Anyone But Him

I ordered Anyone But Him from my author friend—Teresa Linden.

My daughter got it first. Grrr…

Anyone but him is a page-turner that kept me up late wanting to know what happens. The crisp clear writing makes the whole story visual, and I felt that I knew the characters intimately. My teenaged daughter read the book, loved it, and passed it along to me. More than the typical romance, there is a bit if a mystery embedded in the story. An enjoyable read. I hope there are more stories involving the West family.

Unable to remember the past three years or understand why she would’ve moved so far from home, Caitlyn can’t believe she willingly married such an overprotective, bossy, and jealous man.

In this emotionally-charged, new adult mystery romance, ANYONE BUT HIM, Caitlyn struggles to solve the mysteries of her amnesia and her marriage.

Suspicious circumstances surrounding her husband tempt her to leave and start life over, but they also challenge her Christian faith and convictions.  

Kindle Copy Anyone But Him

Paperback Anyone But Him

Hardcover Anyone But Him  

Other books by Teresa Linden

Chasing Liberty

Testing Liberty

Fight for Liberty

Life Changing Love

Roland West—Loner

Battle for His Soul

Standing Strong

My Love Is Strong

Wendy tripped over a block castle, fell against the counter, knocked the coffee maker askew, and apologized. “Whoops, sorry ‘bout that!” Grabbing a sponge, she quickly mopped up the spill and darted a worried glance at the wrecked castle.

Ginny, her six-year-old daughter, skipped into the room. “Who you talking to?”

Before Wendy could answer, Ginny’s gaze swept across the devastation of her former block-castle glory. Her eyes widened in fitful rage. “What’da do that for, Mom?”

“It was an accident, honey. You shouldn’t leave—”

“Hey!” A large, heavily built man with a close-cropped, brown beard sauntered into the kitchen. “You remember me?”

Wendy blinked as wrinkles spread across her forehead. Something on the edge of her frazzled memory sounded a weak alarm. “My husband—right?”

“Very funny.” Mitch tapped his watch. “We’re going out tonight—anniversary? Ring any bells?”

After swallowing back a gasp, Wendy clasped her hands together. “Yeah, I remember, but earlier—I forgot. I, sort of, invited Deirdre over for a cup of tea.” Wendy’s hands flew out imploringly. “Her life’s falling apart. I thought tea might help—somehow.”

Mitch pulled a cup from the shelf and poured out the coffee dregs. “It’ll take more than tea to fix that woman.” He took a sip and winced. “Sides, I asked for tonight first—about twenty years ago.”

Wendy nodded. “Of course. I’ve been looking forward to it. Did you get Keith off to his game?”

Mitch leaned against the counter and rubbed his jaw. “Like a happy gladiator going into battle. Scary actually.” He peered down at his daughter’s pensive face. Reconstruction was well underway. “Who’s watching—?”

Wendy froze. “Oh, my gosh!”

Heaving himself into a chair, Mitch sighed. “And I don’t suppose you have anything ready for dinner?”

Wendy peered at the ceiling. “The part of my brain in charge of dinner remembered about going out. The rest of my brain forgot.” She rubbed her eyes. “What do you think—early dementia?”

“Well, I did notice that you put Patrick’s jeans in my drawer. Wasn’t till I got stuck somewhere around the knees that I figured it out.” Mitch pursed his lips. “How does that kid stay so dang thin? I pay enough for the meal plan.”

Wendy slumped into the chair opposite her husband. “He’s not coming home like he used to—preoccupied. I think it’s a girlfriend, or—”

“He’ll never make it through college.” Mitch rubbed his forehead. “I should’ve just had him take up a trade.”

Wendy shrugged. “He’s used to having his own way. Perhaps if he fails—”

“Fails with my money!” Mitch glanced at his watch and stood. “I’ll order pizza, and we’ll make it an easy night. Maybe watch a movie or something.”

Wendy’s heart sank as she offered a brave smile. After her husband clumped out of the room, she peered at her daughter. “Time to clean up, honey. Daddy’s going to—”

“Can’t I leave it here—please? It took me so long to fix—after you messed it up.” Gina’s large brown eyes implored with every fiber of her being.

“Well, okay. I guess—”

A large, heavy-set woman bundled into the kitchen. “Lord, where’s that tea? I’m about done-in.”

Wendy’s eyes flashed from her friend to the kitchen door.

“Mitch let me in the front. There’s a ton of mud in your driveway—it’s not safe.” Deirdre plunked down onto a kitchen chair and dropped her head onto her hands. “I can’t take it anymore. Life is pure hell these days.” She peered up at Wendy who stood frozen in the middle of the room. “I’m thinking of ending it all.”

