Save Our People From Despair

faye

Despair is an ugly thing. When my mother sent me away after the invasion—little did she dream of what she exiled me to—hopeless dread and futile guilt. With her hands, she pushed me away, yet with her heart, she clung to me.

“Come back when you can; save us if you can. But at least one Bhuac must survive. And it must be you!”

I did as she demanded. I took the transport on docking bay one-one-four and headed out into the universe and away from certain Bhuaci destruction. I was protected only by a gruff, Ingot merchant named Buford, who needed someone to blame when things went wrong, which, with his clumsy skills, they often did. I accepted every menial job: collating orders, checking the ship’s inventory, noticing when things went missing, and even tracking down a guilty thief once. I was a Bhuac of all-work-and-no-play and served in every role imaginable, servant, advisor, director, detective, even guard on occasion. Being a shape-shifter, I could cover my quaking insecurities with hulking forms and menacing fangs.

But I never played the part I longed to return to—Faye, a gentle, beloved daughter. Even as a friend I would have felt some satisfaction. But Buford was not interested in friends. He was interested in units, the more the better. Profit was his closest kin.

Then one day we headed toward a planet I had never been to, a rising star on the horizon, called Newearth. Buford told me its colorful history, the demise of Oldearth, the Luxonians’ protection, the Cresta invasion, the Inter-Alien Alliance Commission. Something in me stirred for the first time in uncounted cycles. I longed to visit this new horizon, but Buford changed his mind, and we veered toward the Divide and a greater profit margin.

I waited.

Then a new opportunity struck. A traveler boarded, a hidden figure who merely said that he was heading to Newearth. His name was Gabriel. He appeared human, as I did on most occasions, but I sensed he was Bhuaci, like me. Knowing our own planet’s desolation and our sister planet’s demise, I could understand his desire for secrecy.

Gabriel paid Buford well to take him to Newearth. My imagination stirred, dead hopes rekindled, but I could not break free of my employer. How could I? I had no one to turn to, nowhere to go.

As we approached Newearth, Gabriel tossed a satchel he always carried over his shoulder and offered Buford his final payment. Buford held out his data-pad, tapping his foot. He had contacted a Cresta merchant who was to meet him on the other side of the planet. I stood by, watching, an unnamed grief wringing my soul. Then Gabriel surprised us both.

“Here, that should cover all costs.”

Buford glanced at the data-pad ready to pass it to me when his eyes widened, and he pulled it close and read it again. “What’s this? Trying to play some kind of game?”

Gabriel’s brows furrowed. “I never play games.”

“But it’s too much, by half or more. We agreed on twenty-five and this here’s near fifty. You’re Interventionist, aren’t you? Trying to catch me out! Well, it can’t be done, I’m an honest—”

Gabriel waved Buford’s concerns away. “Nothing of the sort. It’s just that I plan on taking your hired help with me. She’ll be quite useful on Newearth, and you’ll find another—”

“Not one as good! By the Divide, I’m not letting her go. She’s going with me to—”

Gabriel faced me and bid me come closer. I was in my favorite fairy-like form, lithe with large, almond eyes and shining, golden hair. I stepped nearer, hardly daring to breathe. Gabriel smiled down at me and clasped my hand. “You’re one of our own. So few of us left.” He turned to Buford. “If you don’t release her, I’ll charge you with enslaving a Bhuaci against her will. I happen to know someone on the Inter-Alien Alliance Com—”

“Take her, then! Good riddance. I only hired her for pity’s sake. She’s so timid and all. You’ll find that out.” He looked slyly out of the corner of his eyes. “And when you tire of her, send her back. I’m too soft, I know, but I’d hate to see her come to ruin on some dirty street.”

With a nod, Gabriel led me toward the debarkation tube. I had nothing to carry with me, so I accepted his direction and started away. I only looked back once. Buford had turned away.

When we arrived on the Newearth Main Street, I was overwhelmed by the bright, bustling energy all around. This was like no planet I had ever seen before. I thought my heart would burst with excitement. Gabriel continued to hold my hand as we scurried across the street and up to a tall building with large, gleaming windows.

I stared up at the brilliant structure set against the blazing, blue sky. “Where are we going?”

“Home. Temporary of course, but it will do until you become accustomed to your new role.”

My gaze dropped from the building to Gabriel’s face. “My role?”

Gabriel bent down at my side. “The one your mother assigned you—savior of Bhuaci.” As the sun beat down upon his golden head, a light shone in my eyes. I could barely see him, but I never forgot his words. “I’m your mother’s friend and your friend too. Your family sent me. I’ve been searching all these years. Now, finally, you will save our people from despair.”

My eyes filled with tears. So, I had a friend, a home, and a mission too. But who would save me from despair?

To Make a Difference

outlookspaceman

Soul-Searing

Autumn is always bittersweet and beautiful―like a memory. I am nearly fifty now and yet my childhood seems as close as the doorway. More distant, and more painful are the memories of my sons. I had only two, Joseph and David, both fine young men, each born with a high sense of duty. One is dead now and the other might be soon. People tell me that I can’t change anything―that fate is what it must be. I try to accept that. But the memories haunt me, like autumn. They beguile me with their sweetness and then frighten me with what comes after.

