Crushed—But Not to Death

Camilla sat at the outdoor café and listened to the twittering of the birds and the distant rumble of thunder. How was possible that the two co-existed yet seemed so oblivious to each other? Did the birds worry about an approaching storm? Not so you’d notice—they flew and chirped in their usual abandon. And the storm clearly wasn’t about to alter its course to avoid a flock of happy birds.

“Perhaps it’s a grace…”

“Excuse me?”

Camilla glanced up. A man in blue jeans, a white shirt stretched over defined muscles, with wavy black hair, intense sparkling eyes, and a charming grin stood before her table with a tray in hand. A hot flush swept up her cheeks. Lord, don’t let me blush…please… Too late.

“Uh, oh, nothing…just talking to myself. Odd. Me.” She glanced around. All the other tables were full. A quick glance at her purse loitering on one empty chair and her foot absently propped on the other. Selfish slob. She dropped her foot, snatched her purse off the chair, and blushed. Again. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to—” Oh, Lord, he’s sitting down…at my…table. Not mine. Just…a table…

“Do you mind?” He gestured to the unencumbered portion.

She scrunched her books closer. “No, course not.” She swished her gaze around the bustling café. When did it get so busy? She glanced at her watch. “No, can’t be!”

Arranging his breakfast plate and hot coffee, the man peered up. “Something wrong?”

Camilla swallowed. “I just lost three hours.” She adjusted her glasses on her nose. “I came in when they opened at 6:30 and now my watch is telling me that it’s 9:30. That can’t possibly be.”

After slathering his wheat toast with grape jelly, the man proceeded to take a large bite. He chewed, swallowed, and tapped his watch. “What day is it?”

Frowning, Camilla blinked. The dark clouds and their faint thunder had veered north. Sunshine reflected brilliantly on every surface. “Uh, Friday, November eleventh.” She grinned like she had just won the final match of a tennis game.

“Nope. It’s Saturday, November the twelfth.”

Shock drained all thought from her mind as Camilla shot to her feet. “It can’t be! I’d have missed my class and mom’s evening medication—Oh God!” She practically inhaled her notebooks in one encompassing swish.

A strong hand reached out and gripped her hand. “Sorry! Really.”

The grin was still there, though a little sheepish now. “I was joking. Didn’t think you’d take me seriously. Please. Sit down. It’s Friday. No time warp or anything.”

Camilla thrust her hand against her chest as if she could put it back in place manually. “Lord, have mercy.” She glanced at him as she sat down. Such a sweet face, too. Kind or cruel…

He cut his egg into bite-sized pieces with the side of his fork, dropped a bit of bacon onto each piece, and enjoyed.

Camilla pursed her lips. “You like to traumatize people before you eat?” She thrust out a hand. “Camilla. Just so you know who you almost sent into coronary arrest.”

He swallowed. “James.” Then he took a sip of coffee and leaned back for a moment’s respite from the exhausting labors of eating and teasing. “So tell me, Camilla. How did you manage to lose three hours on such a glorious morning?”

Clutching her notebook against her chest, one shoulder doing its own little shrug, Camilla glanced across the campus. “I was writing. It’s like that Narnia story where you go into another world for a few days and thousands of years pass back home.” She met his intense gaze. And blushed. Again.

“What do you write?” He sipped his coffee, his hands cradling the cup, but he seemed interested.

Camilla swallowed panic. He’s really bored. Waiting for his girlfriend to get here. Or his wife… “Oh, just stuff. Stories that never get published and sit on my laptop languishing for—”

His gaze followed another student as she sauntered by.

Hot lead burned in Camilla’s stomach feeling strangely akin to jealousy. Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t even know this guy! She gathered her notebooks. One slid off the top and landed on his jellied toast.

He glanced up and met her gaze. “Why do they languish? Stories are meant to be read.” With care, he used his napkin and wiped the notebook free of jam.

Camilla laid it back on top. She peered at him. “To be perfectly honest, I’m ridiculously sensitive—totally crushed by rejection.”

“Not totally.” He started on his second egg.

