2018 Short Stories

I don’t have a complete list yet of my 2018 short stories, but here’s a peek into what’s coming each Friday from January to May. 

My newest science fiction novel Newearth—Justine Awakens is slated for publication in early 2018. Many of the characters from my short stories really “come alive” in the Newearth books.

Enjoy!

January 5th

Winter Irony

January 12th

Now I See

January 19th

A Beggar’s Choice

January 26th

Intercept Course

February 2nd

Live Again

February 9th

Outlast the Ages

February 16th

Ol’ Diablo

February 23rd

Edge of Life

March 2nd

You Don’t Look Dead To Me

March 9th

Not Natural

March 16th

Don’t Miss a Day

March 23rd

The Great Wall

March 30th

My Love Is Strong

April 6th

Live

April 13th

So Blind

April 20th

Wait and See

April 27th

Alternate Universe

May 4th

Progress 

Critical Power

Nina perched her chin on her hands as she lay on the living room floor and stared at the television. Talk show hosts bantered playfully and then introduced their guest.

Jacob, medium built boy with big brown eyes and a sharp chin ambled in and flopped onto the couch. “What cha watching?”

“Nothing.”

The two sat and stared at the television as the discussion between the host and the guest grew heated.

Nina peered back at her brother. “What’s intolerance?”

Jacob shrugged one shoulder. “When you don’t like someone for a stupid reason.”

Nina returned her gaze to the television.

A short, heavyset woman, Belle Truman, strode into the living room with a mixing spoon in her hand. “Nina? I thought I told you to wash up for supper. We have to hurry.”

“Cool off, mom. You’re being tyrannical.”

Belle’s gaze hardened, and her scowl swung to Jacob.

Jacob’s eyes widened as he lifted his hands in self-defense. “Wasn’t me. Must be something she picked up at school.”

Belle strode over and stared down at her daughter. “Get up and do as I say, or you’ll find out what tyrannical really means.”

Slowly, Nina climbed to her feet, her cheeks turning pink. “What’s wrong?”

Her mother shook the spoon at her. “Don’t go around using words you don’t understand, hear me?” Belle turned and stalked out of the room.

Nina stood by her brother.

He put his arm around her shoulder. “Don’t take it hard, she’s just tense because they’re going to fire the principal at the meeting today.”

Nina stared up at Jacob and chewed her lip. “Why? What’s he done?”

Jacob started for the door. “Everyone says he’s too strict and old-fashioned. He’s kicked more kids out of school this semester than any principal in history. One kid painted a Hitler mustache on his picture in the hall.”

Nina squinted. “What’s wrong with mustaches?”

~~~

Principal Steven Croix was printed in bold, black letters on the gold doorplate. Behind the door, Steven sat staring down at a single sheet of paper. A knock forced his gaze upward. “Yes? Come in.”

Blithe Comfrey stepped in, her shoulder length, black hair, and straight bangs framed her petite face. “They’re all assembled. You’re coming now?” Her small eyes creased at the corners and matched her forced smile. “Don’t want to keep ‘em waiting.”

Steven lifted the paper and gave it a little shake. “You knew about this?”

Blithe stepped the rest of the way into the room. “Well, it was pretty obvious. You toss out their kids—they’re going to react.”

“So they toss me out, is that it?”

Blithe stiffened.

“You know perfectly well that I had more than enough justification for every single expulsion. I never wanted to do it. I took no pleasure—”

Blithe tapped her watch. “They’re waiting.”

~~~

As Belle seated herself in the back row, she patted Nina’s shoulder. “You go and have a good time with the other kids at the gym, okay? I’ll be along shortly.”

Nina wiped her bangs out of her eyes. “You going to help fire Mr. Croix?”

Belle’s eyes widened. She glanced quickly around. “Don’t talk like that, honey. It’s not nice.”

Nina shrugged. “Jacob says that everyone is an expert, but no one knows anything.”

Leaning in, Belle whispered in Nina’s ear. Nina trotted away.

Later that night, as Belle tucked Nina into bed, she ran a gentle finger over her little girl’s lips.

Nina yawned and snuggled under her blanket. “Are we going to get a new principal?”

Belle shook her head. “Nope.”

Nina squeezed one eye shut as if to focus her gaze on her mom. “Why not? I thought everyone said he was tyrannical?”

