24-Hour Short Story Contest Entry: "A STITCH IN TIME" by Evan M. Nichols
On April 24, 2004, I participated in a 24-Hour Short Story Contest. The judges sent out the topic and maximum word count at 10:00 am PDT, and we had one day to write a 950-word story. I wrote a Dr. Eldritch story, as the topic seemed to work with it, and I'd like to get some attention for the Dr. Eldritch website.
The following is the topic for this quarter's contest. Note that the exact text does not have to appear in the story, but the elements must appear (to prevent people from writing a story beforehand, and merely tacking in a reference to the topic).
She tipped the deliveryman, closed the door, and excitedly pulled the glittering ribbon from the gold box. Inside, she was puzzled to find four fortune cookies nestled in gold satin. She picked one up, cracked it open, and pulled out the white slip of paper. "What goes around comes around." She frowned and opened another one. "As you sow, so shall you reap." She started to tremble as she read the third. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." A bead of sweat trickled past her temple as she reached for the fourth...
Here's what I wrote:
A Dr. Eldritch Tale
by Evan M. Nichols
Police inspector Darling rotated the corpse's hand to reveal the fortune cookie it grasped, when a man walked silently through the wall beside her. She started, tipped, caught herself, only to hear the cookie crunch under her weight.
"Damn it, Eldritch!" she roared, whirling on him. "Look what you made me do!" The tall man glanced down impassively at the fragments on the floor. A patrolman appeared in the doorway.
"Is everything all right, Inspector?" he asked, hand on his sidearm, eyes fixed on the newcomer. Inspector Darling waved her hand.
"Fine," she said. "He's with me." The officer glared, but released his weapon and returned to the other room.
"Sorry, Inspector..." Eldritch began.
"Did you just walk through that wall?" the Inspector snapped.
"What a curious notion," Eldritch said. "I'm sorry I startled you, but I came as soon as I got your message." The inspector pressed her hand to her forehead and muttered something softly.
"I didn't mean for you to come here," she said. "The media have a field day with a civilian on a case."
"Consultant," Eldritch said. "And that's why I... didn't go to the front door. Too many officers; they just ask questions. What's all this, then?" He knelt to scrutinize the young woman. She lay on her side with a quizzical expression, as if merely unsure why she was on the floor.
"This is Lydia Rose Putnam, single, occult shop employee. No bruises, no bleeding, no toxin indicators. She just dropped. I'll bet autopsy and toxicology show nothing. You've been useful suggesting explanations for the bizarre, so I called.
"Neighbors saw a gold box delivered from a van two hours ago. Emma Putnam, her sister, claims she found her like this, with the box and three cookies on the floor. These were on the table." Darling handed a plastic evidence bag to Eldritch. He read the three slips of paper.
"Sounds like a warning. And the fourth one?"
Darling coaxed the paper free and held it up. Her brow furrowed. She handed it to Eldritch.
"A stitch in time," he read. "That's only..." A commotion in the next room erupted, and the officer reappeared in the door.
"Inspector, there's someone insisting to see you and a Dr. Eldritch," he said. Darling sighed.
"The field day is becoming a circus. Show him in." The officer led a young, round-faced man into the kitchen.
"Cyril!" Eldritch said, shaking the younger man's hand. "This is..."
"Inspector Darling," Cyril said, extending his hand.
"Have we met before?" the Inspector asked.
"I'll see you quite often over the next few years," Cyril said.
"Inspector, Cyril lives his life backwards, you see, so to him, he's known you for a while," Eldritch explained.
"Backwards?" Darling said. "Wouldn't that make using the facilities...?"
"Uh, no," Cyril stammered. "I live each day in normal time, but when I go to sleep tonight, I'll wake up yesterday morning."
"Eldritch, you are driving me to a stress-related retirement," Darling said, hand to her head again. "What's so important, Mr...?"
"Fontaine. Tomorrow, Eldritch will tell me to meet you both here today. He'll say to insist on being allowed in."
"Then you must know something about Lydia Putnam," Eldritch said. Cyril grimaced, and slowly nodded.
"I know the name," he said.
"What?" Darling asked. "How do you know her?" Cyril gave Eldritch a pleading look.
"Inspector, normally we've found it best that Cyril doesn't reveal future events," he said. "But since I specifically asked you to be here, I think an exception could be made."
"The shop is a front, mostly. She's made a fortune selling curses. Next week, she'll be brewing a curse and it explodes, spraying her with a mixture of mercury, belladonna, and some rather nasty things," Cyril whispered, as if confessing a secret. "She'll go mad. Temporarily, anyway, but she'll go on a rampage with an axe. Three families, hacked to death. Huge trial, tons of press. She's locked up for life."
"How many people?" Eldritch asked.
"Five adults, four children," Cyril said. "It's going to be horrible." Darling started to say something, but Eldritch stopped her.
"What else?" he asked. Cyril hung his head, but continued.
"She suffers terribly in prison. Guilt, and beatings and chronic illness. Still, she was fascinated by anything time-related. In fifty years she'll interview me for hours. I'll get the sense she's looking for a way to change what happened."
"Someone did," Eldritch said. "That's her on the floor." Cyril met his gaze.
"Temporal anomaly?" he asked.
"I believe so," Eldritch said.
"What are you saying?" Inspector Darling asked.
"With Lydia Putnam dead, she won't kill nine people," Eldritch said. "The future that Cyril experienced is now impossible. Somebody has changed Time."
"Right. Allowing that this makes any sense, who killed her?"
"Someone who didn't want the future to happen, and skilled at lethal curses," Eldritch said. "Unless you believe in coincidence."
"Not hardly. I'd start with the sister, she'd inherit the fortune. I'll have Miss Emma in for questioning," Darling said. Cyril blinked.
"Her sister is Emma?" he asked. Darling and Eldritch nodded.
"Then there is one more thing," Cyril said. "I won't think about this for years, because it didn't make any sense at the time. I mean, everyone knew Lydia was the one who killed those people. But the last thing she said to me was 'Tell them it wasn't Emma. I did it myself.'"
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