Mystery Fiction

Wendy sat in her studio apartment and tried to write. She sat motionless for a long time, staring blankly at her purple notepad—pen ready to write down whatever came to mind. Her hand sprang into action, seizing upon a fleeting thought like a spider attacking a fly caught in its web. She filled the page and a smile crossed her face when she stabbed the last period into existence. Yet that smile faded after she reviewed what she wrote. She scowled, ripped the page out, and threw it into the trashcan. 

“Where did all the good ideas go?” she cried. 

Her place was small, barely big enough to fit a bed, desk, and chair but Wendy had gotten used to it over the past five years. She had to; the price of city living had risen year over year, leaving her with less and less at the end of each month. She had to work longer hours to make ends meet and that meant less time and energy to write—a fact that stole the smile off her face most days. 

Wendy shook her head. 

It wasn’t always like this. Five years ago, Wendy moved to the city in hopes of becoming a published author. Using her life savings, she rented her current apartment and got to writing. She worked hard that first year and landed a book deal with Doubleday for a sizable amount. She thought that that would launch her career but it didn’t. She worked hard for another six months, pumped out another manuscript, and submitted it to her agent. When he didn’t respond, she submitted it to other agents but they rejected her queries. 

So, she tabled that idea and spent the next six months working on another. Unfortunately, no one liked that one either. With a year of fruitless labor, and her savings nearly depleted, she had to get a job. The only problem was that the economy took a dive that year and no businesses relating to authorship were hiring someone with only a single published book to their name. Instead, she settled for a job at a local bakery, working the morning shift six days a week: four in the morning to twelve in the afternoon. There, she baked bread until she was numb to the smell of it. Whatever energy she had after her long shifts she devoted to brainstorming her next book. That schedule took a lot out of her and, one morning, she awoke to find glints of silver in her black hair. To this, she just rolled her eyes. A few days after this discovery, her car was stolen, and she didn’t have the money to buy another. 

Wendy stared down at her purple notepad and an anxious flutter built beneath her breasts. Last Christmas she visited her parents for the first time since she surprised them with news of her book deal. They immediately took notice of her overworked, thin frame and grew concerned. 

“Maybe you should stay with us for a while,” her father said. “It might do you some good to get out of the city and recharge.”

Wendy shook her head.

“I want to write,” she said. “I can’t see myself doing anything else but that.” 

They argued over this and eventually, her mother handed her a thick purple notepad.

“How about this,” her mother said, “if you can’t come up with your next book idea by the time it takes you to get through this notebook, then you will take a break from writing for a few years and do something else.”

Wendy agreed. . .

Which is why she stared so intensely at the page in front of her now—it was the last page.

All feeling in her face drained away as her pen hovered over the paper’s surface. It dared her to write but her mind begged her to wait. The pen moved, tattooing black lines across the purple skin. When she finished, she looked down at what she wrote; eyes slowly moving, left to right. Tears welled within them. She ripped the page out, crumpled it up, and tossed it in the bin. 

Except she missed. The crumpled purple paper went wide to the left, flew out an open door, and landed on her shallow balcony, coming to a stop next to her sun-bathing cat. Winston’s eyes opened, stared at the intruding paper, and then back at Wendy.

Wendy knew that look.

“Don’t you dare,” she said, “Be good, damn you.”

But Winston was a mischievous cat and slapped the paper ball off the balcony and it disappeared over the edge. 

“Oh, you damn litterbug,” Wendy cried and shot up from her chair. 

She tossed her empty notepad across the apartment like a Frisbee and the rigid cardboard hit the wall with a thunk. It was then that she noticed that her apartment was too small, and all the furniture was too tightly packed together. 

“I gotta get out of here,” she cried.

* * * *

Down the street from Wendy’s apartment building, Tom walked on the sidewalk, looking down at his feet. He dressed nicely since he never knew when he would meet a potential client. Real estate was unpredictable like that and sales were scarce after the economy sunk three years ago—a stark difference to how his career began. When he started, interest rates were low and everyone wanted to buy property. Anyone with a real estate license was making lots of money, and Tom was crushing it. His phone rang nonstop, texts flooded his inbox, and his bank account never dipped below six figures. He bought a white Corvette Z06 with the upgraded Bose sound system, married a hot blonde, and ate a juicy steak for lunch every day. The only one in his district who could beat him in sales was Jerry, who was always ahead of him by a small amount. But it was that slim margin that got Jerry all the quarterly awards and semi-annual company trips with big corporate clients. 

