Indie Weekend is my effort to help highlight and promote Indie and self-published books. Indie authors have to do some or all of their own marketing, and if I can help even a little bit with that, I’m happy to do so. Below is my review of a wonderful middle-grade audiobook, Relatively Normal Secrets. I’m also excited to share a Q&A with the author, C.W. Allen.
Tuesday’s last name is Furst, and her middle name is June, making her full name Tuesday, June Furst. She and her brother Zed are starting to realize that their father never talks about his job and their Mother is the only one they know with a guard dog. Then Tuesday and Zed are attacked and whisked off to another world, accompanied by their dog, Nyx. They begin an epic journey, helped with clues along the way. The clues are based on well-known nursery rhymes.
This is such a delightful middle-grade adventure, expertly narrated by Ivy Tara Blair. The main characters are so endearing and the narrator captures their personalities perfectly. The plot is fun and creative, and the reader/listener gets to go along on a fantastic journey. I was highly entertained from start to finish and recommend this book to anyone who wants to go on an exciting and creative adventure in a different land.
Fans of middle-grade fantasy novels should definitely check out this five-star read.
I received a free copy of this audiobook from Cinnabar Moth Publishing via Netgalley. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.W. Allen is a Nebraskan by birth, a Texan by experience, a Hoosier by marriage, and a Utahn by geography. She knew she wanted to be a writer the moment she read The Westing Game at age twelve, but took a few detours along the way as a veterinary nurse, an appliance repair secretary, and a homeschool parent.
C.W. serves on the board of the League of Utah Writers. She is also a frequent guest presenter at writing conferences and club meetings, which helps her procrastinate knuckling down to any actual writing. Her debut novel Relatively Normal Secrets, a middle-grade speculative mystery, was published by Cinnabar Moth Publishing in 2021. Relatively Normal Secrets is the winner of the Gold Quill award, being named the best 2021 children’s book by a Utah author. The Falinnheim Chronicles series continues with The Secret Benefits of Invisibility (2022) and Tales of the Forgotten Founders (2023). Keep up with her latest projects at cwallenbooks.com.
Bonnie: Let’s go beyond the bio. Tell us something about yourself that we might not know from reading your bio.
CW: When I need a creative outlet aside from writing, I’m a fairly experimental baker. I love taking an existing recipe and tweaking it to work in unusual flavor combinations or streamline the process. My experiments don’t always come out pretty, but they’re nearly always tasty!
Bonnie: When I read that the main protagonist’s name was Tuesday June Furst, I was hooked! Such a clever idea. How did you come up with the name?
CW: Thank you! Years ago, my husband and I were trying to decide what to name our first child. We discovered we didn’t have very similar tastes in names, so as we took turns vetoing each other’s picks we ended up suggesting more and more unusual options in search of one we could both agree on. I thought Tuesday was a delightfully quirky name, but sadly (or perhaps my daughter might say thankfully) he didn’t agree. So I decided to use the name on a book character instead. This led to wondering why Tuesday’s parents would choose that name, so I figured—why not make it a pun? Having an unusual name is just one of the many reasons Tuesday suspects her parents are not quite normal. As the story progresses, Tuesday’s life gets even stranger than she could have imagined.
Bonnie: What was the inspiration for the Falinnheim series?
CW: I find that with all my stories, they’re not really sparked by one big idea—they’re more like a fruit salad of many small unconnected ideas. I had a large and comically misbehaved dog, so I knew I wanted to incorporate the humor of that experience into the story. As a child, I had a similar experience to Tuesday where I realized I had no idea what my father did for work (although in my case, the answer turned out to be fairly mundane). I loved the idea of visiting a fantasy land like Narnia or Oz, but wished it could blend the historical aesthetic with a few modern (or even futuristic) conveniences. When I was my readers’ age, I was fascinated with mysteries and codebreaking, so I wanted to incorporate clues and puzzles the readers could solve along with the characters as they read. Whenever I start weaving ideas together into a story, I have to really understand the characters first—their personality traits, quirks, flaws, and goals. Once I really get to know them, sometimes they take the story in a new direction I didn’t expect.
Bonnie: I love the problem-solving aspect of this book as the kids follow clues based on nursery rhymes. What’s your opinion on the importance of problem-solving and other lessons in middle-grade fiction?
CW: First and foremost, middle-grade stories should be fun to read. I try to steer away from overly didactic themes, morals, or lessons—kids can smell a lecture a mile away, and there’s nothing fun about lectures. I try to tap into kids’ deepest convictions, reinforcing things they already value, rather than telling my readers what they ought to think or do. For example, Tuesday and Zed are co-protagonists in this story, and any reader who has siblings knows that while brothers and sisters love each other, having to live together isn’t always smooth sailing. Putting up with your sibling’s smelly socks or irritating jokes is an experience a lot of readers can relate to—the idea of raising the stakes, having to work together to solve actual important problems instead of just getting along enough so your parents won’t ground you creates additional challenges that make the story more interesting. So it’s not that I, as an adult, want to lecture kids about the importance of getting along with their siblings; it’s that readers will see themselves in that experience and recognize something they already know to be true: they don’t have to get along all the time in order to care about each other and have each other’s backs.
I don’t want my stories to teach lessons, but rather create fictional experiences that feel familiar, resonant, and true. As for the literal sense of problem-solving, as in working out the answers to clues, that’s just pure fun. It makes the book more interactive to see if you can solve the puzzle before the characters figure it out. I don’t think that all middle-grade books need this interactivity in order to succeed, but I certainly enjoy it.
