The Investigator • A Short Story

Instead of writing a novel over the month of the National Novel Writing Month, I’ve decided to write the first draft of a short story a day. Using a random genre generator and a list of words for the month, I’ll get a bit to go on, otherwise I’ll write the story that wants to be told. Enjoy!

November 1

The Women of Amphissa, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1817, via The Clark Art Institute; with The Priestess of Bacchus, by John Collier, 19th century •


Word: “Leaves”
Genre: Mythology Whodunit
Setting: Ancient Greece

The river sang its song, bubbling from place to place, oblivious to the lives of mortal men and women, oblivious to death and life, oblivious to desires and wants and needs and obsessions. Oblivious to life. Oblivious to death.

Oblivious to blood and wine.

Blood and wine. Spilled on the ground, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two. And much had been spilled of both.

Astraea stood unmoving on the one spot on the riverbank that didn’t have splots and splashes of deep crimson covering it. She stared at the gruesome scene, at the spilt blood and wine, and the cups and the broken bottles and torn cloth and the torn flesh. More torn flesh than should have been possible to come from one person.

“Not since Procustes’ bed,” she muttered.

She glanced over at the crowd of women sitting in the tall grass, watched over by the four satyrs who assisted her in her investigations. Well, at least some of the women were sitting. Others were unconscious in various undignified poses, including one red-haired half-clothed girl of twenty-something who had passed out on her stomach with her rear end sticking up in the air.

“They’re in rough shape,” Deacon, her second, said as he stepped up beside her, gingerly navigating his goat feet around the gore and debris.

“You order the wine you have to pay the bill,” Astreaa replied. “Did you get anything useful?”

“The victim was allegedly sitting on the rock that they traditionally use for the festival, playing what they called “depressing songs”, and he refused to leave. There was an argument, but after a while they gave up and walked away. They heard screams and when they came back, he was…” he gestured at the scene in front of him.

“Where they from?” Astraea asked.

“Thrace,” he answered, snorting. “Said they are Maenads of Dionysus. Tried to use it to get immunity.”

“Your thoughts?” Astraea asked.

Deacon stomped at a spot of dirt as he considered the question, the question she often asked of those who worked with her. Astraea had been doing this for many years, but appreciated an alternate point of view.

“I think they’re lying,” he said. “I think the argument didn’t end peacefully, and they killed him because they thought they could get away with it.”


“They’re covered in blood, for one,” he replied. “The immunity thing, number two. And you’ve seen how the festivals get out of control. It’s amazing something like this hasn’t happened before.” 

Astraea nodded. His arguments made sense, but still… she needed to move. She always thought better moving than standing still, so she stepped over to the edge of the woods, doing her best to not step on the wet evidence, quietly humming a favorite tune, a song that she’d first heard years ago.

She stopped at the base of a huge oak tree and glanced up into the dark green. The leaves rustled as though a breeze was blowing through, although there was no breeze. A single broad leaf floated down. Curious, Astraea bent down to pick up the leaf and gazed at it, admiring the leaf’s veins and variety of colors.

Sort of like a person. Such variety within the one.

Just below her, in the mud, she noticed what appeared to be part of the victim’s arm partly submerged. She pulled it out using the leaf as a glove.

The ragged skin hung from the bone in an uneven way that implied tearing. Mauling. Something she doubted the women could have done, even if they’d had blades, which they’d been checked for. “Have you ever seen anything like this?” she asked.

Deacon stepped over, looked closely at the arm, and shrugged. “Too much wine can make people act uncharacteristically savage.”

“I’ve never even seen a lion do something like this,” she said, “let alone a group of drunk women.”

“Centaur?” Deacon replied calmly, exploring all options. If the sight of a torn arm bothered him, the satyr didn’t show it. But he’d seen worse, Astraea knew.

They both had.

The bed. The cut limbs, the screams of terror, the smells of days old rotting flesh, it all started to bubble back up to the surface, but she pushed it back down and turned to examine the muddy riverbank.

Stay in the present, she reminded herself.  

“Only human footprints,” she replied. “And I’m not sure how a cyclops could have gotten in and out of the area without anyone noticing.”

She handed him the arm and looked out over the river. The Evros, just steps away, gurgled and flowed, unaware or unconcerned with the affairs of mortal men and women. The reality of this was not lost on Astraea, and sometimes that reality made what the gods had called her to do seem meaningless.