Camilla clutched her books tighter. “Yes. I am. I know how I feel about my writing. I’m sick for days when my professors correct my papers. I hate it when anyone finds fault—”

He took another sip and frowned. “I didn’t say you liked it. I said you wouldn’t be totally crushed. You’ll be a better writer by hearing what others think of your work.”

Oh, really? Camilla tried to take the edge of sarcasm off her tone and slipped back onto her chair. She leaned forward, her hands clenched tight around her stack. “I got something published once…in a magazine. You know what happened?”

James bit his toast and raised an eyebrow.

“One reader wrote in and said that my beginning sucked, it was boring and flat. But then, some other guy wrote and said he loved the way it began and thought I had an artistic touch.”

James wiped his mouth and drained the last of his coffee. “So?”

“So, readers mess with my mind! I didn’t know what to think or who to believe.”

“Do you like your work?”

“I love my work. That’s the problem. Each story is like an innocent child—and when I send them out in the world…they get throttled. Or ignored. Which is even worse.”

“Was your next piece a little better?”

“That’s generally the goal.”

“So you weren’t crushed.” He looked around. “I wish they had waitresses who came around with coffee.”

Camilla kept her gaze steady. I will not roll my eyes…I will not roll my— “It’s self-serve, here.”

James stood with his plastic coffee cup in hand. “Yeah. I get that.” He glanced at the table and her empty cup. “Want some more?”

Camilla glanced at her watch. “I have a noon class.”

“So you’ve still got a couple hours—right?” He started away. “You said it. Self-serve. Gotta take a chance. That’s what writing is all about—isn’t it?”

Swiping up her empty, she trotted to his side and filled her cup with just enough room for three scoops of sugar and a dollop of cream. “How do you know so much about writing?”

“I’m an architect. I plan beautiful buildings and cities and—” Stirring his coffee, James started back to the table. “You know what happens?”

Camilla shook her head, frowning.

“Everyone makes suggestions. Helpful hints. Monetary considerations. Historical reflections…” He slid back into his chair. “No one gets to have it their own way.”

“But you’re not crushed?”

“Crushed. But not to death.”

A shadow dimmed the light. Dark clouds swept in and a rumble of thunder rolled overhead.

Camilla laughed. She glanced at James. “Perhaps, it is grace…”

 

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

A Deep Moral Dilemma

So, an old farmer friend called today and asked if I wanted my annual bales of straw. Since the dogs and cats seem to appreciate the snug houses my kids build for them each autumn, I maintained my routine. My friend is the kind of person that I’m convinced that if more people acted like him, angels could retire. Uncomplicated but thoughtful. Honest yet self-effacing. He’ll never take money for the bales. Though, thankfully, he will take jars of homemade pickles, salsa, and jam.

Near the end of our “How’s life treating you?” conversation, which naturally canvasses the weather, family, and sublime universal themes, he asked if I needed any wood this winter. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to say. Seemed like a simple question, but it involved a deep moral dilemma.

When my late husband and I moved out to the country, we hadn’t a fig’s newton what we were doing. We were both city people and the idea of raising children in the country seemed so terribly healthy and right. So—you know—natural. Turns out—it sure is. But nature is nothing to be sniffed at.

John being John, he did all the muscle work, and I did the other stuff. House management. Finances. Kid care. Education. We made an excellent team. We were practically Amish in our desire to keep everything as natural as possible. As close to home as possible. As holistic as possible. We were going to “steward” our world, not destroy it.

After his death, I continued our long-standing traditions. So far as I was able. A few things changed, though. The bees have had to manage on their own, and I’ve about given up reasoning with the hens. They lay wherever the huff they want to and good luck finding the eggs before the dogs do.

But before my friend called today, the kids and I had been watching a documentary on JRR Tolkien. At one point, his son, Christopher, described Tolkien’s severe dislike for machinery, and my mouth about dropped to the floor. How familiar—that sense that man-made takes us away from God-made. Except in the case of washing machines, of course. Washing machines are a divine gift to the human race. Try washing eight sets of kids’ clothes by hand, and you’ll see what I mean.