Bonnie’s Comment: I enjoy the interactivity as well, and I do think Zed and Tuesday are great and honest examples for kids to follow.
Bonnie: Tuesday and her brother Zed use teamwork and brains to make their way forward through a strange land. The superhero aspect comes in the form of their dog with special powers, Nyx. With all the books out there about kids with special powers, did you make a conscious effort to stress the importance of working together and using critical thinking?
CW: Zed and Tuesday are very different. Zed likes to organize his thoughts on paper and let them percolate for a while before he comes to a conclusion. Tuesday is very action-oriented and tends to leap to conclusions, but that also means she thinks on her feet and is able to talk her way out of trouble while Zed would take too long puzzling over the perfect thing to say. Tuesday is easily frustrated, while Zed is patient, but sometimes a little too complacent.
Going through their adventures together means sometimes butting heads, but they also have two different sets of strengths and perspectives to help them solve their problems. Each of them gets opportunities to surprise the other by coming up with a solution no one else would have thought of. Having these everyday “superpowers”, rather than being able to fly or turn invisible or something, makes the characters more relatable to the reader than someone who is ludicrously rich, or super strong, or uses a magic wand. Nyx’s powers are fun to read about, but no one’s really going to relate to her as a character. So I definitely wanted my human protagonists to have skills readers could appreciate and identify with.
Bonnie’s comment: I agree completely. Magic powers are fun to read about, but bravery, motivation, and problem-solving are something kids can identify with.
Bonnie: Thank you so much, CW, for answering my questions.
*If you buy the book(s), please leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, as well as anywhere else you review books. Some people feel very daunted by writing a review. Don’t worry. You do not have to write a masterpiece. Just a couple of lines about how the book made you feel will make the author’s day and help the book succeed. The more reviews a book has, the more Amazon will promote it.
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Self-Published Spotlight is my attempt to help self-published/indie authors promote their books. It is not a book review, but a closer look at the book and the author. Here is a collection of poetry and flash fiction by MJ Mallon that will be released August 16th.
The Hedge Witch & The Musical Poet is a collection of poetry and flash fiction celebrating the beautiful vulnerability of the forest kingdom. It begins with the poetic tale of the kind-hearted Hedge Witch, Fern, who discovers an injured stranger in desperate need of her woodland spells and magic.
The sweet pair learn from each other, and through Fern’s guidance, Devin embraces the power of magic to leave behind his troubled past and become The Musical Poet.
Poetry/flash fiction titles in section one of the collection include:
The Hedge Witch & The Musical Poet, Rain Forest Love, A Forest Baby Boy, A Forest Baby Girl, A Modern Witch, Rock of Mine, Chester Don & I, The Network of Trees, More Trees Not Less, Two Boys Watching War, Mum Climbing Trees, Let’s Play, The Scorched Tree, Owl’s Holiday Home, A Man’s Holiday Home, A Child’s Excitement, The Teddy In The Woods, Run! The Organutans, All Hallow’s Eve Candy Girl, The Forest Bash, Dreaming At Halloween, A Face on Bark, Golden Willow Tree, Rainbow – Parasol of Light, Lollipop Sunshine Tree,
In Section two the author pays tribute to the following poets:
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline, Ruby Archer, King Forest, Bliss Carman, Woodland Rain, Emily Dickinson, Who Robbed the Woods, Rupert Blake, Stopping by The Woods on A Winter Evening,Oscar Wilde, In the Forest.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
MJ’s motto is to always do what you love, stay true to your heart’s desires, and inspire others to do so too, even it if appears that the odds are stacked against you like black-hearted shadows.
MJ’s favourite genres to write are Fantasy/Magical Realism and Poetry because life should be sprinkled with a liberal dash of extraordinarily imaginative magic!
Her writing credits also include a multi-genre approach: Paranormal, best-selling Horror, Supernatural short stories, Flash Fiction, and Poetry. She has worked with some amazing authors and bloggers compiling an anthology/compilation set during the early stages of COVID-19 entitled This Is Lockdown and has also written a spin-off poetry collection entitled Lockdown Innit.
She’s been blogging for many moons at her blog home Kyrosmagica, (which means Crystal Magic). Her eclectic blog shares details and information about her new releases, author interviews, character profiles, and her love of reading, reviewing, writing, and photography.
The Book Blogger Hop was originally created by Jennifer @ Crazy-For-Books in March 2010 and ended on December 31, 2012. With Jennifer’s permission, Billy @ Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer relaunched the hop on February 15, 2013. Each week the hop will start on a Friday and end the following Thursday. There will be a weekly prompt featuring a book-related question. The hop’s purpose is to give bloggers a chance to follow other blogs, learn about new books, befriend other bloggers, and receive new followers to their own blog. See the latest question below.
Of all the Harry Potter films, Prisoner of Azkaban was my favorite. It wasn’t at first, because it’s the least like the actual book, but it really grew to become my favorite. It was the only one directed by Alphonso Caurón, and his imagination and creativity resulted in a movie that brought the magical world to us in a colorful way. He bought the Knight Bus to life, as well as Buckbeak, and his take on the Leaky Cauldron is amazing. It is the one I want to watch over and over. And it’s the first time Sirius Black showed up on the screen. I’ve been a fan of the Harry Potter books for a long time, especially the Prisoner of Azkaban, and this movie is the one I like the most as well.
