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Last Rites
Author: Sharon Sala


Chapter 1



Shirley Wallace woke up on the kitchen floor with her son Sean hovering over her. He had a phone in one hand calling for an ambulance, while holding a kitchen towel pressed against the top of her head with the other.

The taste of blood was in her mouth.

Her body was one solid pain, and it hurt to breathe.

She could hear the frantic tone in his voice, but she couldn’t focus enough to respond.

“Yes, yes, she’s breathing and starting to regain consciousness, but she’s bloody as hell, and I don’t know where all the blood is coming from. Yes, I know who attacked her. Her husband, Clyde. No, I don’t know where he is. Just hurry.”

The 911 dispatcher’s voice was calm and quiet, even as he was dispatching emergency vehicles to the address.

“Sean, stay on the line with me until help arrives,” he said.

“Call my brother,” Sean said. “His name is Aaron Wallace. He’s an officer with the Conway Police Department.”

That was the last thing Shirley heard before darkness claimed her.

The next time she woke up, she was in ER.

“Shirley! Can you hear me? My name is Dr. Malone, and you’re in ER.”

“Where’s my son?” she mumbled.

“He’s just outside this room. You’re safe. He’s safe, and we’re going to make you better.”


* * *


Sean was frantically pacing outside the exam bay when he heard the sound of someone running up behind him. He turned to look, then breathed a sigh of relief. Aaron was here!

“How is she?” Aaron asked as he slid a hand across his brother’s shoulder.

Sean shuddered. “I don’t know. Jesus, Aaron. He’s never hurt her like this before. I came in from running errands and found her like that. Her face is bloody and swollen. She’s bleeding from both ears and from a huge cut in her scalp, and she has broken ribs, for sure. Scared the hell out of me. Have they found Clyde?”

Aaron lowered his voice. “He’s in jail. They’re processing him now. Mom got off lucky. Clyde walked into a Quick Loan and shot two people dead. He’s high as a kite and talking out of his head.”

Sean froze, unable to believe what he was hearing.


Aaron gripped his brother’s shoulders. “Our father just murdered two people in cold blood. Shit has hit the fan. Have you called Wiley? Does B.J. know?”

Sean’s eyes welled. “Oh my God. No…not yet.”

Aaron nodded. “I’ll do it. And I’ll call the school for B.J. Did he ride his Harley this morning?”

Sean nodded.

“Okay. You just stay here with Mom. I’m going outside to make some calls.”

It was the beginning of the end of life as they’d known it.


* * *


Within a week of leaving the hospital, Shirley Pope Wallace had filed for divorce. By the time Clyde Wallace’s trial came to court, his family’s names and faces were as well-known as his, and they were being judged and found guilty of nothing but bearing his last name.

The Conway, Arkansas, police department decided it would be in the public’s best interest if the son of a killer was not on their force, and despite an exemplary record, they let Aaron go. Clyde was in prison for life, and so, it would seem, was his family.

Aaron’s wife, Kelly, couldn’t handle the pressure and filed for divorce two months before their first anniversary. Again, it was nothing Aaron did. She just didn’t want to be associated with the crime.

Sean lost clients through the IT firm he’d worked for, and was scrambling to make ends meet, and Wiley was reduced to a DoorDash delivery driver, instead of the law enforcement job he’d been hoping for since graduating from the police academy.

B.J. finished his senior year of high school, but skipped the ceremony, unable to face the shame.

Shirley was let go from her job as a receptionist in a dental office and removed from being a volunteer storyteller at a local library. She finally found a job as a dishwasher in a small Mexican restaurant, and was grateful for it.

Then one day, about a year after Clyde’s imprisonment, Shirley got a phone call that changed their world.


* * *


It was the first week of February and Shirley’s day off. She was doing laundry when her phone rang. She recognized the area code, and without looking at the number, just assumed it was her mother, Helen, calling from Kentucky.


“Hi, Shirley. This is your Aunt Annie.”

Shirley was a little surprised, but pleased to hear from Annie. She was one of her deceased father’s sisters, and she adored her.

“Hi, Auntie! It’s good to hear your voice.”

“Well, sugar, I’m not calling with good news,” Annie said. “I’m so sorry to have to tell you, but your mother passed away in her sleep last night.”

Shock rolled through Shirley in waves.

“No! Oh my God, no! I just spoke to her day before yesterday. She was in good spirits and said she was feeling fine.” She started crying. “Mom was my touchstone to sanity.”

“I know. I’m so sorry, Shirley,” Annie said.

Shirley was sobbing now, struggling to catch her breath. “Why didn’t Mom let me know she was failing?”

“She wasn’t. Not in the way you mean. Helen never looked at life like that. She just got old, and she was ready to go,” Annie said.

Shirley moaned. “But I could have been there to help.”

Annie hesitated before answering. “Honestly, I think Helen knew you already had more on your plate than you could say grace over. This was how she wanted it, and you have to honor that.”

“I feel like someone just cut the rope to my anchor,” Shirley said, then wiped her eyes and blew her nose. “So, what do I need to know? What do I need to do? I can’t be there before tomorrow at the earliest.”

“No, no. No need to hurry here at all,” Annie said. “Helen always said she didn’t want to waste money on some big funeral, and she didn’t want people looking at her in a coffin. She wrote it all down years ago and showed me where her papers were kept. She will be cremated, and her ashes will be saved for you. She always said when you come home to claim your heritage, she wants you to sprinkle them where the mountain laurel grows. She said you’d know the place.”

Shirley hadn’t thought past the shock of the loss until she heard the words, come home to claim your heritage. Her brother and only sibling had died in a car accident some years back, and knowing she was the sole heir to the land and the home in which she’d been raised, felt like one last hug from her mother.

“Yes. Yes, I know right where she means,” Shirley said. “Thank you for calling, Aunt Annie. I am so sad right now, but the thought of going home to Pope Mountain feels like a godsend.”

“I know,” Annie said. “We all know what’s been happening to you and your boys, and we’re so sorry for your suffering. Come home, darlin’. We love you. You’ll be safe here. This is where you’ll heal.”

“Yes, yes…I will. It will take a while, but I’ll let you know. Thank you for calling. I love you, too.”

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