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Mystery Drama Contemporary

It was a beautiful May afternoon. The sun shone and birds sang from the trees as I returned home from work one Friday evening. As I was about to turn off Wardlow Road onto my street, I noticed a battered old book on the corner. It was brown, cracked, not too thick, with a leather binding. I thought it must be important to someone, so I picked it up and went through the garden gate leading up to my house.

My wife, Elly, was already home from her job and was making a start on tonight’s dinner.

‘Hello sweety.’ She kissed me on the cheek, barely noticing the old book in my hands. ‘Good day?’

‘Not too bad, thanks.’ I said. ‘Just found this on the corner of the road.’ I held the book up.

‘Hmm. Strange. Perhaps it belongs to one of the neighbours.’ It was as likely a suggestion as any other.

I sat down at the kitchen table after changing into more comfortable clothes. I opened the book to where a corner of one page was folded. ‘Saturday 6th.’ I began to read. The pages were yellowed with age and crumpled as if having been read many times. ‘All good omens today for the upcoming events. We’re heading out to….’ But I never got a chance to continue before Elly closed the book.

‘What are you doing!’ She appeared scandalised. ‘That’s obviously a diary Harry. You can’t go reading into people’s private thoughts.’

I stared back in mild shock. ‘I just wanted a clue to who it might belong, that’s all.’

‘Well read the inside of the front cover. That’s where people write their names and addresses. Honestly, I don’t believe you sometimes. Would you want someone reading your diary, even me?’

I was too tired to argue and followed her advice, opening the front cover. As she’d said, there was an address, but it was too old and faded to read.

‘I can’t read it, its all worn away. I will have to go round asking if anyone’s lost it.’ Elly was already back to cutting up chicken breast into chunks for her curry.

‘If you do it now you can return before I’m finished cooking.’ I groaned internally, though somehow she still heard me. ‘Either you do it now or you’ll have to go around tomorrow and do you really want a task for Saturday morning.

I sighed out loud this time. She was right. It was best to go out now, even though my feet were killing me. I pulled on my trainers and headed out, with the diary. I started with the house at the very end of the street, closest to the corner where I’d found the book. The curtains were all closed and the blinds drawn but I rang the bell and waited. It was a rather dilapidated-looking place, with plaster peeling away and rather grimy windows.

 I turned the book around and glanced at the back cover. There was something imprinted on the back, it looked almost like a triangle. My mind immediately jumped to a witches’ pentagram, but I couldn’t see any other points to make it one. As I glanced back at the house, I could have sworn I saw one of the curtains flicker, as if someone peering out had just released the curtain again. I trick of the light I thought. Or perhaps my own imagination.

If there was anyone inside, they would obviously not answer. I gave it up and moved on to the next house. A garish site met my eyes. Though the royal coronation was now a week past, the owners still displayed a gigantic picture of Charles III in their front window, Union Jack colours behind him. Bunting was still strewn across the front of the house and a large Union Jack flag was waving merrily from where it was tied to the drain pipe on the second floor.

The site of Charles’ enlarged head greeted me every day when I left for work, with the date: “Saturday 6th” written underneath. That was the last date filled out in the diary. Perhaps they’d dropped it on their way to join the celebrations in the village green that day and forgotten about it. Odd to forget for an entire week though. I rang the bell.

Someone answered almost immediately. It was a woman in her seventies beaming at me with a wide smile. ‘Hello there.’ She said.

I smiled back. ‘Hello, I was just wondering if….’ I broke as her husband; a man of similar age came out behind there. He wore a smile just as large as hers.

‘Who’s this then dear?’

‘It’s our neighbour from across the road Ronny.’

‘Oh, so it is. Yes, I’ve seen you going about your way in the mornings. Would you like to come in for some tea?’

‘Well I…’

‘Kettles just boiled; it would be good for us to get to know each other. Haven’t had a chance to since you moved in.’

‘If you wouldn’t mind.’

