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Today I’m reading at Fall Folk Festival, but for those who live across the country (which is all of you) I thought I’d share a sample of what I’ll be reading there. Enjoy!


Transformation, by Lucy D. Ford

When the old witch Cariyu got sick, the things she had transformed began to change back.

At first, it was just a few oddments here and there. Melliar laughed along with everyone else when Mayor Torlig’s prized roses became butterflies and flew away. He was so proud of them, and always chased the village children out of his yard. The loss seemed almost fair.

But when Old Man Mixom’s walking stick turned into a snake and bit him, it wasn’t so funny. Luckily, it wasn’t a poisonous snake. Then the ever-playing harp in the Happy Lark Tavern broke a string. The beloved instrument burst with a discordant clang. Nothing was left but a broken cherry branch, hanging over the fireplace.

Papa laughed when Melliar’s younger brother, Detrick, brought the news home. “Maybe now we’ll be able to hear ourselves think in there.”

“Papa,” Melliar ventured, “these are all Cariyu’s spellcraft. Maybe someone should look in on her.” It was what her mother would have said, if she had still been with them.

“A young thing like you needn’t trouble yourself with the likes of her,” Papa scoffed.

Detrick, who always did exactly what Papa did, added his scorn. “That old hag? She can give you a look that shrivels your soul, but when has she ever done anything useful?”

Melliar had only seen Cariyu a few times, going about the village with her shopping. She hadn’t seemed like such a hag.

Papa frowned when Melliar didn’t agree with them. “Put your book away, girl, and bring me an ale.”

“Me too, Mellie,” Detrick added. “And hurry up with it.”

As an obedient daughter, Melliar set aside the ledger, where she kept the family’s accounts, and fetched the ale. Later that night, she got out a different book. Her mother’s old journals held a lot of gossip about Yoreville’s history. She read until her eyes burned, and found nothing about the witch hurting anyone without a good reason.

The next day, after Papa and Detrick had gone to work at the mill, Melliar sped through her chores and walked down the dell. Cariyu lived in a stone cottage surrounded by a garden of vegetables and herbs, just like any house in the town. The witch was sitting in her rocking chair, breathing hard. From the height of the weeds in the garden, it had been some time since she had enough strength to manage them.

Melliar helped her inside. Cobwebs draped the rafters and dust dimmed the shelves full of bottles, crocks and jars.

“What can I do to help?” she asked.

The old woman pinned her with a keen gaze. “Did your father send you over?”

“No, Madame Cariyu,” Melliar confessed. She was afraid the old woman, so clearly ill, would send her home. But the look the witch gave her did not shrivel her soul.

“I believe I should like a posset,” said the witch. So Melliar made one with the things Cariyu named from her shelves.


For the next few weeks, Melliar worked extra hard. First her chores and cooking at home, then the same for Cariyu, and then reading late into the night. Once Cariyu felt a little stronger, she sent Melliar to a hilltop overlooking Yoreville. A stone statue of a great black demon stood poised as if to soar down on the village. She returned to the witch and assured her there were no cracks or other signs that the statue might have moved from its place.

“Then I can rest,” Cariyu sighed. Her chin fell forward so quickly that Melliar had to rescue the posset from spilling down her front.

Despite her care, the reverse transformations became more serious. For years, a stray cat had been hanging around the Widow Gabrieth’s house. She was always chasing it away with her broom. Great was the mirth and scandal when the animal suddenly turned back into her “dead” husband. The ensuing argument could be heard all down the street.

“A tomcat, indeed!” Detrick hooted during supper.

“But the poor man,” Melliar said. Something awful must have happened, for Cariyu to impose such a punishment.

“Don’t be a sourpuss,” Papa quipped. He and Detrick roared with laughter.

Not long after that, water from the town well was clotted with strands of slimy goo. Then the church’s bell tower turned from red bricks into blocks of cheese. It sagged a bit, but held firm, although the scent of cheese was nauseating on hot afternoons.

“This is a cruel jest,” sermonized the priest. “The witch’s evil has eaten her mind away.”

Papa agreed. “It will be a glad day for Yoreville when the old hag is gone.”

Based on her mother’s journals, Melliar wasn’t so sure.


What made the villagers take the problem seriously was when a fancy ring in the silversmith’s window turned into braided grass during the night. This set off a stampede of the wealthy and well connected, all desperate to know if their gems and gold had turned back into pebbles and leaves. Some had, some hadn’t, and nobody wanted to admit which had happened to them.

Looking at the rose-less bushes and smelling the stench of sour cheese in Yoreville made Melliar wonder about the town’s future. Surely they had the basics for prosperity — the river and the green fields it nourished. Still, how much of its stability was built on Cariyu’s waning power? What would be left if the witch never recovered?

She didn’t get to ask those questions. Cariyu’s house now saw a parade of pouting daughters, sent by their wealthy parents to gain the witch’s favor. They made small talk about parties and gowns, all while trying to make possets when they obviously hadn’t the first idea how. Melliar was crowded aside, and Cariyu kept getting weaker.

