This short story revisits characters introduced in Remedy Maker, and introduces you to a few who are new!
Abelia, a Boronda Forest Wood Nymph…
She came to Willow Bay to satisfy her curiosity of human life, and got more than she bargained for.
Jack, an archeologist bent on discovery…
He can’t wait to leave Pennsylvania and return to his explorations in Australia, where life is filled with dingos and roos.
Human hunters stalk the enthralling Abelia, and Jack comes to her rescue. The hunters back off, but she suddenly vanishes, and he’s left confused as he returns home to the rugged Outback.
They’ll risk it all…
When Abelia magically appears in Jack’s kitchen, she must divulge who and what she really is and risk the mythic people’s secret for his help to return home. Meanwhile he risks his heart in convincing her to stay.
5 Stars For What It Is
It felt longer than it was but conveyed the whole story without leaving you with 1000 questions like many shorter stories tend to do. The author was able to pack a lot of things into this story in a compact manner while not sacrificing the storyline.
– Douglas C. Meeks
Portals of Oz by Sheri Fredricks
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. I rated it 4 out of 5 stars.
Reviewed for For Whom The Books Toll
Portals of Oz is a quick read that has adventure, danger, excitement, and romance. Sheri has infused wit and humor, romance and passion into a short story. This is a fun book and I hope there will be more like it.
– Julianne Keller
I have read numerous of Ms. Fredricks books and everything she writes is so imaginative! I would love to live inside her head. She also puts a lot of steam in her stories which makes me uber happy! I have read tons of paranormal and Ms. Fredricks is one of the best!
Abelia walked closely along the shop walls as she peered into the brightly displayed windows or gazed in amazement at the limitless street traffic. Humans lived a much different life than Wood Nymphs in the Boronda Forest. Everyone here was in such a hurry.
Curiosity brought Abelia to town. The Remedy Maker’s wife, Patience, stuffed her head with the exciting goings-on in the small town of Willow Bay. From Art in the Park days to annual parades, it all sparkled like sunlight on the Boronda River to her mythological being.
She jumped out of her woodland skin when an old truck blared its horn at a low-slung sports car that waited too long at a green light. Dogs barked while chasing laughing children in the well-tended, bright green park across the street. Above it all, the delicious aroma of fried foods beckoned with tantalizing promises of a delicious meal.
In the corner of the park, under the shade of an enormous sweetgum tree, a plant peddler set up shop with a folding table and displays of bonsai trees in small decorative pots. She longed to leave the security of the shop walls and venture across the street. But then she would be out in the open, vulnerable…Alone.
The hard sidewalk felt unfamiliar beneath her soft ballerina-style shoes. Heat from the grey concrete radiated through the soft leather, warming the soles of her feet. Music with a strong beat trickled out from an open door, and she slowed her pace to gaze inside. The covered alcove offered shade from the unusually warm autumn day, and she stepped further into the welcoming cool.
Round wooden seats were lined up next to the longest table she’d ever seen. A man wearing a T-shirt pulled levers, and golden draft beer flowed into frosted mugs. Scents of yeast hung heavy in the air. Those seated on the stools laughed, toasting with their tall glasses, and sang to the music playing from the brightly lit box in the corner.
“Come on in, sweetheart. I’ll buy whatever you want.”
Her gaze flew to the smiling young human sitting around a small table with three of his friends. Sleeves of his denim shirt were torn off, the shirttail left untucked. Muscular thighs filled his worn jeans, and his tightly curved ball cap read Pearson’s Hardware.
The others chuckled and waved her in.
Abelia smiled, but shook her head and stepped back from the doorway. Moving past the next panels of curtained-framed windows, she looked in and noted the same group of men watched her pass by.
Cold shivers of apprehension finger-walked up her spine. Dangers abounded for Nymphs in the human world—sex slaves being the worst. Scientific experimentation came as a close second. A decree, created centuries before her germination, stated that all mythological creatures would remain mysterious and served only as folklore to the humans. The survival of Boronda’s species must come first. While the different races might have issues between them, this was one area where every mythic agreed.
Which didn’t mean humans did not suspect they lived. Legends were told with stories. Ancients drew pictures. And human hunters…hunted them.
Abelia quickened her pace and glanced behind her. Pan’s hooves.
