And To Think

Stacy stared at the enrollment form and frowned at the first line. She hated her name. No imagination at all. Her parents might just as well have named her munchkin or kiddo.

Perched on the edge of an icy blue cafeteria chair, she sipped from a steaming cup of mud-colored cocoa. She had taken the entire afternoon off from work just so she could sign up for a night class that would inch her one step closer to getting her teaching degree. Not that she wasn’t already teaching. But only as an assistant. If she wanted the title and pay of a “real” teacher, she needed the certificate with her name on it.

Youngsters looking very much like loping trees bustled down the corridor, talking, shoving, laughing in the way that carefree youth usually do. Conflicts with the landlord, insurance issues, and a steamy romance gone haywire probably didn’t disturb their optimistic lives. Her mom, a couple of good friends, and a decent job didn’t a thrilling life make. She wished she were someone else with a better name. She tapped her purple pen, inscribed with a goofy cartoon character down one side, against her mini-notepad. Nothing new to write today.

She took another sip of cocoa, closed her eyes, and sighed.

Two chairs scraped on her right and an on-going conversation dominated the swirling sounds around her. Two trays plunked down on the table, plastic smacking plastic. A woman’s voice—excited, eager, and determined clawed at Stacy’s insides.

Don’t listen! Keep your mind on the cocoa!  She popped her eyes open, clutched the cup like a drowning victim gripping a lifeline and swallowed a burning gulp.

The woman rattled on mercilessly. “And so—I told my husband, ‘You’re so ignorant, and then I slammed the door in his face.’”

Stacy wondered if it would look odd if she pressed her hands against her ears and started rocking in place.

The other woman’s voice piped up, practically breathless. “And then?”

Stacy stared at her pen, focusing on the inane figure. A student had presented this gift as a token of her appreciation for Stacy’s effort to teach her long division using pictures and creative stories. She knew the child would probably be haunted by math for the rest of her life, but apparently, the kid appreciated sincere efforts. Stacy glanced aside, hoping the two women had evaporated.

The first woman clearly liked bright flowers for she wore an eye-catching blouse that would have put a landscape artist to shame. But unfortunately, her language was as loud as her clothes. “So, the idiot slept on the couch!”

A psychic warrior battling for peace of mind—jabbing at judgments, parrying insinuations, knocking off observations, and blasting conclusions could not have fought any harder. But never the less, a picture of a man’s sad, pathetic face as the door closed on him…and then his drooping figure trudging to a sagging couch and flopping down in a bundle of husbandry despair filler Stacy with red-eyed rage.

A little voice tried to reason with her. You don’t know these people, woman!

She whirled her gaze around the food court. Uncaring neon signs glared back: Asian Delights, Mexican Combos, All American Platters, and a Salad Bar.

Inhale. Exhale. Mind your own business!

Stacy slurped her cold cocoa and then mopped up the dribbles dotting the table.

The lively chatting continued though the voices dropped an octave.

New pictures formed in Stacy’s mind. A shoe sale, something about church services, and a trip to the airport with a secret admirer?

Enough! Stacy jumped to her feet, wondering if it was possible to have her imagination disconnected from her brain. She dumped her Styrofoam cup into the trashcan and headed for the door.

Once out in the late afternoon sunshine, she prompted her feet toward the football-field-sized parking lot. Her car was out there…somewhere.

A child’s scream turned her attention. With a hand blocking the slanting rays of the sun, she scanned the area. There, next to a table and bench on a grassy field, stood a lanky man wearing jeans and a black hoodie, gripping the arm of a young girl in a pink skirt and an oversized sweater. The child struggled to pull away.

Stacy’s heart constricted. She fumbled for her phone, but as her panic increased, she hustled toward the child faster than her fingers could unzip her purse. She halted before the pair, staring or glaring, she wasn’t sure.

The child glanced at Stacy, cut the scream dead, and slammed herself against the man, wrapping her arms around his middle and pressing her face into his stomach.

A burning blush tingled from Stacy’s face to the roots of her hair. She scratched her head and wavered.

The man waved as if conducting an orchestra. “She’s being dramatic. Like always, eh, honey bun?” He peered down at the child, and a grin played on his lips. “Not too happy that mama is taking a class, and you can’t be in on the action?”

“Oh.” Stacy hadn’t a clue what else to say.

The girl pulled away, propped her hands on her hips, tilted her head, and accused Stacy. “You’re a teacher here!”

Stacy lifted her hands in surrender. “Oh, no ma’am. I do help out a school, and I want to be a teacher someday. But right now, I’m just taking classes, like your mom.”

The child nodded in defeat. She leaned comfortably against the man. “Daddy? Can’t I at least draw something? It’s so boring out here.”

Now it was the man’s turn to flush. “Sorry, baby. I left your pencils at home.”