‘No trouble at all young man. Come in.’ The old lady led me in, where I was met with yet more Union Jacks and enlarged photos of Charles III on every wall. In the old couple’s living room, two more pictures hung behind the sofa, one of Charles in his royal regalia, the other of Camila. Both appeared very stern to my eyes and almost judgemental. Especially Camila.

‘There you go love.’ Said the old woman, placing a teacup and saucer, again with Union Jack, in front of me. The tea was very sweet; I guessed at least three teaspoons of sugar were in there.

‘You’re obviously big fans of the king and queen.’ I said, pointing around.

They both stared as if only seeing their own walls for the first time. ‘Yes I suppose we are.’ Said the woman. ‘It’s good to have a coronation. Good for the country. Gives us all something to rally around.’

‘I just wanted to ask about your garden.’ Said Ronny placing a hand on my leg. ‘Are you planning on mowing it any time soon?’ His smile was still very wide.

‘Uhm, not for the moment. We’re doing no-mow-May you see. Trying to encourage the bees to pollinate.’

‘Oh that’s very clever, isn’t it Harriet?’

‘Indeed. But you will be mowing it once it’s June won’t you? It’s a bit of an eye-sore, if you don’t mind me saying.’ Truth be told I did mind. I liked how wild everything looked and kept the nettles short so no one would get stung. We got a lot of honey and bumble bees but surely, they couldn’t object to them.

‘It’ll only be for the month.’

‘That’s good, that’s very good. You like bees then?’

‘I suppose. They’re useful pollinators, and we need to give them more pollen flowers for their nectar, otherwise they’ll die off. That’d be terrible for crops across the country.’

‘It’s all for the good of the country, I get it.’ Said Ronny patting my knee.

‘Yes I suppose. Anyway, I wanted to ask, is this diary either of yours?’ I held up the book. They both stared hard at it.

‘No it’s not mine.’ Said Ronny.

‘Mine neither. And Jerry’s not visited since April so I doubt it’s his.’

‘No no, neither has Penny.’

Who precisely Jerry and Penny were I didn’t much care. I wanted to get back to my house and have a glass of water to wash away the taste of the tea.

‘If it doesn’t belong to either of you, I’ll be getting going then. Leave you both in peace.’

‘If you’re sure you wouldn’t like another cup of tea.’ Harriet was still smiling as broadly as her husband.

‘No thank you, that’s very kind but I’d like to find the owner before tomorrow.’ They showed me to the door. I got one more look at Charles and Camila. These two, I could see, definitely wanted me out of the house.

‘Good luck finding the rightful owner.’ Said Ronny. ‘And don’t forget about that lawn.’

I waved goodbye as they both retreated back inside. There was another house directly next to theirs. It was rather run down, like the first, but unlike the first, there were empty cans and bottles around the garden path and even a stray McDonald’s takeaway bag beside the doorstep. Their lawn was overgrown as well, but whereas mine was flowering and growing, their’s appeared forlorn and rather destitute.

I rang the bell and was greeted by the sound of a barking dog. There was a shout as someone approached. ‘Shut up Max! Get on your bed!’

The door opened, but was prevented from opening all the way by a chain on the other side. I could make out a rather large man on the other side.

‘Alright mate?’ He said.

‘Hi, err… is this your diary?’ I held it up to the gap in the door.

‘Don’t think so. Might be my boy’s, I dunno. He’s out playing footy with his mates so I can’t ask him.’ I’d seen his son before, going to school. I also knew they rarely played football when they were out but harassed the local Spar and it’s owner, an old Indian man, who’d I’d often heard them calling names. Once, I’d been passing by as two policemen had caught them shoplifting.

‘I see. Well, if it’s not his or yours.’

‘I don’t know if it isn’t. You come in and my wife will know for certain.’ He took the door off the chain and ushered me in. His dog, a rather angry-looking rottweiler, was sculking in a utility room, with a metal gate over the front.

