Solara

Solara pulled into a parking spot and glanced at the clock on the dash. She grumbled as she walked towards the market entrance. “If only I could transport on a sunbeam, but no. I have to arrive in a clunky mechanical thing so the humans don’t get scared.”

She saw her mostly-human friend, Gemma, waiting for her by the gate. “Coffee?” Solara handed her one of the paper cups she carried. 

“Thanks! I am so excited about this. I’m sure there are a lot of treasures here. What are you hoping to find?” Gemma’s enthusiasm bubbled in her voice. 

“I want a unique container to use for one of my plants that needs repotting. Oh, and maybe a narrow basket to put on the windowsill for some seashells.” Solara kept her pace languid, which forced Gemma to slow. Gemma always moved at a quick speed, which Solara found exhausting after a while. 

The market they were currently visiting was a pop-up style full of vintage wares and hand-crafted goods. It was a showcase of various vendors scattered throughout eight barns surrounding a central courtyard on the fairgrounds. Any organization could rent the space as long as it wasn’t during the fair.

“What time is Keyara getting here?” Gemma asked, looking at some jars.

“She said maybe in an hour.” Solara touched a slightly wilted plant on a shelf of the next vendor over and infused it with some gentle sunlight. The plant immediately looked healthier. “I told her the shopping was all indoors, which is the only reason she agreed to come.” 

“Being a vampire must be hard when the sun goddess needs her power boost,” Gemma teased. 

“Well, I gave up most of October, and all of November through March, so I am going to make the most of July.” 

“I don’t blame you,” Gemma said. “How are things going with Brad? Last time we talked, you were mad at him.” 

“We’re good. It was a misunderstanding. His communication isn’t that great, and since he’s human, well.” She shrugged. “He apologized.” 

While they looked at some vibrant clothing on a rack, the booth owner told them there was a small changing area in the back. Solara picked out a fuchsia-colored dress to try on.

“That looks fabulous on you!” Gemma gushed when Solara stepped out of the changing area. 

“Does it? It’s a little tight across the shoulders, but not bad. I don’t know if I really like it.” 

“Well, put it back and think about it. This is only the first building. Maybe you’ll find something better.” 

“True.” Solara stepped back into the changing area. 

“I’ve been trying to reduce my belongings,” Gemma said from the other side of the curtain. 

“Oh, yeah? How’s that going?” 

“It’s hard. But I just have so much stuff. And a lot of it I don’t even use anymore. Why do I need to keep an old food processor when I’ve lost the lid?” 

“Uh, dragon,” Solara said, pointing at Gemma as she returned the dress to the rack. They drifted out of the back door of the barn and headed across the courtyard to another building.

“Part dragon,” Gemma corrected. “An extremely tiny part.” 

“Well, apparently, you got the hoarding gene.” 

“Oh, earrings!” Gemma rushed over to a large jewelry display. Solara laughed and followed her.

Solara’s phone chimed, and she pulled it out of her pocket. “Keyara’s here! I’ll go meet her.” She gave Gemma a stern look. “You are not to leave this building until we get back. I don’t want to spend half an hour searching for you because you’re hunting for more treasure.” 

“There are lots of jewelry booths in this building. I’ll be here a while. Besides, I bet Keyara could sniff me out if you lose me.” Gemma waved her away. 

“That’s disgusting.” Solara wrinkled her nose. 

“But true. Go, I’ll be fine.” 

Solara made her way out of the open-ended pole building and headed to the front gate. She began scanning the crowd for a short woman in a hat. She didn’t know what hat Keyara would wear, only that she would have one. There weren’t that many people near the gate since it was an hour after the market’s opening, and Solara didn’t see Keyara anywhere. She began to text Keyara as she walked back towards the center courtyard, but then she spied her friend. A black floppy hat obscured Keyara’s dark, shoulder-length hair and violet eyes.

“There you are! I’m so glad you made it.” Solara gave Keyara a quick hug, then flipped her long blond hair over her shoulder. “Gemma’s at a jewelry booth and made her promise not to leave until we came back. I love your hat! I knew you would wear one, so when you texted you were here, I just looked for a stylish hat.” 

“It was your idea, remember?” 

Solara began leading Keyara to the other side of the courtyard. “Oh, that’s right! Well, I still like it. And it will help to keep the sun off you. Do you have your cream on?” 

Keyara nodded. “Of course. I can already feel my arms tingling, though. Any chance you can tone the sun down just a tad?” 

“Not at the moment. I set it up to be hot and sunny all day, and it will take a while to pull it back. But all the vendors are in the various buildings except for the food. We can probably find some shade somewhere or go to a restaurant instead of staying here for lunch.” Solara led the way across the courtyard. 

“Well, I can handle walking in the sunlight if it’s just between the buildings and back to my car.” 

“I knew being mostly inside would convince you. There’s Gemma!” Solara pointed to a corner where their friend was purchasing a pair of earrings. 

Solara rushed over to Gemma. “Which ones did you buy?” 

