2018 Short Stories

I don’t have a complete list yet of my 2018 short stories, but here’s a peek into what’s coming each Friday from January to May. 

My newest science fiction novel Newearth—Justine Awakens is slated for publication in early 2018. Many of the characters from my short stories really “come alive” in the Newearth books.

Enjoy!

January 5th

Winter Irony

January 12th

Now I See

January 19th

A Beggar’s Choice

January 26th

Intercept Course

February 2nd

Live Again

February 9th

Outlast the Ages

February 16th

Ol’ Diablo

February 23rd

Edge of Life

March 2nd

You Don’t Look Dead To Me

March 9th

Not Natural

March 16th

Don’t Miss a Day

March 23rd

The Great Wall

March 30th

My Love Is Strong

April 6th

Live

April 13th

So Blind

April 20th

Wait and See

April 27th

Alternate Universe

May 4th

Progress 

High

Hating Libby Lawrence wasn’t just self-defense, it was an undiluted, adrenaline high with a clean conscience. In the fifth-grade, Libby personified a “mean-girl” before the term had become popular. From the first day when she ordered me with a sneer and a glare to sit on the left of our shared desk, promptly told the teacher that I smelled bad, and scribbled a black line through my book report, I knew she and I would never get along. Unfortunately, since I was short, thin, and timid, I didn’t stand a chance. To boot, I stopped growing that year. Thanks to some kind of miraculous providence, her parents moved away, and I started growing again.

But from then on, even into my adult years, the name Libby sent chills down my spine. I tried to control my fury when my brother decided to name his first daughter Libby after some relation on his wife’s side. I didn’t care how great the relation; no child deserved to be stuck with such a moniker. Despite my best on-my-knees entreaties, he went forward with his malicious scheme, but to my surprise, the child grew up to be a pretty decent kid.

Years later, when my dream-teaching job opened up in my hometown, I only paused for a brief moment when my eyes tripped over the principal’s name—Libby Macintosh. Couldn’t be the same. After all, the Libby I knew could hardly control herself, much less a whole school.

I steeled myself for the long-distance phone interview from California to Wisconsin. I had taught five years at LA Unified and felt that if I didn’t get an infusion of the four Midwestern seasons soon, I’d dry up and wither away. I also missed my family and Lake Michigan. What’s an ocean I hardly ever saw—much less touched—to a lake that’s got miles of open beachfront?

The interview went well. Ms. Macintosh was courteous and clear. She had a third-grade vacancy that needed to be filled for the autumn term. She wanted someone with experience who would be willing to take on a few extra duties as need be. The lack of specificity about the “other duties” worried me, but the school’s location—just five miles from my parent’s home and three miles from Lake Shore Drive—attracted me like a puppy to an untied shoelace. Daily runs along the lake and easy visits with my elderly parents would be worth a few extra duties. My spirits rising, I felt confident enough to ask a couple personal questions. “You’re a native of Wisconsin? Been a principal long?”

Yes and no was about all Ms. Macintosh had time for that day, but she kindly referred me to her Facebook page where we could connect—if I felt so inclined. Picturing myself on the cover of a Nancy Drew mystery novel, I quickly accepted the offer and gave her my email address so she could send me specifics on the school and the position. I would send my updated resume to her by return email. End of interview.

If it hadn’t been for a series of life crises involving a misfit kitten, an exploding dryer, and an elderly neighbor’s cries of distress, I would have put on my detective cap that same day. But as it was, it took me the weekend to get my life in order and my laptop to cooperate. Finding Ms. Macintosh wasn’t hard. What was hard was swallowing back was my horror at seeing those all-to-familiar green eyes, that pugnacious nose, and the jutting jaw that could clip a hedge.

If my mom hadn’t called at that moment, I would have turned off my computer and made a run for the nearest Dairy Queen—despite the fact that it was nearly eleven miles away.

My voice was a slight bit shaky, though I tried to cover myself. Still, moms have a way of noticing.

“You alright, honey? You sound out of breath.”

“I—I’m fine. Just—you know—busy. With stuff.”

Well, mom was never one to mess around on a long distance call even though she’s got a package deal that—never mind. She got to the point.

“Your father’s birthday is next week. And he’s not getting any younger.”

I could clearly drop my Nancy Drew persona. No detective needed here.

