Short Story: Drama Trauma

Kelly shuffled forward in line at the Save-All Market and averted her eyes.

Directly in front of her, a woman with spiky hair and dangling earrings swatted a heavyset four-year-old as she tossed items on the counter.

The girl whined a long, high-pitched squeal.

The woman swatted again and flung an iPhone into the child’s grubby hand. Gleefully, the child tapped the screen, and suddenly a Disney movie theme blared.

Kelly’s gaze grazed the cashier’s face in the midst of an eye roll.

A young man wearing an orange uniform and carrying a sweeper stepped near. He waved at the little girl and grinned. “One of my favorites, too.”

The woman swung around and glared, one arm barring the child from leaning forward. “Get away from her, pervert!”

Kelly’s eyes rounded as she watched the young man back away, hunch his shoulders, and with grieved eyes, begin sweeping near the restrooms.

“Twenty-five dollars and eighty cents.” The cashier pushed her glasses up her nose and waited, her eyes fixed on the space above the woman’s head.

As Kelly fumbled to unload her purchases, her gaze meandered to the newspaper selection. On the left, bold headlines screamed: “Aliens Alive and Menacing on Mars!” Before she had time to consider the possibilities, much less the syntax, a man jostled her arm as he snatched a magazine with a full-color picture of a terrorist holding a severed head with the headline: “World War III Imminent.”

“Fourteen sixty-five.” The cashier considered the state of her nails.

Kelly slipped her card through the scanner mechanically as the woman and child struggled for control of the iPhone. She could hear their sharp argument rise to hypersonic pitch as she scurried her cart to the door. Another swat set off a long wail.

Maneuvering her car across the parking lot, Kelly spotted a disheveled man with long, stringy hair and a tattered coat huddled on the corner where she had to turn. Kelly’s heart raced. How fast could she pass him? Or should she stop and give him something? The man, in his forties maybe but roughly used, held a sign. “Out of work and going blind—Please help.”

Kelly knew she had a ten dollar bill in the front pocket of her purse, but it would take a lot of agility to get it out, steer close enough to hand it out, and not tick off the line of cars behind her. Kelly sped up.

Once on the highway, Kelly began to breathe a little easier. Then a series of red revolving lights caught her eye. She slowed and peered at a police officer waving traffic onto one lane. “Oh heck.” Kelly blew air between her lips and tapped the steering wheel.

As she navigated to the left, she glanced over and saw a smashed truck cab and a mangled tractor. An ambulance siren wailed nearby, and a woman sat on the embankment, her head in her hands. She seemed to be sobbing. Kelly’s attention snapped back to the road. The police officer waved her on.

When she finally picked up speed, Kelly darted a glance at her watch. She’d be late for class if she didn’t hurry. Her foot pressed the pedal nearer the floor. She upped the volume on her favorite music and lost herself in scenes from a horror movie she had seen over the weekend.

When she slipped into her seat, her professor waved to a large screen in the front of the room. “Today, we will focus on the oppressive state of our culture and how we are destroying our world.” Kelly tapped on her recorder. This would be on the exam—no doubt about it.

By the time she pushed her way through the front door late that night, Kelly’s shoulders drooped, and she had a splitting headache. A light shone in the kitchen, so she wandered inside.

Her mom, wrapped in a garish orange bathrobe, sat plowing through a quart of chocolate ice cream.

Kelly tossed her car keys on the counter and nodded.

Her mom nodded back. “Lousy day. You?”

Kelly shuffled to the cabinet, snatched up a rumpled bag of broken cookies, and grabbed a spoon out of an open drawer. “Nothing new. You know—same ol’, same ol’.” She plopped down beside her mother, poured the cookies on the table, and dug in.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Short Story: A New Life for Lucius Pollex

The fight was inevitable. The outcome was not….

Sweat poured down Lucius Pollex’s face as heat seared the hairs on his arms. A blast knocked him to his knees. He sucked in a lung full of air. Suddenly, a baby’s wail pierced the smoke-filled corridor.

