Crimes of the Fay, Chapter 5

The motive of the bicycle thief became very clear! It got torn apart so someone could make a sign, a sign that read: The human race must get destroyed! The lettering had clearly gotten spelled out in blood! I searched all around the tree that the sign rested on, but I didn’t see any sign of a dead body or injured victim. I did see another set of footprints by the tree of what looked like wide fitting boots, so I suspected that the powerful magian had sent the Fay to steal the bike and bring it back to that spot. I couldn’t figure out why he or she had to use the bike instead of branches or literally anything else, but I did feel vindicated knowing that my gut instinct about this case had proven itself correct! At the very least, my petty theft case had just gotten upgraded to vandalism or possibly even menacing! If that turned out to be real blood, it could mean something higher than that! I called for forensics to come back me up in order to find out what exactly I was dealing with!

As investigators combed through the forest, both Chief Mazarine and Sandra arrived on the scene. Sandra asked me, “Did they find anything else?”

Before I could answer, one of the forensic investigators came up to me and let me know, “We found this in a pile of leaves by that tree.” He used his wand to float a wallet in front of us. He took out the contents and explained, “All we found inside was some cash.” He reassembled it and went on, “We found a pool a semen next to it. The DNA from it didn’t match the blood on the sign but we found some trace DNA on the sign that did match the semen.”

“Wow, so our vandal is involved in prostitution!” I thought out loud. I know it may seem a little crazy that I got so excited about the possibility of a horrible crime, but the prospect of finally getting a chance to tackle a challenge made me excited! I yearned for this day for so long, and my eyes practically sparkled now that I got to do something I had always dreamt about!

Chief Mazarine had other plans. After he politely dismissed the forensic investigator, he told me, “Good job on finding your missing bicycle! Now, head on back to the station to get a new case!”

My heart plummeted! I had worked so hard to get to this point, and I couldn’t believe he wanted to take this opportunity that I had waited my whole life for! “But… This is my case!”

“You did well, kid!” Chief Mazarine regarded me. “But I’m not about to have a rookie detective take on a high level case!”

“But I did everything right!” I cried. “I can do this!”

Chief Mazarine remained adamant on his point. “You don’t have enough experience to do prostitutes!”

I argued, “How am I supposed o get more experience if I don’t get to try? Please! I can handle prostitutes!”

“Look, I know you’re eager to do prostitutes,” Chief Mazarine leveled with me, “I certainly wanted to do prostitutes when I was your age too, but you’re just too inexperienced to handle prostitutes!”

“I learned enough in school to know how to do prostitutes now!” I countered. Some of the investigators were giving us funny stares, so I barked, “What are you looking at?” They all pretended like they hadn’t heard our conversation and went back to business.

Before Chief Mazarine could broach the subject again, Sandra jumped in, “I’ll help her! If it gets too complicated for her, I’ll take over. Keep her on the case, sir! It’s her first one, don’t take it away from her!”

A sweep of gratitude surged through me for her having my back like that! I really hoped that it would have an effect on Chief Mazarine. He arched his head and groaned uncomfortably. “This breaks our training regiment!”

Sandra pointed out, “It breaks tradition, but it doesn’t break protocol! Give her a chance! If she messes up, then she can wait a while for another shot, but bit if she does well, maybe she can skip all the small crimes and dive right into the high ones! We could use more people on those!”

Chief Mazarine reluctantly relented, “Alright, alright! You can work this case together! If you don’t produce results, you’ll both be back on petty crimes faster than you can say Je ne pourrai plus jamais travailler dans cette ville!”

As he walked to the car, I remarked under my breath, “I can’t say that now!”

Sandra laughed, but then she turned to me and said seriously, “My career’s on the line, so don’t let me down!”

I assured her, “I have no intentions to!” And with that, we both smiled at each other in understanding and got to work.

My excitement began to surge again as we ran both DNA samples through our database. I know it sounds a little strange to be over the moon about some blood and semen, but they were vital clues to my case, an important case that I felt eager to solve! If I did, it could mean better assignments going forward. Plus, if the Fay Folks were involved, as we suspected, then I would have gotten my chance to battle them once and for all. I heard such horror stories about them, but in my professional life, I hadn’t seen any that seemed so dangerous. I pondered about whether or not they did that on purpose. I mean, the whole point of their operation was to lure people into sin so that they couldn’t get into Heaven or Hell, so they probably were pretty low-key with their activities to gain people’s trust, I theorized. Even though I almost never saw them commit any serious crimes, I felt sure that they were up to something far more nefarious than met the eye! Even if the blood from that sign turned out to come from someone who supplied it voluntarily, their motive for doing so couldn’t have possibly been innocent! So much about this case roused my curiosity, and I couldn’t wait to get the results back!

“The sperm came back negative for anyone on file,” Sandra announced. “Maybe hiring this prostitute was their first crime.”

“Or their first time getting caught,” I mentioned. “If they were present for that bloodshed, how innocent could they be?”

Sandra pointed a finger at me and acknowledged my logic, “Very good!” I grinned, and then she informed me, “The blood came back to Reed Radley, who’s got priors for… shockingly enough, prostitution.”

I leaned in over her shoulder to look at his profile. “Let’s see… He’s a mattress salesman at a store in downtown Anaknock… Hey, I think it’s right by the store my husband works at!”

Sandra’s interest peaked a bit higher. “Oh, perfect! Maybe he’s seen something relevant to our case!” I agreed, and as we headed out, I felt a little uncomfortable talking to Ben in a work capacity. He never seemed too thrilled with the idea of me becoming a detective, so I didn’t feel too sure about whether or not he’d totally cooperate or not. I thought that, in the end, he would do the right thing and give us a hint to something pertinent in solving our case.

We found out that Reed Radley’s job was right next door to pet supply chain where Ben worked! I peeked inside Ben’s store as we passed it, but all I saw was another clerk helping a customer. I found it a bit odd since I knew he got scheduled to work until six that day, so he should have been in there. I reasoned that he must have been in the back doing inventory or something, so I thought nothing more of it as we went in to talk to Reed Radley’s boss. He didn’t tell us much except that Reed hadn’t been into work for a few days. He only had a couple of more sick days left, so if he didn’t show up soon, he’d fire him. Apparently it wasn’t the first time that Mister Radley had pulled a stunt like that, so he didn’t find it so unusual. He didn’t see anything noteworthy about his behavior at work either. When he got to the point where he tried selling us a mattress, we decided to end the conversation and go next door to talk to Ben.

When Sandra and I went up to the counter, he noticed that the that clerk’s name tag indicated that we were talking to the manager, which saved us some time by not having to have someone contact him. The manager inquired, “Can I help you?”

We flashed our badges, and I introduced us, “We’re with the Slygow County detective bureau. We need to talk to Ben.”

“Ben called in sick today,” the manager told us.

“He did?” I reacted in surprise. “He’s not sick!”

The manager raised an eyebrow. “How do you know?”

I clarified, “Oh, sorry! I’m Ben’s wife.”

“Oh!” The manager gasped in relief. “I’m glad he’s alright.”

“That remains to be seen after I talk to him about calling out!” I sort of kidded. I know we hadn’t been super communicative lately, but he crossed a line by this blatant lie! “Anyway, have you happened to have seen anything strange going on next door?”

The manager shook his head. “Not really. Why?”

I responded to his query, “We’re looking for one of his employees, Reed Radley. Do you know him?”

“I’m afraid not.” The manager’s eyes darted to a growing line forming behind us.

“Thank you for your time!” I excused us.

Before we headed out the door, he called, “Nice to meet you, Missus Cassius!”

I froze, and then I corrected him, “It’s Vidette. I didn’t take his last name.”

His brow furrowed, and he appeared as though he wanted to ask about my reason for that, but his customer required his attention, so we walked out. As we headed to the car, Sandra gingerly questioned, “It’s probably none of my business, but why didn’t you…?”

“I dunno.” I shrugged. I just didn’t like the sound of Shannon Cassius. It would’ve felt like I had two first names or something.” I could tell she was analyzing my motives behind that decision, and at that time, I didn’t have any real answers, so I changed the subject, “Do you have Reed Radley’s address?”

“Right here!” She pulled out her cellphone as we got into my vehicle and headed out.

When we knocked on the door of Reed Radley’s apartment, no one answered. One of his neighbor’s said that he hadn’t been home for days. That gave us probable cause to obtain a warrant. The landlord let us inside, and on the surface, everything seemed so normal. Typical bachelor pad with mismatched furniture and clutter everywhere, nothing suggested any kind of struggle. We used our wands to sift through his things. As I moved some papers underneath a girly lamp in the living room, I stumbled across a phone number…

Crimes of the Fay, Chapter 2

A decade later, while most of the seniors of Anaknock High School were fantasizing about who they’d take to prom or what they’d wear to graduation, all I could do was daydream about Police Academy! As soon as I turned eighteen, I put in my application and eagerly awaited for the results of my background check to come back. I didn’t have to worry about the criminal aspect, I made sure that I had a squeaky clean record there! I never cut class or broke any rules that would land me in detention or the dean’s office, which isn’t part of their criteria but something I did on my own out of an abundance of caution. I worried more about the psychological examination and social screening. To become a police officer in Slygow County, or any other county for that matter, they go through your life with a fine toothed comb. I didn’t live with my mother anymore, but I know she was constantly in and out of jail, so a part of me worried that they would think her felonious tendencies would get passed onto me. I also fretted that they would say that I didn’t have the right personality to join the squad, something that my father liked to point out a lot. He meant well, he just really hoped that his only child, a child that constantly got good grades and and demonstrated an adeptness in many valuable skills, would grow up to do a career that made tons of money. He didn’t give up on trying to dissuade me from the idea until I got that acceptance letter, then he just sort of kept praying for me. I think I was the only one excited about the concept. I didn’t worry about my safety at all, not with two years of academy training under my belt. I didn’t realize until later that my safety hadn’t been the sole source of their worry…

Even though I had spent several months obsessively studying my list of courses, I wasn’t totally prepared for what I’d actually experience when I got there! As I sat down in a large classroom for orientation, it truly shocked me to see rows and rows of poker faces! I figured that maybe some people were just nervous or that maybe they were already trying to show an air of neutrality. As I walked to the front of the classroom, I actually saw a few people who seemed depressed! I heard my classmates chatting about why they joined the squad, and I couldn’t believe how many people joined for reasons other than an eagerness to help the community! Some joined for job stability while others wanted to become a police officer for the advancement opportunities and benefits. It flabbergasted me to learn how many people had no idea why they were there! I sat next to a few people who were delighted to get started, but to my dismay, it seemed like they were excited for a chance to have a little power. They sounded more like contenders for a chance to become the world’s next big dictator, and I wondered why authoritarian personalities weren’t a disqualification for the psychological assessment! Despite all that, I still eagerly anticipated attending the academy classes, although I did ponder what I had gotten myself into!

