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Drama Mystery Crime

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

NOW


The elevator doors part, propelling Benjamin and Alice into the hallway, both loaded down with grocery bags. They each lean to one side under the weight.

"You didn't forget the rice, did you?" Alice asks.

Ben just grunts and points with his chin at one bag in particular. The one holding the rice. Alice beams, her grin a spontaneous burst of sunshine, and they exchange a glance of understanding, acknowledging neighbours with casual head bobs as they pass.

Living in these flats, running into people is as common as daylight. The homes are neatly in a row, each one connected to the next by the shared balcony. As they walk to their door, the vibe of their small community is friendly, warm.

But today isn't just another Saturday. There's a tension in the air, a sense of something waiting for them, right behind their door. As they reach it, Ben sets his bags down. The one with the rice slips out of his hand as he fumbles for the key in his pocket.

It's all so normal. A weekend shopping trip, the same as so many others. At least, that's what they believe.

As Benjamin's hand closes around the key, Alice's voice shatters the peace. "Evan!" 

Benjamin spins around to face his wife, her worry mirrored in his eyes. "What is it?"

Alice's lips move, but no words come out. Fear and confusion play across her face. She points, her hand shaking, at the door opposite theirs.

His eyes move along the invisible line her finger draws. And the moment his sight aligns with the object of her indication, a bone-chilling revelation shakes him to his core. Little Evan, their six-year-old neighbour, is sitting on the patch of floor where the shoe rack usually sits. His cherubic cheeks, delicate arms, and pristine white singlet are besmirched with a crimson hue. Even from their vantage point, the unmistakable scent of iron wafts through the air, its metallic presence a harbinger of the unspeakable—a child drenched in blood. 


TWO HOURS AGO


Thank heavens they had arrived at CKS Supermarket while the morning was still young, allowing them to secure a prime parking spot with relative ease. The vast expanse of the supermarket echoed their good fortune, as the early hour had kept the number of shoppers to a minimum.

With a swift motion, Benjamin snatched a shopping trolley while Alice, clutching her phone, took the lead, consulting the meticulously compiled list of necessary purchases she had crafted earlier. Together, they meandered through the aisles, diligently collecting each item on their agenda. Feeling no need to rush, they opted for a leisurely pace, relishing the unhurried nature of their quest.

"Let's make our way to the rice section," Alice suggested.

"Alright," Benjamin replied, dutifully steering the trolley as Alice forged ahead.

In the midst of their stride, their heads turned in unison towards the sound of a woman's voice emanating from close proximity. "Hello, Alice," the voice called out, revealing itself to be none other than Ain, a familiar face from their neighbourhood.

"Ain!" Alice exclaimed. "You're here too?"

"Yes!" Ain responded, moving in closer, her face alive with an unstoppable desire for juicy tidbits.

Recognizing Ain's familiar gaze, Alice wasted no time. She gestured discreetly to Benjamin, silently requesting a moment of solitude, before joining Ain's side.

Now face to face, Ain wasted no time diving into the heart of the matter. "So, spill the beans, Alice. What's the deal with Clara and Fabian? I saw your message in our WhatsApp group this morning, but I was too swamped to reply."

"Well, they're at it again, just like always."

Ain clicked her tongue. "I wish there was more we could do to help them. Have you ever tried prying into their affairs?"

"No way, Ain. I prefer not to meddle in other people's business."

"You're right," Ain concurred, her tone filled with empathy. "Word has it that Fabian is quite the jealous type. Forever suspicious of Clara. Poor, poor Clara."

"Indeed! And let's not forget about Evan. He's only five, yet he's subjected to his parents' ceaseless quarrels."

Ain tsked once more, shaking her head in dismay. "I hope that little boy is coping well at preschool."

"Yes, absolutely," Alice agreed. "I wish—"

"Darling, which one?" Benjamin interjected, his impatience palpable as he pointed towards a tower of rice bags nearby.

"Ah, excuse me, Ain," Alice apologised, momentarily breaking away from their conversation.

"No worries," Ain replied graciously, understanding the demands of their shopping expedition. Alice swiftly rejoined her husband, and together they resumed their individual quests through the supermarket aisles, leaving behind the enigmatic troubles of Clara and Fabian, at least for the moment.


THREE HOURS AGO


The oppressive heat and humidity had persisted for weeks, and today was no exception. The scorching sun beat down mercilessly, reducing a mere stroll from their residence to the car into a sweat-drenched endeavour for Alice and Benjamin.

