OldEarth Ishtar Encounter—Chapter Four

Teal peered into Sienna’s eyes as they lay on a grassy plain before a mighty cliff. A hot sun beat down on them from a clear sky. Propped on his arms and knees, he hovered over the length of her body.

Sienna waited, grinning.

Teal lowered himself.

A flash of fear rippled over Sienna’s face.

With a groan, Teal tipped his head back and plopped onto the grass beside her, sprawling out like a broken toy.

Sienna jerked up, pouting. “What’s wrong?”

Teal rubbed his eyes. “You still don’t trust me.”

Yanking herself to her feet, Sienna brushed grass and dirt from her tan leggings. Her long-sleeved tunic rippled to the ground. “You don’t trust me—rather.”

Rolling to his side, Teal peered at her. “I’d like to. By all that is good and holy, I want to.” Rising, he slapped dry stems from his gray tunic.

Sienna’s lips quivered.

Exhaling a long breath, Teal stepped closer and caressed her arms. He tilted his head to meet her downturned gaze. “I’ve never wanted a woman as much as I want you.”

Swallowing and batting back tears, Sienna shook her head. “I’ve never been this—”

Teal quirked a smile. “Vulnerable?” Impulsively, he pulled her into a tight embrace and tucked her head under his chin. “Me too.” He ran his fingers over her hair, across her shoulder, down her arm to her waist…and forced his trembling hand to stop. He lifted his eyes to the setting sun. “We’re in the midst of an interplanetary struggle. No one knows who to trust or what to believe.”

Sienna sniffed and pulled away. “You seem ready enough to trust that Crestonian and Ingot.”

“They’re Crestonians and Ingots. I know their true nature and their peoples’ hopes for this world.”

Snorting, Sienna turned her back on Teal. “Then you can’t trust them at all.”

With a chuckle, Teal glanced aside and froze.

A ragged figure, bent forward, scrabbled down a steep incline, grasping at rocks and tough weeds to keep from sliding.

Teal exhaled a low breath. “Ishtar?”

Racing to his side, Sienna followed his gaze. She clutched his arm. “How’d he get here? It’s well beyond—”

Suppressing even the hint of panic, Teal swiveled around and surveyed the area. With a grunt, he grabbed Sienna’s hand and gestured with his chin. “Over there, under that rocky ledge.”

They scampered forward and hid in the deep shadows.

Ishtar scrambled to the bottom of the incline and turned aside. He padded on bleeding feet toward the desert.

Sienna frowned. “Where’s he going? There’s nothing on the other side but barren lands. He’ll die there.”

Teal stepped out from under the stony ledge and peered at the emaciated figure striding purposefully away. “He’s pursued.”

Sienna’s eyes widened as she glanced around. “By whom?” Snatching up a rock, she crouched for battle. “Can they see us?”

“No. And we can’t see them. But they are here nonetheless.”

With a snort, Sienna tossed the rock to the side. “You’re a regular Bhuaci with all your riddles.”

Teal watched Ishtar stumble. I should’ve seen this coming. A stabbing pain tore through his chest. “We need to return.” He glanced at the sky. “Officially, I shouldn’t even be here without Zuri and Ark. Luxonian Guardians should respect our own treaties.”

Sienna huffed and crossed her arms. “It was your idea. Don’t blame me if—”

“Don’t start.” Teal pulled her closer.

Relenting, Sienna placed her hands on his chest and started rubbing in slow circles.

Teal peered down, clasped one of her hands, and examined it. “Never any jewelry. Why?”

With a teasing grin, Sienna slipped away. “I don’t need any. My mother taught me that a woman is enough in herself. My father agreed.” Her gaze softened. “He used to bring me autumn flowers. Said that beauty is fleeting.”

Teal glanced back to where Ishtar had rounded the rocky crevice, his voice dry and distant even to his own ears. “You believe that?”

“Of course. If something lasts—we don’t appreciate it.”