“The turquoise ones I was looking at when you left, and I found these cute red dangles. Hi, Keyara!” Gemma hugged Keyara. 

Solara laughed. “Poor Keyara! Two hugs in less than five minutes.” 

“I don’t mind it when you two hug me. It’s when humans do it that things become…difficult.” 

“Do you need to eat?” Solara asked. She tried to keep the note of worry out of her voice. 

“No, I ate last night. I didn’t want to risk any, shall we say, accidents today.” 

“Good. I figured you had it handled.” 

Gemma drifted towards a clothing rack while Keyara and Solara sniffed candles and selected a few for purchase. Gemma was the one who brought Keyara and Solara together. Despite their various races, all three women adored books, enjoyed camping, and thought vintage and fun clothes were wonderful. They tried to get together at least once every couple of weeks. 

About an hour later, Gemma was leading them towards the food carts in the courtyard center. Keyara opted for only a beer, while Gemma and Solara ordered loaded baked potatoes.

“There’s a table over there, under that tree. Will that work?” Solara pointed. 

“Sure,” Keyara replied. 

As they got nearer to the table, they noticed a pair of women with an infant sitting on one side. Keyara and Solara both hung back a little, but Gemma marched right up to the table and asked, “Can we sit on the other side? The sun is brutal today.” 

The women agreed, and the friends sat. Solara and Gemma both moved to the edge of the table with the least amount of shade. Solara noticed Keyara discreetly checking the skin on her bare arms for burn marks. Keyara always tried to dress to fit in with the humans, but still kept to blacks and dark reds despite gauzy blouses and pencil skirts. After a few minutes, the other women put the baby in a stroller and wandered away.

“Are you doing okay?” Gemma asked. 

“Yes, so far. I can’t be out in the sun much longer, though.” 

Solara tilted her head back and closed her eyes, obviously enjoying the rays filtering through the leaves on her face. 

Gemma laughed. “A vampire and a sun goddess. Who would have ever thought you two could be friends?” 

“Hey, we make it work,” Solara said. 

“Yes, we do,” Keyara agreed.

“Just don’t expect me to hang out with you in a dark alley while you feed,” Solara added with a slight shudder. 

“Still squeamish about that?” Gemma asked. 

“You weren’t there! It was terrifying. I’m not usually afraid of the dark, but Keyara makes the monster under the bed look tame.” 

“You want the world bathed in brightness, and I can’t live in the light. I manage to visit you in the sun, so it’s only fair.” 

“True. I refuse to compromise sunshine in the middle of July, but I’m more than happy to allow cloudy days and rain at some point. Sadly, you’re not the one I have to negotiate with.” 

“Is the god of thunder still bothering you?” Gemma teased. 

“He knows I’m married! I don’t know why he can’t just accept that and move on. He says he won’t stop with the afternoon thunderstorms until I agree to at least have dinner with him.” 

“Brad will never allow that,” Keyara commented. 

“But Brad is only human, and Taran thinks he has priority.”

“I know! So instead, I’m basically in a weather fight. It’s ridiculous.” 

“Well, you’re winning today. It’s so hot out!” Keyara complained. 

“I’m sorry, are you still okay?” 

“Yes, but I’d like to find some deeper shade now.” 

“Come on, girls. We still have three buildings to explore.” Gemma stood, gathering her bags. 

Solara slowly stood, stretching her arms up for a moment in the sunlight to gather more power, before following her friends. 

A clap of thunder sounded, and the sun goddess scowled at the sky.

Natural Disaster – Donna’s Story

As soon as she walked in, she felt the tension. Donna dropped her bag on a kitchen chair, then reached for a glass. 

“Do you want to explain your grade?” Her mother’s voice came from the living room. 

Donna held the glass under the sink’s spigot and let the cold water overflow. After a moment, she turned the faucet off and poured some water out. She took a drink before turning to face her mother. 

“I missed two questions on the math quiz,” she said. 

“Apparently. Why is that?” Donna’s mother gracefully stood and glided towards her. 

“I made an error when I was calculating. I still have a ninety-five percent in that class.” 

“Ninety-five is not one hundred, is it?” Now her mother was standing close, back ramrod straight. 

“No,” Donna whispered. 

“No, what?” 

“No, ninety-five is not one hundred, mother.” 

“Humph. At least you know that much about math. Go to your room until dinner. Your father and I will discuss your consequences.”

Donna felt the heat of her mother’s gaze as she picked up her bag and walked up the stairs. Once in her room with the door safely shut, she plopped onto her bed, put a pillow over her face, and screamed. She refused to cry this time, and she stared at the bright white of her ceiling while taking deep breaths. 

Her thoughts refused to calm, and she kept thinking of how beautiful and poised her mother acted, yet how overcritical and vicious she was inside. Willowbrook adored Donna’s mother and all the work she did for the historical society. Judy was a solid presence at every fundraiser and school event. 

If only they really knew her, Donna thought. 

Donna realized her mother wanted her to be the best she could be, hopeful that Donna will one day take over as chairperson for the historical society. But that didn’t relieve the pressure Donna felt every waking moment. I just want to be a normal sixteen-year-old. 

