The Marigolds Literary Mystery Short Fiction By Ernesto Reyes

The Marigolds: Literary Mystery Short Fiction By Ernesto Reyes

Ernesto Reyes, author of The Marigolds, has previously published short fiction in San Joaquin Review, Flies Cockroaches & Poets, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Better than Starbucks, Maudlin House, and elsewhere. He lives in Fresno, CA, with his family.

*****

When the Marigolds moved into town, we all had a funny feeling about them. But, we couldn’t put our finger on it? They just came into town one day in their big, white, fancy-looking U-Haul truck and proceeded to unpack their things—they had a bunch of nice, cool-looking stuff—inside the old Poindexter’s house, and the next day, we all knew who the Marigolds were.

Danielle, their daughter, was quiet, reserved, and beautiful; she usually wore baggy pants and Anime t-shirts, her long black hair often covering the side of her face; but Mr. and Mrs. Marigold—oh jeez, they were something. Mr. Marigold was a tall skinny man with a pointed nose and round cheeks; he had shiny black hair always combed to the side and typically dressed in what you can call ‘Sunday’ clothes, and Mrs. Marigold, a large woman, wore a shirt that went all the way down to her ankles and had her curly brown hair tied in a bun. It was an interesting sight, the three of them.

Danielle, their daughter, was quiet, reserved, and beautiful; she usually wore baggy pants and Anime t-shirts, her long black hair often covering the side of her face…

None of us expected anything from the Marigolds, but they sure found a way to make themselves useful real quick. As it would turn out, Mr. Marigold was a deacon (or something like that), and he took over the old Our Lady of the Assumption and turned it into a real gem. After a while, a few of us started going to the church again, even those who weren’t Catholic or religious.

Mrs. Marigold also quickly became friends with the housewives and stay-at-home moms, occasionally putting together yard sales and fundraisers to raise donations for those in need. Whenever someone needed to donate something to the Salvation Army, she always offered and took people’s stuff on her way there. Once there was a robbery at Mr. G’s Grocery, and Mr. Marigold, who was on his way to pick up Danielle from school (and who happened to be a brown belt in Taekwondo), chased down the guy trying to rob good ole’ Mr. G’ and pounded the dude’s face in. It was all over the local news.

We quickly got the suspicion that the Marigolds were either (a) aliens, (b) actors, or (c) serial killers. We placed our bets, but we were all hoping it was (c). We soon started following the Marigolds everywhere they went. Mrs. Marigold led Bible Study like three times a week, and Mr. Marigold gave the homily Wednesday evening, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning. They went to the Maya cinema every so often on a Saturday night and had dinner at Olive Garden Thursday nights.

We even followed them on their family vacation to Yosemite. We probably should’ve brought thicker clothes because we froze our you-know-what’s off. But, we found out nothing. Mr. and Mrs. Marigold were busy either playing in the snow like small children building a snowman or having a playful snowball fight, while Danielle sat on a log reading a book. After a while, Mr. and Mrs. Marigold started feeding a small group of travelers beef soup and turkey-and-cheese sandwiches. We all crouched behind a huge tree, watching their every move, our stomachs growling. Then we heard a “What are you doing?”

“Agh!” we all screamed, frightened.

We turned around and saw it was Danielle.

“What are you all doing?” she asked again, confused.

“Nothing, nothing! We just came to play in the snow?”
Danielle gave us an up-and-down look like she was about to arrest us. “Well, you aren’t playing,” she said. “It looks like you were all snooping on my parents.”

“No, no, not at all,” we said.

“Ugh, I hate when this happens,” she said.

We all looked at one another. “What do you mean when this happens?”

She rolled her eyes, but before she could say anything, her parents called her over. “Danielle, could you help us find the plastic spoons! We seem to be running out!”

Danielle, rolling her eyes again, gave me another quick glance.

