Copyright © 2022 Norma Rrae.
The phone rang. Deryn Moreth’s eyes shot to the old rotary
telephone, and she recoiled. There was only one person in
The Otherly with enough magic to call on that phone. And
it hadn’t rung in years.
A bird smacked into her window, causing Deryn to jump.
Why did her sister make her jumpy? She ran her hand through her
black hair, which had involuntarily spiked into porcupine quills.
She glared at the phone, hoping it would stop ringing. It did not.
She picked up the headset. “Hello?”
“Sister, I need your help.”
“Keres, can’t you at least say hello first?” Deryn asked.
Deryn looked out the window to the bird fluttering on the ground. His wing appeared broken. Dummy. “If you need something, the best approach is with some form of flattery. Even
if it’s a simple hello.”
“The girl has arrived.”
Deryn dropped the phone. She fumbled, trying to pick it up,
and hoped her sister hadn’t heard her klutzy movements. “What?
Has she made it past the river?”
Deryn wondered how the first line of defence, Sprig, her
goblin shark, had failed. “That’s not good,” she said.
“Why do you always think so negative? It’s great news!
Wonderful, spectacular!” Keres said.
“The last time you brought someone in, I had to rescue them
from Obscura!” Deryn said.
There was a pause on the other end of the call. “That was
unfortunate, and look, I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye.
But this time, it’s different. This girl will make a change,” Keres
“What if I want nothing to do with it this time?” Deryn
The kettle screamed its readiness. Deryn tried to reach the
red pot with the phone in her hand, but the cord stopped short.
Keres rambled on about sisterly duty and whatnot. Deryn rolled
her eyes and set the phone on the floor to remove the kettle from
the heat. She could hear her sister’s rant through the earpiece
before she even picked up the phone again.
Deryn put the phone to her ear.
Keres’s voice was snarling. “Don’t you want rain this year? I
bet sweet peas won’t produce in a dry summer.”
Deryn snorted. “What would Mother Nature think of that?”
“Oh, for five cents, I’m not scared of her,” Keres said.
“This isn’t about me. I need this girl brought to me,” Keres
She looked to the window again. She had to act fast. “Why
can’t you get someone else to help? My gate sits broken again
because of you,” Deryn said.
“Because you keep telling the animals horrible lies about me,”
Keres snarled. Then lightning snapped outside the farmhouse
window and lit a tree on fire. The bird jumped up and hobbled
Deryn growled and dropped the phone for a second time.
Then she ran to the door, swung it open, and screamed at the
horses to put the fire out.
Into the phone, she yelled, “What was that for?”
Keres laughed. “At least I don’t abuse animals.”
Deryn considered slamming the phone down. Her hair slicked
into buffalo horns. “I don’t. I’m a strict keeper with firm rules.”
“If that’s what you call it.”
Deryn considered Keres’s threat. If she held back the rain, her
crops would suffer. Then she would have no food to pay the mine
animals, which would mean no stibnite to crush into kohl for her
make-up. Deryn’s hair smoothed back into long rabbit ears, laying
straight down her back. She sighed, “OK, I’ll help.”
“She just got to Zavian’s,” Keres replied.
“Zavian? That dumb Memegwaan? Why would she go
there?” Deryn asked.
“Just go collect the girl. He’ll keep her until I can find a way
down there,” Keres said.
The line went dead.
“Yeah, like Mother Nature would allow that,” Deryn said
to the empty phone line. She set it back on the receiver. The tea
leaves in the bottom of her mug remained starved for water. There
was no longer time for tea today.
Deryn dashed out the front door. Zavian’s cabin was a few
days’ travel from her farm, even if she used all her magic to fly.
Outside, the horses had made quick work of putting the tree
fire out. Deryn marched with heavy boot stomps to inspect the
broken front gate. She scowled at her beautiful iron gate hanging
from the latches between perfect rows of bamboo fencing.
Chipmunks. She was sure of this, and figured it was the same
ones that ate her f lower gardens along the river. She removed her
apron and tied it around the gate to keep unwelcome guests out.