Eventually, Donna sat up with a groan and went to her desk to work on her history project while she waited for the inevitable. Her friends teased about being told to “wait until father gets home,” but none of them had parents like she did. In Donna’s house, it was a definite warning. Jessica, one of her best friends, had parents that supported and loved her, no matter what her grades were like. 

She’ll probably grow up to work in the bank or something else just as boring. At least I have a wonderful future ahead of me. 

Donna sighed and reached over to turn on the radio. She usually concentrated better with music and she wanted to ace the history project. While writing several journal entries as if she was Abraham Lincoln seemed easy on the surface, Donna knew it would take something special to impress Mr. Adams. Deep in her work, she almost didn’t hear the car door slam. 

Donna turned the music’s volume down and strained to hear her parents’ conversation. She caught a few words and tried to piece together what her punishment might be. 

“… two questions… study enough.” 

“Maybe we should… next time.” 

“I think… Saturday’s game.”

“I don’t know… the squad needs her… extra credit…”

“That won’t do any good.” 

“I just got home… after dinner.” 

Then Donna heard her father’s footsteps on the stairs, and she bent over her desk again so he wouldn’t guess she tried to eavesdrop. When the knock came on her bedroom door, followed by the faint creak as it opened, she looked up with a smile. 

“Hi, daddy.” 

“Hi, pumpkin. Your mother told me her concerns about your math grade.” Mike was always one to get straight to the point. 

Donna’s smile faded. “Yeah, I’m sorry. Really, I am. I made two minor mistakes on the quiz.” 

“Well, you’re allowed some mistakes.” Her dad crossed the room and sat on the edge of her bed. 

“Am I? She seems really mad this time.” Donna twisted in her chair to look at her father. 

“I’ve postponed your sentencing until after dinner. Maybe she will feel more charitable after lasagna.” Mike tilted his head back and looked at the crown molding on the wall. His lips made a slight puffing sound that meant he was thinking. Finally, he looked back at her. “I know this isn’t easy for you, but we really want you to do everything with your future in mind. And working hard to be top of your class is one way to guarantee acceptance into Harvard.” 

“I know,” Donna whispered. “But what if I don’t want to go to Harvard?” 

“Do you not want to?” 

“I don’t know. But I would like the option to find out.” 

“You can have the option. When you’re eighteen and after you graduate. Until then, you need to do everything possible to get to Harvard. It’s your mother’s dream to see you there. Now, come on, let’s go have dinner.” 

“It’s not my dream,” Donna barely whispered. If her dad heard her, he didn’t give any sign. 

Dinner was silent, except for the clinking of forks on plates. Donna kept her eyes on her food, but she was aware of every motion her parents made. As soon as her dad put his napkin on the table and leaned back in his chair, she got up and began clearing the table. Without speaking, she loaded the dishwasher, wiped the counters, and swept the floor. There wasn’t much else to do in the immaculate kitchen, so she squared her shoulders and went to the family room. 

Donna’s father sat in his recliner, his feet up and the television remote on one leg. Her mother was sitting on the sofa, one leg crossed over the other, her posture perfect. A magazine was in her lap and a glass of bourbon in her hand. She gestured for Donna to sit next to her. Donna sat, doing her best to emulate her mother’s straight back and long neck. 

“Your father and I have decided what your consequence for your poor grade is,” Judy began. “While we dislike allowing you freedoms when you are in error, we agree it would hurt the cheer squad for you to miss the game this Saturday. So, you will go to the game as planned, but on Sunday you will not go to the city with your friends. Instead, you will be here studying. And you will ask Mrs. Rodin for extra credit work to get your grade up to one-hundred percent. Any questions?” 

“No, mother. Thank you.” Donna tried not to let her relief show. Her father must have convinced her mother that missing the game would be detrimental to their family’s public image. Otherwise, she was sure they would ground her to her room for the weekend.

“I expect to hear what Mrs. Rodin says tomorrow. Or I will call her myself.” 

“Yes, I will talk to her first thing in the morning.” 

Judy nodded and picked up her magazine. Donna looked at her father, and he winked at her before turning on the television. Donna watched the first few minutes of the news before fleeing to the relative safety of her room. 


Author’s note: Donna is a supporting character in my upcoming novel, and I wanted to flesh out some of her backstory. She plays an important part as a catalyst for change for the main character, Jessica. Donna also grows and learns throughout the plotline. I needed to reach a little deeper for Donna’s motives. And this short story — while incomplete — accomplished that.

Dragon Vet

Indigo

I yelped and ducked just as a burst of flame shot across the field. There was a loud snort, then quiet. I took a deep breath and peaked over the boulder. Blue scales glimmered in the morning sun while yellow eyes glared balefully at me. 

“Now, Indigo. I am only here to help. Gus said you have something stuck under one of your spines. Please be a darling and allow me to remove it.” 

My voice was calm, but I was ready to run at the first sign of the dragon readying her fire. There weren’t many signs before flames would shoot out of her mouth. Usually the first sign was a deep inhalation, followed by a long pause. I stood and waited behind the meager shelter of my boulder.

