Writer's Block

Submitted into Contest #221 in response to: Write a story where ghosts and the living coexist.... view prompt


Crime Horror Mystery

No one ever dies pretty, do they?

In life, most likely, Dwight Talbot was a fit, towering man with a full head of hair and a broad smile – not bad for a guy pushing 60.

But what was sitting on the floor in front of Detective Francis Cadman wasn’t Dwight Talbot, not anymore.

Most of the corpse was untouched, but the head – well, that was another matter.

Cadman knew people offed themselves in different ways, but few did it as creatively as Talbot.

In fact, Talbot was the only one Cadman knew who decided to end it all by jamming a pair of needle-nose pliers into his head.

As far as the coroner could tell, Talbot had repeatedly jammed the pliers into the back of his own head, breaking through skin and bone.

He then opened the pliers, grabbed hold of some brain matter and began turning, as if he was trying to unscrew a bolt.

Lefty loosie, righty tighty, Cadman thought to himself.

The pliers were still sticking out of the gaping hole in Talbot’s head when police arrived.

He was a motorcycle mechanic by trade, Cadman was told, so maybe Talbot was more comfortable with pliers than a gun, but, still, it was a weird way to go.

The responding officers had pretty much everything in hand. It was a clear suicide. Talbot was even gracious enough to leave a note.

Or was it a poem?

The crickets, the crickets from the deep dark realm where Anubis works the toll gate keep chirping by my window. Desiree, their queen, wants in. But I can’t…I just can’t anymore, he had written on a blood-smeared yellow note pad he left on his chest before… his surgery. Will my heart be weighed against a feather? Will the scales resolve the question of my destiny?

Nice note, Cadman thought.

The medical examiner, Singh, was shining a small pen light at the bloody pliers. Cadman stood behind him, watching him work. “Pretty grisly, huh?”

“And specific,” Singh said.

“How so?”

Singh stood up. He was about a foot shorter than Cadman, sporting a pair of glasses connected to a chain just in case they slipped down his thin nose.

“This guy had no medical background, right?”

“I don’t think he graduated high school. What’s up?”

“Bizarre,” Singh said turning back to the body. “For a guy who probably didn’t know anything about the human brain, he was quite specific in his aim. From what I can tell, he made repeated, direct strikes at what’s known as the Wernicke area.”


“Well, it’s an odd place to hit if you’re going to kill yourself. First off, it’s in the back of your head near the base of the skull. You have to reach for it and it wouldn’t be easy. Did this guy have any speech disorders?”


“The Wernicke area is the part of the brain that’s in charge of speech and writing. It’s like he was aiming for the one part of the brain that would help him understand speech everyone around him.”

Talbot’s fiancée Gladys had told arriving officers he had not been himself in the last few weeks.

Once they were engaged, they both fell in love with the small Tudor home on Holcomb Road where Talbot was now sitting, dead. 

But, not even a week after pulling the “for sale” sign from their small, balding front yard, everything changed, Gladys said.

“The light just died from his eyes,” she told arriving officers.

Great, Cadman thought, another poet.

At first, Talbot stopped showing up at his garage. Instead, he puttered around the house, always sitting by a scratched-up antique rolltop desk that came with the house, Gladys said.

And then his screw loosened, Cadman thought.

“Who has the paperwork on this mess?” Cadman bellowed to the cops milling about the living room. “Let me sign off on this so we can all get on with our miserable existence.”

“Is it that cut and dry detective?”

Ah hell…

Clinton Boyd was standing just five feet away from him.

Great. The fucking mystic has arrived.

Boyd, as always, was wearing his tell-tale faded black jeans, worn out shoes, a button-down shirt and threadbare sports coat.

He had thinning brown hair and wasn’t exactly fat, but definitely portly, probably from years of sitting at a desk.

“Who the fuck let him in?” Cadman screamed at the officers milling about. “Last I checked this was a crime scene.”

