Through the Fog (Chapter 1)

Well, here it is, the very first mystery I ever wrote, completely free.

One day at a time, of course. Or, you can always just go buy it in digital or print.

Through the Fog

I looked up at the two pairs of dress shoes, and I wondered.

The grime on the window made it difficult to tell for certain, but they looked like dress shoes; both pairs. The harsh glare of the summer sun made their shine difficult to look at, even through the aforementioned grime.

The feet shuffled; one pair, anyway, and one of them spoke. “Another not at home; looks like it’s gonna be a long morning.” Another voice said “The others don’t look vacant, at least.”

The feet turned and walked away, and I looked down at my own. More dress shoes. They were on an upside down plastic crate, the ones that say something about being the property of such-and-such a dairy and you’re not supposed to keep them but everyone does.

The window was up high, which is why I was on the carton. The window was in a basement, which is why I was looking up at someone else’s shoes; or had been, at least.

Turning my head slowly, I considered what I could see without moving: a furnace and the appurtenant ductwork; a neat stack of cardboard boxes, all the same size; a bicycle with one flat tire and one wheel entirely missing; a grubby mattress, half against the wall, half on the floor; various other basement-y things that didn’t seem to surprise me.

I listened. Hard. Through the window (or so it seemed) came the infrequent sounds of a Los Angeles summer. A car drove by. Footsteps across the street (my visitors, perhaps?) An enormous flying bug of some kind buzzing against the window, then buzzing away.

But nothing that sounded human, other than the footsteps, and now they were quiet. And no sounds of any kind from above me, inside the house. I decided to risk stepping down off the crate. Not a smart move, but that’s me sometimes.

As my left foot hit the cement floor the crate squirted out from under my right and clattered into a pile of rubbish; aluminum soda cans, a tin pie plate, other non-quiet stuff which did its non-quiet best.

The sweat stood out on my forehead; my stomach lurched; my chest palpitated—a full-fledged panic attack. But nothing else happened. No one came; no one shouted; no one cared. Maybe no one existed.

The door at the top of the stairs was open, but I was still feeling cautious. A quick peek left; then right. Hallway, both directions. Doors. Smells of closed up house, cleansers and other smells that reminded me of helping my grandma move when I was a little kid in South Dakota. Harsh glaring light to the left. Gloomy diffused light to the right. I went right.

The end of the hall was a bedroom, as they always were when they built these old places. Oddly, though, to the right wasn’t another bedroom, but an office of some kind; blinds and curtains drawn. It seemed more useful than the bedroom; maybe I wasn’t tired, but I felt I should have been.

It was just an office, the kind guys have in their homes so they can pretend they’re doing something important when really they’re just sitting in the big leather chair sipping their whiskey and soda while they read Chandler. Nothing much on top of the desk; a blotter with one of those huge calendars in it, but nothing written on it; a pencil cup (who uses pencils any more?) and an old Bostitch sharpener screwed to one corner so it was handy, in case our genius gets a brilliant idea that simply must be recorded for posterity and none of the dozen or so pencils in the cup are sharp enough to match his wit.

Docking station for a laptop, but no laptop. No network cables—our genius must go wireless. Or maybe he’s never heard of that internet thing they have now.

Books; loads of books; older fiction, newer non-fiction, and technical stuff. I recognized some of the titles. Two walls of books, one of them built right around the high windows on the sunny side of the house. There were heavy curtains and nice wide wooden blinds just visible at the seam where the curtains met in the middle. I left them as they were, ignored the closet (it had been a bedroom; I knew it!) and went across to the bedroom that still was one.

More nothing. Bed was made, curtains and blinds again, night table on the side of the bed nearest me, but not over in the far corner. Nothing on it, not even a telephone.

A telephone. I should find a telephone.

Heading down the hallway to the harsh glaring end, I passed the requisite tiled bathroom. No curtains, just blinds, angled to let in the sun from the north-facing side of the house. Sparkling clean and smelling of disinfectant. Mirror polished, tile polished, toilet tank polished. I would have been pleased to use it, if I’d needed to.

Telephone. Stop touring like a real estate lookieloo and find a phone.

Forward and right, I could see through an arched opening another tiled counter, kitchen height, with an old rounded toaster just visible from this angle. A kitchen sounded interesting. A kitchen might have a fridge, and a fridge might have food. The gnawing in my stomach and the puffy dusty feeling in my mouth may have explained why the bathroom held no current interest.

The palpitations and sweat came back as I peered round the corner into what by process of elimination had to be the living room. It was empty. Not devoid of people—empty. No furniture, no carpet, no curtains, blinds, wall hangings—empty, like they were considering removing the paint, drywall, and framing, and extending the front lawn right in.

Kitchen it is, then.

Yup; fridge. And right next to it, one of those ghastly phone mounts where you hang a Princess phone with a light-up dial and have to run from wherever you are in the house or the yard to answer before the machine gets it.

But since there was no phone, there probably wasn’t a machine, either.

Who doesn’t have a phone?

Maybe no one lives here. I opened the fridge with a sinking feeling, knowing it would be empty. It was, but ya gotta check, right?

Pulled the fancy porcelain cold water handle forward and got the now-expected nothing from the faucet. Light switch: more nothing.

This is getting me nowhere.

I froze as two figures walked past on the sidewalk out front. If they’d turned their heads, they couldn’t help but see me standing in the kitchen door. They didn’t (turn them) so they didn’t (see me.) Even if they had, I doubt they were much of a threat (although some might disagree)—it was two Jehovah’s Witnesses, suits and ties and briefcases. The shoes could easily have been the ones at my basement window. The shoes kept going, out of sight to the right of the glaring living room windows. .

If I stayed, I was gonna keep having all this nothing. But I wanted something.

Like most of these old places, the back door was in the kitchen; little half-window with curtains, no blinds this time. I peeked out into the dry yard; not quite dead, but not lovingly tended by any stretch. Dry and unhappy, all the way over to the alley gate.

The door wasn’t even locked. It swung outward, oddly. More cautious peering, more near-silence, more almost nothing. I decided fake boldness was better than real fear, so I stepped out into the heat and smell of brown grass, shut the door (still unlocked) and headed toward the alley.

The gate, the whole back fence, looked and smelled new. The gate latch and handle were still flat black instead of rusty and pitted. The gate, unlike the kitchen door, swung inward, like alley gates are supposed to. I stepped through—and ploughed right into my two shiny-shoed visitors.

” ‘scuse me; sorry; I didn’t realize anyone was out here”

“No problem; just seeing if there were any homes facing the alley. Do you have just a moment?”

I really didn’t know. I told him I did.

“My name’s John, and this is my friend Matt. We’re asking people about their hopes for the future—what about you? What are you hoping for yourself for the future?”

“I’m hoping it’s a long one, that’s for sure.”

John and Matt chuckled. “Me too, me too. I’m sorry, I didn’t ask your name. As I said, mine’s John, and this is Matt. What’s your name?”

More nothing. He had me there.

I didn’t know.

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