#AtoZChallenge: Rained Out

“Another ‘impossible drowning’ case. Victim found dead in a suite at the Chesterton Hotel. This one’s even weirder than the others.”

“How’s that?”

“The suite’s on the 50th floor.”

“Damn. How the hell does that even happen?”

“Ya got me, partner.”

Detective Roger Bakshi was stumped, and he wasn’t the sort of man who was stumped easily. Three murder victims in the same week. All three drowned. None of them were near a body of water. A waterlogged car sitting in a garage, a greenhouse that got turned into an aquarium, and now this. It didn’t make a damn bit of sense.

Two men and a woman. Different ages. Not all the same race. No professional connection. No common interests. No thread that ran through them. But they had obviously been killed by the same guy. Or gal. How, though? How does someone flood a sealed room unnoticed? Even clogging the toilet and tub wouldn’t cause that to happen.

Bakshi arrived at the Chesterton and was escorted up by the manager.

His partner, Chandni Harrison, was already at the crime scene. His scuffed shoes squelched on the wet carpet as he walked over to her.

“So, what have we got?”

Chandni gestured to the bloated gray body lying on the giant double bed at one end of the suite. “Meet Prabhat Wallace. CEO of HighPoint, an online rag focused on celebrity gossip and ridiculous rumors. He was found by the housekeeping staff in the morning when they went to clean his room and noticed a large puddle of water under the door. Little did they know that was just a teaser.”

She tapped her foot on the floor, which reeked of mildew. “The victim was probably killed last night, though there wasn’t any record of him having visitors.

His body fell onto the bed when the water was drained. That’s about all we can determine for now. Course, it doesn’t look like he was getting ready to turn in for the night.”

The victim was dressed in a loud buttoned shirt and slacks, probably on his way out to enjoy the nightlife or have a few drinks at the hotel bar. A look of shock was frozen onto his bloated face. No kidding. Who wouldn’t be shocked about drowning in their hotel room? Aside from every surface being wet or water damaged, there wasn’t a trace of outside interference.

“He wasn’t planning to go for a swim either. Did the killer use a fireman’s hose or something?”

“Thing is, there’s no record of abnormally high water usage in this area. It didn’t come from the faucets or the fire hydrant at the end of the street.”

Bakshi rubbed his stubbled chin in frustration. This case was making less sense by the minute.

One of the uniformed officers approached them. “Detectives. This might be of interest.”

He held up a book that was found hidden in the victim’s briefcase. On the front cover, bold, snaking letters read: ‘Indraloka: Cult of the Rain God’. The two detectives exchanged a look.

“So our guy was in a cult?” Chandni asked.

“Looks like it. And, hey, hold on a second.” Bakshi’s brow crinkled. “I’ve seen that book somewhere before – Professor Mitra!”

“The history professor who drowned in his car?”

“Yes! I saw a copy of the book in his house!”

Chandni’s eyes narrowed. “You’re right. I remember seeing it too. Second row on his bookshelf. Wanna bet the third victim had a copy as well?”

The faintest trace of a grin crossed Bakshi’s face. “That’s just easy money.”

The both of them thanked the officer, then headed back to the station. Cult of the Rain God? That might explain why the victims were drowned. But it still didn’t provide a damn clue about how.


 

“Need anything else?”

The waitress had a pretty smile. He had noticed that the moment he walked into the place. She could easily have been half apsara. He smiled back at her with a radiance that belied his drab gray clothes.

“No, thank you. Just the check please.”

He looked out the window after she had gone. Fat drops of rain splattered against the glass; it sounded like the tapping of giant fingers. He could have stopped it with a mere thought, caused the clouds to retreat and brought the sun out again. But he liked the rain. There was beauty in the chaos of the storm, in the symphony of thunder and lightning. If it were up to him, he would spend the rest of the day sitting by that window, humming to the rhythm of the rain.

Idly, he ran a finger along the water glass in front of him, causing its contents to bubble and froth like the ocean on a stormy night. He put a stop to it before the waitress returned.

The man in the gray overcoat paid his bill, left a generous tip and walked out the door. The whole world was dripping wet, but not a single drop of rain touched him. They merely bounced off, as if they were little rubber balls.

He took a small notebook out of his pocket and consulted the list of names written on the first page. Three had already been crossed out. He traced a finger along the fourth, then put the notebook back.

