Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Winter Trifle, Part 3 (New Short Story)

Here is Part 3 of my slightly ghostly mystery, Winter Trifle. If you haven't read Part 2 yet, you can find it here.
And if you're ready to go, Part 3 starts now…
Winter Trifle
By Catherine Mesick
When Hannah awoke in the morning, the world outside was coated in a blanket of white, and light flakes were still falling. Hannah had been turning something over in her mind the night before, and as her day began, she was still meditating on the same idea.
She glanced over at the box that contained Mrs. Mumford’s recipes, which she’d left on the kitchen table, and she went to the refrigerator to pour herself a glass of orange juice.
But the carton of juice was empty, and Hannah absent-mindedly grabbed her bag and pulled on her coat. Then she went out and drove to the grocery store.
At the grocery store, Hannah found herself wandering the aisles without much direction. Eventually, she found her way over to the juice aisle, and as she stood in line waiting to pay for her selection, Hannah opened her bag and searched until she found the recipe for Winter Trifle. She pulled it out and read it over, and she continued to look the recipe over as she paid for her juice and went out to her car.
As Hannah unlocked her car door, she seemed to notice the snow for the first time. There was about an inch of snow under foot, and tiny little flakes were falling all around her. The snow wasn’t heavy enough to interfere with driving, and it was still clean and largely untouched. Hannah put the recipe back in her bag and drove home.
When she arrived home, Hannah went up to the door with her bag and her juice, and as she fumbled with her keys, she realized that the door was open just a crack.
Hannah rushed inside and threw her bag down on the kitchen table. She ran through the house, expecting to find ransacked rooms and smashed furniture. But everything in the house appeared to be just as she’d left it, and there was no sign at all of anything having been taken.
Hannah returned to the kitchen and looked around once more. Nothing was out of place, and she figured she must have left the door open accidentally. But as she continued to look around she had a strange feeling that something was wrong.
Then she looked down at the juice that she was still cradling in the crook of her arm. Hannah saw on the carton not an orange but a grapefruit.
Something was wrong. She’d purchased the wrong kind of juice.
Hannah put the juice down and then went back and firmly locked the door.
The day passed, and the snow stopped falling. Hannah tried to get a few things done, but she kept finding herself taking out the little scrap of a fortune and the recipe and reading them both over and over again.
Night fell quickly, and it was fully dark by the time Hannah began making herself dinner. As she ate, the uncertainty that had plagued her for most of the day came back full force, and before long she pushed her plate away—the food on it largely untouched. Instead, she got up and walked to the window. When Hannah saw that the snow had started up again, she made up her mind. She grabbed her coat and her bag and ran out the door.
About four inches of snow had piled up on the ground from the earlier snowfall, and Hannah stood for a moment as new flakes fell around her, looking at the snow-covered road. She figured the snow would be fine to drive in, especially since she wasn’t going very far.
Hannah got in the car and drove the short distance to Mrs. Mumford’s house. She found the spare key still in its usual resting place under a stone frog in the garden, and fumbling just a little with the key, she unlocked the door and rushed inside. Then she closed and locked the door behind her.
Hannah stood for a moment in the dark front room, wondering now why she’d been in such a hurry to get to the house. She walked through the gloom to the nearest lamp and switched it on.
The light revealed the same room she had seen thousands of times. Hannah had hoped that being back in Mrs. Mumford’s house would show her what she was looking for—but if the house knew any secrets it was keeping quiet. The only real difference in the room was that Mrs. Mumford would never return to it.
Hannah walked further into the house and on into the kitchen hoping that something would jump out at her and reveal to her why she had come out.
But the house remained resolutely silent.
“I’m here, Mrs. Mumford,” Hannah whispered. “Show me what you want me to know.”
Hannah walked through all the rooms on the first floor and then returned to the kitchen where she stood for several minutes staring at the empty shelves that had once held Mrs. Mumford’s prized cookbooks and at the wallpaper that Mrs. Mumford had put up herself shortly before she died.
