Same Spirit

Mrs. Eula Claymore pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose and peered at the dessert tray. Is that a lemon bar or pineapple upside-down cake? Her gaze swiveled around the large hall lined with long, white tables. Some of the elderly customers lingered over their meatloaf or breaded chicken, but she preferred to accomplish her meal—like ticking a duty off her list—and then enjoy her dessert with coffee. She returned to the tray and blinked rapidly, hoping to discern her choices better.

“Can’t decide, dear?” Mrs. Caroline Ramsey smiled graciously down on the old woman as she laid a steaming cup of coffee to her right.

Making a quick grab, Eula ended the struggle. “No, thank you, Mrs. Ramsey. Just weighing my options.” Her laugh sounded hollow. Weighing. Ha! Yes, have to weigh everything these days. The battle of the bulge was relentless.

Caroline’s paper-thin physique and tight smile swayed closer. “Oh, please, call me Carol, everyone does, and it sounds so much more romantic.” She raised her eyebrows archly.

Eula suppressed a snort, tapped her sticky fingers together and considered her baptismal name—Eulamay. With a quick thrust, she jammed the sweet treat into her mouth—and regretted it instantly. Her mouth pursed into the fiercest pucker she had ever endured. Lord in Heaven, where did they get these lemons? The devil’s kitchen? She peered up, her eyes filled with stinging tears. She must have water, or she’d expire on the spot. Unfortunately, Carol had hurried off to another table to intercede in a senior squabble before something got spilled.

“Mind if I sit here?” A large, buxom woman pointed to the seat across from her.

Eula nodded, attempting to stretch her lemon pucker into a smile.

The woman laughed as she pulled out a chair and laid her black handbag on the table. “Oh, you had a lemon bar, too, I see.”

With multiple swallows, Eula tried to eek out a sound akin to human speech.

The woman turned and scurried away.

Eula watched the blurry figure bundle off and wondered if she would have done better to stay at home like her friend Lola. Of course, Lola’s great-grandkids had visited her over on the weekend, so naturally, she would be prostrate for a week or so…. Eula’s thoughts were interrupted as a cool glass was slipped into her hand.

“Here, that ought to help. I thought I’d drink the whole Mississippi dry getting that taste outta my mouth.” The large woman plunked down in the metal frame chair.

Trying desperately not to slurp, Eula drained the contents in unspeakable relief. She wiped her eyes with her embroidered handkerchief and regarded her savior as best as she was able. “Thank you. I was wondering if I’d be left to die.” She waved a languid hand. “Not that it wouldn’t be rather appropriate, dying in a community hall, but somehow it wasn’t what I had in mind when I came this morning.”

The woman’s hearty laughter brought a smile to Eula’s face, as well as turned several heads. “No problem. We older ladies have to stick together, don’t we? So few of us left.” She stretched out a hand and leaned forward. “My name’s Mary Burns from Dartmouth County—off the blacktop at the end of Vet’s Road.

Eula peered up and appraised the woman before. Large, wispy gray hair, an honest, though blurry face, the usual stretch pants and loose flowered blouse—in short—a possible friend. Eula smiled and pressed the offered hand. “I’m Mrs. Eula Claymore from—”

Mary waved excitedly. “Oh, I know all about you. I’ve lived around here nearly ten years, but my husband, Melvin, passed away last year. Lola Kinsman was so kind. From the church—you know. She thinks the world of you, she does. That’s why I came by. She phoned and said she couldn’t make it, but she wanted me to introduce myself.”

Nodding, Eula wrapped a stray lock of hair back into her neat bun. “Her great-grandkids visited Saturday. I suspect she’ll be laid up awhile.” Nodding, she turned and appraised the crowd. “But I’m glad to meet you. I’ve been coming for years, but I never seem to— Anyway, Lola’s always been with me.”

Mary sighed. “To be honest, I’m rather out of place. I used to cook for Melvin and the boys, and there were usually hands and helpers about. Our trestle table would be full to bursting, and I managed it every day, seven days a week, but now, after a little slip and a hip replacement, my sons’ wives have decided it’s too much for me.” She peered around the room. “I don’t particularly take to being served.”

