Desmond Fairweather, a young musician whose creative efforts are hampered by fears he may possess destructive magical powers, is swept up in a world of mystery and intrigue as he helps his tabloid writer friend Jake Brenner, who is on the hunt for a big supernatural story. Skeptical of the validity of the stories Jake hunts, Des reluctantly accompanies his friend on his latest adventure with the promise that Jake can help him secure an audition with the city symphony, a break Des desperately needs.
This latest story brings the two out to the country to investigate some talking flowers at the Snowden estate. While investigating the flowers of Christine Snowden, a startlingly beautiful young woman appears to Des who claims to be magical. She is Kalida, a mysterious creature who has escaped from the people of the Caverns and renounced their evil ways. However, her people have found her and are pressuring her to return to their world.
Butterfly Waltz captures the pure essence of two friends as they struggle with their own problems while trying to help out each other. It blends adventure, intrigue, mystery, and the allure of supernatural and inexplicable phenomena, all wrapped together in a delightful symphony that will capture the hearts and minds of readers.
The music was clearer. It had been the faintest whisper, the tune barely discernible. The theme grew familiar, a soft, beckoning tune, a waltz of lilting melancholy.
Kalida woke, smiling. Traces of the dream music hung about the dark room, brightly colored ribbons of sound. For several moments, she savored the melody, but her smile faded with the music. She would have to decide soon.
She folded back the rose-colored sheets, removed her bedclothes, and slipped into her gown. Her long black hair glittered as she ran her comb down its length. Faint sunlight picked its way delicately through the forest and bathed the small room in pearly light. Another beautiful day waited outside.
Kalida took an apple from the blue glass bowl on her small table and sat down on the little bench outside the doorway of her home. She gazed at the silent wood. Small birds flickered from tree to tree. A few butterflies danced above the wildflowers that grew in the grove. Bright colors, sunshine, butterflies—these things were alien to her nature, but she had grown to love them. Alone with time to think, she had decided her people, the people of the Caverns, had been wrong about so many things it was impossible to count them.
The Caverns. To think of them was to be back within the dark hallways of cold stone, the only sound the rustling of her gown on the smooth floor, while all around, silver eyes and ruby eyes cast secretive glances full of malice as they studied the rules, the dark etiquette that bound all to the Legion. Conquer and destroy. That was the only way. How many worlds had she seen blown to ashes, how many beings had she heard crying out in despair?
She had been part of the destruction. She had flown with her people, but always reluctantly, as if there were something else just beyond her reach, something different. She could trace her discontent to the Leader’s celebration, the night she first heard music.
As a small child, she had watched in awe as the veterans of the Legion received honors at victory celebrations. The leader she first remembered was a dark-eyed man as rough and sharp as a stalactite, who called the young ones up for a better look. With their transforming skill, members of the Legion re-enacted the battle. Young Kalida, thrilled by the sights and sounds, longed to be a part of it all. Everyone clapped until sparks flew from their hands. But one celebration night had been different.
That night, a great whispering filled the tunnels. Kalida heard a man say, “Some new entertainment. The Lady has brought an Andrean man to the celebration. We’ll have some fun.”
The Lady was the title of their Leader, a harsh, demanding woman who rarely held celebrations. Kalida followed the others to the Hall. The Andrean man stood in the center. He didn’t seem worried or afraid. He wore tattered clothes and boots. An odd-looking instrument was slung over his back.
“They say his brother joined the Legion.”
“How would The Lady allow that?”
“What is that thing on his back?”
“Is he going to sing?”
“Sing?” Kalida said. “What do you mean?”
Her companion grimaced. “You’ll see.”
Kalida stared at the man. “But isn’t The Lady mounting a massive campaign against the Three Worlds, Trieal, Andrea, and Fey East? What’s this Andrean man doing here?”
“I told you. You’ll see.”
At last, The Lady appeared, accompanied by her latest creation, a creature in the shape of an eerily beautiful child. She sat down in her stone chair with the child beside her and introduced the man. “This is Raven. Don’t stare, child. He’s here to sing for you. He is always welcome.”
“But isn’t he an enemy?” the child asked.
