An Excerpt from Installment Four of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel

Welcome to Part Two: Winter, being the second part of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel.

Please enjoy this excerpt from the story.

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She kept hoping her mother would turn around or that Georgie would return to the family room, ready to plead with their father once more with his usual mischievous grin.

No one appeared.

Penelope Grace, now alone with her father, summoned up her remaining courage and went to him. His back faced the rest of the room, and she nearly lost her nerve but made herself speak in the end.

“Papa, would you sit with me awhile?”

He did not stir.

“Papa?”

She waited a few moments for his response, though it hurt her to know how oblivious he was to her. 

When it was long past obvious that she would get no answer from her father tonight, Penelope, at last, followed in Georgie’s and her mother’s footsteps.

She stopped at the foot of the staircase when a faint touch of frigid air swept past her. The cold never troubled Penelope Grace, but it was unnatural to feel its touch indoors.

Wondering at the cause of it, Penelope searched the lower half of the house for an improperly latched window but found no such thing.

Frowning at the unwelcome mystery, she returned to the stairs, troubled, but at a loss for any sort of explanation. 

For every step Penelope Grace took, the air grew colder. Halfway up, she snatched her hand back from the banister with a sharp intake of breath. The light was dim, but she could still make out a small patch of ice, which was slowly expanding to cover the length of the polished wood.

Penelope stepped back, frightened and confused by what was happening. Her breath came in visible, panicked gasps as she rushed up the last of the stairs, the only way she could think of to escape the cold and ice.

Escape is rarely so simple.

A fresh gust of wind struck Penelope just as she reached the landing. Her eyes widening in horror, she barely succeeded in stifling a cry as she watched frost begin to curl its way around the pattern on the wallpaper.

It was the first time that Penelope remembered thinking of ice as something cruel.

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Installment Four publishes this Friday, Jan. 1st, and the fight for wonder is growing more dangerous than ever. Who knows what might happen next?

Once you’ve subscribed, you’ll receive four installments each month, illustrations that accompany the story, and the chance to win an exciting giveaway (announcement coming soon)! You’ll also have access to all past and future installments of our stories, so you can read them at any pace you like 🙂

Happy reading!

Alexandria

An Excerpt from Installment Three of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel

This week, I have the pleasure of sharing an excerpt from the third installment of my novel, Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel, in which the search for the Wilderbeast has an unexpected ending…

Read on.

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They raced down the snow-covered steps, each eager to catch their first glimpse of the Wilderbeast.

“Where should we look first,” George asked, his face vibrant with anticipation and joy.

“Well, she came up our steps from the right, so –“

“To the park! Race you!”

Penelope laughed and ran after him, her cloak flowing behind her as she hurried to catch up.

They were nearly there when George finally slowed, his cheeks bright pink from the cold.

“Do you suppose, Penelope,” he asked in between deep breaths, “that the Wilderbeast will hurt us?”

“Never! Wilderbeasts come to the brave of heart to take them on wild adventures. They would never hurt anyone.”

With the park now in view, she smiled and cried, “Come on!”

Both Penelope and George quickly lost track of time and the Wilderbeast, but their time in the park did them immeasurable good. For a while, they could remember that, despite their concerns, there was still hope if they would only look for it.

Sometime later, as they made their way home, Penelope felt all the more determined to help her father; she could see him failing, could see all his joy and warmth fading in time with Uncle Alex. Perhaps, this Christmas would not be the same, but Penelope Grace fiercely believed that it could still be good.

Only a few streets separated them from home when George, suddenly remembering, cried in dismay, “The Wilderbeast! We never found her!”

“It will be all right, George. You never know when she might appear.”

They spent the next several minutes debating with great animation what the Wilderbeast might look like. As they turned down their street, George stopped in his tracks, delighted that they no longer had to guess.

Halfway down the street, just a few feet from their doorstep, the Wilderbeast lay settled in the snow, as if waiting for them all this time.

She looked very much like a dragon, but rather than scales, her sleek frame was covered in fur of a soft violet color, dappled in blue and green. As Penelope and George drew near, the Wilderbeast rose, extending her gossamer wings and lowering her head to look at them with her great, green eyes, the color of moss on rain-soaked bark.

They were less than a hundred yards from her when George halted, looking up at the Wilderbeast in wonder.

“She looks so kind,” he breathed.

“That’s so those who look closely enough will know they don’t have to be afraid of her.”

He was quiet for a moment more, then, “What’s her name?”

“Lunella,” Penelope replied, “for the way her wings shimmer in the moonlight.”

Just then, the Wilderbeast, seeming to decide that the two were worthy companions, lay on the ground once more and extended her leg so that Penelope and George could climb up.

“Shall we get on,” Penelope asked.

George offered her nothing more than a smile for an answer, and together, they ran to the Wilderbeast, but then –

“What on earth are you doing?”

Their father stood on the doorstep, and the Wilderbeast disappeared like a dusting of snow snatched by an icy breeze.