Eula smacked her lips. “Especially not lemon bars that could suck the life out of you.”

The two women hunched forward and failed to suppress their giggles.

Regaining her composer, Eula leaned back. “It’s cataract surgery for me. Can hardly see my hand before my face.” She gestured to the small crowd. “I served most of these people when I ran the school lunchroom. And I managed the parent group and the sewing circle. Never stopped for a moment, except—”

A racket at the end of the hall pulled their attention forward. One of the men stood stiffly, staggered, jerked, and then fell into a crumpled heap. Eula gasped. Mary rose like a puppet on strings.

Carol rushed across the hall, wended her way through the startled crowd, and took charge. At least three people had their cell phones in hand and were dialing.

After the emergency team had carried off the unfortunate gentleman, Carol circled around and spoke with each table. The crowd shuffled away in turn. When Carol made it to their table, Eula shook her head. “Will ol’ Bertie be all right?”

Carol shook her head and wiped a red-rimmed eye. “They said he was dead before he hit the floor.” She peered at them and forced a smile. “I guess we all have to go sometime.”

Eula wrung her hands together. “Bertie was such a fun boy and a hardworking man—but he never wanted to linger.”

Mary sighed. “None of us do.”

Carol stared down at them. “Don’t talk like that. You’re not lingering. You’re living.” Pulling out a chair, she plunked down and put her head into her hands. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I took this on. I thought it’d be fun: serving the ladies and gents in the community, making money on the side, getting out of my empty nest.”

Mary tilted her head at an appreciative angle. “But—”

Carol ran her fingers through her short, brown hair. “But, I can’t keep pace. This is the third customer I’ve lost in two months. And I don’t mean that the way it sounds. It’s just…I get to know people, and then I lose them. It feels—useless.” Her eyes brimmed with tears. “Help me out here.”

Eula leaned over and patted Carol’s hand. “It’s not useless. You’re right. We are living—and dying. Hard for young people to understand, but we’re as new to old age, as they are are to adulthood, and you are to middle age. Same spirit, greater experience perhaps, but encased in bodies that break down and wither.”

Mary wrapped her fingers over her purse and clutched it to her chest. “I know that the gentleman’s death is tragic, but I can’t go back; I must go forward. Knowing that I can join you, ladies, a couple times a week—well, it’ll make the journey less lonely.” She patted Carol’s shoulder. “Don’t fret. None of knows how to keep pace. That isn’t the point, is it?”

After Mary had lumbered away, Carol stood and helped Eula to her feet. She took her friend’s arm and led her to the door. “Will you be able to make it home, all right, Eula?”

Eula pressed Carol’s warm hand and focused her blurry gaze on the woman in front of her. “Yes, I can make it home. See you on Friday—Carol.”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Jeremy Quinn

Jeremy Quinn shoved his dinner tray aside and leaned back on a metal chair, a petulant scowl pressing his eyebrows into a v-formation. He glowered at the steel-gray mess hall of Bothmal Prison. Rotating his jaw, he swallowed his last distasteful bite of dinner.

A man about his age, but taller and thinner, wearing the same standard blue guard uniform, ambled up and pulled out a chair opposite Quinn while balancing a dinner tray.

Quinn cleared his throat.

The thin man glanced up. “You mind?”

Quinn nudged the chair out with the toe of his steel-tipped boot, his jaw still working in a circular motion. “Not much.”

Thrusting his hand out and accompanied by a stiff smile, the man leaned forward. “Name’s Scott. Nice to meet you. Just started yesterday.”

Quinn’s eyes traveled over the angular, dark-haired man. His nose wrinkled. He could smell fear a kilometer away. “It’ll feel like you’ve been here an eon by the end of the week.”

Undeterred, Scott sat and laid out his dinner—fork on the left, knife on the right, a cup of steaming coffee upper right, salad upper left, a plate of synth-meat and vegetables front and center, fruit cup lower left, napkin unfolded neatly in his lap.

Quinn’s jaw dropped as his eyes followed every precise movement of his tablemate. “By the Divide, you dining with the Luxonian Supreme Council or something?”