A rumble scoured across the heavens.

Wendy strolled to the window and peered at the dark, threatening sky. She bit her lip and glanced at Deirdre. “I hate to tell you, but tonight’s Mitch’s and my anniversary and—”

Deirdre dragged her limp body off the chair and staggered to a standing position. “I tell you I want to kill myself, and you toss me aside. Sure—I understand. Loving hubby needs you. Priorities.” With a shaky hand, she patted Gina on the head.

Gina glowered.

Lightning flashed, lighting up the descending gloom.

Deirdre shrugged. “Sweet kid.” She started toward the kitchen door, her foot knocking part of the block castle across the floor.

Gina wailed.

Deirdre clasped the door handle and looked back at Wendy, her eyes half-lidded. “You got it all. Lucky woman.”

Mitch’s voice called from the living room. “Hey, honey, you want sausage, pepperoni, or meat-lovers?”

Rain pelted the window.

When the phone rang, Wendy wasn’t the least surprised. In an automatic motion, she pressed the receiver to her ear. “Yes?”

Patrick’s voice whined across two state lines. “Mom, I’m sick. Can you come get me?”

Wendy’s gaze swept from Deirdre—still gripping the door handle—to her sniffling, miserable daughter, to her husband’s frowning face peering through the doorway.

“Mom?”

Wendy didn’t hear anything break, but she felt a snapping deep within. Her gaze darted to a crucifix on the wall. Standing completely motionless, only her eyes widened.

She gripped the phone more tightly. “Patrick, the college has a clinic open twenty-four-seven. Go there and see if they can help. Then call back and let me know.” She pressed the end button.

With a nod, she waved goodbye to Deirdre and watched her friend harrumph her way out the door.

Turning her attention to the block-strewn floor, Wendy pointed at her daughter. “Pick it all up—now—and not a word, or you’ll go straight to bed.” Her gaze swung to her husband.

Mitch started to back away.

“Let’s try something new—the Hawaiian or Taco—surprise me.”

~~~

As ragged clouds drifted across a waxing moon, Mitch wound his arms around his wife in the privacy of their bedroom. He peered through the dim light and grinned. “What got into you this afternoon—I hardly knew you.” He chuckled. “Scared everyone—even me.”

Wendy slid her fingers down her husband’s bare, muscular arm, her eyes radiating a serious glow. “When I looked at the crucifix—I heard a voice inside my head.”

With a startled jerk, Mitch fixed his gaze on his wife. “What did it say?”

Wendy sucked in a deep breath and enunciated each word carefully. “‘I said meek—not weak.’”

Mitch loosened his hold over his wife and swallowed. “Am I in for it now?”

Wendy giggled, leaned forward, and kissed her husband. “My love is strong.”

Grinning, Mitch pulled his wife into a tight embrace. “Lord, have mercy.”

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

The Great Wall

Jian never liked heights, but as the head workman in charge of this section of the Great Wall, he ignored his personal inclinations. Duty ruled his will. He managed seventy slaves in turn. What they did with their wills was of little consequence—as long as they obeyed him, and he lived to see another day.

His gaze roved across the incoming bank of clouds. The wind sent his thin, dark clothes rippling like a banner on a high tower. He sniffed. The scent of rain permeated the air. Biting his lip, he marched along the outer edge of the western bank. A solid wall of earth rose in a sharp incline. Amazing what desperate men could do when enough pressure was applied.

His stomach rumbled as his gaze flickered back to the sky. The sun, obliterated by thick clouds, still offered enough light to see clearly. A fierce gust blasted across the valley nearly tottering the men on the top edge. As the strongest struggled for balance, an old man staggered and fell to his knees.

With a commanding frown, Jian marched over and stared the slave back onto his feet. The old man’s shaking limbs refused the order.

“What’s wrong with you, old one?”

A young man, thin to the point of emaciation with a mop of black hair, stepped forward, swiping a rag from his head and bowing from the waist. “He’s ill. He needs rest or the wind will carry him off.”

Jian rubbed his chin as his gaze swept from the watching assembly to the rising cloud. “A storm is coming. It’ll stop work—for a week maybe.”

The young man nodded. “When we start again, you will have all your workers. Or one less—maybe.”

A glinting smile acknowledged the clear logic. With a quick thrust, he jerked his hand in the air and barked his order. “Clear out before the storm.”

With haste and relieved chattering, the men gathered baskets and tools and began a straggled march to back to camp. The old man, assisted by the young man, began to limp down the incline.

Jian halted the assistant. “What is your name, audacious one?”

The young man froze; his gaze fixed on the ground. “Hung.”

The glint reincarnated into a challenge. “The name means courageous—are you?”

Hung slid a glance to the old man and released his grip. Another man stepped forward and took Hung’s place, helping the ancient along. The two hobbled away.

Jian’s searing gaze narrowed on Hung.

His head bowed, Hung remained calm, like a pond on a still night.

“Speak!”

Hung lifted his face a fraction. “My mother always said—it is not the name that makes the man but the man that makes the name.”

“Slaves are like insects—they live but a brief season.”

Raindrops splattered on Hung’s face, the driving wind hurling its fury against him.

“Insects have no names. And no will of their own.”

Jian crossed his muscled arm over his chest, ignoring the swirling tempest growing in his midst. “Slaves live to obey their masters.”

Hung’s shoulders hunched lower, his head dropped like a battering ram against the wind. His words, driven by the wind, raced like a message from one elemental force to another. “Who do masters obey?”

With a lifted hand, Jian took one enraged step. And slipped. The conquering wind carried him down the mud-slick incline.

Never raising his eyes, Hung plowed through the soaking rain, following the course he had traveled every day for years.

