That’s Your Job

Gabe pushed back from his luxurious, high gloss mahogany desk and swiveled around so that he faced the floor to ceiling plate glass window overlooking the city. A glorious sunset highlighted mountainous clouds, tinting them in gold and pink. The beauty moved him not. Except for the dull ache in his chest, he couldn’t feel a thing.

“What the h—’s wrong with me?” He leaned back, clasped his hands over his not-as-muscled-as-it-used-to-be middle, and exhaled a long, slow breath. His therapist said that would help.

It didn’t.

A ringtone blared a swinging rhythm that he once loved—until he put it on his phone. Now it sounded stupid. He snatched the phone off the desk, tapped the button, and pressed it to his ear. “Yeah?”

Blair, his eldest daughter, spoke with her usual calm authority. God, he loved her. “Dad, I’ve got to stay late at the lab tonight. Professor Baughman said that they’ve got three internships opening in the fall, and if I can get all the paperwork in on time, I should get one. Plus, one of the freshmen got sick in class, and I need to help him disinfect the place.”

Gabe chuckled. “Always something—isn’t it?” He could almost hear her smile.

“Yep. So don’t expect me back till late, okay? I’m fine. Just working.”

Tiny sparks flickered to life in Gabe’s middle. “No problem. Just drive carefully. Especially around those d—” he caught himself. “The curves. Okay?”

“I always do.”

Gabe waited. He didn’t want to say goodbye. He shook himself. He couldn’t expect his daughter to fill the hollow void inside.

“Oh and dad.”

“Yeah?”

“Remember, you’re making dinner tonight. Johnny hates spaghetti and Sarah loves pancakes.”

Tears flooded Gabe’s eyes, stinging them even as he blinked and swallowed the strangled whimper he knew would rise if he spoke to quickly. He sat up straighter. “Got it.”

“Love ya.” The connection severed.

Dropping the phone back on the desk, Gabe turned once more to the window. The sun hovered over the skyline. He glanced at his watch. “Blast! They’ll accuse me of overworking again.”

After heaving himself to his feet, he swung into his jacket and tucked his phone into his pocket. A quick glance at his desk and his unfinished work. “It’ll wait. Always tomorrow.” A sinking feeling followed him down the hall as approached the elevator. “I never get enough done. Come early, work late, try hard—but it’s never enough.” His therapist said it was a perpetual guilt syndrome from his early childhood and that being aware of it would help him grow past it.

It didn’t.

~~~

As Gabe loped into his country-style, well-lit kitchen, he glanced aside.

Johnny leaned over the wooden table staring at a half-finished puzzle, holding a piece in his hand, his brow furrowed. A stack of folded laundry lay at one end. He glanced at his dad and flashed a grin. “I won it in a contest at school. I’ve read more books this semester than anyone else in seventh grade.”

Gabe pursed his lips. “Shouldn’t surprise me—but it does. You don’t seem like the bookworm-type.” His gaze flickered to the laundry.

Johnny huffed. “I read a whole six books. Hardly makes me a worm. Just nobody else read that many.” He jerked his thumb at the neat pile. “Sarah’s getting pretty good at getting the corners straight.” He returned to his puzzle. “What’s for dinner?”

“Spaghetti, if you don’t move your puzzle.”

With a laborious groan, Johnny slid the puzzle pieces onto a cutting board and carried it out of the room.

Gabe searched through the refrigerator. A package of spicy sausages and a carton of eggs brought a tired smile to his lips. Thank, God.

A little girl with brilliant blue eyes, fair skin, and a pixie face wafted into the kitchen. Wrapping her arms around a bundle of clothes, she hefted it into a tight embrace. “I’ll put these upstairs and help set the table for you, dad.”

Slicing into the plastic wrapping around the sausages, Gabe nodded. “Thanks, sweetheart.” A painful tightening in his throat and stinging in his eyes warned of a fresh wave of grief. He clenched jaws and sliced faster. “Dang!”

He rushed to the sink and ran cold water over his bleeding finger.

Sarah came back, swished the second bundle away, and trundled off.

Gabe couldn’t move. He knew that if he took one step away from the sink, he’d start sobbing like a child. Sarah didn’t need that. He didn’t need that.

“Hey, dad?”

Gabe blinked and glanced down.

Sarah stood there, her hands empty, her eyes as blue as a summer sky. “You think mom’s happy now?”

Fearing that he might break his teeth if he clenched them any harder, Gabe slapped off the water, grabbed a dishcloth, wrapped his finger, and stepped to the kitchen table. He plopped down on a chair.

Sarah stood by the sink, her gaze on him. Waiting.

He tapped his knee and motioned her over.

Sarah stepped up but only leaned in. No hopping onto his lap anymore.

Gabe put the towel aside and peered into her eyes. “You know, we were separated most of your life.” He swallowed, anguish mounting, and forced himself to concentrate. “But I never wished her ill. I always wanted her happy.” He shook his head. “We just couldn’t make things work. Too different. Set in our ways.” He sucked in a deep breath. “She was a hard person to make happy.”

Sarah’s brow furrowed. “You too.”

The sky fell. Mountains crashed. Waves washed over Gabe as tears rolled down his cheeks. His words rose like strangled gasps. “I wish she were still alive. I wish she hadn’t died. You still needed her—even if I didn’t.”

Sarah laid a soft, gentle hand on his arm.

Gabe buried his head on his arm. He couldn’t face her tears too.

