Melchior Chapter One

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Chapter One

Hairy Hedgehogs

Melchior felt the sneeze pulsing through his head like liquid fire. Squeezed under his bed, arms lodged tightly against his body, he had no opportunity to stem the rushing tide.

“Agh! If-only Chloe-dusted more-thoroughly! Slovenly house-maaaaaid! Achoo! Achoo!”

The smarting pain to his head when he smacked his skull against the wooden frame definitely checked the relief of the explosion. Melchior grimaced. The real object of his interest lay just out of reach. He stretched as far as his short stature would allow; the vellum roll merely sat there, completely indifferent to his struggle.

“Aw! Hairy hedgehogs! Why can’t I do this one thing? Why does everything have to be so…damnably difficult?”

“Father! Faaaather!”

Melchior’s head smashed against the underside of his bed once again as he struggled to extricate himself before his daughter entered the room and found her noble father’s backside peeking out from under the bedstead. He had his reputation to protect…among other things. But Melchior’s respectability could hardly cloak his body at this crucial moment. Although he wiggled backward as fast as he could, the sneezes grew in proportion to his anxiety.

“Oh, Mother Most Holy, I’ll say my devotions more regularly if only—”

“Father…? Father! What in Woden’s name are you doing down there?”

Melchior’s whole body slumped against the dusty floor.

“One more incident like this,” his eldest daughter had warned him just yesterday in her most despairing tone, “and I’ll have to send for Aunt Martha.”

Yes, yes! Roaring rabbits! He was getting old, and perhaps a tad bit forgetful, but that wasn’t what led him to squiggle under the bedstead. He had a perfectly good reason for getting down on all fours and lodging almost his entire body between his hard bed and the dusty floorboards. It was all because of that treacherous roll of vellum. He needed it. He must have it! Who cared for dignity when the whole world waited on the brink of despair for this one piece of momentous news?

Angels above be praised! He had discovered the most amazing thing. He, Melchior, son of Jeremiah and Freda, simple thane, wordsmith, and inventor, had discovered, well, it had been revealed to him in a dream – the one unifying principle of reality! He knew it, and he knew he knew it….or at least he had known it last night when he woke up in the pitch black with the vision still clear in his mind. So, he had done what any intelligent, honest, decent man would do. He struck a flame to his candle, retrieved his quill, and, snatching his precious roll that contained all his inspirations, he wrote down this most amazing bit of universal truth. Why, the world would never be the same once he shared what he had learned!

Unfortunately, after having scribbled down the vision in its entirety, he was exhausted. He carefully rolled the vellum and placed it beside his bed. When he awoke this morning, he remembered his great good luck, but to his horror, there was no sign of his treasure. He searched frantically all over the room, tearing it to pieces. Not that there was much to tear apart; his personal possessions consisted only of a bed, a desk with one leg slightly shorter than the others, and a single straight-backed, armless chair. He had tossed his clothes upon the floor in his desperate search…or were they there already? Never mind that!

Perhaps the roll had merely fallen and rolled under the bed? When he got down on all fours, which was no easy feat, he could see the edge of what looked very much like his precious document. Without premeditated thought, he began to squiggle…and thus…here he lay…bare legs sticking out from under his bed. What else might be laid bare; he shuddered to think.

“Father? Are you ill? Having some kind of a fit?”

Melchior sighed.

“Harry! Come here! I think father had a fit and died half under his bed! Hurry!”

“Hurry, Harry!” mimicked Melchior under his breath. “Hurry and save your already dead father! Bah!”

Before either Harry or his eldest daughter, Adele, could rescue him, Melchior managed to squiggle backward the last bit and fully extricated himself from the humiliation he had plunged himself into. He sat there, his head propped on his arm, which was propped rather casually upon his knee. He stared at his two children, rather surprised that the whole brood hadn’t followed them up the stairs into his little sanctuary. After all, their house only had a few rooms, and every squirrel and bird knew exactly what went on inside each. He blinked like a cat as he waited for the inevitable.

“Father, what were you doing? You scared me half to death! I thought…well…I don’t know what I thought, but—”

Melchior put up his hand wearily. “Don’t say another word. I know what you imagined, and I must say, you have a deplorable lack of faith in your father. Do you think I’d die in such an unceremonious way? When I’m ready to die, I’ll let you know.”

He looked at his son, whose mouth hung slightly open. Although Harry possessed a kind and gentle soul, he was not the brightest candle on the lampstand. But he was strong, and that was worth something. “Help your father to his feet, Harry.”

Harry obliged.

Melchior surveyed his eldest daughter and then his son. His shoulders slumped. They were truly the kindest people he knew, but times were hard and there was so much decency being lost from their everyday world that his heart nearly broke when he thought of it. He remembered the stories his father and grandfather used to tell of the Roman days and how things used to be. But now, all was rot and ruin. There was so little of the old grandeur left.

If only his wife, Edwina, had not passed away, leaving him to manage everything. He still owned a small portion of his lands. As a full-fledged thane, he maintained five hides as the law demanded. And he possessed a name and reputation as an educated man. He was considered wise in a land of ignorant, inarticulate…. Oh, never mind! He must not think of it. If only Edwina had been able to pass along more of her own noble strength. But she had been so busy raising the babies and maintaining the household that she had had little time to speak about the past and what they had known…their honorable name and stolen inheritance. Melchior forced himself into the present moment. “Where are the others?”

Harry’s mouth hung open, but Adele spoke up in her usual brisk fashion. “They’ve gone to the festival. Don’t you remember, Father? You gave permission last week. Lord Gerard is holding a feast in honor of his daughter’s betrothal to Lord Marlow with games and races and food and drink. You promised everyone might attend.”

“At this hour? Why the sun has just risen!”

Adele studied her father, one eyebrow raised. “You’ve been up half the night again, haven’t you? Oh, father!”

Melchior grimaced at the reproach for he had been up half the night; undoubtedly the morning had flown by while he slumbered, but still…. Melchior fell to his knees again.

Adele shrieked. “What now, Father?”

“My roll! My parchment fell on the floor―that’s was why I was half buried under the bed when you found me.” Melchior struggled to his feet and, carefully appraised his two children, eyeing not only their size but also their agility and mental acuity. He pointed to his daughter. “Adele, get under there and retrieve my roll. It’s very important, and I must have it!”

Adele shook her head one last time before she got on her knees, wiggled under the bed, and returned with the roll pinched daintily between two fingers. She held the dusty vellum out to her father. “What’s it this time?”

Melchior pursed his lips although his eyebrows furrowed anxiously. What if he had imagined the whole thing? What if he had dreamed that he had discovered the one great unifying principle of the universe? What could he say?

“I’ve discovered something very important, but I’m not ready to reveal it yet. Besides, the world, as it stands today, isn’t ready for what I have to offer. We live in a land of fools ruled by barbar—”

“Father! Don’t speak so loud! King Radburn is very powerful and has many spies. Besides, we owe him our allegiance.” Adele’s gaze fell, her cheeks flushed.

Melchior’s lips stretched back with a slight hiss. “Yes, they are rather treasonous words, but they have meaning―at least they should.” He had more intelligent conversations with merchants than with lords, and the Saxon king was one of the most loutish men he had ever met. King? Why, Melchior could name three hunting dogs with more sense! But that was none of his business. All he had to do was manage his own estate, keep his children alive, and stay out of trouble. He snatched the roll from his daughter’s outstretched hand. “Yes, well, this will help to keep my mind on better things.” A sudden frown crushed his heavy brows over his eyes. “Why aren’t you two at the celebration?”

Adele ran her fingers through her hair, a sheepish grin replacing her serious expression. “Ahh, we’re going…but there were things to attend to. You want something to eat? Some bread and meat?”

Melchior rubbed his lean belly. Yes, food would definitely help. Hot food and a mug of warm ale would go a long way toward improving his mood. Then he could read over his work in the quiet of an empty house. Peace and quiet? Why this would be a prize! “Is everyone going?”

“Not Selby. I’m leaving him behind to watch over things―in case you need something.”

Melchior put on his most benevolent face, a wide smile to match his wide eyes. “Ah, let the poor man go. Even if he can’t partake, he can watch, and you might slip him a little something.”

Adele’s pursed lips and scowl disagreed. “I don’t know if Lord Gerard would like that. Slaves aren’t invited to such things. Father, what can you be thinking?”

Melchior could feel his quiet time slipping away. Selby had an uncanny ability of finding him alone when he least desired company. The old fool would sidle forward with a ridiculous complaint or some “momentous” news (the cow had calved, the oats were up, it looked like a storm was coming), and then the garrulous codger would start to chatter. Why he could chatter a man’s two good ears right off his head.

Melchior aimed his gaze and spoke so clearly, that no one, not even Harry, could mistake his meaning. “Adele, I order you to take Selby and the rest with you. Say that they’re to help with the children. Say that they’ll help with the cooking or the cleanup. Say whatever you wish, but take them away and stay a good long time! You understand?”

Adele nodded and sniffed. She understood all too well. Her father was up to one of his schemes again, and he wanted to be alone. Well, she wouldn’t get in his way. She had better things to do than fret about an old man’s foolishness. It would break her mother’s heart to see him now. He never took care of himself. He never bothered to dress neatly and he was so reclusive that all their neighbors were saying that he was mad. He was an old man, it was true, but Adele knew her father better than anyone, and she knew that he was as wise and crafty as ever, but he obsessed over strange secrets.

In a fit of lonely desperation, he once recited some notable quote to Lord Gerard but Lord Gerard had only laughed, pounded him on the back, and said that he had drunk too much strong wine. Melchior, who already hated the man, hated him even more and avoided him after that. Adele winced at the memory. Though she had no love for the conquering Saxon, she did like the look of Lord Gerard’s nephew, Robert. She dearly hoped that her father’s eccentricities wouldn’t make her less attractive to her neighbors.

“As you say, Father. We’ll be leaving in a few moments. I just need to get my cloak. The night will surely be chilly.” Adele left the room with one final direction to her brother. “Get father’s food, will you, Harry? See that Selby carries in the tray and a flask of ale.”

Harry, used to obeying his sister’s commands, turned away.

