Saint John City, Part 4

Continued from Part 3

Ida’s thoughts circled her head while she walked, buzzing too close for comfort but not near enough to swat away. Looking back at the store, she saw Bob and Sue; both waved and she returned the friendly gesture. Thoughts of Bob joined the swarm. Did he suspect her and should she suspect him? After all, Bob was not the sort to miss a person walking into his store and disappearing.

She sighed. This was all her mother’s fault. Ida could hear the lecture now: “You gotta do good in the world, Ida Ann. Nobody’s worth nothing if he thinks about himself all the time!” Her mother lived it, too. Ida couldn’t recall how many times she’d come home from school to find a note saying Mom was out at so-and-so’s house. Their family hardly enjoyed a meal or a batch of cookies without first sharing it with others.

Yes, her mother set the bug in Ida’s conscience to do good in the world. Yes, there was a need for good in a world with bad people. And, yes, she suspected that Petey might be one of those bad people.

A curling, yellow leaf drifted across her vision, drawing her attention to God’s beautiful autumn around her. She stopped. Maple Street glowed in reds and yellows while the gentle wind brushed leaves from branches to dance downward like soft rain.

It was the leaves that saved her. Crisp crunching footsteps came from behind, as solid but nervous as those she’d heard behind the hidden door at the back of McClintock’s Mercantile. By the time they stuttered to her side, she’d replaced her frozen expression with her classic, open smile. “Hello, Petey.”

Petey stalled and stopped. “Well! Ida Layton.” His lowered eyebrows and sharp eyes guarded a returning smirk. He kept pace with her as they continued on. “I see you went shopping.”

She’d forgotten the swinging bag of milk and cereal at her side. “Oh! Yes. You know how fast kids go through food!” She laughed, stopping quickly at its nervous tenor.

His laugh sounded natural and at ease. “I’m surprised you got out with just the Lucky Charms. Bob about got my ear last time I went in there.”

“Well,” she stopped. They were at her mailbox. “Now that you mention it, he did tell me all about some kind of juicing machine. He sounds …excited.”

“Ha! Excited isn’t the half of it. You’d think he were getting a horse.” Petey turned his gaze to a distant point in the sky across the street.

“Well,” she said again. He didn’t react. “Guess I’d better go get the kids their food.”

He waited till she was halfway up the front walk before answering. “You gotta take care of those kids.”

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©2020 Chel Owens

Saint John City, Part 3

Continued from Part 2

“No, I didn’t,” Petey’s voice said, near to Ida’s stooped position. A shadow moved across the outlined light, then away. “I said I didn’t!

She leaned nearer, eyes darting and ears straining. From the dark wall before her, she heard his soft-soled footsteps walking. Stopping. Walking. Stopping. From the large store space behind her, she heard humming lights and the familiar, lecturing tone of an old woman.

“Oh, I know you want-” Petey began. His voice faded as his shoe sounds moved farther away. “Not care,” “man,” “get your money,” and “no” were the only words she could be sure of. Another frown threatened her perfect brow. The voices far behind her, meanwhile, changed to sounds of farewell. Ida started backing away; careful of boxes, mop, and display case.

Just as she reached the greeting card rack and again withdrew a Get Well Soon sample, Bob himself came into view. Relief spent an instant in his eyes, quickly chased by a suspicious scowl. She gave him time to hitch a careful smile in place before setting the card back in its spot. She smiled her own, open greeting to the wary store owner. “Jack said you told him you’d stocked some new stuff, Bob, but I could only find the usual.”

Bob coughed. “Well, I- I didn’t mean stuff in the back– When I talked to him, it was jus’ after a shipment from out o’ state, ya know what I mean, and I was hopin’ it’d be Jack ter come in so I could show ‘im the meat-slicer we got for the deli…” His face cleared. “But, now that you mention it, Nate told me all about this gadget what makes orange juice, ya know what I mean-“

Raising her hand to stop the barrage, she began, “I don’-“

“No, o’course ya don’t since you ain’t never seen one afore, but this’un takes th’oranges an’ squeezes the juice right outta them an’ you can see it right there in front o’ ya-“

“I see. That’s-“

“An’ it’s great ’cause ya don’ hafta get ’em ready ‘cepting ya gotta cut th’orange in half, ya know what I mean, so’s it’s ready for juicing…”

Ida could do nothing but nod and make the occasional sound of interest. He talked as they walked from back to front of store, stopping at the milk section, the cereal section, then standing before the amused cashier.

“Has he been talking your ear off about his new toy?” Sue teased.

