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Short Story 1. Hosting a Writing Party

I love reading, writing and expressing myself in fiction and nonfiction forms.

hosting-a-writing-party-whodunit

“Who drew the sketch and why?” said Mabel, Lola’s best friend.

“I don’t know. I’m tired of racking my mind trying to figure it out,” Lola said.

“Is there anything at your place to tempt thieves?”

“Just the regular stuff. Nothing to justify a sketch of my house.”

“Be careful. I’ll call you later,” said Mabel as she readied to take her son to school.

The evening before, Lola hosted a writing party in the basement of her house. Her old three-story house that her father gave her as his firstborn when he moved into a new home was her refuge. Her grandfather had built a wine cellar in the basement. A rather large room, it was cool, dark, and smelled of damp, wet earth. At times, a whiff of the wooden shelves and cork could still be smelled.

She had invited twenty people to her writing party, all of them unpublished writers like her. Seven tables were placed in the basement, three writers per table with enough space for elbow room. Healthy snacks in small colorful containers and a jug of lemon water and glasses were placed on each table.

Fitted lights hung from the ceiling and table lamps created a well-lighted space to encourage creativity and writing.

She divided the evening, so the group had an hour for creative writing, an hour for individual work on their draft manuscript, and the final hour to critique each other’s work with a constructive attitude.

“What a great evening. We should do this more often,” said Danielle at the end of the evening. Everyone agreed and the group decided to rotate monthly writing parties between those who had enough space.

Spurred on by the energy of a lovely evening, Lola started tidying up as soon as her guests left. She picked up a folded paper that had fallen under one of the tables. She opened it to read its content and return it to its rightful owner but what she saw made her shudder. It was a sketch of her house with details of every room and showed different routes and GPS coordinates. Whoever drew this sketch knows the layout of each floor and the location of objects, she thought.

hosting-a-writing-party-whodunit

She was baffled by the image on the top right corner of the sketch–a rising phoenix. This was the family lucky charm that she and her sisters chose, when they were preteens, from a book that belonged to their grandfather. Lola ran upstairs to her den to look up its meaning in The Secrets of the Universe in 100 Symbols book. The phoenix symbol represented renewal, time, resurrection, metempsychosis, and certain aspects of Christian life. Who in the group is interested in the transmigration at death of the soul of a human being into a new body of the same or of a different species?

Her heart raced. She took a few deep breaths to calm down and give herself time to reflect. Should I wait until someone calls asking if I found something left behind, throw away the sketch, call the police, or try to find out more? How do I learn more about this finding?

The table under which she found the folded paper had three occupants, Jerry, Frank and Lisa. They were not close friends of hers but had been part of her writing group for the last ten months. Jerry was married with children and held an executive position at a bank. Frank was a serious-looking man who worked in the wellness industry. Lisa was a young woman who held a day job while taking nursing courses in the evening.

Lola was puzzled by what she found. The group of fellow aspiring writers had left her house fifteen minutes ago. She stood in a messy basement wondering how to shed light on her find.

The phone rang but she did not answer it. She was too tired and confused to talk to anyone at that late hour. The phone kept ringing. It annoyed her so much that she rushed to the kitchen and picked it up to make the ringing stop.

“Lola, this is Danielle. I didn’t want to tell you in front of the others, but while you were in the kitchen making coffee, Frank left the basement and went upstairs for a short while.”

“Did he mention where he was or what he did?”

“No, but he looked rushed.”

Lola hung up with Danielle after thanking her. She spent the rest of the evening checking her house for signs of a break-in. Nothing seemed missing. The early hours of the morning found her sitting at her kitchen table with a cup of hot coffee, feeling dazed from lack of sleep. She spent the better part of the day inspecting her house and subscribed to a home monitoring center that specialized in keeping an eye on subscribers’ homes 24 hours a day for 7 days a week.

Anxious and in need of diversion, she got dressed and drove to the bookstore to buy a book, then to her favorite coffee shop. While sitting at a table in the corner enjoying her coffee, she saw Frank come in with a woman who turned out to be her sister, Aline.

Aline lived with her boyfriend in a large city, a five-hour drive from Lola’s house. As adults, Lola and Aline had grown apart and saw each other only during the holidays at their parents’ home. What is Aline doing here and with Frank? Why hasn’t she told me she is in town?

They did not see her and sat at a table by the window with their backs to her. She knew she should greet her sister but decided against it wanting to find out more. She could not hear their conversation but noticed how closely they sat. Frank had his arm around Aline’s shoulders.

Aline and Frank? The sketch of her house that she found was under the table where Frank sat the night before. Could he have gotten the sketch from Aline? If Frank had a sketch of my house, he must have known I am Aline’s sister. Why didn’t he mention it? Frank is the boyfriend that Aline lives with? Is it possible he did not know that Aline is my sister?

She left the coffee shop discreetly and moved her car away from the main door to avoid being seen. She sat in her car and waited. Half an hour later, they walked out of the coffee shop to a white Mazda and drove off.

She followed their car doing her best to go unnoticed. Frank took the road that led to her house, but one mile before reaching it, he turned left. At that point, the cars were few and far between and she could not follow them without drawing attention to herself. She parked her car on the side and walked to see the way they headed. She knew that the road they took led to a small chain of bungalows that people rented for a weekend of fun.

She saw their car stop in front of a bungalow that was quadrangular in shape, one story high, with a tiled high peaked roof jutting as a portico. They went in immediately.

Ten minutes later, the door opened and Frank came out with a bag. The evening was dark and full of shadows, but she saw Frank walk to the lake behind the bungalow and get into a boat that was tied to a small dock. He steered the boat to the middle of the lake.

Not waiting to know what Frank intended to do, Lola walked in quick steps to the bungalow. She did not pay attention to the whir of crickets or the sound of her shoes scuffing over gravel. Her mind was on making sure that her sister was safe.

“Aline, open the door. It’s me,” She knocked on the door but got no answer. She went looking through the windows and saw Aline in what looked like a living room, standing in front of an altar with her back to the window. Aline wore a long bohemian skirt layered with silver and green, and a black t-shirt with white lettering of “Witch Please” power saying. She was barefooted and her long brown locks of hair flowed down her back.

Lola was familiar with witch ceremonies. As a teenager, she studied witchcraft and knew the importance of colors to wearing one’s magic. The colors of Aline’s bohemian skirt were meant to manifest divination, lunar magic and psychic abilities in the silver color, and abundance, earth magic, love, and fertility in the green color. She remembered that Aline had strong convictions since her childhood that there is more than what is seen and felt driven to find it and use it.

She stepped away from the window without making a sound to avoid interrupting the ceremony in progress. She was relieved that her sister was safe. She decided to find out more about what is going on at their next encounter on Sunday at their father’s house.

Lola sent her sister a loving thought. As children, she and her two sisters used to sing together You are the Best in My Life while playing. She softy sang it.

You make me want to roll in the sand
You make me want to run till the end
I look at you with joy on my face
You are a child full of grace
You are the Best in My life.

© 2020 Liliane Najm