The Strangest Jigsaw Puzzle Part II
by Jason Ryan Qualls
(Elkhart, Indiana, USA)
One side of the border was wallpaper. Lisa decided to fill that in first. She was curious about its resemblance to her own wallpaper. She gathered all the pieces together that had the blue and lilac flowered design. As she fit the pieces together, it became clear that the wallpaper in the puzzle was identical to the wallpaper in her room. Lisa glanced back and forth between the puzzle and her wall. It was an exact match.
By now it was already dark outside. Lisa leaned back in her chair. Her back was stiff. She looked over at her window. The night was pitch black outside. Lisa got up and walked over to the window. Suddenly, she felt uneasy, alone in the apartment. She pulled the white shade over the window. She paced around the room once, trying to think of something else she might do than finish the puzzle. But nothing else interested her.
She went back and sat down at the table. Next she started to fill in the lower right-hand corner. There was a rug and then a chair. This part of the puzzle was very dark. Lisa noticed uneasily that the chair was the same shape as the one sitting in the corner of her room. But the colors didn't seem exactly the same. Her chair was maroon. The one in the puzzle was in the shadows and seemed almost black.
Lisa continued to fill in the border toward the middle. There was more wallpaper to finish on top. The left-hand side did turn out to be a window. Through it, a full moon hung in a dark sky. But it was the bottom of the puzzle that began to bother Lisa. As the pieces fell into place, she saw a picture of a pair of legs crossed underneath a table. They were the legs of a young woman.
Lisa reached down and ran her hand along one of her legs. Suddenly, she had felt as though something was crawling up it, but it must have been her imagination. She stared down at the puzzle. It was almost three quarters done. Only the middle remained. Lisa glanced at the lid to the puzzle box: THE STRANGEST JIGSAW . . . She shuddered. Lisa leaned back in her chair again.
Her back ached. Her neck muscles were tense and strained. She thought about quitting the puzzle. It scared her now. She stood up and stretched. Then she looked down at the puzzle on the table. It looked different from the higher angle. Lisa was shocked by what she saw. Her body began to tremble all over. It was unmistakable--the picture in the puzzle was of her own room.
The window was placed correctly in relation to the table. The bookcase stood in its exact spot against the wall. Even the carved table legs were the same . . . Lisa raised her hand to knock the pieces of the puzzle apart. She didn't want to finish THE STRANGEST JIGSAW PUZZLE IN THE WORLD; she didn't want to find out what the hole in the middle of the puzzle might turn out to be. But then she lowered her hand. Perhaps it was worse not to know. Perhaps it was worse to wait and wonder.
Lisa sank back down into the chair at the table. She fought off the fear that crept into the sore muscles of her back. Deliberately, piece by piece, she began to fill in the hole in the puzzle. She put together a picture of a table, on which lay a jigsaw puzzle. This puzzle inside the puzzle was finished. But Lisa couldn't make out what it showed.
She pieced together the young woman who was sitting at the table-the young woman had the same hair color as Lisa, but the woman's face was blurred. As she filled in the picture, her own body slowly filled with horror and dread. It was all there in the picture . . . the vase filled with red and yellow flowers, same as hers. Her own sweater that she was wearing. The wild look of fear in the face that she now had on her own.
The jigsaw puzzle lay before her--finished except for two adjoining pieces. They were dark pieces, ones she hadn't been able to fit into the area of the window. Lisa looked behind her. The white blind was drawn over her window. With relief, she realized that the puzzle picture was not exactly like her room. It showed the black night behind the window pane and a full moon shining in the sky. Through her window she could see no moon was in the sky.
With trembling hands, Lisa reached for the second to last piece. She dropped it into one of the empty space. It seemed to be half of a dark shadow, but she couldn't make it out. She reached for the last piece. She pressed it into the small hole left in the picture. But suddenly, the lights went out. blanketing Lisa in complete darkness. Lisa got up from her chair and stumbled in the dark. She walked over to the bookcase to get a candle and match. Finally, after she found what she needed, she went back to the table. But just before she sat down, she gasped as she heard a sound.
She hurriedly lit the candle. The puzzle was now done and the shadow was complete--the shadow in the window. It was more horrible than anything she had ever seen, or dreamed. She could now make out her own face in the puzzle. Lisa looked at the picture of herself in the puzzle and then back to the shadow. Then she whirled around.
The blind was no longer over her window. The night showed black through the window pane. A full moon hung low in the sky. She looked back at the jigsaw puzzle for the final time. Lisa screamed.
In THE STRANGEST JIGSAW PUZZLE IN THE WORLD she saw a dark figure standing behind her. The figure held a knife underneath her neck.
