|A Writer’s Cramp story: (24 hours/1,000 words or less)
Write a short story or poem about hearing scratching behind the walls. What is in the walls, and how did it get there? Here's the catch: it can't be rats!!!!
Murder Mystery Squeek
The scratching sound that came from behind the wall started softly. A faint whisper in the lower ranges that said, “Ignore me. I don’t matter.”
I worked on a story. Had a time frame. Almost done. My fingers pounded the keyboard. My heart raced when I glanced at the clock. The story, framed so simply in my mind, seemed hesitant to unravel, shy of the fingers that wanted to carve it distinct. That’s why I paid no attention to the hesitant scrape of fingernails across stucco.
At least, not at first.
I suppose somewhere in my consciousness I registered the sound. But my mind, preoccupied with disentangling the innocent murder suspect from the over-active cop, shut out the noise.
I wrote, sped on past the boy on the bicycle, the crook with the black mask over his left eye, a hook on his right hand. Ten minutes to go before the Writer’s Cramp, 24 hour -- one thousand words or less contest, ended for another day.
That did it. Stopped me cold. Bike boy fell off. Crook stopped mid-confession. Innocent man, the one I’d struggled to unhook from the over-eager cop . . . Each turned to look.
“What’s that noise?” the cop said.
“A mouse.” The crook nabbed an engraved pen, stuck it in his pocket.
“No, the ghost of Sydney Hall," Innocent said, gave a firm nod to the others.
The cop shot a look at Innocent that suspected, accused, condemned. “The ghost that killed Mrs. Beathom?”
The bicyclist hobbled over. His knee left tiny drops of blood in a trail behind him. “Innocent's right. I saw the ghost once. Over there,” the teen pointed to the window.
“Wait a minute. I’m the writer of this story. No ghost in it. This is a serious murder case. No place for phantom melodramatics.”
The cop focused his eyes on me. “What do you know about this? Where were you on the night of March 2nd?” He flipped his notebook open, unbicked his pen, held it in position to jot down anything I said.
I laughed. “I’m the writer. You can’t blame this on me. I haven’t even decided who killed the hussy.”
The cop edged closer. One hand hovered above the gun he kept strapped to his left thigh.
The noise seemed to come at us from all sides. A tooth-grinding squeal like rusted gears. The sound disrupted all dialogue. We glanced at the wall, looked at each other, shuddered.
I opened my mouth to explain that I needed to retreat back to my keyboard to finish the tale and post it.
But at that moment, puzzlement rose, bit my interest. No gears occupied the thin space between the walls of my house. My mind sought other possibilities.
“Look, I’m sure we can figure this out -- the noise I mean,” I said. “A broken clock -- sprung from a shift in the wall’s foundation. A musical kid’s toy wedged inside . . . a . . . “
“A dead man, trying to get our attention,” said the teen with the bleeding knee.
The crook took a step closer, his hook reached out, poked me in the chest. “What do you have against dead people? Some of my best friends are dead.”
“Like Mrs. Beathom? Where were you on the night of March 2nd?” The cop’s pen lay stuck behind an ear, but his tough-guy face pressed into the crook’s personal space.
The pen stealer took a step back, tugged at his pants, restored them to a place that, at best, seemed half-mast. He cleared his throat, hacked something up, looked for a place to spit.
“No, you don’t,” I said. “Swallow it.”
“What, the weapon? He swallowed the weapon?” Herman Peebody, Mr. Innocent, worked down the street as a baker’s assistant. He wiped his floured hands on the back of his pants, then moved over to my couch like he planned to deposit himself there.
“Don’t sit down,” I said.
The cop’s eyes narrowed. He twirled about, strode over to the couch, began to toss pillows and seat cushions right and left.
“WRRRRRRRatchchchch. . .”
The sound again. That horrid, frightening sound.
All of us froze, twisted our eyes to the wall, behind which something scratched with sudden fierceness.
“I gotta go home,” said the bicyclist, flinging his long legs across my carpet like an African lion chased after him, its sharp teeth an inch away from his heels.
“Yeah, me, too,” said the thief, who I suspected knew more about the murder than he was saying. Perhaps even -- was the murderer . . .Ummmmm.
“Stop him. The thief did it,” I said.
The cop looked up, grinned with a set of teeth badly in need of a dentist. He took three steps toward the crook, then whirled about, slammed the cuffs on me.
I could’ve finished my story. I figured out who did it, but I missed the cut-off.
Framed. The crook, Bicycle Boy, Mr. Innocent. They all did it. They put the murderer behind the wall.
My hearing’s not til tomorrow,. Bail set at 2 million gift points. I can't pay.
My murder story would have been good, might have won the Writer’s Cramp for the day. But I discovered the answers too late. The perpetrator died trying to get free. His nails scratched stucco into death.
The lawyer says I’ll get twenty years. With time off for good behavior. Not what I would choose, but at least I’ll have plenty of time to write. Maybe I’ll win the Cramp next time. But no more murder mysteries. I’m finished forever with those. Next time, comedy, poetry, science fiction . . .