The witch knew she was there, though. One day, when she stayed behind to clean up the mess in the kitchen, Cariyu called to her.

“Well, girl, wouldn’t you like to turn those snobs into scarecrows?”

“No, Madame,” Melliar answered, slightly shocked. “They don’t deserve that. They’re foolish, but not wicked.”

The witch had a knowing gleam in her eye. “There’s no one you’d want to pay you back? No one at all?”

The words made her think of Detrick, badgering her for ale as if she was a servant rather than his older sister. But she wasn’t here because of him. Melliar had read up to the fourth volume of her mother’s journal. The big black statue on the hill was what had her worried.

“No, Madame Cariyu. But if you’re feeling well enough, I wouldn’t mind knowing more about how you transformed the demon Nimmikal into a statue.”

“Oh, you’ve heard that story?” The witch cackled, but then she started coughing so hard that Melliar rushed to fix her posset. “Now then,” she croaked, and coughed some more. “Now then, girl, listen to me. I hear that you like to read.”

“Yes, Madame?”

Cariyu told Melliar how to open a hidden shelf behind the bin of firewood. A case of oiled leather held a very different book.

“That is an account of all my spellcraft. Take it,” the witch said faintly. “Lines with dull ink are dead, as I soon will be. You need not worry about them. But if the ink shines, even a little, you must visit and make certain nothing I bound has broken free. The task is yours, along with all I have gathered here.”

Melliar didn’t really hear at first. Her eyes were on the grimoire, which was not large, but felt heavier than it should. There were straps around it with a lock, but she knew where they key was. She had found it while cleaning behind one of the crocks on the upper shelf.

Now she pulled it down and set it into the lock. As she turned the key, a kind of breeze trembled through the cottage. She turned to look and was sad, but not surprised, to see the old witch Cariyu slumped in her rocking chair, dead.


Melliar kept a vigil in the witch’s cottage that night, guarding her body. She used the time to read through the grimoire. First, she looked for the paragraph about the demon Nimmikal. The ink was dull and dark. It was a relief to know that terrifying creature would never menace Yoreville again.

There were many other things to learn. She studied a few charms that would be useful if any would-be thieves arrived to plunder the witch’s cottage. It would take her weeks, months, years to absorb the rest. She had plenty of time for that.

There were other matters to settle, however. The stuffy priest in Yoreville would never permit a witch to have a church funeral. Melliar laid her in the ground, a little farther down the dell. Then she returned to her father’s house.

“Where were you all night?” Papa demanded. And Detrick complained, “We were hungry.”

Not worried about her, Melliar noted. Thinking only of themselves. “Cariyu is dead,” she explained.

“So what?” Detrick groused.

Papa was quicker to understand. “You’ve been studying with that witch?” he bellowed. “Get out of my house!”

Melliar was through being an obedient daughter. “I’m glad I have your blessing, Papa.”

Detrick stood with his mouth open while she collected a few belongings, most especially their mother’s journals. He didn’t offer to help her carry anything over to her new home in the dell.

Later, Melliar walked back to the church. The priest must have heard rumors. He blocked her way before she could enter the church yard.

“Away with you, vessel of evil!”

Melliar smiled pleasantly, though it infuriated him. “Shall I restore your bell tower, or do you prefer it remain a cheese?”

He sputtered, “What wicked foolishness! Who would build a tower with blocks of cheese?”

“Maybe they were in a hurry. I meant to ask Madame Cariyu, but I never got the chance.” When he didn’t move aside, she added, “I’ll let you decide what you want.”

As she walked through the town, pondering whether to deal with the polluted well or the weeds in her garden, a familiar voice called out.

“Mellie! Mellie, wait!”

She did not wait, but continued at her normal pace. Still, Detrick caught up with her.

“So you’re the witch now,” he spoke slyly. “I was thinking that you could change a bit of gold for me. It’s all well and good for Papa to work in the mill, but I thought I’d open my own shop.”

Melliar turned to her brother, who ignored her unless he wanted something. The church tower and well weren’t the only things in Yoreville that needed a transformation.

“Please call me Madame Melliar.” And she gave him a look fit to shrivel his soul.


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As a reminder, I made a blog visit to Entertaining Stories last Thursday. Lisa Burton Radio interviewed my character, Dan Forster, from The Gellboar. It’s a great interview and getting lots of comment. Go ahead a check it out if you missed it the first time.

And now, I have a short story to share. Those who have read my collection, Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, will recognize this as an indirect sequel to my lyrical fantasy, “Dandelion.” Think of it as my holiday gift to you. Enjoy!


THE WINTER WISH
by Lucy D. Ford

The Withertines, home to the grimkin folk, knew neither night nor day. Ashpall clotted the gaps between its metal towers, so thick that it blocked true daylight, while arclights glared from its factories and shops to banish real darkness. Like a nest of ants, the grimkin passed their lives in a churning seethe of Industry. Only commerce mattered: the squeezing and stocking of wealth. None felt joy in his labors, nor had they for many an age.

