Seeing Christmas

Music boomed and lights twinkled.  Strands of magic floated effortlessly through the air, only to be soaked up by the ancient stone walls now festooned with tensile and evergreen.

The Christmas Dance.

The one Magik Prep Academy function I’d been dreaming of for weeks.  Tonight was the night Tyler Crawson would notice me. 

I’d had a crush on him for ages but lacked the courage to do anything about it.  Not tonight.

With my best friend Aida next to me and her pep talk still ringing in my ears, I gulped, trying to calm my frantic heartbeat.

“You’ve got this, Girl.”  Aida winked at me.  The flashing red and green lights bounced off her caramel-colored skin.  Her ebony hair, curled tight like tiny springs, absorbed the lights and shadows alike.  I wished it would absorb my anxiety.

“Breathe, Lainie.”  She looked me over once more and nodded in satisfaction.  “That red sequin dress is perfect.  You sparkle like fairy dust.”  Her lips pursed and she reached behind me and plucked a thread of opalescent magic from the air and swished it around the bottom of my dress.  “There.  Now you’re radiant.”  

 A bronze head bobbed on the other side of the room.  My heart seized.  

Target acquired.  

My knees knocked and sweat ghosted my palms. 

“I’m going to go make sure the werewolves haven’t spiked the punch.”  Aida was on the social committee.  The werewolves generally liked to party…alternatively to committee plans.  With a final squeeze to my shoulder she was off, and I was left staring at Tyler’s head as it dipped and weaved about the crowd.

The music was loud.  Too loud.  It vibrated up my legs.

I swept up a handful of my shimmery skirt so my feet wouldn’t tangle in the hem.  The opalescent string of magic soaked into my dress, straightening my back and giving me confidence.

I’d only gone a few bodies deep into the crowd when a hand reached out and snatched mine.

“Kieran!” I gasped as my other best friend released me.

“Lainie.  Wow.  You look…” he trailed off as his eyebrows rose to his dark hairline.  I couldn’t tell if it was the red lights or if the points of his ears colored slightly.  

Searching the crowd again, I found Tyler’s head.  He was only a few yards to my right.

“Looking for Tyler?” Kieran’s broke in dryly. 

“Yes.  Tonight he’s finally going to see me as more than the smart girl in math class,” I practically hissed between my teeth.

Kieran’s expression soured.  

“You don’t want him, Lainie.  You really don’t.”

Anger and the sting of unintended betrayal crept into my belly.  I glared at Kieran.  

“Laine?  Wow, looking hot, babe!”

The voice froze my blood and Kieran could probably see the whites of my eyes. 

Plastering a smile on my face that I hoped didn’t look deranged, I turned.

“Hey, Tyler.”  My voice came out higher than it should have.  Maybe he didn’t notice over the rumble of the music.

Without any preamble, Tyler grabbed my hand and put his other low on my waist and swung me onto the dance floor.

We danced for long glorious moments.  I was in ecstasy.  The song wasn’t particularly slow, but it wasn’t fast.  We moved together, faster than a slow dance, but no weird gyrating.  Which was fine, because it let me savor every second of Tyler’s hands on my waist.

When the song ended, Tyler’s copper-colored eyes gazed into mine.  My hand fisted into his lapel without my permission.  A smile crooked his lips as his eyes roved over my face and one eyebrow rose.  

Slowly he leaned down and his lips caressed my cheek and sent figurative fireworks shooting out my ears.

“Don’t go anywhere,” he whispered huskily against my ear.  “I’ll be back in a few.”

I’m pretty sure I grew roots right there on the parquet floor.

I don’t know how long I stood there like an idiot in the middle of the room, but I came to when Kieran tugged on my hand.

“Kieran, did you see?” I sighed.  “He’s glorious.”

Kieran snorted, his dark elf side showing in his pessimism.  

“You need to see something,” he muttered as he pulled me through the throng of students and out the arched doorway into the quiet corridor.

Kieran stopped us beside one of the heavy tapestries that lined the hallways outside the ballroom. 

“Look.  I…” he trailed off and ran a hand through his black hair.  “I don’t want to show you this but consider the truth my Christmas gift to you this year.”

My eyebrows drew together as he pulled me down the passageway.  We crept to the end where it was deserted.  He motioned with his head for me to look around the corner.