Melchior watched him go with a slight ache of regret. He hardly ever spoke to the boy in kindness for there was so little to praise. Suddenly his heart smote him, and Melchior called out to his son’s retreating figure. “Have a good time, Harry! Dance with one of the pretty maidens for me.”

Harry turned and gazed at his father. He knew when people were making fun of him for the sting bit deep, but he realized with an indecipherable sense of sadness that his father was not taunting him but wishing him well, saddened all the while that it would never happen.

As soon as everyone was gone, Melchior picked up his scroll and carefully began to unroll it by the window. He stared wide-eyed, anxious to uncover its marvelous contents. First, there was the part about the stars alignment, which he had begun to chart five years ago after he had seen a propitious sign leading him to believe that his future was exceedingly bright. After a bit, he had become frustrated with the clouds forever covering the night stars so he began to record his family tree, and, although it wasn’t particularly detailed, it pleased him to have the whole family in one place. Then, of course, there was that bit about animal husbandry…but his interest had faded after a disease nearly carried off all the cows. In the margins, he printed quotes of learned men that he soon memorized. He used to recite them at gatherings to amaze his family and impress his friends.

Finally, here it was. Why? What had happened? The first few words were clear, for he had still had some ink on his pen; he must have wet it with his tongue as was his usual habit but…. Oh, flummoxed foxes! He had forgotten to dip his pen in ink. All that remained of his vision were some scratches and stray marks where his fingers had smudged the material. Just a few faint words were all that bore testimony to his vision, his wonderful knowledge that would save the world from disgrace and utter ruin!

Melchior stepped away from the light and fell heavily onto his bed, his hands hanging at his sides. How could this have happened? How could he have both been given such a gift and then had it snatched away all in one pitiless day? Did God not care for him? Did the Heavenly Host laugh at his attempts to understand his mighty world? Or was this the work of the devil to send him straight into the arms of the mistress of despair? If so, Beelzebub almost won.

Sighing, Melchior rose off the bed and went back to the light streaming through the window. There were a few readable traces upon the parchment. Melchior considered throwing the whole document into the fire, but then he remembered that such costly vellum was hard to obtain, and he would have nothing to write upon if he threw this away.

“Bah! What does it matter? The greatest knowledge in the universe has just slipped through my fingers. I am not likely to have that vision twice! And I can’t even remember the first thing about it other than it was lovely, and I was happier thinking about it than I had ever been in my life. But it’s gone now. The treasure has been stolen not only from my grasp but from my mind as well. Oh, Lovely Mother, have you no pity for your servant?”

Melchior heard the song of a bird just outside his window. It was a perky sparrow bouncing about from branch to branch as if it had nothing better to do than dance away the day. But as Melchior stared, the light fell on the vellum in such a way that the first scratches were discernible and Melchior bent in closer. “What’s this?” Melchior peered at the vellum and the words were suddenly quite clear.

“And he showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal….”

Clenching the velum in utter frustration, Melchior shouted, “What in eternity does that mean?” Yet his heart was lightened, for although his entire vision did not come back to him, he did sense the unspeakable joy he had known when he had first sat upon his chair in the blackness of night and wrote the message he was sure had come from God. Well, if God did not want him to know the whole message now, so be it. God was a mystery. He still had hidden within him this marvelous secret, and when God wished him to remember, he would recall the vision in full. And next time…he would dip his quill in ink!

~~~

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

Translator

To be honest, I thought she was a bag-lady. The long, scraggly, gray hair, the oversized, shapeless sweater, the dark circles under her eyes, and the haunted expression all pointed to one, obvious conclusion—a conclusion I was in too big a hurry to even pity.

The boys were due home at any minute and the babysitter would expect me to have dinner ready. Julian hated to be late and since we missed our date-night the month before, I wasn’t about to let anything mess with this one. I felt a head cold coming on, the refrigerator had gone on the blink, and I was struggling to maintain a civil, if not cordial, relationship with my boss at work. It had been a tough week.

So when the disheveled woman appeared in line ahead of me, I wouldn’t have bothered with a second look—if it hadn’t been for the flowers. The incongruity of the scene struck me like a splash of cold water. I even dropped my fish fillets. There she stood, or stooped rather, hugging this glorious bouquet. A worn out bag-lady with spring flowers. Crazy, right?

I rescued my fish, hurriedly emptied my cart, and watched with unabashed fascination as this odd spectacle leaned forward and whispered in Spanish to the cashier.

I rolled my eyes. I had worked as a translator long enough to understand exactly what she said, but I didn’t really want to get mixed up in some crazy situation in the middle of a grocery store. I had more pressing matters to attend.

The cashier stared blankly and shook her head. “I don’t understand.” She looked beseechingly at the line forming and called to the other cashier. “You understand Spanish?”

The other cashier shrugged. It wasn’t his concern. Realizing that doing nothing meant this situation would take longer; I volunteered to assist. “She asked how much.” I pointed to the woman’s bundle. “For the flowers.”

This time, it was the cashier who rolled her eyes. “It’s on the tag.”

I translated and pointed to the aforementioned stub.

The woman’s hand shook as she considered the cost. I sighed. Lord, she probably doesn’t even have enough money. I had already opened my wallet, and though I had more than enough to buy my groceries and her flowers several times over, the principle of the situation rankled. What in God’s name had she been thinking when she picked up those stupid flowers?

Almost as if she had read my mind, she blinked and answered my question. With a shaking hand, she pulled a tiny purse out of her shapeless sweater, and hugging her flowers even tighter, she pulled folded bills into the light of day, explaining all the while in her husky, whisper voice.

“Mi hijo…solo diecinueve…trajeron su cuerpo a casa hoy. Mi esposo está trayendo su foto, y tienen una bandera—pero—yo quería flores….”

My translation skills kicked in automatically.

My son…only nineteen…they brought his body home today. My husband is bringing his picture, and they have a flag—but—I wanted flowers….

She peered at me, her eyes brimming. “¿Tú entiendes? Estaba en la flor de su juventud.”

I closed my eyes but I could not escape her meaning.

You understand? He was in the flower of his youth.

She smoothed the bills on the counter and nodded to the cashier who snatched them up and efficiently offered her change.

The cashier and I both watched the lady over the threshold, even as we went about the business of packing my groceries.

“Thanks for helping out.” The young woman peered at me. “What did she say?”

I opened my mouth, but I couldn’t explain. My translation would miss too much.

The cashier forced her curiosity aside as the next patron stepped up. “Never mind. Just glad it worked out. I thought for sure she didn’t have enough money.”

I edged away, my eyes scanning the parking lot for a husband with a photo in his hand.

The cashier called after me. “Guess it shows—you never know, eh?”

I hefted my bulging bag into my arms and nodded. “You’re right. We never know….”

~~~

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

To Make a Difference

outlookspaceman

Soul-Searing

Autumn is always bittersweet and beautiful―like a memory. I am nearly fifty now and yet my childhood seems as close as the doorway. More distant, and more painful are the memories of my sons. I had only two, Joseph and David, both fine young men, each born with a high sense of duty. One is dead now and the other might be soon. People tell me that I can’t change anything―that fate is what it must be. I try to accept that. But the memories haunt me, like autumn. They beguile me with their sweetness and then frighten me with what comes after.

I grew up endowed with a mission to change the world. I was going to be somebody. My relations going all the way back to Adam and Eve were much the same. It must be something in our genetic code. We were the branch that reached for the sun and was never content to live in the shade of another’s glory. My father was a radio broadcaster and my mother was an artist. They both strove with straining hearts to be great at what they did. You probably never heard of them. Few ever did. But they lived and died believing that they made a difference. And I guess that is all that really matters, believing in yourself. At least, that is what David keeps telling me.

It is late now, and the house is quiet. The cicada came out late this year, and I can still hear them in the evenings joining their songs with the crickets and the frogs. It makes a low, pleasant hum, always in the background, like the music in a movie. You aren’t always aware of it, but it affects your mood and soothes, or warns you, as the case may be. Right now, the evening sounds are soothing. There are no dreadful winds screeching against the windows or thunder hammering on the roof. Right now, I feel peaceful and even a little drowsy. David should be home soon. His shift ended at 8:00 P.M. but he said it might take him a little longer as he was going to talk to his director about his options. That is what he calls it, his options.

War broke out again four years ago and I thought that Joseph would stay out of it, but since he was trained as a psychiatric nurse, he saw it as his duty to join up as soon as possible and help out in whatever way he could. I admired his patriotism. Everyone did. After all, we had not looked for war. It came to us, landed in our laps when extremist terrorists set off bombs in our cities. There have always been problems in the world and tensions were especially high with threats at the time, but I had always figured that we were secure, our lives would remain on the periphery of events. I had hoped that living in the countryside might shield us. But fate crosses all boundaries and Joseph was determined to make a difference. He wanted to save people. He wanted to be helpful. How could I blame him? Over a thousand people were killed in those attacks and more died in the following battles. War comes at a cost. But I hoped that it would not cost the life of my son. I am not sure why I thought he should be exempt. But I did. I honestly thought that he was too good to die.

