Lydia stroked her chin thoughtfully. “I hope that I have used the correct knots,” she said, out loud, to herself.
a Twitter novel
by Ryan Veeder
copyright Ryan Veeder MMXVII
The wind blew across the elementary school playground. It blew the orange leaves up against the wire fence. The leaves rustled.
Betsy Morrison wrote in her diary.
“I am a twelve-year-old girl,” she wrote, “the wisest creature upon Earth. I understand the languages of birds, the ebb and flow of the seasons, the past and the future and the space beyond time. Today is my birthday, and I am twelve years old.
“We went to Garbaggio’s Pizzeria for my birthday over the weekend because it was Uncle Boscoe’s birthday last week and we celebrated them at the same time but my REAL birthday is today,” Betsy continued to write, leaves swirling around her ankles, “and I am perfect among humans.”
BEWARE: The new Halloween Zeen is out!
A lot of really cool people contributed a lot of really cool stuff to this year’s Zeen. Plus there is a board game that I didn’t do a very good job of designing. BUT THE OTHER STUFF IS RAD. CHECK IT OUT.
“It was those luddites,” Heldeb grumbled. “They’ve got themselves some new old-fashioned contraption. An impossibly loud one.”
These remarks were directed toward a nebrium-plated breakfast droid, which, detecting Heldeb’s frustration, extended two shiny pseudopods to rub his temples.
By degrees the sunlight reached through an unprismed habi-dome window, illuminating an analog selenometer: Piv, waxing crescent; Hed, third quarter; Fewkalek, waxing gibbous. Then the sun shone on the edge of an old-fashioned bed, with old-fashioned Cadëxial silk sheets over an old-fashioned eidetic foam mattress. Tangled in the sheets were two old-fashioned data enthusiasts.
Radix awoke first.
Vilt landed his ungraceful vessel with a veteran freighter’s careful hand, despite the relative worthlessness of his cargo. It was midnight on the planet Gich.
“Are we there yet?” squawked the cargo. It was a long-outmoded data entry robot, purchased on the interplanetary vintage robot exchange by a pair of Gichian luddite data enthusiasts. Its designation was ¶‡◊.
The rec room was a mess. Hanna made a show of stepping gingerly over some free weights; then, balancing her tray of blondies on one arm, she produced her key ring and unlocked the heavy door to the back room.
“It’s such a shock,” she repeated, ushering me and Melanie ahead of her into the tiny chamber. Then she made a point of looking straight at me: “You gotta understand, things like this just don’t happen in Carol Lake. It’s not that kinda town.”
The room did not have the appearance of a crime scene. It was quite tidy, especially in comparison to the rec room. The safe was small and unimpressive; its door was only slightly ajar.
“Of course not,” I said. “I’m finding out that it’s a really lovely town. Really beautiful.”
“That’s right. Aren’t you sweet?” Hanna smiled her huge, disarming smile. “You oughta have another blondie, you sweetie, you.”
I started to shake my head, but Melanie put her hand on my shoulder.
“My friend is about to reject your offer. He wishes to treat you kindly, and believes it would be impolite to eat more than one of your blondies. He is unused to the social mores of Carol Lake, and is not aware that the opposite is true.”
She turned toward me, pushing my shoulder so that we were face to face. “You would be treating Hanna with more kindness if you ate another of her blondies, which I have reason to believe you find delicious. You should continue to accept her blondies until she ceases to offer them.”
I nodded emphatically, and, at a loss for words, picked up a second blondie from Hanna’s tray.
“You’re just like Mr. the Mayor,” she said, still grinning. “‘Only one blondie for me, Hanna! Watch out for those empty calories!’ All that nonsense. Don’t let him find out I said such a thing, of course. Such a lovely man.”
Melanie was now poking her nose around the room, leaning and craning her neck with her hands in her pockets. Hanna and I just watched and waited—then Melanie turned around, pushing past us to investigate the rec room. With a short glance at each other we followed the detective.
Melanie’s talent for moving around without touching anything was put to the test in a room littered with fitness equipment. I won’t embarrass myself trying to put a name to each of the appliances, but I will say that the level of organization definitely made the area more of a “rec room” than a “gym.”
Now Melanie was stalking along the south wall, inspecting a series of tall basement windows which afforded the space only a modicum of natural light. The sill of the last window was occupied by a brown tabby, attempting to luxuriate in what passed for a sunbeam. Without warning, Melanie abandoned her policy of non-interference and shoved the cat out of the window.
The poor animal yelped as it fell to the floor, but, having landed on its feet, it immediately put on a show of nothing having happened. With unconvincing loftiness it strolled over to Hanna and deigned to be picked up.
“You’re sure that the door to the back room was locked?” Melanie asked from across the room.
“It locks on its own,” Hanna explained.
“Where was Cleopatra last night?”
Hanna smiled. “I never know. Out on the town, I expect.”
This sounded like an evasion to me, but Melanie seemed satisfied, and she continued: “Only you and the mayor have keys to that door?”
“That’s right. Well, there’s only the one key, but—”
Melanie cut her off. “And the combination to the safe?”
“That’s between me and Mr. the Mayor.”
Melanie nodded. “I have it figured out,” she said. She took a seat on one of several weight benches, took a deep breath, and began:
“The latch on that rightmost window is undone; the others are secured. Before the building closed, your cat left that window open—on purpose—and at some point during the night she entered this rec room in that way.
