OldEarth Encounter Themes

Recently, I celebrated another year marked on the calendar of my life. I am also considering how best to focus my energy and enlighten my soul, so I look back on my previous accomplishments and peer ahead into exciting new projects.

In our vastly changing world, we still follow an ancient path, searching for God, our proper place in family and society, and the meaning of our lives. Today, we live in a global reality little imagined in the land of Ur, though—made in the image of God—our souls have always held limitless possibilities.

In my OldEarth Encounter series, our world is viewed from a close-up Earth-bound, historical perspective but also from a distant, alien viewpoint. In the truest meaning of “Catholic,” the stories revolve around universal themes.

OldEarth ARAM Encounter—Humanity’s search for the one true God.

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter—Conflict between humanity’s need for God and our desire to be god.

OldEarth Neb Encounter—The price of chosen evil.

OldEarth Georgios Encounter—God as Father and Son and our personal reflection of those roles.

OldEarth Melchior Encounter—Marriage, parenthood, and the meaning of our Christian identity.

The first three books are currently available on Amazon, and the last two are near completion and will be available soon.

For the rest of April, I will take a break from creating new stories, My Road Goes Ever On reflections, and poems. I’ll start up again sometime in May. In the mean time, I am completing the work on the last two OldEarth books, reading my posts aloud for those who’d like to listen, (Just hit the Listen on Spotify button) and organizing my newest work:

My Road Goes Ever On II

Encounter—Science Fiction Short Stories II

It Might Have Been Short Stories II

I am also hoping to publish a collection of my poems at some point. Still have to come up with a name…

May our lives be blessed with God’s grace each day.

~Ann  

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/universe-girl-dock-fantasy-moon-5944412/

Leopold

“If ever you go to the North Country

Where the oak and the ash and the rowan be,

And the ivy bosses the castle wall

You must go to Edenhall…

Miranda wrapped her arms around her middle and traipsed through the winter woods, tugging her coat tight, her gaze meandering. Not that there was much to see. Snow dusted the trees and covered the leaf-strewn ground. Barren. Empty. Aloneness personified in foliage.

A bird called. What was it saying? She could almost make out the tune, but it was too distant. A raucous crow rose, cawing, and flapped away.

She trudged back to the bright-lit home she shared with her cousin, Edna, and her husband and their kids. Turning at the door, she stared at the scene. The glorious woods silhouetted black against the white evening sky stabbed her heart.

The after-dinner routine, raucous as usual, soon settled into an evening of books and board games. Miranda knitted, sitting on her chair by the lamp and watched Edna settle with the baby in her lap and the toddler tucked under her arm. She balanced an illustrated bedtime story between them. Joe played Memory with the older two boys and groaned grandly every time they made a match.

By the time everyone marched up to bed, Joe stretched and yawned, saying that he’d hit the hay early since he had to get up before dawn the next morning. Edna switched off the lights, shut down the computer on her work desk, and started after him.

Miranda continued to knit.

Edna stopped and glanced back. She frowned.

Miranda heard her cousin’s footsteps draw near, but she didn’t look up. She didn’t have the heart to.

Edna’s shadow slanted over the knitting.

Miranda sighed and let the half-finished blanket fall flat on her lap.

“Something wrong, Miranda?”

Willing herself to face her cousin, Miranda shoved all pain aside and peered up. “Nothing’s wrong. How could it be? I have a perfect life.”

Edna tugged a footstool over and plunked down. “Normally, I’d agree. But something feels…wrong.” She perched her head on her hand. “You know, I always envied you.”

Miranda snorted. “Good Lord, what for?”

“You traveled…saw the world. You were a useful human being. Nursing the sick all over…helping surgeons. Teaching. Advising.” Edna sat up and spread her hands wide. “Why, you were a regular modern hero. None the like I ever met before in real life.”

Miranda picked up her knitting and squinted in the dim light. “The operative word there is ‘were.’ I was all those things.” She shrugged. “Now I’m just an old lady knitting in a corner and walking through the woods to while away my empty days.”

Edna slapped her hand on the edge of the footstool. “Not so! You help with the kids and keep me from madness. I consider that a worthy endeavor.”

A momentary squabble on the second floor filtered down but was soon checked by Joe’s command to ‘settle down—or else.’

Edna narrowed her eyes. “Besides, you’re not exactly old. Not by today’s standards. Still in your fifties. You’ve got years ahead of you.”

“Sixties looms ever nearer, and the years ahead look pretty desolate to me.” She adjusted her glasses. “Listen, you and I know perfectly well that the nursing profession slipped away while I took care of Jack, and my boy lives in Singapore. Not exactly around the corner. Today the world is connected in ways I can hardly fathom. I don’t recognize half the things your kids say. I’m what they call ‘out of the loop.’” She shook her head. “My glory days are quite gone.”

