startled. Goldie was standing next to her table, a book in one hand and a mug of tea in the other. “Do you mind if I join you?” he asked.

 

“No, go ahead.” Lily moved her school bag to the floor next to her, and he settled into the seat. “I’m just doing homework.”

 

Goldie laughed gently. “Is that what you’re calling it? Looks like you were daydreaming to this old pirate.”

 

Lily nodded sheepishly. “Well, I’m SUPPOSED to be doing homework.” She scowled at the notebook in front of her. “But I can’t seem to concentrate.”

 

“I hear you. It’s hard to get things done when you miss someone.”

 

“You know, it’s not like I don’t talk to her every night,” Lily said. “But it’s just not the same. You get used to having someone there, and then they’re not. And it feels…” She trailed off, not sure what to say.

 

“Like there’s a hole there,” Goldie completed for her. “Like part of you is missing.”

 

She nodded again. “Silly, isn’t it? It’s not like she’s gone forever.”

 

“No, it’s not silly.”

 

Lily blinked. That wasn’t what she had been expecting to hear. “Really?”

 

Goldie leaned over and laid his gnarled hand over hers. The sea-roughened skin felt oddly comforting. “You miss your friend. True friendship is a treasure, and you’re right to miss her. But don’t forget that she’s coming back. Have your adventures here for both of you, and then, when you see her again, you can share everything you’ve both done. That way, neither of you misses anything.”

 

Lily thought about that for a moment. “So maybe instead of just missing her, I should keep a journal? So that I have everything.”

 

“Many crewmates keep journals for just such a reason,” Goldie told her. “See?” And he reached into the breast pocket in his coat. Lily watched as he pulled out a small leather-bound book. “I write down what I’ve done every day, so I can write to my best friend.”

 

“Where is your best friend?” Lily asked him, then realized he might not want to tell her. “If you don’t mind my asking, that is.”

 

“I don’t mind at all,” he said. “His name is Ink, and he sails with Cap’n Chris Steele. We grew up together, but Cap’n Chekov only had one berth when we went to sea. We write each other every week.”

 

Lily looked at the little notebook, and then reached down to her backpack. In there was her wallet, and it had the ten dollars that she’d saved from her allowance. She’d been thinking of buying another book with it, but now, she knew what she needed. “Thank you, Goldie,” she said, and slipped from her chair.

 

Aunt Margie had a display of blank books towards the front of the store, and Lily looked at each of them in turn, wanting to make sure she chose the right one. In the end, she found a little leather-bound book that was very similar to the one Goldie carried. This one, however, had a golden heart embossed on the front cover, and the words “Best Friends” written underneath it. It was perfect.

 

“Find what you were looking for?” DC asked, as she rang her up.

 

“Yes, thank you,” Lily said, and took the book back to her table. Goldie was still sitting there, reading, but he looked up as she took her seat and said, “Thank you, Goldie. That helps.”

 

He smiled and went back to his book, and she started her homework again.

 

After she was done, Lily packed up her schoolwork and went into the kitchen, where Molly was setting out loaves of lemon-blueberry bread and cranberry-nut bread to cool on the sideboard. “I’m done, Molly,” she said. “Can we do the calendar now?”

 

“Absolutely,” Molly said, letting the last loaf drop from its tin onto the cooling rack. “Why don’t you go round up the others, and I’ll bring the castle out to the tea room? I think that might be better today, since I’ve got to get these together.”

 

“Okay!” Lily ran out and woke up Schrodinger and Jack, then the three of them convinced Kaylee and Gideon to put away the puzzle. By the time they were done, Molly had brought the castle out and set it on the table near Goldie.

 

“That is amazing,” Goldie said, looking over the castle. “The Snow Queen’s castle, in miniature.”

 

Would you like to help us look for the number? Schrodinger asked him. We need to find it to see what the activity is today!

 

“Surely!” Goldie put aside his book and joined them in looking for the 5 that they knew was there somewhere.

 

Lily was the one to find it this time, hiding on the side of a small building in the courtyard. She pressed it, and the window opened to show them what looked like an artist’s studio. There were large tables covered with paper in all sorts of different shades and colors, and at one of the tables was a young man with bright green hair and beard, leaning over a paper chain that he was making. As they watched, the paper nearest to him jumped up and separated itself into neat strips, then flowed towards him, folding itself into the chain. The chain itself wound like a snake around the room.

 

One of the pieces of paper came arrowing out the window and dropped into Lily’s hand, revealing itself as a ribbon with the following words on it: “Follow the pirate to find your treasure chain!”

 

She looked at Goldie. “Are you taking us somewhere? Where are we finding a treasure chain?”

 

He winked at her. “Get your coats, and I’ll show you!”

 

It took them a few minutes – Molly had to put the castle away, and then she and Kiaya (who had decided to join them) herded everyone outside, where Pavel waited for them in his large sleigh. “It’s a good thing I brought the big one,” he joked, as they piled in. “Otherwise, Goldie might’ve had to walk.”

 

“Wouldn’t be the first time, Cap’n,” Goldie said, as he climbed up beside the driver. “Not the first time at all.”

 

“Where are we going, Pavel?” Gideon asked, as the sleigh started to move. “Where is the treasure chain?”

 

“You’ll see, my fine young sailor, you’ll see!”

 

No matter how much they clamored, and promised kisses and Molly’s cookies (to which Molly laughed, telling them they were awfully free with her goodies, especially since they weren’t making them), Pavel refused to tell them where they were going. After a few minutes, Lily stopped trying and instead looked at the lights going by. The late afternoon sun was slipping below the horizon and the Christmas lights were coming on. This was part of what Lily loved about being in the Cove – the way the entire community came together to celebrate the season. Zoey had told her the night before that her grandmother’s town only put lights up in the main commercial part of the town. “It’s just sad,” she’d said. “But we brought some of our lights, and we’re going to decorate Gran’s house tomorrow. I’ll send you pictures! Can you send me pictures of the Cove lights? Especially the Station? What’s the theme this year?”

