#AtoZChallenge: Village of Villainy

The village of Bösedorf lies nestled somewhere near the Vogelsberg mountains, hidden away from most folk. It is often referred to as the Village of Villainy.

You might wonder why, and that would be a perfectly valid question to ask. Though really, if you think about it, the answer lies right in the name.

The Village of Villainy is a village full of villains. Hence the name Village of Villainy.

Thieves, highway robbers, cut-throats, swindlers and misers inhabit this sorry hovel of a village. They spend their days plotting their next heinous acts, and their nights in drunken revelry and debauchery. Oh, so much debauchery. I could spin a tale just out of that, but it would be inappropriate for most readers except those of a particularly saucy disposition.

But enough about the debauchery.

Many rumors and legends abound about the founding of Bosedorf. Some claim that the notorious robber baron Heinrich Heinrich had fled his homeland and created the village as a haven for vile fiends and rogues. Other believed that an ancient order of monks had founded Bosedorf to aid mankind but that their plans had gone horrendously awry when one of their own made a pact with dark forces and cast a shadow over the whole village. A more mundane theory suggested that escaped prisoners had settled there to hide out from the law and ended up forming a community over time. It’s the more likely explanation, but people usually go with the monk story.

Now in fairness I must admit that Bosedorf is not a bad place to pass through, provided you don’t have too many valuables on your person. The roguish sort do know how to have a good time, after all, and they know their way around an alehouse. But try not to stay there too long, or you may find yourself missing a few items, such as clothes or money or limbs. But if you can ignore the potential for destitution and doom, Bosedorf is not too bad a place at all.

 

#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.

A to Z Challenge: Choices

c

 

California.

That’s where Clive wanted to be. Soaking up the sun. Cruising in a top-down convertible. Eye candy as far as his vision stretched.

That’s what Clive wanted.

It’s not what he got.

What he got was a botched heist that left two of his partners dead, one on the run, and himself buried in three feet of snow with a broken leg. He exhaled slowly, watching his breath dissipate into the night air. The weather was getting worse, and it didn’t seem like any kind of help would arrive soon. He should have just let the cops take him. Prison would be warm. Or warmer than this, at least.

Clive tried to ignore the fact that he couldn’t feel his toes any longer and was starting to lose sensation in his fingers as well. He tried to dig himself out again, but his fingers were too numb and his arms too tired. He yelled, hoping someone would here him somewhere. It was no use. There was nobody there.

There was only the white and the silence and the cold.

As the wind picked up, Clive wondered how things would have turned out if he’d picked a different path in life. If he’d followed in the footsteps of his old man, or actually tried to make something of himself. He could’ve gotten an athletic scholarship maybe, or who knows, maybe he could’ve built up his smarts in school. But he didn’t. Instead, he followed the influence of Freddy and Wheeler, who showed him how to pick pockets quietly, and held the door open for a life of crime. Clive walked through that door without a second thought.

He could have backed out of it if he wanted to. Given it all up after his last stint in jail. Maybe he’d have settled down with Callie. His frostbitten lips twitched upward at the thought of Callie. So beautiful and smart and caring. She wanted a better life for him, but he couldn’t let go of the thrill so she ended up letting go of him. She couldn’t watch him waste his life away was what she’d said as she walked out the door. Good thing she wasn’t here now. Or was she?

Clive’s eyes searched the blinding white expanse around him, hoping to find a familiar shadow. But he was still alone.

One more job. That’s all he had left in him. One more job, a big score, and he could retire. He was basically retired anyway, working as a mechanic to make ends meet. He could have refused. But he needed the money, he wanted it. Just one more job.

At least that was the plan. But the one thing he’d learned in life was that plans never worked out the way you wanted them to. You always needed a backup. Too bad nobody had one. Security was tighter than they’d expected. Things went bad. Clive could have just knocked that guard out, but he really didn’t want the risk of keeping a witness around. He did what he had to do. And then the cops came and everything fell apart.

He could have changed his life whenever he wanted. But the truth was, Clive never wanted to change. He just wanted to live life as it was. And he was so close to living the life of his dreams. So close to making it out. And if he did make it out, he knew exactly where he would go.

As Clive’s eyes grew heavier, his breath coming out in weaker gasps, he could picture it right in front of him.

