Salt Water Taffy

“So, you come here often?”

I was an idiot. I have no idea how to be suave, so the sentence escaped my mouth in a rush of adrenaline. It was definitely a ‘panic pick up line.’ I am too much of a coward to ever speak to people. I get tongue tied, make a few noises, panic and leave. I’m not stupid. I know she was just people and I’m people too-erm, a person too-but anxiety is crippling.

She stopped shoveling salt water taffy into a box long enough to look up at me with her wide spaced sparkly gray eyes. Those eyes did things to my insides. Everything was suddenly too close and too warm. I had never in my life seen eyes that deep and full of glitter. I’m not poetic. She had glitter eyes.

Stunned, all I could do was stare and I try desperately to remember how to breathe. A large tee covered her from neck to mid-thigh like the tackiest dress. ‘Lifeguard’ in red swam across the shirt and it was soaking wet in spots. She or the short or the shop itself smelled like something had crawled out of the high tide. She was shoeless.

No one seemed to have noticed her but me. They were all blind, probably, because her hair was shockingly pink and down to her t-shirt covered butt. And on top of the bright hair and outward weirdness, she was the most attractive woman I had ever seen.

“It’s Salt Water Taffy Season,” she told me, smiling with bright white teeth, “I love saltwater taffy. Do you like it?”

“I ah, it um get’s stuck in my teeth,” I reply brilliantly.

Her gray eyes flood with worry. “You have to suck on them until they get soft,” she tells me.

“Thanks,” I said and got a soft smile as my reward.

She tossed her hair over one shoulder and went back to trying to fill the box with all the salt water taffy the store had. Once the box was full, her eyes met mine again, calculating. With a wide wink, she stuffed the entire box under her shirt and raced out of the store. The teenager watching the register didn’t give chase. He hardly even looked up from the magazine he had spread over the counter. In an even tone he said, “Hey, you stop.”

I slipped out of the shop a few seconds later so the teenager wouldn’t think I was in on the salt water heist, not that he would care. He was definitely up for employee of the month. Once out in the bright sun, I scanned the crowd for pink. The boardwalk was teeming with children, parents, and couples. Giant stuffed animals trailed from tired parents’ obscuring the view. I walked from one end of the boards to the other before giving up. The thief was gone. The disappointment I felt was a punch to the gut. She was the most interesting person I had spoken to all summer and now she had vanished into the air. I went home.

I tried to give up on her but the Salt Water Taffy Thief stayed with me. Every time I was near a shop or on the boards, I couldn’t resist the urge to hunt for her. Sometimes I thought I would catch a glimpse of her but it was always my imagination. Still, I kept my ear to the ground for any more salt water taffy heists. There were three. A man at the pizza shop told me pounds of the stuff had gone missing. He didn’t know she was the pink haired beauty I had met.

I spent every summer down the shore watching the house for a friend who hated the tourist season but hated the idea of renting more. The house was on the bay with lovely color themed rooms and it was a great way to recharge after teaching ten-year-olds all year. And because I was practically a local, I preferred to go down to the beach after most of the families and the lifeguards had gone home for the day. I would set up my blanket, slather on sunblock and pull out a book to read. A week after I had seen the thief, I did just that.

The lingering heat forced me out into the ocean. I swam out past the breakers and rolled onto my back, only doing what I had to do to stay afloat. Blue sky arched above me with not a single puffy cloud appeared to ruin it. This is how the world should look; serene and blue, not noisy and full of spitballs.

Before I knew it the blue was deepening, darkening. I sat up and started to tread water. The sun had slipped down to the edge of the water and as I watched the sky turned a magnificent crimson tinged in cinnamon before fading into a dark plum. The ocean ate the sun and left me alone. I sighed. It was time to go back to the house.

Except the shore was much farther away than I remembered it being. I rolled my eyes at my own stupidity. I struck out with long strokes. I wasn’t worried. I was a strong swimmer. I was more annoyed that I was going to ruin my peaceful moment with a dash for the beach. A tail slapped the water near me. Startled, I spun to see if it was the soft rounded dorsal fin of a dolphin or the more vertical, straighter of a shark.

