One Page Stories – Third Web

Women

Trina sat with the police officer who had come to the gas station; she had called the police after escaping the group of women on the road.

“They surrounded the car?” the police officer asked, her pen poised over the notepad on the counter. “Did they hurt you?”

“No,” Trina assured her. “They were just all … standing there. They didn’t move, or say anything, or blink. They just stood there, until I drove away, and then I saw behind me that they had all made a circle around the cop.”

“Did you see the officer’s name badge?” the officer asked. “Or the number on the car?”

Trina shook her head. “No,” she said. “He had just gotten out of the car to come to my window. And then all the women showed up, out of nowhere. And he told me to come here and get help.”

The officer had sent a separate car down the road where Trina had been pulled over, where she had left the poor policeman behind at the mercy of the strange group of identically dressed, long-haired women. Why would they all dress the same? she wondered. Why would they all look alike? It seemed, in the dark, as though it was the same woman, copied seven or eight times. Suddenly she felt a little less spooked – maybe it was some kind of projector, some kind of elaborate hoax. Maybe the policeman would be okay, and everyone would have a good laugh about it.

A panic-stricken voice crackled over the officer’s radio. “Jordan!” the voice shouted. “Tony’s out here! He’s … he’s dead. He – it looks like he was strangled.”

The officer’s eyes had opened wide. “What do you mean, dead?” she barked into the radio. “Did you see anybody else?”

“No,” the voice replied. “But there are lots of footprints here – mud prints, or … or maybe blood. It’s hard to tell in the dark.”

The officer started issuing urgent instructions into the radio, about back-up, and keeping people clear of the crime-scene, and scouring the area for the women Trina had reported. She glanced piercingly at Trina. “You’ll need to stay with me,” she commanded, obviously considering Trina a suspect in the death of the other officer.

“O-okay,” Trina agreed. She thought about the officer who had pulled her over, about how she had left him there – at his instruction! – to be killed by those women. I’m sorry, she thought, tears in her eyes. She sat quietly for a long while, until the officer was ready to escort her to the police station for questioning.

*   *    *

Officer Tony Prescott’s dash-cam recording exonerated Trina, but she was required to spend some hours answering endless questions. All around her, the police station was frantic with unusual activity; it was a small town, after all, and crimes like this just didn’t happen. The dash-cam recording had captured the women, a total of nine women all wearing the same floral dress and the same dark hair swept down over their faces. But at the point when the women had surrounded Officer Prescott, the recording had cut out, showing only static for a few moments and clearing up only after the women had vanished.

“Do you recognize the women?” Jordan asked. “From before tonight, I mean.”

“No,” Trina said, shaking her head.

“I do,” a voice said behind her. “That looks like Madeleine Jackson.” The owner of the voice was one of the detectives; he sat down at the table next to Trina and peered at the dash-cam footage.

“Who?” Jordan asked. “That name isn’t familiar to me.”

“She disappeared about a year ago,” the detective explained. “She had been driving over here from Silton to see a friend, and she never showed up.”

“Silton?” Jordan repeated. “She probably would have been on that same road.” She shook her head, frowning. “But if she’s been missing for a year, then how did she end up there tonight? And who are the other women?”

“Maybe it’s some kind of projector,” Trina offered. “Some kind of trick.”

“But why?” Jordan wanted to know. “Why would anyone want to kill Tony?”

More time went by, and Trina felt like she had answered every question at least three times. It was now after sunrise, and even though the detective had given her all the coffee she could ask for, it wasn’t really helping her stay awake at this point. But even though she was increasingly exhausted, she also wanted to be here, following everything the police were finding out about what had happened to Officer Prescott. Surely someone, especially now that the darkness was fading, had found some trace besides muddy footprints of the women. Despite her best efforts, though, she found herself starting to doze off.

“Jordan!” the detective called loudly, startling Trina awake. “I got something!”

“So do I,” Jordan said, coming over to the detective’s desk. “They found another body in the ravine, about half a mile from the road where Tony died. It’s been there a while.”

“A while?” the detective asked. “How long is a ‘while’?”

“It’s almost just bones,” Jordan said. She scowled. “These women who killed Tony,” she said. “They’re dressed like a woman who’s been in the ravine forever. Why? If they knew about the woman in the ravine, why didn’t they report it? Unless they killed her too.” She squinted at the detective. “Do you think it’s your Madeleine Jackson?”

