Erin’s parents are murdered and she can sense that same malevolent energy hunting her down. With little time to grieve, Erin is forced into hiding and discovers an unusual ability she’s never had before – she can talk to animals! With the help of her new found animal companions, she eludes the killer. Disguising herself as a boy, she joins the Autumn Gathering and is able to concentrate on the questions she needs to solve: Who killed her parents? Why are they trying to kill her, too? Quakes, storms, and murders begin plaguing Erin’s world and she soon realizes that they’re all connected. The fabric of her world is just beginning to unravel…
Chapter 1: Reality Altered
There was a breeze in the moonlit forest; the shadows shifted and blended as the branches moved. A young woman raced between the trees, oblivious to the branches that tore at her hair and clothing. In her haste, her feet slipped on the leaves and decaying foliage, adding to her terrified flight. The slender girl whirled behind a tree and crouched low. Her large, blue eyes darted back over her trail, searching the flickering shadows for her pursuer. Her breathing was ragged. Where was he?
She tried to catch her breath so she could listen, but her heart was racing like a stampeding elk; her breathing was so choppy that her whimpers escaped her throat in short, ragged bursts. She looked around the tree at the terrain she had just covered. Was that a movement back there? With a gasp, she darted back behind the tree and staggered into motion. She knew he was following. Goose bumps raced up her arms as she tore over the small rise, her heart pumping like a smithy’s bellows.
Something brushed her cheek. At first the soft touch didn’t register through the overwhelming terror of her flight but it came again, this time with a voice. ‘Erin. It’s all right. You’re safe for now. Erin, hear me.’
The light contact came again and abruptly broke through her mind. Startled out of the nightmare that had gripped her, she opened her eyes and with a shuddering breath, looked up into the gentle eyes of the merlin falcon that was standing beside her head.
“Thank you, Keir.” Her breath hitched as she spoke. She rose up on one elbow and reached up to touch the bird, but her hand quivered with the remaining adrenaline that still coursed through her blood. “That was…terrifying.”
The bird bobbed his head. ‘The nightmare is understandable. The murder of your parents is bad enough, but there’s also the fact that you have new abilities. Erin, you’re sensing the dangerous person who is seeking you. I am sure of it, and that had to play into your dream. But that person isn’t near. My kind have been watching. Rest. Dawn will arrive soon. There are some miles to go yet to get to Ree. She will have some answers for you. Rest. You are safe for now.’
Erin’s nod was a little shaky. She could feel the sweat from the nightmare drying on her skin. “You’re right. It was so real, it’ll take me a few minutes to be clear of it so I can sleep. I’m sorry I woke you, Keir.” She shook her head and her long hair slipped behind her shoulders. A few strands still clung to the sticky sweat on her face. Erin raised a hand that was steadier than it had been moments before and brushed the hair away from her forehead. “I know Ree will at least be able to advise me, because she’s a wise woman, and right now I need all of the advice I can get.” She looked off through the trees. “I think we are no more than several hours away.” Erin sighed then sank back down and pulled her blanket around her. “Thank you, my friend. You get more rest too,” she said with a smile.
Keir made a small sound in the back of his throat before flying to a low branch above her. ‘I may be gone when you wake but I will not be far. Just keep going to Ree’s home.’
The next thing Erin knew it was early morning. She quickly slipped her pack onto her shoulders and after pausing to study if she had left any marks on the ground, she started off. Erin appreciated Keir’s assurances that the Seeker wasn’t near, but there was still a need of urgency and she didn’t want to linger.
After a couple of hours, she paused at an old evergreen tree and studied the landmarks. Erin knew where she was. There was a glimmer of the river through the trees every once in a while and the land swept down toward it. She had been careful in her journey, but since the nightmare she was more cautious, being careful to step where the ferns were deep or where the rocks emerged from the leafy forest debris. She wanted to lose the killer, not lead him to Ree’s home. A glimpse of willows and cottonwood trees, at the base of the hill, told her that the river was there and at its bend was Ree’s cabin.
She used to visit there with her parents. There had always been a feeling of peace at that quiet spot. The turtles liked basking in the warmth of the autumn sun on the log at the river’s edge. There was comfort in seeing life continuing as she had known it to be. She hoped Ree was there; Erin didn’t know where else to turn.
