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October 2021

Chapter Six Hundred and Sixty-six - The Devil is in the details (part one)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-SIX

(part one)

“Did you see that?” Jacob asked.

He pointed to something in the distance.

“What?” Mike asked.

Delphie squinted at Jacob. They were standing in the main Castle kitchen.

“It’s Chapter ‘666’,” Jacob said. “You know — the mark of the beast.”

“I thought that was 616,” Mike said. “You know, if you translate the Greek into Latin and then Hebrew and. . .”

Jacob and Delphie gawked at Mike.

“What?” Mike asked.

“How could you possibly know that?” Jacob asked.

“Hey, I’m not an idiot,” Mike said.

“No one said you were,” Delphie said. “We’re curious. How you learned this information?”

“Oh,” Mike said, tapping his chin. “How do I know that?”

Mike thought for a moment before shaking his head.

“When I was held in the caves, you know, in Afghanistan?” Mike asked.

“You were held in caves in Afghanistan?” Jacob asked, sarcastically.

“Now you’re just being rude,” Mike said with an exaggerated sniff.

They laughed.

“Sorry, I couldn’t resist,” Jacob said. “You were saying?”

“One gentleman was from somewhere. . .” Mike said. “Israel? Egypt? I’m not sure. Ethiopia. That’s it. He was from Ethiopia. Looking at mineral contracts. Got picked up and. . .”

Mike winced.

“Anyway, he went bonkers,” Mike said. “The pressure was too much for him. He started ranting about the end days. This was a particular thread that he went on and on about. If you translate the Greek into Hebrew, you get ‘666.’ If you translate the other way, you get ‘616.’”

Mike looked from Delphie to Jacob. He nodded at their baffled looks.

“Anyway, it was his rant,” Mike said. “I didn’t realize I’d paid so much attention to what he was saying. I guess it just kind of got in.”

Delphie opened her mouth to say something.

“Oh, and they found a parchment that clearly said ‘616’ on it,” Mike said. “Or at least that’s what the head of the group that held us said. He and the head of the people holding us argued about it for days.”

Mike shrugged.

“Before you ask, he died,” Mike said. “I’m not actually sure how or where. I either don’t remember or I don’t know. He was just gone. Poof.”

Delphie and Jacob watched Mike for a long moment to see if he was done talking. He gave them a slight grin.

“What do you want to do?” Jacob asked.

“About what?” Delphie asked. “Mike’s friend?”

“He wasn’t really a friend,” Mike said. “He was just someone who was there.”

“The ‘666’ thing,” Jacob said.

“I think we just move on,” Delphie said.

“Move on?” Mike asked.

“We leave those who believe to believe what they will,” Delphie said. “We’re living our lives. What matters to us is what we believe.”

“Do you believe?” Jacob asked.

“In what?” Delphie asked.

“The whole ‘666’ thing,” Mike said.

“Oh,” Delphie said. “In order to believe in the ‘666’ thing, as you say, I’d have to believe that there was a Devil waiting to judge us, torture us for eternity — all of that.”

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Sixty-five - Stick a fork in it

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-FIVE

Sunday morning — 9:05 a.m.

“Where are we going?” Fran asked Jacob as she, Ava, Leslie, and Nelson followed him across the main Castle living room.

“Down here again,” Jacob said.

They turned down the hallway where MJ and Honey’s apartment was located.

“Just a second,” Jacob said.

He jogged down the basement stairs and returned a few minutes later with a cordless power drill.

“We were already here,” Ava said, irritably.

“There’s another area,” Jacob said.

“Where?” Nelson asked, standing in front of the door of the apartment they’d already collected samples from.

“Good question,” Jacob said with a grin.

Jacob waved his hand so that Nelson would move. Jacob gave Nelson the power drill and took a screw driver out of his pocket. The wall to the right of the door to the apartment on the end of the hallway was covered in Fir paneling with small four inch squares of wainscoting covering the wall. The squares covered the entire wall.

Jacob went to one of the squares near the edge of the basement stairs. Using the screwdriver, he carefully pried up the wood to uncover a screw. Jacob held out his hand for the power drill. Nelson gave him the drill and he unscrewed the screw part way. Then, Jacob uncovered three other screw panels and unscrewed the panel. With Nelson’s help, Jacob took the entire paneling down revealing a short stairwell going up.

“More apartments?” Leslie asked. “The roof line is only a few feet above us.”

“It’s more like a storage area or an attic,” Jacob said. “The ceiling is at about five feet so we’ll have to bend over to get around.”

Everyone nodded.

“Shall we?” Jacob asked before heading up the stairs.

They reached a bend in the stairs and then went up two more stairs. There was a door with a deadbolt and a padlock on it.

“This area was full of junk,” Jacob said.

“What kind of junk?” Ava asked.

“Trash,” Jacob said. “We got rid of what we thought was just trash and left everything else.”

“Are there belongings?” Ava asked.

“Some,” Jacob said. “You’ll just have to see it. If I had my way, I would have just opened the wall and chucked everything. But Delphie thought that this might someday mean something to someone.”

Jacob shrugged.

“You might want to put your N95 masks on rather than the cloth ones,” Jacob said. “It was pretty gross the last time I was here. I can’t imagine a few years have changed it much.”

Ava dug into her backpack and passed out N95 masks for the team. They took a moment to get the masks on. When everyone was ready, Jacob unlocked the padlock and the deadbolts.

“We had a hard time keeping people out of this area,” Jacob said. “Even after Mom and Delphie lived here full time, people would creep up here.”

Bent at the waste, the team moved into the storage area.

“To do what?” Leslie asked.

“Drugs,” Fran said. She pointed to a glass crack pipe on the floor next to a bookshelf.

“It was kind of a shooting gallery,” Jacob said. “I tried to get all of the syringes, but be careful. I may have missed some.”

“Good to know,” Nelson said under his breath.

Nelson handed out latex gloves to everyone before putting a pair on herself.

“Any idea where Detective Stone’s mother died?” Ava asked.

“Like the reason we’ve spent the weekend here?” Leslie asked under her breath.

“Over here,” Jacob said, pointing to a beanbag chair. “She’d clearly been here a while.”

“Do you or Delphie have any idea how her mother was killed?” Ava asked.

“Drugs, I think,” Jacob said. “I can go ask Delphie. She may remember.”

“What about ghosts?” Fran asked.

“We cleared them out,” Jacob said. “None of them had a connection to this place. They were just here to feed their addiction.”

“So no one was murdered here?” Leslie asked, irritably.

“I guess it depends on what you think of as murder,” Detective Karowski, Detective Stone’s partner, said. “Someone used this place to sell and distribute drugs which ended up killing people.”

“That’s not murder,” Ava said. “It’s drug distribution with intent to sell. You know that the DA will never prosecute something that’s not clear cut murder.”

Detective Karowski gave Ava a strong look.

“Why are we here?” Fran asked.

“My partner wants to know who the drug dealer was,” Detective Karowski said.

