Ricky Anderson (@Arthur2Sheds) and Joseph Craven (@thejosephcraven) came up with Sudden Writing Challenge and I blindly accepted. My contribution is below. My first attempt at fiction since high school. Gulp.
We were given 48 hours and had to include three elements
1. A rooftop
2. A custodian named Glenn
3. The line “Well, that’s not how I would have planned it.”
Go here http://www.rickyanderson.net/p/the-caper-challenge.html to read the details and also to check out the other participants.
“I hope I can get the lock to turn, Jen said it sticks sometimes, would you come with me?” Alice asked her husband, Gary.
“You’re the one who agreed to watch their house, text me if you have a problem, I’m just getting ready to go play squash with Brad,” he replied.
“Fine, you’ll probably hear from me in two minutes!’ said Alice as she ducked out the front door. She jogged the short distance three houses down the street and up the path to her neighbour’s house. With just a little jimmying, the deadbolt clicked. Alice scooped the mail out of the box and went inside.
As she sauntered to the kitchen, she glanced briefly at each piece of mail to make sure it was for Jen and Tom Watson. After depositing it on the table she went to check the house plants. They were all on the kitchen counter, just like Jen had said. That way none would get overlooked. Alice was to take in the mail, keep the plants alive and check the basement for water if they had a large rainfall while the couple was away for two weeks on a camping trip.
Since this was only the first day, Alice only needed a minute to complete all the tasks. It hadn’t rained at all the night before, but Alice convinced herself it would be a good idea to check the basement, just to get a baseline. Before today, she had only been in the kitchen for a coffee when Jen and Tom had first moved in three months earlier.
Nothing but some boxes and an old treadmill were in the unfinished basement, so Alice returned to the main floor. She took her time leaving, pausing to peer at the pictures on the wall, peeking into the powder room to make sure no one was lurking behind the door. It was as she turned around to retrieve her shoes that she noticed the carpet. The plush, luxurious carpet that covered the living room all the way to the stairs.
The carpet had been vacuumed. Alice couldn’t help but notice that the lines from the recent cleaning were very exact, very precise. She also noticed that Jen or Tom had vacuumed their way out of the room. Not one footprint could be seen.
Odd. Alice thought. They must have cleaned the carpet right before they left. I guess they wanted to leave me with a good impression. She also thought, a tad unkindly, that Glenn, the custodian at her office, could take a few lessons on thorough cleaning from the Watsons.
She locked the house and returned to her own home. She sifted through the junk mail that had been left on their porch, but couldn’t stop thinking about the carpet lines.
I wonder if they just didn’t want me nosing around? Seems rather untrusting. After all, they asked me to watch the house.
Later that evening she mentioned her observations to Gary.
“I mean, what’s the big secret? I understand wanting to come home to a tidy house, but why vacuum your way out? Don’t they trust me? What could I possibly see or do? Why would they be so suspicious?”
“Maybe they are in Witness Protection? I don’t know. You are reading way too much into a clean carpet. Seriously, let it go.” Gary said and went back to watching his show on TV.
Alice couldn’t let it go. All kinds of scenarios went through her mind, mostly ones involving illegal activities. She just had to know and decided that tomorrow she would leap gazelle-like over the carpet, take a look upstairs, assess the situation, then slowly smooth out her footprints as she backed out of the house. Easy.
The next day she put her plan into action and she made it incident-free to the home office. She was slightly disappointed to note that they appeared to be law-abiding citizens who appreciated good housekeeping. Just as she leaned forward to get a better look at the postcard tacked to the bulletin board, her arm grazed a half-empty glass of water, splashing some of the contents onto the desk. Thankfully, she caught the spill before it reached anything and wiped it up with the sleeve of her hoodie. Relieved that she hadn’t damaged anything, and feeling a little sheepish about her previous suspicions, she turned to begin her retreat. It was then that she knocked over the pile of invoices that sat on the edge of the desk.
Panic. Absolute panic filled Alice. Followed by dread, exasperation, and then more panic. There was no way to know what system had been used to stack those papers originally. Foiled by her own curiosity and overly active imagination, Alice sat at the top of the staircase to regain her composure.
She contemplated all kinds of ways to explain the overturned pile.
I thought I heard something upstairs and saw that a window had been left open and the wind blew the stack over. No, that wasn’t possible since the office had no functioning window.
I could tell them that our dog followed me in and dashed upstairs and went right for the papers. Not bad, except we don’t have a dog. I wonder if anyone would let me borrow their dog for a short time, just for authenticity.
I had a sudden washroom emergency and I only use toilets on the second floor.
I went upstairs to leave mints on your pillows as a Welcome Home gesture. I just forgot the mints.
I couldn’t remember how to spell ‘sabbatical’ and went to find a dictionary.
There was a crazy raccoon infestation in the neighbourhood and I wanted to make sure you didn’t have any critters trying to make a nest on your roof. They are crafty.
Alice finally realized that there was no plausible explanation for the toppled papers and her footprints, although the rooftop raccoons might work if she could persuade Gary to back up her story. She couldn’t, he wouldn’t. She had to admit defeat.
So as any grown woman who might be caught snooping in her neighbour’s house would do, Alice carefully straightened the papers as best she could, slowly retraced her footprints, then brushed them out with her hand and vowed to stick to the list of things Jen had asked her to do: mail, plants, basement if it rains.
For the next twelve days, Alice sat that house like she had never sat a house before. She could have been nominated “House Sitter of the Year” she did such a good and nonintrusive job. She even started to forget about the overturned papers.
Eventually, the two weeks ended and Tom stopped by to retrieve their house key. Alice debated confessing everything then and there, but at the last minute, decided she would take her chances and pretend nothing had happened.
One day passed and nothing was said. In fact, Alice got a friendly wave as Jen drove off to the store that afternoon. Alice began to think she was in the clear. Everything was fine, she had fretted and plotted for nothing.
Two days passed and Alice was overcome with relief that her moment of crazy was her own little secret. She was feeling even a little bit smug as she gathered up the flyers from the front step and discovered an envelope with her name on it. Alice excitedly opened it to discover a note and a gift card from the Watsons:
Thank you so much for keeping an eye on things while we were away.
And thanks for tidying up the office. I hope you enjoyed your self-guided tour. It’s not how I would have planned it, but clearly you felt comfortable in our home.