Short Story: Crucible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Short story: Mirage-Reborn

Worldbuilding….

Like an artery, Main Street pumped life into the small town and the surrounding farms. A red, brick building sat at a jaunty angle on the southwest corner of the four-way stop. Raised letters spelled out its inception: Mirage-Reborn Savings and Loan—Year One. The double, front doors swung inward on well-oiled hinges into an interior meant to inspire confidence. A steel, reinforced vault behind the main counter gleamed in assurance, practically winking at you from the glinting rays of light spilling through tall, rectangular windows.

Directly across the street on the south side, a forest-green, wooden, two-story structure boasted fancy lettering: Nelson’s Grocery—Your One-Stop-Shop. Nelson’s stocked everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to floral prints for your next dressmaking project. Though old man Nelson insisted that his daughter, Grace, stock more variety, it was already almost more than she could manage. Two other Main Street stores filled in the culinary gaps—Bud’s Butcher and a Fresh-from-the-Farm Dairy & Bakery outlet.

A filling station and a post office occupied the other two street corners, while the Sheriff’s Office halfway down the block, ensured the current population that not only was your money safe—you were too. Or you would be soon, once Abbas introduced their new sheriff at the Town Hall meeting.

Abbas, in his ancient wisdom, had cultivated changes in Mirage slowly. It had only been in the last year that he began referring to their world as Mirage-Reborn. Clearly, the population realized that something was afoot when he replaced their medieval styled hovels with sturdier, comfier, ranch-style houses. Like a proud papa, he took each citizen—and their assembled relatives—to their new abode and showed them a thousand Oldearth years worth of improvements in an hour. It was an accomplishment worthy of a god. The changes were accepted as divine ordinances—and darn nice ones too.

The Town Hall crowd jostled each other in friendly intimacy; after all, these people had lived together through enormous life changes. They gathered in expectation, chatting about the weather, crops, and the usual challenges of life, studiously avoiding any emphasis on the fact that their world had morphed from an Oldearth medieval village into a mid-twentieth century, American town. Would wonders never cease?

Omega had transported each of them—or their parents—to Mirage decades ago in response to a particular need. After the demise of Oldearth, Luxonians had been humanity’s only hope, but occasionally, humans did not conform well to life on planet Lux. The adventurous ones struck out on their own and settled on outposts. Sometimes successfully. Sometimes disastrously. When Omega learned of a human in extreme need, he would swoop in, and, like a hero of old, save the innocent—and not so innocent—from certain destruction. Each new arrival’s adjustment to medieval Oldearth society put everyone on equal footing.

After Omega’s mother died, he, too, disappeared, so Abbas took up the mantle and played the combined roles of demi-god and sheriff-in-residence. Most inhabitants accepted these changes with a shrug of laconic indifference. There was nothing written in stone saying you couldn’t jump a millennium or two every now and again.

Since his wife had died and Omega had left, Abbas busied himself with the town. He liked to appear suddenly, surprising the marketing crowd or lend a hand at a barn raising. He never appeared out of humor or out of breath, and he was welcomed everywhere he went.

As the crowd gathered in happy chatter, Abbas suddenly appeared in the front of the hall with two men, one on either side. On his left, a blond, slim man with striking blue eyes squared his shoulders and crossed his arms as he appeared to appraise the crowd in a critical, sweeping glance. A thicker and heavier, dark headed man on the right merely stood with his muscled arms at his side, gazing ahead like a crime suspect in a lineup.

Abbas raised his arms, and the room fell silent. “My friends, I bring you two new citizens of Mirage-Reborn. I know you will welcome them as I have welcomed you in times past.” He waved to his left. “Mr. Jeremy Quinn has served many, faithful years as a Bothmal guard, but now he has agreed to serve as our Sheriff and Director of Criminal Justice.”

Murmurs from the crowd stirred the air at the word Bothmal.

“Did he say Bothmal? As in the Inter-alien-prison?”

