I Can’t Lose

OldEarth Melchior Encounter Excerpt

Sterling let Nova and Cerulean lead the way across the dark terrain, his hands clasped behind his back, a frown exasperating his throbbing headache. These infants will soon drive me mad!

Nova seemed unable to stop talking. A child endowed with hyper-sensitivity who actually thought he cared how she felt and was taking the long road through her emotional state.

He glanced up. Cerulean had his head bowed low. Probably trying not to trip over this blasted uneven ground.

Melchior’s abode was silhouetted against the moonlight like a child’s toy left upon the landscape.

Sterling shivered. Mauve would certainly be waiting with open arms. So ready to embrace. His thoughts tripped over themselves, and he grimaced. Pretty much anyone.

Did that bother him? Of course not. He wasn’t possessive. Or territorial. Like one of these human barbarians. Though, the King’s nonchalance toward his own son did seem a bit too detached. Surely, it would be upsetting to murder one’s own offspring, even by accident. Especially—one would think—the son of the woman he professed to love.

Nova stopped in her tracks, slapping one hand into the other. “That’s it!” She grinned at Cerulean and then shouted, “They don’t mean to control me—it’s just that they have invested so much of themselves that if something happens to me, it happens to them!”

Cerulean peered over his shoulder and met Sterling’s direct gaze. Took her long enough. He cleared his throat and pointed ahead. “We should find them in Selby’s old home. It’s beyond the main house by—”

A group of horsemen exited the barn and sped into the valley.

Ducking into a ditch, Cerulean dragged Sterling by the arm.

Nova scuttled up close behind.

The murmuring voices faded, and Sterling shook himself free. He straightened and pursed his lips. “You forget yourself, Cerulean. I am the leader here. I tell you what to do. You don’t drag me out of the way of stupid animals.”

Nova smirked. “You’d have hated being trampled, even if it didn’t kill you.”

Cerulean faced his superior, ever the proper guardian. “I apologize. I was out of order, sir.”

With a huff, Sterling waved toward Selby’s hut. “Hurry up! I hope Mauve has arranged some decent comfort for us. I’m completely drained.”

Nova laughed. “She’s never cared for anyone’s comfort before. Why would she start now?”

Cerulean shot the mixed-breed a warning glance.

Sterling’s nerves tingled. He wiped his brow. She’s two for two. I’m beginning to hate this—

A figure pelted out of the hut and raced across the hard-packed earth; his arms outstretched. With the muscular build and pounding steps, it definitely wasn’t Mauve.

Zuri caught Nova in his robust arms and swung her in a circle.

At first, she yelped and struggled, then she plunged her head onto his shoulder and hugged back.

By the Divide! They’ll hurt each other holding on that hard. He rubbed his upper arm where Mauve had left bruises. Sadness pressed on his shoulders like a heavy weight. This is nothing like that.

The outline of a Cresta blocked the doorway. “Hurry and get inside!”

Being jostled along by Cerulean, Sterling followed Nova who clung to her father’s arm as if she had been lost at sea for a week rather than in his competent care for two days.

As his gaze swept the interior, Sterling’s insides dropped to nether regions. Where is she? He gritted his teeth. Not with another man, surely. Not now! After I explicitly told her—

“Sterling.” Zuri stared at him, beckoning to a chair beside a rickety table. His gaze had gone from ecstatic to pathetic in a remarkably short time.

Sterling blinked in the wavering light. A fire flickered in the tiny hearth. Exhaustion seeped over him. “Won’t someone investigate?”

Zuri glanced at Tarragon. “We dressed like beggars and I was given the night to rest with my sick friend.”

Tarragon swept two dirty cloaks in the air. “Amazing what humans will believe when given by a glimpse of off-colored flesh.”

Nova plopped down on the waiting chair. “Well, it’s good to stop stomping all over the kingdom. I thought we’d never get here.” She spoke to her father, jerking her thumb backward. “These two could’ve blinked here in a second, but they were nice enough go with me every step of the way.”

Shocked by this true—but kind—assessment, Sterling wouldn’t be left behind in generosity. “She’s a good companion. Shared lots of personal insights as we traveled.” He shot a glance at Cerulean who kept his gaze focused straight ahead. Rubbing his hands together, Sterling was ready to move on. “So, what’s next? I assume that Mauve has prepared proper accommodations and perhaps even a few refreshing—”

“Mauve is dead.” Tarragon stared fixedly at Sterling. It was an announcement. A fact. The moon is high. The floor is dry. Nothing more.

Nova gasped, her hand flying to her mouth in perfect imitation of shocked human grief.

Cerulean dropped his gaze, shaking his head. Another legitimate sign of grief.

Zuri gripped Tarragon’s shoulder above his right tentacle. “You don’t tell someone that the love of their life is dead like—”

“She wasn’t!” Sterling heard the words but wasn’t sure they had come from his mouth. But they must have. Everyone was staring at him. He shook himself. He was still here. In this shabby hut. On Earth. With these idiots. “She wasn’t the love of my life.”

Silence dragged on.

An owl hooted.

Nova shuffled her feet, staring at him with those perfect almond eyes of hers.

Cerulean looked up but said nothing, his expression properly grave.

Another owl hooted back. Nature was having a polite conversation in the night.

Zuri stomped up and gripped Sterling’s arm much too hard.

To his surprise, Sterling let the Ingot lead him out the door and back into the night.

Once they had wandered into a barn where a cow and calf lifted their heads in mild interest, Zuri leaned against the wall and crossed his arms.

Moon beams slanted into the room, highlighting the mama cow’s eyes, making them glitter.

“She thought that she could bargain with the mystery boy—even blackmail him. I guess he played a trick on her. Dropped her into the Cresta’s ship with barely any clothes on. So, she planned revenge. But he didn’t appreciate her attempts to allure him into her embrace.”

Is this nausea? Sickness? What humans are always ranting and raving about? Before he knew what was happening, Sterling vomited the bread and ale he had eaten at mid-day. It didn’t taste any better the second time around.

He felt Zuri’s hand on his shoulder. The instinctual desire to brush any gentle touch aside was halted by the mere fact that he felt too weak to brush a fly aside. Once he was certain that he could manage it, he straightened and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Then he instantly changed into fresh clothes.

Zuri stepped aside and leaned on the wall again. “I thought I lost Kelesta, remember? The worst hell I could imagine. Not having a chance to tell her that I loved her before she departed.”

Sterling sucked in a deep breath. “But she didn’t die. And she loved you without being told anything.” Something deep inside broke—free. “You have a remarkable daughter. I thought all mixed breeds were doomed to narcissism. But she shows true spirit. She actually cares about her parents. She just didn’t know it.”