“Under usual conditions, yes, but his brother enjoyed a brilliant if rather brief career with us, and therefore we admit Raven to our social gathering out of pity, shall we say?”
The man looked at her without expression. “My brother’s choice to join you shamed my family, but his music will live long after you are gone.”
The Lady gave a short laugh. “Very good. Sing now. I want my people to hear what you call music. It will give them another reason to eradicate your race.”
“Whatever you wish.”
Kalida listened, fascinated, as the melody pierced the darkness of the Hall. The members of the Legion groaned and cursed at the sound. Her companion gave her a curious glance, so she winced, as if the sound hurt her ears as well, but it didn’t. It intrigued her. It made pictures in her mind of things she had never imagined.
“Love will find me,” the man sang. “Love green and golden. I’ll not turn from you, nor change all the while. Safe in the magic of your smile.”
She wanted to hear more.
But there was no more music from the Andrean man. After the celebration, he was taken away. She never saw him again, which made her moody, not an unusual emotion among the Cavern-born, so no one suspected she had changed. Over the years, she saw Leaders come and go, but never wanted to be one. Her acquaintances were puzzled by her lack of ambition, but Kalida hid her growing unease. She could not forget the alien man or his song. Quite unexpectedly, she found a way out.
In one wild moment of rebellion, she fled the Caverns to Andrea, hoping to find the man. She flew to the woods near Traditional City, planning to take animal form to avoid detection. In the woods, she fell through a blaze of light, fell to this world.
That first morning, when the golden sun touched the lush green grass, she couldn’t keep her eyes off the color. What was it? Light she knew, and shadow, but this deep rich hue that colored the grass and the moss and the leaves intrigued her. She knew red and black and white, silver and gray, colors of the Caverns. Yellow and gold were rare, but she had golden eyes, or so everyone said. This alien shade, though, calm and deeply satisfying, she had seen only once, on the tattered clothing of the man who played music so many years before.
She could sit in the grass for hours, reveling in new colors, even the rich browns of the earth and trees. Everything spoke of life and growth and energy. Exploring beyond the new forest, she discovered a large white house and watched the people who lived there. She learned the names of colors from Mister Snowden as he taught his children in the garden. She learned that the world was called Earth, and there was no magic here.
For a while, she didn’t need magic, just sunlight and birdsong and new colors. Then disturbing dreams began, dreams of night flying, her hair streaming behind in the cold wind as she swooped down on cities like a bird of prey, touching the tallest towers and watching them burst into flame. She would wake, trembling with fear and desire. She thought her people would be unable to track her to this world, yet she saw misshapen shadows in the trees and heard harsh sounds haunting the night. Had her people found her?
She thought of the bottle in the back of her cabinet and a shiver went through her. No, don’t back down now, she told herself. But how much longer can you live like this, lonely, friendless, purposeless? She shivered again. She knew exactly how much longer.
She couldn’t eat. She spent the day sitting in the doorway. Light shone through the little bottles of potions on the window ledge: pale lavender, rich violet, amber, blue, and red. The day itself was green and gold, so unlike the days of her childhood, which had been filled with fierce red light and the cold dark silence of the Caverns.
I am not like that now, she thought, as the sunlight faded and the colors died. Night was the time she liked best, but this night, the darkness closed in around her.
Do I really want to do this? Why put it off? Drink the potion and be done with it. The music was a dream, nothing more. Drink the potion. Who knows what other worlds lie beyond death?
♪ ♫ ♪
“Tomorrow?” Desmond Fairweather stared at his friend Jake Banner in astonishment. “I can’t go anywhere tomorrow.”
Jake beamed, undaunted, hands outspread as if he’d caught a record-sized fish. “This is it, Des, the big story. Actual reports of talking flowers. You know you can’t pass this up. I know you can’t, and I’m staying here till you agree.”
A grand piano dominated Des’s sparsely furnished apartment room. Jake perched on the piano bench, slicked back his hair, and gave the impression of settling in for the day. His neon green shirt and pink tie created a jarring combination that made Des’s eyes ache as he glared at his friend. His last student, Melissa, a giggly seventeen-year-old, had just left after a thorough and determined massacre of her Scarlatti lesson, and he was still waiting for his head to clear. With an impatient gesture, he pushed his dark hair out of his eyes.
