OldEarth Melchior Encounter Excerpt

Our Natures That Deceive

King Radburn waved Lord Gerard’s comment away. “I accept your offer, good Father. I know that once you hear all the facts, you will see fit to punish the guilty and free the innocent. I have no other interest in my mind.” The king smiled benignly.

The widow snorted this time.

Harold smiled and settled his stance into a comfortable position. This ought to prove interesting, if nothing else.

It took the better part of the morning for everyone to have his say, recalling events as they knew them. Father Neumann listened carefully and interrupted several times to ask detailed questions.

Though he had not been near the actual scene, Harold could soon imagine the series of events in vivid detail.

Servants slipped in twice, offering food and drink. No one ate, though many accepted drinks.

In the dwindling afternoon heat, Wilfred was finally allowed a chance to give his account of what happened. His summary sounded like the desperate pleas of an already condemned man. “Everyone was screaming and shouting. I didn’t know what to do, so I ran!”

Harold furrowed his brow, perplexed. Though it seemed clear to him that Wilfred did not kill Lady Nadine, it was equally obvious that no one else in the room had either. Too many witnesses testified that everyone in the room had been somewhere else when the deed was done. Still, something about Lord Gerard’s testimony did not add up, and Father Neumann’s frequent glances at his brother priest hinted at his doubts.

In red-faced passion, Lord Gerard stood up, pointing his finger at the boy and shouting, “You little liar! You arranged to meet my daughter outside the hall, and when Lady Nadine found you, she tried to stop you, and you—like the coward you are—stabbed her!”

Grasping the edge of the table for support, Wilfred’s face drained of all color. “I didn’t! I swear it! I was going to meet your daughter, that’s true, but we never saw each other. I heard someone calling, and I became frightened, so I hid. I saw Lady Nadine come forward, a-a-and-I saw her fall into your arms.”

Everyone stared at Lord Gerard, who had grown pale in turn. “How dare you accuse me? I’m not the one on trial!”

Nolan climbed to his feet. “You, as well as anyone, had a good reason to kill the lady.” He leaned over the table and looked meaningfully at Lord Gerard. “Melchior told me about Wilfred.”

Widow Brunswick wavered to her feet, strands of hair flailing like naughty children from the crooked bun on her head, and pointed a shaky finger accusingly. “Yes, he certainly did have good reason to wish his wife dead and this boy to take the blame! His wife hid the fact that she had switched her living son for a dead one, and Wilfred was really her own. How long have you known the truth, Lord Gerard?”

Lord Gerard fell heavily back onto his chair. “By the gods, I didn’t know. Not until the king told me yesterday.”

All eyes swiveled toward the king.

Widow Brunswick let out a cackling, half-mad laugh. “He has his own secrets to keep, so he thought to cover them with other men’s tales. He killed his own son yesterday, though he professes he knew nothing of the matter.”

Father Neumann gasped.

