Roots and Seeds

I want the noise to stop.
Hate, fire, suffering, war;
Grief is crushing me.
The cries of nature, the wrath of the world
Plastered with lies, cold fluorescent light
And toxic platitudes.
I can’t shut it off–
And beneath the noise it’s even worse.
I open my heart and am devoured.
Every choice comes with a price:
The anguish of awareness,
Emptiness,
The hiss of a scythe.
Dark Mother reigns supreme.
She does not suffer ignorance
Or indifference;
Her love demands acknowledgment
And the courage to fall
And fall,
And fall again.
There’s no escape, for I am hers.
An old woman, spinning,
Watching.
I am not bleeding, now.
I am patient, furious and inexorable.
I am the darkness,
The reflection in a serpent’s eye,
A breath in the womb,
The resilience of life.
Here, it is cool and damp,
Roots and seeds still live
And creatures wait, held in love,
For the cleansing rain.

© F.T. McKinstry 2020. All Rights Reserved.

In Praise of Yule and the Winter Warlock

Winter Light

Winter Light


Merry Yule!

I confess, Christmas didn’t mean much to me as a kid. Family issues, religion and commercialism left me disillusioned. Ironically, my sensitive tendencies made me an accomplished shapeshifter when the need arose, allowing me to wear a happy kid face on the surface of a shadowy river of sadness. It wasn’t all bad, of course. I liked the music and the lights. But something was missing.

This was before the internet and the mainstream resurgence of things like Wicca, the old gods, and honoring one’s ancestry. I don’t think anyone ever explained the winter solstice to me, let alone its meaning in a spiritual context. I grew up in Houston, it was hot, and every day looked a lot like the next. A spark flickered in my heart when I touched the pagan roots of this season, even if it was only a Christmas classic about places that had snow, reindeer and spruce trees. I loved those stop motion animation specials like Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, with the snowy mountains, elves, little friendly helpful animals, the Winter Warlock, the monster trees, the Burgermeister Meisterburger and the 1960s swirly stoner graphics. I wanted all the stories about love and light to be true, even as I buckled under the stress that came with the very thing.

So I left home first chance I got and came north. Over the years I continued my emotional salvage operation, even after I had abandoned religion, turned to the natural world and amassed a library of books about things that kept the spark alive and helped me grow into my nature like a rooting tree. But I soon discovered that many “pagan” systems, while engaging, were missing something too.

Dark Mountains

Everyone wants to be a witch until it’s time to do witch shit. I’m not talking about setting up altars, growing herbs, gathering magical tools and praying to the old gods. That’s all cool, it creates a space, an atmosphere, a place to focus one’s intentions, much like going to church is to others. It has a purpose. But I still felt empty. I wanted connection. I wanted to be the thing and lo! oh dear if that desire didn’t put me right into the shadowy river of sadness. It was still there, sapping my light, even as I gazed into a candle on Yule to honor the return of the sun.

Then I learned something. It began with the idea that everything is connected, a popular idea now. But it’s easy to blur an idea like that into something nebulous, even impracticable, because it has such far-reaching implications. I came into December this year on a leaky raft of depression and doom that no holiday cheer could lighten; wave after wave of it, as if something had tuned my radio dial into all the sorrows of the world and the seeming hopelessness of another long winter. I cried a lot. I wanted to die. The darkness was crushing me. Until, at some point, remembering myself, I stopped and said, Where is this coming from?

Then I realized I was riding a wave that had its roots in my blood, in the bark of spruce trees, snowflakes, bears, wolves and love too, binding it all together even as it drew me into the void along with every sad and toxic pattern in my heart, my body, the projects I’m too afraid to start, some heartbreak or another, a belief in worthlessness, the white hair in the shower drain. All flowing down into the darkness of the longest night, one of the countless, elegant ways nature releases the old to the new. The rebirth of the sun. It’s one thing to celebrate that as the beautiful thing it is; it’s another when the shift is happening in the self, inexorably, in sync, as if beckoned. Everything is connected.