Yet even in such a place, there sometimes were children. A grimchild might sometimes be loved, in a passing manner. Most were merely looked after until they were old enough to heed the inescapable call of Industry. And most of them grew up just so. Not content, precisely, for the grimkin could never know happiness, but secure in their driven purpose.

Yet there once was a grimchild born cursed with curiosity and a joyous heart. He dwelt in the frugal company of a stranger who regarded him as naught but her job. She shushed him sternly when he laughed, and never smiled herself. Not even when a bowl tipped and the peas rolled over to drop on the floor, one by one, and it was really quite funny.

“Don’t waste food!” Nanny scolded. “Do you know what that cost?”

And when he tripped and landed on his knee and it hurt so badly, she paid no need to his crying.

“Stop running around, and that won’t happen,” Nanny lectured. “You should be sitting down, learning to read and reckon your sums. Those are what every grimkin needs.”

Alas for the grimchild, he was forever thinking of new questions. Gazing out the narrow window, where the ashpall drifted among towers of glass and steel, he asked, “What is in the clouds?”

“Breathe deeply,” said Nanny. “The smoke will make you strong.”

The Grimchild opened the window, breathed deeply, and coughed. He did not feel any stronger.

On another day, he turned his desk lamp on and off, off and on. “What is electricity made of?” he asked.

“Who cares, as long as the lights come on,” Nanny snapped.

Still another day found him at the window again. All was hustle and hurry beneath the endless grimy haze. A flight of ragged pigeons circled above the smoke stacks.

“Are the birds made here, in the Withertines,” he wondered, “or do they come from somewhere else?”

“Fool child, there is nowhere else!” cried the exasperated Nanny. She gave the grimchild a little swat before banging him down in a chair.

“No more windows,” she declared, hauling on the drapery cord. “Let me hear your multiplication tables, or you’ll have no supper, neither.”

Dreary weeks went by. Then the grimchild happened upon a book he hadn’t seen before. The book was about science, so perhaps Nanny wouldn’t mind him taking a look. He opened the cover, and blinked, and rubbed his eyes.

There was a wonderful picture, and everything in it was white. Spiky trees crowded a hillside. Behind them, magnificent cliffs stretched up and up to an impossible stony spire. All bore a heavy coat of some unfamiliar substance. It was purely white, yet sparkling.

The grimchild had never seen such a color. The arclights of the Withertines were tinted sallow gold. The paper he wrote his numbers on was nearly gray. What could this be?

Squinting, he picked out tiny letters: The Cloudtorn Peak in winter’s snow.

“Winter.” The grimchild dared to speak, tasting the strangeness of the words. “Snow.”

“What?” called Nanny from the next room. The grimchild quickly shut the book.

“Ten times nine is ninety,” he recited. “Ten times eight is eighty.”

“Quite right.” Nanny nodded, pleased that the boy was taking his studies more seriously.

“Ten times seven is seventy,” droned the grimchild, all the way down to “Ten times zero is zero.”

All the time, his eyes were full of that dazzling vision, The Cloudtorn Peak in winter’s snow. He soon slipped away to the window.

Beyond the smeary glass, the ashpall reigned. Dark, roiling vapors obscured the neon glare. Concrete chasms divided rank on rank of slate roofs. Not one single thing was white.

“How I wish I could see the winter’s snow,” sighed the grimchild.

Check back on Wednesday to read the conclusion!


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And cymbals crash as the door flies open. Ta-da! Aunt Ursula’s Atlas is here.

So I’m super-excited, in my stoic way. After years of searching out markets for my retro fantasy short stories, I’ve taken the leap to self-publish a collection. It’s a little bit scary, but mostly fun, to bring out a book on my own initiative.

 

DFMAP10_8x8

Cover illustration by Margaret Organ-Kean.

On a high shelf, in a hidden library,
There is a book of unknown wonders.

Open its pages. Explore mysterious lands.
See for yourself what lies within
Aunt Ursula’s Atlas.

So what’s inside?

Dragons, of course! And a unicorn. Some witches. A dryad. A dwarf. Thrilling adventures and hard lessons to learn. All this for $3.99.

Eleven short stories for middle grades — that is, grades 4 to 6. Half are in the fairy tale style you might remember from my podcast, The Dragon King. The others are an assortment of fantasy styles.

Where can you get this wondrous-ness?

Right now, it’s available only as an e-book. Trade paperback is in the works. It’s in Apple, Kindle and Epub formats, through a variety of outlets. I hope you’ll follow your favorite link and give it a try.

General purchase hub (links to Apple, Nook, Kobo, 24 Symbols, Inktera). Others soon to be available include Page Foundry, Scribd and Tolino.

And, of course, Amazon.

Not exactly a purchase link, but here’s Goodreads as well.

One last thing

Reviews! If you do buy the book, I sure could use some reviews. I’ll be contacting a few friends about specific publicity, but any one of you could add it to wish lists, mark it to-be-read, and otherwise help spread the joy.

Thanks for being so awesome!

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