Getting older myself, and having kids who keep adding years to their ages at an alarming rate, I realized that perhaps our woodstove would become another casualty of “Things-That-Just-Can’t-Be-Managed.” I like the woodstove because the heat feels warmer and because, like the garden, it takes healthy work. I’m more sensitive to the weather and the natural world around me because I have to plan ahead if a cold blast or a storm is coming. The kids have to fill the stick boxes. Wood has its own lovely scent, rough texture, and can smash your fingers if you’re not careful. I wasn’t ready to let the woodstove go, but I honestly couldn’t scrounge off my friend or chop down the scanty woods we have around here. So I explained that I’d love to keep the wood stove going, but…

Turns out, my friend has a friend who sells wood at a reasonable price and even delivers. Reprieve! Tendrils of wood smoke will still grace our chimney this winter.

I certainly appreciate Tolkien’s view on machines…though I’ve made peace with more hardware than I’d like to admit. Still, I think he had a point…and my younger less-worn-out self had a point too. Nature-made tools and materials speak to a part of our humanity that we often abandon for more efficient manmade tools. They demand a level of attentiveness and care that comfort seekers might find irritating.

Yet I can’t ignore the fact that my critters abandon their plastic igloos and snuggle up in their straw bale abodes ever winter, and nothing beats the cheery glow, embracing warmth, and crackle of a wood fire on a cold evening. Perhaps I feel this way because I, too, am naturally God made…

But I’ll still keep the washing machine.

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

A Hostile World

Teal led the young Luxonian, Sienna, to the far side of the lake and perched on the edge of a boulder.

A creak tripped over an embankment and illuminated a rainbow in a shower spray.

Enchanted, Teal turned from one glory to another and grinned. “So, you want to become a healer?”

Dressed in a rough brown tunic with a thin shawl thrown over her shoulders, Sienna navigated the swirling creek bed and perched on another rock, dipping her toes in the rushing water. “Yes.” Her arched brows bespoke a serious nature, while her soft tone beguiled unwary hearts. “Luxonians serve in many capacities—I’m drawn to the healing arts. My father and grandmother were healers in their own time.”

Slipping out of his sandals, Teal splashed in the water, his grin tightening as the cold rippled over his body. “Why Earth? These people have nothing like our physiology or skills. What do you hope to—?”

A falcon flew overhead and landed in a tree. It turned its head, peering at them through one piercing eye.

Sienna’s gaze swept the area. A lizard sat sunning itself on a rock a few feet away. Snatching the reptile by the tail, she flung it into the tall grass.

The hawk squawked and flapped its wings.

Glancing up, Sienna blushed. “Innocent creatures shouldn’t suffer just for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

A pigeon fluttered into the air. In an instant, the falcon soared in hot pursuit.

Teal winced as the falcon plucked its dinner from the sky. He glanced at Sienna.

Unperturbed, Sienna bent over and splashed water on her arms. “Though humans are not very advanced, they do have a keen eye for detail and an amazing depth of insight. In your reports, you mentioned purges, herb drinks, and poultices, which humans use to heal their sick and wounded.”

Teal nodded. “True. Both the Lake Clan and the Grassland Clan have healers.” He squinted. “I don’t know about the River Clan. Neb appears bent on hurting more than healing.”

“It’s in a war that the greatest cures are found—when they are most needed.”

“That hardly justifies war.”

With a nod, Sienna tiptoed to distant perch. “Yet you have set the Supreme Council on the brink of war with both the Cresta and the Ingoti.”

Jerking to his feet, Teal’s face flushed. “Why are you really here?”

Leaning back on a rock and lacing her fingers together, Sienna shook her head. “Isn’t it obvious? I want to learn. I’ve read every one of your reports. Fifth years are allowed access to planet documents—when it bears on our studies.”

Like the falcon, Teal turned his head and stared out of one bright eye. “And what—exactly—are you studying here? Certainly, Luxonians don’t need human poultices and herb drinks.”

