For the First Time

Zuri stomped forward, Melchior’s house silhouetted against the late afternoon sunlight behind, and grabbed the Cresta by his bio-suit. “Where is she?”

A line of sweat dripping from the side of his face, his golden eyes red-rimmed, and his suit smeared with road dirt, Tarragon reared back. “Don’t handle me!”

Abashed at his impetuous move, Zuri clamped down his anger, dropped his hands, and tried to form coherent words. “Where is my daughter?”

Brushing imaginary dirt off his front, Tarragon shrugged. “How should I know? She was playing servant girl with Sterling and that Luxonian boy last I saw.”

A group of men tromped out of Melchior’s front door and pounded down the steps. In boisterous conversation, they headed toward the stables.

Zuri motioned Tarragon around the far side of a shed. The scent of dried hay drifted into his nose, making him sneeze. He clapped his hand over his face, muffling the sound.

Tarragon snorted. “And you complain about my native sensitivity? At least I can control my bodily functions.”

Wiping his face with his arm, Zuri glared at the rotund Cresta. “So, she was all right when you saw her?”

“She was fine.”

“I don’t understand. She hasn’t answered one of my messages.”

With an elegant eye-roll, Tarragon started toward Selby’s old shed. “We can discuss matters in there. Knowing how superstitious these people are, they probably won’t use it again for a long time.”

Striding at the Cresta’s side, Zuri paced along, his anxiety settling into mild concern. “They’re going to burn it down tomorrow.”

Tarragon ducked his head as he entered the front doorway. “We have it for tonight then.” He stretched and sighed, staring longingly at the bed. “I have endured much to find you.”

Alert again, Zuri kept his gaze fixed on the Cresta. “What?” Alarm spread through him. “You said that Nova was fine!”

“She is.” Tarragon flopped down on the rickety bed. “But Mauve will never be the same.”

“Mauve? I thought she was at the Widow’s place.”

“She was. Until she got a little too inquisitive and discovered the Mystery aliens playing fools in front of everyone.”

“She found them?”

“And they, or he—the younger one—found her annoying. She was rather. But still. He took justice a tad far, me thinks.”

His heart pounding, Zuri stepped further into the dim interior, wishing he still had night vision. “Where is Mauve now?”

“Shattered to pieces on the rocky coast. Not a chance she can be put together again. I checked.”

Caught off guard by the violent image, Zuri fell back and sat down hard on a stool. “She’s dead, then?”

“Even a Luxonian couldn’t fix her. After an embarrassing incident, she planned to take revenge, so I followed and watched her saunter up to the Mystery-boy on the edge of the cliff. They chatted a few moments, but even from that distance, I could see; he wasn’t the fool she was. Poof! She was turned to a statue, and he nudged her over the cliff. People say Crestonians are cold! This was positively artic.”

“Oh, God, what about Sterling?” Blood rushing to his ears, a faint dizziness swirled the room. “If they are that dangerous, we need to get off the planet. We must get the children!”

“Calm yourself, Ingot. I don’t believe that the Mystery being meant any harm. He simply wanted to remove Mauve’s annoying presence. She planned to kidnap him; you know. Maybe he was just protecting himself. In any case, they haven’t injured anyone since we’ve been here, but they could have long ago. And they did try to warn her; she just wouldn’t listen.”

Exhausted but more determined than ever, Zuri pulled out his datapad and tapped it to life. “Start from the beginning, from when your first met Mauve, and tell me what happened. As soon as we have this on record, we’re heading to the widow’s castle to get Sterling and the kids.”

Tarragon waved a tentacle in the air. “I’ll make the report, don’t worry. But we’re not going anywhere. Everyone is heading here. All we have to do is wait for the family reunion.”

~~~

Teal braced himself as Kelesta sat on the edge of his bed and scooped strawberry ice cream from the bowl. She held the spoon invitingly before his face.

Teal waved it away. “I’m not hungry.”

“You need to eat.”

“No, I don’t.”

“All right, you don’t, but it would be good for you, anyway. You’re not going to get over your depression until you start inviting cheer into your life. And there is nothing more cheerful than strawberry ice cream.”

Teal stared at her.

Kelesta laid the bowl aside and rose. She stepped to the window and lifted the white curtain aside, peering into the distance.

The sound of surf rolling on shore repeated in rhythmic rounds as two birds flew across the sky.

Teal tossed back the sheet covering his body and then, as embarrassment flooded him, shrank back. “Where are my clothes?”

Kelesta padded to a shelf, pulled rolled up pants and a shirt in to her arms and carried them to the bed. She placed them next to him and strolled back to the window.

Discombobulated by his unaccustomed blushing reaction, Teal unrolled the baggy cotton pants and tugged them on. Then he pulled the matching cream-colored shirt over his head. With a deep breath, he steadied himself and paced to at the window. “Thank you.” He glanced aside, startled at the somber look in her eyes. “For everything.” He shrugged. “I’m not a very good patient, I’m afraid. Not used to being taken care of.”

“You’re a parent. Being helpless isn’t comfortable.”

Teal pressed her arm. “Nova will be all right. Zuri knows what he’s doing.”

Kelesta shook her head. “We’re past our time—Nova will have to take care of herself soon.”

Teal swung aside, facing her more directly. “What does that mean? You have countless ages ahead of you.”

Kelesta gripped the window frame, the breeze blowing tendrils of hair off her face. “There is a price for everything. Zuri refused his neural transplants, all the attachments, for too long to turn back. I took on human form to have a child—and it has cost much.”

Tears stung Teal’s eyes. “But Song, surely she can help you—like she helped me.”

Her lips wavering, Kelesta met his gaze. “Song revived you. She can’t cure you.”

Taking his hand she led the way to the door, the rolling ocean waves, and bright sunshine.

Teal let himself be drawn along and understood, for the first time, what death really meant.

~~~

Omega picked up a slimy piece of broken clay from the foamy sea waves and stared at it. A strong wind blew over him, tossing his hair into his eyes. He picked up another piece and placed their jagged edges side by side. They didn’t fit together at all.

On impulse, he waved and a cloth bag suddenly hung limp in his hand. With a swift motion, the clay fragments floated out of the water and he opened the mouth of the bag, scooping in pieces, like a net capturing fish from the sea.

Once the bag was full, he splashed ashore and dashed up the trail.

In a quiet corner of the courtyard, he spread the broken pieces in the sun and laid them flat. He chewed his lip, perplexed. What to do next? He had never had to do anything like this before, and he wasn’t sure how to start.