The slap happened closer to me. I backed away and continued to head for the shore. The current picked up and at first, I thought it would be a bro and toss me up onto the beach. Instead, it dragged me backward, closer to the tail slapping the water. But the ocean was crueler still and I hadn’t checked to see what the undertow was before swimming out. A large wave crashed over my head and I was dragged under.

I was in inky black unable to tell up from down as the currents buffeted me. Things brushed my legs and arms. My lungs burned. I wanted to exhale. I didn’t. I knew better. What was in my lungs was all I had left. I made a decision to strike out in a direction. I had no idea if it was up or down. The water was numbing my extremities now. The pressure in my ears was building and the things were terrifying. I still didn’t know whose tail had been within slapping distance of me and where it was now.

I chose wrong. The pressure increased. I spun around to try again. Flailing, I was lost in the dark, cold water. My mouth opened and bubbles escaped. Heaviness filled my bones. I was too tired to panic. I stopped fighting.

I shot forward gasping for breath. I flailed and a strong hand gripped mine, squeezing it. Confusion flooded me as sunlight hit my skin and soft blanket met my legs.

“Safe,” a familiar voice told me. She repeated the word until it seeped into my sun-warmed skin.

My saltwater taffy thief sat beside me with her cloud of pink hair. It was damp and curling around her face making her a pink fluffy angel. She was grinning. I smiled back. Surrounded by saltwater taffy wrappers and sitting on my blanket in her bare feet, she fluffed my hair affectionately. She was wearing a lemon yellow muscle tee with a whale on it and nothing else.

“Hi,” I said, dazed.

“You want one,” she asked, holding up a plastic bag full of candy.

My stomach felt like it was full of saltwater. My head hurt and my sinuses burned. I was dry but since I had sat up, water was trickling out of my ears and I could feel sand everywhere and I mean everywhere. Sugar was the last thing I should be putting in my battered body.

“No thanks. I’m not hungry. What happened?”

She sniffed. “You didn’t listen to me. I slapped the water to get you to go away from the bad currents but you swam right into them.”

“You slapped the water? I thought I saw a tail. I thought you were a shark!” I exclaimed to giggles.

“Lucky you, it’s still Salt Water Taffy Season and I was near the beach. I dragged you out.”

Bemused, I thanked her and offered, “You can get salt water taffy all year long. They don’t stop selling it after the tourists leave.”

She shook her head like I was a particularly stupid specimen of the human race. I couldn’t blame her. I felt that way about myself most of the time. “Can’t steal it if there’s no crowd to disappear into. As it is, I’ve hit my last store. I have to be careful and not steal too much. I can’t get caught.”

“Why not buy some?” I asked.

“No money,” she said and her gray eyes brightened, the sparkle swirling. I felt like I could drown in them which was unfortunate after my almost drowning. “I don’t have a job. Jobs are a weird concept. Do you have one?” she asked.

“A job? Yeah, I teach math,” I told her.

She counted out loud as she ate candy and I grinned. I wanted to see her again. I wanted to see her again and again.

“Do you live out here?” I asked.

Bobbing her head, she gathered the wrappers and raced them away to a trash can. In seconds she was back, stretching long pale legs out beside me. The skin was just a bit too pale, almost like the underbelly of a snake or a fish. She took large handfuls of her hair and finger combed it until it behaved. Her body was lean if well-muscled.

“Do you have a home,” I asked.

She glanced out at the water and ignored the question.

“What’s your name?”

No answer came and she bumped my shoulder before standing up. “Stay out of the bad currents.”

“Wait,” I called.

She walked out into the waves. Halfway out, she turned back to wave at me. I waved back.  Seconds later a tail slapped the water.

Three days later I bought all the salt water taffy I could find and left it on the beach.

Fin.