~~~

Rosella tapped her stylus against her lips. The Bhuaci classroom, empty now, except for a cooing pair of turtledoves that perched on the windowsill, echoed the faint sound of chattering children just released from a long day of Alien-Life Studies.

Rosella closed her eyes and laid the stylus on her datapad.

“Stealing a little peace and quiet?” The most handsome Bhuaci this side of the Divide sauntered into the room, twirled the teacher’s chair ninety degrees and leaned in, his gaze not ten centimeters from Rosella’s blinking eyes.

“Not stealing.” She leaned just out of reach. “Just thinking.” Her gaze roved over the male in front of her. “What do you want, Lutein? Here to say goodbye before you head off-world on another intriguing adventure?”

Lutein’s bright eyes dimmed as he slammed a fisted hand against his chest. “I’m staggered! Just stab me in the heart why don’t you?”

Rosella’s eyes widened in mock confusion. “I—stab your heart? I’d much rather cut it out—if I could find it. At least then, it might feed the wildlife and serve some noble purpose.”

Dropping his head to his chest, Lutein’s shoulders drooped in melancholy grief. “I just returned from an intriguing adventure. One I was going to share with you.” His gaze peeked up. “But now—”

With a weary shake of her head, Rosella nodded to the edge of the desk. “Be quick. I have to come up with a scintillating lesson tomorrow, or my students will revolt and feed me to the doves.” She flicked a finger at the cooing specimens of purity and innocence.

Perching on the desk, Lutein rubbed his jaw. “Your mind has taken a dark turn since I left. Now let me see if I can brighten your spirits. Later, I’ll feed you something besides my heart.” He grinned. “Maybe.”

Rosella’s face remained impassive, her hands clasped.

“You see, I observed the newest find—the ones Song calls humans. I toured a beautiful green land where the inhabitants build an enormous wall—to keep invaders out.”

Rosella’s chin jutted forward. “There are many walls, Lutein. Everyone has one.”

“Ay! That’s just what I discovered. You see; I saw another wall, but this one was inside a man, a wall that poverty and injustice could not climb over or break down.”

Rosella’s leaned closer, her eyes widening. “You saw—”

“A wall built—of a man’s will. A wall like none other.”

Rosella stood and stepped near, peering deep into Lutein’s eyes. “Are you the same Bhuaci that left me crying on the beach?”

Lutein stood and bowed his head; his hands hung limply at his side. “I am—and I am not.”

Rosella turned away, covering her face with her hands. “That’s no answer.”

Lutein lifted his head. “You’re right not to trust me. But—” He strode over to the wall map and pointed to a distant star cluster. “I’ve learned that a man who holds his head too high is likely to fall off his feet.”

A sneer curled around Rosella’s lips. “Your head has ever been held high, Lutein. It is one of your greatest charms. And most deceiving lies.”

“So, I have learned.” Grasping Rosella’s hand, he led her back to her chair. “The man with the unbreakable wall kept on his feet by bowing his head.”

“Can you learn to bow your head, Lutein?”

Peering at the star cluster, Lutein’s gaze roamed over a vast distance. “The man with the unbreakable will loved an old man—” He swiveled around and stared at the schoolteacher. “If the will obeys the heart—it holds true—even when it is bowed.”

A smile—like the morning sun—broke over Rosella’s face.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Don’t Miss a Day

Kenny stared down at his sleeping grandson. His hand trembled as he pulled the cover over the boy’s thin shoulders. “You’ll be alright. It’s not a reflection on you. Not about you at all.” Slowly, he leaned over, and his arm shook as his weight descended. He bent low and kissed the child on the cheek. “Bye, my boy. We’ll meet again someday.”