“Hellhole, I was told. No good can ever come of that place.”

Quinn’s eyes scoured the assembly, stopping at dissatisfied frowns and hovering over fear-filled eyes.

Abbas waved the murmurs away, nodded to his right, and his tight smile softened. “And here, I have brought you a treasure in Lucius Pollex, a man of renowned physical strength and the best blacksmith this side of the Divide. In him, you will discover both a hard worker and a faithful friend.”

Relief warred with anxiety in the crowd’s eyes as they shifted from Quinn to Pollex and back to Quinn.

“I have arranged a simple repast, so join me with our new friends at the cafe, and let’s get to know each other better.”

Abbas opened his arms as if in benediction, and the crowd parted with respectful nods and clasped hands. Like a wave washing over the shore, the entire population turned and followed their leader through the door.

Only Vera Webb, a petite, black-haired woman with high cheekbones, piercing black eyes, and ridges along her neck stood to the side and saw the exchange between the newcomers.

Lucius Pollex merely nodded with a hint of a warning in his eyes, but Quinn poured the malice of eons into his gaze as he glared at the blacksmith.

Vera shivered.

Short Story: Fiery Furnace

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ~Edmund Burke

I’d never seen a dead body before, and the sight of him lying there must’ve sent me into shock. I stared, mute, unable to believe it was really a human being before me, hogtied to a pole, warning us—of something. I looked at my counselor, Mr. Jansen, the one in charge of us “Witnesses for Christ.” I didn’t feel like a witness. I felt like a bloody idiot staring at some murdered kid like he was the newest exhibit in the science museum back home.

It had been my mom’s great idea to expand my horizons. “Get out and see the world. Find out what is real. Discover your potential.” She’s got a million of ‘em. Brilliant ideas to transform me from an ordinary, blemished teen dressed in cheap clothes into the hero of the week. After all, we’re fed the Hero’s Vision from infancy – Be all you can be. No one can stop you. No limits to your horizons. And all that crap. Apparently, this kid met his limit. At gunpoint by the look of it.

Mr. Jansen glanced at the soldier with the biggest gun—the one who was supposed to be on our side. He was a big guy. Even his muscles had muscles. But his eyes gleamed like dead stones. He didn’t turn and explain. He didn’t offer us a pep talk. He just spoke in his guttural way so that even Mr. Jansen could understand. “Not. One. Word.”

Mr. Jansen obeyed. Pale and shaking, he directed the four of us from Team Gabriel to step aside and head back to our tents. I was glad to obey. I hardly wanted to ruffle any feathers here in the wilds of wherever the blank I was. Heck, I hadn’t learned anyone’s name because I could hardly pronounce a word of their language. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I certainly wasn’t prepared for this real-ness.

Three more days…two more days…one more day. Like a mantra, I counted the allotted time before we could return to my version of reality. Yet, I knew deep inside that somehow my reality had changed. It now included a dead kid hogtied to a pole. I left my tent during recreation time and hunted up our guard. It wasn’t hard. He stood a foot taller than everyone else.

“Mr. uh….” I shuffled from foot-to-foot.

“Kohl.” He peered down at me like I was one of those scurvy dogs they like to kick around. Or poison.

“Yeah, well, I was just wondering, if you could, sort of, explain what happened to that kid—you know the one that—”

“Clermont.”

I could feel my eyes widen. “Excuse—?”

“His name was Clermont.”

In all my wild imaginings I never expected a Clermont. A Dead Clermont. What an ordinary, nerdy sort of name. “Really? He was a soldier—or something?”

“Brother of one.” Mr. Kohl hefted his gunbelt studded with bullets a little higher across his shoulder and started shuffling down the dirt path they optimistically call Main Street. He never looked at me, but I felt the invitation, so I shuffled alongside.

“But why—?”

“We live differently than you. We’ve got our own rules. It all goes back to—”

“But he’s—he was—just a kid. How can your rules apply to him? I mean, he didn’t do anything bad, did he?”

