Sad Mystery Fiction

  He stood in silence; a world of emotion rushing over him. As if he had forgotten himself entirely until this moment. All those years of carefully packing away difficult feelings into a tight box; the seams of which would buckle only rarely in the still moments of the night before he slept. This time they ripped wide open. All from this generic birthday invitation that was left on the porch outside his cabin.

   He had just returned from his morning routine, checking the traps and basking in the solitude around him. Completely unaware, as one usually is, of the life changing events that await him. The morning was a bright one, especially bright. His eyes had stung slightly at the glare that shone off the pond near his quaint cabin. A raven fluttered down and perched on the old grey wood that lined the porch. It cawed at him inquisitively. "This is some kind of mistake, surely." The address was right. His full name spelt out. Peter H. Kenny. He opened it with a heavy sigh. It was from Beth.

   He folded up the envelope with message inside and shoved it in his coat pocket before he looked over at the bird. He shook his head as if the moment were water that clung to his hair; trying to escape the encroaching thoughts. He grabbed a handful of corn kernels from a burlap sack just on the inside the front entryway and sat down on his creaky chair. He felt heavy with tiredness, though the day had just begun. He sighed and held his hand aloft, palm up. The bird cawed, hopped twice, and landed on the armrest of his chair and pecked at the meal. He admired the bird, his svelte faithful companion. Talking to things that responded, even primitively, is leagues better than plain dead air. Volumes better than the echoing inner caverns of a guilt-ridden mind.

   He stroked the raven's back as it continued to peck at the kernels. He leaned back; the chair tapped against the wooden wall of his cabin. Beth. He closed his eyes and recalled her tearful expression, tears of relief, when he walked up to her screen door. Nestled in his partially zipped up coat was a bandaged dog, still young and golden. The man explained what had happened; and apologized after every sentence. He never met her gaze for more than a couple seconds. He informed her that the dog chewed its way past the fence and into his property. The poor dog found his leg caught in a small trap, one of the ones he used to catch minks. He handed the pup to her and she disappeared inside. He walked away swiftly before she could return.

   The man sighed. "It was a cold morning that day...", he said to the hungry bird. His eyes shut slowly, and he held back whatever subtle dread he felt on his chest. He was practiced at forcing thoughts away, so he did just that. Instead, he tried to think of the mountain of tasks that this lifestyle demanded of him. Finished with its meal, his friend took flight, and the man went inside to take stock of the firewood. He opened the creaky paint-chipped door and begun his daily routine. All day that day and with every chore a thought tingled at him. How long has it been since I've been around another soul for longer than an hour? Years at least. The day passed by excruciatingly slow.

   His sleep that night was troubled as well. Raided by nightmares each time he attempted to sleep, he awakened a few moments later, only to resume the cycle after he fell back asleep by sheer exhaustion. It was the expected dream, but still dreaded. Every painstaking detail from the night he was shunned from society. The night he lost his wife's love. The night his own family became estranged. The scorn and disgusted looks on their faces morphed into monstrous proportions the longer he stared back at them; like a fire being fed constant tinder until the roar and heat of the flame would force your gaze away. He saw the faces that wore the expressions he swore he would never subject himself to again. The start of his descent into his chosen lonesome life.

   The morning came quickly and remorselessly. The concept of sleep far from him now; tiredness hung on him like an all-encompassing carpet. The morning light shone just enough to start his normal trap checking run. He needed something to get his mind from how terrible the night had been. Work has always been an ally to distract himself in the past and he knew it, so he dutifully trudged through the front door and went on his regular forest path.

 It was muddy and water droplets fell from the leaves and commanded the soundscape. The storm in the night triggered a few traps with fallen branches. Today, the same as yesterday, he caught nothing. The misfortune aggravated his mental wounds. Dejected; he trudged through the mud back towards his cabin. He recognized his friends distinct cawing from far away. It continued until he walked up the path to his porch and nearly tripped up the old steps. "I'll feed you in a moment, hush.", He mumbled. He felt more than ready to get out of his wet clothes and whittle by the fire. The terrible night convinced him to call the entire day a loss. He stopped dead in his tracks before he went inside. The door was slightly open.

   "Hello?" he heard her voice inside; it was his neighbor, no doubt about it. She sounded worried. He considered briefly to return to the woods, to skip this encounter entirely, but he steeled his nerves and called out.

   "H...Hello? Who's here?" he felt the words catching in his throat as if it were lined with barbs. The woman gasped and walked over to the front door. She was holding a plate covered with tinfoil.