Teal locked his eyes with hers. “I disagree. Beauty is eternal. It’s our gaze that is fleeting.”

~~~

Ark sat on a log next to a rippling stream and slapped his fleshy, three-toed feet into the flowing water. He shivered in delight.

Zuri crouched on a boulder, his black bio-armor including headgear, bodysuit, and hard-toed boots, glinted in the bright sun. As he hunched over a handheld screen, his gaze scrolled over a data-stream.

Ark scratched his neck. “By all rights, we shouldn’t even be here without Teal. Cresta Accords are nothing to splash at, especially when they’re backed up by a Luxonian treaty and your Ingoti Magisterium’s seal of approval.”

With a grunt, Zuri scrunched his face and peered closer to the screen. “You gonna tell him?”

“Ahhh!” Ark swung his dripping toes from the water and dropped them on the end of the log, tipping backward precariously. Using two tentacles for support, he leaned further back and stretched out, pillowing his head on two other tentacles. “Perhaps I shall. I really feel I must. After all, he’s our friend. We don’t want to break trust with him.”

Zuri peered at Ark, grimacing. “Friend? What makes you think he’s our friend? He never believes anything we tell him. He always checks our data after the fact. And he reports every bloody word we say.”

“As do I. As do you.” Ark lifted his head and glanced at Zuri’s bent figure. “There’s more to friendship than trust, you know.”

The datapad slipped from Zuri’s grasp and dropped to the ground. “Blast!” He scowled at Ark. “You want to explain what your idea of friendship entails, exactly?”

“Endurance.” Ark groaned and rolled to a sitting position. “No Cresta worth his cranium capacity would ever bother with trust. We’re not like that.” He waved a tentacle in the dim light. “You’ve been reading too many memes on the Inter-Alien bulletin board.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m suspicious of everyone.”

“Even yourself—I hope.”

Zuri smirked. “I just told Teal where we are.” He strode to Ark and stared down at his limp figure. “I contacted him as soon as we arrived and told him that you wanted to follow up on Ishtar.” His eyebrows rose. “How do you like that—friend?”

Ark shifted aside, pulled one of his boots forward, and wagged it at Zuri. “Fine with me.” He grinned, quite pleased with himself. “I told him where we were going even before we left Crestar.” He wagged the boot again. “You know how these things pinch. Do be careful this time.”

A new chapter of OldEarth Ishtar Encounter coming every Tuesday and Thursday.

Have a blessed day,

Ann

Seek to become someone’s true friend.

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OldEarth Ishtar Encounter Chapter One

—Planet Lux—
Test a Theory

Ark, his fleshy white potbellied body encased in a somber gray bio-suit and brown boots, stood aside from the main crowd in the domed Luxonian chamber. He blew bubbles through his breather helm, wrapped his four tentacles behind his back, and tried to ignore the bright light streaming in from above. Planet Lux has altogether too bright a sun. They ought to shield us from the blasted thing. He squinted and averted his eyes.

The Luxonian meeting hall, punctuated with purple-veined marble columns and glorious fountains shaped like creatures from every planet in the district, was filled to capacity with representatives from four races: Crestonian, Bhuaci, Luxonian, and Ingoti.

He studied a Luxonian Lightbird sculpture, as it appeared to fly into the air, spraying clear water from its beak. With a shrug, he shifted to the more fascinating Crestonian Sandfish, spouting green liquid from its razor-toothed jaws. A shiver rolled down his spine.

Dragging his gaze away, Ark nonchalantly shifted his stance and waited for his superior to approach. It would never do to appear hasty.

Ungle, a Crestonian with bright red cilia swaying on top of his plump head and dressed in a spring-green bio-suit and matching boots, meandered the circuit of the room with two tentacles wrapped behind his back in a contemplative manner. A third tentacle held a long-stemmed glass filled to the brim with blue gelatinous goo. With his last tentacle, he shook appendages—or mechanical armatures—as the occasion required, with various Luxonian and alien representatives. His perpetual smile never wavered.

Ark slumped and caught the eye of a young Luxonian who stared directly at him. Ark patted his breathing helm as if stifling a yawn.

The Luxonian’s gaze delved deeper, his obvious curiosity breaking to the surface.

Annoyance broke Ark’s placid mood. He discharged a narrow-eyed glare at the Luxonian, who soon turned away. Idiot.

“So you finally made it.”

Ark’s head jerked so hard as he twisted around to face his superior that he felt a crackling in the bone holding his spine erect. Blast. I’ll have a muscle spasm from that. He clasped Ungle’s tentacle from which dangled a gaudy bracelet. Ark blinked and swallowed. Better not expect me to kiss that thing—like some weird Bhuaci sign of obeisance.

“Not for kissing, just admiring.”

Ark swallowed convulsively. Uh-oh.

Ungle laughed, nearly spraying liquid over the top of his breathing helm. “I can’t read your mind—but really—Ark, you’ve become practically translucent. Been among humans too long in my opinion.”

A Luxonian waiter in humanoid form, as befits the theme of the meeting, and dressed in an embroidered gold tunic and lavender leggings, glided in close. With a bow, he offered a tray of pink, blue, and green drinks.

Ark glanced at Ungle.

Ungle poured blue goo into his breathing helm, slurped, and shivered. “Not bad. But I’d recommend the green. Not authentic green, you understand, but less of a kick than the blue.”

Ark swiped a blue drink off the tray and poured it daintily into his breathing helm. Like a connoisseur savoring an ancient wine, Ark sipped his liquid while his gaze wandered the room.

Ungle waved the servant away.

Ark turned to his superior. “You were the first to recommend Earth observation. Have you changed your mind?”

“Not at all. I think humanity will have a great deal to offer—in time. But I also realize there are many complications that must be considered—”

A bell tinkled.

“Bothmal those bells!” Ungle tapped Ark on the shoulder. “Meet me in my chambers after the meeting.”

“You aren’t staying for the Balatin Reenactment Festival?”

Ungle gurgled. “I’m a Crestonian. Science, not pleasure, dictates my schedule.”

Ark took the hint.

