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, reveling 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.
VAL GUMLEY, BOYNE ISLAND, QUEENSLAND
Cassie waited a moment to catch her breath. What on earth was he doing out here in his pyjamas, and where did the blood come from? He certainly ran fast enough. Oh God. what if the blood wasn’t his?! What if he had hurt someone and was running from the scene? She started jogging up the path in the direction that the man could have come from, casting a glance in the bushes as she passed. What was she thinking? It was highly unlikely he would have come out here in his pyjamas and then hurt or killed someone.
Her imagination was running away with her; she was too keen to find a murder to report, show Jock he was wrong in dismissing her so lightly. She chuckled to herself. It was time to focus, get her head around this morning and how she would confront her boss. Niceties would not be the order of this morning’s conversation; she would make a stand or hand her notice in to the old goat.
As she turned a corner on the path leading up to the street she spotted drops on blood – fresh, wet. The decision to follow them was made without much thought for her own safety; her natural instinct for a story urged her forward. Up the steps and across the quiet street, she looked at the houses in front of her.
Smart terrace houses with colourful painted doors and tiny immaculate gardens to the front gazed back at her. Expensive cars were parked in front of each one, a symbol of the wealth of the residents thar resided in each of them. Behind the curtains couples and families would be getting up to start their day.
Slowly she made her way along the front of the terraces, checking the handrails and three steps leading up to each door. There! blood drops on the steps of number Five, a pretty townhouse with a pale blue door and sweet-smelling stocks in the patch of garden. As Cassie looked up at the house, she saw a face at the window. The curtain was quickly pulled across again, but not before she saw the anguish on the elderly lady’s face. She looked at her watch. Damn it, she should be running home to change for work or Jock would be pissed off with her before she even got started with her ultimatum. At the thought of Jock and his dismissive attitude. she made her second impulsive decision of the day and started to make her way to the door of number five Petticoat Lane.
To read Carina Chestnut's continuation, click HERE
No dogs in the neighborhood or cats. It seemed odd. She made a mental note of that for later consideration. The last thing she needed was to give Jock an excuse to dismiss her. With his reputation, anything he suggests might work in his favor and against hers.
She jogged back to her apartment to get cleaned up. Now everything seemed odd, even that face at the window. Yet, it was the face of the man that stayed in her head. As luck would have it, it happened under a streetlight. The sun wasn’t up yet, so the light hadn’t turned off. She saw his eyes wide open; he tried to say something as his mouth moved, but nothing came out. Thin silver hair on his head.
Shower over, she got dressed and downed a cup of coffee before running out to get in the car. There had to be something. The elderly lady might have seen something or heard a noise, but Cassie couldn’t go up and ask. She wasn’t a cop and people don’t talk to journalists. At least the elderly didn’t.
She needed to get her mind working. A strange old man running in the park wearing his blood-stained pyjamas and a robe. The expression on that woman’s face too. Maybe all of this was an overreaction to a strange explanation. What sort of explanation?
The drive into work gave her plenty of time to ponder. She was stuck in a long queue of traffic, bumper to bumper going at 5 miles an hour. It did not change the fact that it was the middle of the week, this part of the interstate was always congested. Getting irritated was pointless. Sighing, she knew she was going to be late again, more reason for the old bigot to doubt her abilities.
She decided that today was the day. She would walk straight to her boss’s desk and show him how deadly serious she was about being a crime reporter. She was on to something. She felt it in her bones that she had left a murder scene behind and was determined to be the first to solve the case. If only she had more clues. Mind racing, she drummed her fingers impatiently on the steering wheel. She could work with the little she had.
She thought back to the point when she nearly collided with the man. It did seem a bit bizarre for him to be running barefooted and in pyjamas. He looked more troubled than in pain, yet he was covered with blood. She was convinced he was running from a crime scene. She shivered with excitement at the thought of being the first person to have been in contact with the murderer. It was beginning to look like a murder mystery movie.
She wondered what he could have used as a murder weapon. Images of several objects crossed her mind. One flick of a sharp knife into the abdomen would be deadly. Maybe he used a blunt object – a statuette or frying pan. She winced thinking that one blow might not have sufficed. He did not have the murder weapon with him, she was sure of that. He must have discarded it in the bushes. She made a note of coming back during her lunch break and do a thorough search, provided the area had not been cordoned off by the police.
Turning on her car radio, she tuned in the local station, eager for the latest news. No mention of any incident, she concluded that no one had called the police. That meant the body was still in the house and the old lady was an accessory to the crime. She quivered with anticipation. It would have been impulsive of her to call the police without having any proof, but she could research who lived at No 5 Petticoat Lane.
Just then her phone beeped on the passenger seat. A quick glance at the text, she read a message from her colleague.