Zuri shook his head. “I thought I was helping you deal with your loss.”

Sterling stood in the doorway and stared at the moonlight. “I can’t lose what I never had.”

~~~

Abbas dressed in a long white tunic in his human form paced before a shimmering essence in a brilliantly lit space. Rainbows glinted from a million facets surrounding them.

The shimmering form expanded as it spoke in a high dulcet tone, “You take these experiences too seriously. He’ll outgrow his mischievous nature. Just give him time.”

Halting, Abbas turned and faced the light. “You’re his mother, and you see nothing ominous in his murdering an innocent being without thought or repentance?”

A charming laugh tinkled like a small bell. “I was watching—everything! I saw the creature Mauve, and she is no loss to anyone. No caring parent, fond sibling, adoring lover, or needy child will miss her one bit. Even the Luxonian who kept her company cares little. Don’t worry.”

The tolling bells of doom rang in Abbas’ mind. “It was still wrong. He must not murder other beings.”

“You will teach him all he needs to know in time. Now come and rest with me. I’ve placed him into the care of others for now. Humanity won’t change a whit before you return.”

Against his better judgement, which he could not explain even to himself, Abbas let himself be drawn into her brilliant embrace.

His human figure dissolved, and the two beings shimmered like raindrops on a spring morning.

She cajoled him in merriment. “Stop brooding. No one will be upset. She was always thrusting herself into every experience to satiate her covetous desire for whatever pleasure she saw others having. She thought only of herself, a complete narcist.”

In an unprecedented move, Abbas buried his next thought deep in his interior. For if she knew the truth, it would destroy her happiness. You just described your son.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/illustrations/owl-night-moon-owl-in-night-sky-2320703/

Homestead Parts 1 and 2

The first three chapters are free on Kindle Vella.

For the rest of the complete, available chapters check out…

https://www.amazon.com/Homestead/dp/B094PVCT26/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=a.+K.+Frailey&qid=1626266332&s=falkor&sr=1-1

Home is where the heart is. But when the world fell apart, an alien race invaded, and my husband and children were in different locations, my heart dug deep into the home stead. If I couldn’t get to them, I’d hold fast, so they had home to return to…

Part 1

No Place I’d Rather Be

I clasped a hot cup of coffee in my hands, stepped onto the back porch as the rising sun peeked between the flowering trees, and breathed deep. As if wishing me a good morning, sparrows, robins, blue jays, and a couple of cardinals fluttered about in springtime joy. I had a whole weekend to myself, and I planned to enjoy every peaceful minute of it.

Home.

There was no place else I’d rather be.

That has remained true, despite everything. Maybe because of everything. Perhaps some part of me knew what was coming, and I needed to savor every drop of beauty, glory, and strength to live beyond my small, about-to-combust, world.

Dana had left for her new job in St. Louis the previous Sunday afternoon. It was a great opportunity for her. And she knew it. I knew it too. Somewhere deep inside.

“Mom, please don’t dribble your despondency all over my clean car.”

Her dad, Liam—aka my beloved—grinned like the besotted fool he was.

The kid got her sarcasm from me, so I could hardly complain. Though I did scrunch my eyes, stomp my feet, and pantomime a child having a conniption fit.

Dana laughed. A loud bark that set our hounds into howls.

Her car, stuffed with two kitchen chairs, bedding, the last of her clothing, enough comfort food to get her through the first week, and a miraculous medal and prayerbook she didn’t know about tucked into the glove compartment, announced her readiness to fly from the proverbial nest.

She came around the front fender and wrapped me in a big hug. Dana was never small. Even as a baby, she came into the world larger than life, thrashing and screaming, her black hair wild, making her look bigger and badder than she really was.

I hugged her back with every ounce of my fifty-year-old strength.

When her car turned at the end of the lane, I stopped waving and wiped tears from my eyes. Liam held my hand all the way up the front steps.

Juan, my broad shouldered, eighteen-year-old, sunshine child, brought into my life by two miracles—his birthmother’s big heart and my husband’s absolute trust—bounded down the back porch steps on Thursday afternoon with the abandon of a guy ready for an early weekend.

I reminded him of dinner. “I’ve got a roast chicken and an apple cobbler nearly ready.”

An apologetic shrug. “I’m heading out—gonna go camping with a few friends.”

“It’s April!” I thought that explained everything well enough.

Not according to Juan’s logic. “Hey, ma, I’ve worked hard. The guys and I want to get away for a bit, think things over before our next big move.”

I scratched my head. “By move, you mean summer work, right?”

He chuckled.

Crossing my arms, I shot one over the bow. “You ask dad?”

“He said go have a good time.” Juan squinted in his playful way. “I think he’d like to get out his corporate meeting and come with us instead.”

If I was perfectly honest, I’d rather Liam head to the wilds of Alaska than the L. A. madness that was his corporate headquarters. But mine was not to reason why…

It was only after Juan had roared his car down the road that it dawned on me. He took no clothes, no bedding, no tent. Camping? My eye.

I sighed as I headed back to the house and faced the roasted chicken that I knew my husband wouldn’t eat.

By Friday morning, Liam was a mess. He hated traveling. He loathed meetings. He despised corporations. How he managed to rise so high in the tech field is one of the mysteries of life. I forgave him for the third time for picking my beautiful dinner to pieces, knocking the Easter Lilly off the shelf, and nearly shutting the car door on my hand in his haste to get to the airport on time.

“If they try to drag me to one of their get-togethers, I’ll tell them I have a fever and—”

“Say you’re sick, and you’ll have the entire place hyperventilating. Just say you have work to do. They’ll respect that.”

“They’ll laugh and try to set me up with drinks and dates.”

I glared out of the corner of my eye.

He kept his eyes on the road.

“You ever consider starting your own multi-million-dollar business and work from home?”

He laughed.

Such a bark, I could almost hear the dogs howl though they were miles away back on the homestead. “I know where Dana gets it.”

“What?”

“That laugh. It sounds like a bark.”

For the first time in three days, Liam smiled. “It’s not a bark. It’s a hoot.”

“You’re a hoot.” I smiled back, kissed him at the visitor parking lot, and kept it plastered on all the way along highway seventy till I reached home.