The Strangest Jigsaw Puzzle Part I
by Jason Ryan Qualls
(Elkhart, Indiana, USA)
It was on the top shelf of an old bookcase, covered with dust and barely visible. Lisa decided she had to find out what it was. Of all the things in the old junk shop, it aroused her curiosity most. She had looked through old books, prints, and postcards for hours. Nothing had caught her interest. Now the old box, high and out of reach, intrigued her.
She looked around for the old man who ran the store. But he had gone into the back room. She saw a stepladder across the room and brought it over to the bookcase. It shook on the uneven floorboards as she climbed to the top step. Lisa patted her hand along the surface of the top shelf, trying to find the box.
The dirt was thick and gritty on the board. Then she touched the box. It was made of cardboard. The cardboard was cold and soft from being in the damp room for such a long time. She lifted the box down slowly, trying to steady her balance on the stepladder. As the side of the box reached her eye level, she could read the words: 500 pieces. She sat the box down on top of the stepladder and climbed down a few steps. Then she blew away some of the dust that had accumulated on the lid. It billowed up around her with a musty, dead odor. But now she could make out a few more words on top of the box:
THE STRANGEST JIGSAW PUZZLE IN THE WORLD
There were other words underneath that, but they had been rubbed off the cardboard lid. The big picture on the cover had been curiously damaged. Lisa could make out areas of light and dark. It looked as though the scene might be in a room. But most of the picture had been scratched off the cardboard box, probably by a sharp instrument.
The mysterious nature of the jigsaw puzzle made it even more appealing to Lisa. She decided she would buy it. The lid was taped down securely; that probably meant that all the pieces would be there. As she carefully climbed down the stepladder, holding the box in both hands, Lisa smiled to herself. It was quite a find, just the sort of thing she had always hoped to discover while rummaging through secondhand stores.
The owner of the store came out of the back room as she was walking up to his sales desk. He looked curiously at the box when Lisa set it down.
"And where did you find that?" he asked her.
Lisa pointed to where she had set up the stepladder. "It was on the top of that bookcase. You could barely see it from the floor."
"Well. I've never seen it before, that's for sure," the shopkeeper said. "Can't imagine how you found it."
Lisa was more pleased than ever about her find. She felt as though the puzzle had been hiding up there, waiting for her to discover it. She paid the shopkeeper the twenty-five cents he asked for the puzzle and then wrapped it carefully in the newspapers he gave her to take it home in.
It was late on a Saturday afternoon. Lisa lived alone in a small room in an old apartment house. She had no plans for Saturday night. Now she decided to spend the whole evening working on the puzzle. She stopped at a food mart and bought some bologna, bread, cheese, ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, to make her favorite sandwich. She would eat while she put the puzzle together.
As soon as she had climbed the flight of stairs to her room and put away the groceries, Lisa cleaned off the big table in the center of the room. She set the box down on it.
"THE STRANGEST JIGSAW PUZZLE IN THE WORLD." Lisa read the words again. She wondered what they could mean. How strange could a jigsaw puzzle be?
The tape that held the lid down was still strong. Lisa got out a kitchen knife to slice through it. When she lifted the cover off the box, a musty smell came from inside. But the jigsaw pieces all looked in good condition. Lisa picked one up. The color was faded, but the picture was clear. She could see the shape of a finger in the piece. It looked like a woman's finger.
Lisa sat down and started to lay out the pieces, top side up, on the large table. As she took them from the box, she sorted out the flat-edged pieces from the inside pieces. Every so often, she would recognize something in one of the pieces. She saw some blonde hair, a window pane, and a small vase. There was a lot of wood texture in the pieces, plus what looked like wallpaper.
Lisa noticed that the wallpaper in the puzzle looked a lot like the wallpaper in her own room. She wondered if her wallpaper was as old as the jigsaw puzzle. It would be an incredible coincidence, but it could be the same.
By the time Lisa had all the pieces laid out on the table, it was beginning to get dark outside, dusk was beginning to settle over the evening sky. She got up and made herself a sandwich. Already, her back was beginning to hurt a little from leaning over the table. But she couldn't stay away from the puzzle. She went back to the table and set her sandwich down beside her. It was always like that when she did jigsaws. Once she started, she couldn't stop until the puzzle was all put together. She began to sort out the edge pieces according to their coloring. There were dark brown pieces, whitish pieces, the wallpaper pieces, and some pieces that seemed to be like glass--perhaps a window.
As she slowly ate her sandwich, Lisa pieced together the border. When she was finished, she knew she had been right about the setting of the picture when she had first seen the puzzle.
It was a room.