Melvin Fernsby buried his hands in his overcoat as he approached the one-room unit at the end of the cramped hallway. The thin carpet tried in vain to swallow noise from neighboring apartments: televisions squawking baseball games, infants crying, people shouting, objects thudding against the nicotine-stained walls.
Detectives Braithwaite and Anderson met him at the door.
Braithwaite’s eyes pinched up against his bent nose. He had the kind of face that gets punched repeatedly for one reason or another. His partner, Anderson, leaned against the wall and picked the dirt from under his fingernails with a pocketknife.
Anderson nodded. “You’re the psychic?”
“Auromancer.” Melvin removed one leather glove. His fingers trembled in anticipation or fear; he could never tell the difference.
“Auro-what?” Braithwaite stared down the consultant, who had more hairs coming out of his ears and nose than what remained on his scalp.
Melvin avoided eye contact. That made things easier.
“I hear things, mostly echoes of previous events.”
“City can’t afford more cops on its payroll, but they hire circus freaks to do our job.” Braithwaite unwrapped a stick of gum. “That seem right to you, Anderson?”
“That’s above my pay grade.” Anderson blew on his newly cleaned nails.
Melvin stepped into the kitchen. Linoleum curled up at the edges of the room, under warped cabinets covered with water spots and dust. He slid a finger over the countertop, static gathering in his ear like a needle dipping into a record’s groove. Ice cubes tinkled into a lowball glass. Liquid slid over rocks.
Melvin found the glasses in the sink. One of them was rimmed in lipstick.
“She had company,” he announced.
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Braithwaite snapped his gum, and Melvin jumped. “Vic was Doreen Radcliffe, mid-thirties. Strangled to death. No suspects. No motive.”
Melvin pressed his ungloved hand against a wall. A saxophone moaned, accompanied by a stand-up bass’s erratic heartbeat. The high notes on a baby grand piano warbled before strolling into a lower, more sensuous register. Melvin wandered into the bedroom, where he found a record player in front of a mirrored vanity.
His fingertips brushed the wood laminate surface: the shush of clothes descending to the floor, the moon whispering through clouds. Melvin found a discarded silk slip and a pair of panties beside the bed.
His hand grabbed the mattress: an out-of-breath runner, shallow gasps, a large bubble inflating its delicate, rainbow-hued walls, wobbling and ready to pop.
“I love you.” The words vibrated like the lip of a crystal wine glass teased by a wet fingertip. Melvin leaned into it, letting the warmth crawl up his wrist.
Braithwaite’s gum whip-cracked in his mouth. Melvin jerked his hand away from the mattress so quickly it smacked against a nightstand. A lamp wobbled.
“Sorry about that.” Braithwaite’s tone was flat soda.
Melvin took a deep breath and touched the bed again.
“Can’t you stay?” another voice melted like creamer in coffee.
Moths gathered under a porchlight. Wings delicately brushed wings. The sounds converged into the unmistakable drip-drop of water on plastic. Melvin looked toward the shower in the bathroom.
Floorboards creaked. Feet murmured into a rug.
Melvin paused in front of the sink, sank to his knees, and pushed a bathroom mat aside. A simple wedding band was wedged between the tile and the floorboards of the vanity.
Snap. Braithwaite stood in the doorway, chewing his gum.
“Please stop that,” Melvin said. “I need absolute silence to work.”
“Why so jumpy?”
“Sounds can be lethal, at the right volume.”
The ring felt cool in his palm. A bass arced in the air before slapping the mirror-smooth surface of a lake. Ripples radiated from its epicenter.
“But if Tom finds out …”
Bathroom air exploded. Melvin’s ears rang as Detective Anderson’s body slid to the floor beside him.
Detective Braithwaite stood over them, his revolver smoking. “I really wish you hadn’t found that ring.”
“The other woman was your wife,” Melvin said.
Braithwaite shuddered. “She was until that woman turned her queer.”
Melvin closed his eyes, concentrating. He removed the other glove, pushed both hands into the floorboards, felt for every available sound: razors scraping leg stubble, toilets whooshing, two women laughing and talking.
He channeled their joy, leeched it from walls, floor, and vanity. It burned a trail up his arms and into his chest. He held the energy like a deep breath, letting it build into a maelstrom before he released it into the floor in Braithwaite’s direction. When the sound hit the detective, his legs buckled, and he convulsed until his ears bled. The detective dropped his gun and pressed his hands against his ears, trying to block the voices. Seconds later, he crumpled on the ground next to his partner.
“I warned you sounds can be lethal,” Melvin said.
Pocketing the ring as evidence, the auromancer wondered if two dead detectives would affect his consulting fee. Although his fingers could touch the past, there was no way to predict the future.
When Jeff Gard isn’t writing or teaching, he enjoys board games, disc golf, binge-worthy television shows, music, and procrastination (see above). Many of his fiction ideas arise from random thoughts that strike in the middle of the night when he should be asleep. His stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, The Arcanist, Daily Science Fiction, and Flash Fiction Magazine. Jeff is currently working on a collection of flash fiction stories starring Melvin Fernsby.