Jeremy Quinn

Jeremy Quinn shoved his dinner tray aside and leaned back on a metal chair, a petulant scowl pressing his eyebrows into a v-formation. He glowered at the steel-gray mess hall of Bothmal Prison. Rotating his jaw, he swallowed his last distasteful bite of dinner.

A man about his age, but taller and thinner, wearing the same standard blue guard uniform, ambled up and pulled out a chair opposite Quinn while balancing a dinner tray.

Quinn cleared his throat.

The thin man glanced up. “You mind?”

Quinn nudged the chair out with the toe of his steel-tipped boot, his jaw still working in a circular motion. “Not much.”

Thrusting his hand out and accompanied by a stiff smile, the man leaned forward. “Name’s Scott. Nice to meet you. Just started yesterday.”

Quinn’s eyes traveled over the angular, dark-haired man. His nose wrinkled. He could smell fear a kilometer away. “It’ll feel like you’ve been here an eon by the end of the week.”

Undeterred, Scott sat and laid out his dinner—fork on the left, knife on the right, a cup of steaming coffee upper right, salad upper left, a plate of synth-meat and vegetables front and center, fruit cup lower left, napkin unfolded neatly in his lap.

Quinn’s jaw dropped as his eyes followed every precise movement of his tablemate. “By the Divide, you dining with the Luxonian Supreme Council or something?”

With a self-deprecating shrug, Scott dug into his meal with relish. He chewed slowly, carefully, his gaze surveying the room with the hint of a smile. Swallowing, he positioned himself for another foray; his gaze merely glanced off Quinn. “Pigs eat at a trough; humans should reflect their higher status.”

Quinn rolled his eyes.

Two guards dropped their trays in a recycle bin that sucked everything down a shoot with a swish. They placed their hands against the print identifier, and when the door slid open, they shuffled over the threshold.

Quinn leaned forward, his elbows braced on the table. “The only difference between us and the animals locked in cages around here is the color of our uniform—and the fact that we haven’t been caught yet.”

Scott methodically chewed another bite, swallowed, and pointed his fork at Quinn. “Speak for yourself.”

Running his fingers through his short hair, Quinn tilted his head. “You’re from Lux, right?”

“Born and bred. Second generation. Though my parents have a huge Oldearth sanctuary on—”

Quinn knocked his empty cup aside. “My family was run off Lux with barely the clothes on their backs during the Crestonian Crisis. Said we were a threat to planetary security.” Taking a more relaxed pose, Quinn laced his fingers behind his head. “They feared us. Humans were getting too numerous, so—”

Scott laid his fork aside and took a sip of his coffee. “Our family was large, my Uncle George has thirteen kids. In fact, they encouraged—”

“Who’d he work for?”

Scott dug into the fruit salad. “Bio-engineering Dep—”

“Oh, sure, yeah! Bio-engineers can do anything!” Quinn lowered his voice and leaned in further. “Listen, newbie, Bothmal doesn’t give a—”

A red light flashed over the door accompanied by a repeated buzzing sound.

Quinn frowned and rose to his feet. “Bothmal belongs to the strongest—not the smartest.” His gaze swiveled around the empty room. “You’re not on Lux. Remember that.”

The door slid open and a Crestonian wearing prisoner’s garb hustled in. He leaned against the door, huffing, and eyed Quinn and Scott. Rotating a long metal object in two tentacles, he straightened up.

Quinn stepped to Scott’s side and nudged him shoulder-to-shoulder, speaking out of the side of his mouth. “Crestonians are ingenious at fashioning weapons outta garbage. Ironic, eh?”

Scott held up his hands. “Maybe I can talk him down. He’s gonna get killed if he tries anything.”

Quinn’s eyes gleamed. “Oh, he’s dead alright. No question about that.” He shoved Scott ahead. “You talk to him. I’ll be right back.”

Scott glared at Quinn’s retreating back, then turned and faced the prisoner, one hand sliding to his sidearm. “Listen, I’m new here, but I know every rule on record, and I want us both to get out of this room alive, okay? If you just hand over the weapon, I promise—”

The door opened, Quinn charged through, and tackled the Crestionian from behind, knocking him down. They rolled across the floor with Scott pulling out his Dustbuster, edging up and backing away, as the two opponents grappled across the room and into the airy, institutional kitchen. A wall hole labeled “Recycle Your Refuse” glowed in neon letters on the wall. Jabbing his Dustbuster under the Crestoniona’s chin, Quinn dragged the prisoner to the opening.

The Crestonian struggled frantically, trying to get his skewer against Quinn’s midsection.

Scott dashed in and held his Dustbuster against the Crestonian’s head and shouted at Quinn. “Enough! We got him.”

Quinn braced himself, and with a mighty shove, he leaned the Crestonian against the hole and fired. What was left of the body was instantly suctioned into the hole.

Scott fell against the wall and stared open-mouthed at Quinn. “What the—?” He waved his Dustbuster in the air. “We had him. He knew it! We could’ve ended this without—”

Quinn, gulping deep breaths of air, grinned like a child winning a game. “Look at the sign, idiot.”

Scott pushed off the wall, his eyes wide with fury. “He was a prisoner. He wasn’t sentenced to death by the court! What gives you the right—?”

Quinn shook his head as he straightened up and swaggered back to the mess hall.

