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/

Don’t Get Blown Away

Grey clouds, gusty winds, and flapping curtains—frantic, as if no one was listening—held Aisling on the threshold, waiting, but for what, she could not say.

Her husband, Diarmuid, hustled an overfilled wheelbarrow across the yard. His muscles strained with the effort, though he whistled a lively tune while he worked.

At the back of the greening-up yard, along the still-winter-dead hedgerow, her youngest son, Collin, swung on a frayed rope tied from a high branch. A dip in the land allowed him to free fall, enjoying the heady drop without any real danger.

Neither husband nor son seemed the least bit concerned about the pending storm. A neighbor had mentioned as they passed at the post office that morning, “Lots of rain coming. Eager spring planters best hold off a bit, or every seed’ll be washed away.”

A sharp crack and snapping branches caught Aisling’s attention. A damaged tree that had kept a stretched roothold into the bank of the ever-widening river had given way and was now lodged in the crook of a straight but world-weary tree.

Having dumped his load of compost, Diarmuid looked over, a rake motionless in his hand. “Ya see that?”

Aisling nodded.

Collin pelted across the yard, a spring kite off its tether, his shirttail flapping behind him. He skidded to a stop at the crumbling bank. “Hey, da! See what it’s done!”

Aisling met her husband at the crooked river bend where the tree fell and got caught.

“It’s them strangling vines that done it. They’re taking over the back lot, sucking up the water and soil, so even the young starve where they stand.”

A swift kick to the gut could not have stunned Aisling more. Dread chased logic right out of her mind. “Niamh got the job.”

Darkness deepened the glint in Diarmuid’s eyes. “I hope she knows what she’s about. There’s no telling what life’ll be like that far from home. Can’t harvest a garden in a city apartment.”

Motherly defenses rising, Aisling crossed her arms, a barricade against fears that can’t possibly understand. “It’s her life. She has to find her own way.”

“The land holds true when people fail.”

A gust of wind toppled a chair on the porch, sending Collin sprinting across the yard. “I’ll get it. Just hope the house don’t blow away!”

With a sharp turn, Diarmuid paced back to the half-tilled garden.

Under her breath, Aisling prayed. “I hope so too.”

~~~

Late that night, as the house stood quiet and the curtains hung limp and lifeless, Aisling wiped the counter and wrung the dishrag dry. She lay it on the edge of the clean sink, took a last glance around the orderly kitchen, and turned off the light. She headed for bed.

Moonlight shone through Collin’s window, and the toe of his boot glinted from under a chair.

She padded down the hallway, the sound of the shower grew louder in her ears. In the master bedroom, she peeled off her shoes and socks and then readied her bedclothes. Her computer screen had gone to sleep, but she knew there were emails and financial business to attend to early the next morning. A stack of biographies, novels, and historical epics lay beside the bed. Lots to read, to imagine, to consider, but her exhausted brain couldn’t fathom anything more than her bedtime ritual.

The shower spray stopped with a sudden halt, the floorboards groaned, and she could imagine Diarmuid drying off in his own methodical way.

Everything was peaceful now, and Aisling wondered at her dread-filled fears during the storm. She searched her mind for the emotional landmines that had sent her down such a treacherous rabbit hole. Niamh’s new job? She shook her head and pulled down the covers on the bed. There was no reason to fear that a grown woman living a mere hundred miles away would come to a bad end just because she worked in the city.

The bathroom door opened, and Diarmuid, dressed in his sweat pants and little else, strolled in, toweling off his hair. “We’ll have to take two cars. She’ll need one till she gets settled in. And there’s a zoo near the place Collin might like. We can make a weekend of it. Once she finds out what life is like there, she might appreciate home a bit more.”

Aisling nodded. There was no arguing her husband’s brand of logic.

She plodded to the bathroom, stripped, and got into the shower, and turned it on piping hot. Luxuriating in the steaming spray, Collin’s words ran in her mind: hope the house don’t get blown away.

Suddenly her fear made perfect sense. She wasn’t afraid of losing her daughter but losing the home her daughter could return to.

Her home.

Her life.

What makes my life? My home?

“Hey, honey, where’d you put my reading glasses?”

Aisling smiled at a memory. “You left them by the printer this morning when you got the paper stuck, remember?”

“Oh. Yeah. That.”

She heard his chuckle and knew he had remembered too. She slipped on her nightclothes, brushed her teeth, and shuffled into the bedroom.

Diarmuid sat propped against a pile of pillows, a biography in his hand. He looked over his glasses and peered at her. “You doing okay?”

A gust of wind hit the house and startled the curtains.

But the house still stood.

A deep abiding peace settled Aisling’s soul. “Yeah. Life’s good. I like your idea about taking two cars and visiting the zoo. I’m going to take a tomato plant in a crate so Niamh can have a little bit of home in her apartment.”

“Huh. Nice thought, but it won’t be the same.”

“No. But we all have to start somewhere. Then we start building and try not to get blown 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

Photo: https://pixabay.com/photos/storm-farm-house-farm-house-5665074/

Between Worlds

Shailyn jerked upright in bed, jolted from the other world back into her own. The usual, odd discomfort dogged her as she peeled back the heavy bed covers, then trod to the bathroom for her daily ablutions.

I belong there haunted her thoughts as she tugged on her jeans and a heavy sweater, though she knew, realistically, she couldn’t live there. As a between-worlder, she was powerless to pick a permanent lodging.

Shivering in the cold morning air, she plodded to the kitchen and gratefully poured herself a cup of steaming coffee. Her daughter, Win, always got up first and made sure that the pot was full and piping hot before she left for work. Bless that girl.

Retreating to the comfort of the living room, Shailyn added a log to the burning embers in the woodstove and sat on the sturdy rocker before the big bay windows. February rain slanted across the glass as pine boughs swayed against the gray sky.

 Misty, her daughter’s tiny pup, scampered into the room and leapt into her lap, squirming with all the energy of young life.

Struggling to keep her coffee from spilling, Shailyn nudged the quadruped to a comfortable spot on her lap, took a sip of the dark brew, and then sat back and closed her eyes.  Dream images of herself traipsing along the muddy bank of a beautiful lake, a distant, untidy cottage, and a huge water bird charging with flapping wings over a line dug in the earth while intoning, “Stay where you belong!” sent confused sensations rippling over her body.

Pounding steps echoed down the staircase. Her eldest, Morgan, tromped to the kitchen, splashed coffee into his oversized mug, and then meandered to her side. His hair disheveled and dressed in dark jeans, a pullover sweater, and boots, he peered over his cup as he took his first hurried gulp.

Shailyn waited. She knew what was coming. Just like she knew what her answer would be. Though she’d have to gather strength from somewhere else to make her words believable.

“You’ll be there to pick her up, right?”

“Absolutely. Once I get my old bones ready to face the day.”

“May’s going to need all the help she can get, but I have to handle the newest crises breaking out at work.”

“You take care of your business, and I’ll do mine.”

A snort turned Shailyn’s gaze from the tears streaming down the window pane.

“Technically, she’s not your responsibility. She’s my stepdaughter.” He shook his head. “If only—”

“Stop!” She couldn’t handle if-onlys today. There was no changing the past. No bringing the dead back to life. She glanced at her son’s weary, wounded soul peeking through his gray-green eyes. “She’s all our responsibility—everyone who has a heart to love, should.”

“It’s a lot to ask—by all rights, you’d be in retirement now, enjoying your last days, not taking care of a disabled kid.”

The wind picked up as rage surged through Shailyn. “She’s not a disabled kid! She’s a wounded child. Just like you’re a wounded man, though your wounds are on the inside.”

Chastened, Morgan swallowed the last drops and eyed his mom. “Most are.” He trod to the kitchen, placed the cup on the counter, and called out as he yanked open the door. “She’d be ready at ten. The nurse will have all her stuff packed, and they’ll fold and load the wheelchair for you, so don’t mess with it. May can walk into the house with help. Just get her settled downstairs. I’ll do the rest when I get home.”

The picture of May’s imploring, chocolate brown eyes following her as she puttered around the house sent shivers down her arms. She frowned and bit her lip.

A glittery box stuffed into the bookshelf caught her eye. Jessica from church thought that she’d enjoy an “epic puzzle” in her old age and had sent her one with a thousand pieces. She nudged the pup’s warm body from her lap and rose to her feet. She waved to her son through the window.