Indigo flicked her tail and watched me. The yellow eyes looked more curious now instead of irritated; the pupils had dilated just a little. I decided to risk it. I stepped away from the boulder, then inched forward. Indigo huffed and turned around, presenting her back to me. 

“Good girl. I see something under your third spine. Can you lower yourself so I can reach it? You are such a gorgeous gem, sparkling in the sun, and I am insignificant compared to you.”

Dragons loved flattery. They thought themselves the most amazing creatures in the universe and, while that was true, it made them extremely arrogant. The more I told her she was beautiful, the more she would cooperate. 

Indigo gave a small, throaty purr of pleasure and stretched her neck out on the ground. Her great yellow eyes rolled back to watch me. 

“Oh, intriguing Indigo, I am going to use these tweezers to pull out the splinter. It looks like a tree branch has lodged itself under your spike, that nasty thing.”

I held up the gleaming metal tweezers so she could see them. They were almost as long as my forearm with sharp, slanted tips. She nodded slightly, and I leaned in closer. The heat from her scales warmed my body, and the pungent animal smell was a cross of charred meat and something almost like fresh wheat. Spring was late coming to Antasia and, in case I needed to move quickly should my patient become irate, I only had on a light sweater over my tunic and leggings. Her body heat was welcome for the few moments it took me to pull the tree branch free.

“There, great one. I have a salve to use, to speed the healing process of your sensitive yet sensual skin. If I may?” 

I dropped the tree branch, placing the tweezers in my bag and drawing out a large jar.

Indigo twisted around and sniffed at the jar, so I removed the lid for her. She inhaled deeply, and I tensed, ready to run. But then she snuffed at my hair and turned away. Taking that as permission, I stood on tiptoes and dipped three fingers in the jar. Scooping out a large glob of calendula, lavender, and buckthorn mixed in shea butter, I smeared it over her scales and under the spine, ensuring the balm coated the area where the stick had rubbed raw. 

I felt Indigo sigh and patted her on neck, well away from the wound. 

“There you go, my beautiful blue star. That should heal well for you. If it doesn’t, just tell Gus and I’ll come back.” 

Slowly, I stepped back from her and waited until her enormous head turned towards me, then bowed. 

“Thank you for allowing me to serve you.” 

I swear at that moment Indigo rolled her eyes before suddenly stretching her wings and launching herself into the sky using her powerful hind legs. Clouds of dust rose from the sandy ground and covered me, making me cough. 

“Oh, sure. ‘Be a veterinarian for dragons’ they said. ‘It will be fun,’ they said. Dealing with overgrown lizards with overgrown egos who can spit flame at me is not fun.”

“Are you sure?” 

I spun around to see Gus standing a little way off, smiling at me. 

“Being coated in dust while I make my the rest of my rounds is decidedly not fun.”

I started walking towards the road, and Gus fell in step beside me. 

“Well, the dragons sure like you. Better than the last veterinarian we had. They flamed him the second day.”

I cringed at the thought of being roasted alive. It made me queasy, and I swallowed hard.

“Why didn’t you just take that tree branch out of Indigo’s spine? It was easy enough, and she likes you or she wouldn’t mind-talk to you.”

“Because she asked for you,” he shrugged.

I stopped walking and stared at him. “Why would she do that?”

“I told you, the dragons like you. You know how to talk to them. And you tell them what you’re going to do before you do it. That means they aren’t surprised or startled. Which means you don’t get fried.”

“Well, yes, but you are more than capable of taking care of minor injuries.”

“I know. Yet when one of those ‘overgrown lizards’ asks for a specific human, I obey. I prefer to stay raw, if you know what I mean.” He winked at me and then moved to the next clearing. 

“Now, Carmine here has a strange gunk running from his nose,” Gus said as the huge red dragon came into view.

“You mean he has a cold?” 

“Well, not exactly. Dragons shouldn’t get colds. At least from what they tell me.”

“Alright, I’ll see what I can do.” 

I rubbed some grit from my left eye and pushed my hair back before stepping into the clearing. 

“Hello, shining Carmine. I am Doctor Alisha. Gus tells me you have something bothering you. May I look at your nose?” 


Featured image by Kellepics on Pixabay.

The Secret Of The Lilies – The End

Read Part 8 here, or start from the beginning.

Beth, Lori, and I watched the flames consume the lilies. I heard Beth say something under her breath that sounded like, “Finally.” But before I could ask her to repeat it, a shout of alarm came from across the lawn. 

“No! What are you doing? Have you lost your mind?” Madam Cromwell was running towards us, waving her arms. “Jacob! They’ve ruined everything!”

The guests stopped their activities and were staring at us standing next to the bonfire. Sir Cromwell, hearing his wife’s cries of alarm, pushed through the crowd to stand next to her. 

“What is the meaning of this?” he asked.

“Oh, Jacob. That…That girl has destroyed our lilies!” Madam Cromwell clung to her husband’s arm as she wept. 