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What do you suppose awaits Penelope Grace and Georgie inside? To find out and join the fight for wonder for yourself, subscribe below to receive weekly installments of the story through February 2021.

Installment Three releases this Thursday, and Penelope Grace is about to discover that she is running out of time…

Until then,

Alexandria

Book Review: The Edge of Everywhen

What a delight sharing this story is going to be with you! Read my full review of The Edge of Everywhen by A.S. Mackey below!

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“Be astonished! Be astounded! For a work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told.” Habakkuk 1:5, NRSV

Something astonishing, indeed, awaits you, dear Reader.

On the pages of The Edge of Everywhen, you’ll find a young girl, Piper, frightened and desperate for what has been lost to be returned…

Her brother, Phoenix, an altogether rare young man, longing to be seen and understood…

A father, fighting to be reunited with his family…

And Aunt Beryl, with a cold, reserved heart, longing to be warmed.

Do you hear the echoes of your own story in any of theirs? Then, read on.

But be warned!

Something astonishing, indeed, awaits you, dear Reader, for between the covers of The Edge of Everywhen, you’ll encounter a story that will bring you closer to God and closer to the person you were handcrafted to be.

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There truly are not sufficient words to express how wonderful this story is, so I’ll leave you with a simple plea: please read The Edge of Everywhen. You won’t regret a minute of this adventure and will, I believe, walk away from it forever changed.

My heartfelt gratitude to A.S. Mackey for having the courage to write this story.

I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book, which I received from the author. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.

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You can grab a copy of The Edge of Everywhen from Bookshop (a fantastic site that allows you to support indie booksellers!), Lifeway, or Books-A-Million.

Be sure to connect with A.S. Mackey on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads!

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This Thursday, Installment Three of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel publishes!

You can read an excerpt here and subscribe below 🙂 It’s been my great joy to share this winter tale of wonder with you, and I can’t wait for the story to continue!

Until then,

Alexandria

The Inspiration Behind Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel

Good morning, everyone!

Today, I want to share a quick post about what inspired me to write Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel.

Listen below!

The Inspiration Behind
Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel

I hope you enjoyed learning more about what inspired me to write this story and that you’ll enjoy all the installments to come!

To read a special sneak peek of the story and subscribe to receive future installments, click here!

The second installment publishes this Friday! And remember, once you subscribe, you have unlimited access to all past and future installments, so you can read the story at whatever pace you like 🙂

Until then,

Alexandria

A Sneak Peek at Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel!

This is the week! The first installment of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel publishes this Friday, December 11th! Here’s a sneak peek to tide you over until then.

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Penelope Grace was a remarkable girl.

Of course, that word – remarkable – can mean many different things, depending on whom you ask.

Upon entering the Saris household, you would first be taken to the kitchen for a warm cup of tea to fight off the early winter’s chill. There, Nurse Sasha – who oversaw everything – would happily offer you her opinion. She could hardly find it less than remarkable that a girl of sixteen could behave so like her nine-year-old brother as to be nearly indistinguishable.

Once welcomed and enlightened, you might continue to the living room and find a comfortable chair near Penelope’s mother, Mary, who is patiently mending the latest torn and dirt-stained dress. She would share with you how her daughter is remarkably and admirably unconcerned with what others think of her.

Over the years, her friends marveled to find that Penelope was just as likely to pick up an imaginary sword as an intricate piece of embroidery. Growing serious now, Mary would tell you of the many encouragements she has received to rein her daughter in.

But it is too rare a gift to see a child’s spirit endure into adulthood. As Penelope’s mother, she would ask, how could she do less than safeguard it?

But just then, young George would come bursting in, his great-uncle Alex not far behind, and insist on knowing what your conversation was about.

“Well, George,” Mary would ask with the warmest of smiles, “what do you think makes your sister remarkable?”

He would think hard about it for a minute or two but, his nose crinkling up as he grinned, would soon reply with a firm, “Two things.”

And then, leaning forward as if to share with you a very great secret, George would tell you a story. Just last week, Penelope had, remarkably, succeeded both in assembling an entire regiment of nutcracker soldiers in the foyer and in vanishing from sight before Nurse Sasha could certainly accuse her of having done it.

“And the second,” you would ask, sincerely eager to know.

“She is the only grown-up who isn’t only teasing me when she says she still believes in Father Christmas.”

Equally impressed by both these reasons, you might then turn to great-uncle Alex, whom you would find no less willing to join in the conversation.

He would have to say that Penelope was remarkable for her persistent delight in all things simple, yet extraordinary. Even now she remains as enchanted with his magic tricks as she was on the day he first arrived from Greece to share them with her.

But of all her family, acquaintances and friends, only her father, John – who has been listening by the crackling fire all the while – could tell you with absolute certainty what it was that made Penelope Grace genuinely remarkable:

“Wonder.”