With a self-deprecating shrug, Scott dug into his meal with relish. He chewed slowly, carefully, his gaze surveying the room with the hint of a smile. Swallowing, he positioned himself for another foray; his gaze merely glanced off Quinn. “Pigs eat at a trough; humans should reflect their higher status.”

Quinn rolled his eyes.

Two guards dropped their trays in a recycle bin that sucked everything down a shoot with a swish. They placed their hands against the print identifier, and when the door slid open, they shuffled over the threshold.

Quinn leaned forward, his elbows braced on the table. “The only difference between us and the animals locked in cages around here is the color of our uniform—and the fact that we haven’t been caught yet.”

Scott methodically chewed another bite, swallowed, and pointed his fork at Quinn. “Speak for yourself.”

Running his fingers through his short hair, Quinn tilted his head. “You’re from Lux, right?”

“Born and bred. Second generation. Though my parents have a huge OldEarth sanctuary on—”

Quinn knocked his empty cup aside. “My family was run off Lux with barely the clothes on their backs during the Crestonian Crisis. Said we were a threat to planetary security.” Taking a more relaxed pose, Quinn laced his fingers behind his head. “They feared us. Humans were getting too numerous, so—”

Scott laid his fork aside and took a sip of his coffee. “Our family was large, my Uncle George has thirteen kids. In fact, they encouraged—”

“Who’d he work for?”

Scott dug into the fruit salad. “Bio-engineering Dep—”

“Oh, sure, yeah! Bio-engineers can do anything!” Quinn lowered his voice and leaned in further. “Listen, newbie, Bothmal doesn’t give a—”

A red light flashed over the door accompanied by a repeated buzzing sound.

Quinn frowned and rose to his feet. “Bothmal belongs to the strongest—not the smartest.” His gaze swiveled around the empty room. “You’re not on Lux. Remember that.”

The door slid open and a Crestonian wearing prisoner’s garb hustled in. He leaned against the door, huffing, and eyed Quinn and Scott. Rotating a long metal object in two tentacles, he straightened up.

Quinn stepped to Scott’s side and nudged him shoulder-to-shoulder, speaking out of the side of his mouth. “Crestonians are ingenious at fashioning weapons outta garbage. Ironic, eh?”

Scott held up his hands. “Maybe I can talk him down. He’s gonna get killed if he tries anything.”

Quinn’s eyes gleamed. “Oh, he’s dead alright. No question about that.” He shoved Scott ahead. “You talk to him. I’ll be right back.”

Scott glared at Quinn’s retreating back, then turned and faced the prisoner, one hand sliding to his sidearm. “Listen, I’m new here, but I know every rule on record, and I want us both to get out of this room alive, okay? If you just hand over the weapon, I promise—”

The door opened, Quinn charged through, and tackled the Crestionian from behind, knocking him down. They rolled across the floor with Scott pulling out his Dustbuster, edging up and backing away, as the two opponents grappled across the room and into the airy, institutional kitchen. A wall hole labeled “Recycle Your Refuse” glowed in neon letters on the wall. Jabbing his Dustbuster under the Crestoniona’s chin, Quinn dragged the prisoner to the opening.

The Crestonian struggled frantically, trying to get his skewer against Quinn’s midsection.

Scott dashed in and held his Dustbuster against the Crestonian’s head and shouted at Quinn. “Enough! We got him.”

Quinn braced himself, and with a mighty shove, he leaned the Crestonian against the hole and fired. What was left of the body was instantly suctioned into the hole.

Scott fell against the wall and stared open-mouthed at Quinn. “What the—?” He waved his Dustbuster in the air. “We had him. He knew it! We could’ve ended this without—”

Quinn, gulping deep breaths of air, grinned like a child winning a game. “Look at the sign, idiot.”

Scott pushed off the wall, his eyes wide with fury. “He was a prisoner. He wasn’t sentenced to death by the court! What gives you the right—?”

Quinn shook his head as he straightened up and swaggered back to the mess hall.

Four guards rushed in with Dustbusters at the ready. The lead man stared at Quinn. “We thought you were dead! Somehow that freak managed to cut the monitors.” His eyes roved the room. “Where—?”