Sir Cromwell looked at the fire, then at the Beth and I. “Joe! Get over here.” 

Joe approached, still carrying the slingshot, and stood defiantly next to his sister. 

“You all have some explaining to do. Guards! Clear the grounds.” As the guards began ushering people down the driveway, Sir Cromwell glared at his children. “Explain yourselves.” 

I stepped forward. “Sir, it was me. I figured out about the lilies, and it was my plan to get rid of them.”

“You’re fired, you know that, right?” Madam Cromwell hissed. 

Esther arrived, her daughter trailing behind her. “What’s going on? Why did you send everyone home?” 

“Oh, Esther! These wretched children destroyed the lilies!” Madam Cromwell flung herself into Esther’s arms. 

“They did what?” It was Esther’s turn to glare at my friends and me.

“Everyone, be quiet! I want to hear from my children.”

Beth moved closer to Joe, who put his arm around her shoulders. “Father, we’re tired of being immortal. Do you realize we can never get married or have children unless our family will also take the pollen?” 

“You can slip it to them. They don’t have to know.” Sir Cromwell waved his hand dismissively. 

“And how would that play out when my wife discovers it? Do you really think someone would stay with us after that? We’re miserable, father. We’re bored of being locked up on our property. Beth wants to travel, and I don’t know what I want to do, but I know I don’t want to be your gardener for the rest of eternity. We want freedom. And Emma helped us get it.” 

Sir Cromwell advanced on his son, fists clenched. “Do you realize you not only gained your freedom, but you also wrecked what your mother and I built here? And Esther and her family have served us for generations. What will they do when we pass away? Did you think about anyone else besides yourselves?” 

“What you were doing to the temporary laborers was not right! You were murdering innocent people for your own gain. What makes you think you’re better than the rest of us? Better than them? They deserved to live, too.” I stepped between the older Cromwells and their children. Lori tried to pull me back, but I shook her off. “You are deceitful and despicable. I suggest you leave town and find a new place to live. No one will want you here after this. It might not be safe for you.” 

Madam Cromwell whimpered, but Jacob looked furious. He raised a hand as if to strike me, and I flinched, closing my eyes. The blow never came, though. I opened my eyes to see Joe holding his father’s fist while Beth held a kitchen fillet knife to his throat. 

“You’re done, old man,” Joe said. “You won’t ever hurt anyone again. If I were you, I would start packing tonight.” Joe shoved Jacob towards his mother and Esther. “All of you, get out. And if you hurt Emma, if you even try to hire someone to hurt her, it will be the last thing you do.” 

Mr. and Mrs. Cromwell turned and fled to the house, Esther and her daughter trailing behind. 

“Thank you, Emma! Thank you, both.” Beth pulled me into a hug, then hugged Lori as well. 

“What will you do now?” I asked. 

The Cromwell children exchanged glances before Beth said, “Neither of us wants to be here anymore. We’ll probably sell this place. I’ve always wanted to see India.” 

Joe smiled at me before saying, “We’ll travel for a while and then see where we want to settle down. I think teaching botany would be fun.” 

“I wish both of you the very best. I am happy I helped you.”

Beth hugged me again, and Joe shook my hand before they headed to the house. Lori kicked some half-burnt stems back into the flames. “Ready to go home?” she asked. 

“Yes. More than ready.” I retrieved my duffle bag from behind the azalea bushes, where I stashed it when I walked the garden before the party, and Lori and I walked down the long driveway to her car. 

My parents were thrilled to have me home, especially after Lori and I recounted our adventure. I was content to let my mother fuss over me and endure lectures from my dad about being careful who I spent time with. It was nice to have people concerned for my well-being. 

The next day, a large envelope arrived by courier for me. A note in a smaller envelope taped to the outside read: 

Dear Emma, 

We wanted to thank you again for setting us free. We know what you did for us was risky and that the lilies could have taken your soul. Since our family has lived for so long, we have more than we need. Please accept this gift as a token of our appreciation. 

Sincerely, 

Beth and Joe Cromwell 

P.S. I’ll write to you from India! ~Beth

I opened the large envelope and was astonished to see several bundles of one-hundred-dollar bills and a check for three million dollars. 


A week had passed, and Mr. and Mrs. Cromwell were leaving in the afternoon. They needed the time to transfer the deed of the manor to their children and purchase a home in southern Italy. Jacob Cromwell insisted that they be allowed to live in with similar comforts, and Beth persuaded her brother to give their parents time to make proper arrangements. Joe reluctantly agreed. 

That morning, Madam Cromwell wandered the rooms of her home, checking to ensure her favorite plants were carefully wrapped for shipping. She couldn’t bear to leave them behind. As she passed by the foyer, she paused, staring at the empty urns. A tear slipped down her cheek, and she went to her knees beside one of the planters. She stroked her hands over the disturbed soil, smoothing it out.

“Oh, my darlings. My precious lilies. I am so, so sorry for what that horrible girl did to you.” 