She approached the plank over the stream that fed into the river. Seeing the smoke coming from Ree’s chimney, Erin smiled and picked up her pace. There was a strong chance that the old woman was home.
Making her way around the copse of trees, Erin could see the cabin with Ree standing in her garden, the sun highlighting the silver strands that wound through her hair. She was standing near her carved henge posts that loosely defined the perimeter of her garden. Ree turned toward Erin as she emerged from the trees and the young woman could see Keir perched on one of the posts. Something about the tableau gave Erin pause. She probably wouldn’t have noticed the subtle hints before, but with her new abilities it seemed as if Ree, too, could converse with Keir. Somehow that realization warmed Erin’s heart and reassured her that she had made the right decision in coming here.
Erin gave the old woman a warm smile and quickened her steps. Ree hadn’t changed much over the years. Her grey and white hair was in a long braid that wrapped around her head like a coronet. She had always favored reds and russet colors and was wearing her gathered homespun skirt with a plain shirt and shawl. Erin was sure that there were several pockets in that full skirt, filled with both treasures and necessary items.
Ree moved toward Erin with a cry of joy and grasped the girl’s hands, giving them a squeeze. “It’s wonderful to see you. Keir was just telling me you were coming, though somehow I was expecting you.” Her smile stilled and she cocked her head in question, as if she were listening. There was an unfocused look in her eyes for a moment. Then she turned to Erin, studying her face. “What’s wrong? What’s following you?” Seeing Erin startle and look over her shoulder toward the woods, she gently put her hand on Erin’s arm. “No one is near. You’re safe for now. How may I help? Let’s go inside. I’ll fix you something to eat and a cup of tea. You wouldn’t turn that down.” And with a wink to Keir, Ree started for the cabin.
The merlin falcon left his perch on the post and landed without effort on Erin’s shoulder, his talons squeezing gently in reassurance. He cocked his head and his dark, intelligent eyes studied Erin’s face as he settled near her ear and said in his falcon tongue, ‘I know you’re worried, but if Ree says it’s safe to rest, then it is. There’s time yet.’
The three passed by the east side of the flourishing garden that, within a month, would be almost completely harvested and approached the front of the cabin. There was another carved post, which stood guard to the entry, and Keir gave it a nod as they went by. Ree pushed down the big, hammered iron latch and the heavy wooden door swung open into a room filled with light and space. The big stone fireplace climbed the west wall opposite a bank of windows and the bed was in an alcove on the north side. There were shelves and cupboards under the windows where an assortment of objects were placed.
Ree gestured toward the old wooden table. “Sit, my child, while I brew the tea.” She stepped into the kitchen and studied the slender young woman sitting in her home. It had been years since Ree had seen Erin. She looked tired and a little worn around the edges. Her light, ash brown hair fell in thick waves below her shoulders. At the moment, the little merlin was nestled into the silky mass. There was stress and fatigue shadowing her large, deep blue eyes. Choosing herbs carefully, Ree blended a special tea for Erin, one that would give her clarity of thought and help restore her energy. Ree began to gather things for a meal, her movements efficient and sure; evidence of a lifetime of confidence and physical activity. Sliced bread from the morning baking, fresh things from her garden basket and the steeping tea went onto the tray. At the last moment, Ree smiled with a memory and put a piece of honeycomb in a bowl on the tray, too.
She carried it to the table and set it down between them. “It’s been years since you visited last. You’ve grown up. Please take a moment to eat with me and tell me what you have been doing.”
Erin started to eat. She hadn’t been aware of how hungry she was, but soon the plate was empty and her fingers and lips were sticky from the honeycomb. She smiled at Ree as she sipped the last of the tea in the cup.
“Thank you. You have been wonderful, feeding me and all. It’s so good to be here. I have missed you. I hope you don’t mind, but you were the only one I thought to reach out to.” Erin’s voice was husky with disuse, though Ree thought it might have a natural lower register like her mother’s.
She looked up from pouring the last drop of tea into Erin’s cup. “You are always welcome here.” She gave a nod to Keir. “You also, my small friend.”
Erin looked down at her hands, then back up to Ree’s patient eyes. “I don’t know what to do. I think there is someone following me and it frightens me.” She glanced over at Keir and tried again. “I will tell you what has happened. I haven’t talked about my parents since I left home and Keir’s kind don’t speak the names of the departed out of respect.”
