Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from Chapter 1: Board
She looked at her reflection in the water of the shallow well. Luxuriant midnight black hair to her breathtakingly slender waist, matching dark eyes in a lovely face. A torso coming yea-close to absolute perfection. She was man's desire. That was part of the problem.
Well, on with it. “Oh, Wishing Well, they say you will grant any wish, provided you like the offering given for it. But that if you don't like the offering, you may still grant the wish, but not in a way the wisher wants. So the wisher is sorry she ever bothered you. So it's a gamble, because no one really knows what you like.”
She paused, but of course there was no answer. The surface of the water remained mirror-smooth. But it did seem to be listening.
“They also say that the correct way to approach you is to introduce yourself, explain your situation, make your wish, and then drop the offering into the water. That the wish will be granted instantly, and that's it; if you don't like the way it is done, you're still stuck with it. You don't do un-wishes.”
There was a faint ripple. Was that interest?
“I was named Irrelevant Kandy, because—well, I don't exactly know why. But I think I was named in part after the irrelephant, which is a large white or pink animal with a very long nose that is incapable of making any difference no matter how hard it tries. My name is a curse, because everyone ignored me, thinking I was irrelevant, when I'm actually a very pretty girl, as you can see. So I tried going by my initial instead. That made me I Kandy. Then everyone looked at me. In fact they looked too much; their eyes wandered to places that, well, made me blush. Wherever I go, now, those Wandering Eyes pursue me. I almost feel them peering down inside my halter and up under my skirt, trying to pull off my clothing. They don't care about me at all, just how I look, or how certain parts of me look, and their cynosure makes me feel dirty there. This is no good either.”
She paused again. Now there was a stronger ripple, almost in the shape of an eye. The well was definitely looking. She hoped it was orienting on her face.
“So I'm caught between two extremes: irrelevance, or getting eyed.
Maybe that's my talent; I'm not aware of any other. This ruins my social life. I'm actually a smart girl who would make any man an excellent wife. But no man sees that. No man is interested in my mind or personality, just my whatevers. So here is my wish: I'm board stiff. I want Adventure, Excitement, and Romance.”
Now the ripples made her reflection shimmer. She definitely had the wishing well's attention.
“I searched all over for a suitable offering,” she continued. “It occurred to me that how you look is governed by the sand on your bottom. It is frankly sort of dull. So I found a pretty colored stone that should add interest. Here it is: my offering, and I hope you like it.”
She brought out the stone, which was like a faceted blue diamond, sparkling all over. She dropped it into the well.
Something happened. A sudden whirlwind surrounded her, lifting her up and ripping off her clothing. She was changing, somehow. Then she fell flat on the ground.
Literally. She had been transformed into a flat, stiff board with two knotholes for eyes.
Belatedly she realized her mistake: she had said she was “board stiff” when she meant “bored stiff.” It was a mental typo, done in the tension of the moment. The well evidently had not appreciated her offering, and had punished her by making her bored a punnishly literal board.
She was doomed. She tried to cry, but all that happened was a small oozing of sap from her knot eyes.
She wasn't sure how long she lay there, feeling justifiably sorry for herself. Never in her wildest dreams had she anticipated becoming a stiff board. It was not the slightest bit feminine. What was to become of her? Would someone gather her for firewood? Oh, the horror!
Then another person approached the wishing well. Kandy's knot-eyes extended to either side of the board, and she could see very well despite lying flat on the ground. She could also hear the footfalls despite having no ears she knew of. It was a handsome young man with short curly blond hair, a bit of a blond beard, and a muscular body. Exactly the kind she might have liked to flirt with, assuming his eyes stayed in his face.
The man's foot just missed stepping on her. Watch it! she thought. If you were a woman I'd see right up under your dress to your panties and you'd never live it down. But of course he wasn't a woman, and his jeans showed nothing; her attempt at sarcastic humor fell flat as the board she was. It was probably just as well that she was unable to utter it.