Quinn chuckled. “He’s being recycled. More useful this way.” He tucked his Dustbuster away as the other guards relaxed with relieved smiles spreading across their faces.

Scott stood with his Dustbuster dangling at his side, glaring at Quinn.

With a shrug, Quinn turned and met Scott in the middle of the room. He leaned in and whispered. “Never let an opportunity slip by.” Putting an arm around Scott’s shoulder, he walked him back to their table. “Since I saved your midsection, you can clean up.” He patted Scott on the shoulder and then started toward the door. “Oh, and not a word. Remember, the only difference between them and us is the color of our uniform.”

The door slid shut. Scott plopped down on his chair and shoved his dinner tray away.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Guardian

I turned thirteen that summer and had my first real job. Well, it felt real, even though I didn’t get paid much. I helped out at the local library, shelving books, cleaning up, and polishing the tables after closing. This was back in the day when libraries bustled with students who plucked paperbacks and heavy resource volumes from designated sections labeled with letters and numbers according to the Dewy Decimal System. They propped their elbows on long, polished tables and turned thin, paper pages. It was old-time, but it worked. My heart still thumps with joy at the sight of books stacked neatly on shelves.

We had a hot summer that year. I was late getting home because the library hosted a big, summer festival and someone needed to put the place back together afterward. I didn’t mind. Shelving, sweeping, even wiping down the tables, kept me busy and at peace. I would stop and flip open an interesting cover, read the first page, and then let the story linger in my imagination. I felt like a kid snitching candy off a shelf, but I don’t think anyone minded. Sometimes my boss, Mrs. Murdock, would smile at me, her eyes twinkling even though she usually kept a serious demeanor about the place.

When I trudged home in that late evening, I didn’t know what I might find. When mom was sober, she captivated the house and neighborhood with witty banter and lively open houses. But when she wasn’t sober, few saw her except me, and then she was anything but witty.

Since money was scarce and taxes had risen, Mom had taken in a couple foreign students to board for the year. Jamal stayed in the backroom on the second floor, while Mr. Chin occupied the refurbished attic. Jamal was young, energetic, and obsessed with engineering. He never talked about anything else, and I wondered if he dreamed science formulas in his sleep. Mr. Chin was quiet and always polite. He noticed when things weren’t right about mom and the house, but he never said anything. He’d just go to the kitchen, make himself a cup of tea, and take it to his room to finish his work.

That summer night, I came in exhausted, longing to collapse on my bed, but the moment I stepped in the house, I knew something was wrong. Mom and my brother, Glen, were in the kitchen arguing. Glen was a lot like mom. Smart and good-looking, he could charm a room full of mountain lions, but when he started drinking, he turned even nastier than mom. When they were both drinking, life turned sour real fast.

I remember standing on the threshold. I didn’t want to go in, but it was getting dark, and I had nowhere else to go. Besides, I didn’t want them to hurt each other. I had always been the peacemaker. Hell of a job.

Suddenly, I saw Mr. Chin step between them and go around and about the kitchen. He was making himself a cup of tea, acting like they weren’t having a big screaming match right in the middle of the room. I thought I’d fall over in a faint. How could he be so calm?

It took a little while, but eventually, Mom seemed to realize that Mr. Chin was trying to get his evening meal. Glen tossed them both a contemptuous glare, grabbed a six-pack off the table, and hustled out. I tiptoed in and helped Mom up the stairs to her bedroom. I knew she would sleep it off. By the time I came back downstairs, the kitchen was clean, and Mr. Chin was nowhere in sight.

I went to my room, dropped on my bed and felt like crying, but being thirteen, I figured that I’d better get a grip on my emotions, so I grabbed a mystery novel, leaned back against my headboard, and tried to relax. Tree frogs croaked in unison like a church chorus, and I could see the night sky filling with twinkling fireflies. My head soon felt heavy and drowsy. Then I heard the front door crash open, furniture scraping across the floor, and my mom and Glen yelling at the top of their lungs.