“What you’ve got there?” A burly soldier tromped forward and stared over Omega’s crouched figure. “Oh, you broke something, eh?” He whistled low. “No putting that back together son. It’s ruined, see.”

He patted Omega’s shoulder. “Best to man up and face the wrath of the owner than try to hide the mess out here. She’ll figure it out eventually.”

Further disorientated but hopeful for some direction, Omega shielded his eyes from the glare of the sun and squinted at the older man. “How do you know I can’t put her back together?”

A snort and a chuckle accompanied the man’s grin. “It’s clay, young fool. Clay dissolves in the water—salt water most assuredly. I’ve never been so partial to a vessel that I called it a she, but my captain and I loved our ship; she was a beauty in our eyes.”

With a shake of his head, Omega rose to his feet.

Abbas marched across the hard ground with a stern look in his eye.

“My father is coming; I best meet him.” He scattered the clay pieces.

The soldier turned and faced the white-haired man coming his way. His face crunched in concentration. “Ah, you be the fool that entertained us. I only got to see you once—duty calls at unfortunate moments.” He smiled as Abbas stopped before him. “Good evening.”

Abbas offered a quick nod of acknowledgement and then stared at his son. “Where have you been?”

The soldier lifted his hand like a benevolent referee. “Don’t be too hard on him. Been trying this long while to put the thing back together, but it’s a lost cause; he knows now. So, he’ll pay restitution and be done with the fear and guilt of it.”

With an obvious swallow, Abbas choked out his question. “What did you break, son?”

“Mauve.”

His jaw clenched; Abbas gripped Omega’s arm as he nodded a polite good-bye to the warrior.

Omega trotted at his father’s side across the battered earth. “Where are we going?”

“To join the others—and away from here.”

“You don’t mind about Mauve? She was being annoying.”

Abbas dragged his son into the shelter of a dark corner and shook him by the shoulders. “You have no idea what you’ve done!”

Grieved by his father’s fury, Omega whined, “But I tried to put her back together.”

“If you thought putting her together was hard, you have no idea what you’ve just shattered. Our whole existence is based on absolute secrecy. You can be sure now, that not only are we known, we are hated.”

As if he had just tasted something very bad, Omega wrinkled his nose. Hated? What did that even mean?

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/sunset-beach-sea-shore-seashore-2205553/

Smashed to Pieces

OldEarth Melchior Encounter Excerpt

Tarragon, sitting on a wide bench before the ship’s hatch door, bent low and tugged a new boot onto his three toed foot. He grunted with the exertion, but as it finally wiggled into place, he grinned with satisfaction. “There now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” He lifted his foot and eyed it carefully. “A little snug, but I can—”

A sudden blur rushing past his face followed by a thud shook him to the core. He yelped, “Sheesha!” Then he looked down at the body lying at his feet. A scantily clad woman. He frowned. “I know you.”

Groaning, the woman rubbed her face and opened her eyes. Amid exclamations of pain and irritation, she struggled to sit up. “You wouldn’t be interested in helping me to my feet, Cresta?”

As if to wake himself out of a dream, Tarragon shivered and thrust out a tentacle. “Mauve?” He peered at the ceiling. No hole. He glanced around. The bay door remained closed. “How did you get here? Any why didn’t you use the door, like everyone else?”

Climbing to her feet, Mauve’s eyes widened as her gaze traveled along her nearly bare body. Only a lightweight, shimmering tunic covered her body from shoulders to calves. “That blinking Mystery—What happened to my clothes!”

Tarragon recognized that he was not being asked a question so he declined any attempt to answer. Instead, he lifted his second boot and shook it in her direction. “Since you are here, I’d appreciate your help.”

Mauve slapped her forehead. “I fall into your ship, literally, and all you can think about is your boots?”

With a shrug Tarragon made his priorities clear. “The sooner I get this on, the sooner I can help you solve your mystery.”

Mauve swept her hand over herself and instantly appeared in a long red dress with wide sleeves, purple slippers, and a black belt. Her hair, arranged on the top of her head in a series of ornate braids, glistened in the garish light. She glared down at him, marring the perfect symmetry of her face. “I found him already. Who do you think did this?”

With a disgusted harumph, Tarragon tugged on the second boot. It slid into place, and he stood, testing his balance. Once secure, he pointed to the door. “Shall we? These beings not only have power, but a sense of humor as well.”

The bay door opened, sending light rays into the ship.

Mauve scowled. “If you think this was funny, I can find ways to tickle your insides.”

Alarmed, Tarragon stepped outside and lifted all four tentacles in an attitude of surrender. “I see where you might be annoyed, but still, you must admit, it was clever. He could’ve killed you. Instead, he merely humbled you.”

Mauve scampered down the incline and pounded across the wet sand to the mouth of the cave. She stared at the ripples of an incoming current. “He’ll have to try a lot harder than that!”

Tarragon plodded up beside her, his tentacles wrapped behind his back.

“They acted like a father and son. The boy is a fool. The father only plays one. I’d like to know a whole lot more. They could be useful.”

The sunlight sparkled over the water, glorious to Tarragon’s eyes. “I doubt you can bargain with them.”

With a thoughtful look, Mauve replaced her dainty slippers with tall boots and plodded forward. “I’ll kidnap the son. That’ll show oh-so-powerful-one who he’s playing with. The fool probably thinks that I’m as weak as a human, stupid as an Ingot, or as single-minded as a Cresta. He has a lot to learn.” She slogged toward the shoreline. “Hurry up if you want to watch me take the Mystery Being down a peg or two.”

