“Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.” ~ Plato

“Charon,” Evan said aloud. “How on earth, d–n pun, did you end up with a moon for a middle name?”

Ashley handed him one of his most treasured books. “Grandpa’s love of the stars. That and I was born the year that Pluto’s moon was discovered, so… According to Uncle Jerry, it was also a compromise of sorts in being named after Great-Aunt Sharon.”

“Oh, how I loved star-gazing with them. No matter where we traveled, we would stop by the main libraries, the aquariums, the museums, and the science centers. Every time. When we traveled through Texas, along Route 66, we stopped and visited the science center near there. To see so much astronomical history there… I don’t know, I guess I’m a space case of sorts sometimes, huh?”

Evan smiled as he skimmed through the resource book. “You were always that and you still are. It could be worse. At least you’ve set your sights on something higher rather than looking down at your feet. So, the room upstairs really isn’t meant to be a sunroom, is it?”

“There’s supposed to be an awesome meteor shower tonight – unless you’re in a hurry to get -.”

“Dress warmly. If we’re stargazing, you know I’m dragging out Sis and all of the kids and we have a very clear view, too. Time to start making some new memories and traditions.”





“Western civilization, unfortunately, does not link knowledge and morality but rather, it connects knowledge and power and makes them equivalent.” ~ Vine Deloria, Jr.

Four lines scribbled on the back of the postcard – one from each grandparent:

‘Never take the ‘official history’ as gospel – QUESTION EVERYTHING.’ Grandpa Grant

‘Dig until you have an original source. Then plant a seed of remembrance.’ Grandma Grant 

‘Perspective’s like a cue ball – you’ll get a ’round’ to it.’ Grandma Emery

Ashley reread the messages on the back of the postcard, aware of the ugliness behind the Mount Rushmore monument. While history didn’t hold the same interest as astronomy, literature, and the arts did, he knew enough to dig deeper than what was presented. If there was one historical account of something, Ashley sought the lesser-known alternative points of view.

He smiled as he read the last line of the card. ‘You’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. ~ Wise old Jedi guy.’

No matter how many times they watched the Star Wars movies together, Grandpa Emery loved to tease about not knowing the character names well, even as he was a font of knowledge about the characters’ histories and the actors’ projects.

Even if Ashley saw the finality to the original question he asked his Uncle Jerry years ago, would it be enough to put all of this to rest? Or was it possible, with these various travels, that seeds had been planted for remembrance?

Only time would tell.




“My desk, most loyal friend thank you. You’ve been with me on every road I’ve taken. My scar and my protection.” ~ Marina Tsvetaeva

Ashley held his breath as the crescendo played, then let it out as the music ended. Grandma Grant had started his education of the Russian composers based on a Danny Kaye song. Ashley’s goal, as a child, was to say the names as fast as the comedian, and a few times, he came close.

How often had he come close to goals only to turn away?

He reread some of the letters, journal entries, and items he wrote in his own travelogue. A missed train, an unexpected layover, a complete wrong turn… If he were to map out any of these journeys, they would have their own movement like a Balkirev, Borodin, Cui, Mussorgsky, or Rimsky-Korsakov.

Where might his path end as he finally took this time, to reflect on his journey so far?

Quiet Quest



“All books are merely delayed dust.” ~George Elliott Clarke

Ashley made another entry in the journal that came with the backpack. He couldn’t believe how far he had come since the pack’s arrival, since the series of mysteries and riddles, the various visits.

The headings for each letter were drawn by Grandpa Emery – he’d recognize the calligraphy style easily. What had started the journey or quest, in the beginning, had taken on a new meaning now. Ashley had almost forgiven himself.


Per Our Rules




“To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there.”
~Barbara Bush

Ashley stared at the kettle, aware that it wouldn’t boil any faster, aware that he’d probably jump once the whistle sounded, as always. The ‘ultimate puzzle’ seemed similar, with pressure building, things warming up, and only a matter of time before-.

He jumped.

Looking out of his kitchen window, he saw Evan at the door, groceries in hand, knocking the door again with what must have been his foot. Christina was right behind him, with some totes slung on her shoulder.

“Never let her drive,” Evan said, walking past Ashley to take over the kitchen. “I hope you don’t mind if we’re early.”

