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Crime Thriller Mystery

The rain was a smothering blanket of sound, splashing on mud, grass, leaves, trees, and puddles of water. Small clumps of light danced in the distance, like fireflies, combing through the forest. Muffled sounds rose from them, but died down before they reached the diminutive constable in a raincoat. 


Mary turned away from them and resumed the scan of her little patch of the forest. 


"Rishi," she shouted, letting in a mouthful of water. "Can you hear me?"


No response.


The whole village was out searching alongside the police. But the woods were deep and dark. Mary could barely see the flashlights up in the hills.


The radio sputtered.


"Return to the station," came the voice. "We’re not making any progress in these conditions. We’ll resume early in the morning."


The boy was probably already dead. Carelessness had cost his parents precious time. Incompetence had cost the police more. For all she knew the boy might be lying face down in a ditch she passed hours ago.


She pulled her raincoat over herself for all the good it did. She gave the trees around her one last sweep with her flashlight. 

It was in the afterimage that she saw the face peering from behind the tree. She spun around and caught a man in a white shirt in her spotlight.


"O— Officer," he said, shielding his eyes from the piercing light. "This way. I found something." Mary hesitated. Did he call out to her because she saw him or was he looking for her?


"I’m part of the search," said the man, a little out of breath. "I think I saw something around here that looked like a small shoe."


"Don’t you have a flashlight or a phone?" asked Mary. She picked up her radio as she walked towards him. 


"Oh, I didn’t realize you were a woman," said the man. "Um— I was using my phone and its battery ran out just as I found the shoe." He paused before adding, "At least, I think I found a shoe."


"Hold on," said Mary. She pulled out her radio. "This is Constable Mary Thomas, I’ve found a man— um?"


"Gireesh Chandra. You can call me Giri."


"Yes, I’ve found a man. His name’s Gireesh Chandra," said Mary, keeping her flashlight on him. "He says he found something just before his phone’s battery ran out. I’m going to go check it out." She quickly relayed their location.


"Show me," said Mary.


"Uh— I found it somewhere here," said Giri.


It didn’t take Mary long to find the shoe, but next to the shoe was a single right palm imprinted on the mud— large, adult. She kept that to herself.


"Definitely part of a school uniform."


Mary stood back up and scanned the muddy ground around it until she found something else.


"Looks like an adult’s bootprint," said Giri.


"Maybe you made it on your way into the forest?" asked Mary.


"What?"


"You must’ve gone in ahead of me," said Mary looking directly into his eyes. "You were on your way back."


"Oh," said Giri, relaxing. He laughed and wiped the water off his face. "Right, I thought you were accusing me of something."


"You’re certainly suspicious," said Mary. "No way around that."


"Well, then I’ve to help you find the boy and clear my name."


"What were you doing in there, to begin with?" asked Mary.


"That’s what I was getting at. There’s an abandoned shack deep in the woods," said Giri. He must’ve seen the expression on Mary’s face for he quickly added, "I told people about it. You can check once we get back. They said the boy couldn’t have gone that far, but I—"


"And how do you know about the shack?"


"Google Maps," said Giri, simply. "Soon as I found out about the boy’s disappearance, I looked up places around here where someone could’ve taken him."


"You know he was kidnapped?" asked Mary.


"God, no! You have to assume the worst these days," said Giri. "Now do you want to waste time here or do you want to find the boy. If he’s in some ditch or well somewhere in this rain— you wouldn’t need a lot of water to drown a 6-year-old."


---


Thunder rolled and rumbled overhead. Short bursts of light illuminated the edges of clouds that were splattered like ink blotches across the sky, concealing them from the moon. Their world was what Mary's flashlight showed. She wanted to get a good look at Giri's right hand to check for mud stains. She wondered if it hadn't washed off.


"What do you do?" asked Mary, pushing branches and twigs out of her face. The flashlight cut through the darkness, but it wasn't much use against the things it revealed.


"I'm an accountant," said Giri. "I work in the city, but I volunteer with an outreach group."


Mud and grass squelched under their feet as they walked. Raindrops spat at Mary's police-issued raincoat. Her brain began to throb inside her skull.


"Volunteering for what?" she asked.


"A few of us help kids in rural areas with access to computers and internet and all of that."


Giri sighed, a weak smile on his face.


"I know where this going," said Giri. "Yeah, I know Rishi. He was one of the kids we worked with." His voice suddenly grew bitter and louder. "That's why I'm out in the middle of the night. In this cold and rain."


"Relax," said Mary. "No one's accusing you of anything. If we find the boy, you'll be the hero."


"I won't find him without your help," said Giri with a chuckle. His mood improved quickly.


"As long as we're getting to know each other," he said. "What made you become a policewoman?"


"It's a job."


"That's it?"


"Yup. I applied for the job. I got the job. Pays the bills."


"And yet," said Giri. "You're out here in the middle of all this looking for a kid you've never met."


Mary wiped the water off of her eyebrows and flicked her hand.


"You don't need high-minded ideals to do your job or to worry about a kid," said Mary. "You have any kids?" 