“Oh, God.” Lucius’ muscles gleamed as he crawled forward. He could hear Captain Akio’s voice ringing in his ears. “Keep the governor safe—at all costs. She’s more important than the entire force put together.” Lucius shook his head and choked, nearly sobbing for air.

“Matthews! Governor Matthews! Can you hear—?”

A terrified shriek split the air.

A hologram picture of Governor Matthews signing an Inter-Alien Alliance treaty between the Friezing Outpost and the Crestonian government while cradling a newborn baby in her other arm filled his mind. The sight had left him incredulous. She was a woman of renowned diplomatic abilities, but over the year and a half he had served her, his doubt had turned to silent awe.

Lucius’ shoulder grazed a corner. On his right, he heard the incessant screams of a terrified baby, on his left a blocked doorway led to the governor’s private office. An explosion rocked the ship. He banged his head against the wall and struggled to stay conscious. With a fist, he pounded the closed door.

“Governor Matthews!”

The shrieks dwindled to a whimper wafting from the open doorway. Lucius turned, rose to his feet, and staggered in.

~~~

Dressed in prison garb, Lucius awoke to a light beam focused on his eyes. He sat up, cupping his hands over his face as his prosthetic feet hit the cold stone floor.

“Get up. They’re waiting for you.”

Lucius stood and faced his jailor, a short, blond man with the name tag “Officer Quinn” imprinted on his uniform. A small man who obviously delighted in small power. What would he do with great power? Lucius shuddered.

Quinn jabbed Lucius’ in the chest with the tip of his Dustbuster. “If you’re found guilty, you’re mine—forever.”

Lucius shrugged. “Not forever.”

“It’ll feel like it before long.” Quinn gestured through the doorway. “Let’s go.”

Lucius tripped. The lifeless prosthetics never moved as quickly as he expected. He righted himself; his gaze stayed fixed straight ahead.

~~~

In the courtroom, Lucius stood on a center dais with his hands clasped behind his back. Quinn stood near at hand, his Dustbuster at the ready. Frisian and Crestonian representatives sat in the wings.

The Crestonian judge tapped two tentacles together. “We find you guilty of gross negligence in the performance of your duty and hereby sentence you to—”

Lucius’ gaze wandered from the scene and retreated to the moment he clasped the baby girl in his arms and held her tight against the searing flames. He had little memory of the rest of his rescue mission, only the moment he awoke to discover that the baby was gone and so were his feet. Why they blamed him was of little importance. They had to blame someone, and he was expendable. The Frisians and Crestonians would agree on that at least.

On the way back to his cell, Lucius stumped along in silence.

Quinn’s grin appeared almost boyish. “What the hell did you expect? It’s not like the baby was really worth it or anything. She’s dead now, you know. Lung damage—”