I trusted the system so blindly that I didn’t pay attention to what the system entailed until the teaching officer went over it. A lot of the classes made absolute sense, like law statutes and weapons training, but some courses really threw me through a loop! The teaching officer told us that our first class was reading slash writing comprehension, and it perplexed me to think that was even necessary. I mean, we did have to read and write a lot for the application, so wouldn’t that alone prove our abilities? I reasoned that perhaps they meant reading and writing police reports, but that was a whole other class! I didn’t understand why a class on such a rudimentary subject was needed until she informed the class that if they didn’t pass that class the first time that they would get eliminated as a candidate, and a couple of people looked scared! While it made me feel better that they would eliminate unqualified individuals, the potential tedium of it all filled me with dread, and I could hope that the classes were more interesting than they sounded!

They weren’t! Oh sure, a few classes here and there were a lot of fun (I particularly enjoyed non-magical combat!), but I couldn’t believe how much these classes were watered down! For example, in our diversity and human relations course, I expected to read about the various subcultures of a place as diverse as the United States, but no, it was literally about how to behave like decent human beings to each other! Day one, the teaching officer explained, “We don’t want to unfairly judge people based on their race, gender, sexual orientation…”

I frowned and puzzled as to why we needed to get educated on such an obvious fact, but the guy next to me raised his hand and asked, “Wait, we don’t do that?” Don’t get too concerned, he didn’t pass the class or become a police officer, but people like him made classes like that completely necessary!

Two years never felt so long to me! They over-explained everything! Not only did we learn how to file police reports, but we learned how to use a computer! I didn’t think driving a squad car was that different than a regular one, and it’s not, but it has a lot of little gadgets that we had to learn at nauseum. And no, I don’t mean cool gadgets like they have in spy movies, I mean we spent a whole day on how to use a cup holder properly! Any class that could have been mildly interesting became excruciating. Like in first aid class, we learned to properly apply a bandage, we had to first remove it from the wrapper! I actually slapped my forehead in frustration when we went over that! I had a few pleasant memories come from the police academy, such as the day I received my beautiful Red Alder wand! It’s such a powerful tool, and it does so much to enhance the magic within you, so it was an honor to receive one! Well, it was for me anyways. Some people couldn’t handle it and injured themselves, and one girl accidentally set the school on fire! They didn’t make it to graduation! Graduation felt so freeing! I thought the days of mind-numbing boredom and over-explaination were over! I was wrong again!

I guess I let my childhood fantasy of police officers fighting the Fay Folks day in and day out blind me from the reality of what their normal routine actually entailed. On my first day, my trainer spent almost an hour going over each detail of his squad car to make sure it all functioned properly, even the cup holder! Once we finally got started on patrol, I expected something exciting to happen, but it wasn’t until after lunch that we actually got paged. I had such high expectations for a trespassing call, but it turned out to be an elderly man complaining about someone’s cat entering his yard. We gave two people warnings about minor traffic violations, and we headed back to the station early so my trainer could over-explain how to fill out our daily paperwork. I guess my disappointment became really evident on my face because my trainer asked me what was wrong. When I described how I felt let down with such little activity in our day, he reminded me that a boring day for a cop is a good day since no one got put into a dangerous situation. I felt a bit flustered when I realized he thought I wanted someone’s life to get threatened so that my shift would be more enjoyable. I didn’t want to risk anyone’s safety, but I had hoped that my work would feel more significant than it did!

My first two weeks went pretty much the same. It took until day six for me to actually see an arrest, which ended up being that same elderly man I saw on my first day (he hit some kid with his cane when they wouldn’t control their cat). We got into a chase with a guy who stole a live chicken from this trailer park called Brigid’s Garden, and my trainer pinned down the guy while I had to chase the chicken! I got told later on that we got a lot of calls from there! Indeed we did, but usually it stemmed from a combination of drinking and mishandling their wands. One woman conjured a chimney on someone’s roof to try to steal their television, but she didn’t make it wide enough and ended up gettign stuck in it! I also got to see my first Fay Folk there! A mother called after her chihuahua attacked one. He wanted to sue the woman for personal injury, and I had to verify that his scaly, blue skin did, in fact, have a small blemish on it. When Officer Mazarine and Officer Delbin (who no longer served in that department) talked about fighting the Fay Folks, I didn’t realize that they meant legally! Most of our dealings with them had to do with shooing them away from people. With the tales I heard about them, I expected them to be involved with more heinous crimes! One of my trainers remarked, “Just like with humans, we don’t catch the smart ones!” I didn’t want to accept that and hoped to use more of my crime solving skills when I went out on my own.

That didn’t happen! When I got to the point where I could take the lead and merely got shadowed by another officer, most of my day got spent with every move I made getting judged, which made my trainer constantly question why I did what I did. I got in trouble with him for setting a pen in the freaking cup holder (a big no-no!). After a week, I finally got a call about a robbery! As soon as I arrived, a man threw down his wand and raised his hands up to surrender. As I cuffed him, I began reading his Miranda rights, but before I could lock the cuffs, my training came barreling out of the car shouting, “Hold it! Hold it! You’re not following procedure!”

“But he obviously did it!” I pointed to the wads of money in his pocket.

“That’s true, I did!” the suspect corroborated.

The trainer remained adamant in his point. “You didn’t conduct an investigation! You have to follow the evidence! Like this!” I stood by the suspect as the trainer used his wand to expose footprints on the ground. He followed a set that went straight from the door to the counter of the corner store, and then he saw the empty cash register and concluded, “Yes, there was definitely a robbery!” I sighed as he followed the footprints to the suspect. The trainer gazed up at him in surprise, and the suspect just waved at him. “He may have been present at the robbery!” I cringed, and the suspect requested to go to jail already. I really thought my first arrest would be a proud moment, but all it did was buy me more time in training!

I got so stressed out that once I clocked out, I headed right to the nearest bar! That’s where I met my future ex-husband, Benjamin. He saw me sitting by myself and inquired as to why I seemed so upset, and I knew that he only wanted to know so he could take me to bed, but I just had to vent to someone! As we started dating, he felt like a comfort to me, not due to his caring nature (he wasn’t very empathetic) but because he was always around when I needed to de-stress, which was pretty much every day! After seven years of seeing each other, we got married, and I really thought our wedding would mark a new chapter of my life, but I never really felt satisfied. I don’t mean in the bedroom (which wasn’t very thrilling), I just grew more and more dissatisfied as a police officer. I didn’t want to give up on my dream, but I didn’t know how to make my situation more substantial. After several years of gnawing monotony, I figured out that I didn’t need to give up law enforcement completely, there was another way to fight crime without staying in the same rut of policing… I decided to enroll in detective training, and that decision changed everything!

Crimes of the Fay, Chapter 1

It all began when I was seven. Miss Alvin, the school principal, walked up to the microphone on the stage and introduced two special guests, “Alright, boys and girls, quiet down! Today, Linnet Elementary School is proud to welcome two local heroes…” That got my attention right away. I spent much of my childhood obsessively reading myths and legends of ordinary people going on extraordinary adventures, and up until then, I didn’t know people could do heroic stuff like that in real life! “…Officers Angelique Delbin and Dick Mazarine!” My schoolmates all politely clapped, but I probably showed the most enthusiasm. In fact, I know I did because as the two police officers entered onto the stage, Officer Mazarine glanced over in my direction and gave me a particular look. I didn’t care though, I was just excited to be in their presence! Officer Mazarine stood on stage so proudly, and his russet skin really made his blue uniform stand out! His dark brown eyes stared with intensity, and his beard made made me think of the wise men that the heroes always sought advice from in my stories. Officer Delbin almost resembled an older version of me- long, coffee brown hair, light beige skin, and a tall, think frame (at that age, I had a skinny body anyway). Her eyes were blue and mine were more of a golden brown, but other than that, I felt like I caught a glimpse of my future self! Both of them intrigued me, and I hung on their every word.

Officer Mazarine spoke first, “Okay kids, we’re here today to talk to you about the Fay Folks! Who here can tell me what a Fay looks like?” I waved my hand in an overly enthusiastic way, which made the people around me stare judgmentally, but that didn’t bother me. I wanted to impress him so badly (a feeling that would return later on in life), but he seemed to view my eagerness as distasteful (that never changed!), so he called on another student, who replied, “They have weird skin! Like it’s pink or green or blue or whatever!”

“That’s correct! What else?” Officer Mazarine tried to ignore me, but I’m sure he must have seen me with how fervently I waved my hand. He pretended not to notice and called on another student, who told him, “They have sharp ears.”

“Yes, their ears are pointy!” Officer Mazarine responded genially. “Anything else?”

Once again, Officer Mazarine overlooked my ardent gestures and called on someone else, who replied, “They have sharp teeth and sharp claws!”

Officer Mazarine complimented their contribution, “Very good!”

“Now, who knows what to do if you ever see a Fay?” Officer Delbin inquired. No one else but me raised their hand, so Officer Delbin relented, “Go ahead.”

“Don’t listen to them!” I eagerly explained. “They try to trick you into doing bad things so that when they kill you, you don’t go to Heaven or Hell, you become one of them! They won’t stop until they have enough Fay to destroy the world!”

Both Officer Delbin and Officer Mazarine bore expressions that clearly indicated that they were unwillingly impressed. Officer Delbin acknowledged my familiarity on the subject, “Uh, yeah, that’s true! The Fay Folks are extremely dangerous, so if you see one, don’t try to deal with them yourself! Find a grown up and have them call us!”