~~~

The box-cover picture, a fairy child plucking a blue flower under the umbrella of a wide, red-spotted mushroom, while raindrops splattered against the sheltering roof and vibrant grass stems bent in gentle perfection, soothed Shailyn’s soul.

May pressed a border piece into place, her eyes shining at the mighty accomplishment. “I got this side done.”

“You’re quick. I’m only halfway through my edge.”

“They gave me lots of puzzles to do at the hospital.” May’s gaze traveled to the couch loaded with stuffed animals and three colorful blankets. “Giving me stuff makes them feel better, I think.”

Shailyn held a corner piece and considered her options. “There’s nothing wrong with trying to help. Or attempting to make you feel better.”

“They couldn’t keep mom alive or fix my back.” She shrugged. “Not in this world.”

Shailyn pressed her piece into place and sat back. She rubbed her cold hands. “I’m going to stoke the fire and check the stew. You want anything while I’m up?”

“You have any chocolate milk?”

“I’ve got milk and cocoa packets. If I get wild and mix them—well, we’ll see what happens.”

A grin peeked through May’s eyes.

~~~

Darkness had laid the landscape still and silent by the time Morgan slipped in the back door. He shoved the wheelchair against the wall and unfolded it, ready for action.

Shailyn met him in the kitchen. “There’s stew left. Though you’re lucky. May managed to work her way through two bowlfuls, much to my amazement.”

Staring through haggard eyes, Morgan pulled off his coat and tossed it on a chair. “She always amazes me. Like her mom. Resilient beyond belief.”

Until she wasn’t.

Shailyn shook her head. “Sit down and take a rest. I’ll get it for you.” She glanced at the ceiling, giving due notice to the room above. “She went to bed at eight-thirty. Not a peep since.” Shailyn pulled a plastic container from the refrigerator and poured the chunky liquid into a glass bowl. She placed it in the microwave and hit two.

Morgan leaned on the worn wooden table, resting his head on his hand. “She do okay? And you—it wasn’t too much?”

“Define too much.” Shailyn shrugged. “She put half a puzzle together at the speed of lightning, slurped down a large chocolate milk, put away two bowls of stew, and agreed to my syllabus for home school for the rest of the semester.”

“Ma, you sure you want—”

The microwave beeped repeatedly, warning that it could keep stew hot only so long.

Morgan stood and waved his mom off. “Sit; relax. I’ll get it.” He pulled the hot stew from the microwave, rummaged in the cupboard for bread, and plunked down on his chair, ready to dig into his assembled meal. He took a large scoop, savored it, and then stared at his mom, his eyebrows finishing his question.

Shailyn peeled a banana and sat opposite. “I’m hardly the best teacher in the world, but I can help her through her online classes. We don’t know what next year will look like, but for now, this is where she should be. You and Win manage this big, old rambling house; I keep it stocked with healthy dinners and fun snacks. We’re family. What else should I be doing—putting bigger puzzles together?”

“You could be traveling, seeing the world, visiting friends…”

“I could be laying in the cemetery, cold and stiff. Lots of could be’s. All fantasy. What is—makes the world go around. I’m right where I belong.”

His shoulders relaxing as the weight of a grievous month lifted just a bit, Morgan offered a lopsided grin.

~~~

After dressing in comfortable, warm sweats in the quiet of her room, Shailyn stretched out on her bed, turned off the light, pulled her blanket over her shoulders, and slipped into dreams that would take her away but could never keep her.

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/sunset-nature-landscape-outdoors-3154715/

Richly Blessed

“He will be missed.”

Jacob read the quote twice before he put the fragile newspaper aside. Cleaning had never been his favorite job, but after his grandma passed two months before, he knew that he couldn’t sell her old farmhouse until it was completely cleaned out and that meant sorting through all the junk from her past. A long past full of cards, letters, mementos, pictures, and even great-granddad’s old house key. The woman saved everything.