Slapping a tentacle across his face, amazement shivered over Tarragon. He watched her scrabble up the beach and stomp in the direction of the Widow’s castle. Of course, I can always offer my services to the winner. Perhaps there could be an exchange—once I save his son…

~~~

Sterling stood beside Nova in a shadowed corner of the Widow’s great hall and watched the spectacle, entranced by the crowd’s childlike joy yet disgusted by their easy manipulation.

Abbas stood before the great fireplace and juggled three plates before a breathless crowd. To their amazement, he added a fourth plate. He grinned at Cerulean who, in common peasant garb, stood beside the high table. “Toss me that golden vessel!”

Hesitant, Cerulean glanced away from the Mistress’ gorgeous place setting and grasped a clay mug instead.

Scowling, Nova shoved past him, plucked the golden goblet off the table, and tossed it into the whirling mix.

Without missing a beat, Abbas caught it and juggled all four objects faster than ever.

The watching throng roared approval.

Sterling stepped behind Cerulean and gripped his shoulder. He spoke in an undertone. “Now toss in the mug.”

Cerulean threw in a perfect arc, and the mug whirled beautifully before smacking into the goblet, breaking the spinning cycle. The plates and mugs fell to the floor, smashing into uncountable splinters. The goblet rolled to the wall and stopped.

Abbas locked eyes on Sterling who grinned in return.

A disgruntled woman aired her disappointment, “Good plates ruined. For what, I ask?”

Quickly pulling a colored scarf from his sleeve, Abbas then ceremoniously flung it over the mess. He grabbed a tray off the table, scraped the mess on, held it aloft, and chanted, “Heza, hiza, meza, miza! Be renewed!”

He snapped the scarf away, and all four plates and the clay mug all appeared in perfect shape on the tray.”

Loud exclamations met his astonishing feat.

Smiling, Abbas placed the tray on the table. “The hand is quicker than the eye. You didn’t see what you thought you saw!”

He then bowed backward out the front door into the cool evening air.

Sterling followed with Cerulean and Nova trailing along behind.

Once well away from the well-lit hall and stepping into the long shadow of the curtain wall, Abbas turned and waved his followers along. He snuck inside the doorway of a flanking tower and climbed the steep steps at a faster rate than his apparent age suggested possible.

Anxiety tightening his chest, Sterling’s skin chilled in the evening air. How human. He lifted his hand, halting Cerulean and Nova in their tracks. “Stay here. I’ll be right back.”

Nova challenged, “But what if you’re not?”

“Then Cerulean is in charge. Now be a good changeling and obey a direct order from your superior.”

Her hands clenched, Nova stomped forward.

Cerulean gripped her arm, shaking his head.

Relieved, Sterling raced up the steps after the only person who had ever made him feel afraid.

~~~

Omega meandered along the edge of the cliff well aware that the Luxonian woman trailed twenty feet behind him. He had a lot on his mind. His father seemed easily annoyed of late, and that puzzled him. His father adored him. As did his mother. He was a perfect son. How could he not be? Yet, this evening, his father had told him to “go away” for a bit. What did “go away” even mean?

“Hey, you! Boy! Wait a moment. I need to talk to you.”

A strange sensation filled Omega. The sun had set and an evening glow still shown over the water’s edge, yet darkness filled him. He turned around and faced the nasally high voice.

Mauve trotted forward, heaving gulps of air. “Stay put a moment. I had to lose that stupid Cresta to have a private word with you.”

Omega peered over her shoulder. There, in the far distance, the Cresta plodded along, stumbling like a newly-hatched bird. “What’s he done that you should leave him behind?”

Mauve stopped before him, a fierce scowl marring her otherwise pretty face. “He’s nothing. Don’t bother about him.” She repositioned her face and attempted an ingratiating smile. “I’ve got a proposition for you—if you’d just allow me—”

“You’re the one who plays with the men?”

Mauve snorted, a grin replacing her smile. “I play with them as likes to play.” She shrugged. “Makes life meaningful—to experience everything while I’m here.” She sauntered closer, her hips swaying invitingly.

Omega stepped to the very edge of the cliff.

Her eyes glinted as she slid her hand along his chest.

Repulsed, Omega said the first thing that came to mind. “Father says you’re a leech.”

Her face contorting, Mauve lifted her hand. “I was going to be nice but—”

Suddenly Mauve’s body recomposed from flesh into clay, her face frozen in rage.

Heaving a long sigh, Omega appraised the life-like sculpture and patted the stiff cheek. Then nudged the composition over the cliff.

As waves crashed ashore, the clay figure whirled downward, then smashed to pieces on the wet rocks below.

Omega leaned over the edge. He clapped dust off his hands and turned away.

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/cliffs-ocean-waves-sea-water-5547648/

Everyone Has Questions

Excerpt from OldEarth Melchior Encounter

Tarragon plodded across the wet sand, enjoying the scent of salt water infiltrating his breather helm. The sun, still white, but dropping low in the sky, lit the cave entrance, turning the black stone into shiny pillars.

His ship was situated far enough back to be out of sight but not too far for his exhausted legs and aching feet. He shuffled forward.

The rhythmic sound of the seashore mellowed his soul, rolling the irritations of the day off his heavily burdened shoulders. Why I thought that there’d be anything of interest here is beyond reason. I must’ve been out of my mind.

With a verbal command, the ship’s bay door opened, spreading a sheet of yellow light at his feet.

He plodded onto the incline and let it lift him inside.

Ah, glorious. Home at last.

After a refreshing swim in the pool, he changed into a clean bio-suit, poured an extra-large Nutrient Green into his breathing helm, and plopped down on the plush sofa arranged before his favorite console.

He draped two tentacles—one right, one left—setting the ship’s system into active mode, and regulating the spy alarms on high alert. He hardly wanted a surprise visit from the Mystery Race.

He wrapped his two most used, thus most stretched and weary, tentacles on the top of his head for a much-needed rest. A snug fit, they probably appeared like a fleshy crown. But appearances never concerned him, so he concentrated on his active tenacles, dexterously tapping the console, scrolling through significant data.

The Ingot race hardly interested him normally, but the female, Nova, had caught his attention. Her bestial attitude—contradicting her betters and challenging authority—dropped her beneath his notice at first. But then, in a sarcastic exchange while on the road, Sterling related her history to Mauve, whereby the ridiculous Luxonian female took the child’s part in everything.

Blowing bubbles at the memory, indignation rose fresh in his mind. Mauve should not exist. She was completely useless! Sterling was only worthwhile as a figurehead. Clearly, Teal stood as the real force behind their Inter-Alien Committee. But as his health waned, so the young Luxonian, Cerulean waxed. That should prove interesting.

He shook his head. He must know more about the mixed-being—the Ingot-Bhuaci. How was her existence even possible?

He scrolled through reports, medical journals, and even a couple of dramatic fiction tales before he found what he was looking for: the marriage certificate. Yes, the two had been allowed to marry on the basis of her being able to maintain her humanoid form nearly indefinitely and his complete rejection of all techno-armor.

Tarragon rubbed two of his tentacles together. He really must speak to someone about all of this. Yet who to trust?

Leaning back on his chair, Tarragon closed his eyes and remembered his mother’s oft repeated dictum: “Trust a fool, if you’re going to trust anyone. That way, you know what you’re getting.”

Slapping his chair into the upright position, he swiped the datapad on his chest.

A holographic image of Mauve appeared before his eyes.

