Off the Ground

A read-aloud of this story https://anchor.fm/ann-frailey/episodes/Off-the-Ground-e17r4p4

Brenda knew that she was awake and that her bed was off the ground. But that didn’t seem to change matters for the better.

With a loud thump, it landed on the floor and pretended like it had never flown in its life.

Sitting up didn’t seem to help anything either. It’s not as if she could get out of bed and investigate. The darn thing was now acting as innocent as pecan pie. Besides, she was too frightened to get out from under her thick covers.

She blinked, and the dark room came into focus. The clock on the cabinet glowed red digits warning her that she’d have to get ready for work in a mere four hours. If she didn’t lie down and sleep now, she’d be a wreck at work. Gosh knows, she didn’t need any sly looks from the high schoolers or their teachers who loved to catch any snippet of gossip and wring the life out of it.

Slowly, she lowered her head to the pillow, her gaze fixed on the closet door. If the handle disappeared from her line of sight, she’d know what was going on. Luckily, the only sight that demanded her attention was the back of her eyelids as they covered her concerns in exhaustion.

Morning came bright and early. The birds sang their merry hearts out and then squabbled in turn. Just like some people I know. Brenda hopped out of bed, remembered the nocturnal flight, and froze in mid-step. She peered at the scene, carefully analyzing the exact placement of each piece of furniture.

Yep. The bed had moved. Normally there was a walkway between the edge of the bed and the end table by her reading chair. Now, there was hardly room for a hand, much less a whole body.

She studied the dresser, the file cabinet, and the bookshelf. They all seemed in their usual place, though upon further examination, the file cabinet had parted with the wall by a good two inches.

Ah, ha!

Conclusion? Some strange force had been at work in her room last night.

Scampering to the bathroom, Brenda accomplished her necessary morning duties in a fraction of their normal time, skipped breakfast altogether, and ran out of her tiny house with her work satchel slung over her shoulder and her phone clutched in her hand.

Pounding along the leaf-strewn sidewalk, she texted with one hand. A skill she had learned from a student waiting to see the principal.

Jim, we have to talk!

Coffee at the Café in 5.

My sanity hangs in the balance.

Of course, Jim always had coffee at the Corner Café before work, so she wasn’t exactly discombobulating his schedule. But as he liked to peruse the want ads, pretending that he was looking for a property where he’d build his dream house, adopt a puppy, and find a charming wife, he always acted like he was too busy to carry his half of a conversation.

He liked to listen though and grunted or hummed in all the right places.

She bounded along the quiet neighborhood street until she got to the Dividing Line. The high school was on one side and the main university campus on the other. She worked as a secretary at the high school. Jim worked as a maintenance guy on campus. They often thought of exchanging places for a day and see if anyone noticed. But as they hated a ruckus of any kind, they figured they’d just imagine the scene it would make and be content with that.

The Corner Café catered to high schoolers and the college crowd, making it a mainstay for more years than anyone could remember. The fact that it was decorated in the fifties style with movie star posters glittering from the walls, made it attractive without causing competitive friction.

Brenda breezed in.

Jim slouched over a newspaper at the counter. A coffee cup and a cream cheese bagel close at hand.

Brenda nodded at Jamie, the waitress, who didn’t need to ask what she’d have. She knew. In her fifties with a shock of red hair, maybe natural, she meandered about the café and accommodated customers with the pleasure of someone who long since decided that she worked to live not lived to work. It was a truce that offered benefits. Never in a hurry, she always brought what you wanted—eventually.

Brenda slid onto the red-covered stool next to Jim. “I got the scare of my life last night.”

Jim scratched his cheek. “Hmm.”

“My bed rose off the floor and then thumped to the ground.”

Jim turned the page of the newspaper with expert care.

“I could have been killed! How about if I had been sleeping on the edge? I sometimes do, you know. I could have slipped off and fallen under one of the legs, and it would’ve punched a big hole through me.”

Jim slapped his cheek.

Got his attention him at last!

Jim flicked a finger at the headlines. “The Paws Place has gone out of business. And just when I was getting up the courage to adopt one of their critters.”

Brenda shoved the paper aside. “Didn’t you hear me? I might have been killed. And even though it was rather unlikely, I still would like to know what the bed was doing bouncing up and down last night. And the file cabinet, too!”

Finally, Jim looked her way. “You do seem a bit disheveled. Did you even glance in the mirror?”

“Was it a poltergeist, you think?”

Jamie sauntered over and placed a cup of hot coffee on the counter in front of Brenda. Then she slid a plate of buttered wheat toast with two little jam packets on the side.

Starving, Brenda ripped open a creamer and four sugar packets and doctored her coffee. Then she tore open the jam packet and looked around for a knife.

None in sight.

A speedster roared down the street.

Jim looked out the window. “That’s Prof Kilroy. Got a new red one and loves to flash it about town.”

Desperate to get her toast jammed, Brenda squeezed the jellied mess onto its appointed destination. She spread it with a finger and nudged Jim with her elbow. “What do you think?”

“Not a poltergeist. They’ve gone completely out of style. Now, back in the eighties, you could still get away with that sort of thing, but try it now, and you’d be laughed out of town.”

Brenda glanced at the wall clock and took two hasty bites, then talked around her chews. “Aliens?”

Jim shrugged. “Possible but still unlikely.” He stared down his nose at her. “Why would aliens want to play pogo stick with your bed? Or redecorate the furniture in your room?”

“Maybe they were just passing through, and their force moved things unintentionally.”

