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July 2021

Chapter Six Hundred and Fifty-three - Compassion (part one)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FIFTY-THREE

(part one)

Wednesday morning — 10:05 a.m.

Hospital Intensive Care Unit

“Are you Tanesha?” the attending physician asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Tanesha said.

Intimidated by the woman, Tanesha looked down. She’d just gotten to the ICU floor.

“Doctor,” the attending physician said.

“Yes, ma’am,” Tanesha said.

“Yes, doctor,” the attending physician said.

“Oh.” Tanesha looked up and blushed. She looked up to see the woman grinning at her. “Sorry, I. . .”

“I don’t really care,” the attending physician said. “But the lead doc is a stickler for this kind of crap. Since this is your first day on rotation here, I figure you’d better learn the right way before some asshole. . .”

She grinned at Tanesha.

“You of all people know assholes,” the attending physician said.

Tanesha snorted a laugh.

“You’re ‘Miss T’?” the attending physician asked.

“Tanesha,” she said. “Everyone calls me, Tanesha. Except my husband and my dad. My mother has her own private name for me. I won’t burden you with that.”

“My mom has a nickname for me too.” The attending physician nodded.

Tanesha smiled.

“I wondered,” the attending physician said. “I’m Margaret Vierns. ‘Meg.’”

“Yes, doctor,” Tanesha said.

“You were already warned?” Dr. Vierns asked.

“My first day last spring,” Tanesha said. “‘Doctors will give you their first names, but stick with Dr. until you know that if you want to even know them better.’”

“Who are you quoting?” Dr. Vierns asked.

“Dr. John Drayson,” Tanesha said.

“Vascular surgeon?” Dr. Vierns asked. “English? Handsome?”

“He’s a family friend,” Tanesha said.

Dr. Vierns looked as if she were reassessing Tanesha.

“Anyway, the lead nurse said that you worked Covid ICU since the pandemic started,” Dr. Vierns said.

“My cousin and I got jobs almost immediately,” Tanesha said. “We didn’t want to miss the opportunity to learn as much as we could during this event. Pandemics are a new thing for people, but this won’t be the last pandemic in my lifetime.”

Dr. Vierns nodded.

“Why do you ask?” Tanesha asked.

“I was pregnant,” Dr. Vierns said. “They sent me home in March. Then I was on maternity. Today’s my first day back.”

“So you’re stuck with the newbies and the med students,” Tanesha said with a nod.

“Yeah,” Dr. Vierns said with a sigh. “Anyway, no one on this morning has your experience.”

“How can I help?” Tanesha asked.

“We were hoping that you could walk us through the best way to intubate,” Dr. Vierns said. “I mean, we can all do it in our sleep, but I wondered if there were any tricks or. . . I thought I’d ask.”

“Does someone need it?” Tanesha asked.

“Yes,” Dr. Vierns said. “But. . .”

Tanesha watched the woman work through what she was going to say.

“The patient doesn’t believe they had Covid?” Tanesha asked.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Fifty-two - Turned to stone

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FIFTY-TWO

Tuesday night — 11:02 p.m.

The truth was that Nelson was drunk when he got in bed.

Jeraine had the night off and Nelson, Blane, and Tres had started playing pool on their new-to-them pool table. Right out of the gate, Tres had beaten all of them. After a few games, Jeraine wandered over to the piano and began to play honky-tonk. Tres, Nelson, and Blane became just Tres and Nelson when Blane got sick of losing and went to bed. Jeraine headed off soon after. With the addicts in bed, Tres brought out the whiskey, and they started playing pool for shots.

Even drunk, Tres Sierra could play pool.

Swearing to avenge his loss, Nelson made his way to bed. He stripped off his clothing at the door and fell in bed.

Since his return from Templar-hell, every time he fell asleep drunk, he had a horrible nightmares. Tonight, Nelson had nightmares about the Templars, war, and the horrors he’d experienced in the seven long years of being trapped in the world of Jacque de Molay.

He knew better.

He still fell asleep drunk.

His mind fell into a world of war.

In this dream, he was walking through what had been a wheat field. The trampled wheat was now littered with the broken and bleeding bodies of men. Nelson held his sword — the one his father had made for him — in his hand. The knife of de Molay was tucked in his waist band. He wore the heavy metal armor of the period. The blood of the dead and dying was so thick that it oozed through the gaps in his leather sandals. The day was warm, not too hot, with the promise of afternoon showers.

With his nose full of the metallic smell of blood, his ears began to pick up the sound of people screaming and the clang of metal.

Ahead of him, the battle continued.

Exhausted and depressed, Nelson dropped to his knees in the muck. He prayed to any god that would listen to him.

Thank you for the gift of my life. Please use your power to end this death and destruction.

Still on his knees, he picked up the smell of freshly lit fire. A woman screeched with rage.

“Burning witches,” he said to the open eyed corpse lying next to where he knelt.

He dragged himself to his feet and fell forward. His feet shuffled up a natural rise near the bottom of the field. Just below the rise, there was a quiet, flowing river with impossibly clear water. In the wheat field beyond, the Templars had tied three women to stakes and were in the process of lighting the wood surrounding them. The fire was beginning to catch.

He felt so impotent. Out of his own time, he was unable to do anything to stop this madness. He couldn’t fight or kill. He could only defend himself.

He wished that he were dead.

Like the fire surrounding the screaming women, his rage lit with fierce power. He ran down the small hill and forded the stream in no time. Ignoring the Templars that were fighting with villagers, he ran to the women. He hopped over the fire. The women were unconscious now from the heat and fumes of the fire.

One at a time, he freed the women. He dug a trench and laid their abused bodies into it. As he’d done many times before, he covered the women with cool soil leaving only their heads exposed. He cut the wheat and lay it over the area. The women were effectively hidden from the soldiers. By the time they revived, he and the other Templars would be long gone.

He was dribbling water from his personal water skin into the mouth of the final victim when the world around him became eerily silent.

“Now what?” Nelson asked out loud.

Hearing his voice, the woman shifted, moaned, but did not awaken. He finished dribbling water into her mouth. Standing, he dropped the water skin next to her body.

The wind blew smoke from the fires into his face, blinding him from anything other than the grey smoke and the heat of the fire. Unafraid, he walked forward through the smoke. Ahead of him, he saw the back of. . .

“What the hell?” Nelson whispered.

He was looked at the back of what he took to be a human head. Rather than hair, the head was filled with. . . live snakes?

“Live snakes?”

Nelson knew he should remember something about this creature. He did not.

