Mrs. Wilder is a Published Author
by Rob Morris
Doctor Abel Adams sat with the doors locked, and the children all in his sight. One was his beloved stepson, Adam, the most inquisitive of his many stepchildren since Yeshua, 1900 years ago. Methos The Immortal bitterly remembered watching his boy arrested and executed, and had sworn then and there never to get involved with heroes again.
He was still, in many respects, a very cruel man, but there were people he cared about, and those he fought for fiercely and without bothering to think about such things as ethics, and legal niceties. He had been Death to innocents. He could be death to the guilty-as long as this didn't expose who he was. Nothing was more important than that.
"Doctor Adams, why must we remain here, while Albert shops for fruit and vegetables?"
It was one of the Cohen twins, Nell Oleson's boys.
"Well, lad-Albert-can only find this fruit in a certain very rough neighborhood."
Methos withdrew to his chair, and decided against his pipe. They were all good children, but he wished it were he, and not Albert, on the hunt. However, he knew that Mary wanted her former barbarian husband, not her former farmboy brother, keeping the children safe at this time. Besides, if Albert failed to protect Adam, the boy would take his own head. He had, after all, indirectly caused the death of Mary's firstborn son, decades before. Her second son, with the same name as the first, spoke up. Adam Kendall, Junior was obviously worried.
"Pa, is Uncle Albert coming back?"
"That-is a question all of us ask, son. I don't have an answer. I think he will. I hope he does. But when two of us face each other, there's simply no telling which end is up. The First Rule, as always."
The young boy shook his head.
"But Uncle Albert's good-and she's just crazy in her head!"
"You're right, my boy-of course."
As Methos/Abel Adams held his boy, he wisely left out the story of Caspian, who had never found insanity to be a disadvantage.
The streets were less clogged than normal. Talk of a serial killer tended to do that, especially when that killer targeted merchants and their families, closing shops all over town.
Albert Quinn Ingalls lay in a plot in a cemetery built upon the remains of Walnut Grove, Minnesota, next to his adoptive parents, Charles and Caroline, and many other friends and family members. The site was lovingly tended by Isaiah Edwards, who never thought he'd outlive his dear friends.
But Albert's grave was a lie, and it lay empty, a fact the young Immortal hoped to keep up for a good long while. So it was that Albert Adams, 'younger brother' to Abel, stalked the emptied streets, sword in hand. The local police precinct was personal security for Tammany Hall, corrupt as could be. So Albert was not challenged as he went.
"Where are you, you crazy witch? You used to almost make me feel sorry for your mother-and I never felt sorry for her."
He felt a brief buzz, and a touch of wind. When a gunshot buzzed past his head, he knew he was on the right track.
"Uh-uh, Lady. No Mercantile to hide in, around these parts."
But there was an unfinished subway tunnel that seemed likely to never be finished, if the local politicians kept drinking the borough's budget.
"Now, Methos-what is it you told me about never entering the rat's lair? Pa would likely have said the same thing. Too bad I never listened real well."
Through piles of broken concrete and broken promises, the former resident of Walnut Grove-went in pursuit of the head of a former neighbor.
At the publishing firm owned by the esteemed Lady Sondra Vocks, two nervous women waited in the reception area.
One was Nell Cohen, formerly Nellie Oleson. In theory, she should have been with her twin boys, and her injured husband, Percival, who had lost an eye to the killer's attack. But he and they wanted her to go, and get her mind off of the fiend that still haunted her family.
She was there in support of her former rival and dearest friend, Laura Ingalls Wilder. Wilder had travelled all the way from Missouri to be interviewed by Lady Sondra. It seemed that her dreams of being a professional writer were finally coming true. Nell, who had been correspondent, editor, and fair-but-firm critic, could not have been happier for her. Yet both the killer on the loose and the waiting had them extremely anxious.
"When is she gonna let us in?"
"Laura, calm yourself. She wouldn't ask you all the way here just to chastise you. Lady Sondra is at the pinnacle of New York's book publishers. She wants to see you-you're in good."
"I suppose. I just haven't felt this nervous since those boys almost found us skinny-dipping, back in 87'."
"Laura-two things. One is, you're a great writer, who's about to get published for the first time."
"Thanks. What's Two?"
She now wore a grin.
"There were no boys that day. I just threw my voice, to make all of you panic."
Laura chuckled, unsure of whether to punch or hug her old friend.
"We hid in that water till nightfall, and I came in so late that Pa whupped my-"
The two stopped their banter. It was Lady Sondra Vocks. She looked a great deal younger than they expected. Her skin was pale but healthy-looking, and her hair a rich dark black. She was tall for a woman, and had quite a presence.
