I Can’t Lose

OldEarth Melchior Encounter Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nova scuttled up close behind.

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

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

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

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

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

Cerulean shot the mixed-breed a warning glance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence dragged on.

An owl hooted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

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

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

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

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

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

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

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

Homestead Parts 1 and 2

The first three chapters are free on Kindle Vella.

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

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

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

Part 1

No Place I’d Rather Be

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

Home.

There was no place else I’d rather be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He chuckled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I glared out of the corner of my eye.

He kept his eyes on the road.

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

He laughed.

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

“What?”

“That laugh. It sounds like a bark.”

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

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

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

Part 2

Even the Birds Stopped Singing

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But it’s back on, right?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then, all hell broke loose.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

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

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

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

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

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

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

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

In a Tilted World

Poison ivy, phone issues, a leaky sink, and tenacious weeds could have ruined my week. Lucky for me—life is bigger than bad moments, and free will is the true test of love.

There is an old oak tree that stands on the edge of our property, and every time I pass by, I offer a nod of respect and a prayer to the Maker of beauty and growing things. I’d noticed, of late, that several of the branches have died, reaching out like gnarly arms with not a stitch of clothing. Tracing the trunk with my gaze, I discovered that ivy vines had twirled around and were sucking the life from the ancient arboreal glory. So, I did the decent thing—got a pair of clippers and set it free from their death grip.

I didn’t notice any change at first. But the next day, the attacking vines on the tree drooped and the skin on my legs blistered.

AT&T kindly informed me with emails and text messages that they were doing upgrades, and my current phone was going out of business. Originally, I thought I had till 2022 to deal with the issue. Eons of time. Or not. Yesterday, I got a text message telling me exactly what disaster would happen (I’d only be able to dial 911 or 611—suggesting that from then on disasters would be my only option) if I didn’t switch to the new phone that they had sent me soon. I quickly set my tech-ready son to work.

Within the hour neither phone worked. I was Bilbo frantically patting his pockets for his ring!

Since it is summer, we have a garden. And lots of tasty things grow there. Including cucumbers. As wonderful as five cucumbers are, thirty-five can sit on the counter with an air of accusation: “What you gonna do now, eh?” So, I cleaned some canning jars, scrubbed the pot, added vinegar, water, and spices and tromped downstairs with visions of pickles dancing in my head.

Then I was hit with an atrocious stink. I looked around for a dead animal. Nope. Then I peered under the sink to the pipes I repaired last month.

There is a reason I have our plumber on speed dial.

The driveway and I have an agreement—the rocks stay put, and I drive cars over them. Unfortunately, no one told the weeds. Or they just aren’t listening. I have tried pathetic little weed killer spray bottles and got two-tenths of a millimeter cleared at a time. The other day, I saw a guy spraying his driveway with what looked like herbicidal big-guns. Normally, I avoid chemicals of all kinds. But enough is enough. I’ll need all-terrain drive soon to get into the garage if I don’t take action. So, I went to Rural King’s garden section and got a big bottle of something. I soon discovered that not all killers are the same. Helps to read the label.

My point? You’re very generous in reading this far in expectation that I have a point.

There happens to be medicine for poison ivy rash, and the itch goes away in time. The old oak will live another day and whispers thank you as I pass. My tech-magic kid calmed my racing heart when he got the new phone working, even transferring my contacts, thus the Earth continued to revolve around the sun. The plumber scheduled a date to fix the sink. I did get the cucumbers pickled, in case that was on your mind. For the driveway, I discovered the right tool for the job—a spray actually invented for the sole purpose of clearing out grass and weeds! And some people say that there aren’t miracles any more.

As I contemplated the reversals of the week—for good and evil—I realize once again, that freedom makes a big difference. In a true act of love, God gave me a will of my own. In a titled world of blisters, lost connections, broken pipes, and nefarious weeds, I get to choose how to handle each and every one.

And I’ve decided that my life is bigger—and better—than the bad moments.

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/globe-earth-america-usa-3984876/

For the First Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She was fine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She found them?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

Teal waved it away. “I’m not hungry.”

