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 15 and 16

Audio of this post https://anchor.fm/ann-frailey/episodes/Homestead-Parts-15-and-16-e17g8me

It Was Not to Be

July decided that it wanted to make a name for itself before August elbowed its way to the front of the line, so the temperatures sky-rocketed in the latter half of July. It was weird to see empty fields where rows of corn and beans used to dominate the summer landscape.

Sure, families had planted gardens, but they were tiny compared to what I was used to seeing. What the winter would look like, no one could tell. I shuddered to think about the spring. Few people had supplies to last that long.

My zucchini was all but done, and only one giant sunflower lifted its head against the bright blue sky. The lettuce had bolted, though I pulled the last few tough leaves off the thick stems to add garnish to every meal. All the potatoes and onions had been pulled and hauled inside. I was rather proud of the cardboard boxes layered with my homegrown produce. I shifted the boxes onto a dark shelf in the basement where they were sure to stay dry. I planned to use lots of white onions when I made salsa. Just waiting for the tomatoes to do their thing and ripen in a big bunch to make a canning day worth the effort.

Feeling a tad lonesome, I let the oldest cat, Earl, into the house where he slept on the chair in the living room most days. His rickety old body could hardly jump the distance, and I knew there’d be a day when he’d fall back to the floor in cat disbelief. But for now, he was someone to talk to. Even if I knew full well that he was dreaming his last days away.

With the high humidity and heat, I didn’t feel terribly hungry mid-week. I had spent most of the day clearing out the back shed in the expectation that when Liam and the kids did make it home, we’d have to think seriously of getting a couple of cows and expanding our chicken run. We’d have to store hay for the winter and figure out how to grow our own feed grain. Other people were making adaptions—necessitating the use of every old barn and shed in the county. Wood and metal for roofing were going for a premium price. I had to make the most of what I had. And that meant clearing out the dusty space and shoring up the frame so it wouldn’t collapse over the winter.

Hot, sticky, and fearing the revenge the spiders would perpetrate on me for wiping out their webs, I trudged into the kitchen planning on nothing more than tomato slices and a glass of water for dinner.

I nearly had a heart attack when I saw a man sitting at my kitchen table. My first thought was that Liam had finally made it home, but then I realized that this guy was much too young.

“Jared?”

He stood up and faced me, not a hint of a smile on his face. “I’ve got bad news, Mrs. Oxley.” I swallowed and gripped the kitchen counter. I didn’t want him to tell me…

I Had a Spirit

Early August

The temperatures continued to zig-zag right into August, but a storm front promised cooler temperatures soon. At least, that’s what Ben said when he returned with Dana and Juan following at his heels like lost puppies.

I was too depressed to care if an arctic winter was in the forecast. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that I’d never see Liam again. That I had missed his last days, his last moments. His burial.

The tomatoes and peppers had ripened nicely, and with the pile of onions I had stored away, I had enough fresh ingredients, with bartered cilantro from a family in town, to make a decent batch of salsa. Luckily, I had stocked up on vinegar last year. The extra gallon came in handy with all the pickling and canning I was doing.

After washing the five gallon’s worth of tomatoes, I sat on the hardwood bench at the kitchen table and cut off the bad parts, and sliced the juicy red goodness into tiny pieces. Next, I worked on the pile of bright red and green peppers, and finally, I faced the dreaded onions. I didn’t need a reason to cry. I had plenty.

Flies swarmed the pots and dove into my face, adding to my frustrations. Hot and sticky with a storm front pushing the humidity into the unbearable zone, I worked mechanically. Focusing on one step at a time.

Grab an onion by the tail

Slice one side.

Peel.

Chop into rings.

Turn and chop into cubes.

Drop the pile into the pot.

Wipe my stinging eyes.

Repeat.

“You want some help?”

I looked up. There was Dana reaching for a knife and settling across from me at the table. Guess I didn’t need to answer. She could read my mind. Or so she thought.

I sniffed back stinging tears and lost my rhythm. I was supposed to be cubing, but I went to the sink and splashed water on my face instead.