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Espresso

           “Emily, your lover the professor is here,” Amy sang out.

Emily’s popped up from where she was focusing on restocking the teas to see the tall lanky frame of her favorite customer. Today he was in check slacks and brown jacket with actual leather elbow patches, adorable. His brown hair was messy and his briefcase had bits of paper sticking out of it.

“He looks frazzled,” Amy remarked, serving black coffee to grumpy customers.

Emily ignored her. She was busy making her professor a double espresso.

“Jake!” she called and held her breath.

Her professor’s eyes slowly came to life as he smiled brilliantly at her. He took the cup she placed on the counter. Their fingers grazed one another over the cup. Emily’s heart raced.  Normally the tips of his ears would turn pink, he would keep smiling and beat a hasty retreat without saying a word. Emily would hum happily for hours afterward. Brian and Amy would laugh at her insisting she had scared him off but not today.

He opened his mouth to speak. Emily stopped breathing. He worked his jaw a few times and managed a breathy, “Thanks, Emily.”

Emily let out her breath in a whoosh as he slipped out of the coffee shop.

“He spoke!” Amy shouted startling Mrs. Clayton who came in every morning for an English Breakfast. “Hey, Brian! The professor spoke!”

Brian popped out from the kitchen covered in flower. “Emily’s Professor?? What did he say?”

“Thanks, Emily,” Amy repeated.

“He knows her name? It’s only been a year?” Brian said as an alarm went off in the kitchen. “BREAKFAST SANDWICHES ARE UP!”

A ragged cheer came from the line. Emily turned back to Amy. “It’s been a year?”

Amy nodded. Emily sighed. “A whole year?”

 ❤ ❤ ❤

“I talked to her today,” Jake said.

Diane stopped organizing her boss to gawp at him. “Coffee Shop Girl?You did? Did you ask her out?”

Jake flopped into his leather chair. “She uh, called out my name and I ahem, I ah, thanked her for the espresso by her name.”

Diane sighed in desperation. Her boss was a certified genius but he was painfully shy. “At this rate, you’ll be married in one hundred years. How did she react?”

Jake turned a brilliant shade of red. “I sort of… I um…”

“You ran away?”

“Maybe.”

“I love working for you,” she muttered. “But I can’t take this anymore. You go there every day. She makes you a drink; you come here to tell me how much you love her, and then you NEVER ASK HER OUT.”

Jake sighed. “She’s beautiful.”

“Oh, I know,” Diane remarked. “But enough is enough. Either go ask her out after work or I go in the morning and tell her I’m your girlfriend.”

Jake blanched. “What? No, you wouldn’t do that to me.”

“Damn right, I would. I will. You have twenty-four hours.” It was cruel. It was necessary. Jake needed a push.

❤ ❤ ❤

Emily wiped the tables down, humming to herself. Amy had gone to lunch and Emily was glad for the reprieve. Amy hadn’t stopped teasing her about her professor since he had first walked into the coffee shop and ordered his first espresso. Emily had remembered him, his name, and his drink. He hadn’t ever needed to speak. His smiles had been enough. But he had a nice warm baritone and Emily would have loved to hear a full sentence.

Someone cleared their throat behind her. Emily spun to face the customer ready to explain the difference between a macchiato and a cappuccino. Her professor stood there looking extra frazzled. His large dark chocolate eyes brimmed with emotion, although half those emotions seemed related to panic. He tried to speak for a few seconds before he started to retreat. Emily panicked and reached out to catch his arm. His eyes widened, flicking from her face to where she was touching him. He swallowed.

“Emily,” he began in a funny high pitched tone. He coughed and tried again. “Emily, I ah, don’t like espresso.”

“What?”

He grimaced. “No, I did that wrong. Emily, I don’t like espressos, I like you.”

Emily didn’t know what to say. Luckily, once started, her professorcouldn’t be stopped.    “I’ve been coming in here every morning for a year to get a drink from you that I don’t like because I can’t get enough of your smile. So if you don’t feel the need to call the police, wouldyouliketogetadrinkwithme?”