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To read more, subscribe below! For $3.99/month, you’ll receive a new installment each week, along with a special illustration to accompany the story and the chance to win an exciting gift in the coming weeks! See you Friday 🙂

Until then,

Alexandria

Interview with Lisa R. Howeler

Welcome to the third week of Author Spotlight Month!

It was such a joy to interview Lisa! Below, she shares more about what inspired her story, A New Beginning, what resting in the Father’s love looks like for her, and what to do when you’re caught in a creative slump.

Read on!

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Lisa Robinson-Howeler is a writer and photographer from Northeastern Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband and two children. She is a former small-town newspaper reporter who decided to write her first novel in 2019. Her fiction focuses on issues of personal failings and triumphs, romance, and personal growth through faith and life lessons. Lisa has had her writing and photography featured in newspapers, magazines, and online nationally and internationally. In addition to being a new novelist, she is a blogger and a homeschooling mother.

What inspired you to write a story that deals with forgiving yourself and finding freedom from your past?

The inspiration for A Story to Tell, the first book I wrote, was my great-grandmother and great-grandfather’s story. A New Beginning is a sequel to A Story to Tell. In other words, A New Beginning was still inspired by my great- grandmother and great-grandfather’s story. 

 My great-grandmother sort of “ran off” with my great-grandfather around 1910 and got married, but I didn’t really want to write a book based in the early 1900s so I moved the story up to the 1950s and, of course, changed the story slightly. I kept the names of my great-grandparents in a way. Blanche was my great-grandmother’s name, but my great-grandfather was Howard. In the book, the characters are Blanche and Hank.

In real life, Blanche moved away from her hometown to live with Howard about an hour away. They were only married a couple of months when Blanche became pregnant. She returned to her family when my grandfather was about a year old and not long after she divorced my great-grandfather and my grandfather was given my great-grandmother’s maiden name. No one in the family was allowed to talk about my great-grandfather Howard and for much of my life that was still the way it was, even though Howard did make contact with my grandfather to try to make some sort of amends after my great-grandmother passed away.

As I got older, and after hearing this story a few times, I started to wonder what Howard had done that made Blanche leave him and eventually divorce him. I also started to wonder what it had been like for Blanche in the aftermath of it all – if she was able to forgive herself for running away with Howard, for trusting someone that family lore says wasn’t very nice or trustworthy, and then having a child with him. Or was it more of a struggle for her to forgive Howard for whatever he had done? And as she worked through those struggles, did she also wonder if she would ever find happiness, or love, again?

In my books, Howard’s character, Hank, is abusive and an adulterer. In real life, I don’t know that Howard was abusive, but family legend says he was an alcoholic and a womanizer and most likely an adulterer. So, while I pondered Blanche’s life and the role of forgiveness for her, I also began to ponder the fact that my grandfather was eventually able to forgive his father, in a way, by at least talking to him before he died. There were redemption and forgiveness all over the story of my great-grandparents, mixed in with what had to have been a lot of bitterness for betrayal, broken hearts, and rejection. 

That same redemption and forgiveness have been peppered throughout my own life as well. These are subjects that have been conquered for me in some ways and are a work in progress in others.

(An aside: While researching for the first book, I also learned that my great-grandfather ran away with his nephew’s wife shortly after divorcing my great-grandmother and that woman abandoned her husband and daughter to be with him. Even more betrayal, yes, but even more opportunity for redemption and forgiveness I hope came for them all before they passed away.)

Shame and regret are weapons that the enemy so often uses against us. What helps you rest in God’s love and forgiveness?

This is a hard one for me in some ways because I don’t always trust in God’s love and forgiveness. Isn’t that awful? I know that I have been taught he forgives us and sees us as his child, no matter what we do, but when I make a mistake, I will dwell on that over and over. There are times I struggle to forgive myself almost more than I struggle to forgive others. I am quicker to make an excuse to understand why someone else acted the way they did than I am to understand why I acted the way I did. If that makes sense. 

What helps me remember that Christ loves me as I am, though, is the very fact he died on the cross for me – for us. He died not because I was perfect, but because he is. When God looks at us he doesn’t see our mistakes – he sees Christ. God also sees his child, who he loves, and who he grieves for when he sees us make mistakes.

Many people dream of writing a book but are held back by the fear of not being good enough. What encouragement would you offer them?

First, don’t look at it as writing a book. Look at as writing a chapter. Then another. Then another. Then another until your story is done and you have a book. It’s such a daunting task when you think you are writing “a whole book.” I shared chapters for my first book on my blog and my readers wanted to know what happened next so I just kept writing the story for them. Before I knew it, I had a book completed. It wasn’t the best book ever written and I’d love to rewrite that first book someday, but it was a book and it was a story I wrote. I knew I wanted to try it again. 