Stacy plunged her hand into her purse and pulled out her notepad and purple pen. “Here, kiddo, take these. You can draw pictures for your mama and give them to her when she comes out. I bet she’ll like that.”

The man tried to wave off the gifts, but the child took them with eager hands and a surprisingly charming grin.

Once she found her car and started the long drive home, Stacy glanced in the mirror and laughed. “Who’s the kiddo, eh?”

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/2lWBd0z

Take It Easy and Get Back To Work

So I decided I needed a break. I’d take it easy for a week. Read a novel. Take afternoon naps. Enjoy leisurely strolls down the road. Really rest up.

By Sunday evening, I was depressed beyond words.

Turns out that my mind can only take so much perfection. Then I ache for a problem to solve. A kitchen to clean. A fly to swat.

Not to give the impression that the rest didn’t do me good. But even a rest needs to end. There comes a point when “rest” becomes the newest line on the to-do list…except nothing gets done.

The real rest occurred during the first half of the week when I was seriously tired and needed it. Then the naps, the novel, the change of pace, and even the strolls allowed me to breathe deeply again.

But as the week wore on, the rest wore thin. By the weekend, I was wondering why I existed at all. I stood firmly by as laundry piled up, dishes accumulated in the sink, words did not get written, stories knocked around my brain, and my soul doubted its existence.

God flourished though. He rested and waited, and probably tapped His foot as I went from weary to relaxed to woeful.

My experience as a human being is summed up in the word—unpredictable. The moment I imagine the perfect scene is the moment that the scene won’t measure up in reality. God can imagine a leaf and make it quiver with life. I imagine anything and I stop seeing what really is. I stop being present. Alive to what grows and goes all around me.

The beauty of fiction is that it is fiction. I don’t actually expect Luxonian aliens to quarrel about the value of the human race with Ingots or Crestas. The fictional world is only a picture of what is real. A painting of a leaf. Not the leaf itself.

Rest is like that. Real rest is a deep imbibing of reality. Allowing the body to slow to a gentler pace, the heart to beat with a quieter rhythm. It is not dead space. It does not push the universe and all of life aside. On the contrary, it pays deeper attention to what is. God’s reality. The created world. The breath of life. Love.

The fast pace world of to-do-lists, chores, got-to-get-it-done-or-the-world-will-end anxieties, are really far less real than the “real” of rest time. And that’s why it is so hard to stay there. Because, in a way, it forces us to re-orientate our souls toward what is real and important. And that is awesome. But exhausting.

Then we need a break from resting, and we get back to work. To our imaginary reality. Our to-do-lists and our work related priorities.

So, the dishes are done, the floor has been swept, the laundry is in the dryer, I finished a story, and I’ll start dinner in a bit.

Life is good. Glad I got a rest. Now I’ll take it easy and get back to work.

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

Survival of the Fittest

Ling believed in wood-folk with her whole soul. The magic of a mid-winter snowstorm over sleeping fields opened a doorway into a world of scheming squirrels and spirit-filled pine trees. A cawing raven warned the tree-stump mouse family of a stalking calico cat while swaying trees forecasted an impending storm.

Though Ling could hear the voices plain enough, their actual words eluded her. The sound of their murmuring sent a warm thrill through her chilled body as she trudged across the newly fallen snow with a bulging backpack slung over her shoulder.

Skipping up the frozen steps to her snug house at the end of the block, she huffed a white plume of smoke into the air. Before turning the door handle with her mittened hands, she turned and bowed goodnight to her wood-folk-friends. No doubt they wished her well through the silent evening glow, and she, in turn, would not forget them.

After tugging off her wet boots and dropping her pack in a heap, she tiptoed down the dark hall toward her father’s study. His bent figure leaned over a hardwood desk with a computer screen outlining the edges of his head. Swallowing back her anxiety, Ling timidly tapped on the doorframe.

A shuffle and a snort precluded his slow turn. Black eyes in a pale face peered at the doorway.

Ling dropped her gaze.

“So, you made it home on time today.”

Ling nodded but stayed in place. “Yes, Papa.”

He granted permission to enter with a slight beckoning gesture. “Come in.” His gaze darted back to the screen. “There’s not much more I can do here today.”

Ling scuttled forward and placed her small hand on the arm of his chair. Her eyes flickered to the screen. A gorgeous painting of a woodland scene snatched her breath away. Her fingers rose as if to touch the gently swaying tendrils of an enormous weeping willow.

Her father wrapped a loose arm around her waist and drew her closer, his gaze joining hers. “It’s for a mid-western university. They want to demonstrate their inclusiveness by commissioning art from every culture in the world.”

Ling blinked, the spell broken. “Inclusiveness?”

The old man shrugged. “Art can be a unifying force.” He tilted his head. “Of course, it can be enslaved by a propaganda machine just as easily.” Ling’s puzzled frown brought a tired smile to her father’s face. “You are too young for such things. Enjoy your freedom while you may.”

