Over on Goodreads, it's Mystery Week, and one of the questions they are asking authors is to relate something from your life that could be the plot of a mystery novel. I figured since mine ended up being sort of long, I'd share it here... answer (in full) with question for context below:
What mystery in your own life could be a plot for a book?
That's an easy one for me because I've thought about writing it before (and I've actually written two short stories loosely based on this-- "James" from SHOEBOX TRAIN WRECK by John Mantooth (my real name) and "The Man Across the Street" from a long ago issue of FUTURES MYSTERIOUS ANTHOLOGY MAGAZINE, which I'm almost positive is no loner around).
When I was a kid, the man that lived across the street from us was a loner and never spoke to anyone else in the neighborhood. This was taboo in my southern neighborhood where everybody spoke to everyone else out of an almost religious obligation. Not him. He kept to himself, blatantly shunning anyone who spoke to him, no matter how loud or friendly the greeting might have been. Once, when I went to his house with a group of friends at Halloween, he would not answer the door, even though we could clearly see him seated in his den through the window. This kind of behavior would have been mysterious enough, but what came later turned him into an enigma, not only for my 12 year old self, but also for my current one.
One night, I woke up and saw an ambulance outside of his house. I watched from my window, trying to figure out what was happening, but I couldn't make out much other than the lights from the ambulance and some paramedics going in and out of the house.
The next morning, my parents informed me that his wife had died. I didn't even know he'd been married, which seemed bizarre because in our neighborhood, everyone knew each other's business. After that, things got weird. Not only did the man withdraw even more, he also started the strange habit that has haunted me into my adult years. One night soon after his wife died, I was awakened again, this time because of headlights shining in my bedroom window. I slipped over to the window in time to see a car going by the house very, very slowly. No more then two or three miles per hour. It was the man across the street's old Buick, but instead of turning into his driveway like I expected, the car just kept going. I thought it was odd, but tried to go back to sleep, only to be awakened again and again that night as the man drove his car ever so slowly around the block. It happened again a few nights later, and again after that. In fact, if happened so often that my friends used to sleepover with the sole mission of staying up late enough to witness these nocturnal and somehow somber drives.
This went over for nearly a year before I and started becoming interested in other things and somehow I stopped paying attention to the man across the street. He might have still made his midnight rides at two miles per hour round and round the block, but teenage hormones quickly rendered me uninterested in anything besides sports and girls. As hard as it is for me to fathom now, I lost interest in what he was doing either by day or by night.
I'd been married for a couple of years and was nearing thirty before the man across the street entered my life again. I ran into a childhood friend at a funeral. Unlike me, my friend had remained in my home town long after I'd left. My first question was about the man across the street?
"What ever happened to him?"
"You're not going to believe it," my friend, Andy, said.
I was expecting a lot of things: a tragic death, the revelation that he'd been a murderer or something like that. What my friend said surprised me, but in retrospect, maybe it shouldn't have.
"One day, he came over to the house."
"Wait, are we talking about the same man? The one that never spoke to anyone?"
"One and the same. Just listen. He came over, knocked on the door, and when my dad answered, he skipped all the pleasantries and got right down to business."
"What did he want?" I asked, by this time on the edge of my seat with anticipation.
"He said he was going away for a while. He wanted to know if my dad would collect his mail and look after his yard."
Andy nodded. "It was vague. Dad told him he would. A week passed and he didn't return. Then a month and then a year. Dad cuts his yard every so often and last year had some branches from his trees cut back. We've got a big garbage can full of all of his mail. He's never come back."
"You have no idea where he is?"
"No. Not a clue."
"How long has it been?"
"At least three years."
The amount of time he'd been missing stunned me. Did he not have any family or friends who were looking for him?
That was at least ten years ago. If he ever returned home, I wasn't made aware of it. If I had to guess, I'd say he didn't.
Is he dead? Maybe. Probably.
But maybe not.
When I think of him now, as I so often do, I see him behind the wheel of that big Buick, driving slowly, slowly through the night, on his way somewhere, maybe home, maybe some place else.
And one of these days, I do plan to base a novel on the mystery of his life. Because, if I'm honest the real mystery isn't just what happened to him after the left, it's what happened to him before he decided to leave, and ultimately why he decided to leave. And in that way, his mystery is our mystery, the mystery of the human heart and what drives us.