Four guards rushed in with Dustbusters at the ready. The lead man stared at Quinn. “We thought you were dead! Somehow that freak managed to cut the monitors.” His eyes roved the room. “Where—?”

Quinn chuckled. “He’s being recycled. More useful this way.” He tucked his Dustbuster away as the other guards relaxed with relieved smiles spreading across their faces.

Scott stood with his Dustbuster dangling at his side, glaring at Quinn.

With a shrug, Quinn turned and met Scott in the middle of the room. He leaned in and whispered. “Never let an opportunity slip by.” Putting an arm around Scott’s shoulder, he walked him back to their table. “Since I saved your midsection, you can clean up.” Her patted Scott on the shoulder and then started toward the door. “Oh, and not a word. Remember, the only difference between them and us is the color of our uniform.”

The door slid shut. Scott plopped down on his chair and shoved his dinner tray away.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Short Story: Guardian

I turned thirteen that summer and had my first real job. Well, it felt real, even though I didn’t get paid much. I helped out at the local library, shelving books, cleaning up, and polishing the tables after closing. This was back in the day when libraries bustled with students who plucked paperbacks and heavy resource volumes from designated sections labeled with letters and numbers according to the Dewy Decimal System. They propped their elbows on long, polished tables and turned thin, paper pages. It was old-time, but it worked. My heart still thumps with joy at the sight of books stacked neatly on shelves.

We had a hot summer that year. I was late getting home because the library hosted a big, summer festival and someone needed to put the place back together afterward. I didn’t mind. Shelving, sweeping, even wiping down the tables, kept me busy and at peace. I would stop and flip open an interesting cover, read the first page, and then let the story linger in my imagination. I felt like a kid snitching candy off a shelf, but I don’t think anyone minded. Sometimes my boss, Mrs. Murdock, would smile at me, her eyes twinkling even though she usually kept a serious demeanor about the place.

When I trudged home in that late evening, I didn’t know what I might find. When mom was sober, she captivated the house and neighborhood with witty banter and lively open houses. But when she wasn’t sober, few saw her except me, and then she was anything but witty.

Since money was scarce and taxes had risen, Mom had taken in a couple foreign students to board for the year. Jamal stayed in the backroom on the second floor, while Mr. Chin occupied the refurbished attic. Jamal was young, energetic, and obsessed with engineering. He never talked about anything else, and I wondered if he dreamed science formulas in his sleep. Mr. Chin was quiet and always polite. He noticed when things weren’t right about mom and the house, but he never said anything. He’d just go to the kitchen, make himself a cup of tea, and take it to his room to finish his work.

That summer night, I came in exhausted, longing to collapse on my bed, but the moment I stepped in the house, I knew something was wrong. Mom and my brother, Glen, were in the kitchen arguing. Glen was a lot like mom. Smart and good-looking, he could charm a room full of mountain lions, but when he started drinking, he turned even nastier than mom. When they were both drinking, life turned sour real fast.

I remember standing on the threshold. I didn’t want to go in, but it was getting dark, and I had nowhere else to go. Besides, I didn’t want them to hurt each other. I had always been the peacemaker. Hell of a job.

Suddenly, I saw Mr. Chin step between them and go around and about the kitchen. He was making himself a cup of tea, acting like they weren’t having a big screaming match right in the middle of the room. I thought I’d fall over in a faint. How could he be so calm?

It took a little while, but eventually, Mom seemed to realize that Mr. Chin was trying to get his evening meal. Glen tossed them both a contemptuous glare, grabbed a six-pack off the table, and hustled out. I tiptoed in and helped Mom up the stairs to her bedroom. I knew she would sleep it off. By the time I came back downstairs, the kitchen was clean, and Mr. Chin was nowhere in sight.

I went to my room, dropped on my bed and felt like crying, but being thirteen, I figured that I’d better get a grip on my emotions, so I grabbed a mystery novel, leaned back against my headboard, and tried to relax. Tree frogs croaked in unison like a church chorus, and I could see the night sky filling with twinkling fireflies. My head soon felt heavy and drowsy. Then I heard the front door crash open, furniture scraping across the floor, and my mom and Glen yelling at the top of their lungs.

By the time Mom was back in bed and Glen had retreated to his makeshift basement room, I could hardly see straight. But I dared not go back to my room for fear they would start up again. Stumbling to the couch in the living room, I settled on the edge, waiting. I faced mom’s rocking chair and remembered how many times we had snuggled there when I was little. I held back aching tears and, in time, I must have fallen asleep for the light was off, and I found myself laying on the couch with a blanket over me.

I remember being so tired that I could barely lift my head off the couch, but I sensed someone was there, sitting on the rocking chair. He wasn’t making any noise, just sitting there, quiet, and watching—watching over me. I tried to mumble thanks, but my mouth felt glued shut. Peace settled over me. Someone else was on guard, so I relaxed and finally slept.

It took me a couple of months to get up the nerve to thank Mr. Chin for taking over that night. We were alone in the kitchen in on a brisk autumn evening, and I had settled down with a cup of tea. He sat with a bowl of Chinese noodles before him.

“Thanks for being there—you know—that night Glen and Mom had the big fight.”

Mr. Chin chewed his noodles meditatively, his eyes averted like he was trying to remember. But then he smiled and our gazes connected. “Wasn’t me. Must have been your guardian.”

I’m sure my eyes couldn’t have extended any further from my face if I had been a human-sized snail. “Excuse me?”