The widow wagged her head. “We are not among angels, Father.”

~~~

A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.

Make the most of life’s journey. 

For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/author/akfrailey

https://amzn.to/3nyfkEJ

OldEarth Melchior features many of the best aspects of both historical and science fiction.~Reedsy/Discovery

the overarching plot with the aliens ties everything together to make a cohesive, epic novel… ~IndieReader

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/lake-district-landscape-sky-clouds-1009459/

OldEarth Georgios Encounter Excerpt

What Just Happened?

—Gaelic Lands—

Seanan struggled to his feet. He had been having a good time, but the scent of morning was in the air, and birds stirred in their nests. It was time to finish this celebration so that he could attend to the duties of the day. Unsteady, he had to step closer to Gutun to grasp the cup. He drank a good measure and then tried to decide who should have it next.

Gutun bumped Seanan’s arm, knocking the cup aside. He snatched it, poured in another full measure, and with a wide grin handed it back to Seanan, nudging him toward Rueben.

Irritated, Seanan drew back. He hated it when Gutun touched him. Such long, dirty fingers made him feel as if death were trying to grab him. Instinctively, he did the opposite of what Gutun wanted. Alexios certainly looked like he needed a drink.

With furrowed brow and confused eyes, Alexios shook his head in refusal.

Quick to save Alexios any discomfort, Marcus accepted on his behalf. He took the cup and drank deeply. Gutun’s cheeks flushed, and he seethed with spittle forming on his lips. He clawed at the cup.

“This was your idea. Remember?” He looked around and met Rueben’s stern expression. Clearly, he rebelled at the thought of drinking to a foreign god. Only Georgios and Ian were left.

Gutun’s fingers darted as he spluttered, “Give it to me! It’s not your place to offer to the gods!”

Weariness mixed with rage boiled Seanan’s blood. “Oh? Why don’t you enjoy good fortune yourself! Here, take a drink!” He smashed the cup into Gutun’s face.

Gutun jerked backward.

Georgios stood and reached for the cup. “Stop. I’ll drink. Then we can end—”

Ian called out. “Wait! Something is wrong with the Roman.”

Marcus clutched the air as spasms rippled over his body.

Ian jerked forward, knocking Seanan aside.

The mead splashed on Gutun’s face. “Aye!” He leapt to his feet, frantically wiping his lips.

All eyes snapped to Marcus as he fell limp, his eyes wide and terror-stricken. The frantic struggle, sudden and horrible, ended abruptly.

Alexios screamed, “No!” as he grabbed Marcus’ tunic and shook him as if to wake the man from slumber.

Georgios knelt at his father’s side, pried his fingers free, and closed Marcus’ eyes.

As one body, all eyes turned to Gutun.

Gutun jumped to his feet and pointed accusingly from Marcus to Alexios and finally to Rueben. His high-pitched scream sent early birds screeching from their nests into the dawn. “The gods have judged! They are guilty of heinous crimes. Kill them, now!”

A raucous din of voices rose as clansmen argued in favor or against the clan priest.

Seanan thrust his arms into the air, demanding silence. His voice matched his mood, furious and quite sober. He glared at Gutun. “I was going to offer that cup to my son! Georgios, who fought against our enemy, was about to drink from that cup! Of course, you wanted me to give it to Rueben first!” Rage blinded Seanan. “You wanted me to poison your rival? You devil!” Seanan swung at Gutun, but his encounters with the resplendent jug of ale ruined his aim.

Gutun ducked.

The fearful crowd sobered quickly, offering no response.

Tainair grabbed Gutun’s shoulder. “You’ve escaped the punishment due to a traitor once too often. We can’t trust you to live any longer.”

Ronan stepped up and gripped Gutun’s other shoulder. Together, the two men forced Gutun onto his knees. Seanan slipped his knife from his belt.

Stunned, Gutun stared wild-eyed, his gaze darting around the crowd. “The gods will demand your blood if you harm a hair—”

Georgios clutched Ronan’s arm. “Wait! I was an outsider and yet you welcomed me. My father was your enemy, and yet you allowed him to live. You have done no wrong in offering forgiveness. Let me take Gutun into exile. Then you will be free of him without blood on your hands.”

Seanan glared at Georgios as he spoke, his words flying in a spluttering spray. “I don’t mind killing him, Georgios! It will be my pleasure!” He stared hard at Gutun. “I will rid the world of his treachery!”

His arms flapping helplessly, Georgios shook his head. “But—”

Rueben gripped Gutun’s shoulder, as if claiming him. “He meant to kill me, so he’s mine.”

Seanan tried to regain control of the situation. “He must die!”

Rueben stared Seanan in the eye. “In the end, he may prefer death.” In silent understanding, Georgios and Rueben asked for rope, bound Gutun hand and foot, and led him away.

Seanan faced his eldest son. “What just happened?”

With red-rimmed eyes and a face drained of all color, Ian offered a weak smile. “Many think that the gods will seek vengeance if we kill their priest. This way, if he lives or dies, it’ll be the providence of the gods.”

Seanan pursed his lips in a petulant pout. “It won’t break my heart if he falls overboard during the journey. He’d survive. He’s the sort that always does.”

~~~

A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.

Make the most of life’s journey. 

For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/author/akfrailey

https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

“Nice adventure book interlaced with sacred moments.”

“…romance, trial, and faith.”

“A wonderful story of adventure and courage…” 

“Inspiring tale for young and old.”

In the first century AD, Georgios, must battle a world of dark secrets, deceptive promises, and hope renewed to discover the true meaning of fatherhood. A mysterious alien condemns the human race, but the watching universe looks to humanity for renewed strength.

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/fantasy-landscape-castle-mountains-4192535/

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter Excerpt

Desert—God Help Me

Tobia watched Ishtar lead the sheep to their watering hole. Exhaustion sapped his strength and sorrow confused his thoughts. A faint light of hope tried to spark, but he could not keep it alight. He glanced down. The pain in his chest should show through…somehow. “Ishtar?”

With his gaze fastened on the sheep, Ishtar coaxed them to the waterhole. “Yes?”

“What happened to Vitus?”

