“What is the infernal ruckus?” Nabu growled. He stretched, first one smoky gray front paw and then the other, straight out, back arched and tail low. He gave up on his nap. Glancing about the room he noticed a third of the wall to wall bookshelves were empty. A small stack was in her chair at the little desk in the corner. The chair itself was back for easy access, though she’d have to move that silly stack of books. The computer on the desk showed her latest screensaver, some silly painting of the Jade Rabbit. Pages of handwritten scribbles all but covered the keyboard. The rest of the books were in little piles about the room–two by the bathroom door, three in the potted plant (what was that about), five in big overstuffed leather chair, and on and on, here and there.
“Well, witch,” he grumbled, “what are you brewing today?”
“You’ll see, you’ll see, sleepy puss,” she sing-song chuckled.
Nabu watched as she flitted about the room, rummaging through her stacks of books and piles of ingredients, deep in one of her peculiar spells. It looked like another friend spell. How many had she cast in the past few weeks? He’d lost count.
Feigning indifference, he glanced at her work table. No smelly brew. No pot at all. This spell was different from the others. All over the ancient oak table, smooth from years of spells, spills, and the occasional scrub, were her piles of spell components. Down the left side were cardinal feathers, beads from the necklaces of a thousand princesses, a dragon’s toenail clippings, and dust from all of Jupiter’s moons. “How did she get that?” he wondered.
Chrysanthemum added to each pile, alternating humming and muttering. At the end of the table she had piled basil, thyme, yarrow, and autographed photos of Orlando Bloom and Hugh Jackman. “Old letch,” he snarled. There were also at least three grudges on that end of the table—they took of a lot of space.
Nabu knew she must be nearing the end of the ingredient phase, because she’d started working in her favorite piles. She always saved them for last. The colors were there now–black, deep green and pale golden-yellow. She always added a few freckles. Yes, there they were by the duck’s quack. He wasn’t sure when she’d had time to cook, but he saw sushi, shrimp creole, French silk pie, and a macaroon.
As she set a Keats poem down beside a miniature unicorn, a single clear tone sounded from the nightingale wind chime. It was an enchanted chime, of course, and it only rang when a friendly breeze was coming.
“Wonderful!” Chrysanthemum declared. She darted around the table and book piles and peeked at the mirror in the bathroom. She checked her silver streaked hair held in a bun with rafia and chopsticks and patted her rose-colored glasses. “Good,” she whispered and smiled.
“Good?” Nabu questioned. “Half your bun is coming down, and those silly glasses are so smudged I don’t know how you see out of them.”
She ignored him, hurrying to the portal, the only way in to her lab. It was a soap bubble, as tall as a normal door and just as wide. Only those with magic and welcome could see it and enter.
“You make a better door than a window,” Nabu muttered from his perch behind her. “Who’s coming?”
Chrysanthemum’s smiled even wider and said, “It’s Miss Beam and Mr. Crane. I just knew they’d be first. But who is that behind them? Oh!”
She stumbled back as the first guests burst through the bubble portal. Their pursuer halted in confusion. The cloaked horseman turned all about, but he could find no sign of his prey. He wasn’t invited and he wasn’t welcome, so the door remained invisible to him. With a naughty little gleam in her eye, Chrysanthemum sent a telemarketer after him, and turned to greet her guests.
“My dear friends,” Chrysanthemum chirped, “I’m so glad you came. Did you bring something for the spell?”
Miss Beam sweetly smiled and handed her a crimson red oak leaf, last night’s sunset caught behind a lovely sheet of warped glass, and the cutest bobble head of Normal Jesus.
“Perfect!” Chrysanthemum announced, and placed them in their own pile at the head of the table.
“Mr. Crane?” she queried, her tilted head echoing the question.
Mr. Crane held out an unused airline ticket and rather wicked looking jack-o-lantern.
Chrysanthemum shook a finger at him then took his offerings. “You know,” she scolded with a distinct ring of amusement, “that fellow wouldn’t chase you so if you didn’t keep taking his head.”
Mr. Crane replied, “Moo.”
The trio burst into gales of laughter. Nabu watched in disgust as the trio climbed up off the floor. True to his nature, Nabu stalked up to Mr. Crane and said, “You know with what power you meddle in that horseman. You make a strong enemy in that one.”
Chrysanthemum placed a soothing hand on Nabu’s neck, flashed Mr. Crane an apologetic wink, and said, “You needn’t worry about our Mr. Crane. As long as he keeps his wits about him, he’ll be fine. I’ve never met anyone with sharper wits, except maybe Carmen.”
The nightingale wind chime sang again, a new note, slightly different from the first. “It’s Carmen,” Chrysanthemum announced.
Nabu knew at once this one was different from the first two. She was real, not created by spell. Oh, the others were real, but they’d been altered by Chrysanthemum’s magic. This one, this one was unpredictable, wild, and frighteningly brilliant. Nabu liked her immediately.
“Carmen, you made it,” Chrysanthemum said.
“Was there ever any doubt, Mum?” Carmen answered. She handed her light peach Grecian gown and homemade salsa. “I love the way the room is spelled. It’s a “change as needed” spell, right?”
As Chrysanthemum introduced Carmen to the others, the chime gave a beautiful trill. In flew three birds, a young bald eagle, a slick black crow, and a small owl. The eagle transformed into a beautiful young Native American girl who brought her self doubts, personal betrayals and writing frustration for the spell. The crow remained a crow, but with obvious intelligence and a twinkling eye, she carried a sack of cherry blossoms, a basho leaf and a few small pieces of packing tape over to the table.