“He said he was called here, sir,” one cop said.

Cadman whirled back at Boyd. “Up to your old tricks again?”

Boyd was always respectful to law enforcement, but every once and awhile he was smug. Tonight, he was smug.

“I was called here,” Boyd said defiantly as he began poking around the crime scene. No one stopped him. “Just not in the traditional sense.”

“So, the ghost of Dwight Talbot hit up your cell? Is that it?”

“Not really,” Boyd said, looking over the beaten rolltop desk in the corner of the living room. “I can’t reveal my sources, but it’s safe to say it was a living person. Mr. Talbot and I… well, we haven’t met, yet.”

Great. Just great.

Cadman couldn’t fathom why the department turned a blind eye to Boyd. He was a charlatan, nothing more.

But the Buffalo Police Department had a soft spot for so-called physics or seers. It’s been that way for more than 50 years, ever since that would-be ghost whisperer Careb helped the department solve five homicides with his “so-called” special gifts.

Clinton Boyd claimed to be a protégé of Careb, although the aging oracle would have been well into his 70s when Boyd came on the scene.

But that still didn’t give Boyd permission to trample all over Cadman’s crime scene.

“Officers, take Mr. Boyd outside, behind the police tape,” the detective bellowed.

Two cops stormed up to Boyd and started pushing him out the front door.

“We’re going to need to talk Cadman!” Boyd said as a cop shoved him over the threshold. “There’s been other deaths here! Check it out!”

Cadman didn’t hesitate marking “suicide” on the paperwork and moving on with his life.

He had almost completely forgotten about Dwight Talbot’s suicide, when, three weeks later, his old partner Finny showed for some Goose and gossip: Grey Goose vodka and gossip about what was happening at the station.

“Word is you tossed out our resident ghost whisperer at a crime scene,” Finny said.

“Indeed,” Cadman said, smiling as he stared at his near empty glass. He’d been nursing it but was already buzzed. “I threw that charlatan right out on his ass.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Say what?”

“That he’s a charlatan. He could be the real deal. That guy Careb was the real deal.”

“Come on! This guy’s a scam artist,” Cadman said. He put down his drink and began waving his arms around. “He mystifies the younger cops with his ghost talk and messages from their dead relatives and they fall for it every time.”

Finny waited a minute before he spoke again.

“I believe the guy, and I think you threw him out not because he’s a liar, but because what he said meant you’d have to do more work.”

“Oh, come on…”

“Why don’t you give the case another hour,” Finny said.

“The scam artist did say something before I threw him out,” Cadman said quietly. “Something about other deaths in that house.”

“Most of those old houses have a body count,” Finny said. “It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out.”

No, Cadman thought. It shouldn’t.


A few days later, Cadman was standing inside the empty waiting room of a one Clinton Boyd, spiritual consultant.

“I see you found the place.”

Cadman jumped. Boyd was standing directly at his six, staring inquisitively at him. For a portly guy he was certainly light on his feet.

The detective tried to regain his composure as best he could. “You do that to everyone?”

“Just police detectives,” Boyd said, smiling. He was smug again.

Boyd led him to a small, nearly empty office at the end of the hall.

Cadman grunted and tossed the folded printout onto Boyd’s desk.

“You were right about that house where Talbot bit it,” Cadman said. “There’s been about 17 deaths at that address going back to the 1940s.”

Boyd unfolded the paper, but never looked at it. He was focused entirely on Cadman. The detective found the undue attention unnerving.

“Most of them were written off as suicides but it’s still odd given that home’s history.”


“It’s been vacant more than it’s been occupied,” Cadman said. “Real estate records, you know, water, power, that kind of thing, show that only 15 people have legitimately lived there since the 1930s. It was vacant for half of the 50s and most of the 60s. In the 90s, a few addicts squatted there and one of them killed themselves, jamming their needle into her own eye. Who the hell does that?”

