Special Sneak Peek: Preface of Sakura

While most local Utah authors have heard parts of this emotional story, there are many of us out there that haven’t heard all of it. I’ve asked Paul Genesse to come to the blog today to share about his experience bringing Zachary Hill’s vision to life.

Paul has generously allowed me to share the preface to Sakura: Intellectual Property with you.

Cover of Sakura: Intellectual Property

From Paul –

Completing the Sakura novel for my deceased friend, Zachary Hill was a once in a lifetime project. Patrick Tracy and I took on this monumental task out of love for our friend. Below is the six-page preface I wrote. It’s the hardest five hours of writing in my life.

Preface to the Sakura: Intellectual Property Novel

by Paul Genesse

Zachary Hill will live forever in our hearts. He will also live on the pages of the many books he wrote and illustrated, and on the canvases he painted. Knowing him was an incredible blessing, and his sudden passing January 15, 2016, left his friends and family devastated and heartbroken.

Zach had so much to live for. He had finally met and married the love of his life, Mackenzie. Only a few days before their one-year wedding anniversary, he collapsed soon after arriving at work. CPR was performed, but he did not survive. A large blood clot had formed in his leg and traveled to his lungs. The pulmonary embolism took his life.

None of us wanted his story to end. There was so much more that was supposed to happen. He was only thirty-eight years old, and the best years were ahead of him. He was called back to his celestial home far too early.

At his wake, with tears in my eyes, I stood beside his open casket and made a vow to friends and family that his last book would be published. Six days before he left us, Zach told me he had finished the first draft. I agreed to be the editor, and together, we were going to develop Sakura into the best novel he’d ever written. He was so excited about this book, and his idea was brilliant. Set in a dystopian future Japan, Sakura, a heavy metal–singing android is hacked and turned into an assassin. She fights her programming, trying to stop a secret cabal who is taking over the world.

Creating Sakura’s unique character was arguably Zach’s greatest literary accomplishment, and her story needed to be told. Eight months after Zach’s death, Joshua Hill, Zach’s twin brother, completed a light edit on the manuscript and sent along the file, which was 378 pages (92,000 words) and had the working title Intellectual Property.

I couldn’t muster the courage to read it for some time. The pain was too raw. Every time I opened the document, I got choked up and was only able to read a few pages, which was Josh’s experience as well.

Also, I was in the middle of finishing book four and five in my Iron Dragon series and used that project to distract myself from the grief. Zach was a fan, and to keep myself going, I would think, “Zach would want me to finish.” I eventually completed book four and was 45,000 words into book five when I realized I needed to stop my project and work on Zach’s novel. If I didn’t, it would be more than three years before Zach’s last book came out.

I finally read the first draft and began the rewrite on March 5, 2017, finishing my first draft on December 31, 2017. I incorporated Zach’s prose and wrote a lot of my own, expanding the summary chapters he wrote into full-fledged scenes. The final novel grew from 93K to 156K. I had recruited my best friend, one of Zach’s great friends, Patrick M. Tracy to help. Pat is an expert on heavy metal, a guitar player, and an amazing writer who writes incredible emotional punches.

Pat and I were in a gaming group and writers’ group with Zach, and we bonded over many hours at Larry Correia’s house, playing samurai in our Legend of the Five Rings role-playing game campaign. Larry has written the foreword and I’m so grateful for his help getting the word out about this book.

I could not do this project alone. Patrick and I forged ahead with the full support of Josh and Zach’s extended family. We read that original draft and brainstormed about our approach to an early version of the manuscript, which explored the meaning of life, artificial intelligence, philosophy, theoretical computing, value higher than self, rebellion, and the true meaning of heavy metal.

The character and story were awesome, but it needed to be fleshed out, expanded, and structured. Zach’s process would have seen him rewrite it multiple times, and we had to imagine the directions he would have taken. Over the course of twenty-one months, Pat and I spent hundreds of hours brainstorming and working on the novel as we sent it back and forth to each other.

