This Week’s Prompt: 102. Corpse in room performs some act—prompted by discussion in its presence. Tears up or hides will, etc.
The Prior Research:The Testimony of the Dead
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The first two cars arrived for the reading of Mr. Melane’s will at eight o’clock am. The last of the four cars arrived at half past eight. I was obliged, by prior arrangement, to wait until all six surviving members had all the gathered to read the will in full.
“Can’t you just…you know, skip to what’s mine and get it over with?” Mr. Melane’s son, Arthur Melane, said, peaking over the podium.
“I’m afraid not.” I said, shaking my head. I had taken the liberty of reading Mr. Melane’s will ahead of time—at his request, a number of things had been prepared. A pile of envelopes, labeled for each item on the will or collection of items. His own cascket, which lay next to me, his’ feet towards the audience. And a list of photos with names, in case I got confused.
“I just don’t see why we have to wait—listen she’s always late, no need for the rest of us to wait along for her nonse—” Arthur said, his cousin Shelia squirming in her seat a little. And then the eponymous she arrived, Katrina Melane. Not the same hair style as the photo, but the same color and face. And her associate, Mr. Leonard Alphonse. I was fairly certain that Alphonse was a first name, but who am I to ask.
There was grumbling as they sat. The wife of the deceased, Georgia Melane, and the last of the relations Jordy Melane, had stayed silent and upright the entire time. Patient and somewhat cold gazes.
As they took there seats in the chapel. I started to read the will.
“Dear my remaining family and friends. As you know, during my life I devoted myself to true and honest virtues. A portion of my estate has been set aside already for the furthering of knowledge and understanding among mankind, in the form of donations and contributions to scientific research across Windgift proper—”
There was another small set of grumbles.
“However, I have not forgotten the most timeless and nurturing bonds of kinship—”
There was a suppressed cough, I believe from Katrina.
“And as such have appropriated the remainder of my estate for my relations, with a caveat. As a believer in the value of merit first and foremost, and of the importance of great deeds, I have allocated these to the most worthy—those who have achieved things that are in needing of such reparations. My executor has been given all the evidence I have for my suppositions of who preformed these deeds—however, he has been asked to not hand over the property until the perpetrators stand forward for their own actions.”
More shifting. I peered over them, and steeled my heart.
“A sum of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds was, over the course of three years, misplaced from the family funds. In particular, a considerable amount of scholarship money set aside for Katrina’s art classes and collegiate studies went missing. At the time of its disappearance, I was greatly ill and not able to correct the imbalance. I am sure you all suspect as much. Whoever, however, removed the funds and confesses as such—to you I bequeath the estate on the moor, which I am sure you are all familiar with. The one with the lovely grove of trees.”
“I knew it.” Katrina muttered, frowning. “I knew someone was making off with—oh just give it to mother dearest. I’m sure she knows where it’s all scattered.”
“I didn’t touch those funds and you know it.” Geogria said, rubbing the bridge of her nose.
“It isn’t mother’s fault you drank away half your fund.” Jordy cut in, leaning to look at Katrina.
“Do you think I failed my math classes?” Katrina growled, her hands balling into fists. Mr. Alphonese rested his hand on her shoulder.
“A grudge that long ago isn’t worth a house, Kat…” Sophia muttered. “Just fess up and take it.”
“No, no its fine. If she’s so insistent to throw away her father’s last gift, than its fine. Yes, I misplaced the fund. It wasn’t like it was doing much good at university anyway.” Georgia said. I tapped the envelop with the peach grove on it, and cut it open, pouring out the first letter, and nodded slightly.
“Very well. Onto the second matter. As some of you are aware, as my health declined, my esteemed wife Georgia became close to a man by the name Ludwig Birding. Mr. Birding was a charming man, by all accounts, and quite the successful businessman. His import and export operations were growing rather well, and my accountant Roger suggests they will be valued at over a million pounds or more within the year. “
Georgia sharply inhaled. Katrina looked to the aside. Sophia muttered something to Arthur.
“An exceptional man, who’s life was tragically cut short by his own bottled demons according to a police report filed the 3rd of November. While none of my family drew the knife on the man—certainly, confessing to murder would be improper at a funeral. But who was it that gave him that poisoned cup? To them I leave my associated properties in Windgift, the dozen tenanted houses and associated businesses.”