Across the field, he saw another head covered in live snakes.

“Live snakes?” he repeated to no one at all.

He turned to survey the field.

Everyone was. . .

“Dead?” Nelson wasn’t sure why he needed to hear his own voice. He only knew that somehow the sound of his own voice was comforting. “Stone.”

The human beings across this field had been turned to stone. Just then, the fires crackled and a fog of smoke obscured his view again.

“You saved them?” a sour woman’s voice came from behind him. “Did you rape them too?”

“Not my type,” Nelson said.

Something deep inside him forced him not to turn to the voice.

He heard the. . . Was it a woman? . . . Creature. It sounded more like some kind of mythological creature than a human or an animal. This was something from history before myth became fairy tale.

“Heather.”

His heart ached for his friend and his beloved’s wife. The word hung on his lips like a prayer.

“Yeesss,” the creature said. “She said that you belonged to her.”

The creature was so close to him that it could easily touch him. For the first time in years of numbness, Nelson was terrified. He stood absolutely still.

“Tell me now, and I will spare your life,” the creature standing behind him said.

The creature moved closer and sniffed at him. Nelson shook with fear.

“What do you need to know?” Nelson asked.

The creature was silent for a long moment. Nelson could almost hear it think.

“Why are you here? In this place? Out of time?” the creature asked.

“I am trapped here,” Nelson said. “I am to be the last Grandmaster of the Templars; to end all of this madness in the modern world. I am hopelessly lost. Out of time, as you said. I am trapped, stuck in this horror, repeating day after day, and . . .”

Nelson felt tears roll down his face. Embarrassed, he shook his head.

“Yes,” said the creature, its voice shifted to soothing, nearly kind. “Yes. I know this as well.”

“Why are you here?” Nelson asked.

“My sister needs something,” the creature said.

“Something?” Nelson asked. “What kind of thing?”

“Something stolen. . .” The creature’s words were filled with rage and malice. The snakes on the creature’s head hissed. “. . . by these very men.”

“How could men steal from you?” Nelson asked.

“Yes,” the creature said. “That is the question. And yet, they steal. They rape. They murder.”

Nelson nodded. He bent over and threw up. As if to purge himself of this place, his stomach heaved all of its contents in successive rounds until he was dry heaving.

When he looked up, the creature was kneeling in the mud. Her head was bowed. Even the snakes seemed to have their heads lowered in submission. The two other creatures held the same posture.

The figure of a tall, thin, dark skinned woman walked toward him.

“Abi!” Nelson said. His heart soared with hope.

“Bow, boy,” the creature near him whispered. “This is not your friend. The woman you know is merely a projection — an image — of her true self. You cannot look upon her true self. None of us can. She is too powerful.

Avoiding his own vomit, Nelson dropped to his knees and bowed his head. The dark skinned woman’s feet appeared before his eyes.

“Do you remember our conversation about the Templar hoard?” the powerful goddess said in Abi’s voice.

“I do,” Nelson said. “Thank you for helping Alex and I find it.”

The goddess made a noise that sounded like a laugh.

“Within the hoard is the head of a gorgon,” the goddess said. “Look upon it and you will turn to stone.”

“Okay,” Nelson said.

“You must find the head and return it to these three sisters,” the goddess said.

“How?” Nelson asked.

“When you find the hoard, the sisters will return to you and only you,” the goddess said. “They will not kill you. They cannot kill you. But do not tempt your fate by looking upon them. They are not the most patient or trustworthy of creatures.”

“It’s true,” the creature near him said. “I like this one. He’s. . . brave and true. As you said he would be.”

“Yes, he is,” the goddess said.

“I will do my best not to let you down,” Nelson said.

“I know this to be true,” the goddess said.

“Why would someone take her head?” Nelson asked.

“It was taken by another and used in battle,” the goddess said. “He traded with Athena for her shield. Have you seen Athena with her shield?”

“I have,” Nelson said.

“Athena’s shield was returned to her at the same time the head was stolen,” the goddess said. “Those who stole the head had no idea what they were stealing. They died for their efforts and the head was placed into the hoard.”

Nelson shivered.

“What is it?” the creature behind him and the goddess said in near unison.

“I’m not sure,” Nelson said. “Bad people, I guess. Evil. Untouchable.”

“Yesss,” the creature said.

For a moment, neither the creature nor the goddess said anything. The wind picked up. With it, the smoke returned.

“Take this,” the goddess said.

A ring appeared on a hand that looked so much like Abi’s that he had the desire to kiss it.

“Wear it,” the goddess said. “Nothing can injure or kill you with it on. Not the gorgon. Not any one of the evil objects in that hoard.”

“There are more?” Nelson asked.

“Yeeesss,” the creature behind him said. “We are just the first to ask for our treasure back.”

“So I’ll have more nights like this?” Nelson asked.

“No.” As the goddess spoke the word, the world shook a tiny bit. “When your quest is complete, the gorgon will return what was lost to others.”

“Can they be trusted?” Nelson asked.

“We will return what was lost,” the creature near him said. “We will never betray the earth mother.”

“Of course you won’t,” the goddess said.

Before Nelson could respond, he awoke in his own bed in his own house in his own room in Denver. Unsure if he was home, he went into his bathroom. He flushed the toilet a few times just to assure himself that he was in modern times. He washed his hands and wet his face before drinking an entire glass of crystal clear water.

It was only then that he noticed a thin band encircling the middle finger of his left hand. He held his hand to his face to inspect the band. It was hand tooled and made from some metal he didn’t recognize. There were marks on the band in a language that was oddly familiar but he did not recognize. Seeing the ring, he felt oddly comforted.

He climbed into his own wonderful, soft bed and pulled the covers up over his head.

He awoke with a pounding headache when his very modern alarm clock went off. The first thing he checked was whether the ring was still on his hand.

He was still wearing the ring given to him by the earth mother herself.

Getting out of bed, he went through his morning routine. He was dressed and ready to head out when he saw something leaning against his door. He went to the door to find. . .

“What the hell?” Nelson asked.

He was looking at a stone sword. He tried to pick up the sword but it was too heavy for him. He dropped to a crouch to look at the hilt of the stone sword. As if the sword had been made from steel, there were tooling marks from a forge.

Then he noticed.

This was his sword — the one his father had made for him, the very one he’d held in his hand in his dream.

A wave of panic went through him. He pushed, pulled, and dragged the sword away from the door.

Finally able to open his door, he went to find Heather. She was standing in the hallway outside his room. He nodded to her and gestured for her to enter his room. She followed him inside.

