Promoting Al Past
Al Past became an author after a life as a husband and father, a musician, a Naval officer, and a professor of English for 30 years. His first book is still selling: a collection of arrangements of baroque masterpieces for two treble clef instruments (Charles Colin Publications). He has also collaborated with author Barry Yelton, providing the photographs to accompany Mr. Yelton's lovely poetry in On Wings of Gentle Power(Strider Nolan Media).
After concluding his teaching career, he wrote the first volume of the popular Distant Cousin series, the highly readable and original tale of Ana Darcy, the young woman who returned to Earth. Readers who fell in love with Ana have enjoyed following her adventures through the years in the four companion volumes to date, in order: Distant Cousin: Repatriation, Distant Cousin: Reincarnation, Distant Cousin: Regeneration, and Distant Cousin: Recirculation.
Who would be so crazy as to believe a young girl who warned of an imminent planetary disaster, particularly if she claimed to be from another planet? She's kicked out of an observatory, but the United States government has good reason to believe her. They stop at nothing to chase her through west Texas while she struggles desperately to find a way for her message to be taken seriously. But even if she succeeds, what will happen to her once she's marooned on our strange, new planet? How will she make a life for herself? Can she risk looking for love?
It was cold and dark in the bottom of the canyon, but the crisp, dry air was wonderfully exhilarating. Far overhead, the sky was lightening on one side...that had to be east. She recalled the image of her map: west Texas, U.S.A., a canyon below the University of Texas McDonald Observatory, or so she hoped.
She climbed carefully upwards, toward the dawn. Rocks and pebbles clattered lightly under her feet. In the gathering light she could make out all kinds of odd plants, some with formidable thorns. Out of curiosity, she touched a cactus and got pricked by a sharp spine.
She had wondered what the air might smell like. It was bracing: crisp and light and clean, with subtle notes of some cool, spicy fragrance, probably from a plant, but she had no idea which one or ones. Eventually she reached the top of the canyon to discover a hard, smooth surface along the crest, extending out of sight around curves both above and below her. A highway, she realized. And there! There was the observatory: two silver domes on two peaks a good ways off, glinting softly in the first light. That’s what I want! she thought. Sucking her prickled finger in the dawn stillness, she began walking up the road toward the observatory.
After rounding two or three curves it had grown light enough to see to the horizon. The view was stupendous. Hills and mountains receded into the distance, in a silence that could almost be heard. The curvature of the earth was visible, impossibly far away. A contrail marked the sky high overhead, like a silver scratch. Had she made one herself earlier? She had no idea.
She had landed in the edge of a range of rugged desert mountains, in one of many canyons that opened out to a giant plain in front of her. In the distance on the far side of the plain were more, but lower, hills and mountains. She could now see that the canyon she had clambered out of was full of huge boulders at the bottom. There were small trees here and there, and more clumps of low trees in adjacent canyons. She'd been expecting a denser forest, but perhaps this area was too dry to support one. There seemed to be only one highway across the plain. Where it disappeared among the hills on the horizon, a handful of lights twinkled dimly. If that was a town, it was the only one around for as far as she could see.
Walking in the fresh, chill air was exhilarating. Her shoes made a crunching sound in the gravel just off the pavement, but progress was easier, more quiet, and faster on the pavement itself. The cool, gentle breeze smelled wonderful.
After rounding two curves, she became aware of a sound down the highway behind her. At first a faint sigh, it grew louder, and she had almost decided to jump down into the canyon when two lights appeared. It was an automobile! In no time at all it passed her, and then red lights brightened on the back of it. It stopped, two white lights came on, and it slowly rolled back to where she stood. A glass panel slid down. She had almost decided to run for the canyon when a woman's head appeared in the opening and a voice said, "Hey, miss, you need a ride?"
She forced her heart to quit pounding and stepped toward the automobile. The dark face in the window was smiling, and the voice had been kindly. Finally she stammered "Oh, thank you, no. I'm just walking up to the observatory."
"Oooh, that's a long walk on a cold morning," the woman said. "I work there. That's where I'm going. Get in. I'll give you a ride!"
She had seen enough movies to know that passengers rode next to the driver, so she walked to the other side, opened the door, and got in. The car gathered speed up the mountain.
She had just begun to consider the etiquette of the situation--who should speak first?--when the woman said "Oooh, this is a cold morning for a walk! And going all the way to the observatory! They don't open for visitors until nine o'clock! You gonna have to wait! You wanna see the stars?"
"Uh, no, ma’am...I want to talk to the director, to Dr. Harcroft."
"Ooooh, I know him! I clean his office! He's a very smart man! He knows everything about the stars. But he's very messy! You wouldn't believe the mess he make in just one day! I can show you his office! Those people, they stay up all night looking through their telescopes, but they sleep late--you might not see him until lunch time. I hope you patient!"
She smiled and nodded at the driver--a bit of good fortune, perhaps. There's one thing she wouldn't have to worry about. If only the rest went as smoothly.
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