Leaving the stream, Sienna wandered to the grassy bank and plucked a wildflower. She held it before her like a shield. “Some Luxonians look to a brighter, broader future, where we will interact with other beings more freely.”

Teal plodded out of the water, water dripping down his legs. He glanced at the perimeter. “There’s plenty of interaction between the Supreme Council and other—”

“That’s my point!” Sienna flung her flower to the ground. “The Supreme Council shrouds us in darkness. We know little beyond what we read in the guardian reports. They insist that they shield us from a hostile world—but do they?”

A murmur of voices rose in the distance. Teal sucked in a breath; alarm bells rang in his mind. “Neb’s closer than I thought. We need to move on.” He glanced around.

Scurrying across the distance, Sienna arrived at Teal’s side. “Would they hurt us?”

Peering into Sienna’s bright eyes, Teal scowled. “Neb would attempt to kill me—certainly. What he’d do with you—I don’t dare think about.”

“I’d flash away.”

“He’d remember you. You’d become the stuff of legends—and nightmares.” Taking her arm, he pointed to a high embankment. “We’ll hide over there. Lizard?”

“I’d rather be a rock.”

“Not a good choice.”

Sienna squinted, confused.

“If you need to move, it’ll look odd.”

Glancing to the sky, she pointed. “A falcon then.”

“Fine. Just remember, the Supreme Council does shield us from a hostile world, even when we’d rather they didn’t.”

“And the Cresta and Ingoti?”

The murmurs grow closer. Teal frowned, lifting his hand like a man taking an oath. “I’ll fight that war myself.”

Sienna gripped his arm. “And I’ll heal you—if need be.” She blinked away.

A gorgeous Peregrine Falcon swooped overhead.

Teal stared—fascinated—and then blinked away just as Neb and his men pounded into view.

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

Some Days I Wonder…

So after school today, I took a few of the kids to the local thrift store. One stop shopping you might say, as they have a variety of goods. Excellent for kids on a limited budget and moms perfectly aware of pre-teen boy’s track record with jeans, coats, and anything that can be used in an imaginary world where barbarians play a significant role. We got what we needed, paid our due, which felt a lot like stealing and headed out with our clumpy bundle.

Next stop, the local bookstore. Trigger alert. I’m about to describe a real bookstore. A large room with high ceilings, peeling paint, drooping wallpaper, and lots of books. When I say, “lots of books,” I mean there is not an uncovered surface in the entire place. There are book racks on every wall, shelves of books all the way to the glorious heights, tables with stacks upon stacks of books, counters covered in piles of books, towers of books on the floor every few feet, and if it were possible, I’m nearly certain that books would hang from the ceiling like geometric stalactites.

The miraculous thing? Yep. You guessed it. We found our literary hearts’ desires in only a matter of minutes. I used to be a bit of a neat freak, and my late husband’s untidy habits left me cold and breathless. It was one of those—accept what you can’t change—sort of things. But lo and behold, give me five years running the homestead, and I’m quickly learning that a certain level of mess is good for the soul. Who knew?

A harrowing drive along narrow country roads at dusk with Sci-fi-Sears-Tower-sized tractors rounding every bend, and we made it home. And, no, I wasn’t speeding. Not so as anyone would notice.

Time to make a delicious meatloaf…and while I’m at it, I’ll just wipe out the refrigerator. What on God’s green Earth compelled me to such action, I hardly know. I had plenty of worthy things to do. I could write tomorrow’s spelling words on the chalkboard, work on my next novel, find the solution to human misery, but, no, instead, I decided to pull out the refrigerator drawers. And shelves. And what did I come slap face-to-face with?

Yep, you guessed it. Dante’s Inferno.

So, as the meat load did it’s thing inside the oven, (Which had done a self-cleaning yesterday. No little scrubbing arms—I was rather disappointed), I tackled the refrigerator. Scrubbing goo off plastic has never been a highlight in my day. But I figured I might as well make the most of it. But instead of whistling, I found myself remembering snatches of a book I read years ago—Men are from Mars and Women Are from Venus.