He pointed at me with one of his chopsticks. “You have a guardian. Big fellow. Nice looking.”

Whoa! I must’ve paled considerably because suddenly Mr. Chin looked rather alarmed. He waved his chopsticks in the air as if to wipe away my concerns. “I didn’t see him, exactly, I just know he exists. You have troubles too big to carry alone, and someone has been helping you. So, you see, I know by evidence. Someone watches over you, and he must be big because your burdens are so heavy. And someone that kind must be good looking—especially around the eyes.”

Mr. Chin’s face wrinkled in delight at his logic, and I couldn’t help but smiling back at him. I never knew I had a guardian, but his words made sense to me.

From that day to this, I have remembered my guardian whenever I’m overwhelmed. I feel a presence around me, whether I’m dealing with old family issues or my latest boss’ antics. I’m not alone, and my burdens are never too heavy to carry. When I imagine what my guardian looks like, I see a man much like Mr. Chin—smiling, making a cup of tea, and quite good looking—especially around the eyes.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Short Story: Vera’s Wings

Vera tossed in her sleep, her dreams disturbed by flickering flashes of light and an acrid smell that wrinkled her nose. Sweat prickled her arms and legs till she panted and threw off her covers. Suddenly, she sat bolt upright, her eyes wide and staring. Swirling smoke stung them instantly.

Flames danced and darted like flickering fingers from under the door. Skittering to the chair by her desk, she pulled on her skirt and blouse and began screaming. “Pav! Pav, where are you? Help me!”

In the echoing house, she heard only the fire crackling on the other side of the door. Gripping the handle, she pulled and then screamed as the hot metal seared her hand. Grabbing another shirt from her dresser, she wrapped her throbbing hand and darted forward. Gripping the handle again, her whole body trembled. With a snapping, click, the knob turned, the door flew open, and a rush of heat and flame knocked her backward.

In horrified amazement, Vera stared at the flames. The LuKan had a natural fear of fire. Their tender flesh burned so easily that even sunburn could cause serious health issues. Crawling backward, she scurried to the back of the room and rose to her feet, the flames flickering toward her.

“Pav?” her hand clutched at her throat. She inched over to the window and stared down. It was a six-meter drop at least. In the dark, it looked like an endless chasm.

A sound of clattering boots running up the steps made her glance at the doorway. The door had swung shut again, but now the wood was engulfed in flames. A man called through the smoke and fire.

“Vera? Are you here?”

Vera’s shoulders slumped in relief. The blacksmith. “I’m here, Mr. Pollex. I can’t get out, and Pav’s not answering.” Vera clapped her hands together and winced as the blisters made contact.

A grunt and pounding shattered the air. Mr. Pollex shouted. “Pav? Pav, can you hear me?” A splintering thwack thudded against Pav’s door.

Vera closed her eyes and wiped sweat from her dripping face.

More splintering crashes and the sound of boots running across the floor. Shouts, grunts, and then silence.

Wrapping her long three fingered hands around her middle, Vera hugged herself. She swallowed against the bile that rose in her throat and ran to the window, sucking in fresh air.

Clattering boots and heaving grunts stopped outside her door. “Vera? Vera, stand back!”

Vera pressed her back against the window frame, her shoulders shaking.

A thwack smashed through the wood door, and a sharp, red-tipped blade shone through the flames. Uncounted thrusts tore at the wood until it fell aside like a torn curtain.

Lucius Pollex stepped through the flames. His red-rimmed eyes had scoured the room before they landed on Vera huddled against the back wall. He ran to her, gripped her arm, and lifted her to her feet. “Hurry, this timber frame won’t hold much longer.”

She froze at the flaming doorway. Without a word, Lucius stepped behind Vera and scooped her in his arms, enfolding her little body within his, and sprang through the red and orange darts of fire. Once outside the door, he dropped her in a clear space on the landing and bent over a prone figure.

Vera gasped. “Pav!”

Before she could run over, Lucius lifted Pav’s limp body over his shoulder and reached out for Vera. She shook herself, fighting nausea that bubbled up from her middle. As they descended the steps, she tripped and fell forward. Instantly, Lucius grabbed her around the waist, and, squeezing her body against his, he jogged down the last steps and through the front doorway into the smoky, night air.

Falling on her knees, Vera choked and sobbed, her hands over her face. She rocked back and forth, oblivious to everything except overwhelming pain and fear.

Shouting to her left forced her to look up. A small crowd huddled over a prone form laid out on the grass. Screaming, Vera scrambled like an injured animal toward the body. “Pav! Pav, get up. Talk to me. Pav!”

The crowd backed away.

Blinded by tears, Vera felt along Pav’s body, and finally, coming to his face, she lifted herself to peer into his face. If only she could look into his eyes and make a connection.

Pav’s arms were stretched out to the side, his legs lay limp and bent, his face turned up and his eyes wide open, but they saw nothing—not the stars that twinkled overhead, nor his sister’s tears as they landed on his cheek.

A firm but gentle hand gripped Vera’s shoulder.

She slid to the ground, her head landing on her brother’s chest, sobbing, clinging with her bleeding fingers.

The hand stayed with her, gentle, undemanding, warm and real in a nightmare of searing pain.

The murmuring crowd shuffled away. Someone bent low, and a woman’s voice whispered. “You want me to take her home with me? I’ve got room—”

Vera shivered.

Lucius tightened his grip. “Give her time. I’ll watch over her tonight.”