She scowled. “What’re you doing? It’s late, and I’m hot on the heels of the mystery race.” She glanced over her shoulder. “There’s an important meeting, a trial of sorts, planned here, in the main hall. I’m going to use my alluring skills on Mystery Man and Son. Though they’re not really—”

Startled, Tarragon’s disbelief spread as a snarl over his face. He could feel it, and he didn’t care. “You found them?”

“Yes, I did!” The boastful triumph in her voice did nothing to soften the covetous gleam in her eye. “The older one plays a minstrel-fool. I believe he has his son with him—also a fool.” She shrugged. “Hidden in plain sight.”

Instantly, Tarragon felt his brain sizzle with daring thoughts. He put on his most innocuous expression. “I’d hate to upset Sterling since I know how much he values you. Stay safe and return to my ship.” He dangled a temptation that he knew perfectly well would repulse her no end. “We can enjoy some Crestonian cuisine.”

The disgust that rippled over Mauve’s face tickled Tarragon to the core.

“I’m going to become this mysterious alien’s new best friend and find out why he’s here.”

“Can you do that?” He lifted his voice to a perfect balance of challenge and disbelief.

“Watch me!”

“I will, most certainly. But, if you happen to get into trouble, offer up the mixed-breed. I’m sure even the Mystery Race has never seen the like. You might be able to make a deal, and we’ll all profit from the exchange.” He smiled, showing his ruddy gums, but that couldn’t be helped.

Mauve laughed. “I like the way you think!”

Voices rose behind her, and bright patches of clothing swirled in the background.

“I must go. But don’t think for a moment that I’d risk that girl’s life. She’s as dear to me as—”

The screen went blank.

Tarragon blinked. Had she exited? Or did someone— He shrugged. He checked his monitor. It faithfully reported Mauve’s exact location up until the moment the screen blanked. He knew where to look—the kitchen in the Widow’s castle on the hill.

He sighed. “Though, I’ll definitely have to get new boots.”

~~~

Abbas didn’t like to do it, but there was no way he could allow her to continue her transmission.

Mauve fell to the floor in a heap in the dim corner of the main hall.

Omega ran ahead and nudged her still form with his foot. “Is she dead?”

Abbas shook his head. “I never extinguish a life unless there is no other alternative.”

His brow furrowed; Omega stared at his father. “Why not?”

A shiver ran through Abbas. Did he really have to explain? He didn’t remember anyone explaining the precept of the sacredness of life to him, but then, maybe he had learned it from his parents’ example. “Life is sacred. We live by that understanding. Or we die by its absence.”

Straightening, Omega nodded slowly and glanced around.

Exasperated by this new complication, Abbas waved at the prone figure.

Mauve disappeared.

A kitchen maid sauntered through, spied their presence and stopped. A hesitant smile quivered on her lips.

Meeting her gaze, Abbas clapped Omega on the shoulder. “We’re lost. Can you tell us where to settle for the night? With all the awful commotion, we don’t want to get in the way.”

The child skittered forward, her shoulders hunched, her eyes searching the empty room. “Oh, be that the truth. Awful it’s been. The poor widda. Never imagined such goings on, her being so good and faithful. And her best servant too!” Tears filled the girl’s eyes. “Wicked men. I hate ‘em all.”

Omega grinned, his face flowering with the thrill of excitement. “Are all men wicked?”

The child gasped. “Oh, not so! There’s a woman around about that’s wickeder than the devil himself, I’d say. Drawing men like bees to honey. Only so she—”

A voice called from the kitchen doorway. “Edda!”

Flushing, the child curtsied and ran off without another word.

Omega nudged his father. “So, where is she?”

“I put here where she could do the least amount of harm.”

Omega waited.

“On the Cresta ship.”

“But they’ll wonder how she got there.”

Abbas pressed his son’s shoulder. “No matter. Everyone has questions. It’s finding the answers to the ones that interest us that really matter.”

“I’d like to have seen her face, though. That would’ve been fun.”

Laughing and chattering, men stomped into the room, followed by servants carrying platters of bread and meat.

Abbas jumped onto the low dais and shoved the remark from his mind as he faced the incoming assembly. It was time to play the fool. He only hoped that his son would play his part as well.

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/landscape-cave-sea-night-blue-4576897/

Betrayal

Nova stood in her bedroom before a full-length mirror dressed only in leggings and a short slip and stared at her perfect body. Unlike her Bhuaci mother, she didn’t have the power to shape shift. But she had been born with the preferred elfin face and figure of most Bhuaci girls.  

She glanced aside at her round, white bed piled with Ingoti armor. Her father, Zuri, had renounced most of the technological advancements his race had adopted. But that would hardly stop her.

She tried on the chest guard first. Lightweight, it didn’t hinder her movements, though it added bulk to her lithe figure. She smiled. Black was definitely her color. She slipped the arm bands up over her elbows, first the right and then the left. Snug, but with the thick red bands, they definitely added a touch of class to her cuteness. She hated cuteness.

Next, she tugged on the boots. Heavier than her normal slippers, they forced her to plan her steps more carefully. With the added height and bulk, she nearly appeared intimidating.

A tap on the door knocked the smile off her face.

Mom or dad? Probably mom.

She sighed. There was no way she could take it all off in time.

And why should I?

“Open!” She placed her hands on her hips and faced her future.

In the open doorway, Kelesta stared at her daughter, her eyes rounded with horror. “What are you doing?”

Nova groaned. Her mom wasn’t stupid, but she could sure ask the dumbest questions. “I’m discovering my heritage.”

Like a sleepwalker, Kelesta glided into the room, her hands lifted. “Your father renounced the technology that invaded his body.”

Swinging her arms high, Nova exulted in testing her limits. “I haven’t attached anything. Yet. It’s just armor after all. Though I wouldn’t mind a few synaptic connections. That way I’d have at least a few advantages.”

Kelesta caressed Nova’s face, her eyes grieving. “Haven’t we always taken good care of you? There’s no need for Ingoti protection.”

Nova pulled away and stomped to the door. “I’m not like you, Mother. I can’t shapeshift whenever I feel like it, turning into a clawed beast or hiding in a hole.”

Kelesta stood in the middle of the room, her gaze falling to the floor. “You have no idea. Really. How unprotected we are.”

As if she smelled an intoxicating scent, Nova turned on the threshold and faced her mother. “How do you mean?”

“You’re so young. I wanted to wait to tell you…but…” Her gaze rolled over the mechanical hardware attached to her daughter. She stepped forward and held out her hand. “Let’s take a walk. By the oceanside, I can face old memories.

