Enlightened

“The only thing worse than loving a married man—is loving a dead man.”

“Huh?” Patty passed one last, cleansing swipe across her baby’s bottom, tossed a soiled diaper into the trashcan and bundled the infant into clean clothes faster than her sister could comprehend. She turned triumphantly with a smiling, drooling baby in her arms. “Wanna explain that?”

Megan unfolded her body, rose from the chair and limped across the room. She wiggled inviting fingers, her wide eyes beckoning. “Airplane? Zoom-zoom?”

Baby Sam grinned over his mother’s shoulder, but as soon as Megan stretched out her arms, he shrieked and nearly strangled his mom in an attempt to stay out of Megan’s reach.

Backing off, Megan lifted her hands high. “I’ll stop. Geesh, you’ll give me a complex, little one.”

“He doesn’t mean anything insulting. Just loves his mama. You’ll find out.” Patty raised one eyebrow and pursed her lips. “What’ya mean by loving a dead man? Sounds creepy.” After throwing a clean cloth over her shoulder, she hitched Sam on her hip and speed-walked down the hall to the kitchen. She called over her shoulder. “And don’t you ever think about a married man. I’d get an exorcist over here so fast—”

Megan hobbled to the kitchen counter and flopped onto a barstool. “Pu-leez! I was just saying—in effect—that all the good men are taken. I have my choice of men other women already snatched up or dead poets who—though full of soulful sentiments—are now residing in six-foot coffins with only room enough for one.”

Patty closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. “Lord, where did mom get you?” She opened her eyes and stared at Megan. “Little sister, you need to get over yourself. You think it was magic that got me married to a great guy?”

Megan drummed her fingers on the countertop, her gaze wandering over to her brother-in-law’s hunter-green coat hanging on a peg by the back door. “Well, you did say about a ka-zillion rosaries, and I swear you bought so many votive candles, the church could afford to enlarge the parking lot.”

After sliding Sam into a highchair, Patty dropped a bowl of puréed fruit on the tray and invited him to dive in.

He did. With both hands.

Megan cringed.

Patty literally tossed a salad into a large bowl and shoved it near the center of the kitchen table, grunting. “Silly girl! I wasn’t asking for anything—I was thanking Him—for everything.” Her gaze darted to the door. “I was smart enough to follow the advice of nearly every saint in history.”

Megan sat bolt upright, folding her hands in apparent ecstasy. “Share the secret, oh enlightened one.”

The back door banged open and a muscular man in his late twenties with a scratch along the side of his face, wearing a dirty jacket and carrying a load of lumber struggled into the warm kitchen. “Honey, I’m gonna work in the basement—it’s too friggin cold out there. My hands keep freezing up.”

Tucking a loaf of bread under her arm, Patty swung the basement door open, toed a stray boot out of the way, and grinned. “Fine. Dinner’s almost ready.”

Megan grimaced at the sound of two-by-fours pounding down each step. She turned and watched as Patty laid the loaf of bread on a plate and set it at the head of the table. “He’ll make a mess. You just barely got the chick pen outta there.”

“Likely he’ll have to put it back and raise the chicks down there…if this weather doesn’t warm up soon.” Patty turned and pulled a steaming roast beef out of the oven and set it on the table. She sniffed in satisfaction as she eyed the well-laid table. “You know, the key to a man’s heart.”

Megan snorted. “So that’s your pearl of wisdom to a poor, unwed maiden…learn to cook and clean…and take care of babies?” Jumping off the stool, Megan winced and grabbed her ankle. “Stupid sprain!”

A hammering racket rising from the basement sent shivers through the house. Patty closed the door, steered her sister to the table, and pressed her shoulder, forcing her to sit. “No—and yes. Listen, the way to a man’s heart is the way to anyone’s heart. Love them, love what they love, and make their lives a little easier whenever possible.”

“Sounds so—Medieval.”

Baby Sam shrieked and threw his half-finished appetizer across the room, sending a splattering of purple goo over the chair, the wall, and the floor. Patty sighed, pulled the dishrag off her shoulder and started wiping. “Ancient maybe but not tied to any particular time or place.” She straightened, snatched a handful of paper towels off the counter, and passed them to her sister. “Here, you help.”