 I definitely don’t feel good enough, but one thing I’ve reminded myself is that every reader has different tastes, likes, interests so what I’m writing may not be one reader’s “cup of tea” while it will be exactly what another reader enjoys. Plus, I remember the saying “practice makes perfect.” The more I do this whole “writing a book” thing, my hope is I’ll keep getting better. Will I ever be an award-winning author? I don’t know and I’m not worried about that. I’m simply having fun telling stories. The bottom line of this whole writing thing for me is to have fun. I worked for 14 years as a newspaper reporter. It’s what my degree is in. By the end, writing wasn’t fun anymore. I was also a photographer after I left newspapers and tried to make a career of it. It killed my love of photography for a few years. Once I gave up on the idea that I needed to make money from either of those things, I loved them again. 

Life is so short. You never know what will happen if you simply sit down and just start writing. My main advice is to not look at writing as a way to make money, but as a way to share what you want to share – whether a story or encouragement or advice. Whatever it is, your goal should be connecting with people more than connecting with a paycheck because it’s never guaranteed you will be paid, or at least paid well, for what you write. 

If you find yourself in a creative slump, what helps you get out of it and find inspiration?

Creative slumps happen often to me. For writing slumps, I either read a well-written book or watch a well-made movie. I need a good story to ignite ideas for my own stories. And sometimes I even watch a bad movie or read a not-so-great book to remind me what I don’t want to create. 

Sometimes during those slumps, I walk away from whatever piece I’m working on for a while to give my brain some time to detox and recover. Then there are other times I keep writing through the slump. Whatever I’m writing during that time may be awful, but I hope that I will eventually write myself out of the slump. 

Talking to people is another way I pull myself out of a slump. I’m a people watcher and there are times something I see or hear in real life will trigger an idea for a future story.

Can readers hope to see another book that focuses on Blanche’s story? Are there any projects that you’re currently working on that you’d like to share with readers?

I do have plans for another book that will be a branch off from Blanche’s story. It is going to be called Related by Blood and will focus on Blanche’s son Jackson and his relationship with his biological father Hank. 

I’ve also started a story that will either be a novella or a full-length novel about Lily, who is mentioned in A New Beginning. The book will simply be called Lily and will be a little more challenging to write and read (for some) than some of my books because it will deal with difficult subjects like child abuse, teenage pregnancy, and addiction. 

I just published a novella dealing with rekindling the passion in marriage called Rekindle and it is currently available on Amazon and Kindle, as well as through Kindle Unlimited. I hope to have it available through other sellers this winter as I figure out how to offer books places other than Amazon. The book focuses on Liam and Maddie Grant who are in the midst of a divorce when they are forced into quarantine after Liam comes in contact with someone who has a rare virus (yes, I wrote this during the onset of the COVID situation). The book also follows the story of Liam’s brother Matt, a United States Senator, who is also forced into quarantine and begins to think about how much he has neglected his marriage and family to pursue his political career. This book may be the basis for a future series, but I haven’t decided that for sure yet.  I’m also in the middle of writing The Farmer’s Daughter, the first in a series. The book should be out sometime in February 2021. It is about Molly Tanner, a 26-year old woman who is still living on her family’s farm but wonders if she should start her own life by leaving the farm and finding out what else is out there in the world for her. While the book does include a romantic element, it also follows the story of the Tanner family, who is fighting to keep their family farm and store from going under during hard economic times.

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I can’t wait to read more of Lisa’s books. She is a truly talented writer, and you won’t want to miss any of her novels!

You can grab a copy of A New Beginning and Rekindle on Amazon!

And be sure to follow Lisa’s blog, so you don’t miss any updates on current projects & future releases. You can also follow her on Instagram and Goodreads.

Next week is the final week of Author Spotlight Month (already!), and I’ll be sharing an interview with Niki Florica!

Until then,

Alexandria

Book Review: The Awakened by Richard Spillman

Cover Image Courtesy of Goodreads

This week, I have the privilege of sharing my review of The Awakened by Richard Spillman. I can’t think of enough good things to say about this novel! You can read my full review (and grab a copy for yourself!) below.

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“Perhaps faith really is trusting that something meaningful lies beneath the surface of the senseless, that purpose exists in the randomness of life, that joy is independent of your circumstances….”

Lazarus, who goes by L, has been holding onto faith for 2,000 years. As an Awakened – one whom Jesus resurrected from the dead – his purpose is to faithfully serve God as he takes part in the spiritual warfare raging around the world.

Demons, known as UDs, who have taken up residence in human bodies, are everywhere, and they want nothing more than to distort and destroy the image bearers of God, proving once and for all that humans are irredeemable.

Though L is growing weary, he refuses to give up. But the battle is growing more complicated. More often, L wonders if the end times are approaching and if he is equal to the task appointed to him.

Still, with the help of a few unexpected, but not unwelcome, friends, L finds that his faith is rekindling, and he is more certain than ever before that the Light has overcome the darkness.

