This was Molly's first ever submission to the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge, Round 1.
Genre was assigned as suspense, subject as a homeless shelter, and character as a wedding planner.
Hope you enjoy it, and thanks for reading!
Morgan thought that she had left the past behind her, especially when homelessness led her to the love of her life. However, bits of her past creep into her life after her fiancé Blake is brutally murdered.
Morgan cradled the little white Dixie cup in her hands, swirling the contents around and around. She felt as though she were trapped inside of the small whirlpool of brown liquid, swirling and drowning in the wet shit referred to as coffee. She took a sip and noticed that it felt warm, but had no flavor. To her, nothing had any flavor anymore. In one single day, all flavor had drained from her life.
She looked around the tiny cubicle of a room and paused at her reflection in the two-way mirror that adorned the wall in front of her. Her reflection was hollow, and she almost couldn’t recognize the pale, brunette, blue-eyed woman looking back at her. She thought that her long brown hair reflected silhouettes of serpents, or strands of seaweed; the kind on those underwater documentaries she and Blake used to watch. Just then, it came to her. Her reflection washed over her, a tsunami of not who she was now, but of who she used to be. She gasped and shut her eyes. She didn’t want to look at Nora; the girl Morgan used to be.
She wanted this all to be some delirious dream from which she would soon wake. She wanted Blake to come save her from this mess, but he couldn’t. Blake was dead; she knew he was dead. Morgan saw his face on the stretcher; she had touched his clammy blood-stained cheek and looked into the whites of his eyes, all rolled back in his head like her old hooker roommate in Seattle. That moment came back to her in snippets, slices of memory that she had burned and buried a long time ago.
That hooker’s name was Velvet, and she had taken Morgan, then just an orphaned kid, in off of the streets. Velvet was several years older than Morgan, and apparently had a pretty hefty debt owed to a bitch pimp because that’s what she died from. Morgan saw the whole thing happen; back in Seattle when she was a different person, back when she was known as Nora.
She hid in the closet and watched as Velvet’s throat was slashed by some lady who screamed about bitches paying up. Morgan, or Nora, could only watch as Velvet slumped over on the bathroom floor, lifeless and blood drained, just like Blake. Seeing Blake’s dead face brought Velvet floating up to the surface for Morgan. She never thought she would have to revisit that part of her life. Not since she met Blake. He made her feel safe. She didn’t have to run anymore, like she had run from Seattle.
Morgan slurped up the last bits of flavorless coffee and sunk down into the stiff wooden chair. Staring at her hands, she began to shiver. The door opened to her left and Denver PD Detective Brenner placed a metal folding chair in front of the table. He sat his overweight body down and clasped his hands together. Morgan slowly sat up and adjusted her small frame.
“Morgan, I know we’ve asked you these questions, but it is very important that we go over them again.” He reached over and placed a firm hand on her arm. “Morgan, we have the surveillance footage from the bridal shop, we know that your whereabouts are accurate…so we’ll just need to ask you a few things again, ok?”
Morgan looked into Detective Brenner’s eyes, searching for the slightest sign of hope. Tears ran down her cheeks as she nodded her head.
“So, you stated that Blake had been volunteering at St. Michael’s…across the street from your townhouse, for over three years now, is that right?”
“Yes, and that’s where we met, sir.” Morgan sighed heavily and dropped her face to her hands. “I wanted him to stop going there. I wanted to move somewhere else since that freaky guy threatened us. Have you found that guy? Have you spoke to Sister Clara at the shelter? That guy was an asshole, sir. He threatened us a few weeks ago, when Blake…oh God, when Blake saved me from him out in our alley. That fat bastard tried to rape me!” Morgan began to sob. “Oh, Blake!”
“We have some officers over at St. Michael’s. They have been speaking to everyone they can. Can you tell me that guy’s name again?”
