Thursday, October 5, 2017

"Onset": A Short Story

I've finally gotten through the first draft of the first act of my mystery novel. It's been slow going. I'm continuing to develop the character of Evelyn Malsage, a schizophrenic woman who becomes the amateur sleuth of my story. Here's just a little bit of backstory on Evelyn. Enjoy.


It was the fifth of July in Denver and Evelyn was twelve. It was only morning but the sky was cloudless and the temperature was at least eighty. Her denim shorts, Broncos t-shirt, and sneakers were about right, and better than the sundress her mother had suggested, at least to Evelyn's thinking.

The night of the fourth had been filled with the sounds and flashes of illegal fireworks, so, like many other children in the area, she was scouring the neighborhood for dud firecrackers. One by one, while the others watched, a kid would open a dud and pour the gunpowder on the ground in the alley. Whoosh! would go the uncontained powder when lit. Some kids were more ambitious and amassed the powder from two, three, even four crackers to get a bigger whoosh and flash. The lucky ones had found crackers with fuses. Those, they would set off with a Bang!

Then it happened.

One boy—Evelyn didn't know his name—rushed over, holding out something pinched between his thumb and index finger. It was small and cylindrical, with a dull gray, rounded nose atop a tarnished, almost golden shaft. It had a flat head—what Evelyn might later call a flange—at the end opposite the gray nose. They all knew what it was. A bullet.

Along with oohs and ahhs came calls to get rid of it, maybe bury it. Others disagreed but couldn't settle on what to do with it.

Evelyn then demonstrated both the judgment and imagination of a twelve-year-old, suggesting, "Let's make a gunpowder fuse and launch it straight up like a rocket. That way it won't hit anybody."

Three camps formed immediately, all sides offering thoughtful arguments for their positions, such as "No!" and "Yeah!" and "I think it's cool but they're gonna hear it." All during the exchanges Evelyn and the boy traded glances. After long debate with no side gaining or losing much strength, it seemed that no agreement was possible. They had, after all, been at it for at least a minute.

The boy—whose name Evelyn never did learn—interrupted with a point of order. "I found it, and I wanna launch it." Majority rule had been trumped by individual property rights. He handed the bullet to Evelyn.

She waved for everyone to follow. "We need a gunpowder fuse. If you want to watch, you have to share your firecrackers."

Even some of the naysayers gave in and handed their firecrackers over to the boy as Evelyn led them all to the back of her house. She tapped a garbage can lid. "Here."

Evelyn watched as the boy, joined by two others, opened up firecrackers and poured out the silvery gray powder in a line. Once they had emptied all the firecrackers, the boys stepped back. Evelyn moved forward and placed the bullet atop one end of the gunpowder trail, which reached at least nine inches long. "Somebody, give me a match," she said. A boy gave her a forbidden baby Bic instead. She waved her hands. "Now everybody duck." Evelyn lit the fuse and ran for cover. She heard the Bang! as she bent down.

Something tapped the back of her left shoulder.

Turning her gaze down toward a gentle metallic clatter, she saw something almost golden. It was the shell casing of the bullet. It had found her. It went after her, on purpose, telling her, "That was stupid. Do you understand? I kill people. Don't you ever do this again!" She didn't hear the words, but those were the words it said as she looked at it. She was guilty, and the bullet chose with its dying effort to teach her better.

She bent down to pick up the casing before anyone else saw it. She didn't say anything about it, not at the time nor ever after, but she never forgot. She put the casing in her pocket.

Evelyn would later learn the word "serendipity," which means, "meaningful coincidence." She would also come to understand the difference between literal and figurative. And she would learn what a metaphor was.

The shell casing tapping her shoulder was not serendipity. That it sought her out to teach her a lesson was neither figurative thinking nor a metaphor. It was real.

Evelyn Malsage had formed her first delusion.