So now I sit here trying to make sense of my memories and trying to decide what I believe. If fate rules us, then it really does not matter what I believe. I can sit here until Doom’s Day, and nothing will change. But if fate is just an excuse for not accepting our part of things, then perhaps it does matter. Maybe I have more to do with Joe’s death than I realize. Maybe David still has a chance.

~~~

Kurt and I were older when we got married. It took us a long time to find each other. We were like that song―looking for love in all the wrong places. But eventually, we met right where you’d expect two Catholics might meet, in a church. It was at Christmas time and we were both out of college, and it turned out we had some friends in common. It didn’t take us long to decide that we wanted a life together. It did take a couple years to pay off old debts and clear out our lives so that we could make room for our marriage. But once that was taken care of, we went forward and had a big wedding, inviting everyone near and far. We’re both believers, but not terribly involved in church activities, except around holiday time. Our lives revolved more around our work. I had been endowed with a missionary spirit, teaching in poor neighborhoods while Kurt had worked as an English as a Second Language instructor. Both of us were zealots. Both of us wanted to make a difference. And both of us were rather tired and worn out by the time we got married.

It took us three years to have our first child, but there was never a more anticipated bundle of joy than out little Joe. Suddenly all our zeal was directed toward this tiny little baby. It was as if no other baby had ever been born before, the way we acted. Kurt made every birthday a major holiday and started to teach little Joe the letters of the alphabet and how to play ball when he was barely old enough to toddle across the floor.

I was intent on providing the best home and the nicest, most delicious meals ever created by any mother anywhere. The poor child never had a chance to know moderation. Moderation just wasn’t in our vocabulary. If he even got a sniffle, I ran him to the pediatrician so fast that the doctor would usually just tell me to turn around and go home, giving me nothing more than an encouraging word and a slight sigh. Joseph either had a great immune system or we frightened every illness away before it had a chance for Joe grew up as healthy as an ox. He grew big too. The other kids in school used to say that he ought to try out for football, but I’d never let him. It was too risky. He had a smart mind and I didn’t want his head broken in some game which would only decide the fate of a team for a season. I wanted my boy to make decisions about far more important things. Luckily Kurt agreed with me. Kurt would read him stories by the hour about famous men in history. That boy went to bed dreaming about knights in shining armor and martyrs who suffered for their faith. Though we lived in farm country and envied farmers their knack for bringing fruit from the earth, even if it was simply acres and acres of corn or beans, still we never saw ourselves as farmer types. We had the missionary spirit. So when Joe grew up and chose medicine as his field, Kurt and I smiled in complete understanding. This was something worthy, something grand that could make a difference in the world.

Joe joined the Peace Corps after college, and Kurt and I were so proud of him; we could hardly contain ourselves. We sent packages and extra money to support him through the two years he spent in the Philippines. He got Typhoid while he was there, and Kurt thought about going over to check in on him, but Joe told us not to come. His letters became subdued. Joe seemed to be changing in ways I couldn’t understand. I wondered if he was depressed, but Kurt said that he was just seeing the world as it really was and that sobered him up a bit. Besides, everyone was telling me: “Joe’s his own man now; he’s over twenty-one; you need to let him be.” It wouldn’t do any good to worry anyway. I had no control over the world or my son anymore. There weren’t any options I could veto.

When Joe arrived back in the states one blistering hot July day, he met us at the airport looking like an overgrown scarecrow. He had lost so much weight that I barely recognized him. He was tanned but his face was gaunt with exhaustion. I was appalled, but Kurt gripped my arm and told me not to mother him. He was a man now. Joe needed to tell us what happened in his own way. At least Kurt realized that something had happened. But as we drove through the city noise of Saint Louis back toward the rural quiet of Illinois, I waited expectantly for Joe to say something, for him to tell us his story. He didn’t.

He hardly talked that whole drive home and he talked very little for the three months that he lived with us before he found a job in Washington D.C. He didn’t seem to care about anything except getting busy someplace far away from us. I couldn’t understand. I thought my heart might break. I had always considered myself a wonderful mother, but now I wondered what I had done wrong. Why didn’t Joe seem to care about me, or his father, or even his little brother? Joe and David had never been especially close but they had been good friends. Now it was as if they hardly knew each other.

David was finishing college, and he was busy with dreams of his own. He seemed grieved by the change in his brother, but he didn’t seem inclined to do anything about it. I remember David came to me as I was sitting on the porch watching the sunset one evening and said, “Don’t worry about Joe, Mom. He’s made his decisions. He can’t go back to being your little boy anymore. You’ve got to accept that.”

I had no idea what David was talking about, but it seemed to be the advice everyone was giving me. Even Kurt told me not to worry. Joe was a big boy. He would make his own way. And he did. He made his way right into a psychiatric ward where he was helping men who had returned from the war with serious mental conditions. He was a very capable nurse and he got along with everyone, well, almost everyone. It was one of his own patients who killed him. Shot him in the heart. I never knew how a patient got ahold of a gun. At the time, it didn’t seem to matter. Joe was dead and that was all I really needed to know.

At his funeral, the director of the hospital came over and shook my and Kurt’s hands and tried to console us. He looked me right in the eye and said that Joe died making a difference. I had to believe that was true. But I couldn’t understand why it was supposed to make me feel better. After all, if he was making a difference, wouldn’t it have been better if he lived? How did his death serve anyone?

It wasn’t until Kurt and I was cleaning out Joe’s apartment, when I came across his journal, that I began to understand the man my son had become. I found the journal tucked under a copy of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis. I had heard of the book, but I had never read it, and I was surprised to find it among Joe’s things. I had been more afraid of finding girlie magazines, but there was none of that. In fact, his whole apartment was rather Spartan.   Kurt put a few books in a box and then he said he needed to make some phone calls. He left the room and didn’t come back until later that evening when I was about done. I wanted to be angry at him for leaving me to work alone, but then I realized that he couldn’t help himself. Kurt wasn’t the kind of man who could cry in front of people, even me. He needed to be alone to deal with his grief. I figured pretending that everything was okay was the nicest thing I could do. Sometimes not talking was our way of getting through things.

I gave most of Joe’s stuff away, but I kept the journal. I couldn’t read it for over a year. But then in late September the following year, I picked it up after lunch, and I didn’t put it down even to make dinner. Kurt had gone to a game with some friends, and David was living on campus. I was completely alone. I wish I hadn’t been. It was an experience that seared my soul forever.

I’ve Played My Part

The first part of Joe’s journal was much like what I would have expected. He was obsessed with his work, and he wrote about the people he worked with and the things he was doing. But then he wrote about a series of nightmares which were haunting him and his reflections about what they meant. Then a few entries later, Joe finally admitted that he was struggling with his faith. There was a long time lapse between entries at this point and when he finally started writing again, he wrote about his experiences in the Philippines. He had become good friends with a girl there, and he had even thought about bringing her home and marrying her, but then he discovered that she was pregnant. His friends warned him that he would be in a lot of trouble, so they advised him to help the girl get an abortion. Abortion was not an option for this girl or Joe either, but her father found out, and there was a big scene and Joe discovered that he was in bigger trouble than he had realized. The girl’s father wanted Joe to marry her right away, and Joe knew that his dreams for the future were seriously compromised. A friend got him some medicine that was supposed to end the pregnancy quick and easy. Joe gave his girlfriend the medication, telling her that it would make everything better. She believed him and took it and soon became so sick she nearly died. The baby miscarried and Joe transferred to another village. After that, he fulfilled his time in the Peace Corps as perfectly as possible. He wrote that he never even looked at another girl for a long time. He tried to put the whole event out of his mind and promised himself that he would make up for his mistake by being the best nurse he could be. And everything seemed to work out. Except that he couldn’t completely forget the girl he once believed he loved, or atone for the past with promises for the future. Nightmares haunted his nights.

I sat there sobbing, hugging Joe’s journal, thinking that my son had died a tormented man when I realized that he had left three pages blank before his last entry. When I thought about it later, I realized that perhaps he had left those pages blank for a reason. Maybe he had wanted to mark the place in his journal with white pages, to show the difference in his life. In any case, Kurt came home before I could read that last entry, and it was a long time before I could pick it up again.

Kurt never drank much but occasionally when he was out with friends they would stop by someplace and have a few beers. This particular night, he had had more than a few. I wondered at him as he came in swaying haphazardly and I asked him if he wanted anything to eat, but he just waved me away. He said he had finally realized that his whole life was a sham. He was never any hero, and he had never accomplished anything. The world would be better off without him. I was shocked and hurt. After all, if his life was a sham, what was mine? What was our marriage? I couldn’t understand this pit he had suddenly fallen into, but I did have sense enough to realize that a good night’s sleep would probably help, so I pretty much agreed with everything he said, and I helped him to the bedroom. I gave him a back massage and let him mumble himself to sleep.

As I watched him lying obliquely on the bed half-dressed, since I couldn’t manage to get him completely undressed or completely straight on the bed, I realized that this was our life. A half-done life. We had the ideals and the zeal, but we didn’t have something that made things really work out properly. I wondered about that as I made my way to the living room. I didn’t bother undressing either, for I thought Kurt might get sick in the night; he wasn’t a drinking man and this little bout with the bottle might have other unpleasant consequences. So I just piled up the couch pillows, and I lay in the dark living room and thought about what I had read in Joe’s journal. I don’t know why I didn’t just get it and read the last entry, but I felt so overwhelmed that I couldn’t take one more emotional revelation. I just lay there and wondered what Kurt had meant by his life being a sham. Was his life really a sham? Didn’t he love me? What did that say about my life? I don’t know when I fell asleep, but I awoke to the sound of Kurt calling me from the bathroom. There were other unpleasant consequences all right.

That spring David graduated from college with an engineering degree. He had decided that he wanted to specialize in aeronautics and though I didn’t see the “big plan” David seemed to feel that there was one, and he needed to be a part of it. The war had slowed down and was rolling along like many modern wars, mostly on someone else’s turf. I read online reports and I wondered if anyone would ever find a way to convince leaders that killing each other’s young people was no way to solve our differences. But I could see the necessity of protecting the innocent. After all, “the only way for evil to conquer was for good men to do nothing.” I had always believed that. So had Kurt and Joe. But now Kurt was submerged in doubt, and Joe was dead. I had a hard time lifting myself to the heights of idealism that I used to love.