Self-Published Saturday is my effort to help Self-Published/Indie authors. These authors have to do it all, from cover design to editing to marketing. If I can help even a little bit with the marketing, I’m happy to do it. This week’s feature is Death at Dusbar College, a magical adventure for middle grade readers.
Welcome to the world of Antyfas where invisible monkeys play and dragons fly! Cristiano has just turned eleven, and his aunt has invited him to visit her at the magical Dusbar College. Wondrous acts of magic and fantastical beasts await him, but can he solve the Grand Magician’s riddle?
This is a story for middle-grade readers about a magical college in the land of Antyfas, a place of fantastic wonders where magical animals abound. Cristiano is excited to visit his aunt at Dusbar College, and while there he gets a chance to solve a riddle for a special prize.
This is not a long book–only 78 pages in the hardcover edition, some of which are illustrations by Lee Thompson. I enjoyed the problem-solving process that Cristiano went through, which I think is a good example for younger readers. I also enjoyed the character of the great magician and the fun take on what it means to have a “frog in your throat.” I would have preferred more development of the characters, but maybe that will occur in subsequent stories.
Overall, this is a fun book for younger readers. There are some similarities to Harry Potter, and fans of that series may enjoy a visit to Dusbar College.
I received a free digital copy of this book. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Inspired by all the ridiculous, frightening, wonderful, and adorable things she has discovered during her time on Earth, Laura DiNovis Berry writes what she hopes will be wonderful things for others to discover. See more about Laura and Antyfas on her website at berrysbooks.com
*If you buy the book, please leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, as well as anywhere else you review books. Some people feel very daunted by writing a review. Don’t worry. You do not have to write a masterpiece. Just a couple of lines about how the book made you feel will make the author’s day and help the book succeed. The more reviews a book has, the more Amazon will promote it.
*Please click on the “share” buttons below and share these books with your Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress followers. A little bit of help from all of us will help self-published authors go a long way!
Lolly Blanchard’s life only seems to give her lemons. Ten years ago, after her mother’s tragic death, she broke up with her first love and abandoned her dream of opening a restaurant in order to keep her family’s struggling Seattle diner afloat and care for her younger sister and grieving father. Now, a decade later, she dutifully whips up the diner’s famous lemon meringue pies each morning while still pining for all she’s lost.
As Lolly’s thirty-third birthday approaches, her quirky great-aunt gives her a mysterious gift—three lemon drops, each of which allows her to live a single day in a life that might have been hers. What if her mom hadn’t passed away? What if she had opened her own restaurant in England? What if she hadn’t broken up with the only man she’s ever loved? Surprising and empowering, each experience helps Lolly let go of her regrets and realize the key to transforming her life lies not in redoing her past but in having the courage to embrace her present.
The Magic of Lemon Drop Pie is a delightful story of lost love and second chances. It asks the question, “What if I go could back and make a different decision?” The characters are endearing and the “road not taken” plot is one of my favorites. In this book, Lolly gets to explore some roads not taken. Will she choose one of them? Can she? The book transitions well between the past, the present, and possible futures. It is a fun dream–magic lemon drops that can change your life. Mix together a sweet romance with a few “what ifs” and some fairy dust in the form of lemon drops, and you have an entertaining read. I really enjoyed all of it, from the captivating cover to the lemon meringue pie.
I received a free copy of this book from Berkley via Netgalley. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rachel Linden is a novelist and international aid worker whose adventures in over fifty countries around the world provide excellent grist for her writing. She is the author of Ascension of Larks, Becoming the Talbot Sisters, and The Enlightenment of Bees. Currently Rachel lives with her family in Seattle, WA where she enjoys creating stories about hope, courage and connection with a hint of romance and a touch of whimsy.
Lyla is having the worst year of her life and then her Mum announces they are moving to a strange new town.
The only silver lining is the signs that a cat has made itself home in the new house.
Lyla quickly finds out though that Shimmer is no ordinary cat….
Shimmer is a middle-grade fantasy adventure starring a special cat and a girl who is having a rough time. After Lyla’s father dies, her mother decides to move and get a fresh start. Lyla is angry and upset at having to move away from familiar surroundings, and she is instantly bullied at school. On top of that, Lyla would like a cat, but her mother has adamantly refused. Then she begins to hear a cat mewling in the house.
This is a sweet and magical fantasy with a surprise twist in the middle. Although this is a short book, it packs a lot of story into 86 pages and it’s perfect for the middle-grade reader. There are some school fights included, so parents may want to be aware. All in all, this is a sometimes sad, but always sweet adventure with a magical and special feline star. Kids will love it, but so will their parents and grandparents.
I received a free copy of this book via Zooloo’s Book Tours. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alan Meredith lives in sleepy West Sussex with his wife and two children. He relocated there after suffering a psychosis back in 2000. Writing stories was a childhood love that he lost as he mistakenly believed that imagination had no place in the grown up world.
He likes taking reality and weaving fantastical elements into it. Alan’s writing reflects his belief that life is a journey of highs and lows and the idea that ‘life should be fair’ is an unrealistic expectation to give anyone, especially kids. If you are looking for the sugar coated ‘Happy Ever After’ you have come to the wrong place.
I greatly enjoyed this second trip to the unusual and action-packed lives of “Gideon Sable,” Annie Anybody, and their gang. Having met these characters before, I was ready for more dangerous, quirky, and magical adventures. This one does not disappoint, as they are constantly thrown in a new pickle right after getting out of the last one.