Witch shit happens.

Wishing you and yours all the love and light of the season in whatever way you keep it. Blessed Be!

 
 
© F.T. McKinstry 2019. All Rights Reserved.

My Wild Wood Elf

Hemlock, by F.T. McKinstry

“Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground.” – Oscar Wilde

Eleven years ago I adopted a rescue kitty I named Hemlock, after a beautiful pattern in her fur that looked like the bark of a hemlock tree. As a kitten, she had been abandoned and left in the woods to die. Metaphorically speaking, the same thing happened to me and I’ve spent my life dealing with it in much the same way she did: half wild, a bit fey, hard to get close to. In time, with love and patience, Hemlock came to trust me. She was a familiar of sorts. She taught me things, and we understood each other.

Yesterday, I sank to my knees and gave Hemlock to the gods, along with a part of my soul.

Sickness and death have a singular power to drive us into the shimmering web that holds the Universe together. It doesn’t matter what you believe, what platitudes you invoke to comfort yourself, what gods you pray to or not. Death plays no favorites, and in its wake we are alone, staring into the void. In whatever shape it takes, death transforms everything it touches. A window to the Source, inherently creative, death alters the very fabric of time and space and reminds us of what we are.

Grief

Of the vast, infinitely complex array of human emotion, grief wears the crown. It is subject to more denial, tricks and traps than any other emotion and nothing is immune from its clutches. Being imaginative and naturally resistant to change, we have elaborate ways of dealing with grief. We have developed a system for recognizing its stages, all the ways we maneuver, hide and contort ourselves to elude the inexorable. Because it fucking sucks.

Case in point, I shouldn’t be writing this now. I’m as raw as an open wound, between the worlds, a ghost haunting Hemmy’s grave out there collecting snow beneath the trees. I can’t get my head around the fact that she is gone. My house has become a dreary landscape of empty spaces where she used to sleep, play and warm herself. I still feel her frail, dying body in my arms. My eyes are swollen and my head’s stuffed up and grief is surging through me in thorny, spiky waves, tearing me to pieces.

There’s a panel of dispassionate psychiatrists and neuroscientists in my head patiently explaining that my sensations of Hemmy’s presence, seeing her ghost in the shadows of the house, or the image of light surrounding me as the pain ravages my heart are all just mental constructs, delusions, fancies I’ve created as part of the stages of grief. That I’m just manufacturing meaning so I can cope with the loss. Bullshit. If losing Hemmy were meaningless I wouldn’t feel this way. I’m rallying to Quantum Theory, which has begun to sidle up to the fey and frown at the tenets of materialism.

This is a good thing.

Hemlock

Rest in peace, Hemmy, my wild, wood elf girl. You will shine in my heart always.

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Yuletide Wolves

Winter Light

Yule Greetings!

Each of the eight seasonal festivals in the Wheel of the Year have a certain magic around them, a spirit that connects all living things to the cycles of the sun and moon. The Winter Solstice is especially powerful, as it marks the rebirth of the sun from the darkness of the longest night. I live far enough north where this a clear transition; it gets dark at four in the afternoon, and when the bitter cold descends, one feels mortal. Knowing that the sun will return is a wonderful thing.

Solstice

I love the pristine silence of the longest night, like something finished and yet hopeful. It can feel daunting, a Dark Night of the Soul when the darkness is so all-encompassing it seems there was never light and never will be. This is a tricky thing about transformation. It’s also where the magic happens.

So I couldn’t think of a better day to release The Wolf Lords, which is haunted by these themes. The demons you think are safely dispatched return to claim their due. Warriors, witches and those who know the loneliness of power face a dragon of darkness, and to prevail, they must do the unimaginable.

Bring it on. Where would we be without demons, goblins, elves and immortal warlocks?

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords Cover Art Book Two in The Fylking.

The Destroyer of the Math Gate has not been idle in the sun’s turn since he nearly defeated the Fylking, his ancient enemies. Wounded, bitter and bent on reprisal, the immortal warlock has gathered an army. He has acquired a spell that will damage the veil between the worlds. And he is waiting.