~~~

Ark settled in a plump chair and hated the hiss of his bio-suit as it wedged between the stiff arms. Dark waters, I’ll never get up without help.

The Crestonian chambers included a mini-pool built into the back wall, cushy, white furniture, and a simple cleansing and dressing closet.

Ark glanced over as Ungle tapped a console, lighting up a holopad.

“Pay attention now. I’ve done careful research, and I think I have just the solution we need.”

Ark grunted as he tried to wiggle out of the chair. “What…is…the…problem?” Popping like a cork, he sprang to his feet.

Ungle straightened, and a hologram of the Luxonian guardian stationed on Earth—Teal—appeared before them. His slim, well-balanced figure, straight light brown hair, piercing blue eyes, and firm jaw emphasized his determined personality.

Ark shrugged and clumped forward, his embarrassment forgotten. “Teal?” His gaze swiveled to Ungle.

“As I mentioned earlier, science dictates the direction of my life. I believe that humanity has a great deal to offer Crestonian studies. Not the least of which is their obsession with good and evil.”

Ark wrapped his tentacles behind his back, arched his neck forward, and meandered in close. “Surely, we understand the concept as well as anyone. Why—?”

“We don’t experience the polar opposites as humans do. It makes quite a difference. Consider—” Ungle tapped the console. Teal dissolved, and Chai appeared beautifully dressed in crimson robes embroidered in gold. “A dangerous—by all human standards—evil force controls this man. It’s a force I’ve rarely encountered before. Yet, this human believes he’ll benefit from the experience.”

Ark’s tentacles wiggled nervously behind his back. “What does he have to do with Teal?”

“This being—calls himself Chai—will cross paths with the one you call Ishtar. It doesn’t take serious extrapolation of data to figure this out. Their paths must intersect.”

“So—”

“Teal will be watching. He’ll care what happens. He might even attempt to interfere.”

“That goes against all his training.”

Ungle shrugged. “Given proper motivation, we all go against our training. Don’t be obtuse, Ark.”

“What do you want?”

“I want to see the natural exchange between Chai and Ishtar. I want to witness a soul damned to—”

“Hell?”

“Yes, I believe that is the term.”

“You want me to keep an eye on Teal—is that it?” Chuckling, Ungle tapped the console. “Not primarily. I want you to keep your eye on her.”

The holographic image of Chai dissolved, and Sienna, a Luxonian beauty with reddish hair, golden eyes, and a slim figure appeared in all her radiant glory on the holopad.

“Sienna? She cares for Teal, but—”

“She’s a Luxonian with a healer’s soul. She wants to help so badly; she could do a great deal of harm in the process.” Ungle tapped the screen and Chai, Teal, and Sienna appeared together on the holopad facing away from one another. “They’re each convinced that they know what’s best for humanity. I’m convinced that they have no idea what’s in store for them.”

“And you want me to observe and collect data?”

“I want to test a theory—about good and evil.”

Ark waited.

Ungle smirked. “You’ll see.”

A new OldEarth Ishtar Encounter chapter coming each Tuesday and Thursday. 