“Well, the plane ticket is pretty expensive, and I want to set up a few interviews before I—”

“Didn’t you have a phone interview this week?”

“Uh, yeah….”

“Well, then, just come home, check in on your poor, aging parents, and stop by the school. Never hurts to show a little interest. Besides, it’s a lot harder to turn someone down when you’ve met them in person.”

I pictured Libby’s furious glare framed by flapping, black ponytails as she pushed herself into my space with a whirling fist at her side. Somehow, I didn’t think she had any trouble turning people down. She probably arranged interviews for the sheer joy of knocking prospective hopefuls on their backsides.

“I bet she even sent you an invitation for an in-person interview. They do that, you know. Have you checked your email lately?”

As surprise and anxiety played touchdown football with my innards, my hand reflexively clicked to my email. A cold shock ran through my body when I saw the subject line— Invitation from Principal Macintosh.

I don’t remember much of the rest of the conversation, but I do know that mom had a list of airline specials for the coming week.

Getting home, celebrating dad’s seventieth birthday, catching up with my brother and his brood of three rapscallions, kept me busy over the weekend. I actually slept a few hours each night—after highlighting plans for a perfect revenge.

On Monday, I dressed in my most professional, intimidating gray suit with matching heels and I toted my very expensive, leather briefcase. I dearly hoped she was an animals’ rights activist and was deeply offended by my insensitivity. I sniffed back disdain till my sniffer was sore. I had a childhood score to settle, and I had not an iota of an intention of accepting the job. I wanted to see her in person, and after she reviewed my sparking work record, my laudable service in Peace Corps, my glowing endorsements, I would slap her offer into the dust. Only then would I remind her of her left-hand seatmate in fifth grade. And, yes, the past can come back to haunt you.

Why I felt the need to torture myself with a quick detour at the lake, I don’t know. I stood on the grassy shore, sucking in lung-fulls of invigorating lake scent and hoped that Libby hadn’t grown much taller since our last meeting. Her Amazonian height was still an issue to contend with. Reviewing the many trials and experiences I had had since fifth-grade, I wondered—briefly—if I wasn’t letting my childhood mini-trauma get the better of me.

When I saw a little girl and a bully of a big sister pull the child along like a rag doll—my burning resolve reformed itself. No! Justice demanded an honest accounting. I would face this haunting humiliation—or die trying.

Marching up the steps, I passed a group of middle school kids texting one another. I didn’t even shake my head. It wasn’t worth the effort.

I gripped my briefcase, tapped the intercom, got permission to enter, pushed open the wide, front door, charged down the green and yellow hall—my heels clacking officiously—and entered THE OFFICE. It was empty. Since it was going on five o’clock, I hadn’t expected a crowd, but I was surprised by the stillness.

There was a counter with a little bell. I looked around, cleared my throat, stared at the half-opened door labeled Principal’s Office, and tapped my fingers on the counter. Nothing. Finally, in sheer desperation, I tinkled the stupid bell. A call from the office informed me that Ms. Macintosh was in.

“Coming.”

I squared my shoulders and straightened my back. Five foot four inches would only take me so far, but I had every intention of making the most of what I had. Deciding that I didn’t want to appear too interested, I strolled to the wall and glared at the bulletin board.

I heard an odd sound and a horribly familiar voice. “Oh, hi! You’re early. I like that. Thanks for coming, Grace.”

I turned, my eyes lifted high to meet those green orbs, but there was nothing there. Until I dropped my gaze. Sitting in an automated wheelchair was the shrunken visage of my childhood tormentor. I tried to control my intake of breath, but honestly, I could have sucked in the whole of Lake Michigan.

Adding a layer of bizarre on top of my shock, Libby Macintosh didn’t seem even remotely surprised. She just waved me toward her office. “Come on in. It’ll be more comfortable for both of us.”

Since walking was about the only way I could cross the room, and collapsing into a heap didn’t seem like a viable option, I followed.

With expert swiftness, she swiveled her metallic armature into place behind her desk, waved to the empty chair, and beamed at me.

“So how long has it been, Grace? Gosh, it’s got to be nearly eighteen years.”

Yes, my jaw did drop all the way to the floor. Stunned, I could hardly speak. Finally, trying to hide my shaking hands, I squeezed them into my lap, my shiny, leather briefcase forgotten on the floor where it fell when I landed in the chair. “You—you remember me, Ms.—?”