It was time to go to work.

 

#AtoZChallenge: Quantum Dislocation, or The Assassin Who Brought No Spare Pants

Quentin was stuck and couldn’t see any way out. When he had woken up that morning to the chiming melody of his holo-alarm, he couldn’t possibly have guessed that mere hours later, he’d be sinking in quicksand. Yet there he was. Life could be funny sometimes. Not funny like a good joke, but you get the point.

He was sinking fast and had not time for a flashback, but Quentin would be damned if he didn’t get some exposition in before dying.

Quentin Fiddleswitch was what they called a ‘ghost’. Not in the sense that he was dead, but more in the sense that he could phase between dimensions at will. He could, for example, exit the dimension of this story and enter the world where you’re sitting at your computer reading this. Or at least, he could if he still had his phase disruptor with him. Alas, he did not. All he had was a very sinking feeling and an aversion to bad puns.

I should also probably mention that he was an assassin. That’s important for the next part of the story.

Quentin had been hired by The Organization (a secret society so secretive that they didn’t even have a real name) to eliminate a high-ranking government official, because who would bother paying him for one of the low-ranking officials? Or an intern? Could you imagine a man such as Quentin Fiddleswitch being hired to kill an intern? Hardly.

The official was a member of the Council for Inter-Dimensional Regulation and Safety Against Interlopers From Other Dimensions, which, aside from being a terribly impractical name, also meant bad news for Quentin and his ilk. So he set out on his task, gathering intel on his target and working out the best way to kill him and make it look like an accident. When you’re a shadowy and ominous group like The Organization, it seems you would just kill people and not worry about your PR, but they were very finicky about hiding their involvement in these things. It didn’t really matter to Quentin as long as he got paid.

At last he had the perfect plan. The official was going on a jungle expedition in a parallel universe. Some sort of inter-dimensional political maneuver, but basically a paid vacation and photo-op. Quentin knew exactly what he had to do. It involved an irate crocodile (though on further examination, he was certain it was an alligator), a poison dart, two cans of whipped cream and a pit of quicksand. It was inspired. A true work of art. A plan so ingenious that it would be pointless to explain it as you lot wouldn’t comprehend its sublime intricacies anyway.

No offense to you.

But it was a good plan.

However, as you’ve probably figured out from reading the introductory paragraph, things did not go to plan. Of course you did. I never doubted your intelligence for a second.

Through a series of rather improbable and frankly ludicrous events, Quentin ended up accidentally phasing into his own trap. The alligator ran off with his disruptor belt, the official escaped unharmed (and with several lovely pictures of his expedition to have as keepsakes or to share with strangers on the webbosphere) and all Quentin had left was a half empty can of whipped cream. It was of no use to him at all, so he threw it away.

He was struggling to escape and regretting the little detour into the past. Instead of narrating previous events, I could have been talking about how he got out of his perilous situation. But then how would you have caught up on what’s happened? It’s not like there’s a pamphlet accompanying this story or anything.

As he sank another inch, Quentin realized there was only one way out of this. He needed a deus ex machina. An author-devised solution that would save him from the most impossible odds. Fortunately, he had one. An improbable series of events that led to Quentin being pulled out of the quicksand by the very same alligator that had put him there. Call it irony, providence or contrived drivel, it did the trick. Quentin was out. Unfortunately, he was also naked and watched the collar of his shirt disappeared into the pit with a sorry gloop.

After a grueling gator-wrestling session, Quentin retrieved his phase disruptor belt. Since he had failed in his mission, he needed to get away and lay low for a while. The governments of several dimensions would be displeased about the attempted assassination and The Organization didn’t forgive failure. Though honestly, it wouldn’t be much of an evil society if it did.

So Quentin strapped on his belt and piloted a course for the one dimension where he could be safe for a while. I can’t really tell you where he went,of course, but it’s a place where The Organization’s influence doesn’t extend. Not yet, anyway, but that would be a story for another time.

So that’s it then, the tale of Quentin Fiddleswitch and his failed assassination attempt. You can move along and get back to your daily lives. Writing biographies or shopping for new hats or whatever it is people do in their spare time. And if you happen to see a naked little man wearing a strange belt run past, don’t be alarmed.

Just find him some pants.

#AtoZChallenge: Dead End Romance

Delilah Stokes had always been told that dead men tell no tales. She learned that was a lie when her ex-husband refused to shut up.

