Friday, May 15, 2009
I wrote the following story for the Faithwriters writing challenge in the mystery genre. It was my first attempt at mystery writing, and I was thrilled when it placed third in the advanced level. I had fun with the characters, so much so that I considered writing an entire book about them. I really wanted to get better acquainted with them! Besides, keeping a mystery to a 750 word limit is both confining and difficult.
Shelley at The Veil Thins is hosting Friday Fiction this week.
Three adolescent boys huddled inside Super Sleuth headquarters. The friends practically lived in the old shed during the summer, but on this brisk, spring day their breath hung in frosty swirls between them.
“Okay, this is why I called you. I found this in Speedbump’s driveway after school today.” Sly pulled a narrow strip of paper between his fingers as Slug and Speedbump leaned in to read it. “97 days in captivity. Praying for freedom.”
“What does it mean?” Slug’s plump cheeks jiggled as he spoke. “Has someone been kidnapped?”
Speedbump replied slowly and thoughtfully. “That’s an awfully long message for a person to write if they’re tied up.”
“You had any strange visitors lately, Speedbump?” Sly asked.
“Well, a man came to our door yesterday all dressed up in a black suit. Mom said he was selling something. Last I saw him he was...”
“Couldn’t have stayed there since yesterday,” Slug interrupted impatiently. “It’s too windy today. I say we forget it and go home. I’m getting hungry.”
“You’re always hungry, Slug! What’s more important? Eating dinner? Or saving someone’s life? You’re with me on this. Right, Speedbump?” Sly gave his bespectacled friend a little jab.
“I don’t know. I think I should talk to my dad about it first.”
“Fine! We’ll all go home and sleep in our cozy beds while our victim is held captive another day.” The meeting ended abruptly. Sly left in a huff, recalling why he had nicknamed his friend Speedbump –because he was always getting in the way of progress.
Speedbump did talk to his dad that night, reciting the handwritten message he had read.
“Son, I’m glad you told me about this, but we have so little to go on. It certainly could be a plea for help. But it could also be a game, or even a prank. I’m afraid there isn’t much we can do right now except pray about it.” Speedbump nodded. It was exactly what he expected his dad to say.
Mr. Johnson ruffled his son’s curly hair, took his hands in his own, and prayed. “Father, only you know how a mystery message landed in our driveway. If someone is in trouble, protect and comfort them. If you need our help, make it clear what you would have us do. And Lord, please help the Super Sleuths sleep well tonight in case their services are needed tomorrow.”
Mrs. Johnson awakened Speedbump the next morning. “I know it’s Saturday, but I’ve got something really cool to show you. Hurry!”
Speedbump followed his mom downstairs and peered through the storm door where she was pointing. “Shh! A Robin is building her nest in our spring wreath,” she whispered.
Standing on tiptoe Speedbump glimpsed the bowl-shaped construction. Something white woven among brown twigs caught his attention. Could it be? With uncharacteristic swiftness, Speedbump opened the door, and hastily pulled the long strip from the nest.
“Andrew Ryan Johnson! Haven’t I told you never to disturb a bird’s nest? Why I…”
“What’s going on here?” Mr. Johnson appeared, tucking in his shirt.
“I’m really sorry Mom, but look! This was woven into the nest.” Speedbump held the paper strip and read, “‘98 days. Praying for freedom.’ Oh Dad, Sly was right.”
“This could be an answer to prayer, son. You better call the other Super Sleuths.”
Sly arrived with more information. “My mom thinks this is paper peeled from surgical tape. She’s a nurse, remember?”
“The hospital is only two blocks away, but why…”
Slug devoured the Johnson’s remaining donuts as the others plotted and speculated.
Finally, they were each positioned, walkie-talkies in hand, along the straightest route to the hospital.
It took the entire morning, but finally their radios crackled as Sly shouted, “Robin’s landed on a second story window sill.”
Converging on the hospital, the Super Sleuths slipped quietly up a stairway, led by Mr. Johnson, who had promptly calculated the room’s location.
“I’m sorry. George isn’t here,” the approaching nurse reported. “He passed away last night. Such a saint that old man was!”
The nurse motioned them into the room. Startled, a robin flew from its perch outside the window beside the empty bed. The nurse pulled a long strip of paper from a well-worn Bible on the nightstand and handed it to Mr. Johnson. It read, “99th day. Almost Home.”
Speedbump picked up George’s pen and retrieved another strip of paper from the trash. Carefully, through tears he wrote, “Day 100. Free at last.”