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Denver Cereal is taking a break

Dear Denver Cereal reader,

I'm writing to let you know that Saturday will be the last post of Denver Cereal for a while, at least.

There are so many moving parts to my life right now. They all came crashing down last night in enormous overwhelm.

I need to take some time to clear my head and decide what's next. I don't know if Denver Cereal will continue. I always hope so, but I don't know.

It's a pretty good time to take a break. Everyone in Denver Cereal is happy and growing. They've gotten vaccines and are on their way to surviving the pandemic.

I'm going to be off social media for the next couple of weeks. If you'd like to connect with me, feel free to send me an email.

Thank you for the gift of your readership. You can't imagine how grateful I am for you. Thank you for pushing me to be a better writing, supporting me with your comments and jokes, as well as your financial support.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a joyous new year!

Many blessings!

Claudia


Chapter Six Hundred and Seventy-six - Ready, steady, go!

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTY-SIX

Thursday evening — 7:05 p.m.

 “If there’s anything you need, son, I’m here,” Pierre said.

“Papa,” Nelson said.

Nelson and his father hugged. Pierre kissed Nelson on each cheek.

“I’m sorry,” Pierre said.

“Don’t be,” Nelson said. “Of all the things you could have given me, this is really not the worst. I’m going with an international team to find this hoard. There a big name adventure movie company that is imbedding a team to take video and photos. I’ll be famous.”

“Just what you wanted,” Pierre said.

Nelson laughed.

“No, it’s not what I wanted,” Nelson said. “But is what I am able to do. I want to always be the person who is willing to do something to make the world a better place. This is another chance to do that.”

Pierre hugged Nelson again.

“I need to say goodbye to my family,” Nelson said.

“Yes,” Pierre said. “I will be here when you return and available if you need anything.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Nelson said.

Nelson nodded to the nurse, who took Pierre’s arm and led him back to bed. Nelson left his old house where his father was living now.

He went across the sunken garden and stopped for a moment to watch the fish. He knew that when he went inside, he would say good-bye and have to go. He lingered at the pond. They’d installed a heater so the water wouldn’t freeze. The fish came up to look at him. He sighed.

Tanesha and Jeraine had delayed having their new children at the house so that he could have a little time with everyone. And everyone was waiting for him.

He did not want to go. He already missed everyone like an ache in his bones.

“Oh hey, there you are,” Blane said, coming from inside. “I have something for you.”

Nelson turned to look at him. Blane held up a hypodermic needle.

“This is the one shot vaccine,” Blane said. “I got it for you because, you know, you’re leaving.”

“Where did you get it?” Nelson asked.

“Jake,” Blane said. “We have it for employees and spouses. Since Heather doesn’t need one, I got this for you.”

“What about Jeraine and Tanesha?” Nelson asked.

“Tanesha is getting on tomorrow at the hospital,” Blane said. “Jeraine is getting one through the casino. He’s a casino employee which, as you may not know, makes him an essential workers.”

“Of course he is,” Nelson said. “Tres?”

“Had his this morning,” Blane said. “This one is yours. Roll up that sleeve.”

“What if I have a reaction?” Nelson asked.

“You are heading into the unknown with a bunch of magical folks,” Blane said. “They are there only to help and support you. You can come home in a flash. Plus, you have to travel like a regular human. You can rest on the plane.”

Nelson nodded. He pulled off his sweater and pushed up the sleeve to his long sleeved T-shirt. Blane vaccinated him.

“You know all of this,” Blane said. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” Nelson said. “The last time was bad. Horrible. I don’t want to go back there.”

“Neither do the folks from French antiquities,” Blane said. “This time is not the last time. You’re going with a huge group of humans and another group of magicals.”

“Paddie and Katy,” Nelson said.

“Which gives you access to every Titan,” Blane said.

“Do you think any of them were killed in the Titan purge?” Nelson asked.

“No,” Blane said. “But you didn’t hear it from me. I think there are likely ones like Cleo the cat.”

“Asteria,” Nelson said.

Blane nodded.

“I want . . .” Nelson said. He shook his head. “I love our family. I wasn’t sure that I would love this house and I’ve never felt more at home. Like all of me belongs right here — with you, our kids, our family. I will miss you so much.”

“Then go and come back,” Blane said. “We’ll be here — yelling at the kids, worrying about Covid, dealing with bullshit, wallowing in the imperfect joy of our actual lives.”

Nelson gave a nod.

“We’ll miss you too,” Blane said. “I was sent out here because Heather’s a mess. Tres, too. We don’t want you to go as much as you don’t want to go.”

“That feels nice,” Nelson said.

Blane grinned at him.

“Go,” Blane said. “Take care with yourself so that you can come home to us. We’ll be here.”

“Thanks,” Nelson said. “Wait, isn’t Hedone going with me?”

“Not with the gorgon there,” Blane said. “She needs to watch the things that the gorgon keep an eye on. She’d rather you had them.”

Nelson swallowed hard.

“She will be there if you need her,” Blane said. “She’s pretty confident that you won’t need her.”

“Mari?” Nelson asked.

“She’s going,” Blane said. “Alex. Hecate. The gorgon. Paddie and Katy. Athena. I think Artemis is going too. The French antiquities folks. The media company.”

Nelson nodded. Nelson and Blane hugged.

“Just come home,” Blane said.

“I will,” Nelson said. “I promise.”

Nelson let go. He looked through the wall of glass to see Heather, Mack, and Wyn waving at him. Tanesha, Jeraine, and Jabari waved. Tres waved. Nelson waved back.

“Time to go,” Nelson said, and disappeared.

Blane sighed. The plan had been to blip Nelson, Paddie, and Katy to Alex’s house where they’d drive to the airport. Blane had thought it would be easier if Nelson went that way. It certainly wasn’t easier for him. Blane walked into the house.

“He’s gone,” Blane said.

They hugged each other.

“When do the kids get here?” Blane asked.

“An hour,” Tanesha said. “I haven’t had a chance to check. Did Jake finish the rooms?”

“They’re all set,” Blane said. “Let’s take a look.”

They went upstairs. Wyn had moved in with Mack in his room, leaving three free rooms. Jacob had taken a wall out so that Jabari and his brothers could be in the same room. There were new bunk beds for the new kids.

“It’s really nice,” Tanesha said. “What about the baby?”

“I was told that the baby was staying with your parents,” Blane said.

“He’ll be here most of the time,” Tanesha said.

“We can move a crib in here,” Blane said. “Or he can take Jabari’s room downstairs. Is Jabari okay with giving up his downstairs room?”

“He’s excited to be ‘saving’ his brothers,” Tanesha said. “We’ll see how it goes. He loves being an only child. If he needs his own room, we can move him back. There’s also my office and the extra guest room.”

“Tink has that whole area to herself and she’s almost never there,” Blane said.

“She’s talked to us,” Tanesha said with a nod. “I’d rather see how it goes. For now, I think it’s important for the boys to be together as they transition to Denver. When they’ve been here a while they may need to be separated.”

Blane nodded.

“Do we know about their Covid status?” Blane asked.

Tanesha shook her head.

“The Atlanta Child Protection said that they had it when Annette died. Dr. Bumpy gave them tests when he saw them, but it still takes days for the results to return,” Tanesha said. “I’ll tell you, they were filthy. Sandy had to shave their heads. They had . . . everything in their hair. Clearly, Annette was sick for a long while and the boys were on their own. They are all underweight. Honestly, we won’t know anything about these kids until they’ve settled in. Do you think that’s okay?”

“I understand why you’re asking,” Blane said. “But for me? Tink? Even Heather? We know exactly what’s going on with these kids.”

“I had a ‘family,’” Tanesha said. “But really, I know what it’s like to not be in your family home. It’s confusing and terrifying.”

“Exactly,” Blane said. “And you’re right, we won’t know for at least a year, maybe longer, what’s going on with these kids. We have to expect everything and anything. But that’s okay.”

“Is it?” Tanesha asked, her voice laced with worry.

“Of course,” Blane said. “I’m glad that they’ll be here. They will have us and all of the people at the Castle. Your parents and Jeraine’s parents have agreed to help care for them. The boys have so much support.”

Tanesha nodded.

“Just overwhelming,” Tanesha said.

“It’s overwhelming,” Blane said. “And they’re kids. They’ll adjust. It will be a great treat to watch them come out of their shells. You’ll see. We’re going to be fine.”

Nodding, Tanesha smiled at Blane. The doorbell rang and Tanesha stiffened.

“They’re here!” Jeraine yelled from the top of the stairs.

“Here we go,” Tanesha said under her breath.

She and Blane climbed the stairs to greet their new family members.

~~~~~~~~

Thursday evening — 7:45 p.m.

“Sorry I’m late,” Jill said after entering the main area of Tanesha and Heather’s house. “I had to get Katy and Paddie off and then the twins had a melt down.”

Tanesha hugged Jill.

“What’s up with the twins?” Tanesha asked.

“They wanted to go with Katy,” Jill said. “At least that’s what I think they were saying. When they get upset, it’s hard to tell. It always surprises me how close they are with Katy, even though they fight all the time.”

Tanesha gestured to the play area where Jabari was playing with two other boys.

“Since he’s lived here, Jabari has only seen his brothers a few times,” Tanesha said. “But there they are.”

“Like best friends,” Jill said.

“I’m sure they’ll be best enemies soon enough,” Heather said with a laugh.

Heather and Jill hugged. Heather had Wyn on her hip. Jill ruffled his hair and he giggled.

“You okay?” Heather asked Jill.

“Not in the slightest,” Jill said. “I won’t be until Katy’s home again.”

“Understood,” Heather said, and hugged Jill again.

“I don’t know anything about the whole ‘friendly enemy’ thing,” Tanesha said. Pointing to herself, she added, “Only child. Jeraine and his sister were so different that they are basically only children. So we’re kind of out of our depth.”

“Well,” Jill said with a shrug. “You’ve had us for a long time. We’re like family.”

“But never my enemy,” Tanesha said.

“Fair enough,” Heather said.

“Where’s Sandy?” Jill asked.

Heather pointed to the kitchen. Jill turned to see Sandy with a tray of cookies. Heather’s son, Mack, was helping her put them on the cooling rack.

“Would you like to meet them?” Tanesha asked.

“Of course,” Jill said.

“But remember, this is really new and. . .” Tanesha leaned in and whispered. “. . . they don’t like me very much. I’m the evil other woman.”

Jill rolled her eyes.

“Of course you are,” Jill said. “They will make up their own minds.”

“Remember Sissy and Charlie?” Sandy asked. “No matter what our mother said, they knew that I was there for them.”

Tanesha shot Sandy a worried look but nodded. Jill and Tanesha walked over to the area where Jabari was playing. The boys were all wearing facemasks and pretending to be pirates.

“Jabari?” Tanesha asked.

“Mama?” Jabari looked up at her.

Tanesha smiled at his precious face.

“Auntie Jill just came from showing Katy and Paddie off,” Tanesha said.

Jabari jumped up and hugged Jill.

“We had to say ‘bye-bye’ to Uncle Nelson,” Jabari said. “I cried.”

“I cried too,” Jill said.

Jabari hugged her again.

“Do you want to meet my brothers?” Jabari asked. “They are coming to live with us and Granma Dionne and Grampa Bumpy and Nana Yvonne and Papa Rodney. Our littlest brother is with Nana Yvonne so he can get strong again.”

“They’re at Children’s with him,” Tanesha said in a low voice.

“I absolutely want to meet your brothers,” Jill said.

She dropped to her knees so that she would be at the children’s level.

“Okay,” Jabari said. “This is Trey. He’s called that because he’s the third person to have his name. He doesn’t like being called ‘Trey’ so Mama said we could change it to his real name.”

“Which is?” Jill asked.

“I’m William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, the third,” Trey said.

Jill thought that he looked like he was about four or possibly a mature three years old. His words were slurred in a kind of accented baby talk. He blushed when talking to Jill.

“Nice to meet you,” Jill said. “I’ve ready your. . .”

“Great-grandfather,” Jabari said, helpfully.

“I like his work,” Jill said. “What would you like to be called other than Trey?”

“Will,” the boy said.

“Good to know,” Jill said. “I will call you ‘Will’ until you change your mind or we make it official. Would you like that?”

The boy nodded and moved away from her. Jill glanced at Tanesha who nodded.

“He doesn’t like to be touched,” Tanesha said. “Has a lot of scars.”

Jill gave Tanesha a sad look and turned when Jabari tugged on her arm.

“This is our little brother,” Jabari said. “His dad was a football player. He died last week. He and Trey were living with his daddy’s parents but they died too.”

“What is his name?” Jill asked.

“Bubba,” Jabari said. “He doesn’t like that name either because our mom used to call him ‘Blubber.’ He wants a new name too. But he wants to keep his dad’s name.”

“Okay,” Jill said. “What does Bubba like to be called?”

The boy looked up at her. He was probably just a smidge older than two years old. His eyes were big and deep brown. His face was round and his body thick with little baby muscles.

“I am fat,” the boy said in a soft but clear voice.

“You look like a little boy to me,” Jill said. “You’re probably the age of my boys. They’re about like you.”

“Can I meet them?” the boy asked.

“Absolutely,” Jill said. “We hope you’ll be good friends.”

“Are they white like you?” the boy asked.

“They are,” Jill said.

“They probably won’t like me,” the boy said.

The boy seemed so lost and sad that it was all Jill could do to not pick the boy up and cuddle him.

“My dad just died,” the boy said. “And my grandparents. They’s all dead.”

The boy nodded and went back to playing with his brothers.

“He’s really sad,” Jabari said.

“I bet,” Jill said. Knowing that the little boy was monitoring their conversation, she added, “I thought my parents died when I was little. I was sad for a long time. So I understand.”

“Me too,” Jabari said.

“What does he want to be called?” Jill asked Jabari, who shrugged.

She looked at Tanesha, who shook her head. Since introductions were over, Jabari returned to playing with his brothers. Used to the vagaries of interacting with young children, Jill got up. She touched Tanesha’s shoulder and they walked over to where Heather and Sandy were working on cookies.

“The boy was really close with his father,” Tanesha said softly. “His grandparents are the ones who took him and Trey into their home when Annette lost custody. It’s a big shock for them.”

“Poor babies,” Jill said, nodding. “How do they like their room?”

Tanesha nodded.

“We’re meeting with a child therapist tomorrow,” Tanesha said. “We signed up for a home service to come in and help. Play therapy that kind of thing.”

Tanesha sighed and shook her head.

“Do you want me to check to see what they need?” Jill asked.

Tanesha’s head jerked to look at Jill.

“Can you?” Tanesha asked.

“I can try,” Jill said. Jill nodded to Heather. “Can you. . .?”

Heather held up her hands and rubbed her fingers together. The air filled with a wonderful smell and everyone seemed to relax a little bit. Jill nodded to Heather and went over to the boys again. After a few minutes, she returned. The girlfriends moved away so that they could speak privately.

“Okay,” Jill said. “The older boy, Trey?”

Looking worried, Tanesha nodded.

“He’s the reason the boys are here,” Jill said. “He wants to be your son — you and Jeraine. He’s been jealous of Jabari living here and pushed to come live here. Now that he’s here, he’s not sure he’s deserving of being here. So he has this conflict — wanting to be here and feeling like he shouldn’t be here.”

“Loyalty,” Sandy said.

“What?” Tanesha asked.

“He feels caught between his loyalty to his mother and his desire to survive,” Sandy said. “I felt that way when I moved in with my dad. I felt loyal to the other guy, who’d said he was my dad. It’s hard.”

“That’s helpful,” Tanesha said. “Thanks. And Bubba?”

“He’s very sad,” Jill said. “He doesn’t know why his dad is gone. He’s afraid that he’ll lose the love he got from them. He doesn’t want to be here or really anywhere right now.”

“He’s suffered an enormous loss,” Heather said.

“Do they have Covid?” Sandy asked.

Jill nodded.

“They are just a day away from showing symptoms,” Jill said.

“Can you help?” Tanesha asked.

“I have,” Jill said. “We should get Blane to treat them. Bubba needs Blane and Jeraine, well, and you, of course. I guess, you know, it’s like that song.”

“Song?” Tanesha asked.

“Hold on loosely but don’t let go,” Jill said. “You’re going to be fine. Truly. They’ve been waiting and wanting, their entire lives, to live with you and Jeraine. It’s their dream.”

“And their nightmare,” Sandy said.

Tanesha nodded. Tanesha held her arms out and her best friends hugged her tight.

“We’ve got this,” Heather whispered.

“Oh you guys,” Tanesha said and started to cry. 

They held each other for a long moment and then separated.

“Where is Blane?” Sandy asked.

“Vaccination clinic at the Castle,” Heather said. “They are vaccinating everyone at Lipson. They got some vaccine today so they’re using it. Did you get yours?”

Sandy nodded, as did Tanesha and Jill.

“Good,” Heather said. “Remember, you’

“Mama?” Jabari asked. “Can we have a cookie?”

Jabari’s voice broke up their private conversation. The women moved into action. For a moment, the boys’ sickness and loss was behind them, and they were just little boys eating cookies and playing.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Seventy-five - It's time

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTY-FIVE

Thursday morning — 10:17 a.m.

Denver Crime Labs

Denver, Colorado

“To what do I owe this pleasure?” Nelson asked.

Nelson was sitting at his desk outside Ava O’Malley’s office and next to the lab. He didn’t turn around or look up. He knew that someone from the “old world” had appeared. He just wanted to finish what he was working on.

When he looked up, he saw Hedone, Ares, and Athena had appeared.

“We need to get this quest underway,” Ares said.

Nelson raised an eyebrow at him.

“See I told you that he wouldn’t listen to me,” Ares said. “He has no respect.”

Hedone and Athena laughed so hard that Ares grinned. With their laughter, Ava got up from her desk and opened her office door.

“May I help you?” Ava asked.

“We’re here for him,” Athena said.

“That’s nice,” Ava said. “This is a secure building. How did you get in?”

“They’re immortal Gods,” Nelson said.

“Sure they are,” Ava said. “Are they bothering you?”

“Outside of being incredibly annoying?” Nelson asked. “No.”

Dr. Leslie McClintock came out of the lab. She looked from Hedone to Ares to Athena and blinked.

“You know who we are,” Athena said, evenly.

“I’m not sure if I should bow or . . .?” Leslie asked.

“You’re fine,” Nelson said. “They just came to annoy me.”

“Lucky you,” Leslie said. “May I . . . Uh . . . Would you mind if I asked you some questions?”

Ares stepped forward eagerly.

“Oh sorry, I meant Athena,” Leslie asked. “I . . . well really, we need some wisdom.”

Leslie pointed toward Ava’s office. She, Athena, and Ava went into her office. After a few minutes, they heard laughing and talking coming from Ava’s office.

“What’s happened between when we talked about this situation this morning?” Nelson asked.

“We can’t wait anymore,” Ares said.

“I’m sorry,” Hedone said. “I know that you were just settling in to your life again.”

“What about the French?” Nelson asked. “They were going to fund the entire thing. They . . .”

“We put a bug in their ear about another expedition,” Ares said. “You would be amazed at how persuasive I can be.”

Nelson gave him a skeptical look.

“I dressed in a modern suit, shook hands, and all of that,” Ares said, proudly. “You would have been proud of me. I looked like a modern man.”

“And?” Nelson asked.

“They should be calling you in a few minutes,” Ares said.

Nelson looked up at the ceiling and whispered an angry, “Fuck.”

“If you’re offering . . .” Ares said.

Nelson shook his head, and Ares laughed.

“Come on, young lad,” Ares said. “We’ll have a great time.”

“I . . .” Nelson started. “I need to talk to Blane and my family again. Tanesha and Jeraine are adopting three more kids and. . .”

“They’ll be okay,” Hedone said. “We’ve expected that you’d be leaving soon. It’s actually been longer than we expected.”

Nelson gave Hedone a vague nod.

“It won’t be like the last time,” Hedone said. “We are more prepared, ready for anything. You have the support of the Titans and us, of course. You’ll have your same travel team.”

“Alex, too?” Nelson asked.

“I think you’d literally have to kill her not to have her come,” Hedone said with a smile.

“You’ve told her?” Nelson asked. “She’s really busy in the middle of everything all the time.”

“We just left her,” Ares said. “She said she needed an hour or so but she’s ready to go. Max is coming this time too.”

Nelson nodded.

“Fuck,” Nelson said again in a more resigned way. “There’s no way to avoid this. I was hoping. . .”

Hedone shook her head.

“You will need to take Katy and Paddie with you,” Hedone said.

“The children?” Nelson asked. “Why?”

“You need their swords to raise the hoard,” Ares said.

Nelson nodded.

“They need to be with you for their own protection,” Hedone said.

“I can’t find a hoard and protect the children at the same time!” Nelson said.

“The gorgon have agreed to protect the children,” Hedone said.

The laughter in Ava’s office increased and they all looked over to see Leslie, Ava, and Athena laughing.

“You made some agreement with the gorgon?” Hedone asked.

“Medusa’s head is in the hoard,” Nelson said. “She is still alive. Her head is alive under the water. She . . .”

Nelson shivered.

“Just horrible,” Nelson said.

“What did you agree to son?” Ares asked.

“I agreed to give them the head,” Nelson said. “They agreed to support me. I thought that Hedone had put them up to it.”

Hedone shook her head.

“They knew all about me and the hoard,” Nelson said. He shrugged. “They actually were lovely. Truthful. Helpful. Did you know that there are many of them? They only appear in threes.”

“Really?” Ares asked.

Hedone nodded.

“They are women scorned, abused, or used as sex slaves or oracle slaves from our time,” Hedone said. “Their unexpressed rage and anger at their abuse turns them into gorgon.”

“They are?” Ares asked.

“How is it that you don’t know this?” Hedone asked. “Zeus created most of them with his rapey misogyny. Where do you think the Sea of Amber came from?”

“From the gorgon?” Ares asked. “I never thought of it.”

“They have powerful magic,” Hedone said. “They are unmovable, powerful, and incorruptible. They’ve been behind every effort to create a safer world for the vulnerable. They live in the shadows because of their abuse.”

“How do you know so much about them?” Ares asked.

“My friend Tanesha had to do a report on them when she was in college,” Hedone said. “I went to find out what I could and met them. I was . . . in awe, really. They are incredible. Truly incredible women, very powerful, and absolutely beloved to the mother. As, Nelson is beloved to the mother.”

Scowling, Ares nodded.

“How much time do I have?” Nelson asked.

“Not much,” Hedone said. “Katy and Paddie were so freaked out that Jill kept them home today.”

“Will we walk time again?” Nelson asked.

“I don’t know,” Hedone said. “Probably. I’m hoping that it won’t take that long.”

“We were going to do a lot of press about the find,” Nelson said.

Hedone nodded.

“Do the lawyers have the coordinates?” Nelson asked.

“The land is still owned by the Templars,” Hedone said. “As long as you can back up the claim to be the Grand Master with something more than a sword, we should be in the clear.”

“I have all the papers now,” Nelson said. “My name is on all of the deeds to property including all of the swords. Since my dad woke up, he’s been working to authenticate my claim. It just made it through the French courts.”

“Good,” Ares said.

“Why don’t you plan to leave tonight?” Hedone asked.

“Tonight?” Nelson asked.

“It’s soon enough,” Hedone said. “We’ll get out of your hair so you can wrap up what you’re doing.”

“But I have to go? Now?” Nelson asked. “This morning, we thought. . .”

“I’m truly sorry but yes,” Ares said. “You have to leave tonight, at the latest.”

Nelson nodded.

“I’ll get ready,” Nelson said. “We leave tonight? What time?”

“Eight o’clock,” Hedone said.

“I’ll be ready,” Nelson said, looking thoroughly depressed. “How long will I be gone?”

“A couple of months,” Ares said at the same time that Hedone said, “Few days, maybe a week.”

Nelson smiled at them.

“Will it be worth it?” Nelson asked.

“For the world?” Hedone asked. “Yes. For you personally? I’d also have to say yes. Everything you desire in your life is on the other side of this quest. Let’s just get it over with so you can get on with your life.”

Nelson nodded. His computer dinged and he turned back to look at it. A moment later, he looked for the Gods and they were gone.

“How long do you think you’ll need?” Ava asked, coming out of her office.

“No idea,” Nelson said. “They just said anywhere between a few days and a number of months.”

“Don’t worry,” Ava said. “We’ll put you on leave.”

“You won’t replace me?” Nelson asked. “You should probably replace me.”

“Not a chance,” Ava said. “Just come home to us.”

“And remember, we’re here if you need us,” Leslie said. “Any of us. At any time. We’re available to you and anything you need.”

Nelson nodded his thanks.

“I should probably go see my dad,” Nelson said. “He’s still pretty sick and . . .”

“Just go,” Ava said. “Let us know how we can help.”

Nelson nodded. He packed up what little he’d unpacked. Fran came out of the lab to hug Nelson good-bye. Bob came from across the hallway to see him off. Ava and Leslie hugged him for luck. He left the lab. Standing on the elevator, he could see his teammates standing in the hallway waving at him.

He tried to smile to show some optimism, but he felt like he was going to his death. Sighing, he made his way home.