By the time Mom was back in bed and Glen had retreated to his makeshift basement room, I could hardly see straight. But I dared not go back to my room for fear they would start up again. Stumbling to the couch in the living room, I settled on the edge, waiting. I faced mom’s rocking chair and remembered how many times we had snuggled there when I was little. I held back aching tears and, in time, I must have fallen asleep for the light was off, and I found myself laying on the couch with a blanket over me.

I remember being so tired that I could barely lift my head off the couch, but I sensed someone was there, sitting on the rocking chair. He wasn’t making any noise, just sitting there, quiet, and watching—watching over me. I tried to mumble thanks, but my mouth felt glued shut. Peace settled over me. Someone else was on guard, so I relaxed and finally slept.

It took me a couple of months to get up the nerve to thank Mr. Chin for taking over that night. We were alone in the kitchen in on a brisk autumn evening, and I had settled down with a cup of tea. He sat with a bowl of Chinese noodles before him.

“Thanks for being there—you know—that night Glen and Mom had the big fight.”

Mr. Chin chewed his noodles meditatively, his eyes averted like he was trying to remember. But then he smiled and our gazes connected. “Wasn’t me. Must have been your guardian.”

I’m sure my eyes couldn’t have extended any further from my face if I had been a human-sized snail. “Excuse me?”

He pointed at me with one of his chopsticks. “You have a guardian. Big fellow. Nice looking.”

Whoa! I must’ve paled considerably because suddenly Mr. Chin looked rather alarmed. He waved his chopsticks in the air as if to wipe away my concerns. “I didn’t see him, exactly, I just know he exists. You have troubles too big to carry alone, and someone has been helping you. So, you see, I know by evidence. Someone watches over you, and he must be big because your burdens are so heavy. And someone that kind must be good looking—especially around the eyes.”

Mr. Chin’s face wrinkled in delight at his logic, and I couldn’t help but smile back at him. I never knew I had a guardian, but his words made sense to me.

From that day to this, I have remembered my guardian whenever I’m overwhelmed. I feel a presence around me, whether I’m dealing with old family issues or my latest boss’ antics. I’m not alone, and my burdens are never too heavy to carry. When I imagine what my guardian looks like, I see a man much like Mr. Chin—smiling, making a cup of tea, and quite good looking—especially around the eyes.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Vera’s Wings

Vera tossed in her sleep, her dreams disturbed by flickering flashes of light and an acrid smell that wrinkled her nose. Sweat prickled her arms and legs till she panted and threw off her covers. Suddenly, she sat bolt upright, her eyes wide and staring. Swirling smoke stung them instantly.

Flames danced and darted like flickering fingers from under the door. Skittering to the chair by her desk, she pulled on her skirt and blouse and began screaming. “Pav! Pav, where are you? Help me!”

In the echoing house, she heard only the fire crackling on the other side of the door. Gripping the handle, she pulled and then screamed as the hot metal seared her hand. Grabbing another shirt from her dresser, she wrapped her throbbing hand and darted forward. Gripping the handle again, her whole body trembled. With a snapping, click, the knob turned, the door flew open, and a rush of heat and flame knocked her backward.

In horrified amazement, Vera stared at the flames. The LuKan had a natural fear of fire. Their tender flesh burned so easily that even sunburn could cause serious health issues. Crawling backward, she scurried to the back of the room and rose to her feet, the flames flickering toward her.

“Pav?” her hand clutched at her throat. She inched over to the window and stared down. It was a six-meter drop at least. In the dark, it looked like an endless chasm.

A sound of clattering boots running up the steps made her glance at the doorway. The door had swung shut again, but now the wood was engulfed in flames. A man called through the smoke and fire.

“Vera? Are you here?”

Vera’s shoulders slumped in relief. The blacksmith. “I’m here, Mr. Pollex. I can’t get out, and Pav’s not answering.” Vera clapped her hands together and winced as the blisters made contact.

A grunt and pounding shattered the air. Mr. Pollex shouted. “Pav? Pav, can you hear me?” A splintering thwack thudded against Pav’s door.

Vera closed her eyes and wiped sweat from her dripping face.

