By Jason Smith
The house was twenty feet away from the edge of a cliff that looked down onto rocks that were being pounded by a spectacular frenzy of oceanic splendor. The sound was soothing. Dennis’s deadline was due in two weeks and he knew this was the best place for him to be. As he admired the view, he felt a wonderful sense of solitude.
He couldn’t wait to start writing, ideas had been coming to him on the trip to the house. He lit a log fire and settled into a comfortable chair. The warmth from the spitting fire and the sound of the ocean inspired his creativity.
After several hours he thought he heard someone knocking at the front door. He strained to listen but all he could hear was the ocean’s neverending symphony. He turned on the porch light and opened the front door.
A wooden crate was on the doorstep. He walked outside and looked around, there was no one in sight. He wondered who would send this, only his wife and agent knew he was here.
He dragged the crate into the house and used a long screwdriver as a makeshift crowbar. When the crate opened he looked down at several bottles of champagne.
Linda or Jane didn’t send this.
Dennis had been sober for over a year. He noticed a note taped inside the lid addressed to him.
To Dennis Shaw. Thanks for the wonderful stories. Enjoy. Harold Davies.
Harold Davies owned the house. It was well known about Dennis’s battle with alcoholism, his fall from grace as he called it. His wife had left him and only came back after he had proved to her he could stay sober. Maybe Harold didn’t know, but it had been in the news.
As he looked down at the champagne, all kinds of pros and cons ran through his mind.
He bent down and grabbed a bottle, the champagne was an expensive brand and he knew it was good. He hesitated before opening a bottle, it had been a while since he took a drink. As he poured the champagne into a glass his mouth salivated. He took a sip.
One drink won’t hurt!
It was pleasantly tasty as it lingered on his tongue. He ate a quick sandwich, put more logs on the fire and began writing again.
The firelight created flickering shadows that added to the ambience. The story was flowing through his mind, the words were coming fast and he could see several chapters ahead. The only sounds to be heard were the quick tapping of his keyboard, the spitting of the fire and the endless collision of ocean and rock.
He stopped as he heard a scratching sound. A wave of paranoia washed over him and the hair on his body stood on end. He heard it again. He quickly turned on the lights and began checking the room, moving furniture and looking in every corner. Just as he thought his mind was playing tricks on him, he saw a rat sitting by his laptop.
He froze. He’s had an overwhelming fear of rats ever since he was a kid, his parent’s apartment in New York City was infested with them. He froze to the spot as more rats appeared from nowhere and sat by his laptop. The rats began to squeak and the squeaking quickly grew to a deafening volume.
He clamped his hands over his ears. Rats were suddenly everywhere. They were running around his bare feet, he couldn’t walk without standing on them, he could feel their tails slipping between his toes.
He ran out of the room, slamming the door behind him and the noise stopped. He walked into the kitchen, constantly looking for rats in all directions and drank another glass of champagne.
He slowly opened the living room door, the rats were gone.
Where did they go? Did I imagine it? I didn’t imagine that. It was real!
He couldn’t sit in the living room and concentrate after that, he wasn’t going in there again. He decided to move upstairs to the office. After checking the room was rat free, he settled behind a desk and like before the words came easily.
Pleased with his work, he noticed the first sign of dawn breaking through the clouds. He’d been up all night.
I haven’t been up all night since my drinking days!
He walked onto the landing, looking downwards to the hall below, checking for rats. He walked into the bedroom and stretched out on a bed. He couldn’t keep his eyes closed, his paranoid mind expected to see a rat staring at him and his thirst was unquenchable, he’d soon drank a bottle of water. He wanted more champagne, he was starting to crave it.
I can’t drink all day. I shouldn’t be drinking at all!
He decided to go for a walk, hoping the fresh air would make him feel sleepy. The sky was clear but a cold wind dropped the temperature. He breathed in the salt air. He was so thirsty, his throat hurt when he swallowed, he hadn’t thought to bring any water with him. He felt shaky, like he used to in his drinking days. He walked back to the house and walked directly into the kitchen and took a long drink of champagne, immediately feeling better.
I shouldn’t be drinking, but I want to!
Realizing he hadn’t eaten since yesterday, he cooked breakfast for himself, periodically looking around for rats, paranoia was taking up residence inside of him.
His breakfast tasted amazing. Every single mouthful exploded with a tasty delight until something began tasting wrong.
He used his fingernail to dig a piece of food out of his tooth. As he studied what was under his fingernail, he looked down and saw maggots wriggling around on the plate where his breakfast had been.
He stood up quickly, the chair he was sitting on flew backwards and crashed onto the floor, the sound reverberated like the inside of a giant echo chamber. He put his hands over his ears, tightly closing his eyes and grinding his teeth. The sound went as quickly as it came. When he opened his eyes, the maggots were gone.