 

“Molly, do you know what the theme for the Station is this year?” Lily asked, interrupting Kaylee, who was still begging Pavel to tell them where they were going.

 

“Drew said they were doing a Christmas Past theme, but he didn’t give me any details,” Molly said. “Maybe we’ll have to go to the Station in the next few days to see what they’ve got going on. Whatever it is, involves a lot of snow this year.”

 

It’s a good thing we have it, then! Schrodinger said. That one Christmas with Caliban was dreary, and not just because he was here and being obnoxious. I can’t imagine Christmas without snow.

 

“Me either,” Kaylee said, bouncing around on Molly’s lap. “It’s not Christmas if there are no snowmen!”

 

“Melting snowmen!” Gideon said. “We could make melting snowmen!”

 

“Why?” his mother asked. “It’s too cold for them to melt.”

 

“Not if we feed them hot chocolate!” Gideon said, and he and Kaylee began to laugh.

 

Lily was about to say something, but then the sleigh turned up a familiar driveway. “The nursing home!” she said instead, tugging on her sister’s sleeve. “Look, Kaylee, the nursing home! We’re going to see Grandma Rose and everyone!”

 

Ever since the advent calendar had introduced them to Carter’s Cove Assisted Living Facility, Lily and Zoey had come to love the residents of the facility, and had managed to get their parents to take them there at least once every two weeks, to listen, play games, and just enjoy the company of the older folks. Grandma Rose in particular was Lily’s favorite – she had once lived in Russia, and taught several diplomats French, and was teaching Lily and Zoey to crochet.

 

“Yay!” Kaylee said. “I wonder what we’re doing here?”

 

That became apparent when Mrs. Dawson led them into the main room. Just like in the workshop that they had seen in the castle, there were piles of paper that several of the residents were busy cutting into strips. Lily spotted Grandma Rose sitting with some of her friends, and went running over to her.

 

“Grandma Rose! Bonjour!”

 

“Bonjour, Lily!” Grandma Rose said, putting her scissors down and reaching out to enfold Lily in a perfumed hug. Lily loved the way she smelled – of her signature flower, along with the faintest hint of sugar and tea, and old books. “But where is Zoey?”

 

“She’s with her grandmother for December and January,” Lily said sadly. “She’s missing all the fun!”

 

“Well, all the fun here,” Grandma Rose said, patting the seat next to her. “But I’ll bet her grandmother is thrilled to have her there. And she has cousins there, yes?”

 

“Yes,” Lily said, climbing into the chair. Spread out on the table before them was a plethora of brightly colored wrapping paper, ready to be made into paper chains. “And she’s happy to see them. And her gran. But she misses Christmas in the Cove. It’s not the same, not being in a Crossroads town.”

 

“No, it’s not,” Grandma Rose agreed, picking up her scissors again and starting to cut more strips. The paper in front of her was green, with reindeer and snowmen dancing across it with candy canes. Lily looked at the table – there were already strips of other wrapping paper, and a glue stick, which she picked up. Then she started to create a chain. “But it is wonderful in other ways. Never underestimate the value of different experiences, child.”

 

“Tell me about Christmas when you were younger, Grandma Rose. What was it like when you were a child?”

 

And as they sat and constructed the chains, the older woman wove a tale for her of glittering lights and warm fires, Christmas trees decked with glass ornaments that had come from far shores, and candles that didn’t burn with regular flame, so they didn’t have to worry about fires, and crocheted snowflakes and stars. It sounded lovely to Lily, and she was surprised at how quickly the chains came together.

 

“Treasure chains,” she said, and Grandma Rose looked at her.

 

“What?”

 

“The castle said we were making treasure chains,” Lily said. “But I’m thinking that the real treasure chains are the stories we get.” She told Grandma Rose about the castle, and about the notebook she had purchased, since Zoey couldn’t be there.

 

“A journal is a wonderful thing,” Grandma Rose agreed. “Not only will it give you the memories to share with Zoey, but someday, in a far distant future, when we are gone, you will be able to look back and tell your grandchildren about what you did, and what we did. The stories will live on.”

 

> Activity: Paper chains! Put them up around your home, or around someone else’s home, if you like!

I wasn’t going to write

I wasn’t.  I just got home, after a long day at work, and staring at the computer was the last thing I wanted to do. Especially since I would have had to unpack it and then write.

 

So I went upstairs instead, fully intending to sleep. But that voice in my head, the one that’s been convinced we could make a living writing since I was a child, said, “250 words. You can do that on your phone.”

 

 

So I’m writing. True, it’s a blog post and not fiction, but it’s words before I go to bed. It’s a promise to you and to me that I will get up and clean off enough of the dining room tomorrow that I can leave my laptop set up. I need to treat this like the second job it is or I’ll keep making excuses rather than stories.

 

And that’s not acceptable any more.

(blog tour) Rolling on!

2011-01-17 17.34.06

Junebug does not approve of my lack of posts lately. So I’d thought I’d share her disapproval with you. It’s been a bad Crohns’ week.

 

But there’s more coming! More posts! If you follow me over on Facebook, you can see them as they come up. And you’ll be able to follow mine and Schrodinger’s shenanigans at Balticon and ConCarolinas.

(blog tour) Guest Post – Lai Zhao

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Edited to add: This was supposed to go up on May 21, when I was over at her blog. It’s been a rough week. – Val

Today, while I’m over at her blog posting about how my next book wasn’t supposed to be Molly, Lai Zhao is here! Talking about a demon common to a lot of authors and artists I know, sadly: Depression.

 

Depression’s Creative Power

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Hi, Everyone,

Thank you, Val, for letting me contribute a post here! It’s an honour. 🙂

So, while here I am, she’s over at my blog. 🙂

We both deal with an often-debilitating darkness at every moment: Depression. The darkness affects each individual differently, and the way it’s handled varies by person. But the common aspect is its destructiveness. It’s a disorder with no cure, although there are plenty of management tools and skills. And one of those is creativity…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Storm clouds amass overhead and the viscous fog of the encroaching maelstrom closes in. Escape routes sunder the clouds; some too fast for action, others too slowly to believe they are real. And the thundering gyre descends.