Shuffling into the kitchen, Kenny snapped on a light and a yellow glow brightened a country décor with wood cabinets, hanging herbs, and matching blue and green striped towels. He pulled open the refrigerator door and rummaged about, looking for possibilities.

“Your appetite back, Dad?” A tall man with a swath of black hair—a younger version of his father—stepped to the counter and plopped down on a stool. He rested his head on his hands, his eyes red and strained, pain peeking up from their depths.

“It never left—my stomach just got bewildered for a bit.” Tucking a beer under his arm, Kenny balanced a plate of cold chicken in one hand and squeezed a bag of biscuits in the other. After arranging the food on a napkin, he settled down on a stool across from his son. “Want some?”

The younger man waved the offer away. “So—you sure you want to go through with it?”

Kenny bit into a fried chicken leg and chewed, his gaze roaming the room and stopping on a bright orange clock in the shape of an oversized chicken head. “I remember when your mother gave you that. Cindy hated it—don’t deny it. I told Evelyn that such a monstrosity would only perpetuate the evil mother-in-law myth, but—well—you know your mother.”

A flickering light flared to life as the young man grinned at his dad. “Cindy loves it. A conversation piece that never fails. Gains sympathy ever time.”

Kenny chuckled as he wiped his scraggly chin. A two-day-old beard scratched noisily against the paper leaving white specks on his face. He took a long swig of his beer and shoved the chicken aside. “I’m not going through with anything. That’s kinda the point. I’m letting nature take its course. What will be—will be.” Picking up the biscuit, Kenny waved it absently. “Let it go, Tom. Just let it go.”

Tom’s leg began to bounce as he tapped his fingers together. “Listen, if you won’t take the treatment—at least stick around here awhile. I can help you—”

Slapping his hand on the counter, Kenny snapped. “No! Don’t you see? It wouldn’t work. I’ll fall apart just the same. Slow or fast. What’s the difference? It’s not just about you, my boy.” Raising his shaking hand, he pointed to the doorway leading to his grandson’s room. “Remember Davy? I don’t want his last memory of me being a filthy, decrepit old man hooked up to tubes and wires.” His eyes filled with tears. “Or you either—for that matter.” He shoveled his food onto the napkin and wrapped it into a tight ball. He shoved it toward his son. “I’ll eat later.” Easing off his stool, he headed for the door. “God to take me soon. I’ll not step one foot in His way.”

Tom’s head dropped to his chest, his eyes squeezed tight.

~~~

A bright morning sun sent brilliant dust-speckled beams through the kitchen, revealing a different side to her nature. Cindy waved to her little boy through the window as he boarded a yellow school bus.

He waved back, his mittened hand a smidgen of red on the snow-covered road.

Cindy turned and slid a bowl of hot oatmeal across the counter.

With quick steps, Tom hurried into the room slipping his arms into a heavy winter coat. “Why didn’t you wake me earlier? I’ve got to meet the guys and then—”

Cindy waved her husband toward the door. You’ve got plenty of time. George will have donuts and that horrible fake juice waiting—don’t you worry. It’s what he lives for.”

After a swift peck on his wife’s the cheek, Tom headed out the door.

Cindy shook her head. “Men.”

Tom poked head back through the open doorway. “You’ll keep an eye on Dad? He’ll have to be ready to go by one.”

With a nod, Cindy ushered her husband on his way.

Kenny lumbered into the room and plunked down on the stool. He peered from the hot cereal to Cindy.

After slinging a towel over her shoulder, she grabbed a jar of brown sugar and slid it in his direction.

“Tom off?”

Cindy nodded and started folding yesterday’s laundry. She peered up and watched Kenny slurp his cereal in cautious sips. “You know, Davy will be crushed when he finds you’ve gone.”

Kenny’s fingers clenched around the spoon. He laid it down and stared his daughter-in-law into oblivion. “I got to do what I got to do. Davy don’t need to see me all ragged and—”

Her chin jutting a mile from her face, Cindy gripped the back of a chair. “Yes. He. Does.” She pounded across the room and stood up to the old man, peering into his watery blue eyes. “Listen to me you ragged, wreck of a man. That boy loves you not one bit less for being rough around the edges. And your son is crushed under by your doubt.”

“I don’t doubt him. I just want to spare—”

Cindy sucked in a shuddering breath. “Long past that, Kenny.” She straightened her shoulders. “Listen to me. You’re on the brink of stepping off a cliff. I get that. You’re facing the end of your journey here, and you have the right to decide your treatment—or non-treatment. But you don’t have the right to tell your family to act as if nothing bad is happening—as if this isn’t tearing our hearts out. Because. It is. Ragged or no ragged.” Snatching up the towel, Cindy ran it along her eyes, wiping away tears.

Kenny stared into the air. “I just can’t bear it. It’s bad enough that Evelyn has to stand by and watch. How can I handle an audience?” Kenny laid his head in his clasped hands; his elbows perched on the counter. “God, I just wish it were over.”

Cindy stepped over and wrapped her arms around Kenny’s thin shoulder. She laid her head on his shoulder. “What did Evelyn say when you told her you wouldn’t stay?”

“Called me a coward—but I had that right. Said I could slip into the dark night anyway I want.” Kenny laid one hand on Cindy’s and let his head rest against hers. “That’s how much she loves me. She’ll let me go in peace.”

Cindy straightened up and stepped away. She pointed to the clock on the wall. “You know, at first I hated that thing. But after a while, I didn’t see the ugliness—I just saw the love that Evelyn intended.” She returned to her laundry. “Life is full of ugly. Davy already learned that when my brother, Uncle Ben died. Car accidents are ugly—let me tell you.” Laying a pair of worn jeans aside, she peered over at Kenny. “If you can’t face ugly in this world, you’ll never get to see the beauty beyond it.”

Kenny peered across the room, his gaze resting on the stack of jeans.

“Don’t let Davy miss a day—even if it’s got some ugly in it.”