Jim scratched his head, took a large bite of his bagel, and eyed the last dregs of his coffee. “Doesn’t work that way. Anything powerful enough to make it to this world and stupid enough to hang around would have either conquered us already or been decimated by our transportation system.”

A distant bell rang.

Jim sighed, folded his paper, and offered Brenda a deadpanned stare. “The kiddos will want to know where their late slips go, and your principal will want the agenda for the teachers’ meeting.”

Brenda chomped down the last of her toast and chugged her hot coffee, burning the back of her throat. “And campus security will want to know what to do with the latest vandalized bicycle and where to put the tiles that blew off in the storm last night.”

Parting just outside the door, Brenda waved good bye with a composed smile.

Jim waved back and started across the street. Suddenly he called out, “What storm?”

Knowing that she’d never survive the day if she considered Jim’s remark, Brenda pretended she didn’t hear and ran into the school building, hoping that she wasn’t too late.

That evening, Brenda returned home, flung her satchel aside, unloaded her grocery bag, and headed to the bedroom with her mind made up. She wasn’t going to have her life dictated by some malevolent spirits or mysterious aliens. She pulled off her work clothes, dragged on a pair of rugged work jeans and a warm pullover to fight the autumn chill, and faced her bedroom furniture.

“All right now! I’m putting you all back where I want you, and I expect you to behave properly. I’m the one who bought and paid for you, arranged a place for you in my home, and keep you from falling into total degradation in the dump.”

With concerted effort, she pushed the bed and then shoved the file cabinet into their former positions. Satisfied, she clapped her hands. Her world was back in order, and all was well.

Until approximately 2:00 am.

The bed danced, and the furniture shook.

Brenda jumped out of bed and looked around. She had been having a strange dream about ocean waves roaring into a tsunami.

No ocean and no waves, but the floor was definitely vibrating. Perhaps the bed was not actually off the floor, but it had shifted from its assigned position.

She shivered.

The wind shrieked and pounded against the house.

Scampering to the window, she peered into the autumn night. The temperatures had dropped, and she could see leaves swirling in the wind.

Rubbing her arms, she sent a prayer to heaven for her heating system. At least the house was warm.

Then, silence and all was still. The wind settled down, and the floor becalmed.

With a weary sigh, Brenda climbed back into bed to snatch the last few hours of sleep.

In the morning, her hair uncombed and her shirt on inside out, Brenda slipped into place next to Jim at the cafe and pounded her fist on the counter. “It happened again last night! The whole house went on a rampage, and my furniture went where ever they wanted.”

Jim gave her a once over, pity flooding his eyes. He folded the paper and laid it aside.

In unusual efficiency, Jamie placed toast and coffee before Brenda like a lifeboat to a drowning victim. In the first intimidating act of the day, she stared at Jim.

In acknowledgment of the right thing to do, Jim nodded. “I’ll come by tonight and sleep on your couch. We’ll catch the culprit in the act.”

Relieved beyond measure, Brenda kissed Jim on the cheek before she inhaled her breakfast and headed off to work.

That night, Brenda got Jim settled comfortably on the couch with enough pillows and blankets to keep a petulant maharaja happy.

Since the temperatures had dropped below freezing, Brenda set the thermostat higher. It was an ancient heater that predated the civil war or close anyway, so she wanted to be sure that Jim wouldn’t think she was cheapskate and leave him to freeze during the night.

No chance of that as they both flew into the air at approximately the same moment when the house began to shake, rattle, and roll.

“Good golly, this house has more rhythm than the entire sixties generation!” He flicked on the table lamp.

Brenda scampered into the living room both scared silly and wildly exultant. “You see what I mean? It’s practically alive!” She was so glad that she wasn’t crazy that despite the vibrations making the couch skitter across the room, she actually felt amused.

The house settled down as quickly as it had erupted.

Jim plopped down on the edge couch. Or where it had been and promptly landed on the floor.

Brenda giggled as she helped him to his feet. “Gremlins or aliens, do you think?”

Jim snorted and headed directly for the floor vent. He peered at it, then demanded to see the furnace.

Confused, Brenda led the way to the miniature basement and pointed at the behemoth. “It’s been here as long as the house. Never causes me any problem. Just have to turn the dial a little more each year to get it to respond.”

Jim nodded, grabbed a metal poker off the shelf, and tapped the ductwork.

They tinged and banged in response, echoing throughout the house.

Brenda was charmed. “It’s like they’re singing. Do that again; it’s kind of fun.”

Jim snorted. “Ha! Fun you call it. You didn’t like it when they sang you awake the last few nights.”

Flummoxed out of any recognizable speech pattern, Brenda stared at the ordinary looking pipes that ran throughout her house.

“They’re all loosie-goosy—don’t you see? When it got cold, you set the thermostat to kick the furnace on, and so it did. And it set the duct work to singing—or grumbling—all over the house. Which set the furniture to dance on their vibrations.”

Embarrassment flushed through Brenda’s whole body. “Oh, gosh, I’m such an idiot.”

Jim smiled and tentatively placed his arm around her shoulder. “I wouldn’t say that. You’re a secretary who doesn’t know ductwork as well as a maintenance guy.” He led her back upstairs and nudged her toward her bedroom. “Get a blissful night’s sleep. Tomorrow is Saturday, and you can fix coffee and biscuits in the kitchen while I take look about and see what other wonders this house holds.”

Brenda stared at Jim almost as if he had begun to dance. She turned and headed back to bed. When she climbed under the covers, she knew the bed wasn’t floating off the ground. But her heart was.

A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.

Make the most of life’s journey. 

