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Suspense, Paranormal, Sci-Fi, Mystery
Word Count: 55,000
Published By: Evernight Publishing
buy links: Evernight – Amazon Kindle – OmniLit – BookStrand – Smashwords – Barnes & Noble – iBookstore – Kobo
When Noah moves back home after grad school, he doesn’t expect a simple handyman job to turn deadly. Amelia seems like a sweet old lady with a run-down house, but appearances can be deceptive. When an alien ship lands in her woods, Noah discovers that everything he believed about Earth and human civilization is wrong.
Amelia already gave her heart to one man—does she really want to let another one inside? Even though Noah is everything she ever wanted, can she really trust him? He seems like a good person, but her family’s genetic legacy is more important than romance.
When all their secrets are laid bare, Noah and Amelia discover that the survival of their species may be more dependent on love than either could have imagined. Civilization endures because of anonymous acts executed by ordinary individuals. And love, especially in the face of betrayal, is worth everything.
Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) 2012 Semi-Finalist Winner!
Noah rang the doorbell. Faded red paint peeled down the wood in front of him in long, delicate strips, as if the door had been half-skinned, then abandoned. His fingers ached at the thought of how much work it would take to fix the damage. He picked at a loose section near the doorknob until a fragment slipped off into his palm. Absently, he scratched a thumbnail over the rough backside. A few small flakes drifted onto the spotless porch.
He quickly stuffed the rest of the scrap in his pocket and shivered in the morning air, wishing he were home with a hot cup of coffee, but no. He had to talk himself into doing the handyman thing. He sighed, about to pick at the paint again, when the door abruptly opened. He froze, hand in midair, as an older woman stared out at him, one eyebrow lifted in what was obviously amusement. He cleared his throat, trying to remember what the hell he was doing here. Her blue eyes were strangely penetrating.
“I’m Noah Heath. My dad told me you’re looking for someone to work on your house?”
She nodded, but didn’t speak, just looked at him with her creepily perceptive eyes. Noah shifted his weight uncomfortably, wishing he’d brought his toolbox instead of leaving it in the trunk, but suddenly she stepped back, one hand gesturing him inside.
“I was expecting you fifteen minutes ago,” she said, holding the door for him. He reluctantly followed her into the gloomy house.
He shrugged. “Sorry. I took a wrong turn on the way here from town.”
She nodded. “If you’re not used to the roads, it’s easy to get lost.”
Noah carefully didn’t mention that he’d grown up in the area. He needed this job, if only to get out of his dad’s house. He was going nuts there with nothing to do except listen to the old man talk about his precious legacy.
“I was going to put an ad in the local news flier, but I’m not sure how many people actually read that anymore. I almost put a listing online, but I don’t really like the Internet all that much. It seems so impersonal.” She closed the door behind them. Noah blinked, forcing his eyes to adjust to the gloom after being in the bright morning sunlight.
“You’re Jaime’s boy, right? The one with the fancy PhD he’s been bragging about?”
Noah willed himself not to flush. He was a grown man, yet his dad persisted in embarrassing him—talking up his education all over town like he was a little kid who’d made honor roll. Noah loved his father, really he did, and he wanted to spend some time with him now that he’d finished his degree, but the bragging had to stop. He made a mental note to ask his father to tone it down. Again.
“Yup, that’s me. My dad said you’d been asking for a handyman at the hardware store?”
“Yes, I was. Just chance that your father overheard me talking to the cashier. You know, I went to school with your dad’s older brother, back in the day. That man did good work. Your father said you inherited the handyman genes from him.” She held out a small hand. “I’m Amelia.”
Noah grasped her fingers gently, afraid to squeeze too hard, but she gripped him firmly.
“Yeah. I’ve heard that my uncle Tony was good with his hands.” It was odd that she’d introduced herself with her first name. He wasn’t used to addressing women her age so casually. “Nice to meet you, Amelia.”
She smiled and Noah looked around the dim entrance, trying not to stare as she girlishly tucked her long silver hair behind her ear. It was strange that she wore it so long. He remembered his grandma’s hair: short and poufy. She kept it a horribly vivid red until the day she’d died. Amelia’s hair looked soft and his fingers twitched.