A waving hand and a disarming smile deflected my question. “Oh, not at first. Your mom came by my office a few weeks ago. She helps out in the library, you know. She’s the one who told me that you were looking to relocate. It wasn’t until she brought along a grade school yearbook and showed me your picture that I put two and two together.”

I honestly believe that my brain melted at that moment. I couldn’t think of a thing to say. The impulse to get up and walk out the door was the only idea that made even the slightest sense, but before I could arrange my synapses to fire coherent messages to my skeletal system, Libby chuckled.

With bubbling giggles, she wagged a finger at me. “Do you remember what a brat I was? Gosh, I was terrible. I used to go out of my way to make everyone miserable.” Suddenly, her laughter died as she dried her damp eyes. “But God got my attention.” She gestured to her emaciated legs and the wheelchair in a comprehensive sweep. “Car accident. Just a couple years later. My dad was killed and my mom never got over the loss—or my crippled legs. She took to drinking. I ended up living with my grandma.”

Blinking back sudden tears, I clasped my head with both hands before it exploded. “I doubt God wanted that.”

Libby nodded with a slow smile. “You’re right. He didn’t. But it changed my life. My parents were troubled people. I was a nasty kid, and I would have grown-up to make a lot of people miserable. But Grandma had a faith that could move mountains, and she taught me to use a wheelchair. She also taught me to think about others and to use my newfound understanding to better the world.”

Libby wheeled herself around the desk and arrived on my left. Reaching out, she clasped my hand in hers. “Can you forgive me for being such a wretched brat? I’m sure you must still carry some hurt for the things I did.”

I couldn’t wipe my tears way fast enough.

She scooted her wrecked body aside, pulled a clean tissue out of a hidden pocket, and handed it to me. “I always keep some handy. Never know.” She smiled through glimmering eyes.

Sniffing what was left of my composure under control, I met her gaze. “You know, I came here to teach you a lesson—to show you that I had always been better than you thought. I wanted—” I couldn’t go on. It all seemed so pathetic.

