Have you ever read a short story before? They are stories that range between 5,000 and 10,000 words. But really, it just has to be over 1,000 to enter into this classification. If it is under 500 words, it is considered flash fiction and that is another story (ha-ha). The story you are about to read is 2,000 words exactly. Enjoy!
The cold breeze wrapped around Sophia. Her eyes were glued to the seven golden flowers that were laid in front of her father’s headstone. Seven for the number of cats he had? Seven for his birth month of July? Seven for the number of trophies he had won from archery? Considering that every year, the same number of marigolds found their way to his resting place, the number had to mean something. It was like clockwork. On the day of his birthday, the bundle of freshly cut flowers would show up before she arrived.
For ten years, the flowers would show up without fail. They were picture perfect and crafted with meticulous care. Sophia didn’t think much of it the first time she saw them, a year after her father’s accident. But when they repeatedly showed up, her mind started spinning with curiosity as to who was behind them. Their placement made her suspect it was not of a male friend, but of a female acquaintance. Many factors had gone into her assumption of that nature.
The same bow, for starters, was always gray and wrapped tightly around the bundle with experience. Upon inspecting the ends of the flowers, Sophia had noticed that they were always cut evenly and fresh to the touch. No leaves were attached to their stems, nor purposely arranged between the blooms. Her father’s favorite color was gray, and he always preferred plants from his home garden instead of store produce. These flowers were thoughtfully picked for her father every year, but she had no idea as to why.
Due to the unusual circumstances of her father’s demise, Sophia couldn’t help but feel unsettled by these simple flowers. Some nights, she felt foolish and ashamed that someone’s random act of kindness unnerved her to no end. But then again, the flowers didn’t appear to be random at all. They were deliberate, and came without fail. It was as if someone had been trying to communicate in an unknown code for all these years. But to what end? For what purpose?
Maybe the person knew who killed her father? She, or he, could be trying to send her a message. But for ten years, Sophia couldn’t figure it out. She contemplated contacting the detective that was handling the investigation, off the record. Detective Ruger Hans had been a friend of her father’s since high school, and shared her viewpoint on his “accident.” The original investigating detectives attributed the death to drunk driving and dying in the resulting car crash. The accident involved only her father’s vehicle and made perfect sense to all, except for the ones who actually knew her father.
Drinking and driving was something he simply wouldn’t have done. Sophia had informed the investigating detectives about her uncle becoming paralyzed at the waist, from a drunk driver incident, when her father was a teen. When the detective had shown her the personal effects recovered from his body, Sophia had mentioned the oddity of a nicotine gum wrapper. Smoking was something that her father would not give up. It was a habit that reminded him of his grandfather whenever he took a smoke. Despite “listening” to her objections on what happened, a massive amount of the evidence stacked in favor of drunk driving, and so the matter had been officially closed.
She tried asking the detectives to reopen the case and attempted to persuade them by restating what she had before. Her mother was no help either. The year before the accident had been a rocky one for her family. Sophia could still feel the emotional scars that her parent’s divorce had inflicted upon her. It all happened the summer before she was bound for college a state away. So much change in a small time frame had left a footprint on her and made her even more driven to excel in her studies. If her grades were top notch, she could earn the attention of a professor and possibly have a gateway to a good start in her career. Anything was better than the constant bickering and self absorbed arguing from her parents.
Then it happened. An unknown phone number had called her cell and left a cryptic voicemail. It was a detective asking for her to call back at her soonest convenience. Once the math class had let out, she returned the call that ended her world as she knew it. The funeral had been mostly arranged by herself, with no guidance from her mother. A friend from college had obtained special permission from the school to miss classes in order to help her sort through the affairs. When the day came to bury her father, her mother was nowhere to be seen and didn’t pick up any of Sophia’s phone calls.
A month later, Sophia had received a text message from her mother with an explanation for her absence. She had apparently lost her phone and didn’t recognize her daughter’s number on the screen of her new one. Sophia didn’t respond that day for fear of lashing all her anger out at her mother. But when the next message came the following day, her anger erupted and she drowned her mother’s ear through a yelling match over the phone. The only reason her mother had reached out had been to ask for help paying her rent for the month.
Could it be her mother leaving the flowers? The thought was too inconceivable to even consider. There wasn’t a memory Sophia could recall of her mother picking flowers. Most flowers caused her mother to sneeze, so not many flowers made their way into the house. And there was the fact that her mother had no green thumb whatsoever. She would be more prone to grab a bottle of wine than to grab shears for cutting fresh flowers. It was her father that had had the knack for gardening.
Cold bit through her jacket and caused a shiver to race up her spine. Her chestnut hair flew in the breeze that was gradually becoming worse. Sophia kissed her right hand and placed her palm on the headstone. “Happy Birthday, Dad.”