“Once inside, the cat grew a pair of human hands, which she used to pick the lock on the door to the back room. In similar fashion she broke into the safe and withdrew the bake sale proceeds. Cats being inscrutable creatures, I can only guess at her motive. Perhaps she suffers from a bad catnip habit, or compulsive purchasing behavior regarding fitness equipment. Perhaps a series of veterinarian bills piled up after a relative was put to sleep.
“At any rate, the cat left the back room with the money, allowing the door to lock as it closed. She left in the same way she entered, through the basement window—but, although she could pull the window shut behind herself, even with a pair of human hands she was unable to close the latch once she was outside.
“Then she hid the money, I do not yet know where, and turned her human hands back into paws. By pretending to fall asleep on the sill of the relevant window she hoped to disguise the key clue in the case, but I’m afraid I was too smart for her.”
Melanie finished her story with a little nod. I clicked my teeth nervously; Hanna was silent for a moment.
When she finally spoke, it was clear she was trying to hold back laughter. “Miss Cozy, that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. If you can’t solve the case, I understand, but that’s no reason to make fun of it.” At length she regained her composure: “This is a very serious situation,” she concluded.
“I totally agree,” Melanie said, “but I’m afraid I’m not joking. The only humans who could have committed this crime are the mayor and yourself. It’s beyond consideration that either of you would have done such a thing, and so the only remaining explanation—”
Now Hanna cut Melanie off. “Oh! Oh, Cleopatra, you bad, bad girl!” She pushed her face into the cat’s, pursing her lips and squinting furiously. “How could you have done such a bad, bad thing?” But despite her anger she clutched the poor animal all the tighter against her chest, and I imagine a less lazy cat would have summarily jumped out of her arms.
“Well,” Hanna said, grinning again, “looks like you solved the case! Should I—Write a check, or?” She glanced from Melanie to me and back again.
“We’ll mail an invoice,” I said automatically.
“That is incorrect,” said Melanie, standing and dusting off her jacket. “My associate and I will accept payment immediately, in the form of blondies.”
Halloween is my favorite dang thing, and I try to make the most of it. There is not enough October in a year for all the spooky stuff I want to accomplish. But, with a view toward enhancing your Halloween experience, I would like to promote here some of the Weeny things I’ve produced for your enjoyment. Pretty scary, boys and girls!
Tinkerbell cracked her knuckles, and the gruesome popping made me wince. Tinkerbell scoffed at me. She rolled her eyes.
“Ya gonna be a baby? Ya gonna be a baby? Ya gonna be a baby? Cripes. I’m goin’ without you.” She didn’t mean it, apparently: As she spoke, she bumped her hip into my knee. A tiny cloud of fairy dust flew from her wings and landed on my leg. I started to float.
“There’s six hunnid billion human beans on the planet Earth, I’m stuck with this one. Cripes. Six hunnid billion, sixty billion beans, I’m stuck with you. I wanna cry.” Tinkerbell dragged her hands down against her face, mimicking falling tears, pulling grotesquely at her eyelids.
She grabbed my hand and pulled me away from the bench, flapping her sugary wings into a haze, glittering gold under the park lamps. Then we were above the lamps—I could see the whole park—the whole city.
We were so high up my teeth were chattering. “That one. That there. See?” She was pointing into the maze of streets; I couldn’t tell where. “You go in there. Walk in. There’s a guy. You tell him. Say that, say, you wanna see the Death-Bug. You gotta be less of a pansy-pamby though. Act like a real man.”
Tinkerbell flew up into my face and slapped me in the eyeball.
“What, ya gonna cry? Ya gonna cry? Ya gonna cry? Cripes. Ya gonna cry? Whatta pansy,” she groaned, as I rubbed my face.
I probably did cry, a little, as Tinkerbell dragged me down from the sky and onto Westing Street. I was still massaging my eye when she stopped leading me by the hand and flew up to whisper in my ear.
“That’s the guy. Shut up! He don’t see us yet. Shut up! Just tell him, just say, you wanna see the Death-Bug. Be cool about it, kay? Try to be—just—don’t let him—”
Giving up on that sentence, she flew down to my back pocket, and I cringed as she squirmed her way in. Then I felt her elbow me in the buttock, which I assumed was my signal to get a move on.
I approached the figure Tink had indicated, a dark man in a dark suit, standing outside a windowless building. The three nearest streetlights were all dead—I doubted this was a coincidence. I moved in close before I spoke, and hoped that my theatrical glances up and down the street indicated that I valued secrecy as much as he did.
“Hey. I’m here to see the…”
How long should I pause? Am I pausing for too long?
The man’s eyes glittered, and I knew that even in this light he could see my whole face, my falseness, my anxiety, and the tiny red handprint on my right eye.
He snorted. “Tell ‘er Vick said nice try,” he muttered, and then he punched me in the stomach. There was enough fairy dust left on me that I flew all the way across the street, in slow motion, like a crash test dummy.
“Cripes, whatta idiot, cripes, cripes. Cripes, cripes, cripes…” Tinkerbell’s shrieking filled my ears and then faded away as she pulled herself out of my pocket, flew into the air, and disappeared among the stars. Then my head hit the curb; then I blacked out.