Edna clasped her hands and rose from the footstool. She paced across the room and then turned and faced her cousin. “Those days—yes—I agree. They’re quite gone. But—”

“I’m too tired to go back to school and start over, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Not school necessarily. But change…a trade…a skill…a new environment.” Edna marched forward, her hands on her hips. “Don’t you see? It’s all in how you look at your life—forever ending or forever beginning. You decide.”

~~~

The next day dawned bright and clear. Cold swept in from the north, but Miranda wasn’t one to be detained by the threat of frostbite. She knew how to dress warmly.

After the older kids were off to school, Edna settled the little ones down with activities and started in on her daily online routine.

Miranda bustled out the door with a quick nod to the perfect order of the little corner of her world and braced herself for the cold. But she didn’t feel it. She hurried into the woods, her gloved hands sunk deep into her heavy coat pockets.

A bird landed on a branch before her and started in its usual song. Leopold…Leopold…tweet, tweet, tweet…

Miranda frowned and knocked a bit of snow off a tree trunk. “Stupid bird. Always calling to your Leopold, but he never answers, does he?” She stumbled forward, fury building little an interior steam kettle.

The bird hopped along, calling the same plaintive song. “Leopold…Leopold…”

Her nerves strained to the breaking point, Miranda turned and screamed. “Stupid idiot. Stop waiting for Leopold!” She shook her fist at the snow-speckled trees. “Go make a nest and do your own thing…live your own life. Don’t ask for no—”

A choking sob welled up from Miranda’s middle and tears burned her eyes. She wiped them away, brushing snow across her glasses. “Dang it!” Nearly blinded, she plucked her glasses off her face and carefully paced her way to a fallen log. She plunked down, not caring that she’d wet her clothes through to the skin.

Taking off her gloves, she pulled a tissue out of a pocket and wiped her glasses dry.

The bird drew near one again. “Leopold…Leopold…tweet…tweet…tweet…”

Miranda blinked as she watched the little bird hop before her. “Oh, God.” She held out her hand. The bird hopped close, then proceeded to peck at the tree bark, intent, and perhaps content, with something besides Leopold.

A thrill rushed through Miranda. “Could it be?” She laid her hand open.

The bird lifted its beady eyes and stared at her. It hopped nearer, almost touching her hand.

“Good Lord. Am I—Leopold?”

~~~

Later that evening when Edna returned from taking all the kids to their dentist’s appointments, she stopped dead in her tracks.

The boys finished divesting themselves from their winter coats and then set to work on helping the little ones.

Edna swallowed and entered the warm, yeasty smelling kitchen following the sound a happy tune. She stared at her cousin.

Slicing into a hot loaf of homemade wheat bread, Miranda called to the kids. “Snacks are ready and on the table in five minutes, boys. Be sure to wash your hands.” She glanced at Edna. “I’ve made enough to go with supper; don’t worry. I also made a nice hot stew for everyone.”

Edna shook her head. “You’re feeling better, then?”

Miranda stopped and met her cousin’s gaze. “Yes…and no. I just have to find myself again. Not easy. But the first task is always the hardest.”

Edna crept into the room. “What’s that?”

“You got to figure out where you are.” She drew a dish of butter near and laid a knife beside it. “And go from there.”

Tears welled in Edna’s eyes. “I’m glad.” She surveyed the brown bread and sucked in a deep breath. “My, but that looks good!” She perched on a stool and slathered a piece with a healthy dollop of butter. “What was that tune I heard you humming when I came in?”

Miranda blushed. “Oh, it wasn’t anything…just a birdsong you sometimes hear in the woods. “Leopold…Leopold…I’m here, I’m here.”

…But do our best and our most each day,

With a heart resolved and a temper gay,

         Which pleasure spoils not, not frights appall—

Though we never see Edenhall—

~Edenhall~

by

Susan Coolidge

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

With Your Help

Leander dropped his head on his hands and slouched on the edge of a metal, straight-backed chair.

The crowded room murmured with low-toned conversations amid a swirl of officious activity.

A uniformed officer paced before him, his hands clasped behind his back. “So you—what? Give online advice?”

The floor, grey plastic tiles with chipped edges and age cracks, offered not an ounce of inspiration.

Leander peered up, barely lifting his head above his hands. Weariness engulfed him. “No. Not really. I just…chat with people and reflect on the state of things in our world.” He sat straighter. “How could that be so wrong? Everyone does it.”