A tear threatened to roll down her cheek, but she wiped it away before it did. Stuffing her hands into the pockets of the oversized jacket, Sophia stared down at her feet as she walked away in a sullen manner. Time was fading some memories away, but it was also healing others. Today was the only day that her work knew not to touch on her schedule. Her boss understood the importance of the day and she was glad that she could count on someone for something. Failed romantic relationships and dwindling friendships had been taking a toll on her mentally as of late. With each passing year, her faith in finding her father’s killer was dissipating and becoming more troublesome on her soul.
One unique hobby of Sophia’s was studying the different headstones that made up a cemetery. She had found comfort in them over the years. The library-like atmosphere that this outdoor location held was an intriguing concept. Each stone was unique to the individual they marked, and each stone’s attention gave insight into the family and friends.
Walking back to her car, Sophia stopped dead in her tracks when a bundle of flowers at a nearby grave captured her attention. As if in a trance, she walked straight for a headstone that had marigolds laid in front of it. Her speed picked up until she was jogging to the stone. The same fresh cut marigolds, bound in a bow, had been placed in front of a grave with the name “Mike Neighbor.” She counted eleven blooms and noticed the bow was blue instead of gray. Yanking her phone from her pocket, Sophia googled the man’s obituary and scanned through the words for the cause of death. After locating the section where an accident was mentioned, she searched the news for an article pertaining to the event.
The local paper had reported it about six years ago as a singular car crash. Unlike her father’s, however, the cause had been determined as an apparent overdose of his medicine that led to the crash. Sophia dialed Ruger.
“Hey, Sophia. I was about to visit your dad. Are you there already?”
“Yeah. Been here since one. Are you on your way?”
“Be there in five. I got stuck in a traffic jam going south.”
“Great. When you get here, I have something to show you.”
Sophia watched Ruger’s car pull up next to her’s and he walked out to join her at the headstone for Mike Neighbor. His wrinkled face gave her an inquisitive look.
“This isn’t your father’s grave.”
“I know. But these flowers are the same as the ones dropped by his headstone every year on his birthday.” Sophia had previously talked to Ruger about the anonymous flowers before, but a thorough search of all local flower services had turned up nothing. Even forensics couldn’t gather anything from them, except for the ribbon being readily available and the marigolds grown from a potter’s mix of soil. “I counted eleven flowers. And the ribbon is different, but they are the same otherwise.”
“Let’s drive around and see if there are any other graves with this bundle.” Ruger opened the car door for Sophia to ride shotgun as the two searched the surrounding burial plots. A shout from Sophia let Ruger know to stop the car as they approached the other side of the five acre cemetery.
The headstone was for “Dameon Blake” and the bundle contained three marigolds with a green ribbon. Ruger took snapshots with his phone and dropped Sophia off at her car.
“Let me look into this and I’ll get back to you.”
Sophia wanted to protest, but she knew it was futile. Ruger had become a godfather to her and she understood that he wished to protect her from any false hope in finding the truth. Reluctantly, she thanked him and climbed back into her car. The engine rumbled to life when she turned the key and started her drive back home.
The next two weeks went by slowly for Sophia, who’s mind kept drifting back to the cemetery. Paranoia seeped into her thoughts and caused her to keep her cell phone glued to her hip. She did not want to miss Ruger’s call, no matter what. Her boss had noticed her sudden absentmindedness and inquired if everything was okay. Withholding most details, Sophia informed her boss that there might be a new lead into her father’s death. Waiting to hear from the detective was messing with her concentration. Politefully, she declined her boss’s offer to go home for a few days and tried refocusing for the next few hours. But when her phone rang with Ruger’s tune, she ripped it out of her pocket, and jammed it next to her ear.
“Sorry I took so long getting back to you, Sophia. I wanted to make sure I had everything squared away.”
“That’s fine. So, did you find out anything?” Her heart felt as if it would burst. She tried keeping her anxiety down, but a sudden rush of hope was overflowing her chest. The thought that this might be the moment she would finally know something, seemed impossible for so many years.
“We got her. Sophia, we finally nabbed her.”
Tears rocketed down her cheeks from gratitude and fear. She was grateful for small closure, but fearful at what he was about to tell her. Ruger continued in his compassionate tone.
“You weren’t the only one that noticed the anonymous flowers. Other families had reported it, and not just from Rockner Cemetery. Her name was Wendy Mason and she worked in both Texas and Illinois. Both cities, where she worked, had cemeteries with the same inquiries. Apparently, the number of flowers in the bundle, represented what victim number they were to her.”
Sophia sank into her desk chair, speechless.