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Drama Mystery Suspense

The day Sam found the body was surprisingly sunny and pleasant. Since it was the first morning the mercury moved reliably above the freezing mark, Sam had abandoned his winter parka in the cabin he’d been inhabiting for a week, opting instead for insulated canvas trousers, ankle-high hiking boots, and a waterproof jacket. 


He'd set off on a North-by-Northwest course, a direction he’d not yet attempted and was pleased discover a forgotten logging trail. He’d been rambling down the path, keeping an eye out for owls, binoculars bouncing against his concave chest, blue notebook filled with rare-bird sightings flapping like a broken wing from his back pocket, when he’d stumbled upon the corpus in question, lying in the sun, silent and stinking. He’d nearly gagged at the rotten-egg stench, but curiosity inched him closer. Picking up a stick, he poked at the thickest bit. It gave way, dark liquid pooling in the hole he’d created.


Such a fascinating mystery sent his delighted neurons in a chemical frenzy for answers. He noticed that the body was badly decomposing in the growing warmth of the sun. Though it was not possible to know what sort of life had coursed through it before the ravages of rot, Sam thought he ought to name it. And thus it was christened Viviene. Now named, he could let his mind explore the decomposition process in all its putrid beauty and poetic obscenity.


He imagined the bacteria, slumbering through winter, were now stretching into the yawning crevasses, feasting on oxygen and organic matter. Bubbling beneath the rotting surface, a circus of anaerobic acrobats, algae blooming in a green-shaped vat. He thought about the Scum that suffocated her, that lowlife below life, who sucked all the air from her, until her currents became the past.


The flies buzzed in a fury, attracted by the decay, their eggs ready to lay. Sam leaned closer to the scum-covered skin, identifying the insect by genus (Calliphora) and species (Vomitoria) based on their unmistakable iridescent blue bodies and orange beards. To those less informed, it was a swarm of blue bottle flies.


Sam, a lover of biology, was equally enamoured of etymology, deriving joy from the lexical dissection of dead languages. His lingual autopsy revealed that Calliphora was a bringer of beauty; Vomitoria, to spew forth. Indeed, within a few days, maggots would spew forth from the eggs. Digesting the decaying matter was an important matter to maggots, and once they had their fill they’d wriggle to a more amenable spot, burrowing into the ground, cocooning during the pupal stage, until their debut on the world stage, eager to procreate.


Filling his nostrils once more with the heavy scent of putrefaction, Sam made the calculation to return to the cabin. The woodpeckers pecked, the spotted owl cocked his speckled neck as Sam tramped down the trail, a single track mind following the single track back. 


He was so intent on his mission, he nearly knocked over the diminutive man in his middle-of-the path position.


“You should look where you’re going,” the man said, sliding a hand into the cavernous pocket of his parka. He craned his head up to see Sam, a lanky man with legs and arms like kindling, and an Adam’s apple, like a knot at his neck, quivering.


“Apologies and felicitations, dear sir,” Sam said, bowing lightly. “I have just come upon an unexpected body, beautiful in its dereliction.”


“A body? Out here? We must report it to the police!” the man, named Wilbur, exclaimed.


“Oh, do you really think that’s necessary?”


The man, whose name Sam did not ask, seemed aghast. “Yes, yes of course it’s bloody necessary! These woods are the perfect place to dispose of a body. If I were the murdering type, which I am not,” Wilbur laughed, “this would be my first choice. The isolation, a remote location. Don’t you have the remotest notion to contact the police station?”


“Well, no. I was going to keep it to myself, “ Sam replied, looking up at the canopy of trees. “She looked so peaceful, a body at rest, which was once in motion. Why churn and turn it all up? Red tape, yellow tape, the clicking of the camera as they roll tape.”


“Keep it to yourself? Keep it to yourself! This isn’t a bloody Stephen King novella where you find a bloody body on the tracks and decide to make some gruesome pact with your regrettable friends.”


“I wouldn’t know,” Sam sniffed. “I don’t read Stephen King. I prefer Homer, Plato, James Joyce if I’m in the mood, or—”


“Enough! You must take me to this body at once,” Wilbur said, his hidden fingers unclipping the sheath that protected the hunting knife.


Sam resented the supercilious nature of this Napoleonic man, but decided he didn’t have a choice, he’d already told him about the body, and now he’d have to take him to it.


“This way,” Sam sighed, as he turned back down the darkening logging trail, Wilbur close on his tail. They walked in silence, the crunching of pine needles beneath their boots the only human sound for miles.


They arrived at the small clearing where Sam had first found the body.


“There it is,” Sam said.


“Where?” asked Wilbur, squinting. He gripped the hilt of the knife loosely, still in its pocketed position.


“There, spread before you like patient etherised upon a table.”


“T.S Elliot you most certainly are not. I see no body before me, etherised or otherwise.”


“She lies at your feet, stagnant and still. Her arteries clogged with the detritus of autumn, the debris of leaves, the eaves of the trees that fell when Winter crept in. Are you so inept you cannot detect her?”


The man stared numbly at the scene before him, wondering if the stinking quagmire at their feet was what the lanky man was referring to as ‘the body’.


“Do you mean…the pond?” Wilbur finally asked.


“Yes, of course. It’s fascinating, at this altitude, to find a body of water so beautiful.”


Wilbur sheathed the knife, satisfied that he wouldn’t have to kill again, at least not until later that night.

