An exciting new collection of about visually impaired people by visually impaired authors. My story “The Glasses” is included.
Doubt in Eden
Being sixty-seven and a widow is a one-way ticket to loneliness.
Lorna Scott experienced this reality after her husband, Randy, passed away. While he was alive, she’d been half of a couple and part of a close-knit social unit, but as weeks became months, she’d morphed into a fifth wheel. Friends no longer knew how to communicate with her, enhancing her isolation. Then, after an act of spontaneity, she thought she’d found love again, but her life transformed into a terrifying nightmare.
Behind Her Name
Pain from a beating ebbs in days, but emotional abuse lingers a lifetime.
In a few short years, Sage Bush becomes a best-selling author, traveled the world, and built the home she’d dreamed of owning all her life. But in one moment at a book signing event, three teenagers unknowingly sent her world on a one-way collision course. Physical and emotional wounds from an abusive parent and the bullying she’d suffered in school she’d safely hidden in a vault somewhere in her subconscious broke loose, threatening her life as she knew it until one of her worst teenage tormentors helped her find healing.
Cold bitterer than a Rocky Mountain blizzard swept through Sage and her innards turned into a block of ice. She glanced in the direction the voice came and relief gushed through her, leaving her weak and unsteady. They didn’t know, they’d used her pen name. That life died years ago.
Then she saw them. Three junior high school girls huddled together, giggling, watching her, until they noticed they’d drawn her attention. Their faces flushed and they turned away. The cold in Sage’s gut returned. It couldn’t be happening again.
Someone placed a book in front of her, and Sage looked up, pasting a smile on her face. “Sorry, I got distracted.”
A lady in a tailored red suit returned the smile. “I’m Emily.”
With a stroke of her pen, Sage signed the book and handed it back. “Thank you, Emily. Enjoy.”
A line of eight or ten people stretched out of the bookstore and into the mall. Sage accepted a book from the next person in line.
It came again. Her name spoken in hushed tones between giggles the same way Sharon and her friends had whispered it years ago. What was she thinking to come home and expect the past to stay in the past? Her hand trembled, making her signature unreadable. She set the book aside and reached for new one from the pile beside her. “I’m sorry, I’ll give you another.” As the lady strolled back into the mall still looking at the signed page in her book, Sage closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Get hold of yourself. You’re behaving like you’re still a school girl.
More people stopped at the book signing table. All wanting signatures. Some asking about sequels, others wondering when her next book would be available. The tension fell away. Sage loved this part of being a writer. It gave her readers an opportunity to meet the person behind a story, and her, a chance to see the people who made her career possible. She smiled at the next person in line. A woman wearing black framed glasses and a navy suit. Looks like a librarian.
A movement to her right caught her attention. Those girls. She caught her breath, wishing she could disappear. They came closer. The one with long blonde hair took a book off the pile and thumbed through it, then handed it to the shortest of the three. “No, you do it.”
It’s covered with flees flashed through Sage’s mind and the girl’s features morphed into a face from the past. Sharon’s face. Sage blinked, refocusing. This had to be a nightmare, that life ended years ago. Still, the girls were acting as if her book had leprosy the same way her classmates had done. Except in those days the chosen word was flees. She swallowed to relieve the growing lump in her throat.
Another customer set a book in front of her. Sage switched to auto pilot. Luckily, she’d done enough book signings to answer questions without thinking. The lineup lengthened and the giggling escalated. Sage reached for her water bottle and took a long drink.
A man in faded blue jeans and a white western shirt laid an opened book in front of her. “I’ve read all your books, and you’ve earned the title as my favorite author.”
Soothed by his gentle voice, Sage looked up. Warm green eyes met hers. An unruly lock of brown hair fell over his forehead and a smile touched his lips. Something about him tugged at her, as if she’d seen him before. But now wasn’t the time to ponder. She moved his book closer. Thank you for brightening my day. Sage Bush, she wrote and handed it back.
He read what she’d written, then smiled. “I’ll treasure this one.”
Warmed, Sage looked him in the eye then glanced at the line of customers. Her fans. Even after so many book signings, she struggled to believe her popularity. She took a deep breath. They were all her friends, even if she didn’t know their names. Without them, she’d be teaching what she loved to do. Ten people filed past, chatting as she signed. When the line ended, Sage leaned back in her chair. The breather felt good. She glanced around for Lynn Holden, her agent, who had accompanied her on this trip. Where could she have gotten to?