California.

That was what Clive wanted.

It’s not what he got.

Cruel and Unusual

“Guilty.”

That one word wormed its way through Victor’s ears and straight into his heart, where it began to tear pieces of his life away. Judgment had been passed.

The air in the courtroom was thick with hate. The jurors, supposedly impartial, looked at Victor as if he were a stray mongrel that had wandered into their midst. Stern-faced bailiffs led him away, refusing to look him in the eye. One didn’t need robes to be a judge.

Victor’s attorney had at least managed to commute the death sentence to a 25-year term. As he walked out of the courthouse and was confronted by the mob of protesters, he wondered if that had been the right choice. Over two decades of hatred and vitriol while sharing a cell with the overbearing spectre of his own guilt? Death would have been kinder.

Story A Day Challenge – Day 2: The Job

William Fielding walked down the long hallway and entered through the large oak doors at the end. An armed guard searched him and, once satisfied, escorted him  to the balcony where General Kingston was waiting. William flashed his broadest smile and extended the general a warm greeting. The general smiled back, a charmer behind his imposing frame, and business negotiations were underway.

As the general rambled on about his most recent exploits, William thought back to his own past. He had come a long way from that scrawny kid living in the slum known as Butcher’s Row. With no home or family, or at least none that he knew of, he took care of himself. He would put on his sweetest smile and beg passers-by for money. The occasional soul would take pity on him and hand him a few coins, but that majority turned away from him. They were so quick to look away, refusing to pay attention to the details. William learned to use their averted gaze to his advantage, slipping his fingers past their blind eyes and into their full pockets.

He had graduated from there to petty theft, dabbled a bit in smuggling, and eventually attracted the attention of noted arms baron Bobby Trigger. He loved the thrill of the job. People were, as always, neglectful of the little details. That neglect served as a cloak in which William wrapped himself as he moved weapons to gangs and warlords.

When William finally got caught, he cut a deal. Bobby’s entire operation collapsed, and William only got 5 years, of which he only served 2 due to good behavior. He emerged from prion a changed man, using his criminal expertise to star a small security firm. He knew all the ways the law could be broken, so he set about using his skills for good.

The firm grew and Fielding Security became the name to consult whenever anyone needed things kept secure. But old habits died hard.

William would find himself sizing people up, looking for the deficits in their attention that he could exploit. He couldn’t resist the urge to grab little tokens. Watches, brooches, that kind of thing. He’d always return them, claiming he’d found them, that they’d been dropped. Until the day he robbed George Henshaw.

Henshaw was a man of mystery, a former government agent who had set off on his own crusade to change the world. But there was only so much he could do on his own. What he needed was a spy, an infiltrator. Someone that could greet people with a smile while twirling the knife that would end up in their backs. He needed someone like William.

The security firm served as a perfect front for the operation, allowing William access to some of the most dangerous men in the world, men who always needed a little extra protection. William would wine them and dine them, promising them soldiers, and when they had been lulled into a false sense of security, when their attention was dulled, he would strike. Documents, plans, agendas, he’d swipe them all with his skilled hands, ensuring nobody ever suspected him.

And that’s how he found himself in the penthouse summer apartment of notorious warlord General Kingston. Kingston had suffered many losses in a civil war that he had instigated in his country. He was on the lookout for mercenaries to support his cause. William was more than happy to provide him with what he needed. Now all he had to do was wait, and nab the letter that would be the General’s undoing.

He loved the thrill of the job.

Story A Day Challenge – Day 1: The Disappearance of Jessica Cahill

As much as I love my little haikus and super short tales, I’ve been trying to push myself to write in stuff that’s slightly longer. The September Story A Day challenge, which I discovered thanks to the lovely Kristi Simpson (please do check out her blog!), should provide me some inspiration.

Without further ado, let’s get right to the first story of the month, on the theme of ‘disappearance’.

Sam looked around the bedroom, marveling at its size, more than anything. Big money, big rooms. It was spotless, cream-colored bedsheets neatly tucked into the large wooden bed, mahogany study table free of clutter. There was a bookshelf that looked so pristine, Sam wondered if any of those books had ever been touched. Jessica didn’t strike her as the reading sort.