Enjoy,

Ann

“He shook my dozing soul and threw the cold water of reality in my face, so that life and God and heaven and hell broke into my world with glory and horror.” (on CS Lewis) ~John Piper

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OldEarth Ishtar Encounter—Prologue

—Temple City—

Worthy of Renowned

Chai’s fingers stuck together as he clutched a bloodstained knife at his side. His unruly black hair, muscled build, wide stance, and flashing black eyes proclaimed his dominance. He swept a long flowing cape over his shoulders and watched an enormous shadow slither forward. His heart pounded. The deed had been done.

The body of a young man was lowered into the pit.

For a horrifying moment, Chai stiffened as he beheld a vision: His mother’s face as she lowered him onto his soft bed, cradling his body and crooning in her sweet voice.

Chai froze. The knife slipped from his fingers and clattered on the stone floor.

A circle of robed figures turned toward him.

He raised his head, searching wildly for direction.

The stone carving of his god—a man’s head with the body of a great cat and the wings of an eagle—stood in the center of the cold room staring sightlessly through blood-red eyes.

Chai exhaled a long breath. Squaring his shoulders, he forced himself to look into the pit one final time. A dead body. No personality, no family, no loving mother—no grief.

The shadow followed the body into the black depths.

A servant tiptoed near and retrieved the knife.

Chai grunted, and the knife was slapped into his hand.

He held it aloft, his crimson sleeves flowing in rippled folds down his arms. His heart thudded against his chest. The dazzling fire flared in front of the stone god and burnished the blade a deep bronze.

A new vision framed itself in his mind. He sat on a high seat above every mortal man. Every being on Earth shrunk from him in terror. His will reigned supreme. He could feel a smile creep across his face, but the burning in his heart seared all joy.

As he stared at the stone figure, his vision widened. A wall of impenetrable mountains opposed him. Suddenly, he flew aloft and with a bird’s-eye view, vast rolling hills and open grasslands slid away under him. Clans huddled against the foothills and nestled between the shoulders of the great mountains. Chai caught his breath. A great throng—people from all over the mountainsides, hills, and valleys—gathered. Finally, a conquest worthy of his skill!

He dragged his gaze from the vision and stared at reality. In utter silence, the pit consumed his offering. He lifted his gaze to the blood-red eyes. “I will bring more…and become worthy of renown.”

With a guttural command and a sharp gesture, he ended the ceremony. His quick, sharp steps echoed through the dim temple hall. When he reached the open doorway, he halted on the threshold. Peering into the black night, a sensation so riotous it could not be controlled rose up inside him and demanded release.

He burst into laughter.

 

A new Chapter from my historical fiction/ science fiction novel OldEarth Ishtar Encounter each Tuesday and Thursday. 

Blessings,

Ann

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” ~Mark 19:26

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Wouldn’t You?

Henrietta Huber wanted to know why a dead cat lay across her doorstep. Animals didn’t normally pick her abode to succumb to death’s tyrannical fate. Nor humans for that matter, thank God. Still, the fact remained; a stiff body sprawled awkwardly before her front door.

She lifted her gaze and peered around her quiet, respectable neighborhood. She lived in the center of her cul-de-sac. It had always felt like a privilege, being snug in the middle of her neighbors; a dark brown ranch house to the right, and a two-story brick dwelling on her left. Upper middle class. Very. But today, her quaint neighborhood emitted the faintest odor of disease. Or was that the cat?

Not one to let fate have its way with her, Henrietta trotted a few steps down the street.

A fancy board painted with red fruit dangling from thick boughs and fancy lettering which spelled out “Apple Valley,” announced the entrance to their neighborhood, though only one pair of apple trees stood guard on each side of the road and no valley could be seen for twenty miles. Still, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and a pleasant assortment of craftsmen lived here. It was not a place to be sniffed at. Especially not today.

She chewed her lip as she returned to her front step. These simply were not the sort of people to drop a dead critter on a neighbor’s doorstep. On the contrary, Henrietta knew several with speed dial who would gladly report the slightest hint of animal abuse.

She frowned at the insinuation of less than stellar animal care at her feet.

Could this reflect badly on her, perhaps? Had she left some antifungal spray, insect killer, or some other ugly reminder of nature’s imperfect reality in a place where this critter inadvertently killed itself upon her carelessness?

Sheesh! One faced deadly peril at every turn these days.

A neighbor’s door opened and a head poked out.

Henrietta stepped in front of the circumstantial evidence and mumbled to herself. “Oh, blast, Lindsey Jenkins. Good Lord, I’ll be hauled before the county judge and sentenced to twenty hours of community service if this gets out.”