~~~~~~~~

Thursday morning — 11:02 a.m.

“Who are you?” Jill asked the human form standing in the middle of the loft. “Why are you in my home?”

“I’m here to protect the children,” said the . . . woman?

Jill squinted at her. This being’s skin and clothing were grey from head to toe. Her hair was in what looked like dreadlocks but could actually be live snakes.

“You’re a gorgon,” Jill said.

“I am,” the being said. “You may call me, Euryale.”

“But that’s not your name,” Jill said.

“It will do,” the being said. “Now, where are the children?”

“Would you mind if I . . .” Jill started.

Jill reached out to the being. She put her hands on either side of the being’s face.

“What are you doing little Titanling?” the being hissed. The snakes on her head awakened and they hissed at Jill as well.

“One second,” Jill said. “Just give me . . .”

The being transformed into the form of a female. As she transformed, the woman’s eyes grew on her face and moved to be wide set. Her lashes became absurdly long, and her teeth straightened. Jill smiled.

“There you are!” Jill said. “You’re a fairy.”

“What have you done?” the being asked.

“I healed you, Callisto,” Jill said. “That’s who you are, right? Callisto the half-fairy?”

The woman’s hands went to her face and head. While she still had a head of snakes for hair, her skin was no longer stone colored but rather a golden brown like Heather’s. Her eyes were deep and dark. Her hands long and supple.

“Would you like to get rid of the snakes?” Jill asked.

“Am I no longer a gorgon?” Callisto asked in a whisper.

“Oh, no, I can’t do that,” Jill said. “I can just relieve your suffering, your trauma, your pain.”

Jill shrugged.

“That is not a Titan gift,” Callisto said.

“No,” Jill said. “I get it from my mother. She’s from Russia. She from an ancient line of healers. Would you like something more comfortable to wear?”

Callisto looked down at her grey outfit. She was wearing a grey dress down to her toes and sandals.

“You’re about my size,” Jill said. “Come on.”

“This doesn’t bother you?” Callisto asked. “Being around a gorgon?”

“I’ve been around abused women all of my life,” Jill said. “My mother was beaten and assaulted. My friends are abuse survivors. It’s not your fault that you were abused. Why shouldn’t you live free?”

Callisto mouthed the words that Jill said. Shaking her head, she followed Jill into Jill’s bedroom.

“I have some of Heather’s clothes here too,” Jill said. “She comes here after she’s been in Olympia so she can change, shower, or whatever. Let’s see . . .”

Jill took a pair of jeans and a couple of shirts out of her closet.

“We wear underwear,” Jill said. “Do you know what that is?”

Callisto shook her head. Jill opened her drawer.

“You’re thin,” Jill said. “Have you been eating?”

The woman shook her head.

“Okay, let’s get you something to eat after you change,” Jill said.

“Women wear these . . .” Callisto started. “What are they called?”

“Pants,” Jill said. “We specifically call those jeans. Everyone wears them. They are comfortable. If you’re going to watch after the children, then you need something comfortable.”

There was a whooshing sound in the loft.

“Someone has arrived,” Jill said. “I’ll go check.”

“I should go, in case it’s danger,” Callisto said.

“Why don’t you get dressed?” Jill asked. “If I get into trouble, and you’re not ready, I can always call my father.”

“Who is?” Callisto asked.

“Perses, God of Destruction,” Jill said.

“Ah,” Callisto said. “I’ve never met him. I know your sister, Hecate.”

“She’s wonderful. You’ll likely meet my father in due time. He loves the kids,” Jill said, with a shrug. “You’re welcome to anything in my closet. You’ll probably need at least a sweater. It’s always a little cold here and it’s winter.”

Callisto nodded to Jill. She went out of her bedroom and closed the door. Princess Marigold was standing in the middle of the loft.

“Mari?” Jill asked. “What are you doing here? How did you get in? I thought fairies weren’t . . .”

“I’m family,” Mari said. “Exempt.”

“Fin?” Jill asked.

“Oh, no, that’s Edie,” Mari said. “You have to know that she comes to see your boys at night.”

“I’ve seen her,” Jill nodded.

“She misses all of you something terrible,” Mari said. “She’s really sacrificing a lot to build a better tomorrow.”

“She is,” Jill said. “What’s up? Why are you here?”

“I heard that a gorgon was coming to take care of Katy and Paddie,” Mari said. “I wanted to make sure that you were okay.”

“She’s already here,” Jill said. “I healed her. Her name is Callisto.”

Mari’s eyebrows shot up.

“She told me to call her Euryale,” Jill said. “But I knew that wasn’t her name.”

“Euryale has been picking up the abused, destroyed, scorned women of the world and transforming them into gorgons,” Mari said. “She visited me after my ‘disgrace.’”

“When your fiancé was killed?” Jill asked.

“I was tempted to join her, but honestly, how could I be disgraced?” Mari asked. “My sisters were furious. Fin tried to fight her but she’s very strong. Her magic — well, honestly, all of theirs — is powerful. Different. Nelson made a potent ally when he made the compact with the gorgon. If anyone can keep the children safe, it’s a gorgon.”

Jill’s bedroom door opened and Callisto came out of the room wearing jeans, a long sleeved T-shirt, and a wool sweater.

“Good, you’re dressed,” Jill said. “Have you met Princess Marigold from Queen Fand’s realm?”

“Callisto!” Mari said.

The women ran to each other and hugged. It was a few minutes and many tears before they separated.

“I see you know each other,” Jill said with a smile.

“Princess Marigold helped me when I needed help the most,” Callisto said. “How do you know her?”

“My husband is a descendant of Manannán and Fand,” Jill said. “Prince Finegal lives here with his partner and their children. Although, Abi disappeared around the time of the pandemic.”

Callisto gave Jill a soft smile.

“These ‘jeans’ are nice,” Callisto said. “Do you get used to wearing this ‘underwear’?”

Mari laughed. She looked at Callisto and turned her hand over.

“Oh that’s much better, thank you Marigold,” Callisto said.

“You have a tiny butt, Jill,” Mari said. “She just needed a little more room.”

Callisto laughed. Mari grinned.

“Now, Mari,” Callisto said. “Do you still have that gem that falls off the Princess Blade?”

“It still falls off,” Mari said. “The Templar weapons master . . . Have you met him?”

Callisto shook her head.

“He tried to fix it, but it still won’t stay on,” Mari said.

“May I have it?” Callisto asked.

“Sure,” Mari said.

She took out the Princess Blade. As she did, a large blue stone fell off.

“I don’t remember it being this color,” Callisto said.

“It changes color,” Mari said. “I don’t know why.”

“Where are the children?” Callisto asked.

“They are in their room,” Jill said. “They were terrified last night. They didn’t get much sleep. They’re sleeping in. Should I wake them?”

“I would appreciate it if you did,” Callisto said.

Callisto and Mari began to chat in a language that Jill didn’t know. She went across the loft to wake Paddie and Katy. It took a few minutes, but she returned with the children.

“I am Callisto,” she said to Paddie and Katy. “I am here to protect you through the coming adventure.”

“Are those real snakes?” Paddie asked. He looked at Mari and asked, “Can I have snake hair?”

“This is the owner of the Sword of Truth?” Callisto asked with a grin.

“I don’t own her,” Paddie said. “I take care of her.”

“You are so right, little man,” Callisto said. “May I see the Vanquisher, young lady?”

“I’m Katy,” the little girl said. “Why do you want my sword?”

“I have something that belongs on it,” Callisto said.

“You’re kidding, right?” Mari asked.

Callisto shook her head. Katy opened her hand and the sword appeared.

“This stone belongs . . .” Callisto held out the stone. It floated across the room and latched onto a space on the Vanquisher. “There. How does it feel?”

“Heavier,” Katy said. “More powerful.”

“It is more powerful,” Callisto said with a smile. “The stone was taken from the sword to put on Princess Marigold’s sword. I’m sure the Vanquisher is delighted to have her back.”

“Why was it taken?” Paddie asked.

“They thought it would transfer the power of the Vanquisher to the Princess Blade,” Callisto said. “It didn’t. You can’t mix and match powerful objects. But we’ll see that soon.”

“Do you have to leave right away?” Jill asked.

Callisto shook her head.

“Let’s have some lunch,” Jill said. “We’ll all feel better when we eat.”

“Sounds good to me,” Callisto said. “It will give me some time to get to know the children. We will have to rely on each other during our journey.”

“I always rely on Paddie,” Katy said.

“I rely on Katy,” Paddie said.

“Good,” Callisto said. “You can both rely on me. I will not ever let you down.”

Katy looked deeply into Callisto’s eyes before nodding.

Jill walked over to the small kitchen. Mari, Callisto, Katy, and Paddie took stools at the counter. Jill made simple sandwiches which they ate with chips and fruit. By the end of the meal, Jill felt as if she was fast friends with Callisto. She knew that Paddie and Katy felt like they were as well.

For the first time in all of the months that Jill knew this stupid quest was coming, Jill finally felt like everything, including her precious daughter, was going to be all right.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Seventy-four - The future's so bright...

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTY-FOUR

Sometime in the future

New York, New York

Katy Roper Marlowe woke up with a start.

She had no idea where she was. The only thing that she knew is that she was naked.

And there was someone else in her bed!

She looked over and saw a tuft of white blond hair sticking out of covers tightly around the person’s head. That was just like how Paddie slept. But this person was big, really big.

“Paddie?” Katy asked.

The person didn’t stir.

Embarrassed by her own nakedness, she got out of bed.

She gasped.

She was big! She might even be taller than her own mother!

Her hands went over her body. She had breasts — not too big, not too small! Nice, strong legs. Her feet seemed really big! And her hands!

She reached out her hand and the Vanquisher appeared. With her gigantic size, the Vanquisher looked more like a knife than a sword. Clearly, the sword still belonged to her still. At least that hadn’t changed! She made the sword disappear.

Spying a silken bathrobe on a chair, Katy grabbed the robe and put it on. She went into the bathroom.

It was a lot nicer than her functional, practical bathroom in the Castle.

For the first time, Katy wondered where she was.

And who was the person in her bed?

Should she feel bad? She didn’t.

Shrugging to herself, she followed her feet out into the living area.

She floated toward the pictures on the wall. There was one of big her in a gorgeous lace white dress and. . .

“That’s got to be Paddie,” Katy said, softly to herself.

Whoever it was, he was wearing a black tuxedo. He was tall and handsome. White hair sticking straight up and sparkling blue eyes. Seeing him, Katy felt her heart warm.

There were pictures of her parents and even her brothers all grown up. Her mother’s friends were there and their husbands. There was a picture of Noelle and Teddy with a little baby and even a picture of a boy who had to be Jabari standing on a stage with a guitar.

Everyone was smiling and laughing. It made Katy so happy to see everyone so happy.

She went back to the bed.

“Paddie?” Katy asked. She was surprised because her voice sounded like her six year old voice.

“Katy?” Paddie moved the covers off his face. “You got big!”

“I know,” Katy said. “So did you!”

Paddie jumped up to look at himself.

“I’m huge!” Paddie said looking down at his naked body. Realizing that Katy could see him he said, “Turn around!”

“It’s okay, Paddie,” Katy said. “We’re married.”

“We are?” Paddie asked. He looked at his hand and saw that he was wearing a ring. “Look Katy!”

Paddie pointed to his wedding ring.

“I have one, too,” Katy said, pointing to hers.

Paddie’s face broke into a big, white toothed smile.

“My dream came true!” Paddie said.

Katy nodded.

“That makes me so happy,” Paddie said.

Katy smiled.

“You are very beautiful,” Paddie said, pulling on a T-shirt and sweatpants.

“You’re not so bad yourself,” Katy said.

Paddie giggled.

“What do you think is going on?” Paddie asked.

“I don’t know,” Katy said. “The last thing I remember is that you were staying with me because your mom was sick. But you don’t have to worry, there’s a picture of her on the wall outside. She must have gotten better. Connor’s there too.”

“And my dad?” Paddie asked, walking out to look at the photos.

“And your dad,” Katy said.

“I don’t know why, but I feel very relieved,” Paddie said.

“Your dad’s in the military,” Katy said. “You always talk about how worried you are that he’ll be hurt or die while he’s out on mission.”

Paddie nodded and looked at the pictures.

“Do you think we have our own food?” Paddie asked.

“There’s a kitchen,” Katy said.

They walked together into the kitchen. Paddie opened the door. Without thinking, he pulled out eggs, cheese and spinach. There was some vegan sausage so he added that. In a few minutes, he’d made them a breakfast burrito.

“How’d you learn to do that?” Katy asked.

“I don’t know,” Paddie said. “I just knew I could.”

Katy smiled at him. Standing in the kitchen, they wolfed down their breakfast burritos.

“What do you think is going on?” Paddie asked.

“I don’t know,” Katy said. “I woke up here too. Do you still have the Sword of Truth?”

Paddie reached into his pocket and was holding the sword.

“It fits you better now that you’re big,” Katy said.

“I’m really big,” Paddie said. He smiled broadly. “I like being big. Do you think when we go back that I can stay this big?”

Katy shook her head, and Paddie laughed.

“What do we do?” Paddie asked.

“I’ve been thinking,” Katy said.

“Did you call for your mom?” Paddie asked.

“I really wanted to,” Katy said, looking sad. “I really miss her. Do you think she’s okay?”

“She looks okay in this picture,” Paddie said.

Katy nodded.

“Do you think that this is a dream?” Paddie asked.

“I don’t know,” Katy said. “I think. . .”

Katy stopped talking for a moment and looked at Paddie.

“This is about that prophecy,” Paddie said. “The one about you and me.”

Katy nodded.

“Do you think I should call my grandpa or my Auntie Heather?” Katy asked.

“Your grandpa makes everything really intense,” Paddie said.

Katy nodded.

“Let’s call Auntie Heather,” Paddie said. “She’s always nice.”

Katy nodded.

“Is that Jabari on the wall?” Paddie asked.

“It looks like him,” Katy said. “See this red head in the front? That looks like Maggie.”

“Cool. They’re big too!” Paddie said with a grin. “Do you think we have jobs and stuff?”

“We pay for this nice place,” Katy said with a shrug.

“Where are we?” Paddie asked.

“I don’t know,” Katy said.

She went to the windows and opened the blinds. For a moment, they stood there in shock. They were looking out over the city. Central Park was a block or two away but they could see people playing and walking.

“What a view!” Paddie said.

Katy nodded.

“We must be rich,” Paddie said.

Katy nodded.

“Cool,” Paddie said. “You’re sure this isn’t a dream?”

“It’s not a dream,” Katy said. “We can check with the sword.”

“No, you’re right,” Paddie said. “I’m just happy that everything is so good for us!”

“Me too,” Katy said.

Katy watched Paddie watch people in the park.

“Should I call my Auntie?” Katy asked.

Paddie nodded.

“Auntie Heather?” Katy asked into the air.

Nothing happened. Katy thought for a moment.

“She probably doesn’t recognize my voice now,” Katy said.

“Use her Goddess name,” Paddie said. “Use the Vanquisher.”

Katy nodded. She held out her hand and the Vanquisher appeared.

“Hedone, the Goddess of Love,” Katy called.

The air around them glistened with light. Shrouded by the light, a figure appeared and gradually became clearer.

Timeless and shockingly beautiful, Hedone appeared in her gorgeous gold dress. Katy and Paddie stepped back.

“Auntie Heather,” Katy said. She jumped up and down a bit.

“Katy?” Hedone asked. “Katy, what’s wrong?”

“We went to bed last night at home with Mommy and Daddy and the twins,” Katy said.

“We woke up big!” Paddie said.

Surprised, Hedone blinked at them. She looked around the apartment and then walked to the window. She turned around and looked at them.

“When were you married?” Hedone asked.

Katy shrugged, and Paddie shook his head.

“What do you do for a living?” Hedone asked.

Katy shrugged, and Paddie shook his head.

“Interesting,” Hedone said. “Do you still have your swords?”

Katy held up the Vanquisher and Paddie took the Sword of Truth out of his pocket.

“Huh,” Hedone said. “Someone must have thought that you would be more vulnerable in the future than you are in the Castle.”

“Are we rich?” Paddie asked.

“Well, you’re an MD PhD,” Hedone said. “You specialize in infectious disease. Katy is a museum curator.”

“That sounds fun,” Katy said.

“Ivan and Sissy gave you this apartment as a wedding present,” Hedone said. “It’s a part of their floor in New York. Your mom and dad refurbished it for you, Katy.”

“It’s beautiful,” Katy said.

