Dennis Moore was never the type of person to be considered a murderer. He was never the type of person to be considered unholy or dishonorable. He was the type of man who went to church every Sunday morning. He wasn't guilty of this execrable crime.
He had simply been at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The fateful day took place on the first day of spring — a Sunday morning. It seemed, in fact, like the perfect day of the year. But even though it seemed perfect, one cannot believe that it would be a perfect day.
The sun began to peek over the distant hills, greeting the early risers. Small finches glided through the air, chirping their convivial songs, their small wings oscillating through the air. Puffy clouds moved through the air, pushed by a faint breeze that weaved its way through the locality, making the trees seem to ripple gently, like smooth stones skipping across a lake's surface. The flowers from a cherry blossom tree glided to the ground, gyrating with the breeze. A biker made his way down the street, pedaling harder up a hill after the half-mile point. The air at the top of the hill was fresher, making it a great pit stop for a rest or a view.
At six in the morning, Dennis's alarm went off, signaling the beginning of a new day. A groan escaped his lips after he had realized that it was spring. He knew that this meant he had to do several hours of yard work. His wife, Alyssa, had been complaining for many days about how tall the grass is getting in the front yard; in compromise, he promised his wife that he would cut it on the first day of spring. That day happened to be that fateful day. As the memory flashed through his mind, he was more focused on getting out to church rather than staying behind and cutting the grass.
Although cutting the grass could have saved him, going to church that Sunday morning was one of the worst mistakes he's made in his life.
He slid out of bed and sauntered to the bathroom. He wasn't in any hurry since the morning service started in three hours. With a sigh, he slid off his T-shirt and sweatpants, hopping in the shower afterward. As the warm water ran down his body, he thought about the pros and cons of the season.
Where he was, spring was a season that was looked forward to the most. It wasn't as hot and sticky like summer would end up being, and it wasn't as cold and dry as winter was a few months ago. Spring had the perfect conditions, making it the most likable season of the year. Dennis, however, had his doubts about it, knowing that the new season of the year meant several hours of yard work that seemed endless to him. This being the reason he hated the season made him grit his teeth, but quickly stopped when he realized what he was doing.
After he had finished washing his hair, he stepped out of the shower, being cautious not to slip on the bar of soap that had been left on the floor, he ran a towel through his hair, which easily became touseled by the touch of the fabric. Then he shaved the stubby remains of the beard he had grown over the past month but had gotten sick of by that day. To end his morning routine, he took a comb and smoothed down his hair, and then applied his cologne to his neck.
Once he was satisfied, he trudged into his closet and picked out a blue-collared shirt, dark navy-colored pants, and freshly polished black dress shoes. Then he walked back into his bedroom and into the kitchen, where he stumbled upon his wife. He had been hoping to avoid his wife; he didn't want the topic about the yard work to be brought up.
"Morning, Dennis," Alyssa said, pulling two mugs of hot, steaming coffee out of the coffee maker. She added a fair amount of cream and sugar to hers and nothing to Dennis's mug. He was the type of person who only liked to drink black coffee. Even though it's a strong flavor, he happened to like the bitter taste of ashes. Alyssa found that odd at first but then learned to respect his opinion. Since she had her own opinions that Dennis respected, it was only fair enough that she should respect his as well.
"Morning, Lissy," Dennis replied, taking his mug from the countertop. He took a sip, ignoring the hot liquid that was beginning to scald his tongue. "How was your morning?"
"It was fine." She nodded and looked out of the window. Dennis prayed that she wouldn't say anything about the yard work that needed to be done later on that day. "The weather looks nice outside. Perfect for the first day of spring." She turned to him. "The grass is looking kind of long. It needs to be cut later on."
"Mmm," Dennis said, his subconscious disagreeing with his wife. "It doesn't look too bad."
This, of course, was true. The blades of delicate grass were no longer than three inches in length. Although this was relatively short, Alyssa just so happened to disagree with what Dennis had said a long time ago about the perfect length of freshly-cut grass. She argued that two inches or shorter was the perfect length. Dennis, being religious, a true Christian, and not wanting to offend God, did not bother to argue back.
"I've said before that the grass shouldn't be longer than two inches. That is longer than two inches, I'm sure of it."
Dennis nodded. "Lissy, I know that's longer than two inches. But look at everybody else's lawns: their grass is about the same height as ours. Just because you're a perfectionist, it doesn't mean that you should be that specific and argue with me about the perfect length."