“Yes! She says yes,” Brian shouted from the kitchen.

Jake’s grin was blinding. “Tonight? I know it is short notice. Only I’ve wasted so much time being timid, I don’t know when I’ll get the courage to ask again.”

“Yes, I’m free after six,” Emily told him shyly, still holding onto his arm.

“Okay, great, okay,” Jake stammered. “Great.”

He moved away and right before he broke contact, she said his name softly. When he turned to face him, she reached up and pressed a kiss to his lips. He froze long enough for Emily to panic but before she could pull away his warm, strong arms had looped around her waist, securing her to him. The soft scent of his cologne surrounded her. His lips were warm against hers, as responded to the kiss. Pressing her luck, Emily deepened the kiss, exploring her professor’s mouth. Kissing him was like sinking slowly into a warm bath.

She broke the kiss to see his eyes slowly flutter open, his skin flushed and pupils were blown wide. Emily’s heart was racing. She glanced away. Embarrassed she had kissed him at work. Amy had reappeared and made it worse by clapping.

“So six?” he asked voice squeaky.

Emily nodded and he surged forward to kiss her again. His hands cradled her back and he kissed her with an intensity that sent shivers down her spine and left her fingers and toes tingling. Amy snorted. Emily pulled back, her face flushed.

“I’m sorry I made you drink all those espressos,” Emily told him.

He laughed. “I’m not.”

The End.

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Green Eyes

Eli’s eyes popped open. A skittering sound had dragged him up from the darkness to peer at the leftover glow-in-the-dark stars on his ceiling in confusion. Blinking sleep out of his eyes, he struggled to free himself from tangled bed sheets and ended up slipping off the bed to crash into hardwood floors. Stilling, he listened to the quiet house and the comforting snores of his grandmother down the hall. The woman was a terror. Waking her from her well earned ‘beauty sleep’ would have earned him a tirade. The skittering sound repeated as his phone lit up.

Crawling to the nightstand, kicking his way loose, he snatched his phone off of it and spotted Isaiah’s name. He answered, “Izzy, my grandma is sleeping. Are you trying to get me murdered?”

“Come with me to the beach,” Isaiah said, his rich baritone shaking and breathy in Eli’s ear.

Eli ran a hand over his face. “I’m already grounded for going to the movie with you. Izzy, I get in trouble again and we’ll never see each other again.”

“Eli, we’re never going to see each other again, anyway. Not after tonight,” Isaiah replied.

Eli’s blood ran cold. In seconds he was hopping back into last night’s jeans, stumbling to the window and popping it open. Cool salt-laden air hit him in the face. Isaiah stood in the spotlight created by the street light. He had a rucksack and his posture was unnaturally stiff as he waved. Eli pulled on a light jacket while jamming his wallet into the jeans and stepping into his flip flops. He couldn’t risk the stairs, so he shimmied down the oak tree. It wasn’t something he hadn’t done a million times before to spend extra time with Isaiah.

Isaiah caught him when he slipped. Eli reveled in the comfort of Isaiah’s hands on him. He spun in his arms to make it a real hug. Isaiah’s hands gripped him tightly in return. The rich scent of Isaiah’s cologne surrounded him. It was woodsy but also grassy. He took a deep breath but all too soon Isaiah let go. He grabbed Eli’s hand. Eli let Isaiah lead and it reminded him of the first time they had met. Eli had been the leader then because Isaiah had been new in town and so adorably lost. Eli had been lost too. He just hadn’t known it yet.

For several minutes they didn’t speak. Isaiah was quiet by nature, more thoughtful and observant. Eli constantly teased him, calling him a space cadet. Isaiah said he was observing the world and learning its secrets. They raced down the street and crossed over to the sand dunes. Once they were passed the playground and running on open sand, Eli stopped. It was too much. He felt too out of the loop, too surreal, and too alien.