“Boss in foul mood. Don’t be late!
Ahh maybe it was not going to be that easy.
Cassie counted her blessings as the road congestion eased and the traffic started to move along at a reasonable pace but an unexpected motion in the rear-vision mirror caught her attention. Ahhhh, just another impatient idiot, dodging through traffic trying in vain to get ahead of their fellow road users. What were they thinking?
“Hey Pal, at this time of day, you are lucky to be moving at all”, she muttered under her breath.
She searched for a place to move over to let the fool pass by when time suddenly dilated and a couple of things became awfully apparent to her as reality slowed. The first was that the car behind her was going a lot faster than she thought it was. The second was that she thought she recognised the wild-eyed look of the old grey-haired man behind the wheel and the filthy bathrobe that was visible to her. And finally, irrationally, she knew she had plausible deniability in regards to being late for work.
Suddenly the rear window exploded inwards in a storm of broken glass. Vision became a blur as her head was forcefully thrust back in to the headrest as the car was shunted forwards by the collision. In a state of panic, Cassie slammed her foot on the brake pedal causing her to be violently thrown forward. Pain exploded in her shoulder as the seatbelt snapped tight as it tried to hold her in place just a moment before her head slammed in to the steering wheel. She lost all sense of direction as g-forces spun the car. The sound of her own shrill screaming fought with the screeching of tortured tyres skidding on the road before her head slammed in to the side window with a sickening crack and all became dark and painless.
Cassie’s consciousness slowly rose out of the dark oblivion the fought to claim her as a babble of voices became apparent. It was difficult to focus on them. She could make out sippets of the all too familiar calls that people make at the scene of an accident.
“Miss, are you all right? Can you hear me? Miss? Miss?”, a concerned male voice called from far away.
She gingerly opened her eyes and instantly regretted it as a wave of nausea assaulted her. A bolt of pain shot through her shoulder as she tried to shield herself from the blinding glare of the morning sun. She wanted to respond to the man but all she could manage was a painful croak from her dry throat.
Slowly she came too and was able to sit upright and caught glimpses of the outside world through squinted eyes. A crowd had surrounded her damaged car. Most of them had mobile phones out and were taking photos. How morbid, she thought. Then a cold chill ran through her body as she heard someone ask, “What happened to the other drive? Where’d he go?”
The sound of distant sirens could be heard approaching and she allowed the peace of unconsciousness to take her once again.
The next time Cassie opened her eyes, she was lying on a moving trolley staring up at a series of ceiling lights flashing past her. She tried to sit up, but straps bit into her belly and thighs. Someone was screaming in the distance and everything stank of disinfectant. Men in white coats were hurling medical abbreviations at each other, and her shoulder hurt like hell.
“Can you tell me your name? Do you know where you are?”
She opened her mouth, but her brain went blank. You don’t even know who you are! She reached up to brush away the insect crawling down her face, but all she found was a trickle of sticky liquid coming from a lump the size of an apple.
“The Doctor will be with you as soon as he can,” explained a nurse. “You’ve been unconscious for over an hour so you must try to stay awake.”
Cassie tried to turn her head, but her neck was held in position by a cage. She wiggled her hands and feet. Everything seemed to be working, so her neck probably wasn’t broken. She closed her eyes, and almost immediately, she jerked them open again. The sound of screeching tyres and the crash of splintering glass replayed in her mind. Now she remembered. She’d been in a car accident. But there was something else, something about a man in striped pyjamas.
It was all too difficult; she just wanted to be left in peace and go to sleep.
“Open your eyes!” demanded the nurse, shining a torch in her eyes.
“Hello, young lady,” came a deep voice from her other side. She wished she could turn her head. “I’m Doctor Watson. Can you tell me your name?”
A man’s face appeared in front of her. His eyes reminded her of a frozen lake, and a shiver ran down her spine. There was something so familiar about his tousled grey hair and wide grey eyes. She was sure she’d met him before, but she just couldn’t see through the fog in her brain.
“Cassandra. I think my name is Cassandra.” It didn’t sound like her voice at all.
His eyes narrowed slightly.“Can you remember what happened?’ he asked in a voice as flat and hard as a stone. She could feel his hand on her shoulder; he wasn’t very gentle for a doctor. She pulled frantically at the straps holding her onto the trolley, but it was useless.
She closed her eyes and slowed her breathing. This time, all she could see was an image of blood on a background of blue and white stripes. Why did Number 5 Petticoat Lane, keep coming up? Is that where she lived? She tried to shake her head. “All I can remember is my name.”
Then suddenly, a thought came out of nowhere. She knew where she’d seen the doctor before; in her rearview mirror just before her world spun out of control!
To be continued...
TO READ THE alternative STORYCONTINUATION, click HERE