HAVE FUN WITH THIS WRITING GAME - PASS THE PARCEL.
First writers to develop the story will be Carina Chestnut (USA) and Val Gumley (Australia).
All novice writers are welcome to join in. Get your name on the list and I will allocate you a block of the story to write.
Each week the story will grow. If you would like to participate, email me (Jim Parsons) at firstname.lastname@example.org
MYSTERY STORY SEEKING A NAME
Cassie Travis pounded along the dirt track beside the river, revelling in the damp, earthy smell as her feet kicked up the leaf litter. From time to time she turned her face upward to the overhanging trees to glimpse particular birds as they warbled. It was the best time of day. An expectant stillness hung over the city emerging in the dawn light. Fantastic!
Dawn – just enough light to see the path as she jogged, but another half-hour yet before the first rays of sun struck gold off the taller buildings in the business district across the river. She was an early riser and liked to keep fit but today the real reason for her early morning jog was to clear her head. She had some big decisions to make and, after the so-called discussion with the editor yesterday, she had ended up so damned angry with Jock she would very likely do something stupid. Yep, even tell Jock to shove it and resign from the dear old Argus.
She had been so proud to join the Daily Argus three years before as a wet-behind-the-ears junior journo, and quietly confident yesterday when she took her request to her boss. Of course, Jock was no push-over. Certainly, he was an experienced newspaperman; he was also elderly, stubborn and set in his ways – not to mention, a sexist pig.
He had her locked in to the social column, fashion reporting, a few ‘good news’ stories about Boy Scouts and Glee Clubs, and yesterday – she gritted her teeth at the memory – yesterday, he had actually laughed when she had begged for the crime reporter position that Terry Watson’s demise had suddenly created.
“Crime is a man’s world, dearie,” he had said. His very words! No argument would convince him, and there seemed no answer but to tell him what he could do with the social column and try the newspapers in some other city.
Lost in thought, she rounded a tight corner in the path and almost ran into a man. It was so unexpected: there was usually no one else out jogging at this early hour. The man gasped and looked stricken. He stared around wildly as if seeking to hide.
“It’s all right. I’m just out jogging,” Cassie said.
Finding someone on the path was unusual but finding a barefooted man in pyjamas and dressing gown was bizarre. He was around fifty, his tousled hair grey and thinning. There was no aged facility in the area – no hospital or mental institute – so he could only be a resident.
The man jumped aside, stumbled and his gown dropped open. For an instant, before he hurriedly clutched at it again, she saw the bright splashes of fresh blood all down the pyjama top.
“Are you OK? Do you need help?” she urged. For reply, the man pushed past her and broke into a run. He ran swiftly, gown flapping. He certainly wasn’t wounded.
Carina Chestnut Houston Texas
She stood there stunned, shaken from the absurdity of the situation. Her entire body was a heartbeat, thumping from her toes to her hair. She had split second decision to make, only two ways to go being a journalist. Follow the man covered in blood or follow the trail he had left to find the victim. She knew she was completely alone and unarmed with her usual tools. No phone for pictures, no pen or paper for notes. She would have to use the greatest tool at her disposal, her mind. Her own safety never was not an issue she had contemplated. She had to further her career and show this sexist human being that she could handle being in a “man’s world”, she certainly knew he wouldn’t have had the gumption to follow this lead. If she was the first one at the crime scene, then he would have to give her the story.
Cassie could hear the man’s bare feet smacking the ground as he ran further away until it was silent. The air felt heavier than usual. She took a deep breath and told herself “It’s time to get to work.” Her time on the web investigating unsolved crimes had given her the tools and tips she could now use. She stood completely still and surveyed her surroundings.
TO READ VAL GUMLEY'S alternative CONTINUATION, CLICK HERE
The only sound now, was the whisper of the chill autumn breeze, swimming softly overhead in a sea of dark red and gold. The usual morning noises seemed conspicuously absent, and it was like the entire world was sitting on the edge of its seat, anxiously awaiting her next move.
