The Dragon in the Graveyard

2017Spooky Story ChallengeGood morning, dear Reader! Here is my offering for the Spooky Story Challenge. If you are writing one, yourself, you have until midnight tomorrow to get your story plugged in to the linky list, which can be found HERE along with the rules for the challenge (they’re pretty simple).

I stared at the pale, weathered stones that stood between myself and home. Why had I lingered so long? Why hadn’t I started home as soon as the light began to wane? Now I would have to make my way across the graveyard in the dark. It was an old graveyard, one that had been full for over fifty years. The dead sleeping below the ground here had mostly been entombed for over a century.

The wind whistled an eerie tune as it darted about my head, pulling strands of hair from my ponytail. The air was cold, and I could feel the chill seeping through my jacket like oil seeping up from the ground. I could just go around the graveyard. But then I would have to walk past the abandoned house… and that was just as terrifying. Besides, it wasn’t the graveyard itself that bothered me so much as it was the Dragon.

It wasn’t a real dragon, but an elaborate headstone carved in the shape of a dragon. In the daylight, it was simply a unique and interesting sculpture, weather-beaten and worn, covered here and there with green moss. Sometimes in spring birds would come and build nests behind its wings. The name had since been worn off, only the first initial—J–and the date remained: 1806-1844. It was the oldest gravestone in the cemetery, my brothers and I had scoured the entire length and breadth of the place to be sure.

My older brother, Charles, was convinced that we had found the final resting place of the “Great Western Land Pirate,” John A. Murrell, and we would often sit around making up stories of his famous exploits up and down the Mississippi River. My younger brother, Justin, loved speculating about the exploits of “Captain John” and his crew of miscreants. We even made up stories about how it wasn’t the pirate’s body buried beneath the dragon, but rather, his treasure; in our imaginations the pirate himself had stumbled upon a curse that gave him eternal life, and someday he would come back for his gold.

Stepping over the low-slung chain, I began my hesitant way across the yawning expanse of silent death. The dragon stood at the heart of the necropolis, and could be seen from everywhere within its borders. By day, it was just a statue. But by night, it became something… other. Its size, already larger than any of the other markers, seemed to grow with the shadows, until it loomed menacingly like a jealous gargoyle. At night, when the cracks and moss and nests disappeared into the darkness, it was easier to imagine the statue was alive. At night, it was easier to believe the stories we had made up about the pirates. It was easy to imagine the thumping steps of a peg-leg coming closer… closer… ever closer… returning to claim his treasure.

My heart pounded in my ears like the imagined steps of the pirate and I sped into a nervous jog. My nerves jangled inside my skin. A low fog began to roll across the ground, and my imagination started to run away with me. Was that a ghost, floating near that tree? Were those long, thin things by the headstone next to me the skeletal hands of a corpse clawing its way out of its resting place? My feet sped up as my eyes darting back and forth. My breath came in quick, shallow gasps.

The fog swirled in eerie patterns, rising up… up… up, until it covered everything. The familiar monuments turned into dim, forbidding shapes, and I was no longer sure I was heading in the correct direction. I peered through the mist, but I had become like a ghost, myself, caught up in the folds and layers of an ethereal realm.

Something wet dripped onto my neck and trickled down my back inside my sweatshirt. I screamed and whirled. But nothing was there.

A loud BANG startled me into a headlong run. The next moment, fiery pain lanced through my shin as I stumbled over an unseen headstone. I tumbled to the ground, landing on my shoulder in the wet grass.

A car rumbled down the road and I realized that what I had heard was simply the back-firing of an older vehicle. I chuckled slightly to myself, wincing as I reached down to rub my leg. I had ripped my pants, and I could feel a small trickle of wet, sticky blood on my leg.

Limping, I continued my way across the cemetery. All thoughts of things creepy and ethereal were gone from my mind, chased away by the all-too-real throbbing in my shin.

I reached the dragon and sighed in relief. I was halfway across. I glanced up at the shadowy figure and was so relieved at being nearly home that I almost reached out and patted it. Almost. I couldn’t quite shake the jumpy feeling in the pit of my stomach, however, so I kept my hands firmly shoved in my pockets and continued my limping journey.

Ahead of me, something moved.

I stopped. My heart speeding up once more.

The something came closer… closer… and then materialized into a tall, dark form, with a large hat perched upon his head. There was something strange about his gait. My heart caught in my throat as he drew closer and I realized that one of his legs was nothing more than a thick, wooden peg.