“No. Not at all. He was a good kid. But his family belongs to a certain sect—”

“You kill families for their beliefs? Their allegiances?”

When Mr. Kohl peered at me, I swallowed, afraid of the fiery furnace of his gaze.

“For survival. We live by our beliefs. And we die by them, too.” He spat into the dust. “I doubt you’d understand.”

My clenched hands trembled at my side. “Not fair! I’m here because I’m a witness for—”

Mr. Kohl’s snort turned a few heads, but he strolled on, his shoulders squared in cocky self-assurance. “You? You witness nothing. I’ve watched you—and your kind—wander into our world, lost sheep looking for purpose—or excitement—to fill your boring days. You’re more dead than Clermont.”

I nearly pulled out my hair as I tugged at my short, bleached locks. “How can you be so unfeeling—so cruel? Some poor kid dies because of your vicious lifestyle—one you could change—and yet you dare attack me, someone who only wants to bring a bit of light and hope into your—”

Mr. Kohl moved faster than I would have imagined. He gripped me by the throat and slammed me against a stonewall. My eyes searched frantically for a rescuer, someone who’d see this outrage and help. Where was my counselor, now? Probably watching from a distant doorway.

“Listen, child. You know nothing! This is our world. It’s brutal. I didn’t make it so, but I know it well. I don’t lie and pretend it’s something else. We can’t hide here. Death happens—all the time. I live by my conscience. So did Clermont. But we must bow to a greater authority. That cruelty you see here, it lies in you as well. How do you think we feel—you coming and preaching to us when you do not know our truth?”

He let me go and patted me on the arm as if to make amends. “It’s not your fault. You were born into your world. I was born into mine. We both have to make do with what we got.”

I couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down my face. “But I do believe in something. I came here because—” I hesitated, grappling for words. “I believe that there is more to life than cruelty and death.”

The shadow of a smile glistened from Mr. Kohl’s deep black eyes. “So do I. That’s why I offer my services, year after year, and I let your kind preach. Even though you don’t understand. Your Mr. Jansen and those like him, at least they try. Against all odds, they offer a better vision. It probably won’t happen. But, it’s something. It’s all the hope we got.”

~~~

By the time I returned home, sitting on the overstuffed couch in our air-conditioned house, I had pretty much gotten over my fright—and my rage. I could barely remember Clermont’s bruised face. It would fade in time. But Mr. Kohl’s eyes—they would stay with me forever.

When mom came in, all cheerful and happy in her shorts and bright T-top, I felt Mr. Kohl’s fingers around my throat.

She plopped an assortment of summer wildflowers into a vase on the table. “So, how was it? Did you have a good time and learn about the wide world?”

Her smile was so genuine; I felt tears flood my eyes. I wanted to explain, but she raised her hand. “Oh, before I forget, we’ve got a luncheon on Thursday, and I want you to bring your music books. It’d be great if you played a little something.”

I choked and covered my face with my hands. “Mom….”

Before I could prepare myself, she threw herself down on the couch next to me. Her arm wrapped around my shoulders, and her voice cracked. “Was it awful, then?”

I pulled away and stared at her much like I must’ve stared at Dead Clermont. “You know?”

Tears glimmered in her eyes. “I’ve known and tried to live with knowing all my life.”

I bolted to my feet. “Why on God’s green Earth did you send me then? The whole thing was hopeless, a total disaster!”

It was almost as if she and Mr. Kohl were related. Her eyes burned, and I was back in that fiery furnace. “You were born into this world, but that hardly excuses you from knowing their world. I could never have explained. You had to see for yourself.”

She was right. No one could’ve explained. And even when you get up close and personal, you still don’t really understand. But now—in an aching sort of way—it’s your world too.

Short Story: Mirage

How many years had they been married? Abbas sighed. He couldn’t remember. His wife had always taken care of the details—anniversaries, birthdays, and celebrations of all kinds. He had always been too busy. Mirage rather than marriage demanded his unfailing obsession.

The town folk bowed their heads and shuffled their feet in shy obeisance as the funeral procession marched passed. His son, Omega, strode at the front helping to bear the slight weight of the petite coffin. The shoemaker, furrier, carpenter and other inhabitants marched in a stately manner to the Resting Field.

Flowers bloomed in glorious array; Abbas had made sure of that. Color splashed against the horizon from simple white daisies to blood-red roses. Though there had been a murmuring among the children at the sight of spring blooms in the middle of winter, their parents had sense enough to hush the little ones and remind them that Abbas could do what other mortals could not. He was their father, after all. And today they must bury their mother.