~~~

Late that night, Gabe sat in bed staring at a page he couldn’t see.

A light knock on the door turned his gaze.

Blair stuck her head in the doorway. She frowned. “Heard you had a meltdown…want to talk about it?”

Snorting, Gabe waved her in. “Shhh. I just got Sarah to sleep, and God knows what Johnny thinks of me.”

Blair stepped in and perched on the edge of her dad’s bed. She laid her hand on his.

Gabe waited but Blair didn’t start. So much like her mother. “Okay. I had a little meltdown. No big deal. I’m going through some stuff.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Just because we were divorced doesn’t mean I didn’t care. I love you guys—and I know how hard this must be on you.”

Sarah scooted back and folded her legs to the side, leaning her weight on one arm. She tilted her head, her gaze direct and unwavering. “In a weird sort of way, I think mom’s death is easier on us. We got along and had some really good times together.” She shrugged. “I’m not saying that I don’t miss her or that it isn’t hard. But—I don’t know. We’re her kids. She sorta lives in us still.” Her gaze moved to the window. “I really believe we’ll see her again someday.” She squeezed Gabe’s hand. “Kinda different for you.”

Gabe stared at the ceiling. “She was always trying to make me a better man. Fix me.” He glanced at his daughter. “I only gave up smoking after we split to spite her.” He patted Sarah’s hand. “And for you guys.”

Sarah straightened, unfolded her legs, and swung them over the bed. “Well, she can’t fix you now.” She stood and started for the door. On the threshold, she stopped and peered back. “That’s your job.”

~~~

In the dark, Gabe patted the empty side of the bed. He swished his arm from the pillow all the way to his side. Lots of space…lots of empty space. His therapist said that pain was a good teacher.

It wasn’t.

But then he thought of his kids…and puzzle pieces, a neat stack of laundry, a decent dinner, and a stack of work on his desk. He sighed, curled his arm around the pillow, and closed his eyes. That’s your job.

It was.

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

A Tie That Can’t Be Broken

Cerulean, a Luxonian dressed in casual twentieth-century blue jeans, a loose t-shirt, and slip-on shoes (he hated laces), rolled a shopping cart along the grocery aisle, following a woman and her young daughter.

The woman, distracted and hesitant, returned repeatedly to the child. “What’s next, Anne?”

Holding a limp notepaper covered in careful script, Anne ran her finger along a middle line and bit her lip. She peered at her mom. “Mayonnaise and garlic salt.”

The older woman started forward, peered at three varieties of mayonnaise, and froze. The child stepped around her, considered the labels and plucked the middle choice off the shelf. “It’s what we always get.”

The woman nodded.

After dropping a box of granola bars and a can of olives into his cart, Cerulean followed, fascinated by the mother and daughter before him. Only when a middle-aged man stared pointedly at his nearly empty cart, did he grab a few more items and toss them in with the others.

The child’s preternatural competence struck Cerulean like a blow to the chest. His mother died when he was young, not an uncommon experience for Luxonians. But his memories included a woman of great sensitivity and quiet competence. Nothing like this fragile, hesitant woman pacing behind her strong-willed child.

When they left the store, Cerulean half expected the child to slip into the driver’s seat, but no, the older woman took the wheel, and ever-so-slowly drove away. Placing his paid-for groceries next to a homeless man he has noticed earlier, Cerulean stepped into a sheltered corner and disappeared.

~~~

Cerulean marched into Judge Sterling’s quarters, handed his tasty Earth offering to his superior, stepped back, and waited.

Sterling, in his usual grey leggings and a long tunic, grinned and daintily peeled the orange foil away from a sticky granola bar. He eyed it, sniffed it, and then delicately bit off a tiny corner. He chewed, his gaze rising to the bright skylight. “Hmmm. Not bad. Certainly not as disgusting as some of the things your father brought home.”

Folding his arms over his chest, Cerulean maintained a steady gaze. “He told me that you had a particular taste for OldEarth brews.

Waving a finger, Sterling cracked a grin. “Teal had a rare knack for highlighting my weak spots.” He laid the remainder of the chewy bar on his desk and circled around to an open window with a large garden box attached to the edge.