He doffed his hat with an elaborate bow. “Pardon me, Missy.” The voice emanating from that throat was dry and it creaked with the age of a century. “But ye wouldn’t’ve happened to see the marker whar I left me treasure buried, now… would ye?”

My eyes bulged and my throat clogged as panic clawed its way through me. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe. I felt the world spinning…. and then a bright light shone in my face.

“Ellie?” This voice was more familiar. “Ellie? Are you all right?”

A suppressed snicker, and then an outright guffaw. “I’ve never seen someone actually scared stiff before.” Another figure emerged from behind a monument.

Comprehension and rage coursed through me in simultaneous waves. This was no pirate… these were my brothers, out playing a trick on me. I sputtered, trying to come up with an appropriate reprisal, but then my brothers’ queries turned to concern as they saw my injured leg in the wide beam of the flashlight. The wound was still bleeding, and there was a large amount of it dripping down my ankle and into my sneaker.

Suddenly both Justin and Charles were all care and concern, asking what had happened, as they helped me hobble across the remaining rows of headstones.

The boundary-chain was in just a few steps away when we heard a strange sound I had never heard before. It was a rumble like thunder mixed with a creaking like ice-encrusted trees swaying in the wind… one of my brothers looked back and let out an unearthly scream. I grimaced at him, unwilling to play along with another joke. My shin was throbbing and all I wanted was to get home and put some ice on it.

Before I could say anything, however, something enormous swooped over our heads. Hot air blasted down upon us, and both of my brothers shouted, pushing me away, toward the chain.

“Run, Ellie!” they both shouted the words at me, but I stumbled and fell instead, scraping my chin on something hard.

Flames poured through the darkness off to my left and I turned my face to look, still sure this was some new trick.

Then, I saw it.

The dragon had come to life.

Its wings flared to either side as it landed and stared at the three of us. Its eyes glowed a fiery orange. Flames flickered in its mouth, revealing glinting teeth the size of my torso.

I might have screamed.

Then I was being heaved up as my brothers raced over and grabbed my arms, hauling me along as they struggled to run. I found my feet and began to run, faster, faster, sprinting away, towards the boundary… as if it were somehow safer on the other side of the pitifully tiny chain. My brain saw the ridiculousness of our flight and I felt a hysterical laugh bubbling up within me, but by the time it reached my lips it had transformed into a scream.

The creature lunged after us… teeth snapping together…

“CHARLES!” I wailed, sobs choking me as my older brother disappeared. I could hear Justin panting on my other side, his hand still firmly clenched around mine as we ran for our lives.

“Don’t stop, Ellie,” he gasped. Then he surged past me, stopped, and slung me forward with all his strength. I felt his fingers slip from my grasp as I flew forward and hit the chain, toppling over it. I rolled down the little hill and landed near the road. There was a bellowing roar, a scream, and then… nothing.

I looked back, expecting to see the massive beast rising up out of the mist. But nothing emerged. No dragon appeared. No fires flickered. Nothing moved. The sepulchral field behind me was dark and empty once more.

I have to admit… I kind of thought I’d just end the story there.

But… in case that might be slightly too dark… I added an alternate ending…

I don’t know how long I lay on the grass, sobbing in the darkness. But at last… heartsick and sore, I rose and traveled the rest of the way home. The lights gleamed from the windows, and I could feel their welcoming glow washing over me. I entered the house, and heard a collective gasp at my blood-stained and bedraggled appearance.

I raised my tear-filled eyes, about to relate the horrible tale… and stared into the faces of my mother, father, and both brothers. I must have looked a sight, dirty and utterly confused. Within moments I was on the couch, my leg propped up, bandaged, and underneath a large ice pack. My story was tumbling from my bewildered lips as I stared from Charles to Justin and back again, blinking hard to make sure I wasn’t imagining their presence.

“You have some imagination,” Justin quipped.

So… this turned into a sort of “choose your own adventure” because I wasn’t sure I was loving the whole: “It was all just a dream” angle for an ending… so I kept writing…

My parents and Charles exchanged a strange look, but said nothing.

Later that night, as I was heading off to bed, my mother pulled me into a hug. “I’m so sorry you had to go through that,” she whispered. “But now, at least, you know the truth.”

I pushed away from her and stared, confused. “What?”

“The visions,” she replied. “They are the first sign.”

“The first sign of what?” I demanded.

“That you are growing up,” she said, patting my cheek with a sweet smile. “That you are ready to embrace your heritage.”

“My… heritage?”