“She was so proud of that wallpaper,” Hannah said to herself.
Just as Hannah was drawing out a chair to sit down at the kitchen table, she thought she heard a sound from the floor above, and she froze.
“Mrs. Mumford?” Hannah whispered.
A moment later, there was a knock on the front door, and Hannah jumped, startled.
A few moments later the knock was repeated, and Hannah crept toward the door silently and peered out through the peephole.
Though the evening was dark, there was enough light for her to see who was standing at the door—it was Alex.
Hannah sighed in relief. Then she unlocked the door and let him in.
“What are you doing here?” Hannah asked.
“I might ask you the same thing,” Alex replied. “I happened to be in the neighborhood, and when I saw the light on in Mrs. Mumford’s house, I figured it might be you looking around.”
“You happened to be in the neighborhood,” Hannah said. “Are you sure you weren’t purposefully checking up on me?”
“So what if I was?”
“How many times have you driven around the block hoping to catch me?” Hannah asked.
“Doesn’t matter,” Alex replied. “Entirely irrelevant. Besides, you’re not supposed to be here, you know.”
“I know.”
“From what you’ve told me the house is now the property of the library.”
“I’m sure they won’t mind if I look around a little,” Hannah said. “I’m trying to help.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m trying to help Mrs. Mumford.”
“By breaking into her house?”
“No,” Hannah said, “by finding her money and giving it to the library—just like she wanted.”
“How can you do that?” Alex asked. “I though you didn’t even know about it.”
“I didn’t,” Hannah said. “It’s just that—”
“I think Mrs. Mumford’s been trying to communicate with me.”
“Communicate with you?”
“How?” Alex asked.
“Through fortune cookies,” Hannah said.
“Wow,” Alex said. “Just—wow.”
“Wait. Just hear me out,” Hannah said.
She steered him toward the kitchen and sat down at the table. Alex reluctantly sat down opposite her.
“Okay. So, I’ve been thinking about it,” Hannah said. “Do you remember the night I got the empty fortune cookie?”
“Yes,” Alex said.
“Well, that was the first one,” Hannah said.
“The first one of what?”
“The first one of the messages. The fortune cookie was empty that night. And it was also the same night Mrs. Mumford died. The fortune cookie was empty because Mrs. Mumford was telling me that she had moved on.”
“Or maybe it was empty because someone forgot to put a fortune in that one,” Alex said.
“Maybe,” Hannah said. “But that doesn’t explain the second one. In the second one, the fortune said a stumble would bring sweetness. And then I tripped and sent mints flying everywhere. That was Mrs. Mumford showing me that she was now ready to communicate with me in real time.”
Alex shrugged. “A coincidence. Or seeing the fortune subconsciously made you a little clumsier—it planted a suggestion in your mind.”
“But that’s just it,” Hannah said. “I didn’t see the fortune until after I spilled the mints. The fortune came true without my seeing it.”
“A coincidence then, like I said.”
Hannah persisted. “And then there was the third one. It’s the fortune cookie from Friday night—the one I didn’t show you.”
“What did it say?” Alex asked.
“It said, ‘when the snow comes.’”
“Is that all?”
“The paper was torn in half,” Hannah said. “I didn’t get the rest of the fortune. And then it started snowing.”
“I don’t know, Hannah,” Alex said. “That’s not a lot to go on. Three fortunes—or actually—one-and-a-half fortunes and a little bit of snow in winter. That doesn’t exactly sound like a message from the great beyond.”
“But she made a point of giving me her recipes,” Hannah said, digging into her bag. “And she wanted me to have this recipe in particular.”
Hannah pulled the recipe for Winter Trifle out of her bag and held it out.
“This recipe specifically calls for—”
She paused and looked at the table in front of them.
“The kitchen table is empty,” Hannah said suddenly.
Alex looked around. “Uh, yeah, it is.”
“That’s just it,” Hannah said. “The kitchen table was empty.”
“Uh, what?” Alex said. “What does that have to do with the recipe?”