Without a minuscule change in expression, Lucius reached out and gripped Quinn by the throat. He squeezed. Even when Quinn nudged the Dustbuster between them, and alarms blared throughout the corridors of Bothmal prison, Lucius kept squeezing.

~~~

Suddenly, Lucius felt a jolt sear through his body. He assumed he had just disintegrated to the tune of Quinn’s Dustbuster, but to his amazement he found himself standing in a field of daisies. Lucius raised his hands and examined them. He pinched his arm. A chuckle made him turn around.

“No, you’re not dead.” Omega, wearing a brown jerkin and tan, cotton pants waved Lucius forward. “Nothing of the kind. Come, let’s get you settled before I go.”

Lucius took a tentative step forward and tripped.

Omega sighed. “Yes, sorry, I didn’t fix them. Not yet, anyway. But your weakness will prove your strength.” Omega smiled airily. “Right now, I just want you to rest up for new challenges. I’ve got a whole world waiting for you.”

Lucius folded his arms across his chest and allowed his eyes to absorb the glory of a copse of woods and the flower-strewn field all around him. Slowly, his gaze wanted back to Omega. “And you are—?”

Omega sniffed and clapped his hands together. “Yes, of course. I always forget. Not everyone in the universe acknowledges me as lord and master.” He stepped forward and flourished a formal bow. “I am Omega, last son of my father, a being of wisdom and dignity who will soon become like a father to you as well. He is the creator of Mirage-Reborn—your new home.” Omega waved to the right, and a small, thatched cottage appeared. “But before I send you home, you need rest and time to adjust.”

Lucius shook his head. “Why? I mean, why save—”

Omega strode to the cottage door and swung it wide with an even wider smile. “For the same reason I do everything. I need something from you.”

Lucius stroked his chin as his eyebrows rose. “You? Need something from me?”

Omega shrugged with a tilt of his head. “You see, I must discover if the impossible is possible.” His gaze delved deep into Lucius’ eyes. “I am settling Quinn on Mirage-Reborn with you. I’d prefer you not kill him.”

Lucius’ eyes widened.

Omega waved his hand. “And he’s not to kill you, of course.”

A red bird burst from the grove of oaks along the edge of the woods behind the cottage and soared into the air.

Lucius caught his breath, and then let his gaze land on Omega once more. “I’ve already been found guilty of—”

Omega laughed. “That’s why I chose you, such an honest man!” Omega gestured toward the doorway. “It is well provisioned, and you will have plenty of time to rest up. My father, Abbas, will retrieve you when he’s ready. But now, I really must go. I’m terribly late.” Omega raised his hand in salute.

Lucius shouted. “Wait! I don’t understand—”

Omega grinned as his figure faded into the sunset; his voice carrying even after the last glimmer of his sparkling eyes disappeared. “We all have impossible choices to make.”

Lucius’ hands flapped to his side as he sucked in a deep, shuddering breath. He gazed at the natural beauty before him and took his first step toward home.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Short Story: Decorum

Josie hated going to parties though she often spent hours imagining what they would be like before hand. This party, a fundraiser for her father’s high school alma mater, involved an actual meal with fancy china, long-stemmed glasses, and two forks. She entered the reception area and instantly knew that she wore an invisibility cloak. Not only did no one look her direction, two people actually bumped into her as they headed across the room, apparently thinking they could walk right through her. She tugged at her black dress, trying to keep it from riding up her legs. It was already too short for her comfort, but her mom had insisted that it was the style nowadays. Yeah, stylish. That was Josie. About as stylish as a Jerusalem cricket on a potato leaf. Sheesh. Couldn’t anyone make dresses that fit a human body these days? Josie crept to a corner and hoped that her invisibility cloak would hide her from her parents as well as the scintillating society of Riverside High.

~~~

Kendrick Murphy tugged at his tie, flapped his hands at his side, and wondered if it would be rude to put his hands in his pockets. Why on earth had he agreed to this? Yes, he did want to support a worthy cause. Yes, he had spent four hideously bored years here, and he saw no reason to neglect the current generation’s allotment of torturous education. But. Still. Well, at least Jane was having a stupendous time. She swirled around the reception room like a ballroom dancer. And all eyes danced with her.

Whoa! Was that Mac? MacMcDermit? The football coach? Why hell, the man hadn’t aged a day! Oh, no, of course not. Too young. No wrinkles around the eyes. Oh, Lord in Heaven, that’s his son. There he is, shuffling on the boy’s right. Good, God! How he’s aged!

