flash fiction: another mystery to continue?

hello dear readers,

here’s the beginning of another short mystery…truthfully, i’m not really sure where it’s going to go, but i thought i would throw it out here and see if that motivates me to continue writing.  i don’t even know if this snippet is enough to begin…the Inspector in this story is the very same as in “A strange morning in the neighborhood“.


A shock in the parlor

Jones was always too little, too late.  Never could remember or settle upon a time in which inadequacy was not a defining theme of his life.

Except when it came to Dr. Missus Jones.  Yes, his polar opposite, Dr. Missus.  A shining example of humanity.

Her love for him was not without gentle judgement; she kept him in his place, grounded, but with a tether long enough to allow him to indulge in his own shortcomings.  The daydreaming, tardiness, absentminded qualities of his existence.

And so, when Jones walked into the living room, mouth already halfway around an excuse, it took a full minute to register the scene before him.

His mouth dropped open mid-syllable, then widened into a grimace.

A low moan, like something out of a walruses’ maw, escaped.

No.  The word sucked the air from his lungs.  There was Dr. Missus, sprawled on the floor, cooked-noodle limbs at odd angles.

One satin slipper languishing near the tapestried settee, the painted toenails of its foot seemed to indict Jones for his late arrival.

Jones crawled along the edge of the rug, attempting to assess the state of his wife without actually touching her body.  It was then that he noticed the blood and realized that even emergency medicine could not save her, for she had been neatly dispatched by a garrote.  The offending tool had been thrown haphazardly to the floor just shy of the rug’s tassels.

Jones felt nauseous and managed to scramble on all fours to the kitchen, where he promptly vomited on the parquet flooring.  Without amending his position, he reached for his cellular phone, dialing the police.

Suffice it to say that the paramedics and police arrived quickly and an immediate investigation began with Jones.

What time did you arrive home?

Where were you before you arrived?

How long was your commute?

Can any one verify your whereabouts?

Did your wife have any enemies or outstanding debts?

Is there anyone you know who would want to kill your wife?

Jones just stood there, monotone answers occasionally punctuated by the walrus moan, which caused the interrogators to eye him with concern.  Soon the duty officers departed, suggesting he contact loved ones and consider staying somewhere else for the evening.

And just as they were leaving, the Inspector walked in.  She met the eyes of the officer speaking to Jones with her cool stare, and he stumbled over his words.  After a pause, he deferred to his superior,

The inspector will speak with you now, Mr. Jones.  Our deepest condolences.  He beat a hasty retreat toward the wide open front door to make room for the Inspector.

Did you love your wife, Mr. Jones? The Inspector’s question caught him unawares.  He looked down at his work-worn hands before he faced the Inspector,

Of course I did. She was my safe haven. He groaned again, tears escaping the corners of his eyes.

I’ll take a look around, if you don’t mind.  The Inspector did not wait for the affirmative response.

When the Inspector left the premises about an hour later, there was a small huddle of officers waiting for her.  They looked at her expectantly, murmuring to each other

The old gal’s looking quite confident there, isn’t she?

She’s got it all tied up in a neat package now, for sure!
Wonder when she’ll make her report, mebbe tomorrow?

The Inspector ignored all the talk and made her way past the subordinates.  Her pace quickened as she exited the front gate and moments later, she was cocooned in the smells of automobile leather and artificial lavender air freshener.  Of course it would start to drizzle now, but at least she was dry.  She took a deep but shaky breath and reviewed her handwritten notes.  Perhaps it would take a few days, but she was certain she could solve this crime, and she was certain the guilty party was not far off.

flash fiction: Dvorak for the recently departed

Chester Prime was lost, but in a moment of clarity, he realized he had no desire to be found.

When he opened his eyes, a hazy grey mist wet them, and he blinked away the sand of sleep, turning westward toward the ocean.  He couldn’t remember which one.  In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t really matter.

He had dug up the earth under the tree by the house.  The house was always an ugly piece of work, and as he chucked the shovel  onto the small hill of brown dirt and red clay, he realized that it was not long for this world, either.  Too much dry rot.