“You are both very loved,” Hedone said. “Katy, you control the entire collection of art from the Polish mine and the Templar Hoard, not to mention all of the items you and Paddie found under that church in the Isle of Man and other places you’ve adventured.”

“The white eyed guy?” Paddie asked.

“Maughold gave you everything,” Hedone said. “Fin and the fairies, too. You are both fairly famous. As far as I know, you’re very happy.”

“Mack and Wyn?” Paddie asked.

“Mack just got a job as a Greek antiquities professor at UCLA,” Hedone said. “Wyn is a lawyer. He has an internship at the Supreme Court.”

“Wow,” Katy said. “Does he like it?”

“Not in the slightest,” Hedone said. “He wants to be a Supreme Court justice and this is the way.”

Katy nodded. It was weird to her that the kids who were younger than her had grown up too.

“Nash and Nadia live here too,” Hedone said.

Katy nodded.

“Are you sure that you were in Denver at the Castle when you went to bed?” Hedone asked.

Katy and Paddie nodded.

“Listen to our voices,” Paddie said.

“Good point,” Hedone said. “You do sound like the little kids you were and not your adult selves.”

Hedone gave Katy a soft smile.

“We think it’s to steal our swords,” Paddie said.

Katy nodded.

“What do you know about the search for the Templar Hoard?” Hedone asked.

“Nothing,” Katy said. “Did we go?”

Hedone nodded. The goddess looked away for a long moment.

“This is about the prophecy,” Hedone said.

“Can I see my Mommy?” Katy asked. “I really miss her.”

Paddie nodded.

“Why didn’t you call your grandfather or your aunt?” Hedone asked.

“Because he’s all ‘Hello, I’m Perses,’” Paddie said mimicking Perses’ accent.

“‘I’m big and violent,’” Katy mimicked her grandfather.

“‘Shall I kill everyone just for fun?’” Paddie asked.

Hedone laughed.

“Fair point,” Hedone said. “Hecate.”

Hecate appeared out of thin air.

“What. . .?” Hecate turned to look from Katy to Paddie. “This is impressive magic. Yours?”

Because Hecate was looking at her, Katy shook her head. Hecate turned to Hedone, who shook her head.

“You don’t know how this happened?” Hecate asked.

Katy and Paddie nodded their heads in unison.

“That’s not good,” Hecate said.

“Do you remember them going missing in 2021?” Heather asked.

Hecate shook her head.

“So it was done out of time,” Hedone said.

“Or I put the children back before anything happened,” Hecate said.

“Can we go home?” Paddie asked. “My mommy is really sick. I can’t be here!”

Katy reached out to hold Paddie’s hand.

“I’ll put you back,” Hecate said.

There was a whooshing sound and child Paddie and Katy were gone along with Hecate.

“Auntie Heather?” adult Katy asked. “What are you doing here?”

“Do you remember waking up in adult bodies when you were kids?” Hedone asked.

Katy and Paddie nodded.

“You do?” Hedone asked.

“We put the pictures on the wall just like they were when we were here,” Katy said.

“It was just before the fight for the swords,” Paddie said.

Hedone nodded.

“Hasn’t happened yet?” Paddie asked.

“It hasn’t,” Hedone said. “Any tips?”

Shaking his head, Paddie reached his hand out, and Katy moved closer to him. His arm went over her shoulder. Hedone nodded. She kissed Katy on the cheek and disappeared.

Katy looked at Paddie and he smiled.

“It made me so happy to wake up as your husband,” Paddie said. “I’m so glad to be your husband.”

“I’m glad to be your wife,” Katy said.

They kissed and hugged each other.

“You look worried,” Paddie said.

“Just telling younger me that it’s all going to work out,” Katy said.

Paddie smiled at Katy and she kissed him.

“Coffee?” Paddie asked.

Katy nodded, and they went into the kitchen.

~~~~~~~~

Thursday early morning — 4:12 a.m.

Katy Roper Marlowe woke up in her own bed in the Castle. Sitting straight up, she looked around the room. There was a little boy’s tufted of white hair sticking out of his blankets in the bed next to hers.

“Paddie?” Katy asked.

Paddie’s head moved up and down causing the blankets to move.

“I’m ’fraid to get up,” Paddie said. “In case, we’re somewhere scary.”

“We’re not,” Katy said. “We’re in my room at home.”

“Are you little again?” Paddie asked.

“Yes,” Katy said. “You look like you are too.”

“Okay,” Paddie said.

“I’m going to see my Mommy,” Katy said.

“I’m going with you,” Paddie said.

Katy ran out of the bedroom with Paddie on her heels. They ran across the loft to Katy’s parents room.

“Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” Katy said.

Wide awake, Jill and Jacob sat straight up. Katy crawled across the bed toward her mother. Paddie stood on the side of the bed until Jacob grabbed him and pulled him onto the bed too. Jacob lay back down.

“What’s happened?” Jill asked.

“We grew up!” Katy said. “Me and Paddie were married and living in New York.”

“I was a doctor,” Paddie said.

“I was a museum curate,” Katy said. “But I don’t know what that is.”

“We were very happy,” Paddie said.

“Sounds like a beautiful dream,” Jill said with a yawn. “Shall we cuddle a bit before we have to get up?”

“It wasn’t a dream!” Katy said. “We were really there.”

Jill shook the sleep from her head.

“What?” Jill asked. She reached across and shook Jacob’s shoulder. “Jake?”

Jacob’s eyes popped open.

“What’s up?” Jacob asked.

Jill nodded to Katy.

“The kids were taken out of their beds and moved into the future,” Jill said. “What did you do?”

“We called Auntie Heather,” Katy said.

“But she didn’t come as Auntie Heather so we called Hedone and she. . .” Paddie said.

The Goddess of Love, Hedone, was standing at the foot of the bed. No matter what she actually looked like, Jill always saw her good friend Heather under the glow and the gold dress and perfect hair. Jill smiled at her friend. Of course, her friend would come to help Katy.

“Oh, good, you’re awake,” Hedone said.

“Is what they are saying true?” Jacob asked. “Not a dream.”

“No dream,” Hedone said. “In fact, if I had to wager a guess, Katy and Paddie had prepared for their younger selves to come visit them. They put a bunch of cheesy photographs of everyone on their walls so that when Katy and Paddie arrived they would see them.”

“We looked at those!” Katy said.

Paddie nodded.

“Katy was very beautiful,” Paddie said, shyly.

“Paddie was huge,” Katy said.

“I was handsome,” Paddie said.

Katy nodded.

Jill shot Jacob a worried look.

“What do we need to do?” Jacob asked.

“The truth is that we cannot wait any longer to go find this stupid hoard,” Hedone said. “The longer we wait, the more risk for the children.”

“Who would have done such a thing?” Jill asked.

“I think the question is when did someone do this thing?” Hedone asked. “This hoard has been missing for a long time. The prophecy has been told a long time ago. Someone, anyone really, could have sent their child selves to their older selves anytime between when the prophecy was made and now.”

“Why would they do that?” Jacob asked.

“They may have thought that the children were more vulnerable in the future,” Hedone said. “Get them out of this house, away from those who defend them, and then. . .”

“And then?” Jill asked.

“That’s the question, isn’t it?” Hedone asked. “I’ve been speaking with Nelson and Blane. It seems that we need to get this thing going in the next few days. No one wants to risk Katy and Paddie’s lives but we think now that they need to come with us.”

Jill nodded and Jacob looked worried.

“Do you think that this is some fairy bullshit?” Jacob asked. “Should I speak with Fin and Edie?”

“It’s a fair question,” Hedone said. “I won’t dismiss it out of hand. Talking with Edie and Fin is a good idea. That said, I think it’s unlikely.”

“Then who?” Jill asked.

“The Templars,” Hedone said. “Or someone who is loyal to the Templars.”

No one said anything for a moment.

“If you know anything else, I’d appreciate it if you’d tell us,” Jacob said.

Hedone sighed.

“There is one thing,” Hedone said. “We don’t know what the Vatican knows or thinks about this Templar crap. They have archives — documents, books, objects. . . just so much — that likely contain information about our situation. There may be someone pulling the strings from the Vatican. Nelson says that there’s a contact there at the Vatican that is loyal to the Templars. He’s calling him right now.”

“Lumiati?” Jacob asked.

“Those assholes?” Hedone asked. “No. The worrisome ones are gone and those left worship themselves too much to actually manifest anything upon the world.”

“Then who?” Jill asked.

“I don’t know,” Hedone said.

“How can we find out?” Jill asked.

“It’s definitely something we need to look into,” Hedone said.

“The only thing that’s going to end this is to find the hoard and bring it to the light of day,” Jacob said.

“Exactly,” Hedone said.

“What can I do?” Jill asked.

“Call your grandfather,” Hedone said. “His beloved has connections to the Vatican.”

“Mari?” Jacob said. “Princess Marigold?”

“She does seem ridiculous, doesn’t she?” Hedone asked. “She does that so that she’s underestimated. She is an incredible being — knows people everywhere. She loves Katy and, my guess is, that she’d be delighted to help.”

“I’ll talk to her,” Jill said.

Jill looked down to see that Paddie and Katy were following the entire conversation closely.

“What can we do to protect the kids?” Jacob asked.

“I’m not sure,” Hedone said. “Give me a few hours and I’ll see what I can find out.”

Hedone turned to walk out of the room. She stopped at the door.

“So you know, it was Hecate who put this right,” Hedone said. “I tell you that so that you know the level of power and ability required to have pulled Katy and Paddie into the future. It must be someone powerful without remourse.”

“A Titan?” Jill asked.

“I was thinking Zeus,” Hedone said. “But, I’ll find out.”

“Thanks,” Jill said.

Hedone nodded and disappeared.

“Can we snuggle for a while?” Katy asked. “We feel scared.”

“Of course,” Jacob said.

The little children and Katy’s parents snuggled down in the warm bed. They lay there together until Jacob’s alarm dragged him out of bed.

“I’ll call you,” Jacob said before he left the bedroom.

Jill nodded. Looking at the children, she decided to lay in bed for a while more. They were so little and so brave. She tried to will her strength into them, because no matter what happens now — they were going to need it.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Seventy-three - And really, when have you ever done anything on your own?

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTY-THREE

Wednesday morning —5:02 a.m.

Aden pulled the door to their apartment closed and slipped down the stairwell. Blane and Jacob were waiting for him at the end of the stairwell. They were out the door and out into the cold morning in a matter of minutes. Aden started the truck and they drove out of Castle parking lot and on to their busy day.

The entire house seemed to sigh. A quiet silence fell over the Castle.

And then the screaming started.

Nash was taking too long in the bathroom, and Bladen threw up on Katy’s favorite shirt, and Jackie was sick of her brother Eddie’s “attitude,” and Charlie could not handle another minute of Teddy’s bullshit, and. . .

All at once, it seemed like every child in the Castle was screaming at the top of their lungs.

“What’s that?” Tanesha asked Jill when she opened the side door.

“Delphie says that it’s ‘eclipse energy,’” Jill said.

“Sounds like a lot of kid rage,” Tanesha said.

“Welcome to our humble abode,” Jill said.

Tanesha laughed. They walked into the main Castle living room where Jill had set up tea with breakfast cookies and scones for their early morning girlfriends’ breakfast. Jill and Tanesha listened to the hubbub for a long moment.

“You think we should do something about it?” Tanesha asked.

“Not a chance,” Sandy said, coming down the long stairway. “We’ll likely lose a limb.”

“As long as they don’t kill each other,” Jill said with a furtive glance upstairs.

Heather appeared with Mack, Wyn, and Jabari in her arms. Upon hearing the noise, the sleepy boys leaned into Heather. Tanesha took Jabari from Heather. She settled on the couch with the boy nestled in her lap.

“Should I. . .?” Heather gestured to the ceiling above.

“You mean, it’s not the 1970s?” Jill asked. “We can’t just let them brawl while we drink cocktails.”

“Where are the servants?” Heather asked.

The girlfriends laughed.

“We agreed to let them work their own stuff out,” Sandy said. “I have to trust them to do that.”

“Katy and Paddie said the same thing to me,” Jill said.

“Can I join you?” Valerie asked.

“Of course,” Jill said.

“Me, too?” Honey asked.

“Absolutely,” Sandy said.

With a cup of tea in their hands, they sat in terse silence.

“Is it just me or are you guys uncomfortable with this. . .?” Honey asked.

“We’re uncomfortable,” Tanesha said.

Honey nodded. The screaming continued.

“They’re making my head hurt,” Valerie said.

“They told us that we were undermining them by interfering,” Heather said with a roll of her eyes.

“Our kids are such assholes sometimes,” Sandy said under her breath.

They noticed immediately when Noelle stopped screaming. Katy fell silent at the same time as Jackie stopped screaming at her brother. Not ones to give up easily, the boys went on making their points for a while. Then, as suddenly as it started, everything was silent.

“Oh thank God,” Jill said. She blew out a breath and dramatically fell onto her lap.

Tanesha laughed, and Heather’s eyes flicked across the ceiling. Honey looked like she was going to cry. Valerie just looked exhausted.

“Scone?” Sandy asked.

For a moment, no one moved.

“I’ll have one of those cookies,” Tanesha said, breaking the spell.

When Valerie laughed, the rest of the women began to laugh. For the next half hour, they laughed, drank tea, and ate scones.

~~~~~~~~

Wednesday morning —7:02 a.m.

Jeraine flipped Tanesha under him and kissed her hard. She laughed.

“You taste like. . .” Jeraine kissed her again. “Tea and those breakfast cookies and. . .”

“You?” Tanesha asked.

Tanesha leaned her head up to kiss him. They kissed and rolled over again. For a while, they were caught up in each other in the way they had been since they were children. Breathless, they fell against the bed.

“You’re off all day?” Jeraine asked.

“All day,” Tanesha said. She fluffed her pillow and leaned back. “Do you have time?”

“I’m all yours,” Jeraine said. “Until. . . four? I think. There’s a show tonight.”

“Should we take Jabari out of school and. . .” Tanesha said and laughed.

“He would never want to be out of school,” they said in unison and laughed.

“We could go shopping,” Jeraine said.

“Ugh,” Tanesha said. “My feet hurt from work.”

“Spa day?” Jeraine asked.

“Eh,” Tanesha said, rolling over.

“Jeraine as your slave day?” Jeraine asked.

“That’s my every day,” Tanesha said.

They laughed. Jeraine kissed her ear.

“I’d love to spend the day with you,” Tanesha said. “Hang out here. Talk. Just see how you. . .”

Tanesha groaned when her phone rang. A second later, Jeraine’s phone rang. Tanesha reached her phone first.

“Hello?” Tanesha asked at nearly the same time that Jeraine said, “Hello.”

“Tanesha Smith?” a woman’s voice asked. “I need to speak with you and Jeraine Wilson.”

“Who is this?” Tanesha asked.

“It’s Atlanta Child Protection Services,” the woman said. “We haven’t met. My name is Hazel Johnson. I’m a child support service manager. I am responsible for the care and well-being of children in Atlanta.”

“Uh, okay, Jeraine’s right here,” Tanesha said. She nodded to Jeraine. “He’s hanging up. I’m going to put you on speaker.”

“Oh, good,” she said. “Thanks.”

Jeraine got out of bed and pulled on a T-shirt and sweatpants. Tanesha reached for her bathrobe.

“I’m here,” Jeraine said, pulling on his socks.

“Mr. Wilson, I’m not sure how to say this to you,” Hazel said.

“Ms. Johnson, you can tell us anything,” Tanesha said.

“How can we help?” Jeraine asked.

Hazel sighed.

“You can call me ‘Hazel,’” she said. “And, I’m glad you want to help, but let me tell you what’s going on first.”

“What’s going on?” Tanesha asked.

“You’re aware, well, of course you are,” Hazel said.

Hazel didn’t say anything for a long moment.

“Ma’am?” Jeraine asked.

“Sorry, I just realized that I was talking to Miss T and Jeraine,” Hazel said.

“It’s freaky,” Jeraine said. “For us, too.”

“We understand,” Tanesha said. “Take your time.”

“No, I. . . Well, I’m just going to tell you,” Hazel said. “You remember, Annette?”

“Jabari’s birth mother?” Jeraine asked. “Yes, I remember my son’s birth mother.”

“Yes, sorry — of course, you do,” Hazel said.

“Jer, why don’t you make us some tea?” Tanesha asked.

Looking relieved, Jeraine nodded and left the room.

“He’s gone,” Tanesha said. “You can talk to me. I’m just a regular person. I work a job like you. I’m no star.”

“Okay. Um,” Hazel said. “Thanks.”

“No problem,” Tanesha said. “What’s going on?”

“Jabari is Annette’s eldest child,” Hazel said.

“She has two or three others,” Tanesha said. “I’m not really sure how many because we’ve never seen them.”

“She has three other children,” Hazel said. “Two of them were removed from the home and placed with Annette’s mother. The youngest one was a baby.”

“Okay,” Tanesha said, slowly.

“Annette’s mother has died,” Hazel said. “As well as her sisters, Annette’s Aunts. They. . . well, um. . . Covid. The whole family has died.”

“The whole family,” Tanesha repeated still unsure of what was being said. “Their fathers?”

“One is in the hospital,” Hazel said. “Covid. It doesn’t look like he’ll make it. His parents have already succumbed to the virus. The baby’s father, well, he died.”

“Wow,” Tanesha said.

“Oh, sorry, he was a rapper,” Hazel said. “He was killed before the child was born last year. Drive-by shooting.”

“Okay,” Tanesha said. “I apologize but I’m not sure how I can help.”

“You’re right. I need to be more clear,” Hazel said. She gasped a breath and started talking, “I need to place the children. Annette’s chlidren are in foster care now. I went to visit with them last night, and they kept asking about Jabari. They don’t want to be placed in Atlanta where they’d be away from Jabari. They’ve asked me to move them to Denver, so that they can see their brother.”

“My friend, Heather, has a social worker who has helped them with their adoption,” Tanesha said. “If you hang on a minute. . .”

“I’ve spoken with social services there,” Hazel said. “They are as overrun as we are.”

“Overrun?” Tanesha slowly asked the question.

Tanesha felt like Hazel was saying something but she was too slow to hear or understand.

Her mind slipped to standing in the Castle kitchen this morning. She was putting away the tea pot when Delphie came up to her. Delphie hugged her. Pulling back, the oracle gave Tanesha was Valerie called an “Oracle Bomb,” a prophetic sentence that makes no sense at the time but will at some point in the near future.

“And really, when have you ever done anything on your own?” Delphie asked.

She kissed Tanesha’s cheek and drifted away. Tanesha realized that Hazel had been talking this entire time.

“I’m sorry,” Tanesha said. “I got off work at 3 this morning and have been running since then. I’m a little bleary. Would you mind repeating what you were saying?”

“Sure, no problem,” Hazel said. “How is medical school going?”

“Weird,” Tanesha said. “The pandemic has made the school part pretty weird and the rounds deadly.”

Tanesha sighed.

“I’m tired,” Tanesha said. “I’m sure you are too.”

“I bet,” Hazel said. “And yes, yes, I’m exhausted.”

“Please, humor me and repeat what you were saying,” Tanesha said.

“I’ll cut to the chase,” Hazel said. “These Covid deaths have created a lot of orphans. Like Annette’s family, it’s not uncommon for every member of the family to either be sick with that Long Haul or dead. Every child program in the country is jammed with orphans. No one’s seen anything like this. Ever. We’ve been running Facebook ads for Foster Parents here.”

“Crazy,” Tanesha said.

“The boys want to live with their brother, Jabari,” Hazel said. “That’s the truth of it. I was asked to call you to see if you might consider taking these boys into your home and raising them. All of Annette’s assets are being converted into trusts for her children. They also have money from their fathers. While you’re a foster parent, you’d get a monthly stipend and. . .”

Tanesha sighed.

And really, when have you ever done anything on your own?

Never.

Even when she was at college, her girlfriends sent food and clothing; talked to her in the middle of the night; Heather had even come to see her when she needed her most and held her hand through her worst moments from Jeraine’s bullshit to the horror of her parents situation.

“I need to speak with Jeraine and Jabari,” Tanesha said. “We. . . I mean, I’m in school and he’s. . . I will have to get back with you.”

“Denver Child Services has agreed to take temporary custody of the boys. We are coming to Denver this afternoon,” Hazel said. “If you only see the boys in visits, that’s fine. If you feel like you can help more, that’s better. You don’t have to kill yourself here. And there really isn’t anyone else.”

“The boys are Jabari’s brothers,” Tanesha said. “They will be in his life for the rest of his life. That matters. We also know a lot about Foster Care and have an agent we’ve worked with previously.”

“Good,” Hazel said. “Can we meet you for dinner tonight?”

“Tonight?” Tanesha asked. “Jeraine has a show and I. . .”