During that spring and early summer, Kurt seemed to be getting ill a lot. He lost weight and looked tired all the time. I urged him to go to see a doctor, but he insisted that it was just a summer cold and he’d get over it. He didn’t. By the time he finally did see a doctor, cancer had spread throughout his lymph nodes and into his bones. It had progressed to the point where even the specialists didn’t think he had much time left. They were willing to do chemo treatments, but Kurt said that he was too old and too tired to fight that hard. He was ready to go. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I felt like I never knew my husband at all.

By the fall, Kurt was in the hospital a lot. I would go see him after a full day of teaching and spend the evening with him before I went home to shower and get ready for the next day. As we sat there in that white-walled room, we would sometimes watch TV or we’d talk about stuff on the news. Kurt always enjoyed discussing current events, and he loved history so he’d often tell me everything he knew about the countries that were in the news. He loved sharing his knowledge. That was one reason he had been such a wonderful ESL teacher. He was smart, and he cared about the people he worked with because he knew something about them and where they came from. He had always seen a connectedness between people and events. Yet now, as he slowly succumbed to the ravages of cancer, he didn’t see himself as being particularly connected to anything or anyone. When I asked him why he was so ready to leave me and David behind, he said, “I’m done – that’s all. I played my part and though it wasn’t as big as I thought it would be, still, I gave it my all. Now it’s my turn to go off stage and let someone else take over.”

I remember; I wanted to slap him. I wanted to beat him on the chest and tell him that he wasn’t God and no one said he could slip quietly into the dark night. But even as I was shaking with fury, I wondered if I was being fair. Kurt had a right to face his death in his own way, and I should be glad he wasn’t suffering any worse. I should be relieved he was accepting his fate. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I was troubled. My heart was hurting and my head was aching. Nothing seemed to be making any sense. I tried to reach back to my youthful sense of high purpose but it was elusive. Everything that used to comfort me was slipping through my fingers. I sat there, the blinds closed against the blazing August sun and Kurt fell into one of his evening naps.

I wondered at my stomach crunching distress. I could feel the familiar ache in my middle and knew that inner turmoil was one of the worst pains in the world. I tried to talk myself out of my suffering. If Kurt was accepting his fate, why couldn’t I? If Joe had died making a difference, then what good did it do to grieve over his death? Was I was just lonely and frightened? No, I had friends, and I was certainly capable of taking care of myself. Though I was losing my best friend, I didn’t need to think I was losing my whole life. My life would still have a purpose. I would still be a valuable person, and I needed to accept what I could not change. But somehow all my reasoning just made my stomach clench harder and my brain whirl that much faster.

Late one October afternoon, one of Kurt’s students came by to see him. He was an elderly Asian man and though many of Kurt’s students had come before to say hi and engage in some kind of humanitarian kindness, this man, I don’t even remember his name, was the kindest of all. He didn’t say much, but as Kurt was sleeping, he just came over and shook my hand then he knelt by Kurt’s bed and began to pray. I was taken a little aback. I wasn’t sure what religion this guy was or who, exactly, he was praying to, but his sincerity was obvious. He stayed there kneeling for what seemed like hours but was probably only just a few minutes. When he got up, he smiled at me and just whispered as he left, “God knows.” I have absolutely no idea why those words comforted me so much, but they did. I could actually feel the knots in my middle unloosen a little and though I didn’t knee on the floor, I did bow my head.

Certainly, I had prayed for Kurt just like I had prayed for Joe. A priest had come in and anointed Kurt. Our faith had been an intrinsic part of our lives. But suddenly, I saw things from a different view. It was as if I was looking at my life from a new perspective. In my youth, I had always been trying to make a difference. Then as tragedy entered, I tried desperately to grasp its meaning. Everyone advised acceptance but that had seemed cowardly, elusive, a run-away kind of thing. But there, as an October rain drizzled against those never-opened windows, for a brief second, I grasped what I was missing.

Twinkling Stars

Kurt died in November, the day before Thanksgiving. We hadn’t planned much since he was so ill but several of his relatives had come to town for family get-togethers so, in a way, it was good timing. Everyone was close, and the funeral was arranged without difficulty. Kurt had insisted on making out a will as soon as he knew he was seriously ill, so money matters slipped into place easily. David came home from his work at NASA, and he did everything he could to help me out. He was as good and kind a son as a mother could want. But he didn’t talk much about his work. He just said that there were a lot of wonderful possibilities in the future, and he wanted to explore some of them. I knew he had always been interested in space exploration, but as he turned his attention toward engineering and then toward planes, I figured his childhood fantasies of traveling to far off planets had vanished like other vaporous dreams. It turned out I was wrong.

His dreams had never died and as he faced a world in turmoil and the deaths of his brother and father, his dreams seemed to revive with alacrity. Even during that wet and cold November, he would sit out on the porch in the evenings watching as the sky turned from misty-grey to solemn-black. When I came out and asked him why he didn’t come inside where it was warm, he simply said he was watching for any stars which might break through the clouds. I remember telling him that any stars which broke through a November night were more likely to be airplanes or aliens, and he just chuckled and said, “Maybe so, maybe so.”

I finally had the courage to read the last chapter of Joe’s journal that winter, and I could have kicked myself for waiting so long. It turned out that Joe had met someone in the hospital that he really admired, and he had shared his turmoil with him. The man, whose name was Dr. Scanlon, was just starting out, but he must have had been born with the wisdom of the ages for he told Joe that his mission in life was not defined by his mistakes but by how he handled his mistakes. Apparently, Joe got a new lease on life, and he realized that he would never be a perfect man. That job had already been taken. He was called to be as good a man as he could be, and when he slipped up, he was called to stand up and try again.

I realized as I read this, how commonplace those words seemed. They were the kinds of things I told my fifth graders. But I understood that Joe had grasped them on a whole new level. I suppose someone would say that Joe had been born again. He suddenly seemed to believe that his life had a meaning beyond what he could fully grasp. And that encouraged him. “Thank God,” I murmured as I sat there on my bed once more rocking and hugging his journal to my chest. “Thank God.”

The next time David came home for a visit, I handed him Joe’s journal and told him he’d enjoy the last entry. David only smiled and said that he probably knew more about Joe than I realized. Joe had called him the day before he died and said that he was thinking about asking out a particularly beautiful intern.  They had laughed together, and David said he felt that Joe was relieved of a heavy burden. I just stared at my son and asked him if there was any hope that I would know him before I died, and he smiled that bewildering smile he has and said that he would share more―if he could. I just sighed and shook my head. David then did one of the most surprising things he has ever done. He took my hand and he led me out to the twilight sky and he pointed to the stars. He said, “Look up there, Mom, and tell me what you see.”

I told him I saw a multitude of twinkling lights that scientists tell me are really balls of burning gas bigger than the earth and that though I believe them, I’d be equally content to have them just be twinkling lights.  David has such an infectious laugh. I had to laugh with him. We stood there, him holding my hand like a little boy again, and he suddenly turned to me and said, “What if I told you that out there lies the hope of humanity? If only we have the daring to realize it?”

Well, what could I say? What would you say? I remembered my youth and I felt a strange flicker of hope and life. I felt his excitement. But I also felt a ripple of fear. What was he about to do? What was he about to risk? So I looked at his upturned face and I asked him, “What do you mean? Tell me about it.”

So David explained. He told me all about how he was working on the design for a settlement on Mars and how one day he hoped to be part of a mission that would initiate the first building efforts on Mars. There was even talk of him being a part of the next space mission so that he could better prepare himself for that experience and have a better understanding of what would be needed for a lifetime in a space settlement. I stared at David, much like I had stared at Kurt, wondering if I ever knew the man in front of me. I asked him why he had never shared these plans with me before, and he chuckled again.

“Some of this is not for the general public, Mom, and besides, it still sounds strange even to my ears. I wasn’t sure I could handle the bewildered expression I see in your eyes now. There was a time when I would have doubted my sanity for even dreaming of such things.”

“But now?”

David had grinned. “Now I feel confidence born of grace. I trust that if God wants this done, it will be done. And I’ll be the man to help do it.”

There was so little I could say at that point. I realized that my whole life had been the humus of this dream. David’s dream, like so many others: Christopher Columbus, Einstein, Albert Switzer, Mother Teresa, had borne fruit not from the desert of fantasy, but from the nurturing love of family who dared to believe in things, who dared to dream big dreams even when those big dreams ended up being little more than a life well lived or a death well faced. I stood there as the clouds passed away and the stars broke through, twinkling their hearts out. I held my son’s hand and I never wanted to let him go.

So the Earth continues to revolve around the sun in its allotted course, and seven more years have passed. David has been on two space missions, and now, he has to decide if he will go on this last one. This will be a mission that will take him further than even my imagination can travel. He will begin a new phase in his dream. He will be a part of a team that will begin building a settlement on a very, very distant planet. He will likely spend the rest of his life working with robots and men who have sacrificed everything for a home very different from this one. He’s never been a coward, and he doesn’t expect to start now. I always wished David would settle down and have a family, but now I see how that was always impossible. He was a man born for a mission. I guess, we all have our missions. Perhaps mine was to give life to such a man and to plant a seed of daring hope.

Have I made a difference? Did Kurt? Surely when Kurt read those stories to the boys, he made a difference in the kind of young men they would be. He did as much as I to form them, not just their bodies, but their very souls. Kurt died believing his mission was over. Joe died trying to help an insane man deal with his suffering, hoping to have a family of his own someday. His life was about never giving up. My mission?

The winds have picked up, and I can hear David’s car pull into the driveway. He said he would come home tonight, even if it was late. It’s nearly midnight. It is raining now and there is a rumble of thunder in the distance. I suppose, he has accepted his mission.

I suppose I have too.

The forecast says that the temperature will drop tonight, down to the forties. Winter is on its way. Autumn can’t last forever. No season ever does. I left some chicken and fixings on a plate for him. I guess I’ll warm them up and sit with him awhile. I even made a few chocolate brownies. They’re his favorite.