Alyssa sighed and set her coffee back down on the counter before checking the time. It's just past seven in the morning.
"You'll have to leave soon; in less than half an hour, actually." Dennis gave a look of confusion; he didn't remember a reason to leave early. "You agreed to head to the bakery so you could pick up the pie for after the congregation.
It took Dennis a few moments to remember what he had agreed to. The pecan pie needed to be picked up and then brought to the back of the church, where it would be brought to a room filled with round tables and metal chairs. It was a special congregational brunch, mainly to thank those who have chosen the service of those willing to spend many years with the Lord.
"Oh." Dennis started to run his hand through his hair but stopped when he remembered that he had neatly combed it. Instead, he rubbed his temple. "Yeah, I need to do that. I'll leave now."
After taking a final sip of his coffee, he pecked his wife's lips quickly and left the house without a goodbye. Even though he had promised himself multiple times to say goodbye, he was in a slight rush since the bakery was over a mile away from his house. He would have driven, but to avoid polluting the air, Dennis and Alyssa had agreed not to drive the car during the spring season. It was wrong to mistreat the environment and upset the biological balance of life.
By the time it was eight, he had reached the bakery and entered the double doors. The small bell tinkled quietly, and the aroma of freshly-baked pastries reached his nose. With a soft inhale, he stepped into the bakery and got in line.
When he reached the front, to his surprise, he found his best friend, Murrell Thompson, working the front desk. Dennis's face lit up upon seeing his friend for the first time in three years.
"Hey, Dennis!" Murrell said, shaking Dennis's hand in a tight grip, a smile spreading across his face. "How are you doing today?"
"Doing amazing, thanks to you!" Dennis chuckled, a smile also forming across his face. Murrell was one of the only people to make Dennis happy. Since he hadn't seen him in a long time, the feeling was surreal. "How've you been holding up the past few years?"
"Pretty great, actually," Murrell said. Dennis noticed a few beads of sweat forming on his friend's forehead, but didn't make a big deal out of it; it was pretty hot in the building. A beat of silence passed before Murrell spoke up again. "Is Alyssa —" He coughed before he could finish his sentence. It took Dennis a second to realize that Murrell was trying to suppress a chuckle. "Is Alyssa still hard on you about the grass?"
Dennis nodded. "Yeah. She's pretty crazy about it. I was hoping earlier this morning that she wouldn't bring up the grass, but she did. No surprise there. Before she could start an argument with me, I left the house. Sometimes, I wonder why she's acting like this."
Murrell shrugged. "I don't know." Something seemed a little off about his friend. He, of course, didn't pay any attention to it. Since they'd last seen each other three years ago, it's possible that Murrell's changed a lot. "Anyways, do you need to pick something up or order something, or did you just come by to give your old buddy a visit?"
"Actually, I didn't know you work here," Dennis replied awkwardly. Murrell sucked in a breath. "I'm picking up a pecan pie. You have that ready?"
"Yeah." Murrell turned around and went to the back room. A minute passed before he emerged with a square box that had plastic wrap as a top, bordered by strong, fancy-looking cardboard. "Is this it?"
Dennis nodded and took his wallet out of his pocket, only for Murrell to push his hand back down. Dennis looked confused and began to bring his wallet up again, only for his hand to be rejected once again.
"It's on me," Murrell said. "From a friend to a friend." He leaned closer and lowered his voice. "Don't tell the manager that I'm doing this."
"I won't tell a soul," Dennis promised before he pocketed his wallet again. Then he took the pie with a smile and bid his friend goodbye before leaving the store.
When he reached the church, he stopped suddenly. The atmosphere seemed off. At first, the thought that it was just the weather affecting him. He smelled a faint metallic scent — one that smelled just like blood. He thought it was nothing and proceeded around to the back of the church building.
When he arrived there, he got a nasty shock.
There was a body lying by the back door, a wine bottle shattered next to the dead female's body, the red liquid spreading out. There was a knife pressed deep inside of her chest, blood still trickling out of the wound. Her fingertips were caked in a mixture of both wet and dried blood, and her mouth was parted open, fresh blood dribbling down her chin. Her eyes were wide open, appearing glossy. For some reason, the woman looked familiar. And then it took him a second to recognize her.
Dennis opened his mouth to scream, but found that no sound could come out. He just stood there in shock, not moving. Hundreds of thoughts ran through his mind, debating whether he should run or stay. If he ran, it would be suspicious, but staying would also be suspicious.