Libby squeezed my hand—comfortingly. “You know, when I realized who you were, I went out of my way to ask your mom to follow up with you. I was so grateful for this chance. There were a lot of people I hurt but thank God, there are a lot of people I help now. And I just thought it would be rather grand—if after our miserable past—that as adults we could work together for the next generation. Would you like to do that, Grace?”

~~~

I worked with Libby for twenty-two years until she had a debilitating stroke and had to retire. She asked me to take over as principal, and the school board unanimously agreed. During those years, and every autumn after, we’d start the term with an assembly, retelling the story of our fifth-grade animosity and how, in later life, we became good friends who loved kids and cherished the future.

In the end, loving Libby was the best high I ever had. I have no plans to come down.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Julia’s Gifts—Virtual Book Tour

As a young girl, Julia began buying gifts for her future spouse, a man whose likeness and personality she has conjured up in her mind, a man she calls her “beloved.” Soon after the United States enters the Great War, Julia impulsively volunteers as a medical aid worker, with no experience or training. Disheartened by the realities of war, will Julia abandon the pursuit of her beloved? Will her naïve ‘gift scheme’ distract her from recognizing her true “Great Love?” From Philadelphia to war-torn France, follow Julia as she transitions from unworldly young woman to compassionate volunteer.

Info: http://www.fullquiverpublishing.com/our-publications/great-war-great-love-series-julias-gifts-by-ellen-gable/

Amazon Kindle Julia’s Gifts

Amazon Print: Julia’s Gifts

Interview with Ellen Gable

What was the inspiration for Julia’s Gifts?

When I was a teenager, I yearned to meet my future spouse. It was difficult because most of my friends (and all of my siblings) had boyfriends. Since I looked very young, boys weren’t   interested in me. I felt lonely, especially on Friday nights when all my siblings and friends were on dates, and I was home watching the Donny and Marie Show.

I began praying that God would “send me a man.” Until then, I prayed for my future husband. While I never actually bought a gift for him, I did write letters to him.

A few years ago, it occurred to me that it would be a beautiful gesture for a young woman to buy Christmas gifts for her future spouse. From that small seed, Julia’s Gifts was born.

Why World War I?

I’ve always been interested in history and I knew very little about this war. I decided to focus the bulk of my research on the last year of the War (after the United States entered). Because I am American and my husband is Canadian, Julia is American and her future spouse (Peter) is Canadian. I read and studied many books and researched online for three years before actually sitting down to write the novel.

Why is the name of the series Great War Great Love?

I owe my gratitude to the son of a friend of mine, Ian, for coming up with the title. The reason for the title is that World War 1 was called the “Great War” by the Allies before the USA entered the war, and is still often called the “Great War,” by British, Canadians and Australians. And Great Love because there are many examples of how couples met and fell in love during times of war.

The sonnets/poems in this story are beautifully written. Tell us a bit about them.

Well, I’m not a poet, but my husband has written songs and poems. So I asked him if he would be willing to write sonnets for my book. I explained in detail what I needed the sonnet to express and he took it from there. The sonnets are a beautiful addition to this novel, especially because my husband wrote them.

Can you tell us about the next two books of the series?

Yes. Charlotte’s Honor is Book #2 and takes place at approximately the same time as Julia’s Gifts, but focuses on a different female protagonist, Charlotte, who finds her purpose in life when she begins working in the death ward and holding men’s hands as they die. She is attracted to Canadian Dr. Paul Kilgallen. During an advance by the enemy, everyone at the field hospital evacuates, except for Charlotte and Dr. K. They remain hidden in the basement of the chateau to take care of the terminally ill men and those soldiers who can’t be moved. Charlotte becomes convinced that Paul is her own “beloved.” But when she loses contact with Paul, she fears not only for his safety but begins to doubt his love for her. Charlotte’s Honor will be released in late 2018.

Ella’s Promise is Book #3 in the series. It is about the daughter of German immigrants, Ella, an American nurse who (because of the time period) was discouraged from continuing on in her studies to be a doctor. She works as a nurse for three years in Philadelphia but reads medical books every opportunity she gets. During the Great War, she travels to Le Treport, France to work at the American-run hospital. She meets her own beloved in the last place she would expect to meet him. Ella’s Promise will be released in mid-2019.

Reviews:

Can beauty and life survive destruction and death? Vivid writing transports readers to the past, where young love is forged and tested amidst the devastation of war-torn France. Graced with soulful sonnets and life-and-death situations, this is no simple romance. It’s a strong and tender Catholic historical novel about growing in maturity and fortitude while discovering the power of hope, self-sacrifice, and prayer. I read Julia’s Gifts within two days, but this touching story of faith and devotion is sure to leave a lasting impression!” Therese Heckenkamp, award-winning author of Frozen Footprints and After the Thaw