A man’s voice spoke in the air above her head. “It’s about out, nothing to do now but make plans to rebuild.”

Lucius murmured a soft, “Tomorrow.”

Footsteps padded away, voices chattering in an undertone. “Poor thing. Wonder how it started…”

Pav’s body, already cold, was growing stiff.

Vera shivered, opened her eyes, and blinked at the black night, tears slipping down her blistered cheek.

An arm reached around her shoulders and carefully pulled her off her brother’s body. Gently pulling her close, Lucius braced himself against a shed wall and wrapped his muscled, fire-seared and scoot-coated arms around her, pressing her head to his chest.

Vera could feel his chest rising and falling and hear his heart beating in a steady rhythm. His warmth settled over her shivering frame and calmed her. Relaxing, she closed her eyes and let the nightmare end.

~~~

An early bird chirped in the treetops. Vera opened her eyes and stared over Lucius’ charcoal-blackened shirt into a hazy world of drifting smoke, green grass, treetops, and a red sunrise.

Rising on her elbow, Vera studied the stubble-bearded face of Lucius Pollex. His warm chest still rose and fell rhythmically as she shifted her arm and looked around. Her hands stung. She stared at the red blisters on one hand and the angry red blotches over the other and her arms. Wiggling her toes, she was amazed that they didn’t hurt—nothing like her hands. Her gaze drifted over Lucius. She sucked in a horrified gasp. Lucius’ legs ended in smoldering stumps. “Oh, no….” Fresh tears welled in her eyes.

Lucius stirred and groaned. His eyes snapped open, and his arm squeezed protectively around Vera. When their gazes connected, he sucked in a deep breath and darted a glance around the field and burned timber. “You’re alive then?”

Vera nodded. She wiped her face with the back of her hand and sat up, her eyes searching.

Pav still lay stretched out in the field. She started forward, but Lucius held her back. “Wait. I’ll help.” He stood and assisted her to her feet. Peering down at her thin, burned face, he shook his head. “You need care, too, or I’ll be digging more than one grave this day.” Rubbing a tear from her cheek, he stared down, somber, and sighed. “And that, I won’t have.”

Vera stared at his burned stumps, her eyes wide in horror.

Lucius pulled up a charred pant leg and revealed a metal band connecting an artificial limb to the stump of his leg. “They were burned in an accident some time ago.” He raised his gaze to the blue sky and exhaled. “I was never happy about it, but now, I’m glad. If I didn’t have such feet, I could never have walked across a burning floor to save you.”

Lucius gaze fell over Pav’s body. “Only—I wish I had wings.”

Vera stepped over to her brother’s body and knelt down. She lifted Pav’s hand and kissed it. Looking over her shoulder, a shaky smile trembled on her lips. “Don’t feel too bad. The LuKan believe in the Immortal Life—today, Pav has wings for us both.”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Short Story: Visions of Grandeur

Loren crouched low as she snuck up behind the enemy, one finger poised over the trigger. She knew all too well the price she’d pay if she missed.

The enemy swarmed off to the right—they’d be beautiful if they weren’t so dang dangerous. She had children to protect. Creeping ahead, she spied their base of operations.

Got ‘em now!

Exhilaration pumped adrenaline into Loren’s bloodstream. She rose to her feet, both hands braced over the canister, aimed, and fired. Direct hit!

The swarm didn’t know what happened. They dropped onto the porch floor and buzzed furiously until Loren swept them into the front garden bed with her foot. She exhaled a long, cleansing breath. Thank—

“Mom! You know it’s wrong to kill bugs. They’re a part of nature, and we’re supposed to respect them!”

Loren turned and faced her irate eleven-year-old daughter; the wasp spray canister hung limply in her left hand.

Kara, a self-appointed bug expert, propped her hands on her hips like a furious schoolteacher. She had watched numerous YouTube videos and read articles on-line about native, Illinois insects. In her spare time, she copied photos and made collages, which she hung up around the house underlined with dire warnings about the loss of native species.

Loren chewed her lip and rubbed her jaw as if it had been struck. “Listen, young lady, I got stung this morning, and your baby brother got stung yesterday. Insects may have some rights, but I’m the protector of this family and—”

Kara rolled her eyes and wandered away.

Loren clutched the spray canister so tightly that she accidentally sprayed the floor. Marching into the kitchen, she placed the bug spray on a high shelf and then turned to the sound of the dryer buzzing. She glanced at the stovetop clock, dashed downstairs, piled the warm laundry into a plastic tub, tossed the wet laundry into the dryer, shoved the last load of dirty clothes into the wash, set the timers and scurried back upstairs.

Baby Addison screamed as he climbed the last rail of his crib. Teetering on the edge, he nearly overbalanced before Loren dashed into the blue room and scooped him into her arms. “Whoa, Baby Boy, what do you think you’re doing? Besides giving me a heart attack….”

After a quick lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches, homemade pickles, sliced peaches, and milk, Loren placed Addison in the middle of the room with enough toys to keep a thirteenth-century emperor ecstatically happy and turned her attention to her computer. Onto the next battle—family finances. Well, somebody’s got to balance the books.