I grew up endowed with a mission to change the world. I was going to be somebody. My relations going all the way back to Adam and Eve were much the same. It must be something in our genetic code. We were the branch that reached for the sun and was never content to live in the shade of another’s glory. My father was a radio broadcaster and my mother was an artist. They both strove with straining hearts to be great at what they did. You probably never heard of them. Few ever did. But they lived and died believing that they made a difference. And I guess that is all that really matters, believing in yourself. At least, that is what David keeps telling me.

It is late now, and the house is quiet. The cicada came out late this year, and I can still hear them in the evenings joining their songs with the crickets and the frogs. It makes a low, pleasant hum, always in the background, like the music in a movie. You aren’t always aware of it, but it affects your mood and soothes, or warns you, as the case may be. Right now, the evening sounds are soothing. There are no dreadful winds screeching against the windows or thunder hammering on the roof. Right now, I feel peaceful and even a little drowsy. David should be home soon. His shift ended at 8:00 P.M. but he said it might take him a little longer as he was going to talk to his director about his options. That is what he calls it, his options.

War broke out again four years ago and I thought that Joseph would stay out of it, but since he was trained as a psychiatric nurse, he saw it as his duty to join up as soon as possible and help out in whatever way he could. I admired his patriotism. Everyone did. After all, we had not looked for war. It came to us, landed in our laps when extremist terrorists set off bombs in our cities. There have always been problems in the world and tensions were especially high with threats at the time, but I had always figured that we were secure, our lives would remain on the periphery of events. I had hoped that living in the countryside might shield us. But fate crosses all boundaries and Joseph was determined to make a difference. He wanted to save people. He wanted to be helpful. How could I blame him? Over a thousand people were killed in those attacks and more died in the following battles. War comes at a cost. But I hoped that it would not cost the life of my son. I am not sure why I thought he should be exempt. But I did. I honestly thought that he was too good to die.

