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Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Sugar Plum Fairy and the Hatchet Murderer


[When I was in college I wrote this short story for a Creative Writing class. It amused the instructor, and I hope it will amuse you.  I've updated it so that it could possibly occur in the 21st century.]


The Sugar Plum Fairy and the Hatchet Murderer
by Douglas Whaley

A murder is strange in the way it can change the lives of everyone around it (especially the victim).  Several people moved out of the apartment building and the landlord nearly went crazy trying to rent the vacant rooms, in spite of the fact that there was a housing shortage in University City.  Nobody wanted anything to do with a recent hatchet murder.  Those of us who lived on the same floor as the victim became more careful now about locking our doors; the slightest sounds made us all freeze. Ginny Carlton, two rooms down from my apartment, got to screaming so much at her cat's sudden appearances that she finally gave the pet away.
Everyone knew that Shirley Ruthlington's sugar sweet stories suited her personality, so as far as I know there wasn't anyone who disliked her. Her books were short little pieces intended for the just-beginning age group, and they contained as their major characters a Thoreau-like woodsman and a beautiful wonderland fairy. If' you want to look her up online remember that she wrote under the endearing name of' “Shirley Sweetness.” During the last semester, she had discovered that I was planning on becoming a writer and had encouraged me from time to time by inviting me to her apartment for "tea and talk."
It had therefore come as quite a shock for us all when she was found in the middle of her living room rug last Monday, the victim of what appeared to be a rather brutal ax murder. The actual murder weapon was gone, and no clues were found except one cryptic note in her appointment book which simply stated that at eight o'clock "Al Pine" was to arrive.  It should be further noted that "Al Pine" was the name of her storybook woodsman.  Evidently he had arrived . . . and brought his ax.
The police surged over the apartment building like cockroaches, hanging around constantly and checking into the activities of us all.  They were particularly interested in the fact that I knew who "Al Pine" was, but disappointed to hear that he was a fictional character whose only ax had been created on a computer.   I explained that I was a student at the university, as were many of the people in the building, and that I knew Ms. Ruthlington only through our occasional literary discussions.  I must have been a suspect though, being one of her few friends, and because I spotted Lt. Ambrose (one of the heads of the investigation) immediately outside our building’s front door the next day, watching me as I headed to class.  My roommate, Pete Murdox, (one of the members of the swim team), informed me that me that he heard strange noises on our telephone suggested it was tapped or something.  It worried us all for awhile. 
Finally, about three days after the killing, I had the strangest dream.
Here I was in this little forest, next to a quiet brook, drinking from a jug of sweet wine and feeling very much like a character in something out of Omar Khayyam.  I didn't seem to mind that the trees were red and blue, or that the birds sang in English—all was right with the world.  After a bit, several tiny stars began to fall from nowhere (even though it was daylight) and they gathered in a group before me.  All of them had faces, and they danced about in a circle singing a nonsensical Gilbert and Sullivan verse, happy as puppies.
After a short buildup, they all cried excitedly, "Introducing Blue Gown Alice, the Sugar Plum Fairy!!!" and they suddenly were transmogrified into ornaments on a flowing ball gown on of a beautiful storybook fairy.  She was quite traditional . . . tiara, wand, wings, and all.  Her gown was indeed blue.  Still I took little more notice than to nod my head and rise up on my elbows.
"Got a minute?" she asked.
"Sure," I replied.  "You would be Blue Gown Alice?"
"Bet on it."  She waved her wand and rose into the air, trailing her gown behind her and twiddling her ballet slippers ecstatically; she was evidently happy over being herself.
"Look," she said, floating down to earth, suddenly serious.  "I've got to talk to you about poor Shirley Sweetness, but I can't do it here. Will you he1p me come to you?"
"Why not?"  I took another swallow of the wine.
"Good.  When you wake up, plop two gumdrops in a glass of pink lemonade.  Then recite the words 'Hans Christian Anderson' and I'll come to you and explain what further must be done."