The old woman nodded in understanding. She noted that Erin had pronounced Keir’s name to resemble the hunting cry in the merlin’s tongue.
“Two weeks ago my parents died. Father came down with a fever in early August as he returned from town to buy a new shovel and other necessary items. He had some cloth bolts to take to the Weavers’ Guild and supplies to buy for Mother. She had almost broken a shovel trying to dig up some mulberry bushes and needed a bigger and stronger one for the job. The bushes were essential for both her skill as an herbalist but also for Father’s ability to produce silk cloth.
“Father’s fever quickly became so high that he was delirious. Mother and I did everything we could, but he passed away within hours of stumbling out of the forest. The moment he passed, as his heir, I was flooded with his knowledge and sensitivity of the energy fields that people emit. Father’s skill was not strong nor did he work to develop it through his life, but he was able to sense when people had powerful emotional energy fields. He always knew when people were ‘wearing’ an intense emotion and he could read their basic character long before they were near. It was an uncomfortable gift because he could sense some people from miles away if their emotions were very ‘loud.’ He never learned to shield enough to be at ease with his gift. He didn’t go into town often except for supplies. It’s why we lived in such an isolated spot and were, for the most part, self-sufficient.”
Erin paused to gather her thoughts and to get her own emotions under control. It took a few moments until she looked up at Ree and said in a quiet voice, “As you can imagine, having that gift flood into me was overwhelming. It swamped my senses and combined with my own grief, I was dazed.” She made a wry face then took a breath. “Mother was, of course, devastated. The next morning we buried him at the edge of our small orchard. We dug his grave using the new shovel that he had just brought back from town. Mother had insisted on digging the grave herself. She said that she could take out her grief in the activity and preferred that I build the coffin from planks we had in the shed — that and prepare Father for burial. She then helped me place Father in the coffin and move it to the orchard.”
Her sobbing interrupted her narrative. After a few minutes she pulled herself together and continued. “It was so hard…body, mind and spirit…but we did it by supporting each other. Again, Mother insisted on filling in the grave with the new shovel. After I had gathered stones to set as a marker, I took the old shovel from the garden and helped her. The next day, Mother became violently ill and had a fever. In her delirium, she kept murmuring about the shovel being sticky. It didn’t make sense to me until I realized that only Father and Mother had touched that new shovel. Mother died the next morning.” Drawing a shaky breath Erin continued, “I was very careful when I checked the shovel and found a slightly sticky substance in places on the wooden shaft where you would grip. Not wanting to touch it, I sniffed at the sticky spots. I have never smelled it before, but I will not forget the odor. It had a subtle, noxious, putrid sort of stench. I don’t know why but I am sure that the sticky substance was put on the handle to kill one or all of us.
“I had prepared Mother’s body for burial. I was going to bury her next to Father, but I had a feeling that I might be in danger. Since there were only the three of us, I couldn’t fake my own death, because who would have buried me? I decided to burn the shovel handle because I didn’t want to take the chance that an innocent would come upon it and take it. Then there would be more meaningless deaths. Hoping to buy some time, I came to the conclusion that I needed to burn the cabin with my mother’s body inside. I hated doing it. Mother would have understood, I know, but it destroyed all that my parents had worked for. I kept only a small memento from each. A small copper disk enameled with a leaf that Father wore around his neck on a thong. Mother had removed it before we buried him. I also kept a jasper bead with a feather etched on it that Mother always carried in her pocket. I left their wedding rings with them.
“I was careful to do it in such a way that the windmill and the workshop didn’t burn. Father always stored a few silk worms and some of Mother’s herbal ingredients and remedies in the cold box. I also arranged a natural hole in the fence so the goats and chickens could get out to eat. That would give them a fighting chance to live. Perhaps the Seeker thinks my bones are in the ashes.”
Ree nodded in understanding and after a moment she said quietly, “And you have your mother’s gift?”
Erin gave a small smile and quietly said, “I believe you know the answer to that already. Mother’s gift was a gentler ability. It passed to me upon her death, but I didn’t realize I had it until after the worst of the grieving eased. I had burned the shovel and was sitting on the edge of the orchard looking at Father’s grave when Keir flew down and perched in one of the apple trees. I heard this unusual voice but I couldn’t see where it was coming from. To get my attention, Keir landed on my knee.” She glanced over at the merlin. “So amazing,” she said with a smile, “The sunlight delineated every dusky feather. Such a beautiful and surprising bird perched there, looking at me. He settled his wings on his back and cocked his head to look into my eyes. Then he said to me, ‘You need to leave here. Something feels wrong. It‘s not safe.’”
