CW: Graphic Violence

Photo by Hammad Siddiqui / Unsplash

by Matt Rowan

The detective was standing over a dead body. How did it come to this? Sure, death was commonplace on the battlefield but this was different. This was murder. 

The man was laying face down in the mud, set inside a blast crater. Someone had attacked him. He’d been slashed in the throat with a knife. The detective searched around the man’s corpse for clues. 

He climbed over the bodies of the many others who’d been killed in battle. His clothing was quickly bathed in blood, but not the blood of the victim, whose body he was careful not to move or tamper with – in order to preserve all evidence. 

A spattering of machine gun fire opened up and a number of freshly dead soldiers fell into a heap beside the detective. He leaned on the heap, considering the situation. Difficult to maintain this crime scene, he thought. Lots of blood, and most of it not belonging to the victim. Makes things a lot harder.

It was clear the dead man was a high society type, though his exact identity hadn’t yet been determined. A stray bullet whizzed through the detective’s fedora. The detective took it off and scratched his head, to have a think for a moment.

The mayor was going to demand this case get buttoned up quickly. Two soldiers fought each other in hand to hand combat nearby, as they’d both run out of ammunition. One was able to gain the advantage by beating the other to death with a rock. The detective sighed. If only this murder were that easy. Cause of death, beaten to death with a rock in a war zone. Case closed.

Artillery shells landed in trenches a short distance away. The ground shook and shuddered in reply. The detective had been aware of the small fires that had broken out all over this terrain but saw they were growing increasingly vicious as they consumed more fuel. His crime scene was going to soon be seriously at risk. 

The detective grabbed a soldier racing past him by the collar. The soldier took a swing at the detective but missed. He slapped the soldier, not maliciously but in an attempt to momentarily free him out of the fog of war. The soldier was able to focus his eyes on the detective and spoke lucidly.

“I’ve got a fight to fight.”

The detective spoke slowly, “Have you seen any strange people shambling about in the last eight hours?”

The soldier whispered, “I’ve seen nothing but death over that period and for much longer. I’ve known only death, intimately and powerfully.” 

“But nothing suspicious?” 

The detective released the soldier from his grip, shaking his own head. The soldier was immediately torn in half by enemy gunfire. 

What a thorny case, the detective thought, blood and other human matter sprayed all over his clothing and face, which of course was already drenched in putrid physical remains. Going to be really tough to get to the bottom of.

He was using his magnifying glass to get a closer look at the body of the deceased. The victim was caught in a rictus of surprise and terror, suggesting the murderer was someone who had caught him by surprise. It was also conceivable that this one was someone with whom the victim was intimately familiar. 

The only thing the detective could do, he decided, was trick the killer into returning to the scene of the crime. Although since nearly everything was part of a battlefield at this point there was just as good odds the killer would return accidentally. The detective knew it wasn’t his job to leave anything to chance, though, and soon hatched a plan as intricate as any he’d ever devised . He felt more like a spider hiding his web than a detective, explosions all around continuing with the steady frequency of thunder in an unrelenting tempest. Men and women screamed as soldiers’ bodies and body parts piled up. 

Eventually all was ready, and the only thing left for the detective to do was wait. 

That night, the detective sat in the catbird seat he’d prepared overlooking the victim’s body. Tracers lit the sky alongside volleys of artillery, crashing to earth and causing the soil to vibrate as though terrified. The detective thought he might fall asleep, when an enigmatic personage made their way toward the victim.

“It can’t be. I can’t be back,” a voice rang out.

“Oh, can’t you?” the detective said, shining a flashlight on this figure. “Freeze.” 

It didn’t really matter who this person was, just that they’d been caught. That’s how the detective saw it. Justice was going to be served. In a world like this one, bullets whizzing around like gnats, that was the small hope you could really ask for, a rare moment of justice. 

“So why’d you do it?” the detective said, still flashing the light, pistol raised, readying for the arrest.

“Do what? Kill that guy? He was trying to make a life for himself on a battlefield. I said I wouldn’t stay, and he said I couldn’t leave. We fought. I thought I’d escaped but apparently, he was right. I can’t leave.” The person shrugged and sat down.

“Oh no, you’re leaving, all right. In my custody. I imagine you want to know how it is I got you back here, to the scene of this unusually heinous crime?” the detective said.

“Not really,” the person said. “It doesn’t matter.”

“You see, what I first did, is I did a block by block inventory of known—”

Before the detective could finish his soliloquy, a massive pile of corpses fell on top of them. 

Both the detective and the person were eventually smothered to death, or so the ensuing investigation of their deaths would reveal, the next detective on the scene positing only an “inconclusive” as the cause. 

Matt Rowan lives in Los Angeles. He edits Untoward and is author of the collections, Big Venerable, Why God Why, and How the Moon Works (Cobalt Press, 2021). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Twin Pies Literary, BULL, Back Patio Press, Maudlin HouseTRNSFR,  BarrelhouseNeutral SpacesMoon City ReviewHAD and Necessary Fiction, among others.