Once the sheep began to lap at the water, Ishtar halted, propped his arm on his staff, and looked at Tobia. “When he lost his mind or when he lost his way in the desert?”

“Both.”

A grimace spread over Ishtar’s face. “I’m the last person you should ask.”

Tobia’s eyes glimmered. “But he’s dead now—gone forever. I should’ve kept a closer eye on him.”

With a quick shake of his head, Ishtar motioned toward a rocky outcropping. He waited for Tobia to shift into the shade and leaned against the cool wall. “When I first came here, I was a shell of a man, not unlike Vitus. I had neither eyes to see nor ears to hear. I was dead inside. But Matalah’s kindness rekindled a spark of life within me.”

“Was I not kind enough to Vitus?”

Waving as if to dismiss the thought, Ishtar glanced away. “Matalah gave me the freedom to decide—but I had to make the choice myself. In time, I decided to live and pay back his kindness. Only then could hope flourish.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “Apparently, the Creator still has use for me.”

Tobia plopped down on the ground and sat cross-legged. “But it was God who struck down Vitus.”

“Are you sure?”

“Vitus called—demanded—that God speak with him and then lightning struck…”

Ishtar shook his head. “But He did not kill him, did He? Vitus followed in your footsteps for many a day after that.”

“But no one saved him when he wandered into the night. I didn’t even know he was gone until—”

Ishtar’s expression softened. “Tobia, you’re asking what happened between God and Vitus.” He peered over the horizon. “I can’t say and neither can you. All I know is—Matalah could not have saved me unless I wanted him to, and you could not save Vitus for the same reason.”

Pain tightened Tobia’s throat, and tears stung his eyes. “Ishtar?”

Ishtar met his gaze. “Yes?”

Longing tore through Tobia. “I want to go home.”

As a frolicking lamb nuzzled Ishtar’s hand, he patted it. “I’ll show you the way.”

~~~

Ishtar entered Matalah’s tent and bowed low.

Taking Ishtar’s hands, Matalah peered into his eyes, his face haggard and lined, looking older than his years. “Though my sons turned to evil, still, I pray on their behalf. May your fortune be better than mine.”

Ishtar blinked back tears. “I love you as I could never have loved my own father.”

Matalah nodded. “God knows…for I surely needed your love, my son.”

~~~

A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.

Make the most of life’s journey. 

For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/author/akfrailey

https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

“Enjoyed the second book of the trilogy even more than the first and can’t wait for the next adventures…” Ellen

“The story was wonderful and well written.” ~Culver

“…characters walk in the sort of uncertainty that characterizes real-life” ~Pam

 “a complex tale of sorcery, slave raids, and heroic rescues – dramatic events that bring the pre-biblical world to life.” ~David 

Forced to leave his clan and his children behind, Ishtar staggers into a vast wilderness and encounters a desert nomad who loves him as a son. When foreign raiders approach, Ishtar must discover if he can move beyond madness, protect his people, and reclaim his family. Eager to know the source of Ishtar’s strength, a watching Universe must learn if humanity can save them from a spreading darkness.

Photo https://pixabay.com/images/search/desert%2C%20oasis%20/

Serious Repercussions

For a read-aloud of this post, check out https://anchor.fm/ann-frailey/episodes/Serious-Repercussions-e1b6vg0

“When it comes to fidelity, birds fit the bill: Over 90 percent of all bird species are monogamous and — mostly — stay faithful, perhaps none more famously than the majestic albatross…But when ocean waters are warmer than average, more of the birds split up, a new study finds… A bird may incorrectly attribute its stress to its partner, rather than the harsher environment, and separate even if hatching was successful, the researchers speculate…this might have much more serious repercussions…”

So now we know. Thank God, someone figured it out. Stress in relationships causes break-ups. Environmental stress might eventually lead to the depopulation of a species. Who saw that train wreck rattling over the cliff?

Tonight, according to the church calendar, Advent begins. What a year it has been. Lots of hills and valleys ranging from family members’ deaths to home improvements projects. On the world front, we plunge ahead despite pandemics, national and international tensions, and mental health breakdowns. The weather, in seeming mirror rhythm to human mood swings, zigs zags like lightning looking for an earthly target.

Though several significant people in my life have separated themselves from what they consider the mythology of religion and the rhythms of our liturgical seasons, I hang tight. Why? Because I believe that Christ was born on December 25th or that he rose again following the first Sunday after a full moon? Not particularly. I believe in God and His manifestations revealed through the Teachings and Traditions of His Church, not mere dates. I love the glory of our seasons for the same reason that birds find it more prosperous to stay faithful—life is best nurtured in its proper setting. I belong to God.

