Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Nature Abhors a Vacuum: A Murder Mystery (part 3)

Warning: Mature Themes

A serialized science-fiction mystery created exclusively for this blog! When last we left our heroine, Pip had set into motion a plan to uncover the truth behind her neighbor's murder. Now, with her scheme underway, Pip reflects on why the case interests her in the first place.

The reason for Pip's interest in the murder was both simple and peculiar: she had spoken to the victim days before her untimely demise. The woman had not been herself.

At least, that's what Pip assumed. She built this assumption on the following postulates:

1. The woman had been unable to remember her own name.
2. The woman had been wandering the hall naked at four in the morning.
3. No one's true self had colored mucus and one arm six inches shorter than the other.

Pip had never actually spoken to the woman before. After this single encounter, she never would again.

“Hello?” she called to the woman's bare back. “Are you all right?”

The woman had been roaming the building for hours, her feet shuffling on the carpet and her hands scrabbling on the walls. Sometimes she prayed. Sometimes she cried. Sometimes she sang a jacked-up version of the National Anthem in which every third word was replaced with the phrase puttin' on the Ritz.

Pip had lived in Martell—a community at the epicenter of the suburban meth epidemic—for seven years. She was used to erratic behavior and things that went nuts in the night. But enough was enough. She had to work in the morning.

“Which unit is yours?” Pip asked the woman. “I'll walk you there.”

She recoiled in alarm as the woman turned. It wasn't the naked female body that set Pip on edge. It was the way this particular female body was put together.

It was all wrong.

The woman looked as if she'd been cut apart and stitched back together by a seamstress with Pete's penchant for magic mushrooms. Visible seams ran across the exposed flesh in the from of flat red lines, bisecting the woman's face, crisscrossing her abdomen, partitioning her limbs. The placement of the latter was uneven—the gap between her thighs was wider than her comparatively narrow pelvis should have allowed, while her right arm sat several inches higher than her left one, which was also noticeably short and stunted.

The woman smiled. Her facial features were indistinct, a charcoal drawing smudged by a careless art student.

“So much is the dirt on the floor,” she said, bluish snot running out of her nose and over her lips. “Much dirt. Too much. So cleaning must I. Brrm brrm brrm.”

A chill ran up Pip's back. Steeling herself, she asked: “Do you want me to call someone?”

The woman blinked at her. “A mattress doubles its weight every eight years,” she announced. “All dead skin is contained in it. Sanitary? No ma'am! Cleaning it out—brrm brrm. Getting out the skin—brrm brrm brrm.”

She twitched, slapped herself across the face, and began to sob.

“Why does it? There's pain here!” She beat her chest with an open palm. “I feel it so wrong. All wrong. Who am I?”

Pip held out her palms in a gesture of harmlessness. “I don't want to hurt you,” she said. “Let's get you someplace safe, and I'll call an ambulance.”

“Ambulance!” shouted the woman. “Ambulance! Ree-ooh ree-ooh ree-ooh.”

Without warning, she turned and sprinted up the nearest set of stairs. Pip stood stock still, immobilized by shock, until she heard a door slam above her. Reasoning that the woman had returned to her apartment, she did the same. She crawled back into bed, but sleep eluded her.

I should have called the ambulance, she thought a week later as she drove her brother to work.  The poor lady needed help. She was sick.

What kind of sickness makes your body look like that? another part of her brain demanded. She visualized the seams marring the woman's flesh. Those weren't inborn deformities. Someone did that to her.

Or something, yet another part of her brain supplied. She hissed at that part to shut it.

“I didn't say anything,” Duncan complained.

“Eh?” Pip realized that she'd spoken aloud. “Oh, sorry. That wasn't directed at you.”

They reached the offices of Martell Public Radio and parked Pip's decrepit Grand Am near the front of the mostly-empty lot.

As they climbed out of the car, Pip's heart began to pound. All thought of murder and deformity was banished from her awareness by a warm surge of anticipation. She gazed at the squat brick building and clasped her hands to her chest. Charles Shreve—and by extension, her destiny—waited inside.

“You're so god damn ridiculous,” Duncan said.

Pip swallowed, realizing she'd spoken aloud again.