Don't Break the Door

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

Four strangers, survivors of a nuclear fallout, find themselves stranded in a ghost town out west, turning against one stranger who has been accused of breaking a door.

I have not spellchecked yet. Please let me know if there is a blatant error.

Photos (c) Unsplash and Pexels

June 18th, 1970

A dull haze of suffocating, cotton-like wind bellows out over some obscure western landing, familiar in appearance but alien upon arrival. Four strangers, lonely survivors of the unfortunate ills of wartime, stand shadowed against the bloodshot sunset. And it seems that four are neither certain nor absolute as to how they arrived at this peculiar setting.

Frankie, the stout man in worn-out red overalls, some wind-swept refugee from a painted portrait by Pieter Bruegel, scans the tawny ghost town, thunderstruck. A farmer by trade now drifter by fate, he tries to recollect the past hour though quite unsuccessfully.  He tosses his stringy, shoulder-length blonde hair out of his eyes. Cora, the middle-aged spinster perched like a songbird on her dusty, rawhide suitcase, turns in her blistered feet, thinking only of keeping the sun out of her weakened eyes. Meleak, an Ethiopian physicist sporting a velvet and wine-plum suit, hurled from his prestigious university like a crane in a hurricane, eyes the unfamiliar houseguests skeptically, knowing perhaps as the wisest of them all the burden of survival pressed against his shoulders. And of the more coolly, the mysterious and dark-eyed Stasia, a black-haired raven with pale, porcelain features, tall and narrow like a willowy broom. Her lips drawn into a bleak arrow, unassuming, mathematical, calculating, tell a story of wisdom—for her the answers are already known.

“How did we git here?” Frankie starts, standing straighter, his fingers picking nervously against the straps of his overalls.

“Fate,” Stasia quips sardonically, he smoldering overcoat sweeping up clouds of dust and circling them around the quartet like smoke rings.

“Ridiculous, “ Meleak retorts, “this glorious nightmare is a result of the fallout. It says so in the newspaper I have here in my briefcase. I knew it was coming…it was only a matter of time,” as he cleans his round glasses on an olive handkerchief. “They started giving them names like hurricanes, the fallouts that is. First, there was Isabel. Then there was Nostradamus. Now Amadeus…who it seems has finished us all.”

“We’re going to die!”  Cora shrills, tightly clasping at the buttons of her ragged tweed coat. Her thin and faint figure fades into shadow as the sun drags behind the canyon cliffs.

“At least we have this old print shop to hide in,” Stasia’s voice echoes against the intrusive sky, circling the ramshackle structure like a vulture.

The quartet agreed to take up residence in the crumbling edifice. There was little hope upon which to feed so they found that by necessity they had to trust one another. While they found a moment to rest under the brazen moon, one of the fellows in the night smashed the door, baring the huddled figures to the chillish night. The figures rose to see a silhouette poised against the door as if inspecting the moonlight that crept across the floor in a surreal pattern of ghosts and night-voices.

“Cora….” Stasia’s voice trailed off in resentment. “I told all of you: don’t break the door!” This time Stasia bellowed and rose her fist to the trembling woman who hid in the shadows against the wall.

“Compose yourself,” Meleak reasoned, “we are neither a judge nor a jury. Let us hear what she has to say concerning the matter.”

“I…I just heard the splintering of the wood and I arose to see what had happened. But I didn’t see anything, I promise. I just found this hammer nestled in the wood chips.” Cora nervously handed the rusty hammer to Meleak.

“Liar. She lies!” Stasia persisted, “How do you dopes think we got here? She drove us in that car out there. She drugged us or something. Look for yourselves. That car belongs to her,” she stormed to the nearest window, pushing the filthy curtains back to reveal a disheveled junkyard-relic parked a short distance from the print shop, an old Volkswagen Beetle.

The quartet trotted to the car. Frankie pried open the discolored door. He rummaged through the floor and seats eventually unearthing a passport and some papers all belonging to Cora. “This! How ‘bout explaining this!” Frankie snorted, shaking the papers in the shuddering woman’s face.

“Lies, all lies!” Cora denounced; struck with a growing terror she covered her face with her palms.

“What do we really know about her?” Stasia queried, pacing round the crumpled woman like a sentry standing guard, the hammer in one hand and a swinging pocket watch in the other. “She didn’t give us the lowdown on her baggage. And we’ve all got plenty of it.”

“Stop tryin’ to fake us out. Come on, sista, spill it!” Frankie insisted. Meleak grabbed the sleeve of his shirt, pulling him away from the weeping Cora.

“Check out her threads too. Looks like some prisoned issued junk. Come on, what’s the story or am I gonna have to drag it out of you,” Stasia placed a single hand on Cora’s hair forcing her to look the raven-eyed vigilante in the face.