A luxurious purple vine spread thick along the border and up the walls. Delicate pink flowers dotted the vine clusters creating an enchanting, almost luminescent contrast.

“You know, your father gave me this plant many seasons ago. I nearly killed it—accidentally of course. But he saved it. Like he saved so many.”

Cerulean shrugged. “Yet you never liked him.”

Teal twirled around, the edges of his eyes glowing a fiery red. “I loved your father as few ever could. Even your mother, bless her departed spirit, never really understood him.”

Strolling to the plant, Cerulean gently ran his fingers along the main stem, his gaze focused, his heart aching. “What did you understand?”

“Teal was a savior-type. Couldn’t help himself. He had to save everyone. Even beings that didn’t deserve his…devotion.”

“And that was wrong?”

Sterling pursed his lips. “Not wrong exactly—just made my job rather difficult.” He stepped closer to Cerulean and clasped his arm. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep a savior alive?”

Cerulean locked eyes with Sterling. “Since he’s dead now, I can only assume it was an impossible task.”

Sterling closed his eyes and swayed back to his desk, landing on a plush chair. With a groan, he propped his head on one hand and stared at Cerulean, who still stood by the plant. “Don’t blame me, Cerulean. You know perfectly well I tried to talk him out of going…but—” His sigh rose high and strangled. “You know your father.”

Cerulean dropped his gaze, his shoulders dropping, his spirit caving. “Yes. He was  certainly determined.”

Sterling jumped to his feet, rubbing his hands like a man ready to change the topic if not the world. “So, tell me. Have you chosen a human to focus on?”

Pulling a datapad from a pocket, Cerulean strode to the desk, tapped the surface, and then laid it on the desk.

The picture of a young girl standing next to a slump-shouldered, grey-haired woman peered up.

Cerulean pointed. “Her name is Anne Smith. She’s only seven, but—” His gaze wandered across the room, over the vine, and out the window. “I don’t know. She seems to have an unusual strength of character. I’d like to see what life has in store for her and how she handles it.”

Sterling lifted the datapad and stared at the figures for a long moment. Then he glanced at Cerulean and handed it back. “Don’t get emotionally attached.”

“Being that she’s a human child and I’m a Luxonian adult, I hardly think that’ll be an issue.”

Sterling nodded through a snort. His eyes grew wide as he lifted the melted chewy bar and strands of caramel and chocolate dribbled across his desk. He swallowed and shook his head. “When are you going?”

“Tomorrow. I thought I’d visit my parents’ tombstones before I go.”

Sterling tossed the remainder of the bar into a wall depository, snatched a cloth off a shelf, and wiped his hands. “Odd practice. They’ve departed to the other side, yet you insist on raising a memorial. Why?”

“Parents and children—it’s a tie that can’t be broken.”

Sterling strode over to the purple plant, tugged a young vine free, roots and all, and placed it into Cerulean’s open palm. “Plant it between them.” He glanced up, and though he smiled, his eyes glinted in grief. “Remember to water it.”

Cerulean nodded and started for the door. Then he stopped and glanced back. “Though my father crossed a line—he cared too much—he didn’t care alone. Did he?”

Sterling swallowed and dropped his gaze.

Cerulean stepped over the threshold, and the door swished shut.

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Speck in the Universe

Pete, flushed and sweaty from running across the playground, huffed as he caught up with his friend. “Mom said that they’re spreading space junk all over the atmosphere, and aliens’ll get really mad. Maybe annihilate us all cause of it.”

Bert crossed his arms and shifted onto one leg, bracing himself on the chain-link fence. “Aw, that’s stupid. Those NASA folks are experts. They know what they’re doing. Sides, we’re alone in the universe.” He pointed at the blue sky. “Not even plants up there. Just lots of rocks flying about in gi-norous empty space.”

His hand perched on his hips, Pete’s cheeks darkened. “That’s what you say. But I’m positive that aliens exist. I read a whole book on alien abductions. Really cool.”

Bert lowered his gaze and narrowed his eyes. “You’d be okay with getting dissected and studied, and then put back together and sent home to have weird dreams for the rest of your life?”

Pete shrugged. “I’d go to an analyst. Mom’s analyst tells her what her dreams mean and where she’s really from—”

“Please. I’d die if I had to tell anyone my dreams.”

Bert scrunched his eyebrows together and kicked a stone. “Still, I’d rather take a chance on being dissected than believe we’re alone.”

Sticking the edge of his tennis shoe into the fifth row of links, Pete hefted himself up and climbed to the top. He swung a leg over and perched on the bar. “What’s so bad about being alone? Even if there were aliens, we’d just be a speck to them.” He peered down. “You saw what Mr. James showed us…solar systems, galaxies, universes…it went on and on. We’re lost in it all—invisible.”

