This Side of the Divide

I’m sitting in a parking lot waiting for my daughter to come out of her Catechism class and my sons to finish their Altar Boy training session. It’s only Wednesday, but it’s already been a long week. World-weariness troubles my soul.

You too?

I can almost hear your sigh.

It seems that fresh scandals break every week: religious, political, and culture wars lash out at every level of society.

With the disheartening reality of broken humanity and the faithful losing their faith, it seems odd to be joining more church-related activities these days. According to current trends, I should be pulling away disgusted. Isolated. Disillusioned.

But I have the ridiculous habit of reading history books. And if you pay attention to the past, certain things stand out as trends throughout the ever-lengthening ages. Broken humanity is one of them. Apparently, it’s not a new trend at all.

I don’t teach my children religion to save them from grief or to give them all the right answers. I teach them the Catholic faith because it is a healing hope in a world full of grieving hearts.

Jesus certainly knew a thing or two about sin-laden people, confused mindsets, weak wills, and pierced hearts. His mom must have known it too. After the religious authorities of her day murdered her innocent son using the laws of the established church to do so, she still followed the traditions of her faith and waited until after the Sabbath to anoint his body. The body that wasn’t there. The body that rose beyond all reason and grief.

Faith is a lot like hope. It isn’t reasonable. It doesn’t protect itself at all costs. Love embraces both the faithful and the despairing, strengthens the will, holds up exhausted arms, and heals even the most mortally pierced heart.

The evening bells are ringing…a haunting sound on a late autumn evening. The bells toll for us all. Time passes and each of us is called. Every day. To the voice of grief and desperation. To the clarion call of change. To the herald of a new day. To the whisper of a spirit that has been—is now—and always will be.

I can’t define or even defend God. That’s His job.

I just love Him. Passionately. Faithfully. And with a renewed soul.

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

Charlotte’s Honor, Book 2 in the Great War Great Love series

A new book out by Ellen Gable. Here’s all the info…

An enjoyable story with a clear moral compass. Though Charlotte lives in a world of great suffering, she doesn’t lose her compassion. Romance, like love, must be patient and kind.

After receiving news that her brother – and only relative – has been killed in action during the Great War, 21-year-old Charlotte Zielinski enlists as a medical volunteer. She eventually begins working in the death ward of the field hospital near Soissons, France, holding dying men’s hands and singing them into eternity. Dr. Paul Kilgallen is a Canadian surgeon working at the field hospital. During a siege by the enemy, everyone evacuates except for Paul and Charlotte, who volunteer to remain in the basement of the chateau to care for the critically ill soldiers. During those three days, Charlotte sees a side of Paul that very few have seen and finds herself falling in love with him. Before Paul leaves for the front, he abruptly tells her that he cannot love her, and it would be best to “forget him.” Just when the war is coming to a close, Charlotte is surprised by two events that are destined to change her life forever. 

Info Link: Full Quiver Publishing

Charlotte’s Honor Kindle Link

Excerpt:

May 1918

Vauxbuin Field Hospital

Near Soissons, France

The air was thick with the mineral stench of blood. Inside the canvas tent that served as Barrack Number 48, Charlotte searched for a place in the unconscious soldier’s body to insert the hypodermic. The poor gentleman had burns and wounds everywhere, but she managed to find a one-inch diameter spot on his thigh in which to plunge the needle. The man didn’t flinch, and Charlotte suspected that his injuries were too grave for him to survive. She recited a silent prayer for this man’s soul, then moved onto the next soldier.

The large canvas tents that were part of the field hospital covered the lawn in front of the chateau. Most volunteers referred to it as a chateau because it looked the part with its high ceilings, plentiful rooms, and marble floors. However, it wasn’t a castle. It was a 19th-century country manor.

A tendril of dark brown hair slipped from her headscarf, and she tucked it back in. Charlotte Patricia Zielinski didn’t care much whether her unruly hair was tame, but she did care about keeping healthy. She wasn’t a large girl, nor was she small. However, roughhousing with her brother Ian for so many years made her strong.

After preparing another soldier for the operating theater, she took a short break and sat on a bench near the tent.

She glanced up at the dark sky, enjoying the quiet. After the sunrise, she’d hear the distant booming that came with being ten miles from the front.

After her bout with influenza last month, she’d felt fatigued for weeks. In the past few days, she had enough energy to move a mountain.

Sister Betty, the medical volunteers’ middle-aged supervisor, called to her from the barrack beside her, Number 49. She was a big-boned woman who seemed taller because she always stood so straight. Charlotte wasn’t sure whether it was because she was British or because she was a big woman, but she also had a booming personality and a loud voice.

Charlotte stood up to speak with Sister.

“How many more men have to be prepared for the O.R., Miss Zielinski?”

“Four, Sister.”