"Yeah," said Giri. "One. She just turned three. She's with her mother. I’m supposed to be there right now... What about you?"


The flashlight revealed another bootprint. What kind of shoes are Giri wearing?


"You still here?" asked Giri, tapping Mary’s shoulder. She started.


"Sorry," she said. "I was thinking— never mind. What did you say?"


"You married? Kids?"


"Gave marriage a shot once," said Mary. Her coat was getting heavier. "I suppose I have two kids." In response to Giri’s puzzled look, Mary patted her abdomen.


"Oh. That’s a way—"


The radio sputtered. She raised a hand to silence Giri and answered.


"Turn back,’ said her superior. "A flood warning has been issued. They’re opening the dam."


"What about the kid?"


"Nothing can be done about it now," said her superior, his voice filtered through the radio's static, mechanical and cold.


"Yes, sir," said Mary.


"That’s it?" asked Giri. He sounded incredulous. "We’re really going to abandon the kid? He could be trapped in a well somewhere. We’re going to let him drown?"


"Assuming he’s still alive," said Mary. "You’re a civilian. I can’t endanger your life."


---


The throbbing in her skull grew as they turned back. With each step, a hammer shot up her leg and smashed into her brain. She had to know for sure. And if her suspicions were correct? She’d never before felt the sheer difference in height and weight between herself and a man so acutely. In this alien landscape with no weapon, a misstep will cost her life, inaction the boy's, unless he's dead already. She racked her brain and came up empty. No clever solution, no trick, nothing.


"Hey, what’s that over there?" asked Mary, pointing her light to a ditch they’d missed on the way earlier. "Doesn’t that look like a body?"


"I dunno," said Giri. "Maybe you’re just seeing things."


"Wouldn’t hurt to check it out."


"I suppose..."


Mary lowered herself into the ditch taking care not to touch anything with her right hand. There was muddy water. There were roots, leaves, branches, and worms. She didn’t expect to find anything anyway. She broke a sharp piece of a twig off a fallen branch and hid it in her pocket as she turned around.


"No, you’re right," said Mary, turning back to Giri who peered over the edge of the ditch. "There’s nothing here. Lend me a hand."


"Point the light somewhere else," said Giri, shielding his eyes. He pulled her up. "Careful. I don’t want to come out of the woods by myself and meet all your police friends."


Mary laughed as she felt the mud in her right palm. 


As clues went this was pretty flimsy, but an investigation would turn up something. A streak of lightning illuminated the dark world for one brief moment. Mary saw the rain wash off what remained of a faint mud print of a tiny hand on the back of Giri’s white shirt. No, she couldn’t wait.


"What’s wrong," asked Giri. "Shouldn’t we get out of here?"


"Is the boy alive?" asked Mary.


"This again," he said, sighing.


"There was a large right palm print on the ground near the shoe."


"So?" said Giri. Light and shadow played on his face. 


"There’s mud on your right hand."


"There’s mud everywhere," said Giri. "I was on the ground looking for the shoe. Must’ve happened then."


"You didn’t call out until after I saw you."


"You can’t be serious," said Giri, gesticulating wildly. 


"Why don’t you hand over your phone, so I can see if it’s really out of charge?"


"Wh— really?," said Giri. "You want me to hand over my phone?"


"We’re not debating privacy here," said Mary. She never took her eyes off his. "Prove it's dead."


Giri gradually met Mary’s gaze. His face was inscrutable. A shadow moved behind his eyes. What looked back at her from within its depths was the soul of a man that dragged a child deep into these woods. There were no lights in the distance. The cold was only partly to blame for the shiver that ran down her spine.


"You’re wondering how to dispose of me," said Mary, raising her voice above the sound of the rain. "You’re stronger. I have no weapons, but I’ll put up a fight. You might lose both the flashlight and the phone in the process and you’ll have my dead body to deal with. You already have a good hiding spot, don't you? I’m guessing the shack is real. It’s hard to come up with a lie on short notice. You didn't expect to run into anyone on your way out, did you?"


She had to convince him of her plan before the shutters were opened.


"I’ll follow you to the place you took the kid. We’ll fight once we’re there. If you win, you have a shot of getting away before the shutters open. Who knows maybe if you play your cards right, you’ll get away scot-free. Deal? We don’t have to shake on it."


"You’ll... follow me?"


"Yes," said Mary. She slid her hand inside her raincoat. "I’ll sweeten the deal for you." Before Giri had a chance to react, there was a flash of light and the click of a camera.


"Now your face is in the cloud," said Mary, shaking her phone up at the clouds. "Assuming it’s still connected to the net, your face is in my photo collection. If you try to attack me I’ll throw this away."


"What’s to stop you from throwing it away once we get to the shack?" asked Giri.


"You are," said Mary. "If you're fast enough."


"All right, but you walk ahead."


Mary hesitated.


"Do you wanna waste time thinking about it?" asked Giri. "The kid might be alive."


---


They trudged through the mud and wet grass. Mary resisted the urge to turn around every five minutes. She’ll either find the boy or she won’t. 