Bob turned to Sue, midway through an explanation of electricity and motors. “It’s not a toy, Sue. It’s technology! Ya see, the input from the-“

“You don’t need to tell me, Bob! I heard it fifty times back when Nate sold it to you!” Smiling indulgently, Sue turned to Ida. “I’ll ring you up so you can go home, Hon.’ I won’t let him tell you all about the ways oranges can get squished no more.”

Ida returned the smile. “Oh, that’s all right.” She inclined her head to Bob. “I’m sorry for not understanding what was new. I think the juicer sounds great and that the kids would love it. Can I show it to them?”

With a look rivaling a kid at Christmas, the proprietor rubbed him hands together. “Yeah! Great! Come on by Saturday, after it’s delivered, and you’ll be the first ones to see it run!”

Head full of secret doors, muted conversations, and oranges, she left McClintock Mercantile with her purchases. How, she wondered, Will I ever get into that back room without Bob or Sue -or Petey- catching me? Could orange juice hold the key?

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©2020 Chel Owens

Saint John City, Part 2

Continued from Part 1

Ida stood, concern threatening to cloud her brow. She looked from floor to fridges to open aisle. Here, at the back of McClintock’s Mercantile, she attempted to gather her wits. At the least, she attempted to appear unaffected while those un-gathered wits felt completely unraveled.

Calm down. Calm. Down. Inhaling through her nose and exhaling with a soft whistle out through her mouth, she talked herself through a tempting panic. She, the great Ida Layton, could handle anything. She could certainly handle a person disappearing; Petey had to have gone somewhere.

She walked coolly forward. She studied a Get Well Soon card, its flowers a yellow and green shadow of what they once were. She turned the display this way and that, but a creaking spin was her only reward.

Returning the card and pursing her lips in an innocent expression of perusal, she stepped along the back wall. Bob had inherited the place from his father, and his father before him, and a cousin before him, and -rumor had it- that cousin’s mother before him. The shelves along the back betrayed the store’s age, sagging at their splintering plaster. Wisely, Bob set lightweight merchandise on these. No matter how casually she scrutinized them, however, Ida saw no evidence that the seed packets, balloons, tissue paper, or ladies’ hosiery had been disturbed. No fingerprints in the dust. No dislodged packages. Nothing.

She came to the furthermost corner. For a place of business so brightly lit and generally clean, the store’s back corner appeared dark and cluttered. When she glanced up, she noticed no light nor security camera. Odd, she thought.

Glancing down the aisles, she heard snatches of Bob and Sue attempting a conversation with old Mrs. Benjamin Wilson. Ida turned back to the task at hand. Her hands shook in excitement. She pushed aside a barrel-shaped display advertising Pepsi-Cola. She stepped over an old janitorial mop and bucket. At the back, she faced a cardboard cutout of some long-lost athlete with hand raised in greeting.

There, beneath the athlete’s arm, shone the dim, straight outline of a doorframe.

Photo by Louis on Pexels.com

©2020 Chel Owens

Saint John City, Part 1

Times were slow in Saint John City. Events were slow. Sometimes, the people weren’t too quick, either. Yet, Ida knew a sleepy veneer could hide secrets. That’s why she stood against the stucco wall, black hair whipping across piercing gaze, soaking in the everything around her.

“Well, hello, Ida,” tottered old Mrs. Benjamin Wilson. “Waiting for your husband, are you?”

Ida smiled. “Hello, Mrs. Wilson.” She shrugged. “No, I’m just …watching.”

“Oh?” The old woman’s sagging eyes turned down as her mouth did. “Well, Dear, in my day…”

Ida saw movement in her peripheral vision. Petey Sanders shrugged out of his car and headed toward where Ida had been loitering most of that morning. She watched while Mrs. Wilson’s tongue kept wagging. She needed to keep him in sight.

“Of course, Mrs. Wilson.” Ida hoped her answer fitted the one-sided conversation. “Now, I’m so sorry to leave you but I need to get my shopping done.”

“Oh, all right, Dear-“

Ida heard no more, nor no less than she had. Like Petey, she entered the swish-cooled doors of the local, only grocery store. Like Petey, she walked past Bob McClintock and Sue Smith -the local, only employees. Like Petey, she walked past the gum and magazine racks, past the frozen food bins, and past the small display of bandages and greeting cards.

Here, the resemblance stopped. Fluorescent lines reflected from an empty floor, a vacant refrigerated section, and a vacated aisle. Petey was nowhere to be seen.

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Keep reading to Part 2.