Belle stifled her laughter with one hand. “You say the oddest things, kiddo.” Her smile faded. “When it came down to it, the parents had not a shred of evidence that Principal Stevens had done anything wrong. There were really only two expulsions, and they were both justified.”

“Jacob says that everyone’s a critic but not many people really care. He says that if you care, you see things through instead of tossing people out.”

Standing up, Belle clasped her hands in front of her, a soft smile glowing in her eyes. “You know, I need to find out who’s been teaching that boy all these radical ideas.”

Nina slipped her hands under her head and closed her eyes. “You, Mom.”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

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

Short Story: 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 smiling 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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

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

Short Story: 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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

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

Short Story: Drama Trauma

Kelly shuffled forward in line at the Save-All Market and averted her eyes.

Directly in front of her, a woman with spiky hair and dangling earrings swatted a heavyset four-year-old as she tossed items on the counter.

The girl whined a long, high-pitched squeal.

The woman swatted again and flung an iPhone into the child’s grubby hand. Gleefully, the child tapped the screen, and suddenly a Disney movie theme blared.

Kelly’s gaze grazed the cashier’s face in the midst of an eye roll.

A young man wearing an orange uniform and carrying a sweeper stepped near. He waved at the little girl and grinned. “One of my favorites, too.”

The woman swung around and glared, one arm barring the child from leaning forward. “Get away from her, pervert!”

Kelly’s eyes rounded as she watched the young man back away, hunch his shoulders, and with grieved eyes, begin sweeping near the restrooms.

“Twenty-five dollars and eighty cents.” The cashier pushed her glasses up her nose and waited, her eyes fixed on the space above the woman’s head.

As Kelly fumbled to unload her purchases, her gaze meandered to the newspaper selection. On the left, bold headlines screamed: “Aliens Alive and Menacing on Mars!” Before she had time to consider the possibilities, much less the syntax, a man jostled her arm as he snatched a magazine with a full-color picture of a terrorist holding a severed head with the headline: “World War III Imminent.”

“Fourteen sixty-five.” The cashier considered the state of her nails.

Kelly slipped her card through the scanner mechanically as the woman and child struggled for control of the iPhone. She could hear their sharp argument rise to hypersonic pitch as she scurried her cart to the door. Another swat set off a long wail.

Maneuvering her car across the parking lot, Kelly spotted a disheveled man with long, stringy hair and a tattered coat huddled on the corner where she had to turn. Kelly’s heart raced. How fast could she pass him? Or should she stop and give him something? The man, in his forties maybe but roughly used, held a sign. “Out of work and going blind—Please help.”

Kelly knew she had a ten dollar bill in the front pocket of her purse, but it would take a lot of agility to get it out, steer close enough to hand it out, and not tick off the line of cars behind her. Kelly sped up.

Once on the highway, Kelly began to breathe a little easier. Then a series of red revolving lights caught her eye. She slowed and peered at a police officer waving traffic onto one lane. “Oh heck.” Kelly blew air between her lips and tapped the steering wheel.

As she navigated to the left, she glanced over and saw a smashed truck cab and a mangled tractor. An ambulance siren wailed nearby, and a woman sat on the embankment, her head in her hands. She seemed to be sobbing. Kelly’s attention snapped back to the road. The police officer waved her on.

When she finally picked up speed, Kelly darted a glance at her watch. She’d be late for class if she didn’t hurry. Her foot pressed the pedal nearer the floor. She upped the volume on her favorite music and lost herself in scenes from a horror movie she had seen over the weekend.

When she slipped into her seat, her professor waved to a large screen in the front of the room. “Today, we will focus on the oppressive state of our culture and how we are destroying our world.” Kelly tapped on her recorder. This would be on the exam—no doubt about it.

By the time she pushed her way through the front door late that night, Kelly’s shoulders drooped, and she had a splitting headache. A light shone in the kitchen, so she wandered inside.

Her mom, wrapped in a garish orange bathrobe, sat plowing through a quart of chocolate ice cream.

Kelly tossed her car keys on the counter and nodded.

Her mom nodded back. “Lousy day. You?”