The male with no sleeves, accompanied by one of his friends, sauntered out the door. They nodded in her direction when they caught sight of her.
Pressure, like a tight knot, grew in her chest and constricted the more her mind gnawed on the pursuant humans. A few yards to the street corner and she could crossover to the park. Trees dotting the enclosed landscape would offer her protection—if she could manage to shimmer unseen.
When the traffic light turned green, she crossed the street with the other pedestrians. Risking it, Abelia looked over her shoulder.
The males kept their slow pace, stalking her like the forest wolf; relentless and focused.
Her pulse sped up as the pressure burst inside of her and icy fear twisted around her heart.
Jack stepped off the curb when the light changed and surveyed the thin cluster of people coming at him. Bloody hell.
Five people hardly made a crowd, but more than two was too many for him. With his mind on the ancient artifact sale he’d just completed, he nearly missed seeing the willowy girl walking toward him in a green sundress. She seemed in a hurry, stress etched worry lines between her arched brows.
He may have grown up in a sleepy California beach town, but living in the rugged outback of Australia taught a man to gather information, collect more than what he saw, to use wherewithal to piece things together. His never-ending search for the elusive Brownie Elf began when he first made their connection to the Aboriginal people in the Land of Kiwis. Folklore and eyewitness accounts claimed the natives’ ability to project their bodies from one location to another.
What a convenient trait to have, he thought. Especially right now.
She glanced over her shoulder, her long blonde hair swayed in an arc as she turned—gorgeous, graceful, and sexy.
Jack gazed past the pretty girl and noticed two rough-looking bludgers grinning at each other. Their pointing fingers and elbow jabs threatened to ruin what was left of his good day.
A damn good reminder why I don’t live in town. Jack adjusted his path to maintain a collision course into the runaway blonde.
On target? Absolutely.
Crash. And we have a bulls-eye!
The greenest eyes he’d ever seen stared up at him, wide with fright. “Excuse me. I’m so sorry.” She took a side step to swing around him, and he parried the move with one of his own.
The light turned yellow.
“You all right? I’ll walk you to the curb.” His hand brushed her sun-warmed shoulder as he reached an arm around, placing himself between her and the redneck mates dogging her steps.
“I’m fine. You don’t need to help, but thanks. I just—uh—want to see the little trees over there.” The arm she lifted showed light muscle tone. The hand that pointed trembled. Her hair, thick and rich, bounced with healthy volume.
Jack inhaled the heady scent of jasmine, the aroma nearly bringing him to his knees. “I was just headed there myself.” Like hell he was.
She stumbled at the curb.”Oh!”
He instantly caught her around the waist. Slender and trim, she fit perfectly inside the crook of his arm, her skin softer than cashmere. “Careful.”
Pulling away, she took the sweet jasmine with her, and gazed back at the pedestrians in the crosswalk.
Yeah, honey. They’re still coming. He thought she gave a soft gasp, but wasn’t sure over the gunning engines of the line of waiting cars. Her mates quickened their step when the crosswalk light turned red, and Jack’s eyes met hers for a brief moment.
As if she were a missile programmed for a direct hit, she dropped her sights on her intended object—the vendor selling plants.
Seated and watching the constant flow of intersection traffic, an oriental man rose to his feet, cranking a smile when he noticed them headed his way. “Hello.”
Which to Jack sounded more like harro.
The short man pointed his finger at each of them. “You make nice couple.”
Jack smiled at the honest mistake and enjoyed the pink stain climbing the blonde’s cheeks. “Thank you. I believe Miss…” He stared expectantly at her.
“Abelia,” she murmured.
“I believe Abelia is interested in your bonsai. Can you tell us about them?” Jack glanced behind them, satisfied at the sight of the two lug nuts walking away, down the sidewalk, smoking cigarettes and looking disappointed.
He rested his hand on the small of her back, wincing when she flinched at his touch. Those mates really had her spooked. Abelia’s large leaf-green eyes met his, so he cocked his head in the pair’s direction.
She swung her frightened gaze to their departing back, then turned back to him—all five-foot-four of her curvy, soft body. She threw back her shoulders and squared them.
Helpless to stop himself, Jack leaned toward her, compelled to gain another inch closer, to breathe in another lungful of seductive perfume.