Isaiah tugged but Eli dug his heels. Isaiah’s wide green eyes pleaded with him to move. Unable to resist him, Eli kicked off the flip flops, they weren’t helping his anyhow, and bare feet were faster on sand. He sank into the cold sand and kicked it up as he moved. Isaiah’s hand was sweaty in his. Eli wished he would speak. He trusted Isaiah with his life but Isaiah was the calm, steady one. If he was upset, there was a good reason, and his mind was going a million miles a second trying to figure it all out.

In a large empty stretch of sand where large rocks blocked the view of the town, Isaiah stopped. Eli was in good shape, Isaiah was in better but both boys were out of breath. Panting, they leaned over to catch their breaths. Isaiah stood slowly, scanning the sky, and turning to face Eli. His gaze was intense, full of emotions Eli couldn’t untangle.

“Izzy, please tell me what’s going on,” he begged.

“Last week Mr. Parker noticed. I thought I was okay but then Emma started following me around. She accidentally cut me in class. I knew. Eli, I am so, so sorry but I had to send the signal. I didn’t want to but some people dropped by my house.”

“Noticed what?” Eli asked.

Isaiah gave Eli a fond complicated look and murmured, “What you refuse to see, Eli. When I came to town I couldn’t even figure out clothes. I was so confused. I was… I am… I’m not normal.”

“Yeah right, you’re not normal,” Eli scoffed even as a weird chill raced up his spine. An image of Isaiah needing help with buttons bobbed to the surface and he has tied a tie around his arm, thinking it was a decorative band. Dozens of other memories bobbed up and Eli swayed.

“How not normal?” he asked, “Emma said the same thing to me. She said…”

Izzy puffed out a breath and asked, “What did Emma ask you?”

Eli stood up and regarded the purple black of the night sky. Stars decorated it all like diamond dust. There was no moon to obscure the view. Eli was an astronomy major. The sight calmed him as he cast his mind back to yesterday. Emma Parker from math class had grabbed him in the gym and asked him, “What’s wrong with Isaiah’s eyes?”

Eli tilted his head to stare into Isaiah’s eyes. The same vibrant, grassy green that he loved seemed to glow slightly in the low light. Isaiah turned his head a bit and it was as if they had a sheen. “She said your eyes were like a cat or a dog’s the way they reflect light. She said it wasn’t normal. But she was high. She’s always high.”

“Dilated pupils, Eli,” Isaiah told him. “She could see it. Why can’t you?”

They regarded each other. Eli was chilled by the ocean, the wind, and by the fear, he saw in Isaiah’s eyes.

“When you look at me, what do you see?” he asked and his eyes swirled again with intensity.

Eli frowned. He saw a lean boy, taller than him with muscled arms, natural hair, great big hands good for holding and his lovely green eyes. “I see you, Isaiah.”

Isaiah laughed, a choked and bitter thing dying halfway through. “You do, you really do, don’t you, Elijah?”

“Are you mad at me?” Eli asked.

Isaiah smiled and his eyes glowed a bit brighter. “No, I’m just surprised at how much I love you.”

“That’s stupid. You can’t love me half as much as I love you,” Eli teased.

“No, I bet I can’t,” Isaiah said with a grin. “I just wanted to try.”

His eyes watered. Eli pulled him into a hug. Isaiah’s breath hitched. Eli squeezed, even as icy fear slipped down his spine. Isaiah had just admitted he loved Eli for the first time and it didn’t feel like a happy romantic moment. It felt like an ending. Eli wasn’t sure he could go on like everything was okay if Isaiah left him. Isaiah made his living situation bearable. Isaiah made school tolerable. Isaiah made life better because Isaiah kind of was his life.

“C’mon stop being cryptic. Why are you leaving? Where are you going?” Eli asked, trying to be brave.

“Home,” he whispered.

Isaiah stepped away from Eli and pointed up. Eli was confused. “North?”