Kendrick stepped closer, leaned in, and nodded his head. Yep. This whole evening is some kind of retro-inferiority-complex come to haunt me.

 ~~~

Jane’s smile began to ache. Her gaze scoured the room. Where in the world was Josie? She ought to be helping out. Oh, there in a corner, hiding, as usual. Jane patted the arm of the lady in front of her, Sue Some-thing-or-other, and swayed over to the dark side of the room. As she drew closer, she wiggled two fingers expressively toward Josie.

Josie’s eyes widened in terror. Oh, no! She wants me out there. Where everyone is mingling, chatting, and pretending to have a marvelous time. Me. And. My. Invisibility Cloak. Out There?

Jane laid a hand on Josie’s shoulder. “You’re too timid for your own good; now look at your father over there. He’s chatting away with that old man and some young guy as if they’re old friends.”

Josie refrained from stating the obvious. She tried to disappear entirely, but her mom’s hand would not let her dematerialize.

“Listen, I know how hard it is.” Jane leaned in and whispered. “I hate these things too. I always feel like a fool, wondering what everyone says the second I turn my back.”

Josie blinked as if someone had just shoved a light in her face.

“But listen, honey, it’s part of life, part of growing up. We have to do these things. It’s called social decorum. You need to get good at it.”

Josie blushed and stared at her high heeled shoes.

“All you have to do is walk around and introduce yourself. Say that your dad went here and that you—”

A tall man in his late fifties sauntered over swishing a drink in his hand. “Hey, are you Gracie? You remember—”

Jane gave her daughter a little shove. “Off you go now. Be nice. Make friends.”

Josie nearly tripped, but she tottered into the noisy room. Her dad was talking sports with the old guy. Well, at least he’s saved. She looked back over her shoulder. Her mom had dragged the tall man over to a crowd of women, and suddenly there was a burst of laughter. Apparently, the tall man just met the real Gracie. Josie stood in the middle of the room and wondered how long until the appalling dinner and the hour of retreat. Her gaze fell on a thin, short girl about her age standing in the shadows—her shadows.

When Josie sauntered up, she met the girl’s eyes as they fixed on her. Josie shrugged. “You here with your dad?”

The girl shrugged back. “My mom.” She pointed. “Over there.”

Josie glanced to the far side of the room. A short, plump woman with striking red hair and a tight dress exchanged laughs with a bubbly assortment of guests. “Well, at least she’s having fun.” Josie turned and stuck out a limp hand. “My name’s Josie.

The girl returned the handshake, limp for limp, like two octopus tentacles passing in deep water. “Karen. Nice to meet you.”

She has good manners. Wish I’d thought to say that. “Nice to meet you, too.” Josie surveyed the bar on the right and realized that there wasn’t a single soda bottle among them. Hopeless. “So, where do you—”

The lights flickered, and conversation stopped for a second before it picked up to the tune of everyone strolling toward the dining room.

Karen teetered on her heels, sticking close to Josie’s side. As they entered the huge room lit by ornate chandeliers and arrayed with round tables decorated with flowers and fine dinnerware, Karen froze. “Oh, no. I don’t know which fork to use. I meant to ask mom, but I forgot.”

Josie grinned. She tugged at her dress and watched her Mom and Dad sit side-by-side looking into each other’s eyes as if they shared a grim secret. Suddenly, she understood.

Decorum. Society. Two forks.

“Use the one on the outside first. But don’t worry. No one will notice. They’re scared too. Trust me.”

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Short Story: Mirage-Reborn—We Are LuKan

As a LuKan alien living in Mirage-Reborn, Vera Web stood a diminutive one and a half meters and preferred the shadows. She was naturally shy and had been taught to stay on the edges of her environment through strict cultural mores. If it had not been for the total destruction of her world by the planet-destroyer, Cosmos, she would have lived happily on her dimly lit planet LuKa for another four centuries. But as she and her brother, Pav, were on board a trader at the time of the invasion, she never had a chance to collect her things or lose her life. The trader, not knowing what else to do with two LuKan orphans, sold them.

Soon, Vera and her brother were lost in the universal struggle for survival. One that they would undoubtedly have lost. But Omega discovered them huddled in a cargo bay nearly dead from dehydration and carried them off to his world—Mirage. They were the very first non-human citizens, besides Abbas and his family, to live in his village.

To facilitate their integration, Omega transformed their neck gills into neat rills that processed the oxygenated air on the Earth-like planet. Their long, three-fingered hands and feet, he ignored, though he muted the stingers on their middle fingers so that, though they could hurt a human with a nasty shock, they could not kill on contact.

Pav took charge of farming the land Omega gave him, raising crops and fruit trees, while Vera took charge of the farm animals, mostly sheep and pigs, though they also owned three horses, five dogs, and uncounted cats. Vera also managed the farm accounts and the house.