~~~

After the intoned words of blessing upon her spirit, which everyone trusted to the outer limits of their imaginations, a wailing chant set them into mournful retreat. Abbas stood alone by the stone slab engraved with her name: Mother. It was her vocation and her title. Even Abbas called her Mother in the intimacy of their chamber. She was, above all things, a giver of life and love.

Omega stepped to his father’s side, and the two stared in silence at the grave. A red bird burst from the woods and soared into the noon sunshine. Omega lifted his tear-stained eyes and gazed in wonder. “I imagine she flew to her rest—as happy to go as to stay. She was always a cheerful being.”

Abbas glanced at his son. “We grieve, nonetheless.”

Omega nodded. “Yes, but perhaps we should do more. We ought to bear testimony to her spirit somehow.”

Abbas shrugged and turned, his body hunched and his gaze blank. “I bore little testimony to her while she lived. I hardly—”

Omega grasped his father’s long, flowing sleeve and halted him in his tracks. “But that’s not true. You adored her. You fulfilled her every wish.” Omega threw back his head and closed his eyes to the burning sun. “It was I who tore her heart, always racing about the universe, chasing every passing fantasy, leaving her to hug vaporous memories of my childhood and those who passed beyond.”

Abbas placed a warm hand on his son’s shoulder. “You were her passion. I loved her, but Mirage and world-making were my chosen professions. It seems we three, despite our mighty powers, have been little more than star-crossed lovers.”

A large, muscled man with thick, brown hair dressed in a jerkin worn over a black, cotton tunic strode forward and bowed with a hand clasped over his heart. “My lord, the townsfolk have set the repast in the main hall and await your arrival.”

Abbas nodded in dignified acceptance, and the man turned to his next duty.

Omega stroked his chin with the glimmer of a smile. “Father, I have a magnificent idea! Mother enjoyed my stories of Newearth and—”

“One village is enough, son.” Abbas marched at a quicker pace toward the lofty castle on the hill. His boots left no print on the rocky road.

Omega squared his shoulders as a light flared in his eyes. He hustled alongside. “She thought that the universe would be much improved if there were more places like Newearth—”

Abbas stopped suddenly. “You want to introduce other species—here? Do you realize what that would entail? The shifting of populations and the destruction of their native culture!”

Omega laughed. “But it would be a challenge. Medieval Oldearth has its limitations—as well you know. We could remake it, completely fresh, in a new century with a variety of life forms. Mother enjoyed a scene I once brought of a small farming town with a vibrant population—”

Abbas waved his hand toward the little village nestled against the hill. “And what would you do with this population? Mirage is the only world most of them have ever known.”

Omega strode to the gate where an elderly woman in a long, homespun dress curtseyed in formal recognition of her Master. He clasped her wrinkled hand and gazed into her eyes. “Martha, dear, what would you say if I wanted to bring new life into this old, barren village? Would you support me?”

The old woman gazed back with devotion. “We would do anything you ask, for you are our Lord. You can do no wrong.”

Omega hugged her frail shoulders and led Martha toward the open door and the lighted hall filled with tables loaded with food. “You do me great honor, my friend. And I’m sure it would please Mother. We must honor her memory with a new direction, a new life.” Omega charged ahead, leaving his father on the threshold.

