Like a Ballerina

Lydia didn’t know why she had to wait, but since waiting was such a big part of life, she tried to amuse herself by watching the other people in the room.

A young woman tugged at her t-shirt, her foot jiggling as it hung crossed over her leg. The woman’s elbow perched on the arm of the chair, and her eyes scrolled over the bent magazine page, but Lydia doubted she was really reading. The woman’s gaze kept wandering to the door.

A man in a neat suit sat ramrod straight with a briefcase perched obediently next to his chair. He checked his watch and harrumphed noisily. Pulling out his iPhone, he scrolled with quick, thumb jerking motions bearing stark testimony to his mood.

Lydia frowned, biting her lip. Her gaze darted to the door her mom had gone through—it seemed so long ago. Her stomach rumbled.

The receptionist called the young woman.

She leaped to her feet like a ballerina, though her face looked more like an acrobat walking a tightrope. Tossing the magazine, the page still folded backward, on the table, she slipped her purse strap over her shoulder and sucked in a deep breath. She strode forward.

A scene from a movie where the main character faced a firing squad flashed before Lydia’s mind. She blinked.

The door opened, allowing the young woman in and an older woman to escape. Her eyes red-rimmed, and her gaze wandered the room like a sailor lost at sea. The new woman meandered to the suited man and tapped his shoulder.

He glanced up, still holding the iPhone at eye level. “What’d they say?”

The woman shook her head and glanced around. “Not here.” Gripping her black purse like a life preserver, she headed to the door. “We have to talk.”

The iPhone disappeared into a hidden pocket, and he gripped his briefcase almost as hard as she gripped her purse.

Lydia watched them traipse out the door. She felt a knot tug her insides. The image of a dog being kicked to the road sent a shudder through her body. She glanced around. No dog. She frowned.

The door opened, and her mom slipped through. She clutched no purse, and her gaze remained clear. Searching the room, she found Lydia and smiled.

Lydia’s stomach relaxed, and she smiled back. She straightened up.

Her mom reached out and helped pull her to her feet. Her orthopedic shoes clumped as she stepped forward.

“You were a good girl?”

Lydia nodded. She squeezed her mom’s hand. “Why’re we here?”

Her mom peered down and then glanced aside. The empty room could tell no tales. “I just had to make sure.” She pressed her hand over her protruding tummy.

“You’ve got the baby still?”

“The baby’s okay.” Her mom started toward the door.

Lydia swallowed. “Not like me?”

Her mom stopped in mid-step. Turning, she bent and peered into Lydia’s eyes. “No one is like you, Lydia.” She ran a hand over her soft hair. “You’re perfection.”

Lydia grinned. The knot was gone. The image of her dad’s open arms brought tears to her eyes. “Is Dad home?”

“Waiting for us.”

Lydia limped to the door—but her soul soared like a ballerina.

 

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

Take Over the World

“Artificial intelligence will soon take over the world—you do realize that don’t you?”

Sasha popped a red M & M into her mouth and crunched. Her gaze swept across the campus with a practiced eye. “I think it already has.”

Barb shook her head as she appraised the harassed throng heading to various classes. “I’m not talking about people glued to their iPhones. I mean that my grandmother just texted me that a storm’s coming, and she wants me to email the grocer about delivering extra supplies this afternoon.”

Sasha shrugged as she pounded across the grassy courtyard to the library. “What’s so bad about that? Technology makes our lives easier.”

“Exactly my point!” Barb checked her phone, scrolled through three messages, and muttered. “Professor Gilmore is sick—she said to study chapter nine, and we’d meet next week.”

“Lucky you. My professors are health freaks. They know whether it’s coffee or tea that’ll kill us this week—or is it cheese?”

“You’re making my point. We know too much. We have too much power. We can’t handle so much information—”

The electronic door swung open, and Sasha set off the entry alarm. “Dang it!”

The deputy security officer strolled over, a wide grin lighting up his blue eyes. “Carrying concealed weapons again—are we?”

Sasha dug into her pocket. “My grandpa gives my little brother all his old camping knives. Which the little idiot promptly uses to carve his initials into everything—so naturally—”

“You take it away and carry it into the library.” His grin widened. “An option.”

Sasha and Barb exchanged eye rolls.

Sasha pulled the offending pocketknife from her pocket and dropped it into the man’s hand. “Keep it, Jared. Carve your initials into something and feel smug.”

Jared stepped aside, flicked open the knife, and peered at a miniature toolkit with a sharp blade, a screwdriver, bottle opener, and file. “Cool—must be worth a fortune.”

Sasha frowned. “Hardly. My grandpa has dozens of these. All the rage when he was a kid.”