Frank was the kind of guy that young girls were looking for: roguish, charming and spontaneous. He had the sort of face that looked just as good with a smile or a brooding frown, and he knew how to use each expression for maximum effect. When they met, Delilah was a twentysomething free spirit on a journey with no end in sight and Frank was a twentysomething dreamer who couldn’t tell a speed bump from a milestone. Sparks flew the first time they locked eyes at an old gas station, and they burned for each other.

They were young and energetic, living each day as if tomorrow were just a myth. Their wildfire romance led them to the altar, followed by a steamy honeymoon. Using the short-sighed gift of prophecy that all young lovers have, they knew they’d be together forever. A year later, they realized ‘forever’ had an expiry date.

Once the scorching layers of passion, lust and proclamations of everlasting love had burned away, they realized they had nothing left. Frank was still living in his dreams without a penny in the real world and Delilah was hopping from one dead-end job to the next, trying to find a reason for their marriage to survive another day. With time and a few changes, they might have stuck it out. But then Frank had a plan.

Even when she’d first met him, Delilah knew that Frank was a man who saw laws more as rough guidelines. It was a charming trait at first. But as their relationship went further and Delilah craved a degree of stability, Frank’s wayward ways became harder to bear. So when he suggested armed robbery as a solution to their money problems, she wanted nothing to do with it. But Frank, for all his faults knew how to exploit his charm.

It was a simple plan. Masks. Guns. A trail of gas stations. Hold up the convenience store clerks at gunpoint and clean out their registers. They would skip a few along the way, make it seem random, hard to track. Nothing could go wrong.

After their third robbery, things seemed to be looking up. They were a pair of anonymous crooks on the run, but that initial spark of passion was back. For a little while, Delilah forgot her ideas of married life and craved the freedom of the open road again. But Delilah had always been told that crime doesn’t pay. And she discovered how true that was when the long arm of the law finally stretched far enough to wrap its fingers around them.

After an hour long chase involving three cop cars, Frank’s car couldn’t take it any more. They were stranded, holed up in the gas station that would have been next on their list if the cops hadn’t shown up. Frank was holding a gun to the old cashier’s head. Delilah was trying to find another way out. The fuzz was closing in. It was over. But then Frank took it too far. He was going to shoot the hostage. Delilah just knew it. She couldn’t let that happen.

Delilah lunged at Frank, managed to loosen his grip o the old man. He still had the gun in hand, though. And Frank wasn’t happy. He shoved her aside and she could see the madness building in his eyes. He aimed the gun at her, started to say something. Maybe he was going to convince her to kill the hostage. Or maybe he was going to say his final goodbyes before killing her. It didn’t matter. He never finished. Delilah found the shotgun hidden under the counter and fired it right into Frank’s chest. The sound was deafening. The sight of exploding flesh and organs made her throw up. But it was done. She had shot the hell out of ‘happily ever after’.

Delilah turned herself in. She confessed to everything. Told the whole story. The jury was sympathetic, but she was still a criminal. She got five years and served three. It was just long enough to watch her dreams shrivel away to nothing. Even after being released, she felt like she was in a cage. Guilt didn’t wash away no matter how often she showered. Her only consolation was that she was rid of Frank and his madness.

On a warm summer night, Delilah couldn’t sleep. She was plagued by strange thoughts and visions, nightmares that evaporated into smoke whenever she opened her eyes. She got up and went to get a glass of water. When she came back, Frank was sitting on the bed, waiting for her.

“Hey Del,” he said, flashing that same charming smile she’d fallen in love with all those years ago. He looked exactly the same as the last time she’d seen him. Slicked back hair. Fine line of stubble along his jaw. Gaping hole in his torso.

Delilah gulped down the rest of her water with her eyes closed. When she opened them, Frank was still sitting there in the dim moonlight.

“Dammit, Frank,” she said, wiping a trickle of water from her chin. “What the hell do you want now?”

 

 

13 Tales of Terror: Scritch Scratch

Scritch Scratch

That’s the only sound I hear at night.

Scritch Scratch

Scratching away with all your might.

Trying to find a way out

But you won’t scream or shout.

All you ever do is go Scritch Scratch.

 

Scritch Scratch

But I’ll never open that door.

Scritch Scratch

Go ahead, scratch some more.