“A sweet romance set amidst the carnage of World War I France, Julia’s Gifts is filled with fascinating historical detail and a reminder that love never fails and that miracles – great and small – happen all around us.”   Carolyn Astfalk, author, Stay With Me

“In the new Great War Great Love series by Ellen Gable, Julia’s Gifts took me on a poignant journey into the midst of terrible suffering and enduring hope. A young woman volunteers to serve in a wartime hospital in France and encounters, up close and personal, the horrors of war. The descriptions of war-torn France felt very authentic and really helped me to envision actual environment. Julia’s dreams for her future husband face unexpected and ingenious twists and turns. Julia’s Gifts is a romantic drama that unfolds far from home—but takes us to the heart of home along the way.”  A.K. Frailey, author

Find Ellen at:

Plot Line and Sinker

Full Quiver Publishing

Excerpt:

Julia stared, transfixed, through the window at the tall display. Shimmery red fabric hung from a back wall, a beautiful sterling silver pocket watch lay on top of a cylindrical pedestal. Her eyes widened when she saw the price tag: $12.25, almost 20 percent of her annual salary. But it was beautiful and every man needed one. The price notwithstanding, this would be a perfect gift for her beloved. Yes, it was extravagant, especially during wartime. Yes, there were less expensive items she could purchase. It didn’t matter. This was the ideal gift.

After purchasing it, she took it to the engraving department on the second floor. Behind the counter, the tall, lanky middle-aged man with a handlebar mustache smiled. “What would you like engraved on this?”

“To my beloved, next line, all my love, Julia.”

His eyebrows lifted. “I’m certain the gentleman would prefer to have his Christian name engraved on this lovely timepiece. Don’t you agree?”

“Well, yes, I imagine he would. But I don’t really know his name or who he is yet.”

The man’s mouth fell open and he stuttered. “I’m..I’m…s…sorry, Miss. I…I don’t understand. You’ve bought an expensive pocket watch for someone you don’t know?”

Julia sighed. She shouldn’t have said anything.

“Please just use the words I gave you.”

The man nodded and regarded Julia with an expression of suspicious curiosity, a look one might give a person in an asylum.

Yelsa’s Choice

Yelsa loved sunshine. The rays of light pouring down on her elven face and perfectly petite form immersed her soul in ecstasy. She lay back on the shore, her sandaled feet falling to the side, her dark brown shorts contrasting with the tan grains of sand, while her white blouse rippled like the waves in a gentle breeze. She gazed up at a wispy cloud sweeping across the blue expanse. Birds twittered in the tree line behind her, animating a smile on her lips. “The Creator be praised—”

Her sensitive ears perked at the sound of footsteps plowing across the sand. She waited for a shadow to intercept the sun.

“Yelsa?” The voice, though deep and commanding, hinted at a need.

Raising herself on one arm, Yelsa turned and faced the being before her—a Luxonian in human form: dark skinned, muscular, black eyes, wearing casual long pants, a dark blue t-shirt, and sporting a black headscarf. Her left eyebrow arched.

“Yes? May I be of assistance, Luxonian?”

The stranger grinned as he pulled his headscarf away. “No fooling a Bhuac, is there?” Kneeing on the sand, he gazed across the waves and inhaled a cleansing breath. “Beautiful. Hard to find serenity on Newearth, but you’ve got something good here.” Facing her, he thrust out a work-roughened hand. “Roux, a friend of Cerulean. Faye gave me your name.”

Yelsa sat up, shook his hand, and nodded. “Faye is revered among my people.”

“Apparently she thinks a lot of you—bragged non-stop about your tracking and tactical abilities—”

Yelsa’s cheeks flushed as she stood, her eyes dancing over the waves as if to find a path across. “Faye likes to exaggerate our merits—part of our culture—to always appear better than we are.”

Roux heaved himself to his feet and brushed the sand from his pants. “I haven’t met a race yet who wants to appear any less than the best.” His sudden grin disappeared as he turned toward the woods and gestured an invitation forward.

After picking up a yellow bag, Yelsa wrapped its long embroidered strap over her shoulder and padded across the shifting sand.

Glancing in her direction, Roux’s gaze swept over her. “You’ve heard about Cosmos?”

Yelsa sighed. “Faye sent word through Bhuaci channels. I doubt there’s anyone on Newearth who’s ignorant of our impending doom.”

Roux rubbed his hands across his face. “From the way most are reacting, you’d never guess. Business as usual.”

“Rumor has it that Cerulean is leading a mission to find the mysterious Omega—so he can deal with her. Of course, the Inter-Alien Alliance and Newearth authorities assure us that they have everything well in hand.”

The sand gave way to black earth and short grass as they entered a copse of woods. Leaning against a large, spreading oak, Roux shrugged. “The IAA has no interest in panic, so they’ll assure us of anything and everything. But the truth is….  Well, Cerulean’s mission is only a part of the plan. No one, not even the Supreme Council, knows exactly where Omega lives, so the whole venture is a gamble.” His gaze lingered over Yelsa as she shook the sand out her sandals, propping one hand on the tree.

