Chris Dean sent us in a bit of short story mastery. The imagination of our own souls is what drives this one – Jim
The room had a metal door and no window. Harsh white light spilled over gray surfaces. Two bunk beds hung from the wall and what appeared to be a toilet and sink sat beyond them. Photographs taped to the wall and ceiling attested the cell’s occupant was a family man. He was up top, snoring.
The young man sat on the bottom bunk. Hard. Everything about this place was hard and cold. He might have to spend years in places like this. Decades. He buried his face in his hands and stifled a sob.
Why had he killed her? How could he have acted that way? An image of a deathly-white body at the bottom of the stairs flashed and he shuddered. Poor Susan. She hadn’t deserved to die that way.
The man in the top bunk woke and dangled his legs. His orange jumpsuit was dirty. He brushed back a dark tangle of hair. “You know what time it is?”
The young man was suffering from arrest-shock. The concept of time escaped him.
“We eat at five. How long till five? You know?”
The young man panted, “It might be five.”
“It’s not five or we’d be eating. Name’s Paul. I’m here for violating a court order. I lost my job and couldn’t pay child support. The judge is a hard ass. She gave me four months.”
“I’m Fern Harper.”
“You just get here?”
“I just got arrested. They said it was for parking tickets.” But how could that be true? The police didn’t arrest you for parking tickets. Someone had found her body and they were just playing him. Any minute, they would have him in a room and they’d be screaming her name at him.
“I read in the paper, the city has zero tolerance now.”
“What?” Fern’s heart skipped.
“Since they’re broke, the city started busting people with more than a hundred dollars in tickets. You just got to pay the fine.”
“You read this in the newspaper.”
This was fantastic. “I think I owe about two hundred. I can pay it.” He could get out of there and dispose of the corpse. Like he should have done earlier. Leaving Susan that way was terribly untidy.
There was a clink and a little window opened in the door. “Harper?”
He went to the door and leaned over. “I’m Fern Harper.”
The guard held a clipboard. “You have one hundred and eighty-six dollars in unpaid fines. Court costs’re sixty-five which comes to a total of two fifty-one. You had a debit card in your procession at the time of your arrest. You have the option to pay with that card.”
The clipboard with attached pen pushed through the window. “Just put your pin number down and sign at the bottom.”
Fern followed instructions. He passed the clipboard back. “How long will I have to wait?”
“Bout an hour.”
Two hours later, he was walking back to the Torino. For one terrifying instant he imagined that he had lost his keys in jail. His nerves were just shot. Worrying about getting caught, and the guilt. He had to get rid of that body. Then, he would be able to relax a little.
It would be hell moving her body and he drove home slowly. He felt miserable. Why had he done it? Had she done something so wrong that he had the right to do what he did? He gripped the steering wheel and cursed. That was the problem! He didn’t really know the truth.
He passed the little park, her spot, only a few blocks from the house. His hands trembled. Fern hated feeling so helpless. She was gone and he would never get his answers. Why hadn’t he questioned her before he threw her down the stairs?
If A: Susan was a tramp who did everyone in the office, then Fern’s actions had been justified. If B: She was a sneaky bitch who had a password on her phone and disappeared for hours at a time without permission, then again: he was justified in losing his temper. This whole thing—all of it!—it was her fault. She was a silly little fool!
Yes, he was justified, anyone could see that. That the stairs were present at the time of the incident was coincidental and beyond Fern’s control. He regretted that the stairs had caused her death. But it wasn’t his fault. In a court of law, Fern was certain he would be exonerated, if it ever came to that.
He pulled into the driveway. Damn, the house seemed quiet now. He would miss her, wouldn’t he? He would miss the sex. God, she had a nice body. What a waste.
He needed a drink and went inside. The whole house was deadly quiet. Rushing through the foyer and into the hall, he averted his gaze from the gruesome sight on the bottom landing. He ran to the kitchen and gulped Windsor straight from the bottle.
The world grew dark outside the windows while he sat at the table and decided how to dispose of his dead girlfriend. The whiskey helped. His plan involved a chain saw and several large plastic bags, neither of which he had. He would have to wait until morning to go to a hardware store. This meant Fern could A: step over her to go sleep upstairs, or B: sleep on the couch, ten feet from a dead body.
He cradled a water glass full of booze. He found his feet and shuffled down the dark hall. Curious, he guessed. He wanted to know how much it would shock him. It didn’t really shock him at all. He only felt loss.
Fern couldn’t see her face. Her dress was a tumble of blue and green, but she was laying under that cabinet almost as if she were only sleeping. He blew out a breath; the cabinet was an antique, filled with her mother’s knitting and her father’s military memorabilia. It was like Fern had brought them all together again. Maybe her death was destiny.
He shuffled closer, staring. Her body still looked good. If he was a perv he would be doing her right now. There was no way he could do that, but she sure looked good.
Something happened and he froze. Had her leg moved? Had he imagined—? He leaned closer. Oh god, she was breathing!
He dropped his glass. She shifted away from the cabinet and propped back against the wall. Dark strings of hair hung over her swollen cheek.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“You could have killed me, Fern. All because of your petty, petty jealously.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“You never mean it! This time you went too far.”
He edged into the living room. “What do you mean by that?”
“I’m calling the police.”
“I can’t let you do that.” He searched in the dark until he found the log on the hearth. Perfect weight and it even had a little nub to hold on one side. He hefted it. Perfect.
“You’re not going to stop me.”
“I can’t let you hurt me.” He raised the log and stalked toward the stairs.
The cabinet door—it was ajar. She had gotten in it and there was something in her hand. Her father’s gun. Fern began to beg, beg for his life, but something in her eyes told him he was wasting his breath. She wanted to do this. The hammer cocked back and the revolver fired. It made a very loud noise inside of the house.
Chris Dean travels western America as a truck driver and this writer adores Yellowstone, the Klamath, and anyplace sequoias touch the sky. Chris’ work has appeared in Aurora Wolf, Page & Spine, and other publications.