The words blurred into one another, every yellowed page like the one before.
Hank couldn’t read any more of the officer’s detailed scrawl. It was a 120 page report and his fatigue, both physical and mental, was preventing him from analysing another word.
What was the point of it all? he wondered. It’s not like I’ll ever find anything that hasn’t been poured over 100 times before already!
Working Cold Cases was the worst. Frustrated, Hank closed the file from 1982, and pushed it aside.
Lifting his weary frame from the chair, he grabbed his coffee mug and sloped over to bench where the brew that Matilda had put on for him earlier that day, still sat warming. Bless my wife, he thought.
As he began to pour the acrid smelling brown liquid, he suddenly stopped, slammed his mug down and turned back, looking at the table, in disbelief. Brown spots sloshed across the counter but Hank did not notice. He was already lifting the file and scanning the cover, searching frantically for what he had missed before.
In the bottom right hand corner, neatly printed in the officer’s familiar hand were two codes:
Hank began to smile. He knew what those codes meant. A hair and blood sample taken from the scene was still locked up, safe and sound, preserved in evidence.
Of course, the samples had been no good back in 1982, but this canny young officer, had thought perhaps that one day, they might be of use. And with the DNA technology they had today, they certainly would be. It was just the break they needed to finally prove their prime suspect’s guilt and Hank couldn’t wait to lock the bastard away, once and for all.
He checked the officer’s name again and said out loud, ‘Officer Neil Bromley, I could KISS you!’
Prompt: Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie, First Line Friday – February 16th, 2018; and also, Sammi Scribbles, Weekend Writing Prompt, #42 – Revelation. Prose Challenge – In words or less, write a story about the uncovering of a secret.
I wasn’t quite sure how I’d gotten here. I seemed to be drawn to this place and when taking my morning walk, always ended up amidst the ruins. I knew it was banned. That I shouldn’t be here. The area was roped off with signs declaring ‘Danger. Unsafe buildings. Area closed.’
Yet, somehow, I was always standing on the other side of that rope, like someone with a backstage pass for their favourite band. Just standing there. Mesmerized by the buildings and memories of a place that once was.
Perturbed, I started to make my way back to the trail when I caught a scent of something foul. My nose wrinkled in disgust and I gagged, covering my mouth one hand. The odour was vile, yet somehow familiar. It tickled at the back of my mind as I tried to place it.
Suddenly, I was sent flying as I tripped on something. A small, sharp rock that had tumbled from the ruins. I landed hard. The breath knocked out of my chest, and my palms and knees grazed along the ground, before I finally came to a stop.
Shaken, I lay there for a second. Mentally checking my body for any serious injuries, and realising with a sigh of relief, just my pride and a few bruises.
I gathered myself up and decided this was the last time I would allow myself to visit the ruins. It was too dangerous, this place.
The smell continued to engulf me as I made my way home and finally I recognised the stench. It was the smell of the ruins themselves. Just like the other ruins, I’d experienced in my life. The smell of deceit. Of disappointment and mistrust. Of hurt and betrayal. And I knew they would keep knocking me down if I continued to allow myself to come here.
I steeled my mind and left the ruins behind. They were not worth a cent more of my time.
Prompt: Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie, First Line Friday – January 19th, 2018; and also Saturday Mix, Double Take , 20 January 2018, Homophones – band (a musical group), banned (forbidden), cent (one hundredth of a dollar), scent (an aroma), sent (dispatched)
Death by Roses, she thought, Death by Roses. What kind of a name for a perfume was that anyway?!
She reigned in her thoughts and tried to focus on the array before her. It didn’t help that the rows upon rows of delicate little bottles stood behind locked glass doors. She strained to see the names and brands, but ‘Death by Roses’ continued to elude her.
Exasperated, she finally decided to ask someone. If she didn’t get the right one, Heaven help her! What would be a minor catastrophe for most, would become a major catastrophe for her sister. Drama queen! she raged internally, while externally, she smiled, and asked the overly quiffed, but pleasant enough looking sales assistant, for, well…assistance.
“It’s right over here,” the girl indicated, with a sweep of her carefully painted fingernails.
