straight down the line

“Debris” Ending: Dead Woman’s Float

Of the readings I completed this week, the one that stood out to me was Debris. As opposed to The Postman Always Rings Twice or The Shadow, this short story didn’t reveal the truth behind the killings. Instead of knowing from the start who did it and seeing them get away (at first) or having an invisible man tell us the whole truth, the reader only has the confidence of an old lady with a shotgun to rely on. So, for the “write an alternate ending” assignment, I chose to rework the ending to Debris, while striving to keep the ambiguity that the author originally intended. This ending starts shortly after the last asterisk in the story.

The cop McGuire sat in the driver seat with no partner. The sidepanels were thick with claymud dried hard by the warm spring sun. The tires were filthy with runoff from the farmhouse lawn.
“Mornin’,” Bob said.
“You all doin’ okay out here?” McGuire said.
Bob nodded.
“We are,” he said. “How’re things with you?”
“Quiet,” McGuire said.
“Emily reckons things are gonna stay quiet.”
“And do you?”
“Well, I haven’t had any more break-ins. I guess it’s all over.”
McGuire smiled, raised his huge hand, put the car into gear, and drove off down the county road.
That night, Emily slept fitfully. She woke once in the night and hustled to the bathroom blind and by the memory of her footsoles. On her way back to bed, she tripped on something. She reached out and touched something warm, but it jerked away. Then a sharp pain erupted on the back of her head near the ear and she fell unconscious. Her dreams were many and each started strange on the heels of the one before. She dreamt of a barn foundering and collapsing on itself while a lone dog scattered not fast enough in the sidefields. She dreamt of driving in a car with no roofcovers. She dreamt of the dead girls, daughters all and none of them hers. She dreamt of freezing water surrounding her, suffocating her. She dreamt of darkness.
Bob didn’t see Emily in the house when he got up. He stepped outside onto the sunwarmed pavestones behind the house. An early spring had brought the snows down to sopmush over the fields beyond. He had drawn the poolcovers back a few days ago and the waters were hung through with grit and grass and twigs. He took hold of the fencerail where Emily liked to stand to look at the pool. She was there, in the center of the pool, covered in grass and mossy branches, stiff as a board and still in her nightgown. Bob went to search for McGuire’s number.

Just like the original, this ending is ambiguous about who committed murder. We assume that Emily was right in killing Campbell, but besides witnessing him breaking into their house, they have no evidence against him. However, we do know that Emily committed murder. She did it for all the right reasons, so this ending may not be what she deserved, but it is a warning to always get evidence and verify that you are killing the right person before killing them. In this way, the killer could be the same person as before, or a different one. My bet would be on the cop McGuire, because Campbell and Emily are dead and Bob has his problems with cysts. McGuire has the physical build for dragging people into pools, and nobody would suspect him because he is the one who answers your call when you find a dead body. Although, there is always the possibility that Campbell was only grazed by Emily’s shot and came back for revenge. She never went to make sure he was dead. My aim in creating this ending is to keep the uncertainty about who did it, while bringing Emily to some kind of justice for what she did (even though the killer was also in the wrong).

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