Reason allows us to comprehend the nature of birds, yet we humans tend to jump the tracks when we find ourselves part of the system of things, of the same fabric that makes everything around us flourish or smash into smithereens. The Image of the One who made us.

One of the reasons why I enjoy writing is because I can engage the larger world as a part of the story—animals, plants, stars in the sky, even the universe itself. Nature’s break-up reflects an exterior break-up. An interior one as well. I have enjoyed watching birds all my life, but I’ve never seen one stop and consider the meaning of its existence. Or demise. That is not its place in the scheme of things. That is ours. Our responsibility.

In my book, One Day at a Time—And Other Stories, the characters do, in some crisis, stop and consider. Life. Meaning. The best compliment I ever received was from an editor who said that after she finished my book, she couldn’t stop thinking about the characters. They even followed her into the garden. High praise indeed. I’d like to take all the credit, but that wouldn’t be fair. I may have come up with the ideas, but each character has his or her part to play, coming alive in ways I never imagined in the readers’ minds. And they manage to do that not because I have a truth to tell, a point to make, a lesson to teach, but rather because I try—in my squinted, one-eyed way—to see and then show what I see. The reader does the rest.

Unlike birds, we humans can avoid reaching the wrong conclusions about family, friends, workmates, lovers, perfect strangers, and even God. If we choose. We all need relief from stress. But our personal, cultural, and faith breakups may, as the researchers suggest, lead to “more serious repercussions.”

Perhaps, instead of breaking up, we should read a good book.

A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.

Make the most of life’s journey. 

For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page

https://www.amazon.com/author/akfrailey

https://amzn.to/2YFtQ5r

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/albatross-bird-divorce-ocean-warm-breeding-climate

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/universe-bird-space-stars-fantasy-2791114/

Servants of All

Audio of this poem https://anchor.fm/ann-frailey/episodes/Servants-of-All-e17nu4k

Hints of pending change,

 Reminding wanderers of seasons’ range.

We think we know,

 Sun, rain, sleet, and snow.

Unthought of winds carry hellish storms to the door.

Thoughts crowd into actions—Reactions Roar.

Yet when a timid vine with blossom blue winds up the rail,

All blusters sail.

Stilled by soundless certainty,

Happiness meets joy in perpetuity.

The perfections of simple beauty—

A man’s able strength,

A woman’s gentle touch,

Children’s innocent play,

The frogs’ night chorus,

A deer feeding across the way…

Unexpected truth alters,

Our design

Our challenged wills falter,

Mysteries combine.

Warnings and hints of come what may,

Yet never is, as we say.

See the terrible and tremendous both,

For in honesty lies our growth.

Not gods with plans in hand or self-made giants we,

But servants of all, in humanity.

A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.

Make the most of life’s journey. 

For more poems like this one, see Hope’s Embrace and Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

For other books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page https://www.amazon.com/A.-K.-Frailey/e/B006WQTQCE

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/autumn-tree-leaf-forest-trees-4460724/

Homestead Parts 15 and 16

Audio of this post https://anchor.fm/ann-frailey/episodes/Homestead-Parts-15-and-16-e17g8me

It Was Not to Be

July decided that it wanted to make a name for itself before August elbowed its way to the front of the line, so the temperatures sky-rocketed in the latter half of July. It was weird to see empty fields where rows of corn and beans used to dominate the summer landscape.

Sure, families had planted gardens, but they were tiny compared to what I was used to seeing. What the winter would look like, no one could tell. I shuddered to think about the spring. Few people had supplies to last that long.

My zucchini was all but done, and only one giant sunflower lifted its head against the bright blue sky. The lettuce had bolted, though I pulled the last few tough leaves off the thick stems to add garnish to every meal. All the potatoes and onions had been pulled and hauled inside. I was rather proud of the cardboard boxes layered with my homegrown produce. I shifted the boxes onto a dark shelf in the basement where they were sure to stay dry. I planned to use lots of white onions when I made salsa. Just waiting for the tomatoes to do their thing and ripen in a big bunch to make a canning day worth the effort.

Feeling a tad lonesome, I let the oldest cat, Earl, into the house where he slept on the chair in the living room most days. His rickety old body could hardly jump the distance, and I knew there’d be a day when he’d fall back to the floor in cat disbelief. But for now, he was someone to talk to. Even if I knew full well that he was dreaming his last days away.

