This is the first of several short stories I'd like to share in this space. The history behind this one is pretty simple. It was written for an open call, and when it didn't make the cut for that anthology I retooled it for general sale--but there aren't a lot of markets for this kind of thing.
I hope you enjoy.
P.S. I'm making this first piece open to all, so please share this heartwarming grandma story with the whole world.
P.P.S If you're new here, please consider contributing at the $1 level. I'd love to keep posting more stories here.
The King of Justice and Revenge
Anthony W. Eichenlaub
Grace Roberta Smith had four daughters, two sons, at least a dozen grandchildren, and more than a few greats, but only sixteen-year-old granddaughter Jo visited the hospice when Grace was finally released from prison.
“You’re taller than in the pictures,” Grace told her granddaughter.
Jo shrugged, her painted face an affectless mask. “You’re shorter.”
On bad days, Grace’s mind was a hard drive in a bucket of magnets. She clutched the key at her neck: the last remaining hint of her former glory dangling from her Tyrannosaurus Rex necklace. This was a good day. The tumor left her a few enough of those.
Jo sat beside Grace in the hospice’s common area absorbing a long and heavy silence. Her nose turned up at the stench of death, the antiseptic bombardment meant to cover it up, or the assault of lavender meant to cover that.
“Your mother send you?” Grace asked finally.
Jo shook her head. “She said you were a monster.”
The words hurt like only truth can. Grace knew why the girl was there. There was only one good reason.
“I quit robotics club,” Jo said, “and I heard… I heard you used to be a roboticist.”
Grace braced herself on her walker and pushed herself up with quivering muscles. “Let’s go.” She led the girl into the hospice’s back yard, where the smooth path passed close to the parking lot. “You drive.”
“Won’t you get in trouble?”
“It’s a hospice. What are they going to do to me?” She bolted through the sparse landscaping as fast as a little old lady afraid of a broken hip can possibly bolt while using a walker.
Once they hit the highway in Jo’s dingy hatchback, Grace breathed glorious freedom for the first time in thirty years. She dug in Jo’s glovebox until she found some old cigarettes and a lighter.
“They never found Rex,” Grace said through a cloud of smoke. “But they convicted me anyway.”
Jo’s expression hardened.
“Why’d you quit your club?” Grace asked.
The girl kept her eyes on the road, her shoulders tense. “My robot velociraptor didn’t work.”
“Were you too ambitious or too stupid?”
Jo blinked. “What?”
“Always aim high, kid. Better to fail hard.” She blew out a long stream of smoke.
“That’s not what my team thought.”
“They all boys?”
“Don’t suffer dipshits, dear. Every time they try to get you down, spend one hour working on your own project.”
“Then murder them with it?”
Grace barked out a laugh. “I didn’t build it with the intention of murdering anyone,” she said. “Not really.”
“I heard it breathed fire.”
Grace tried to direct her granddaughter through streets she wouldn’t have recognized decades ago. She grew confused and tired and frustrated, but eventually, they found the lake. The island at its center still a hardwood forest surrounded by rocky shore. Grace tossed her cigarette down and ground it out with the foot of her walker.
They stole a boat and rowed out to the island. Skinny as the girl was, she rowed hard and strong the whole way. When they landed, they tied to an old dock and walked inland.
“Why were they never able to find it?” Jo asked.
“Why are you looking for it?”
“It’s a legend.”
“There are a plenty of legends.”
The trees were thicker than Grace remembered, but thirty years will do that. Dense undergrowth blocked the paths she remembered taking long ago, but with Jo’s help she made it through. Her walker became tangled so many times she abandoned it, instead relying on her granddaughter for balance.
The house had been old when Grace first started her project. It stood at the center of the island, leaning to one side as if melting in the summer heat.
Grace’s heart fluttered, and she sat on the steps to catch her breath. When she felt up to it, she led the girl to the basement where the old boiler sat rusted through like a squirrel-eaten walnut. She found the hidden catch and opened access to the lower stair, relieved that nobody had found it in all these years. Jo, using her phone as a flashlight, led the way.
Then, it was there. Towering above them in the enormous underground cavern, sat her old Rex. Tears blurred Grace’s vision, and she had to swallow back the lump before she could speak.
“The tunnel opens through the lake,” Grace ran a gnarled hand over her dinosaur’s metal armor. Once-shiny parts were corroded dark, but still solid. It still had machine gun hands and rocket launcher shoulders. The cannon on its back—oh Grace remembered the sound that made when it fired. It was the sound of justice.
No, she thought, it was the sound of revenge. “She’s just as tough as the day I built her.”
Grace smiled. “Do you think there weren’t female Tyrannosaurus Rexes?”
“Well, I mean, Rex means king…”
“Are you telling me a woman can’t be king?” Grace took the key from her necklace. “The Rex is a symbol of power and dominance and raw ferocity. Of course, those boy scientists want to claim that as their own.”
“I was too ambitious,” Jo said, looking up at Grace’s monster. “I tried to solve the problem in a way the others on the robotics team thought wouldn’t work.”
“You don’t have to use old Rex,” Grace said, “You might decide to never tell anyone about it. But if anyone—anyone—ever gives you shit, I want you to think about this place. Think about what your grandma did long ago. You think about that, and know you’ve got options. Options mean freedom, and freedom is power over dipshits.”
Grace pushed a button on the key. The dinosaur’s huge eyes flared red, flooding the cavern. In that light, Grace saw the black blood still crusted over the beast’s razor-sharp teeth.
“Yeah,” she said. “Options.”