This week’s Friday Fiction is hosted by Joanne “JJ” Sher @ her blog, An Open Book. Click here to read and share more great fiction! (p.s. It’s also JJ’s 15th wedding anniversary. WOOT!)
Author’s Ramblings: Well, I’m feeling a little on the sleepy-slash-lazy side this week, so I fluffed up this installment (and yes, I got stuck. *roll*) and it’s about half the size it usually is. ^_^ I hoped to add some more mystery to Mark, a touch of shadow to Ben and of course, well, I thought I’d been nice to Rachel this week and not particuarly go out of my way to torture her existence. ^_^ LOL! Enjoy the read-and thanks for stopping by-have a terrific weekend!
“Thom?” Pete flagged him down the moment his bushy head appeared over the stacks of Styrofoam cups. “We’ve got a problem.” He waited while Thom accepted two cups of coffee before threading his way through the crowded room.
“What kind of problem?” Thom handed over one of the cups, already reaching for the file folder in Pete’s hand.
“The bad kind.” Pete willingly relinquished the file. “You don’t really want to know what’s in there.”
Thom hesitated. “That bad? Talk to me, Pete.”
“Eight.” Pete forced the word through his mouth, then took a swig of the scalding hot coffee. The grimace on his face remained as he swallowed the burning mouthful.
“Eight?” Thom repeated as a sick feeling wormed its way towards his mind. “Eight more…deaths?”
The stress lines on Pete’s face had grown more pronounced as he slowly nodded in confirmation. “Yeah. Four of them kids from here Thom…we gotta do something.”
“More than something.” Thom muttered. “Autopsy reports? Any kind of reports? Anything out of the ordinary?”
“Apart from the fact they were all young with plenty of life ahead of them?” Pete shrugged. “I’ve got most of the reports in there, Chantal and the others are getting the rest of the papers cleared. One of the kids was famous, in a way.”
“What way?” Thom asked, bluntly.
“The girl who set up that Relay for Life benefit thing? Down by the river on behalf of the community and whatever…one of ‘em was her.”
“Mallory Hoover?” Thom nearly dropped the coffee cup, having to stand still for a moment to allow the information to sink in. “Little Milwaukee Mallory?”
Pete looked away. “Yeah. Her parents don’t want us to touch the body…Chantal’s working on them to allow the autopsy…they’re convinced she had nothing in relation to the other two.”
“Read the report, Thom.” Pete said quietly, taking the coffee cup away from him. “And sit down when you do.”
Thom stared after him, belatedly remembering he had a question to ask. “Pete!”
“The missing body…any news?”
“No…and Chief’s relocating officers to work on other matters….something will turn up.” His head bowed. “I’ll be…downstairs.”
Thom watched him shuffled for the stairwell and felt his stomach churn as he stared down at the seemingly harmless manila folder clutched in one hand. He didn’t like the feeling traveling back to him and he didn’t like the expression he’d seen on Pete’s face.
* * * * *
Ben materialized in the darkened space, automatically shying away from the shadowy figure in the corner. “Mark?”
“Over here.” The voice was bored.
Ben turned, frowning still at the shadow figure. There was something he didn’t quite like about the look of it. “Something the matter?” He twisted one hand. “Can’t be gone for long, it’ll ruin my cover.”
“Interesting.” Mark rose from the ground, wiping one hand on the rag sticking out from a side pocket. “Hold that side of that would you?”
“I would ask what it is, but I’m not quite sure I want to know.” Ben caught one end of the heavy metal rod, supporting it while Mark ducked around it, swabbing with a tiny piece of stick. “What’s wrong?”
“Hmmm? Oh…didn’t trust anyone with this particular necessary errand.” Mark offered a thin smile. “That and I knew no one would bother me while I was tending to it, meaning there would be no loose ends if I requested your audience.”
For what? Ben silently repeated in his head.
“I’ve noticed you’re…hovering, over Rachel. I understand this is her first field mission, in a sense and I think she’s handling herself quite well. But-” Mark twisted around the rod, tossing the wooden pick into a plastic container. “Set that down, right side up.” He tugged the rag from his pocket and reached for a tube of glowing yellow gel. “But, I think your original objective might benefit from a bit of extra attention. I’ve just received a compilation of your last five-point reports.” There was a pause. “An extremely…interesting set of reports. Do you just assume I don’t read them, or were you trying to be funny?”