“And if it was her mother?” Jacob asked.

Detective Karowski’s head jerked to look at Jacob, who shrugged.

“It’s a good question,” Ava said.

She nodded in Nelson’s direction. Nelson walked out of the storage area. Sitting on the top step, he opened his laptop. He poked around on his computer for a moment before typing.

“She was arrested three times for prostitution and four for drug distribution,” Nelson said. Turning his head to look into the area, he added, “Rock cocaine and meth.”

Detective Karowski shrugged.

“You knew this?” Jacob asked.

“Let’s say that I guessed,” Detective Karowski said. “I don’t know what to tell you. These deaths are as unsolved as the others in the building.”

“But they are all from the same cause!” Nelson said, gesturing to the computer. “Death by misadventure — drug overdose.”

Detective Karowski winced.

“Okay,” Ava said. “Here’s what I think we should do. . .”

Everyone turned to look at her.

“Let’s get obvious samples,” Ava said. “And get out of here. I’ll call Ferguson to see if he and his team want to come here. My guess is that he’s been here before.”

“Jake?” Nelson asked. “Can you show us where you think we’ll find something useful?”

Jacob pointed to five or six areas on the floor and on the walls, and then shrugged.

“Really, I don’t know,” Jacob said. “It all looks like garbage to me.”

“Okay,” Ava said. “Let’s just dig in. Get what we can. We can come back or send CSU in.”

They got to work. Ava asked Jacob to point out areas again. She placed evidence cones at each spot. Leslie, Fran, and Nelson took swab samples of the areas. They kept working until they felt like they had covered the entire area.

“You can’t be done,” Detective Karowski said.

“Why not?” Ava asked.

Detective Karowski gave Ava a guilty look, and she shook her head.

“We’ve gotten what we need to,” Ava said. “We can always come back.”

“What if he gets rid of everything?” Detective Karowski asked.

“He’s not going to do it today,” Ava said. “Look out the window. This is Harvest Day. Jake’s not going to have time to clear it out today.”

They turned to look at Jacob. Nodding, he shrugged.

“She’s right,” Jacob said. “We have a lot going on today. That means that next week is going to be filled with cooking and canning. It takes at least another week to get everything wrapped up after a big week this week.”

“So, you see!” Ava said. “We have plenty of time to come back.”

“We’ll process all of this. . .” Leslie held up a few evidence bags. She looked at the bag and lifted her lip in a sneer. “. . . stuff.”

“We’ll find your precious drug dealer, even if it’s Stone’s mother,” Fran said. “And that bitch. . .”

Nelson jumped up from where he was sitting and hugged Fran.

“It’s okay,” Nelson said.

Fran looked up at him.

“She doesn’t have anything to do with us,” Nelson said.

“She. . .” Fran said. “My girls and. . .”

Detective Karowski winced and walked out of the storage area.

“Come on,” Jacob said. He leaned in to Fran and said softly, “She’ll get hers. Don’t worry.”

He touched Fran’s arm and said, “Time to go.”

“It’s about time,” Leslie and Ava said in near unison.

“Do stay for lunch,” Jacob said. He nodded to Detective Karowski. “Join us.”

Leslie and Fran left the storage area. Nelson picked up his backpack. Ava waved him out of the storage area. Standing in the center of the storage area, Ava looked around. She saw something tucked behind the bookshelf. Ava took out a large tweezer with long tynes. She carefully pulled the object from behind the bookshelf.

It was some kind of paper. Not sure what she’d found, Ava put the object into an evidence bag. She sealed the bag, tucked it into her backpack, and left the storage area. Jacob followed Ava down the few stair. It took a few minutes, but with Nelson’s help, Jacob was able to get the panel back on.

“You gonna do something with that?” Nelson said to Jacob, softly.

“I’m taking the wall out and clearing everything into a roll off,” Jacob said.

They laughed. They turned into the living room and stopped short. The living room was full of people standing six feet apart from each other.

“But not today,” Jacob said.

Nelson patted Jacob’s arm and followed Ava, Leslie, and Fran out of the house. Detective Karowski watched Jacob thread his way through the crowd before turning toward to the door to leave.

“Hey, man, you gonna dig with us?” Nash asked in his best “stupid teenager” voice.

Surprised, Detective Karowski took a step back from the young man. He shook his head and nearly ran out the door.

Nash chuckled. He turned to Mike, who was standing behind him.

“That was fun,” Nash said.