So now I sit here trying to make sense of my memories and trying to decide what I believe. If fate rules us, then it really does not matter what I believe. I can sit here until Doom’s Day, and nothing will change. But if fate is just an excuse for not accepting our part of things, then perhaps it does matter. Maybe I have more to do with Joe’s death than I realize. Maybe David still has a chance.

~~~

Kurt and I were older when we got married. It took us a long time to find each other. We were like that song―looking for love in all the wrong places. But eventually, we met right where you’d expect two Catholics might meet, in a church. It was at Christmas time and we were both out of college, and it turned out we had some friends in common. It didn’t take us long to decide that we wanted a life together. It did take a couple years to pay off old debts and clear out our lives so that we could make room for our marriage. But once that was taken care of, we went forward and had a big wedding, inviting everyone near and far. We’re both believers, but not terribly involved in church activities, except around holiday time. Our lives revolved more around our work. I had been endowed with a missionary spirit, teaching in poor neighborhoods while Kurt had worked as an English as a Second Language instructor. Both of us were zealots. Both of us wanted to make a difference. And both of us were rather tired and worn out by the time we got married.

It took us three years to have our first child, but there was never a more anticipated bundle of joy than out little Joe. Suddenly all our zeal was directed toward this tiny little baby. It was as if no other baby had ever been born before, the way we acted. Kurt made every birthday a major holiday and started to teach little Joe the letters of the alphabet and how to play ball when he was barely old enough to toddle across the floor.

I was intent on providing the best home and the nicest, most delicious meals ever created by any mother anywhere. The poor child never had a chance to know moderation. Moderation just wasn’t in our vocabulary. If he even got a sniffle, I ran him to the pediatrician so fast that the doctor would usually just tell me to turn around and go home, giving me nothing more than an encouraging word and a slight sigh. Joseph either had a great immune system or we frightened every illness away before it had a chance for Joe grew up as healthy as an ox. He grew big too. The other kids in school used to say that he ought to try out for football, but I’d never let him. It was too risky. He had a smart mind and I didn’t want his head broken in some game which would only decide the fate of a team for a season. I wanted my boy to make decisions about far more important things. Luckily Kurt agreed with me. Kurt would read him stories by the hour about famous men in history. That boy went to bed dreaming about knights in shining armor and martyrs who suffered for their faith. Though we lived in farm country and envied farmers their knack for bringing fruit from the earth, even if it was simply acres and acres of corn or beans, still we never saw ourselves as farmer types. We had the missionary spirit. So when Joe grew up and chose medicine as his field, Kurt and I smiled in complete understanding. This was something worthy, something grand that could make a difference in the world.

Joe joined Peace Corps after college, and Kurt and I were so proud of him; we could hardly contain ourselves. We sent packages and extra money to support him through the two years he spent in the Philippines. He got Typhoid while he was there, and Kurt thought about going over to check in on him, but Joe told us not to come. His letters became subdued. Joe seemed to be changing in ways I couldn’t understand. I wondered if he was depressed, but Kurt said that he was just seeing the world as it really was and that sobered him up a bit. Besides, everyone was telling me: “Joe’s his own man now; he’s over twenty-one; you need to let him be.” It wouldn’t do any good to worry anyway. I had no control over the world or my son anymore. There weren’t any options I could veto.

When Joe arrived back in the states one blistering hot July day, he met us at the airport looking like an overgrown scarecrow. He had lost so much weight that I barely recognized him. He was tanned but his face was gaunt with exhaustion. I was appalled, but Kurt gripped my arm and told me not to mother him. He was a man now. Joe needed to tell us what happened in his own way. At least Kurt realized that something had happened. But as we drove through the city noise of Saint Louis back toward the rural quiet of Illinois, I waited expectantly for Joe to say something, for him to tell us his story. He didn’t.

He hardly talked that whole drive home and he talked very little for the three months that he lived with us before he found a job in Washington D.C. He didn’t seem to care about anything except getting busy someplace far away from us. I couldn’t understand. I thought my heart might break. I had always considered myself a wonderful mother, but now I wondered what I had done wrong. Why didn’t Joe seem to care about me, or his father, or even his little brother? Joe and David had never been especially close but they had been good friends. Now it was as if they hardly knew each other.

David was finishing college, and he was busy with dreams of his own. He seemed grieved by the change in his brother, but he didn’t seem inclined to do anything about it. I remember David came to me as I was sitting on the porch watching the sunset one evening and said, “Don’t worry about Joe, Mom. He’s made his decisions. He can’t go back to being your little boy anymore. You’ve got to accept that.”

I had no idea what David was talking about, but it seemed to be the advice everyone was giving me. Even Kurt told me not to worry. Joe was a big boy. He would make his own way. And he did. He made his way right into a psychiatric ward where he was helping men who had returned from the war with serious mental conditions. He was a very capable nurse and he got along with everyone, well, almost everyone. It was one of his own patients who killed him. Shot him in the heart. I never knew how a patient got ahold of a gun. At the time, it didn’t seem to matter. Joe was dead and that was all I really needed to know.

At his funeral, the director of the hospital came over and shook my and Kurt’s hands and tried to console us. He looked me right in the eye and said that Joe died making a difference. I had to believe that was true. But I couldn’t understand why it was supposed to make me feel better. After all, if he was making a difference, wouldn’t it have been better if he lived? How did his death serve anyone?