Barb nudged Sasha, glancing at Jared. “He’s a virtual-reality kind of guy—hardly ever sees anything real these days.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “An honest blade must come as a bit of a shock.” Waving her arm in a mock karate move, she went in for a slice to the arm.

Instinct kicked in and Jared lashed out, jabbing with the open knife.

Barb reeled back gripping her stomach, blood seeping between her fingers. “Oh, God. I didn’t mean it.” She stared at Sasha as she crumpled. “He didn’t mean it.”

~~~

Sasha watched Jared’s mother, Ms. Franklin, pacing in front of him in the hospital waiting room, her eyes glued to an iPhone.

Jared sat with his hands clasped, his head bowed, staring at the grey-tiled floor.

Sasha perched on the edge of a chair. “She’ll be fine. The doctor said it wasn’t deep and won’t even need a lot of stitches. It was an accident. Accidents happen.”

Jared lifted his head a fraction. “When’s her dad coming?”

“He’s on the east coast. Said that since she’s going to be okay, he’ll get the doctor’s official report and talk to her in the morning.”

“Doesn’t he even care?”

“He talked with her on the phone. She told him not to come.” Sasha shrugged. “I think she’s embarrassed. If he had to fly out here, across all those time zones and everything, he’d be sure to make it into a bigger deal than it is.”

“And her mom?”

“Who knows? One of those absentee moms.” Jerking to her feet, Sasha bypassed Jared’s mother and headed for the candy machine. “You want something?”

Jared shook his head. With a long, exhaled breath, he strolled over to his mom. “You don’t have to stay. It’ll be okay.”

Ms. Franklin peered into her son’s eyes, brushed a stray lock of hair from his face, and nodded. With a professional twitch, she straightened her skirt and flung her purse strap over her shoulder. She glanced from Sasha to Jared. “You need anything—just text me—all right?”

They nodded in unison.

Standing before the machine, Sasha tapped the key code and a bag of peanuts dropped with a thud. She snatched, ripped it open, and passed the bag to Jared. “Have a few; the protein will do you good.”

With a strangled cry, Jared staggered back to his chair. “God, do you hear yourself?”

Sasha swallowed and followed him. She peered at his bowed head. “What?”

“Protein. Text. Flights. Time zones. Absentee moms.” He covered his head with his hands. “I’ve played so many games where I slice up the bad guys—I can beat every opponent out there—long as he’s two inches high and made of pixels.” Jared sucked in a shuddering breath. “I don’t think I’m made for this world.”

Sasha slumped down on the chair. “Listen, you’ve had a bad day.”

Jared glared at her.

“Okay, a really bad day. But that hardly means that you’re doomed.”

“If I am, there’re a lot of guys just like me. Girls too.”

“Funny, but Barb and I were talking about this earlier. She said that artificial intelligence will take over the world.”

Jared shook his head.

A nurse stepped forward leading a wobbly Barb. “You the family?”

Jared glanced aside at Sasha.

Barb offered a weak wave. “Yeah, kinda like. Sasha’s my roommate.”

Sasha stepped forward. “Jared will drive us back to the dorm. Professor Kim said he’d have a pizza waiting when we got there.”

The nurse looked Barb in the eye. “You’ll follow the directions? The script has been sent in already.”

Barb nodded. “I’ll be good. Promise.”

The nurse smiled and retreated.

Jared stepped forward and took Barb’s arm. “I’m really am sorry about this.”

“You said that a million times on the way over. I get it. Nothing to forgive. It was my fault for starting it in the first place.”

Once they stepped into the cool evening air, Barb looked up at the millions of twinkling stars. “Guess I was kind of hard on Artificial Intelligence today. I’m paid back royally for my prejudice.”

Sasha shook her head. “How’s that?”

“It was modern medicine that fixed me up and modern miracle drugs that’ll keep me from dying from a stupid infection. Numbed my pain too.”

Jared patted her hand. “No, you had a good point—just got it a backward.”

Barb and Sasha stared at him.

“It isn’t artificial intelligence that’ll take over the world—it’s a lack of common sense that’ll lose it.”

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

Of Gods and Men

China @1041 AD

Bi Shang scooped a handful of sticky clay and set it on a wooden sideboard. Using sharpened sticks, he pulled off sections, and with sure and steady hands, shaped each piece into thin edged characters. Bending low, his eyebrows furrowed over the intense work, but a lilting hum escaped his lips.

A thin, young man draped in flowing pantaloons and a loose, grey tunic shuffled into the bright room, keeping close to the wall. His large eyes followed the older man with wide-eyed curiosity. “What’re you doing?”

Undisturbed, Bi Shang arranged each character on an iron baking tray. When the tray was full, he straightened and rubbed his back with one hand. With the other, he beckoned. “Come, Jian.”

Jian stepped forward, tilting his head to see better.

“I’m preserving human intelligence.”

Jian’s eyes narrowed. “My intelligence?”

With a chuckle, Bi Shang snatched a piece of wood from a basket and laid it carefully on a pile of glowing embers in a bake oven embedded in the wall. “Hmm. Yours and your children’s as well.”

Snorting, Jian waved the thought away. “You’re teasing.”

As the flickering flames grew, Bi Shang lifted a rack from the floor and placed it inside the oven. He grabbed a bowl of water and sprinkled the flames, taming them into smoky heat.

The boy’s eyes widened again. “But why—?”

“Because, this is delicate work, and I don’t want my characters to go up in flames.” Satisfied, Bi Shang carefully laid the tray on the rack over the radiant heat. With a contented sigh, he bent low and pointed. “See those shapes?”

Jian nodded.

“They represent the thoughts of men across the world.” His eyes twinkled. “And when we put many thoughts together—we shape both men and world.”

An angry pout formed on Jian’s lips. “You only tell me such stories because I’m small for my age.”

With a gentle hand, Bi Shang squeezed the boy’s shoulder. “On the contrary. I’m sharing great power with you. When my characters bake hard and strong, I’ll set them out for the world to read and ponder. Thoughts grow upon thoughts, and our people will know what wise men of the world believed.”

Stretching forth a tentative finger, Jian touched the clay and rubbed it between his fingers.

Tapping the boy’s arm, Bi Shang grinned. “Someday, if you watch and learn, you’ll know the thoughts of many and share your thoughts with the universe—wisdom to last beyond human sight.”

“Forever?” Jian squinted as if trying to see the edge of unlimited eons. “My thoughts are like the wind.” His gaze fell to the dusty floor. “And can sometimes be evil.”

Bi Shang stroked his face. “You are more honest than most.” Returning to his work, he turned his back to the boy. “Evil thoughts can teach us, too.” He glanced over his shoulder. “For none are barred from their embrace.” He sighed. “Though the wind sometimes uproots the old, it also carries in invigorating air.”

Jian shook his head, a worried frown etched across his forehead. “Such a power is for the gods and their anointed.”

Bi Shang nodded as he lifted his sharp sticks and began to shape a new character. He bent over his work in silent intensity.

Jian shuffled toward the door.

After placing new characters on a fresh tray, Bi Shang lifted his finger. “Before you leave, look at these.” He beckoned Jian forward.

Returning, Jian bent over the iron tray. A new light entered his eyes.”What do they mean?”

“Free—Spirit.” Bi Shang fixed his gaze on the boy. “We choose what we believe.”

Jian nodded, his bright eyes fastened on the figures. “Of gods and men.”