For more stories like this one, check out One Day at a TimeAnd Other Stories

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For other books by A. K. Frailey see her Amazon Author Page https://www.amazon.com/A.-K.-Frailey/e/B006WQTQCE

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/model-people-woman-leaves-autumn-2596054/

Homestead Parts 13 and 14

Podcast https://anchor.fm/ann-frailey/episodes/Homestead-Parts-13-and-14-e174jbl

It’s a Deal

What did Liam mean in his letters? And what about Josh? Did the aliens get him? Were the kids okay? And what about Ben—yeah, what about Ben…

Five o’clock on a mid-July evening, and I was ready to spontaneously combust. Too many questions and not nearly enough answers. I invited Linda over for supper, and we slapped flies away as we ate egg salad sandwiches. No chips, of course. Pickles, though. I had finally gotten enough cucumbers to make a decent batch. Vinegar, garlic, a dash of sugar and salt, and lots of dill made us pucker up big time, but they went well with the meal. I even made a blackberry cobbler for dessert. If the flies didn’t eat it all first.

I got up and draped a towel over the deep dish. Then I slumped with Monday weariness onto my chair and took another bite of dinner, crunching on the garden lettuce I had added for body since I didn’t have many eggs. I glanced at Linda.

She was eating, a good sign. But the dark lines under her eyes, glazed expression, and slow motions bespoke depression’s tenacious hold.

“So, have any of your tomatoes ripened yet?” A pertinent question, considering the need for healthy food to be packed away for the long winter. I tried not to think of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s version of the Long Winter. Where they nearly starved to death.

Linda dragged her gaze from the flower-rimmed plate and met my gaze. It seemed to take a minute for the question to process. “Oh, no. Not yet. They’re getting big though. All the rain. Just hope they don’t rot.”

Setting that pleasant image aside, I opened my mouth to try again, when she interrupted me—her brows scrunched in concentration.

“What about Liam’s letters. You never told me. What did he say?”

I sighed. How much to share? Or how little? A strong desire to make something up—something truly interesting—washed over me like a cool bath. It would be fun to imagine that he had spent the last weeks frantically busy, heroically saving the Pacific coast. But no.

“They weren’t terribly fact-filled. The first was ridiculous; he was in complete denial that technology had let him down, let us all down. He insisted that it was some kind of prank. Though by the end of the letter, he seemed to be considering the idea that it might be a nefarious attack by a group of villainous hackers. His words, not mine.”

“The letters were from was early on and just got to you now?”

Mail had been traveling in spurts and drips. All his letters, at least the three that I received, were written in the early days. The second seemed to take the situation more seriously, but he was still convinced that the “snafus” would be cleared up quickly. He made a joke of the fact that everyone in the hotel was swapping medications to manage their various conditions. I cringed at the thought of him trying to substitute something for his daily prednisone. Not the kind of medicine that you want to play merry-go-round with.

I studied Linda, knew she had bared her soul about Jared and had to tell the truth. “Liam spent the first two letters telling me that the whole thing wasn’t really happening. But by the third, he had faced some version of reality. He spent that letter telling me that he loved me and the kids.”

Linda clasped my hand and squeezed. We both tried not to cry.

I would have failed miserably had it not been for a sudden squawking outside the door. Linda ran into me as we both rushed for the door. Bouncing off each other like school kids racing outside for recess, we managed to make it to the door, disheveled, but—

Humans Among Us

Linda and I returned to our repast and did an amazing job finishing off the egg salad and an embarrassing amount of the cobbler. Though it was still mid-summer, the days weren’t getting longer but slowly shortening with lingering evenings being the best part of the day.

We decided to sit out on the front porch as the sun set and the sky turned from pink and yellow into a fiery red. If I had any wine on hand, I would’ve offered her some. The trees across the road rippled in a gentle breeze, and birds twittered from the electrical lines. I wondered what would happen to those ubiquitous black wires? Would they surge with energy once again someday? Or become useless like dead snakes and drop to the ground in imitation of some dystopian novel?

I glanced aside and saw a tear slip down Linda’s face. For the first time, really, I cared about her. Not the usual, “Hope you’re doing well” that we send in quick messages or the “How’s everything?” in passing, but the heart-wrenching sensation you get when you feel another person’s pain. I rubbed her back. “Josh and Jared will be okay.” It was an ignorant comment. I knew it, and she knew it.

She swallowed, gulping sobs, and clasped her hands, shaking with pent-up tension. She slid her gaze my way. “You don’t know, do you?”

I attempted an easy nonchalance and shrugged. “Tell me.”

“Jared wasn’t crazy. There are aliens.”

That was enough. I didn’t want to go any further, but yet, I had to know. Either everyone was going mad or I was way out of the loop. “Aliens? Seriously?”

She snorted, should’ve had a whisky to belt back. “Yeah. They’ve been here a long time. Since humanity got started, I think.”

Whoa! This was a new take on an old theme. “They’ve been watching us since—when?”

Linda straightened, rubbed her listless arms, and exhaled a long breath. A weary pedagogue having to go round ten with a recalcitrant student. “Not watching. They’ve been raised with us. Look, I don’t know the whole story, but I get the general drift. When life first started on this planet, for a time, everything was just at animal level—you know, fish and birds, creepy crawly things, and then mammals and more adaptable critters. At some point, I have no clue when, there was a divide. Actually, from what I understand, there were several splits. Some of the more intelligent or adaptable animals, pre-human-kind survived while others fell by the wayside. Was there warfare, a genocide of sorts? Can’t say if they were capable of comprehending that sort of thing. But it happened nonetheless.”

