This week begins the Autumn edition of “Monday Mini”! As explained in last weeks Monday Mini post, for the next few weeks Monday Mini will be Monday Mini Mysteries: approximately every Monday I will find a prompt, write a short story mystery, and share it here. Please keep in mind, I have not written fiction in years. I hope you enjoy these stories; feel free to leave any constructive criticism in the comments or recommendations for further prompts!
With that, I present Monday Mini Mystery #1: The Social Dilemma.
Prompt: You come to work one day to find all emails & social media accounts logged in to another person. Who are they? (Jonathan Brown, via Penguin Random House: The Writers’ Academy)
Bridgette Rose Anderson strolled into her apartment exactly twenty-five minutes after five, aware that it had taken her less time to get home from her job at the downtown animal shelter than usual. Tossing her keys on the kitchen counter, she looked around for her two cats. Martha, an older tabby, was easy to find sprawled in a sunbeam beneath the only window in the living room. Martha did not acknowledge Bridgette’s presence as she walked through the small space toward the back of the apartment. A sudden crash followed by a muted scuffling sound drew her attention to the spare bedroom, which she used as a home office.
“George,” she called in a tired voice to the other cat, “you had better not have knocked over the plant again!” Right on cue, George met Bridgette at the entrance to the office, meowing once before rubbing in circles around Bridgette’s ankles and purring. The floor of the office was covered with books which had minutes earlier been precariously stacked on a corner of the desk, but the generic houseplant sat on top of the bookshelves apparently untouched.
Bridgette sighed and stepped in, grabbing books from the floor at random and beginning to restack them. While she meticulously recreated the order she intended to read the books in, George leapt onto the desk. For a moment he just watched Bridgett and flicked his tail, unconcerned with the inconvenience he caused. Apparently this soon became boring to him, and he reached a tentative paw towards the computer mouse. First he gave it a light tap, then a jolt. This caused the desktop monitor to spring to life and hum with electricity.
“That’s funny,” Bridgette said, glancing at the screen, “I don’t remember leaving Facebook open. Oh well; it’s dinner time, George.” At the phrase “dinner time”, the cat ran from the office to wait with Martha for Bridgette at the closet where she kept their food. She set the computer back to sleep mode, straightened the stack of books one last time, and left the room.
If Bridgette had looked more closely at the Facebook posts, she would have realized that very few of them were made by people she knew or followed.
Half an hour later Bridgette sank onto the couch in her living room with a plate of leftover chicken strips in one hand and the TV remote in the other. George and Martha crunched their own dinner loudly on opposite sides of the room, and the scent of reheated chicken wafted through the air.
The news contained nothing truly new or interesting, so Bridgette left it on for background noise while she ate and reached for her iPad. Taking a bite of chicken, she tapped on a notification from one of her social media accounts. However, when the app loaded it displayed a post by someone Bridgette had never heard of. She snorted and navigated away to the homepage instead.
“There must be a new recommendations algorithm,” Bridgette said to herself, “and it’s not very good. I don’t know any of these people!” The farther she scrolled through the app, the more frustrated she became. Finally she set her plate on the coffee table and opened her own profile, hoping to find a setting to adjust so that she could see what her friends were posting, rather than all of these random people she had never heard of before. However, where her own name, picture, and words should have been, there was an unfamiliar face and name. Where pictures of Martha, George, and her plants should have been, there were pictures of a dog.
“What is going on?” she exclaimed, drawing her cats attention. George, who had finished his own meal by this time and was unwilling to allow a chance at seconds to pass him by, jumped quietly onto the coffee table and eyed Bridgette’s abandoned plate. Martha also joined the gathering, choosing to sit underneath the plate in question but noticing it with no less interest than George.
Understandably confused, Bridgette scrolled through the strange profile, wondering who she knew that would and could pull off a joke like this. The profile gave very little information on the mysterious person, and the feed was filled with pictures of the same dog: a small Beagle with a pale blue collar and distinctive markings on its back. The dog filled nearly every frame, more often than not running, either towards the photographer or after some kind of toy.
After several moments of gaining no information about the owner of the account but plenty about the dog (her name is Dixie, she loves to chase anything that moves, and she hates car horns), Bridgette closed and logged out of the app. She opened another social media app, only to find the same phenomena: rather than being logged into her own account, the same stranger’s profile appeared. Again, there was very little personal information about the girl in the profile picture, but dozens of pictures of Dixie the Beagle.
“Seriously?” Bridgette said out loud, taking in the profile briefly before turning off the iPad and tossing it to the opposite end of the sofa. For a moment she just sat there, trying to process what was going on. Had one of her friends hacked the iPad the last time they came over? Or had someone gotten into her accounts? Could it be someone she didn’t even know, either through her apartment buildings Wi-Fi or simply the internet? Surely it could not be a fluke the two of her social media accounts were logged into the same unknown person’s account.
The sound of a plate sliding brought Bridgette’s attention back to the room, just in time to see George reaching for the chicken on her plate.
“Excuse you,” she said, snatching the plate back and taking a bite herself. George sat down and stared at Bridgette with disappointment, while Martha settled comfortably on the sofa next to her. Confused but refusing to be paranoid, Bridgette once again faced the television and finished her meal.
The next morning Bridgette avoided all social media while she got ready for work. Instead, she simply brewed herself a to-go cup of coffee, put the iPad on its charger, and headed downtown.
Traffic was heavier than usual, but not slow enough to make Bridgette late to work. She pulled into the tight employee parking lot behind the animal shelter with enough time to drain her coffee and check her phone before heading in. A new social media notification chimed, and she hesitantly tapped on it. The app functioned as it always should, pulling up a post written by one of Bridgette’s friends. Still, the images of Dixie the Beagle irritated the back of her mind.
The sound of car horns and barking met Bridgette’s ears the moment she stepped out of her car, which is nothing new at an animal shelter in the city. However, one of the barking voices sounded much closer than the indoor pens Bridgette knew the dogs should be in. Looking around, she tracked the barking to coming from behind a nearby dumpster, and decided to investigate.
Two things came into view when Bridgette rounded the corner. First, a raccoon perched on top of the dumpster, hissing and obviously anxious. Second, the cause for the raccoon’s anxiety as well as the barking was a small Beagle wearing a light blue collar at the base of the dumpster. Bridgette froze. Surely, it couldn’t be…but the dog had the same markings as the one in the strange accounts yesterday.
“Dixie?” Bridgette said the name like a question, but the dog immediately stopped barking and looked at her, and then came over without further prompting. The raccoon took the opportunity to scramble over the dumpster and run away down the alley.
Dixie wagged her tail at Bridgette, who knelt to pet and inspect the dog. There were no tags on the collar, but Bridgette had a strong feeling that she already knew the owner’s name. A quick search of the local lost and found page revealed that the same person Bridgette saw on her iPad had reported Dixie missing the day before: a car horn had startled the pair while jogging in a nearby park, and Dixie bolted from her owner. When the girl showed up to claim Dixie, Bridgette did not bring up the strange occurrence with her social media. Regardless of how that happened, it had resulted in Dixie being reunited with her owner, which was enough to pacify Bridgette’s curiosity, at least for the time being.
Perhaps not the most suspenseful mystery, but as the first thing out of the gate that I have creatively written in years, I’m happy with it. If you have anything positive to say, let me know what you think!
Until next time,
Cover image credit: Kristian Seedorff via Unsplash.