So for the last however-many years, I’ve been doing an October series called Witchy Weekends. Some years I reviewed books or movies, presented songs, that sort of thing. Then in 2019 I began posting consecutive scenes from a story I was writing; one of the characters is a witch. It seemed like a fun experiment, and…well…the story got some really good attention!
But I was also in the middle of finishing up my (at the time) next book — which is out now, by the way. It’s called Homecoming, Book 2 in the Animal Affinities Series. (Click on this link to find out information about the online launch event in a few weeks!) So I put this new story aside.
Well, some of my blog readers have been asking me about that story and have encouraged me to resume it. (Thank you!) So I have agreed! Today’s post is a slightly edited version of the scenes I posted last year, so you don’t have to go look them up. As for the story’s progress, I do have a rough outline of what’s coming next, but also, I am writing this story as we go along. So if you want to leave feedback or speculate on what’s coming next in the comments of each post, feel free. I make no promises about whether your ideas will make it into the future scenes — as I said, I’ve already kind of figured some of that out — but this story is also a fun exercise in plontsing, so.
That said, let us commence with…
THE FROG WISH
Eleanor couldn’t stop staring at the frog. A large creature, larger than the palm of her hand, it watched her as she circled the table, following her with its eyes and even turning a little to keep her in its line of sight. Maybe it was aware she was wondering about it? The thought made her a little uncomfortable. In her world, frogs were supposed to be garden animals. They did not possess the intelligence to be inquisitive about people. This one almost reminded her of Lucas, the way he had watched her sometimes from across the room, cocking his head slightly when she did something a little bit interesting. She circled around the table, and the frog’s eyes moved with her in an articulated curve, watching her until she stood behind him.
The frog lifted itself off its haunches and turned around, squatting once more, looking at Eleanor again. It made a little croak.
All the old stories of princes being turned into frogs by witches flooded her imagination. What would it feel like to kiss one? Slimy, no doubt… What would ever possess someone to try it? She looked over at Moira, measuring dried lavender buds carefully into a plastic bag for a customer.
“Now be sure to sprinkle those in the bath while the warm water is running,” she was saying. “And say the charm I gave you at the same time.”
The customer nodded her head. “Right. And I have to focus on myself only, not on anyone else.”
“You wouldn’t want to be unethical,” Moira smiled. She tossed a long braid over her shoulder. “Bad for your karma that way.”
“Got it. Thank you so much!” the customer called as she left the shop.
Moira looked back at Eleanor and grinned. “Some of them are so easy to please,” she said. “Just a few herbs and a decent meditation, and they think I’ve changed their lives.”
Eleanor looked at her friend more carefully, then glanced down at the frog, who’d just let loose a croak worthy of a blue ribbon. It blinked its moist eyes at her then looked away.
“This one of yours?” Eleanor asked, pointing to it.
“Who, Reginald?” Moira laughed. “He’s like a pet.”
Eleanor couldn’t believe she was about to ask it, but–– “Did you make him…?”
“Did I turn him into a frog, you mean?” The amused grin on her face tried hard not to look condescending.
Eleanor felt stupid now even for thinking something like that.
“No,” Moira laughed. “I found him that way. The Goddess has to take credit for that one.”
Eleanor sheepishly turned away from the frog, who croaked again, and followed Moira into the book room for tea and a cozy seat on the sofa.
The book room was Eleanor’s favorite spot in the entire shop. Oh, she liked the garden well enough, and the alcove filled with crystals and jewelry; the shelves lined with large glass jars full of powders and dried herbs fascinated her. But the book room, with its floor-to-ceiling rows of spellbooks, memoirs, meditation primers, and tarot decks, was absolutely the spot to be. Moira had set up a couple of Queen Anne wingback chairs (that might have been worth some real money if she’d reupholstered them) in the corners and a velvet divan under the window, and Eleanor often came in here to read or admire the art on the tarot cards. When things were slow, she and Moira would sit together for a cup of oolong or chai and pretend the world wasn’t a madly spinning maelstrom of nonsense.
Moira pointed to a small wooden box inlaid with mother-of-pearl on the coffee table. “A new deck arrived this week.” She crossed the room to pour the tea.