And really, when have you ever done anything on your own?

“What I need to do first is speak to Jeraine,” Tanesha said.

“I really hope that you’ll take the boys,” Hazel said.

“I hear what you’re saying,” Tanesha said. “It doesn’t change the fact that I need to speak to Jeraine.”

“Okay,” Hazel said. “I will call you at this number when we land this afternoon.”

“Thank you,” Tanesha said.

The woman was talking when Tanesha clicked off the phone call. Staring into space, she sat on the end of the bed for what felt like an age.

“You okay?” Jeraine asked as he poked his head in the doorway. “What did she want?”

“You should sit down,” Tanesha said.

Jeraine came into the room and closed the door. He sat down next to her on the bed. He grabbed her hand and intertwined their fingers.

“Lay it on me.”

~~~~~~~~

Wednesday morning —11:12 a.m.

“I love this house,” Dionne Wilson, Jeraine’s mother, said as she came down the stairs. “How long have you been here?”

“Not long,” Tanesha said. “Would you like to see the adult bedrooms?”

“We want to see everything,” Yvonne Smith, Tanesha’s mother, said. “Why haven’t we done this before?”

“Covid,” Tanesha said. “You old folks are at risk.”

“Who are you calling old?” Dr. Bumpy Wilson, Jeraine’s father, asked.

Everyone laughed.

“Jacob came over to help us get the air flow right,” Tanesha said.

“He’s the one who set it up for the school?” Yvonne asked.

“She’s talking about Marlowe,” Rodney Smith, Tanesha’s father, said.

“Oh, right,” Yvonne said. “I forget that his name isn’t Jakey.”

The older folks laughed. Shaking her head, Tanesha led them down the hallway.

“Every adult has his or her own room on this level,” Tanesha said. “Each room has a bathroom and outdoor space.”

“So nice,” Yvonne said.

“Like a fancy hotel,” Dionne said. “I like it. Jakey came up with this?”

“Jacob and Jill did,” Tanesha said with a nod. “Heather has the large bathroom because she does the most childcare. The kids rooms are at the end of the hallway.”

Tanesha opened a door to the room that Jacob had built out of thin air.

“Gorgeous playroom,” Dionne said.

“Why so many bedrooms?” Yvonne gestures to the four bedrooms along the back.

“We weren’t sure if Jabari would want to sleep up here,” Tanesha said. “We don’t know if Heather will have more children.”

“Is she planning on having more?” Dr. Bumpy asked with a scowl.

“Not that I know of,” Tanesha said.

They backed their way out of the room. Tanesha opened Nelson’s room.

“This room has a private stairwell to the rooftop,” Tanesha said. “Nelson is a big star watcher so Jacob made a patio out of some of the attic. Nelson has his own stairwell so that he can do star stuff when it’s happening.”

“Do you have access to this patio?” Rodney asked. “Didn’t you send me a photo from here?”

“It’s shared space,” Tanesha said with a nod.

They walked back down the hallway and went further into the house. Tanesha took them to her and Jeraine’s private area, Jabari’s bedroom, her study, and their little kitchen. Her parents lingered at the window that could be seen out of but not inside.

“Why are those photographers so amped up today?” Yvonne asked.

“We’ll get to that,” Tanesha said.

She led them out to the main kitchen area. They went through to the sitting area near the sliding door. Tanesha opened it a crack to get the air moving.

“Let me know if you get cold,” Tanesha said. “This is the best way we know of to stay safe. We put blankets around so feel free to grab one.”

“Plus our masks,” Dionne said, touching the cloth mask over her face.

“Is it true that the governor is giving Jacob vaccines?” Dr. Bumpy asked.

“The company has agreed, as a whole, to take them or stay home,” Rodney said. “Of course, we’ll see what happens.”

“Good stuff,” Dr. Bumpy said. “Dionne and I are getting them next week, as well. Yvie?”

“She’s covered at work,” Rodney said. “Jake told the governor that it was stupid to not vaccinate all of the adults in a home. Somehow, he got the governor to agree.”

“Valerie probably talked to him,” Yvonne said.

Dionne and Yvonne gave each other knowing nods.

“No idea,” Tanesha said.

“Listen,” Jeraine said, coming into the sitting area. “We’re not here for vaccines.”

“Okay, son,” Dionne said. “We’re just chatting.”

“Lovely home,” Yvonne said.

“I’ll show you the recording studio when we’re done here,” Jeraine said.

“Can’t wait,” Dr. Bumpy said. He rubbed his hands together. “Why are we here? Baby?”

His face lit up and he looked at Tanesha, who shook her head, and then to Jeraine. His son looked overwhelmed.

“What’s happened?” Rodney asked.

“We need some help,” Tanesha said.

For the next hour, they talked through Annette’s children moving to Denver. When they were done, their parents went to look at the recording studio.

Tanesha’s phone rang.

“What did they say?” Jill asked.

“They’ll help,” Tanesha said. “Mom said that she and dad had been talking about adopting some of these orphans. So, they knew all about what’s going on and said that they would help.”

“How do you feel about it now?” Heather asked.

“Are you guys at the salon?” Tanesha asked.

“We’ve been waiting to hear how it went,” Sandy said. “How do you feel?”

“Terrified,” Tanesha said. “I never wanted kids, I mean. . .”

“We can do this,” Jill said.

“Don’t overthink it,” Sandy said. “Kids mostly need food, safety, and acceptance. We’ve got that in spades.”

“What if I screw it up?” Tanesha asked. “What about school and being a doctor?”

“We’ve got this,” Jill said.

“Don’t even worry,” Heather said. “We’ve got this.”

“And Jer?” Tanesha asked. “I mean, he’s just getting on his feet and his head and. . .”

“Everything is going to be fine,” Heather said.

“Promise?” Tanesha asked.

“Promise,” Sandy said. “We’ve got this.”

“Okay,” Tanesha said. “Thanks.”

Tanesha hung up the phone. For a long moment, she stared at the wall. Shrugging, she went to go find Jeraine and their parents.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Seventy-two - A friend will cheer for you, grieve, and help.

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTY-TWO

Tuesday afternoon — 2:45 p.m.

“Jill?” Colin Hargreaves nearly screamed into the telephone.

The sound of a helicopter boomed in the background of the call. Jill was standing in the hallway of the Art Institute. She’d stepped out of a class to return his urgent text.

“I got your 911 text, Colin,” Jill said. “You sound really freaked out. What’s going on?”

“Julie collapsed,” Colin said. “She was running errand and collapsed in the car.”

“Oh no!” Jill said.

“She was at a stoplight,” Colin said. “The guy in the car behind her noticed that she had pass out and called the paramedics. He stayed with her until they arrived.”

“Where is she now?” Jill asked.

“She’s with John,” Colin said. “She must have known that was sick because she was holding John’s card when she passed out. The guy called the number and . . .”

“So, she’s at Denver Health,” Jill said. “That’s good.”

“Yea,” Colin said. “John called me because . . . because . . .”

“What’s going on?” Jill asked.

“She’s in organ failure,” Colin said. “She . . . she . . . Covid . . . and I . . .”

“Breathe,” Alex Hargreaves’ voice came over the phone in the background. “Breathe. She’s in the best hands. You know that. Breathe.”

“Jill?” a man’s voice asked on the phone.

“Yes?” Jill asked.

“This is Art Rasmussen,” he said. “We’ve met a few times.”

“Sasha’s daddy,” Jill said.

“Yes, I am that,” he said. “Listen, we’re in North Dakota today.”

“Okay,” Jill said.

“Colin needs you to pick up his kids from the Marlowe School,” Art said.

“Done,” Jill said. “I’ll bring them home. They can stay with us for as long as they need.”

There were voices in the background, but Jill couldn’t make out what they were saying.

“We understand that Julie was there?” Art asked. “At the Castle?”

“She and Paddie were pretty sick,” Jill said.

“We need to get Paddie checked,” Art said. “Also, would you mind doing me a tremendous favor?”

“Sure,” Jill said. “I’m happy to help if I can.”

“We need Blane,” Art said. “Julie likes him and says that he really helped her when she was sick. She’s asking for him. None of us has a working phone number for him.”

“That’s easy,” Jill said. “I’ll call Blane and pick up the kids. I’ll have Blane check Paddie and we’ll take him to Dr. Bumpy if he seems off. Otherwise, we’ll keep them with us until Julie is better or Colin is home.”

“Perfect,” Art said. “Thank you.”

“Absolutely,” Jill said. “Should I talk to Colin again?”

“I think conversation is more than he can do right now,” Art said.

“I understand,” Jill said. “Don’t worry about a thing. We’ve got this.”

“Thank you,” Art said.

The line went dead. Jill looked at her phone and then tucked it into the back pocket of her jeans. She wondered if she should call Jacob, and then remembered that he was in the middle of what he called Lipson Construction “stuff.” She checked her watch to see when the kids would get out of school. Nodding to herself, she had enough time to finish this class. So, she called and left a message for Blane before she returned to her classroom.

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday afternoon — 2:45 p.m.

Charlie, Nash, Noelle, Tink, and Ivy fell out of the Marlowe School at the same time. The older kids had an early day on Tuesdays so that they could work on their individual study project. As a group, they rotated through study projects depending on their individual interests. This week, they were focusing on art due to Noelle’s interest in the topic.

Tink had gotten her driver’s license and was prepared to drive them in Heather’s car to the Denver Art Museum where they were studying a series of Western Painters. Noelle wanted to learn about painting what she called “Big Sky.” Mike was meeting them there.

When they reached the parking lot, Aden was there waiting.

“Daddy!” Noelle said. She ran to him for a hug. “What are you doing here?”

Nash gave his father a one armed hug and then got into Heather’s car. He didn’t want to give his father a reason for him not to miss the museum. He was learning a lot about fine art from Mike for his “become a better man” project and didn’t want to miss this.

“I’m here for Charlie,” Aden said.

“Me?” Charlie looked up at him and shrugged. “What did I do?”

“We need to hit a meeting,” Aden said.

“I’ve been going to the teen meeting online,” Charlie said.

“We’re going in person today,” Aden said.

Charlie looked at Tink. She gave him a soft smile and a nod.

“You hate the art part anyway,” Tink said softly.

“You’re sure?” Charlie asked.

Tink nodded.

“I’ll see you at home,” Charlie said and went with Aden.

Charlie got into the passenger seat of Aden’s new hybrid sedan. He slumped down on his spine so that his face was at the same level as his jacket.

“Do you have a clean mask?” Aden asked.

Charlie shook his head.

“I have some in the glove box,” Aden said.

Charlie didn’t move. Aden started the sedan and drove out of the Marlowe School parking lot. They drove for a few minutes in silence.

“What’s wrong?” Aden asked.

“Why do I have to go?” Charlie whined. “I haven’t done anything wrong. I’ve been working the steps with my online group. I go to meetings at least once a day, sometimes twice. I’m doing everything my sponsor says — eating right, getting good sleep. I even gave up the apartment with Tink because he thought that it was a distraction from my sobriety.”

In the realm of teenager sighs, Charlie let out a legendary teenager sigh.

Aden glanced at him and chuckled.

“That was whiney even for you,” Aden said.

“I noticed half way through but figured I’d finish strong,” Charlie said with a laugh.

Aden smiled.

“Are you struggling?” Charlie asked.

“With my sobriety?” Aden asked. “No more than usual. I was having a tough time around the time that Sandy fell down the stairs. Her injuries and surgeries and recovery and all of that — it really put everything in perspective for me.”

“How so?” Charlie asked.

“We all suffer, I guess,” Aden said. “I want to use because that’s what I want to do. It’s not my right to blow up my life, my family, the company. It’s just willfulness. Life is hard enough without adding my stubborn selfishness to it.”

“That’s not exactly surrender,” Charlie said.

“I’ve told you before,” Aden said. “For me, sobriety is one part surrender to life and another part a battle of my petty wants.”

“Some days, it’s both,” Charlie said with a nod.

They drove a long in silence.

“Did Jake get the vaccines?” Charlie asked.

“Next week,” Aden said.

“And everyone’s going to take them?” Charlie asked.

“Or stay home,” Aden said. “I know that there’s a lot in the press about how people don’t want the vaccines. I haven’t seen it. We all know someone who has died of this disease. In Colorado, the number one group of people who’ve died have been construction workers.”

“Really?” Charlie asked.

“The largest category is underground workers,” Aden said.

“Damn,” Charlie said. “How many people have been sick at Lipson?”

“None,” Aden said. “I mean, except Sam and others before we know what we were dealing with. We’re the only crew in Denver that hasn’t lost a large number of people. It’s. . .”

“Freaky?” Charlie asked.

“To say the least,” Aden said. “Jake prefers us to say that we’ve been ‘lucky,’ but the truth is that everyone from top to bottom has worked hard to make it happen. From masks to handwashing, we’ve all done our part.”

“That’s great leadership,” Charlie said.

“We’ve been very lucky,” Aden said.

Charlie laughed. They drove in silence until they pulled up to the York Street House. Aden parked on the street.

“Why am I here?” Charlie asked. “You never said.”

Aden turned off the vehicle and turned to look at Charlie.

“What’s today’s date?” Aden asked.

“I don’t know,” Charlie said. “I’m not any good at that. You know that I. . .”

“Happy two clears clean, Charlie,” Aden said.

“What?” Charlie asked. His mouth dropped open and he gawked at Aden.

“It’s been two years since you were high last,” Aden said.

Charlie mouthed the words.

“Really?” Charlie asked.

“Unless you got high or drunk and I don’t know about it,” Aden said.

Charlie thought for a moment before shaking his head.

“I can’t believe it,” Charlie said, softly. “When people ask me, I just say that I’m new to the program because I still feel new to the program.”

Aden nodded.

“Come on,” Aden said. “Sandy made your favorite cake. You can pick up your chip. Your sisters asked me to take lots of pictures and a video for Sissy. Nash and Teddy would be here but I made them go to the art museum.”

“Nash has his 'self improvement project,'" Charlie said. "He's not going to miss the art museum.”

“I had to pay him to not come,” Aden said. “Real. Money.”

Charlie nodded and moved to get out of the sedan. Aden got out of the passenger side. He went to the back to get the cake and a mask for Charlie. As he walked around, he noticed that Charlie was crying. Aden put the cake on the roof of the car and opened the door. Leaning down, he hugged Charlie.

“I just. . . I just. . .” Charlie said.

“I know,” Aden said. “And, you’ve worked really hard for this. No one can ever take it away from you. . .”

“Unless you give it away,” Aden and Charlie said in unison.

Charlie swiped at his eyes and got out of the car.

“I don’t know what your future holds,” Aden said. “Next year, you might be in college somewhere else. But for as long as you’re here with us, we’re never going to miss an opportunity to tell you how incredibly proud we are of you. We have a special dinner tonight with everyone to celebrate, too.”

Nodding, Charlie jammed his hands into his pockets. Aden retrieved the cake, closed the passenger door, and walked with Charlie into the Alcoholics Anonymous house where Charlie had first utter the words : “I’m Charlie. I’m an addict” and meant it.

~~~~~~~~

Tuesday evening — 9:35 p.m.

“You missed dinner,” Heather said, when Blane came down the stairs to the main kitchen area.

Blane puffed his cheeks out in a breath and shook his head. He didn’t move to take off his mask. Instead, he opened the sliding door and went back to sit at the table.

“I feel contagious,” Blane said.

“Immortal,” Heather said pointing to herself.

Blane gave a tired nod.

“It was my winning point in the ‘Who will wait up for him?’ battle between Nelson and I,” Heather said.

Blane looked up. After a long moment, he laughed.

“Really?” Blane asked.

“No,” Heather said. “Nelson is sequestered with his father and a bunch of ‘the Greeks’ as Nash calls them. They are talking about the prophecy and the Templar hoard. If you head up there, you might ‘get’ to meet a gorgon.”

“I feel really thick,” Blane looked up at her, “but what’s a gorgon?”

“Good question,” Heather said. “Let’s get you some food.”

“Did you . . .?” Blane asked.

“Jeraine,” Heather said. “It was Charlie’s two year sobriety party tonight. Jeraine made a real feast. Sandy made a cake. Jacob set up a projector so that when Sissy called everyone could see her. It was really nice.”

“Wow, two years,” Blane said. “That’s huge.”

“Charlie asked after you,” Heather said. “He feels like you are an integral part in his recovery. Especially the early days. He told everyone about a time that you strapped him to the table to keep him there.”

“I’ll never admit to it,” Blane said with a grin.

Nodding, Heather smiled at him.

“You have the best way to make me feel better,” Blane said. “I . . .”

He sighed.

“I’m grateful,” Blane said, after a few minutes.

“How many years have you been sober?” Heather asked.

“Uh,” Blane looked off into the near distance.

“Very funny,” Heather said. “I know that you know by the hour.”

Blane laughed. Heather went into their new kitchen to put together his dinner.

“Fourteen years, twenty-four days, and . . .” Blane looked at his watch. “Twelve hours. That’s completely clean. I started trying to get clean a couple years earlier.”

“Do you still want to use?” Heather asked.

“Sometimes,” Blane said. “Actually, a lot of that faded when we had Mack.”

“He’s an amazing child,” Heather said.

“I think that it’s you,” Blane said. “One thing about drugs and alcohol is that they love you and are with you, no matter where you are or what you’re doing or what time it is. Drugs were my best-friend in the middle of the night and eased any embarrassment or anxiety mid-day. That’s faded since I’ve known you. Especially since you’ve been a goddess.”

Watching her warm up his food, Blane was quiet for a long minute.

“I can’t believe you’re up trying to help me,” Blane said. “You were up early with the boys. You must be exhausted.”

“I’m tired,” Heather said. “I love spending time with you. It’s a real treat for me.”

“We have a lot less time together than we used to,” Blane said, nodding.

“We have two kids and all of this,” Heather said.

“Not to mention all of the drama of a quest and Olympia and my work and a pandemic,” Blane said.

He dramatically fell forward until his forehead rested on the table.

“I don’t know if I’m going to survive this pandemic,” Blane said into the table.

“It’s a lot to deal with,” Heather said. “So many people are relying on you.”

“I’m happy to be relied upon but . . .” Blane said.

“No talking,” Heather said. “Just eat. I’ll tell you what Holmes Olivas said.”

She set down a plate of comfort food — mashed potatoes, meatloaf, a pile of warmed vegetables, and a salad.

“I have cake when you’re done,” Heather said.

“Happy two years, Charlie,” Blane said, looking up to the ceiling as if Charlie was there.

He pointed to the ceiling. The fluffy white clouds had disrupted the previous blue ceiling. There were cherubs and birds and . . .

“Mike finished the ceiling,” Blane said.

“He says he has more to do,” Heather said with a shrug. “I think it’s very beautiful.”

Blane nodded. He took off his facemask and ate in earnest.

“Oh my God,” Blane said. “This is perfect. Are there more potatoes?”

Nodding, Heather got up to get him some.

“Don’t tell him that I told you, but Jeraine made this for you,” Heather said. “He knew that this was your favorite comfort food.”

“He knew I’d be in rough shape?” Blane asked.

“I don’t think you have to be an oracle to know that this pandemic is wearing at you,” Heather said.

“I love my new treatment rooms,” Blane said.

“In the Castle?” Heather asked.

Blane nodded.

“It’s a great space,” Blane said. “That’s not to mention that it’s nice to be at the Castle. When I’m not working, I can either read or hang out with Delphie or just sit on the bench and watch the garden grow.”

Blane nodded.

“I guess it’s kind of cold now,” Blane said.

“You have warm clothing,” Heather said.

“That I do,” Blane said. “I’ll tell you — after a night surrounded by people on ventilators, it feels like a luxury just to breathe. And, then breathe again.”

Blane shrugged and took the warmed mashed potatoes from Heather. He took a few bites and set it down.

“What happened tonight?” Heather asked.

“Oh,” Blane shrugged. “It’s not like tonight was any different than any day in the last year.”

Heather waited while Blane collected his thoughts. When Blane finished his mashed potatoes, Heather got up to bring him a slice of cake.

“There was a protest outside the hospital,” Blane said. “I had to push my way past the angry protest. People punched me. Spit on me. If I still had AIDS, they easily could have killed me. As it is . . . Well, I said that already. The horrible outside the hospital are not match for the horrors inside.”

“I . . .” Blane dropped his head as a tear fell from his eyes.

Heather went around the table to sit next to Blane. She stroked his back for a few minutes until he felt stronger.

“I’m sure you want to know about Julie,” Blane said.

“Sure,” Heather said. “But mostly, I want to know how you are.”

Blane nodded.

“Julie is really sick,” Blane said. “She’s in the ICU with organ failure. I don’t know how she got so sick so fast. This virus just sucks. Just sucks. I mean, she’s been fine. John told me that this is how the disease progresses in some people. They are fine for weeks or months after being sick. Then something happens.”

Blane sighed.