After patting my eyes dry with a towel, I looked at my daughter. Why was I so angry at her? She hadn’t done anything wrong. In fact, she had done everything right. Found her brother. Made her way home. Gone off and looked for her dad. And found him. And buried him.

“Mom? You okay?”

I stared at the onions. I wanted to hate them. But I couldn’t. “No. Not okay.”

Dana stopped chopping. “Me neither.” She had dropped her head onto her chest and I could tell by the heaving action that she was either sobbing silently or about to throw up. Or both. Maternal instinct to the rescue, I ran over and…

For more of these episodes and others, check out Kindle Vella Homestead or

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

Let Yourself Go

Podcast https://anchor.fm/ann-frailey/episodes/Let-Yourself-Go-e17658p

Rather not. Jeremiah slid into his seat at the back of the lecture hall and prayed that the scrawled message on the board referred to a campus cult’s lack of original thinking rather than a preview of his professor’s worldview.

A tall thin spectacle with a man-bun on top, a tie-dyed shirt, bloomers-like shorts, and flapping bedroom slippers sauntered up to the podium.

I should’ve taken the online class.

A young woman, mid-twenties, long brown hair, wireframe glasses, small build but toned legs dropped her bulging backpack by the third empty chair to the right of him.

But then again…

The room filled to capacity and Jerimiah opened his notebook, flipped it to a new section, and tapped his pencil.

The young woman slid a recorder to the front of her desk, then leaned back and closed her eyes.

What’s this? A lazy beauty who gets through class by replaying the lecture when it suits her fancy?

Jerimiah shoved the thought—Wish I’d thought of it—far away.He rubbed his eyes. Between his mom’s recent liver transplant, the store downsizing and leaving managers like him in the dust, and the new graduation regulations, he’d come to think that the Universe was in a sour mood. He wasn’t too Sweet himself.

The professor started—digging into societal ills, cultural concerns, hot button issues, even picking on the front row students like lab rats who couldn’t escape the taunting labels expelled from his gut based on their hyperventilated one-word answers. “When you leave this class, you won’t know yourself! Kiss mommy and daddy’s straightjacket goodbye!”

Jeremiah dropped his head on his hands. “At least online I could’ve muted him.”

“What? And missed all this fun?”

Jeremiah glanced over.

Beauty, still leaning back with her eyes closed, appeared very much asleep.

“Excuse me?”

The professor sucked in a lungful for another charge. “How can you say you know anything—you believe anything—until you’ve heard all sides? I’m here to bring you into direct contact with ALL SIDES!”

Beauty sat up, a frown making her nose wrinkle in an alarmingly adorable fashion. “He’s a circle?”

The gut-busting laugh that exploded from Jeramiah made him clutch his notebook and pencil as he fled the room.

Two days later, Jeremiah hurried down the hall after his last class of the week. He had a ton of work over the weekend, his mom needed someone to fix her end table, which tended to send her books and medicines crashing to the floor by evening no matter how well she propped it up each morning, and he had an interview for a part-time manager position on Saturday. If he could finish the year with the stellar grades he started with, he’d be sure of a full-time position before the year was out.

Only one class stood in his way.

Beauty strode along with him into the library, her bulging backpack pressing her shoulders into a stooped position.

A million introductions flashed through his mind, creating a linguistic maelstrom, not unlike ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs on steroids. Lacking any rational brain cells to call upon, Jeremiah simply stepped in front of the pretty woman, halting her in her tracks.

She looked up and stared blankly.

“He’s a circle?”

Astonishing how long she could maintain that blank expression.

“In class? The professor promised to bring us in contact with all sides…”

Comprehension filled her eyes. Light broke over the mountains. Beauty smiled. Then the gate slammed shut. “It’s an English class! What’s he doing—social engineering?”

The puppy inside every man has moments when he desperately wants to run around in wild circles with his tongue lolling out and a wide grin encompassing his face.

The library would not be the appropriate setting.

“You free? I’m about ready for a cup of—” He shrugged. “You name it, and I’ll get one for you too.”