It was soon after their initial integration that Omega disappeared. They learned his history and of his mother’s death from rumors and hushed conversations on street corners, but once settled on the farm, they rarely strayed near town. Once a month, farmers came by and hauled off whatever Pav and Vera laid out for sale, be it a couple of fat sheep or three baskets of apples.

After Omega had been gone nearly a year, Vera decided to venture out and attended the Town Hall meeting in which Jeremy Quinn and Lucius Pollex were introduced. She scowled at the sight of Mr. Quinn, but something deep inside stirred at the sight of the blacksmith’s somber eyes.

When Quinn showed up on her doorstep a week later, Vera knew that she should never have strayed from the farm. Pav was working on the acres farthest from the house, so she didn’t even bother to scan the horizon for him.

Quinn nodded with a set smile and swept his hat off his sweaty head. “Whew! Mind if I sit on the steps a moment? I’ve been traipsing around to each farm so as to introduce myself, and you’re the last on today’s list. I’m tired beyond words.”

Vera blinked in sudden confusion. His smile caught her off guard, and his courteous tone unsettled her early assumptions. She pulled a chair forward, out of a dark corner, and gestured. “Please, make yourself comfortable. My brother is in the field, or he would meet you himself.”

The sheriff’s silver star pinned on his tan shirt winked in the sunlight, and he waved as if to assure her that Pav would never be missed. He plopped down in the chair with a contented sigh. “No, don’t worry about Pav. I only wanted to speak with you anyway. From what I’ve heard, your brother is a man—I mean an alien—of few words.”

Vera stiffened. Her long fingers gripped the edge of the porch railing. “We are LuKan. Shy and reclusive by nature. We do not mean to be rude.”

Quinn’s gaze flitted over her face, her figure, and finally to her fingers, halting for only a millisecond on the third digit with the thickened tip. “No, of course not. I’d never think the worse of you.” He stared into her steady gaze as if to drive home a secret meaning.

Vera’s grip tightened, and her gaze dropped to the ground. “Is there anything in particular that I can do for you today, Sheriff?”

Quinn wiped his brow with the back of his hand and stood. He stretched as if he had just woken from a long and comforting nap. “No, not yet.” He sauntered closer and stared down at her bowed head. “I’ve seen a lot in my years, little Miss, and I know how things can change in a moment. It’s nice to know who I can count on—if you understand.”

Vera kept her eyes lowered and merely shrugged.

Contrary to his usual habit, Pav strolled out of the field in the middle of the day. He loped across the yard but said nothing. His gaze stayed fixed on the house, but his steps took him directly into Quinn’s path.

Quinn replaced his hat and tapped Vera on the shoulder. “It was nice getting to know you. Let your brother know—you’re my friend—understand?”

Vera stood frozen even as the sheriff stepped off the porch and grinned at Pav as he passed.

Pav marched up the stairs and into the house without a word. Only Vera saw his hands shaking.

When Lucius Pollex showed up on Vera’s doorstep the next morning, she was not visibly surprised. Pav had gone into the fields at the first note of birdsong, so she was alone again, but this time, her shoulders didn’t droop as she lowered her gaze.

The blacksmith’s hair blew in a slight breeze; his hands tanned a dark brown, but his face appeared unnaturally pale. “Hello, Ma’am. Sorry to disturb you, but your brother sent word that I was to come by and fix a wagon. Would you know about that?”

Vera’s gaze shot to the barn. They owned a wagon, but to the best of her knowledge, it was in perfect shape. Her brows furrowed. She led the way to the barn, pulled open the red door, and stared at a lopsided wagon with one wheel broken in half. She turned and faced the blacksmith.

“Something must have happened while he was using it the field.” She dared a quick glance into Pollex’s eyes. “You think you can fix it?”

Mr. Lucius Pollex glanced from the wagon to her tiny face and a warm smile gleamed from his eyes.

It was near sunset when the blacksmith showed up at her door again.

Vera stepped out into the evening light feeling rather light herself.

Mr. Pollex wiped his hands on a dirty rag and nodded. “I rolled it to my shop and worked on it, but it’s going to take a bit more time. I could lend your brother a spare wagon in the meantime—if he wants it.”

Vera shook her head and glanced up. She froze. Jeremy Quinn was strolling down the lane.

Mr. Pollex peered over his shoulder and closed his eyes.

Vera shifted her worried gaze from the sheriff and frowned at the blacksmith. “Are you ill?”

The blacksmith shook his head. “Not yet.” He turned, and when the two men’s gazes met, the sheriff smiled, waved, and strolled in another direction.

“You know each other.” Vera’s hands clenched behind her back.

“Yes.”

“Is he your enemy?”

“I would not have it so. But he was once my jailor.” The blacksmith looked up and peered into Vera’s widened eyes. “Listen now. If ever you need a friend, I’ll come, all right?” With a tip of his head, the blacksmith turned and strode down the lane.

When Pav came in that night, he stopped Vera on the landing before her bedroom door. He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “I know you are afraid, but just stay in the shadows; you’ll be all right.”