But the battle isn’t over yet…

With heart-pounding action and believable characters that quickly feel like old friends, Dr. Richard Spillman has created a story that is resonant, fast-paced, and timely, not to mention impossible to put down. Reminiscent of Frank Peretti’s novels, The Awakened is full of suspense and the timeless truth that, even in the midst of so much uncertainty, there is a steadfast Hope we can rely on.

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You can purchase a copy of The Awakened at Barnes and Noble or Bookshop, a wonderful site that supports independent booksellers with every purchase! It is also available on Amazon.

Be sure to leave a review on Goodreads! Reviews are a great way to support authors.

Later this week, I’ll be sharing an interview with the author, Richard Spillman!

Until then,

Alexandria

Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves: The Final Installment

Here we are, at the end of an adventure I never expected to take (those are always the best kind, aren’t they?). Chip’s story completely surprised me, but I’m so thankful I got to be the one to tell it. If you have ever felt alone, unseen, or unheard, I hope this story is a friend to you and that it will remind you that you have a Father in Heaven Who is absolutely captivated by each and every one of your prayers.

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It seemed to Chip that he had been adventuring through Almea for an age, for so much had happened on their search for Abaline. A part of him expected the journey back to feel just as long, yet, before Chip knew it, they were facing the river that the young fox, Wilfred, had helped them cross.

With Beauregard’s help, Chip crossed first this time. He waited with no small amount of sadness as Alfeus and Beauregard bickered their way across the river, for he knew that his time with these wonderful friends was coming to an end.

Chip could not fathom being apart from them, but this was their home, and, no matter how much he loved Almea, Chip’s home lay somewhere beyond the hollow of a tree inhabited by a certain persevering owl.

Alfeus and Beauregard were halfway to the shore now, and in the time remaining to Chip, his thoughts drifted to Nesbit, to stories told by candlelight and the comforting rumble of Romulus’ voice.

But, perhaps most of all, Chip thought of the warmth of his own burrow and the pleasure in sharing a meal with Mama and Papa.

This was what he missed most of all, and as his friends reached him at last, Chip found himself with more of a longing for home, though leaving Alfeus and Beauregard would still be bittersweet.

At that instant, a somewhat bedraggled chipmunk marched straight past him, clearly determined to distance himself from a certain beaver.

“Give me Wilfred any day!” Alfeus hurrumphed as he carried on, entirely unconcerned with whether his companions were following or not.

“You know, Chip,” Beauregard said as they watched their disgruntled friend, “I’d pray for him to be less cantankerous, but I do believe that, if he were, he’d be just a little less Alfeus, if you know what I mean.”

“Yes, Beauregard, I know exactly what you mean,” Chip answered as they trailed after their friend.

“He’s got spunk, our Alfeus,” Beauregard said with a fond chuckle.

“And we love him more for it,” Chip replied.

“Aye, that we do.” After a moment, the beaver continued, “He’ll miss you, you know.”

Chip looked over at Beauregard, surprised, but warmed, by his words. “Do you really think so?”

“Oh, yes. In fact, I suspect your leaving is what’s making him especially persnickety today.”

Chip had no time to answer, for, at just that moment, a joyous yip met their ears, and a flash of brilliant copper raced towards them.

“Wilfred!” Chip cried.

“Chip! Alfeus! You’re back!” the young fox breathlessly answered as he reached them.

Then, looking quizzically at the beaver, he asked, “Beauregard? How did you get mixed up in all this?”

“Examine any dangerous endeavor, Wilfred,” Alfeus cut in, “and you are certain to find Beauregard’s paw prints all over it.”

Beauregard’s chest puffed up. “I take that as the highest of compliments, Alfeus, and thank you.”

A low grumble was Alfeus’ only reply.

Turning to Chip, Wilfred asked, “Are you heading for The Entrance?”

Chip frowned. “Do you mean the tree?”

Wilfred nodded. “Come on! I’ll keep you company, at least part of the way.”

They were just beginning to carry on when, suddenly, Wilfred stopped, staring at Chip. “Chip, where’s your satchel?”

Dread swelled inside our young rabbit friend.

Leah’s satchel.

Quickly, his mind raced through all their adventures and travels, but, for all he tried, Chip could not remember the last time he’d had it. “I don’t know,” he cried, greatly distressed. “Romulus and Leah will be so angry with me for losing it!”

“Now, Chip,” Beauregard interjected, “you’ve been through harrowing adventures in your time here, and they’ll understand, Leah especially. And it’ll all come right in the end. Someone’s bound to find it.”

And, indeed, someone had.

But never mind about that for now.

For a moment, Chip desperately wanted to argue, to insist that they must go in search of the satchel so that he might return it.

But then, he thought of the gift he’d been given – one that was beginning to make a bit more sense – and of Abaline’s warning.

Be careful what you do with this gift.

He couldn’t go back.

It wasn’t the right time.

And Chip found himself content to wait until it was.