“You need to eat.”

“No, I don’t.”

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

Teal stared at her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mauve.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

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

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

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

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

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

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

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

I’m Making Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And why is that?”

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

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

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

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

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

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

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

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

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

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

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/sunset-meadow-countryside-weather-801736/

A Pinnacle

Icy cold drink on a blistering hot day,

Cracking open a story,

to mystery glory,

Twists and turns on the way.

Chattered conversation in hearing range,

Familiar family, comfortable exchange.

Band-aids for when the peeler strays

Crunchy salad with soft bread,

Ordinary days,

Punctuated with holidays.

A gaze held with meaning; you know.

Relationships despite skirmishes manage to grow.

Babies, eagles, and kittens,

Platypus ridiculous, even minnows and jellyfish,

Make no moment worthless.

 For in treasuring each,

The soul does reach,

A pinnacle,

To wave life’s flag of joy.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

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

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

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

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

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

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

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

What Really Matters?

As I maneuver between the goalposts of my day, I brush up against all sorts of realities. Some deceivingly mundane, some clearly molehills, others require deep prayer to survive their clutching, smothering embrace.

As a sat in the library on a Saturday morning, where I had offered a writers’ support group, but no one showed up, because, as I well knew, there are few people looking for writing support—life support, perhaps, but that is another topic altogether—I alternately worked on a writing project and considered the shelves of untouched books. My mind floated back to a barrio library in the Philippines where the door remained locked most of the time because, quite frankly, the library was not intended to be used. It was simply a designated requirement. The supervisor didn’t want kids in there messing about. That’s not what it was meant for.

Allowing my mind to roam off the page, it floated to other scenes—places of fulfilled requirements: schools packed with kids who experienced little connection between the exam page and the events testing their daily lives, jobs staffed with workers who put in their time like prisoners carrying out a life sentence, and “homes” packed with elderly—retired from work, family gone, all together isolated.

Recently I chatted with someone who likes to hike. A lot. When I asked if part of his motivation was spiritual, he seemed surprised. The answer was, yes. Super-physical and super-spiritual. Supernatural without the eerie music. A purposeful engagement with something beyond fulfilling a requirement. So far as I know, no one is required to take a hike. Suggested maybe…

Violent crimes—organized and unorganized—hunger, domestic abuse, and other horrors plague our world. So often, the malaise of meaninglessness haunts humanity. Why is that?

A storm just rumbled in, thick raindrops splatter everything and gutters shoot like geysers. The internet is out. Our power flickers off—on—and off again. Sheets of rain saturate our already sodden fields. Pumpkin vines sway with shredded leaves. Flower pots overflow, draining good soil away.

The image reminds me that I’ve recently attracted an internet antagonist who feels the need to point out his view of my literary and logical shortcomings. At first, I ignored him. Not out of malice, but simply because I didn’t have much to say in return. No one is required to read my posts. No one has to think as I think or believe as I believe. I simply share my point of view—life from my small and relatively quiet world. Yet an antagonist found me and shot his bolts of angry lightning my way.

What’s a meaningful response to a cyberbully? I could hurl back verbal bolts, but what’s the point?

I’ve been watching PBS’ World on Fire, an excellent WWII drama relating the hellish realities too many human beings endured ninety years ago. In my world, if the internet goes down for a couple of hours, it seems like a big deal. A molehill grown to gargantuan proportions. For them, cruelty and death chased sanity into close quarters and then hunted down families for generations. Devilry itself hidden behind national doors.

So once again, I consider what really matters. I knew when I arranged the writers’ support Saturdays that few people would show up. But I did it anyway. Why? Because I believe that libraries, writers, and support matter even when no one shows up. For the day when someone does step over the threshold hoping to exchange a word or two. I appreciate my hiker-friend since he has taken the road less traveled but found health and peace of mind in clear air and a rugged path.

Kids should have an opportunity to go to school—but daily purpose should be relatable to lives, not built on designated requirements that allow planners to check off boxes. Can a child find meaning in his or her lessons? Even simpler, will he or she grow up, be able to put food on the table, and care to eat it?