*****

We still kept tabs on the Marigolds: Mrs. Marigold went to the post office every Tuesday afternoon; Mr. Marigold went on his daily morning run at 6:30 a.m.; they both went to Mr. G’s to shop for groceries every three to four days and volunteered every Sunday, after church, to pick up any trash or garbage they could find on the streets, which more and more people were starting to volunteer as well. Mrs. Marigold often mowed their lawn while Mr. Marigold tended to their garden; lights were out in every room (except Danielle’s) by 8:30 p.m.

The only dirt we could find was that Mrs. Marigold enjoyed the occasional wine cooler and Mr. Marigold liked having a beer with his supper. But, no one ever heard anything about them getting into a fight or argument, so that was lame. Danielle, who seemed the most normal of the three, pretty much kept to herself and didn’t talk to anyone.

After a while, we all lost our suspicions about the Marigolds, and we just kind of accepted that they were good country people. But something still seemed a little off about them, especially Mr. Marigold. I’d never met him before they moved here, but he looked familiar to me, almost like I’d seen him in a movie or a show or a TV show or something. I just had a feeling. But, anyway, I went up to Danielle one day during school. I wanted to apologize for the way I was behaving that day in the snow.

“It wasn’t just you,” she said, “But I appreciate your apology.”

“So how do you like living here?”
“It’s fine. A lot quieter than the other places I’ve been.”
“You move around a lot?” I asked.

“Tons,” she said. “I haven’t lived anywhere longer than maybe a year.”

“Well, I hope you stick around longer than that here.”

“That’s the hope,” she said.

After that, Danielle and I started hanging out a lot. It turns out we both had a lot in common: we both preferred DC to Marvel; we both hated pickles and red Skittles with every fiber of our being; and we both had this weird obsession with ‘80s horror flicks. We even planned on majoring in criminology when we got to college, which was a thought that both excited and terrified me.

But Danielle wanted so badly to be in college already. That’s usually all she ever talked about—she talked about applications and admission requirements, grants and scholarship deadlines, what some schools offered that others didn’t (and vice versa). One night, we were out on the football field, lying underneath the stars. I asked why she thought about college so much, and she was quiet for a while.

“To get away from my family,” she finally said.

“Why? Your parents seem like really nice people,” I said.

“The best. God’s gifts to this world,” she said. “Had to make up for something, I guess.”

“What do you mean?” I said, turning to her.

“Oh, nothing,” she said, sitting up. She then leaned her face against mine and kissed me on the lips. She placed her hands on my shoulders and started kissing me more.

*****

That summer, the Marigolds all went on a trip to South America for missionary work. Danielle sent me a few photos of her trip and a bunch of photos of herself, which I preferred. Around this time, one of my friends, who let’s call Doug, called and asked if he could come over. I said, “Sure,” and a second later, I heard my door ring. “Were you waiting outside this whole time?” I asked.

Doug nodded, saying he couldn’t wait to tell me what he found out.

“So I know you and Danielle are, you know, a thing. That’s why I was a little reluctant to show you this, but it’s so fucking wild, bro, I just had to tell you,” Doug said, unzipping his blue backpack. He took out a manila folder and inside were documents and photo copies. “You know Charlie Langford Sr.? The cult leader from the 1960s? The guy who killed, like, 20, 30 people?”
“Yes,” I said. “Got the electric chair, didn’t he?”

“Yes, he did. But check this out,” Doug said, handing me the folder. I began to read, and my mouth dropped a little: Mr. Marigold was the grandson of Charlie Langford. You know, I thought he looked familiar—I remember watching something on Langford late one night on YouTube. But, according to these documents, Mr. Marigold went by several different names throughout the years: Mike Chamberlain. Bryan Wood. Robert Cohn. Wesley Stevenson. Now James Marigold.