“As you can see from the front door, the house needs a fair amount of work. The bones are solid, but I haven’t been able to keep up with painting and whatnot since my husband died.” She gestured at the walls and Noah squinted at some cracked plaster in the living room that needed work. On the far side of the room, a staircase rose to the second floor. Beyond the steps he could just make out the kitchen. The stairs looked like they needed repair as well. Some of the railings were crooked and the wood of the risers was worn.
Nothing really lasts, Noah thought, depressed. “I think I can help with painting and some basic repairs. Anything involving plumbing, though, forget it. I suck at plumbing,” he joked, trying to shake his sudden moodiness.
Amelia grinned. “The plumbing is sound, thankfully.” She stepped further into the room.
He followed her deeper into the house, telling himself to get a grip. You’re here to work, not mope. The scraps of paint he’d shoved in his pocket itched, but he ignored the pricking as Amelia walked to the dining room. She seemed spry for her age, moving easily. He wondered how old she was. He couldn’t help but compare her thin frame to his dad’s heavier body. Maybe it was easier to get old if you were skinny? His dad fell into chairs, the extra weight on his bones making him drop into the furniture as if gravity pulled on him too hard. He shoved his hand into his pocket, crushing the scraps of paint in his fist.
“Did you know that you put your shirt on inside out?” Amelia asked him, casually. Her voice held a thread of amusement.
“What?” Noah looked down, flushing. The hem was on the outside, trailing a few stray threads. “Damn.”
Amelia laughed. “It’s good luck when you do that.”
Noah snorted. “Yeah, that’s what some people say. I like to think I’m not actually this moronic.”
“Your father said something about you needing a break?” Amelia asked sympathetically.
Noah glanced at her. She stood in the archway between the living room and dining room. The light from the windows behind her illuminated the back of her head, making it hard to see her face, but her hair glowed.
“Yeah, I guess I do,” he sighed, wrenching his eyes away. “I just finished my PhD in computer science and I’m tired of squinting at a computer screen. I need a rest from the academics.” He moved closer, trying not to tug at his shirt.
“Well, I can certainly help with that. There are a ton of things to fix up around here.” She moved further into the dining room, then paused. “Although, I probably can’t pay you as much as you’d make programming.”
“That’s okay. I’m living with my dad right now and I have money saved up so I don’t have a lot of expenses. It’ll take me a while to find a teaching or research position in my field. I’m sure that whatever you can pay me will be fine.”
“If you say so,” Amelia said doubtfully. Noah looked away from her knowledgeable gaze. He liked her, but she made him nervous. She didn’t act like other old people he knew.
“What did you do your dissertation on?” she asked suddenly.
“Encryption and algorithms in advanced systems,” Noah replied. He waited for the confused or skeptical look he usually received after mentioning his research, but Amelia just hmm’d under her breath, a strange, shuttered look falling over her face.
“Why don’t we make a list of what you’d like to have done and I can give you an estimate for the repair,” Noah finally said when he realized she wasn’t going to ask any more questions. “I’ll give you a total for all of it, but I’ll also break it down so that you can see how much each job will cost. That way you can pick and choose what you want. Let me run out to the truck for paper and I’ll take some notes.”
“Sounds good,” Amelia said, pulling out one of the dining room chairs. “I’ll wait here.”
Wednesday morning Noah began stripping the front door. He’d only been there an hour, but already his wrists hurt from gripping the scraper. He despised the way the paint wore thin right where the woodwork was most detailed. It was fussy, difficult work and frankly, he was bored. He wondered if Amelia was awake.
He sighed and stretched, looking across the road into the woods. Amelia told him her home used to be a guesthouse for a large farm, but that the main building had long since fallen into rubble. Across a small clearing to the north, the broken remnants of the foundation jutted up from the ground like fractured gravestones. He massaged his palm absently as he eyed the landscape. He was so out of shape. All that sitting around, staring at a computer. And what good did it do him? He wasn’t happy, that’s for sure.
He tossed the scraper on the small table he’d dragged up from his truck and sipped at his coffee. The sun hadn’t yet crested over the trees and the porch was chilly. He’d have to get the rest of the outside work done in the next two weeks before it got cold. Early October was a lovely time of year in Connecticut, but sometimes the weather could be tricky. Seventy degrees one day then down to forty the next. He grimaced as a few coffee grains stuck on his tongue. He cracked his knuckles and picked up the scraper, but before he could get started again his cell buzzed. He pulled it out and checked the screen.