“I don’t know what his name is, he’s fucking homeless. He started showing up across the street a few months ago. Blake and I used to joke about him...we called him Fat Albert. I don’t know…Blake yelled the name ‘Phil’ when he pulled him off me. Jesus, we filed a police report!”
“Alright Morgan, now, tell me again about your dog. What happened to your dog?”
Morgan shifted in the high back chair and rubbed her forehead. She had already given all of this information to the detective, and yet here she was repeating herself, circling around like burnt, flavorless coffee in a Dixie cup. Just like Seattle, just like fucking Seattle, she thought.
“Bitsy went missing. It was late…a few weeks ago, Blake let her out. He tied her up as usual, we both heard her bark, and then she was gone. We’ve checked all of the animal shelters every day. Blake…oh God, Blake even printed up flyers…Bitsy just…just vanished.” Tears streamed steadily down her face, and she wiped them away with her grey hoodie sleeve.
“Ok Morgan. Now, I need to ask you another question, and I need you to be honest with me.”
“Sir, I HAVE been honest with you!” Morgan slammed her hands down on the table and slumped down in her seat.
“What is your relationship with Cynthia Grossman?” Detective Brenner leaned in closer to Morgan, staring her down.
This was a question that she hadn’t been asked before. She cocked her head back in confusion.
“Cynthia? Blake’s cousin? I don’t exactly have a relationship with her. We’ve emailed back and forth a few times…she agreed to help me with wedding plans. She was supposed to meet me yesterday at the bridal shop, but she never showed. Why? What the fuck is going on?” Did Cynthia have something to do with Blake’s murder? She thought to herself. No, couldn’t be…she’s his cousin for Pete’s sake.
“Well, it appears that Cynthia has been missing for a few days, but I want to reassure you that we are doing everything that we can to get to the bottom of this. I’m going to arrange for an Officer to take you home now to pick up a few things. Sister Clara said that you can stay at the shelter while we process your townhouse. Do you have anywhere else you’d like to go?”
Morgan felt emptiness and fear creep into her from the inside out. She had nowhere to go.
“No sir. I’ve nowhere else.”
Sister Clara had always taken good care of Morgan, ever since Morgan showed up on the concrete steps of the old church turned homeless shelter almost ten years prior. Sister Clara allowed Morgan to live in the basement apartment for years, and in return, Morgan kept the shelter clean. The old church was a sanctuary for Morgan, even if it housed a bunch of street thugs and junkies from time to time. St. Michaels was where she met Blake. She remembered the moment that they had laid eyes on each other, in the kitchen of that old church. He was tall, handsome with his jet black hair, and made the best omelets she had ever tasted.
As she settled back in to that basement apartment for the night, Morgan attempted to calm her thoughts, but the questions kept swirling around in her brain…like that shit coffee in the Dixie cup. Where was Cynthia? Morgan hadn’t even met the lady yet, but Blake had spoken about her, and how having Cynthia help with the wedding plans would give her good experience with her new career choice. Morgan’s mind began to flood with flashbacks of conversations with Blake.
“We could have my cousin Cynthia help us out with the plans hon, ya know, so it doesn’t overwhelm you. Plus, it would give Cynthia some good experience. My Mom said she was trying to start over in life.” Blake wrapped his strong arms around Morgan’s waist and kissed the top of her head.
“What do you mean by ‘start over’?”
“Oh, Cynthia disappeared for several years…she got hung up with the wrong crowd, somewhere northwest…Portland I think. She was the subject of family drama for some time. But, she’s been back for a while now. I heard she’s trying to start a wedding business, being a planner I guess. I’ll get her contact info from my Mom tomorrow.”
Finally, exhaustion took a power hold over Morgan’s consciousness. She hadn’t slept in what felt like days as she lay down on the cot in her old sanctuary. But, even as sleep came, it disturbed her with dreams and nightmares from her past.
“Nora, you better hide, I don’t want Cindy to see you here, or she’s gonna want more money. I’m not supposed to have anyone here. Hurry girl, hurry! And stay quiet…not a fucking peep!”