All around is grey darkness. It smothers light, obliterates all paths. It whispers and magnifies statements of truth, which you know are true; they are your reality after all. It tallies the points, but you already know the score: You’ve lost. You always lose. This is the fact you must always bow to.

But depression slips up: Facts are not truth; they just are. And because they just exist, they’re a perpetual light in this vortex of dark improbabilities.

Fact is: Depression lies. It designs its exaggerations to worm their way in, then hook and drag you into its oblivion.

But it uses energy you can harness.

You poke awake the fury buried deep within. It wells up, rising in the narrow vertical tunnel you’ve created for it. It gathers momentum, power, as it climbs seeking a way out. It will help you because it wants freedom, and it hates its cage, but despises the suffocating nothingness even more. It surges upwards. You hold on, riding, observing, noting. The height of the channel is negligible. The fury explodes, incinerating the tunnel, sending growls and roars rolling through the chaos.

The grey void shudders, realising its mistake too late.

The fury lunges and slashes and sinks its claws into the unwieldy vacuum. It shreds the depression, rending, destroying, rebuilding.

Atop the rage, you sit and observe, jaw dropping as it annihilates the blackness only to reshape it into energy that accumulates, swirling and bubbling; it’s energy you can use now. And it’s looking for a home. The sliver of an opening winks at you. It’s the door to your creativity, the one thing that always keeps you going.

You yank open the door, grab the reconstructed energy and fling it into the chasm. The abyss hungers for more, driving you to feed it faster and faster. It’s almost full. It needs time to digest. You exploit the lull and tangibly realise thoughts and ideas, working at lightning speed for the gulf now fills as quickly as you empty it.

Some time later, your stamina begins to run low but the once-void is full and simmering. You are both sated. Even the fury has gladly returned to its cage to rest. You nap, too. When you open your eyes again, the storm has passed and calming sunshine gently warms you. You smile. Your victory has brought riches that the darkness cannot touch. They are shiny new facts:

  • New novel drafted

  • Thousands more story ideas and novel plots created and implemented

  • Articles written

  • Plushies designed and made

  • Millions of ideas for more of everything written down; tangible and practicable

  • Patreon page created

  • Facebook community page set up

  • Friendships strengthened

And…

  • Depression beaten once more.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

© May 2016 Lai Zhao. Editor by day, writer by free time, and by night, a designer and maker of cute fluffy things.

Cute fluffies play at her Patreon page: Snitchcat’s Tiny Carriers of Light.

Writing travails prefer her blog: Dreams of a Broken Phoenix.

And the shy, fledgling Facebook page resides here: Depression in Hong Kong.

(personal/writing) Working through the grief

The family

 

The picture above is 4 generations of my family, taken four years ago (I believe). Since then, my grandmother (on the left) passed away two months before her 99th birthday, and just this past Tuesday, my mother passed away, barely 2 months past her 65th birthday.

 

I won’t lie – it’s been a hard week. My mother fought stage 4 endometrial cancer until the end, and she did not go quietly into that good night. She went out on her terms, though, and before she said good night for the last time (not good bye; she hated good byes), she made me promise a few things.

 

My mother and father have always been my biggest supporters of my writing, along with my husband. I’m so very lucky to have always had that support. When I announced at age 6 that I was going to be a writer, I didn’t get “Oh, that’s nice, but what do you really want to be?” Instead, I got a typewriter, and my parents read everything I wrote. And saved all of it, as I discovered this week. (Wow, my writing at age 7 was horrible, but at least I knew how to use the word “wretched” properly.) So when Mom asked me to not stop writing, but to keep going, I knew I couldn’t say no.

 

So there will be more Molly. I’ve promised to make sure my nieces have an Advent story every year. And I’ve started working on the details of the Patreon page I’m going to be starting up. And I’m finishing

(advent) December 14

Sunday, December 14

Molly glanced around the room, making sure everything was in order. The armchairs had been moved aside to make room for the large white chair, almost a throne, covered in ivy and red ribbons, that would very shortly be claimed by Santa himself. Schrodinger, Lily, Jack and Zoey were down in the tea room, finishing up their letters to the great man himself and chattering excitedly. Or at least, that’s where they were supposed to be. Which is why Molly was surprised to turn around and see them all standing behind her, holding their letters in their hands.

“What’s up?” she said, frowning at their expressions. They ranged from outrage (on Lily and Zoey) to worry (on Schrodinger). “Did someone say something to you? Were you being too loud?”

“No,” Lily said defiantly. “We weren’t.”

“Then what’s wrong? Are you done with your letters?”

“No,” Zoey said, shaking her head and making her purple bows on the ends of her braids dance with anger. “But there was a man that told us to…”

Caliban’s servant is back, Schrodinger said to Molly, cutting Zoey off. And he wants to see you. He wasn’t polite about it this time.

“Does he, now?” Anger blossomed up in Molly. “I wonder why.”

Because his master is angry? Schrodinger guessed. I can’t think Caliban is happy with us at this point.

“He hasn’t begun to see how unhappy I can make him,” Molly snapped, then remembered the two little girls looking at her wonderingly. “Stay up here and finish up, guys. I’ll take care of our unwanted guest.”

She made sure that the four of them were set up at the table that was set up along one wall, and that they had everything they needed, before she went downstairs. If Caliban’s servant couldn’t be polite, then he could bloody well wait for her.

Finally, Molly took one last look around, then went down the stairs to the main floor. Caliban’s man wasn’t in the tea room; to her annoyance, he was lounging in her kitchen. “What do you want?” she said abruptly.

“My master has a message for you,” he said, standing up from the stool he’d been sitting on, and setting down the tea ball he’d been holding in one hand.