Unsure, I peeked out just enough to get an eyeful.

My hand flew to my silent mouth.  

There was the boy who’d kissed me moments before.  Who had looked at me like I was the center of the world.  The boy on whom I’d hung my hopes.

He was necking a gorgeous red-head.  And his hands…were not in appropriate places.  My eyes burned.

I sagged to a stone bench once we were far away from the snogging couple.  Kieran sat beside me.

“I’m sorry, Lainie.  He doesn’t see you.  Doesn’t know how special you are.”  He hesitated.  “Maybe you should look at someone who has seen you all along.”

The sincerity in his tone jerked my gaze to his.  His chocolate brown eyes swam with vulnerability, and I felt my heart lurch painfully in my chest.

Because he did see me.

Kieran had always seen me.  He’d seen me when I was all awkward limbs and angles.  When I won the science award.  When I burned my bangs off with a spell gone wrong.  When I dropped chocolate frosting all down my shirt. When my Gran passed away.  He’d seen me.  

And for the first time, I saw him, too.

Check in again next week to see what happens to Aida when she goes to check on the punch…

Dragon Sight

I am not ashamed to say that I did not go quietly to my death.  

I bucked, kicked, and fought all the way down the gilded hallways with their velvet draperies and marble statues.  I caught one guard squarely in the shin as we passed under the baleful ruby gaze of the stone dragon that stood sentinel outside the hidden room.  The guard cursed me as the dragon seemed to mock me in the otherwise deserted corridor. The guard smacked the back of my head hard enough my eyeballs nearly left their sockets.  Chuckling, he a button on the bottom of a sconce.  With my head still spinning, I was dragged from opulence into the dank shadows of a secret cave.

            Once my vision cleared, my chest heaved, and my nostrils flared.  Before me stood King Hiclyr and his wretched daughter, Princess Marguerite.  

            All my life, I’d been told the Creator had blessed me to so closely resemble Renvale’s beautiful princess. I never gave it a second thought until I was stolen away in the dead of night to take her place as the Dragon Sacrifice.  

            The Sacrifice took place every ten years.  Every girl in the kingdom aged thirteen to twenty-one had their name entered.  I thought I was safe.  There was no way I could have foreseen this treachery.  Ice ran through my veins.

            “Be still,” Hiclyr said.  “The Dragon will not want his prize bruised.”

            I spat at him.  Wrym.  He wiped his face disdainfully.  

            He clapped once.  A timid maid rushed from the shadows into the circle of light cast by the torch bracketed on the wall.  

“Make sure she is Marguerite before she leaves this tunnel.”  His voice was hard like granite.

            My gaze landed on the princess.  We’d been friends once.  Some deep place inside me understood why this was happening.  We had all lost someone we’d once loved to the Dragon.  The King had lost his son, Marguerite had lost her brother, and I had lost my best friend.  Hiclyr was desperate to save his remaining child.  

But this was wrong.  

It was wrong to steal me away.  Wrong to sacrifice me instead.  Not because my sacrifice wouldn’t be worthy, but because my sacrifice wouldn’t be enough.  If I went instead of the girl rightfully chosen by lot, King Hyclir would break the treaty that had existed between the Kingdom of Renvale and the Dragon Lords for over a century.  It would bring open war down upon us if ever discovered.

            So, while I was here, I’d use every means within my power to fight for my life.  But if I couldn’t escape before dawn light lit the sky, I’d have to put on the performance of a lifetime to save my people and my country.  At the expense of my own life.

            The next hours were full of forced pampering.  I was scrubbed, washed, shaved, styled, and put into a dress with a ridiculous number of pleats.  But at the end when they stood us together—the princess and the falconer’s daughter—even I had trouble telling us apart. 

            I fought like a banshee as the guards once more took my arms.  Thrashing and digging in my heels did no good as the soft satin of my slippers tore against the rough floor.  The guard cracked the door open and weak sunlight filtered in.

            I bit the inside of my lip hard enough I tasted blood.  There was nothing more I could do but continue the ruse.  I prayed it would be enough to save my kingdom—save my family.

            On wobbling legs, I stumbled to the wooden platform raised on the beach beside the castle.  The ocean’s waves lapped calmly, lending me their strength with their soothing swooshes.  Terror seized me as memory flooded my mind with images I’d refused to acknowledge for the past ten years.  Fire, gaping teeth, blood, smoke, screams, and Daniel’s face as he’d been caught in the crossfire.  I relived the Dragon’s teeth closing over his body, taking him from me forever.