My mental state degenerated from there. I found myself asking the six-foot appliance why it had hidden this mess from me. I had been faithful, wiping it down every week, clearing out odoriferous leftovers promptly. So what was the deal? Why hit me with all this back-of-the-drawer, hidden-behind-shelves stuff now?

This past year, I realized, I’ve been hit with several relationship blowouts. Not unlike the bulb that exploded when I merely tapped it with a wet rag. Granted, with the hot glass and the damp rag, I deserved what I got. But with humans in my midst, I was completely taken by surprise. Didn’t see the rupture coming. Until I looked back. Then I saw all the obvious signs and wondered how I had managed to be so blind. So much for whistling. Only in the dark at this point.

So now, it’s time for prayers and (I-pray-to-God) a good night’s rest. But I can’t escape from the reality of my day. Lessons learned. Challenges faced. Goo removed.

Some days I wonder what’s in store for me. But I figure—I’ll get up anyway.

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 (In production)

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

I’ll Always Know

“She’ll never know.”

As I tromped along the cornfield-bordered road, I clamped down on the squirming kitten and stared bug-eyed at my friend-sometimes-worst enemy. “Won’t know? As in won’t notice another kitten among her whole slew of critters?”

Janet smiled that patronized smile she had—like she was four years older rather than four months. “Exactly.” She nudged me in the ribs.

My ribs had taken enough from the pounding of my heart. I stopped then and there. A storm was coming, and the kitty was onto it. That and the fact that we were well beyond my property line. “Listen, I’m not a deceptive person by nature. This whole enterprise—”

“Enterprise? We’re not on a starship. We’re in the middle of a blinking cornfield trying to do the right thing by this—” She zeroed in on the clawing bundle of black fur. “Fluff muffin.” With a hand on her hip and one finger-wagging, she launched in. “You’ve got another baby on the way, a husband who is hardly ever home, a house that’s falling about your ears, and a sick grandmother.” She jutted her jaw at the little eye peeking out from under my elbow. “You don’t need—that!”

I shrugged. “But it was in with the chickens—in the coop. Don’t you wonder if that was a sign…from God maybe?”

The roll of Janet’s eyes was positively eloquent. “God has got better things to do. Like, keep people—”

A long rolled “Helll-ooo” stopped us both.

Mrs. Blackstone trundled down the rocky drive and toodle-oooed. “Thought I heard voices. Just coming to check the mail—Al forgot yesterday.” She slapped her hands and chuckled as if her husband’s memory loss tickled her funny bone. “Not that there’s much to see—bills and ads and those obnoxious political adverts. Might as well tell me who to pray to.”

The kitten had had quite enough—and since I had tightened my grip—she probably wanted to breathe as well. The scratch she offered in return, set her free and let loose a naughty word on my part. I would’ve clamped my hand over my mouth, but I was too busy clamping my hand over the long bleeding tear in my forearm.

Janet merely shook her —at the scratch, the freed cat, or my poor literary choices, I didn’t know, and at that moment, I didn’t care.

Mrs. Blackstone, on the other hand, knew a thing or two about mercy and infections. “Oh, let me take you right in and put something on that. It’ll swell up quick if you don’t.” She peered around. “Was that the black kitten that went missing couple days ago?”

Thunder rumbled in the distance.

I let myself be tugged along like the child I wasn’t and glanced at my neighbor. “Was that your kitten?”

“Oh, got so many; I lose count. New litters year round it seems. Some live, some die, some move on…” She led me up the back steps into a warm kitchen. A stew pot simmered on the stove. “Just sit and make—” She glanced at Janet as if she had noticed her for the first time. “Oh, hi, Jan.” She waved to a back room. “Back in a sec.”

Janet pulled out a chair and plunked down as if she had been the one been wrestling a miniature tiger.

I toed a stool forward—my good hand being occupied, trying to stem the flow of blood, which I was certain would cascade down my arm if I took my hand away. I perched on the edge.

“See, I told you. It never was your responsibility in the first place.”

I leaned in and, I’ll admit, my whisper wasn’t gentle. “As it turns out, if we’d left it alone, it probably would’ve wandered home on its own.”