“The recipe has fortune cookies,” Hannah said quickly. “Mrs. Mumford wanted to point out to me that fortune cookies were important. But the table is something else. I thought something was wrong earlier today back at my house, and now I know what it was. I went out and came back and the door was open, and I thought somebody broke in.”
“Wait. Somebody broke into your house?” Alex said, frowning.
“That’s what I thought at first,” Hannah said. “But then I thought I’d just been absent-minded and left it open myself, because nothing was missing. But now I see that something was missing—the box of recipes that was on the kitchen table. Someone broke in and took it.”
“Why would someone steal those recipes?” Alex asked.
There was a sound from overhead, and Hannah glanced upward.
“Because those recipes could be worth four million dollars,” Hannah said. “We’d better get out of here now.”
“What? Why?” Alex said.
"No time to talk." Hannah grabbed Alex by the arm and began to pull him toward the door.
But before they reached it, a small figure ran down the stairs and blocked the way. The small figure was quickly followed by a much larger one.
“Give me that recipe!” cried a shrill voice.
“You were listening to us the whole time, weren’t you?” Hannah said.
“Give it to me!” Lisa darted forward and grabbed Hannah’s bag. She searched through it until she found a piece of paper, which she pulled out eagerly.
“It won’t help you,” Hannah said.
“Hannah,” Alex said. “Who are these people?”
Lisa snorted. “Who are we? We’re the rightful heirs. Who are you?”
“This is Lisa McDonough,” Hannah said to Alex. “And I’m going to guess this is her brother, Jonah.”
The tall boy behind Lisa nodded his head. “Yeah, I’m Jonah. How’s it going?”
“Shut up,” Lisa said.
She quickly read over the paper in her hands and then looked up.
“What is this?” she demanded.
“It’s a recipe for a dessert,” Hannah said.
“I can see that,” Lisa said. “What it really is is nonsense.”
“I told you it wouldn’t help you,” Hannah said.
“But will it help you?” Lisa said. “Tell me where the money is!”
“I don’t know where it is,” Hannah said.
“But I thought you said my aunt’s ghost was sending you messages. So, go ahead. Share with us what she told you.”
“It’s not as simple as that.”
“I’m sure it’s all very deep and mysterious,” Lisa said. “Just tell me where the money is, or you and your boyfriend are going to be sorry.”
Hannah and Alex looked at each other.
“Oh no—” Hannah said.
“We’re not—” Alex said.
“We’re really just friends,” Hannah said.
“Shut up!” Lisa snapped. “I really don’t care.”
Then she turned to her brother.
“Jonah!” she said sharply.
He glanced around at her. “What?”
“Take care of these two.”
“What? How?”
“The gun, Jonah. Get out the gun.”
“Oh right,” he said.
He produced a gun from his jacket pocket.
“Oh, no, no, no,” Alex said.
Both Hannah and Alex began to back up.
“Take it easy, big guy,” Alex said. “You don’t want to get in any more trouble than you’re already in.”
“How are we in any trouble?” Lisa asked scornfully. “This is my aunt’s house. You two are trespassing. We’re just protecting her home.”
“The house belongs to the library now,” Hannah said as she began edging backwards. “You’re trespassing, too.”
“Shut up!” Lisa said. “Just tell me where the money is!”
“I already told you I don’t know where it is,” Hannah said.
Lisa turned to her brother. “Just shoot them.”
Jonah blinked. “What?”
“Give me the gun,” Lisa said, wrenching it from his grasp.
Hannah gave Alex a shove.
“Run! To the kitchen!”
They ran, and the loud report of a firearm followed them. They reached the kitchen, and Hannah ran to a box on the wall.
“Get behind the counter,” Hannah said.
Alex hurried to comply.
“What are you doing?” he hissed.
“It’ll be harder for her to shoot us if she can’t see us,” Hannah whispered back.
She flipped several switches at once, and the house was plunged into darkness.

***Click here for Part 4***


Thanks very much for reading! I'll post Part 4 next week.

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