Following her, the girl reached for a key attached to a stretchy chain on her pants.
“We have to keep these cabinets locked,” she stated apologetically, “you know, for the, um, shoplifters.” She lowered her voice as she uttered the last word, unnecessarily, as surely, the shoplifters wouldn’t care.
She picked up a small, blush coloured bottle. It was elaborately shaped into a rose; quite exquisite really. However, in contrast to the pretty pale glass was a black, thorned stem that wrapped around the bottle, culminating in a large thorn that formed the cap. How had she missed it? she wondered. It was altogether, a grotesque juxtaposition of a bottle. And aptly named. The black stem appeared to be choking the rose.
“It’s one of our most popular fragrances,” the sales assistance continued, “would you like to try it?”
“Er, no, thanks. It’s a gift.”
The girl beamed, “Oh wonderful! A present! Shall I have it gift wrapped for you then?”
“Yes please,” she replied, feeling grateful that she didn’t have to attend to that tedious task as well. Her sister would appreciate the professional touch, rather than her own clumsy fingers struggling with sticky tape and awkwardly presenting the perfume in a misshapen, mess of wrapping paper.
Finally making an exit from the crowded shopping mall, she breathed a sigh of relief that the last of her Christmas shopping was done.
Until, she realised she couldn’t remember which entrance she had parked her car. Dammit! she cursed. Why hadn’t she been paying attention?
She began trawling through her memory; trying to recall landmarks, colours, shops, anything that would help her. She walked and walked, row after row. She was positive it was in this area. Maybe it had been stolen, she thought, dreading the idea.
Frustrated, and not knowing what else to do, she went to the concierge desk to ask for help.
“Have you checked the other levels?” the young man suggested, “this happens quite a bit, you know.”
Of course! Stupid!
“No. I’ll do that now, thank you,” she replied sheepishly.
At this rate, she would miss her family’s Christmas Eve celebrations altogether! Starting to panic a little, she trekked to the floor above, and searched the car park once more. Still, no car.
However, on the third level, there it was. She sighed. Her trusty, red sedan, was patiently waiting, right where she had left it.
Tossing her packages in the back, she opened the door and jumped in. She hastily put the key in the ignition, threw the car into reverse and hurried out of the car park. She winced as her tyres screeched on the glossy grey concrete.
“You’re late!” her sister pointed out as she opened the door.
“Nice to see you too, sis,” she retorted sarcastically. “Sorry, it’s been a day. You know?”
“Yes, I know,” her sister conceded, “Christmas Eve is always crazy. I don’t know why you leave these things to the last minute!”
Because I work two jobs and only get one day off a fortnight, she thought, through gritted teeth. Deciding to ignore the admonishment, she laughed nervously, said nothing and walked through the door, to join the rest of her family.
The minute she saw her mother, father, grandparents and brother, she immediately relaxed. They rushed to greet her and as they hugged and kissed, she thought, what a prickly rose her sister was. Indeed, it was a fitting choice for her perfume.
They had waited for her, and hadn’t eaten yet, so the family convened to the table, said grace and commenced their Christmas Eve traditions. They ate roast turkey, complete with all the trimmings, drank lots of wine and all pretended they couldn’t possibly fit in dessert, before giving into protestations from the host. They talked and talked and caught up on all that was news in each other’s lives. They reminisced and spoke of friends and family no longer here. They spoke of good times and of bad, but also how they’d banded together to get through. This is what Christmas is about, she thought happily.
Next, they moved to the lounge room for the family Kris Kringle. As they started to give and receive gifts, butterflies began to dance in her stomach. She hoped her sister would be pleased. She held her breath as her sister grasped the small package in her hands.
“What beautiful wrapping!” she exclaimed. “Did you do this yourself?”
“Yes,” she found herself lying. She hated how her sister knew that she hadn’t.
“Ooooooh! Death by Roses!!!” she squealed excitedly. “How did you know?”
Rolling her eyes, she gave her mother a look, and smiled, “Just a hunch. Glad you like it.”
Her sister quickly extracted the thorn covered bottle and uncapped the lid. She squirted and sprayed liberally, her wrists and neck, before rushing around the room and spraying everyone else.
