More prompted writing serial, which I started here, and continued here. I may need to go re-read Alice in Wonderland before I write more of this, or I may just massively abridge the conceptual bits I remember into this weird story. And no, it is not a fantasy. At most I’ll do a little magical realism with this, some surreal coincidences. It’s a very good exercise for me to not write magic.
The next morning, Shelby rolled out of bed and reached for her workout pants. If she didn’t hit the floor literally running, she wouldn’t do it. As she staggered into the kitchen, she muttered out loud ‘only idiots run when no one is chasing them.’
Shelby ran until the sun started to rise. As her feet thudded on the sidewalk in the dark she couldn’t help but think of the case that Johns had handed her. The video had been too dark and too poor quality to even see the man’s face. He also had been running in the night… Shelby was in a very dark frame of mind when she got back to her house and headed straight for the shower.
The sun was coming up as she headed to work and she did her best to squint into the light but even putting down the visor didn’t help much. Maybe if she were taller… But she wasn’t. She parked and rubbed her eyes, feeling the cold on her skin like a slap.
Johns wasn’t in his office when she got in. Shelby left her door open and dove back into the paperwork she’d been working on the night before, up until quitting time. Come to think of it, it had been kind of nice to be able to get out of here when she was supposed to. There was a rap on her door and she looked up, inwardly cursing herself for having jinxed today. The captain stood there with her phone in her hand.
“Got a case for you. Doesn’t look like anything big…” The captain shrugged.
Shelby was already standing up, and reaching for her coat hanging on the back of the door. “What is it?”
Unaccompanied death, welfare check was called in, patrol found the house unlocked, entered and found the body.” The captain read the details from her phone screen “Address is 1401 Flower Garden Dr., that’s over in that neighborhood…”
“Yeah, I remember that street over from where we had the hit-and-run run in November.” Shelby shrugged on her coat. “I haven’t seen Johns yet this morning?”
“Jones has a bug up his butt about that hit-and-run.” The captain looked quizzically at Shelby. “Now you, too?”
“I pulled a gun out of the drain remember? I wasn’t really on the case because I went on vacation. There were some interesting features.”
“I know you guys want to close it. Don’t spend time on it that we need for other cases. Like this one.” The captain tapped her phone. “There, I sent you all the details.”
Shelby followed the captain back out into the main room. “You see Johns?” She asked again. The captain was mightily distracted this morning.
“He was out, said he’d meet you there.” The captain told Shelby.
Shelby wondered what her partner had been up to, but she didn’t ask, just headed out for this scene. It was the first time she’d been back in the neighborhood since the hit-and-run. It wasn’t that the department didn’t get called down here very often, it was more that it didn’t often require the presence of detectives. Now that she thought about it, and been almost 3 months and that had been a long dry spell. As she navigated into the rundown neighborhood she wondered if there was a reason.
Colder weather kept criminal activity down, since everybody wanted to be inside, and warm. She pulled up in front of the address and parked. Even if the GPS had not told her she’d reached her destination, the presence of two patrol cars: one still idling and sending out gentle puffs of steam into the air would’ve cued her off that something unusual was going on at this house.
Getting out of her car, Shelby took a moment to look around. It was early, but late enough that any commuters would be gone already. No one was outside their houses, although she was certain there were watchers behind windows. She shivered. The wind was sucking her warm from the car heater right out. No wonder the looky lou’s were inside.
The house itself didn’t stand out. The fence, gap-toothed, hid the backyard, but the front was overgrown and weedy. Not, Shelby observed as she made her way up the short sloping drive, like it was never mowed. But it had been a while. The front door was slightly ajar.
Pulling on gloves, she bumped the door with her elbow to open it more.
“Detective Carroll,” she announced herself.
“Here, Detective.” A voice called from the top of the stairs. The house was a split level, and as Shelby looked to her right she was looking at what would’ve been used as a dining room, or small living room. She had been in enough houses built on the same plan – it was a popular one in the area – to know that behind it lay the kitchen and above her would be another open room commonly used as a family room, and bedrooms. She went up the stairs: a short flight of a few steps, then a turn and another short flight. A patrol officer was standing at the top with his thumbs hooked into his bulletproof vest.
He jerked his head to one side, “in the back bedroom, ma’am.”
Shelby nodded. She could smell it now. “Thank you, Tolliver.”
The other patrol officer was standing in the open doorway of the bedroom, facing out into the hall. She made a face as Shelby walked up the hall toward her.
“I’m glad to see you.”
Shelby shook her head and smiled. “Yeah, yeah, get out of here now. At least – I assume you guys cleared the house?”
The small woman in front of Shelby tossed her head of dark hair, pulled back into a gleaming smooth bun. “Course we did. First thing. And then we found this.”
“Thanks, Cruz, just giving you a hard time.”