Is she there?
No, he tapped out. Srry. Have to work. He slipped it back in his pocket. His father was driving him insane. All morning at breakfast he’d peppered Noah with questions about Amelia. How old did Noah think she was? Did anyone else live at her house? If he didn’t know better, he’d think his dad was angling for a date. He shrugged, scraping another long strip of paint away. Whatever. He didn’t have the answers to his dad’s questions. He didn’t want to answer them.
“Noah? Is that you?”
Noah paused, then stepped back as Amelia’s footsteps stopped on the other side of the door. He moved just in time, too, as she swung it open. He would’ve fallen into her if he’d kept scraping, which would’ve been a damn shame since she was holding a plate of freshly baked cookies. They smelled awesome.
“Please tell me I can have one of those?” Noah wiped his hands on the rag he’d tucked into his pocket. His stomach growled. He hadn’t eaten much during his father’s interrogation this morning.
“Of course!” Amelia held out the plate.
Noah smiled gratefully and snagged a chocolate chip cookie. “These are my favorite.”
“Good. You can have them all,” Amelia deftly balanced the plate on his wobbly work table, nudging the scraper to one side.
“Mmm, these are delicious.” He took another bite. The ends of the scarf she was using as a belt fluttered around her knees. “Purple?” he asked, grinning around a mouthful of cookie.
Amelia looked down and shrugged. “I like purple.”
Noah swallowed. “My grandmother would never have worn something that color. Too bright.” Which is ironic, he thought, remembering her hair color.
“Life is too short to wear dreary clothing. And I hate to be boring.” Amelia tossed her head like someone half her age.
Noah grinned, stuffing another cookie in his mouth before he said something he’d regret. He knew how to live with someone who was a little eccentric, and how to keep the peace. He remembered his mom freaking out over his dad’s obsession with the family artifacts because she worried what the neighbors would think. His father kept the weird chunks of metal in the basement in a box, so Noah could never understand what the big deal was. It wasn’t like he waved them around in public. His dad would periodically take them out and look at them, convinced he could piece them together. He claimed the fragments were part of a communication device from an alien spaceship that had visited Earth in the 1400s. Noah’s dad was nuts, but he was mostly harmless. And never dull.
“Yeah, boring is overrated,” Noah said after he’d finished chewing. No one knew about those artifacts and he wasn’t going to spill the beans to a woman he’d just met, no matter how nice she seemed. People alwaysthought insanity was genetic.
“So, how’s my door doing?” she asked, swinging it shut. She sat on the porch floor and poked at the paint chips littering the wood with a bare toe. She was strangely graceful for an old woman.
“I’ve scraped most of the loose stuff off. Now I’m working on the stubborn sections. I need to make sure it’s clean before I prime it. I’ll probably have to do some sanding, too.”
“Sounds good,” she said, falling silent as he got back to work. She watched him for a while, neither of them saying much. It was weird. Her poise unnerved him.
“So, are you thinking of selling the house?” he finally asked, needing to fill the quiet.
“Nah. I just want to get it back into decent shape. Maybe my daughter will move back here someday.” Amelia picked at a hole in her jeans. The morning sun slanted past her hair, highlighting the fine lines on her face. He wondered if she missed her daughter.
“Where does she live?” he asked, running a finger over the spot he wanted to work on next.
“Oh, Leah lives in California. She has twin girls, thirteen.” Amelia smiled up at him and Noah found himself smiling back. “She’s an accountant. It’s not glamorous, but it’s a good career.”
Noah pried at a particularly stubborn fleck of paint. Did she think he cared about her daughter’s job? He thought about how much he’d hated the political jockeying at the university. Yeah, he’d never judge someone for having a non-glamorous job. It sounded restful. He scraped some more crap off the door. Time for sanding. He stole another cookie and then rummaged around in his toolbox for the sandpaper. Amelia had her legs crossed as she sat munching on a cookie. When he turned around, a flash of silver in the sky caught his attention. He frowned. It wasn’t moving.
“What is that?” he asked, staring over the trees. He’d thought it was just an airplane at first, morning sunlight reflecting off the metal, but now he wasn’t so sure. It looked like someone had stuck a giant needle in the sky.
“What?” Amelia asked, squinting.