   "Hey! I'm sorry, I didn't hear a response and the door was open so...I thought I'd check in on you. My bad!" She was practically bubbling with charm, but as always, it was hard for him to look her in the eyes. A beat of silence passed before he realized this is the first time someone has been in his house for years, decades potentially.

   "It's okay. Can I get you some coffee?", He asked quietly. The woman smiled and said, “Sure! I can't stay long but I did want to talk for a couple minutes." She sat down at the dark wood table, placing her plate of food there, and he stepped over to the nearly empty sink. The kitchen was small but perfectly suited for one person.  

"I really am sorry; I shouldn't have just come in like that."


   "Well, I just wanted to stop by and properly thank you for finding Humphrey for me. Oh! and I've brought pie!" She held up the plate near her face. It was fresh, fresh enough to light up the room with its fragrance. "It's one of my mother’s recipes!" She waited for a response which didn't come.  "I've been worried sick about him, ever since he got out. Seeing him back home brings more joy than I can express! He's doing fine, by the way, he hates the cast, but the vet said he'll make a full recovery. I am sorry about the fence; I know he sees rabbits and squirrels all the time over here."

   "I'm glad he'll be okay, I felt terrible that he got caught up cause of me." He grabbed the cup he had used that morning and poured himself a fresh cup. He produced one for her and they both sat down on the kitchen table built for two. The coffee fogged into the morning air of the cold cabin.

   "So you live on your own all the way out here, huh?" she said before taking a sip.

   "Yeah...For the last forty years or so." The question hit something subtle inside of him, but the pressure of the situation rendered it untraceable.

   "Must get lonely. Peaceful too, I imagine..." The man looked outside for his trusted friend, but he was nowhere to be found. Another awkward silence.

   "I left an invitation for you the other day! I guess you were out, did you get it? My friends insisted that they throw me a birthday party and I thought I'd invite the neighbor who rescued my little ball of joy." She smiled sincerely. The moment he glanced up and saw her face was all it took. He began to weep. Tears fell like water from an overflowing cup under a faucet down an old, weathered face.

       He cried in the ugly way a grown man does when they haven't for years. When they've needed to for years. She was stunned and watched him for a moment before remembering herself. She moved by to his side and rubbed his back before he waved her off, "I'm sorry...I'm sorry" was all he could say. He never let himself burden others with his feelings, but she had unintentionally found the structural weakness in his dammed up emotions. His eyes stung sharp as they tried to remember this sensation.

       "Oh my god, Pete, what's wrong?" She found out his name from another old man who worked at the post office, the one who spoke with a downward and sad inflection when she mentioned him. She moved over to the chair next to him. He sniffed and caught his breath. He hadn't known he would spill it all; but her expression begged him to let her in and he hadn't the fortitude to turn her away. She looked at him just the same way his wife did before her pity grew to anger.

       "On my birthday so many years ago..." his voice wrestled with his thoughts and broke for a moment; he had realized how old he was. He cleared his throat and started again, "All those years ago, I went hunting before the sun was up. Mason, my son, he was finally old enough for his mom to let him come with me, so I checked in on my boy to see if he was ready. I remember how excited he was, saying he how much he wanted to go the night before, asking me if we'd get one over and over again. Well, that morning he was just lying there sound asleep; I heard his alarm go off when I was getting ready, but when I came in it was turned off, unplugged from the wall, and halfway across the room." Pete showed the glimmerings of a sad smile, and took a beat before he talked again. "Anyway, I closed the door softly, and I decided to let him sleep. Then I went out on my own to a deer stand we had on the property. You had to walk a while to get there but it was a pretty good spot, usually plenty of deer but that season had been really empty. I had that rifle with me..."He gestured over to a rifle leaning up in the corner that was covered in dust. She didn't break eye contact, but her hand moved slowly over her heart as she listened.

   "It was colder than usual that morning, and quiet. A good few hours had passed; I hadn't gotten a wink of sleep the night before so I was fighting to stay awake. Well..." he swallowed hard and looked down as he spoke. “I saw rustling off in the distance, probably about two hundred yards; a spot of brown in the bush. and I... I aimed and fired my rifle." His head fell in his hands and he took a few seconds before he spoke, “And I heard the worst sound in my entire life. I heard him yell." Both her hands covered her mouth as she listened.

       "Oh my god..." she said faintly, and watched the man break down in front of him.