He sighed, shifted his crouched position in the dim, dusty attic, and glanced at the carefully cut-out article again. Who was this man that she bothered to save his obituary? And was he really missed? He had died so long ago, those who cared were long gone. Doesn’t matter now.

“Jacob?”

Rosie’s voice, melodic and enticing, still sent chills up his arms. He could hardly believe she had married him and that they were expecting their first child in the spring. After sweeping the last stacks of papers off the shelf, Jacob bundled them into the over-filled plastic container and grunted as he hefted it to the top of the steps. “This is the last of it. I’m coming down now.”

With her rounded belly giving shape to her bright maternity top, Rosie peered up from the bottom step. “Don’t carry too much. You might fall.”

With a half-laugh, Jacob defied the silly notion and started down the narrow steps, slipped on the fifth, and landed with decided “Ugh!” and a sharp pain in his back.

As if to add insult to injury, the box tipped and spilled its guts all over the floor.

Suddenly commander and chief of healthcare, Rosie dove into action, her hands fluttering. “Stop! Stay where you are. Let me see if your—”

Ignoring her attention, Jacob tried to stand, then muffled a series of profanities as he fell again.

By late afternoon, Jacob had been x-rayed, found he had slipped a disk, and was sentenced to bed for the duration with enough pain killer and vegetable soup to keep him alive though not uncomplaining.

~~~

After arriving at their single-story ranch home, Rosie made the necessary phone calls, informing work, family, and friends that her “strong-man” was doing fine, though he wouldn’t be getting around for a few days.

Jacob could hear her voice from the bedroom as she prepared dinner, soothing away worries, insisting that she didn’t need any help, and glorying in the fact that she had tried to warn him, “But you know how he is…”

He considered popping another pill to dull the humiliation.

Cute as always but with a hint of smugness, Rosie toted in a tray just as the winter sun set. A roast beef sandwich with barbecue chips, coleslaw, and a glass of milk gladdened his eyes, bringing his salivary glands back to life, though he looked twice at the glass of milk. A faded newspaper article lay complacently under the fork.

“You need extra calcium. The doctor specifically mentioned that you should drink milk and get more exercise.”

Jacob’s brain spun, trying to think of a non-profanity-laden retort.

“Oh, and Mrs. Miller put the box in the car and carried it into the living room so we could go through it.” She tapped the paper. “I found this article on a great-great-uncle of yours. Sounds like he was quite a guy.”

His brain had frozen at the image of Mrs. Miller carrying the box to the car. “The woman is seventy-six years old! How could she carry—”

“Very carefully. She wouldn’t let me touch it because of the baby. And she knows how much we want to get the house cleaned out. Her son said he’d bring his boys over, you know the twins, Jim and Jerry, to do the last of the patching and painting. Then it’ll be fit for the realtor to put on the market.”

Picturing the middle-aged brothers, grizzled farmers who lived down the lane, Jacob stifled a groan. When did my life slip out of control? “Really, I think we should hire someone to—”

Rosie perched on the edge of the bed and shook her head, eternally patient wise-woman. “Don’t be ridiculous. There isn’t a carpenter to be had—no professional wants to go into these old farmhouses unless you want a complete refurbish job. Which we can’t afford. Jim and Jerry have done tons of work on their own place; they can handle this. We’ll pay them, and the house will be fine.” She nudged the milk closer, glanced pointedly at the article, and climbed to her feet. “Eat and rest. I’m going to see how many hearts and likes we got on Facebook.”

Oh, heck…  Jacob shoved the Facebook humiliation out of his mind and chomped down his meal. He ignored the article. But as he couldn’t eat it, there wasn’t a television or a computer within reach, and he had left his phone in the car, his fingers inched toward the yellowed newspaper.

He read it three times. His eyes filled with tears on the second round and flowed after the third. How could he have had such a relative and never heard? But then he remembered. Grandma had spoken of her Uncle Thomas, a priest who had served his flock in love and devotion, who had died unexpectedly. But he had never paid it much mind. Some old relative who had passed away long before his time.

Rosie hummed as she switched off the last of the lights, waddling closer, her happy disposition radiating through the house.

Suddenly, Jacob envisioned the web of interconnected lives. The great uncle who had powerfully influenced his mother, who had formed him. The long descent of relatives who arrived and left the human stage in numberless succession, changing the landscape for each generation.

Rosie stopped in the doorway; her eyes widened in alarm as she stared at him. “What’s wrong, honey?” She hustled close, arms ready to snuggle and comfort.

Jacob breathed her unique scent, soaked in her gentle touch, and knew, beyond all shadow of a doubt, he had been richly blessed.

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/newspaper-daily-newspaper-pages-664578/

New Generation

House, Deserted, Abandoned, Old, Landscape, Prairies

Elmer knew better than to believe in ghosts. But when he awoke with sweat beading on his forehead and the sensation that he had just returned from a long journey through wild-lands with only his body and wits intact, he knew that something otherworldly was at work.

His wife stirred at his side. She slapped the blankets, her face half-smashed against the pillow, her eyes squeezed shut. “Don’t get up…too early.”

Too early or too late? He pressed his chest trying to steady his galloping heart. “Hon-honey?”

One eye opened. Not a flicker of interest.

“Do you remember going to a desert town with broken-down buildings and getting kidnapped?”

Lana sat up, groggily rubbing her fingers through her short tufts of hair.

Elmer swallowed the lump in his throat. What happened to her luscious brown locks?

She steered her gaze over her husband, taking the long tour. Dubious. Pity?

His hands shaking, Elmer threw off the wrinkled sheets and stalked to the bathroom. He swiped on the cold water, splashed his face, straightened, and snatched a towel. He wiped the drips running down his baggy t-shirt. Have I lost weight? He sucked in a shuddering breath. “What day is it?”

Lana padded across the bedroom. “Sunday, goof. New Year’s Day, remember?”

An electric bolt sizzled through his body. “N-new year?”

With a snarky laugh, Lana strolled into the bathroom wearing a calf-length night dress that should look sexy as hell, but didn’t.

Elmer stared. Why?

She leaned her head on his shoulder, a buddy-nudge, nothing wifely about it. “You remember the year, right?”

Terror gripped Elmer, nearly closing his throat. “Twenty-twenty—”

“Ha-ha! Got ja!” She smacked him, grinning like a lottery winner. “You had a whole year to get used to the thirties, and now you’ve slipped-up. Used to make fun of me!”

His gaze shifted from his wife to the mirror. Where did these grey streaks come from? His eyes—haggard and…vacant? Lord, have mercy.

Frowning, Lana shoved off and crossed her arms, the tilt of her body accenting the sharpness of her bony frame. “Twenty-thirty-one! We toasted and the VR bots cheered. Remember?”

Elmer slapped his face. “Ten years?” He retreated to the bedroom, marched to the window, and lifted the curtain. A barren square of dead grass met his eyes. Only a rotting stump stood in testimony of past life. “What the—” He turned and glared at Lana. “Where’s our backyard?”

“Backyard?” She tiptoed forward and pressed her cold hand against his forehead. “You feeling all right?” She leaned in and stared deep into his eyes. “Time for your new-gen?”

A chill ran down his spine as he stared at the strange woman.

An elegant roll of the eyes. She flounced to the bedside, yanked open a drawer, and gripped a tube. She shook it, grinning. “You skipped your last dose—see what happens? Bad dreams, memory troubles… You need a pop and time inside.” Swinging the tube, she strode out of the bedroom.

His stomach dropped. Dragging it along behind, Elmer followed like a wary dog.

He faced what should have been his living room—a modern setup with overstuffed chairs, a broad couch, a large screen television centered on the back wall, matching end tables with iron lamps—opening to a large island-dominated kitchenet.

He froze.

Two worn chairs faced a bank of curved screens.

His gaze scraped the bare walls and grey floor. Cold. Dingy. Crumps, dust, stains, clutter. Broken family portraits lay scattered. One oil painting, ripped on the left side, stood propped on the floor, a forgotten project.

Elmer licked his lips. “Wh-where’s the Christmas tree?”

A snort and hollow laughter. “Christmas tree! What the hell is wrong with you?” She lumbered to the kitchen and dragged a chipped cup from the sink. She slapped the faucet, let water fill the container, plopped in a white pill, and watched it sizzle. She held out her offering. “Drink up!”

His whole body trembling, Elmer backed up, his hands raised. “What’s going on?”

Confusion raced irritation over Lana’s face. “I’ve heard of memory lapses, but this is a bit much. What’s the last thing you remember?”

Elmer edged his way to the nearest chair and plopped down, his body conforming to the seat, oddly comforting. “Christmas. We stopped at church for our ten-minute visit, came home, did our family video, then opened gifts. Jason gave us that new Virtual Reality Game…”

Lana sneered. “Ancient history, Elm. Christmas…church—mythology. Video chats for work, yeah, but who cares about family—it’s only DNA.” She wrinkled her nose and held out the cup.

He accepted it and sniffed. Nothing.

She tapped her wrist, bringing the screens to life. Rotating images flashed—a rainforest, a medieval castle, and a desert with broken down buildings. “Time to get back to the real world.”

