December/Christmas Promotion – Treasured Legacy By Holly Barbo

Today’s promotion is for Treasured Legacy, a quick read Book Six, by my friend Holly Barbo.

Treasured Legacy from scrnsht

 

Description1

 

A contemporary suspense steeped in history

With dwindling time, Leone uses the last of her strength to share important family history with her only living relative: her grandson David. Despite her final request to not sell the family heirlooms, David and Anne look into it because of their desperate need for money. But the pieces have secrets and the young couple finds themselves in unexpected danger.

 

Excerpt2

 

When David arrived home, he slipped his computer bag off his shoulder and coming up behind his wife, he gave her a hug. “Dinner smells good honey! How was your day?”

She turned around in his arms, returning the hug, but held on, unwilling to separate.

He leaned back and tilted her chin up, studying her face. “What happened today at the museum? Is this about the three pieces Grandma Leone told us about?”

She nodded mutely then ducked her head under his chin and breathed his scent deeply. Pulling out of his arms, she put the dishes on the small kitchen table and poured two glasses of wine. “Dinner is ready. While you wash up, I’ll lock the door and pull the curtains for the night. There is much to tell you.”

He gave her a baffled glance as he went to the sink to do as she requested. “And the wine?”

“Well, it was either that or whiskey and I thought that would dull the senses too much.”

He eased into his chair as he contemplated her words. Taking a swallow of wine, he reached across the table. “Okay. Take a bite first. You look pale.”

 

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December/Christmas Promotion – A Crystal Snowflake By Holly Barbo

Today’s promotion is for A Crystal Snowflake, a thrilling story by my friend Holly Barbo.  We also have an excerpt for a taste of what is to come.

 

HOLLY crystal Snowflake cover.jpeg

 

 

Description1

A cyber-thriller short story

When Chayse’s friend is murdered before he can get protective custody, she and her department in Homeland Security are thrust into a race to stop a destructive cyber worm from wiping out all bank and stock market records during the Christmas break. The good news is there is an inoculating code which will stop the worm. The bad news is it is hidden in a special crystal concealed in the sculpted walls of a beautiful ice hotel in the Lapland region of Sweden, and the terrorists are searching for it too. As the snow flurries of November become frozen December, each side rush to find the crystal… with entirely different goals.

Will the Christmas holiday bring destruction for western financial systems?

 

Excerpt2

 

 

He smiled when he heard her voice and responded by saying, “I’m on my way and no one is following me. Just in case, I sent instructions to our safe place. Don’t worry about retrieving the envelope unless I don’t get there by morning. Okay. Gotta go. I’ll be at your door for breakfast with your favorite croissants. Have the coffee brewed.”

Orion laughed at the response. “Okay. I need to concentrate on driving in this stuff. See you soon, Chayse. Bye.”

Beyond the stop sign, the road sloped to a picturesque country bridge, one of many that dotted the New England states. He had to admit it was beautiful in the snowfall but with the driving conditions worsening, he focused on how the car responded to his small adjustments in steering. In the weak light, he didn’t notice the watcher standing in the shelter of some trees on the far side of the road. The muffled figure took a box out of his pocket, pointed it at the car and pushed a button. The loud sibilant schwuff of the slush hitting the car’s undercarriage drowned out the pop.

Without any warning, Orion’s power steering quit. Working to compensate on the slick road, he fought to correct the fish-tailing motion of the car. “Shit!” He tapped the brakes and was horrified as his foot went all the way to the floor.

Fighting the wheel and the momentum of the old Chevy on the slippery surface became his entire focus…and he was losing. He tried gearing down and applying the emergency brake, but the car went into a spin and he caught a glimpse of the bridge railing coming up too fast. “Shit!” The car broke through the wooden barrier and sailed into the darkness over the side.

 

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The First Quick Read Thriller Is Out!

reblogged from http://hollybarbo-books.com/2016/09/19/the-first-quick-read-thriller-is-out/#respond

BINDING CONTRACTS

Quick Reads Book 5

by Holly Barbo

GENRE: Thriller Short Read
What do you do when you no longer want something? You discard it, right? Which is exactly what happens when Keith gets tired of his wife. But there are signed contracts and someone hasn’t read the fine print.

“Mr. John, it is good to see you.” She looked into his bloodshot eyes and noticed the circles of fatigue beneath them and the general pallor of his skin. “Still haven’t heard from the VA?”