“And, she’s definitely getting the best help possible,” Blane said. “But it’s going to be quite a journey back.”

“Did you treat her?” Heather asked.

Blane nodded.

“I spent the rest of the night working on the doctors and nurses,” Blane said. “Drayson set it up. I will tell you — it was an honor to treat these people who’ve been working so hard to save people.”

“But?” Heather asked.

“They . . .” Blane shook his head. “This is such a fucked up time. Who assaults a doctor trying to save you or your family member’s life? It’s unimaginable to me, but every single person has some story of how they were punched or screamed at or threatened or their children threatened or . . . It’s like the worst thing. I have these kind, smart people sobbing on my table. I’m working in three rooms to treat them all and . . .”

“Sounds exhausting,” Heather said.

Rather than respond, Blane ate his piece of three layer coconut cake. When he finished, he drank down his water glass and turned to Heather.

“So sad,” Blane said. “So very sad and infuriating. I mean why? Really, why is assaulting doctors and nurses a thing?”

Heather nodded. Blane looked at her.

“Can I sleep with you tonight?” Blane asked. “I don’t think I’ll sleep otherwise. I’m too upset.”

“You’re always welcome to sleep with me,” Heather said.

“You’re not due in Olympia or deal with something important?” Blane asked. “Take care of the kids?”

Nothing in this world is more important to me than you,” Heather said. “Tres agreed to monitor the kids tonight. If they need anything, he’ll take care of them. We all want to care for you.”

Rather than cry hysterically, Blane bit his lip and nodded.

“Come on,” Heather said. “Let’s get you in the bath. You’ll feel more sane when you’re warm and clean.”

Blane nodded. She got up and held out her hand.

“What about the dishes?” Blane asked.

“What dishes?” Heather asked.

Blane looked and his dirty dishes were gone.

“It kind of freaks me out that you can do that, but right now?” Blane shook his head. “I’m so glad that you can.”

He got up and took her hand. They walked up the steps. Speaking softly not to wake the children, he asked, “Why ‘Holmes’? Why did he pick that name?”

“His father’s name is ‘Homer,’” Heather said. “He just goes by Troy. It’s not a huge stretch. Plus, it kind of fits him. The boy is a brainaic, a true genius.”

Shrugging, Blane nodded. Heather led him to her large bathroom. She had the largest bathroom because she usually took care of the children. Blane went into the room with the toilet and she prepared in the big bathtub. He got out, stripped, and stepped into the tub. She let him soak for a half hour before getting him out, drying him off, and bringing him to bed.

He slept as he used to when he was sick with AIDS and Hepatitis C — with his head in her lap while she sat up against the headboard. She held him close.

Around two in the morning, Nelson poked his head in to see how Blane was. Heather gestured for him to take the comfortable chair she nursed the boys in. Nelson took off his shoes. He fell asleep the moment his head hit the back rest of the bed.

When their boys awoke at five, Tres brought them through the adjoining door and climbed into bed. Tres lay across the bottom of the bed and Nelson dropped down next to Heather.

When Blane awoke, he felt strangely refreshed, surrounded by those he loved the most.

There was nothing better.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Seventy-one - Out of the mouths of babes

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTY-ONE

Chapter 671

Tuesday midday — 12:45 p.m.

“Can I ask you something?” Holmes Olivas asked Sandy.

He was lying back with his neck resting on the edge of her sink while Sandy was washing his hair. They were in the back of Sandy’s hair salon.

“’Member how you said that I could ask you anything and you would always be honest with me?” Holmes asked.

“Yes,” Sandy said.

“You said that we were connected because of what happened to us,” Holmes said. “And that we have a deep bond that can never be broken.”

“I believe that,” Sandy said. “Do you?”

Holmes nodded.

“But we also agreed that I wouldn’t keep secrets from your dad,” Sandy said.

If you thought I was in danger,” Holmes said.

“Only then,” Sandy said. “Are you in danger?”

“No more than usual,” Holmes said. He gave her a saucy wink.

His blue eyes looked incredibly blue over his blue face mask.

Sandy gave him a soft smile. When she had met him, he had been a small undernourished boy who’d been horrifically abused. His mother had just been killed by the man he’d thought was his father, the man that he’d been named after until his recent name change. He and his brother had just moved to Denver. Alex Hargreaves had asked Sandy if she could try to connect with the boy. Alex felt that Sandy’s recovery from her traumatic past might help Holmes find his way through this new life. In the meantime, Holmes had grown into a lovely, charming, tall boy who was sometimes too bright for his own good.

Holmes’ eyes squinted as if he were smiling.

“What’s up?” Sandy asked.

“Heather is the demi-god Hedone, right?” Holmes asked.

“She has become a full goddess,” Sandy said. “It’s complicated but that’s where things stand. Basically, her father went insane while looking for her mother. He has now retired and retreated with her mother to a romantic island somewhere.”

“Huh,” Holmes said. “Uh, don’t be mad but I listened to your conversation.”

“Oh?” Sandy asked.

“I didn’t mean to,” Holmes said. “I finished an exam early so I just came over. I thought we could eat something if you weren’t busy.”

“Makes sense,” Sandy said.

“You’re not mad that I listened in?” Holmes asked.

“Not particularly,” Sandy said. “Nothing I do is that confidential. Plus you know everyone anyway.”

“Valerie is a siren,” Holmes said. “Delphie is an oracle. Tanesha glows and Jill radiates power.”

Holmes shrugged.

“I don’t know why Tanesha and Jill do that,” Holmes said.

“You should ask them,” Sandy said. “I know that they will tell you all about it if you ask.”

“Okay.” Holmes nodded. “I will.”

“Did you hear something that you’d like to talk about?” Sandy asked.

She finished rinsing the conditioner from his hair. She wrapped his head in a towel and helped him sit up. They walked together to the station she was working at. Because of Covid-19, they were alone in the salon. Sandy was, of course, also wearing a face mask.

“Um, yeah,” Holmes said.

Sandy started combing through his curly dishwater blond hair. Like most people, his hair had grown long over the “stay at home.” It was now past his shoulders. After a few minutes, she leaned to the side.

“What’s going on?” Sandy asked.

“It has to do with. . .” Holmes caught Sandy’s eyes in the mirror, “. . .you-know-who.”

Sandy nodded.

“Do you want to leave this long or cut it?” Sandy asked. “Your dad said something about college interviews?”

“No one cares about my hair,” Holmes said. “He just wants me to cut it. He thinks I look like I’m a hippie.”

“What do you want?” Sandy asked.

The boy thought for a long moment before saying.

“You can tell me,” Sandy said.

“I think he’s right, but I don’t want him to win,” Holmes said.

“Fair enough,” Sandy said. “Why don’t we split the difference? We can take most of this length off so it looks a little more professional. You can slick it back or come let me do it when you have your interviews.”

“Sounds perfect!” Holmes said.

“Highlights?” Sandy asked. “Your brother had purple this time.”

“I don’t know,” Holmes said. “You think it will make me more attractive to. . . you know, those guys?”

“Pedophiles?” Sandy asked. She shook her head. Intentionally putting her hand over the top of his shoulder to ground him, she said, “No. This is your body. This is your hair. You can do what you want with it. And if anyone gives you any trouble, what do you do?”

“I call Auntie Alex,” Holmes said with a nod. “Anywhere in the world and she’ll come home and kick their ass so hard they’ll wish they didn’t have an ass.”

Sandy laughed.

“That sounds like Alex,” Sandy said. “Why don’t you let me do this? I think you’ll be pleased.”

Holmes nodded, and Sandy got to work.

“You can talk while I work,” Sandy said.

“Oh, right,” Holmes said. He swallowed hard. “When I lived with dickface. . . Do you mind if I use that word? It’s kind of a swear word.”

“I’ve heard worse,” Sandy said with a laugh.

“Oh, okay,” Holmes said. “Mom and me and Hermes lived with dickface. He wanted so bad to be as smart as my dad, you know, Troy?”

“I do know your father,” Sandy said.

“Right,” Holmes said. “Okay. The only way he could be smart like my dad was to make all of us do the work. Because he was lazy as fuck.”

“What do you mean?” Sandy asked never taking her eyes off his hair.

“I mean, well, okay. . .” Holmes scowled. “You won’t make fun of me?”

“I would never make fun of you,” Sandy said.

“Well, I’m kinda smart too,” Holmes said. “I mean, Hermes is too, but he’s, you know, a different kind of smart from me and dad.”

“Hermes has the soul of an artist,” Sandy said.

“With the mind of a genius,” Holmes said with a grin. “Dad thinks that he’s going to be an architect, but I think he’ll do something literary like write books or poems or maybe paint. He did some painting with Mike when we were there. It’s really good. Oh, I shouldn’t have told you. That was a secret.”

“I won’t tell a soul.” Sandy said with a smile.

There was no one in the world that Holmes loved more than his younger brother.

“He made a painting for dad for Christmas,” Holmes said. “It’s at Mike’s studio so dad won’t see it.”

“I might take a peek then,” Sandy said.

“You should,” Holmes said. “Dad’s going to like it so much that he’ll cry.”

Sandy couldn’t help but smile at the sweet boy.

“You were telling me something about living with your uncle,” Sandy said, after a few minutes of silence.

“Oh, I know,” Holmes said with a sigh. “I was avoiding it.”

“Well don’t,” Sandy said. “We have this private time so we can talk.”

Holmes sighed.

“He made me learn Ancient Greek, Latin, and a bunch of other languages so that I could translate these ancient texts that his freak father owned,” Holmes said.

“Why?” Sandy asked with a shrug.

“I’m not really sure,” Holmes said. “He liked to show off and quote these old texts as if he had translated them himself, but it was me.”

“Of course it was,” Sandy said with a shake of his head. “Why shouldn’t he take all the credit for your work?”

“Right,” Holmes said. “But what I wanted to say is this — you’re missing a line of that prophecy.”

“What?” Sandy asked.

“I mean, that’s what made me start listening,” Holmes said. “I heard Heather speaking Ancient Greek. I don’t think I remembered that I knew that prophecy until she spoke it. But she left out a verse.”

Still focused on the boy’s hair, Sandy didn’t respond. Hermes touched Sandy’s hand.

“Oh, sorry,” Sandy said. “I kind of wheeled out there with my anger at your stupid uncle.”

“Heh,” Holmes said. “I do that.”

“I know you do,” Sandy said. “You’re saying that you translated this prophecy and there’s a verse missing. The one they think is about Katy and Paddie?”

Holmes nodded.

“And I think it is about Katy and Paddie,” Holmes said. “And the Vanquisher is a great blade, but the Sword of Truth is truly the greatest blade ever made, at least that’s what the ancient Greeks thought. Of course, Perses had the Vanquisher made and also told the world it was destroyed. At the time of the prophecy, the Vanquisher was considered to have been destroyed in the Titan purge.”

Sandy stopped cutting and looked at Holmes in the mirror.

“I don’t know anything about what you’re saying,” Sandy said. “Would you mind if I asked Heather to help?”

Holmes thought for a moment and then shook his head.

“She might want to bring a few of her friends,” Sandy said.

“They won’t hurt me or want. . . you know,” Holmes said.

“If they do, they’ll have to deal with me,” Sandy said.

She leaned back into her best martial arts stance. She was so small and fierce that Holmes laughed. She smiled.

“They do this think they call ‘walking time.’ So the moment I ask for them, they kind of pop in,” Sandy said. “Some people don’t like it. Freaks them out.”

“Whatever,” Holmes said. “It’s not going to be the worst thing that happened to me.”

“Hold you breath,” Sandy said.

Holmes nodded.

“Heather, I need you,” Sandy said.

Heather appeared a second afterward.

“Shit, that’s crazy!” Holmes said.

His bright eyes and laugh indicate his irrepressible joy for life. Heather looked at him and then back at Sandy. She scowled and opened her mouth.

“He says there’s a verse of the prophecy left out,” Sandy said.

Heather turned to Holmes.

“This is very important,” Heather said. “Can you explain it to me?”

Holmes opened his mouth to start and Heather shook her head.

“Would you mind if I touch you?” Heather asked.

Holmes shook his head. Heather reached out to hold his nearest hand. For Holmes’ part, he was flooded with a sense of peace and love. Tears fell from his eyes at the sheer joy of being so loved. The feeling lingered for weeks after this experience. He would later attribute this moment to changing his life forever. But right now, he simply enjoyed the sensation.

After a moment, Heather shifted away.

“Hecate,” Heather said. “Perses.”

The Titans appeared. Perses had Cleo the cat on his shoulders.

“Hey!” Sandy said. “You can’t treat my cat like that!”

“We thought you might want the whole family,” Hecate said.

Sandy pulled the cat from Perses’ arms. She walked away from them talking to her cat.

“This is Holmes Olivas,” Heather said. “Holmes, I’d like you to meet Hecate and Perses. I believe that you know who they are.”

Still high from his experience of being touched by the goddess of love, he just waved at them.

“He says that there is another verse to the prophecy,” Heather said in Ancient Greek.

“You’re being rather rude,” Perses said, in English.

“He speaks it fluently,” Heather said. “He’s Troy Olivas’ eldest son, raised for his first years by his uncle, Homer. I believe you had some interactions with him.”

“Horrible man,” Hecate said. “Rotten to the core. I bet he made you learn the language so that he could get credit for all of those translations.”

“Exactly,” Heather said. “He abused his children horrifically.”

“Oh no!” Hecate said. Without asking, she touched Holmes’ hand. “I’m so sorry. If he were alive, I would smite him for you. Since he is gone, I can assure you that he will never return.”

Overwhelmed, Holmes began to weep.

“Cleo wants to be out here with you,” Sandy said. She pointed to Perses and squinted, “You be nice.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Perses said, taking the cat from Sandy.

Cleo climbed up onto Perses’ shoulders as if the Titan was wearing a feline shawl.

“What did you do?” Sandy asked. She knelt down to Holmes. “This is a child. He looked bigger and older, more mature, but he . . .”

“We understand,” Hecate said. “No one in this world understands his experience, your experience, more than I do. You have my power.”

“I don’t know what that means, but okay,” Sandy said. “His father will be furious that his son is so upset.”

“Human life is very hard,” Hecate said. “If you’re telling me that some human man is going to be mad at me, it sounds like Tuesday.”

Hecate shrugged.

“It is Tuesday,” Sandy said. She pushed Perses out of her way. “I’m working on his hair.”

“Don’t let us concern you,” Perses said.

“This is Perses,” Sandy said nodding to the Titan. “Holmes Olivas.”

“I’ve seen you before,” Holmes said. “You’re a friend of my Auntie Alex’s, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Perses said. “She’s gotten me out of a number of tight spots. You should know — in my day, we put pedophiles behind huge boulders and force them to spend eternity pushing the rock up the hill only for it to roll to the bottom. The man who hurt you was a monster.”

“Thank you, I think,” Holmes said with a slight nod.

With Perses words, Holmes seemed to relax in a way Sandy hadn’t seen previously. She looked from Perses to Holmes.

“What?” Perses asked.

Sandy just shook her head and kept working on Holmes’ hair. After a moment she said, “I have to get some color from the back. I’m trusting you to be nice.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Perses and Hecate said in near unison.

Cleo the cat meowed, and Heather rolled her eyes.

“Tell us what you know,” Heather said in Ancient Greek.

“Where did you find this prophecy?” Hecate asked in Ancient Greek.

“It was a parchment,” Holmes said in the same language. “I think that it was some kind of historic record of the person who asked the question. He was a politician of some kind, from some other region.”

“What did he ask?” Perses asked in Ancient Greek.

“Who will stop these greedy assholes? Or something like that,” Holmes said. “They didn’t say specifically ‘assholes,’ but it was a Greek swearword for scum.”

Perses said a word, and Holmes nodded. Apollo arrived.

“Fuck,” Holmes said.

“Were you invited?” Sandy asked as she came out of the back with a rolling cart with two bowls of dye and aluminum foil wraps.

“I am a God, human,” Apollo said.

“You watch yourself! I will put you over my knee,” Perses said.

Apollo’s head jerked to Perses. He laughed, and they hugged.

“I apologize,” Hecate said. “I invited him. His temple was near the Oracles. He’s spent a lot of time in Delphi. I wasn’t sure if we’d need his assistance. But since he’s being an ass.”

“No, I’m okay,” Holmes said. “I was just surprised when he appeared. Sandy warned me but . . .”

“It’s freaky,” Sandy said.

“Well, young gentleman, my Uncle and Aunt are much more powerful than I am,” Apollo said. “They have sworn to protect you. You are safe.”

“Okay,” Holmes said.

“Now, why am I here?” Apollo asked.

“Our young friend found the written record of the prophecy,” Perses said. “From what I gather, he overheard Hedone speaking the prophecy and realized immediately that it was flawed.”

“It’s missing some of it,” Holmes said.

“Go ahead,” Apollo said.

Holmes gave him a hard look.

“I don’t take orders from you,” Holmes said.

Hecate and Heather laughed openly at the shocked look on Apollo’s face. Holmes was grinning by the time they stopped laughing.

“Okay,” Holmes said.

“Wait,” Perses said. “How do you remember this?”

“I remember everything I see,” Holmes said. “Anything I’ve ever read. I can mimic anything I’ve seen.”

“Let the boy speak,” Heather said.

“The prophecy goes like this: ‘There will be a female child — not an average child, but a female child, none the less — many, many oracles from now. She will rise from the greatest house of the great houses. Her champion will place everything on the line for her. The greatest blade will guide this small hand, to the smallest blade, where the finest cut will change the fate of those strive for power and gold over true greatness.’”

Holmes repeated the prophecy in English. No one said anything for a long moment.

“They took out all of the identifying information,” Hecate said. “I bet . . .”

She looked at Heather, who nodded.

“We are all here,” Sandy said in English. “You may as well tell us.”

“Yes, I’m sorry,” Hecate said in English. “You are right. I was thinking that by taking these pieces off the prophecy, someone could use it to control people.”

“She’s avoiding saying that they killed all of the female children in the area. Hung them up so that their blood reddened the streets,” Apollo said. “That’s the legacy of this prophecy. By removing details, they were able to terrorize the region for a very long time.”

“Shit,” Holmes said.

“I need to put him under the dryer,” Sandy said. “You are welcome to stay or go terrorize someone else for a while.”

“I like this one,” Apollo said about Sandy.

“Don’t . . .,” Heather started.

Apollo went to hug Sandy and she kneed him in the groin. He grunted.

“Don’t touch me,” Sandy said.

Holmes’ eyes went big, and he tried not to laugh.

“She doesn’t like to be touched,” Heather said.

“I see that,” Apollo said. “Please accept my sincere apologies.”

Scowling at Apollo, Sandy led Holmes to the dryers and stuck him under. Holmes was done under the dryers by the time the Gods and Titans had disappeared.

“Where’d they go?” Holmes asked.

“I never know,” Sandy said. “What you did there was super brave. I’m proud of you. You turned a horrible experience into something that will truly help people.”

“People?” Holmes asked. “They aren’t people.”

“No, they aren’t,” Sandy said. “But the world is full of people. The Vanquisher is said to be able to destroy the world. That’s what we’re talking about here. You were super brave and really helped.”

Nodding, Holmes blushed.

Sandy took him back to wash out the dye. She dried and styled his hair, and then showed him how to slick it back if he wanted to. The entire rest of the time, Holmes’ cheeks held a little bit of blush in them. He waved to Sandy from the door.

Shaking her head at her weird life, Sandy went to the back to clean up and get ready for the next client.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...

 


Chapter Six Hundred and Seventy - The women of Castle meet

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SEVENTY

Tuesday midday — 12:15 p.m.

“Say it again,” Delphie said.

“It doesn’t make sense to you either?” Jill asked. “At least it’s not just me and Jacob.”

“I think that it doesn’t make sense because it’s been translated badly,” Delphie said. “Your dad said that the prophecy was made by . . .?”

“The Oracles at Delphi,” Jill said.

“Can you translate it into Greek?” Delphie asked Heather.

The women of the Castle were sitting around the kitchen table. Jill and Heather were on one side of the table. Valerie and Delphie were on the other. Honey was on the end, and Tanesha was on the other end. Sandy’s face was on the computer tablet next to Jill. Still working through her backload of clients, Sandy was on a video call from her salon.

“Sure,” Heather said. “But it still sounds like: ‘There will be a female child — not an average child, but a female child, none the less. She will rise from the greatest house of the great houses, the greatest blade will guide the smallest hand, the smallest blade, the finest cut will change the fate of those strive for powerful and greatness.’”

“Those gals were so high,” Delphie said, her voice low.

“High?” Sandy asked, the only one who caught Delphie’s words.

“They were situated over a well that gave off gas,” Delphie said. “Made them hallucinate. That’s how you have some helpful oracles and others who speak in code.”

“Dad says that they all speak in code,” Jill said. “Even you.”