She opened the closet to reveal a kaleidoscope of color. The dresses and other outfits inside were like snowflakes: no two looked alike. She went through the outfits meticulously and looked around every corner of the closet, hoping to find something unusual or unexpected. But so far, all she could see was a rich teenager’s fancy bedroom.With a grunt, Sam shut the door and leaned against it.

Her head felt like nails were being driven through it very slowly. Beads of cold sweat were forming on her face, acting as glue for loose strands of dark, silver-tinged hair. She rubbed her forehead, squeezing the skin tightly. Sobriety didn’t suit her. After a few moments, the headache subsided, content to be a dull throbbing sensation around her ears. Sam took a few moments to steady herself and went back downstairs.

As she descended the ornate spiral staircase to the living room, she wondered just what she had gotten herself into. A phone call from Gordon Cahill, the CEO of Cahil Shipping and big man around town, had woken her up three hours earlier than she would have liked. He was not the sort of man who made his own calls, so she knew right away that something was wrong. His 16 year old daughter Jessica had been missing since last night. He had no idea where she could have gone, and he didn’t want to risk his reputation by getting the police involved. He had gotten Sam’s number from his personal assistant, Troy; she vaguely recalled helping him out of some mess a year ago. So here she was, looking for clues to a young girl’s disappearance while fighting back against a vicious hangover.

Summer was just getting underway, though the pleasant chill of spring lingered on. Jessica Cahill ‘s friends had all gone on holiday, jetting off to different corners of the world. The Cahills themselves were due to fly to Sardinia over the weekend, but those plans were on indefinite hold now. Sam tried her best to muster sympathy for their missed Italian vacation. There was no boyfriend involved either, as far as she knew. Gordon had a very strict policy about that. Going through high school without dating? Maybe Jessica’s disappearance wasn’t to mysterious after all. Sam suppressed the wry smile that was creeping across her face as she entered the spacious living room.

Mrs. Cahill was still sitting on the large vanilla colored couch, staring ahead of her with red-rimmed eyes, her pale hair hanging loose. Gordon stood by the brick fireplace. His hair was the color of iron, with not a single strand out of place, and his thick drooping mustache gave his face a permanent scowl. He turned to look at Sam, his eyes belying his stern expression.

“Well? Did you find anything?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary, Mr. Cahill. All I can say is that Jessica was quite a clean freak.”

Gordon’s jaw clenched momentarily, then relaxed.

“Is,” he said, firmly. “Jessica is very particular about keeping her things in order. She always has been.”

Sam adjusted the lapels of her overcoat. “Mhm. I’m sure your maid’s not too happy about that.”

“Miss Wilkes. Can you help us, or are we just wasting time here?” Gordon wasn’t bothering to mask his impatience anymore.

Sam looked him in the eye, trying not to let her fatigue show. “I’m afraid there’s really nothing for me to go on, Mr. Cahill. You said she was in contact with her piano teacher recently?”

“Yes, Daisy Shaw. They were planning out Jessica’s schedule so she could still practice by herself over the summer.”

“Then I’ll go talk to her. Maybe she can give me something.”

Sam walked to her car, head throbbing. From experience, she knew this case wasn’t going to have a happy ending. As she started the car and pulled out of the sprawling driveway, she wondered what would be worse: finding the girl’s corpse floating in the river or finding her alive but traumatized to hell in some creep’s basement.

Unrequited

I was always falling for the wrong girls.

She was so pretty, with flowing raven hair and snowy skin. Her lips, so pale in the moonlight, formed a perfect heart on her face.

Her once green eyes were now glassy and lifeless.

I sighed while unrolling the crime scene tape.

Brimstone

The desperadoes were getting desperate.

Weeks had gone by since their last successful robbery, and the loot was already drying up.

Hector had laughed it off when Ramón suggested making a deal with the Devil.

The suggestion didn’t seem so funny now.

He performed the ritual as instructed, and waited.

The Job

“Is everything ready, Arthur?”

“Yes, sir. They’re all here.”

William was ecstatic. It was time. He had assembled the perfect crew.

A ballerina. A locksmith. An author. A murderer.

Together, they would pull off the most daring heist the world had seen.

They were going to steal the President’s brain.