Something was missing, he was sure of it. He couldn’t even say what it might be, but there was something about the room that felt off. He glanced around at the desk, the bookshelves. He even let his eyes wander the floor, running along the baseboards and then back up to the walls. The paintings? All there. His laptop lay on the desk where he had left it, lid closed, papers scattered around it. Even the chair was unmoved.
He turned and left the doorway, walking into the darkening living room. Everything was there, as it should be. And the feeling of unease vanished. He shook his head, certain he was imagining things. He padded into the kitchen, flicked on the light, opened the fridge, took out a beer, popped off the top, took a drink. Shaking his head again, he made his way back to the doorway of his office.
No, there was definitely something wrong. Crossing the room and placing his beer on the desk, he peered out the window. It had no curtains, something he had been meaning to get around to. Every afternoon he grumbled about the sun shining on the screen of his laptop, but every morning he’d forget about it until the sun sank low enough to cause a glare. He could see nothing out there, the street light too far behind his backyard to shed any light on the dark lawn. He ought to get a motion light. He added it to the mental list of home improvements he would never complete.
He checked the latch on the second story window. Locked. He gave it a tug, just in case. It didn’t budge. Satisfied, he turned back to face the room again.
His beer was gone.
He was certain he left it just there, on the desk. He had it when he walked in the room. Didn’t he?
Unnerved, he walked back out to the kitchen. His beer was there, sitting on the island. He felt a hum of annoyance at the innocence of the condensation dripping down the neck of the bottle. He could have sworn he had taken it with him into the office. Swiping it resentfully off the counter, he took two long swallows, gasping a little as he lowered the bottle. He felt ridiculous, spooked by a little uncertainty.
He walked to the living, flopping down on the couch and leaning forward to pick up the remote from the coffee table. He clicked through a few channels, found a rerun of a sitcom he enjoyed. He tossed the remote back onto the coffee table, lifted his feet, and leaned back to enjoy the evening.
Except as the light of the television flickered across the table, he saw, sitting there beside the remote, a pen. The hairs on the back of his neck rose. It was a special pen, a gift from a former professor. It was the only pen he took care of, filling it with new ink, keeping it stored in his desk. He only used it for editing manuscripts. It was the only pen he used for editing, and it never left his office. And it was sitting on the coffee table right in front of him.
He slowly lowered his feet to the floor. He turned his head to the right, staring dumbfounded at the door to his office, the light still spilling out into the living room. The beer, he could understand. He was often absentmindedly starting one task before he was finished with another. But that pen never left his office, ever. The habit of opening the desk drawer to retrieve it, using it, and putting it away right where he stored it was remembered in his muscles so thoroughly he sometimes reached for the pen in other drawers before his brain reminded him of what he was doing. To see it, now, sitting in a place so incongruous with its purpose finally alerted him to the fact that something was very, very wrong.
He stood up, keeping an eye on the pen, its surface winking with every flicker of the tv screen. He made his way back to the office, loathe to turn his back on the dark room but certain the answer to all this strangeness was in here.
Every painting on the wall was crooked, leaning slightly to the right. He instinctively leaned his head to correct the angle, and was so engrossed in the unnerving effect he barely noticed the hand around his neck.
The next installment of a story I will soon rename, as it has less to do with Eudora than I thought. :) Check out the first chapter here!
It was the isolation that was difficult. I was a naturally social person, grew close to my colleagues, had many friends. If any of them had tried to contact me, I hadn’t heard of it. I tried making a connection to the guards, but they couldn’t hear me through the barrier, and any way they ignored me. They avoided my eyes. My meals were slid into the cell from a slot in the wall. No one came close.
Three days into my imprisonment, a familiar face appeared in the hallway. I stood quickly, desperately aware how the sweat of the last few days made a grimy layer on my skin. I was still in my crumpled uniform. I felt grubby, a sorry approximation of my usually professional self. The sleek style of the woman standing before me didn’t help.