Nora scrambled into the cubbyhole inside the bedroom closet as the banging on the apartment door grew louder. Nora peered in silence through the crack in the doorframe and listened.
“Cindy, what the fuck? I told you I’d get you the money tomorrow!”
“You’ve been saying that for a month Velvet! Bitches gotta pay up! Now where’s my God damn money? And where’s that little orphaned pet of yours? You think I don’t know about Nora? You think I don’t know? You gotta pay for her too!”
“Chill the fuck out Cindy, Jesus Christ, you know I’m good for it…and I don’t know any Nora! What the fuck Cindy, NO!”
Nora gasped and covered her mouth as she watched Velvet’s attacker do her in. The shine of a blade, the thump of a body, blood…lots of blood. She watched that woman stand over Velvet for an eternity…and waited.
“Nora, can you describe the person you saw again?”
“Nora, what did this person look like?”
“Nora, what was her name?”
Morgan let out a scream that woke her. She was dripping with sweat, and discombobulated. She glanced around the dark basement room and recalled her bearings. She reached for the lamp on the nightstand next to her cot. She clicked it on and looked down at the business card Detective Brenner had given her.
There was something about her nightmare…something about her memories of that night so long ago when Velvet was murdered. She could never recall what the pimp bitch’s name was, not back then, not in that other lifetime when she was Nora, but now it was rising to the top of her memory bank.
Velvet had yelled “Cindy”. Blake said that his cousin disappeared around Portland…could that name have been short for…Cynthia? She thought to herself, but quickly dismissed the crazy notion. No way could Cindy and Cynthia be the same person, she thought. Morgan didn’t stick around Seattle long enough to find out what happened to Velvet’s killer. No, Morgan had taken Velvet’s stack of cash from the cubbyhole in the closet and made her way to Denver, changed her name, fell into the good graces of Sister Clara, and then Blake.
Morgan tried to shake off the flashbacks from her sleep; but then the realization that Blake was dead washed over her in torrents of sobs. They were supposed to be married; they were supposed to have a happy life together. Now she was in the shelter where she had met him, as though her adult life had come full circle and there was nowhere else to go. Her life was swirling, again.
After some time, she composed herself and thought it best to go upstairs to call Detective Brenner. She didn’t want to dig up her past, but felt as though she should…just in case. It was barely 7 A.M. and she knew Sister Clara would already be up and about, preparing the breakfast meals. Morgan pulled herself up off of the cot, reached for the door and stopped cold. There, around the brass doorknob, hung Bitsy’s collar. Morgan felt the cold chill of fright run up from her toes to the top of her skull.
“Oh shit!” she gasped. Morgan slowly reached over to the doorknob and pulled the collar off and flung it on the cot.
“This is a dream; this has to be a dream.” She said aloud to herself. She pinched her arm and felt the sting. It wasn’t a dream. Shaking, she turned the doorknob. Suddenly the door flung open with force and knocked her to the concrete floor, the back of her head met the floors surface with a rattling thud. Morgan grabbed her head and looked up in fear.
“Oh my God! Oh my God, it’s you! Sister Clara!! Sister Clara!!”Morgan screamed and scooted back till she hit the wall.
“You can scream all you want Nora, it won’t do a bit of good. Sister Clara isn’t here anymore. She’s in her eternal home now, with that glorious cousin of mine, and your fuckin dog! What a surprise, eh? Bet you thought I’d never find your sorry ass. I didn’t think I would either…but then I saw the family Christmas pictures. You stole my fucking money!”
“You! You’re…you’re Cynthia?” Morgan stammered.
“You can call me Cindy, Nora. Now where’s my money, honey? Bitches gotta pay up!”
Morgan felt the coldness of the blade as it sunk into her throat and watched as the darkness swirled in around her, like flavorless coffee in a Dixie cup.
Molly Roland is a writer by nature, and she enjoys stepping over the invisible lines society loves to draw.