There was no good outcome to the situation.
Before he could move, the back door opened, and one of the altar servers stepped out. The young boy, around the age of thirteen or so, looked at the body, and then made eye contact with Dennis.
This doesn't look good, Dennis thought as he stared into the eyes of the boy, whose face had turned pale as a ghost at that point. He opened his mouth to try and explain, but the boy had already run inside the building. Dennis sighed and followed after the boy, who was already talking on the phone, probably to the authorities.
"Dennis Moore," the priest, James Marshall, said. "Tim just said that went he went out the back door, he saw you standing next to the body of a woman. Your own wife, too! What would God think of this?"
"There's a misunderstanding," Dennis replied, placing the pie down on the table next to him, along with the other baked goods and brunch items. "When I arrived at the church, I went around the back of the building to give the pie, but then I saw the body of Alyssa. It looked like she'd just been killed, so I'm guessing the murderer ran away." A tear threatened to slip out of his eye, but he quickly blinked it away, not wanting to be thought of as weak. Although he wanted to show emotion, he could do that in his own personal time, but not in public.
"I'm ashamed of you, Dennis," James said, shaking his head. Tim just stared at Dennis with a look of strong hatred, already off of the phone. The authorities were most likely already on their way. Dennis knew he was in a situation that was difficult to get out of. But what was he supposed to do? Was he supposed to walk up to the body and approach the priest while saying, "Hey, there's a body out there that I just found, and I wasn't the one who committed the crime"? It wouldn't have made any difference.
"I didn't do it," Dennis said, a frown now plastered on his face. "I have an alibi! You can ask my friend, Murrell! I was at the bakery, picking up the pecan pie!"
"Murrell was a bad influence back then, Dennis. You'd better not be picking up on his childhood mischiefs. They'll get you into a lot of trouble, just like they are at this very moment.
"Murrell's changed, sir! You know I wouldn't do a thing like this!"
"Times change, Dennis. You could've easily changed your ways and murdered your wife."
"I loved her," Dennis spat, the three words leaving his lips like thunder on an angry summer day. "Why would I kill my own wife if I loved her? Can you answer that?" A few seconds passed in silence, with James trying to form words. "I thought so. I wouldn't do it. Not even if I was offered all of the money in the world."
"Dennis, I'm really sorry," James replied, running his fingers through his hair. "But you were at the scene at the crime. Without any real evidence, you can't be proven innocent. I'm really sorry."
Dennis could hear the faint sound of sirens beginning to approach. His heart began pounding, growing louder by the second. He knew the authorities were almost here. There was no point of running. Maybe if he didn't resist, his time could be lessened.
At this point of the situation, it wasn't likely.
Not at all possible.
As the back door opened and the cops ran in with their guns pointing at Dennis, he had no choice but to raise his hands in the air and cooperate with the authorities. Before he was escorted from the building, James mouthed the words I'm sorry to him.
The meeting at court took place two months later. After a lot of debating between the facts that were told, revealed by the priest, and by what the altar boy saw, they finally reached a decision of sentencing Dennis to twenty-five years of prison time, with parole following afterwards.
Before Dennis was whisked away to the prison building, to his assigned cell, to his new home for the next twenty-five years, one thought repeated through his mind.
I'm sorry, Alyssa.
Hidden in the shadows of the bakery after closing, Murrell was washing his hands. He seemed hypnotized as he watched the dried blood disappear from his fingers. Knowing he had gotten away with the murder made him believe that he could do it again. He raised the knife and stepped outside, the moonlight glistening on the metal blade, fresly cleaned from his victim's old blood.
"I'm sorry, Dennis," he said softly to himself. "I loved you and all, but I felt like I had to frame you."
Without another word, he stepped forward into an empty alleyway, his footsteps making no sound as he lumbered forward, searching for his next victim.
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I really like your story, though I have trouble accepting that everyone would automatically assume Dennis is guilty. Was there something in his past would make him untrustworthy? I feel like this could be really good with a few refinements and not limited by the short story parameters. All in all, nicely done!
Thank you! If this were to be more of a novella rather than a short story, I feel like I could add more to it and influentiate emotion on my readers. Being limited lessened the final impact I intended to have on this story. In explanation to your question, he had hung out a lot with Murrell, who in his past, as stated further in the story, when they were kids. If I was not limited with the parameters, I would have added a flashback to the times where Dennis had secretly joined in with Murrell's misfits. Nobody found out it was him though, al...