Ben swallowed. “There wasn’t much to report that week.”
“Then why didn’t you just cancel the filing? Why bother to waste actual paper, labor for the proper processing of it and my time to review it? Why? This isn’t a game, Ben. You know this, what I find increasingly difficult to believe is the fact that this conversation had to take place to begin with.” Mark painstakingly rolled the cloth into a tube and then generously slathered the end with the gel. “I need to know what’s really going on over there.”
“You’re getting desperate, aren’t you?” Ben inwardly grimaced. Those weren’t the words he wanted to slip out of his mouth, but from the way they’d flown out, there was no taking them back.
They didn’t seem to register at first, because Mark continued in his strange antics, rolling another towel into a tube and repeating the same action as before. “I see.” He said at last, stuffing the first tube down the hollow end of the steel rod. “So that is your interpretation of my request only necessary after your own shortcomings?”
“Didn’t mean it that way.” Ben muttered. Just get to the point already!
“I would get the point, if you’d just give me a chance.” Mark replied, calmly. “And please…stop thinking so hard, you’re giving me a headache and I don’t need another one.” A smirk touched his face. “Ben, honestly, I do trust you. Maybe more than someone in my position should, but you’re a good agent, good at what you do and great at the results that come with you. I understand you feel responsible for Rachel, but if your cover is blown, I’ve already warned you that you won’t be safe on this planet-and for quite some time. The effects are bad both ways.” He frowned. “and check the cords in your care. One of your issued bracelets malfunctioned the other night. I’m surprised it came from your division.” He checked his watch. “You’d best be going. I’d hate to cause the very catastrophe I hoped to prevent.”
“Of course.” Ben turned on his heel, reaching for the rope bracelet secured around his wrist.
“Oh and Ben.” Mark straightened. “Tell her about Allison-I’d hate for the news to reach her in the usual way. Dismissed.”
The unsettling feeling returned as Ben twisted the rope around one finger. That was one conversation he had been putting off, simply because he’d felt Rachel was dealing with enough already. His gaze flitting back to the shadowy figure restrained in the corner. If he didn’t know better, he’d think that Mark had actually captured a shadow creature. There was something too familiar about it, but his musings were cut short as Mark cleared his throat and Ben snapped the cord. The pull, tug and flash of light was welcome as he warped out.
Mark waited until the last shower of sparkles drifted to the floor and then melted into nothingness. Ben had noticed after all, he hadn’t thought he would. The shadow figure shuddered as Mark approached, the gray rod easily hoisted over his shoulder. It had merely been a prop to keep Ben’s attention focused elsewhere. “You shouldn’t have attacked.” He murmured, a pale green orb of energy slowly spinning to life on the fingertips of his free hand. “Especially one of my own emissaries…”’
* * * * * *
The house was eerily silent as Rachel took the stairs two at a time. Her fingers twined delicately around the rope bracelet that had appeared during the night beneath her pillow. A quick call to Ben had only been an instant switchover to his voicemail. The message left made little sense to her, so Rachel left another one, in explanation.
Once that was all done, she’d searched for her file folder, only to find it missing. Panic had almost set in, until she noticed the tiny golden snake symbol on the corner of the dresser. She hadn’t misplaced it and no one had stolen it. Ben had simply sent someone to retrieve it for safe keeping, or at least someone had come to pick it up. With some energy to spare, her stomach growled as Rachel swept into the kitchen. To her surprise, it was empty and there was only a single, orange post-it note on the freezer door.
She grabbed at it half-heartedly, opening the fridge in search of yogurt. Her eyes briefly scanned the contents before she settled on a strawberry and then began the hunt for granola to top it off. The note was rather short and to the point. “Rachel…busy today. Jeanette’s with Calvin. If you need something, call. Huh…well that was nice.” Rachel yawned, crumpling the note and stuffing it in her pocket.
Her quest for granola continued, but her uncle’s kitchen cupboards were sadly lacking in that particular yogurt topping. Rachel sighed. “I need my own set of wheels.” She told the plastic spoon, digging it into the pink creaminess. She checked her cell phone for messages and sighed when the automated operator informed her there were no new messages.