The spark lit her eyes first, an inner glow that brightened with the tilt of her head. Full, moist lips stretched across her face, lifting at the ends and erasing the strain of worry. Full blown and explosive, Abelia smiled her appreciation.
Jack tripped over his heart, and a shiver of want pulsed through him.
Abelia had never been so relieved in all her sixty-three years. The human male who came to her aid was brave.
He radiated a vitality that drew her like the change in the seasons.
She pointed to a miniature tree with an unusually large trunk. “What is this?”
Odd, with her Wood Nymph senses, she didn’t feel a heat signal from the plant, or pulse indicating a dweller within. Not that it mattered. Who’d want to live in a tree that grew on a plate?
“Ah, good choice for you. This is called Bottle Tree in Australia.” The man’s Japanese accent switched his L’s to R’s, and vice-versa. “The real name is Boab tree. You like?”
The dark-haired human stiffened next to her. When she glanced at his face, he stared past the bonsai seller, into the heart of the park. Seated on a bench, the pair from the bar smoked cigarettes and watched through eyes that reminded Abelia of rats. They made rude gestures with their hands to their crotches. Disgusting.
“Tell me about this one.” He curved his tall frame toward her and peered closer to the display. “You’re okay,” he whispered, loud enough for her to hear.
“Tell me that again,” she whispered back. It was impossible to steady her erratic pulse. Perhaps it’d been a bad choice to come to town. Curiosity killed the—stop! Not going there.
Seemingly bored with sitting, the two male humans left the bench and made their way closer, to stand in the shade of a struggling pine.
Abelia watched them pull out pocketknives and sink their blades to carve into the tree, crudely carving the bark. Waves of tormented pain floated out of the poor tree, and she could do nothing to reassure the scraggily sapling.
Whether the young tree’s terror transferred into her cells, or they were of her own making, Abelia’s fear was much the same as a sudden windstorm; sheer yet black. Wave after wave crashed through her.
She was sure of it. Without their long, scoped rifles and camouflage clothing, they were hard to pick out. Nevertheless, those men monitored her closely and it gnawed at her sense of security.
Abelia needed to make a getaway—the sooner, the better.
In broad daylight, there was nowhere to shimmer without running the risk of someone seeing her. People filled the park, the sidewalks. Humans were everywhere.
She gasped in surprise, and her gaze flew to his. As much as she’d like to believe this handsome male, she was definitely not all right. The only place she’d be one-hundred-percent safe was back in the Boronda Forest, shimmered inside the taproot tree of her heart.
The two hunters left the shade of the quivering pine and ogled her as they drew near. Like the horror movie she’d once seen, every measured step brought the humans one step closer. She couldn’t take the dull ache of foreboding that ratcheted her nerves tighter, or the anguish overcoming her control.
“Thank you for helping me.” Attraction or not, Abelia didn’t want to leave her handsome protector yet. He stood tall and straight, like a towering spruce. Under less stressful circumstances, she would have enjoyed getting to know him better. “I think it’s time for me to leave.”
“You no want to buy bonsai?” The vendor asked.
Although small, for temporary housing, the bonsai would work in a pinch.
Cars of all shapes and colors zoomed past on the street—nobody would notice. All she had to do was redirect the attention of the seller, and that of the devilishly good-looking male. She took in his set face. His clamped mouth and fixed blue eyes. If there’d only been more time for them.
Maybe another day.
Abelia took a long look, memorizing his human features, and did what she had to do. Forcing her eyes to open wide, she pointed a finger behind the plant seller. “Holy crap! Did you see that?”
The second they both looked away, Abelia touched the trunk of the miniature tree and shimmered herself inside.
What the hell?
Jack looked around, pole-axed. Abelia had just been standing next to him; her scent lingered in the air. Car horns blared, Frisbees floated across the park lawns, and people waited on the curb to cross the street.
No matter his extensive research, there was no solid evidence supporting that someone could disappear into thin air. He gazed about the park again and even checked under the seller’s table. “Did you see where she went?” Was he going fucking crazy?
“Who?” Straight faced and serious, the Japanese man deadpanned.
“What do you mean who? The blonde I was with.” Jack stabbed his fingers through his hair, then remembered the mates who’d been following the girl. Their faces were as confused as his must appear.