            A sob choked out and I would have fallen to the ground had the guards not been holding me.  My friend.  And now I would meet the same fate.

            The ropes cut into my wrists as they tied me to the stake.  The drums beat, the wind howled, the waves began crashing in fury.  

            I saw the Dragon’s aura before he came into view.  Fiery red and streaked with yellow that caught the sun and set spots dancing before my eyes.

            His grating shriek pierced the morning and screams of terrified villagers echoed off the crags.

            Creator be merciful…

            Unable to hold back a wail of terror, the breath left me in a staggering rush as the Dragon morphed out of the clouds, his black talons outstretched. 

            The Dragon blotted out the sun.  Leathery wings folded and sent sand pounding against my sides.  Bright scales, eyes like fire, and a face framed in horns stole the breath from my lungs.  The wings creased, revealing an odd-shaped hunch on the creature’s back.  

            Before I could see any more, the talons crushed around me, lifting me and the stake into the air.

            Dignity left far below, I screamed as the beast rose into the air, wings beating the winds into submission.

            Soaring, wheeling, gliding over the clouds would have been exhilarating if it hadn’t meant certain death.

            At last the beast landed on a high crag, tossing me and the stake into an enormous nest.  A groan escaped then turned to another scream as flames bit through the ropes binding me to the stake.  I tore my hands away from the ropes as the fire stopped.  

            Shakily I stood, mouth falling open as a dark figure slid from the Dragon’s back, favoring his left side.  Throwing back his hood, the sun caught the marled, puckered skin of his cheek, the wide red rope of scar from scalp to chin.  But the eyes.  Those crystal blue eyes were the same.

            “Daniel.”

            The scarred mouth wrinkled on one side before pulling into a frown.

            “Marguerite?”

            My mouth dried as my eyes grew larger.  

            “Emma.”

            It wasn’t a question this time.  His eyes lit with excitement.

            “Emma?  It’s you, isn’t it!”

            “Daniel,” I whispered.  I was incapable of anything else.

            The smile died on his face.

            “This is my father’s doing.  Truly, it was my sister’s name drawn from the lottery?”

            I saw no point in keeping the ruse now.  “Yes.”

            The Dragon snorted and my knees quaked in terror.

            “It’s alright.  She won’t hurt you.”  He stroked the amethyst scales covering the beast’s flanks.  His eyes found mind again.  “My father may have just started a war he cannot win.”

            “What do we do?”  I had to save my family—save the kingdom.

            “We must go appeal to the High Dragon Lord.  Will you come with me?”

            He stretched his hand to me, tiny scars crisscrossing his palm.

            Dread lodged in my throat.

            His fingers were cool around mine.

Skinwalkers

“Yee naaldlooshii.”  “With it, he goes on all fours.”  (www.legendsofamerica.com)

These are the Navajo words used to describe a most feared and dangerous witch.  The Skinwalker (Seriously.  Cue the shudders as I’m typing this).

Skinwalkers are prevalent in Navajo legends as a form of dark witchcraft.  For the Navajo, good and evil powers merely are—it’s the same power, but with two sides.  The way a man harnesses the power depends upon the man.  There are other tribes that have legends of Skinwalkers, and all of them includes a nasty witch capable of taking on the form of an animal (www.legendsofamerica.com).

The permeance of these dreaded creatures runs so deep that many refuse to speak of them today (yes, in 2020!) for fear a Skinwalker may come after them or a loved one.  It is believed that these terrifying beings walk among the tribe during the day but secretly transform into the beast of their choosing once the moon is up and the skin is donned (creepy, much?).

According to Navajo legends, most Skinwalkers were once medicine men who achieved the ultimate level of spiritual power.  And then chose to use those powers for evil (www.navajolegends.org).  A lot like Star Wars, the Jedi, and the Sith.  One power, but two sides:  good and evil (I know I’m not the only Star Wars fan here…).

It’s reported that Navajo men only wear sheepskin or buckskin, and only for special ceremonies.  This is one reason the Navajo have become famous for such intricate textiles (and they are stunning—I own a set of Navajo-made clothes). They believe the Skinwalkers must don the pelt of the animal they wish to transform into—so the wearing of hides is taboo (www.navajolegends.org).