Cruz stepped out of the doorway, flippantly tossing back, “wouldn’t be right if you didn’t. I’d feel downright neglected.” She started to walk away down the hall.
Shelby didn’t go all the way into the bedroom at first. She turned her head and spoke to Cruz, “stick around. Tolliver you can head out, Johns is on his way.”
From behind her, Shelby heard Cruz, “oh man!” And Tolliver chuckled as he headed rapidly down the stairs.
Shelby focused on the scene in front of her.
It was a bedroom, that much was obvious. But the occupant lay in lonely splendor among a lot of red. Such a lot of red. Shelby was amazed by all of the red velvet. From the window drapes, the spread over the bed… even the carpet was red shag. It had to date back at least as far as Shelby’s parents, if not further back. To complete it all were red cushions heaped on the chair next to the bed. Shelby amended herself: that was a chaise, or a fainting lounge, she wasn’t sure what the proper name for it was. Some of the red cushions had fallen off and onto the floor because the dead woman wasn’t in the bed, she was on the chaise.
She’d been gone for a while, Shelby knew that much. She figured that out the moment the captain had said it was an unattended death and there was no hurry, and no callouts for an ambulance. Shelby hadn’t realized until she saw the body, was just how long. The faint smell of decomp in the air had fooled her into thinking that it was a relatively recent death. Say, the last day or two. No, this woman had been dead for months, if not longer.
Behind her, Shelby heard footsteps coming up the steps. She didn’t turn her head. Still looking at the scene in front of her, she spoke, “Johns, no hurry, she’s been gone for a while.
A soft voice almost in Shelby’s ear made her jump violently.
“The Queen is dead. Long live green.”
Shelby spun around, her hand falling to the butt of her Taser.
“Who are you!” Her voice came out in a high yelp.
That had not been John’s voice, and the tall, almost skeletally slender man standing there looking down at her was definitely not the other detective.
“I come to see if the red Queen was dead.” His voice was quiet and almost monotone with a hint of a lisp at the end of his words. He stood very still, his hands hanging down by his sides.
Shelby took shallow breaths, not wanting to take a deep one with the smell of the dead around them. Regaining her calm, she spoke in the firmest tone she could muster.
“I’m going to ask you to wait outside.”
“The queen is dead. The red Queen lives.”
He turned and walked away down the hall. Shelby stood there for a moment, watching him go, then started to follow him to make sure he left the house. He went down the stairs two steps at a time, but he didn’t hurry, his long legs just scissored their way down the two steps naturally. It was a curious movement.
Shelby stood at the top of the stairs watching him. The open stair layout meant she could see all the way down into the basement. The man went right out the front door the way he was supposed to.
Belatedly, Shelby realized she should’ve gotten his name. She picked up her radio and asked Cruz where the hell she was, and if she could please get that man’s name.
The radio crackled with a short affirmative, then fell silent. Shelby looked around the open area, more of a living space delineated by the stairs and back bedrooms than a room itself. The front wall, overlooking the sidewalk and road, was all windows. Lined up opposite the stair railings, against the side wall of the house, was an aged stereo system with speakers taller than Shelby.
The sound must have been impressive back in the day, she thought, crossing the dusty shag carpet – deep red here, as in the bedroom. Next to one of the speakers was an equally tall black cabinet. Behind glass doors she could see bottles of all shapes and sizes. Some of them were still partly full, others looked empty. The bottom was hidden behind solid doors.
Idly, Shelby opened one of them. Behind her, she heard Johns’ voice.
“Have you got a warrant, detective?”
“Nope.” Shelby stood up and turned toward him, gesturing at what was inside the cabinet. “I guess the white rabbit can’t give evidence.”
Johns started to laugh. “Why…” He wheezed.
“Would someone keep a rabbit statue in a cupboard?” Shelby finished for him. “No idea. Doesn’t go with the decor?” She waved her hand at all the red with black accents.
“This place gives me the creeps.” He came the rest of the way up the steps. “Dang. Now, that’s a system.”
He put his hands on his hips and openly admired the speakers.
“I’mma tell your wife how you looked at that stereo.” Shelby closed the doors on the rabbit statue. “Come on, we’re here to see a body, not time-travel in musical terms.”
43 weeks in a row of prompted writing! Woohoo! I’m so proud of the group. And it’s not too late to join in, you know. Check out the MOTE blog for the details.
This week I was prompted by Becky Jones, and because I was dictating the section where I hit the prompt, and not looking at it, I mangled it. Sorry, Becky! Her prompt was: “You’re walking through an empty house. The only piece of furniture in the place is a black cabinet standing against the back wall of the dining room. On top are three or four old liquor bottles each with about 1-2 inches of liquid remaining. The cabinet has two full-length doors. You decide to open it. What do you find?”
I prompted ‘Nother Mike with “The blue sun rises over endless desert seas, and…”
You can read their responses over at the Week 43 Post. Check it out, there’s more fun reading to be had there.