John shook his head and took another bite. After he finished chewing and taking a swallow of coffee, he cleared his throat. He hadn’t talked much in days and hoped his voice was still working. “You have a good memory. I haven’t been here in three weeks. Thank you for the service you offer. The food, shower and clean clothes make me feel almost human.” Having run out of things to say, he took another bite as he watched the kind face framed in black.

She smiled. “It is a skill that comes naturally to me, thank you. But it isn’t perfect. I have forgotten your last name, if you’ve ever shared it, but do remember you saying you were a SEAL in Afghanistan and have worked in a similar but non-military position after that. I can surmise you are now homeless due to your PTSD?” She looked at him for confirmation and waited until he gave a curt nod. “The wheels of the VA move very slowly. Too slow for the people who need help. I also have noted, when speaking to you, that you are intelligent, educated, and I know the longer you stay on the streets the greater chance you have to die early. It would be a real waste.” She smiled and patted his hand. “Son, I’ve some news for you. A new clinic has opened its doors. I’ve watched them to see if they are legitimate and to see the quality of their care. It’s called The Destiny Clinic, and it is going through the paperwork to be recognized as a VA-affiliated treatment center. Instead of cash, the price for treatment is to help the community in whatever capacity you can, and if that is beyond the patient receiving services… it is free. The funding comes from a local company who made its money making prosthetics and body armor. This is their way of supporting the wounded veterans.” She handed him a card. “Here’s the address. It isn’t far, and they have several treatment programs and therapy strategies. The day is still young. You can go there after your meal. You’re a good man. Let them guide you back to us. Our city, our country needs quality people like you.”

He looked down at the card and back up into the kind eyes. “You don’t know me or what I have done, what I’ve seen. Those things return in my nightmares and in sudden sounds. Terrible flashes of memories. The military and later…” John’s voice dropped to a near whisper as he lowered the coffee mug to the table. “The CIA gave me a structure and purpose until I became broken and a liability to them. But you’re right. Living on the streets and under the overpasses is a game of Russian Roulette. Thank you for your kindness.” Pocketing the card, John picked up his empty plate and cup. He stood and looked down into the lined face of the nun. “Sister, I don’t know your name.”

“I’m Sister Mary Rebecca.”

“Thanks, Sister Mary Rebecca. My name is John Easton.” He gave her a nod of respect, then with a small smile he touched his forehead in a salute. He left his dishes in the pan beside the kitchen and stepped out into the late spring day.

A Beltane GiftThe Tin of HoneyThe Dragil: Broken MagicThe Battered Ball

Holly’s world is shaped by her love of family, the beauty of the natural world and an irrepressible creative drive. She has always been curious and sees life through questions. These four characteristics color her writing voice and her stories frequently evolve from her asking “What if….?” Her tales tend to have non-urban settings with nature contributing to the plot, building discordant themes inside a seemingly peaceful refrain.

Her motto: Weaving Alternative Worlds with Threads From Today.

Halloween Promotion – Ode to Autumn

Today’s Halloween offering is Ode to Autumn ~ A Season of Change, wonderful dark stories and poems by a talented group of authors.   I will put up my story to give you a taste.

Ode to Autumn

Introducing~ An Ode to Autumn~ A Season of Change… An anthology of dark and deadly poems and short stories from over eighteen acclaimed, award-winning Indie authors, hosted by Linell Jeppsen!

Through The Porthole

Ch’kara SilverWolf © Copyright

 

Rhea had recovered from the passing of David; he had been her best friend as well as her lover. Although she had settled down into the daily routine of living, there was a part of her that was lost.

Her friend Kat had offered her some time out at her house in the mountains. She was looking forward to the solitude, time to think, to sort out what she wanted from life. To recharge and get herself ready to start life anew, instead of the mindless existence she had been drifting through.

She arrived at the cottage on a sunny November day, it was looked beautiful as she came up the drive, which was filled with gorgeous flowers, and the cottage looked warm and friendly.

She opened the door, and stood for a moment looking around; she had been here before with her friend and loved the peace and tranquility of the place. Walking into the kitchen with its oak furniture and pots hanging above the workbench, she discovered that the neighbor had been over and turned on the power and water, also she had left a basket of fruit and the essentials in the fridge such as milk, bread, butter, and eggs. They were such nice people, also in the fact that they would not come around uninvited.

The note with the food told Rhea if she needed anything, to call, otherwise she would not be bothered by anyone. They had been told she wanted quiet time and they understood. Over the next few days, Rhea slept late and took long walks, enjoying the fresh air and peace. She began to feel alive again, she could almost perceive of a new life.