I was taken into the kitchen, which strangely smelled of lager mixed with air freshener. A woman was sitting at the table, reading the Daily Express. The front page was devoted to an article about fan disappointment at the final series of This is Us, but there was another article that read: “Covid vaccine side-effects: Do different Covid vaccines have the same side effects?”

‘It says here that some Covid cases can cause black mould.’ Said the woman. ‘Can you believe that?’

‘That’s just the Indian ones.’ Said the man. ‘We can’t get it. It’s genetic or something.’

‘What is it to do with DNA?’

‘Maybe. There’s got to be a reason.’

‘Well then should that Indian man be running the Spar? What if he’s got this black mould?’

‘If you’re worried, then stop going in there. Bloke barely speaks a word of English anyway. I asked him for a four-pack of Stella and he just stared at me. Finally cottoned on and gave me a six-pack.’

‘They shouldn’t be here if they can’t speak the language. It’s bad for the country. Sorry, who’s this?’ She finally seemed to have noticed me standing there.

‘Does Jason keep a diary?’ The man asked.

‘A diary? What’s Jason keeping a diary for? He can’t spell nothing right and he failed his last spelling test they gave him.’

‘But does he have a diary?’

‘No, he don’t. Id’ve thought he’d gone funny if he did.’

‘That’s what I thought but I didn’t know if maybe he did. Sorry mate.’ He said to me.

‘That’s okay, thanks for trying.’ I was rather anxious to get away from the glare of that rottweiler.

‘One more thing.’ The woman said. ‘Are gonna be mowing your lawn soon? All that grass and weeds is attracting wasps.’

‘Once May’s over. We’re doing no-mow-May to help the bees.’ She stared at me.

‘But it’s attracting wasps. Pluss, there’s nettles. Our little lad might get stung.’

‘I’m cutting down all the nettles.’

‘Yeah, but they grow back, don’t they. You have to mow it.’ She was talking to me as one might to an idiot.

‘I’ll mow it soon, I promise.’ I said. She nodded and went back to the Daily Express.

After that, I just wanted to go home. I’d resume my search for the owner tomorrow evening. Elly had finished her chicken curry and we both went to bed early after a long work week. For some reason, I failed to drop off the sleep. The diary and it’s owner kept coming back to me.

At 2 o’clock in the morning, I still couldn’t sleep and had enough of trying. Whenever I struggled to sleep, I sometimes read something in the spare room, so as not to disturb Elly. Tonight, I’d read that damned diary. I knew it was wrong but I felt I’d never drop off if I didn't.

I lay in the spar bed, bed-side lamp on, and opened the diary again to the folded down page. Now that I examined it more carefully, I realised that in fact May 6th was not the last entry. In fact, the entire thing wasn’t just old, it was centuries old. This was dated to May 6th 1517.

“May 6th. All good omens today for the upcoming events. We’re heading out to London Bridge to join the anti-alien riots taking place in Blanchappelton, protesting the incursion of Dutch immigrants to these Isles. Whilst I and my follows must maintain careful precautions, we must seek to stoke the fears of the Englishman against the Dutchman. The plans of our chapter are that we must seek to utilise these fears against the alien to further the objectives of our most secretive order. Fear of the alien is a most suitable instrument to deploy, certainly now that upon the continent, the great family of Hapsburg seeks to unify all of central Europa under the rule of their most illustrious family. In according to the plans of our order, we must seek to keep the British out of the sphere of Hapsburg control by inciting them to riot towards the European, thus, the royal house of Tudor might better seek to establish itself against the continent. All must view Henry VIII, long may he reign, as the most ardent defender against foreign interference and strengthen the line of the Tudor from revolt and civil disobedience. The strong must rule and fear of the alien may set the strong and just against London town's weak and criminal elements, in the minds of the common man.”

I stopped reading there. If this journal dated back to the 16th century, it might be a vital historical document. I’d have to present it to some friends of mine for validation. But what was this “order”? I turned to the final page. On the inside of the back cover was an image of an owl, perched atop a book. Over the owl’s head read: “The Enhanced System of the Illuminati”.