~~~

Still wearing her body armor, though without the boots Nova paced over the white sand keeping step with her mother.

The green-orange sun crested the waves, sending a sparkling glow over the water. Seabirds sailed overhead, calling to each other.

Her arm bands pinched, but she ignored that. She’d get a helmet next. One that came with implants so she could have direct access. Her heart pounded with the thought—There’s no stopping me. She stepped into the water and splashed the waves with her feet.

Kelesta sighed and faced the ocean as foaming crests ran over her toes and receded again. “Everything has a price. The Bhuaci learned this truth eons ago. No one knows exactly how we became shape-shifters, but everyone realizes that our abilities came at a cost.”

Perplexed, Nova wrinkled her nose. Something tickled her feet. She looked down at a school of fish darting about. Funny. They aren’t scared of me.

Kelesta’s voice took on a schooled tone, controlled and disciplined. “In the beginning, we were aimless, mere beasts, not unlike these fish. We lived as flightless birds for a long time and then, through some kind of gift or curse, we learned to use our wings. And not just our wings but our whole bodies in relationship to our minds. We discovered the connection between physical matter and thought. All too soon, we learned to manipulate our bodies’ matter and imitate any shape we wanted.”

Annoyed, Nova splashed her mother. “I know all this. But why you think it could ever be a curse is beyond me. If I could alter my shape, I’d become a bird right now and fly into the sky. Or become one of these fish and swim deep into ocean.” She jumped up and down, splashing everything within reach.

Allowing the drops to fall where they may, Kelesta peered up. “You’d fly into the sky and then what? You’d still be yourself. Your mood and attitude, your hurt and hate, would follow you just as much as your friendships and love.”

With a snort, Nova rushed deeper into the water, running against the oncoming waves. “I could protect myself from every danger, enjoy every sensation, experience life from a thousand perspectives.” She dove into the murky green depths ignoring her mother’s call.

“Nova, no!”

Swimming against the current, Nova stared at the swirling bubbles and dancing seaweed. A huge blue-green fish with gold sparkles running down its back caught her eye. Thrilled, she paddled with her arms and legs to give chase.

The fish darted down, deeper into the gloom.

Nova knew that she must stay close to the surface and that her armor weighed her down, but desire flushed all reason aside. I’ve got time. Besides, mom’s still close. She arched her shoulders and dove deeper.

Suddenly, the flashy fish turned and peered at her through glowing eyes. It grew larger, until it was twice her size. Opening its mouth, rows of razor-sharp teeth snapped the water.

Panic clutched Nova. She raised herself vertically and tried to paddle upward, but tiny darting fish nipped at her feet and legs. Pain shot through her as terror took over. “Noooo!” Using every bit of her strength, she shot upward.

When her head broke the surface, she looked around. “Mom?”

No one. She was alone.

