(This story has been a few years in the making, but I’ve been really hitting it hard since April of this year. It consists of events taking place every day for the next two weeks. Because of the recent shooting in San Bernadino, CA, I almost didn’t post it due to some similarities that I thought were a bit eerie. This a piece of pure fiction that was inspired by a dream years ago, and no recent events have influenced any part of it.)
Abby leaned against the doorway with a steaming cup of ginger tea warming her hands. She wore her favorite gray sweatpants topped with an old Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt, and her shoulder length black hair was held back by a yellow bandanna. She was thankful today was Saturday, because her pale faced appearance would not be welcome at work. Neither would her fiancé’s current conundrum. She watched Zach as he ruffled through a stack of folders, each one containing handwritten notes, pictures, newspaper clippings, and anything else he thought would be helpful for each given story. He was making sure he still had all of the information in paper form, because his hard drive had decided this morning was a good time to die.
Zach was about six feet tall with shaggy dark brown hair. He usually had complete control of any situation, but his calm demeanor died right alongside his hard drive earlier today. As he mumbled and cursed to himself, the reason for his sour disposition sat open on the coffee table. A flash drive containing Zach’s last backup stuck out from one of the USB drives, spitting its contents onto the new hard drive. The laptop’s fan was in overdrive, creating a constant hum that could be heard over the shuffling of papers and notebooks. Abby sighed as she watched her fiancé recover every scrap of his career as a journalist for the city’s largest newspaper. The horrid sounds emitted by the failing hard drive must have sounded similar to a flushing toilet, carrying his blood, sweat, and tears away in the swirling water. Abby chuckled at the thought, regretting it only a second later when her stomach turned. She gripped the mug tightly in her hands as she breathed slowly, praying for the pains to pass without requiring a sprint to the bathroom.
She exhaled slowly as the pain finally ebbed. Taking a sip of her tea, she silently scolded herself for falling prey to her mother’s Thanksgiving candied yams yet again. Her parents had been out of town for the holiday, so last night they held a belated Thanksgiving dinner. Both Abby and Zach were only children, so the gathering was made merrier by the addition of Zach’s parents for what was no doubt the beginning of a new holiday tradition: both sides of the family under one roof. And since their group was larger this year, the amount of food was as well. Two turkeys sat on the counter; each one surrounded by each family’s favorite Thanksgiving fixings. Corn two ways, two green bean casseroles, two cans of cranberry sauce, at least five different kinds of bread, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, cornbread dressing, sourdough dressing, mashed sweet potatoes, and, of course, her mother’s candied yams, smothered in melted marshmallows, and filled with an unhealthy goodness that her stomach rebelled against year after year. Every year she promises herself she will not cave to the candied yams, and every year she fails. The day following the feast has become its own tradition consisting of crackers and ginger tea in between many visits to the bathroom.
Abby frowned as she thought about their now dashed plans for today: a visit to the lake, then to the mall for a movie and some shopping before meeting friends for dinner. Instead, this Saturday would be filled with indigestion, frustration, and lots of crackers. And don’t forget a side of panic, she thought as she watched Zach’s search intensify. He hummed frantically as he shuffled faster, searching for something he deemed very important, and now it was very missing. After a moment the humming stopped, only to be replaced with the sounds of folders being launched over his shoulder. Most remained closed as they fell into a pile behind him, but a few opened in mid-air, sending a burst of papers both big and small sailing through the air until settling down in random places all over the room. Abby made a face as a small paper landed at her feet, the handwritten note scribbled on it clearly visible from her five-foot-zero vantage point. Jimmy knows, she read to herself. The note was written in red ink and traced over multiple times then circled even more times, making the whole message seem to pop out from the paper. One edge was frayed, and Abby wondered if the other pages of the notebook this page was torn from have met similar fates. Her thoughts then shifted between who Jimmy was and what he knew, and how the note lying at her feet might be the worst piece of journalistic research she had ever seen.
“Who’s Jimmy?” she asked, taking a sip of her tea.
Zach’s head snapped up, startled from his frantic searching. “Huh? Jimmy? Uhhhh Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy…” His words trailed off as his thoughts slowly shifted back to the pile of notebooks in front of him, causing him to forget all about Jimmy, but Abby’s curiosity was piqued.
“Yeah, Jimmy. Apparently he knows something?”
Zach’s head once again rose up out of the notebooks and he looked at Abby with a blank stare before finally noticing she was gesturing to a small paper with her foot. He stood up and pushed the notebooks back against the wall before crossing the floor toward Abby. The top half dozen or so notebooks spilled off the pile and onto the floor behind him. He bent down to retrieve the note and stared at it through narrowed eyes until a wave of recognition washed over him. His eyes widened instantaneously as he groaned in frustration. “I must have thrown it!”
His hands gripped his hair and were close to pulling it out in clumps. Zach scanned the room with the contents of an unknown number of documents strewn about it. In a second he was on all fours, scooping the papers into a pile. He separated the now empty folders from the pile and began sorting. Jimmy knows disappeared into a folder labeled “McCoy Murder.” Abby whistled softly to herself when she realized the folder he had been frantic to find was the one containing his research for the county’s most controversial cold case. It wouldn’t be a huge issue if the newspaper hadn’t tasked Zach with writing an article detailing the decade old crime and newly surfaced information that, when leaked, would cause quite a stir among law enforcement. This piece could be a career maker for him, and with less than two weeks before it is supposed to print, saying he was running behind on it would be an understatement. Abby sipped her tea and shook her head as she watched Zach scrambling back and forth across the room. She glanced at the clock and gulped her remaining tea. With one last sigh she retreated upstairs to the bedroom for an afternoon nap.