~~~

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

Alcina’s Journal – Newearth

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Alcina’s Journal

Newearth: Year 25

It’s been five years now since Cerulean arrived with his Inter-Alien Alliance agreement. Governor Sharp met her match in him, that’s for sure. I wonder who’ll take over now?

 Lordy, I’m tired. Way too tired to take notice of all the recent upheavals. I do care but…. Uh oh, here comes someone in an all-fired rush.

“Alcina, there’s been an accident. Hurry. We’ll need your healing bag.”

So much for quiet time and contemplation.

I step out of my little herb shop, and who do I find but my friend, ‘Roux-to-the-Rescue’…again. Even for a Luxonian, he’s fast. And he’s too handsome for his own good…well, for my good.

“I’m coming! Let me grab my stuff and check something.”

Dash in. Grab a cloak, my bag, and check—anything on the boiler? Nope. Opps. Gotta strain those berries before the ants—

“Alcina?”

Rush, rush! I’m coming! And dashing right—

“Sorry. Didn’t see you in the doorway.”

Even when he’s perturbed, he’s handsome. Sigh.

“So—Who is it this time? An Ingoti construction worker fell off his high-rise? An Uanyi merchant tackle a thieving intergalactic trader? Don’t tell me—A Cresta has blown a tentacle to smithereens in one of his new labs?”

I’m jogging along to keep up, trying not to sound like I’m completely breathless. Building my shop out here in the wilds of Westland has its advantages, but not so much when I’m in a hurry.

“Sarcasm doesn’t become you, Alcina. Healers are supposed to maintain their professional dignity at all times—with all races. It’s in your creed—or code—or something.”

“Huh. Must’ve missed that part. Roux! Would you please slow down? I’m not made of light so I can’t move as fast.”

“Sorry. It’d be easier if I could—”

“Don’t even think about it.”

“We’ve improved our transportation methods. Really. You’ll hardly even notice…”

“No, thanks. I’ve buried enough transportation failures to give me a strong devotion to pedestrian travel.”

“You can’t live in the OldEarth past.”

“I can try. Well, sort of. Though, I must say; I’m deeply in love with my whirligig.”

“Whirligig?”

“It does all my laundry, dries it, and leaves it folded on— Oh, never mind. Where are we rushing off to anyway?”

Roux didn’t even blink. “The past.”

Speaking of sarcasm…

“You really ought to spend more time with the Bhuacs. They love riddles and you’d have a gorgeous time figuring your way out of their labyrinths. I hear their settlement in Song—”

Roux is still not blinking. No emotion whatsoever. “Been there. Nearly died. Not my best memory.”

I’m trying not to express my jumbled feeling on every fiber of my face. “Oooh-kay. So, you want to tell me what’s going on?”

“Simple case. A new community named Amens, a guy broke something in his back while building a house. They want to keep close to nature, so they use the old ways and only natural resources. You should get along great. They’ll love your plant-of-the-day shop— natural remedies and all.”

“I’m an herbologist.”

“You’re an OldEarth naturalist.”

“Why do you make that seem like some kind of insult?”

“It’s not intended. Look, I respect what you do, but you can’t ignore the reality of living in a world with universal technology.”

“Who’s ignoring? I told you about my whirligig and look, see, I’m advanced.”

 It’s a tab bit embarrassing holding out my arm for inspection like this, but hey, a comp-insert is pretty blinking impressive.

Lordy, he’s holding my arm…and looking me in the eye. Sheesh. He dropped my arm like I’m made of ice.

 “Where’d you get that?”

“Cerulean gave it to me. He said we needed a better way to stay in touch, I mean, in communication. You know how he is.”

“Yeah, I know Cerulean well indeed. Listen, I’m just going to shorten this little jaunt by a hair’s breath if you don’t mind.”

“A hair’s breath? What does—?”

“Wahhhh….”

Now Roux looks smug. Seriously smug. “Here we are.”

I’m checking my heart…Thank God! It’s still beating. Honestly, I’m grateful I still exist‚corporeally speaking. “Roux! I outta shoot you. How dare you—”

Uh ho, he’s grinning. Dang, I can’t be mad at him when he smiles like that. Deep breath. Regain some semblance of dignity.

“I apologize. I’m just afraid this guy will die while we’re traipsing through Newearth’s natural elements.”

“Okay. Good reason. I’m looking around but I don’t see much. Just an old barn and a few outbuildings.”

“That barn is bigger than it looks, and it’s the center of the Amens community. Here, follow me.”

~~~

We’re inside a huge structure, like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It’s a luminous, pulsing green with lofts and little niches all over the place, built of some kind of plant structure; it could be a tree, but it’s not like any vegetation I’ve ever encountered before. It feels…alive.

Roux strides up and knocks, the bold fellow that he is. “Hello? It’s me, Roux. I’ve brought—”

“Oh, Roux! Thanks for coming.”

Hmmm. A Bhuac. Charming little beings, elusive though. Wonder what…?

By the look on his face, Roux isn’t here to exchange pleasantries. “Shira? Where’s the patient?”

“I’m sorry for troubling you, Roux, but he’s passed on. The damage was too great, and his family didn’t want too much intervention.”

“I tried to get here as quick as I could. I brought a neighbor of yours, Alcina, the herbologist.”

Those luminous eyes! Bhuacs are gorgeous no matter what shape they take. But she’s so  sad…touched.

“Alcina? Yes, we know of you. Song of Wisdom admires your work.”

The Song of Wisdom? Seen me? And I failed to notice? “Sorry, we didn’t get here in time. It was my fault. I’m slow—”

“Don’t trouble your soul. The Amens have great faith. We have found strength in each other. I will introduce you. They are in mourning now.”

“Certainly. Is there anything I can do for you…or anyone?”

“Thank you, child. I’ll inform them of your arrival and preparations for burial will begin immediately. You may assist in preparing the body if you like. I am sure they would appreciate your skill.”

Skill? “I can’t heal the dead.”

“No. But you can ease the passage for those who remain. You have buried many, and your respect for the body is admirable. Let me know what you need, and I’ll procure the materials.”

She’s turned her powerful laser-like gaze on Roux now.

“Roux? Would you inform Cerulean that we need his assistance?”

“Cerulean? Sure. Why? I thought the guy fell off the roof.”

“Only after he was shot with a Dustbuster. There’s trouble ahead.”

Poor Roux. It’s never easy being a hero in a universe of villains. Sigh…I’ve been hidden away—too old to notice the troubles of our time—too young to care… But now…

“Alcina?”

“Yes.”

“You’re needed.”

That I am. Sigh.

~~~

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

Two Brains In One and Sleep Deprivation

Soooo, speaking of sleep deprivation… We were speaking of sleep deprivation, weren’t we? Since it feels like my obsession these days, we must’ve been.

Why do our days have to get loooonger right when summer rolls around and the garden needs to be tended—on top of a kazillion other things that need to be done in the course of a day?  Does the sun care? Does it take any moral responsibility for the fact that the human race is scurrying about in frantic haste on the surface of the third planet, wearing themselves to a frazzle because the saying, “Make hay why the sun shines.” seems to make some kind of relative sense to our benumbed, exhausted, and guilt-ridden minds?

Silence.

Just as I suspected, the sun’s not fessing up to anything. Yeah, I know, it’s summer somewhere on the planet all the time. That doesn’t really help.

I just watched You Are Two—CGP Grey and found myself having one of those “Aha!” moments. So the right brain is our silent partner? Yeah, sure. I doubt s/he is so silent. I suspect that silent right brain is really the brains behind the weird dream sequences, which inform us of the real state of our mind and the impending psychotic break we like to pretend isn’t happening.

You know what I am talking about. Those dreams where the kitchen broom has grown to statue-of-liberty-size and chases us down the halls of our childhood home, which bizarrely looks a lot like our fifth-grade classroom.  Obviously, Right Brain is having some fun with us after a day of being hammered with twenty kazillion images/problems/paradoxes and only three rational choices.

So, we have two brains in one person?

My son wondered if that was anything like the Trinity, three persons in one God.

Right Brain, any thoughts on that?

Oh, yeah, you’ll let me know tonight.