The officer stopped mid-pace and blew air into the stagnant room. “People make all sorts of suggestions—demands even. But few listen. In your case, you were unlucky enough to have someone follow your advice and do exactly as you suggested.”

Leander stood, his hands waving, imploring. “I only said that we should throw all our guns in the ocean…you know…get rid of our weapons of destruction.”

The officer chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck. “So this lady gets a group of moms, and they gather every weapon they lay their hands on, hire a boat, and go out…and do just that!”

Leander gripped the desk for support. “I didn’t think anyone would really do it—not like that.”

“Like what—you think?”

“I just wanted to make a concrete suggestion, something people could do to make the world a better place.”

“Drop your assorted guns in the ocean?”

“Out of kids’ hands! Yeah. Is that a bad idea?” Embarrassment, fear, and anger played touch football in Leander’s stomach. “Listen, Officer, I’m not the bad guy here. I didn’t mean anyone should break the law or do anything stupid. I figured anyone who read my post would understand what I meant.”

“You know, when Ms. Stevens was apprehended, the first thing she said was—‘Leander Jones told me to do it.’”

“Oh, God.” Feeling faint, Leander dropped back into his chair.

The officer stepped over and crouched before him. “What—you’re in your forties; you’ve got a wife and kids, and you honestly thought you were helping humanity out.” He stood. “When she mentioned your name, I read through your blog. Got some nice sentiment there.” He stepped away and stared at the wall. “I’ve seen the aftermath of a school shooting. I know what guns can do. I know how—” He stopped and ran his hands over his face. He turned. “Still—fact is—she blames you.”

Lander pulled himself to his feet. “I didn’t say anything that Hollywood stars and politicians haven’t been saying for years. Guns are dangerous.”