She laughed.

Three hours later, Jeremiah took the steps to his parent’s house two at a time. He stepped into the living room and caught his mom napping lopsided in a chair and his dad pacing in circles.

“Hey, Dad. Everything okay?”

His dad’s tear-filled eyes glinted in the afternoon light. “She’s slipping away, son. Won’t be long now.”

A day and a half later, Jeremiah finished the arrangements for his mom’s funeral Mass and then ran as fast as his legs would carry him into class.

Well into the first hour, the professor was in his element, extolling the freedom of thought that would lead to well-formed lives and true humanity. With pounding steps, he labored across his personal stage, excoriating the fools who marched in lockstep with old traditions, unmindful of the variety of options available.

Beauty slouched in her seat, one hand covering her eyes.

Jerimiah slipped into his seat and for the first time since his mom’s death, felt the crushing loss that he knew he’d live with for the rest of his life. Only the words of scripture, the hymns, and songs, the candlelight comforted his aching soul. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God…

“Let go!” The professor hammered the podium like a preacher swearing hellfire to the damned.

“Where? You only offer a void.” Beauty’s face glowered, anger and hurt glaring through her eyes.

His chin up and hand raised, the professor demanded obedience. “Open your minds!”

So low, Jeremiah barely heard her words, Beauty’s spirit screamed, “So, the wind can blow through?”

Snatching her hand, Jeremiah helped her grab her bag, and they hustled outside.

Beauty flopped against the wall. “I need that class. But I don’t think I can stand his rants for another day.”

Jeremiah nodded. “My mom just passed away. All I can think of is how much I wish I had her back—and he keeps screaming that I have to let go.”

Beauty’s eyes reflected from twin pools of grief. “I’m sorry.”

Jeremiah sucked in a deep breath and took her hand. “Perhaps we should take his advice.”

“Huh?”

“There are other classes.” He shrugged. “It might mean a summer school, but instead of this—”

“We can actually learn something.” Beauty grinned. “We’re more squares than circles, eh?”

His mom’s endearing smile before his eyes, Jeremiah nodded, took Beauty’s hand, and let go.

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/man-college-student-read-a-book-4299342/

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

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/frau-zaun-ranch-br%c3%bcnette-gesicht-1996283/

Homestead Parts 7 and 8

Gather My Shattered Wits

Amazingly, I lived through the next week and into the following week without falling into a heap of withered anxiety. If I had been a plant, I’m certain that my leaves would have turned brown and scattered to the four winds. As it happened, I turned out to be more resilient than I expected.

At first, I kept busy organizing my supplies. I grabbed my banking notebook, a hard-covered thing, and took a seriously honest inventory.

The cupboards weren’t bare, but they were hardly full either. I realized with chagrin how much food I threw away on a daily basis. In ordinary times, if we didn’t feel like leftovers, we gave them to the chickens. Oftentimes bones were given to the dog with plenty of meat still attached. And I had let milk spoil in the refrigerator more times than I could count. Suddenly, waste didn’t seem like a minor happenstance. It felt like a crime.

It wasn’t until nearly two full weeks had passed that I finally got word from Dana. Ben stopped by on that second rainy Wednesday morning with a satchel slung over his broad shoulders. He made his way inside the kitchen door after I had identified his unique, “Hey-ya!” and told him to come in.

His face looked older—lined with concern. His eyes a little sadder, like he has seen troubling things. More troubling than our small-town-techno-disconnect? I wasn’t sure.

But he forced a smile as he dug into his bag. “Feel a little like Santa delivering gifts to waiting families.” He pulled out a folded envelope. “Hope this helps.” Despite the grin, worry lined formed around his eyes. Gluttonously, I snatched it, tore the envelope open, and…

Living in Paradise?

I felt so proud of myself. One of the deadly sins, I know, so I should have surmised I was heading for trouble. By Thursday afternoon, I had cleaned the whole house, organized all the kitchen and downstairs storage shelves, written a complete inventory list, and even clipped the hedges so the house looked neat outside and as well as in.