Most of the old gang is back, including Gideon, who may not be the actual GIdeon Sable, Annie Anybody, who changes her identity at will, Lex (The Damned), who wears the halos of angels on his wrists, and Johnny Wilde, the Wild Card who has no limits. They are joined by Gideon’s ex, Switch it Sally, a master thief. As a group, they are a powerful force. Hired by Judi Rifkin to steal the Mask of Ra, they head to Vegas, with many adventures along the way.
I enjoyed the quirky first book, and this second installment is just as satisfying. The characters are fascinating and the schemes they come up with are clever and enjoyable. There were a couple of times when it seemed to go too far over the top, even for a book that is written to be over the top. The fight on the train comes to mind. But overall, this is a criminal heist adventure steeped in magical realism that will captivate the reader.
I received a free copy of this book from Severn House via Netgalley. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.
My review of Book 1, The Best Thing You Can Steal is here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Simon R. Green is a British science fiction and fantasy author. Green was born in Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire. He holds a degree in Modern English and American Literature from the University of Leicester. He is the author of the best-selling Nightside series and many other works.
Self-published spotlight is my effort to highlight indie authors and share their work with you. Next, Brett Salter is in the Spotlight. He has just released the fifth book in his Talisman series entitled Desperate Tides, Desperate Measures. The Talisman Series is a young adult contemporary fantasy series with dragons! Dragons walk amongst us, though you might not be able to tell. See the description and links to buy below.
Looks like our heroes can finally put an end to the nightmare that was Scarabadon, The Juggernaut. And it seems everyone’s favorite Synergist Knight and Master Dragon have fixed their Talisman issue too. Having thwarted every attack The Tyrant King has thrown at them to this point, The Alliance believes that they can endure any challenge as long as they remain together. Now, having the upper hand seems like the perfect opportunity to seek out more allies and even more of the realm’s mystical Talismans. Could this be a “happily ever after” for our ensemble of motley heroes? Or is this peace just a fool’s hope and just as temporary as the changing tides?
Below is the link to all five books. Kindle Unlimited subscribers can also read them for free. Just click on the cover art.
Below is my first entry in the 2022 Short Story Challenge, started by A Virginia Writer’s Diary. See the original post here. The theme this year is folklore, and I’m very excited about that! I have decided to concentrate on the folklore of the Appalachian Mountains. My husband Doug then agreed to co-write with me, so this is a great project for us this year. We’ve decided to combine our names when we write together, so our pen name will be Bonnie Douglas. Below is a tale called “Will O’ The Wisps,” which combines Irish and Scottish folklore with Smoky Mountain legends from the U.S. Even though it’s Feb 1st, this is my January entry. I think that’s close enough.
WILL O’ THE WISPS
by Bonnie Douglas
I flipped through the notebook, fascinated. When I came to Granny’s Smoky Mountain cabin to pack up her possessions, I had hoped to find some history, and I did. I went through boxes of family pictures, newspapers dating back to the 1930s, and letters between Granny and Gramps when he was in World War II. But this notebook—simply laying in a drawer on her night table—was the most fascinating of all. Every inch of this old composition book was filled with notes, memories, recipes, and sketches.
I was interested in some of the remedies, using plants that grew right here on the land. Granny had sketched the plants in detail, and I knew I would go out looking for them. One page particularly fascinated me. She had used color—the only page in the book to do so. Bright fuzzy creatures—or were they lights—dotted the sky. Were they lightning bugs? At first I thought so, but the lettering underneath seemed to contradict that. In bold capitalization were the words DON’T FOLLOW THE WILL O’ WISPS!
Scoffing slightly, I chucked the notebook onto the “keep” pile. Granny had always been a bit “loopy,” and it got a lot worse after Gramps failed to come home from a day hike in the National Park just down the road. He was never found despite many searches by loved ones and the police.
Granny kept going, and would always tell me tales as we sat on the porch snapping beans for supper and for canning later. She definitely had the gift of gab. Her tales of the Wampus Cat and Mothman were usually enough to keep me out of the woods at night when I was a child, camping out in the yard. Even as a teenager I was hesitant to get too far out of sight of the house at night. I just chalked it up to my “city” upbringing, giving no credit to Granny’s stories or the chills that chased up and down my back at the sight of the bobbing lights in the thickly wooded hills.
Walking out of the bedroom, I called my fat little dachshund Daisy from her snuffling around the empty canning closet. “There’s nothing in there, you goofball! Come on we’ll go outside for a walk!”
Daisy knew that walks equaled treats, and charged out of the dusty closet, heading out the rickety doggie door and bounding down the old ramp that Gramps and I had built as fast her short legs could carry her. Gramps had always kept dogs, and while they had the run of the land all day, he was always careful to make sure they were safe at home well before nightfall in their pen up against the edge of the woods.
“You never know what them fool dogs will chase up, especially at night,” He always told me.
I knew he had had a soft spot for his pack of rowdy hounds, and I felt the same for my little city-dwelling dachshund. I knew she would be poorly suited to roaming these hills and hollers, as would I after so much time away. I had spent every summer here with my grandparents, my folks insisting it would be good for me to be here with all the relatives we never saw outside of this little mountain enclave. Summers were full of hunting bugs, lizards, turtles, and snakes, and chasing around the small garden plots with my cousins and whatever pack of strays Gramps had collected from the side of the road or other farmers.