Wet and disheveled, Nova stumbled across the shore toward her home in the woods. Once in her room, she peeled off her wet armor and soaking underclothes. She wrapped herself in a warm robe and climbed into bed. Tossing and turning through the night, she brooded over her mother’s betrayal.

~~~

Three days later, Nova sat beside the window in the kitchen decorated with herb plants and primitive art and ate her grain cereal with cream and berries absorbed in plans for escape from  her traitorous family.

Zuri paced in, a frown dominating his face. “Where’s your mother?”

“I have no idea.”

His scowl deepening, Zuri dragged a chair from beside the hearth and placed it next to his daughter. He clasped his hands and leaned forward. “I know something is going on between you and your mother. Though she won’t say anything, I know you both well enough to guess.”

Her appetite disappearing, Nova shoved her bowl onto the windowsill and crossed her arms. “Know everything about me, do you?”

“I know that armor excites you. Adventure beckons. And you’re tired of being treated like a child.”

Her interest snared, Nova tilted her head. A silent acquiescence.

“I was just like you.”

Nova rolled her eyes.

“And I have the perfect answer.”

A huff of air to hint that she only had so much patience.

“You’ll come with me to Earth. We’re being sent back—Teal and his son Cerulean are coming. No reason you shouldn’t attend.”

Excitement raced through Nova. “I can come and work? I’m not just a student observer?”

A grin broke over Zuri’s face. “You’ll take notes and help to present our finding to the council when it’s time.”

Rubbing her hands together, happiness flooded Nova.” Finally! I can do something worthwhile.” She glanced at her father. “Does mom know?”

The light dimmed in Zuri’s eyes. “Yes. She’s not happy about it, but she accepts my reasoning.”

Perplexed, Nova jumped to a new thought. “Can I wear my armor?”

“As much as you like.”

Her appetite renewed, Nova grabbed her half-eaten breakfast and stood. “I’m going to get a list of things I’ll need.”

Zuri nodded, his gaze distant.

Nova started for the door and then stopped. “What reasoning?”

Zuri glanced up. “We can do our best to protect you from the world. But only you can protect you from yourself.”

After laying her bowl in the sink, Nova stepped outside. She moved toward the rising sun as she crossed the courtyard to her room, a new thought plaguing her steps. Who betrayed who?

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

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/fantasy-beach-planet-girl-light-6203744/

Library

Robert sat back on the wooden library chair, pushed an award-winning thriller aside and stared down the packed double rows of books. Heavy weighted shelves topped with hardcover novels that couldn’t fit in their appointed place, lined the room. An oversized GREEK MYTHS illustrated cover stared at him from a shelf mounted on a pillar directly ahead. The back wall, plastered with paperback mysteries and romances, while the front entrance, dominated by newspapers and magazines, offered a neat but plentiful aurora to the room. A wooden rack sported an array of local t-shirts for sale, and community news splashed itself over a mounted bulletin board.

He chuckled. History behind, romance to the left, political figures to the right. Myths and legends directly ahead. I should be well educated or happily entertained, at least.

The heavy oak front door creaked as a patron entered. A middle-aged woman dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans bearing an armload of books lumbered to the front desk.

The librarian, an older woman with white hair and thin glasses, glanced up. She smiled in welcome.

Robert frowned. She didn’t smile when I entered.

A muted conversation ensued.

He really should pick out a couple of books, or get back to work, or deal with Beatrice’s issues…but the voices oozed with understanding friendship.

“You liked it?”

“Oh, yeah. Reminded me of the time I spent overseas with Carl, when we were just married, and he was stationed in Germany. I didn’t understand at the time—terribly ignorant when I was young.”

Rueful laugh. “Aren’t we all?”

A snort. “My granddaughter seems to know everything—certainly knows more about—” The throaty voice dropped to a subterranean level.

Robert tipped his head to peer between the wall of books. Yep. The librarian was nodding, even as she ran the wand over each book, then dropped it into a box.  

Beatrice’s face rose in his mind as a knot tightened in his stomach, the pain in her eyes puzzling him.

“You don’t understand!”

What did he need to understand? He loved her, and she loved him, and they were married after all. What more did she want? They had a couple of kids and didn’t want more—at least not for a long while. Kelly and Roger were great, but even he could see how stressed Beatrice got with their schedules. He tried to help. But there was only so much he could do.

“It’s not that!”

He had tried to hug her into a better mood, but she wasn’t having it. Stiff as a board and just as unrelenting. Tears dripped down her face as she stared at the floor, slumped on the edge of the bed like some kind of broken toy.

Frustration filled him. Almost every night, it was the same routine. He approached, and she resisted. He cajoled until she either got mad or gave in.

“What’s the deal? I thought Fridays were good for you. Look, I’m a patient guy but even the best of men needs a little encouragement.”

She’d just stared. That baleful look spearing him with hopeless injury.

The librarian’s voice startled him. She stood at his right, peering at the thrillers he had shoved aside. “Anything I can help you with?”

Got anything on how to talk your wife into a romantic mood? he didn’t say. “Uh, just looking. Trying to figure out what I want. Thrillers just not cutting it for me.”

Sympathetic eyes stared into him.

Good Lord, how much do librarians know?

“If you want a suggestion?” It was the other woman, the patron with the heavy stack.

He shrugged, appearing open but not needy. Or so he hoped.

“Try Palmer’s series. Historical fiction starting in the middle-ages but with a phycological twist. Kind of thrilling, but he’s got depth, if you know what I mean.”

Robert glanced at the librarian for confirmation.

The white head nodded in agreement. “Oh, yes. Palmer is good. Real family drama without the typical social motifs. The gritty stuff of life but without antiquated solutions.”

A groan rose inside Robert. “I got enough grit in my life. Thanks.”

A conspiratorial grin passed between the two women.

Burning heat rose in Robert’s cheeks, as if he just realized that he had forgotten to zipper his pants this morning. His left hand slowly inched onto his lap.

The librarian tried again. “Well, there’s always Susan Price Marks Siva. She’s got some fun escapism. Very global and internationally acclaimed.” Her brows scrunched—trying to remember or trying to discern? “Thrilling but educational.”

“You like biographies? There are some heart-stopping accounts on the shelf right behind myths and legends.” The helpful patron jogged aside and pulled a heavy volume from the shelf. “Life and lies of—”

The door creaked open, and the three-some froze. Caught blatantly chattering in the library.

Tentative padding steps. Then a small voice. “Hello?”

What a sweet sound. An image of an apple tree in springtime rose in Robert’s mind.

A blond head poked around the corner. A bright smile. The young woman stepped forward; a book lifted in her right hand. “I’m here to pay my debt to society.”

Duty calling, the librarian returned to the counter, leading the way to reparation for overdue books.

Helpful patron chimed in. “I mark the due dates on my calendar. Got fined twice before I thought to do it. Funny how I have to make mistakes a few times before I learn how to solve them. O, happy fault, maybe?”

Robert didn’t have a clue what the well-read woman was talking about. But as she turned and meandered to the fantasy section, he didn’t follow up.

With a sigh, he replaced the thrillers in their proper section and wandered toward the counter.

The pretty lady stood with one arm propped on her hip, her body tilted, like a mother used to carrying a baby and can’t get comfortable in a straight position.

“Dan’s watching them. You know how it is. He loves the procreation process and playing with ‘em when they’re young, but the follow-up’s a real chore.”

The librarian met Robert’s fixed stare as he stood one bookshelf away. Then she returned her gaze to the conversation at hand. “Growing up is hard. At every stage.” She tapped the book. “You want to return this or renew it?”

A quiet sigh. “Well, I just got into it, but I never know if I’ll get a chance to finish it. Between Dan and the kids, I get so tired, don’t have any time to let my mind roam. My soul is not my own.” She released a brittle, suck-it-up, chuckle. “But like you said—growing up is hard. Renew it, and I’ll try to squeeze in a bit of time.”

Stunned by the image of a captured, weary soul, Robert waited and then watched the young wife and mother saunter out the door. His gaze trailed after her as her blond head bobbed and then disappeared around the corner.

He marched forward and faced the librarian. “You have anything on ‘Oh happy fault?’”

Breaking into a grin, the librarian pointed to the religion and philosophy section. “Probably. We’ve got something for everyone. Just have to figure out what you want.”

A happy wife rang in Robert’s ears. He lifted his hand. “You know, I better get going. Thanks. But I think the book I need to read—is at home.”

He paced out the door and sauntered outside, a new story filling his mind.

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

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/book-read-hands-literature-3531412/

OldEarth Encounter Themes

Recently, I celebrated another year marked on the calendar of my life. I am also considering how best to focus my energy and enlighten my soul, so I look back on my previous accomplishments and peer ahead into exciting new projects.

In our vastly changing world, we still follow an ancient path, searching for God, our proper place in family and society, and the meaning of our lives. Today, we live in a global reality little imagined in the land of Ur, though—made in the image of God—our souls have always held limitless possibilities.

In my OldEarth Encounter series, our world is viewed from a close-up Earth-bound, historical perspective but also from a distant, alien viewpoint. In the truest meaning of “Catholic,” the stories revolve around universal themes.

OldEarth ARAM Encounter—Humanity’s search for the one true God.

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter—Conflict between humanity’s need for God and our desire to be god.

OldEarth Neb Encounter—The price of chosen evil.

OldEarth Georgios Encounter—God as Father and Son and our personal reflection of those roles.

OldEarth Melchior Encounter—Marriage, parenthood, and the meaning of our Christian identity.

The first three books are currently available on Amazon, and the last two are near completion and will be available soon.

For the rest of April, I will take a break from creating new stories, My Road Goes Ever On reflections, and poems. I’ll start up again sometime in May. In the mean time, I am completing the work on the last two OldEarth books, reading my posts aloud for those who’d like to listen, (Just hit the Listen on Spotify button) and organizing my newest work:

My Road Goes Ever On II

Encounter—Science Fiction Short Stories II

It Might Have Been Short Stories II

I am also hoping to publish a collection of my poems at some point. Still have to come up with a name…

May our lives be blessed with God’s grace each day.

~Ann  

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

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/universe-girl-dock-fantasy-moon-5944412/

Hope So

OldEarth Melchior Encounter Preview Chapter

—OldEarth—

Zuri, wearing a course tunic over the simplest remnant of his armor paced along a worn path, the sun setting behind a distant, emerald-green hill.

With a flash, Teal appeared before him in a peasant’s outfit.

“There you are. I was afraid you’d have to wait till morning to see.”

Smirking, Teal bowed low. “Hello, Zuri. So glad we meet again.”

“None of that, now. We haven’t time. I want you to see this family! They’re magnificent and, to top it off, there’s been a murder. Some folks are running about insisting that Melchior’s son did it, but I hardly think so. Not the warrior type, if you know what I mean. I’m thinking it was the husband—though I have no—”

Teal faltered, his shape growing hazy. “By the Divide, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Zuri grabbed Teal’s arm and tugged him down the path. When they rounded a bend, a cottage stood before them, resplendent in evening hues.

“That’s Melchior’s place. He has a bunch of children, servants, and even a slave or two, yet he manages to keep his property intact and his head attached. In these parts, that’s something to be proud of.” He squinted in the failing light. “You all right? You look a bit…fuzzy.”

Teal lifted his hand and nodded. “Just been busy.”

Zuri glanced around. “Where’s Cerulean?”

“He’s taking care of Sterling. With strict orders to hurry him along, with or without Mauve.”

“Who’s Mauve?”

Teal rolled his shoulders. “His newest obsession.”

“Uh, oh.”

“You can say—”

A Bhuaci chime sounded.

Zuri tapped his chest and a holographic image of a Cresta with stringy yellow cilia drizzling from his head and dressed in a dark green bio-suit with matching boots appeared before them.

“Tarragon reporting for duty.”

Teal frowned.

Leaning toward Teal, Zuri dropped his voice low. “Ark’s son. Remember the pod…”

Teal nodded. He focused his gaze on the Cresta. “Thank you for being so prompt. But I thought we were going to meet here at—” He glanced at Zuri.

“Melchior’s cottage.”

Tarragon waved a tentacle. “I wanted assure myself that someone would be there to greet me. I am still on board my ship, but I’ll shuttle down shortly.” He eyed Zuri. “If you’ll confirm the coordinates?”

Suppressing annoyance, Zuri pulled a datapad from his sleeve and tapped in the information. “Just be sure to stay out of sight. Your aircraft had better be native sensitive.”

“Of course. The Cresta are experts of disguise.”

Zuri chuckled. “Ark was anything but!” Realizing his mistake, a flush warmed his cheeks. “Sorry. No disrespect. I greatly valued Ark.”

Tarragon shrugged. “I hardly knew him.” With a smart salute, he signed off. The hologram evaporated.

Zuri slapped his face. “Oh, that went well, don’t you think?”

Looking haggard, Teal sighed. “He’s a hard one to figure. I’ve asked about him through the years, but he never responded, and Ark had little to offer. I thought he’d be at Ark’s passing-on ceremony, but he never showed. His mother did, though. Gave me an earful. More than I really wanted to know about Cresta—”

The pounding of horses’ hooves sent Zuri scurrying to a hedge row.

Teal blinked away and then reappeared at his side. “We’d better move further off. We don’t want Tarragon showing up in the middle of a family dispute.”

“Going to be a blinking challenge to train someone new. And now we have Sterling and Mauve to deal with.”

Teal shrugged. “It could be worse. We could have the Mystery Race on our heels. At least we’re safe there.”

Zuri glanced at the starry sky, a sinking sensation enveloped him.

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

Photo https://pixabay.com/illustrations/earth-moon-space-space-travel-1151659/

Life’s Storms

Kiara loved the sound of the wind rushing through the woodland. Earthy and rustic, it spoke of invisible worlds and steadfast powers beyond human control. Blades of spring grass poked up from last winter’s mulch, and buds swelled in the promise of better things to come. She sighed. If only…

The sun had crested over an hour ago, and she must return to her apartment, then off to her shrill, insistent work place, always maintaining a calm, professional demeanor.

A redbird alighted on a fence post, chirping an attractive, lilting tune. Why can’t I be a bird?

“Kiara?”

Her sister’s voice. Myra always knew where to look.

Kiara stepped from the shadows into the field. “Yes?”

“There you are!” Myra jogged forward. “Let’s go to the lake. Mother left a cold supper in the kitchen, and the boys won’t be back for another couple of hours.”

A thrill ignited Kiara’s imagination. “You think we could?” Doubt quickly cooled the spark to mere ash. “But I should prepare for—”

“Another workday?” Myra gripped her sister’s arm and tugged. “You’re always working, and when you die, your spirit will float about this beautiful planet, wondering why you ever lived.”

Aching pressure surged against an inner wall, splashing over the ramparts. Tears filled Kiara’s eyes.