“I don’t really care what your master wants,” Molly informed him. “You are not allowed in this kitchen.” She stepped to one side and pointed into the tea room. “Out. Now.”

He raised one eyebrow at her. “Are you sure you want to do this? This message isn’t for public consumption.”

“I said out. Now.” Molly glared at him. “You are not welcome in my kitchen.”

“That seems fairly clear,” said a new voice, as Jack and Pavel stepped out from the pantry. “I’d leave now,” the pirate added, as Jack scowled. “Molly can get physical when she gets angry, and you’re making her angry.”

“And what can a simple kitchen witch do to me?” the servant scoffed.

“Have you ever had scalding tea thrown at you?” Jack asked. “It’s not pleasant. Besides, if you make her angry, you make me angry, and I’m perfectly fine with sending you back to your master in pieces.” He looked over at Molly. “We’ll keep the blood to a minimum.”

“I’d appreciate it,” she said. “I hate cleaning it up.”

The servant looked from one to the other, his bravado deflating like a punctured balloon. “I will go,” he said finally. “But after I give my master’s message.”

“I’m listening,” Molly said, crossing her arms over her chest. “What does Caliban have to say?”

“That you should have stayed out of this,” the servant said. “That now that you have decided to defy my master, so you will pay for your disobedience.”

“Disobedience?” Molly all but hissed the word, and her fingers curled around her elbows. “Disobedience? What does he think I am, some prize dog that he can order around?” She stalked over to the servant and said very softly, “Tell Caliban that if I see him in my Cove again, I’ll make him wish he’d never heard of me.”

“You and what army?” scoffed the servant, but he shrank back from her.

“You don’t want to see her army,” Pavel told him, and for once, there was no humor in the pirate’s voice. “Trust me. And neither does your master.”

The servant ducked around Molly and scurried out. After a moment, she took the tea ball that he’d been playing with and flung it viciously into the trash.

“Molly? Is everything okay?” DC stuck her head around the door frame, her hazel eyes wide. “Did that guy actually come in here? I told him to wait in the tea room!”

“I’m fine,” Molly assured her, forcing herself to calm down. It wasn’t DC’s fault, after all. “He won’t be back.”

“Good.” DC nodded to Jack and Pavel, then went back out front, calling back, “Don’t forget that Santa will be here soon!”

“Santa is coming here today?” Jack asked, blinking at the sudden change in subject. “Why?”

“He’s coming to collect the letters upstairs,” Molly told him, going over to the stove and pouring herself a cup of tea water. Then she concentrated briefly, and smiled as the filled tea ball settled into the mug. She didn’t use her powers like that very often, but she had too much energy right now, and it needed to go somewhere. Otherwise, she’d be burning anything she tried to cook for the next day.

She turned and looked at the two. “Thank you for coming in when you did,” she said, holding up the mug in a silent question. Both of them shook their heads. “It was fortuitous.”

“It was planned,” Jack told her. “I assume you know what Schrodinger brought us yesterday.”

Molly nodded. The CrossCat had filled her and Drew in when they’d come back to the bookstore, and Drew had had to hold her back from rushing off to wreak her own vengeance on the summer spirit. “Thank you for taking care of it,” she said now. “What would it have done?”

“Influenced you,” Jack said. “Subtly, but he would have poisoned your mind, and made you his. Old Man Winter said he’d tried the same with Jade.”

“Which is how you knew how to destroy it?” she guessed.

Jack shook his head. “I’ve seen him use it before. I was expecting it.”

“Did you think that maybe you might have mentioned it to me, then?” Molly heard the edge creep back into her voice. “So that I could be on the look out for it?”

The fall spirit started to answer, then stopped. “I didn’t think of it,” he admitted. “I should have, though. I’m sorry.”

The apology knocked the wind from her sails. “You are?”

“Yes,” Jack said, then looked slyly at her up through his downcast lashes. “I’ll deny it if you tell anyone, though.”

That made her laugh, and chased away the last bit of her anger. “I assumed so.”

“You’ll have to be careful now, though, Molly,” Pavel said, coming over to her. “Caliban doesn’t take lightly to being stood up to.”

“Which means what?” she asked warily.

“Which means we,” and Pavel nodded at Jack, “would feel better if you’d let us set some guards here and at the farm. Just to make sure Caliban doesn’t try to…” He hesitated, and looked over at Jack.

“Caliban might kidnap you or Schrodinger to force Jade to let him in to her lands,” Jack said, and Molly blanched. “We won’t let him.”

“What kind of guards?” she asked, and one small part of her brain screamed that she was having to even think about it.

“Me,” Jack said. “And some of Pavel’s men, but mostly me.” He looked determined. “If you don’t mind. I just feel bad that I pulled you into this.”

Molly looked at him, then at Pavel. “Do you really think he’d try that?”

Pavel nodded. “I’m afraid so.”

“Then I guess I have a guest,” Molly said, sighing. “Well, at least Schrodinger will be able to sleep again.” She looked over at Jack. “He stayed up as late as he could last night, to make sure we were safe.”

“He’s a loyal friend,” Jack said. “Tonight, he will be able to sleep.”

Molly just wondered if she could.

(advent) December 4

Thursday, December 4

“Molly! Schrodinger! You’re a sight for sore eyes!”

Heidi beamed at them from behind the reception desk at the Gate station, and her large grey cat Porter got up to waddle over and touch noses with Schrodinger. Molly smiled at the receptionist.

“It’s good to see you too, Heidi! Is everyone in the Gate room?”

“Mostly, yes,” Heidi said, looking at her computer screen. “Drew and Mal are in the main conference room, probably going over tech schedules for next week, since we have those two new trainees. Luke’s actually manning the Gate right now.” She looked back up at Molly, eying the large basket she held. “Are you traveling through, or is that for here?”

“Some of it is for here,” Molly said. “But yes, traveling through today.”

We’re going to see Old Man Winter! Schrodinger said excitedly. And Ember!