“What’s this?” Nelson asked, gesturing to the sword.

“You’ve met a gorgon,” Heather said with a nod.

Not knowing where to start, Nelson just looked at Heather. She picked up his hand to look at the ring. She raised her eyebrows and let his hand drop.

“We have much to discuss,” Heather said. “Do you have time this morning?”

“No,” Nelson said. “I have to be at work and. . .”

Heather nodded.

“Why don’t you tell me what you need to know?” Heather asked, softly and kindly.

“What are those things?” Nelson asked. He waved his hand over his head. “Snakes. Live snakes.”

He shivered with the terror he’d been too numb to feel when he was in the dream.

“It’s a species of humanoid,” Heather said. “Ancient. Powerful. There are only a few left. The stories talk of three sisters. Gorgons. But there are more than just those three.”

“Are they snakes?” Nelson asked.

“Sort of,” Heather said. “Not actual snakes like we know of now. But snake-like. They have terrible magic, the gorgons. They can turn everything to. . .”

“Stone,” Nelson whispered. “You, too?”

“No, not me,” Heather said. “I know of them, but they’re much older than my kin. If we want to know more about them, we should ask Perses or Hecate.”

Nelson nodded.

“Abi was there,” Nelson said. “The gorgon near me said it wasn’t Abi. That the person we knew was a projection of the actual earth mother. Is that true?”

“It’s a good way of putting it,” Heather said with a smile. “You were lucky to have Abi intervene with the gorgons. They are not. . . reliable.”

“So they said,” Nelson said. “What is this?”

Nelson gestured to the ring.

“I don’t actually know,” Heather said. “Where did you get it?”

“I was standing in a field of muck and blood from dead and dying men,” Nelson said. “Those fighting were turned to stone by the gorgon. That’s after I rescued three women from the flames.”

“Who gave this to you?” Heather asked.

“Abi,” Nelson said. “Or the not Abi.”

Heather nodded.

“I’d ask you to leave it with me, but I doubt that it will come off,” Heather said.

“I’ve tried,” Nelson said. “It won’t budge.”

Heather nodded.

“What is it?” Nelson asked.

“I’m not sure,” Heather said. “Nothing bad. Abi loves you.”

“And I belong to you,” Nelson said.

“That too,” Heather said with a grin. “I will tell you that it’s made out of rhodium, the most precious metal on earth. This band alone is likely worth more than our entire home, including Jeraine’s recording studio.”

“This little band?” Nelson asked.

“It doesn’t look like much,” Heather said with a nod. “This is from a mine in South Africa. Ancient. This piece was likely Egyptian or maybe Mesopotamian. This writing here? It’s in a language that has only just been translated. Ancient.”

Heather smiled at him.

“You know the person who cracked the language,” Heather said.

“Who?” Nelson asked.

“Alex Hargreaves and her brother, Max,” Heather said. “But mostly Alex. If there’s language on this, it’s a message for Alex. But I’ll tell you. . .”

Heather looked at the lettering again.

“It looks to me like a password,” Heather said.

“To get the hoard?” Nelson asked.

Heather nodded.

“That’s a real gift,” Nelson said.

“You should treat it as such,” Heather said. “More than anything else, it will likely keep you safe on your journey. It may protect the entire journey. We’ll see.”

“The gorgon said that they were just the first to ask for their item back,” Nelson said.

“Head of Medusa,” Heather said with a nod.

“Does that mean there will be more?” Nelson asked. “They said that they would return everything to those who it was stolen from.”

“They’ve done it before,” Heather said with a nod.

“Will that wreck our deal with the French government?” Nelson asked. “I really need their help and. . .”

Heather put her hand on his shoulder.

“No,” Heather said. “There is more in this hoard than you can imagine. Than the Nazis could have imagined. The French will be satisfied with plenty to show off in their museums.”

Nelson scanned her face. She nodded to encourage him.

“Now, why don’t we grab your coffee and you can. . .” Heather said.

Nelson jerked awake. He was sitting in a vehicle that had stopped in front of the Denver Crime Lab.

“Thanks,” Nelson said.

He paid the tab on his phone and got out of the vehicle. He was near the building when he looked back at the driver. He gasped.

The gorgon.

He was looking into the face of what looked like the face of the gorgon. Her skin was dark as if she were from Africa. She had thick, long dreadlocks. She gave him a white toothed grin and a wave. He waved back and went inside.

It always surprised him how many magical creatures went about their business pretending to be humans. Getting on the elevator to his office, he nodded to himself.

“Including me,” Nelson said.

The elevator doors closed and his work day began.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Fifty-two - Turned to stone (part six)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FIFTY-TWO

(part six)

“I’d ask you to leave it with me, but I doubt that it will come off,” Heather said.

“I’ve tried,” Nelson said. “It won’t budge.”

Heather nodded.

“What is it?” Nelson asked.

“I’m not sure,” Heather said. “Nothing bad. Abi loves you.”

“And I belong to you,” Nelson said.

“That too,” Heather said with a grin. “I will tell you that it’s made out of rhodium, the most precious metal on earth. This band alone is likely worth more than our entire home, including Jeraine’s recording studio.”

“This little band?” Nelson asked.

“It doesn’t look like much,” Heather said with a nod. “This is from a mine in South Africa. Ancient. This piece was likely Egyptian or maybe Mesopotamian. This writing here? It’s in a language that has only just been translated. Ancient.”

Heather smiled at him.

“You know the person who cracked the language,” Heather said.

“Who?” Nelson asked.

“Alex Hargreaves and her brother, Max,” Heather said. “But mostly Alex. If there’s language on this, it’s a message for Alex. But I’ll tell you. . .”

Heather looked at the lettering again.

“It looks to me like a password,” Heather said.

“To get the hoard?” Nelson asked.

Heather nodded.

“That’s a real gift,” Nelson said.

“You should treat it as such,” Heather said. “More than anything else, it will likely keep you safe on your journey. It may protect the entire journey. We’ll see.”

“The gorgon said that they were just the first to ask for their item back,” Nelson said.

“Head of Medusa,” Heather said with a nod.

“Does that mean there will be more?” Nelson asked. “They said that they would return everything to those who it was stolen from.”

“They’ve done it before,” Heather said with a nod.

“Will that wreck our deal with the French government?” Nelson asked. “I really need their help and. . .”

Heather put her hand on his shoulder.

“No,” Heather said. “There is more in this hoard than you can imagine. Than the Nazis could have imagined. The French will be satisfied with plenty to show off in their museums.”