Mike laughed.

~~~~~~~~

Sunday night — 10:15 p.m.

“Ugh,” Valerie said, plopping down on the couch in the living room.

Mike scooted over and gestured to his lap.

“Will you rub my feet?” Valerie asked.

“Absolutely,” Mike said. “I love your feet.”

“They’re probably stinky,” she said, placing her feet on his lap.

“In that case. . .” Mike pushed her feet off his lap.

Their laugh brought Delphie out from the kitchen. Valerie leaned forward and Mike kissed her. He picked up Valerie’s feet and began to rub them. Delphie stepped into the kitchen and then turned back to the kitchen.

“Jake,” Delphie said.

“Yeah,” Jacob said, in a more surly voice than he’d intended. “Sorry. Just beat.”

Delphie nodded.

“Can you light the fire?” Delphie asked.

Jacob dried off his hand and pointed up. A spark flew out of his finger. The tiny light circled Delphie and then flew into the living room. The spark wrapped around Valerie and then Mike, before landing on the kindling in the fireplace.

“Thanks for cleaning and refilling the fireplaces, Nash and Charlie,” Delphie said. “Wherever you are.”

Jacob turned back to the sink full of soapy water and pans.

“Fuck,” Jacob said. He threw the microfiber cloth into the sink. Walking to the living room entrance, he said, “These are going to have to wait. Beer?”

“Yes,” Mike said. “Cold.”

“Wine,” Valerie said.

“The spark didn’t impress you?” Jacob asked. “You want magic?”

The air filled with a cloud of cold beverages and wine bottles. The caps on the beer flew off at the same time the corks popped out of the wine bottles. The beer and wine flew across the living room only to land softly on the table in front of the couch.

“I need a. . .” Valerie said.

A glass was hanging in the air in front of her.

“I won’t pour your wine because I’m not sure how much you’re drinking,” Jacob said.

“Thanks,” Valerie said. “Can I have some cake too?”

A whole frosted cake flew across the room to hover over Valerie’s head. She didn’t notice until Mike pointed to the cake. Valerie burst out laughing. Chuckling, Jacob made the cake land on the table as well. A stack of plates, napkins, forks, and even a knife to cut the cake landed on the table.

“Anything else?” Jacob said.

“Can you turn on the water for tea?” Delphie asked.

“I can just make you tea,” Jacob said.

“Really?” Delphie asked.

“Pfft,” Jacob said. “It’s not even. . .”

A mug floated off the shelf. It filled with water and hung in the air in front of Jacob. He put his hands around the mug. A teabag of Delphie’s favorite green tea came out of the pantry to land in the mug.

“Hard,” Jacob said.

Mike looked at Valerie and said, “We’ve been practicing.”

“Obviously,” Valerie said.

Sam came into the living room.

“What’s going on?” Sam asked.

“Jake’s showing off,” Delphie said. “Did you know he can make tea with just his hands?”

“Me, too,” Sam said. “It’s a family trait.”

Sam walked into the kitchen and turned on the pot. Everyone laughed. Sam grinned.

“Just leave those, son,” Sam said.

Jacob just looked at him.

“You’ve done enough, Jake,” Sam said. “We all have. It’s time to be done for the night. Whatever we don’t get to, we can do tomorrow or never. Rosa’s team is coming again tomorrow. They don’t mind a few dishes.”

Sam hugged Jacob. They walked into the living room and took seats in the chairs. Exhausted, Nash, Charlie, Tink, Noelle, and Teddy shuffled past everyone from the backyard. Sandy and Aden followed them in.

“I will take some wine,” Sandy said.

She gestured to Valerie, who moved her feet to the floor and scooted over on the couch. Sandy was so tiny that she only needed a little space on the couch. Sandy lifted her feet to put them on the table, but a foot stool appeared under her feet.

“Perfect,” Sandy said. “Thanks, Jake. My ankle’s killing me.”

“Not a problem,” Jake said.

“There’s a beer here for you,” Mike said.

“Great,” Charlie said, veering toward the couch.

“Go. Now,” Aden said. “Upstairs. You all have school tomorrow.”

“You can’t have beer,” Charlie whined.

“It’s non-alcoholic,” Mike said. “Jake magicked it from the kitchen.”

“Upstairs and to bed,” Aden pointed.

Yawning, Charlie stumbled out of the room and up the stairs. Jill came in from the backyard.

“Where are our children?” Jill asked Jacob.

“We have children?” Jacob asked.

“You said you were going to put them to bed!” Jill said.

Jillian Roper was not amused. She shot him a look worthy of her Titan father.

“Sorry,” Jacob said. He stroked her arm. “They are in bed. I have the baby monitor. They are completely out.”

“Paddie, too?” Jill asked.

“He’s in with Katy,” Jacob said. “They aren’t even whispering.”

Jill looked at the grouping of furniture and didn’t see a seat.

“I’ll just go up. . .” Jill started.

A couch appeared from somewhere and settled next to the armchair Delphie was sitting in.

“Oh thank God,” Jill said and collapsed on the couch. “I want wine, but why are we drinking this swill?”

“Swill?” Delphie asked. “It’s pretty good, I think.”

“Heather?” Jill asked.

Heather and Tanesha walked in from the backyard.

“We need wine,” Jill said.

Heather’s eye went to the wine bottles on the table and gave Jill a slight nod. Two unlabeled bottles of wine appeared in Heather’s hands.

“Can I have champagne?” Tanesha asked.

“Of course,” Heather said. “French okay?”

Tanesha nodded.

Heather set the bottles on the table in the living room, and Jacob made the corks fly out of the bottles. A pitcher of water appeared on the table with a few glasses. Aden poured himself a glass of water and drank it down. He poured another.

“Try this,” Jill said to Valerie.

Valerie passed her wine glass to Mike, who emptied the glass. Jill gave her a dash of the wine.

“Heather gets it from her Grandfather,” Jill said.

“Would you like some champagne?” Tanesha said. “It’s really more like mead. . .”

“Champagne from honey,” Heather said. “Drink of Dionysus. There’s even a batch named after me!”

Tanesha sat next to Jill on the couch. Armchairs appeared in a line next to the one Sam was sitting in. Jeraine, Blane, and Tres came in a few minutes before Nelson come in. Jeraine sat on Tanesha’s lap. They kissed. Tres cozied up with Heather. Blane sat next to Jacob in an armchair. Not one for close contact or public affection, Nelson took a spot in his own armchair.

“I’m so freakin’ tired,” Valerie moaned.

“We have weeks of cooking to come!” Sandy said.

“But not tonight,” Jacob said.

“Or tomorrow,” Valerie said. “I’m sleeping all day.”

Everyone laughed at the idea of Valerie sleeping all day.

“Hey, it could happen,” Valerie said, taking a sip of the wine from Ares’ wine cellar. “This is amazing. Oh wow.”

She held out the wine to Mike, who took an actual drink.

“That’s delicious,” Mike said.

“Greek wine made traditionally,” Heather said. “I think we can still get this brand, but . . .”

“He did say that we should drink his wine cellar,” Tanesha said.

“He did,” Heather said. “Where are Ivan and Sissy?”

“In bed,” Sandy said. “Sissy danced at City Park last night. With everything, she’s pretty worn out. How’s Ivan, Blane?”

“Better than he should be,” Blane said.

“What does that mean?” Mike asked.

“It means that he’s very sick, but somehow, his body seems to rebound against the cancer,” Blane said. “I’ve never read about anything like this. He has an incredible ability to heal. I mean, he’s been a professional dancer all of his life, so it’s not too shocking. Still, it’s weird.”

“So there’s hope?” Jill asked.

“Lots of hope,” Blane said. “I’m glad they’re here. We can help Ivan while Sissy goes back to dance.”

“Do you think they will marry this week?” Heather asked. The only one not completely exhausted, she gave a happy clap. “Won’t that be fun? We haven’t had a wedding in a while!”

In near unison, everyone in the room turned to look at Heather. Their exhausted faces made Heather laugh.