Vera patted her brother’s arm and retreated to her room.

Later, as she wandered under the night sky and pondered her life on Mirage-Reborn, she reflected on the two men who had entered her life so unexpectedly. Her frown transformed into a soft smile as she turned from the image of the one who demanded friendship to the one who offered.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Short Story: Crucible

My eighth-grade teacher once said that a crucible was a really tough situation where guys with serious attitude issues go up against each other, but something good usually comes out of it. Well, looking at it like that, I’d have to say, I’ve done serious time in a crucible of my own.

In eighth grade, I couldn’t decide whether to go onto high school or drop out entirely. I wasn’t a great student. Not the worst—but failing on my own terms, if you know what I mean.

My sister went into the Navy, and my older brother, J. J., was into stuff. My little brother was toddling about the place, and mama was still carrying the baby on her hip like a sack of groceries. She wanted me to go on in school and told me to get extra help. I wasn’t about to ask for any, but then my teacher told me that there was this college lady, Kelsey, who needed to earn points or something for her teaching degree. She needed someone to tutor, and he thought I could use the practice.

The first day Kelsey came after school, I was a little nervous. She was a bookish type—short hair, glasses, dark sweater, and a real stiff handshake—though nice enough.

We went to the library, and Kelsey asked me what I liked to read. I pulled out a book about a sports hero, and she smiled. I can still remember that smile. We met after school for weeks, and every day I read a little better. She’d asked me questions—what I thought about a character or what might happen next. She didn’t seem to care that I skipped over some of the words, or that I couldn’t pronounce the names. It was about getting inside the writer’s head and figuring out why the story mattered. I liked that. Understanding the whole point made it work for me. Kelsey would say, “Motivation is everything, James.”

One day, I had to hurry home. There’s been trouble between Mama and J. J., and I was worried, but Kelsey said she’d come with me so that we could read at home. I wasn’t so sure that was a good idea. My house was on the other side of the river, and I doubted she’d ever been in that part of town before. But Kelsey said she’d be okay with it. So—we went.

Mama greeted Kelsey like a long lost cousin, all smiles, and a big slapping handshake. I looked around for J. J., but he was nowhere insight. The baby was sweating in her diaper, and Mama went back to fixing supper. Kelsey and I sat at the kitchen table, and we started on the last chapter of the book. I had already figured out the ending; I had kinda looked ahead a few days back. I also knew that this would be our last meeting since Kelsey had graduated and taken a job in the northwest.

Suddenly, J.J. stomped in and started yelling—screaming his head off. I didn’t know what had set him off this time, but his glazed, red eyes and waving arms told me all I really needed to know. Kelsey rose to her feet like she was expecting to be introduced, but J.J. got in her face and screamed some more.

“Why didn’t nobody ever help me? What’s so damn important about James that he gets all the attention?”

Kelsey stood her ground, but she couldn’t break through. She said she’d help him if she could, but I knew it was hopeless. J. J. didn’t want to read.

After a bit, J. J. blew out of the kitchen as fast and furious as he had blown in.

Mama went over to Kelsey and lifted a big, black skillet she had in her hand. “I would’ve banged him over the head if he’d have taken another step.” Poor Mama was shaking all over—from rage or fear I didn’t know. Probably both.

Anyway, I knew our time was over. Kelsey had given me her best effort, and I appreciated it, but it was time to move on. Her last words that day were: “Don’t forget the last chapter, James; it’s often the most important.”

I can’t remember the last chapter of that sports book. It didn’t matter much. But the skillet in Mom’s hand and Kelsey’s courage did. I found a job working across the river and, though it took me some time, I did make it through high school. I never went to college, but I got a good job. J.J. did some time in prison, and then one day my sister found him od’ed in his room.

When I think back to all the things I’ve done, the people I’ve known—like Kelsey and mom—and how things turned out for J. J., I’ve got to say that something good came from my crucible. I started reading my life, and I got motivated to write a really good last chapter.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Poem: Truth of Loveliness

As dappled light crawls up the trees,

The sun sets slanting across the seas.

 

Children murmur in evening play,

Birds chirp goodnight to the day.

 

Staccato hoots of an early owl,

Cats wander on the prowl.

 

The breeze stills,

The air chills.

 

The last tractor rumbles by,

Piano chords through open windows sigh.

 

Fireflies flash their fairy lights,

Frogs chorus into the night.

 

Sweet is the summer evening fair,

When life and love and joy do dare,

 

To accomplish that which no earthly treasure buys,

A truth of loveliness that never dies.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Short Story: Fiery Furnace

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ~Edmund Burke