I nodded solemnly, being certain this would work.  She bent over and kissed me on the forehead, and then vanished.  For a second the stars remained with stupid grins on their faces, and then they too departed, screaming, "Hey, Alice, wait for us!"  I awoke, this being the only thing left to do.
With a groan I rolled over and discovered I was in my bed.  I looked at my watch and found to my annoyance that it was three in the morning.  Once I wake I usually have a terrible time getting back to sleep, and tonight I needed sleep to clear my mind for a Journalism exam that very day.  Frowning, I went to the cabinet in the bathroom to find a sleeping pill, being careful not to wake Pete, who was snoring very soundly in the next room.
I jumped straight up in the air when I saw lipstick printed firmly on my forehead.
The next minute I was dressed and racing my car wildly down the street to Frank's all-night convenience store to buy gumdrops and lemonade.  Breaking speed laws a few minutes after that, I arrived back at the apartment, purchases in hand.  The lemonade was frozen solid, but assumed some semblance of liquidity I poured it into a bowl and gave it a brief stop in the microwave.  I dumped the whole soggy mess into a glass, plopped in two gumdrops as instructed, and waited.
Nothing.
Then, spurred by memory, I blurted out, "HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSON!" far too loudly.
Still nothing.
Then a little voice said quietly in my ear, "Pink lemonade, stupid."
I must admit I panicked for a second, but then I was off in another burst of speed, back to Frank's for some pink lemonade.  Frank looked at me strangely (dealing as he does with college students had made Frank an introspective man), but informed me that while he had no pink lemonade, the Kroger two blocks over probably would stock some.  That proved to be true, and after a quick return trip, I was home. 
I set up the experiment again, muttered "Hans Christian Anderson," and was immediately rewarded by a little "POOF" noise.  Blue Gown Alice was standing in front of me in the flesh, so to speak (perhaps gingerbread).
"I'm sorry I called you 'stupid'," she said gently.  "I thought that everyone had pink lemonade around the house."
"Who are you?" I asked, every bit as stupid as she'd said.
"She's Blue Gown Alice, the Sugar Plum Fairy," all of the little stars on her dress cried in unison.
"Hush, kiddies," Alice cautioned, and she turned to me.  "I'm here because the police are doing such a terrible job at finding the murderer of poor Shirley Sweetness.  Justice must be done, and I decided to do it myself.  Naturally, I immediately read up on all the great detectives, and if I'm going to be Sherlock Holmes I'll need a Warton."
"Watson," I corrected. "You mean you're going to solve this case?  And find the murderer?"
"Yes, by golly and you are going to help me do it!  Now I know that you have a lot of questions about me, humans always do, but I can't take time for them now.  I'll try to answer them as we go along. Enough said if you realize that I am the Sugar Plum Fairy and that I'm outraged that this horrible crime has taken place right under my wings, so to speak."
 "But this is an ax murder!  Do you know what could happen?"
"Yes.  Some ax murdered is going to jail. Come along, Warton."
            "Come along, Warton," the little stars echoed.
"Watson," I mumbled, and we exited into the hall.
Blue Gown Alice floated down to Miss Ruthlington' s room, which was covered with police warning signs, and waved her wand.  The door suddenly flew open.  The 1ittle stars all gave a sigh of amazement at her ease of entry, and my mouth dropped open.  Alice, however, took it in stride, and in we went.  I tried to point out that it was a crime to enter here, since the police had sealed the room, but Alice just frowned at me and began to look around.  Eventually she came to a sketchbook in one of Miss Ruthlington's files and opened it up with a flourish.  Inside was a drawing of a Sugar Plum Fairy but it didn't quite look like Blue Gown Alice, the face was completely different.  I asked her if Miss Ruthlington had known her.
"Only in her dreams or when she took a drink too many of the apple cider that she was so fond of.  Tell me, Warton, did she use a model for these drawings?  Do you know this girl?"
I took a closer look at the illustration for the children's book. After a pause I identified the girl as Ginny Carlton, who lived down the hall.  Blue Gown Alice said, "Ah ha!" to this and the five little stars echoed, "Ah ha!"  Alice quickly skimmed through the book, but all it contained were more drawings of Ginny in various poses, done up in chalk   Finally Alice snapped the book closed.