“Isn’t this scent divine? Just to die for!” she gushed.
Feeling pleased her sister loved her gift, she didn’t notice at first. It was subtle. A rushing of red to her face, and quickening of her pulse. She thought it may be the wine.
But then the coughing started, and the tightening of her throat. Just like when she was younger. Her eyes began to swell and bug in her face. Her lips began to tingle, and welts appeared on her skin.
She heard her mother scream, and then someone else say, “I thought she’d grown out of her anaphylaxis!”
Just before the world went black, she had one last fleeting thought…
When Sahi returned to The Ridge, there was nothing left but charred wood jutting from the snow. She couldn’t believe it had gone up so fast. She had raced down to the village to raise the alarm, as soon as she’d seen the flames licking at the roof. However, by the time the volunteer fire brigade had arrived on scene, it was already too late. The cabin was gone.
She wiped away a tear as she thought of all the memories those walls had held. The cabin had been her grandfather’s; “built from the ground up with my own two hands” he used to say. She had been coming here for as long as could remember. Her mother had grown up here; her aunts and uncles too. It had been a happy home back then, and later, a holiday retreat for children, grandchildren and friends alike.
Sahi remembered the special sleepovers where Grandma Alice would transform their tired sofa into a cosy double bed for her sister and her. They would whisper to each other late into the night, before one of her grandparents would eventually threaten to ‘redden their bums’ with the wooden spoon, if they didn’t shut up and go to sleep. You could spank children back then and not incite the furore of today, Sahi thought. The discipline hadn’t hurt her and she recalled with a smile the time she’d had the ominous spoon broken on her behind. It had looked much like the splintered remains in front of her.
She was sorry it had come to this. But after her grandfather had passed away, the fighting about who was the rightful owner of the cabin, was tearing the family apart. His will had stated that they were to decide amongst themselves.
Well, Sahi had decided, that if she couldn’t have it, no one would. She tucked the matches deeper into her pocket, as the rest of her family arrived at the ruins of the cabin.
After the accident, unease grew like a mold in the corners of his mind.
Or perhaps it was more like moss – the spongy type that covered the sides of the shaft where he lay. He was an idiot.
The number one bushie’s* rule when heading out for a bush walk: let someone know where you are going. And he hadn’t done it! He was an experienced bushwalker and knew better. Damn, he’d hiked some of the toughest treks in Australia on his own – the Stirling Ranges Ridge Walk, Tasmanian Overland Trail, Mt Bogong; just to name a few. Even though he preferred solitary hikes, he was always prepared, always cautious and always checked in with someone once he’d arrived. Except this time. He pictured his pack sitting at the top of the hole, and cursed.
He’d thought today’s hike would be easy and had been looking forward to the chance to explore the old gold mining area. The Lake Sambell-Lake Kerferd Walking Trail followed a path from Lake Sambell, Beechworth to Lake Kerferd (the town’s water supply). He had walked along Spring and Hurdle Creeks, and had been having fun looking into the many disused mine shafts along the trail.
The mine shafts had been covered with wire mesh, and he had been unable to see much into them, past one or two metres. Just as he was longing for more, he’d seen the sign “Uncovered mine shafts – stay on the designated path” and like a fool, he’d been captivated by the thrill of perhaps, getting into one. He hadn’t had to walk too far off the trail either before he discovered a beauty. The mouth of the shaft was wide and rocky and he was positive he would be able to climb down; especially if he secured himself with some rope. Taking off his pack, he had no sooner unzipped the bag to pull out the length he had with him, when the sides of the shaft gave way and he had bounced and tumbled, all the way to the bottom.
He wriggled, trying to make himself comfortable and whimpered as his left leg screamed with pain. He was sure it was broken, especially with the unnatural angle at which it stretched out before him. He looked up, trying to work out how far down he’d fallen. It was far enough that the broad daylight above, seemed no more than a torch beam.
He was lucky to be alive really. Or was he? he thought, bleakly. No one knew he was here. No one would have expected him to disobey the signs and wander off. He knew from the history of the area that there were thousands of disused mines. Even if they did know he’d been walking this trail, they may never find him.