It wasn’t until Kurt and I was cleaning out Joe’s apartment, when I came across his journal, that I began to understand the man my son had become. I found the journal tucked under a copy of The imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis. I had heard of the book, but I had never read it, and I was surprised to find it among Joe’s things. I had been more afraid of finding girlie magazines, but there was none of that. In fact, his whole apartment was rather Spartan.   Kurt put a few of books in a box and then he said he needed to make some phone calls. He left the room and didn’t come back until later that evening when I was about done. I wanted to be angry at him for leaving me to work alone, but then I realized that he couldn’t help himself. Kurt wasn’t the kind of man who could cry in front of people, even me. He needed to be alone to deal with his grief. I figured pretending that everything was okay was the nicest thing I could do. Sometimes not talking was our way of getting through things.

I gave most of Joe’s stuff away, but I kept the journal. I couldn’t read it for over a year. But then in late September the following year, I picked it up after lunch, and I didn’t put it down even to make dinner. Kurt had gone to a game with some friends, and David was living on campus. I was completely alone. I wish I hadn’t been. It was an experience that seared my soul forever.

I’ve Played My Part

The first part of Joe’s journal was much like what I would have expected. He was obsessed with his work, and he wrote about the people he worked with and the things he was doing. But then he wrote about a series of nightmares which were haunting him and his reflections about what they meant. Then a few entries later, Joe finally admitted that he was struggling with his faith. There was a long time lapse between entries at this point and when he finally started writing again, he wrote about his experiences in the Philippines. He had become good friends with a girl there, and he had even thought about bringing her home and marrying her, but then he discovered that she was pregnant. His friends warned him that he would be in a lot of trouble, so they advised him to help the girl get an abortion. Abortion was not an option for this girl or Joe either, but her father found out, and there was a big scene and Joe discovered that he was in bigger trouble than he had realized. The girl’s father wanted Joe to marry her right away, and Joe knew that his dreams for the future were seriously compromised. A friend got him some medicine that was supposed to end the pregnancy quick and easy. Joe gave his girlfriend the medication, telling her that it would make everything better. She believed him and took it and soon became so sick she nearly died. The baby miscarried and Joe transferred to another village. After that, he fulfilled his time in Peace Corps as perfectly as possible. He wrote that he never even looked at another girl for a long time. He tried to put the whole event out of his mind and promised himself that he would make up for his mistake by being the best nurse he could be. And everything seemed to work out. Except that he couldn’t completely forget the girl he once believed he loved, or atone for the past with promises for the future. Nightmares haunted his nights.

I sat there sobbing, hugging Joe’s journal, thinking that my son had died a tormented man when I realized that he had left three pages blank before his last entry. When I thought about it later, I realized that perhaps he had left those pages blank for a reason. Maybe he had wanted to mark the place in his journal with white pages, to show the difference in his life. In any case, Kurt came home before I could read that last entry, and it was a long time before I could pick it up again.

Kurt never drank much but occasionally when he was out with friends they would stop by someplace and have a few beers. This particular night, he had had more than a few. I wondered at him as he came in swaying haphazardly and I asked him if he wanted anything to eat, but he just waved me away. He said he had finally realized that his whole life was a sham. He was never any hero, and he had never accomplished anything. The world would be better off without him. I was shocked and hurt. After all, if his life was a sham, what was mine? What was our marriage? I couldn’t understand this pit he had suddenly fallen into, but I did have sense enough to realize that a good night’s sleep would probably help, so I pretty much agreed with everything he said, and I helped him to the bedroom. I gave him a back massage and let him mumble himself to sleep.

As I watched him lying obliquely on the bed half dressed, since I couldn’t manage to get him completely undressed or completely straight on the bed, I realized that this was our life. A half-done life. We had the ideals and the zeal, but we didn’t have something that made things really work out properly. I wondered about that as I made my way to the living room. I didn’t bother undressing either, for I thought Kurt might get sick in the night; he wasn’t a drinking man and this little bout with the bottle might have other unpleasant consequences. So I just piled up the couch pillows, and I lay in the dark living room and thought about what I had read in Joe’s journal. I don’t know why I didn’t just get it and read the last entry, but I felt so overwhelmed that I couldn’t take one more emotional revelation. I just lay there and wondered what Kurt had meant by his life being a sham. Was his life really a sham? Didn’t he love me? What did that say about my life? I don’t know when I fell asleep, but I awoke to the sound of Kurt calling me from the bathroom. There were other unpleasant consequences all right.

That spring David graduated from college with an engineering degree. He had decided that he wanted to specialize in aeronautics and though I didn’t see the “big plan” David seemed to feel that there was one, and he needed to be a part of it. The war had slowed down and was rolling along like many modern wars, mostly on someone else’s turf. I read on-line reports and I wondered if anyone would ever find a way to convince leaders that killing each other’s young people was no way to solve our differences. But I could see the necessity of protecting the innocent. After all, “the only way for evil to conquer was for good men to do nothing.” I had always believed that. So had Kurt and Joe. But now Kurt was submerged in doubt, and Joe was dead. I had a hard time lifting myself to the heights of idealism that I used to love.

During that spring and early summer, Kurt seemed to be getting ill a lot. He lost weight and looked tired all the time. I urged him to go to see a doctor, but he insisted that it was just a summer cold and he’d get over it. He didn’t. By the time he finally did see a doctor, the cancer had spread throughout his lymph nodes and into his bones. It had progressed to the point where even the specialists didn’t think he had much time left. They were willing to do chemo treatments, but Kurt said that he was too old and too tired to fight that hard. He was ready to go. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I felt like I never knew my husband at all.