“Oh my God,” Sandy said with a groan. “I can’t even think about it.”

“Did you take your meds?” Aden asked. “Or Ibuprofen? Tylenol?”

“Not until I’ve had my fill of this wine,” Sandy said with a shake of her head. She gestured to the glass. “Medicine.”

Aden grinned at her.

“I have something to say,” Delphie said.

Everyone turned their eyes on Delphie.

“I wanted to thank each of you for all of your hard work,” Delphie said. “That goes for everyone who’s not here, too, like Alex and John.”

“Those Afghan people were amazing,” Tanesha said. “They made the most wonderful food. Perfect.”

“They were amazing with our kids, too,” Jill said. “I ran out of diapers. A woman — I guess Joey and Maire’s aunt? I don’t really know — gave me extra diapers and even managed to get a twin changed.”

“What a weird and wonderful series of days,” Tres said. “I feel honored to have been able to attend and participate.”

“Me, too,” Nelson said. “Thank you for including us.”

“Absolutely,” Delphie said. Raising her glass, she continued, “To a successful Harvest Day!”

“Harvest Day!” Everyone said in return and took a drink of their beverages.

“Here! Here!” Jacob said.

They raised their glassed and clinked their own glass against everyone else’s glass. They were silent while everyone’s focused turned to their beverages.

“You know what I liked?” Delphie asked.

With that, everyone laughed and shared stories about Harvest Day well into the wee hours of the night.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Sixty-five - Stick a fork in it (part six)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-FIVE

(part six)

“I’m so freakin’ tired,” Valerie moaned.

“We have weeks of cooking to come!” Sandy said.

“But not tonight,” Jacob said.

“Or tomorrow,” Valerie said. “I’m sleeping all day.”

Everyone laughed at the idea of Valerie sleeping all day.

“Hey, it could happen,” Valerie said, taking a sip of the wine from Ares’ wine cellar. “This is amazing. Oh wow.”

She held out the wine to Mike, who took an actual drink.

“That’s delicious,” Mike said.

“Greek wine made traditionally,” Heather said. “I think we can still get this brand, but . . .”

“He did say that we should drink his wine cellar,” Tanesha said.

“He did,” Heather said. “Where are Ivan and Sissy?”

“In bed,” Sandy said. “Sissy danced at City Park last night. With everything, she’s pretty worn out. How’s Ivan, Blane?”

“Better than he should be,” Blane said.

“What does that mean?” Mike asked.

“It means that he’s very sick, but somehow, his body seems to rebound against the cancer,” Blane said. “I’ve never read about anything like this. He has an incredible ability to heal. I mean, he’s been a professional dancer all of his life, so it’s not too shocking. Still, it’s weird.”

“So there’s hope?” Jill asked.

“Lots of hope,” Blane said. “I’m glad they’re here. We can help Ivan while Sissy goes back to dance.”

“Do you think they will marry this week?” Heather asked. The only one not completely exhausted, she gave a happy clap. “Won’t that be fun? We haven’t had a wedding in a while!”

In near unison, everyone in the room turned to look at Heather. Their exhausted faces made Heather laugh.

“Oh my God,” Sandy said with a groan. “I can’t even think about it.”

“Did you take your meds?” Aden asked. “Or Ibuprofen? Tylenol?”

“Not until I’ve had my fill of this wine,” Sandy said with a shake of her head. She gestured to the glass. “Medicine.”

Aden grinned at her.

“I have something to say,” Delphie said.

Everyone turned their eyes on Delphie.

“I wanted to thank each of you for all of your hard work,” Delphie said. “That goes for everyone who’s not here, too, like Alex and John.”

“Those Afghan people were amazing,” Tanesha said. “They made the most wonderful food. Perfect.”

“They were amazing with our kids, too,” Jill said. “I ran out of diapers. A woman — I guess Joey and Maire’s aunt? I don’t really know — gave me extra diapers and even managed to get a twin changed.”

“What a weird and wonderful series of days,” Tres said. “I feel honored to have been able to attend and participate.”

“Me, too,” Nelson said. “Thank you for including us.”

“Absolutely,” Delphie said. Raising her glass, she continued, “To a successful Harvest Day!”

“Harvest Day!” Everyone said in return and took a drink of their beverages.

“Here! Here!” Jacob said.

They raised their glassed and clinked their own glass against everyone else’s glass. They were silent while everyone’s focused turned to their beverages.

“You know what I liked?” Delphie asked.

With that, everyone laughed and shared stories about Harvest Day well into the wee hours of the night.

Denver Cereal continues on Monday...


Chapter Six Hundred and Sixty-five - Stick a fork in it (part five)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-FIVE

(part five)

“You’ve done enough, Jake,” Sam said. “We all have. It’s time to be done for the night. Whatever we don’t get to, we can do tomorrow or never. Rosa’s team is coming again tomorrow. They don’t mind a few dishes.”

Sam hugged Jacob. They walked into the living room and took seats in the chairs. Exhausted, Nash, Charlie, Tink, Noelle, and Teddy shuffled past everyone from the backyard. Sandy and Aden followed them in.

“I will take some wine,” Sandy said.

She gestured to Valerie, who moved her feet to the floor and scooted over on the couch. Sandy was so tiny that she only needed a little space on the couch. Sandy lifted her feet to put them on the table, but a foot stool appeared under her feet.

“Perfect,” Sandy said. “Thanks, Jake. My ankle’s killing me.”

“Not a problem,” Jake said.

“There’s a beer here for you,” Mike said.

“Great,” Charlie said, veering toward the couch.

“Go. Now,” Aden said. “Upstairs. You all have school tomorrow.”

“You can’t have beer,” Charlie whined.

“It’s non-alcoholic,” Mike said. “Jake magicked it from the kitchen.”

“Upstairs and to bed,” Aden pointed.

Yawning, Charlie stumbled out of the room and up the stairs. Jill came in from the backyard.

“Where are our children?” Jill asked Jacob.

“We have children?” Jacob asked.

“You said you were going to put them to bed!” Jill said.

Jillian Roper was not amused. She shot him a look worthy of her Titan father.

“Sorry,” Jacob said. He stroked her arm. “They are in bed. I have the baby monitor. They are completely out.”

“Paddie, too?” Jill asked.

“He’s in with Katy,” Jacob said. “They aren’t even whispering.”

Jill looked at the grouping of furniture and didn’t see a seat.

“I’ll just go up. . .” Jill started.

A couch appeared from somewhere and settled next to the armchair Delphie was sitting in.

“Oh thank God,” Jill said and collapsed on the couch. “I want wine, but why are we drinking this swill?”

“Swill?” Delphie asked. “It’s pretty good, I think.”

“Heather?” Jill asked.

Heather and Tanesha walked in from the backyard.

“We need wine,” Jill said.

Heather’s eye went to the wine bottles on the table and gave Jill a slight nod. Two unlabeled bottles of wine appeared in Heather’s hands.

“Can I have champagne?” Tanesha asked.

“Of course,” Heather said. “French okay?”

Tanesha nodded.

Heather set the bottles on the table in the living room, and Jacob made the corks fly out of the bottles. A pitcher of water appeared on the table with a few glasses. Aden poured himself a glass of water and drank it down. He poured another.

“Try this,” Jill said to Valerie.

Valerie passed her wine glass to Mike, who emptied the glass. Jill gave her a dash of the wine.

“Heather gets it from her Grandfather,” Jill said.

“Would you like some champagne?” Tanesha said. “It’s really more like mead. . .”

“Champagne from honey,” Heather said. “Drink of Dionysus. There’s even a batch named after me!”