By five in the afternoon, I was in a pleasant state of exhaustion and treated myself to a tall glass of sun tea. I sat relaxing before the garden under the grape arbor on the rickety old wooden swing, which was still servable if I didn’t sway too far.

The sound of a distant siren caught my ear. I remember thinking that it was in my imagination, a memory of some cop show where sirens blared across the cityscape. But this was rural countryside. A quiet backwoods world where police hardly bothered to flash their lights much less sound a siren. If one rolled up close behind, that was signal enough to pull over and find out if you’d surpassed the 30-mph speed limit. A definite no-no that earned a standard ticket and accompanying fine.

The siren continued unabated—no routine practice or alert for a single driver.

My heart began to pound.

I rose and glanced around. No smoke rising. I could safely assume no one’s house was on fire. An accident? A call for help?

I squinted at the falling sun. It was still bright, and I could easily traipse to town and see what was happening. But what good could I do? I’d more likely just get in the way.

Conflict tightening my stomach into knots, I paced back to the house with my empty glass in hand.

Josh jogged along the road.

I blinked and waved. “Hey, you heading to town?”

He nodded, slowing his pace but still moving forward. “Yeah. We arranged the siren as a signal for all able-bodied volunteers to meet up if something important happened.”

Not wanting to delay him, I waved him on. “Don’t let me slow you down. Just tell me what’s going on when you get a chance.”

He picked up speed. “Check on Linda, if you can. She’s not doing great.”

I called after him. “Sure thing!” Though checking on Linda was last on my list of want-to-dos. I really needed some solid food and a chance to gather my frightened wits. Oh, heck. Linda is probably chewing her fingers to the bone.

I ran inside, pulled a bowl of spiced pasta and tuna from the dark refrigerator, and speed-walked down the lane. Once at Linda’s house, I climbed the porch steps and knocked on the doorframe. “Hey, want to join me for dinner? I brought something tasty.”

Linda came to the door, her face red and blotched with the traces of tears still on her cheeks. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and forced a determined smile. “I’m not hungry, but I’m glad to see you.”

Completely unable to deal with her meltdown, but knowing that my only alternative was to trot home and have my own, I decided to forge ahead with my unwanted charity dinner. “Come on and try a bit. You need to keep your strength up.”

After setting two servings of my meager meal, I sat down opposite Linda at her kitchen table and tried to decide if I’d even attempt prayers before eating. What the heck. I made the sign of the cross and then halted when Linda burst into fresh tears.

“She died. Just like I thought she would.”

My heart jumped into my throat. “Who?”

“My mom. Got word last night. Some guy at the nursing home wrote—said that the folks are passing at an alarming rate. He can hardly keep up with notifications, much less burials. But, good news, she passed without pain or complaint.” Linda peered at me through narrowed eyes. “You don’t think someone is helping them to pass along, do you?”

“Oh, God! Why you’d think that? It’s probably just the shock and the lack of—well, everything. Medicines must be hard to come by and—” I didn’t know what else to say. Knowing that the at-risk population was succumbing for a whole range of very good reasons hardly made it more acceptable.

Linda stared at the tabletop, her eyes dry now, but her gaze unfocused. “I just don’t know what to think. It’s like evil has been loosed against everyone. I don’t know what terrible thing will happen next.” She sniffed and glanced up. “Do we deserve this?”

Dread rose like a monster inside me. I forced it down with the fact that Dana and Juan were due home in the next few days, and they would help us manage through our dark future. Thank Heaven for my kids. “So has Jared started home, yet?” A shout brought us to our feet. It sounded like…

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

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/haus-himmel-sturm-wolken-feld-3981366/

Welfare and Well Being

David Koelth couldn’t believe his luck. Even if it was well-earned. He deserved it, really. The award had his name on it, after all: The Koelth Department of Welfare and Well Being.

David tossed the green apple left over from lunch into the air and caught it handily. He leaned back in his swivel chair before his Richman Hill Executive Desk and surveyed his dingy office. Granted, he was on the top floor of the four-story building and had a decent view of the east side of town, but still, it was only a lecturer’s office. An assistant had it before him, for Heaven’s sake.