Eleanor lifted the lid and drew back a dark blue silk covering the cards. An intricate image stared up at her, a wildly overlapping pattern of jewel colors and shapes she couldn’t quite identify, and when she tried to impose some order onto it, the image seemed to shift back into chaos. An optical illusion, she thought. Clever. She flipped the first card over and saw The Fool, cheerfully traipsing down a haphazard path. Nothing she hadn’t seen before, even if the art was vibrant and appealing. She lifted the rest of the deck out of the box and sifted through it. The Major Arcana were gorgeous but easily recognizable, even without glancing at their titles or numbers.
Moira brought two teacups over and sat down. The scent of cinnamon and vanilla permeated the room.
“I still haven’t figured out how you manage such perfect foam without a latte machine,” Eleanor said.
Moira wrinkled her nose in a cute smile and sipped, then said, “What do you think of the new cards?”
“They’re lovely. Have you used them yet?”
“Just some idle browsing.” Moira set down her tea. “Would you like a reading?”
Eleanor glanced at her watch. She still had half an hour before her appointment with the antiques dealer. “Maybe a quick one.”
“Go ahead and shuffle them then,” Moira said and spread the silk cloth across the table. After Eleanor handed the cards back, Moira laid out three in a row, face-down. She turned the middle one over. “The Empress.” She gave Eleanor a sly smile. “Where have we seen this before?”
Eleanor dismissed it. “Yes, yes, you’re very optimistic about my ability to effect control over my own life blah blah blah.” She drank more of her tea.
Moira shook her head. “Not with that attitude, I’m not.”
“In your past…” She flipped over the left-most card. “You have the five of cups.”
Also no surprise. Neither of them said anything, because neither of them wanted to argue about Lucas. Not again. Eleanor looked at the figure on the card mourning the spilled wine and ignoring the full chalices just out of reach. Moira gazed at it, too, but rather than say anything, she buried her face in her teacup.
After a moment, Eleanor cleared her throat. “Go ahead,” she murmured. “Show me the future.” As if a deck of cards could do such a thing.
Moira flipped over the last card. Death. The card that meant not actual death, but change. Big change. The kind of change no one could help you with or see you through. The kind of change you had to deal with alone.
“Well.” Eleanor took another sip then placed her teacup down as quietly as she could. “I suppose that’s good news, then, isn’t it?”
Moira looked up at her and crooked an eyebrow.
“I mean, right now, almost any change has got to be good. Hasn’t it?”
Moira laughed then, and the tension in the room crackled into a broken web. “We can do a longer reading later, if you like.” She gathered the deck into her hands and began idly shuffling them.
Eleanor shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m not sure I believe in all this stuff.”
Moira paused and gave her a skeptical look. “That would explain why I’ve done more readings for you than anyone else in the last fifteen years. Combined.”
Eleanor opened her mouth to speak but found she had no clever response, so she downed the last of her tea instead. “I need to go anyway. Work beckons.”
The wind chimes in the front room signaled a customer had come into the shop. “So it does,” Moira said and took both teacups back to the tiny closet she’d turned into a snack station.
Eleanor wrapped the cards carefully back in their cloth and returned them to the box, closed the lid. “I’ll call you later,” she said. Moira nodded and they both walked into the front room, where a skittery young man was looking through a small box of watercolor greeting cards.
“I’m looking for a gift,” he said before Moira could even ask.
She nodded. “I know just the thing.”
This caught him off-guard. “You do? But I haven’t told––”
Moira shook her head gently. “No need.” She smiled, and he suddenly stopped fidgeting.
“Oh,” he said, looking a little confused. “Oh.”
“I’ll show you.” Moira gestured to the garden just beyond the open back patio door. He nodded and stepped toward it.
Moira patted Eleanor on the shoulder and slipped a small item into her pocket. “Later, then,” she said and walked back toward her customer.
Eleanor felt a small hard something wrapped in ribbon next to her car key. “Will do,” she said and headed out the front door to a meeting that would be far more straightforward than this visit had been.
A single croak stopped her progress halfway over the threshold. She turned and saw the frog again, perched on the desk, watching her. She resisted the urge to tell it good-bye. It was a frog.
Eleanor paused. Then she shook her head. “Nope.”
She walked out.
The antiques store, a peeling pier-and-beam house in the unzoned Montrose area, was nothing if not old. But then all the vintage and antique shops lining this street were. It was like two blocks living in the past amidst some conspicuously hip restaurants and the artsy residential section of town. Eleanor climbed the noisy wooden steps to the front porch and opened the screen door. The oak door, whose red paint had faded to a morose coral, was propped open and blocked her view of what had probably been a dining room in the 1930s.