As much as she loved the thrill of the chase, she grudgingly decided against pursuing the blood-covered mystery man through the cool grey of dawn, and instead, chose to back-track along the trail of blood, hoping to find its point of origin, and render aid, if needed.
Her hand dropped to the side pocket of her windbreaker, and she reached inside to fumble for the canister of pepper spray she always forgot to carry. It wasn’t there, so that was comforting, because it meant she was functioning normally. Sadly, though, all that left her with to use as a means of defense, were a few Tic Tacs, and a bad attitude.
The bad attitude had always served her well. The Tic Tacs just ensured that she’d be going into battle with fresh breath.
Cassie ran on down the path by the river. Soon the trees thinned out and bullrushes crowded the muddy bank. Morning mist on the river chilled the air.
Suddenly, through the overhanging rushes, Cassie could see the prow of a small row boat rising and falling slowly as the river slapped the bank rocking the boat. A chill ran through her as she got close enough to see something? A person? It was difficult to be certain with the overhanging rushes but no mistaking the water diluted blood sloshing about in the boats' bottom. Her momentum carried her closer and her sneakers squelched in the stinking black mud at the waters edge. The sudden shock of cold river water on her feet focused her thoughts as she took another step closer to the boat and parted the rushes. Oh God! Suddenly Cassies' world became reduced to a single time and place as she took in the bashed and bloodied mess that lay sprawled against the boats transom. Waves of revulsion swept through her, but she could not look away. Matted hair caked in coagulated blood, mouth slackly gaping- smashed lips, more blood- lots more blood! Bloody torn clothes, blood sloshing in the bilge. Cassies' cold wet legs focused her thoughts as the boat gently rocked on the surging tide.
And then... Thank God! a low moan, movement, life- she instinctively took a step closer, a step deeper- deeper into the water as the rushes brushed her head and arms. Suddenly, a burst of new sunlight, footsteps pounding on the path, and voices- angry voices. Angry voices getting closer.
It was all happening so fast. Too fast to have any control, too fast to even make a decision. Cassie took another step giving the little boat a mighty heave- pushing the craft back through the bullrushes to the swiftly flowing river and safety. Suddenly the boat caught the current and started spinning madly on the ebb tide. Her hands could feel the rough wood being torn from them. The shock of the cold water galvanized her and with a huge effort Cassie dragged herself into the boat and lay panting in the bottom. Angry voices were quickly fading as the boat was drawn farther from the bank.
Cassie was alone. Well not quite alone she thought as she turned her attention back to her fellow passenger. There was something horribly familiar and at the same time so foreign and out of place it was impossible to comprehend. Surely it couldn't be... but it was- Jock DuPlessis, editor of the Daily Argus
“Jock” she breathed, sitting up in the boat and pressing her fingers to her boss’s carotid artery. It was a scene she never could have imagined. Jock’s heart was beating fast. Way too fast.
“Jock, can hear me?”
But Jock was unconscious and bleeding from wounds to his head and torso. The head wound only looked minor but the bleeding was profuse. There was no time to lose. Whipping off her windbreaker she flung it on top of Jock’s body. While it was damp on the sleeve - where she’d laid down on to hide - it was thick and warm and had kept her inner clothing dry.
Cassie lifted her T-shirt and pulled it over her head. Pressing it to Jock’s head her eyes darted to his blood-soaked shirt. Thinking fast she tugged her sweatband off her own head and used it to secure the T-shirt.
The boat was racing downstream but she didn’t have time to deal with that. Lifting Jock’s shirt, she saw the slicing wound: “Oh my god. Mr Chakrabarti!”
Only two weeks prior Jock had been investigating shocking allegations concerning Australians who were paying top dollar for a kidney. He had interviewed Mr Chakrabarti - via zoom - in regard to his own well-documented ordeal. She had been in Jock’s office when Mr Chakrabarti lifted his shirt revealing a scar that ran across his side midriff - and now, she was staring at the very same slicing wound on her boss.
