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Fiction Suspense Mystery

When you have lived in the same house for long enough, it becomes part of you in ways that are hard to pin down. The well worn paths we take from the fridge to the lounge, the closet to the shower, my home office to my workshop. Then there are those corners that you hardly know at all. Or you know they are there, but just never think about them. Like the top shelf of that old cupboard in the basement, or the contents of the dusty boxes forgotten in the attic. The day to day shuffle around your space rarely takes you to these out of the way corners.

It's my birthday today and I wish it was just another day, but those closest to me cannot but make special efforts around me on this day which lightly grates on my nerves. I love them all, but I love them today just as much as yesterday, and I hope a little more tomorrow, and I would love for them to treat this day just like any other. My eldest son knows me well, normally he says nothing on his way out the door in the morning, but will send me a simple text message sometime through the day reminding me that he did not forget. On the other hand, my wife feels compelled to fawn around me, and I try to not show any irritation because I know she is just being a loving wife on what is culturally my special day. The internal conflict makes it hard to relax.

Today seems there is something afoot that I am not sure I will like. It's a big round birthday for me, so I brace for more discomforts than normal today. What makes it worse is it's a Saturday, so everyone is home and there are plenty of chances for cringy encounters. Am I making life hard on my birthday for my loved ones? This guilt does not help my mood.

The idea to go and sort through some of the boxes imprisoned in that closet in the attic seems like a good idea suddenly. I know deep down that all I am trying to do is minimise interactions today. Another guilty pang. Why do I feel this way? It's a personal malaise I go through every year on this day.

I went down to the kitchen to make some breakfast and ran into my younger son who is making my favourite breakfast. I smile weakly and thank him, but it didn't come from deep down where it should have and he sees it, luckily he knows me and brushes it off. I sit with him and we eat, both of us expertly dancing around the elephant in the room. I get up from the breakfast table and thank him again and wink. His smile is all I need to know he knows what I am really thanking him for.

My wife was bustling around this morning and I internally cringe as to what this could portend. I pulled on my track pants and a comfy pullover and headed up into the attic. The dusty smells of the forgotten corners of the house are welcomed today. I feel the soothing caress of solitude and now study the targets of my distraction. The boxes have probably not been touched since we moved in. That's before the boys were born.

A trepidation washes over me as I grab the first box. I unfold the dust covered flaps and allow the light to play over the contents: a LEGO model, a bag of obscure plastic and metal pieces from some long forgotten constructor set, a deck of cards, a hand made felt figurine, an assortment of kids books, a toy gun. Boring. I need something more interactive.

I saw that there was a box that was behind this one and eased it out. This one is heavy for its size. Despite the vintage of the first box, I do vaguely remember it, but this one behind is a complete stranger to me. A few vague theories cross my mind about its origins. I sat it on the ground and opened it.

It was full of books and photos. Now this is better. I took out a bundle of photos bound with a ribbon. They are of jumbled vintage and format but each one sent me back with a jolt to times and places long forgotten. This is what I had hoped for. To lose myself for a few hours alone, reminiscing.

I paused at a candid photo of my son’s first birthday party over 2 decades ago. It was filled with friends from another era. The musty smell mixes with my recollections of the event produce a feeling of age. My age. The nostalgic escape is broken and I am back here and now. My cross legged knees, protest, another reminder of age. I replaced the bundle of photos and now dig into the books. Some are mine, long forgotten. Some are hers, probably the same. Some are still with pristine spines, unread. I put the ones that are obviously not hers in a stack next to the box for closer examination. There could be hours of solitary distraction in that pile. Then my hand lands on a book unlike the others. A soft black leather cover bordered with a strange embossed design. It looked well used. I start to thumb through the contents from back to front. Apart from the last handful of pages that are blank, the rest are filled with small messy handwriting, and peppered with maths equations and technical sketches. As I go toward the start, there are less sketches and the handwriting is more erratic. Then there are no more sketches and the writing is a desperate scribble. The entries are simply titled day x. I stop flicking and read:

…The dreams are getting worse. I can see the maths equations battling each other in an abstract kaleidoscope of colour. Their battle is overwhelming. Rainbow explosions and thumping sounds shake my very core. I woke up this morning with a splitting headache and the scar on my scalp throbbed worse than normal. I had trouble thinking or speaking straight and my wife was terribly worried about me. She insisted I take an extra dose of the tablets. I told her I hate the way they make me feel. When I take them, I always feel like I am drowning in warm sweet water. A terrible loving embrace. The maths seems to slip out of my grasp and the allure turns to frustration. My psychiatrist told me I have to learn to let go, but I cannot, there is something there in those numbers. He also told me that I need to calm these visions, but the exercises he gave me feel like sitting on a geyser about to blow…

I flick the pages in the other direction and stop on a page that has a strange diagram in the middle of it with writing tightly surrounding it:

… I am having trouble knowing it is night or day anymore, I sleep in the attic now so I do not disturb my wife with my nocturnal mumbling and shrieks. With no windows, I am not sure if it’s day or night any more. There is this image that keeps coming back. I’m taunted to remember it, but each time I wake from this vision, it eludes me. But today I have it. I started drawing it and then surprised myself with the detail of my recall. Here it is. It's a machine or part of some exotic device. It reminds me of Gieger but with parts that move in ways that seem to defy physics…

I study the sketch closely. It looks strangely organic yet mechanical. It is manically intricate, the accuracy of the shading makes it appear to almost pop out of the page.