There’s nothing nice that can be said for these creatures of the night.  According to tribal legend, they must kill a sibling or family member to become a Skinwalker.  They wreak havoc.  Make people sick.  Commit murder.  They rob graves and are necrophiliacs (ahem, doing naughty things with dead people).  Even so recently as the mid-70’s, legal proceedings were brought against a nameless witch (reported to be of the spiritual level of the Skinwalkers) by attorney, Michael Stuhff (www.rense.com).  Skinwalkers are very real in the minds of many from the cultures who hold tales of these evil men who twist themselves to evil’s desires.  I’m certain I never want to meet one.

What do you think?  Are Skinwalkers real?  Or are they only legends?  Pop up to the grey Comments button at the top and let me know!

Book Recommendations

Shadow of Time: Dark Dreams  by Jen Minkman (intended for mature readers)

How the Stars Fell Into the Sky: A Navajo Legend  by Jerrie Oughton

Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Code Talkers of WWII by Chester Nez

Creative Writing Prompts

“Shhh!” My mother shushed me with more vehemence than normal.  “Never speak that word.”  Chills tingled down my spine at the fear in her eyes.

The moon rose and with it, the hairs on the back of my neck.

Something moved in the shadows.  Malevolent eyes glittered red.  My blood froze. 

The video clip below contains some mature content. Viewer discretion is advised. It’s creepy and dark, but very interesting.

Fairies

Did you know that there are hundreds of different types of fairies?  And most of them are not the cute, sassy Tinkerbell variety, though most are considered magical (rest assured, I’ll be featuring many of them in future posts)!  Fairies throughout history have been so feared that at one time, people wouldn’t even mention their names, referring to them only as The Little People, Hidden People, or sometimes The Gentry (https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/The-Origins-of-Fairies/, https://fiveminutehistory.com/the-history-of-fairies/).  All that aside, I’d still sign myself up for a Fairy Godmother given the chance.

Because fairies encompass so many different forms, there seems to be a fairy for literally every shape, size, occasion, and country (Tinkerbell, Lucky Charms, Cupid, jinnis/genies, anyone?).  And fairies are a lot older than you might expect—the earliest fairies are featured in Greek mythology (https://www.timelessmyths.com/celtic/faeries.html)!  While not on par with the gods and goddesses, think of fairies as spiritual beings one rung down the ladder—more like a demi-god.

Original artwork by local artist, Julia Ruprecht
Follow her on Instagram @julruprect

Most dismiss any Fae creature (anything belonging to the realm of the fairies) as purely imagination, though there are many (and several current) accounts of run-ins with the Wee People.  Do please share your story in the comments if you’ve had such an experience!  I’ve not yet been so lucky myself (although I do have friends who have found fairy rings—places fairies are said to dance).  Historically, these tiny creatures transcend the corporeal realm into the spiritual one.  Many stories associate the Fae with angels, or their equivalents in other religions (https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Fairy).   

A Fairy Ring
Discovered and photographed by Jenny Johnson

Fairy lore seems especially prevalent in Britain and Ireland (which probably accounts for most of my fascination).  In Ireland, some buildings had their corners cut off so they wouldn’t be in the middle of fairy paths.  And in some houses, front and back doors were built perfectly aligned and left open certain times of the year so the fairies could traipse through undisturbed (https://fiveminutehistory.com/the-history-of-fairies/). All legends aside, the word fairy didn’t appear until the middle ages in Europe.  The word probably comes from the Latin word fata—The Fates (https://www.etymonline.com/word/fairy).  Regardless of the origin, fairies continue to fascinate people on a global level.  Why are we so preoccupied with these tiny magical beings?

Do we long for a simpler time of childhood when all fairy tales were real?  Do we catch glimpses of them from time to time that give us that strange feeling in the pit of our stomachs?  Are they simply figments of human imagination created to explain the misunderstood?  Or are they perhaps real, waiting just beyond our realm?

Do you believe in fairies?

 

Creative Writing Prompts:

If you were a fairy, what’s the first thing you’d do with your magic?

The wind whispered through the grass, ruffling my wings like shimmering gossamer.  Spring was coming, the time we fairies danced on the lawn, sprinkled the grass with dew, and opened the flowers each morning.  But this year, there was a problem.