Sabine Tyrellia was almost as tall as I was. She looked me up and down, then gazed into my eyes. Her expression was inscrutable, but I could imagine what she was thinking. This conversation was not going to be easy.
She gestured, the guard moved, and the barrier dissipated. Sabine sighed, then turned and began walking down the hallway. I glanced nervously at the guard, but she jerked her head in irritation and I trotted along to follow my lawyer.
Sabine held a door open for me and I passed her into a sparse interrogation room, turning to face her as I entered. I opened my mouth but she held up a hand.
“Don’t,” she said, closing the door carefully.
I watched dejectedly as she placed her briefcase on the bare table and sat down. Her eyes bore into me and I took a seat opposite her.
The silence churned between us as I tried to communicate wordlessly, our eyes locked. But soon I couldn’t stand it any longer. I leaned forward.
“Would they really keep me here if they thought I did it? This is a minimum security facility. If I really caused the Raven Fire, wouldn’t I be powerful enough to break out of this place?”
“Is that really how you want to start this conversation?”
I sighed and leaned back.
“I didn’t do it.”
“I certainly haven’t heard that before.”
“Yeah, but I actually didn’t do it.”
Sabine just looked at me.
“Do you represent a lot of criminals?”
“You hired me. You didn’t check my credentials?”
“I hired you because you keep people out of prison. I didn’t pay much attention to what they had actually done. Or not done, as the case may be.”
Sabine crossed her legs and settled into her seat.
“I have kept a lot of people out of prison. I am good at what I do. And it’s not my job to decide whether that’s right or wrong.”
My stomach tensed as she folded her hands and rested them on her trousered knee.
“But this…this is different. I don’t know if I can do this.”
“What?” My voice was hoarse.
“I’m a criminal defense attorney, Tennyson. This is political. This is a little heavy, even for me.”
“You can’t just abandon me!”
She looked annoyed.
“‘After all we’ve been through together?’ I didn’t say that. I am not abandoning you. But I’m telling you I may not be the best solution to this problem.”
“The problem being that I have been accused of committing the greatest crime in recent history, possibly in all recorded history.”
“You always were a dreamer.”
I paused, then spoke quietly, honestly, letting her hear the fear in my question.
“Do you believe me?”
Sabine looked directly at me, but she couldn’t hold my gaze. My heart fluttered.
“My job is to either provide enough evidence that my clients didn’t commit a crime,” she said slowly, “or to discredit the prosecutor so charges are dismissed. What they’re saying out there…” She lifted her eyes to meet mine, and the despair I saw there brought bile to my throat.
“It’s bad, Tennyson. Really bad.”
“Will you tell me?”
Sabine teased a smile.
“Of course. I’m your lawyer, idiot.”
I grimaced, but I felt microscopically better. Sabine opened her briefcase and pulled out her tablet, tapping quietly as she consulted her documents. She slid the tablet toward me and I glanced down at the headlines streaming across the screen.
“RAVEN FIRE CAUSES WIDESPREAD PANIC...LEADING QuiP EMPLOYEE SUSPECT IN DEVASTATING RAVEN FIRE…DESTRUCTION OF RAVEN DRUMS RESPONSIBLE FOR ELECTRICAL LAPSES...POLITICAL TURMOIL AS HISTORIANS MAKE A GRAB FOR POWER…”
The headlines continued, but I handed the tablet back.
“Why didn’t I hear about this?”
“What do you mean?”
“The Raven Fire happened almost a week ago. It was terrible, sure, but it may have been a long time coming. We all went back to work. Why is this happening now?”
I gestured helplessly to the tablet. The upside-down headlines seemed to leer at me as they passed. Sabine looked puzzled.
“I don’t know. Maybe once they identified you as a suspect they felt they had more to go on. They could revive the story.”
I shook my head, suddenly feeling confidant.
“Something’s not right here, Sabine. And I think you know it.”
I write for fun and to make sure my sister doesn't beat me in our blog challenge.