More splintering crashes and the sound of boots running across the floor. Shouts, grunts, and then silence.

Wrapping her long three-fingered hands around her middle, Vera hugged herself. She swallowed against the bile that rose in her throat and ran to the window, sucking in fresh air.

Clattering boots and heaving grunts stopped outside her door. “Vera? Vera, stand back!”

Vera pressed her back against the window frame, her shoulders shaking.

A thwack smashed through the wood door, and a sharp, red-tipped blade shone through the flames. Uncounted thrusts tore at the wood until it fell aside like a torn curtain.

Lucius Pollex stepped through the flames. His red-rimmed eyes had scoured the room before they landed on Vera huddled against the back wall. He ran to her, gripped her arm, and lifted her to her feet. “Hurry, this timber frame won’t hold much longer.”

She froze at the flaming doorway. Without a word, Lucius stepped behind Vera and scooped her into his arms, enfolding her little body within his, and sprang through the red and orange darts of fire. Once outside the door, he dropped her on a clear space on the landing and bent over a prone figure.

Vera gasped. “Pav!”

Before she could run over, Lucius lifted Pav’s limp body over his shoulder and reached out for Vera. She shook herself, fighting nausea that bubbled up from her middle. As they descended the steps, she tripped and fell forward. Instantly, Lucius grabbed her around the waist, and, squeezing her body against his, he jogged down the last steps and through the front doorway into the smoky, night air.

Falling on her knees, Vera choked and sobbed, her hands over her face. She rocked back and forth, oblivious to everything except overwhelming pain and fear.

Shouting to her left forced her to look up. A small crowd huddled over a prone form laid out on the grass. Screaming, Vera scrambled like an injured animal toward the body. “Pav! Pav, get up. Talk to me. Pav!”

The crowd backed away.

Blinded by tears, Vera felt along Pav’s body, and finally, coming to his face, she lifted herself to peer into his face. If only she could look into his eyes and make a connection.

Pav’s arms were stretched out to the side, his legs lay limp and bent, his face turned up and his eyes wide open, but they saw nothing—not the stars that twinkled overhead, nor his sister’s tears as they landed on his cheek.

A firm but gentle hand gripped Vera’s shoulder.

She slid to the ground, her head landing on her brother’s chest, sobbing, clinging with her bleeding fingers.

The hand stayed with her, gentle, undemanding, warm and real in a nightmare of searing pain.

The murmuring crowd shuffled away. Someone bent low, and a woman’s voice whispered. “You want me to take her home with me? I’ve got room—”

Vera shivered.

Lucius tightened his grip. “Give her time. I’ll watch over her tonight.”

A man’s voice spoke in the air above her head. “It’s about out; nothing to do now but make plans to rebuild.”

Lucius murmured a soft, “Tomorrow.”

Footsteps padded away, voices chattering in an undertone. “Poor thing. Wonder how it started….”

Pav’s body, already cold, was growing stiff.

Vera shivered, opened her eyes, and blinked at the black night, tears slipping down her blistered cheek.

An arm reached around her shoulders and carefully pulled her off her brother’s body. Gently pulling her close, Lucius braced himself against a shed wall and wrapped his muscled, fire-seared and soot-coated arms around her, pressing her head to his chest.