The only time I ever saw Gramps lose his temper is when, on a “triple dog dare” from one of my cousins, I snuck out of the tent where we were “camping” in the front yard. I smiled as I thought back to that night. I had headed up to the small waterfall on the spring-fed branch that trickled by the house to fill up our canteen with “moon water” for some secret my cousins were giggling about.
“Bunch of crap, if you ask me.” My ten-year-old self had thrilled at the illicit, forbidden profanity, although I heard Granny use it a hundred times a day. I crept stealthily up the hill and had barely reached Gramps’ dog pen when the dogs, woken by my not as stealthy as I thought approach, raised a chorus of barks, yips, and howls that I knew would bring Gramps running. He investigated every creak, bark, or unexpected noise regardless of how deep into the night it was.
“Shush, you stupid mutts!” I had hissed as I hurried past the pen onto the well-worn path up to the waterfall. My little pocket flashlight flickered dimly, but the water of the branch seemed to glow in the moonlight as I stumbled across roots and rocks with the canteen clanking by my side.
I was less than ten yards onto the path when my light flickered and died. Sucking in a shivering breath, I pounded the cheap plastic flashlight against my leg, willing it to flicker back to life without success. Standing in the dark with chills chasing up and down my spine, I gave myself a little pep talk. “C’mon Carl, don’t be a baby! You know Granny just tells you those stories to keep you out of trouble.”
With my spine a little firmer, I had pressed on slowly up the suddenly unfamiliar path. “Everything sure looks different in the dark,” I muttered as I stumbled, tripping over another root. The trees seemed to edge in closer to the path. As my eyes adjusted, I could see what looked like big fireflies skimming around the trees, all through the woods. “Man, I’d sure like to catch one of those!” I thought as I turned off from beside the dimly glimmering branch and began to head up the steep hillside.
Faintly behind me, I heard my name called “Carl!”
Ignoring it I pressed forward, grabbing handfuls of roots to pull myself up the hillside.
“Carl!” echoed again up the hills, faintly as if something were smothering the sound.
Looking back over my shoulder I could see a bright stream of light shooting back and forth over the path I had abandoned.
“CARL!” This time the sound of my name shook me as if from a dream. I had heard my Gramps yell my name a million different ways but never with a sound like the fear I heard resonate in his call up the dark holler. Slithering down the muddy bank, I tried to shout back.
“Gramps” came out, barely a whisper. As I slid further down the bank, the trees seemed to move to hide me from the beam of light Gramps was swinging wildly around.
“CARL!” I heard more clearly as I struggled to stand up against a ropy mass of sticker thorns wrapped around my legs. Where had that come from? I didn’t remember passing through them on the way up. The thorns bit deeply into my flesh, and even through my blue jeans. They dug deep enough to draw a stream of blood and stain deeply into the tops of my white socks. Wrestling my way free, I finally managed to draw a breath and shout, “GRAMPS!”
Gramps’ flashlight picked me out of the shadowing trees, like a spotlight finding an escaped convict. Rushing through the woods, Gramps charged towards me, his bright light never leaving me. “Carl, don’t move! Stay still until I get there!”
After Gramps reached me, he had clucked softly as he carefully pulled the thorns from my legs. I gasped after each one but refused to cry. As soon as he was sure I was okay, he gave me an earful and a couple of wallops as he led me down the trail and back towards the house, my camping adventure over. “Moon water!” he scoffed. “Whoever heard of such a thing? Your cousins have been pulling your leg. Remember when they told you to go pet that hen that was walking with her chicks? What happened then?” They like a good joke, your cousins.”
Back in the present, I grinned as I remembered that old hen flying at my face. My cousins knew I wasn’t used to the country and never could resist poking fun. There may not have been such a thing as moon water, but it made a good memory. My mind flew back to the giant lightning bugs. I had never seen them such a size before or since. Were they lightning bugs? I didn’t ponder long before deciding to head in the same direction again. Why not head towards the “moon water?” Maybe I would see the lights again.
It was growing darker, but I had my flashlight with me. I also had Daisy, though, so I knew her short legs would only take her so far. I headed towards the waterfall, making sure to pay attention and look for thorns. I walked as carefully as I could while scanning the sky. There was no more dog pen and, sadly, no more Gramps. The night was deathly quiet save the chirping of crickets and the occasional tree frog. I remembered the lights I had seen that day and was more and more convinced that they were not lightning bugs. The colors had ranged from yellow to pink to green and blue, and they were larger, much larger, than the normal firefly. As I plodded along, I could hear the waterfall in the distance, but could see nothing unusual. The path was growing fainter, Daisy was slowing down, and I considered turning back. Whatever the lights had been, they probably didn’t exist anymore.
My tiny dachshund began to growl softly. She was a couch potato whose belly sometimes dragged the ground, but now she was on alert, woofing softly. “What do you hear, girl?” I asked, bending down to pet her. Instead of settling down, she darted forward, and with a speed I didn’t know she possessed, began to run up the hill. “Daisy!” I yelled, frantically trying to catch up with her. She would be no match for a coyote if there was one about. Her stout little body disappeared in the woods, but I ran after her, calling her name.
Suddenly a light appeared by the corner of my eye. Green in color, it was about ten times the size of a firefly. It flitted away and up the hill. Another light, pink this time, came from the opposite direction, zig-zagging through the sky before it disappeared. Several blue lights followed. Although I was fascinated, I was determined to find Daisy before I investigated this further. To my horror, I began to hear yelping at the top of the hill. Armed with only a walking stick, I rushed towards the sound, determined to fight off any predators who had hurt my dog.