Saturday morning, I rose early, poured myself a cup of hot coffee, traipsed onto my bedroom porch and breathed deep without an inkling that the world as I knew it was about to end.

Part 2

Even the Birds Stopped Singing

After dressing in jean shorts and a tunic top, I enjoyed coffee and a robust breakfast of eggs and toast. Fortified, I ran downstairs and tossed in a load of laundry. Then I scurried back upstairs and wondered why I was in such a hurry.  With a reminder to take it easy, I grabbed another cup of coffee and meandered to the roll-top desk in my studio. Like a lady of leisure, I scrolled through my emails and social media.

When the internet flickered off and on around ten o’clock, I didn’t think anything of it. We live in farm country, so wild critters sometimes make a bad life decision and interfere with the lines, or storms miles away can interrupt service. I glanced outside. No storm. A perfect sunny May first. I shivered for the critter that may have suffered an untimely death.

When my phone chimed from the kitchen counter an hour later, I had just kneaded the last bit of dough for my weekly bread making and lined up the greased bread pans. My fingers, covered in sticky goo, weren’t suited for a technological device at the moment. So, I used my elbow and managed to make the connection.

My sister, Sarah huffed her words. Must’ve been running, I figured.

“Hey, Kiddo, did your power go off this morning?”

I slapped on the tap water and rinsed my fingers, talking over my shoulder. “Just for a sec.” I scowled at the trickle dribbling over my hands. The water pressure was down. Deep inward sigh. Water pressure meant a lot to me. How was I going to take my bed-time shower?

“But it’s back on, right?”

The proverbial light bulb clicked on. Power outage and loss of water pressure. Oh, yeah. Made sense. I peered at the ceiling. The light wasn’t on. I glanced to the counter. Nor was the coffee maker. But, silly me, they shouldn’t be. It was bright and sunny and I’d cleaned the coffee maker after my second cup. I glanced at the stove. The clock showed the time, but only dimly.

“Hmm…it came back on but—” I ran and flipped the light switch with my wet hand.

My sister broke through. “Hey, I’ve got another call. It’s Bill. Poor guy had to work over the weekend. Better go.”

I listened to the click as she hung up, but my eyes stayed fixed to the ceiling. Brown light. Not the bright glare I was used to.

A sound in the distance caught my ear. Horns? Who on earth would be blowing their horn out here? We lived on a dead-end lane and there wasn’t any traffic even during planting season.

“Oh, God!” It was an accident. I was sure of it.

But just as suddenly, it stopped. All noise stopped. Even the birds stopped singing. Complete silence.

If you’ve ever been suddenly thrust into the pitch black, you know how disorientating that can be. Well, the same was true when all sound stopped. It was as if the whole world was holding its breath. The moment after a collective gasp.

And then, all hell broke loose.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/illustrations/window-cosmos-window-pane-5624014/

For the First Time

Zuri stomped forward, Melchior’s house silhouetted against the late afternoon sunlight behind, and grabbed the Cresta by his bio-suit. “Where is she?”

A line of sweat dripping from the side of his face, his golden eyes red-rimmed, and his suit smeared with road dirt, Tarragon reared back. “Don’t handle me!”

Abashed at his impetuous move, Zuri clamped down his anger, dropped his hands, and tried to form coherent words. “Where is my daughter?”

Brushing imaginary dirt off his front, Tarragon shrugged. “How should I know? She was playing servant girl with Sterling and that Luxonian boy last I saw.”

A group of men tromped out of Melchior’s front door and pounded down the steps. In boisterous conversation, they headed toward the stables.

Zuri motioned Tarragon around the far side of a shed. The scent of dried hay drifted into his nose, making him sneeze. He clapped his hand over his face, muffling the sound.

Tarragon snorted. “And you complain about my native sensitivity? At least I can control my bodily functions.”

Wiping his face with his arm, Zuri glared at the rotund Cresta. “So, she was all right when you saw her?”

“She was fine.”

“I don’t understand. She hasn’t answered one of my messages.”

With an elegant eye-roll, Tarragon started toward Selby’s old shed. “We can discuss matters in there. Knowing how superstitious these people are, they probably won’t use it again for a long time.”

Striding at the Cresta’s side, Zuri paced along, his anxiety settling into mild concern. “They’re going to burn it down tomorrow.”

Tarragon ducked his head as he entered the front doorway. “We have it for tonight then.” He stretched and sighed, staring longingly at the bed. “I have endured much to find you.”

Alert again, Zuri kept his gaze fixed on the Cresta. “What?” Alarm spread through him. “You said that Nova was fine!”

“She is.” Tarragon flopped down on the rickety bed. “But Mauve will never be the same.”

“Mauve? I thought she was at the Widow’s place.”

“She was. Until she got a little too inquisitive and discovered the Mystery aliens playing fools in front of everyone.”

“She found them?”

“And they, or he—the younger one—found her annoying. She was rather. But still. He took justice a tad far, me thinks.”

His heart pounding, Zuri stepped further into the dim interior, wishing he still had night vision. “Where is Mauve now?”

“Shattered to pieces on the rocky coast. Not a chance she can be put together again. I checked.”

Caught off guard by the violent image, Zuri fell back and sat down hard on a stool. “She’s dead, then?”

“Even a Luxonian couldn’t fix her. After an embarrassing incident, she planned to take revenge, so I followed and watched her saunter up to the Mystery-boy on the edge of the cliff. They chatted a few moments, but even from that distance, I could see; he wasn’t the fool she was. Poof! She was turned to a statue, and he nudged her over the cliff. People say Crestonians are cold! This was positively artic.”

“Oh, God, what about Sterling?” Blood rushing to his ears, a faint dizziness swirled the room. “If they are that dangerous, we need to get off the planet. We must get the children!”

“Calm yourself, Ingot. I don’t believe that the Mystery being meant any harm. He simply wanted to remove Mauve’s annoying presence. She planned to kidnap him; you know. Maybe he was just protecting himself. In any case, they haven’t injured anyone since we’ve been here, but they could have long ago. And they did try to warn her; she just wouldn’t listen.”

Exhausted but more determined than ever, Zuri pulled out his datapad and tapped it to life. “Start from the beginning, from when your first met Mauve, and tell me what happened. As soon as we have this on record, we’re heading to the widow’s castle to get Sterling and the kids.”

Tarragon waved a tentacle in the air. “I’ll make the report, don’t worry. But we’re not going anywhere. Everyone is heading here. All we have to do is wait for the family reunion.”