~~~

Sucking in a heaving breath, Elmer shot up in bed, his heart racing. He glanced wildly around.

Lana, her long brown hair running riot over the blankets, lay on her side, her face in peaceful repose.

He heaved a long sigh and softly inched out of bed. Padding to the bathroom, he stared in the mirror. No grey streaks. A little bloodshot and brooding, but definitely his eyes. Thank God.

“Honey?”

Elmer froze.

“I’m so tired. Get me that New-gen Marge gave me last night, okay?”

Blinking, Elmer trotted to the living room and snatched the curtain away from the bank of windows. A soft blanket of snow covered their miniature backyard. The maple tree still standing in the center. Furniture, Christmas tree, paintings on the wall. Familiar. Home. He released a long breath.

“Honey?” Her voice had risen to a whine.

Like a wolf approaching a strange den, he sidled toward the kitchenet. The flash of a curved screen glinted from under the tree as he went by.

A red box with huge letters “A New Generation” screamed on the central island.

His fingers trembling, Elmer opened the box.

~~~

Elmer closed the door, padded to his bedroom, and flopped onto the bed.

Sitting propped against a bank of colorful pillows with a book in her hands, Lana peered at him through narrowed eyes. “I still don’t get why you had to have the whole family over.”

Elmer shrugged.

“And what happened to the new VR set Jason gave us?”

Elmer kicked off his shoes and slid back onto the pillows. He wrapped his arm around his wife’s shoulders. “We don’t need it.”

She shook her head. “Like Marge’s gift?” She laid the book on her lap. “You know, you’ve been a different guy since New Year’s Day.”

Elmer exhaled and pulled his wife close, his passion real and desire rising. “I hope so, sweetie. I hope so.”

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/house-deserted-abandoned-old-4828660/

Come Out of the Cold

Stupid mistakes left Trix cold. Her own especially. Who on planet Earth was responsible for spelling? And could she find a legal precedent for killing the nameless perpetrators outright or would it have to be a clandestine affair? Though surely, she’d had a good portion of the world’s fifth-graders in her corner.

Was it her fault that few human beings could state her name without topping it off with an “ie,” turning her name into a bunny meme, or that grey was spelled with an a on one side of the Atlantic and with an e on the other? What demon-possessed people to care—much less sing-song their way through a quarterly review, insisting that she better shape up or—

The words had been left hanging. Just like that. An unspoken doomsday “Trix End.”

Trix stomped through the grocery store, huffing through her mask, which only fogged up her glasses. Lord have mercy. Would the trials of the year never end?

Head down, shoulders at ear level, she maneuvered her cart through the seafood aisle, blinking at the prices. She mumbled to herself, though visions of serving shrimp with some-kind-of-undetectable-poison-and-watching-her-bossy-boss-slip-to-the-floor-dead flashed through her mind.

“Hey, Trixie!”

Glowing lava rocks exploding from an active volcano had nothing on Trix at that moment. She grimaced, keeping her eyes wide so that as far as anyone reading a masked expression could figure, there was a smile under there somewhere. She faced Brenda, one of the homeschooling moms who sat behind her at Mass. She had polished a small mittened-hand wave to good effect. “Hey, Brenda.”

“So, are you going to the Winter Fun Event on the town square on Sunday?”

Rolling her eyes to the ceiling, Trix mentally consulted her calendar. She had to teach school all week, an editing project was due on Thursday, her dad had slipped on the ice, so she wanted to drop off some chocolate panaceas on Friday. Saturday, she’d charge into battle against the encroaching spiderwebs, dust bunnies, and household scum that managed to accumulate when her back was turned. Sunday remained her shield against overwork and flippant insanity. “Well, I’m not sure. I’ve got a lot going on. And besides, is it safe?”

Attempting to avoid a maniacal expression, Trix hid her grin behind her mask. The “Is it safe?” comment usually stopped every conversation cold. She glanced aside at the rows of frozen foods. A suitable location, indeed.

Even behind her they-all-look-alike mask, it was obvious, Brenda’s face fell. Her eyes dimmed. Her joy-spark snuffed.

Geeze! Who cares about Winter Fun? I have my sanity to keep track of! Isn’t that more important!

Trix tried to cool the use of mental exclamation points, but her heart sank to her chilled boots. If Old Scrooge could see her now, he’d embrace her as a fellow frozen-soul.

Good soldier and honest Christian lady who kept faith with all sorts of happy thoughts, Brenda squared her shoulders and drowned whatever sorry-reality haunted the depth of her eyes. “No problem. I was just asking. You’re right to be careful. Just sometimes, you know—” She glanced aside, definitely not seeing the delightful array of frozen yogurts. “You’re doing well. That’s all that matters.”

Trix’s icy heart started to drip.

Her mistake hit Brenda like a bullet train. She burst with contrition. “Oh, I forgot. I said Trixie—and you hate that. Sorry. I mess up names all the time, so I use those stupid mnemonic-things to remember. But I still manage to—” Gripping her cart with dejected humiliation, she aimed for the meat and cheese aisle.

Her cheeks flushed, Trix swallowed a chunk of ice. She stopped Brenda’s cart. “I’m heading to the candy aisle to find something chocolatey for my dad. Want to come?”

As they turned into the next aisle and at the sight of Brenda’s tear-filled eyes, Trix snatched a box of cocoa off the passing shelf. “You want to stop by for a cup Sunday afternoon? We’ll both need warming up.” She grinned right through her mask.

It was good to come out of the cold.

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/adventure-ice-cave-cold-exploration-1850094/

Ever My Intention

Samantha Keller just wanted to find a toothbrush. That’s all she asked out of life. Not an unreasonable request. Not considering the fact that she had just bitten into a luscious, though thoroughly deceptive, apple from her neighbor’s tree, which had seconds before had been home to a fat worm. Her frantic attempt at brushing her teeth in a hurry resulted in the toothbrush flipping between her fingers and landing in the toilet.

Hovering in front of the bathroom closet, patting the shelf just above her eye level where she always put the extras, availed nothing but sticky fingers. An empty cough syrup bottle lay like a forgotten soldier on a battlefield before red goo seepage and a decidedly sick-pink cotton ball offering testimony of other clumsy encounters.

Life really shouldn’t be this hard.

“Oh, to heck with it.” She turned to the sink, popped open the mouthwash, did a complete rinse, and considered herself lucky.