Now he stood facing away from the rising sun, shivering a little.  He reached for a cigarette and lit up, allowing the noxious inhalation to warm his chest.  There was no one else to whom he could offer the pack, so he stuffed it away.

Three weeks ago, Chester listened as Moira played the cello with long strokes, bow slightly angled, the smell of rosin dust and horsehair enveloping her.  His sister’s long calloused fingers slapped lightly on the cello’s neck, her body swayed as she practiced the Poco Adagio of Dvorak’s String Quartet Op. 61.  Beatific was the only word that could describe her at that moment.  Chester snapped a series of shots.  Later, he scrolled through them and found that moment, printed it out, and framed it.

The cigarette burned out so Chester flicked the butt into the sandy grass.  He took a deep breath.  Maybe facing the day was the only way to move forward.  Picking up the black violin case beside him, he made his way down to the beach below.

Sandra and Roy were waiting for him on the flat rock just a few feet from the ocean’s reach.  They had already set up the chairs and music stands.  Barefoot and clad in cream linen, they watched him warily.

Five days ago, Sandra had called Chester, asking him to come to the beach to play.  We’ll do Mozart, or something cheesy like that.  Moira would have liked that, she said, Or maybe some Dvorak?  Chester hung up the phone.  Later that afternoon, Roy sent him a message:  Are you okay? Chester deleted both messages and turned off his phone.  The next morning, he found himself waiting outside the home improvement store at 5:30, looking to buy a shovel.

Roy approached Chester, the dry sand dunes and the viola in his left hand making progress slow.  Where have you been? We’ve been trying to get ahold of you for the last four days!  Chester didn’t answer.  Instead he plodded to the rock, put the case down and toed his shoes off.  He rolled up his black trousers.  He sat in the second chair from the right and gazed out at the horizon.  The ocean would serve as their conductor today.

Three days ago, Chester had driven home to the house that looked like it would fall down sideways.  Crooked houses made for crooked people, or at least that’s how Chester felt.  So, many years ago, he had taken off with her as quickly as he could, even though she thought it had character. Now, he couldn’t go straight to the house, so he had just driven around the neighborhood slowly.  Old ladies came out onto their porches with tea but Chester knew they were really just keeping an eye on him.  He slouched in the seat and turned into the driveway overgrown with moss and weeds.

Sandra, sitting in the first chair, tuned up her violin and then played an A for Roy and Chester.  They all took their time, bare feet grounded as if the rumblings of the ocean could direct their movements.  Chester closed his eyes, even though he knew Roy and Sandra were looking at him.  He could hear Sandra’s intake of breath, the cue to begin.  And so they played.

They played without sheet music.  They played without noting the passage of time.  They played without feeling the cut of the wind against their linen clothing.  Their music soared over the lap of the waves at the sand, the rock still taunting Poseidon’s greedy fingers.  Chester was so lost in the music that he entered a reverie of sorts, halfway between reality and Dvorak’s Poco Adagio.

Two days ago, after subjecting himself to an uncomfortable night’s sleep on the threadbare and possibly pest-ridden davenport, Chester rose before the sun.  In the wan light, he retrieved the shovel and began to dig.  He ignored all early morning imperatives to eat or drink or relieve himself.  He found an unsteady comfort in the rhythm of the shovel’s cut into the earth and subsequent chuffing of dirt.  It was four feet long by three feet wide by six feet deep, to insure against discovery.  Satisfied with the hour’s labor, Chester went back inside the house to retrieve the hole’s occupants.

As the last strains of the quartet married the wind and departed for the ocean’s abyss, Chester allowed the bow to dangle from his fingertips.  He stood and walked toward the ocean, unresponsive to its icy touch.  Soon he was knee-deep, and the bow floated away.  The violin, taking on salt water, was relinquished to the ocean, which swallowed it whole.  Sandra and Roy hopped the waves to grab Chester’s arms.  They gently but firmly guided him to shore.  He made no resistance.