“Not in a million years. You’d have babied it—like you baby everything. Why, you would’ve taken it in at night and fed it leftover hamburger.”

“That’s a crime?”

“How many hours sleep did you get last night?”

“What on God’s green earth does that have to do with—?”

“Here we are.” Mrs. Blackstone waved a vial of dark liquid, a cotton ball, and a package of Band-Aids. “We’ll have you fixed up in no time.”

I sniffed when she unscrewed the top. It smelled faintly familiar but unlike any medicine, I’d ever come across. “What’s that?”

“Oh, a homemade remedy my mama taught me.”

She dabbed the cotton ball in the liquid, motioned for my arm, and grinned.

I was fairly sure I’d make a mess of her floor if I let go of my arm, but her cotton ball commanded compliance, so I flung caution to the wind and extended my damaged limb. You can imagine my surprise when I saw not a flood of leaking corpuscles but rather a long swelling red mark.

As she ran the ointment-soaked swab down my arm, I suddenly knew with blinding certainty the main ingredient in her mama’s home remedy. I gritted my teeth against a fresh onslaught of naughty words. “Is that—apple cider vinegar—by—any—chance?”

“Certainly. Kills germs on contact.”

It was certainly killing something. I hoped not my will to live.

For the first time, Janet seemed to actually feel something for me other than contempt. She winced and patted the hand I clenched in my lap.

As we sauntered back up the road toward my farmhouse, she nudged me in the ribs again. “Listen. I was just trying to make a point. I didn’t expect you to get martyred by an old family cure-all.”

I stopped and closed my eyes. Janet was right. I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before…or the night before that…or the night… But it didn’t matter. It was my life. I could sacrifice myself in pieces and parts if I chose.

Janet sniffed.

Good Heavens! She couldn’t be…crying… My eyes snapped open.

No, she wasn’t crying—exactly. Just sad. And looked about as tired as I felt.

“I know you’re worried, Jan. But I’m fine. I like extending myself. I love babies and husbands who work too hard…and even killer fluff muffins that show up in my chicken coop.”

Janet considered me through narrowed eyes. “You’re giving me an inferiority complex.”

“Am not.”

Janet climbed the front lawn and headed for the porch steps. “Well, when you collapse from exhaustion—you know who you can rely on help you out.”

I sauntered along behind, checking for Bob’s truck in the driveway. He was still home. Good. The back door hinge was loose. I wrapped my arm around Janet and hugged her and then winced at the still searing burn in my arm. “You’re on my speed dial.”

She snorted and waved to the front door. There, sitting as pretty as a picture, sat the black kitten.

I looked at Janet, and Janet looked at me. The kitten didn’t seem to care when Jan picked it up and started down the road.

But I did. And I’ll always know.

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

Know What I’m Saying?

I went to a presentation on Human Trafficking recently and walked away both shaken and encouraged. I was shaken by the reality of slavery in our midst, but I was also comforted by the fact that there are strong, intelligent, well-organized human beings doing incredible work to end this evil practice and assist victims into new and better lives.

As I pondered the real-world reality of good and evil, I thought about the cycle of brokenness that allows such a thing as slavery to exist in the first place. It isn’t simply about evil people doing evil things. It’s also about good people not doing good things.

With the recent elections, there was a frenzy of bloggers, tweeters, and social media experts on the rampage insisting that So & So would be the best person for our government and that Such and Such leadership, party, affiliation, group-think, would lead our country into a new era of prosperity. Or at least keep us from killing ourselves…or each other. We have a tendency to look for someone to fix our world.

As a child, I honestly believed that my mom knew everything. Frankly, I needed her to know everything. Being a kid, I certainly couldn’t provide for myself. But I quickly learned that she had her limitations. Way too soon, I had to grow up.

As a parent, I was shocked to discover that my kids wanted me to define everything in very black and white terms. “Who is the good guy, mom? Who is the bad guy?” Beware the wrath of a confused kid! They need clear, defined answers. So I did the best I could. Fudged on the details sometimes. But children really want you to know the right answers so that mom can fix all the world’s problems. Somebody had better!