“Maybe you’d be of more use in this barrack.” She pointed toward Number 49.

“Certainly.” She turned to alert her co-worker in 48, when Sister yelled, “Wait.”

Charlotte stopped. “Yes?”

“Perhaps you’d better stay where you are. If there are only four left to prepare, finish that duty, then report to this barrack.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

It took a bit of getting used to, but here in Europe, nurses were referred to as sisters. And all sisters – and most medical volunteers – wore headscarves that looked like habits.

She approached a soldier on a cot, noticing the maple leaf on his collar. Canadians tended to be an agreeable bunch. He pursed his lips as she stripped his clothes, wincing as bits of skin came off with his pants. The poor fellow tensed, but Charlotte could only offer, “I’m so sorry. I am doing my best not to hurt you.”

The dark-haired man attempted a smile.

An ear-piercing explosion caused the world around Charlotte to vanish, and she reflexively collapsed on the cot, falling across the soldier lying in front of her. Ears ringing, she remained still for what seemed like an hour but was likely a few minutes. Blinking, she opened her eyes and stared…

Ellen Gable is an award-winning author of nine books, editor, self-publishing book coach, speaker, publisher, NFP teacher, book reviewer and instructor in the Theology of the Body for Teens. Her books have been downloaded nearly 700,000 times on Kindle and some of her books have been translated into Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and French. The mother of five adult sons, Ellen (originally from New Jersey) now lives with her husband of 36 years, James Hrkach, in Pakenham, Ontario, Canada.

Find Ellen at:

Plot Line and Sinker 

Full Quiver Publishing

Facebook Ellen Gable Hrkach

What was the inspiration for Charlotte’s Honor?

Since one of the themes of Charlotte’s Honor is preparing and being with soldiers who are close to death, the inspiration came from being with two close people in my life in the hours before their deaths. These experiences served as inspiration for Charlotte’s Honor.

Eleven years ago, when my mother was close to death, my sister called me in Canada and urged me to come right away (to New Jersey, my home state), that Mom didn’t have much time left. I arrived before she passed, but by the time I got there, she was unconscious. My sister and I prayed the Litany of the Saints (which she requested) as well as the Divine Mercy Chaplet. In the middle of the night, I got up to sit with her. I held her hand and prayed for her, talked to her and told her she was loved, and that it was okay to go. When she did pass away, I was grateful and honored that I was present at the moment of her passing. And an interesting experience happened. My stepdad, siblings, and I were all sitting by my mom’s bedside and all of a sudden, I felt like my mom was on the ceiling staring down. I lifted my head to look up, but at that point, my brother patted my arm and said, “Hey, El, I have this strange feeling that Mom is on the ceiling looking down at us.” I believe that we were given a great grace at that moment.

Last year, my mother-in-law passed away. She had both dementia and cancer. She was surrounded by those she loved and, although unconscious, we prayed the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet and other prayers for her in the last few days of her life. It was a good death, a holy death. It’s the kind of death I hope to have: others praying the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet for me as I’m close to death.

Why World War 1?

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, the female protagonists in this series are American and the male protagonists are Canadian. So for Charlotte’s Honor, Charlotte is American, and Paul is Canadian.

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 the British, Canadians and Australians. And Great Love because there are many examples of how couples met and fell in love during times of war.

Can you tell us about the first book in the series and next book of the series, Ella’s Promise?

Julia’s Gifts (Book #1 Great War Great Love) 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 Julia’s 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. Julia’s Gifts is now available in Italian and French and will soon be available in Portuguese and Spanish.

Ella’s Promise (Book #3 Great War Great Love) The daughter of German immigrants, Ella is an American nurse who, because of the time period, was discouraged from continuing her studies to become a doctor. During the Great War, she travels to Le Treport, France, to work at the American-run hospital. She meets her own “Great Love” in the last place she would expect to meet him. Ella’s Promise will be released in mid-2019.

This is very different from some of your other books in that it is a very clean romance and can be read by young teens to elderly women to middle-aged men. Was that a conscious choice?

Yes, it is very different and no, it wasn’t a conscious choice at first. When I came up with the story and as I was gradually developing the characters and plotlines, it made the most sense to keep this a “sweet” and “clean” love story that anyone can enjoy. It is, however, a war novel, so there are descriptions of war injuries.

Are you working on any other writing projects?

I’m in the process of writing Ella’s Promise, which is book 3 in the Great War Great Love series.

I’m outlining another novel, tentatively entitled Where Angels Pass, based on my father’s life and experience as a clerical abuse survivor. Since he never saw justice in his lifetime, I’d like to create a story where there is justice for him, even if fictional.

I’m also working on a non-fiction project that will offer guidance in coping with loss (I’m still in the outline stages of that project).

Who are some of your favorite authors?