Delphie laughed.

“He’s probably right,” Delphie said.

“It’s very hard to translate sight into . . . words,” Heather said.

“What are we going to do?” Valerie asked. “We can’t have Katy risking her life for some bullshit greatest house, blade, whatever, and certainly not for those horrible Templars. Bleck.”

Valerie made a face and shook her head.

“I really hate them,” Valerie said.

The women nodded in agreement.

“Let’s take it apart,” Delphie said. “I have a lot of practice at this because I used to do it for training.”

“How do we do that?” Jill asked.

“Read it line for line,” Delphie said.

Jill held her phone in front of her face and read the prophecy she’d typed there.

“There will be a female child — not an average child, but a female child, none the less,” Jill said. She looked up at Delphie.

“That’s just saying that a female will be important,” Delphie said. “This would have been very usual and almost world-shattering, at that time. Women were slaves to their husbands and sons. While there were goddesses, they were made irrelevant by inserting petty storylines in between their great deeds.”

“Like Hera being angry about Zeus’ cheating,” Heather said.

“She wasn’t?” Valerie asked.

“You can ask her,” Heather said. “She was upset and offended that he assaulted women, and some men. She spent most of her time going around after her husband trying to repair what he’d broken. They are siblings. She was trying to take care of her brother.”

“Didn’t they have kids?” Tanesha asked.

“Define ‘they’,” Heather said. “At least one of them was born after Zeus was in the Sea of Amber.”

Heather shrugged.

“I’m really worried about Katy,” Jill said.

“Yes, let’s focus here,” Delphie said. “How does Katy fit this line?”

“She’s not average,” Sandy said. “That’s for sure.”

“She is not,” Jill said.

Everyone nodded.

“She is a female,” Delphie said. “And not average. So this means it could be her.”

“Or Jackie,” Tanesha said. “Or really any girl in this modern time.”

“It’s true,” Delphie said. “Just because the Titans think it’s Katy, doesn’t mean that it actually is.”

“My point,” Jill said.

Delphie gave her a smile.

“What’s next?” Delphie asked.

“She will rise from the greatest house of the great houses, the greatest blade will guide the smallest hand, the smallest blade, the finest cut will change the fate of those strive for powerful and greatness,” Jill repeated.

“Why don’t we break that up?” Delphie said. “’She will rise from the greatest house of the great houses.’ Her father, Jacob, is fairy in origin.”

“Take one look at Fin and that’s obvious,” Heather said.

Everyone nodded.

“Not to mention all of that madness around Jill having the boys and Queen Fand,” Valerie said.

“True,” Jill said. “But are the fairies a ‘great house?’”

“I’d say ‘Yes,’” Heather said.

“Why?” Valerie asked. “I don’t disagree with you. I’m just wondering what your reasoning is.”

“Oh,” Heather said. “After Abi, Gilfand, and my grandmother, Aphrodite, the fairies are the first humanoid inhabitants of this planet. They were fighting and warring with each other when the dinosaurs were still here. Every queendom has stories about what they did during Panagea and the other continential merges. They even have stories about when the meteor that killed the dinosaurs caught the world on fire.”

“You’re right,” Sandy said. “That does make sense.”

Everyone nodded.

“You are from a healing house in Russia,” Delphie said. “You have to know how rare that gift is.”

“I guess,” Jill said with a shrug. “We kept it a secret when I was a kid. It was forbidden by Roper. I still feel a little rogue when I use it.”

“It’s a rare gift,” Heather said putting an end to any debate. “I’ve only known one other healer. Hecate, who you know has traveled all over the earth during every time, has also only known one other healer like you.”

“The same person?” Tanesha asked.

“Exactly,” Heather said.

“Fairy and Healer?” Delphie nodded. “Those are two great houses.”

“This house was once three buildings,” Valerie said. “I didn’t really get it until Jake showed us around recently. He combined three houses for mom.”

“Some of it was done — and burned — when we moved in,” Delphie said. “But yes, you’re right.”

“That might make this house a great house of houses,” Honey said. “Wait. Is that right? What is it?”

“She will rise from the greatest house of the great houses,” Jill read again.

Valerie shrugged. Jill looked from face to face. Every one of these beloved women seemed to think that at least this far, the prophecy could refer to her baby Katy. Jill’s fear for her daughter brought tears to her eyes. For a moment, Heather rubbed Jill’s back while they waited for Jill to regain her composure.

“What’s next?” Valerie asked.

“Are we ready to look at what’s next?” Delphie asked.

“I really need to know,” Jill said. “The unknowing is killing me.”

“Then read the next bit,” Delphie said.

“Okay, it goes: ‘The greatest blade will guide the smallest hand,’” Jill said. “That’s the Sword of Truth, right?”

“We should ask Nelson or his father,” Valerie said, but her concerned look seemed to say that she agreed with Jill. “They are sword experts.”

“It seems to me that there are lots of ‘great swords,’” Tanesha said. “I mean, doesn’t Evie had a blade that chops off heads? Nelson now has the sword of Jacques de Molay. Sandy has a bunch of swords at O’Malley’s house from the Polish salt mine. How can the Sword of Truth be the ‘greatest blade?’”

For all of her scoffing words, Tanesha looked as frightened as Jill. She looked at Heather.

“Tell us,” Tanesha said.

“I’m not an expert at swords,” Heather said. “Should we get one here?”

“No,” the women said in near unison.

“Not right now,” Delphie said. “This is a meeting of the women of the Castle. If your grandfather comes or even Pierre, they will alter our conversation.”

“I think it’s best for us to know what we want before we include others,” Honey said.

“I agree,” Sandy said at the same time Tanesha said, “Absolutely.”

“Why don’t you tell us what you know, Heather?” Honey asked. “You always defer to other people or other gods and goddesses. You’ve lived a long time. You have some experience with all of this.”

“Every time I hear a story about you, Hedone, it’s always about how you played some integral role in saving someone or something or a difficult situation,” Delphie said.

Cleo the cat hopped up onto the table.

“Case in point,” Delphie said.

Heather scowled and looked around. Cleo went to Heather and she put the cat onto her lap. Cleo circled once, and settled into Heather’s lap. The women turned to look at Heather.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Heather said. “Fine. What’s the question?”

“Is the ‘greatest blade’ the Sword of Truth?” Valerie asked.

“You forget the Vanquisher,” Heather said.

“What do you mean?” Jill asked. “Dad said that it was called the ‘Baby sitter’ before it got this name.”

“So were pit bulls,” Tanesha said.

Jill shot her a worried look.

“Uh,” Heather looked from Tanesha to Jill. “The Sword of Truth is a very special blade. It’s really a one of a kind. Very special.”

“What about . . .?” Jill anxiously jumped in.

“Give her a minute,” Delphie chided.

“Sorry, I’m just . . .” Jill shook her head.

“I know,” Heather said.

“We all understand,” Honey said.

“100%,” Sandy said.

“I wanted to say the prophecy in ancient Greek so that you could hear what it sounds like,” Heather said.

“Go ahead,” Delphie said.

Heather repeated the prophecy in ancient Greek. The women were silent for a long moment when she finished.

“It sounds . . .” Jill said.

“Better,” Sandy said.

“It feels like truth to me,” Valerie said.

Heather nodded.

“I thought it might help to hear what it would have sounded like,” Heather said. “It’s not a threat or a worry. It’s just something that is true and something that will resolve itself without anyone remembering it happened.”

“Is she right?” Jill asked.

“That’s a way to think about it,” Delphie said with a nod. “I’d agree. There’s nothing to worry over here.”

“It’s my daughter,” Jill said. “My little girl! How can you . . .?”

Heather put her hand over Jill’s hand. Jill looked up into her face.

“We all love Katy, and you,” Heather said. “We’re here to figure out what this means, but more than that — we want to know how we can help.”

“Help?” Jill asked.

“Of course,” Honey said.

Jill looked from face to face to see these amazing woman nodding. Her eyes lingered on Tanesha.

“I’ll kill the person who hurts my Katy,” Tanesha said with her characteristic fierceness.

“Thanks,” Jill said meekly.

“Heather?” Delphie asked.

“Right,” Heather said. “It’s hard to explain. First, of course, you’re right. There are a lot of great swords. Some hold special powers. We’ve seen some of those from the Polish mine. You remember that sword that Blane took that absolved everyone of responsibility? That’s certainly special.”

Everyone nodded.

“Some blade are made out of special things,” Heather said. “Nelson found amber at the core of Jacques de Molay’s blade. There are even a few that have divine purposes.”

“Archangel Michael is supposed to have swords,” Honey said. When the women looked at her, she shrugged, “Catholic school.”

“We went to Catholic school,” Sandy said. “I don’t think any of us remember that.”

Tanesha, Jill, and Heather shook their heads.

“Did we learn about swords?” Heather asked.

“Did we care?” Tanesha said.

They laughed. After a few minutes, the women turned to look at Heather.

“So, yes, Michael is said to have his own special blades,” Heather said. “As does Lucifer.”

“You seem to be avoiding saying something,” Delphie said.

“I’m trying to give context,” Heather said. “I think it’s hard to see that the Sword of Truth and the Vanquisher are special blades when they are the first special blades that you’ve seen or know about.”

“You think this prophecy is referring to the Sword of Truth,” Jill said.

“Actually . . .” Heather sighed. “The Vanquisher is technically a knife for someone your Dad’s size. You’ll notice that the prophecy actually doesn’t refer to a ‘sword’ but rather a ‘blade.’”

“You think that it’s the Vanquisher?” Delphie asked.

“I think it’s referring to the Vanquisher,” Heather said. “If not the Vanquisher, then, and only then, is it about the Sword of Truth. It’s hard to understand because we all know your father as, well, your father. He says that the Vanquisher isn’t what it’s thought to be. But it’s thought to be a threat to survival on the entire planet! I asked him about this very thing and he told me that the sword is only as dangerous as her owner.”

“Infuriating man,” Delphie said.

“Mmm.” Heather nodded. “Can you say the last of it?”

“Uh.” Jill looked to her phone again. She said, “It does say something about ‘the smallest blade.’”

“That could be anything,” Delphie said. She held her hand up with her fingers together. “This is called a blade sometimes.”

Delphie shrugged.

“It also fits the Vanquisher,” Honey said.

“There are lots of smaller blades,” Delphie said. “I’m sure Nelson would have a lot to say about blades, knives, small swords, and everything in between.”

Delphie shrugged.

“I don’t think we can think that it fits the Vanquisher,” Delphie said. “That said, I agree with Heather. I think the prophecy is referring to the Vanquisher.”

“There’s more,” Jill said.

“Go ahead,” Delphie said.

“The finest cut will change the fate of those strive for powerful and greatness,” Jill read from her phone.

“No idea,” Heather said.

The other women just shrugged.

“Do we think that’s the Templars?” Delphie asked.

“It seems to me that they only care about riches,” Valerie said.

“And raping people,” Sandy said.

“Power and greatness?” Delphie asked. She thought for a moment and shook her head. “Could be anything, honestly.”

Everyone nodded in agreement.

“Hey,” Sandy said. “I have to go.”

She leaned to the side to show Holmes Olivas, U.S. Army Captain Troy Olivas’ eldest son, was standing just behind her.

“He’s early,” Sandy said.

“I can wait,” Holmes said.

“We’re done, basically,” Sandy said.

“Hi everybody,” Holmes said with a wave.

“Hi Holmes!” Everyone waved to the young man.

“We’ll talk more,” Sandy said. She waved and was gone.

“So what do we think?” Delphie asked the women at the table.

“I think we’re talking about Katy and her knife,” Jill said.

No one said anything for a long moment. Finally, Delphie sighed.

“Yes, I think we have to assume that it’s about Katy,” Delphie said.

“But we can’t rule out that it’s not about both Katy and Paddie,” Heather said.

“For some reason, that feels right to me as well,” Honey said. “I think we have to talk to both children.”

“If both children, then both swords,” Valerie said.

“We need to keep a watch over both children,” Heather said with a nod.

“More than they already have?” Jill asked. “Hecate is watching their ‘energy’ — whatever that is. Cleo’s sister. . .”

“Leto,” Heather said.

“Her,” Jill said. “She’s the principal at the school. Because of Covid, they only go to school and home again. They are watched all the time.”

“And still they manage to have ‘adventures,’” Delphie said.

“What am I going to do?” Jill asked.

“I wondered. . .” Delphie looked up at Jill. “I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but I think there’s a question here.”

“Anything,” Jill said.

“Why are you so insistent that Katy is just a child?” Delphie asked. “That she is not special, heroic, or even mythological?”

“Because she’s a child!” Jill said.

No one said anything for a long moment. Tanesha gave Jill a soft look and then turned to Delphie.

“When Katy was a baby, she showed signs of being extraordinary,” Tanesha said. “We talked about what do to about it. Should we send her somewhere to be tested? Was there something medically wrong with her?”

“Medically wrong?” Valerie asked.

“You hear about people who have tumors or illnesses that have them seeing ghosts or moving things with their minds or whatever,” Heather said.

“Ah,” Valerie said.

“We decided that for as long as Katy was a child, we would treat her like a child,” Tanesha said.

“Allow her a chance to grow up,” Jill said.

“We wanted to give her the childhood that none of us had,” Heather said. “One filled with love and laughter, joy.”

“We were also afraid that if Trever knew that Katy could do amazing things, that he would sell her gifts or use her in some horrible way,” Jill said. She looked at her friends. “We needed to convince him that she was just a dumb kid so that he wouldn’t fixate on making money or perverting her special gifts.”

“That makes more sense,” Delphie said. “But it also begs the question: ‘Does she need that now?’ She’s surrounded by people who love an accept her. She is much adored by her grandparents and her parents.”

“Aunties,” Tanesha said.

“And Aunts!” Honey said with a nod to Valerie.

“I’m not sure what you’re saying,” Jill said.

“I guess I’m asking — what if Katy isn’t just a little girl?” Delphie asked. “What if she’s supposed to save the world? What is she is, for lack of a more sophisticated understanding, a goddess?”

No one said anything for a long moment.

“She is the culmination of a long series of genes going back through Titan genetics and your grandfather’s family,” Delphie said. “That’s what we know about. She could be related to any number of kings and queens of old or maybe even just a new species of human.”

“She’s still a little girl!” Jill said.

“She’s still at the beginning of her life,” Delphie said. “I’ll grant you that. Paddie, too. They will live their entire lives with these swords. They will have many experiences and adventures.”

“And?” Jill asked. “This is still her childhood.”

“And, none of their experiences and adventures could be defined within the realm of ‘normal,’” Delphie said. “Can you accept that?”

“Why does it matter?” Jill asked. “These Gods and whatevers come from all over to treat her as special. She still has to clean her room and stop stealing ice cream for the twins!”

“Is she the one who’s taking all the ice cream?” Honey asked. “I thought it was the teenagers. I can’t keep it in the freezer!”

“Stinker,” Valerie said with a shake of her head.

“I think that you make a valid point,” Delphie said. “And, I’d ask you simply to contemplate that you are not normal. Jake’s not normal. Val’s kids aren’t normal. Maybe your kids are not normal.”

Jill scowled.

“Just think about it,” Delphie said.

“I have to get to the hospital,” Tanesha said.

Her words acted like a spell. Their council was over. The women returned to their busy lives each wondering what was next for them, and for their precious Katy.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Sixty-nine - Old remedies, new times

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-NINE

Monday night — 9:45 p.m.

Jill followed Nelson out of the back sliding glass door. They walked across their private courtyard and up the six steps to the carriage house Nelson used to live in. They went around the corner to reach the front door of the carriage house.

Nelson knocked twice.

“Just give them a heads up,” Nelson said.

Jill nodded. Nelson let them inside the carriage house. Jill stood in the entrance and listened. She’d been here many times to help Nelson’s father, Pierre Semaines, when he was unconscious. She knew that her mother and her grandfather had also been here. Their efforts focused on strengthening Pierre so that he would be able to survive long enough for Nelson to find the Templar Hoard. Now that Mari had brought the “Adam’s Apple” ruby, Pierre Semaines was healing from the months of being inactive.

“He just woke up,” the nurse said. “We’ve had a shower and changed.”

“Would you like a little break?” Nelson asked.

“Sounds good to me,” the nurse said. “But please — no more than a half-hour. He pretends to be well, but he tires easily.”

“Thank you,” Jill said with a nod.

The nurse smiled at Jill and nodded to Nelson before leaving the room. They listened while she went outside. Jill knew that she liked to sit in the sunny patio outside the door between the carriage house and Mr. Matchel’s home. This time of the night, Jill assumed the nurse was reading her emails.

“Nelson?” Pierre croaked from his bed.

They went around the corner to find Pierre in his hospital bed. They had set up the bed in what had been Nelson’s dining room. Nelson leaned over to kiss his father’s cheek. They spoke back and forth in quiet, quick French.

“Jill!” Pierre said. “My son tells me that you, your mother, and grandfather are one of the reasons I am still here.”

Embarrassed, Jill looked down and smoothed her hair.

“How are you, sir?” Jill asked.

“Now, now,” Pierre said. “Call me Pierre. You are family after all.”

“Sir?” Jill asked.

“My son is in a committed relationship with Blane, who is your husband’s. . .” Pierre shrugged. “Brother?”

“Cousin,” Jill said.

“That makes you family,” Pierre said. “Not to mention that you’ve helped me in a way that I can never repay.”

Jill looked down.

“Are you a Titan?” Pierre asked.

“Me?” Jill asked.

She looked up to see Nelson nodding. Pierre’s intense eyes tracked her face.

“My father is Perses,” Jill said. “My mother is human. We are mostly human.”

Pierre gave her a doubting look but nodded to let her off the hook.

“Help me up,” Pierre said in French.

Nelson helped his father to sitting.

“I am allowed to walk a tiny bit inside the house,” Pierre said. “Would you like to walk with me?”

Nelson looked at Jill, and she nodded.

“Shall I make us some tea?” Nelson asked.

“No,” Pierre said with a laugh. “I’ve had so much tea. I would like to see you, speak with you.”

Pierre looked at Jill and then winked at Nelson.

“This beautiful woman is not here for tea,” Pierre said.

Jill blushed. Nelson put his arm over her shoulder and said, “French men. We are just like that.”

Jill grinned.

“Let’s see if we can make it to the living room,” Pierre said. “Now little Titan-ling, may I draw on your strength?”

“Nelson said. . .” Jill said abruptly.

“He is right,” Pierre said. “But he forgets that I need strength. May I borrow some of yours?”

“Of course,” Jill said.

“I will put my arm over your shoulder,” Pierre said.

Pierre’s arm went over her shoulder. She put her arm around him. Pierre put his arm over Nelson’s shoulder as well.

They shuffled to the steps to Nelson’s living room. Jill closed her eyes and let out a breath. She directed some of her strength into Pierre.

“Thank you,” Pierre said.

They took the steps one at a time.

“This is a real prize,” Pierre said with a laugh.

Nelson directed Pierre to the comfortable reclining chair. Nelson checked that his father didn’t need anything before sitting on the couch. Jill took an armchair across from Nelson.

“Tell me what brings you here in the middle of the night,” Pierre said.

“My daughter was giving the Vanquisher,” Jill said.

“Not possible,” Pierre said. “The sword was destroyed.”

“The sword was made by Jill’s father Perses,” Nelson said. “Or so he says. He left it where he was told that his granddaughter would get it. Maughold was to give her the sword when he gave the Sword of Truth to Paddie.”

Pierre squinted at Nelson to see if he was saying the truth. Nelson nodded.

“I would show you the sword, but. . .” Jill said.

“You cannot break the sword of power away from her owner,” Pierre said with a nod. “Have I seen the Sword of Truth?”

“I don’t think so,” Nelson said.

Pierre nodded.

“My daughter is just a little girl,” Jill said with a sigh.

“How old is she now?” Pierre asked.

“She’ll be eight this month,” Jill said. “Paddie is seven.”

Pierre nodded.

“You know that many Queens of old were crowned at nine years old,” Pierre said.

“So?” Jill shrugged. “She is a little girl. Whatever she does with her life or in her life, she deserves some time to just be a little girl.”

“I see,” Pierre said. “Her father has fairy ancestry?”

Jill gave him an assessing look.

“Why?” Jill asked.

“There is a prophesy,” Pierre said.

Jill shot an angry look at Nelson.

“Jill is angry with me for not telling her about a prophesy that involves the Templars and her daughter,” Nelson said. He put his hand on his chest. “I don’t know of one.”

“That’s true,” Pierre said. “My son never took a lot of stock in prophesies, even the ones that include him.”

“Until I met Delphie,” Nelson said.

“The Oracle,” Pierre said with a nod. “Yes.”

Pierre sighed and Jill could see just how sick and fragile Pierre was still.

“I remember,” Pierre said. “Delphie.”

“She’s been here with you while you were sick,” Nelson said.