We’ve never worked harder or longer on a book. This was a big deal for us, and we felt our self-imposed pressure to capture Zach’s vision. Some of Zach’s original prose is still in this novel, and the overall story is his, as are the characters, but we had to redream the dream, figure out what Zach would have done, and stay true to his vision as we took first-draft scenes and polished them. We had moments of self-doubt, but we persevered in the end.

We took on this project because we love Zach and wanted to honor him. It was also a way for us to grieve and come together and bring hope to his family and friends. We did it for them, and we did it for free.

All the profit from this project goes to Mackenzie, Zach’s widow. Zach’s father, George Hill Sr., Patrick Tracy, and I funded this. Many others donated their time and energy to help complete the book, as it takes a team. We were able to hire an amazing artist, Sarah Steigers, who did the cover and interior illustrations, and who spent so much extra time getting things just right. She made Sakura and the characters come to life, and her work is stunning.

Devon Dorrity’s cover design is also incredible, and we are so fortunate for his support, guidance, and expertise. Bradley Beaulieu’s development editing took this to the next level, and Jennie Stevens’s copyediting was awesome. The layout by Caryn Larrinaga in the high-quality, limited edition, signed, and numbered hardcover will make the entire book a work of art.

The support we’ve received has been wonderful, and this is the best and most important project of my life. We believe that Zach would love all of this, and we’ve felt him encouraging us along the way. He’s probably looking down on us, wearing his trademark “Elvis glasses,” which he wore in Iraq and for years upon returning home. He led a fascinating life, and his experiences led him to this story. His gentle soul and big heart are embodied by the title character of his novel, Sakura. As you read, you may see some similarities.

George Hill IV, Zach’s eldest brother wrote this passage: “He was an artist, a historian, a teacher, a two-tour combat veteran, and a prolific writer. He was a true warrior poet who always sought peace. He loved to play games and spend time with his family and friends. Zach was also a traveler. He adventured in other countries. He served his two-year mission for his church in Mexico, and he taught English in Japan and spent time in Italy. He served his country in the darkest places in Iraq and was a legitimate war hero. Now he’s gone to the Undiscovered Country. While he’s away from us for the time being, we know we will see him again.”

Until then, we celebrate his life and his final creative work. Sakura: Intellectual Property is a project born of love. This novel brings together fiction and music in a unique way. This is a love letter to heavy metal, and Sakura is always thinking about music. The playlists at the beginning of each of the chapters contain songs by bands that Zach loved. We also added tracks that resonated with the story and helped us see the way forward.

Fans of heavy metal who are immersed in the culture may understand this at a deeper level, but casual fans will also read the song titles and album names and understand the relational meaning in the text. There are so many little nuggets hidden in this book that relate to Zach’s life, including the numeric designation of the army units he served in, along with music and movies he loved.

Follow the link to the Sakura channel on YouTube (link here) to listen to each of the playlists for the chapters. As you read, you can listen to the corresponding playlist. Many of the songs are mentioned in the chapter and go along with the text in tone and meaning. For copyright reasons, we were unable to use any of the real lyrics in the book, but we wrote parody lyrics of some songs if they are mentioned at all. We also wrote songs, and Callie Stoker recorded one of them in the studio of the legendary Craig Nybo. Please listen to it when it occurs in the book.

So many people have given their time and energy to this project, and we are determined to make it an artistic and commercial success—for Zach, for Mackenzie, and all his friends and family. We would love to sell the rights for this to be made into a manga, an anime, or a live-action movie. Any profit would go to Mackenzie. Please get in touch if you can help us or have contacts who could.

Thank you for your support and for reading this book. We need your reviews and especially need you to tell your friends about this. We want to get the word out to everyone who might be interested, anyone who wants to rock and go on a heavy metal thrill ride.

Through his writing, Zachary Hill will always be remembered. We invite you to take this journey to future Japan to find out, once and for all, if rock ’n’ roll can save the world. We believe it can.