Tanesha sat next to Jill on the couch. Armchairs appeared in a line next to the one Sam was sitting in. Jeraine, Blane, and Tres came in a few minutes before Nelson come in. Jeraine sat on Tanesha’s lap. They kissed. Tres cozied up with Heather. Blane sat next to Jacob in an armchair. Not one for close contact or public affection, Nelson took a spot in his own armchair.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Sixty-five - Stick a fork in it (part four)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-FIVE

(part four)

Sunday night — 10:15 p.m.

“Ugh,” Valerie said, plopping down on the couch in the living room.

Mike scooted over and gestured to his lap.

“Will you rub my feet?” Valerie asked.

“Absolutely,” Mike said. “I love your feet.”

“They’re probably stinky,” she said, placing her feet on his lap.

“In that case. . .” Mike pushed her feet off his lap.

Their laugh brought Delphie out from the kitchen. Valerie leaned forward and Mike kissed her. He picked up Valerie’s feet and began to rub them. Delphie stepped into the kitchen and then turned back to the kitchen.

“Jake,” Delphie said.

“Yeah,” Jacob said, in a more surly voice than he’d intended. “Sorry. Just beat.”

Delphie nodded.

“Can you light the fire?” Delphie asked.

Jacob dried off his hand and pointed up. A spark flew out of his finger. The tiny light circled Delphie and then flew into the living room. The spark wrapped around Valerie and then Mike, before landing on the kindling in the fireplace.

“Thanks for cleaning and refilling the fireplaces, Nash and Charlie,” Delphie said. “Wherever you are.”

Jacob turned back to the sink full of soapy water and pans.

“Fuck,” Jacob said. He threw the microfiber cloth into the sink. Walking to the living room entrance, he said, “These are going to have to wait. Beer?”

“Yes,” Mike said. “Cold.”

“Wine,” Valerie said.

“The spark didn’t impress you?” Jacob asked. “You want magic?”

The air filled with a cloud of cold beverages and wine bottles. The caps on the beer flew off at the same time the corks popped out of the wine bottles. The beer and wine flew across the living room only to land softly on the table in front of the couch.

“I need a. . .” Valerie said.

A glass was hanging in the air in front of her.

“I won’t pour your wine because I’m not sure how much you’re drinking,” Jacob said.

“Thanks,” Valerie said. “Can I have some cake too?”

A whole frosted cake flew across the room to hover over Valerie’s head. She didn’t notice until Mike pointed to the cake. Valerie burst out laughing. Chuckling, Jacob made the cake land on the table as well. A stack of plates, napkins, forks, and even a knife to cut the cake landed on the table.

“Anything else?” Jacob said.

“Can you turn on the water for tea?” Delphie asked.

“I can just make you tea,” Jacob said.

“Really?” Delphie asked.

“Pfft,” Jacob said. “It’s not even. . .”

A mug floated off the shelf. It filled with water and hung in the air in front of Jacob. He put his hands around the mug. A teabag of Delphie’s favorite green tea came out of the pantry to land in the mug.

“Hard,” Jacob said.

Mike looked at Valerie and said, “We’ve been practicing.”

“Obviously,” Valerie said.

Sam came into the living room.

“What’s going on?” Sam asked.

“Jake’s showing off,” Delphie said. “Did you know he can make tea with just his hands?”

“Me, too,” Sam said. “It’s a family trait.”

Sam walked into the kitchen and turned on the pot. Everyone laughed. Sam grinned.

“Just leave those, son,” Sam said.

Jacob just looked at him.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Sixty-five - Stick a fork in it (part three)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-FIVE

(part three)

“You can’t be done,” Detective Karowski said.

“Why not?” Ava asked.

Detective Karowski gave Ava a guilty look, and she shook her head.

“We’ve gotten what we need to,” Ava said. “We can always come back.”

“What if he gets rid of everything?” Detective Karowski asked.

“He’s not going to do it today,” Ava said. “Look out the window. This is Harvest Day. Jake’s not going to have time to clear it out today.”

They turned to look at Jacob. Nodding, he shrugged.

“She’s right,” Jacob said. “We have a lot going on today. That means that next week is going to be filled with cooking and canning. It takes at least another week to get everything wrapped up after a big week this week.”

“So, you see!” Ava said. “We have plenty of time to come back.”

“We’ll process all of this. . .” Leslie held up a few evidence bags. She looked at the bag and lifted her lip in a sneer. “. . . stuff.”

“We’ll find your precious drug dealer, even if it’s Stone’s mother,” Fran said. “And that bitch. . .”

Nelson jumped up from where he was sitting and hugged Fran.

“It’s okay,” Nelson said.

Fran looked up at him.

“She doesn’t have anything to do with us,” Nelson said.

“She. . .” Fran said. “My girls and. . .”

Detective Karowski winced and walked out of the storage area.

“Come on,” Jacob said. He leaned in to Fran and said softly, “She’ll get hers. Don’t worry.”

He touched Fran’s arm and said, “Time to go.”

“It’s about time,” Leslie and Ava said in near unison.

“Do stay for lunch,” Jacob said. He nodded to Detective Karowski. “Join us.”

Leslie and Fran left the storage area. Nelson picked up his backpack. Ava waved him out of the storage area. Standing in the center of the storage area, Ava looked around. She saw something tucked behind the bookshelf. Ava took out a large tweezer with long tynes. She carefully pulled the object from behind the bookshelf.

It was some kind of paper. Not sure what she’d found, Ava put the object into an evidence bag. She sealed the bag, tucked it into her backpack, and left the storage area. Jacob followed Ava down the few stair. It took a few minutes, but with Nelson’s help, Jacob was able to get the panel back on.

“You gonna do something with that?” Nelson said to Jacob, softly.

“I’m taking the wall out and clearing everything into a roll off,” Jacob said.

They laughed. They turned into the living room and stopped short. The living room was full of people standing six feet apart from each other.

“But not today,” Jacob said.

Nelson patted Jacob’s arm and followed Ava, Leslie, and Fran out of the house. Detective Karowski watched Jacob thread his way through the crowd before turning toward to the door to leave.

“Hey, man, you gonna dig with us?” Nash asked in his best “stupid teenager” voice.

Surprised, Detective Karowski took a step back from the young man. He shook his head and nearly ran out the door.

Nash chuckled. He turned to Mike, who was standing behind him.

“That was fun,” Nash said.

Mike laughed.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Sixty-five - Stick a fork in it (part two)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-FIVE

(part two)

“It was kind of a shooting gallery,” Jacob said. “I tried to get all of the syringes, but be careful. I may have missed some.”

“Good to know,” Nelson said under his breath.

Nelson handed out latex gloves to everyone before putting a pair on herself.

“Any idea where Detective Stone’s mother died?” Ava asked.

“Like the reason we’ve spent the weekend here?” Leslie asked under her breath.

“Over here,” Jacob said, pointing to a beanbag chair. “She’d clearly been here a while.”

“Do you or Delphie have any idea how her mother was killed?” Ava asked.

“Drugs, I think,” Jacob said. “I can go ask Delphie. She may remember.”

“What about ghosts?” Fran asked.

“We cleared them out,” Jacob said. “None of them had a connection to this place. They were just here to feed their addiction.”

“So no one was murdered here?” Leslie asked, irritably.

“I guess it depends on what you think of as murder,” Detective Karowski, Detective Stone’s partner, said. “Someone used this place to sell and distribute drugs which ended up killing people.”

“That’s not murder,” Ava said. “It’s drug distribution with intent to sell. You know that the DA will never prosecute something that’s not clear cut murder.”