The yelping stilled. I reached the top of the hill, sick at what I might find. I saw nothing at first, then a glowing light in the distance. Were there people up here? I ran towards the light, calling Daisy’s name.
I pulled up short when I saw her, tail wagging, but standing in the middle of what looked like a circle of mushrooms. They were no ordinary mushrooms, as they were all glowing brightly white. Darting back and forth over Daisy and the mushrooms were the mysterious, brilliantly colored lights. As I walked forward, I could see they were definitely not bugs. Their little faces were surrounded by waves of hair, and their thin bodies were held up by gossamer wings. They looked like beautiful little angels. I stood, transfixed, amazed at what I was seeing.
I found my voice, and croaked out “Daisy..” She turned towards me, tail still wagging, but didn’t move. Then I heard a tiny musical voice in my ear. One of the creatures—was it a fairy, a sprite, or something else—was speaking to me!
“Daisy has entered our fairy circle,” the voice said. The tiny form flew around my head. She had an abundance of red hair and green eyes in a pixie face. “She cannot leave without answering our riddle.”
“Riddle…” I stammered. “Who..what..who are you…?”
“Some might call us fairies, or sprites. The old woman who lived in the house below called us Will O’ Wisps,” she almost sang in her high, musical voice.
“That was my Granny,” I whispered.
“You are kin to Dorothy?” the tiny creature sang. “She is a noble woman.”
“She was,” I sighed, “But she’s gone now. Passed away.”
A tiny laugh sounded from the creature, somehow a blend of soft music and rushing water. “Nobody is ever really gone.”
Eyes narrowed against the sudden brightness of the wildly flickering creatures, I started towards Daisy, intending to grab her and run as far and as fast as I could back to the safety of the house. Before I could take more than half a step, the creature zoomed into my face, her gentle demeanor gone.
“Naughty, naughty,” she chirped, shaking a tiny finger in my face. “None may leave our circle without answering our riddle.”
Resisting the urge to swat the creature out of the air, I looked around the circle. There didn’t appear to be an opening anywhere, although I knew I had just walked into it. “Well, you can’t really expect a little dog to know the answer to any riddles. She’s just a dog after all.”
With a tinkling chuckle ,the creature zoomed in a loop, winding up right back in my face. “You’d be surprised what a little dog knows, although you may be correct. This one has a head full of fluff and speaks only of treats and warm beds.”
Zooming off to hover over my Daisy like a light bulb, the creature continued, “Of course we may be able to make a deal for the both of you. If you can answer three of our riddles we will allow you and your small friend to leave our circle unharmed.”
Pulling myself up straight with shock, I sputtered, “Well, that’s hardly fair! Three riddles in exchange for the two of us!” Laughing derisively, the fairy zoomed back into my face.
“Fair or not, that’s the bargain! It’s always been known to all who dwell here that man or beast, flower or tree, all that enter may not leave, unless we cede.”
Looking down at my happily wagging dachshund, I began to question not only my sanity but my commitment to Daisy. Sinking to the ground that was softly carpeted with springy moss, I sat cross-legged, put my head in my hands, and sighed, closing my eyes. My mind was whirling. I knew it had to be real, but what in the world had I stumbled into?
I muttered to myself, “I should have listened to Granny.” I suddenly felt a warm breeze and a scent I hadn’t smelled in too long. It was that smell of cut grass, wood smoke, and peppermint that seemed to follow Gramps wherever he went. Looking around I couldn’t see anything remotely human, but I swore I could almost feel his presence.
“Gramps? Are you here? How can you be here? You disappeared!” I croaked, scrambling awkwardly to my feet.
Whirling around wildly, the lights of the wisps pulsated, almost strobing in their intensity.
“Quiet you be! No help from thee!” shrieked the pixie. “We caught you fair!”
From the corner of my eye, I caught a faint glimmer and saw the shape of a man. Turning slowly so as not to lose sight of the faint image, my heart thudding, I whispered “Gramps?”
The shadow glimmered and strengthened slowly and I could hear his voice, barely a whisper. “It’s me, Boy. Trapped by those damned pixies.”
The flickering shadow approached and I could feel Gramps’ presence, and smell that scent I missed so badly. “Don’t trust them, Boy, they cheat,” he said, his voice harsh and hopeless. “Granny tried for years to bargain and riddle for me but never could wheedle me out of their clutches. The best she could do was get me here, close to home.”
Tears sprang to my eyes as I pictured my Granny, crouching outside this portal to who knows where, trying to free her beloved. “Gramps, I’m trapped now too! I’ve got no choice but to try.”
“Do your best Boy, I’ll do what I can to help but I’m almost gone now that Granny isn’t around to lend me her strength.
I squared my shoulders and puffed out a shuddering sigh. “Alright pixies, it’s a deal. Three riddles for me and mine.”
The lights whirled wilder and brighter, and a shriek filled the air, loud enough to make me cringe, and drawing a wild “Ark!” from a trembling Daisy.
“The bargain is made!” the fiery sprite danced in front of me. “Prepare yourself and let us see if you are smart as your Granny be!”