“Hello?” she called down a hallway lined with ornate wooden furniture. The living room to her left contained several sideboards and secretary desks, as well as some framed prints she thought might have dated back to the forties. She glanced around the oak door: the dining room was filled with small tables and their chairs. She heard a scuffling coming from the depths of the house, someone’s boots shifting on the wooden floors.
“I’ll be there in a sec,” a voice called out from the labyrinth of dressers and bedframes and curio cabinets and chairs and vanities Eleanor knew the house contained. All of these antique shops were alike––too many pieces of old furniture wedged into rooms barely big enough to hold both the merchandise and a passel of customers.
“I’ll come to you,” Eleanor answered and picked her way through the hall to the next open space. Openish. At least the merchandise seemed to be in good shape. Sure, there was a thin layer of dust on some of the taller pieces and the persistent aroma of incipient mildew germane to pretty much every place like this on the Gulf Coast that didn’t have central air and heat. But otherwise the proprietor seemed to have a good handle on how to take care of the antiques. That encouraged her.
The shop owner came into view, navigating a row of end tables. He was an older man, probably approaching sixty, in a dark green t-shirt and blue jeans. He saw Eleanor and waved.
“Hey there.” His subtle twang suggested she was dealing with a born-and-raised. “I’m guessing you’re Ms. Richardsen.”
“I am,” she said, walking toward him with hand outstretched. He shook it. “Call me Eleanor.”
“Righty then.” He looked around. “I’m Joe. I just got some new dressers in last week, so the shop is a little bursting. But the––you were looking for bedframes?––I have some nice ones, about a hundred years old, from upstate New York.” He waved her toward the next room. “Rich mahogany stain, some lovely carvings.”
She had intended to see the new inventory so she would know what was available when she met with her clients next week, but she also needed a new bedframe herself because Lucas had taken theirs when he left. She’d bought a new mattress and box springs and metal frame on casters the same afternoon, because where else was she going to sleep? Moira had offered her the guest room at her house for as long as she needed, but Eleanor was determined to make her own space as quickly as she could.
It didn’t help that Lucas was Moira’s cousin and might show up there, looking for either company or commiseration or spells. Moira was staying totally neutral with her uncanny ability not to take sides. Maybe all the meditation kept her centered? Eleanor had no idea.
Suddenly today seemed like the right time to start making her new space. She looked around at all the beautiful old wood, at the carvings and stains and intricate details just begging for someone to dust them off and bring out their beauty.
“You know, I might be in the market for some new pieces myself,” she said.
Joe glanced up at her with a cheery smile. “That sounds nice,” he said and turned toward the back corner of the room. “How about this one?” He moved an umbrella stand made from a tree trunk off to the side and wiped a chamois cloth across the top of a queen-sized headboard peaked with an elaborately carved medallion. The image looked familiar, somehow, a triple spiral curling in on itself. It was pretty, but she didn’t know where she’d seen it before. The stain on the wood highlighted its grain pattern; the diagonal patterns on either side of the midline created an oppositional symmetry she found pleasing.
“I love it,” she said without thinking. She should have shown a little more hesitation to get the best price. Too late now, though. “Matching footboard?”
Joe nodded. It was propped up behind the headboard for some reason. “The side rails are solid and strong, no warping or chips at all, but you’ll need to add your own slats to hold the mattress and box.” He sniffed and scratched his scalp. “Probably four good two-by-fours oughtta do it, but get six if you want extra stability.”
For what? she thought sullenly but just nodded her head. She knew the enthusiasm in her eyes had dimmed. “How much?”
He leaned his head from side to side. “Six hundred, but we can work something out if you buy anything else.”
“Like what?” she asked. “Does this bed come with any matching pieces?” Lucas had taken the dresser, too, but she didn’t care as much about that. He was into Scandinavian “clean lines,” which she found utterly lacking in character.
“Course it does.” He smiled and led her toward a cluster of bureaus. “This is part of the same set.” His chamois wiped the top of an imposing cabinet almost as tall as she was. It had numerous large drawers and matching cabinet doors on the sides. The legs were carved in a style she didn’t see often. Every detail, down to the carved horn knobs, was thoughtful and deliberate. The top of the piece lifted with a trap door to reveal a modest storage space––she imagined it filled with gloves and the occasional decorative fan, maybe an embroidered handkerchief––and a place for a mirror, which was missing. That didn’t bother her, though. The bureau was gorgeous and in good shape.