The Fenrir Brotherhood is an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. Haunted by a dark history, the brotherhood keeps to itself—or so it is generally believed. But the older something is, the more secrets it keeps, and the Wolf Lords have not only unleashed an army of demons across the land, but also let the Destroyer in.

When the Veil falls, war erupts and the realm is faced with legions of Otherworld beings, it is left to a sorcerer hunted by the Wolf Lords and a company of King’s Rangers broken by grief and trauma to find a hedge witch whose secrets could change everything.

Unfortunately, she is hiding between the worlds.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost Cover ArtHaven’t read Book One yet? Oh dear.

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

“The tone is excellent, reminiscent of some of the earliest examples of grim Norse fantasy.” – G.R. Matthews, Fantasy Faction
Finalist, SPFBO 2016

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

The Wolf Lords Released

Wolf Lords Cover

Samhain Greetings.

Good things take time. Often enough, it’s the things we love the most that require the most time and energy. We’ll throw my next novel, The Wolf Lords, into that category. I wrote this beastie amid two years of personal hell I’ll call shamanic initiation, for lack of a better term. Though it’s Halloween, I’ll spare you the gory details. Watch a horror movie.

PhookaBeing a dark, tormented, sensitive sort, I have a strong connection to this time of year, the Gaelic festival of Samhain. Horror movies, tricks and treats aside, Samhain is a transformational time that marks a change in the natural world, a descent into darkness. The veil between the physical and spirit worlds thins, a portal that allows energy to flow between. One can release things to the void, pass through the darkness, and emerge renewed.

When dealing with the spirit world, there is an exchange of energy. In the old days this was accomplished with a blood sacrifice, a literal interpretation of a spiritual truth. Releasing the old is a treat to the spirits, one that will spare you a trick in the form of your personal ghouls rising up to claim you like a zombie horde. Not that I’d know anything about that.

Okay, I know quite a bit about that but whatever.

Anyway, in the realm of Dyrregin in my fantasy series The Fylking, the veil is frequented by not only witches and warlocks but also seers who serve an unseen immortal race of warriors called the Fylking. All of this happens beyond most mortals’ ability to perceive. In Outpost, Book One, a handful of mortals with second sight deal singlehandedly with the sort of nastiness the spirit world is capable of in the hands of a powerful enemy. But in The Wolf Lords, ambitious sorcerers and the Fylking’s ancient enemy change the veil itself, unleashing upon the realm things best left unseen.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords Cover Art Book Two in The Fylking.

The Destroyer of the Math Gate has not been idle in the sun’s turn since he nearly defeated the Fylking, his ancient enemies. Wounded, bitter and bent on reprisal, the immortal warlock has gathered an army. He has acquired a spell that will damage the veil between the worlds. And he is waiting.

The Fenrir Brotherhood is an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. Haunted by a dark history, the brotherhood keeps to itself—or so it is generally believed. But the older something is, the more secrets it keeps, and the Wolf Lords have not only unleashed an army of demons across the land, but also let the Destroyer in.

When the Veil falls, war erupts and the realm is faced with legions of Otherworld beings, it is left to a sorcerer hunted by the Wolf Lords and a company of King’s Rangers broken by grief and trauma to find a hedge witch whose secrets could change everything.

Unfortunately, she is hiding between the worlds.

Amazon

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Haven’t read Book One yet? Tsk. I’m telling the ghouls.

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking.

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Demons at the Bar

Swamped

“The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” – C.G. Jung

My life is falling apart.

Sounds charming, put like that. Imagine if you will some poor bastard, drunk at a bar, ordering that fifth whiskey while he drags his fingers through his hair as if to pull it out. The bartender is shaking his head with a faint smile. He’s heard it all before.