Placing her hand on his silky sleeve, Ling pressed his arm in excitement. “I saw a red fox sneaking across the field. He’s been threatening the other animals, wants to rule the west woodland. Do you think the—?”

A shrill call cut through the air. “Ling? Come here, child, and bring your school bag.”

Her whole body drooping under a sudden weight, Ling stepped back toward the door. She gazed at her father. “You should draw a fox peeking out from behind the tree.”

The old man’s eyes shifted from the picture to his daughter, surprise on his brow but pleasure in his eyes. “Why?”

She trudged across the threshold, her eyes darting toward the kitchen. “Because—there’s always a fox around somewhere.”

~~~

After hours of study, Ling’s eyes burned with exhaustion. Her blurry vision made it difficult to make out the text before her. Her mother filled the kettle for tomorrow’s tea and set it in its designated place on the stove. The immaculate room stood in readiness for the next day to meet the demands of a peak performance.

In her weary haze, Ling wondered if a kitchen could revolt—demand a rest from the never-ending grind of routine preparations. Pots and pans, stovetops, counters, scraping, cleaning, bubbling, oil, smoke, dishes, and grime, wiping—endlessly wiping—it all away, only to start over the next morning before the sun even hinted at the day.

“What has gotten into you, child? You’ve been sitting there for an hour, and nothing is done. You know your exams are next month. You want to be ready.”

Ling nodded.

Her mother placed a damp hand on her shoulder. “You won’t succeed unless you work hard and try—”

“Mama?”

Her mother stared down, their gazes locking.

An implicit allowance offered Ling courage. “We’re supposed to make a family tree and describe our cultural heritage in class next week.”

A stiff jerk and the mother’s gaze shifted to the wall. “That won’t be hard. I have our whole lineage written down, and your father can tell you what each person did for a living.”

Ling shook her head, dissatisfaction pressing on her shoulders like a lead weight. “I’d rather take one of Papa’s pictures to show. That would—”

Her mother turned and swiped the clean counter with a vicious smack. “Pictures are only illusions. Don’t be ridiculous. Our family has survived a great deal—more than most—and we did it by facing facts and working hard.”

“But Papa’s pictures—”

“Your father makes pictures because he is paid to do so. He is an illustrator. He works at his job—as you will too before long.”

Her mother’s unflinching gaze squeezed Ling’s heart.

“It’s survival of the fittest, just like all the books say. And you, Ling, must survive.”

Ling’s gaze dropped to the floor. A small brown knothole in the wainscoting caught her eye. In sudden wakefulness, she thought she saw a small mouse dart out an inquiring face, blinking a question at her. It seemed to ask, “Why?” But Ling had no answer.

~~~

Two dozen years later, Ling pushed her father’s frail form engulfed in a wheelchair through the wide doors out into spring sunshine. A trailing line of elderly people sat like potted plants on the edge of the retirement property. Small blooms added texture to the scene. She found a quiet corner and pressed the brake lever with her foot. Her father, asleep again, would rest in the mild sunshine for an hour or so, until the nurses collected their charges and set them all in a straight row at the long table for a noon dinner.

A passing nurse stopped and patted Ling’s shoulder. “I heard about your mama. So sorry. But your papa is beyond worry now. Just be glad he’s so content.”

Ling nodded and choked back a rising sob. She let her gaze fall on the surrounding scenery. No one could fault the clean and professional atmosphere. Suddenly, her eyes fell on the swaying branches of a weeping willow in a neighboring yard.

She felt a hand on her arm. Looking over, she met her papa’s gaze. “I painted in the fox, but I forgot something.”

With wide-eyes, Ling marveled at her father’s sudden lucidity. “What? What could you have forgotten, Papa?”

His eyes drooped in weariness, though a feeble finger shook in emphasis. “I forgot to paint a little girl—to admire the tree and keep an eye on the fox.”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

The Kingdom of IF

Once upon a time there was the kingdom of IF (Indivisible Fiefdom – a bit of an oxymoron but as people liked it, so it was) and the people of IF had a king, King Oban, who was chosen by them because of his great popularity, and so they believed, as every generation before had believed, that he would be the perfect king.

When he ascended to the throne they hailed him as both hero and savior, and he believed every word of their hearty proclamations (though why he should is a bit of a mystery for even a smattering of IF history should have warned him that no king served unscathed and more often than not was picked to pieces before he was ousted for a more promising candidate).

The kingdom had started out nobly enough, in fact, inspiring quotes like “I will live and die for the salvation of IF” were quite prominent in their early history. Young citizens of IF loved to thrust their little fists against their chests with hearty thuds and quote the luminaries who offered their lives in the service of IF, though in more modern times this had gone quite out of fashion for everyone is well aware that it is a young person’s primary duty was to live and die only for themselves.