“There’s something hovering just over the trees. Could it be the space station?” he mused.
“I can’t see that far without my glasses. What does it look like?”
“I’m not sure. Just a silver speck. I thought it was a plane, but it doesn’t seem to be moving at all.” Noah wasn’t sure why, but he pictured his dad in the basement at home, poring over his collection of rocks. Life was weird.
Amelia frowned, then got up. “I think I’ll give my daughter a call. Good luck with the door, Noah.” She smiled at him and ducked back in the house, careful not to track any paint scraps inside. Noah shrugged and went back to work, ignoring the silver needle that hovered above the trees. Probably just a weather balloon or something.
“So, how far did you get with her house?”
Noah chewed the bite of sandwich in his mouth and swallowed before answering. “I managed to get the front door primed today. And I remembered how much I hate prepping for paint.” His dad sat across from him at the kitchen table, slumped down as though exhausted. The laminate surface was cracked along the middle. We should get a new table, Noah thought, not for the first time. Eating on the worn-out surface every day depressed him.
“Did you talk to her at all?” his dad prodded.
Noah frowned. “Why do you care about this woman so much? I scraped and painted her door. I took a quick break for lunch. Then I got started on scraping her front window framing.” He quickly bit into his sandwich again. He wasn’t going to tell his dad about the argument he’d overheard Amelia have with her daughter on the phone. He felt guilty enough about eavesdropping. Except it isn’t eavesdropping when I can’t help overhearing, right?
She’d been in the kitchen, but because the door was open while he worked on it, the sound of her raised voice carried onto the front porch. He’d tried to ignore the conversation, but when she started insisting that “it’s happening again” Noah couldn’t help tuning in. What was happening again? Eventually, when Amelia began yelling into the phone, he’d realized that her daughter was being difficult. He didn’t think much upset her calm demeanor, so he’d felt a bit unhappy that her own daughter had got her so upset. Amelia was quiet, not prone to foolishness—he could tell even after so short an acquaintance. He grinned. Of course, he knew better than most how relatives could drive you crazy. His dad was crazy. His dad’s dad was crazy and so on. He took another bite of his sandwich, steadfastly ignoring his father’s exasperated glares. Noah wondered if he was eventually going to go insane, too. Probably, he thought, not particularly concerned. By the time it happened, he wouldn’t care anymore.
“That’s it? Seriously? You didn’t even try to have a conversation with her?” Noah’s dad asked, sliding a finger along the crack in the table. Noah winced as his dad’s nail caught and the old man started picking at the laminate.
“Dad, I’m fixing up her house. Most people don’t get into philosophical conversations with their hired help.”
“Don’t give me that, Noah. You’re more than the hired help.” The older man stood up, scraping the chair along the worn wood floor, its wheels frozen useless with age. “Gotta replace the casters on these,” Jaime muttered as he shoved it the rest of the way under the table. Noah winced at the screech, watching his dad stomp to the sink to rinse his dishes.
“Dad,” he tried.
Jaime ignored his son, dumping his half-full glass of lemonade down the sink.
“Dad, honestly. I don’t understand why you’re asking so many questions about Amelia.”
His father shut off the water and turned around, face irritated. “I’m just curious. She’s lived in that house for as long as I can remember. You know your Uncle Tony went to school with her, too.”
Noah nodded and finished his sandwich. “Yeah, so?”
“I think they may have dated.”
Noah stared at his father, incredulous. “You’re giving me the third degree because you think your brother ‘may have dated’ Amelia?” Noah used air quotes to punctuate his disbelief. “Since when do you care about local gossip? Especially when it’s what, forty, fifty-year old gossip?”
Jaime flushed and looked out the window over the sink. “I don’t know. When Tony was in high school he went out with her a few times. He said when they went to her house, her parents were never home.”
Noah rolled his eyes. “And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, so?”
“It’s just weird.” He had the grace to look embarrassed.
Noah opened his mouth, but then couldn’t think of what to say. This? Forty-years later and his dad wanted to know why Amelia’s parents weren’t home. “Dad, you’re weird.”
Jaime glared for a moment and Noah thought he was going to get really angry, but then he laughed. “Yeah, yeah, I know.”
Noah smiled in relief, hoping the conversation was over.
