Last week I promised a character interview with Skeer Umpee from my newly released short story, The Forgotten Hero, and I’ve had to spend some time thinking about how exactly to go about it. After all, if he knew I was asking questions, or was in any way involved, it might influence his answers. Or he’d get smart with me, and I would have to smack him.
So, I decided the only thing to do is to go incognito, wearing a disguise that he’ll never suspect! We’re also going into his world, rather than inviting him here (because that would, you know, defeat the purpose of the disguise).
Are you ready?
It’s a sunny autumn day in the town of Kelphaven, and a little chilly, so it’s a good thing I wore my shawl. The building we’re standing in front of is a half-timbered cottage with white plaster and a huge window to the right of the door. The sign hanging above the door reads The Crumbling Coffeecup Café, although whoever wrote it can’t seem to do calligraphy all that well, because the letters are all lopsided and uneven.
“Excuse me, miss, are you lost?”
I turn toward the voice, which belongs to our target─ er, guest. Is he a guest? I didn’t exactly invite him anywhere, so does that make him more of a quarry? I have no idea. In any event, Skeer is sitting at one of the wrought iron tables set up on the patio outside the café, a cup and saucer on the table in front of him His clothes are rather big for him and worse for wear, but his shirt’s tucked in, and his light hair is pulled back into a ponytail. Everywhere around him there are cats, one sitting on his lap, several others hanging around the legs of his chair, lying on the windowsill─
“Miss?” he asks again.
I turn back to him and flash a delayed and embarrassed smile. “Uh, no. I’m not lost. I’m exactly where I intend to be.”
“That’s good.” Skeer smiles, a bright and open smile that crinkles the scar that runs diagonally across his face, from his jaw on one side all the way up into his hairline on the other. Poor guy, it is terribly ugly. I try not to stare.
“Are you waiting for someone?” I ask.
His eyes light up, and his smile turns into a grin. “I am!” he says. “I invited the Lady Everen to have some coffee with me this afternoon, and she agreed! Isn’t that wonderful? I can barely sit still.”
I can tell that easily enough. He’s awfully fidgety. I walk over to the table and point to the chair opposite him. “Do you mind if I sit for a while?”
“Not at all! Please do,” he says, then promptly rises from his seat to pull out the chair for me, dumping the cat off his lap.
“Thank you. You’re such a gentleman,” I say.
“Aw, it’s nothing, really,” he replies, dismissing the compliment with a wave of his hand. “I’m Skeer, by the way. Skeer Umpee.”
Oh, blast. I forgot to come up with a name! “M-Myrna,” I stammer out the first thing that comes to mind. “My name is Myrna.”
Skeer smiles and bows his head. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Myrna.” He sits back down and asks, “Are you waiting to meet someone, as well?”
“Not really,” I shrug. “I was just looking around, and I can’t help but notice all the cats. Do you know why there are so many?”
“There are quite a few around here, aren’t there?” Skeer laughs. “One would think this place should be called Cathaven rather than Kelphaven!”
Probably, but I disagree. Kelphaven is a much better name, in my opinion.
“I can’t say as I do know why there are so many,” he says, and shrugs. “I imagine that they might have belonged to someone at one point, but they’ve gotten a little out of hand, haven’t they? They’re just a feature of the town now, really, and belong to everyone. I like to take a few of them with me when I go fishing.”
“You do?” I raise my eyebrows, hoping I look sufficiently surprised and interested. “How does that work out?”
“Like butter on hot bread,” he says, and reaches down to scratch an orange tiger under the chin. “They keep me company, and I pass them a fish or two, and everything’s dandy.”
“I see, so I take you fish alone? How come?”
Skeer’s smile fades some at that, and a bit of sadness creeps into his face. “Everyone already has their crews,” he says. “I came into town only three years ago, so I’m not really a part of their group. I don’t mind it too much, though. I’ve got the cats and the sea wind to listen to my jabbering.”
“Still, that’s too bad,” I say. “Where were you before you came here?”
“Oh, around,” he says, and waves his hand ambiguously in the air. “I’ve been to Binksdale, Lorl City, even Cavenhort all the way on the east coast. I traveled a lot before deciding to settle here.”
“That’s a lot of places! What made you decide to settle here? If you don’t mind my asking.”
“It’s quiet here,” he says, and leans back in his chair. A cat jumps onto his lap and he idly strokes its head. “Kelphaven is a quaint place outside the hustle and bustle of the big cities, and it has a lovely view of the sea. You should see the sunsets from my house up there on the hill.” He turns in his chair and points towards a tiny shack that sits at the top of a fairly steep hill. The end of his ponytail dips into his coffee cup, but he doesn’t seem to notice. “Except for the occasional disappearance and this dragon business, it’s probably the most peaceful place I’ve ever been.”
“Forgive me, but disappearances and dragons don’t sound very peaceful to me,” I say, looking away from the dripping end of his hair.
“No? I guess not.” Skeer leans forward and rests his elbows on the table, setting his chin in the palm of his hand. The cat on his lap doesn’t seem to mind. “Well, no one really knows what the disappearances are all about, but that’s been going on long before I ever came here,” he tells me. “The sea dragon business started only a little while ago, though. It’s been quite a long time since any sea dragon decided to cause much trouble for the oceanic trading companies, but this great white beauty came to our waters and scared off all the fish and whatnot. No one in town really knew what to do about it, but then Lady Everen came, saying that she would help us fix the problem. She wanted to clear the trade routes, you see.”