“Strange,” Boyd said. He still hadn’t looked at the print out. “What happened in the 40s?”

“Well, if you looked at the print out, you would know. Someone was murdered there.”

Boyd smiled. “Claire Huxby.”

This was getting irritating.

“How the hell did you know that?”

“I did my own bit of research. Claire was the first wife of Milton Huxby, a novelist of note back then. The two of them were the first owners of the house, weren’t they?”

“You’ve done your homework,” Cadman said. Why was he here again? “Old Milton strangled her to death, but a jury acquitted him when his attorney proved Claire had a temper and was known to go into, what they called out the time, fits. All of this happened in December 1941, so everyone here had WWII on their mind to focus on a husband killing a batshit wife.”

“Quite true,” Boyd said. “The case never got the ink she deserved. After he was acquitted Milton moved to Syracuse, remarried, but, for some reason, never published another work of fiction.”

“Maybe reality was too intense.”

“Maybe. Or maybe Claire was actually the one holding the pen,” Boyd said. “It’s happened before.”

“I guess.”

“So, what are we going to do about Claire?”

“Claire?” Cadman asked, slapped back to reality. He had to remember he was in a spooker’s office. “I doubt there’s anything we can do her. She’s been dead for, what? Seventy years?”

“I have an idea that may appease her, so there won’t be any more killings.”

Cadman adjusted his suitcoat, clearly annoyed.

“These aren’t killings, they’re suicides,” he said flatly, without any emotion, but his rage was clearly building. “There’s not a lot you can do for suicides after the fact.”

“I agree, but I can guarantee you that the next person who moves into that home is going to suddenly come down with a case of the suicides.”

“Suicide isn’t contagious. It’s not COVID.” Cadman said.

 Boyd put up his hand. “I understand where you’re coming from detective, but in this case, it is. That’s because the disease is in that home. It’s been there for more than 70 years.”

Cadman sighed. “You think, what, Claire Huxby’s ghost is forcing people to commit suicide?”

Boyd fiddled with the print out and sighed. “You ever want something really badly, detective?”

Cadman made a grand gesture of putting his hands on the arms of his chair and standing up. “I think we’re done here.”

“It’s the writing!” Boyd almost screamed it as the door creaked open. Of course, it would creak open at this place. “You’ve seen it, haven’t you?”

Cadman thought back. The flowery note from a guy who never finished high school.

The detective turned back to his chair, closing the door behind him.

“If you have a point, make it fast.”

“You saw the note from Talbot,” Boyd said. “This is a mechanic, who never graduated high school, suddenly writing poems, and not bad ones either.”


“So, it’s nothing his fiancée had ever seen before. But it wasn’t the first time people at that address suddenly became poets.”

“I ask again, so?”

“James Margoree,” Boyd said, dropping the name as if Cadman should know who the hell he is.


“Everyone called him Jimbo. He and his wife bought the house in 2012. Eight months later, he shot himself in the living room of that house, again, right next to that writing desk.”

Cadman thought back. “There was no note. He lost his job, so everyone thought it was a financial thing.”

Boyd fumbled into a desk drawer. “But what you guys didn’t know was that his wife, Susie’s her name, had taken the note before you guys arrived. She thought it was the right thing to do because, to her, it made no sense.”

Boyd slid a piece of looseleaf paper over to Cadman. It was dotted with dried blood, but his script was impeccable.

“Fate is a snake that slithers and slides through our lives, ever menacing, ever hungry for us to succumb to an instant of sloth, or arrogance, or forgetfulness,” he wrote.

“Its fangs are bared and glistening in the morning sun, ready to bring his fatal kiss down upon the back of my neck, like a lover we didn’t entice; didn’t encourage, but will have to endure in our final moments.”

Cadman put the paper back on the desk. “So, your sweet Susie took evidence from a crime scene.”

“Yes,” Boyd said. “But you can see why. If this letter got out, people would think Jimbo was gay. But it was never him. It isn’t even his handwriting.”