Lindsey, without delay, skittered across her neatly manicured yard, practically leaped over the prickly bush border, and with wringing hands prostrated her forlorn figure before her bewildered neighbor.

Considering that Lindsey was nearer seventy than sixty and usually worked her mouth more than her legs, Henrietta was duly impressed. She dragged her eyes off the thorny hedgerow and interrogated her elder neighbor with her eyes.

Lindsey, clearly in a hurry to immortalize herself in some kind of unforgettable apology, gushed her words. “Henny, so sorry about the cat carcass, but I really had no choice.”

In her attempt to draw her neighbor away from prying eyes, Henrietta tripped over the cat.

Lindsey clasped her friend’s arm and with surprising strength, ushered Henrietta inside the pristine abode.

Once safely ensconced on the beautifully embroidered divan, Henrietta, forgoing common decency, waited for the tale to be told before she offered a morning snack. She arched her brows.

Leaning back with one hand slapped against her cheek like a surprised matron finding the cook and the butler in a compromising position, Lindsey inhaled enough breath to begin. “You see, my grandkids simply adore my cat. Or rather, they adored it. Until it died. When I told their mother, my daughter-in-law, Myrtle, who was bringing the kids over for their usual visit today, that Cleopatra had finally succumbed to old age, she insisted that I tell the children before they arrived.”

Henrietta could not for the world imagine where this was going. Despite herself, she felt intrigued. The morning news could wait. Heck, if the world were on the verge of collapse, she would lift a hand in command that it wait a few moments so she could hear this before falling to its inevitable doom.

Henrietta didn’t need to prod. Lindsey knew what was expected. “And so, I did what any decent grandmother would do. I told a wonderful tale of how Cleo sprouted angel wings at the moment of death and flew off to her celestial reward.”

If someone had actually dropped a bar of hot lead in Henrietta’s lap, she would not have been more surprised. She shouldn’t have been so amazed. But that was the way of things. Being caught off guard by the obvious. They all lived in a fantasyland of sorts. She knew that perfectly well every time she steered her tiny car onto the speeding highway. But this? Angel cats with wings? Ascending into heaven? No wonder children dress up as zombies for fun. Why pretend anything makes sense?

Lindsey shook her head as if in sympathy with Henrietta’s perplexed expression. “When I heard the car drive up…and with Cleo still unburied…I knew I had to do something fast. I had no idea they were in the neighborhood when she called. I couldn’t think what to do!”

Henrietta grunted to her feet and strolled to the front door. She peered through the glass. Ah, yes. The prickly hedge hid the offending lie. She turned and faced her devious neighbor. “And now?”

With a swipe across her brow, Lindsey chuckled. “Well, the kids have gone off with their mama, and I’m in the clear. I told Jake to get the cat as soon as he gets a break and bury it out back somewhere. Maybe under that sugar maple we all love. It’d be fitting. And well out of the way.”

Remembering her manners, Henrietta offered a cup of tea and a little something, but Lindsey supposed that she better get home. She stood on the threshold and stared down at the remains of her once-loved pet. “I know I told a ridiculous tale and made a fool of myself trying to keep the kids in ignorance of the hard facts of life. But,” She glanced Henrietta’s way, a hopeful gleam in her eyes. “You’d do the same for your grandkids, wouldn’t you?”

As Jake scooped the stiff body onto a wheelbarrow and then wobbled it toward his backyard, Henrietta considered Lindsey’s question. “Would I?”

 

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

What God Has Desired

I just finished reading my grandmother’s memoirs, and once again, I see the universe from a new perspective. Marie Haggerty had a terrible relationship with many members of her immediate family, but at age seven she fell in love with Irving McDonald and stayed in love with him all her life. She and Irving brought six children into a world changing faster and more wildly than they could ever have foreseen. And after each adventure—and misadventure—they would kiss before going to sleep. No trial or anxiety could survive that humble nighttime kiss.

I’ve heard it said, “Love is an action word.” But I suspect that might be a bit simplistic. There are times when love lives best in things not done. An angry word not said. A bitter mood not indulged. The silence of waiting for the right moment to deal with a problem. Not following when someone wants to be left alone. Yes, love is shown by our actions; we are known by our fruit. But sometimes, we love best by not reacting, demanding, or repeating compulsive family patterns.