—Paul Genesse

December 2, 2018

Link to the Sakura Novel Page

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Free Fiction Sample, “Imprint” by Nicholas Adams

It’s Friday, which means I get to bring you samples, interviews, and articles from new voices around the world. Today, I have a special treat for you. Friend and fellow author, Nicholas Adams, has given me permission to share the first chapter of his novella “Imprint” a hard sci-fi with a medical twist.

In return, I got to go have fun and answer interview questions on his blog. Go here to check it out.

Cover of Imprint

First Chapter Sample of Imprint, a Novella

by Nicholas Adams

Malcolm slammed his fist against the mirror. “I’m telling you, Warden. The process isn’t ready yet!”

From under the spider web of fractured reflections, the older man’s image steepled his fingertips. “Now that you’ve gotten that out of your system, would you mind repositioning me so I can see you clearly?”

Malcolm sighed, defeated. He swiped a finger across the broken glass. The floating screen glided across the mirror’s surface to rest within the last unblemished area.

“Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way,” the man in the mirror glowered over his thick-lensed glasses, “let me remind you of the conditions of your exile.”

Malcolm braced himself for the full version of the warden’s favorite speech. “Your prior technological breakthrough caused the outbreak,” he began as if reading from a teleprompter, “and in spite of your synthetic organs’ success in treating life-threatening illnesses–,”

“You mean lifestyle threatening illnesses,” Malcolm interjected.

The warden interlocked his fingers and lowered them onto the black marble desktop, clearing his throat in frustration. “Be that as it may, it was your flawed technology that caused the disease that now threatens to wipe out humanity. And therefore, having been charged with attempted genocide, you have been isolated above the Arctic Circle because you promised the world you could fix this.”

Malcolm pounded his bruised knuckles against the lavatory’s cold, metal countertop. “I know, I know! But I need more time. And Cynthiana is the only remaining test subject. All the others died before I could make the bio-synthetic interface work. There are just too many variables. But, I think I’m getting closer. I just need more time!”

The Warden glanced somewhere off-screen and nodded to his unseen associate. “Time is not something of which you have an abundance. Get to work Doctor. We’ll be looking forward to your next progress report.”

Malcolm’s eyes automatically drifted to the calendar hovering below the warden’s image. Seven Days.

The Warden leaned over to press the button that would end their video-call but paused with his arm hanging in the air. “If you don’t have something significant to report,” he said not looking at Malcolm, “I’m afraid I’ll have to recommend that your exile will end, and we’ll begin the proceedings to schedule your execution.”

Malcolm slammed both palms on the broken mirror. “But, my wife’s condition. She’s terminal. You’ll be sentencing her to death too!”

“No, Doctor Silvestra, you’ve already done that.”

Before Malcolm could respond the warden’s image blinked out of existence, leaving him alone with only his anguished thoughts.

It’s all my fault. I’ve killed her. I’ve killed them all.

Malcolm’s shoulders quaked, as stifled tears dripped into the stainless steel sink. The flood of anguish pressing against the emotional dam broke through.

I can’t lose her. I just can’t. The rest of the planet be damned, but I can’t lose her.

Staring past his reflection, Malcolm spotted the ornately framed award hanging over his cluttered workbench. His stomach twisted. Several years before, when he received the plaque, he felt only pride and achievement.

Now, however, the image only served to remind him of his failure to keep a promise to Cynthiana; to completely restore her health, or, at least, free from her scars and debilitating pain.

Lettering under the bas-relief sculpture seemed to mock him. His eyes scanned the plaque, landing on the keywords that seemed to highlight his failure. Life Sciences Award, Innovative Breakthrough, Synthetic Organ Replacement.

The fancy words reminded him of his triumph—the 3D Nano-Modeling machine that built other devices on a microscopic level. Building on his wife’s work in Neural-Mapping, together they developed artificial organs that could mimic its natural functions.

Newspaper clippings covering his wall displayed headlines from around the globe. Phrases like Miracle, Saves the Life, and Cure for Death seemed to stand out like random street lamps in a darkened city.