~~~

The two women stood on the rocky shore, surrounded by cliffs held together by a phalanx of trees, ripples scurrying across the blue-green water.

A tall, lean man strolled toward them, waves splashing his toes.

Shock filled Kiara as she stared wide-eyed. “What’s Jagan doing here?”

Myra kept her eyes glued to the horizon. “Does he have to have a reason?”

Images of the muddy water, floating debris, homes half-submerged in the flooded plain filled her mind. So many had lost loved ones in the disaster. The funerals never seemed to end. Then they did, and everyone returned to work and normal lives.

Normal? What does that mean? “I thought he moved up north, away from—”

Myra shot her a glance. “He did. But now he’s back.”

“He doesn’t have family here. Not anymore.”

Scuffing a bare toe against a smooth rock, Myra rubbed a fish-shaped pendant hanging around her neck. “Doesn’t he?”

With a snort, Kiara tossed her head.

Jagan stopped and nodded. His eyes reflected grief mingled with endurance. “I was down the shore and saw you; hope I’m not interrupting.”

Myra hugged her sister’s arm. “Of course not. Mother has made enough supper for a spring festival; come and join us. The boys would love to see you. They’ve been working on a kite.”

His gaze glancing off Kiara, Jagan waited.

Words tumbled from Kiara’s lips before she knew what she was about. “Certainly. Come and be welcome. I have to return to work so someone should enjoy—” What? Life? She blushed in confusion.

Ignoring the unfinished thought, Jagan fell in step between the two women as they headed back to a small blue Honda. “You’re still at the same place?”

Kiara nodded. “Same work. Same family. Same everything.”