Kelly shuffled to the cabinet, snatched up a rumpled bag of broken cookies, and grabbed a spoon out of an open drawer. “Nothing new. You know—same ol’, same ol’.” She plopped down beside her mother, poured the cookies on the table, and dug in.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

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

Short Story: Decorum

Josie hated going to parties though she often spent hours imagining what they would be like before hand. This party, a fundraiser for her father’s high school alma mater, involved an actual meal with fancy china, long-stemmed glasses, and two forks. She entered the reception area and instantly knew that she wore an invisibility cloak. Not only did no one look her direction, two people actually bumped into her as they headed across the room, apparently thinking they could walk right through her. She tugged at her black dress, trying to keep it from riding up her legs. It was already too short for her comfort, but her mom had insisted that it was the style nowadays. Yeah, stylish. That was Josie. About as stylish as a Jerusalem cricket on a potato leaf. Sheesh. Couldn’t anyone make dresses that fit a human body these days? Josie crept to a corner and hoped that her invisibility cloak would hide her from her parents as well as the scintillating society of Riverside High.

~~~

Kendrick Murphy tugged at his tie, flapped his hands at his side, and wondered if it would be rude to put his hands in his pockets. Why on earth had he agreed to this? Yes, he did want to support a worthy cause. Yes, he had spent four hideously bored years here, and he saw no reason to neglect the current generation’s allotment of torturous education. But. Still. Well, at least Jane was having a stupendous time. She swirled around the reception room like a ballroom dancer. And all eyes danced with her.

Whoa! Was that Mac? MacMcDermit? The football coach? Why hell, the man hadn’t aged a day! Oh, no, of course not. Too young. No wrinkles around the eyes. Oh, Lord in Heaven, that’s his son. There he is, shuffling on the boy’s right. Good, God! How he’s aged!

Kendrick stepped closer, leaned in, and nodded his head. Yep. This whole evening is some kind of retro-inferiority-complex come to haunt me.

 ~~~

Jane’s smile began to ache. Her gaze scoured the room. Where in the world was Josie? She ought to be helping out. Oh, there in a corner, hiding, as usual. Jane patted the arm of the lady in front of her, Sue Some-thing-or-other, and swayed over to the dark side of the room. As she drew closer, she wiggled two fingers expressively toward Josie.

Josie’s eyes widened in terror. Oh, no! She wants me out there. Where everyone is mingling, chatting, and pretending to have a marvelous time. Me. And. My. Invisibility Cloak. Out There?

Jane laid a hand on Josie’s shoulder. “You’re too timid for your own good; now look at your father over there. He’s chatting away with that old man and some young guy as if they’re old friends.”

Josie refrained from stating the obvious. She tried to disappear entirely, but her mom’s hand would not let her dematerialize.

“Listen, I know how hard it is.” Jane leaned in and whispered. “I hate these things too. I always feel like a fool, wondering what everyone says the second I turn my back.”

Josie blinked as if someone had just shoved a light in her face.

“But listen, honey, it’s part of life, part of growing up. We have to do these things. It’s called social decorum. You need to get good at it.”

Josie blushed and stared at her high heeled shoes.

“All you have to do is walk around and introduce yourself. Say that your dad went here and that you—”

A tall man in his late fifties sauntered over swishing a drink in his hand. “Hey, are you Gracie? You remember—”

Jane gave her daughter a little shove. “Off you go now. Be nice. Make friends.”

Josie nearly tripped, but she tottered into the noisy room. Her dad was talking sports with the old guy. Well, at least he’s saved. She looked back over her shoulder. Her mom had dragged the tall man over to a crowd of women, and suddenly there was a burst of laughter. Apparently, the tall man just met the real Gracie. Josie stood in the middle of the room and wondered how long until the appalling dinner and the hour of retreat. Her gaze fell on a thin, short girl about her age standing in the shadows—her shadows.

When Josie sauntered up, she met the girl’s eyes as they fixed on her. Josie shrugged. “You here with your dad?”

The girl shrugged back. “My mom.” She pointed. “Over there.”

Josie glanced to the far side of the room. A short, plump woman with striking red hair and a tight dress exchanged laughs with a bubbly assortment of guests. “Well, at least she’s having fun.” Josie turned and stuck out a limp hand. “My name’s Josie.

The girl returned the handshake, limp for limp, like two octopus tentacles passing in deep water. “Karen. Nice to meet you.”

She has good manners. Wish I’d thought to say that. “Nice to meet you, too.” Josie surveyed the bar on the right and realized that there wasn’t a single soda bottle among them. Hopeless. “So, where do you—”

The lights flickered, and conversation stopped for a second before it picked up to the tune of everyone strolling toward the dining room.

