I had so much fun writing flash last year, I'm going for it again!
I was given 48 hours and 1000 words to dream up a MYSTERY set in a WAREHOUSE somehow featuring a CANOE. Here's what I came up with. I'd love to hear what you think!
The concrete step is covered in green and brown blotches. Whoever painted the building was careless. I focus on their mess so I don’t have to face the door in front of me, the secrets it hides.
She won’t be in there, I know that. It’s been too long. But the reason she disappeared will be, and that’s the best I can hope for now.
I knew the day Mom gave up on my sister ever coming home, even though she never said so. But she cleared out Joss’ bedroom and packed everything away. Mom asked if I wanted to move in. As I said yes, it felt like I was giving up too.
First, she stripped the bed of its wildflower sheets. Fleeces and cargo pants and worn-soft tees were packed into boxes marked Goodwill. Sneakers and hiking boots went into another box. Absent were the green Tevas Joss wore all summer. The ones Mom described to the police in painful detail.
The nakedness of her room felt severe. The closet yawned, empty. Joss’ laptop had been returned, no longer useful to the investigation. Mine now, if I wanted it. And I did, so much that it outweighed my guilt over taking what belonged to Joss. But only just.
The laptop was still unmistakably hers. I covered the Conservation Alliance stickers she’d put on the outside with Demi Lovato. She’d hate that. Mocking my musical taste was one of her favorite activities.
Her desktop background was a sun-soaked picture of the Nonesuch, which flows right through our backyard and turns our land into a squidgy swamp. I left it alone and turned my attention to the single folder Joss kept there: MY STUFF. It didn’t seem right to delete it, so I buried it deep in MY DOCUMENTS, gave it a new name: OLD STUFF.
But I did peek inside.
I found exactly what I expected—at first. Meticulous homework folders, photos, an application for Bowdoin’s Environmental Studies program, loads of music.
I guess a Why I Ran Away from Home or Possibly Was Abducted diary entry was too much to hope for.
The music was the whiny folk that Joss loved. But right above MITCHELL, JOANIE I saw someone that didn’t belong: LOVATO, DEMI.
The folder’s contents looked generic—TRACK ONE, TRACK TWO—but when I tried to open them, the computer kept throwing error messages at me. On closer examination, they turned out to be video files, not audio.
I started with TRACK ONE.
The Nonesuch River wobbled into focus, the tip of Joss’ avocado-colored Clipper cutting through the water. The picture dips with each stroke of her paddle. I was confused until I remembered that she had a head mount for her GoPro.
“They were here,” she said. “All along the bank.”
The view swung from left to right. ‘NO TRESSPASSING’ signs were planted deep in the boggy bank.
Scummy water pooled along the river’s edge, brimming with dead creatures. Fish, frogs, and turtles sloshed sickly. Flies swarmed over the rotting eyes of the smelt.
The video ended.
They were all like that. Each trip she went a little further, finding more death and devastation. We’d find gross stuff washing up all the time. But this was more. This was worse.
There was something wrong, and Joss knew it.
I watched the last video today.
She stocked her canoe with water and Luna bars. Got in, clipped on her PFD vest. Paddled away.
Why did she bother recording all of it? For near an hour, the quiet plink of each paddle stroke kissing the water was the only sound. Finally, a warehouse came into view, its rust-eaten drainage pipes cracked and leaking who knows what into the river.
OPTICORP, the side of the warehouse read. Building a brighter future.
“Tomorrow I’m going in.” Her arm rose, pointing at the long, low building painted a mottled green and brown, blending into the swampland. “Something is killing the river. I’m gonna find out what.”
Whether it was Joss’ intention or not, I’m the one who followed her breadcrumbs. I will find out what happened to my sister.
At the video’s end, the camera tips up to the endless blue sky. As a hawk soars into frame, the picture goes black.
I used Mom’s big family canoe. It was clunky by myself, but I managed. I found the warehouse easily, and now I’m standing on its blotchy step, afraid to go inside. All identifying information has been stripped from the building; I can see the outlines where signs once hung, the paint slightly darker underneath.
It’s not until the doorknob turns easily in my hand that I realize it should not be unlocked. Not if it still holds secrets.
Its insides are vast and echoing.
I take out my phone and turn on the flashlight.
There is a long shadow in the center of the room. I’m halfway there before I know what it is. The Clipper, slumped on its side. I rush forward, but it’s empty. Unmarked and unhurt, but utterly empty.
Who left it here, and why?
A fresh fear curls in my belly. I run back to the exit, my light bouncing crazily. At the door, the light puddles at my feet, illuminating another cluster of blotches. These are different. Rusty, and smeared. I imagine (or do I?) the penny-bright smell of blood.
And then I see them. Words, scratched hastily into the warehouse wall.
OPTICORP’S WASTE IS LEAKING—POISONING!
I’M JOSS CHAMBERS. FIND MY VIDEOS.
FRANNY & MOM I LOVE YOU.
THIS IS GOODBYE.
I take a picture of my sister’s last words and email them to the detective in charge of her case. The same one I sent her videos to, right before I took Mom’s canoe.
It’s not until I get back outside that I realize I’m crying, the river-scented breeze chilling my wet cheeks. I collapse onto the step, and wait for help to arrive.