One day ago, red clay mixed with brown dirt covered the hole under the tree.  Chester sat a few feet away; it looked like a fresh scab, it looked just like her grave in the cemetery.  He wondered if anyone would come looking for the cello or her photograph.  He doubted it.

(written 16 april 2018)


flash fiction: make up

Make Up

She worried that she had started to wear too much make-up.

If one could call a few dabs of under-eye concealer, a thin swipe of eye-liner and a nude lipstick too much.

But yet, bare-faced, when she looks in the mirror she sees age.  She remembers what her mother said about wearing cosmetics, and wonders if she stops using it now, whether she’ll see the old her.  The younger one from before NARS and Lumene and Revlon finally convinced her to attempt a more grown-up look.

She angles her chin toward the mirror, remembering an article somewhere that announced the benefits of a lifted face.  Not a face-lift, never that.  She gently rubs under her eyes, trying to coax the slightly puffy half-moons to flatten out.  With her chin up, the shadows hugging the lower lashes were not visible to her.  It would be impractical to walk around like that all day, if she even remembered to do so.

Reaching into her vanity, she pulled out the concealer, and after opening it, examined the sticky wand.  The color, one half shade lighter than her own skin, seemed suddenly foreign; it belonged on a palette bound for canvas, not epidermis.

Her eyes drifted again to the mirror,  asking herself why there were dark circles under her eyes in the first place.  She needed more sleep and less coffee, more meditative moments and fewer stressful ones.

She tossed the small bottle into the wastebasket.  The clink as it hit the bottom was surprisingly satisfying to her ears.

The eye pencils followed suit after another moment of scrutiny.  A long-unused jar of foundation, three small eye shadow palettes, mascara, loose powder and rouge joined the growing pile.  She knew it was psychological, but with each divestment, her shoulders felt a little bit lighter.

All that remained in the vanity were two tubs of moisturizer and five tubes of lipstick.  Her stomach was suddenly bathed with regret–maybe she shouldn’t throw all of that make-up away.  But then she steeled herself and swept all of the lipsticks into the hammock of her shirt.

She sat down on the bed, opening each tube in a silent ritual.  She twisted the tube, gauging how much product was left, eyeing the color and swiping a line on her hand, much as she had done in the drugstore prior to purchase. The first one was too pink, no wonder she hadn’t worn it in ages.  The second was a clownish red, left over from the vintage phase she had explored the year before.  The third and fourth were just too old to be saved–they had languished in the back of the cupboard for more than two years.  Her dermatologist would reprimand her if she knew.

The final tube was the color she most often wore; a mauve-brown that was just pink enough to enhance her lips.  Matte, not shiny, just the way she liked her lip color.  She rubbed out the stripes of color on her hand with her finger and went to the mirror.  She tossed the four other tubes into the bin.

Looking at her reflection, she ignored the tiredness around her eyes and the dullness of her skin.  She would wash her face later.  She held the lipstick up to her bottom lip and applied the barest hint of color.  Her lips smacked together softly to spread it around.  She smiled, flashing teeth, feeling like a little girl.

Amazing what a little lipstick could do.

(written 30 january 2018)

fiction: tunnel


Astonishing that blackness could be so iridescent; swallowing light while still reflecting it in a myriad of colors.  The ridges stacked upon one another, disappearing into the dark.

This was not an inviting place, although a steady stream of visitors entered and exited the tunnel without incident almost every day.  Amateurs attempted quick selfies in the inadequate light, bemoaning the results with mock disappointment before moving on.  Only one person stood to the side, just outside its mouth.  She fidgeted nervously with her hands, trying to stay away from the bulk of the crowd.  She pretended to focus her camera on interesting rock features, plants and insects, which were plentiful; especially the mosquitoes.  The midday heat mixed with the aroma of  wild ginger settled over the area like a layer of sweetly sticky cream.

After what seemed like an hour, but was actually only half the time, the flow of chattering people petered out and she found herself almost alone.  The lull in movement encouraged her to step closer to the tunnel, but she succeeded only in toeing the invisible line between light and dark; even that was disappearing with the sun’s path westward.