Bert propped his hand over his eyes, blocking the sun. “You’d better get down. They upped the suspension time.”

Pete laughed. “Suspension? Who cares? I’d just listen to music and watch stuff. Better than listening to teachers yammer on about things I’ll have to fact check later. Like it matters.”

Bert leaned on the fence, his face tired and drawn. He wiped his sweaty brow. “I guess that’s why I like aliens. Maybe they’d care. Maybe they’d think we do matter—even though we’re just a tiny speck in the universe.”

A man called from across the yard. “Hey! Off that fence, boy, or I’ll have you running laps after school.”

Pete scrambled down and frowned, his gaze darting from the cement to the angry teacher. “Geesh. You’d think he owned it!”

Bert squinted at the man who turned and strode away. “Kinda does. He’s in charge of the yard—he’ll get blamed if we damage school property.”

A shrill bell rang, sending a flurry of students to the door.

Pete slumped across the yard. “Who cares?”

Bert followed along beside his friend, watching the teachers line up, waiting for their students. “I think they do.”

~~~

Zuri, dressed in a battered mechanical exoskeleton, hefted a large cylindrical object over his shoulder and nodded to the Cresta before him. “Thanks, Uv. I heard they don’t make these parts anymore.”

Uv bowed with his four tentacles wrapped daintily behind his thick middle. His stained bio-suit bulged at the seams with every move. “Think nothing of it. I always like to serve my faithful customers with special care.”

Zuri started toward the ship’s open bay door. He stopped and turned around. “Just one little question.”

Uv’s bulbous blue eyes blinked in innocence. “Yes?”

“Just outta curiosity—where’d you find it?” He shifted the tube further back on his square shoulder. “I looked everywhere.”

Uv’s thick lips wobbled in a perky grin. “Well, normally, I don’t give away my secrets—but you’re one of a kind, Zuri. I don’t mind being like clear water with you.” He glanced aside.

Two Crestas consulted a console to the right and spoke in low murmurs.

Twitching Zuri’s arm, Uv motioned him closer to the bay door. They stopped at a large color-coated map of their sector. Uv tapped a section on the left. “You can’t see it, but there’s a speck here that’s quite valuable. A tiny system in what they call the Milky Way.” He shuddered. “Don’t ask me what they were thinking. Disgusting name.”

Zuri frowned and leaned in. “You mean Earth? I’ve been there. Barbaric. Full of wild animals and wilder people.”

Uv’s eyes widened. “When were you there?”

“Centuries ago.” Zuri patted his chest. “I’ve had almost all new parts put in since then.”

Uv pursed his lips. “Looks like you might need a few more soon.” He shook himself. “Well, anyway, they’ve gotten past the crust…put primitive vessels into space…and dropped parts along the way.”

Zuri tilted his head, his gaze swerving to the object on his shoulder, his eyebrows arching. “This comes from—”

“We had to make alterations to make the blasted thing useful. But, as far as raw parts are concerned, Earth is a fertile field.” His lips puffed into a smile. “Crestas make the most of every situation.”

Zuri thrust out his own chest. “Ingots are famous for resourcefulness.” He turned and strutted toward the door. “I’ll have to make a return visit to that planet.” He waved and chuckled. “Never know what a little speck might offer.”

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

 

Live Honestly and Follow Your Passion

“I could be prosecuted for imitating a seamstress.” Kim held up a slanted swimming suit skirt with an unfortunate black zigzag running down one side and blew a strand of hair out of her eyes.

Her mother, Janice, swept a spool of thread and needle into a desk drawer. “Megan is obsessed with swimming, not the suit. She won’t care if—”

“You’re making my point.” Kim rolled the suit into a ball and tossed it on a dusty wooden dresser. “She should care. I should care.” She winced. “The world will care.”

Janice strolled over and plucked the outfit off the dresser and shook it out. She eyed it critically. “Good thing you never became a surgeon.” With a shrug, she let it dangle in one hand. “I’ll buy her a new one. After all, she tore it while playing with the dog at my house.”

Kim snatched the suit back and hugged it to her chest. “No. I can’t afford to buy another suit, and you can’t afford to indulge her. She wasn’t supposed to be wearing it in the woods, much less racing with your volatile terrier. This might teach her a lesson about actions and consequences.”

Janice pursed her lips and strode from the room, talking over her shoulder. “You’re just being stubborn. There’s no reason in the world the child should wear a ragged outfit when I can afford to buy another without the least discomfort. I’d be happy to.”

Trailing after her mother, Kim stepped into the kitchen, swept around the island, and dashed to the refrigerator. “You want some ice tea?”

Janice glanced from the dishes in the sink to a dried ketchup splotch on the floor. “You really need to get someone who can help you clean up around here.”

Yanking the refrigerator door open, Kim grimaced. “Even if I could, I wouldn’t. Dave and I live simply. The kids study and play. Dave works and does his thing—” Her gaze flashed to the window and the half-finished swing set in the backward, over to the garage overflowing with bicycle parts. She swung the ice tea container to the table and slid it to the center.

Janice rose and daintily lifted two glasses off the drying rack. “You sell anything lately?”

Hefting a large ceramic cookie jar shaped like a gorilla to the table, Kim shrugged. “A portrait last week.” Her eyes brightened. “But one guy wrote up a really nice editorial about my work in the paper.” Setting the gorilla’s head aside, Kim shoved the jar next to the pitcher of ice tea.

The grandfather clock in the living room chimed three times. Kim glanced at the stovetop. A large metal pot with crusted tomato smudges on the side sat next to a cooling loaf of homemade wheat bread.

Janice followed her daughter’s gaze. “Chili? Again?”

Kim poured two glasses of tea and handed one to her mother. “Okay. I don’t sell much. Yet. I probably don’t even cover the cost of my paints, but we’re living within our means, and Dave and I believe in—”

“’Living honestly and following your passion’ Yes. I’ve heard it before.” Janice shoved her glass under the ice dispenser. It spat a few splinters of ice and stopped.

Kim rubbed the back of her sweaty neck. “We’re going to get that fixed in October.” She pointed to a bulletin board with a series of charts, graphs, and lists. “We have it all planned out. We’re getting the washer repaired at the end of the week because I’m not Amish enough to survive otherwise. We’ll get new tires for the car in September and deal with the icemaker in October.”

Janice sipped her tea. “You do realize that you won’t need ice in October.”

A large yellow bus squeaked to a halt on the street in front of the house.

Kim plopped a stack of paper napkins on the table and arrayed metal cups with handles around the pitcher of tea. She grabbed a gallon of milk out of the fridge and set it by the pitcher.

Four children pounded into the room, each one talking and no one listening.

Kim cracked a grin. Janice smiled.

The kids stopped, glanced from Kim to Janice, shut their mouths, opened their mouths, and ran to their grandmother. They chatted away as Janice patted their heads and pretended she could understand what they were saying.