"You are Mrs. Laura Wilder? Author of 'The Four Dark Riders'?"
Laura gained her voice.
"Yes, Ma'am. A pleasure to meet you. This is my friend, Nell Cohen. She's here to support me, as I hear what you have to say about my book."
"It's good to have friends that care. Mrs. Wilder-Laura-please go down the hall, to my main office room. We have much to speak of."
The friends exchanged a glance, and Laura did just that. Lady Vocks turned to Nell.
"Mrs. Cohen-we may be a while in there. You look so tired, my dear. Why not take a nap?"
Nell shook her head.
"Thanks, but I can't. You see, there's a killer stalking my family. You may have heard of it in the papers. My sleep is disturbed by dreams of her. She killed my mother, and has threatened my father and brother, as well as my own family. Will-my brother-is currently under care. He's so fearful she'll come back at him again."
Lady Vocks was aghast.
"My word-who is this horrid woman?"
Nell answered, softly.
"My adopted sister."
Vocks chose not to pry any further.
"Nell-please do me a small favor."
Lady Sondra Vocks suddenly and briefly spoke in a voice that echoed through Nell's mind, body, and soul.
"Sleep, without nightmares."
The exhausted Nell did just that. Lady Vocks felt weak, and so drank from a container of water she kept handy. She then left to talk with Laura about 'The Four Dark Riders'.
In the tunnel, Albert heard a whiny voice he flatly despised, along with the person it belonged to.
"Blasted Ingalls family! You're always playing do-gooder! But Nell's boys belong to ME! They should be my children! ITS NOT FAIRRRRRR!"
"You know it ain't for our kind to have kids-Nancy!"
Somewhere, hidden behind abandoned equipment and bags of gravel was an insane Immortal who had once been the insane Nancy Oleson. Albert was in for it, and he knew this for a fact.
Back at The Adams household, Mary came down stairs to sit with her 5000 year old husband.
"How is Percival, my dear?"
That she never walked with a cane or chose to wear dark glasses sometimes fooled Methos into thinking that his dear Mary was not blind. She was a quite capable person, and would be right up until her death from influenza in 1919.
"He's broken, Abel. I forgot how somebody acts, when the bandages come off-and the light doesn't return. His one eye gone, the other-just plain useless. Nell's gonna have a time showing him that he's not useless. But-and I never thought I'd say this-she's got a good heart. I'll help her how I can."
She sniffed the air.
"Where's Albert? Abel-tell me you didn't-you did."
"Mary-when an Immortal lunatic escapes from an insane asylum, its generally a good idea to hunt her down. Darling, Albert is her superior in every way."
Mary's eyes briefly filled with so many reddened blood vessels, one would have thought her long-lost sight had returned.
"If my little brother has to be laid near to my first baby, back in Minnesota, then you'll have to take him there. And if and when you do-don't you bother coming back. Ever."
The man who had been Death knew that his dear, far-from-helpless wife meant every word of what she said.
Lady Vocks got down to brass tacks.
"Well, Mrs. Wilder-you've certainly crafted quite the story, here. Imagine, four demonic barbarians, riding from the fall of Sumer to Herod's slaughter of the babes. One would almost call such a subject impossibly grim. Yet I must say, that you have managed to make it work quite nicely. May I question you on a few of your plot points?"
Her lifelong dream on the verge of coming true, Laura was fighting a losing battle with her excitement. The only thing keeping her from bubbling over entirely was the sad thought that her father had not lived to see this day.
"Of course you can, Lady Vocks. And please call me Laura."
"Alright, Laura. Now, the leader of The Dark Riders is a man known only as Plague-Time. Brutal by any standards. Really, something of a thug. Yet your depiction of him is almost sympathetic."
"Kind of a hazard of writing him. You can't write someone like Plague-Time without some insight into him. My guess is, he was kind of a romantic inside. Even more than the blood and the death, he loved the life he led. Doesn't take away from the people he hurt, mind you. But a villain almost never sees themselves that way."
The Lady appeared calm, but Laura felt as though she had stepped on some invisible toes.
"Indeed. They are incapable of knowing the harm they do. But you take your romantic view to almost incredible lengths in the penultimate chapter, 'All Young Children To Slay'. The Slaughter Of The Innocents is well shown. But you depict Plague-Time not as a vengeful Hunter, but as though he were merely a man, seeking to reunite his lost family."
Laura still didn't know where this was headed, and so did not hold back on what she saw as the truth.