My favorite Catholic author is Dena Hunt (author of Treason and The Lion’s Heart), but I also enjoy reading Willa Cather’s books (Death Comes For the Archbishop, One of Ours). Dena’s books are incredibly well-written and moving. Cather’s books are well-written and rich in imagery and meaning.

And while this may seem biased, I enjoy reading books by all the Full Quiver Authors. I also enjoy the books of the authors who are fellow members of the Catholic Writers Guild.

One of my favorite secular authors is Nelson DeMille (author of the John Corey series).  I also enjoy reading Kathleen Morgan’s Christian historical novels.

 

Virtual Book Tour Stops/Links

October 22    Plot Line and Sinker

October 23       A.K. Frailey

October 24     Book Reviews and More,  Patrice MacArthur

October 25    Amanda Lauer

October 26  Franciscan Mom

Sharing Our Lives

Although I do not consider myself to be a “public person,” we are all sort of public personas, like it or not. At the store. Filling our cars with gas. Work. School. Human beings living in front of our parents…kids…neighbors…friends. Yet, I’m hardly an outspoken social engineer who has the answers to serious questions. I consider myself rather akin to the squirrels I see scampering from limb to limb on various duties that leave them breathless by the end of the day.

So when Anne DeSantis, the Director of The St. Raymond Nonnatus Foundation, asked if I’d be a guest on her Podcast, my initial reaction was to say—“What? Me?” Looking over my shoulder didn’t do a bit of good. Nope. No one else to yank in front of my computer, so I could escape out a virtual back door.

But then it was noon, time for prayer and a chance hand everything over to God for a bit. You know where this is going…

Words like “mother,” “teacher,” “writer,” “friend,” seem to speak of vast experience and knowledge. In actuality, they reflect a human journey through big cities, small towns, various jobs, multiple roles, and in interaction with people from all over the world. Like you…like most people in this wide, wild world.

Sharing our lives, thoughts, and feelings is how we relate to each other. How we grow. How we come to terms with our human brotherhood, sisterhood, childhood, and parenthood…and all the rest of our inter-tangled relationships.

I decided it isn’t just about me sharing my life with you…readers, listeners, human beings “out there.” It’s about me being open to an honest human encounter…to listening, learning, and interacting with you.

So I said yes. Maybe a little nervously but yes nonetheless.

That means I’ll be available on Thursday, October 18th at 7:00 pm (Central Time) to answer Anne’s questions about raising kids, homeschooling, writing fiction, being a widowed single parent, living in the rural countryside with critters that outnumber me ten kabillions to one…and whatever else she thinks up. And answering your questions, too. Best of all, the podcast is just the beginning. You can always email me afterward at akfrailey@yahoo.com  or Anne DeSantis at director.srnf@gmail.com and follow up. The world is a big place…but God is bigger. I’m not alone. And neither are you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BAUCjZqOYE&feature=youtu.be
Here’s my podcast with Anne Desantis
No visuals but you can listen at your leisure:)
Blessings!

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

My Love Is Strong

Wendy tripped over a block castle, fell against the counter, knocked the coffee maker askew, and apologized. “Whoops, sorry ‘bout that!” Grabbing a sponge, she quickly mopped up the spill and darted a worried glance at the wrecked castle.

Ginny, her six-year-old daughter, skipped into the room. “Who you talking to?”

Before Wendy could answer, Ginny’s gaze swept across the devastation of her former block-castle glory. Her eyes widened in fitful rage. “What’da do that for, Mom?”

“It was an accident, honey. You shouldn’t leave—”

“Hey!” A large, heavily built man with a close-cropped, brown beard sauntered into the kitchen. “You remember me?”

Wendy blinked as wrinkles spread across her forehead. Something on the edge of her frazzled memory sounded a weak alarm. “My husband—right?”

“Very funny.” Mitch tapped his watch. “We’re going out tonight—anniversary? Ring any bells?”

After swallowing back a gasp, Wendy clasped her hands together. “Yeah, I remember, but earlier—I forgot. I, sort of, invited Deirdre over for a cup of tea.” Wendy’s hands flew out imploringly. “Her life’s falling apart. I thought tea might help—somehow.”

Mitch pulled a cup from the shelf and poured out the coffee dregs. “It’ll take more than tea to fix that woman.” He took a sip and winced. “Sides, I asked for tonight first—about twenty years ago.”

Wendy nodded. “Of course. I’ve been looking forward to it. Did you get Keith off to his game?”

Mitch leaned against the counter and rubbed his jaw. “Like a happy gladiator going into battle. Scary actually.” He peered down at his daughter’s pensive face. Reconstruction was well underway. “Who’s watching—?”

Wendy froze. “Oh, my gosh!”

Heaving himself into a chair, Mitch sighed. “And I don’t suppose you have anything ready for dinner?”