Tom told himself that he would beat Jerry, but that never happened. No matter how hard he tried or how many holidays he worked through, he never closed the gap. 

Then, seemingly overnight, the good times screeched to a halt like an emergency brake pulled on an old train. The Federal Reserve increased interest rates while it injected hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy. Inflation kicked everyone’s ass. Fewer people could afford the high price of city homes and Tom would go days without a single phone call.

Tom thought he had enough saved up to get him through the hard times but didn’t account for his wife’s spending habits and his credit card was suddenly declined one day while he was having lunch with a client. Jerry, on the other hand, had no such issues. His corporate clients kept him afloat while everyone else treaded water with sharks. While Tom had to sell his Corvette, Jerry zipped around the city in his BMW i8, and when Tom downsized his house, Jerry upgraded his. 

Then, one day, he came home for lunch to surprise his wife and found her scrambling to fix her hair. He ignored her and looked down the hallway into his bedroom. Jerry stood there, buttoning up his shirt, staring. He hadn’t bothered to put on pants, or underwear for that matter. Tom lurched at Jerry but froze when his wife pointed a finger at him and screamed, “You made me do this! You don’t take care of me like you used to. I need someone who can.”

Tom shook his head and left. One of his friends let him stay at their place while he got his affairs in order, which wasn’t much considering Jerry had the money to hire a great divorce lawyer. All of that happened a year ago. Since then, he moved into a small apartment and got a dog—a cute beagle named Daisy. He loved that dog and one day she suddenly bolted into the street to chase a squirrel and was killed by a texting teenager driving too fast. 

Tom thought about all of this as he walked, wondering if there was anything he could have done differently to change where he was now. That was until a strong breeze blew and something hit him in the head. It wasn’t anything hard, just a soft tap, but it was enough to break him out of his trance. The object landed by his feet and he looked down to see that it was a crumpled piece of purple paper. He picked it up and, after reading what was written inside, laughed. 

“Thank you!" he shouted, tilting his head to the sky, "Message received, jerk.”

He shoved the paper into his pocket and continued down the street. He stopped at the park and watched the ducks for a bit before continuing on to Old Joe’s Coffee and Tea. There, he ordered his usual Wednesday latte and sat at a table near the reading nook in the back. 

“Hey Tom,” an old man said from his leather chair, “Were you able to close the deal on the Maybury house today?” 

Tom shook his head.

“No, Jim. We’re back at negotiations after the mortgage broker told the buyers that interest rates rose again last week, putting monthly payments above what they were looking for.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Jim said.

Tom smiled and pulled the purple paper out of his pocket. “And, as if to mock me, this hit me in the head on my walk over here.” 

“What does it say?” 

Tom held the message in front of him, took a sip of his latte, and read, “You suck, but that’s okay, so does the world. It’ll kick you when you’re down.”

He put the paper down on the table and Jim laughed. 

“Just my luck, right?” Tom said, “I—”

“Where did you get that?” a woman’s voice asked, two tables over.

Tom looked at her, confused. 

“I beg your pardon?” he asked.

“Where did you get that?” 

“This paper?”

“Yes, the paper.”

“It hit me in the head as I was walking over here.” Tom looked down at the paper and then back at the woman. “Does this belong to you?” 

The woman laughed and said, “Yes. . . yes, it does.”

“You have quite the aim if you were able to peg me in the head from. . . what I assume is an apartment balcony.”

“My cat Winston is the real culprit.” 

Tom laughed and looked down at the paper again. 

“Down on your luck too?” he asked. 

Wendy nodded and introduced herself. Tom did the same.

“You forgot the next part of that quote,” Jim said. 

Wendy looked at the old man. 

“What do you mean?” she asked. 

“What you wrote down, it ended too soon. You ended by saying that life will kick you while you are down but should have ended with it’ll let you pick yourself up, too. Life’s a fickle pickle like that.” 

Jim laughed and then went back to reading his book. 

Tom and Wendy looked at each other, both thinking over what the old man had just said. Without uttering a word, they both knew what the other was thinking: that each had been pushed down and kicked a thousand times yet had picked themselves up a thousand and one times. Tom sipped his latte. Wendy smiled. 

“So why’d you pick purple paper?” asked Tom. 

Wendy moved over to Tom’s table and said, “Where do I begin. . .”

March 07, 2024 11:25

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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

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