“Not another of your harebrained stories for the Galaxy.” He moved a stack of sheet music out of the way before Jake’s elbow toppled it over. “It’ll be a fake like all the others.”
“A fake?” Jake’s blue eyes widened. “None of the others were fake.”
“I’m not going to argue with you,” Des said, “and I’m certainly not going to go chase talking flowers.”
“Aw, come on. It’ll be fun.”
“Fun for you, you mean.”
“The owner happens to be a beautiful young lady,” Jake said in his most wheedling tone.
Des motioned wildly to the crumpled balls of paper littering the floor around the piano. “Do you see all this? I’m trying to compose. I’ve told you I don’t want to travel all over the country tracking down old magic. I don’t believe in old magic. I don’t believe in new magic. I don’t believe in magic of any sort.”
Jake kept his grin. He twiddled a few piano keys and fiddled with the metronome.
Des snatched it out of his hands. “Will you go away?”
Jake leaned back against the piano as if he found it the most comfortable spot in town. “How’s the cash flow at Chez Fairweather? Paid this month’s rent yet?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Talked to Sylvia yesterday. She says she’ll recommend you for that symphony thing.” He glanced up, eyes crinkling with amusement.
Des found it hard to speak. “Are you talking about symphony auditions?”
“She can do that?”
“Just call her up.”
Des took a deep breath to steady himself. Jake’s reliability was questionable, but his sister Sylvia had important connections with Parkland’s music community. “Did she get on the Arts Council Board?”
Jake swung around on the bench. “Get on? Pal, she’s the new president. She’ll be happy to set things up for you, chum. That is, when we get back from our little day trip.”
“To the land of talking flowers.”
Des gave Jake a narrow-eyed glare. “Damn it, Jake, that’s blackmail.”
Jake shrugged. “Hey, you do me a favor, I do you a favor.”
“I won’t do it.”
“Okay. I guess you like living in such splendor.” He played a loud version of “Chopsticks.” “This thing needs a tune-up.”
Des closed the piano, sorry he missed Jake’s fingers. “I’ll just call Sylvia and ask for her help.”
“Uh-uh, doesn’t work that way. This is a package deal. You help me get a story, and Sylvia will smooth the way for you, get you a good time slot or whatever. Sounds pretty reasonable to me. You want as many things going in your favor as possible, right?”
Des sighed. Dealing with Jake always gave him a headache. “If I go watch you make a fool of yourself, will you leave me alone?”
“Of course. Won’t take a minute. We ride out, hear the flowers, record them. I get definite proof of magic, old Basil down at the Galaxy is happy, I’m happy, and you get your audition and leave this lovely roach condo you call home.”
Des slumped in his one chair and regarded his friend, wondering how Jake managed to be so damned cheerful all the time. He was right, though. The apartment was dismal: a tiny grubby kitchen, an even smaller bathroom, and this room, full of piano. Giving piano lessons wasn’t the most lucrative of careers, but he had made the decision to move out, to try his luck. A successful audition with the prestigious city symphony could be the break he was looking for. What he wasn’t looking for was talking flowers. “I still don’t see why I have to go.”
“Why, pal, you’re the best,” Jake said. “Critters just flock to you. Haven’t you noticed? You have a definite affinity with the Other World.”
“I do not.”
“Must be those big soulful green eyes.”
Des heaved himself out of the chair and gathered the papers off the floor. “Will you get out of here? I have work to do. Real work.”
Jake reached the door. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning at six.”
“Six? Why so early?”
“I wanna be there when the dew dries.”
Des made a lunge, but Jake eluded him, laughing, and was out the door and gone. Muttering under his breath about unwanted guests, Des bent to pick up more papers and caught sight of his reflection in the one small window. Soulful green eyes, indeed. Did Jake think he’d fall for that line? Yes, his eyes were green, his hair dark and unruly, and his expression serious, just like his father’s, in fact, so much like his father’s he was afraid he might meet the same tragic fate. Now there was a story Jake could appreciate, a story full of magic.