Officer Mazarine added, “That’s right! It’s our job to keep you safe! We fight the Fay Folks all the time, so if any of them show up in your neighborhood, leave it to us to handle it!” That did it. That statement sold me on the idea! The Fay Folks were trying destroy the world, and the police were the ones defending our planet against them! In my mind, they were all a league of superheroes, and I resolved then and there that I would join them! I wanted to help save the world, so I decided that when I grew up, I was going to join the police force!

All of a sudden, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and saw Miss Alvin with her old, knobby wand out pointed at me. The two police officers were still talking about safety measures, and it pained me not to have the opportunity to listen to them, but I begrudgingly went over to her. Once I reached the back of the cafeteria, she whispered, “Your father is here to pick you up.”

“Oh yeah! Mommy’s big surprise!” I recalled. I took one last look at the two officers before I skipped out of the room.

Out on the black top, I saw my dad holding up a mirror with his sleek, mahogany wand. He dressed up for the occasion, and clearly he wanted to appear nice for the occasion. He had on a svelte suit, or at least it was considered sleek twenty-six years ago, and he neatly parted his bushy, umber hair. He just started to check out the spots on his large glasses when he spotted me out of the corner of his eye. He made the mirror vanish, stowed his wand away in his pocket, and smiled at me. “Hey there! Ready to go, Shannon?”

“Yeah!” I chirpred happily as I took my father’s hand. As we walked to the car, I announced, “Guess what, Daddy! When I grow up, I’m gonna become a police officer!”

I expected him to swell with pride or excitement to hear that, but instead, he grimaced. “What? Why would you wanna do that?”

“Because I wanna be a hero and save people from the Fay Folks!” I frowned as he helped me into the car. I didn’t understand how everyone didn’t want to do that job!

“Yeah, but you’re a bright young girl, and that job is so dangerous!” my dad remarked as he got into the car.

I shrugged that notion off. “A little danger can’t stop me! I’m gonna stop those evil doers from destroying the world!” My father simply sighed and let go of the subject. I could tell he regretted delving out so much information about the Fay Folks, but he didnt’ say anything else about my decision. Perhaps he thought I’d grow out of it, but a little hint for the rest of the book, I never did!

When we got to the house, I helped my dad open the car door so he could carry an armful of roses in one hand and a dozen balloons in the other. I skipped ahead of him so that I could get the front door, and I exclaimed, “I can’t wait to see the beach! Mommy is gonna love our surprise!”

My dad agreed, “She’s never seen it either, which is why I wanted to surprise her with it for our tenth anniversary! Let’s stay quiet though so we can keep it a surprise.”

“Okay!” I quietly complied. When we got onto the porch, I totally forgot about his request. I heard some strange noises coming from inside the house, and I wondered out loud, “What is Mommy watching? It sounds gross!”

“Shh!” my father shushed me. If he had tuned in to the noises I heard, it might have made this next moment way less uncomfortable! We had no idea what we were about to walk in on!

I burst open the door and yelled, “Surprise!” I expected to see my mother watching TV on the couch or maybe just listening to it as she did chores. My jaw fell to the floor to see her buck naked with a man’s head in between her legs! I didn’t get the birds and the bees talk yet, so I had no idea why this was happening, but I got the feeling that she had done something extremely inappropriate.

I could see my mom’s golden brown eyes fly wide open through her stringy blonde hair. She brushed her hair out of her face and uttered, “Shannon! What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing?” I retorted. I seriously had no clue what she was doing, but I somehow knew that it would haunt my dreams forever! I still hate thinking about it, and this novel is the last time I ever want to remember that image again! Unfortunately, it became a significant turning point in my life, so I had to mention it.

My dad walked in and dropped everything that he had in his hands. At first, he just stared at her in shock. My mom hastily grabbed a nearby blanket and fibbed, “Oh, hey Bram! Did you know that they do gynecological exams at home?” She grinned at him in the faint hope that he bought that.

“They don’t examine you with their mouths, Trudy!” he seethed. The other man had stayed in the position we caught him in, too scared to move, and my dad asked, “Who’s that?”

The man slowly turned around, and my father instantly recognized him. “Damon? You’re screwing my best friend on our anniversary?” he roared.

Damon, without thinking about what he was saying, corrected my dad, “We didn’t get a chance to screw yet!” When he realized what he said, he winced. “Oh, sorry! I mean…” My father’s fists clenched, and my mother quickly ushered me out of the room.

As we could hear fist fighting in the living room, my mom apologized, “Oh, sweetie! I’m so sorry you had to see that!”

“But you’re not sorry that you hurt Daddy?” I challenged her.

“Actually, I think he’s hurting Damon a lot more than…” She realized what I meant and put a sympathetic hand on my shoulder. “I didn’t mean for anyone’s feelings to get hurt!”

I pushed her hand off of me and shouted, “Don’t touch me! I never wanna speak to you again!” I grabbed the bag that was supposed to be for our happy family vacation and tried to head out the door. I saw that my mother’s stance by the door would have made it difficult for me to get out, and even if I had, my father was still fighting Damon in the living room, so I really had no way out. I sat down on the floor and faced away from her until it was all over.

The neighbors had called the police, and awkwardly enough, Officer Mazarine and Officer Delbin were the first ones on the scene! They definitely recognized me, but they had too much to do to mention it. They used their exquisite alder wands to pry Damon and my dad apart. Officer Mazarine escorted Damon off of the property and arrested my dad for battery. Officer Delbin ran a background check on my mom and saw that she had a warrant for forgery. After both of my parents were in squad cars, Officer Delbin saw me standing in the doorway crying. She gave me a hug and told me that she would take me somewhere safe for the night. I slept in the Child Protective Services facility, which would scare most children, but I felt grateful to not have to deal with my parents’ drama for a while! My father got me the next day, and when we got home, we packed up our stuff and left. I didn’t see my mother much after that, and truthfully, I had never really forgiven her for what she did. My family life changed that day, but my dream of joining the police force sure didn’t! The kindness that Officer Delbin showed me in that moment really cemented my desire to work in law enforcement. I maintained that idealized image of crime fighters until I joined the police academy…

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 7

As Cally walked through Dregs Hollow, she found pretending that everything was business as usual to be of the utmost difficulty because she felt elated about her endeavor with Derrick. The more she thought about it, the more she realzied that she didn’t belong there, and she couldn’t wait to figure out where she came from. She really believed that Reisseck was hiding something now, she had never really seen him nervous until she brought up her true origin. When she originally learned of this betrayl, it frightened her at first, for the world she knew fell apart in an instant. At this point, she thought that her life had never really been put together in the first place. She couldn’t wait to see what laid ahead in the next chapter of her life, so it wasn’t easy for her to pretend to have angst about going to work. She also disliked having to transfigure herself each night knowing how she looked beneath the blemishes! Just as her thoughts had drifted to that very subject, she felt the potion fading, so she hid her face as discretely as she could while trying not to draw too much attention to herself as she left the village gates.

Once she got far enough away from the prying eyes that lurked about Dregs Hollow, she took off her hood as she walked down the path. The fresh air felt good as it combined through her hair. She wore that hood so much that almost no one knew she was a brunette! Actually, she had almost forgetten what it looked like! She thought her hair had a darker hue to it, but maybe she reached that opinion simply due to the insufficient lighting of their cavern abode. Her rapture only got heightened by the thought that she could roam freely in Bohemma that day. Most of the time, if Reisseck had her run an errand there, she didn’t linger long because she feared people discovering her deformities, which was also why she never ventured there when she had time off. She realized that today she could explore the city as a completely normal human being, and that just felt incredible to her!

It felt strange to pass Camellia’s Circus and not head to the employee’s entrance, but she felt such relief as she headed away from that horrid metal fence! She began to see Derrick in the distance, and the closer she got, the more her heart fluttered! Up until now, this plan still seemed like a fantasy, but now it felt real! As she neared him, she could see his smile grow too, so she knew that this journey had a shared sense of enthusiasm for both of them. When they got into the same vicinity as each other, Derrick greeted her, “Hello there!”

“Hi!” After she had voiced that, she noticed that his horse stood behind him. “Oh, are we riding into Bohemma?”

“Well, of course, why wouldn’t…?” He trailed off as something occurred to him. “You’ve never ridden a horse before.”

“No, but I’ve always wanted to.” She had meant that, but as she got closer, she became a little intimidated. She had seen Derrick bring his steed close to the employee’s entrance of her work, but it never really registered to her just how large in size the creature had been! She always found these animals to be so beautiful, especially this one because of its snow white fur, so she never realized how much damage that these creatures could do if they really wanted to!

“Don’t feel nervous!” Derrick gently advised. “Oriane is the sweetest horse in Barlock’s stables! I always borrow her during my visits. Actually, she’s the king’s personal favorite, and since we need him in one piece, obviously she’s not vicious.” Cally softly chuckled. “Why don’t you get to know her a bit before we hop on.”

“Okay.” Cally took a deep breath and approached the horse carefully. She found it helpful to know that both King Henrick and Derrick rode this one a lot, obviously, she was very good with people. She held out her hand, and after Oriane sniffed it a bit, she bowed her head for her to pet her. Cally did so gladly, and she noted the look of serenity on the horse’s face as she savored the attention, which made Cally smile broadly. “She is really sweet!”

“Told you!” Derrick grinned. He touched the horses reins in a way that made her kneel down, and after he mounted her, he regarded Cally, “Don’t worry, she does most of the work.” He held out his hand to help Cally get on, which she did with slight trepidation at first. Once she slipped on, she noticed how close she was to Derrick and practically blushed. Derrick instructed, “Hold on to my waist.” Now she felt sure her face had gone red as she wrapped her arms around him. Derrick motioned for the horse to rise, and even though she had been a little scared, she got a little excited now that they were about to take off. It forcibly reminded her of the children at Camellia’s Circus who tried an amusement ride for the first time. Derrick announced, “And away we go!” He made a signal to Oriane, and they galloped off!
Cally couldn’t believe how much fun she had traveling by horseback! The rush of speed flew over her body as though she were flying! The fact they were quickly getting away from Dregs Hollow just enhanced the whole experience, not to mention the warmth she felt from his body! If they didn’t have such important work to do in Bohemma, she wouldn’t want the experience to end! When they neared the peasant village, Oriane slowed to a trot, and although Cally had been there quite a few times, she looked forward to observing it with fresh eyes. She remarked, “I can’t believe we’re already here!”