“Prove it.”

Boyd pulled out a birthday card and slid it over the desk. It was to Suzee from Jimbo. “Happy birfday babe,” he wrote in crudely blocked letters. He initially wrote a third p in Happy, but crossed it out. “You’re the beast!”

“As you can see, he wasn’t a great speller, and far from a poet,” Boyd said, looking over the card. “In addition, Susie admitted, he wasn’t always sober, either. But she loved him nonetheless.”

“So, you think this suicide note was written by Claire Huxby? Who’s been dead since Pearl Harbor?”

“I do,” Boyd said, an air of confidence rising within him. “And I ask you again, detective, did you want anything so badly that you would do anything to do it, forgo anything to keep it?”

Boyd tapped at Jimbo’s note with a flourish, he was reeling Cadman in and the detective wasn’t struggling anymore. “I think Claire Huxby’s love of writing, her desire of putting words on a page, was too great to stop, even in death.”

“That’s ridiculous! So, some repressed writer who’s never had her work in print…”

“That we know of,” Boyd interjected.

“Fine, that we know of, dies, and haunts her house looking for someone to be her… what? Ghost writer?” Cadman couldn’t help but start chuckling at his own joke.

Boyd fumbled with the buttons on his dress shirt. “Well, if you put it that way, it sounds downright silly.”

“Damn right,” Cadman said. “Those B-movie horror writers in Hollywood would be ashamed of writing such a far-fetched idea.”

Boyd stared at the detective right in the eyes. “But you see detective, sometimes those far- fetched ideas are actually true. And I think I have a solution to this particular problem.”

The detective sighed. He had to hear this one.


Within a month, the home on Holcomb Road had a new tenant, a long-term care facility for patients with traumatic brain injuries. Doctors at the facility were trying to place their tenants throughout Buffalo in the hopes of integrating them with the local community. It was a win, win for everyone involved.

One of the patients was Sheryl Dodson, a young woman in her 20s who hadn’t been the same since her Mazda collided with a Mac truck on a highway three miles from her home.

All of Sheryl’s motor skills still worked and her nurse could guide her to do mundane tasks, like comb her hair or go to the bathroom, but a section of her brain, including her Wernicke area, was permanently damaged.

As a result, she couldn’t communicate with anyone. Something was blocking the links between thought and the expression that everyone takes for granted.

Boyd made sure Sheryl was one of the patients on Holcomb Road. He also made sure the writer’s desk everyone managed to die around was moved into her room and was always filled with pens and paper in case Sheryl, a vegetable when it came to conscious thought, suddenly became inspired.

Within a week, she did.

In the middle of the night, she got out of bed without a nurse’s help, walked to the desk, grabbed a pen and a sheet of paper and began writing.

When the nurse checked in on her in the morning, Sheryl had filled all the paper in the desk with poems, a short story and what looked like the beginning of a novel.

Her fingers were stained with ink. And she was smiling.

October 27, 2023 01:43

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Mary Bendickson
19:12 Nov 02, 2023

Welcome to Reedsy. With creative imagination like this you should do well. I was really expecting all these deaths to not be suicides. Caused by a ghost. Um. Hope Sheryl does well.


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Andrea Corwin
20:47 Nov 01, 2023

Nice story with great details. It kept my interest, and I enjoyed reading it.


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AnneMarie Miles
04:07 Oct 31, 2023

What an incredibly creative and thoughtful story. A writer finding a host to do her bidding. I suppose a lot of writers might understand the need to continue writing even after death! Ha! I really loved the pace and structure of the story, as well as the contrasting characterizations of Boyd and Cadman. It offered a long and humorous tone to this otherwise gruesome mystery (I mean, that opening with the pliers to the brain was intensely picturesque)! Very well written. I really enjoyed this! Welcome to Reedsy, Thomas, and best of luck!


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