The kitchen was compact without being cramped, well-stocked, well-cleaned, well-loved, and well-used. The tiles glowed under the soft moonlight; the counters glistened with illusory moisture.
Detective Newman couldn’t help but admire the kitchen on a level far deeper than any training, any words of wisdom from his grandparents onward. It was TIDY. He liked things tidy.
It was what made the horde of bloodthirsty cutlery roving around the floorboards beneath him so very difficult to bear.
It had been a difficult time, this morning. He hadn’t been put off his donut for years, but the crime scene had done it. It was returned to its cellophane nest in his coat pocket untouched, unblemished by even the ghost of his breath.
It wasn’t the body – god no. Char-broiled, thinly sliced, mashed, chilled…he’d seen people end up in any number of ways. It was the abstract complication that this particular one had been thoroughly eaten.
He had consulted with Theresa, the wrinkled gnome who ruled forensics with extreme stoicism.
“Dead twelve hours,” she told him.
Newman nodded. “Right. Right. And how much of him’s been eaten?”
“Seventy-three percent soft tissue total including internal organs” she answered promptly.
“Nobody’s that hungry.”
“So, how many people were in this room?”
She shrugged. “There were a lot of different forks. Knives.”
“How many different forks and knives.”
She tapped the side of her head. “Fifteen forks and twenty-four knives; sixteen butter and eight steak.”
Newman turned around and touched the stove with one hand. Then he stretched a little and, with great strain, made it to the kitchen sink with his free hand.
“Not spacious,” he said.
“A very small and also very tidy horde of cannibals, seeing as they loaded up the dishwasher before they left.”
Theresa tapped her chin for a moment.
“You need to eat better,” she said. “Donuts are not a good breakfast.”
Thank you, Theresa. Thank you. At least the donuts wouldn’t be what did him in; god she’d have been insufferable at the funeral. Although she’d probably be the one checking his pockets in eight hours, so she’d get the satisfaction of knowing he hadn’t managed one last bite.
A tinkle from the kitchen floor dragged his attention to the notion of more unpleasant bites. God, where had this stuff come from? If it was a factory or something making them they had to find out fast; the world had enough regular hazards without having to worry about your silverware turning on you.
Newman had always been embarrassed by his reaction to fear. He hopped. Just a little start, but always straight upwards. This evening – this stupid, stupid, totally unnecessary evening, WHY had he come back to the crime scene? – it had saved his life. Despite being voracious, the parade of murderous utensils didn’t seem possessed of particularly good senses. As long as he was quiet on top of the kitchen counter, they were hunting for a ghost.
Then again, there were an awful lot of them. What if they could climb? What if they could FLY? Such things were not what you expected from a humble fork, but neither were voracious teeth.
Mother Newman had been very firm about what you did to avoid this sort of thing.
“Clean your dishes,” she told him. “Clear your plate, then clean it.”
And reluctantly, eventually, he had done as he was told. First at familial gunpoint, then habit, then inclination.
There was something uniquely appalling about an uncleaned dish. He wondered if that was what had set off this batch.
Had it been left in the sink one hour too long? Scraped too casually of a crust of melted cheese? Tolerated low-grade soap one load too many?
There was a rattle from the cupboard above his head.
Newman’s body froze while Newman’s mind ran in circles screaming to itself.
What had been in the dishwasher that morning?
Cutlery. A lot of it.
Slowly, slowly, creakingly slowly, the latch above his head undid.
He wasn’t even going to be killed by sharp objects.
“One plate, one cup is all you need,” his scoutmaster had told him. If more people had listened to that advice, he wouldn’t be in this fix.
“Eat from it, clean it, repeat it. One plate, one cup is all you need.”
The man had been earnest in his advice, despite his constantly wavering gaze. It was a wonder he ever managed to count the troop correctly; he must have been seeing them in triplicate for years.
There was a light thump as the first mug dropped out from the cupboard above his head. It didn’t shatter, against all rhyme and reason. The movements were all wrong; it was like watching a ceramic ferret. Mugs should bumble and bustle; he felt very strongly on that based on several Disney movies he recalled from his childhood.
It sniffed at the air.
Newman held his breath.
Slowly, slowly the mug relaxed. Then it slid to the edge of the counter and slipped over it, joining the cutlery on the floor.
Newman relaxed. And then, from above, another thump.
Around fifteen place settings.
Around fifteen mugs and cups?
Around… twenty minutes, on and off, of trying to hold his breath and remain absolutely still.
He was going to die. He was going to take a big breath and wheeze and he was going to be beaten to death by carnivorous tableware.
It was just like his grandmother had always said…
Newman tried to finish that thought. His grandmother had said an awful lot of things.
“Don’t go outside when it’s raining, you’ll catch cold.”
“Don’t fish in the offseason; the fines are fierce and you can’t bribe the officials like you did back when your daddy was little.”
“Don’t chew that gum and walk at the same time or you’ll fall over and break your nose.”
“Don’t live like a pig. Clean up after yourself.”
…which was thoroughly useless advice at the moment if he’d ever seen it, because the carnivorous cutlery hadn’t cleaned up after itself at all. Christ the crime scene had been a MESS. A macerated corpse, a dried ketchup-madhouse of blood covering half the floor. About the only concession to neatness was the fully loaded dishwasher-
Detective Newman did not move for thirty seconds.
Seven of those were spent realizing the import of his thoughts. Thirteen were spent in nerve-biting hysterical certainty of doom. And the last ten were simply the word ‘maybe’ over and over again at increasing volume.
Slowly, slowly, at the speed of a single hair’s growth, he reached into his pocket and extracted the old, old donut from this morning.
The cellophane crinkled.
The movement from the floor halted.
And in that one, long, slow-moving moment, Newman threw caution to the wind and the donut to the floor.
It was grisly.
Some time later, Newman took his fingers out of his ears and listened.
But no longer aimless, no longer fruitless.
There was a destination.
The soft groans and creaks of the dishwasher’s drawer were music to his ears. The soft shish-shish-shhhhs of the soap. The groan of over-loaded racks.
The sweet, sweet click of the lock.
Newman waited for four minutes, listening, and waiting. Then he slid off the counter, rolled across the floor – coating himself in donut residue – and twisted the dial around seven times.
A long load. A very, very long load.
Now. First things first, phone for backup.
Second, get a donut.
Third, throw out all his damned tableware. Paper plates seemed very appealing right now.