She peered into the mirror and saw her mom’s face. Though her hair sported the salt and pepper look of a middle-aged woman who can’t decide if she’s a new 40 or an old 50, the trapped expression of her mother riveted her gaze to the glass. “Ba-ba-ba…” Like a nursery rhyme never finished, Mom couldn’t get her words out, though her eyes pleaded for understanding.

Samantha yanked herself away and refocused. She tromped down the hall to the kitchen and stared at the bowl brimful of beautiful apples. “Tricked me once but not twice.” She snatched the paring knife off the counter.

The phone rang. She checked. A local number.

She answered with all the confidence of a homeowner in good standing, whose neighborhood friends might check on her once in a blue moon. “Hello?”

“As a residential customer, we would like you to answer a few simple—”

Slapping the end button, Samantha frowned. She had answered four scam calls through the week and vowed to let it ring forevermore. If someone wanted to actually talk with her, they’d leave a message, right? Why on Earth did she keep falling for the latest in life’s tricks?

Reaching for the knife, the phone rang again. With a shrug, she insisted on outwitting the maniacal scammers who poured out their lives in demolishing humanity’s trust in the phone system.

It stopped ringing.

She plucked an apple from the mound and made the first cut.

The phone rang again.

Completely against her will, Samantha glanced at the glowing screen and recognized the number. Her sister in Wisconsin. Blanch and her husband ran a dairy farm south of the city and made a decent living while raising the cutest set of twins God ever created.

Rolling every ounce of ill humor off her shoulders and sliding onto a stool, she leaned against the counter and let the apple and the knife fall from her fingers. “Hey, Blanch! I was just thinking of you while—”

A sob choked the line.

Samantha lifted the phone from her ear and stared at it. Had she lost the connection? Another scammer copying her sister’s number?

Sobbing tumbled into crashing thunder. A wail screeched over four hundred miles and smacked Samantha in the face.

“Oh, God, Blanch! What—?”

“She’s dead! I can’t believe it!”

Agony shivered over Samantha as tears sprang to her eyes. “Dead? Who?”

“Mom! She died during the night. I stopped by early to give her some homemade cookies and fresh apples off our tree, but when the nurse went to check on her…” Sobbing rampaged over a cliff.

Tired truisms sprang to Samantha’s lips. It’s better this way…a blessed relief…Mom would want us to live on…to celebrate her life without the all the horrific dementia…

But no words came.

They weren’t truly true. Not yet anyway.

As tears meandered down her cheeks, her husband Elliott wandered into the room. He frowned at her tears, bent low, and took her hand.

She listened to Samantha’s cascading grief, dragged a notepaper and pen front and center and wrote, “Mom died,” and shoved the bald announcement toward her husband.

Wrapping a comforting arm around her shaking shoulders, he offered what he could, a gentle murmur of sorrow.

A week later…

Samantha faced the mound of dirt piled in front of her parent’s headstone. Mom’s nicely dressed body lay four and a half feet under, safely encased in a mahogany coffin inside a cement vault, right next to her dad’s resting place. Samantha’s gaze wandered over the birthdates and death dates, and the scripture quote, “You shall be known by your fruit.” The etching of two apple trees that her mother had insisted mark their last place on earth stood in testimony to lives that never stopped bearing love and goodness even when they couldn’t say a word.

 Elliott edged closer.

Her son, daughter, sister, various friends, and relations had come to the funeral and left shortly after. Samantha had returned for three days in a row trying to understand how something as luscious as life could hold such a worm as death.

Elliott took her hand and said nothing. Wonderful in the mystery of communal silence, he didn’t need to fix her grief. He simply shared it.

Autumn leaves swirled from the colorful trees as black crows perched on mossy gravestones, creating a scene Alfred Hitchcock would’ve been proud to call his own.

“She was a beautiful baby.” Samantha had spent hours reviewing old family photos the night before, sharing her favorites with her patient husband.

Elliott smiled. “She was a good and holy woman with a gentle heart.”

“Though she could be a stickler! Remember how she insisted that every Thanksgiving had to be celebrated at her house?”

Elliot nodded.

“And she never did forgive dad. She held his mistakes up to the light of day every chance she got. Trying to drag him to Heaven, she’d say, but it made life miserable sometimes.”

Elliott bowed his head.

The cell phone rang.

Samantha pulled it from her coat pocket.

Blanch.

After hitting the talk button, Samantha strolled across the graveyard toward a cluster of trees. “Yes, honey?”

Blanche’s voice rose strong and clear. “Just checking in. I made a pie for the kids and thought of mom. I just wanted to hear your voice.”

Samantha stared at the tree in front of her. “Were there any worms in it?”

“Worms? In what?”

“The pie.” Samantha cleared her voice and tried to jiggle her brain into coherent thought. “I bit into an apple the other day…and you know…”

A chuckle broke the silence. “Oh, no. The pie looks delicious.” Her voice took on mom’s imperious tone. “You’re supposed to cut the worms out before you eat the fruit, you know.”

Ever my intention.

Samantha took her husband’s hand, meandered to the car, and left the mound of dirt behind.

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/apple-worm-hole-worm-eaten-3650876/

You Know It’s Real

Patrick O’Donnell had been married for eighteen years, and only today did he realize that he loved his wife.

Emily had insisted on an October wedding, though he knew that was ridiculous. Couldn’t trust the weather in October any better than a used car on the highway. Still, rather than listen to her complain every anniversary about how she wished she had gotten to pick the date, he had acquiesced.

He sat in their bedroom and rubbed his stubbly chin. At fifty-two he was a relatively strong and good-looking guy. Any woman would be lucky to have him, even now. He certainly got inquiring looks when he was away from home. He’d made a habit of placing his left hand, thus his “owners tag,” in plain sight so whomever he was interviewing would get the hint, and there’d be no awkward moments. Flattered by the shine in a woman’s eyes, he enjoyed knowing that he still attracted women, but he rarely let it go for long before he’d make some obvious comment about his wife and kids, clarifying his position.

Only once did he joke with Em about his magnetic power with women. She didn’t see the humor. She took it like a challenge. The next time they went out, she flirted with every guy in the room, and every time they grinned at her, she sent a beaming smile his way.