What if—no, he dared not try. He had made his decision. He had given up the family home and the family fortune, so he had given up the family curse, as well. He prayed he had.
Wouldn’t a little magic make things easier, though? A better place to live, a better job, even that symphony position?
He shuddered and tried to suppress the memories. Make things easier. Isn’t that what his father wanted? Look what happened to him.
No, don’t look.
Jake was still alarmingly cheerful the next morning. “All set?” he asked as he slid into the driver’s seat of his purple ‘74 Gremlin.
Des had trouble keeping his eyes open. “Yes. All right.” Dressed in one of his dark suits and a plain dark tie, he winced at Jake’s baggy yellow slacks and Hawaiian shirt. “Is there some real reason we have to arrive so early?”
Jake turned the key, and the little car spluttered to life. “Thought we’d sneak up on the place. That way, if it’s a hoax, we’ll catch the owner in the act.”
Since Jake’s idea of a good time was to sneak into places where he wasn’t wanted, Des wasn’t too surprised. “I see, and when she throws us off her property, we can come home and forget this nonsense.”
Jake navigated the narrow neighborhood street, heading for the main highway. “No way! I intend to solve this one.”
“Like you solved all the rest?”
“What about that vampire? We solved that one, didn’t we?”
Des had to laugh. “Some poor old lady wandering in the swamp.”
“She did suck that fellow’s blood.”
“She was crazy. And he’d been dead for—stop talking about it. I haven’t had breakfast.”
“Who was the one she turned to? Who was the one who coaxed her out?”
“Did you expect me to leave that pitiful woman knee-deep in swamp water?” Des knew if he didn’t get Jake off the subject, he’d talk vampires all the way to the countryside. “Tell me about this woman we’re supposed to meet.”
“Christine Snowden, age twenty-two, parents deceased, one brother. A cousin contested the will, but apparently they settled things, because Miss Snowden and her brother own the house. The family’s very wealthy, so she has plenty of time to spend in the garden, chatting with the lilies and cussing the weeds. Only these weeds cuss back.”
Des sighed. “When did she start hearing them talk?”
“It’s been going on for some time. I heard it from Carl.”
“Oh, now there’s a reliable source.”
“Honest. He said there was a rumor about Snowden Manor, and did I want to check it out.” Jake cut in front of another car. Des gripped the dashboard. A chorus of angry horns blared behind them. Jake continued. “Seems some friend of his was a gardener there before Mister Snowden, Christine’s father, died. The gardener used to cut flowers all the time for the dinner table and so on. Well, not long after Snowden died, this gardener’s cutting some more, right? Just like he’s always done. Miss Snowden goes nuts, calls him a murderer, and fires him.”
Des sighed again. “I don’t know why I worried. It all makes perfect sense now.”
“That’s not all.”
“I didn’t think it would be.”
“I have the perfect theory. What if that part of the forest was magic years ago, and it went underground, sort of to protect itself? Now it feels safe enough to come out, only it doesn’t want to make a big splash, doesn’t want to attract too much attention, so it comes up slowly and carefully into some flowers. Perfectly logical.”
“Perfectly ridiculous.” Des made another grab for the dashboard as Jake swung onto the highway. “Will you watch where you’re going?”
Jake grinned. “Once I get this car started, I have to keep her moving.”
“The speed limit will do just fine.” He was wide awake now and cringed as Jake changed lanes at random. “Do you want me to drive?”
“I want to get there today, not next week.”
“I can’t imagine why anyone would invite you to come investigate these flowers, anyway.” When Jake’s only answer was another grin, Des felt a twinge of foreboding. “She did invite us, didn’t she? You do have someone’s permission?”
“Well, not exactly.”
Des sat up straight. “Do you mean to tell me we’re not expected? You’re just going to barge in, make up some wild story? Let me out.”
“I told you we were leaving early so we could sneak up on the place, didn’t I? We’ll just wander in the garden and see what says hello. It’s simple.”
