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Tag: Free Short Story

My Murderous Muse

One long ago evening, I took a shortcut through a dark alley and stumbled over a dead body. Most of it was hidden on the far side of a filthy dumpster. Only the feet stuck out. The toes of my left foot caught on the edge of the Nike. I lurched forward, flailing my arms about like I was trying to fly. When I regained my balance, I turned to see what I’d tripped on. That’s when I saw the sneaker, and noticed it was attached to a body. 

I’m not in the habit of stumbling over bodies in dark alleys. Outside of funeral parlors and made-up faces in caskets, I’d never seen a dead person. In the shadows that evening, I thought this guy might be drunk and had passed out there. Or perhaps he’d been mugged and was hurt. I didn’t immediately think dead body.

 Until I knelt beside him. 

Half his face was missing. 

Fortunately, the missing half also happened to be the half he was lying on. I saw enough detail to cause the Kahlua sombrero I’d drunk at the bar around the corner to creep up the back of my throat. I turned away and focused on his shoes. Average-sized men’s Nikes. Flecks dotted the white leather. Blood, maybe. Hard to tell without a good source of light. 

Whatever morbid curiosity I felt soon gave way to fear. What was I doing in a dark alley, alone with a dead body? I sprang upright too quickly. The booze and the burst of adrenaline made me lightheaded. I reached for the dumpster to keep myself from falling onto the dead man with the missing face. I quickly realized my night was getting no better. 

My fingers slid through a wet, sticky substance. Blood. Red, gooey, and smeared over the edge of the dumpster. I pulled my hand away, but not before scraping against tiny fragments of something hard. The missing pieces of bone from the man’s face, perhaps? Or pieces of his brain? The fragments clung to my fingers as I pulled my hand away. 

Then I vomited on the average-sized Nikes. 

I was still retching when gravel crunching beneath shoes alerted me to someone’s presence. You’d think I’d be smart enough to run. But, no, I’m ever the optimist. I thought this person approaching would be able to help. He or she could go to the phone booth across the street and call the cops. As I straightened up, a solid steel baseball bat slammed into my cheek. Okay, I’m exaggerating. I was really punched in the face with a fist, but it felt like a steel bat. 

The blow sent me reeling backward. A moment later, I found myself lying on top of the dead man. The person with the steel fist laughed, which I found insulting. I told him so. Obviously, I’m not too bright. He gave me a kick for good measure. 

Lying on a stinky dead body freaked me out. I reached for the man with the steel hands, snatching a handful of his denim pant leg. The bone fragments on my fingers crushed into my skin as I pulled and yanked. He cursed and tried to kick me away. Finally, I managed to get to my knees and I scurried away from the dead guy. 

The man with the steel hands grabbed my arm and yanked me off the ground. For a moment, I was dangling in the air, my feet dancing above the pavement. Then he set me down, and that’s when I noticed the gun. 

I didn’t know anything about guns. This one was black and silver, and pointed at me. That was all I needed to know at the time. 

He was going to kill me. I was sure of it. Only he didn’t. He said he would let me go on one condition. For the rest of my life, I would have to write about murder. He wanted everyone to know what he and people like him did. Most of all, he wanted people to know why. No, not excuses. The truth of it. The madness behind it. 

Of course, I agreed. What choice did I have? 

And, so, here I am. One crazy night murder paid me a visit, and I’ve been telling the story ever since.

A Snapshot in Time

 

I stand at the edge of the path and stare into the clearing. The schoolhouse, long ago abandoned, somehow manages to retain its warmth in the midst of the cold, forgotten landscape. Nowadays, schools resemble prisons; sprawling gray fortresses children are forced to attend. That was not always so, and the loss saddens me.

This red schoolhouse, like most of the others of its day, resembles a church. Though even the churches have now grown large and foreboding, haven’t they? We’re always striving for bigger and better. Somewhere along the way, we traded our quaint lifestyle for high-rises and shopping malls the size of small cities.

I look at the barren tree and recall the days of playing Ring-Around-the-Rosie. I can almost hear the shrill giggles of my childhood friends as we clasped hands in a circle. Mrs. Schneider, our teacher, would call us in after our fifteen-minute recess and all our noses would be bright red from the cold. We’d quickly settle into our seats, always happy to be there. We all loved our school and our teacher. Learning was an adventure we each eagerly sought.

I’ve been gone from this place for many years. I grew up and married my childhood crush. Elliot sat behind me from kindergarten through fifth grade, right here in this very schoolhouse. He’d pull on my strawberry-blonde banana curls and feign innocence when I turned to tell him to stop.

As young adults, Elliot’s job took us far away. We settled into our new life and raised four beautiful children. Our children grew into wonderful adults, and soon we were blessed with fifteen healthy grandchildren. When I look back, it all seems to have happened in the blink of an eye. Hard to believe I now have seven great-grandchildren. And I’m a widow. I lost Elliot three years ago. When I close my eyes, I can still feel him pulling on my banana curls.

I have not returned to this place in all the decades of my adulthood. The memories, though, remain vivid. This was a time of joyous innocence, and I worry that this new generation of children will never know such youthful exuberance.

My granddaughter, Barbara, touches my arm. “Are you ready to go, Grandma?” she asks. “It’s getting awfully cold.”

I look at that little red schoolhouse and try to imagine the scene through her eyes. She might describe it as old-fashioned, possibly even bleak. Everything in her world has always been so much larger. She grew up in a city of skyscrapers, and her son’s school is a huge block of concrete with metal detectors and security guards.

This little red schoolhouse is where I learned about the world, and where I fell in love. I don’t know how to tell her all I feel when I stand here.

Barbara senses my melancholy. She wraps her arms around me and says, “Sad that they’re tearing it down.”

Tears sting my eyes. “Yes. Before long this will be yet another mall.”

She slips a camera from her pocket and snaps a photo. That’s what our lives come down to in the end; just a snapshot in time.