"Well, Yes. Plague-Time had been deserted by his Brother, Death-Legend. Now for folks like us, that's a good thing. It meant The Demon's Ride was over. But seen from Plague-Time's point of view, it meant his world had passed on. Plus-no one likes to be deserted by family. The worst person I've ever known-Nell's Ma- actually earned my pity when her husband Nils finally left her."
"Hmmm. I see from your notes that Mrs. Harriet Oleson actually played a part in the ruin of many lives, including that of your own late brother's fiancée. Would you assign such human qualities to her?"
Laura sighed, and wondered just who had wronged this poor woman so, to close up her heart.
"Lady Sondra-we're all human. Some of us just lose our way. Such folks are to be pitied, not hated. They're just not worth it."
"As such. Laura, I must wonder, though, about your depiction of Death-Legend's relationship with his slave, Cassiopeia. One would almost think that he actually cared for her."
"Oh, he did. In fact, I consider that the great love story of the novel!"
Lady Sondra did not smile back.
The man called Methos had married relatively few women, if one took his age into account. In recent times, those he took to wife had been so very dear to him, the thought of being without them made his overlong existence just a bit more unbearable.
So it was that he often allowed these women liberties with him that bespoke an age not yet. In effect, if such as he had bothered with them, then they were his equal in almost every way. He had been waited on hand and foot in times past. What the Oldest wanted then, though, was a companion, not a servant.
But he was still a man of his eras, and his surprising enlightenment had limits. These limits were uncertain, and hard to define. Whatever form they took, however, harsh ultimatums were probably along the top of the list of triggers. As Mary Ingalls Kendall Adams learned now.
"So that's it? You'll threaten to throw away our marriage if Albert fails to best Nancy Oleson? Suppose he had been out in the Game, and lost? Would you then leave me for not protecting him?"
An odd corollary to the strictures of the Victorian and Edwardian worlds was that men, for all their political and financial power, were often cowed by a woman's anger, when unleashed fully. In this again, though, Methos, or Abel Adams, was not a man of any one era. For all this, though, the blind former Minnesotan did not back down to the former barbarian.
"WE are talking about you sending my little brother away to die. Now, I never had much to do with him, back when, and after the school fire, when his foolishness cost my baby his life, I had even less. But when he died in my arms-and woke up like you-I began to treasure him. Now, adopted or no, I am beginning to hear my father's voice in him. So every day that he remains alive is a day that Charles Ingalls remains alive, too. Sides', I do not like him becoming a killer."
Methos lowered his volume of voice, but his tone remained just as arch.
"He is a killer. As is your husband. We chop the heads off of others like us, that we may live. One day, if all goes our way, one of us will kill the other at The Gathering. There will be no anger. For this is our way."
When she seemed hesitant, the Oldest pressed forward.
"You have no excuse in not knowing this. You were once a Watcher. And a very good one, since you used the low opinion most hold of the blind to gather information unnoticed. You know who and what you took into your bed. Do you now claim ignorance?"
Her teeth clenched, Mary headed for the fireplace, seemingly to warm her hands.
"You-can't speak to me that way. You are a coward, Methos! You sent Albert just to protect yourself."
"You can't believe that."
Methos barely dodged the sword she swung in time, guided as it was by the sound of his voice.
Mary began to cry, and dropped the sword.
"Abel? Abel, please tell me I didn't get you. Darling, please still be alive. I didn't mean it. I don't want you to leave. I love you."
He held his trembling beauty, as she continued to weep, for fear and concern.
"Leave you? Mary dear, if I left every woman who tried to take me in a fit of anger, I would not have been married once, let alone close to 70 times. Besides, hanging about with you Ingalls has rarely left me with a dull moment!"
He held her closer.
"Albert is strong."
"He better be. Because Nancy Oleson is out of her mind."
They rose as one to check on the injured Percival Cohen.
It seemed that every inch Albert moved in the abandoned subway project, his steps were marked by the report of gunfire from the mad Nancy Oleson. Just once, he caught a glimpse of her, lit up by powder.
"Gun's tied up to her arm. Great. Only but one way to get the rifle from her, and that means getting way too close."
She taunted him in the darkness.
"You're gonna die, Albert Ingalls! Do you hear me? You're gonna die, then both of your snotty sisters after you."
Albert decided to let his imagination run away with him, and called upon the image of the one man he knew he could depend on, even more than Methos.
"Not going too well, is it, son?"
The Immortal smiled at the image of Charles Ingalls.
"No, Pa. I'd have to say it isn't. Swords are dandy. But that gun is a mite dandier. I can't even get close to her. Her skin heals, so the heat from the barrel and the powder burns make her no nevermind."