You’ll wear yourself down to the bone

Doomed to be trapped here alone.

With nothing to do but go Scritch Scratch.

 

Scritch Scratch

The Devil in disguise.

Scritch Scratch

Or simply one of his spies.

In the end, it matters not

Either way, you’ll sit here and rot

As you spend your time going Scritch Scratch.

 

Scritch Scratch

There’s a knock from outside.

Scritch Scratch

I scramble to hide.

Blue shirts and badges all around

Forcing me down to the ground

Freeing you from a life of going Scritch Scratch.

 

Scritch Scratch

That’s the only sound I make at night.

Scritch Scratch

Scratching away with all my might.

Trying to find a way out if this cell

Sentenced to a personal Hell

All I can do is sit here and go Scritch Scratch.

13 Tales of Terror: Life of the Party

“Raymann! Good to see ya!”

Raymond grinned and bumped Thomas’s extended fist with his own. “Sup Tommy. Sorry for being so late.”

“Hey, no worries man! Ain’t no rush over here!”

Thomas clapped a hand around Raymond’s shoulder and led him into the large drawing room. The party was already in full swing. Several clusters of people were spread out around the room, drinks in hand. There was a group in the center several shots into an intense drinking game.

“You’re the odd one out, bud!”

Raymond laughed as Thomas handed him a glass. He downed it one long gulp, ready to mingle with the crowd.

Thomas called for attention and the whole room went silent.

“Alright, guys. Raymond’s here!”

Several drunken cheers erupted in response.

“Now the night can really begin!”

Everyone cheered again, but their voices sounded really far away to Raymond’s ears. He was smiling, but couldn’t feel any sensation in his face. Thomas smiled back at him, but there was no warmth to his smile.

“Let’s get him ready!” he yelled. Several hands grabbed Raymond, pulling him toward a large door at the back of the room. They were chanting, but he couldn’t understand them. It was a language he had never heard before. They led him through the door into a darkened room that smelled vaguely of smoke and rotting eggs. He was placed on a stone table on his back and tied down.

Through his blurring vision, he saw Thomas approach, holding a jeweled dagger. Everyone was looking down at him now, smiling identical cold smiles.

“It’s party time, Raymond…” were the last words he heard before the dagger pierced his throat.

A to Z Challenge: Soap

s

 

This is the story of Sybil St. Clair, heiress to the vast St. Clair publishing fortune. Her father, Gerard St. Clair, is the owner of several newspapers, magazines, two new channels and a website. Her mother, Virgina St. Clair, passed away when Sybil was a young girl. A despondent Gerard threw himself into his work to cope with his loss, leaving Sybil to be raised by their family butler Clarence and housekeeper Mrs. Finchley.

On the eve of Sybil’s 15th birthday, Gerard met a beautiful young woman named Tabitha. Within months, they were married, and Tabitha, who wasn’t really the maternal type, begrudgingly accepted Sybil as her stepdaughter. Whatever helped her hold onto Gerard’s fortune.

Sybil kept a distance between herself and her stepmother while yearning to be closer to her father. But, she also had to navigate adolescence and school life at the Frampton Academy with her two best friends, Allison Davenport and Deirdre Holliday. Plus, there was her unrequited crush on Kyle Barlow, future inheritor of Barlow Hotel Group. Sybil had fawned over him for almost five years now, but in spite of some nudging from her friends, she never said anything to him. And perhaps she wouldn’t get her chance, thanks to the arrival of the new exchange student from Switzerland, Gretchen Friedman.

Gretchen wasted no time in climbing the teenage social ladder to become the most popular girl in school. And of course, she dug her claws deep into Kyle’s heart, so that Sybil became nothing more than a shadow to him.

Tabitha, meanwhile, was growing increasingly impatient. Along with her brother Talbot, she agonized over the fastest way to take over Gerard’s media empire. A skiing accident? A poisoning at a charity benefit? Perhaps a boring old home invasion? She knew she had to think of something fast. Sybil was becoming a woman, after all. At last, Tabitha formed a plan. A car crash. Simple, but so very effective.

And so it came to pass. Gerard St. Clair was involved in a fatal car crash. Sybil’s entire life was upended. Clarence and Mrs. Finchley did what they could to console her, but it was no use. Tabitha put on the guise of the dutiful widow. Gerard’s funeral was attended by hundreds, from extended to family to friends to old business associates. And there was another unexpected guest. Gerard’s estranged twin brother, Jerome.