And how to manage in a world where bullies, baddies, and rivers of wrong flood the highways of our lives? Where old age leaves us alone without words or coherent thought.

The rain has stopped, and one of the cats just curled up in a flower pot between the fern and the pumpkin plant. A cool breeze has taken the edge off the heat of the day, and night is falling. Birds twitter their goodnight songs, and fireflies are flashing their lights for an evening of delight.

Each day unfolds its mysteries and conundrums. Sometimes I stroll, other times, I run. Never answering everything or certain sure of all.

But I make it to the end, glad I was a part of it. I’ll crack open my library book now, relax a bit, and be present to the Presence of life itself. For the meaning I searched for—was inside of me all along.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

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

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

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

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

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

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

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/woman-girl-lady-reading-book-wood-5339551/

Menagerie of Hidden Influences

My synaptic mailbox is full.

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

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

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

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

Repeat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to sit outside and empty the mailbox.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

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

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

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

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

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

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

Photo https://pixabay.com/illustrations/man-forest-trees-buildings-horizon-5606892/

Everyone Has Questions

Excerpt from OldEarth Melchior Encounter

Tarragon plodded across the wet sand, enjoying the scent of salt water infiltrating his breather helm. The sun, still white, but dropping low in the sky, lit the cave entrance, turning the black stone into shiny pillars.

His ship was situated far enough back to be out of sight but not too far for his exhausted legs and aching feet. He shuffled forward.

The rhythmic sound of the seashore mellowed his soul, rolling the irritations of the day off his heavily burdened shoulders. Why I thought that there’d be anything of interest here is beyond reason. I must’ve been out of my mind.

With a verbal command, the ship’s bay door opened, spreading a sheet of yellow light at his feet.

He plodded onto the incline and let it lift him inside.

Ah, glorious. Home at last.

After a refreshing swim in the pool, he changed into a clean bio-suit, poured an extra-large Nutrient Green into his breathing helm, and plopped down on the plush sofa arranged before his favorite console.

He draped two tentacles—one right, one left—setting the ship’s system into active mode, and regulating the spy alarms on high alert. He hardly wanted a surprise visit from the Mystery Race.

He wrapped his two most used, thus most stretched and weary, tentacles on the top of his head for a much-needed rest. A snug fit, they probably appeared like a fleshy crown. But appearances never concerned him, so he concentrated on his active tenacles, dexterously tapping the console, scrolling through significant data.

The Ingot race hardly interested him normally, but the female, Nova, had caught his attention. Her bestial attitude—contradicting her betters and challenging authority—dropped her beneath his notice at first. But then, in a sarcastic exchange while on the road, Sterling related her history to Mauve, whereby the ridiculous Luxonian female took the child’s part in everything.

Blowing bubbles at the memory, indignation rose fresh in his mind. Mauve should not exist. She was completely useless! Sterling was only worthwhile as a figurehead. Clearly, Teal stood as the real force behind their Inter-Alien Committee. But as his health waned, so the young Luxonian, Cerulean waxed. That should prove interesting.

He shook his head. He must know more about the mixed-being—the Ingot-Bhuaci. How was her existence even possible?

He scrolled through reports, medical journals, and even a couple of dramatic fiction tales before he found what he was looking for: the marriage certificate. Yes, the two had been allowed to marry on the basis of her being able to maintain her humanoid form nearly indefinitely and his complete rejection of all techno-armor.

Tarragon rubbed two of his tentacles together. He really must speak to someone about all of this. Yet who to trust?

Leaning back on his chair, Tarragon closed his eyes and remembered his mother’s oft repeated dictum: “Trust a fool, if you’re going to trust anyone. That way, you know what you’re getting.”

Slapping his chair into the upright position, he swiped the datapad on his chest.

A holographic image of Mauve appeared before his eyes.

She scowled. “What’re you doing? It’s late, and I’m hot on the heels of the mystery race.” She glanced over her shoulder. “There’s an important meeting, a trial of sorts, planned here, in the main hall. I’m going to use my alluring skills on Mystery Man and Son. Though they’re not really—”

Startled, Tarragon’s disbelief spread as a snarl over his face. He could feel it, and he didn’t care. “You found them?”