Other news articles littering the wall reminded him of what he now fought against; a plague of biblical proportions. Headlines reading Mystery, Deadly, Burn Victims, and Horrific glared at him. The mainstream media sensationalized the outbreak by calling it The Scald.

Malcolm seemed to be the only one who actually understood where the plague came from; his Nano-modeler, v.8.14.

Long before he saw the correlation between his machine and the outbreak, The Scald had already sentenced anyone with an artificial organ to a slow, painful death.

With his newest Nano-modeler, v.10.27, Malcolm began his exile, with Cynthiana and a dozen dying volunteers at a self-sufficient research bunker in the Northwest Territories.

The collapse of civilization seemed to take only a matter of weeks. Accusations of bio-warfare crossed every known geographic and political border until the truth of Malcolm’s plague became public knowledge.

Riots, looting, and doomsday prophets littered the streets around the world. Malcolm barely got Cynthiana and himself to the bunker before the bombs fell, dooming the planet in a nuclear winter.

However, how the world ended no longer mattered to him. Not since The Scald ravaged his wife. Not even the failed experiments and deaths of the other subjects made an impact on him.

Cynthiana’s body yielded to the lesions faster than any recorded case, forcing her to remain in a pool of bio-nutrient gel 24 hours a day. The Scald had inflicted a rare side effect on her; three-quarters of her body became paralyzed and unresponsive to any stimuli.

Malcolm could not help flashing back to the days before The Scald took away her independence.

***

If you enjoyed this first chapter you can find the rest of the story on Amazon: Imprint, by Nicholas Adams. I also hear you can score a copy if you sign up for his newsletter. 🙂

Want more free stuff? Check out Nicholas’s freebies page.
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The enigmatic Nicholas Adams

About today’s guest:

Nicholas Adams grew up in the small, rural town of Boring, OR with his six brothers and sisters.

After graduating from High School in Gresham, OR he attended BYU-ID and received his Associates Degree in Pre-Med. From there he returned to Portland, OR and attended Portland State University where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Biology/Pre-Med before changing his career track to Architecture.

He completed his second Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture at Portland State University before going on to achieve his Master of Architecture Degree from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, UT.

After his graduation he and his wife moved to the Phoenix Arizona area where they adopted four children over the next eight years.

Nicholas currently lives in the Salt Lake City area where he is an Associate member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the League of Utah Writers.

His other interests include movies, singing and motorcycles.

Connect with Nicholas:

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Assembling a Cyberpunk Heist Team by Jodi L. Milner

My buddy James and I did a super entertaining blog swap. He asked me to stretch out of my writing comfort zone and write a cyberpunk “how to” article. Here’s what I came up with. Be sure to like and follow James at his blog. 🙂

James Wymore

As part of a blog swap (see my last post), Jodi L. Milner wrote these fun instructions, which I think you’ll enjoy.

Assembling your Cyberpunk Heist Team

By Jodi L Milner

Listen, if you’re reading this you are already up to no good. Kudos. I like your moxi. Chances are you’ve got plans, big ones, the kind that needs cash. We’re not talking about rummaging up enough coins to sleep in a real bed, that’s nothing. If you take my advice, you’ll never have to sleep on a pile of cardboard again.

We’re talking credits. Those penthouse-dwelling corporate yes-men got ‘em. You need ‘em.  The cybernetic enhancements you want won’t pay for themselves, and without ‘em you might as well start selling your brain space to the highest bidder.

To pull off a successful heist, you need a team.

The Mastermind – That’s you, sweetheart. Someone must know what’s really…

View original post 832 more words

Summertime, Volume Two

51ycfi2t0lSummertime (vol. 2) is the anthology of The Eagle Mountain Arts Alliance 2016 contest winners. My flash fiction piece, The Music of Heaven, contemplates whether it is better to allow mankind to suffer a long ugly death, or to destroy all life on the world to maintain the dignity of the human race.