~~~

Teal braced himself as Kelesta sat on the edge of his bed and scooped strawberry ice cream from the bowl. She held the spoon invitingly before his face.

Teal waved it away. “I’m not hungry.”

“You need to eat.”

“No, I don’t.”

“All right, you don’t, but it would be good for you, anyway. You’re not going to get over your depression until you start inviting cheer into your life. And there is nothing more cheerful than strawberry ice cream.”

Teal stared at her.

Kelesta laid the bowl aside and rose. She stepped to the window and lifted the white curtain aside, peering into the distance.

The sound of surf rolling on shore repeated in rhythmic rounds as two birds flew across the sky.

Teal tossed back the sheet covering his body and then, as embarrassment flooded him, shrank back. “Where are my clothes?”

Kelesta padded to a shelf, pulled rolled up pants and a shirt in to her arms and carried them to the bed. She placed them next to him and strolled back to the window.

Discombobulated by his unaccustomed blushing reaction, Teal unrolled the baggy cotton pants and tugged them on. Then he pulled the matching cream-colored shirt over his head. With a deep breath, he steadied himself and paced to at the window. “Thank you.” He glanced aside, startled at the somber look in her eyes. “For everything.” He shrugged. “I’m not a very good patient, I’m afraid. Not used to being taken care of.”

“You’re a parent. Being helpless isn’t comfortable.”

Teal pressed her arm. “Nova will be all right. Zuri knows what he’s doing.”

Kelesta shook her head. “We’re past our time—Nova will have to take care of herself soon.”

Teal swung aside, facing her more directly. “What does that mean? You have countless ages ahead of you.”

Kelesta gripped the window frame, the breeze blowing tendrils of hair off her face. “There is a price for everything. Zuri refused his neural transplants, all the attachments, for too long to turn back. I took on human form to have a child—and it has cost much.”

Tears stung Teal’s eyes. “But Song, surely she can help you—like she helped me.”

Her lips wavering, Kelesta met his gaze. “Song revived you. She can’t cure you.”

Taking his hand she led the way to the door, the rolling ocean waves, and bright sunshine.

Teal let himself be drawn along and understood, for the first time, what death really meant.

~~~

Omega picked up a slimy piece of broken clay from the foamy sea waves and stared at it. A strong wind blew over him, tossing his hair into his eyes. He picked up another piece and placed their jagged edges side by side. They didn’t fit together at all.

On impulse, he waved and a cloth bag suddenly hung limp in his hand. With a swift motion, the clay fragments floated out of the water and he opened the mouth of the bag, scooping in pieces, like a net capturing fish from the sea.

Once the bag was full, he splashed ashore and dashed up the trail.

In a quiet corner of the courtyard, he spread the broken pieces in the sun and laid them flat. He chewed his lip, perplexed. What to do next? He had never had to do anything like this before, and he wasn’t sure how to start.

“What you’ve got there?” A burly soldier tromped forward and stared over Omega’s crouched figure. “Oh, you broke something, eh?” He whistled low. “No putting that back together son. It’s ruined, see.”

He patted Omega’s shoulder. “Best to man up and face the wrath of the owner than try to hide the mess out here. She’ll figure it out eventually.”

Further disorientated but hopeful for some direction, Omega shielded his eyes from the glare of the sun and squinted at the older man. “How do you know I can’t put her back together?”

A snort and a chuckle accompanied the man’s grin. “It’s clay, young fool. Clay dissolves in the water—salt water most assuredly. I’ve never been so partial to a vessel that I called it a she, but my captain and I loved our ship; she was a beauty in our eyes.”

With a shake of his head, Omega rose to his feet.

Abbas marched across the hard ground with a stern look in his eye.

“My father is coming; I best meet him.” He scattered the clay pieces.

The soldier turned and faced the white-haired man coming his way. His face crunched in concentration. “Ah, you be the fool that entertained us. I only got to see you once—duty calls at unfortunate moments.” He smiled as Abbas stopped before him. “Good evening.”

Abbas offered a quick nod of acknowledgement and then stared at his son. “Where have you been?”

The soldier lifted his hand like a benevolent referee. “Don’t be too hard on him. Been trying this long while to put the thing back together, but it’s a lost cause; he knows now. So, he’ll pay restitution and be done with the fear and guilt of it.”

With an obvious swallow, Abbas choked out his question. “What did you break, son?”

“Mauve.”

His jaw clenched; Abbas gripped Omega’s arm as he nodded a polite good-bye to the warrior.

Omega trotted at his father’s side across the battered earth. “Where are we going?”

“To join the others—and away from here.”

“You don’t mind about Mauve? She was being annoying.”

Abbas dragged his son into the shelter of a dark corner and shook him by the shoulders. “You have no idea what you’ve done!”

Grieved by his father’s fury, Omega whined, “But I tried to put her back together.”

“If you thought putting her together was hard, you have no idea what you’ve just shattered. Our whole existence is based on absolute secrecy. You can be sure now, that not only are we known, we are hated.”

As if he had just tasted something very bad, Omega wrinkled his nose. Hated? What did that even mean?

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/sunset-beach-sea-shore-seashore-2205553/

A Pinnacle

Icy cold drink on a blistering hot day,

Cracking open a story,

to mystery glory,

Twists and turns on the way.

Chattered conversation in hearing range,

Familiar family, comfortable exchange.

Band-aids for when the peeler strays

Crunchy salad with soft bread,

Ordinary days,

Punctuated with holidays.

A gaze held with meaning; you know.

Relationships despite skirmishes manage to grow.

Babies, eagles, and kittens,

Platypus ridiculous, even minnows and jellyfish,

Make no moment worthless.

 For in treasuring each,

The soul does reach,

A pinnacle,

To wave life’s flag of joy.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/cliff-adventure-above-hiking-1822484/

We Get Along

Weary after a long day at work, Everleigh forced down a tuna salad at the kitchen counter as evening closed in. Blessedly, a cool wind rippled the curtains, relieving the furnace-blast heat of the hot summer day. Body and soul still together, she patted her sleepy do-nothing cat as it dozed on the couch, and then padded down the white hallway to her bedroom.

Her phone binged, notifying her that she had received a message. Without even looking at it, she placed it by her bedside and began her evening routine. A cold shower would revitalize her, surely.

Well, that didn’t work.

Bleary eyed, she brushed her teeth and then plopped onto her bed.

Boring rote days, toss-and-turn nights, and high humidity drained her will to live.

She stared at the fan. “Don’t just hang there.”

Padding to the wall switch, she did the needful and then grabbed her phone on the way back to her bed.

“Dad?” She scrolled to message.

Your grandpa is arriving on Sunday to celebrate his 90th.

Hope you’ll come too.

Love, Dad

The scene from The Lord of the Rings where Frodo sets off from Rivendell, heading to Mount Doom in order to save the Shire flashed through her mind.

It’s not quite that bad.

Ignoring the jittery goose bumps that raced up her arms, she scrolled down.

Yep. There’s the address. “Dad doesn’t miss a beat.”

With a mighty effort, she gripped her will by the collar. Behave yourself! She talked out loud to encourage her flagging spirits. “Dad never asks for much, and he hasn’t seen grandpa in years. I’ll be merciful and go along.”

She squinted as she googled the address.

“Oh, wait! That’s way south. Nearly in another state. There’s no direct road!”,

Panic reared its ugly head, and Everleigh sucked in a shuddering breath. Then her phone binged again.

What now? The whole thing’s been canceled? Sure, that’s it. Thank you, God. I promise I’ll—

The thought—Check the message before making any promises—wiggled through her brain.

She scrolled down.

Aunt Kate needs a ride. Pick her up on the way, okay?

No “please, dear daughter.” Not even an emoji grimace—a way of saying “Sorry for the horrific situation I’m putting you in.”

Her fingers itched to tap back a formal message stating, “Everleigh died last year and was peacefully buried in the local cemetery.” She’d even be willing to pay for a tombstone to make it look good.

Dying was one thing. Being buried under her family’s strange coping mechanisms was quite another.