The officer pulled out his desk chair. “In the wrong hands. I agree with you.” He sat and glanced up. “So is advice.”

~~~

Leander sauntered over to the embankment and stared at the waves rippling over the lake. Kids and adults hustled between picnic tables, arranging and snatching food, joking, chatting, and having a fun Sunday afternoon.

A man dressed in black, wearing a Roman collar, plodded over the short grass and stood next to Leander, facing the scenic beauty. “Love this view. Trees, sky, and water refresh the soul—” He glanced at Leander. “Don’t you agree?”

Leander’s eyes narrowed. “They should.” He sighed. “But I’ve found that life is nothing but a bundle of contradictions.” He whisked a fly off his arm. “You oughta know better than anyone. Blessed are the poor…riches lead to slavery…good intentions pave the way to hell.”

Father Peter retreated to a log situated on the water’s edge. Propping one foot on the trunk, he crossed his arms over his thigh and watched a flock of geese fly overhead.

Leander faced his priest. “What? No clarification? Aren’t you going to explain that God knows our hearts, and we should trust in Him no matter how wretchedly things turn out?”

Father Peter dropped his gaze and met Leander’s eyes. “You said it—what’s left?”

Leander pounded across the spongy turf and stood before the priest, his hands on his hips. “You know what happened! I gave innocent, well-meaning advice—and I nearly went to jail.” Tears welled. “What that would’ve happened to Jeanie and the kids then?”

Father Peter’s waited. His gaze steady, his demeanor calm.

Leander flung out his hand and waved a finger in the priest’s face. “Really, it’s all your fault! Aren’t you always preaching about how we should be salt and light in the world? What a world!” He turned and paced away. “The other day, I gave a steak bone to the dog, and he choked!” He swung around. “I gave twenty bucks to a homeless guy and not ten minutes later I saw him buying cigarettes!”

Someone called from the distance and waved.

Father Peter straightened and waved back. He returned his gaze to Leander. “So what do you want to do?”

“Do? Duck and hide—if only  I could. But this damned world hounds me. The other day my son came home with a guy dressed like a girl, my sister was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning, and my boss thinks he might have cancer.” Leander plopped down on the log. “There’s too much grief and when I try to mend a problem, I nearly get sent to Alcatraz.”

Father Peter shook his head. “You can’t save the world.”

“Save? Heck, I can’t even apply a decent band-aid.”

Father Peter chuckled and patted Leander on the back. “The job of Savior has already been taken.”

Leander pivoted on his heel, thrusting Father’s hand away. “Ah! There’s where we disagree.” His face flushed, he felt nearly drunk on fury. “Kids are killing other kids, drug abuse is on the rise, for all our prosperity—the world’s a miserable place.” He glared at the priest. “Doesn’t seem to me that anyone’s safe—or saved!”

His jaw hardening, but his eyes softening, Father Peter lifted his hands in surrender. “You’re right. The world as we know it is pretty miserable. No denying that. But this world is not all there is. We don’t have to be saved —not if we don’t want to.”

“Stop being so sanctimonious.”

“Stop trying to be God.”

The two men glared at each other. A shuffle turned their gazes.

A little boy hovered near, his eyes wide. Fear scrawled across his face.

Leander closed his eyes and rubbed his temple.

Father Peter crouched and beckoned the boy over. “It’s okay, Davy. Your dad and I are just having a little discussion.”

Davy hesitated, glancing from one man to the next. He finally settled on his dad. “Mom said lunch is ready. Eat now cause she’s not fixing anything else.”

Leander opened his eyes and nodded. “Be right there.”

The boy turned and scampered away.

Father Peter turned to follow but glanced over his shoulder. “Everything you said is true, Leander. You’re not wrong. But you’re not completely right, either.”

A sob welled up inside Leander as he peered into the distance and watched his son tug on his wife’s arm, probably babbling on about how dad was arguing with the pastor. “So what, in Heaven’s name, am I supposed to do? How do I live in this crazy world?”

Father Peter sighed and waited. “Do the best you can. Remember, you’re a man. Not the Creator of the universe.”

Leander shuffled forward. “There’s a new world waiting for us—and God’ll make everything right in the end?”

Father chuckled, patted Leander’s arm, and moved on. “With your help—yep.”

Leander snorted, shook his head, and headed for lunch.

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

All Humanity

An empty bench waits by the sea,

Ponder time and silence free.

Loving son and loving daughter,

Blue sky and bluer sea.

 

Dragonflies flitter by,

The waves roll on a mid-day sigh.

Sand, rock, weed, and flower,

Nature changes by the hour.

 

All our name and titles float away,

Petty divisions hate of the day.

Only myself, yet everyone be,

Join in communion with all humanity.

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

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 https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Not With His Eyes

A yellow striped spider climbed down from a sparking web amid rainbow colored dewdrops and a faint breeze. Settling into a shadowed corner, it snuggled down to await its fortune. Two robins fluttered onto pine boughs and squabbled until a Blue Jay sprang between them and ended the conflict with a raucous call. A pink horizon brightened into a burnished red and gold spectrum as the sun crested the horizon, sending rays of light up the porch steps right into Betty’s blind eyes.

The tears washing down her cheeks did little to appease the anguish rising in her heart. Wiping them away with the back of her hand, she sniffed and shuddered. The air, tinged with spring’s warmth, wafted over her, yet her bones, chilled to the marrow, could not accept even a hint of hope.

“You’re up early.” Her mother, Kim, dressed in a pair of rugged jeans, a light sweatshirt, and slip-on shoes strolled onto the back porch. Laying a gentle hand on her daughter’s shoulder, she stared upon the same scene and reveled in the beauty. “It’s a gorgeous morning.”

Betty swallowed back a relentless sob. “I wouldn’t know.”

Pulling Betty into an embrace, Kim laid her head against her daughter’s. “Just be glad you’re alive. Those tumors would’ve killed you.”

Reflexively, Betty touched the healing wounds near her temples. She dropped her face into shadow. “They did—in a way. My old life is quite dead.”

Kim took a step away and peered at her daughter’s slumped figure. “You’ve got plenty of life ahead of you. And your sight might return. Doc Mallory said—”

“Doc Mallory is a know-it-all and a snob. Just because she’s had bazillion patients, she thinks she understands me. She doesn’t!”

Folding her arms over her chest and with a slight shake of the head, Kim turned and faced the rising sun. “Nevertheless, you have an appointment today, and she’s the best hope we’ve got.” After glancing at her watch, Kim started down the steps. “I’m going to check the cabbages I planted yesterday. Get ready, and we’ll leave in an hour.”

~~~

As Betty pounded out the clinic door, her mom grabbed her arm. “Stop and listen to me! I know you’re upset, but I’ve got to pick up the prescriptions. The door to the Arboretum is right here—” Kim pulled Betty forward and led her fingers to a metal handle on a wide industrial-sized door with a fancy steel plate entitled Garden Center. “Just go inside and wander around a bit. There’s staff nearby. I’ll be back in half an hour.”

With an angry grunt, Betty jerked open the door and stumbled inside. The humidity hit her like a slap in the face. Blinking, she stepped forward with her arms out, searching for obstacles.

Footsteps jogged forward. “Hi! Can I help you?”

Betty froze. The voice sounded like a young man. She cringed. Blindness humiliated her. For all she knew, her hair was a disheveled wreck, and her shirt was inside out. Squeezing her eyes, she reminded herself that her mom wouldn’t let her out of the house without checking her over. Lifting her head, she faced the voice. “I’d like to sit down.”

“Sure thing.” A gentle hand gripped her shoulder and led her to a bench.

