The Witch Detective

Oh, good. You’re awake. Congratulations. You have been appointed the witch detective. No, sorry. It doesn’t matter that you don’t want to be the witch detective. There must be one, the old one is dead, and it has fallen on you to take up the work.

Like all witch detectives, your first task is to investigate the death of your predecessor. Why, yes, I suppose you could call the police and report that you’ve kidnapped. If you can get a signal. This spot in the woods is a dead zone. Do you even have a phone? And perhaps they’d believe you. Perhaps not. Wouldn’t you at least like to take a look around first?

Of course, you could refuse to investigate. But the change is upon you. The door to the cottage sits half open. I could take you away, but you would be back again. Maybe this evening. Maybe in a year. Maybe only in your dreams. But a mystery does not exist without someone who wants to solve it. And here we have a mystery. It will work on you until you cannot bear to leave it undetected.

What can I tell you? We found him just like this. The front door was slightly ajar. The curtains were open and light streamed in through the dirty panes as well as it could. The whole downstairs is open, just as you see, the kitchen and the fireplace to your right, this seating area as you come in, the stair case curving up to the landing, where you’ll find two bedrooms and a bathroom, and under the landing—go ahead, shine your flashlight back there—there’s a desk and a series of bookshelves.

Your predecessor is there, by the back door, his feet near the door, which was found also slightly ajar, his head pointed toward the couch. It appears to us that his attacker was waiting at the back door with the knife that you’ll see sticking out of his back and, when an opportunity presented itself, pushed open the door, stabbed the detective, and fled out the back. We have detained two people we found in the back yard, a gardener and his grandson. They claim they saw no one flee the scene. If that is true, then it makes them our most likely suspects, does it not?

Oh, me? Right. Excellent. Are you sure you haven’t previously done detective work? You have no reason to believe me, since we have just met, but no, if my men and I were going to kill the witch detective, we would confess immediately, because our actions would be justified. No, no, you have nothing to worry about. You seem like a lovely person. I’m merely saying that we are your check and balance. If we needed to kill the witch detective, there’d be no secret of it.

In the upstairs bedroom at the end of the landing, you’ll find the detective’s wife. She claims she slept through the attack and awoke to find him like this. She contacted us immediately. And we began searching for you.

The man outside the cabin is a local anthropologist. He had been working on a case with the detective. Shall we start with him?

Okay, excuse us, everyone. Dr. Nar? Dr. Nar? Will you speak with the witch detective, please?

What Louis Nar told you:

The Detective was helping me track down a witch doctor. I mean, sure, it sounds ridiculous, but why shouldn’t a witch detective be able to find a witch doctor? We were supposed to meet this afternoon to go over his findings, but when I knocked, no one answered. I waiting a few minutes and was just about to leave when I heard a scream. I entered the house and found the detective’s wife standing over him.

It’s not unusual to not know what to make of a witness’s statement at first. Let us go talk to the wife, shall we? Marguerite, dear? Do you think you can speak with the detective?

What Marguerite, the previous Witch Detective’s wife, told you:

I was asleep right here on this bed when I heard a knocking on the front door. I didn’t know we were expecting anyone, so I stayed here, thinking my husband would answer the door. The knock came again and this time I did get up, figuring that maybe my husband had gone out back and so there wasn’t anybody but me to answer the door. I went out on the landing and was just about to start down the steps when I saw my poor darling lying dead. I screamed and ran down to him, but it was too late.

Excuse us just a moment, Marguerite. Oh, yes, I see what you’re saying. You would have to be leaning quite far over the railing to see the body below, as close as it is to the back door.

Yes, let’s go talk to the two men in the back garden. People, we need to get this body out of the way so that we can get out the back door! Let’s move this thing! Oh, yes, you’re right. Not a thing. It used to be a person.

All right, here is Tamuka Santos and his grandson, Anesu. Mr. Santos is your predecessor’s gardener. His grandson can act as your translator, if you have questions for him.