“It could be,” he answered. “I got a call a few weeks ago about a body found under a tree twenty miles up the highway; we thought it might be Madeleine, but it turned out to be a girl from Colorado Springs who was driving through on her way to college – a girl named Tamara Lengle.” He gestured toward his phone. “Tamara had a tuft of hair clutched in her hand; they just let me know they found a match for the hair.” He paused as though he didn’t particularly want to say what he had learned. “It was Tony,” he said finally.

“What was Tony?” Jordan asked. “You – you don’t mean Tony’s hair was on this Tamara girl?”

The detective nodded. “They matched the DNA,” he said. “Tony’s was on file.” He sighed, glanced at Trina who still sat quietly on a nearby bench, and leaned closer to Jordan. “What if he killed Madeleine, too?” he asked in a low voice. “What if that’s why whoever killed him tried to look like Madeleine? Like … revenge?”

Jordan didn’t waste any time being shocked at what she was hearing. “Why not just turn him in?” she asked. “If they thought he had killed these women?”

“Maybe it was Madeleine,” Trina said softly. Her eyes were swimming with tears. “Maybe she … maybe she saved my life tonight.” The woman – all the women – had come out of nowhere. The video had gone to static – wasn’t that one of those things that meant it was a ghost? Wouldn’t that explain why there were so many copies of the same woman?

She looked at Jordan and the detective. They were looking back at her with a mixture of disbelief and nervousness, as though they shared the thoughts she had spoken aloud but didn’t want to acknowledge it. “I think you need to get some sleep,” Jordan said after a moment. She rubbed her forehead. “I think I do too.”

The detective nodded. “We do,” he said. He glanced again at his phone. “But the whole thing just got a lot more complicated. And I’m not sure how to feel about Tony.”

“Yeah,” Jordan agreed. “Me either.” She sighed. “We investigate Tony’s involvement with this Tamara girl,” she decided. “We investigate these remains from the ravine. We investigate Tony’s murder. We do all those things. And you,” she added, giving a small half-smile to Trina. “Can go home and get some rest, and if we have more questions, we’ll get in touch with you.”

Trina blinked away her tears. “Okay,” she said, climbing stiffly to her feet. “But … but I really do think Madeleine saved me tonight.” She drained the cup of coffee the detective had given her, pulled her purse strap over her shoulder, and made her way silently out of the police station.

She thought about the policeman – Tony – and how he had pulled her over on such a deserted road, so late at night. How he had leaned so close into her car window. How frightened he was, even though he had a gun, when he saw the woman in front of the car. He must have recognized her – recognized Madeleine, that he had left dead in a ravine.

Thank you, Madeleine, Trina thought. I’m pretty sure you saved my life last night.

One-Page Story

Highest Bidder

“God knows what we’ll find in here!” Hanna said excitedly, pulling the trunk toward her. She looked at her friend. “It could be anything!”

Her friend Julie didn’t seem to share her overflowing enthusiasm, but she did manage a smile. “It was kind of fun,” she allowed, “to bid on something like that.”

“Right?” Hanna said. “I knew you’d like that part.” She put a screwdriver up against the rusted lock of the trunk and began rocking it back and forth. “We’ll have it open in no time,” she promised. True to her word, the lock sprung away from the weathered wood with little effort on Hanna’s part, and she let the screwdriver clatter to the floor so that she could lift the trunk lid with both hands.

The trunk was only one of many items found in the storage unit; the owners of the facility held auctions once a month for the contents of abandoned units, and Hanna had come to many of them, bidding as high as she could but only rarely beating out the others. Today, though, Julie had agreed to put some money into it, expressing curiosity about this hobby of Hanna’s. She thought it was fascinating that someone would care enough about things to put them in storage, and then just forget about them. “I suppose maybe they’ve died somewhere,” she guessed. “And had no next of kin who cared.” She found such a notion sad, but also intriguing, and while Hanna occupied herself with bidding against others at the auction, Julie had imagined possible scenarios for the lives of these forgotten people.

In addition to the trunk, there were several boxes full of journals, books and documents; the subjects of the books suggested that their original owner was a scholar of some sort. “Maybe an explorer!” Hanna said in delight. She tipped back the trunk lid and looked inside.