“This is becoming an expensive appointment,” Eleanor said, injecting a note of caution into her voice.
“It’s solid stuff. You won’t find this design anywhere else in Houston.”
That much was true. She hadn’t seen anything else like these in all her years of collecting.
“Take both pieces, we’ll call it nine-fifty.”
“That bureau is missing its mirror.”
Joe grinned. “I got plenty of mirrors here.”
Eleanor sighed. She was going to buy this furniture, she already knew it. She didn’t even really mind how much this was costing her; she’d prepared for that when she’d decided to furnish her bedroom with antiques––to remake her own space in her own image, as it were––and these were fair prices for the value.
She backed away from the bureau section and followed Joe toward a room filled with glass. A single chandelier in the middle of the ceiling was reflected in thirty or forty mirrors lining the walls, so even though it had just a few warm bulbs in it, the room was the brightest in the shop so far. The selection was overwhelming. She could understand why this room was so far back in the labyrinth; in the front room it might scare customers off.
She turned around in a circle under the chandelier, trying to absorb all the different mirrors. Seeing herself reflected in so many distortions and angles made her a little dizzy, so she avoiding looking at that; she focused on the bevels and frames and occasional imperfections in the surfaces. Then another piece, framed in dark wood and standing so tall it nearly grazed the ceiling, caught her eye.
“I really like this one,” Eleanor said, pointing to the large mirror in the corner. It was propped up against the wall with a chiffonier in front of it, obscuring its bottom half.
“That one? Really?” Joe asked.
Eleanor looked at him, a little surprised by his hesitation. “Is something wrong with it?”
Joe shifted his weight and put his hands in his pockets before answering, as if he wasn’t sure how to explain to her what ought to be incredibly obvious. “Well, it’s just got all these water spots on it, so you can hardly see anything clear. We even tried Windexing the thing, but that’s as clean as it gets.”
“It’s not so bad.”
He looked at her skeptically, as if she weren’t looking at the same mirror he was. This mirror had long jagged streaks of frosted imperfection ripping its smooth surface from the top of the carved frame to the bottom beveled edge.
“I think it was in a fire or something,” he offered.
“The frame is marvelous, though, don’t you think?” She wasn’t sure why she was defending this piece, since she was pretty sure she could talk down the price if he didn’t expect the mirror could be sold.
“Well, yeah, it’s all right––but I’ve got a similar frame, in a smaller scale, over on this other mirror over here…” His voice trailed off as he made his way toward one hanging on a wall. It was an oval about a foot wide. The price tag was just about the same as on the one Eleanor had picked out, but her mirror couldn’t have been smaller than four feet by seven.
She looked at Joe over her nose as if amused. “There’s hardly a comparison.”
“But the glass on this one is perfect––you can’t hardly even see through the other one. It’s been here forever.”
She pretended to consider this point; she never really looked into mirrors much, anyway, but she loved having them around. The imperfections wouldn’t bother her at all. She walked carefully back over to her choice.
“You’re right, this one is quite flawed,” she said. “Perhaps you could lower the price on it? I mean, if you aren’t selling it otherwise, I could take it off your hands. Especially if I’m taking those other two pieces.”
The dealer looked like he was thinking about her offer, then said, “Ten percent off.”
She chuckled, ha! “How about twenty?”
“Sold if you’ll deliver all of it to my house for free. I’m just in the neighborhood here.”
“Yeah…okay. I can have someone bring it around this afternoon.”
“Done,” she said cheerfully, shaking Joe’s hand and then reaching into her purse for her wallet.
Moira whistled low when Eleanor told her she’d spent over twelve hundred dollars on a few new pieces of furniture for her bedroom. “I’m sure it’s a fair price for everything,” she said, but Eleanor knew she was thinking it was just a whole lot of money, especially after she’d splurged on the really nice new mattress and box springs. “Would you like some help getting everything settled in?”
Eleanor would. Moira arrived a little after six, as soon as she closed up her shop. The delivery men had been gone only about fifteen minutes, and as soon as she let Moira in, Eleanor sprawled out on the floor with a cold bottle of water sluicing condensation onto her forehead.