“It’s trespassing.” He closed his eyes as Jake managed to squeeze the Gremlin in between two trucks to make the next exit.
“Got just one word for you, pal: ‘Audition.’”
“And here’s one for you—”
“Relax, will you? Help me look for Plainfield Road.”
Too distracted by Jake’s driving to pay attention to the scenery, Des realized they had reached the countryside. Broad fields of clover and wheat spread around houses and barns. Black and white cows glanced up, chewing slowly. At the crossroads, Jake slowed down, and Des read the sign. “Okay, turn left.” Plainfield Road curved back and forth among the fields until the car came to a paved driveway.
“This is it,” Jake said. “Snowden Manor.”
Des admired the white stone mansion perfectly centered in a smooth green lawn. “It’s very nice, but what’s wrong with letting someone know we’re here?”
Jake drove up the driveway and brought the car to a stop. “Let’s get a few pictures first.”
Jake reached in the back seat for his camera and hopped out. He loped across the lawn to the back, and Des hurried after him. “You can’t just—” Des stopped and stared.
The back yard, which stretched to a dark forest, was filled with flowers of the most startling colors and fanciful shapes Des had ever seen. It was as if someone had scrambled every seed known to man and thrown them out to grow any way they wished. He walked past orange daisies with purple centers, blue vines twisted with gold, clusters of blue and green buds that gleamed like pearls with the last traces of the morning dew, wide crimson blossoms as large as his head, and tiny white bells with fragile lacy edges. Plants with leaves striped like candy canes blossomed with sleek metallic blue flowers and pink blossoms curved like seashells. Ferns curved in spirals. Sunflowers as large as his head seemed to glow with inner light. The air was heavy with mingled scents that reminded him of honeysuckle, peppermint, and cotton candy.
He looked down and saw little purple flowers his mother used to call heart’s treasure. She had some in her garden, had picked some for the hallway when—he shoved that memory away, forcing himself not to think any further.
Jake wandered up and aimed his camera at red and black blossoms towering over his head. “This is fantastic. What do you reckon she uses for fertilizer?”
“They’re beautiful.” Des wandered along a pathway lined with silvery lilies and flowers that looked like bright pink daffodils. Everything was fresh and well tended. She must have an army of gardeners, he thought. He saw a rose of a velvety purple so dark it was almost black. He reached out to touch it when a frightened voice said, “Stop! What are you doing?”
Des jumped back. For a second, he thought the rose had spoken. Then he saw a petite blonde hurrying from the back door of the house, a frilly pink robe wrapped around her.
“Who are you? What are you doing here? Don’t touch anything!”
Jake grinned and offered his hand. “Good morning, Miss Snowden. Jake Banner here, and this is Des Fairweather. We’re from City Gardens Magazine.”
She ignored his hand. “City Gardens? What do you want?”
Jake looked puzzled. “You didn’t get our call?”
She pushed her tousled hair out of her gray eyes and glared at him. “What call? What are you talking about?”
Jake slapped his forehead. “I can’t believe my office messed up again. You were supposed to get a call about us coming this morning to see your flowers. It was all set up.”
Des had been through this routine before. He started to apologize to the little blonde and explain when she gave a jerk as if she had been stabbed and stared past him. He turned to see what had caught her attention and saw two small boys at the far end of the garden tugging at a tall sunflower.
Miss Snowden’s voice rose hysterically. “No, no, no! Stop that! Get away!”
“Come on,” Jake said to Des. “We’ll get ‘em.”
Jake dashed across the lawn, whooping as he ran. “Let the dogs loose! The ones with the fangs!” The startled boys stopped pulling the flower and fled.
The boys disappeared into the forest. Panting, Des caught up with Jake. “What are you doing?”
Jake bellowed after the intruders. “Come back, and you’re dog food, you hear me? They know you now. They’re out for your blood!” He dusted his hands, satisfied. “See if Miss Snowden doesn’t greet us with a little more respect this time.”
Des glanced back at Miss Snowden. “She certainly over-reacted.”
“That’s because these flowers are More Than Flowers, chum.” Jake gave Des a slap on the back. “You’re out of shape, you know that? A little trot across the lawn, and you’re gasping like a fish out of water.” He jogged back toward Miss Snowden.