Megan’s lips pouted. “But my ankle hurts.”

Patty frowned as she bent forward and hissed in her sister’s ear. “Life hurts, kiddo. Accept that little fact and don’t let it ruin your day.” She pulled her baby from the high chair and snorted. “Sammy needs a new diaper.” She pointed to the bedroom “If you’d prefer—”

“No! I’d rather wipe up goo than—” She knelt on the floor, winced, and began wiping.

Patty retreated to the bedroom with the giggling baby on her hip.

Clumping footstep stopped behind her. Megan peered up and stared into the sparkling brown eyes of her brother-in-law.

The large man knelt at her side with a damp rag and began wiping the mess off the floor. He grinned. “Like I always say, you can always tell the worth of a woman by how she treats her sister.”

 

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

Ol’ Diablo

Among the spruce and maples, surrounded on three sides by vast fields of freshly tilled soil, Joy pushed her baby girl in a swing. Her husband couldn’t pass the wooden structure without slapping a beam and grinning. “Solid as a rock!”

In her first audacious foray into playdates, Joy had invited a friend from church and a colleague from her husband’s work for an afternoon of fun and frolic. Joy exhaled a cautious breath. So far so good. The kids are getting along well together.

A professional in a pinstripe pantsuit, Ginny Hawthorn exuded efficient confidence; while Ruth in a jean skirt and a flowery blouse breathed exuberance—like a full-page, color advertisement for the outdoor life. Ginny’s boy, Frank, tossed a Frisbee to Ruth’s boy, Ezra. Being the same age, they enjoyed the usual eight-year-old entertainments. One minute they were racing each other across the yard, the next, they were climbing a tree to see who could get to the top the fastest. Ruth watched them with an anxious eye, but Ginny hardly peeled her gaze from her phone.

After lifting her baby from the swing, Joy ambled over to the two women. “I’m so glad the boys are getting along.” She pointed to Ruth’s round tummy. “Soon, we’ll have another little one to join in the fun.”

Ruth’s face glowed. “I can hardly wait. It’s been so long—I just about gave up hope. But God is good.”

With a slight grimace, Ginny slipped her phone into her purse and peered across the yard. “Hey, kiddo, I’ve got a conference call at 5:00—twenty minutes.” She strode over to an Adirondack chair and perched on the edge. “I really appreciate your befriending us, Joy. The kids at Frank’s school are such Neanderthals—obsessed with the latest gadget. I’m too busy to play games, so the kid doesn’t get much fresh air, and I’m sure he’s putting on weight.”

Joy shrugged. “I don’t know how you do it. I can barely manage with Rick and the baby, yet you juggle a family and a full-time career.”

Ruth shaded her eyes as she scanned the yard, a frown building between her eyes. “Is it okay if they play in that dirt over there?”

Joy turned and appraised the scene. The two boys had jumped into a fresh hole and were digging with frenetic energy. “Oh, I don’t think they can do any harm. Rick pulled out a fallen tree, and he thought maybe he’d excavate a bit and make a root cellar. He sure—”

A scream sent all three women hustling toward the site.

Frank scrambled out of the hole holding a large, angular jaw bone ennobled with wide, flat teeth. Ezra ran to his mother and yanked her over. “Look at what we found! It’s a skull—think it might be from a dinosaur?”

Ruth’s frown deepened.

Ginny leaned in, adjusting her glasses to peer at the skull in her son’s hands. “Could be—I’ve heard of farmers finding all sorts of prehistoric—”

“Cool!” Ezra jumped forward and stroked the bone. “I wish I could’ve seen it when it was alive. I would’ve ridden—”

Frank lifted the bone out of reach. “Don’t be stupid. Humans and dinosaurs didn’t live at the same time. Dinosaurs had been gone for a zillion years—”

Ezra shook his head and leaped for the bone. “Not true. Men and animals were created in the same week—says so in the Bible.”

Ginny laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding—only flat-worlders believe in that nonsense.”

Ruth pulled Ezra to her side. “The Bible isn’t nonsense. It’s the world of God, and He doesn’t lie.”