“I’m not… I’m,” Isaiah began and trailed off. He took a deep breath and murmured, “human. I’m not human, Elijah. Parker found out. That guy is retired FBI. He knows about all of it, Area 51, the visits, the stuff in Canada. He knows. So he knew who to call and he knew who would believe him. I’m in danger. I can’t stay.”

“Can’t stay? Alien? You’re not serious,” Eli said, denying all the memories that were congealing into a very strange mess with Isaiah at the center with eyestalks.

“El, my eyes glow. My blood is a bit pink…” Isaiah said flatly.

“I thought you were anemic.”

Isaiah grinned. “My skin is cooler than yours. When I got here last year I had no idea what basketball was and I thought baseball was the one with the paddles.”

“I thought you were homeschooled,” Eli said, feeling stupid and fighting against what felt true.

Isaiah touched Eli’s face. “You’re an idiot, sometimes.”

Eli felt heat flood his face. “I just, you were hot,” he replied with a shrug.

Isaiah looked up and grinned. “Well, I thought you were hot, so we’re even. I just, I didn’t want to leave without telling you goodbye,” he choked on the word ‘goodbye’ and Eli felt his heart cracking.

“No,” he protested.

“No?” Izzy replied.

“No goodbyes. I don’t want to be left behind.” Eli knew what he was suggesting.

Isaiah’s eyes were blazing a beautiful, unearthly green now. “What do you want?”

“To be with you,” Eli replied. His glowing eyes were strange and different and Isaiah’s. Who cared if he wasn’t human if he was still Isaiah?

“Who’s being dumb now? We belong together.” Eli told him.

“You can never come back.”

“Don’t care,” Eli told him. “We belong together. Unless,” he trailed off, doubt coursing through him.

“Unless?” Isaiah asked looking nervous.

It had been a really great year. Eli had always been a fringe character with his telescope and lack of friends. He had spent the three summers previous to Isaiah alone, reading. With Isaiah, he had still read but out loud to his new and only friend. Eli wasn’t sure who was more surprised when he was brave enough to kiss Isaiah. He should know Eli couldn’t give him up. But maybe Isaiah didn’t feel the same?

“You don’t want me to go,” Eli responded.

“Oh,” Isaiah breathed, grinning. “I didn’t think you’d want to come. It’s different.”

“Different can be good,” Eli replied. “Besides, I love aliens.”

“All aliens,” Isaiah teased.

Wind raced across the beach and the sky filled with lights. The two boys glanced up as a blueish beam lit up Isaiah. His eyes widened in panic and his hand reached out for Elijah. He took it. Eli was pulled into the circle of light.

“Are you sure?” Isaiah asked.

Eli pressed his lips to Isaiah’s. Isaiah’s arms slipped comfortingly around him, to hold Eli in place as they were taken into the air. It was going to be one hell of an adventure. He just wished he had kept his flip flops on. He couldn’t imagine spaceship floors were any more comfortable than wet cold sand. Not that it mattered as long as they were together, nothing did.

the end.

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Muddy Prints

(Written for my friend Amy B. The character names are her irl children and dogs. She asked me to write a fun story including her dogs and this is the fun result. – K)

“Lash is out,” Ralph whispered, giving his sister, Charlotte a poke. “Wake up Char, c’mon.”

The sky outside the window was silvery gray. Morning was still a long way off and Lash was out. The Siberian husky had a habit of getting into trouble if Gomez, their golden wasn’t there to watch him. Ralph shook his sister again. This time she grumbled a bit before opening her eyes.

“S’morning?” she asked, rubbing at her eyes.

“No, Lash is out,” Ralph repeated. “C’mon. We gotta go get him.”

Charlotte tossed her covers off and slipped into her trainers. Ralph was in PJs, so she didn’t bother with clothes except for her jacket and her tiara. It was sparkly with a pink boa around it and she was convinced it was lucky. Besides, a princess would never be caught out of bed without hers. She pulled the covers farther back to reveal Gomez.

“Wake up, Gomez. We have to go out,” Charlotte told the dog.