~~~

Kim strolled down the dark driveway with her mother at her side. Muted sounds of a battle between daddy-monster and warrior-kids erupted in screams and occasional yelps from the house.

Janice pulled out her key and pressed the unlock button.

The car flashed its lights.

Kim strolled around to the driver’s side, opened the door, and stepped aside. “Thanks for coming, Mom. It’s always fun to have you visit.”

Janice leaned over the car door and caressed daughter’s face. “You’re a remarkable young woman, Kim.” Her eyes glimmered. “You’ve done better than I did.”

Kim’s jaw tightened. She swallowed. “It wasn’t your fault. Dad and—”

Janice waved her comment away. “It hardly matters now.” She rested her arms on the car door. “I always fixed everything. Tried to make life easy. I wanted the best for you too.”

Kim blinked back tears. “Comfort was never my God.”

Janice smirked. “No, you and Dave have chosen a less comfortable road.” She shrugged. “But I respect your choice.”

“Really? Or are you just trying to make me feel better?”

Janice ducked into the car and scooted into her seat. She glanced up as Kim came near. “I believe in you.” She smiled. “To prove it, I won’t buy Megan a new swimsuit. I’ll leave it to you.”

Kim grinned. “Good. I was planning on getting her one for Christmas.”

Janice laughed. “I don’t doubt it.” She closed the door, started the engine, backed out of the driveway, and sped away.

Kim stood on the sidewalk and peered into the dark night. Children’s laughter mixed with a man’s gruff monster voice brought a smile to her lips.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Like a Ballerina

Lydia didn’t know why she had to wait, but since waiting was such a big part of life, she tried to amuse herself by watching the other people in the room.

A young woman tugged at her t-shirt, her foot jiggling as it hung crossed over her leg. The woman’s elbow perched on the arm of the chair, and her eyes scrolled over the bent magazine page, but Lydia doubted she was really reading. The woman’s gaze kept wandering to the door.

A man in a neat suit sat ramrod straight with a briefcase perched obediently next to his chair. He checked his watch and harrumphed noisily. Pulling out his iPhone, he scrolled with quick, thumb jerking motions bearing stark testimony to his mood.

Lydia frowned, biting her lip. Her gaze darted to the door her mom had gone through—it seemed so long ago. Her stomach rumbled.

The receptionist called the young woman.

She leaped to her feet like a ballerina, though her face looked more like an acrobat walking a tightrope. Tossing the magazine, the page still folded backward, on the table, she slipped her purse strap over her shoulder and sucked in a deep breath. She strode forward.