Can you help me? The question came from behind her; it was slightly muffled.  She turned around.

There, just near a fringe of low-growing ferns, was a child.  The most pathetic of looks held its features hostage.  Smudged tear-tracks painted cheeks; an embarrassing trail of clear mucus from nostril to upper lip.

I’ve lost my family.  The child looked slightly guilty, as if it had done something wrong, as if separation from its family unit was its fault or some-such nonsense.  She felt a sudden, unusual urge to reach out and hug the child and comfort it.  But clearly, this child was just on this side of being too old for strange adult to comfort it without awkwardness.

 Well, I can definitely try to help you find them, she replied, or we can find a park ranger to take you back to the welcome station.  She started to pack her camera into her backpack.

I think they’re just on the other side of the lava tunnel, the child replied, sniffing back tears and swallowing courage from the humid air.  Its shoulders squared as it approached her, pointing into the dark.

Hmm, she said nervously, maybe if we yell they’ll hear you and come back?

Not a chance, the child replied, voice stronger.  I got separated from them ten minutes ago.  They walk much faster than I do.  There’s six of us, and they often forget about me.  They’re probably at the end of the trail by now.  She didn’t think that was possible; the park map showed that the trail end was over two kilometers from the tunnel and there were several possible options.  Of course the child would eventually reunite with its family, but that could take an hour at this point.

You know, she said to the child, we could go back the way we came, to the welcome station.  Someone there could call the patrolling ranger and they could find your parents.  The child looked reluctantly backward.

That means I won’t get to see the lava tube, though.  Turning toward the entrance, the child began to walk.  She could choose not to follow, to instead call the emergency number posted throughout the park, but this wasn’t a life or death emergency.  So she called after the departing figure:  Wait!

She was apprehensive.  There was a reason why she hadn’t entered the lava tube.  She came to this spot once a week, actually, courting the idea of taking that step inside with all the other visitors.  Company would make the nausea and fear easier to bear.  She remembered the visit made those many years ago, the first and last time she walked through.  She was much younger–perhaps the age of this child separated from its family.  It was only in the days and weeks after that school trip to the park that she started to develop symptoms.  Before that she had never been afraid of dark, enclosed spaces, places where light only flirted with entry.  Where it looked like the sun moved so quickly one could only see it exit the other end, it got lost in the belly of the tube.  But no matter how many times she came, she could never bring herself to enter.  What had transpired there in the dark would stay there as long as she did not go inside.  Still, she wondered how her life would be different if she let it out.

Now the child looked at her with building exasperation.  Come on, please?  It begged her now.  I think if we hurry, we could find them.  I don’t wanna go alone into the tunnel.  They’ll never come back this way to let me see it if we go to the welcome station.  I read about this in a guidebook.  It’s supposed to be amazing.  Please?

She took another step.  The child came back to grab her hand.  It was a boy, she confirmed, now that he was closer.  It’s okay, I’m scared, too, he said, knowingly.  If we go together, if we use my flashlight, it’ll be okay.  He pulled a small headlamp from his pocket and strapped it above his eyebrows.  With a twist, it made a small beam of light that shone into her eyes.  He smiled tentatively at her squinting eyes and wrinkled forehead.  Let’s go.

When they finally crossed the threshold, the boy turned his head back and forth, sweeping the cone of light across the tunnel.  It was empty and silent except for their breathing, which was soft and quick.

She felt like her eyes were blindered, like cones prevented her from noticing the periphery.  She decided to focus on the path ahead until the boy gasped with wonder.  Check this out! He stopped and turned to face the ridged wall.  High above, hardened lava drips hung from the ceiling, almost flap-like stalactites.  They glowed almost red from the mineral content.  She only remembered being shoved against the wall, her bag wrenched from her back by the three girls.

They had mocked her, laughing at her unfashionable clothes and cheap slippers, her thick frizzy hair.  Those girls, barely teenagers, had found so many ways to make her feel the creep of nausea up the back of her throat, just by calling her name.  But it had all come to a head in that tunnel, all those years ago.