~~~

A spring breeze blew across the graveyard, sending a shower of white, cherry blossoms wafting through the air.

A nine-year-old boy in a pair of jeans and a plaid shirt stood in front of a shiny monument standing guard over of a fresh mound of earth. He tilted his head to one side.

Tom ambled up and laid his arm on his son’s shoulder. “It’s time to go. You have your chat?”

Davy turned and took his father’s hand. “Yeah. I told him that I like his monument. I think he’ll like it too.”

A quizzical smile quivered on Tom’s lips. “Any reason in particular?”

Davy swung around and started home. “Well, you know. It’s so clean and handsome—like grandpa.”

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings

http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Not Natural

Excerpt from OldEarth NEB Encounter—coming this summer 2018.

Earth @3000 BC

Only flickering flames of a campfire held back the blanket of black night.  An owl hooted in the distance as the crowd huddled close.

Neb’s gaze rolled from the stiff figure of his grandson to the shuffling clansmen before him. “Listen to me, my people. I am Neb, your leader of long years and the father of Serug and the grandfather of Neb, son of Serug. I declare that all gifts bestowed on me shall be given to my grandson and that when it is his time to serve, you will follow him faithfully. I have seen a new land. You will depart from these woodlands and live on the edge of a mighty river. Your greatness cannot be measured. Your hands will reach out, and you will take for yourselves the power to rule all others.”

His gaze returned to his grandson. “I bestow the mighty bear spirit on my grandson, young Neb. And you will worship the god of horns, which Athaliah has made known to you. If you obey—you shall prosper. If you do not, a curse will fall upon you and future generations down to—”

A crash broke through Neb’s cavernous tones. Crackling, a great tree limb broke free and began its weighty decent from the upper regions. It fell through lower boughs crashing and tumbling. A message from the black sky landed in front of the startled crowd.

Neb stood glowering in silence.

Serug stared wide-eyed—nothing of this nature had ever happened before. Always, nature assisted his father. Though he had to admit, the flying locusts of old had dismayed them both. He brushed that thought away as he stood frozen—his mouth hanging open.

Young Neb had no such qualms. The youth strode up to the massive limb and tugged it while the crowd watched, mesmerized. As the smaller Neb hauled the branch to the fire, everyone at once understood. They reached out and began tugging it, thrusting it into the flickering flames. The ancient limb caught quickly, and the fire grew in fierce exuberance.

Old Neb smiled. He had forgotten what it was he was going to say, but it didn’t matter now. The incident only made his point that much clearer.

In a gesture not unlike the one he had used to the People of Seth on the night of their defeat, he motioned for his people to commence the meal. There were no more ceremonies. The future was set. Neb could leave the Earth, and his spirit would live on in the grandson who bore his name. He would never die.