Nelson scanned her face. She nodded to encourage him.

“Now, why don’t we grab your coffee and you can. . .” Heather said.

Nelson jerked awake. He was sitting in a vehicle that had stopped in front of the Denver Crime Lab.

“Thanks,” Nelson said.

He paid the tab on his phone and got out of the vehicle. He was near the building when he looked back at the driver. He gasped.

The gorgon.

He was looking into the face of what looked like the face of the gorgon. Her skin was dark as if she were from Africa. She had thick, long dreadlocks. She gave him a white toothed grin and a wave. He waved back and went inside.

It always surprised him how many magical creatures went about their business pretending to be humans. Getting on the elevator to his office, he nodded to himself.

“Including me,” Nelson said.

The elevator doors closed and his work day began.

Denver Cereal continues on Monday...


Chapter Six Hundred and Fifty-two - Turned to stone (part five)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FIFTY-TWO

(part five)

He went to the door to find. . .

“What the hell?” Nelson asked.

He was looking at a stone sword. He tried to pick up the sword but it was too heavy for him. He dropped to a crouch to look at the hilt of the stone sword. As if the sword had been made from steel, there were tooling marks from a forge.

Then he noticed.

This was his sword — the one his father had made for him, the very one he’d held in his hand in his dream.

A wave of panic went through him. He pushed, pulled, and dragged the sword away from the door.

Finally able to open his door, he went to find Heather. She was standing in the hallway outside his room. He nodded to her and gestured for her to enter his room. She followed him inside.

“What’s this?” Nelson asked, gesturing to the sword.

“You’ve met a gorgon,” Heather said with a nod.

Not knowing where to start, Nelson just looked at Heather. She picked up his hand to look at the ring. She raised her eyebrows and let his hand drop.

“We have much to discuss,” Heather said. “Do you have time this morning?”

“No,” Nelson said. “I have to be at work and. . .”

Heather nodded.

“Why don’t you tell me what you need to know?” Heather asked, softly and kindly.

“What are those things?” Nelson asked. He waved his hand over his head. “Snakes. Live snakes.”

He shivered with the terror he’d been too numb to feel when he was in the dream.

“It’s a species of humanoid,” Heather said. “Ancient. Powerful. There are only a few left. The stories talk of three sisters. Gorgons. But there are more than just those three.”

“Are they snakes?” Nelson asked.

“Sort of,” Heather said. “Not actual snakes like we know of now. But snake-like. They have terrible magic, the gorgons. They can turn everything to. . .”

“Stone,” Nelson whispered. “You, too?”

“No, not me,” Heather said. “I know of them, but they’re much older than my kin. If we want to know more about them, we should ask Perses or Hecate.”

Nelson nodded.

“Abi was there,” Nelson said. “The gorgon near me said it wasn’t Abi. That the person we knew was a projection of the actual earth mother. Is that true?”

“It’s a good way of putting it,” Heather said with a smile. “You were lucky to have Abi intervene with the gorgons. They are not. . . reliable.”

“So they said,” Nelson said. “What is this?”

Nelson gestured to the ring.

“I don’t actually know,” Heather said. “Where did you get it?”

“I was standing in a field of muck and blood from dead and dying men,” Nelson said. “Those fighting were turned to stone by the gorgon. That’s after I rescued three women from the flames.”

“Who gave this to you?” Heather asked.

“Abi,” Nelson said. “Or the not Abi.”

Heather nodded.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Fifty-two - Turned to stone (part four)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FIFTY-TWO

(part four)

“I will do my best not to let you down,” Nelson said.

“I know this to be true,” the goddess said.

“Why would someone take her head?” Nelson asked.

“It was taken by another and used in battle,” the goddess said. “He traded with Athena for her shield. Have you seen Athena with her shield?”

“I have,” Nelson said.

“Athena’s shield was returned to her at the same time the head was stolen,” the goddess said. “Those who stole the head had no idea what they were stealing. They died for their efforts and the head was placed into the hoard.”

Nelson shivered.

“What is it?” the creature behind him and the goddess said in near unison.

“I’m not sure,” Nelson said. “Bad people, I guess. Evil. Untouchable.”

“Yesss,” the creature said.

For a moment, neither the creature nor the goddess said anything. The wind picked up. With it, the smoke returned.

“Take this,” the goddess said.

A ring appeared on a hand that looked so much like Abi’s that he had the desire to kiss it.

“Wear it,” the goddess said. “Nothing can injure or kill you with it on. Not the gorgon. Not any one of the evil objects in that hoard.”

“There are more?” Nelson asked.

“Yeeesss,” the creature behind him said. “We are just the first to ask for our treasure back.”

“So I’ll have more nights like this?” Nelson asked.

“No.” As the goddess spoke the word, the world shook a tiny bit. “When your quest is complete, the gorgon will return what was lost to others.”

“Can they be trusted?” Nelson asked.

“We will return what was lost,” the creature near him said. “We will never betray the earth mother.”

“Of course you won’t,” the goddess said.

Before Nelson could respond, he awoke in his own bed in his own house in his own room in Denver. Unsure if he was home, he went into his bathroom. He flushed the toilet a few times just to assure himself that he was in modern times. He washed his hands and wet his face before drinking an entire glass of crystal clear water.

It was only then that he noticed a thin band encircling the middle finger of his left hand. He held his hand to his face to inspect the band. It was hand tooled and made from some metal he didn’t recognize. There were marks on the band in a language that was oddly familiar but he did not recognize. Seeing the ring, he felt oddly comforted.

He climbed into his own wonderful, soft bed and pulled the covers up over his head.

He awoke with a pounding headache when his very modern alarm clock went off. The first thing he checked was whether the ring was still on his hand.

He was still wearing the ring given to him by the earth mother herself.

Getting out of bed, he went through his morning routine. He was dressed and ready to head out when he saw something leaning against his door. He went to the door to find. . .

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Fifty-two - Turned to stone (part three)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FIFTY-TWO

(part three)

The creature moved closer and sniffed at him. Nelson shook with fear.

“What do you need to know?” Nelson asked.

The creature was silent for a long moment. Nelson could almost hear it think.

“Why are you here? In this place? Out of time?” the creature asked.

“I am trapped here,” Nelson said. “I am to be the last Grandmaster of the Templars; to end all of this madness in the modern world. I am hopelessly lost. Out of time, as you said. I am trapped, stuck in this horror, repeating day after day, and . . .”

