Short Story: Grace Nelson’s Murder

 

I’ve got blood on my hands, pure and simple, but I’m not sorry. Grace Nelson pushed her father’s wheelchair up a gentle incline toward a small, yellow house set aside on a winding, pave-stoned lane. It looks like a picture on an Oldearth vintage postcard. Grace sniffed. So Bhuaci. She squared her shoulders. By the Divide, I hate it here. So blinking perfectI could smash it. Her eyes traveled over to a Bhuaci family strolling down the lane hand-in-hand. Or them.

Grace? Why’d you stop? I’m hungry and it’s getting hot.” Old-man Nelson swiveled his head back as far as it would go.

Grace leaned in and shoved the chair up the last steps to the brown and white front door. “Just tired, Dad. Not as young as I once was, you know.”

The old man chuckled. “None of us are.”

Grace turned the chair sharply about, opened the door, and started back over the threshold.

Nelson pointed a shaky finger at a Bhuac male in a trim, green uniform, brown, military-style boots, and with a severe haircut strolling toward them. “What’s he want?”

Grace shuddered.

“Lawman? That you?” Nelson’s wide grin accompanied his beckoning wave. “It’s been some time since you wandered down this way, Sir.”

Lawman offered a professional smile, but his gaze swept over Grace with anxious wrinkles around his eyes. He shook the old man’s hand. “It has.” He cleared his throat. “Sorry to hear about your wife. I was off-planet—”

Nelson waved the concern aside. “It’s better this way. She doesn’t have to slave away over a decrepit, old fool anymore.”

Lawman’s eyes flashed to Grace again.

Grace’s impenetrable stare focused on the park across the road.

Lawman gestured weakly with a pained look in his eye. “With Grace here, you’ll always be well looked after.”

Nelson’s chuckle sounded like a cackle. “She’s wasting her life on me—but I can’t seem to get her to leave.” His grin widened as he stared Lawman in the eye. “So, what can we help you with? Or is this a social call?”

Lawman’s back straightened. “I just wanted to check in and see if I can be of service. You’re one of our first human settlers on Helm, and I’d hate—”

Nelson’s voice boomed. “Don’t be ridiculous! We’re not going anywhere; are we Grace? Quite happy here. Couldn’t stand Lux with that bright sun in my eyes every minute and all those high and mighties zipping about. Never knew when one might be in the room with you. Now, you Bhuacs may be shapeshifters, but at least you have respect for human sensibilities. You maintain your form, and nice forms they are too, quite pleasing—”

Lawman’s eyes strayed over to Grace. “You’re happy here, Grace?”

Grace’s stiff smile matched her stony gaze. “I’m happy wherever I’m needed.” She sucked in a deep breath. “And, at the moment, I am needed in the kitchen. It must be past noon.”

Lawman nodded. “Certainly. Don’t let me keep you. Good day.” He dropped a smile on Nelson and backed away.

Grace maneuvered the wheelchair over the threshold and started to close the door.

Suddenly, Lawman gripped the edge and leaned in, peering into Grace’s face. “Oh, and Grace, we know…about it.” He nodded decisively. “You mustn’t let it ever happen again.”

An icy gleam narrowed Grace’s eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous.” She swung her father’s chair around and let the heavy door fall shut. Her shoulders hunched up near her ears as she pushed the chair into a large, well-lit kitchen with a built-in oven next to a six-foot cabinet. She parked the wheelchair next to a cushioned recliner with a small table attached on one end.

Nelson swiveled his body from the wheelchair onto the recliner and plopped down with a long sigh. He snatched a datapad from the table and began to scroll through.

Grace pulled a container from a freezer unit, popped it into the wall-oven, and tapped a console. Efficiently, she laid the counter and her father’s table with bowls, utensils, and linen napkins. As she poured golden liquid into sparkling, crystal glasses, her father snorted. Her head snapped up.

Nelson’s eyes stayed glued to his datapad, but a smile played around his lips. “Silly fool. What’s he think he’s going do? Send me back to Lux? Imprison you?”

Grace froze. Her eyes rolled over to her father. “What are you talking about?”

Nelson slapped the datapad onto his lap with one eyebrow cocked. “Oh, please. You didn’t honestly think you could murder my wife without anyone noticing, did you?”

Grace reached out and leaned heavily on the counter, barely a breath escaping between her lips. “Oh, God.”