Sigh.

~~~

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

James Milford Parker III

sunset

James Milford Parker III

Death

James Milford Parker III stared at the gravestone with his name etched out in block print and realized that he would never be the same. James had seen tombstones before. Many times, in fact. But they had all been part of a set. His father had been a movie producer and his mother an actress of some renown in her early days. Now, they were just aging celebrities who lived quiet lives in as stress-free an environment as possible. They deserved some rest and fun. After all, they had given their best years to the world of entertainment. They ought to keep their golden years for themselves.

James stared and wondered why the stone in front of him did not seem real. He stepped forward and pressed his fingers against the marble slab in an attempt to dislodge it from its foundation. It did not budge. It was stone all right. He could feel the firm, smooth foundation under his casual shoes. Patting the stone, he smiled, as if asking the stone if it could take a little joke. You don’t mind, do you? I had to make sure. The image of a plastic tombstone being carried off in one hand by a prop man turned his smile into a grimace. So hard to be sure, you know.

James turned, got into his car, and drove twenty-seven miles home. He lived in the country on a sprawling estate. He never knew why his wife had insisted on having a place so far out, but he respected her wishes as he had respected everything about her. She was a good woman and that was why her sudden death baffled him to the point of incomprehension. He got out of his car and looked around. Everything was very quiet. It was early autumn, but the days were still quite warm. California seasons change almost imperceptibly. It was hard to realize that anything had changed. But he knew the night would bring a chilling breeze and he shivered at the thought.

I could use a drink, he mumbled to himself but brushed the thought away with a flick of his hand. He had suffered the pains of hell trying to sober up permanently. He wasn’t going to risk a rerun of that life, not without Cindy. Cindy had been the bedrock of his sanity when alcoholism almost destroyed his will to live. It had cost him his job at the studio and many of his friends. Though his name alone would always assure him of a following, it would not always assure him of friends. There were very few people he called friends, and he just lost the best of the bunch four days ago. Shaking his head to ward of any other dangerous thoughts, James punched in his key code and then slid the glass door open and walked inside. The echoing silence nearly deafened him.

He scratched his head and wondered if perhaps he should have just one drink. After all, his wife had died and no one would blame him for getting drunk. Standing in the middle of the foyer, he lifted his head and his gaze fell on a small marble statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary that Cindy had installed in a little niche as you entered the house. Good Lord, how he hated the thing! He tried for weeks to convince Cindy that it made them seem like religious fanatics, like real provincials, but she had just smirked and said that at this point in her life, she didn’t give a hoot what people thought. Maria, her maid, had given it to her just before she died from liver cancer, and she wasn’t about to remove it. Cindy had said that it reminded her of something important. When James had asked her what was so damn important about it, she just told him that when he grew up, he’d figure it out. She said this with a smile, so James didn’t take it as an insult, though as he thought of it now, he wondered if it was an insult ― he’d just been too besotted to catch on.

He moved toward the expansive living room, all done up in wood paneling, shag rugs, and Native American themes. He found it rather revolting. His boyhood had been immersed in ultra-modern chromes and sleek metals and this reversion toward mother-earth had struck him as somewhat barbaric, but once again, this was what Cindy wanted and as he had his own place closer to work, he was willing to allow her decorators do their worst. And they did. Oh, Lord, did they ever.

James suddenly realized that he would have to sell the place, and he would need help. He considered several options for a moment. There were so many ramifications of Cindy’s death that his head spun. Too much to think about. Ever since Thursday morning when he awoke and realized that Cindy, lying there beside him, was not moving, that she was too still and too cold, he had existed in numbed shock. He had called an ambulance and his personal physician, but it was too late at that point. He then called his secretary and after telling her the news, she had promised to clear his calendar. All his projects had been shoved to the side. His father had said that he might come for the funeral, but as his mother hadn’t been feeling well, she probably wouldn’t be able to make it. James knew. His mother never liked Cindy, and it wasn’t in her nature to do anything she didn’t want to do. He was grateful for his father though. He didn’t have any other family to call, and Cindy’s family was spread all over the globe. Her brother flew in from Texas, but that was it. Her father was in a nursing home and her mother had died years ago. Cindy had wanted to go to her mother’s funeral, but they had been in the middle of a big movie opening. James insisted that he couldn’t break away and since his sobriety was still in question, Cindy had elected to stay at his side. Later she told him that she felt like she had betrayed her mother by not going to her funeral, but James had just laughed.

“Good God, Cindy! The woman was cremated! What kind of funeral can there be for a pile of dust?” He had not realized how cruel he was at the time. Cindy had walked out of the room. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that she reminded him of the incident and asked him if he remembered. He said he didn’t remember his exact words, but he supposed he had said something like that. She asked him if he still felt the same. He shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t like to think about death. It was a long time ago, Cindy, forget it.” She seemed to. But it nagged at him now. It more than nagged at him. It felt like a hammer blow to the heart. How could he have been so cold?

James turned and walked toward the steps. Well, if I can’t have a drink, I’m sure as hell not going to stand around here thinking about the past. I can’t change anything. It is – what it is. He walked into his study and turned on a large screen television. He picked up the remote and began flipping through the channels as he pulled at his tie. He stopped at a news channel and then threw his cell phone on his dresser and tugged off his dress shirt. He began talking to himself “Why did I go today? The funeral was yesterday. I didn’t need to check to see if the stone was set. Totally neurotic. I could have sent Edwardo. Damn, I am such―”

James turned at the sound of his cell phone ringing. He snatched it off his dresser and stepped over to the window only dressed in his casual pants and shoes. His chest was bare and he allowed the sunlight to warm him through the window. “Yeah?”

It was Dalton, his friend and buddy from days long past. He hadn’t heard from Dalton for years. Dalton explained that he had just heard about Cindy’s death, and he was in the area. Would it be okay if he stopped by for a moment? He was on his way to a screening, but he really wanted to see him for a bit. James squinted, trying to remember what had happened at their last meeting. He had a vague feeling that their last conversation had not gone well, but he couldn’t remember the details. He shrugged in the afternoon sun. “Yeah, sure. I’m not doing anything.”

James could almost feel Dalton’s relief. He stared out over the vast expanse of scrub brush and rocky hills and tried not to sigh. He wasn’t sure what would be worse. Sitting here alone or having an old friend come by and try to comfort him. Well, it was a moot point now. Dalton made sure of the address and punched it into his phone. He was as good as in his living room.

James pressed the end button and threw the phone back on his dresser. Well, so much for immersing himself in some stupid movie or another. He looked at the screen and scowled. There were images of his wife’s face and then scenes of the funeral. What? Couldn’t people ever leave them alone? Voyeurs and parasites! Then the screen blinked to the most recent war victims. It showed the fragmented remains of a school that had been bombed. Bodies were everywhere. The sound was muted so James couldn’t hear the grisly details, but he could see the reality for himself.  “Christ! Do they have to put that up all the time? Isn’t there ever any good news?” James looked for the remote but he couldn’t find it. He began to scramble madly around the room, searching for it. He wanted to turn the bloody thing off but in his confusion, he felt his face flush with fury. “Where the hell did it go? Damn it! Where―” He saw it under his shirt and grabbing it, he squeezed the off button. When the screen turned black, he flopped down on a chair and buried his head in his hands. “God, Almighty! I just can’t take things like that. Not today.”

James sat there for a moment and then remembered that Dalton was coming. He tossed his used shirt into the over-flowing hamper relieved that the cleaning woman would come in the morning. He tried to remember her name. Cindy was the one who hired and managed their help. He didn’t know a thing about them other than they came and went like invisible angels of mercy. He supposed he’d have to find out what their names were. He opened his closet and pulled a casual shirt from the rack. He could smell a faint odor coming from the closet and realized that Cindy had come in the other day night before they were heading out to a party; she had practically reeked of perfume. Funny I can smell it now. I didn’t notice it this morning. I never smell anything anymore… James realized that this wasn’t helping him get ready for Dalton, so he strode to the bathroom, splashed cold water on his face, and returned to the first floor.

He meandered into the kitchen and decided he would fix a little something for his old friend. He took out a package of fat-free chips and a platter of cut vegetables that had been left over from the funeral, and he poured some ranch dressing into a container. He put these on the counter with some cold meat and cheese that had been carefully wrapped away, in case he got hungry, someone had said. Who had said that? James tried to remember who had been at the funeral dinner, but it was a blur.

James was about to open the refrigerator when his hand accidentally brushed against the counter and sent the chip bowl sprawling. He bent down reflexively to catch it and slammed his head against the edge of the marble counter. The blow sent lights flashing before his eyes, and he lurched backward from the sharp pain. He clasped his hand over his temple and realized with a shock that he was bleeding. He knew that head wounds tend to bleed profusely, and it did little to stem the rise of panic as he felt drops of blood slide through his fingers. He rushed to the bathroom. He looked at himself in the mirror and suddenly felt sick. Before he even thought out his next move, he found himself retching into the toilet. Grabbing roller-spinning wads of toilet paper, he tried to wipe his face and temple and stem the flow of blood. After a few moments, the dripping slowed, and he cautiously moved toward the living room. He plopped down on the couch and lay his head back with a muted groan.

Does it get any worse? James closed his eyes and tried to calm down. His stomach was empty now and the blood was definitely congealing though he feared that if he got up, it might start up again. He lay as still as possible and tried to think. He should call Dalton and tell him not to come. He probably should call someone to take him to the doctor. He envisioned Dalton forcing the door open and fining him in a pool of blood. He saw himself floating above his wife’s tombstone…also his tombstone. He realized that it was his now as much as hers. He would die and he would lie there and his body would never bleed again. He would never breathe again. He would never answer the phone or have old friends coming over to comfort him. He’d never make another deal or handle another movie project. He’d never give advice or slap down a stupid idea. He’d…

He saw Dalton entering the room calling for him. He tried to tell Dalton that he wasn’t here anymore, to go look at his wife’s tombstone, but his tongue felt thick and his mouth was glued shut. Someone was tugging at him. James grew frightened. He felt himself fighting, trying to slap with cardboard arms that couldn’t move. He wasn’t ready. He didn’t know where he was going. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t know what death meant. He hadn’t decided yet.

“James! James for God’s sake, wake up! Jenny, call the doctor! I think he’s tried to kill himself or something!”

James’ eyes fluttered open, and he saw a salt and peppered swatch of hair way too close to his face. He tried to lift his arm but it was too heavy. He decided to scream.

Dalton heard the merest whisper brush against his ear. He stared at James lying prone beneath his inquiring gaze and when he saw eyes staring back, he jerked backward. “Oh, James! Looks like something happened. You looked so bad lying there, and you didn’t answer the doorbell. I got worried and we just walked in. Hope you don’t mind.”

James tried to sit up but the pain in his head throbbed him into submission. “No, not at all.” He whispered. He tried to pull off the messy swath of toilet paper and found that it was glued to his head. He grimaced and pointed with his other hand. “I hit my head against the counter – stupid.”

Dalton smiled, relieved. “Oh, I’ve done that a hundred zillion times. Hurts like hell doesn’t it?”

James grimaced his agreement. Jenny came over and inquired if she should call for an ambulance. James looked at the sleek blond in front of him with her large worried eyes and realized how bad he looked. He felt like a fool and wanted nothing more than to get them out of his house and take a hot shower and then crawl into bed. He envisioned some sleeping pills that his wife occasionally took. They were probably still in the cabinet. He waved his hand benignly.

Dalton got up from the couch and took Jenny by the arm. “Hey, honey, why don’t you get James something to eat? It looks like something spilled over there. Maybe you could―”

Jenny nodded and turned to accomplish her domestic duty. Dalton turned back toward James and smiled. “Well, I know better than to ask if you want a drink. But perhaps a soda or something?”

James smiled at the incongruity of having a guest treat him to his own food. “Yeah, that’d be fine.”

Dalton stepped away to perform his act of mercy. James forced himself into a sitting position and tried not to groan as his head swam. He pulled the tissue away from his head, tearing it, and was disappointed by how little blood was actually there. It was hardly the excessive bloodbath he had imagined. “Huh.”

Dalton returned a moment later with a tray of drinks and the cut vegetables with the little ranch dressing poured off to the side. Dalton nudged the end table a little closer with his foot and set the tray down. Then he sat in a chair next to the couch. He handed James his drink and leaned in. “So apart from nearly smashing your head in and your wife dying, how’ve you been?

James merely mumbled something about the fires of hell, so Dalton accepted the mantle of charming host and continued talking.

~~~

Seven months later, James sat in his office, staring out a large bay window, his swivel chair facing away from his top aide.

Todd was gesturing enthusiastically as he outlined his newest great idea. “Do you know what the term ‘forged by fire’ really means? Some guy, Ignatius something-or-other wrote about it. I had no idea. I think that’d make a great title for a movie – don’t you? How about if we take that surreal concept by that new writer – you know the one who’s always acting so damn deep – and throw that at her and see what she comes up with. It might be good – we can always add in some fast action sequences and a bit of sex to spice it up. Besides, deep is in right now.”

James wondered if it would be considered first-degree murder to strangle an idiot.   Why do I let this man work here? Why do I listen to him? James continued to stare out the window overlooking one of the highest priced pieces of real estate in Los Angeles and heard the answer in his head. Because he turns stupid ideas into multi-million dollar winners.