"Guess she's not playing by the rules, then. So that only makes it more important that you stick by them."
Charles vanished, to be replaced by the face of one still living-for 5000 years.
"What rubbish. Charles was a good man, Albert. But for now, withdraw. I can get you a weapon, and I'd wager you're a better shot. She wants to duel with rifles-she loses that way, too."
But Albert, who had survived on his own before meeting either man, struck upon a trick he had used to beat farmers out of their hens' eggs. Grasping an unused length of pipe near where he lay, he saw a chain in another corner, attached to a hook. He reasoned that it had once been used to lower water to men digging the tunnels. Knowing he would get hit, Albert rose and darted for the other corner. His ribs ached from a shell's grazing. His knee was exploding in pain. But Nancy's fire had given him no fatal wounds.
"What did that get you, hero? Nothing! It Got You NOTHING!"
"Yeah, you keep talking, Nancy! It's all you were ever good for, besides making folks miserable all the time!"
Attaching the chain and the pipe, Albert checked the area he was in, just as he had the last one. Spilling certain of Nancy's supplies, he moved for the area with the winch, again taking fire as he did. But this time, all was ready, and Albert repeated his inspection in this area, again negating a bit more of Nancy's advantage. Amidst the loud din, he tossed the pipe into the middle of the room. She did not hear it, above the fire and her yelling.
"You represent everything that was wrong in Walnut Grove, Albert Ingalls! All the trash that was jealous of me, and wouldn't give me my due!"
He saw her face, sometimes, amidst the dim light. She was no longer pretty, in her odd way. She had first died while in the insane asylum, and must have been miserably treated before she did. Albert tried not to think of this as justice.
"No matter where you hide, Nancy-I'm coming to get ya!"
In truth, if all she did was hide out for the rest of eternity, he and Methos both would have been happy to let her. But with Percival wounded, Will Oleson and his Pa and their overall family living in terror, there was no chance. He chuckled to think that it was an Ingalls who was left to clean up Harriet Oleson's greatest mistake. But now, he put his plan into action. Using the winch, he dragged the noisy pipe and chain along, and got the expected result.
"WHERE ARE YOU?! I CAN HEAR YOU DRAGGING THAT SWORD!"
The shell replacement was as quick as could be, following each shot. Not one of them hit Albert, and eventually they just stopped.
"Where are they? I have dozens of shells here. Where arrrrre they?"
Albert had been thorough in destroying her shotgun shells, but decided not to press his luck, and moved in quickly. Sure enough, she had found a few that he had missed by the time he found her.
"Oh no you don't, you little rat!"
Doing what Methos would in a heartbeat, and what Charles would do if he had to, Albert used his sword to remove Nancy's gun from the battle, along with the arm it was bound to.
"My arm! You chopped off my poor arm!"
Trusting her not at all, the man who had good cause to hate Harriet Oleson raised his sword in part to avenge her death.
"There Can Be Only One."
Nancy's scream was disturbingly like that of a little girl, as the last blow came. Before the Quickening even began, he dumped her head and body into the nearby pit. But some bonds are meant to happen, and Albert began to shake, and the small storm began.
He began to feel sick. It had never been this way before. Not even when he killed his own betraying wife, whom he still loved. Flashes of dark, hideous things began to swirl before his eyes.
"The families...the families."
He saw families that had left Walnut Grove...and he saw Nancy, lying in wait with guns they never saw coming.
"My God, Nancy! How twisted were you?"
He fell back, crying in agony as his heart gave out. When he revived, Albert Quinn Ingalls, also known as Charles Edwards and a few other names, did the oddest thing. He laughed long and hard, out loud. Raising his sword, he casually split the old pipe he had used in two. He grinned maniacally.
Laura continued to explain her point of view on the evils committed by The Four Dark Riders.
"So you see, Cassiopeia didn't love Death-Legend as her torturer and molester. No woman could. What she loved was the decent man she glimpsed, beneath the skull-mask. As for the atrocities that he and the others were responsible for-well, I reckon this. Where would Sherlock Holmes be, if not for Professor Moriarty? And if Milton had made Lucifer a bit player, would anyone remember Paradise Lost?"
Lady Vocks' eyes glazed over.
"He was such a good man. He agonized over how well he had crafted Morningstar. He was afraid he'd gained literary immortality at the risk of his soul."
These facts were well known, to Laura, and to any reader of Milton's. But Sondra Vocks' story sounded almost first-hand.
"Well, I've always felt it that a writer leaves a piece of their soul in their work, if they're good and determined. I know I'm determined, Lady Vocks. But am I any good?"