One morning, she woke to the sound of rain on the roof, as she lay there listening, feeling in a sense, cleansed by the rain, she realized she could hear a window banging, so pulling on her slippers and bathrobe, she went upstairs to see where it was coming from.

At the top of the landing was Kat’s room, the sound was definitely coming from there and although she had not been in there before, she did not want anything to be damaged by the water. She went in and closed the window, checked there was no water damage, and as she scanned the room she thought how lovely it was. A big brass four-poster bed with a canopy draped in antique lace. Pillows of all sizes gave the bed a soft inviting look.

Rhea then turned back to the window; it seemed odd to be there. It was round like the window in a ship, a porthole, she stared at it for a while trying to decide why she was drawn to it, then noticed that the frame surrounding it was carved with intricate symbols. She had never seen anything like it, as she stood there; she reached out and traced her fingers over it. It was almost like a compulsion to do this, all of a sudden she pulled her hand away and stepped back, she thought she had seen somebody reflected in the glass. She spun around thinking there was someone in the house, but the room was empty.

Her heart was pounding; her mind was racing with all the possibilities of what it could have been. She was reluctant to focus on what she was really thinking could have happened. Could someone be looking through the glass at her? This seemed impossible as she was on the second floor, her analytical mind did not want to accept this. She knew her friend Kat was open to unusual phenomena, but not her. If you didn’t have a solid explanation for something, then it didn’t exist.

With her heart still pounding, she stepped in front of the window again; she was determined to discover the ‘logical’ explanation for it. So far, everything was normal, and then she put her hand up and once again traced the symbols.

There was a flickering, so steeling herself, she kept tracing them, suddenly the flickering stopped and she could see another room through the glass. There was a man standing there, he turned as though he sensed somebody, Rhea was stunned, standing there transfixed. Then he smiled, he had dark hair and deep brown eyes, which came alive when he smiled.

“Hello, don’t be frightened, my name is Jean-Claude, you must have traced the symbols, that could be the only way we are here like this.”

Where are you? How did you get here? I don’t understand this, it can’t be real, oh god, I must be having a breakdown.”

Jean-Claude saw how agitated Rhea was. He was afraid she would leave. “Please don’t go. Tell me your name, I won’t hurt you. I promise to answer any of your questions. I am as real as you are, you must know Kat, or I think you wouldn’t be here.”

“You can’t be real, this is not logical.” She lowered her head into her hands thinking that when she looked again it would all have been an illusion. However, when she looked up there he was looking out at her only this time she could see his hand on her side of the porthole.

“Please don’t be afraid, what is your name? I promise I am real, see you can touch me.”

Rhea stepped back in fear, no this cannot be true. She ran from the room and slammed the door. What should she do? If she phoned Kat, she would probably think she was going mad. All her friends were so worried about her and had wanted her to see a doctor, a shrink, but there was no need for that, she was perfectly sane. Or was she? She went to the kitchen to make coffee, maybe if she cleared her head it would all make sense to her. She sat with the steaming coffee in her hands thinking how much she wished that it was a glass of wine instead. She had been drinking far too much since David had passed and therefore one of her reasons for being here was to be away from that temptation.

She dressed and walked in the beautiful gardens. This was normal and how it should be. She spent most of the day outside and as the sun began to set she returned to the house. She turned on all the lights and prepared something to eat. She laughed nervously, this was so silly, and it had all been such a stressful time for her she must have been imagining it.

After her meal, she went upstairs and hesitated outside Kat’s room. Maybe she should just go look, and prove to herself it had been her imagination. She went up to the porthole and there were the symbols. They looked perfectly harmless, just a beautifully carved decoration. She couldn’t stop herself, she felt compelled as she stepped closer and once again trace her finger around the symbols. The same shimmering occurred and she could see the other side, although there seemed to be nobody there. She tentatively put her hand up to the glass, and her hand went straight through, as though it didn’t exist. Just as she was about to bring her hand back something grabbed her. She screamed and struggled to pull her hand out of the porthole, but something was pulling her in. Oh god, how was this happing to her? She fought harder, but the more she struggled the more she was pulled in, she thought her arm would be pulled from its socket. Then one last pull and she felt as though she was falling. She hit solid ground with a bang and quickly jumped up. Standing in front of her was Jean-Claude.

“How did I get here? I want to go back, you can’t keep me here.”