My gaze strayed to the flowering Rose of Sharon bushes. Their starburst pink flowers with white centers sure looked beautiful. I didn’t want an anthropology lesson. I always figured that we could clog the Earth with what we didn’t know about our past, and our ever-changing hypothesis about our true origin should be taken with a proverbial grain of salt. “Anyway” Linda must’ve sensed my mood shift. She hurried on. “These alien beings came along and decided—

For the rest of these and other episodes visit Kindle Vella Homestead by A. K. Frailey

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

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/fantasy-ufo-spaceship-future-hover-5025661/

Homestead Parts 11 and 12

https://anchor.fm/ann-frailey/episodes/Homestead-Parts-11-and-12-e16qdtf

Ponderations

Dana couldn’t stand still for a minute. Even perpetual motion machines of the world took notice.

I sat on the back steps letting a cool front work its magic. For the end of June, it was gorgeous. Cool sunny mornings, warm days with afternoon rainstorms, and blessedly chilly nights. “I wish this would last forever.”

Dana stopped pacing under the maple tree and stared at me. Glared really. But who am I to quibble? She had stayed longer than she intended, only because I threatened to get on my knees and beg.

“You’re okay without dad?”

I shook my head and tried to wave her comment into oblivion. “That’s not what I meant. I was talking about the weather.”

Her hands went to her hips. “It’s time we left. You’re not going to give us any trouble, right?”

Juan slipped out my bedroom door and stopped on the top porch step. I didn’t see him. But I didn’t need to. I knew the sound of my son’s footsteps as well as my own heartbeat.

I waited. Juan didn’t want to leave home. I knew that, but there was an unspoken understanding that he would go with Dana. He had to. She was going no matter what I said. But she couldn’t go alone. And I was hardly fit enough to traipse across an out-of-control country. I’d do better to keep the home fires burning. Literally.

I peered at Dana. She was the same woman who had driven to St. Louis weeks ago, but at the same time, she seemed so altered that I hardly felt comfortable in her presence. There was something she wasn’t telling me. And I was weary of not knowing—fighting off the horrors that raged in my mind. So, I countered with a question of my own, “You want to tell me about the aliens?” That threw her. I knew it would. The look that crossed her face when…

Into the Deep End

It was late by the time Ben left and the kids settled down for a good night’s rest before their adventure the next day.

To my everlasting gratitude, Ben offered to go with the kids. He didn’t start with that offer though. Ben is far wilier than I had realized. What comes across as boyish innocence masks a deceptively perceptive nature. He outfoxed Dana better than I ever could.

He spent the majority of the evening asking her advice, taking her lead. Even glancing her way when I suggested an early bedtime. Almost as if he and she had formed an inside club that knew better than color-in-the-lines-can’t-be-too-careful mom.

Juan sat back and luxuriated in someone else taking the burden of conversation off his shoulders. Though he did add texture to the stories, Ben got Dana to share details about their travels.

No one mentioned aliens.

I wished Ben had asked. For some reason, I thought he might be able to get away with that line of inquiry when it was clear, I’d be blown to smithereens for my efforts. Still, it was a great evening. A memory I could snuggle close to, comforting me through the ordeals ahead.

When I heard knocking on the kitchen door at six in the morning, I assumed it was Ben ready to roust the kids out of bed and hit the road for a fresh start before the sun climbed too high. I poured the last of the pancake batter into the frying pan and wiped my hands on a clean towel. “Coming, sir. Right in time for—”

Josh stared at me through eyes glossy with exhaustion, his body limp and his clothes filthy.

“Josh? What—?”

“Is he here?”

“Who? Ben? He’ll be coming along in a bit.”

Pushing past me, Josh stumbled into the house and landed on the kitchen bench, his whole body sagging. “No, Jared. Has he come by? Or said anything to you?”

I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of the young man. Didn’t want to either. “No. Everything has been quiet here. Ben and the kids are heading out this morning—”

Josh wavered to his feet. “Don’t!”

I swallowed the fear lodging itself in my throat. “Why?”

This time the knock was followed by the door opening in quick succession. Ben swung into the room, his gaze locking on me. “You okay?” Footsteps pounded down the stairs, and Dana joined the coffee klatch though no coffee had been served yet, and I was as confused as…

For the rest of these episodes and others visit Kindle Vella Homestead by A. K. Frailey.

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

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/de/photos/neuseeland-haus-heimat-h%c3%bctte-2609034/

Homestead Parts 9 and 10

If I Could Get the Movie Rights

It was nearing the middle of June, and I still didn’t know where Liam or the kids were, but perhaps I was the lucky one.

After receiving a strange note, Ben had advised Josh and Linda to intercept Jared at Terre Haute where the boy had been taken for evaluation. Apparently, he was raving about aliens and could get violent if people rolled their eyes in skepticism.

The day after they got back with a disheveled, skinny son in tow, they invited me over for a mid-morning snack. I fought down jealousy and cleaned up after a battle in the garden, trying to direct the zucchini vines away from the potato plants. What I said to the tomato plants doesn’t bear repeating, though the lettuce was behaving well and offered enough to share when I felt neighborly.

After getting settled on their plush couch in their purple-walled room, I stifled a gag in the rancid air.

The temperatures had rocketed to the low nineties with high humidity. Add the fact that Linda couldn’t get used to the idea that with no air conditioning, the inhabitants still had to breathe, so she had to keep windows open, but she often forgot.

I panted like a dog,

Linda perched on the edge of a straight-backed chair in the corner while Josh stood strangely indecisive in the doorway.

Jared paced like a caged animal before the clean fireplace.

