A Writer’s Unite! Write The Story Prompt – short story.
Police Captain Lindsey Sayers drank in the view. Sunlight filtering through towering pines turned floating particles of dust and dirt into dancing points of light and created bright pockets in the gloom of the forest. A well-maintained path cut through the dense undergrowth and disappeared into the trees, thick shrubs, and clumps of forest grasses ahead. It was a portrait of serenity.
She closed her eyes, tilted her head back, and drew in a breath so deep she felt it all the way to her toes. The air here was clean, crisp, and laden with the heavenly aroma of spicy pine. She stayed that way and savored the calm before she had to deal with the unpleasant task ahead.
“Uh you okay boss?”
Her breath hitched at the interruption then became a sigh of resignation. Some day she would come back to this little slice of Montana heaven so she could enjoy it properly. Today was not that day however. Today she and her team were here to retrace the last steps of Margaret “Maggie” O’Shay. Maggie had been a twenty-three-year-old college student when she’d walked into these woods on a warm summer day twelve years ago and was never seen nor heard from again. Lindsey opened her eyes and rolled her shoulders. Time for reality.
“I’m fine Taggart, just making nice with the universe before we do this.”
He gave her a knowing nod. “I can understand that.”
Hamish Taggart, the newest member of her unit, was a fit, thirty-something man with a quick wit, pale blue eyes that sparked with humor, and a talent for seeing things most could not. Like her, he’d unofficially died in the line of duty and come back profoundly changed. Almost a year ago, while on a drug raid, he’d been hit by a bullet that had inexplicably missed his vest and gone into his chest where it caused massive damage. He’d lost all vitals while still at the scene. Paramedics managed to revive him before loading him into the bus, then done it twice more before they’d gotten to the hospital. His survival was a miracle.
Several months later, when nearing the end of his rehab, his superior officer had found Hamish holding a conversation with his partner. That wouldn’t have been cause for concern had it not been that Hamish had been talking to empty space. His partner had actually died during the same raid Taggart had been injured in. Unsettled, he’d made a call to an old friend – someone he knew was uniquely qualified to handle something like this. They’d caught up, made arrangements, and then hung up and filed the necessary paperwork to make it happen.
Once released back to active duty, Hamish had been quietly transferred to Lindsey’s Colorado based unit of cold case investigators. The first few months had been rough. He’d refused to talk about his ability and was convinced he was going crazy. Eventually though, he’d witnessed Lindsey’s abilities enough times that he was able to come to terms with his own.
His addition to the unit brought the total to four members. Hamish and herself with abilities. And two civilians with open minds but no abilities. They were Echo, a psychiatrist, and Thaddeus their evidence collector, camera man, and all-round tech guru.
Lindsey clapped Hamish on the shoulder. “You ready for this Ham?”
“I was born ready . . . twice.” He flashed her a big grin and Lindsey rolled her eyes. He never got tired of using that line. His expression turned serious. “What’s your plan for a conduit? You tried everything her parents brought in for you to examine and nothing worked.”
While they both could see the dead, Lindsey actually became the dead. Not literally, but close. By touching what she called a conduit, usually something the victim handled shortly before their disappearance, she stepped into their last moments. Results varied. Sometimes she was able to confidently retrace their steps, experience their murder or abduction, and identify who had done it. It was so full an immersion she was able to see, smell, hear, and feel everything the victim had. Other times, the terror they’d faced at the time of death had so overwhelmed them that all she got was chaos and she had to be dragged out of their energy.
That’s where Echo came in. In reports she was listed as an ungifted civilian. Ungifted was a huge misnomer when it came to the tiny thirty-year-old woman with a riot of blond curls and the patience of a saint. Not only was she a phenomenal psychiatrist, she was also able to tap into spectral energy and manipulate it. How she was not listed in the same category that Lindsey and Hamish were was beyond understanding.
Someone cleared their throat and she was drawn back to the matter at hand – a conduit. Her glance took in the entire group. “This is going to sound strange even to you all, but we’re standing on it. Every single person we talked to said Maggie loved this place. And since this is where she most likely disappeared from, it’s my hope her attachment will have allowed her energy to permanently imprint on the path itself.”
Thaddeus, a Twenty-one-year-old self-taught techie genius who swore he was the reincarnation of an eighty’s skateboarder, nodded enthusiastically. “Rad man. Will that work?”
She shook her head with lifted brow. “Rad? I’m not sure if it will work, but it’s all I’ve got.”
His face lit up. “Woah, so are you like feeling it now? Are you getting major Maggie vibes?”
“No,” she said with a chuckle, “no vibes so far, but we’ve got a lot of trail to cover so there’s time. Let’s move along, shall we?”
Hamish, whose gift was much less reliable and mostly contingent on the willingness of a spirit to make contact, gave a synopsis of what they knew to date, and tossed out questions as they all trailed behind Lindsey.