“The bed is actually already put together,” Eleanor explained. “I got the supporting slats after I left the antiques shop and made it home just in time. But there aren’t any sheets on it yet, and the bureau is empty.” She sat up. “And there’s the matter of the mirror.”
“What mirror?” Moira asked, lifting the tapestry satchel off her shoulder and making herself comfortable on the sofa.
“I bought a new one. I don’t even know why.”
“You like mirrors. This one must have felt special to you.”
Eleanor took the water bottle off her face and turned to Moira. “Look around you at all the mirrors in this house.”
There were maybe a dozen scattered around the walls in the living room, the hallway, even the kitchen. And all of them were smaller than eight inches in diameter, some of them so decorated by their frames that they weren’t even useful as looking glasses. Eleanor loved mirrors, but she didn’t really use them.
Moira shrugged. “This isn’t the first time I’ve been inside your house. What’s so special about this?”
Eleanor cleared her throat unnecessarily. “The mirror I bought is…large.”
Then a sly grin. “Maybe you’ll be able to check your outfit properly before you leave the house each morning.”
Eleanor flipped her half-empty water bottle at her, but she wasn’t really annoyed. Her friend caught the bottle and laughed.
“Yeah, that’s fair.” Eleanor heaved herself to standing. “Come on, I’ll show you.”
“Just a minute.” Moira rummaged around in her satchel. She pulled out a gift-wrapped rectangle and handed it to her. “Here, have a house-reclaiming gift.”
“What is this?” Eleanor eagerly slid a fingernail under the edge of the wrapping paper.
“A book,” Moira said, although that was obvious from its shape.
The paper shed, Eleanor held a heavy volume of Grimms’ original fairy tales. She fingered the gilt edges of the pages and ran her palm down the thick spine, searching for something to say. She flipped through some of the pages.
“These illustrations are beautiful.”
Moira smiled. “I thought you’d like them, since you love the art in my tarot cards so much.”
Eleanor only nodded slightly, keeping her eyes fixed on the book. She didn’t want to risk another reading tonight.
“This isn’t a full set of their stories, of course––there are hundreds of them––but all the usual suspects are in there, all the stories we grew up with.”
“It’s really nice,” Eleanor said. “But…” She felt a little awkward. “Isn’t this––I mean, aren’t I a little old for fairy tales?”
Moira sighed, but her cheerfulness didn’t fade. “Actually, my dear, that is the problem.”
“I don’t understand.”
A delicate shrug. “No matter. Let’s go see the new furniture.”
When Eleanor opened the door to her bedroom, everything felt strange and cold. Unlived-in. It actually felt like she really had just moved in.
Moira stepped over the threshold and let out a long, slow breath. “You really are reclaiming this space,” she murmured, her voice a mixture of admiration and awe.
“I suppose.” Eleanor sniffed. “It’s a lot of work––”
“Everything worth doing is.” Moira swiveled to catch Eleanor’s eyes. “Don’t be afraid of it. Even the upheaval can be an act of creation.”
That sounded like another one of those strange things Moira sometimes said that probably meant more than Eleanor thought it did at first and which maybe felt a little confusing. Eleanor felt a sudden shift in her core that suggested she would understand it better later, whether she wanted to or not. She shuddered involuntarily.
Moira cocked her head. “Something the matter?”
“Just a chill down my spine.”
Moira smiled and ventured farther into the room. As she inspected the carvings on the bedframe and the multitude of drawers and cabinets and hiding spaces on the bureau, her mood grew giddy. “You’ve made some beautiful choices,” she said.
Eleanor noticed a tightness in her chest. It didn’t feel like she had made amazing choices lately. A sudden powerful impulse to sit down and just have a good cry came over her. She didn’t want to, but she found herself plopping down in the middle of the floor, the fairy tale book in her lap, and leaning her face into her hands. Then Moira’s arm was around her shoulders, her head resting on top of Eleanor’s, and the world stopped spinning out of control. Moira smelled like cinnamon and cocoa, one of Eleanor’s favorite combinations.
“Okay,” she said, dredging up a renewed sense of energy. “Come see this mirror and then let’s get some dinner.” They stood.
“Do you want a reading first?” Moira asked, opening her satchel again. “I brought your favorite deck.”
She shook her head, not sure she wanted to see what the cards had to say this time.
