What Really Matters?

As I maneuver between the goalposts of my day, I brush up against all sorts of realities. Some deceivingly mundane, some clearly molehills, others require deep prayer to survive their clutching, smothering embrace.

As a sat in the library on a Saturday morning, where I had offered a writers’ support group, but no one showed up, because, as I well knew, there are few people looking for writing support—life support, perhaps, but that is another topic altogether—I alternately worked on a writing project and considered the shelves of untouched books. My mind floated back to a barrio library in the Philippines where the door remained locked most of the time because, quite frankly, the library was not intended to be used. It was simply a designated requirement. The supervisor didn’t want kids in there messing about. That’s not what it was meant for.

Allowing my mind to roam off the page, it floated to other scenes—places of fulfilled requirements: schools packed with kids who experienced little connection between the exam page and the events testing their daily lives, jobs staffed with workers who put in their time like prisoners carrying out a life sentence, and “homes” packed with elderly—retired from work, family gone, all together isolated.

Recently I chatted with someone who likes to hike. A lot. When I asked if part of his motivation was spiritual, he seemed surprised. The answer was, yes. Super-physical and super-spiritual. Supernatural without the eerie music. A purposeful engagement with something beyond fulfilling a requirement. So far as I know, no one is required to take a hike. Suggested maybe…

Violent crimes—organized and unorganized—hunger, domestic abuse, and other horrors plague our world. So often, the malaise of meaninglessness haunts humanity. Why is that?

A storm just rumbled in, thick raindrops splatter everything and gutters shoot like geysers. The internet is out. Our power flickers off—on—and off again. Sheets of rain saturate our already sodden fields. Pumpkin vines sway with shredded leaves. Flower pots overflow, draining good soil away.

The image reminds me that I’ve recently attracted an internet antagonist who feels the need to point out his view of my literary and logical shortcomings. At first, I ignored him. Not out of malice, but simply because I didn’t have much to say in return. No one is required to read my posts. No one has to think as I think or believe as I believe. I simply share my point of view—life from my small and relatively quiet world. Yet an antagonist found me and shot his bolts of angry lightning my way.

What’s a meaningful response to a cyberbully? I could hurl back verbal bolts, but what’s the point?

I’ve been watching PBS’ World on Fire, an excellent WWII drama relating the hellish realities too many human beings endured ninety years ago. In my world, if the internet goes down for a couple of hours, it seems like a big deal. A molehill grown to gargantuan proportions. For them, cruelty and death chased sanity into close quarters and then hunted down families for generations. Devilry itself hidden behind national doors.

So once again, I consider what really matters. I knew when I arranged the writers’ support Saturdays that few people would show up. But I did it anyway. Why? Because I believe that libraries, writers, and support matter even when no one shows up. For the day when someone does step over the threshold hoping to exchange a word or two. I appreciate my hiker-friend since he has taken the road less traveled but found health and peace of mind in clear air and a rugged path.

Kids should have an opportunity to go to school—but daily purpose should be relatable to lives, not built on designated requirements that allow planners to check off boxes. Can a child find meaning in his or her lessons? Even simpler, will he or she grow up, be able to put food on the table, and care to eat it?

And how to manage in a world where bullies, baddies, and rivers of wrong flood the highways of our lives? Where old age leaves us alone without words or coherent thought.

The rain has stopped, and one of the cats just curled up in a flower pot between the fern and the pumpkin plant. A cool breeze has taken the edge off the heat of the day, and night is falling. Birds twitter their goodnight songs, and fireflies are flashing their lights for an evening of delight.

Each day unfolds its mysteries and conundrums. Sometimes I stroll, other times, I run. Never answering everything or certain sure of all.

But I make it to the end, glad I was a part of it. I’ll crack open my library book now, relax a bit, and be present to the Presence of life itself. For the meaning I searched for—was inside of me all along.

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/woman-girl-lady-reading-book-wood-5339551/

Smashed to Pieces

OldEarth Melchior Encounter Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

The watching throng roared approval.

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

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

Abbas locked eyes on Sterling who grinned in return.

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

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

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

Loud exclamations met his astonishing feat.

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

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

Sterling followed with Cerulean and Nova trailing along behind.

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

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

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

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

Her hands clenched, Nova stomped forward.

Cerulean gripped her arm, shaking his head.

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Omega stepped to the very edge of the cliff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

Poetry

Hope’s Embrace & Other Poems https://amzn.to/3cn22X8

Photo https://pixabay.com/photos/cliffs-ocean-waves-sea-water-5547648/

Betrayal

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

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

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

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

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

Mom or dad? Probably mom.

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

And why should I?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nova, no!”

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

The fish darted down, deeper into the gloom.

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

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

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

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

No one. She was alone.

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

~~~

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

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

“I have no idea.”

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

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

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

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

“I was just like you.”

Nova rolled her eyes.

“And I have the perfect answer.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“As much as you like.”

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

Zuri nodded, his gaze distant.

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

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

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

Books by A. K. Frailey

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend Novels

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter https://amzn.to/3iGqGlQ

OldEarth Georgios Encounter https://amzn.to/3v7w8oI

OldEarth Melchior Encounter (In Production)

Science Fiction Novels

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

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

Short Stories

It Might Have Been—And Other Short Stories https://amzn.to/2XXdDDz

Encounter Science Fiction Short Stories & Novella https://amzn.to/3dq6q5l

Inspirational Non-Fiction

My Road Goes Ever On—Spiritual Being, Human Journey https://amzn.to/2KvF3Ll

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings https://amzn.to/3rtAy6S

Children’s Book

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

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