Suddenly, her hands stilled, then she gently dug into the dirt, brushing it away. There, barely beginning to poke up into the light, was a single green sprout. 


Featured Image by Nowaja on Pixabay

The Secret Of The Lilies – Part 8

Read Part 7 here, or start from the beginning.

Blood and bone. Blood and bone.

The lilies’ commingled voices echoed in my head as I stood there, immobile. Several moments passed before I shook free from my daze. “Well, you will be disappointed at this harvest party. My friend and I ensured the workers have family or friends who will miss them. There are no ‘unwanted souls’ here tonight.”

“What? What have you done? We will make you pay!”

I ran through the house and out the kitchen door. I frantically scanned the crowd for Lori and finally saw her walking near a table, admiring the finished jack-o’-lanterns. I tried to slow my breathing and appear calm as I made my way to Lori.

“Lori, you will never believe what the lilies told me,” I murmured.

“What? Let’s go over here, where there aren’t so many people.” Lori pulled me towards the tables where discarded coloring pages and crayons remained from the children who were now eager to light their jack-o’-lanterns.

Once there, I quickly told her what the flowers said.

“What should we do?” Lori asked with a worried frown.

“It’s obvious. We have to destroy them. I will find Beth and ask if she will help us. Get some gloves from the gardening shed. I don’t think we want to touch those plants.” I gestured to the small building before slipping back among the partiers.

Beth stood near the bonfire, talking quietly with Joe. As I approached, they broke off their conversation and looked at me expectantly. Remembering Joe’s reaction when I approached him about the lilies before, I asked to speak to Beth privately. Beth nodded, and we moved a few yards away from Joe.

Once again, I relayed what I discovered, then asked, “Will you help me destroy them?”

I saw Beth hesitate as she looked at Joe. After a moment, she said, “Yes. We need a distraction. I will meet you in the foyer in ten minutes.”

“Perfect,” I replied. “Lori is getting gloves from the shed. We want to protect our hands.”

“You don’t have to worry about your hands,” Joe said from behind me.

I whirled to face him. “What do you mean?”

“The lilies don’t need you to touch them to absorb your energy. Frankly, I’m surprised they told you what they do and let you leave.”

“They said they absorb people’s life-force. And then somehow, their bodies are used to feed the lilies.” My voice rose slightly in panic as my brain echoed the words again. Blood and bone. Blood and bone.

“We take the bodies to the basement and drain the blood. Then we put the bodies in the lower compost pile to decompose. We retrieve the bones and grind them into a fine powder. I combine the blood and bones, and that is the food you give to the lilies.” Joe’s blunt tone gave me chills.

“What about the stuff Cook uses in place of meat? What is that?” I didn’t want to know but also felt compelled to ask.

Beth laughed. “That’s just tofu. Seriously!”

I glared at her. “But you said…”

“No, I allowed you to think what you wanted. How else was I going to win the bet and get you to investigate?”

“What?”

“Emma, we make a bet every time we get a new housekeeper. This time, Beth thought you would help, and I figured you were too young and scared. Apparently, I was wrong,” Joe said ruefully.

“You’re sick. Both of you.” I turned to go, but Beth caught my arm.

“Wait, please. You don’t understand.”

“Then tell me the truth. All of it.”

Beth took a deep breath. “We’re the Cromwell children. Our parents allowed us to age into adulthood, and then our parents forced us to take the pollen. Joe avoids his dose sometimes since he is outside the house so much. But they watch me take mine. We take it every full moon. It prolongs life and slows aging. I look like I’m only twenty, but I’m really one hundred and fifty years old. Joe is one hundred and fifty-seven. Every time a new housekeeper comes, we hope she’s will discover how to end this curse. We don’t want to live forever, like our parents. But we also do not have the courage to stand up to our parents.”

“Does Cook know what you are?”

“No,” Beth answered. “She thinks we’re just eccentric rich people. But she’s trustworthy. Cook keeps us a secret and tells new staff there are small children hidden away somewhere.”

“Why do you work? I mean, you’re the Cromwell’s children. They’re the richest, most prominent family in the entire valley.”

“Because we’re bored. We want to explore the world, but of course, they won’t let us. Joe tried to escape once. The guards caught him, and he spent a month locked in the basement. I can’t imagine not seeing the sun for a month!” Beth shivered. “At least working in the house gives us something to do. And Joe is fantastic with plants.”

“Now you know the truth. What are you planning to do?” Joe asked.

“Destroy the lilies. Will you help me? Tell me what I need to do to avoid being soul-sucked.”

Joe pulled a small box from his coat pocket. “Spray this on the petals. Be quick and get them all. It will numb them, in a way, and prevent them from using their powers for a short time.”

I took the box, and this time, the Cromwell children didn’t stop me when I walked away.

I went to the gardening shed, and Lori stepped out. I noticed the gloves in Lori’s hands. “Put those back. They won’t work. Joe and Beth told me more. Let’s go.”

As Lori and I made our way across the lawn and into the house, I relayed my conversation with the Cromwell children.

“That’s disgusting!” Lori said when I finished.