Thank god she’d worn her wool singlet. It made a clean compress for the open wound and she was able to hold it in place by tying the flaps of Jock’s shirt in a knot. Pulling the windbreaker back over her boss, Cassie caught sight of her own blood-stained hands; anyone would think she’d murdered him. “Jock, please don’t die, oh god.” She really needed a Tic Tak but she had to get Jock to the hospital.
Looking around wildly she spotted the oars. Wrenching them from their resting place she lowered them into the rushing water, breaking hard with the right oar whilst turning the boat toward the shore.
Pulling out of the current Cassie paddled like a mad woman, her mind racing over the events of the last fifteen minutes: the angry mob, the bloodied pyjama man, the trail of blood-drops she’d followed...which proved the man was wounded.
Had he lost a kidney? Had Jock rescued him? Maybe they escaped together in the boat? Had he been running to get help for Jock? Or did that man have Jock’s kidney?
The shore hit the boat before Cassie could pull up - “Help” she screamed, clambering out, sinking into the thick black mud, wishing she’d worn her good bra, “help!”
She had managed to get over to the part of town that was known for the local fishermen. They were the kind of men who did deals on a handshake and said things like “You have my word.” A small place that surely had never heard of kidney selling on the black market much less seen a young women pull up in a small boat covered in blood with a wounded man. Out of the mist emerged a tall older gentleman with a long white beard donned from head to toe in fishing gear. She noticed he was dry and thanked the stars that he had not left for his daily expedition yet. If she had been just a couple minutes later he might have been gone.
“My dear girl are you ok? Where on earth have you come from?” He grabbed her under her arms and helped her to steady ground.
“I’m fine, my boss in the boat; I’m afraid he’s gravely hurt, please help us.”
The fisherman without missing a beat, put his fingers to his mouth and whistled. Suddenly a group of other men came down the bank. He immediately took charge and it gave me a second to catch my breath and get my thoughts in order.
“Call the boys and have them bring the sick van round, get my box from the shed and do it quick,” he turned his attention back to me, “Don’t you worry my girl, everything is going to be ok for you and your friend.”
My friend, she thought, well that was a stretch but now was not the time to get into specifics. Sure she hated him but not enough to take any pleasure seeing him in this state. For the first time since she had started working for him he didn’t look like the usual creep barking orders, telling her she wasn’t good enough to do what he did. He was a human being who was hurt and in pain. The fisherman worked on him closing his wounds with fishing wire from his box and putting clean towels on his head and torso. They carefully but quickly loaded Cassie and Jock in to the ambulance. The slamming doors and the smack on the back of the van snapped her back into just how grave this situation was. She realized she hadn’t even gotten the fisherman’s name to thank him. The paramedics were giving Jock an IV, ‘What is that’, she was curious to see if they could stop the pain.
“Just a little morphine to ease the pain and help him rest.”
Damn it, he’d be passed out soon and she had to try to get any answers she could before he was completely out of it. Jock grabbed her hand, he could barely speak but was able to whisper, “How did you get here?”
He was obviously in no shape to answer any questions, “Just rest. I’ll explain later.”
They arrived at the hospital and Jock was rushed in to the back. Cassie sat in the waiting room seats. You think they’d make them a little more comfortable for a “waiting” room. The metal from the chairs gave her a chill, she was wet and dirty and in disbelief. Then the light bulb over her head moment: she had to call Edward Percy. He was the Private investigator the paper had used for this kidney stealing story. He had no clue who Cassie was and she wasn’t even completely confident he’d take her call but when he found out what had just happened he was surely going to listen to what she had to say. She ran over to the nurse’s desk, nearly slipping and putting herself in the hospital, forgetting her shoes were still wet. “Get it together clumsy.” She straightened herself out and looked around hoping no one had seen her nearly bust her head open. She leaned on the desk and calmly asked, “May I please use your phone, ma’am?”
To read the ALTERNATIVE story, Click HERE