With the high humidity and heat, I didn’t feel terribly hungry mid-week. I had spent most of the day clearing out the back shed in the expectation that when Liam and the kids did make it home, we’d have to think seriously of getting a couple of cows and expanding our chicken run. We’d have to store hay for the winter and figure out how to grow our own feed grain. Other people were making adaptions—necessitating the use of every old barn and shed in the county. Wood and metal for roofing were going for a premium price. I had to make the most of what I had. And that meant clearing out the dusty space and shoring up the frame so it wouldn’t collapse over the winter.

Hot, sticky, and fearing the revenge the spiders would perpetrate on me for wiping out their webs, I trudged into the kitchen planning on nothing more than tomato slices and a glass of water for dinner.

I nearly had a heart attack when I saw a man sitting at my kitchen table. My first thought was that Liam had finally made it home, but then I realized that this guy was much too young.

“Jared?”

He stood up and faced me, not a hint of a smile on his face. “I’ve got bad news, Mrs. Oxley.” I swallowed and gripped the kitchen counter. I didn’t want him to tell me…

I Had a Spirit

Early August

The temperatures continued to zig-zag right into August, but a storm front promised cooler temperatures soon. At least, that’s what Ben said when he returned with Dana and Juan following at his heels like lost puppies.

I was too depressed to care if an arctic winter was in the forecast. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that I’d never see Liam again. That I had missed his last days, his last moments. His burial.

The tomatoes and peppers had ripened nicely, and with the pile of onions I had stored away, I had enough fresh ingredients, with bartered cilantro from a family in town, to make a decent batch of salsa. Luckily, I had stocked up on vinegar last year. The extra gallon came in handy with all the pickling and canning I was doing.

After washing the five gallon’s worth of tomatoes, I sat on the hardwood bench at the kitchen table and cut off the bad parts, and sliced the juicy red goodness into tiny pieces. Next, I worked on the pile of bright red and green peppers, and finally, I faced the dreaded onions. I didn’t need a reason to cry. I had plenty.

Flies swarmed the pots and dove into my face, adding to my frustrations. Hot and sticky with a storm front pushing the humidity into the unbearable zone, I worked mechanically. Focusing on one step at a time.

Grab an onion by the tail

Slice one side.

Peel.

Chop into rings.

Turn and chop into cubes.

Drop the pile into the pot.

Wipe my stinging eyes.

Repeat.

“You want some help?”

I looked up. There was Dana reaching for a knife and settling across from me at the table. Guess I didn’t need to answer. She could read my mind. Or so she thought.

I sniffed back stinging tears and lost my rhythm. I was supposed to be cubing, but I went to the sink and splashed water on my face instead.

After patting my eyes dry with a towel, I looked at my daughter. Why was I so angry at her? She hadn’t done anything wrong. In fact, she had done everything right. Found her brother. Made her way home. Gone off and looked for her dad. And found him. And buried him.

“Mom? You okay?”

I stared at the onions. I wanted to hate them. But I couldn’t. “No. Not okay.”

Dana stopped chopping. “Me neither.” She had dropped her head onto her chest and I could tell by the heaving action that she was either sobbing silently or about to throw up. Or both. Maternal instinct to the rescue, I ran over and…

For more of these episodes and others, check out Kindle Vella Homestead or

for other books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page https://www.amazon.com/A.-K.-Frailey/e/B006WQTQCE

Let Yourself Go

Podcast https://anchor.fm/ann-frailey/episodes/Let-Yourself-Go-e17658p

Rather not. Jeremiah slid into his seat at the back of the lecture hall and prayed that the scrawled message on the board referred to a campus cult’s lack of original thinking rather than a preview of his professor’s worldview.

A tall thin spectacle with a man-bun on top, a tie-dyed shirt, bloomers-like shorts, and flapping bedroom slippers sauntered up to the podium.

I should’ve taken the online class.

A young woman, mid-twenties, long brown hair, wireframe glasses, small build but toned legs dropped her bulging backpack by the third empty chair to the right of him.

But then again…

The room filled to capacity and Jerimiah opened his notebook, flipped it to a new section, and tapped his pencil.

The young woman slid a recorder to the front of her desk, then leaned back and closed her eyes.

What’s this? A lazy beauty who gets through class by replaying the lecture when it suits her fancy?

Jerimiah shoved the thought—Wish I’d thought of it—far away.He rubbed his eyes. Between his mom’s recent liver transplant, the store downsizing and leaving managers like him in the dust, and the new graduation regulations, he’d come to think that the Universe was in a sour mood. He wasn’t too Sweet himself.