Moira opened her mouth but then closed it again quickly. Eleanor almost asked what she’d been about to say, but she knew if it was important she’d say it later over a roasted eggplant and spinach salad.
“Here we go,” Eleanor said as they stood in front of the new mirror. It took up most of the wall between the closet and the bathroom. The cloudy white streaks running down the entire surface distorted the image of the bedroom and of the two women standing in it. Moira cocked her head to the side again and flipped her long braids behind her shoulders. Her green sweater and broomstick skirt appeared to be one long dress. Eleanor’s unkempt ponytail looked even messier.
“Ah, I see,” Moira said.
That sounded enigmatic. “What?”
Moira looked at her, a small smile pinching her lips, then went over to where they’d been sitting and picked up the Grimms volume. She came back and handed it to Eleanor.
“What’s this about?” Moira was acting more strangely silent than usual. She patted Eleanor’s pocket, the one she’d slipped the ribbon-wrapped something into earlier that day. Eleanor had forgotten all about it.
Moira smiled. “Don’t lose that,” she said. Eleanor reached into her pocket to take it out and see what it was, but Moira stopped her. “Not yet,” she cautioned. Then she positioned Eleanor squarely in the center of the mirror and stepped away. “Don’t move.”
Eleanor felt a strange compulsion not to, but she asked, “Why not?”
Moira reached inside her satchel. Out of the corner of Eleanor’s eye, she thought she could see a small vial, which Moira emptied into the palm of her hand.
“Do you trust me, Eleanor?”
Of course she did. Even when she wasn’t sure it was the best course of action. “You know the answer to that.”
Moira nodded, then stepped forward and kissed Eleanor gently on the cheek. “You’re going to be okay.” She stepped back out of the mirror range again.
“I appreciate the vote of confidence, but what––”
Then Moira blew whatever was in her hand into Eleanor’s face. She coughed in a haze of something glittery and sweet. This was getting a little theatrical, even for Moira.
“What was th––”
Then the floor trembled beneath her and she stumbled. The lights flickered. She dropped the book but caught it before it could land; for some reason, that seemed important. When she straightened up again and rubbed her eyes, she opened them onto a silvery landscape. She spun around.
“Moira? What was––”
She expected to see her bedroom, and she did, but it was a narrow perspective framed by the same beveled edge as the mirror. Long jagged streaks of cloudy white interrupted the view. Moira stood exactly opposite her, in the bedroom. But Eleanor wasn’t there with her.
She looked at her surroundings. They were both familiar and strange. “What the hell did you do, Moira?” She heard her voice growing impatient and felt her throat constricting. “What sort of hallucination is this?”
Moira shook her head gently. “It’s not a hallucination. And you’re going to be fine.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Don’t panic, love. I’ll take care of your house while you’re gone and be right here when you get back.”
“Back from where?” She gestured angrily around her. “Where on earth am I?”
“It’s all good, Eleanor. I’ll send Reginald to help you.”
“What? Your frog?? Are you out of you mind?” Eleanor felt like she was maybe out of her own.
Moira smiled. “Just sit tight. He’ll find you if you aren’t too far from this spot. It won’t take long.” She blew her a kiss then waved good-bye. When she stepped out of view, Eleanor’s bedroom looked unfamiliar and uninviting. Then the lights dimmed and she heard the door close.
She sat down heavily onto the silvery ground, trying to make sense of where she was and what had happened. But there was no way she could. Nothing in her reality could possibly prepare her for the possibility of entering a…a…what even was this? Some kind of mirror world?
She pushed her hand into the streaky view of her bedroom, but she couldn’t press past the glass.
“I don’t believe this,” she murmured. She put her face back in her hands and waited for the sense of upheaval, the spinning and cold sweat, to subside.
When she got back to where she was supposed to be, she and Moira were going to have words.
The mirror world was cold. Eleanor wasn’t dressed warmly enough in the bum-around t-shirt she’d put on to move furniture. She let her hair out of its ponytail, but that only kept the wind off her neck and shoulders. It was something, but not enough. And she had no idea how long she’d been here because whenever she looked at her watch, the hands just spun around like a drunken compass pointing at everything but the time. And the landscape they gestured to appeared to be a grayscale world of nebulous wooded avenues and the vague sense of the outdoors. She couldn’t see far and didn’t want to go wandering, lest she become lost and unable to return to whatever portal Moira had sent her through. So she sat down in the shelter of a large silver tree and stewed in furious wait for Reginald to show up.