“Oh, lucky you!” Heidi transferred her smile to him. She adored the CrossCat. “Tell him to bring back the snow, but see if he can leave the cold behind, okay?” She winked at Molly. “I like the look of snow, but my bones don’t like the cold!”

Molly smiled, but inside, her stomach flipped. If what the Librarian’s book had said was true, there was cold and winter coming, but it wasn’t going to be like anything the Cove had seen before. No need to borrow trouble yet, though. That’s why they were going to Old Man Winter’s, after all. So all she said to Heidi was, “We’ll ask. I promise nothing, however.”

Heidi sniffed, a twinkle in her hazel eyes behind her glasses. “Just wave some of your orange scones in front of his nose, and he’ll do whatever you ask.” She looked hopefully at the basket. “Is there orange scones in there?”

“You know, I think there are, but I was going to leave them here,” Molly said, opening the picnic basket and peering inside. She knew perfectly well what she held in there, of course. “Would you like one so you get it before the hungry hordes in the Gate room descend?”

She offered the tin to Heidi, who took one scone and (at Molly’s urging) the small baggie of treats for Porter, who saw the bag and started meowing urgently, putting a paw on the receptionist’s leg. Leaving Heidi to deal with her cat, Molly and Schrodinger headed into the large mansion that housed Carter Cove’s land Gate.

The mansion had been built by Captain Carter’s daughter and son-in-law, after the original Gate structure had been destroyed in the fighting after the Cove was started. Now, after having read the Librarian’s history, Molly wondered how much of the construction was done by the Snow Queen and Jack. And why.

As always, she felt a sense of awe when she and Schrodinger passed into the main Gate room. The ceiling above them was a massive skylight, with sunshine pouring in to warm the room. Rather than flooring, grass carpeted the room, and gave it a fresh, clean, earthy smell. There was a large arch in the middle of it: the Gate. And standing in front of one of the computer terminals nearby was Luke.

Luke! Schrodinger called, running over to him. Hi!

“Hey, Schrodinger! Hey, Molly! How’s the new house?” Luke turned around to greet them, a friendly smile on his handsome face. He’d been one of the friends who had helped them move the weekend before Thanksgiving, something Molly had been incredibly thankful for.

“It’s good!” she said, hugging him. “You should come out and see it – we’ve decorated for Christmas.”

Lights! And evergreens! And a sleigh! Schrodinger told him.

“A sleigh? Really?” Luke said. “Like the one we got for Zoey last year?”

Schrodinger nodded. We found it in the barn! And Drew painted it up to match the house!

“Too bad we don’t have any snow, we could take it out for a spin,” Luke said.

Molly couldn’t help herself; she winced, and hoped that Luke hadn’t seen it. No such luck.

“Hey, it’s not your fault there’s no snow this year, Molly,” he said hastily. “You can’t fix everything.”

Schrodinger looked up at her, but she gave a small shake of her head at him. “You’re right, Luke, but I still can feel guilty,” she said out loud. “Besides, we’re off to see if we can convince Old Man Winter to come back and give us some snow.”

“If anyone can convince him of anything, it’d be you,” Luke agreed. He gave her a sharp look. “Do you think that’s the issue? He hasn’t been around?”

“I don’t know,” Molly said honestly. “But he’s the authority on winter, so since we had the day off, Schrodinger and I thought we’d go see him.” She looked down at her basket. “And bring him lunch.”

“Do you have your toll fee?” Luke teased. “You know there’s a toll!”

She laughed. “Right here!” Pulling out the tin again, Molly said, “Orange scones, ham and cheese scones, and lemon shortbread cookies. Is that enough to pay our toll?”

“Absolutely,” Luke said, taking the tin. “One Road to Old Man Winter’s, coming up.”

Molly and Schrodinger went to stand in front of the Gate while Luke went to the terminal and began to type in their destination. The Gate hummed to life, and they stepped through onto the Road.

It wasn’t normally a long walk to the Gate near Old Man Winter’s cottage. Molly and Schrodinger were beginning to realize that “normal” wasn’t really in force around the Cove anymore, though.

It started innocently enough: a cool wind, stronger than the breezes that floated through the Roads. The closer they got to Old Man Winter’s cottage Gate, the harder the wind blew. Molly noticed that it now had an acrid, hot taste to it as it forced its way into her lungs, scratching her nose and mouth with dry, dusty fingernails. What’s going on? she thought to Schodinger, afraid to ask him out loud. Where did this come from?

I don’t know, he sent back. I’ve never encountered a wind like this before!

It felt like a gigantic slavering beast was stalking them, breathing hotly over them as they struggled along the Road. Molly could barely see anything more than the tip of Schrodinger’s tail in front of her; she focused on that, trusting his superior senses to lead them to their destination.

She nearly fell when the wind stopped blowing, stumbling through the wooden arch that separated Old Man Winter’s realm from the Road. As she turned and looked back, Molly faintly heard a howl, as if there really had been something in the hot wind. A shiver crept down her spine, and it had nothing to do with the sweat cooling on her back.

What was that? Schrodinger’s mental voice was soft, scared, and Molly turned back to see him trembling in the snow by the Gate. At least there was snow here, one small part of her mind noted. The world hadn’t gone completely insane.

“I don’t know,” she said, her voice raw and cracked. There must have been more dust than she’d realized, although there was nothing on her clothes or Schrodinger’s fur. “But I’m not looking forward to the journey back.”

Old Man Winter’s cottage was set about a quarter mile back from the Gate. Once they had caught their breaths, Molly and Schrodinger set off down the lane towards it, hoping he would be there.

He was, sitting in a large wooden Adirondack chair in front of his stoop, his companion Ember the dragon curled in the snow near him. Although he smiled when he saw who was coming up his drive, Molly noticed shadows in his normally bright blue eyes. Something was worrying Old Man Winter. Something big.