~~~

Sterling, a Luxonian disguised in the rough garb of a Chinese peasant, slapped a mosquito on his arm and frowned at the sight of blood. “Damn insects. Stupid humans! I’m so bored I could—”

“Sir?” Teal, a younger Luxonian dressed in a matching style, stepped out from behind a bush. He nodded toward a tree. “If you need to use—uh—want a little privacy—”

“I’d rather disintegrate.”

Smothering a smile as he rubbed a hand across his face, Teal nodded respectfully. “I doubt that’ll be necessary.” He started toward a sloping hill crowned with a copse of woods. “Though you did have five cups of tea.”

Laboring alongside his companion, Sterling blew air between his lips. “I keep thinking these new world voyages will stimulate me—invigorate my lagging spirit. But instead, everything is so blasted uncomfortable—it’s either hot and humid or dry and cold.” He tugged at his collar. “These ridiculous clothes scratch unmercifully, and the insect life—”

Teal huffed as he neared the crest. “But you enjoyed the tea and cakes—don’t deny it. And, you must admit, watching humans’ first foray into printing was rather fascinating.” With eager steps, he entered the woods.

Sterling tripped and grabbed a branch for balance. “I hate hiding in dark corners. And I’d hardly call a grown man attempting to convince a pathetic child that his clay characters imply a universal achievement—fascinating.” He snapped the twig off the tree and pounded further into the dense woods. “Really, I wonder if becoming a judge is worth all the risk.”

Yelping, Teal stopped and leaned against a tree. He dug a stone out of his sandal. “You have to understand the various life forms in your jurisdiction. How else will you make fair assessments?”

Sterling shuffled from one foot to another, his frown deepening. “I understand that. I just don’t like all the needless hardship. Why couldn’t I have been offered a position on Helm? Shapeshifters have much better sensibilities.” He swallowed and his face flushed. “I can’t stand it.”

Teal glanced around. “We’re safe here. Go ahead—return to Luxonian form.”

“No time!” Sterling rushed behind a tree.

Teal snatched a nut from a tree and studied it thoughtfully, ignoring Sterling’s long, shuddering sigh.