"I've got to meet this Ginny," she announced, and looked slightly annoyed when I told her that Ginny would still be asleep (it being only four thirty).  I mentioned that I would see Ginny that morning at my Journalism exam and could ask her whatever Alice wanted to know.
"No, that won't do," she replied.  "Sherlock Holmes would not permit Warton to do the questioning, would he?  I'll see you tomorrow.  You get back to bed and get some rest for your exam."
The next thing I knew I was in bed, my alarm was ringing, and the sun was pouring in my window.  I yawned cautiously and stretched myself as I climbed out of bed.  The gumdrop mess was not where I'd 1eft it the night (morning?) before, and so, with some relief, I came to the conclusion that it had all been a rather wild dream.  Pete stuck his head in the bedroom and announced that I had better get up because the coffee was still hot and he was off to class.  To my surprise he handed over his share of the rent and back payments on the room and cheerfully departed for school.  This was a considerable change from the Pete I knew, who was always broke, and it sufficiently woke me up to the point where I dressed and ate breakfast in a semi-conscious state.
I had dismissed the whole incident from my mind, and in two hours was in Journalism class working on the exam, when I looked up and saw Blue Gown Alice sitting across the aisle from me!  She was dressed in a normal skirt, with a varsity sweater on, and she looked like a hunchback because of two lumps on her back which I took to be her wings, ill-disguised.  Five little stars were embroidered on the skirt, and to my horror one of them was yawning.  Beads of sweat popped out on my forehead and I looked guiltily around for Lt. Ambrose, who, happily, was not there.
Alice was completely absorbed with the exam, much like the other students (although I did notice her once peeking over the shoulder of the guy in front of her).  Soon she leaned over and whispered to me.
"You still have lipstick on your forehead," she hissed.  She nodded in satisfaction when I frantically wiped it off.  For some reason I couldn't get my mind back to the exam after this and when Alice got up to hand in her exam, I followed suit although my paper was blank. Outside I cornered her and marched her around the side of the building.
"Are you out of your mind?  What were you doing taking that exam?"  I was a little upset.
"Simply brushing up on my Journalism.  I graduated from Candycane  U,  you know.   Thought I'd forgotten it all, but It came back to me after a while."
"Sure, sure.  Now look here.  I don't know what you're up to, Sugar Plum Alice . . ."
"That's 'Blue Gown Alice'," corrected the little stars smugly.
"Shut up!" I answered viciously.
"Quit bickering, all of you," Alice urged.  "Here she comes!"
Before I could ask who, Alice had slipped past me, walked behind a bush, waved her wand (which was poorly disguised as an umbrella) and changed costumes again. Now she was dressed in an artist's smock, with the little stars posing as paint splotches; the wand had become a paint brush. She stopped Ginny Carlton as she came down the steps, and, pretending she was an art instructor, asked Ginny if' she had ever done any modeling.
Ginny paused for a second, and I thought she was, going to make a run for it, but in the end she decided that Alice was harmless.  Finally she replied that she'd done a little modeling for sketches in a children's book.
“In a costume like this?” Alice asked.  She waved her paint brush and was suddenly wearing her storybook attire.  Ginny smiled pleasantly.  "Yes, just like that," she said, and then fainted. 
Alice didn't pause a moment, but came straight around the building, pulling me by the arm, and, not heeding the cries of the little stars to slow down, we flew across the campus (literally).
My stomach was trying desperately to call attention to itself when we arrived safe but winded at the apartment building.  Alice paused only long enough to kiss my forehead again and then she disappeared.  I can only state that I was very upset, and, as I entered the apartment building, was looking peacefully forward to going up to my room and quietly indulging in a nervous breakdown.  Right inside the front door was Lt. Ambrose surrounded by a group of newspaper reporters who followed him wherever he went.  My heart leaped into my throat when I noticed that part of the gang was Blue Gown Alice, this time disguised as a newspaper woman in a trench coat, busy asking questions and taking notes on an iPad.