Volatile When Mixed

volatilewhenmixedVolatile When Mixed is an anthology of The League of Utah Writers 2015 Fall Conference writing contest winners. My flash fiction piece, Mundane Chores, is a “slice of life” story about the frustrations and joys of a mother doing laundry around her toddler. Totally not inspired by real life, really. Ok, maybe a little bit. He’s still a cutie.

Toll of Another Bell

51-BE6kx1PLBreath has the distinction of being the first short story I’ve ever published. It tells of Fauna, the Guardian of Souls, who has discovered a vast emptiness in her life and is emotionally paralyzed until she can find a way to fill it. She seeks a solution from her brother Terran, the Guardian of Earth, who is reluctant to tell her because of its great cost. In the end he relents, changing history forever.

Published by Xchyler Publishing in Toll of Another Bell

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 26

Here we have come to the end of our story, Mike has found what he was looking for in the talented and charming Maybelle and now must bring her back to his home.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning, click here!

fiction friday bannerAfter leaving Auntie Marie’s burrow, Mike and Maybelle made their way down the grassy tunnel that bordered the hedgerow. Maybelle walked with a carefree lightness that Mike hadn’t seen during his stay at Willow keep; it made him smile. Any doubts he had about taking her from her home vanished the further they traveled away from that horrid place.

Her happiness took the edge off of Mike’s unease, but he was still wary. Dangers lurked along the way, Tilly had warned him of the snake that hunted along the hedge tunnel, and then there were those horrid cats that prowled the walkways. Even as he thought about it he felt the hair on his neck stand on end. They weren’t alone in the hedge, and he knew it.

Maybelle stopped and breathed in the fresh fall air. “You’ve been rather quiet, is everything alright?”

Mike leaned on his cane and glanced behind them once again, unable to shake the feeling of being watched. “It’s nothing, really. Just eager to get home I suppose.”

“You would tell me if there were something wrong, wouldn’t you?”

“If it were worth mentioning, yes.” He kept his eyes down and drew a lazy circle with his foot over the packed soil, trying his best to look more at ease.

Maybelle set her hands on her hips. “Listen, I know we haven’t known each other very long and I have a lot to learn about you, just as you have much to learn about me. We are both too old to be playing games with each other like this. I need you to be honest with me. I can’t stand it when people try to hide things, I always find out.  Now out with it.” She spoke with sternness, but managed to sound kind as she did.

Mike stammered, his mouth working soundlessly before he could find what he wanted to say. “When I came this way before I was warned of –”

“Wait.” She stopped him with a hand, her head tilted toward the brush to their left. “Do you hear that?”

Mike froze and strained his ears for sounds of danger, specifically of the rustle of scale against dry leaf. He couldn’t make out anything unusual, but considering the possibility made his heart speed up and his mouth dry. “Hear what?”

She stepped toward the brush, her motions silent and concise. “Someone is crying.”

Mike peered into the brush. It was hard to make out anything in the dappled shadows until he caught a hint of red deep inside the hedge. Then he understood. “Tilly? Is that you?”

“Go away,” squeaked the tiny mouse from her hiding place.

“I promised to come back this way, I never forget a promise. I want you to meet Maybelle.” He climbed up closer.

A tiny nose peeked around the branch, followed by two curious eyes. “I don’t want to talk to you Mike Finnigan. You best go on home.” She sniffed again and dabbed at her face with her handkerchief.

“What’s happened, what’s wrong?”

“It’s not important.”

“Of course it’s important, it’s enough to make you sad so it must be.”

Maybelle placed a hand on his shoulder. “It’s because of me. I think dear Tilly was hoping that you would return empty handed,” she whispered.

Mike’s eyes widened, the realization dawning on him. He didn’t want to admit Tilly’s fondness for him right away, he had heard saying things like that upset some women. “Why would you assume that?”

“I think I have some understanding of how another woman’s heart works.” She winked and then climbed up into the branches. Within minutes she had coaxed the field mouse down into the opening.