Wandering like a man lost in a dream, Sterling circled toward Teal. “I never imagined such relief—”

Teal pushed away from the trunk. “If you’re ready, we should make our report. Do a good job, and you’ll make a Supreme Judge someday.” He grinned. “As guardian, I’ll always be here to help.”

Sterling threw up his hands in renewed anguish. “But I haven’t got anything to report! It’s all so inconsequential.”

A brooding frown spread across Teal’s face. “Open your mind.” Teal strode closer and looked Sterling in the eyes. “Think about what you’ve seen—all of humanity’s challenges. They suffer from their corporeal bodies and their primitive living conditions—yet they manage to invent new ways to express themselves and preserve knowledge. They work hard, practice discipline and patience, endure pain and, yes, enjoy relief. And, from the look on the young man’s face, they also know ecstatic joy.” He waved his hands as if to encompass the entire planet. “I’d say that was consequential.”

Sterling peered up at the bright sky filtered between the leafy branches. “Perhaps you’re right.” He grinned as he leveled his gaze at Teal. “Supreme Judge, eh?” He glanced around, his smile fading. “Only if I survive.”

 

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

We Could Cry

From Melchior—The Gift of Kings

Frozen to the core, Melchior sat slouch-shouldered at the table; tendrils of steam from his venison stew rose before him. He took a tentative sip and burned his tongue.

Gideon hurried into the hall, his arms swinging at his side, a smile radiating from his face. “Father! Good news!”

Melchior pursed his lips.

Settling next to his father on the bench, Gideon peered from the old man to the stew and grinned. Lifting the bowl, he blew away the steam. After a few hearty puffs, he placed the bowl before his father with a flourish. “You’re right. God takes care of everything!”

“Not always.”

Gideon shook his head. “Well, this time. Wilfred told the Prince about the church, and guess what? You can’t imagine.”

“Probably not.”

“The prince offered to support the building. He even gave me gold to show his sincerity.” Gideon drew out a bag and poured heavy coins onto the table. “Prince Omar believes that the church must be free to serve God without a king’s influence. He’s going to persuade his father to visit, too.”

Melchior swallowed as he envisioned an entourage of foreign kings arriving at his humble abode. “Father Caedmon named you rightly. You’re a warrior meant to spread the word of God, but with a pen, not a sword.” Melchior’s frown returned. “What about studying in Rome?”

Gideon’s eyes glowed. “Perhaps I don’t need to go. With good scholars, we can teach here. Men might come from all over the world to see what we have preserved, what we have remembered…for the glory of God.”

Melchior sighed as images of ruins, mud-caked roads, and ignorant men rose in his mind.

Gideon grasped his father’s cold, feeble hand. “You see. It’s a miracle! And through the help of a foreign king!”

Melchior’s blank stare through red-rimmed eyes proclaimed what he did not see.

“Your father named you Melchior after a foreign king who served God through a gift of gold. This time it will be a king’s son, but a king’s power nonetheless, who serves God through a gift of gold.” Gideon clapped his hands together. “What a wonderful sense of humor God has!”

Melchior sat motionlessly. His stew was quite cool by now. He swallowed and remembered his father’s gentle face as he peered up at him, sitting on the old man’s knee as a boy.

 “Never give up, Melchior, for God is never outdone in generosity. His strength reaches to men—through men. God never abandons His own.”

Pushing his stew to the side, Melchior stared at his happy son. The tears that slipped down his cheeks warmed his face.

~~~

A silent, invisible being sat at the far end of the table, entranced. Omega itched to take on human form, but he knew the rules. Mother had explained observations techniques very carefully, and Abbas had outlined the horrors of alien exposure in vivid detail. If he wanted a world of his own someday, he must study hard and not take risks.

Appearing as nothing more than a flicker of wind, Omega rose from the table, circled around the old man, and bent low to examine the tears. Awesome things—tears. Fearing spontaneous combustion from sheer exuberance, Omega returned to his own world.

~~~

Bright flames flickered over huge logs set into a fireplace large enough to roast a full-grown ox. Lush tapestries and rich oil paintings adorned the lofty walls while heavy wooden trestle tables lined the perimeter.

Appearing as an elderly human in a long robe, wearing a red skull cap, Abbas reclined on an ornate couch with enough pillows to satisfy a Greek god. Studying a painting—the Mona Lisa—propped on a stand at his side, he tapped his fingers against his lips, a minor scowl etched across his brow.

Omega strode into the great hall, bent and kissed his father on the forehead, and tilted his head at the Mona Lisa. “Figure her out yet?”

Abbas rose and waved a languid hand. “She’s not half as interesting as the men who find her fascinating.” Abbas pointed to the painting. “Do you know that Leonardo—the artist—painted her to represent the ideal of happiness?”