“According to the reports, the suspects in her disappearance were her ex-boyfriend Carl, her jealous roommate Amber, and an unassociated male with stalking tendencies. All of them had flimsy alibies for the time of Maggie’s disappearance. The roommate waited almost two full days to report her disappearance, why do you suppose that was?”
Echo took a quick glance at Lindsey to make sure all was well before she answered. “The interview notes stated she thought the authorities wouldn’t do anything until forty-eight hours had passed. During questioning, Amber’s friends all said they thought she’d waited on purpose. It seems Maggie and Amber were both being considered for an internship with a prestigious law firm. They thought she was hoping Maggie wasn’t coming back.”
“Yeah, but didn’t I read Amber had a bum foot at the time? Wasn’t it a sprained ankle or something?” Thadd asked. “The part of the trail Maggie was last seen by those other hikers was steep and rough. I’m not sure Amber could have made it. Plus, Maggie was bigger than Amber so making the body vanish would have been like totally hard for her.”
Hamish paused and held up a hand. Everyone stopped and watched him expectantly. He flashed them the classic ‘hang on a minute’ gesture and went off the trail and into the trees. He was gone ten full minutes before he rejoined them. “False alarm. It was a couple guys who fell off one of the cliffs further ahead about the same time Maggie disappeared.” He shook his head and cringed. “Not a pretty sight.”
Echo scrunched her face in confusion. “Their energy is pretty mellow for a death like that.”
“That’s because they were okay with it. Both of them said they’d gone out doing what they loved. They said they haven’t seen Maggie, but they’ll keep an eye out for her.”
The group continued on in silence, until Lindsey spoke. “What if it wasn’t any of them? I’m not naïve enough to think people who appear to be good can’t hide horrendous secrets, but all three of our suspects went on to marry, get good steady jobs, and avoided further problems with the law.” When the others muttered disagreements, she held up a hand. “I know, none of that is proof of innocence. I’m getting odd readings off the path and just sorting through them out loud. We need to keep in mind that Maggie wasn’t just a sweet college student. She had a tough side. Take this trail for example. She was leading the fight to keep this forest from becoming a parking lot. It was getting pretty nasty when she went missing. Her disappearance is what saved this place. Why it’s now called the Maggie O’Shay memorial trail.”
“What are you saying Linds?” Echo asked. “Do you think maybe someone involved with the building project was involved?”
“I’m not sure what I’m saying exactly. But there’s also the issue of the missing funds Maggie and her team raised for their fight against the developers. It was several hundred thousand dollars if I remember correctly.”
Thadd nodded, a sage expression on his face. “That’s several hundred thousand reasons to disappear.”
Hamish looked confused. “I don’t remember reading anything about that. Was she investigated for the missing money?”
Lindsey shook her head. “Not really. No one noticed the money was missing until she was gone. The idea was tossed around that she might have taken it and disappeared. They couldn’t prove it because she was never found. Investigations into everyone else who had access to the money came up empty. Then everyone got sidetracked. The destruction of the forest, the missing funds, and even her disappearance, all went on the back burner when the body of the developer was discovered in his office. Apparent suicide. The note mentioned huge losses and pending bankruptcy. Someone brought up the possibility he’d forced Maggie to give him the money then killed her. When that didn’t work to save his project, he killed himself. But the developer’s alibi was airtight. As for Maggie as a suspect, by the time she disappeared, she’d endeared herself to the public which made people unwilling to believe she’d done anything as bad as grand theft. But I’m getting a different picture from the memories imprinted on this path.”
Echo tilted her head and surveyed her friend with concern. “A different picture about the money, or about something else?”
“About the money, about Maggie’s disappearance, and most unsettlingly about the death of the developer. I think –”
The sound of slow clapping startled them, and they turned as one to look at the dark-haired woman who’d stepped out of the trees. She pulled a gun from the waistband of her jeans. “Bravo Captain Sayers. Bravo. You’ve figured it all out, haven’t you? You’re actually as good as I heard you were. Now why don’t you and ghost boy there throw your guns out into the trees like good little cops?”
Lindsey motioned to Hamish and they stepped in front of Echo and Thaddeus. They both ignored the suggestion to give up their weapons. “Maggie O’Shay I presume?”
“In the flesh.” She shot Hamish a nasty grin. “Or am I? What’s the verdict ghost boy? Flesh and bones or mist and spirit?”
Hamish glowered at her. “Don’t call me that. We’re virtually the same age so it doesn’t even make sense. Why don’t you throw down your gun? That missing money isn’t worth killing over. In fact, the statute of limitations expire d on that years ago so it’s not even an issue. Right now, you’re just a missing girl who has finally been found. You could be rich and famous. Talk shows. Book deals. Think of all the possibilities.”