Becoming more uncomfortable by the minute, sweat dripping down my back, and prickles spread over my arms at the sight of the twenty-five-year-old man. He had changed so completely; I almost didn’t recognize him. I glanced at Linda, then at Josh.

Neither offered a word.

Never one to jump off the deep end, I took tentative steps. “I’m so glad you made it home safe and sound, Jared. I’m rather jealous. My kids were supposed to be back a couple of weeks ago, but…still traveling…I guess.” My brave smile died a quick death. Jared stopped pacing. I’ve heard of people being frozen in place. An overused literary device that ought to be dropped. But as I stared at Jared, his still form brought the expression…

Winding Road Ahead

I didn’t have to wait long.

It may have seemed an eternity, but on Saturday, the nineteenth of June, I heard a familiar tromp of feet climbing up my back porch steps. Two pairs. My beloved kids had returned.

Or so I hoped.

I dashed my hands in the old ice cream bucket of cooled, boiled water I kept beside the sink to wash my hands, quickly rinsing sticky dough off my fingers. Though there was still a bit of kneading to finish the daily bread, that duty faded to insignificance.

I wiped my eyes, hoping that I’d keep from crying.

First, Dana stepped into the kitchen.

You guessed it; I burst into tears.

Always a little on the plump side with a sweet round face and pink cheeks, long shiny brown hair, and dressed professionally, she now presented a very different image. All extra weight gone, her face lean with high, tight cheekbones, and her hair had been whacked off to ear length. I wondered if she had done it with a machete. Her clothes had certainly seen better days. I pressed my fingers to my lips to suppress an involuntary gasp.

Juan stepped in behind his sister. My overwhelmed gaze immediately recognized his state of malnutrition—bone-thin, the ghost-like pallor, sunken cheeks, dark cavernous circles under his eyes. But when he smiled, my son showed though.

They hesitated only a moment when I held out my arms, aching for a hug.

Sobbing, I gripped each of them, hanging on for dear life, but also, acutely aware that their bones felt sharp against my body.

Dana let go first. As usual, she wanted to get down to business.

“Where’s dad?” I ran my fingers through my short, unruly hair, recognizing the fact that it had come loose from its tie, and I probably looked like a seed pod ready to take flight. What could I say? I shook my head, my gaze…

For the rest of these episodes and others, visit Kindle Vella Homestead by A. K. Frailey.

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

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

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Poetry

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

Photo https://pixabay.com/de/photos/frau-zaun-ranch-br%c3%bcnette-gesicht-1996283/

Homestead Parts 5 and 6

Light

My stomach rumbled. So much for the Celestial realm. I considered my guest’s quiet form for a moment then promptly rose to the challenge of finding a quick nourishing meal that didn’t require an engineering degree. I swept past Ben, marched down the porch steps, and crossed the backyard to the woodpile. I grabbed a couple of thick logs, snatched a handful of twigs from the brush pile, and charged into the house.

After assembling a conflagration in the woodstove, I popped the four limp loaves onto two shelves and closed the door with a sense of accomplishment. Next, I gathered three plastic containers, usually used for juice, and plodded to the prairie grass. I waded through the green tangle and stopped at the well pump. The steel handle glinted in the fading light. I pumped a bit and, sure as shooting, clear water gushed out. Before I could break a sweat, I filled the three containers and then realized that I only had two hands. Plodding back and forth, I managed to get all three containers to the woodstove where I poured their contents into a large metal pot on the stovetop. I covered it with a lid, checked the fire, added a few more sticks, and nearly pounded my chest with happy satisfaction.

Sitting at the kitchen table, Ben chuckled. To my surprise, he hadn’t deemed my marvel of efficiency as a proper excuse to run off and help some helpless neighbor. Linda perhaps?

Ben pointed to the chrome refrigerator. “You might want to use what’s in there before it goes bad.”

I blinked. Images of sour milk, rancid cheese, and brown lettuce rose in my mind. Before I could stop them, rude words poured forth from my lips. “How long have you been here?”

He tapped his watch and shrugged. “Don’t know, but too long apparently.” He rose to his feet and smiled, tipping his head in a gentleman’s goodbye. “Glad to know that you can manage so well. I’ll head out now.” He paced to the kitchen door and nodded. “If you need me, just call.”  

I didn’t know how to answer. I didn’t want to need him. “Thanks. If you need me, you know where I am.” I rolled my eyes. The guy was only trying to help. It wasn’t until after he’d left that I realized, he’d forgotten that the phones didn’t work. I couldn’t call him. My stomach rumbled—a volcano with dire predictions if I didn’t attend to internal matters. I swung open the refrigerator door and decided that…

A Day of Impossibilities

Yes, okay. You got me. I did forget the bread. But since I completely forgot the woodstove and let the fire go out, I stood amazed the next day—like a child on Christmas morning—to discover that instead of four burnt-to-a-crisp-loaves, I actually had something eatable waiting for me in the woodstove.

Still dressed in my pajamas, it was the sudden memory of the bread that shot me out of bed, I gingerly pulled out the pans and placed them on the cool stovetop.

If I hadn’t been so bloody miserable missing Liam and the kids, I probably would’ve done a happy dance. But happy was not to be. Not with my heart constricted and panic ready to seep from the pores of my skin. Liam had an auto-immune disorder, nothing terribly serious, but his body could go into painful flairs without his medication. He’d taken enough for his trip to L. A. but as he had no intention of staying more than the required three days, he probably hadn’t packed extra. I tossed a prayer to Heaven. “Please, God, assure me that he took extra. Or that a doctor is near at hand. Or he meets a pharmacist who happens to carry around extra doses of prednisone.”