But when kids get older, they repeat the human disillusionment cycle and discover that mom doesn’t know everything. They begin to wonder if mom knows anything at all. I began to wonder too.

Is it possible that the human race is going through a similar experience with God? We thought He knew everything and defined our world in very black and white terms. Then we grew up…or at least grew more advanced. Sometimes, we wonder if God knows anything at all. We look at our world and cringe at rampant evil, grieve when innocent people are caught in one horror or another, and struggle with the muddles we humans get into as we veer between polar opposites.

My mom passed away years ago, and my kids no longer look to me for all the answers. But God remains. Creator of the Universe. Creator of humanity. Author of Free Will. I don’t look to a “green” candidate to steward my planet. I don’t ask a politician to help a pregnant woman with an unwanted baby. I hardly expect my political leaders to visit the elderly. Civil laws are passed when the human laws embedded in the soul are broken or ignored.

We need laws like we need parents, to shepherd us through our infancy, our broken reality, to give us direction and proper understanding…so that we don’t kill ourselves. But one day—maybe—we’ll grow up and stop asking mom to fix our world. We’ll fix it ourselves.

Know what I’m saying?

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

We All Have Our Burdens

—OldEarth ARAM Encounter—

Teal rubbed his chin and surveyed the landscape.

The sun shone in brilliant splendor as five vultures circled overhead. The brassy sky, free of clouds, stretched from one side of the horizon to the other. Weathered grasses drooped like weary soldiers no longer able to stay erect.

Standing several feet away from Sterling, Teal motioned ahead. “You can’t see them, but there’s an artisan clan that way.” He turned and flicked a finger in the opposite direction. “And a lake clan this way.” He pulled his lip. “And Neb and his warriors are on the move.”

Sterling swayed on his feet.

Clicking his tongue, Teal strode over and gripped Sterling’s arm. “You all right, sir?”

Sterling smoothed his rough brown tunic. “Adjustment fever. I’ll be fine.” He pursed his lips. “There’s a reason I never wanted to be a guardian. Too much bloody traveling.”

Teal flung his hands on his hips, his own tunic grey and patched. “You travel all over the region—Ingot Magisterium Assemblies, Sectine Ultra Command Accords, Cresta Science Reveals. You even attend Bhuaci music festivals.”

Sterling plucked a grass stem and studied it. “In each case, I’m treated with high regard and fed extremely well.” His gaze rose and followed the vultures. “I suspect they’ll feast more to their liking this day than I shall.”

Clenching his jaw, Teal swiveled on his heel and started to pound away. “First, we’ll visit Aram, then take a glance at Onias, and finally—if we’re lucky—we’ll observe Neb.”

Sterling groaned. “Then will you show me the mineral deposits?”

Stumbling over a tuft of grass, Teal caught himself and cleared his throat. “That’ll be our last stop—before returning home.”

~~~

Aram strolled through the village, appraising the new homes and the layout of the village. He gestured to a youth.

The young man trotted near.

“Tell your father to spread out a little more; there’s plenty of room. We’re not hemmed in anymore—are we?”

“No.” The boy gazed at the landscape. “We have the whole world before us.”

Aram chuckled and patted the youth on the arm. “Well, not the whole world, but enough.” His gaze locked on a man. “I need to attend to business—remind everyone to keep the space between structures wide, so that even on a dark night a drunken man can find his way home.”

Grinning, the youth ambled off.

Aram sucked in a deep breath and marched across the village.

~~~

Teal hid in the shadow of a large spreading tree and rested his hand on Sterling’s arm. His voice dropped to a whisper. “You see how he cares for his people.” He frowned. “But he seems agitated. Something must’ve happened while I was away.”

“By the Divide, these are primitives. Of course, something happened. Weren’t they outrunning a vicious mammal last time you were here?”

Teal gestured to the lake shimmering against the bright sky. “Yet, they’ve outsmarted evil fate and found a new home. Impressive, don’t you think?”

A cluster of children scrambled into camp, followed by a large man with a huge grin. The children ran into their mothers’ arms, and laughter broke out all over the camp.