“Always so long winded, even past the grave.” Arthur sighed and looking over. “Well, that’s two I can’t take. I never met old Lud until his face was plastered over the dining room hall.”
“He was…infuriating.” Katrian muttered. “But that’s just Mother’s taste. I didn’t even think he was pushed off the wagon instead of fell.”
“I thought he was quite kind.” Sophia said, tapping her chin. “He seemed a bit too friendly though.”
Georgia was silent.
“I knew Ludwig took…But still. Pushed off…” She said, tears running down her cheek.
“Well, that is the way of the city sometimes.” Jordy said, giving his mother a comforting hug.
“Pushed off by my own kin though!” She hissed, glaring around. “Which one of you did it? He’d been fighting for years to get off that damned drink. Years!”
“Mother, you knew him scant nine months…” Katrina said a bit softly. Mr. Alphones stroked his mustache.
“I think I knew Ludwig…he wasn’t too uncommon back in the day…a shame his abstinence didn’t last too long. The man seemed pleasant.”
“Well, that’s all good morning a man dead for half a decade.” Sophia said a bit louder. “But we still don’t know who gets the property.”
“…Jordy.” Georgia said, turning to the youngest of the Melane’s and pushing off his hand. “What’s this about the way of the city?”
“Sometimes charming men fall back on their vices.” Jordy said, shrugging.
“Oh God in heaven Jordy…” Georgia gasped. Katrina clicked her tongue.
“Charming men sometimes fall, hm?” She said. “Sometimes favorites get jealous?”
“Nothing of the sort.” Jordy said, looking down at his feet. “I-I didn’t know he had a problem. I was being…friendly? Hospitable.”
“Oh that’s bull, you hate the drink like a cat hates water.” Arthur said, sitting upright.
“I knew he liked it, I didn’t know he was an alcoholic.” Jordy said. “Perhaps it was for the best then.”
“You killed him…” Georgia muttered, moving a seat.
“I didn’t kill him! I didn’t trust him.” Jordy said, shaking his head. “He was too kind, and I knew he was hiding something. I got him drunk, to let the truth come out—find out whether he was dangerous. To find out if he was taking advantage of you.”
“I am your mother.” Georgia said standing. “Since when do you look out for me?”
“What about that man in Belgrade! Where did all that money for his charming little business go, mother?” Jordy said, standing up. “Or the dress maker from Paris, who was going to give you a career as a model and muse? Where did all of his funds go?”
A silence hung in the air. I reached over the sarcophagus, and took the letter up, and held it out. Jordy snatched it from my hand.
“At least father appreciates my service.” He muttered.
I took up the final section.
“And the final section of my will and testament, given in my right and aware mind, I allocate to the member of my family that perhaps has preformed the most grievous and influential act upon my livelihood, perhaps barring my death. Two summers before the writing of this will, there was a dispute between two persons in my library, in the summer home on the coast. Neither of you were permitted on the premise at the time, but such things are marginal compared to what happened after. I was informed, that evening, that a fire had broken out in my library—and that several key items to my research, my truth seeking, and my works. To whoever confesses the cause of the fire, I will relinquish the rest of the estate.”
“Of course. That’s what he’s shaking his fist at from beyond the grave. Not murder, not undermining the family name, not affairs…” Arthur gasped for breath. “No. For burning some books of long forgotten lore. Of course.”
“Well who—” Georgia began.
“I did.” Sophia sighed. “Me and Arthur were visiting to find some old books and…and we found some writings from Uncle Melane’s private life.”
“Some writings? Yes, well. We found quiet a few writing, by my memory. Father had gone deep into things that were too deep for me to let stand.”
“It was a bit extreme but we did not expect the fire to spread.” Sophia protested.
“Yes, fine. But we confess to—” Arthur began—until there was a loud scraping sound. A hand, long thin skeletal hand, reached from the sarcophagus, open a jar. It reached up and seized the final envelope. And slowly, to the horror of us gathered, retracted back down into the coffin. And the coffin was sealed shut, the last will of Mr. Melane trapped within.
I wonder if they dared open it later.
This story needs more room, I think. The idea, the conceit of a will dependent on confessions, seems appropriate. But I think peppering it with revealing flashbacks–I’ve heard the movie Knives Out has done something like this–or by expanding the conflicts between the family members some. I think the middle one, with Jordy, is my favorite. I think at the end, the characters aren’t…set up enough for this plot. Not in this version anyway.
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