A little bit of the calm before the storm that’s about to hit my work in progress. There’s a reason I titled it Heartwood. Here’s a glimpse. I hope you enjoy.
“This is my pride and joy,” Grace patted the dappled gray trunk of her apple tree. “Come up close. It’s the only way to really get the full effect.”
“You have apples already?” Elena’s hair swept over her shoulder in a dark fall as she ducked under low-hanging branches. She picked her way through the windfalls underfoot. Flies and bees hummed irritably, but none rose from their feasting. Elena lifted her face to peer at the fluttering green leaves overhead. “There are so many! Like little gold ornaments against the sky. So pretty. What kind are they?”
“I have no idea. The arboretum is researching it for me. I didn’t expect fruit this year, or I would’ve had it ID’d sooner. It’s some heirloom variety. Super-sweet but easily bruised.”
Decades of neglect had reduced the tree in the southwest corner of the yard to a gnarled tangle of rot and suckers. Grace devoted several spring afternoons to pruning out dead branches, but the raggedy remnants didn’t inspire hope. She resigned herself to spending several seasons on the tree’s renewal. Instead, to her surprise and pleasure, the plant responded with exuberance, as if it had needed only the promise of new love to shake off its past hurts.
There was probably a lesson in that. God offered a lot of lessons people overlooked. Grace watched leaf-shadows flicker over Elena’s smile and wondered what today’s lesson was—and who it was meant to teach.
If anyone ever asks where my ideas come from, I’ll be able to say honestly, “Facebook posts plus illness-related sleep deprivation plus general depravity.” I’m blaming this one on a friend’s post about a dripping ceiling fan. I have no idea if I’ll ever do more with it (or if it’s worth pursuing) but I have the shape of the story jotted down, just in case.
Blood dripped from the bathroom ceiling, seeping through the edges of the light fixture to fall like dark tears onto a shiny tile floor. Drop after drop plinked into a rippling puddle beside the clothes hamper, and the liquid pooling inside the lightshade cast eerie crimson shadows over gore-splattered walls. The air reeked of iron and piss.
Before Joelle Petak entered the crime scene she applied a fresh layer of lip gloss and rolled it back and forth until the eucalyptus scent rose into her sinuses and dulled the stink. The she lifted one sneaker-clad foot over the black, buzzing lump of flesh in the doorway and hopped a little to clear the obstacle. An irritable cloud of flies rose at her passing, then returned to their feasting. Joelle landed in the clear spot of floor beside the toilet and regarded the lump of meat in the bathtub. The second corpse was as much of a shredded, anonymous mass as the first.
A hot wash of fear and disgust caught at Joelle’s belly, loosened her insides until she had to clench every muscle to keep her bowels and bladder under control. This one was going to be bad. She had seen worse carnage than this only once, when a sorority pledge had been tasked to complete a Greater Demon summoning and actually cast it perfectly–on the open quad on a Saturday night during football season.
This case might be worse by the time all was said and done. This time, the monsters were still on the loose. She pushed aside those concerns and swung her big purse of holding around to the front. Good, bad, or ugly, her job didn’t change. She was here to make the past give up its secrets in the service of justice.
The snap closure on her purse popped open with a sharp noise, and Joelle froze as she caught a glimpse of motion in the hallway. Both patrol officers behind her had dropped their hands to their weapons belts. She slowly lifted her field recorder from the bag with two fingers. “Y’all aren’t gonna shoot me over a little razzle-dazzle, are you?”
“Sorry, ma’am,” the patrol officer on the right said. His dark face had a sickly grayish cast and gleamed with sweat. His female partner had her other hand over her mouth, and her fingers were trembling. She shrugged, and the dull pain in her eyes spoke volumes. She had lost someone to death here tonight. Joelle wondered how many first responders had gone down before the big guns were called in.
She lifted her eyes to the ceiling and the blood now raining down from the dimmed fixture. “How many more, do you think?”
“We aren’t sure,” said the woman patrol officer. Her words had thick, rounded edges, as though she was forcing them out around some obstruction in her throat. “In some bedrooms there are piles—” a shallow breath, and another, and she finished, “There’s no way to tell.”
“I’d best get my mojo moving, then. There’ll be a lot of flashing light. Please don’t shoot me, ‘kay?” Joelle raised the recorder and muttered the triggering spell.
Glitter exploded from the device in her hands and spread in a rainbow sphere of sparkles that chimed bright melodies. The flecks of light clanged and rang in dissonant notes as they struck surfaces and reached the doorway. The shimmering veil hung for a moment, then melted away, leaving behind pale residue on everything but Joelle herself. The buzz of the flies stopped. A pall of acrid smoke hung in the silence.
The recorder chirped its happy done-collecting-things tune, and Joelle brushed away an errant dead insect. “All righty, then. One room down. Twelve to go.”