He glanced at his calendar marked in bold colors depicting the various hats he wore each day of the week. Educational Psychology Lecturer Mondays and Thursdays, Assistant Dean of the Health Department on Wednesdays and Fridays, Published Author working on his latest masterpiece—Wholly You—on Tuesdays (his favorite day of the week), and attentive Husband and Father Saturday and Sunday.

A yawn bubbled up from his middle. It was late on Friday afternoon, but he hadn’t been able to get much done. Constant interruptions!

First, Mildred from accounting had taken issue with his taxes. Something about a form that no one told him to fill out and now “they had to take a tiny snippet”—her exact word choice—from his salary to make everything come out “even-steven” at the end of the year. What? Did the woman eat archaic expressions for breakfast? He’d give her a thesaurus for Christmas.

Then coach Max waddled in from the ballfield. How such an overweight guy managed his role as athletics director stumped David. Must have relatives in high places. Or he knows where to get the choice meats and offers discounts for the university banquets. The strange thing about Max was that he never really explained anything. He spoke in eyebrows and syllables.

Eyebrows in the up position. “Eh, you o-kay?”

David spent a half hour of his very valuable time trying to figure out why Max had hefted his way to his office.

Turning beet red and sweeping the floor with his gaze, Max just leaned on the door frame and stared through those bulbous eyes with dreary pleading. For what… Only God and the next empty container of dairy queen’s chocolate chip ice cream would know for certain. He had tossed him his apple. Maybe the guy would get a clue.

Finally, just when he was putting the last touches on his monthly planner, his wife, Ruth, had phoned and insisted that the hot water heater was broken. Lord have mercy. He had called the plumber three times this summer, and he sure as heck wasn’t doing it again. He could shower at work while she figured out what she was doing wrong. No way in hell he’d fork out another hundred bucks for plungers, pipes, or screwed up thermostats. Wait till the season got cold, then he’d think about it. Probably all in her head anyway.

Oh well, time to head to the club and see what was on tap. He didn’t need a drink, but it’d be good to check on the guys and gals. Gossip was a university’s life blood, and he had no intention of becoming anemic anytime soon.

~~~

Surprisingly, no one at the club seemed in the mood to chat. Not with him anyway. Had he forgotten to use deodorant this morning? He sniffed. Nope. Nothing wrong with him. Must be a full moon. Everyone was acting weird, like they had been having a con-fab when he arrived but wouldn’t speak again till he left. He’d shrugged it off. If they wanted to get hot and bothered about sport’s team failures, a roller-coaster economy, or the latest-greatest plan to serve the community, he was glad he’d missed it.

Apparently, there were no faculty leaks about his up-coming award. He had looked for silent congratulations or the ever-present green-eyed monster, but nothing of the sort. Just a few head shakes and shrugs.

Who cares about them?

He drove through snarly traffic in anticipation of his wife’s Friday dinner special, his son, David Jr’s weekly school report, and his daughter, Lilly’s cuteness. He’d give David the pointers every high-school kid needed to be college ready and enjoy the last days of Lilly’s childhood since he knew perfectly well that once she became a teen, she’d become unbearable. Inevitably, he’d have to distance himself so that she wouldn’t use him as a cash box.

After arriving at his two-story colonial house with wrap around porch, he parked the car in the attached garage and sauntered into the house.

“Honey, I’m home!”

He glanced around the quiet kitchen in the dim evening light. What’s going on? Where is everyone?

He laid his leather briefcase on the counter and headed to the living room. His heart nearly stopped. Books and magazines lay scattered as if they’d left the room in a hurry.

What a mess! Is this what he’d worked all day to come home to?

David pulled out his phone, ready to give hell to his wife, then order pizza for dinner since clearly nothing would be ready in time for his growling stomach.

The doorbell rang.

Who the—? He charged forward, ready to dispatch the devil himself.

But he didn’t need to. The devil already had plans.