Sage Bush. Tittering. Giggling.
In the bustle of customers, Sage had forgotten about the girls. The student with Sharon’s face. She slumped forward, burying her face in her hands, letting her long sandy hair fall forward. When she couldn’t see, it didn’t hurt as much.
The chair beside her moved, and Lynn plopped down. “Is something wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I wish I had,” Sage said, keeping her face hid behind her hair.
A book slid across the table, startling her. She looked up, and the students stood in front of her. A shiver started in her feet and spread up to her face. Her heart pounded and her voice refused to work. They were going to make a scene and s’;poil everything she’d worked so hard to accomplish. If only the floor would open up and swallow her.
“Hey, are you okay?” Lynn shook Sage’s shoulder. “You have a customer.”
Automatically, Sage opened the book and signed it. “Sorry, a bad headache just struck.”
“That’s okay,” the tallest of the girls said, then giggled. “We’ve waited around all afternoon because we were scared to ask you to sign one for us.”
Sage’s stiff shoulders wilted. It had been a nightmare. Only this time she’d been awake. Pleasure transformed her lips into a smile. “There are three of you and you are only buying one book?”
The blonde girl, the one who she’d seen change into Sharon played with her watch strap. “We had to pool our money to buy one.”
“No you don’t.” Sage took two more from the pile beside her. “Now, you’ll each have your own.” She opened the covers and wrote, Never be afraid to ask. Sage Bush. Then she reached for the one she’d already signed and wrote the same note in it.
The girls left, still giggling, hugging their books.
“That was nice,” Lynn said. “What brought it on?”
Only a few customers mulled about the bookstore, so Sage stood and stretched the kinks out of her back. “It’s a long story, and I don’t want to go there.”
Lynn rearranged the books on Sage’s table. “Maybe not, but those girls sure pushed your buttons.”
“I told you I don’t want to go there.”
A nearby customer turned in their direction, and Sage lowered her voice. “We’ve been good friends this long because we don’t pry into each other’s business, so let’s keep it that way.”
Beyond the Purple Sky
To follow his heart, Zerubbabel must deny his own people and his God.
Zerubbabel grew up with strangers in a stranger land. “Someday,” his Babylonian tutor told him, “you’ll be chief advisor to King Belshazzar.”
But Yahweh, the God of the Jews, had other plans for him. Plans that forbid him the love of his life. Plans that lead him through a maze of political intrigue, to survive a kingdom’s collapse. Plans that stretch his wisdom and abilities until he questions his own identity. Then he’s commanded to lead the Jews out of Babylonia, across an angry desert, to the land of their forefathers. A land that vomited out his ancestors because of their disobedience to Yahweh. From the rubble left behind, a temple must arise. https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B0875PD2XP
Babylon 562 BC
Zerubbabel pulled in a shallow breath and his parched throat throbbed. He leaned against the deck rail and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. It did little to deaden his discomfort. He glanced at the fields beyond the Euphrates River bank. Brown stalks protruded from darker brown fields. Dust hovered above the ground as if it was too hot to settle upon.
His thoughts returned to alleviating his own irritation. He could return to the awnings on the other end of the barge, but that comfort came with a price. Belshazzar was there, and Zerubbabel had already heard enough of his musings about the day he would become the King of Babylon. It wasn’t that he begrudged Belshazzar’s inheritance for he understood the reality of things. It was simply boring listening to the same ranting day in and day out.
The ship turned slightly, and a sliver of a shadow stretched across the deck behind King Nebuchadnezzar’s figurehead. Zerubbabel strode to the thin, dark streak and positioned himself, so the shade covered a portion of his face. It wasn’t much, but desperation knew no boundaries.
With the minute relief, his thoughts returned to Borisippa. He’d stumbled across a scroll written by a man his people considered a prophet. The little he’d read before Nintu made him return to studying Babylonian history intrigued him and his spirit burned. Next time he went home to visit his family, he’d talk to Abba about it.
Water splashed on his forehead. He jumped out of the shadow and backed up to the railing. Another spray landed on the planks where he’d been standing. The rower’s oars. He heaved a sigh, then spread the wetness through his hair and down his neck. For a few moments, he watched the oars keep perfect time to a drum beat. The undisturbed waves in front of the ship caught his attention as they rose and fell in a hypnotic rhythm. Then, the ship charged through them, creating a roaring, frothy whirlpool.