Sterling blinked. “Wonder what that’s all about.”

Teal chuckled. “Children like to play, and fathers like to tease.” His chest tightened. “Something we rarely experience.” Turning abruptly, he pointed toward the sun. “Let’s go.”

Smothering a suffering sigh, Sterling nodded. They blinked away.

~~~

Teal rubbed his hands together like a man well pleased with a hard day’s work. “We’ve seen Onias assisting in the harvest and Neb marching across the plains—now let’s head west.”

In a hilly region, they stood on the edge of a crater and peered down.

Teal gestured into the pit. “Cresta investigators said it looks natural, but the telltale signs are obvious. Ingots have been mining and, fortunately, they didn’t find what they wanted.”

Sterling shrugged. “They covered it up, so humans won’t be the wiser. What are you worried about? A little foreign mining won’t hurt anyone.”

Teal clumped back down the crumbling dirt. “No?” He plodded to a sheltered spot between two large boulders.

Sterling joined him, standing shoulder to shoulder, staring at a small black mound. “What are we staring at?”

Without breaking his gaze, Teal remained fixed on the mound. “A grave. There are five human beings buried here. A hunting party that strayed too far and paid for it with their lives.”

With a weary harrumph, Sterling flapped his arms against his body like a guilty child about to explain away his misdeed. “It could happen anywhere—to anyone. Humans kill each other all the time.” He faced Teal. “You saw Neb. We both know what he’s planning—”

Pounding his fist into his hand, Teal’s colors blazed. “It’s their fight—they’re humans. It’s not right that a race with superior advantages comes in and steals—”

“You’ve become such a blasted moralist. What’s wrong with a little innocent skimming off the planet?” His gaze flittered over the mound. “I’ll admit—the deaths are unfortunate.”

“They had families—their people will suffer because Ingoti incursions rape the land, and Crestas experiment on their people.”

Sterling clapped his hands together. “You’re hysterical. And, frankly, vulgarity disgusts me.”

Teal shimmered. “Vulgarity? But murder is acceptable.” Gripping Sterling’s arm, Teal glowed like a furnace. “What’re the Cresta offering you?”

Shaking Teal’s hand away, Sterling stomped to an open space. “You’ve just crossed a serious boundary! I’m a judge—and your superior. Just because I was your favorite teacher, don’t assume you can take liberties.” Scowling, he shook a finger at Teal. “I’d hate to accuse you of treason before the council.”

Teal’s colors simmered as his human form solidified. His voice dropped to a stiff, formal tone. “Judge Sterling, I must inform you that Cresta incursions will likely alter the balance of power in this region.”

With a snort, Sterling waved at the mound. “How?”

“The Cresta will use any race they deem fit to further their scientific ends. If they find this planet resourceful, they might influence the inhabitants to protect their interests against the Ingots—and everyone else. Nothing works so well as using the natives to fight your battles.”

“They’d have to manage a whole planet! Cresta aren’t that stupid.”

“They wouldn’t see it that way. They’d simply see an easy profit and an expendable life form.”

Rubbing his hands together, Sterling trod back to the mound and stared at the gravesite. “As I ponder the ramifications, I believe that the Supreme Judges need to consider this situation more carefully.”

Teal’s head dropped to his chest, and he exhaled slowly.

As the pink horizon signaled the end of the day, Sterling sniffed the air. “Someone’s built a fire.”

“Probably making dinner.”

“Yes. Well, I suspect I’ll be dining with the Cresta Ingal in the near future.” Grimacing, he appeared to swallow back a bad taste. “I hate their before-dinner delicacies. But their vegetable dishes are quite good.”

Raking his fingers through his hair to control his temper, Teal forced a placid expression. “You know what’s in them?”

Sterling waved off the thought. “It’s best not to ask.” Placing a hand on Teal’s shoulder, he sighed. “We all have our burdens.”

Teal tipped his head at the obvious.

Looking askance, Sterling waved goodbye and flickered out of sight.

Teal’s gaze returned to the shallow grave.

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