Karen teetered on her heels, sticking close to Josie’s side. As they entered the huge room lit by ornate chandeliers and arrayed with round tables decorated with flowers and fine dinnerware, Karen froze. “Oh, no. I don’t know which fork to use. I meant to ask mom, but I forgot.”

Josie grinned. She tugged at her dress and watched her Mom and Dad sit side-by-side looking into each other’s eyes as if they shared a grim secret. Suddenly, she understood.

Decorum. Society. Two forks.

“Use the one on the outside first. But don’t worry. No one will notice. They’re scared too. Trust me.”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

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

Short Story: Crucible

My eighth-grade teacher once said that a crucible was a really tough situation where guys with serious attitude issues go up against each other, but something good usually comes out of it. Well, looking at it like that, I’d have to say, I’ve done serious time in a crucible of my own.

In eighth grade, I couldn’t decide whether to go onto high school or drop out entirely. I wasn’t a great student. Not the worst—but failing on my own terms, if you know what I mean.

My sister went into the Navy, and my older brother, J. J., was into stuff. My little brother was toddling about the place, and mama was still carrying the baby on her hip like a sack of groceries. She wanted me to go on in school and told me to get extra help. I wasn’t about to ask for any, but then my teacher told me that there was this college lady, Kelsey, who needed to earn points or something for her teaching degree. She needed someone to tutor, and he thought I could use the practice.

The first day Kelsey came after school, I was a little nervous. She was a bookish type—short hair, glasses, dark sweater, and a real stiff handshake—though nice enough.

We went to the library, and Kelsey asked me what I liked to read. I pulled out a book about a sports hero, and she smiled. I can still remember that smile. We met after school for weeks, and every day I read a little better. She’d asked me questions—what I thought about a character or what might happen next. She didn’t seem to care that I skipped over some of the words, or that I couldn’t pronounce the names. It was about getting inside the writer’s head and figuring out why the story mattered. I liked that. Understanding the whole point made it work for me. Kelsey would say, “Motivation is everything, James.”

One day, I had to hurry home. There’s been trouble between Mama and J. J., and I was worried, but Kelsey said she’d come with me so that we could read at home. I wasn’t so sure that was a good idea. My house was on the other side of the river, and I doubted she’d ever been in that part of town before. But Kelsey said she’d be okay with it. So—we went.

Mama greeted Kelsey like a long lost cousin, all smiles, and a big slapping handshake. I looked around for J. J., but he was nowhere insight. The baby was sweating in her diaper, and Mama went back to fixing supper. Kelsey and I sat at the kitchen table, and we started on the last chapter of the book. I had already figured out the ending; I had kinda looked ahead a few days back. I also knew that this would be our last meeting since Kelsey had graduated and taken a job in the northwest.

Suddenly, J.J. stomped in and started yelling—screaming his head off. I didn’t know what had set him off this time, but his glazed, red eyes and waving arms told me all I really needed to know. Kelsey rose to her feet like she was expecting to be introduced, but J.J. got in her face and screamed some more.

“Why didn’t nobody ever help me? What’s so damn important about James that he gets all the attention?”

Kelsey stood her ground, but she couldn’t break through. She said she’d help him if she could, but I knew it was hopeless. J. J. didn’t want to read.

After a bit, J. J. blew out of the kitchen as fast and furious as he had blown in.

Mama went over to Kelsey and lifted a big, black skillet she had in her hand. “I would’ve banged him over the head if he’d have taken another step.” Poor Mama was shaking all over—from rage or fear I didn’t know. Probably both.

Anyway, I knew our time was over. Kelsey had given me her best effort, and I appreciated it, but it was time to move on. Her last words that day were: “Don’t forget the last chapter, James; it’s often the most important.”

I can’t remember the last chapter of that sports book. It didn’t matter much. But the skillet in Mom’s hand and Kelsey’s courage did. I found a job working across the river and, though it took me some time, I did make it through high school. I never went to college, but I got a good job. J.J. did some time in prison, and then one day my sister found him od’ed in his room.

When I think back to all the things I’ve done, the people I’ve known—like Kelsey and mom—and how things turned out for J. J., I’ve got to say that something good came from my crucible. I started reading my life, and I got motivated to write a really good last chapter.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

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