He’d come to marriage late in life, at thirty-four his mom had all but given up hope for him. He didn’t date much since the whole asking out and wading through the get-to-know-you process disturbed him.

Emily was a schoolteacher seven years his junior when they met. He was a reporter for the city paper. When he did a piece about their accelerated school program, she was one of the people he interviewed. In fact, he interviewed her three times before he asked her out.

It wasn’t long before he asked her to marry him.

After a church wedding, one of the few times he went to church, he traveled for the paper, wrote articles, took a series of editing positions, did freelance work, studied photography, took yearly wilderness trips with the guys, even did a stint in Guatemala for six weeks one summer.

Em did much the same, living life to the fullest.

Patrick rose from the edge of the bed and faced the open French doors blowing in a gentle breeze. The last day of September. Tomorrow was October first and their eighteenth anniversary. But for the first time in their married life, Emily wouldn’t care.

The process had started so slowly that neither of them thought that anything was wrong. Just an occasional headache. Then the slight trembling. When she couldn’t remember how to get to the grocery store, she had laughed it away. “Too much on my mind, what with violence on the rise, and three kids failing my class. Lucky I can remember my name!”

It seemed mildly amusing, until it wasn’t.

Footsteps padded near. Bare feet by the sound of it. Patrick shook his head. His kids befuddled him. Clare was the more logical of the two, but Tige was easier to handle. Clare had a knack for misunderstanding him while Tige didn’t seem to care. As long as he could see his friends and play games on a regular basis, he’d do whatever his parents asked. A fair trade, he’d say. But Clare classified and parsed everything. Big jobs required big rewards. He asked as little as possible from her.

“Hey, dad?” Tall and lanky at sixteen, Tige stood in the doorway in his baggy black sweatpants and long-sleeved shirt, a set he used as his nightclothes for the last year.

Patrick returned his gaze to the outdoors. The sun had risen but with the heavy mist, a dreary gray hung over the land. He could barely make out the neighbor’s house just beyond the two maple trees.

“Yeah?”

Tige stepped in and stopped just behind Patrick’s right elbow. “Just thinking that mom’d like it if we did something tomorrow. Maybe we could bring her flowers. There’re a few blooms left on the Rose of Sharon.”

A choking ache rose from the depth of his being and flooded Patrick’s whole body. The porch railing blurred.

A higher voice rose from behind. Clare, petite with long blond hair and bright blue eyes, so much like her mother, took charge. “Those’ll wilt before we get there. The cafeteria lady owns a shop that sells decorative arrangements, fake ones that won’t fade. I could get some after school since it’s Friday, and I don’t have to get my school work done in a hurry.”

Annoyance squeezed Patrick’s heart, but he couldn’t say anything. She was right. Fresh flowers, even colorful leaves, would fade and look terrible in a few days. But still—

“Mom hates fake stuff, Clare. We aren’t doing this to save you trouble. We’re doing what mom loved best.”

A tear meandered down Patrick’s cheek. He knew who else loved Emily.

Her voice high and strained, Clare ground her point into their hearts. “Mom won’t know the difference.”

Patrick turned around. “We will.” He clasped his son’s shoulder. “Pick a few just before we leave in the morning. It won’t matter how they look in a week.”

Tige nodded and padded out the door.

Clare’s mouth trembled. “Why not get something that lasts? It’ll look better when she wakes up—”

Patrick held out his arms. No words could explain.

Clare flung herself into her dad’s embrace and held on for dear life.

After the room was clear, the fog had lifted, and the clock insisted that he get ready for work, Patrick closed the French doors.

Love hurts like hell, he realized. He wiped his eyes and faced the day. Maybe that’s when you know it’s real.

 

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/view-window-curtain-sunset-hope-3513705/

Not Sad

—Newearth—

Riko couldn’t believe his eyes. His nostrils or his ears either, for that matter. He stared at the gray-walled room filled with bassinets, child-sized beds, and three full-sized beds and promptly slipped into shock.

The cacophony of sounds smashed against his ears like an out of tune orchestra that has no intention of ever playing the same composition—each rising burst out-screaming, crying, whimpering, or wailing every other.

The stink gagged him. He pressed his hand to his nostrils and swallowed back bile. This is literally a shitty situation.

He tried to count the babies kicking their arms and legs, the tiny pale faces peering over the edge of their bed rails, and the little bodies running in circles in the center of the room, but dizziness engulfed him.

One teenager stood in the center of the room while the little ones ran circles around him gleefully. He waved his hand like a conductor and grinned, apparently unconcerned that madness reigned.

A middle-aged woman bustled forward, her hands extended. “You must be Riko!”

Nodding, unable to take his eyes off the insane circus, Riko merely assented to the truth of the statement.

“I’m Marge. Shwen told me all about you. I’m so glad you’ve come.”

Dragging his attention off the children, Riko peered at the woman. “Shwen?”

“She’s a Bhuaci healer. One of the best, if reports are true. Word of you met her ears, and she passed the information to me.”

With a shiver, Riko managed to focus on Marge. “I don’t understand. Why am I here?”

A screaming boy yanked his attention across the room. A short, buxom woman hurried over and swooped the distraught child into her arms, rocking him with all the force of a turbo engine at high speed.

Marge tapped Riko’s arm. “Come with me, and we can talk privately.”

Struggling against rising nausea, Riko marched after the matronly figure.

They exited the one-story building through a red back doorway and entered a lovely garden surrounded by multicolored rose bushes, flowering trees, and a tall, woven fence.

Marge led the way to a wooden bench and sat, heaving a relieved sigh. “Lord, have mercy. This is the first time I’ve been able to rest today.” A gentle, depreciating smile wavered on her lips. “I’m really too old to be a mother to such a brood, but someone has to love them.”

Riko shook his head. “Where do they come from?”

Marge shrugged. “Everywhere. And nowhere. At least no one will admit to their existence. Some are Ingot rejects. Others were lost in transport and forgotten.”

“They’re all Ingots then?”

“Not all, but most, yes. A few humans among the lot.”