With that decided, the company continued on, talking animatedly the entire time about their adventures and what they’d discovered at the end of them. Chip was only too happy to answer Wilfred’s questions about Abaline and was truly pleased when the young fox immediately understood what made their discovery the truest kind of treasure.

Day was only just beginning to settle into dusk when they came upon a rather familiar hazelnut tree.

“Home!” Alfeus cried. “Home, and my beloved hazelnuts! Or, rather, what’s left of them,” he concluded with a pointed stare in Beauregard’s direction.

But the beaver was unruffled by his friend’s thinly-veiled accusation, and he only said, “I wouldn’t be too quick to fuss about those hazelnuts or my young rabbit friends.” He then gestured off to the left where the most enormous leaf Chip had ever seen was being dragged by four familiar bunnies.

Roger, Roderick, Eloise, and Fred stopped just in front of the flabbergasted chipmunk, who, for once, had nothing to say. Lying in front of him was a positively monstrous pile of beautiful, fresh hazelnuts, the likes of which he’d only dreamed about.

Tentatively, he reached out and took one, bringing it close and inhaling deeply, as if to assure himself they were real.

Once satisfied, he turned to face the four rabbits and finally managed to splutter, “Th-thank you. Thank you! This will see me through three winters, at least! Probably more! I can hardly believe… however did you manage it?” he asked.

But the rabbits only laughed mischievously amongst themselves. “We’ll tell you about it some time,” one of them promised, and then they were off, giggling and chasing each other through the forest.

Alfeus was still staring at the hazelnuts when Chip quietly said, “Well, I best be going, everyone.”

A bit of the joy left Alfeus, but he handled it admirably. “I shall accompany you every step of the way, my friend. Though I will have to hide my hazelnuts first.”

“Never you mind about that, Alfeus,” Beauregard said. “I will guard them until you return.”

Alfeus beamed, then looked to Wilfred, who said, a bit reluctantly, “I can’t. My dad will expect me home before it gets much darker.”

“That’s all right, Wilfred. I understand,” Chip replied, though he was disappointed that he must say goodbye to two friends already.

Wilfred came forward, nudging Chip affectionately. “You’ll come back, though, won’t you?”

Chip smiled. “I hope so.”

“Maybe I’ll join you for your next adventure,” Wilfred said with a fierce grin, and then he was gone, bounding away like a flash of fire in the starlight.

Chip wasted not a moment before hopping towards the beaver, who placed a comforting paw on Chip’s shoulder. “Oh, Chip,” Beauregard said with a sigh. “Almea is going to be a less adventurous place without you in it. Still, we never know when an opportunity to return might present itself. And you know just where to find me.”

Chip huddled close a moment more before returning to Alfeus’ side. “Thank you for everything, Beauregard. We might never have found Abaline if not for you.”

“Oh, don’t mention it, Chip. Accompanying you and Alfy was my joy.”

With goodbyes exchanged, Chip and Alfeus began the final stretch of their journey.

Chip only looked back once and Beauregard, with a final wave, called, “Safe travels, my friend!”

Starlight was the only light to speak of as they made their way to the tree where Chip’s adventures in Almea had begun.

Neither could bring themselves to speak, but Chip was content to soak in these last minutes with Alfeus in silence.

Still, the time together proved to be all too short.

They stood at the foot of the tree, both unsure what to say.

At last, Alfeus said, “Oh, come here,” and the two friends embraced, finding some measure of relief that their sadness at parting ways was shared.

After a moment, they stepped apart. “Of all the friends I made in Almea, Alfeus, I’m thankful you were the first.”

An embarrassed, “Oh,” was all Alfeus could muster, though he was clearly pleased by Chip’s thoughtful words.

But before either could say anything more, a great whoosh of air sounded above them. A moment later, Nesbit landed in the grass beside Alfeus and Chip, who was overjoyed to see his old friend.

“Well, young Chip,” Nesbit said, “have you persevered?”

Chip laughed fondly. “Yes, Nesbit, I have.”

“Very good. Time to be going then?”

Chip didn’t answer, instead looking at Alfeus.

“We’ll see each other soon, my friend. It’s time for you to go home,” the chipmunk said gently.

Chip nodded, tears filling his eyes. “Goodbye, Alfeus.”

“Goodbye for now, Chip.”

And then, quick as a blink, our young rabbit friend was swept up as Nesbit flew up amongst the branches, through the tree’s hollow, and back to Everleaf Forest.

For a moment, Chip could not believe he was home, yet all the familiar sights and sounds, not to mention the wonderful scent of clover, reassured him that he was.

With Nesbit already asleep, Chip had the clearing to himself, and he stayed there in the quiet for a while, soaking in all he’d learned.

For ages, he’d wondered if his prayers mattered and if they were heard.

In the end, he’d found even better.

His tears were the diamonds of Heaven, his prayers carefully preserved.

He was reassured now that, like perfume carefully bottled, like rose leaves lovingly pressed between the pages of a favorite book, were his prayers to the Father.