Comfortable again, she crossed her arms and waited.

Roux pressed forward and strolled deeper into the park-like woods. “We’re sending a ship out in search of Cosmos herself.”

“To determine her exact location?” Yelsa strode along, her gaze sweeping her environment.

“To intercept and—” he hesitated and glanced her direction, “—to engage if necessary.”

Furrows formed between Yelsa’s blue eyes; her gaze fell to the ground as she stepped evenly at his side. “You have the IAA’s authority—?”

Roux slapped his leg. “They’re lending me a ship….” He stopped and faced her, his gaze searching hers. “Listen, I worked with Cerulean on the original Inter-Alien-Alliance, and it was no picnic, trust me. Nearly got ourselves killed. Trying to get everyone to agree is about as dangerous as waiting for Cosmos to devour us.”

“So you’re taking the law—”

“We’re not taking anything!” Roux threw back his head, closing his eyes. Inhaling a deep breath, he held up a hand. “I’m explaining this badly. Cerulean should’ve stopped here first. He’s more eloquent.”

Yelsa’s chuckle brought a relieved sigh from Roux’s middle.

She arched her brows. “You’ll do fine. Just tell me the facts.”

“Facts? Okay, the fact is that we are sending out another ship—the Merrimack—to locate Cosmos, and we need you on board.”

“And if we find her, what will you do? Form a treaty—?”

Roux rolled his eyes. “A treaty like—say—Please don’t eat us, or we’ll be forced to cause you digestive problems?”

Yelsa stared deep into the woods. Finally, her gaze refocused, and she locked onto Roux. “Cosmos devoured our sister planet. My sister lived there….”

Roux closed his eyes; his hand pressed together. After a moment, he blew air between his lips and glanced at Yelsa. “You understand why we need you.”

Yelsa took the lead and marched along the winding path, slapping stray vines out of her way. After hiking a steep hill, she stopped at the edge of a vast viewing platform overlooking Newearth’s largest transport docking bay. “Once you direct me to the Merrimack’s shuttle, I’ll know exactly what to do.”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Soul’s Birth in Morning Soil

Soul’s birth in morning soil,

Spring sprouts from ancient toil.

First steps—firm hold to fingertip,

Grace flows from humble village to ocean ships.

Learning, spinning—webs of life,

Heavenly rays over world-weary strife.

Burdens heavy lay,

Under heat of summer day.

Teacher, prophet, counselor—grief overcome,

Waning light, shortened day—whispers a weakened sun.

Age lines, gray hair, gathering fate,

Autumn harvest—profits wait.

Family tree beyond the page,

Humble grains on winter days.

Souls rebirth in Heaven’s glory,

Sings of God’s unending story.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Same Spirit

Mrs. Eula Claymore pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose and peered at the dessert tray. Is that a lemon bar or pineapple upside-down cake? Her gaze swiveled around the large hall lined with long, white tables. Some of the elderly customers lingered over their meatloaf or breaded chicken, but she preferred to accomplish her meal—like ticking a duty off her list—and then enjoy her dessert with coffee. She returned to the tray and blinked rapidly, hoping to discern her choices better.

“Can’t decide, dear?” Mrs. Caroline Ramsey smiled graciously down on the old woman as she laid a steaming cup of coffee to her right.

Making a quick grab, Eula ended the struggle. “No, thank you, Mrs. Ramsey. Just weighing my options.” Her laugh sounded hollow. Weighing. Ha! Yes, have to weigh everything these days. The battle of the bulge was relentless.

Caroline’s paper-thin physique and tight smile swayed closer. “Oh, please, call me Carol, everyone does, and it sounds so much more romantic.” She raised her eyebrows archly.

Eula suppressed a snort, tapped her sticky fingers together and considered her baptismal name—Eulamay. With a quick thrust, she jammed the sweet treat into her mouth—and regretted it instantly. Her mouth pursed into the fiercest pucker she had ever endured. Lord in Heaven, where did they get these lemons? The devil’s kitchen? She peered up, her eyes filled with stinging tears. She must have water, or she’d expire on the spot. Unfortunately, Carol had hurried off to another table to intercede in a senior squabble before something got spilled.

“Mind if I sit here?” A large, buxom woman pointed to the seat across from her.

Eula nodded, attempting to stretch her lemon pucker into a smile.

The woman laughed as she pulled out a chair and laid her black handbag on the table. “Oh, you had a lemon bar, too, I see.”

With multiple swallows, Eula tried to eek out a sound akin to human speech.

The woman turned and scurried away.

Eula watched the blurry figure bundle off and wondered if she would have done better to stay at home like her friend Lola. Of course, Lola’s great-grandkids had visited her over on the weekend, so naturally, she would be prostrate for a week or so…. Eula’s thoughts were interrupted as a cool glass was slipped into her hand.

“Here, that ought to help. I thought I’d drink the whole Mississippi dry getting that taste outta my mouth.” The large woman plunked down in the metal frame chair.