Wendy peered at the ceiling. “The part of my brain in charge of dinner remembered about going out. The rest of my brain forgot.” She rubbed her eyes. “What do you think—early dementia?”

“Well, I did notice that you put Patrick’s jeans in my drawer. Wasn’t till I got stuck somewhere around the knees that I figured it out.” Mitch pursed his lips. “How does that kid stay so dang thin? I pay enough for the meal plan.”

Wendy slumped into the chair opposite her husband. “He’s not coming home like he used to—preoccupied. I think it’s a girlfriend, or—”

“He’ll never make it through college.” Mitch rubbed his forehead. “I should’ve just had him take up a trade.”

Wendy shrugged. “He’s used to having his own way. Perhaps if he fails—”

“Fails with my money!” Mitch glanced at his watch and stood. “I’ll order pizza, and we’ll make it an easy night. Maybe watch a movie or something.”

Wendy’s heart sank as she offered a brave smile. After her husband clumped out of the room, she peered at her daughter. “Time to clean up, honey. Daddy’s going to—”

“Can’t I leave it here—please? It took me so long to fix—after you messed it up.” Gina’s large brown eyes implored with every fiber of her being.

“Well, okay. I guess—”

A large, heavy-set woman bundled into the kitchen. “Lord, where’s that tea? I’m about done-in.”

Wendy’s eyes flashed from her friend to the kitchen door.

“Mitch let me in the front. There’s a ton of mud in your driveway—it’s not safe.” Deirdre plunked down onto a kitchen chair and dropped her head onto her hands. “I can’t take it anymore. Life is pure hell these days.” She peered up at Wendy who stood frozen in the middle of the room. “I’m thinking of ending it all.”

A rumble scoured across the heavens.

Wendy strolled to the window and peered at the dark, threatening sky. She bit her lip and glanced at Deirdre. “I hate to tell you, but tonight’s Mitch’s and my anniversary and—”

Deirdre dragged her limp body off the chair and staggered to a standing position. “I tell you I want to kill myself, and you toss me aside. Sure—I understand. Loving hubby needs you. Priorities.” With a shaky hand, she patted Gina on the head.

Gina glowered.

Lightning flashed, lighting up the descending gloom.

Deirdre shrugged. “Sweet kid.” She started toward the kitchen door, her foot knocking part of the block castle across the floor.

Gina wailed.

Deirdre clasped the door handle and looked back at Wendy, her eyes half-lidded. “You got it all. Lucky woman.”

Mitch’s voice called from the living room. “Hey, honey, you want sausage, pepperoni, or meat-lovers?”

Rain pelted the window.

When the phone rang, Wendy wasn’t the least surprised. In an automatic motion, she pressed the receiver to her ear. “Yes?”

Patrick’s voice whined across two state lines. “Mom, I’m sick. Can you come get me?”

Wendy’s gaze swept from Deirdre—still gripping the door handle—to her sniffling, miserable daughter, to her husband’s frowning face peering through the doorway.

“Mom?”

Wendy didn’t hear anything break, but she felt a snapping deep within. Her gaze darted to a crucifix on the wall. Standing completely motionless, only her eyes widened.

She gripped the phone more tightly. “Patrick, the college has a clinic open twenty-four-seven. Go there and see if they can help. Then call back and let me know.” She pressed the end button.

With a nod, she waved goodbye to Deirdre and watched her friend harrumph her way out the door.

Turning her attention to the block-strewn floor, Wendy pointed at her daughter. “Pick it all up—now—and not a word, or you’ll go straight to bed.” Her gaze swung to her husband.

Mitch started to back away.