“Yes, I did!” The boastful triumph in her voice did nothing to soften the covetous gleam in her eye. “The older one plays a minstrel-fool. I believe he has his son with him—also a fool.” She shrugged. “Hidden in plain sight.”

Instantly, Tarragon felt his brain sizzle with daring thoughts. He put on his most innocuous expression. “I’d hate to upset Sterling since I know how much he values you. Stay safe and return to my ship.” He dangled a temptation that he knew perfectly well would repulse her no end. “We can enjoy some Crestonian cuisine.”

The disgust that rippled over Mauve’s face tickled Tarragon to the core.

“I’m going to become this mysterious alien’s new best friend and find out why he’s here.”

“Can you do that?” He lifted his voice to a perfect balance of challenge and disbelief.

“Watch me!”

“I will, most certainly. But, if you happen to get into trouble, offer up the mixed-breed. I’m sure even the Mystery Race has never seen the like. You might be able to make a deal, and we’ll all profit from the exchange.” He smiled, showing his ruddy gums, but that couldn’t be helped.

Mauve laughed. “I like the way you think!”

Voices rose behind her, and bright patches of clothing swirled in the background.

“I must go. But don’t think for a moment that I’d risk that girl’s life. She’s as dear to me as—”

The screen went blank.

Tarragon blinked. Had she exited? Or did someone— He shrugged. He checked his monitor. It faithfully reported Mauve’s exact location up until the moment the screen blanked. He knew where to look—the kitchen in the Widow’s castle on the hill.

He sighed. “Though, I’ll definitely have to get new boots.”

~~~

Abbas didn’t like to do it, but there was no way he could allow her to continue her transmission.

Mauve fell to the floor in a heap in the dim corner of the main hall.

Omega ran ahead and nudged her still form with his foot. “Is she dead?”

Abbas shook his head. “I never extinguish a life unless there is no other alternative.”

His brow furrowed; Omega stared at his father. “Why not?”

A shiver ran through Abbas. Did he really have to explain? He didn’t remember anyone explaining the precept of the sacredness of life to him, but then, maybe he had learned it from his parents’ example. “Life is sacred. We live by that understanding. Or we die by its absence.”

Straightening, Omega nodded slowly and glanced around.

Exasperated by this new complication, Abbas waved at the prone figure.

Mauve disappeared.

A kitchen maid sauntered through, spied their presence and stopped. A hesitant smile quivered on her lips.

Meeting her gaze, Abbas clapped Omega on the shoulder. “We’re lost. Can you tell us where to settle for the night? With all the awful commotion, we don’t want to get in the way.”

The child skittered forward, her shoulders hunched, her eyes searching the empty room. “Oh, be that the truth. Awful it’s been. The poor widda. Never imagined such goings on, her being so good and faithful. And her best servant too!” Tears filled the girl’s eyes. “Wicked men. I hate ‘em all.”

Omega grinned, his face flowering with the thrill of excitement. “Are all men wicked?”

The child gasped. “Oh, not so! There’s a woman around about that’s wickeder than the devil himself, I’d say. Drawing men like bees to honey. Only so she—”

A voice called from the kitchen doorway. “Edda!”

Flushing, the child curtsied and ran off without another word.

Omega nudged his father. “So, where is she?”

“I put here where she could do the least amount of harm.”

Omega waited.

“On the Cresta ship.”

“But they’ll wonder how she got there.”

Abbas pressed his son’s shoulder. “No matter. Everyone has questions. It’s finding the answers to the ones that interest us that really matter.”

“I’d like to have seen her face, though. That would’ve been fun.”

Laughing and chattering, men stomped into the room, followed by servants carrying platters of bread and meat.

Abbas jumped onto the low dais and shoved the remark from his mind as he faced the incoming assembly. It was time to play the fool. He only hoped that his son would play his part as well.

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/landscape-cave-sea-night-blue-4576897/

Our International Home

Downer Ave—Childhood Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

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

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

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

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

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

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

Photo A. K. Frailey collection.