“We’ve been here before,” said the detective, standing at the doorway of a previously locked room, a dead man sitting upright in a chair. It had taken four officers to knock the door down because the only key to the room was tucked safely in the pants pocket of the corpse. There were no windows. Blood was everywhere, but no footmarks could be seen, and later it would be discovered that not one fingerprint exists in the room, not even of that of the dead man. Naturally, there was no weapon. The officers waited for the detective to continue. Finally, the detective said, “Well then, I have a theory.”
The police trusted the detective implicitly. The detective was the only one who considered the possibility of that Maestro Van der Luydens’ death was the result of the spirit of a vengeful Buddhist monk locked away in a forgotten musical note that was accidentally played the night of his murder. The detective was the only one who knew that the writer from Providence’s death was no suicide, but the result of the man’s unformed, but perfectly conscious twin that lived in the man’s stomach, who had spent the previous forty-seven years slowly clawing its way up to the man’s throat. The detective was the one who figured out from the Kingston murders that the god Christians worshipped had been randomly killing people all over the world for centuries and brought the murderer to justice after a long eighth dimensional chase in the quantum cloud machine. The detective’s only unsolved case was the corpse of Andrew Winterbottom, discovered four years before his birth and twenty-nine years before his murder, and that was only because there could be no solution to a case that hadn’t happened yet; but the detective was patient.
“This is a story. The things we see before us are from the imagination of a writer. If I had to guess, I’d say the writer, a man, has recently read some mysteries and has taken it upon himself to deconstruct the patterns he’s observed. But that isn’t important. What’s paramount is that all of our experiences previous to this moment are dictated by the imaginations of the readers – or listeners perhaps – based on the information given to them by this so-called writer. The reader will fill in the white space between the words with their own histories, a new pattern on an increasingly growing snowflake where no two are alike.”
“You!” The detective pointed to the officer at the far left of the room who immediately stood alert. “Please be kind enough to share with us your name?” The officer laughed and then suddenly frowned. The detective continued, “That’s right. You don’t know your name because the writer hasn’t given you one. And if you look at yourself in the mirror, you’ll discover a new face each time, as that would be the face given to you through the seemingly infinite experiences of the readers. Who are you now? The ex-boyfriend of this reader? Or the teacher who paid the perfect compliment at the perfect moment to this reader? Who am I? Am I a man? Woman? One moment I’m English, the next I’m American. My mouth tastes of pipe tobacco and then of cigarettes. Sometimes I feel high. Apparently I always lack social skills. My hand holds a magnifying glass, then a bat-shaped weapon of some kind, and now this cane. I only know I’ve solved three cases and will one day solve another. Where is this place? We are nowhere and everywhere.”
“This is what they call a locked room mystery,” the detective said. “A genre, a sub-genre even, a device that forces the detective to look beyond what he is seeing to solve something seemingly impossible. And, of course, a metaphor of life beyond this paraspace, the life of the reader, trapped while waiting for an inevitability that’s openly understood to be natural but felt to be an abomination. All deaths are murders to those who have to find meaning in what cannot be defined.”
One of the officers stepped forward. The detective remembered him from the Oscar Tame murders, which, the detective noted, made four cases solved. The officer said, “But who killed him?”
“It’s amazing, isn’t it? Even when confronted with blatant contrivances, our minds still push towards a solution, even when there can’t possibly be one. Any solution to this mystery would be cheating. Just another murder in a life full of murders. If we walk away now, we’d never remember this mystery having existed. When this story ends, the last few moments of our lives will reset when someone else decides to read from the beginning.”
The room was silent.
The detective looked around to see everyone gone. The body was missing. The room was empty. The detective tried the door, found it locked and sighed. Without an audience, the detective’s ennui returned like anesthesia, crawling through the arteries towards the heart. The detective walked to the center of the room and sat down on the floor.
“The locked room,” said the detective in a broken voice, knowing that an audience still existed somewhere. The detective fell back on the floor, arms and legs spread out. The end was close.
The detective stared up at the ceiling. The lights were fading. In the detective’s pocket, a key shifted. As darkness took over, the detective said, “So this is what it’s like.”
– Written by Christian A. Dumais
Listen to this story in “Accepting the Mysteries”, an episode of the Museioncast series.
If you enjoy this, don’t forget to check out earlier editions of the Museioncast.