Abbas lifted his eyes to the sparkling, blue sky and shrugged. “He is your son as well as mine. What would you have me do?”

Short Story: The Visit

 

Autumn was cold that year, frigid by all accounts. But in Chicago, I hardly noticed since I couldn’t see many signs of life on the Southside, much less the beauty of autumn that I was accustomed to from my Wisconsin upbringing. I felt cold most of the time I lived there, no matter the season.

I taught kids for as far back as I could remember. Now, I was getting paid to follow my passion. It was a good deal, except I felt like a fish out of water. My white skin didn’t fit in, my naiveté often set me up for a fall, and my past haunted me.

Dealing with kids from broken homes kept me safe from dealing with my own broken life. Teaching assured me that I was in charge. Until a letter arrived.

My dad had been out of my life for so many years; I could hardly remember his face. I harbored no hatred. No guilt. Just a mountain of sadness. Sadness that kept me comfortable in its very familiarity. I liked walls. And a mountain makes a terrific wall.

During my second year in Chicago, I received a letter from my father. He was going to be on the North Shore, touring with his new wife. They were both highly educated, well paid, and living in another world. I remember the feel of the crisp, thick paper in my hand, and my surprise that it had actually traversed the distance from his home out east to my present abode. Quality paper like that hardly seemed real as I scanned the stained, cement sidewalk, the broken glass littering the street side, the scraps of candy papers blown by a forlorn wind.

He had asked if he could drop by and see me. A short visit, since he’d only spend the weekend in town. But would I mind? Seeing him. Visiting a bit.

I stuffed the letter in my jacket pocket and descended the apartment steps. Looking around, I realized there was nowhere for me to go. My lesson plans were complete for the following week; the afterschool kids had gone home hours ago, everyone I knew was gone for the day. Yet, I must go somewhere.

I trudged back to school with no object in mind. It was late on Friday afternoon; no one would be around. As I crossed the playground toward the redbrick building, I saw Mr. Carol. His stooped back bent over a broom as he swept up the latest mess in a continuous stream of litter and broken bottles. I wondered for the zillionth time where all the glass came from. Did vicious, little gremlins dance about each night and sprinkle broken bits like confetti? Hardly likely. But it was a better vision than the alternative.

I stepped up to the old man, though I realized anew that he wasn’t really old. It was his clothes, his shoulders, and his demeanor that left the impression of elderliness. Oldness. Worn out like his faded jeans. “Hey, Mr. Carol. You’re working late.”

It was a stupid comment. He worked early, late, and all the time in between. A maintenance man’s work was never done.

Mr. Carol turned, startled. He rarely spoke, and I never dared to break through his own private wall. But this time, he smiled. Looking me up and down, he seemed to see something that I didn’t realize I was showing. With a wave of his hand, he pointed to the cement steps leading to the front door. “Hey, yourself, young lady. What you doing here?”

Feeling very much like one of the kids I taught, I shrugged. I didn’t have an answer, except the one in my pocket.

He leaned the broom against the wall and lowered himself to the middle step and gestured. “Sit a minute. Keep an old man company.”I remember the burning tears that filled my eyes. I didn’t want to cry. I didn’t want my mountain to crumble. But I sat anyway. For a brief second, it seemed as if the world was perfect, as if everything were where it was supposed to be, and I was destined to be sitting on the third step with a man in faded jeans and a worn, blue shirt. I clasped my hands tight, hoping to hold my voice steady. “Do you have any kids, Mr. Carol?”

Mr. Carol looked off into the blurry distance and tented his fingers in steeple position as if in prayer. “Yeah, I do. A daughter. But I haven’t seen her since she was a baby.” He looked at me. “She’d be about your age by now.”

The rightness of things settled into quiet conviction as I sighed. “I have a dad.”

He smiled. “Most do.”