But the Kingdom of IF faced a crisis, unlike anything they had ever faced before, though to be sure they had faced and overcome many dire situations in their uncounted generations of existence. But now, the Indivisible Fiefdom was sorely divided between the Earth-dwellers and the Sky-dwellers both of whom claimed the right to influence the king. But as it turned out, King Oban was heavily in debt to the Earth-dwellers (for his great-great-grandmother on his father’s side was an Earth-dweller of immense standing, and she had quite a bit of money in very deep pockets) and this left the Sky-dwellers in a high dungeon for they felt left out of everything.  In fact, every decision the king had to make was considered from these two opposing camps, but he overwhelmingly favored the Earth-dwellers.

The Earth-dwellers saw everything from a personal point of view.  “It is my right!” was their motto and “Save the Earth!” was another favorite axiom. The Sky-dwellers, on the other hand, saw everything as a matter for long consideration in relation to right and wrong. Though there were a variety of different clans in the Sky-dwellers dominion, still they tended to group around a vision of a “higher-calling” and this left the Earth-dwellers perfectly incensed for they believed that no one had the right to tell anyone else what to do (except of course when they were telling the Sky-dwellers where to go and how to follow their laws) but the Sky-dwellers were also in the habit of telling the general population how things ought to be done though they argued, quite honestly that they were not preaching a singular individualistic doctrine, but the beliefs of their ancestors dating back time out of mind. Their favorite motto was “God really rules” (though there was some debate as to what God believed exactly) and they loved the ancient melody and lullaby “Tradition Still Has Meaning In Our Lives.”

But the real danger facing the Kingdom of IF was not simply their divided nature, for they were always arguing, but rather that they did not look very far into their own future.  For it was the will of the people of IF that when the king chose a side, he must stick to that side at all costs and listen not a word to the other side—even if they happened to be making humongous good sense.

So the population of IF was dwindling into sad chaos, in fact, it was only surviving due to the charity of a few who still believed in the ancient prophesy that the Kingdom of IF was the best of all the kingdoms put upon the earth.

But there was another danger facing the kingdom that few seemed to realize. There was an enormous kingdom to the east known as DOOM whose motto was “Conquer without battle”.  And though they professed enduring love for the people of IF, they were secretly rubbing their hands in glee at all the in-fighting between the Earth-dwellers and the Sky-dwellers for they were observing that all the work of destruction was being done quite efficiently for them. Also on the sidelines were the tri-kingdoms of Kab, Bab, and Dan.  These three semi-allied kingdoms (always together except when they were at each other’s throats) also professed an enduring love for the people of IF, though they would chant “Death to the King of IF” at every family gathering.

Besides the efforts of King Oban (who was himself a hard worker except when he was on vacation, which was at least once a week or every day that began with a headache and that was becoming rather more common) there were organizations of “Centralized Order” with highly trained worker-bureaucrats toiling ever so hard in the dark, dank libraries of great wisdom (though their words were drier than the parchment they lay upon) to keep the kingdom financially afloat. They had at that time finished volume P of laws and rules for tax regulation though they were now working on volume Q, but it had become stalled when the president/ CEO (and DMD for he pulled teeth on the side) of Rule-Keepers had to have an extended stay at Sunny-Shade, for his nerves had become rather undone in all the hairsplitting technicalities of tracing contradictory laws and rules and regulations to their origin and rewriting them in modern jargon.

But the people of IF saw not their danger.

There was, however, one child who had written a poem for her mother, who seemed to grasp the implications of the dire times. She had learned in school of their noble history, and her friends had all chosen sides. But one sunny day her little brother sat down beside her near a great old oak tree, and he asked her why she looked so sad.  Though she could not answer her sibling’s innocent question, she did think that a poem might relieve her pent-up feelings, so she wrote this quaint little prose, and she gave it to her mother who was clearly too busy to read it.

But you may find time in your busy life to read it before the parchment crumbles into dust—for even questions from young people will fade if given enough time to wither and fall.

THE KINGDOM OF IF

If only we remembered from whence we came

And delighted in the goodness from above.

If only we grew our strength

From the victory of enduring love.

If only we realized that everything we have is a gift.

And that gifts can be taken away.

If only we toiled for that which lasts

And not so much for the day.

If only we lived lives of hope and not of dreadful dread-

We would know lives of joyful fruit

And not live as if we were already dead.

So, though the Kingdom of IF still stands upon its majestic past, and faces its future quite blindfolded, still it will not last forever, for nothing in this world ever does.  But there is a quaint little plea in the child’s verse that strikes deep into the heart—for history will record not only how well the kingdom rose but how badly it fell.

Yet may our world live long, inspiring hope and enduring faith in humanity.

If only….

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