The boy waved his hand in front of her eyes.  Hey, he said, Isn’t that totally cool?  He went on to monologue about the way the lava had flowed through this area, forming the tube and the stalactites.  She barely heard him but managed to nod at what seemed like the appropriate moments.  They had thrown her bag to the ground, had brought her to her knees.  This was not the first time, or the fiftieth time, but it was an opportune moment of isolation from the group.  They had pinched her stomach, underneath her shirt.  A place they knew would not be readily seen.  They slapped her back, hands smacking the most painful stretch of skin.  Pulled her long braids, laughing and flipping their own silky straight ponytails.  They had thrown her glasses to the ground, rendering her sightless in the close and dark tube.  She had had no flashlight.

She remembered hearing the echoes of the coarse names they had called her, how they had told her to never come back to school.  How she should eat shit and die.  Their chanting was a perverse mantra that granted them power over her.  In the moments after their echoes died out, she wondered should she just stay in the tube and never come out, fading into the walls like some Gollum-y creature in search for her own soul?  After several minutes of feeling around in the dark, listening to the intermittent drip of moisture, her hands lit upon familiar plastic frames.  Scratched lenses still allowed her to see enough to find the tunnel’s exit.  It was only a few hundred meters long, after all.

But somehow in that hundred meters, something horrific had occurred.  And instead of emerging broken and sobbing, she had been reborn in the light on the other side as silent and withdrawn, a thing without life.  She said nothing of her absence and her teachers had not even noticed.  Later, the girls had finally let her alone, had become too busy with growing up and learning how to cover up their own insecurities rather than superimpose them on someone else.  She, too, had moved on, the symptoms of a kind of claustrophobia sneaking up on her when she least expected them.  In darkened bathroom stalls, lonely locker rooms, her bedroom at night.  And they were always accompanied by that mantra of hate, forcing her to question her own validity.

Hey.  The boy grabbed her hand again, shaking her.  Let’s keep going.  It’s interesting but I still want to catch up with my family.  He held on to her tightly, as if his momentary excitement had given away to the aforementioned fear of the dark.  She squeezed his fingers slightly, realizing that her own palms were uncomfortably sticky.  But the boy didn’t say anything.  She kept breathing, lightly.  She was surprised that she didn’t experience some dramatic phobic attack that rendered her immobile.  She didn’t fall, catatonic, to the cool floor.  The trauma was no less real, no less powerful, in spite of what everyone told her:  Kids will be kids, they will be mean.  Girls are insufferably unkind to each other.  Sticks and stones.  You are better than they, keep your chin up.  None of that had helped to ease the pain.

We’re almost there, he sighed.  Thank you for walking with me through the dark.

She smiled wanly at the boy, the white of her teeth glowing in the light of his headlamp.

And when they finally stepped out of the lava tube, the fading brightness of the sun glancing off the leaves, the boy turned to her with an incredulous look on his face.  They came back for me, he breathed.  They usually don’t.

She smiled again, this time resting her hand on his shoulder, before he ran off.  She remembered her last exit from this lava tube, and how she knew that, even now, she still wasn’t completely healed.  But she could feel a little spark there, inside.  The place where she had disappeared into the dark.  There in that place, she had finally found her flash light.

(written 18 march 2018)

flash fiction: the voice of a stranger

(update:  so friends, i had completely forgotten i’d posted this one already, so really it’s just a revisit, i guess…and with a cover photo!)