His purpose – and ours – is to go and tell those who are still longing to know.

When he had set out, he had never expected to find truth so glorious or peace so sound.

Chip looked up at the sky, smiling once and giving thanks before turning for home.

His father, Joshua Raddish, met him at the door.

“Papa, I –“ Chip began, but his father held up a paw.

“Nesbit and Romulus already fessed up.”

“I’m sorry, Papa,” Chip said.

“You could have told me.”

“You might have stopped me.”

Joshua looked at his son kindly. “I might have gone with you.”

Something, Chip supposed, to keep in mind for next time.

The End

*

I hope you enjoyed the journey just as much as I did. And, remember, you can revisit past installments of Chip any time!

Next week, Author Spotlight Month begins on 21:25 Books! I’ll be featuring H.A. Pruitt’s novel, Anelthalien, along with a special author interview at the end of the week. You won’t want to miss it!

Until then,

Alexandria

Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves: Installment Eleven

Welcome to the eleventh installment of Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves. Chip’s journey through the land of Almea is almost at and end. I hope that, just as Chip does, you enjoy every moment you spend there.

*

He heard the sound of intent muttering and the echo of clinking glass just as he entered the unusual room, but it was the smell that had captivated Chip long before he found it. Never before had he encountered such a pleasing aroma, and he followed it eagerly to its source.

Briefly, Chip wondered if the smell might be like the false scent in the first cavern, which had nearly sent him and Alfeus down an even more dangerous path.

But no. That smell, while pleasant on the surface, had warned of rot beneath. What Chip was joyfully breathing in now was so purely fragrant that he instinctively trusted it would not lead him astray.

He had never supposed, however, that it would bring him to a sight unlike any he had ever seen. If Romulus hadn’t shared so much of the human world with him, Chip would not have had the words for what he was seeing.

An enormous funnel filled the far end of the room, and Chip watched in fascination as diamonds tumbled into it. Strangely, there was no clattering sound of jewel against metal. Chip would have found that odd if he’d had the time, but before he could blink, a fragrant dust poured out from the funnel, swirling into glittering clouds even as it began to shimmer and become liquid, before falling into a large glass bottle.

Just as it reached the bottle’s brim, the smell in the room – already incredible – became something even more wonderful, all fresh-blooming flowers and the warmth of rich spice.

Chip didn’t think he would ever be able to properly describe it, yet knew, in the same instant, that he would never forget it.

It was then that he noticed the other myriad bottles, of all shapes and sizes, covering the cavern floor. Some were empty, others full to the brim, but all reflected the brilliant light of the wonderful perfume they each contained, which seemed to produce a light of its own.

Chip leaned close to the nearest bottle, the curiosity of the liquid inside impossible to ignore. As he watched, the soft swirls of diamond dust rose and fell in the bottle, catching the light and reflecting it back to Chip’s wondering eyes.

After a few moments more of looking into the bottle, Chip turned away, hoping to learn something more by exploring the rest of the room.

He made his way through the many bottles, more than he could ever hope to count. Save for the soft splash of the mysterious perfume falling from the funnel, silence reigned in the room.

It was, of course, just as Chip thought to himself that the silence shouldn’t be disturbed that he bumped into the nearest bottle, sending a mighty clamor echoing through the cavern.

He froze, so still you’d have thought him a statue, and waited for someone – or something – to respond to the ruckus he’d caused.

Nothing happened.

Not even a whisper of movement reached Chip’s ears.

Nevertheless, he stayed where he was for what felt like the longest minutes of his life.

At last, when it seemed safe to assume that no one was coming, Chip began to weave his way through the maze of bottles once more. He travelled only a short distance before he came across a feather. It lay before him, plain for him to see, yet Chip could not fathom it.

What was a feather doing underground, he wondered.

Another one lay not far off, and Chip hopped towards it with great purpose, determined to solve at least one of the mysteries facing him today.

But the trail seemed to end at the second feather, which was in front of a very large bottle. Chip looked about from where he stood, but could catch no sight of a third.

Disappointed, he sighed, turned his attention to the bottle’s contents, and was horrified to find one enormous eye staring back at him.

With a great shout, Chip scrambled back, falling into a group of empty bottles and sending them clattering all over the cavern floor.

Over the noise, he heard a flustered voice cry, “Now, do be careful! You’re bound to break something!”

But Chip was so startled, he could not listen. Before he could comprehend what was happening or how to escape this new menace, he raced away, only to collide with the owner of the great eye. He looked up dazedly as two fresh feathers fell to the ground.

A large bird – a magpie, he believed – stood before Chip. After the disturbance he’d caused, he expected to find a gruff and decidedly disgruntled figure standing before him.

Instead, Chip was surprised to find nothing but tenderness, and, perhaps, a touch of sympathy, in the bird’s black eyes. Relief swept through him, and he stood up, though still a little tentatively.