Yet, amidst the stifling conditions, nature revealed its own compensations. Tecoma trees stood proudly along the periphery of the flat complex, their branches adorned with what seemed like an endless array of blossoms. Each tree boasted flowers of the same species, yet their hues varied from vibrant yellow to delicate pink, from pure white to regal purple. The sight was nothing short of spectacular, a testament to the resilience of life in the face of blistering temperatures.

Alice and Benjamin found solace in the enchanting spectacle as they made their way towards their vehicle. For a fleeting moment, the oppressive heat yielded to the captivating beauty of the trees.

As they neared their car, they chanced upon the Siew couple, their heads tilted back, captivated by the same view. Alice noticed that their three children frolicked beneath one of the tecoma trees, joyfully collecting fallen flowers and casting them skyward, revelling in a playful shower of petals.

"Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Siew!" Alice greeted with warmth.

"Hello! Heading out?" Mrs. Siew inquired.

"Yes, just off to purchase some groceries."

Mrs. Siew nodded her head in response, but then her eyes transformed into slits and her entire demeanour switched into a gossip-ready mode. She leaned forward, asking, "So, your home is right across from Clara's, correct?"

"Yes, that's correct."

"Are you in a hurry? Let's chat for a while."

"Absolutely."

Mr. Siew and Benjamin exchanged knowing glances, fully aware of their wives' predilection for indulging in a bit of gossip whenever their paths crossed. With a shared understanding, they meandered toward the nearest bench, affording their wives the privacy to engage in their customary tête-à-tête.

"They're at it again, aren't they?" Mrs. Siew began.

"Oh my goodness, yes. I wonder when they'll ever cease."

"Did you manage to catch any of the commotion?"

"I couldn't make out the words, but there was shouting and banging of things."

"I'm curious about the source of their troubles. I've been told Fabian is quite the possessive type, really territorial."

"Exactly. After all—" Alice was about to elaborate further when Benjamin cleared his throat, emitting a deliberate sound to signal that it was time to depart. "I suppose I should—"

"Of course," Mrs. Siew interjected, offering a warm smile. "Carry on, then."


SIX HOURS AGO


When Alice woke, the other side of the bed was bare. Ben had no doubt gone out for his usual run. It was Saturday and she could afford a few extra minutes tucked away in the cocoon of her cosy sheets. Peace reigned in these quiet morning moments, all hers to enjoy.

She found her phone and began her routine - first Facebook, then Instagram. A steady stream of images and words to keep her entertained, to share a smile, a thumbs up, a word of encouragement. It was an easy thing, to show kindness to others. 

Stretching out her legs, she opened WhatsApp. Thirty-five unread messages waited for her. One by one, she gave them her attention, sending off replies where needed.

Her peace was shattered when the noises started. A loud clank, like a pot being dropped, then the all-too-familiar sound of a man's voice raised in anger. The thin walls of her apartment left nothing to the imagination. The woman's voice soon joined in, a clear sign that Clara and Fabian were at it again. Alice wondered, not for the first time, if they could ever find a peaceful moment together.

Alice wasn't troubled by it, not really. It was just part of life in the building. A common topic of conversation among the women in their Block F Sisterhood WhatsApp group. She shared the latest update with them: "OMG, those two just woke up the entire block."

The replies were quick and full of laughter. Alice wished she could stay and chat, but the clock was nearing 8:00 am. Ben would be back soon, and she wanted to have breakfast ready for him.

Wrapping herself in a towel, she made her way to the bathroom. The sounds of Clara and Fabian arguing followed her, louder than ever. She tried to make out what they were arguing about, but it was useless. Instead, she chose to drown them out with a playlist from Spotify, focusing on brushing her teeth and washing her face.

Her next stop was the kitchen, where she found the cupboards were almost empty. They were low on just about everything. A trip to the grocery store was inevitable, but that was a problem for later. For now, she had breakfast to make and a day to start. And despite the drama from the apartment next door, it was a good morning. Alice was determined to keep it that way.


EIGHT HOURS AGO


The world was quiet, still mostly asleep under a thin blanket of predawn light. The moon clung to the sky, its glow washing the land in soft lavender tones. The only sounds were the early birds and far-off roosters breaking through the silence.