A better image would be of a sand castle being slowly sapped and dissolved by the waves of an uncaring sea. Cruel, silent, inexorable, years of it, career issues, health issues and the ever-strengthening shadows of my fucked up youth. I sit up here in the woods and write stories, talk to myself and the gods and the houseplants, and crank metal until my ears bleed. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t want to do yoga. I’m sick of eating healthy. If I see one more sanctimonious, inspirational meme on Facebook I’m going put my fist through the screen. I sit outside, and my cats come around and sit with me, looking this way and that, alert, or sleeping with one eye open, as if they’re guarding me. They have a big responsibility. The veil between my mind and the boundless waters of the unconscious has grown thin and my demons won’t leave me alone.

Goblins

There are some interesting names for this process: life transition, Neptune/Chiron transits, clinical depression, dark night of the soul, desensitization and reprocessing, alchemical dissolution, and shamanic initiation, to name a few.

Let’s go with that last one. I’ve read quite a few books on these sorts of things. I want answers. I was attracted to the idea of shamanism, particularly the Northern European variety, and I looked into it. But it wasn’t until things got nasty that I went back and looked at it again, particularly the dark parts concerning initiation. This rugged ordeal involves long-term isolation, debilitating illness, dismemberment, being devoured and spit out into a steaming pile of cat puke by your demons (ok, I added that last part, except for the demons).

So after I shook off the chill, I thought, Yeah right. Shamanic initiation. I’m just inventing something romantic to deal with my crumbling life. But there’s nothing romantic about this. It’s a suckfest wielding one nasty punch after another, a testament to humans’ amazing ability to invent false bottoms. It goes something like this: “I have to be at the bottom, now! This can’t possibly get any worse!” Uh-huh, nice try. Go directly to Jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Feel free to imagine me laughing hysterically.

My man left me, just recently. Ah, the peaceful sound of another false bottom washing away into the sea. He moved in with another woman and they’re dancing and laughing in some sunny meadow of romantic fulfillment, or so it seems to me, sitting in my cave, staring into the void, issuing concert tickets to a never-ending flood of demons arriving from the shadows of my past. It’s like this dream I once had. I’m standing in the dark on the forest’s edge, gazing at a warm campfire in the distance, when something invisible comes up behind me, put its hand over my mouth and drags me into the night. Just like that.

Scary WolfI’m between the worlds. I shapeshift between fearing the wolf and becoming the wolf.

At the end of the day, I am a creative sort, and if there’s anything that will not be ignored, it’s that. This is a good thing. So I’m working on my next book, The Wolf Lords. I never sat down and decided to write a story about all this. It doesn’t work that way. I just wrote a story. But, ironically, it’s full of demons and the sorcerers who love them, all kinds of surly, implacable characters wreaking havoc on things because they can.

The experts say, “Write what you know.” Writer blogs are full of platitudes like that, stale little cookies we devour to fill the void because facing the void means dealing with our demons. Fortunately, when it comes to that, I’m not inclined to take prisoners. So I’m taking the aforementioned platitude to heart.

We’ll see how many of my characters survive it.

© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Raven of the West

Cover Art

In the calm, deep waters of the mind, the wolf waits.Raven of the West

A tale of desire and deception told on a fairy-tale landscape of arcane texts, herbal lore, visions and disasters at the hands of the powerful. Raven of the West is a standalone novella that takes place in the world of Ealiron, and features Eaglin of Ostarin, a main character in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

This novella is also included in Wizards, Woods and Gods, a collection of twelve dark fantasy tales exploring the mysteries of the Otherworld through tree and animal lore, magic, cosmos, love, war and mysticism.

Originally published as Water Dark by Wild Child Publishing, 2013.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

In the western-most crumbling halls of a mountain citadel lives a lonely wizard named Urien, a master of his art and a fledgling priest of a primordial goddess of transformation. Though his training is extensive, no training could prepare him for a broken heart. For years he has lived on the fringe after having loved and lost a powerful male wizard on the verge of ascension. But such wounds do not hide well. When he delves into the darker powers at the bidding of a shady priestess, Urien’s heart reveals itself as a grim warning from the goddess herself, in the shape of a wolf.