Vera could feel his chest rising and falling and hear his heart beating in a steady rhythm. His warmth settled over her shivering frame and calmed her. She closed her eyes and let the nightmare end.

~~~

An early bird chirped in the treetops. Vera opened her eyes and stared over Lucius’ charcoal-blackened shirt into a hazy world of drifting smoke, green grass, treetops, and a red sunrise.

Rising on her elbow, Vera studied the stubble-bearded face of Lucius Pollex. His warm chest still rose and fell rhythmically as she shifted her arm and looked around. Her hands stung. She stared at the red blisters on one hand and the angry red blotches over the other and her arms. Wiggling her toes, she was amazed that they didn’t hurt—nothing like her hands. Her gaze drifted over Lucius. She sucked in a horrified gasp. Lucius’ legs ended in smoldering stumps. “Oh, no….” Fresh tears welled in her eyes.

Lucius stirred and groaned. His eyes snapped open, and his arm squeezed protectively around Vera. When their gazes connected, he sucked in a deep breath and darted a glance around the field and burned timber. “You’re alive then?”

Vera nodded. She wiped her face with the back of her hand and sat up, her eyes searching.

Pav still lay stretched out in the field. She started forward, but Lucius held her back. “Wait. I’ll help.” He stood and assisted her to her feet. Peering down at her thin, burned face, he shook his head. “You need care, too, or I’ll be digging more than one grave this day.” Rubbing a tear from her cheek, he stared down, somber, and sighed. “And that, I won’t have.”

Vera stared at his burned stumps, her eyes wide in horror.

Lucius pulled up a charred pant leg and revealed a metal band connecting an artificial limb to the stump of his leg. “They were burned in an accident some time ago.” He raised his gaze to the blue sky and exhaled. “I was never happy about it, but now, I’m glad. If I didn’t have such feet, I could never have walked across a burning floor to save you.”

Lucius gaze fell over Pav’s body. “Only—I wish I had wings.”

Vera stepped over to her brother’s body and knelt down. She lifted Pav’s hand and kissed it. Looking over her shoulder, a shaky smile trembled on her lips. “The LuKan believe in the Immortal Life—today, Pav has wings for us both.”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Visions of Grandeur

Loren crouched low as she snuck up behind the enemy, one finger poised over the trigger. She knew all too well the price she’d pay if she missed.

The enemy swarmed off to the right—they’d be beautiful if they weren’t so dang dangerous. She had children to protect. Creeping ahead, she spied their base of operations.

Got ‘em now!

Exhilaration pumped adrenaline into Loren’s bloodstream. She rose to her feet, both hands braced over the canister, aimed, and fired. Direct hit!

The swarm didn’t know what happened. They dropped onto the porch floor and buzzed furiously until Loren swept them into the front garden bed with her foot. She exhaled a long, cleansing breath. Thank—

“Mom! You know it’s wrong to kill bugs. They’re a part of nature, and we’re supposed to respect them!”

Loren turned and faced her irate eleven-year-old daughter; the wasp spray canister hung limply in her left hand.

Kara, a self-appointed bug expert, propped her hands on her hips like a furious schoolteacher. She had watched numerous YouTube videos and read articles on-line about native, Illinois insects. In her spare time, she copied photos and made collages, which she hung up around the house underlined with dire warnings about the loss of native species.

Loren chewed her lip and rubbed her jaw as if it had been struck. “Listen, young lady, I got stung this morning, and your baby brother got stung yesterday. Insects may have some rights, but I’m the protector of this family and—”

Kara rolled her eyes and wandered away.

Loren clutched the spray canister so tightly that she accidentally sprayed the floor. Marching into the kitchen, she placed the bug spray on a high shelf and then turned to the sound of the dryer buzzing. She glanced at the stovetop clock, dashed downstairs, piled the warm laundry into a plastic tub, tossed the wet laundry into the dryer, shoved the last load of dirty clothes into the wash, set the timers and scurried back upstairs.

Baby Addison screamed as he climbed the last rail of his crib. Teetering on the edge, he nearly overbalanced before Loren dashed into the blue room and scooped him into her arms. “Whoa, Baby Boy, what do you think you’re doing? Besides giving me a heart attack….”

After a quick lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches, homemade pickles, sliced peaches, and milk, Loren placed Addison in the middle of the room with enough toys to keep a thirteenth-century emperor ecstatically happy and turned her attention to her computer. Onto the next battle—family finances. Well, somebody’s got to balance the books.

Two hours and momentous account juggling later, Loren looked up as Kara sauntered in with a neighbor boy. They both had their iPhones so close to their faces that Loren wondered how they had ever managed to walk into the room without bumping into a wall.