One could be excused for wanting to stay curled up in bed, to let the morning laziness take over. But for Benjamin, that wasn't an option. He had made a pact with his crew, his running mates, his brothers in the Gallop Gang. They'd come together the year before, brought together by their shared passion for running and the shared address in Ken Hwa Flat Complex.

Stepping towards the roadside, where a stretch of pavement awaited, Benjamin observed the presence of Siew, Baharuddin, and Rudy, already engaged in their pre-run stretches.

"Hey, Ben!" Rudy called out.

"Hey, sorry I'm not late, am I?" 

"No, we're just warming up," Siew assured him.

The quartet completed their stretches, preparing their bodies for the impending exertion. And then, like a pack of untamed beasts, they embarked on their run, each step pounding the pavement, their breath intermingling with the rhythm of their own hearts. Lost in the harmonious solitude of their companionship, they left the world behind.

After an hour of hard work, the four men took a breather, huddling around a hefty, mushroom-inspired cement patio table. With eager gulps, they drained their water bottles and wiped the sweat from their faces.

"So, Ben," Baharuddin began. "How's your neighbour?"

"Which one?" Benjamin responded.

"Oh, you know," Baharuddin gestured, his fingers playing out the movements of two endlessly talking mouths in midair. "The ongoing saga."

"Still at each other's throats, as usual."

Siew cleared his throat, leaning in. "Clara bears some responsibility, in my opinion. She can be quite cynical, don't you think?"

"Yeah," Rudy chimed in. "I don't envy Fabian. It's a challenging prospect, handling a wife like that."

Benjamin withheld his comment, contemplating the predicament. Then, a realisation struck him, reminded of Rudy's brother who served as a police officer. “Hey, Rudy. Couldn’t we report this to the authorities?”

Rudy hesitated, his brow furrowing. "Unfortunately, I've inquired about this before. In most jurisdictions, verbal abuse doesn't constitute a crime. Unless there's physical violence or an imminent threat, the police won't intervene in a marital dispute. Verbal spats, regrettably, fall outside their purview."

The quartet exchanged despondent glances, a shared realisation descending upon them.

"Well, for now, all we can do is wait and see," Benjamin offered.

Baharuddin nodded. "Yes, let's hope it doesn't escalate before we can take any action."

"Why don't you all back off and worry about your own damn lives!" A sudden voice pierced the atmosphere, jolting the four men. Their heads swivelled, gazes settling upon the imposing figure of Fabian, towering before them—tall, robust, and muscular. He stared them down, an intensity emanating from his eyes, challenging them to make a move.

Caught off guard, the four men dispersed, retreating to the comfort of their individual abodes, each bearing the weight of Fabian's silent provocation.


NOW


Five cops have huffed and puffed their way into the Fabian house. It has taken a fair bit of boot power and the handy assistance of a Halligan bar to bust the stubborn door. They were quick on the draw, spurred on by a nerve-jangling call from Benjamin about little Evan, all covered in blood, and the door that just wouldn't open.

Benjamin, Alice, and a handful of locals watch, wide-eyed and silent, as the cops come out guiding Clara and Fabian, their hands shackled. The blood smeared on them paints a grim picture that has the onlookers rooted to the spot. Peering past the warning tape and barred door, they see a dark red stain seeping into the floor. Lying next to it, a gaunt woman's body is spread out like a gruesome still-life. Three of the cops click away, capturing the horrific scene for their records, getting ready to bag the body.

Alice and Benjamin exchange glances, their brows knitting with confusion. They've spent long evenings talking with their neighbours in the Ken Hwa Flat building, thinking they've unravelled every mystery about Clara and Fabian. But they're wrong. They never knew about Evan's lifelong silence. They remain clueless about who's dead, what really happened, and why it all took place. But that's not their concern now.

Their main worry is comforting Evan, whose sobs have hardly stopped since they found him curled up on the floor. Soon, a kind-hearted cop waves them over to the sobbing boy.

"Got any idea what happened?" the cop asks, gentle and understanding.

"Officer," Benjamin replies, his voice heavy with worry, "this little fella can't speak."

"Know anyone who could connect with him?" the cop asks.

Benjamin and Alice stop to think, then Alice's face lights up. She nods, saying, "I think I know just the person."


***


After around thirty minutes pass, the Siew family emerges from the elevator with a sense of urgency. Alice's gaze is fixed on Zi Hao, the eldest child, who tightly holds a notebook and pencil. Alice can't quite grasp the purpose of these objects, but her instincts tell her they hold the key to effectively communicating with Evan in the near future.