Ree looked at them steadily. “Why do you think you’re being followed?”
“I sense someone following or at least trying to complete a goal. There’s something about the person that feels,” Erin paused and searched for the right word before she finished, “malevolent.”
Keir added, ‘The deaths were not natural. In her grief, Erin’s mother had talked to me as I watched her dig her husband’s grave. She mentioned that he had been uneasy about something in town. I had heard Erin’s mother speak when she had a fever and watched Erin study the shovel handle. I felt that a person who was capable of that would check up on the result. Erin was in danger if the person wanted to finish the job.’
Erin rubbed her cheek against the little falcon. “Keir has been a comfort. It’s as if I still have a part of Mother with me to have her gift. Mother always had a way with some of the wildlife that lived around us. She never shared with me the reason behind the affinity. I just assumed that it was because she was such a gentle soul, the kind that Father needed to be close to because of his gift, and that the birds and animals responded to that.”
The old woman bowed her head in thought. “I suspected she had that ability. But you’re wrong in assuming that it passed to you upon her death. You have always had the potential for it but the talent hadn’t matured. The suddenness of the tragedy is what brought it to maturity. Her gift is different than what your Father passed to you. His was indeed a legacy to an heir. Yet both were an awakening of a gift that was already part of your blood. You were already coming into both gifts but weren’t aware of it,” said Ree. “Your Father’s talent doesn’t have to be uncomfortable for you just because it was for him. You have different personality traits, different strengths and weaknesses. You’ll meld those together in ways unique to you. I suggest to you that you learn to filter those loud signals as well as stretch your range to hear them.” She looked at Erin with her eyebrows raised in question.
A look of dawning awareness crossed Erin’s face as she realized the truth when she heard it. “How…?” she chuckled, “Mother used to call you the wise woman. I didn’t realize that I’ve been doing that until you said it. But this brings me back to the original problem. I don’t know why someone would wish Father dead or all of us for that matter. I only know that I feel that someone does and that they’re looking for me now.”
Keir spoke again, ‘I have family in the area and they’re keeping watch with me for anyone who appears to be following.’
Ree stood and collected the dishes. “Tell me what you’ve been thinking that might’ve been the reason your parents were killed,” she said just above a murmur.
Erin shook her head. “I’ve thought a lot about it and all that I can come up with is perhaps Father sensed something about someone and they felt threatened by it. As far as I know, no one knew he had a gift and he wasn’t fooled by people when they tried to put on a false face. He could read people very well. That was known. Maybe someone was aware that Father saw through them and found them wanting in some way. Maybe they were dishonest, or had done something terrible and felt that he knew something about them. That is the only thing I can come up with.” She shrugged. “Someone felt that Father was a threat to them and didn’t care who they hurt or killed as long as the threat was eliminated. Perhaps they felt that Father knew more than he did or had spoken to us about it. Then we would all be a threat.
“I mentioned that Father didn’t like to go to town. He would go if it was necessary and didn’t want to send one of us. He felt the trip might not be safe for a lone woman. We either went as a family or he went alone. Since Mother and I were working in the garden and doing some late summer preserves, he took the cloth bolts into town with his list of errands. When he came back from town, he was very quiet. I didn’t pay close attention because I had thought it was just being around people that made him so. But he must have seen or sensed something. Then he fell ill.”
Ree looked at Erin thoughtfully. “May I see your hands?” she asked. Erin looked at her quizzically but laid her hands on the table palms up. Ree took a long time studying and comparing them. She would stroke certain lines and turn or twist them gently to get better light on certain parts. Finally she spoke up, “Your left hand shows the potential you were born with and what you are like inside. The right hand shows the changes in your life. Some of them are what you’ve learned and some are what has happened to you. The right hand can also indicate the future but we have free will. What I was looking for were indicators to see how I can help you. Basically, what I am seeing is that you have the strength to overcome most difficulties and dangers.” Ree looked at Erin for a long moment. “Many people are controlled by fear. It clogs their wits. They don’t think clearly or react well. You’re afraid but you are not handicapped by the fear. For you it heightens the senses. This is good,” she said with a reassuring smile.