“I’m afraid I gave you quite a fright,” said the bird. “As a Guardian, I can never be too careful. We get all sorts through the underground, and not all sorts are friendly. Now, for some proper introductions,” he continued. “I am called Oleander. What is your name, young one?”

“Chip,” he answered quietly, a bit in awe of the impressive figure before him.

“Quite right,” Oleander answered with a smile, gently brushing a wing tip against Chip’s left ear.

Without another word, Oleander began to lead the way through the cavern, and Chip followed expectantly, hoping that this new friend could help him on his way, and maybe even help him find his friends.

As they walked, Chip surreptitiously observed the large bird. Now that he looked more closely, he could see that the bird’s feathers were not only black and white, but were also covered in many shimmering shades of blue, which reflected the light in the cavern beautifully.

Briefly, Chip thought with a touch of trepidation that he was in the presence of a magpie, a bird that he had always been warned might attack him. It seemed unlikely that a bird of prey could be a gentle Guardian. But Chip supposed that it also seemed unlikely that a small creature like himself could take on a journey so great.

All things considered, Chip believed that Oleander was trustworthy, and so, he continued to follow him through the cavern.

But not, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, without asking a few questions.

“What are you doing underground, Oleander?”

“Whatever do you mean?” the magpie answered, looking quite confused.

“Well,” said Chip, wondering how best to phrase this, “you’re a bird. Shouldn’t you be living up above?”

Oleander gave him an appraising look, and then, apparently deciding that Chip was worthy of his confidence, continued. “Quite right. That is the usual way of things. But I was chosen for this Guardianship, and so, I call the underground my home. I do venture out from time to time, but there are no sights above that seem so fair to my eyes as these glittering caverns. More brilliant than stars,” he murmured, half to himself.

Still, Chip was confused. “But what exactly do you guard?”

Oleander only smiled and continued on. “What brings you here, Chip?”

Momentarily distracted by the question, Chip launched into his tale. “I lost my friends, Alfeus and Beauregard. A moth was leading us through the tunnels, but Alfeus got stuck, and when Beauregard tried to help him get loose, a great hole opened up and they fell. I was going to follow them, but the hole closed before I could, and everything went dark, and… I’m lost.”

Chip paused for a moment. “Have you seen them?” he asked hopefully.

A kindly smile warmed Oleander’s black eyes. “Never you mind about that. Alfeus and Beauregard will be along soon enough.”

“Then you know where they are? Can you take me to them?”

“One thing at a time, my friend,” Oleander said, chuckling. “You still haven’t answered my question. What brings you here?”

Chip frowned. “But I’ve just told you. I’m looking for my friends.”

At this, Oleander stopped and looked closely at Chip. “You and I both know that you’re looking for a great deal more than that.”

Realization dawned. “Oh. Yes. Abaline. You see –“

“Ah, ah,” Oleander interrupted. “I understand.”

He looked as if he meant to say something more, but then thought better of it.

They were at the opposite end of the cavern now, just past the last of the sparkling bottles. Chip could still smell the wondrous perfume. He was just opening his mouth to ask about the diamonds that seemed to produce it when a familiar sound reached his ears. It drifted towards Chip and Oleander from the tunnel just in front of them.

“It is decided, Beauregard! You are the most exasperating creature I will ever have the misfortune of knowing. ‘Follow your nose,’ indeed! How is that supposed to get us any closer to Chip?”

At that moment, the disgruntled chipmunk and his cheerful companion emerged from the tunnel.

Alfeus stopped short. “Chip!” he cried in shock.

Beauregard, to the chipmunk’s immediate annoyance, did not look the least bit surprised.

“You are an unapologetic show off,” Alfeus declared. Then, after a pause, “I’m sorry I doubted you.”

There was then much embracing as the friends celebrated being reunited. After a few minutes, though, Alfeus looked across the expansive cavern in wonder. “What on earth is this place?”

They all turned to Oleander, who only gestured to a tunnel that lay to their right. “There is no time to waste, my friends. Abaline is waiting.”

Without another word, the magpie led them partway down the tunnel before stopping. “Continue to follow this tunnel, and you will shortly be aboveground. No further surprises shall trouble you.”

Chip wanted to stall and keep talking to Oleander, but Alfeus and Beauregard were already moving, all too eager to leave the underground.

Oleander, seeing Chip’s hesitation, smiled and urged him on. “Farewell, young one. Safe travels on the end of your journey.”

And with that, he was gone, back to his bottles and diamonds and all the mystery they contained. Chip stood there for a moment, wondering.

There was so much he didn’t understand about the cavern below and all he had seen there. Briefly, he felt all his usual restless curiosity stir up. But then, all of a sudden, that sweetest of perfumes wafted over him, and he felt all his wonderings, for a time, rest.

There really was so much he didn’t understand.

Perhaps, he wasn’t meant to just yet.

*

Installment Twelve will be available next week, friends!

Until then,

Alexandria