Gomez got up and beat both children out of the room. Ralph stuffed a tiny Charmander into his pocket for luck and followed his royal sister. The house was silent except for children and dog out of bed but still, they kept quiet. It would go better for everyone if they caught Lash themselves and got everyone back into bed before breakfast.

Slipping out the back door, they stood and stared at the thick mist creeping up over everything. The trees seemed haunted, the slide seemed even more haunted and worse, there was no sign of Lash. Ralph whistled. Gomez’s floppy ears perked up but there was no answer from the husky.

“C’mon Char, he can’t have got far,” he whispered.

Charlotte adjusted her tiara to give herself a moment to think. “Wait Ralph, Gomez can find Lash. He’s a good tracker. Right?”

Gomez sneezed.

“See? He says he can,” Charlotte insisted.

Ralph started walking. “We don’t have time to mess around.”

Charlotte knelt down next to Gomez. “You are a big, good dog and you can find Lash, can’t you?”

Gomez huffed in her direction. Charlotte pet his head. Ralph rolled his eyes as the big dog sat down. Charlotte gently took hold of Gomez’s ears to get his attention. “There’s a treat in it for you.”

Gomez didn’t budge.

“Okay, two but that’s all I’ve got in my pockets,” Charlotte said, standing up.

Gomez sniffed the air before taking off down the road. The look Charlotte gave Ralph was very annoying. But he followed his sister as she took off running after Gomez. The air smelled wet like rain was coming but Ralph thought it felt too still. He couldn’t hear a single thing rustling. All the animals were asleep still, or gone. He put on a burst of speed to keep up. There was no way he wanted to get left behind when everything was so eerie.

Gomez didn’t stop at the edge of their property but dove headlong into the trees. Charlotte had grabbed his tail to keep him from getting too far ahead. The dog took this with a limited amount of dignity, occasionally stopping to give the human puppy an annoyed eye roll. Charlotte would roll her eyes back and he would be off again.

“We can’t go too far,” Ralph said.

“Can too, if Gomez says so,” Charlotte replied. “We’re already in trouble.”

“What’s a little more?” Ralph replied, snorting as his sister shrugged.

Gomez stopped. He stood stock still and the twilight bleached the yellow out of his coat, making him look for an instant like a stone statue. He stood before a circle of mushrooms, tail low and straight. Ralph pulled Charlotte back before she entered the ring. In the center of it were two large pawprints. Ralph pulled Charlotte back to see where the pawprints entered the circle.

“Lash went that way,” Charlotte said, pointing to the opposite side of the ring.

Ralph shook his head. “No Char, Lash went in this way, but he didn’t come out the other side. There’d be more prints.”

“Dogs don’t just disappear Ralph,” she said and moved forward.

Gomez growled and Charlotte turned to comfort the big dog. Ralph examined the ring from all angles. It was wide enough for a bunch of people to have a picnic inside. It smelled like mushrooms and wet grass. Gomez growled when he touched a mushroom, warning him away.

“Lash is in there,” he told his sister and dog. “It’s a fairy ring.”

Fairies are nice,” Charlotte said. “Like Tinkerbell.”

“Right, are you sure?” Ralph asked Char because he wasn’t convinced.

“Mm-hmm,” she said, bobbing her head. “‘Sides, I’m a princess. They especially like princesses.”

Ralph didn’t know anything about fairies. He liked nice normal things like numbers and video games. Charlotte was good with animals and fairies were a sort of animal. Plus, he trusted Charlotte.  “Okay, but we go together. Hold hands.”

Gomez disagreed. Rumbling, he wouldn’t move, going so far as to sit flat, facing home. Charlotte took Ralph’s hand and led them into the center of the ring. At first, they just stood in the center of the grass but the air shimmered and Lash appeared. Lash barked and crashed into them, knocking them to the grass.

“Down boy!” Charlotte exclaimed while high voices giggled around them.