Nelson waived the sentiment away. “God had little to do with it, I’m sure. Besides, I’m not angry. Frankly, the old biddy was driving me mad. I’m sure that every Bhuac this side of the Divide felt sorry for me. You know, Lawman tried to talk me out of marrying Mara. Said she was unstable.” Nelson snorted. “Right about that! She may have looked like a nymph on steroids, but she acted like an Ingoti drug—”

Grace squared her shoulders and faced her father. “How long have you known?” Her blinking eyes searched the room as she wrung her hands together. “You don’t think Lawman will—”

Nelson’s eyes softened as he beckoned his daughter nearer. “Listen, it was my fault, really. I thought she’d liven up my final years. How was I to know she’d—”

Grace slapped the counter and swallowed, her gaze fixed on her father’s side table. “I poisoned her.”

“Aw, heck, she was poisoning me. Well, my sunset years, so to speak. Forget about it.” Nelson picked up his datapad and tapped it. “It won’t happen again. It’s not like you’re a serial killer or anything.” He grinned and darted a glance at his daughter before returning to his pad. “Then I’d have to poison you.”

Grace’s cooled gaze traveled from her father’s bowl to the cabinet and back to his bowl.

~~~

When Omega’s shadow appeared in Grace Nelson’s bedroom that night, she stifled a scream. Catching her breath, she gritted her teeth. “Lawman, is that you? Trying to scare me—”

Omega, dressed in a flowing, purple tunic with green leggings and orange slippers held up a long-fingered hand and huffed. “Hardly!” He circled the perimeter of the room. “I’ve been watching you, Grace Nelson, and I think you’re on the brink of great self-discovery.” He stroked his chin. “Or self-destruction.”

Grace took a step closer, her hands balled into fists. “Who the h—?”

Omega flourished a graceful bow. “My name is Omega, last son of…oh, never mind. Listen, human, I’m trying to save your miserable life and offer you a chance. The Bhuaci are notoriously suspicious of strangers, and you certainly put their hackles up by killing one of their own, even though they admit—privately of course—that Mara’s moons weren’t in proper alignment—as they say.”

Grace sat on the edge of her bed and rubbed her temple. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Omega flicked his index finger upwards and a small town appeared floating in mid-air. Humans bustled in and out of markets, and cars rolled down the dusty roads.

Grace stood up, fascinated, staring at the scene. “Is that a hologram—from somewhere?”

Omega pursed his lips. “That, my dear woman, is Mirage-Reborn—your new home.”

“Home? Don’t be stupid. Why would I go there? It looks primitive. There’s not even—”

Omega snapped his fingers and the town disappeared. “Because, Grace Nelson, if you don’t go there, you will be murdered here.”

Grace froze. “But my father….”

Omega laughed. “Don’t worry; we’ll bring him along. After all, he’s the reason you need to leave. Your mother didn’t die in her sleep like he says—she was very much awake—poor thing. Father like daughter, I always say.” Throwing his arm over her shoulder, he led her back to bed. “Get some sleep, Grace, and I’ll arrange everything in the morning.”

Grace stumbled onto her bed, pulled her covers close under her chin, closed her eyes, and wondered who she should trust—this stranger named Omega or the father she had never really known.

~~~

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

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

Historical Fiction

ARAM http://amzn.to/2lTHVXR

Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN

Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm

Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg

Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu

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

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 Kingdom of IF

sunsetOnce upon a time there was the kingdom of IF (Indivisible Fiefdom – a bit of an oxymoron but as people liked it so it was) and the people of IF had a king, King Oban, who was chosen by them because of his great popularity and so they believed, as every generation before had believed, that he would be the perfect king.  When he ascended to the throne they hailed him as both hero and savior, and he believed every word of their hearty proclamations (though why he should is a bit of a mystery for even a smattering of IF history should have warned him that no king served unscathed and more often than not was picked to pieces before he was ousted for a more promising candidate).  The kingdom had started out nobly enough, in fact inspiring quotes like “I will live and die for the salvation of IF” were quite prominent in their early history.  Young citizens of IF loved to thrust their little fists against their chests with hearty thuds and quote the luminaries who offered their lives in the service of IF, though in more modern times this had gone quite out of fashion for everyone is well aware that it is a young person’s primary duty was to live and die only for themselves.