“I will look forward to another visit,” Pierre said. “I saw Maresol today. She’s always such a breath of fresh air.”

Jill and Nelson smiled at Pierre’s smile.

“You didn’t come here to hear about my day,” Pierre said. “Tell me — what has happened?”

Nelson nodded to Jill.

“Dad,” Jill said.

Perses arrived so quickly that Nelson jumped to his feet. Pierre yelped and leaned back.

“Nelson,” Perses said in a kind of growl. Seeing, Pierre’s fright, he shifted, “I apologize Mr. Semaines. It was not my intention to alarm you.”

“You know who I am?” Pierre asked.

“You were the Grand Master of the Templars,” Perses said. “You may not remember me being there, but I was in Arizona when the Templars attacked.”

“My sister, Candy, had to make him promise not to kill everyone,” Jill said.

“They died anyway,” Pierre said.

“Yes,” Perses said. “Now, let’s make you comfortable.”

Perses turned to Nelson.

“He needs something warm to drink,” Perses said. He closed his eyes. “Mulled wine would be perfect. Do you have something like that?”

“I can. . .” Nelson started.

“Heather,” Jill said.

There was a knock at the door and Heather came into the carriage house. She was wearing her bathrobe over her pajamas.

“My father is very ill!” Nelson said. “More people, more risk of virus — what are you doing?”

“Define ‘people,’” Pierre said with a laugh.

“How may I be of service?” Heather asked.

“Dad says that Pierre needs something like mulled wine,” Jill said with a shrug. “I don’t. . .”

Heather knelt down to Pierre. She put her hands on either side of Pierre’s face. Nelson gawked at her.

“He is stronger than he looks,” Heather said. “You are correct, Perses.”

“Of course I am,” Perses said with a sniff.

Heather openly laughed at him which made Perses grin at her. Heather held out her hand and a jug of wine appeared.

“With the oranges?” Perses asked. “Spices? Honey?”

“Of course,” Heather said. She looked at Nelson and said, “Mugs?”

“What is that?” Nelson asked. He couldn’t help but be a snippy doctor. “I’m not going to get my father drunk on some crap from your freak of a grandfather’s cellar! I. . .”

“The alcohol is much reduced by the cooking,” Heather said. “It has what your father needs. You can either give it to him or. . .”

“Fuck,” Nelson said.

Jill got up and ran to the kitchen. She took five mugs from the cabinet and returned. Heather poured the wine. Perses passed out the mugs. For a moment, everyone took a sip of the wine. After a first sip, Pierre swallowed down the wine. Heather refilled his mug.

“Slowly, now,” Heather said.

“Ma’am,” Pierre said.

The room was silent as they took sips of the wine, fruit, and spice mixture.

“This is really good,” Jill said, surprised.

Heather nodded.

“It’s an old remedy,” Perses said. “But sometimes, the old remedies are the best. How are you feeling, Pierre?”

“Better,” Pierre said. “Thank you. This brings me back to my mother’s kitchen. She made something like this. Where did it come from?”

“My grandfather’s home,” Heather said. “His bees, oranges. . . come to think of it, I think he grows the spices too.”

Pierre took another drink.

“You are here about the prophesy,” Pierre said. “We should speak quickly before the nurse returns.”

“Is this the prophesy my sister referred to?” Perses asked.

“Yes,” Jill glared at Nelson.

“I did not know,” Nelson said. “You know that I love Katy.”

“Oh, Katy?” Perses looked at Jill. “You think it’s Katy?”

“Your sister told Katy that. . .” Jill said. Angry again, she just shook her head.

“She has the Vanquisher,” Nelson said.

“Yes,” Perses said.

“That sword is yours?” Pierre asked Perses.

“I had it made,” Perses said with a shrug.

“Huh,” Pierre said.

“Who made the prophesy?” Heather asked.

“Oracle of Delphi, actually,” Pierre said. He nodded to Perses. “You knew them?”

“Sure,” Perses said. “Some of them were as good as our Delphie. Most of them were not. Our Delphie is the best oracle that I’ve ever known.”

Perses shrugged.

“The woman who told me to leave the sword with Maughold,” Perses said. He sipped his mulled wine. “That was right.”

“What. Did. She. Say?” Jill said her words through her teeth. “What is this God damned prophesy?”

Her words echoed in the living room as if she’d shouted. Nelson and Pierre looked a little shocked while her father laughed, and Heather smiled.

“There will be a female child — not an average child, but a female child, none the less.  She will rise from the greatest house of the great houses, the greatest blade will guide the smallest hand, the smallest blade, the finest cut will change the fate of those strive for powerful and greatness.”

“What?” Perses asked.

Pierre held up a finger. Everyone in the room leaned forward.

Pierre said. “My father used to add this last bit — ‘And the swords of the son — either ‘s-o-n’ or ‘s-u-n’ — will fade into the darkness from whence they came. None who survives will remember.’”

Pierre nodded to Nelson and said, “Your mother used to add — ‘Watch for her as she will need your help, your love, but get out of the way when the time is ripe.’”

No one said anything for a long moment.

“Well, at least that’s clear,” Heather said.

Everyone gawked at her. When Heather started to laugh, everyone laughed.

“That could mean anything!” Jill said. “It probably doesn’t have anything to do with Katy.”

“Yes, I’m afraid that’s true,” Pierre said. “May I ask — your daughter? Is she. . . special?”

While everyone nodded, Jill said, “She’s just a little girl.”

“And if she isn’t?” Pierre asked.

“Whatever she is, she is a little girl!” Jill insisted.

Pierre gave Jill a kind nod.

“I understand,” Pierre said. “I’m the father of the last Grand Master of the Templars. I don’t love that my son is out there risking his life. I tried to hold onto the title for as long as I possibly could. But there was nothing I could do. He was bound to take on the role no matter what I did.”

“I. . .” Jill shook her head. She nodded to Pierre. “Thank you, Mr. Semaines. I have to think about everything. Talk to Jake.”

“I understand,” Pierre said.

Jill nodded and started toward the door. Heather got up, smiled at Pierre, and left with Jill.

“It was nice to see you again,” Perses said before disappearing.

For a moment, Nelson and Pierre sat in the living room together.

“Do you get used to it?” Pierre asked Nelson.

“Used to what?” Nelson asked.

“Their coming and going?” Pierre asked.

“They are like the tide,” Nelson said. “They come and they go. I never know who or what will be there. It’s. . . interesting, I guess.”

Nelson shrugged.

“I have been an ER doctor for a while,” Nelson said. “Being an ER doctor is likethat. I never know if they are bringing good things or some horror. But that’s true for most people.”

Pierre nodded. He sighed and Nelson saw how tired his father had become.

“Let’s get you back to bed,” Nelson said.

“I hate that bed,” Pierre said.

“You are getting better,” Nelson said. “You must rest to regain your strength.”

Nelson pulled his father to his feet. They hugged for a long moment. Nelson tried to will his strength into his father.

“I’m okay, son,” Pierre said in French.

“I know,” Nelson replied in French. “Let’s get you back to bed.”

They were across the living room when the nurse returned. She helped Nelson get Pierre back in bed. Nelson stayed long enough to help get his father settled. Nelson’s own exhaustion returned the moment he stepped out of the carriage house. He moved across the yard and stumbled up the stairs to his room.

Not for the first time, he was grateful for his own private space. He used his bathroom and got into bed. He was just falling asleep when he realized that he had previously heard that prophesy. He fell asleep wondering when he’d heard it.

~~~~~~~~

Monday night — 10:15 p.m.

Valerie tapped on the door to her old apartment. When Ivan didn’t answer, she peaked inside. Ivan was sitting in an armchair with a tablet computer on his lap. He waved her inside.

Valerie opened the door, picked up the legged tray, and went inside. The tray had Ivan’s Chinese medicine, his night time cancer medication regimen, a croissant, and a pot of tea. Because Valerie and Mike were usually awake at this time of night, she usually brought Ivan his night time medications and a snack.

“Thank you,” Ivan said without seeing the tray.

“It’s my pleasure,” Valerie said. “How is Sissy?”

Sissy had returned to France to take a position in the chorus at the Opera de Paris ballet. She, the lead boy, and the lead girl from their school had all been offered parts.

“She is well,” Ivan said. “Bored. It’s common for students to be board by the company if they join the company associated with their school.”

“Oh?” Valerie asked.

She set the tray on the table. She removed the saucer from the top of Ivan’s Chinese medicine tea.

“Mmm,” Ivan said. “Smells absolutely horrible tonight.”

“I’d love to hear more about Sissy,” Valerie said. “Why don’t you sip it and tell me how she is?”

Ivan nodded.

“She’s cleared my things from the apartment I was staying in,” Ivan said. “I thought that she would move in there, but she is back with Claire and Ben. She says that being around family makes her happy and being on her own reminds her of her childhood loneliness.”

Valerie spied that Ivan was about halfway through his drink.

“I understand that,” Valerie said. “Her life seemed pretty bad, and I was way on the sidelines.”

Ivan swallowed down the rest of the Chinese medicine. He grimaced.

“We have to wait a few minutes before you can drink anything,” Valerie said.

Ivan nodded.

“What does she like about living with Claire and Ben?” Valerie asked.

“Oh,” Ivan said. “They have a young children. Sissy loves little kids. Claire has been able to mother Sissy in a way that is exactly what she needs. I cannot describe it. It’s beautiful to witness. They have been so kind to Sissy.”

Ivan looked at Valerie.

“You have been kind to me,” Ivan said. “How are you? How is the scripting going?”

“For the new movie?” Valerie asked. “Slow. Very very slow.”

She held out the pills for Ivan to take and a glass of what looked like water. He swallowed down the pills.

“What is this?” Ivan held up the water. He took a sip. “It takes like water and is not water.”

“Jill infused it with her special healing,” Valerie said. “She thought it might help make everything work.”

“Anything,” Ivan said. “I’m happy to do anything.”

Valerie gave him a soft smile. He closed his eyes but gestured for her to keep speaking.

“My ego likes that I’m getting parts for more serious roles,” Valerie said.

“Yes, I have been there,” Ivan said with a smile.

“But they are so slow to come together,” Valerie said. “I could be filming an action or a thriller right now. Instead, I’m waiting on scripting. Honestly, Ivan, I don’t know if I have the temperament for this more serious work.”

Ivan smiled at her.

“You do,” Ivan said. “See how you feel when you are filming the part. It’ll make up for all of this chaos and anxiety.”

“I hope so,” Valerie said.

Ivan sighed.

“Try to eat,” Valerie said. Switching to her “special” voice, she added, “We got these today from the French bakery. It’s warm.”

Valerie poured him some tea from pot.

“This is from our mint patch,” Valerie said. “I put in Delphie’s honey as you like it.”

Ivan had such a hard time eating that he continued to lose weight. Valerie found that he‘d eat if she asked in her special voice, even though he knew that she was using it.

He drank some tea and ate a piece of the croissant.

“Delicious,” Ivan said. He took three more bites and finished his tea. “As always. . .”

Ivan fell sound asleep. Valerie put the computer tablet on the table. As she did every night, she took off his shoes. There was a tap at the door and Mike came in. While Mike was changing Ivan into his bed clothing, Valerie collected his dirty dishes. Mike got Ivan settled into bed. They left their old apartment together.

There was nothing anyone could say about what was happening with Ivan. According to the doctors and Blane, he would either get well or he wouldn’t.

They deposited the tray of dirty dishes in the main Castle kitchen and went to pick up their children from Honey’s apartment. Arm in arm, they went to their new apartment.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Sixty-eight - Prophesy? You've got to be f***ing kidding me!

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-EIGHT

Monday morning — 12:15 p.m.

Katy couldn’t help it.

She was bored.

Life had gone from heartbreaking not-being-able-to-see-Paddie to fun play-at-home to exciting back-to-school to dreary boring-winter. Katy sighed at looked out the window. The snow was gently wafting down.

“Okay,” the teacher said. “Why don’t we head outside for a bit?”

“But it’s ’nowing,” the kid whose nose was always stuffed up said.

“We’ll be okay,” the teacher said. “Let’s put our warm clothing on.”

Katy could tell that the teacher was putting on a brave face for the class. The teacher was worried that it would be too cold for her students.

“Can’t wait,” Katy said, hopping to her feet.

Katy started pulling on all of her outdoor gear. With Katy’s movement, the rest of the class started to pull on their outdoor gear. The teacher checked to see that everyone had on their wool caps and face masks before sending them to walk quietly to the outdoors.

Katy watched the teacher turn on the UV lights, open the windows, turn on the fan, and then head to the teacher’s hang-out-place. With the teacher out of the way, Katy went to find Paddie.

Paddie’s class had break time when Katy’s class had break. Katy waited for Paddie to pull on all of his gear and head out into the hall.

She fell in next to him as they walked quietly to the door. Once at the door, the classes screamed like banshees and ran out into the cool midday. The recess monitor and the volunteer parents were watching the children for signs of being too cold, but most of the kids were so happy to be able to play and be loud that no child complained.

Katy and Paddie slipped to the side to avoid the monitor and parents.

“What’s going on?” Paddie asked.

“Bored,” Katy said looking down.

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

Katy looked up at her best friend. Even with his facemask covering his mouth and nose, she could tell that he was up for an adventure too.

“I don’t know,” Katy said with a shrug.

“You wanna. . .” Paddie said.

Hecate appeared next to Paddie. She looked from Katy to Paddie.

“What are you two planning?” Hecate asked.

“Why are you here?” Paddie asked defensively.

He instinctively pushed Katy behind him and put his hand on the Sword of Truth.

“Now, now, young human,” Hecate said. “I mean you harm. I am here because my niece, Mistress Katy, is bored. A bored niece is a dangerous niece.”

“Hecate!” Ms. Palio, the principal of the Marlowe School, said as she walked around the corner. “To what do we owe this pleasure?”

“Auntie,” Hecate said. “How lovely to see you!”

The two Titans hugged. Ms. Palio was the sister of Hecate’s mother Asteria, who was currently trapped in the form of Cleo the cat.

Ms. Palio looked at Katy.

“What are you up to young lady?” Ms. Palio asked Katy.

Still unsure, Paddie stayed in front of Katy.

“Why?” Paddie asked defiantly.

“That’s the Sword of Truth, isn’t it?” Ms. Palio asked.

The principal gestured to what looked like a wooden sword on a belt at Paddie’s side.

“What if it is?” Paddie asked. He stuck his chin out defiantly.

“They are so cute,” Hecate said.

Ms. Palio grinned and nodded before turning to look at Hecate.

“Why are you here, niece?” Ms. Palio asked.

“I was instructed to keep an eye on Katy,” Hecate said.

“Why me?” Katy asked. “I haven’t done anything.”

“Uh-huh,” Hecate said with a grin. “Katy gets bored. She decides that she and her friend should have an adventure which leave her and the boy are vulnerable to be pulled into conflicts for the swords.”

“What?” Paddie asked, doing his best to look offended. “When did we ever?”

“Fairy war?” Hecate asked. “Remember when the fairies were trying to steal the Sword of Truth? How about the time you were in the middle of a big fairy fight when Katy’s mom was having her twins? That’s not to mention all of the bs with the Templars. . .”

“Oh, Gods, is that heating up again?” Ms. Palio shook her head. “Are the Templars back?”

“Our friend is trying to end them,” Katy said, mustering all of her courage to talk back to an adult she didn’t know well. “He’s the last Grand Master.”

“Guy Semaines,” Hecate said.

“The prophesy,” Ms. Palio said.

“His name is Nelson Weeks,” Paddie said. Shaking his head, he said, “You’ve got it all wrong. We’re not doing anything and. . .”

Two apparition’s men appeared in the middle of the playground. Their vapor bodies wore the historic costumes of the Templars. Their clothing was covered in splatters of blood and mud. Playing children ran right through the men. The men were clearly looking for someone.

“Shit,” Hecate said.

Hecate snapped her fingers. She was wearing complete modern body armor.

“Nice,” Ms. Palio said. “Where’d you get that?”

“It’s who you know, Auntie,” Hecate said with a laugh.

Hecate opened her hand in the direct of Ms. Palio, and Ms. Palio was wearing full modern body armor as well.

“Thanks,” Ms. Palio said.

Paddie moved to pull out the Sword of Truth. The moment his hand touched the sword, the men seemed to hear the sword’s call. They turned toward where Paddie and Katy were standing. Their menacing, angry faces would have terrified any normal children.

But Paddie and Katy simply got into position.

“You do not belong here,” Ms. Palio said. “Your problems are long over. Be gone.”

With all of her Titan power, she was unable to make the apparitions leave the grounds of the school.

“Dad,” Hecate said under his breath.

Perses the Titan of Destruction appeared. He looked at the apparitions of the Templars and scowled.

“Get into the building,” Perses said.

“But. . .!” Paddie started to protest.

“You see two men here, right?” Perses asked.

Hecate and Ms. Palio nodded along with Katy and Paddie.

“There are thousands here,” Perses said. “It’s a trick.”

Perses wrapped his arms around Katy and Paddie. They were standing in the middle of the Marlowe School.

“They don’t seem able to get inside,” Ms. Palio said.

“It’s a very long story involving the spirits of hundreds of children. . .”

“And us!” Katy said.

Paddie nodded.

“Jacob has made the building impenetrable to spirits and magic of any kind,” Perses said. To Ms. Palio, he said,“I believe you’ve strengthened the charms on the building, s.”

“Why are we able to get inside?” Hecate asked.

“You are my kin,” Perses said.

Perses turned and knelt down to Paddie and Katy.

“You little ones are once again in grave danger,” Perses said. “These Templars do not wish to be disbanded. They do not want their hoard found. They do not wish to fade into history.”

Katy looked up at Hecate and Ms. Palio. They nodded in agreement with Perses.

“They need your swords and will stop at nothing to get them,” Perses said.

“Same shit, different day,” Paddie said with an exaggerated shrug.

Katy nodded in agreement with Paddie.

Perses grinned at the children.

“You will be safe here,” Perses said. “But don’t take any risks.”

“I’m bored,” Katy said.

“What if you’re not?” Paddie asked. “I mean think about it. Those scary smelly guys could make you feel that way and then. . .”

Paddie’s blue eyes got very big. Katy shivered. After a moment, she nodded.

“Come with me,” Ms. Palio said.

“Why?” Katy asked.

“We are going to work on your defenses,” Ms. Palio said.

“They’re just kids,” Hecate said.

“These men will kill them whether they are children or not,” Ms. Palio said. “We have to make sure that your minds do not let them in, not matter what.”

Katy and Paddie slumped along after Ms. Palio. Hecate and Perses whispered back and forth behind them. When they reached the auditorium, Ms. Palio turned to them.

“I want to see your defenses,” Ms. Palio said.

Paddie went to pull out the Sword of Truth.

“No,” Ms. Palio said. “I know that you are the bearer of a great magical sword. You must be able to do this without the sword. The sword can only assist you. It cannot fully protect you unless you know what you’re doing.”

Paddie gave Ms. Palio a nervous nod. Katy flicked an energy buzz toward Ms. Palio. The Titan absorbed the energy.

“Nice,” Ms. Palio said. “Thanks. You’ve now diminished your power while giving me energy.”

Katy scowled at Ms. Palio and began chewing on her lip.

Hecate and Perses spoke with Ms. Palio for a long moment. The principal nodded.

“I apologize,” Ms. Palio said. “I hadn’t realize that you’ve not actually been trained by anyone other than humans.”

Katy and Paddie nodded.

“That ends today,” Ms. Palio said. “My niece, brother-in-law, and I will undertake your training from this moment further. You will meet with us here every break, every school day. We will speak with your parents to figure a way to work on the weekends.”

“But my dad. . .” Paddie said.

“You’ll continue working with your fathers,” Ms. Palio said. “You will need to do all of this and keep up with your schooling. Can you do that?”

“We can try,” Katy said, meekly.

“That’s all I ask, my dear,” Ms. Palio said. “Let’s get started.”

For the next fifteen minutes, Ms. Palio tested Paddie and Katy’s psychic capacities to protect themselves. When they were done, the children felt like they had run in circles for hours.

“You did very well,” Ms. Palio said, dropping them off at their classrooms.

Katy gave Paddie a tired look and Paddie nodded. The children went back into their classroom for the rest of the afternoon.

~~~~~~~~

Nine hours later

Monday night — 9:15 p.m.

Nelson groaned when he stepped out of the taxi.

“You okay?” the cab driver asked in French.

“Just old,” Nelson replied in French.

The cab driver was from French speaking Ivory Coast.

“What does that mean about me?” the cab driver laughed.

“Bonne nuit!” Nelson said.

Nelson grinned at the man and stepped back. The cab driver waved to Nelson and headed toward Sixteenth Avenue. Sighing at his own fatigue, Nelson started down the path to his home. His mind was bleary from the long day on his feet. His boss, Ava O’Malley, and the rest of the team had presented their evidence to the DA’s office in a crazy and complicated crime involving finger bones and casinos.