Nelson felt tears roll down his face. Embarrassed, he shook his head.

“Yes,” said the creature, its voice shifted to soothing, nearly kind. “Yes. I know this as well.”

“Why are you here?” Nelson asked.

“My sister needs something,” the creature said.

“Something?” Nelson asked. “What kind of thing?”

“Something stolen. . .” The creature’s words were filled with rage and malice. The snakes on the creature’s head hissed. “. . . by these very men.”

“How could men steal from you?” Nelson asked.

“Yes,” the creature said. “That is the question. And yet, they steal. They rape. They murder.”

Nelson nodded. He bent over and threw up. As if to purge himself of this place, his stomach heaved all of its contents in successive rounds until he was dry heaving.

When he looked up, the creature was kneeling in the mud. Her head was bowed. Even the snakes seemed to have their heads lowered in submission. The two other creatures held the same posture.

The figure of a tall, thin, dark skinned woman walked toward him.

“Abi!” Nelson said. His heart soared with hope.

“Bow, boy,” the creature near him whispered. “This is not your friend. The woman you know is merely a projection — an image — of her true self. You cannot look upon her true self. None of us can. She is too powerful.

Avoiding his own vomit, Nelson dropped to his knees and bowed his head. The dark skinned woman’s feet appeared before his eyes.

“Do you remember our conversation about the Templar hoard?” the powerful goddess said in Abi’s voice.

“I do,” Nelson said. “Thank you for helping Alex and I find it.”

The goddess made a noise that sounded like a laugh.

“Within the hoard is the head of a gorgon,” the goddess said. “Look upon it and you will turn to stone.”

“Okay,” Nelson said.

“You must find the head and return it to these three sisters,” the goddess said.

“How?” Nelson asked.

“When you find the hoard, the sisters will return to you and only you,” the goddess said. “They will not kill you. They cannot kill you. But do not tempt your fate by looking upon them. They are not the most patient or trustworthy of creatures.”

“It’s true,” the creature near him said. “I like this one. He’s. . . brave and true. As you said he would be.”

“Yes, he is,” the goddess said.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Fifty-two - Turned to stone (part two)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FIFTY-TWO

(part two)

Like the fire surrounding the screaming women, his rage lit with fierce power. He ran down the small hill and forded the stream in no time. Ignoring the Templars that were fighting with villagers, he ran to the women. He hopped over the fire. The women were unconscious now from the heat and fumes of the fire.

One at a time, he freed the women. He dug a trench and laid their abused bodies into it. As he’d done many times before, he covered the women with cool soil leaving only their heads exposed. He cut the wheat and lay it over the area. The women were effectively hidden from the soldiers. By the time they revived, he and the other Templars would be long gone.

He was dribbling water from his personal water skin into the mouth of the final victim when the world around him became eerily silent.

“Now what?” Nelson asked out loud.

Hearing his voice, the woman shifted, moaned, but did not awaken. He finished dribbling water into her mouth. Standing, he dropped the water skin next to her body.

The wind blew smoke from the fires into his face, blinding him from anything other than the grey smoke and the heat of the fire. Unafraid, he walked forward through the smoke. Ahead of him, he saw the back of. . .

“What the hell?” Nelson whispered.

He was looked at the back of what he took to be a human head. Rather than hair, the head was filled with. . . live snakes?

“Live snakes?”

Nelson knew he should remember something about this creature. He did not.

Across the field, he saw another head covered in live snakes.

“Live snakes?” he repeated to no one at all.

He turned to survey the field.

Everyone was. . .

“Dead?” Nelson wasn’t sure why he needed to hear his own voice. He only knew that somehow the sound of his own voice was comforting. “Stone.”

The human beings across this field had been turned to stone. Just then, the fires crackled and a fog of smoke obscured his view again.

“You saved them?” a sour woman’s voice came from behind him. “Did you rape them too?”

“Not my type,” Nelson said.

Something deep inside him forced him not to turn to the voice.

He heard the. . . Was it a woman? . . . Creature. It sounded more like some kind of mythological creature than a human or an animal. This was something from history before myth became fairy tale.

“Heather.”

His heart ached for his friend and his beloved’s wife. The word hung on his lips like a prayer.

“Yeesss,” the creature said. “She said that you belonged to her.”

The creature was so close to him that it could easily touch him. For the first time in years of numbness, Nelson was terrified. He stood absolutely still.

“Tell me now, and I will spare your life,” the creature standing behind him said.

The creature moved closer and sniffed at him. Nelson shook with fear.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Fifty-two - Turned to stone (part one)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FIFTY-TWO

(part one)

Tuesday night — 11:02 p.m.

The truth was that Nelson was drunk when he got in bed.

Jeraine had the night off and Nelson, Blane, and Tres had started playing pool on their new-to-them pool table. Right out of the gate, Tres had beaten all of them. After a few games, Jeraine wandered over to the piano and began to play honky-tonk. Tres, Nelson, and Blane became just Tres and Nelson when Blane got sick of losing and went to bed. Jeraine headed off soon after. With the addicts in bed, Tres brought out the whiskey, and they started playing pool for shots.

Even drunk, Tres Sierra could play pool.

Swearing to avenge his loss, Nelson made his way to bed. He stripped off his clothing at the door and fell in bed.

Since his return from Templar-hell, every time he fell asleep drunk, he had horrible nightmares. Tonight, Nelson had nightmares about the Templars, war, and the horrors he’d experienced in the seven long years of being trapped in the world of Jacque de Molay.

He knew better.

He still fell asleep drunk.

His mind fell into a world of war.

In this dream, he was walking through what had been a wheat field. The trampled wheat was now littered with the broken and bleeding bodies of men. Nelson held his sword — the one his father had made for him — in his hand. The knife of de Molay was tucked in his waist band. He wore the heavy metal armor of the period. The blood of the dead and dying was so thick that it oozed through the gaps in his leather sandals. The day was warm, not too hot, with the promise of afternoon showers.

With his nose full of the metallic smell of blood, his ears began to pick up the sound of people screaming and the clang of metal.

Ahead of him, the battle continued.

Exhausted and depressed, Nelson dropped to his knees in the muck. He prayed to any god that would listen to him.

Thank you for the gift of my life. Please use your power to end this death and destruction.

Still on his knees, he picked up the smell of freshly lit fire. A woman screeched with rage.

“Burning witches,” he said to the open eyed corpse lying next to where he knelt.