Tilly dabbed at her eyes again and gave Maybelle a nod before turning toward Mike. “She’s right, I was upset that you found someone. I know that’s silly but it’s true.”

Mike shuffled his feet, unsure if it would be appropriate to pull her into a hug.  She looked as if she needed one, but in light of the situation he thought better of it and rested his hands over the top of his cane instead. “No, love is never silly. The heart sometimes makes choices that the mind cannot unmake.  It must learn the hard way. I’m sorry that I caused you pain. You will always be a dear friend.”

Without warning, Tilly turned and wrapped her arms around him and buried her face into his chest. Mike pulled his arms free, letting his cane fall to the ground, and returned the embrace. When she had her fill she stepped back and straightened her scarf. “I’m glad to have known you Mike, be sure to come visit if you ever come this way again.”

“I promise, and you know I will keep it,” Mike said as he leaned over and retrieved his cane.

“You best be going, I’m sure you are anxious to get home.”

After Mike and Maybelle bid Tilly their farewells they continued on their journey through the grass-lined tunnel. They walked in an uncomfortable silence for quite some time. Mike felt like he needed to apologize, but wasn’t sure what for and didn’t want to appear foolish. In the end it was Maybelle who spoke first.

“Will we be meeting any more of your friends on the way?” she asked with a bemused smirk.

“No, no, I assure you. That’s it.”

Maybelle laughed out loud, a musical wonderful sound, and Mike knew all was right between them again. They left the park and climbed the hill to the yellow house with blush colored roses out front.

“This is home” Mike announced with a smile and his arms open wide. “Do you like it?”

Maybelle’s hands went to her mouth. “Oh, Mike – it’s beautiful!” She walked to a low hanging rose blossom and inhaled deeply before turning to him once more. “Haven’t you forgotten something?”

Mike racked his brain. What could he have forgotten? He had gotten them safely back to his home. What could he have missed? Maybelle twiddled her fingers, and made an act of being coy. He had to figure it out. Then, as if struck by lightning, he knew.

He knelt down on one knee before her. “Maybelle, will you marry me?”

She giggled and held out her hand, which he covered with kisses. “Of course.”

***

That’s the end of Mike Finnegan and his adventure.  Thanks for reading! I realize that this story is super flawed and I apologize that the beginning and the ending don’t match at all.  I think Mike lost his accent about 5 episodes in, whoops.  As my first serial piece I learned a ton about what it takes to write serial fiction and just how many wrong turns I made. This is all in the name of learning something new, so even it it didn’t turn out as well as I would have liked it was worth the time to at least try.

Feel free to give me a thorough verbal thrashing in the comments!

 

 

 

 

The Man in the Cupboard, pt. 25

We last left Mike sailing through the air once again in the clutches of Ben the bluejay. He’s escaped Queen Caliee and the prison fortress of Willow Keep and is finally on the way home.

To read the previous episode, click here!

To start at the beginning, click here!

fiction friday banner

Cool autumn air rushed through Mike’s hair and down the neck of his jacket, making him shiver. He held tight to Ben’s foot and tried to ignore the uneasy feeling in his stomach as the bird flew higher and higher.  It wouldn’t do to throw up in front of Maybelle, not after he had tried so hard to be brave.

Off to the left he spotted Ben’s gnarled crabapple tree and he remembered the promise he made at the beginning of his journey.

He craned his neck up and shouted out to the bird. “Can you set us down over by Auntie Marie’s burrow?”

The bird whistled in reply and began a steep descent toward the end of the hedgerow.

Maybelle tugged at Mike’s sleeve to get his attention. “I thought we were going to your home. Who’s Auntie Marie?” She yelled over the wind.

“A friend I met on my way here. You’ll like her.” Mike answered.

“Sweetie lady! Oh yes, oh yes!” Ben spun in the air, making Mike scream against his will.

Maybelle shrieked in delight, arms extended out as if she too were a bird. At least she was enjoying herself. Mike wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if she found the ride as terrifying as he did.