A gentle breeze wended its way through the open window, fluttering the lacy white curtains. I took that as a sign. Then I snatched up one pan and carried it to the table. I plopped it onto a breadboard, snuck the jam jar from the dark refrigerator, and slathered a slice. “Oh, and—” I prayed between chews. “Thanks for this day’s bread.”

A headache slowed my reaction time, so it took me longer than usual to realize that someone was knocking at my kitchen door. Ben? Surely not. I glanced out the window. It couldn’t be much after 6:00 AM.

Linda peered through the storm door window. Anxiety lined her face, but she lifted a thermos like a peace offering. “I know just what you need.”

Conflicted between the need for my morning coffee and irritation, I opened the screen door and stepped aside.

She pulled a second thermos from behind her back.  “We’ll chat over hot coffee like old times.”

My mind ricocheted around the room. The morning light streaming in the kitchen windows. A hen clucking in annoyance at the collie’s advances. Linda sidling over to a chair and plopping down as if the last couple of days had never happened. My headache sped into overdrive. An image of Ben with his hands folded, concerned, yet strangely peaceful, flittered through my mind. Liam, Juan, and Dana should be sitting at the table, joking and eating breakfast together. Oh, God, when will I see them again?

Linda took a hearty swig from her thermos. “You better drink up. It took Josh an hour to get the fire warm enough to heat up our camp coffee pot. Lucky I still had that old thing. I got the rust out, don’t worry.”

I unscrewed the top and took a tentative sip. Yowch! It was definitely hot. But the scalding actually felt good going down. Caffeine addict that I was, relief cruised through my body. I sank back into the chair and realized, with only slight discomfort, that Linda was fully dressed while I was still in my morning rumpled condition. My hair undoubtedly looked like I had spent quality time in close proximity to a wind turbine.

Linda didn’t seem to mind. Especially not considering the fact that she was drooling, quite literally, at the sight of my home-baked bread.

Being a good Christian woman, I sliced a thick piece, placed it delicately on a napkin, and nudged the jam jar with a strategically placed spoon in her direction. “Eat up. I’ve got three more.”

Linda didn’t waste any time. I shouldn’t have been surprised when…

For the rest of these episodes and others, visit Kindle Vella Homestead by A. K. Frailey.

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

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/de/photos/brot-laib-handwerker-artisan-brot-1510155/

Homestead Parts 3 and 4

Before Things Get Bad

At precisely noon, my brown kitchen light dimmed to black. The clock blinked off. The internet disconnected. The refrigerator stopped humming. The hot water heater stopped heating. The freezer stopped freezing. And I couldn’t get a dial tone on my phone.

Discombobulated, I knew I should be freaking out, but a strange calm flowed over me.

The crunching of a car heading down our gravel lane broke the silence.

I stepped out on the porch and waved.  

Our neighbor, Josh slowed down. He rolled down the window and came to a stop. A perplexed grin spread over his face. “Something funny’s going on, Rosie.”

I shrugged his concern away. “Just a power outage. We’ve had ‘em before.”

He blinked and shook his head. “I was at the café in town, sitting around with the guys talking, and Mark said his daughter was having a brown out, just like we were.”

Six of my aged hens crossed the driveway, heading for the pine woods behind the woodpile. I watched the collie out of the corner of my eye. She liked to bark at them, thinking she could scare an extra egg loose. “Well, it’s no—”

“Mark’s daughter lives in Australia.”

I snorted in disbelief. “Coincidences do happen.”

So, Ray called his brother in Anchorage, and would you believe it? But they’re having power issues too.”

Another car came up behind, Josh’s wife, Linda. Under normal circumstances, I’d have waved Linda inside for a cup of tea, but the look on her face told me that she knew I wasn’t going to be heating up a pot of anything soon. Her eyes, wide and scared, sent prickles down my arms. “Hey, Linda. Don’t look so worried! You’ll scare your husband—”

Linda ran from the car to her husband’s cruise and practically tore the driver’s side door open. “The power is out in every town and city as far as anyone knows!”

“But you can’t know.” I shoved fear away, as far as I could with every ounce of logic that my brain could muster. “So, there’s some power outages across the world. That hardly means that everyone is out. Could be a weird sun thing. A grid failure that knocked out a bunch of places at once. Perhaps there’s an internet virus.” I shrugged. “Give it a few hours. There’s no way we won’t get this fixed.”

Linda turned on me and for the first time in our friendship, I realized that I didn’t really know her.

“You’re being stupid, Rosie. Completely stupid!” She stalked back to her car, yelling over her shoulder. “Get home, honey. We better prepare for the worst.” She slammed her car door and opened the window as she passed, following Josh. “Just be glad your family is with you, Rosie. My mom is three states away, and Jared is working in Indiana. I just hope to God that they can make their way here before things get bad.”

Without the least regard for one of my cats ambling across the road, Linda raced after her husband. I knew I wouldn’t be inviting her in for anything any time soon.

But as I made my way toward the house, her words rang in my ears. “Before things get bad…”

Part 4

Failed to Send

There was nothing to do but finish making bread. It seemed like the most reasonable course. Besides, whole wheat bread straight from the oven soothes even the most troubled soul. I ambled back to the kitchen, put the loaves in the oven, and turned it on low to help them rise.

The oven didn’t respond.

I nodded. So okay. Not a brilliant move, but I wasn’t about to be thrown off by my first setback. I placed the loaves on the counter. They would rise eventually. On impulse, I texted my sister. Sarah always maintained an upbeat disposition under the most trying situations, and besides, I wanted to know what happened to poor Bill. He wasn’t really poor. The guy made more money than Liam. I dashed off a quick note.

