Picture: Fantasy by Witold Wojtkiewicz (public domain).
Written for NYC Midnight’s flash fiction challenge 2019.
My brief was as follows:
Location: A basecamp
Object: A donut
Time limit: 2 days
Word Count: 1,000 words
The Novosibirsk Maldives
I put on my presenter’s voice and speak into the camera, “Welcome to another upload from the Unsolved Mysteries Couple. Another video in our Instagram Killer series. This time we’re in the Novosibirsk Maldives. A man-made lake that has become so popular with Instagramers that the Siberian police has installed a 12 feet wire fence around it. Many of you will already know that the Novosibirsk Maldives gets its tropical, blue hue from the chemicals that are dumped into the lake from the Novosibirsk power plant and that the alkaline water is corrosive.”
Kathy continues the script, “But the warnings have only encouraged many Instagrammers. So it’s no surprise that the Instagram Killer, sometimes known as the Carb Killer, due to the donut they leave at the scene,” Kathy lifts up a pink-glazed donut to show the camera, “has taken aim here.”
I take the cue, “Behind us, we have replicated the basecamp set up by the victim, Julia Norris. Instagrammers use these simple basecamps to scope out the fence and security patrols. These basecamps are scattered throughout the treeline around the lake, even today.
“Let’s take a look at the replica basecamp, the clues that were found at the scene and explore another,” we say together, “unsolved mystery!”
“Why do you talk like that,” Kathy says.
“You always try to make me sound dumb.”
“I’m just reading the script.”
She mumbles something while I set up the next shot. We split up two months ago and working together is getting tougher every shoot. But the YouTube channel has been too lucrative to risk playing with the format. The channel has allowed us to live a perpetual travelling lifestyle for 14 months. So we keep the pretence going for now, but neither of us is happy with it, Kathy especially. I think she is losing her nerve for the content, but every time I try to talk about it, she tightens up.
We do some shots around the basecamp, explaining how painstakingly we’ve replicated the scene. Kathy tosses the donut into the tent onto the sleeping bag. We show how an iPad was found at the scene, ironically, logged into Instagram. Her wallet and phone were found here, suggesting she was snatched from the tent, but her body and unicorn inflatable were found in the lake, suggesting she died there.
“You’re doing it again,” she says.
“I promise I’m not. You can look back at the rushes.”
“Are you saying I’m making it up?”
“Let’s finish and get back to the hotel. You can have editorial control of this shoot. Cut out the bits where you think I’m talking down to you.” She accepts this begrudgingly. I still hope we can work it out. Russia has been a shit shoot. The next shoot in Japan will be more fun. It might help.
“Who’s creating the body?” I ask. I did the last one.
“I hate doing women.”
Most of them are women but I say, “OK.” She really is losing her taste for this. I might have to choose between the channel or her.
Julia Norris is where we left her. Tied and gagged at the base of a tree in her bikini. When she sees me again, she wails a muffled scream into the gag. Her eyes are wide and sore from salty tears but I don’t look at them. I take the industrial plastic bag we brought and quickly pull it over her head. Kathy hands me a large, thick elastic band which I use to keep the bag flush around Julia’s neck. The first time I did this I used a transparent bag. Now I always use an opaque bag. You don’t want to see the eyes as they die.
Once it’s over Kathy cuts a hole into the fence and we head to the lakeside under cover of dusk. Kathy throws the unicorn float onto the water and I prop Julia’s body on it, put a small cut into the inflatable and push her out. In a few minutes, her body has sunk into the water, pulling down the inflatable with it, until only a small piece of the inflatable is above water, like a buoy.
“Perfect,” I say to myself.
At the hotel, things don’t get any better between us. Kathy wants to stop the channel and go on a proper break. She says she’ll do this video in the airport lounge tomorrow but she wants to rest in Japan.
The next day at the airport we check-in to the first-class lounge with four hours to kill. Kathy starts working on the edit but seems even more troubled. I can’t get through to her so I leave her to work in the lounge while I lose a couple of hours in the airport shops. I toy with buying some new sunglasses or getting Kathy an extra-large Toblerone, but it all feels kind of empty. After an hour I sit in a Starbucks to answer some YouTube comments on my phone.
They’re mostly, “How do you guys find out about the murders and get there so quickly?” I think even if I wrote the truth, that we do the killings first, call them in anonymously, and upload the video a week later, they would laugh it off and invent an alternative conspiracy
I notice the comments increase suddenly. A new video has been uploaded, it’s the Novosibirsk video. She’s uploaded it early by mistake. Only she hasn’t, the title reads, “How We Murdered Julia Norris.” It already has 300 views and rising. Suddenly I feel cold and become acutely aware of all the eyes in this airport.
I try to delete the video but I can’t. I’m locked out, the password has been changed. I ring Kathy, no answer. I run to the first-class lounge but she’s not there. Her laptop is open on the table, the video playing on repeat, a pink glazed donut waiting for me on the keyboard.