In the wake of this unsettling experience, Urien discovers that his most gifted apprentice, a beautiful, wild-tempered woman—and the partner of his erstwhile lover—is in grave danger. A series of swift-moving mishaps including a second warning and a badly backfired protection spell lands Urien into a love triangle that exposes not only his deepest desires but also the black machinations of the priestess who deceived him. When she wields her full power against him, he must reconcile his heart in order to save his lovers and himself from isolation and death.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Novella, 50 pages
Third Edition
Edited by Leslie Karen Lutz
Map: Ealiron: Sourcesee and West

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“This is my introduction to the literature of FT McKinstry, and I’m positively in love with her writing style!” – R.A. Sears, The Ragnarok Legacy

“An engaging dark fantasy. It was very well written, plot driven, and pulled me in immediately.” – Wicked Readings by Tawania

“A tale that should delight both fantasy fans and devoted followers of F.T. McKinstry. It provides an unexpected conclusion keeping the novel rather cryptic and mysterious…” – Writer Wonderland

“Like her full length novels, this story is well thought out and told in such poetic, beautiful language. A very enjoyable story!” – Amazon Customer Review

“As a long story, this is an ideal length for deepening our understanding of the psychic forces at play in the world of Ealiron. The story focuses on the complex interplay of four characters and explores their powers, their secrets and their loves, their battles of wills, their manipulations and treacheries, their sense of tragedy and loss. – Michael D. Smith, author of the Jack Commer series

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

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© F.T. McKinstry 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Shades of Instinct

In the wilds of Ostarin, folks have a saying: “Only wizards and hunters know the true meaning of darkness.” But one can sense a truth and not be able to explain it. Some things exist beyond the scope of linear thought, a deep, dark river of visceral knowledge flowing through all life, giving it vitality or, more often than not, unease.

In Ostarin, hunter is the common term for an assassin. There are other terms; many people blur the line between assassin and warlock, two shady occupations that often conspire. But hunter, being universally understood, is used to describe the stream of impressions that connect an assassin to the deep dark river. This is called the Hunter’s Rede, and its impressions are called Shades.

No one knows where the Hunter’s Rede originated. It’s not written down anywhere. A wizard might say the Shades arose from the muddy waters of primitive instinct, truths an assassin does well to heed in the practice of his art. But hunters don’t question this. The Rede defies such objective scrutiny.

Lorth of Ostarin

For Lorth of Ostarin, an accomplished assassin with the rough skills of a wizard, the Hunter’s Rede is as natural as his own heartbeat. It whispers in his mind; sometimes quietly, other times sharply, wearing a stern countenance, or with patient insistence. During Lorth’s search for the meaning of darkness, the Shades become suspect, as knowledge often does in the throes of change. It is only when his heart breaks and he abandons the Rede that he discovers its true nature.

This is how it goes….

Shade of Unknown: I have no name.
Shade of Belonging: I have no place.
Shade of Attention: I am unseen.
Shade of Wings: The owl flies near.
Shade of Silence: Life departs unknown.
Shade of Solitude: I am alone.
Shade of Balance: The Old One knows.
Shade of Age: I am not innocent.
Shade of Night: I sleep awake.
Shade of Kind: The laws of the lawless are certain.
Shade of Need: I love in the shadows.
Shade of Fault: Confidence escapes notice.
Shade of Fate: I owe nothing.
Shade of One: I am the Destroyer.
Shade of Forsaken: The Void loves nothing.
Shade of Harrow: I am swift.
Shade of Alarm: No chance to fear.
Shade of Low: The earth keeps secrets.
Shade of Attachment: No death is mine.
Shade of Illusion: The sun casts shadows.
Shade of Blood: Death is life.
Shade of Instinct: I act from knowing.
Shade of Surrender: All is cyclic.
Shade of Moon: The tide brings light.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Hunter's Rede CoverThe Hunter’s Rede, Book One in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

A swords-and-sorcery tale of one warrior’s transformation by the forces of war, betrayal, wizardry and love.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

The Trickster

The Trickster

Birds in the corvid family have always intrigued me, ravens and crows among them. These birds are extremely intelligent and surrounded by myths and fairy tales. Among other things, they are said to move between the worlds, making them harbingers and messengers of the Otherworld. They are playful, clever and at times devious, giving them a reputation as tricksters.