I’d never seen a dead body before, and the sight of him lying there must’ve sent me into shock. I stared, mute, unable to believe it was really a human being before me, hogtied to a pole, warning us—of something. I looked at my counselor, Mr. Jansen, the one in charge of us “Witnesses for Christ.” I didn’t feel like a witness. I felt like a bloody idiot staring at some murdered kid like he was the newest exhibit in the science museum back home.

It had been my mom’s great idea to expand my horizons. “Get out and see the world. Find out what is real. Discover your potential.” She’s got a million of ‘em. Brilliant ideas to transform me from an ordinary, blemished teen dressed in cheap clothes into the hero of the week. After all, we’re fed the Hero’s Vision from infancy – Be all you can be. No one can stop you. No limits to your horizons. And all that crap. Apparently, this kid met his limit. At gunpoint by the look of it.

Mr. Jansen glanced at the soldier with the biggest gun—the one who was supposed to be on our side. He was a big guy. Even his muscles had muscles. But his eyes gleamed like dead stones. He didn’t turn and explain. He didn’t offer us a pep talk. He just spoke in his guttural way so that even Mr. Jansen could understand. “Not. One. Word.”

Mr. Jansen obeyed. Pale and shaking, he directed the four of us from Team Gabriel to step aside and head back to our tents. I was glad to obey. I hardly wanted to ruffle any feathers here in the wilds of wherever the blank I was. Heck, I hadn’t learned anyone’s name because I could hardly pronounce a word of their language. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I certainly wasn’t prepared for this real-ness.

Three more days…two more days…one more day. Like a mantra, I counted the allotted time before we could return to my version of reality. Yet, I knew deep inside that somehow my reality had changed. It now included a dead kid hogtied to a pole. I left my tent during recreation time and hunted up our guard. It wasn’t hard. He stood a foot taller than everyone else.

“Mr. uh….” I shuffled from foot-to-foot.

“Kohl.” He peered down at me like I was one of those scurvy dogs they like to kick around. Or poison.

“Yeah, well, I was just wondering, if you could, sort of, explain what happened to that kid—you know the one that—”

“Clermont.”

I could feel my eyes widen. “Excuse—?”

“His name was Clermont.”

In all my wild imaginings I never expected a Clermont. A Dead Clermont. What an ordinary, nerdy sort of name. “Really? He was a soldier—or something?”

“Brother of one.” Mr. Kohl hefted his gunbelt studded with bullets a little higher across his shoulder and started shuffling down the dirt path they optimistically call Main Street. He never looked at me, but I felt the invitation, so I shuffled alongside.

“But why—?”

“We live differently than you. We’ve got our own rules. It all goes back to—”

“But he’s—he was—just a kid. How can your rules apply to him? I mean, he didn’t do anything bad, did he?”

“No. Not at all. He was a good kid. But his family belongs to a certain sect—”

“You kill families for their beliefs? Their allegiances?”

When Mr. Kohl peered at me, I swallowed, afraid of the fiery furnace of his gaze.

“For survival. We live by our beliefs. And we die by them, too.” He spat into the dust. “I doubt you’d understand.”

My clenched hands trembled at my side. “Not fair! I’m here because I’m a witness for—”

Mr. Kohl’s snort turned a few heads, but he strolled on, his shoulders squared in cocky self-assurance. “You? You witness nothing. I’ve watched you—and your kind—wander into our world, lost sheep looking for purpose—or excitement—to fill your boring days. You’re more dead than Clermont.”

I nearly pulled out my hair as I tugged at my short, bleached locks. “How can you be so unfeeling—so cruel? Some poor kid dies because of your vicious lifestyle—one you could change—and yet you dare attack me, someone who only wants to bring a bit of light and hope into your—”

Mr. Kohl moved faster than I would have imagined. He gripped me by the throat and slammed me against a stonewall. My eyes searched frantically for a rescuer, someone who’d see this outrage and help. Where was my counselor, now? Probably watching from a distant doorway.

“Listen, child. You know nothing! This is our world. It’s brutal. I didn’t make it so, but I know it well. I don’t lie and pretend it’s something else. We can’t hide here. Death happens—all the time. I live by my conscience. So did Clermont. But we must bow to a greater authority. That cruelty you see here, it lies in you as well. How do you think we feel—you coming and preaching to us when you do not know our truth?”

He let me go and patted me on the arm as if to make amends. “It’s not your fault. You were born into your world. I was born into mine. We both have to make do with what we got.”

I couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down my face. “But I do believe in something. I came here because—” I hesitated, grappling for words. “I believe that there is more to life than cruelty and death.”

The shadow of a smile glistened from Mr. Kohl’s deep black eyes. “So do I. That’s why I offer my services, year after year, and I let your kind preach. Even though you don’t understand. Your Mr. Jansen and those like him, at least they try. Against all odds, they offer a better vision. It probably won’t happen. But, it’s something. It’s all the hope we got.”