Smiling to myself, I knew I had this won. I had sat at the knee of some of the greatest riddlers and storytellers that the mountains ever made. Granny and all her kin had a way with words that made me wonder sometimes, and while I didn’t have that gift I did have a good memory. I could recall every riddle or story Granny and all my aunts and uncles had ever shared.
“Let’s do this then, pixie! I need to get home.”
The pixie flittered into my face again, causing me to flinch slightly “Proud you are and humbled you’ll be if can’t answer our riddles three.”
Rolling my eyes slightly at her penchant for rhyming, I sighed, “Let’s begin.”
The pixie swarm whirled faster and shot straight up into the air, and with a flash shining words appeared in the night sky. Squinting slightly against the brightness, I read,
Very thin, she grows each night Many sailors seek her light She lures them in with glowing face But then is gone without a trace
A smile spread across my face as I answered, “The moon, of course.”
Again there was a whirl of fire and a shriek, and a spear of fire struck out and hit a nearby toadstool, instantly igniting it.
I heard a whisper from Gramps’ slowly wavering form, “Well done, Boy!”
“Thanks, Gramps!” I whispered back. Not wanting to draw this contest out any further than was necessary I drew another breath and, addressing the Pixie leader, said “Let’s go.”
The pixies swarmed and whirled again and with a brighter flash another riddle appeared in glowing letters hovering in the middle of the circle,
I come out every night without being fetched I show you the way without a map I am in motion without even moving By day I am lost without being stolen
I smiled again, as this was almost too easy. “The Stars,” I said, a note of triumph evident in my voice.
The whirl of fire, a shriek, and another burning toadstool lit the ring around me with its glittering light.
“One more riddle and we’re done here, pixies! Let’s finish this!” I said, trembling despite myself.
Gramps’ shade drew closer, and I heard his thin whisper in my ear “Careful Boy, they are as proud as they are tricky. They’ll do their best to find a way to keep you here, don’t doubt.”
“Mind your manners, man child!” the pixie leader shouted, flitting into my face again. “We’ve kept your elder here, and not even your noble Dorothy could wheedle him free. One last riddle for you and yours, and then we shall see!”
The Pixies whirled even faster and higher than before, the flash of light an intense red so bright I was almost blinded. Spots swam in front of my eyes. I could feel Daisy huddled against my ankle, trembling. Reaching down, I grabbed her firmly, in anticipation of our walk to freedom. Blinking my eyes to clear the spots, I could see a fiery scrawl shimmering in the center of the circle,
My heart opens the door to a tree When I reach the ground the answer you’ll see Though it sounds absurd I can fly like a bird
I could feel the answer tickling my brain, but it seemed just out of reach. Sweat breaking on my brow, I wracked my brain. I couldn’t recall ever hearing anything about doors or trees.
The Pixie leader swooped in close again, eying me angrily. “The answer and be quick! Time grows short.”
Sputtering and clutching Daisy even tighter, I closed my eyes. Suddenly I felt a calm wash over me, and like in a movie, I saw the maple seeds floating down from the tree that Granny had planted in front of the house when I was a child. That tree shaded the house and played host to many a squirrel and woodpecker, not to mention kids climbing into the waving branches.
Opening my eyes and looking around the circle I could see Gramps’ wavering shadow glimmering a bit brighter.
With a smile, I knew the answer and who had provided it. “A key!” I said, “A maple seed!”
The pixies swarmed around me angrily, plucking at my clothes and skin, and raising welts along my face and arms. “Wrong, wrong, wrong!” they chanted gleefully. “There is only one answer, not two! You belong to us now, all three!”
I swatted them away and glared at the leader. “It was one answer and you know it. A maple seed is called a key! Let us go!”
She crossed her arms, fluttering in the air and not responding.
“If there are rules for this circle, let us go!” I demanded. “We broke the rules by entering the circle. You are breaking the rules by ignoring my correct answer. If there are consequences for breaking rules, then you must have to pay them too!”
She shook her tiny red mane, sparks flying off of her. “You offered two answers, not one. Your answer be wrong.”
“You lie,” I shouted. “If you don’t need to follow the rules, neither do I.” I grabbed Daisy and tried to move, but to no avail.
“The spell should be broken,” whispered Gramps. “You answered correctly. She’s doing something else to keep you here. I believe you broke the magic of the circle, at least for yourself.”
A whoosh sounded overhead, and a dark shadow swept by me. I looked around, confused.
“Let him GOOOO…”, a ghostly voice sounded. The voice was across from me now, and above. I looked slightly up and saw a brown owl, illuminated in the moonlight, with glowing eyes fixed on the pixie. I have no idea how I could understand him and figured it came from the magic of the fairy circle.
“Away with ye!,” she snapped, flying into his face.
“Release him now,” the owl ordered.
“Why should I?”
“You told a lie, Darenda, and insulted the Great Maple. This man’s answer was correct. The Maple knows her children are called by many names, and one of them is “key.” As you know, I live in her branches and do her bidding. She sent me to warn you.”
I wondered what a maple tree could do to this magical being, but I saw fear flash in the leader’s eyes. Apparently, she was called Darenda.
The owl hopped a bit on the branch. “Let him go or she will not release her elixir to you.”
The other pixies started flying about in alarm, their lights flashing. I did not know why this was such a threat. Was maple sap their main source of food, or of their magic?
I looked directly at the owl. “I had no idea the trees were listening.”
“The trees were here before us and will be here after we are gone. They know and hear many things. And the Great Maple feeds and shelters the creatures of the forest.” Again the owl directed his gaze at Darenda. “You know the penalty you must pay now. What is your decision?”
