06 April 2012

what happened to columbine

The American National Public Radio (NPR) service recently ran a short story contest called Three Minute Fiction. The idea was to write a story that began with that week's sentence prompt. Since you have to be an American resident to enter, I couldn't throw my story into the ring, but I did write one for the eighth and final prompt.

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.

We know this because the door was left unlocked, and her husband got home last. He is certain that he locked the door after he let himself in. The placing of the book on the table is certain as well: it was found there, and the amount of dust under it is equal to the amount of dust on the rest of the table. The bookmark was probably placed on top of the book, but it was found on the floor, under the table. From this it was deduced that the bookmark fell as she walked through the door.

She left without putting a coat on. All of her overcoats were accounted for when the inventory of her belongings was made. We also learned that she is wearing a pair of low-profile canvas sneakers. She wore them around the house as slippers, but also in the back garden or to pick up the mail from the mailbox at the end of the driveway. They would be insufficient for the cold night temperatures at this time of year, but comfortable enough during the day.

She did not take any items of clothing with her over and above what she was wearing today. She was last seen wearing jeans, a blue t-shirt, and a black cotton cardigan. Her husband says that was her usual after-work outfit.

Her purse is still sitting in the front hall closet, but her wallet is missing. This is a good sign. It may mean that she wanted to have a means with which to pay for things, and points away from suicide.

Her car is still in the driveway, and her set of car keys are still hanging from the rack by the front door.

Her husband says their marriage was sound and they had been happy together. Both of them had decent incomes, and they hadn't had any major disagreements for about a year. The last disagreement was when she bought herself a new car. She wanted a compact because she had to drive downtown for work, and he wanted her to get an SUV for safety. In the end she bought the compact, and the husband says he dropped the issue after she made the final decision. Since the car was left behind it seems insignificant.

There is no suspicion of foul play at this time.

She didn't leave a note, and her husband didn't hear her say anything about leaving. He vaguely remembers hearing the front door open and shut, probably around six-thirty. He didn't draw any conclusions from this; it was normal for her to check the mailbox while dinner was cooking. When he went to check on the food himself it occurred to him that he'd heard the door about half an hour before he got up, and it didn't feel like she'd returned to the house. He searched the house for her, then checked the front and back yards.

Then he checked for her purse, and saw the wallet was missing, so he figured she'd gone to run an errand at the convenience store on the corner. He started to get worried when he'd finished dinner and she still hadn't returned.

By the way, the book on the table is a paperback copy of The Mysterious Mr. Quin by Agatha Christie. The husband says that it was her favourite book, and that she had read it several times over the course of their marriage. He has never read the book himself.


  1. I like this but I feel like I need to have read The Mysterious Mr Quin to fully appreciate it.

    I like the story told by deduction.

    1. The Mysterious Mr. Quin is an awesome book, but know that it ends with a similar story -- a woman disappears, and everyone sees her walking off alone, except for the book's protagonist, who sees her with the mysterious Mr. Quin. The protagonist can't figure out why no-one else saw Quin when he was right there, and Christie leaves it to the reader. In respect to that, I put one clue in the title and one in the last paragraph, and if it works it works, and if not -- then I'll have to decide whether to edit it or let it be :-).

  2. This reads like an ultra-high-tech version of Cold Case or something — all the forensic details made me think it was going to be a sci-fi piece. Maybe aliens were involved.

    1. Cool -- maybe Columbine is one of the aliens, like an X-Files style sleeper agent.

  3. I read Mr Quin a while back - wasn't he Harlequin and Columbine his lover - and if I remember it correctly in Christie's book he kept appearing and things happened? This husband can forget about his wife :) I think the piece works - just one thought - perhaps you can weave in the book more subtly than - 'By the way..' etc. The title is so fascinating - even stand alone. And if I'm right and this comment is too much of a spoiler feel free to delete but do please let me know if I'm right first :) Well done.

  4. I liked how you approached this as both sort of a general past tense narrative and part of a first person recounting of events. It made it sound like a detective's tone in my head.

  5. This sorta read like a police report to me, an interesting view into an unsolved case. I too feel I should have read the book to fully appreciate this story.

  6. I like this, but I also feel like I'm missing something by not having read The Mysterious Mr. Quin.

  7. Like others I feel I may have needed to read the book too, but the story piques the curiosity, personally I would like to read a part two to give it closure... and satisfy my curiosity. :)

  8. @Brinda, @John, @Helen, @Tim, @Steve (and really @Peter too): Normally I would reply back to each of you -- because, thanks to Helen's nudging, the blog is set up for that now -- but since consensus seems to be reached...

    The original short story contest had a 600-word limit, so I made an effort to stay within that. I'm at 597 words as posted here.

    Now what I *should* have done when I decided to post this as a flash is thought, "Hm, flashes are max 1,000 words, so I've got 400 more words to work in the Christie angle in more detail."

    Steve suggests a part two. Really it wouldn't be a "part 2" so much as a "fix part 1 so more people than Brinda and I can comprehend the ending," but sure, I'll give it a go. Fingers crossed.


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