“It’s kind of a long walk,” Derrick commented. “I know you’re used to it, but I figured we needed as much time as we can get here.”

“True! I need to go back before supper.” Cally cringed at the thought of returning to Dregs Hollow to carry out her dull daily routine. “Unless we can break the curse before sun down!”

Derrick told her, “I’ll do my best!” as the strode into Bohemma.

A lot of people in the kingdom looked down on the peasant village, but Cally always found it quaintly charming. The sandy-colored stone walls looked so sturdy, and even the slightly dilapidated wooden beams still looked like they were in better shape than the ones in Dregs Hollow! The people who traveled this road greeted each other pleasantly as they passed by one another, something which she almost never saw in her own town! Children played together on the streets, and neighbors gathered together to converse, which made her wonder why the people of Dregs Hollow couldn’t get along like that! Cally could tell that even though the people there didn’t have a lot of money, they were really happy with the life they had in Bohemma. She pondered whether or not the inhabitants here knew just how lucky they had it!

As Derrick and Cally rode through the streets, people stopped what they were doing to watch them as they went by. At first, she worried that they somehow knew of her freakish alter ego, but then she observed that they didn’t look disgusted at her. She got so used to being the subject of gossip in Dregs Hollow and Camellia’s Circus that it took her a minute to realize that they weren’t judging them at all. Quite the contrary, actually! People gazed at them admirably, and a lot of them even smiled and waved. Cally mentioned to Derrick, “Wow, you have a lot of friends here!”

“No, I haven’t met most of the people here,” Derrick genially countered her statement. “They see we’re on a horse with a royal seal, so they know we’re someone important.”

“We?” Cally reacted incredulously. “No, they’re paying respect to you. I’m no one special!”

“First of all, that’s not true,” Derrick differed. “You’re an extraordinary lady, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise! Second, they’re definitely talking about both of us. Listen closely!”

Cally didn’t believe him, but she did as he had suggested. She had expected to hear them talk about him since he was a prince, but she heard one woman ask her friend, “Is that a princess?”

“Oh, look!” a little boy gasped. “A princess!”

She heard more and more people call her a princess, and it made her want to cry! Derrick smirked and said, “I think they’re more excited to see you than they are to see me!” Cally actually did shed a happy tear after that!

They came across a man in a uniform with a badge, so Derrick steered the horse towards his direction and addressed him, “Excuse me, Constable!” The constable heeded his attention towards Derrick. “Where can we find your hall of records?”

“Go straight down this road and turn right at the fork. You’ll see our courthouse on the left,” the constable informed him.

“Thank you, sir!” Derrick nodded his head respectfully, and the constable did the same in return before they continued on their way.

When they turned down the street that the constable had indicated, they saw that they had a somewhat large government building amongst a row of shops and restaurants. They stopped in the front of the courthouse, and as Derrick tied Oriane to a hitching post, he asked her, “This is it, this is where we’ll get some answers! Are you excited?”

“I can’t wait to find out what he’s been hiding!” she exclaimed.

They entered the building eagerly, and they saw two stories where a large common area led to several different hallways. A couple of rooms stemmed off the main room as well as a window that had the label “Records” above it. They walked over to the clerk behind this window, and the clerk gave them a friendly greeting, “How can I help you?”

Derrick requested, “We’d like to look through the missing person files from thirty years ago.”

The clerk’s eyes grew wide, and the color disappeared from her face. “I’m sorry, this office is now closed!” She rolled a metal cover down to shut them out.

Derrick and Cally looked at each other peculiarly, and then Cally asked, “So, now what?”

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 6

Great!” Derrick grinned broadly. “When would you be available to go?”

Cally replied, “Unfortunately, I’m not sure yet. Ringmaster Claude doesn’t let us know our schedule until after we collect our wages at the end of the night. I don’t get a lot of days off either. Hmm, this could be a problem! How will I let you know that I’m free?”

“Easy,” Derrick told her. “I’ll wait outside of the gates each night to see when you’re able to go.”

“That makes sense!” Cally responded, and then she remembered, “Oh, I’ll have to find an excuse to run an errand in Bohemma. Reisseck doesn’t let me leave whenever I want. Most of the time, if I have a day off, I end up doing chores all day. What if he doesn’t let me leave?”

Derrick suggested, “Couldn’t you lie and say you have work that day?”

“I tried that once.” Cally explained, “When I came home that night, he asked me for my wages, and when I had none, he was furious! I can’t do that again!”

“What does he do to you when he’s angry?” Derrick’s eyes were full of concern just as they had been that day by the lake.

Cally construed, “He doesn’t beat me, he usually just takes away something that gives me comfort like fresh food or one of the books.”

Derrick perked up at that last part. “Oh, you like to read?”

Cally’s eyes lit up. “I love it! They take me to another world where good always triumphs over evil and dreams actually come true! Whenever things get rough, they give me hope for a better future! Reading what happens to a character almost gives me a sense of purpose, like I have to find out what happens to them next! I couldn’t have made it this far in life if I didn’t have books!”

“Me too!” Derrick gushed, “when I fall on hard times, they renew my spirits and give me the strength to get through it.” Cally gave him an inquisitive look, so he inquired, “What?”

“Oh, it’s a bit silly,” she answered him, “But I always thought royals had it so easy since they’re at the top of the social chain. It never occurred to me that you guys had any stress at all! I mean, the way I read about kings and queens, if you become royalty you win in life. Now it seems a little illogical to believe that. You’re human, so of course you have problems too!”

“Don’t beat yourself up for thinking that,” Derrick assured her. “Most people do. And I suppose it depends on which you’re leader you’re talking to. Some monarchs just lounge around the palace and make people wait on them hand and foot, but for the rest of us, running a kingdom is difficult work! And being wealthy and well known doesn’t guarantee a healthy social life. I myself find it a bit lonely.”

Cally found this claim surprising. “But, you’re so nice and you’re around people all day, so how can you…?” When the words left her mouth, she realized something and amended her original thought, “Actually, you sound like me!”

Derrick agreed, “Exactly! It almost hurts worse this way. In my case, many people want to befriend me for my position, but not a lot of people care about me as a person. It’s very common for people in high positions. It can get depressing not having the opportunity to do things that normal people get to do like that. As a matter of fact, there’s a prince in the book I’m reading going through this. He actually trades places with a commoner just to see what it’s like to live a normal life.”

“I know how that feels!” Cally commented. Then she added, “Your book sounds fascinating!”

Derrick pulled the book out of his pocket and handed it to her. “Here, you can borrow it. When you get to the part I’m at, we can find out what happens in the end together.”

“Okay!” Cally chirped. As she took a hold of the book, she gazed at it like she was holding a piece of treasure. Dregs Hollow didn’t have a library, so she could only read the antique books that Reisseck could add to his collection. She had read them all several times too. Now she had a chance to read a new book, and it thrilled her! “Thank you!”

“You’re very welcome!” he said very cordially. He cleared his throat to prompt himself back to the original topic. “When you get a day off, tell Reisseck you’re working all day, and I’ll give you your full day’s worth of wages.”

“Deal!” Cally affirmed.

Suddenly, they heard footsteps on the carousel, and a moment later, they heard Claude’s voice ask, “Cally? How’s it going in there?”

“I’m almost done!” She swung back up to the structure and began tinkering with it as loud as she could so that Claude could hear it.

Claude reacted, “Good! When you’re finished, I have someone coming for an afternoon shift who can run the ride. The person doing the Flying Horses is leaving soon. After your break, can you go there?”

Cally cringed at that request, but she did her best to convey cheerfulness when she spoke, “No problem!” After he walked out of earshot, Cally asked Derrick, “So, what are you going to do for the rest of the day?”

Derrick pretended to think about it. “Hmm… How will I amuse myself in an amusement park?”

“Okay, wise guy!” Cally laughed, and he, too, chuckled. “I’m going to do a test run of the carousel, and afterwards, we can-.”

“Can I take a ride?” Derrick requested enthusiastically. He dialed his sentiments down a bit and added, “I’d like to see the results of your handiwork.”

“If you’re excited for the ride, you don’t got to make up excuses!” Cally remarked. Derrick sheepishly and non-verbally admitted that he wanted to go on the carousel ride, which made them both titter. “I will need a ticket though.” Derrick looked mildly surprised, so she clarified, “I’ll get in trouble if I give you a free ride.”

“Far enough!” He pulled out a small sack of coins and sifted through them. He handed Cally a gold coin and informed her, “This is the smallest denomination I have.”

“That’s enough for twenty rides.” Cally smiled as she told him, “I think Ringmaster Claude will get mad if I test the ride that many times!”

“Say no more!” Derrick stepped out of the little door, hopped onto the carousel, and surveyed the scene. He saw a small group of kids and yell to them, “Hey, who wants a free ride on the carousel?” The children looked ecstatic at the chance and ran over. He counted them as they entered and noted, “We need a few more.” He saw a few kids who were obviously from Dregs Hollow and invited them, “Would you guys like to ride?” They seemed astonished that he would even ask them. “Yeah, you guys! Come join us!” They entered the ride with a joyful disbelief, and Cally surveyed the scene beaming at Derrick admirably.

At the end of the day, Cally found Derrick outside and sadly revealed, “Sorry, I have to work all day tomorrow.”

“That’s okay!” Derrick pat her shoulder reassuringly. “I’ll check back with you tomorrow. Can I walk you home?”

Cally unwillingly had to decline. “I wish you could, but the sentries that guard the village would see you. I think it’s best for Reisseck to think all is normal so he doesn’t know much we suspect about him.”

“Good idea!” he complimented her. “Can I bring you part of the way home?”

“It’s not far from here,” she regretfully told him.

Derrick looked a little disappointed, but he didn’t manifest it in his voice. “Well then, until tomorrow, my lady!” He half bowed to her.

“Bye Derrick!” Cally found it hard to peel herself away, and Derrick hesitated as well. Eventually, they both forced themselves to and wen their separate ways.

As Cally walked through Dregs Hollow, she noticed that people were staring at her peculiarly as though they didn’t understand her, but, for the first time, she found that she didn’t care about their opinions. Her mind had so much more to think about than their vapid ideas, so she didn’t pay close attention to them. Her thoughts stayed on all of the events that took place until the green skinned woman who was at her house recently blocked her path. “You’re glowing!”