My grandmother lived through a painful childhood, married the love of her life, cared deeply for her children, made enduring friends, painted pictures, and established new homes time and time again. Ironically, the copy of her memoirs I own does not include her final page. It ends without an ending. I know that Irv died on the way back from posting a letter. Dropped dead on the sidewalk. I don’t know how my grandmother died. I just know that she died, and my mother lived on. My mother died in her turn, and now I live on. At some point, I will die, and my daughters will live on.

But the snapshot of her life, the sound of her voice in my head as I read the words she typed so long ago, have made a lasting impression upon my soul. But for her, I would not exist today. Her life informed (and in some ways deformed) my mom, who passed her biology and emotional baggage onto me. And so in turn, my children inherit my physical dispositions and all the lessons learned (and unlearned) that I have experienced.

During this summer, I also read a great number of blogs and books on human relationships. Lots of great advice. But one oft-repeated refrain made me pause. It’s meant to release us from carrying other people’s burdens, I suppose. “You can’t change anyone.”

Really?

I went along with the idea until I pondered Christ on the Cross. Then I slammed hard against the redemption of the human race. We’re still apes, eh?

On the contrary, I suspect we are always changing people. Forming or deforming everyone around us and ourselves in the process.

I agree that the honeymoon is no place to try to convert your new hubby into a non-smoker. Or that a woman who loves faux fur is likely to appreciate taxidermy because you stuffed a mink in a perfect statuesque form in her kitchen.

But the truth is, at the end of her days, my mother was a changed woman. But she had known the love of her father and her father’s love for her mother. She may have lost her beauty, her strength, and her wit but she managed to eke out the word “lovely” when she saw her granddaughter. My dad has forgotten all his academic skills, but he remembers each week to say that he loves me.

Perhaps we can’t “change” people so much as we can help each other become what God has desired for us. Love is to will the good of another so that they can accept and return real love. My grandmother, probably because of grandfather’s devotion, willed me a great deal of good through her honest reflections.

I pray that the same can be said of me someday.

 

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

I Think I’ll Live

Sometimes silence cuts deeper than words. Philip laid his phone aside and stared at his desk. It was a half-day Friday, so his students had gone home early and the other teachers were busy in their rooms, doing whatever set up they still needed to accomplish before the full academic season started in earnest. He could hear someone stapling in the hall. Putting up the “Welcome Back!” bulletin board no doubt.

He swiveled in his chair and did a one-eighty, surveying his classroom from one end to the other. Everything looked neat and well organized. Luckily, this year he had been assigned the end room with windows facing southeast. So there would be plenty of bright sunshine for his grumpy morning students, but it wouldn’t face the worst of the storms coming in from the west.

He should be thrilled. Well, he should at least be happy. But his gut felt tight and his chest leaden. A whole month had passed since Kelly had stopped talking to him. Ghosted him was the new slang though he hated the term. She wasn’t a ghost. Just someone he had loved and lost. Simple as that. Life moved on.

Or it should.

A knock on the door turned his attention. Brent, his colleague in the math and science department, stood hesitating in the doorway. A grin swept over his face but was quickly replaced by a concerned frown. “Hey—just wondered if you’d like to grab some lunch.”

Philip climbed to his feet feeling every bit of his fifty-five years. He had been married to a lovely lady who died suddenly from a brain aneurysm twelve years ago, raised his four boys as a single parent to the point where they were now on their own and doing great, a testimony to their creative spirits and his hard work. He loved teaching, been doing it for more years than he cared to remember, but this year it seemed stale and tasteless. Like so much of life. He met Brent’s gaze and forced a smile. “Sure. Sounds good.”

When they entered the small-town diner, Brent nudged Philip toward the red booth in the back. “Might as well get a break from all the noise. We’ll get enough of that starting Monday.”

Philip shifted his body into the booth and looked around. Nothing had changed since the last time he had been here—springtime—when his world was bursting with life and new adventures. Now, late August, he wondered at his naiveté. Who was he to think he could fall in love like a kid and start a new life? He shook his head and flipped open the menu.

Brent made a humming noise as he perused his choices. He tapped a spot and glanced up. “You ever have the Rueben?”

Philip shrugged. “Yeah. It’s okay. Nothing to write home about, though.”

Brent nodded and continued his search. He tapped the menu again. “I’m craving red meat and something salty.”

Philip’s stomach clenched. He had lost five pounds this month, and he knew he needed to eat, though nothing tasted good anymore. Still, a hamburger and fries might restore a modicum of balance to his system. “I’ll have the cheeseburger, steak fries, and a cola.”