Ben dove down, pulled up sharply, and released his two passengers a few inches above the ground, making Mike tumble end over end in the grass. Maybelle landed lightly on her feet and for a moment Mike could do nothing but stare in open admiration as he lay flat on his back struggling for breath.

Before Mike could get up, Ben hopped over to him and started dipping the tip of his beak into the pockets of Mike’s jacket.

“Enough you crazy bird, I don’t have anything for you.” Mike shooed him away and climbed to his feet.  “That’s why we are going to Auntie Marie’s, remember?”

Ben bobbed his head. “Right, right.” He whistled again and rushed off into the hedge.

Maybelle suppressed a giggle behind a hand. “I’m guessing traveling by bird isn’t something you like doing. Am I right?”

“Let’s just say if there had been any other option to get us out of there, any at all, I would have taken it. I think I could live happily for a thousand years and not do that again.” Mike brushed grass off of his sleeve and sniffed. “If I remember correctly, Auntie Marie’s burrow is through this hedge. I hope Ben hasn’t eaten all the treats, that mouse is a marvel when it comes to cooking and baking.”

They passed through the hedge and followed the smell of candied hazelnut all the way to the burrow. When they arrived Auntie was standing at the tunnel mouth talking the ears off of Ben who was enjoying his share of nuts already.

Mike leaned in to Maybelle. “I suppose I should warn you, Auntie loves to talk,” he whispered.

“Don’t all aunties?”

Before Mike could answer, Auntie had spotted him. Her arms shot up and she released a delighted squeal.  “Mr. Mike! I’ve been so very worried ever since you left. Are you well dear, have they hurt you? Oh, of course you’re fine, just look at you. Why if it wasn’t for Ben here I might have run out of things to do.  He’s been so very helpful to me, bringing me things I need in the kitchen and what not. You’ll have to tell me all about this lovely girl here over some tea. Well let’s not stand around here flapping our gums, I have a fresh pear tart that about ready to come out of the oven and I won’t let you go until you had a slice.”

Mike opened his mouth to thank Auntie for her generosity but before he could speak she had turned and marched into the burrow talking to herself about how wonderful it was for Mike to be back.

“Wow, you weren’t kidding.” Maybelle said once Auntie was well out of hearing range.

“I never kid,” he chuckled. “Oh, and make sure you wash up well before going to her table. She’s half a mind to thump dirty hands with that ladle of hers.”

Inside the burrow Mike and Maybelle enjoyed Auntie’s cooking and did their best to keep up with her unending babble. At first Maybelle tried to slip in a comment or question here and there when Auntie took a sip of her tea or a bite of tart, but she soon gave up and sat back to enjoy the show.

Full of tart and tea and endless chatter, Mike leaned forward and rested his folded arms of the table and waited for Auntie to take a breath. The second she did he jumped in, there was a question he had to ask.

“Is Tilly or Jacob around?”

Auntie stammered. Mike imagined her train of thought crashing and she was forced to reorganize and reroute the cars before answering.

“They’ve gone back to their hole on the other end of the hedge, I reckon they’ll find you as you make your way back. They are always on the lookout.” She laughed to herself and launched right back into another endless stream of speech about her niece and nephew and how kind they were to visit her even though she suspected it was only for the food.

Maybelle finished her tea and gave a dramatic sigh before standing and interrupting. “Dear Auntie, it’s been a delight to meet you, I can see why Mike made a point to stop by on our way. We must be on our way if we are ever going to finish our journey today.”

Auntie stopped mid-sentence, unsure if she should be offended or not. Her whiskers twitched and she swallowed hard. “Well of course dear, you two love birds must be on your way.  Here, I’ll pack a few of these hazelnuts for you.”

“You’re the best Auntie. We’ll be sure to stop by next time we are around.” Mike hugged the chubby mouse who had removed a handkerchief from her pocket and was dabbing her eyes.

“Promise?”

“Of course.”

***

To be continued…