Lady Vocks seemed a being of mixed emotions. She reminded Laura of the sleeping Nell Oleson-Cohen, when she would talk about her murdered mother Harriet. Love mixed with a reflexive distaste.
"Laura, I would certainly have never asked you to come here, if I saw no merit in your works. So let me be straight and to the point. I wish to purchase The Four Dark Riders from you, and all rights to it, for a considerable sum of money to be worked out later. But there will be conditions, mind you."
"I can do a re-writing. In fact, some ideas I've had since sending you my final manuscript would probably tighten up the plot a ways, make it more readable."
But Lady Vocks only shook her head.
"It is already very nearly perfect. Quite readable, as you put it. A dark, compelling story that one is pulled to, and may not turn away from. A veritable Chicago Fire of a novel, in terms of drawing interest."
"Then-what are the conditions?"
"Condition, really. Singular. You see, I feel very strongly that The Four Dark Riders is simply too dark, and too grim. I do not wish to ever see it published, by anyone. So your fee will be one paid to you for suppression."
Laura's dream crashed, only having ever truly lived for a moment.
"Lady Vocks-no. The answer is no. I am a writer. It's all I've ever wanted to be. Money is good. I won't lie to you and say that I don't need it, or can't use it. Lord knows that'd be a lie. But it's as I said. This book is a piece of me, as much as my babies are. I wouldn't kill them for money. I won't kill it, either. I'm sorry."
But the lady publisher had some aces hidden away, to change Laura's mind.
"Children die, Laura. It's a sad fact that, from your notes, I see your family is horribly familiar with. But new children come along. We honor the beloved dead, and raise the living. So it can be with your writing."
"I'm afraid that I don't understand."
"Your notes, Laura. Your notes about Walnut Grove. You wrote in one of our correspondences that you based the character of Plague-Time on Melvin Koren, the outlaw whose hoodlum gang invaded and almost destroyed your town. Just looking at the interactions between your family, The Olesons, and all the others makes me want to visit that place, which is of course gone now. Mrs. Wilder- tell that story. Let that be your bright child, to replace the sickly one."
Laura was stunned.
"But will people even want to read that sort of cotton candy?"
"As the saying goes, my dear, I'll put my money where my mouth is. Take a year, and put together your first tale. Take as long as you need. Do we have an agreement?"
Laura was overwhelmed. Her writer's mind immediately began to try and think of where and when in her family's life to start the story. Or stories.
"Thank you, Lady Sondra. I promise to make it just as good. We have an agreement! I'm gonna be published!"
"Indeed you are, Laura. Just make these stories as full of light-as this one was of darkness. Now, I must go. Other things on the schedule, you know. Be well, my dear."
And when Laura left to tell the sleeping Nell, Sondra Vocks closed the door. She opened a safe, and sealed the manuscript inside. She then sneered.
"As you kept me captive, Methos, so do I keep your hideous glories locked away. There will be no spreading of your fame, monster!"
Calmer now, The Immortal called Cassandra read more of Laura's notes about Walnut Grove, and puzzled.
"I don't understand. Why ever did they put up with Harriet Oleson?"
As Laura and her new publisher talked, Nell Oleson-Cohen dreamed. Because of Cassandra's voice commands, she did not dream of the now-headless Nancy, taken by Albert by the rules of The Game. No, Nell dreamed of the one who created Nancy.
She was younger again, almost a little girl. She walked up to her New York City Brownstone. Her two boys were playing with many thousands of toys, many of them broken already. One looked up.
"Go away! We have a real Mommy now! She buys us whatever we want, instead of being a cheapskate like you!"
They then ignored her, and continued to play with and smash their new treasures.
"Who? Who buys you whatever you want? Are you accepting toys from strangers?"
"Stars, no, Nellie. Why, I've bought them these trinkets. Because of you and your husband, they had next to nothing! What else would you have a good grandmother do?"
It was her, despite all logic and common sense. It was Harriet Oleson, Nell and Will's mother, dead almost ten years. Nell ran up and hugged her. The return embrace was not cold, but it was too brief.
"Nellie! You'll wrinkle my dress. Now, I'm glad to see you, too. I've bought my little girl so many nice new clothes, to replace those rags your husband makes you wear."
Nell was deliriously happy to see her mother, but shook her head.
"Mother-Percival doesn't make me wear anything, and my clothes are not rags. I appreciate all you've done-but maybe some of this stuff should go back to the stores. I'm trying to teach the boys about the value of a dollar and how you can't always have absolutely everything you want."
Harriet seemed disgusted.
"What kind of low-class philosophy is that man and his family teaching you? Why can't you have absolutely the best of everything? And what value does a dollar have, if its not spent to acquire the very finest things in life?"