The voice of a stranger

Memory is a funny thing; and the fact that humans have so many different kinds of memory makes it even funnier.
For him, memory was an overflowing urn of recollections packaged into separate baggies; he wondered if he should come up with some sort of aesthetically pleasing way of organizing them. But no palace of the mind for him. There were so many, and so little time in which to sort. And so he contented himself with the simple fact that unlike Sherlock Holmes, he was so skilled at retrieving them, without the architecture, that aesthetic pleasure was really not at the top of the list of things to achieve.
He could remember everything about her, from the most base and vulgar things, to the most reverent: What her sweat tasted of after exercise; the smell of her flatulence; the texture of her skin when it would crack and flake in the wintertime; the appearance of the body parts only ever revealed to him; the curve of her smile. By these senses, he could identify her with a the fabled skill of photographic memory.
But he could not remember her voice. No matter how he tried, the pitch, timbre and warmth eluded him the more fervently he delved into his urn of memory. When he woke in the morning, the sounds escaping her lips were rendered incomprehensible, his brain perplexed by the voice that remained foreign. After too many mornings faced with the anguish of re-acquaintance under duress, he admitted to her sadly that in spite of everything he had committed to memory, her voice would always slip away.
She took the admission in stride, initially unworried that his inability to regard her voice as familiar would somehow corrupt or jeopardize their relationship. All of the other things he never forgot: Her favorite poems, her dislike of shrimp, the smell of her perfume, her strange allergy to carrots. He remembered those things, and that mattered.
But week after week, month after month, their relationship grew more strained as she realized that his problem was far more insidious. He would grow disoriented at the sound of her speaking if she approached him without preamble. There was no way to start a conversation because he forgot who she was, even if he could see her. She stopped calling him on the phone since the first three minutes of every phone call revolved around reintroductions despite caller-id.
And so they communicated through writing. For as much as she was frustrated with his brain, she loved him. And so they texted. They left post-its on the mirror. They used a primitive and private sign-language. They existed in their own little bubble of silence quite happily for a while.
One day, out of the blue, she had a strange feeling. How did he survive in the real world? Why did he not have trouble with anyone else’s voices? He went to work, conversed with his colleagues. He listened to music, watched TV and movies, all without disorientation. She felt less-than. She fell into a depression that would not allow her to write a single word for a day. But she was resilient.
She came to him with a suggestion, written in frenzied block letters:
What do you mean? he replied in his slanted script.
WHAT IF I HAD A DIFFERENT VOICE she wrote hurriedly, the F’s a blur of excitement.
What do you mean? he held up the same paper.
I MEAN, I COULD GET A NEW VOICE. LIKE A COMPUTERIZED ONE? She ducked her head so she could look him in the eyes.
That is an interesting idea. He glanced at her for a second, and then put his pencil down, sighing.
She hugged him, used their sign for love. She hopped from one foot to the other, anxious to get a more definitive answer.
Okay. He wrote, smiling at her.
She ran off to place the order.
After one more week of unvoiced interactions, a package arrived at the door. It was a special microphone; when placed over the neck at voice-box level, it altered the voice. It was gadgetry out of a spy movie or the favorite gear of hostage takers. She couldn’t wait to try it out.
Auto-tuned was the first thing he thought when she walked into the room. It was a unique sound, one with an accent that he could not place. Perhaps because it was bland, almost affect-less, perfect. But he looked at her and recognized the face he saw, the smile that spoke volumes without a word.
She reached for his hand. She told him about her day and asked about his.
They went on like this for a few weeks and it seemed all was well. One day, without warning, he asked her to remove the microphone. Perplexed, she hesitated, but then opened the velcro strap with a loud ripping sound. He looked straight at her and indicated that she should speak.
He looked at her strangely and shook his head. He held his ears for a moment. She grabbed a pencil and paper from the drawer and held up a hastily scribbled note.
He shook his head. Without opening his mouth, he took the paper and pencil from her trembling fingers.
I can’t do this anymore he wrote.
Her shoulders sagged. She went to the room to lie down. She didn’t have the energy to write.
That evening, he was gone.
Later, when she had finally gotten over him, she heard from a mutual friend that he was living on his own. Occasionally she would think about texting him, until one day, she saw him at a coffee shop. He was with another woman. She wore the microphone strapped around her neck; it was discreetly covered by a cowl, but it was nevertheless visible to the expectant eye. They laughed at each other, her auto-tuned voice falling flat.
She imagined he had every detail about her memorized, from her favorite song to the smell of her breath in the morning. He could probably pick her out of a lineup of smells, tastes and textures blindfolded. She observed them for a moment before picking up her coffee and leaving the café, the echo of her laugh causing him to pause and look up.