The hooded crow (Corvus cornix) is striking. It is found across Europe and in parts of the Middle East. Also called a hoodiecrow, corbie or grey crow, it is ash gray with a black head and throat, wings and tail. It looks like it’s wearing a black cloak with the hood down. How cool is that?

This fine creature has a special place in the story of Outpost, a fantasy novel woven with Norse mythology, mythical beings, swords and sorcery. In this tale, the hoodiecrow is a trickster par excellence, appearing as a particularly curious bird, a dream, a synchronistic event, or a charm given to a warrior by his love. To a knitter with the power of the earth in her hands, the crow takes form as an otherworldly rider.

A warrior on a gray horse thumped over the fresh snow, spruce boughs swaying with silvery restlessness in his wake. His horse moved strangely, as if it had too many legs. The rider wore exquisitely wrought mail of ash gray, black leggings and boots, and a mantle that covered his head and shoulders with feathery black. The hilts of two fine swords glinted above his shoulder. He reined in before the cottage and looked up, revealing the smooth, straight beak of a crow. His eyes glittered like stars.

Melisande stood in the snow in her bare feet, gazing up at the crow warrior like a child. He was beautiful, strange and vast, like a force of nature. He was not Fylking. Not Otherworld, either. He was beyond that.

“Beware.” The sound was the voice of the wind, his voice.

To a wayward seer at odds with the Otherworld, the hooded crow appears to spring him from a trap, a fortuitous event that comes with a very high price.

“Self-pity is powerful magic, is it not?” the crow said. Its pale ash body glowed beneath the pitch mantle of its cloak. “It turns the ridiculous into the sublime.” It cocked its head mockingly.

After delivering an annoying lecture, of course.

As with any trickster, the crow hides its agenda in mystery and surprise. What looks like guidance, mockery, companionship or a warning can—and most likely will—throw one into trouble. But that’s the way it works, with tricksters. Chaos leads to transformation.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking.

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.

On the Windswept Tree

Odin's Sacrifice

Hung was I     on the windswept tree;
Nine full nights I hung,
Pierced by a spear,     a pledge to the god,
To Odin, myself to myself,
On that tree which none     can know the source
From whence its root has run.

None gave me bread,     none brought a horn.
Then low to earth I looked.
I caught up the runes,     roaring, I took them,
And fainting, back I fell.

Nine mighty lays     I learned from the son
Of Bolthorn, Bestla’s father,
And a draught I had     of the holy mead
Poured out of Odrerir.

Then fruitful I grew,     and greatly to thrive,
In wisdom began to wax.
A single word     to a second word led,
A single poem     a second found.

Runes will you find,     and fateful staves,
Very potent staves,     very powerful staves,
Staves the great gods made,     stained by the mighty sage,
And graven by the speaker of gods.

The Poetic Edda. Hávamál, stanzas 138-142

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

In Norse mythology, the story of Odin’s sacrifice stands out as a classic metaphor for shamanic initiation. Odin goes to Yggdrasil, the World Tree, tethers his horse Sleipnir and then hangs himself facing down into the bottomless void beneath the roots. He suffers there in agony for nine days and nights until he sees the runes in the depths. Then he picks them up and is transformed.

Among his diverse and seemingly conflicting aspects, Odin is a poet. He hungers for knowledge. One thing that strikes me about this beautiful verse is its similarity to the writing process. As it often happens, I hang there, staring into the darkness of my mind, a blank screen, longing for a story and seeing only the void—and then, after fighting, clawing and whining my fill at the dispassionate silence, I relax, let go, and suddenly the words come.

Writing is hard work. Most days it sucks. But when this happens, when I touch the Mystery, it’s all worth it.

© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.