The professor started—digging into societal ills, cultural concerns, hot button issues, even picking on the front row students like lab rats who couldn’t escape the taunting labels expelled from his gut based on their hyperventilated one-word answers. “When you leave this class, you won’t know yourself! Kiss mommy and daddy’s straightjacket goodbye!”

Jeremiah dropped his head on his hands. “At least online I could’ve muted him.”

“What? And missed all this fun?”

Jeremiah glanced over.

Beauty, still leaning back with her eyes closed, appeared very much asleep.

“Excuse me?”

The professor sucked in a lungful for another charge. “How can you say you know anything—you believe anything—until you’ve heard all sides? I’m here to bring you into direct contact with ALL SIDES!”

Beauty sat up, a frown making her nose wrinkle in an alarmingly adorable fashion. “He’s a circle?”

The gut-busting laugh that exploded from Jeramiah made him clutch his notebook and pencil as he fled the room.

Two days later, Jeremiah hurried down the hall after his last class of the week. He had a ton of work over the weekend, his mom needed someone to fix her end table, which tended to send her books and medicines crashing to the floor by evening no matter how well she propped it up each morning, and he had an interview for a part-time manager position on Saturday. If he could finish the year with the stellar grades he started with, he’d be sure of a full-time position before the year was out.

Only one class stood in his way.

Beauty strode along with him into the library, her bulging backpack pressing her shoulders into a stooped position.

A million introductions flashed through his mind, creating a linguistic maelstrom, not unlike ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs on steroids. Lacking any rational brain cells to call upon, Jeremiah simply stepped in front of the pretty woman, halting her in her tracks.

She looked up and stared blankly.

“He’s a circle?”

Astonishing how long she could maintain that blank expression.

“In class? The professor promised to bring us in contact with all sides…”

Comprehension filled her eyes. Light broke over the mountains. Beauty smiled. Then the gate slammed shut. “It’s an English class! What’s he doing—social engineering?”

The puppy inside every man has moments when he desperately wants to run around in wild circles with his tongue lolling out and a wide grin encompassing his face.

The library would not be the appropriate setting.

“You free? I’m about ready for a cup of—” He shrugged. “You name it, and I’ll get one for you too.”

She laughed.

Three hours later, Jeremiah took the steps to his parent’s house two at a time. He stepped into the living room and caught his mom napping lopsided in a chair and his dad pacing in circles.

“Hey, Dad. Everything okay?”

His dad’s tear-filled eyes glinted in the afternoon light. “She’s slipping away, son. Won’t be long now.”

A day and a half later, Jeremiah finished the arrangements for his mom’s funeral Mass and then ran as fast as his legs would carry him into class.

Well into the first hour, the professor was in his element, extolling the freedom of thought that would lead to well-formed lives and true humanity. With pounding steps, he labored across his personal stage, excoriating the fools who marched in lockstep with old traditions, unmindful of the variety of options available.

Beauty slouched in her seat, one hand covering her eyes.

Jerimiah slipped into his seat and for the first time since his mom’s death, felt the crushing loss that he knew he’d live with for the rest of his life. Only the words of scripture, the hymns, and songs, the candlelight comforted his aching soul. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God…

“Let go!” The professor hammered the podium like a preacher swearing hellfire to the damned.

“Where? You only offer a void.” Beauty’s face glowered, anger and hurt glaring through her eyes.

His chin up and hand raised, the professor demanded obedience. “Open your minds!”

So low, Jeremiah barely heard her words, Beauty’s spirit screamed, “So, the wind can blow through?”

Snatching her hand, Jeremiah helped her grab her bag, and they hustled outside.

Beauty flopped against the wall. “I need that class. But I don’t think I can stand his rants for another day.”

Jeremiah nodded. “My mom just passed away. All I can think of is how much I wish I had her back—and he keeps screaming that I have to let go.”

Beauty’s eyes reflected from twin pools of grief. “I’m sorry.”

Jeremiah sucked in a deep breath and took her hand. “Perhaps we should take his advice.”

“Huh?”

“There are other classes.” He shrugged. “It might mean a summer school, but instead of this—”

“We can actually learn something.” Beauty grinned. “We’re more squares than circles, eh?”

His mom’s endearing smile before his eyes, Jeremiah nodded, took Beauty’s hand, and let go.

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/man-college-student-read-a-book-4299342/

Homestead Parts 9 and 10

If I Could Get the Movie Rights

It was nearing the middle of June, and I still didn’t know where Liam or the kids were, but perhaps I was the lucky one.