"Lieutenant!" she shouted over the cries of the others (and in the back of my mind I'm sure that I heard five little voices repeat, "Lieutenant!") is it true that Miss Ruthlington's cash box was found empty and covered with blood?"
"How did you know that?" he asked, surprised. "That information has not been given to the press. What paper are you from?"
"Candyville Courier.  Thank you, sir."  With this she disappeared down the hall.  Making sure to avoid the notice of the lieutenant, I slipped past him and followed her.  To my disappointment, she was nowhere around, and so I stepped into the elevator and punched the number of my floor.
It was a few seconds before I realized that (a) we had no elevator in the building, and that (b) there was someone else in the phantom elevator with me: none other than guess-who in another clever little guise, this time as a bag lady.  Also, now that I think about it, five voices in unison had commanded "Please punch two" when I got on.
"Warton," Alice said, "who here is young, dark-haired, well built, and in need of money?"
"Me?" I answered dubiously.  I have curly brown hair, am in fair shape, and always need money.
"No.  Better looking, stronger, with a wild streak.  Think."
"Well, I'd say my roommate Pete, except he doesn't need money.  He was able to pay the rent this morning.  Which was unusual, I admit.  You don't think . . ."
"I wouldn't accuse anyone without proof.  Does he own an ax?"
"Of course not!"
"Let see," she said.  Once again I felt this whirl in my stomach, and suddenly we were in my apartment in front of Pete's bedroom.  I knew he wasn't home because his coat wasn't hanging by the front door where he always left it on entering.  I mentioned to her that he'd been keeping his room locked recently, even though he'd allowed the police to search it.  Alice motioned me to be still and then waved her wand and the door bounced open.  She entered and began to walk slowly around the room, her wand extended, her eyes closed.  The little stars grew very excited and began to chant, "You're getting warm . .  . warmer . . . HOT!"  Alice had stopped by a trunk in one corner and now she waved her ever-handy wand and the 1id flew open.  Nothing was visible but clothes, but another flick of the wrist, and they, under their own power, climbed out of the trunk and arranged themselves in a neatly folded pile on the bed.  Then the trunk itself rolled over and the bottom fell out.  After a sufficiently dramatic pause, this was followed by a large woodsman's ax, covered with dried blood, that clattered to the floor.  The little stars gasped, and I myself felt a little strange.  I had actually been rooming with an ax murderer!
Alice began in a quiet voice.  “Shirley Sweetness needed someone to pose for 'Al Pine' as well as for me, and she must have hired him to model for the woodsman.  Doubtless she supplied the ax he killed her with.”
"But why?  Money?"
"Of course.  She probably pulled out the cash box to pay him and opened it in front of him. Greed (and here the five little stars all shivered) does strange things to those desperate for money. One swing of the ax . . . it was too simple."
I was suddenly shoved from behind, and as I stumbled1nto the room, I saw Pete grab the ax from the floor.  His eyes had a crazed look.  He had evidently walked up behind me and taken in the situation immediately.  With a cry he advanced toward the Sugar Plum Fairy.
She didn't look concerned at all, but merely waved her wand up and back down.  Pete flew straight up in the air with a great deal of speed, banged his head with a great thwack on the ceiling, and fell like a sandbag.  A second later he was wrapped up in coils of rope so thick that you could barely see him.
"That's it," Alice said.  "You take it from here, Warton."  And she kissed me one final time on the forehead and vanished.  The little stars blinked out with her, excitedly yelling goodbye.  It's the last I've seen of her, but I've heard her voice in my dreams, and also at parties, off by myself in the corner after too many drinks.  She always sounds like she’s on the other side of the room laughing and telling bawdy jokes.
I had a little difficulty explaining to the police not only how I captured Pete—they didn't believe his story—but also why I tied him up so thickly . . . or even where I got all that rope (it was later measured at fifty-two feet).   They finally were forced to accept my little blue lie and let me alone.  
The only additional thing I have to relate is in the form of an anticlimax.  Sitting at my computer a week later I suddenly received an email from BGA@candyland.com.  It said simply, "I received an A on the exam!  Yeah!  See you next case, Warton!" 

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