The picture on the back. Now that I looked at it again, I saw a pyramid with an eye at the centre, severely faded but with the image in my mind, I now saw it. This was not possible. From what little I knew about the real Illuminati, they’d died out in the 19th century. They weren’t more than a splinter group of the Freemasons, to whom the Pyramid and Eye belonged.

I went back to bed, unable to sleep but not daring to read another page of that damned diary. The following day I’d not slept a wink. Elly advised me to go out and get some fresh air. The sun was still shining bright, but the air was still and humid. I felt so dizzy that I almost fell over when I stumbled over the curb. Someone caught me before I fell.

‘Thank you. Sorry, I had a rough night.’ I looked at the man who’d prevented my fall. He was a thin face and spectacles perched at the end of a rather long nose. I don’t know what it was about him, perhaps the rather endearing way he looked at me or the way he dressed like an Oxbridge academic. Whatever it was, I found myself trusting him completely.

‘Did you read it, Mr Henderson?’ He asked. It was then that I noticed I’d taken the diary out with me.

‘Yes I… I didn’t though. I barely read anything.’

He smiled, such a warm and inviting smile, not to broad yet just enough to make me feel as though I tell him anything.

‘That’s alright, Mr Henderson. I wanted you to read it. That is, we wanted you to read it. I’m sure you’ve worked out whom I represent.’ He dabbed at his balding head with a handkerchief to catch the sweat from the morning sun.

‘But why?’

‘You are Mr Henderson? An employee of the Ministry of Intelligence? Recently wrote an article for the Independent on the importance of diversity in the modern media landscape? You wrote your Masters dissertation on predictive algorithms to track demographics over long periods of time. Don’t be alarmed, Mr Henderson.’

I wasn’t.

‘I was hoping you’d find my book and read it. We have much to discuss if you’d allow me.’ He pointed a hand towards a house. It was the dilapidated one, that I’d thought I’d seen someone peering out from the windows of yesterday evening. He opened the door onto an unlit corridor.

‘You have a bright future ahead of you Mr Henderson, if you’ll only allow me to show you. We’d like to recruit you. Only temporarily at first, but prove yourself worthy, and there’s no limit to what you could achieve.’

I stepped inside the door but hesitated for a moment. ‘But why me?’

‘Mr Henderson. If not you, perhaps I should ask one of your neighbours.’ I thought of the people I’d met yesterday, and felt vaguely sick.

Then I walked through the corridor, not looking back.

May 21, 2023 15:38

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4 comments

Mary Ann Ford
22:05 May 31, 2023

I was asked to critique this story and so, Mr. Dell'Anno, I'm going to tell you exactly what I think. From the very beginning you had me hooked. And as it went on I became more and more curious about who owned the diary. However, I was startlingly thrown from the story at the swear word you used to describe the diary and I sincerely feel that was unnecessary as well as distracting. I really think you have awesome writing talent and recommend that in the future you don't use such language.

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John Siddham
09:16 May 28, 2023

Fascinating story! I agree with Connor. This is like the start of a novel or a series, and curious to see what happens to the MC and what they are up to in the neighbourhood. Well done, congrats!

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Connor H
03:10 May 28, 2023

This feels like the first chapter or prologue of a novel to me. I think there's a lot you could do to continue from here if you wanted. Seeing how the main character becomes part of the illuminati would be interesting for sure. I really loved the contrast between the two neighbor families. Both were unsettling in their own way. Thank you for sharing! I enjoyed the read.

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R W Mack
19:19 May 27, 2023

I tried putting my finger on what seemed off and I think "excess" is the word. There's descriptions that don't really add anything and it's okay not to have them. Readers always insert their own details to fill gaps that rarely fits our intents, so don't worry about accuracy to scenery or aesthetic. The tone will direct their details to compensate and that saves words for anything else that drives plot. If a word doesn't push the plot forward, I prefer to cut them. Something like "they both" is redundant when "they" already defines both of ...

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