Nell loved Harriet, with all her heart. But her man had been insulted, and that was not to be let go.
"Percival and his family are dear people who helped me find what I was missing. The values that your and father's love alone couldn't instill. In our faith, we are taught..."
Harriet now became petulant. Or perhaps she simply became more so.
"Your...faith? Nellie Oleson, have you walked away from the faith of your fathers?! We agreed, when you married that...that.. Hebrew, that you would never do anything to risk your Immortal soul."
"Mother! I merely entered the temple of my husband's family. Rabbi Blancmein even said that as long as I didn't try to proselytize, I could be a member and still hold that Yeshua was Immanuel. He joked that there's enough doubt in the universe to say that maybe this or that person got it wrong."
"Yeshua? Who on Earth is Yeshua?"
"Jesus's Jewish name, Mother. His real name, really. Jesus was a Greek pronunciation of Yeshua."
Harriet was starting to lose it.
"How dare you say that The Lord was a Jew? How dare you hold back your love from your boys? You are not my daughter!"
Nell knew, even as she dreamed, that her real mother had not been quite as bad as this. But the dream image was still very frighteningly close, and she felt compelled to respond.
"You know The Book, Mother. So I won't even bother with that first bit of nonsense. And I do not hold back my love from my boys. I just don't want them to grow up like I did-believing that love came from a gift-wrapped box. When they are given gifts, it only reinforces what they already know. What I always knew. That the mother loves the child. You meant well. But you got it all mixed up. Then you repeated your mistakes with Nancy, and it all cost us so much."
Harriet made her last stand.
"Name one thing-JUST ONE THING- that my generosity to you and your brother and sister ever TRULY cost this family."
Nell looked up at the giant of a woman who had died while flames consumed her and The Mercantile. Her father Nils had barely rebuilt it when Lassiter came.
"You, Mother. By spoiling Nancy so, you made her believe that love came with a bow on it. The first time you really said no to her-she killed you. And she laughed about it, too. Albert Ingalls killed his sister's baby and the teacher at the School for The Blind, by accident. He spent the rest of his poor life carrying about that guilt. I had hoped that Nancy would repent. But that was one case where Laura had me beat flat. Because the stray she took in was a purebreed, and the one we took in was a filthy mongrel. She took from me the one gift I can never get back, never replace!"
Her eyes teared, and she was an adult again.
"She took my Momma away. Momma, why didn't you tell her no sooner? All this could have been prevented. But now my boys are terrified, my sweet husband's sight is gone, Will is withdrawn and scared. Daddy lives in stark grief. He misses you so."
"That man-left me."
"He didn't want to. But you had become completely impossible. You refused to discipline Nancy any at all! And he was right to try. Mother-why couldn't you have changed, the way all the rest of us did?"
Harriet looked puzzled.
"Why should I change? I've never done a single thing I've had to be ashamed of, in my entire life!"
A hole then opened in the floor, and flames shot up from it as Harriet fell through, and into Perdition. Nell could see her bound up, and forced to listen as a duplicate of herself jabbered on through eternity.
Nell woke up.
"Oh, Mother. Why? Why couldn't you have listened to your little girl, just this once?"
Several blocks away, a lunatic that wore Albert Ingalls' form looked into a mirror.
"Darned if I don't look as good as ever!"
The reflection most would see would be a that of a dark-haired young man. In fact, what this person saw was a 14-year old girl, blonde, pert, and quite deadly. The reflection joined its counterpart in laughing out loud.
Nancy Oleson had been beheaded, but some evil lingers on, as Methos could surely attest.
Nell had awoken from her nightmare, to hear Laura tell of a dream come true.
"Nell! Guess what?"
For her rival-turned-friend, Nell Cohen put on a happy face.
"Lady Vocks will publish The Four Dark Riders?"
Laura shook her head.
"No. But she does want me to start work on a series of novels set in Walnut Grove. It'll be about all of us. Our childhoods, our families, our friends. Oh, Nell! Promise you'll help me remember everything?"
Nell was stunned by the thought of such a recounting.
"You want my help, Laura Wilder? Help in making my family look bad?"
Laura was confused.
"Nell, why would you think I would ever do such a thing?"
"Easy. Are you going to tell the truth?"
"Of course I am!"
Nell looked up, a bit teary-eyed.
"Then that alone will make us look like moral lepers. Couldn't you make my mother a little different? Maybe redeem her at some point?"
"Honey-why would I need to redeem your mother at all?"
Nell was shaking apart from it all.