~~~

The thing about Aunt Kate, Everleigh reminded herself as she sped along the country road, was that she had lost the ability to communicate decades ago, but no one had the heart to tell her.

She parked her car in front of the tiny white ranch house in the quiet neighborhood and peered in the back seat, mentally reviewing her to-do list. Blanket for Auntie—since ninety-five degrees in the shade just won’t cut it for her old bones. A bottle of cola, two root beers, a water bottle, and a flask of gin. She’d make her way through them with unerring determination. Heaven help her if she forgot one of the nectars of the gods.

Her sainted sister, Jane would take care of the food. Jane would also take care of the decorations, insurance policies, and would make sure that two televisions were blaring—one covering the conservative side of world affairs, the other keeping the liberals in touch with hot-button issues. Of course, the internet would be available at all times.

Or the universe would evaporate.

Ready to leap forth and assist her eighty-something aunt, Everleigh froze when the old woman speed-hobbled down the walk swinging her cane. “Open the door, honey cakes! Can’t ya see, I’m ready?”

According to Google maps, the drive was only supposed to take two and a half hours. According to Everleigh’s comfort barometer, the drive was interminable.

The old woman chatted rapid-fire for several minutes, then asked incomprehensible questions.

Repeat.

After using every stock answer in the omniverse, Everleigh soon reverted to “Hmmm” and “you don’t say?”

Aunt Kate was not amused.

~~~

Everleigh’s dad, on the other hand, seemed to find everything and everyone funny. He never laughed out loud, just let the glitter in his eyes chuckle at the cymbal-clash reality of the family gathering.

Out back, her brother-in-law-number-two, Donnie, barbecued ribs and turkey burgers for those who either wanted delicious food or clean arteries. Jane sent the vegans into ecstasy with crispy buffalo cauliflower bites, oil-free pumpkin pancakes made with gluten free flour, and no-tuna salad sandwiches.

The two teens in attendance peeled off into opposite corners of the house and played multiplayer games with people on the other side of the globe.

Grandpa sat stage center stretched out on a lawn chair, a mild afternoon sun brightening his pale face. His wandering wide-eyed gaze reflected little of his glory years serving in two wars and then managing a realty business for forty years, till grandma died and all her money sense was buried with her.

After seeing that auntie was stashed safely at the picnic table where she could snatch whatever food or drink took her fancy, Everleigh wandered about, checking to see if there were any friendly aliens about the place.

Naw. Just family.

Then a hand tapped her shoulder and Everleigh shrieked. She turned and stared into the blackest eyes she had ever seen. Set in a golden face crowned with blue-black shiny hair that trailed down a straight back, Everleigh realized that beauty knew how to arrange her jewels.  

The woman thrust out a hand. “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you. Just wanted to introduce myself. I’m Lekha, a nursing student from the hospital where your sister works. I watch over your grandpa whenever she’s too busy or something special is going on.”

Everleigh shook the offered hand and tried to think of coherent words. “Oh?” Where was Auntie’s quick wit now? “Well, that’s good of you. To come all this way—” She glanced over her shoulder.

Jane’s boy, Earl, sat beside the old man, showing him something on his phone. A game probably.

Unabashed, Lekha took in the scene with an expression suggesting that not only was her eye color different, her vision was too. “I enjoy it. Seeing a family together is refreshing, lifts my spirits.”

Everleigh gawked. She clamped her mouth shut to keep it from dropping open. She swept her gaze over the yard. Probably fifteen people in all and no large family confabs. All intimate clusters. Each to their own niche.

“We’re not a very cohesive group, I’m afraid. We get along by not having too much to do with each other.”

Lekha grinned. “Most of my family is home in India. I’m here studying. At least your family is on the same continent. That’s something.”

Earl stepped up, barging into the conversation as entitled people often do. He beckoned Lekha with a waving hand. “Hey, you gotta come and check on grandpa. I think he’s thirsty, but he’s trying to drink the hand sanitizer.”

Undisturbed by this newest proof of borderline insanity, Lekha hurried away to her duty.

Everleigh strolled over to her dad who stood near the empty grill holding a sampler plate—a bit of everything on there. “You having a good time?”

He shrugged. “I don’t come to have a good time.”

Everleigh sighed. “I thought that was the point.”

Her father took a bite of a buffalo cauliflower and shook his head. “Honey, we can’t make each other happy. But we can get along well enough to celebrate a person’s life while he’s still with us. That’s pretty good, in my book.” He lifted a pumpkin pancake and offered it to her.

Hungry for the first time in days, Everleigh took a bite.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/nature-summer-grass-travel-3245401/

Nocturne Blest

As the sun drops beyond the horizon low,

Leaving the crimson world aglow,

I stand alone between flowers and trees,

Soaking in a gentle breeze.

Fireflies twinkle in fairy-land darts,

Easing mind, soul, and heart.

In noontime heat,

I stroll the familiar beat.

Stepping around molehills and brushing off flies,

I pant with weariness, daytime sighs.

Just by chance,

The wind sent the oak leaves to dance,

Revealing my friend hidden beneath.

Magic in miracles of light-dance, I hold belief.

Glorious is the sudden understanding, truth,

My little friend stays hidden all day, aloof.

Faithful in habitual flight,

Enjoying the security of solitary night,

His daytime sojourn rest,

Ensures my nocturne blest.

To each own a day and night enlighten.

His to rest and then to roam.

Mine to love and hope to brighten,

Our shared home.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/forest-penumbra-eyes-3686097/

He’d Be There, Waiting

Clouds covered the sun, breaking the intense heat of the evening, as Sonia climbed the last of the steep steps, trudged across her porch, and, juggling her bag of groceries, swung open the kitchen door. “Lord, it’s too hot for June. Can’t we save this till July? I can’t take it.”

The front entryway didn’t respond. Though Delmar, her German Shepard, started barking from the backyard.

She plopped the shopping bag on the counter, shoved her personal-bag, which, if one looked closely, resembled her college backpack, off her shoulder, and stomped to the back door. She twisted the handle and yanked.

Delmar sped into the house like a red Mercedes in the right lane.

Falling backward on impact, she smashed her hand against the counter and swore at the devoted animal. “Dammit, Dog, you know better. Trying to kill me? The one who feeds you?”

Contrite, Delmar whined and attempted a sloppy make-up kiss.

Sonia wasn’t in the mood. Amazed at herself, she realized that she wanted to smack the dog. What’s wrong with me?

Not getting anywhere in the reconciliation department, Delma trotted to the metal dishes set beside the refrigerator and inhaled a bowl of tepid water. Next, he crunched the last remaining bits of breakfast, nosing the bowl across the room in the process.

Normally, the dog’s self-involved obsession would set her laughing. But not today.

Her stomach grumbled. The workplace café had undergone new management, and without a sane thought to their long-range business, they decided to hike the daily lunch prices to nearly twice their usual. In protest, and because she honestly couldn’t afford them, Sonia swore off their offerings until they came to their senses.

But that left her no reasonable options at noon. And it was after six now.

She filled a pot with water and set it to boil, then pulled the pasta box from her bag. She lined up all the ingredients for a healthy spaghetti supper: whole tomatoes, onions, peppers, lean ground beef, and a jar of spicy sauce. She even rooted through the highest shelf above the stove, the one where she hid the tempting stuff—chocolate chip cookies and red wine.

She’d make a night of it. Long, impossible days deserved a reward, right?

Something was off with her logic, but she shook her head and pulled the wrapping off the meat, then set it to sizzle in the frying pan. Next, she set chopping board on the counter, and she was on her way. Oh, the wine! She poured a healthy glass, lifted it to her lips, and—

The doorbell buzzed, sending her nerves into fits.

Delmar went into full-frenzy mode. As far as he was concerned, aliens might have landed their spaceship at the door.

A headache sprouting behind her eyes, Sonia took a sip and trotted to the front room. Yanking the dog back, she took a quick look out the window.

Awe, dang-it! Jim and Eva. Grinning like fools.

They saw her, and their hesitant smiles ballooned outlandishly.

Mumbling under her breath, she informed her dog of the real state of her mind. “I thought when I moved in this neighborhood, I’d finally be free of—”

Whining, Delmar looked scandalized. He scratched at the door. Company was waiting!

In defeat, she opened the door.

“Hi!” Twin voices, Jim’ baritone and Eva’s soprano, melded in perfect harmony.

What? They practice on the sly?

Her weak response didn’t hinder them from barging right in, their happiness bouncing along with them.

Eva gushed, “We saw you drive up and waited, but we couldn’t stand it any longer. We just had to stop by and share the news!”

Sonia forced a smile. They were already married, so what…?

Eva’s slim hand caressed her belly.

“We’re expecting!” The two voices harmonized like a well-practiced song.

Forcing a return smile, Sonia itched to slap someone. Instead, she gushed back. “Oh, how wonderful! So happy for you. Great news.” She swallowed the bile rising in her throat and waved toward the kitchen. I was just giving myself a littler reward after a hard day. Want to join me?”

No second invitations needed. The two lovebirds pranced into the kitchen, Eva leading and patting a remarkably sedate dog on the head.

Delmar let them pass like the gentleman he never was.

Sonia sneered. “He usually jumps all over people.”

Eva rubbed the dog under the chin. “Oh, we’re good friends. I see him out in the yard during the day; he seems lonely, so when I have a moment, I call him over, and we have a good chat.” She grinned at the canine. “You’re a great listener, aren’t you, Buddy.”

After mouthing “traitor” at the dog, Sonia pulled two glasses from the shelf and started to pour.

Eva backed off with a look of horror. “Oh, no, not me.” She rubbed her mid-section. “Can’t take a chance with the baby.”

Jim rubbed his wife’s back, his gaze dropping to the floor.

What’s he looking so sheepish about? Going to melt into a puddle all over my clean floor.

Holding herself together with superwoman grit and the better part of the wine and cookie supply, Sonia listened to their happy plans for as long as she could stand it. Then she yawned and exclaimed over the late hour. “I’ve got to get up early tomorrow…”

With a blushing retreat, the blessed couple found their way home.

Sighing in relief, Sonia toddled off to bed. The ingredients of her spaghetti dinner all but forgotten on the counter.