“You don’t have a choice anyway,” Christina said, giving Ashley one of the totes. “The kids were excited to find those, so they’re yours to keep. Good news, you may, or may not have a short book report due for them the next time they’re by.”

“That reminds me, Mama wants you over at the house tomorrow for supper. No arguments.” Evan took the kettle off the burner.  “Are you going to be able to solve this before I go back east or should I extend my vacation?”

Ashley’s shoulders dropped. “I wish you were stationed to a branch out here, closer to home.”

The older man laughed. “Ah, wasn’t it both of us luring you home and reminding you that all was not lost? Seriously, do you see a light at the end of this, or…?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s like a Russian nesting doll combined with an impossible cube puzzle within an Escher painting. Just when I think it’ll make sense, I feel like I have to step back and try again.”

“Maybe it’s time to simply step back,” Christina suggested.

“Because I already know the answer,” he asked.

She pulled Ashley in for a hug. “Because you already have an answer to the most important question.”

Opened Secrets


See the source image

“People’s personalities, like buildings, have various facades, some pleasant to view, some not.” ~Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“For a fleeting moment, I entertained the notion of being an actor,” Ashley said. “It started after we had gone to Ashland for the Shakespeare Festival. Even though it wasn’t the real Globe Theatre, I could imagine what it would be like, to recreate a world, a time, a persona… Not that I would have been any good at it mind you.”

Christina sighed. “I didn’t even know the whole truth about that particular Fall. I had my guesses, but you were good…no, great at hiding what you didn’t want to be known. That’s why I envy Evan -it must be a guy thing.”

“Not really. I suspected there were times when Mrs. Gordon asked that he try to find something during track practice. However, I had my own tricks to dodge that in the locker room. To be fair, he did catch me unawares with the original postcards.

“He discerned when I was writing to impress them with a false sense of bravery versus expressing my truth. Between Evan, his parents, and more importantly, Mama, I guess it was only a matter of time before I truly wrote for myself. And then, there was the  piercing pain when Uncle Jerry made his confession.”

“Why do you think the Ashland clue involves your uncle?”

Ashley shrugged. “It could be anything. Maybe there’s more to his own facade, too.”

New Found Soul


New Zealand

“Being true to yourself really means being true to all the complexities of the human spirit.” ~ Rita Dove

Christina gave Ashley a milkshake as she sat down beside him on the patio, her own drink in hand. “That year in high school,” she started, looking at him out of the corner of her eye, “what exactly happened that fall?”

He looked off into the distance, silent and still. After a moment, he spoke in almost a whisper. “Do you mean how did I know whom to introduce her to and why?”

Christina faced him properly and waited for him to do the same. “I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to finally find the line not to cr-.”

He kept his focus afar but raised his voice ever so slightly. “You ever read Janet Frame’s works? Vivian Gates introduced me to them. Brought up a lot of memories I thought I buried. I know why I write, why I love it. I’m talking forward and you’re asking past.

“The unofficial counseling sessions were what helped keep me somewhat sane. Of course, they were never called that; benefit of finding a hero with an alter ego of violin teacher. Anyhow, after… If Stringfellow was safe for me, then it would be safe for…”

Ashley turned to look Christina in the eye. “I haven’t for-.”

“You have nothing to forgive yourself for. What happened wasn’t your fault.”

“I haven’t forgotten her,” he finished. “She’s there, in that treasured place of memory alongside my grandparents. And one of these days, I’m going to make it to New Zealand, just like she wanted to go. Still have the map and itinerary, too.”

Christina’s eyes widened. “You’re serious?”

He nodded. “I was going to say, if you have a current passport, or few, we could make it quite a family adventure.”

She smiled. “Exploring someplace new could be fun, and healthy. You set the date, I’ll get the reservations.”

Mapping of the Heart



“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” ~ Jackie Robinson

Ashley realized, with each new visit, that these various people made up the veins of his grandparents’ heart. He learned more about Grandma and Grandpa Grant than what his Uncle Jerry could provide.

It was more than their youth, their school years, their early years. Ashley saw a glimpse of what ‘could be.’ The connection between Grandma Grant and the Gordon family almost seemed to be Fate confirmed. Octavia’s stories reminded him of the closeness he had with Evan’s family.

‘You may have taken a few more years to get here, but here you are and our door is always open,’ she told him, embracing him with both her arms and her words.