Two hours and momentous account juggling later, Loren looked up as Kara sauntered in with a neighbor boy. They both had their iPhones so close to their faces that Loren wondered how they had ever managed to walk into the room without bumping into a wall.

Kara peered over the rim of her screen. “Marvin is staying for dinner. His dad and mom had a big fight and started throwing things.”

Loren froze, though her eyes wandered over Marvin’s bulky frame and unkempt hair. “You want to talk about it, Marvin?”

Marvin shrugged, his eyes still glued to the screen in front of his face. “They hate each other. What’s to talk about?”

Loren’s head dropped to her chest. She felt tears well up, but she brushed them aside as her gaze swept the room. Uh, oh…where’s Addison?

Her heart pounding, she stepped passed Marvin, giving his shoulder a little squeeze as she went by. “I’m making fried chicken. You can stay as long as you need.”

When she entered the bathroom, she knew what she would find, though she clenched her hands in prayer. Please, God, let me get it cleaned up before James gets home.

It wasn’t as bad as she feared, though the wallpaper would never be the same. Thank heaven for disinfectants!

A car rolled over the gravel in the driveway, and Loren bustled with Addison into the blue room. She changed his stinky clothes at the speed of light, rushed into the kitchen, pulled the thawed chicken pieces out of the refrigerator, sprinkled spicy breading over them, poured oil in the pan, and popped muffins onto a tray. When James entered, she put Addison on the floor so he could toddle right into his daddy’s arms, a sacred tradition that James loved.

By the time James had changed and come back downstairs in comfortable jeans and a t-shirt, the table was set, the chicken was frying, a large tossed salad graced the center of the table, and a pyramid of muffins sat ensconced next to a jar of strawberry jam, front and center of James’ place.

At dinner, Addison gummed his crackers and chicken pieces with childish abandon while Marvin chomped on his chicken legs in morose silence. Kara nibbled carrot sticks and muffins slathered in jam, distaining, once again, the flesh of sacred animals. She wrinkled her nose at Addison until her dad told her to stop.

James pushed back from the table and patted his lean belly. “That was fantastic, sweetheart, thanks. His eyes followed Loren as she began to clear the dishes. “Oh, and thanks for mowing the front lawn. I wanted to get to it, but with all the extra work—”

Loren shrugged. “It’s fine. I’ll try to get to the back tomorrow, but I’ll have to squeeze it in before I take Addy in for his check-up.”

James swirled his water glass. “Oh, and could you invite Carl’s new wife—” he snapped his fingers together with a puzzled frown.

Loren glanced over. “Chelsea?”

“Yeah, right, I can never remember. Anyway, invite her to your next Lady’s Tea. I take it that the other wives have shunned her for a—shall we say—checkered past. If you act nice, they might follow.”

Loren filled the sink with soapy water and nodded. “Called into diplomatic service once again, eh? You know that’s what I first wanted—”

Addison’s wail cut short the conversation as James lifted the baby from his high chair and offered to walk Marvin back home.

Later that night as Loren brushed her teeth, she could hear sniffles from Kara’s bedroom. She tiptoed into the dark interior, trying not to bang into the desk or the multitudinous science experiments, which Kara laid like traps for her unwary parents. Shuffling forward in low gear, she found Kara’s bed and inched her hand up to Kara’s shoulder. “What’s wrong, honey?” She perched on the edge knowing full well that she was sitting on at least three stuffed animals.

Kara wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and sniffed. “Jean texted me that I’m nothing but an amateur, and I’ll never amount to anything.”

Loren frowned. She didn’t know Jean, as she didn’t know most of the kids that Kara interacted with over her iPod. “Well, darling, you may be an amateur now, but if you study and keep working hard, you may become a professional someday. It all depends on much you—”

Kara waved her hands in contemptuous disdain. “Oh, you don’t understand. You’ll never understand. I want to be great at something. I don’t want to just make a living…or be like you.

Loren took the body blow with only a slight grimace. She swept a lock of Kara’s hair out of her face and took a deep breath. “You know, I like to think I’m doing something great—here—at home. It may not seem like much but—”

Kara shook her head. “You’re just a mom, there’s nothing great about it. Millions of women have done it—forever. I want something more, something grand and—”

Loren let her head drop as she listened to her daughter’s dreams and aspirations. They all sounded wonderful and noble, something that might make headlines one day. There was so much she wanted to say, to share about her own life and her experiences, which had lead her to the edge of her daughter’s bed, but Kara wouldn’t understand, not now. Maybe someday. When Kara talked herself sleepy, Loren squeezed her hand and tiptoed back into her bedroom and finished brushing her teeth.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Short Story: Grace Nelson’s Murder

 