“You can’t be serious—”

Joy cleared her throat and tried to steer Ruth toward the house. “Come on, let’s not get into a debate. We’re friends—”

Ruth’s gaze met Joy regretfully. “I’m sorry, Joy, but we have to go. Ezra doesn’t need to hear a grown woman spouting misinformation—”

Ginny waved an accusing finger. “Misinformation? Because I teach my kid to use his brain and not believe every—”

A truck pulled into the driveway. Joy sighed and waved. “Rick’s home. He can probably identify the bone for us.”

Ginny waved Joy’s suggestion away. “I’ve got to go.” She patted Joy’s limp hand. “Nice try anyway.” Ginny nudged Frank toward her car.

Ruth wrapped her arm around Ezra and pointed to their minivan. The boy lumbered away with his head down. Ruth stroked Joy’s arm. “I’m sorry, but I can’t just stand by while someone tries to shake my son’s faith. I have to stand up for what I believe, right?”

Joy nodded and shifted her baby higher on her hip. “Sure. You just have different views.”

Ruth shook her head. “More than that. Well, I better go. See you Sunday.”

After her guests had cleared the driveway, Joy picked up the bone and drifted toward her husband.

Rick greeted his wife with a kiss on the cheek. He accepted the bone and laughed. “Good heavens, where did you find this?”

“The boys dug it up from the hole—where the old tree used to be.”

Folding one arm around his wife and the baby, Rick nudged them toward the back door. A grin broke across his face. “Old Diablo—I forgot we buried him under that tree.”

Joy’s eyes widened—alarmed. “What? Who?”

Rick stopped and gazed over a distant field. “An old donkey of my dad’s—meanest creature ever to set hoof on God’s green earth. He called it Diablo because he swore that the devil himself had a hand in creating that creature’s nasty tricks.”

“So you buried him by the tree?”

“He fell dead there one day, and Dad dug a hole and pushed him in. He said that Ol’ Diablo wouldn’t get the last laugh this time.” He squeezed her shoulder. “Have a good time with your friends?” He rubbed his stomach. “Boy, I’m starving.”

Joy nodded. “Dinner’s almost ready.” She started up the back porch steps after her husband. “But you know—” she looked back toward the hole, “I think Ol’ Diablo’s still laughing.”

 

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

Good Deed

Richard Tyler knew his own mind. After dashing from his job at the gym to his mom’s house, he breezed through the kitchen door with all the confidence of an Academy Award winner.

His mom’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “I thought you were having lunch with Kimberly.”

Despite the August heat, Richard shivered. “She decided she needs to ‘reevaluate her priorities.’” He shrugged off his discomfort. “Guess that includes lunch.”

His mom’s gaze swiveled from her baloney and cheese sandwich set neatly on a plate with a modest mound of chips on the side—to Richard. She slid the plate across the table. “Here. Sit and eat before your class.” She crossed to the stove and stirred a pot of tomato soup.

Richard plunked down in the chair, grabbed the sandwich, and chewed with a faraway look in his eyes.

After pouring the soup into a ceramic mug, his mom slid into a chair across from Richard. “You know, she’s only nineteen, in journalism, and you’re a bit older, wanting to be an actor—”

Richard stiffened; a frown burrowed across his forehead. “What? Like I’m not really an actor, and she’s looking for honest work?”

Mom stirred her soup as she stared into its swirling, red depths. “You might try to see things from her point of view. I mean, she’s—”

Richard shot to his feet scattering breadcrumb across the table. “Totally selfish and doesn’t know what she’s doing. Journalism? Ha! Not an ounce of life experience, and she thinks she’ll wake up the world’s conscience. Yeah, right.”

Mom stared at the cup, searching for wisdom. She responded with a shrug.

With a fretful glance at his watch, Richard started for the door. “I gotta go. We ‘re having a guest director today—said to be brilliant. Might make a good connection.”