“You have to promise not to pull an inquisition on me every time I come home.” Noah said after he’d cleaned up his plates. “And you have to stop texting me while I’m working. I can’t text and paint at the same time.” He wiped down the counter and hung up the dishtowel. His dad was at the cellar door, hand poised on the doorknob, lips pressed together stubbornly. “Dad?”
Jaime frowned, then sighed. “Fine. Can I go downstairs now?”
“And you’ll stop with the texting?”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever you say. For Christ’s sake, you were the one who made me get an unlimited plan,” his dad complained.
“That was so you could text old Ronnie,” Noah answered.
His dad snorted and opened the cellar door. Noah sighed. He knew the old man was going down to pore over the artifacts. Every day after dinner he spent hours obsessively rearranging them, trying to puzzle them out. Noah worried about him sitting down there in the damp. Someday he’d find his father slumped over that damn table, hand clenched around one of the fragments, dead.
“Hey dad, mind if I join you tonight?” Maybe he could convince him to go to bed early for a change.
Jaime raised his eyebrows at Noah as he paused at the top of the steps. “Yeah, sure! You don’t have to ask me, you know. Those fragments are part of your heritage, too.” He smiled at his son. “I’d love it if you could take a look at this one section I’m working on. I’ve got three more pieces mated now and I think I’m close to a breakthrough.”
Noah nodded, remembering the weird metal bits. He hated the way they felt, almost tacky, but also scratchy. Like sticky sandpaper.
“I didn’t realize you’d put more of them together.” Noah thought about the way his dad had arranged them on the table, like a cardboard jigsaw puzzle.
His dad flicked the light switch at the top of the stairs and the bare bulb on the wall flickered on. “Yeah, I got them to fuse together last week. I don’t know if I told you but I picked up a box of junk from a yard sale and there were four pieces in it. They had them stuck in ceramic, part of a mosaic. I think they were using them as ashtrays.”
Noah nodded, following his dad down the steps. The stairs creaked. “Ashtrays? That’s weird.” Privately he thought that was as good a use for the fragments as any. “Wait, what do you mean you mated more pieces? What do you mean by that?” His dad had been trying to piece the fragments together forever. From what he’d told him, his grandfather and great grandfather had tried as well, but none of them had ever managed to get the parts that seemed to match to fit properly. “Did you glue them?” He followed his dad through the damp, trying not to trip on any of the old boxes strewn along the wall.
“No, no. No glue. When I got the new fragments they fit into some of the pieces I already had. When I stuck them together, they just blended. You can’t even tell that they were ever separate pieces.” Noah’s dad explained.
“Blended?” Noah asked, confused.
His dad didn’t elaborate, instead turning on the work lamp over the table he had set up on one side of the basement. Noah walked over, sure his dad had misspoken.
“Here, look at this,” Jaime thrust a palm-sized chunk of black metal in Noah’s hands.
Noah looked down at it, frowning, then realized what he was holding. Didn’t this piece used to be smaller? He sat down abruptly. Well, that’s weird.
“Dad, is this—”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s the piece your grandfather found in Scotland. Look, here is where it used to end. Here is where the new piece fitted on.” Jaime pointed to a section midway through the irregular fragment.
Noah squinted at the runes carved over the metal. He moved his finger along where his dad was still pointing but he couldn’t see anything. It just looked like a hunk of strange-colored black metal. The only reason he recognized it was because he’d spent hours poring over this piece when he was a kid, certain that he’d be the one to decipher the tiny markings. He used to think it was some kind of mathematic code. Looking at it more closely he saw that there were more markings. What the—? They looked like roman numerals. How had his dad’s piece got attached to the new one without even a hairline crack?
“Is that a roman numeral?” he murmured, angling it so that his dad could see.
“What?” Noah’s dad dragged a second chair to the table and peered at it more closely. “It looks like a backwards C to me.”
“Holy shit! That’s the roman numeral for five-hundred. What the fuck?” Noah traced his finger over the symbol, ignoring the sticky-tacky feel. “Centuries ago they used to use an I and a backwards C before someone came up with a D to denote five hundred.”
“How do you know that?” his dad asked.
“I have tons of useless information in my head,” Noah waved a finger over his ear. He crouched over, ignoring the twinge in his neck to look at the fragment more closely. “You know, this doesn’t prove anything except that this piece of metal was probably smelted during the Middle Ages.”