“Yes, dear. There is much to tell you… now that the visions have begun. But tonight, just get some rest… we’ll tell you all about it in the morning.” She paused. “But after Justin leaves for school. He’s too young to understand, yet. But his turn will come…” She smiled sweetly and kissed my cheek. “Now… off to bed.”

:cue dun-dun-DUN!:

So, what do you think? Which ending do you prefer? Thanks for reading, I had a blast writing something a bit silly and a bit spooky, trying to roll every aspect of every ghost story I’ve ever heard into one adventure… 

~ jenelle

Interview With a Cook

My InterFiction badge begins to glow and I clasp a hand around it with excitement. It’s been a while since my last assignment, the fictionverse has been in a bit of a chaotic uproar ever since someone thought it would be a good idea to gather the worst villains in all of Fantasy-Land and put them in a room together… bad things were bound to happen.

Ahem. :whistles innocently:

My room fades away and then solidifies into a very different view from my bookshelves and clutter. I am outdoors. There is a slight breeze and a chill to the air. In front of me is a copse of birch trees, and sitting on a bench under the trees is a man I recognize instantly. He can be none other than Mikonan, from Tammy Lash’s “White Wolf and the Ash Princess.” I stride over to him confidently.

“Boozhoo! Mikonan, right?” I call out, stumbling over the unfamiliar language. Mikonan speaks fluent English, his mother was an English missionary, after all, but since reading his story, I have grown fascinated with the Ojibwe tongue, and wanted to help him feel that I was making an effort. I think that goes a long way, with Mikonan. “Am I pronouncing that even close to correctly? My name is Jenelle. I am from the InterFiction Gazette, did they tell you I was coming?”

Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 3.36.47 PMMikonan smiles at my faltering attempts at pronouncing his name and the rapid-fire questions I am throwing at him as I cross the space between us. “You can call me ‘Cook’ if it’s easier.”

I note ruefully that he does not mention my pronunciation, and I can feel my ears growing warm as I realize I probably butchered both the word for “Hello” as well as his name. And yet, I cannot feel embarrassed in front of this quiet character, something about him puts me instantly at ease. I am pulled from my thoughts as I realize he is still speaking, still answering my multitude of questions.

“Hi, Jenelle!” (He does not stumble over my name at all) “It is nice to meet you. I was told someone wanted to interview me. I am honored. My ‘brother’ is the one that people normally seek. It is best that you chose me over Jonathan. I am the more interesting of the two of us and I tend to talk a bit more than he does.” He grins and it invites me to smile with him.

“My readers are very interested to get to know you,” I say, seating myself beside him and pulling out my recording device. “Can you tell us a little bit about yourself to get us started?”

He rubs his hands together and pauses. “A little about myself? I am son of Odedeyan, Chief of the Mountain of the Ojibwe. I am to be next in line as leader of my people, but I do not feel I am ready nor do I feel I even deserve the position. My place is to be Healer of my people. I use the medicines of the ancients and the medicines of the English. My missionary mother taught me the ways of English medicine and the rest I learned aboard on my brother’s ship–watching the ship’s physician and reading his books. I taught my brother some of the things I know, but he needs to further practice his stitching to become as good at it as I am.” He snickers and I find myself enjoying his obvious sense of humor.

“So you are very self-taught. That is impressive. Can you describe what a day in your life looks like?”

He stares up at the beech trees towering over us. “Describe one of my days? I must admit, things are drastically different from last year. I am just as busy, but it is not aboard a ship or journeying through the forests of my people. I am here, in my brother’s home tending to him and helping him with his family. I am having difficulty finding Ojibwe medicines to help him. English medicines have not worked either. I will not give up hope. There is a cure for Jonathan out there somewhere. I know it will be found. I have faith the Lord will not call him home, yet. I cannot imagine a life without my brother.”

“I hope he gets well soon,” I exclaim fervently. I nibble on my thumbnail, but refrain from following this trail of the conversation, as I am aware it will cause spoilers for a story not yet complete, instead, I ask, “In the book White Wolf and the Ash Princess, you do not show up until the second half of the story. Can you tell us a little bit about what you are doing in the pages where we can’t see you? I know you work with Jonathan, but can you expound a bit on what your role is in his enterprises?”