~~~

Grateful for the respite on a cloudy, low 80s, August day, Sonia lugged her latest dinner ingredients into the house and onto her counter.

A tecno-snafu had shut the office down early, so she made it home before the clock struck noon. She hummed in the quiet kitchen, enjoying the peaceful opportunity. Then she looked up and frowned Not a sound from Delmar. Where is that dog?

She unlocked the back door and swept her gaze across the backyard. Nothing. Fear clutched her chest.

Then a flash of red caught her eye. There in the back corner, Delmar sat on his haunches while a woman crouched on the other side of the chain-link fence and reached through, patting his smooth fur. Who the—? Sonia squinted and recognition settled her heart to a normal rhythm.

She sauntered over. In a joking tone, she called out, “He’s spoiled enough. He’ll want his meals on golden dishes next.”

Eva glanced up; her face blotched, almost as red as her shirt. She snatched her hand back.

Sonia stumbled. “Oh—hey, just joking. Go ahead and pet him. He’s alone a lot. Loves company.”

With a nod, Eva reached out and stroked the dog’s ears.

Delmar grinned in doggy ecstasy.

Tiny alarm bells ringing, Sonia dragged her memory back to the last time she’d seen Eva. Months ago. When she and Jim came by with the great news. Her stomach clenched at the memory. She steeled herself. Oh, what the heck. “So, how’re you doing?” She titled her head, trying to see. No baby bump yet, that’s for sure.

Swallowing convulsively, Eva’s hand shook even as it went limp.

Delmar seemed to understand. He pushed his face against the mesh and tried to lick his neighbor’s face.

A tiny bubble of laughter (or was it despair?) burbled to the surface. Eva choked.

The alarm bells went from tinkles to gongs, pealing their warning. Sonia crouched closer. “Sorry. I didn’t mean—”

Eva pulled her hands onto her lap. “I’m not so good. We lost the baby.”

Sonia sucked in a pain-filled breath. “I-I’m sorry.” What else could she say?

“So are we. Can’t always get what you want.”

Best foot forward, Sonia chose the encouraging, supportive path. “You can always try again.”

The woman’s convulsive swallow turned into a sob. “We did. Lost ‘em both.”

“Oh, God.”