"Laura-don't play with me. If ever a soul was in need of redemption, it was Harriet Oleson. Thank Heaven I married Percival. His strength got me away from mile-wide cakes, birthday presents that cost a week's pay, and thinking I was better than everyone else. But as soon as I made my break -Mother found Nancy. Nancy made my father crazy, drove Will and his family into hiding-and then she killed my mother. So you see? If you don't gussy us up, just a little, we'll look like fools and monsters!"
Laura saw her friend's pain, and so tried a contrarian approach to fighting it.
"Maybe you have a point. Can I review a few more changes with you, then?"
Surprised that she gave in so quickly, Nell nodded.
"Sure. Anything to help."
"Alright. Howabout-Albert catches and kills Sylvia's rapist, and they go on to be married?"
Nell seemed excited.
"Oh, Yes! That was one of the worst things my mother ever did, was slandering poor Sylvia. Ooh-how about the baby was Albert's, after all?"
"And all the babies who died early-mine, Ma's, Mary's, etc.-they all live?"
Nell was now a bit less enthusiastic.
"I suppose. Maybe not all of them, though. Crib death..."
"Pshaw! Now, Manzo's stroke makes him look like a big dumb maniac, who was too stubborn to stop working. Sooo-we have him work like crazy without anything happening. Oh, and things like Melvin Koren's gang and the town being destroyed-we can do without that."
Nell now stood up, angrily.
"Don't you patronize me! All I'm asking is for you...to not...tell the truth. I'm sorry, Laura. But she did so many things that, looking back, I can't believe she got away with. You and me-that was kiddie stuff. But she was an adult. Supposedly."
Laura tried to help, as best she could.
"Albert got away with stealing that morphine. I got away with slandering Doc Baker. Mary got away with making the house miserable about her eyes. It's hard to recollect Ma and Pa's wrongs-but when I do, I'll say without fear of correction, they were big ones. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, Nellie. I didn't care for your mother, it's true. I won't speak ill of the dead. But she really made us wonder a lot. And if you have me present a cleaned-up version - you will dishonor her memory. Because as hateful as she could be, Nell-that was Harriet Oleson. And I know that she did love you."
"I know she did, too. But Laura? Right now I am so very glad that you won't speak ill of the dead."
"For the sake of my soul, so am I. Otherwise-I'd have some choice words."
"Well, the greatest defeat you can give my mother is to not spoil your children with all that money you're gonna make."
"With our bills? That won't be a problem."
Happy, the two left the publisher's suite, and departed the Vocks Building entirely. A voice came out from behind them.
"Nellie! Laura! This is where you get yours!"
Nell was ready to faint. Though her boys knew Albert in passing, neither she nor Percival had ever seen him alive again.
"Laura-that's your brother!"
"Nell-get back. Albert-why are you doing this?"
He sneered, in a facial gesture not quite his own.
"You were a lousy, bossy schoolmarm! It was because of you my mother stopped loving me! And Nell-she shouldn't have loved you more than me. I HATE YOU BOTH!"
Laura moved for her purse. She muttered two words.
Nell was still too stunned to notice his sword.
"Albert-you're alive? And you don't look a day older than you did when I visited you last. How?"
Laura pulled out her small gun, and fired two bullets into Albert's chest. He fell over. Laura then took aim at his head. Nell was gasping.
"Laura-your brother was alive, and you just killed him again! What's going on?"
Laura found that she could not finish off Albert, no matter what, so she grabbed Nell's hand, and began to run.
"Nell-I'll have to explain this, while we get back to Abel. He's 5000. He'll know what to do."
"He's 5000 what? You mean years?!"
Laura kept looking behind them.
"Yes. He's an Immortal. Like Albert is. Like Nancy was. He must have finished her. She must have been really crazy, to give him a Dark Quickening."
"Laura-stop. You're not making any sense."
"There's no time. Let's keep going. See—it's like this. Certain folks are born foundlings-nobody knows where they come from, or why. But when they die, they come back to life, and they stop aging. They then fight others like them with swords, cause they also cannot die for good unless you chop off their heads. Then, their power belongs to that Immortal."
"So Nancy is gone for good, now? You know-one of the guards at the asylum said that he was sure he shot her. I didn't believe him at the time."
"Well, he was telling the truth. Problem is, killing her wasn't enough, in this case. Her insanity is now part of Albert. In a way, he's now become Nancy."
Nell stopped, dead in her tracks.
"Then this ends here, and it ends now."
Laura saw Nell stride with purpose towards the risen, possessed Albert.
"Nellie-please! He's not Albert any more! We have to get Methos!"