But the Kingdom of IF was facing a crisis unlike anything they had ever faced before, though to be sure they had faced and overcome many dire situations in their uncounted generations of existence.  But now, the Indivisible Fiefdom was sorely divided between the Earth-dwellers and the Sky-dwellers both of whom claimed the right to influence the king.  But as it turned out King Oban was heavily in debt to the Earth-dwellers (for his great-great-grandmother on his father’s side was an Earth-dweller of immense standing and she had quite a bit of money in very deep pockets) and this left the Sky-dwellers in high dungeon for they felt left out of everything.  In fact every decision the king had to make was considered from these two opposing camps, but he overwhelmingly favored the Earth-dwellers.  The Earth-dwellers saw everything from a personal point of view.  “It is my right!” was their motto and “Save the Earth!” was another favorite axiom.  The Sky-dwellers, on the other hand, saw everything as a matter for long consideration in relation to right and wrong.  Though there were a variety of different clans in the Sky-dwellers dominion still they tended to group around a vision of a “higher-calling” and this left the Earth-dwellers perfectly incensed for they believed that no one had the right to tell anyone else what to do (except of course when they were telling the Sky-dwellers where to go and how to follow their laws) but the Sky-dwellers were also in the habit of telling the general population how things ought to be done though they argued, quite honestly that they were not preaching a singular individualistic doctrine but the beliefs of their ancestors dating back time out of mind.  Their favorite motto was “God really rules” (though there was some debate as to what God believed exactly) and they loved the ancient melody and lullaby “Tradition Still Has Meaning In Our Lives”.

But the real danger facing the Kingdom of IF was not simply their divided nature, for they were always arguing, but rather that they did not look very far into their own future.  For it was the will of the people of IF that when the king chose a side, he must stick to that side at all costs and listen not a word to the other side – even if they happened to be making humongous good sense.  So the population of IF was dwindling into sad chaos – in fact it was only surviving due to the charity of a few who still believed in the ancient prophesy that the Kingdom of IF was the best of all the kingdoms put upon the earth.

But there was another danger facing the the kingdom that few seemed to realize – for there was an enormous kingdom to the east known as DOOM whose motto was “Conquer without battle”.  And though they professed enduring love for the people of IF, they were secretly rubbing their hands in glee at all the in-fighting between the Earth-dwellers and the Sky-dwellers for they were observing that all the work of destruction was being done quite efficiently for them.  Also on the side lines were the tri-kingdoms of Kab, Bab, and Dan.  These three semi-allied kingdoms (always together except when they were at each other’s throats) also professed an enduring love for the people of IF, though they would chant “Death to the King of IF” at every family gathering.

Besides the efforts of King Oban (who was himself a hard worker except when he was on vacation which was at least once a week or every day that began with a headache and that was becoming rather more common) there were organizations of “Centralized Order” with highly trained worker-bureaucrats toiling ever so hard in the dark, dank libraries of great wisdom (though their words were drier than the parchment they lay upon) to keep the kingdom financially afloat.  They had at that time finished volume P of laws and rules for tax regulation though they were now working on volume Q, but it had become stalled when the president/ CEO (and DMD for he pulled teeth on the side) of Rule-Keepers had to have an extended stay at Sunny-Shade, for his nerves had become rather undone in all the hairsplitting technicalities of tracing contradictory laws and rules and regulations to their origin and rewriting them in modern jargon.

But the people of IF saw not their danger.  There was only one small child who had written a poem for her mother one day, who seemed to grasp the implications of the dire times. She had learned in school of their noble history and her friends had all chosen sides.  But one sunny day her little brother sat down beside her near a great old oak tree, and he asked her why she was so sad.  Though she could not answer her sibling’s innocent question, she did think that a poem might relieve her pent up feelings, so she wrote this quaint little prose, and she gave it to her mother who was too busy to read it. But you may find time in your busy life to read it before the parchment crumbles into dust – for even questions from young people will fade if given enough time to wither and fall.

THE KINGDOM OF IF

If only we remembered from whence we came

And delighted in the goodness from above.

If only we grew our strength

From the victory of  enduring love.

If only we realized that everything we have is a gift.

And that gifts can be taken away.

If only we toiled for that which lasts

And not so much for the day .

If only we lived lives of hope and not of dreadful dread-

We would know lives of joyful fruit

And not live as if we were already dead.

So, though the Kingdom of IF still stands upon its majestic past, and faces its future quite blindfolded, still it will not last forever, for nothing in this world ever does.  But there is a quaint little plea in the child’s verse that strikes deep into the heart – for history will record not only how well the kingdom rose but how badly it fell.  Yet may our nation live long, inspiring hope and enduring faith in something truly great….if only…