A scene from a movie where the main character faced a firing squad flashed before Lydia’s mind. She blinked.

The door opened, allowing the young woman in and an older woman to escape. Her eyes red-rimmed, and her gaze wandered the room like a sailor lost at sea. The new woman meandered to the suited man and tapped his shoulder.

He glanced up, still holding the iPhone at eye level. “What’d they say?”

The woman shook her head and glanced around. “Not here.” Gripping her black purse like a life preserver, she headed to the door. “We have to talk.”

The iPhone disappeared into a hidden pocket, and he gripped his briefcase almost as hard as she gripped her purse.

Lydia watched them traipse out the door. She felt a knot tug her insides. The image of a dog being kicked to the road sent a shudder through her body. She glanced around. No dog. She frowned.

The door opened, and her mom slipped through. She clutched no purse, and her gaze remained clear. Searching the room, she found Lydia and smiled.

Lydia’s stomach relaxed, and she smiled back. She straightened up.

Her mom reached out and helped pull her to her feet. Her orthopedic shoes clumped as she stepped forward.

“You were a good girl?”

Lydia nodded. She squeezed her mom’s hand. “Why’re we here?”

Her mom peered down and then glanced aside. The empty room could tell no tales. “I just had to make sure.” She pressed her hand over her protruding tummy.

“You’ve got the baby still?”

“The baby’s okay.” Her mom started toward the door.

Lydia swallowed. “Not like me?”

Her mom stopped in mid-step. Turning, she bent and peered into Lydia’s eyes. “No one is like you, Lydia.” She ran a hand over her soft hair. “You’re perfection.”

Lydia grinned. The knot was gone. The image of her dad’s open arms brought tears to her eyes. “Is Dad home?”

“Waiting for us.”

Lydia limped to the door—but her soul soared like a ballerina.

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Take Over the World

“Artificial intelligence will soon take over the world—you do realize that don’t you?”

Sasha popped a red M & M into her mouth and crunched. Her gaze swept across the campus with a practiced eye. “I think it already has.”

Barb shook her head as she appraised the harassed throng heading to various classes. “I’m not talking about people glued to their iPhones. I mean that my grandmother just texted me that a storm’s coming, and she wants me to email the grocer about delivering extra supplies this afternoon.”

Sasha shrugged as she pounded across the grassy courtyard to the library. “What’s so bad about that? Technology makes our lives easier.”

“Exactly my point!” Barb checked her phone, scrolled through three messages, and muttered. “Professor Gilmore is sick—she said to study chapter nine, and we’d meet next week.”

“Lucky you. My professors are health freaks. They know whether it’s coffee or tea that’ll kill us this week—or is it cheese?”

“You’re making my point. We know too much. We have too much power. We can’t handle so much information—”

The electronic door swung open, and Sasha set off the entry alarm. “Dang it!”

The deputy security officer strolled over, a wide grin lighting up his blue eyes. “Carrying concealed weapons again—are we?”

Sasha dug into her pocket. “My grandpa gives my little brother all his old camping knives. Which the little idiot promptly uses to carve his initials into everything—so naturally—”

“You take it away and carry it into the library.” His grin widened. “An option.”

Sasha and Barb exchanged eye rolls.

Sasha pulled the offending pocketknife from her pocket and dropped it into the man’s hand. “Keep it, Jared. Carve your initials into something and feel smug.”

Jared stepped aside, flicked open the knife, and peered at a miniature toolkit with a sharp blade, a screwdriver, bottle opener, and file. “Cool—must be worth a fortune.”

Sasha frowned. “Hardly. My grandpa has dozens of these. All the rage when he was a kid.”

Barb nudged Sasha, glancing at Jared. “He’s a virtual-reality kind of guy—hardly ever sees anything real these days.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “An honest blade must come as a bit of a shock.” Waving her arm in a mock karate move, she went in for a slice to the arm.

Instinct kicked in and Jared lashed out, jabbing with the open knife.