A grin played on Omega’s lips. “He’s quite wrong. I believe I’ve discovered ideal happiness—in tears.”

In a fluid motion, Abbas rose and strode to a side table filled with golden goblets and a carafe of pink liquid. “Been to Earth again—have we?” He poured healthy dashes into goblets and handed one to his son. “You realize that we have to find our own medium of happiness—each and every day. It’s not something one discovers once and for all.” He took a smooth sip, eyeing his son over the rim.

In one gulp, Omega downed his drink and tossed the goblet into the fire.

His father frowned.

Flopping onto the couch, Omega crossed his legs and leaned back. He closed his eyes. “I watched a young man turn his father from agony to ecstasy with mere words. He spoke of God as if he knew Him personally, and he drew hope from despair. The old man’s tears redeemed him.” Jumping to his feet, Omega crossed the room and poured himself another drink. “I find that fascinating—even though I hardly understood a word he said.” He gulped down the second drink as quickly as the first, but before he could throw the goblet, his father snatched it from his hand.

“You’re a child, Omega, fascinated by new experiences.” He placed the goblet back on the table. “Even though we have power—we must not waste it. You are too hasty. You—”

“But that’s why they fascinate me! They are creatures of passion and intellect, yet as far below us as their amphibians are below them. But still, they make such music, such poetry—” He swung around and pointed at the Mona Lisa. “Such glorious art! It resonates within me.”

Abbas lifted the painting off the stand and placed it securely between two masterpieces on the wall. His frown deepened.

“Ay, father! Do you think that perhaps they’re right? Maybe they were created by the same God—and that’s why—”

“Don’t forget yourself! You were sent to study—not to emulate—aliens. We worship no gods—or beings—beyond ourselves. That’s how we became so powerful. We’re the best the universe has to offer.”

Turning to the fire and running his fingers through the flames, Omega chuckled. “Yes, father. That’s why we copy their paintings, eat their food, sit at their tables, live in their castles, and wear their skins. We study them—” His smile faded. “And wish we could cry.”

 

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 

Not With His Eyes

A yellow striped spider climbed down from a sparking web amid rainbow colored dewdrops and a faint breeze. Settling into a shadowed corner, it snuggled down to await its fortune. Two robins fluttered onto pine boughs and squabbled until a Blue Jay sprang between them and ended the conflict with a raucous call. A pink horizon brightened into a burnished red and gold spectrum as the sun crested the horizon, sending rays of light up the porch steps right into Betty’s blind eyes.

The tears washing down her cheeks did little to appease the anguish rising in her heart. Wiping them away with the back of her hand, she sniffed and shuddered. The air, tinged with spring’s warmth, wafted over her, yet her bones, chilled to the marrow, could not accept even a hint of hope.

“You’re up early.” Her mother, Kim, dressed in a pair of rugged jeans, a light sweatshirt, and slip-on shoes strolled onto the back porch. Laying a gentle hand on her daughter’s shoulder, she stared upon the same scene and reveled in the beauty. “It’s a gorgeous morning.”

Betty swallowed back a relentless sob. “I wouldn’t know.”

Pulling Betty into an embrace, Kim laid her head against her daughter’s. “Just be glad you’re alive. Those tumors would’ve killed you.”

Reflexively, Betty touched the healing wounds near her temples. She dropped her face into shadow. “They did—in a way. My old life is quite dead.”

Kim took a step away and peered at her daughter’s slumped figure. “You’ve got plenty of life ahead of you. And your sight might return. Doc Mallory said—”

“Doc Mallory is a know-it-all and a snob. Just because she’s had bazillion patients, she thinks she understands me. She doesn’t!”