The only person who didn’t seem bewildered was the little Asian. “You want boab tree? I make you good deal. Fifty dah-lah.”
What the hell was with this guy? “You didn’t see her? The girl I was with?” This was bloody insane. Jack visually searched around traveling cars and moving people. “Un-freaking-believable.”
“You should buy this tree.” Brown slanted eyes peered up at him from a clear, line-free face. The man’s wizened orbs spoke of countless ages and didn’t match his body’s stout appearance. “Forty-five dah-lah.”
The little bonsai in the blue ceramic dish wasn’t as ornate as the others. Shallow wooden trays displayed trees twisted into intricate, wind-swept shapes. But the boab was native to Australia, and he was leaving for home in a few hours. Jack rubbed the back of his neck and brought his scrambled thoughts together.
Why the hell not? If anything, the bonsai would remind him of the pretty, blonde-haired girl who got away. “Forty dollars, and throw in one of your care booklets.”
The seller’s eyes nearly disappeared in his broad smile of happiness. “Yes, yes.” He bowed, and handed Jack the plant and flimsy pamphlet. “You listen, now. I tell you sum-sing important.”
Jack leaned in closer.
“Many things unexplained in life.” The peddler’s voice grew softer. “Accept them. You no search for answers, answers not there.” He shook his head with a scowl. “Accept. And love.”
Huh? Accept and love? “What the hell does that mean?” And what did that have to do with the care of a bonsai tree? Jack gripped the potted plant tighter and tucked the booklet in the back pocket of his jeans.
The little Asian man smiled, mysterious and cunning. “Have a good day. Bye-bye.” He turned away and began packing his display into cardboard boxes stashed under the folding table legs. Each tree received special attention from the crazy codger. He whispered in Japanese before placing them gently inside.
The aromas of restaurant food brought Jack back from his musings, and his stomach answered in kind. He hiked the plant higher and glanced at his watch—five hours before his plane took off for Alice Springs, his destination in Australia.
Damn. He’d have to eat on the run, or at the airport.
Stiff, and dizzy with a lightheadedness that only came from air travel, Jack stepped off the puddle jumper that had skipped him over the red terrain. The sun warmed and he stretched an arm above his head. Cradled against his stomach was the bonsai he’d held in his lap throughout the twenty-three hour flight. Cramped seating and close quarters made for a long crossing.
The boarding ramp vibrated beneath his feet as he climbed down with the other passengers and hit the warm tarmac. A light wind blew from the propjets as the blades decreased their rotation. Autumn in the States meant springtime in the Land Down Under.
Inside the small terminal where automatic doors opened and closed, his beat-up Samsonite suitcase slid onto the stainless steel conveyor and began a revolving trek toward him like a slow moving train. A female voice announced flights over the loudspeaker. Boots and high-heels clicked against the polished floor. Fresh coffee from the snack bar mixed with the vast array of perfume.
“Excuse me.” He reached in front of an older gentleman to grab the duct-taped baggage handle and made his way out to the parking lot. After a few minutes of searching, Jack found his parked car.
Overhead, deep blue spanned the heavens, evoking a sense of calm. Up-close, his Range Rover sat blanketed in filth. Someone had scrawled Wash Me in the dust across the back window. Jack curled his lip in disgust. Didn’t matter if he washed the car ten times, by the time he drove home, all traces of the finger-painted sign would be gone—covered by the rust-colored powder found everywhere in the bush.
Ah, it’s good to be home. Luggage stowed in the rear compartment, bonsai stashed safely on the front passenger seat, he threw the SUV in gear and drove out of the airport, heading southwest on the dirt road affectionately named Highway 87. Located in the Northern Territory, outside of Alice Springs, near the Yulara Township border, Jack’s home lay nestled near a billabong on the sheep station owned by his former college roommate, Benedict.
Priceless rock paintings scattered across Ben’s enormous homestead. Jack’s job was to photograph and catalog it all for the Australian Historical Society. After working for over two years, he’d only covered a small portion of the ranch.