"I’m not a bad man," said Giri after some time. "When I was seven—"


"Let me make one thing clear," said Mary without turning. "Nothing that happened to you remotely justifies your actions tonight."


"I know I need help," said Giri. "I have a daughter. Have I told you? I told you, didn’t I? She’s two. And my wife— she's sick."


His voice made Mary's headache worse.


"I just need a second chance," said Giri. "You said yourself this is just a job for you. Just a— you could let this go."


"How many times have you done this?" asked Mary. 


They walked in silence the rest of the way.


---


The shack might as well have been imaginary. Parts of what used to be a roof were barely held up by brick slabs that might once have been walls. The well, on the other hand, was mostly intact.


"Where's the boy?" asked Mary.


"Inside the well."


"Ins— Is he... alive?"


"Go on. Take a peek," said Giri. He sounded like he was trying hard to suppress a smirk.


Mary waded through the mud towards the well, her boots slipping with each step. Her raincoat, heavy with water, dragged mud. Nausea joined hands with her headache.


There was a rope tied to a tree near the well— new, out of place. She moved her flashlight along the length of the rope as she approached the well. It went over a branch that protruded over the well and dropped down in a straight taut line. 


She barely saw the small boy, gagged, and tied up in a rusty old bucket, filled with rainwater and mostly submerged in the rising water in the well. She pulled at the rope. Her hands slipped. She tried to call out the boy's name, but no sound came out.


There was nothing she could do. She wanted nothing more than wake up from this night. She felt her dinner rise up. She wanted to turn around, but she was frozen. She gripped the edge of the well with her free hand.


Suddenly, the world turned upside down as Giri grabbed her legs and threw her over. She dropped the flashlight on the mud and grabbed the edge of the well with both hands, screaming. The boy was again lost to darkness.


"If you want to play the hero so much," cried Giri. "Go keep him company." 


Mary struggled to hold on. Her phone slipped out of her breast pocket. It fell down the dark hole, hitting the bucket with a metallic clang, and splashed into the water. 


The boy stirred and whimpered. 


She let go of the edge and reached for the wall of the well. She missed but grabbed Giri’s hand just as her feet went over the edge.

Giri frantically clawed at her hands. She let her right hand drop and plunged it into her pocket. Giri screamed in agony as she stabbed the sharp twig through his right palm. He staggered back, Mary still holding on to his hand and shirt.


Mary pulled herself up and climbed out of the well. She quickly picked up the flashlight and started to pull the rope. It barely moved. Before she could brainstorm a solution, Giri lunged at her, roaring.


Mary spun around and flashed the light right into his eyes. He immediately shielded his eyes, cursing. But he couldn't stop his momentum. He slipped on mud all the way to the edge. Mary pushed him over.


She caught him by the leg just before he fell in. She had an idea and before her brain had a chance to tell her it wouldn't work, she pulled the knot free from the tree. There was a stomach-churning splash from inside the well as the rope pulled her towards it. She kicked against the side of the well, twisting the rope around her palm to keep the bucket from falling deeper. 


With one hand holding Giri's leg, she growled and grunted as she pulled the rope along the edge of the well and tied it around his leg.


"Damn you!" cried Giri. "Pull me up."


Mary dropped him. 


The bucket rose up with a sound like a buzzsaw as the rope cut into the overhanging branch. She immediately grabbed its rusted spiked edge and pulled it towards her, hissing. She got the boy out and untied him. There were bruises where the twigs and branches had tore his skin. Mary pulled him closer and wrapped her raincoat around both of them. She let him cry his heart out, patting him, soothing him. If Giri was screaming inside the well she didn't care.


"Rishi," said Mary. "You're going to be okay. Your parents are waiting for you."


She had no idea how to make it back. She had no strength left in her. She knew she'd faint the moment she got up. She stared, exhausted, at the dark woods she'd have to walk through to get back. The rain showed no sign of letting up and the shutters might already be open.


Slowly, one by one, lights appeared in the distance. They danced through the woods like fireflies. They grew larger, brighter.


Mary held Rishi tight.


END

May 01, 2021 18:38

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5 comments

Graham Kinross
09:24 Nov 22, 2021

"Google Maps," said Giri, simply. "Soon as I found out about the boy’s disappearance, I looked up places around here where someone could’ve taken him." -If he turns out to be a psycho later then it will make as much sense but I like that he seems to just be a thoughtful pessimist who seems more resourceful than the police. "With each step, a hammer shot up her leg and smashed into her brain." That's a really good line. I like that. "Now your face is in the cloud," clever move. "How many times have you done this?" asked Mary. They walked ...

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Frank Anthony
22:14 May 08, 2021

Great story!

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Rohit Mukundan
04:38 May 09, 2021

Thanks.

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Kanika G
10:07 May 05, 2021

This is an interesting story! I liked how you've played light and darkness to create an atmosphere of suspense in the story. I'm glad it had a happy ending. :)

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Rohit Mukundan
10:25 May 05, 2021

Thank you. At first I wanted it to be a tragedy, but couldn't bring myself to do it.

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