“I know. We are going to end it.”

I led Lori through the kitchen and into the servants’ hall. Just outside the foyer door, I stopped and opened the box, removing the small spray bottle. “I’ll go first and spray them. As soon as I do, pull them up from their roots. We’re going to add these creepy flowers to the bonfire.”

“Won’t the Cromwells try to stop us?”

“Beth said she would distract them. I don’t know what she has planned, but let’s get this done. Ready?”

Lori nodded, and I opened the door. I flicked on the light and began spritzing the liquid on the flower petals.

“What are you doing? We were friends!” came the lilies’ strange unified voice.

“We were friends. Until I discovered that you and the Cromwells are murderers,” I said, continuing to spray the lilies. “Now, Lori.”

Lori stepped out of the hallway and began grabbing handfuls of stems, yanking and throwing them into a pile on the floor. “Be sure to get them all.”

“I am,” Lori said grimly.

I finished spraying all the flower petals, then helped Lori pull up the stems. Once the large urns were empty, we gathered up the flower remains. Beth was waiting for us in the kitchen, and she opened the garden door.

“Hurry, Joe is using the slingshot to hurl fireworks over the garden, so everyone is watching him, but he will run out soon.”

We ran across the lawn towards the bonfire. Beth scooped up any blooms that fell from Lori’s or my grasps. Red, blue, and green light burst at the corners of my eyes as Joe continued his fireworks display. The fire was still immense, and the heat roared at their faces. Without hesitating, they threw the lilies into the blaze. I winced as I heard the lilies’ agonized cries as they burned. 


Featured Image by Nowaja on Pixabay.

The Secret Of The Lilies – Part 7

Read Part 6 here, or start from the beginning.

The time for the harvest party was quickly approaching, and it kept the Cromwell House staff busy with the preparations. Downstairs rooms were cleaned and aired out, wood stacked for the bonfire, and cakes created. Every evening, I fell exhausted into my bed. 

During the cleaning, I conveyed most of the plan to Beth. I was careful to do it away from the lilies. It took several hours as we didn’t have any chances to have a long conversation. 

“Lori’s going to get a list from her friend,” I whispered as I passed Beth in the hall outside the kitchen. “And her friend is going to tell all the applicants to put names of family members on their emergency contact list. If they don’t have one, he’s going to encourage them to make one up.” 

“Is that legal?” Beth whispered back. 

“Probably not, but at least this way no one will look as if they are orphans.” 

The preparation days sped by, and all too soon it was the morning of the harvest party. Garlands in fall colors of orange, brown, deep red, and yellow adorned the front porch. Vases were filled with autumn flowers such as chrysanthemums, asters, and celosias. The dining room table sported a golden runner and white and gold china dishes, ready for the Cromwell’s guests of honor. On the back lawn, portable tables and chairs were placed, along with long tables for the buffet. At the edge of the garden, the groundskeepers had prepared a place for a bonfire, and wood was stacked neatly to the side. 

Everywhere I looked, there was beauty and an air of excitement. I found it hard to believe that I had an hand in decorating the manor. My usual party decorations consisted of streamers and balloons, not this elegant arrangement of harmonious colors. The staff was industrious until lunchtime, putting the finishing touches on table settings and gathering supplies for the various games and activities. 

This time, lunch was held in the kitchen for all of the staff on a rotating schedule. Cook prepared platters of sandwiches, sliced fruit, and cut vegetables. The house staff ate first, followed by the gardeners, and then the guards. Beth took trays upstairs for the family. It took a few minutes for me to figure out who was missing. 

“Cook, where’s Esther?” 

“Eh? Oh, old Esther goes to her daughter’s the morning of the harvest party. Then the girl comes back with her for the celebration in the afternoon. I think it’s truly her only day off.” Cook began putting the leftover food away. “Let’s get this cleaned up so we can enjoy the rest of the day.” 

I helped with the dishes and once Cook was satisfied, I went to her room to change. Beth told me the employees all wore their city clothes to the party. “You know, the ones you wear to town on your days off,” she clarified when I looked at her in confusion. 

I pulled on a soft cashmere sweater in a dark blue, and black jeans. I brushed my hair out, letting it be free of the confines of a braid or bun. Then I called Lori. 

“Are you ready?” I asked as soon as Lori picked up.

“Everything’s set. I’ll see you at four.” 

I decided to wander around the garden while I reviewed our plan. I put on a dark wool jacket and headed outside. The garden beds were mostly empty this late in the season. A few pumpkins still clung to their vines — the ones that weren’t chosen for pies or carving. Corn stalks scratched against each other in the light breeze, and here and there a squished vegetable laid discarded. She could smell the sweet note of apples that were still on the trees, although most were already picked and in storage. 

“What are you doing out here, Emma?” Joe’s gruff voice interrupted my thoughts. 

I looked up to see him standing a few rows over. “Oh, hi. I’m just walking. Is that okay?”

“The party will be starting soon. You should get back.” 

His abruptness didn’t surprise me after the way their last conversation ended. “Yes, okay. See you at the party.” I turned and made my way back to the house. 

