The Curious Case of Edgar Unsworth
by Miel MacRae, 3.49am March 10th 2022
When they found Edgar Unsworth, he was in an unfortunate state of having been pinned to the ground by a pitchfork through his neck. His own pitchfork. Grace Helm, the detective called to the scene (who was herself suffering a bad day in the form of the worst haircut ever coupled with it being her birthday) surveyed the body of the old man, noting the dips and depressions in the grasses surrounding it and paused to listen while several toads chorused nearby in the rushes. She finished recording notes and snapping photographs of the body and surrounding area before entering Edgar Unsworth’s tiny farm cottage.
In the kitchen—which still smelled faintly of fried bacon and old coffee—stood a tiny rough-hewn table with two chairs, though the second was being used as a seat for Edgar Unsworth’s toolbox. On the table was a calendar book which Detective Helm discovered to be filled with the times and places for what looked to be the odd jobs that sustained his hermit way of life. She took the book as part of evidence to begin the search for suspects. Beside that book was a large Birdwatchers of the Northwest, heavily worn and stained with cider, probably the same he drank from the gallon-sized jugs he would have filled at the tavern. The bartender told her later that day how Edgar would come in quietly to the bar and request his jugs filled with a local prize-winning cider. She would also learn that everyone knew that Edgar Unsworth preferred to “keep himself to himself” and drink at home next to his fire. To Detective Helm, it appeared the fire had been out for at least a day, judging from the cool-white ashes she prodded in the hearth.
There was only the kitchen and a small bedroom in the house and the bedroom was empty, save a twin-sized bed that was probably as old as the cottage itself and a small bookshelf. There she found a volume titled How to Breed and Raise Toads along with some books of verses and an old and worn, leatherbound, heavy book embossed with an occultic symbol she later learned meant danger or fun, depending on which source one chose to trust. She wondered if a spell of revenge on a hairdresser was possible.
A text notification set to the sound clip of a tornado warning siren signaled a message from Detective Richards: Solved another one guess ur paying the ducking parking bill now! She slipped the phone back into her coat pocket.
It sirened again.
Ha it’s ur birthday along with a GIF of a disintegrating skeleton.
Grace’s new birthday wish was to find a way to turn Richards into a toad. She regretted letting her ego make a bet with him in the first place: whomever solved the most cases in six months had to pay the bill for the other’s reserved space in the parking lot near the precinct office. But now she couldn’t afford to lose because her mother had fallen for another one of those get-rich-quick schemes and Grace had had to bail her out, again, and move back in with her after she couldn’t pay her own rent.
Detective Helm began her interviews with those she found at the addresses in Edgar Unsworth’s calendar book of odd jobs and every one of them had nothing but praise for the old man: how handy he was, how he knew how to fix almost anything, and his strange penchants for sing-songing in an esoteric language. She learned that he loved the wild birds and often spoke about how they and he were connected in some mystical way and that he could speak to them. The bartender told her of a local legend that claimed he bred toads and would use magic to harness them to small plows and follow them across the fields. She hadn’t lived in the area long enough to have heard that one, and as intriguing as it was, she found it the least helpful detail.
After three weeks of interviewing and note-taking and waiting for her poorly chopped fringe to grow out and filing notes that included rumors of Edgar Unsworth being spotted dancing in a local pond (though no witnesses would come forward), Detective Helm sat down for a much-needed drink at the tavern where the living Edgar Unsworth used to come in with his jugs for cider. No one and nothing had come to the forefront of being a suspect in the murder of the old farmer.
Grace looked around the wood-walled tavern. That afternoon, a couple of fuzzy silver-haired men played chess in a corner and the television screen showed the weather forecast: Forty-one years with a chance of zero luck. The foam in her pint of amber ale floated, its bubbles slowly popping as she watched. Detective Richards was ahead by one in their contest and there was a promotion she was sure she’d lose out to him. She was living with her mother again at age forty-one. Her doctor had sent her the results of a test that morning to let her know she was allergic to cheese. She rubbed her forehead. Who killed him? Who killed Edgar? A text siren. She rolled her eyes and grabbed her phone from her coat pocket.
Ur gonna lose with a selfie of Richards making the L against his forehead with his hand.
“Appropriate,” Grace muttered. Maybe there was a way to turn him into a newt. Maybe there was a way to turn around her luck. She took another drink of her beer. Dancing in ponds. Esoteric language. The book with the weird symbol on it—maybe it had a spell or charm for luck. Grace dialed her captain’s number.
“Captain, I’m going back to the Unsworth farm to see if there’s any clues I may have missed.”
She downed the rest of the beer, paid her bill, and returned to Edgar Unsworth’s farm.
As she walked, she noted a couple black-eyed juncos chattering near some seeded flower heads and a handful of chickadees. When she stepped past the fenceposts onto the drive, she felt a sense of odd and paused to listen and look. The first thing she noticed was a lack of noise. No birds, no breeze. She felt a chill and wondered if stealing the dead man’s book was a bad idea. Just a peek then. As her shoes crunched up the graveled drive, she heard a purring chirp that whirred louder as she got closer to the cottage. There was a loud chorus of croaks and the chirps whirred into a consonance of plashing toad sounds.
At the open window, Detective Helm saw toads leaping in and out of the kitchen. She inched quietly to get as close as possible to the window without stepping on what seemed hundreds, if not thousands, of toads. Their tone was loud and she thought she made out something of a phrase in the chirps and croaks that sounded like, “We will not be enslaved anymore.”