Darenda sulked, and sparks of green light began to sputter out of her thin form. She glared at me. “You and Daisy may go, but don’t come into our circle again.” A flash of red light burst forth, and a third mushroom ignited.
If owls could nod, this one did, and he flew away, presumably back to his leafy home.
I stepped out of the circle and turned back to Darenda. “What about Gramps!” I demanded.
Her green eyes blazed. “He owes a debt much greater than a riddle. He owes me a life.”
I turned to my grandfather’s shadowy figure. “A life?” What does she mean?” I asked.
If his gray form could turn grayer, it did. He slumped toward the ground, and I felt his sadness. He whimpered softly, and began his story.
“Many years ago, before you were born, I was walking in these woods. Granny and I had lived here a long time, and I knew these mountains well. I had no fears here, and no trouble walking around at night. As I was walking, I saw a light. It was green and dancing around in the air. It was much too big to be an insect. As I watched it, another one, blue, came in and hovered in the air above me. I did not know what could cause such a light. I’d heard stories of unexplained lights at Brown Mountain, but that’s over two hours away. I saw no cars or machinery that could cause these lights.”
“So it was them,” I said, gesturing at the horde of listening fairies.
Gramps nodded and continued. “Wanting to explore further, I picked up a branch and took a soft swing at it. I felt it catch something. It was then I realized it wasn’t just a light. The blue light flew into a bank, fell to the ground, and went out. I ran to it and found the form of a tiny woman, beautiful as can be. And she wasn’t moving. The air started to fill with brilliant colors, and then this one—he pointed at Darenda—started screaming that I killed her sister.
“That you did!” Darenda responded in a sob.
Gramps was sobbing too, but kept speaking. “I ran. There was no circle to keep me there. I didn’t know of fairy circles then. But they followed me, and that’s how Gran met them. She learned of my crime. I had killed a living thing—one of their sisters—Sapphire. They wanted justice and demanded my life.
“That is a fair return,” hissed Darenda, before Gramps continued.
“Gran insisted it was an accident, but they wanted payment. She bargained for years, with berries and concoctions she made from plants that grew all around. She battled them with riddles, too. Riddles that she taught you. All those years you visited us in the summer, she was bargaining for me. That’s why I kept a close eye on where you and your cousins went at night. But one day they trapped me in their circle. They can create them anywhere, and they tricked me into it. Gran eventually found me, answered their riddles, and bought me time, but they wanted a life. And mine was fading.”
Gramps gestured his skeletal arms. “Eventually Gran had to say I disappeared because so little remained. She came to this circle every day, begging for my freedom. But it was never granted.” When she stopped coming I knew she had passed. He sighed as only a shadow can, and I felt his gloom. “I won’t let you spend your life trying to get me released. Take Daisy and go.”
I hesitated, then picked Daisy up. “I’m going to take Daisy to the house, and then I’m coming back.” He nodded sadly, and I wondered why he didn’t object. “Will the circle still be here when I return?”
Darenda laughed. “The circle is wherever we want it to be.”
“Well, then I can’t leave. I can’t let my Gramps die.”
“Nobody’s ever really gone,” a soft and very familiar voice sounded behind me. I whirled around, startled, and began to tear up. I would never forget that voice.
“Gran!” She was younger than I ever knew her, and she glowed with a light that I could feel as well as see. I felt an immense peace pass over me. I knew she had died, but this was no ghost. She was more alive than ever.
“Dorothy!” Gramps’ voice was stronger than ever before, but he remained a shadow. “Oh how I’ve missed you, but why are you here? Nobody can save me.”
“Ah, but you’re wrong. It’s time for you to come home.”
Darenda flew forward, emitting red sparks of rage. “He can’t go anywhere! He owes us a life.”
“His life on earth is over.” Gran did not appear angry as she looked at the furious sprite. “ Your debt is paid.”
Gran reached out a hand, and a thin, shadowy limb grasped hers. As she pulled him out of the circle, he transformed slowly, and the skeletal figure gradually became a much younger version of the Gramps I knew. Soon he was glowing, radiating happiness.
I looked at Darenda. Emerald tears were running down her face. “What about my sister!”
“She flies happily in a place with more magic than you can ever dream, and she is at a peace you don’t yet understand. Now you go.” Gran pointed at her. “Your power over my family is at an end.”
Darenda shot up into the air, followed by her brilliantly colored horde of sisters. She hovered there for a moment, and then called out, “The debt is paid!” They gathered above me in a circle of glorious color, then flew off like a flock of vibrant birds.
“Always be on the lookout for them, Carl. They could come back at any time.” And don’t let your dog or children run free during the night.”
Gran and Gramps smiled. “Have a beautiful life, Carl. We will see you soon, and will never be far away.”
As they walked away, I heard Gran’s voice softly in my ear “Tell them the story of the Will O’ Wisps,”
As I bid them farewell, I knew I was never leaving this place. I watched their lights fade into the mist, my heart bursting with happiness.
With Daisy beside me, I headed back to the cabin to unpack.
We combined fairies, pixies, will ‘o wisps, and sprites into one creature. We also added in the North Carolina legend of the Brown Mountain Lights. You can read more about the Brown Mountain Lights here. My uncle told us many stories of the wampus cat, so he is mentioned here as well. While researching, we found a legend that said the “owl guards the maple tree,” so the owl made an appearance here.
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