The trunk contained only one item – an ornately carved piece of ivory, shaped like a dagger, its edge as sharp and deadly-looking as any metal blade. “Wow!” Hanna breathed, picking it up. “This is amazing!” She put the dagger down and reached over to one of the books. “I think this is on the picture on the cover,” she said. “This thing must be really special!”

Julie had crouched down beside the trunk, and now reached in and pulled out the dagger. She looked suddenly very serious. “The Calahuolco,” she said. “It’s supposed to have magical powers.”

Hanna had flipped open the book. “This says it belongs to a professor,” she said, reading the inside cover. “I guess we were right about him being a scholar.”

“Dr. James Benton,” Julie said. She turned to Hanna, who looked at her curiously.

“How did you know that?” Hanna asked. “Is it written in the trunk?”

“No,” Julie said. She pivoted toward Hanna, and plunged the ivory dagger into her friend’s chest. As blood flew out, spraying over Julie’s hand and face, she held the dagger tightly, and tilted her head to one side. “I’m sorry, Hanna,” she said. “I really am. I didn’t have enough money to bid for the unit myself.” She pulled the dagger out of Hanna’s chest and wiped the blood from it with a corner of Hanna’s shirt. “Thank you,” she told her friend, who collapsed forward, her breath coming in ragged gasps until, finally, it stopped altogether. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

She tucked the dagger into her bag, and, shouldering the bag, walked out of Hanna’s garage and into the sunlight. She looked back over her shoulder at Hanna’s still form lying on the concrete, then she smiled, and made her way down the street.

The Thing I Like About …

Psych: the episode with their nerd friend and his hot wife [warning: spoiler].

In that episode, the guys’ old childhood friend helps them with a case.  He’s a completely closeted nerd.  He is well-off, and has afforded to make a secret room with a hidden door that opens off of his sports-themed den.  He explains that when his hot wife met him, he was posing as a “regular” guy to fit in with a group, and afterward he didn’t reveal his true self because he was afraid she wouldn’t love a man who was actually very different from herself.  For however many years they had been married, he had been living a lie, pretending to like football, and hiding his true nature – and some fairly impressive science fiction memorabilia.

By the end of the episode, the measures he has had to take to keep his secret life a secret are no longer up to the task of helping Shawn and Gus solve their case.  In a moment of carelessness, he leaves the secret door open, and his wife walks in.  She looks around, asking where she is, and when he finally admits that he is in fact a nerd, she looks vaguely irritated.  She explains that she has seen every episode of the original Battlestar Galactica, and that she is disappointed he didn’t take her to Comic-Con but instead pretended to be “away on business”.  She isn’t angry or shocked or sad; she’s thrilled that they now have so much more in common, and that they can be their true selves.

Is that the way every honey-I’ve-been-living-a-lie story ends?  Of course not.  Should it be? Well, yes!  And certainly the episode gave some very good lessons: first, the things we fear are probably not nearly as scary as we think they’re going to be; second, even if everything had ended horribly, it would have been better and easier than living another day of lies and hiding; and finally – most importantly – be yourself, dammit!

Be yourself.

The Thing I Like About …

The Wizard of Oz (the book) … it’s not a dream.

I love the movie The Wizard of Oz as much as anyone, but I have never liked the fact that, in the movie, the events are all just part of Dorothy’s dream.  In the books, Oz is a real place, and the wizard is an actual man from Kansas who takes her home.  I used to wonder why the movie felt the need to change this fairly important plot point, but then I developed a theory:

Between the time the books were written and the time the movie was made, people just stopped believing that there was anything undiscovered in this world.

I think that deep down, Baum believed there were things out there that we don’t know about, things that we can discover and explore – that these things might be dangerous and wonderful, beautiful and frightening, and that, with help from others who have joined together against evil, a resourceful girl can successfully navigate a journey through anything.

Why and when did we stop believing that?  When did we decide that a full-colour world full of magic and courage and friendship and challenge was something that only happened in our dreams?  When did we decide that nothing can be new or exciting or different?  When did we start believing that adventures weren’t something we could really have?

Take a trip with the first Dorothy – she really went to a real Oz … and her little dog too.