This story is by Kathi Stait and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Mardi thought the funeral was lovely. Sophia was dead, her cheerful voice never again calling over the fence as they worked in their gardens. There would be no more try-on sessions as they swapped clothes and problems, trying to keep each other sane. The comfort, the jokes, supporting each other. All gone.
Mardi’s feet dragged on the pebbled pathway as she left the crowd swapping amusing stories from Soph’s life. Instead, her overwhelming loss took over her mind and propelled her towards her solitude, where she could vent her rage at the unfairness of Soph’s death.
“Mardi.” She heard Bob thundering out of the chapel and down the path. “Hang on a moment, please.”
“Bob, I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do?” She scanned his face, knowing he was too polite to respond to her question truthfully.
“No, I’m right for the moment, thanks. Listen, Soph wanted you to have her computer. I want to do things for her still. Can I bring it over tomorrow? I’ll need something to do by then, so I don’t have to think. Help you set it up.”
Bob and Soph’s computer arrived mid-morning and they spent several hours finding a location, power outlets, and hooking it onto all the peripherals.
“I’ve backed up all Soph’s stuff and deleted her personal files, so it’s clean. Left some photos I thought you would enjoy. Soph would be glad you have it.
“Clean? And yes, I am thrilled that you are using my computer.”
The computer sat on her desk, with just that one line scrawled on her screen, in some ways almost defiling Soph’s memory.
“How would I get to talk to you otherwise?”
The words continued to appear.
As she watched, paragraphs of beautiful prose arranged themselves on the screen. She deleted them; they weren’t part of her story.
And they came back, so she deleted them again.
“I will continue to do so until you start listening to me. Now, read my typing.”
Seriously? She frowned in admiration of the virus that could not only take over her computer but also hold an intelligent conversation with her as she typed. The writing sounded so like Soph’s style that Mardi could almost believe it was her.
Oh hell, let’s read anyway, she thought. Computer’s already infected, and I can’t possibly make it any worse. She read, but faltered at the first sentence.
“Good. Now, what do they say caused my death?”
She inserted the cursor after that question. The rest of the typing vanished.
“Natural causes. You died in your sleep,” she typed.
“For goodness’ sake, I was only sixty. What natural causes? I had a complete physical examination just days before I died. Passed with flying colours!”
“I don’t know the official cause. “
“Does anyone? Did they look?”
“I don’t know. Bob didn’t say. Wasn’t saying much at all.”
“No, probably not. All I know is Bob was away and I felt some ruffling around under the sheets, a slight sting, increasing drowsiness, and then an unbearable pain. Then nothing except you poking me in the ribs with my computer’s cursor. Hell, Did Bob burn me up, or bury me like he said he would?”
“They buried you; a beautifully gothic carved stone will sit above your grave under the eucalypts in the furthest corner of the graveyard. It will say ‘Dearly beloved’ and ‘Sadly missed’ under your name and dates.”
“Thank goodness for that! I’m still dead, though. Get some tests done. Tell them to find out who did this, please.”
Mardi hoped she was only conversing with a virus as she snapped out of her daze. It was an interesting fantasy, and she had been missing Soph recently. Maybe it’s only a dream, wishing for my friend?
She typed. “And how will I do that? The police aren’t going to listen. Can you imagine the fun they would have with the concept of a distraught, bereaved lady wandering into their midst and demanding they investigate her friend’s death?”
“How about Bob? Have you spoken to him?”
“Haven’t had time. You’ve been barraging me with questions. Are you sure it wasn’t him?”
“We’ve been okay. He was a little quiet over the last few months. Said it was stressful at work. Been away a lot, too.”
“Yeah, I’d noticed that. Could it have been him?”
“How would I know? I was asleep and then it was too late.”
“Okay, no words with Bob. So how will I convince anyone to check you—oh, hell, your body—for evidence?”
“Take this computer in to them.”
“Right! Immediate proof. I don’t think so. You didn’t always think things through, did you?”
“You die and see how logical you are!”
“Back to reality, please. What do you know, and no one else does, and the authorities will accept?”
“Many things, but what will work?”
There was a long pause. The computer sat on her desk, humming to itself, with occasional pings to break Mardi out of her reverie. She couldn’t think of one of Soph’s personal details that would attest to her—or a computer’s—credibility with anyone, let alone the constabulary. She reviewed their school days, the fight with Mrs Jones over missing homework, the car accident that took both friends to hospital. Even their secret password for their exclusive club wasn’t exactly unknown.
“How about my time capsule? You remember, we both buried ours on our eighteenth birthdays, and told no one what was in them, or where we buried them?”
“It’s not conclusive. Even I don’t know where yours was, so what will that prove?”
“Oh, think! Take the computer into the police station.”
“You didn’t write where it was on your computer, did you?”
“No, but I can tell them the same way I’m talking to you.”
Soph was always fun, with an imagination that knew no bounds. This suggestion, however, seemed to have—created and—passed the limits. Mardi sat, staring at the blinking cursor, imagining the words she would have to use to coerce any right-minded police officer to even look at the computer.
“Oh, what the hell. Thank goodness it’s a laptop rather than anything larger. I’ll ask for Danny. Your first boyfriend. I think he still works there. Seargent now, I think. Hope he’s not still on Traffic.”
“Yes, Danny. We are–were—still friends.”
“Yes, he was at your funeral. Lovely funeral, but the way… “
“Okay. No time like the present. If I think about this, I’ll lose my nerve.”
Danny was still the same; cheerful, tanned, joking and so well built he made her heart race, just a little. She flushed as she saw his eyes roving her body in its business suit and her hair that hung in lustrous waves down her back.
“Mardi, good to talk to you after all this time. Are you doing well?”
“Yes, but Soph has a problem. She thinks that someone murdered her. Was there an autopsy?”
Danny blinked and waited for Mardi to continue. Mardi knew he was, at least, a patient person who would listen to her. She also hoped he would recognise Soph from her writing. She explained her conversation with Soph and that she believed that Soph truly haunts the laptop. Then she stood and watched doubt and jumbled thoughts wash across his face.
“I can’t believe I’m about to do this. Come into my office, and we’ll look together.” She saw that the doubt remained on his face, but he led her upstairs and sat her down across his desk before opening the computer.
“Hi, Danny, “ typed across the screen.
“Hi yourself.” His face crumpled.
They chatted. Danny recognised her phrases, asked her questions about their times together, and decided to follow up his earlier doubts about the cause of Soph’s death. The Soph he knew was so healthy.
Soph explained her concerns and told him about her time capsule “Do you know where it is, Mardi?”
“No, Danny. They were secret. You know how eighteen-year-old girls can be?”
His grin showed how well he remembered. Especially Sophia.
“I wrote a card she buried. Okay, we’ll dig it up, and if I recognise anything, we’ll look into her death.”
Mardi wasn’t allowed to accompany him on the dig, nor the detailed autopsy, but he told her about the tiny needle track they found at the base of Soph’s right big toe and the huge concentrations of nicotine in her still decomposing body.
Bob was the immediate suspect, especially after his PA’s many visits to his house. His frequent absences shed further suspicion on him, but he was seen half a continent away on the night Soph died.
His PA had no alibi. Danny believes they’ve found Soph’s killer and is gathering evidence.
Mardi still communes with her friend. They chat and confide in each other, not quite comparing clothes, but Soph is still interested in these, too.