Without wasting any time, a police officer engages Zi Hao in a conversation, their voices muffled by the distance between them and Alice. Zi Hao, always obedient, nods in compliance, showing his willingness to follow the officer's instructions.

Soon after, the police officer approaches Alice, who cradles the blood-stained Evan in her arms, and says, "Ma'am, it's time."

Alice gently taps Evan's shoulder, indicating the officer and Zi Hao. However, Evan seems to resist, as if desperately clinging to Alice for protection. His innocent expression reveals a deep need for comfort.

"Ma'am," the police officer interjects, his tone insistent. "You're welcome to come with us."

"Very well, sir. Maybe we can continue our conversation at my home," Alice suggests, her voice filled with a glimmer of hope.

The police officer silently nods, acknowledging Alice's proposal.


***


The Siews and Benjamin huddle in the living room, quiet as church mice, while Alice, Evan, Zi Hao, and a police officer claim the dining table. A hush swells throughout the house, the echo of a tragic event hanging like a heavy coat on each person. And in this stillness, every word from the officer and Zi Hao rings out clear as a bell.

Alice is putting the pieces together about Zi Hao's notebook and pencil, her eyes following the boy’s hand as it moves across the page. Evan's drawings paint an unsettling picture—an iron, a woman scrubbing dishes under the stern eyes of a couple. The truth hits them like a bucket of ice water, making them shiver with guilt for the gossip they've been spreading.

The noise they thought was Clara and Fabian fighting was something far more sinister. It was the couple, not at odds, but united in their cruel treatment of a maid hidden within their home, a secret kept even from their closest kin.

"Do you know how many times your folks attacked her?" the police officer asks.

Zi Hao scribbles the question down so Evan can understand. But Evan just shakes his head, his memory a foggy landscape.

"He doesn’t remember, sir," Zi Hao says, then a light bulb moment. "Hold on, let me try something." He draws ten circles, hoping to jog Evan's memory.

But Evan shakes his head again.

"Guess he doesn't remember," Zi Hao sighs.

Then, as if guided by an unseen force, Evan rises from his seat and makes his way towards the kitchen window. The peculiar action puzzles the others, their confusion etched upon their faces. Sensing their bewilderment, Evan raises his hand and directs his finger outward, pointing towards something outside the window.

Alice and the police officer follow his indication, their gaze falling upon a tecoma tree resplendent with a multitude of blossoms. Perplexed, they turn to Evan, seeking an explanation for his cryptic gesture.

The officer swings around, planning to ask Zi Hao for help, but the boy is already behind them. "What's he saying?" the officer asks.

Zi Hao's expression goes solemn. "He's answering your last question, sir," he says, his voice heavy with weight.

June 03, 2023 03:54

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8 comments

Mary Bendickson
17:32 Jun 04, 2023

There were a lot of blossoms on that tree if I recall. Poignant story telling.

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Ian James
00:39 Jun 08, 2023

Absolutely. We locals like to think of them as our very own cherry blossoms/sakura. It's a sight to behold, especially when the weather gets hotter. The more heat, the more they bloom.🌸🌼

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Peter Wyatt
14:20 Jun 08, 2023

Hello Ian, The reverse story structure worked well on this piece. The first section was quite compelling and the cliff hanger was effective. I confess, the ending was confusing to me and I had to reread it a couple times. And still, I only think I get it. I like the ending and the imagery of the blossoms being compared to the number of brutal blows (I think). However, the story opens in a mystery format. The revelation of the dead woman is a bit anticlimactic because we don't learn her relationship to any of the principal characters. Perha...

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Chris Miller
12:35 Jun 08, 2023

Hi Ian, I got a link to your story through the Critique Circle email. I enjoyed it. You created a really interesting community to provide the setting. The lifestyle and values of the characters come through really nicely. The use of the tree provides a sad, poetic ending. Good work.

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J. D. Lair
23:12 Jun 04, 2023

Very immersive and well spun story. Good luck this week! :)

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Ian James
00:43 Jun 08, 2023

Thanks, JD. I gotta say, your horror story had me wide awake at night. 😂 Can't stop picturing all those bloods in my mind.

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J. D. Lair
00:48 Jun 08, 2023

Oh man! I’m sorry lol, but I guess that’s a compliment to my writing? 😅

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Ian James
01:24 Jun 08, 2023

Oh, for sure! That's definitely a compliment! 😄

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