Folding her arms over her chest and with a slight shake of the head, Kim turned and faced the rising sun. “Nevertheless, you have an appointment today, and she’s the best hope we’ve got.” After glancing at her watch, Kim started down the steps. “I’m going to check the cabbages I planted yesterday. Get ready, and we’ll leave in an hour.”

~~~

As Betty pounded out the clinic door, her mom grabbed her arm. “Stop and listen to me! I know you’re upset, but I’ve got to pick up the prescriptions. The door to the Arboretum is right here—” Kim pulled Betty forward and led her fingers to a metal handle on a wide industrial-sized door with a fancy steel plate entitled Garden Center. “Just go inside and wander around a bit. There’s staff nearby. I’ll be back in half an hour.”

With an angry grunt, Betty jerked open the door and stumbled inside. The humidity hit her like a slap in the face. Blinking, she stepped forward with her arms out, searching for obstacles.

Footsteps jogged forward. “Hi! Can I help you?”

Betty froze. The voice sounded like a young man. She cringed. Blindness humiliated her. For all she knew, her hair was a disheveled wreck, and her shirt was inside out. Squeezing her eyes, she reminded herself that her mom wouldn’t let her out of the house without checking her over. Lifting her head, she faced the voice. “I’d like to sit down.”

“Sure thing.” A gentle hand gripped her shoulder and led her to a bench.

Feeling her way, Betty sat with a relieved sigh. The sunshine warmed her face. Birds twittered and a fragrant scent wafted to her nose.

“You’ve been to the doctor—or waiting to get in?”

Betty grimaced. “Been there. Old crow.”

A snorted laugh made her tilt her head. She grinned against her will. “What’s so funny?”

The man sat down at her side. “Let me guess—Doc Mallory?”

Turning as if to stare into the stranger’s face, Betty blinked in surprise. “How’d you know?” She could practically hear his grin as he slapped his thighs.

“Ol’ Doc Mallory is famous—or infamous—around here. Knows everything, boss of the universe, can tell what a patient’s thinking and feeling miles away. Most patients hate her guts.”

Betty sniffed. “She’s not worth hating. Blindness—now that’s—”

A bird flew by and fluttered around the two figures. Betty jerked away, bumping the stranger.

“Don’t be afraid. Just a parakeet.”

She could sense the stranger lift his arm. The bird flew closer, the fluttering stopped. The voice crooned in a soft undertone.

Shivers ran down Betty’s spine.

The man shifted. “Despite her reputation, Doc Mallory’s not so bad. She helped to build this place—got the funding for the whole wing—glass ceiling and all. And she brought in these birds as an extra surprise. This one’s probably Bather—loves the birdbath and never a bit shy about asking for a little treat.”

Betty cocked her head and listened to the various chirping and warbling interplay all around her. “You know all the birds here?”

“Pretty much. I volunteer twice a week. Nice way to meet people and get away from stuff—all the antics of our wild world. You know.”

With a shrug, Betty dismissed the notion. “I’m never in the wild world these days—always stuck inside or holding someone’s hand.”

The man nudged her arm. “That’ll change. You’ll get more independent with time.” He stood. “Well, I better feed the fish—amazing how anxious they get if you’re late.”

A frown puckered over Betty’s brow. “You’re kidding—right?”

Though his shadow blocked the sunshine, he seemed to exude his own warmth. “Caught me.” He patted her shoulder. “Maybe you see better than you think.”

Slouching in sudden loneliness, Betty listened as his footsteps retreated across the garden. Something landed on her shoulder, chirping in her ear. Lifting her arm, she held out a finger and a tiny, feathery body fluttered onto her hand. She could practically feel it’s heart pounding. “You aren’t a bit shy—are you?” Lifting her chin, she listened. The sound of water trickling on her left pulled her to her feet.

Stepping carefully with one hand out and the other aloft with the bird, she finally bumped into the wide-brimmed birdbath. After laying her finger on the edge, the parakeet hopped off. Suddenly, drops of water splashed her face. A gasped laugh erupted from deep within her being.

Footsteps clicked up behind her. “You’ve been enjoying yourself?”

Betty turned and faced her mother. “It’s beautiful here.”

Kim sighed, her voice dropped low and soft. “Yes—it is.” She took her daughter’s arm and led her forward. “Did you meet Melvin?”

“You mean the guy who volunteers here?”

“Yeah. He was here on the day you went into surgery. I thought I’d go crazy with worry. But he set my mind at ease.”

“Seems nice enough. Is he still here?”

“I don’t see him now. But we better go—dad’s waiting to meet us for lunch. Besides, you can see Melvin next time. He’s practically a permanent fixture around here. He’s Doc Mallory’s son.”

Betty froze in her tracks. “What? That can’t be—not the way he talked about her. He seemed—to really understand!”

Kim pulled open the door and stepped aside. “Oh, I’m sure he does.” With a firm grip, she directed her daughter through the doorway. “He’s been blind since birth. It’s why Doc Mallory built this place—and works so hard.” The door swished shut behind them.

Betty choked. “He can’t see?”

Kim took her daughter’s arm. “Not with his eyes.”

Betty stumped along beside her mother. “Oh, Lord, Mom! He identified the bird, and I thought—”

Kim patted her daughter’s hand. “There are many ways to see, honey.”

Betty exhaled. “And many ways to go blind.”

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 

My Kind of Madness

Over time, I’ve become convinced that madness must run in the family. How else can I explain my insane desire to “live simply” which, by necessity, involves all sorts of discomforts from merely annoying insects to knockdown drag-out encounters with the wild side of creation? Whoever said nature was innocent, never met nature up-close and personal.

My husband and I both grew up in cities. He in Los Angeles, I in Milwaukee. We both traveled and knew “something of the world” before we met and married. Thankfully, we both came to the conclusion that we wanted to raise our kids in the country. Images of blissful encounters with nature and the soul-steadying reality of hard work encouraged us to forge ahead with what would become a lot more intense experience than we could have ever realized.