“I told you, Ember,” he said, as they came into earshot. “I didn’t need to take out anything for lunch. I had a feeling that we’d be getting a delivery.” Then he looked closer at them, and his amusement fell away. “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Molly said, already tired of saying the phrase. “We were on the Road, and it was like…like nothing I’ve ever experienced.” She sat down next to him in the chair he’d motioned into existence for her. “Something hot and dusty chased us here.”

Ember had raised her head, her brilliant emerald eyes concerned. Hot and dusty? She glanced at Old Man Winter. It’s starting, then.

“And sooner than we thought.” His voice was bitter, something Molly hadn’t heard since she’d first met him. “He’s taking no chances, is he?”

He who? Schrodinger asked, putting a paw on Old Man Winter’s knee. Who chased us? And why?

“Because he knows you,” and Old Man Winter pointed a gnarled finger at Molly, “are the only one who could foil his plans.”

“Me?” Molly said, at the same time as Schrodinger said impatiently, But who IS HE?

His name is Caliban, and he is the other suitor to the Snow Queen, Ember said somberly. And if you cannot help Jack win her heart, and Caliban wins, she will be the Snow Queen no longer.

“What?” Molly said. “What are you talking about?”

Ember looked at Old Man Winter again. This is your story, she said. She’s your daughter, after all.

Molly had heard that rumor, but she’d never really expected confirmation. “Your daughter?”

He nodded. “Who else would have birthed her?” A soft expression crossed his weathered face. “She looks more like her mother every day, too. But that’s not the point now.”

Shares her mother’s stubbornness too, Ember observed.

“What do you expect of the daughter of the North Wind and me?” Old Man Winter said.

Nothing more, Ember agreed. Unfortunately, that stubbornness–

“Don’t say it,” Old Man Winter cut her off sharply, then he turned to Molly and Schrodinger, who had been following the conversation closely. He pointed his finger at Molly again. “You just have to help Jack convince her that he’s changed.”

Things suddenly clicked together in her head. “You sent Jack to me.”

“I did.” Old Man Winter nodded. “Because if anyone can get his head on straight, it’s you.”

“I think you give me more credit than I deserve,” Molly said, a hot blush creeping over her cheeks. “I’m just a kitchen witch, after all.”

“No, you’re not,” Old Man Winter said. “You’re the most real human being I’ve ever known, and that’s saying something. You live as you are, Molly. There’s nothing devious about you. You’re an honest person, and Jack needs to know how to live like that, or he’ll never repair the damage he did before.”

“Pretty words – I’m not sure what to say.” In truth, Molly was astonished. She’d never thought the old spirit would have said that to her, but she could hear the conviction in his tone. Old Man Winter meant what he said. Shaking off her shock, she said, “But before I can do anything, I need to know what happened. Jack was…” She broke off, not sure how to diplomatically say what leaped to mind.

“A jackass? Color me surprised.” Old Man Winter snorted. “Which is why I sent him to you. You straightened me out – you can straighten him out.” He eyed her basket. “Why don’t you unpack that while we talk?”

“Why don’t we go in and do that?” Molly suggested. “It’s a bit chilly out here.” Now that she’d been sitting a bit, the cold air had sunk into her, driving out the alien hot warmth that had chased them. “And I have a feeling it might be a long story.”

“Not as long as you might think,” Old Man Winter said, but he got up and opened the front door. Molly and Schrodinger followed him in, and then the dragon stood up. To Molly’s surprise, she shimmered and then shrank down to the size of a large Great Dane and sauntered in to the cottage as well, smirking a bit when she passed them.

What, did you think I wasn’t going to come and have some treats? she said. I’m not passing up some of your goodies!

“I just didn’t realize you could do that,” Molly said, following her into the kitchen.

There are many things I can do, Ember said, but there was no condescension in her mental tone, just indulgent amusement. When you have lived as long as I, learning new tricks is a necessity. It alleviates the boredom. She cocked her head at Old Man Winter. Doesn’t it, old man?

He snorted. “Something like that.” As the others settled around the table, Old Man Winter gathered mugs from one cupboard and plates from another, setting them out on the table. Then he set a kettle in the sink, filled it with water, and muttered a word. When he turned back around and started filling the mugs with steaming water, Molly looked around the kitchen, and realized that there wasn’t even a stove. “How do you cook?” she asked, before she clapped a hand over her mouth. “I mean…”

“Why bother with a stove?” Old Man Winter said, winking at her. “I can just wish for things, after all.”

Is that what you call it now? Ember said, as cabinets opened on their own and several boxes of tea came drifting out. Wishing for the Snow Queen’s cook to send you food?

“Hush, you’ll give away all my secrets.” Old Man Winter offered a tin to Molly, who opened it and sniffed. Luscious scents of strawberry and raspberry, underlain with rich vanilla, tickled her nose. “You’ll like that one, I promise.”

After the tea balls were filled and steeping, and Molly had brought out the scones and cookies she’d brought, she looked over at Old Man Winter. “All right. Tell me everything.”

“That might take a while,” he warned her.

“I’ve got all day.”

Old Man Winter sighed, and cradled his tea mug in his hand. The steam coming from it was slightly tinted with silver, and Molly smelled peppermint and vanilla coming from it. “Everything. Well, it started back when Captain Carter sailed into Carter’s Cove and discovered the twin Gates.”

The Librarian gave us a history, Schrodinger said. We know some of it. But it didn’t mention Caliban, and I’ve never heard of him.

“Oh, good, then I can skip some things.” Old Man Winter took his tea ball out and laid it on a spare plate. “Do you know about the battle?”

“The one for the Gates? When the raiders came from both directions at once?” Molly said.

“That was the first one. The big battle happened afterwards. That was when Caliban comes in,” Old Man Winter said.

“Caliban.” Molly shook her head. “I’ve never heard of him.”

“No reason you should,” Old Man Winter said. “He and Jack were both banished from the Cove at the same time.”

“Why?”

“Because they both thought that she was spending too much time with the mortals in the Cove,” the old winter spirit said. “Neither of them had, or indeed have, much use for mortals. They don’t understand how necessary you are.” When he saw Molly’s blank look, he said, “You believe in us. Without you, we wouldn’t be much more than shadows.”