“I am?” Cally checked the skin on her hands to verify this. “Oh, I thought someone put a spell on me!”

The green skinned woman eyed her suspiciously. “Why are you in such a good mood? You’re up to something, aren’t you?”

Cally realized that she had never walked through Dregs Hollow without looking completely miserable, and she made a mental note to keep this in mind in order to maintain her cover. She lied to that woman, “Oh, calm down, Cloris! I got a new book from a customer, so I’m a little excited, that’s all.” Cloris seemed somewhat mollified by this, so Cally continued on her way.

When she got home, she did her best to portray depression for Reisseck. She brushed past Reisseck, who sat in his armchair, kept her head down, and went straight to the dining area to prepare his supper. He put down the newspaper he had been reading and gruffly asked, “How was your day?”

She tersely answered, “It was fine.”

He then cautiously followed with, “Did you have anymore questions about yesterday…?”

“No,” Cally fibbed, “Your explanation made sense.” Reisseck bought it and continued reading his newspaper.

Three more times, Derrick waited for her after work, and twice she had to tell him that she had to work all day. Each time she met with him though, they chit-chatted for quite a bit before they departed. Cally loved having something to look forward to at the end of the day, and for the first time in her life, someone wanted to hear from her and cared about what she had to say, so she savored it. She really began to enjoy Derrick’s company, and she started to grow more and more anxious to spend more time with him for their all day excursion to Bohemma. Finally, Claude shocked her when he told her to take a day off, and she practically skipped to Derrick to tell him, “I don’t work tomorrow!”

“Excellent!” Derrick reacted merrily. “Then I’ll meet you on the path by that lake in the morning!”

“Great!” Cally grinned. They were both excited, but they also felt the weight of the importance of what this journey really meant for themselves and what they could potentially discover about Lacoria’s past…

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 5

Cally made sure to keep her hood completely over her face and kept her head as far down as she could. When she got to the gates of Dregs Hollow, she didn’t even make eye contact with the sentries guarding it. She usually got ridiculed or teased by them, and she didn’t know if it was due to her posture or an aura she gave off, but they didn’t give her a hard time that day. Perhaps they thought it wouldn’t amuse them as much to hurt someone who was already pretty far down, she had no idea because she didn’t see their faces at all as she entered into the village. She didn’t meet anyone’s eye; she went straight home because she needed answers right away!

When she got to her home, she could hear that Reisseck had company, so she kept her head down as she went inside. The room went silent when she came in, and a woman in all black and green skin sneered, “Oh, look who finally decided to come back! Did you forget that you needed to make your master’s dinner?” The other people in the room snickered.

Cally found Reisseck by his worn, brown boots and his musky stench. She stood next to him and stated, “Reisseck, I need to talk to you.”

She couldn’t see his expression, but she could tell from his tone that her remark had incensed him. He tried to maintain a cheery tone for his guests as he responded to her, “Cally, I’m a little busy, so it will have to-”

“Now!” She gazed at him so that only could see her face.

Reisseck’s eyes went wide as he stared at her smooth, unobstructed visage. He told the rest of the room, “Will you please excuse us?” They seemed confused, so he added, “I’ll explain later.” They still found the situation odd, but they complied with his wishes. He got up and from behind his door, he watched them leave the area. When they were alone, he slowly shut the door and nervously turned to Cally. “You didn’t drink your potion?”

After she jerked her hood off, she vociferated, “I tripped and spilled the entire bottle! Then I’m lying there thinking I’m going to die…” she decided to leave out the part about Prince Derrick. She didn’t know why, but she felt as though Reisseck would get made if he knew she had talked to him. If Derrick’s theory proved true, Reisseck could target him, and she didn’t want any harm to come to Derrick. Plus, she didn’t want Reisseck to blame Derrick for her suspicions. The more she thought about the situation, the more she realized that Reisseck had been hiding the truth from her, and she now felt infuriated at his lies. She didn’t want Reisseck to think others were investigating him and become defensive either, she wanted his unfiltered explanation. She thought that maybe he had a good excuse for it all, but she didn’t see how that was possible. “…Then I see my reflection in the lake and I found out what’s really been going on for thirty three years! Why would you do this to me?”

Reisseck assured her, “I didn’t do this to hurt you! When I found you, I couldn’t leave you in the forest to die, but a human child could never survive in Dregs Hollow, so I had to change your appearance for your own protection!”

His reasoning made sense, but she wasn’t totally sold yet. She flashed her palm at him and questioned, “What about this? You told me you put that binding spell on me because the king allowed knights to take the disfigured to Barlock’s dungeons for torture, life imprisonment, or even murder. But if they had captured me, they wouldn’t have given me that potion, so they would have seen my true appearance eventually! So, why did you really bind me to you?”

“So you wouldn’t run away,” he explained. “I can’t afford to buy another servant, this was the only way.”

“But, if I already depended on you for a life saving potion that no one else knows how to make, then you didn’t need to bind me to you,” Cally argued. “I would have felt bound to you no matter what! Okay, yes, I did try to run away as a kid, but I knew that if I couldn’t find a cure by the time I finished the vial, I would have had to come back. You could have hired an adult servant in the first place and traded their services for room and board, lots of people do that. An adult servant would have already known how to do all of your chores, but you decided to take a baby and slowly teach it to do your bidding? Why? And why me?”

“Fine, you want the truth?” he spat. “Your grandfather went through the land claiming that he had a daughter who could spin straw into gold. One day, a lord decided to punish him for his lies by taking his daughter to his dungeon. He told him if she couldn’t make it happen in three days, he would have her executed. I heard about this and couldn’t let an innocent woman get punished for his mistakes! I snuck into the dungeons and told her that I could help her, but the only way the magic would work is if she promised me her first born child. She agreed, and the spell work, I saved her life. When the lord came with the judge and executioner, he felt so astonished that she had actually made it happen that instead of having her killed, he married her right then and there. Not long after that, you were born, and they had no problems whatsoever with giving you up. I had no choice but to bind you to me. If I undo it, she’d die! It wouldn’t be right to let her get killed in exchange for your freedom, even if she isn’t the most morally upright person in the world!”

Cally still looked skeptical. She knew that he could perform incredible magic, but this seemed a little far fetched even for his prodigious skills. “My parents are noblemen, huh? Over what area?”

“I’d rather not tell you,” Reisseck replied. “I don’t want you to go looking for them! They don’t want you, and they would only hurt you.” Cally didn’t say anything, so he brusquely changed the subject, “Now, to keep you and your mother alive, I need to make more transfiguring potion. You’ll be at work when you have to take it in the morning, so make sure to take your break around that time.”

“Normal people work at Camellia’s Circus,” Cally brought up. “Why can’t I-?”

“People of our village work there!” Reisseck reminded her. Cally couldn’t think of any other argument at the moment, so she sat in the dining area in silence as he brewed it. She dreaded altering her appearance and sorely wished that she could find an excuse not to do it. She started thinking about his explanation for this, which prompted her to mull over all of his other stories. The more she thought about it, the less he made sense. She didn’t know where to go from here though, and until she figured it out, she supposed she would have to continue her routine as normal.

The next day, Cally looked at the task list and saw that she got assigned to the carousel, which surprised her since it was an easy ride to operate. “Alright, what’s the catch?” Claude handed her a toolbox, and she inwardly groaned.

Cally pushed past the various animals on movable poles and found a small door on the cylindrical structure that made up the middle of the machine. She went inside its core and found several places that needed to get worked on. She grabbed a couple of tools and climbed to the top of the structure. As she worked, she heard a familiar voice say, “Nice tentacles!”

She looked down and saw Derrick standing by the little door! She inquired, “How did you find me?”

Derrick explained, “Well, I knew that some disfigured people worked at Camellia’s Circus, so I started going over my entire day to see if I could recall seeing you. I remembered wanting to ride the Ferris wheel, but every time I passed by it, it was always closed for repairs. Then I realized I had seen someone in a red cloak fixing it.” Cally didn’t say anything, but he could tell she was mildly impressed. “So, did you ask Reisseck about the curse?”

As Cally climbed to another section of the carousel’s inside structure, she admitted, “You were probably telling the truth. His story didn’t seem very believable.” As she tightened up some gears, she told him, “He said my grandfather bragged that he had a daughter who could spin straw into gold, and some lord decided to punish him by throwing her in a dungeon and giving her three days to make it happen or he’d have her killed. So, Reisseck snuck into the dungeon and apparently could do it but only if she promised him her first born child. So, she agreed to it, and Reisseck made it happen before the lord came back. When he saw she had done it, he married her. Soon after that, they had me and quite gladly gave me up.”

Derrick shared her skepticism, “I see… Why would anyone marry the person ready to kill them over such a trivial matter?”

“Yes! But that’s not even the strangest part!” Cally remarked as she moved to another part of the machine that needed fixing. “He wouldn’t tell me their names or what land they presided over! He claimed he didn’t want me to go looking for them because they want nothing to do with me and meeting them would only hurt me. He never explained why they were so keen on giving up their child or why he chose my mother’s life over mine! Reisseck never does anything so selfless, so who is this woman that moved him to produce that kind of compassion? I don’t think it would be hard to narrow it down since Lacoria only has a handful of nobles. Doesn’t he realize that by not telling me who they are that it wouldn’t take long to go to all of the lords and ladies in the kingdom and figure out which one gave up a baby because of some spell?”

Derrick pointed out, “But you can’t go looking for them because you can only go a certain distance away from where he is because of the binding spell. Does he do a lot of traveling?”

“No, he doesn’t!” Cally replied. “He hardly ever leaves Dregs Hollow. The furthest I can go to is Bohemma.” Cally hung suspended in mid swing as something dawned on her. “Maybe my parents live in Bohemma!”

“Either that or they have a strong connection to the area,” Derrick agreed. He saw her facial blemishes start to disappear, and Cally noticed this focus, so she sat on a beam and pulled out the transfiguring potion. “He’s not here, you don’t have to take that.”

“People from Dregs Hollow work here,” she begrudgingly expressed. “They wouldn’t be kind to a human being living there.”

“But normal people work here too,” Derrick reasoned. “How would they even know it was you?”