©2020 Chel Owens

Crescent Illusions

“Hey! Wait up!” Pal gasped out the request, to no avail. The strange boy turned the edge beyond his view, taking all sight and sound of his movement with his retreating form. Pal leaned over his knees in crouched, deep-breathing pain from the chase. His heavy gasps echoed inside his helmet.

He’d need to keep going, he knew. He only had a few tics until -too late. Before his ground-pointed eyes, everything shifted and morphed. If his headgear were not equipped with anti-vertigo software, Pal would have retched at the twisting, swarming, mixing colors and land forms. He had no idea how the boy he pursued, apparently unencumbered by gear, could continue on through these conditions. How the boy could move so quickly. How the boy even existed, really.

Pal looked up from the sky beneath his feet, noted the re-orientation of his surroundings, and promptly crashed to the surface above him. “Eurgh,” he groaned, feeling the sluggishness and some of the bruising while his suit’s systems kicked in. He rose as it mended; scouted around.

Before this last shift he had been skidding around contoured shapes that rose from sand-like material. The ambient light had been annoyingly bright, yet also a pleasant shade of pink. Now, Pal noted, he seemed to be in a city. This city was unlike any he’d been in before, but not unlike images he’d studied at elementary training. “These are buildings,” his memory heard an artificial instructor note. “Homo sapiens sapiens inhabited and busied itself within these structures.”

Keeping his feet moving forward, Pal tilted his head back. The buildings reached beyond his sight. What a miserable, backwards way to exist. He supposed all species must start somewhere, but could never understand why his ancestors’ timeline progressed from perfection to disaster. Why had his progenitors constantly sought what was worse?

He heard a sound and snapped to attention. A face with large, crescent eyes peered at him from around a building just ahead. The boy.

Pal sprinted without thought toward his quarry. The boy rushed from hiding and pulled ahead, as he had since Pal first materialized and saw him. Both ran down the middle space between the tall, tall structures to either side. The ground felt soft, appeared white. Pal could see his footfalls leaving imprints in the material, though the boy’s odd tread did not. The dark shapes to either side seemed to melt away from them as they passed; no, they were melting away. Pal glanced right and left as he ran, witnessing the anomaly.

He wondered, yet again, what this destination really was. Clearly, it was not merely a physical location. No location they’d researched had behaved as this place did; morphing, moving, and melting like a living optical illusion.

Pal knew he was nearly at the end of his exploratory tic and would dissolve back to Central soon. He set his jaw, determined to gather more information before that happened. Since the ever-changing location proved intangible for collection purposes, Pal sought to catch the one constant he had encountered: the boy.

His suit worked overtime to compensate for energy and nitrogen loss. At his current rate, he would exhaust both and need to rest as he had before. And before that. And, before that. Surely, this time, he could draw near enough to catch the boy. Surely, he could get answers to return with.

The atmosphere darkened. A sound similar to a loud clap came from ahead, from the boy. To Pal’s surprise, the sky in front of them both molded into a dark sphere upon the dark of the air. Totally black at first; an outline of winking light grew to shine from the base and sides of the sphere.

As they drew nearer, Pal felt himself drawn to the new anomaly. Literally. The sensation felt like the projection arm of a spacecraft. He fought a natural panic, but explorer training calmed his initial reactions. “Always act decisively within your means,” another memory of an artificial instructor intoned. Pal ran on.

His wrist beeped a warning: a mere moment till dissolvement.

He strove to move more quickly but his speed was no longer his own. The boy and he were being pulled inexorably toward the eclipsed horizon. The buildings melted faster. Pal’s treads in the groundstuff deepened and blurred. His visuals clouded somewhat at the edges as he tried to keep the boy in sight.

Another beep sounded, then another. It was time.

Just as Pal’s body began to piece to data for dissolving, he saw the most unusual illusion of them all: an inverted flip of boy, buildings, sphere, and sky. Where once he knew the dark outlines of running youth and landscape; Pal saw the whitespace image of a gaping, grinning face. A face that swallowed the boy. A face that looked at him.

 


Written in response to D. Wallace Peach‘s extremely popular prompt. She just might get all 300 daily responses posted before she decides that April would be a good time for a vacation…

It’s All a Mystery

New visitors to my blog might be a bit confused. Is this a poetry site? A place for flash fiction? One in which I go off the deep end in a depressive heap?

You’re not alone; I am also confused.

There may not be a term for what I do here, specifically, besides ‘impulsive’ or ‘whimsical’ or maybe even ‘nonsensical.’ If pressed, I like to say that I write on “many topics and in many styles of expression.” (That’s from my résumé.)