The screen door slammed as it closed behind him. Mom wiped up the crumbs.

~~~

As Richard leaned back in his theater chair, he had to stifle a yawn. The room was stuffy, and the new director had been introducing himself for almost an hour. Suddenly, he felt a jolt charge through his body.

“Hey, you, kid with the big chin and blue eyes.”

Richard sprang to his feet.

The director waved him onto the stage. “Come here. I want to demonstrate a point.”

Without hesitation, Richard sprang forward and landed lightly before the rotund, thin-lipped director. “Okay. Listen carefully. You’ve just climbed out of a car wreck, people milling about—horror everywhere. You got a broken rib or something.” He pointed to the stage. “Show me.”

Dropping to his knees, Richard writhed in pain, moaning. He scrambled forward on one arm, the other clutching his middle. His eyes squeezed shut, he rocked and—”

“Stop! Enough. You’ve made my point.”

Panting from his exertion, Richard climbed to his feet, his eyes darting over the other students who studied him with uncertain expectation, waiting to be told whether he deserved approval or scorn.

The director flung a disenchanted arm in Richard’s direction. “I see the same thing all the time—day after bloody day. Actors who forget they aren’t alone. People! It’s not all about you. Remember your audience! They pay for the tickets.”

As Richard stepped into the strong afternoon light, he blinked in near blindness after the hours in the theater’s semi-darkness. He felt lightheaded and needed a drink. Starting across the street toward a fast-food stand, he heard a familiar voice.

“Hey, Richard, wait up.”

With a groan, Richard turned and faced his girlfriend. “Hey, Kimberly.”

Kimberly shifted a stack of books onto her left arm. “Sorry about this morning. I was…I needed some air. Got some bad news.” She glanced up and intercepted Richard’s glazed stare. “My dad’s been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, stage four. Not much time left.” Her eyes filled with tears. “I’m going to focus on him awhile.” She nodded to her shoes to see if they agreed.

Richard’s gaze fell on the top of her bowed head. “Dang waste.” He clenched his jaw as his mind went completely blank.

Kimberly shook her head. “At least, we have a chance to say goodbye.” She leaned forward and kissed Richard’s cheek. “Good luck—in everything.” Her books stacked in her arms, she turned and trotted across the street.

~~~

Later that evening, Richard jogged around the campus track listening to music through his earbuds. Nausea and malaise seeped throughout his body and soul, burying him deep in gloom. Running as fast as he could, he scowled at the realization that the sensation grew in proportion to his desperation.

Skidding to a halt, he sucked in deep lung-fulls of air. Words, images, impressions kept intruding even as he stared across the dimming horizon. He imagined himself driving along the coast, the windows down and the music loud, accompanied by a gorgeous sunset dispelling the evils of the day. He trotted across the street from his parked car and halted.

A teen, plump with rumpled hair and sagging shoulders, was standing between his beautiful, red car and a battered, old truck. A ragged scratch scarred his car’s shiny exterior. Richard closed his eyes, lifted his head back, and smothered a scream. Finally, he squared his shoulders and marched forward.

The kid glanced over and caught sight of Richard. He wavered between evasion and a complete meltdown.

Taking long strides, Richard’s gaze flashed from the truck to his damaged car.

The kid, now nearly in tears, lifted his hands. “Sorry, mister. It’s all my fault. I’m new at parallel parking—always been a nightmare in driver’s ed.” He scanned Richard’s car wistfully and shoved his glasses further up his nose. “My mom’s got insurance, and I’ll pay with my own money too. So stupid. I should’ve gone to the lot up the street.”

Though the light was failing, Richard’s vision cleared. He swallowed back a rising ache and blinked in hesitation. “Listen, it’s no big deal. I got a friend who works in a body shop, and he owes me. He’ll fix this up in a couple minutes, and it’ll be as good as new. Don’t worry about it.”

The eye-popping relief on the kid’s face tightened Richard’s throat to a searing ache. He sniffed, regaining a semblance of cool composure—the best acting he’d done all year.

~~~

It was nearly midnight when Richard slipped into his mom’s dark kitchen. He plunked down on a chair and laid his head on his arms. A warm hand clasped his shoulder. He didn’t need to look up.

“You okay?”

Richard shook his head and groaned. He sat back and stared through the darkness at his mom’s rumpled figure in her long, shapeless bathrobe. “The director made me look like a fool, Kimberly showed me I was a fool, and some kid I don’t even know gave me a shot at redemption.”

His mom chuckled and sat down, her hand sliding over his. “You know, one good deed deserves another.”

Richard pressed his other hand on top of hers and grinned with the first joy he had felt all day. “It does.”