Cally thought that he had a point and put the bottle back in her pocket. “He must be worried that my real parents would recognize me and I’ll know where I really come from.”

“I’d like to take you to Bohemma,” Derrick proposed. “We’ll see if anyone recognizes you, but even if they don’t, we can search through their records to see if anything strange happened around your birthday. Maybe we can re-interview some of the potential witnesses and see if we can get some new clues. If he’s proven to be telling the truth, I won’t bother you anymore. But if we find out he’s lying, we can figure out the facts and find a way to get you out of there. What do you say? Are you in?”

Cally contemplated it for a moment, and she knew couldn’t let this issue go. She’d always end up thinking about it, and she wouldn’t be satisfied until she knew the truth. She swung off the beam and landed in front of Derrick. “I’m in!”

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 4

The man in fine clothing peered out at the lake through the brush and saw a woman in a red cloak lying down on the ground, so he rushed over to see if she was alright. When he got close, he cautiously inquired, “Miss? Miss! Are you okay?” Cally inwardly groaned. She didn’t want to hear any taunting or ridicule from a normal person right before she died and hoped that it would happen sooner so that she would not have to endure it. Once his words sunk in more, she found the strong timbre of his voice almost comforting. He sounded very kind, which sort of confused her. People so rarely worried about her well being, so this felt both refreshing and strange…

Suddenly, even though her eyes were closed, she saw a shadow hovering over her face. She opened her eyes to see a man with smooth, bronzed skin as well as deep, light blue eyes and short, wavy, dark brown hair staring at her with concern. For a moment, she enjoyed waking up to find such a handsome man at her side, but then she remembered what her own face looked like and bolted up in terror. “Stay back!” she cried out.

“I’m sorry I frightened you!” he apologized. “I just wanted to make sure you’re alright.”

“I’m fine!” she mulled it over for a moment and then corrected herself, “Actually, I’m not fine. I’m dying…”

The man gasped, “I’m so sorry! Could I give you a ride to an infirmary? Maybe they can save you!”

Although Cally refused to show him her face again, she did sense his sincerity in wanting to help her. She felt moved by his compassion, but she couldn’t understand why he would want to save her. Patrons of Camellia’s Circus had seen her get hurt and laughed about it, so she felt surprised by such an authentic care for her. She wondered if it was a trap of some sort and began to grow suspicious of him. “An infirmary won’t help me. I’ve been cursed and we don’t know what hex did it. I’ve been taking a potion twice a day since I was a baby to stay alive and I’ve just spilled it all. I don’t have much time left.”

As the words left her lips, she felt as though she were lying. Reisseck made sure she took the potion exactly on time, not one minute longer, and yet nothing seemed to be happening. Actually, she felt a little better than she did before, lighter and a little stronger, but she couldn’t explain why. The man didn’t seem to buy her claim either, but he humored her, “Well, is there a next of kin that I can inform?”

“No!” Cally didn’t like to get reminded just how alone in the universe she was, and with her hideous visage, she didn’t get why he thought anyone would miss her if she perished. Reisseck would probably miss the money she brought in and feel irritated he would have to take care of the house himself, but other than that, it hurt to think no one would have cared if she didn’t exist anymore. “I’m a mere servant, I have no one.”

“Really?” He sounded puzzled by that statement. “I have plenty of servants, but they all have families who would miss them. I would be saddened to hear if they died as well.” Cally felt a little intrigued by a man who allegedly had multiple servants and really pondered who she might have been talking to now. “Do you have a husband?”

Cally bitterly laughed at that question. “You’re mocking me now!”

“No!” the man insisted.

“You’ve seen my face!” Cally snapped. “Why would anyone want to marry me?”

The man, utterly bewildered, responded, “You’re joking right?” Cally didn’t understand his attitude and couldn’t help but turn around to see if he truly meant it. He had a look of total incomprehension and a fierce worry for her. “Why wouldn’t a man want to marry you? You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen!”

Cally didn’t think he could possibly be telling the truth with that. While she knew beauty meant something different to each person, she couldn’t see a man of his caliber actually finding her that attractive. “You’re lying! You are mocking me!”

The man, completely baffled, stood there trying to understand her perplexing behavior, but when he saw a patch of wet ground, he remembered that she had spilled potion there and suddenly, something clicked for him. “Look at your reflection in the water.”

“Why on Earth would I want to do that?” Cally spat. “Do you think I like looking at my tentacles?Or the warts?”

“You don’t have any tentacles!” the man stated firmly. “Or warts.”

“You’re lying again! You’d have to be blind not to see that my face is covered with…” She pointed to her face to and should have touched one of her tentacles, and she got completely thrown off when she didn’t! She timidly felt her forehead, and she could hardly believe to discover its total smoothness! She ran her fingers all over her face and didn’t feel any blemishes! She ran to the lake, and when she saw her reflection, she almost screamed in astonishment! She could see her eyes for the first time, and she never knew they were a stunning golden brown! The man was right about her looks, she did have a beautiful face! She always dreamed of having a face like this, and it actually made her tear up to see it.

The man smiled warmly to see her cry happily like that. “I think that potion altered your appearance.”

Cally didn’t know what to believe at that moment. For over thirty years, she never really liked Reisseck, but the one redeeming feature he had was the work he did to make her the potion that she thought she depended on to stay alive, but now it appeared as though he had lied to her! It seemed like such a crazy thing to do that it just couldn’t be real! “Why would he want to do that?”

The man conjectured, “Usually, if someone disguises themselves, they’re trying to hide something. If he disguised you, then there’s a reason he’s trying to keep you hidden from the world.”

“Why would he do that?” Cally thought that explanation made sense, but she still couldn’t think of a logical reason as to what would motivate Reissekc to pull a stunt like that.

The man contemplated this for a moment. “Hmm… It’s hard to say. How long have you known him?”

“My whole life,” Cally replied. “I’ve been with him since I was three days old, and I’ve never seen any reason why he’d do that. I mean, I never really questioned him keeping me hidden because I was so disfigured that I didn’t want to get seen, but those disfigurements aren’t real, so why would he…?” Cally’s head felt too overloaded with all this new information, making it hard for her to think. “I’m just an orphan, I’m nothing special, why would he…?”

The man jumped in, “Where were you in the first three days of your life?”

Cally shrugged. “I have no idea. Reisseck told me he found me abandoned in the woods. He had no idea who my parents could have been because no one in the world looked like me. But if he altered my face, then I guess that couldn’t be true. I suppose my parents could have abandoned me for other reasons, but then why bother to disguise me?”

“Maybe he didn’t find you abandoned in the woods,” the man theorized. “Lots of people go missing each day, and sometimes it just takes one little clue to figure out what happened to them. Your parents could have vanished, and your true identity could prove key to finding them.”

“Maybe…” Cally considered this notion. “But that would mean that Reisseck… I’ll have to ask him about it when I see him tonight.”

The man remarked, “I don’t feel comfortable letting you go to someone who could be a potential criminal. You should come with me, I’ll keep you safe.”

Cally had always dreamed of an opportunity to get away from Dregs Hollow, and she dearly wished that she could go with him, but unfortunately, she had to turn him down. “If I could get away from him, I would have done so a long time ago. But you see this?” She showed him the star on her left palm. “I’m magically bound to stay near him. If I go too far from wherever he is, I freeze up. Maybe it doesn’t matter why my parents left, either way, I’m stuck with him!”

“But maybe if we solved that mystery, we could figure out a way to break the spell,” the man pointed out. “At the very least, we could figure out who you truly are.”

“Who I truly am?” Cally echoed. “You don’t even know who I am! And I don’t know you. How do I know you didn’t do a spell to tempt me into helping you?”

The man laughed, “I think the people of Andor would have noticed if their future king could do magic!”

“No way!” Cally reacted in shock. “You’re not…!”

He half bowed to her. “Prince Derrick, at your service!”

Cally didn’t believe him and now truly thought that he was trying to trick her. “Yeah, right! The prince of Andor just happened to be in this remote area and just found me by chance?”

Derrick refuted the notion of any ill intentions on his part, “I went to Camellia’s Circus to take a break. I often come to Lacoria because Queen Avalyn often travels and King Henrick’s mind has been in and out in terms of sanity ever since his daughter died. Queen Avalyn is still in denial about it, she actually searches the world trying to find her! It’s sad really. Well, anyways, I just needed a break from my royal duties. I’ve heard good and bad things about Camellia’s Circus, so I decided to check it out for myself. I was just heading back when I heard you shout. If something foul happened to your parents, I owe it to the kingdom to find out what. When I go back to Barlock, I’ll search through the records to see if any newspapers mention you. Can I have your name?”

“No, you can’t! It’s getting late, I need to get home!” Cally turned to run away.

“Wait!” Derrick called after her. “Please, let me help you!” Cally ignored him and ran through the thick of the trees like her life depended on it. He followed her, but since she knew this area much more than he did, she was able to weave her way out faster than he did. By the time he got back to the path, she had gone completely out of sight!

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 3

She walked through the streets of Dregs Hollow and glanced at the buildings as she passed by them. She had spent her whole life staring at these tacky buildings and often wondered how their flimsy structure kept on standing all these years in spite of bad weather and general rough housing. They rarely tipped over though, it always stayed the same. The same was true for the rest of the town as well. Unlike other places she had visited, witches and people with overt mutations roamed freely. Even the most normal looking people had an air of dottiness to them. She thought this commonality of being outcasted would have bound the inhabitants together, but most of the people there kept to themselves. Some of them formed cliques, but it mostly stemmed from that providing the easiest way to spread gossip. She saw that unfold in front of her at that moment as she walked down the road. She wore a red cloak with a hood that covered her face, but everyone still knew it was her. She sincerely wished that more of her neighbors would form friendships and deep bonds, but she didn’t have high hopes of that happening any time soon. She would even settle for the ability to walk down the street without getting talked about, but she didn’t see that happening any time soon either.

She came to the large, wooden fence that bordered the only entrance in and out of Dregs Hollow, and the two sentries leered at her. One sentry taunted her, “Oh look, it’s Cally! Off to work at Camellia’s Circus again? Too good to get a job in Dregs Hollow?” The two sentries snickered.