Her mind continued in its aimless wandering as she realized her twenty-first birthday was marked for Friday the following week. “Wow.” She mumbled around a spoonful of yogurt. “Cake. A chocolate one at least.”
A glance in the dining room showed evidence of the breakfasts of those before her. A box of poptarts decorated one corner of the table and two boxes of cereal. Rachel grimaced. A warm breakfast would be nicer. She stared down at the cold yogurt in her hand. “Bother that.” Turning on her heel, she retreated to the heart of the kitchen.
There wasn’t anything particularly pressing at the moment, but it occurred to her that she ought to call someone, at least, to remind them of her existence. A quick call to Uncle Thom only earned her a possible errand at Calvin’s expense if he’d returned yet. Rachel answered in the negative, explaining that she’d only found the post-it note and the house was empty. Uncle Thom had then wished her a good day and excused himself to speak to someone else.
Sitting rather forlornly on the kitchen counter, Rachel left another voicemail on her mother’s cell phone and then began counting the soft thumps her feet made every time she banged the door. “I am losing it.” She told the spoon again. It was a very good listener. “Of all the things in the world I have to do today.” She groaned. “And since when to does Jeanette have a dog anyway?”
Uncle Thom’s thankless errand had something to do with picking up some flyers for the local kennel from the family operated printers downtown, a favor in exchange for Jeanette’s little terrier to board free.
Rachel frowned. Uncle Thom had dogs, but she’d yet to really run into them, at least from the first day. Her mind twisted that little fact around a few times and finally released it. She’d ask him sometime, that was the easier answer. He loved his dogs and most of the time, she liked them too. Most of the time, anyway.
The doorbell rang and her feet automatically headed for the living room.
A quick glance out the window allowed the necessary head’s up and Rachel practically flew to the door. “Robbie!” She exclaimed, enthusiastically.
“Good morning to you too, Rock.” His lips quirked into a smile. “I came to see if they were feeding you well enough over here and thought I might talk you into breakfast.”
“You can talk me into it anytime.” Rachel hurriedly spooned up another mouthful of yogurt. “Come in? I just need to put my boots on…”
“I’ll wait right here.” Robbie half-smiled. “Hurry up.”
In a whirlwind flurry, Rachel streaked off to the kitchen, dumping the now empty yogurt container in the trash can along with the plastic spoon. She hurriedly washed her hands at the sink and then ran her damp fingers through her messy hair. It would have to do, she thought happily, shoving her feet inside comfortable black boots and tugging the zippers up. “Ready!” She chirped, skipping down the steps.
“Whoa!” Robbie caught her arm as she stumbled on the last step. “Either someone’s hungry or in a really big hurry.” His gaze flickered over her shoulder to the empty house. “That bad in there?”
“No comment!” Rachel tugged her arm back. “Oooh…nice bike! What happened to your old one?” Her face fell. “Did you wreck it? No!”
Robbie chuckled. “Of course not. If I wrecked that bike, then I’d probably be dead. All set to go?” He tossed up the keys for the shiny burgundy specimen resting two feet away. “Want to drive?”
“Me?” Rachel stared at him. “F-for real? I-I’d better not.” Her words were beginning to trip over themselves. It was too perfect to be ruined by her fingerprints and yet her fingers simply itched to touch it.
“I doubt you’ll crash.” Robbie pressed the keys into her hand. “Besides…it’s yours.”
There were no words possible to capture the feeling Rachel wanted to express. Impulsively, she turned and threw her arms around her neck. “Robbie, you’re the best!”
“Right.” He seemed embarrassed, pulling away. “Thank Ben, it was his request that someone find you some wheels….aren’t you going to try it out?”
“Do you even have to ask?” Rachel retorted. “Helmet?”
It was willingly handed over. “I’m afraid you’ll have to hunt down any other accessories yourself.” Robbie teased, sliding on behind her. “And what happened to being afraid you’ll wreck it?”
“If it’s mine, I won’t.” Rachel laughed. “But if it’s yours, I’m worried. Everything you own takes on a personality and most of the time, they don’t like me!”
Robbie snickered. “Maybe most of the time you’re not listening to them.”
“Just hang on.” Rachel threw the words over her shoulder, a familiar thrill running up from the tips of her toes to the aching spot in her head. This was most certainly a delightful way to start the day.
© Sara Harricharan