Detective Karowski gave Ava a strong looked.

“Why are we here?” Fran asked.

“My partner wants to know who the drug dealer was,” Detective Karowski said.

“And if it was her mother?” Jacob asked.

Detective Karowski’s head jerked to look at Jacob, who shrugged.

“It’s a good question,” Ava said.

She nodded in Nelson’s direction. Nelson walked out of the storage area. Sitting on the top step, he opened his laptop. He poked around on his computer for a moment before typing for a moment.

“She was arrested three times for prostitution and four for drug distribution,” Nelson said. Turning his head to look into the area, he added, “Rock cocaine and meth.”

Detective Karowski shrugged.

“You knew this?” Jacob asked.

“Let’s say that I guessed,” Detective Karowski said. “I don’t know what to tell you. These deaths are as unsolved as the others in the building.”

“But they are all from the same cause!” Nelson said, gesturing to the computer. “Death by misadventure — drug overdose.”

Detective Karowski winced.

“Okay,” Ava said. “Here’s what I think we should do. . .”

Everyone turned to look at her.

“Let’s get obvious samples,” Ava said. “And get out of here. I’ll call Ferguson to see if he and his team want to come here. My guess is that he’s been here before.”

“Jake?” Nelson asked. “Can you show us where you think we’ll find something useful?”

Jacob pointed to five or six areas on the floor and on the walls, and then shrugged.

“Really, I don’t know,” Jacob said. “It all looks like garbage to me.”

“Okay,” Ava said. “Let’s just dig in. Get what we can. We can come back or send CSU in.”

They got to work. Ava asked Jacob to point out areas again. She placed evidence cones at each spot. Leslie, Fran, and Nelson took swab samples of the areas. They kept working until they felt like they had covered the entire area.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Chapter Six Hundred and Sixty-five - Stick a fork in it (part one)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-FIVE

(part one)

Sunday morning — 9:05 a.m.

“Where are we going?” Fran asked Jacob as she, Ava, Leslie, and Nelson followed him across the main Castle living room.

“Down here again,” Jacob said.

They turned down the hallway where MJ and Honey’s apartment was located.

“Just a second,” Jacob said.

He jogged down the basement stairs and returned a few minutes later with a cordless power drill.

“We were already here,” Ava said, irritably.

“There’s another area,” Jacob said.

“Where?” Nelson asked, standing in front of the door of the apartment they’d already collected samples from.

“Good question,” Jacob said with a grin.

Jacob waved his hand so that Nelson would move. Jacob gave Nelson the power drill and took a screw driver out of his pocket. The wall to the right of the door to the apartment on the end of the hallway was covered in Fir paneling with small four inch squares of wainscoting covering the wall. The squares covered the entire wall.

Jacob went to one of the squares near the edge of the basement stairs. Using the screwdriver, he carefully pried up the wood to uncover a screw. Jacob held out his hand for the power drill. Nelson gave him the drill and he unscrewed the screw part way. Then, Jacob uncovered three other screw panels and unscrewed the panel. With Nelson’s help, Jacob took the entire paneling down revealing a short stairwell going up.

“More apartments?” Leslie asked. “The roof line is only a few feet above us.”

“It’s more like a storage area or an attic,” Jacob said. “The ceiling is at about five feet so we’ll have to bend over to get around.”

Everyone nodded.

“Shall we?” Jacob asked before heading up the stairs.

They reached a bend in the stairs and then went up two more stairs. There was a door with a deadbolt and a padlock on it.

“This area was full of junk,” Jacob said.

“What kind of junk?” Ava asked.

“Trash,” Jacob said. “We got rid of what we thought was just trash and left everything else.”

“Are there belongings?” Ava asked.

“Some,” Jacob said. “You’ll just have to see it. If I had my way, I would have just opened the wall and chucked everything. But Delphie thought that this might someday mean something to someone.”

Jacob shrugged.

“You might want to put your N95 masks on rather than the cloth ones,” Jacob said. “It was pretty gross the last time I was here. I can’t imagine a few years have changed it much.”

Ava dug into her backpack and passed out N95 masks for the team. They took a moment to get the masks on. When everyone was ready, Jacob unlocked the padlock and the deadbolts.

“We had a hard time keeping people out of this area,” Jacob said. “Even after Mom and Delphie lived here full time, people would creep up here.”

Bent at the waste, the team moved into the storage area.

“To do what?” Leslie asked.

“Drugs,” Fran said. She pointed to a glass crack pipe on the floor next to a bookshelf.

“It was kind of a shooting gallery,” Jacob said.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...


Steamboat Springs, Denver Cereal V21, is available now!

2021_08_Book21_thumbnail

Steamboat Springs, Denver Cereal V21, is now available! 

(Denver Cereal Chapter 571-593)

Amazon eBook paperback | Apple | B&N | Kobo | Smashwords

The inevitable unfolds with danger and adventure

When Sandy purchased a novelist’s journal, she had no idea it would wind up in a crazy adventure filled with danger and adventure.

In Steamboat Springs, Seth O’Malley, Bernie, the Fey Team, and a host of other interested parties head to Poland to attempt to get into the salt mine. But how do they get inside?

They have to survive a slew of dangerous booby traps, tricks set for Nazis, and dead bodies to get inside the salt mine. Once in the mine, they find every kind of treasure from precious art, novels, manuscripts, as well as a variety of power objects.

In the meantime, the fairies attempt to combine the four queendoms into a fair and equitable democracy. Still angry, Áthas sends her warriors to kill many of our favorite Denver Cereal characters. In order to steal the Sword of Truth, the fairies drag Katy and Paddie back in time. Trapped in a time loop, the children fight living and ghost fairies in a series of crazy escapades.

In the end, the children prevail with the help of their parents. The art is moved from the salt mine to the states where it will be returned to the descendants of those who left it in the mine.

Fantasy, paranormal, and everyday life connect to make the world called Denver Cereal. Started in 2008, Denver Cereal is one of the longest serial fictions ever written and published.

More Denver Cereal books are coming out in the next few months.


Chapter Six Hundred and Sixty-four - A friend indeed

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-FOUR

Sunday early morning — 5:15 a.m.

“Ava!” Valerie said as she came around the corner from the stairs and into the kitchen.

Ava O’Malley was sitting with her forehead on the kitchen table. She raised a hand and waved at Valerie.

“Are you okay?” Valerie asked.

Without lifting her head, Ava nodded against the table. Valerie empathetically touched Ava’s back as she passed to the kitchen. Valerie turned on the coffee pot. She checked the electric kettle for water. Finding it full, she turned it one. She went into the deep closet they used as a pantry and returned with a tin. She went around and set the tin in front of Ava.

“What is it?” Ava said, still not lifting her head.

“Breakfast cookies,” Valerie said. “They are my favorite. Sandy makes them for me and Jill — well, any adult who’s not eating Cap’n Crunch.”

When Ava didn’t move, Valerie opened the lit of the tin. She took out a cookie and set it in Ava’s hand. Ava shifted to look at Valerie.

“You’ll feel better,” Valerie said.