Kara peered over the rim of her screen. “Marvin is staying for dinner. His dad and mom had a big fight and started throwing things.”

Loren froze, though her eyes wandered over Marvin’s bulky frame and unkempt hair. “You want to talk about it, Marvin?”

Marvin shrugged, his eyes still glued to the screen in front of his face. “They hate each other. What’s to talk about?”

Loren’s head dropped to her chest. She felt tears well up, but she brushed them aside as her gaze swept the room. Uh, oh…where’s Addison?

Her heart pounding, she stepped passed Marvin, giving his shoulder a little squeeze as she went by. “I’m making fried chicken. You can stay as long as you need.”

When she entered the bathroom, she knew what she would find, though she clenched her hands in prayer. Please, God, let me get it cleaned up before James gets home.

It wasn’t as bad as she feared, though the wallpaper would never be the same. Thank heaven for disinfectants!

A car rolled over the gravel in the driveway, and Loren bustled with Addison into the blue room. She changed his stinky clothes at the speed of light, rushed into the kitchen, pulled the thawed chicken pieces out of the refrigerator, sprinkled spicy breading over them, poured oil in the pan, and popped muffins onto a tray. When James entered, she put Addison on the floor so he could toddle right into his daddy’s arms, a sacred tradition that James loved.

By the time James had changed and come back downstairs in comfortable jeans and a t-shirt, the table was set, the chicken was frying, a large tossed salad graced the center of the table, and a pyramid of muffins sat ensconced next to a jar of strawberry jam, front and center of James’ place.

At dinner, Addison gummed his crackers and chicken pieces with childish abandon while Marvin chomped on his chicken legs in morose silence. Kara nibbled carrot sticks and muffins slathered in jam, distaining, once again, the flesh of sacred animals. She wrinkled her nose at Addison until her dad told her to stop.

James pushed back from the table and patted his lean belly. “That was fantastic, sweetheart, thanks. His eyes followed Loren as she began to clear the dishes. “Oh, and thanks for mowing the front lawn. I wanted to get to it, but with all the extra work—”

Loren shrugged. “It’s fine. I’ll try to get to the back tomorrow, but I’ll have to squeeze it in before I take Addy in for his check-up.”

James swirled his water glass. “Oh, and could you invite Carl’s new wife—” he snapped his fingers together with a puzzled frown.

Loren glanced over. “Chelsea?”

“Yeah, right, I can never remember. Anyway, invite her to your next Lady’s Tea. I take it that the other wives have shunned her for a—shall we say—checkered past. If you act nice, they might follow.”

Loren filled the sink with soapy water and nodded. “Called into diplomatic service once again, eh? You know that’s what I first wanted—”

Addison’s wail cut short the conversation as James lifted the baby from his high chair and offered to walk Marvin back home.

Later that night as Loren brushed her teeth, she could hear sniffles from Kara’s bedroom. She tiptoed into the dark interior, trying not to bang into the desk or the multitudinous science experiments, which Kara laid like traps for her unwary parents. Shuffling forward in low gear, she found Kara’s bed and inched her hand up to Kara’s shoulder. “What’s wrong, honey?” She perched on the edge knowing full well that she was sitting on at least three stuffed animals.

Kara wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and sniffed. “Jean texted me that I’m nothing but an amateur, and I’ll never amount to anything.”

Loren frowned. She didn’t know Jean, as she didn’t know most of the kids that Kara interacted with over her iPod. “Well, darling, you may be an amateur now, but if you study and keep working hard, you may become a professional someday. It all depends on much you—”

Kara waved her hands in contemptuous disdain. “Oh, you don’t understand. You’ll never understand. I want to be great at something. I don’t want to just make a living…or be like you.

Loren took the body blow with only a slight grimace. She swept a lock of Kara’s hair out of her face and took a deep breath. “You know, I like to think I’m doing something great—here—at home. It may not seem like much but—”

Kara shook her head. “You’re just a mom, there’s nothing great about it. Millions of women have done it—forever. I want something more, something grand and—”

Loren let her head drop as she listened to her daughter’s dreams and aspirations. They all sounded wonderful and noble, something that might make headlines one day. There was so much she wanted to say, to share about her own life and her experiences, which had lead her to the edge of her daughter’s bed, but Kara wouldn’t understand, not now. Maybe someday. When Kara talked herself sleepy, Loren squeezed her hand and tiptoed back into her bedroom and finished brushing her teeth.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00