Ayers Rock, or Uluru as the Aborigines called it, sat as a giant monolith in the vast flat land. One of the oldest rocks on Earth, it remained a sacred site for the native people and one of Australia’s most famous natural landmarks. Thousands of tourists flocked to Uluru every year. Jack gladly avoided them in occasional work with Benedict and the small crew on the station. However, he preferred being alone and enjoyed climbing the narrow gorges searching for rock paintings and other artifacts.
After an hour’s drive, he turned onto a no-name lane marked by four large rocks piled one atop the other. Every mile that brought him closer to the dingoes and roos, released another of knot of tension from his back. In the wake of bumping along what most would hardly consider a road, a log pole arch marked the entrance to his home.
Jack pulled into the front parking area of the house and threw the Rover into park. He sat, waiting, while a thick cloud of choking dust immediately engulfed him.
“Home, sweet home.”
When the air cleared to where he wouldn’t hack up a lung, he opened the car door and stepped out, bonsai firmly in hand. The rear cargo door opened with a loud creak of metal and fall of red snow. It used to bother him—all the dirt. Now it was his badge, a comforting reminder of peace and solitude. He looked around and took a deep breath, gazing beyond the front yard and out to the plains in the distance.
This was home now.
He grabbed his Samsonite buddy and wheeled it up the porch stairs, into the house. Cool tile in warm shades of terracotta welcomed him, inviting him to shut the door on the blindingly bright sun.
Leaving the travel bag to stand in the entry, he took the bonsai into the white-walled kitchen and set it on the counter. Later he’d read up on how to properly care for the plant. The little green tree with the extra fat trunk was as unusual as the girl who spurred him to buy it. Junipers and pines were the normal genus of ornamentals, not a species native to Australia.
Jack shook his head. He would have given the bonsai to the blonde-haired Sheila, if she’d hung around long enough.
Two steps to the fridge, he grabbed a Fosters Beer, and cracked the tab.
Now he was stuck with a tree in a dish.
Inside the tree, the bonsai wasn’t cramped for breathing space, though no Wood Nymph had ever made it a home. That much was clear; the living quarters were bare. Not even a cup to get a drink of water. Back in Boronda, the taproot tree of her heart held two bedrooms, living room, kitchen, and bath. This mini tree, she glanced around, was more of a studio—everything in one big room.
Connected to a single tree from birth, a Wood Nymph’s existence remained joined as one, taking on life and living for centuries. With all things mythological, there lay a flip side to their longevity—whatever affected the tree, would also affect them. Clear cutting and environmental pollution were the Wood Nymph’s number one cause of death.
Abelia shimmered close to the bonsai’s bark surface, but didn’t pop all the way through. She took in her new environment from behind a screened window of natural wood grain.
Cream colored marble covered the modern kitchen countertops. Blond oak cabinets hugged the walls, and a type of cooking range she’d never seen before sat center stage. The home—whomever it belonged to—was nice, clean, and tidy. And if it were hers, she’d add a few green plants and a vibrant splash of color.
As much as she liked hanging around and ogling the home interior of others, it was time for her to leave. Uneasiness prickled her spine. In this last adventure, her curiosity had gotten the better of her. For what seemed as long as a day, the walls and floor shook inside the boab, the last few hours being the worst. Impossible to stand upright, she resorted to crawling, or sat in the corner with her back braced against the walls.
Energy grew deep within her, and her body’s temperature increased with the howl of a false wind. In true mythic fashion, not a hair on her head stirred. Agitated molecules spun and danced. The whirling motes created exotic patterns as they vibrated the still air around her. Wood Nymph shimmer in full effect, displaced air popped like a finger in the mouth and a moment later, Abelia stood on the cool tile floor, facing the bonsai.
Behind her a deep voice gasped, “Oh, my God.”
Abelia spun around, her heart in her throat, and threw a hand over her mouth to hold in a scream.
The human male from the park stood shirtless a few feet away, eyes saucer wide. In his right hand, he held a blue can halfway to his mouth. “What the hell?”
Shock wrote a novel across his face, invoking a sense of panic inside her. She glanced past him to the luggage bag sitting on the floor, and through the adjoining room was a door with an inlaid arched window. Sunlight streamed through and sparkled on the reddish floor.
Based on her education and life experience, he wouldn’t know if what he saw was real. She’d have to place her bet on that guess.
Abelia smiled, though her facial muscles fought the uphill pull. “Hi. I bet you’re surprised to see me.”