I’ve challenged myself to free-write a new story each day for one week. You can read about my thoughts behind the challenge, as well as the day one’s story, Help Me Mister, here.
As before, the challenge is to start and complete a new story each day for a week. The story can be any length, must be free-written, and can not be edited afterwards. Please excuse the resulting spell, grammar, and other literary idiocy.
Day 2: The Dead Man
There was a dead man standing outside my office. He was staring at my door with my name stenciled on the frosted glass, right above the words “Private Investigator.” By the look of it he had been dead a week. I sighed and unlocked the door.
“You might as well come in.”
My office wasn’t large. Antique wood furniture that was old and dusty when I bought them brand new. I tossed my hat and coat on the rack by the door and went to my desk. The dead man followed. He had a sad basset hound face and was carrying his hat in his hands. It was the kind of man that belonged being a cashier’s cage. He was washed out and gray, and he seemed to stutter slightly as he moved like a fancy new color television that wasn’t quite tuned into a channel fully.
I sat and offered the dead man a chair. He looked down at the empty seat but didn’t take it. He just stood in front of the desk and worried at the brim of his hat. I pushed a few files around my desk for a moment.
“You know, I don’t cases from your kind anymore.”
The dead man’s head dipped; I took that for a nod.
“It isn’t that I don’t sympathize, I really do, there’s just too many complications.”
I opened an old case folder that somehow had escaped filing and spent a moment not reading it.
“And collecting my fee posthumously is a real pain in the ass. You understand.”
I looked up at the dead man, still running his hat through his fingers. He wasn’t nodding this time, just staring with his basset hound eyes. Creepy bastard, poor creepy bastard.
“Jesus, I wish you people could speak. Hell, I don’t even know how much of what I say gets through.”
I flipped the folder closed and tossed it in the direction of the filing cabinet. I leaned back in my old chair, the only thing besides my typewriter that I saved from my previous life as a reporter, and scrubbed at my eyes with the heels of my palms.
“Fine. Fine. Recent?”
He paused then nodded.
He stared at me like he was trying to work through a math problem.
“They haven’t found you yet?”
“Alright, I need to make a phone call, make yourself at home.”
I contacted an old friend at the local prescient and gave the particulars. He promised he would get back to me if he had anything. I hung up and spent the afternoon trying to finish some work, pecking away at the typewriter while the dead man stood motionless on the other side of the desk, watching me with his basset hound eyes. I pretended to make conversation for awhile, but got tired of talking to myself.
After a few hours the phone rang.
“Sam, yeah, I got something matching the description. Robert Wallace, reported missing a week ago, uh…January Sixth. That was…uh….
“Friday, I know. What else?”
“Report was done by his wife Mary. Said he was depressed, might have had a habit for drink.”
“Thanks, Jerry. Big help, I owe you.”
“That tab is getting pretty big, Sam. Think you might ever get around to paying it.”
“I’ll think about, how about passing me the wife’s address?”
I wrote it down, hung up, and looked at the dead man. He hadn’t moved from his spot. His hat still turning in his hands.
“You’re Robert Wallace?”
The hat paused in his hands and his face tensed. He nodded.
“Robert, your wife said you were depressed. I’m not tracking down a damn suicide.”
A pained expression drifted across Robert’s gray face. He shook his head.
“Alright, let’s go talk to your wife.”
I collected my hat and coat on the way out the door. Robert followed me, silently, out into the street. Last week’s snow had been pushed into the gutters where it was slowly turning black. I opened the car door for Robert and he climbed inside, the car indifferent to his ethereal weight. The recent dead made me sad, empty people still trying playing by the old rules. It always took them a while to learn that, for them, the entire game had changed.
We drove to the address, a modest brownstone on the edge of town. Three stories up, the bell was answered by a tall lady pushing her way to middle years. She might have been pretty. I resisted looking over my shoulder at Robert. I introduced myself and she invited me in, shutting the door before Robert could enter. I imagined the sad faced man standing motionless outside the door.
She took me through the apartment, spacious and tastefully decorated, a showpiece. Her tour was brief and well rehearsed, dropping in tidbits about Robert whenever she could. She took me to his study.
“This is his sanctuary. He had been spending more and more time shut in here lately. I just thought he needed space.
“He like fishing?”
“Loved it. Has a little fishing cabin outside the city. Neither of us have been there in awhile.”
I looked at the mounted trophy fish over the desk. A handful of tackle rods reverently hung above them on a set of hooks.
“When was the last time you saw Robert?
“Thursday night. I made him dinner after work. He seemed real upset about something, more than usual I mean. He said he was going for a drive and left. Robert never burdened others with his problems, kept it all to himself.”
“He was a good man.”
“Yes, he was.”
I nodded and flipped through the day planner laying on the desk. There was a photograph of a cabin pinned to the wall, the words ‘Old Bear Lake’ and an illegible date scrawled in black on the corner.
“Can I use your restroom?”
I spent a long time washing my hands, staring at my reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror.
When I left the apartment, Robert was where I expected him. He blinked and stepped out of my way, even though it wouldn’t have made a difference. He followed me back to the car. We drove a few blocks to a payphone. Robert stood outside the booth, staring in, while I placed another call. Five minutes later, I had an address and we were back in the car.
Old Bear lake was a popular get away spot for city folk, a rustic slice of the country. Several hours of winding roads that sharply gained altitude and then just as quickly lost it as you reached the valley that hid the lake. We rode in silence, I didn’t have the strength to pretend at conversation and Robert wouldn’t have cared either way. The dead man just watched the world go by outside the window. The road was clear but slushy and the trees still hung heavy with snow.
After an hour, the road had just started its downward pitch and the sun moved into the last sliver of sky. I slowed the car and began to search. Quicker than I expected, I saw what I needed. We pulled over and got out. Robert silently walked over to the edge of the road and peered off into the green space below. His were eyes sad; his face blank. We made our way down the steep slope to the deep gully, slipping on the frozen ground. A torn automobile lay half buried in the snow, the body of a sad faced man in the driver’s seat.
“”I’m sorry, Robert.”
That seemed fitting. The dead man walked over to the driver’s window and stared in at what he used to be.
“You came out here for a extended fishing weekend, you left that night to beat the storm.”
I came up behind him and resisted the urge to put a hand on the dead man’s shoulder.
“I saw the rods in your office, it looked like a couple were missing.”
I sighed. My hands were cold and I shoved them into my coat.
“It was your wife. I don’t know why. Probably money, its usually money. I found sleeping pills in your medicine cabinet. She doped you that night, in your food. Took a while for them to kick in. Must have hit you like a shit ton of bricks. You hit the rocks on the other side of the road, I think, lost control and went over this side.”
I couldn’t tell if the dead man was listening. He walked over to the passenger side of the car and climbed in. He didn’t bother opening the door first. Robert sat for a long moment looking at himself.
“It’s going to be hard to prove. Not sure how much will hold up.”
But I knew he didn’t care. Robert caressed the body’s cheek, softly touching the cold dead flesh. He looked up at me with his sad basset hound eyes, and maybe he smiled, or maybe it was a shadow. I nodded to him and turned and climbed back up the hill. I sat in my car for a long time, watched the sun set. Then I turned, drove back to the city.
And that’s day two. I hope you’ve enjoyed my mental enema thus far. We’ll do this again tomorrow. Have you tried an experiment like this, have suggestions, or have some stories of your own to share? Toss in a comment below, I would love your thoughts.