I nod. Then, seeing the sparkle in his eyes, ask, “And what is this Lady Everen like?”
A dreamy smile crosses Skeer’s face, his eyes gazing off past my shoulder. “She’s really quite wonderful, Miss Myrna. I’ve seen a lot of women in my travels, but none of them compare to her. She’s beautiful and elegant ─ if not a little hot tempered at times ─ but she’s young and passionate about what she wants.”
I raise an eyebrow at him, trying not to laugh at how positively smitten he’s acting. “If you could have one wish granted, what would it be?”
He regards me with a curious, almost impish expression. “Are you a genie, miss?”
I snort and shake my head. “Far from. I’m just curious.”
Skeer sighs and looks toward the sea, which lies far down the hill to the west. “That’s an easy one. I would wish that Lady Everen and I could live together here in Kelphaven in peace for the rest of our lives. But I don’t think that’s likely to happen.”
He looks downcast again, although the smile is still lingering on his lips. Somehow it makes him look even sadder than had he not been smiling at all. I’m going to go out on a limb here and ask the Big Question. “This is going to sound somewhat peculiar, Mr. Umpee, but humor me. If you could ask your author to change one thing about your . . . circumstances,” (that’s slightly less obvious than ‘story’, right?) “what would you ask for?”
Skeer raises both eyebrows at me. “My, that is a peculiar question!” he says. “My author?” He tilts his head to the side and looks off into the distance, a thoughtful pucker in the corner of his mouth. “Well, I do suppose that’s one way to put it,” he mumbles, then turns back to me. “You know, I don’t believe I should say. It’s a fairly private matter, and I’d hate to scare you off.”
The way he says that makes me think he’s getting suspicious. I need to end this soon before my cover is blown. I open my mouth to say something, although I have no idea what’s going to come out, but then here comes the sound of hard soled shoes on the pavement. Someone is coming.
Skeer looks past me, and his countenance lights up like a Christmas tree. “Lady Everen!” he all but shouts, and gets out of his chair so fast that he trips over a cat and crashes to the ground. Cats scatter everywhere into hiding.
I’m standing before I could even think to get up. Reflexes are ridiculously fast, aren’t they? “Are you all right?” I ask.
Skeer gets right back up to his feet and brushes himself off. “Perfectly fine. Happens all the time.”
“Does it? That can’t be very healthy.”
Skeer seems about to reply, but Lady Everen’s sharp voice cuts him off. “Mr. Umpee! What do you think you’re doing?”
I turn around to find Lady Everen approaching. She does indeed look as elegant as Skeer claimed, neatly put together with her wrinkle-free gown and lacy hat. But her eyes and the tone of her voice are telling me a different story.
“I have been sitting here waiting for you,” Skeer tells her. He walks over and takes her hand, his scarred face gleaming like a cracked lamp.
“But what is she doing here?” Lady Everen glares at me, and I can’t help but flinch. Beautiful women have always made me nervous, and I’m getting the distinct impression that she doesn’t like me very much. Because I was talking with Skeer? Good grief.
“This young lady has just been sharing some interesting conversation,” Skeer says. He turns and bows to me. “Thank you very much, Miss Myrna. It’s not often anyone other than Lady Everen will voluntarily sit and chat with me. It was a pleasure.”
Lady Everen stiffens, her nostrils flaring. I need to make my escape immediately, if not sooner. “Y-you’re welcome. I think I should be getting on my way though, now. Enjoy your afternoon.” I barely remember to curtsey before all but running down the street away from the café. Skeer shouts a cheerful ‘farewell’ after me, but I’m too busy fleeing Lady Everen’s scowl to reply.
Wow! I knew Lady Everen was strong willed, but she’s way more intimidating in person. I feel like a chicken, especially since she’s my own character! Yikes. Skeer’s even crazier than I thought, falling for a woman like that.
I don’t know how much of a real interview that turned out to be, but it was definitely something different for me! Thanks for coming along!
What happens when you mix a sea dragon, a scarred fisherman, and a stubborn merchant’s daughter?
For as long as the people of Kelphaven can remember, life has always been pretty peaceful. But then one morning all the fishermen mysteriously disappear ─ well, all but one. Skeer Umpee is the only fisherman left, but everyone agrees that he’s rather peculiar. And terribly ugly to look at.
Then rumors begin to spread about a great sea dragon haunting the waters, and when the lovely Lady Everen from the Merchants Guild comes to investigate, she chooses the most unlikely person to help her: Skeer, who is delighted by the idea of spending time with the beautiful lady. However, they aren’t long into the investigation before the sea dragon appears, and it doesn’t seem to have any intension of leaving, either.
A search through the town’s historical records reveals that this isn’t the first time the dragon has come to Kelphaven. Or the second, even. Each time it was driven off by a hero who alone had the courage to face it, but why has the dragon kept coming back to this place? And without a gallant hero in sight, who could possibly save the town this time?
With a quirky blend of characters and storytelling, The Forgotten Hero is a whimsical tale of clashing fates, love, and lots and lots of cats!