The sun had just set when Abby woke from a dreamless sleep. She yawned but froze when a sharp pain from her still upset stomach stopped her mid stretch. Rolling of the bed, she made her way to the kitchen to make herself another cup of tea.
As the water boiled in the electric kettle, Abby checked on Zach in the next room. He had ceased his frantic rummaging through his stack of notebooks and files, but the room was a complete disaster. Piles of loose papers covered the floor, completely obscuring the light brown carpet. On the coffee table, untidy stacks of folders covered most of its surface, leaving only enough room for the laptop. Zach sat on the floor in front of the laptop, his face obstructed by the back of the screen. Behind him on the couch, stacks and stacks of discarded notebooks fell over themselves, creating a jumble of unorganized research that took him years to amass. Abby filled her cup and returned to her post against the doorway.
The room was silent except for the occasional click from the mouse. Judging by how still he was, Abby figured Zach had either found everything he was looking for, given up, or had completely forgotten about it. Her vote was on the latter.
Moments later, Abby’s musings were interrupted.
“Huh?” Zach hadn’t moved from behind the laptop, but the mouse clicking had intensified and was accompanied by occasional typing.
Abby waited for an explanation, but none came. “Did you find out what Jimmy knows?” she asked, trying to prod him for information.
Zach jumped at her voice. He hadn’t noticed her in the doorway and assumed she was still sleeping. He rubbed his eyes and squinted at her in the dark room. Abby chuckled as Zach switched on the floor lamp next to the couch and rubbed his eyes. “Any news on Jimmy?” she asked.
“Jimmy? Who is Jimmy?” Zach’s face took on a look of pure confusion until a moment later he recalled the handwritten note from earlier. “Oh, that Jimmy. No, I can’t find him.”
“Oh.” Abby breathed in the steam from her tea as she thought. “Do you think he really has information that could crack the case?”
“Yeah… no… I don’t know… what in the world?” His voice trailed off as his mouse clicks started up again. Whatever he was looking at was distracting him from the many questions Abby had regarding this mysterious Jimmy character. What could be more important than the McCoy murder? Abby left her spot against the doorway and slowly made her way to Zach, taking a precarious seat on the edge of the couch, and peered over his shoulder at the screen. On it, Zach’s curser clicked through a folder titled “Love, Abby.” Abby wrinkled her nose in confusion as one double click after another brought up newspaper articles, random notes, interviews, and an occasional picture. Zach mumbled to himself as he glanced through every other file. “Since when am I a story for the paper?” she asked, not even attempting to hide her chagrin.
“You’re not, so calm down.” He leaned forward as he read a badly scanned newspaper article, scrunching up his nose as he concentrated. “This doesn’t make any sense,” he said to himself.
“So you’re not writing about me?” She sipped her tea, wincing as the hot liquid burned her throat, and set the cup down on top of a short stack of folders beside the laptop.
“No!” he said, exasperated. “I don’t know what this is.” Once again his voice trailed off as he clicked on another file. In an instant, a picture showing the front of a two-story brick building filled the screen. In one corner, a white car created a smudge as it sped in front of the building just as the picture was taken. Abby leaned over Zach’s shoulder.
“Then why do you have a picture of the law firm on your computer?” She looked sideways at Zach, but he didn’t notice. His face was a mask of sheer confusion.
“I don’t!” He replied tersely. “This isn’t about you! It’s got to be a different Abby.”
“I’m the only Abby that works in that building, so clearly I’m the subject of something?”
Another double click of the mouse opened yet another picture, this one Abby’s employee photo, the very same one on her security badge.
“What is that?” Abby yelled in Zach’s ear, but he was yelling at the computer screen.
“Why are you yelling at the computer? It didn’t create this file on its own!” Abby shouted as she grabbed the cup and stood to leave.
“Of course it didn’t, but neither did I!”
“Yeah, ok. That was your flash drive with your last backup on it-“
“I’m serious! I don’t know where this came from. This isn’t mine!” He gestured to the screen with her picture still on it. Grabbing the mouse, Zach closed the file and opened another one. “I think someone is trying to play a prank, but it’s not funny.”
Abby sighed. “Zach, just stop.” She rubbed her forehead as her stomach turned and threatened to revolt.
“No, look at this,” he scrolled up a few rows and opened another scanned newspaper article. Huge block letters filled half the screen:
BOMB DESTROYS LAW OFFICE; NO SUSPECTS YET
Abby glanced at the screen from beneath her hand and gasped. “What? When?” She sat back down on the edge of the couch as she began to read the article, panicking more with every word.
“That’s the thing,” Zach said, “look at the date.”
She hadn’t even thought to check the date before reading, and when she did, her breath caught in her throat. “I don’t understand,” she said slowly.
“It’s fake, all of it; it’s dated two weeks from now. Every item in this file is dated December 18 onward. See?” he said, glancing up at her pale face. “It’s just a bad joke. Someone must have gotten a hold of my flash drive and put this file on there. I’ll find out who.” He was still clicking through the files and shaking his head. Abby wasn’t as worried about Zach finding the prankster as she was about her roiling stomach. She focused on deep, calming breaths.
Zach shook his head. With a final few clicks of the mouse, he closed the last file and was moving the entire folder into the trash bin. Behind him, Abby stood and carefully made her way back through the mess on the floor and towards the bathroom at the end of the hall.