James turned and looked at the well-dressed man in front of him. Todd was sharp in the worst sense of the word, yet he also had a boyish charm that made even those who had suffered at his hands care about him. He really didn’t mean any harm. He merely had an incredible knack for taking the pulse of the movie-going public and serving up what they wanted. If they were obsessed with scary aliens landing on our shores, he found a script with the scariest aliens possible and if New York had to be smashed to bits once again – so much the better. If the public was subconsciously feeling a little guilty, he didn’t bother to know why; he just found a way to address that hidden psychosis through a cathartic heroic-romance where even the worst sinner alive could feel a dash of patriotic hope. If they were looking for their lost childhood, he found a way to update one of the oldies-but-goodies. Todd was a gifted man all right but who he was working for, James was never certain. Todd was a natural chameleon. Perhaps that’s what made him so good at what he did. He understood every one because, in truth, he was no one.

James rubbed his chin. “Funny you should mention Ignatius. It’s also the name of a priest. Ignatius of Loyola.” James turned and stared at Todd’s blank expression. “I only know because Martha, my cook, has her daughter dropped off at our house after school and she studies in the kitchen until they go home at seven. The other day I went in to ask Martha something, and I saw the book on the table, so I asked the kid about it. She got excited telling me all about him – she went on and on. She goes to a Catholic school and they fill her head with all sorts of stuff.” James stared right into Todd’s eyes. “The kind of stuff that you should steal and turn into a movie, maybe.” James briefly wondered if Todd would jerk away shielding himself like Dracula did when presented with a crucifix. Todd merely stared back, his mouth slightly open. Finally, he smiled and nearly giggled.

“Damn it, James, you had me going a minute.”

James smiled. “Yeah, gotcha.” He leaned over his desk. “Well, if that’s all you have to cover, I think we can quit for today. I’d like to get home early. Jimmy wants me to attend his party tonight and I need to get ready. Besides, I’m feeling kind of tired. I think I’ve been working too much lately.”

Todd nodded, his appraising glance telling James more than he wanted to know. He already realized that a lot of people thought he was having some kind of break down. There was even a rumor, months ago, that he was drinking again, but he had put that one down by showing up for work early and in perfect form every day for six months. He usually stayed over time and he had never been as successful as he had been in these last months. Everyone was full of admiration for how well he had handled his wife’s death. Until recently. Recently he had started to leave a little earlier and come in a little later. Though he still looked good and was at the top of his game, he realized, along with everyone else that something had changed.

Todd shut the door quietly behind him after saying that he’d see him at the party. His parting shot to demonstrate that he was invited “everywhere” too. James closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. God, what’s happening to me? What’s wrong? James realized that he wasn’t merely speaking rhetorically. He was really asking a question of God – well, of Someone anyway. When did this start?

 It started with the dreams. After selling the house and reorganizing almost his entire life, James had felt that he deserved a little break and a change, so he took a week’s vacation. He went to a resort in Nevada that someone had insisted was just the place to get his mind off his troubles. It was the worst vacation of his life. He not only didn’t get his mind off his troubles, he found he was being haunted by his grief, a grief he thought he had already worked through. He started dreaming about Cindy. He hadn’t done anything she would have disapproved of, well, maybe a couple things, but she’d understand. He was no longer a married man. He had his needs. It took him the better part of the week and three very unpleasant encounters to realize that his needs had changed. He may not be Cindy’s husband anymore, but he wasn’t the man of his youth either. There was no going back, only forward, but without some kind of a roadmap, he wasn’t exactly sure where the future led. He cut his vacation short and threw himself into his work with a vengeance. It worked for a while. He was able to concentrate amazingly well while in his office and he found himself arriving early and staying late. But then there was that incident with the cook…

James rubbed his face and tried to shake off his recollections, but before he realized it, he was staring into space again. It had been nearly four months ago when his life took the next unexpected bend in the road. His old cook had been a rather eccentric old fellow by the name of Filippo. James figured that he was Malaysian though when he’d ask him, Filippo would just smile and say that he came from a lot of places. James always felt like he was on the outside of a joke. But one day, Filippo didn’t show up for work and James was having a few friends over for an important get-together that night. He got pretty worked up about it. He ended up having to order some food in, and it wasn’t nearly as good as what Filippo could dish out with a snap of his fingers.

The next day, when Filippo again didn’t show up, James sent someone to his place to find out what the hell he was doing, and they reported back that Filippo had died in his apartment and no one had realized until the landlady had been alerted. James sat dumbfounded on his couch as he took in the news that his cook was dead and had laid there cold and stiff in his apartment for two whole days while he had secretly, and not so secretly, raked him over the proverbial coals for not doing his job.

It was when Filippo’s daughter came to the house asking for any personal items Filippo had left behind, that the whole event began to really sink in. There was this beautiful twenty-year-old girl standing in his doorway asking with her big honest eyes if she could come in and collect her father’s things. It was then that James realized that he knew absolutely nothing about the man who had worked for him, other than the fact that he was a great cook. He stepped aside and let the woman in and he followed her to the kitchen, opening the closet where Filippo usually hung his sweater and stored whatever stuff he had brought with him. It was there that James discovered that Filippo was Roman Catholic, for there, hanging on a little nail inside the closet door, was a set of rosary beads. What? Did the man recite prayers in between courses? James felt as if his head would explode.

He watched from the side as Filippo’s last remaining worldly possessions were gathered into his daughter’s arms. As she stepped over the threshold, James felt a resolution form in his core and he decided to act on it at once. “Can I ask your name?”

She looked at him with those sad, sweet eyes and spoke so softly that James had to lean in to hear. “My name is Martha.” James nodded, and before she could retreat into the outer world again, he put out his hand and stopped her.

“And what do you do for a living, Martha?”

She whispered, her eyes downcast. “I was training to be a cook, like my father.”

James felt a spark of life flicker in his middle. “Really?” He appraised her. She could not be more than twenty. “How old are you?’

“Twenty-Seven.”

James’ eyebrows rose. He was used to people undercutting their age, not adding to it. But – who knows. He leaned on the doorframe. “Why do you say, ‘was’?”

“My father helped to pay my tuition. I cannot pay it by myself. I have a daughter to raise.”

James stopped leaning. “Where’s your husband?”

“He is away.”

James nodded. “Well, I just happen to be in need of a cook. Do you think you might consider working here?”

Those luminous, black eyes stared into his soul, searching, and he stared back uncertain for what she was looking for. She barely nodded her head.

Perhaps, James realized, as he propped his head on his hands in his silent office, perhaps he had been infatuated with those eyes and that perfect face. Perhaps he felt just a tad guilty for the way he had behaved toward Filippo and wanted to right some wrongs. Perhaps, he was just a mercenary jerk who just wanted to banish all grief and doubt from his mind. But as the weeks passed and as Martha came dutifully each day, he kept true to his resolution. He had decided that he would know more about the people in his life, no matter who they were. They could be the lowliest trash collector to the highest producer; he would ask more questions; he would get to know the people in his life.

He was never more surprised than when Martha’s husband showed up one day asking for her, and she threw herself into his arms like some sticky, sweet version of a movie he had dubbed a failure to express real life. Apparently the husband, Max, really had been away. He had been working in Alaska and was home, at least until he found another job. James discovered opportunities a little closer to home. Max was grateful to take one. So Martha and her daughter, Elizabeth Grace, and husband, Max, became members of James’ household – though he never mentioned this fact to anyone. There was never any need. Not really. How does one casually bring up the subject that you’ve practically adopted an entire family?

But the dreams about Cindy never really stopped. Despite everything. James wondered about that, but he figured that Cindy would be pleased with him. She was always so kind to the servants. Really, she was very kind to everyone – especially him. James realized that now.