Feeling her way, Betty sat with a relieved sigh. The sunshine warmed her face. Birds twittered and a fragrant scent wafted to her nose.

“You’ve been to the doctor—or waiting to get in?”

Betty grimaced. “Been there. Old crow.”

A snorted laugh made her tilt her head. She grinned against her will. “What’s so funny?”

The man sat down at her side. “Let me guess—Doc Mallory?”

Turning as if to stare into the stranger’s face, Betty blinked in surprise. “How’d you know?” She could practically hear his grin as he slapped his thighs.

“Ol’ Doc Mallory is famous—or infamous—around here. Knows everything, boss of the universe, can tell what a patient’s thinking and feeling miles away. Most patients hate her guts.”

Betty sniffed. “She’s not worth hating. Blindness—now that’s—”

A bird flew by and fluttered around the two figures. Betty jerked away, bumping the stranger.

“Don’t be afraid. Just a parakeet.”

She could sense the stranger lift his arm. The bird flew closer, the fluttering stopped. The voice crooned in a soft undertone.

Shivers ran down Betty’s spine.

The man shifted. “Despite her reputation, Doc Mallory’s not so bad. She helped to build this place—got the funding for the whole wing—glass ceiling and all. And she brought in these birds as an extra surprise. This one’s probably Bather—loves the birdbath and never a bit shy about asking for a little treat.”

Betty cocked her head and listened to the various chirping and warbling interplay all around her. “You know all the birds here?”

“Pretty much. I volunteer twice a week. Nice way to meet people and get away from stuff—all the antics of our wild world. You know.”

With a shrug, Betty dismissed the notion. “I’m never in the wild world these days—always stuck inside or holding someone’s hand.”

The man nudged her arm. “That’ll change. You’ll get more independent with time.” He stood. “Well, I better feed the fish—amazing how anxious they get if you’re late.”

A frown puckered over Betty’s brow. “You’re kidding—right?”

Though his shadow blocked the sunshine, he seemed to exude his own warmth. “Caught me.” He patted her shoulder. “Maybe you see better than you think.”

Slouching in sudden loneliness, Betty listened as his footsteps retreated across the garden. Something landed on her shoulder, chirping in her ear. Lifting her arm, she held out a finger and a tiny, feathery body fluttered onto her hand. She could practically feel it’s heart pounding. “You aren’t a bit shy—are you?” Lifting her chin, she listened. The sound of water trickling on her left pulled her to her feet.

Stepping carefully with one hand out and the other aloft with the bird, she finally bumped into the wide-brimmed birdbath. After laying her finger on the edge, the parakeet hopped off. Suddenly, drops of water splashed her face. A gasped laugh erupted from deep within her being.

Footsteps clicked up behind her. “You’ve been enjoying yourself?”

Betty turned and faced her mother. “It’s beautiful here.”

Kim sighed, her voice dropped low and soft. “Yes—it is.” She took her daughter’s arm and led her forward. “Did you meet Melvin?”

“You mean the guy who volunteers here?”

“Yeah. He was here on the day you went into surgery. I thought I’d go crazy with worry. But he set my mind at ease.”

“Seems nice enough. Is he still here?”

“I don’t see him now. But we better go—dad’s waiting to meet us for lunch. Besides, you can see Melvin next time. He’s practically a permanent fixture around here. He’s Doc Mallory’s son.”

Betty froze in her tracks. “What? That can’t be—not the way he talked about her. He seemed—to really understand!”

Kim pulled open the door and stepped aside. “Oh, I’m sure he does.” With a firm grip, she directed her daughter through the doorway. “He’s been blind since birth. It’s why Doc Mallory built this place—and works so hard.” The door swished shut behind them.

Betty choked. “He can’t see?”

Kim took her daughter’s arm. “Not with his eyes.”

Betty stumped along beside her mother. “Oh, Lord, Mom! He identified the bird, and I thought—”

Kim patted her daughter’s hand. “There are many ways to see, honey.”

Betty exhaled. “And many ways to go blind.”

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

My Kind of Madness

Over time, I’ve become convinced that madness must run in the family. How else can I explain my insane desire to “live simply” which, by necessity, involves all sorts of discomforts from merely annoying insects to knockdown drag-out encounters with the wild side of creation? Whoever said nature was innocent, never met nature up-close and personal.

My husband and I both grew up in cities. He in Los Angeles, I in Milwaukee. We both traveled and knew “something of the world” before we met and married. Thankfully, we both came to the conclusion that we wanted to raise our kids in the country. Images of blissful encounters with nature and the soul-steadying reality of hard work encouraged us to forge ahead with what would become a lot more intense experience than we could have ever realized.