He dragged himself to his feet and fell forward. His feet shuffled up a natural rise near the bottom of the field. Just below the rise, there was a quiet, flowing river with impossibly clear water. In the wheat field beyond, the Templars had tied three women to stakes and were in the process of lighting the wood surrounding them. The fire was beginning to catch.

He felt so impotent. Out of his own time, he was unable to do anything to stop this madness. He couldn’t fight or kill. He could only defend himself.

He wished that he were dead.

Like the fire surrounding the screaming women, his rage lit with fierce power.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Fifty-one - Enter a little chaos

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FIFTY-ONE

Tuesday afternoon — 3:15 p.m.

“Don’t move,” Tres said.

He leaned over to kiss Heather and was caught up in kissing her. After a moment, he pulled himself away. He kissed her nose.

“I’ll be right back,” Tres said.

He slipped out of the warm bed, pulled the covers up around Heather, and went into the bathroom. Sighing, Heather rolled onto her back. Tres was up early this week. This meant that he was home in the early afternoon. With the kids out of the house, they were able to take their time. Tres grabbed his bathrobe and left the room to get some snacks. Heather drifted off.

She felt a weight on the bed. She rolled onto her side. Expecting Tres, she opened her eyes.

What are you doing here?” Heather gasped.

She was staring into the eyes of her ex-boyfriend, Loki.

“They are making a show about me!” Loki said.

“It’s not about you,” Heather said.

“Why are they using my name?” Loki asked.

She shot him a dark look.

“Why are you here?” Heather asked.

“Well. . .” Loki said. “I. . .”

“Abi’s not here,” Heather said.

“Yes,” Loki said. “And that granddaughter of the archangel is at work.”

“Tanesha?” Heather asked.

“She’s terrifying,” Loki said. “How can you live with her?”

Tres came into the room with a small bottle of champagne, raspberries, and chocolate. He set the supplies on the dresser near the door. Without hesitation, he reached under the covers and pulled Loki out of the bed by his foot. The God of Mischief thumped onto the floor.

“Hey!” Loki said.

“This is my bed!” Tres said.

Loki crossed his arms and looked at Heather. She gave a slight nod. Tres kicked off his slippers and climbed back into bed. The moment Tres was settled, Loki launched himself into the bed. He landed in between Heather and Tres.

“Asshole,” Tres said.

“He’s upset that there’s going to be a show about him,” Heather said.

“He’s been in movies,” Tres said, with a shrug.

“They get it all wrong,” Loki said. “I’m not an asshole. I’m mischievous! Fun! Joyous!”

“And an asshole,” Tres said.

Loki looked at him for a moment and then laughed. He leaned over and kissed Tres’s forehead.

“Yuck, Asgard germs,” Tres said.

This caused Loki to laugh hysterically.

“Why is that funny?” Tres asked.

“Asgard blew up,” Heather said. “That’s why this one is. . . here.”

“She knows me well,” Loki nodded. “Loves me best.”

“Get,” Heather said. She paused between every word. “Out. Of. My. Bed.”

Loki zipped out of the bed by his feet again. He landed on his rear just past the end of the bed.

“Ow,” Loki said.

“What does he want?” Tres asked.

“No idea,” Heather said.

“I want you to fix it,” Loki said.

“Fix what?” Tres asked.

“This television show,” Loki said. “Just wreck it.”

Heather crossed her arms and leaned against the backboard of the bed.

“You’re a God!” Loki said. “You can fix this!”

Heather snapped her fingers, and Loki disappeared.

“Where’d he go?” Tres asked.

“Roof,” Heather said.

“Very funny,” Loki said, appearing at the end of the bed. “Very funny.”  

“Think of it this way,” Heather said. “They’re making a show about you. It will bring you to a new audience.”

“But that’s not me!” Loki said. “I’m not that jerk.”

“Does it matter?” Heather asked. “Exactly like you, not like you, just your fame, mythical you — it’s all the same. More people will know your name again. They’ll look up who you are and what you do. Some will love you, and some will hate you. It’s been like that since time began.”

“Huh,” Loki said. “That makes sense to me.”

“Imagine that,” Tres said with a roll of his eyes.

Loki pointed to Tres and laughed.

“I like him,” Loki said. “We should keep him.”

“We?” Heather asked.

“And?” Tres asked.

“When do I get my share?” Loki asked.

Tres picked up a book on his bed stand and threw it at Loki. The God of Mischief disappeared before the book hit him. The book hit the wall with a thud.

“Sorry,” Heather said.

“Don’t be,” Tres said. “I told Nelson that we should expect Loki any day now.”

“Why?” Heather asked.

“He’s naturally curious,” Tres said with a shrug. “He does care about you.”

“Define ‘care’?” Heather said.

Tres grinned at her. He got up to get the champagne and snacks. He poured two small glasses of champagne and set the chocolate and raspberries between them. He fed her ripe raspberries, and she fed him chocolate.

In a half-hour, the kids were due home, dinner needed starting, and a million other worries descended. For now, they simply enjoyed their time together.

It was wonderful.

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday afternoon — 4:05 p.m.

Delphie stood absolutely still in the middle of the backyard.

“You okay?” Sam asked, coming out of the house.

“Me?” Delphie turned to look at him. “I’m fine.”

Sam held out his arm, and they hugged.

“What are you doing?” Sam asked.

Delphie laughed. She patted his chest and moved away.

“It’s hot,” Delphie said.

“It is hot,” Sam said. “Why don’t you come inside and cool down?”

“I was thinking about the kids,” Delphie said. “They’ve been cooped up all day. Usually we’d go to the pool but. . .”

Delphie shrugged.

“The pools are closed,” Sam said.

“That little pool of Val’s is too small for everyone,” Delphie said.

“And now in the direct sun,” Sam said with a nod.

“Too much sun,” Delphie said with a nod. She raised her hand toward Sam, “I know, I know. I wanted maximum sun in our yard, but now. . .”

“The chickens are in the shaded part,” Sam said with shake of his head. “I don’t know, Delphie.”

Delphie nodded.

“This year is just. . .” Sam said.

“This year?” Delphie asked. “This pandemic is going to be around for a long time. We have to figure out what we can do for these kids.”

“I understand why you’re concerned,” Sam said. “But they are back in school. They seem to be pretty happy there. The school is adding more physical exercise, which everyone’s enjoying.”

Sam shrugged.

“Everything’s okay,” Sam said.

“Then why doesn’t if feel okay?” Delphie asked.  

“Millions of people are sick,” Sam said. “We’ve been lucky to not have any deaths in the house. . .”

“But people are dying,” Delphie said, softly.