   "I climbed down as fast as I could and I ran up to him lying there, my boy, and he looked at me and said 'Dad, you shot me' as he was bleeding all over himself and all over the ground. It was all he could say. I carried him all the way back to the house, telling him to 'hold on, hold on, don't close your eyes, don't leave me', and when we finally got back, I kicked the door open to get to our first aid kit and call an ambulance and then... I saw the faces of my friends and relatives staring at me; my wife, my parents..." He was reliving the moment in his head. There was a "Happy Birthday!" Banner up on the ceiling, the smell of a cake baking in the oven, even a slightly delayed "Surprise!" yell from the back room as he came in.

   There was no chance at holding anything back anymore. He sobbed softly and the woman moved her chair next to him and rubbed his back. After a while when he finally caught his breath and calmed down, she was about to say something, but the man looked down into his black cup of coffee and spoke first, “He was already gone by that point." The only sound to follow in that solemn minute was a soft breeze that cut through the tree branches.

   "Oh my god, Pete, I had no idea I am so sorry."

   "I guess getting invited to anything, let alone a birthday, brought back a lot of painful memories. Didn’t mean to burden you with all that."

   "My god, I hope you can forgive me, this was the last thing I wanted to make you feel." She held her hand on his shoulder, rubbing it gently.

   "You had no way of knowing. Only people who really know the true story ain't around here anymore. Anything about that incident is up at the courthouse or people talking rumors. I've heard them gossiping, saying I did it on purpose like some crazy person. I've seen how they all look at me out there. So much disgust, and the worst part is that I can't blame them."

   "How could anyone possibly think you'd want to do that?"

   "I used to have an anger problem. Started stupid fights over stupid stuff. Young and dumb."

   "Oh... but even still, your own son!"

   "People will think whatever they want."

"Well... I don't know you very well, Pete, but I do want to thank you for bringing my dog back to me. I don't blame you for his leg; It's a shame that his leg got caught, but you didn't mean for it to happen. The universe hits us hard, and when accidents happen It's the easiest thing in the world to believe we deserve to bear the burden of the cards we're delt with." Her voice filled with sympathy and they locked eyes for a moment. "We're all just trying to do the best we can and... sometimes that's all we can ask of people." Silence filled the room for a few moments, save for sniffling from both.

   "I'm sorry, I don't know why I told you all this. Thank you for the food, and thanks for listening." He starts to stand up and grabs a tissue from the counter. She stood up and approached him and grabbed a tissue for herself.

   "You're all by yourself out here, aren't you?"

   "Yeah, I have been. For a long time."

   "Well... What if I bring you some food from time to time? Enjoy a slice of pie and coffee and just chat for a little bit?"

   "I don't know..."

   "Well, at least think on it for me, would you? You know where I live, if you change your mind just let me know and we can have coffee sometime." His gaze met hers and he smiled humbly before nodding. He looked completely worn out, but all tension had left his form. Like a sprung coil. "Well, I have to go. It was nice meeting you, Pete. Thanks again for bringing my dog home."

   "It was nothing, Beth. Thanks for inviting me to your party."

   He sighed and yawned as she walked off the porch. The raven announced her leave as she walked down the path towards the driveway. As he went to go lay down, Peter grabbed the envelope from his pocked and took out the card. He left it unfolded on the table next to the pie she brought over. 

May 15, 2021 02:44

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Vivian Rios
07:48 May 18, 2021

Beautiful!, it really shows how your guilt can eat at you for years and how important it is to talk to someone instead of letting your feeling fester.


Reece York
11:26 May 18, 2021

How true that is! Shame will convince you that you're a certain way or a specific kind of person. We need others to truly see ourselves as we are, along with the compassion, sympathy, and empathy of someone willing to listen. : ) Thank you for reading! I'm glad you enjoyed it!


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Desiree Gonzalez
18:08 May 17, 2021

Great story!, it made me feel a sense of forgiveness even for myself. The man carried a lot of guilt, so coming across someone who knew nothing about him felt almost like a new beginning even if their interaction was brief. The one thing she did know was that he had good intentions after bringing her dog back and his tragic mistakes didn't define him. Coming across a joyful soul like hers was a nice surprise after experiencing such loss and before going on with his mundane life.


Reece York
22:28 May 17, 2021

Desiree! I am so so happy you enjoyed it! Truly made my day to read your comment and to know that the story was meaningful for you. : ) Thank you for reading!


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