“The gifts you have inherited are powerful and will be a help to you. This is even more potent because no one knows you have them. But I offer you,” she paused as if searching for words, “tokens to take with you.” The wise woman got up from the table and crossed the room to the shelves and cupboards under the windows. She picked up a blue and amethyst glass bowl and started collecting a few items from the odd assortment sitting in the spill of sunshine from the windows. Erin silently watched the old woman pause several times in contemplation before she finally nodded to herself and returned back to the table. Ree set the bowl on the table as she sat down. “Erin, I have chosen several items that may be of use to you. They don’t look important, seeming just simple keepsakes that you might carry in your pockets.” Ree’s aged hands, showing some swelling around a few joints, moved agilely as she gently removed a series of objects from the pretty bowl that she placed one by one in a line on the table.
The first piece was a bracelet of intricately knotted twine. The thick thread was smooth but old-looking; woven into the pattern were five beads. Three of them were green stones of various shades. One appeared to be copper with a slight blue-green patina and the center bead was a tawny gold color. The second object was a chestnut that was shiny from being handled. Next was a black stone with a complex pattern etched into the surface. It resembled an old infinity knot pattern that Erin had once seen. A small crystal was the fourth to be laid down. It was basically clear with some gold-colored lines inside of it like thin strands of thread. Beside it Ree placed another stone. This one was smooth and dark green in color with red spots. Ree then put down a plain gold band and last, a small sequoia tree cone made of silver.
The old woman looked directly into Erin’s eyes and said, “You need to clear your mind. Then study the objects before you. Concentrate on each item. Choose the three that seem special to you. You’ll take those with you so select with care.”
Erin looked a little confused, but she thought about Ree’s words, turning them over in her mind, then nodded. “May I pick them up to examine them?” she asked.
“Yes,” the wise woman replied, “Keir and I will leave you alone for a bit. I just need to get something from outside.” She held out her arm. With gentle grace, Keir left Erin’s shoulder and flew to Ree’s arm. Together they quietly left the young woman to her task.
Erin absorbed the stillness of the cabin, clearing her thoughts of everything but the objects in front of her. She closed her eyes and settled into the peacefulness of Ree’s home. It was so hushed that she could hear a bumblebee outside bumping against the window. Then she opened her eyes and looked at the objects Ree had chosen. As she studied them, she also thought of how to carry them without drawing undue attention to herself. If these things had power for her, she did not want any of them to attract scrutiny. That had to be weighed into the choice. Erin picked up the knotted bracelet. Other than the small beads it was quite plain and old-looking. She examined the intricate knots and each bead. She thought one of the beads could be jade and another might be malachite. Then there was the aged copper one, but she wasn’t sure of the last two.
The chestnut was smooth and deeply colored, varying from rust to mahogany. It had been rubbed often by Ree and had acquired a soft, polished look. Other than being a pretty thing to hold while you were thinking, it didn’t seem special to Erin and she set it aside. Picking up the black stone with the infinity knot, she turned it over in her hand, studying it from different angles. The etching could catch someone’s eye and that didn’t seem wise. Even without that detraction, it held no meaning for her. The black infinity knot stone joined the chestnut in the reject pile.
Erin picked up the crystal with the lines in it. It would have been prettier if it had been completely clear. The lines didn’t appear to be fractures but more like really thin, straight, amber-colored hairs. It was interesting. She put it back down and looked at the next piece, the smooth stone. This was something you could hold and rub while you were thinking. The green was fairly deep, but it had those interesting red spots. They didn’t rub off. She placed it back on the table and examined the gold band. The circle didn’t seem to have any meaning for her. She looked it over carefully and didn’t find any scratch or inscription. It would definitely attract attention. It joined the chestnut and the infinity knot stone. She picked up the last item. It was a well-made piece. She admired the workmanship of the silver artifact. A craftsman had cast the sequoia cone with great care.
Moving the four pieces that had not been eliminated together, Erin cleared her mind of everything but those items. Her eyes and mind traveled slowly over each piece. After a while, all but one started to resonate with her. She didn’t know why, but she had chosen her three. Moving the silver cone to the reject pile, she rose to go find Ree and Keir.