I’ve got blood on my hands, pure and simple, but I’m not sorry. Grace Nelson pushed her father’s wheelchair up a gentle incline toward a small, yellow house set aside on a winding, pave-stoned lane. It looks like a picture on an Oldearth vintage postcard. Grace sniffed. So Bhuaci. She squared her shoulders. By the Divide, I hate it here. So blinking perfectI could smash it. Her eyes traveled over to a Bhuaci family strolling down the lane hand-in-hand. Or them.

Grace? Why’d you stop? I’m hungry and it’s getting hot.” Old-man Nelson swiveled his head back as far as it would go.

Grace leaned in and shoved the chair up the last steps to the brown and white front door. “Just tired, Dad. Not as young as I once was, you know.”

The old man chuckled. “None of us are.”

Grace turned the chair sharply about, opened the door, and started back over the threshold.

Nelson pointed a shaky finger at a Bhuac male in a trim, green uniform, brown, military-style boots, and with a severe haircut strolling toward them. “What’s he want?”

Grace shuddered.

“Lawman? That you?” Nelson’s wide grin accompanied his beckoning wave. “It’s been some time since you wandered down this way, Sir.”

Lawman offered a professional smile, but his gaze swept over Grace with anxious wrinkles around his eyes. He shook the old man’s hand. “It has.” He cleared his throat. “Sorry to hear about your wife. I was off-planet—”

Nelson waved the concern aside. “It’s better this way. She doesn’t have to slave away over a decrepit, old fool anymore.”

Lawman’s eyes flashed to Grace again.

Grace’s impenetrable stare focused on the park across the road.

Lawman gestured weakly with a pained look in his eye. “With Grace here, you’ll always be well looked after.”

Nelson’s chuckle sounded like a cackle. “She’s wasting her life on me—but I can’t seem to get her to leave.” His grin widened as he stared Lawman in the eye. “So, what can we help you with? Or is this a social call?”

Lawman’s back straightened. “I just wanted to check in and see if I can be of service. You’re one of our first human settlers on Helm, and I’d hate—”

Nelson’s voice boomed. “Don’t be ridiculous! We’re not going anywhere; are we Grace? Quite happy here. Couldn’t stand Lux with that bright sun in my eyes every minute and all those high and mighties zipping about. Never knew when one might be in the room with you. Now, you Bhuacs may be shapeshifters, but at least you have respect for human sensibilities. You maintain your form, and nice forms they are too, quite pleasing—”

Lawman’s eyes strayed over to Grace. “You’re happy here, Grace?”

Grace’s stiff smile matched her stony gaze. “I’m happy wherever I’m needed.” She sucked in a deep breath. “And, at the moment, I am needed in the kitchen. It must be past noon.”

Lawman nodded. “Certainly. Don’t let me keep you. Good day.” He dropped a smile on Nelson and backed away.

Grace maneuvered the wheelchair over the threshold and started to close the door.

Suddenly, Lawman gripped the edge and leaned in, peering into Grace’s face. “Oh, and Grace, we know…about it.” He nodded decisively. “You mustn’t let it ever happen again.”

An icy gleam narrowed Grace’s eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous.” She swung her father’s chair around and let the heavy door fall shut. Her shoulders hunched up near her ears as she pushed the chair into a large, well-lit kitchen with a built-in oven next to a six-foot cabinet. She parked the wheelchair next to a cushioned recliner with a small table attached on one end.

Nelson swiveled his body from the wheelchair onto the recliner and plopped down with a long sigh. He snatched a datapad from the table and began to scroll through.

Grace pulled a container from a freezer unit, popped it into the wall-oven, and tapped a console. Efficiently, she laid the counter and her father’s table with bowls, utensils, and linen napkins. As she poured golden liquid into sparkling, crystal glasses, her father snorted. Her head snapped up.

Nelson’s eyes stayed glued to his datapad, but a smile played around his lips. “Silly fool. What’s he think he’s going do? Send me back to Lux? Imprison you?”

Grace froze. Her eyes rolled over to her father. “What are you talking about?”

Nelson slapped the datapad onto his lap with one eyebrow cocked. “Oh, please. You didn’t honestly think you could murder my wife without anyone noticing, did you?”

Grace reached out and leaned heavily on the counter, barely a breath escaping between her lips. “Oh, God.”

Nelson waived the sentiment away. “God had little to do with it, I’m sure. Besides, I’m not angry. Frankly, the old biddy was driving me mad. I’m sure that every Bhuac this side of the Divide felt sorry for me. You know, Lawman tried to talk me out of marrying Mara. Said she was unstable.” Nelson snorted. “Right about that! She may have looked like a nymph on steroids, but she acted like an Ingoti drug—”

Grace squared her shoulders and faced her father. “How long have you known?” Her blinking eyes searched the room as she wrung her hands together. “You don’t think Lawman will—”

Nelson’s eyes softened as he beckoned his daughter nearer. “Listen, it was my fault, really. I thought she’d liven up my final years. How was I to know she’d—”

Grace slapped the counter and swallowed, her gaze fixed on her father’s side table. “I poisoned her.”

“Aw, heck, she was poisoning me. Well, my sunset years, so to speak. Forget about it.” Nelson picked up his datapad and tapped it. “It won’t happen again. It’s not like you’re a serial killer or anything.” He grinned and darted a glance at his daughter before returning to his pad. “Then I’d have to poison you.”

Grace’s cooled gaze traveled from her father’s bowl to the cabinet and back to his bowl.