Mikonan rubs his hands together again. “Jonathan’s duty was in England–to tend to the mission that my father gave him. Mine was to be at my father’s side to learn from him–to be the next Chief of the Mountain–but I could not do it. My heart was not in it. I was too far away from my brother and the duty he was called to fulfill. I was told I could not interfere with Jonathan’s decisions, but I was told I could keep an eye on him from afar–so..I spent eleven years away from my people aboard my brother’s ships to be nearer to him, to his ‘duty’–to England. I found a calling on the ocean that I loved just as much as medicine. Cooking. The meals that I made for the English helped them forget my Ojibwe name. They began calling me “Cook”.”

“Ah! I thought it was more of an official title. I did not realize it was a nickname! Speaking of the mission your father gave to Jonathan, I am extremely curious to know more of the details Odedyan has with him, regarding the care of Izzy. I don’t want to wander into the realm of spoilers, but can you tell me anything more about that arrangement and why it was made? And how did you feel about it at the time?” I ask.

“Much has changed for the Ojibwe since Edward has come. Much.” Mikonan fixes me with a significant stare. “Our copper and the selling of our people made Edward a rich man. This has not gone unnoticed by other English men. There has been a steady flow of strangers since Edward. Some are curious about the Ojibwe Nation (and the other Nations in our Council: the Potawatomi and the Ottawa). They are only interested in making a new start for themselves in a new world. Others are here for the furs of our animals. A few are here to spread the Good News from their Books. We are waiting for another type of man, however. One that is just as destructive as Edward. This man is bound to come. Man’s heart is naturally sinful–and who can tell what evil can next fall upon our people.” He pauses for a long time, then continues. “It was not safe for Izzy to stay among the Ojibwe. The blood that flows in her veins is special. Some will find that threatening. Odedeyan, however, has yet to disclose why the arrangement with Jonathan was made. My brother desires to know why he was chosen. He feels he was an unworthy choice. Father promises that all will be known soon.”

“Thank you for explaining that,” I scribble a few notes in my notebook. Then I glance at him sideways. “Although I wouldn’t describe White Wolf as a romance, there are definitely romantic threads woven through it. So… tell me, is there any love interest in your own life?”

Mikonan shifts, but I cannot tell if the question has made him uncomfortable. At length, he shrugs. “There has been no time for love. The ocean has been the place where I have spent most of my adulthood. There is one that I have often thought about. Binidee. She has been a pleasant distraction from the smelly men I have had to live with on the great water. We grew up together in the village, but I left at fifteen. Her life went on just as mine did. Much time has passed. I am not sure if she even remembers me. I am home now–perhaps…maybe…I do not know! A future with a wife and a family of my own is wishful thinking. I still have no time for love. My English brother takes up so much of my time. Worry fills my heart and there is not room for much else.”

“Mmm hmmm,” I glance down at my notebook. “One final question. It’s one of my favorites to ask, though you may not understand it the way I mean it… how do you feel about the Author? If you could ask the Author to change one thing about your story, what would it be, and why?”

Mikonan shoots me an odd, unreadable look. “I feel we all have an Author of our lives. Our stories are all written. We just have to live them according to His instruction. I must admit, I have seen great tragedy and heartbreak. I have also seen blessings among them. I would love to see the end of this story. The one that includes myself, Izzy, Jonathan–and Odedeyan. I cannot see beyond today and that terrifies me. Will my brother again be well? Will he find the same peace that Izzy has found? What of me and my future as Chief? I do not want it–yet, this is the will of my father. Is it also the will of the  Author? What of the new blood that flows in the veins of Ojibwe? What will become of our people? So many questions…so many fears. I try to find joy, but it is becoming increasingly difficult. I do talk to the Author. I have been asking for direction and answers and yet, I have none. I do not need a happy ending for myself–but I do ask for one for my brother. Jonathan has suffered enough. That is all I ask. Nothing for me. All my prayers to the Author are for Izzy and Jonathan.”

I stand up. “Miigwech, Mikonan,” I say. “It has been a true pleasure chatting with you. I hope that your story turns out the way you hope, and that the Author does not put you through anything too terrible in your coming adventures.”

My badge begins to glow again, and the last thing I see as the world fades around me is the tall man standing alone among the birch trees, one hand raised…

Thank you, Tammy, for letting me interview one of your characters! It was delightful!

received_10212074247798681Tammy and her family homeschool and live in a 100 yr old farmhouse in the country. She writes children’s stories & is published in Keys For Kids.