“Let’s try something new—the Hawaiian or Taco—surprise me.”

~~~

As ragged clouds drifted across a waxing moon, Mitch wound his arms around his wife in the privacy of their bedroom. He peered through the dim light and grinned. “What got into you this afternoon—I hardly knew you.” He chuckled. “Scared everyone—even me.”

Wendy slid her fingers down her husband’s bare, muscular arm, her eyes radiating a serious glow. “When I looked at the crucifix—I heard a voice inside my head.”

With a startled jerk, Mitch fixed his gaze on his wife. “What did it say?”

Wendy sucked in a deep breath and enunciated each word carefully. “‘I said meek—not weak.’”

Mitch loosened his hold over his wife and swallowed. “Am I in for it now?”

Wendy giggled, leaned forward, and kissed her husband. “My love is strong.”

Grinning, Mitch pulled his wife into a tight embrace. “Lord, have mercy.”

 

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 (In production)

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 Great Wall

Jian never liked heights, but as the head workman in charge of this section of the Great Wall, he ignored his personal inclinations. Duty ruled his will. He managed seventy slaves in turn. What they did with their wills was of little consequence—as long as they obeyed him, and he lived to see another day.

His gaze roved across the incoming bank of clouds. The wind sent his thin, dark clothes rippling like a banner on a high tower. He sniffed. The scent of rain permeated the air. Biting his lip, he marched along the outer edge of the western bank. A solid wall of earth rose in a sharp incline. Amazing what desperate men could do when enough pressure was applied.

His stomach rumbled as his gaze flickered back to the sky. The sun, obliterated by thick clouds, still offered enough light to see clearly. A fierce gust blasted across the valley nearly tottering the men on the top edge. As the strongest struggled for balance, an old man staggered and fell to his knees.

With a commanding frown, Jian marched over and stared the slave back onto his feet. The old man’s shaking limbs refused the order.

“What’s wrong with you, old one?”

A young man, thin to the point of emaciation with a mop of black hair, stepped forward, swiping a rag from his head and bowing from the waist. “He’s ill. He needs rest or the wind will carry him off.”

Jian rubbed his chin as his gaze swept from the watching assembly to the rising cloud. “A storm is coming. It’ll stop work—for a week maybe.”

The young man nodded. “When we start again, you will have all your workers. Or one less—maybe.”

A glinting smile acknowledged the clear logic. With a quick thrust, he jerked his hand in the air and barked his order. “Clear out before the storm.”

With haste and relieved chattering, the men gathered baskets and tools and began a straggled march to back to camp. The old man, assisted by the young man, began to limp down the incline.

Jian halted the assistant. “What is your name, audacious one?”

The young man froze; his gaze fixed on the ground. “Hung.”

The glint reincarnated into a challenge. “The name means courageous—are you?”

Hung slid a glance to the old man and released his grip. Another man stepped forward and took Hung’s place, helping the ancient along. The two hobbled away.

Jian’s searing gaze narrowed on Hung.

His head bowed, Hung remained calm, like a pond on a still night.

“Speak!”

Hung lifted his face a fraction. “My mother always said—it is not the name that makes the man but the man that makes the name.”

“Slaves are like insects—they live but a brief season.”

Raindrops splattered on Hung’s face, the driving wind hurling its fury against him.

“Insects have no names. And no will of their own.”

Jian crossed his muscled arm over his chest, ignoring the swirling tempest growing in his midst. “Slaves live to obey their masters.”

Hung’s shoulders hunched lower, his head dropped like a battering ram against the wind. His words, driven by the wind, raced like a message from one elemental force to another. “Who do masters obey?”

With a lifted hand, Jian took one enraged step. And slipped. The conquering wind carried him down the mud-slick incline.

Never raising his eyes, Hung plowed through the soaking rain, following the course he had traveled every day for years.

~~~

Rosella tapped her stylus against her lips. The Bhuaci classroom, empty now, except for a cooing pair of turtledoves that perched on the windowsill, echoed the faint sound of chattering children just released from a long day of Alien-Life Studies.

Rosella closed her eyes and laid the stylus on her datapad.

“Stealing a little peace and quiet?” The most handsome Bhuaci this side of the Divide sauntered into the room, twirled the teacher’s chair ninety degrees and leaned in, his gaze not ten centimeters from Rosella’s blinking eyes.

“Not stealing.” She leaned just out of reach. “Just thinking.” Her gaze roved over the male in front of her. “What do you want, Lutein? Here to say goodbye before you head off-world on another intriguing adventure?”

Lutein’s bright eyes dimmed as he slammed a fisted hand against his chest. “I’m staggered! Just stab me in the heart why don’t you?”

Rosella’s eyes widened in mock confusion. “I—stab your heart? I’d much rather cut it out—if I could find it. At least then, it might feed the wildlife and serve some noble purpose.”

Dropping his head to his chest, Lutein’s shoulders drooped in melancholy grief. “I just returned from an intriguing adventure. One I was going to share with you.” His gaze peeked up. “But now—”

With a weary shake of her head, Rosella nodded to the edge of the desk. “Be quick. I have to come up with a scintillating lesson tomorrow, or my students will revolt and feed me to the doves.” She flicked a finger at the cooing specimens of purity and innocence.

Perching on the desk, Lutein rubbed his jaw. “Your mind has taken a dark turn since I left. Now let me see if I can brighten your spirits. Later, I’ll feed you something besides my heart.” He grinned. “Maybe.”

Rosella’s face remained impassive, her hands clasped.

“You see, I observed the newest find—the ones Song calls humans. I toured a beautiful green land where the inhabitants build an enormous wall—to keep invaders out.”

Rosella’s chin jutted forward. “There are many walls, Lutein. Everyone has one.”

“Ay! That’s just what I discovered. You see; I saw another wall, but this one was inside a man, a wall that poverty and injustice could not climb over or break down.”

Rosella’s leaned closer, her eyes widening. “You saw—”

“A wall built—of a man’s will. A wall like none other.”