The quick fix would have to do for now.
Deryn marched to her horses huddled around the burned
tree. Buckets of water hung from their mouths. They had done an
excellent job, but she knew better than to give praise. That would
let their heads get big, which could cause less compliant help.
Toll smiled at Deryn, dropping his bucket of water. The
fifteen-hand Quarter Horse sported a black and white puzzle piece
pattern all over his body.
Mother, he sent.
She scowled and sent back, What have I told you about calling
Toll sadly huffed, You can’t be every animal’s mother.
George and Boll, the bay-coloured twin Clydesdales that
stood at twenty hands, turned to collect more water.
Toll’s not helping, George sent.
I am, Toll sent to George, then turned to Deryn. He bit me!
I don’t have time for this, Deryn sent.
But, Madame, it hurt, Toll sent.
The whine in Deryn’s mind sent her into a rage. She kicked
the water bucket, which bounced off the tree and hit Toll on the
leg. He whinnied and limped around.
Stop, you’re acting a fool, Deryn sent.
My leg is broken.
Deryn dug her fingernails deep into her palm to stop her
anger. No, it’s not. Everyone, line up!
The horses lined up like soldiers.
George exposed his gums to Toll, who didn’t notice, too busy
swatting f lies with his tail.
The flies come because you stink like cow dung, Boll sent.
No, the flies come because he’s about as bright as cow dung, George
Madame, please tell them to stop, Toll sent.
Madame’s boy, Boll sent.
Boys, Deryn sent to all three, give me your attention! Fortunately,
there is no time for your shenanigans.
The twins stopped, stood straight, but Toll hung his head,
Deryn turned to face George. I need you today, my son, she sent.
Why don’t you take the dumb one, then us intelligent guys can get
more work done, George sent.
Deryn glared at George then looked to Toll. Maybe I will, she
Ha! I was kidding, Madame, he’s useless, you know, George sent.
I’m your best choice. I’m the strongest.
Deryn walked between George and Boll. She climbed on
Let’s go, my son. We have essential matters, Deryn sent.
She turned to face the other two, George and Boll and sent,
We’ll discuss your behaviour later.
Toll bounced with excitement to the point where he couldn’t
walk a straight line. Deryn dug her knees into the soft flesh
behind his belly to redirect his energy.
I chose you to punish the others, don’t make me regret it, Deryn sent.
Toll walked with high knees towards the gate. Deryn opened
the broken gate, and she instructed the other horses to repair it.
Toll broke into a gallop across the fields.
Once they were some distance away, Toll slowed to a canter.
I do the most tilling. George and Boll only pretend to pull the
equipment, Toll sent.
Please don’t make this a day of ratting out your brothers.
Where are we going? Toll sent.
To the mines, Deryn sent. “I have to get rid of this girl before
Keres finds her,” she said.
What’s that? You know I don’t understand words, Toll sent.
Nothing, my son, can you run faster?
Pardon, Madame. A soft voice sent.
A dragonfly flew around Deryn’s head with electric amethyst
wings shocking the atmosphere with different colours on each
To check-in, Madame, I found a girl, he sent.
Was it the girl? Deryn sent.
Yes, but the plan didn’t go as expected, the dragonf ly sent.
He landed on Toll’s soft white mane.
Oh? Deryn sent.
Fingernails bent from the pressure she applied to her palm.
No, well, I had to give her the breath, the dragonfly sent.
Had to? Deryn sent. She dug her nails deeper.
Yes, well, you see, she would have drowned if I hadn’t.
Deryn unclenched her fist. That’s unfortunate. I suppose I will
have to demote you.
The dragonfly lifted to fly away. I am dreadfully sorry. It has been
so long since a human has entered The Otherly. However, my compassion outweighed my judgement.
Indeed, Deryn sent.
Her hair spiked into a kingfisher Mohawk. Toll staggered as
Deryn pulled her energy and threw it at the bug. The dragonfly
fell to the ground.
Deryn directed Toll to the side to avoid stepping on the
nymph sobbing on the ground.
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