He laughed, and suddenly it sounded so sinister. “Oh but I can my dear. You are mine now; Kat promised she would send me a new toy to play with. We are going to have so much fun together you and I.”

Rhea threw back her head and screamed and screamed but no one came. Everyone was told to leave her in peace. A peace she would never know now.

Jean-Claude took her hand and she shivered in fear. “I think my dear, the moral of the story should be. Never put your hand where you think it should not go.” With that, he laughed loudly as she ran to the porthole and banged her hands on the glass; for once again it was solid. There was no escape.

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New Release – Tendrils by Holly Barbo

Today I have a New Release for you called Tendrils, a collection of stories by my friend Holly Barbo.  I have read one of the stories and loved it and will definitely be reading the rest soon.   Holly has also given us an excerpt from one of the stories called – A Crystal Snowflake.

Tendrils

Description1

HOLLY image of Tendrils blurb

An excerpt from – A Crystal Snowflake:

Orion gave a quick scan of the room. He needed to make sure he had everything important. His backpack was stuffed and the computer case held so much that there were edges of paper sticking out of it in a haphazard manner. The slender young man slung the strap of the computer bag over his shoulder, grabbed the backpack and headed for the front door. His hand paused as he reached for the knob and he looked out the window.

It was dark and he could see the snow falling through the street lights. There didn’t seem to be anyone about, so he slipped from the house and walked casually to his trusty old Chevy, his breath coming out in rapid visible puffs. The nonchalance was an act. He wanted anyone watching to assume he was going to M.I.T. to get in some late night work. He scanned the shadows, hoping that no one was there. He threw his backpack on the passenger seat then wedged the computer case between it and the seat back. He wanted both within easy reach. Once buckled in, he allowed his nervousness to slip out and thoroughly checked the view from his mirrors.

He eased onto the street and when there was no sign of his tires slipping, increased his speed. Orion reached into the pocket of the backpack for the pre-paid phone that he’d picked up when he determined his cell had been tapped. At the stop sign, he punched in a number. The snow flurries were increasing and he switched on the wipers. Orion waited for his friend to pick up.

He smiled when he heard her voice and responded by saying, “I’m on my way and no one is following me. Just in case, I sent instructions to our safe place. Don’t worry about retrieving the envelope unless I don’t get there by morning. Okay. Gotta go. I’ll be at your door for breakfast with your favorite croissants. Have the coffee brewed.”

Orion laughed at the response. “Okay. I need to concentrate on driving in this stuff. See you soon, Chayse. Bye.”

Beyond the stop sign, the road sloped to a picturesque country bridge, one of many that dotted the New England states. He had to admit it was beautiful in the snowfall but with the driving conditions worsening, he focused on how the car responded to his small adjustments in steering. In the weak light, he didn’t notice the watcher standing in the shelter of some trees on the far side of the road. The muffled figure took a box out of his pocket, pointed it at the car and pushed a button. The loud sibilant schwuff of the slush hitting the car’s undercarriage drowned out the pop.

Without any warning, Orion’s power steering quit. Working to compensate on the slick road, he fought to correct the fish-tailing motion of the car. “Shit!” He tapped the brakes and was horrified as his foot went all the way to the floor.

Fighting the wheel and the momentum of the old Chevy on the slippery surface became his entire focus…and he was losing. He tried gearing down and applying the emergency brake, but the car went into a spin and he caught a glimpse of the bridge railing coming up too fast. “Shit!” The car broke through the wooden barrier and sailed into the darkness over the side.

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Coming Soon – Tendrils by Holly Barbo

My friend Holly Barbo is soon to release a short story collection called Tendrils, I have read one of these stories and am looking forward to the rest.  There are a total of 14 stories in the collection, including one flash fiction. The collection will be released within a couple of weeks. 4 out of 14 of the stories have won in short story contests, one of which has won first place!   I will re-post when it is up on Amazon.

Holly Tendrils coverDESCRIPTION

Stories come from any number of places. One could start from a memory, a photo in a magazine or from pondering a news item and wondering, “What if?”

This collection arose from that sort of random stimuli. Some are pure imagination of science fiction or fantasy. Others, though developed from random historical facts or the disturbing news stories of war-torn regions.

Each story has coalesced from “What if” to “What is.”

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First Chapters – The Unravelling by Holly Barbo

Today’s First Chapter is from The Unravelling, book three in the Sage Seed Chronicles series by my friend Holly Barbo.

Holly The Unravelling

DESCRIPTION

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 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.”

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