After receiving a strange note, Ben had advised Josh and Linda to intercept Jared at Terre Haute where the boy had been taken for evaluation. Apparently, he was raving about aliens and could get violent if people rolled their eyes in skepticism.

The day after they got back with a disheveled, skinny son in tow, they invited me over for a mid-morning snack. I fought down jealousy and cleaned up after a battle in the garden, trying to direct the zucchini vines away from the potato plants. What I said to the tomato plants doesn’t bear repeating, though the lettuce was behaving well and offered enough to share when I felt neighborly.

After getting settled on their plush couch in their purple-walled room, I stifled a gag in the rancid air.

The temperatures had rocketed to the low nineties with high humidity. Add the fact that Linda couldn’t get used to the idea that with no air conditioning, the inhabitants still had to breathe, so she had to keep windows open, but she often forgot.

I panted like a dog,

Linda perched on the edge of a straight-backed chair in the corner while Josh stood strangely indecisive in the doorway.

Jared paced like a caged animal before the clean fireplace.

Becoming more uncomfortable by the minute, sweat dripping down my back, and prickles spread over my arms at the sight of the twenty-five-year-old man. He had changed so completely; I almost didn’t recognize him. I glanced at Linda, then at Josh.

Neither offered a word.

Never one to jump off the deep end, I took tentative steps. “I’m so glad you made it home safe and sound, Jared. I’m rather jealous. My kids were supposed to be back a couple of weeks ago, but…still traveling…I guess.” My brave smile died a quick death. Jared stopped pacing. I’ve heard of people being frozen in place. An overused literary device that ought to be dropped. But as I stared at Jared, his still form brought the expression…

Winding Road Ahead

I didn’t have to wait long.

It may have seemed an eternity, but on Saturday, the nineteenth of June, I heard a familiar tromp of feet climbing up my back porch steps. Two pairs. My beloved kids had returned.

Or so I hoped.

I dashed my hands in the old ice cream bucket of cooled, boiled water I kept beside the sink to wash my hands, quickly rinsing sticky dough off my fingers. Though there was still a bit of kneading to finish the daily bread, that duty faded to insignificance.

I wiped my eyes, hoping that I’d keep from crying.

First, Dana stepped into the kitchen.

You guessed it; I burst into tears.

Always a little on the plump side with a sweet round face and pink cheeks, long shiny brown hair, and dressed professionally, she now presented a very different image. All extra weight gone, her face lean with high, tight cheekbones, and her hair had been whacked off to ear length. I wondered if she had done it with a machete. Her clothes had certainly seen better days. I pressed my fingers to my lips to suppress an involuntary gasp.

Juan stepped in behind his sister. My overwhelmed gaze immediately recognized his state of malnutrition—bone-thin, the ghost-like pallor, sunken cheeks, dark cavernous circles under his eyes. But when he smiled, my son showed though.

They hesitated only a moment when I held out my arms, aching for a hug.

Sobbing, I gripped each of them, hanging on for dear life, but also, acutely aware that their bones felt sharp against my body.

Dana let go first. As usual, she wanted to get down to business.

“Where’s dad?” I ran my fingers through my short, unruly hair, recognizing the fact that it had come loose from its tie, and I probably looked like a seed pod ready to take flight. What could I say? I shook my head, my gaze…

For the rest of these episodes and others, visit Kindle Vella Homestead by A. K. Frailey.

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

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/de/photos/frau-zaun-ranch-br%c3%bcnette-gesicht-1996283/

Homestead Parts 7 and 8

Gather My Shattered Wits

Amazingly, I lived through the next week and into the following week without falling into a heap of withered anxiety. If I had been a plant, I’m certain that my leaves would have turned brown and scattered to the four winds. As it happened, I turned out to be more resilient than I expected.

At first, I kept busy organizing my supplies. I grabbed my banking notebook, a hard-covered thing, and took a seriously honest inventory.

The cupboards weren’t bare, but they were hardly full either. I realized with chagrin how much food I threw away on a daily basis. In ordinary times, if we didn’t feel like leftovers, we gave them to the chickens. Oftentimes bones were given to the dog with plenty of meat still attached. And I had let milk spoil in the refrigerator more times than I could count. Suddenly, waste didn’t seem like a minor happenstance. It felt like a crime.

It wasn’t until nearly two full weeks had passed that I finally got word from Dana. Ben stopped by on that second rainy Wednesday morning with a satchel slung over his broad shoulders. He made his way inside the kitchen door after I had identified his unique, “Hey-ya!” and told him to come in.