Barb reeled back gripping her stomach, blood seeping between her fingers. “Oh, God. I didn’t mean it.” She stared at Sasha as she crumpled. “He didn’t mean it.”

~~~

Sasha watched Jared’s mother, Ms. Franklin, pacing in front of him in the hospital waiting room, her eyes glued to an iPhone.

Jared sat with his hands clasped, his head bowed, staring at the grey-tiled floor.

Sasha perched on the edge of a chair. “She’ll be fine. The doctor said it wasn’t deep and won’t even need a lot of stitches. It was an accident. Accidents happen.”

Jared lifted his head a fraction. “When’s her dad coming?”

“He’s on the east coast. Said that since she’s going to be okay, he’ll get the doctor’s official report and talk to her in the morning.”

“Doesn’t he even care?”

“He talked with her on the phone. She told him not to come.” Sasha shrugged. “I think she’s embarrassed. If he had to fly out here, across all those time zones and everything, he’d be sure to make it into a bigger deal than it is.”

“And her mom?”

“Who knows? One of those absentee moms.” Jerking to her feet, Sasha bypassed Jared’s mother and headed for the candy machine. “You want something?”

Jared shook his head. With a long, exhaled breath, he strolled over to his mom. “You don’t have to stay. It’ll be okay.”

Ms. Franklin peered into her son’s eyes, brushed a stray lock of hair from his face, and nodded. With a professional twitch, she straightened her skirt and flung her purse strap over her shoulder. She glanced from Sasha to Jared. “You need anything—just text me—all right?”

They nodded in unison.

Standing before the machine, Sasha tapped the key code and a bag of peanuts dropped with a thud. She snatched, ripped it open, and passed the bag to Jared. “Have a few; the protein will do you good.”

With a strangled cry, Jared staggered back to his chair. “God, do you hear yourself?”

Sasha swallowed and followed him. She peered at his bowed head. “What?”

“Protein. Text. Flights. Time zones. Absentee moms.” He covered his head with his hands. “I’ve played so many games where I slice up the bad guys—I can beat every opponent out there—long as he’s two inches high and made of pixels.” Jared sucked in a shuddering breath. “I don’t think I’m made for this world.”

Sasha slumped down on the chair. “Listen, you’ve had a bad day.”

Jared glared at her.

“Okay, a really bad day. But that hardly means that you’re doomed.”

“If I am, there’re a lot of guys just like me. Girls too.”

“Funny, but Barb and I were talking about this earlier. She said that artificial intelligence will take over the world.”

Jared shook his head.

A nurse stepped forward leading a wobbly Barb. “You the family?”

Jared glanced aside at Sasha.

Barb offered a weak wave. “Yeah, kinda like. Sasha’s my roommate.”

Sasha stepped forward. “Jared will drive us back to the dorm. Professor Kim said he’d have a pizza waiting when we got there.”

The nurse looked Barb in the eye. “You’ll follow the directions? The script has been sent in already.”

Barb nodded. “I’ll be good. Promise.”

The nurse smiled and retreated.

Jared stepped forward and took Barb’s arm. “I’m really am sorry about this.”

“You said that a million times on the way over. I get it. Nothing to forgive. It was my fault for starting it in the first place.”

Once they stepped into the cool evening air, Barb looked up at the millions of twinkling stars. “Guess I was kind of hard on Artificial Intelligence today. I’m paid back royally for my prejudice.”

Sasha shook her head. “How’s that?”

“It was modern medicine that fixed me up and modern miracle drugs that’ll keep me from dying from a stupid infection. Numbed my pain too.”

Jared patted her hand. “No, you had a good point—just got it a backward.”

Barb and Sasha stared at him.

“It isn’t artificial intelligence that’ll take over the world—it’s a lack of common sense that’ll lose it.”

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Of Gods and Men

China @1041 AD

Bi Shang scooped a handful of sticky clay and set it on a wooden sideboard. Using sharpened sticks, he pulled off sections, and with sure and steady hands, shaped each piece into thin edged characters. Bending low, his eyebrows furrowed over the intense work, but a lilting hum escaped his lips.

A thin, young man draped in flowing pantaloons and a loose, grey tunic shuffled into the bright room, keeping close to the wall. His large eyes followed the older man with wide-eyed curiosity. “What’re you doing?”

Undisturbed, Bi Shang arranged each character on an iron baking tray. When the tray was full, he straightened and rubbed his back with one hand. With the other, he beckoned. “Come, Jian.”

Jian stepped forward, tilting his head to see better.

“I’m preserving human intelligence.”

Jian’s eyes narrowed. “My intelligence?”

With a chuckle, Bi Shang snatched a piece of wood from a basket and laid it carefully on a pile of glowing embers in a bake oven embedded in the wall. “Hmm. Yours and your children’s as well.”

Snorting, Jian waved the thought away. “You’re teasing.”

As the flickering flames grew, Bi Shang lifted a rack from the floor and placed it inside the oven. He grabbed a bowl of water and sprinkled the flames, taming them into smoky heat.

The boy’s eyes widened again. “But why—?”

“Because, this is delicate work, and I don’t want my characters to go up in flames.” Satisfied, Bi Shang carefully laid the tray on the rack over the radiant heat. With a contented sigh, he bent low and pointed. “See those shapes?”

Jian nodded.

“They represent the thoughts of men across the world.” His eyes twinkled. “And when we put many thoughts together—we shape both men and world.”

An angry pout formed on Jian’s lips. “You only tell me such stories because I’m small for my age.”

With a gentle hand, Bi Shang squeezed the boy’s shoulder. “On the contrary. I’m sharing great power with you. When my characters bake hard and strong, I’ll set them out for the world to read and ponder. Thoughts grow upon thoughts, and our people will know what wise men of the world believed.”

Stretching forth a tentative finger, Jian touched the clay and rubbed it between his fingers.

Tapping the boy’s arm, Bi Shang grinned. “Someday, if you watch and learn, you’ll know the thoughts of many and share your thoughts with the universe—wisdom to last beyond human sight.”

“Forever?” Jian squinted as if trying to see the edge of unlimited eons. “My thoughts are like the wind.” His gaze fell to the dusty floor. “And can sometimes be evil.”

Bi Shang stroked his face. “You are more honest than most.” Returning to his work, he turned his back to the boy. “Evil thoughts can teach us, too.” He glanced over his shoulder. “For none are barred from their embrace.” He sighed. “Though the wind sometimes uproots the old, it also carries in invigorating air.”

Jian shook his head, a worried frown etched across his forehead. “Such a power is for the gods and their anointed.”

Bi Shang nodded as he lifted his sharp sticks and began to shape a new character. He bent over his work in silent intensity.

Jian shuffled toward the door.

After placing new characters on a fresh tray, Bi Shang lifted his finger. “Before you leave, look at these.” He beckoned Jian forward.

Returning, Jian bent over the iron tray. A new light entered his eyes.”What do they mean?”

“Free—Spirit.” Bi Shang fixed his gaze on the boy. “We choose what we believe.”

Jian nodded, his bright eyes fastened on the figures. “Of gods and men.”