The Snow Queen has always understood that, Ember said. More than that, though. She thinks that the belief of her chosen people will keep her alive, and keep her realm safe.

But it won’t, will it? Schrodinger said. She needs something more.

“She needs a consort,” Old Man Winter said. “She needs to have the magic within her renewed by magic, but she’s not willing to rescind her banishment of Jack.”

“Which is why you said her stubbornness will kill her.” Molly was getting an idea of what was going on. “So where does Caliban fit in?”

“Jack at least is trying to get her to submit willingly,” Old Man Winter said. “Caliban is not as gentle.”

It’s not in his nature to be gentle, Ember said. Any gentleness he had within him died when she spurned him the first time. He retreated to his lair and the resentment within him grew like the coals within a fire.

“Damn salamander,” Old Man Winter muttered. “He’s determined to own her, and turn her into a spirit of steam and heat, like he is.”

Schrodinger’s eyes were wide. Can he do that?

“It’s a distinct possibility,” Old Man Winter said. “Normally, when two spirits of different elements join together, they keep themselves separate from one another. That’s not what Caliban wants anymore. He wants to own her, heart and soul. He thinks it’s love. It’s not. It’s obsession.”

“Which is why you sent Jack to me,” Molly said, looking down into her tea cup.

A soft touch on her hand made her look up, to where Old Man Winter had reached over to her. “You can rehabilitate him, Molly. You can. And save both her realm and the Cove.”

Ice ran through her. “The warm spell over the Cove. That’s this Caliban?”

He nodded. “When they protected the Cove, they all set a piece of themselves in the town. That’s how she could banish them. She’s using the pieces of their souls that they left against them. But that will end if she dies.”

What? Dies?  Pavel and Jack weren’t kidding? Schrodinger’s voice was anguished.

Yes. Ember’s voice was quiet. If she doesn’t accept a consort by Christmas, the Snow Queen will die.

(advent) December 1st! It’s here!

`Welcome back to Carter’s Cove!  It wouldn’t be Christmas without a trip there, would it?  I wonder what’s happening this year…

 

“I smell bacon.”

Molly Barrett lifted her head off the pillow and sniffed the air, then reached out beside her. As expected, all she encountered was fur, and she poked it gently.

A large sigh issued from deep within the furry pile, and after a moment, one large green eye opened to look at her. It’s too early.

“Too early for bacon?” Molly teased, ruffling the CrossCat’s silky spotted fur. “Are you feeling okay?”

Schrodinger raised his head and yawned widely. I’m fine, I’m just tired, and it’s ear— His mental voice stopped suddenly, and his nostrils flared. Is that bacon?

“That’s what it smells like to me.”

The bed shuddered as he leaped from his nest and thundered out the door. “Don’t forget the stairs!” Molly called, and laughed as she heard him trying to control his speed. “And don’t eat it all!”

I promise nothing! came his fading thought. She laughed again and pulled herself out of bed.

Pausing long enough to pull her robe around her and run her fingers through her brown hair, smoothing the worst of the tangles out, Molly followed Schrodinger down the front stairs, the wooden floors warm beneath her feet, enjoying the feel of the oak railing under her fingertips. The lack of street noise was still a bit disconcerting to her – after years of living in the heart of Carter’s Cove, the stillness of the farm took a bit to get used to.

But it’s ours. That thought brought a rush of joy that carried her down the hall into the large kitchen, where the two men in her life were putting the finishing touches on a breakfast that looked like it was for six people. There was a literal pile of bacon on the island, mounded on paper towels and moved far away from Schrodinger’s inquisitive nose. Drew McIntyre was standing at the stove, stirring eggs in one of their cast iron skillets, and there was a tea kettle just starting to whistle gently on the back burner.

“What’s the occasion?” she asked him, slipping her arms around him (careful not to interrupt his stirring – scrambled eggs could be finicky) and kissing his cheek. Fresh blond stubble rubbed against her skin, and Molly giggled.

“I need an occasion to make breakfast?” Drew said, mock-affronted. “Since when?”

Molly turned and looked at the massive pile of bacon. “You need two pounds of bacon for a simple breakfast?”

“It’s only one pound, and I thought we’d do BLTs for dinner,” he told her. “One of the farmers came through and had some really nice lettuce, and Connie had fresh tomatoes when I stopped in the store.”

“I’ll make bread at the cafe, then.” Molly pulled three large latte mugs from one of the cabinets. “Any requests for tea?”

“Something non-caffeinated.” Drew portioned out the eggs into the bowls he had on the counter next to him. One of the things Molly adored about the new house was the amount of counters in the kitchen – it had been a working farm, not so long ago, and there was enough working space to prep food for a small army. It was so exhilarating after her apartment kitchen. “After I see you off, I’m going to bed.”

She felt a pang of sympathy as she reached for the chamomile tea. Drew had accepted a promotion to Gate Engineer two months ago, when one of the older Engineers had retired, and since then, he’d been working pretty much nonstop. But it had meant they could buy the farmhouse, knowing they’d be staying in the Cove.

The diamond ring on her left hand winked in the light of the kitchen lights, distracting her even now, even after almost a year. Molly looked at it, realizing that she might have left the Cove. Still would, if Drew asked her to.

“You going to pour the tea, or just look at the empty mugs?” Drew teased, pulling her out of her reverie.

“Sorry, still a little asleep.” She took the kettle and poured hot water into the mugs, then brought them over to the island, joining Schrodinger and Drew. “You still have tomorrow off, right?”

Drew nodded, accepting the mug of tea and handing her a bowl of fluffy eggs strung with cheese. “Mal said he didn’t want to see my quote ‘ugly mug’ until Wednesday. So we are good to decorate tomorrow.”

“I can’t believe it’s already December,” Molly said, taking a bite of bacon. “It doesn’t feel like it.”