He was just glad to be home.

As he reached the door, he noticed a small someone was sitting on the bench outside the front door. He folded back his left wrist and a thin red knife slid into his hand from his wrist.

“Show yourself,” Nelson said.

The person stood up and turned toward Nelson.

“Jill!” Nelson said, pressing the knife back into the holder. “Please, come inside. Why aren’t you inside?”

“I was too angry,” Jill said, through her face mask. “I wanted some time to collect my thoughts.”

“Angry?” Nelson checked that his face mask was in place as he neared the door. He stuck his key into the lock. He turned his head to her. “Why are you angry?”

“Oh, just something about a prophesy and the French asshole who hasn’t said even one word about it,” Jill glared at him.

“Prophesy?” Nelson asked. He lifted his shoulder in a shrug. “Please. Come inside. We’ll figure out whatever this is. If you wish to kill me when we’re done, I won’t fight you. I’m way too tired for that.”

Nelson gestured to the door. Glaring at Nelson, Jill went inside. The house was dark and silent.

“Everyone is already asleep. Let’s go down to the big kitchen,” Nelson said. “I’ll make us some tea and we can talk.”

Jill sniffed at him and walked down the stairs to the large open kitchen. Jill took a seat at the table while Nelson made a pot of mint tea.

“Would you like something to eat?” Nelson said. “I find myself to be peckish.”

Jill reached out and touched his arm. She shook her head.

“No Covid?” Nelson asked. “That’s good to know.

Nelson quickly made himself a sandwich from left over salmon and grabbed a tin of cookies.

“Chocolate chip,” Nelson said setting down the tin. “I do have a secret stash of croissants. Would you like one?”

Jill shook her head.

“Why were you so late?” Jill asked.

“We just finished this big and super stupid case,” Nelson said. “We presented all day and most of the night to the district attorney and then the state attorney. They are trying to figure out how to prosecute and who’s going to do it.”

“Is this the one where Ava was shot?” Jill asked.

“We call it ‘Freddie the Freeloader,’” Nelson said with a nod. He took a bite of his sandwich. “We finished it a while ago but the DA wanted to wait until Ava was back to talk about prosecution for the case at large. Are you sure you don’t want some? It’s perfect.”

Jill looked at him for a long moment.

“I know that you don’t eat when you’re angry,” Nelson said. He gestured to the bread. “I made this bread from my family’s sourdough. It’s. . . mmm. There’s more salmon. Looks like Heather made it. She has some Olympian magic with fish. I have no idea what she does but it’s magical.”

“Sure,” Jill said. “I could use some magic.”

Nelson got up and quickly made her a sandwich like his. He poured the tea. They ate in silence for a while. Feeling better, Jill sighed.

“What do you think she does with the fish?” Jill asked.

“I think it is very, very fresh,” Nelson said. “But don’t quote me. I am no chef.”

“I didn’t think Heather could cook,” Jill said.

“Mostly she doesn’t,” Nelson said. “Then, suddenly, there’s this magnificent fish.”

Jill nodded.

“What’s this about a prophesy?” Nelson asked.

Jill shot him an angry look.

“Now, little Titan, don’t glare at me,” Nelson said. “I am merely human. I have no special powers. I can’t read minds. You have to use your words.”

“Fine,” Jill said. “There was trouble at the school today. Templar ghosts. Thousands of them.”

“Huh,” Nelson said with a shrug. “That’s weird. I wonder why.”

“Ms. Palio. . .” Jill said.

“I remember that she’s a Titan, but I don’t remember which one,” Nelson said.

“I thought you knew all this stuff,” Jill said.

“I skipped the Titans because they are supposed to be dead,” Nelson said.

“I guess that makes sense,” Jill said. “She’s the mother of Apollo and Artemis. Most of what she was assigned to do has been lost to history, and she’s not telling anyone. My dad thought that she would like being the principal at the Marlowe School so she applied.”

“How’s she done?” Nelson asked.

His curiosity seemed genuine, so she answered, “She’s an amazing principal, truthfully. She’s been dealing with the state throughout the pandemic. She found the funding for all of the improvements and made them happen on time. The teachers love her and most of the parents.”

Jill nodded.

“We’re lucky to have her,” Jill said. “Oh, she’s also Asteria’s sister.”

“Your father’s sister-in-law,” Nelson said with a nod.

“He calls her ‘Sister,’” Jill said. “Honestly, they are all so inbred that she may as well be his sister.”

Smiling, Nelson nodded.

“She said something about a prophesy?” Nelson asked.

“She and Hecate referred to a prophesy that includes the Templars and the Sword of Truth,” Jill said. Her anger ignited again, she added, “You could have mentioned it anywhere along the way.”

“Okay, okay,” Nelson said, raising his hand. “I see where you’re coming from. But you forget, I’d have to know about a prophesy to tell you about it.”

“You don’t know?” Jill asked.

Nelson shook his head.

“If I ever knew, I’ve forgotten,” Nelson said. “Honestly, the years I spent with the Templars have blotted out a lot of things I knew really well.”

“I bet.” Jill nodded.

Nelson looked up at the clock.

“My father is usually awake at this time of night,” Nelson said. “He is very weak but regaining his strength. Why don’t we finish up here and head over? We can bring the cookies.”

Jill gave him a slight nod.

“I know that you are angry,” Nelson said. “And honestly, you have a right to be angry. But outside of knowing the swords exist and what they can do, I don’t know anything about the Sword of Truth or the Vanquisher. I mean, I do know that the Vanquisher is supposed to destroy the world, but your dad told me that he made that up so that people would stop looking for it.”

“Did it keep them from looking?” Jill asked.

“No,” Nelson said. “That’s how it got ‘destroyed.’”

Jill nodded. Nelson gestured to her food.

“Finish up and we’ll head over,” Nelson said.

“Okay,” Jill said.

“I will tell you,” Nelson said. “My father knows that you are the child of a Titan but he does not know the power you wield. I will ask you to tamp down. He is very ill. Still.”

Jill nodded. They ate in silence. Nelson got up to use the restroom. Jill cleaned up their meal and tucked the plates into the dishwasher. She washed her hands. Nelson grabbed the tin of cookies and they headed over to see Nelson’s father, Pierre Semaines.

Denver Cereal continues next week...

Curious about Freddie the Freeloader? This is a new Seth and Ava novella coming out December 7, 2021. Here's the link or it's available everywhere you buy books. I can't give you a discount because it's in pre-order. Sorry.


Chapter Six Hundred and Sixty-six & Sixty-seven - The Devil is in the details (and them some)

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-SIX

“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.”

Jacob and Mike watched Delphie closely.

“And?” Jacob asked, finally.

Delphie gave him a tired nod.

“There was a culture called the Minoans,” Delphie said. “They built an entire culture from the island of Crete, in the Mediterranean. They developed about 3500 BC, you know, the same time that Neith hotep and Narmer were combining Lower and Upper Egypt and the beginning of the Pharaohs in Egypt. Anyway, the Minoans were an amazing culture — art, culture, great food, indoor plumbing. . .”

“Indoor plumbing?” Jacob asked.

“Both for waste and for water delivery to every home,” Delphie said with a nod. “Just think of it. For thousands of years, people just poured their waste onto the streets of London or Paris when in 3000 BC, there was already indoor plumbing.”

“Mind blown,” Mike said, softly.

“The Minoans disappeared around 1000 BC,” Delphie said with a nod. “It was a big mystery. ‘Where did they go?’ ‘How did this great civilization fall?’”

“Like the Anasazi,” Mike said. “You know, Meza Verde in Southwest Colorado?”

“Sort of,” Delphie said. “But we do know that the Anasazi wandered off to join the Pueblo people. The climate changed and they were pushed them out of their mud cliff homes.”

“How do you know this?” Mike asked.

“When I worked at the store? You know, pre-Covid? I had a client who was a geneticist,” Delphie said. “This is her work. It’s pretty fascinating. I was able to help her figure out where to focus.”

Delphie scowled.

“I wonder how she’s doing,” Delphie said. She turned on the electric kettle for tea.

“You were telling us about the Minoans?” Jacob asked.

“Oh, right,” Delphie said. “Devil, burning in hell. . . So, this great civilization was wiped out by a huge volcanic explosion on a nearby island — Theta, it was called. It’s called ‘Santorini’ now. It’s only 62 miles away from Crete. Anyway, it’s a huge caldera with three or four active volcanos and it all blew. It was a ‘7’ on the volcanic explosion scale. 8 is the maximum. A ‘7’ is considered a ‘Super-Colossal’ explosion. In other words, it would have the effect of many, many nuclear bombs.”

Delphie made the sound “Pequew” and gestured with her hands as if there was an explosion.

“The lava, smoke, fire, and of course, the eventual tsunami, destroyed the Minoans,” Delphie said with a nod. “My ancestral knowledge tells me that this idea of a ‘Devil’ and ‘burning in hell’ come from the destruction of the Minoans. You see, everyone in the Mediterranean would have been affected by this explosion and. . .”

Delphie took a breath for emphasis.

“The end of this amazing culture,” Delphie said. “The Minoans had trade routes all through the Mediterranean. One day, they are buying and sell. One day, they are gone in fire and water.”

Delphie nodded.

“Very biblical,” Delphie said. “Very ‘burn in hell.’ Don’t you think?”

“So, the Devil is a Minoan?” Jacob asked.

“The Devil is an ancestral memory of the destruction of a peak civilization,” Delphie said. “So is his fire and all of that.”

Delphie looked at Jacob and at Mike.

“Clear as mud?” Delphie asked.

Jacob and Mike nodded.

“Think of it this way,” Delphie said. “The genetics of the Minoans are very similar to the genetics now found in modern-day Europe. Inside of every European — which is also a lot of us — there’s a genetic memory of this huge explosion of fire, ash, brimstone, pumice. . . followed by a tsunami. We make stories of the things we remember. The Devil, his fire and all of that, are a pretty good story.”

“But not true?” Mike asked.

“Of course not,” Delphie said. “How self-absorbed do we have to be to believe that all of our actions are monitored by someone who wants to torture us for infinity? What did he do before we crawled out of Africa? I mean, really — did he keep ‘bad’ dinosaurs or soft shelled organisms or. . .”

Delphie shrugged and walked off. Mike looked at Jacob and he shrugged.

“What do you want to do?” Mike asked.

“Let’s just move on,” Jacob said. “We’ll end Chapter 666 with this conversation and move on. Certainly, there’s plenty going on. Who’s going to care?”

Mike nodded.

“Do you think we should tell the others?” Mike asked.

“I don’t know why,” Jacob said. He put his hand on Mike’s shoulder. “Let it go. No one cares about the chapter number.”

“Then why are we moving on?” Mike asked. “We could. . . I don’t know, make an entire play. We have teenagers and. . .”

Jacob sighed.

“You know what — you’re right,” Mike said with a nod.

“Finally,” Jacob said.

“I don’t know why I’m arguing,” Mike said. “I never pay any attention to the Chapter number. I’m just here — living my life, you know?”

“My point,” Jacob said.

“Cereal?” Mike asked.

“I wanted to look up the stuff that Delphie was talking about,” Jacob said. “You know, the Minoans. Did you know what she meant by Narmer and. . . what was the name?”

“Neith hotep,” Mike said. “Nope, I’ve never heard of them.”

“First Pharoahs,” Jacob said. “That’s what she said. It never occurred to me that there weren’t Pharaohs in Egypt. You know? Weren’t there always Pharaohs in Egypt? I guess not.”

Jacob shrugged.

“How about this — I’ll pour, and you can look it up,” Mike said. “Read it to me and I’ll learn, too.”

“Good thinking,” Jacob said with a grin.

They spent the next hour reading about the Minoans and eating cereal. After two bowls of cereal, they got up and got back to their own lives.

And that was the end of this weird Chapter 666.

~~~~~~~~

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-SEVEN

Seven weeks later

Monday early morning — 5:15 a.m.

Lipson Construction

As they always did after Harvest Weekend, the weeks began to blur together. They had their first snow. Jacob and Blane were teaching the teenagers, including Noelle, how to shovel snow. The children were actually enjoying being school — masks and all. All parents were back at work. Valerie and Mike and their children had returned to Los Angeles for the People’s Choice Awards.

This morning, the employee owners of Lipson Construction were called into a video call before the sites officially opened. The men and women who turned on the equipment were following along by telephone.

“Okay,” Jacob said.

Jacob’s face was in profile.

“The camera is. . .” Aden said, pointing to the webcam on his computer.

Aden, Jacob, Tres, and Sam were in the offices of Lipson Construction.

“Thanks,” Jacob said, turning to the camera. “Good morning everyone!”

Turning to Aden, he asked, “Are they all here?”

Aden nodded.

“Okay,” Jacob said. “I just got off the telephone with the governor. Because we are essential workers, he is willing to let us vaccinate our entire crew including the non-owners.”

No one said anything. Jacob squinted into the camera.

“Is the audio on?” Jacob asked.

“What do we know about these vaccines?” a woman asked. “I’ve heard some really creepy stuff about them.”

“We know that they are safe based on the trials,” Aden said. “Thousands of people have taken them and the vaccine appears to have worked really well.”

“How do you know?” a man asked.

“I read the scientific paper,” Aden said with a nod. “You can too. We’ll send it around to you.”

“What you might not know. . .” Tres’s head appeared sideways. “. . . is that thousands of the vaccine have been given out in other countries already. The vaccination project is worldwide.”

“Isn’t the technology new?” a younger man asked.

“New to us,” Jacob said. “They’ve been working on it for decades — three, I think. Our friend Tanesha talked to the scientist who invented the technology. The science is sound.”

“And it works!” Sam’s voice could be heard in the room.

“Dad, why don’t you take my place?” Jacob asked.

Jacob moved away from the camera so that Sam could be seen.

“Delphie and I have been in a vaccine trial,” Sam said. “We are both well. I had some side effects after getting my vaccine, but Delphie didn’t have any. They thought maybe I had side effects because I’d already been so sick with Covid.”

Sam gave a sincere nod to the camera.

“I know that people are saying that this is sickness is not a big deal,” Sam said. “But I’ll tell you — I nearly died. I’m in great health. Outside of being older, I don’t fit into any category of pre-existing conditions. If Jake hadn’t seen me fall, I would be dead. If I hadn’t been able to get treatment, I’d be dead. And even with all of the help — acupuncture, all of your prayers and support, medications, hospital stays, everything — I still have effects from the virus. You don’t want to get this thing. Trust me.”

Sam stepped away from the camera.

“It looks like the vaccine is going to be two doses — one initial dose and then another four weeks later,” Jacob said. “Most of us have the Hep B vaccine so we know what this is all about.”

Most heads nodded up and down.

“Tres?” Jacob nodded to Tres Sierra.

“Here’s the thing,” Tres said. “Sam was in the hospital for almost a month. He needed treatment for an addition two months. While the insurance paid for everything, it was expensive. Really expensive.”

“If we all get vaccinated, we’re all protected,” Aden said. “If we aren’t all vaccinated, then we’re all at risk.”

“Why is that?” a man asked.

“Because the virus is airborne,” Jacob said. “You breathe it in.”

“If we get the vaccine, can we take off these horrible masks?” a woman asked.

“Hopefully,” Jacob said. “It depends on what happens to the virus.”

“What’s that mean?” another man asked.

“Viruses are living things,” Jacob said. “I think of them like bindweed. If you spray for bindweed, you may kill it where you’re spraying but. . .”

“It’s going to pop up somewhere else,” a woman said with a laugh.

A short lived laugh went through the crowd.

“Our friend Tanesha says that the virus can mutate,” Jacob said. “That means that it can get easier to catch and it could become more deadly.”

“Just awful,” Sam said.

“You are owners now,” Tres said. “You need to know that if a bunch of us get the virus, we can easily bankrupt our insurance plan. That will mean larger premiums in the future. The bottom line is this: without the vaccine, this virus has the potential to bankrupt the entire company.”

Tres let the silence linger and then said, “Let me say that again — this virus has the potential to bankrupt the entire company.”

“What do we do?” Jerry Siegle asked.

“We get the vaccine,” Bambi said. “We all agree here and now that we’re all going to get the vaccine.”

“What if we don’t want to?” a woman asked. “I heard that the vaccine was made from dead babies.”

The woman shivered.

“Then we’ll buy out your shares,” Sam said. “We’re in the ground, people. We deal with the world of excrement and pee.”

“And?” someone asked.

“The virus can be spread by feces and pee,” Aden said. “Our masks and social distancing has protected us so far. There’s no way to know what will happen next year.”

“I want to know what Delphie says,” an older woman said. “She’s never been wrong. Not in my experience. She was right about the masks, hand washing, and social distance. Hell, my grands go to the Marlowe School and she set up the schedule and the cleaning and everything that’s keeping our kids safe. What does Delphie say about this whole thing?”

“She says that we’re just at the beginning of this pandemic,” Aden said. “Those who take care by getting the vaccine, wearing masks, washing their hands, social distancing — they will survive it. But we need to remember that the flu that killed so many people in 1918 is still around. We just call it ‘Influenza A’ and get it in our yearly flu vaccine.”

“Our best chance at surviving — as a company and as individuals — is by taking the vaccine,” Jacob said. “Delphie was very clear.”

No one said anything for a long time.

“Fuck it,” one of the new site managers said. “I’ve got three kids. My wife’s working online now. Maybe some of you can afford to be sick, but we can’t afford for me to be sick. And, I know that I can quit. But I get a really good private school for my kids for pennies, childcare for the baby, and free healthcare for the whole family.”

“Good healthcare, too,” a woman said. “I don’t know anyone who’s been denied something they need.”

“I even got a check for the profits this year,” he said. “Because-a Jake. If he tells me I need to take a vaccine? I don’t give a shit what anyone else says; I’m going to pick a shoulder and get the vaccine. I expect everyone who works on my team to do the same — especially if your choice is a vaccine or a new job.”

“Here! Here!” D’Shawn and Pete said in unison.

“I move that all Lipson employees are vaccinated,” Bambi said.

“Or they leave,” the newest owner said. “Hey, I may have only been here a year, but I know a good thing when I’ve got it. My friends aren’t working. My best friend from the last place has had to foreclose on his house. But, I’m here working like it’s normal time, not pandemic time. My family is safe. My kids are in school. So, Jake tells me I need a vaccine, I’m going to ask for one for my wife and my kids.”

“We haven’t received authorization for partners and wives, yet,” Jacob said. “But I’ll make a point of asking.”

“Get Val to ask,” a woman who’d worked at Lipson since nearly the beginning. “Doesn’t she have the voice?”

Jake gave her a vague look.

“She’s in LA,” Aden said. “People’s Choice Awards.”

“There are telephones there,” Bambi said.

“Let’s vote on this first,” Jacob said. “You vote by raising your hand. It’s a button on the bottom.”

“All those in favor of a mandatory vaccine policy for all Lipson Construction owners and employees, raise your hand,” Aden said.

“Nearly everyone has pressed the ‘raise hand’ button,” Aden said. “We’ve marked down those who have not. Sam will circle back with you to see what you’d like to do.”

“Thank you everyone,” Jacob said. “I think we’ll get the vaccine in a week or two. I’ll let you know. We’ll set up clinics at the site to make sure that everyone gets a shot.”

“I have to tell you that we’re very lucky to have the vaccine,” Tres said. “Jake’s worked tirelessly to make sure that everyone stays safe and alive in this pandemic. So far, we’ve had no cases — except for Sam and a couple of others early on. We just have to stay the course and we’ll survive the pandemic.”

“A few construction companies have closed,” Jerry said.

“Exactly,” Tres said.

“Thank you for coming!” Jacob said. “We’ll be in touch!”

The call ended. Aden, Jacob, Tres, and Sam just looked at each other for a long minute.

“What do you think?” Aden asked.

“I think it went really well,” Sam said.

“There were a bunch of people who didn’t vote for the vaccine,” Aden said.

“Two of them are immunocompromised,” Tres said.

“Organ transplants,” Jacob said.

“The rest are probably in a similar boat,” Sam said. “We won’t know until we talk to them.”

“I wonder if Tanesha would talk to them,” Jacob said.

“Good thinking,” Tres said. “I’ll call her.”

Jacob nodded to Tres.

“Good work everyone,” Jacob said. “This pandemic has not been easy. We’ve made it so far. I’m proud of all of us.”

“I’m proud of us too,” Aden said. “You think we’ll make it through this?”

“I do,” Sam said, before Jacob could answer. “I really do.”

The men looked at each other for a long moment.

“Did you know that there was like two feet of brimstone that smothered everything. . .” Jacob started.

“Are you still talking about the Minoans?” Tres asked with a groan.

Jacob nodded and everyone laughed.

Denver Cereal continues next week...