Battle strategies he’d seen drawn on tablets in the palace came to mind, and the river became his imaginary battlefield. The giant eddies the ship created when it sailed into the waves became his foreign invader. The ship’s hull he made his own army and it fought off the invasion, leaving the enemy subdued and weak. His chest expanded, and he threw back his shoulders. “Who can stand against the Mighty Zerubbabel? Only a fool would attempt it.”
Heat beyond the sweltering air swept up his neck to his face. He glanced around. Seeing no one, he returned to his imaginary battle, but before he had time to plot another move, a familiar gold sceptre arose from the turbulence. On its crown, a lion poised and ready to pounce stared at him. He backed away. “What do you want from me?” The claw-shaped birthmark on his temple itched, and he scratched it while glaring at the sceptre.
It wavered, then sunk as fast as it appeared.
He stared at the spot where it vanished. “You’re a coward. You run like a dog.”
The atmosphere electrified the way it did prior to a storm over the marshlands. Zerubbabel shivered. His vision blurred, and the ship rocked beneath him in a way he’d never noticed before. He closed his eyes to shut out the reeling world, and when he opened them, he looked down at his body clinging to the railing.
A silent scream tore from his lips. He lunged and kicked, but an invisible force pulled him farther away. South and west. The endless sand hills and green-framed Babylonian rivers gave way to lush valleys and tree-covered mountains. A warm breeze smelling of flowers pushed against his face. If he were dead, he must be on his way to paradise. But he wasn’t dead, so he must be dreaming, but he couldn’t be dreaming because he was wide awake.
He breathed in the sweet-smelling air, savoring it. Thoughts of the hanging gardens in King Nebuchadnezzar’s northern palace crept into his mind, and terror swept through him. “Take me back. I’m a ward of King Nebuchadnezzar, and he’ll kill you for this.”
As if in reply, the force picked up speed, hurling him forward. Purple mountains loomed, then as he drew closer, they became gray crags streaked with orange. And he was about to crash into them. His breathing stopped, and he threw his arms over his head. The force tightened around him, shooting him upward, as if he were an unwanted bone the mighty Leviathan tossed away. He jerked to a stop then plummeted. So did his stomach, and his head whirled. Once he was able, he looked down. A sparkling, clear lake reflected the bright blue sky. If only he could have a drink, but the force pushed him south, above a narrow river winding among low hanging shrubs and sandy fords until it ended in a white-framed sea.
From there, he veered west, over rocky hills and deep valleys. In the distance, a golden temple stood atop a rugged cliff, and as he drew nearer, his spirit burned. “This is the temple in Jerusalem my parents spoke about,” he yelled to his invisible captor. “Why have you brought me here? Why is it still standing? King Nebuchadnezzar smashed it, then burned what he couldn’t break.”
The force weakened.
Zerubbabel clenched his fists. “Why are you retreating? Come back and answer me.”
The force remained silent.
He considered the strange temple. Compared to the Esagila and the other ziggurats of Babylonia, its size and construction paled, but−
A small cloud covering the sun slid away, and sunbeams streamed onto the temple, sending dazzling lights throughout the heavens.
Zerubbabel gasped. The temple was made of gold. Not gold-colored bricks like the ziggurats in Babylonia, but real gold. His gaze traveled up the two gigantic pillars standing on either side of the front porch to their pomegranate crowns. Jachin and Boaz.
The names came out of nowhere. They were foreign to him, yet he knew with certainty, he’d addressed them correctly.
The force thrust him forward, between the pillars and through an open door. Blackness surrounded him until his eyes adjusted to the lesser light. A candle-lit court appeared beneath him, and he took a deep breath savoring the softly spiced air.
Power filled the room as if King Nebuchadnezzar had entered it, only much stronger. It swirled around him, stirring shameful memories he’d tucked away, embarrassing him a hundred times more than it would if Belshazzar’s sister, Belshalti-Nanner, caught him naked.
He searched for a place to hide until his mortification passed but the force refused to release him. Ten gold lamps stood like sentinels around the room. In the center, a small golden table held twelve loaves. The tantalizing aroma of freshly baked bread wafted to his nostrils, reminding him how far he was from home, and his shame ebbed.
He floated forward toward a purple curtain with gold cherubim embroidered on it, hanging at the far end of the room. Three or four strides away from it, paralyzing fear swept through him. He swung his absent arms. “I’ve had enough. Just take me back.”