Sam nodded.

“I’ve been so lucky to have survived,” Sam said with a nod. “If it weren’t for Jill, her mother, Otis — I don’t know if I would have survived.”

Delphie looked away from him to hide the tears that come to her eyes whenever he talked about being ill.

“Hey,” Sam said.

Delphie turned back to look at him.

“I’m okay,” Sam said.

“I know, I just. . .” Delphie said with a shake of her head. “I know how close you were to. . . and. . .”

Sam put his arm around her, and they hugged again.

“It’s something I wanted to speak with you about,” Sam said.

Delphie wiped her eyes and looked up at him.

“I. . .” Sam started. “Well, there’s no easy way to say this but. . .”

“Just spit it out,” Delphie said.

“I think it’s time to really retire from Lipson Construction,” Sam said. “I mean, if that’s okay with you.”

“Why would it have to be okay with me?” Delphie asked. “Jake and Aden probably need. . .”

“No,” Sam said. “It’s you that I’ll drive crazy.”

“How so?” Delphie asked.

“I’ll be around more,” Sam said with a shrug.

Delphie grinned at him and didn’t respond.

“What?” Sam asked.

“Oh, you,” Delphie said. “I’m sure that in your mind you’ll hang out at home, read books, watch some television, practice golf. . .”

Sam winced at the word “golf.”

“Fishing, then,” Delphie said.

“Sounds great to me,” Sam said.

Delphie laughed.

“Why is that funny?” Sam asked.

“You are,” Delphie said.

“Why?” Sam asked.

“I’ve known you since you were ten years old, Sam Lipson,” Delphie said. “You’ve never been able to tolerate inactivity. You’ll go fishing one day and the next start remodeling some place or training dogs or. . .”

Delphie shrugged.

“Is that a bad thing?” Sam asked.

“It’s a you thing,” Delphie said. “I’m sure that Jill and Jake could use help in their rehab business. Rodney’s pretty excited about the men he works with. Honey and MJ could use help starting another apartment building for folks in wheelchairs.”

Sam gave her a thoughtful look.

“That’s off the top of my head,” Delphie said.

Sam smiled.

“Maybe I’ve changed,” Sam said.

Delphie laughed out loud so hard that Sam began to laugh. After a moment, she turned to him.

“I think you should have more fun,” Delphie said. “I agree that it’s time to let the employees own the company. It’s time for you to move on.”

“Let go and let God,” Sam said. “Aden said at breakfast this morning. I. . . I’m not sure I know how to do that.”

“I think it’s something that must be done,” Delphie said. “Not eased into or thought about.”

Sam nodded. He stared off into space.

“When the kids were little, we used to lay out plastic sheeting and spray them with water,” Sam said. “The kids would slide along the sheeting. They cooled off.”

Delphie nodded.

“If we put it on the driveway, the photographers will take photos of Val and Grace,” Delphie said.

“We have to put it here,” Sam said. He gestured to the area of ten-foot-wide grass between the back deck and the garden. “It’s still in the sun though.”

Shaking her head, Delphie shrugged.

“We’ll figure it out,” she said.

“And me retiring?” Sam asked.

“It seems like you’ve helped the company through this last crisis,” Delphie said. “You can always step in if they need it or if something happens.”

“So it’s okay with you if I retire?” Sam asked. “It will give me time to get up to some mischief and adventure.”

“Of course it will,” Delphie said with a grin. “Chaos, too!”

Sam smiled. He hugged her again.

“Did you get some watermelon?” Sam asked.

Delphie let go of him and looked up.

“Watermelon?” Delphie asked. “What are we talking about?”

“We’d better get inside before those boys eat all of that watermelon!” Sam said.

Laughing, Sam ran into the house. Delphie ran in after him.

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday night — 9:15 p.m.

“I don’t know,” Jacob said. “I just don’t know.”

He shook his head. Moving around their couch in the loft, he sat down next to Jill.

“What concerns you?” Jill asked.

“I. . .” Jacob said. “I don’t know if it’s change or if I. . . Oh hell, I don’t know. I’ve spent the last months working non-stop, 24/7 to keep Lipson Construction open and everyone working. I spent the entire day going from meeting to meeting about either the company or with the union or with the state or with the residents of Honey and MJs building or. . . I don’t know.”

“It does seem weird to now say ‘Let’s sell the rest of the company,’ when you’ve been working so hard,” Jill said.

“We don’t know when or if this pandemic will be over,” Jacob said. “The state believes that we’ll have vaccine ‘soon’ but what the hell is ‘soon?’ And even then. I heard from some guys that they don’t think that they want to get vaccinated.”

Jill shook her head.

“The misinformation machine is working overtime,” Jacob said.

“For the election,” Jill said.

“I doubt it will stop at the election,” Jacob said. “It’s here to stay.”

Jill groaned.

“How was school?” Jacob asked.

“I didn’t have school today,” Jill said.

“I’m sorry,” Jacob said. “Of course, I knew that.”

Jill put her hand on his leg. He turned to look at her.

“You seem kind of. . .” Jill started.

“Freaked out?” Jacob asked.

Jill nodded.

“I am freaked out,” Jacob said. “I mean, there was a time when I dreamed of being free of this company. I wanted to. . .”

He blew out a breath.

“I’ve said this so many times that even I am bored hearing it,” Jacob said.

Jill grinned at him.

“I thought my life would go this way, but it went that way and upside down and now we have three kids and it’s so fucking hot,” Jacob said. “Why is it so hot up here?”

“We didn’t turn the air conditioning on out here,” Jill said. “It’s in the bedrooms, but not out here. I can turn it on, if you’d like.”

Jacob scowled.

“What’s really going on?” Jill asked.

“I. . .” Jacob sighed. “I don’t want my dad to die.”

“Die?” Jill asked, confused.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Jacob said. “If he retires, he’s that much closer to death. I guess, I don’t know. I. . .”

Jacob shook his head.

“I feel a little crazy,” Jacob said with a grin.

“You sound a little crazy,” Jill said.

Jacob nodded.

“You know what I think?” Jill asked.

Jacob looked at her. He got up and went to the refrigerator. He took out the pitcher of water and poured two glasses. He dropped a couple of ice cubes into the glasses and carried them back to the couch.

“Thanks,” Jill said.

“Yes, I would like to know what you think,” Jacob said. “Always. What do you think?”

“I think you’re traumatized by everything that’s happened this year,” Jill said. “The pandemic is terrifying. Your father got sick before we even realized there was a virus, let alone a global pandemic and it was before we were sent home.”

