"I will publish the name of the Lord; ascribe you greatness to our God." Deut. 32:3


CHAPTER ONE

“Hello in the house.”
   Shocker’s hackles spiked like a porcupine as he jumped to all
fours. An ominous growl rumbled deep in his chest as he waited
for her signal.
   Scrambling from the precipice, NaFre stumbled into the dog;
her knees crashed against the rock. In an instant, Shocker’s teeth
were buried in her shirt yanking her away from certain death on
the rocks below.
   Pulling herself up on shaky legs, she bent to hug her protector.
“You saved my life, boy. Thank you.” Checking her knees, she
said, “Good thing I wore jeans. My knees hurt, but I don’t see
any holes.”
   “Hello in the house.”
   Shocker’s chest rumbled. Drawing in a deep sign, she touched
his ear. “Shoot, that’s not Hank’s voice, but let’s go see.”
   Earlier, on the front porch of her log cabin, wicker crackled
the silence as NaFre Chisom leaned her cane-bottom chair
against the front of her cabin. Content as an unborn baby luxuriating
in the warmth of insulated solitude, NaFre closed her eyes
and inhaled the fragrance of her mountain sanctuary. She slipped
the tiny stem of her great-grandmother’s homemade pipe into
the corner of her beautiful lips.
   Darkened by age, intricately carved patterns circled its tiny
bowl. As far as she knew, no one else was aware the pipe still
existed and would be shocked to see it in use, not knowing that
her own mint-flavored herbs now replaced the tobacco her ancestor
had enjoyed.
   Threads of silver sparkled in NaFre’s thick, dark hair that
reached to the middle of her back over her blue-plaid flannel
shirt. Denim strings from frayed hems hung over her bare heels.
   NaFre chuckled watching the kittens’ antics as Inky and
Lizard played tag with leaves being blown across her clean swept
yard. Always scampering and slithering, Lizard lived up to her
name while Inky bounced like a blue-black puff ball.
   Breathing in the crisp essence of fall and savoring the faint
taste of mint, NaFre settled the chair onto the wood porch and
tapped burned herbs onto the ground before dropping the tiny
bowl into her shirt pocket.
   “Mercy, mercy. Who could hope for anything more than this?”
Her soft voice was snatched away by a gust of cool wind. Shoving
her feet into well-worn athletic shoes, she sauntered toward
the outhouse.
   Like miniature stage curtains, Shocker’s eyelids lifted. A
ninety-pound, ebony-colored dog, fiercely protective of NaFre,
slept on the far end of the porch. While his mistress was indisposed,
he stretched until his throat squeaked before lumbering
down the porch steps, which was the kittens’ cue to dash under
the steps.
   The outhouse door slammed.
   “You going?”
   Leaving tiny nail holes in the ground, he shadowed NaFre
along the path. Under the trees, their steps became cushioned
over a carpet of yellow, dried pine needles.
   Nearing the drop off, Shocker detoured around several trees
to mark his territory before ambling up to NaFre’s side.
   Her legs hung over the cliff that dropped hundreds of feet to
a dark blue ribbon of water meandering through the Red River
Gorge. Mountains rose and fell as far as the eye could see.
   The previous week, the mountains had been arrayed in brilliant
red, orange, and yellow before falling to earth like chips from a
crumbling rainbow. Those leaves left were now crackling brown
and being pulled from their respective trees by an early fall wind.
   Feeling as if she were suspended inside a painting of her
favorite artist, she held her breath as if the panoramic beauty
would disappear. Shocker’s contented groan broke her trance. A
shiver, hopscotching chill bumps on her back, caused her to grab
her flannel shirt tightly against the breeze.
   She scratched the dog’s head as she spoke. “Not many people
are blessed with living out their dream, Shocker.” 
   Used to her soft, one-sided conversations, Shocker opened and shut one eye
in response.
   And now, even though he led the way, Shocker made certain
that the tip of his tail swished her legs. The closer they came to
the cabin, the more ominous his growl became. Her fingernails
dug into the palms of her hands.