Brent waved to the waitress and ordered the same. He watched her tuck her pad into a pocket and saunter away, then he stared at Philip. “So, you going to tell me about it?”

Philip shrugged and wrapped his fingers around the full water glass the waitress had brought. Condensations dribbled down his fingers. He took a sip and pushed the glass aside. “Nothing much to tell.”

Brent leaned back and lounged in the booth like a guy about to tell a long story.

Philip winced. He knew darn well what was coming.

Brent’s gaze floated to the ceiling. “So, you remember my sister, Krista?” His eyes rolled over Philip’s slight nod. “Well, she was an adorable kid. A real sweetheart. But she had the unfortunate luck to marry a louse. A jerk beyond redemption.”

Philip’s eyebrows lifted, but he kept his mouth firmly closed.

“So after the divorce, I took her aside and gave her a little advice. She listened, and she’s been happily married to a great guy for…” Brent closed one eye in concentration. “About twelve years now.”

The waitress sauntered up with drinks, napkins, and silverware they didn’t need. Only the clattering of the cold glasses hitting the Formica table and a tiny hum she apparently carried with her filled the booth.

As she turned away, Philip met Brent’s gaze and sighed. “So, okay. I know you’ll die if you don’t…so go ahead. Tell me.”

Philip leaned forward and clasped his hands. “I told her to think of the best men she had ever known in her life…our dad…a teacher she respected…me, of course…and then figure out what she liked about those guys. Then look for those qualities in a man she might like to date. Ignore looks, education, style, money. Just find a guy who she liked and trusted. Then she’d find she find a real husband.”

Philip nodded. “I found a woman I liked and trusted. It just turned out, I was wrong to do so.”

Brent shook his head. “You found a woman you wanted to like and trust. Big difference, man. Real trust takes time. Everything real takes time.”

“You think I was too quick to trust her?”

“With your heart. Yep. But that’s not a fault really. Just a painful lesson. Funny thing is…Krista’s second marriage is so much better than her first. Probably because she really appreciates him, and he really appreciates her.”

“Our wounds make us weaker. More uncertain.”

Brent whistled low.

The waitress pursed her lips tight as she centered the plates on the table before the two men. She darted a glance from one to the other, measuring their moods. “Everything okay?”

Brent smiled. “It’s lovely.”

With a hesitating smile, she swung away.

Brent lifted his burger and inspected it like a scientist doing a data check. “Think this will give me a heart attack?”

Philip shrugged. “Only if you inhale it and five more like it.”

“Wisdom of Solomon, man.”

They ate in relative silence while the rest of the diner bustled in noonday chatter. A tired mother shoveled food into her mouth while bouncing a toddler on her knee. Two teenage girls laughed behind their hands, their eyes darting to four construction guys perched on stools at the counter, their bare arms coated in dirty sweat. One middle-aged man, his left hand stretched out holding a phone, appeared to be scrolling through messages…or the day’s news. His face remained impassive though his right hand carried a soupspoon to his mouth, and he swallowed a mouthful at all the right intervals.

Philip dropped his half-eaten burger on the plate and shoved it aside. He took a long slurp of his soda and tapped his fingers on the table. “I really should get back.”

Brent wiped his mouth and shook his head. “Where? You got some hot date waiting?”

Philip’s jaw clenched.

Brent washed his last bite down with the soda. “Look. I’m not trying to be cruel, but you’ve wasted enough time, waiting for what ain’t gonna happen. She made her choice. So you gotta move on. Now, I know you still feel a bit sore about things…but I do have another sister…and she’s…”

Philip’s eyes widened. “You’ve got to be kidding!” He waved his hand at the diner as if encompassing that part of the world. “This whole thing was a setup?”

“Not exactly. But…just let me say this. Sometimes other people can help us see things more clearly than we can see for ourselves. If you get what I mean. I could’ve told you that Kelly wasn’t your type. Or rather…you weren’t her type.”

“You could’ve, huh?”

“Yep. And being the decent, good-hearted man that I am—a friend indeed—as they say. I think I might know a good match when I see one.”

“So? What’s the condition? I know you’ve got something…”

“Just give my sis, Ronda, a chance; that’s all I ask. She’s not a beauty…on the outside. Kinda the runt of the family. Real shy because of it. But she’s got a heart of gold, is smart and knows how to get things done. She’s got love to give…but too many guys are looking for that magic chemistry…that cute chick. The spark. You know what I mean. They don’t know how to make a friend and fall in love with a beating heart.”