The invisible captor lowered him to the floor and the horns of a bronze altar seized his attention. Again, angry thoughts he’d entertained, and lies he’d told, stalked his mind like a half-starved jackal. His eyes stung. “Stop it! What kind of a god are you?”
Silence roared, and the force holding him captive relinquished its grip. He floated back outside, where thousands of people hunched over beneath huge bundles streamed toward him, pointing to the temple and then to him.
He fixed his sight on an old man leading the group. “What do you want from me?”
The multitude pointed to the temple once again, then faded into the grassy hills. When the last person disappeared, the force thrust him back toward the white-edged sea, over the mountains and deserts to King Nebuchadnezzar’s ship. His body, still clinging to the railing, jerked as he slid back into it. He glanced around. Seeing no one, he looked down at his liquid battlefield. “What just happened?”
He searched for the scepter, but it remained illusive.
“Forget it. I don’t need you anyway.”
Thoughts of all those people streaming toward him returned, and he threw his clenched fists into the air. “Someday I will lead my own army. Mighty and undefeated.”
Zerubbabel spun around, and his head dropped. “Nintu. I made the waves into a battlefield and fought the Assyrians.”
“I see.” Nintu’s eyes bore into him in the same manner they did when looking for deception. “With such an outburst, I assume you won.”
The feeling of being caught stealing an extra fig cake swept through Zerubbabel and he rubbed his birthmark as if it should take the blame. “I saw it again.”
The tutor leaned against the railing. “I thought so. But something was different this time, wasn’t it?”
“How do you know?”
Nintu gave a hearty laugh. “Your face is your worst enemy. Now tell me everything.”
“I went somewhere, I think.”
“What do you mean, you think? You either did or you didn’t.”
“I did.” Zerubbabel gripped the ship railing until the ends of his fingers whitened. “Or at least, I think I did.”
Nintu’s lips narrowed into a thin line. “Tell me from the beginning, but keep in mind Mammitu is the only one who gives visions. If you’ve had one, she is about to engrave your name onto the Tablets of Destiny.”
Zerubbabel rolled his eyes. “That’s impossible. I belong to The People of the Book. The king chose me to be educated as Belshazzar’s aide. That’s where my destiny lies.”
A faraway look crept into Nintu’s eyes. “I do not believe that will happen. Belshazzar will be king someday, but I think your destiny lies elsewhere.”
Imaginary spiders crawled up Zerubbabel’s back. He stared in disbelief at his tutor. “Who told you such a thing?”
Nintu rubbed his clean-shaven chin. “Logic.” He smiled as if glad to be back in his own element. “King Nebuchadnezzar is terminally ill and will not live much longer. His son Evil-Merdoch has little interest in the welfare of the Empire, and the Babylonian people will not accept him as their king.”
“How can they not accept him? He is the rightful heir.”
“They have their ways.”
The sound of sandals scuffing across the wooden planks approached, and Zerubbabel looked in the direction the sound came from, grateful for the interruption. “Hello, Belshazzar.”
Belshazzar leaned over the rail in companionable silence. “What are you hiding from me?” he demanded, when the conversation did not resume.
“Zerubbabel saw the scepter again, and we were discussing it.”
Belshazzar shoved away from the rail and glared at Nintu. His brown eyes squinted. “That again?” He turned to Zerubbabel. “You’re just making it up. I’m the second Prince of Babylon, and not even you can take that away from me.” He shook his fist in Zerubbabel’s face.
Zerubbabel stepped away. Reasoning never worked, it just made the prince angrier.
Nintu seized Belshazzar’s arm and pinned it to his side. “Stop it! No one is challenging your position.”
Belshazzar’s lower lip trembled. “That’s not how it sounds to me.”
Zerubbabel inhaled slowly and looked away. Here we go again.
Nintu swallowed, then met Belshazzar’s gaze. “I believe the gods are speaking to Zerubbabel, but your fears of him challenging your position are groundless. Only you, Evil- Merdoch, and your sister, Belshalti-Nanner, have King Nebuchadnezzar’s royal blood flowing through your veins.”
Belshazzar looked unconvinced. “I know that. But how does it stand against something like Zerubbabel’s visions?”
“By paying no attention to them. They have nothing to do with you. All Zerubbabel has seen is a lion-crowned scepter, and until something else happens, we leave well enough alone.”
Zerubbabel caught his breath and looked away. He hadn’t really lied to Nintu, but he hadn’t told him everything either.