Rosella stood and stepped near, peering deep into Lutein’s eyes. “Are you the same Bhuaci that left me crying on the beach?”

Lutein stood and bowed his head; his hands hung limply at his side. “I am—and I am not.”

Rosella turned away, covering her face with her hands. “That’s no answer.”

Lutein lifted his head. “You’re right not to trust me. But—” He strode over to the wall map and pointed to a distant star cluster. “I’ve learned that a man who holds his head too high is likely to fall off his feet.”

A sneer curled around Rosella’s lips. “Your head has ever been held high, Lutein. It is one of your greatest charms. And most deceiving lies.”

“So, I have learned.” Grasping Rosella’s hand, he led her back to her chair. “The man with the unbreakable wall kept on his feet by bowing his head.”

“Can you learn to bow your head, Lutein?”

Peering at the star cluster, Lutein’s gaze roamed over a vast distance. “The man with the unbreakable will loved an old man—” He swiveled around and stared at the schoolteacher. “If the will obeys the heart—it holds true—even when it is bowed.”

A smile—like the morning sun—broke over Rosella’s face.

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 (In production)

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

Don’t Miss a Day

Kenny stared down at his sleeping grandson. His hand trembled as he pulled the cover over the boy’s thin shoulders. “You’ll be alright. It’s not a reflection on you. Not about you at all.” Slowly, he leaned over, and his arm shook as his weight descended. He bent low and kissed the child on the cheek. “Bye, my boy. We’ll meet again someday.”

Shuffling into the kitchen, Kenny snapped on a light and a yellow glow brightened a country décor with wood cabinets, hanging herbs, and matching blue and green striped towels. He pulled open the refrigerator door and rummaged about, looking for possibilities.

“Your appetite back, Dad?” A tall man with a swath of black hair—a younger version of his father—stepped to the counter and plopped down on a stool. He rested his head on his hands, his eyes red and strained, pain peeking up from their depths.

“It never left—my stomach just got bewildered for a bit.” Tucking a beer under his arm, Kenny balanced a plate of cold chicken in one hand and squeezed a bag of biscuits in the other. After arranging the food on a napkin, he settled down on a stool across from his son. “Want some?”

The younger man waved the offer away. “So—you sure you want to go through with it?”

Kenny bit into a fried chicken leg and chewed, his gaze roaming the room and stopping on a bright orange clock in the shape of an oversized chicken head. “I remember when your mother gave you that. Cindy hated it—don’t deny it. I told Evelyn that such a monstrosity would only perpetuate the evil mother-in-law myth, but—well—you know your mother.”

A flickering light flared to life as the young man grinned at his dad. “Cindy loves it. A conversation piece that never fails. Gains sympathy ever time.”

Kenny chuckled as he wiped his scraggly chin. A two-day-old beard scratched noisily against the paper leaving white specks on his face. He took a long swig of his beer and shoved the chicken aside. “I’m not going through with anything. That’s kinda the point. I’m letting nature take its course. What will be—will be.” Picking up the biscuit, Kenny waved it absently. “Let it go, Tom. Just let it go.”

Tom’s leg began to bounce as he tapped his fingers together. “Listen, if you won’t take the treatment—at least stick around here awhile. I can help you—”

Slapping his hand on the counter, Kenny snapped. “No! Don’t you see? It wouldn’t work. I’ll fall apart just the same. Slow or fast. What’s the difference? It’s not just about you, my boy.” Raising his shaking hand, he pointed to the doorway leading to his grandson’s room. “Remember Davy? I don’t want his last memory of me being a filthy, decrepit old man hooked up to tubes and wires.” His eyes filled with tears. “Or you either—for that matter.” He shoveled his food onto the napkin and wrapped it into a tight ball. He shoved it toward his son. “I’ll eat later.” Easing off his stool, he headed for the door. “God to take me soon. I’ll not step one foot in His way.”