A meek nod. Eva climbed wearily to her feet. She stared at Delmar. “He’s a good listener.”

Sonia waited.

Eva finally met her gaze. “I really wanted this baby.” Pain shared. She turned and slogged to her house.

Sonia stood stunned as realization hit her. Their pain was much the same.

Delmar whined and nudged her hand with his wet nose.

Sonia peered down.

The clouds parted, and the hot August son baked her shoulders. All hope of dinner evaporated.

~~~

When the doorbell buzzed at sundown, Sonia wasn’t surprised to see Jim’s face staring back at her from the porch window. She let him in without comment.

He paced to the far side of the living room and turned.

Delmar plopped down in the corner with a decided harumph. Clearly, he knew he was not the center of attention.

Sonia pointed to the kitchen. “Can I get you something?”

His face drawn and lined with grief, Jim shook his head. “Thanks. We ate earlier. I just came by to thank you.”

Startled, Sonia narrowed her gaze. Was he joking? A passive aggressive thing?

Jim stepped closer, inviting a moment of intimate conversation. “No one understands. Just because the baby was so young, some people think that it didn’t matter. It wasn’t real. My aunt even teased us about having a burial. Said it was like burying a foot after an amputation. Or a lost tooth.”

Rage writhed inside Sonia, a beast she corralled almost every day of her adult life. “That’s stupid.”

Jim nodded. “Cold really. But you understand. And Eva needed to be heard. So, I just wanted to thank you.”

Flummoxed, Sonia fought impending tears. “I didn’t do anything.” Slashing against scars that had nearly ruined her life, she snipped her words into tiny pieces. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Jim’s eyes widened, clearly shocked. “Oh, sorry, Eva thought that you’d lost a baby too. That you understood her pain.”

“I never told her that!” Sonia was surprised by her scream. Guttural, ripping her insides out.

Wordlessly, Jim shook his head. His expression spoke for him. You never lost a baby?

“I can’t lose something I never wanted—never admitted!”

Crushed, Jim’s face fell into a chasm of grief. “Oh, yes. You can.” He strode across the room, swung open the door, glanced from Delmar to Sonia’s face, then plunged outside and plummeted down the steps.

Sonia fell to her knees, a sob taking her places she had refused to go for years.

Delmar inched closer and nudged his head under her arm. At some point, she would stop crying, and he’d be there, waiting for her.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/dog-german-shepard-backyard-german-2283039/

Our International Home

Downer Ave—Childhood Home

I don’t like to look back. Only forward. Perhaps one of the reasons why a sunny evening after a rainy day discombobulates me. A shiny-bright sky shouldn’t arrive when my exhausted body is ready to flop onto bed for a well-deserved rest. I like to consider where I am heading. Not where I have been. Can’t fix the past, only improve the future.

But last week, I became the custodian of a box of old letters. My brother who passed away had kept them through the years, and the kids and I discovered them only recently. My first surprise involved the sheer number. So many of the foreign students who boarded at my mom’s—Mrs. B’s—house had loyally written to her even after they had moved on with their lives. Our first renter, Yasushi Fujimoto, wrote from various places including the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Miramar, which my eldest daughter, a math-chem major, found rather interesting. As a kid, I could never have imagined that I would have a daughter who would grow up to become a scientist in her own right.

There is also the wedding invitation from Miss Ming Chu Hsu to Mr. Yaan Ming Jeffery Chan in Milwaukee not far from where we lived. There’s a thank you card from our Italian renter, Giuseppe, and his new wife, Laura, from their place in Glendale, WI. A sweet letter from Bing from his home in Wuhan, China.

Another letter, written by Bharat from Tanzania, apologizes profoundly for his delay in writing. I can’t imagine what could possibly be as important as writing a letter to us… He’d only had to fly across the globe to see his family. But he promises to return very soon, so his intentions were certainly honorable.

Chen wrote from California. Gustavo wrote from Caracas, Venezuela. There’s a wonderful catch-up with life’s goings-on from Awatif from the United Arab Emirates. A Christmas card from Bangladesh. A note from Said from Saudi Arabia…and that’s only a sample! Now, I’m wondering about those guys who didn’t send letters: Wael from Palestine and Bala from India. And so many more…

I have always considered myself blessed to have known so many people from such diverse walks of life. Not only did they come from different regions of the world, they spoke various languages and dialects, they ate fantastically spicy and exotic food. They practiced a variety of religions yet lived the same nobility of spirit. Hard working and determined, yet generous and understanding on so many levels. I don’t remember one cross word being spoken between the men during all those years.

I look back on my kid-tudes, and I’m ashamed that I wasn’t always as welcoming as I could have been. Being a child of a broken home, I wasn’t initially thrilled to have “my space” taken over by strangers. But those strangers became family in a way few other human beings have since matched.

In our international home, with usually between two to four students living with us at a time, I learned the impossible is possible. We humans can see beyond skin color, learn each other’s languages, discover new facets of God’s reality, and care so deeply about one other that even after thirty years, a yellowed scrap of paper can revive the flame of brotherly love. For, in fact, each of the men who stayed with us was my brother in the truest sense of the word.

Sadly, I have no connection with any of them now. I grew up, moved away, married, had kids, and became absorbed in forming my own little domestic universe. But as time marches relentlessly on, and family and friends pass away, my gaze turns inward. I discover that my heart is not frozen in ages past. Where ever those men have gone, my prayers and well-wishes go too.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo A. K. Frailey collection.

One Life Time

Song sat at Teal’s bedside, her hands clasped and her head bowed. It was an old room, the remnant of the first prayer-house ever built on Helm. The teak wood window frames, baseboards, rafters, and furniture had ripened to a rich sheen, giving the space a comforting, ever-lasting feel.

Steepling her pale fingers under her chin, her gaze traveled over Teal. After cleansing the body and proper infusions with hypo-static thoughts, words, and actions in order to restore balance to the spirit, her attendants had left her to guard him in quiet prayer.

He lay still, quite naked to her eyes.

You won’t like that when you wake up.

After sucking in a bracing breath, she climbed to her feet and padded to the far wall. Though the temperature huddled close to the Bauchi comfort zone during the day, it often dropped below freezing at night. She selected a forest-green blanket from a colorful selection and carried it to the bed where she lay it gently over Teal.

With a groan, Teal opened his eyes to mere slits. “Song?”

She patted his hand, forcing a smile. “Yes. I’m here.”

Teal grimaced and licked his lips. “What—happened?”

“You collapsed.” Song perched on the edge of the padded chair and leaned forward. “Don’t worry. Cerulean is safe. He is with Sterling and the others on Earth, continuing their mission.”

