Willow scraped her slippers along the carpet, reaching up to stretch and rub her eyes but stopping short with a little squeak of surprise when she saw the book on the floor. Her office was spotless, a sanctuary from the chaos of a careless boyfriend through the rest of the house. The walls were lined with floor-to-ceiling white bookshelves, excepting the wide corner desk, where she ran her customized balloon distribution company from her laptop. A book on the floor in this office was an affront to Willow’s unflinching rule: no one in the office without explicit permission.
She picked up the hardcover and turned it over. Agatha Christie’s After The Funeral. Willow carried the book into the kitchen, staring at the cover. “Hey Long,” she said, suppressing a sour look at the sight of her boyfriend hunched over a cereal bowl, slurping and chewing loudly with an open mouth, “were you looking for a book in my office?”
“Who, me?” he asked, bits of atomic-blue sugar mush flying out onto the table. He laughed. “No way. I’m not suicidal.”
Willow smiled at him. “I wasn’t accusing you of anything.”
Long shrugged. “Anyway, wasn’t me.”
Willow declined to answer, turning and walking back to replace the book, troubled without able to pinpoint the source.
The books didn’t move again until the following week, when Willow came into her office late, grouchy from a quarrel with Long. Two books lie on the floor, facedown. Willow frowned and hurried to pick them up, examining the covers. Deceit, by Clare Francis, and Captivate by Carrie Jones. A scan of the precious shelves, snuggled books organized and selected for optimal space utilization, revealed two gaps like missing memories. They were on opposite sides of the room; one with British crime thrillers, the other with young adult romances. With a deliberate draw and exhale, Willow re-shelved them and flipped through a number of implausible theories. Localized earthquakes? Captivate was a smallish paperback, set well away from the shelf edge. After The Funeral was in such a tight shelf it couldn’t be replaced with one hand. Plus, Deceit was on a low shelf. Many books where larger, higher, heavier, closer to the edge. Wind drafts? Willow gave a little snort of laughter.
Two days later, the thriller Brimstone by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child fell off the shelf while Willow was working on some invoices. The slam of it landing flat in the center of the hardwood floor nearly cost her a pair of underpants. Spinning in her chair, she stared for a long moment at the book, no less than four feet from its spot on a bottom shelf in the corner. She tried to envision the complicated effects of physics, the elaborate set of coincidences necessary for a book to fall with a heavy thump from a height of six inches to a distance of several feet.
She unplugged her laptop and worked the rest of the day from the living room sofa.
That evening, Willow found herself in the hallway on her way to the bathroom. She had stopped just short of the doorway to her office, unable to continue. Her bladder urged her on. She ignored it. The air felt cold, despite the comfortable warmth of the early autumn night. Pressing her fists tight against her mouth, she forced herself to step forward and look.
Another pair of books had been disrupted from their spots. Willow trembled. It had almost seemed, in the fraction of a second as she rounded the corner, as her eyes adjusted to the dim light, the books had slumped to the floor. As if they had been held up, propped open with the bottom spine resting on the floor the way a child might hold a book when reading prone on a bed. Her mind white from terror but wound in a red curiosity, she stepped into the room and examined the covers. J. A. Janice’s Skeleton Canyon, and a nonfiction book titled Disfigured, by Rania Al-Baz.
Willow lost track of time. When she became aware again, Long was shaking her shoulders with a violent sawing motion.
“Willow! Willow! What’s this?” Long waved a sheet of paper in her face.
“Huh? What? How should I know?” Willow discovered she was standing in the living room. She no longer had to pee.
“Care to explain this?” Long said. He was angry.
Frightened without knowing why, Willow took the paper and read:
My name is Clay Foster. I am dead. After the funeral, there were a lot of questions. I feel they were not able to be suitably answered as Willow, my wife, is a woman full of deceit and lies. But oh how she was able to captivate me! Even here among the brimstone and darkness, I can still see her delicate face, hear her porcelain voice and that strange, sad little song she sang so often.
I asked her what it was called and she replied, “‘Canyon of Bones’. Something I made up.”
The night before I died I found her collection of skeletons, just like in the song. Willow caught me gaping at the steamer trunk, repulsed by the disfigured cats and squirrels in various states of decay. I never heard her approach, never heard the crack of my skull beneath the falling iron.
I must have made mistakes in my life, to find myself in a place such as this. But I’ve discovered a trick; a bit of a hole really. I can reach in, if I angle myself just so. I’ve no idea how much time has passed, but I have to warn someone. Willow—my Willow, my love—is a dangerous deadly woman. She must be stopped. I miss much and long for many things from my life. Regret is everything here. What little hope I have is this: to stop her from harming another, and to hold a book in my hand just one last time.
Got a bit of a streak going with the Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenges. I fully expected to skip over this one and a couple of nights ago I had a sudden flash of inspiration as to how to tie it all together.
Trying a bit of experimentation with the formatting on this one. Not sure if the font for the letter works for everyone, and its legibility is questionable, but it adds a little touch I’m kind of happy with.
Had to trim the initial draft of this one down as it ran about 150 words over the limit. I think it weakens the story just a bit (Willow had three children in a previous draft). I think some of the book titles are a bit of a stretch to incorporate, but all those books and authors are real, and I thought that was kind of a fun thing. Anyway, this isn’t going to win any awards for originality or general wonderfulness, but as an exercise it was pretty enjoyable.
Ooh, I love the ending! I didn’t see that one coming! I thought your idea of using the words in book titles was really creative. They stood out to me, because I knew the list (from having written my own piece), but if I didn’t know them, I think they would have blended in really well. I liked the atomic blue sugar and I thought the font of the letter was legible, and added a little something to the piece.