ALL THE NEWS THAT FITS
For the first time, putting up my short stories for everyone.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE MISSING BOOK
By G.L. Rix
Mildred Gilbert couldn’t find the damned book—not even by touching all of those hundreds and hundreds of smooth, shiny, colorful spines facing outward with the book title and author name. Most of her books stood upright. At least the hardbacks. The paperbacks she piled haphazardly on top of one another. Like the clean clothes in her laundry basket.
Maybe it was time to make lists. What else might she have forgotten? At her advanced middle-age it could be anything.
She looked up because the light flickered.
The fluorescent tubes on the right side of her home library were completely dead. Not even fizzing. Those on the left hand side were all that kept the dark at bay.
With one hand Mildred pushed her graying hair out of her face. With the other she unconsciously reached for the small spiral-bound tablet that was in the pocket of her red slacks. Going to make a note about getting the bulbs replaced.
She found herself looking at her own handwriting. She already had a list.
The carefully printed note at the top of the list said to find a thin collection of horror short stories with a black cover. This was the book where she’d stashed a hundred dollar bill in a game she and her husband Tony played.
The man on the phone had threatened to set the police on her if she didn’t mail him the cash today. Just the thought of his crude and violent demands made her hands tremble.
Mildred frantically patted her slacks for the notebook. Found it already in her hands. Was slapping her thigh with it. Held it up so she could read it. It was a pretty long list, but near the top was a name and address for the money. And her handwriting telling her to get it in the mail today, or else.
The good fluorescent lights flickered. Her hand hovered like a divining rod searching for water, and then pointed at the bookcases. Which lined every inch of her former two-car garage.
Where the hell was that book? Mildred clung fiercely to the chore she’d set herself. Not even the putrid stench of a dead mouse—Mildred couldn’t imagine anything else it could be—was going to derail her from finding that book.
Mildred hobbled away from the cat litter box blocking the door to the old original driveway they never used any more. A film of plastic designed to look like stained glass shaded the window. She started her search again. Would only look at the hardback books this time.
Her eyes glanced through the shelves as if she was speed-reading some boring biography. A patter of tiny clawed feet beat an irritating tattoo overhead in the attic. Squirrels again. She could pull the access ladder down and make the frightening climb up it, poke her head into the attic and look. But that was Tony’s job.
“We’ve got squirrels again Ton. . ..”
Blinking rapidly, Mildred returned her attention to the bookshelves. There was a black hardback right over there that looked to be the right size. Dracula. She had never read that one.
Tony interrupted her search. She dropped the notebook on the rug. Bent to pick it up. The dead mouse odor was stronger closer to the floor.
“So, don’t get a snort full, gal. Move,” he told her.
Mildred grinned. Tony always knew what to do to make things right.
Notebook forgotten at her feet, Mildred started anew, this time using her flashlight to illuminate all of the books’ titles. It took an hour and exhausted her.
“Go sit, then” Tony advised.
Mildred dropped her bulk into the reading chair, breathing heavily. Looked like she was going to have to physically touch every book in her library.
With her feet, she pushed at a large lump of something that would certainly trip her when she got up. Saw her notebook full of lists perched on top of the lump. And something beyond.
“There you are!” she crowed.
A slim volume of horror stories from the fifties was right in her sight, third shelf from the bottom, third bookcase from the left. A glass piggy bank bookended it. Mildred stumbled over the lump in the middle of the room just like she’d expected. But recovered.
The fluorescent light flared. “Tony!” she exclaimed, looking down.
Her fingers found the notebook the same time her memory slipped, fluttered, and sputtered out. After blinking too many times, Mildred made a beeline for the black-covered horror collection. She found it.
Flipped it open without a thought.
Inside sat an envelope, already opened, addressed to Mildred Gilbert. Routed out from a mail referral business she’d hired. Two fifty-dollar bills were wadded inside. The enclosed note was short.
Scatological and threatening, with a damn-you-to-hell invective just after the sarcastic salutation. I hate you, it said.
At her advanced middle-age Mildred could forget anything.
And she had.
For just a second it surfaced, bringing with it a wily grin.
It was Mildred who called and called and called and called again.
Demanding money from strangers, and getting it, too. Striking them off the list when she finished with them.
Tony Gilbert, her husband, lay long dead at her feet in the library as she scuffled unseeing around him, delighted at finding the book.
He’d disagreed with her scam. She’d disagreed with him disagreeing with her.
Remembering vanished as quickly as it had hit.
Mildred Gilbert hadn’t been able to find her damned husband for quite a while.
Not by checking in the back where he often dozed on the porch, and not by searching in the garage where he enjoyed toying with the old car that would never be fixed.
Mildred had a brief thought that there might be something on the list in her pocket to explain things.
There was, but the vitriolic note with its hundred-dollar extortion money distracted her.
With one hand she carelessly pushed the book back where it belonged. With the other she ineffectually flapped away at the death stench coming off Tony.
Maybe if she took each of the books off the shelves and read the titles aloud she’d find it. That damned book! Mildred vowed one more thorough search of her library shelves, then she’d assume the damn thing had walked off on its own.
In the meantime, she’d open the doors to air the place out.
She’d make that first threatening phone call! The one she had spent so much time planning, over her husband’s objections. And for a second, her eyes lightened, and her malicious lips grinned.
Next moment, she forgot. And decided on a nap. She’d look for that damned book when she got up.
COPYRIGHT BY GRETCHEN RIX
Changing stories/work in progress
Check BROWN. See if you think you’d like it. https://amzn.com/B07PLV725T https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1130894387?ean=2940161508909 http://smashwords.com/books/view/928313