But that was good. Otherwise, we would’ve never done it. God isn’t stupid when He doesn’t color in all the details. Oh, no.

Luckily, John was very strong and loved nature. He was soon dubbed “Our Amish Paul Bunyan” by the homeschooling dads. Good thing because I was rather busy having babies. Eight babies. Yes. One at a time.

During those years, we learned to raise laying hens for eggs, meat birds for our winter chicken supply, maintain a humongous garden, and raise bees and gather the honey. Each spring, John collected sap from the maple trees and made maple syrup. That was fun. Kids around a huge cauldron over an open fire in the backyard stirring…and stirring…and stirring. And then pancakes. Life was good.

We got a cow and learned to milk it. Or rather my eldest daughter did. I hid with the chickens. But I did learn to make cheese. Sort of. Okay, my homemade bread was eatable, though.

We are the kind of people who drive other people nuts. We don’t use air conditioning—unless you have a heart condition or are with social services. We actually like to recycle. All the kids work. Or else. Pretty much everyone collapses on Sunday. No need for a “Though shalt rest” commandment. God knows what He’s doing.

When John was diagnosed with Leukemia, our youngest was only seven months. There was no way I could do everything. So I didn’t. I simply did what I could. The kids did what they could. John did what he could—till he couldn’t do anything. But those joint efforts—raising the chickens, milking the cow, making cheese (sort of), gardening—they did a lot to keep the rhythm of our lives going even when our hearts were skipping beats.

John died in December 2013, and since then, the kids and I have struggled to maintain the core of our little natural world. I can’t really call it a farm. We have loosey-goosy hens that lay eggs in the doghouse, meat birds that die without asking, and bees we watch but do not follow, a middle-sized garden, fruit trees, nut trees, and more dogs and cats than I care to count. Don’t ask about the possums and assorted critters that like to visit. We do chat on occasion. I tell them to go home. They ignore me.

When things get tough and I’m ready to give up on one more thing, I remember why John and I started this foolishness in the first place. There is something sublime about working hard and living according to your conscience. Nature isn’t always easy, but in the fruits, vegetables, nuts, critters, weather, and the land itself, we see daily facets of God’s abundant imagination.

We learn balance and integrity while working with God’s created world. Jesus spoke in nature parables all the time. We are stewards. If we’re not ever vigilant, weeds will destroy our garden.

There’s nothing quite like the blessings of hard physical labor, homemade bread and strawberry jam. It isn’t the amount of land worked, the number of chickens raised, the variety of critters encountered. It’s the interaction. The noticing…the caring…the faithfulness needed to keep everyone alive. We are known by our fruit.

It’s my kind of madness.

 

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

Impossible Beings

Rome 450 AD

As Lidia plopped her hands into a heavy clay bowl of flour, a dusty spray plumed into the air, casting a million specks into the sunlight slanting across the room from a high rectangular window.

Her daughter, Marcia, stared up enchanted. Her lips parted in a soft smile, while her eyes danced in rhythm to the twirling, sparking mini-universe spreading wide throughout the kitchen. Her voice dropped to a reverent whisper. “Papa says the world goes on forever—is that true?”

After thoroughly dusting a ball of dough, Lidia pressed it flat on the kneading trough. She grunted, her eyes on her work, but her gaze turned inward. “Your father says a great many things—some he oughtn’t.” She flipped the dough over and shrugged. Her focus cleared, and she spared a glance at the little girl. “You know how he is.”

Laying an open palm on the table, Marcia waited in hopeful expectation.

With a snort, Lidia ripped off a hunk and dropped it into the child’s hands. “Don’t knead it too much, remember. The soldiers return today—by the gods’ mercy—and he’ll enjoy a nice soft bread for a change.”

Marcia eased her fingers onto the pliant dough and allowed her hands to undulate like deep-sea fronds waving in a gentle current. A studious frown etched across her brow. “Will he stay long this time?”

Placing the shaped dough onto a baking tray, Lidia wiped the excess flour from the edges. “These are ruinous time for soldiers and high born alike. Rome has lost her footing, and the gods are not pleased. Invaders break in the front door while useless slaves run out the back.”

“But Papa says that Rome is invincible. We dare the impossible”

Lidia shoved a smaller tray in front of her daughter and watched her lay the dough straight. A flicker of a smile swept across her face and just as quickly vanished. She retreated to a large oven set in the back wall and slid the two trays on a shelf. Clapping the dust from her hands, she jutted her chin in the direction of a pail of water. “Wash up and go outside now. Keep an eye out for Papa.”

Marcia dunked her hands in the cold water and scrubbed away the shreds of sticky dough. After rinsing twice, she patted her hands dry and held them up for her mother’s inspection. “We are invincible—aren’t we?”

Bending with her hands on her thighs, Lidia fixed her daughter in the eye. “Truth is, no one born of woman is invincible. Only the gods be invincible—and even they suffer loss and death.” She straightened and washed her hands, splashing drops on the dusty floor. “We dare the impossible—true—while we may.” She nodded to the threshold leading to a garden path. “But don’t worry your father with such notions. He’s suffered on every side, and I won’t have him lose his faith as well.”

Marcia’s gaze wandered back to the sunlit kitchen. The sparking universe had disappeared into shadows. She blinked and set her jaw. The entire Roman world might crumble—but a miniature universe floated in hidden mystery all around her—if only she dared the impossible.