By the fall, Kurt was in the hospital a lot. I would go see him after a full day of teaching and spend the evening with him before I went home to shower and get ready for the next day. As we sat there in that white walled room, we would sometimes watch TV or we’d talk about stuff on the news. Kurt always enjoyed discussing current events, and he loved history so he’d often tell me everything he knew about the countries that were in the news. He loved sharing his knowledge. That was one reason he had been such a wonderful ESL teacher. He was smart, and he cared about the people he worked with because he knew something about them and where they came from. He had always seen a connectedness between people and events. Yet now, as he slowly succumbed to the ravages of cancer, he didn’t see himself as being particularly connected to anything or anyone. When I asked him why he was so ready to leave me and David behind, he said, “I’m done – that’s all. I played my part and though it wasn’t as big as I thought it would be, still, I gave it my all. Now it’s my turn to go off stage and let someone else take over.”

I remember; I wanted to slap him. I wanted to beat him on the chest and tell him that he wasn’t God and no one said he could slip quietly into the dark night. But even as I was shaking with fury, I wondered if I was being fair. Kurt had a right to face his death in his own way, and I should be glad he wasn’t suffering any worse. I should be relieved he was accepting his fate. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I was troubled. My heart was hurting and my head was aching. Nothing seemed to be making any sense. I tried to reach back to my youthful sense of high purpose but it was elusive. Everything that used to comfort me was slipping through my fingers. I sat there, the blinds closed against the blazing August sun and Kurt fell into one of his evening naps.

I wondered at my stomach crunching distress. I could feel the familiar ache in my middle and knew that inner turmoil was one of the worst pains in the world. I tried to talk myself out of my suffering. If Kurt was accepting his fate, why couldn’t I? If Joe had died making a difference, then what good did it do to grieve over his death? Was I was just lonely and frightened? No, I had friends, and I was certainly capable of taking care of myself. Though I was losing my best friend, I didn’t need to think I was losing my whole life. My life would still have a purpose. I would still be a valuable person, and I needed to accept what I could not change. But somehow all my reasoning just made my stomach clench harder and my brain whirl that much faster.

Late one October afternoon, one of Kurt’s students came by to see him. He was an elderly Asian man and though many of Kurt’s students had come before to say hi and engage in some kind of humanitarian kindness, this man, I don’t even remember his name, was the kindest of all. He didn’t say much, but as Kurt was sleeping, he just came over and shook my hand then he knelt by Kurt’s bed and began to pray. I was taken a little aback. I wasn’t sure what religion this guy was or who, exactly, he was praying to, but his sincerity was obvious. He stayed there kneeling for what seemed like hours but was probably only just a few minutes. When he got up, he smiled at me and just whispered as he left, “God knows.” I have absolutely no idea why those words comforted me so much, but they did. I could actually feel the knots in my middle unloosen a little and though I didn’t knee on the floor, I did bow my head.

Certainly, I had prayed for Kurt just like I had prayed for Joe. A priest had come in and anointed Kurt. Our faith had been an intrinsic part of our lives. But suddenly, I saw things from a different view. It was as if I was looking at my life from a new perspective. In my youth, I had always been trying to make a difference. Then as tragedy entered, I tried desperately to grasp its meaning. Everyone advised acceptance but that had seemed cowardly, elusive, a run-away kind of thing. But there, as an October rain drizzled against those never-opened windows, for a brief second, I grasped what I was missing.

Twinkling Stars

Kurt died in November, the day before Thanksgiving. We hadn’t planned much since he was so ill but several of his relatives had come to town for family get-togethers so, in a way, it was good timing. Everyone was close, and the funeral was arranged without difficulty. Kurt had insisted on making out a will as soon as he knew he was seriously ill, so money matters slipped into place easily. David came home from his work at NASA, and he did everything he could to help me out. He was as good and kind a son as a mother could want. But he didn’t talk much about his work. He just said that there were a lot of wonderful possibilities in the future, and he wanted to explore some of them. I knew he had always been interested in space exploration, but as he turned his attention toward engineering and then toward planes, I figured his childhood fantasies of traveling to far off planets had vanished like other vaporous dreams. It turned out I was wrong.

His dreams had never died and as he faced a world in turmoil and the deaths of his brother and father, his dreams seemed to revive with alacrity. Even during that wet and cold November, he would sit out on the porch in the evenings watching as the sky turned from misty-grey to solemn-black. When I came out and asked him why he didn’t come inside where it was warm, he simply said he was watching for any stars which might break through the clouds. I remember telling him that any stars which broke through a November night were more likely to be airplanes or aliens, and he just chuckled and said, “Maybe so, maybe so.”

I finally had the courage to read the last chapter of Joe’s journal that winter, and I could have kicked myself for waiting so long. It turned out that Joe had met someone in the hospital that he really admired, and he had shared his turmoil with him. The man, whose name was Dr. Scanlon, was just starting out, but he must have had been born with the wisdom of the ages for he told Joe that his mission in life was not defined by his mistakes but by how he handled his mistakes. Apparently, Joe got a new lease on life, and he realized that he would never be a perfect man. That job had already been taken. He was called to be as good a man as he could be, and when he slipped up, he was called to stand back up and try again.

I realized as I read this, how common place those words seemed. They were the kinds of things I told my fifth graders. But I understood that Joe had grasped them on a whole new level. I suppose someone would say that Joe had been born again. He suddenly seemed to believe that his life had a meaning beyond what he could fully grasp. And that encouraged him. “Thank God,” I murmured as I sat there on my bed once more rocking and hugging his journal to my chest. “Thank God.”

The next time David came home for a visit, I handed him Joe’s journal and told him he’d enjoy the last entry. David only smiled and said that he probably knew more about Joe than I realized. Joe had called him the day before he died and said that he was thinking about asking out a particularly beautiful intern.  They had laughed together, and David said he felt that Joe was relieved of a heavy burden. I just stared at my son and asked him if there was any hope that I would know him before I died, and he smiled that bewildering smile he has and said that he would share more―if he could. I just sighed and shook my head. David then did one of the most surprising things he has ever done. He took my hand and he led me out to the twilight sky and he pointed to the stars. He said, “Look up there, Mom, and tell me what you see.”