Ava grunted, but didn’t put her head down again. She took a bite of the cookie.

“These are really good,” Ava said.

“They are,” Valerie said. “I take them with me when I leave. They make for fast and easy mornings.”

Valerie poured a cup of coffee from the still filling pot.

“I think Maresol is coming here to make heuvos rancheros,” Ava said. “At least that’s what she said last night. I left before she was awake.”

Valerie set the coffee in front of Ava and brought her the cream. Ava ate her cookie and drank her coffee while Valerie made two pots of tea.

“What’s going on?” Valerie asked.

“I love Harvest Day,” Ava said. “It’s so fun to see everyone working and laughing. You make great food. I mean, like this morning, Maresol is making everyone breakfast from beans you grew, eggs the chickens made. . .”

“Corn tortillas she made yesterday from that huge corn crop at Mr. Matchel’s,” Valerie said.

“It’s like magic,” Ava said. She sighed. “I haven’t been able to participate because of this stupid detective.”

“Stone?” Valerie asked.

“She called me at four this morning,” Ava said. “Woke me up. Yelled at me for twenty minutes.”

Ava shook her head.

“You wouldn’t believe what she said,” Ava said. “I’m a spoiled, stupid, corrupt employee of an incompetent lab and. . .”

Ava sighed.

“She said worse things about Seth,” Ava said, nodding.

“How can anyone hate Seth O’Malley?” Valerie asked. She shook her head. “The woman is clearly deranged.”

Ava nodded.

“I rushed over here so that I could start,” Ava said. “Walk her through what we’ve done.”

“Stone said she’d be here?” Valerie asked.

Ava nodded.

“What a cow,” Valerie said.

“I’ve been sitting here for more than an hour,” Ava said. “Who’s stupider? Stone? Or me, for doing what she told me to do?”

“Well, I’m glad for your company,” Valerie said. “Mike’s in the shower. The kids are mostly sleeping. Even Grace.”

“The newest baby?” Ava asked.

Valerie nodded.

“Everyone is worn out by all of the Harvest Day activities,” Valerie said. “I need to get my big pots going so that we can make more soup today. Jake’s going to be canning outside today.”

“Sounds fun,” Ava said.

“You can help me,” Valerie said. “Unless you just want to sit there and be mad.”

“Nope,” Ava said. “I’m over it. What do you need?”

“What I really need help with is the jars,” Valerie said. “We have them, and certainly we clean them, but they aren’t always clean enough to can with. It takes a real eye to see the imperfections in the glass or lids or. . .”

“Sounds like something I can do,” Ava said. “Where are they?”

“I’ll show you,” Valerie said, with a grin. “Jake brought them up from the basement but there was no space here so we put them. . .”

Valerie went to the wall behind the kitchen table. She pressed on the wood panel and it opened to show deep shelves.

“Jake said that he used a few apartments to make this space,” Ava said.

“I think that this was an original part of the apartment, but. . .” Valerie shrugged. “It’s all a little hard to track. You’d have to see the plans and even then. . .”

“He’s really good at this stuff,” Ava said.

“Weird, isn’t it?” Valerie nodded. “You know who’s as good or better?”

Ava shook her head.

“Jill,” Valerie said. “She can see things in her head that. . . It’s really amazing. Have you seen the place across the street?”

“They invited me but I’ve been crawling around in the dust,” Ava said.

“Right,” Valerie said. “Who’d want to give up grime?”

“Exactly,” Ava grinned.

Valerie moved away. Ava started hauling box after box of glass canning jars and set them on the kitchen table. Valerie set another cup of coffee on the table for Ava. Feeling better, Ava started to check the jars. Some were dusty. Some had breaks. But most of them were ready to be used.

“Oh great!” Jill said, seeing Ava and the jars lined up on the table. “If I bring you some Italian tomato sauce, could you put it in the jars? You don’t have to do the lids. I just need to get the. . .”

The sound of a weeping baby reached them.

“I’ll send Jake down with it,” Jill said, running up the stairs. “Thanks!”

“We made it from tomatoes on Friday,” Valerie said. “They’ve been cooking it down in their kitchen.”

“What is it?” Ava asked.

“Sauce for pizza, spaghetti, bruschetta,” Valerie said. “Sandy has. . .”

“Oh great,” Sandy said coming into the kitchen. “Would you mind if I brought you some tortilla soup? Val and Maresol made it on Friday. We’ve been cooking it down.”

Ava nodded. Sandy grinned.

“We have to clear the stove top for today’s baking,” Sandy said.

“What’s today?” Ava asked.

“Chicken noodle,” Valerie said. “Stewed tomatoes, vegetable soup, pickles, and. . .”

“Pies,” Sandy said. “We’re making pies in my apartment. If you’d like to come and hang out, you’re welcome.”

“I have to crawl around in the dirt,” Ava said with a sigh.

“Sorry,” Sandy said. “Did you ever figure out why that horrible woman is so obsessed?”

“Her mother was killed here,” Delphie said entering the kitchen.

“Is that it?” Ava asked.

“There’s no excuse for her to be so horrible though,” Delphie said.

“She called me this morning and. . .” Ava shook her head. “We’ve found seven remains and the labs are working.”

“You haven’t found where her mother was killed,” Delphie said.

“Probably,” Ava said. “It makes sense why she would be so insistent if it was her own mother.”

“Still,” Valerie said. “No one should be so mean to our Ava.”

Valerie looked at Delphie and Sandy.

“Ava was deflated when I came down stairs,” Valerie said.

“I’m so sorry,” Sandy said. She hugged Ava. “You sure you’re up to this?”

“Absolutely,” Ava said nodding.

“Great,” Sandy said.

Sandy put her fingers to her mouth and blew a loud whistle. Teddy came in with a large pot of soup followed by Nash and Charlie, each carrying a full pot of soup.

“You can set them here,” Valerie said. “Ava, can you move some of the jars?”

Ava and Delphie moved enough glass canning jars off the kitchen table so that the boys could put down their three pots of spicy delicious tortilla soup.

“That’s a lot of soup,” Ava said.

“We go through it,” Valerie said. “Especially this one.”

“It’s really good,” Nash said. “We make it vegetarian so that everyone can eat it.”

“The meat eaters add whatever they want,” Charlie said. “You should try it.”

“What will happen with the jars when they’re filled?” Ava asked.

“I’ll start canning them outside,” Jacob said. He was carrying a large pot full of tomato sauce. “Where should I. . .”

Valerie pointed to the kitchen counter.

“Great,” Jacob said. He set the large pot down. Turning to Ava, he said, “Let me get this set up and I’ll show you the last site. It’s a mess. I wasn’t sure what to do with it so I boarded it up.”

“Mess?” Ava asked.

“Two,” Valerie set a two cup measuring cup in front of Ava.

Ava nodded to Valerie.

“You’ll see,” Jacob said. “I probably need an hour.”

“That’s okay,” Ava said. “Detective Stone ordered me to meet her here at 4:30 am.”

“She’s not coming,” Delphie said.

“Clearly,” Ava said. “Anyway, I have this. The team will be here in a bit. We can help out until you’re ready, Jake.”

Jacob nodded and ran back upstairs for another pot of sauce.

Ava got to work. With her laboratory science skills and her two cup measuring cup, she filled the jars. She write “Italian” on a sheet of paper and set the jars on top of it. Valerie started cleaning the tops and putting the canning lids on top. A half hour or so later, Ava’s team arrived. They helped put the soup and the tomato sauce into jars. Fran took over the cleaning so that Valerie just put the lids on top.

When Jacob returned, he talked Nelson into helping him carry the full jars out to the deck. Jacob set up three propane burners with three large pressure canners.

Ava was on her third cup of coffee when Detective Stone’s partner arrived. And Ava and her team grabbed Jacob and got to work.