“I haven’t seen him for a long time.” I pulled the letter out of my pocket.

Mr. Carol stayed very still as if he was afraid of frightening a mouse back into its hole.

I tapped the cream colored envelope. “He’s going to be in town and wants to see me. But it’s been an awfully long time. And he’s bringing his wife.”

Mr. Carol leaned back onto the second step and stretched his legs. “You know, I have thought of writing such a letter. Many times. Though I have no wife to bring along.” He sighed. “But, you know, my writings not so good. And my girl’s got her own life now. Besides, I don’t have anything to offer. It’s too late to meet up and start over. But, still, I’d like to tell her something.”

The earth was rumbling under my feet. I could feel clods of dirt scuttle passed me as my mountain, and my voice, shook. “What would you tell her?”

“I’d tell her that I never stopped thinking about her. That I wish I had been a better man, a better father. A real dad.” He shook his head. “There’s no excuse, I know. I failed. I wasn’t there for her, and I’ll always be in the wrong about that.” He stood up and took the broom from the wall. “But, you know, I regret it. Deeply. I think of her every day.”

I stood up and crunched the letter back into my pocket. “You think I should see him?”

This time, Mr. Carol shrugged. “I’ve found that it wasn’t the things I done that I regretted the most. It was the things I didn’t do, the things I left undone. You know what I mean?”

I pictured the lined, school paper stacked on a shelf in my apartment; it wasn’t thick and fancy, but it was letter sized. “Yeah. I do.”

Mr. Carol returned to his endless sweeping as he nodded. “Good.”

A.K. Frailey’s Short Story Schedule 2017

A. K. Frailey 2017 Summer and Autumn Literary & Science Fiction

Short Story Schedule

ENJOY!

June 23 ~ The Visit

June 30th ~ Mirage

July 7th ~ Fiery Furnace

July 12th ~Summer Poem: Truth of Loveliness

July 14th ~ Mirage-Reborn

July 21st ~ Crucible

July 28th ~ Mirage-Reborn: We Are LuKan

August 4th ~ Decorum

August 11th ~ Mirage-Reborn: A New Life for Lucius Pollex

August 18th ~ Drama Trauma

August 25th ~ Mirage-Reborn: Grace Nelson’s Murder

September 1st ~ Visions of Grandeur

September 8th ~ Mirage-Reborn: Vera’s Wings

September 15th ~ Guardian

September 22nd ~ Jeremy Quinn

September 29th ~ Same Spirit

October 5th ~ Autumn Poem: Soul’s Birth in Morning Soil 

October 6th ~ The Dwarven Pillar

October 13th ~ Critical Power

October 20th ~ Xavier Pax’s illusion

October 27th ~Skeletons

November 3rd ~ The Life and Times of Yelsa Prator

November 10th ~ Addicted to Me

November 17th ~ Jazzmarie

November 24th ~ Good Deed

December 1 ~ Riko’s Uncle Clem

December 8th ~ Survival of the Fittest

December 15th ~ Common Destiny

December 22nd ~ High

Never Forget

earthtree

Planet: Sectine II

Aliens: Uanyi are slim creatures with rubbery exoskeletons as well as internal bones and enormous eyes.

Setting: Riko’s home, late evening after a surprise attack by Uanyi Extremists.

~~~

Riko held his mother’s body in his arms, rocking silently as tears streamed down his face. Burning rocks flew to pieces, and raging flames cast his spartan living room into eerie, violent shadows.

With his legs tucked under him, he sobbed silently. He had scrambled across the room to her when the first blast broke the west wall sending shrapnel in all directions. A section of the window frame protruded from her side.

Bending close, he pressed his ear to her chest, but no sound, no movement other than his own rocking motion signaled life. “Aw, Ma!”

~~~

A Lunar Cycle Later

Riko stood next to a grave mound while his sister, Rhianna, hunched next to him. A tall stone with a picture of a falling star etched in the middle perched at the head of the mound. Riko bowed his head.