“A frog. How am I even going to recognize him?” He hadn’t looked particularly unusual, as frogs went, the one time she’d seen him in Moira’s shop.
Had that only been this morning?
Yes, she had just been in the shop today, and she remembered Moira had dropped something small and hard into her pocket. Eleanor was still wearing those same loose lounging pants and pulled the item out. It was maybe the size of three acorns tied together and wrapped in black and white ribbons. She unwrapped them and found a dark stone, almost burgundy-brown, covered in alternating bands of different shades of red. It was polished smooth and warm from being close to her body.
“Thank you for not traveling far from this spot,” came a croaky voice off to her left.
Eleanor spun around and saw a large frog staring at her. “Reginald?” she asked, hoping she wasn’t talking to some random frog and also, hearing voices that weren’t there.
“That’s me. Ribbit.” The frog’s tongue whipped from its mouth and licked its own eyeball.
“Moira sent you?”
“Did she tell you why she sent me into the mirror world?”
“Is that what you’re calling it? Ribbit.”
“What else am I going to call it?” she asked, more shrilly than she intended. “How did she even put me here? How can I get home?” She lifted the book and the stone. “And what use are these?”
“You have any other questions?” Was it possible for a frog to look even more nonplussed than a frog usually did? If so, Reginald seemed to be attempting it.
Eleanor put her head down on her knees. “This experience has reached the limits of my ability to handle the surreal.”
“That’s okay.” She looked up at him. “I’ll wait until you’re ready to get going.” Reginald’s tongue flicked out again and caught something Eleanor couldn’t even see.
“Are you going to take me home?”
“I want to talk to Moira.”
“I don’t have a phone, so you’re going to have to wait until you get back to the other side.”
“How the hell am I supposed to do that??”
Eleanor put her face in her hands and screamed. When she looked back up, Reginald was still sitting there, looking as calm as any frog she’d ever seen. Which is to say, just like all frogs. Frogs which sat on the edges of ponds, and under hedges near the sidewalk after a rain, and occasionally in the woods Eleanor had visited when she was a child and her family got out of the city for a couple of days. Frogs which could not, as far as she had ever known, do anything at all to be helpful other than eat mosquitoes.
Finally she got up and dusted off whatever black dirt might have gotten on the back of her pants. She held out the stone toward Reginald.
“What is this rock?” she asked. “Can you identify it?”
He twisted his eyes slightly. “Looks like a tiger’s eye.”
A stone of protection. Okay, best not to lose that. She stuffed it back into her pocket and wrapped the ribbons into a loop and put them in there, too. She held up the fairy tale book.
“And this? Why did Moira think I need this here with me?”
“Don’t you like to read? Ribbit.”
She took a deep breath to avoid shouting at him. He was just a frog, after all. What did he know from books?
“How long am I going to be stuck here?” Moira had made it seem like it might be a while, if she was planning to take care of Eleanor’s house while she was gone.
And what about her client meetings next week?
And what about food? She was starting to feel hungry. So far she hadn’t seen anything in the twenty-foot radius she’d explored that might be edible.
“And what time is it, anyway? Do you know?”
Reginald’s eyes swiveled up at what passed for sky here: a dense canopy of metallic looking leaves. He looked back at her. “Night.”
She closed her eyes and took a slow, deep breath. Then let it out. Then took another, and slowly let it out. After her third cleansing breath, she could speak in a calmer tone of voice.
“What am I supposed to do here?”
“My guess is go on a quest. Ribbit.”
“And are you going to help me with that?” Why else would Moira have sent him?
“I could. I know a pretty terrific spot not far from here where people sometimes visit.”
She wondered what people, and whether Moira had shoved them through their own mirrors, too.
“All right then.” She bent down, then untied and retied her shoelaces a little more securely. When she stood up, she made her t-shirt as presentable as she could. She put her hair back into its ponytail then thought better of it; it was still pretty cold here. She looked down at Reginald. “Lead the way.”
“Ribbit.” He turned around and hopped off, pretty fast for a little guy. She had to jog after him to keep up.
My intention is to keep posting scenes for this story each weekend this month. Hopefully I’ll accomplish that. Stay tuned — or just subscribe to my blog to get each post delivered to your email — to find out what happens next! And if you’re interested in my writing, click here to find my books! I have fiction and poetry available. Happy October!