Philip took a fry and chewed it thoughtfully. He took a sip of soda and stared at Brent. “So what…you set us up on a date? Wouldn’t she feel kinda weird about going out with a perfect stranger?”

“Naw, nothing like that. Just come around to dinner tomorrow. She always comes on Saturday nights and helps out. She’s a good cook—if that interests you.”

“I’m a good cook…I don’t need… But…yeah, what the heck. It’ll be better than sitting home alone.”

Brent polished off his burger and fries with relish. He waved at the waitress for the check. A grin spread wide over his face as Philip took the last bite of his burger and slurped down the dregs of his soda. “You liked it?”

“Yeah. It was surprisingly good. Best thing I’ve eaten in a while.”

“Guess you’re going to live, eh?”

Philip nodded and stretched, his stomach full for the first time in months and his heart a touch lighter. “Yeah. I think I’ll live…”

 

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

Stars Twinkle In Concert With Darting Fireflies

So, yeah, it’s that time of the year again. School arrives with all its rigor and tight schedules. The hot summer zigzags toward a mild autumn. Or so I hope. Late summer heralds the joy of cooler temperatures and lightens the weary weight of high humidity and sticky sweat.

Around here, August kicks off the birthday season and tumbles right into the holiday season. Suddenly there are presents to give and secrets to keep. The joys of life are not completely swallowed up by essays and exams.

I glory in every hint of change, watching with eager eyes as leaves turn from dark green to shades of and pink and red, while orange pumpkins and yellow squash form wobbly lines on the porch steps.

It isn’t autumn yet. But my imagination offers the next best thing. I can practically feel autumn’s coolness playing over my skin even while I inhale the hot smells of drying cornfields. The gritty dust of the road settles for the last time between my toes as I watch caterpillars wriggle their way to where ever they insist they are going. Even though grasshoppers fly in my face and annoy me, I remember Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories about the late summer grasshoppers and luxuriate in the knowledge that they don’t arrive in massive clouds anymore and nibble away local farmers’ entire crops. At least that’s one problem we don’t have to deal with.

On Sunday, I took some of the kids to Coffeen Lake in the hopes of catching a cool breeze. Alas, the road was closed to the entrance we normally use, so we had to settle for a smaller section of the lake instead. Since there was a trail nearby, we decided, with true Sunday afternoon “What do we have to lose?” aplomb, we ventured ahead. After running smack into the fifth spider web, with sticky spider prizes attached, I sent my eldest son ahead to clear the path of all entrapments. Good son that he is, he did so without complaint, though I noticed after a bit, he did swing a branch ahead as he went.

Strolling behind, I noticed beautiful leaves along the path. I might have missed them if the spiders had been less diligent about knitting open-air markets on the path. I was surprised at the first crimson delight and astonished by the time I swept up the sixth autumn leaf and then found a perfectly formed acorn with cap still attached.

Through the week, I have let my eyes linger on their fading, crumpling forms sprawled across my desk, knowing full well that even autumn’s glory can’t last forever. The north wind will sweep fall’s gentle mellow mood aside as biting cold and white and black attitudes force their way to center stage.

This evening, a mosquito bite itches my leg while I watch patterns of leaves rise and fall over a speckled tree trunk. Green leaves hang still and quiet in the evening air. Birds chirp noisily, and my crimson foliage yet more crumpled and dried out warns me of things to come.

This year has been a collage of joy-filled triumphs and humiliating defeats. My kids have won prizes, graduated from classes, mastered new skills, and suffered the consequences of a world at war with its better self. I have discovered—to my heart-wrenching grief—that hoping for the best doesn’t always reflect reality. Some hopes and prayers are not answered as I wish yet I must plod along life’s rugged path even while keeping on the lookout for hope and light. This evening, my spirit is rekindled as I sit under the darkening sky and stars twinkle in concert with darting fireflies.

There is no perfect season, though autumn will always hold a special place in my heart. Perhaps because it seems so dreadfully honest. Its bittersweet end-of-summer breeze, whispers in my ear, reminding me to live not what is now only…but what might be. What should be. What will be… Searing hot summer winds scorch our souls and winter ice freezes our spirits, but spring and autumn balance the extremes. Each season journeys along by the hand of God.

As should I.

 

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