The Wild Rose
by Rob Morris

MISSOURI, 1912

By all accounts, she shouldn't have existed. There was already one known and accounted for, and one in Southern Missouri to boot. But no one really ever accounted for the disaster of 1881, and its long-term effects. That horrible night, when an ill-prepared young woman went out, stake in hand, to face a demon capable of controlling human bodily functions and of suspending time itself. He killed her fifteen times, and then reversed the chronal flow in each instance, to kill her as though for the very first time.

Not until 1981 would the line again be unified. Til that momentous birth, no Watcher ever breathed easy. Young women with the technical potential but not the inner strength emerged, in places far and wide. Some fell easily, emboldening their enemies in dangerous ways. Some were corrupted, but lacked knowledge of their true power, and so failed. Some were put to death by families ignorant and fearful, and scared beyond words of a female with real power.

And some few made a real difference. Yet to hear the demon-kind tell it, talk of a Slayer in Northern Missouri was foolhardy. In Southern Missouri, Agnes Potter had died, risen again as a vampire, but remained sane enough to train her replacement, her future daughter-in-law Mildred Finch. That was many tens of miles away, and she was kept busy.

Which meant the annual barn-dance was wide-open. A beast who had once been a gentle man with a kind smile and a beard had brought six of his friends. They herded the adults and the children separately.

"Meals on one side-fixins on the other!"

He walked casually over to Mrs. Laura Ingalls Wilder.

"You're the author, right? Hey, boys? Drunk any good books lately?"

They laughed, and Laura tried to remember what her late father, Charles, would have done. But keeping faith was soon to be protection only for her soul.

"You don't remember me, Ma'am. But your would-be preacherman Pa once hired me to do some work. Then he called me a thief, and chased me off!"

Almanzo Wilder knew what was going to happen. He was even prepared to watch his wife die before him. So he went for broke.

"If Pa Ingalls called a man a thief, then he was a thief!"

The vampire shifted, and then held Almanzo up with one hand.

"And what happens if I call a man dead?"

There was a sound of rushing air, and the vampire felt that prick that his breed of vampires only ever felt once. The others looked up at the rafters, and there stood a young lady, dressed in various shades of scarlet-and masked, wearing a red wig.

"Depends on whether or not The Wild Rose is in town, Mister!"

Her custom slingshot fired off three more thin but sturdy wooden spikes, and each met their target. One who made for the door received a faceful of water the heroine had ridden miles to obtain. Suffice it to say, it wasn't spring water.

"That just leaves you and me, Mister!"

Snarling, the vampire grabbed a sharpened stick. Then, he appeared to sulk.

"There wasn't supposed to be a Slayer here!"

To the final shock of all, what must have been a nervous young man in life impaled himself.

When the shocked crowd began to move again, Laura and Almonzo left, their minds now heavily burdened.

"Blast them, Manzo! I used to be a Watcher. You'd think they'd at least extend me the simple courtesy of letting me know."

"Darling, that bunch was never courteous. And besides-you were on the wrong side of the Watcher fence. Also-maybe they didn't know, either."

The very first thing in the morning, a phone call to New York was placed. The very second thing, a young woman was awakened. Laura held a scarlet outfit. She glared.

"One-you used your real name. Two-you didn't even bother to disguise your voice. Three, those missiles of yours could have gone anywhere-hit anyone!"

Rose Wilder began to cry, and ran into her mother's arms.

"They attacked me last month, Mother. I don't know how I can do all these things, but I can. I made the costume after what I read of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Kicking high in these dresses don't come easy. None of it has. But you told me that Granpa Charles always felt that folks that could help folks that can't."

Laura grounded her daughter for a week, after that. By using what few resources she had left, she learned that the gang at the barn-dance had been strays from downstate, and not part of any greater scheme. So this gave time for the call she made to New York to bear fruit.

"Rose? Come on out here."

As Almanzo bristled, just a bit, two men Rose thought she knew walked in, and she was delighted.

"Uncle Abel! Uncle Albert!"

Abel Cain Adams was supposedly a Doctor who had married the widowed Mary Ingalls Kendall in 1904. But both he and the other man were not what they seemed. Laura was counting on that. She sat her excited daughter down before them.

"Rose, honey-listen to what Uncle Albert has to tell you."

Albert Ingalls began.

"Rosie-I was found by a man named Quinn when I was a newborn. He claimed me as his own-and then pert near abandoned me when I couldn't work as hard as his lazy life decreed."

"I know this part, Uncle Albert. He was your real father, but then Granpa and Grandma adopted you, and kept you even when he tried to take you back."

"Rosie, don't interrupt your uncle. Mister Quinn was not my birth-father, anymore than Pa Ingalls was. I don't have a birth-father, or a mother."

Rose shook her head, but Albert raised an opened palm.

"Before you say anything, no-not everybody does. Abel-cut my hand."

The proper-sounding Englishman did just that. But to Rose's amazement, the cut healed up, as if by a kind of magic. Uncle Abel then cut his own hand, to like effect, and picked up.

"Your Uncle Albert is believed by most to have died of a blood disorder, many years ago. In fact, he died when wounded by an outlaw named Melvin Koren. He arose that same day, and has not aged since. Any more than Koren has, since he died in Ur, 3000 years ago, or than I myself have, since I awoke somewhere in what was the Fertile Crescent-over 5000 years ago."

Rose sat back.

"You don't die?"

Albert picked up again.

"Let's just say its harder for us than most. Kinda like those monsters you've been fighting. You can die, Rosie. Since we don't want that, we two are gonna take the next month and train you in the use of-"

He smiled, and handed her a sword.

"-this. You are a Slayer, Rosie. And unlike our enemies, yours don't follow almost any set rules. So everything we teach you has got to take, okay young lady?"

Abel Adams added in.

"By tipping it with oak, it can serve more than one purpose. I love you dearly, child, but expect no mercy. You'll come to despise your Uncles, and you can make book on that."

Elated, Rose ran outside with Albert, there to begin the very basics. Laura was a bit more sober.

"I heard tell twenty-five is a ripe old age for a Slayer."

"Laura, this is a quiet area. Her existence is a mistake, as my telegram explained. French Rupert, my contact in that branch of the Watchers, assured me that she need never see a major demon."

Laura called the man by his real name, just this once.

"Methos-we both know that sheriffs get shot in quiet towns, and that policemen die in quiet parts of cities. But if you tell me that this part of her can't be suppressed-"

"And it can't."

"-then just train her to live. Because this isn't Walnut Grove, and twenty-five is just too damned young to die."

A thought for which the Oldest Of All Sword-Immortals had no counter for.

Outside, Almanzo Wilder watched his heart and his brother-in-law spar, and openly wondered if he was ready to be the father of a Slayer.