Last in Line by Alice Baburek 

The aged woman cautiously looked about the almost empty parking lot. A handful of cars remained. Employees, no doubt. Her car sat alone under the light. It had been a beautiful summer evening. A quick dash to the grocery store with only fifteen minutes to spare. The bag she carried was not heavy, just bulky. The few items inside shifted, tearing the paper-thin bag. The large oranges tumbled to the ground.

“Not again,” she mumbled. She clicked open the back end of the vehicle and placed the torn bag inside. She did not notice the dark figure near the side of her car. Without hesitation, she bent down and began retrieving the fallen fruit.

“Your purse, old lady,” demanded a shaky voice. Alison Chambers stood up, almost tipping over.

“What?” she asked, regaining her balance. She tossed the oranges in the open car. The ominous figure held a shiny steel serrated knife. The dark hood fell off his thick, mussed hair. The young man licked his cracked lips.

“You heard me…your purse…now…before I cut you wide open.” The crazy-eyed punk snickered. His hand trembled. Alison could see the sweat on his forehead. His T-shirt was stained. The dirty blue jeans hugged his youthful hips.

“Young man, I’m sure you can see plainly I do not have a purse. In fact, I do not carry a purse for just this reason,” explained Alison. Her heart beat a tad faster. She ignored the

increasing palpitations. A slight pain inched across her heavy chest. Her mind focused. With a little luck, she could diffuse the unfortunate situation.

The assailant glanced around. It was just the two of them. “You had to have money, old lady, to buy your groceries. So, give it up,” he shouted, leaning in closer to her face.

Alison immediately pulled back. She crossed her arms. “Exactly my point! I only bring what I know I’m going to spend. Nothing more…nothing less.” The young thug rubbed the back of his moist neck.

“Come on…you’ve got to have something. Nobody goes to the store with exact change. You’re lying to me!” he screamed. He thrusted the knife at Alison.

In a split second, Alison closed her droopy eyelids. She focused on his musky scent. Her self-defense instincts immediately took over. She had been practicing them for years. Her aged body reacted with precision. Within a blink of an eye, she moved out of the way and then grabbed his unprotected wrist.

“Damn!” yelled the young man as he howled in agony. The shining blade clinked as it hit the pavement. Wasting no time, Alison swung her heavy leg upwards into his open groin. The assailant crumpled in agony onto his knees. Crying out obscenities lost into the night.

“What the…?” spittle flew from his contorted mouth. Alison backed further away. She felt her pants pocket and retrieved her cell phone. She punched the number 911. But nothing

happened. The young thug was still grappling with his tender private parts. Tears streamed down his dirty face.

Alison could hear sirens in the distance. Someone from the store must have called. It wouldn’t be long now. Suddenly, a middle-aged woman was standing next to her. She smiled at Alison.

“I like your style,” said the stranger. Alison stared at the mysterious woman.

“Where did you come from?” questioned Alison. The woman had a pleasant face with a few wrinkles. Her hair was short and curly. A blue polo and capri pants fit the woman’s flattering curves.

“I don’t think this jerk will ever learn,” said a deep male voice. Alison’s eyes were instantly drawn to the strange man standing near the assailant, who was still crying in pain.

“Why do I get stuck with the likes of this kind?” The mystery man was tall and lanky. His flannel shirt and blue jeans hung loose. Short, dark hair and a long-pointed nose. He couldn’t be more than thirty. And he seemed to know the mystery woman.

“Where did you come from?” asked Alison. She looked back and forth between the two strangers.

“Same place as her,” he stated, pointing to the female beside Alison.

The young man on the ground was sniffling. “I’m sorry, lady. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you, honest!” he whimpered.

Alison’s eyebrows squished together. What was he talking about? She hurt him—not the other way around.

“I don’t understand,” whispered Alison. The woman beside her sighed.

“He didn’t actually kill you…well, his actions caused your heart to rupture. Your mitral valve was blocked. There’s no coming back from that. Even if the paramedics did arrive a tad earlier…it was your time.” It was then Alison saw the body on the ground.

“Is…is that me?” murmured Alison. Her wrinkled hand gently touched her quivering lips.

Before the stranger could answer, two police cruisers pulled up. A female officer jumped out of her vehicle, pulled her gun, and aimed it at the blubbering assailant. The other officer rushed to the deceased and immediately started to perform CPR.

“Don’t move…keep your hands where I can see them,” insisted the female officer. The young assailant had stopped crying. He remained still on the ground.

“My wrist…it’s broken. The old woman broke my wrist. Can you believe it? She kicked me in the balls, too. What old person does that?” he moaned.

“One who has to defend themselves against scum like you!” shouted the strange man. “I swear…” He shook his head. “Is this my penance?” He gestured his hand towards the crook.

“It’s up to the Almighty, you know this, Stuart.” The woman pointed to the sky.

“Anne…of course, I know this. But why me? Why am I tasked to guard a delinquent soon to be convicted of murder?” Anne shrugged her shoulders.

“I didn’t ask for this job, Anne. I had no choice in the matter.” He paced back and forth.

The paramedics arrived. Alison’s attention was drawn to the two older males as they rushed to the body—her body—white face and skin the color of ash.

One of the paramedics took over for the officer. Minutes ticked by. He checked her pulse. He looked up at his coworker and then shook his head from side to side.

“She’s gone. Let’s get the gurney.” Minutes later, they lifted Alison’s empty shell.

“Hey! Hey! What about me? My wrist is broken. I need medical attention!” shouted the young man, still on the ground.

As they pushed the gurney inside the back of the ambulance, one of the men turned to respond.

“You can catch the next ride,” he said through gritted teeth.

The female officer holstered her weapon and pulled out her handcuffs. The male officer read the murderer his rights.

“Let’s go, buddy. I’ll take you to the hospital.” They helped the young suspect into the backseat of the cruiser and clicked his free hand to the steel bar.

“Stuart, you’re going to miss your ride,” stated Anne. Alison could not wrap her mind around the scenario unfolding before her. Was she dreaming? Or was she really dead?

“Oh, that’s funny, Anne. Really funny! Ha, ha!” Stuart twirled into a circle and then disappeared.

“Where…where did he go?” asked Alison.

“Wherever Henry Wilson goes,” replied Anne. “You see, Stuart is his guardian angel. He’s been tasked with guarding the man who just happened to cause your death.”

Alison watched as the ambulance pulled away with silent flashing lights. The police cruiser containing Henry Wilson sped out of the parking lot.

The other officer left behind was speaking on her shoulder mic. Then, she opened her trunk and pulled out the yellow crime scene tape.

“I’m Anne, by the way—your guardian angel. We should be going. There’s nothing left for you here anymore, Alison.” The middle-aged woman gave a slight smile.

“I can’t believe…” Alison’s words trailed off.” Was she truly dead?

“I know. It’s a lot to take in. In time, you’ll come to grips with it.” Anne slowly turned and then looked back at Alison over her shoulder.

“What’s next?” asked Alison. And then suddenly, a miraculous peacefulness consumed her soul.

“Well, that’s actually up to you. Let’s take a walk, and I’ll give you a few pointers…” The two women then disappeared into the swirling white mist under the heavenly starlit sky.

Alice Baburek is an avid reader, determined writer and animal lover. She lives with her partner and four canine companions. Retired from one of the largest library systems in Ohio, she challenges herself to become an unforgettable emerging voice.

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