~~~

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

Addicted to Me

“You have no idea what it’s like—the whole world’s addicted to me.”

Dr. Jim Burns merely raised one eyebrow as his index finger tapped the electronic notepad resting on his knee. “Tell me, Sophia, what are you addicted to?”

Sophia catapulted off the leather couch and paced across the luxuriously appointed office.

Cushioned chairs in dark plaid, a wide couch, a teak coffee table with matching shelves accompanied by a large cherry desk set the room’s dignified tone.

Sliding one finger down a framed family photo, Sophia smiled coyly. “Me? I’m not addicted to anything—unless you want to count my morning cup of coffee—dark Columbian with a hint of cinnamon. It’s all I ask before I go on each morning and face the multitudes.”

The doctor’s gaze followed Sophia’s stroll around the perimeter. His foot jiggled slightly. “Yes, multitudes. I believe that’s where we left off last time. You felt you were being—”

Sophia snatched up a polished stone with the word “PEACE” engraved on its shiny surface. “They won’t leave me alone. It’s killing me!” Facing her therapist, her eyes gleamed with frantic fury. “Yesterday, this little ol’ thing came toddling after me, waving her handbag, yoohooing to wake the dead, and she swore upon her dearly departed mother’s grave that she watches me every single day. G-O-D! I’m the reason they get up in the morning.”

Jim closed his eyes and inhaled a long, slow breath. After a brief moment, he tapped the space bar and unclenched his jaw. “You’re making several unfounded assumptions—”

Hunching her shoulders in tune to her eye roll, Sophia strode over to a marble counter and poured herself a cup of coffee. “This isn’t decaf? You wouldn’t dare—”

Rising, Dr. Burns cleared his throat. “Don’t be rude, Sophia. I always offer the best—as well you know.”

Sophia scooped three healthy spoonfuls of granulated, brown sugar into her cup and stirred meditatively. She peered over her cup at her doctor. “I pay you enough.”

Placing his notepad on his desk, Dr. Burns glanced at his watch. “How was the show this morning? Sherrill said you’ve been calmer and—”

“Sh—Sherrill?”

The sound of her high-pitched, hysterical laughter forced Jim to rub his temple.

“Like that woman knows anything about what I have to deal with. She’s as high strung as a bat outta hell. She better not be—”

“Her son has Leukemia, right?”

Sophia’s dismissive wave tossed that concern aside. “It’s the curable kind, and she’d got the money. Don’t give me other people’s high-drama.”

A firm tap on the door froze them in mid-motion. Dr. Burns regained his composure with deep intoned, “Come in” and stepped to the door.

The door opened and a man in his late twenties, slim, and clean-shaven poked his head forward. “Mr. Marshall has arrived a little early, but you said you wanted to know….”

The doctor nodded. “Thank you, Carl. I’ll be right there.” He turned to Sophia. “We’ll have to wrap this up early today. I have a pressing—”

“Pressing? More pressing than me? I appear before millions every damn day, and you have more pressing matters?”

Carl backed out and closed the door.

“Mr. Marshall happens to be my brother-in-law. My sister has been very ill, and they need my help. I’ll be out of the office for several weeks—”

The rage in Sophia’s eyes stabbed through Dr. Burn’s calm demeanor. “You spring this on me now? You know perfectly well that I have pressing matters of my own. I never let them get in the way of my meetings with you. I make you a priority because so many people are counting on me.

Dr. Burns laced his fingers together as his jaw clenched. “I’m sorry this is causing you so much trouble, but I had to choose. I chose my sister.”

“Like hell! I pay you to help me, not wallow in your own family escapades.” Sophia grabbed her tiny, red purse and stalked across the room. “Don’t worry, I’m used to people letting me down.”

After Dr. Burns stepped aside and watched Sophia stalk out of his office, he unclenched his hands and set free a long, cleansing breath.