Labyrinth of the Mind


Library of Congress

Library of Congress

“I always imagined that Paradise would be a kind of library.” ~Jorge Luis Borges

Ashley laughed again. All of the years of owning the small clock, how had he not known Bompa and Bomma Grant wouldn’t have hidden something there? He shuffled the seven catalog cards again, determined to find the last combinations. The first two were in different languages: Catalan and Latvian.

A knock on the back door pulled him away from the puzzle. “Evan, I had lunch prepared for you guys. You didn’t have to-.”

The svelte man before him shook his head. “I dare you to walk back and tell Mama that-.”

“Never mind! Christina running late?”

Evan shook his head again. “The kids have back-to-back soccer games, so you’re stuck with me. Be aware that I’ll probably be expected to give her a report, therefore, you’re not off the hook.”

The feast spread out on the counter and plates filled, they returned to the puzzle at hand.

“So, what’s the challenge this time,” Evan asked as he picked up the catalog cards from the murder mystery game board, noting that these books existed somewhere in the library. He stopped referring to it as a house, given that space was given to more books than basics.

“Trying to find the last two seven-letter words. So far, I have ‘llibres’ and ‘gramata.'”

Evan shook his head as he set the cards back on the gameboard. “Did your grandparents have something against plain English, or maybe Latin? Where’s your Scrabble game?”

Ashley nodded towards the game shelf in the other room. “To be fair, all of them encouraged me to learn as many languages as I could. Grandpa Grant said ‘the more languages you know, the more keys in your hand to unlock literary wonders.'” He shuffled the cards again.

“What letters am I pulling out,” Evan asked, tile bag in hand. Ashley told him. “I’ll make you a wager. If I figure out my word before you do, you’re going to the con with me next weekend.”

“You just got here. What makes you think-?”

“Either you offer evidence that you’re as wordy as you think you are or pack the whole game up now,” he taunted. “Deal or no deal?”

Ashley smiled, narrowing down which languages to try with the cards he had. “Deal.”

Evan shuffled the tiles thrice before spelling out ‘maktaba’ just as Ashley layered the corners of the cards to spell ‘leabhar.’

The younger man sighed. “I’ll still go to the con with you if you promise not to get me lost the moment we walk through the doors.”

Evan smiled. “I actually had a smaller nerdier conference in mind that might be more your speed. Not your fault you didn’t know the word for library in Swahili. Which word is yours?”

“Irish word for ‘book.’ The other words are ‘book,’ too. Three books and a library. Question is, which books for these last two?”

“Knowing you, it’s probably something already in your collection. Take a break from it and try to beat me at a game of chess,” Evan said.

Ashley scanned the notes before picking up the postcard from the Library of Congress. “Whatever you say.”

Open with Kindness



“I am a writer perhaps because I am not a talker.” ~Gwendolyn Brooks

Ashley had a new notepad within reach as he stared at the postcard, a map, and a stack of five books. The conversation with Grandma Emery’s friend and former classmate led him to revisit the centermost state, which led back to the riddles.

Christina brought him back to the present. “Hope you’re getting more sleep than your current raccoon look suggests,” she said. “Hughes, Capote, Earhart, Brooks, and Baum – talk about an ecclectic collection you have there.”

“The Oz collection was part of the mailed book-of-the-month deal, along with the Earhart biography. Hughes and Brooks were gifts shortly after I declared my major.”

She held up the copy of ‘In Cold Blood.’ “Is this from your uncle Jerry?”

Ashley shook his head. “If he knew I had that one, he’d kill me. Too close to home, he’d say. Maybe.” He returned his attention to the riddles. “Lebanon! Great, another seven-step riddle to follow after this. Unless…”

Christina watched as he walked over to his poetry book collection in what most folks would have called a living room. “Two questions to add to your homework – what led you to write so many poems and why are you publishing them under a pen name?”

“I told you about Vivian Gates, right? Well, in between dance sessions and art lessons, she reconfirmed something Evan had joked about earlier. She read some of my stories – trying to red-pen-proof them before Wilder got them. Anyhow, she challenged me to try my hand at poetry. I liked it.

“Can you help me? I need the book that has the poem, Lebanon, in it.”

Christina grabbed a few of the books from his hands. “Are you going to kindly tell me what you hope to find?”

“The keys needed for the next puzzle, of course.”