His unease, gave way to panic. With his leg useless, he couldn’t even try and climb out. He had no food, no water, no phone. All that – lay above him; in his pack. If by some chance, other hikers saw his bag, they may not be so foolhardy as to leave the trail and investigate further. They would pass him by.
How long can I survive down here? he wondered, as a wave of hopelessness washed over him.
He screamed desperately for help, but his cries were muted by the earth and damp surrounding him. He may as well have been screaming in a vacuum. His hands clenched at the gritty soil beneath them and he threw a clump at the wall in frustration. As the eerie silence of the shaft, closed in around him, the gravity of his predicament settled upon him. He squeezed his eyes shut, lay back and waited.
Being tied to a chair was about as unpleasant as he imagined.
One minute he’d been out enjoying the sunshine, feeling the wind ruffle through the grass around him.
Next, he’d been snatched away, driven for miles and then forced into a cold, cold room…and a room filled with strangers nonetheless! And he hadn’t liked the look of them either – not one bit! They were an odd assortment. Tall, short, thin, chunky, groomed, scruffy…and all different colours too.
He had been wondering what on earth was going on when suddenly, the door to the room had opened and a friendly looking, round-faced woman entered.
Surely she’s not my captor? he’d thought to himself. She seems too nice, too ‘homey’.
He had no sooner completed the thought than she’d grabbed him. Hard.
Her chubby fingers had dug into his skin and without a word, she’d thrown him against a couple of the strangers.
She’d grabbed some rope, bound them together and tied them to the chair, plonking them unceremoniously next to others who were bound just like them.
Yep, he thought again, Being tied to a chair was about as unpleasant as he imagined.
The Stenham house was an ancient locked thing and nothing returned there except for crows. Their angst driven ‘caw, caw’ echoed against the stone walls. A reverberation in blue melody.
She dared to peer out from behind the heavily draped windows. She couldn’t be sure, but she thought she’d seen them again. Darting around the periphery of her property. Watching the fence line closely, she finally saw them. Fleeting, but most certainly there.
She was scared. What did they want? Why wouldn’t they leave her alone? Leave her family alone? Lucille became more and more agitated, as she considered her fears. She watched from the window for what seemed like hours. It wasn’t the first time they’d tried to get in. To destroy her happy home. A home she had built from the ground up with her husband Walter. A home she had raised three children in. A home she had kept as pristine and proud as the first day she’d opened its doors.
Suddenly from behind her, she heard a voice, “Lucille? It’s me.”
She turned, furious. How had they gotten in? How DARE they?
She launched herself at the intruder, prepared to fight. Arms flailing and abuse spewing forth from her mouth, she was stunned to discover there was nobody there.
Confused and shaken, she retreated to the lounge room. Pouring herself a scotch, she perched herself in the arm chair opposite her husband.
“I don’t know Walter,” she began, “between the strangers in the yard and ghosts in the house, I just don’t know if I can stay here anymore.”
Walter smiled and winked reassuringly. “My daring wife, I am quite sure it’s all in your head. Don’t be scared. I will always be here to protect you.”
Somewhat comforted, she returned his smiled and listened instead for the sounds of her children. Straining, her brow furrowed, she heard nothing at first. But soon, a symphony of animated high pitched chatter, laughter, the squeaking and squealing of toy cars and thumping footsteps up and down the hallway, lulled her anxious heart.
This time, the voice was more urgent.
She whipped her head around, again seeing no one.
“What do you want?” she demanded. “Why won’t you leave me alone?”
Distressed, she began rocking. It was all too much. The voices, the strangers, the ghosts. What was happening to her?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“I’m afraid your grandmother’s dementia has become quite advanced,” the doctor explained kindly. “It’s likely she doesn’t recognise you or your family any longer. In fact, she may have retreated to the past, to a time when she was happy”.
“I don’t understand,” I protested. “She knew me yesterday.”
“That’s the strange thing about the mind”, the doctor continued, “we just have to keep sailing with it, wherever the person takes us. Even if it takes us out of that picture.”