Cally blinked her eyes and coolly retorted, “Camellia’s Circus is lower than the peasant village, so if they’re on a higher tier, what does that make Dregs Hollow?”

The sentries did not like that comment, and the other sentry growled, “Hey, watch it!”

“Are you going to move? Or would you like to tell Reisseck why I lost a day’s worth of wages?” Cally folded her arms and waited expectantly. They reluctantly opened the doors, and she pushed past them as she exited the gates.

The farther she got from Dregs Hollow, the prettier the forest became. The lush trees provided a nice, cool shade, and Cally could hear the echo of birds singing on the branches above her. She cleared her head and really soaked in the scenery. Between the chaos at work and the drudgery at home, the walks she took provided her a much needed sense of peace and freedom. Books did that for her too, but she struggled to find time for that sometimes. The Oreads forest had a distinctively magical quality to it, and she would find excuses to spend more time there. She didn’t have time this morning though, so she kept on walking towards her job.

The path led to a bench with a trash bin next to it, and today the bench had people waiting for their nearby carriage, so Cally cut across the grass to avoid eye contact with them. She saw the iron bars that surrounded the park, and she always thought that the dreary fence sharply contrasted the circus tents that hung over the carnival games and ride entrances. She walked along the railing to the employee entrance, which she always hated using. Their assigned tasks were always pinned to the door of the boss’s office, which was at the back of the ticket booth of the public entrance at the opposite end of the employee’s entrance! She felt disappointed when she came to the locked door. Every day, she sort of hoped that it would disappear so that she wouldn’t have to work that day! Even after fifteen years of working there, she had never gotten used to the hard work and drama that went into her job each day. She didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life, but she knew it wasn’t that. She took out her key to let herself in and sighed as she mentally prepared herself for another hectic day.

As she passed each ride, she wondered where she would be assigned today. She passed the Flying Horses first, which had eight winged stallions that were connected to a giant cylindrical structure. A large bar protruded from it, which she would push to propel the ride forward. She was glad that it had pads beneath the ride that made it easier to push it forward! Next, she passed by some carnival games, but she rarely got assigned to those because her boss gave the easier tasks to the lazier employees. He figured that it would be a waste of time putting them on the harder jobs since they wouldn’t actually do the work, and Cally really wished that he would crack the whip a little more and force everyone to do equal work. She passed by the roller coaster next, which she didn’t like much either. She had toe release a brake and pedal a bike that prompted the wheels on the track to go forward, pushing the cars up the hill with centrifugal force and gravity taking care of the rest. Most of the other rides ran on steam-powered electricity, but she hardly ever got assigned to those. She always hoped for the best but expected the worst!

When she got to the small ticket booth, she saw that most of her coworkers were gathered in the back, so she assumed that the task list hadn’t been put up yet. The majority of the people that worked there were also from Dregs Hollow, but they weren’t as disfigured as her. The townsfolk didn’t judge them for working here though, so she didn’t know why they gave her such a hard time for doing so! Everyone gave her a reproachful look, but she didn’t feel it was necessary because she knew better than to hover too close to them. She lingered a safe distance behind them and waited to see the task list last, a daily routine that never motivated her to arrive early. Finally, a man in a ringmaster’s costume stepped out of his small office and pinned a piece of parchment to the door. Everyone except for Cally got excited about what they would potentially do for that day.

When it came to Cally’s turn, she looked down the list and felt a jolt of surprise to see that she got assigned to the Ferris wheel! “Ringmaster Claude, the Ferris wheel is working again?”

Claude replied, “It’s mostly done, but it gets kind of glitchy. You’ll need to bring a tool kit.” As he handed it to her, she tried not to groan out loud. She started to head over to to it when Claude added, “Oh, Cally!” She turned around hoping he didn’t give her yet another task to do. “Don’t forget to smile!” Cally had no idea how he could tell she wasn’t smiling since she had her hood up, but she complied with his direction until he was out of sight.

If the twin steam engines weren’t so faulty, this ride would have been easy for her to operate. It would work for a little while, but then she would constantly have to close the ride for maintenance. Sometimes passengers were stuck on the top of the wheel when the ride stopped, so she felt great pressure to work quickly. Sometimes she even had to climb up the structure to oil some gears or tighten up a loose screw. The patrons liked to yell at her for these inefficiencies as if it were her fault, but if it were up to her, she would shut down such an unsafe machine! Just like any other task in her life, she had no choice but to follow orders!

By the end of the day, she could hardly move, so it took a great deal of effort to make it back to the ticket booth. Claude had already begun to hand out their daily wages, and he would to the recipient what time they were to come in the next day. Sometimes people only worked mornings or would get randomly assigned to an evening only shift. If they were lucky, he would give them the day off. Cally hardly ever got a half day or a day off, but a small part of her always hoped to hear good news. When it was finally her turn, she got disappointed when he told her that she had another full day tomorrow. She left already dreading the next day.

Cally never knew how long closing procedures would take, and today she found a bit of luck for herself in that she had a little extra time before she had to go home. When she exited Camellia’s Circus, she went in the opposite direction that she would if she had went home. After a little while, she came to a patch of trees and veered off the path. As she climbed over roots and brushed through the foliage, she saw a small lake in the distance. When she got close to the water, she pulled out her vial of potion that she took twice daily. As she pulled off the cork, she thought that she had already cleared all of the roots, so didn’t see this twig that protruded from the brush. The lace on her boot had caught onto the stick, and not only did she fall forward, but the entire contents of her vial spilled out! “No!” she cried out.

A man in very fine clothing rode his horse down the dirt road when he heard a woman yelling from the thick of the trees. Very concerned, he told his horse, “Woah!” He climbed off of the steed and quietly told it, “Wait here!” He cautiously went into the trees to investigate.

Cally’s head spun at that moment. The medicine that she depended on to survive had vanished into the ground beneath her! She panicked, she didn’t feel ready to die! She still had so much she wanted to accomplish, and she didn’t want to accept that this was it. She never had the chance to explore the world, make some friends, or fall in love, and it saddened her to think she never would. She had hoped that by the end of her lifetime that she would have done something to give her life more meaning, and she didn’t like that it had come to an end while she still felt so unimportant to the world. She wondered how much longer she had left. Reisseck had always insisted that she needed to take it right away each time, so she didn’t think she had too much time left. She considered herself lucky that at least she got to have it happen there by that beautiful lake instead of inside the ugly bowels of Dregs Hollow. She laid down on the grass and let the beautiful fall leaves surround her. She watched the sky and waited for the inevitable…

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 2

The shadowy figure emerged from the bushes just as daylight broke. The potion he made to keep the baby asleep was starting to wear off, and as she began to stir, he knew he had to get her away from the beaten path. As he traveled through the thick of the trees, he saw a small clearing in the distance. When he got closer, he saw a small lake that stood still enough to make him think that no one had set foot in that place for years. He had a couple of things to take care of before he went home, and this seemed like the perfect spot to do it.

As the infant laid down in the soft, green grass, she gazed up at an old man with a decrepit body, a pig-like snout, and patchy, sallow skin. As he studied her with his dark, beady eyes, she began to cry. He leered, “You don’t like my appearance? Well, too bad! I’m binding you to me until the queen can no longer bear children! Then the kingdom will be all mine!” The little baby couldn’t comprehend the song and dance that he now did in front of her, but she watched him intensely. When he got towards the end, she felt a warm wind envelope her body. A star appeared on her left palm, and the man cackled, “You’re bound to me now!”

The man picked her up and verified that his spell had worked by peering at the mark on her hand. He thought out loud, “It worked! You can’t get too far away from me now!” He ogled her little face, which looked like like any other baby’s except for the golden brown eyes. “Ugh! You have your mother’s eyes! We can’t have that, can we?” He gave her another potion to transfigure her appearance, and then he covered her with a blanket and headed out.

As he walked down the dirt road with the baby concealed in his arms, he began to grow more relaxed. No one besides him seemed to be in this area. Even as he gazed off the path and to his left, he saw that an amusement park had completely motionless rides. It was early enough in the morning where most people wouldn’t even think of waking up, so no one even stood outside to wait for the park to open. Even if someone had shown up on the path he walked on to question him, he knew that they had no chance of recognizing the baby at this point. He didn’t want to risk running into the royal guard if he could help it though. The amusement park told him he was almost home, so he began to speed up his gait.

He came up to a tall fence made from sturdy, wooden logs sealed together very uniformly. The center had two large doors secured by two sentries in slightly rusty armor and non-human faces. One had purple skin and the other had green. They both had grotesque horns and warts spattered erratically on their visage. They eyed the baby suspiciously, and one of them asked, “What’s that?”

“I’m going to raise her to become my personal servant,” he answered. The guards gave him a peculiar look, so he roared, “Step aside, you fools! Do you remember who you’re talking to?”

The second guard apologized, “Sorry, Reisseck, sir!” They half bowed as they opened the gates for him.

Reisseck walked through a village with crudely built houses that stood lopsidedly, some so much so that they swayed in the wind. The wood used to build them was mismatched and thin. The most coordinated objects on them were the thick shutters and corpulent doors. Some of the houses had rotted, or broken in some cases, fences with unkempt yards. The streets were empty at the moment save for a rat here and there. At the edge of the village, they came to a large, craggy hill. The structure itself appeared to have small windows peaking out at odd places on the wall. In front of the cavern entrance stood a sign that read “Tower of Tatarus” hung haphazardly above their heads. He went inside the dark foyer, and as he got further inside, he passed by several small and somewhat splintery doors. After many twists and turns, he came to the biggest hunk of rock, which had the only halfway decent door. He mockingly told the infant, “Welcome to Dregs Hollow!”

After Reisseck lit a candle, he searched around his living room, which was small and full of a lot of clutter. So many pieces of furniture just didn’t seem to have a proper place, and none of it matched. He had several odd and deformed knick-knacks strewn all about the area as well. He combed through his things until he found a peeling apple box and a scruffy, old blanket. “There! You have a crib!” He set the baby down and trudged over to a small corner that had a rickety table and as small fire pit. He took out his wand and started a fire. He put a cauldron on top just as the baby began to wail. “I’m making you food! Don’t worry, I won’t let you starve! I need you alive for a while!”