The Cromwell’s harvest party was the biggest one in town, as most of the town came. They had jack o’lantern carving contests, apple bobbing, corn hole, and more. There was enough food for everyone. I wondered where they got it all, since the house garden provided for the family and staff, but soon she realized the caterer brought most of it up. Only Cook’s treats were made at the house. 

Lori arrived promptly at four o’clock, an hour after the party started, and I was waiting for her at the top of the driveway. We hugged, and I felt Lori slip something into the pocket of her jacket. 

“Is that it?” I asked quietly. 

“Yep, and everyone has someone to miss them.” 

“Perfect. Once the bonfire starts, I’ll go see if those lilies will finally tell me the truth.”

“Have you seen the children yet?” Lori asked. 

My mouth dropped open. I had forgotten all about wanting to see the Cromwell children in my desire to save the temporary workers. “No, but they should be out here tonight, don’t you think?” 

Lori nodded, and together we headed to the buffet tables. 

As the party wore on, I kept looking at all the children present, trying to see which ones looked like Mr. or Mrs. Cromwell. They were all moving so fast, though, darting between tables and dashing from one activity to another, that I finally gave up and figured they would be introduced when the bonfire was lit. 

Finally, the sun’s last rays were beginning to disappear from the horizon, and Joe stood next to the teepee of kindling and sticks. A loud gong was heard from the house, and everyone turned towards it. Mr. and Mrs. Cromwell stood on the patio that led into the dining room, holding hands and smiling. Once the murmurs quieted, Mr. Cromwell raised his other hand and spoke in a loud voice that carried across the lawn. 

“Welcome, friends, to our annual harvest party! I won’t tell you how many years our family has been hosting as you wouldn’t believe me anyway.” Polite chuckles scattered around the crowd. “Tonight is a special night, as our dear head housekeeper, Esther, is bringing her daughter to the house for training as her successor. Please help me welcome young Abigail to our staff!” 

He released his wife’s hand and began clapping, while a young girl stepped out from the crowd to stand on the lowest stone step of the patio. The guests followed his action, and soon Abigail was blushing from the applause.  

Mr. Cromwell waived his hand and silence descended. “Thank you. I’m sure she will make a wonderful head housekeeper when she’s old enough. Now, to the part you all have been waiting for. It’s not a harvest party without a bonfire, and as part of our ritual here at Cromwell house, we invite you to write down a wish for this coming season and burn it in the fire. Joe, if you please.” 

Everyone turned back to the fire pit and watched as Joe took a punk from a bucket and lit the fuel-soaked kindling. With a rush, the fire caught and raced to the top of the teepee. Joe stepped back, and several other men came forward to add more logs to the inferno. I kept the Cromwells in my peripheral vision, and was startled to see them step down onto the grass and begin to mingle with the townsfolk. Beth told me they usually went back inside the house to their private drawing room. 

“Now’s my chance,” I told Lori. 

Before my friend could respond, I dashed to the kitchen door and raced to the entryway. The foyer was dim, lit only by the porch lights shining in the glass doors from outside. I could see well enough, however, and she stood between the two giant pots of lilies. 

“Hello, beauties,” I said as calmly as I could. 

“Hi, Emma. Enjoying the party?” Their collective voice still made chills go down my spine. 

“Yes, thank you. But I was wondering if you could tell me something.” 

“What? You probably hear more gossip than we do, since we cannot walk around.” 

“True, but this is about you, so I’m sure you know the answer.” 

“What?” They asked again. 

“What really happens at the harvest parties?” 

There was no answer. I figured the lilies wouldn’t tell her the truth. Truth…maybe I can trick them, I thought. 

“Oh, well, I guess you don’t really know. Beth said you didn’t.” I began to walk away. 

“Beth is a liar. We know!” 

“Really? Can you tell me? I promise to keep your secret.” 

There was a small gasp, almost as if the lilies all drew in a breath at the same time, and then they began speaking. “We are magic, you realize. Do you know magic?” 

“I know you’re magic,” I responded. “Regular flowers don’t talk.”

“Yes,” the lilies giggled. “We are rare. We use our magic to help the Cromwells but it needs replenished or we lose it.” 

“How do you help the Cromwells?” 

“We keep them alive. Mrs. Cromwell is three-hundred and sixty years old next month.” 

I drew in a breath. I wanted to ask if they were sure, if they were telling the truth, but I knew we could be interrupted at any moment. “And how do you need your magic replenished?” 

“The lost ones’ souls.” 

“Lost ones…do you mean the temporary workers?” 

“Yes. At the end of the harvest party, Beth and Joe bring them to us, one by one. They can’t resist smelling us. We are beautiful and alluring. When they come near, we absorb their souls.” 

“You kill them,” I stated flatly. 

“Yes, but they do not go to waste. They feed us for a long time.”

“How? What do you mean?” I felt my stomach roll and fought to keep the nausea from overwhelming me. 

“Blood and bone,” they replied. 


Featured Image by Nowaja on Pixabay.