*****

When Danielle got back from South America, we went to town to get ourselves a milkshake and some fries. She talked the whole time about her trip; I kept nodding along. Eventually, she asked if everything was okay, and I said, “Everything’s fine.” She gave me a look. She knew something was off. She had this keen ability to just look at you and make you tell the truth. I couldn’t hold it in much longer, and I told her about what Doug told me. Her soft expression turned hard, and she was quiet. She then shaped her hand into a fist and pounded the table, almost knocking over her milkshake, which caught me by surprise. I immediately felt something nasty in the pit of my stomach.
“Why does everyone always find out?” she finally said.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know—”
“That’s the point!”

That’s the point? I didn’t know what to say.

“You know how hard it is being related to an infamous serial killer? My dad gets phone calls at least once a month from random strangers who tell him that they want to kill him. We don’t know why—or how they always find our number, but they always do and it fucking sucks. What did we do? We didn’t do what he did. We weren’t a part of his family,” she cried. “You know my parents never told me anything until one day a kid said that I had the Devil’s blood in me? I was so scared.

I didn’t know what to think, so I told my mom, and she just looked at my dad. And that’s when he told me all about my grandpa: Charlie Langford Jr.” Charlie Langford Jr.? I didn’t understand. Not Charlie Langford Sr.? “Nana always said my grandpa couldn’t handle being the son of a serial killer. He was a deacon too, tried praying, tried doing good for the community,” Danielle said. “He also moved around a lot, trying to get away from his past.” She gave me a quick glance, the same glance from the snow, but then she looked the other way. “But it didn’t do anything. One day, he pulled over to the side of the road while my dad was in the backseat, pulled out a gun from the glove compartment, and shot himself.”

We were quiet for a while. I lowered my head, eyes to the ground.

“My dad says he can still hear the gunshot.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

“That’s why my dad’s the way he is,” Danielle said. “He’s scared, I think. Scared he’ll be just like Charlie Langford. He says he prays every day to keep the Devil’s blood out of him, and I know he means that literally. My mom prays for the same”—she looked up to the sky and took a deep breath as if she were about to hold her breath—“but I don’t know. I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know.”
“What do you mean ‘you don’t know’?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know how long we can keep this up. Once one person finds out, everyone finds out, and that’s when the peace stops.”

I nodded. When Danielle stopped crying, I promised to keep this a secret, and she smiled. “You sure?” she asked. “Yes,” I said, smiling back. I might’ve also said I love you or something like that; she gave me a kiss on the lips after that, and everything seemed completely okay.

But then, a few weeks later, I got a hand-written letter from Danielle saying that she was ‘so so so so so sorry.’ She and her family had moved again; the Marigolds were on the run but not from the police or anything like that. They were on the run from something much larger. She didn’t specify where, just somewhere between the Midwest and the East Coast and that I shouldn’t bother trying to find her, or them. She said I wouldn’t be the first (“and most likely wouldn’t be the last”) to get a hold of her, but it was important either way that I move on. I tried, but it was hard—it’s still hard.

After the Marigolds left, we all kind of lost our faith, I think, because everything went back to how they once were. As someone in town put it, we no longer had our sense of community—whatever that means. Our Lady of the Assumption, once a holy museum for all of the townspeople, went back to being a hollow, rundown place. No one had any more yard sales, fundraisers, or donations either. Some of us just started throwing away our worn-out clothes instead of going all the way to the Salvation Army.

We saw no point in being ‘charitable’ with others. Crime also went up a bit. Mr. G’s, in fact, was robbed twice the other week. We all complained about this at first, but then one day, we just stopped. We just let things happen the way they happened. No fuss. No nothing. Eventually, someone else moved into the Marigold’s house, but none of us really cared. No one welcomed them to the town; no one expected anything. The way we saw it, they were just the same as anyone else.

*****

If you’ve enjoyed The Marigolds, you can visit our free digital archive of flash fiction here. Additionally, premium short fiction published by Mystery Tribune on a quarterly basis is available digitally here.

For online archive of short fiction (longer pieces) on Mystery Tribune website, you can visit here.

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