~~~

Planet Helm—Bhuaci Capitol

 *Bhuaci are a gelatinous race that can mold themselves into the likeness of a variety of races, both sentient and not. Bhuaci are often called the perfect race as they often mold themselves to the physical ideal of any race they encounter.

Sitting at a large ornate desk with a highly decorated border, Crimson dipped her quill in ink, wrote a long scrawling line, and grinned at the result.

A cherubic boy with a dimple in each cheek, golden curls, and twirling a blooming forsythia branch stopped before the red-hued, lanky Bhuaci beauty and grinned. “What ‘cha doing?”

Crimson peered from her parchment to the childish form in front of her and snarled. “Get away from me you—absurdity.”

The cherub’s eyes gleamed in anything-but-innocent delight. He swept his dainty fingers down his fulsome figure. “Don’t you like it? You’re always telling me to get a new look. Well, cherubs happen to be all the rage these days.”

Crimson let her pen fall from her fingers as her eyes widened in disgust. Her snarl morphed into a snort. “You always traipse after the newest fashion—never really live in any form—just change to keep up with the crowd.” Retrieving her pen, she punctuated the air. “You’d take an insect shape on a dare—and get stepped on before the day was out.”

The Cherub’s eyes glimmered and narrowed as his body grew, adding weight, muscle, color, and masculinity. Now towering above the Bhuaci female as a gleaming warrior wearing a sleeveless tunic—every fiber of his perfect form, from his deep-set blue, determined chin, squared shoulders, barrel chest, and muscular legs screamed classic male beauty.

Crimson titled her head and considered the specimen before her. She sniffed. “You might have hit on something this time, Kane.” Her mouth twitched. “Let’s see how long it lasts.”

Kane sauntered to the high desk and leaned over Crimson’s shoulder. “You never answered my question.”

With a plaintive sigh, Crimson picked up her pen and dipped it in the inkpot. “I’m trying to work—if you don’t mind.”

“With a feather?”

“It’s a quill, idiot.” Crimson pointed to a sign over the door. “Record’s office—remember? I transcribe ships’ logs. Today I have to transcribe Longjur’s hasty notes and send them—”

A blush crept over Kane’s face. “Longjur? He’s been observing Earth—right?”

“Yep, and by the Divide, he has a lot to say! Mostly it’s as boring as watching a cactus grow in the dry season. But this part—”

Kane’s gaze scanned the nearly empty page. “Where?”

Crimson frowned. “Well, I was just getting to it when you interrupted. I have it here.” She tapped a panel embedded in the desk. “But I’m making a formal copy for the Kestrel Committee. I thought ink on parchment would do nicely to reflect the culture and add a bit of authenticity and charm. They’ll look it over before making recommendations—”

Kane shook his head. “Forget all that! What did he say? Is he going back?”

Crimson slapped her cheek and rolled her eyes. “He went on and on about silly details—Emperors and warriors and their never-ending battles, women and men sweating in the hot sun and toiling for their food, and the most ignorant ceremonies I’ve ever heard of! But, there was one point of interest…” She checked her notes, running her finger along the lines. “About a little girl, sunlight, and a hidden—”

Kane groaned, his shoulders sagging. “I want to go there—someday.” He shrugged. “It’s why I take on so many forms—for practice. I’d love to explore that system. Humanoids seem so—impossible.” He peered down at Crimson and their eyes met. “You know what I mean?”

Crimson tapped the panel, a lopsided smile wavering on her lips. “Don’t despair. You must have read Longjur’s mind. He said that exact thing—and I quote: ‘They are impossible beings, yet they bring their faith to fruition.’”

Kane leaned in and stared deep into Crimson’s eyes. “So, you think I might go—”

Crimson chuckled and returned to her work. “You’d fit right in.”

~~~

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

Photo https://www.pexels.com/search/fantasy%20specks%20in%20air/