Serug watched his clan set to the feast. His father had undoubtedly prophesied correctly, and he would lead his people to a Great River. But how long before his son felt the need to rule? Old Neb had thrust his father aside when he felt the urge. As he stood staring into the flames, Serug wondered just how much like his grandfather his son would be.

~~~

*Ingoti, from the planet Ingilium are large beings, ranging from six to seven feet tall. They are never seen outside of their bulky techno-organic armor and breather helms, leading some to believe that they are in-fact cyborgs and that the “armor” is built directly into their bodies. 

Ledgerut tugged on Kinrus’ arm, a glowering gleam in his eyes. The two Ingoti scouts slipped away from the primitive scene and made their way back to their hidden vessel.

“Blast that idiotic Gerrog. If he hadn’t played up the whole ‘They’re a threat to planetary security’ thing, we’d never have missed the Collective Symposium. I was looking forward to reconnecting with some old friends.”

Kinrus shrugged good-naturedly. “I’ve got to admit, I can’t see what the Magisterium was worried about. Babes—that’s what these beings are. Babes in the wild.”

The two tromped through the dense woodland in silence until they came to a cliff edge. Tapping a metal plate on the back of his hand, Ledgerut signaled their ship. Soon, a small spacecraft rose from the depths and hovered in space before them.

Kinrus frowned. “Bring it in a little closer. I’m not jumping that distance.”

Ledgerut tapped the plate again and watched the shuttle door slide open about three meters from land. He straightened his shoulders and glanced at his companion. “You’re worse than a Cresta hatchling—so timid!” He stepped to the edge of the cliff and settled into a leaping position. “You know the rules—no footprints leading to the spacecraft—ever.”

“You could bring it in a little closer—higher—and I’ll jump up.”

A tromping, crunching sound thrashed through the foliage and froze the two in their tracks. A tusked wild hog broke through the underbrush, snorting in fury.

With a graceful bound, Ledgerut leaped the distance and landed just inside the doorway. He extended his hand. “Hurry up or you’ll—”

The wild boar charged.

Kinrus skittered forward and tripped.

Before Ledgerut could reach his companion, the bore had ripped into Kinrus’ exposed neck and clamped on, snarling and snorting.

Whipping a Dustbuster from his arm pocket, Ledgerut jumped down and ended the brief struggle.

Kinrus’ arms flailed as Ledgerut shot a stabilizer into his arm and wrapped a thin strip of auto-healing fiber around his neck.

With calm, systemic motions, Ledgerut drew the ship closer and heaved his mate on board. When they were both settled in comfortable seats, Kinrus’ half closed eyes rolled over to his companion.

“Maybe I was a little hasty.”

Ledgerut scanned the directional console on the chair. “How’s that?”

“Perhaps they aren’t such babes after all.”

Ledgerut grunted. “So they deal with fierce animals. So what? No species survive without a few natural trials.”

Kinrus groaned as he turned his head to stare straight at Ledgerut, his eyes red and haunted. “But they’re not natural. That creature’s eyes glowed with evil—like the human.”

“You mean the old man—the one called Neb?”

“No, the child—the one who’ll take his place.”

Ledgerut’s hand hovered over the panel. He shivered.

Kinrus nodded. “Yeah. Me too.”

 

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

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

Historical Fiction

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

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

You Don’t Look Dead To Me

Jack marched over the threshold, slammed the front door with a backward kick, and slapped his phone on the counter. With a groan, he fell onto the couch and buried his face in his hands. Stupid manager! Idiot clerk. How was I supposed to know the kid was lying? Three grand—gone—on my watch. Blast!

Rolling onto the couch, Jack stared at the ceiling and considered his existence. What’s the point? I’ve tried so hard. No breaks. There’s always someone ready to mess with your mind—or break your heart. The picture of his ex-wife embracing his best friend floated before his eyes. He squeezed his eyes shut.

A revolving red siren blared by his window and drowned in the distant cityscape. With a strangled cry, he sat up, his eyes darting around the room like a trapped animal. “I’ve got to get out of here.” He started forward. A magazine caught on his sleeve and flipped to the floor, exposing a full-page, glossy ad. Frowning, Jack retrieved the magazine and stared wide-eyed at his salvation.

Two days later, Jack squatted before a modest fire in an immodestly large national forest. His chin sported a rough beard, and his wrinkled shirt, torn pants, and mud-smeared boots proclaimed their freedom from the usual constraints of formal living. He bit his lip, his red eyes peering intently at the stripped twig bearing his dinner, which he balanced over the flickering flames. Three blackened cinders and an open package of surviving hot dogs bore testimony to his recent culinary adventures.