I told him I saw a multitude of twinkling lights that scientists tell me are really balls of burning gas bigger than the earth and that though I believe them, I’d be equally content to have them just be twinkling lights.  David has such an infectious laugh. I had to laugh with him. We stood there, him holding my hand like a little boy again, and he suddenly turned to me and said, “What if I told you that out there lies the hope of humanity? If only we have the daring to realize it?”

Well, what could I say? What would you say? I remembered my youth and I felt a strange flicker of hope and life. I felt his excitement. But I also felt a ripple of fear. What was he about to do? What was he about to risk? So I looked at his upturned face and I asked him, “What do you mean? Tell me about it.”

So David explained. He told me all about how he was working on the design for a settlement on Mars and how one day he hoped to be part of a mission which would initiate the first building efforts on Mars. There was even talk of him being a part of the next space mission so that he could better prepare himself for that experience and have a better understanding of what would be needed for a lifetime in a space settlement. I stared at David, much like I had stared at Kurt, wondering if I ever knew the man in front of me. I asked him why he had never shared these plans with me before, and he chuckled again.

“Some of this is not for the general public, Mom, and besides, it still sounds strange even to my ears. I wasn’t sure I could handle the bewildered expression I see in your eyes now. There was a time when I would have doubted my sanity for even dreaming of such things.”

“But now?”

David had grinned. “Now I feel a confidence born of grace. I trust that if God wants this done, it will be done. And I’ll be the man to help do it.”

There was so little I could say at that point. I realized that my whole life had been the humus of this dream. David’s dream, like so many others: Christopher Columbus, Einstein, Albert Switzer, Mother Teresa, had borne fruit not from the desert of fantasy, but from the nurturing love of family who dared to believe in things, who dared to dream big dreams even when those big dreams ended up being little more than a life well lived or a death well faced. I stood there as the clouds passed away and the stars broke through, twinkling their hearts out. I held my son’s hand and I never wanted to let him go.

So the Earth continues to revolve around the sun in its allotted course, and seven more years have passed. David has been on two space missions, and now, he has to decide if he will go on this last one. This will be a mission which will take him further than even my imagination can travel. He will begin a new phase in his dream. He will be a part of a team that will begin building a settlement on a very, very distant planet. He will likely spend the rest of his life working with robots and men who have sacrificed everything for a home very different from this one. He’s never been a coward, and he doesn’t expect to start now. I always wished David would settle down and have a family, but now I see how that was always impossible. He was a man born for a mission. I guess, we all have our missions. Perhaps mine was to give life to such a man and to plant a seed of daring hope.

Have I made a difference? Did Kurt? Surely when Kurt read those stories to the boys, he made a difference in the kind of young men they would be. He did as much as I to form them, not just their bodies, but their very souls. Kurt died believing his mission was over. Joe died trying to help an insane man deal with his suffering, hoping to have a family of his own someday. His life was about never giving up. My mission?

The winds have picked up, and I can hear David’s car pull into the driveway. He said he would come home tonight, even if it was late. It’s nearly midnight. It is raining now and there is a rumble of thunder in the distance. I suppose, he has accepted his mission.

I suppose I have too.

The forecast says that the temperature will drop tonight, down to the forties. Winter is on its way. Autumn can’t last forever. No season ever does. I left some chicken and fixings on a plate for him. I guess I’ll warm them up and sit with him awhile. I even made a few chocolate brownies. They’re his favorite.

Hope’s Embrace: A Bhuaci Poem

bhuachiwomanpoem

Sisters—linking arms amid the crashing seas-breeze waves—laughing as we fell,

For we knew no fear in our homeland—there we did happily dwell.

Hope ever sprouted,

Love never doubted.

When invaders destroyed our youth and ships to far stars were sent,

Still, our hearts beat true to love—to our faith’s content.

You on board, shivering and afraid,

Me, left behind to protect the home world, there I stayed.

Long years passed and messages did tell of new homes fair,

I wish I’d been with you and every adventure shared.

But my content was in knowing you were free,

For enduring great danger here, never safe were we.

Strange silence then ensued and fearful the cause we pursued.

No words can describe the loss—an entire planet laid waste.

Only dead rocks floating in space—a home—myriad dreams erased.

So sister now, only memory serves to fill the aching void,

Where once we played and with our lives enjoyed.

But somber truth teaches—even in heavy loss we endure,

To strengthen that which is beyond any mortal cure.

My daughter now I send—to far distant stars to seek,

Our salvation in a future none yet can hope to speak.

My child, cling fast to the dream that held us in its sway,

The joys and laughter that brighten youth’s holy, every-day.

For there is no salvation found apart from the dreams that dwell,

Safely in the hearts of those who know how to love so well.

 

The Key

oldkeyWhen people say they’re haunted, it usually conjures up images of ghosts and wraiths. But that’s not how it is with me. Six words, a beard, and the tap of a hand haunt my days and nights.

I’m probably as ordinary as a person can get, living a typically mundane life. One particularly innocent day, my client asked me to run a few papers by a local nursing home. Easy? Sure. Safe? Not so much.

I was running a tad behind schedule when I pulled into the parking lot—a totally nondescript building with a colorful banner emblazoned with “We’re so glad to see you!” rippling in a cold, February breeze. Turning from that cheery message to the field, not a half-mile away, I encountered a decided mood-changer—a prison yard.

Brushing dark comparisons aside, I hurried inside and ran smack into a large common dining room. Old folks milled about, aimlessly, it seemed. I spotted a nurse-type in her flowered top and waved my manila folder stuffed with my client’s “important papers.” A quick explanation and the flowered top flew off in hot pursuit of the needed signatures.

So, I just stood there, looking about, pretending I wasn’t looking about. It got awkward—real quick. I perused the menu, listened to the laugh track playing on a large screen television, and studied the “Report Abuse Here” sign. I turned around and surveyed the room. Any sign of abuse?