~~~

David sat in the emergency room where his wife had just breathed her last, and the bodies of his children were stretched out nearby. The staff had brought them in so he could offer a personal goodbye.

He didn’t have anything to offer. He couldn’t think. Or feel.

A heavy tread paced forward.

David lifted his aching head and tried to make sense of what he was seeing.

Coach Max?

Max stopped before him and laid his meaty hand on David’s shoulder. His voice shook with emotion. “So—so sorry.”

That’s all it took, and David lost all power of speech. For once he listened.

“We planned a big celebration for tonight—the guys from the department, Ruth, family and friends from all over were coming tonight. But Mildred—from accounting—fell and broke her wrist so she called Ruth. She and the kids hurried over to get the last details in place—except they never made it. A tired truck driver crossed the line. No one survived.” His eyes welled in tears. “And this was supposed to be your glory day.”

The Koelth Department of Welfare and Well Being echoed in David’s head like a devil’s cackle.

—Five Years Later—

Dave closed his computer, leaned back in his office chair, and stared out the window, grateful for the view of the quiet neighborhood. Friday again. I’ve got a lot to do.

Footsteps padded closer. Max stuck his head in the doorway, tossed David a ripe red apple, and grinned. “I heard the news.”

Catching the fruit with one hand, David smiled back at his friend. “No secret this time.”

After losing sixty pounds, Max could saunter into the room. “You deserve it. I can’t think of anyone else who has dedicated so much time and energy to others’ welfare as you have these past few years.”

David rose, grabbed his threadbare coat from the back of his chair and tucked the apple into the pocket. “What I should’ve been doing all along.” He pointed to the door. “Want to meet at the track? I have a tutoring session at the community center in a couple of minutes, but I could meet you after that.”

“Sure!” Max’s grin widened, his eyes alight with happiness. “See what I mean; you’re always helping people. You encouraged me to give up death burgers and get healthy. The department heads are finally doing the right thing—naming the department after you, a man of well being if ever I knew one.”

David patted Max on the shoulder as he headed for the door. “Thanks, my friend, but I had to refuse the honor.”

Startled, Max blinked, his mouth dropping open.

“Don’t feel bad. Maybe someday. But in the meantime,” David opened the door and crossed over the threshold, “I went through too much hell to forget—it’s best to wait till the fruit ripens to name the tree.”

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/apple-hand-tree-apple-picking-6197307/

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/

They Had Their Chance

Gianna sat in her living room before a shoebox filled with memories and stared at an old, taped together letter. Anxiety scrambled after fear, chasing horror along the byways of her mind. How could he have done such a thing? But now she knew—for once and for all—she had done the right thing.

The screen door squeaked open. Her youngest, Janie raced into the room followed by her hyper-excited pup, tracking newly mown grass across the floor. “Mom! Guess what! There’s a new cat in the neighborhood. It’s black and white so I’m calling it Moonie.”

After dropping the letter onto a stack of family photos, Gianna shoved the box into a wooden cabinet and shut the door. She prayed that she could do the same with the images filling her mind.

Pup raced around the room, dove onto the couch, and flopped down, her tongue lolling. Janie laughed and joined her partner in crime.

In perfect imitation of a miffed prison guard, Gianna crossed her arms, peered down at the two innocents, and growled, “Think you can wander in here carrying all outdoors with you, eh? Suppose you’ll be expecting lunch, too, no doubt.”

With some kind of child’s extra-sensory perception, Janie scrunched her nose and tilted her head, listening for a hidden something.

Gianna relaxed her pose, returning to ordinary-mom.

Happy again, Janie tipped back her head and boldly proclaimed her really important news, “Dad says he wants grilled cheese, chips, and pickles for lunch.”

Gianna rolled her eyes and headed for the kitchen, glad for the distraction. “Oh, yeah? He wants your favorite lunch?” She hunched her shoulders in dejection. “And here I planned on liver and gizzards with a side dish of boiled onions. Oh, gee. I never get what I want.”