~~~

Sterling, a Luxonian disguised in the rough garb of a Chinese peasant, slapped a mosquito on his arm and frowned at the sight of blood. “Damn insects. Stupid humans! I’m so bored I could—”

“Sir?” Teal, a younger Luxonian dressed in a matching style, stepped out from behind a bush. He nodded toward a tree. “If you need to use—uh—want a little privacy—”

“I’d rather disintegrate.”

Smothering a smile as he rubbed a hand across his face, Teal nodded respectfully. “I doubt that’ll be necessary.” He started toward a sloping hill crowned with a copse of woods. “Though you did have five cups of tea.”

Laboring alongside his companion, Sterling blew air between his lips. “I keep thinking these new world voyages will stimulate me—invigorate my lagging spirit. But instead, everything is so blasted uncomfortable—it’s either hot and humid or dry and cold.” He tugged at his collar. “These ridiculous clothes scratch unmercifully, and the insect life—”

Teal huffed as he neared the crest. “But you enjoyed the tea and cakes—don’t deny it. And, you must admit, watching humans’ first foray into printing was rather fascinating.” With eager steps, he entered the woods.

Sterling tripped and grabbed a branch for balance. “I hate hiding in dark corners. And I’d hardly call a grown man attempting to convince a pathetic child that his clay characters imply a universal achievement—fascinating.” He snapped the twig off the tree and pounded further into the dense woods. “Really, I wonder if becoming a judge is worth all the risk.”

Yelping, Teal stopped and leaned against a tree. He dug a stone out of his sandal. “You have to understand the various life forms in your jurisdiction. How else will you make fair assessments?”

Sterling shuffled from one foot to another, his frown deepening. “I understand that. I just don’t like all the needless hardship. Why couldn’t I have been offered a position on Helm? Shapeshifters have much better sensibilities.” He swallowed and his face flushed. “I can’t stand it.”

Teal glanced around. “We’re safe here. Go ahead—return to Luxonian form.”

“No time!” Sterling rushed behind a tree.

Teal snatched a nut from a tree and studied it thoughtfully, ignoring Sterling’s long, shuddering sigh.

Wandering like a man lost in a dream, Sterling circled toward Teal. “I never imagined such relief—”

Teal pushed away from the trunk. “If you’re ready, we should make our report. Do a good job, and you’ll make a Supreme Judge someday.” He grinned. “As guardian, I’ll always be here to help.”

Sterling threw up his hands in renewed anguish. “But I haven’t got anything to report! It’s all so inconsequential.”

A brooding frown spread across Teal’s face. “Open your mind.” Teal strode closer and looked Sterling in the eyes. “Think about what you’ve seen—all of humanity’s challenges. They suffer from their corporeal bodies and their primitive living conditions—yet they manage to invent new ways to express themselves and preserve knowledge. They work hard, practice discipline and patience, endure pain and, yes, enjoy relief. And, from the look on the young man’s face, they also know ecstatic joy.” He waved his hands as if to encompass the entire planet. “I’d say that was consequential.”

Sterling peered up at the bright sky filtered between the leafy branches. “Perhaps you’re right.” He grinned as he leveled his gaze at Teal. “Supreme Judge, eh?” He glanced around, his smile fading. “Only if I survive.”

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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