Only a half a block away, Laura swallowed her heart and ran for Mary and Abel's house. Even if it meant losing Nell, Nancy's spirit had to be stopped. Methos could certainly contain her.
'Albert' walked up to Nell. 'He' smiled.
"Anxious for it, huh, Nell? Well, I..."
Nell slapped him across the face.
"SHUT UP, NANCY! YOU JUST SHUT YOUR USELESS MOUTH!"
'He' grabbed her wrist.
"You know what I'm gonna do to you, for that?"
But Nell had waited years for this confrontation, and grabbed her wrist back. She looked 'him' in the eye.
"You go ahead and you use that sword, Nancy. Because you can't hurt me any worse than when you killed my mother! Now, you have the nerve to steal my friend's body?"
"He wasn't your friend, any more'n he was mine!"
"No. He was. Laura was. Her folks were. All good people in that town, who cared for me, even when I was like you. Now, it's over. You get out of Albert's body. He deserves to live forever. You don't."
The sneer again.
"Why don't you try and make me?"
"I'll do lots better. Albert? Fight her, Albert. You're lots stronger than her. You're lots better than her."
"He can't! He's just poor peasant trash and I'm an Oleson!"
Nell now had a sneer of her own.
"No, you're not. Daddy had the adoption cancelled. So you are a stupid little dead thing with no name and he is a member of The Ingalls, one of the finest families its ever been my privilege to know! I've seen him face things that would make you wilt, Nancy. So get on out of here."
'He' was shaking, but did not relent.
"No! He cut off my arm, and my head! I need a body!"
"Albert Ingalls-you fight her. You fought me and Will often enough. And she's on your home ground, now."
Albert's voice broke through.
"Nellie-get out of here! I don't want her to hurt you!"
"I won't. She's a mistake my mother made."
Nell then got an idea.
"My mother made lots of mistakes. Like what she did to your fiancée, Sylvia! She left her alone and friendless. Accused you of dishonoring her. All but let that rapist finish her off. Albert-if you don't fight Nancy off-then Harriet Oleson becomes your Mother!"
Yes, Nell had loved her mother. But she knew that Albert had most certainly not. Inside his mind, the trick worked. Albert held Nancy above a large pit.
"Nell was a brat, Nancy. Just like you-"
He tossed her down, and out of his mind.
"-Only difference is, she made that look good!"
As Methos rounded the corner, sword in hand, he saw a crying Albert hugging his old friend.
"Thank you, Nell. Oh, God..."
"Hush. It's done now. Because of you...my family will know peace at last."
Methos was a bit less certain of Albert's cleansing, and so made a suggestion.
"I do believe this group should head across the seas."
WATCHER'S PRIVATE JOURNAL
"I'm glad I got reinstated. They think that Albert and Methos don't know, and that's good. Well, this sea cruise is doing everyone a world of good. With Methos and Mister Oleson paying our way, we can celebrate our friendship-and poor Percival's life. I wish the infection hadn't been so strong."
"The men are in their glory. Manzo, Albert and Will are like boys again, too. Especially Will. To his mind, his best friend came back from the dead and killed the person he lived in fear of. Will's wife is not so plain anymore, and he likes showing her off. Methos says Albert has to go to this special spring, to make sure Nancy's out of him forever."
"My daughters, my angels, are being exposed to all the people I loved, growing up. That's important to me. So very important."
The Oldest strode up to his sister-in-law.
"You know, Nell and Albert seem to be hitting it off. I think..."
"Abel! You're getting as bad as Mary, with all this matchmaking. She's a widow. Give her time."
"If there is one thing 5000 years teaches you, Laura, it's how time can and will slip away from you. Much like books. I was sorry to hear about 'The Four Dark Riders'. A bit too romantic, but an enjoyable read, nonetheless. How go the new stories?"
She handed him an envelope.
"Read for yourself-and don't you hold back opinion-wise, you blue-face baboon!"
"Wouldn't dream of it, my dear. But I must warn you-I reviewed all of Shakespeare's plays. Never did see what all the fuss was about."
That night, Abel Adams, aka Methos, lay in his cabin with his wife Mary Kendall.
"Well? Come on, it's not like I can read it for myself, dummy!"
He kissed her, treasuring anyone who wasn't impressed or fearful of him. But he also loved her, as well. When that last day came, he would miss her terribly.
"Alright, alright! We begin : 'To me, the first cabin Pa built back in Kansas really seemed like it was the largest castle in all the world. But in time, I realized that it was just the Little House In The Big Woods.' Heh. Good beginning."
Walnut Grove was gone. But its story, told by a woman who loved it well, would always remain Immortal.