He went back upstairs to the office, it was beginning to feel like his sanctuary. He hadn’t noticed when he was writing there before, what a great view of the ocean there was. The ocean that seemed so quiet and serene after all of the frenzied rock smashing of yesterday. He wrote all day until the sun disappeared behind the ocean. He was ravenous, he’d barely eaten his breakfast. He made himself the best feast a microwave could cook, washing it down with glass after glass of champagne.
A full moon shone brightly down upon the house and he walked outside to look. The moon lit up the area around the house like a giant floodlight, everything else seemed enshrouded in thick impenetrable darkness. He had never seen the moon look so big and clear, he thought he could see the craters on the surface.
He jumped as he heard a howl in the distance. He could hear his heart rate increasing in his ears. He thought it sounded like a howl from a horror movie. He heard another howl, this time it was closer. He could see nothing in the darkness and then he heard a twig snap.
He swung around and a black wolf was staring at him. The moonlight reflected in its eyes, making them shine in an unusual way. It seemed to be sizing him up, he wanted to get back inside.
He slowly began walking backwards and as he felt the screen door handle on his back the wolf began running towards him. He just managed to get inside as the wolf’s body slammed into the door.
He ran upstairs to the office where a rifle was displayed on the wall, he checked and it was loaded. He could hear the wolf’s growls and its body slamming into the door, the impact sounded like a giant bass drum. He opened the office window and pointed the rifle to the ground below. The wolf was gone.
He slowly crept downstairs. When he checked the front door, there were no signs of any kind of impact and the moon was hiding behind clouds.
He went to the refrigerator and dialed the number of Harold Davies. The phone rang and a man answered.
“Hi my name is Dennis Shaw, I’m staying at your house, you sent me the champagne.”
“Hello Mr Shaw. My name is Michael, I work for Mr Davies and he is the one who sent you the champagne. Unfortunately he is out of town and he isn’t expected back until next week. He will be sorry he missed you, he’s a huge fan of yours.”
“I’m so sorry I missed him. The reason I’m calling is to let you know that I saw rats in the living room yesterday. I haven’t seen any since but could you come and check.”
“Of course, can I come now?”
“Yes, please do, see you soon.”
I’ll ask Michael about wolves when he gets here.
Michael arrived ten minutes later and checked the house.
“I’ve found no signs of rats Mr Shaw. I’ve put down traps and poison, I would appreciate you letting me know if you see anymore.”
“Of course. Do you know if there are any wolves around here?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t seen any. I can ask around.” replied Micheal.
“I thought I saw one outside.”
“I’ll ask some of the locals. Is it okay to come back tomorrow to check the traps?”
“Sure, just let yourself in.”
He watched Micheal drive away, walked back into the house and upstairs to the safety of the office.
Micheal looked at me like I was crazy when I asked about wolves.
He checked his inbox. His agent had emailed him, asking if he’d written anything he could send her. She likes to be involved in the creative process. He checked what he’d written while drinking glass after glass of champagne. He sent his agent an email containing his work, hoping she liked what she’d read.
He considered going for a walk again but after the wolf incident he couldn’t bring himself to go outside and he felt so tired.
After Michael said there was no sign of rats he felt more confident to relax but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t sleep. His thirst was keeping him awake. The only thing that seemed to quench it was champagne. He went to the kitchen and brought a glass and bottle up to the office. He drank a glass and decided if he couldn’t sleep, he would take advantage of his insomnia and write.
He kept hearing his phone ringing and beeping but he ignored it and wrote. He felt he was nearing the end of his book and didn’t want to be interrupted. He carried on writing well after the sun had disappeared behind the ocean and reappeared again.
“Mr Shaw.” A voice shouted.
He walked out of the office and saw Michael standing at the bottom of the stairs.
“Hello Michael, how are you?”
“I’m good. Just letting you know there are still no signs of rats.”
“That’s great, thanks for checking again.”
“No problem.” said Michael.
Micheal left and Dennis went into the kitchen and prepared a snack, washing it down with glass after glass of champagne. He went back upstairs to the office and sat for hours, watching the sea and the sun disappear below the ocean and reappear again in the morning. Just as he was trying to remember the last time he’d slept, he saw a bear walking towards the house.
It was huge, as it stood on its hind legs and roared at him, it looked to be over ten feet tall. He stared in shock as the bear opened the door and walked into the house, roaring its arrival. Dennis was terrified, he could hear the bear moving from room to room.
He slowly walked downstairs. The rifle was loaded and ready as he crept up on the bear, trying to be as quiet as possible. The bear turned and he shot. It flew backwards and tried to crawl away as Dennis shot it dead. As he looked down at the dead bear something hit him on the back of his head.
He awoke handcuffed to a hospital bed. A man was watching him.