Teal’s eyes widened, alarm filling them. “Where am I?”

“On Helm. Zuri helped me get you to my ship and we—”

“I must go back!” His voice wavering, he struggled to rise. “Now.”

Song laid her hand on his chest. She didn’t need to press. He had no strength to resist. “You may go back. In time. But not today. For now, you must rest.”

His jaw clenching Teal’s eyes narrowed in challenge. “And if I refuse?”

Unbidden tears filled Song’s eyes. “You will die.”

Teal stared at her, comprehension overwhelming his face. “But Cerulean…”

“He will learn. Just as you did. As your father did before you. We are allotted one lifetime. You can only live yours. Never your son’s.”

Teal’s gaze traveled to the ceiling and stopped, frozen.

Song glanced up. A spider dangled by a web from the beam above. Was it anyone she knew? Probably not. Likely just an honest spider looking for the day’s meal.

A tear trickled down Teal’s cheek. His face as still as carven stone.

Song stood, her long red dress sweeping over the flagstone floor. “Sterling must lead, and Cerulean will follow. They have much to teach each other.”

With almost imperceptible shake of his head, Teal continued to focus on the ceiling.

“Though I have never given birth in flesh and blood, I have mothered many. The hardest part of love is not holding a dear one close, it is letting them go.”

Song reached the doorway when she heard his raspy response.

“I will see him again.”

She padded through the arched hallway. I pray so.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/woman-fantasy-forest-magic-surreal-2961723/

For That, I Was Glad

Balloons have no business on the ground. It’s quite obvious why, and I shouldn’t have had to explain it to anyone, much less my nearest and dearest. But then, one has to explain everything these days, doesn’t one?

I had just lost a tooth. One I had been particularly fond of as it made chewing so much easier. It was a chilly spring afternoon, and I was at the college graduation party for my niece, Marley-May. A child saddled with such a legal title deserved my compassion, as well as monetary encouragement, so I generously supported my favorite niece through five years of college. It took her a year and a half to change her major six times. But once she settled on Art Therapy with a minor in Anxious Languages taught by a guy named Phil-something, she plowed right through.

Using every ounce of her hard-earned sensibility, Marley-May was dressed for the weather that morning in a skin tight, sleeveless dress and high heels. The spring thunderstorm held off until the last of the graduates made it across the stage. Then it swooped in for revenge.

I and sundry family, faculty, and community members scattered to our cars and made it to graduation ceremonies throughout town, gripping steering wheels and squinting into failing light.

My sister, Marley-May’s mom, Geraldine, had decorated the garage with streamers, balloons, and hung a huge, stenciled swag: CONGRADULATIONS, NOW GET A JOB!  

Piled high with sandwiches, snacks, cakes, and drinks of all kinds, a standard plastic table dominated the oil stained, cement floor. An array of nails and screws piled up in old tin cans lining the shelving was a sight to behold. I had no idea that Geraldine’s husband, Sherman, was into recycling. I admired his organizational skills almost as much as I admired Geraldine’s dam-the-torpedoes approach to life’s challenges. Her husband’s projects among them.

Then, I took a bite of a caramel candy and promptly broke my tooth. But I couldn’t tell her that. So, I wrapped the piece in a matching “Congratulations, Now Get A Job” napkin and grinned through my discomfort.

“Having a good time?”

I glanced at my sister and grimaced. “Course. I love these get-togethers.”

She grimaced back. “Liar.”

“You know me too well.”

“I know that you made this day possible. Marley’s got a lead on a job, and her future looks bright. Thanks to you.”

I lifted my gaze beyond Geraldine’s left shoulder and watched my happy niece swigging back a soda with a half-eaten sandwich in the other hand. She chattered excitedly in a gathering of two other gals and a couple of interested, though not overly enthusiastic, young men. Did she have any idea how harsh the world would be? How dreams would be dashed? Aspirations squashed? The mighty burden of reality overload?

I shook my head. Of course not. She wouldn’t be smiling right now if she knew. Like a young bride going on her honeymoon, there’s no warning in the world to prepare a person for real sacrifice. That few care to notice. Even when it costs everything.

Geraldine patted my hand.

I met her gaze.

“You’ve done more than your fair share.”

“I did what needed to be done. Like what you did for Mom.”

“I just read her stories and relived my childhood as she slept in a chair.”

“You also held her hand. That’s what mattered.”

Geraldine’s eyes filled with tears.

Sherman marched into the make-shift party grounds and boomed. “Hey, I got old family videos set up in the living room and there’s hot cocoa on the stove. Let’s take this party to new heights, shall we?”

Wide-eyed horror rippled over Marley’s face.

Geraldine stood and faced the crises with charming calm. “Family videos are for us older folks who have no plans tonight.” She sidled into the youth’s gathering and drew her daughter aside. They spoke, and Marley looked over.

My stomach sank. The obligatory thank you was heading my way, complete with the hunted look and swift backward glances, pleading for courage from her friends.

Marley stopped in front of me and wrung her hands, her shoulders thrust back, ready to do her duty. “Hey, Auntie, just wanted to thank you for everything. I never could have made it through college without your support.”

I nodded graciously. The sharp edge of my tooth cut my tongue. “Happy to help. ‘What good you can do, you should do,’ Mom always said.” I shrugged. “Besides, Joe left me more than I really needed. It was only right that I share.”

A perplexed expression squinted through Marley’s eyes. “Oh, the money was nice. But what I really mean was your—I don’t know—your being you. Always there. Someone who cared about me.” She glanced over her shoulder. “Mom and dad are great. But, you know, they don’t always understand.”

The combination of honest flattery and dishonest betrayal sliced through me.

Words fell from my lips before I could stop them. “No one understands us completely, Honey. Only bits and pieces. The parts that reflect what we know. The rest confuses the hell out of us. We just try not to get mean about it.”

A startled glimmer of understanding quivered over Marley’s face.

Then a high, laughing voice rose from the background, “Hey, Graduate, you coming?” One of the gals pointedly tapped her watch. Fun called. Best not be late.

Marley squeezed my hand and smiled, peering into my eyes as if to convey something no words could tell. Real gratitude?

I nodded in acceptance and let her go her way.

Geraldine swept the remnant of the party-goers inside while Sherman took charge of clearing the faded festive grounds.

I stood and swiped my wrapped tooth from beside my paper plate. I’ll get it fixed next week. Geraldine will fill me in on Sherman’s newest home-improvement project, and Marly will find a job, making a life somewhere, somehow.

A red balloon skittered out of my way as I stepped across the floor. I picked it up and carried it with me. For a while, at least, it could hang in honor on my kitchen wall.

And for that, I was glad.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/illustrations/balloon-heart-grass-grasses-halme-208255/