He came to stand by the well, gazing down into the water. “Hi there,” he said, and paused as if expecting a reply. When there was none, he continued. “My name is Ease, because it is my talent to make hard things easy. I can do just about any simple thing without much sweat. That's the problem: I crave a challenge that will give me personal satisfaction, and I haven't found it. I even went to the Good Magician to find a challenge, but he had no answer for me, and I never paid with any service. But I know better than to wish for that outright; I need to be more specific, or you'll give me something that's technically correct but actually messes me up. Such as changing my talent to the ability to absorb magic from something, then play it back, or emulating animalistic ability so I could fight like an animal, or the talent of always taking the shortest distance between two points; I'd just foul those up. So I have thought of three things that might help, any one of which might bring me satisfaction: the perfect weapon, the perfect adventure, the perfect woman. Give me one of those, your choice, and I'll use it to get satisfaction.”
Now that was interesting. Recognizing his own limitations, he was letting the well decide which wish to grant, while offering it fairly general directions. Maybe there was a bit of originality in him. She liked that.
“Actually they don't even have to be perfect,” he continued. “I'd settle for just about any pretty girl who liked me and would support me loyally, or any adventure that was exciting and interesting, or even a cutless or cutmore, you know, a sword that cuts women less or others more.”
He paused, probably contemplating the ripples on the water in the well. “What I have to offer is a lesser thing, but maybe you'll like it. It's this old worn-out dagger my grandpa gave me. The blade's dull, the handle's falling apart; if it got used in a fight it would lose. But here's the thing: Grandpa's spirit infuses it. He had a lot of experience, back when the world was young. He can't talk to me now, but maybe he could talk to you, if you read his mind. He must have a hundred great old stories he could tell you so you wouldn't be bored. That's really my offering: entertainment. Here's the knife.” He set the old dagger on the surface of the water and let it go.
That, too, was interesting. He was offering something for the well's intellectual side, rather than its physical side. She liked that too.
Nothing happened. After a while Ease sighed. “Don't like it, eh? I'm sorry. I thought you would. I'll take it back.” He reached into the water. “Oops, you're deeper than you look. I can't reach it. Well, I'll leave it. Thanks for nothing.”
She sympathized with his frustration. The well had accepted his gift without granting his wish. That was too bad, because it really was a thoughtful gift.
He turned away from the well. Then he saw the board. “What's this?” He bent down to pick it up, grasping Kandy about her ankles. “A board. Good hard wood, nice heft. Must've fallen off a wagon. Might make a halfway decent club.” He swung her experimentally, so that the air swished by her face. “Okay, I'll take it; might as well leave here with something.”
He wanted to use her as a club? Kandy was outraged. Why don't you club your own fat head, yokel?” she demanded silently.
Ease walked on, talking to himself. “I really thought the stupid well would grant my wish. I even made it easy, with the three choices. But all I got was this dumb board.”
Kandy was outraged anew. Dumb board?! I'm a transformed woman, you idiot! As far as you're concerned, the perfect woman: in your grasp and completely silent. But her joke wasn't funny, even to her.
Then she suffered a blinding revelation. She was his perfect woman! The well had taken his dagger and given him her. But he didn't know it. Wasn't that just like a man!
Then she suffered a follow-up thought. If the well had granted Ease's wish in such a way that the man didn't know it, what about Kandy herself? She had asked for Adventure, Excitement, and Romance. Was she about to get it, while in the form of a board? What irony!
Yet this was one way she could be involved in things without those dread Wandering Eyes constantly goosing her. So maybe there just might be the hint of a suggestion of a reason for her present state. She could get to know Ease pretty well by being his club, without him being distracted by her appearance. It was possibly the only way she could associate closely with him or any man without being eye candy.
Except for one thing, one humongously huge thing: she was a board. Even if he realized her true nature, what good would it do him, or her? A man couldn't love a board.