Rhianna placed her arm around his shoulders. “Ma would want us to move on. It was a mistake coming here. We thought we could keep the race wars from following us, but it was a dream. We’re not meant to live in Old-world Uanyi. To be honest, Old-world Uanyi wasn’t so so great, even back in its glory days.”

Riko lifted his head and stared at the two suns in the sky, one only a third of the size of the other. “Let’s go. We don’t want to be late for the transport.” He peered around. “Where’s Zero?”

The woman bellowed a trumpet-like call across the brown, moss-covered expanse.

A miniature Uanyi came trotting from around the side of an octagonal structure with dirt smeared across his white shirtfront, a tear in his brown leggings, and his bulbous, black, insect-like eyes wide and blinking.

The woman shook a slender finger at him. “Zero! You’ve been fighting again?”

Zero shook his head, his gaze as frozen as his little body.

Riko glanced at his sister. “You gotta train that kid. He’ll never survive on Newearth.”

The woman shrugged. “He’s survived so far. Better than some.” She stretched out her long, rubbery arm. “Come on, little one. You’ll have to carry things for me. You’ll do that won’t you?”

Riko watched his sister and nephew pad away to the round-shaped house with vivid colors painted on it in a pattern unique to their family line. He shook his head.

A larger, hulking Uanyi trotted forward, waving one hand. “Hey, Riko, glad I caught you before you left.” He stopped suddenly, peered sharply at the stone and the grave mound, bowed low, and then turned his attention to Riko, taking him by the arm. “You ma left you something. I had to wrestle your mother’s brother for it, but I got it. Stupid fool thought that no one knew.” He struggled to get something out of a deep pocket. “Your ma was a better businesswoman than most gave her credit for. Pity. She should’ve lived to see us transform this place—”

Riko held up his hand. “She died trying to transform this place.” He heaved a sigh. “Never mind. What ya got?”

“Units. Over twenty thousand, and they’re in your name.” He lifted a data-chip into the air and handed it onto Riko’s open palm. “Look, I know it was terrible, what happened to your ma and all, but sporadic fighting isn’t the end of the world. Not this world anyway. Don’t give up on us. We’re trying to dig down to our roots, grow a new culture from the ancient soil of our—”

Riko stared at the chip in his palm and lifted his other hand to stall his friend. “Stop, Uncle Clem! Your brother is gone, and ma is dead. I’ve heard all the propaganda I ever want to. I’m done changing the world, saving our race, or whatever it is you think you’re doing. I’m heading to Newearth to find work and mind my own business.”

Clem glanced away. “And what about Rhianna? And Zero?”

“I’ll look after them. Best as I can. Rhianna’s like Ma—headstrong with good business sense. They’ll be fine.” He looked up and stared at the structure. “I think.” He shrugged and started toward the house. “Anyway, you can always check in on us. I’ll send my contact info as soon as I get to Newearth.” He shoved the chip deep into his own pocket. “I appreciate everything you’ve done—and this.” He tapped his pocket. “Few would’ve cared what happened to us—at least to me.”

Clem threw his arm around Riko and jiggled him, friendly-like. “You saved my life once, remember? I’ll never forget that.”

“Yeah, well, it was luck on both our parts. Sometimes you get lucky, you know.” He stopped and glanced back at the grave mound. “Sometimes—not so much.”

Clem shoved Riko forward. “Better hurry. I bet you’ll have zillions of units by the time I visit.” He chuckled. “You better.”

Riko sighed. “We’ll see.” He looked up at the suns. “God knows, it’ll take more than units to make Newearth feel like home. Never really had a home.”

Clem shrugged. “We’re all trying to find our place. Your Ma wanted you to set down roots. But never forget—” He wagged a finger in Riko’s face, “—you’re a Uanyi!”

Riko nodded and padded away, leaving his uncle and his mother’s silent grave behind.