“Maybe, maybe not, but this proves something.” Noah’s dad took the piece away and pulled another jagged chunk out of his pocket. He twisted the two pieces, trying to find a side that matched. “Hmm.”
“Where did you get that piece?” Noah asked. He didn’t recognize it, so it must be new. He’d spent hours poring over the collection with his dad when he was a kid.
“Oh, Meg Porter had it in her basement. I finally convinced her to give it to me.” Noah’s dad was still trying to fit the new piece against the other smaller fragment.
“Meg Porter? The sheriff’s mother? I thought she hated you for dumping her at the prom decades ago?” Noah smiled, remembering the night his dad had told him that story.
“She does, but I finally found something she couldn’t refuse in exchange. An original pressing of Elvis’ Jailhouse Rock on a forty-five.”
Noah laughed. “Seriously? That’s what you traded? Where did you get that?”
“I had it all this time, just didn’t know Meg wanted it,” Jaime mumbled, still fiddling with the fragments. Noah watched him fit them together. Suddenly, they buzzed and fused together. Noah jerked back.
“What the hell?” He looked at his dad. The older man grinned triumphantly.
“That’s what I’m talking about! They just stick together now! You can’t even tell where they used to be broken.” Jaime held the larger piece out to Noah. “Go ahead. See for yourself. Run your finger over it.”
Noah took the piece and examined it under the light. It fit in his palm, the matte black metal sitting in the center of his hand, pricking his skin. Noah grimaced. He really hated the way these things felt. He tried to pry it apart but it wouldn’t budge. “How did you do that?”
His dad handed him another small, thumb-sized fragment. “Try it yourself. Maybe you can get it to fit.”
“Is this another Meg Porter special piece?”
His dad grinned.
Noah snorted and bent his head over the two pieces. The one he’d just been handed had what looked like half a numeral printed on it. The edge of the fragment cut right through the character. He looked down at the bigger piece and fitted the smaller one against the edge. Abruptly, they snapped together and Noah jumped in his chair as a spark of static electricity zapped his fingers.
“Whoa!” Noah stared at the piece in his hand, then at his dad. More weird shit. “How is this possible?”
“I told you the stories were true.” Jaime held out his hand and Noah handed him the new, larger chunk. “My grandfather and his dad swore everything they told me was true, but they never had proof.”
“Yeah, because what they told you was insane,” Noah remarked. He sat back in his chair and ran his fingers through his hair. “I don’t understand how those pieces fused together like that.” He thought for a minute, trying to wrap his brain around it. The only light was the bulb above the wooden steps and the lamp on the table. The dark pressed at him.
“You gotta have faith, Noah,” his father murmured.
Noah took a deep breath. “You know, Dad, I was reading recently about some new materials they’re developing. Some of it has really weird properties, like self-cleaning paint, or that stuff that hardens when you hit it. Maybe this self-healing metal is part of some research that somebody dumped. Then grandpa picked it up at a yard sale.” He stared at his dad hopefully.
His father slowly shook his head at him. “These pieces are older than that, Noah.”
“Are you sure about that, Dad? Maybe they lied to you.” Noah really wanted to believe the logical, sane explanation. He remembered the stories he’d been told, about how the fragments had been passed down through the generations, how they were his ‘legacy,’ but it wouldn’t be the first time his dad had played a practical joke on Noah. He remembered the old man laughing: the kid will believe anything! At the time it had hurt, but now Noah felt a stab of hope that the entire thing with the fragments was nothing but an elaborate hoax. Then he caught his father smiling grimly.
“Did I mention that I had one of the pieces of cloth the fragments had been wrapped in carbon dated?” Jaime asked, and Noah’s blood ran cold.
What are people saying about Who Saw the Deep?
“This novel is well written, original, and clever. … It’s a pity to classify this book as science fiction; it reads more like the ancient myths, or even fairy tales.” – Publishers Weekly Review
“The characterization in this novel is slow and subtle at first, but eventually even the smallest clues are tied together in ways that I never would have anticipated. … Ms. Lim knows exactly how to paint a thin veneer of dread over what otherwise appears to be a perfectly ordinary day, and her ability to find the dark underbelly of even the most mundane chores and experiences plays a large part in why this tale earned such a high rating.” – Long and Short Reviews – 4.5 stars