~~~

By the time I returned home, sitting on the overstuffed couch in our air-conditioned house, I had pretty much gotten over my fright—and my rage. I could barely remember Clermont’s bruised face. It would fade in time. But Mr. Kohl’s eyes—they would stay with me forever.

When mom came in, all cheerful and happy in her shorts and bright T-top, I felt Mr. Kohl’s fingers around my throat.

She plopped an assortment of summer wildflowers into a vase on the table. “So, how was it? Did you have a good time and learn about the wide world?”

Her smile was so genuine; I felt tears flood my eyes. I wanted to explain, but she raised her hand. “Oh, before I forget, we’ve got a luncheon on Thursday, and I want you to bring your music books. It’d be great if you played a little something.”

I choked and covered my face with my hands. “Mom….”

Before I could prepare myself, she threw herself down on the couch next to me. Her arm wrapped around my shoulders, and her voice cracked. “Was it awful, then?”

I pulled away and stared at her much like I must’ve stared at Dead Clermont. “You know?”

Tears glimmered in her eyes. “I’ve known and tried to live with knowing all my life.”

I bolted to my feet. “Why on God’s green Earth did you send me then? The whole thing was hopeless, a total disaster!”

It was almost as if she and Mr. Kohl were related. Her eyes burned, and I was back in that fiery furnace. “You were born into this world, but that hardly excuses you from knowing their world. I could never have explained. You had to see for yourself.”

She was right. No one could’ve explained. And even when you get up close and personal, you still don’t really understand. But now—in an aching sort of way—it’s your world too.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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