“I didn’t see any techno-armor—”

“Most never had the implants, or those that did, didn’t adjust well. In any case, we have them now, and we’re trying to manage as best we can without such barbaric advancements.”

Despite the ironic humor, weary depression settled over Riko. “Why isn’t the Inter-Alien Alliance helping you?”

Leaning back, resting her hands in her lap, Marge looked into the sky and snorted. “No one wants them. The Inter-Alien Alliance has enough to manage without dealing with unwanted babies.” She shrugged.

Apprehension needled Riko. “But you asked me to come today—?”

Taking a deep breath, Marge sat up and slapped her hands on her thighs. “Yes. I have one Ingot teen that needs special assistance. Clearly, he is too old to stay here, but he’s not ready to move on his own.” She stood and started to stroll the parameter of the enclosed garden. “I found a good woman who is willing to take him in, provided that he finds gainful employment. She’s struggling to raise her own three after her husband was killed in a transport accident.”

Riko fell in step beside Marge and thought back to the room with the teen standing in the center. “You mean the boy—”

“His name is Wendell. We don’t know much about him, where he has been, or how he found us. He just showed up at the door one day looking lost and confused.” Marge stopped and laid her hand on Riko’s arm as if to emphasize her point. “But he never looked or acted pitifully. He has complied with everything we’ve asked. He was the one who started the children running in circles around him every day.”

Riko reared back. “Does that help?”

“Yes, marvelously! They are so much calmer after they’ve had a good run. I bring them out here sometimes but only in small groups, or they’d tear this place to shreds. They are still a bit out of control.” She sighed and reconvened her stroll.

Riko stroked his chin, pondering the question he knew was coming. How could he say yes? But more importantly, how could he say no? The datapad on his wrist chimed, alerting him to the lateness of the hour. He stopped. “Can we go back in?”

Marge nodded, solemn, and silent.

This time the noise and smell didn’t shock him as it had at first. Either it wasn’t as bad as he had imagined, or he was getting used to it. He hoped he wasn’t getting used to it.

Wendell stood leaning over one of the beds. He covered and uncovered parts of his face in a rhythmic pattern.

Perplexed, Riko strode closer.

The child in the bed grinned as she imitated Wendell’s every move. When he covered his eyes, she covered hers, at least partially. One eye peeked out, watching for the next step. When he covered his nose, she did the same, giggling.

A lump formed in Riko’s throat. He stepped up and laid his hand on Wendell’s shoulder. “I hear that you’re looking for a job.”

After patting the little girl’s head, Wendell turned his attention to Riko. “Need work for the new mom.” He smiled, innocence incarnate.

With an inward groan, Riko thrust his hand out. “I happen to be looking for a boy to help me at the café.”

Wendell stared at Riko’s outstretched hand and tilted his head, perplexed.

Sighing, Riko grabbed Wendell’s hand and shook it. “It’s a human expression, a way of sealing a deal. You’ll work with me at the Breakfastnook, starting tomorrow. That way your new mom can rest easy, and you can get out of this madhouse.”

“Madhouse?” Wendell glanced around. “Not mad. Only sad.”

For the first time since his mother died, Riko blinked back tears. “Yeah, well, you’ll come early, okay? Marge will give you directions. It’s not far.”

Wendell grinned. “I go there. Tomorrow. Work early. Come here. Run kids. Not sad.”

Swallowing the urge to sob like one of the babies, Riko nodded and cleared his throat. “A good plan.” He turned and hustled to Marge’s side as she placed a baby in a high chair with a plastic bowl filled with bright colored cereal.

“I expect him bright and early in the morning.”

Peering through exhausted eyes, Marge smiled. “Thank you.”

Riko turned and fled out the doorway.

Once safely back at the café, Riko threw himself into the bustling dinner crowd as they ate and chattered, making a pleasant raucous.

He thought back to the orphanage. Funny, but he couldn’t recall the noise or the stink. Only the smiles. Not sad at all.

 

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/europe-globe-ter-terrestrial-globe-2262154/

Between the Raindrops

Saundra realized that running between the raindrops, like so many things in life, wasn’t meant to be taken literally. So why was she scurrying madly to her neighbor’s house with any expectation that she would be dry when she got there?

Bradley stared hard as she leaped over the threshold into the open living room-kitchen of their ranch-style house.

“An umbrella was out of the question, huh?”

Saundra didn’t deem it necessary to reply. She knew why she’d come, and it outweighed mere comfort. She couldn’t look Bradley in the eye.

A woman’s voice screeched from the top of the stairs. “Hey! Kiddos, get ready for bed now, or Sandy won’t read you a story.”

The collective sighing, whimpering, and bickering over who got to pick out the first story plucked Saundra’s raw nerves. Who did she think she was? Superwoman coming to the rescue?

She peeled off her soggy shoes and figured that one evening in damp socks wouldn’t kill her. The kids might. But that was merely theoretical.

Anne tottered down the stairs on skyscraper heels, wearing a tight-fitting, burgundy dress that clearly hadn’t been outside the closet in years. Once landed, she tinkered with her earrings and shot a glance at her husband. “Get up there and make them behave.”

An eye roll clarified Bradley’s lack of enthusiasm for the assignment as he mounted the steps.

The initial plea-bargaining Anne used when asking for one night out with her husband without the kids had merely sent a flicker of anxiety through Saundra’s evening plans. No big deal. The kids were a little rambunctious Anne had said but easier than her nephews. Of course, Godzilla was easier than the aforementioned nephews.

A little girl’s scream, a man’s barking order, serious commotion, two slamming doors, pounding footsteps, and Bradley’s flushed face glowering at his wife made Saundra reconsider her assessment. Maybe Godzilla would be easier. After all, there was only one of him.

Anne snatched a lavender purse off a scratched end table and charged for the door. “They’ll settle down. Just let them cool off and read a story with milk and cookies before bed.”

Bradley jerked his car keys around like he’d prefer to catapult them rather than put them to their rightful purpose.

The thought, Get drunk fast, shot through Saundra’s mind. She nodded at Anne’s retreating back, dumbfounded.

It wasn’t until the Ford Explorer squealed into the night that she realized that the kids didn’t even know her. And she didn’t know them.

A little girl’s voice called from the tops of the steps—Sandy?