No, it doesn’t, Schrodinger agreed, dipping his muzzle into his cup of Earl Grey. I think it’s because it’s not really cold this year.

“Maybe,” Molly said. “I’m sure it will get colder soon.”

“We’ll see.” Drew’s face darkened a bit. “It’s weird, though. It’s like there’s this big warm spot right over the Cove. Storms keep missing us.” He shook his head. “But we’ll see. It’s not like I can change it. That’s not my gift, after all.”

“Nor mine.”

They finished the meal in companionable silence, and then Molly headed back upstairs to shower before she and Schrodinger went into the Cove. Drew was asleep by the time she came out of the bathroom.

It was still odd to be driving into work. Molly did miss the walking in the early morning, but she had to admit that it was nice not to have to lug a cooler along the mile from her old apartment to CrossWinds Books. One thing that hadn’t changed: it was still dark as they drove in from the farm. Molly had bought her first car just two weeks ago: a sturdy Jeep that crunched down the gravel lane, and that Drew had assured her would be great in the snow. When the snow came. It was odd – Molly couldn’t remember a wetter November, especially when it hadn’t snowed. This November had been one of miserable spitting rain and fog, but no snow.

It doesn’t feel like Christmas yet, Schrodinger said, peering out at the fog. Maybe because the snow isn’t here.

“Maybe.” Molly reached over and flipped on the radio. As always on December first, Carter’s Cove radio station WCOV switched to all Christmas carols, and the beautiful sound of bells filled the morning. “Does that help?”

A little. Schrodinger settled into his seat, putting his chin on his crossed front paws. I still wish it would snow.

His wish was echoed by Aunt Margie when she came into the kitchen an hour later, just before the freshly-decorated bookstore opened. “You know, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I really wish it would snow,” she said, sinking onto one of the kitchen stools and accepting a cup of tea from her niece. “I hate shoveling the stuff, but this rain is just depressing. At least the snow is clean.”

“It will snow,” Molly said, sipping her own cup of tea. “It always snows. It’s just late this year, that’s all.”

“I hope so,” Aunt Margie said, shaking her grey curls, and Molly didn’t like the worry in her voice. “If not, this might be a crappy Christmas season for the store, and we can’t afford that.”

“People will still come to the Cove, and here, even if it doesn’t snow.”

“Maybe.” Aunt Margie got up, taking her tea with her. “But rain and mud aren’t the Currier and Ives experience people want.” Then she smiled at her niece. “Then again, your talent doesn’t depend on the weather. If nothing else, we can always count on your treats.”

Molly curtsied. “I’ll do my best!” But after Aunt Margie laughed and exited the kitchen, Molly frowned. What WAS going on? Why was it so warm on the Maine coast?

She turned to her refrigerator, cradling her tea mug in her hands as she contemplated what she could do to help. As Aunt Margie had said, her talent wasn’t weather-dependent, but it did depend on what she had on hand. Molly sipped the Christmas tea that was her favorite as she looked over the jars of jam that Lisa had dropped off the day before: jewel-toned glass containers of blueberry, cherry, fig and orange marmalade that glittered in the kitchen’s light, next to a large block of creamy butter. Molly pulled the butter out and set it on the island, set her tea down, and then went into her pantry.

Soon, the entire store smelled of sugar, spice and butter as Molly baked. Despite her worry, she began to relax and hum along to the carols on the radio. It would be okay. The snow would come.

Schrodinger wandered in as she was putting spoonfuls of jam into the depressions on the cookies. Those smell good, he said, jumping up onto a stool. Like Christmas.

“Christmas smells like sugar cookies?” Molly said, putting the spoon in the dishwasher and putting the cookies aside to let the jam set a bit.

Sometimes. Schrodinger nodded when she held up his tea cup. Sometimes it smells different.

“Like what?” She filled his mug and hers from the copper kettle on the back burner of the big stove, and eyed the wall clock. Lunch would be starting soon, but she had time for a little bit of a break.

It depends. Sometimes it smells like peppermint and pine, sometimes more like cinnamon and warmth. Sometimes like apples and fire. The CrossCat cocked his head at her. Do you think the weather might be because Old Man Winter hasn’t been around?

Molly blinked. “I hadn’t even considered that.” Two years ago, the spirit of Winter had spent a lot of time in the Cove, and it had been a hard, cold winter. “I guess it could be something like that.”

So maybe all we need to do is ask him to come back. Schrodinger said hopefully. He could come back and bring the snow!

“We could ask him,” Molly said, thinking it over. “I bet if we bring a basket of goodies, he might be more favorable.”

And Lily and Zoey?

“Lily and Zoey have school this week,” Molly said. “And somehow, I doubt either Corrine or Donna would want us to take them out to go to see Old Man Winter.”

Even to save the season?

“Christmas isn’t just snow,” Molly told him. “Christmas is going to be fine, even if it doesn’t snow.” Schrodinger looked skeptical, and she said, “After all, they still have Christmas in places like Aruba, and it doesn’t snow there.” She reached over and touched Schrodinger’s furry chest, right above his heart. “Christmas is family, remember? It’s here. Not in the snow, or anything like that. Here.”

I know, but I still think we should talk to Old Man Winter, Schrodinger said stubbornly.

“Okay, we’ll go,” Molly said. “How about Thursday?”

Why not tomorrow?

“Because Drew has tomorrow off, and we need to do our own decorating, remember?”

That perked the CrossCat up. Decorating? What are we going to do?

“You’ll see,” Molly told him. She’d gone out and bought the supplies without him, wanting to surprise him. “I think you’ll like it!”

(writing/nano/personal) Not dead (although sometimes I wonder…)

Short update- work has been long, so has life and I hate the shorter days.  However, as of today, I’m putting all my whining behind me and getting back to what I love: writing. It’s been shoved aside too much lately.  I’m working on the new Advent story, and having things percolate for then next Pendragon book.  I’ll have more stuff on that later, when I’m not updating on the tablet.

 

But I owed you guys an update!