~~~

When Omega’s shadow appeared in Grace Nelson’s bedroom that night, she stifled a scream. Catching her breath, she gritted her teeth. “Lawman, is that you? Trying to scare me—”

Omega, dressed in a flowing, purple tunic with green leggings and orange slippers held up a long-fingered hand and huffed. “Hardly!” He circled the perimeter of the room. “I’ve been watching you, Grace Nelson, and I think you’re on the brink of great self-discovery.” He stroked his chin. “Or self-destruction.”

Grace took a step closer, her hands balled into fists. “Who the h—?”

Omega flourished a graceful bow. “My name is Omega, last son of…oh, never mind. Listen, human, I’m trying to save your miserable life and offer you a chance. The Bhuaci are notoriously suspicious of strangers, and you certainly put their hackles up by killing one of their own, even though they admit—privately of course—that Mara’s moons weren’t in proper alignment—as they say.”

Grace sat on the edge of her bed and rubbed her temple. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Omega flicked his index finger upwards and a small town appeared floating in mid-air. Humans bustled in and out of markets, and cars rolled down the dusty roads.

Grace stood up, fascinated, staring at the scene. “Is that a hologram—from somewhere?”

Omega pursed his lips. “That, my dear woman, is Mirage-Reborn—your new home.”

“Home? Don’t be stupid. Why would I go there? It looks primitive. There’s not even—”

Omega snapped his fingers and the town disappeared. “Because, Grace Nelson, if you don’t go there, you will be murdered here.”

Grace froze. “But my father….”

Omega laughed. “Don’t worry; we’ll bring him along. After all, he’s the reason you need to leave. Your mother didn’t die in her sleep like he says—she was very much awake—poor thing. Father like daughter, I always say.” Throwing his arm over her shoulder, he led her back to bed. “Get some sleep, Grace, and I’ll arrange everything in the morning.”

Grace stumbled onto her bed, pulled her covers close under her chin, closed her eyes, and wondered who she should trust—this stranger named Omega or the father she had never really known.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Short Story: Drama Trauma

Kelly shuffled forward in line at the Save-All Market and averted her eyes.

Directly in front of her, a woman with spiky hair and dangling earrings swatted a heavyset four-year-old as she tossed items on the counter.

The girl whined a long, high-pitched squeal.

The woman swatted again and flung an iPhone into the child’s grubby hand. Gleefully, the child tapped the screen, and suddenly a Disney movie theme blared.

Kelly’s gaze grazed the cashier’s face in the midst of an eye roll.

A young man wearing an orange uniform and carrying a sweeper stepped near. He waved at the little girl and grinned. “One of my favorites, too.”

The woman swung around and glared, one arm barring the child from leaning forward. “Get away from her, pervert!”

Kelly’s eyes rounded as she watched the young man back away, hunch his shoulders, and with grieved eyes, begin sweeping near the restrooms.

“Twenty-five dollars and eighty cents.” The cashier pushed her glasses up her nose and waited, her eyes fixed on the space above the woman’s head.

As Kelly fumbled to unload her purchases, her gaze meandered to the newspaper selection. On the left, bold headlines screamed: “Aliens Alive and Menacing on Mars!” Before she had time to consider the possibilities, much less the syntax, a man jostled her arm as he snatched a magazine with a full-color picture of a terrorist holding a severed head with the headline: “World War III Imminent.”

“Fourteen sixty-five.” The cashier considered the state of her nails.

Kelly slipped her card through the scanner mechanically as the woman and child struggled for control of the iPhone. She could hear their sharp argument rise to hypersonic pitch as she scurried her cart to the door. Another swat set off a long wail.

Maneuvering her car across the parking lot, Kelly spotted a disheveled man with long, stringy hair and a tattered coat huddled on the corner where she had to turn. Kelly’s heart raced. How fast could she pass him? Or should she stop and give him something? The man, in his forties maybe but roughly used, held a sign. “Out of work and going blind—Please help.”

Kelly knew she had a ten dollar bill in the front pocket of her purse, but it would take a lot of agility to get it out, steer close enough to hand it out, and not tick off the line of cars behind her. Kelly sped up.

Once on the highway, Kelly began to breathe a little easier. Then a series of red revolving lights caught her eye. She slowed and peered at a police officer waving traffic onto one lane. “Oh heck.” Kelly blew air between her lips and tapped the steering wheel.

As she navigated to the left, she glanced over and saw a smashed truck cab and a mangled tractor. An ambulance siren wailed nearby, and a woman sat on the embankment, her head in her hands. She seemed to be sobbing. Kelly’s attention snapped back to the road. The police officer waved her on.

When she finally picked up speed, Kelly darted a glance at her watch. She’d be late for class if she didn’t hurry. Her foot pressed the pedal nearer the floor. She upped the volume on her favorite music and lost herself in scenes from a horror movie she had seen over the weekend.

When she slipped into her seat, her professor waved to a large screen in the front of the room. “Today, we will focus on the oppressive state of our culture and how we are destroying our world.” Kelly tapped on her recorder. This would be on the exam—no doubt about it.

By the time she pushed her way through the front door late that night, Kelly’s shoulders drooped, and she had a splitting headache. A light shone in the kitchen, so she wandered inside.

Her mom, wrapped in a garish orange bathrobe, sat plowing through a quart of chocolate ice cream.

Kelly tossed her car keys on the counter and nodded.

Her mom nodded back. “Lousy day. You?”

Kelly shuffled to the cabinet, snatched up a rumpled bag of broken cookies, and grabbed a spoon out of an open drawer. “Nothing new. You know—same ol’, same ol’.” She plopped down beside her mother, poured the cookies on the table, and dug in.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Short Story: A New Life for Lucius Pollex

The fight was inevitable. The outcome was not….

Sweat poured down Lucius Pollex’s face as heat seared the hairs on his arms. A blast knocked him to his knees. He sucked in a lung full of air. Suddenly, a baby’s wail pierced the smoke-filled corridor.

“Oh, God.” Lucius’ muscles gleamed as he crawled forward. He could hear Captain Akio’s voice ringing in his ears. “Keep the governor safe—at all costs. She’s more important than the entire force put together.” Lucius shook his head and choked, nearly sobbing for air.

“Matthews! Governor Matthews! Can you hear—?”