Not long after Reisseck arrived home, the royal guards of Lacoria arrived at the entrance to the village. The two sentries blocked their path, and one of them growled, “You’re not allowed to patrol in Dregs Hollow! We’ve been over this!”

The head of the royal guard pulled out a roll of parchment that had a red wax seal with a crown on it. “We have a decree from the king to search the grounds. If you don’t comply, we’ll have you thrown in the dungeons! Or, if you prefer, we can return with a fleet of knights! Which would you prefer?” The two sentries glared at them, but they begrudgingly stepped inside.

After scouring over the whole town, the royal guards came to the Tower of Tatarus. Reisseck sat coolly on a patchy recliner when they entered his home. One knight saw a bundle resting in the apple box, and he alerted the others, “There’s a baby here!”

Reisseck lied, “If you’re looking for a missing child from your realm, you’re wasting your time in my chambers! This one belongs here!”

“We’ll see about that!” another knight responded. They unwrapped the swaddle around the infant, and when they saw her face, they gasped in disgust! She had long, almost clear red suction cups that covered her eyes and red warts all over the rest of her face! Reisseck chuckled rapturously at their reaction.

The head of the royal guard sternly directed him, “If you see anyone with the missing princess, you better tell us!”

“Why would anyone bring a human here?” Reisseck taunted them. They gave him a dirty look before they left. Reisseck smiled broadly.

As soon as she learned to walk, he began to teach her to do housework. He had a fierce temper, and she found herself walking on eggshells when he was around. Reisseck gave her the transfiguring potion each day, but she grew up believing it was medicine that she needed to live. She never questioned it because she feared that he grow angry at her mistrust and quit making something her life depended on. When she reached school age, he didn’t want to let her get an education at first, but when he realized he could teach her to do more complex chores, he decided she should learn to read and write. Although the other kids in Dregs Hollow were also disfigured, they sensed her meek nature and teased her regularly. Without friends at school or love from her only parental figure, she grew up extremely lonely. Her only solace came from reading books. The selection of the town didn’t offer a lot, but it meant the world to her! It taught her that the world offered a different lifestyle than the miserable one she led, and she dreamed that one day she could find happiness too. She didn’t know how she would do it, but she vowed to herself to find a way to live a more meaningful life!

As she grew older, Reisseck allowed her to fetch items for him in the nearby villages. She kept a hood over her face the entire time and didn’t interact with anyone unless she had to. She feared Reisseck’s wrath, but she also worried about the reaction of the townsfolk when they saw her monstrous appearance. Still, she couldn’t help but get entranced by the humble routines of normal people. She saw lovers holding hands as they walked down the streets, friends happily chatting outside of cafes, workers either enjoying their jobs or enjoying complaining about them, and so much more, and she longed to experience such things! She teared up at the thought that these people got to live the lives that she could only read about because she had no idea how she would ever have a chance to experience these things. She tried running away a couple of times, but each time she tried, she found herself frozen solid, totally unable to move. She still felt determined to achieve her dreams, but she began to lose hope of ever making it happen.

Since he had a servant that took care of him, Reisseck became pretty sedintary. Except for brewing potions, all he did was sit around the house barking orders at her. Inhabitants of the village would often come to him for advice or to help them settle disputes, which he thoroughly enjoyed and would babble on for hours. In his mind, he became Dregs Hollow royalty. The feeling only grew when he allowed his servant girl to take a job since he would take her money to buy finer things for his house and his stomach. His belly grew almost as large as his ego! He felt very complacent with his life like this, and he felt pleased that no one ever questioned him about the missing princess again. Things were good for him, but all of this was about to change…

A Christmas Void, Chapter 15- The Surprise

Thanks, Dad! Now, dear readers, keep in mind while all of that was going on, I stood in the snow alone and sad. I had no idea what was coming! I convinced the bus driver to let Finn go on the bus so he didn’t freeze, but the driver wouldn’t let any humans on until the scheduled time. A few people waited for the bus with their loved ones, who said goodbye to them, and I watched them longfully. My family had already told me their goodbyes, but there was one person I never got to say goodbye to… I tried not to think about Isaac, but I couldn’t get him out of my head. It really hurt to keep him on my mind though because I thought, at this point, he officially got married to another woman. I didn’t think I’d ever see him again, but a small part of me hoped that he would come before it was too late. My last shred of hope got dashed when the driver finally let us board, and I tried to hide my tears as I mentally prepared for my new but lonesome new life in San Francisco.

As we slowly trudged onto the bus, I heard some squealing in the distance. As it got closer, it was clear that someone was driving erratically in the snow. The driver waited, figuring someone was rushing to get on board on time. As is is the case with almost any car stunt, everyone stopped to watch as a truck barreled through the snow towards us. When it got closer, I recognized my dad’s truck, but it felt odd for him to appear right now and in such a frantic fashion. When I saw who came out of the passenger side, I could have fainted! “Isaac?”

I stood still, totally stunned, but Isaac came up to me like doctors do in emergency rooms. He wasted no time in urgently telling me, “Look, I know you probably never wanna see me again, but I couldn’t let you leave without saying goodbye!”

I looked to the bus driver, who gruffly consented, “You have five minutes.” I turned back to Isaac, totally mesmerized by his presence.

Isaac woefully confessed everything, “I didn’t get married today! I don’t wanna be with Gryla! You were right- I don’t love her! I sacrificed a lot to make her feel loved, but truthfully, she didn’t make me happy. Actually, that’s the real reason I took the job at Millstone’s; I just wanted a little bit of freedom until I gave up the rest of my life for her. I always thought of her as my best friend, but thenI met you. You let me be myself, and you make me feel good about who I am. You made me smile when I felt stressed. You listened when I needed someone to hear me. You were there for me when I felt alone. I just liked being around you, feeling the warmth of your body, holding you in my arms… I love you! I won’t keep you from your dreams, but I just thought you should know that before you go!”

With a heavy heart, he turned around to let me leave, but clearly, it devastated him to let me go. I teared up at his beautiful words, but other than that, I felt so surprised that I couldn’t move. My heart beat wildly as my love for him resurfaced. The bus was set to leave, and I couldn’t give up my dream job. Even if I tried, I knew he wouldn’t let me. I had to go, but it wasn’t like I couldn’t see him again, right? I’d come back, especially when I sold my condo… Suddenly, inspiration struck me, and I knew what I had to do. I dug in my pocket, grabbed my key, and ran after him.

I got in front of Isaac and exclaimed, “Wait!” I handed him my keys. “Here!”

He gazed at the keys feeling a little more optimistic but still confused. “What’s this?”

“The keys to my condo,” I revealed. “Or, should I say, your condo!”

“What?” He seemed pleasantly surprised but didn’t totally grasp my concept yet.

I explained, “Gryla’s going to kick you out of your house, right? Well, now you have a place to go. And I’ll have a place to go when I come back here every weekend!” I emphasized the last part to show him how much time we could still have together. “I should’ve told you this a long time ago, I’ve fallen head over heals for you! You make me happier than I’ve ever been in my life! I can’t live without you in my life! I’m all yours! Whatever you need me for, I’ll be there! I’ll spend my whole life making you happy so you know just how much you mean to me! I just love you so much!”

“You love me?” he cried out in joy. “She loves me!” He wrapped his arms around me, lifted me up, and spun me around in a fast circle! I smiled so wide it almost hurt! After a few spins, he stood still and held me close. His eyes sparkled with tears of happiness, but they still gave me that same deep, intense stare that made my knees weak. My heart pounded rapidly as he leaned in close. I couldn’t believe it was finally happening! His lips met mine, and ecstasy raced through my whole body! His lips were strong but tasted so sweet! They fit so well with mine like they belonged together all along! We got so lost in our kiss that it took us a minute to realize that everyone who witnessed our moment was clapping!

The bus driver, trying to hide the fact he was wiping his eyes too, shouted, “Both of you, on the bus!”

“Both of us?” Isaac questioned.

The bus driver grinned. “Why not? It’s Christmas!”

I glanced at my watch and reacted, “It is Christmas!”

Isaac kidded, “Still want to void Christmas?”

“Of course not!” I laughed. “Especially now that you’re spending the night with me!”

My father remarked, “Ugh! Not something a dad wants to hear!”

“I didn’t mean it like that!” I blushed.

“Sure you didn’t!” Dad rolled his eyes but smiled. As the bus driver gently hurried us along, I ran hand in hand with Issac and gave my father a hug. After a quick embraced, he directed us, “Get out of here, you two! Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas!” we shouted as we ran to the bus. We sat in the seats behind where the driver put Finn, and for most of the ride, we were glued to each other like magnets! We couldn’t keep our hands to ourselves! There were no words to describe how happy we were, so we kept kissing! I got a dream career and a dream man, and I fell in love with Christmas all over again!

Epilogue

I want to finish this story with a message to you, dear readers. I wrote this book for anyone who is sad at Christmas. I went through almost twenty years of heartache and struggle. I faced failure and loneliness almost every day of the year. It hurts when you feel like you don’t belong somewhere and nothing seems to ever work out! I know how your feel- it went through it too! I know it hurts worse around the holidays too. You see a bunch of happy people and think why not me? I told you this story to show you that it’s never too late for your happily ever after. Keep chasing your dreams no matter how long it takes and no matter how hard your goals are to achieve! Even when things seem hopeless, DO NOT STOP TRYING! Sometimes good people have to wait longer for their version of happiness, but trust me, it’s worth the wait! One day could change everything! Don’t shut yourself out from the world like Aunt Sabine! Someday, if you keep working hard, you’ll make it! I didn’t think I could ever feel this happy either, and look at me now! A tip- it helps to surround yourself with people who support you. However, if no one else has said it to you today… I believe in you! Oh, and may all of your Christmas dreams come true!

Okay, fine, you twisted my arm. Eventually, Isaac moved to San Francisco and moved in with me. He works at an elementary school like he’s always wanted. He’s not a father yet, but don’t worry, it’ll happen soon! I’m finishing up this book in the parking lot of his classroom. I can see his kids holding papers behind their back, and they all look super excited. I’m almost positive they’re going to spell out “marry me,” and of course, I’m going to say yes! I’ll be sure to snap a bunch of pictures, and you’ll see the story once The Bay Area Bugle prints them! I can’t wait anymore, I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time! Thanks for reading! Bye!

The End