A couple old guys slumped at a table, one with his head down and his eyes closed, though his legs were in perpetual motion, the other chattered away undaunted by his less-than-enthusiastic audience. Several figures slept in front of the television, while a young man cleared tables nearby. Several old gals, the lively ones of the bunch, were looking my way. Oh no. One, with a crippled leg, limped toward me. Lord, did she think she knew me? What did she want? Where could I hide?

Too late. She’d seen me. Stretching out her hand, she reached for my arm. Would she fall? Tackle me? I searched wildly for a nurse, an aide; frankly, anyone under seventy would have been a Godsend at that moment.

I watched her hand reach out—and she patted my arm. I managed a squeak. “Need help?” After a brief smile, she limped on, her gaze focused on some mission up ahead.

“Nope. Just glad I can still get around.” She sounded like she meant it too. I looked at my arm, where she had patted me. Had she seen my panic? Was she comforting me?

The flowered-shirt nurse trotted up, a satisfied smile alerting me to her success. “The director said you should come back next week for—” I hardly heard the next words. Next week? Come back? Here? Dandy. I marched to the double doors, shoved the handle, and promptly set off every alarm in the place.

The following week was as busy as a spring tornado, but everywhere I went I saw that hand, felt that gentle pat, and heard those bloody, comforting words “Just glad….” Life is a mystery. I thought I had accepted that long ago. But now, I was a mystery to myself. When the manila folder was thrust unceremoniously back into my hands, I drove back to that parking lot overlooking the prison yard.

Squaring my shoulders like a soldier facing combat, I marched myself through the doors, breezing right by some old guy sitting in a wheelchair by the front glass doors, his gaze searching the parking lot. Must be waiting for someone. Maybe a son with grandkids—something like that. Sure.

In a moment, I stood before the throng of elderlies, searched for the flower-topped nurse, but instead a large man in blue lumbered over. Taking my manila envelope like a precious charge, he snail-paced away. Okay—so what’s on the menu today? This week? Any card catalogs I could peruse? I skirted by the Elderly Abuse notice.

Weakening, my gaze traveled the room. Before I realize what I’d done, I had stepped further into the room. A woman on my right sat at a table and gazed up at me, her eyes wide and frightened. Was she afraid of me?

I looked away—fast.

A man rocked in his chair—back and forth—while another woman talked and talked though not a soul was listening. The woman on the right cleared her throat. She leaned in, shoulders hunched, using every bit of courage to speak. Without warning, her gaze plunged into my own.

“If you’d just give me the key—I could get out of here.”

My heart stopped. Or it jumped to my throat. It certainly wasn’t where it was supposed to be, doing its job. I tried to say something, but no words would form on my lips. Desperate, she repeated her plea.

“If you’d just give me the key—I could get out of here.”

Lord have mercy, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I met the man in blue half way across the room and bolted for the door. The old man didn’t even flinch at the breeze from my passing, his gaze stayed fixed ahead, scanning the parking lot.

I spent the next week trying to rid myself of the echo in my mind, “If you’d just give me the key….” And the feel of my empty chest, where my heart should have been, the pat of a gentle hand, and the horror of knowing that the man in blue was going to wheel that old guy back to the common room—alone.

By the middle of the week, I needed serious therapy. But as that was not an option, I confided my hauntings to a friend of mine, Sammy, Sam for short.

Sam is a dear girl—woman—person, I suppose. In her own way. She listened patiently enough, and then she began her lament. It’s the government’s lack of decency, a selfish bunch of…causes all our troubles, religious zealots, insensitive relatives, you name it—Sam had a name to blame. When I finally admitted to myself that she wasn’t listening, I went home to the tune of “If you’d just give me the key….”

In fact, I never intended to go back to that nursing home. But in some kind of Christmas Carol twist, my client discovered one more signature was needed.

Fate, sure enough.

This time I came prepared. I ducked my head and shielded my eyes from the prison yard; I whizzed by the old man by the front door; I ignored the menu and practically knocked over a scruffy bearded kid who loped along to the center of the room. Flower-shirt was back, and she didn’t need to ask. She just plucked the manila folder from my grasp and suggested I sit and enjoy the live music before she trotted off.

Live music?

The kid who looked like he had slept on a park bench all night unslung a guitar off his back and sat down in front, smiling, nodding at people like he was having a good time. Joking even!

I leaned against the wall, prepared for nothing. The kid’s dark, lanky hair, tattered jeans and threadbare jacket told their own story. He sang country stuff mostly, though he’d stop to answer a question or change tunes at a request. He and the old folks exchanged teasing jibes. Obviously, he’d been here before.

I gazed around the room. Most of the folks had gathered around. The sleepers stayed put—in their own worlds. Some folks rocked, some stared, a few drooled as was their way. But the woman from last week smiled up at the kid through shining eyes. No mention of a key. And the front-door guy had wheeled himself in, one foot tapping away.

Suddenly the manila envelope was thrust into my hands. But I wasn’t ready to leave. Why? I don’t even like country music.

It’s been months now, and I’ve never gone back. But I am haunted, I tell you—haunted by a gentle pat and a scruffy young man—with a key.

 

A Child’s Eyes

aurora

Someday, Mother, you will want to know, so I’m recording this for you. My first thought upon entering the world was not logical or reasonable; rather it was purely emotional. I cried.

Omega created me at the earliest possible stage when my human egg was joined with Luxonian sperm, and though the process was unique and risky, I developed into an embryo and was placed into an artificial womb. I knew nothing of this, of course, as my brain was not developed until later. But I existed, and I became Omega’s obsession for the twenty-one cycles it took for me to gestate.

Upon birth, I was helpless and frightened. I remember little of this either, but Omega later told me that I kept fading out, a sure sign of Luxonian demise so that he feared for my life until I grew more developed. My caretakers were two beings I have never encountered in any other place, so I can’t give you their true identities, other than to say that they were able to take human form and understood Luxonian physiology perfectly. Their names were Nana and Papa. They were kind and nurturing and offered me a wonderful life full of adventure and trust.