If you enjoyed this interview and would like to learn more about Mikonan and the books in which he appears, you can find him in White Wolf and the Ash Princess

You can also learn more about his author in the following places:

WEBSITE - a recent post includes a sneak peek at the sequel, “Letters From the Dragon’s Son”



~ jenelle

7 Things I Love About Howl’s Moving Castle

I have been wanting to re-read Howl’s Moving Castle pretty much since the day I finished it the first time, but I’ve been so busy reading all the books, that I haven’t gotten a chance. Then, I neglected to take a book with me when I was traveling a few weeks ago (I was traveling with a 6 month old and hanging out with my siblings… I didn’t think I’d have occasion to read and I needed to keep our bag under 50lbs). I did have a couple of moments here and there where having a book would have been nice - cue a hundred people clamoring at me to get a Kindle – and on the way home we had a 2+ hour layover, so we went into a book store and my wonderful and understanding husband told me to see if I could find a book to read. Lo, and behold! There was a copy of HMC and I grabbed it.

I didn’t actually get to read it until we got home, but then I devoured it in two days and had a blast reading it and remembering all the things I love about it. Last spring, I wrote a post about how I discovered Diana Wynne Jones and which of her books I’ve read, but I didn’t spend a lot of time actually talking about the books themselves. So, I thought I’d do a little review of Howl and his moving castle today… in case you’re at a loss for what to read next and think you might find yourself interested in something quirky and fun, with plenty of magic, and characters you will fall in love with in spite of their flaws.

Howl’s Moving Castle is a fantasy adventure like nothing you’ve ever read before. And since it is different from other books, I am going to review it differently as well. Instead of trying to write up a cohesive review, I am going to tell you 7 things I love about Howl’s Moving Castle:

1. Sophie. Sophie Hatter is not your typical quester, or princess, or damsel in distress. She’s the daughter of a hatter. And to make things worse, she’s the ELDEST daughter. This, as everyone knows, does not mean she can hope for much in the way of an exciting or prosperous future. Fairy-tales have rules, after all. And while Sophie is not particularly pleased by her fate, she accepts it stoically. But when Sophie is cursed by the Witch of the Waste to grow old before her time, it gives her the boost she needs to get out of the hat shop and do some extraordinary things in the hope that the evil Wizard Howl can help her remove the curse. However, she quickly finds that while being old has disadvantages (tiring more quickly), she also finds it brings advantages, such as not really needing to care what anyone thinks of her. And though she seems compliant and willing to accept her fate at first, Sophie has an iron will and she never does anything by halves.

2. The moving castle. One of the most entertaining aspects of this world is the moving castle itself. The castle may move about the moors, but its front door opens to several places. From the castle, the characters can exit into various towns, kingdoms, or even a different world altogether, and can be called-upon from those fixed places, as well. The castle itself seems large on the outside, but in reality is only a few small rooms on the inside (the opposite of normal British-sci-fi-engineering).

3. Calcifer. Calcifer is the creature made of flames who lives within the Castle’s hearth. He claims that he does all the work and is attempting to weasel his way out of a contract he made with the wizard Howl. He can’t say much about it, but he gets Sophie to promise to help him break the contract in return for his help breaking her own curse. Calcifer is snarky and intelligent, but though Sophie worries that he (and everything/one around Howl) is evil, she can’t help but notice that he doesn’t act evil or say evil things…

4. Upside-down fairy tale elements. I loved the incorporation of fairy-tale elements and themes throughout this story, though the book itself is not at all a fairy-tale retelling, but a completely original story set in a world where fairy tales and magic are commonplace and expected.

5. The humor! Well-done humor is something I love to find in a story, and this book has it by the armful. Even on a re-read, I found myself laughing out loud in many places.

6. The world-building. The realm is interesting and well-thought-out. It has this sort of 1700s British feel to it, but more whimsical and fairy-tale-esque.

7. Howl. Of course I can’t write about things in this book I love without mentioning the titular character himself. He is possibly the most obnoxious character I’ve ever read, but he also has a certain charm that is impossible to deny. Howl is not your typical fairy-tale hero. He’s not particularly courageous or dedicated or honest or dependable… well, he IS all of those things, but he tries very hard to pretend not to be. There are things that terrify him, and he’s willing to admit to that… so when he knows he is about to do something that scares him, he has to work hard to convince himself that he is NOT going to do that thing… it’s the only way he can muster up the courage to do it. In the end, he’s far more noble than he wants anyone to know… but he also comes with a spoiled-rotten sort of attitude and a penchant for throwing temper tantrums when things don’t go his way, and an ego that shouldn’t fit inside his castle… and it is amazing to me that such an abhorrent-sounding character can be so extremely appealing, but he is. Howl is exactly the sort of person you would never want to meet in real life… but he is a blast to read about.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

~ jenelle