It had been twenty years since Gerard and Jerome had last spoken, yet there he was, paying respects to his dead brother. That wasn’t the only reason, of course. He wanted his share of his brother’s inheritance. And more…

Who will win in a clash between Jerome and Tabitha? Will Sybil ever tell Kyle how she feels, or will she lose him to Gretchen forever? Will Deirdre ever solve the mystery of her haunted mansion? Will Clarence be rescued from his alien abductors?

Stay tuned to find out!

A to Z Challenge: Lady Luck

l

 

Larry licked his lips in anticipation.

The little silver ball bounced its way across the face of the spinning wheel, looking for a spot to settle in. Thirty-three black. That’s the spot it needed to occupy. Larry watched with unblinking eyes as it continued on its wild trajectory. As the wheel slowed down and came to a stop, the ball found its resting place. Twenty-five red. It was over. The last of Larry’s earnings were gone. He couldn’t even drown his sorrows in a drink.

“The gentleman would like to place another bet. Thirteen red.”

A woman stood by the roulette table. If Larry hadn’t known any better, he’d have thought she was a statue put in to class up the place. She was wearing a light champagne dress that seemed to shimmer around her, its color barely distinguishable from her pale skin. Her golden hair was pulled up into a tight topknot, adding a sense of sternness to her angular features. She was beautiful, the kind of person who could turn every head in the room. For some reason, though, nobody seemed to take notice of her.

“Uhh, look, thanks lady,” he said, scratching his balding pate. “But I think I’m done for the night.”

The woman cocked her head at him, then broke into a disarming smile.

“Just one more bet,” she said, a slight pleading tone in her voice. “I promise, it’ll be worth your while.”

Larry wanted to decline, but it wasn’t every day that a pretty woman sauntered into his regular gambling den and offered to help him win. How could he argue with that?

The clattering of the roulette wheel took up Larry’s attention again, as he saw the little silver ball do its little dance, just waiting for the opportunity to land on any number except the one Larry had bet on. He continued watching it, hypnotized, trying in some way to steer its path with his gaze, until it finally came to a stop. Larry couldn’t believe it.

“Thirteen red,” the croupier announced.

He’d won. Larry had actually won. He looked over at the woman, confused and ecstatic. She smiled and handed him his winning chips.

“Care to try your luck again? I have a good feeling about twenty-six black.”

Larry grinned and made his bet. When the wheel came to a stop, the ball was sitting comfortably on twenty-six black. Larry bet again. And again. And again. His number came up. Every single time.

“You’re my lucky charm tonight, lady!” Larry chimed as he counted his winnings. “Don’t think I’ve ever seen so many bills at the same time before!”

“Just call me Lady Luck,” the woman said with a smile.

“You bet I will.”

“Now, Larry, the night’s still young. How about we celebrate?”

Larry flashed a crooked grin. “I like the sound of that.”

They walked out of the casino and ducked into a little side street. Larry clutched the bag containing his winnings to his chest tightly.

“What’s in the bag?”

A young man stepped out of the shadows, hair a mess, a scruffy beard covering his face in patches. One bony hand was wrapped around a small knife. He eyes Larry’s bag hungrily, ignoring the woman standing next to him.

“Hey, take it easy, buddy. I don’t want any trouble. Look, how about I give you a couple grand and we forget about this, ok?”

Larry kept his eyes locked with the mugger’s and started reaching into the bag. Without warning, the man lunged, thrusting the knife between Larry’s ribs. Larry cried out in pain and let go of his prize, which the man snatched eagerly. He ran off as Larry fell to the ground, gasping for breath.

The woman in the champagne dress knelt down beside Larry. Her face was impassive, showing the barest trace of sadness. She stroked his face gently, speaking in a soothing voice.

“Forgive me, Larry. In the end, luck favors no one.”

There was a scream, followed by the sound of footsteps and frantic yelling. A crowd would gather soon. The woman got up and slipped into the shadows, in pursuit of the mugger.

She contemplated how his luck would play out over the course of the night. Maybe he’d perish in a confrontation with the police. Or maybe he’d be arrested and spend the rest of his life in prison. Then again, he just might get away with it, and spend the next few years with bulging pockets.

She couldn’t wait to find out.