Janie and her sidekick bounced off the couch and followed in close proximity, perhaps to make double-sure that mom hadn’t gone to the dark side. She even scooted to the refrigerator and yanked out the cheese package just to be safe.

The puppy lapped up a bowl of water, while Janie propped her head on her hands, sitting at the kitchen counter, her eyes following her mom’s every move.

Pushing every thought away, except how to make extra-good grilled cheese sandwiches, Gianna performed mom-magic and prepared a delicious, healthy lunch just in time for her husband to tromp in, stomping a pile of cut grass and weeds on the doormat.

Matt looked up sheepishly. “Sorry, but I had to do a lot of cutting, or we’d need a compass and a map to get through the backyard.”

A waterfall of gratitude sluiced Gianna from head to foot. She could barely get out her words. “Thanks, sweetheart.”

With a perplexed frown, Matt peeled off his shoes, padded in his grungy socks across the room, eyed the lunch spread, and shot a hi-five to his daughter.

Janie giggled.

Pup slept curled up in her corner. A perfect picture of creature comfort.

Gianna sat next to her husband, and they clasped hands as they said grace over the meal, their heads bowed. Then everyone dug in, filling their plates. Suddenly, the imaged of the torn and taped letter flooded Gianna’s mind. Choking back a sob, she ran out of the room.

~~~

The July sun finally released the day, and dark coolness settled over the bedroom as Gianna readied for bed.

Matt hadn’t said anything since she had told him to leave her in peace for a bit. She had cried for over an hour, and her eyes were still puffy at dinner time.

Matt had taken Janie to his parents’ house where they fed the assortment of dogs, cats, and hummingbirds awaiting their return from Mount Rushmore. He had simply offered a quick kiss on Gianna’s cheek and roared off with a squealing-happy Janie down the road.

Thank God.

Alone in the house, Gianna pulled out the old shoebox and tipped it upside down. She spread out the photographs, putting them into chronological order: her parents wedding photo, her brother’s fifth birthday party, Thanksgiving with Grandmother and Papa, her sister’s third birthday party, Christmas with Aunt Selina. Her baptism. Everyone had looked so happy, smiling so bright for the camera.

There were no photos of the fights, the drunken spells, the rampages. No copy of the divorce decree. Only the one letter. Torn into pieces. It had been taped so that the edges matched, and the words, though dim, were clear enough to read.

“I love you…”

Gianna plunked down on the edge of her bed, her gaze straying to the fireflies sparkling just outside the window.

Matt padded in and sat down next to her, their shoulders touching. “You ready, yet?”

She nodded, tears filling her raw eyes again. “He loved her. He really did. And I never knew.”

“This has to do with that box you found at your mom’s, doesn’t it?”

She nodded. “All the old photos and a love letter—from dad to mom.”

Matt didn’t shrug or murmur. He just clasped his hands, his head bowed, listening.

“I never knew them as a happy couple. I only knew the fights and all the nasty stories they told about each other. When Dad died, mom seemed relieved. She never once said a kind word about him. When she died, I only grieved for what I’d never known.”

Matt cleared his throat, pausing, parsing his words carefully. “It bothers you that he once loved her? That they loved each other—long ago? Like maybe that’ll happen to us?”

Gianna glanced over and saw a wrinkle of concern on her husband’s forehead. “No. Not that. I understand that what tore them apart is on them. It’s not us.” She sniffed back her pain and straightened. “No, what got me was that despite everything, I still believed in marriage. I dared to hope.” She took her husband’s hand and caressed the ring on his finger. “By some miracle, we did what they couldn’t.”

Matt nodded and clasped her hand in his. “Or wouldn’t.” He stood and led her to the bed, pulling the soft sheet back and letting her slide under the coolness. He leaned over and wiped away the last vestige of a tear. “What’ll you do with the letter?”

She sighed as she leaned back on the pillow, expectantly awaiting her husband at her side. “I’ll put it away. After all, they had their chance.”

Matt climbed into bed and wrapped his arms around her.

Gianna snuggled in close. “Now it’s my turn.”

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/old-letters-portrait-old-letter-436502/