What Anesu Santos said to you:

Detective, do you know what the difference between a witch doctor, a medicine man, and a shaman is? If you want to be a successful witch detective, it would be in your interest to learn. It’s sloppy to look at the actions of a medieval English witch doctor, an Ojibwa Midew, a Tungusic shaman, or a N’anga such as my grandfather and conclude they are the same things. It’s insulting. We tried many times to explain this to your predecessor, but he lacked any curiosity. He wanted to detect only exactly what he had been asked to detect.

No, we had never had any complaints about the previous detective. But, perhaps, this is unsurprising. Few know we exist, so who would know to complain to us?

All right. Here is the fly agaric you will need to solve the case.

Don’t be silly. Of course it’s dangerous. It is a poison toadstool. But you are a witch detective and you simply must do both parts of your job equally well in order to do the job at all. Eat this, sit here on the couch, and then go over into the spirit realm and see what you can see.

What You Learned from the Fly Agaric:

The moon is a coward, most of the time. It slips into the sky often unnoticed until it is out of reach and, even then, it keeps a star nearby. Always a star nearby.

A daisy is just a small earth-anchored sun.

What insults a young man amuses an old one.

The detective’s killer gained from his death.

Have you solved it? Well, then, very good. Why don’t you get washed up and we’ll go grab some dinner and discuss your new position in more depth.

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Me and the Methodists

The United Methodist Reporter, which, weirdly enough, is something I grew up reading in the bathroom, asked me to write some more about the ugliness of the United Methodist Publishing House building. So, I did. But it ended up being about more than that.

I feel weird about it. I told Jay, the editor, that I didn’t want to write something that fell into the dynamic of “Here’s how you’ve wronged me, Church!” where it seems like the complainer wants the church to beg them to come back, because they’ll change, they promise, they’ll change.

I don’t want to come back. But, as I get older, I find myself wanting to be at peace with the Church. As I grow stranger from it, it’s easier to see its good parts. But I am growing into a stranger from it.

Oh well, anyway, I hope it doesn’t hurt my dad’s feelings.

Things are Things

My coworker is out on maternity leave and I have been doing a fundamentally crappy job of filling in for her. It’s very detail-oriented work and I hate details if they’re not interesting to me. Like tell me Ben Allen had 42 tiny tigers carved out of ivory and I will never forget it. Tell me that something has to be printed, added to a database, copied, filed here and finally mailed? Wouldn’t it just be easier if I made a pile on the co-worker’s desk and she could do it when she got back?

The Butcher has gone on some thing. I guess a gig, a “go here, do this crap, take this money” thing. So, I get my parents all to myself this weekend. I have mixed feelings.

And I need to get started on my yearly time-set-aside. I should have started it last night, but I was/am so stressed out and exhausted.

Mrs. W. left me two giant disgusting gifts on the floor when I got home from work yesterday. And I feel so bad for her because she’s so ashamed. Or I guess whatever it is that dogs feel. She was slinking around, just out of sight, trying to suss out if I was mad at her.

I wish there was a way that I could make her understand that I’m never going to be pissed about accidents that happen because she’s a million years old.

“These things happen,” I tell her. And then I get the mop.

Anyway, on a happier note, tonight is the biggest failure of a witch story of the whole month. I just reread it to confirm to myself that it is terrible and it is! Probably, I should not run it. But I’m going to. I mean, it’s a Friday night. Who among you will be here to read it? And then they’re pretty good from here on out. It will be quickly forgotten, I trust.

I will say this: I think the puzzle has a solution. I mean, I intend for the story to pose an answerable question. But I also think that writing very short mysteries–hell, perhaps all mysteries–is really hard. And I’m kind of delighted to fail so gloriously. It’s like a belly flop. Yes, it’s stupid, but there’s something wonderful about it.

And it’s given me a new appreciation for the guy who wrote all those Encyclopedia Brown stories.