James got up from his desk and looked at his watch. He gathered up his keys and his cell phone. He didn’t want to go to this party, and he really didn’t want to have to appear happy. Wasn’t he happy? James sighed at the question and moved across the room. The sudden image of a plastic tombstone being carried away made him stop. Counterfeits were such a part of his life; he had to wonder if he’d ever really been happy.

~~~

Five years later, on James 47th birthday, when he was returning home from a long day at work, he saw, out of the corner of his eye, a minivan barreling toward him. In a split second, he realized he was not going to be able to avoid being hit; he realized that he was probably facing his final moments on earth. As he lay in the car, after the smashing, grinding impact, he could not think. Everything was immensely quiet. Then, just as suddenly, there was more noise and confusion than he could tolerate. As he blacked out, he hoped that someone nice had decided what death meant for him – he still didn’t know.

When he woke up, he was on a hospital bed in a white-walled room with large vinyl curtains blocking out the sunlight. He blinked and attempted to move his head. He discovered he could not move anything but his eyes and his mouth. He felt like his whole body had been frozen but his face was still free. His brow furrowed as he pictured a man buried up to his neck. As his mind became alert, James started to realize what this meant. Frantically, he tried to remember what had happened. Panic began to rise as he felt his breathing becoming faster and shallower. A nurse bustled into the room looking right at him with a laptop clasped to her chest. She saw the fear in his eyes, and she placed the laptop on the counter and moved to his side.

“Mr. Parker, it’s alright. You’ll be all right. You might feel rather numb right now but that’s from all the medication and the nature of your injuries. Most of your injuries should heal in time. Right now, you should just be happy you’re alive. It was a close call.” He knew she was patting his arm from the rustling of her sleeve against his hospital gown. He did not feel the pat. She bent closer and stared him right in the eyes. “Mr. Parker, it is very important that you stay calm. You’re in good hands. I’ll call Dr. Freeman and let him know that you’re awake.”

James wanted to say something to the effect – “Yes, you do that, and by the way, while you’re at it, would you mention the fact that I’m practically dead. He might find that interesting as well.” But he found his mouth was too dry and his tongue too thick to form articulate words. He just mumbled something that the nurse took to mean “Thanks.” He watched as her upper half moved to the head of the bed, her arm adjusted his drip line, and then her shoulders and head moved away from him and bobbed out the doorway. He imagined getting one of his men in here and whispering a desperate plea to pour a pint of whiskey into the drip bag. Todd might do it. It would be just the thing that might amuse him – offbeat, gritty realism. The only problem would be that Todd would need an audience, so he’d have to tell the whole floor of nurses and they’d freak out, end of the scenario. James wondered if he could be arrested for attempting to spike his own drip bag. He closed his eyes. Can it get any worse than this? When had he thought that before? He couldn’t remember. But he realized; he’d have a lot of time to play memory games. Lots of time to consider the direction his life was taking.

A white-coated doctor entered the room. He looked Indian; his smile seemed genuine. James swallowed and was relieved that he actually felt the sensation. He did not smile back, however.

“Hello, James. My name is Dr. Joshi. I was on the team that worked on you. It was a mighty good fight you put up. We were relieved when your heart started again. I just want to let you know that though you did sustain serious injuries, it looks like the worst is behind you. With some physical therapy and perhaps a couple minor reconstructive surgeries on your right leg, you should be able to get up and move around again. But right now, all you need to know is that your paralysis should be temporary, and you’ll be feeling more like your normal self in a few days, though I don’t suggest you attempt to do anything too strenuous too soon.”

If James could have burst out laughing, he would have at this bit of incongruity. Was Dr. Joshi blind, or was it no big deal that he had just about died? What did he say about getting his heart started again? Was returning to life just a mere blip in the day’s events? Everything will be back to normal? Yeah right! James merely blinked rapidly and attempted to shake his head. Dr. Joshi took that for agreement and smiled again.

“Your nurses will be close by if you need anything, and they’ll check on you regularly.” The doctor straightened and turned to the nurse, giving her directions that James could not understand, and he started walking away, his head bobbing slowly out of the room. The nurse checked James’ drip line, took his pulse, and did various other duties and then patted him on the arm. Rustle, rustle. She ordered him to get some rest. James didn’t bother to watch her head bob out the door.

He stared up at the ceiling and realized that before long he’d know exactly how many tiles comprised the ceiling and how many dots in each. This was life right now. Surely they had a television, a way to listen to music…something to occupy his mind. James realized he felt very relaxed and sleepy. Apparently, he didn’t need to spike his drip bag – they’d done it for him. Perhaps later, when the nurse came back, he’d ask a few questions. James would learn all about life here and find a way to survive. He closed his eyes. He wondered who would care that he was here. His mother? She was slipping into another world ― dementia at its best. He’d leave her to go gently into her private world. His dad? Yeah, his dad would come and be very pleasant and upbeat, trying to cheer him up so that no one need feel sad. Tears were just for critical moments in movies. Tears weren’t intended for real life. If one got sad enough for tears, it was time to pack it in. There were those who took that way out. But Dad wouldn’t be one of those. He would die cheerfully, pretending that death wasn’t getting the last word, even when it did. James wasn’t sure he wanted his dad’s pleasant ignorance at this point. James sighed and was infinitely relieved when he felt his chest heave painfully. He wasn’t quite as numb as he thought. He tried to feel some other part of his body, but it still felt still absent. Damn. I’m living in a dead man’s body.

 ~~~

There were visitors those first days, mostly people from work and a policeman who wanted to go over the accident report with him. The friendly visits were painful as James attempted to do more each time to appear less disabled than he was, but he got through them with as much aplomb as he could muster. He assured everyone that he would fully recover and be back at work by the New Year at the latest. When the policeman entered, James felt the greatest flutter of excitement since he had first awakened. He told the officer what he could remember and then waited for him to explain what had actually happened. After the officer told him, James felt his spirit go as numb as his body. A woman and child had been in the other car. No one was exactly sure what made her drive into him, could be the slight drizzle obscured her vision, or she just wasn’t thinking and didn’t see the red light directly in front of her, but she rammed into his car full speed. She and the child died. Their names were Mrs. Carol Jones and Sylvia Jones. Sylvia had only been five. They think that Carol had been driving so fast because she was hurrying to pick up her son from soccer practice. Sylvia had been at tumbling class and they had gotten behind schedule. James wondered at the value of his life when it had almost been snuffed out because of soccer practice. It wasn’t until the officer mentioned that the husband was outside waiting to see him that James wondered if it would have been easier to simply die.  He merely mumbled, “Yeah, sure, what can it hurt?”

The police officer had tapped his notebook closed and left the room with a nod, hoping that James would “get better soon.” Mr. Jones entered the room slowly. His eyes had dark circles under them. His hands hid in his pockets as he moved to the side of the bed. The nurse had raised James’ bed so he was in a semi-sitting position. James wasn’t sure why this man had come or what on earth he was supposed to say, but he figured that he should be compassionate. After all, he did know how it felt to lose a wife and the officer had said something about there being another child. So, along with everything else, this guy was a single parent now and that couldn’t be easy.

Mr. Jones shuffled his feet and then looked at James. “I just wanted to let you know how sorry I am that this happened, Mr. Parker. My wife was a good woman, and I know she’d never have wanted this. It was just some stupid accident and…” Mr. Jones’ voice cracked and his stricken eyes filled with tears.

James felt his own eyes ache. He realized that he was hurting inside in ways he had not admitted to himself and he did not want to face. He could not lift his arm well, but he could gesture feebly. He attempted to do so. “Please, Mr…” James tried to control his voice. “What’s your name?”

“Eric”

“Listen, Eric, I know it was an accident, and it looks to me like you’ve suffered more than me. I’ve just got bruised up a bit, but you’ve lost your wife and kid. I lost my wife a few years back; I know how hard that can be. We never had kids… but I can only imagine the hell you’re going through. So please, no apologies―”

Tears were flowing down Eric’s face. “My son blames me. He said I should have gone to pick him up. I knew Carol was behind schedule, but I was at work and…”

James felt his breathing quicken. He couldn’t handle this. He wasn’t a therapist. He was a recovered alcoholic who made a living by faking reality. “Eric, your son is just lashing out at you because you’re all he’s got to lash at. Who else is he going to blame? God?”

Eric stood there mute with tears falling freely. James stared at the ceiling tiles and tried to remember how many he had counted before he gave up. “Oh, God!” He looked back at Eric. “I can’t help you, Eric. I don’t know how. I wish I could. But if it means anything to you – I don’t blame you or your wife. I don’t blame anyone. I can’t say why. But you and your son are still alive and you’ve got to figure out how to live through this. Just like me. It’s a hell of a world, and I’m the last person on earth to give anyone advice, but if I did, I’d say it’d be better to try to make the best of this rather than let it tear you to pieces.”

Eric nodded, wiping his face with his arm. “I’m sorry I fell apart like this. I didn’t mean to. It’s just when I saw how bad you got hurt and I remember… It just kills something inside me.”

James shook his head. “Well don’t! Don’t let it kill you. Not yet. Death gets its way often enough. Don’t give it anymore.”

Eric stuck out his hand and gripped James free hand lying on his bed sheet. “I meant to come here and apologize for hurting you – but you’ve helped me – more than you realize. Thank you.”

James watched as Eric left the room and for one astounding moment, he realized that he thought of death as an enemy – one that must be avoided at all costs. Problem was, he knew he couldn’t avoid him forever.

~~~

When James was sixty-eight years old he was diagnosed with a severe heart condition and was hospitalized in the hope that he would undergo a heart transplant. But that transplant never took place. He died two days before the planned surgery. But the day before he died an old friend came to visit ― his cook’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth Grace, now grown into a matronly woman with four kids.

She had taken his cold, papery hand in her own and stroked it gently as she smiled through her gentle laugh. “Hey, Mr. James, how you doing today?” They bantered about her mother and brothers and sisters, about all the “goings-on” in the world, and recent events in the family they shared. James suddenly realized that with Elizabeth Grace at his side, he felt brave and comfortable. She looked at him with eyes that could peer directly into his lost soul and she loved him anyway.

“Hey, my little love, I have a question for you. You were always so smart in school and read all those books about saints and heroes of old―”

Elizabeth stared at him, keeping his eyes held in her own.

James felt he could go on. “So what’s death, anyway? I mean, where is it? What happens when the old, grim reaper shows up?”

Elizabeth’s eyes grew round and her smile widened. “Wow, Mr. James, you always know how to surprise me.” Her smile faded as she saw something in his eyes that saddened her. “I don’t know anything about grim reapers and such, but you know, I was taught that death is a doorway ― from this world to the next. It’s a chance to go home, really — if you want to.”

James shook his head. “I don’t get it. I’m home now. I mean; I want to go home to my place on the hill. I want to get back home – not leave it forever. Death is about leaving.”

Elizabeth Grace shrugged. “I guess; you can look at it that way. But my dad used to say that he never really had a home here. He wasn’t so worried about leaving since he knew that he’d be going to his real home later. I miss him, but I don’t worry about him. He was right. He was a good man who loved a lot of people. His love didn’t disappear – I think it just led him home.”

James nodded. Then he squeezed Elizabeth’s hand and closed his eyes. “I’ll have to think about that. I’ve never understood death, but I like your version. I’ve tried to love more, to really care, and ― it has led me home ― already.”

Elizabeth smiled as she let his hand go and then bent down and placed a kiss on his white cheek. “Good night, Mr. James. You’ll always find a home in those you love.”

James smiled as he drifted into a peaceful slumber. He still didn’t know exactly what death meant, but he did know what happiness was. And he figured that knowledge would lead him past the tombstone.

~~~

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

The Million Faceted Crystal

Guest Post: By T. E. Frailey

A Young Person’s Vision

In Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, Chapter Three, entitled: The Night Shadows, he wrote, “A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is preferable to this.”

Dickens struck upon an integral characteristic of humanity, that every beating heart is the greatest quandary to its companions. The uniqueness of each human person far exceeds the design of a thumbprint. The human person (rational animal or not) is a mystery that would take, I think, an eternity to unravel.

Dickens’ words strike a deep chord in me. The fact that we can see only through our own eyes is a somewhat mind-boggling consideration. The image of a city at night, filled with tens of thousands of unique hearts, paints a spectacular image. It makes me think of the human heart as a diamond, or crystal, with a million facets. We show particular faces to particular people. But when all is said and done, even our best friend will, at times, still marvel at the mystery of who we are.

 

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