Despite this, there are two genres that I avoid: romance and mystery.

We’ll go into the former later, Dr. Freud. I only want to talk about the latter today, because I …can’t. I can’t write a mystery. “It’s not that difficult,” you might say. Or, “But, but, but -many of the stories I’ve read of yours reveal something the audience didn’t know. That’s mystery, you know.”

They’re really not, because of my approach to writing new stories. That approach is, basically, having a general idea of a theme or direction and then writing. Little details, dialogue, descriptions, and humor crop up as appropriate while I write. In a sense, I am as much in the dark as the reader until a resolution presents itself somewhere as I go.

So, today’s question is: How does one write a mystery? Plotting? Red herringing? Do you know every twist and turn and intentionally-wrongly-accused character? Do you *gasp* know whodunit from the outset?

If so, how is it any fun to write?

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Looking to solve The Case of What I Did Last Week? Here are the spoilers:
Wednesday, January 16: “How to Win Friends and …Nevermind,” my admittance to social ineptitude.
Thursday, January 17: “The Cure for Depression,” the beginning of a series originally posted over at The Bipolar Writer Mental Health Blog.
Friday, January 18: Winner of the Weekly Terribly Poetry Contest. Congratulations to second-time winner, Molly Stevens.
Also, a re-post of Peregrine Arc’s writing prompt. VISIT; WRITE SOMETHING!
Saturday, January 19: Announced the tenth Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest. Enter, if you dare!
Sunday, January 20: “Home Life Poetry.” I may need to get out more on Sundays.
Monday, January 21: Some answers to Len‘s Sunshine Blogger Award Nomination.
Tuesday, January 22: “Wilhelmina Winters, Eighty.”
Also, “A Day in the Life” (a re-post of a poem I wrote on this site) at my mothering blog.
Wednesday, January 23: Today!

C.S.I.

Two a.m. was never an easy time to go to a job. But here they were again, hedged by police tape walls and squinting in the dark illuminations of floodlights.

“It don’t look good, Hurles.” He dragged at his e-cig, blew the filtered, no-emission, smokeless, digitally-altered remains of what may have been fumes into the air as dramatically as he could, and gave his partner a serious look.

Julie Hurlesman turned to the prostrate female form on the floor before rolling her eyes, to give him his illusion of dignity. “You’re right, Tray.” She responded cooly. “I don’t see any silver lining in this case.”

Richard Tracy shrugged away from the wall he’d been moodily supporting and effectively shrugged his oversized lapels higher round his neck. Finally abandoning the e-cig to one of many pockets within the long coat, he instead used his right hand to pull his hat brim even tighter down his brow. Satisfied with the final results, he hunched over to stand behind the squatting Hurles.

“Tray,” Hurles said with a decade of patience, “You’re blocking the spotlight again.”

Tray pretended concentration on their assignment as he sidestepped a foot to her left. She pretended not to notice, then intently tried to eliminate distractions as she began her usual examination.

Swirling dust motes and remnant e-cig particles outlined the shadow puppet hand orchestrations of her careful, thorough search. Tray looked on, more distracted in his somber thoughts of how he could finally get Hurles to use the nickname he kept asking her to, instead of the one his mother always used.

“Aha!” Hurles whispered. Tray immediately drew closer, even forgetting to flail his coattails behind him as he squatted next to her elbow. Hurles never made a verbal exclamation unless she’d found something really important.

“What?” He asked excitedly, also forgetting to use his gruff voice.

Infinitely meticulously, Hurles lifted the damp, lanky, unwashed locks from the pale face of the prone body before her. Damp eyelashes bordered a bottomless pool of darkest sadness. A deep brown iris contracted slightly at its sudden exposure to the glaring light beyond Hurles and Tray. The lashes slowly closed and reopened in calculated effect of misery. The rest of the long, drawn face held its agonized expression.

Tray took in a surprised breath. This was important. “You don’t mean -?” He began, turning to Hurles and regaining some of his former composure by raising his thick eyebrows over a fierce glare of suspense.

“Yes, I do,” Hurles told him, meeting his eye and successfully keeping her expression both neutral and normal for the circumstances.

They simultaneously moved their faces slightly to watch, as the woman on the floor heaved the heaviest sigh in human existence. She lifted just enough to turn away from the two investigators, her hair falling naturally from Hurles’ fingers like rain-soaked tree fronds. She lay still once again.

Hurles withdrew her hand, and unobtrusively wiped it on her jeans. She stood. Tray followed suit.

“Another one,” Tray concluded in a deep, gravelly voice. “A victim of her own emotions.”