Failed to send.

Then my heart started to race. I dashed off a text to Liam.

Failed to send.

I tried calling Dana.

Nothing.

I tried Juan.

Nothing again.

I stared at my phone like it had betrayed me…really let me down.

Now I knew what being lost at sea must feel like. The ground had fallen away, and there were no walls to grab onto. No ceiling. Nothing but a world of non-functioning tools and toys.

I looked at the stovetop to see the time, but, of course, that didn’t tell me anything. The house was quiet. Even the road was silent. I walked outside and strolled into the backyard.

The sun perched high and the birds were singing their pretty little heads off. I wanted to talk with someone, but town was a couple of farm fields away. A long walk.

My stomach clenched into a tight knot.

The big maple outside my bedroom window sported seed pods that helicoptered to the ground. It usually seemed amusing to watch them whirl about and land in masses, covering the ground. But they didn’t seem particularly funny now.

I told them the hard truth. “Most of you won’t make it to the next season—you realize that don’t you?”

Well, that was morbid.

I shivered in the sun. A big wooden swing set that Liam had arranged under the grape arbor beckoned, so I made my way over and perched on the edge. The garden beds had recently been turned over and potatoes, onions, even lettuce seeds had been planted. The tomato and pepper plants still sat in flats on the front porch. Liam would get to them next week.

I swallowed.

My fingers inched toward me phone, so I pulled it out, leaned back on the swing, savored the earthy garden scent, and imagined the story I would tell my beloved—once I got ahold of him.

I tapped his number. Nothing. I texted. Failed to send. I squinted in the strong light, trying to make out how much battery power I had left. About half.

I rubbed the back of my neck.

What now?

A couple of vultures circled overhead. Thanks, guys. Really. Can’t you go intimidate someone else?

Before I knew it…

For more episodes, visit Kindle Vella Homestead by A. K. Frailey.

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

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/hands-heart-torn-broken-smartphone-1822956/

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/

I’m Making Mine

Imogen trudged down the porch steps of her sister’s farmhouse, doing a quick kindness and her civic duty. She crossed the yard, lugging two large bags to the burn barrel while pattering footsteps followed close behind. She hoped it wasn’t the murdering demon that had kept her up half the night sending some unknown critter to its untimely end.

“Hey, auntie, let me help you with that.”

Without so much as a by-your-leave or an explanation that the trash bag was white and the Goodwill bag was black, Lucy flung the two bags over the edge of the canister where they landed with a definite thud.

Lucy, medium height, dyed jet-black hair, pale skin, and wearing a man’s tank top over artistically torn shorts clapped imaginary dirt off her grubby sixteen-year-old hands and grinned. “I have something important to tell you.”

Tugging the black bag back out of the barrel, Imogen grunted her version of well-get-it-over-with.

Her posture decidedly more formal, hands-on-hips, shoulders back, and her eyebrows bunched, Lucy launched her declaration like a night missile into rebel territory. “I’m going evil. Really bad. It’s a choice, and I’m making mine.”

Maxwell Smart’s voiceover played in Imogen’s head, “…for niceness instead of evil.” She flung the salvaged bag over her shoulder and tromped across the wet grass, her damp shoes sliding with each step.

Lucy pranced alongside, wringing her hands into unnatural whiteness. “Didn’t you hear me?”

Imogen stopped at her car door and dropped the bag on the gravel driveway. “I’m doing my absolute best to ignore you. Now, go inside to your mother and break her heart—after every good thing she’s done for you. I have to drop this off at Goodwill before they close, or I’ll be stuck driving it to Mass in the morning with Old Man Davy and his wife pretending they don’t notice a thing.”

“Would it bother them so much if you have an old bag in your car?”

“They wouldn’t care really. But they’ll have nothing to talk about, so they’d ask. And then I’d have to explain that I stopped by my sister’s place yesterday, being today, and it would slip out that my niece tried to burn the blinking thing before I could get it to Goodwill.”

A microcosm of a grin twitched over Lucy’s face. “So, you wouldn’t tell them that I’ve gone evil?”

“You tried to burn a donation to charity. Enough said, honey.”

A prolonged sigh followed Lucy as she directed her feet to the porch steps. “No one understands me.”