I am the reason humans fear the Fae folk.  It all started as an accident…

Book Recommendations

(Ya’ll, I LOVE a good Fae read, please leave any other book suggestions in the comments! Go to the top of the post, in the grey text above the title, click “Comments” and you’re good to go!)

The Creepy Hollow Series, by Rachel Morgan

The Goblin Wars Series, by Kersten Hamilton

Pippa of Lauramore, by Shari L. Tapscott

No post on fairies would be complete without these two classic scenes from Peter Pan–apologies, the first is really grainy.

I do believe in fairies!

Beautiful dance of the fairies 

www.fairies.zeluna.net 

www.disnerdadventures.blogspot.com 

Werewolves

Werewolf.
The word conjures up all sorts of images.  Blood-thirsty beasts.  Slashings.  Mangled corpses and full moons. Sparkly vampires and nemesis-turned-allies.  London.  Lycanthropy.  But where did the stories of these legendary mythical creatures get started?
No one is completely sure where these terrifying beasts made their entrance into society and into the collective societal fear.  According to History.com, some scholars believe that the first written tales of werewolves were in The Epic of Gilgamesh (at least 7th century BC according to www.britanica.com), but werewolves also make an appearance in early Greek mythology with The Legend of Lycaon.  The Saga of the Vosungs from Nordic histories again provides mythic evidence of these monsters of the darkness (www.history.com).  One could travel up the Nile and see many references to Anubis with his jackal’s head—also notably an Egyptian god of death.
The interesting thing here is that multiple advanced cultures the world over have legends of werewolves—whether they are shifters who can assume the form of a wolf at will, or who only turn under the watchful eye of the full moon, or who are akin to demons sent as a scourge upon mankind. 
What led ancient man to his rivalry with the werewolf? There are several possibilities.  The first possibility, of course, is that werewolves are real, and have walked among us for centuries (the documentary, The Bray Road Beast, makes a compelling case). Another possibility is that as people were bitten by rabid animals, wolves in particular, the consequent infections caused people to think the afflicted was turning into the creature that had bitten them.  Werewolves could be a response to brutal serial killings that looked similar to animal maulings (www.historicmysteries.com).  
Arguably the most famous werewolf account took place in Gevaudan, France in 1764.  It was a miserable time in France.  The Seven Year’s War, in which France had suffered heavily at the hands of Britain and Prussia, was facing economic hardship and censorship in the press.  Because of all the political censoring, the press turned to the sensational to garner more subscriptions.  This is where the beast got its vast notoriety, even drawing hunters from far away Normandy (who were unsuccessful).  Witnesses described a giant beast with features like a wolf, only much larger and much more terrifying.  After 30-35 deaths, at last the great beast was brought down in June of 1767—so it was assumed, as the death rate decreased (www.smithsonianmag.com).  At any rate, the large amount of deaths, the publicity of the press, and the terror of the villagers led to the creation of this particular beast and gave credence to the popularity of the werewolf.
It would be remiss to discuss werewolves without a nod to “legitimate lycanthropy” (Webster’s modern definition states lycanthropy is the belief that one can change into a wolf).  Medically termed hypertrichosis, it is a condition in which a person is covered in excess hair all over their bodies (www.dictionary.com).  This, too, could be fodder for the myths surrounding the werewolf.   
Whatever the case, this undying piece of lore has fitted itself into the fabric of mainstream society worldwide and continues to capture imaginations everywhere.
 

Creative Writing Prompts:

 

Mist rose in the dark night like tendrils of hair floating in water.  Suspended against the black night, a ripe moon rose and cast its watery light upon the silver hair of a creature poised on a rocky outcropping.  With a toss of its magnificent head, a lone howl could be heard all throughout the valley below.  Terror lodged in the heart of the villagers as…

 

Are werewolves real creatures that have perhaps been hunted to extinction, or that survive in the shadows of today’s society, or are they a complete work of fiction?  Why or why not?

 

The shriek pierced the night as the great beast took chase after…

 

You have been turned into a werewolf.  Recount the day you received that fateful bite.

 

 

Recommended books for ages 16 and up:

April White’s series:  Immortal Descendants

Melissa Haag’s series:  Judgement of the Six

 

 

“Werewolves of London”

 

 

www.dictionary.com

www.history.com

www.historicmysteries.com

www.smithsonianmag.com