~~~

The milk and cookies were easy to locate.

Five-year-old Jimmy had a future in mountain climbing the way he scaled the kitchen counter, scrambled to the cabinet over the refrigerator, plucked the hidden cookies from the depths, (next to the chardonnay), and leaped to the floor with his prize.

Jan, at the cultivated age of seven, demurely retrieved three short glasses, lugged the gallon of milk to the table, and sportingly poured everyone a full glass.

Remarkably, a story compromise was reached on relatively benign terms. Each child picked out a short story, and Saundra got to pick a long one. After teeth had been brushed, the kids joined their sitter on the couch and curled up one on each side.

Their body warmth, light patter of rain, and the yellow lamplight settled Saundra’s nerves into a state of peaceful repose. Books made for an evening of simple pleasure. Every Friday afternoon, she read a short story out loud to her high school class. They always groaned the first time. They never groaned the second.

She cracked open the first book and climbed inside. Along with the kids.

By the time the clock chimed midnight, Saundra wondered if she should call the police. After The Velveteen Rabbit, the kids had gone to bed quietly. She shuddered through the late news, and the rain had quit, hours ago. She stretched out on the couch fully aware that she’d fall asleep within seconds.

Before her eyes closed, a door was thrust open and keys slammed on the counter, jolting her nerves wide awake. Loud voices. Slurred speech. Hard soled shoes pounding up the steps.

Saundra’s first instinct was to quiet the two down before they woke the kids. But the realization that this was their house shushed her mouth.

“Sandy? Where’d you get to, girl?”

Sandy rose and stepped into the kitchen.

Anne’s smeared eyeliner, drooping lower lip, and glassy stare froze Saundra in place.

“There you are. Thought maybe you’d abandoned me.”

“I’ve never do that.”

Water ran. Bradley’s heavy tread crossed the room above.

Saundra frowned as she glanced up. “The kids are asleep.”

“Sure. You did great.” She dropped her purse on the counter. “Mind if I pay you in the morning? I doubt my writing’s too clear right now.”

Slipping on her damp shoes Saundra sucked in a deep breath. She wanted the quiet peaceful time with the kids cuddled on each side of her, listening with bated breath, their eyes glued to the illustrated page. Sharing their love of a good story, life itself.

A lump rose in her throat, and words got stuck on the way out. “You two have a good time?”

Anne shrugged. “We drank and talked about the garbage in our lives.” Kicking off her shoes, she lost balance and had to grip the counter. “Piss poor world we live in. Kids will hate us when they grow up. Might hate us now, for all I know.”

Tears threatened. Saundra turned the door handle. “They don’t hate anyone. Yet.”

A star-filled sky accompanied Saundra home. The smell of late summer rain, wet earth, a faint rose scent lifted her spirits. She could hear Jan’s voice pleading, see Jimmy’s dark eyes imploring. “Will you come again and read to us?”

She would. She’d even run between the raindrops if she had to.

 

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/digiart-composing-book-cover-1979293/