After achieving the perfect level of brown with only a hint of carbon coating, Jack pulled a white bun out of his portable kitchen sack and sat cross-legged for the first meal of the day. It took three more such examples to settle his stomach into a mere grumble. He rummaged through his bag, grabbed a bag of corn chips, and then snapped open a beer. With a satisfied sigh, he plunked down on the picnic bench in front of his one-man tent and smiled.

A pink and orange sunset melted into the horizon across the lake. “God, this place is beautiful.” He rubbed his chin. “I may never go back. Why should I?” The food, the beer, and assorted mental strains whispered together in conspiratorial tones. Before Jack knew what hit him, he fell into a deep sleep before his dying fire.

The next morning after a quick swim in the lake, a change of clothes, and three granola bars, he rummaged through the glove compartment of his car and found his jackknife. Scuffling through many years’ accumulations of dead leaves, Jack found a small branch with a quirky knot. He snapped off a section, perched himself on his bench, and commenced to whittling.

The sun sailed over the sky. Jack peered at his food bag. Just as he reached for the trail mix, he paused at the sound of angry voices.

A man and a woman clumped down the trail, their hands flailing and their tempers flaring. Jack retreated to his bench and his half-carved bird.

“It’s your fault! You’re the one who said that it’d only take an hour. Now we’ll be late, and Mom will complain, and Dad will hate you!”

“Your dad already hates me. Being late hardly changes—”

The two pair of eyes fastened on Jack. The woman blushed as she came to a complete stop. “Oh, sorry. Didn’t know we were trespassing. Kinda got lost.” She squeezed her mate’s arm like a lifeline.

Jack stood and shrugged. “No problem. The road’s about half a mile that-a-way.” He jerked his thumb to the right.

The man stepped forward, one hand extended. “Thanks. Name’s Jansen—this is Colleen. We’re getting married next week.”

Jack swallowed.

Colleen’s eyes rounded into glowing orbs as she focused on the food sack. “You have any water by chance? I’m nearly dead. Jan forgot to pack the water bottles and then led me on this forsaken adventure—”

“Hey! Not fair. Who forgot to bring the snacks—huh? You—”

Shaking his head, Jack retreated to his car, pulled two water bottles from the back seat and then snatched a couple candy bars from his food bag. He tossed them over. “Here. You’ll live long enough to get married, okay?” His eyes shifted to the right.

Jansen nodded appreciatively and tugged Colleen aside. “Thanks! You’re a lifesaver.” He checked his watch. “We’ll still make it if we hurry. Come on.”

Jack watched the couple bounce down the road, gulping water and tearing into the snack food. Just as he settled back to his bench, he heard a squawk. A blue jay hobbled into view, a bright orange twine wrapped tight around his leg.

Five minutes, three pecks, and innumerable protesting squawks later, the bird flew free into a nearby pine tree.

Shading his eyes from the sun’s glare, Jack considered the angry bird. “You might try a little gratitude, you—”

A chuckle turned Jack to the left. The oldest man in creation ambled toward him. “Oh, they’ve no sense of gratitude. Not a blue jay. They like to complain. No matter what happens, they gotta squawk about it. It’s their nature, you know, like some people—bitter to the very end.”

Jack cleared his throat, his eyes shifted to his limp food bag. “You need something?”

The old man settled on the edge of Jack’s bench. “Naw. Just a second to catch my breath. This used to be my spot. I’d come up here to get away from things and consider my next steps.” His aged, lined face wrinkled into a wreath of smiles.

Heaving a deep breath, Jack plunked down on the other side of the bench, his hands resting on the knife and the half-carved figure. “I wish I could. No next steps for me. Just retreat.”

The old man surveyed the sky. “Yep. I done that too. It’s a good move—while it lasts. But you can’t retreat forever. You got to keep moving or lay down and die.” With a tilt of his head, his gaze swiveled over to Jack. “You don’t look dead to me.”

Tears filled Jack’s eyes. Snatching up the knife and figure, he set to work.

As he rubbed his beardless chin, the old man surveyed the distant hills. “It was a nice thing you done—helping out that lost couple and freeing that ornery bird. That’s how it often works out. Can’t help yourself, but you can help someone. Makes life worth living.”

Jack’s hands froze. He tried to blink away his blurry vision.

The old man stood and stretched. “Well, this isn’t my place anymore. I gotta move on, too. But stay and enjoy—till you’re ready. You can always come back.”

When Jack dared to look up, a breeze rustled the leaves of the trees and rumpled his hair. No old man. No couple. Even the bird was gone. His stomach growled. His eyes flickered from the depleted food bag to the remains of last night’s charred feast.

He picked up the knife and the wooden figure and stared into the horizon.

Four hours later, Jack steered his car down the road. A roughly carved bird sat perched on the dashboard, its gaze pointed straight ahead.