Trying desperately not to slurp, Eula drained the contents in unspeakable relief. She wiped her eyes with her embroidered handkerchief and regarded her savior as best as she was able. “Thank you. I was wondering if I’d be left to die.” She waved a languid hand. “Not that it wouldn’t be rather appropriate, dying in a community hall, but somehow it wasn’t what I had in mind when I came this morning.”

The woman’s hearty laughter brought a smile to Eula’s face, as well as turned several heads. “No problem. We older ladies have to stick together, don’t we? So few of us left.” She stretched out a hand and leaned forward. “My name’s Mary Burns from Dartmouth County—off the blacktop at the end of Vet’s Road.

Eula peered up and appraised the woman before. Large, wispy gray hair, an honest, though blurry face, the usual stretch pants and loose flowered blouse—in short—a possible friend. Eula smiled and pressed the offered hand. “I’m Mrs. Eula Claymore from—”

Mary waved excitedly. “Oh, I know all about you. I’ve lived around here nearly ten years, but my husband, Melvin, passed away last year. Lola Kinsman was so kind. From the church—you know. She thinks the world of you, she does. That’s why I came by. She phoned and said she couldn’t make it, but she wanted me to introduce myself.”

Nodding, Eula wrapped a stray lock of hair back into her neat bun. “Her great-grandkids visited Saturday. I suspect she’ll be laid up awhile.” Nodding, she turned and appraised the crowd. “But I’m glad to meet you. I’ve been coming for years, but I never seem to— Anyway, Lola’s always been with me.”

Mary sighed. “To be honest, I’m rather out of place. I used to cook for Melvin and the boys, and there were usually hands and helpers about. Our trestle table would be full to bursting, and I managed it every day, seven days a week, but now, after a little slip and a hip replacement, my sons’ wives have decided it’s too much for me.” She peered around the room. “I don’t particularly take to being served.”

Eula smacked her lips. “Especially not lemon bars that could suck the life out of you.”

The two women hunched forward and failed to suppress their giggles.

Regaining her composer, Eula leaned back. “It’s cataract surgery for me. Can hardly see my hand before my face.” She gestured to the small crowd. “I served most of these people when I ran the school lunchroom. And I managed the parent group and the sewing circle. Never stopped for a moment, except—”

A racket at the end of the hall pulled their attention forward. One of the men stood stiffly, staggered, jerked, and then fell into a crumpled heap. Eula gasped. Mary rose like a puppet on strings.

Carol rushed across the hall, wended her way through the startled crowd, and took charge. At least three people had their cell phones in hand and were dialing.

After the emergency team had carried off the unfortunate gentleman, Carol circled around and spoke with each table. The crowd shuffled away in turn. When Carol made it to their table, Eula shook her head. “Will ol’ Bertie be all right?”

Carol shook her head and wiped a red-rimmed eye. “They said he was dead before he hit the floor.” She peered at them and forced a smile. “I guess we all have to go sometime.”

Eula wrung her hands together. “Bertie was such a fun boy and a hardworking man—but he never wanted to linger.”

Mary sighed. “None of us do.”

Carol stared down at them. “Don’t talk like that. You’re not lingering. You’re living.” Pulling out a chair, she plunked down and put her head into her hands. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I took this on. I thought it’d be fun: serving the ladies and gents in the community, making money on the side, getting out of my empty nest.”

Mary tilted her head at an appreciative angle. “But—”

Carol ran her fingers through her short, brown hair. “But, I can’t keep pace. This is the third customer I’ve lost in two months. And I don’t mean that the way it sounds. It’s just…I get to know people, and then I lose them. It feels—useless.” Her eyes brimmed with tears. “Help me out here.”

Eula leaned over and patted Carol’s hand. “It’s not useless. You’re right. We are living—and dying. Hard for young people to understand, but we’re as new to old age, as they are are to adulthood, and you are to middle age. Same spirit, greater experience perhaps, but encased in bodies that break down and wither.”

Mary wrapped her fingers over her purse and clutched it to her chest. “I know that the gentleman’s death is tragic, but I can’t go back; I must go forward. Knowing that I can join you, ladies, a couple times a week—well, it’ll make the journey less lonely.” She patted Carol’s shoulder. “Don’t fret. None of knows how to keep pace. That isn’t the point, is it?”

After Mary had lumbered away, Carol stood and helped Eula to her feet. She took her friend’s arm and led her to the door. “Will you be able to make it home, all right, Eula?”

Eula pressed Carol’s warm hand and focused her blurry gaze on the woman in front of her. “Yes, I can make it home. See you on Friday—Carol.”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Jeremy Quinn

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

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

Quinn cleared his throat.

The thin man glanced up. “You mind?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quinn rolled his eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who’d he work for?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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