Ralph got Lash to sit and spotted a boy with dragonfly wings sitting around the dog’s neck. The boy has pointed ears, bright green eyes and wore a pair of jeans and a Minecraft Tee. He also had a tiny gold crown on his head. In the air around them, more fairies were fluttering around the circle. They were all colors and wore normal people clothes.

Charlotte was mesmerized. “Wow!”

“Dance! Play,” a girl fairy commanded.

The circle expanded and they couldn’t see poor Gomez in the grass anymore. Instead, they spotted a square for dancing next to a horseshoe pit. Beyond the pit was a fire where several strange creatures with hooves for feet were roasting marshmallows on sticks. Ralph saw groups of fairies carrying large hoops and dipping them into soap to create giant bubbles.

“Look! That’s why Lash ran in here! Silly dog can’t resist bubbles!” Charlotte squealed as Lash jumped and popped bubbles.

Gales of laughter escaped the fairies. Charlotte jumped and popped a few herself as Ralph watched nervously. This was cool but if they couldn’t see the ring any longer, how could they get back to Gomez? How would they get back home?

“All dance and play to honor the king!” the girl fairy commanded.

A ball landed in his arms. It was small but the right size for kicking, so he kicked it back to a group of tiny gnomes in red or green hats. They beckoned him over. Not wanting to be rude and seeing the girl fairy still hovering, he joined the game.

They played for hours. Charlotte found herself and Lash draped in flower crowns while Ralph was shown how to play ten pins. Fairies were good fun and had loads of sweets on offer. Charlotte ate a fluffy frosted purple cake. Ralph stuck to the weird sour hard candies and Lash ate whatever no one else wanted.

Breathing heavy after another round of horseshoes, the kids sat on the grass and grinned at each other. Fairies started curling up in balls around them. Some snored softly while others quietly talked to one another while drinking dandelion tea. It was clear that the party was coming to an end.

The boy in the crown bowed low before Charlotte. “Your majesty,” he said, “you have honored me. But the party has ended.” He winked. “I love a princess at my parties.”

“Your majesty,” Charlotte said and bowed low. She kicked Ralph in the shins until he bowed too.

The king grinned and disappeared.

The girl fairy who had commanded them to play appeared. Her long pink hair floated in the breeze her glittery dragonfly wings made as she hovered near them. She smiled brightly. With a bow, she waved a wand around the circle. They blinked and spotted Gomez, still sulking in the tall grass.

Lash barked. Gomez flicked an ear. Lash barked again. Gomez hopped up and spun to see the two children and the Siberian Husky. He huffed very disapprovingly at them. Lash licked his ear and set off toward home, not worried at all about the trouble he had caused.

Gomez, with a dignified sniff, herded the children back down the path where the mist was lifting. Charlotte looked at the sky. “How long were we gone, Ralph?”

“Hours,” he replied.

“Still dark,” Charlotte whispered back.

They reached the house and the lights weren’t on. Lash was by the back door, waiting with bright, knowing eyes.

“Could be the next day?” Ralph wondered.

“Mom would have called the police,” Charlotte argued.

“Yeah,” Ralph agreed. “Should we tell them?”

Charlotte grinned at her brother. “No.” To Lash, she said, “Thanks for letting us meet your friends.”

With an eye roll, Lash went inside. Gomez did not follow. He did block the kids way back inside. Charlotte tried to go around the dog but he wouldn’t budge.

“Move! We can’t get in trouble now!” Charlotte growled.

Gomez growled back and nosed her pockets.

“You owe him two treats,” Ralph reminded her.

“He’s going to get us in trouble,” Charlotte replied.

“Not if you feed him,” Ralph said.

“Oh, alright,” Charlotte agreed. “I did promise.”

She handed the dog the treats and he inhaled them before Lash could turn up. Dropping his jaw in a doggy smile, he let the human puppies return to their beds. He joined Charlotte under the covers.

In the morning, they got grounded. Muddy footprints had given them away and parents don’t believe in fairies.

The End.

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