But that was good. Otherwise, we would’ve never done it. God isn’t stupid when He doesn’t color in all the details. Oh, no.

Luckily, John was very strong and loved nature. He was soon dubbed “Our Amish Paul Bunyan” by the homeschooling dads. Good thing because I was rather busy having babies. Eight babies. Yes. One at a time.

During those years, we learned to raise laying hens for eggs, meat birds for our winter chicken supply, maintain a humongous garden, and raise bees and gather the honey. Each spring, John collected sap from the maple trees and made maple syrup. That was fun. Kids around a huge cauldron over an open fire in the backyard stirring…and stirring…and stirring. And then pancakes. Life was good.

We got a cow and learned to milk it. Or rather my eldest daughter did. I hid with the chickens. But I did learn to make cheese. Sort of. Okay, my homemade bread was eatable, though.

We are the kind of people who drive other people nuts. We don’t use air conditioning—unless you have a heart condition or are with social services. We actually like to recycle. All the kids work. Or else. Pretty much everyone collapses on Sunday. No need for a “Though shalt rest” commandment. God knows what He’s doing.

When John was diagnosed with Leukemia, our youngest was only seven months. There was no way I could do everything. So I didn’t. I simply did what I could. The kids did what they could. John did what he could—till he couldn’t do anything. But those joint efforts—raising the chickens, milking the cow, making cheese (sort of), gardening—they did a lot to keep the rhythm of our lives going even when our hearts were skipping beats.

John died in December 2013, and since then, the kids and I have struggled to maintain the core of our little natural world. I can’t really call it a farm. We have loosey-goosy hens that lay eggs in the doghouse, meat birds that die without asking, and bees we watch but do not follow, a middle-sized garden, fruit trees, nut trees, and more dogs and cats than I care to count. Don’t ask about the possums and assorted critters that like to visit. We do chat on occasion. I tell them to go home. They ignore me.

When things get tough and I’m ready to give up on one more thing, I remember why John and I started this foolishness in the first place. There is something sublime about working hard and living according to your conscience. Nature isn’t always easy, but in the fruits, vegetables, nuts, critters, weather, and the land itself, we see daily facets of God’s abundant imagination.

We learn balance and integrity while working with God’s created world. Jesus spoke in nature parables all the time. We are stewards. If we’re not ever vigilant, weeds will destroy our garden.

There’s nothing quite like the blessings of hard physical labor, homemade bread and strawberry jam. It isn’t the amount of land worked, the number of chickens raised, the variety of critters encountered. It’s the interaction. The noticing…the caring…the faithfulness needed to keep everyone alive. We are known by our fruit.

It’s my kind of madness.

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Good Fortune

Amazon Link: Newearth Justine Awakens

Chapter Four

Clare sailed across the street, scrolling through her datapad.

Her smile faded. Mrs. Lane Hoggsworth had been found dead in her home late last night, Day 73, Year 53 Newearth reckoning. Clare’s brows furrowed in irritation. If the woman had been more important, Human Services would have pulled in a high-profile investigator, but as it stood, she was only important to her family, and they didn’t have much money or influence. After all, the deplorably dark saying, “It’s only a human,” held sway in a world where humans were the minority and considered, by some, to rate only slightly above their wildlife counterparts—like snakes and eagles.

She checked the time and her scowl deepened. If Bala showed up late for his first big assignment, there’d be trouble. She wasn’t going to blow this case, not for him and his sil- ly-fool addiction to hearth and home. Not that she minded his family-ties mindset. Everyone had a right to an obsession. She planned to build a safe house in the wilderness someday. She had even saved up for flying lessons. But with each new case, she realized there was no escaping Newearth reality. Not even on an island.

Clare rounded the corner and ducked into The Breakfast Nook, nearly colliding with Bala’s skinny frame. “You’re late!”

“Am not!” Bala held up his datapad and smirked. “Thirty seconds to go.” He tapped his finger on his wrist screen, his copper-colored face breaking into a wide smile. “Good thing I have a timer, or I might’ve been. You should have seen Kendra jump when the alarm went off. I set it so loud the whole street could hear it.”

Clare shook her head and waved him through the door. “It amazes me that you manage to keep your head attached. Some folks don’t take kindly to loud noises. How about if—”

A seven-foot Ingot hostess with thick bio-armor and leathery skin ushered them to a booth in the back.

“—A Bhuac took offence? You know how irritable they get with high-pitched sounds. One could have slipped over and picked off half of your family.”