But a calling imbues meaninglessness with meaning, she supposed. Just as a perfect song can imbue meaning to a life of struggle, so can the call of the gods. Sometimes, a perfect song can communicate that meaning so well…

“You need to let us go! We didn’t do anything!”

The woman’s voice broke Astraea’s reverie. She turned to see a young brunette struggling against Basil, one of her satyr investigators. The satyr was showing representative restraint, keeping the woman from leaving, but not violently.

“Basil,” she called. “Let her approach.”

The satyr stepped aside, and the young woman straightened her gown, took a breath, and stepped forward.

“Are you in charge?” she demanded.

“I am the lead investigator,” Astraea replied, pressing calm into her voice with the hopes that it would infect the other woman.

“We are Maenads of Dionysus,” the brunette said proudly. “And we didn’t do anything wrong. I demand that you release us.”

“While I appreciate your service,” Astraea said, “there has been a murder, and my job is to investigate that murder. You and your sisters were at the scene of the crime, and so you will remain here until I release you.”

“Until you release…” the brunette sputtered. “I said that we are Maenads of Dionysus. Do you have any idea how difficult we could make your life? Do you have any idea who we work for?”

Astraea laughed, feeling genuine amusement for the first time since she’d been informed of this tragic situation. She loved it when people played the “do you know who I work for” card.

“I do,” she said. “And do you notice that my associates are satyrs?”

The brunette glanced around, for the first time realizing that this was the case.

“And who do satyrs work for?” Astraea asked, not attempting to mask the sarcasm.

“Dionysus…” the brunette muttered.

“I would suggest that you join your sisters and wait for us to do our job,” Astraea said, and she turned her back. She didn’t need to see the brunette shuffle back over and sit down, she just hoped she’d take the time to push the redhead over so her ass wasn’t in the air any longer.

“Sorry about that, chief,” Deacon said.

“It’s nothing,” Astraea said. “Tell me about the victim.”

Deacon looked uncomfortable, which Astraea found disconcerting. Nothing made the satyr uncomfortable. She pressed him.

“Let’s hear it, Deacon,” Astraea said.

“It was Orpheus,” the satyr said. “We found what remained of his lyre.”

Deacon held out the gold fretboard of a lyre, and Astraea felt the earth drop from underneath her. She felt the sky press in. She heard the sound of the river now deafening, and the leaves dropping from the tree were like explosions. Everything was wrong, and all she could do was nod and turn back to the river.

“You okay, boss?” he asked.

“I just need a minute,” she muttered, turning back to the river, praying silently that her loyal second would pick up the hint and shut up. Thankfully, he did.

The water. It just flows, she thought. On and on, starting somewhere, ending up somewhere, but always the same when you stand and look at it. Centuries after she was gone, the water would still be there. Centuries after everything she knew and loved and cared about and thought about and dreamed about was gone, the water would still be there. The water wouldn’t remember any of them.

The water wouldn’t remember Orpheus.

Of all the scoundrels and murderers and liars and thieves and embezzlers and heretics, a sensitive musician had been ripped to shreds by a group of drunk whores? Of all the bloody cases in all the dark alleys and dim caves and fetid brothels she’d investigated…

Why did it have to be Orpheus?

She’d first heard him at the festival of Zeus in Athens a few years ago, before he’d met the tree nymph and become obsessed. His music had been so pure, so enchanting. Then, when she’d been called in to investigate the nymph’s death, she’d spent time him. He sang for her, even in his grief.

Now his music was gone, forever.

Yet the river continued.

And the whores were responsible.

All thoughts of mystery and torn flesh and the ability of people to inflict damage were gone. All thoughts of professionalism and justice and investigative integrity flowed away like a leaf on the river. All Astraea knew was that Orpheus was dead, that music was dead, that meaning was…

“Deacon,” she said, staring at the river. “Take the Maenads of Dionysus in. Charge them with murder.”

“Yes ma’am,” her second said.

And so Astraea watched the river, oblivious to the cries of the women behind her. Oblivious to the sound of the leaves rustling in the big oak tree, a sound that – had she been listening – might have sound like approval – like revenge achieved.

And the river sang its song, bubbling from place to place, oblivious to the lives of mortal men and women, oblivious to death and life, oblivious to desires and wants and needs and obsessions. Oblivious to life. Oblivious to death.


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