Least of all you, child. Imogen swung the bag into the back seat and plunked her body before the steering wheel. She drove down the lane at the moderately safe speed of forty miles per hour.

~~~

Pulling into her driveway, Chancy, Imogen’s Irish Setter and sorry excuse for house security, bounded forward. What does one say to a happy-go-lucky dog? What she always said, “Yes, I love you, but don’t jump. It’s bad manners.”

Ignoring not only manners but decency itself, Chancy scrabbled forward and propped her muddy paws on Imogen’s clean pants.

“Glad I already made my Goodwill run. They’d have offered me clothes if I’d arrived like this.” She blew a stray lock of hair from her face and stepped around three cats prancing in her path.

In the kitchen, she surveyed the wreckage. Though it happened every time she left the house, it always took her by surprise. The fresh mess. And, of course, neither Carl nor the kids would know how it happened. Bread crumbs, a jelly smear, a dollop of peanut butter, a couple of stray raisins and a banana peel informed her of recent culinary adventures. Brad, undoubtedly. The boy was growing faster than poison ivy around the utility pole. Not his fault. Nor his dads. Not mine either, come to think of it. She shook her head. But your mom has a lot to answer for.

Her sixty-five-year-old husband with a hint of arthritis in his joints lumbered into the room. A good twenty pounds overweight and sporting the unshaved look, Carl swallowed the last of what smelled like the missing banana and offered a half-wave. “Jane high-tailed it to work an hour late and Joe’s gone off with friends to a game. Had to eat early. So, I made sure he got some fruits and vegetables.”

Imogene wrung out a wet dishcloth and rounded up the crumbs. “How’s that?”

“I made him add raisins and corn chips to his PBJ.”

She brushed the crumbs into the trash and started on the dirty dishes. “Why would he agree to do that? Sounds terrible.”

“He wanted twenty bucks. Nothing’s for free in this world.” Carl leaned against the counter and appeared to mull over the ponderous truth he’d just revealed to the world.

Imogene wiped her hands on a dry towel and stared fixedly at her husband. “You bribed your grandson to eat our good food with your hard-earned money?”

Carl let that sink in. “Yep. That’s about the size of it.” He patted her shoulder. “But I’ve been busier than a bee in spring time. Got that racoon carcass buried past the fence line, fixed the wobbly back step, and put a chuck roast in a pan with garlic, onions, carrots, and some of our new potatoes.”

Pride shining through his eyes, he opened the oven door. “Just waited till you got home to turn it on. Shouldn’t take long.”

Pleased but stuck on the words “racoon carcass,” Imogene flashed a falling-star smile. “What’d you bury?” She titled her head to the left. Her hearing had never been good, but after today, she seriously debated the benefits of a hearing aide.

“You know, the coon that lost the big battle last night?”

“I heard the battle; I just didn’t know who the participants were. Or who won.”

“Didn’t see any winner badges. Just the loser stiff as a board in the garage this morning. Though, he was laid out near Chancy’s food bag.”

“Chancy has never killed anything in her life. Too silly.”

Carl shrugged. “Everyone has their limits. Guess old coon pushed them too far.”

Imogene planted a kiss on her husband’s cheek, pressed the bake button until it read 400, and then started toward her bedroom. “I’m going to change out of these clothes and lay down a moment.” She stopped and glanced over her shoulder. “Lucy told me that she’s going evil now. Picked out clothes to match and everything.”

Carl snorted. “Yeah. Good luck with that.”

Imogene turned around and propped her hand on the counter. “She said it was her choice.” Shaking her head, she tried to toss Lucy’s baby picture out of her mind. “We never considered that option.”

Carl started for the backdoor. “Oh, yes we did. Just didn’t tell anyone. Not like kids today. Good Lord, they tell everyone everything.”

“And why is that?”

“Don’t know, honey.” Carl passed out the door and creaked down the back steps.

Later that night as she lay in bed, Imogene had to give it to her husband. Her belly felt as satisfied with dinner as it had ever been. She enjoyed resting comfortably in her husband’s embrace. Sometimes his ways sent shivers of irritation through her whole body, but right now, perfect calm flooded her being. The soft feel of his arms around her middle, fitting together as perfectly as spoons in the kitchen drawer.

After a day of small duties where challenges rose from the murky depths of thoughtless minds, she closed her eyes and settled her heart to the drumroll of raindrops against the window pain. No murdering demons tonight.

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-meadow-countryside-weather-801736/

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/

Menagerie of Hidden Influences

My synaptic mailbox is full.

Sitting in a relatively quiet room—the birds are chirping outside, the downstairs refrigerator is rattling, and the drier is whirling about—I alternate my gaze from myriad unfinished projects to pictures and paintings covering the walls to the well-tended jungle growing just beyond my porch.

In a conversation with a friend today, we shared the compactness of every waking hour. So much happens that our brains jump the tracks at little things. Even attempting to drive a well-known path suddenly seems like wandering among a menagerie of hidden influences.

It’s when we slip into habitual actions that images, memories, shoved aside I-will-deal-with-it-later emotional sucker punches leap in for the kill.

Don’t get me wrong. I love our wide and wild, varied, and far-reaching world. I even love texting. Especially the sheer fun of sending a string of ridiculous emojis. But the benefit of instant communication is the inherent danger of instant communication. So much. So fast.

Repeat.

My eldest brother, who—like me—remembers the days of landlines, snail-mail, and when there was such a reality as “long-distance” shared that he has to leave his phone in another room because the constant notice pings were getting too much for his nerves.

My daughter told me the other day that we humans have figured out how to grow meat in vats. Not from animals, mind you, just from cells of animals—replicated. Like something off of Star Trek. She was thrilled with the idea. “Think about it—real meat but no suffering animals!”

And a couple of young friends asked my advice on out how to get married with God as their witness without involving religion, since the religions they’ve experienced have been severely disappointing.

What do the last few examples have in common? They all happened when I was too busy to think about what they meant to me. My thoughts tumble over each other trying to sort out whether I am worried about meat vats getting married long distance without any religious affiliation.

So much needs to be tended to in a day. Like breathing in humid air that could smother a hippopotamus, formatting a Spanish version of one of my books, sending a goodies box to my dad, walking the dog despite attacking insects, answering multitudinous emails, viewing social media, checking the weather app in a vain expectation that it will now announce a cool front, and figuring out how on earth to get the chickens to quit laying on the porch steps.

When the sun finally decides to have mercy on my soul and hits the horizon, I’m weary, body and soul.

Unlike my November break from social media, I’ve decided, once again, to reign in the forces that play tug-of-war with my life without cutting anything off completely. Priorities matter. Sticking to those priorities may keep me sane. So, I don’t have to break away, so much as choose how I will spend my time, engage my mind, and grow my soul.

Time to sit outside and empty the mailbox.

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/man-forest-trees-buildings-horizon-5606892/