Tom’s head dropped to his chest, his eyes squeezed tight.

~~~

A bright morning sun sent brilliant dust-speckled beams through the kitchen, revealing a different side to her nature. Cindy waved to her little boy through the window as he boarded a yellow school bus.

He waved back, his mittened hand a smidgen of red on the snow-covered road.

Cindy turned and slid a bowl of hot oatmeal across the counter.

With quick steps, Tom hurried into the room slipping his arms into a heavy winter coat. “Why didn’t you wake me earlier? I’ve got to meet the guys and then—”

Cindy waved her husband toward the door. You’ve got plenty of time. George will have donuts and that horrible fake juice waiting—don’t you worry. It’s what he lives for.”

After a swift peck on his wife’s the cheek, Tom headed out the door.

Cindy shook her head. “Men.”

Tom poked head back through the open doorway. “You’ll keep an eye on Dad? He’ll have to be ready to go by one.”

With a nod, Cindy ushered her husband on his way.

Kenny lumbered into the room and plunked down on the stool. He peered from the hot cereal to Cindy.

After slinging a towel over her shoulder, she grabbed a jar of brown sugar and slid it in his direction.

“Tom off?”

Cindy nodded and started folding yesterday’s laundry. She peered up and watched Kenny slurp his cereal in cautious sips. “You know, Davy will be crushed when he finds you’ve gone.”

Kenny’s fingers clenched around the spoon. He laid it down and stared his daughter-in-law into oblivion. “I got to do what I got to do. Davy don’t need to see me all ragged and—”

Her chin jutting a mile from her face, Cindy gripped the back of a chair. “Yes. He. Does.” She pounded across the room and stood up to the old man, peering into his watery blue eyes. “Listen to me you ragged, wreck of a man. That boy loves you not one bit less for being rough around the edges. And your son is crushed under by your doubt.”

“I don’t doubt him. I just want to spare—”

Cindy sucked in a shuddering breath. “Long past that, Kenny.” She straightened her shoulders. “Listen to me. You’re on the brink of stepping off a cliff. I get that. You’re facing the end of your journey here, and you have the right to decide your treatment—or non-treatment. But you don’t have the right to tell your family to act as if nothing bad is happening—as if this isn’t tearing our hearts out. Because. It is. Ragged or no ragged.” Snatching up the towel, Cindy ran it along her eyes, wiping away tears.

Kenny stared into the air. “I just can’t bear it. It’s bad enough that Evelyn has to stand by and watch. How can I handle an audience?” Kenny laid his head in his clasped hands; his elbows perched on the counter. “God, I just wish it were over.”

Cindy stepped over and wrapped her arms around Kenny’s thin shoulder. She laid her head on his shoulder. “What did Evelyn say when you told her you wouldn’t stay?”

“Called me a coward—but I had that right. Said I could slip into the dark night anyway I want.” Kenny laid one hand on Cindy’s and let his head rest against hers. “That’s how much she loves me. She’ll let me go in peace.”

Cindy straightened up and stepped away. She pointed to the clock on the wall. “You know, at first I hated that thing. But after a while, I didn’t see the ugliness—I just saw the love that Evelyn intended.” She returned to her laundry. “Life is full of ugly. Davy already learned that when my brother, Uncle Ben died. Car accidents are ugly—let me tell you.” Laying a pair of worn jeans aside, she peered over at Kenny. “If you can’t face ugly in this world, you’ll never get to see the beauty beyond it.”

Kenny peered across the room, his gaze resting on the stack of jeans.

“Don’t let Davy miss a day—even if it’s got some ugly in it.”

~~~

A spring breeze blew across the graveyard, sending a shower of white, cherry blossoms wafting through the air.

A nine-year-old boy in a pair of jeans and a plaid shirt stood in front of a shiny monument standing guard over of a fresh mound of earth. He tilted his head to one side.

Tom ambled up and laid his arm on his son’s shoulder. “It’s time to go. You have your chat?”

Davy turned and took his father’s hand. “Yeah. I told him that I like his monument. I think he’ll like it too.”

A quizzical smile quivered on Tom’s lips. “Any reason in particular?”

Davy swung around and started home. “Well, you know. It’s so clean and handsome—like grandpa.”

 

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 (In production)

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

You Don’t Look Dead To Me

Jack marched over the threshold, slammed the front door with a backward kick, and slapped his phone on the counter. With a groan, he fell onto the couch and buried his face in his hands. Stupid manager! Idiot clerk. How was I supposed to know the kid was lying? Three grand—gone—on my watch. Blast!

Rolling onto the couch, Jack stared at the ceiling and considered his existence. What’s the point? I’ve tried so hard. No breaks. There’s always someone ready to mess with your mind—or break your heart. The picture of his ex-wife embracing his best friend floated before his eyes. He squeezed his eyes shut.

A revolving red siren blared by his window and drowned in the distant cityscape. With a strangled cry, he sat up, his eyes darting around the room like a trapped animal. “I’ve got to get out of here.” He started forward. A magazine caught on his sleeve and flipped to the floor, exposing a full-page, glossy ad. Frowning, Jack retrieved the magazine and stared wide-eyed at his salvation.

Two days later, Jack squatted before a modest fire in an immodestly large national forest. His chin sported a rough beard, and his wrinkled shirt, torn pants, and mud-smeared boots proclaimed their freedom from the usual constraints of formal living. He bit his lip, his red eyes peering intently at the stripped twig bearing his dinner, which he balanced over the flickering flames. Three blackened cinders and an open package of surviving hot dogs bore testimony to his recent culinary adventures.