As she moved away from the table, Ree, with Keir on her shoulder, came in the side door. She had orange pods from the Chinese lantern plant in her hand and upon seeing Erin, she smiled. She laid her colorful bundle down on the counter and moved to the girl’s side. “I assume you have decided. Let’s see.” She looked at the two groups and smiled. “You have chosen well, my child.
“The bracelet is a very good one to favor. It will work well for you and you can wear it without any undue notice. The twine is strong but old and stained looking. The beads carry a lot of power.” She touched each in turn. “This bead is copper. It will strengthen the attributes and energy of all of the stones in the bracelet. It’s particularly a good combination with this one,” Ree said pointing to the deep blue-green bead. “This one is malachite and it cleanses the body of toxins and will stimulate and enhance the gifts you received from your parents. The tawny gold one is tiger-eye. It also amplifies your natural abilities as well as aids you in keeping your perception clear. The translucent light green stone is peridot. It creates a sort of energy shield around the body. I’m sure you’ve met people that seem to drain you after you’ve been in their presence for a while. They seem to suck the energy right out of you.”
Erin considered for a moment and nodded.
Ree continued, “That is the type you need the energy shield for. Do you understand?”
Erin looked first at Keir then turned back to Ree and replied, “Yes, I think I do.”
“The last bead is jade. It will aid you in a number of ways including moving you toward wisdom in finding your path in life. It blesses what it touches and has healing properties.” The old woman lifted the bracelet and fastened it around Erin’s wrist. “This little piece was a very good choice. I’m glad it spoke to you. See, it seems only a pretty little trinket.” She beamed at the young woman. “Let’s see what else was special to you.
“Ah, the bloodstone,” Ree said, picking up the smooth stone with the red speckles. “This will reduce emotional stress and is a powerful healer. Keep it in your pocket always.” She picked up the last token. “This little crystal is a very special treasure. Because it isn’t clear, it seems like it’s flawed and really unimportant. It’s called a rutilated quartz. Not only will it strengthen your life force and immune system but it also helps heal wounds. It’s an energy ally. When you feel totally used up, it’ll help you replenish. It amplifies your skills and will dispel negative power. The best place for it is in a pocket or a pouch attached to your belt or around your neck.”
Erin and the old wise woman looked at each other for a long moment before Ree continued, “You know what you can do. As you use your skills they will become stronger. It’s just like any other muscle. Your mother had a knowledge and a sense about herbs. You’ve seen how a simple plant prepared in a certain way can have a powerful effect on our bodies. As for the stones, they are aids, like a magnifying glass.
“Erin, these gifts I gladly give to you. Understand that they are very old and have been with me for a long time. I told you the names and qualities of the stones, but it’s best that you pretend that they’re glass or ceramic. They are not native to our provinces and it is best if you do not treat them as something special. They will aid you and give you an edge, enhancing your natural abilities which are formidable but,” Ree raised her hand in warning, “they are not without their limits.” The old woman paused. “You still need to get stronger physically and greatly improve your natural gifts. Keir can be one of your guardians during the day, but you need to have other allies. Birds and animals will be drawn to you and will aid you. Be careful that people do not see you talking to them. Work on your silent communication. Speak to them with your mind.”
Erin’s eyes were very large as she listened to Ree’s instructions. “I still don’t know what to do next. Do I continue to flee from whoever is behind me? Do I try to find out why this happened and right the wrong?”
“Slow down,” Ree said sternly, “take a deep breath and look at this as logically as you can. Try to keep what you are sensing apart from your emotions. The first is, if you are accurate, reality. The second is illusion because it is mixed with your fears, right now in particular. Sometimes they are difficult to separate but this will get a little easier as you learn. Now, what are you sensing from the person behind you?”
“It is distant, but yesterday I felt an elation concerning the graves. Later, I sensed a resolve to complete a task. What I can’t yet determine for sure is: Am I the task, or is it the task that the person was doing when Father somehow became a threat? I think I might be the task. Perhaps it’s both.” Resting her head in her hands, she paused. “I don’t know why someone wanted to poison Father. I could just move on and start a life somewhere far away and hope that I never feel the searching. I’m not sure if I’m up to finding out and having to face the why. I could be stepping into something too big to survive. I don’t have a death wish.” Erin looked down at her hands for a moment before raising her eyes to meet Ree’s. “Thank you for your help in putting things into perspective. I’ll think about this tonight and tell you my decision in the morning.”