Maggie gave him a pitying look. “Still a step or two behind, aren’t you? Toss your gun on out. You of all people should know just how dangerous those things are.”
Hamish side-eyed a look at Lindsey who gave him a nearly imperceptible shake of her head. She didn’t want either of them disarmed if she could help it. “What she’s saying Hamish, is that while the limitations have run out on the theft, they haven’t run out on murder. How did you know where we were Maggie?”
“Well isn’t that just too sweet? You really are as unaffected by your fame as you make yourself out to be. Your interview with the morning news show ring any bells? The one where you got all kinds of praise and accolades for your amazing success closing cold cases. The way they fawned over you was really pretty disturbing. I wonder what they’d think if I told them just how you’re so successful. Or how you and ghost boy have to have your very own shrink to travel with you wherever you go. Anyway, when that love-struck host asked if you knew what your next case would be you told him it was mine. I knew I had to act because, well, you’re you and your record for solving these cases is pretty damn high.” She spread her arms. “And so here we are in my woods where I didn’t die, but you will. Isn’t that ironic?”
Lindsey knew she had to keep the woman talking while she came up with a plan. “Let me see if I have this straight. You stole the money that was donated to your cause. I’m going to guess was a substantial amount. Then you disappeared leaving behind just enough clues to make your fate uncertain. And finally, you killed the developer and staged it like a suicide? Why?”
“Why?” She shrugged a careless shoulder. “I took the money because there was a lot of it, and I wanted it. Since I’d taken all the money, I couldn’t very well stick around, now could I? As for killing the developer? With all the money gone, there wasn’t any way for my group to fund the fight to stop him. I mean people had already donated loads, it wasn’t like they’d do it again. Especially since they didn’t know who’d taken it. The guy was going to win and all this beauty was going to be plowed up and covered with asphalt. So, I did the one thing that would solve all my problems.”
“I see you changed your looks. Blond hair to brown, blue eyes to brown, lots of time in the gym, and you’ve taken advantage of a spray tan. If I hadn’t known how your energy felt, I’d have thought you to be someone of a totally different heritage. But how did you survive? And how did you get the dead developer’s partners to lie for you?”
Maggie rolled her eyes. “I had a lot of money, remember? I arranged to become someone else. Opened an off-shore account. And I moved. Away. Far away. The partners didn’t lie for me. I actually did the guy a favor. His business was in the tank. The partners you’re so concerned with were already set to abandon ship. They’d been distancing themselves from him for a while.” With amazing speed, she grabbed Echo and held the gun to her side. “I’m tired of all this talking. Throw your guns out and let’s get moving.”
Lindsey wanted to kick herself. She’d let it drag on too long and lost her hold on Maggie. She and Hamish tossed their guns into the trees and they all started up the trail. Lindsey’s mind raced for a solution. She decided the only thing to do was to rush her and give the others a chance to get away. She might die, but Hamish would get the others to safety.
They made it as far as the cliffs when all hell broke loose. All Lindsey saw was blur but given the way the hairs on her arms stood up, she knew there were spirits involved. Maggie screamed and dropped the gun. Her eyes went wide with terror. She took a step back towards the cliff’s edge.
Hamish leaned toward Lindsey and spoke in low tones. “It’s the dead hikers. The guys I met earlier.”
“What are they doing to her?” Echo asked.
“I have no idea. It’s strange, I know they’re there, but I can’t see them clearly.”
The conversation while waiting for the reinforcements needed to retrieve Maggie’s body from the bottom of the cliff centered on the irony of the situation. For over a decade everyone thought Maggie had died on this trail and only now was it true. Lindsey mused that perhaps karma had come calling on Margaret O’Shay. Echo rolled her eyes and shook her head.
Thaddeus was bouncing on the balls of his feet. “It’s more like Captain Lindsey O’Shay came calling is what happened. What a rush.”
Lindsey sighed at the young man’s enthusiasm. “It wasn’t me, it was us collectively and the dead hikers of course. You need to chill Thadd. I understand how good it feels to solve a case, but people died, and lives were destroyed over this case.”
She wandered off to stand at the edge of the cliff where she crossed her arms and stared out over the ravine. Echo came to stand next to her.
“I know you feel bad that Maggie died, but you need to let your team handle the hard stuff the way they need to. As long as there’s no disrespect there’s nothing wrong with celebrating a win. Thaddeus admires you. We all do. And you can just stop beating yourself up about the way this all went down. You figured it out. You had no way of knowing she’d be here. And Lindsey,” she laid a hand on her friend’s arm and waited until she met her gaze. “Maggie’s death is a whole lot more acceptable to me than yours would have been had you done what you planned. Now the crews are here to handle things, so let’s go get the traditional end of case pizza. It’s your turn to buy.”
©2019 Rylee Black