“He was so sick,” Jacob said softly.

“He nearly died,” Jill said.

Jacob nodded.

“Then this company stuff,” Jill said. “You very nearly lost the entire company. You, your parents, Val — you’ve worked so hard for so many decades to build this company and then wham!

“We were told to shut down,” Jacob said, softly.

“No Marlowe School,” Jill said. “The kids were home all the time. I was home. Everyone was standing around staring at you, expecting you to find a way to make it all work.”

Nodding, Jacob drank his water.

“It’s a lot,” Jill said. “I know you hate this word, but it’s traumatizing!”

“And now, we’re supposed to just go back to normal,” Jacob said. “Or as normal as possible. It’s insane, really. We’re lucky that no one’s fighting wearing masks or social distancing. Otherwise, that would be that. Seriously.”

“It’s just because people trust you,” Jill said. “Trust Sam. Everyone knows that they are the lucky ones, because we all know people who are out of work. Businesses are closing left and right. None of the servers at Pete’s are working. They are all at home praying to get unemployment. . .”

“That system is a mess,” Jacob said.

“Right,” Jill said. “You’re traumatized by everything. It makes sense that you’re a little stunned at the idea of being done with all of it.”

“People are still job sharing,” Jacob said. “Val’s still got money on the line for people insurance.”

“We’re not done with this,” Jill said.

“According to Delphie, we won’t be done with this for a long while,” Jacob said.

“Why?” Jill asked.

“I don’t really understand it, but I guess the virus mutates,” Jacob said with a shrug. “She said to expect it to get worse before we’re out of the woods.”

Jill sighed.

“It’s terrifying,” Jill said, under her breath. “We’re so lucky that none of us has been sick.”

“We cheat,” Jacob said. “Without your help, Dad would be dead.”

“Luck,” Jill said. “And, we’ve tried to share that luck. Blane and Nelson are running those clinics for neighbors on the weekends. We’ve been passing out dinners to people stuck at home.”

“We took in all of those Fey kids,” Jacob said.

“Right,” Jill said. “Grew all that food.”

“Speaking of food,” Jacob said. “Delphie wondered if you could help with the canning.”

“I’ve never done it before, but I’m game,” Jill said with a shrug.

“I guess, Delphie has gotten her friends to do the cooking,” Jacob said. “Sandy, too. She needs help sealing all the jars of jam and soup and stuff. Val helps. There’s just going to be a lot more.”

“There’s always more to do,” Jill said.

Jacob turned in his seat to look at her. She nodded. He looked away and shook his head.

“You’re right,” Jacob said. “Of course. There’s always more to do. There’s more to do here at the Castle. There’s more to do at the Marlowe School.”

“Lipson hasn’t restarted their private contracts,” Jill said.

Jacob pointed at her. They fell silent for a long moment. Jill finished her glass of cold water.

“It’s going to be okay,” Jill said.

“God, I hope so,” Jacob said. “It all just seems like chaos now.”

“You love chaos,” Jill said.

Jacob got up and held a hand out to her.

“Let’s go make some order,” Jacob said.

Jill laughed out loud. He grinned. She took his hand. Leaving their water glasses on the counter, they went to bed.

Denver Cereal continues next week...

 


Chapter Six Hundred and Fifty-one - Enter a little chaos (part six)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and FIFTY-ONE

(part six)

“He was so sick,” Jacob said softly.

“He nearly died,” Jill said.

Jacob nodded.

“Then this company stuff,” Jill said. “You very nearly lost the entire company. You, your parents, Val — you’ve worked so hard for so many decades to build this company and then wham!

“We were told to shut down,” Jacob said, softly.

“No Marlowe School,” Jill said. “The kids were home all the time. I was home. Everyone was standing around staring at you, expecting you to find a way to make it all work.”

Nodding, Jacob drank his water.

“It’s a lot,” Jill said. “I know you hate this word, but it’s traumatizing!”

“And now, we’re supposed to just go back to normal,” Jacob said. “Or as normal as possible. It’s insane, really. We’re lucky that no one’s fighting wearing masks or social distancing. Otherwise, that would be that. Seriously.”

“It’s just because people trust you,” Jill said. “Trust Sam. Everyone knows that they are the lucky ones, because we all know people who are out of work. Businesses are closing left and right. None of the servers at Pete’s are working. They are all at home praying to get unemployment. . .”

“That system is a mess,” Jacob said.

“Right,” Jill said. “You’re traumatized by everything. It makes sense that you’re a little stunned at the idea of being done with all of it.”

“People are still job sharing,” Jacob said. “Val’s still got money on the line for people insurance.”

“We’re not done with this,” Jill said.

“According to Delphie, we won’t be done with this for a long while,” Jacob said.

“Why?” Jill asked.

“I don’t really understand it, but I guess the virus mutates,” Jacob said with a shrug. “She said to expect it to get worse before we’re out of the woods.”

Jill sighed.

“It’s terrifying,” Jill said, under her breath. “We’re so lucky that none of us has been sick.”

“We cheat,” Jacob said. “Without your help, Dad would be dead.”

“Luck,” Jill said. “And, we’ve tried to share that luck. Blane and Nelson are running those clinics for neighbors on the weekends. We’ve been passing out dinners to people stuck at home.”

“We took in all of those Fey kids,” Jacob said.

“Right,” Jill said. “Grew all that food.”

“Speaking of food,” Jacob said. “Delphie wondered if you could help with the canning.”

“I’ve never done it before, but I’m game,” Jill said with a shrug.

“I guess, Delphie has gotten her friends to do the cooking,” Jacob said. “Sandy, too. She needs help sealing all the jars of jam and soup and stuff. Val helps. There’s just going to be a lot more.”

“There’s always more to do,” Jill said.

Jacob turned in his seat to look at her. She nodded. He looked away and shook his head.

“You’re right,” Jacob said. “Of course. There’s always more to do. There’s more to do here at the Castle. There’s more to do at the Marlowe School.”

“Lipson hasn’t restarted their private contracts,” Jill said.

Jacob pointed at her. They fell silent for a long moment. Jill finished her glass of cold water.

“It’s going to be okay,” Jill said.

“God, I hope so,” Jacob said. “It all just seems like chaos now.”

“You love chaos,” Jill said.

Jacob got up and held a hand out to her.

“Let’s go make some order,” Jacob said.

Jill laughed out loud. He grinned. She took his hand. Leaving their water glasses on the counter, they went to bed.

Denver Cereal continues on Monday...