… I cannot recall when I slept last but the frantic activity is calming. I can feel that my work is reaching some climax. My wife’s concern has deepened. She told me yesterday (I think) that I have lost too much weight and need to get out in the sunlight a little. Instead I have migrated some of my workshop to the attic and am determined as ever to try to build this thing. This device that has chosen to bedevil me. I have also strangely begun to understand these equations that just days ago baffled me completely. What is happening? I feel that I am acting like a lunatic, but in fact I felt more like I was crazy when I could not make sense of these images and equations. As they reveal themselves to me, I feel better and better, and am energised with new purpose. I am now more sure than I have ever been that I can build this thing. Apart from the scar which burns me relentlessly, as if the lightning strike that gave it to me happened only yesterday…

…I ran the code through the debugger and found the problem. It was stupid, but I had pasted the fluid grid modulator after the macro seed simulator instead of before it, how stupid of me. Also seems like the stability of the condensers on the outside of the magnetic shields are not handling the voltage. Its only 73Kv! Damn AliExpress crap…

‘fluid grid modulator’, ‘macro seed simulator’, I have no idea what this could be.

Now I reached one of the last entries:

…Day 196.  I just came home from the therapist. My wife brought up the touchy subject of my mental stability and my ability to make rational decisions. She told me she spoke to a lawyer and that he advises that we go to see him together. I want to tell her that I am almost finished with my project, but she is no longer really interested in what I have been doing these months up in the attic. My heart breaks for what I have put her through. I hate these moments. They feel like moments of clarity in the midst of a long and drawn out manic delirium. I wear an old kids bathrobe now because all my clothes hang off of me like a coat hanger. But it's ALMOST FINISHED all I need now is a fresh calf spleen and blood, a lot of blood…

I am riveted to the book and keep reading snippets when I hear the doorbell downstairs and then a bunch of voices. Oh no, we are having guests and I know why!

_

We are all in the backyard and I have assumed the traditional position at the grill with my apron and thongs. As the burgers and sausages sizzle I wear a silly smile that I hope fools everyone. I caught a glimpse of my older son with his girlfriend on the lounge and his eyes said it all: “I know dad, but it could not have been avoided!” I return the look to tell him it's OK. And it was OK, at least I was telling myself this over and over again. I wanted it to be good enough to fool my wife. As if I can fool her!

She came up to me and slid her arm under my elbow affectionately. Her eyes said sorry darling.

“How are you doing darling?”

“I’m good” I fibbed. “It's a nice day, and all these people…”

“I know. I was not expecting so many would come. You are very well liked, you know?” she said with a warm smile. I gave her a kiss on the cheek to let her know I am not mad at her for this.

_

A good friend of mine stood and began clinking a spoon against a glass to quiet everyone for his announcement.

“Steven, it's your 60th birthday. We know how much you like to celebrate your birthday and how eager you are to open your gifts so let's start” he said with exaggerated sarcasm. It surprised me that my feelings toward my birthday are such an open secret. Everyone breaks out in clapping so I make my way to the table stacked with gifts.

Bottles of wine, a set of screwdrivers, and even a guitar pedal. I picked up the last gifts and tore into the wrapping. As one corner is exposed, I freeze with panic. My change of mood is keenly observed and I try to recover as I tear if free. The black leather embossed cover is exactly the same. The weight and feel of the pages is exactly the same. The same, but new. My sister comes up to me quickly to break the spell and gives me a hug.

Into my ear she says, “I know you have been dabbling in writing, maybe this may be where you pen your best seller.”

“Yeah” I mumbled, distracted. My mind still whirling.

“Is there something the matter Steven?” She whispers with a slight frown.

“Umm, no. It's just… You know me and birthdays.” I lied.

The silence of the crowd had broken. I felt relief to be out of the spotlight, but I could not shake the profound shock. I could only try to hide it. The only explanation I could come up with was: sheer fluke of coincidence. Perhaps this is a famous brand?

_

After the last guest left, I got changed ready for bed, then excused myself and snuck back up into the attic. The box was still open and the old leather bound book lay on top. It really looked the same, only heavily used. I opened the front cover of the book. There written in familiar handwriting:

Happy birthday big brother, I expect greatness from these pages!

Love Sandy 

I was dizzy from the revelation. I turned with a shaking hand to the first written page. If the personal note from my sister was not enough of a shock then this was. The date at the top of the page was 1 week from today!

The entry starts:

…I just defied nature and survived. Every specialist tells me I should have been instantly killed from such a powerful strike, instead…

May 24, 2023 19:33

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4 comments

Zatoichi Mifune
14:10 May 31, 2023

This story is so good! I love the ending, 'I just defied nature and survived' is probably my favourite line. The writing in the diary is original and really quite fascinating! Is that how spiralling into madness (via a kind of job obsession) feels like? No one can know for sure but I think the diary got pretty close! Three questions: When you started this did you know how it would finish, When you finished did you know what the ending was leading up to, and if this story had a sequel what would it be? (That started as 1 question, but I e...

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Lynel Black
07:14 Jun 01, 2023

It means more than you think to get positive feedback from my writing. Thank you very much for making my day. I will start with your last question: I think a sequel would only disappoint. Tempting as it is to continue telling a tale, there is that magic moment in all stories where the rest must be left to the imagination of the reader. Writing is that singular art form that paints a unique picture in the eye of every reader's mind. Conversely to casually browsing visual art works in a gallery, to appreciate and behold the art of writing nec...

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Philip Ebuluofor
20:32 May 30, 2023

Fine enticing work. I like the voice.

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J. D. Lair
00:35 May 30, 2023

Ooohhh, I want to know more!

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

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.