~~~

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 Minehttp://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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

Edge of Life

Excerpt from Ishtar’s Redemption—Trial by Fire

Oldearth @3000 BC

The sun rose hazily into the sky. Clouds swirled with the red glow of an angry firmament that bespoke of troubles in the heavens. A sharp breeze with sudden, intermittent fierce gusts, tussled the pine trees as they groaned in warning. The ground, hard as a rock, made Ishtar’s toes bleed.

He looked down at his torn skin and clothes with neither fear nor pain. His clothes rippled as mere rags of their former selves. Their tattered remnants hung loosely about him as if they, too, might sail off into the wild wind. His long hair blew over his face, obscuring his vision. The howling wind through the heavy pine boughs sent a thrill through his body. It had been long since he had eaten anything sustaining, though he would stop at intervals to sip at a stream before he passed over.

In shock, he had moved like a man in a dream. The wild beasts howled in the dark, starless nights, and he simply walked or sat as one awaiting the comforting embrace of death. Yet death did not come. Even pain did not come. Sorrow did not fill his heart as he thought it would. He felt nothing, and he cared for nothing. He wondered if he had, in fact, become nothing. Was he still a man or had his shadow engulfed his very being?

Time seemed to slow as he paced out his measured steps. He slipped on an incline and instinctively grabbed hold of a branch to steady his balance. He climbed for time uncounted. Finally, the fog-ridden landscape cleared, and to his utter amazement, he looked out at an enormous expanse which lay before him. After a few entranced moments, he peered at his torn feet and realized with the first sensation of fear that he was standing with his toes pointing over a mighty cliff. If he were to take one more step, he would be over the edge and fall to his death. He blinked and stared hard at the view that presented itself to him.

There were mountains in the distance, which dwarfed the hills he had already ascended. Purples, blues, and pinks vied with one another to create a rainbow landscape. It was breathtakingly beautiful. In all his travels, he had never seen anything so magnificent.

Suddenly, he became aware of tears coursing down his cheeks. His legs hurt, and his feet bled more freely. He curled his toes around the rocky ledge.

Looking up, he could see where the sky and the mountains met. Birds swirled about in the heights. They tipped like leaves that swirl in a storm, yet they seemed to be enjoying their flight as they crisscrossed one another in innocent delight.

Ishtar gently brushed the hair from his eyes. He stared up, turning his gaze from the depths that beckoned to him. The birds danced for him alone, and he wondered for an uncounted time if his life had any meaning. Suddenly, and with incredible clarity, he could see a vision of his lost servant, Pele, swaying before him as if she were able to soar like the birds but had stopped momentarily to gaze upon his troubled figure. She did not speak, but he sensed she had said something. A faint message carried through the rough voices of the harsh wind.

“You live, Ishtar. Begin again.”

Ishtar’s eyes widened at the message as well as at the messenger. Begin again? How could he live again among decent men? He was an exile, an outcast forever. He was no longer a man. He was twice cursed. How many lives could a single man enjoy? Was redemption possible after such a fall?

The birds faded into the horizon even as his vision of Pele paled into nothingness. Yet his memory replayed her words in all their fullness. He stared at the now blue and white sky. His hand rose to his face; he wiped away fresh tears and took one step backward.

~~~

Bhuaci transmission from Oldearth to planet Helm

Dear Cadenza,

I’m sorry.

What else can I say? You know my life and fortune as well as any Bhuaci this side of the Divide, but you must believe me when I tell you—I have changed. Being exiled on this primitive planet has taught me to value our world like nothing else ever could. Humans are warlike and ferocious, but they have subtle sensibilities, ones never guessed by the Regent of Song, or she would never have sent me here. Little did she know what a favor she bestowed upon my poor, pathetic, meaningless life.

For uncounted solar cycles, I have followed the trials of a youth named Ishtar. His father—a monster beyond my powers of description—could not destroy his soul. The boy—a man now—has grown into a being endowed with true spirit. He almost took his life, as I had wished to take my own so many times. But he stepped back from doom. As I hope I shall, too, someday.

Here is a song—to remember me. My body grows faint, and I will never return to Helm. But I do not fear the future—for I see now—there has always been a life of meaning just beyond my sight. Joy may be mine in the morning.

Cliff-edge—knife-edge,

I stand upon a shore—facing sunset’s door.

Never the same as yesterday,

Straining for tomorrow.

Living on a promise,

Someone else must borrow.

I never paid my way,

Or earned my daily wage.

Life’s bounty freely offered,

Freely turned away.

Useless, pointless, heartless

Barren, broken land.

But

Death turned my hand,

Set me firmly on the sand.

To ponder whose life I live,

And what I’m prepared to give.

Now exiled in a world of strife,

I found my way at last.

Live a chosen life,

Step beyond my past.

Cliff-edge—Knife-edge

I stand upon a shore

Forgive me—love,

For loving, I will be.

Facing sunset forever,

Living by the sea.

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 Minehttp://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

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

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

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

Inspirational Non-Fiction

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