March Contest Winner: Murder Most Foul
Each month we hold a writing contest for our members, by our members. Writers are given parameters, such as a word count and/or a prompt. Entries are judged and discussed blindly. For March, writers were given a table of genres, subjects, and characters to choose from when creating their story.
Murder Most Foul
by Marília Bonelli
“What are you looking at?” I scooted over on the fence so I could see his phone screen.
“Eleanor,” Johnny grumbled at me, keeping me at bay with his elbow.
A photo of him and his teammates faded into black before I could fully see it, but his smile had been burned into my memory long before. After his parents took me and the other orphans in, I’d spent most of my childhood playing with Johnny in the fields. There was no way I’d forget his smile.
I looked up at his face. No trace of that smile remained. Football had been everything to him. For as far back as I could remember, all he did was practice day and night. His entire school life revolved around the game.
I mean, the only highlight Johnny Roan had during his school years—other than scoring the winning touchdown on the big homecoming game senior year despite a fractured pinky—was that he managed not to fumble the famous lines from Hamlet’s father’s ghost. A huge accomplishment compared to when he played Julius Cesar and wound up decking the kid playing Brutus instead of letting himself be “murdered”.
He was on top of the world for a while, and the world around him was brighter for it. Then his knees had gone his first year of college and that was the end of it.
For the last three years, he’d been a pale version of himself. He barely even spoke to me—I might’ve even thought his smiling face had been something I dreamed up one day.
His phone beeped, and the screen lit up. “Sammy and Tamara are coming too?” Johnny started tapping something, stopped. He clutched the phone tightly in his fist. “I never said I’d treat the entire cheerleading squad, too!”
I wanted to ask, but I wasn’t sure I should.
“That’s now ten more people to feed than what I’d planned.” He sighed, glancing at me with tired eyes. “Okay, back to work.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say to help him. And then he was gone.
I wasn’t sure what the problem was. We never seemed to be lacking in food. Sure, his mother would sometimes complain, but the meals were always plentiful.
Thinking of food, I started back to the annex, intent on not missing dinner. Maybe one of the others would have an idea of how we could help.
“Betty!” I called as I went through the door. Betty had been at the house for almost as long as me, so surely she could help me figure something out.
Arnold barely spared me a glance as I ran past.
Linda was sitting by the window, Nina was taking a nap in her bed… and there was no sign of Betty.
Of course, orphans would come and go from the annex over the years. That was normal. But Betty had been there for so long. Not only that, she was terrified of the outside. Of everything and everyone. There was no way she’d just leave by herself. Where would she even go?
I searched the entire house, the fields between our house and the main house, and even the stables. Betty was nowhere to be found.
I ran to the main house, intent on asking Johnny or his mother, Renee, if they’d seen her. Loud voices brought me to a halt beyond the locked door on the side of the house. This was the only place in the entire place that was off-limits to us orphans. Only Johnny and Renee were ever allowed in there.
My feet felt stuck in the fresh mud.
“Why didn’t you tell Fred you can’t?” Renee shouted.
“He kept blabbering about everyone being in town on account of the five-year reunion. And he kept saying how they all want to see me.”
“You can see them without having them come here!”
“Don’t you get it? They’re dying to see how miserable we are!”
“Johnny, we got enough mouths to feed already. Just tell them they can’t come.”
A loud curse startled me and I almost fell backwards.
“Fine!” Renee replied. “You make it work then. I’m not lifting a finger to help you.”
The door swung open the next second, freezing me in place. Renee stared at me for a second before hurriedly closing the door behind her. “Eleanor, what’re you doing here?”
“Uhm… Have you seen—”
Something loud banged on the other side of the closed door and Johnny cursed again.
“Don’t mind the noise.” Renee sighed, directing me back towards the annex. “Go on, now.”
She made sure I was far enough along before she went her own way. The banging continued from behind the closed the door, each curse I heard sending a shiver up and down my spine.
Johnny got more and more anxious as the day of his high school reunion approached. From what I gathered, his friends and several other uninvited guests would be coming to the compound the day after the reunion.
I looked for Betty everywhere—other than the closed room.
After two sleepless nights of latching onto any small sound outside my window, I found myself increasingly thinking about that room, thinking that that was the one place Betty could have possibly gone. But if so, why hadn’t she come back out?
Eating breakfast in a bit of daze, I looked up, and my mouth slanted open, food almost falling back out. Nina was daintily eating her meal as usual under Arnold’s ever watchful eyes, but—
Nina paused at my outburst, but resumed eating in the next beat. Arnold looked at me for a second longer, but as usual, looked away without responding.
“Linda?” I called. I started feeling like I was trapped in the same nightmare. “Linda! Are you there?”
I ran out of the annex and straight to the main house. I stopped at a distance, the pulsing terror of my thoughts making me unable to go any further.
Was I really thinking that Johnny had done something to Betty? To Linda?
“Eleanor! There you are. Did you not finish your breakfast?” Renee asked.
“Lin—” I choked on the rest. How could Renee not know that Linda was missing? She’d brought us breakfast this morning. How could she not have said anything about Betty after several days? And what of all the others they’d taken in over the years? Had they all simply left without a word like I’d initially thought?
Were both Johnny and Renee in on it?
Like before, I pretended I was heading back to the annex, but this time, as soon as Renee turned her back, I hurried to the main house. I hid behind the old wheelbarrow, my eyes locked on the forbidden door.
I waited and waited, heart beating ever faster as the hours went by. Finally, I saw Johnny come out, gingerly holding his hand as if he’d hurt it. My initial concern for him was quickly dulled by the pull of the door left ajar in his wake.
Truth lay beyond it. Either Betty and Linda would be in there or they wouldn’t.
Mud coated my feet.
I moved, slowly at first, then I ran into the room. It was brighter than I expected. But the weird wet smell was what brought me to a halt. Something inside me rebelled and I whirled around, ready to run. My panicked eyes met Johnny’s surprised face.
I tried to run past him, but he grabbed me with ease. It had always been that way.
I struggled nonetheless, powerless against his superior strength. His words, telling me to stop, meant nothing to my panicked mind.
I shrieked and flailed, but his grip only tightened.
My vision started blurring, it was getting harder to breathe. As much as I rejected it, darkness came for me.
The world returned to me slowly. First, there was Johnny’s voice. Then, in the distance, Renee.
A door closed.
I opened my eyes.
Sunlight filtered in through two large windows to my right, while to the left, several shelves were precariously stacked with pots and pans. Is this what was in the forbidden room?
I tried, but I couldn’t rise. I could barely move. I was tied up!
I started freaking out again, and something squeezed my feet tighter.
I took in a deep breath and the smell of blood filled my nostrils.
Above me, Johnny was sharpening a knife.
“Why?” I asked.
I stared up at his empty eyes, the motion of his knife so fluid, yet so mechanical. There were years of mindless practice in every motion.
“Sorry, Eleanor. I was kind of hoping it wouldn’t be your turn yet—”
I shrieked wordlessly. It was murder!
He moved my tied up wings aside. “—but, you know, chickens don’t really live past ten years anyway.”
Alternate title: Murder Most Fowl
Genre: Conspiracy Thriller
Subject: High School Reunion
Character: A Washed-Up Former Athlete