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 into 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 on 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 soot-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. 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. “The LuKan believe in the Immortal Life—today, Pav has wings for us both.”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

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

Mirage-Reborn—We Are LuKan

As a LuKan alien living in Mirage-Reborn, Vera Web stood a diminutive one and a half meters and preferred the shadows. She was naturally shy and had been taught to stay on the edges of her environment through strict cultural mores. If it had not been for the total destruction of her world by the planet-destroyer, Cosmos, she would have lived happily on her dimly lit planet LuKa for another four centuries. But as she and her brother, Pav, were on board a trader at the time of the invasion, she never had a chance to collect her things or lose her life. The trader, not knowing what else to do with two LuKan orphans, sold them.

Soon, Vera and her brother were lost in the universal struggle for survival. One that they would undoubtedly have lost. But Omega discovered them huddled in a cargo bay nearly dead from dehydration and carried them off to his world—Mirage. They were the very first non-human citizens, besides Abbas and his family, to live in his village.

To facilitate their integration, Omega transformed their neck gills into neat rills that processed the oxygenated air on the Earth-like planet. Their long, three-fingered hands and feet, he ignored, though he muted the stingers on their middle fingers so that, though they could hurt a human with a nasty shock, they could not kill on contact.

Pav took charge of farming the land Omega gave him, raising crops and fruit trees, while Vera took charge of the farm animals, mostly sheep and pigs, though they also owned three horses, five dogs, and uncounted cats. Vera also managed the farm accounts and the house.

It was soon after their initial integration that Omega disappeared. They learned his history and of his mother’s death from rumors and hushed conversations on street corners, but once settled on the farm, they rarely strayed near town. Once a month, farmers came by and hauled off whatever Pav and Vera laid out for sale, be it a couple of fat sheep or three baskets of apples.

After Omega had been gone nearly a year, Vera decided to venture out and attended the Town Hall meeting in which Jeremy Quinn and Lucius Pollex were introduced. She scowled at the sight of Mr. Quinn, but something deep inside stirred at the sight of the blacksmith’s somber eyes.

When Quinn showed up on her doorstep a week later, Vera knew that she should never have strayed from the farm. Pav was working on the acres farthest from the house, so she didn’t even bother to scan the horizon for him.

Quinn nodded with a set smile and swept his hat off his sweaty head. “Whew! Mind if I sit on the steps a moment? I’ve been traipsing around to each farm so as to introduce myself, and you’re the last on today’s list. I’m tired beyond words.”

Vera blinked in sudden confusion. His smile caught her off guard, and his courteous tone unsettled her early assumptions. She pulled a chair forward, out of a dark corner, and gestured. “Please, make yourself comfortable. My brother is in the field, or he would meet you himself.”

The sheriff’s silver star pinned on his tan shirt winked in the sunlight, and he waved as if to assure her that Pav would never be missed. He plopped down in the chair with a contented sigh. “No, don’t worry about Pav. I only wanted to speak with you anyway. From what I’ve heard, your brother is a man—I mean an alien—of few words.”

Vera stiffened. Her long fingers gripped the edge of the porch railing. “We are LuKan. Shy and reclusive by nature. We do not mean to be rude.”

Quinn’s gaze flitted over her face, her figure, and finally to her fingers, halting for only a millisecond on the third digit with the thickened tip. “No, of course not. I’d never think the worse of you.” He stared into her steady gaze as if to drive home a secret meaning.

Vera’s grip tightened, and her gaze dropped to the ground. “Is there anything in particular that I can do for you today, Sheriff?”

Quinn wiped his brow with the back of his hand and stood. He stretched as if he had just woken from a long and comforting nap. “No, not yet.” He sauntered closer and stared down at her bowed head. “I’ve seen a lot in my years, little Miss, and I know how things can change in a moment. It’s nice to know who I can count on—if you understand.”

Vera kept her eyes lowered and merely shrugged.

Contrary to his usual habit, Pav strolled out of the field in the middle of the day. He loped across the yard but said nothing. His gaze stayed fixed on the house, but his steps took him directly into Quinn’s path.

Quinn replaced his hat and tapped Vera on the shoulder. “It was nice getting to know you. Let your brother know—you’re my friend—understand?”

Vera stood frozen even as the sheriff stepped off the porch and grinned at Pav as he passed.

Pav marched up the stairs and into the house without a word. Only Vera saw his hands shaking.

When Lucius Pollex showed up on Vera’s doorstep the next morning, she was not visibly surprised. Pav had gone into the fields at the first note of birdsong, so she was alone again, but this time, her shoulders didn’t droop as she lowered her gaze.

The blacksmith’s hair blew in a slight breeze; his hands tanned a dark brown, but his face appeared unnaturally pale. “Hello, Ma’am. Sorry to disturb you, but your brother sent word that I was to come by and fix a wagon. Would you know about that?”

Vera’s gaze shot to the barn. They owned a wagon, but to the best of her knowledge, it was in perfect shape. Her brows furrowed. She led the way to the barn, pulled open the red door, and stared at a lopsided wagon with one wheel broken in half. She turned and faced the blacksmith.

“Something must have happened while he was using it the field.” She dared a quick glance into Pollex’s eyes. “You think you can fix it?”

Mr. Lucius Pollex glanced from the wagon to her tiny face and a warm smile gleamed from his eyes.

It was near sunset when the blacksmith showed up at her door again.

Vera stepped out into the evening light feeling rather light herself.

Mr. Pollex wiped his hands on a dirty rag and nodded. “I rolled it to my shop and worked on it, but it’s going to take a bit more time. I could lend your brother a spare wagon in the meantime—if he wants it.”

Vera shook her head and glanced up. She froze. Jeremy Quinn was strolling down the lane.

Mr. Pollex peered over his shoulder and closed his eyes.

Vera shifted her worried gaze from the sheriff and frowned at the blacksmith. “Are you ill?”

The blacksmith shook his head. “Not yet.” He turned, and when the two men’s gazes met, the sheriff smiled, waved, and strolled in another direction.

“You know each other.” Vera’s hands clenched behind her back.

“Yes.”

“Is he your enemy?”

“I would not have it so. But he was once my jailor.” The blacksmith looked up and peered into Vera’s widened eyes. “Listen now. If ever you need a friend, I’ll come, all right?” With a tip of his head, the blacksmith turned and strode down the lane.

When Pav came in that night, he stopped Vera on the landing before her bedroom door. He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “I know you are afraid, but just stay in the shadows; you’ll be all right.”

Vera patted her brother’s arm and retreated to her room.

Later, as she wandered under the night sky and pondered her life on Mirage-Reborn, she reflected on the two men who had entered her life so unexpectedly. Her frown transformed into a soft smile as she turned from the image of the one who demanded friendship to the one who offered.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

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