Des walked back, scowling, and found his partner in earnest conversation with a pale and unsteady Miss Snowden.
“They won’t be back. They’ll keep running until next week.”
“They didn’t crush anything, didn’t break off—” her voice faltered.
“No, everything’s okay,” Jake said. “Have you thought about putting up a fence? That would keep kids from getting in.”
Miss Snowden’s eyes glazed. She swayed on her feet. Des stepped forward quickly. He caught her as she fainted.
Jake was wide-eyed with alarm. “What do we do now?”
“Let’s get her inside.”
He carried Miss Snowden through the garden. Jake opened the back door and led the way into the house. Des paused before a wide staircase. To his left, he saw a parlor decorated in pink flowered wallpaper with pink chairs and a pink sofa. He carried Miss Snowden into the parlor and put her down on the sofa.
Jake hovered. “Think she’s okay?”
“I think she’s waking up.”
Miss Snowden blinked and gazed at them. “My flowers.”
“They’re fine,” Jake said. “Are you all right? Should we call a doctor?”
“Oh, no.” She sat up. “I feel so stupid. I must be a little overtired, that’s all. I’m so particular about my garden. The fair’s next month, and I’m growing some special ones to exhibit.”
“Is there anything we can get for you?” Des asked.
Bright color flooded her cheeks. “No, thank you.” She got up and pulled her robe closer. “Let me get something on. Perhaps you’d like some breakfast. I’m grateful for your help.”
Before Des could protest, Jake said, “Why, thanks. We’d love some.” When she disappeared up the stairs, he turned to Des, his grin on full power. “Is this not perfect? We’re in, pal. We’re in real good.”
“I wish you’d tell her the truth. City Gardens Magazine. Good lord.”
“Oh, I’m supposed to say, ‘Hi, I’m from Galaxy News Weekly, your friendly neighborhood rag. What have your plants said lately?’”
“And we wouldn’t be here in this palace awaiting food, would we?” Jake went to the back windows of the parlor and grinned at the garden. “You know why she fainted, don’t you? She heard them scream.”
“Heard what scream?”
“The flowers. She heard them scream for help.”
Des closed his eyes for a few moments to keep from screaming for help himself. “Are you trying to tell me Miss Snowden is telepathically linked to these plants?”
“You’re the one who needs help. Why don’t we just make our apologies and leave?”
Jake slowly panned his camera around the room. “By the way, are you getting anything?”
“They probably want to wait until they know you better.”
Des looked at his watch. “Speaking of waiting, we can’t stay. I’ve got students to teach.”
“Gee, I hate to spell it out for you,” Jake said. “A-u-d-i-t-i-o—”
“All right, all right.”
“We’re gonna stay till we have a story, so let’s look around.” Jake peered into the adjoining dining room. “Enough room for twenty people. More velvet cushions, silver candlesticks, some kind of fancy artwork in the corner that looks like it’s hanging upside down. The place remind you of home?”
“Sort of.” Actually, the house reminded him enough of the Fairweather estate to make him uncomfortable. He looked into another room. “There’s an enormous piano.”
Jake came to look. Des stepped into what was obviously the music room. Floor-length windows let in sunlight that reflected on muted pink walls and on the shiny surface of a black grand piano.
“Try it out,” Jake said.
Des’s fingers were already eager to try such a magnificent instrument. He took an anxious glance toward the stairway. “Do you think she’ll mind?”
“Heck, no. We’re heroes, remember?”
Des sat down on the piano bench and opened the lid. He played a few chords, pleased by the mellow tone. “It’s in tune.”
Jake swung his camera up. “So dazzle me.”
“All right. I will.”
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Review by: Harriet Klausner, The Midwest Book Review
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Review by: Laura Hinds, MyShelf.com
Review by: The Book Breeze
Her long black hair glittered as she ran her comb down its length. Faint sunlight picked its way delicately through the forest and bathed the small room in pearly light.
This is a great book to snuggle up with on a chilly winter's day.
Review by: Kristi Benedict, Feathered Quill
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