His face looked older—lined with concern. His eyes a little sadder, like he has seen troubling things. More troubling than our small-town-techno-disconnect? I wasn’t sure.

But he forced a smile as he dug into his bag. “Feel a little like Santa delivering gifts to waiting families.” He pulled out a folded envelope. “Hope this helps.” Despite the grin, worry lined formed around his eyes. Gluttonously, I snatched it, tore the envelope open, and…

Living in Paradise?

I felt so proud of myself. One of the deadly sins, I know, so I should have surmised I was heading for trouble. By Thursday afternoon, I had cleaned the whole house, organized all the kitchen and downstairs storage shelves, written a complete inventory list, and even clipped the hedges so the house looked neat outside and as well as in.

By five in the afternoon, I was in a pleasant state of exhaustion and treated myself to a tall glass of sun tea. I sat relaxing before the garden under the grape arbor on the rickety old wooden swing, which was still servable if I didn’t sway too far.

The sound of a distant siren caught my ear. I remember thinking that it was in my imagination, a memory of some cop show where sirens blared across the cityscape. But this was rural countryside. A quiet backwoods world where police hardly bothered to flash their lights much less sound a siren. If one rolled up close behind, that was signal enough to pull over and find out if you’d surpassed the 30-mph speed limit. A definite no-no that earned a standard ticket and accompanying fine.

The siren continued unabated—no routine practice or alert for a single driver.

My heart began to pound.

I rose and glanced around. No smoke rising. I could safely assume no one’s house was on fire. An accident? A call for help?

I squinted at the falling sun. It was still bright, and I could easily traipse to town and see what was happening. But what good could I do? I’d more likely just get in the way.

Conflict tightening my stomach into knots, I paced back to the house with my empty glass in hand.

Josh jogged along the road.

I blinked and waved. “Hey, you heading to town?”

He nodded, slowing his pace but still moving forward. “Yeah. We arranged the siren as a signal for all able-bodied volunteers to meet up if something important happened.”

Not wanting to delay him, I waved him on. “Don’t let me slow you down. Just tell me what’s going on when you get a chance.”

He picked up speed. “Check on Linda, if you can. She’s not doing great.”

I called after him. “Sure thing!” Though checking on Linda was last on my list of want-to-dos. I really needed some solid food and a chance to gather my frightened wits. Oh, heck. Linda is probably chewing her fingers to the bone.

I ran inside, pulled a bowl of spiced pasta and tuna from the dark refrigerator, and speed-walked down the lane. Once at Linda’s house, I climbed the porch steps and knocked on the doorframe. “Hey, want to join me for dinner? I brought something tasty.”

Linda came to the door, her face red and blotched with the traces of tears still on her cheeks. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and forced a determined smile. “I’m not hungry, but I’m glad to see you.”

Completely unable to deal with her meltdown, but knowing that my only alternative was to trot home and have my own, I decided to forge ahead with my unwanted charity dinner. “Come on and try a bit. You need to keep your strength up.”

After setting two servings of my meager meal, I sat down opposite Linda at her kitchen table and tried to decide if I’d even attempt prayers before eating. What the heck. I made the sign of the cross and then halted when Linda burst into fresh tears.

“She died. Just like I thought she would.”

My heart jumped into my throat. “Who?”

“My mom. Got word last night. Some guy at the nursing home wrote—said that the folks are passing at an alarming rate. He can hardly keep up with notifications, much less burials. But, good news, she passed without pain or complaint.” Linda peered at me through narrowed eyes. “You don’t think someone is helping them to pass along, do you?”

“Oh, God! Why you’d think that? It’s probably just the shock and the lack of—well, everything. Medicines must be hard to come by and—” I didn’t know what else to say. Knowing that the at-risk population was succumbing for a whole range of very good reasons hardly made it more acceptable.

Linda stared at the tabletop, her eyes dry now, but her gaze unfocused. “I just don’t know what to think. It’s like evil has been loosed against everyone. I don’t know what terrible thing will happen next.” She sniffed and glanced up. “Do we deserve this?”

Dread rose like a monster inside me. I forced it down with the fact that Dana and Juan were due home in the next few days, and they would help us manage through our dark future. Thank Heaven for my kids. “So has Jared started home, yet?” A shout brought us to our feet. It sounded like…

For the rest of these episodes and others, visit Kindle Vella Homestead by A. K. Frailey.

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/de/photos/haus-himmel-sturm-wolken-feld-3981366/

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/