“Where am I? Why am I handcuffed?” Dennis asked.
“Mr Shaw, my name is Detective Wagner. You are at the hospital and you are handcuffed because you are under arrest for the murder of your wife Jane Shaw.”
“What? That’s ridiculous, Jane is in Hawaii.”
“Your wife was in Hawaii. Your agent Linda Billings called her when she couldn’t get a hold of you and your wife cut her vacation short and came to the house where you were staying. You shot and killed your wife on her arrival. Michael Hudson is the one responsible for the stitches in the back of your head, he hit you with a vase. You’ve been unconscious for two days.”
“Jane is dead?” Dennis asked as tears rolled down his face.
Doctors and nurses monitored Dennis throughout the day and later they gave the all clear for him to leave the hospital. He was taken to a detention center where he would await trial.
He told his lawyer everything. About the wooden crate and the champagne. He told him all about the rats, the maggots, the wolf and the bear. He thought he sounded crazy and he was pretty sure his lawyer thought he’d lost his mind.
The house was extensively searched, no bottles of champagne or the wooden crate were found. They did find his laptop. There were several unread emails from Linda and Jane, all containing worries that he was drinking again. The writing he had emailed to Linda made no sense. He wrote about rats, maggots and a black wolf with bright eyes. There were lines and lines of certain letters, he’d held down keys for long periods of time.
In court the prosecution explained how the email he had sent to Linda Billings concerned her. After several failed attempts by Billings to contact her client, she contacted his wife who cut her vacation short to check on her husband. Jane Shaw was killed by her husband shortly after her arrival at the house.
Michael Hudson testified in court how he witnessed the aftermath of Jane’s death. He had spoken to Mr Shaw earlier that day and commented on how tired and unkept he looked. He knew nothing about any wooden crate delivered to the house by Harold Davies. He told the court that Harold Davies had been out of town and no one had been able to contact him. Dennis’s lawyer stated he had talked to Michael Hudson about the crate but Micheal said the only conversations he had with Mr Shaw were about rats and wolves.
Dennis Shaw was convicted of murder and was sentenced to thirty five years. There were appeals, but the conviction was never reversed. Dennis was always adamant of his innocence and refused to admit he’d killed his wife.
Twenty years after Dennis Shaw was found guilty of his wife’s murder, Michael Hudson read a report of an appeal by Dennis Shaw’s lawyer.
Michael’s mother had sent him a letter just before she died telling him that the famous author Dennis Shaw was his father. When Micheal read the letter he became angry and swore revenge.
His childhood had been horrific and it could have been avoided if Dennis Shaw had taken responsibility for his actions. Instead after Micheal’s mother contacted Dennis Shaw, she was ignored. She fell into alcoholism and drug dependency and latched onto whatever loser she could find. Before Michael was sixteen he had been physically beaten, mentally tormented and sexually abused.
After his mother died, Micheal won the state lottery. The money funded his obsession with Dennis Shaw. He hired several private investigators to watch Dennis’s every move.
When Dennis Shaw arrived at the house, Michael had already murdered Harold Davis and dumped his dead body out at sea. It was Michael that delivered the champagne. It was also Michael that spiked the champagne with his own concoction of drugs that caused Dennis to hallucinate and gave him his unquenchable thirst.
Micheal watched the effect the drugs were having on Dennis. There were several empty bottles laying around the house, Micheal kept replacing the empty bottles as Dennis Shaw drank his mind away. He had watched Jane Shaw enter the property and heard the gunshots that killed her with the loaded rifle that Micheal had planted there.
After hitting Dennis Shaw with a vase, he cleared the bottles and the wooden crate from the house. He dumped the bottles in a recycling container an hour away and burnt the wooden crate in an incinerator.
Michael enjoyed the rest of his life. He married a woman named Emma and they had two children, a boy named Owen and a girl named Amy. After Dennis Shaw’s trial was over he bought the house. The owners were glad to see the back of it and eager to sell.
They never did find Harold Davies’s body. Micheal had always felt guilty about Harold and he paid a forger to write a letter from Harold to his employer stating that Harold’s relative had left him money and he’d retired early.
If Micheal hadn’t killed Harold he never would have gotten away with what he did. He never could have left the champagne outside the house. Harold Davis, a Dennis Shaw fan, knew the author was a recovering alcoholic.
Years later as Michael’s family sat around his deathbed and watched him take his last breath, Micheal wondered if he was about to meet Harold Davies again.
Bio: Jason Smith writes out of the Pacific Northwest. He’s married and a father to a special needs boy. Originally from England, he has lived near Seattle WA since 2009.
Along with this current crime fiction story, he has published “The Quarry“, “Automobile Psychosis” “A Blast From The Past” and “The Art Studio in the Basement” with The Yard: Crime Blog. He has also published with The Mystery Tribune.