I lived in a human village that Omega referred to as his ‘Advanced Zoo.’ There were a variety of beings living there, but it was stylized like a medieval, human village. Omega once explained that it had once been home only to humans, but in order to determine humanity’s readiness for other species encounters, he had introduced other beings into the village over a matter of ages.

I was naturally curious so I asked many questions, but he rarely gave me the answers I sought. Rather, he simply pointed to a large graveyard on a distant hillside and said that there is no great gain without some loss.

In many ways, I developed like any child on Newearth. I was given proper food, suitable clothing, an intensive education, and loving parents. But I have always wondered, is that enough? Omega told me that he created me for a specific purpose, and when I was brought to you, he explained that you would be my true mother. Though I was very young, still a child biologically, I questioned the wisdom of my creator.

But the other day, I met your friend, the Luxonian named Cerulean, and I asked him if Omega had the right to create me as he did. Cerulean knelt at my side, took my hands in his and delved deep into my eyes. “We create the body, but God creates the soul. It is up to you to decide what to do with both.”

I know, Mother, that you were created as a grown woman, named Justine, and sent into a world adrift in turmoil. You did not have the childhood I did. You did not encounter the love I did. But, in the end, your reality is much the same as mine. You decide what to do with your body and soul.

I just thought you’d like to know.

Your daughter,

Aurora

Updated Story Schedule for 2017

storybooksI am adding a few new stories to my 2017 list. Rather than a continuous stream of science fiction, I am also writing literary fiction short stories that focus on present day “real-world” characters.  Enjoy!

Science fiction stories are in red. Literary fiction stories are in blue.

February 24

A Child’s Eyes

March 3

The Key

March 10

Hope’s Embrace: A Bhuaci Poem

March 17

To Make a Difference

March 24

Save Your People from Despair

March 31

Every Word

April 7

This Devil Doesn’t Lie

April 14

Liliputians

April 21

From Machine to Man

April 28

Translator

May 5

Off-World Faith

May 12

Native Elements

May 19

Romantic Reality

May 26th

Dog’s Day—Cat’s View

June 2

Dangerous as They Come

June 9th

Melchior (Chapter One)

June 16

Never Forget

Omega’s Creation

justinefaceprofile“Your name is Justice.” Omega stroked his chin, his lips twitching in uncertainty. “Hmmm…not quite. Too Pilgrim’s Progress for my taste. Let’s see. Honesty? Truth? Oh, help; I might as well be naming an Oldearth compendium on the virtues of… virtue. How dreary!”

The figure of a young woman with long, black hair, dressed in a form-fitting, dark blue, bodysuit lay on a table, her hands clasped over her chest like the remains of a dearly departed. Omega clapped his hands in frustration. “The joys of creation! Even God Himself left the naming to his creatures.” Omega snapped his fingers, a light in his eyes. “She’ll tell me.”

Running his hand over the woman’s head, he closed his eyes in concentration.

The woman stirred. Her blue eyes blinked open.

Omega stepped back, one hand over his mouth as if to stifle a laugh—or a scream.

The woman turned her head, her gaze running over the figure before her. A frown formed between her brows. “Who—?”

Omega stepped forward, his hand extended for assistance. “Here, let me help you.” With a gentle touch, he pulled the woman to a sitting position. Bowing in a courtly manner, he smiled. “My name is Omega. At least that’s what my father calls me. But since you are my original creation, I suppose you must call me—creator.”

“Creator?” The woman shifted slightly as her gaze scoured the silent, still laboratory. “Why am I here?”

Omega’s eyes followed hers, and he frowned. “Yes, well, my laboratory isn’t much yet, I’ll admit. But this is not your destination. I’ve arranged for a transport to take you beyond the Divide where you’ll find…employment.”

The woman threw her legs over the table and clenched the edge. “I am a—”

Omega shook his head. “Not sure yet. To be honest, Father warned me about this. I have a tendency to rush in where fools fear to tread.” With a sigh, Omega took the woman’s hand and helped her off the table. “But don’t be afraid. You have the strength of twenty humans, the data banks of six species, and enough moral code to ensure your survival.”

“You will direct me?”

Omega shook his head, his gaze lowered. “No. That would ruin everything. If I’m to learn anything, you must discover yourself. But—” He looked up and grinned. “I’m working on another one like you, a male this time. He’s been a challenge, but he’ll come out all right in the end, I dare say.” Omega led the woman to a doorway, still clasping her hand. “Strange, I hate to let you go, though I know I must.”

The woman stopped on the threshold. “Who am I?”

Omega rubbed his brow. “You are what humans fear most. I was going to name you Justice but that rankled my sensibilities.” He led her across the threshold and down a long corridor. Other beings, Crestas, Ingots, and two Uanyi passed without comment. When they came upon a large tunnel, Omega led her to an open-sided vehicle and stood by as she perched on the edge of a seat. “It’s a short ride to the central station. Busy place, but I enjoy the bustle of activity.” Various beings entered the open vehicle. A Cresta lumbered over and gripped a central pole with his long tentacles while two, slim, Uanyis with their soft, rubbery exoskeletons slumped on a seat together, chatting in their own language.

The woman stared at her hands and then at the others. Omega watched her and sighed. When the vehicle stopped outside a docking bay, Omega nudged her forward. A huge window separated them from the stationary ships, docked for repairs or loading for their next foray into space. The woman stared at the masses of beings hustling all around her. “I see Ingots, Crestas, Uanyi, and Bhuacs—but none like me.”

“No, you are part android and part human. Humanity is not ready for you—yet. It’s your privilege to discover the larger universe before being introduced to your other half. I’ll be delighted to see what you make of yourself.” He pointed to the largest ship. “You will travel on that one, The Mercantile. A trader in need of protection has hired you.” Omega gripped her hand and gazed into her eyes. “There will be trouble ahead; war brews in the hearts of these beings. But I’m sure you will manage.” Omega peered deeper into Justine’s steady gaze. He smiled with a relieved chuckle. “Yes, you’ll do fine. There’s something ethereal about you.” Caressing her cheek, he mused. “Justine… Santana…holy justice. That’ll be your name. Whether you live up to it or not—will be up to you.”

A blaring noise swept across the loading dock. Omega took Justine’s hand and led her forward. “Time to meet your future.”

As Omega stood back, Justine ascended the boarding tube. She looked back once, clear-eyed and confident before she disappeared into the interior.

Omega waved. “I’ll be watching you.”