July 04, 2021 12:43

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20 comments

K. Antonio
11:31 Jul 08, 2021

😂😂😂- This emoji basically sums up my feelings towards this piece! I hadn't read the comments before hand and was duped. It was fun, I enjoyed the conversation between the two men. Hoping Sam makes it 😐😐 The title actually makes a lot of sense!

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H L Mc Quaid
11:49 Jul 09, 2021

Thanks, K. Glad you were duped, I think it's more fun that way. As for whether Sam makes it...perhaps that's another story. :)

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Kristin Neubauer
13:52 Jul 04, 2021

Hah! That’s so clever! You had me fooled. I was wondering what on earth had inspired this very graphic piece. Such fantastic descriptions that really grossed me out since they brought me right to the scene - rather, what I thought was the scene. The title is clever too - works so well! I love that you are letting us into your writing exercises!

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H L Mc Quaid
15:12 Jul 04, 2021

Hi Kristin, Oh good, I was worried I might have made it too obvious that the body was not what most people would expect. And thanks for commenting on the title--I probably spend waaaay too much time trying to come up with clever ones. :) As for the writing exercises, there are only a few left that I'd like to try, so I may have to find some new ones.

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Kristin Neubauer
17:41 Jul 07, 2021

Your clever titles are great! I love a title that has you wondering "what is this about?" ....then when you're done reading the story, you can see the connection. It's like a little bonus at the end!

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David G.
13:41 Jul 16, 2021

“He imagined the bacteria, slumbering through winter, were now stretching into the yawning crevasses, feasting on oxygen and organic matter. Bubbling beneath the rotting surface, a circus of anaerobic acrobats, algae blooming in a green-shaped vat. He thought about the Scum that suffocated her, that lowlife below life, who sucked all the air from her, until her currents became the past.” Great paragraph! So is Wilbur actually a murderer? If so, perhaps a bit more foreshadowing of that element would be good.

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H L Mc Quaid
14:03 Jul 16, 2021

thanks! Yeah, I pictured Wilbur as a killer. He thought Sam found one of his victims, so he asked Sam to show him the body, at which point he'd planned to kill Sam too. More foreshadowing might have helped, for sure. :)

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09:05 Jul 13, 2021

I loved this story. Wonderfully penned. Shall ne reading more of yours.

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H L Mc Quaid
09:35 Aug 22, 2021

thank you! glad you liked it.

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Thom Brodkin
20:37 Jul 10, 2021

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. The best part was the last line. It made the whole story. I would like to have been a mind reader as you conceived this story. It must have been great fun. I’m sorry I haven’t been by recently. I’ll try to do better, I promise. If you have a moment please check out my latest. I could use your expert advice. It’s called “Close Your Eyes.”

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Ash Jarvis
16:10 Jul 08, 2021

The rhyming, bouncing language in this was so much fun to read, especially juxtaposed with the descriptions of Viviene in all her putrid glory. I didn’t think this was at all clunky! I did wonder at the end, however, if Wilbur would be ‘relieved’ not to commit another murder? Or disappointed? You might be missing a word here: …an Adam’s apple, like (a) knot… I think you might need a content warning on this one—story must be read twice to truly appreciate its cleverness ;)

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H L Mc Quaid
08:14 Jul 09, 2021

thanks, Ash! I made the changes you suggested, and changed "relieved' to 'satisfied'. And yeah, many folks have commented on the 'graphic' nature of the descriptions, which, if you read the story again, seem less graphic because now you know what the body is. So, if I can think of clever content warning, I'll smack one on!

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Zelda C. Thorne
10:45 Jul 06, 2021

Oh brilliant! I didn't see the end coming at all. Well done. Very clever. And those descriptions were so vivid I was wriggling with disgust as I read about the maggots! I might have to get that book myself! Sounds interesting.

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H L Mc Quaid
11:53 Jul 09, 2021

Hi Rachel, Ah, good, I'm glad you were surprised. :) Gardner's book is very dense and contains a lot of literary theory/devices that I'm not familiar with (even though I took lots of writing classes, they didn't focus on 'serious' literature per se, they were more about style and grammar). Anyhoo, if you do read it, let me know what you think.

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Zelda C. Thorne
12:02 Jul 09, 2021

Just googled him. Which book is it? Is it John Gardner "On writers and writing"?

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H L Mc Quaid
12:10 Jul 09, 2021

the one I have is "The Art of Fiction."

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Beth Connor
16:09 Jul 04, 2021

Ooh this was a fun one-However, not so delicious as your last story. In fact, I think I rather lost my appetite. I found myself trying to guess what the body was through out the piece- and I was still surprised! I tend not to read with as detailed of eye as you, and did not notice any clunkiness. One note/question- in the poem, is scum intended to be capitalized?

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H L Mc Quaid
16:35 Jul 04, 2021

Hi Beth, Yes, this one got graphic with the bacterial antics. ;) Scum was meant to be capitalised as I wanted the readers to think he was talking about a person/entity, rather than pond scum. After typing that, it sounds ridiculous. :0 but my last few stories have been absurd, so I'm just gonna roll with it.

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Beth Connor
17:28 Jul 04, 2021

Haha! You don’t usually miss things- so I figured there was a reason I missed!

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H L Mc Quaid
12:53 Jul 04, 2021

Trying another exercise from Gardner's book, which challenges the writer to use the authorial omniscient voice and third-person subjective. Not convinced I succeeded, but I had fun trying. Also, you'll see some words repeated in close proximity (matter, stage). I was attempting Antanaclasis, but I think it's clunky.

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