The owl flew in straight at Nabu, who fled yowling under the table. The owl banked and transformed in a shower of feathers beside Chrysanthemum. Athena’s companion was dressed in a cloak of feathers and wore the fiercest of expressions as she glared at the cat.
“Who could resist,” she murmured, “flying in the face of reason?”
Chrysanthemum spoke soothingly to Nabu, “She loves reason.”
“And she loves a fight!” growled Nabu.
“Come out, Nabu, god of wisdom,” Athena’s owl beckoned. “I’ll not harm you.” She placed her offerings on the table–hair of the goddess, lessons of a student, and Emily’s rose.
As Miss Beam distracted Athena’s companion and the others with her tales of jungles, cows, and singing fish, Nabu slipped out from beneath the table and found Chrysanthemum waiting at the portal.
“The rest are coming,” she whispered to him. “Hear the chime singing?”
In they came, her friends and their gifts. Some she knew well, others not so well. She loved them all.
DeeCee, a young mother and student, brought the true description of beauty, the death of small talk, and a full Bach sonata score. Juby, sweet soul, brought sassafras, wild onions, and a large Gund toy white buffalo. Nabu hoped the buffalo wasn’t a spell component. He purred as Chrysanthemum set it beside him on the floor.
Next came the poet of grief and gratitude and a lovely Japanese lady in a kimono that looked like it was made from the sea. The poet brought powerful memories of friendship and mentors. The lady gave a beautiful translation of haiku about a blue willow, a forever stamp, and a Japanese-English dictionary. They both bowed in greeting and silently placed their gifts on the table.
The following three were a hippy, a professor, a poet. The hippy cheerfully deposited his gifts–a Big Chief writing tablet, a dragonfly, and a fish. The professor brought golden ginkgo leaves, Halloween cobwebs, and seven syllables discarded from a haiku about a blue moon. The poet couldn’t be seen for the boxes of rosehips and green tea, a large singing origami crane, and a black and red tetsubin. They all managed to find room on the table, the quickly joined the others.
Three more hurried in. The first was surely Mother Nature’s acolyte for she brought a recycling bin, a Nordic night, and sunrise of fire. A star-gazer followed her and donated a coat of many colors, a thesaurus, and a handful of zeugmas. The last of the trio was a fascinating survivor who brought the first season of Hollywood Squares on DVD and the collected works of Jane Austen.
Just when the room seemed it couldn’t hold another soul, it shifted and stretched and filled the space with bean bag chairs, porch swings, and reclining sofas. Nabu turned and looked at Chrysanthemum. “Mum,” he purred, “Are any more coming?”
“I believe so,” she replied. “Yes, see there. Two more.”
A husband-wife team whispered “Namaste” and offered a stunning black silk sari, a non-exploding mango, and prayer for peace. From behind them a catgirl pounced on Chrysanthemum. Glomp!
“Nekochan, you sweet girl,” Chrysanthemum said. “What did you bring?”
“Silly, Mum,” Nekochan giggled, “Catnip, of course.”
The chime sang again and in walked two more guests, and chef and an angel. The chef sang as he brought in kippers, crème brule, mushroom risotto, and several other tasty dishes. Nabu was glad most of them went to the buffet table that just appeared near the piano. The chef made sure an unfinished script, apple tart a la mode, and a rollicking song made it to the oak table for the spell.
The last guest stood quietly, her ebony wings gently folded about her shoulders.
Chrysanthemum began to cry. “Sweet angel, you have come.”
The dark-skinned seraph smiled and gestured at the table.
“Oh!” Chrysanthemum exclaimed. “You have brought it. I wasn’t even sure you could.”
Nabu looked at the table, and there was the joy of a loving family, the promised rainbow after a monsoon, and the vibrant winds from the cradle of life.
Chrysanthemum wiped her eyes, took the angel’s hand, and said, “It is time to cast the spell.”
All gathered round the table. Nabu placed the final component in the center, a large lump of playdoh. Chrysanthemum took the sari and gently unfolded it. They all held an edge and placed it over the table and its treasures. Chrysanthemum started a quiet song, and each guest joined in. They each sang their own song, their own words and melody. Somehow, magic of course, it all blended perfectly. When the song ended, the spell was done. Everyone smiled and waited. The final guest had arrived.
“Come, my dear,” said Chrysanthemum, “Don’t be shy. There is no one here who does not love you dearly.” She turned to the rest and said, “Everyone, I’d like you to meet Imagiin Nation. It is in her honor that we gather.”
The sari slid from the table and the girl who rose was more beautiful than Helen, older than Eve, and as wise as any goddess, even Athena.
“Mum,” Nabu purred, “You have outdone yourself.”
“Nabu, my darling, I couldn’t have done it at all without my friends. It would have been impossible on my own.”
“Couldn’t you have just looked them up on the internet?” he argued.
“Where do you think they all came from in the first place?” she laughed. She turned, grabbed the sari from the floor, and dropped it over Nabu.
Once again Nabu stretched, first one smoky gray arm and then the other. As he stood, the sari formed into a coat around his tall human body. He had kept his ears and tail, but the rest was feral, male and human. He turned to Chrysanthemum and pulled out the chopsticks from her hair. She shook it out and years fell away. He linked his arm through hers.
“Well, old crone?” he growled.
Chrysanthemum laughed, “You can’t call me that now. I am a woman, and I chose my age whenever I want.”
They both turned to the guests, and Chrysanthemum declared, “Let the party begin!”