After achieving the perfect level of brown with only a hint of carbon coating, Jack pulled a white bun out of his portable kitchen sack and sat cross-legged for the first meal of the day. It took three more such examples to settle his stomach into a mere grumble. He rummaged through his bag, grabbed a bag of corn chips, and then snapped open a beer. With a satisfied sigh, he plunked down on the picnic bench in front of his one-man tent and smiled.

A pink and orange sunset melted into the horizon across the lake. “God, this place is beautiful.” He rubbed his chin. “I may never go back. Why should I?” The food, the beer, and assorted mental strains whispered together in conspiratorial tones. Before Jack knew what hit him, he fell into a deep sleep before his dying fire.

The next morning after a quick swim in the lake, a change of clothes, and three granola bars, he rummaged through the glove compartment of his car and found his jackknife. Scuffling through many years’ accumulations of dead leaves, Jack found a small branch with a quirky knot. He snapped off a section, perched himself on his bench, and commenced to whittling.

The sun sailed over the sky. Jack peered at his food bag. Just as he reached for the trail mix, he paused at the sound of angry voices.

A man and a woman clumped down the trail, their hands flailing and their tempers flaring. Jack retreated to his bench and his half-carved bird.

“It’s your fault! You’re the one who said that it’d only take an hour. Now we’ll be late, and Mom will complain, and Dad will hate you!”

“Your dad already hates me. Being late hardly changes—”

The two pair of eyes fastened on Jack. The woman blushed as she came to a complete stop. “Oh, sorry. Didn’t know we were trespassing. Kinda got lost.” She squeezed her mate’s arm like a lifeline.

Jack stood and shrugged. “No problem. The road’s about half a mile that-a-way.” He jerked his thumb to the right.

The man stepped forward, one hand extended. “Thanks. Name’s Jansen—this is Colleen. We’re getting married next week.”

Jack swallowed.

Colleen’s eyes rounded into glowing orbs as she focused on the food sack. “You have any water by chance? I’m nearly dead. Jan forgot to pack the water bottles and then led me on this forsaken adventure—”

“Hey! Not fair. Who forgot to bring the snacks—huh? You—”

Shaking his head, Jack retreated to his car, pulled two water bottles from the back seat and then snatched a couple candy bars from his food bag. He tossed them over. “Here. You’ll live long enough to get married, okay?” His eyes shifted to the right.

Jansen nodded appreciatively and tugged Colleen aside. “Thanks! You’re a lifesaver.” He checked his watch. “We’ll still make it if we hurry. Come on.”

Jack watched the couple bounce down the road, gulping water and tearing into the snack food. Just as he settled back to his bench, he heard a squawk. A blue jay hobbled into view, a bright orange twine wrapped tight around his leg.

Five minutes, three pecks, and innumerable protesting squawks later, the bird flew free into a nearby pine tree.

Shading his eyes from the sun’s glare, Jack considered the angry bird. “You might try a little gratitude, you—”

A chuckle turned Jack to the left. The oldest man in creation ambled toward him. “Oh, they’ve no sense of gratitude. Not a blue jay. They like to complain. No matter what happens, they gotta squawk about it. It’s their nature, you know, like some people—bitter to the very end.”

Jack cleared his throat, his eyes shifted to his limp food bag. “You need something?”

The old man settled on the edge of Jack’s bench. “Naw. Just a second to catch my breath. This used to be my spot. I’d come up here to get away from things and consider my next steps.” His aged, lined face wrinkled into a wreath of smiles.

Heaving a deep breath, Jack plunked down on the other side of the bench, his hands resting on the knife and the half-carved figure. “I wish I could. No next steps for me. Just retreat.”

The old man surveyed the sky. “Yep. I done that too. It’s a good move—while it lasts. But you can’t retreat forever. You got to keep moving or lay down and die.” With a tilt of his head, his gaze swiveled over to Jack. “You don’t look dead to me.”

Tears filled Jack’s eyes. Snatching up the knife and figure, he set to work.

As he rubbed his beardless chin, the old man surveyed the distant hills. “It was a nice thing you done—helping out that lost couple and freeing that ornery bird. That’s how it often works out. Can’t help yourself, but you can help someone. Makes life worth living.”

Jack’s hands froze. He tried to blink away his blurry vision.

The old man stood and stretched. “Well, this isn’t my place anymore. I gotta move on, too. But stay and enjoy—till you’re ready. You can always come back.”

When Jack dared to look up, a breeze rustled the leaves of the trees and rumpled his hair. No old man. No couple. Even the bird was gone. His stomach growled. His eyes flickered from the depleted food bag to the remains of last night’s charred feast.

He picked up the knife and the wooden figure and stared into the horizon.

Four hours later, Jack steered his car down the road. A roughly carved bird sat perched on the dashboard, its gaze pointed straight ahead.

~~~

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 Minehttp://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

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