~~~~~~~~

Sunday morning — 8:05 a.m.

Alex Hargreaves jumped out of the truck and turned around to help her twins, Joey and Máire, out of the back. Her husband, John Drayson, got out of the driver’s seat and went around to the back.

They were in charge of getting the school gardens ready for all of the children and their parents to come harvest the vegetables. The gardens were large and the growing year had been successful. They had a lot of food to get picked, stacked, and moved to the Castle where two teams of students and parents were cooking in the driveway.

It was also a big event for the Marlowe School. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the children spent more time outdoors while their rooms were cleaned and the UV lights were on. This garden was a source of pride and joy for not only the children but teachers and parents, too.

Every class had their own garden. Every student had planted or weeded or watered. And now, finally, everything was ready to harvest.

Of course, Delphie already had crops planned for the fall and winter garden here. That meant that after everything was harvested, another group of students and parents would help to plant winter foods while still another group set up tubes and plastic covering to create mini-greenhouses for when winter came.

Alex, John, and their twins were there to get everything started. They had practical experience in harvesting since, prior to the pandemic, they returned to Afghanistan every year to help with harvesting in the entire valley inherited by the twins from their biological parents.

Another pickup truck pulled up beside theirs. Alex’s identical twin, Max, his partner, Wyatt, and their two boys — Chase and Beau — were there to help get everything started. John and Max went to open the large metal storage container with everything “garden” in it. Alex and Wyatt were taking down the temporary fences to allow open access to the garden today.

“Hello?” a woman’s accented voice came from the edge of the garden.

Alex turned to look at the woman. She was small in stature and thin. She wore a runner’s outfit — tights with a skirt over them, long sleeved shirt, and a sport hijab with an exercise face mask.

"As-Salam-u-Alaikum" Alex said.

“I am looking for. . .” the woman continued in Arabic.

“Yes,” Alex looked at Wyatt. He nodded and continued with the fencing. Pulling a face mask from her pocket, Alex walked toward the woman. Alex had her face mask on by the time they were close. Alex stopped six feet from the woman.

“How can I help?” Alex asked in Arabic.

“Uh,” she said. “Now I just feel dumb.”

“Why would that be?” Alex asked.

Alex smiled hoping that the woman felt less anxious, only to realize that the woman couldn’t see her smile behind the facemask.

“Oh, yes. Well. . .” The woman looked away and then back at Alex. “My mother called me early this morning. I was on call last night. I’m a veterinary at the vet hospital.”

The woman waved toward the north.

“What did your mother say?” Alex asked.

“She said that the head of our tribe would be here, in this lot, today, and that I should come to meet them,” the woman said. “I must ‘Let everyone know that they are here so that everyone could meet them.’”

“You’re from Afghanistan,” Alex said.

The woman nodded.

“Are you a member of. . .” Alex said the name of the Afghan tribe.

She nodded.

“I moved here to go to school and then stayed,” the woman said. “I like it here in Denver.”

Alex nodded.

“I’m Alex Hargreaves,” she said, in the hope that the woman would introduce herself in return.

Gasping, the woman reeled back.

“Should I bow?” the woman asked. “I think I should kneel or. . .”

“Please,” Alex said.

“You have no idea what you’ve done for our people, our family,” the woman said. “I wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t let my brother move to the land. My mother’s mother along with my mother and father live with them, now. Our parents have had a difficult life and left the valley for work.”

“They wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t,” Alex said, referring to the fact that everyone in the valley had been murdered. Joey and Máire’s mother had managed to escape, but she did not survive after the birth of her twins.

The woman nodded.

“So we’re kin,” Alex said.

“I am Asal Noor,” she said with a nod.

“Maman?” Alex’s daughter, Máire, ran up.

“Wafa?” The woman said Máire’s Afghan name.

Grabbing Alex’s hand, Máire gave the woman a confused look.

“This is Asal,” Alex said. “She is your cousin.”

“Nice to meet you, Cousin Asal,” Máire said in Arabic.

“Your Arabic is beautiful,” Asal said with a nod. “I’m so glad that I came. Would you mind if I take a photo with you and Amir?”

Amir was Alex’s twin Joey’s Afghan name. Máire looked up at her mother.

“My mother is missing you this year,” Asal said. “She will be delighted to see how big you’ve grown over the last year.”

“Grandmother Noor is your mother?” Máire asked. “Great-grandmother Noor is your grandmother?”

Asal nodded. Maire grinned at Asal.

“They have the best bees,” Máire said. “Biggest hives. Best honey.”

“That’s my grandmother,” Asal said. “She loves bees.”

“We were just saying that we hoped to get honey this year,” Alex said.

Joey ran up to see what was going on. He stopped short when he saw the woman.

“You’re Grandmother Noor’s daughter,” Joey said. “I recognize you from her photographs.”

With this simple words, Asal began to cry. The children looked at Alex, and she nodded to them. Máire and Joey hugged Asal. And Asal hugged them back.

After a moment, the children pulled back and returned to holding Alex’s hands.

“You said that you’ve were on call last night,” Alex said. “You must be exhausted. We’re going to be here all day. We have a lot to harvest. You can head home to rest and return in the afternoon.”

Asal nodded.

“May I take a photo first?” Asal asked.

“Of course,” Alex said. She nudged her twins forward. “Why don’t I take it?”

Asal nodded and gave Alex her cellphone. Joey and Máire stood on either side of their newly found cousin. Alex gestured for her kids to pull down their face masks. Then, Alex took a few shots with Asal’s cellphone. The twins put their facemasks back on and ran off to be with Chase and Beau.

“Do you need help?” Asal asked.

“We have a lot of people coming,” Alex said.

“We will come.” Asal said with a nod. She gave the children one last look and started running again.

Not sure what that meant, Alex watched the woman run off.

Although there was a large Afghan community in Denver, Alex and her twins rarely had contact with them. She wasn’t sure why they never saw the twins family members. She’d assumed that people were as busy as they were. Watching Asal run off, Alex wondered if there might be more to it than sheer busyness. Shrugging to herself, Alex went to help to get the site ready for harvest day.

Denver Cereal continues next week...