His tutor’s iron fingers grasped his arm, forcing him to turn around. “You are hiding something. What haven’t you told me?”
Zerubbabel squirmed. “Nothing.”
“You lie. And it insults me.”
Zerubbabel forced himself to look the older man in the eye. “I don’t mean to. I just need time to sort out what I saw.”
“Perhaps I can help,” Nintu suggested, his voice softening.
“I don’t think anyone can.”
“Let me be the judge.”
“But it doesn’t make sense.” Zerubbabel laced his fingers and pressed until his knuckles cracked. “These visions make me feel like a fool.”
“That’s unreasonable. I would never consider you such.”
Zerubbabel studied his mentor’s pointed face. He looked into the deep wells of Nintu’s eyes, then shared his experience. When he came to the part about the temple and those people calling his name, his spirit burned again.
Belshazzar shot him a hateful look. “The gods are teasing us! They’re prophesying the impossible.”
Nintu’s face mirrored the young prince’s pain, but at the same time, it revealed his stoic appreciation of fate’s unpredictability. He gripped Belshazzar’s slight shoulders, forcing eye contact. “Why try to comprehend what is still beyond our understanding?”
“Well, it’s not beyond mine, and I can.” Belshazzar pushed Nintu’s hands from his shoulders. “If what Zerubbabel says is true, some god is promising him a nation, and that’s impossible.”
Nintu closed his eyes. What could he tell the prince to comfort him when the mysticism surrounding the Hebrew youth baffled him as well?
He walked away from the boys and reclined on a gold couch beneath an awning of the same color. Folding his hands behind his balding head, his thoughts wandered back to when Zerubbabel first arrived at the palace. He belonged to The People of the Book. There was nothing strange about that. Nintu had instructed many boys from that sect over the years, and they were all extremely intelligent—but not like this one. He studied the boy’s face. A finely-chiseled nose separated his eyes above well-defined cheekbones. Both were characteristic of his race. He’s a direct descendant in the Davidic lineage and his father is The Prince of the Captivity, which he will be one day.
Nintu shook his head. No, he wouldn’t think it out, but he was beginning to understand why Belshazzar feared him. “Yes,” he whispered. “Mammitu has chosen this one.”
Startled, he jerked his head in the direction of the intruder’s voice. Seeing the fearful expression on Belshazzar’s face, he swung his legs off the couch and stood. “You are King Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, and are already being prepared to someday govern Babylonia. However, I think young Zerubbabel is also destined to greatness.”
Belshazzar’s eyes widened, and his jaws twitched. Then he found his voice. “No! He can’t be. There’s only one king in the world, and someday, it’s going to be me.”
A shiver coursed through Nintu. He forced his mind beyond the physical reaction and willed his voice steady. “There is no point to this conversation. The world is full of twists and turns, things beyond our understanding.”
“You are bypassing the issue because he scares you too. But I refuse to let things like Zerubbabel’s silly visions challenge my position.” He threw his shoulders back and met his tutor’s gaze. “I’m going to keep Babylon the axis of the world, just like my grandfather has.”
Nintu forced a smile he didn’t feel. The boy needed his encouragement. There had to be something he could say to make the young prince feel better. Then it came. “I’m sure you will.” He kept his voice steadier than he felt. “You are strong-willed enough to stand against the worthiest opponent, and a direct descendent of the priests and kings of Babylon. All you need is to believe it and stop throwing these useless temper tantrums.”
Seeing Belshazzar’s face relax, he smiled. It had worked, and he heaved a sigh of relief. “There is no reason for you to keep fretting about Zerubbabel’s visions somehow affecting your life.”
“He thinks they will.”
Nintu drew his brows together and turned to his Jewish charge. “Is that true?”
Zerubbabel shrugged. “I don’t think they have anything to do with Belshazzar, but sometimes they scare me and other times they excite me.”
Nintu waited for an explanation. When none came, he asked, “What do you mean?”
“There are instances when I think seeing the sceptre is nothing more than a dream, but other times, it is so real I want to grab it, then today, when you heard me, it felt like someone else was using my mouth to talk.”
Belshazzar glared at Nintu. “See?”
Nintu took a deep breath to dislodge his uneasiness. “How old are you boys?”
“That’s right. Only twelve. Much too young to be thinking on such matters. And if you keep allowing these petty resentments to come between you, they’ll destroy your friendship.”