A tall, heavy-set man in jeans and a blue, knit sweater shuffled forward. “Sorry about that, Jim, I can tell she’s put out. If Jean weren’t so—”

Jim shrugged his shoulders as he reached under the desk and pulled out a small traveling bag. “Forget it. Ms. Grant thinks that the universe revolves around her—the truth is a bit of a shock.”

“She always looks so happy and self-assured in public. I’d never have guessed.”

Jim stared at his brother-in-law as he passed him in the doorway. “Really? It’s always been clear as day to me.”

~~~

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

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

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

The Visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He leaned the broom against the wall and lowered himself to the middle step and gestured. “Sit a minute. Keep an old man company.”

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

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

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

He smiled. “Most do.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

Translator

To be honest, I thought she was a bag-lady. The long, scraggly, gray hair, the oversized, shapeless sweater, the dark circles under her eyes, and the haunted expression all pointed to one, obvious conclusion—a conclusion I was in too big a hurry to even pity.

The boys were due home at any minute and the babysitter would expect me to have dinner ready. Julian hated to be late and since we missed our date-night the month before, I wasn’t about to let anything mess with this one. I felt a head cold coming on, the refrigerator had gone on the blink, and I was struggling to maintain a civil, if not cordial, relationship with my boss at work. It had been a tough week.

So when the disheveled woman appeared in line ahead of me, I wouldn’t have bothered with a second look—if it hadn’t been for the flowers. The incongruity of the scene struck me like a splash of cold water. I even dropped my fish fillets. There she stood, or stooped rather, hugging this glorious bouquet. A worn out bag-lady with spring flowers. Crazy, right?

I rescued my fish, hurriedly emptied my cart, and watched with unabashed fascination as this odd spectacle leaned forward and whispered in Spanish to the cashier.

I rolled my eyes. I had worked as a translator long enough to understand exactly what she said, but I didn’t really want to get mixed up in some crazy situation in the middle of a grocery store. I had more pressing matters to attend.

The cashier stared blankly and shook her head. “I don’t understand.” She looked beseechingly at the line forming and called to the other cashier. “You understand Spanish?”

The other cashier shrugged. It wasn’t his concern. Realizing that doing nothing meant this situation would take longer; I volunteered to assist. “She asked how much.” I pointed to the woman’s bundle. “For the flowers.”

This time, it was the cashier who rolled her eyes. “It’s on the tag.”

I translated and pointed to the aforementioned stub.

The woman’s hand shook as she considered the cost. I sighed. Lord, she probably doesn’t even have enough money. I had already opened my wallet, and though I had more than enough to buy my groceries and her flowers several times over, the principle of the situation rankled. What in God’s name had she been thinking when she picked up those stupid flowers?

Almost as if she had read my mind, she blinked and answered my question. With a shaking hand, she pulled a tiny purse out of her shapeless sweater, and hugging her flowers even tighter, she pulled folded bills into the light of day, explaining all the while in her husky, whisper voice.

“Mi hijo…solo diecinueve…trajeron su cuerpo a casa hoy. Mi esposo está trayendo su foto, y tienen una bandera—pero—yo quería flores….”

My translation skills kicked in automatically.

My son…only nineteen…they brought his body home today. My husband is bringing his picture, and they have a flag—but—I wanted flowers….

She peered at me, her eyes brimming. “¿Tú entiendes? Estaba en la flor de su juventud.”

I closed my eyes but I could not escape her meaning.

You understand? He was in the flower of his youth.

She smoothed the bills on the counter and nodded to the cashier who snatched them up and efficiently offered her change.

The cashier and I both watched the lady over the threshold, even as we went about the business of packing my groceries.

“Thanks for helping out.” The young woman peered at me. “What did she say?”

I opened my mouth, but I couldn’t explain. My translation would miss too much.

The cashier forced her curiosity aside as the next patron stepped up. “Never mind. Just glad it worked out. I thought for sure she didn’t have enough money.”

I edged away, my eyes scanning the parking lot for a husband with a photo in his hand.

The cashier called after me. “Guess it shows—you never know, eh?”

I hefted my bulging bag into my arms and nodded. “You’re right. We never know….”

~~~

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