Bala grimaced. “You’re always exaggerating! It so happens that we do have a shape-shifter down the way, but we’ve been on very good terms ever since I saved one of their pod-thingys from submersion. How it got in the gutter—don’t even ask— but I was in the right place at the right time and, you know, as secretive as they can be, they really do have a deep capacity for gratitude.”

“Oh, please!” Clare looked up at the impatient hostess. “Coffee, strong as you can make it while still keeping it liquid, a honey-grain bar, large energizer salad, and fruit of the day.”

The hostess turned her full black-eyed glare upon Bala who was perusing the menu as if he hadn’t memorized it long ago. “Coffee, cream, toast and…some bacon and eggs.”

The hostess lunged. She gripped Bala’s heavy plaid shirt and hauled his whole body into the air, leaving Clare stunned into gasping silence.

With arms flailing helplessly, Bala had just enough air to beg. “Just a joke! Really. Kidding. I didn’t mean anything…seriously. Let me down. Please?”

The hostess dropped him and shook her datapad in his face. Her techno-organic armor glistened a reddish-purple as her breathing helm hissed. “You want to order, then order. No sick jokes. Eggs and bacon! What next? You think it’s funny to talk like that, but there are some who wouldn’t mind eating you!”

Bala rubbed his neck and sniffed in a long cleansing breath. “You’re right, it was stupid of me. Really…quite insensitive. I’d just been reading some Oldearth novels, you know. Fiction? Stories? Anyway, they made everything sound so delicious— Sorry! I didn’t mean that. I just—”

Clare’s glare could have melted a polar cap. “Would you order before you get us both killed?”

“Coffee, chocolate pudding, and a raisin-nut bar, extra-large.”

The hostess pounded away, huffing.

“You are such an idiot sometimes, you know that? What was I thinking when I hired you?”

Bala’s eyes twinkled mischievously. “Oh, you were thanking God above that I’m going to save you from the hideous fate of trying to solve all of humanity’s problems single-handedly. It is funny how we don’t recognize our good fortune when it’s staring right at us.” Bala’s grin practically engulfed his face.

Slapping her hand on the table, Clare leaned in and hissed, “Good fortune? It was pity, pure and simple. I couldn’t let that lovely wife of yours and your brood of—how many is it now—six? Six helpless humanoids suffer from the sad fate of having you as the head of provisions.”

Bala turned his less-than-symmetrical face aside to display his profile. “At least I’m as handsome as a Greek god, you’ve gotta give me that.”

The hostess returned and slammed down two mugs of steaming coffee, slopping a little on Bala’s hand.

Bala slipped his hand into his lap with a stifled “Ooo-ahh,” looking every which way but at the hostess.

Clare nodded her appreciation and waited till the hostess stomped off.

“As I was saying, we have a job to do. Mrs. Hoggsworth didn’t blow a hole through herself. Her husband is nearly suicidal and her son wants revenge. Neither of them has much money, but the son has connections to the Michigan territories. I’ve got my eye on a little spot over there. If we can work out a deal, I might be able to find a place for my island getaway, and you might get a little stretch in the woodlands on the northern coast. It’d be away from the usual madness, and you could raise your clan in relative safety.” Clare clapped her hand on her forehead. “So long as you don’t go around ordering bacon and eggs.”

Bala leaned in, returning her earlier hiss. “Listen, there are those of us who believe that meat and eggs are not off the menu. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of animal flesh, so long as it isn’t from one of the sentient beings.”

“Tell that to one of the Race Relation Councilors, and you’ll find yourself in treatment, boy-o.”

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

Ol’ Diablo

Among the spruce and maples, surrounded on three sides by vast fields of freshly tilled soil, Joy pushed her baby girl in a swing. Her husband couldn’t pass the wooden structure without slapping a beam and grinning. “Solid as a rock!”

In her first audacious foray into playdates, Joy had invited a friend from church and a colleague from her husband’s work for an afternoon of fun and frolic. Joy exhaled a cautious breath. So far so good. The kids are getting along well together.

A professional in a pinstripe pantsuit, Ginny Hawthorn exuded efficient confidence; while Ruth in a jean skirt and a flowery blouse breathed exuberance—like a full-page, color advertisement for the outdoor life. Ginny’s boy, Frank, tossed a Frisbee to Ruth’s boy, Ezra. Being the same age, they enjoyed the usual eight-year-old entertainments. One minute they were racing each other across the yard, the next, they were climbing a tree to see who could get to the top the fastest. Ruth watched them with an anxious eye, but Ginny hardly peeled her gaze from her phone.

After lifting her baby from the swing, Joy ambled over to the two women. “I’m so glad the boys are getting along.” She pointed to Ruth’s round tummy. “Soon, we’ll have another little one to join in the fun.”