Myra’s tiny head shake obliterated the lie. The tiny woman pulled out her keys and slid into the driver’s seat. “You two sit in back and don’t tell me how to drive.”

~~~

After supper, Jagan met Kiara in the kitchen as she wiped the wooden table free of spots and crumbs. He tugged a towel off the rack and started drying the dishes. “Keeping busy helps, doesn’t it?”

Her throat tightening, Kiara kept her gaze glued to the polished surface.

“I moved away. Thought I’d find peace if I didn’t have to run into a memory every time I turned around.”

The distant sound of rumbling thunder echoed off the hills. “But now you’ve returned. For good?”

He smiled and lifted the clean stack of plates onto the middle shelf. “For good? That’s funny. I hardly know.”

With a shrug, Kiara dismissed his honesty. “I like to keep busy. Productive.” She squeezed the sponge and laid it neatly on the soap dish. “Not a problem.”

Jagan leaned against the sink and nodded. “That’s good. I hated it when I couldn’t feel anything anymore. Just a vague unease, like something was supposed to be inside of me that wasn’t.”

The wind picked up, and branches swished against each other, groaning in stormy delight.

A shiver ran down Kiara’s arms. “I should’ve headed back to my apartment this afternoon, but I got caught up in the spring sunshine. And Myra and mom wanted…you know.” She sighed. “I’ll have to get up extra early tomorrow to make the drive if I want to get to work on time and do stuff.”

With a playful twinkle, Jagan twitched the towel at Kiara. “Love doing stuff, do ya?”

Laughter bubbled inside Kiara. “You betcha! The more stuff the better! I’m one of the best stuffers—” Suddenly, as if she had been stripped of every article of clothing like in a horrible nightmare, left without a single defense, choking tears killed all joy.

Jagan didn’t ask. He simply took her in his arms and held her. Softly, without possession, advice, or comment.

Her tears stained his brown shirt, but she couldn’t stop them. She hung on and let the tears do their work. After a deep calming breath, she pulled away. “I still have to go tomorrow.”

He nodded. “And you’ll manage another productive day.”

“I will.” She looked up and met his eyes. “And you?”

“I’m home now. Grief can find me whether I work or play.”

Rain pounded the roof and beaded the window. A breeze sashayed into the kitchen.

“I wish I were a bird…”

Jagan took her hand, led her to the doorway, and flung open the door. Messy drops drizzled and splattered.

He pointed to the treetops where a nest swayed in the wind.

Queasiness unsettled Kiara’s balance. “How do they stand it?”

He gripped her hand tighter. “It’s home.”

“Home?”

“The place where you face life’s storms.”

As the drops slowed, Kiara relaxed, peace enveloping her. Home isn’t a place. It’s a presence. For the first time in forever, her soul flew.

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

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/thunderstorm-sea-clouds-forward-3417042/

See a Tree

Trees, in their giantess of spirit, talk to me on a daily basis. Thank God, or I don’t know who I’d go to for advice.

It’s the end of a long day—a Monday to be exact—and as hectic, overflowing Mondays have the uncanny habit of following slow, afternoon-nap Sundays, I fight the desire to head out to the edge of my property and simply be with my dear friend. No words necessary. Oak always understands.

I wouldn’t have to go into the tedious details concerning the weird dream where I painted a dirty wall then promptly tossed a blanket over a messy box that really deserved to be cleaned out, but, in dream-world impossibility, the blanket would simply have to do.

No need to explain the emails. How does one respond to sincere attempts to communicate in a world where opinions rampage like charging horses in a medieval joust, and it’s frankly disloyal—perhaps even disingenuous—to cheer?

Gordian knot, you’re playing with me.

Today’s foraging through the shops demanded keen instinct—keep to the designated list despite the fact that items left over from the holidays were practically a steal. Who wants to steal holiday decorations when looking forward to spring? Yeah, sure, there’s always next year… But tonight’s dinner quandary demanded my attention more. Fruits and vegetables. A last stand between winter and spring festivities. That or admit that ol’ Oak and I have more in common than I’d like to admit in matters of girth.

Noon found me strolling. Oak greeted me, always the gentlefolk, waving last seasons crumpled brown leaves, rustling a soothing tune. I still had a story to write, online school plans to cajole, money matters with which to contend, and dinner to devise.

Oak didn’t mind a bit of it. The wind blew. Clouds scuttled. With plaintive meows, cats arched their back in invitation, and dogs raced like puppies. A red bird shot onto the woods, a blue bird flashed by, and an eagle soared. If I wasn’t one with nature, it wasn’t for Oak’s lack of trying. Steadfast par excellence.

Pasta with two kinds of toppings kept the kids’ bodies and souls in happy coexistence. Presently sage and citrus incense burn over the glowing heater while Henrietta hamster daintily chips away at her carrot. I am staring at dark windows, knowing full well that Oak is still and quiet this time of night. He doesn’t need to speak. He just needs to be.

Maple out my bedroom window wakes me each morning with waving branches, seasonally decorated. I’m waiting for the spring-fairies to visit. Any day now. Pines pierce the sky, tossing their still-green branches in see-what-I-still-have proud display. A forgotten nest sways, unbroken, a hopeful reminder of summer guests.

In a time-is-running-out reality dotted with doubt, my arboreal familiars offer more than words can say. They speak in rustles, rough texture, variegated colors, off-white tones, but most honestly in their very existence. To be is their way.

No proof. No judgment. No certitude or pride.

To have been created says all. Alive. Perhaps not always perfectly. Rot infests the best of us. But speak, they do well.

Advice is best offered after sampled, and so, I find it true.

To clear the head and settle the soul—see a tree.

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

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/nature-tree-dawn-landscape-3125912/

Souls Do Matter

Once upon a time-ish,

An ancient voice did call.

Men before God responded, collecting a mighty haul.

Ever the saintly clad, reason so assured,

You got what you deserved, from every evil cured.

In stages God did send,

Our lives in newest trend.

Listen, hear, behold,

How many times must you be told?

Summer sun, glittering glow,

Frosty chill, blowing snow.

A thousand words—nature’s parables did cry,

Spirits recognize passion with a lofty sigh.

Forgive them, Lord, they know not what they do.

Honesty, I wonder, have they ever had a clue?

Lie to me, with me, through me.

Despite deceit, your friend I be.

Except in the end,

Spirits break—not bend.

Between beast and divine,

Arms open wide—Yours and mine.

In our glory, fools shatter.

In perfection, our souls do matter.

God’s glory do we seek,

In nature, human, divine, He speak.

Timeless, Eternal Word,

Soul’s longing cry,

Finally heard.

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

Photo https://pixabay.com/illustrations/clouds-sky-faith-christianity-god-806639/