“There’s nowhere to hide. Everyone will know sooner or later. I was in prison when the fallout happened. I had a life sentence for murdering my stepfather. I had to; don’t you see? He was trying to kill me. There wasn’t enough proof. The judge put me away,” Cora sobbed nodding her head in disbelief, “But I swear I don’t know how my car got here.”

“Phony. I say we kill her now!” Stasia handed down the judgement and Frankie barked in approval.

“Ridiculous,” Meleak snarled at the theatrics displayed by the two crazed houseguests. “After all, we are not vigilantes. We cannot execute justice against the woman. We know little or naught of the law,” the professor reasoned as he laid a gentle hand on the petrified Cora.

“Ah…Mr. Reason, do tell then, how should justice be executed?” Stasia hissed. “From the looks we are short a judge and a jury. I say we are the jury now. This desolate block of a planet cares nothing of justice. It’s clear in my mind. This jail bird escaped in that jalopy, she drugged us while we slept, and brought us here. And who knows why? Maybe she knew the fallout would happen. Maybe she wanted some slaves or pawns. Or maybe her dying wish is to kill again before she departs this miserable planet!”

Meleak delivered his defense with all the scientific persuasion he could muster. Stasia and Frankie agreed to let Cora live if she could find a way to repair the door and she did indeed. But night crept again over the aged and ancient cliffs plunging the desolate wilderness into a perturbed darkness.

The sound of  a hammer drumming against the door shattered the silence of the windswept nightmare. This time Cora did not rise from her bed, but the others rushed to the door to find not only the wood again splintered but Meleak’s briefcase, years of research and prestige, laying among the rubble in annihilation. The three shadows turned to face Cora who slowly rose from her bed in fear.

“It wasn’t I. Why would I destroy the door when I labored to repair it?”

Cora had lost Meleak’s favor. Frankie and Stasia drew closer in.

“She knew the fallout would happen. She devised this catastrophe. That’s why she destroyed your briefcase, Mr. Professor. You had the proofs, the equations, the calculations for how we would survive in this junkyard.” Cora seethed, her black hair tangled in her face, her teeth snapping like a viper at a spider’s web.

The professor lowered his head in disappointment. He thumbed over his destroyed research in disbelief. Wiping his hands on his white collared shirt, he seemed to say he had wiped his hands of the entire situation.

“We’re the jury. We’ll execute justice,” Stasia whispered on the wind.

Stasia and Frankie retrieved a hemp rope from the back of the Volkswagon. The secured it to a board in the ceiling of the print shop. Meleak perched on a creaking stair outside. He gazed at the titanic moon, hazed in a circle of purple and mossy hues. A prophetic wind whistled through the crags of the canyon and little circles of dancing ghosts of dust and rusty sand beat against the edifice. A lonely, silhouetted figure drops from inside. A singular thud that speaks little of life, calculates or considers little of the measure of time or the span of existence. The professor lowers his head in disillusionment.

The door is repaired, but the nightmare repeats itself. This time, Stasia and Frankie accusing the professor for his overt defense of Cora. The two were conspirators. They had planned this together. Now Meleak’s travel papers were found in the Volkswagon. He was afraid they would find him out, he had hidden them there after Cora’s hanging. The two had known each other in prison. The Professor was a defector, an enemy agent. Professor meets same fate. The game is afoot.

Only two left alive. Only one left alive. It was all a game. Stasia stands victoriously. Three graves are dug beside the print shop. The game is finished. The hammer, the newspaper clipping of the fallout headline, the travel papers, the Volkswagen all decoys in a mastermind game of revenge. Revenge against the professor who would not give a recommendation to a student he had never known. Revenge against the farmer who resembled too much a childhood nightmare. Revenge against the prisoner who had killed the father of a sister she never knew existed. And how had the raven accomplished this? There was no fallout. The world was unchanged. Three unfortunate persons simply found themselves at the wrong place and at the wrong time: on an outbound bus to the Grand Canyon for a vacation. And neither of them remembered Stasia for she had drugged them good by offering them waters, pretending in her great theatrical drama to be a bus attendant.

The velvet curtain falls on this final act. A grand finale to tragedy. 

But there was one thing she had not thought of. So caught up in her game was she that she began to believe all that had happened. Except for a slight catch.

Neither of her houseguests had broken the door.

And as for the fourth time, she had not broken the door.

Exit one theatrical mastermind. And to where nobody knows and as to how nobody knows.

Save the lonely call of the nightbird. Save the secretive canyon rocks. Save the haunted print shop and an ancestor come to avenge his great granddaughter’s lynching.

Submitted: February 01, 2021

© Copyright 2021 L.E. Belle. All rights reserved.

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