Ruth’s face glowed. “I can hardly wait. It’s been so long—I just about gave up hope. But God is good.”

With a slight grimace, Ginny slipped her phone into her purse and peered across the yard. “Hey, kiddo, I’ve got a conference call at 5:00—twenty minutes.” She strode over to an Adirondack chair and perched on the edge. “I really appreciate your befriending us, Joy. The kids at Frank’s school are such Neanderthals—obsessed with the latest gadget. I’m too busy to play games, so the kid doesn’t get much fresh air, and I’m sure he’s putting on weight.”

Joy shrugged. “I don’t know how you do it. I can barely manage with Rick and the baby, yet you juggle a family and a full-time career.”

Ruth shaded her eyes as she scanned the yard, a frown building between her eyes. “Is it okay if they play in that dirt over there?”

Joy turned and appraised the scene. The two boys had jumped into a fresh hole and were digging with frenetic energy. “Oh, I don’t think they can do any harm. Rick pulled out a fallen tree, and he thought maybe he’d excavate a bit and make a root cellar. He sure—”

A scream sent all three women hustling toward the site.

Frank scrambled out of the hole holding a large, angular jaw bone ennobled with wide, flat teeth. Ezra ran to his mother and yanked her over. “Look at what we found! It’s a skull—think it might be from a dinosaur?”

Ruth’s frown deepened.

Ginny leaned in, adjusting her glasses to peer at the skull in her son’s hands. “Could be—I’ve heard of farmers finding all sorts of prehistoric—”

“Cool!” Ezra jumped forward and stroked the bone. “I wish I could’ve seen it when it was alive. I would’ve ridden—”

Frank lifted the bone out of reach. “Don’t be stupid. Humans and dinosaurs didn’t live at the same time. Dinosaurs had been gone for a zillion years—”

Ezra shook his head and leaped for the bone. “Not true. Men and animals were created in the same week—says so in the Bible.”

Ginny laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding—only flat-worlders believe in that nonsense.”

Ruth pulled Ezra to her side. “The Bible isn’t nonsense. It’s the world of God, and He doesn’t lie.”

“You can’t be serious—”

Joy cleared her throat and tried to steer Ruth toward the house. “Come on, let’s not get into a debate. We’re friends—”

Ruth’s gaze met Joy regretfully. “I’m sorry, Joy, but we have to go. Ezra doesn’t need to hear a grown woman spouting misinformation—”

Ginny waved an accusing finger. “Misinformation? Because I teach my kid to use his brain and not believe every—”

A truck pulled into the driveway. Joy sighed and waved. “Rick’s home. He can probably identify the bone for us.”

Ginny waved Joy’s suggestion away. “I’ve got to go.” She patted Joy’s limp hand. “Nice try anyway.” Ginny nudged Frank toward her car.

Ruth wrapped her arm around Ezra and pointed to their minivan. The boy lumbered away with his head down. Ruth stroked Joy’s arm. “I’m sorry, but I can’t just stand by while someone tries to shake my son’s faith. I have to stand up for what I believe, right?”

Joy nodded and shifted her baby higher on her hip. “Sure. You just have different views.”

Ruth shook her head. “More than that. Well, I better go. See you Sunday.”

After her guests had cleared the driveway, Joy picked up the bone and drifted toward her husband.

Rick greeted his wife with a kiss on the cheek. He accepted the bone and laughed. “Good heavens, where did you find this?”

“The boys dug it up from the hole—where the old tree used to be.”

Folding one arm around his wife and the baby, Rick nudged them toward the back door. A grin broke across his face. “Old Diablo—I forgot we buried him under that tree.”

Joy’s eyes widened—alarmed. “What? Who?”

Rick stopped and gazed over a distant field. “An old donkey of my dad’s—meanest creature ever to set hoof on God’s green earth. He called it Diablo because he swore that the devil himself had a hand in creating that creature’s nasty tricks.”

“So you buried him by the tree?”

“He fell dead there one day, and Dad dug a hole and pushed him in. He said that Ol’ Diablo wouldn’t get the last laugh this time.” He squeezed her shoulder. “Have a good time with your friends?” He rubbed his stomach. “Boy, I’m starving.”

Joy nodded. “Dinner’s almost ready.” She started up the back porch steps after her husband. “But you know—” she looked back toward the hole, “I think Ol’ Diablo’s still laughing.”

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Survival of the Fittest

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

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

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

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

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

Ling dropped her gaze.

“So, you made it home on time today.”

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

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

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

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

Ling blinked, the spell broken. “Inclusiveness?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

Ling nodded.

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

“Mama?”

Her mother stared down, their gazes locking.

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

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

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

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

“But Papa’s pictures—”

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

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

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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