A terrified shriek split the air.

A hologram picture of Governor Matthews signing an Inter-Alien Alliance treaty between the Friezing Outpost and the Crestonian government while cradling a newborn baby in her other arm filled his mind. The sight had left him incredulous. She was a woman of renowned diplomatic abilities, but over the year and a half he had served her, his doubt had turned to silent awe.

Lucius’ shoulder grazed a corner. On his right, he heard the incessant screams of a terrified baby, on his left a blocked doorway led to the governor’s private office. An explosion rocked the ship. He banged his head against the wall and struggled to stay conscious. With a fist, he pounded the closed door.

“Governor Matthews!”

The shrieks dwindled to a whimper wafting from the open doorway. Lucius turned, rose to his feet, and staggered in.

~~~

Dressed in prison garb, Lucius awoke to a light beam focused on his eyes. He sat up, cupping his hands over his face as his prosthetic feet hit the cold stone floor.

“Get up. They’re waiting for you.”

Lucius stood and faced his jailor, a short, blond man with the name tag “Officer Quinn” imprinted on his uniform. A small man who obviously delighted in small power. What would he do with great power? Lucius shuddered.

Quinn jabbed Lucius’ in the chest with the tip of his Dustbuster. “If you’re found guilty, you’re mine—forever.”

Lucius shrugged. “Not forever.”

“It’ll feel like it before long.” Quinn gestured through the doorway. “Let’s go.”

Lucius tripped. The lifeless prosthetics never moved as quickly as he expected. He righted himself; his gaze stayed fixed straight ahead.

~~~

In the courtroom, Lucius stood on a center dais with his hands clasped behind his back. Quinn stood near at hand, his Dustbuster at the ready. Frisian and Crestonian representatives sat in the wings.

The Crestonian judge tapped two tentacles together. “We find you guilty of gross negligence in the performance of your duty and hereby sentence you to—”

Lucius’ gaze wandered from the scene and retreated to the moment he clasped the baby girl in his arms and held her tight against the searing flames. He had little memory of the rest of his rescue mission, only the moment he awoke to discover that the baby was gone and so were his feet. Why they blamed him was of little importance. They had to blame someone, and he was expendable. The Frisians and Crestonians would agree on that at least.

On the way back to his cell, Lucius stumped along in silence.

Quinn’s grin appeared almost boyish. “What the hell did you expect? It’s not like the baby was really worth it or anything. She’s dead now, you know. Lung damage—”

Without a minuscule change in expression, Lucius reached out and gripped Quinn by the throat. He squeezed. Even when Quinn nudged the Dustbuster between them, and alarms blared throughout the corridors of Bothmal prison, Lucius kept squeezing.

~~~

Suddenly, Lucius felt a jolt sear through his body. He assumed he had just disintegrated to the tune of Quinn’s Dustbuster, but to his amazement he found himself standing in a field of daisies. Lucius raised his hands and examined them. He pinched his arm. A chuckle made him turn around.

“No, you’re not dead.” Omega, wearing a brown jerkin and tan, cotton pants waved Lucius forward. “Nothing of the kind. Come, let’s get you settled before I go.”

Lucius took a tentative step forward and tripped.

Omega sighed. “Yes, sorry, I didn’t fix them. Not yet, anyway. But your weakness will prove your strength.” Omega smiled airily. “Right now, I just want you to rest up for new challenges. I’ve got a whole world waiting for you.”

Lucius folded his arms across his chest and allowed his eyes to absorb the glory of a copse of woods and the flower-strewn field all around him. Slowly, his gaze wanted back to Omega. “And you are—?”

Omega sniffed and clapped his hands together. “Yes, of course. I always forget. Not everyone in the universe acknowledges me as lord and master.” He stepped forward and flourished a formal bow. “I am Omega, last son of my father, a being of wisdom and dignity who will soon become like a father to you as well. He is the creator of Mirage-Reborn—your new home.” Omega waved to the right, and a small, thatched cottage appeared. “But before I send you home, you need rest and time to adjust.”

Lucius shook his head. “Why? I mean, why save—”

Omega strode to the cottage door and swung it wide with an even wider smile. “For the same reason I do everything. I need something from you.”

Lucius stroked his chin as his eyebrows rose. “You? Need something from me?”

Omega shrugged with a tilt of his head. “You see, I must discover if the impossible is possible.” His gaze delved deep into Lucius’ eyes. “I am settling Quinn on Mirage-Reborn with you. I’d prefer you not kill him.”

Lucius’ eyes widened.

Omega waved his hand. “And he’s not to kill you, of course.”

A red bird burst from the grove of oaks along the edge of the woods behind the cottage and soared into the air.

Lucius caught his breath, and then let his gaze land on Omega once more. “I’ve already been found guilty of—”

Omega laughed. “That’s why I chose you, such an honest man!” Omega gestured toward the doorway. “It is well provisioned, and you will have plenty of time to rest up. My father, Abbas, will retrieve you when he’s ready. But now, I really must go. I’m terribly late.” Omega raised his hand in salute.

Lucius shouted. “Wait! I don’t understand—”

Omega grinned as his figure faded into the sunset; his voice carrying even after the last glimmer of his sparkling eyes disappeared. “We all have impossible choices to make.”

Lucius’ hands flapped to his side as he sucked in a deep, shuddering breath. He gazed at the natural beauty before him and took his first step toward home.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00